28 February 2010

Brian Jones' birthday

Brian Jones would've been 68 today. A former member of the Rolling Stones and one of the greatest multi-instrumentalists ever drowned in his swimming pool on July 3, 1969. Brian was a very fine slide player, he had a great collection of old blues records, from Jimmy Reed to Muddy Waters. He played with Jimi Hendrix and introduced his band at Monterey. 2 days after his death the Rolling Stones performed a concert in Hyde Park dedicated for Jones.

Here's a really good photo of him from filming of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" music video in 1968. After '67 his role in the band was a trifle, although he remained one of the coolest musicians ever.

On his birthday... listen to Stones' early blues stuff! I recommend 1964 sessions in Chicago or simply their second album called "The Rolling Stones, No. 2". It's great :)

20 February 2010

John Coltrane - A Love Supreme

Many fans and critics say that in 1964 John Coltrane, one of the best saxophonists of all time, was at the peak of his powers. He entered the Rudy Van Gelder studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on December 9 with his classic quintet: Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison. Whole album, released shortly after by Impulse! Records, was recorded there. It was called "A Love Supreme" and it became one of the best selling jazz albums ever.

"A Love Supreme" has, really, very little to do with the blues. Oh, let's say nothing. It's mostly an hard bop and free jazz affair. On the other hand, it might seem as a contradiction of the blues which can be also called devil's music. Coltrane's masterpiece is a spiritual album. A way better effort than Dylan's projects in the 80s. :) The blues connection is there, though: Son House, Blind Willie Johnson and many more bluesmen used to sing spirituals, black man's religious songs. And that's what "A Love Supreme" is all about, counting out perfect arrangements, gorgeous interplay between rhythm section and soloists and adventurous ideas.

The best part for me is the first (of three) part: the moment Coltrane starts chanting phrase "a love supreme" is beyond words! The song goes higher and higher. In the final track Coltrane tries something called "wordless recitation": he imitates singing by using saxophone: he plays words without speaking them. Wikipedia says the poem ends with words: "Elation. Elegance. Exaltation. All from God. Thank you God. Amen".

Also of note is great cover art. That's hell of a photo! All in all: get this. One of the best jazz works ever. And I'm proud to have liked it from the very first hearing :-)

15 February 2010

Quoting R.L. Burnside

I always rant that modern-day blues musicians have no idea what's this all about. They sing how "they want to snap pistols in one's face" or wish "some screwball start to fight", just because they're ready. That's cool the way Muddy sings it, not his wannabes in your local bar. It's tough music and you got to remember that your everyday blues heroes (Leadbelly, Son House, Bukka White) were murderers with great musical talent.

Short historic take here: many blues lyrics make them almost gospel songs: they're praising Jesus and so on (see Blind Willie Johnson or Sister Rosetta Tharpe!). On the other hand, blues was forbidden music coming from the devil, that was the strangest connection that could be. Decadence, alcohol and drug abuse (whiskey was blues musicians' favorite drink, but there are many songs about weed, too!) and violence were all part of fun in juke joints, places that our heroes loved above everything else.

Yesterday I was listening to early recordings of R.L. Burnside. Inferior to works of his contemporaries they were still nice takes on blues standards and I had a good time. In the meanwhile I was reading liner notes and his life stories - yeah, R.L. had a wicked life! And I'm not only talking about his miraculous discovery in the... 90s by Fat Possum Records.

Telegraph.co.uk reports that around 1959 Burnside killed a man who allegedly "tried to run him out of his home". He was sentenced only to three (other sources say six) months in Parchman Farm State Prison thanks to his boss who needed his skills in the business. Years later musician was asked about the accident and said one of my favorites quotes ever. I mean, it's bad as hell, but you just have to love it ;)

"I didn't mean to kill nobody," Burnside later said of the murder. "I just meant to shoot the son of a bitch in the head. Him dying was between him and the Lord."

