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?

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Kip Hanrahan - Sex, Romance And Passion. Anger, Lies And Deceit

He's the wardrobe master of paradise...

In a more just world, I wouldn't have annoying dysphoria issues, Trayvon Martin would still be alive and Kip Hanrahan would be more well known, or at least to the same extent that Hal Willner or Bill Laswell are.

That ism there's a good chance that you've heard of Laswell or Willner, and even if you haven't, you know the stable of musicians they're able to call upon: Ginger Baker, Sonny Sharrock, Elvis Costello, and Lou Reed, among others. And Hanrahan, during his American Clave prime in the 80s, was able to call in some big names: Byard Lancaster, David Murray, Jack Bruce and even Laswell himself.

But not everything in life is peaches and cream, and I think Clave went out of business a few times over the years. Or at least garnered an impression that their records are hard to find. I've only seen one in the wild, and I've been to record stores literally all across Canada. Which is interesting, since on Discogs you can find his stuff for pretty cheap!

Anyway, this share is a mix made by - and I'm going from memory here - a guy named Miles on a long-defunct blog called Birds With Broken Wings something like a decade ago. I grabbed it from another long-gone blog a few years ago, and not only have I not seen it anywhere else, I can't even find anything on Google about it. Go figure.

The music is what you'd expect from a Hanrahan release, but if you're not familiar it's something like this: smoky, back-room jazz, with speak-singing that's closer to a poetry recital than anything; Latin-infused rhythms and horn riffs; ECM-style jazz guitar; jazz that's maybe a little pretentious, but always interesting and never demands much more than an open mind from the listener.

I'd list the sources and players, but honestly I don't have them. Mostly, it's from 90s records like Exotica, A Thousand Nights and A Night, and a few others; there's nothing here from his first couple of records, which are also very cool and recommended. I hope you enjoy, and thanks again to Miles, wherever you are.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Arthur Blythe - May 4, 1979, Public Theater, New York, NY

Back to the Beginning...

In 1979, Arthur Blythe looked like he could've been the next big name in jazz. He'd built up an impressive run as a sidesman and a leader on small labels. And when CBS released Lenox Avenue Breakdown, the Village Voice's Gary Giddons wrote a long, positive review. To wit:
For me, he is one of the four or five most stimulating jazz musicians to come to the jazz fore in the past decade... If Columbia can tap into Blythe's potential audience, the album could be the wedge with which other loft veterans break through to larger audiences.
No small feat considering he was compared against peers like David Murray, Ray Anderson and Butch Morris, among others.

What happened next, and how his records all sort of slipped into the cutout bins, is a story for another time, so let's reward the clock back to the late 70s, when Blythe was gigging with James Ulmer, Abdul Wadud, Bobby Battle and Bob Stewart in New York and radio stations would play his sets over the airwaves.

This one comes from May 4, 1979. It's from early in his career as a bandleader, and if this site can be believed, it's the earliest circulating show of his band. Which is neat, but wouldn't mean too much if the music wasn't so good. Take a listen and think about all the potential and talent, and you know, the stuff that made seasoned critics like Giddons start salivating.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Horace Silver - 1987-06-30, St. Denis Theatre, Montreal, Quebec

From the CBC Radio archives...

Throughout most of the 50s and 60s, Horace Silver was on a hell of a streak. Just about all of his Blue Note records - and there's a lot of them - just about defined what hard bop was supposed to sound like. And they're just dripping with cool: Song for my Father mixes in Latin grooves, while Tokyo Blues opens with jutting horns. And througout, Silver's piano has more hooks than the average pop song. It's no wonder he hasn't just been sampled like a million times, but even been ripped off Steely Dan (see: "Rikki Don't Lose that Number").

Anyway, even if his commercial and artistic peak was a good two decades behind him by 1987, Silver and his band still could bring it when playing live. I've got something like a dozen bootlegs of him from all kinds of places, ranging from the late 60s to the late 80s, and the genius of his songs (and band arrangements, too) has each of them sounding as good as anything from his Blue Note records.

