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.
Until recently, I hadn't been aware that Bley was one of the pioneers of the electronic synthesizer. Here's one of the recordings from the time when he was first exploring these other sounds. It's interesting to hear his musical choices when he is freed from the relatively quick decay of the piano, and suddenly has the ability to be lyrical in entirely new ways. Late in the track, he seems to metaphorically reference the title of the song (composed by the unique and uncategorizable Annette Peacock) by sending his synthesizer soaring into the uppermost frequencies, almost beyond the range of human hearing. I'm also a sucker for the tangible physicality of that old analog synth sound. Mmm...
This is my favorite track from Bley's decidedly odd recording Synth Thesis
," on which he plays both piano and synthesizer. Listen to how his piano playing echoes and counterbalances the weirdly detuned synth arpeggios. I think this is fantastic, full of the spirit of childhood and discovery that is so characteristic of his music. Also, it makes me giggle.
Muhal performing solo on synthesizer. Itís a mind-trip to hear some of the handclap sounds that are so closely associated with hip-hop music exist in this piece. This is a great experiment that, to one degree, dehumanizes Muhalís music, but at the same time retains its human element. Also the fake record scratching sounds and raygun-shots are married with Muhalís sense of harmony. It is truly Imagined.
It might be safe to say that pianist Herbie Hancock has the most open ears of any jazz musician. He has reinvented himself stylistically many times throughout his career. In 1983, with its skeleton-inspired video, "Rockit" took off from left field and ended up becoming one of the biggest songs of the 1980s. Featured beside Hancock's catchy synthesizer melody is the scratch work by Grand Mixer DST. This marked one of the first times a popular song had utilized DJ scratching, and the song still screams 1980s when you hear it today.
Jan Hammer and Jerry Goodman got together right after the original Mahavishnu Orchestra disbanded to record Like Children
. It was a long and difficult recording due in most part to Jerry Goodman not being satisfied. Goodman has battled the issue of self-confidence his entire career. You may read further about this in my review of Goodman's "Endless November
The brief "I Remember Me" is a sensitive, dark portrayal of the psyche. Hammer's composition is a slow haunt. Goodman's pining violin floats above a repeating Hammer riff of lost chances. One wonders if the subdued hues on display reflected the attitude of the players at that difficult time. Either way, if music is about communication, then "I Remember Me" graphically and effectively tells a troubled tale. It really makes you think. That is good to do from time to time.
The First Seven Days
was the premier recording made at technology wiz Jan Hammer's newly built home studio. It was also Hammer's first album stateside on which he was the leader. A concept album, it is Hammer's loose nod to the Book of Genesis. Hammer plays almost every keyboard available at the time. Most notable is his continuation in advancing the dynamics of the Moog synthesizer and his use of the Mellotron. Hammer, a fine drummer, also handles the kit and other percussion. The album has a classical, progressive rock and jazz feel. From beginning to end it could be considered a keyboard suite. Violinist Kindler's participation is important, but limited. The record received raves and further confirmed Hammer's great talent outside the auspices of his Mahavishnu Orchestra experience.
"The Seventh Day" begins with a catchy and simple piano chordal exercise. Kindler and Hammer introduce the arrangement's head. Hammer plays a relaxed and satisfied Moog melody atop synthetic bass rhythms. The great concern in the early days of synthesizers was just how "synthetic" they should sound. That was worth worrying about. Many good musicians appeared silly trying to make the devices sound like a guitar or other instrument. Hammer got it right from the beginning. The less subterfuge, the better. He took advantage of the synthesizer to create a "Moog sound." He treated the Moog and its cousins as if they were instruments in their own right and not machines. So the sounds he creates on "The Seventh Day" are beautiful synthetic sounds. It takes a musician in love with both music and technology to make that happen. Hammer also understood that despite his capabilities, there was no need to show off his advanced technique. "The Seventh Day" and other very melodic cuts on the album are full of slow, meandering excursions and speed-demon runs. But you never get any sense that the playing is difficult or that Hammer throws in any extraneous flamboyance. The rest of the cut is a pleasant journey through Hammer's many sounds. There are choir-like evocations, galactic references and grand loops of drama before the day ends and true rest is attained.
Despite the critical acclaim for The First Seven Days
, it has been somewhat overlooked in fusion history. Yet its sounds, recording methods and thematic nature are important milestones. The album has every right to be mentioned in the same sentence as any Mahavishnu, Return to Forever or Weather Report record as being vital to the jazz-rock experience.
