Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ian Carr's Nucleus - Solar Plexus 1971

Ian Carr has been on the cutting edge of the British jazz scene for nearly four decades. Self-trained as a musician, Carr played an important role in the development of jazz-rock fusion, playing with John McLaughlin in the early '60s, forming one of England's first electronic jazz-rock fusion groups, Nucleus, in 1969 and playing with the international band the United Jazz Rock Ensemble, since 1975. In 1982, Carr received a Calabria award in southern Italy for Outstanding Contribution in the Field of Jazz. Wire Magazine presented him a special award for services to British jazz in 1987. Carr has been equally influential as a music journalist and educator. The co-author of a jazz encyclopedia, The Essential Companion, Carr was also the author of Music Outside, an examination of contemporary British jazz published in 1973; Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography, published in 1982; and Keith Jarrett: The Man and His Music, published in 1991. Since 1992, Carr has written a monthly column for BBC Music Magazine. Carr is an associate professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Dance and lectures weekly on jazz history. Born in Scotland and raised in England, Carr thought little of a career in music until he was nearly 30 years old. Educated at King's College in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, where he studied English literature, Carr served in the Army in the late '50s. Shortly after his discharge, he formed a band, the EmCee Five, with his brother Mike and John McLaughlin. Carr remained with the band for two years, leaving to form the Rendell-Carr Group with saxophonist Don Rendell in 1962. During the seven years he worked with Rendell, Carr helped the band record five albums.

In September 1969, Carr helped form the groundbreaking fusion band Nucleus. The group attracted international acclaim when it took the top prize in a competition at the Montreaux International Festival in 1970. Carr continued to play with Nucleus until 1989 when he left to tour the United Kingdom and Europe as a soloist on electric trumpet with an Anglo-American orchestra led by American composer George Russell. Old Heartland was recorded with the Kreisler String Orchestra in 1988 while Sounds and Sweet Airs was recorded with organist John Taylor in 1992.
Nucleus began its long jazz-rock journey in 1969, when it was originally formed by trumpeter Ian Carr. They attracted a following after a successful performance at the Montreux International Festival in 1970, which led to the critical success of albums Elastic Rock and We'll Talk About It Later. The other members consisted of saxophonist Karl Jenkins, drummer John Marshall, and guitarist Chris Spedding. Spedding split after the first two albums, but the rest of the lineup lasted until 1972, when Jenkins and Marshall both left to join Soft Machine. Belladonna was the first album with only Carr, and although he enlisted the help of guitarist Allan Holdsworth, the band eventually became a solo venture for his music. They finally broke up in the mid-'80s after several Carr-only albums. AMG.

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Johnny Winter - Johnny Winter 1969

Winter's debut album for Columbia was also arguably his bluesiest and best. Straight out of Texas with a hot trio, Winter made blues-rock music for the angels, tearing up a cheap Fender guitar with total abandon on tracks like "I'm Yours and I'm Hers," "Leland Mississippi Blues," and perhaps the slow blues moment to die for on this set, B.B. King's "Be Careful with a Fool." Winter's playing and vocals have yet to become mannered or clich├ęd on this session, and if you've ever wondered what the fuss is all about, here's the best place to check out his true legacy. AMG.

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Pacific Gas And Electric - Pacific Gas And Electric 1969

The seeds of Pacific Gas & Electric were sown in Los Angeles back in 1966 when self-taught guitarist Tom Marshall formed Bluesberry Jam, whose ranks included drummer Charlie Allen. Allen turned out to be such a fine vocalist that he ended up becoming the frontman; his drum chair was filled by Adolfo de la Parra in 1968. Later that year, de La Parra left to join Canned Heat, replacing Frank Cook who then joined Bluesberry Jam. After adding guitarist Glenn Schwartz and bassist Brent Block later in 1968, the group changed their name to Pacific Gas & Electric.

Their first album, Get It On, was released by Kent in 1968, but failed to make much of an impact. However, following their appearance at the Miami Pop Festival in late 1968, Pacific Gas & Electric signed with Columbia, who released Pacific Gas & Electric in 1969. Their next album, Are You Ready, supplied their first hit, the title track, which made it into the Top 20 in the summer of 1970.

