Sunday, August 27, 2017

McLeod Atlas: Alice Coltrane 80

As promised, here comes the fourth post in five days and likely the last for August, commemorating what would have been the 80th birthday of the author of some of my all-time favorite music by anyone, anytime, anywhere.
In my lifetime so far I have been lucky enough to attend the final live performances of two of the greatest artists of our times. One was Nina Simone. The other was today's honoree, who passed at the beginning of 2007 after one of the most unique trajectories ever seen in American music.
She rose to prominence in her husband's final, legendarily boundary-shattering groups, and when John Coltrane died in 1967, she embarked on a path that could be considered more an artistic pilgrimage than a career in Jazz. The things she found along that path have enriched my life as much as any musician I could name.
We all have our sacred, private music that sustains us through everything. For some people, it's Bulgarian Folk songs. For some others, it's Whitney Houston turning a single syllable into 52 notes. For yet others, it's The Psychedelic Furs. For me, it is the music of Alice Coltrane.
There's never been anything like it. How many artists can truly say they came up with something completely out of the realm of what had gone before, whose output has no real analog in the pantheon? She was and is a singularity, a one-off. Her like may never come again and certainly not in our lifetimes.
There's really no way to describe her stuff, except to say that it's a cosmically charged combination of modal Jazz, Indian music of the subcontinent, and Classical music in the twelve-tone or Serial vein. Who does that? Who else has ever done that? Just her string charts alone are enough to make you say "WTF is this??"
There's all sorts of other elements that spring up as well. I mean, there's tunes of hers where it's got the three disparate components I mentioned... and it's a Funk song as well. Is that even possible, to combine Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Ustad Alla Rakha  and Alban Berg in one thing, and have it be danceable too?
Nothing I could write here could possibly describe what she did; you have to get into it for yourself if you haven't already. All I can say by way of explanation is that this is music that impacts the mind and soul in a very serious, transcendent way unlike any other artist of the last half century.
Did I mention that she's one of the craziest, most indelibly powerful organists of all time? The sounds she wrung from those instruments is as close to Pure Ecstasy as you're ever gonna get in this lifetime, I'm afraid. At least under Capitalism, anyways.
She made a bunch of records in the late 1960s through the end of the 1970s, and then opened a Vedantic spiritual center in Southern California and took her music to a more private, limited plane. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s she recorded vocal devotional songs and released them privately on her own cassettes and LPs... some of these largely unheard recordings were just compiled by David Byrne's Luaka Bop label on a new CD and 2LP set, just issued a couple of months ago.
Like I said, the music of Alice Coltrane is as impossible to categorize as any I could name, and it's really no exaggeration to say that what she produced is almost its own genre, independent of the sections in the search bar on amazon.com. The only way to do it is to get to it, with the proof being in the records.
So let's dispense with my thoroughly vague Sunday morning, pre-coffee screedings and get to it, shall we? Today is special because we have a main share and an Easter Egg one for the ardent souls who can stand to read until the end. They deserve reward for navigating my swill, and they shall have it.
First up we have the traditional share: her first album of vocal-and-synth chantmusic, released privately on cassette only back in 1982 and never seen since... no tracks from it appear on the new CD I mentioned that just hit the streets. This is from a bootleg remaster on the B Free label and despite the occasionally roughish sound, it's a prime example of Alice being Alice.
Alice Coltrane
Turiya Sings
1982

01 Jagadishwar
02 Ramachandra
03 Krishna Krishna
04 Rama Kathra
05 Yamuna Tira Vihari
06 Charanam
07 Govinda Hari
08 Hara Siva
09 Pranadhana

Total time: 58:20

Alice Coltrane - vocals, synthesizer, organ
Murray Adler - strings conductor

boot CD of the original cassette, remastered by the B Free label
262 MB FLAC here
As I mentioned, there's a reward this time for slogging through my barren, empty prose... and it's a tasty one indeed. You may recall that back last September I reimagined the impulse! label compilation The Gentle Side of John Coltrane, expanding it to a 3CD opus and straightening out the occasionally ridiculous, ungentle track selection.
Well, despite my sinus/ear issues this week, I managed to do nearly the same thing to the analogous impulse! 2LP Alice Coltrane comp entitled Reflection On Creation and Space, released on the label in 1973. To fit the constraints of vinyl, most of the original tracks were edited down to shorter versions -- a butchery of exsanguinated proportions -- so I went back and recreated the whole deal with the unedited cuts, even reconstructing an instance where they had joined two related compositions from two separate albums in an even more effective and inclusive manner than they did.
To really take things over the galactic threshold, I included a full 75-minute overview of her Warner Bros. output from after she split impulse!, so now the thing is three CDs worth and totals almost three-and-a-half hours. I told you I had treats for you if you'd keep stabbing yourself in the eyes with my nonsense words a bit longer, and I plan to deliver!
Anyway this little reconstruction can be accessed here, for those that want to go deeper. I'd advise pulling the whole lot down and letting your Sunday vibe take a Journey In Satchidananda for a while. Whatever you choose, please remember the singular visionary Alice Coltrane, born this day in 1937 and still supplying the Galactic magic carpet, even ten years removed from the physical plane. Enjoy... and Om Shanti!--J.
8.27.1937 - 1.12.2007

