Posts Tagged ‘Jimi Hendrix’

Recently I took one one of those Facebook ‘challenges’ where one posts various pet picks every day. This one was ‘7 Songs in 7 Days’ – selecting songs or pieces of music which are significant to you.

Of course this could be interpreted in almost infinite ways, so I thought I would keep it simple and post seven songs that shaped me over the early part of my life as a fan and musician. I also included a song which shows that I continue to be shaped, maybe a little less cataclysmically, by music I hear up to the present day.

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#1: ‘Spirit in the Sky’ by Norman Greenbaum

1970. I was 13, very geeky and more interested in model hot rods and Marvel comics than music.

Then this thing came on the radio.

To this day I wonder what possessed the producer to underpin this sappy hippie-happy-clapper song with such a malevolent, heavy, fuzzed out boogie. Spirit of the times I guess.

Whatever… I was hooked. Something about the sound of the guitar on this song – beyond the lyric (daft) or melody (perfunctory) – just got inside me and made 13 year old me feel strange, a little scared and yet, good. (By the time I took drugs a couple of years later, I had already felt their delicious disconnect through musical and visual art experience).

I dreamed about this song and waited and waited for it to reappear on 2SM and when it did, I stood before the radio in a trance for 3:47. There was nothing else like it on the radio, there was nothing else like it in the world.

Of course, as with most drugs, you need more, and more, and stronger. So the search was now on for The Sound. I didn’t have to wait too long…

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#2: ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zeppelin

Through a strange quirk of misread marketing, disc jockey taste and the wrath of Odin, Led Zeppelin’s five and a half minute ‘Whole Lotta Love’ also came out of our radios in 1970.

Intended to be the B-side of the one vaguely ‘pop’ single on Led Zeppelin II, ‘Livin’ Lovin’ Maid’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ was (strangely) preferred by radio station programmers. Once again, spirit of the times. Soon there was a trimmed down version being played but not before the full heavyweight opus had done irreversible damage to my child’s fragile eggshell mind.

A toughened up reading of Muddy Waters’ ‘You Need Love’ (or callous racist rip-off, your call), ‘Whole Lotta Love’ remains to this day, the template of hard rock for me. A full, phat and badass bottom end of bass drums guitar, with sky scraping vocal and nothing much in between (which is why I prefer Maiden to Metallica any day, and love working with women vocalists in my current bands).

Too much wonder in this mini-symphony: the scraping slide guitar figure in the chorus, the kick in the balls when JPJ’s bass enters, Jimmy Page’s scratching and spitting guitar break, Robert Plant’s animalistic howls and choir-girl sighs and John Bonham, just John Bonham.

And the middle bit. You know, the bit where your mind splits in two and sonic magma runs out.

The whole thing roars like a machine: dead on in purpose, yet frightening in potential. Chills me to this day.

Did its European-ness awaken some Germanic race-memory in me? Did it clad a scared schoolboy in Asgardian armour to do battle with Trinity Grammar School? Maybe – all I know is it knocked my fucking socks off.

After ‘Whole Lotta Love’ I was gone. What would the wond’rous radio ensnare me with next? It was about to get strange…

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#3: ‘All Along The Watchtower’ by Jimi Hendrix

Still too young for a record player, I depended on the radio for my moments of musical satori. And there, among the Mary Hopkin and Brotherhood of Man pop fluff would come some dark jewels that made me shiver in my boots.

Jeff Beck’s ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ (if mainly for the grinning sarcasm of his overloaded guitar break), Melanie Safka’s ‘Candles in the Rain’, The Move’s ‘Blackberry Way’ and The Four Top’s ‘Reach Out’ made life worth living, but it was ‘All Along The Watchtower’ that really made my hair (short, back and sides that it was) stand up.

Jimi Hendrix came to me fully formed, godlike and alien. His name alone was future-primitive and his music was something I had strangely always known, down in my bones. Ancient, flamboyantly filigreed and above all, fucking trippppppy. When I finally saw a picture of him, I loved him even more.

Producer Chas Chandler’s vision for this nightmarish Dylan tune was widescreen with sets by Dali and lighting by Cocteau. And Hendrix does it to perfection – his Dylanesque droop at the end of every line, his stoned but wise delivery, his space-ace blues lines throughout.

His guitar break seems to be a show-reel: whammy bar dips, wah-wah retorts and Curtis Mayfield-style lead-rhythm chops. Like the best late-period Beatles, Hendrix and Chandler fit almost too much in and it all works, every note.

A couple of years later, my mother threatened to jump out the window if I played ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)’ again, that loud. It made me renew my vows to Hendrix, as I have done regularly my whole life.

Oh, and it also made me want to get a guitar. But first, I would have to own a small Dansette-size record player. And a David Bowie LP…

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#4: ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’ by David Bowie

Bowie was our Beatles.

I was born a little too late for the first flush of Beatlemania and only came upon them after they had gone ‘serious’ and split up. The void was filled by Bowie.

Bowie, like the Beatles, was such a perfect Pop creation, and so utterly of his time that he became an iconic object of adoration for an entire generation, equal in fame and influence to the Fab Four.

Importantly, as with the Beatles, his art not only was blindingly brilliant and challenging, but also consistently led the pack, effortlessly breaking new ground with each new quantum release.

It has been said that Bowie was not more than a clever bower-bird, picking through the Twentieth Century and modelling the scraps and bits into new and shiny shapes. Even if that is true, which it may well be, those shapes blinded us to all else and gave us an almost religious hope.

I finally had a tiny, mono record player and my second album was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, for Christmas. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’, from the Ziggy Stardust album, has that disconnected, collage feeling. Bowie sings from a Ballardian dead-night dystopiascape, yet, as the song rises, the feeling of hope rises.

