Music on the road 11/7/18

Here’s a quick rundown on the CD-based music that served as accompaniment for my behind-the-wheel time during the past week-and -a-half.

It seems I somehow defaulted to an all-acoustic playlist to begin the month. IMG_1155 (1)

Bach ConcertosXuefeif Yang – if you follow me on FaceBook or other social networks where I show up you are probably aware that I am a champion (possibly fan) of this wonderful guitarist. (My thanks to Adrian Legg for the introduction.) She is undeniably one of the finest classical guitarists around, playing with not only technical skill and ability but with feeling and emotion. This particular recording is mostly a collaboration of guitar and string quartet. It is superbly performed and recorded. The arrangements are her own and offer an example of the possibilities of guitar as an integral component of a traditional string  ensemble. In addition, she performs two solo pieces on 7-string classical guitar that are truly sublime.

A Closer ViewRalph Towner & Gary Peacock – this is essentially part two of their collaboration when combined with their first recording Oracle. That in no way diminishes the music on this second chapter of Ralph & Gary.  Towner plays a classical guitar on most tracks and twelve-string on two (if I recall correctly) and the rapport these two players have is magnificent. Ralph does feature two solo performances (one of which is a stunning version of Toledo), both of which fit perfectly in the programming. It’s not the usual II/V/I turnaround jazz standards by any means — of course, with these two artists you wouldn’t expect that. Performances are enhanced by the stellar production that ECM is famed for. In a recent interview, Towner discussed his various collaborations and mentioned his duo with Gary Peacock to be one of his favorites. (After several listenings, I went through my iPhone address book searching through the bassists I have on file, with some fresh ideas about my duo. This happens every time I listen to this.)

LuziaPaco de Lucia – Paco has been a favorite of mine since I had front row seats for the McLaughlin/DiMeola/Paco guitar trio (too many) years ago. I have several other albums by him and his usual collaborators. I must sadly report this is not his best work. In fact, I would advise against obtaining this release if you don’t have any of his others. It is unfocused, almost free-form Flamenco, and while the techniques and aspects of the genre are very much in evidence, the music itself doesn’t deliver anything that sticks with you other than his technique. Paco wanders through a variety of ideas on each track, but never seems to settle in and explore any one of  them. While Flamenco music is improvisational and very much based on the duende or spirit that drives it, this music never rises into a temperate heat. The recording quality also has a lot of ups and downs, with distinctly differing mastering and EQ that contrasts too much from track to track.

Three GuitarsLarry Coryell, Badi Assad, John Abercrombie – this is a great acoustic guitar trio project by two modern jazz musical innovators and a fantastically talented guitarist/vocalist. Each artist is in top musical form. While there are two (I believe) duets on the release, the bulk of the music is arranged for these three musicians and they all play magnificently. Their individual skills are apparent, but their ability to work as an ensemble to what really sets the music on this CD apart from other multi-guitar projects. My only criticism, and it is minor, is that I find the mastering to be somewhat ‘lite’ — the overall level is quieter with less presence than most acoustic recordings. It does provide an uncluttered mix, though I think some of the dynamics are lost. Of course, given the performances and music that’s not a reason to pass this by. If you’re expecting an  acoustic shred-fest, look elsewhere — in fact, Badi provides kalimba and amazing vocals/vocalise to a number of tracks, so virtuosity, while in abundance, is evident through  the quality of the performances.

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Music on the Road – 10/21

As I’ve mentioned previously, I listen to music mostly during my driving hours (and I generally have quite a few of those every week). I’ve just brought these CDs in from the car (yes, physical CDs!) and I wanted to document my listening from the past week.

To The OneJohn McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension – the first release from his (now) Photo4final and incredibly memorable band. John’s playing developed and matured over the years. Of course, his Mahavishnu Orchestra had a big impact on me as a youth. Along with my personal connection with  Larry Coryell, John’s fusion excursions flipped all sorts of switches in my adolescent brain. I continued to listen to John over the years, most especially with his guitar trios and his trio work with my compadre Joey DeFrancesco. I think this band is/was first-rate in every way. The tracks on here have some rough edges when compared to the later recordings and performances — but, for me, that adds to the appeal.

