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Robert Baird  |  May 21, 2024  |  1 comments
Ow Ow Ow, Ow Ow Whaow, Ow Ow Ow...Wha-aa-ow. That simple G-minor melody, supposedly inspired by Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (or perhaps Brazilian composer Carlos Lyra) and played with the tone of a Fender Stratocaster doubled by a Hammond B3 organ, is unquestionably the most famous rock-guitar riff. The apotheosis of 1970s hard-rock, the ubiquitous "Smoke on the Water" is also the unlikely story of the song's creation and the high-water mark of long-running UK rock band Deep Purple.
Robert Baird  |  Apr 17, 2024  |  1 comments
In the late 1960s and the early years of the next decade, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, like many of his contemporaries, was listening to such albums as Miles Davis's Filles de Kilimanjaro and Miles in the Sky and pondering what it meant for his music. During this period, for better or worse, the rhythms and aggressive approach of rock music, including the use of electric rather than acoustic instruments, were mixing with jazz and giving birth to fusion. In hindsight, it seems inevitable that these two vital genres, both of which prize improvisation—be it on electric guitar or tenor saxophone—should become each other's major influence. Jazz fusion based in jazz (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Tony Williams Lifetime, Return to Forever), and jazz rock based in rock (Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, Soft Machine), evolved into major genres in the 1970s. From these tendrils, jazz pop, jazz funk, M-Base, and even smooth jazz have continued to spread.
Robert Baird  |  Mar 26, 2024  |  0 comments
By all accounts, Eunice Kathleen Waymon, aka Nina Simone, who passed in 2003, was a troubled person and a brilliant artist. Why she was not more acclaimed during her lifetime is a question several recent film projects have tried to answer. Did her fierce stand on civil rights lose her fans? Or was it, as the films have implied, a case of self-sabotage driven by mental illness? Whatever the answer, her inimitable work continues to resonate with ever more force and depth.

A mix of tracks left over from sessions Philips recorded in 1964 and 1965, Wild Is the Wind has been reissued on 180gm vinyl by Universal Music and Acoustic Sounds. Remastered by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound and plated and pressed at QRP in Salina, Kansas, the record sounds warm and evocative, capturing the nuances of Simone's complex vocal powers.

Robert Baird  |  Feb 19, 2024  |  2 comments
Given his seemingly endless stream of ideas, virtuoso instrumentalism, and considerable wealth of recordings, Keith Jarrett is a creative universe unto himself. He began his recording career on Atlantic Records and recorded for several labels, including Impulse!, along the way, but it was on Manfred Eicher's label ECM that he first broke through to worldwide fame in 1973, with the 3-LP set Keith Jarrett, Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne. Considering its landmark status, it's fitting that the album is among the first releases in ECM's new Luminessence vinyl series, reissued in its original triple-vinyl form.
Robert Baird  |  Feb 01, 2024  |  2 comments
In Jan Swafford's excellent 2020 Mozart biography The Reign of Love, he intimately weaves the composer's life story with the music he created. Along the way, he confirms a legendary scene. Played to the hilt in Amadeus, Milos Forman's 1984 film adaptation of Peter Shaffer's play, the then-reigning Hapsburg monarch, Joseph II, rushes backstage after the premiere of Mozart's first operatic blockbuster, The Abduction from the Seraglio, and opines, "Too beautiful for our [Viennese] ears, my dear Mozart, and monstrous many notes." Sassy by nature or perhaps just stung by the implied criticism, Mozart supposedly replied, "Exactly as many as necessary, Your Majesty."

That quote rings in my head each time I listen to Bruce Springsteen's still-astonishing 1973 debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., which has just turned 50 and been reissued in Mobile Fidelity's Ultradisc One-Step series.

Ken Micallef  |  Jan 03, 2024  |  5 comments
In the 1970s, Steely Dan produced hit records for a listening public that could care less about the band's cryptic lyrics. Those early Dan fans responded to their songs' epic choruses and glistening hooks, awarding chart-topping success and a global audience.