In fact, I'd argue this show from the Montreal Jazz Festival sounds not only as good as any of them, but at moments sounds even better. Think I'm kidding? The way him and his band blast into "Tokyo Blues" sounds like the opening theme to a forgotten 70s cop show, giving the music a harder edge than the laid-back original. Must've been a blast to see in person.

The rest of the show isn't a slouch, either.  Take "The God of Aruba." Through as a few extended solos, the band stretches out while remaining pretty accessible: solo, theme, a few more choruses, then the theme again and repeat. Compare this to, say, the stuff David Murray or Ronald Shannon Jackson were doing at about the same time, and you'll see what I mean. And, unlike Wynton, who at the same time was all about doing jazz as a museum piece, Silver's music remains playful and fun.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Sam Rivers and Friends - 1978-10-15, Keystone Korner, San Francisco, CA

A little free jazz for the birds...

Rivers, Daley and "friend"
To some, the San Francisco club Keystone Korner is maybe best remembered a place where Jerry Garcia gigged all the time. Except, you know, the Keystone Garcia gigged at was the other Keystone, located in Berkley. Confusing, I know!

The Korner was a jazz club, somehow improbably successful throughout the 70s at a time when jazz clubs were largely a thing of the past. An insane number of live records were recorded there, my personal fave being Keystone Bop featuring Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, and Bobby Hutcherson, among others. And it played host to all sorts of jazz: electric Miles, various Art Blakey lineups (including one with a young Wynton Marsalis) and even the occasional free jazz show.

Today's share comes from one of those gigs. This one came to me under Sam Rivers leadership, and who knows, maybe he was considered the headliner here. But the lineup also includes Anthony Braxton, Dave Holland, Joe Daley and Thurman Barker. And by this point, both Holland and Braxton were established leaders of their own, with records on ECM and Arista. Rivers, meanwhile, was releasing stuff like Sizzle for Impulse, and most probably, the cutout bins.

And of course, one may remember that Holland, Rivers and Braxton all recorded the seminal Conference of the Birds a few years previous. And that Holland and Rivers had been gigging as a duo occasionally. And that Braxton had been dabbling in his own NYC-based experiments. And that... but I'm rambling.

The music here is probably one long piece, mostly improvised. I say probably because for one, there's a few dropouts and cuts through the one long file. And second, I think there's a few moments where they sound like they're building on some themes or ideas. I'm hardly an expert on free jazz, so please feel free to sound off below and tell me they're all, I dunno, playing an arrangement of Charlie Parker solos. That's another thing Braxton was doing around this time, you know. Still: it's about an hour of some pretty cool music, no matter the content or whose name got top billing. Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Lucinda Williams - House of Blues, West Hollywood, CA; July 30, 2001

One more for International Women's Month...

Maybe you noticed a theme here this month: I posted only boots by female musicians. Because hey, it's international women's month and because it wasn't really all that hard. And there's plenty of good music to share.

The last one I've got for this month is a nice show from Lucinda Williams. It's a lengthy show from the House of Blues in Hollywood from 2001, and features a nice band:  
Lucinda Williams - vocals, acoustic and electric guitar
Doug Pettibone - electric guitar, electric mandolin, steel guitar
Bo Ramsay - electric guitar
Taras Prodaniuk - bass
Don Heffington - drums
Honestly, I can't say I'm overly familar with her music, at least enough to say if this is like the Cornell '77 of Williams bootlegs or anything, but it's a fun listen and that's usually enough for me. Hope you enjoy, too!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Diana Krall - 2004-06-24, Black Orchid Supper Club, Chicago, IL

Almost blue...
Cor baby, that's really her

I can hear it already: this is too smooth, too easy listening, too mainstream, blah blah blah. I can understand why some people might not like Diana Krall, but I don't really agree with it.

Maybe it's because she's such a crossover success that it's almost impossible not to find her records in thrift-stores and second-hand CD shops. Maybe it's because she doesn't play outside/free jazz or records for a hip, small indie jazz label. Maybe it's because (gasp!) she's a woman who leads her own band. I dunno. But I think that in a vacuum, Krall's a remarkable talent. She possesses a husky voice that drips smokey vibes and emotion and it able to not only turn a song like Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue" into a standard, but make you think it's been one all along. I mean, people love Chet Baker for almost doing the same thing and he threw away most of his talent. And he couldn't play and sing at the same time, like Krall does.

