The Trick Is To Keep Going

Archive for November, 2009

Concerts Vol. 10: Zappa and Zappa

by on Nov.26, 2009, under Music

A friend of mine has asked me several times to write about what I felt was the most disappointing concert I’d ever been to. I’ve already mentioned a couple, Poco at the Shakespearean Theatre in Stratford, CT, mostly because of the horrendous acoustics, and the fourth Cream concert I went to in 1967-68 at the New Haven Arena, not a terrible show but it paled in comparison with the other three.

zappa-live-74-image-1-largeThe most disappointing? I have to pair it with an outstanding one by the same artist, but there’s little doubt that Frank Zappa at the Waterbury Palace on Oct. 29, 1975 is the one. I know the exact date because of meticulous archiving of many of Zappa’s concert dates on the Internet.

Almost one year before on Nov. 28, 1974, I had seen Zappa at the same venue with a large band, which included Ruth Underwood, vibes, xylophone and marimba, George Duke, keyboards, Tom Fowler, bass, Bruce Fowler, trombone, Walt Fowler, trumpet, Ralph Humphrey, drums, Napoleon Murphy Brock, vocals and sax, and Frank on lead guitar and vocals, essentially the Roxy & Elsewhere band. There were a few other band members. I don’t recall who they were, but it was a large ensemble. Obviously expensive to travel with.

I had always been aware of Zappa and really liked some of his material from the ’60s. But when I was living and playing with the Aiardo brothers, Tony and Peter, in New Haven, from about 1973-75, they along with an outstanding drummer from Virginia, Peter Nowlin, whom we were working with, turned me on to Overnight Sensation. That album really turned my head around about Zappa. It was brilliant.

There are still a couple of tracks I might skip over at times when I give it a listen, but on the whole, this was Zappa hitting one of his many peaks. And his guitar playing was stunning. I didn’t realize he was that proficient.

Peter Nowlin and his girlfriend took me to that ’74 Palace show. We sat in the balcony, which weren’t bad seats at all. The perspective was very high and we were looking almost straight down on to the band, so we could see the depth of the stage and the band members really well. (continue reading…)

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From The Vaults: Hidden Treasures 6 & 7

by on Nov.18, 2009, under Music

Back in the late 1980s, I remember seeing an ad in the back of a jazz magazine, either a Downbeat or Jazziz, for an album with four guitarists with Workshop in the title. It was a small, innocous one-column, black-and-white display on the rail of one of the pages.

guitar-workshop-in-la-coverWhat I recall that stuck in my head was that Buzzy Feiten, from Full Moon and the Larsen-Feiten Band, along with Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, who had played with Steely Dan in that group’s early days, were on the album. At that time, I was never able to track the record down, which was on JVC, a company known more for its electronic innovations in stereo and TV equipment than producing records.

At the dawn of the Internet whenever I recalled the album, I tried searching for it with no luck. One problem was I couldn’t remember the title exactly. But in recent years, after probably doing a search on Feiten or Baxter, I came across this Hidden Treasure, Guitar Workshop In L.A., which also includes Teddy Castellucci and James Harrah, two other well-known and respected session players.

casino-lights-coverThe record turned out to be pretty much what I expected, a guitar workout with two tracks apiece for each player, then all four joining in on the two closing tunes. It’s a feast for lovers of funky and bluesy jazz-rock who can’t get enough melodic, tasty and proficient guitar playing from four outstanding soloists, all of whom work mostly on the West Coast but who also have East Coast roots. Count me in.

The added bonus is that is was recorded live to two-track by David Garfield and Alan Hirshberg, something that never fails to amaze me since the musicians capture the spontaneity of the moment while executing demanding charts with few if any flaws.

You’ll notice two Treasures are indicated in the headline. The second is a companion piece to Workshop of sorts, a live recording from Montreux, Switzerland at the 1982 Jazz Festival called Casino Lights,  which includes a plethora of ace musicians, including Feiten, his frequent collaborator keyboardist Neil Larsen, as well as guitarists Larry Carlton and Robben Ford, alto sax player David Sanborn, singers Al Jarreau and Randy Crawford, vibes man Mike Manieri and Yellowjackets.

