Archive for the ‘Fusion’ Category

Birdfingers: The Soaring Heights of Coryell

February 26, 2011

The Eleventh House Introducing The Eleventh House With Larry Coryell. Vanguard VSD 79342. 1974
The Eleventh House
Level One. Arista AL 4052. 1975
Larry
Coryell Planet End. Vanguard VSD 23022. 1975

The mid-1970s found lightning fretman Larry Coryell soaring at the jazz/rock nexus. With an eclectic cast of veterans – including brass/rock trumpeter Randy Brecker (Blood Sweat & Tears; Dreams) and drumming extraordinaire Alphonse Mouzon (Weather Report) – Coryell aimed for the utmost in idiomatic latitude on Introducing The Eleventh House.

At the ignition of Mouzon, “Birdfingers” sends guitar/trumpet winds aflurry, with the hollow-bodied scales of Coryell running miles along the mountainous chordal arch of the tune. Velocities snowball on “Yin”, a six-minute race between the nimble blaze of Coryell and the cyber-emissions of keyboardist Mike Mandel’s ARP Odyssey. Syncopation serves up contrast in “Adam Smasher”, where funky basslines form the ground on which Brecker shines; at least until Coryell muscles his way to the fore. Brecker redoubles with his stately riff to “Right On Y’All”, a brass/rock parade which Mandel engulfs with intergalactic aplomb.

The crew drops a heavier load onto Level One, with the symphonic strides of the opening theme landing at a new musical crossroads. “Nyctaphobia” is their most frenzied racer yet, with Coryell, Mandel and Mouzon slinging neck-in-neck to the finish line. Lightning yields to thunder on “That’s the Joint”, where Coryell sets flame to the thickening slabs of newly-recruited bassman John Lee. (Could this be the dawn of metallic jazz?) Coryell grinds to a 4/4 foothold for the flanged-out funk of “Some Greasy Stuff”, replete with runs through Mandel’s sound library. Ambitions climax with “Suite: Entrance/Repose/Exit”, a lavish display of guitar/piano filigree spun through a modulated windmill; alternately becalmed and billowing.

Concurrently, Coryell kept his solo side alight with Planet End, a stripped engagement with numerous jazz/rock players. From the thunder of “Cover Girl” to the flash of “Rocks”, much of this album suggests a rockier twist to the Eleventh House sound. By contrast, the double-bass extensions of both “Tyrone” and the title-track serve as upright jazz, with the walking notes of Miroslav Vitouš setting ground for some light, legato fretwork from our star.

Decked in surreal cover art, these defining works of Coryell play like singular sonic excursions – a most spellbinding ride for the aurally adventurous.

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Ray Russell: From Dragon to Cradle

February 19, 2011

Ray RussellDragon Hill. CBS Realm 52663, 1969
Ray
RussellRites and Rituals. Columbia 494436 2; 1971

English six-string journeyman Ray Russell arched the dawning 1970s with a pair of albums which bridged the gulf between rock and jazz. Augmented by a cast including saxman Lyn Dobson (Locomotive, Keef Hartley Band) and veteran trumpeter Harry Beckett, Russell unleashed his licks across five frenzied cuts on Dragon Hill.


Misty keys and chordal shards open the mammoth “Dragon Hill”, which ultimately veers between freeform guitar/piano solos and structural bebop/blues sketches; replete with the high-end, atonal strumming which becomes Russell’s signature. He turns to more fluid licks on “Something in the Sky”, a jitterbug swept into the brassy winds of Beckett and Dobson. Bassist Ron Mathewson funkifies “Can I Have My Paperback Back” for the interplay of Russell and pianist Roy Fry, who trades his Steinway for Rhodes on this number. Alternately, Russell takes a powder for most of “We Lie Naked in Winter Snow”, a candlelight exchange between Mathewson and Fry. The full-cast is summoned for “Mandala”, in which the lightning lines of Russell are squared by a brass theme of such aplomb it would smite Chicago or Colosseum.