Even though I was a straight little schoolboy and he was something from another planet, I felt – as i lay in the dark, playing this over and over – that he was speaking directly to me, and me alone. It is what I have in common with One Direction fans and indeed anyone who has become besotted with a Pop artist. Musical worth really comes a distant second to such ecstasy.

But soon I would have a Guitar. And my days as a shining-eyed fan would be numbered, as I would become a Musician. Sadly, after that, I could never really listen to music again the same, simple and sweet way.

Of course, it was all Frank Zappa’s fault…

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#5: ‘It Must be a Camel’ by Frank Zappa

Studying jazz and jazz-fusion guitar with Australian guitar shaman, John Robinson opened me up to music that buzzes me to this day.

All I wanted to do was play like the guy in Steely Dan but Robbo put me through the ringer – Boulez, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg. Heavy shit, Jim. And I greedily gobbled the lot and begged for more.

He also got me listening deeply into Frank Zappa – not the ‘comedy group’ stuff that had us in stitches as we loaded the next bong, but Zappa as a composer and musical mind.

‘It Must be a Camel’ is from the Hot Rats album and when I first ‘got’ it, it moved me deeply and fundamentally, as it does to this day. It is extraordinarily beautiful, yet of a beauty that only exists in its own world. If the mark of genius is to envision and create something that has not existed before, then ‘It Must be a Camel’ is that.

Rhythm, harmony and melody are pure Zappa and the band play it as if they jam this shit every day (gold star to drummer John Guerin, Joni Mitchell’s beau at the time – dig his drum break: tuned tom deeeeelite).

Zappa’s personal quirks and curdled world-view seemed to make him shy away from writing more swooningly beautiful music like ‘Camel’ in favour of jarring or shocking his listeners – but when he did (‘Watermelon In Easter Hay’) he could bring you to tears.

Through listening to this stuff, I became infected with that malady called Jazz. It took me a long time to fully recover…

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#6: ‘Funky Tonk’ by Miles Davis

I really took to jazz while I was studying with Robbo – I loved the harmonies, scales, rhythmic mathematics of it all. The stars of jazz blew my mind – Coltrane, Monk, Bud Powell, Wayne Shorter – and turned me into a kind of jazz zealot who would sniff dismissively at rock music and berate people for not knowing who the drummer was on ‘Milestones’. Yep, a royal pain in the jazz ass.

I had fallen in love with the Miles Davis Quintet’s albums Working, Steaming, Cookin’ and Relaxing and for Christmas asked my Dad for anything by Miles Davis – thinking that it would be more of the same: toughly swinging post-bop, elegant and sharp.

It wouldn’t be the first time Miles would throw me for a loop.

What Dad unwittingly bought me (at our local record shop!) was LIVE-EVIL, a cauldron of wigged-out electric, free rock that could not have been further from ‘Relaxing’. I still remember the jolt it gave me: I was all-at-sea, with this music thrashing and crashing around my ears.

Miles plays his trumpet through a wah-wah, the band leaps across hot coals. He had said to them “If I hear you playing any of that jazz shit, you’re fired…’

The utterly wildness and ‘fuck you’ element in this music shocked something out of my system: after I heard it, I was never the same again, musically, or personally – it seemed to express a permission to truly do your own actual thing. In spades.

My jazz nerd self realised I wasn’t in Kansas any more, and for the rest of my life, I have gone wherever Miles has led me…

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#7: ‘Pyramid Song’ by Radiohead

The last band that blew me away with any great force was Radiohead. And mainly the two very inspired albums they made within a few months of each other in 2000-2001, Kid A and Amnesiac.

The sense of adventure I took from these incredibly creative and idiosyncratic albums was the same as I felt from when I first came across Pink Floyd.

Radiohead seem to use every trick in their trick-bag, musically and production-wise on Kid A and Amnesiac: they both crackle with electronica and whim. And it all works exquisitely and elegantly.

‘Pyramid Song’ does not go for any sort of electronic palette, but simply uses piano, bass, drums and orchestral strings. Its stately grandeur rises from the urban space-port of Amnesiac like a cloud-castle.

I finish my seven days with this anthem to sorrow and beauty.

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Like post-punk has done since the 1980s, Jazz has gradually eschewed and expunged the Blues from its vernacular.

Yes, there are still lipstick traces left from the grand old dame, but many contemporary Jazz artists seem intent on (consciously or sub-consciously) avoiding her patois, perfumes and punch-drunkenness in any overt sense.

Sydney’s Dubious Blues Trio have no such qualms. In fact the Trio drink deep not only of the blues but – horrors! – the blues’ boozy trailer-trash cousin, blues-rock.

Made up of guitarist Cameron Henderson, double-bassist Elsen Price and drummer Tully Ryan, The Trio are one of the current young bands that make me jump for joy. Genre-hopping is admirably rife in the modern jazz world, but done as it is here on their debut – Dubious Blues Trio – so unselfconsciously and with a real blues wildness, is a buzz.

Dubious Blues2

After a short ‘Intro’ (a bit of cod-blues piano quickly devoured by an electronic belch), Henderson’s ‘Shoemound’ snaps our attention – the unmistakeable tang of Stevie Ray Vaughan salting his Stratocaster. Yet the line he plays winds into some snaky shapes – hhmmmm, dubious blues indeed.

‘Mousterious Moustache’ takes their tough sound into 6/8 and ‘Bigger Than The Mammoth’ has some Zappaesque riffing slding into a very SRV boogie.

