Friday, August 28, 2015

(I'm) Here, There and Everywhere

Alec Dankworth at work at the Love Supreme jazz festival, Glynde, Sussex, last month. Surely one of the finest bass pluckers of his generation.
With apologies to Lennon & McCartney, but one of the reasons for my paucity of posts here is that I'm spending more time over at Twitter, these days.  Its 140 character limit seems to suit my overly-burdened grey matter as well as my ever increasing interest in music photography/photoblogging. So until the next story, here's a nice pic of the excellent Alec Dankworth I snapped at the Love Supreme jazz festival last month.  Ci verdiamo!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Rock 'n' Roll Diaries: Curved Air

Back in 1972, British prog rock was at its peak. I was an undergraduate student and and heavily involved with my university's Rag and Entertainment Committees.  A perk of these duties was that I got to see many great bands and meet cool and interesting people. One of the standout groups that we hired for a Students' Union concert was Curved Air.  They were a genteel bunch of classically trained musicians who could rock like a hurricane  Now fast forward 43 years. The band is still going strong, albeit with a few personnel changes, and hasn't forgotten how to boogie. I was fortunate to find them performing in a church (of all places) in the heart of stock-broker belt Surrey a couple of months back. The years had not diminished them one bit and they gave a fantastic performance. Here's a few pics.

The band is fronted by founder member Sonja Kristina. That Washburn guitar has the best paint job ever.
Sonja's voice has matured and lost none of its crystalline clarity over the years.
Yehudi Menuhin school alum, Paul Sax, plays a demonic electric violin.
Chris Harris on bass. On this occasion he really held the band together as founder drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa was taken ill and couldn't play.
A church seemed like an odd place for a gig but actually worked really well. 
Paul and Sonja look pleased and relieved to finish the set without mishap in the absence of  their drummer.

Monday, June 29, 2015

48 Years Ago Today: Flute Thing performed by The Blues Project

I wish I'd captured this video clip. Or attended the concert.  But forty eight years ago today* I was 6000 miles away from California and sweating with the burden of academic endeavour. Specifically I was a  high school student in the UK taking my "O" levels in chemistry and other subjects. From my teenage perspective, leafy Surrey seemed like a boring and uncool location.  I was starting to become very aware of music and realised that the American scene was the happening place. (At least it was for awhile, but I won't digress now.)  Quite naturally the socio-cultural aspects of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival seemed a lot more interesting than prosaic regurgitations of the Haber Process and Hook's Law. So just why was this particular performance so notable? Let me explain...

Back in the day, the Monterey Festivals showcased many cutting edge acts that subsequently become milestones in the development of rock music.  Jimi Hendrix, the Mammas and Pappas, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and The Who were just a few of the luminaries that graced the stage at the county fairgrounds site. And then there was The Blues Project.  Never heard of them? Well neither had I until about six weeks ago when I chanced upon the above clip on YT.   This shameful lacuna of ignorance is particularly unforgivable on my part as (i) I fancy myself as a bit of a rock music historian and (ii) since my youth (1967 as it happens) I've been fascinated by the flute as an instrument in pop and rock music.  Well sadly The Blues Project are one of the most undeservedly unheard bands of all time.  Why?  Well, probably because they only lasted a couple of years with some of the band members (notably Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield) jumping ship to achieve recognition elsewhere.  But in those two years the band produced the gem in the vid clip above.  So what's the big deal?  Well I'll tell you. Five decades ago, only a few slightly masochistic jazz musicians played flute in the arena of popular music. Usually it was a novelty instrument brought out to make a change from relentless sax solos or to lead saccharine-sweet pop songs. Perhaps the first mainstream pop-prog band that used flute as a frontline instrument was The Moody Blues with Nights in White Satin.  However despite the undoubted appeal of NIWS it can't, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered jazz-rock-blues fusion. That accolade can be claimed by the mighty Jethro Tull who had their breakout concert until August 1968 but didn't really achieve wide recognition until 1969. Other woodwind-powered bands, Focus, Quintessence, King Crimson et al. all followed. The point I'm hopefully succeeding in making here is that back in 1967, The Blues Project, featuring the excellent Andy Kulberg, were way ahead of the pack with their use of flute in rock music and should be given appropriate credit. A particularly interesting aspect of the late Mr Kulberg's playing is the integration of electronics, in this case a directly miced-up flute and an Echoplex tape delay, to produce some wonderful psychedelic effects.