Despite this success, all the bandmembers left, forcing Charlie Allen to build a new Pacific Gas & Electric around him. Enter guitarist Ken Utterback, bassist Frank Petricca, Ron Woods on drums, Jerry Aiello on keyboards, trumpet player Stanley Abernathy, sax players Alfred Gallegos and Virgil Gonsalves, and percussionist Joe Lala. Around this time, the Pacific Gas & Electric Utility Company asked the band to change their name, which was shortened to PG&E, also the title of their 1971 album. They also appeared in and provided music for the Otto Preminger film Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon starring Liza Minnelli.

After 1972 or so, PG&E basically turned into a solo Charlie Allen vehicle. They released Starring Charlie Allen on Dunhill in 1973, then called it quits.
On most of their second album, Pacific Gas & Electric play soul-rock with some dash and verve, though the songwriting isn't up to the level of musicianship or Charlie Allen's genuinely soulful vocals. Pacific Gas & Electric are really a band that would be better served by a selective compilation than any of their individual LPs, and strong candidates for such an anthology would include "Death Row #172" and "Bluesbuster," which are a little like early Blood, Sweat & Tears with more blues-rock and less bluster. Some of the other songs are closer to average period blues-rock workouts, like "Miss Lucy" and the live cover of John Lee Hooker's "She's Long and She's Tall," though the group original "My Women" finds them getting into a slow blues-funk groove with graceful style. The four-part, 17-minute "PG&E Suite" is typical of the highs and lows of many such psychedelic rock experiments of the late '60s, starting off promisingly with the cinematic jazz-rock instrumental "The Young Rabbits." But it runs off the rails with too much drum soloing, and the momentum utterly drains when the suite peters out into poor white-boy blues that's obviously trying to be drolly humorous, yet ends up being painfully lame. The closing blues-soul-rock stomper "Redneck" restores the energy level somewhat, but it's an erratic record on the whole, as would be its follow-up, 1970's Are You Ready.

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Flower Travellin Band - Satori 1971

Originally envisioned as a female-fronted Japanese heavy rock cover act called the Flowers by entertainer and "entrepreneur" Yuya Uchida, the Flower Travellin' Band would eventually chart their own course, becoming an underground influence on later metal acts, and counting one Julian Cope as a disciple. As the Flowers, (original) vocalist Remi Aso, guitarist Hideki Ishima, bassist Jun Kowzuki, and drummer Joji Wada released their debut, Challenge, in 1969. Consisting entirely of cover versions of Western pop/rock songs, the album got attention not necessarily from the music, but from the fact that the entire band was photographed in the nude on the cover.

Uchida and Aso left after the first album, leaving the band to reorganize with new vocalist Joe Yamanaka, and allowing it to explore more original and experimental avenues. Their first album as the Flower Travellin' Band, Anywhere, was released in 1970. The album featured five covers, including Muddy Waters' "Louisiana Blues" and Black Sabbath's "Black Sabbath." Again, the bandmembers appeared nude on the cover; the difference this time was that they were on motorcycles. Their first wholly "original"-based full-length, Satori, was released in 1971. Made in Japan was released in 1972, and the band's final album, a double live and studio set, Make Up, came out in 1973. By the end of their career, the Flower Travellin' Band were opening for prominent acts such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Recordings made before the band issued Anywhere would be released after the group's breakup in the mid-'70s under the title Kirikyogen, and 1995 would see a bootleg release of early material under the title From Pussies to Death in 10,000 Years of Freakout. Flower Travelling Band was Japan's answer to Led Zeppelin meeting Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath at the Ash Ra Temple. Simply put, they played grand, spacey, tripped-out hard rock with a riffy base that was only two steps removed from the blues, but their manner of interpreting those steps came from an acid trip. Flower Travelling Band was an entity unto itself. There are five tracks on this set, originally released in 1971 as the band's second album proper. It has been reissued on CD by WEA International in Japan, with the cover depicting a silhouette drawing of the Buddha in meditative equipoise filled in with sketches of an inner universe mandala of the sacred Mount Meru, stupas, and the hash smoking caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland, Japanese sci-fi robot cartoons, and more. And the music is reflected in this inner universal realm on five different sections of Satori. From power chords to Eastern-tinged, North African, six-string freakouts, to crashing tom toms, to basses blasting into the red zone, Satori is a journey to the center of someplace that seems familiar but has never before been visited. It is a new sonic universe constructed from cast-off elements of the popular culture of the LSD generation. Forget everything you know about hard rock from the 1970s until you've put this one through your headphones. It's monolithic, expansive, flipped to wig city, and full of a beach blanket bong-out muscularity. In other words, this is a "real" classic and worth any price you happen to pay for it. AMG.

