Ode To Karin Krog

Man, the air seemed brand new today; sharp, cool, and crisp going into the lungs. It was like walking out of an underground bunker from a four-month stay and having the first blast of air hitting you. I don’t know why I don’t usually notice the air that surrounds me normally, but today it hit me. Could be that driving the company van from the plant to one of our suppliers gives me the urge to just keep driving and not look back until the sun has sunk into the west. It’s probably the fact that every time I’d get out of the van that fresh air taunted me and begged me to stay in it. Just leave that lousy van running and start walking. Where? Who cares. Just keep your feet moving, one in front of another until you come across something worth stopping for.

If only I’d a worn my walking shoes today.

Be that as it may, I didn’t leave the company van running in the parking lot of the local anodizer and begin walking the earth like Caine in Kung Fu. I merely took a couple big hits of that freshly squeezed oxygen, hopped in the van, and made my way back to my lonely desk that sits on a large dock and received in those anodized parts. I couldn’t just walk away from it all. I have yardwork to do and Marvel flicks to see with my son this year yet. The wife and I have plans to hit a brewery or two in Michigan and stay the night up north sometime soon. We’re heading to Chicago at the end of the month so my wife and daughters can go see Hamilton at the Chicago Theater, while the boy and I pretend to be men of wealth and fame in the hotel for the afternoon. Maybe we’ll swim or drink scotch in the hotel bar. Maybe even hit on a beautiful baroness or an Italian beef sandwich, whichever one comes with steak fries and an IPA.

Plus, I’ve only just begun to get to know Karin Krog.

Karin who? What? Whaaa? Hey now, just simmer down and let me talk here. You see, I found out that one of my favorite record labels Light In The Attic was having this spring clean sale where they were parting with a bunch of albums at nearly half off the original price. My local record guy said he could get ’em direct from LITA and save me the shipping. Well hell yes! So I headed to the sale page and started perusing to see what I could find. I figured I’d do the old blindfold and dart trick and pick some random albums. Some stuff I wouldn’t normally buy but since it was half off why the hell not? I picked out Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg, Martin S/T by Donald Rubinstein, and Karin Krog Don’t Just Sing An Anthology : 1963-1999. I put my children through the Gainsbourg album last night. Through the moans and breathy whispers of “Je t’aime…moi non plus” my son asked as he sat in the living room with an aural advantage “What are we listening to?” Birkin and Gainsbourg will be for me on those lonely afternoons and evenings. Or when the wife and I want to get all French New Wave on some tawdry Saturday evening. I haven’t listened to Romero’s vampire soundtrack yet, but I did crack the gatefold sleeve of Karin Krog’s 2LP gatefold and I have to say I’m loving it.

Prior to this, I had never heard or heard of Karin Krog. The album cover appealed to me, and also the fact that it was a double LP they were selling for $12. Oh, and Dexter Gordon played with her on a few of the 60s cuts(bonus.) Krog is obscure here in the states, but in Norway she’s a household name as a famous jazz singer, collaborating with a who’s who of musicians over her 40+ year career. In 1994 she was the first Norwegian artist to ever release an album on the US jazz label Verve.

So the album. I have to say my favorite is album one. It seems to have the more bop-style jazz with bits of experimental vocal stuff. Krog has a hell of a voice and she shows it off beautifully on a be bop cover of Bobbi Gentry’s “Ode To Billy Joe”. It’s groovy and full of swing, with Gordon laying down some great tenor saxophone. The rhythm section of Neils-Henning Orsted Pedersen on bass and Espen Rud on drums is a pivotal ingredient here. Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” gets the Karin Krog treatment here as well, and to stunning effect. “Lazy Afternoon” is another great one with Krog showing her precise melodic skills vocally. She uses her voice like an instrument playing its part. At times she’s like a psychedelic Rosemary Clooney, and other times she’s something quite cosmic, chanting, panting, and squealing through drone-y experiments like “Glissando”. I don’t care for the experimental stuff as much, but I can appreciate it for sure.

Most of these tracks were recorded in the late 60s and early to mid-70s, with just a handful scattered throughout the 80s and 90s. There’s a killer cover of Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” that is as soulful as it is unique to Krog. “Cloud Line Blue” has some seriously amazing horn playing by John Surman. Seriously, holy cow. And there’s even a reading of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” that closes out this anthology. It’s nothing but Karin Krog singing and Nils Lindberg on a church pipe organ. It’s actually quite haunting as Krog sings Coltrane’s Psalm from “A Love Supreme” poem. I guarantee you haven’t heard anything quite like it before.

Occasionally I like to do the blind grab with music. I’m not independently wealthy so I need to make my money stretch as far as I can, especially with this horrible vinyl addiction of mine. So far I’m not disappointed with my “go for it” choices. If you like jazz and occasionally adventurous music, I can’t recommend Karin Krog enough. She’s 79 years young and still creating music in her home country of Norway. She sounds amazing on this LP set, and it’s a beautiful sleeve with a great booklet inside that includes an interview with Krog. Grab it. Why not?

