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Hash’s Faves: “Deserted Cities of the Heart”

14 May

Wheels_Of_FireThis week’s pick is more goddam hippie music; it’s the song “Deserted Cities of the Heart”performed by Cream, written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, from the band’s 1968 album Wheels Of Fire. The basic band of Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker were augmented on the studio disc (it was a double album, one disc recorded in the studio and the other live) by producer/multi-instrumentalist Felix Pappalardi. On this particular song Bruce plays bass, acoustic guitar, cello and sings; Clapton plays electric guitar; Baker plays drums and tambourine; and Pappalardi plays the viola.

I’ve been keeping this under my hat for awhile, but for the last year I’ve been rehearsing with a new band (our maiden voyage will be on July 21) called Medicated Goo. It’s led by guitarist/vocalist John Kimsey, and is kind of an offshoot project of his Art Thieves and Twisted Roots Ensemble bands, both of which I’ve been a part of. We’re joined by John’s longtime musical partner-in-crime Dr. Brad Newton on drums; I’m playing bass and a little bit of guitar (!). The band is a cover band, with our repertoire limited (kind of) to the music of Cream, Jimi Hendrix and Traffic, although that allows us a certain amount of leeway (we play a couple of Blind Faith tunes and various other miscellanea). So what I’m trying to say here is that I’ve been immersing myself in the music of Cream.

This is the music that I grew up with, and with rare exceptions I’ve been finding that every song we add to the repertoire, I know in my bones. Maybe I’ve never played it before, on either instrument, but in my head I know how the song goes. But the really cool thing is that now that I’m way older and hopefully have a little more knowledge, I can really appreciate what made this group so special. The particular combination of personalities and musical backgrounds combined perfectly, as far as I’m concerned. In the great John McLaughlin biography Bathed In Lightning there’s talk that he was approached to be part of the band that Bruce and Baker were forming, but for whatever reason he declined. As much as I love McLaughlin, and as intriguing a band that that would have been, it wouldn’t have been the same; John was too much of a jazz player, and would have tipped the scales of the band’s chemistry too far in that direction, I think. Clapton’s background, personality, and his love for the blues helped to ground the band; Clapton himself would never describe himself as a jazz player, but he was sufficiently open-minded to be able to fit in with what the other two guys brought to the table. Baker really was a jazz drummer, while Bruce brought this whole other thing. Besides being a pretty good, and experienced jazz musician, he also had some folky leanings, and had some classical aspirations as well.

This song highlights all of these things; it has a rockin’, bluesy solo by Clapton, and the instrumental interludes sound like a combination of Baker’s jazz background and Bruce’s classicism. I wonder who came up with those bars of 3/4 in the verses, Baker or Bruce? And Jack’s bass playing is just beautiful, driving yet lyrical. The lyrics, by poet Pete Brown, are sufficiently surrealistic to accompany whatever trip you might have been on (I always pictured this song accompanying a painting by de Chirico).

Much like the Beatles, the personalities had quite a lot to do with the band’s creativity. Say what you will about Ringo’s drumming (personally, I think he’s a great drummer), but the Beatles simply would not have been as great with any other drummer. And although they started out as chums, I think that their last few albums, when personalities started to clash, were arguably their finest. And so it was with Cream; Baker and Bruce cordially (and sometimes not-so-cordially) hated each other, and I think that accounts for quite a bit of the fire, and certainly the tension, in their music. Clapton would eventually opt out of the drama, choosing the laid-back vibe of Bonnie and Delaney Bramlett’s band, and a long period of heroin and alcohol addiction. Cream’s career only lasted 2 years, with 4 studio albums, but they helped to change the face of rock music. I’d be willing to bet that quite a few rock musicians of my generation had their eyes and ears opened to the possibilities of jazz by their extended jamming, and for better or for worse the long, extended jam became a staple of rock music; punk and grunge music (again, for better or for worse) arose as a reaction against those excesses.

You can listen to it here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pL0yTZhuMzE

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

Hash’s Faves: “Tell Me a Bedtime Story

22 Feb

220px-fat_albert_rotundaThis week’s pick is by Herbie Hancock, from his 1969 album Fat Albert Rotunda. It’s the lovely (and difficult tune) “Tell Me A Bedtime Story.” Herbie’s on electric piano, with Joe Henderson on tenor sax and alto flute; Garnett Brown on trombone; Johnny Coles on trumpet and flugelhorn; Buster Williams on bass; Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums and George Devens on percussion. Herbie wrote the tune, and Rudy Van Gelder was the engineer.

