Archive for the ‘fusion’ Category

Best of 2014: Interviews

Friday, December 26th, 2014

As much as I enjoy discovering new music – both live and on physical recorded media – my favorite part of this Musoscribe gig is engaging interviews. I’ve been at it of many years, but every year find new and fascinating conversations with musicians whose work I admire. 2014 was no exception: every one of my interviews – whether in person, via phone or Skype – was a delight.

Below are my four favorite interviews of 2014, but I’d encourage interested readers to check out my full list of interviews, including 2014 conversations with Alex Maas of The Black Angels, gospel/bluesman Leo “Bud” Welch, Tahrah Cohen of The Machine, Yuck‘s Max Bloom, guitar legend Larry Coryell*, Keith Allison* (Paul Revere and the Raiders), writer Cary Ginell (biographer of Cannonball Adderley and Herbie Mann), Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent of The Zombies*, Yogi Lang of German progressive rockers RPWL, Graham Parker*, Keith Emerson, Nick Montoya of The Volt Per Octaves, The Electric Prunes James Lowe, Chris Jones of 101 Runners, Mark “Flo” Volman of The Turtles, Dave Mason, Adrian Belew, Peppy Castro of The Blues Magoos, and Aaron “Woody” Wood.

Stay tuned for upcoming interviews with Ray Thomas (The Moody Blues), Jamie Hoover, Thomas Walsh of Pugwash, Dwight Twilley, and many more.

Jason D. Williams
For many years, Williams downplayed his biological connection to Jerry Lee Lewis. In fact, he’s still not crazy about discussing it. But speaking of crazy, his keyboard work can well be described using that word. A fun interview in which William lets loose with some memorable hyperbole.

The Posies
Before (and after) their work as members of a reconstituted Big Star, Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer were and remain The Posies; Omnivore’s expanded reissue of their debut album gave me the opportunity to chat with the duo, long among my favorite musical acts who came about in the 1990s.

Todd Cochran
Cochran (billing himself as Bayeté) released one of the best – yet least-heard — progressive fusion records of the early 1970s. The fine archivist/curators at Omnivore reissued Worlds Around the Sun, and Todd Cochran sat down with me for a long and wide-ranging discussion about the album.

Small Faces
In conjunction with the reissue of some of their best work, plus a career-spanning set of gems and rarities, I spoke with surviving Small Faces members Kenney Jones (drums, and later of The Who) and Ian McLagan (the latter passed away last week). Both were a funny and candid.

Stay tuned for more Best-ofs.

* other faves!

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Album Review: Antoine Fafard — Ad Perpetuum

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

One doesn’t often think of melding progressive rock elements with jazz fusion; at least not if one wants to break even on an album release. But that’s the approach favored by bassist Antoine Fafard. Combining the best of (dare I say) smooth jazz with rock’s muscularity, Fafard is aided in his efforts by drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons) and, on one track, the multifarious Gary Husband (a frequent John McLaughlin collaborator and a jazz star in his own right). If Joe Satriani played keyboards and leaned a bit more in a jazz direction, he might sound like this.

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“How did we get where we are right now?” A Conversation with Todd Cochran (Part 3)

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Continued from Part Two

Bill Kopp: We’ve touched on this a bit already: there’s absolutely no guitar on the album. Was that a conscious decision on your part, to arrange the music without the use of guitar? As I mentioned earlier, I come from a rock background, so I’m still learning about jazz. And one thing I’ve learned is that, as often as not, the beat in jazz is implied rather than explicitly laid down. What I find on Worlds Around the Sun is that guitars are almost implied.

Todd Cochran: Yes. And that came from the Clavinet; that’s what I was thinking about. And the Fender Rhodes electric piano allowed me to dictate that rhythmic aspect much more clearly. The colors that the Rhodes gave to the music were pretty new. Some of those records that you were speaking of by Cannonball Adderley – “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” and that period – feature Josef Zawinul on keyboards. He was using a Wurlitzer [EP200A]. The Fender Rhodes wasn’t happening yet. The Wurlitzer wasn’t as full and rich as what the Rhodes became. So with that instrument, the music was much more intense. What really changed were the rhythms that the drummers were playing. You’d be immersed in these rhythmic environment. And what the Rhodes and the Clavinet did was provide colors, with a precision that helped define the music more rhythmically.

And you had people who had been used to playing the piano; I had been playing since I was about three years old. So take someone who’s been playing and studying piano most of their life. Then they go into an instrument that’s not an organ, not a Wurlitzer, but something that has almost the full range (the 88-key Rhodes came later). So they’re taking a pianistic approach and applying it to something electric. You had a different kind of sustaining factor, and you might not have the harmonic interaction you’d have on an acoustic piano. But you could adjust volume, phasing, vibrato. And for a pianist, that was a fascinating world to enter.

We’d have these instruments modified – at no small expense – to make them more responsive, to make the attack more precise. And we’d work on the electronics, to make, for lack of a better word, an artist’s instrument.

