Tag Archives: Steve Hashimoto

The Legacy of World War II

4 Dec
The week of December 7 is a week in which every Japanese-American has to face the legacy of history. I will admit, with much shame, that as a knucklehead adolescent I tended to make fun of Pearl Harbor Day, oftentimes threatening to go down to Cricket Hill and bomb the Eskimo totem pole. As I got older I started to realize that this was no joking matter, especially when I became a professional musician. One December 7 found me playing a cocktail reception at the military installation at O’Hare, in a room decorated with photos of the U.S.S. Arizona, and another December 7 found me playing a community theater performance out in Elgin; I was in the washroom, in a stall, and overheard two old guys at the urinals asking each other where they were “on that day”; one of them had been at Pearl. I stayed in the stall until they left. And I once dated a woman, a Southern belle, who warned me that her father was never to know about our relationship, because he had survived Pearl Harbor. People died, and people remember.

Of course, that cuts both ways. One of my best friends’ family has roots in Hiroshima, and I can only imagine what his feelings are every August 6.

Throughout most of my life I’ve been aware that there’s a disconnect between what we were taught in history classes at school and what my family related to me. Ever since I was little I knew that my whole family had spent most of World War II “in the camps,” and that the adult men in the family had also served in the United States Army overseas. It wasn’t until I became a hippie that the inherent weirdness of that started to sink in. And even at this late date in history I continue to run into friends who have no idea what “the camps” were, or about the history of the Nisei in World War II was.

I’ll try to be brief; in 1942 president Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order wdc-japanese-internment-announcement9066, which commanded all United States residents of Japanese ancestry to report to “relocation centers,” which were in essence concentration camps. The camps were located in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. By all accounts life in the camps was no picnic; I remember my mom and aunts talking about the sand blowing in through cracks in the walls and covering everything while they slept (snow, in the winter). You were only allowed to bring what you could physically carry, or lash to your vehicles, so almost everyone lost their homes, their farms, their businesses, their land, and most of their possessions unless they were lucky enough to have neighbors who’d watch over their interests (most did not; this resulted in what was essentially a land-grab by the Anglo Californians). And although many of the Japanese-Americans were understandably bitter and dispirited, the majority of them remained determined to prove that they were good American citizens. In this spirit thousands of young men volunteered to serve in the Army.

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Go For Broke

Most of them were placed in two special units, the 442nd Combat Regiment and the 100th Battalion. Eventually the two units were consolidated, and included a Field Artillery battalion. The 442nd/100th served in the European theater; very few Japanese soldiers fought in the Pacific, although some served in intelligence positions, as interpreters. The 442nd/100th were the most-decorated units in the war, with

amongst the highest casualty rates as

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Uncle Mark

well. My Uncle Mark was in the 442nd; my dad was not, although he did serve in Italy. I never got the story of why he didn’t go with the 442nd; he was younger than Mark, which might explain it (he was a company bugler). The 442nd’s motto was “Go For Broke,” which was also the title of a movie starring Van Johnson, about the unit. That movie is part of every Japanese-American of my age’s upbringing; I’ve probably seen it dozens of times, and most of my friends own copies of it, as do I.

The most famous legend of the 442nd’s history is the story of the Lost Battalion. Units of the 141st Regiment were cut off and surrounded by Germans in the Vosges mountains; suffering great casualties, the 442nd rescued them. The 442nd’s K Company suffered 386 casualties out of their 400 men.

So, I realize that I’m not responsible for Pearl Harbor, just as I realize you’re not responsible for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But I feel justifiable pride in what the guys in the 442nd/100th accomplished, and I do wish that it was a better-known aspect of World War II history, as I also wish the Relocation Centers were too. And ever year on December 7 I’ll dwell on these thoughts.

Steve Hashimoto

This post appeared a couple years back in 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: Jefferson Airplane

5 Aug

I just happened to stumble upon a couple of videos on YouTube of the Airplane’s performance at Woodstock in 1969 which blew me away, and got me to thinking in a more critical way about the whole band, not just Casady, who I’ve said before is one of my all-time favorite bassists.

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Signe Toly Anderson

The band’s history is pretty convoluted; formed in 1965 by singer Marty Balin and guitarist/vocalist Paul Kantner. Balin ran a seminal music club in San Francisco, the Matrix, and envisioned a house band for the club that would follow the lead of bands like the Byrds, melding folk music with rock and roll. Other members of what would become the Matrix’s house band included singer Signe Toly Anderson, acoustic bassist Bob Harvey, drummer Jerry Peloquin and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, a friend of Kantner’s who had just moved to the Bay area from Washington D.C. It was Jorma who suggested the band’s name. Peloquin quit over his disapproval of the band’s drug use, to be replaced by drummer Skip Spence, who would later form the band Moby Grape. Harvey’s bass playing wasn’t fitting the band’s vision, so Kaukonen summoned his Washington friend Casady to move out west.