Anyway, watch the vid and enjoy this pioneering band.

* I wrote the draft of this post on 18th June 2015 but due to some quirk with Blogger I failed to get it to publish until today (29th June). Annoying but whateva!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Ageing Process

One of the correlates of encroaching geriatric numptitude is when one tries to drop a piece of rubbish vertically and at point blank range into a trash can and the said item of detritus misses. This has happened to me twice already today! Sad!  So I felt duly inspired to write a piece on ageing only to find that my daughter had just beaten me to it.  Probably a familial telepathy thing.  However there is no doubt that she completely outclasses me in terms of capturing the essence of the process.  Consider:

"If you're 97 and you die on the dance floor in Ibiza because you sniffed too much cocaine at a foam party, you're forever a legend. If you do the same thing at age 22 you're unlucky at best, and most likely a moron."

What more can I say? Molto bene!

Read the whole thing here at Viv la Liv.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Musical Postcards: Mitch Dalton and the Studio Kings

Pizza Express, Soho, London, W1. One of the best jazz venues in the UK (and, no, they are not paying me to write this!).
Recently, I bumped into old friend, Mitch Dalton, at the Pizza Express, Soho. His band, the Studio Kings, were on fine form. Indeed I haven't enjoyed a guitar-led jazz combo this much in ages.  Mitch describes his music as "smooth jazz". I don't think I agree as I usually equate the term with "muzak", "elevator music" or, Heaven forbid, Kenny G.  The Kings gave some highly original takes on several jazz standards including the Coltrane classic, Giant Steps as well as On Green Dolphin Street popularized by Miles Davis. The band's own Shuffle Kerfuffle was also a stand out piece. Nothing insipid here! Indeed the quality of musicianship was truly world class: over the course of the evening Mitch and the lads showed they could hop, skip and jump with the best of them. Most of the time they were melodic, nimble and quick but could segue into solid-as-fudge rock licks when required.  Great stuff! Do catch them if you get a chance.

Mitch Dalton and the Studio Kings (Mitch Dalton, guitar; David Arch, Keys; Steve Pearce, bass; Brett Morgan, drums) at the Pizza Express, Soho, London.

Mitch Dalton lays down some great grooves: he's a flawless player capable of playing many styles of music.
The incomparable David Arch on keys. Dave was moonlighting from his regular gig as musical director of Strictly Come Dancing.
Steve Pearce on bass was brilliant. He's played with just about everybody and can get some amazingly subtle sounds out of his Fender bass.

Mitch's style reminds me of Lee Ritenour playing with American jazz giants, Fourplay

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Musical Postcards: Viper's Dream

A consequence of my recent, rather breathless, world travels has meant that I'm way behind on my posts. I caught this lively bunch in the UK in the autumn of last year. The band's name is taken from a Django Reinhardt tune and they emphasize the resurgence and continued popularity of the the gypsy jazz genre. Some of my earliest memories of jazz were of my Dad playing a Quintet of the Hot Club of France LP on our home gramophone and I guess I've been imprinted with an avid liking of the stuff ever since. Encore!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Demon Stalking

"Shoki creeping up on hidden demon" Ryakuga Yoshitoshi, 1839-1892

I came across this marvelous Japanese ukiyo-e period woodblock recently. It's full of stealth, hidden menace, bravery and allegorical suggestion. Love it! Now where's my katana...?