BK: Sort of like a guitarist changing out his instrument’s stock pickups…

TC: Yeah. And they do things like shave the frets. The same idea. So we were getting into some areas that were pretty exciting. And the drummers were playing much louder to get the sounds that they wanted out of the drums. You would hear the drums on a rock record that you liked, but you would not get drums like that at a jazz club volume; forget it. So when they did play louder, that made it hard for pianists. Club pianos were not that great, so you’d bring in an electric piano, and create your own audio environment. And that had a lot to do with where the music went.

BK: Not that it’s the be-all and end-all of things, but at present there’s not even a Wikipedia entry for Worlds Around the Sun. I suppose that’s because it was unavailable for so long. Used copies of the original LP start at $60. Why do you think it went out of print, after receiving such good critical notices and selling reasonably well?

TC: I think that the company [Prestige], which was owned by Saul Zaentz, was a privately held company. So they had certain assets that they worked on. They could only give certain records a certain level of attention. They were not signing new artists, and I think eventually the company was sold to Concord. And so not only did they get the prestige of having this great jazz catalog, but I don’t think they knew everything that was in the catalog. And I don’t think Prestige was ever in the business of making jazz stars, either.

They weren’t doing tour support or any big promotional campaigns. They worked really well with the press, but they weren’t in the business of out-marketing their competitors. But that’s me speaking with an executive hat on.

The thrust of the company was not that. When you get in that business, you have to have a steady stream of product that represents the brand. They had a great art department, though. It was there in Berkeley, so it had to be hip to a certain level. So that’s a second sort of what-if question.

BK: Worlds Around the Sun is an undiscovered gem that can now be discovered. And it’s great to see Omnivore Recordings doing it; they have quickly developed a reputation for very thoughtful crate-digging, for lack of a better word.

TC: Curating.

BK: Yes, curating: that’s a better word.

TC: And I think that has everything to do with the times. The music that I made at that time, 1972, the music of that time was so different from the expressions that had come before. I don’t think the social commentary and critics of that time fully understood where the music was originating. So it’s really great to be able to revisit it, and talk about it in an expansive way.

People are talking about some of the concept albums that the art rock bands were making; people are very interested in old Genesis records. I went on to work with Peter Gabriel, too. People are interested in Pink Floyd albums, and in these bigger concepts. Those are records that were talking about the emotional and psychological frame of mind of the times. And that’s still interesting to people as we ask ourselves: How did we get where we are right now?

For me, it’s always been about dreaming the life you want to live, and always being curious. When original thoughts are made into something musical, if it’s well done, there’s a reward for the curious.

And I’m excited to the point where I shot a video for one of the tracks from the record. The track “It Ain’t” is basically about the song from Porgy and Bess, “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” It ties into the idea of mythologies. It’s a big thing to go against those, because people have a whole lot of views about music, about people’s aspirations. And the revolution that the we attached to music in the early 70s meant that we were all looking at society and allegiances differently. And that’s fodder for some high creativity. And I’m very appreciative to have been a part of that. Because it set the trajectory of my musical ideals.

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“How did we get where we are right now?” A Conversation with Todd Cochran (Part 2)

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Continued from Part One

Todd Cochran: And I worked with John Handy, who was on Columbia. To digress a bit back to your earlier question, which is still going around in my head…John Handy had done some very interesting music with Ali Akbar Khan, who played with Ravi Shankar. Some very interesting music. So there was jazz being blended with East Indian classical music.

Bill Kopp: I didn’t realize that hybrid had happened! There was an album that came out about five, six years ago called Miles From India. But I had no idea such a thing had been explored that far back.

TC: Yeah. John Handy, who had been in Charlie Mingus‘ band, was really a very special player. He played all over the world, and he taught for a time at San Francisco State University. I played with John for about a year and a half. I worked with Woody Shaw; I played with Joe Henderson briefly. I kind of circled Blue Note, but it never “happened.” I ended up producing Freddie Hubbard for Blue Note many years later; I wrote an album for him called Times are Changing.

I’ll give you one little insight here. That record I wrote for Bobby Hutcherson, Head On, was produced by George Butler; Butler went on to be a very powerful A&R guy at Columbia. He was Miles Davis‘ A&R guy, and he also signed Wynton Marsalis. I did a lot of projects with George Butler with CBS/Sony. And it was really something I learned way down the road that Head On was the first record that he had produced!

But yes, to answer your question, Blue Note would have really changed my trajectory. It had a lot to do with the fact that I was in San Francisco. I learned my art there, and I’m very happy to have grown up in that environment. Again, it was about the balance of cultures. Haight-Ashbury, the free speech movement coming out of Berkeley, City Lights Bookstore, the American Conservatory Theater. It was the beginning of a lot of what we’re experiencing now: gay rights and such. It was all there. It was a place for ideas. And everyone was interacting with each other, because it’s a much smaller city, geographically, than, say, Los Angeles.

BK: I hadn’t really thought about the way that a city’s geography can affect its musical character…

TC: Absolutely. Very much so. In San Francisco, The Grateful Dead were playing. The [Jefferson] Airplane. There was Bill Graham, David Rubinson. So much energy. I would say that it was the centerpiece of the American cultural revolution. Forward-thinking ideas were driven by the intellectual community. And there was money there, too. And the money went into these great academic places, so this place that was rich with ideas meant that everyone could have their curiosities satisfied.

