Archive for February, 2009


Why isn’t it called scalping?

Ticketmaster was taken to task this past week for a supposed inadvertent re-direct to its subsidiary company TicketsNow, a secondary market ticket selling site, during the sale of tickets for upcoming Bruce Springsteen concerts in May at East Rutherford, N.J.

Springsteen fans were outraged, the Boss was outraged, Ticketmaster paid not a fine but a few hundred thousand dollars for what was termed investigative costs and a digital wall is to be enforced for one year between the two sites.

Basically, a slap on the wrist.

Let’s back up. What are we talking about here? First of all, let’s call it what it is. Secondary market ticket selling site? TicketsNow is a scalping site. Forget the ethics problem of such a site for a moment. Maybe I’m dim, but what are the legalities of such a site? Evidently, these services are technically not illegal in most states. But then why is it illegal to try and scalp a ticket – try to get payment above the face value of the ticket – outside a concert venue but it’s OK to sell tickets at inflated prices on the internet, taking orders before the actual tickets go on sale to the public. Doesn’t that boggle the mind?

Attention, Dick Blumenthal and all other state attorneys general: This should be illegal. How do these sites skirt or find loopholes in existing laws? Because those laws are obviously weak or in some cases non-existent.

Add to this Ticketmaster’s purchase of TicketsNow last year for $265 million. Now forget about the legality issue, isn’t this a huge conflict of interest? Ticketmaster not only wants to charge its exorbitant rates one time, it wants a piece of this questionable scalping market as well.

This is one of the many reasons I hate going to concerts at these huge, mega arenas. For the average music lover, it’s nearly impossible, without some inner connection, to land great seats even if you are willing to pay top price. But then to only have the alternative of paying as much as five times face value of the tickets to score good seats is ludicrous.

Of course now Ticketmaster wants to merge with Live Nation, further reducing options for concert goers. When will it end?

eBay, which owns StubHub!, the largest secondary market scalper, defended the existence of its services last year when it was under fire describing the secondary market as “a legitimate one which benefits consumers.”

Really? Now how does that benefit a music fan when he has to pay double or more for tickets that sold out in minutes partly because of demand but also because of these services gobbling up as many tickets as possible?

There is a class action lawsuit that was filed against Ticketmaster in Canada earlier this month. Let’s hope it’s part of a wave of the future.

This NY Times article, which focuses on sporting events, doesn’t defend scalping but also doesn’t see it at as the source of high ticket prices. It makes a case for the old supply-and-demand argument. Really? It basically says tickets are underpriced to begin with. Really? Tickets are underpriced? I’m sorry but those of us living in the real world and not on top of it don’t agree with that.

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Blind Faith not needed for these two

Last February, Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood played three sold-out concerts at Madison Square Garden. It was the first time they had played specifically billed together since their successful, but doomed-from-the-start Blind Faith project in 1969.

winwoodclaptonThey had performed together in early 2007 at an English festival, Clapton joining Winwood’s touring band, and later that summer at Clapton’s Crossroads Festival in Chicago. Their set, which closed the event, had Winwood this time playing with Clapton’s band. It’s all documented on the DVD of the festival, and it’s a spectacular performance by both.

I was a little surprised and very pleased that the MSG shows sold out so quickly. I would think because of Clapton’s name, even though I’m a bigger Winwood fan. Still, I’ve liked and listened to both over the years. It was a big boost for Winwood who, although he has enjoyed great success at various times in his career with the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and later as a Grammy-winning solo artist, has always flown a little under the radar of the general public. This despite a creative, influential and lasting catalogue that stands up to any of the great ’60s artists.

The concerts gave Winwood’s latest album Nine Lives, released last spring, a deserved boost as it turned out to be his most successful in years, debuting in the Billboard Top 10. But since his return to continual touring in 2003, Winwood had already released one of his best albums in About Time (2003) and played live with an exceptional band that has included rotating chairs on drums, percussion and tenor sax, along with gifted Brazilian guitarist Jose Neto, whose latest album Winwood produced.