I wonder if the air will be as crisp tomorrow? I’ll bring my walking shoes, just in case.

 

 

F*&#$!g Epic

So I’ve been nibbling here and there on Kamasi Washington’s The Epic for close to a year now. It’s one of those albums that I think you have to take in a little at a time, otherwise you’ll get that heavy musical bloat and maybe not go back to it for fear of feeling uneasy or unqualified to attempt another listen. I consider myself a moderate jazz fan. Coltrane, Davis, Monk, Dolphy, Tyner, Shorter, Henderson, Montgomery, and Morgan are my guys, with some other giants thrown in there for good measure. The 60s and early 70s are the era of jazz I frequent the most, as I feel that was the era where the artists were writing for themselves. They took the most risks, especially John Coltrane. Whether you dug his Stellar Regions phase or not, you cannot deny that he was in conversation with a higher power. He was having some kind of existential rap session with the universe. He was on another plane, you dig? I feel that ultimately the artist needs to be writing from some personal level in order for the music to truly “be”. Sure, you can still have great music that isn’t some personal journey. Hell, I think the whole of the 1980s proved that. But those records that people will still be talking about many, many years on, those are the records that an artist cut open a vein and bled on the console for. A Love Supreme, Search For The New Land, Speak No Evil, The Real McCoy, Out To Lunch, Straight, No Chaser, Bitches Brew and too many more for me to include here all felt like personal records. They were musical dictations to the heart and mind of existence itself. Again, I know there’s plenty more records that should be listed here, but for the sake of time and space I will let you mentally add your favorites.

washingtonSo over the last couple of weeks I’ve dove head first into Kamasi Washington’s The Epic and I think this album should be added to the list of incredible personal statement records. I mean first of all, it’s three albums. Six record sides jam packed with what I would call a jazz history lesson. You get big band, choral, bop, funk, soul, and an overall feel of love for the creation of music. Washington is telling a story, both his own and the story of jazz on this album. Washington was a musical wunderkind of sorts, being an all around musician since he was a kid. Starting out on drums, then piano and clarinet after his dad told him he needed to learn on a harder instrument before picking up the saxophone. Once he did jump into the sax that’s all she wrote. He became a Coltrane disciple and still pretty much is to this day, though he’s broadened his musical horizons on pretty much everything. He learned to groove touring with Snoop Dogg’s touring band, but it wasn’t until he and his longtime friends hunkered down in the studio and laid down the songs they’d been writing and composing for years that The Epic was born.

There’s a lot going on here. I think to new ears this album can be a little much. It swings from big band vibes, to choral sounds, to some seriously hard bop action. You’re not sure where to go in your head with it. For me, upon first listen it felt a little ADD. Most of what I listen to is smaller in scale. Something like Bitches Brew may be daunting to some, but for my ears I lock in immediately. There’s dissonance, but there’s an electricity you can ride through it on. With something as dense and large scale as Washington’s band it’s hard to find a center to latch onto immediately. This is an example of a record that takes a few times going at it to crack its code. But once you do? Oh, baby.

kamasi-washington-652x367Oddly as it may seem, The Epic feels very traditional. A relatively big band setup that cascades nicely from soulful vocals, African rhythms, 70s soul, and Coltrane/Davis-like horn conversations. There’s no reinvention of the genre here, but there’s a renewed vitality to music that in the wrong hands can come across proficient, but cold. Washington and crew have been playing together so long that the ease they feel in a room playing together comes across in the finished product. I mean, these guys have been playing together for the most part since they were kids. They fell in love with music together and became prodigious players together. How can that not come across in the music?

The album is set up in three different volumes: ‘The Plan’, ‘The Glorious Tale’, and ‘The Historic Repetition’. Within each of these volumes are copious amounts of musical history and a tale of musical enlightenment. In interviews Washington has said it’s a story of him coming up in music and it does play out that way. If you have the LP version you know this thing is a massive 3 LP set with each record side containing densely layered horns, rhythms, and vocals. I’m not going to go into each of the songs because I’d ramble about things I still haven’t quite gotten a firm grasp on. I will talk about a couple tracks that I find key in understanding what is happening on The Epic.

“Change of the Guard” opens ‘The Plan’, and it’s a doozy. It goes from a big brassy opening with ghostly vocals that hang above the proceedings to a mid-section Coltrane-esque sax squalor and back to the main motif that never drops the beat and never sways from the song’s opening groove. Strangely enough, this track is like a cross between ELO and Sun Ra; you have beautiful melody imposed upon this spacey vibe. It’s like cosmic jazz.