But a lot of people felt completely put off by it; it was too intense. People don’t realize just how much came out of that scene. Cal Tjader was there. Dave Brubeck came out of that.

BK: The whole West coast jazz scene…

TC: Vince Guaraldi came out of that too. And Duke Ellington did his spiritual concerts there, at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Cornel West had a series that he toured with, with Rabbi Lerner; that was a great, powerful dialog. Everything was there for the taking.

BK: Your wah-wah work on the Hohner Clavinet D6 is a highlight of “Free Angela.”

TC: You must be a keyboard player…

BK: Yes, I am. The vocal chants add a great texture, more musical than lyrical to my ears. I know that there’s a point to what’s being sung, but I hear those vocal lines as a purely musical component. When you composed the track, was the idea of employing the wah-wah pedal – because you’re really pumping it – so prominently part of the original idea, or did it develop in the studio?

TC: I was fascinated by the guitar. I always loved guitar. I’m a pianist, and I come from the classical world. But people were doing such amazing things with that instrument, and then they figured out how to modify the sound electronically. And I’m sure it was some great accident of mis-wiring, but then they created this pedal where you could control the variations in that signal. And it became a complete sound experience. I liked that it gave me the opportunity to get close to what I loved about what guitarists were doing. It’s a bit like what people were doing with brass instruments, using a plunger or other hand mutes. So it became a sort of vernacular expression. You could do it rhythmically, or you could just slowly adjust it. A closed sound would be like the downbeat, and the open sound on two and four would be like the backbeat.

Another thing that I was just learning it that when it was amplified, when you’re in the proximity of the amplifier, you could actually sustain sounds. Feed back sounds. That’s something I explored a bit down the road. But it was a lot of fun.

BK: Worlds Around the Sun is wonderfully difficult to classify. There’s out-there avant jazz, soul, funk, rock texture, pop melodies. There’s something for everyone. You were only 20 when you made the record; what were your thoughts going into the sessions? Did you want to make a record that explored your interests and abilities, to have commercial success, or just to best deliver the set of songs you had written?

TC: All of the above. It was really important to me to be authentic musically. I enjoyed so many musicians, and been inspired by so many great players. I played the Hohner Clavinet with Herbie Hancock on a film called The Spook Who Sat Behind the Door. I was really proud of that; Herbie conducted and I played keyboards on the film score. And the film has gone into the National Film Registry as a representation of the period. I was exploring the D6 a lot on that.

And that’s what the film needed to have, to be fully relevant. I came up at a time when folk music was great, and r&b was moving into these wider expressions where it was not just relegated to subjects of love.

BK: Right; it became much more personal-to-the-universal.

TC: The whole range of expression was opening up, particular for African Americans. And commercial success was important, because that allowed you to be able to go out and play your music. Commercialism was perhaps secondary, as the idea was to make a connection with an audience.

The songs themselves on Worlds Around the Sun had a thematic conceptual approach. Songs like “It Ain’t” were about looking at certain mythologies. The light was shining much more brightly than it had previously; the main commitment was to playing the music as well as it could be played. And the desire to communicate was very, very important. There was music being made at that time that was very technical. It may have been brilliant, but it was not necessarily inclusive; it didn’t invite you in. You might see musicians playing, and you’d be taken in by this mighty relationship they had with their instrument, whereas my interest was to make music or art that was inclusive, that brought them into the melodic and thematic dimensions of the music, where it created a space where maybe we could think about an idea, together. That was what was important to me; not a display of brilliance and technique.

BK: A balance between appeals to the head and the heart…

TC: Absolutely. And I think that’s really important.

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“How did we get where we are right now?” A Conversation with Todd Cochran (Part 1)

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Earlier this year, I spent a delightful and fascinating afternoon in conversation with Todd Cochran, aka Bayeté. His 1972 album Worlds Around the Sun has just gotten the deluxe reissue treatment from Omnivore Recordings.

Our discussion began informally as we discussed where I was coming from. As a relative newcomer to jazz, I approach most everything new I hear with the ears and sensibility of a rock fan. That has led me to two specific types of jazz: the highly melodic, pop-leaning work of Cannonball Adderley, and the fusion-leaning experimental jazz of the late 60s and early 70s. As it happens, the latter genre is well-represented by an Adderley album, Black Messiah, recently reissued by Real Gone Music. I wrote the liner notes for the reissue, and a brief discussion of that project helped establish some common ground between Cochran and myself. That said, we quickly discovered we had much more than a love of that album in common, but it served as a touchstone to get our interview going.

We began the more structured part of our conversation discussing the philosophical framework and outlook that Cochran brought to Worlds Around the Sun. — bk

Todd Cochran: The thing that we all come in touch with, once we’re touched by a piece of music, by something that the player wanted us to experience, is that we’re breathing the same air. And the day cycles are the same. We live in parallel existences. I came to a realization, summed up in one sentence: there’s a ring around the world. All of it can be reached at the emotional level. And it’s very exciting when we reach that place.