That latter brass/rock congregate – whose core members had played with Russell under the tutelage of Graham Bond – paved ground which lured Russell on his next outing, Rites and Rituals. The low-end strum which opens “Sarana” is swiftly raised by the layering of trombone, trumpet and sax; an assemblage soon knocked aside by Russell’s newly-manicured wall-of-distortion. Furthermore, “Sarana” echoes the amplified strides of John McLaughlin – another Bond alumnus spanning the jazz/rock divide – with Russell torching thirteen minutes of freeform; lassoed fleetingly at brass/rock intervals. Matching lengths but not ideas, the title-piece meanders amidst muffled bleats and coy noodling; the solid tune at 9:10 being all too brief. Contrastingly front-loaded is the gargantuan “Abyss”, whose dissonance runs dry by the halfway mark. Redemption is served in the final number, “Cradle Hill”, where the clashing currents of guitar, trombone and cello careen through a heady five-minute run.

Erratic or not, these records displayed Russell’s skill with such authority that his employ was now secure across a vast spectrum of British musical talent.

Hubbard: Red as a Fox

February 12, 2011

Freddie HubbardRed Clay. CTI 6001, 1970
Freddie
HubbardStraight Life. CTI 6007, 1970

Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard kicked off the 1970s with two of the earliest electrified jazz recordings from outside the stable of Miles. On Red Clay, he’s backed by the nimble chops of Joe Henderson (woodwinds), Herbie Hancock (keyboards), Ron Carter (bass) and Lenny White (drums) for a tuneful collection boasting four originals, plus an instrumental adaptation of “Cold Turkey” by John Lennon.

Amongst the album’s highlights is the title-excursion “Red Clay”, marked by a memorable bass ostinato which drives the heady trade-offs between Hubbard, Henderson and Hancock. Gusty winds ensnarl “The Intrepid Fox”, where fleeting melodies are ransacked across great length by that hyperactive trio of soloists. A nightcap is served in the dusky Rhodes glimmer of “Suite Sioux”, which frames a truce between sax and trumpet – like harmony at last call.

The crimson-themed cover art of Red Clay is continued on the follow-up, Straight Life, despite a shift in musical concept. The focus here is on jam-based, conga-strewn improve, of which the mangled sax and glowing keys of “Mr. Clean” emerge most gloriously from this three-track set. The tingling Rhodes of Hancock are the saving grace to the sprawling title-piece, yet even he seems impassive here, as if his energies were now on reserve for his own, superior efforts. The allure of Red Clay was it’s melding of tunefulness and intrepidness, a balance sorely lacking this second time around.

Amplified instruments demand knowledge of their unique sonic character. Following the initial guidance of Hancock, the challenge now for Hubbard was to forge an electrified strategy – to stay the course of this new frontier in jazz.

The Intrepid Triad of Hancock

February 5, 2011

Herbie Hancock Mwandishi. Warner Bros; 1971
Herbie
Hancock Crossings. Warner Bros; 1972
Herbie
Hancock Sextant. Columbia; 1973

On his opening triad of albums from the 1970s, renaissance jazzman Herbie Hancock mined the dark sonic corridors which he’d first unveiled with Miles Davis on the latter’s 1969 landmark, In a Silent Way. With an arsenal of keyboards, Hancock enlisted the crew of Buster Williams (bass), Billy Hart (drums), Julian Priester (trombone), and the ambidextrous duo of Eddie Henderson and Bennie Maupin on an assortment of brass and woodwinds. Each platter is split between three lengthy sketches in the sidelong/divided format.

Mwandishi is launched by the rhythmic flurry of “Ostinato (Suite for Angela)”, in which Hancock bubbles around one sinister bass figure alternately manned by Williams, Priester and Maupin. “You’ll Know When You Get There” serves as a quiet release from the preceding tension, with the ambidextrous pair lacing flute and flugelhorn across the sedative breeze of Hancock’s Fender Rhodes. Overside, the mammoth “Wandering Spirit Song” drifts slowly into a cyclone, whereupon brass, drums and synthesizers collide like sharks against steamships for a most harrowing climax.

