Friday, December 29, 2017

The Kinks - Dec. 31, 1980

Ring in the New Year...

As 1980 turned into 81, the 'Kinks rang in the new year with a broadcasted show from New York's Palladium. Remember when that sort of thing used to happen? I don't, because I'm young, but it's cool it did since there's a bunch of primo bootlegs floating around from this interesting practice.

On this night, the Kinks break out a pretty fun set. There's a fun medley of "Where Have All the Good Times Gone > Tired of Waiting For You," a few newer tunes ("Give the People What They Want," "Superman") a few B-sides ("I'm Not Like Everybody Else") and Dave gets a chance to play some stuff from his underrated self titled LP. You know, the one with a really big bar code on the cover. The DJs even interrupt a song to announce the new year.

As far as shows go, it's pretty fun. Were Davies and company always this much fun? I dunno. I asked an acquaintance who saw them live at Maple Leaf Gardens around this time what they remembered and they told me about how some guy stood up on the seat in front of them for the whole show. Maybe I should send them a copy of this set...

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Ray Charles - "Little Drummer Boy"

Christmas albums are supposed to be bad, right? Because almost all of them are. For every A Christmas Gift For You, there's like a dozen forgettable records. And I'm not even counting compilations!

But it was on one of those forgettable compilations I came across this gem: Ray Charles' version of "Little Drummer Boy." It's a song I've heard a million times, in versions from Johnny Cash to David Bowie, but this one leaped out at me. Maybe it's the warm sound of Charles' electric piano, maybe it's the pedal steel working it's way around the background. But something about this one, the way it mixes in Charles' interest in country and soul, swirling colours of choirs and horn section, the lazy drum pattern and slow pedal steel and strings, and Charles' singing, the low moaning and tasteful piano fills. It makes Bowie sound like he's going through the motions, Cash like he should stick to gospel.

Still, the shock comes on the album itself, which somehow doesn't have the same magic. But it doesn't need to. Just go grab this one off iTunes and add it to any holiday mixtape. It'll work more wonders than a bottle of everclear in a punchbowl of eggnog. Trust me.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

DEVO - Hardcore, Vol. 3 - 4 plus Ultracore

Ho Ho Ho, it's DEVO....

The first bootleg I ever listened to was a cassette dub of early DEVO tracks. I forget the collection's name, probably something cheesy like Potato People, but the music was enthralling. Here was DEVO, a band I knew from local radio's Retro Friday playlists, but the music was nothing like "Whip It," or even anything from their first album. Which I was years away from hearing, now that I think about it. Anyway.

What I'm getting at, is how the two Hardcore DEVO CDs are one of those records I've owned multiple copies of over the years and the music on them still appeals to me. The lo-fi synths and early rhythm machines have a timeless appeal, recorded with just low enough fidelity they fit in alongside all the rest of the mix. The lyrics mix razor-sharp wit - "Fraulein" takes a joke about a German mothering telling her son he'll grow up gassing people to the logical extreme of a guy owning a gas station - with punk attitude and chops, although nobody would have called them that in 1974.

The two CDs here are not part of the official DEVO canon. They're called Hardcore Vol. 3 and Hardcore Vol. 4, but have nothing to do with the old Ryko/new Superior Viaduct issues. But these outtakes hold their own: the sorta theme song "Smart Patrol:, presented here as a rough demo, a stripped down "Can You Take It," or "Red Shark," whose jerky drum machine rhythms point the way to New Traditionalists and DEVO's more popular years.

Since it's Christmas and all, I've also thrown in something called Ultracore,  which is more outtakes from the same period, but with some overlap. It's a little closer to the bootleg I remember, which also opened with "DEVO Corporate Anthem," and there's a little better fidelity on some stuff, while others are in alternate takes or mixes. It's an interesting companion and helps fill in the picture: some of these songs were probably them goofing around in the studio, but others were songs they worked on and polished over the mid 70s. As Paul Harvey might say, "and now you know the rest of the story."

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Hal Willner - That's the Way I Feel Now

A Very 80s Tribute...

We're big Hal Willner fans around here, and we think we're in good company. He's maybe best known for his work at Saturday Night Live, or for works like the one shared here today: an tribute record with an all-star cast. While this isn't my fave of the bunch, it's a doozy.

That's the Way I Feel Now is a multifaceted look at the music of Thelonious Monk, as interpreted by a wide range of artists. John Zorn shows up, as does NRBQ. Todd Rundgren takes a turn, as do the Fowler brothers. Some of this is inspired, some of it doesn't really work. Sometimes it's a little of both: the Rundgren bit is super dated in sound, and doesn't really click for me, but I appreciate the effort. NRBQ, however, hit it out of the park. But then, there's not much they can't do, is there?

Overall, it's a nice introduction to the world of Willner's tribute records. I've got a few of these, and they're all great, but sometimes they're a little more abstract, often with a single (and large) cast who revolve in and out through the record. His Mingus tribute, for example, filters his music through Harry Partch. More on that another time. This one's a little more straight-forward, with individual groups each offering their own takes.