All creative musical forms are only one generation away from extinction. So they have to be explained and described in a way that people can absorb the important aspects of the forms. Like folk music: to really understand that it’s a fundamental type of creativity. So it’s important that we understand how it came into existence. When we try to represent that experience, we’re really re-creating something. And then it takes on an art form in and of itself. And I feel that’s the foundation of jazz, soul, r&b and rock. They take those folk elements to the next level and interpret them.

Bill Kopp: For a brief period – probably no more than a few years – in the early 1970s, there was a rich cross-fertilization between jazz, rock, and what we now call world music. You were in Automatic Man; Stomu Yamashta did his Go albums with some of the same artists; and people like Cannonball Adderley were enlisting musical help from Mike Deasy, Airto Moriera and so on. What do you think it was about that era that provided the fertile ground for these sorts of hybrids to occur?

TC: I feel that it originated with the intensity of the times. There were many different aspects in the cultural stream, all intersecting at the same time. What we saw with younger people – of which I was one; I was very young at that time – were ideas that were new, and a lot of assertions that were often completely opposed to those of our parents. I think that what we experienced on the outside, the expression of that, was revolutionary. And the rebellious part was us reacting to our parents’ outlooks, and their attitudes about us coming into our own, finding our own ways to express ourselves.

The punk music that came forth in the late 1970s and early 80s was an expression of that rebelliousness very directly, whereas the music of the late 60s and early 70s was actually an expression of revolutionary ideas. We all eventually come into a time in which we want to feel something very deeply, and the massive shift in the social dynamics of this country allowed a lot of people to have that deep feeling. And it was certainly transferred into musical forms. And when you have things that are impacting each other, the operative response is to try to find balance. And there were a number of people who were working to find that balance. And that resulted in a lot of experimentation. And one thing that made it very interesting is that a lot of people were able to follow this change in musical tastes; that wasn’t true with the events leading up to this period, with the avant garde. Because these were not avant garde, margin ideas.

BK: Worlds Around the Sun was initially released on Prestige, and had a relatively low profile in the commercial world. Adderley was on Capitol, Miles Davis was on Columbia. I wonder if your album had been on a more mainstream (as in, less associated with jazz) label, if it might have gotten wider notice.

TC: It probably would have. I was on Prestige at the time, along with Hampton Hawes, and Bill Evans had been there. I was signed by Saul Zaentz, who went on to become and auteur in filmmaking. He had tremendous taste; of course everyone knows him for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The English Patient and Amadeus; he had really very refined and sophisticated tastes. And he’s known for Fantasy Records, and his association there with Creedence Clearwater Revival. Saul was married to Charlie Mingus‘ second wife.

My first recordings were on Blue Note, an album I wrote for Bobby Hutcherson called Head On. That featured a twenty-one piece orchestra. And then I did a record with Duke Pearson on Blue Note. I was never signed with Blue Note, though; I wrote a record for Hadley Caliman on Mainstream Records, where I worked with producer Bob Shad.

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Short Cuts: July Mini-reviews, Part One

Monday, July 14th, 2014

The in-box here at Musoscribe World Headquarters is overflowing once again, thanks in no small part to my focusing on other matters (including my recent move and impending nuptials) in addition to keeping up my reviewing schedule. So here’s the first in another series of shorter-than-usual reviews. All of these albums were worth my time; they may well be worth yours as well. Dig.

Cowboy – Reach for the Sky
I’ve been meaning to cover this one for awhile. A reissue of a 1971 album originally released on Capricorn Records, Reach for the Sky rates notice as one of the label’s first signings; Cowboy got their deal with Phil Walden‘s label on the strength of a strong recommendation from one Duane Allman. The album is mellow, tuneful country rock, but (thankfully) you’re not likely to mistake this north Florida group for The Eagles. Allman associate Johnny Sandlin produced the album in a clean, unadorned, intimate style, and that approach perfectly suits the warm and friendly tunes.

Scott Schinder‘s liner notes tell the story of this modest group, and (unusually for a Real Gone Music release) the lyrics are printed in the booklet. Most of the gentle, harmony-laden tunes are written by (guitarists) Scott Boyer or Tommy Talton, but a couple are composed or co-written by piano/multi-instrumentalist Bill Pillmore, who today happens to live here in Asheville. He’s also my piano tuner; the world certainly is a small place. I saw a vinyl copy of this in a local record store just a couple of weeks ago; I might go snag it and ask for an autograph next time the apartment grand gets a tuning.

Tommy Bolin – Whirlwind
Though he lived until just past his twenty-fifth birthday, Tommy Bolin left behind an impressive body of work. Most notable as the guitarist who (a) took Joe Walsh‘s place in The James Gang and (b) replaced Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple, Bolin left behind a recorded legacy shows that his style and ability transcended the hard rock of those bands. He released two solo albums in the 70s, and a long list of posthumous live and compilation discs have been released, mostly since the turn of the 21st century.

