Journey | Lights

23 08 2010

I’ve written about all-time great guitar solos before, most notably Robbie Robertson’s on The Bands’ “Ophelia”. Well, here is another that I would put into that category. I’m not a huge fan of Journey for various reasons that I won’t elaborate on, but this song is a real gem from early in their career. It was written and recorded just as, lead singer, Steve Perry joined the group  in 1977. The story behind it’s origin is pretty cool. Perry has said that he wrote most of the tune while leaving in Los Angeles and it was originally about LA. In fact, the original lyric was: “When the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on LA”. He admits that it never quite sat right with him so he shelved it. Soon after, he joined Journey and moved to their home city, San Francisco. After a short time in the Bay City, it hit him… “the sun shines on the BAY”. And, like that, he penned a classic. Released on the bands fourth album, Infinity, it was the beginning of their most popular period as a band. To me the guitar solo has always stood out as the most compelling part of the song, which is played oh-so tastefully by lead guitarist and co-writer Neal Schon. Although the opening lick sounds a little too similar to the solo from Queen’s “Somebody To Love”, the statement as a whole is arranged really well. It’s succinct, lyrical, catchy and, above all else, memorable. As a little side note: Schon was actually one of the few original members of Journey. He was an alumni of one of San Fran’s biggest groups, Santana. After leaving Carlos & Co, they built Journey around his sound. I had no idea until just recently, but I’m not at all surprised.

Below is a live video that became the “official” video in the early MTV days. It’s decent if you consider the era. You may have to look past the poor audio dubbing but once you do, it’s pretty good stuff. To jump to Schon’s solo, go to 2:07 – 2:34.

References:

Official Journey Site

More info on Journey

More info on “Lights”

More info on Steve Perry

More info on Neal Schon

More info on Infinity

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Raphael Saadiq

21 05 2010

One of my new obsessions is this gentleman, Raphael Saadiq. Of Tony! Toni! Toné! fame, Raphael released a neo-soul album in 2008 entitled The Way I See It, which I picked up just a week ago. This album is fantastic, it won 3 Grammys in 2008 and was voted Best Album on iTunes. I’m not sure how it evaded me for so long but I’m sure glad I found it. The material gives numerous nods to retro soul of the 60’s while still remaining oh-so relevant, and in a unique way. The entire album is full of great songs and the production quality is outstanding. What’s interesting is that it does not mimic the vintage studio sound of the old days but instead blends some ideas and techniques from both today and yesteryear. I’m especially fond of the sound of the drums, the kick has a big boomy presence that feels like a punch in the stomach… it’s great. Of all the tracks, I particularly like “100 Yard Dash”, “Big Easy”, “Love That Girl” and “Sure Hope You Mean It”. There is some great live footage from Seattle’s KEXP that showcases these tunes. The first, and my favorite, is “Big Easy”. It’s inspired by the great city of New Orleans and the studio version features NOLA’s own Rebirth Brass Band. In this clip Saadiq and the band set up and then he introduces the tune. As they fire it up, you will notice the lovely lady in red… she is amazing. As if the band wasn’t enough, her contribution makes this one hell of a  performance.

Raphael has a cool perspective on this business. He began playing bass at just 12 years old and has collaborated with some of the biggest acts in contemporary R&B and Hip Hop. Be sure to read his resumé by following some of the links below. It’s really interesting to see his credentials and how it has led him from a family-based R&B trio to this ‘grand-standing’ outfit that he currently tours with. What I find to be the most interesting thing is that at the heart of his rich career is the fact that he is a bass player… who at one time toured with Prince. To me, it makes sense that a guy who has been laying down some fat grooves and comping on sweet harmonies for 30 years would craft such a great album. Check it out, it’s worth it.

Purchase Online:

Buy The Way I See It on Amazon

Buy The Way I See It on iTunes

References:

Raphael Saadiq’s official site

More info on Raphael Saadiq

More info on Tony! Toni! Toné!

