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Tag: latin jazz

Napi: Love You Every Day, Background Singers Extraordinaire

by on Mar.01, 2016, under Music

NapiArt Small 530

Love You Ever Day was a tune I wrote in 1977 and was one of the first that Napi Browne recorded. To be exact, it was the third song we recorded during a home session over a few days during the summer of ’77 in the basement apartment of guitarist Nick Bagnasco (Nicky Nasko).

We had a control room set up in the furnace room of Nick’s house, and used my TEAC 3340S four-track machine along with a Ludwig mixing console that was also our PA mixer, along with a variety of mics, some borrowed, to record the proceedings. At one point Nick had a mic in the oven in the main part of the apartment to record his guitar. We cleared out his bedroom to set up a vocal booth, and we had guitars, bass and drums scattered throughout over the course of the two or three days. Complete chaos!

Still, this track has a very clean sound to it, some tasty guitar playing by Nick and Dan Gulino, our other lead guitarist, and a very funky percussion track by the group’s second drummer George Wilson, who had joined the group in late 1976 after Richie Catalano left the group.

It also benefits from an extraordinary group of background singers that included Jayne Olderman and Sarah and Peggy Heath. We were so lucky to have them join us on the vocal overdubs and their parts throughout are amazing. Just what I wanted for this tune, and it was a kick singing with them.

This was a bit of a departure from the group’s usual fare because in our early days most of the original material was straight-ahead rock. The song starts in a pop vein but quickly develops into something more jazz-rock oriented structurally and especially instrumentally.

I’m not sure where the inspiration came from. Well, actually I do but more on that later. Right now, I’m talking about the inspiration for the feel of the track, chord changes, melody and instrumentation. I was listening to a lot of fusion and Latin jazz in the ’70s and some of our cover list included jazz-rock material. So, that’s likely what inspired me.

Both Nick and Dan take nice solo turns on the track, Nick plays an infectious rhythm throughout and George is locked in on the funky Latin grooves. Nick takes the first solo during the main section of the song with a decidedly jazz feel. Dan takes three choruses at the end of the main section building throughout, incorporating more rock and jazz-rock ideas. Then we turn the rhythm around twice and he plays some incendiary fills against the background and lead vocals on the tag.

This song was a mainstay live in our early days. Eventually, I believe we dropped it from the set list as we wrote newer tunes.

The inspiration comes from one source emotionally, my wife, Lynne. We weren’t married yet but Lynne was an extraordinary inspiration then as she has been over the years.

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Spalding infuses Latin jazz with strings

by on Oct.18, 2010, under Music


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.

Esperanza Spalding Chamber Music CoverThree 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…)

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Return engagement for Steve Winwood

by on Feb.15, 2010, under Music

At various times in his career, Steve Winwood had gone extended periods during which he rarely played live, the most recent from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. But since his exceptional return album, About Time in 2004, he has toured relentlessly in the States and Europe, including stints with Eric Clapton.

Steve Winwood at the Hammond B-3 with Karl Vanden Bossche on drums and Jose Neto, guitar, in background.

Steve Winwood at the Hammond B-3 with Karl Vanden Bossche on drums and Jose Neto, guitar, in background.

I’ve seen Winwood about a dozen times in his career since 1968, seven times since 2004. Winwood played the MGM Grand Friday night, his third trip to Foxwoods since the release of About Time, with his usual five-piece band that includes a percussionist and sax player but no bass player. Winwood handles that with his left foot at the Hammond B-3, while providing adept, funky and soulful keyboard playing and still delivering with one of the best voices in the music world.

After the second song in his set, Hungry Man, from his Top 10 album from 2008, Nine Lives, he noted all the returning customers he spotted in the front of the 5,000-seat house, which was about 90 percent filled. He added that he and his band would be returning customers for a while also, a pronouncement that was received very enthusiastically.

The musicianship complementing one of the bonafide great talents in rock history is impressive: Jose Neto, who has been with Winwood since About Time, is on classical-electric guitar, as well as a Fender Strat for some tunes; Paul Booth plays tenor and soprano sax, flute, whistle, organ and sings background vocals; Richard Bailey handles drums with a fierce, worldly rhythmic fire; and Karl Vanden Bossche is the percussionist center stage on an array of congas and other embellishing tools of the trade.

Winwood’s band, with the exception of Neto, has changed personnel several times in the last six years, but this unit, which I saw open for Tom Petty at The Meadows in Hartford in 2008, has been together at least that long. And it sounds it. It’s a tight-knit, rocking, funky lineup that burns through a set of old and new songs with equal polish. (continue reading…)

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The elusive Buzz Feiten

by on Jan.06, 2010, under Music

In the past year, Buzz Feiten has been the subject of several posts here, along with ones on his collaborations with keyboardist Neil Larsen.

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.

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The 10 best for ’09

by on Dec.22, 2009, under Music

Last year I picked five albums I considered the best of the year. This time I’m upping it to 10 with a few bubbling under and some added tidbits.

Derek Trucks Band Already Free1. Already Free, The Derek Trucks Band: Traditional blues with modern sensibilities and influences from jazz, roots and world music, all played by an array of accomplished musicians and one of the best slide players of our time.

2. The Deep End, Christine Ohlman and Rebel Montez: Stellar songwriting, impassioned vocals and infectious grooves highlight Ohlman’s fifth album, which also features an impressive roster of guests. Her best yet.

3. Electric Dirt, Levon Helm: On this electrified followup to his comeback album Dirt Farmer, Helm blends traditional roots music with elements of folk, blues, soul and gospel. The mix of new original material and classic covers works perfectly. The arrangements are clean and to the point and musicianship impeccable.