It was announced recently Clapton and Winwood will tour 14 cities this year and a DVD and CD will be released from the MSG shows. Unfortunately for us in the Northeast, New Jersey is the closet they are coming. No Boston, nothing in Hartford or one of the casinos. And although it’s been noted ticket prices are varying according to venue, they are expected to be quite pricey.

I’ve seen Winwood’s band six times since 2003, ranging from opening for the Grateful Dead at the Meadows to playing the tiny Bowery Ballroom in New York for two long sets to a memorable outdoor set at the Ives Center in Danbury on the campus of Western Connecticut State. And I strongly recommend seeing the Clapton-Winwood show.

But I lament it being at one of these mega-arenas and I won’t be investing in it this time. It’s too difficult to get good seats at these places, too expensive and too far to travel. Yeah, say it, I’m getting older. But I don’t think it’s just that. I just don’t care for the mega-arena experience.

In a previous post, I mentioned seeing the original Blind Faith in their second American concert at Kennedy Stadium in Bridgeport of all places. That was a post on Delaney Bramlett’s passing and told of how anyone could see Clapton was so into Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, the concert’s opening act, it was only a matter of time before Blind Faith was history. And that’s what happened. Blind Faith, despite recording a lasting and revered album with some bonafide standards such as Can’t Find My Way Home and Presence Of The Lord, was doomed because of the superhype employed by manager Robert Stigwood and an exhausting and unsatisfying touring scheme with which the band had to cope. Remember, Clapton wanted to be in the Band at this point in his career and make music something  akin to the Bearsville quintet. Blind Faith delivered on the music but they were rushed out the door to make big live bucks too quickly.

I wrote of my remembrances of that concert for a Winwood site several years ago. I’ve found the note and posted it here. By the way, the story behind the canceled Newport gig was a lost item and omitted from several books that included touring information. I helped correct this with the help of a couple of webmasters who have restored it to history. Here it is:

Blind Faith was scheduled to debut in the U.S. in Newport, not at the
festival but a special concert. In fact, we bought tickets to the show and were
quite excited to have third-row seats at Fort Adams State Park, where the Jazz
Festival was held for years. However, about a week before the show, it was
canceled. The promoters backed out because of problems they had with prior
rock acts there. Actually problems with fans destroying property. So, Madison
Square Garden became the debut. What a place to open the tour. The band was
doomed from the start with these type of management decisions. Luckily for us,
another show was added in Bridgeport, Connecticut, not far from where we
were at the time.
        In fact, I have a little story. The promoter of the show, Ben Segal,
was the father of a drummer I was working with, Beau. We got into the show
free and stood backstage or what would pass for backstage at the outdoor
football field, a roped-off area near a portable stage. We went out front during
their set because the sound was obviously better there. There were no seats on
the infield. They sounded very good and played much the same set as the
European concerts. Though I was disappointed that Winwood played
keyboards, not guitar, on “Had To Cry Today.”
      It was interesting to note that when Clapton arrived he stood to the
side of the stage, grooving on Delaney & Bonnie. It was just the second
concert! Also, Dave Mason was the guitarist for D&B, rather a coincidence.
      One last thing, Janis Joplin showed up, actually looking quite well. I wound
up standing in a group of people with her. She was quite funny and was
continually asking where Clapton was. Heady times.

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A cool bossa nova story

In the summer of 1997, I saw Eliane Elias (elle-ee-annie, elle-ee-es) headline the Litchfield Jazz Festival on a Sunday afternoon under a big canvas tent at, I believe, Mt. Tom State Park in Litchfield. The festival has had so many venues, I’ve lost track.

