The two tracks below were recorded about two years apart at different studios and with different drummers. They show off two distinct sides of the band Napi Browne, which played extensively in southern New England and Long Island in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
The first, Forget All About It, is an all-out, straight-ahead rocker, written by Nick Bagnasco, one of our two lead guitarists. Nick also sang lead on the track. I used to love playing this tune. It’s an in-your-face, no-holds barred guitar rock song that never lets up. We recorded it at Paul Leka Studios in Bridgeport around 1981. Vic Steffens, who was playing live with us at the time, is on drums and he also co-produced the track.
But the band also liked to play other types of music, particularly fusion and funk, and the second tune, Phase In Phase Out, written by Dan Gulino, our other lead guitarist, displays that aspect. An instrumental, it shows off both guitar players and the rhythm section, which included Dennis DeMorro on drums.
Phase In, Phase Out was recorded at Bearville Studios in Woodstock, N.Y., and was produced by the band. We stayed up there for about three days in a little house directly opposite the Bear Restaurant. I had stayed there previously during the early ’70s with Beau Segal, drummer for Pulse and Island. At the time, we were working as session players for Sam Gordon’s Publishing house in New York.
Check out Dan’s lead on Forget All About it and the harmony guitars in the middle section. That was a trademark of the band and something Nick and Dan had worked on for years. They had a tight and tasty blend together.
The harmony guitars are also in evidence on Phase In, Phase Out. Nick takes the middle section solo and Dan plays lead all around his melody lines throughout the tune.
The band was versatile. We usually played about one set’s worth or our own tunes, including these two. Some of the bands we covered showed the range of the group as well as the original material. We played Bodhisattva by Steely Dan, Freedom, Wait Until Tomorrow and Message To Love by Hendrix, Good Times, Bad Times by Zeppelin, Jeff Beck instrumentals, including Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers on which Danny soloed, material from Les Dudek and Nils Lofgren as well as familiar club fare for the time by the likes of Bowie, ZZ Top and others, even the Beatles.
Robben Ford played at the Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk Friday night. It was the second time we had seen him in three years at the venue and he was on fire, playing a variety of blues and jazz inflected solos over traditional blues material and some of his own tunes.
From Robert Johnson (Travelin’ Riverside Blues) to Paul Butterfield (Lovin’ Cup) to Elmore James and Jimmy Reed (Please Set A Date/You Don’t Have To Go) as well as some of his own compositions, including two instrumentals, Indianola, a tribute to B.B. King, and a nod to the Texas Cannonball, Freddie King (Cannonball Express), Ford displayed his creative and eclectic approach on each of the songs in his setlist.
I was taken aback by the title of Esperanza Spalding’s latest offering, Chamber Music Society. So when I sat down to listen, I was expecting a left turn from Spalding’s self-titled jazz solo debut of 2008, which was one of my Top 5 albums of that year.
Three string players are indeed included here, added to Spalding’s doublebasse, and they underpin all of the tunes on the album. But she retains her Latin leanings in a jazz setting, an enchanting fusion of glorious melody, infectious rhythms and inspired musicisianship. All of the string arrangements, meticulously written and executed, are collaborations between Spalding and Gil Goldstein.
The album is also more of a showcase for Spalding’s fluid voice, with its extended range in the upper registers, and her accomplished bass playing for someone so young, 26. Many of her compositions are written sans lyrics, which at once frees the singer to explore more complicated melodies and imbues the songs with her natural scatting ability.
One with lyrics opens the album and is a 3-minute marvel consisting of voice, bass and strings. A delicate, lilting melody embraces lyrics written by the 19th century poet-artist William Blake on Little Fly. From Blake’s Songs Of Experience, it captures just the right touch of simplicity and vulnerability. (continue reading…)
Tenor saxophonist Steve Marcus introduced guitarist Larry Coryell to Gary Burton, master of the vibraphone, sometime in 1966. I always thought it was the other way around, i.e. Burton saw Coryell in The Free Spirits in New York, which he actually did, and then the Coryell-Marcus association came later.
According to notes from the reissue of Marcus’ album Tomorrow Never Knows, he already knew Coryell through mutual friend and pianist Mike Nock, who lived with Coryell in Greenwich Village. After Burton saw Coryell play in 1966, he asked him to join his quartet with drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Steve Swallow. What resulted was a truly inspiring combination of players, who played jazz with a difference. They were all well-schooled in the bop and contemporary jazz traditions but they also skirted rock and pop territory with rhythms and feels you just didn’t find in jazz.
The quartet produced the landmark Duster, then Bob Moses replaced Haynes and the group recorded two more albums, Lofty Fake Anagram, which pushed further into rock territory, and the exquisite Live at Carnegie Hall. Coryell was incorporating rock tendencies more than anyone in the group with a fierce, biting tone at times and the use of feedback and rock phrasing juxtaposed with his masterful jazz leanings.