Bassist Price’s ‘Fixy and Your Haircut’ flies along in a bluegrass handbasket-to-hell – Price has recently been seen around town playing with bluegrass mavericks The Morrisons. Price’s choppy triple-time bowing opens it up for Henderson’s banjo-like guitar. It’s all over in 1:36 but we are sweating.Dubious Blues1

The funky ‘King Hustle’ goes back past SRV to Jimi Hendrix, who seems to be as much a touchstone for Henderson as Bill Frisell or, maybe even moreso, Wayne Krantz. After a languid, gospel-throated bowed solo from Price the whole piece dissolves beneath a (not-so-)hilarious montage of phone recordings of the guys hustling for gigs – and accepting having to “play for tips”.

Dubious Blues Trio leaves us with Price’s ‘Miscellaneous Whale’ – a 14:15 monolithic jam featuring trumpeter Will Gilbert. Gilbert’s breathy tone, together with the black-hole ambience of the piece, dimly recalls Miles Davis’s electric anti-jazz psychedelia of the 70’s. Whatever their influences, this is entirely original music made by fresh-thinking players – Gilbert’s longing horn, Henderson’s whale-song guitar, Price’s leaden bass moans. Special mention here goes to drummer Ryan – a piece as stretched out as ‘Miscellaneous Whale’ is a true challenge for any drummer and he is always in the right space with the right colour at the right time.

Dubious Blues Trio was recorded live in the studio, which adds a layer of danger and shows the Trio to their best advantage. Henderson, Price and Ryan have a wonderful thing here – a three-way joy of noise and a questing group-mind. There is no leader, and no followers – as it should be, but too rarely is.

Dubious Blues Trio brings the blues back into jazz – not the clichés and the tired down-home trappings (we’ll leave that to the official Blues® scene), but the innovation, the openness and, above all the humanity that the best blues always had. And it is about time.

 

Published February 2104 on australianjazz.net

 

One of the true delights of any music festival is that, for a few days – or even just a few precious hours – you are in a strange and beautiful new world, away from the tangle and hum of city life. The 4th Jazzgroove  Summer Festival reigned over Sydney’s Redfern-Surry Hills Delta for four days in January, staking out the territory in the name of modern composition, improvised music and the jazz life.

And what a strange and beautiful world they conjured for us among the bricks and grime, the litter and the 7-11 Stores.

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I was fortunate to start at the very beginning, with Tom O’Halloran’s solo piano opener on Thursday at Surry Hills’ Tom Mann Theatre. A smart choice to open the Festival, O’Halloran’s sure touch made the piano sigh and glitter. His closer, a sparkling ‘No More Blues’ served as a teasing appetiser for a weekend of stellar music.

jazzgroove mothership orc

And stellar was the word (a TV sports cliché yes, but too apt to not use here) for Jonathan Zwartz’s band, up next. A Dream Team of players – Slater, Maegraith, Greening, Julien Wilson blowing (his and) our minds, Dewhurst, Matt McMahon, Hamish Stuart and percussionista Fabian Hevia holding it down with the calm river that is Zwartz himself. And from that calm river flowed strong and sure compositions, with melodic lines that were often country-simple but Gospel-true. From the opener ‘Shimmer’ through to ‘Henry’s High Life’, it was transfixing soul-blues that had the soloists reaching within – Phil Slater and Richard Maegraith especially going deep on the latter tune – leaving the audience at Tom Mann visibly affected. Like all true wisdom there was very little flash, but a universe of quiet fire.

The opening night was climaxed by the mighty Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, paying tribute to genius jazz composer Bob Brookmeyer (who sadly passed from this earthly plane last year). Even though the Orchestra bristles with astounding soloists, it was the Festival’s International Guest Artist (I suppose Aotearoa counts as international) tenor magus Roger Manins that was featured on all charts. The Orchestra is truly a national treasure and for this, their 10th anniversary gig, they played better than I have ever heard them – snapping and roiling on the fiery pieces and painting colour washed mists on the quieter pieces such as the lovely ‘Fireflies’. Manins stood toe-to-toe with the band on the blasting finale, ‘See Saw’, his tenor sassing back and cajoling the Mothership. Big kudos to drummer Jamie Cameron who rode the roaring beast on all pieces with great style and verve.

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Friday was Fusion Day for me as I took in the electro-jazz of the Alcohotlicks at 505 and later, the flamenco-jazz of Steve Hunter’s Translators down the road at the Gaelic. It had been Sydney’s hottest day ever (!) on record and the evening was still dripping from the day.alcohotlicks

At 505, The Alcohotlicks’ Evan Mannell admitted to ‘shitting himself’ at the prospect of working without a drum kit. He then won us all over with a beautiful funky groove, cut-up on his sample box from Jimi Hendrix’s throaty ‘Who Knows’ riff. Joined by Ben Hauptmann on MIDI guitar and laptop, and Aaron Flower (the hoary traditionalist of the group who merely plays a guitar through an amp) the trio – winners of the inaugural Jazzgroove Association Recording Artist Award  – astounded with tracks from their album Danaïdes. ‘Neon’ was neo-NEU! motorik funk; ‘Baader’ was Goldfrapp/Moroder replicant-porn boogie. Did I sense a few members of the 505 audience shifting in their seats during the Alcohotlicks set? Artists such as these are the ones who move any music forward and all kudos to them for working at the edge of the Jazz comfort zone. A little seat shifting is always a good sign.

steve hunter, the translatorsDown the steaming street to the Gaelic. By now slightly drunk on the merlot and the humidity, I was taken away completely by The Translators. Too loud for the room – not a bad thing at all – electric bass toreador Steve Hunter and the quartet blazed through a set of flamenco-flecked originals that had Míro dancing with Manitas de Plata, Chick Corea dancing with de Falla in my swirling head. At times Ben Hauptmann’s electric mandolin solos sounded like a 70’s micro-Moog, the otherworldly tone beautifully offset by Damien Wright’s flamenco gut-string. ‘Turquoise’ was blue in green in orange. ‘The Last Trannie’ was Madrid via Soweto. Always a fiery and sparkling group, tonight – after not playing together for two years – The Translators shone like a Catalonian sun and lit all our faces with broad smiles. Not so long between sangrias next time, please amigos!

