Billy Joel is at the core of how I tend to relate to pop/rock music. A Bronx native, Joel’s music career was less inspired by his father being a classically trained pianist than in his mother pushing him into taking piano lessons. This cost him the credits to graduate from high school-playing in a piano bar just a bit too long so it seems-trying to earn money to support his family. He eventually joined up with a band called The Hassles. He and the bands drummer Jon Small ended up forming Atilla and releasing one album in 1970. After the duo broke up,he began his solo career with the 1971 album Cold Spring Harbor.
As his music developed,particularly after early hits such as “Piano Man” and “Captain Jack” after being signed to Columbia,Joel’s sound began to take on even stronger elements of the Broadway show tune and pre rock jazz styled pop that had always been an influence on him. This culminated in his 1977 release The Stranger,produced by the late Phil Ramone. Its followup 52 Street was part of my moms 8 track collection. And upped the jazz influences even higher. One song from the album that stood out for me on that particular musical end is a tune called “Zanzibar”.
After an opening piano flourish, Joel is dueting with himself on both a melodic and a bass piano arpeggio-with Liberty DeVito’s drums keeping in time with the rhythmic piano for the refrains. Dancing around this are a high electric piano and round bass line. The chorus returns to the more rhythmic piano style and bursts of rock guitar from Steve Khan. Joel duets with piano and a backwards keyboard loop before the bridge goes into a straight swinging bop jazz arrangement with Freddie Hubbard soloing on flugelhorn and trumpet. After a choral/refrain repeat,this swinging solo fades out the song as well.
After hearing this song enough for so many years, it has a quality of the progressive jazz rock being done by both Gino Vannelli and Steely Dan during the late 70’s. That Steely Dan influence-especially Hubbard’s trumpet solo,has been discussed by many people. Joel’s elaborate melodicism and way with a strong,funky rhythmic groove also maintained the Steely Dan like cryptic lyric regarding trying to pick up a sexy waitress at a sports bar. It also showcases,with both its writing and choice of musicians, how funky and soulful an artist like Billy Joel can be with a strong jazz base to their musical sound.
David Bowie’s final album Blackstar doesn’t likely require much of a push from someone like me. It was a musically powerful final album from Bowie. And as depressing as it may seem,much of its notoriety likely derived from 2016’s unfortunate obsession with the cult of the dead. As you all know,my focus on reviewing songs and albums tends to be on music that’s happy in nature. Don’t personally listen to a lot of dark,depressing music. And Blackstar has extremely dark lyrics and compositional approaches. What I didn’t know when it came out was that David Bowie was dying of cancer while making it.
There were elements of the album that reminded me of the somewhat brooding avante garde jazz-rock fusion of Miles Davis’s earlier electric albums-mixed with its electronic and baroque elements. As my father informed me from his reading, a lot of this had to due with California jazz sax player Donny McCaslin. Bowie was an admire of his. And invited McCaslin to work on his new album with him. Thinking he was only there for the song “Sue”,turns out Bowie desired him to be present for the entire album. As for my first impressions on the album,here’s what I wrote roughly a year ago for Amazon.com:
While it seemed a personal opinion to me at first? It seems that 2015 was a very dark and tense year. Both in terms of America and the rest of the world. It was the first time in several years that I didn’t personally collect a lot of new music. Much of what came out, even from artists I normally enjoyed,seemed tame and lacking in vitality. It’s hard to believe it’s been over three years since David Bowie made his comeback after a decades absence with [[ASIN:B00AYHKIZ6 The Next Day]]. To be honest? Wasn’t sure it wouldn’t be that long until another album arrived. Due in part to being busy in my own life lately? Haven’t kept track of much new music in months. Until this birthday surprise from this artist arrived.
The title song that opens the album clocks in at near ten minutes. Within that time it combines a Gothic opera string arrangement with sections of both industrial drum ‘n bass and stomping 60’s style funky soul. “Tis Pity She Was A Whore” is a dramatically discordant dance rocker with it’s own unique sense of melody. “Lazarus” is a crawling alternative jazz/rock number with some sad,wailing sax. “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime” has a similar flavor to the album opener-only with a more consistent rock flavor. “Dollar Days” is a plaintive acoustic guitar/piano led ballad while “I Can’t Give Everything Away” concludes it all with a densely arranged drum machine and harmonica led dance/rocker.
Overall this album has all the instrumental hallmarks of a David Bowie record. Soul,electronica,rock and opera are all combined together into an eclectic musical stew through which he and his musicians can thoroughly explore their melody and different senses of harmonies. Everything from the title and the imagery of both the packages as well as the lyrics are extremely world weary. So would have to agree with a lot of reviews this has at least that in common with the man’s mid/late 90’s output. That being said? It all ends with what seems like lessons learned,and the possibility of the future having good things to offer. A very good album from an artist who can handle the darkness of life with genuine eloquence and beauty.