It was a beautiful day but just as she started her set with her trio, Marc Johnson on bass and I believe Satoshi Takeishi on drums, the skies opened up on the first note of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Agua De Beber (Waters Of March). How could you dream up a more appropriate beginning for a concert by such an extraordinary talent?

eliasbossaI had only become acquainted with her music in the mid-1990s, but Elias, from Brazil, had been around on the jazz scene in this country since at least the mid- ’80s, playing at times with her then-husband Randy Brecker of the Brecker Brothers. I loved her mix of bossa nova and bebop with a classical base that she infused in standards, U.S. and Brazilian, and her compositions. Her playing has always combined astounding technique with a unique feel that so wonderfully blends American jazz leanings with strong latin influences.

She began singing on her albums in the early ’90s and has sung more and more over time with entire albums devoted to her cool, hushed Brazilian approach. With each album, her voice has become more dominant and upfront in the album mixes in contrast to its riding on top of or just in back of the music.

Bossa Nova Stories is her latest and it combines Brazilian classics with American standards. She has recorded The Girl From Ipanema at least four times that I know of and the standard opens the album. This one, as a number of other tracks on the album, features a tasteful, light-handed string arrangement by Rob Mathes. Still, the strings can be at times intrusive, making earlier versions of the tune preferable.

Throughout the record, Elias’ voice is enchanting when she sings in English but it is absolutely captivating when she sings in Portuguese on the Brazilian tunes, transporting you to another place and time. And her playing is exquisite, always at once proficient and swinging.

There are two other Jobim songs, Chega De Saudade and Desafinado, which she has always had a individualistic approach to playing, an Ivan Lins-Will Jennings song, I’m Not Alone (Who Loves You?), two Joao Donato tunes, one with Joao Gilberto, Minha Saudade, one with Caetano Veloso, A Ra (The Frog), Estate (Summer) by Martino-Brighetti, Geraldo Pereira’s Falsa Baiana and such American standards as The More I See You, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Day In Day Out, Too Marvelous For Words, Stevie Wonder’s Superwoman and Day By Day.

This album comes about one year after her tribute to Bill Evans, Something For You. A real treat for jazz fans.

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Concert from another time

I went over to the refurbished Waterbury Palace Sunday to see the Derek Trucks Band. The concert had a vibe that can only be described as straight from the ’60s. That’s what I said to my son, Matthew, who is 11, in between one of the songs of the approximately one-hour, 45-minute set. I told him if he ever wanted to know what it was like to be at a late ’60s concert, this was it.

That appears to be one of the things Trucks and his capable group of musicians intends to achieve each night as they start a long tour of the States this month in support of their recently released album Already Free.

dtrucks3The setting was perfect for it. The Palace is a proscenium theater, with its newly reupholstered red velvet seats, in all its original ornate glory, particularly the design and decor of the ceiling,walls and balcony of the hall. The light show, projected from the back of the stage, provided stunning yet subtle atmospherics, and the band played a bluesy roots style of music with world and jazz shadings that put the emphasis on inprovisational playing, everything that turned the music and show business in general on its ear from about 1966 to 1969. Probably most important the audience sat and listened to the music for about 90 percent of the show, with the exception of several standing ovations and the encore, unlike the mindless standing throughout an entire concert you find at venues such as The Meadows and even the Oakdale Theater.

The performance was low-key as far as stage presence with very little chatter in between songs, but it was absolutely incendiary during the 12 tunes, many drawn from Trucks’ six studio albums.

Trucks plays slide guitar, with chords mixed in, about 80 percent of the time and he is a master of the technique, perhaps the greatest of his time, along with his friend and collaborator Doyle Bramhall II. In a type of playing that would seemingly have limited technical options available, Trucks, who plays without a pick, never lacks for creativity, using the slide in expressive and unique ways, always balancing melodic development with raging fire.

When he does take it off and plays single string solos as he did on two numbers, he shows just as much improvisational skill and inspiration. In the middle of the set, the band played Alan Toussaint’s Get Out Of My Life, Woman, made popular in the ’60s by the great Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and later John Coltrane’s interpretation of My Favorite Things, both extended versions that saw Trucks soloing single string style with the first perhaps the most interesting and moving solo of the night.