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the fantastic terrific munkle

Saturday my hangover needed the peace of Prince Alfred Park and the gentle afternoon humour of The Fantastic Terrific Munkle. Cool breezes blew, people picnicked on the grass, and from between two huge trees, The Munkle – powered by Sam Golding’s tuba and the (snake-)charming clarinet of Jeremy Rose – wove their musical tales of whimsy, recalling ragtime, Dixie, weird old blues and French salon jazz. The song announcements were made through a megaphone, the guitar amp was powered by solar panels and guitarist Julian Curwin wore thongs. It was all so sweetly organic, it made the afternoon time stand beautifully still.

Too much daylight – bah! Back into the night and the Steve Barry Trio with Alex Boneham and the quicksilver Tim Firth at 505. This is the trio that played on Barry’s recent album, Steve Barry – a startling album made (conjured from the elements, rather) by this startling combination of players. All the telepathic play and spiritual-empathic magic that lights up the album was here on stage tonight. Reminding me of Bill Evans’ trios or Keith Jarrett’s ‘standards’ trios, Barry-Boneham-Firth could spat and spar – as on opener ‘B.W.’ – or dissipate like evening mist across an introspective ballad such as the lovely ‘Epiphany’. Some of the most fluidly intelligent music in jazz has been made within the piano trio format and groups such as Steve Barry’s trio remind me why.

After the rollicking fun of altoist Ross Harrington’s vibey, young and fun Midnight Tea Party – Dixie, klemzer, ska flavours; a huge hit with the 505 crowd – we were treated to the Andrew Gander Band.

richard maegraithIn a Festival line-up luminescent with musical wonders, I can unreservedly say the Andrew Gander Band was the highlight for me – and I am sure many there would agree. His five-piece group hit their jaw-dropping stride from the first note and ascended from there. I had already seen each of Gander’s sidemen in other Festival groups but playing with Gander seemed to push each of them into the deeper reaches of their own musical universe. Tenor player Richard Maegraith seemed particularly inspired, blowing hard into the white-hot areas of his horn’s capabilties. (My friend, CC – who knows about such things – said after one of Maegraith’s solos “I could see his aura and light flashing off him!”) Bassist Brett Hirst twinned with Gander through all of the music’s twists and turns almost preternaturally. Steve Barry would smartly sit out during guitarist Carl Morgan’s solos, allowing the drum-bass-guitar trio to stretch the harmonies and rhythms into new fluid shapes. The Gander originals such as ‘Retrograde’ (with one of those sizzling rock feels that Billy Cobham does so well) and the 5/4 roller coaster ride of ‘Prism’ were just eaten alive by the band, who also managed great takes on radically reshaped standards such as ‘Star Eyes’ and Dizzy’s ‘Con Alma’.

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ben hauptmann, zoe and the buttercups

Where to go from there? Thankfully the Sunday program offered sweet soul relief in the form of Festival Guest Roger Manins and the original lineup of his soul-jazz champions, Hip Flask. To a packed 505, Manins’ testifying tenor led the quintet through ‘Bang’, ‘Big Sis’, ‘John Scon’ and others from their Jazzgroove catalogue. Against the indigo-blue Hammond of Stu Hunter, Adam Ponting’s peppery shards of piano dissonance put Hip Flask in their own category without losing any soul-jazz juice. The intro to ‘Blues for Adam Ponting’ moved in and out of harmonic focus until Manins brought us back to the planet with some real deep earth. (Manins was also one of the drollest bandleaders of the Festival, his tongue popping almost through his cheek at times during his stage announcements…)

By now saturated to the brim with music and fine 505 merlot, I took one last rolling stroll down Chalmers Street, climbing the stairs to the Gaelic to bid the Festival adieu with Zoe Hauptmann and her Buttercups. The six piece snapped my jaded mind awake with their patented country-soul stomp and Tele-blaster Aaron Flower’s always-exhilarating chicken-pickin’. Watching Ms Hauptmann leading her Buttercups up there, a question swam into my mind: Where were all the women musicians at the 4th Summer Festival? Ok, there was Zoe H and new bassist Hannah James (yes, Elana Stone too, but I am not counting vocalists in this equation) – that’s two out of an awful lot of male musicians. This is not a polemic point, nor is the question rhetoric; it is an honest query. The Con and other institutions turn out many many women musicians, musicians who have graduated alongside their male contemporaries, women musicians who are out there any night of the week paying as many gig dues as the guys. So why, when you get to the highest levels of jazz in this country – such as the annual Jazzgroove Festival – are women so insignificantly spoken for?

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In his Sunday night wrap-up speech, Jazzgroove President (and Buttercup trombonist) John Hibbard admitted that this year’s Summer Festival almost didn’t happen. The committee had sat around Matt McMahon’s dining table and voted on going through with it or not. It was that dire. After four days of wonderfully attended gigs by our best and brightest – and some performances that seriously deserve to pass into myth and legend – it is hard to believe that meeting ever took place. But positive energy ruled that day – the vote was to go ahead – and that same positive energy ruled the 4th Jazzgroove  Summer Festival.

And thank God, Miles and Duke that it did.

The Jazzgroove website is here.

Published January 2103 on australianjazz.net 

When the bands and polemicists of Punk Rock created their Year Zero circa 1977, they ushered in a new age of creative play in music. The 20th century had already gone through a Jazz Age from the roaring 20s through to the late 50s, when it was supplanted by Elvis et al (artists who the Punks’ frenzy and danger ironically mirrored) and the new Rock Age.

