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Monday, July 30, 2012

Desert Island Albums V Weather Report Mysterious Traveller

Weather Report
Mysterious Traveller

As reflected in the portraits on the back of the album, Mysterious Traveller finds Weather Report in a of transition. Out went long-term member percussionist Dom Um Romao and co-founder bassist Miroslav Vitous whose presence on the album was confined to the poignant American Tango. In came young gun Alphonso Johnson whose funkier muscularity when it came to a groove was more in keeping with Zawinul's new musical direction.  

A change in the line-up wasn't the only signal for a change in attitude. Whereas the previous album Sweetnighter had largely been a studio version of what they'd been doing live, much in the manner of the rock bands of the day, Mysterious Traveller saw them integrate electronics and the aural possibilities which multi-track recording offered often to dazzling effect. 

As eclectic as it is electric, Zawinul’s racing Nubian Sundance is baited with numerous memorable synth-lines, each one better than the last, dangled between riotous squalls of percussion. Shorter’s penetrating breaks, a quintet of chanting singers, sampled cheering crowds, whose frenzied applause is detonated at strategic points, and the frantic pace, all mark this track a high point in their career.

At the other end of the scale, the title track is a calmer but no less assertive affair. Bookended by the eerie drift of strange atmospherics, the complex rhythm, laid down simultaneously by drummers Skip Hadden and Ishmael Wilburn, when combined reduces down to an irresistible skipping groove across which, Shorter plays one of the best solos on the album.   

Brimming with the kind of vigour that comes from knowing that you're on a roll, every piece catapults the group into new highs. Moving seamlessly between the funk-fest grooves of Cucumber Slumber, the quicksilver piano and sax improv Blackthorn Rose and the menacing bite of Scarlet Woman, this is the sound of the slate being wiped clean in preparation for a new phase in their development. 

Less oblique and cerebral than previous works, Mysterious Traveller is more direct than anything that preceded it.  Charged with emotion, along with the bobbing acoustic piano of Jungle Book, we hear the sounds of Zawinul’s children. With the main piano theme recorded on cassette at home, their yelps of laughter and protest as they want their dad to read them a story, merge beautifully with the tender melody. It's simply impossible to listen to this track without a huge smile on your face. 

Breaking with their past and producing something that left just about everyone in the field trying to figure out how it was done, though it’s probably a crass comparison, Mysterious Traveller is in effect Weather Report’s Sgt. Pepper’s.

Whitley Bay Daily Photo CCXII

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Away They Go

I'm an early riser in any event ( see this morning's Street Life selection) but I was also up and about this morning to see Debra and Alys off. They are headed down to Wales for a few days to see Debbie's father. Before the taxi arrived the two of us took a moment to soak up the view...

We are joined by Alys who was up at about 4.30 a.m. in excited anticipation of today's journeying first to Newcastle, then to Ilkley to hook up with Sam, Jo and Aurora, and then all of them down to Wales...

Bye-bye two of the most important women in my life!

Street Life CCLVIII (including Yellow Room Prelude XI)

Whitley Bay Daily Photo CCX

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thank You, Fiona!

Well, my gaster is well and truly flabbered. On last night's edition of BBC Radio 3's Late Junction, presenter Fiona Talkington gave me this rather nice shout-out prior to introducing a track by A Presença das Formigas, whose album I reviewed for Prog and featured a track of theirs on this recent podcast.

It's not every day (or night) you get such a lovely, supportive mention on the radio. To say I feel rather chuffed would be a very serious understatement indeed. Needless to say my big fat head is even bigger and fatter than normal. Thank you, Fiona!

You can listen to the Late Junction episode here.

Spectrum Road

Spectrum Road
Spectrum Road

Musical tributes can be a tricky business. Some opt for a kind of historical re-enactment where period costumes, vintage instruments and all the notes are recreated in forensic detail. Others attempt to honour the spirit of the original without subsuming or compromising their own musical personality. Either can be tough to pull off convincingly but Spectrum Road, opting for the latter approach, do so brilliantly.

Tony Williams’ Lifetime was so bold an experiment in bolting jazz and rock together, the first two albums, Emergency and Turn It Over retain their white-hot, inventive force despite the passage of over 40 years.

Admittedly the involvement of Jack Bruce, with his direct links to Lifetime, provides something of an inside track. Yet one suspects that even without his considerable presence, Vernon Reid, Cindy Blackman and John Medeski would have done the job justice in any event.

Lifetime was often a ragged, effusive, difficult-to-control beast of a band without much in the way of smooth polish which other jazz-rock outfits who followed would increasingly apply to their music. Though Reid’s amped-up rock-out style is busier and more mobile than than anything John McLaughlin played during his tenure in Lifetime, it shares the same that thrilling degree of utter conviction. 

His style is perhaps a metaphor for the ferocious immediacy of this whole recording. In their hurry to capture the performances, the almost carefree roughness of sound and texture evokes the headlong briskness to be found on early Lifetime recordings.

Nothing is polished or smooth here and that’s exactly as it should be.

At 69, and in nimble, understated form on the bass, Bruce’s soulful burr breathes life into There Comes A Time, while the haunting gaelic ballad An t-Eilan Muileach, provides a calm shelter from the tumultuous waves which gather elsewhere. 

John Medeski’s constantly percolating keyboards carefully shade and subtly shape the riot around him. Those mysterious vapours emanating from Larry Young’s Hammond are here re-imagined by incandescent slurring Mellotron, adding an psych-like flavour to the turbulent melange.

Being the drummer in any band that celebrates Tony Williams is always going to be a tough gig. Yet any attempt to compare Cindy Blackman’s evident command of the brief becomes a waste of valuable time that’s better spent appreciating her ability to hone down into the groove. She takes up the spooky disembodied vocal line originally sung by Williams in 1969 on the enigmatic Where, transforming it into a tender remembrance of someone gone way before their time. 

Whitley Bay Daily Photo CCVIII

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Room Of One's Own

Debbie finished school on Friday and, as is her long-standing custom, is heading off down to Birmingham to spend time with our pals Neil and Halina. The weather was gorgeous and although this pic of Deb in the garden is an enhanced snap off the phone, the sunlight really was lovely and vibrant (or maybe it's just the joy of being off work for six weeks emanating from Debra!)...

I went into town with her to see her off at Central Station in Newcastle. Usually there's a gale force wind blowing through the concourse but this morning it was decidedly pleasant, despite the impression given via this phone snap...

Coffee and farewell kisses delivered, I headed out into Neville Street...

and into the Lit & Phil...

It's been an age since I was last in this lovely building. As I sit in my spot I can feel the batteries recharging. I know I say that every time I'm hear but it's true.

Every now and then I bump into a fellow Lit & Phil member I know. Today it was Tom. We were work and political colleagues back in the day.

Tom, like me, finds the Lit & Phil a wonderful place to work and think. Now retired, he's been working on an extensive family history as well as undertaking some freelance research for other writers.

One of my fondest memories is off sitting with my feet in Tom's bath after a particularly grueling day's canvassing during the general election of 1992.

After catching up with Tom and some more work, I left the Lit & Phil to have a cuppa with Bernard in his new studio.

 Bernard's never quite managed to get on with his painting at home and has wanted his own studio space for quite some time. Now he's been and gone and done it...

He tells me the discipline of leaving home, getting on the Metro to go and paint has been incredibly helpful in lifting his game.

I sometimes wonder if my own productivity wouldn't benefit from a more formal environment. I'm pretty lucky to be able to have a big office with a great view and if I didn't I'd be wanting somewhere like Bernard's space.

Street Life CCLVII


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