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McCoy Tyner Rests in Powerful Memories

Posted by Rick Frystak, April 1, 2020 08:01pm | Post a Comment

McCoy Tyner Enlightenment

By Rick Frystak
McCoy Tyner is a huge influence in my own musical life, and not just his physique (more on that later). Mostly as he was playing WITH John Coltrane and others, not BEHIND them, or supporting them. Whomever he played with, it was a BAND. 'Tranes group, of course as with many quartets, quintets (all of Van Gelder’s wonderful Blue Note work comes to mind), displaying his exceptional chordal prowess, especially when I could hear what he would do with 4ths and 5ths of the root note to set up a mood of mystery, swing or ANY place that he and the band wanted to go with the tune and the intervals. THEY, as a band could use. But those were HIS chords. He owned them. His passing has more depth to me as time passes. And the really raw power that man had in his hands, running down the wood onto the wires! It was clear that he was destined for greatness, and already being great because of his strength of originality.

Even though she came after McCoy in John’s group, Alice Coltrane was the logical extension of McCoy’s sound, but with naturally, a gentler touch, and therefore a direction of the tonal aspect of the band. And Mr. Tyner’s hand size could be compared to first-baseman’s mitts in size. As in, HUGE! And just by the way she stood, one could tell that Alice had a shy sensitivity that magic-carpeted the sound to its NEXT phase, post-Live In Seattle period. In fact, Live at the Village Vanguard Volume 2 is one of this group's finest hours, and if a finer Impulse! master exists someplace, or any outtakes, I would go nuts hearing it. God forbid it was in the UNI vaults and therefore the fires...

I shall never ever forget the singular time I witnessed McCoy in concert, the feeling of sitting there in that seat. It was at a club under the Redondo Beach pier, called Concerts By The Sea. Records have been made there, as it was owned by Howard Rumsey, and it was up on the pier previous to being UNDER the pier. McCoy had a powerhouse of a band then about the time of Focal Point, with Eric Gravatt on drums, Gary Bartz or Sonny Fortune (?) on alto and Charles Fambrough on double bass and Guillaume Franco on percussion. The concert seemed nothing like the LP, as if the mastering was too difficult to capture this power I speak of. Anyway, between McCoy and Eric, the front row of seats were literally blown away-the folks sitting there moved back about 3 rows, and thirsty! Doubly frustrating was the fact than in the U-shape seating there were only ten rows of seats in each section, maybe 75 seats. And add to this the very powerful presence of Mr. Gravatt on drums, fresh off the Live in Tokyo trip by Weather Report, edited down to side 2 of I Sing The Body Electric; another fantastic showcase of over-driven-Rhodes/drums/The Wayne/The Miroslav. And Eric with his 90-degree cymbal position of jazz cat lore complete with Frank Zappa hype sticker you do not see many of those). Gravatt truly has his own co-Alphonse Mouzon-ish style that fits so well with McCoy’s. It’s another match made in the cosmos. It is as if McCoy’s Sahara album is live right here and now.  Frank Zappa sticker

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GERRY TEEKENS, OWNER AND PRODUCER, MUSE OF CRISS CROSS RECORDS HAS DIED

Posted by Rick Frystak, December 13, 2019 12:50am | Post a Comment
 Gerry Teekens, the highly esteemed president, owner and producer of Criss Cross Records, one of the greatest straight-ahead jazz labels ever to mix straight-ahead burning with progressive composition passed away on October 31. He was one bad-ass producer who stuck to his love of swinging, creative, and up-and-coming music and musicians who never let go of that particular sound and style.


Through thick and thin and every trend you could think of, Gerry hung onto his love of that particular style and sound, which the major labels had forsaken unless they found a profitable aspect to it, and keep releasing it year after year. Many times I had thought Teekins would throw in the towel in this regard, but like many of Amoeba's customers who love the label, he hung in there, stayed loyal and kept doing what he loved, and it paid off musically, creatively, joyfully!


Thanks to those customers who continue to buy the near-$20 import CDs of Gerry's label, he discovered and released many new and unknown musicians' work with his own kind of blinders on, or he gave a chance to many seasoned players who normally wouldn 't have a record contract, and relentlessly released records by artists that had been kicked to the curb by other labels. Artists like Gary Smulyan, Warne Marsh, Peter Bernstein, and many many other first-class players from any style. ECM recently upped Chris Potter's output in recent days, and is consistently reviewed quite well. Chris Potter's first album is on Criss Cross, released in 1992, to give you an example of Teekens' ear. Gary Smulyan could be the torchbearer for the baritone saxophone for many years to come just based on what he's already done on Criss Cross, luscious tone and very creative ideas in his solos and composition. Here's Gary's hommage to Pepper Adams with Tommy Flanagan: 

The Gift Of Coltrane

Posted by Rick Frystak, November 5, 2019 01:30pm | Post a Comment

 


Many has been the day when I would walk around the Amoeba store and try to figure out a gift for someone I thought or was told had everything, musically, and I would be at wits end trying to decide what would make a customer or `friend happy, which by the end of the search, would not be something I would always be proud to give. Of course, the stress of that would only make matters worse with the decision made harder! 