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Telling Timeless

Welcome to the weekend and two heavyweight posts: one concerning a milestone birthday and this one, about the passing away of an unsung but extremely potent, prolific and beloved musician of our time on Earth.
That's what this is, this page... isn't it though? We are telling time here, trying to catalog and commemorate the births, the deaths and the anniversaries that orbit around the continuum of recorded music during the span of years we spend alive... itself the most voluminous period of such output in human history. Today's screed concerns someone who made a lot of people's time seem and sound a little more timeless in his time.
He was born (and died this week of a heart attack) in upstate NY and had 72 years of time between. After a visit to the Internet I can tell you he played on or led upwards of 125 record dates in a period of about 50 years. The number may in fact be much higher; I stopped counting after a few hours of research.
It's so appropriate that his signature tune (atop this page) has the title it does; the word "timeless" definitely applies to the lyrical guitar style and subdued, monumentally tasteful melodic and harmonic approach he featured.
Last night as I was thinking about this post, I started to cry when I realized how much his music means to me, and how sad it is he will never pick up his instrument again. Now someone is chopping onions in here yet again.
His LPs with his Gateway trio and with (also blogworthy) guitarissimo Ralph Towner are almost the apotheosis of the vibe shared by all the great ECM label records, and are a testimony to the lasting and lofty creative standard that company founder Manfred Eicher's vision brought into our world.
Those albums touch the soul in the rare ways they do and never fail to give the listener the sense of the core concept of timelessness; of music that never sounds shackled to the time period or epoch in which it was constructed. There will never be another record label like ECM.
And there will never be another person who'll manipulate six strings the way John Abercrombie did. To say that I am gonna miss him or that I will, until the day I die, always have a special place in me for what he produced is as egregious an understatement as I've ever typed on this page.
As Laurie Anderson (tributed here a while back) once intoned, "This is the time, and this is the record of the time." There are rare musicians and artists that don't just leave a resonance, but whom through the sheer elegant force of their talents take us out of the confinements of linear time and into a place where it all happens at once. Mr. A here was emphatically in that latter group, and the vast and diverse mindscape of music he leaves us will always be happening, somewhere in time.
To adequately tribute such a monster player with such a track record of prolific output wasn't easy, but I think I did all right, assembling three very different unissued performances dating from the mid-1980s that showcase three of John's divergent contexts.
The first features his aforementioned Gateway group with fellow deities Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland (they are the rhythm section on the lion's share of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, as you may know), the second a shimmering duo concert with Ralph Towner, and the third a wild Village Vanguard set with reedmelter Michael Brecker, where we find John getting into his infatuation with the guitar synthesizer he would go on to occasionally utilize for the rest of the 1980s.
John Abercrombie
1983-84-85

I.
Gateway
WDR Schauburg
Radio Bremen
Bremen, Germany
6.21.1983

CD1
01 'M'
02 May Dance
03 Back-Woods Song
04 Silver Hollow

CD2
01 Blues In A Flat
02 Four Winds
03 Jumpin' In
04 Ralph's Piano Waltz

Total time: 2:24:34

John Abercrombie - guitar
Dave Holland - bass
Jack DeJohnette - drums, piano

sounds like a master cassette capture of a WDR broadcast
840 MB FLAC here

II.
John Abercrombie/Ralph Towner
Audi Max TU
Vienna, Austria
5.11.1984

CD1
01 Improvisation/The Juggler's Etude
02 Beneath an Evening Sky
03 Improvisations

CD2
01 Untitled/Beautiful Love
02 Timeless
03 Nardis

Total Time: 1:23:15

John Abercrombie - electric guitars
Ralph Towner - acoustic guitars

2nd gen cassette of a 1984 European FM broadcast
462 MB FLAC here

III.
John Abercrombie Quartet
Village Vanguard
New York, NY
2.18.1985

01 Hippetyville
02 Samurai Hee Haw
03 Even Steven
04 Look Around
05 Night
06 Four On One

Total time: 52:27

John Abercrombie - guitar, guitar synthesizer
Michael Brecker - tenor saxophone
Marc Johnson - bass
Peter Erskine- drums

master soundboard capture, sourced from bootleg CD "Synapse" on the Like a Cat label
319 MB FLAC here
I zipped all three shows separately this time, so you are free to get all, several or none of them. I'd advise making the most of your time and engaging with the timeless qualities of this most amazing artist, who left us this week but whose life's work will burn brightly for a long while and continue to warm our ears in the process. If he were sitting here, I'd say Thank You John Abercrombie.... and that's what time it is.--J.
12.16.1944 - 8.22.2017