The sidelong action tops Crossings with the aptly-titled “Sleeping Giant”, whose quieter moments are mere respite to the percussive storms raging throughout. More enriching are the night-sky illuminations of “Quasar”, which drifts aglow in the Moog work of newly-enlisted synthesist Patrick Gleason. Rounding this set is “Water Torture”, an alarming misnomer for Hancock’s timely trip to the icy land of the Mellotron.

Hancock’s experiments in rhythm and sonority peaked with Sextant, a dizzying set which verged on freeform. “Rain Dance” shows the keyboard team besting their cosmic chemistry, with the ARP spurts of Gleason fizzing through the bubbly waters of Hancock. Pianos and Mellotron enmesh with the synthesizers on “Hidden Shadows”, a dark and frosty landscape beset by the hail of percussion. The endless bass-and-cymbal frame of “Hornets” gives pensive precision to the nimble swarm throughout; the woodwinds squeeze for time, but Hancock steamrolls with the smoke of the Rhodes and the fiery sizzle of the Hohner D-6 clavinet.

The evolution of Hancock across these last three albums drew the all-elusive future into the present tense of jazz.

Les McCann: The Openness of Layers

January 28, 2011

Les McCann Invitation to Openness. Atlantic; 1971
Les
McCann Layers. Atlantic; 1974

Newly-electrified American pianist Les McCann employed Latin percussion and woodwinds for the lengthy workouts of his 1971 release, Invitation to Openness. Side one is solely comprised of “The Lovers”, a twenty-six minute jam in G-major where the oboe lines of Yusef Lateef shine before the wah-wah interjections of guitarist David Spinozza. “Beaux J. Poo Boo” makes for a feisty rhythmic showcase, with the fluid fills of drummer Alphonse Mouzon trading off with the handiwork of percussionist Ralph McDonald. McCann himself finally takes center stage on “Poo Pye McGoochie (and his friends)”, pinching out cosmic lines of synth that would tickle Zawinul or Hancock with envy.

McCann opted for a tighter approach on his 1974 release, Layers, which scaled back the jams to focus more exclusively on his compositions and keyboard playing. Though the two sides of the original LP were subtitled “Songs from Boston” and “Songs from My Childhood”, the music actually alternates between two reoccurring themes across both sides.

Coming first is the tranquil “Sometimes I Cry”, a Rhodes sketch thematically bested by the rising tides of “Soaring (at Dawn)”; later recapitulated on the flipside with “Lets Play” and “Soaring (at Sunset)”. Dividing that softness is a heavier theme unveiled on this album’s key-stacked centerpiece, “The Dunbar High School Marching Band”, which soars atop a chromatic riff that recirculates in the funkified “Harlem Buck Dance Strut” and the cosmified “It Never Stopped In My Home Town”.

The cover to Layers depicting the eye of a speaker glowing red at the core – is a most befitting visual accompaniment to the music contained within.

The Mysterious Travels of Weather Report

January 21, 2011

Weather ReportWeather Report. Columbia; 1971
Weather Report
Mysterious Traveller. Columbia; 1974

Weather Report – the everlasting jazz/rock congregate led by Miles graduates Joe Zawinul (keyboards) and Wayne Shorter (saxophone) – commenced in 1971 to further mine the fluid atmospherics which they’d pioneered with their benefactor on In a Silent Way. With Czech bassist Miroslav Vitouš, Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira and stateside drumming extraordinaire Alphonse Mouzon onboard, Weather Report takes measurable strides towards idiomatic unification.