It’s a mixed bag, all in a similar jazz-rock style combining L.A. and East Coast influences, all performed beautifully and caught live. Having two Larsen, Feiten tracks is worth the price of admission for me but if that’s not enough to entice you, rest assured the rest of the album is well worth the modest investment. (continue reading…)

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Return of the Beehive Queen

by on Nov.09, 2009, under Music

Christine Ohlman hasn’t really been away. In the past five years, she has continued to work with her band Rebel Montez and as a singer for the Saturday Night Live Band, and released the retrospective Re-Hive last year.

the_deep_end_coverBut The Deep End, released this month, is her first record of new material since Strip in 2004. It is certainly worth the wait. A collection of bluesy and soul-infused rockers and ballads with emotional, heartfelt lyrics of love and loss, The Deep End is Ohlman’s most complete and accomplished work.

The album benefits from an impressive cast of guests who each add something special. Al Anderson plays guitar on two tunes, including the title track, Dion, Ian Hunter and Marshall Crenshaw each sing duet vocals with Chris, and Levon Helm, G.E. Smith, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, Catherine Russell, Paul Ossola and Andy York, guitarist from the John Mellencamp Band who also produces with Chris, are among the many contributors.

Chris and her band will debut the album at Cafe Nine in New Haven on Saturday, Nov. 14.

Chris sets the scene on the opener, There Ain’t No Cure, a gritty, infectious rocking track that features York on lead guitar and Hunter adding a duet vocal. The title track, one of Ohlman’s best compositions, follows with its Latin feel in the verse, interesting melodic twists in the chorus and telling lyrics that speak of loss, something Chris has endured in these past five years losing her mate and producer Doc Cavalier and longtime guitarist and collaborator Eric Fletcher. Anderson provides the lead work on the track in his signature country-blues style.

All the uptempo material is a delight. The grooves are deep and the playing exemplary. Ohlman is in fine form vocally throughout, bringing her unique soulful delivery that ranges from smooth as glass to rough and raspy. Among them — Love Make You Do Stupid Things, driven by Ambel’s chord-flavored lead style, the country-rock feel of Love You Right, again with Anderson, Bring It With You When You Come, which sees Rebel Montez guitarist Cliff Goodwin take a fiery, spitting solo, and Born To Be Together, on which Goodwin is again featured this time playing off the melody through what sounds like a Leslie speaker — are all highlights. (continue reading…)

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Derek Trucks at the Garde

by on Nov.06, 2009, under Music

It’s rare that I get a chance to see an artist more than once in a calendar year. It happened last night. I drove down to New London to see The Derek Trucks Band at the Garde Arts Center, a theater built in the ’20s, saved by the townspeople in the ’80s from becoming an open lot, and that is today completely restored and thriving.

derek-trucks-durhamI last saw the band at the start of their tour to promote the latest dTb album,  Already Free, back in February at the Waterbury Palace. That was an impressive show. I was familar with the group’s recordings in the studio at the time but hadn’t seen them live and it certainly was an eye opener. Simply put, dTb is one of the best bands out on the road today, Trucks is quickly becoming acknowledged as one of our finest guitarists, and along with Doyle Bramhall III probably the best practitioner of slide.

Seeing them again allowed me a closer look, not only because I was physically closer, about ninth row center, than in Waterbury, but also having seen them once I could focus in on various parts of the band while not being overwhelmed by the first experience of it.

For instance, I had a much bigger appreciation of bassist Todd Smallie this time. He was obscured in Waterbury from where I was and his sound not particularly distinct. I could see and hear him much better in New London and he showed himself to be a monster player at times, particularly on his solo spot that was a swinging, funky extended piece that played off the rhythm of Kofi Burbridge’s organ and took off into proficient flights in the higher register of the instrument.

I also noticed Mike Mattison has to be one of the most underutilized lead singers in rock and blues. It appears he’s not on stage for nearly half the set. Of course, that’s because dTb has always been an instrumental band first. It’s not a knock but he seemed absent more than at the first show. (continue reading…)

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