2004 was an election year in which the rather contemptible GW Bush administration was at lat challenged by Democratic hopeful John Kerry,who was running for commander in chief that year as what some would call a “stop the war” candidate. Sadly in the last two weeks of the election Kerry flip flopped and supported the war in the middle east. By this time,this war was slowly destroying the economy. And killing off much of my generation wholesale who fought in the war. Yet there was little protest,little active resistance and a good deal of fear. The music industry would be deeply affected by this. Record stores,big and small,were either closing down or going bankrupt across America. Those that were sticking it out were forced to lower their prices. And often times offer less musical variety. American freedoms of all sorts seemed under attack from within. For me,as with many people,it was a scary time to be alive. Music,however did not die away. And everyday I’m very thankful it didn’t. Unsure how I would’ve survived this particular chapter of history without it’s presence.
John Legend was a talent that came out of the blue late in 2004. Just after the ill fated election. One day a video came onto MTV2 that was in black and white. The video and the song was about a child having to endure his parents arguing,than similar events in his own relationship. It was very personally affecting to me. Listening to this passionate voiced man singing,accompanied only by his piano “we’re just ordinary people/we don’t know which way to go/we’re just ordinary people/maybe we should take it slow” was very much a mirror effect. A voice from not too far outside reality saying “whatever your feeling,I’m feeling it to”. It’s a song I’ll never quite forget as long as I live.
Again it was my DJ/musician friend who was making me critically aware of the music of Carlos Santana. As with the majority of people I knew him primarily for the two hit singles from the bands’ Abraxas. An Amazon.com order based on hearing the song “Dance Sister Dance” on said DJ’s copy of Santana’s live album Moonflower led me to this. It was Santana as I’d never heard them,from 1976. Accompanied by jazz/funk oriented musicians such as Ndugu Chancler,Tom Coster and singer Greg Walker. The song that drew me in was “Tell Me Are You Tired”. With it’s easy percussion and breezy Latin funk groove the song aspouses the virtues of choosing romance over finance. Though recorded over 25 years before I first heard it,I see it now as lyrically prophetic to how society would “de-evolve” in the next decade after I first heard this.
I’d heard the hits of Chicago most of my life. And loved the bands sound. But when I read in the AMG Music Guide To Rock the anti disco prejudice leveled at this particular Chicago release from 1979 I decided (from past experience with such criticism) that this might be an album I’d want to investigate. I was shocked by the results. From “Street Player” alone this is one of this highly successful bands most shockingly rhythmic,funkified albums-full of high octane percussion and horn charts that are joyous even by this bands standards. It reinforced for me the ugly and racist misunderstandings regarding this era of music. But happily it also reinforced how much I actually love this music.
The reason this particular Frank Zappa album stands out in my mind is because my lover heard this on the radio in it’s entirety driving cab. And it’s presence resulted in an interesting coincidence. Earlier that same day I was at Bullmoose and saw this album used. At the time I didn’t actually own any of Frank Zappa’s music. This CD had an appealing sound musically. As it turned out,after talking to my lover about this it actually was the album he’d heard on the radio sometime before and he was very happy I’d fell into it. When listening to it however,it gave me some somewhat direct view into the provocative nature of Zappa’s lyrical preoccupations. He actually titled one of his songs here “Broken Hearts Are For A**holes”. It bought up a valuable question for me about Frank Zappa. It was clear this man was musically brilliant,often having the ability to bring out all the things I would personally wanting to hear more of in music into clear focus. At the same time,the lyrics he presented showcase a man using often dark and perverse comedy to illustrate his sometimes near total loss of hope in those who subsidized creative individuals.