“Umbrellas” bursts open with a primal Mouzon thrust that’s swiftly intercepted by the fuzzy strings of Vitouš. The bulk of the tune, however, finds the rhythm section muffled behind Airto’s tambourine spray and Zawinul’s springy sound-drops. Shorter takes the lead on “Seventh Arrow”, veering from soprano filigree on the first half to alto blasts towards the end; all revved by the manic bashing of Mouzon, with Zawinul growing ever-dissonant in the final seconds. Bookending side one are Zawinul’s initial forays into synthesized serenity: the icy, echo-laden “Milky Way” and the warmer diffusion of “Orange Lady”. Highlighting the flipside is the Miles-centric “Waterfall”, in which the Rhodes flakes of Zawinul conjure a glowing, fluid imagery akin to the Kilimanjaro/Silent Way sessions.

Following the half-live I Sing the Body Electric (1972) and funkified jamming of Sweetnighter (1973), Weather Report triumphantly hit their stride with Mysterious Traveller (1974), on which the Zawinul/Shorter frontline were now augmented by Alphonso Johnson (bass), Ishmael Wilburn (drums) and a then-fiftysomething Brazilian percussionist, Dom Um Romão. Zawinul had extended himself to an array of instruments – including kalimba, melodica, tamboura, clay drum and tack piano – that are tempting to decipher from the numerous layers of “Nubian Sundance”, a dense and lively extravaganza drawing from all corners: part folkloric fanfare; part Olympian anthem.

Zawinul’s quirkier side reigns on “Cucumber Slumber”, in which springy, trebly knob emissions pierce and jab from all ends of the speaker, replete with the crafty-handed underpinnings of Johnson. The art of ‘silent construction’ is beheld on the final track, “Jungle Book”, where motifs collide from the recesses of space – ocarina, sitar, tabla – to ensnarl a faint line of vocalese; alternately thrown afoot by a guitar/flute figure in a brisk G/F tonality. Best of all, however, is the slow glow of “Scarlet Woman”, in which the soprano spurts of Shorter flare like a crimson frock amidst the dark, lucid backdrops of Zawinul, weaving a most seductive sonic impression.

Chick Corea: A Crystal Fiesta

January 16, 2011

Return to ForeverReturn to Forever. ECM-1022; 1972

The premiere of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever set cross-cultural strides, with his signature Rhodes work woven into the recently imported samba style, courtesy of expat Brazilian newlyweds Airto Moreira (percussion) and Flora Purim (vocals). With four-string wunderkind Stanley Clarke and woodwindist Joe Farrell in tow, this international quintet graced their debut platter with two sonic undertakings of utmost expansion.

On their twelve-minute ‘treble’ (a title-sake piece to an eponymous album) Corea formulates a Rhodes pattern over Moreira’s indigenous brushstrokes, whereupon Farrell’s butterfly flutes and Purim’s heavenly vocalese color the landscape. They crank the heat on the second half, where Purim yelps and moans over some boiling filigree, cooked by the fluid fingers of Clarke and Corea.

The mammoth “Sometime Ago – La Fiesta” is a slow riser, with seven minutes of light twiddling serving as prelude to the seaside ambiance of “Sometime”, on which Purim, Farrell, and Corea entwine over an ever-foreboding bassline. Clarke then wipes the floor with Farrell on “Fiesta”, where samba jubilance is swept into a modulated fever.

Bisecting those sonic castles are the album’s two pearls: the lilting Purim showcase “What Game Shall We Play Today” and the Farrell/Corea sedative “Crystal Silence”; the former alight in sensual contours, and the latter adrift in rhythmless, Rhodes/sax moonlight.

The Glowing Ring of Burton

January 7, 2011

The Gary Burton Quintet (w/ Eberhard Weber)Ring. ECM 1042; 1974.