This set was recorded live in 2004, but as per the notes on Ousterhout, it wasn't broadcast until 2008. I grabbed this off a long-vanished blog a few years ago, so any details on the broadcast are long gone, but Krall was touring with a crack band (that's Peter Erskine on drums, who you may remember from his stint in Weather Report) and had an interesting setlist this evening. So: it's a great sounding recording, a good band and a nice setlist. Maybe take a listen, will ya?

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Cat Power - 1999-05-14, Bellingham

One of her better nights...

My sister's fiance used to work at a radio station, and even though he's not a music guy, he's been to a lot of shows over the years. I asked him about Cat Power once, and he said she was not good: withdrawn, rushed through her set and was gone after like 40 minutes. He wasn't alone; the New Yorker once wrote about how bad she was on stage; little did they know she was an alcoholic who drank to excess to combat stage freight.

This share isn't one of those nights. On this night in Bellingham, she mostly played covers (all from the then-new The Covers Record), a few originals and even a cover that she'd get around to releasing a few years later. It's an intimate show, just her and a guitar (or piano), her voice occasionally a little hoarse, but still carrying emotion. At the time, she was easily capable of creating a tender, fragile performance. And when she performs solo, it's a lot easier to hear her connection to the blues, often a source of influence in her music. It reminds me more than a little bit of Songs: Ohia actually, but unlike Molina, she was able to overcome her personal demons.

The way she takes apart covers is interesting, too. "Satisfaction" is stripped to the sinews, like it might've been performed by Elmore James; "Wild is the Wind" is similarly bare and stark, with just her voice and a booming piano. The whole set is like this. It's not a fun time, but it's a compelling time.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sleater-Kinney - March 20, 2015, Paris, France

Outtakes, of a sort...

Last year, my favourite band band released their first live album and it was one of my fave records of the year. I suppose Sleater-Kinney's Live in Paris didn't really make a splash the way any of their other records have, but as someone who's never gotten to see them live and thinks they're a great live act (there's a reason I collect bootlegs of theirs, ya know), it's a nice memento to have and cherish and hopefully one day I'll get to see them live. Not holding my breath though.

Anyway, this brings me to today's share: a NPR broadcast from 2015, featuring a live show in Paris. Sound familiar? I assume that when they recorded the live album, the NPR people got dibs on a selection of material for their World Cafe program. I think? I truthfully haven't A/Bed these performances, and anyway there's some stuff here that's not on the official record: a lengthy interview and a nice performance of "Fangless." It's short, it's sweet and if you haven't bought Live in Paris yet, hopefully it convinces you to do so.

As a bonus, I attached an unrelated session at KEXP to this. I forget where it came from. Might have been a promo EP at one point? Or something I downloaded somewhere? It's also good, showing them right before their hiatus. So now you get both sides of the story, as it were...

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Carla Bley - 1978-03-27, Armadillo World Headquarters, Austin, TX

Keeping the women's month vibe going, here's another great set from Carla Bley in her prime.

This set has some nice tunes: "440," which you may remember from music class is A note you tune your instrument against, "Ida Lupino," and my fave of the bunch, "Wrong Key Donkey."

As you may have guessed, this is a nice slice of the less serious side of Bley's music. She toys with key signatures and tones, making music that doesn't take itself seriously, but is far from a joke. In a few years she'd take this to an extreme: Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports was packed with a sharp, hilarious wit. But even here you can see the seeds of that great record.

I think this is also a nice example of the Austin scene in full effect: the Armadillo hosted all kinds of music, from Willie Nelson to Frank Zappa. I can't imagine too many other venues in Texas would've hosted Bley's euro-centric jazz at the time, so it's very cool to see that she made inroads here.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Sleater-Kinney - BBC Sessions 1998-2000

I'm going to to keep the women's month posts going here with a look at some great tunes by my fave group, probably ever.