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Free - Tons Of Sobs 1968

Although Free was never destined to scrape the same skies as Led Zeppelin, when they first burst out of the traps in 1968, close to a year ahead of Jimmy Page and company, they set the world of British blues-rock firmly on its head, a blistering combination of youth, ambition, and, despite those tender years, experience that, across the course of their debut album, did indeed lay the groundwork for all that Zeppelin would embrace. That Free and Zeppelin were cut from the same cloth is immediately apparent, even before you start comparing the versions of "The Hunter" that highlight both bands' debut albums. Where Free streaks ahead, however, is in their refusal to compromise their own vision of the blues -- even at its most commercial ("I'm a Mover" and "Worry"), Tons of Sobs has a density that makes Zeppelin and the rest of the era's rocky contemporaries sound like flyweights by comparison. The 2002 remaster of the album only amplifies the fledgling Free's achievements. With remastered sound that drives the record straight back to the studio master tapes, the sheer versatility of the players, and the unbridled imagination of producer Guy Stevens, rings crystal clear. Even without their visionary seer, however, Free impresses -- three bonus tracks drawn from period BBC sessions are as loose as they are dynamic, and certainly make a case for a full Free-at-the-Beeb type collection. Of the other bonuses, two offer alternate versions of familiar album tracks, while "Guy Stevens Jam" is reprised from the Songs of Yesterday box set to further illustrate the band's improvisational abilities. As if they needed it. AMG.

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Black Widow - IV 1972

Leicester, England-based Black Widow formed in 1969 from the ashes of blue-eyed soul band Pesky Gee! Jim Gannon (vocals, guitar, vibraphone), Kip Trevor (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Zoot Taylor (keyboards), Clive Jones (woodwinds), Bob Bond (bass), and Clive Box (drums) played dark, allegedly satanically inspired rock along the lines of Black Sabbath, and gained plenty of attention and controversy for their theatrical live sets. Black Widow made the U.K. Top 40 with their 1970 debut album, Sacrifice. Despite, or perhaps because of, the focus on their occult trappings, they moved away from their dark roots with their 1971 self-titled album and continued this trend with the following year's Black Widow III. By this time, however, lack of critical and label support, plus many lineup changes, caused the group to falter. Late in 1972, after losing their deal with CBS Records, Black Widow recorded Return to the Sabbat, a self-produced set that did not see the light of day until 1999, when it was released by Blueprint Records. A tribute album, Come to the Sabbat, appeared later that year as well. AMG.

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The Small Faces - From The Beginning 1966

Another remastering of a classic piece of mid-'60s British rock & soul, and as important and enjoyable a record as, say, the Beatles' Rubber Soul or the Stones' Aftermath, even if the album itself was slapped together by Decca in an effort to undercut the band's first new release for rival Immediate Records in 1967. Steve Marriott's honest, agonized cover of the Del Shannon classic "Runaway" almost makes up for the fact that neither Otis Redding nor Marvin Gaye ever got around to applying their respective talents to this jewel of a song. That's just the opening number, and there's some stuff even better than that here. There are some songs that overlap with the Immediate stuff, including some really spaced-out psychedelia ("Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow"), cool dance numbers ("Have You Ever Seen Me"), some repeated tracks ("What'cha Gonna Do About It," "Sha-La-La-La-Lee") from the Decca Small Faces album), killer Motown paeans ("You've Really Got a Hold on Me" -- picture the early Who on a really, really good day covering this), and one original ("All or Nothing") that should be required listening for anyone who thinks they know the best music of the British invasion. And then there are the five bonus tracks, four from French-issued EPs that are completely different (and better) takes of "Baby Don't You Do It" et al, and a live BBC-recorded version of "What'cha Gonna Do About It." Marriott's playing on the latter is so loud and powerful, it could have melted the instruments of any American garage band this side of the Litter. At $11.99 list, this disc and its companion Small Faces reissue are the biggest British Invasion bargains going. AMG.