His catalog, then, bears some similarities to that of Jimi Hendrix: seemingly there’s a push to release every note the man every committed to tape. That said, the quality of the new 2CD set Whirlwind is impressive and consistent. The eighteen tracks on this collection run the gamut from unfinished demo recordings to polished, why-wasn’t-this-released quality. The sequencing is seemingly haphazard, jumping around the various phases of Bolin’s career., but that won’t diminish the enjoyment of the set. Some of the music is meat’n'potatoes rock; some of it is much more ambitious. What most all tracks share is lead guitar work that manages to be both tasteful and flashy. The styles run from fusion to hard rock to gentle acoustic work, with some exploratory jamming tossed in for good measure. Every track here is either a Bolin composition or a Bolin co-write; the man clearly had ideas and energy to burn. An embryonic version of what would become “Marching Powder” on Bolin’s 1975 Teaser LP takes up a big chunk of the second disc; the 26-minute version on Whirlwind (titled “Marching Bag”) is a highlight, and will likely please fans of Hendrix’s later work, which it (in places) recalls. Keen listeners might hear shades of Jeff Beck in there, too, but in the end Bolin was a true original.

The Dramatics – Greatest Slow Jams
Best remembered for their hits “In the Rain,” Hey you, Get Off My Mountain” and “Whatcha See is Whatcha Get” (the first two of which are included on this new compilation), The Stax-Volt soul group’s main stock in trade was what we now (and for awhile now, really) call slow jams. This thematic collection was put together by late-night radio host Kevin “Slow Jammin” James – but of course it was – and may well serve as the soundtrack to your next 70s-themed evening of makin’ love.

The production and arranging on these twelve tracks are smooth and stellar; the Detroit band’s tight harmony is expertly backed by top-notch instrumentation. The band’s arrangers had a keen sense of the value of quiet; on numbers like the supremely melodramatic “In the Rain,” the audio shade and light take a relatively straightforward tune and make it into one for the ages.

Those looking for detailed information about the group and their music are advised to look elsewhere; the compiler of Greatest Slow Jams figures that (unlike me) you probably won’t be sitting around scanning the booklet while these tunes are spinning. Get busy, and enjoy. Greatest Slow Jams may only showcase one side of the Dramatics’ abilities, but it’s a damn fine side.

More “short cuts” to come.

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A Chat with Larry Coryell, Part Three

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Continued from Part Two

Bill Kopp: In the entry on you in the Music Hound Jazz book,  the reviewer makes the points that your back catalog is in shameful disarray, with many titles out of print, and that you deserve better. Now, that book was written in the 90s. What’s the state of your catalog today?

Larry Coryell: Oh, I don’t know, man. I’ve recorded for so many different record companies. Thanks to Apple and Steve Jobs, and the Germans who figured out how to push music into a little wire, the record business is over. It’s not even down; it’s finished. The Grammys are a joke. Soon CDs will be obsolete. Nobody knows what the next big…I call it the Next Little Thing…will be. Because they’re trivializing music.

That’s why I am glad that I’m working on projects that are not dependent on the typical business model. The way we operated for all those years was: you make a record, and you get the company to promote it, and you sell it, and you stick with the brand…that’s all over now.

BK: All that said, are there any old albums of yours that are currently unavailable that you’d like to see back in print?

LC: I don’t know anything about that. I have no control over that. Those albums belong to the record companies. And I don’t know if they even have the money to revive any of that stuff.
I just played a tour with Ron Carter last week; that’s why I’m jet-lagged. I was in Japan. And Ron happened to play on a couple tracks from my second album for Vanguard, back in 1969 or thereabouts. And he said, “I want to hear those tracks. Send me the whole album.” I don’t know how I’m gonna do it! I mean, I will, even if I eventually end up finding the vinyl disc and transferring it to a CD.

BK: I think – and I’m not sure at the moment – that one is available on Spotify.

LC: Well, the guy who owns Spotify is an arch-millionaire. All these people who have taken advantage of cybertechnology, because people still love music, they’re making money off of us. What we need is an act of Congress to tax the people who are profiting…who are getting too much of the profits. I mean, anything is possible with legislation. We need a way to give that music back to the composers or the performers, somehow, in a fair way. Justice needs to be served.

I’m sure you’ve heard this from other people in my age bracket before. So I’m not telling you anything new. I’m lucky, because I’m established. And I’ve made hundred and hundreds of records, both as a sideman and as a leader. But today, young people who are just as good or better than me have no chance to get ahead through that process.

It’s just a bunch of fiefdoms; there’s no organized radio stations, and there are much fewer radio stations that play really great music. Over the public airwaves, it’s gone. We used to have people who were kind of gatekeepers, who had good taste. You’d listen to their shows, and let’s say they’d play forty tunes over the course of a few days. And at least five or ten would be ones where you’d want to go out and get those records. Because that’s what I heard, and I hadn’t heard that stuff before.

BK: And it wasn’t based on market research; it was the choices of tastemakers. The whole payola issue aside, if you were a good tastemaker, you were successful. And if you were lousy, you weren’t.

LC: Now, someone will walk up to me on the average of ten times a week and hand me a CD. And I never listen to them. Because the few times that I had, it was terrible.  Because they don’t know what they’re doing. In many cases – not all; this is kind of a generalization – it’s all been done before. And better.