Photo3_WiredJeff Beck – many years ago, when I got my very first transistor radio and stuck it up against my ear, I heard what I thought was an electric violin in a rock band. That was Over Under Sideways Down with Jeff Beck playing way ahead of most of the guitar crowd at that time. He’s only gotten better and better, building a sound/approach that is entirely his own. This is an early release that followed his epic Blow By Blow — it has its shortcomings in terms of production. It’s more like a sampler of Jeff Beck, but it’s still a satisfying, if not enduring, listen.

Phoot1The AbsenceMelody Gardot – I am not an instant fan of vocal artists. I’ve had the opportunity to work with several outstanding vocalists, with whom I’ve created great music and learned a great deal about my approach to the music. Melody has all the qualities of a first-rate vocal artist. The tunes, arrangements and performances on this release are superb. Melody proves herself a consummate vocalist and composer here and most definitely belongs in a category that contains the title jazz, even if it’s hyphenated. I know she’s living in the UK now, having left our humble Philadelphia hometown, and ideally keeping listeners throughout the world enthralled.

Photo2_AbracadabraSoft Works – This is the continuing lineup that hearkens back to the seminal progressive jazz-infused music of Soft Machine. The original band is part of my early foundation in creative music and spawned the sub-genre of Canterbury music in the UK. This group was composed of original members Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean along with the later-generation members Allan Holdsworth and John Marshall. It’s a jazz-infused group, based on interactive improvisation, with musicians who are at the top of their artistic game. Without intending any slights to the other musicians, Holdsworth’s playing is absolutely stunning in every way.

I’ve kept myself in check, avoiding paragraphs and pages of editorializing about this week’s listening pleasures. I’ll have more to come.

Thanks very much!

It’s been a while….

… since I last posted anything. I offer my apologies to those who have been following my posts.

My focus has been spread a bit thin, not just with my musical pursuits, but with family-related matters that include selling my mother’s house (which my sister and I inherited). As my family and I have been living in the house, we’re also considering new living environments, calling and visiting and driving around. It’s practically a second/ third job…

Since my last post I released Balance, my sometimes overwhelming solo recording project that often seemed just beyond completion.

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While I have mentioned this in interviews and promotions, I offer appreciation to my friend and musical mentor Larry Coryell for his on-going encouragement to see this recording through to completion. He did hear some of the finished tracks, but passed away before I could actually release the album and give him a copy. I did replace one of the tracks with my tribute, A Blues For Larry, recorded just a few days after his death.

The album was supposed to be an easy project for me. On my first two releases, I had a tendency to over-work the music, especially once I discovered the then-newly-developed digital editing and processing. I spent entirely too much time on those albums, tweaking individual notes in some cases and re-mixing and re-mastering everything more than once. Larry actually shared his wisdom when he inquired how many takes I used for a specific track. I happily explained how I assembled four different takes into a single finished track. His reply? “You should trust the first or second take — I think one of those was probably perfect.” My next two releases, One In Mind and Trio, each included only one solo track each — while it was a challenge, I did follow Larry’s advice and didn’t cut & paste the life out of either piece. My ‘retrospective’ As You Are was comprised of solo guitar selections that had been recorded for my earlier albumssome were on the CD releases, some were unreleased. Again, I kept Larry’s advice in mind….

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After my ‘retrospective’, I wanted to produce a completely new recording that reflected what I was doing as a solo player now. Since my last official studio project I had played mostly solo dates and felt that I had developed my musical approach beyond the newer tracks on As You Are. Based on the soundtrack recordings I was producing, I was confident I could produce a first-rate recording without heading into the studio. I certainly figured it would be an advantage to have less pressure to record as I didn’t need to watch the clock. Of course, the financial advantage of not needing to pay for time was also an incentive. Larry agreed.

