Posts Tagged ‘Miles Davis

06
Apr
09

From the Vaults: Hidden Treasure, No. 2

After writing about Martha Velez’s 1968 release Fiends & Angels, I realized there are a number of albums that qualify as either era-defining or being highly influencial despite not having gained widespread recognition. These records weren’t huge sellers on first release but still made an impact, mostly with musicians, and all stand up today.

full-moon-albumThe self-titled album Full Moon from 1971 fits into this category. Three of its members came from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, drummer Phillip Wilson and tenor saxman Gene Dinwiddie (billed as Brother Gene Dinwiddie throughout the album’s credits), both of whom joined Butterfield around 1967 for The Resurrection Of Pigboy Crabshaw, and Buzz Feiten, who joined Butter a little later in ’68 replacing guitarist Elvin Bishop. Feiten, who did a stint with the Rascals after Butterfield, was one of the most unusual additions to Butterfield’s band, younger than most of the other players, precocious, almost punk for 1968. He brought a different sound and style and great versatility to the band with his piercing Fender Strat, cut more from a soul vein than blues.

They joined forces in 1971 with keyboardist Neil Larsen, from Florida, who later in the ’70s would record a string of exemplary jazz-fusion albums and also delve into pop rock with Feiten in 1980 as the Larsen-Feiten Band, and bassist Freddie Beckmeier. Over the years, Larsen and Feiten have also become legendary session players who have worked on hundreds of albums and with a who’s who of the music industry.

The resulting album, produced by Alan Douglas (yes, that Alan Douglas apparently, famous or perhaps infamous as onetime keeper of the Jimi Hendrix archive) was far from a blues-rock workout. It incorporated elements of soul, R&B and early jazz fusion built on strong songwriting from all members. Vocals were shared and more than capable and the playing a combination of forward-moving jazz, rock and soul with proficient and inspired soloing.

Bassist extraordinaire Dave Holland (Miles Davis’ In  A Silent Way) played on one of the original cuts and wrote and played on a bonus track, Three Step Dance, from a Japanese CD import release from 2000, produced and mixed by Feiten. Other guests include trumpet player Randy Brecker, percussionists Airto Moreira and Ray Baretto and background singers Robin Clark and Tasha Thomas.

The album opens with the band composition The Heavy Shuffle’s On, a rollicking, funky and mostly instrumental track that features Feiten on typically inventive solos. Feiten is always melodic in his approach and this cut finds him expressive and concise, using a wah-wah for his second chorus. The unison group vocals remind one in style of Butterfield’s Love March from Keep On Moving (1969), an album on which Feiten played.

Feiten has two songs both cut from the same cloth, To Know and Need Your Love, the first a funky moderate tempo love song, sung by Wilson. The tune, which features the background singers prominently, including Feiten in the chorus, was the album’s single. Feiten also contributes a tasteful solo with a squeaky clean, Strat tone. Need Your Love juxtaposes a free-time chorus embellished with the backup singers’ rich harmonies, and an uptempo funk/soul verse on which Feiten takes a vocal turn. Beckmeier and Wilson’s soulful interplay in the verse helps lay down a smooth, danceable groove. No solos in this radio-friendly take.

Feiten also co-wrote the album’s closer with Wilson, Selfish People, another moderate groove that builds with intensity behind Wilson’s driving rhythm. The sound of this cut is expansive and contemplative, developing slowly with an extended intro that lasts more than three minutes and features intricate stylings of Larsen’s keyboards with Dinwiddie’s soprano sax and Feiten on acoustic guitar. You can hear shades of future Steely Dan in the changes. Feiten’s solo on the tag is one of his best on the record.

Among an album of highlights, Dinwiddie contributes perhaps the peak with Take This Winter Out Of My Mind, cut in an infectious,  funk groove with a rousing, catchy chorus. Dinwiddie delivers a heartfelt vocal as well as mandolin over a tune with perhaps the deepest lyrical content on the album. Larsen solos on electric piano, followed by a double Feiten lead, two guitars panned extreme left and right. Clark and Thomas are stellar on vocal support.