When the Punks decided it was time to wash the past away, their theories (if not always their practice) opened rock music up – a dam-busting which gave birth to Punk’s obsessively creative monster children: New Wave and Post-Rock. Musically it was the Miasma Age, where anything goes and the only artists sticking to the bindings of a particular genre were those who did so out of purism, zealotry or blind love.

It is obvious and plain that this Big Bang still reverberates today – but a bright surprise that it is present in non-Rock musics, such as Jazz.

Melbourne guitarist Tim Willis and his band, The End, have as much rock going on in their jazz as jazz in their rock – and who cares anyway? In the Miasma Age, this is what all music should sound like. The End’s second album, Keep Your Chin Up is eight tracks of sublimely creative music that packs a funky rock-edged punch.

Openers ‘Chers Amis’ and ‘Save Me From The Rednecks’ are a pair of great rockers – the first brisk with a tautly unfolding jazz solo from Willis, the second a muggy half-time skank – that have everything we knew and loved from their 2011 debut album, The End (see my review here): the tough rhythm section of double-bassist Gareth Hill and drummer Nick Martyn, the unusual twinning of the alto and tenor saxes of Jon Crompton and John Felstead, and the heavy powerchords/fleet jazz lines of Tim Willis.

But it is the third piece, the evocatively named homage to Willis’s partner ‘Lying On Her Bed Listening To Steve Reich’ that shows how far the band has evolved in the short time between The End and Keep Your Chin Up. The piece is built on a lattice of stabbing eighth-notes that fade in and out, leading to a remarkable middle section where the band passes these eighth-notes around almost mechanically, yet to extraordinary effect – mirroring the music of minimalist maestro Reich. It’s jazz, Jim, but not as you know it.

Extra horn player Jack Beeche is brought in for the meshed sax harmonies of Jon Crompton’s piece ‘The Rose’ which rolls along on a heavy blues-boogie shuffle over which Willis solos entirely unhinged but in complete control. Title track ‘Keep Your Chin Up’ has a strutting swagger that reflects its positive title. (Willis dedicates the album to his sister’s courage during her battle with breast cancer).

The drive and looped melody of ‘It’ll Be Ok… No It Won’t’ calls to mind 70s proggers Van Der Graaf Generator more than it calls to mind any Jazz artist I can think of. And why not? Such is the nature of Jazz in the Miasma Age – and this is one of the best bands and albums of this Age.

The End’s website is here – www.timwillis.com.au

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Prior to publishing this review, TheOrangePress asked Tim Willis for his top 5 ROCK albums. Here are his responses:

1. Jimi Hendrix – Axis Bold As love
I love this album cause Jimi plays his arse off on every track and it has some of his most beautiful and most rockin’ tunes. I love albums where you can listen to every tune and not want to skip through it, this is one of those. It sounds so raw and energetic, it’s still so fresh and exciting!

2. The Beatles – Abbey Road
Fantastic songs and I love the way the album flows from one song to the next. I love the lesser known tunes on this album such as I want you (She’s so Heavy) and  you never give me your money.

3. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine
This album made me want to join the young socialists and burn down the local Liberal Party member’s office. It rocks out hard and has some fantastic grooves. It’s so angry and you can feel all that in the music.

4. Radiohead – OK Computer
Once again, It’s an album  where you can listen to the whole thing without skipping through tracks…every song is gold and has it’s own story to tell. The overall mood is one of melancholy and loneliness, it’s beautiful.

5. Faith No More – King For A Day Fool For A Lifetime
I love this band because they are impossible to categorize and every-time they do something new it’s different and out of left field. Standout moments on this album are Richochet, Evidence, Cuckoo for Ca Ca, Star A.D. and Just A Man.  This Album rocks out hard and has something for everyone!

Published June 2012 on theorangepress.net

Carlos Santana, latin-rock shaman and one of rock’s most elegantly passionate guitarists, is back. Or so it appears from his latest – and 36th! – album, Shape Shifter.

Santana has spent the last few years in a creative hole, resorting to putting out an album of rock guitar classics – 2010’s Guitar Heaven – which, to old and new fans alike was the nadir of his recent output. Since his 1999 smash, Supernatural – which, due to a guest list of contemporary stars such as Lauren Hill and Rob Thomas, won him a whole new raft of fans (Supernatural went 15 times platinum and won 9 Grammys) – Santana has gradually taken on a Bob Marley-like saintliness, in direct proportion to the decline in his music. Of course there have been flashes of the old “spiritual orgasm” in Carlos’ playing, but they have too often all but been buried in the dross.

Shape Shifter is a welcome departure – oddly a departure back into what Santana does best: jamming over the top of jazz inflected funk and world-music (largely Afro-Cuban) grooves. Only one of the 13 tracks is a vocal, so Carlos is free to blow – rather than inject blues-style call-and-response lines in between Rob Thomas’s crooning – and blow he does.

As ever, his playing is split between sweetly lyrical blues and frenzied sky-high howling. His guitar tone is as phat and warm as ever – on strings led ballad ‘Dom’ his tone seems almost overwhelmingly so, like cables of honey pouring from the speakers. Smooth jazz grooves such as ‘Angelica Faith’ recall the late 70s output where he and The Santana Band were listening more to John Coltrane than AM Rock.

‘Nomad’ is the wake-up – heavy heavy rock flavours with his solo biting and scratching its way into Jimi Hendrix territory (although Santana was always the cool blue moon to Hendrix’s thousand burning suns). The title track, ‘Shape Shifter’ opens the album with some serious Latin heat after a Flamenco intro, intermingled with Native American chants (the album is dedicated to Native Americans).