At the time of its release, much was made of the fact that Herbie mostly played Fender Rhodes piano on the album, and that he seemed to drawing influences from pop and soul music, but I dunno, it sure sounds like jazz to me. The orchestration is dense, for a small ensemble, but Van Gelder opens up the space and everything sounds light and airy. He had recorded each of these musicians many times, and I’m sure his familiarity with their personal sounds helped him to create that space. (Evidently he also mastered the record, as vinyl copies bear his signature on what record collectors call “the tail-off”.) There’s not much blowing; it’s more of a through-composed chamber piece, but there’s plenty of material to base improvisation on, for the brave or foolhardy (my bands have attempted to play this tune for years).

This album is at the crossroads, historically, of jazz-fusion music. Herbie had played on Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way album earlier in 1969; after this project he’d form his Mwandishi band, a group that has been, to me at least, criminally under-recognized. Mwandishi’s music was funky, with electric bass ostinatos and spacy Fender Rhodes, but on top of the spooky grooves Bennie Maupin, Eddie Henderson and Julian Priester blew with an amazing amount of freedom; this music was much closer to the very early music by Weather Report, and also is related to Miles’ Bitches Brew work. The instrumentation of the Mwandishi band is exactly the same as on this particular cut, but the differences are astonishing. After three albums with Mwandishi, Herbie would form The Headhunters band, which was out-and-out funk.

Fat Albert Rotunda should be recognized as one of the seminal albums of jazz-fusion, pointing the way ahead but still very solidly grounded in the tradition.

You can listen to it here:

 

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

 

 

Hash’s Faves: “The Road to Ensenada”

12 Feb

road_to_ensenadaThis week’s pick is some country music, goddammit. It’s the gorgeous song “The Road To Ensenada” by Lyle Lovett, from the 1996 album of the same name. I couldn’t find a YouTube video of the album cut, so I don’t really know who those cats are, but they’re playing it really close to the recorded version; the players on the record are Lyle on guitar and vocals, and what’s essentially James Taylor’s studio band of the 90’s — Leland Sklar on bass, Russ Kunkel on drums and shaker, Dean Parks on electric guitar, Luis Conte on percussion and Arnold McCuller, Valerie Carter*8 and Kate Markowitz on background vocals, with ringers Matt Rollings on piano and Don Potter on acoustic guitar.

If one believes internet scuttlebutt, the genesis for this song was a motorcycle accident that landed Lovett in a hospital in Ensenada, Mexico. Evidently, then-wife Julia Roberts wouldn’t come to visit him; if that’s true, then the song’s lyrics take on a poignant meaning. “You ain’t no friend to me” indeed.

Lovett’s got one of the great American voices, and I guess I love that his career has kinda been all over the place. His records have singer/songwriter stuff, Texas swing, jazz, pop balladry, country tear-jerkers and rockfish country. He’s got his Texas bonafides, though, and that means he can pretty much do whatever he wants to, stylistically, at least in my opinion. ‘Cause his music will always be Texas.

You can listen to it here:

 

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

 

Hash’s Faves: “I Wish”

10 Dec

i_wishThis week’s pick is Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish.”It was released as a single in 1976, and then included on the album Songs In The Key Of Life in the same year. The musicians are Nathan Watts, bass; Hank Redd, alto saxophone; Raymond Maldonado and Steve Madaio, trumpet; Trevor Laurence, tenor saxophone; trumpet; and Stevie on vocals, Fender Rhodes, ARP 2600 Synthesizer, and drums.

I played my first Christmas music gig of the year Friday and during the course of the job realized that this is really a Christmas song. Since it’s also one of my favorites and a Sueños staple, we played it, and no one objected, so jobbers, here’s your hip Christmas alternative.

The groove on this song is just the stankiest funk imaginable, driven by Watts’ bass line, which is a line that every bassist should know. It’s doubled by Stevie on synth, but he gives Watts the freedom to play some nasty fills on the vamp-out; after one of them Stevie absolutely cackles with glee. As a jobbing aside, here’s a little story from the trenches. This song is in High Society’s book, but it’s always been in the wrong key, I guess because the original key was too high for an earlier version of the band’s vocalists to handle. I hate it, because I only play a 4-string bass, and the bass line is not only impossible to play a half-step lower but it sounds stupid. Anyway, we were playing it one night with a female vocalist who was auditioning for the band. She evidently had a really weird sense of perfect pitch, because she sang it in the original key, completely ignoring us. The rhythm section made the switch somewhere in the first verse (with me thanking the Dark Gods of Jobbing,) but when the horns came in half of them hadn’t gotten the memo, so it was kind of our “Skies Of America” version of the song (look it up).

