An Old Friend

Yesterday I had a relentless melody stuck in my head from my music student days. I remember it had trilling flutes on it and was not quite a “big band”, but a combo with “Greek chorus”(lol). I remember I had made a cassette copy of the album and played it on a tape recorder in my knapsack as I tooled around on my bicycle on NDG’s streets hunting for an apartment. 

I thought the tune might be from Dexter Gordon at first, and I listened  to “Homecoming” and “Sophisticated Giant” which were both in heavy rotation around the same time and had similar elements to the melody that was both nagging and eluding me. I enjoyed revisiting these records and my memories of having seen and heard Dexter over several nights at “The Rising Sun” but this was not the melody in my head. 

Next I thought maybe it was McCoy Tyner whose “Fly Like The Wind” also was mid-seventies and was on my turntable a lot and featured a larger band. Not him. Great to hear McCoy, though. I went back to Dexter and checked the personnel on “All Music Guide”. Woody Shaw was the trumpet/flugelhorn player and I remembered having seen him in 1977 and had two of his albums that I listened to frequently around that time, “Blackstone Legacy” and “Rosewood” . I was pretty sure it was “Rosewood”, so I cued it up and sure enough that was the melody. It was like unexpectedly meeting an old friend after a long absence and catching up as if it were yesterday. The whole album brought back memories on the one hand, but also brought new surprises as if hearing it for the first time. Headphones can sometimes help you hone in on one element or the other. Last night it was Woody’s angular and daring lines and the crispness of the snare drum that I brought to the fore. I remember the large ensemble was an acquired taste at the time and I sort of shut it out. It was not what I had heard live at “The Rising Sun”. I was very into small jazz groups at the time. Miles, Coltrane, Horace Silver, Jazz Messengers, etc. The larger context has ceased to bother me. I accepted it easier now than I did then.

I felt compelled to write this and share what I feel is compelling and overlooked music that should not be forgotten. I have only included a link to the first song “Rosewood”, but I encourage you to seek out the rest of the album if you like this.

Turn Me Loose

I heard a song at the boulangerie today as I was waiting to purchase a croissant. I told the server (in French) that I loved that song, but it was playing way too soft. It is not a “la la la” it’s an “oomph”!

This triggered a memory of mine.

One of the most memorable rides I ever got while hitchhiking, happened in New Brunswick in 1983 as I was returning home to Montreal. I was returning from visiting friends in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. 

I had been waiting with my guitar on the side of the Trans Canada highway at the northernmost traffic light in Fredericton. I had to go north through the province following the St. John river, and I was hoping to get a lift that ate up some kilometres. My last few lifts had been little skips between exits and the ratio of standing with my thumb out and distance achieved was probably the equivalent of walking. I didn’t relish the idea of walking all the way to Montreal which is about the same distance as Munich, Germany to Paris, France both physically and culturally (but with less interesting landmarks on my trip).

A throbbing sedan stopped for me and when I caught up to it, the passenger swung his door open and asked where I was going. He was facing backwards because all the seats but the driver’s had been taken out. The passenger seat was a mere cushion and the man in it was facing backwards to better hear the stereo which was ample for a theatre let alone a car. The stereo speakers were enormous. I wedged in between them in the back and the driver turned the music down for a few minutes to tell me they were going 180 km to just past Perth-Andover as far as the reservation at Tobique. I asked them (they were native) if they were Mi’k maq , they said “no” they were proudly Maliseet and they were returning home from studying at UNB. They lit a joint and shared it with me. Very good homegrown for the times (early 80’s).

With the sun glinting off the river to my left and my head starting to melt as I lay back into the plush cushion between the speakers they put the music back on.

There is “loud” and then there is “ten past loud” which is where we were.The song blew my mind. It was perfect. I was reminded of a quote a friend of mine said he had read on a needlepoint: “Cleanliness Is Next To High Fidelity”. 