The saving grace about jazz is that you can get two thousand people who are very talented jazz improvisers, and get two thousand versions of, say, “All the Things You Are,” or “Autumn Leaves,” or something like that, and they’ll all be good in their own way. Because it’s personal. Jazz is not about the notes on the paper; it’s about the emotions that are expressed.

BK: Once you establish the head, you can go anywhere with it; you go off and make it your own, and then bring it back at the end.

LC: Sometimes not even that! I just wrote liner notes for a CD [released] in Japan, where they did the standard “Love for Sale,” and in the opening chorus, there’s no melody! And it sounded great that way. I gave them big kudos.

BK: For me, the Cannonball Adderley version with Miles Davis is my favorite.

LC: Ron Carter said something – I’m sure he won’t mind me saying this – talking about Adderley. We were listening to “Jive Samba.” It might have been playing on the radio or something. Ron turns to me and he says, “You don’t have melodies being composed these days.  You can’t hum them.” [Hums the melody line to Nat Adderley's classic.] People don’t write melodies that are hummable any more. Jazz is always complicated. And that’s a tragedy.

Note: at this point, my recorder ran out of space, though our conversation wound on for some twenty minutes more. Coryell discussed his affinity for my hometown of Asheville NC, including tentative plans a few years ago – since abandoned – to relocate here from Florida (the main reason: our airport is too small and remote for the always-on-the-go guitarist). There’s every reason to expect Coryell to follow up The Lift, his recent effort on Wide Hive, with another excellent and endless varying album; at age 71, he shows no signs of slowing down.  – bk

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A Chat with Larry Coryell, Part Two

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Continued from Part One

Bill Kopp: Though you’re certainly grounded at least in part in rock styles, another remarkable quality of your musicianship to me is the way you take more of the jazz player’s approach to arrangement: you’re not stingy about having all the solos. Everybody gets a chance to shine. Is that a conscious goal of yours when arranging songs for recording and/or live performance?

Larry Coryell: Well, if you’re gonna play with other people, you’ve got to let them express themselves. It doesn’t make any sense to me to do otherwise. I know other people have different philosophies.

BK: I mentioned to my friends on Facebook that I would be speaking with you, and a number of my friends and readers commented enthusiastically. One mentioned seeing you in the early 70s on a bill with The Faces and Argent. How was it, playing to rock-festival type crowds? Were they receptive to the fusion-leaning sounds you were turning out?

LC: Yeah. There were really no barriers. During that time, there were no barriers between the definitions of styles so much. Basically, if your group could get out there and ignite excitement in the public, that’s all that mattered.

BK: I think that’s been lost to some degree now; everything’s all about market segmentation.

LC: That’s true. But it’s a reflection of the times. The times in which we were living back then – the late 60s and early 70s – was the sexual revolution. Revolutions were going on. All kinds of weird stuff was going on; go look at the movies that were made at that time. Nothing like the movies that we have now.

BK: Your sons are musicians as well. To what extent did you encourage them to develop musically? It seems like a daunting proposition to pick up the guitar when your dad is Larry Coryell.

LC: For them, it just happened naturally. The youngest one leaned more toward learning jazz harmony early on, and the oldest one took a little bit longer to choose to become a musician. But he wanted to choose a style for himself that was not like either what I do or what his younger brother was doing. So he got into rhythm and blues a lot, and singing.

It was very organic the way they developed; I didn’t really push them at all.

BK: Another one of my readers remarked on the fact that while you can certainly play fast when you want to, you often avoid competing in the “speed demon sweepstakes.” He wants to know if you intentionally made a point of not going there.

LC: Well, when you’re playing a lot of fast stuff, you’ve got to be careful; very often you can end up not playing music. And the goal of all this is to make music. Sometimes the heady technique is required in order to express what you’re trying to do. But you still have to be musical; that’s what really touches the heart.

BK: Another friend mentioned to me that – and I don’t know anything about this – you did a gig in the 70s with Jack Bruce and Mitch Mitchell. Can you tell me about that?

LC: That was a Jack Bruce tour. Jack did a tour in 1971 – I think it was 1971…might have been ’72…some historians can pinpoint the actual year – and we did a big tour of America. We had my keyboard player, who eventually became the keyboard player in Eleventh House, Mike Mandel. So it was Jack on bass, Mitch on drums, Mike on organ, and myself. And we did Jack’s music because it was a Jack Bruce gig. And it was very…interesting.

BK: It would be nice if some live recordings from that tour might turn up…

LC: Well, everybody was so loaded. It was pretty sketchy. Pretty checquered. It all depended on how many sheets to the wind you were. The whole room was loaded. I think Keith Jarrett was the only one who was sober.

BK: We touched on this briefly a few moments ago. Every critical overview of you and your career that I read makes essentially the same point: you are under-appreciated. It’s been suggested that you get bored sticking with one style for very long. And it seems to me that had you decided to stick to one style, you might have enjoyed more commercial success. Because of course record companies – and listeners for that matter – often prefer music they can pigeonhole, that isn’t too demanding of them, that doesn’t challenge their expectations. What do you think about that?

