The Trick Is To Keep Going

Archive for March, 2010

Gil Scott-Heron’s poetry resonates with relevancy

by on Mar.27, 2010, under Music


Sometimes gems are found in the most unusual places. Well, the public library isn’t that unusual, particularly our town library, which has a nice collection of CDs.

Gil Scott-Heron I'm New HereBut there are rarely recently released albums. So when I found the new Gil Scott-Heron title I’m New Here, his first in 13 years, I was surprised and delighted.

I’ve always been a fan on Heron’s and his unusual and effective mix of R&B, soul, blues, vocals and spoken word that burst on the contemporary music scene in the early 1970s. His poetry, containing a mixture of political awareness, life experience, insight and character, penetrates the listener because of his distinctive voice with its tortured, raspy world-worn quality. There is no denying, his art definitely has been a major influence and precursor to today’s rap and hip-hop artists.

The album has a string of narrations, many interludes between tracks, that help tie this compact 28 minutes together for an overpowering listening experience. Heron advises on the back of the album to stop, sit down and listen to this music, not on a portable player, in the car or through any of the many electronic devices available today. Listen to it like his generation listened in a room through a genuine music system without distractions. You won’t be disappointed if you do. When you’re finished, share it with someone and do it all over again.

The opening narration, On Coming From A Broken Home (Part 1), sets the scene of Heron’s upbringing in the South with his grandmother, whom he dearly loved, in a house devoid of men and how he was “full grown before he knew he came from a broken home.” It easily segues into a most interesting interpretation of Robert Johnson’s Me And The Devil, with a hypnotic, trip-hop rhythm track that works so well, at once establishing Heron’s relevancy today and updating his sound. And oh that voice, unlike any other in the music world. (continue reading…)

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Jimi’s legacy lives on

by on Mar.18, 2010, under Music


Experience Hendrix, the group headed by Janie Hendrix, the adopted daughter of Jimi Hendrix’s father Al, oversees Hendrix’s body of work and recently struck a new agreement with Sony after years of working with MCA.

Jimi Hendrix Valleys Of NeptuneThe first joint venture from the two entities is Valleys Of Neptune, 12 previously unreleased tracks by Hendrix, most recorded in the spring of 1969 with The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s original members, Mitch Mitchell, drums, and Noel Redding, bass. Bassist Billy Cox is also featured on several tracks to good effect, wiping out one of Redding’s efforts, and various percussionists are employed.

But essentially this is the main group starting to work on its followup to the artistically and commercially successful double LP Electric Ladyland from 1968. It would be short-lived. The Experience broke up in June, which basically means Redding announced he was splitting. Although Hendrix had obviously greased the skids by finding and working with Cox almost exclusively after April. Mitchell continued to play with Hendrix until his death in 1970 and Cox, Mitchell and Hendrix played as The Experience in 1970.

Experience Hendrix, and for that matter also Alan Douglas who previously handled the Hendrix catalogue, has been roundly criticized for exploiting the Hendrix goldmine and doing anything but a bang-up job of remixing and remastering the material to the level that it deserves. However, some of those criticisms are overblown and most of the previously unissued material and/or reorganized tracks such as one can find on First Rays Of The New Rising Son and South Saturn Delta, are in the end worthy projects, albeit not without flaws, that have enhanced the Hendrix legacy.

It seems rather remarkable that the amount of material available is still not exhausted. Some would say let it rest, the quality is not up to Hendrix’s lofty standards. But Jimi virtually lived in the studio, his only oasis from the storm of his public/business life, and what he left is not only an indication of where he was going but also in fact where he had arrived and it was miles ahead of many of his comptemporaries. Jimi Hendrix was a true original and most of what continues to be released only reinforces that. (continue reading…)

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Under The Radar, No. 4: Passport

by on Mar.06, 2010, under Music


In the early 1970s, a good friend and outstanding drummer, Peter Nowlin, was working with me in a band with the Aiardo brothers in New Haven.

Passport Looking ThruPeter is from Virginia and traveled with an extensive record collection and quality stereo system. At some point, he turned me on to Passport, a German fusion group led by reed man and occasional keyboard player Klaus Doldinger. I was immediately taken with the group. This particular version of Passport from about 1971 to 1977, and by the way the group is still around and legendary in Germany, is now referred to as Classic Passport.

It was definitely the heydey of the band, a quartet that featured Wolfgang Schmid on bass and sometimes guitar, Curt Cress on drums and Kristian Schulze on Fender piano and organ along with Doldinger, who plays his reeds as well as moog and keyboards, all extraordinary musicians. And although they are a German institution, they were never really that fully appreciated in this country.

The music definitely fell into the jazz-rock vein. As one of the best fusion bands of the era, Passport fused jazz-inflected melodies, usually blown by Doldinger with his distinctive tenor and soprano sax sound, employing a liberal amount of echo and/or delay for a fat, sustained quality, over a solid rock and funk foundation. With almost never a guitar in use, the band had a sound apart from most other fusion groups, quite different than anything else happening at the time.

Being a big fan of lead guitarists, it was unusual for me to like a group without one, but the European-based melodic sense and furious and incendiary rhythm section were irresistible. The songwriting and constructions also differed from anything else on the fusion scene and the playing was so good, it was at times overwhelming.

Doldinger has also gained notoriety for his soundtracks, including his best known Das Boot, but he is first a consummate reed man, certainly owing much to the be-bop era, but with a very individualist approach that settles perfectly between jazz and rock, just like his considerable compositional skills. (continue reading…)

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