Between 1998 and 2000, Sleater-Kinney had three sessions broadcast over the BBC. This set includes dates, but I've found other dates that match this setlist so who knows? But you know what's great: this music. It's got a little of everything: stuff from Call the Doctor through All Hands on the Bad One, plus a nice CCR cover, which if you were around a good 18 years ago, had a resonance with the then president-elect.

The thing about Sleater-Kinney for me is that besides the badassery of them all, is that I love the way Corin and Carrie's guitars mesh and Janet's propulsive drumming. They're one of those bands I listen to when I'm not sure what I want to listen to. I think this shows them in their live element, and is a little more concise than a full gig. Is there more in the BBC archives? Or in some college radio, or CBC Radio archives? I hope so, because I'm always looking for more live Sleater-Kinney!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Carla Bley - 1977-08-24, Chateauvallon, France

Boo to you too!

Today, March 8, is international woman's day. It seems like as good a time as ever to share some music by one of my favourite jazz composers: Carla Bley! I've got a ton of her music, but if I'm being honest, I like the late 70s/early 80s period the most.

Today's share comes from a FM broadcast in France, right at the start of this run. I'm not sure of the details, but make sure you stick around for the star-spangled finale, where Bley and company work their arrangement of the American anthem, among other songs.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Sonny Sharrock - 1987-10-29, Schauburg, Bremen, Germany

This one comes from another dive into my Sharrock archives, and it's a corker. By 1987, Sharrock's celebrity was established via Last Exit and their noise madness, not to mention a stint with Ginger Baker's short-lived No Material band. I think they lasted like three gigs, which has to be some kind of record.

Anyway, when he wasn't ripping frets off alongside Bill Laswell, he was making some compelling solo records. Guitar is a solo record, picking up where he'd left off and giving things a bluesy, reverb-drenched vibe; Seize the Rainbow has a full band and some of his most magical moments as a player. Is it too obvious to cite the way he works up and down on "Dick Dogs," making his guitar ring like a church bell, shriek like a wolf and roar like a lion? It's some of the wildest playing on record, and Sharrock makes it seem easy.

This show is somewhere between those two poles. At times, Sharrock's playing is slow, deliberate and moody, at others it roars and sizzles with as much power as anything Neil Young's ever cooked up. And throughout, it showcases what a tasty blues player Sharrock was, easily as exciting as James "Blood" Ulmer ever was, and not as far removed from Elmore James as one may think: witness the way the both use an overdriven guitar and a slide to blast riffs like they're a wrecking ball.

There's exciting moments throughout: the lengthy Fourteen, she slow-burning "Seize the Rainbow" and a full-band working of "Princess Sonata," the four-piece suite from Guitar. The only bummer: the way "Dick Dogs" fades, right as Sharrock's playing hits the stratosphere. I blame NDR.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Azimuth - 1978-02-06, Bremen, Germany

Vaporwave, decades before that was a thing?

College faculty or jazz band?
Throughout the 70s, ECM released some pretty wild stuff: albums by free jazz groups like Circle, minimalist works by Steve Reich, and box sets of Keith Jarrett piano recitals. It was pretty heady stuff!

But for my money, the most fascinating thing they released was the first Azimuth record. It combined John Taylor's keyboards, Kenny Wheeler's trumpet and Norma Winstone's wordless vocalizing. To call this jazz is really taking the term to the breaking point: it doesn't swing, or sound like anything Duke Ellington might have recognized. It's not exactly ambient - it's nowhere near passive enough - but it's plenty atmospheric.

If I'm being totally honest, the music reminds a lot of what the kids call vaporwave: the hazy, atmospheric electronic music builds and valleys, working through old forms and blah blah blah. It's one of those micro-genres which pop up, then go away after a few years (see: chillwave). But the way pulsating keyboards, hazy siren-like vocals and the blasts of trumpet ramp up the tension, letting it climax and collapse... their first record is ripe for re-discovery.

