Herbie Hancock: Bubbles

I always like how musicians are able to come up with fitting titles for their songs. Herbie Hancock's "Bubbles" is a perfect example. This track is full of synthesized orchestrations with a splendid soprano saxophone solo by Bennie Maupin. Riding a modulated groove, Ragin also plays a smooth guitar solo that fits in really well with the groove. Maupin steals the show on this one though and it's nice to hear Herbie playing throughout, blending string sounds with everyone's solos. All in all, this is another strong cut from an album that, in my opinion, completed the trilogy of timeless albums for Hancock that began with Headhunters. People will say what they want about fusion in general, but most music lovers would and should have this album in their collection.

With stellar musicianship, acute knowledge of dynamics and interaction and even better songwriting, Hancock scores gold with this album and proves that he was truly ahead of his time and ahead of most musicians.

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Sun Touch

Herbie Hancock has always been one that pushed the stylistic envelope, regardless if he is playing straight ahead jazz or fusion. Following the release of his enormously popular Headhunters and Thrust albums, Man-Child builds on the heels of these two releases but features more players and heavy orchestration. The largest addition to the mix on Man-Child is Melvin "Wah-Wah Watson" Ragin, who adds nice textural flavors with his guitar work, complementing the work of Hancock as if they'd been playing for years. On "Sun Touch," one of several mellow pieces on the album, bassist Paul Jackson and Watson groove on a little ostinato figure that provides the foundation of Hancock's solo. Herbie's solo is a soothing mixture of tasteful melodic passages with synthesized string movements. The string movements add further to the mix and really make this song of the most funky and hypnotic cuts on the whole album.

Although Hancock would explore disco funk to no end towards the latter part of the 1970s, the Man-Child period finds him walking the line finely.

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments

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Paul Jackson: T-Bolt

Opening up with a dirty, dark funk beat and bass line, Paul Jackson sets the mood perfectly for this 1978 album that was finally released on CD in 2000 here in the United States. Accompanied by musicians who weren't exactly household names, the nature of the song brings out all of their bright spots and playing abilities. The song takes a little bit to kick into the main section but once it does it's nothing short of splendid. All in all, this song moves around much more than expected. The melody begins as Jackson doubles up the melody with the guitarist as Webster Lewis then doubles up the line with the synthesizer.

Lewis plays a nice solo on this song, it's very subdued and lyrical at the same time. It's not over the top but quenches the thirst just right with choice note selections and good use of tension and release. I'm glad that this album finally got to see the light outside of Japan. There are so many good albums that have never been released here in the United States but thank goodness this one made it.

August 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Headhunters: If You Got It, You'll Get It

When you talk a band bringing the funk, you've got to talk about the Headhunters. Fresh off of several albums with Herbie Hancock, the backing band of Mike Clark, Paul Jackson, Bennie Maupin and original Headhunters drummer Harvey Mason created an epic funk masterpiece for this 1975 Arista release. Partly produced by Herbie Hancock, "If You Got It, You'll Get It" features guitarist Blackbird McKnight and Mike Clark on vocals and they do a pretty good job of making this track work. The words aren't by any means rocket science, but neither is funk music and that's why it works so well.

The song opens up with a East Asian/African influenced string line over some nice percussion. Then Paul Jackson throws down the anchor and the funk begins. The song is highlighted by a screeching guitar solo by McKnight, which kindly walks the gray line between tonal and atonal. Overall, this song is a gem on an album that has been largely overlooked by jazz heads and more embraced by hip-hop heads for its drum breaks and sample friendly grooves. Go get this, you won't be disappointed and if you are, call me and I"ll buy it from you!

August 14, 2009 · 0 comments

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The Headhunters: God Made Me Funky

Okay, let's do this. Even without Herbie Hancock on this track, the Headhunters lay down the sickest funk groove. With lead vocals by funk technician Paul Jackson, this song grooves all over the place. Opening up a Mike Clark drum beat, that's been sampled for years by early hip-hop deejays and artists, this song is put into motion with low end pops and thumps of Jackson and the panned guitar riff of Blackbird McKnight. Paul Jackson really should have sang more, he has a wonderful voice, perfect for soul/funk music and it works perfectly for this song. The chorus is augmented with background vocals from the Pointer Sisters, who enlisted the help of Hancock and company in 1974 for an album of their own.