The band started to gain popularity, playing some significant gigs and attracting attention from record companies; they cut their first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, in 1966. Anderson became pregnant and quit the band, to be replaced by Grace Slick,who was in a band called The Great Society who had opened for the Airplane at a gig, Spence also quit, to be replaced by Spencer Dryden; this, in my opinion, was the classic band lineup. The band would go through several different metamorphoses, eventually becoming the Jefferson Starship, and later simply the Starship, and many of those bands were very good, but in my opinion none of them had the magic of the classic band.

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Spencer Dryden

Watching the Woodstock performances clarified some things for me, but I’ve always loved the band, and have often thought about what made them so special. The first thing that struck me about the Woodstock performances was Dryden’s short drum solo that introduces the song “3/5ths Of A Mile In 10 Seconds; I thought, “He’s really an r&b player!” I’d previously thought of him as being part of the band’s jazzy contingent; the band always seemed to contain several separate and distinct (and oftentimes overlapping) stylistic “cliques” – Casady and Dryden were the jazzers, Kaukonen and Casady the blues guys, Kantner and Slick the folkies, and Balin was the r&b guy. Now I think that Dryden belonged in both the jazz and r&b camp. Analogous with the Beatles, whose greatness (in my opinion, of course) resulted from the combination of personalities and musical tastes, the Airplane stumbled upon a magical combination whose whole was greater than its parts. Another thing that struck me about the Woodstock videos was the entire band’s willingness to improvise; even though they were obliged to play their greatest hits, they tried to stretch them (the performance of “Somebody To Love is especially adventurous). Casady is ferocious here; listen to what he does with the relatively simple 3-chord song Volunteers”.

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Paul Kantner

Kantner always seemed to be kind of the odd man out, musically, but I’m coming around to thinking that he was the glue that held the various factions and styles together. While his voice is an acquired taste, his vocal timbre and the harmonies that he sang were the perfect bridge between Balin’s soulful style and Slick’s near-operatic acrobatics. The Airplane’s 3-part harmonies were unique; most pop bands sing in more-or-less traditional “barbershop” harmony, but the Airplane’s harmonies tended to owe more to Gregorian chant and medieval music, and much of that came from Kantner; Balin sang harmonies that owed more to soul music by way of gospel, while Slick’s came out of folk music, which in turn sometimes originated in Irish and Scottish drone harmonies, enabling Kantner’s ideas to mesh better with Balin. As a rhythm guitar player, Kantner somehow manages to stay out of the way of Kaukonen and Casady, in much the same way the Bob Weir managed to stay out of Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh’sway in the Grateful Dead. I wish Balin hadn’t played that damned tambourine so much; in the Woodstock videos pianist Nicky Hopkinsis an almost invisible special guest (the camera only shows him briefly), contributing beautiful little lines here and there, as he was wont to do as a star sideman of that era.

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Jorma Kaukonen

I might mention here that the Airplane were also among the first rock musicians who I was aware of who loved to jam, and who didn’t consider their band a sacrosanct entity. Much like jazz players, they often welcomed other Bay area musicians onto the stage and into the recording studio, and I always eagerly scanned the liner notes of their albums to see who was guesting. The San Francisco musical community, which included the Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Crosby Stills and Nash, Janis Joplin, Santanaand other groups, as well as Los Angelenos the Byrds, was an incestuous one, in a mostly good way. One of my favorite albums is David Crosby’s _If I Could Only Remember My Name, which features a staggering number of players from all of those bands, and the first iteration of the Starship, a solo album by Kantner called Blows Against The Empire,_ also is a star-studded affair. Frank Zappa was also a sometime partner-in-crime.

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Grace Slick

One cannot ignore or fail to mention the effect that Slick’s sex appeal had; after all, even in these PC times you have to acknowledge that rock and roll is largely about sex, and Slick was the fantasy of countless hippies. The legend is that the band, who were supposed to close out the Saturday night show, didn’t go on until early Sunday morning; in the delay, evidently, many drugs were consumed, and Slick looks especially tripped out, but somehow still gorgeous. I was also impressed by how into the music she was (perhaps a byproduct of the chemicals), but in a non-show-bizzy way. They were hippies, and I love that she (as well as Joplin and Joni Mitchell and Mama Cass) didn’t seem to have a stage “show,” didn’t seem to have little bits that they’d do at preordained parts of songs every time they performed that song. Every time I see video of the band performing, at some point the camera lingers lovingly on Slick, and I can never help but think, “Good God, she’s beautiful!” Sorry, mea culpa.