Without a doubt, record store employees are asked day in and day out to provide recommendations to customers of music, after a description of the gift-receiver’s taste, or a step up on a new or rare release. 
 
I’ve found that often times folks are delighted to receive something as a gift that they would never think to buy for themselves. Here’s where a person that lives around music all of their day can determine what might be the perfect idea for a customer searching for something new that would be the right choice.
 
So I’ve put together an idea for people who are harder to buy for, or folks that may not have terribly obvious musical taste. These could be new releases or new issues of music that has some special meaning to me. In any event, music that I would recommend without hesitation! John William Coltrane.
 
The amount of music that saxophonist John Coltrane must have recorded is staggering. Not that all of it was meant for release, but when these giants of their instruments were/are in the studio, oftentimes the recording is constantly going. The music that John Coltrane recorded is a great example: 1963: New Directions by the John Coltrane quartet, a big, five-record set with a gorgeous, heavy booklet by the same group that recorded ‘’A Love Supreme’’ and 7 other records. The complete box set, Coltrane '63, New Directions has a handful of vinyl-only of live tracks well worth the price.
 
Here are sessions that are not for everyone, though. The later-period ‘Trane was an explosion of ‘’free’’ jazz sheets of sound, but here it’s tamed it like wild horses. The riffs and runs are exceptional in their emotional depth and variety. Coltrane was truly experimental, and in 1963 he felt wide open in letting the feelings flow that were coming to him. He was playing what was coming through him, without choosing, without guiding them. The 1963 sessions are available in a complete box set or as a single disc.
 
Some of these takes were available in Japan as B-sides on CDs. These are fine remasters, crisp and articulate. If you or someone you love are a Coltrane fans, you’ll love these takes of a most interesting part of ‘Trane’s life.

Miles’ Bitches Brew is 50 Years Old.

Posted by Rick Frystak, September 9, 2019 01:46pm | Post a Comment
 
Miles DavisBitches Brew was hatched 50 years ago to the public. Unbelievable. Columbia did a 40 Year Anniversary box set of the record, so I don’t expect costs or sales in the current marketplace to allow a 50-year version. Bitches Brew IS NOT LIKE OTHER records of its time, or any time. It should have a hype sticker on the outside. I believe it had a ‘’2-LP’’ sticker or something to let you know, or to entice you to buy/warn you. The first time I heard any of It was on a series of bootleg LPs that sounded like it was just hard core jamming, with the gents’ strict orders to play their asses off, and LOUDLY! The music itself was more like In ASilent Way at a faster tempo, dipped in more distortion, courtesy Chick’s Rhodes set to 11, and at faster tempi. There was a bigger hit of funk in this, due to Jack Dejohnette’s evolvement in the groove that was happening. I was familiar and in awe of the players, hence my interest in the first place. 
 
Then it came out on a legit 2-fer, with German painter Mati Klarwein’s fantastic gatefold artwork, so mysterious, tribal and enticing. It contributed to many sales of the record, no doubt, and just the title-Bitches Brew-challenged the norm of the day (this was 1970), visually wreaked havoc on one’s imagination, and surely tugged at the sexuality of anyone who checked it out. And that cover REALLY made you want to check it out. To this day.
 
Miles was letting the cats do their own thing, and then Teo would edit later. These cuts (or sections of them) began showing up on the boots from 1969, and many have wonderful sound quality. Miles’ album Live-Evil held edits of some of these remarkable sessions. Differing speakers tighten the sound considerably, giving the electric pianos a sound stage that blends them into what sounds like one Rhodes Piano. On headphones, Airto has some definite African groove spinning out of his groovy Brazilian head, plus some animal effects emanating from his prowess. These are especially prominent in the live cuts released in the subsequent Bitches Brew Live album.

Miles had discarded the RMI electric pianos around this time. Good. Rhodes ruled. I love the spacey dissonance of the 2 or 3 Fender Rhodes pianos-they sound like one person with fifteen fingers. These fingers split themselves into a Zawinul, a Corea, a Hancock and on the guitar, a McLaughlin, not to give short shrift to a Billy Cobham, Tony WilliamsLarry Young and the whole, big world of jazz-rock legends that those fingers were dancing to. Listening now, can you believe that this music was the beginning of huge new styles in jazz-rock thought up in the mid-late 60’s?