From 1972's Can't Buy a Thrill to 1980's closing act Gaucho, Bard sages Walter Becker (1950–2017) and Donald Fagen occupied a place in pop music as unique as their songs' references to "wild gamblers," "midnight cruisers," "bodacious cowboys," and a female protagonist who "prays like a Roman with her eyes on fire." Much later, Becker and Fagen returned to the studio, issuing Two Against Nature to an audience still hungry for their singular R&B-and jazz-based music.

Tom Fine  |  Dec 01, 2023  |  2 comments
Saturday, August 18, 1962, was quite a day in music. In England, Ringo Starr made his first appearance as a full member of the Beatles, at a Horticultural Society dance at Port Sunlight, Merseyside. In Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, two jazz giants met in a recording studio for the first time. Duke Ellington showed up with a streamlined, potent ensemble: Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Ray Nance, Lawrence Brown, Aaron Bell, and Sam Woodyard. Then tenor sax legend Coleman Hawkins arrived.

Ellington and Hawkins had never recorded together, so there was an atmosphere of energy and something grand and long overdue. Producer Bob Thiele and engineer Rudy Van Gelder stayed out of the way and let the music unfold while making sure not to miss anything. The result was a spectacular, loose, joyous, perfectly played album: Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins (Impulse! Records, AS-26, A-26 in mono).

Robert Baird  |  Oct 17, 2023  |  2 comments
Why is John Coltrane's A Love Supreme still so resonant nearly 60 years after it was recorded? Much to its credit, it's short (just over 30 minutes) and to the point. If you're going to raise a prayer of gratitude to a higher power and layer spiritual meaning onto music, best not belabor the point. In the case of A Love Supreme, that kind of brevity also extended to the recording process. The album was tracked in one day—December 9, 1964—by Rudy Van Gelder in his studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey; Van Gelder also mixed the album. A composed (rather than purely improvised) four-part suite ("Acknowledgement," "Resolution," "Pursuance/Part 4," and "Psalm"), it exudes a certain hypnotic aura. It draws the listener in with an entrancing spirituality, its fealty to love and a higher power. Finally, the incisive, same-page playing of bassist Jimmy Garrison, drummer Elvin Jones, and pianist McCoy Tyner is almost supernatural.
Ken Micallef  |  Sep 20, 2023  |  4 comments
Today's scrappy record labels understand that an intimate brand connection captures consumers. Every major label has its own boutique imprints, from Columbia's Legacy to Blue Note's Tone Poet and Classic Vinyl. Craft Recordings, the catalog label for Concord, is set up well for achieving such a connection, since the parent company also owns Fania, Prestige, Milestone, Pablo, Telarc, Vanguard, Concord Jazz, and Riverside (not to mention Stax, Rounder, and Sugar Hill). For vinyl reissues, that's the jazz motherlode.

Craft created Jazz Dispensary to reissue some of this music, with shall we say uplifting goals: "With jazz as its source, ... Jazz Dispensary blurs boundaries and opens minds to the psychoactive potential of music, introducing a new generation to the grooves that elevated the hippest heads of the '60s and '70s." One Jazz Dispensary review copy came with branded rolling papers.

Robert Baird  |  Sep 05, 2023  |  0 comments
The standup bass genius and jazz force of nature Charles Mingus made his first album for Atlantic Records, Pithecanthropus Erectus, in 1956. Several of his most memorable musical masterpieces, including The Clown (1957), Blues and Roots (1960), and Oh Yeah (1962), followed as he intermittently returned to the label throughout the 1960s and early '70s. Beginning in 1974 with Mingus Moves, the cigarillo-chomping, famously gruff Mingus recorded most of his final albums for the label as he progressed from composer/player to wheelchair-bound writer and musical director. His final seven studio albums for the label and a single LP of outtakes, all freshly remastered, comprise this welcome 8-LP (or 7-CD) box-set addition to the Mingus oeuvre.
Tom Fine  |  Jul 25, 2023  |  2 comments
Little Feat's beginning was a slow burn, bolstered by the faith of record company execs as the band found its groove. Once it found its, um, feat, the band thrived through deaths and other turmoil. In fact, they're still at it. This fall, according to Rhino Records, the band will be performing "on back-to-back nights ... at selected venues" the two albums that document the time they found their way: 1972's Sailin' Shoes and 1973's Dixie Chicken.