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The Doors performing at The Matrix

By the time of the Woodstock performance, though, the wheels were already starting to come off. The internal personal dynamics of the band were always a bit fraught, complicated, it must be said, by sex. Again, they were hippies, and they were supposed to believe in freedom in all things, but human nature will have its way, and Slick was involved in relationships with not only Casady and Kantner but also (allegedly) with Jim Morrison,as well as many others, no doubt. Balin had withdrawn from much of the group’s business and musical decisions, and Kaukonen and Casady had started their side project, Hot Tuna, in part because the Airplane was working less, and they simply wanted to play. Jorma’s charmingly forlorn songThird Week In Chelsea, on the album Bark,chronicles his frustration with the band situation and forecasts its eventual demise; to her eternal credit, Slick agreed to sing harmony on it. Kantner would actually quit the band at one point, and Balin started playing rhythm guitar. By the time of Bark, Dryden had been replaced by Joey Covington, who had been playing with Hot Tuna. Violinist Papa John Creach became an official member of the band. Balin was not on the album, having quit the band, so although there are parts of the record that I like, this was no longer, for me, the Airplane.

Kantner and Slick were now parents; I do like that they still had enough of a sense of humor to name their 1973 non-Airplane/Starship record Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun; Kantner’s Teutonic temperament had always been one of the sources of contention within the band. The band officially ended in 1972, to eventually evolve into the various Starship iterations. They did some reunion gigs in 1989, and (I didn’t know this strange fact) both Kantner and Signe Anderson died on January 28, 2016. Dryden died in 2005.

The Starship continues, with Chicago-area singer Cathy Richardsonably filling Slick’s sandals. Hot Tuna continues to perform.

You can watch the Woodstock performances here:

Once you’re there, I think you’ll find several more videos from their Woodstock set.

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” Frank Kelly Freas

25 Jan

This week’s General Fave is the science-fiction artist Frank Kelly Freas, more commonlyFreas 1
known as Kelly Freas. He was an incredibly prolific artist; I’m guessing his science-fiction work alone numbers well into the thousands, of book and magazine covers as well as interior illustrations. He also painted the official insignia for Skylab I, more than 500 portraits of saints for the Franciscans, and numerous cover paintings for Mad Magazine (although Norman Mingo was the more-or-less official artist for Alfred E. Neuman’s likeness, Freas did quite a lot of Neuman covers, and they’re every bit as good as Mingo’s).

Although I’m guessing I saw many of those Mad covers, I didn’t really Freas_2become aware of Freas’ work until I saw his cover for Analog Magazine in May of 1967. I had been a science-fiction reader (hardcore fans almost NEVER call it “sci-fi”) since I was very young; I think Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time was my first, checked out from my grammar school’s reading room in 1962, followed by *Andre Norton’s Daybreak 2250 A.D.,* purchased from a mail-order book club. I wasn’t into the magazines so much, but some thing about Freas’ cover painting compelled me to buy this one; I have no memory whatsoever of the story that it illustrated.

Born in 1922, he sold his first magazine cover painting to the venerable Weird Tales in 1950. Gnome Press published Freas_3three book covers in 1952, and he started working for Astounding Science Fiction magazine in 1953; Astounding changed its name to Analog and Freas worked for them until 2003. He started working for Mad in 1957, and painted most of their covers until 1962, which would have been right around the time that I started reading the magazine. He also painted hundreds of covers for the paperback publishers Ace, DAW, Signet, Avon, Ballantine and Lancer.

His style is instantly recognizable. His draftsmanship is clean, and his color palette really made some of his book covers (more so than the magazine covers) literally jump off the racks. His black-and-white work was always beautiful as well; he had a technique that I especially
Freas_4jpgloved, pen and ink on a textured illustration board that used to be called either Ross board or coquille board; sports cartoonists used to use the technique a lot. After the
main illustration was done with the brush, he’s go over it and add shade values with a lithographic crayon. He also did a lot of scratchboard work, as well as straight-ahead pen and ink.

Like all artists, he had some visual tropes – the Kelly Freas spaceship, which owed a lot to the kind of streamlined spaceships drawn by Flash Gordon artist Mac Raboy; futuristic cities and space stations; robots; and of course, sexy (and usually scantily clad) women. Good lord, those Kelly Freas women! But like all artists, great and not-so, every once in a while he painted something that was completely uncharacteristic, like these cute lil’ creatures:

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He was nominated for the annual Hugo Award for best science-fiction artist a remarkable 20 times, and won the award 11 times, an unbroken record. He died in 2005, and by all accounts he was a warm, humorous guy, a frequent guest of honor or simple attendee at many science-fiction conventions. He dominated the field in a way that I think no one before or since has.