It starts off with a synthesizer playing two long notes a ninth apart accompanied by accented 16th notes on a closed hi hat cymbal for seven measures as the synth rapidly sweeps up several octaves a bass guitar belches in with one of the most unforgettable riffs in Rock music. Gmi to F.  After stating his theme twice a glorious electric guitar enters with grinding power chords sound that could sustain forever and have some highlighted harmonics in the F chord where the 9th degree is cutting through. I love the chugga chugga sound of an overdriven electric guitar. It is a bit reminiscent of Martin Barre’s guitar on Locomotive’s Breath by Jethro Tull. The guitarist then adds fills to complement his power chords. All this action that gripped me in the one minute intro. The singer has one of those taut, strutting and loud, “tight trousers” voices that is similar to all the other ubiquitous industrial hair rock bands of the late 70’s and early 80’s like Journey and Kansas, Boston, etc. He hits a great falsetto on the climactic lyric “high”. Very serviceable and perfect for this song.

Interesting that the guitar is not present at all on the first verse. A honky Tony piano enters with a syncopated repeated riff and then the harmonies on “turn me loose” with understated hand muted chugs on the guitar. The hi hat patterns change ever so subtly in each section adding more subliminal interest

There is an instrumental interlude in E….neither major nor minor as far as I can tell (no third in the chord) except the last chord of the interlude which is not only E major, but has an augmented fifth (like the first chord of O Darling by the Beatles).

The song return to the original key and the “woo hoo” background singers start….omg.…perfect. The song builds to finally having all of these parts together in a taut choreographed full bodied sound. The guitar solo is full of vitality and continues throughout  the next chorus. Such mastery near the end when all but the drums playing through with the hi hat going “syup” with”sy” starting on the and of 2 and the “up” on beat 3  and bass hitting on beat 4. A sparse and contrasting accompaniment before the guitar re enters just before the final “turn me loose” which is a capella. Perfect arrangement. Very clever.

All that analytical stuff came after the fact of course. At the time I was totally immersed in learning and performing jazz. In fact, I was returning to Montreal for a gig. I was a bit snobbo when it came to music other than jazz. I knew nothing about “hair bands” and the music I listened to outside of jazz was not mainstream….Classical, Dylan, Lightfoot,Joni, Neil, Harmonium, Focus…..

When the song was over I asked my hosts who that was and they told me it was Loverboy. I jokingly said they should call it “Turn Me Loose!” The one facing backward gave me a gap toothed grin, knowing I was totally wasted and asked: “like it?” As he pressed replay.

P.S. The phrase “turn me loose” occurs 28 times in this song.

And I Love Her

Yesterday I was distracted, then horrified and disgusted and finally angered by something I heard over the p.a. System while standing in line at the grocery store. 

This is the culprit

I was distracted by a pleasant groove and a pleasant processed female musical voice singing “And I Love Him” over a punchy bass and drum (computer generated and a clean sounding nylon string guitar and repetitive piano chords. I thought “oh great, a fairly good musical treatment of The Beatles.” It was not long until I was horrified that the groove over two chords (Bbmi and Fmi) was IT….and not only that, the ONLY lyrics in this version were “ I give him all my love, that’s all I do”. It was sampled and slowed down from jazz singer Esther Phillips’ 1965 recording. 

Esther Phillips

My horror built toward disgust and anger. The original Latin tinged ballad by the Beatles (McCartney) is one of my favourite ballads from their oeuvre. It is a naive exposition of undying love for his muse at the time (Jane Asher). Time has shown that “a love like ours will never die” was a bit premature…lol.

It is not just the minimal repetitive lyric that annoys me. The original recording has harmony to support and enhance. Not just two minor chords.

I play this song (in F) a semi tone higher than the Beatles (E) starting on Gmi which in music theory is the ii of F, but when the melody starts, it goes Gmi to Dmi (the relative minor of F)twice then Bb(IV)then C7(V) then finally to F (I). This A section is the meat of the song and in AABA form is 3/4 of the song. Rich in harmony, rich in melody and strong and memorable. The B section is a short complementary contrast to the A section and ushers in the third A section perfectly from the dominant 7 chord. 