More info on The Way I See It





Celebración: Cinco De Mayo

5 05 2010

In celebration of Cinco De Mayo, I thought it would be appropriate to showcase the music of Mexico. But, being that Cinco De Mayo is more widely celebrated here in the US than in Mexico, it wouldn’t be right to go full on Mexicano tradicional with mariachi bands and outfits of similar ilk. Instead, I bring you one of Mexico’s greatest musical ambassadors and perhaps one of the most influential cultural crossovers in music history, Carlos Santana.

Carlos’ music, specifically the work of the late 60’s/early 70’s, is a great source of inspiration for  musicians and fans alike. He has an unteachable touch that’s so delicate and deliberate, it’s absolutely incredible. There are few guitarists out there that have the control he commands. Each of his notes is like that of a human voice with a very specific yet natural inflection and cadence. You could more accurately compare his sound to that of a sax player or jazz singer rather than to other guitarists. The late, great, groundbreaking bassist Jaco Pastorius had said that his favorite player of all time was Carlos because “when he plays just one note, you know that’s him”. The voicings of his notes and touch of his hands are so personal that it’s not just an extension of his body, but his soul as well.

Below is a great example of Santana doing just that. It’s “Samba Pa Ti” live in Japan 1973. The beginning of this song is slow and sensitive, while the end is uptempo and intense. It’s a classic Santana instrumental. This recording is from about the same time as the live album Lotus. Just like the version on that album, Carlos quotes Bobby Womack’s “Breezin” in the solo section. It’s a great performance… unfortunately, the video is sub-par.

This is a blues soaked, slow burner called “Treat”. It’s one of my favorite Santana tunes. The performance is from 1971, live in studio.

And finally, this is rare audio from Woodstock 1969. It’s an incredible interpretaion of the Willie Bobo classic “Fried Neckbones”. PS- This performance was prior to the release of their debut album. Woodstock essentially ‘broke’ this band to the world and it’s now legendary.

¡Feliz Cinco De Mayo!





MGMT | Congratulations… again

13 04 2010

MGMT’s new album Congratulations came out today. It’s not really a big deal given it was leaked a few weeks ago. But, as part of the fanfare they have released a new video for the single “Flash Delirium” and are rolling out an all new website with some pretty cool features. Buy the album or just check out the new site: www.whoismgmt.com.

Previous GG posts about this “long awaited” album:

*Update: MGMT | Congratulations

Sneak Peek: MGMT | Flash Delirium





Still Crazy After All These Years

1 04 2010

I recently found this video of Paul Simon doing one of his best songs “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”. This is a period for Simon that I think is his best. It’s off his  album Still Crazy After All These Years, recorded in NYC in 1975. I listen to this one on the turntable a lot. Typical of Simon, the whole album features an incredible line up of sidemen including renowned session drummer Steve Gadd, jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker, keyboardist Richard Tee and bassist Tony Levin to name a few. He took most of this band on the road to promote the album, which you can see in the live BBC performance below. *Brecker is replaced by David Sanborn.

If you listen to Steve Gadd’s drum part on this song, you will hear that it’s a bit unusual. It fits perfectly into the song, even creating the “hook” but it’s unorthodox to say the least. This short video shows Gadd breaking it down… drummers will love this.

There are two other songs on this album that I really like. The first is the slow title track and the second is “My Little Town”, which actually features Art Garfunkel on the album version. It reunited the two after a 5 year split. Unfortunately, differences must have gotten the best of them by the time of this performance as Garfunkel is not in attendance. Both theses videos are from the same BBC concert as “50 Ways”.