After the vocal section, the groove changes up and Bennie Maupin comes soaring through the sound spectrum with a high octane saxophone solo that pushes the song over the edge, making it even funkier. Not enough is said about the abilities of the Headhunters band. Herbie always gets the props and recognition but I think without his backing band, his sound might not have been as strong. If you don't own this album, go out and buy it. Go out and buy it now, it's so worth the money and it was reissued on CD in 2001.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: What a Wonderful World

Major label executives, producers and (quite possibly) Washington insiders envisioned a new direction for Louis Armstrong once producer Bob Thiele brought him into the studio for this session. Sounding like a hardened lobbyist with greater political aspirations, this "contemporary" version of "What a Wonderful World" swings uncharacteristically amidst Armstrong's strange reflections upon society.

Intoning as if he is sitting back in a rocking chair as an old grandpa smoking a pipe filled with tobacco, he says, "Some of you young folks been saying to me, "hey, Pops, what you mean what a wonderful world," continuing, "How 'bout all them wars all over the place? You call them wonderful?" A quick change in tone finds him pleading with listeners, stumping for public support for a message which is the exact same as John Lennon's ("Give Peace a Chance").

My first reaction is one of disappointment, for I was unaware that this was not the original version until I heard it. As a result, my second (and final) reaction is to wonder who the "young folks" that turned to Louis Armstrong for political leadership in the late 1960s were and if they knew what brand of youthful folly they were dabbling with by doing so.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Robert Fripp: Water Music

"Water Music" is an interlude on Exposure that segues into "Here Comes the Flood," a collaboration between Peter Gabriel and guitarist Robert Fripp. Strangely, it plays out in a more positive light than Gabriel's ballad, with the Frippertronics fitting an audio announcement that describes the impending end of the world to a tee.

A sample from a TV program is utilized to drive home the "scientific viewpoint" that a new ice age will soon occur. Instrumentally, it is one of the earliest examples of the Frippertronics that would, later, lead to Fripp's invitation to the G3 festival, but you could debate the lyrical content and redundancy of the oft-heard warning of mass destruction. According to the MC (and with "scientific theory" supposedly on his side), it is now "likely" that "great changes" to the Earth's climate will occur within "forty years" of a broadcast that sounded forty years old in 1977.

"The north part of the world [will freeze over] like it used to be," he states while he emphatically claims "Calcutta" and "London" will soon flood over. It would be safe (and wise) to refute those claims today, as doomsday never happened and likely won't for many millennia, if ever. It's tough to believe that those responsible for this product truly believe in the rhetoric they're selling us.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Robert Fripp: NY3

The all-star band that backs Robert Fripp on "NY3" keeps the groove tight as Fripp is allowed the space to show off both familiar guitar tones and his now legendary Frippertronics. As expected with a rhythm section consisting of Tony Levin and Narada Michael Walden, the music moves and, even though there is a ton of action, the playing never sounds rushed.

Samples that were lifted from an old film serve as this track's "vocals," but they seem rather ineffective as it is tough to suss out what is actually being said. It is obvious that a couple involved in a domestic relationship is engaged in a verbal fight, but the content is cryptic and could be a statement by Fripp on the world around him at the time of Exposure's release (although curious listeners can check out the CD sleeve for lyrical clarification).

As he had taken up residency in the New York of 1977, the urban landscape that he called home at the time was characterized by violence. In traversing Hell's Kitchen with warpaint plastered on, Fripp could have gone into this recording with the desire to verbalize the negative effect that living in the largest American city had upon his psyche. The vision is compelling, to say the least.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Louis Armstrong: This Black Cat Has 9 Lives

Talk about sloganeering. On one of the weirdest straightforward jazz recordings of all time, Louis "Pops" Armstrong interprets a cachet of lyrics that, on the surface, refer to the perceived unluckiness of black cats. According to the song, they continue to survive amidst a myriad of challenges and obstacles.

However, upon deeper inspection, a simile arises between the befallen animal and that of black Americans during the Civil RIghts era. That this somewhat dispirited recording was cut in 1970 is telling, but forced, idiosyncratic lyrics such as "falls down time and again/gets hung up and never wins/that's his history, my friend" will lead you to believe that this whole misconceived junket was not his idea.