 4. Middle Cyclone, Neko Case: A wonderful concoction of folk, rock, country and pop interlaced with enigmatic lyrics and penetrating melodies. All topped with Case’s crystal clear voice.

bebel-gilberto-all-in-one5. All In One, Bebel Gilberto: Her best since Tanta Tempo in 2000, this work is alive with beautiful songwriting and Gilberto’s gorgeous, hushed, cool vocals. Aided by her pals Carlhinos Brown and Didi Gutman among others.

6. Soul On Ten, Robben Ford: A ripping, rocking live set with two live-in-the-studio cuts, filled with Ford’s interesting blues-based originals, some classic covers and his unique take on blues, rock and jazz playing.

7. The List, Rosanne Cash: A love letter to her father Johnny and her audience, giving back songs from his list of 100 that he gave to his teen-age daughter. Arrangements and execution by Cash and husband John Levanthal are enthralling. (continue reading…)

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Esperanza Spalding interprets Nascimento

by on Dec.14, 2009, under Music

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.

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Under The Radar, No. 2: Neil Larsen

by on Oct.01, 2009, under Music

In 1978, keyboardist/composer Neil Larsen released his first solo album, a touchstone in the fusion genre. Jungle Fever, entirely instrumental, displayed a perfect blend of jazz, rock, funk and Latin influences used in combination with innovative and interesting compositions and some brilliant musicianship, which included his longtime partner Buzz Feiten on guitar.

neil-larsen-jungle-feverLarsen and Feiten had first teamed on the seminal jazz-blues-soul album Full Moon in 1972, a modest hit on the charts but highly influential. Likewise Jungle Fever did well enough on first release but wasn’t a chartbuster by any means. Still, it made a lasting impression on the music scene.

He followed it with a similar collection on High Gear (1979), almost as artistically successful, then enjoyed genuine chart success with Feiten in the Larsen-Feiten Band (1980) and a reprise of Full Moon (1982) featuring the two. Both Larsen-Feiten albums brought pop into the mix along with Larsen’s usual influences and crossed over to the Billboard 100. During the 1980s,  he became an influential and very much in-demand studio musician.

The list of artists he has worked with is daunting. You can find it here in notes for his latest album Orbit, released in 2007. This list of musicians ranges from Gregg Allman and The Allman Brothers to George Benson, Cher, Commander Cody, Dr. John, George Harrison, Rickie Lee Jones, Randy Newman, The Stones and many, many more. This past year, he has been playing with Leonard Cohen on the folk singer’s worldwide tour.

But there is no Neil Larsen web site per se and although you can find him in Wikipedia, there is no page dedicated to him. Despite his influential status in the music community and accomplished playing and composing, he simply is not well known to the public in general.

I have Jungle Fever and High Gear on vinyl. Jungle Fever has been available on CD for a while as an import but at prohibitively high prices, so I transferred my vinyl to CD, using a deck connected to my stereo system not my computer, to excellent effect. High Gear is destined for the same treatment. (continue reading…)

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A cool bossa nova story

by on Feb.17, 2009, under Music

In the summer of 1997, I saw Eliane Elias (elle-ee-annie, elle-ee-es) headline the Litchfield Jazz Festival on a Sunday afternoon under a big canvas tent at, I believe, Mt. Tom State Park in Litchfield. The festival has had so many venues, I’ve lost track.

It was a beautiful day but just as she started her set with her trio, Marc Johnson on bass and I believe Satoshi Takeishi on drums, the skies opened up on the first note of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Agua De Beber (Waters Of March). How could you dream up a more appropriate beginning for a concert by such an extraordinary talent?

eliasbossaI had only become acquainted with her music in the mid-1990s, but Elias, from Brazil, had been around on the jazz scene in this country since at least the mid- ’80s, playing at times with her then-husband Randy Brecker of the Brecker Brothers. I loved her mix of bossa nova and bebop with a classical base that she infused in standards, U.S. and Brazilian, and her compositions. Her playing has always combined astounding technique with a unique feel that so wonderfully blends American jazz leanings with strong latin influences.

She began singing on her albums in the early ’90s and has sung more and more over time with entire albums devoted to her cool, hushed Brazilian approach. With each album, her voice has become more dominant and upfront in the album mixes in contrast to its riding on top of or just in back of the music.

Bossa Nova Stories is her latest and it combines Brazilian classics with American standards. She has recorded The Girl From Ipanema at least four times that I know of and the standard opens the album. This one, as a number of other tracks on the album, features a tasteful, light-handed string arrangement by Rob Mathes. Still, the strings can be at times intrusive, making earlier versions of the tune preferable.

Throughout the record, Elias’ voice is enchanting when she sings in English but it is absolutely captivating when she sings in Portuguese on the Brazilian tunes, transporting you to another place and time. And her playing is exquisite, always at once proficient and swinging.

There are two other Jobim songs, Chega De Saudade and Desafinado, which she has always had a individualistic approach to playing, an Ivan Lins-Will Jennings song, I’m Not Alone (Who Loves You?), two Joao Donato tunes, one with Joao Gilberto, Minha Saudade, one with Caetano Veloso, A Ra (The Frog), Estate (Summer) by Martino-Brighetti, Geraldo Pereira’s Falsa Baiana and such American standards as The More I See You, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Day In Day Out, Too Marvelous For Words, Stevie Wonder’s Superwoman and Day By Day.

This album comes about one year after her tribute to Bill Evans, Something For You. A real treat for jazz fans.

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