14 February 2010

Charles Mingus - Oh Yeah

It was recorded in November of 1961 in Atlantic Studios in New York City. All of the album's tracks are written by Mingus who for unknown reason didn't play bass on this session but moved to piano. Doug Watkins played bass and Dannie Richmond drums, making it an outrageous rhythm section. Jimmy Knepper (trombone), Booker Ervin (tenor sax) and Rahsaan Roland Kirk (everything else) all played beyond words, jamming and improvising on Mingus compositions like they were their own.

This is the strangest piece of music I've heard in a long time. Mingus shouts quickly made-up lyrics, Kirk plays on multiple saxophones at once, and the last track ("Passions Of A Man") makes a great soundtrack for a torture scene or cheap BDSM porn. "Eat That Chicken" is a lovely up-tempo number, very positive and all. I especially loved Mingus describing how much he wanted to chew it ;-) "Ecclusiastics" is my favorite from here. A kind of gospel-jazz, a track divine! Amazing horns and piano. The main riff gets stuck in your head. Piano solos are exceptionable, the fact that Mingus isn't a professional pianist shouldn't worry anyone. He's better than one might think!

"Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am" and "Oh Lord Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me" are all as cool as their names. Maybe it's not the best Mingus album, but surely it is one of the best jazz albums ever. Talk about wildness.

I still have to track down 3 bonus tracks from the same sessions... Facts are promising. Four out of seven tracks here are absolute masterpieces, the rest of them are still 10/10 or pretty near. It's really the same old hard bop but the fastest I've heard in a long time. I guess my girl would dance to it ;-)

13 February 2010

Ronnie Wood on stage with Pearl Jam

Ronnie Wood (the Rolling Stones and the Faces) took the stage on August 11 at London's Sheperd's Bush, joining Pearl Jam to play Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" in a way Jimi Hendrix used to. Ronnie jamed with other PJ guitarists, Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, on his white Stratocaster. He got away without playing any lenghty solos but his fills were clever and in overall I think it was a memorable performance: any activity in the Stones camp is worth noting.

Eddie Vedder introduced Ronnie as his very good friend which was quite nice. Ronnie got great applause, the crowd started chanting his name but he quickly got off the stage.

I've uploaded soundboard recording of the song: Pearl Jam w/ Ronnie Wood - All Along the Watchtower.

Mark Figgis' "Red, White & Blues"

I've already watched and reviewed two movies of blues documentary series called "Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues" and they didn't amaze me. This time it's no different, but directed by Mark Figgis "Red, White & Blues" is a nice movie. It contains lots of original material: Jeff Beck, Van Morrison, Tom Jones and others enter famous Abbey Road Studios (I've always imagined it waaay different!) to play and discuss blues standards. It turns out okay.

"Red, White & Blues" is about British blues boom of the 60s and white men playing the blues. Interviews are quite interesting, although it was a pain for me to see how some of the famous musicians aged, Peter Green (known as the man who took one too many trips) seemed like he was far from being fine. Talking are many important figures of blues movement and British music scene. Particularly interesting are scenes with Eric Burdon, Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood, Tom Jones, Lonnie Donnegan and... B.B. King! There was also a short clip of the Rolling Stones in their early days playing "I Just Want to Make Love to You"... Brilliant stuff.

Of archival material, I loved clips by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Muddy Waters, Leadbelly and Alexis Korner, who was probably one of the most important British bluesman of all times. And the absolute highlight of the movie was Jeff Beck forced to play the blues... He paired well with old worn-out butterscotch Fender Telecaster ;) He's such a nice guy and one of the greatest guitarists on the planet, for sure one of the most underrated, but he isn't playing too often and didn't record anything interesting between late 70s and late 00s... Just listen to his "Truth" from 1968, though... :) Lulu was nice, too. I didn't know she was such a great singer.