As is usually the case, creating value requires overcoming obstacles (or, as Wayne Shorter mentions, ‘encountering opportunities’).

I’ll continue with more details next time.

Matt

Remembering Larry Coryell (pt.1)

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I vividly recall my weekly trips to the Franklin Music store while in high school and my obsessive journey through practically every LP bin in the store. I wasn’t necessarily an open-minded teen, looking for new and exciting music forms (though, in retrospect, it seems I was). Still under the influence of popular music (which, at that time, mixed rock, Motown, folk, country and full-fledged pop musics into one perpetual playlist) I used the covers of the LPs to educate myself. I knew about rock and folk music, of course, but learned of country artists, jazz artists, classical orchestras and composers, Broadway shows, all from studying those LP covers.

By this time I was also into the guitar – any guitar, any style, any level of playing. I was most immediately drawn to cover shots with guitars pictured, my teen-aged imagination just piqued by the music that was lurking on that vinyl disc. I wasn’t much of a guitarist at that time – with literally no guitar instruction available other than a folk-singing father of a younger friend, I was fumbling along on my own, snatching bits of ideas from TV variety shows, where popular groups would lip-sync their latest hit. So, it was with this fascination-driven mentality that I encountered Larry Coryell’s Offering album.

I’m not sure I can express exactly what drew me to that record – the cover is quite artistic, of course, but there was something about this guy holding this immense guitar that hinted at new music, an unique experience. He didn’t have the physical demeanor of Barney Kessell or Herb Ellis, wasn’t sporting the suit-and-tie look still associated with a preconception of jazz. He had bushy hair, giant glasses and a fantastic guitar. The back cover was even more convincing – the quintet didn’t look that different from guys I was hanging around with at school, albeit a bit older. I could imagine sitting there with them just looking cool.

The list price for Vanguard LPs was $3.49 that week, which was beyond my high school budget (circa 1969). But I persevered – upon each return visit to the store I checked the sale banners – various labels had weekly specials when the price would drop by $1. Each week I checked that the record was still in the bin. Three weeks passed – my patience was rewarded when that banner touted all Vanguard LPs for $2.49! I wasted no time in dashing to that bin, grabbing the record, pulling those three $1 bills out of my wallet and buying Offering.

My parents were very tolerant with my musical obsessions. In the era before earbuds and headphones, they had to be tolerant with my often redundant listening habits. This time it went even further. Upon returning home, I rushed to the venerable Fisher stereo system, placed the LP onto the turntable and was astonished by what I heard. The very first track, Foreplay, was unlike any music I ever heard. I played the track six times, all the while running around the dining room, calling out superlatives and exclamatories. When I finally calmed down my mother walks into the room and asks “Is the whole record just that one song, over and over?” I, of course, replied with more superlatives and impassioned exclamations.

I literally had to not listen to the remainder of the record until the next day and the artistic knock-out punches continued. This was group of musicians creating something exciting on many levels, opening new doors into musical expression. For me, it was truly a turning point –  I had a new take on music and new determination to play music like this. The music of the rock and pop idols had nothing close to this – I had to learn to play like this.

Back in the LP days, to learn a song/solo/guitar part you played the vinyl LP over and over again, cuing the needle to the spot as many times as needed. I’m sure those repetitions clocked into three figures as I attempted to figure Larry’s solos out by ear. I had no idea where to begin. After wearing out the first copy of Offering and procuring a second, I realized it was time to find a teacher – this was jazz, after all, and I was in totally uncharted territory (for me). I asked friends who had taken lessons if their teacher was accepting new students. He wasn’t – but he supplied two names: Pat Martino and Tom Giacabetti. As it turned out, Pat was out on tour for several weeks, Tom wasn’t. I studied with Tom for five years and still employ his lessons today.

I also met Larry Coryell some months later…..

More to come