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Bard Verses Babylon: LKJ 65

My ears are slightly improved and so is my posting frequency; to that end I am back with the second of four planned posts in five days. This one is justifiably all about one of the truly unique artists, himself born this day in 1952 and turning the big 65.
Today's honoree is considered the pre-eminent progenitor of Dub Poetry... in fact, he pretty much invented the idea of reciting socially conscious verse over a Reggae beat. He is also widely considered to be one of the godfathers of Hip-Hop.
He was born is Jamaica and moved to Brixton, UK when he was 11. By the time he grew up, he had become a central cultural force in the bubbling cauldron of late-1970s London and a primary chronicler of the UK's descent into austere, brutal Thatcherism.
It's appropriate that he was born just a few days after Joe Strummer from The Clash, whom I honored here Monday. The two of them are almost like bookends to the politically charged music of 1980 London or something. I wonder if they knew each other, or that they were born the same week?
He's been at it since 1978 and his first record, and he's really never stopped since he began. My greatest memory of him is from a Gil Scott-Heron show I went to in college, where he was slated to open for Gil. Well, Gil failed to show up, so our hero played for three full hours.
I first heard him on the radio on WBAI-FM in NYC, back when I was an impressionable lad of 14 or 15, and although it took another few years to figure out who he was and get his LPs I filed him away in my mind immediately. He's been there ever since.
If I had to bottom line it, I'd just say that Linton Kwesi Johnson is one of my all-time favorite poets and performers, and one of the most honest and simmeringly confrontational artists of our era. He slips under the radar, I think, because he hasn't, in almost 40 years doing it, had to raise his voice above a normal speaking tone to become that.
For me he's like a human hand grenade, lobbed into the gauzy, comfy sanctum of the wealthy and privileged, and especially the racist contingent we still see prancing so self-parodically across our transom these dirty days. Music, at its level and most impactful best, conveys experiences the listener might not ever become aware of any other way, and for me LKJ delivers those goods with every word he utters.
If you've never heard or heard of him, it's never too late. Let me start you off on the right foot with a triple shot of vintage FM broadcasts captured to cassette in the first half of the 1980s, his heyday. Taken together, these make a very nice introduction to what this most extraordinary wordsmith is all about and why he's held in the regard he so manifestly deserves.
Linton Kwesi Johnson
European broadcasts, 1980-84

I.
Caribbean Week
Übersee-Museum
Bremen, Germany
6.27.1980

01 Reality Poem
02 It No Funny
03 Want Fi Go Rave
04 Reggae Fi Peach
05 Inglan Is a Bitch
06 band introductions
07 Bass Culture
08 Loraine
09 Di Black Petty Booshwah
10 Sonny's Lettah
11 Independant Intavenshan
12 Two Sides of Silence
13 It Dread Inna Inglan (For George Lindo)

Total time: 45:55

Linton Kwesi Johnson - vocals
Percival Blake - guitar
Vivian Weathers - bass
Winston Curniffe- drums
with unknown others, likely:
Dennis Bovell - keyboards
John Kpiaye - guitar
Patrick Tenyue - trumpet
Henry "Buttons" Tenyue - tenor saxophone

1st gen cassette of a 1980 WDR FM broadcast

II.
unknown venue
Stockholm, Sweden
9.27.1981

01 It Noh Funny
02 Five Nights of Bleeding
03 Dread Beat an' Blood
04 Doun Di Road
05 The Great Insohreckshan
06 What About the Working Class?
07 Inglan Is a Bitch
08 Reality Poem
09 Sonny's Lettah
10 Fite Dem Back/Brain Smashing Dub

Total time: 45:17

Linton Kwesi Johnson - vocals
band unspecified, likely:
Percival Blake - guitar
Vivian Weathers - bass
Winston Curniffe- drums
Dennis Bovell - keyboards
John Kpiaye - guitar
Patrick Tenyue - trumpet
Henry "Buttons" Tenyue - tenor saxophone & trombone

sounds like a 1st or 2nd gen cassette of a 1981 Swedish FM broadcast
announcer at conclusion sounds like he says the venue as "Kongress Palais" in Stockholm,
but I can find no record of such a place in Sweden, only Germany