LC: Well, there’s some truth to that. If you jump around styles, market-wise it’s a problem. But you know, I work so much…a lot of the time these days I’ll turn down work because I don’t need the money, and I don’t want to do that particular kind of music.

I had a great year last year. I think that sticking to my guns took awhile, and it was a late-blooming thing. But it’s paid off.

BK: I’ve read that you’ve done transcriptions of Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky for acoustic guitar.

LC: There are recordings of the Rimsky-Korsakov. It came out pretty good. The Stravinsky was checquered; I wasn’t happy with two of those. But the third one – and I can’t even find the record – was a masterpiece. Just by accident, that one worked out.

Last year I was given an assignment to do The Rite of Spring with six guitars, and it didn’t quite work out. It got too crazy, too complicated.

The value of doing all those classical transcriptions was in getting an education for me. Even though I wasn’t aware of it, I was getting an education, [helping me] to do my own classical music. Or classically-oriented music. One of the things that I want to bring to the world of performance is an opera that I wrote, based on Tolstoy‘s War and Peace. It’s isn’t gonna be a real jazz thing; I haven’t figured out where the jazz is gonna go yet.

When you learn to play – for example – The Rite of Spring, a lot of that rubs off on you in your future approaches to composing and playing. So I’m not so eager to perform Stravinsky as I am to perform what I’ve learned from Stravinsky. It was like an extremely serious music lesson. Stravinsky is absolutely amazing.

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A Chat with Larry Coryell, Part One

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

One might describe Larry Coryell as something of an undiscovered legend. To those in the know – jazz/fusion aficionados and those like me fortunate enough to stumble onto his vast catalog by accident – he’s one of the greats, certainly a peer of names such as John McLaughlin and Pat Metheny. But to the world at large, he’s much lesser-known, despite dozens of highly-acclaimed albums under his own name, not to mention even more brilliant sessions in which he lends his expressive and highly varied playing to the work of others. His first solo album Coryell was released in 1969, and his most recent, The Lift, came out a few months ago. I spoke to a very jet-lagged guitarist mere hours after his return from a tour in Japan with famed bassist Ron Carter. Though clearly exhausted, he took the time to engage with me in a wide-ranging conversation. Here’s Part One of our talk. – bk

Bill Kopp: I’ve been listening to a lot of your music lately – from The Free Spirits to your first couple of solo albums, from the Gary Burton albums in the mid 60s to Eleventh House, from the reunion album with Alphonse Mouzon to the Young Django album with Stephane Grappelli, from Herbie Mann‘s Memphis Underground to your new album The Lift. The thing that amazes me the most about all of it is how nothing sounds like anything else. Unique among all the well-known guitarists I can think of, and I mean this in the best possible way, you don’t seem to have any particular “signature sound.” Is that by design?

Larry Coryell: Yeah. Most jazz guitarists — most instrumentalists, for that matter – have done really well to have the same sound. So it’s recognizable, so they can have a “brand.” So they don’t get lost in the shuffle, because there are so many musicians out there vying for your ear.

I didn’t do that; I don’t know why. I try to do a lot of different things, because for me – and this is just for me – staying in just one place hasn’t interested me that much.

BK: Similar to John McLaughlin but unlike most other guitarists, you work equally effectively with both electric and acoustic guitars. Do you approach them as wholly different instruments, similar to, say, the difference between piano and organ, or do you see them as basically similar?

LC: Oh, they’re different. You have to have a different technique on the acoustic. Because you’re not aided by anything electric. Generally I have to use more power on the acoustic; your hands have to be stronger. But that’s just generally; there are exceptions to every situation.

BK: You’re classically trained, though that training has never manifested itself in your playing in a way that makes you sound stiff and mannered.

LC: I certainly hope not.

BK: What kind of music did you listen to in your formative teenage years?

LC: Well, I grew up in the sticks. So I listened to a very limited amount…not very much classical, not much jazz. But I had a guitar teacher who had a great record collection of jazz people, and those were the core.

Where I grew up was so provincial – how can I describe this – I was more focused on the guitar and different types of guitar playing before I understood the subtleties of jazz playing per se. I didn’t know there was a history of jazz; I didn’t know it had roots going back, maybe, to the 19th century. I just wasn’t aware of that. I was not aware at all that jazz was essentially an African American music. I was just listening to people play it, and I liked what I was hearing. I was totally naïve. The first Wes Montgomery album I got, I thought it was incredible, whatever it was.

BK: I’ve read that you started playing locally and regionally in the Pacific Northwest in the early 60s. Were you a fan of – or perhaps even involved in – the scene that included groups like The Wailers, The Sonics, The Viceroys, Don & the Goodtimes, Paul Revere and the Raiders?

LC: That’s a pretty hip question.

You couldn’t avoid it at my age. It was what we called “youth music.” And it was nice. Rather than playing what my parents wanted to hear, I was motivated to play what I wanted to hear.