“Askim” rides on a wave of cool vibes and an almost Wayne Shorter ala Juju indifference. Thundercat lays some serious bass magic all over this one.

“The Rhythm Changes” is a soulful vocal number that sways and breathes easy thanks to the wonderful vocals of Patrice Quinn. This track really shows the wide range of musical vibes Washington wanted to represent here. Sometimes its not all fractured tonal shifting and hard bop riffs. Sometimes its a stroll through the neighborhood on a hot summer day.

“Leroy and Lanisha” sort of revisits the melancholy vibe of “The Rhythm Changes”, but more like a instrumental jam between Joe Henderson and Vince Guaraldi. There’s a ton of swing in the drums with just a hint of Afro-Cuban in the overall vibe. Sweet and melodious.

“Re Run” shows Kamasi’s orchestral strengths, as well as his innate ability to merge two musical worlds. Strings, vocals, groovy rhythms, and horns come together to give us something completely new to sink our teeth into.

“Clair de Lune” was the big surprise for me. Washington and his crew’s take on the Debussy classic is awe inspiring, breathtaking, and wholly original. This is one of my all time favorite pieces of music to begin with, and for Kamasi to reimagine it as a soulful, lamenting piece of music that would be just at home during a Sunday church service as it would be in a concert hall is pretty mind blowing to me. I can’t say enough about how amazing this version is.

washington-liveOkay, so there’s so many more great songs on this set, but I don’t have the time to expound on them all. The aforementioned tracks move me. They were instantly recognizable to my ears as future classics. Not just jazz classics, but musical classics in general. Kamasi Washington’s The Epic is one that’s taken a good year for me to soak up and digest. It’s dense and overwhelming, but it’s so worth the work to get down to its grand and masterful center. There’s so much to love here.

Take some time and get to know this record. It’s well worth knowing.

 

A Life In Albums : Part Two

Thelonious Monk Quartet : Monk’s Dream

I really can’t remember the reason why I bought Monk’s Dream. I was 21 years old and living in an apartment with my girlfriend at the time(summer/fall of 1995 to be exact.) We both had good jobs at the same company but worked different shifts, so while she would go into work at 2pm I’d come home at 4pm. She had her routine in the mornings and early afternoons and I had my routine in the evenings. I think mine had something to do with drinking crappy light beer and occasionally smoking a cheap cigar on our second floor veranda. I’d also do the cleaning(my girlfriend would do the laundry in her down time…or when neither of us had clean underwear left) and in our second floor apartment I had a little corner that contained a 4-track cassette recorder and a couple of rack mount effects processors. I’d do my writing and recording in the evenings as well.

It was a pretty decent life for two kids just three years out of high school and one two years out of a stint at East Tennessee State University on a music scholarship(not me, my girlfriend/now wife.) Musically I was just getting out of a heavy Kinks phase and was still reeling from Adrian Belew’s Here album. I was toying with some 80s King Crimson and just finding my in with Steely Dan. Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, The Black Crowes’ Amorica, and Lenny Kravitz’ Circus were all albums being played pretty heavily by me, as well as Filter’s Short Bus. I’d even found the Squirrel Nut Zippers to be a fun distraction from the modern sludge of alternative rock.

But I wanted something else. Something different.

I’d often toyed with the idea of dipping my ugly toes into the jazz waters. I’d always liked the idea of the jazz musician. That artist that steps out into a smokey club with barely enough room to turn and essentially slicing open an artery and bleeding out onto the stage. Spilling your life force onto the floor while onlookers gasp and helplessly watch. This was how I saw jazz musicians. They were taking far greater chances than rock and pop artists. Blues artists had it the easiest, in my head. 12 bar blues were the road map. One only needed to follow it and occasionally take a side road with some snappy solos and whatnot. Jazz musicians were on another plain, and one I hadn’t been able to find a way onto.

IMG_1905A few years prior when I was still in high school and listening to a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Mother’s Milk I’d read an article where Flea had talked about how much of an influence Thelonious Monk was on him. At the time I thought Monk was a modern artist, not a long dead jazz great. Apparently that interview had stuck with me as on a weekend trip to Borders with my gal a few years later I found myself looking in the jazz section and came across Monk. After a peruse through his CDs I came across his album Monk’s Dream. Something about the cover grabbed me. His expression, the blue-ish green hues, and the song titles(including a cover of “Just A Gigolo”) convinced my 21 year old brain to buy it. In retrospect maybe it was the universe working its magic, I don’t know, but this would be the album that would push me into the world of jazz. Monk was my shaman of “out there” and “be yourself”.