American vibes-man Gary Burton crafted an angular/autumny set of sound sketches on Ring, backed by German double-bassist Eberhard Weber and six-string wunderkind Pat Metheny. The opening “Melevia” weaves the glowing, luminous tones of Burton’s vibraphone with Metheny’s light, legato fretwork, fusing a pastel sonic impressionism. Elsewhere, the jagged meters and punctual rhythms of “Unfinished Symphony” unveils a fiery contrast between Weber’s ostinatos and the Burton/Metheny filigree. Drummer Bob Moses shines on the short and twisted “Intrude”, alternating cymbal spray with martial figures, replete with the double-tracked, oddly sinister interjections of Metheny. Highlighting this set is the vibes-lifted rendition of Weber’s signature piece, “The Colours of Chloë”, where the whole ensemble rises amidst sweeping tempos and shifting high-chords, careening to the ultimate climax.

Maximalist vs. Minimalist Aesthetics in 20th Century Rock Music

April 20, 2010

Maximalists – value dynamic showmanship, idiomatic breadth, instrumental eclecticism, heroic virtuosity, harmolodic complexity, compositional grandeur and lavish sonorities. Maximalists essentially view showbiz as a meritocracy of virtuosity; the libertarian capitalism of rock.

Minimalists – value amateurism, sparse arrangements, a paucity of notes and chords, rudimental skill, compositional simplicity, rawness/underproduction and abrasive sonorities. Minimalists generally spurn showmanship, stressing D.I.Y. activism at the localized scene level; the collectivist socialism of rock.

Aesthetic Breakdown

Origins

  • Maximalism – The progression from high foundationalism, which peaked in 1966 with the release of Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys and Revolver by the Beatles. Officially launched with the June 1967 release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles.
  • Minimalism – The step beyond low foundationalism, as embodied by the mid-60s garage rock compiled in the Nuggets series. Accidentally spawned by the February 1967 release of The Velvet Underground and Nico, the debut album by the Velvet Underground.

Timeline

  • Maximalism – Rose in the late-60s, triumphed in the early-70s, reached its broadest global latitude during the mid-70s, and slowly decelerated between 1978 and 1983 amidst the reinstatement of foundationalism via disco and dance pop.
  • Minimalism – Had little influence as maximalism ascended, but congealed slowly between 1969 and 1977 from disparate sources, finally emerging as the dominant subterranean aesthetic in the aftermath of punk.

Genres

  • Maximalism – Progressive Rock (Prog), Heavy Metal (early), Brass Rock, 70s Funk, Fusion, 70s Electronic, Pomp Rock/Arena Rock, New Romantic
  • Minimalism – Garage Rock, Proto Punk, Kraut Rock, Punk, Post Punk, Industrial, Pop Metal, alt.rock, Grunge

Performers

  • Maximalists – Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Emerson Lake & Palmer, The Who (post-1968), Jethro Tull, Chicago, Earth Wind & Fire, Deep Purple, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Mike Oldfield, PFM, Tangerine Dream, Magma, Harmonium, Supertramp, Al Stewart, Boz Scaggs, Rupert Holmes, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, Steve Harley, 10cc, Styx, Kate Bush, The Stranglers, Ultravox, Magazine, Japan, U2, Simple Minds
  • Minimalists – The Stooges, The Shaggs, The New York Dolls, T.Rex, Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, Neil Young, Graham Parsons, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Faust, Can, Patti Smith, The Ramones, Pere Ubu, James Chance & the Contortions, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths, Wire, Bauhaus, Gang of Four, AC/DC, Nerdvana, Violent Femmes, Suicide, Throbbing Gristle

Epicenters

  • Maximalism – London, Birmingham, Chicago, Montreal, Rome
  • Minimalism – London, Manchester, Berlin, Cleveland, Seattle

Philosophical Antecedents

  • Maximalism – Classicism, Romanticism, Objectivism
  • Minimalism – Naturalism, Existentialism, Postmodernism

Noted Champions

  • Maximalists – Musicologist, professor, author and composer Ed Macan (born 1961) – “The whole underlying goal of progressive rock – to draw together rock, classical, jazz, folk, and avant-garde styles into a new metastyle that would supersede them all – is inherently optimistic.”
  • Minimalists – Sociologist and critic Lester Bangs (1948-1982) – “The first mistake of art is to assume that it’s serious.”


