Welcome Aliens: Party Music for the First Authenticated Landing
Inner City IC 1070 (1980)
Recorded April 1979 in Eugene, Oregon
produced by Campbell Newton, David Leslie, Mark Isham, and Pat O’Hearn
This starts off with a mildly unique take on jazz fusion, but gets more inventive and enjoyable as the side progresses and Cam’s guitar playing takes the spotlight.
Side two has a somewhat similar progression, starts off with relatively straightforward jazz before moving into the folk/jazz sound we’d heard on the second half of the first side. Cam sounds like he was influenced by many of the masters of the guitar who had blended jazz and folk in the late 1960s and 1970s, Jansch, Abercrombie, Coryell, Kottke, Fahey, and Towner (many who like Newton had connections with the Pacific Northwest), as well as some who had passed the baton on to those folks, but Newton offers a style with its own feel. He seems primarily inspired by the emotions inside and the world around him, from responses to current events such as the Jonestown genocide and especially from the elemental forces of nature.
While some might enjoy the entire set, most will likely enjoy the highlights. At its best this is hypnotic and lyrical, both enjoyable and interesting. (Just don’t let the title mislead you into thinking this is space-age party music.)
Produced by Fred Weinberg and Dreams
While most of the early fusion had a huge focus on Hendrix-influenced electric guitars, and this does feature some noteworthy contributions from John Abercrombie, this is clearly an extension of Miles Davis, especially Miles’ then-recent live explorations of chasing down the truth and the voodoo, as this set focuses on driving rhythms, horns and spontaneity, the forward movement often working up to a semi-controlled frenzy perhaps best showcased as the 14+ minute “Dream Suite” progresses into a funky drive.
While Miles is an obvious influence, the influences of other innovative jazz pioneers of the 60s clearly show, including the ones who–like this outfit–offered vocals. And as one would expect from a fusion outfit, the influences appear to go beyond the world of jazz. For example, the influence of Sly Stone might have gone unnoticed, but considering the first cut (“Devil Lady”) and the fact that this outfit was formed in the late 60s and released this album in 1970, it’s easy to make that Sly Stone connection. It’s not that most of this sounds like Sly, but the influence is clearly there.
It’s also easy to hear how this outfit likely both influenced and was influenced by many artists of this era, by the horn-heavy rock groups of the late 60s as well as Frank Zappa and Tower of Power. And while this group doesn’t match the innovations and accomplishments of Miles Davis and Weather Report, the music on this album does appears to bridge Miles to the innovative fusion work of Weather Report.
The music is grounded in the compositions provided by keyboardist Jeff Kent and bassist Doug Lubahn, with Lubahn’s bass and Cobham’s drumming helping to both ground it and move it along, but this is a whole-group effort and more about exploration and spontaneous combustion than control, to provide as the liner notes point out, “a sort of organized jam.” The live-in-the-studio recording strategy certainly didn’t come out of nowhere, but this outfit helped establish this as an option and an example for musicians in the decades that followed. The musical explorations certainly serve as a bridge between some of the more innovative music of 1960s and for better or worse, the times to come.
— winch (author of
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Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express
RCA (LSP 4703)
Rating: **** (Recommended)
Released May 1972 (US & UK)
A sameness runs through the cuts on this album, something that some fans might find boring and uneventful, but the sameness is actually one of the main reasons this set is so strong. While the band stretches out, they never go too far into show-off excesses or try too hard like Traffic at this time, or like on some of Auger’s other material. And this material is not boring like some of his sets. The instrumental bridges push almost into a jam sound as usual, but they flow forward in a groove that owes more to funk than progressive rock. While this band was lacking in the vocal department after losing Julie Driscoll, Ligertwood finally fills the void, with his voice fitting the sound quite well.
Most members assist with the writing, and with the contributions of new members Alex Ligertwood (vocals) and Jim Mullen (guitar), the set has a cohesive sound. The sound clearly owes much to the past, with influences perhaps coming from the Allman Brothers as well as San Francisco funk. Of course, it’s not gritty like those sources, and the sound looks forward as much as it looks back. It continues to fuse rock, jazz, and R&B, and is clearly from the early 70s, but it also foreshadows the direction many artists would take years later. It likely had an influence on many progressive-rock musicians, folks such as Steve Winwood and Peter Gabriel. The music doesn’t sound like Gabriel’s solo work, but it perhaps gave folks like Gabriel some alternative to just continuing in the stereotypical progressive-rock mode.
The album is likely more of a pleasant surprise for fans of early 70s R&B than fans of progressive rock.It’s not a funk album, but it’s closer to Oakland than most albums from Great Britain at this point, and it might have provided ideas and inspiration to funk groups such as the Average White Band from Scotland. It’s not bad for a group of white guys from England.
Considering it comes from 1972, it deserves a note in the books. It’s one of Auger’s more enjoyable albums.— winch
Waka / Jawaka
Rating: *** (Noteworthy)
Released August 1972, reached #152 in US
Never one to settle into formula, Zappa offers two medium-sized vocal cuts sandwiched by two extended fusion jams, the 11+ minute title track and the side-long “Big Swifty,” the former clearly coming out of the early 70s but featuring plenty of guitar and a mix of planning and improvisation, the latter fortunately coming out of the 60s’ version of fusion, the guitar recalling Larry Coryell’s groundbreaking work of the late 60s, this cut sounding like mostly improvisation, Zappa and his guitar conversing with the horns.
It’s all a bit excessive, but a worthwhile listen for fans of jazz fusion jams.
The Grand Wazoo
Rating: *** (Noteworthy)
Released December 1972
Continuing where Waka / Jawaka left off, this set from Zappa and the gang is mostly instrumental, featuring Frank’s own unique take on fusion.
Certainly not essential Zappa but this includes some interesting cuts.
(author of Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s)