In overall: "Red, White & Blues" is not as interesting as the absolutely perfect "Blues Britannia" documentary produced by BBC, but it's worth watching nevertheless, because it covered quite different aspects. Good work x)

PS. Beautiful redhead Christine Tobin singing an old Bessie Smith's track is a treat, both for your ears and eyes :-)

12 February 2010

Marc Levin's "Godfathers and Sons"

Marc Levin's "Godfathers and Sons" is another blues documentary in the series "Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues". Still far from perfect, but enjoyable piece. Just like "Feel Like Going Home" (Scorsese's part) its first half is very good and the second one bores the hell out of me. "Godfathers and Sons" is built around Marshall Chess, son of Chess Records founder, and a rapper called Chuck D. Don't ask! The original idea of the movie was telling me how similar blues and hip-hop cultures are. As you probably already figured out, they are not and that was a very bad idea.

"Godfathers" - meaning Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf - are inspiring "Sons", here black hip-hop singers. There's a lot of talk about "the worst blues album of all time", "Electric Mud" by Muddy Waters: the band that made it gets back to the studio after all this years and records new stuff with Chuck D and Common, two contemporary rappers. Chuck D tells us how he adores Muddy and transforms his persona into rap music, we can even see a short part of his concert and that's really pathetic. Anyway, Marshall Chess is telling stories from Chess Records and Chicago blues scene and we get a fair share of performances. Koko Taylor with Magic Slim are rocking a small club, Sam Lay and Pinetop Perkins play at the Chicago Blues Fest and, from archival footage from Chess' archives, we can see Bo Diddley, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon and Sonny Boy Williamson II. The last one was the most interesting for me, playing harp without hands... wow. His teeth also knocked me out ;)

There was also a nice scene with a quote about Paul Butterfield (white bluesman) who "would be into the blues even if he was a tuna sandwich"... That was cool. Mentioned were Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, for whom Marshall Chess was working in the 70s.

And the movie... well. Marshall Chess sucked at being a record producer and his stories could be better: he was the man who witnessed so many great sessions! And those young hip-hop stars aren't the brightest people I've ever seen, not to mention they didn't sound good on blues records. It isn't the first or the last idea of mixing blues with hip-hop, though: the Black Keys tried (Blakroc) and their efforts were better.

A good movie, but again I just don't understand how the hell it got so many "great" reviews from critics... It's not worth it, but if you're a Chicago blues enthusiast, go and see it.

11 February 2010

Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010 announced!

It's my third post today but it doesn't matter 'cause it's big news. Eric Clapton have just announced that third Crossroads Guitar Festival will take place on June 26, 2010. I loved two previous ones: original 2004 festival and its follow-up in 2007.

This year's artist list is amazing for a blues-rock festival: Clapton himself, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, Jeff Beck, the Allman Brothers Band, Keb' Mo', Joe Bonamassa, John Mayer, Robert Cray, ZZ Top and more, see CrossroadsGuitarFestival.com. Show will last for one whole day and it's set in Bridgeview, Illinois.

Wikipedia entry is really informative, too.

Martin Scorsese's "Feel Like Going Home"

Martin Scorsese (famous American film director) is a great fan of the blues. In 2003 he decided to produce a series of 7 movies about the blues: its varied styles and roots. Each was directed by a different guy, and Scorsese chose "Feel Like Going Home". It was the first movie from that collection (named "Martin Scorses Presents the Blues") about delta blues and its African roots.

I didn't like the movie that much. It was made in an effective way: interviews and performances were mixed with stories, lots of archival footage, both videos and photos. The thing I dislike is... uhm... it's nothing new. Nothing that interesting. The whole movie was guided by Corey Harris (a fine musician) who travels to West Africa to find how the blues started. Well...

Archival performances were cool, though. You gotta love Son House, Muddy Waters or Leadbelly. Also, John Lee Hooker surprised me with some of his early boogie. Of contemporary artists, Willie King, Corey Harris and Keb' Mo' did well: the latter two played mean "Sweet Home Chicago" on acoustic guitars! Johnny Shines talked a little about Robert Johnson and that's all. That was too much of Africa-related stuff that failed hard at gaining my interest.

Scorsese didn't even try to romanticize the early blues musicians. Didn't tell amazing stories, the whole blues mythology, the devil connection... Nope. It wasn't a typical "talking-heads" documentary you see on TV, but it wasn't that special, and it should be! It was a bit messy and soulless. It didn't make me listen to the blues whole next weekend.