Monk’s Dream is really the perfect album to be the gateway record into the world of jazz. As strange a cat as he was(and he was pretty strange), his music while being very disconnected and jaunty at times is also very whimsical and even child-like. “Monk’s Dream” is this rhythmically obtuse number that feels like a train car stopping and starting, with in-between those starts and stops a fun, drunken shuffle. As idiosyncratic as Thelonious’ playing can be there seems to be a plan in there; a pattern that if you look closely spells out some significant truth. I liken it to interstellar ragtime. “Body and Soul” is a ballad of sorts that sounds as if it’s being played by two different people, with two different sets of sheet music and in two different moods. It goes from the melancholy to exuberant from moment to moment. I don’t think anybody can pull off Monk except Monk. His style is unmistakably the work of someone who let music pull him from some existential darkness, and while he beat the darkness to a degree it would show up in his compositions. Though, that darkness stays away in “Bright Mississippi”. Here is a song of total exuberance. Monk’s backing band is top notch, with Charlie Rouse’s tenor sax playing standing proudly alongside Monk’s truncated chord stabs. Rouse’s playing, as on the many other albums he played with Monk, is the voice of reason next to Monk’s piano eccentricities. Rouse shushed the demons and kept them at bay. If Monk was orbiting too far out of the musical atmosphere Charlie Rouse was there to reel him back in. Though Rouse himself was a hell of a bop musician, he kept thing pretty cool most of the time. John Ore and Frankie Dunlop rounded out the rhythm section that never took too many spotlight moments but kept the groove grounded which allowed for Monk’s piano parts to be as creative as he wanted them to be.

“Just A Gigolo” was a song that always stood out for me. Growing up with the big band versions and sadly the David Lee Roth cover the song always had an element goofiness to it. With Thelonious the song had an air of melancholy. The idea of the guy that would forever be alone, with a bevy of barely memorable and disposable ladies when thought about for more than a minute does come across as a rather sad affair. What the younger man finds enticing isn’t exactly what the older man does. Monk’s take is a gorgeously drawn out solo number that captures the essence that lingers between being alone and being lonely. The difference between freshly applied cologne and stale perfume that lingers on a rumpled pillowcase. Whether Monk ever got that deep in his own thoughts regarding his interpretation I do not know. All I know is that his interpretation brought those thoughts out of me.

IMG_1907“Five Spot Blues” and “Blue Bolivar Blues” are both swinging numbers. These songs are the musical equivalent of a night out on the town. Unfiltered Lucky Strikes in your coat pocket, a scotch neat, and dames as far as the eyes can see(until that 5th scotch when you’re seeing double.) It’s neon-lit streets and hailing cabs to get to the next club. Monk excelled at this kind of blues/jazz/ragtime hybrid like no other.

“Bye-Ya” is Rouse’s time to shine. It’s a tenor sax-fueled shuffle with some great Dunlop drum fills and the steady heartbeat supplied by John Ore. Monk is inclined to sit back and let things simmer here. He’s the chef adding the special ingredients. “Sweet and Lovely” drunkenly sways through the living room after a night out with the boys. It moves as if every step might be heard by the sleeping family upstairs so each movement is planned and calculated till it reaches the couch and collapses for the night.

Monk’s Dream had a profound effect on me. So much so that it took me nearly 10 years to venture out and buy another jazz album. It felt like this perfect moment in time that I didn’t want to ruin by crowding up the room with more. But because of this record and a random conversation it created I hit up a certain Herbie Hancock and Empyrean Isles and pretty much never looked back.

I’ve since filled my head with lots of Monk(Straight, No Chaser is an absolute monster), but Monk’s Dream will always remain my favorite record of his, and that singular jazz album that cracked my mind open to eventually search for more. This Columbia Records release from 1963 encapsulated everything I thought mattered about jazz music(at least at the time), and it felt classy as hell. It was swingin’, articulate, idiosyncratic, and at times melancholy.

And it was a hell of an album to listen to whilst sipping a Bud Dry and smoking a cheap cigar.

 

Rated X

Miles Davis is this anomaly in the realm of jazz. While his contemporaries continued to push boundaries like him, they weren’t quite asIMG_1670 vilified as he was when he wanted to push the boundaries of his music. I guess it’s not like Cotrane, Andrew Hill, Sun Ra, and Ornette Coleman were hailed by the jazz elitists as geniuses and lived out their days being adored. But they were able to fly under the radar and explore freely without much ridicule. Davis had broadened jazz music’s reach into new territories, and by that I mean he got a good portion of white folks to find something to love about jazz. With Kind of Blue, ‘Round About Midnight, Miles Ahead, and Milestones he had widened his fan base tremendously. So when the late 60s rolled around and his records turned a tad darker and more experimental those fans in the suburbs and the Midwest couldn’t follow. Even hardcore jazz intellectuals wrote off Bitches Brew, On The Corner, as well as collections like Filles de Killimanjaro and Big Fun as over indulgent and blasphemous to jazz.

So of course this is the point where I began my obsession with Miles Davis.