Anyway, today's share is the lone live session I've come across from this incredible lineup. Recorded live in Bremen, presumably for NDR, this is largely drawn from the first record. The version of "Azimuth" predictably is compelling, with Taylor's keyboards building up as Wheeler and Winstone call and respond to each other.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Soft Machine - 1975-11-26, Cinema Varietes, Marseille, France

The band who waved at trains?...
 As noted previously, I'm not an expert on Soft Machine. A Softie, if you will. I'm just someone who likes jam/jazz fusion stuff and has a ton of bootlegs. Like this one, taken from a late 1975 show in France.

By this point, nearly all the original members of Soft Machine were gone; Mike Ratlidge, the lone leaf still on the tree, would be gone in a few months. Sadly, Allan Holdsworth had also split by this point; I think he'd hooked up with Tony Williams, but I might have my dates wrong.

Anyway, John Etheridge had joined the band, and with them in full fusion mode, he rips it up. Which means: long jams, lots of guitar shredding, and cool 70s experimental stuff. One jam leads into a Karl Jenkins synth freakout, another into John Marshall delivering ten minute drum solo; "Drumsies," as it's artfully labelled on my copy. It's interesting stuff: something very much of it's time, yes, but also with more than a few shades of their psychedelic past. And when they start riding a groove, things are admittedly compelling. For me, anyway.

The sound's not exactly the best, admittedly. It's a tad muddy, and sounds like it's a few generations from the master. But it's more than listenable, and if you're into 70s fusion, there's a lot to chew on here. Hope you enjoy!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Soft Machine - 1971-03-15, Het Turfschip, Breda, Netherlands

Soft Machine and fan
Soft Machine's one of those bands I think people might know about, but not really know the music of. I know I'm hardly an expert on them. I just have a few bootlegs and I like them.

Today's share comes from early 1971, when Soft Machine was touring Europe. I believe Robert Wyatt was still drumming for them, but by this point Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen were long gone. So what started as a sorta hippie band had quietly changed into a progressive rock/jazz fusion quartet, one who played long jams and was one of the first groups to really push ahead with a guitar-less lineup and long, complex jams .

After all, around this time ELP was just getting going, while King Crimson was moving forward as Fripp's baby; Mahavishnu Orchestra's John McLaughlin was his turning amps up to 10 and even Miles Davis was using guitars all over his records. Really, the only other guitar-absent group of note at the same time coming to mind is Weather Report, and I guess they're a good comparison for Soft Machine. So is Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention: plenty of these long jams remind me of when the Mothers would stretch out on songs like "King Kong," too.

But Soft Machine was a different group: they didn't have the same chops as Wayne Shorter, nor the sense of irony that infused Zappa's music. Which isn't a bad thing: I like this tape a bunch. It's just different. And yet, the band would go though major changes within a year, firing Wyatt and bringing in more electric instruments. Which makes this a nice snapshot of a short-lived era. Hope you enjoy.

Friday, January 19, 2018

John McLaughlin & Jonas Hellborg - 1987-08-11, Nightstage, Cambridge, MA

A little night music...

I guess you could say John McLaughlin's always the same guy, no matter what kind of guitar he's playing. He's fast, he's sharp and he's spellbinding. Frank Zappa called him a machine gun one time and Carlos Santana was (and as far as I know, still is) a friend of his.

One could argue he peaked in the 70s, with a great run of records: a handful of Mahavishnu releases, not to mention Electric Guitarist, Extrapolation and Electric Dreams. But in the 80s he dabbed in some interesting stuff: a guitar trio with Al Di Meola and Paco de LucĂ­a, a resurrection of Mahavishnu and cameos on Miles Davis records.

My fave of the bunch is the series of dates he did with Jonas Hellborg. Hellborg, a Swedish bassist who moved in the same New York circles as Bill Laswell, provided a welcome foil for McLaughlin's acoustic guitar. No slouch himself, Hellborg's electric bass has a distinct Jaco influence, in how he's also playing leads, not just the root note or a walking bass line. The two play off each other well, especially when they really get into a groove. Too bad they never managed to get into a recording studio alone together.