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–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: Frank Frazetta

27 Nov
Frazetta_CappThis week’s General Fave is the artist Frank Frazetta. I was going to describe him as “the fantasy artist,” but that’s only what he was best-known for; he also worked in the comics field, advertising, commercial illustration, and science fiction. He was part of the legendary EC Comics stable, and of what was known as the Fleagles, a loose-knit crew of young artists who evolved out of the EC stable to work on Mad Magazine. He drew what’s known in the comics world as ”funny animal” stories, as well as westerns, romance and science-fiction (one of his covers for the Buck Rogers comic book is iconic, much as I hate to use that word, but it applies); he was Al Capp’s assistant for 9 years, drawing mostly the sexy women in the Lil’ Abner comic strip. He also occasionally assisted on the Playboy comic feature Little Annie Fanny, mostly drawing Annie (Frazetta’s women were scandalously sexy; he always claimed that his wife Ellie was his principal model).
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He did a lot of work for Hollywood; although many of you probably aren’t aware of
this, if you’re of a certain age you’ve seen his work. He did the artwork for the posters, one-sheets and ad campaigns for movies like What’s New, Pussycat?, The Night They Raided Minsky’s, After The Fox, Fitzwilly, The Busy Body and many others.
Tarzan_Lost_EmpireThe work that catapulted him to pop-culture fame and recognition was probably the paperback cover work he did in the 60’s and 70’s, for Ace books’ Edgar Rice Burroughs editions (Tarzan, John Carter, etc.) and the Lancer books Conan series.
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In the opinion of many, myself included, the Conan covers were his best work, especially the very first one in the series, Conan The Adventurer.

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He also did some very good work for Warren Magazines’ _Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella._
By all accounts he was a real mensch. He dominated the field for at least two decades. His philosophy and style fell out of favor in the 90’s and early ‘aughts, a period in which, in my humble opinion, typography went to hell in a handbasket. But I’ve tried to carry the torch in my own humble way…
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The recognition he got for this work resulted in some high-visibility advertising and album cover work in the 80’s and 90’s, but he had some health problems as a result of long-term poisoning by the fumes from the kind of turpentine he used in his studio, and unfortunately some of his work during the 90’s especially had lost the indefinable magic that his mid-period paintings had. He also suffered a stroke that left his right arm almost completely paralyzed; he taught himself to paint with his left hand, but I don’t know how that worked out, since I don’t believe I’ve seen any of his work from this period. The last years of his life were fairly tragic. Along with his health problems (he had always been a rugged, active athlete, once having actually been scouted by the New York Giants), his lifelong companion Ellie died in 2009. Later that year his son, Frank Jr., was arrested for attempting to steal 90 of Frazetta’s paintings from the Frazetta Museum in Pennsylvania (charges were eventually dropped). And finally, on May 10,2010, Frazetta died.

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Frazetta was the Charlie Parker/Coltrane/Bill Evans/Jaco of the fantasy art field; after his Conan covers appeared, his influence could be seen everywhere. Some of the young artists whose work closely resembled Frazetta, like Jeff Jones and Berni Wrightson, were eventually able to break free and find their own styles, while others like Boris Vallejo and Mike Hoffman became almost exact clones (not the worst thing to be, I guess). I must admit that when I thought I’d like to be a comics artist, the two stories that I actually had published (in a fanzine that I was the art director of; yeah, nepotism at its finest) bear Frazetta’s stamp to an embarrassing degree (I even styled my signature from those days after his). Thankfully, the only copies of those magazines that now exist are buried here in Hashimotoville, never to be seen by prying eyes.

Frank’s work isn’t perfect; it pains me to say that, but it’s true. Sometimes his anatomy gets a little wonky; I don’t think he ever formally studied anatomy, as in dissecting cadavers (just as he used Ellie as his primary female model, Ellie said that he used himself as his male model). His mentor, Roy G. Krenkel, did, I think; Roy’s figures always look alive and fluid, whereas sometimes Frank’s can be stiff, and sometimes if you really look carefully, limbs can look out of place, and there are funny lumps. But that’s only occasionally (Wally Wood, another of my favorite artists, also sometimes had weird anatomy). Frank was a child prodigy, the story being that he attended the Brooklyn Academy of Arts at age 8, which was run by an instructor named Michael Falanga. I think Falanga was so bowled over by the kid’s precocity that he let Frank get away with murder, and even Frazetta admits that he didn’t learn much there.

As with a lot of people with incredible natural talent, I think Frank sometimes coasted. But Frank’s coasting was usually better than anybody else’s flat-out running. At his best, his figures burst with life and have a tangible weight, but the thing that I think I love the most in his best work is the sense of mystery. He doesn’t feel compelled to paint every detail, often merely suggesting stuff going on in the background. The work of his that I find the least interesting, from his “turpentine” period, seems over-painted and over-rendered. But that’s just nit-picking and sour grapes; if I could draw and paint like him, I’d be one happy (and wealthier) camper.

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: “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