Not to give them short shrift, perhaps the two most interesting tracks are Larsen’s instrumentals, Malibu, on which Holland plays, and Midnight Pass. Both would be perfectly at home on one of Larsen’s later fusion albums, particularly Jungle Fever, which probably deserves a place in this vault of its own. Larsen’s tunes are cool jazz with almost always a latin flavor, built on irresistible and beautifully constructed melodies.

The Malibu melody is played in unison on flute (Dinwiddie), guitar and organ and has a light but penetrating feel. Feiten and Larsen each take solo turns, with Larsen on electric piano. Midnight Pass is latin-infused with the melody played on guitar, sax and organ. Again Larsen goes to electric piano for his solo and is followed by Feiten, who as you can see really dominates the album in solo time. But that’s a joy. It’s one of the best examples of his prodigious talent and as he says in the 2000 notes “probably the most important period in my own musical development.” Dinwiddie’s tenor also gets a workout on this track. The solos throughout the original record are always understated but still give each player enough room for creativity, nothing extended.

The bonus track on the CD release is straight jazz with long, extended solos. You can see why it wasn’t used, if it was even intended, for this album. But it’s a nice addition nonetheless with outstanding playing. There is tension and immediacy that distances itself from the other tracks and gives it a feel in line with what Weather Report became known for. This is also one of Douglas’ best production jobs among many very good ones that predate his Hendrix involvement, which had mixed results.

I had this album for years on reel-to-reel tape, a copy I made with my trusty TEAC four-track simul-synch deck from a friend’s vinyl copy. I was estatic in 2000 when it became available and quite willing to pay $30 on the Amazon Markeplace for the Japanese import, knowing many Japanese discs go for much higher. Sadly, it’s already out of print and is fetching from $40-$60 on the Marketplace now. It’s one of my favorites and would be worth every penny at these prices.

As for a vinyl copy, I couldn’t find a single listing on popsike or eBay. Yet Tim Neely’s American Records Guide lists its value at $15. Your best bet might be record fairs, some of which still come to Connecticut periodically, but you might have to shell out more than $15.

I pull this album out every so often and never tire of it. Listening again as I write this piece, it still sounds so fresh and relevant. Strong songwriting, quality vocals and inventive playing that sounds far ahead of its time.

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03
Feb
09

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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22
Dec
08

Wolfie, Wolfie!

wolfieOne of the best music sites I’ve bumped into this year has to be Wolfgang’s Vault. If you love live music and you haven’t checked it out, you should. Once you’ve registered on the site, you have access to an amazing array of concerts by major and lesser-known artists. It’s a tremendous resource, easy to use and best of all, it’s free.

The content consists of concerts never committed to CD, some coming from syndicated radio shows such as King Biscuit Flower Hour. It streams effortlessly to your computer, the sound is generally excellent and you can even buy some concerts for about $10 if you so choose, the going rate of an ITunes album. There is also a well-written description of what you’re hearing with insight into the particular concert and some background on the artist, along with a detailed personnel listing.

I recently clicked on a Karla Bonoff concert at the Bottom Line in New York, forgetting that I have a friend that played in her band for a while. When I read the synopsis, he was listed there in the band lineup. For the uninitiated, she wrote some of Linda Ronstadt’s biggest hits.

Artists range from The Doors to Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison to James Taylor, Dylan to Miles, Jean Luc-Ponty to Larry Coryell, Ronstadt to Emmylou Harris, the Stones and on and on. It’s ridiculous. And it’s really wonderful.

I would guess they are paying some licensing fees as it’s been around for a while and doesn’t appear to be in danger of being shut down. You receive an e-mail update sometimes daily on what is new. They appear to add about 25 concerts a week. Go there and listen to some good, and often rare, performances.




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