OK, so then the studio record(s) came out as a 2-LP set on Columbia Records’ 360-degree label. There are SOME allusions to BItches Brew on all Miles’ discs located around this time. You’ve got Harvey Brooks,  Electric Flag’s bass player on most of the studio material, shadowing Dave Holland, but never live, so only a studio thing. Was he Miles’ choice ‘cuz he dug the Flag, or what? I guess he had worked on Betty Davis’ LP around this time, and Miles dug what he was doing. He works out about half the time, the rest of the time he’s echoing Holland with Zawinul, Jack and Chick, or just doing garage band rock grooves. It gave producer Teo Macero more stuff to edit in. You’ve got Larry Young doing his best juju, but not live. There is a treasure of known innovators here, but mostly Chick, Jack, Dave, Keith and Airto, with Zawinul, Cobham and Herbie on the studio cuts. All these ‘’complete’’ box sets show the progress of Miles’ and Teo’s thinking, and I have my favorites. Here, we’re talking Bitches Brew. Bennie Maupin’s, bass clarinet added a foreboding sense of the spookyness, perhaps the best reflection of the cover art and another stroke of genius, musically, in this particular brew de’ bitch. But it’s the foundation of later jazz-rock that we have here, so big deal, indeed.

Currently we’ve got what Sony calls, ‘’The Legacy Series.’’  These have been remixed and remastered by Teo Macero and various other engineer types in the era (Stan Tonkel, Russ Payne, etc.). Legally, I understand that Joe Zawinul had to squeeze Miles to get his name credited to some of the pieces (Pharoah’s Dance, In A Silent Way, etc) that he rightfully wrote. What’s ‘’writing’’ in this context? In A Silent Way is clearly a song Joe was working on, with extra music and changes with Cannonball and on his first solo album. 

Bitches Brew is not like other of Miles’ recordings that he recorded at that time. Live, you could hear his huge change of direction, starting with his own playing, with leaping, searching whelps of chromatic blues and then into the Jack Dejohnette/Chick Corea/ Keith Jarrett show, Jack doing his massive, rolling funk trip and Chick squeezing every sound possible from the Rhodes with distortion and a ring modulator attached. And don’t forget Keith Jarrett’s last use of electronics  (including Ruta and Daitya, cut in 1972 on ECM) before going 100% acoustic, here playing the long-discontinued Fender Contempo Combo organ which Miles must have thought blended nicely with the Rhodes. To me it sounds like something you’d borrow from the kid down the street for a garage jam, but oddly sounds wonderful in Keith Jarrett’s hands, used in unison with other riffs Keith was playing. This is best illustrated in the Complete Cellar Door sessions that Sony released from 1970 sessions at that club.
 
Do you have The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions box set? Most of the unreleased (until this box set ) cuts I like better than the actual released LP takes. You can hear Miles reaching out into differing styles much more than what we’re given in the official release, pretty much a lot of similar jams that Teo Macero and Miles chose to edit severely. In fact, this is a major editing project, one that makes the tracks blossom into ‘’songs’’ that were deemed the right direction for Miles to present to his audience as his current sound. I suppose that continuity was a factor in putting the set together as time would tell.
 
Mobile Fidelity, the audiophile remastering company has released a great sounding remastered version of the record here.  Mobile Fidelity has also released In A Silent Way, with some Bitches Brew-intended material included which were meant for some of Miles' projects. Who knows, with all the tape editing, what made it and what ended up on the floor.
  
The in A Silent Way box set (highly recommended) delivers the last of the more compositional Miles cuts, many written by Wayne Shorter. Wayne does drop ‘’Sanctuary’’ into the whole Brew, almost to add a little respite to the 15-finger sound that the rest of the tracks deliver. At this time, too, Wayne was pulling back as THE writer, saving his stuff for Weather Reportand knowing from what I hear in the live situation (Wayne didn’t make the Newport Jazz Fest at this time because of traffic getting in!), that he would enjoy less improvising, as his composing was becoming more and more interesting.
 
In this remix culture, the calls to remix this record are moot-it’s been done at least twice already. The Quadraphonic remix, which plays normally and wonderfully in stereo is available all over, (I’ve seen many copies at Amoeba Music) as many original Quad Columbia LPs are. They made a big commitment to Quad when the format came out. The Quad mixes are just a few guys in a room remixing the multitrack tapes into 4 channels. These might be 3-track mixes,( folded out? )into four. Or, they could be 8-track recordings, so says Sony engineer Mark Wilder. One hears some totally different playing, unedited by Teo, and different movement in the whole project. Absolutely fascinating. There is also a Japanese Quad SA-CD 2-disc that may be remixed by Teo. I have not heard those mixes.
 