I didn’t get into Kind of Blue, Milestones, or Miles Ahead until well after I’d lost my mind zoning out to Bitches Brew, or following a 11.2% stout with In A Silent Way. I fell, and I fell hard for the experimental ways of Miles Davis. Jack Johnson, Nefertiti, Miles In The Sky, On The Corner, Bitches Brew, and Big Fun are right up my alley. Agharta, Pangea, and Dark Magus are also these immense records that are equal parts acid freakout and gritty street scores. Whatever Miles Davis was on at this time it was doing something amazing to his mind. Opening it up and allowing it to soak in the sounds and sights of here and beyond.

FullSizeRender (67)Imagine my surprise when on a whim I clicked on  Get Up With It. I had never listened to this record. I honestly thought it was a latter-era record that was going to sound more on the contemporary side. Within two minutes of the monstrous album opener, the thirty two minute “He Loved Him Madly”, I knew I was in for a treat. It has the feeling of being lost in space. It’s dark melancholy is both contemplative and foreboding. This is the kind of song that is more about mood and space than taking you somewhere specific. It reminds me a lot of the heavy synth escapism records I’ve fallen for lately, It’s a mood creator, for sure.

“Maiysha” is groovy and funky with Latin percussion and distorted organ. While other latter year albums by Davis were all fire and intergalactic freakouts, Get Up With It feels more grounded. It’s at times a preview of things to come with Agharta and Pangea, but at a more earthy level. “Honky Tonk” starts out with some killer funky organ and descends into some primitive and primal 12 bar blues. “Rated X” begins with some spooky organ but quickly succumbs to some seriously funky rhythms. It’s raw and tribal, giving the song title a whole new meaning. There’s moments of stress and anxiety in this song, like a horror movie called Shaka Zulu Finds His Groove. This song is impenetrable. Solid grooves, dark vibes, and the sound of tribal dread.

IMG_1671“Calypso Frelimo”, like “He Loved Him Madly”, takes up one whole vinyl side. Side C is dedicated to the island vibe and sexual heat of this intense track. There seems to be a hundred things going on at the same time here, with Davis standing in the middle of this musical melee barking orders through his trumpet. This is Davis’ version of mystical worship music. You bow at the feet of whichever God gets you high the quickest. It’s a landscape of flesh and blood; pain and pleasure.

If there’s a shortfall on this album it lies within “Red China Blues”. A simple blues track that sounds as if Davis and the boys left for a smoke break and some half-cocked Chicago blues outfit came in and recorded during their absence. Nothing particularly wrong here, but nothing particularly right, either. Compared to the exorcisms we’ve heard up to this point this song feels downright pedestrian.

Fear not, “Mtume” arrives to take us back to the jungle rhythms and urban decay we’ve come to understand and even desire in Davis’ late-60s and early-70s output. There are moments here that feel downright futuristic. Frequency analyzers are used to give the song this intergalactic vibe. Like an acid trip on a space station. This song is so far ahead of its time it’s almost lapping us. Holy shit.

“Billy Preston” keeps the booties shakin’ with some seriously funky tones. On some level I can’t help but wonder if Brian Eno wasn’t hit over the head by this song, as well as this album as a whole, as musically it reminds me somewhat of the work he did with Talking Heads on Remain In Light, as well as the albums he did with just David Byrne. A constant riff and groove is repeated and recycled as it begins to burn psychic holes in the listener’s mind. Just a thought.

FullSizeRender (65)The personnel on these songs are a who’s who of musicians from the time. Guys like John McLauglin, Keith Jarrett, Michael Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Billy Cobham, Pete Cosey, and Reggie Lucas show up, as well as Badal Roy and James Mtume on percussion. And of course the hardest working drummer in the business Bernard Purdie shows up and lays down some killer grooves on “Red China Blues”. The MVP here though goes to drummer Al Foster who lays down killer rhythms in nearly every track here.

I snagged an original pressing of this album for $17, with both the vinyl and sleeve in VG condition. After spinning it a few times I’m confident in saying it’s definitely a VG+, if not NM. Just can’t beat quality Columbia Records back in the day, man.

So I did eventually fall into the earlier, cool jazz records of Davis and have come to love them. But for me, they’ll never match Davis’ adventurous nature. They’ll never come close to the direction his muse took him from 1967 to 1975. Those years are magical, and the fact that those die-hard Downbeat Jazz heads hated a good portion of his work from this time makes me love them even more.

I’m just an asshole like that I guess.

 

Two Days Since A Lost Space/Time Accident

I’m man enough to admit it, my friend Thom turned me onto Flying Lotus.