I realize that the music that so angered me is not created as “art” and is perceived as wonderful and inspired by many judging from the comments on  the YouTube video. I imagine not many of them are aware of it’s origins, nor do they care.

I also recognize that the remix is commercial and is meant for dancing, and youth and inebriation can enhance these experiences. 

To me, it is the dumbing down of beauty which is contrary to great art. I have included links to several great versions of this song as contrast to the remix.

No caption necessary

one of my favourites
One of the first versions I ever heard
My present favourite

I hope you have given each of these versions a fair listen. I look forward to your comments.

The Impact Of Certain Ballads 4

#4

Painted a From Memory

Poetry is cool, but lyrics can be divine. This is an example of such. The words evoke a longing for something that was and now won’t ever be, and worse than that she smiles for someone else. Nuclear fallout. The words standing alone are beautiful, but coupled with the unhurried melody and arrangement it is divine.

This ballad is an exquisite and unlikely collaboration between pop songwriter Burt Bacharach and super punk Elvis Costello. I first heard a Elvis sing it on the album by the same name. There is no clear indication of who did what as in a Rodgers and Hammerstein song, though the melody is probably mostly Bacharach’s and the lyric mostly Costello’s. 

The mind does tricks and time fades our memory. The premise of the song is an artist staring at a portrait of a once beloved and musing on how accurate it might be. “Those eyes I tried to capture, they are lost to me now forever, they smile for someone …else”. 

I love Elvis’ original as well as an exquisite “cover” by Cassandra Wilson and Bill Frisell which is worth seeking out. I transcribed the second version so I can play it and Bill’s chords sit easier on the guitar. What a difference a semi-tone makes (from Db to C). Cassandra personalized it from she to he to reflect her gender and Bill’s playing is gorgeous. His use of space and sustain and his pedal modified tone support the tragedy of this little known gem. This live version of Elvis and Burt is also awesome.

#3

Bill Evans was one of the greatest interpreters of a ballad ever. I have chosen this performance of “Sometime Ago” (a waltz by Sergio Mihanovich taken from an exquisite 1977 album “You Must Believe In Spring”) as much for the beautiful melody as for this fluid arrangement for trio. Bill plays solo for the first statement of the theme. He pushes and pulls the melody in and out of time until Eddie Gomez enters with beautiful harmonics which are the perfect counterpoint to Bill’s delicate exposition of the theme they continue to play with the time until Elliot Zigmund comes in on the drums and the improvising starts and the seamless interplay of a working trio at the top of their game. Even the bass solo is inventive and musical. I always enjoy the way Gomez’ bass is amplified as it makes his presence known as well as felt. His asides and commentary to Bill are to me as integral as anything else this song has to offer. The modal outro over the repeating two chord theme are reminiscent of Bill’s playing on Peace Piece. 

#2

First Song (for Ruth)

I have many different recordings of this song (written by the great American bassist Charlie Haden). I am fond of them all. I first heard it by Quartet West with Charlie Haden, I have heard it played by many others as well, Pat Metheny, David Sanborn, Jim Hall, Laurence Hobgood and Abbey Lincoln who wrote lyrics to it. The heaviest version by far is a duet with Kenny Barron on piano and Stan Getz on Tenor Sax. 

Stan Getz was very ill. Three months away from succumbing to cancer and he had to take long breaks and I believe he may have even had to take oxygen between tunes. His playing is plaintive and his breath laboured, and he infuses every note of his performance with dignity and passion. Aside from it being a sort of swan song for Stan, he knew Ruth and Charlie personally. Ruth was married to Haden. Every note has a poignancy, a statement of desire for life and a reaffirmation of the beauty of music.

I transcribed this song about twenty years ago which has (as you can imagine from a bassist) a wonderful bass line. It is almost hymnal in it’s simplicity and yet the harmonies accompanying the bass line are gorgeous. It is no surprise that lyrical guitarists like Hall and Metheny loved it.