III.
Linton Kwesi Johnson & The Dub Band
Paris Theatre
London, UK
5.30.1984

01 radio introduction
02 unknown instrumental
03 Dub Master
04 Come with Me
05 Reggae High
06 Brain Damage
07 introduction of LKJ
08 Dread Beat an' Blood
09 All Wi Doin' Is Defendin'
10 Want Fi Goh Rave
11 Reggae Fi Dada
12 band introductions
13 Reggae Fi Peach
14 Di Great Insohreckshan
15 What About the Working Class?
16 Making History
17 Reggae Fi Rodney
18 unknown outro instrumental/closing radio announcement

Total time: 57:41
Tracks 01-06 & 18 are The Dub Band by themselves

Linton Kwesi Johnson - vocals
with The Dub Band:
Paget King - keyboards & vocals
Patrick Tenyue - trumpet
Henry "Buttons" Tenyue - trombone & tenor saxophone
John Kpiaye - guitar
François Cuffy - guitar
Bruce Smith - drums
Nick Straker - synthesizer & vocals
Geoffrey Scantlebury - percussion & vocals
Dennis Bovell - bass & vocals

sounds like a master or 1st gen cassette of a 1984 BBC1 broadcast
all 3 shows zipped together
885 MB FLAC here
I shall return on the weekend, ears and interwebs willing, with yet more fluff for your nutter, but for now let's have you ditch the imbeciles with the Autotuners and get immersed in LKJ's uniquely incisive brand of Dub Soup, can we? Trust me, this is one birthday boy who's gonna smash their brains in, cuz they ain't got no think in 'em!--J.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Mahavishnu World Order

My ear is still swill and I may never hear correctly again, but for now I shall leave my sickbed to post two consecutive days. Today we celebrate the anniversary of a classic concert of an even more classic, genre-defining band some people consider the greatest group of our lifetimes.
Today's treat is in some ways the definitive document of this group, themselves often thought of as the pinnacle of the Fusion universe. Pitifully few pieces of footage rival its hour-and-twenty-two-minutes of blazing astonishment.
What strikes the mind is how little of this music sounds dated or noodly in the ways Fusion is often categorized. Not a note is wasted, and that's hard to do when you're playing three times as many notes as everyone else.
What this shit must have sounded like when these guys hit the scene like an extinction-level comet hitting the Earth I cannot speculate. Surely this is one of the top ten bands ever to exist -- in the realm of the Beatles and luminaries such as they -- in terms of what things sounded like before them and what they were afterwards.
When they arrived, Jazz and Rock had been dancing with each other for about four years. Others -- the Miles Davis Bitches Brew/Live-Evil era groups, The Fourth Way, and Larry Coryell, for instance -- had pointed the way towards a full-energy integration of the backbeat and improvisation that didn't just resemble two unrelated forms Frankenstein-ed together for profit.
But it was The Mahavishnu Orchestra that codified the genre into the behemoth of tempo and tonality it became at its peak.... not surprisingly a summit that couldn't have been approached without their 1971 advent.
Really a stone-cold supergroup at its inception, featuring five super-heavyweight players who'd all been in well-loved bands prior to their coalescing into TMO, the sonic tsunamis of passionate intensity they unleashed upon a musical landscape hungry for real challenge and innovation may never be equaled.
Did I mention I like them? Not sure if you can tell from my little screed here. Needless to say The Mahavishnu Orchestra are an essential touchstone of the music of the last 50 years, with many an aspiring player having visited the mountain ranges they constructed in the early 1970s as a necessary pilgrimage en route to establishing their own musical territories.
So let's fire it up, shall we? This is a gorgeous PAL DVD -- sourced from the Holy Grail pre-broadcast tapes from the French TV archives -- of The Mahavishnu Orchestra in full, blistering flight at the legendary Châteauvallon Ampitheatre. It was taped 45 years ago today and is in no danger, even decades later, of losing a scintilla of its potency.
Mahavishnu Orchestra
Festival de Châteauvallon
Amphitheatre
Châteauvallon, France
8.23.1972

01 tuning
02 Meeting of the Spirits
03 The Dance of Maya
04 One Word
05 Resolution
06 Sanctuary
07 Awakening

Total time: 1:22:50

John McLaughlin - guitar
Billy Cobham - drums
Rick Laird - bass
Jan Hammer - keyboards
Jerry Goodman - violin

PAL DVD of the pre-broadcast master tapes from French TV
4.17 GB here
If it's blazing fire music you crave, you'd honestly be a fool not to click on this share... all five guys play like gods descended from Olympus and you can sense new worlds being born as the audience takes it all in, knowing exactly whose presence in which they find themselves. Anyway, pull it on down and see what all the fuss was and is about... after 82 minutes of this incendiary device, you know you'll know.--J.