Fully aware of the music of Jean-Luc Ponty as I was by 2005,I really wasn’t very familiar with his solo work to any great extent. After the dissolution of my first relationship under rather unpleasant circumstances I went on a family vacation to Burlington Vermont that summer. In a small record store in this wonderfully artistic community,I located this album. It was mainly the title that drew me in. During the rest of that summer I would put this album on. And suddenly found myself wanting to paint more. I’d been painting acrylic pictures off and on for some years now. But somehow this music really got the creative juices flowing. Realizing how much so-called “new age” music owed itself to jazz fusion,this particular album-with it’s unique and improvised electronic melodies inspired equally by American jazz,funk with European classical music definitely reopened my desires to expand my artistic ventures.
My life in autumn of 2005 became a very strange one. I suddenly found myself living with with the new man who’d entered my life-in the middle of nowhere near the end of the state.. And it was a life,through all it’s peaks and,defined by some exciting creative acts of all sorts:music,painting and photography. Both of us were very much taken with this particular album by Joni Mitchell. The haunting but beautiful echoey bass oriented fusion sound of the music went perfectly with the Canadian singer/songwriters highly visual impressionism of the various encounters she had on the road touring with her music. It really took us as listeners into a free spirited world with all it’s in and outs. And since we were driving back and forth to the local town for necessities often enough,but deeply enjoying both our creative output Joni’s opening song “Coyote” rang very true at that time. In many ways we were also both “prisoners of the white lines on the freeway”.
Knowing Jan Hammer only from his membership in the Mahavishnu Orchestra and composing the music for the TV series Miami Vice,this particular album came as a huge surprise to me. Coming from the unique CD reissue label Wounded Bird,this album from 1977 showcase Jan and his group of extremely talented musicians such as drummer/singer/composer Tony Smith and bassist/singer Fernando Saunders emphasized his Joni Mitchell/Stevie Wonder-like way with musical composition,production and way with warm electronic instrumentation. It was a musical revelation to me before I heard one song that has become my own personal anthem. It isn’t at all a religious song. But it is somehow poetic on an other worldly level. It’s called “Window Of Love”. It’s not a song I can easily explain being so lyrically direct yet highly profound. One simply has to hear it for themselves.
Up until this time I knew very little about the music of Edgar Winter. My second relationship had ended with what have proven to be permanent psychological effects on my life and thought processes. Having little money at the time, new music was very much a matter of recommendation. As was often the case my dad,even having never heard of this,thought this would be a good album to have. He was more right then he could’ve ever known. While a thoroughly wonderful album as a whole the first five songs here-from the title song to “Hung Up” are an all encompassing and highly poetic jazz/soul/funk/blues cinematic journey through the mind a man seeking to communicate something wonderfully out of the typical musical conventions by opting to take his own dreams more seriously. These lyrics,although coming from the soul of Edgar Winter,could’ve very easily come from myself at any time from this point forward.
My relationship with this album goes back to my earliest memories. When it came out in 1985 on cassette,my father would play this on his tape deck every Christmas eve while we all engaged in the family ritual of sleeping under the tree. While the album had nothing to do with Christmas in particular,something about it’s melodic and rhythmic buoyancy very accurately reflected the mood of the holiday season. As my father more simply put it,it just sounded like Christmas to him somehow. As time went on,that yearly Christmas Eve ritual began to recede as I grew older. Since the holiday season of 2006 looked to be one that would showcase many difficult challenges for the family,we were still together and happy to have that. So again we were under the tree,and this album was playing. Because of what I had (and continued to be) personally gone through emotionally,this was the very first time hearing it during the Christmas holiday that I was nearly moved to tears of joy hearing this reminder of happy holidays of the past (and perhaps future) that were ringing through my mind as I was surrounded by the rainbow spectacle of Christmas tree lights and that surreal winter atmosphere.
Considering my mixed feelings towards what American Idol represents,it was strange that one of it’s more controversial winners Taylor Hicks was the one who caught my own attention. He had already had a burgeoning musical career-had records out before appearing on the show. Yet he managed to survive the unnecessary,vitriolic meanness of the show’s creator/judge Simon Cowell,and win the prize. He was an interesting combination of Michael McDonald and Otis Redding-with a musical combination of both urban and country soul that was very appealing. Even if his first post Idol CD was somewhat uneven project musically,it made it clear that Hicks would creatively survive the superficially decadent atmosphere beginning to permeate the show that made him famous. And he remains the most consistently enjoyable and likable American Idol consistent to me as a result.