Shortly after Coryell left the quartet, he joined Marcus for two of three albums that were among the first to fuse rock and jazz. The records featured jazz-schooled players, who loved rock and pop as much as the jazz tradition they came up in, and showed them displaying more of a rock attitude than ever before for jazz players. These albums are certainly among the first genuine examples of the fusion of the two genres.
The first, Tomorrow Never Knows in 1968, featured the Beatles psychedelic title track, along with another Fab Four offering Rain, the Byrds’ Eight Miles High, Mellow Yellow by Donovan and two other tracks, including a Coryell composition, Half A Heart. A fine album with outstanding interpretations.
Then came Count’s Rock Band, the peak of this triptych and our Hidden Treasure No. 8 in ’69, followed by the mostly forgettable The Lord’s Prayer, sans Coryell, also in ’69. According to Marcus’ notes, Gary Burton, who was a neighbor of Marcus’, actually produced the first album, but when it landed on Herbie Mann’s new imprint Vortex, distributed by ATCO, Mann got credit for production on all three outings. Joining Marcus and Coryell on Count’s Rock Band and Tomorrow are Moses on drums, Nock on piano and Chris Hills on bass.
Count’s Rock Band follows the pattern of Tomorrow and includes covers of Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair with Marcus on soprano sax and The Stones’ Back Street Girl. But the two Hills compositions, Theresa’s Blues and Ooh Baby are easily the album’s highlights and make this record a gem. (continue reading…)
I had always wanted to see Les Dudek in concert but never had the opportunity during the time he released four of the best solo albums of the late 1970s and early ’80s. Thursday night at The Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk, Conn., I got my chance.
Dudek, a somewhat unheralded and almost forgotten guitar master, has played on much more music than many might realize. He recorded those four extraordinary solo albums and was also a member of DFK with keyboardist Mike Finnigan and guitarist Jim Krueger, before virtually disappearing for a big portion of the ’80s. He reappeared with two more solo efforts, the brilliant Deeper Shades Of Blues in 1994 and Freestyle (2002), an assortment of tracks he had never released but that hold together as a cohesive album.
He’s worked with a plethora of other artists as well. Predating his solo career, Dudek played on The Allman Brothers album Brothers & Sisters (1972), on which he provided the emblematic solo of Ramblin’ Man and co-wrote Jessica with Dickey Betts. He worked with Boz Scaggs for six years, including on the top-selling Silk Degrees, then played and toured with Steve Miller, writing What A Sacrifice for Miller’s classic Fly Like An Eagle album. He also worked with Cher in the short-lived rock band Black Rose and toured with and co-wrote tunes with Stevie Nicks in the early ’90s. Add to his resume that he provided some very hot guitar parts to TV themes for Law & Order, Extra, Friends, ESPN and many, many more.
At the Infinity, Dudek played with a trio that included Dan Walters, who provided rock solid and imaginative bass playing and background vocals, and the seemingly tireless and gifted drummer Gary Ferguson. The three ran through many tunes familiar to Dudek’s following from his solo albums as well as songs he’s collaborated on and some new material.
These three put on a a smokin’ show that never let up. Dudek plays a Fender Strat and he easily fills out the sound of the trio. The tone of his guitar sounds like it always has a slight bit of a chorus effect (or perhaps it was just the acoustics of Infinity’s nearly all wood interior), giving it a full, rich sound that almost sounds churchy.
Dudek’s single-string playing is simply jaw-dropping. There is no player in rock that has better chops. He mixes amazing flights of extremely adept and technically difficult runs with sweet, melodic phrasing. Add to this his rhythmic and exacting chord playing, often during and in between his solos, and a voice that is both pleasing and powerful with a wonderful range and Dudek is a tour de force by himself.
With Walters and Ferguson in support the band is electrifying and ferocious at times, as when Walters takes a solo flight that culminates with him expertly keeping up with Dudek on trade-offs, and as Ferguson provides deep grooves that drive the band relentlessly. (continue reading…)
After the breakup of Cream in 1968, it became a point of fascination to see what was next for the three members.
Eric Clapton got together with Steve Winwood to form Blind Faith, which lasted from late 1968 to the end of the summer of ’69, producing one album and an ill-fated tour. He then took up with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett in their touring band, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. That led to Clapton’s first self-titled solo album, produced by Delaney, which still stands as one of Clapton’s very best.
Ginger Baker quickly formed an all-star band of sorts after Blind Faith, dubbed Air Force and recorded a double live and a studio album under the name. It was short-lived. He went through many other musical vehicles in the ’70s and ’80s but always seemed to produce his best work when recording what we now call World Music, then in the ’90s recorded two extraordinary jazz albums with Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden.
As for Bruce, he had already recorded a straight jazz album, which bordered on free jazz, in August of ’68, Things We Like, even before the Farewell Cream tour of that fall.
