Monday, January 5, 2015

The battle with loudness at live performances


There's some fairly recent science that supports what many of us have believed for a long time, that is, that Most Rock 'N' Roll Bands Play Too Loud.

Especially the bass and bass drum, which almost always seem too loud in the mix compared to everything else. And it seems to get worse as the night progresses.

This could be due to an already deaf sound guy.

It could also be quite purposeful, to make sure your chest rattles with the beat. That way you know it's really rock 'n' roll.

And the "get louder as the set progresses" deal could also be individual band members slowly creeping their volumes up until it's all just too much.

Or it could be alcohol. Follow that link to read an interesting article (and comments) supported by this research.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Elton John 17-11-70 1971

I've pulled this little gem out an unusual number of times in the recent past. Unique in Elton John's output, it was recorded live in a studio with a small audience for radio broadcast, and includes only the core band of John, Dee Murray (bass) and Nigel Olssen (drums).

It is the interplay of this tight outfit, and Elton's rocking piano, that make the record so special. Elton still had plenty to prove at this point. His songwriting was never a question, but this was his first American tour, and the band plays like it is now or never. Murray's bass lines are all over the place, almost a bass/lead instrument, and Olssen's drumming is equally wild and ferocious. And Elton plays like a man simultaneously possessed by Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. Piano can rock. Here's all the proof you need.

Take Me To The Pilot starts things off in fine form, followed by Honky Tonk Woman, on which the trio sings some knock-out harmonies, and John rips the piano to shreds. The slow burner Sixty Years On turns incendiary, and Can I Put You On keeps the rocking front and center. Side two features an eighteen-minute Burn Down The Mission, that includes bits of Arthur Crudup's My Baby Left Me and The Beatles Get Back.

Elton never did this same thing again, and a little over a year later, guitarist Davey Johnstone was a full-time band member. John's live performances became more sophisticated, but never really recaptured the raw power of this dynamic trio.   

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Zappadan 2014 again Imaginary Diseases 2006 and You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. I 1988

During the previous two Zappadan celebrations, I've discussed recent acquisitions of Zappa releases. This year didn't contain the revelations found in either Wazoo or Orchestral Favorites, but I did add to the stacks with the two in the title.

Imaginary Diseases is a good Zappa release in a number of ways. It is a live recording of the 1972 10-Piece Band, or as it is often known, the Petite Wazoo.This band followed hot on the heels of the 20-piece Grand Wazoo featured on the aforementioned Wazoo release. Nine of the members of this unit also played in the previous larger one.

The disc contains some fine recordings, all instrumentals, that cannot be duplicated elsewhere. The 6-man horn section gets heavily involved right away on Rollo, while Been To Kansas City In A Minor rocks a fairly regular blues under smoking solos on trumpet, guitar, and trombone. Farther O'Blivion again features horn charts and solos, and at 16 minutes, covers a lot of ground. D.C. Boogie is mostly guitar solo, and it's a good one. Imaginary Diseases and Montreal both feature more guitar than horns, and they keep your attention. After the Grand Wazoo, the Petite Wazoo is less amazing. But there is no denying that these are some very hot performances.

Recommended then for the already deep into Zappa type. Might not be for the uninitiated.

No one really needs YCDTOSA Vol. I all that much. Disc one is filled almost entirely with inane humor.  Let's Make The Water Turn Black/Harry You're A Beast/The Orange County Lumber Truck from the 1969 original Mothers line-up is three minutes of perfection. There are good versions of I'm The Slime and Big Swifty from the 1973 band featuring George Duke and Ruth Underwood. That's three tracks out of fourteen. The second disc almost has to be better, and it is. Two more tracks from 1969 (Plastic People  and Oh No).  A version of The Torture Never Stops from the 1977 band featuring Adrian Belew on guitar would be indispensable were it not for so many other good versions of the song. Fine Girl and Be In My Video are always good. The recordings of Frank's eighties bands are less distinguished, and maybe some of the material is weaker. There's some priceless stuff for the obsessed, but as a CD to sit and listen to, it doesn't hold up. Without getting too negative, Vol. II (The Helsinki Concert) is where this series really starts.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Zappadan 2014

December 4 - December 21
Seventeen days devoted to the celebration of all things Frank Zappa.



American Composer.
Percussionist.
Guitarist.
Band leader.
Satirist.
Singer.
Family man.
Arranger.
Perfectionist.
Activist.
Businessman.
Music producer.
Film maker.
Iconoclast.