When I first saw Ken Burns’ admittedly challenging PBS mini series about the history of jazz as it premiered, my feelings about it were very mixed. In many ways,especially in it’s later sections,it seemed to promote the very type of internal snobbery about jazz that kept the music from the attention of the mass public for decades. Reviewing it on the VHS tapes the family recorded it on, it became easier to tune out the often contradictory interview segments of documentary consultants Wynton Marsalis and critic Stanley Croach that largely weighed down the film,and begin to view it as an excellent and often very poetic depiction of the cultural environment of the music itself. In particular with the earliest forms of jazz. In the end,it was both an important lesson in what to and what not do do-not only in terms of describing jazz music but in the entire musical documentary making process.
Gino Vannelli has the distinction in my life of being the first artist I more deeply discovered not through radio,my family or friends but through totally independent (and mostly online) research. I’d heard of a couple songs by him of course before. And they were certainly pleasant. What I did not know was that before any of that Gino,along with a band that included his brother Joe on synthesizer,had created some of most expansive and cinematic electronic jazz-funk of the late 70’s. And it was again likely to be found in the “rock” section of your record store. Concluding with a suite made along with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,this 1977 album is (to me) the most positively representative of Gino’s vital musical and vocal talents during this era. And although for a myriad of reasons,some of them having to do with his flamboyant stage shows and epic mane, many people found the very mention of Gino Vannelli to be something of an embarrassing punchline of the 1970’s,that is again a brutally cruel legacy and assessment for one of the most captivating and unique musical artists of his time.
While not exactly musically experienced,by 2008 I had come to the conclusion via conversations with my friend Henrique that I might want to put some of the many lyrics I had written into some type of demo form. To participate in some way in the music I’d always loved from afar. He then informed me of the technology of the Portastudio,and recommended this particular model. Learning the band Ween had recorded an album using the exact same model,and being in the financial position to do so,I made the purchase via eBay. So I managed to plug my old Yamaha synthesizer into the device and demo some of my musical ideas. Realizing I had…lower than minimum knowledge of musical composition or chords. In the end having this has taught me a lot about multi track recording techniques,as well as the great creative skill put into producing ll the music that’s effected my life from others.
I’ve been in love with the Crusaders since I first started listening to them (and the music of their keyboardist Joe Sample) since the turn of the millennium. Very few bands have such a singular and consistently successful musical sound as they seem to. One day I was watching a DVD of The Cosby Show and it was an episode where Cliff Huxtable was having a dream sequence in which his daughter Vanessa had decided to play “funk jazz on the sax”. The song they played for this sequence was definitely a Crusaders number. But I didn’t know precisely which one. As it turned out,it was right there in front of me the whole time-from the bands Crusaders 1 album and it was called “Put It Where You Want It”. Another example of how one thing in my life creatively led to the discovery of another.
I had an enormous revelation about James Brown and his music about a decade or so after first absorbing his Star Time boxed set. Referred to often as The Godfather (or Godfather Of Soul),James was one of the few modern artists credited for officially creating whole genre of music-funk. When it didn’t seem that any of the online conversations with Henrique would conclude without at least three mentions of JB’s name or music,something occurred to me about his funk innovation. While historians had long held “Cold Sweat” up as his funk break though,I actually heard the same exact quality on a record recorded earlier the same year called “Let Yourself Go”. It was definitely patterned rhythmically from the same African boogaloo music that inspired James in his perfecting funk music. At the same time it was also more musically dense than “Cold Sweat”-not featuring the same “breaks” in the music and literally staying on “the one”,that rhythmic essence at the core of the funk groove,for the entire song. It was a profound revelation to me that The Godfather was so musically innovative he was even a step or two ahead of himself at times.
…..To Be Continued