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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Keith Jarrett (1976) Survivor’s Suite (LP) ECM-1-1085

Keith Jarrett

Survivor’s Suite 

1976

Recorded April 1976 in Ludwigsburg, Germany.

ECM-1-1085

Produced by Manfred Eicher

**** (recommended)


One of Jarrett’s most interesting and enjoyable ECM dates from the 1970s, sounding as if the group was taking in account of what had gone down in the previous years, from Yusef Lateef to Weather Report, but moving off with their focused improvisations into their own territory, cohesive explorations and conversations, the members fueling each other as the band moves along like a caravan into the unknown.


And actually this is well aware of what had gone down long before the 1950s, back to the distant past, from New York City to New Orleans, from the deep South to the sounds of other lands from times long ago. And perhaps this is even aware of the future.


It’s certainly testimony that both Jarrett and the ECM label were important elements in the development of music in the latter part of the 20th century and into the new millennium.

— winch (author of

 

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George Shearing Quintet with Nancy Wilson (1961) the Swingin’s Mutual (LP) Capitol (ST 1524)

George Shearing Quintet with Nancy Wilson

the Swingin’s Mutual 

1961

Capitol (ST 1524)

produced by Dave Cavanaugh and Tom Morgan

**** recommended
While all of Nancy’s 1960s albums will likely please her serious fans, some dates clearly stand out, and this early one with Shearing is clearly one of them.

The alternating back and forth between instrumental and vocal cuts works wonderfully, like pearls and diamonds lined up in a bracelet, and it causes one to wonder why this form of sequencing isn’t used more often.  Instead of forcing the use of vocal fillers–too often an issue with albums of the 60s–this format fills the room with something worth talking about, works like a healthy conversation, and it offers space and repose, allows time for the music to sink into your soul.  And with Nancy offering the vocals, the sequencing works like a tease, the instrumentals like head-spinning pauses between kisses.


Along with the two stars, vibraphonist Warren Chiasson and guitarist Dick Garcia get a little time to get their offerings into the conversations.   It really doesn’t matter if you prefer Nancy’s jazz dates or her pop ones, this one will please everyone.

— winch (author of

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Toots Thielemans (1959) The Soul of Toots Thielemans (LP) Signature (SM 6006)

Toots Thielemans

The Soul of Toots Thieleman 

Recorded 1959, released 1960

Signature (SM 6006)

**** recommended

For this 1959 date, Toots is backed wonderfully with three Americans, Ray Bryant (Philly) on piano, Ray’s brother Tom on bass, and Oliver Jackson (Detroit) on drums, all the members helping to set the tone for the meeting and helping bringing Toots into their country, planting the sound deep into American soil, Ray getting plenty of time to get his piano into the conversation.


Of course, as the billing suggests, this is Toot’s album, his last name showing on all the credits of the originals on this set, his playing gracing every selection, the talented Toots alternates between harmonica and electric guitar, even whistling through his original “Brother John” that closes the set.


Toots shows he was not just an outstanding harmonica player, but a great guitar player as well–showing this clearly on cuts such as “Lonesome Road”–showing that the harmonica can color in a selection as much as any horn, and showing that the electric guitar can do the same. While blues and jazz guitar players revealed the ability for the guitar to offer rhythm and lead at the same time, adding electricity offered even more, making it easier for the guitar to fill in the song with colors much like horns had done for centuries.


This whole set is thoroughly enjoyable, a mix of originals by Toots and tunes by others—old tradition songs and jazz standards, Garner’s “Misty,” Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” and Parker’s “Confirmation”–the meeting laid back yet swinging, taut as a congregation yet relaxed as a Sunday afternoon, swinging like a porch swing with autumn in the air, the warmth of summer mixing with the latter parts of the year, youthful as young man, yet thoughtful as an elder. This might not be a great album, but it’s certainly a good one.

— winch (author of

 

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Cornell Dupree (1978) Shadow Dancing (LP) Versatile Records MSG 6004

Cornell Dupree

Shadow Dancing 

1978

Versatile Records MSG 6004

Produced by Vic Chiumbolo

*** noteworthy
Most listeners wouldn’t expect much from a session guitarist running through the then-current hits, but Dupree was no run-of-the-mill session artist, and he manages to keep this set tasteful and contemporary, interesting and enjoyable, not a small feat for 1978. While the contributions from Hank Crawford, Jimmy Smith, and others come through clearly, this is Cornell’s album.


Unlike many rock, jazz and blues musicians, Dupree understands that the contribution of all instruments–even guitar–should remain part of the song. And although these are all instrumentals, they all sound like songs, with Cornell’s playing not only helping move along the rhythm, but also providing voices delivered with the stabbing licks and understated harmonics.

Side one is a run through the hits, starting with a fusion of Andy Gibb’s “Shadow Dancing” and Donna Summer’s “Last Dance,” and then the third cut, “The Closer I Get To You,” effectively slows down the proceedings. The song had been an important part of the story of the friendship and duets of Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, and Dupree’s instrumental version seems both a tribute to that story and a testimony to the power of Cornell’s playing. The harmonics are wonderfully placed and then punched home with slow but stabbing licks. (Sadly, the version would serve as memorial for Donny Hathaway and his struggles with mental illness, as Donny would suffer a fatal fall from his balcony about the time this album was released.) While a version of Stephen Bishop’s “On and On” might seem a bit silly after that heartfelt number, it’s actually great placement, Cornell and the band picking up the pace and using the tune as a launching pad, swinging the hit until the trail-off grooves.


Side two comes as no disappointment, opening with an extended version of Freddie Scott’s 1963 “Hey Girl” (Goffin-King), and while this cut concludes with a Cornell workout, like much of the second side, the song allows room for the contributions of other member of the band to come to the front. If the version of Steely Dan’s “Peg” seems unnecessary, the set ends with a grip on the groove, first with a surprisingly effective version of Dolly Parton’s “Two Doors Down” and finally with the workout conclusion of Dupree’s own “The Creeper.” On this final cut, Cornell gets to stretch his fingers but also pulls back to give Jimmy Smith and the horn players some room to fill in the groove. If the album had weaker moments, this last cut makes one forget all that.


This isn’t an essential listening, but after Cornell graced hundreds and hundreds of classic and noteworthy soul and jazz recordings with his guitar, it’s nice to hear him have a chance to put his licks in the spotlight. While many jazz enthusiasts won’t find this an especially interesting outing, fans of guitar playing or the slick funky stuff of the late 70s should definitely find something to enjoy in these grooves.

— winch (author of

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