I fancy myself a guy that keeps up with music. I may not like a lot of what the majority masses pass as “good”, but I try at least to be aware of what’s happening outside myIMG_1551 own four walls in case I’m cornered by teenagers testing my . Yeah, I’m aware of the Taylor Swifts, the Adeles, the Drakes, and the Macklemores. I’m at least privy to the Lady Gagas, Kanyes, and Carly Rae Jespens. I have a general recollection of the…..okay, that’s all I can do. I watched Spectre last Saturday night(great Bond flick, by the way) and Sam Smith(you know, the guy that’s never heard of my friend Thom and his band) sang the theme song. It was utter garbage. How this guy was picked to do the new Bond song over my friend Thom is mind-boggling. My pal Thom and his band were apparently in the running for that honor as well and they knocked it out of the park. Perfect song, man. But no, they went with this Sam Smith clown.

Okay, so back to Flying Lotus.

Over the years I’d heard the name Flying Lotus mentioned in various articles and saw the records reviewed on various sites. I knew it was electronic music of some sort, but since I hadn’t really found my in with the whole electronic music thing all the talk fell on deaf ears(my deaf ears.) Then in 2011 my friend Thom, you see he put out a record with his pals and it was called The King Of Limbs. It was very much an electronic album. Sure he’d messed around with electronic music in the past, and even experimented with it on past albums with his buddies from college, but not to the extent they did on The King Of Limbs(weird name, right? I told ’em they should’ve gone with Master Of Reality…apparently that’s used already?) Well, I never paid much attention to electronic music all that much before(I did quite enjoy this cassette I got from this Devo cover band I saw at the bar one night called We Are Devo….not), but I was floored over what I heard from my buddy Thom on this new album of his. By then, my pal Thom was doing DJing gigs and dancing strangely in videos so he was all in. He’d mentioned this Flying Lotus in interviews and had said he really dug it. I decided then and there I’d investigate this Flying Lotus further.

Then, I probably drank a lot of beer and forgot all about it for a couple of years.

So time goes by and next thing I know it’s 2014 and everyone’s talking about Flying Lotus’ new album You’re Dead!. It was Christmas Eve and I was out buying some last minute gifts when I decided to stop at my favorite local record shop and maybe do some last minute shopping for myself. On a whim(maybe it was the Christmas spirit…maybe I had $30 burning a hole in my pocket) I grabbed Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead! and headed home. I absolutely loved that record. It was a musical stew of electronic music, hip hop, jazz, and hints of Frank Zappa weirdness. After kicking myself for waiting so long to explore the freaky musical worlds of Flying Lotus I set course for the heart of the Flying Lotus.

FullSizeRender (31)First, I did some digging. Flying Lotus is actually Steve Ellison, and he’s an electronic musician, producer, rapper, and possibly from another dimension. At least his music sounds like it could be. It goes from frantic and erratic beats to shimmering synths to low down speaker exploding bass. It all comes together with Ellison’s own brand of interstellar groove. Speaking of interstellar, Ellison’s also the grand nephew of jazz pianist Alice Coltrane, which would also make him the grand nephew of the king of interstellar free form musical art, John Coltrane. The musical spirit runs deep in that family.

Once I’d educated myself a bit I quickly added to my Flying Lotus collection with Until The Quiet Comes. The whack-a-mole insanity that permeated You’re Dead! seemed to be at bay on Until The Quiet Comes. Still a lot of frantic beats and hazy electronics, but there seemed to almost be a calmed vibe. Like the album took a healthy dose of Ritalin. Still very slick and cool. Would you expect any less?

I just picked up Flying Lotus’ 2010 album Cosmogramma. I gotta say, this one is really doing it for me. All the synapses seem to be firing in unison. This record shows Ellison expanding his musical world from slick beats and cool-as-shit atmosphere to a more free-form, hard bop-meets-Atari exploding head alien shit. Los Angeles showed lots of talent and a knack for tasty beats. Cosmogramma is where all bets are off.

“Clock Catcher” sounds like you just hit the 1,000,000 points mark on the pinball machine before things get launched into outer space. “Pickled!” is a perfect exampleFullSizeRender (32) of Ellison’s ability to take the spirit of the old guard and mix it with his bag of new musical tricks. Bass lines buzz like a bumblebee in your ears as the beat presses on. It’s sonically rich and exploratory like dissecting the essence of existence itself. “Intro/A Cosmic Drama” swells like an interstellar symphony before crashing into the Boards of Canada-esque “Zodiac Shit”. I can really hear my buddy Thom’s version of electronic music in this one. Speaking of my buddy Thom, he lends his ethereal voice to the cool as hell “….And The World Laughs With You”. Elsewhere “MmmHmm” has a Thundercat on it. I’m not sure which one, maybe Cheetara. “German Haircut” sounds like you’re walking up to a jazz club before opening as the band is warming up. In the distance a UFO is landing and beaming people on board. “Dance Of The Pseudo Nymph” is cool as hell. Oh, and the music is great, too. It’s like beat poetry, but in music form.

