Saturday, June 16, 2018

Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin - 1973-09-05 - Berkeley, CA

It goes to 11, Carlos

In the summer of 1973, Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin did a short tour to promote their new album Love Devotion Surrender, which was somewhere on the spectrum of spiritual jazz and guitar madness. Imagine if A Love Supreme had a supercharged rhythm section and a bunch of distortion pedals, and you're halfway there.

The album's aged pretty well, and sounds a lot better in the wake of stuff like Sonic Youth, Grand General and Rush's more guitar-heroic moments. But live they were a different beast. McLaughlin got Billy Cobham to join him - as I recall, Jan Hammer and company took a small vacation from the Mahavishnu's heavy touring schedule - while Santana brought over a few percussionists of his own. And Khalid Yasin, who used to play with McLaughlin in Tony Williams Emergency, came aboard to provide organ.

The shows are generally completely insane. Songs - most of them John Coltrane covers, with a few originals sprinkled in - go on for over 20 minutes, and there's guitar pryotechnics all over the place. Cobham drums like a man possessed and McLaughlin plays, as Frank Zappa once put it, like a machine gun, spraying notes with reckless abandon. Santana's guitar playing is as tasteful as ever, which is a nice balance against McLaughlin.

This show comes from a show in Berkeley, and has good (if occasionally distant) sound. I think it's a FM recording, but it could be a soundboard. Either way, turn it up and get lost in these two at their most expansive.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Neil Young - 1978 Boarding House Compilation

The other day, news broke that Neil Young will be (or maybe not, you never know with him), releasing an acoustic album from a tour in 1976. Well, it got me thinking. You see, shortly before hitting the road with Crazy Horse in 1978, Neil Young played a series of shows at the small, acoustic-oriented Boarding House in San Francisco. It was filled with new songs, including "Shots," "Thrasher," and "Ride My Llama."

The thing about Neil which makes him so compelling to me is that he's always followed his muse and been in a position where he's able to do so, no matter where it takes him. For most of the 80s - for my money, his most creative period - he dabbled in proto-techno, 50s greaser rock and honky-tonk, not to mention the wonderful This Note's For You. The 70s are probably most people's fave Young period, and he made all sorts of weird turns there, too. A weird one-off show with like five guitarists, the shambling Tonight's the Night tour, even a Crazy Horse show where they played mostly stuff they, and not Young, wrote.

These Boarding House shows fit neatly into this pattern. Even as Neil was listening to punk and writing tunes with a sharp, harder edge to them, he was also leaning back into his folkie days: just about all the new songs here wouldn't sound too out of place on Live at the Riverboat. I like how whomever put this mix together thought to include two versions of "Thrasher," including one where Young fucks up and stops the song. "These songs have so many words," he says.

The tape (tapes?) here are all audience-sourced, and have great sound, making you feel like you're right there in the club. Did Young tape these shows? Well, there is a notch for them on the online archives, so.....

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Carla Bley and Steve Swallow - 1998-10-31, Theaterhaus Gessnerallee, Zurich, Switzerland

It's June, which means I'm busier at work, and when combined with cool coming-out-as-trans stuff, my free time is stretched as thin as it ever gets. So there's less time to relax and listen to bootleggy goodness.

But I still have some time, and this is a show I've been digging lately. It's a nice gig featuring just Carla Bley and Steve Swallow playing as a duo, and there's some nice moments: an opening improvisation, a working of "King Korn," and the lengthy "Blues in Twelve Bars." This is a period of her music I'm not overly familiar with: I know Are We There Yet was recorded on this tour, but I don't think any of the material on that is present here.

Bley's piano playing is in fine form here, and meshes with with Swallow's bass. As it should: they've been playing together for a very long time, and by 1998 had recorded two duo albums. But what makes this era neat is the amount of material Swallow brought to the table: "A Dog's Life," and "Satie For Two" are both his. So in all, tons of fun for Bley fanatics!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Gary Burton - 1976-03-04, Greenwood Inn, Olympia, WA

An All-Star ECM Lineup...