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The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - The Paul Butterfield Blues Band 1965

Even after his death, Paul Butterfield's music didn't receive the accolades that were so deserved. Outputting styles adopted from Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters among other blues greats, Butterfield became one of the first white singers to rekindle blues music through the course of the mid-'60s. His debut album, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, saw him teaming up with guitarists Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield, with Jerome Arnold on bass, Sam Lay on drums, and Mark Naftalin playing organ. The result was a wonderfully messy and boisterous display of American-styled blues, with intensity and pure passion derived from every bent note. In front of all these instruments is Butterfield's harmonica, beautifully dictating a mood and a genuine feel that is no longer existent, even in today's blues music. Each song captures the essence of Chicago blues in a different way, from the back-alley feel of "Born in Chicago" to the melting ease of Willie Dixon's "Mellow Down Easy" to the authentic devotion that emanates from Bishop and Butterfield's "Our Love Is Drifting." "Shake Your Money Maker," "Blues With a Feeling," and "I Got My Mojo Working" (with Lay on vocals) are all equally moving pieces performed with a raw adoration for blues music. Best of all, the music that pours from this album is unfiltered...blared, clamored, and let loose, like blues music is supposed to be released. A year later, 1966's East West carried on with the same type of brash blues sound partnered with a jazzier feel, giving greater to attention to Bishop's and Bloomfield's instrumental talents. AMG.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

The John Dummer Blues Band - Cabal 1969

Excellent Blues album, Cabal, released under the name John Dummer's Blues Band,' featured Dummer joined by Tony McPhee, Dave Kelly and his sister Jo-Ann.

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Iveys - Maybe Tomorrow 1969

The story is well-known: south Wales pop group, the Iveys, are discovered by the Beatles' aide-de-camp Mal Evans, who not only signs them to Apple Records but produces their first sessions. Their first single, the glorious Bee Gees-like ballad "Maybe Tomorrow," is released in November 1968, yet it unaccountably stiffs. Disheartened, Apple shelves the planned U.S./U.K. release of the Iveys' debut album, though it does eventually sneak out in Japan and Germany. The group replaces bassist Ron Griffiths with Liverpudlian Joey Molland and, at label exec Neil Aspinall's suggestion, changes their name to Badfinger, swiped from Paul McCartney's working title for "With a Little Help From My Friends." (John Lennon wanted to call them "Prix," preferably with the final letter pronounced.) Despite their early success, Badfinger goes on to become probably the unluckiest and one of the most tragic bands in pop music history. However, very few people have ever heard the Iveys' Maybe Tomorrow album; copies of the original Japanese and European pressings were hens-teeth rare, and even the 1992 CD reissue with bonus tracks was seemingly in print for about 35 seconds. This is a shame, because Maybe Tomorrow ranks with Badfinger's best; in some ways, it's actually preferable to Badfinger's albums, because the production (four tracks by Mal Evans, the rest by a then-unknown Tony Visconti) is much fresher and less precise than it would be on Badfinger's slicker later albums. (Even the six tracks that eventually ended up in remixed form on Badfinger's debut, Magic Christian Music, sound better here.) Though the party line has always been that the Iveys sounded like the Beatles, in reality, these 12 tracks have much more in common with the minor-key mopery of the early Bee Gees, from the heartbreaking "Dear Angie" (Griffiths' only writing contribution, which ironically would show up again on the first Badfinger album after he was kicked out of the group) to the frankly rather silly music hall-style "They're Knocking Down Our Home," a Pete Ham exercise in maudlin sentimentality that makes "She's Leaving Home" look subtle, though it does feature a nice clarinet part. Mike Gibbins' Kinks-like "Think About the Good Times" is the album's undiscovered gem, though the Ham and Tom Evans co-write "Yesterday Ain't Coming Back," with its weird staccato reeds section and unexpectedly aggressive middle eight, complete with burping, frog-like bass vocals, is probably the best track. Of the four bonus tracks, the extremely silly "Looking for My Baby," from the Iveys' 1967 Apple demo, and the Creation-like rocking flip of the "Maybe Tomorrow" single, "And Her Daddy's a Millionaire," are the best, with "No Escaping Your Love" and the previously unreleased "Mrs. Jones" there for completists' sake. AMG.

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