On this set, the two work though a spade of old McLaughlin tunes: "Guardian Angel," off Electric Dreams, "You Know You Know" and "Trilogy," both from McLaughlin's Mahavishnu days. I'm sure both "Blues for L.W." and "The Dolphin" are old, too, but I'm not certain. It's also a bummer the tape ends so abruptly. But there's more than enough music to satisfy any McLaughlin fan, especially those who like his unplugged side.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Billy Cobham & George Duke Band - 1976-02-18 - McAlister Auditorium, New Orleans, LA

Frankenstein goes to the disco...

Billy Cobham gets sort of a bum rap. I bet if I asked ten people what they thought of him, nine wouldn't know anything and the tenth would suggest he's that guy who drums really fast for Mahavishnu Orchestra. But there's a lot more to him than that. There's his solo records, where he shows a deft touch: never dominating the scene, but always propelling the groove forward. There's his time backing up Jack Bruce, Miles Davis or Bob Weir. And don't forget his composing chops: "Stratus" or "Red Baron" aren't exactly standards, but are highlights of the fusion era.

My favourite period, however, is when he played alongside George Duke, John Scofield and Alphonso Johnson. This short-lived lineup toured the world and had a live record, the underwhelming "Live" on Tour In Europe. Says the Penguin guide to jazz: "It hasn't aged at all well." I get where they're coming from.

However, as a live unit this band is compelling and exciting. On record, they're chopped up and fitted with questionable song choices. On bootleg, they're full of long, interesting jams, tricky rhythmic passages and some really great grooves. Scofield still had hair back in '76, and he played with a reckless abandon he's never really had since. Johnson plays like he's happy to have gotten back to playing fun, funky music and not listening to Weather Report play pop-jazz. Duke was fresh off a stint with Zappa, so he was game for tricky rhythms and was more than willing to goof off into the microphone. And Cobham? He's everywhere, and nowhere. His fingers are everywhere, and if you focus in on him, his playing is outstanding: quick, tricky and precise. But he never overwhelms the music. A true drummer's touch, I'd say.

This show is from early in their tour. Compared to a more popular bootleg from a month later in New York, the band hasn't quite gone into warp drive yet, but they're still cruising at full impulse. Expect long jams, a few familar themes and some general goofing off by Duke and Cobham. Why Atlantic hasn't released a full concert by this lineup is beyond me.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Ronald Shannon Jackson - Berlin, 1984

Somewhere between Prime Time and Last Exit...

I only really know Ronald Shannon Jackson from his time with two groups: Ornette Coleman's late 70s Prime Time band and the infamous free jazz ensemble Last Exit. One is pretty wild, the other is, uh, extremely wild. Both of them, in fact, have had people ask me if I'm actually listening to music.

Anyway. Jackson, the common element of those two bands, was a talented drummer and someone who led an interesting career on his own: he was associated with Mingus, Ayler and Cecil Taylor at various points. In the 80s, he struck up an association with New York's avant-garde scene, with led to him playing on records by John Zorn, Bill Laswell and being part of Last Exit. And he formed his own group, The Decoding Society.

I'm not exactly a jazz scholar, so I'll defer to the Penguin Guide to Jazz, who compares this group favorably to Mingus and Coleman: "dark, swampy vamps... and sudden outbursts of white noise." I don't disagree, but I'm only really familiar with Mandance. I will say, the music's fascinating and definitely free jazz, but isn't as esoteric as Last Exit. If anything, it's like mid-70s Miles Davis kept going into darker, freer grooves.

This show comes from Berlin sometime in 1984. I don't have any details on the tracks, or if they're all improvised or whatever, but it's something I've been meaning to share for a while. If only because I like it, and it's not something I see online very often. Maybe someone more knowledgeable can enlighten me as to the details?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Miles Davis - 1969-11-02 Ronnie Scott's, London, England

A Tipping Point or Two...

Shiny horn, shiny pants
A fun thing you can do if you want to get mad is look up Stanley Crouch's remarks on Miles Davis. Even as Davis was settling into a role of elder statesman of jazz - you know, the period where he was showing the common roots of pop and jazz by seamlessly working Cyndi Lauper covers into setlists - Crouch was saying he was only good before he got into rock.