The "hip" production style, which fuses Armstrong's growl with cheerful and frothy big-band backing, ultimately exposes how flat and ill sounding Armstrong's voice was at the time of this session, and further verification that Pops was obviously out for the pay comes to light when considering his background. Who knew that Armstrong, a poor black man born in total impoverishment in the New Orleans of 1901, even cared or knew this much about politics and race relations anyway?

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments

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Louis Jordan: Take The A Train

Louis Jordan, one of the original creators of R & B and a key influence on the development of rock 'n roll, is best remembered today for his irrepressible vocals on such '40's hits as "Caldonia," "Saturday Night Fish Fry," "Let the Good Times Roll," and "Five Guys Named Moe." But look past Jordan's jump band jive and you can't help but admire his alto saxophone playing, so swinging, piercing, and zestful. Let's not forget that he honed both his alto and vocal skills with Chick Webb's orchestra before breaking through on his own in the '40's with his Tympany Five. He was as much a jazz musician as an R & B or blues performer, and considered himself to be such.

Less than two years before his death in 1975, the then 65-year-old Jordan recorded this instrumental version of "Take the A Train" at a session in Paris, a track that was not released until the CD reissue in 1992. Listening to it, one wonders what Duke Ellington's orchestra might have sounded like with Jordan in the sax section and as a featured soloist (and singer!). The theme is taken at standard Ellington pace and harmony between Jordan's alto and Irv Cox's tenor, while Duke Burrell lays down some Dukish chords and phrases. Jordan enters his solo with a clarion call before suavely gliding through a series of interconnected and engagingly bluesy riffs, motifs, and exuberant shouts. His trades with drummer Archie Taylor are a little one-sided, as Taylor seems to be a better timekeeper than improviser. Burrell's fills during the horns' hearty reprise even top those of the pianist at the beginning of the piece, adding to the reverent authenticity pervading this small group treatment.

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lew Tabackin: Rites of Pan

Tabackin's Rites of Pan album has just been reissued on CD for the first time. On this early all-flute program, Tabackin proved without a doubt that he should be considered as one of the finest flutists in jazz history. Having majored in flute at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, by the '70's he was the kinetic main soloist on both flute and tenor in the big band he co-led with his wife, Toshiko Akiyoshi. Tabackin by then thought of the flute and tenor as his dual primary instruments, and the contrast between his styles on the two instruments is frequently breathtaking. His key influences on tenor are clearly Sonny Rollins, Don Byas, and Ben Webster, while on flute the flavor of Asian classical music as might be played on the shakuhachi is often most prominent.

The title track, "Rites of Pan," is an astonishing spontaneously improvised dialogue between Tabackin's flute and the always unflappable and infinitely flexible veteran drummer Shelly Manne. "It turned out to be a pagan kind of thing," said Tabackin after the session. Except during a briefly more lyrical and subdued middle section, Tabackin's playing is tempestuous and verging on obsessed, utilizing various tonal, tonguing, and breath control techniques to fully express himself. As is usual with Tabackin on either flute or tenor, there is structure and logic in even his most impromptu sounding flights of fancy. Trills, birdlike effects, staccato bursts, fluttering ovetones, riffs, and attractive motifs appear in a dazzling, unending stream. Manne interacts with Tabackin exclusively through vigorous, rumbling, mallet-intoned rubato patterns, only occasionally colored by gentler cymbal splashes. A unique and exceptional track well worth hearing.

July 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Buddy Rich: Cardin Blue

Buddy Rich presided over two jazz clubs in New York City in the early '70's, Buddy's Place and then Buddy's Place II. During this temporary hiatus period for his popular Big Band, the drummer assembled an impressive small group containing several of the most promising young musicians on the scene at that time, including Sonny Fortune, Sal Nistico, Jack Wilkins, and Kenny Barron. As seen in the cover photograph of Very Live at Buddy's Place, Rich decked them all out in white suits and contrasting gold turtlenecks, a slick uniformity obviously derived from his Big Band's requirements. The album's liner copy credited the group's "wardrobe" to Pierre Cardin, and hence the title of the track in question here, "Cardin Blue," a stylish blues performance that—unlike the said suits designed by Cardin—will never go out of fashion.