It was of course only a few short days after writing this review that I learned of Bowie’s passing. At that time,I considered actually editing my Amazon review to accommodate the what was revealed as the cause of death. Elected not to do that. It was a good choice because,as the year went on,I began to learn other things about what went into the making of Blackstar. And decided it might be a better topic to deal with in terms of a fuller write up along with my original review on this blog. At the end of the day,its a great balancing of moods (musically and thematically) for a music icon about to leave us behind.
In taking to a lot of people with a casual knowledge of Prince,Purple Rain is often their favorite album. And song. Its the period most associated with him. And it isn’t hard to see why. The man had a blockbuster album and motion picture out in a year dominated by Michael Jackson,Cyndi Lauper and Bruce Springsteen. It was Prince’s most thoroughly rock album but to that point. At the same time,it was a new wave/synth pop record with a lot of black American musical content-such as jazz and gospel melodic/rhythmic references. As for myself,I do have personal favorite songs on the album.
One of these songs was a song Prince conceived in a very grand way. It would seem that he conceived this song as a 14 minute opus-likely with multiple complex parts. But it does seem interference from Warner’s had him edit the song down intensely. One possible reason for its length was the co-writing credit for his father,John L. Nelson on an element he referred to as “Father’s Song”. This still ended up in the song. Conceptually the song dealt with Prince’s love triangle between himself,Apollonia and Morris Day in the film. The name of this song was called “Computer Blue”.
A classic Minnapolis Linn LM-1 drum clap opens the song-over which Wendy and Lisa have a bit of mildly S&M inspired dialog about hot water in the bath tub. Over this,the main keyboard melody plays over which Prince plays some shrieking guitar flourishes. His piercing scream breaks into the main song. This consists of a quavering,high pitched digital synthesizer,that Linn drum rhythm that opens the song and call and response rock guitar from Prince. On an instrumental bridge Prince plays a fast paced,hard rocking guitar solo before segueing into the “Father’s Song” sequence.
“Fathers Song” is more or less the instrumental bridge of the song. It finds Prince playing his father’s melody on a jazz-rock style guitar solo-accompanied by equally jazzy acoustic piano touches. Prince’s guitar solo begins to rock harder again. And the song returns to its main theme-ending with the same shriek with which it began. This might be the most thoroughly musical song on the Purple Rain soundtrack. The “Computer Blue” part an economical,brittle new wave synth rock. Than Prince brings in his father’s jazzier tones over his Linn for that bridge. This takes “Computer Blue” to its own unique musical level.
Filed under 1984, jazz rock, John L. Nelson, Linn Drum, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Wave, piano, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain, rock guitar, Soundtracks, synthesizers, Wendy Melvoin
Yep, for years this had me pretty fooled. With a title such as ‘Collection’ it instantly implies an anthology. Well it is and it isn’t. What this offers IS a collection in fact,of the two albums Tony Williams and his New Lifetime released in the mid 70’s namely 1975’s Believe It (with which this CD shares the same basic cover art) and the following years Million Dollar Legs. Both albums are very different and both quite special. The term Lifetime has been used not only for Tony’s first acoustic solo album for Blue Note but also for another group he formed earlier in the 70’s.
And so it continued with these albums,this edition of the band featuring Allan Holdsowrth,Alan Pasqua and Tony Newton on bass and vocals were applicable. With years of experience and prestige in Miles Davis’s classic 60’s quintet Williams had the opportunity to keep going nearly indefinitely without the need to prove himself musically. All the same,even before the fusion years Tony Williams was a huge classic rock fan (Beatles,Rolling Stones,etc) so by the time the electric period of jazz/fusion came in he was more than prepped as a musician for the thudding loudness of rock n roll drumming and on all of the tunes here that’s very apparent.
Not only that but this is fusion that takes more cues even than usual from it’s rockier side with Holdsworth laying down some particularly gritty rock guitar solos on crawling,churning heavy jazz rockers such as “Fred”,the intense and tight “Red Alert”,”Mr’Spock” and Tony’s own composition “Wildlife” whereas “Snake Oil” and “Proto-Cosmos” favor a somewhat more funk centered sound with a bit more subtlety. By the time we get to “Sweet Revenge” from the second album presented there was a big change in sound. The thudding rock rhythms and guitar solos were replaced by a streamlined funk/fusion sound complete with horn charts,more prominent synthesizer textures and even pop/R&B style vocals from Tony Newton on “You Did It to Me”.
Now that’s not to say Williams neglected the heavier rock fusion element to his sound as “Million Dollar Legs”,”Joy Filled Summer”,”What You Do To Me” and the extended 9 minute workout of “Inspirations Of Love”, with it’s memorable catchy melody and BAAAAD drum solo from Tony towards the end show that he had absolutely no intention of neglecting his way with jazz musicianship and improvisation. Much as with his old boss Miles,Tony was able to allow huge changes in his music while still maintaining a style that was distinctly his as well as contributing positively to the continuing development of the then still relatively new genre of fusion.
*Review originally posted on November 5th,2010
Filed under 1970's, Alan Pasqua, Allan Holdsworth, Amazon.com, Blue Note, drums, jazz fusion, jazz rock, New Tony Williams Lifetime, Tony Williams, Uncategorized