As another aside, I attended Senn high school on Chicago’s north side; it was one of the first Chicago schools to bus students in from across the city, including many black students from the south and west sides. It made for some bad moments: Senn was notable for riots in the schoolyard and fights in the halls, and the city eventually had to provide police escorts to get the black students to and from the el stop safely (you can read an account of this in the book The Old Neighborhood by Bill Hillmann, a former juvenile delinquent from my ‘hood). Bless her heart, my mother used to drive to school and fill up the car with a bunch of students who I had become friends with and drive them all the way home to the south side, which we were familiar with because when the Japanese first came to Chicago from California, out of the relocation centers, that’s where they settled, and our family dentist still had an office at 63rd and Jeffrey. Anyway, one of the first black kids I met at Senn was a guy named Larry Brown, who always claimed to be Stevie’s cousin. Stevie still hadn’t quite crossed over to massive mainstream popularity yet so most of us north siders didn’t even really know who he was talking about, but I do remember Larry brought a single in and showed us the songwriting credits, which read Stevland Morris, and for some reason that made it believable to all of us. I don’t know why this story has stuck in my brain the last 50 years.

You can listen to it here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYKYka-PNt0

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

Hash Faves: “Volunteers”

31 Oct

jeffersonairplanevolunteersThis week’s pick is hippie rock – Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers”. It’s from their 1969 album of the same name, and features what I (and I’d wager most people) think of as the “classic” lineup: Grace Slick and Marty Balin on vocals, Paul Kantner on guitar and vocals, Jorma Kaukonen on guitar, Jack Casady on bass, and Spencer Dryden on drums. Pianist Nicky Hopkins guests on this, and other, cuts. The song was written by Balin and Kantner.

Ah, we were so young then! I was a snot-nosed wanna-be revolutionary, convinced that we could change the world, convinced that we knew better, and foolishly convinced that anyone with any sense would recognize this and go along with the plan. Kantner and Balin and Slick were idealists too, the main difference being that they had a public forum in which to make their statements (as well as a mansion in the Haight-Ashbury and tons of money as a cushion). I find much of their political posturing to be slightly embarrassing now, but that doesn’t mean that I think that they were wrong to hold those beliefs. I wonder what Kantner, who died earlier this year, would have thought about Donald Trump; my guess is that he’d be howling with glee. “See, I told you people, but did you listen? Noooo…”

Aside from the politics, what I love about the song is that it’s a gem of economical rock. It sounds raw, yet the parts are executed really well. Jorma plays some pungent, to-the-point guitar lines, and Casady rumbles along in typical Earth-shaking style (on one of the previous albums he was credited with ”Yggdrasil bass” (this is how Jack explained it, in an obscure interview: “The Yggdrasil, in Norse mythology, is the tree of life; to play the Yggdrasil bass is to play the low notes of existence. And the low notes are the sweetest. When I hit a good low-bottom string A and shake the ground and force wind from the speakers, I’m playing the planet through my bass. No one’s cheering or writing me checks, but it doesn’t really matter. In these moments I’m wired into deity.”). The singers all sing with youthful passion and rage; they were true believers, even though I think Grace was always a skeptic (and a sexy one) at heart. The changes are simple, 3-chord rock, but they’re still interesting.

This was the last album for the classic lineup, and indeed future drummer Joey Covington has a cameo on the record. Balin would leave shortly, and I always thought that he was absolutely essential to the band’s sound. He was a great singer, as, of course, was Slick; Kantner not so much, although he was an inventive harmony singer. But Balin’s departure forced Paul to sing more lead, and the band’s signature 3-part harmonies were gone forever. This was also the time that Casady and Kaukonen, a bit frustrated by the Airplane’s hippie indolence, formed their offshoot band Hot Tuna, which quickly became their priority. Eventually, Slick and Kantner would be the only “original” members left (the true original band, of course, had Signe Anderson on vocals, Bob Harvey on acoustic bass and Jerry Peloquin, soon to be replaced by Skip Spence, on drums). Although I find parts of the subsequent albums interesting, they just don’t hold a candle (in my exalted opinion) to Surrealistic Pillow, After Bathing At Baxter’s, Crown Of Creation and Bless Its Pointed Little Head.