I played in a band that was like The Wailers and The Dynamics. I was interested in all music. And in regard to young people’s music at that time, we were all networking. When I was in college in Seattle, for one year I shared a residence with the lead guitar player of The Wailers. Back then, a lot of us got into playing through rock’n'roll, more simple-oriented stuff. It was more youth-oriented stuff, which is neither bad nor good. And that kind of opened the door to jazz. Because both jazz and rock’n'roll have the blues as a foundation. There’s a living connection that way.

BK: The Lift almost sounds like a sampler of your abilities, a collection that displays your various musical interests. There’s a track that has the sound and feel of early Led Zeppelin; there’s some boogaloo-style stuff with some tasty organ work; there are solo acoustic pieces. When putting together the album, was it specifically your intention to present a cross-section of your stylistic abilities, or is that simply how it turned out?

LC: It’s the way it turned out.

Basically we went in there saying, “okay, if Jimi Hendrix had stayed alive, what are some of the things he might be doing?” Because Hendrix really set the standard for creative, electric, overdriven playing.

BK: And toward the end, he tipped his hand toward a greater interest in jazz…

LC: Toward the end, yeah. But we’ll never know. Charlie Christian died even younger.

BK: From the note on the back of the album, I see that The Lift was recorded in just a couple of days. And the photo suggests that much of it was cut live in the studio. Is that correct, and to what degree did spontaneity play a role in how the album turned out?

LC: That’s what it was; it was all about spontaneity. Learning the stuff right then and there.

I was actually doing a regular gig down the street from Berkeley, in Oakland. I was doing a project at Yoshi’s club. So after I’d do my gig at Yoshi’s, I’d go up to Oakland and play a couple of hours, in the wee hours of the morning. It was fun.

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Album Reviews: Brand X — Is There Anything About? / Missing Period / Live at the Roxy L.A.

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

It’s a popular (and not wholly inaccurate) contention that Phil Collins did his best work with Genesis in the immediate years after Peter Gabriel left, and then – around the release of ABACAB, headed for the ditch creatively. Of course the commercial approach reaped rewards in terms of album sales; once Genesis quite being challenging (and, I’d say, interesting) they shifted a helluva lot more product.

Still, there’s no knocking Collins’ ability as a drummer, and in fact his musical taste in those days was a mite better than he sometimes got credit for. For several years he was deeply involved in a side project, a jazz fusion band called Brand X. As it happened, Collins was an on-again, off-again member of this aggregation, owing largely to his commitment in his other band.

Being that it’s jazz fusion with which we’re concerning ourselves here, it’s safe to assume that Brand X rarely troubled the upper reaches of the album charts. Though in fact four of their eight studio LPs – including 1982′s Is There Anything About? the last to feature Collins – did in fact crack the US Top 200 charts, albeit briefly.

That 1982 album – actually culled from session tapes after Collins had left – has recently been reissued by Gonzo Multimedia, along with two other Brand X titles. Missing Period is a 1997 collection of “lost session tapes,” and 1996′s Live at the Roxy L.A. is a bootleg-quality document of a live Brand X gig from 1979.

Belying its cobbled-together nature, Is There Anything About? features some catchy fusion playing; highlights include the opening track, “Ipanemia” and the synth-based “TMIU-ATGA” (short for “they’re making it up as they go along”). Collins is in fine form, but the real stars here are guitarist John Goodsall and fretless bass virtuoso Percy Jones. Jones’ work on “Swan Song” suggests what The Police might’ve sounded like had they given weight to their own jazz inclinations. The band’s approach is perhaps best summed up on the aptly-titled “Modern, Noisy and Effective” (though the signature melody sounds, er, borrowed).

Missing Period collects session tapes dating from the band’s earliest days. Here they sound a bit like a more hyperactive version of Phil Manzanera‘s Quiet Sun; the various instruments all seem to be soloing at once, yet somehow it all (just) hangs together. “Dead Pretty” might not have impressed Genesis fans of the era, but for anyone who enjoys knotty, precise jazz fusion with equal emphasis on chops and melody, it’s impressive stuff. “Kugelblitz” recalls Frank Zappa‘s work around the same time. Collins and his bandmates are on fire and they play with a mix of reckless abandon and cold precision. Overall, though, the album seems to focus primarily on the work of keyboardist Robin Lumley. And that’s just fine. Comprised of six longish tunes (none clocks in under seven minutes), Missing Period flies by quickly, but deserves repeat plays.

Judging by their prowess in the recording studio, it’s intriguing to wonder how Brand X would have sounded in a live onstage setting. Billed in the liner notes as capturing Brand X “at the peak of the band’s career,” Live at the Roxy L.A. is little more than an authorized bootleg. That said, it’s not at all unlistenable if one accepts it for what t is, and appreciates the rarity of its contents. The band runs through numbers from its various albums, and though the perfomrance is intially a bit on the subdued side, once the players warm up (around the thirds track, “Don’t Make Waves”) they firing on all cylinders. The presence of Collins’ lead vocals on some cuts plants the music more in a pop vein than would otherwise be the case, but it’s still arguably superior to most of Duke (Genesis’ 1980 release).

It’s good to have these three generally overlooked releases back in print. The Gonzo reissues don’t add new liner notes or bonus tracks, but the original albums all have enough winning qualities to justify straight, no-frills reissues.

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