Throughout the 70s, Gary Burton did as much as anyone to popularize Carla Bley's music. Her tunes weren't just scattered throughout his live sets, but Burton did an entire album of them: Dreams So Real. I mention it because, for me, it's his high-water mark from the most fruitful period of his career.

Indeed, the mid-70s has Burton taking several interesting musicians into his band and making some compelling music. Not exactly fusion, but definitely something more rhythmic than the more free stuff other ECM groups were playing at the time. And with Bley's music at the centre of his setlists, he made the most of his gigs.

This one come from a FM broadcast of a show in Olympia, Washington. There's one of the all-time 70s ECM lineups here: both Pat Metheny and Mick Goodrick on guitar, both Steve Swallow and Eberhard Weber on bass and Bob Moses on drums. And Burton, too, naturally. It opens with a nice medley: "Sea Journey > Eyes of the Cat," which has everyone taking some turns at the helm, Moses going nuts on his kit, and a nice bass solo as something of a segue. The version of "Eyes of the Cat" might be one of my personal fave moments of any Burton gig: they work themselves up into a nice groove, and there's a great bass solo. How often does one say that?

And that's just the first 20 minutes. Elsewhere, Metheny takes charge on "B&G (Midwestern Night's Dream)," and Burton gets some alone time on "I'm Your Pal." It's a nice show throughout, with generally good sound. There's some hiss, and the stage banter is a little distant, but the music itself comes through nicely, with Burton's vibes especially getting a nice sense of ambience. I've heard shows where they sound stale and harsh, but it's not the case here.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Carla Bley - 1984-07-16, Schauberg, Bremen, Germany

A belated birthday...

I always forget about it until like some European blog mentions it, but Carla Bley's birthday is May 11. And since she's one of my fave musicians out there, it seems about right to post some more of her music.

This show comes from summer 1984, which is right around what the Penguin Guide might argue was the lo ebb of her career. They certainly don't care for stuff like I Hate to Sing, and I see where they're coming from. This set has her and her band in fine form, however, working on older tunes like "Song Sung Long" and "Fleur Carnivore," not to mention her arrangement of Monk's "Misterioso," which I believe was commissioned by Hal Willner around this time.

Not long after this, Bley would go in two directions almost at once: smaller, more intimate groups, then what she'd dub "The Very Big Band," which was about what it sounds like.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Circle - 1971-03-04, Jazzhaus, Bremen, Germany

From the Radio Bremen archives...

Dave Holland's lumberjack phase
In the early 70s, free jazz was a little more open than it is now. And by that I mean it was something you could hear on the radio (on public radio, anyway), that major labels were investing in it and big names in jazz were trying it out. Today's share actually covers all three of these.

Circle was a short-lived group featuring Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Barry Altschul. Both Holland and Corea were fresh out of Miles Davis' band, while Braxton had just made a name for himself with the seminal For Alto. Altschul, meanwhile, had been associated with Paul Bley, himself a pioneer in the free jazz/creative music scene.

This show comes from early 1971, which I think was nearly the end for the band. By the time Paris Concert was released the next year, the group was a thing of the past. Fittingly though, this show was recorded a few weeks after that album, and two Holland compositions appear on both: "Toy Room," and "Q & A." There's also a handful of Braxton tunes, all under the heading of "Composition 6," which is the sort of thing I'd explain if I understood it at all. \

Musically, it's a little abstract, with jutting figures and sections that are rather dissonant. At the same time, there's moments where everything comes together and the band clicks. I think that throughout, Corea's on the top of his game, and Altschul's percussion adds a lot of flavour to the music. Braxton, at this point, I respect although I find  a little rambley at times, and Holland's playing is, as usual, tasteful and interesting arco textures. They actually compliment Braxton's overblowing.