What’s going on with Cosmogramma is that Flying Lotus is reaching for the milky way to sprinkle some intergalactic magic on his music and it pays off big time. I think Flying Lotus is essential listening for anyone that fancies themselves a connoisseur of real, true blue art done not for the masses but just the lucky few that get it. Fortunately it seems as if quite a few do get Flying Lotus, as that allows him to keep exploring and keep expanding musical boundaries and hungry minds.

If you’re new to Flying Lotus’ world, I’d recommend starting at the beginning and digging deep into Los Angeles. Then once your feet are good and wet, kick off with Cosmogramma. From there, the skies the limit. Until The Quiet Comes and You’re Dead! will complete that heady trip into your own psyche. They’ll rewire you in the best way imaginable.

Well, I’m off to thank Thom for introducing me to Flying Lotus’ world. Maybe I’ll buy Thom lunch. He’s so thin. Probably from all that dancing.


 

 

 

A Love Supreme/John Coltrane : The Complete Masters

Music shouldn’t be easy to understand. You have to come to the music yourself, gradually. Not everything must be received with open arms. – John Coltrane, 1963

 

This is a sentiment that I can wholeheartedly agree with. There have been many instances over the years that I’ve come at an album and couldn’t find a way in straight away. I would run at it full-on, only to be stopped dead in my tracks for some reason or another. In rock, pop, and jazz, you always come across something you think you’re supposed to like but seemingly find it hard to even crack the surface with it. I think there’s quite a few people that come at jazz music and never seem to find an in, and remain on the outside of something great. They enjoy standards and holiday favorites, but beyond that it sounds too complicated; too smart for its own good.

I read somewhere that when people first start getting into jazz the first album they buy, or are recommended, is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. The next is John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. I’m not sure if there’s an actual set of instructions somewhere out there that says this, but I think I understand the reasoning behind it. Davis’ Kind of Blue is that universal jazz album that both the novices and experts alike could find something to swing to, and together with. I can only assume that Coltrane’s A Love Supreme must have been the “make or break” record for new jazz fans. “Okay, so you dug that cool jazz. Let’s see what happens when you hear this!” I’m sure there were quite a few people that didn’t understand the recommendation of Coltrane’s seminal musical statement. It hit their ears and they pulled up the needle and said no thanks. They either keep Kind of Blue in the collection for moments of solitude or go running back to what they know and end their jazz explorations. True musical exploration isn’t for everyone. Some folks just want something to bop their head to. Something to fill the void of silence. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s just not me.

Actually, the first jazz album I ever bought was Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s Dream over 20 years ago. It clicked for me right away. The strangeness of Monk’s phrasing, along with his skewed interpretation of both traditional and ragtime rhythmic cadences twisted and turned something in me. To this day that album affects me. At the same time I had bought that album I’d also bought a Scott Joplin compilation. Songs like “Maple Leaf Rag”, “Sunflower Slow Drag”, “Palm Leaf Rag”, and “The Entertainer” had been swirling in my head by the time Monk’s “Body and Soul”, “Five Spot Blues” and “Just A Gigolo” had hit my ears. I was primed for Monk’s language.

FullSizeRender (20)It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I bought John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. It was the first Coltrane album I’d ever bought, and after hearing the album in its entirety on a public radio station one Saturday night I knew I had to have it. It never felt or sounded foreign to me. I immediately grasped the sense of immediacy Coltrane put forth in his squealing sax phrasings, along with the pure genius backing of drummer Elvin Jones, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and pianist McCoy Tyner. The four parts that made up the album -“Acknowledgement”, “Resolution”, “Pursuance”, and “Psalm”, indeed felt like a declaration of gratitude to a higher power. The album was Coltrane’s “giving thanks” to God for giving him focus and a direction in his art. For pulling him from the depths of heroin addiction into the light of clean living and endless creativity. Though he struggled with other demons -mainly womanizing and a back and forth with his weight- his musical creation never waned from A Love Supreme on up to his tragic death from liver cancer in 1967. He would go on to create even more radical musical statements, such as Ascension(the last record with his classic quartet), Meditations, and Interstellar Space, but A Love Supreme remains his quintessential musical statement. Fully formed, emotionally engaging, and a tour de force musically and conceptually.

IMG_1186I’m not a religious person, but the spiritual aspect of A Love Supreme pulls me in. Coltrane isn’t just thanking an Anglo-Saxon deity. He’s pulling from Eastern and Western aspects of belief. His love of God feels non-denominational. It feels like joy for life. A life that a mere seven years prior in 1957 he felt he wasn’t long to have. A Love Supreme is thankfulness for the air he breathes and pushes back through his horn. I can relate to that thankfulness.  A Love Supreme/John Coltrane: The Complete Masters is an intimate look into the making of a musical masterpiece. It’s three discs that bring together a tapestry of musical ideas which turned into a declaration of love for God and life. It’s also a love letter to the process of creation.