The rest of Trucks band is stellar, including Kori Burbridge, equally adept on an array of keyboards, including Hammond B-3 and clavinet, and flute; Todd Smallie, bass; Yonrico Scott, drums; Mike Mattison, lead vocals; and Count M’Butu, percussion. Several of Burbridge’s solos on keys and his answer backs with Trucks on two tunes were inventive and soulful. His flute playing is at once precise, flowing and technically adept.

The band included their Dylan cover of Down In The Flood from Already Free as the second song of the set, fueled by Trucks’ driving slide rhythm and two songs later played the Eastern flavored Sahib Teri Bandi/Maki Madni, both of which featured melodic lines and solos with strong Indian influences.

Meet Me At The Bottom, a John Lee Hooker song with a riff similar to Rollin’ And Tumblin’, highlighted a lower volume, two-song segment in which both Mattison and Trucks sat at the front of the stage. They closed the main set with a ripping version of Sleepy Johns Estes’ Leavin’ Trunk, made popular by Taj Mahal on his first album in the ’60s, and the encore was the title tune from Soul Serenade.

The evening was sheer pleasure as we were transported back to a time when music, performance and creativity were the order of the day. Nice to be reminded of it.

The set list:

I Know

Down In The Flood

Crow Jane

Sahib Teri Bandi/Maki Madni

Get Out Of My Life, Woman

Already Free

Meet Me At The Bottom

Blind, Crippled & Crazy

My Favorite Things

We’re A Winner

Leavin’ Trunk

Soul Serenade

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An Original CAST! Performance

I went up to Black-Eyed Sally’s in Hartford Saturday to catch an exciting and talented group of young musicians, Coryell Auger Sample Trio (CAST!). The group played two sets, providing a smokin’ blend of funky fusion, steeped in bebop, blues and rock via Venice, California, where the trio hales from.

All three have well-known fathers in the world of jazz-rock, but each stands clearly on his own as a proficient player and composer of note.

castGuitarist Julian Coryell is the son of jazz-rock pioneer and legend Larry Coryell, Karma Auger’s dad is Brian Auger, who played with Julie Driscoll and led the Trinity and Oblivion Express in the ’60s and ’70s, and Nicklas Sample is the son of Joe Sample, the keyboard player from L.A. based fusion band The Crusaders.

CAST! played material from their first album, Coolidge Returns, which they sell at live shows and on their web site, including Walk Of The Dragon, Rice Krispy Socrates, Nadine and Purple Panther, as well as tunes from an upcoming second album. The band cooked in the first set, but really opened up in the second with a slant more toward the rock end of things.

Each player displayed his virtuosity within the context of the band. Coryell mixes high doses of blues-inflected playing with flights of jazz lines that combine stunning technique with deep feeling. Auger lays down infectious funk grooves that create a solid foundation and augments them with brilliant latin-flavored to straight-ahead rock flourishes around his kit. And Sample is equally at home providing soulful funk, driving rock or matching Coryell on swift, doubled melodic lines.

I saw Karma play with Brian and his sister, Savannah, two years ago in the latest version of the Oblivion Express at Stage One in Fairfield for a night of extraordinary organ-fueled tunes, many classics from the Express repertoire. Brian Auger was in fine form that night playing with the fire, virtuosity and abandon he has always exhibited on his timeless jazz-funk compositions. Highly recommended when they make their way back to the East Coast. Check tour dates and a definitive collection of his work on his web site.

After playing a string of West Coast dates, CAST! has been on the East Coast for the past week and plays for one more week in Baltimore, Boston and New York before heading home.

In all, a wonderful night of music from three outstanding, rising stars.