That was followed by Songs For A Tailor (September, 1969), a truly amazing mix of R&B, soul, blues, folk and rock blended with his Celtic sensibilities, particularly in his vocals, and the enigmatic yet compelling lyrics of his writing partner from Cream days, Peter Brown.
After Songs For A Tailor, probably his most successful commercial album, he has continued to blaze his own path with a string of artistic achievements in his solo career and with others, particularly Kip Hanrahan in the ’80s and ’90s, that has in most cases escaped the music world at large and especially the rock press. That notwithstanding, it can be easily argued Bruce has been the most creative and successful artistically of the three members from Cream.
In early 1970 Bruce put an intriguing and accomplished band together to tour in support of Songs For A Tailor. Called Jack Bruce & Friends, I noticed they were to play at the Fillmore East the weekend of January 30-31 as the opening act for Mountain! Leslie West’s group, at the time, was of course doing very well commercially in the wake left by Cream, but it startled and somewhat annoyed me that Bruce would actually be opening for them.
Nonetheless, my girlfriend and I secured tickets and went to one of the early shows. As I recall it was the Saturday night performance, although it’s possible it was Friday. In the 1990s, I became aware of a recording of one of the shows from that weekend. That kind of stunned me at the time, but it’s now happened more often than you would think possible. At first I believed it was the actual show we attended but I have seen it variously listed as either early show Jan. 30 or late show Jan. 31. So it’s impossible to pin down.
Suffice to say, the setlist is the same as the show we saw. And the recorded document confirms that although this band had not been together that long, it was producing dynamic and intricate versions of Bruce’s tunes, mainly from Songs For A Tailor. (continue reading…)
Last July, blues guitarist Mick Taylor was scheduled to play four shows in New England during an American Tour, his first gigs in the U.S. since 2007. The entire tour was canceled, though, after Taylor was diagnosed with a blood clot in his chest and pleurisy.
Recovered and looking healthy, Taylor rescheduled the tour for this spring and arrived in Boston Wednesday night. His five-piece group, which includes notable keyboardist Max Middleton, played in Northampton Thursday at the Iron Horse Music Hall to an enthusiastic and rowdy capacity crowd.
Though the band was jet-lagged, as Taylor mentioned, they shook off the rust and ran through a 1 1/2-hour set that showcased Taylor’s brilliant single-string and slide guitar work. The outfit was a bit on the loose side but still rocked hard throughout. Taylor’s voice, which is pleasing if not technically adept, carried off some of his own best-known tunes to his loyal following and some other more widely-known material.
Taylor, best known as the 17-year-old wunderkind of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1968-69, replacing Peter Green who departed for Fleetwood Mac, or as the ideal replacement for the fired Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones, giving that band one of its most accomplished lineups, is now in his early 60s and bit more rotund than that slim, young, baby-faced guitar player from what was a magical time for blues musicians. But he seemed happy, ready to please and rocking throughout his group’s set, showing alternately tender and fiery musicianship as he soloed frequently. (continue reading…)
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.
Peter 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…)
We have to some extent documented his work in The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the original Full Moon, The Larsen-Feiten Band, a reunion of sorts with Butterfield and his more recent projects, including The New Full Moon of the early 2000s.
But his work is at best elusive, somewhat rare and definitely difficult to track down with so many albums going in and out of print. Mostly out.
Coming across the video below was a happy find. It features Feiten with The New Full Moon band that released an album around 2002 (although this clip is acutally dated Jan. 11, 2007) and included original Full Moon bass player Fred Beckmeier, reed man Brandon Fields, drummer Gary Mallaber and keyboard player Jai Winding playing the opening cut from that self-titled album, Hey, Dinwiddie, a dedication to the great tenor sax man Gene Dinwiddie of the Butterfield Band and the original Full Moon.
If you haven’t actually heard or seen Feiten yet, then this clip is for you. The tune is a soulful, funky, blues-drenched track, right in Feiten’s main groove.
Speaking of bass players. If you haven’t seen or heard Esperanza Spalding, who I mentioned in my favorite albums from 2008, you must. So here is the young wunderkind bassist/vocalist playing a Milton Nascimento tune, Ponta De Areia, one of my favorites from the legendary Brazilian composer.
It’s, of course, unusual seeing a young woman play with such expertise on what has been primarily a man’s instrument in the annals of jazz, but that she also is an extraordinary singer and does both on stage with such ease is inspiring. Obviously, the world of music is changing and for the better.
What strikes me about this performance is her virtuosity on the doublebasse and that she also sings so naturally when it is one of the most difficult instruments to play while singing simultaneously, because you are creating counter patterns with your hands and your voice. And it’s kind of an awkward instrument to sing with. She has no problems.
The performance is from October, 2008 in Rio.