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.