Some of these Spanish interludes and textures – such as the sole vocal track ‘Eres La Luz’ –  can veer a little too close to library ‘world’ music at times, but they are almost always saved by the quiet (and not so quiet) fire of Santana’s superb band (when has Carlos ever had anything but?).

Raul Rekow on conga, like the 70s stalwart, Armando Peraza before him, is the heartbeat of the band. Rekow has been with Santana’s band – bar a 2 year hiatus – since 1976. His percussion break with percussionist Karl Perazzo, is a sunsplash of percussive joy. The band also features the almost supernatural drummer, Dennis Chambers and keyboard veteran Chester Thompson. It is these players’ knowledge and respect for the past and present state of Latin music that allows them to fly. And on Shape Shifter, unencumbered by more pedestrian pop beats, they put big wings under Santana.

And there is a sense of breaking shackles, of – well – freedom on this album. Santana’s music, based as it originally was in the flower power jams of his native San Francisco, has always been about freedom and openness. Maybe the sense of positivity is deeper than that. Speaking to the US Indigenous radio show “Native America Calling”, Santana said he wanted to make this record because “everything in this year of 2012 points to the peak of fear… we need to connect our youngsters back to nature; they are so confused and fragmented…”. Sure, it is the idealistic flower child of San Franciso speaking, but as even that bitter punk Elvis Costello sang –  “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?

Published May 2012 on theorangepress.net

Nothing seems to divide modern rock guitar fans like shred-metal guitar. On one side of the rickety fence is the fragrant, hairy army of blooz-rock nuts who now and forever will believe Clapton IS God (with Duane Allman a wild St Peter) and no argument; they talk imponderables such as ‘taste’, ‘tone’ and ‘Fillmore’ etc. Over on the other side are the black-tshirted Van Halen freaks who cannot get enough insane speed, volume or distortion for their liking. It seems you just can’t like both. The blooz guys call the VH style tasteless and ‘widdly-widdly’ and much of the VH army barely knows one end of an Allman Brother from the other.

The Big Bangs of Rock Guitar are few but each has been nothing short of seismic, actually shaping almost all of rock music that came after. Chuck Berry’s boogie-shuffle, Kinks/Who powerchords, Jimi Hendrix’s atomic devastation of whatever had constituted electric guitar – and the last great stylist, Edward Lodewijk ‘Eddie’ Van Halen. Building on the Hendrix amp-overload template, Van Halen developed a singing, stinging style on a guitar he had bolted together from spare parts – he then set about inventing a range of techniques to exploit this impossible tone: string-tapping (and all its variants), harmonics, extreme use of the tremolo (or whammy) bar, etc.

All of this would have been ignored had not Van Halen carried it off with enormous musicality, humour and excitement (and David Lee Roth). Van Halen launched several armadas of truly awful guitarists (and some utter genii, such as Living Colour’s Vernon Reid) – and this is the rub with shred-metal guitar: How much is technique and how much is feeling?

Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion hosted three of the greatest living exponents of shred-metal guitar on Friday at the end of March. Touring as G3, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Steve Lukather treated the converted to almost four hours of fervent worship at the church of St Eddie.

Steve Lukather, a musical polymath who made his name with 70s soft rockers TOTO was up first. Despite being paired with Satriani and Vai for this tour, Lukather’s style is rooted more in the blues-jazz fusion style of guitarists such as Frank Gambale. He is one hell of a guitar player with a pedigree longer than most. Working through funk-rock and blues-metal material with his band, he laid out some gorgeous pre-Van Halen flavours with more than enough technique and flash for the shredheads.

Next up was the remarkable Steve Vai. Vai was discovered by Frank Zappa who first used him as a music transcriber and later for ‘Strat abuse’ on several 80s albums. (Long time Zappa keysman, Mike Keneally was also in Vai’s crack band tonight). A restless creative soul, Steve Vai is equally loved and loathed for his extreme technique and left-field personal philosophies. A contemporary and pupil of Joe Satriani, he has taken even Satriani’s extremes to the extreme. Eye-poppingly flash from the first note, Vai played hits from across his oeuvre – his rendition of the ballad ‘For the Love of God’ was proof that under all that dizzying space-circus acrobatics his musicality is beyond question: the arc of his solo was perfect in shape and utterly spiritual in voice. And the wonderful thing about a true virtuoso such as Steve Vai is they never appear to run out of places to go. I saw God, while the hairy gent beside me muttered “Fuck, he goes off”. Such is the appeal of Steve Vai.

Also, such is the over-egged nature of Vai’s style that when the true shred-master of the three guitarists, Joe Satriani, hit the stage, he seemed a little tame. But by the end of ‘Satch Boogie’ – a monster slice of metal-funk from his startling 1987 album Surfing with the Alien – Joe had put your head right. Satriani, more than any other guitar player has been instrumental (pun intended) in widening the Van Halen palette – a hugely popular artist, producer and teacher, he has spread the righteous word for years. It is worth looking beyond the amazing runs and unearthly fretwork at his music – this man studied with blind jazz-wizard Lennie Tristano, after all.

The G3 gig finished, as they all do (G3 has been an institution in rock guitar since 1996) with a series of triple-guitar jams. The Zappa connection continued with opening jam, FZ’s ‘My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama’ – but cramming three larger-than-life guitarists into the same song can’t really work on any truly musical level. By the time the three had gang-banged Jimi Hendrix’s delicate and spacey ‘Little Wing’ to death, I was gone.

But what do I know? Everyone there utterly loved it – after all, excess is a key ingredient in this music – and went crazy for it. I am sure my hairy friend would agree that they fuckin’ went off. And they did.