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The Bird, the Bee and the Ray Gun

It seems everywhere I look nowadays I’m noticing more and more about Inara George, daughter of the late great Lowell George, vocalist and slide guitarist extraordinaire of Little Feat.

Just last summer I read about her project with Van Dyke Parks, the nostalgic album An Invitation, which was released in August, and then another item about a one-off concert of the piece they performed in London in the fall.

With a little further investigation I found that before that project she was involved in a lot of varied endeavors, including a tribute concert for her father in which she sang Trouble to great acclaim, and her own solo album (All Rise, 2005). Add to that myriad projects over the years for the 34-year-old with various bands and musicians in L.A., including Lode (EP Legs & Arms, 1996) and Merrick, a duo with two albums that broke up in 2002.

ray-gun-frontSo, I was watching Leno the other night and who appears at the end of the show? The Bird and the Bee, which is Inara George’s group with Greg Kurstin, who writes all the music with her and plays most of the instruments on their two CDs. Their performance was not only quite good, it was almost surreal. You can see for yourself in the clip below of the band performing the same tune, My Love, at the Independent in San Francisco.

With Kurstin almost hidden behind an array of keyboards and a grand piano, George and a bevy of women backup singers looked like something out of Modesty Blaise wearing short go-go style dresses with splatches of bright color, very retro and stylish. The song, My Love, was a smooth mix of girl group pop, cool jazz and latin rhythms, which is how you can describe most the group’s new album Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future.

ray-gun-backThe Bird and the Bee bring a refreshing approach to what at first strikes you as a pure pop sound. But there’s more going on. Its foundation features sophisticated instrumentation and technique, impeccably arranged underneath George’s ethereal vocals, which float airily between hushed Brazilian cool and jazz-tinged soulfulness. The writing accents beautiful melodies backed with sun-drenched harmonies and smart, somewhat elusive lyrics.

Diamond Dave blends high-pitched organ pecks over a light shuffle beat, then melodically breaks into a jazz structure and finally a pop hook, all sung quite capably by George. What’s In The Middle moves to a funky straight-ahead rock beat with techno touches, while the title track glides over a moderate groove underpinned with jazz chords and vocal stylings.

Other highlights include Meteor, another shuffle, the low-key Baby and Polite Dance Song with its almost second-line News Orleans feel in the verse opening into a big Beatleish payoff in the chorus. An unusually droll video for Dance Song is available on youtube.

The haunting Witch, sprightly pop Birthday and reflective Lifespan Of A Fly finish the album, which by its end reinforces Kurstin and George’s songwriting skill, instrumental prowess and pleasing and proficient vocal arrangements.

A nice surprise for 2009 by a couple of L.A. vets just starting to attract a wider audience.

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CT Rock ‘n Roll: Pulse Part 2

I touched on a sliver of Connecticut Rock ‘n Roll in the ’60s in a previous post. Here is a little more of the story, particularly to clear up some misconceptions and inaccuracies that have been on the web for a long time.

bramriggsetwpaulsPulse was a group formed from the ashes of two bands managed by Doc Cavalier, who owned Syncron Studios in Wallingford, later Trod Nossel. One was the Bram Rigg Set (left), who had formed in 1966 and had a single on Kayden, I Can Only Give You Everything, the other the Shags, who had enjoyed great popularity in New Haven and the state for several years with singles such as Wait And See and Hey Little Girl. Both broke up in the summer of 1967.

The break-ups were motivated by Doc to form one stronger group from the two. I had been with the Bram Rigg Set for only about six months and toward the end of that time the band was fracturing. In 1967, our lead singer Bob Schlosser was already living in Rhode Island and by the summer we were not rehearsing as a full band and usually only playing on weekends. The Shags had several regional hit singles to their credit but their popularity was waning a bit.