Sixty-two albums during his lifetime. From the first, Freak Out! in 1966, to the last, The Yellow Shark in 1993 (both masterworks), with many a strange side trip along the way. In fact, those two might be a pretty good introduction to Zappa's music. Or just something to do during Zappadan.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bobby Hutcherson, David Sanborn, Joey DeFrancesco, featuring Billy Hart Enjoy The View 2014

Bobby Hucherson is a fabulous vibes player. I do love vibes. David Sanborn has been associated with some fairly lightweight jazz in the past, but that is certainly not the case here. Billy Hart is a veteran drummer with finesse and skill. Joey Defrancesco plays the organ as well as anyone, and is also a veteran of countless gigs and recordings.

Put the four together and you get a class outing by any measure. Pack it all onto two slabs of pristine vinyl, and you get great sound along with fine playing.

As I mentioned, this isn't what would classify as smooth jazz. These guys are the real deal, and we get a mix of melodic, mellow cuts and and some intense, challenging tracks as well. Everyone gets a chance to solo, but they also support each other with beauty and cohesiveness. Sanborn gets downright wiggy on several cuts. Hutcherson is on fire throughout, and DeFrancesco is my new favorite jazz organist. Hart just sits at the kit and patiently delivers a driving force or a light groove as the song requires. Hutcherson, Sanborn and DeFrancesco all get writing credits, and the material is top notch.

Got a jazz lover with a turntable on your holiday shopping list?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

St. Vincent St. Vincent 2014

Last week I went to the record store with no ideas and came home with this St. Vincent record. I had heard her record with David Byrne, and I didn't like it, but I haven't really liked much of Bryne's post-Talking Heads material, so I didn't hold it against St. Vincent (Annie E. Clark). It is admittedly a pretty strange choice for me, but I'm warming up to it, and it seems so very modern. I'm generally opposed to synth bass, but with St. Vincent's interesting and challenging guitar playing, her odd yet alluring voice, and her talent for melody, well, I'm quite into it.

I don't usually go for quirky, but the more I hear this gem, the less unusual it sounds. There's a pop sensibility here that's not far below the surface. There's also an eighties-styled keyboard sheen that usually gets in the way (at least for me), that works so well with her vocals that it's hard to argue with.

Most of it rocks pretty hard. Her distorted guitar tones and almost crystalline voice carry these interesting compositions, and the strange lyrics add another layer. So what does it sound like? I guess if you crammed a more detached Kate Bush into King Crimson with just a touch of the Cars and Prince you'd get pretty close. There, that'll have you running out to get it.

Samples probably won't let you really hear the record. It's a cohesive whole, with a consistent sound throughout that rewards repeated listening. I took a chance and found a good one. I love when that happens.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Van Morrison Back On Top 1999

This has been the best fall in Northeast Ohio in many many a season. And what that means is color. Rust, gold, orange, red, yellow, all mixed with the green hold-outs, and bright sunny days to put those colors on full display. It is a wonder more people don't just drive off the road in awe of this natural expression of God's magnificence, like Thomas Cole and Fredrick Church captured in their brilliant landscapes. Breath-taking beauty just for being on the planet with your eyes open, and a few moments to just look.

The Cleveland Museum of Art has a special exhibit on Fredrick Church's Twilight in the Wilderness that is a must to see if you're a 19th century landscape aficionado. Or if you just like art, I suppose. Go there now. It's only there until January 25, 2015, and time can slip by so easily if you don't make a point to go.

What's this got to do with Van Morrison? Well, on Back On Top, a record that clearly is undeserving of it's own title, Van came through with When The Leaves Come Falling Down, a loving ode to Fall that Van presents with a fine lyric and reverent melody. It's got that minor-key melancholy, because Fall can only lead to Winter, but right now everything is full of wonder and beauty. The song is also available on The Best Of Volume 3, or as a download on iTunes (which is still sucky mp3). Or maybe at your library.

Follow me down, follow me down, follow me down
To the place between the garden and the wall
Follow me down, follow me down
To the space between the twilight and the dawn

And as I'm looking at the colour of the leaves, in your hand
As we're listening to Chet Baker on the beach, in the sand
When the leaves come falling down,
Whoa in September, when the leaves come falling down
Oh when the leaves come falling down
Yeah in September when the leaves come falling down