The Rolling Stones - Knebworth Fair '76

For a long time I tried to avoid listening to mid-seventies live recordings of my favorite band, the Rolling Stones. I considered 1975, 1976 and 1977 the low points of their live career. The lack of good organization, too much heroin and cocaine and basically bad sound and/or bad performances kept me away from those shows. I still think those tours were not as good as the ones before (1972, 1973) and after (amazing 1978), nevertheless I started appreciating them. And great playing by new Stones guitar player, Ronnie Wood, straight from the Faces.

While browsing through my bootleg collection, I found an old DVD release of the Knebworth Fair show from 1976. It's incomplete, but the sound is okay and, in overall, video is highly enjoyable. I can recommend this release :-) On the other hand, it's quite short, clocking at 56 minutes only. And it contains a lot of snippets of other songs that are not shown here which can be a little bit irritating.

Among Stones' standards (like "Tumbling Dice", "Street Fighting Man" or "Honky Tonk Women") we get two rock and roll tunes ("Star Star", also known as "Starfucker", which could be easily a Chuck Berry track, it certainly sounds so, and good old "Route 66") and two great blues songs (Wolf's "Little Red Rooster" and lenghty "Midnight Rambler").

Guitars by Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood are high in the mix and really deserve to be so. Especially Ronnie's fills and solos are tasty: I love his slide guitar work on "Midnight Rambler" and solos on "Wild Horses" and "Tumbling Dice". Sometimes straight and to-the-point, more often lazy, laid-out and relaxed: he sounds there as good as in the old Faces days, just plays less and feels comfortable with that.

The only Stone that let me down was Mick Jagger. He failed at everything really (though the crowd seemed to enjoy his stage presence): hair, clothes (oh damn!), dancing and singing. Well, no, not singing really: he was howling and growling all the time, but it just wasn't fun.

If you don't know the Stones material too well, avoid this at all prices. One of the worst possible introductions to the band ;) If you like them, though, and have enough of earlier days work, get this. Not as good as you might think but still watching it is a very nice way of spending your next evening. "Little Red Rooster" is sexy and worth the price of the whole set. :)

07 February 2010

Pearl Jam's "2000 Mile Blues"

I'm not a fan of grunge but I've got a lot of respect for Pearl Jam. They're fans of the Who and Neil Young. They play a good kind of melodic hard rock but also have experience with high quality ballads which is a rare thing ;-) They're evolving, they don't have two same or even similar albums: each one is a step in another direction. The first live show I attended was by Pearl Jam and I loved it. They are indeed a great live band! And they know a little blues, too.

For PJ fans, their best release is the debut album called "Ten". Indeed a lot of their greatest hits come from that one. I like it. The reason I'm writing this post is simple, really: I was skiing in Austria whole last week with "Ten" in my ears and I broke a couple of speed records :)

Of "Ten", I like "Even Flow", that's surely a nice riff. And "Alive", it's probably their best song, I don't care much for the solo, though. "Black" and "Release" are great ballads and "Jeremy" is a moving story about a boy who shot himself in the classroom. The rest of the album is too hard for my liking, but I can listen to it once in a while.

I have downloaded just released extended version of the album. On second CD there are remixed versions of all album tracks and a couple of bonus tracks. "Breath And A Scream" is a great mid-tempo tune I listened to ten times in a row. Eddie Vedder's singing is adorable, really, and though the track is a little dark, it makes me feel good :-)

Another one I need to note here is "2000 Mile Blues"... It really is a blues song. A long way to go so it's understandable ;-) It's the dirtiest, ragged kind of blues I have heard in a long time. Slow, angry and loud. Fantastic guitar interplay (most of the time it takes two guitars to make a great track!). I tried to think about a bluesman who played that way... I still have no idea. Wasted Hubert Sumlin at five o'clock in the morning, maybe. Yeah, it was a compliment.

Another Pearl Jam tune I could easily recommend to fellow blues fans is "Come Back" from their self-titled album released in 2006.