“Still Crazy After All These Years”

“My Little Town”

Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau and his trio have recorded instrumental versions of both “Still Crazy” & “50 Ways”. They are fantastic. For a while I listened to “Still Crazy” on repeat, I just couldn’t get enough”. Mehldau and his  trio have done a lot of cool unexpected covers (for the jazz world, anyway). They have done Radiohead, Oasis, Nirvana and more… they are all spectacular. The Paul Simon covers are here if you want to check them out: “Still Crazy” & “50 Ways

More info on Still Crazy After All These Years (album)

Buy it on Amazon.com





Herbie in Japanese TV Ad – Straight!

29 03 2010

I recently found this funny old Japanese TV ad of Herbie Hancock endorsing Suntory Whiskey (a Japanese brand). Being a big fan of both Herbie and Whiskey makes this one a no-brainer. Tack on my fondness for the far east, specifically Japan and it goes without saying… I love it! I think the tag line “Straight!” is supposed to be a play on words referring not only to the booze but also to the concept of a straight feel versus a swing feel in music. I could be wrong though as that’s just a rash assumption based on my oh-so clever marketing prowess.

This ad is actually not that unusual as the Japanese LOVE jazz. They did decades ago and, unlike most of the rest of the world, they still do today. Almost exactly a year ago I visited “Nippon” for a few weeks and it was awesome to see how much they still appreciate what is now considered to be a dying art. The song is the original post-bop version of “Watermelon Man” (as opposed to Herbies funk fusion reinterpretation from the 70’s). In the ad it says it features drummer Tony Williams and bassist Ron Carter… all true but we only hear them in this clip, no visuals. As a little aside, it should be said that Tony and Ron make up one of the greatest drum/bass combos in all of jazz history. In my mind they’re THE best. Even better than Roach/Mingus or LeFaro/Motian or any other “giants” you might toss in there. Back in the 60’s, Ron and Tony were both called upon by Miles Davis as just kids to join Herbie and saxophonist Wayne Shorter to be in Miles’ New Quintet. The same group that has made some legendary music throughout that period. They all went on to be hugely influential in the history of jazz and music as a whole, and not just for their work with Miles. I’d love to go on and on and on but, I’ll save it for future posts.

There are also a few alternate versions from this same series. Here are 2 that feature Ron Carter. Ron is just so cool… check him out: Ron #1 & Ron #2

You may recognize the name Suntory Whiskey from the Sofia Coppola film (featuring Bill Murray) Lost In Translation. Here is the clip of Murray doing the ad in the movie… It always cracks me up. If you want to YouTube Suntory you can find a TON of hilarious commercials of famous American actors, musicians and popstars. That is what makes the Bill Murray piece so funny in the movie. Feel free to do so, and see what you find.





*Update: MGMT | Congratulations

23 03 2010

It turns out the new MGMT album, Congratulations, has been leaked in full. This time it was not deliberate. It was probably some insider slip that is now causing total chaos in the Columbia offices. Since it is now out there in the ether, the band wants to be the one’s to bring it you. As they say on their site, they wanted to make it available for download but the suits wouldn’t have it given their lack of understanding of the ever-evolving profit model of the music industry. So as a consolation, MGMT has posted the entire album to stream from their site instead. It’s a fair trade-off. I have only had one listen and so far, so good. They are really playing around with some different clichés on this one. Oddly, there are some surprising moments of Motown. I otherwise stand by my initial conclusion… very Bowie. That said, they do mix in some more traditional psychedelic rock elements from the 60’s psychedelia era as well as some disco-esque tendencies. There is some downtempo stuff too though. It’s kind of all over the place but not too disjointed. Purely based on titles, I wanted to really like “Brian Eno” given I’m an Eno fan, but it’s not as much of a standout as I would have hoped. It’s a decent tune (with some very interesting lyrical and musical references) but not the best on the album. So far, I’m really liking the title track “Congratulations” and “Someone’s Missing”.

Ok. So, this is how it works. Go to the MGMT site: www.whoismgmt.com. Once there, you will see the tracks listed above the fold. Just click the “play” triangle on the first track and let it rip. It’s really nice that they play continuously so you can leave it running in the background while you do other things. Enjoy!








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