By which he means: I dunno. Is there a demarcation line somewhere? I guess maybe On the Corner, but even before that came works like Jack Johnson or Live Evil. And I'd argue you can go as far back as Miles in the Sky to find a direct rock influence on his sound. And that came out in 1968!

Today's share comes from late 1969, right when Miles and band were rewriting the rules every night. Could jazz be electric? Could you work in straight-ahead rhythms? What if ideas like melody didn't apply in the sense they used to? Chick Corea's electric piano adds jagged, shiny edges to the music while Jack DeJohnette's propulsive drumming pushes everything forward. Dave Holland's playing on home court (both literally, and figuratively: before long, Miles would have him ditch the standup bass in favour of a Fender) and Wayne Shorter's sax twists and turns, like he's inspired by the direction the music's going. And Miles? He's the guy behind the whole thing: even when he's not playing or writing, he's acting like one of those late 60s/early 70s directors (Coppola, Truffaut, Kurosawa) who lent films a distinct personality. You can listen to almost anything Miles did between 1968 and 1975 and know immediately it's his work.

This set was recorded by the BBC at Ronnie Scott's, and was allegedly broadcast on TV. What a sight that must've been; Miles wouldn't be on American TV at all during this period, at least to my knowledge. The tapes were lost or wiped at some point, but this audio document survived, and it's a worthy companion piece to the Bootleg Series Vol. 2: Live in Europe 1969 set from a few years ago. I like this set a lot. And I've got a lot of Miles.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Steve Miller - 1972-03-27, Ultrasonic Studios

From the Ultrasonic Archives...

Flashy suit, flashy guitar... must be the late 70s
I'm not sure just why, exactly, but some studios have a distinctive sound. Stax, Fame, Gold Star: the stuff that came from those studios is still highly regarded.

For me, Ultrasonic is right up there. Throughout the 70s, more than a few live-to-air broadcasts came from this Long Island studio and almost every one of them has a great, crisp sound. And, more interestingly, the bands usually brought their A game to these sets. I grab these boots whenever I come across them.

Today's share is perhaps my favourite of the bunch: a killer live-to-air set from Steve Miller Band in early 1972. It's from when he was right on the cusp of fame, with a solid back catalogue of songs, guitar chops and a tight band. But none of the songs that you've heard on FM radio a billion times or more.

At this point, the blues were still an influence on Miller's sound, but the band was leaning towards straight-ahead rock. Kind of like mid-70s Fleetwood Mac, now that I think about it.  There's lots of organ and pounding rhythms, but Miller's guitar playing still has a sharp bluesy edge and he doesn't use all kinds of spacey effects like he would a few years later. He opens with "My Dark Hour," whose riff he'd later recycle into a much more popular song, but quickly takes off into space with a tasty solo. Later, "Blues With A Feeling" goes back to his Chicago-style influences, while "Space Cowboy" goes way out there with some powerful jamming. I'm not even really a big Miller girl, but this set slays and more than scratches the itch when I want some blues rock.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Sleater-Kinney - Dig Me Out: Live

Words and guitar...
 Here's a little something I threw together. Why? Well, Sleater-Kinney is probably my favourite band, for one. And they're a great live act who've only recently been documented on record: Live in Paris, taken from their 2015 reunion tour. But before that, when they were an act who toured all over, on a regular basis? Not much. A couple b-sides, that's about it.

On the tape-trading circuit, Sleater-Kinney is weirdly represented. I've seen that many shows circulate, but I'll be damned if I can find more than a handful on the internet. But one thing that's out there is a large Sleater-Kinney live archive, a huge collection of mp3s that span their career as a live band, but are only stray tracks.

But it was good fodder for this: a re-creation of Sleater-Kinney's career-making record Dig Me Out.  It covers all their years as a live act, from their final shows in 2006, all the way back to 1997, when they still preformed some of the album's deeper cuts. I mean, it's not like fans were clamouring to hear "Heart Factory," except hey! Maybe some of them were. I probably would have been.

Anyway, since they're not currently touring (and who knows if they ever will again), and the possibility of another archival release seems slim at best, this fills a gap for me. And maybe for you! Until they release a 25th anniversary box set or something, anyway.