The Legacy Edition that you get when you buy the current version states that it has  been remixed and mastered by Teo Macero. This could be in error, as Teo does not mention these in his subsequent interviews, and Miles can’t comment.
 
To read a difinitive article about the Bitches Brew album, sessions and methodology, go to Paul Tingen’s phenomenal piece in Jazztimes magazine from July 2017 here: https://jazztimes.com/author/paul-tingen/

I REMEMBER JOHANN JOHANNSSON

Posted by Rick Frystak, July 2, 2019 07:56pm | Post a Comment
 
 
Johann Jóhannsson passed away last year in February, of a street drug overdose mixed with other medication he was taking, at the way-way-too-young age of 48 years old, a HUGE, huge loss to many fans of progressive music, film scores and progressive performance. Many of my friends saw his last show at the Walt Disney Hall here in L.A., and it was phenomenal. He would start each piece by rising from the keyboard / midi rig he was using and putting up a 15’’ reel of audiotape onto a Revox analog tape recorder and begin the piece with a repetitive loop or musical chunk, which would be softly, slowly and gradually picked up on by his traveling chamber ensemble and himself on piano, synths and samples, and fleshed out into a blooming, flourishing journey of sound. Simply spellbinding. And the visual elements, besides the exotic candelabras, would be a black and white film with blotted images, increasing the brooding, dark atmospherics.

Brooding and dark usually describe his sound, his direction favoring minor chords and modes. But then, he’ll go and write the Theory of Everything, with lots of lilting, rosy cues because that’s what the story demanded. But to me, he excelled in the glum, ominous moods that begat his reputation and manifested the darkened concert hall, with the black balloons and smudged visuals. In many ways his music reminds me of a correlation with composers such as Arvo Part or John Tavener, in mixing the sound of music from the middle ages with contemporary minimalism or ‘avant garde’ sounds; whatever the project demanded or his own inspiration dictated won over. The reason is inexplicable to me.
 
His film scores such as Prisoners, The Mercy, Mary Magdalene (shared credit with Hildur Gunadóttir), Arrival, Sicario, Mandy, A User’s Manual and others show Johannsson’s versatility, variety and inspiration, with the use of electronics mixed with symphonic and pop music elements, and his collaborations with closely held associates like Icelandic cellist Hildur Gunadóttir, who may continue on the path Johann was mining. In Arrival, he used pure electronic effects as part of the melodies in some of the cues; very effectively. Hildur's score to the HBO series Chernobyl (download only) is fascinating, a logical extension of Johannsson’s sound, with the horror of what's happened manifested by pure unfettered ambience. Twice nominated for Academy Awards, he hit it and won a Golden Globe award (foreign press) for his score to Theory of Everything, a great film detailing the early life of Stephen Hawking, no less great due to Johann’s work.

His newest solo project of his own music, Orphee, came shortly before his passing, and marked his signing with the legendary Deutsche Grammophon record label. It could be the best example of the variety of sounds that this man wanted to express to his audience. Many hum-able melodies fuse with textural elements to get at what Johannsson’s statements are in his musical expressions.

After Orphee’s release, things immediately started to happen. Almost simultaneously, his new label released a 2-LP, or 2-CD set ‘reimagining’ an older project Englabörn & Variations, in which Johann collaborated with the remixers in recomposing each piece and therefore, really, making an entirely new album, possibly one of his best. His new label has thus put together a 7-CD box set, a monumental, 100-dollar package with some new photos and I-don’t-know-what-else according to Deutsche Grammophon’s horrible website. In September of this year, DGG will release a string quartet, and another box set with unreleased tracks is being readied.

Johann’s music is many things to many people. His own solo records, such as Fordlandia, Orphee, Englabörn and Virðulegu Forsetar take the listener directly into the mindset of the soundtrack composer, yet maintain his own individual sound that brings you back to his soundtrack art. There are quite a few works by Johann that are out of print as well, (or nearly), already. Check those out too!

RECOMMENDED LISTENING BY Johann Johannsson:
Orphee (solo)
The Mercy (soundtrack)
Arrival (soundtrack)
Prisoners (soundtrack)
Miner’s Hymns (solo/soundtrack)
Englabörn & Variations (solo)
Theory Of Everything (soundtrack)
Mandy (soundtrack)
Retrospective Box Set (solo/soundtrack)
End Of Summer (soundtrack, w/DVD)
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