This was the infamous album that the Airplane butted heads with RCA Records, their label, over inclusion of the words “Motherfucker” (in the song ”We Can Be Together”) and “shit” (the chorus to ”Eskimo Blue Day”). For various reasons, not the least, I’m sure, being that the Airplane were RCA’s top money-makers, the company finally caved. It was also, I believe, the first album to use 16-track recording technology.

You can listen to it here:

 

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

Hash’s Faves: “Just You, Just Me”

6 Aug

After_MidnightThis week’s pick is the jazz standard ”Just You, Just Me,” from Nat “King” Cole’s After Midnight album. The song is by Jesse Greer and Raymond Klages, from a 1929 movie called Marianne. Cole’s album featured his trio, with Cole singing and playing piano, guitarist John Collins and bassist Charlie Harris. On this song, they’re joined by Lee Young, Lester’s brother, on drums, and Willie Smith on alto saxophone.

This was another album that was part of my introduction to jazz. I don’t know why I bought it; it was probably in a cutout bin somewhere. But I loved every cut, and still do (the CD re-release has several bonus tracks that were not on the original LP). Cole’s voice, of course, was familiar to me, most likely from his rendition of Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song,” but his piano playing was a revelation. As part of my jazz self-education I had been reading books (Ira Gitler, Martin Williams, Whitney Balliet, etc.) and so I knew, intellectually, that he was considered a pivotal player, but even to my unsophisticated ears his lines were elegant, sophisticated, and above all, swinging. And as I was still a guitarist at that time, Collins’ playing was equally revelatory, and still is. I think he’s an underrated and under-recognized player, and his playing contributed much to what I still think of as proper jazz guitar slinging.

The album’s concept was also pretty cool – the trio accompanied by special guests on every track. Besides Smith, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Juan Tizol, Stuff Smith and Jack “Mr. Bongoes” Costanza all appeared, so the album also served as a pretty good introduction to the history of jazz styles, from swing to bebop and Latin-jazz.

This particular tune has a swinging intro (the arranging on the record is superb), and all of the front-line instruments get a chance to blow. As a sidebar, the song is the basis for Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence.” Monk’s tune was originally titled ”Justice,” (Justice = Just Us – Just You, Just Me), then retitled ”We Named It Justice,” then “Evidence.” John Kaplan pulled my coat to that way back in the Famous Pizza Gig days; thanks, John.

You can listen to it here:

–Steve Hashimoto

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

 

Hash’s Faves: “Forever in My Life”

31 Jul

prince_sign_o_timesThis week’s pick is a funky love song by Prince, “Forever In My Life.” It’s originally from his 1987 album Sign O’ The Times.The album was a quasi concert film, and featured Prince’s band at the time, Prince on lead vocals and guitar (and, one assumes, drums, keyboards and bass); Wendy Melvoin, guitar, percussion and vocals; Lisa Coleman, keyboards, sitar, flute and vocals; Sheila E, drums, percussion and vocals; Dr. Fink, keyboards; Miko Weaver, guitar; Brown Mark, bass; Bobby Z,drums; Eric Leeds, saxophone; Atlanta Bliss, trumpet; and Sheena Easton, Susannah Melvoin and Jill Jones, vocals. The very different, expanded live version here is from the movie Sign O’ The Times and features a slightly different band, adding keyboardist/vocalist Boni Boyer (in a star turn), bassist Levi Seacer and dancer Cat Glover.

I slightly favor the album version; it’s more economical and it’s easier to hear the brilliant background vocal arrangement in the second verse, which, in my opinion, should become standard repertoire for college vocal ensembles attempting to be hip. But the live version has plenty of high points, including the aforementioned Boni Boyer feature (“It’s your house, Boni,” Prince exhorts), the chanted vocals by the audience in the front and back of the song (surely written by and instigated by Prince), the long group vocal vamp out (“Back up offa the mic’s, chil’un!”) and the passionate ad libs in the outro by Prince. It’s all stagecraft at the highest level – the costuming of the band, the band choreography, the preaching. The groove is elegantly simple and supremely funky, but at the heart of everything is a gorgeous melody and lyrics; this is a SONG. The lyrics, perhaps, are slightly disingenuous, given Prince’s reputation as a mack daddy, but who am I to say?

You can listen to the CD version here:
http://whomakesmelaugh.wrzuta.pl/audio/9D5KqJjXTkM/princeforever_in_my_life

Steve Hashimoto

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net

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Steve Hashimoto