The Impact Of Certain Ballads

#1

Angelicus by Vince Mendoza

This song is glorious and I don’t exactly know why. All of the playing is understated and accessible to non jazz people. The low brass and synthesizers that start off this song blend in a seamless, rich, dramatic fanfare before the sparse and machinelike percussion starts. The theme repeats itself riding over the percussion ostinato and light piano fills. When John Scofield enters on electric guitar and takes up the melody with the restatement of the horns. The piano solo is so melodic. The drum kit and Bass are understated. My favourite part of this song are these little notes that Will Lee throws in on his Bass (at 3:25 on this recording) they are seemingly an improvisation, but recur later leading me to believe that they might have been written. In any case they are perfect. The horns enter with their cinematic swelling and ebbing under the second half of the piano solo. Guitar enters again and there is a marimba sounding synth playing fills as the French horns continue.

I think perhaps the reason why I love this song so much is that through the crafty arrangement Vince Mendoza created a swirling foundation for dreams. I am transported somewhere else each and every time I listen to it. The rest of the album is a bit disappointing, but this one is a gem.

entry #2 coming tomorrow

Organic Fertilizer (part 1- The Hammond B3 in Rock)

I started out to say that ever since I heard a Hammond B3 organ I was enraptured, but that would not have been accurate. My first experience of it was quite awful. At Rockland Shopping Centre in Montreal when I was a boy they had hired some “square” to play music from time to time (it may have been regular ). It was pretty ghastly. Cheapo beguine rhythms on a rhythm ace and corny sounds and really a “square” sound. I was an organ snob. I sang in the Cathedral choir after all. My choirmaster could play a 4 manual organ and still play the bass with his feet. The shopping centre sounded “cheesy” to me. Like this…..

My first significant encounter with the B3, however, was through the radio. I may be leaving some out, but it was probably “Good Lovin'” by the Young Rascals in 1966. I had not made the “brand” connection yet. Felix Cavaliere was obviously someone to listen to based on that solo. Around this time I also heard “Gimme Some Lovin'” by the Spencer Davis Group with that hypnotic ostinato intro: da da da da dah dum. da da da da dah dum. repeating which caught my attention and then the nastiest sounding organ with that huge funky flourish caught my soul. So amazing.

organ solo at 1:36
organ in video is not a B3…. the sound is from the record which is a B3

I then discovered Santana. I am a guitarist and I found his playing inspirational. The organ riff on “Hope You’re Feeling Better”‘s was so powerful and visceral and the clave figure starting off “Oye Como Va” played on the organ was also delightful. I then went back to their previous album with the great percussion features…. “Waiting” has great textures (control of the Leslie speaker and voicing shifts) and features Chester Thompson going wild….. way before the lead guitar enters…. I love Santana’s music. I have continued to follow the band to the present.

The album ends with Soul Sacrifice which also blew my mind. Listen to the organ growl and then the trading of phrases between Carlos and Chester….. the bomb!

My musical education was taking off right around then, and the next few examples are not necessarily in order. The Small Faces had a hit with “Itchycoo Park”. Listen to the riff just after the first line “On the bridge of sighs”…… It is perfect and propels this song…Ian McLagan was a master of the B3.

What did they do there?….

The Zombies featuring Rod Argent, then Argent…

organ solo at 1:23

When I hitch-hiked across Canada at age 16 in 1972 the shorter version of this was on the radio in most cars. Other songs on the soundtrack of my adventure : “Rocket Man” and “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress”…..

Listen to how the organ fills this track… awesome stuff.

This is a DUO!!! Lee Michaels who plays piano and organ and clavinet on this and a drummer…… power chords on the B3. Pretty sure the piano and clav were overdubs, maybe not. I like this track.

Steven Stills is mostly viewed as a guitarist, songwriter and a singer, but his organ playing on this is remarkable.