The first version of the band, which was called The Pulse, note the subtle difference, was made up of three members of the Shags and three from the Bram Rigg Set.  From the Shags – Carl Donnell, vocals and guitar, Tommy Roberts; vocals and guitar and Lance Gardiner, bass; from Bram Rigg – Beau Segal, drums, Peter Neri, guitar and Rich Bednarcyk, keyboards.

There are a couple of interviews out there that say this group had two bass players and I was one of them. That’s ridiculous, there were never two bass players. I never rehearsed with this version of the band. Since I was going to school in Boston, first to Boston University and then Berklee School (later College) of Music, I was just not available. And I’m sure Roberts wanted Lance in the band. That was fine with me at the time, despite my missing playing with Beau, Peter and Rich, with whom I’d formed a strong musical bond.

The Pulse went into the studio and started recording. From what I gleaned from Beau they were trying to come up with a single. They did and Doc sold it to ATCO, a subsidiary of Atlantic. Unfortunately the tune was Can-Can Girl, a bubble gum confection written by Roberts with the famous Can-Can melody on horns grafted into the middle of it. It quickly disappeared. The B side, a little more esoteric, was called Burritt Bradley. The single can still be found on eBay as well as record fairs for about $40.

This went on for about six months. I’m not sure what exactly precipitated the breakup but by the beginning of 1968 I received a phone call from Beau and he asked me if I wanted to be in Pulse, a new version of the group that would be a blues-rock based outfit. I said yes and ruined my college life, well to some extent. Because for the next four months or so I commuted on weekends to Wallingford for rehersals. But it was well worth it.

In fact, it was quite a heady time for me musically. During the week, I was studying doublebasse with an extraordinary player, Nate Hyglund. I had bought a beautiful Czechoslovakian bass in Boston and a french bow and was learning classical pieces even though Berklee was a jazz school. Looking back, what’s funny, considering Berklee has become more of a contemporary music school with strong jazz roots, is that electric bass was a non-entity at the school. It didn’t exist.

I’ll never forget near the end of the semester, Nate  brought an electric bass he picked up into a rehersal room I was practicing in to ask me what I thought about it because he had no idea. He had gotten lucky. He had a weathered but beautiful Fender Precision he bought for a song. He planned to use it on some pickup gigs around town.

It was a truly amazing atmosphere to be in. I was studying arranging with Herb Pomeroy, the inspirational trumpet player and teacher, and alto sax player John LaPorta! I mean John LaPorta had played with Charlie Mingus for freak’s sakes. Pomeroy on occasion played with a faculty sextet around Boston that included Charlie Mariano, another legend who recorded on Impulse, played with many greats from that label and had been married to Toshiko Akioshi, who would later lead one of the greatest big bands in the world.

Another wonderful thing about being at Berklee was it had an extensive reel-to-reel tape section in its library on the top floor of the old building on Bolyston Street, where all the classrooms were housed. I spent hours and hours listening to everything from Coltrane to Miles to Monk to Mingus. They actually had a copy of Sgt. Pepper’s, so the school was getting hip to pop and rock, but for the most part I just absorbed all of this great jazz from the late ’40s to mid-’60s, discovering all kinds of musicians I had not been exposed to such as Eric Dolphy, who played with Trane, and John Handy, who was on some Mingus sessions as well as leading his own quintet, and so many more.

One last thing about Boston. I went to Club 47 in Cambridge that semester to see the Gary Burton Quartet, one of the first true fusion bands. Burton was an alum of Berklee who played vibes like few others. He had recruited a young guitar player, Larry Coryell, who is still one of the only players I’ve ever heard who can cross over from jazz to rock and back and not sound like he’s a jazz player playing rock. Bobby Moses was the drummer and the inventive Steve Swallow the bassist. It was definitely one of the most memorable concerts I’ve seen and believe me I’ve seen hundreds over the years. My date had to drag me out of the club after their second set because she had to get back to her dorm.

All that was during the week. On the weekend, I was in a very hip blues-rock group with my best friends. You couldn’t ask for much more.

More later.

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February 2009
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