A fun side note: Carla Bley's arrangement (which, it should be said was commissioned by Willner) must have resonated with her, since she was still playing it live a good decade later; it shows up her 1994 record Songs With Legs.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

It Hugs Back - 2009-02-05 - BBC 6 Session

With a name like this...

I'll admit it: I'm a sucker for well crafted pop music. I don't think there's any shame in liking stuff that's meant to be enjoyed by the masses, really, or even stuff that's sort of pop but not really. Like these guys: a four piece who play (or did, at least, in 2009) a hazy, fuzz-toned kinda of pop rock.

Needless to say, I like it quite a bit. The big song here is "Now and Again," which combines a hazy vibe with a sense of urgency: the guitars chug and clang, the keyboard drones away and the drums push everything forward. And the backing vocals! It's like a lost Guided By Voices track or something.

The rest of this short radio session has a real late 2000s indie vibe to it, which means you'll may think it's okay or you won't care for it. And that's fine; Pitchfork didn't care for these guys all that much either. But I like the "Now and Again" a lot, so forgive my indulgence!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Todd Rundgren - Fox Theater, Atlanta, November 8, 1973

The pink, blode and green-haired superstar...

Via the Retro Rock archives, here's a killer Todd Rundgren's Utopia show from late 1973, presented with great FM sound.

This was a vintage era for Rundgren, who had quickly risen into a hotshot producer, one-man band and a role as the musician's musician. Or something. While solo records like Something/Anything or Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren showed his songwriting and playing growing by leaps and bounds.

But it's with Utopia (mark one, anyway) that thing really started turning into something interesting. With three keyboardists in tow, including the remarkable Moogy Klingman, Utopia comes off like an American attempt at prog-rock. After all, their first record had a 30-minute track on the second side, complete with lengthy solos and several sections.

There isn't anything quite that intense here, but there's a welcome mix of older Rundgren tunes and material from Todd, which is basically a Utopia album in all but name. Personally, I love this version of "Don't You Ever Learn," since it's lacking all the reverb and layered vocals of the studio version, which lets his keyboardists shine.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Mahavishnu Orchestra - April 21, 1972, Cleveland, Ohio

When you could still get away with stuff like this...

Out of the ashes of Tony Williams' first Lifetime group, Miles Davis' band and a group called The Flock (no relation to Flock of Seagulls) came one of the most supercharged groups of any generation, the original Mahavishnu Orchestra. While on the one hand, they're best remembered for long, high-powered jazz-fusion, it's a little unfair to reduce them to simply that. After all, they were basically a jazz supergroup.

Miles Davis something of the catalyst here, as both McLaughlin and Cobham spent time in his studio band at about the same time. Violinist Jerry Goodwin came via the jazz/rock band The Flock; allegedly he was living on a farm when the call from McLaughlin came. Jan Hammer wasn't yet the keytar-wearing, flashy synth-driven composer he'd become (still had his hair, too) and Rick Laird was more known for playing bass than for his photography. But right out of the gate, the group clicked. Their first LP is seminal, still sounding fresh after nearly 50 years, and even the early live gigs from 1971 show them working on taking their songs deep into jam territory.

Indeed, by spring 1972, they'd become a touring unit that blew backing bands off stage; according to Ruth Underwood, Frank Zappa was so blown away by them it inspired his group to reach new heights (or he was simply jealous, if you believe McLaughlin). And the way they came onto stage was itself powerful: opening with silence, then a loud wall of sound as everyone smashed into the opening number, and finally McLaughlin's spellbinding guitar.

This Cleveland set has been extensively bootlegged, usually under the title Wild Strings. And according to legend, it was at one point readied for release by Columbia. I remain skeptical of that - it's only been recently they started issuing Miles Davis concerts and he's a far bigger name than McLaughlin or Mahavishnu - but I will say this show is great, and despite it's brevity (just four tunes), shows this iteration of the band at full power, before fatigue and bitterness set in; by the end of 1973, this group was finished for good.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Bill Evans - Camp Fortune, Ottawa, 1974

From the CBC Archives...

In summer 1974, Bill Evans, Eddie Gomez and Marty Morell played a show, or maybe a series of them, just outside Ottawa, and had them professionally recorded. If you're really a Evans head (and who isn't?), chances are you're familiar with the Milestone LP these sessions produced: Blue In Green.

I'd argue it's one of Evans high-water marks, with his second-best trio in full flight and nearly telepathic after years of gigging together. For me, it's right up there with Waltz For Debbie and Portrait In Jazz, my other two faves of Evans. But here's the thing: there was far more music recorded that night (nights?). And I've got a bunch of it here for you.

The story as I best know it: Radio-Canada (the Francophone wing of the CBC) recorded a set or two for broadcast: that's a copy of the transcription disc up there. I guess individual stations could broadcast it at their leisure, so long as they did it within a certain period of time, after which the discs were either supposed to be destroyed or returned to Radio-Canada. I guess some weren't. And over the years, this radio set has been extensively bootlegged, right up to a really sketchy issue on Gambit that included some other stuff and pretended it was legit. Remind me to ask Sue Mingus what she thinks of them sometime.

