Richie Goods & Nuclear Fusion: Desert Song (long version)

Those of you paying attention to anything I write on have probably determined I am a sucker for fusion music that incorporates Eastern or Far Eastern musical modes. This is one such song. Though a tinge of Spanish influence leaks through Helen Sung's electric and acoustic keyboard work (sounding like Chick Corea at times), the dominant scalar characters come from the Arabian deserts and Indian plains. To capture some of the Indian tradition, guitarist Jeff Lockhart often slides up and down his strings to mimic Indian string instruments. Goods's own bassline sounds more Arabic. Drummer Clark's excited percussion is Western in nature. That's why they call it fusion. You mix things together. This is a very good world fusion number. Whether the band did all of those things I mentioned on purpose or not is irrelevant. The music speaks for itself.

Nuclear Fusion has great potential. I'd like to hear them a couple of years out, if this is a long-term project. I felt I had to give a little advice to Goods in my review of the band's performance of "Snake Oil." I feel compelled to add some advice here, too. But it is because I dig the music and want the best for the people creating it. "Desert Song," listed as such on the outside of the CD but named "Desert Jam" on the inside cover, appears in two versions on the album. One version is shortened for the radio. Please don't do that again.

January 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Freddie Hubbard & Woody Shaw: Desert Moonlight

The meeting on record of Woody Shaw and all-time trumpet great Freddie Hubbard was a cause for rapt anticipation before this side came out in 1986. (They had already met under the leadership of Benny Golson on the European Timeless label three years before, but somewhat under the radar.) The results were indeed historic, if a little confined by the Blue Note repertory approach to the material played. I can’t help feeling that, all in all, Woody was heard to better effect on the Hubbard/Shaw recordings—he’s always poised and fluent where sometimes Freddie strains a bit. They both sound great on this track, a cover of Lee Morgan’s “Desert Moonlight”.

September 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Connie Crothers & Bill Payne: The Desert and The City

Clarinetist Bill Payne is the very definition of the itinerant musician—his extensive résumé lists stints with at several traveling circuses, Broadway and Vegas shows, tours with the Russ Carlyle Orchestra, cruise-ship bands, and the infrequent bad day gig. Pianist Crothers's pedigree is a bit purer from a jazz perspective: once the protégé of Lennie Tristano, she remains one of the most exceptional representatives of his musical philosophy. Payne cites studies with Crothers as a turning point in his life. He's now obviously her peer. This track presents the pair in intense one-on-one engagement. Payne's non-tonal lines are classically tinged, augmented by a jazz musician's concern with forward motion and free expression. Crothers has the touch of a first-rate Debussy interpreter, and here her lines as well possess an impressionistic strain. Each player gives as much as he/she takes. Their interplay is indeed conversational, albeit highly animated—even argumentative. Crothers's status as one of the most accomplished in/out improvisers is only enhanced by this release. Payne's rep, newly minted compared to hers, benefits even more.

August 27, 2008 · 1 comment


Stanley Clarke: Desert Song

Fusion fans have always been an open lot. While many jazz fans would never accept the new fusion sounds, fusion fans themselves were open to jazz from the very beginning of the jazz-rock movement. Sure they loved to have their eardrums assaulted and their insides vibrated to the loudest and fastest. But they were also quite patient and appreciative of musical virtuosity. And those fusion fans who took the time to learn where fusion was coming from started going back and listening to the old jazz records to obtain a foundation for what they were now digging. That's how I started. It is this open mindset that allowed fusion fans to enjoy a tune such as this.

Performed acoustically, "Desert Song" is the antithesis of a stereotypical jazz-rock piece. Clarke begins with some slow, low bowing atop McLaughlin's minor comping chords and circular arpeggios. As Clarke moves up the neck, the melody becomes more intense. McLaughlin develops a mantra-like riff that will permeate the rest of the song. The two take impressive solos, with Clarke now bowless and McLaughlin playing his scalloped fretboard guitar allowing him to bend notes as on an Indian vina. Clarke again picks up his bow as he and McLaughlin reprise the hypnotic riff, kept company by Holland's sparse percussion. "Desert Song" may not lift fusion-heads out of their seats screaming, but it sure would satisfy their need to be in communion with instrumental virtuosos.