Check out Katja Liebing’s great shots of the G3 show here

Also check Katja Liebing’s site here

Published April 2012 on theorangepress.net

Guitarist, composer, producer and visionary, Michael Rother was a founding member of the bands NEU! and Harmonia, and a founding member of Kraftwerk. A collaborator with Brian Eno (and almost David Bowie) his musical vision – one of minimal elements, yet great beauty – has coloured, directly or indirectly, post 70s rock music indelibly.

Michael and his trio will be playing Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne in March, en route to a solo performance at the I’ll Be Your Mirror festival in Japan.

In the lead up to Michael’s Australian shows, I spoke to Michael on the line from Germany, on behalf of The Orange Press:

TheOrangePress: I’ll just go back the beginning. You met Ralf Hütter (with whom Rother formed Kraftwerk) when you worked together in a psychiatric hospital, and you jammed… You were interested in removing all the Blues from your music. Why was that?

Michael Rother: That was one element really. The main objective was to steer away from copying clichés that had influenced me in the years before, and to develop my own musical personality. One element which did not belong to my musical background – the history of central European music – was the element of Blues, which was what some of my musical heroes in the mid-60s were following, like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. Growing up – at 18, 19 and 20 – thinking about my developing my own musical identity, being an individual and not a copy of somebody else, that’s when the necessity of leaving the Blues elements behind became strong. It’s simple to say Blues, but it was more than just Blues that had to be dropped.

TOP: Yes, the whole American thing?

MR: Well, all of the pop and rock music clichés. That sounds very ambitious and I know I wasn’t modest, but you have to aim high to change… to arrive at something new.

TOP: Well, you certainly did do that. You changed music forever I think by just doing that reasonably simple thing. With Kraftwerk and NEU! you worked with (producer and engineer) Conny Plank, whom you’ve said very nice things about. How did Conny Plank help shape your music?

MR: In the beginning I had no idea of studio technology – I was just a musician and Conny was an experienced engineer. That was one of the big qualities he brought along – he had so much talent, and he was obviously just as interested as we were in following crazy ideas… of created something different to what was around. And so we were natural allies in that respect. It was amazing and inspiring to watch Conny at work at the mixing desk. He had of course developed strong ideas of how to record the drums, for instance … he talked quite often about how to record drums. What amazed me was his capability of picking up our ideas, before we were able to actually express them. It was an intuitive process – that was very important because both (NEU! co-member) Klaus Dinger and I and later Roedelius, Moebius and I in Harmonia we had very strong ideas about what the music was to be, so we were not looking for someone to play an instrument (Conny also played instruments but in other projects). He knew that we were not looking for a different musician to play with us… his capabilities for organising our sounds were amazing. There were many situations when he added ideas to the recording process. Something I remember clearly was when he turned around the tape, when I recorded ‘Hallogallo’ (from NEU!’s first album) overdubs, and that really inspired me – I loved backwards guitars, even today I use loopers; I’m concentrating on playing live guitars with loopers. One of the most fascinating elements is the possibility of turning the music around, so it plays backwards. If you know Jimi Hendrix’s music, that is something we have in common…

TOP: Yes, and the Beatles… very much so. You mentioned Harmonia (Rother’s collaboration with Cluster members Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius) – what did Brian Eno contribute to Harmonia? Did he just drop in and out, or was he ever a member as such?

MR: Well, of course there is a lot of information that is not quite accurate on the internet about that. I’ll just tell you the story how everything developed. Harmonia played a concert in Hamburg in 1974. Brian Eno was in the first row, and he listened to us – we actually even jammed a little bit in the second half of the concert, and then we invited him to visit us. What impressed us was he told us he was quite aware of our music – he knew a lot of NEU!, Cluster and Harmonia – and at the time was talking to other British musicians about us, and exchanging records and discussing our ideas with them – for instance David Bowie. We invited Brian to visit us, just to play with us and exchange ideas further – and that took two years! He arrived in ’76, and by that time Harmonia didn’t exist anymore; we had separated in early Summer of ’76. We told him that’s the situation, but of course please come and visit us – and we got together again and the four of us ended up in the studio, jamming. We spent 10, 11 or 12 days just jamming – not really trying to record an album, but it was just the joy of creating without any pressure. That was the meeting of Harmonia and Brian Eno, that was all. He went away with several tapes full of music that we did; I had a four-track machine at the time –each of us had a track of their own – and Brian took the tapes with him. Actually he was on the way to record with David Bowie – I think that was Low – and the idea was for Brian to return but that didn’t happen. My first solo album came out in early ’77, and Brian returned to Conny’s studio to record with Cluster, so it all went a different way. So much was happening in such a short span of time.

TOP: You were going to play on (David Bowie’s) Heroes, weren’t you? What happened there?

MR: Well, that’s a mysterious story, because, at the time – just to give you a short version – I had phone calls with I think three or four different people. The first one was a secretary calling on behalf of David, asking me whether I was interested in working with David. Then I spoke with David for a long time – that was the second call – and everything was fine: he was totally enthusiastic about the idea of collaborating, and I was willing to do that, talking about the details of the production, etc. Then a third person called me, to talk about money, and I was in a way, maybe naïve or very hippiesque (laughs). I told him not to worry about the money; as long as the music we do is great, there will not be a problem – that was my attitude, and more or less this is still my attitude these days. I mean money is important, to get it right, but music has to be the first thing on your mind if you collaborate and not the third or fourth. And then the fourth person called me to tell me that David had changed his mind, and that I wasn’t needed. And then 30 years passed, and I read interviews David Bowie was giving in the UK – I think UNCUT was the first I noticed – where he was saying I turning him down, which was strange because that was not true. Anyway, David contributed a quote when we re-released NEU! in 2001 and we exchanged messages. So I guess it’s just my conclusion because there is this contradiction in memory – David thinking that I turning him down, and my recollection of it being quite different. You know that David Bowie’s experimental phase when it started in the ‘70s was not popular with the fans and the record company – sales were going down, Low was not doing well, and maybe there were some people in his environment – management, record company – who were afraid of David following that experimental path even further and adding another crazy guy like me to the session. So maybe somebody decided to protect David from himself. But I have no proof of that theory.