Circle was a group not long for this world; Corea would move away from purely free playing and get into more mainstream stuff with Return to Forever and his duo albums with Gary Burton; Braxton  and Artschul would release some of the wildest music ever to come on a major label with his run at Arista; Holland would work as a session player (including a memorable turn on a Bonnie Raitt record) and release records on ECM.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Waylon Jennings - 1974-xx-xx, Abbott, TX

No reason in particular, just because I like Waylon a lot and his mid-70s stretch especially. This set's got a nice cross-section of his music. Shame there isn't much on the date or anything, but the music's great. Right at the Honky Tonk Heroes peak.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Ratdog - 2006-03-01, KPFA Studio, Berkeley, CA

I'll be the first to admit I can't keep track of all the post-Grateful Dead side projects. I understand all the members have their own bands, and occasionally play with each other in some other bands, but quite frankly I feel like Charlie Kelly when I try and keep track of them all:

But of the ones I do know, and actually listen to, Ratdog is the best. Actually, they're the only one, actually. Why? Because, as this live broadcast shows, they're heavy on loose, Blues for Allah era jams that are just the right amount of light fusion. They take the tricky rhythms of "Slipknot" and whip through them like it's nothing special, then work themselves into a nice, slow groove. The saxophone and wah-guitar give them a nice 70s vibe, and I like the way Bob Weir and Mark Karan's guitars mesh. It's maybe a little slow-going for some people's tastes, but I think it's just about perfect for a lazy afternoon where I sit around doing nothing.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Bill Laswell, Bernie Worrell and Material - 2012-10-24 - Milan, Italy

One World Music...

I've been on a bit of a Laswell kick as of late, listening to his solo record Means of Deliverance and a bunch of Material. Why? Because they've all been re-released on Bandcamp, often with new cover art and great sound. It's tempting to just buy them all, especially after a couple of drinks, but since I own a few of them already, and a few don't really do much for me, I've just stuck with his Material albums: One Down, Seven Souls and The Third Power. 

One thing I've noticed is that there isn't a lot of Live Laswell out there. I guess there's a few EPs, but generally it's just lots and lots of studio recordings. Which makes today's share all the more interesting: it's a Material show from 2012, and at this point Laswell was on something of a jazz kick. He'd also brought along sometime-compatriot and P-funk legend Bernie Worrell on keys, which immediately makes this a must-listen

And it's a rewarding one, too. It opens with a lengthy Worrell solo, then the band hits into a laid-back groove for "Volunteered Slavery." From there's the electric funk of "Goodfellas," the spacey almost dub of "Tendi" and some guitar heroics on "Thinking of Hendrix." There's a lengthy percussion solo, which would almost put the Dead's Kreutzmann/Hart to shame and lots of dub/reggae grooves in the show's back end. It sort of promises what the bootleg title delivers: One World Music, as many ideas from what we'd call world music all happening at once.

I'm not sure exactly the details of this recording; it's taken from a radio broadcast, and I don't really know if all the titles are correct. According to one site, the lineup is:
  • Bill Laswell, bass
  • Bernie Worrell, keyboards;
  • Dominic Kanza, guitar;
  •  Hamid Drake, drums
  • Ayib Dieng, percussion
  • Steven Bernstein, trumpet
  • Peter Apfelbaum, tenor sax

Monday, April 9, 2018

Ralph Towner - 1974-03-12 - Postaula, Bremen, Germany

From the NDR Archives...

Is Ralph Towner jazz? He doesn't make music that swings, and even in a full band context (Oregon, for example), calling them jazz seems to take the label to a breaking point.

Regardless, I like Towner's playing a lot. When he plays guitar, he makes it sound like a thousand instruments, alternating between crashing chords and lightning-fast runs up and down the fretboard. I don't think it's too unfair to compare him to John McLaughlin, although I'd argue Towner's a more atmospheric player, in that his playing fills the room with emotion and feeling; McLaughlin's as impersonal as a machine gun at times.

This set was recorded live in 1974, I believe by NDR. Or perhaps Radio Bremen? I'm not sure, and if I spoke German I could probably look it up. What that means for you, is the sound is crystal-clear, sounding like you're right in front of his guitar (or, for "Rainmaker," his piano). He takes standards and twists them on their head (wonder what Mingus made of his "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat",) while originals are cast in a new light: "Nimbus" is all tension and a cloud of notes, while "Rainmaker" shows off his underrated piano skills.

So: is Ralph Towner jazz? My answer: does it really matter when the music's so good?