Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Divine Wind: The Best Rock and Jazz Flute Pieces Ever

Flute 1996
Mad Dog tries to impress gullible bystanders with his overblowing technique, London, c1996.
For more years than I care to remember I've owned a flute with the idea that one day I'll be a jazz musician. Currently it's rusting away in my study and the way things are going I probably won't get time to reintroduce myself to it until retirement. Anyway I've always loved this instrument so when Josephine in Brussels enquired if I knew any examples of the flute being used in rock music I thought this would make a great topic for a post. Specifically she asked: "...I'm looking for pop and rock where the flute gets nice solos as a part of the whole piece next to vocals and guitars etc...."

Well Josephine, your question is excellent and I don't know if have the answer. In the 70's there was quite a bit of progessive rock and jazz fusion music that featured the flute. In the 60's there was some great jazz. Jethro Tull (we're not worthy) is just about the only band to have featured the flute consistently as a lead instrument in a large portfolio of eclectic music for the past 40 years. So from the top of my head, here are ten artists that might meet your criteria (note that the flute part does not appear until quite far into these pieces -be patient).

Soft Machine: Facelift
This clip is Part II of this piece. It's circa 1970. You might want to find Part I also (there's no flute but it's great) -I always thought this band was very underrated.

John Coltrane: My Favourite Things
Fan-bloody-tastic 1961 classic by the tenor sax master. The most excellent Eric Dolphy takes the flute solo.

Barbara Thompson: The Adventures of Water
At Ronnie Scotts club in the mid-80's. Possibly not the most exciting song in BT's repertoire but her only performance on YouTube featuring her playing the flute.

Quintessence: Giants
Ah, Quintessence. Possibly the British equivalent of the Grateful Dead but with loads more talent and much more exciting (I've seen both bands live). Filmed at the second Glastonbury Festival, 1971, and a lot more interesting to watch than the wretched Amy Winehouse punching a fan (I wonder if she'll be Dame Amy in 40 years' time?).

John Mayall: Dream with Me
Offering from the bluesmeister from 1970. The brilliant Johnny Almond is on flute.

King Crimson: Court of the Crimson King
Super lead vocals and guitar by the peerless Greg Lake, c1969. Flute by Ian McDonald (I think).

Yusef Lateef : Love theme from The Robe
Perhaps my favourite jazz flute piece ever. Elegant simplicity.

Rahassan Roland Kirk: Serenade to a Cuckoo
All time classic from amazing multi-instrumentalist, the late RRK.

Jethro Tull: Bouree
I couldn't write a piece on the flute without mentioning Ian Anderson et al. The above solo is from a performance in 1976 but this one is contemporary.

Bullitt: Soundtrack
The flute pyrotechnics in this piece impressed me as much as Steve McQueen's driving when I first saw this movie (was it really 40 years ago?). In more recent years I've been told that the composer-jazz musician, Lalo Schifrin, actually played the flute part and that the female hottie in the scene was just "acting" (this story may be apocryphal as I'm not aware that Mr Schifrin is a flautist). I think the bass player is Charlie Mingus doing a cameo -can anybody confirm this?

Josephine, I hope that one or more of these pieces may fit your bill. As you mentioned the lyrical Moody Blues and the attacking Focus I haven't cited them again here. Besides I think I've written about them in other posts. Other bands featuring the flute you might explore include the eccentric Stackridge (now reformed), Audience, Blodwyn Pig, If and Ginger Baker's Airforce. And Herbie Mann should be in there too. All offerings from the 1960's and 70's I'm afraid but I'm not aware of any modern bands playing this instrument.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Dead Person Watch: Cyd Charisse

I must apologise on several fronts. First, the paucity of recent post has been due to several rather challenging events on the personal front (don't ask, I'm not going to bore you with the details) that have depleted my time and reduced my energy levels. Second, today's post is yet another YouTube clip (these things become shiny in the seat of the trousers very quickly) and third, today's topic is about another unfortunate demise -sometimes I think this site specialises in obituaries, but then I would be remiss to not remark on the passing of the totally wonderful Cyd Charisse who is now dancing in the clouds. And if you are not convinced of her talent by the above excerpt from On an Island with You take a look at this exquisite piece from Silk Stockings.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

News Roundup

Surprisingly, newly elected Mayor and Tory buffoon, Boris Johnson’s first act in power was to do something of which I wholeheartedly approve, namely banning the consumption of alcohol on public transport. Back in the dark days of the mid 1990s I actually contacted the office of London Transport to suggest this after witnessing a late night encounter with an aggressive drunk on the Tube (my protestations didn’t have much effect). Surprisingly there was a lot of resistance to Boris’ legislation and on Saturday a large number of individuals decided to hold a party on the Circle Line to show that they could drink responsibly. And what did they do? They started fighting, abusing LT staff, vomiting and trashing the carriages. I rest my case.

Dunkin Donuts
So junk food purveyor, Dunkin Donuts, has pulled an advertisement featuring celebrity cook and pitchperson, Rachael Ray, because she was wearing a scarf that resembled an arab keffiyeh. The campaign against the scarf was largely orchestrated by strident right winger, Michelle Malkin (no, I won't provide a link) who referred to Ray's scarf as "a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos". If this McCarthyist nonsense from a vicious harpy wasn't enough, Dunkin Donuts actually caved in and dropped the ad, presumably because they didn't want to offend customers with racist tendencies. Well DD you've certainly offended me with your spineless stance and I will make every effort to never darken your doorways again.

Max Mosley
What ever happened to honour? Or shame? Max Mosley, president of motorsport's governing body, the FIA, and son of fascist leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, has survived a vote of confidence after being participating in a Nazi style orgy and frequenting prostitues. After being caught quite literally with his pants down what does he do? He hires a legal team and goes on the attack and sues News of the World (a scurillous rag but not always wrong). There was a time when individuals resigned in these situations. And aside from the revolting Max, who are these people who gave him a positive vote of confidence? I presume it's all about money. Well until the FIA elects a new president I'm going to suspend watching F1 races (ok, I don't suppose anyone is quaking in their [jack] boots by that threat but it's about the best I can do).

Bo Diddley: 1928-2008

RIP -you were the greatest and copied by just about everybody. How we loved that clave beat and that twangy Gretsch guitar, too.