Ivan Conti (1984) The Human Factor (LP) Milestone (M-9127)

Ivan Conti
The Human Factor
Milestone (M-9127)
1984
Produced, written & arranged by Ivan Conti

*** noteworthy

Solo outing from the drummer for the Brazilian jazz-funk trio Azymuth, here Conti offering up a mixed bag–regarding styles and quality–starting off with a rather uneventful version of fusion, perhaps a notch above most of the fusion from this era but that’s not really saying that much. Fortunately, about ten minutes into the proceedings–about halfway through the first side–Arturzinho’s popping baseline rises in the middle of the second cut. This focus on rhythm leads us to the third cut that closes the side–the tribal percussion workout “Pantanal II (Swamp)” taking us into the massive wetlands of Conti’s homeland.

The original electronic-heavy “Pantanal” from Azymuth’s 1980 album used electronic sounds to likely mimic the buzzing/chirping/squealing of the swamp fauna, while the sequel on this album discards the keyboards and focuses on four percussionists running down the voodoo and doing their thing, a frantic dance around the fire, a run through the jungle, the rhythm of the hunt, the beat of the heart. A fourth musician offers some whistles to help paint the wetland scene, and Conti doubles up with some vocoder to apparently represent the growl of some sort of fauna, all the instruments sounding like they are conversing, the mix of old tribal and new electronics both recalling the roots of fusion put down by Miles Davis and Weather Report and helping to reveal the jungle roots of that innovative music. With its percussion-heavy tribal electronics, this cut also helps pave the way for things to come. While the selection isn’t groundbreaking, it does get the earth shaking, causing the listener to stand up and take notice.

The flipside eases into the proceedings with moderately enjoyable jazz fusion, picking up the pace with a jazz-trio piece (drums, acoustic piano, and electric bass), and slowing down again with a brief solo number–the drummer offering vocals, acoustic guitar and splashes of synthesizers. The set concludes with the title track, another multi-tracked Conti solo number, this one just drums and synthesizers, sounding extremely dated and fairly charming, very intentional and robotic–in many ways in sharp contrast to the closer of side one. While the rest of the set was recorded in Rio, this title track was recorded where the set was mastered and mixed–in Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California.

This isn’t an essential outing, but for better or worse, it has plenty of variety, and the more interesting selections make this set at least worth a listen.

 

— winch (author of

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Cam Newton (1979) Welcome Aliens: Party Music for the First Authenticated Landing (LP) Inner City IC 1070 

Cam Newton

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

*** noteworthy

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.)

— winch

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Dreams (1970) S/T (LP) Columbia 30225

Dreams

Dreams

1970

Columbia 30225

Produced by Fred Weinberg and Dreams

*** noteworthy


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 Second Wind

Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express
Second Wind
RCA (LSP 4703)
1972
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 not
e in the books.  It’s one of Auger’s more enjoyable albums.— winch

Zappa: 1972

Frank Zappa

Waka / Jawaka
1972
Producer: Zappa
Rating: *** (Noteworthy)
Released August 1972, reached #152 in US

IMG_3841
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. 

 IMG_3843IMG_3842

It’s all a bit excessive, but a worthwhile listen for fans of jazz fusion jams.

The Mothers
The Grand Wazoo
1972
Producer: Zappa
Rating: *** (Noteworthy)
Released December 1972
IMG_3838
Continuing where Waka / Jawaka left off, this set from Zappa and the gang is mostly instrumental, featuring Frank’s own unique take on fusion.
IMG_3840IMG_3839
Certainly not essential Zappa but this includes some interesting cuts.

— winch

http://www.eight-track.com

Scott Bradford: Rock Slides (LP) 1969

Scott Bradford
Rock Slides

Probe 4509

Recommended ****
1969

As the title suggests, this is rock-influenced jazz, soul-jazz with some heavy rock leanings,opens with two Bradford compositions, the group at first easing into it like a tank rolling over rocks, but the machine quickly kicks it into gear, pounding out some chunky rock-hard rhythms, the rhythm section creating a unique and muscular motor to power the thing along, two bass players, two percussionists, Phillip Catherine pick-axing away at the rock with his guitar, the horns helping punch it home.  While there’s a lot going on, the group is obviously working on one thing, driving the music like a bulldozer through a rock quarry.  Bradford’s organ helps establish that soul-jazz groove, and Nathan Davis offers some of the most wild contributions of his career, blowing his sax like he’s John Henry swinging his hammer, swinging and spinning around the rhythms.  If it sounds like it might run out of gas on the second cut, the whole thing climaxes with the third cut, a Davis number called “Mid Evil Dance,” a cat named Vinagre coming in on Afro-Cuban percussion to help deepen the groove so he can dance around in it.  Side two gets reflective and less interesting with Nathan switching to flute, but the pace picks up again for a second Davis contribution to close the set.
While jazz-rock fusion quickly focused on increasingly annoying music in the 1970s, this is another date to show that the fusion of these two musical styles at first created lots of interesting music.  Rock is just rock’n roll, and rock’n roll is R&B, but this album suggests that rock has its own sound, something that sounds like a boulder rolling.  This isn’t a great set, but it’s got a raw rock power that’s missing from the crystalized fusion that followed the 60s.  While that stuff was like polished sapphires, this rolls out chunks of raw granite.  — winch

(author of Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s)

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