Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Memo from Planet Jazz.........

Yes, just when you think you've seen it all - here comes "Empire Jazz". Well, this is a side of Chewbaca I just never knew! Watch out McCoy Tyner! And just dig R2D2 rockin' those beats! C'mon - you know you would have picked this up if you saw it. The cover alone was worth the $3 I paid for this thing. But what also got my attention was the list of musicians involved on the back cover:
Wow! The cream of jazz royalty paying tribute to Star Wars (or cashing in - who can tell)? One thing I was certain of - there must be some good playing happening on this record. So I bought it, brought it home and................was pleasantly surprised! Side One was a little iffy - "The Asteroid Field" is a bossa-nova of all things. But Side Two has some really tasteful playing going on. I really enjoyed hearing more from trumpeter Jon Faddis. He was a young guy when he joined Charles Mingus in the 70s - just about anybody that spent time playing in Mingus's band is worth hearing and Faddis is no exception. Apparently this has never made an official appearance on CD, but I made sure I made a "needle-drop" since I'm going to find an LP cover frame and give the record to my stepson who loves all things Star Wars. It was so funny I had to get it for him, but I wanted to hear the music first. And the music is not anywhere near as cheesy as the cover might convince you otherwise. Figures that Robert Stigwood would see the value in releasing this kind of project - did it make more money for him than the Sgt. Pepper movie with Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees?
From the blatantly commercial to the blatantly mystical................
Here's a record released ten years prior to "Empire Jazz" - also featuring Billy Cobham on drums. This album has been re-released many times over the years. The copy I have was issued by Rykodisc in the late 1980s on clear vinyl (in its analog incarnation).
Side One is mainly solo acoustic guitar workouts by McLaughlin (starting with a very nice rendition of "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"). There's some overdubbing going on here, but the end result is tasteful and quite expressive. I have to say this kind of playing sounds pretty singular to my ears. Thoughtful, meditative and expressive. I always enjoyed John McLaughlin - electric or otherwise. Maybe he's a bit more "cerebral" in his aesthetic, but there is a real fire to his approach that is uplifting to hear. Side Two features two ensemble pieces with some great soprano sax work from Dave Liebman. I wonder if this is where Miles Davis heard of him - Liebman would be a steady fixture of Miles' early to mid 70s bands - before the late 70s "retirement" phase.

I've had this record since forever, but the past few nights I've been spinning it quite a few times. The vinyl pressing is really nice - and it's sure fun to look at and handle. Some folks will claim that records pressed on anything but black vinyl are somehow inferior to standard black, but this record proves otherwise (as do some other clear vinyl LPs I have in the collection). It still all comes down to mastering and cutting practices. Colored vinyl can be as pleasing sonically as black vinyl. The only advantage to black vinyl is it does tend to show scratches (when present) moreso than other colors - buying used colored vinyl can be a real crap-shoot for that reason. But if the record is new there should be no wear and as long as you take care of it there should be no problem. And these suckers sure can look cool........
Whether it runs the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime - jazz is jazz is jazz or is that to say - just improvised-upon music from whatever dimension you like so long as its rooted in the blues - but that could be the American Blues or Eastern European Blues or Brazillian Blues or Japanese Blues..............its all music. Townes Van Zandt broke music down to two categories: "Zippidy Doo Dah" and THE BLUES. So there you go. I don't care what you call it, just don't call me late for dinner. Bright Moments!

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