Of all Jan Hammer's post-Mahavishnu Orchestra material, "Bambu Forest" comes closest in sound and purpose to Mahavishnu's music. Its circular motion is reminiscent of the arpeggio figures often used in the Orchestra's arrangements. Of note was Hammer's choice to not use a guitarist in his early post-Mahavishnu days. His synthesizers were becoming more and more capable of reproducing "guitar-like" sounds. In fact, on the bottom of many of his album covers during this time there would be the small remark that "absolutely no guitars were used on this recording."
The sweeping melody is played on the left-hand side of the keyboard. Fernando Saunders's throbbing bass, a key component throughout, aids the deepness of the song's main theme. Hammer's solo is as wild as any guitar slinger's. In the tune's slowed-down midsection the bass becomes even more pronounced as it bounces off the floor like a big rubber ball. The semi-sinister licks you hear are coming from violinist Steve Kindler. The tune takes on a bit of hope before turning back to the dark side. "Bambu Forest" may sound like a Mahavishnu number. But Jan Hammer would probably tell you that a large part of Mahavishnu sounded like Jan Hammer. And he would be right.
Drummer Phil Collins is replaced on this recording by Kenwood Dennard. The easiest way to describe much of Brand X's music is by comparing it to the sounds of their jazz-rock influences of the day. You could always count on part of a song, or the whole song, to sound like it was coming from Mahavishnu, Return to Forever or Larry Coryell. However, this live performance recorded at either the famous London jazz club Ronnie Scott's, The Hammersmith Odean or the Marquee Club (the liner notes name all three venues without delineating what happened where!) has its own style and sound and is a better representation of what the band could really do.
"Nightmare Patrol" at times does have a slight hint of Billy Cobham from his Spectrum
days, but most would not hear it. At any rate, the tune's character is darker than anything Cobham did. The cosmic introduction is buoyed by a mysterious melody that holds the piece together. Jones's throbbing bass is a leading actor in the presentation. He even doubles the melody. Toward the end, a spacey Goodsall arpeggio is accented by Dennard's cymbal work and Jones's harmonics. The song fades away as the audience reacts. As time went on, Brand X began to find its own voice. "Nightmare Patrol" is a fusion work the band should be rightly proud of.
Many Brand X fans thought the band really found its groove with the release of Moroccan Roll
. Brand X, founded by guitarist John Goodsall and bassist Percy Jones, was becoming one of the most important European fusion bands in the genre. The band would never attain the notoriety of its American predecessors Mahavishnu, Return To Forever, Weather Report or even Eleventh House. But following in those footsteps was quite hard.
"Malaga Virgen," Spanish for "Malaga (Spain) virgin," is notable for how Robin Lumley makes his synthesizer sound like a combination of violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and keyboardist Jan Hammer in a feverish riff that is the tune's beginning and end. In between, a driving semi-Latin rhythm is established by Collins and Pert. In an explorative midsection, Jones has an impressive solo and Lumley turns into Chick Corea on piano. The Return to Forever motif is completed by Goodsall on acoustic guitar sounding every bit the equal of Al Di Meola.
One of the most intriguing aspects of fully improvised music is the live transfer of ideas from musician to musician. When it works, the listener can witness a single mind coming together as musical fragments imply future directions. The Ganelin Trio displays this concept beautifully, transitioning from the soft and quiet to the loud and chaotic and back again. When Ganelin allows the notes of a descending arpeggio to fall on the floor, Kugel and Vysniauskas pick them up and continue the story Ė a tale being constructed in the moment, yet seeming like it has been around since the beginning of time.
Get down tonight!
Set your K-tel Time-Travel Device to the 1970s and prepare to boogie! Naturally you'll need platform shoes and polyester bell-bottoms, with an Aubrey Beardsley peacock shirt open to the navel. Now add 19 necklaces with garish pendants, topped by a Pam Grier Autographed Afro. I'm talkin' about Shaft
! Or rather about Herbie Hancock giving jazz the shaft. "Chameleon" shows his career-long adaptive advantage in camouflaging appearance to fit the environment. With jazz's audience shrunk to the capacity of a Volkswagen Bus, heeeere's Herbie alchemizing trendy electronic gadgetry and monotonous funk into fool's gold. Act now! Supplies are limited!
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