In conjunction with that 50th anniversary mini-tour, Rhino has issued deluxe remasters of both albums on 3 LPs or 2 CDs, with plenty of bonus material and a previously unissued live show with each album. On the LP sets, the two original albums were remastered by Bernie Grundman "from the flat master tapes," according to Steve Woolard, Rhino's head of A&R. Plating and pressing was done at Precision Record Pressing in Ontario, Canada. Rhino was kind enough to send me both the LP and CD sets so that I could compare the sound and presentation.

Robert Baird  |  Jul 02, 2023  |  0 comments
Liner notes from jazz albums of the 1950s and 1960s can be shot through with naivete, hipsterism (usually faux), and callousness toward the abundance of musical talent then working. Few though are as shortsighted as the original essay by Jack Maher on the back of 1960's Workin' with the Miles Davis Quintet. Opening with "Miles Davis is the most maligned and idolized musician in modern American jazz today. He is at once the saint and the sinner," he goes on to cite a dynamic that literally all musicians experience, especially when playing live: "He has been accused of being lackadaisical and unconcerned about his playing. When the spirit moves him, he plays with warmth and lyric beauty, at other times he plays with vague disinterest."

Once the tape was running, however, Miles rarely missed a step. Among all of Davis's recording triumphs, the pair of sessions with Rudy Van Gelder in Hackensack, New Jersey, his May and September 1956 sessions with saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones, remain among his finest moments on record.

Andrey Henkin  |  May 30, 2023  |  2 comments
Blue Note's Tone Poet audiophile vinyl reissue series, which has been written about frequently in these pages, was inaugurated in 2019 and has now reached 70+ releases, mostly reissues from the storied label's catalog with outliers from Pacific Jazz/World Pacific and United Artists and a couple of new issues thrown in. The Blue Note reissues have ranged from classics released in myriad editions since their initial LP run to music held back for years and sometimes put out only in Japan or only recently discovered and released on compact disc.
Tom Fine  |  May 08, 2023  |  1 comments
Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, also known as Jaws, was a self-taught originator of soul jazz. He recorded the first records that blend Hammond organ and tenor sax, with Bill Doggett at the B3, for Roost Records in May 1952. He continued to develop his blues-based, jukebox-friendly style of jazz and, in 1955, joined forces with a young organ player from Philadelphia named Shirley Scott. They recorded together for King and Prestige Records and formed a gigging band with drums and bass.

In three 1958 sessions at Rudy Van Gelder's Hackensack, New Jersey, "living room" studio, Davis and Scott recorded four seminal soul-jazz albums, the "Cookbooks." Themed around bluesy originals and spirited takes on comfortable standards, the albums featured liner notes and song titles that relate to an imagined soul kitchen, with a generous helping of kitschy references to the "simmerin'" music on the platters. Craft Recordings, the reissue label for the Concord Music Group, has collected the four "Cookbook" albums into a box set of vinyl cut from the two-track master tapes by Bernie Grundman and plated and pressed at RTI in California.

Robert Baird  |  Mar 13, 2023  |  4 comments
Turns out rock stars are human after all. Which means music fans should prepare themselves for the coming toll. The next few years are certain to be brutal: Bob Dylan, 81; Paul Simon, 81; George Clinton, 81; Brian Wilson, 80; Carole King, 80; Keith Richards, 79; Jimmy Page, 79; Sly Stone, 79; Rod Stewart, 78; Neil Young, 77; Pete Townsend, 77, and the inexorability rolls on. The news is even worse among the pre-rock era stars, where it's a matter of any day now: Tony Bennett, 96; Burt Bacharach, 94; Sonny Rollins, 93. Even the ageless one, Willie Nelson, is 86.

January 2023 was a particularly cruel harbinger of the reckoning to come as guitar legend Jeff Beck and folk rock icon David Crosby died within eight days of each other.