FullSizeRender (21)Disc one consists of the stereo version of the album in its entirety, and then is followed up by mono reference masters of “Part III – Pursuance” and “Part IV – Psalm”. Disc two opens with alternate takes from the sessions on December 9, 1964. It’s great hearing the starts and stops of these moments in the studio. The takes Coltrane wasn’t happy with and went back to redo. He never had this sort of freedom and looseness allotted to him before in the studio. Impulse! gave him the freedom to explore and create the vision for this album he intended. I love these glimpses into the process. The second half of disc two is the quartet expanding into a sextet with the addition of Philadelphia avante garde saxophonist Archie Shepp and bassist Art Davis. At one point Coltrane imagined A Love Supreme with this line up. A conversation between Coltrane and Shepp’s tenors; Coltrane the more restrained and fluid, while Shepp’s is harsher and bluesier. I love hearing these concepts come to fruition, but I think in the long run Coltrane made the right decision to go with his original vision of the album as a quartet. I think the pieces lose some of their longing and weight with the addition of Shepp’s boisterous tenor voice. Disc three is Coltrane’s quartet live at Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes on July 26th, 1965. They run through the whole of A Love Supreme in a rough and ready fashion. It’s not as fluid and cohesive as the studio version, but there’s a fire behind their performance. There’s also a tension in the performances, as the relationships between these musicians were starting to crumble. Coltrane had already begun to go down a new path, rebuilding his style from the ground up. Regardless of the personal strife, the performance was and still is an exhilarating one.

If you’ve ever loved this album, or even had a passing fancy with it, you need to get your hands on this collection. I rarely buy CDs anymore, but I made an exception for this box set and it was so worth it. Would I love to hear disc three on vinyl? Umm, yes. Yes I would. But the remastering of the recording to CD is nothing short of masterful. And the session recordings and starts and stops of different takes are exquisitely caught, both originally by Bob Thiele and genius engineer Rudy Van Gelder and newly produced by Harry Weinger and Ashley Kahn, with mastering by Kevin Reeves.

There are many jazz albums I hold near and dear to me, but A Love Supreme is one that I just can’t do without. The sound of change and enlightenment is inside these songs. There’s hope and love within the notes. I think we need this album now more than ever.


 

Abercrombie’s Gateway Drug

It was quite a few years ago that I’d first heard John Abercrombie in Gateway. “Back-Woods Song” just randomly came up while I sat at my desk listening to the jazz channel on internet radio. I was floored. Groove till the cows came home, with the rhythm section of Dave Holland on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, John Abercrombie’s fluid guitar sounded like Hendrix steeped in late-era Coltrane. There was technical prowess for sure with playing that resembled some intense geometric theorem, yet there was this underlying bluesy soul in the runs. I knew this was a record I wanted to own at some point for sure.

Fast forward to a couple years ago as I was rummaging through the local antique store/basement record shop and low and behold I come across a pristine copy of Gateway’s first LP for a mere handful of shekels. It was mine in moments and I was off on a rainy Midwestern afternoon to listen at home base.

Gateway’s debut is a masterful jazz fusion record that combines three powerhouse musicians and in the course of six tracks they demolish anyone in their path. When I used to think of jazz fusion I’d start to get sweaty palms, a lump would grow in my throat, and I’d want to just hide. The intellectualism of this musical sport would overwhelm me and I’d just shut down. Return To Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Al Di Meola…those were the artists that would come to mind when I heard jazz fusion. All incredible musicians, and songs that felt like ancient proverbs put to music. But when I tried to find some sort of emotional center(how many licks does it take to get to the emotional center of “The Dance of Maya”? I wouldn’t lick that if I were you.), it just wasn’t there. But Gateway, they’re different. Sure, they have their share of high brow noodling(“Sorcery I”, “Waiting”), but songs like “Back-Woods Song”, “May Dance”, and “Jamala” are filled with witty playing and light-as-air vibes that keeps you coming back for more.

I’d never realized what an incredible player Abercrombie was before hearing this album. Smooth, fluid, and plenty of that mid-70s funkiness. I’d heard Holland and DeJohnette before on a few John Scofield recordings, so I knew they had the goods, but even on this 1975 record they seem looser than they’d ever been.

There was a second Gateway record before the name disappeared into the ether of three incredibly long musical rosters. I have yet to hear that one, but it’s on the list to get. If you like jazz, impeccable musicianship, and hearing musicians at the absolute top of their game, you need to check this album out. Don’t let the “jazz fusion” moniker scare you away. You’d be doing your ears a disservice.

Enjoying some of that Dark Truth Stout. I think I’ll listen to Gateway one mo time and pour myself another.

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