TOP: It’s very interesting that both Low and the NEU! albums were not commercially great but they have been so amazingly influential in the fullness of historical time. With Krautrock – I don’t really like that term – or rather, German experimental rock music, Jaki Leibziet from CAN played on your first four solo albums…

MR: I’m grateful you don’t like that expression (Krautrock) because I don’t either…

TOP: I think it’s horrible. It’s very derogatory in my opinion – I’ve never liked it at all. But I was thinking about all the German experimental groups of the time: NEU! and Kraftwerk were very different from bands like Amon Düül and CAN, in my opinion. Did you feel as if NEU! was very different, or were you all going for the same sort of thing?

MR: Of course I preferred to think that we were very different, because that was of course my aim – trying to create a music that was completely independent, not only from my musical past but also completely different from what anybody else was doing. There was not a feeling of a collective of German musicians that were doing the same thing. And to be quite honest, apart from the musicians I collaborated with, I wasn’t very much interested in what was happening in Germany either. I think there are very big differences in the music of NEU! and Amon Düül and Faust. I didn’t really listen to what they were doing – I was fascinated by the Kraftwerk people, Klaus Dinger, the Cluster guys, and that was the music I wanted to create. But of course, if you look at the musical scene in Germany from far away, like from the Moon…

TOP: …or even Australia (laughs).

MR: (Laughs) No that’s not far away… Things move closer together. So if you compare us to the Beatles, or other classical music, or folk music, or Deep Purple or something like that then of course the ‘family’ of German music of the ‘70s does have something in common maybe, something more like a spirit. I think I prefer to leave the finding of differences to journalists and other people; it may sound a bit big-headed if I try.

TOP: On your 1983 solo album Lust, you made it entirely solo on a Fairlight (synthesizer), but you seem to generally like to work with a band and other musicians. Do you prefer to work with a band?

MR: We are talking about a process of 40 years already. First, you experience a certain situation… you have to react to circumstances. That was the case in ’71 when Klaus Dinger and I decided to start the project NEU! as a duo, which was strange because, as we found out later, it was obvious we couldn’t play as a duo live… it was possible to record an album together with the help of multi-track machines. And later on, my solo albums were very popular in Germany; they sold a lot of copies and I was able to buy all the studio gear, the professional recording gear. I was completely happy to spend weeks and months – and years even – in my studio developing music. That was a dream come true for a musician, to have all those machines. Then the situation changed again with the arrival of notebook computers – in the late ‘90s it was possible to present interesting music onstage without a band, so I started collaborating with Dieter Moebius again, and we did several tours around the world. Parallel to this development the situation changed as our music… it had to do with the internet I guess: the world got smaller and I sudden started to find out about other musicians who knew my music, bands like Stereolab or Sonic Youth, and later on (The Red Hot) Chilli Peppers for instance, and Secret Machines. It was a new situation and I met musicians I liked and there was opportunity to collaborate. This has been the situation for the last 12 years or so, and I started enjoying playing live much more. In the ‘80s I wasn’t interested in playing live; I was fascinated by the studio atmosphere and the possibilities of sound creation with the Fairlight computer. Do you know that this (the Fairlight synthesizer) came from Australia?

TOP: Yes I do, that’s right.

MR: It was a great machine, and at the time I was so thrilled I spent months researching and trying to work with its very complicated software. Lust was the first album that was created on the Fairlight, mostly. Maybe I overdid it but it was wonderful for me to write music and let the machine play music that I couldn’t play with my limitations on the keyboard. And to create and integrate sounds that, before the arrival of the Fairlight computer, were not available for my music – I would have had to ask an orchestra to play. The sampling technology in the early ‘80s was a bit different from nowadays – it was 8-bit and it sounded like 8-bit. Nowadays people sometimes use the 8-bit limitations to create a certain effect… but at the time I was so thrilled by that machine. Nowadays it is the meeting with other musicians that sometimes really inspires me, like two years ago when I did all the concerts with my project, Hallogallo with Pete Shelley and Aaron Mullen… and last year I met a young band from Germany called Camera – we jammed twice – and we will be doing some live appearances this year. We are booked for a festival in Athens and we are talking about going to Russia as well, so this will be a very colourful year I think.

TOP: That’s wonderful. And you are coming to Australia in March.

MR: Yes, this is what I am preparing for right now. I’ll be in Japan for a solo concert that just came up recently. Jim Rourke, in the early days he was a member of Sonic Youth, he lives in Japan – I think he even grew up in Japan – we both did a concert in Yamaguchi in Japan last year. So we met there. He was invited by ATP (All Tomorrow’s Parties) to curate one of the two days of the I’ll Be Your Mirror festival in Japan, so he invited me to play there. The first step is the Australian tour with Dieter Moebius and Hans Lampe, which will the first time that this collaboration will come together on stage.

TOP: That will be fantastic. With Dieter Moebius, after all this time. That will be wonderful; I am very much looking forward to it.

MR: There was no chance to rehearse, but I know exactly what Dieter Moebius is capable of creating on the spot. So I am preparing the ‘backbone’ of the music, and I rely on Dieter adding special colours and spices to the music – that’s what he’s really great at: he can pick up the situation and come up with crazy ideas. I look forward to that experiment very much.

Published February 2012 on theorangepress.net