A "Funky Blues" (think the 1952 Jam Session with Charlie Parker et. al.) vibe prevails, set up by Barron's bluesy piano, Jackson's throbbing electric bass, and Rich's teasing brushes. Fortune's vibrant, pungent flute solo leads off, followed by Wilkins' unassuming, lightly reverbed electric guitar improv. Nistico's brawny, testifying tenor, shades of Gene Ammons, raises the temperature a bit before an earthy Barron statement that is very deeply ensconced in a soulful, gospel-tinged groove. Jackson's electric bass has the last word, casting a spell both tonally and in the fluidity of his lines. The soothing piano trio wind-down ending caps a performance that presents the more mellow side of what could otherwise be a quite fiery and combative Rich ensemble.

July 24, 2009 · 0 comments

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Roy Eldridge: Melange

Shades of Jazz at the Philharmonic, Roy Eldridge's old stomping grounds. At 64 years-of-age at the time of this recording, Eldridge may have lost a little off his fastball, but his competitive juices always flowed in this kind of context, namely the 13-minute jump blues, "Melange," that gives the frontliners a chance to really stretch out and express themselves. This track comes from one of the spirited trumpeter's last sessions before he suffered a stroke in 1980 that forced him to retire. Here he's surrounded by the versatile multi-instrumentalists Budd Johnson and Norris Turney, the impeccable "guest star" Milt Jackson, and an optimal rhythm section.

The horns hit the theme's dual riffs forcefully as Eddie Locke provides an emphatic backbeat. Norman Simmons' bluesy, light-touched piano takes the first solo, succeeded by bassist Ted Sturgis's brief yet illuminating spot. Turney's alto assumes a Johnny Hodges persona, and while his tone is harder than the Rabbit's, his message is just as insinuating and succulent as would be expected from his old Ellington Orchestra confrere. Eldridge is next, muted and restrained at first but gradually building, as usual, to now open trumpet climactic wails. Johnson enters breathy and fluttering, and commences to unveil a truly magnificent blue saxophone solo, replete with upper register shrieks, deep honks, raspy flurries, and sighing riffs. Jackson's dampened sound and more laid-back attack present a pleasing contrast to Johnson's exuberance. The exciting horn vamp that follows leads us back to the robust theme.

July 21, 2009 · 0 comments

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Antonio Carlos Jobim: God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun

Atypical experimentalism rules Antonio Carlos Jobim's "God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun." The hippie-minded expansiveness mirrors most of the commercial music of the period and even some of the less commercial ruminations by cult artists like Soft Machine.

While Jobim is better known as a purveyor of Bossa Nova, this track could easily be mistaken for either Jefferson Airplane's "Chushingura" (from Crown of Creation) or anything by saxophonist Rashaan Roland Kirk, for there isn't a Brazilian bone in this composition's body. Easily classified as avant-garde, the tune finds some big-band flavor in its instrumental choices that include a clarinet that sounds more indebted to John Coltrane than Benny Goodman. Ravi Shankar-like sitar swirls push the cut in the direction of Indian raga, while the tune is completely psychedelicized in a stereotypical fashion that typifies most of what was released in the jazz world immediately following Miles Davis' Bitches Brew.

At best, the track expands Jobim's musical palette slightly, but it will be fairly obvious to anyone that the spiritual mantra sounds much less original than what the producers intended. This track ultimately struggles to develop an identity of its own, settling for a foray not into the land of the sun but into the finality of diminishing returns.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Antonio Carlos Jobim: Andorinha

"Andorinha" sounds like most Jobim from the era, complete with a few added musical features. The electric keyboards are phased out so heavily for the first minute that it is tough to suss out exactly what is being played. However, trombonist Urbie Green appears amidst the lush density of the string section, and the electric piano, while distorted, plays some lovely romantic figures while expressing an interest in musical modernity.

The amount of gain on Jobim's keyboard sounds similar to what was used on the Herbie Hancock recording Crossings-meaning that the same industry standards sweeten this track that were prevalent throughout most music cut in 1970. The influence of albums such as Miles in the Sky and Files de Kilimanjaro dominates, and, even though this music is in no way as adventurous as what was laid down on those classic platters, the production choices prove that Jobim and his compatriots were, at least, digesting their contents.

Once the initial delay effects are spaced out somewhat, Green is allowed to chime in with his usual laid-backness. However, the track is lazily brought to a close, petering out in the second half. Given the crypticness of the initial portion, the tune falls short of its goal of bringing Bossa Nova to the moon.

July 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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