Larry Knechtel (1989) Mountain Moods (LP) Universal Master Series (UVL-6279)

Larry Knechtel
Mountain Moods
1989
Universal Master Series (UVL-6279)
Produced by Norbert Putnam and Jim Horn
*** noteworthy

While a set of mellow pop-jazz instrumentals from the late 80s sounds like something that should be lost and soon forgotten, this was the first solo album by legendary session man Larry Knechtel so it should not be surprising that it’s quite enjoyable.

The mellow sound might come as a surprise to listeners who knew Larry as the bassist on the Doors’ first album, a member of Duane Eddy’s Rebels, and an important part of the Wrecking Crew and their “Wall of Sound,” but this man also played a big part in the band Bread, contributed piano and arrangements for “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” played bass on “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and offered Hammond B3 organ on Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.

His more reflective work from the past foreshadows the music on this album, but this seems mostly a reflection of his many years in the Pacific Northwest. This was recorded in his new home in Nashville after living for many years in Yakima, Washington. While this perhaps has some slight connection with Chet Atkins and Nashville’s use of sophisticated arrangements to compliment their down-home sounds, this was clearly Larry Knechtel’s project. As the title suggests and the sound supports, this seems much less a reflection of his new home in Nashville and more a remembrance of his mountain home in Washington.

When he was barely 30, he might have been frustrated with the soft-rock of Bread, but here he seems completely comfortable, slipping into the music like slipping a flannel jacket over your shoulders, and this comfortable feeling makes listening to this music so enjoyable, like taking a stroll down a mountain road. This certainly is not an essential outing, but if you have a weakness for softly spoken instrumentals by talented musicians, this is worth a listen.

— winch (author of

 

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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

Sinkane (2007) Color Voice (LP) Embed Records (EU 8022)

Sinkane
Color Voice
2007
Embed EU 8022
Written, produced and mixed by Ahmed Abdullahi Gallab.
Recorded/engineered by Mark Himmel
**** recommended

Gallab likely absorbed the music of many settings, times and places and people, perhaps Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Ginger Baker, Husker Du, various forms of jazz and fusion and music from his Sudan homeland.

He offers an engaging blend of jazz and progressive rock, electronic soundscapes and drums.

Interesting and enjoyable. Recommended listen for fans of electronic music.

— winch (author of

 

 

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David Amram (1979) No More Walls (LP) Flying Fish (GRO-752)

David Amram

No More Walls

1979

Flying Fish GRO-752

**** recommended
With all that was going on in 1979, the music scene was also plagued with stagnation. Disco music was transforming into hip-hop and electronic music but few were taking notice because disco sucked. Punk had reminded the world that rock doesn’t always need to progress: it can go back to its roots to refuel the fury but few cared because while disco sucked, punk swallowed. The underground scene had been slowly growing for years and soon a diverse independent music scene would emerge but it would be a long time before most took notice because in the 1970s the major labels had perhaps more control of the industry than ever before.


The executives had sorted through the countless bands and perhaps during a year or so in the 1970s, positive (and of course negative) repercussions existed. But by 1979, it was clear that the major labels were completely clueless and the music scene was suffering.


Of course a few minor labels had somehow managed to survive, perhaps because they focused on music that was so unhip that the major labels didn’t care. These labels posed no threat. Flying Fish was one of those independent labels and while they focused on folk music, they were also giving home to artists such as Amram. This was one of many Amram released on Flying Fish, and certainly one of his most interesting. And enjoyable.  While the liner notes only mention that Amram created these compositions from 1959 to 1971, they don’t mention that this is likely a reissue of the second half of a double album released on RCA Red Seal in 1971.  (Flying Fish were perhaps keen enough to recognize that the second two sides of the original release deserved to be revisited without the classical content of the first two sides.)


The title likely refers to the breaking down of walls between genres of music. Influences appear to be plentiful: Latin-American, African, and Near-Eastern music; folk musicians such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan; and some of the more innovative jazz musicians of the previous decades, especially those who incorporated world influences–from Yusef Lateef in the 50s to the ECM artists of the 70s. Mostly laid-back as a hammock swaying in an ocean breeze, this also has plenty of depth. Recommended 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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Screw Art Let’s Dance

Did the musical conversations between musicians begin with nonverbal conversations between dancer and musician? How closely was the development of improvisation connected with dance? Was the solo first initiated by the dancers? If so, then dancers played a huge part in creating American music because along with the blues and syncopation, American music is defined by solos, conversation, and improvisation.

In New Orleans it all came together like a cross-bred seed the size of a city and grew like an oak tree the size of a country. It spread across the map like a big-ass oak tree and grew into the music we heard throughout the 20th century, and the music we listen to today.

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So many influences came together down there in New Orleans, from a circle of cultural groups that reached down into the West Indies and up into the Delta, from the original people of the area and from the black people who were brought to various locations against their will, from Africa to the Americas, from internal and external elemental places that they were wise enough to notice and creative enough to capture, the waves and the wind, the shake of the trees and the flicker of the flame, the trickle of the rain and crash of thunder, the beat of the heart as it hunts and hates and loves, the movement of the body as it moves to show affection and cause reproduction.  Movement inspired music, and music caused movement.

The people of New Orleans got together and before the twine frayed, they wove the music together into a tighten wound rope. But what caused the twine to fray, what caused the soloists to twirl out of the rope and do their own things? These things were still of course connected with where the music was going but leading the music into new directions, the rope pulling the soloist back into the pack as the soloist pulled the band down a new alley. It’s all so much like dancers busting out of the pack and doing their own things that one certainly has to wonder if these solo dancers were the ones the inspired these early soloists.

 

And if so, then its easy to see how dancers helped create something that influenced most forms of American music, from ragtime to rap and most everything in between. It’s just something to think about as we look back to try to figure out what happened to make this all come together.

And perhaps it’s even more important as we move forward into the future.

Grab the hand of that man in the wheelchair and let him do his thing. Kick those folding chairs into the corner and stand up for what is right. We must let the music move. We must let the people dance.

— winch (author

Ralph Towner (1973) Diary (LP) ECM 1032 (1974)

Ralph Towner

Diary 

ECM 1032

Recorded April 4 and 5, 1973; released 1974.

Produced by Manfred Eicher

**** recommended


Ron Wynn said it so well when reviewing Towner’s Works, “A great, great guitarist whose songs at worst are overly sentimental, at best hypnotic” and it’s important that Wynn started that sentence with “Great, great,” because even when Towner is being sentimental, he completes his intentions and captures his subject, encapsulating an often fleeting or moving subject like a painter, a memory or a moment, and even in the more forgettable moments on this set, brush strokes mix the memories of music’s past with Towner’s own experiences and expressions.


For an album that features one artist using only acoustic guitars, piano and gong, this definitely has its moments. As much as this seems to come out of his work with the group Oregon, a close listen reveals some clear differences. It’s not only more personal, this reveals different influences. At times, this recalls Weather Report at their most reflective, but here Towner strips the body down to bone and ghost.

— winch (author of )

 

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