April 24, 2008 · 0 comments


Art Blakey: Caravan

Freddie Hubbard’s arrangement of "Caravan," with that impossible bridge, showcases his physicality and power as a trumpet player. The first declarative phrase sets the tone for the whole solo. Freddie played great with Art Blakey; he knew his style so well, and knew just when to either leave some space or play a phrase that would complement one of Bu’s patented fills. This solo has a real arc to it and yet remains fiery from the first note to the last.

By the way, another classic from this session is "Skylark." At 3:15 into it, listen to how Freddie comes back into at the bridge—another long and perfect ‘Freddie-phrase.’

April 11, 2008 · 0 comments


Pharoah Sanders: Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt

In what is perhaps the most beautifully moving piece of spiritually influenced music of this era, on a par with his mentor John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Pharoah Sanders has created a magical piece of music. The pastel of Henry Grimes's rumbling bass backed by Roger Blank's drums and Nat Bettis's intuitive percussion create the perfect intro for a throaty Sanders chant through his piccolo flute. Once this musical sound-feast has set the offering table, Grimes's solo bass starts the drone-like bottom of this chant to the Creator. A McCoy Tyner-like carpet of sound is added by the piano and guitar of Dave Burrell and Sonny Sharrock, respectively, as the intensity of this haunting prayer creates an almost mystically psychedelic mood. The song is accentuated brilliantly by the percussive skills of Bettis, who enhances the otherworldly quality with his rattles, gongs and bells. At about the 12-minute mark, a soaring Sanders breaks the hypnotic trance with a banshee-like cry from his emotional tenor. The throaty Sanders sound is both gut-wrenching and exhilarating, especially his piercing yet poignant use of the horn's upper register. His expressiveness – at once lyrical and eerily speech-like in its cries – suggests a self-supplicating animal in sacrifice at the altar of his Creator. Surely Sanders reached the pinnacle of spiritual expression with this mood-evoking ode. Multiple listening of this work can transport the listener to a trancelike state that defies imagination with no pharmaceuticals required. This is a sonic masterpiece.

March 17, 2008 · 0 comments


Pierre Dørge: Lost in the Desert, I See A .../Caravan

Listen closely and you'll hear elements of Juan Tizol's "Caravan" right from the start of this iconoclastic reinterpretation by Danish guitarist Pierre Dørge and his New Jungle Orchestra. Obviously, by its very name the band hints at Ellington's repertoire from its "jungle" period. Here, however, in addition to a trombone paying homage to Tizol, a rock-like beat and oriental horn riffs over a Zappa-ish lead guitar carry our lost caravan through a desert fantasy and deep into a sonic jungle. Still, isn't this is an appropriate way for a Danish band to assert its identity on American soil? With a playful version of a classic tune performed in the city where it was born six decades earlier?

February 18, 2008 · 0 comments


Thelonious Monk: Caravan

     Charles Delaunay and Thelonious Monk, 1954
                   Photo by Marcel Fleiss

Plays Duke Ellington is an album that has never sat well with critics. One suspects that’s because people were left wondering why the second-greatest composer in the history of jazz bothered to record an album of tunes by the greatest composer in the history of jazz. But that fails to do justice to the album on its own merits. Considered in that light, this is a wonderfully jarring collection of fresh treatments – and maybe the finest record of Ellington covers. On “Caravan,” the melody is there all right, and Monk doesn’t dare violate the song’s integrity, but he does find ways to add his imprimatur. “Caravan” is the final track on the disc, and it’s the perfect other bookend to his wink-and-a-nod treatment of the opener, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).”

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments


Previous Page | Next Page