Secret Understanding: The Idiomatic Breadth Between Maximalism and Minimalism

March 3, 2010

Over the course of a creative cycle spanning the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, the incendiary musical form known as rock underwent a series of categorical reductions. But since most of those categories were devoid of musical concretes, their meanings were all but trivial. For when rock is broken down to its core foundations, there are merely two distinct outgrowths of the music: maximalism and minimalism. This is not to say that those two streams were devoid of any stylistic range; but that the developments were more associative than the factionalists cared to recognize. Therefore, I set out to chart the genesis of maximalism and minimalism in the annals of rock, and examine the variables of idiomatic breadth which the two streams attained.

First we need to define the traits which embody minimalism and maximalism within the context of rock. Minimalism in rock is an eschewal of musicality, marked by skeletal, abrasive and atonal sonic scars of the rawest nature. Skeletal traits are bore through a paucity of instrumentation and compositional breadth; rudimental songs played by tiny combos. Abrasiveness stems from tunnel frequency, in which traits like bludgeoning volume and fogbound murk are employed to lock listeners into a single state of mind. Atonality is symptomatic of carpus inertia, in which the player’s lack of tactility obliterates the fundaments of musicality for un-centered and often shapeless noises.

Maximalism in rock is an embrace of musicality, embodied through expressions of complexity, eclecticism and grandeur at the highest level. Complexity is achieved when musicians maximize the elements of composition and musicality, exploring variant song structures to the utmost extent, with full regard to melody, harmony, rhythm, sonority, lyrics, meter and counterpoint. Eclecticism is mastered when musicians achieve a synthesis of styles with adept instrumental latitude, fusing various idiomatic impulses in the spirit of creation. Grandeur is reached through presentational dynamism, in which performers transcend themselves through theatrical showmanship, elaborate stagecraft and heroic virtuosity; frozen through time in lavish, state of the art productions.

Background: From Static to Flexible Foundationalism

Rock n’ roll coalesced during the mid-1950s, as touring blues and country players throughout the eastern and southern regions of the United States fed from the musical breadth of the cross-cultural landscape; mutually radiating this explosive new form. The music swiftly caught hold because of its accessibility to upstart musicians, who could easily adopt to this raw idiom and cut cheap records with their own lean combo’s; free from the constricts of formal training and costly orchestration which had been the requisites of pre-rock pop. But rock n’ roll rescinded after a few short years due to its stylistic limitations, with performers having exhausted the twelve-bar blues structure inherent to this primarily rhythmic form. Likewise, the American public shifted upstream, for rock n’ roll started to sound uniform once the racy novelty of its chief performers had worn off. In retrospect, rock n’ roll of the 1950s could be viewed as the makeshift form of budding musicians who ultimately aspired to attain mastery of their formative idioms: country, bluegrass and blues.

Rock didn’t die entirely, however, for its torch soon passed overseas. By the dawn of the 1960s, rock itself had become a formative idiom for the young musicians of England, who stripped the music to its unfettered core, dressed it with the flexible strum of folk, and applied the melodic idiosyncrasies of their own music hall tradition, thereupon fusing a new and revitalized form of rock which, owing to its locale of origin, became known to the world as Merseybeat. Given the broadened musicality now embedded into rock, the music could only progress from this point forward. The static nature of 1950s rock had rendered the music a passing fad; the expansive richness of 1960s rock transformed the music into an art form of global vitality and cross-generational sustenance.

The rock generation’s march to the maximalist summit commenced in 1964, spearheaded by the worldwide outbreak of Beatlemania and the attendant British Invasion. Buoyed by the notion that rock could now comprise a multitude of shapes, thousands of new musicians arose during the second half of the 1960s to expand upon this vast creative template. Over the ensuing lustrum, dynamic strides were made in developing the musicological tenets of melody, harmony, sonority, meter and compositional syntax within the framework of rock, with each successive year comprising an epoch unto itself. (more…)