Anyway, the magic that's on Blue In Green is here also: from Gomez's tasty solo on "Elsa" to Evans stately introduction on "Sugar Plum" to the way they all interact on "A Sleepin' Bee," this is one of Evans best bands having an A+ evening. It's one of my faves and I'm presenting it complete with cool French voiceovers.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

NRBQ - June 5, 1977, The Shaboo Inn, Williamantic, CT

The best bar band on the planet?...

Sometimes I'll think about NRBQ and get kind of bummed out. Here was a band that could play boogie, blues, straight-up rock and even a jazz tune or two and should have been at least as big at The Band. And wasn't. On any given night, I think NRBQ might have been the best bar band in the world: they'd play stuff you could dance to, stuff that wasn't pretentious and was a lot of fun.

And in 1977, they were utterly out of sync with popular trends.

Remember, this was the year where the Ramones released both Leave Home and Rocket to Russia, Elvis Costello released My Name Is True and Iggy Pop released Lust for Life. By comparison, NRBQ's mix of irreverent humour, blues-based boogie and tight chops - listen to then twisting and turning through "Dr Howard, Dr Fine, Dr Howard"- must've been decidedly uncool to the skinny tie crowd. But, as you can hear from the crowd on this show, or for yourself, they tore it up to everyone's delight. I'd name a few highlights from this show, but then I'd list every track. It's a personal fav of mine.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders - Jan. 17, 1974

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is all the mystery around Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia tapes. Unlike, say, Frank Zappa bootlegs, there's a great number of Garcia ones where the date and location are uncertain. This is one of them, and its also a real doozy.

This one came to me titled "Dick's Gifts" and had something like three different dates attached to it. After some searching online, I found another date - Jan. 17, 1974 - which smarter people than I suggest is the real date. I don't know, especially since the last track here is almost certainly from something else and the second disc doesn't really match up to the setlist. But I do know it's about two hours of the Garcia-Saunders band, featuring noted bad influence John Kahn on bass, and mainstays Bill Kreutzmann on drums (maybe?) and Martin Fierro on reeds. The grooves are long and the band's loose, with everything coming together in a loose swirl.

I read once that when Garcia grew more dependent on drugs and hangers on, he dropped Saunders and started playing in his more famous Jerry Garcia Band, where nobody was there to really push him from night to night and he could do whatever he wanted. It's a harsh assessment, but I think there's some merit to it. On nights like this, Saunders - who was a pretty damn good keyboardist - pushes the band deeper into grooves, taking Garcia's soloing into an extra chorus or two. There isn't exactly a tension between them, but it's as much Saunders' band as it is Garcia's, and it shows on recordings like this. (Or on the Keystones Companions box set, which is real great and any serious Garcia fan should own).

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I like this recording a lot, and I hope you will too.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Arthur Blythe - July 11, 1981, Montreal Canada

From the CBC Radio Archives...

In the late 70s and early 80s, Blythe was on the cutting edge of jazz. Well, okay maybe not quite the cutting edge, but when he was signed to CBS he was poised for the big time. And then: Wynton Marsalis happened, and jazz turn a turn back to it's roots.

Okay, maybe that's a little simplistic. And, to be fair, Blythe did a standards album, too: In the Tradition. But it remains that Blythe's CBS records still sound fresh and have yet to get their due. He hasn't even gotten the Mosaic Records treatment! Maybe they should get on that. In the meantime, here's something else.

Today's share is a great recording of Blythe - and a backing band that includes Bob Stewart, Bobby Battle and Kelvyn Bell - at the 1981 Montreal Jazz Festival. The CBC/Radio-Canada used to broadcast these all the time (if you've got some, get in touch). The sound's great and there's a nice section of tunes; I especially like "Hip Dripper" and "Harlem Nocturne." If you're not familiar with Blythe, this is a great way to get to know his music. And then from there, try and track down his CBS records.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Jan Garbarek - 1978-04-11, Funkhaus, Hamburg, Germany

Here's something I've been digging recently. A tasty live session from 1978 featuring Garbarek and several ECM stablemates: Ralph Towner (g), John Abercrombie (g) and Nana Vasconcelos (percussion).

There's a few things that stand out here for me: the pairing of Towner and Abercrombie, which I don't think happened on any of Garbarek's albums at the time, and the way a few of Towner's compositions ("Nimbus," "Waterwheel") are included in what's, nominally, a Garbarek-led session. As such, the whole thing has a nice Solstice vibe and there's a few moments where Garbarek lets loose on his horn. This isn't a session of pale, nordic colours.

Like every session I've heard coming out of Funkhaus, this has great sound quality. I imagine it was a NDR broadcast, although I can't be certain. Recommended for 70s-era ECM buffs. Link in comments.