Good God Amighty!!!!…. Deep Purple…. This was my intro to them.

And this…. The album sounded better, but this looks so good. tight trousers, bad teeth and 1970’s hair…. Organ is a bitch! Jon Lord was great on this!

I saw Focus live in 1973… they had a big hit on the radio with Hocus Pocus, but their album cuts still interest me. This suite has so many different ideas in it. Organ is so great! 3:18 a great little solo. The organist (Thijs Van Leer) also played flute and yodelled.

OK, not a B3, but Garth Hudson brought the organ to the fore. It was a Lowrey….

Not forgetting Booker T and The MGs and the Meters whose funky instrumental music I adore. There are many examples of Booker T’s brilliance but I am partial to “Melting Pot” for the groove and the over use of reverb on the organ which renders this perfect.

I first heard Nelson Symonds (Montreal guitarist and friend of mine) play “Cissy Strut” at Rockhead’s Paradise. Nelson told me what it was. I was unfamiliar with the Meters, but became an immediate fan! Led to the Neville Brothers later on as well. Art Neville (keys) died this last summer… a great musician.

listen to the soaring organ note at 1:22 leading into the improvised part of the performance…

Billy Preston had a hit with the Gospel song “That’s The Way God Planned It” I had heard of him (and heard him) via his connection to the Beatles and the organ at the beginning of this song are the same chords as O Canada…lol. I used to sing along with this “That’s the Way…God Damn It” which my mum forbade me from singing in her house….lol. I had misheard the lyrics. The organ solo at 1:57 is gorgeous.

Around this time I became aware of the Allman Brothers. Greg Allman got switched to organ!!!!! He is perfect for this band. One of my favourite cuts is “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” The organ chords just humming along calmly and the song built on top. The live at Fillmore is long, but it won’t seem long. Bon Voyage…

I was drawn to Roy Buchanan through his Second album, but on the first album he had this “hit” Which is essentially instrumental with spoken “lyrics” that are unashamedly religious. The guitar is outrageous…. He makes the Telecaster Scream, Moan and generally suffer. Listen to the organ though…..It is padding and goading and is so beautiful on it’s own. The chords are shifting one note at a time… masterful voice leading. The original is worth seeking out, but this live version is great.

Then I discovered Tower Of Power……Everything about this group excites me still. I have seen them live many times. This cut is a great example of how the organ drives…. Hard to just choose just one example. Listen how the organ counterpoints and cuts through the mix with this huge band (5 horns, guitar, bass, drums and vox). The playing at the end is so great!

at 3;08 til the end….

There were many great organ solos not on Hammond, but I’ll leave that to someone else. Part two of this article will deal with why I started writing this today. Jazz organ coming soon…. I woke up this morning and put on “The Mighty Burner”…have mercy!

Hidden Gem

Today, I don’t know why, but I decided to listen to some music that I rarely listen to at all, let alone first thing in the morning.. I put on Beck, Bogert & Appice. Their eponymous first album.

It was never a “great” album despite being a “Supergroup” , but in the present moment I am listening with fresh ears. Of course Jeff Beck  is brilliant. He dive bombs and squawks in places that delight. The music is at times Beatlesesque…at times shadowing Cream. I hear a bit of Beach Boy harmony in there as well. Sweet Sweet Surrender is reminiscent of I Shall Be Released.

The lead vocals are workmanlike. Not one of the great voices that come to mind in Jeff Beck’s legacy (Max Middleton, Rod Stewart). The harmony vocals are reminiscent of Vanilla Fudge and Grand Funk. All those  huge industrial rock bands in the 70s. “Why Should I Care” reminiscent of “Let’s Spend The Night Together” by the Stones.

The rhythm tracks are what I find interesting. The playing is very good all round. A lot of work went into arranging and executing these songs. Lots of punches and abrupt (tight) turns. The Allmusic guide gives it 2 and a half of 5 stars. I agree, but this should not deter one from checking out a lovely example of Rock Music on it’s own terms.