Apologies, amigos... I've been doing other things, went to Dublin last week and got wrecked when I came back so was out of action... But onwards...
This week I'm going electric: three disparate tracks from jazz musicians who have used electronic instruments and embraced elements of rock and funk. One would havethought that the Miles Davis track from 'On the Corner' would have been the first recording of this sequence, given his pioneering embrace of technology and being regarded as the fountainhead of jazz-rock from 'Bitches Brew' onwards. But Auger recorded the album 'Streetnoise' a couple of years before – and there was an interesting scenario playing out in the UK during the sixties with the overlapping and mixing of styles between jazz, blues, R and B etc. Blues/R and B being the catalyst and the area where all of it came together. I'm thinking of bands like Alexis Corner's Blues Incorporated and the Graham Bond Organisation – both of whom I saw several times in the mid-sixties. Korner – singer and so-so guitar player used to bolster his group with the best jazzers available when he went out on the road. Graham Bond had been a fiery jazz alto sax player, winner of Young Jazz musician of the year when he was with Don Rendell's group (saw them as well – they were great!). Then as the Beat Boom and the R and B boom rolled on, he formed a band with jazzers Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and Dick Heckstall-Smith – (someone else who saw no boundaries in music as opposed to many other modern jazz musicians then and now) – and featured himself on vocals, electric organ and sax – often playing sax and organ at the same time. A fat wild man in a kaftan, a far cry from the bebop cool and lounge suits of his previous incarnation. Performing a lot of Chicago Blues overlaid with gritty chunks of hard bop, the organ sound of Jimmy Smith and Jack Mc Duff et al transported well into these set ups. And the lineage was there to be found – organ and tenor groups in jazz had been around for a while where the edges between R and B and jazz were blurred – especially in the hard bop/soul jazz camp coming out of the Jazz Messengers as prime example – blowing hard on Bobby Timmons tunes. Not to forget Cannonball Adderley – who had established his credentials and played on one of the the sublimely definitive jazz recordings – 'Kind of Blue.' With Miles... Much of this history is intricately interlinked and I have no time to unravel it all here. Just to note that Joe Zahwinul came out of Miles' lineups and also played in the Adderley Brothers band and wrote 'Mercy Mercy Mercy'- which was to figure large in the repertoire of British r and b'ers who did the crossover ride (he of course went on to found 'Weather Report'), along with 'Work Song,' 'Moanin'' from the Blakey book – a Timmons tune that was a big juke box hit. R and B and jazz had never been far from each other in the States – when they came together in the UK and before 'fusion' became the great bland out some interesting sparks were struck.
Here's an interesting site about Graham Bond
which has a lot of archive reviews giving a flavour of the times.
Brian Auger paralleled Graham Bond. From Young Jazz Musician of the Year on piano to electronic outcast on organ who saw way beyond the ghetto that modern jazz could frequently become... He eventually re-located to the US where he figured that his eclecticism would be better appreciated. The two tracks here are from 'Streetnoise' – the last recordings with Julie Driscoll until a brief reunion in 1977, I think. 'Light my Fire' is a waltzy take on the tune made famous by Jose Feliciano and The Doors and shows off Auger's bluesy organ style. I don't think Driscoll has ever made a bad record – her majestic voice slow burnsthroughout - to my ear bearing resonances of Nina Simone and a distant edge of Sarah Vaughan – jazz and soul credentials intact but nevertheless her own woman. A unique talent - who married the great pianist Keith Tippet and left the pop world for the wilder and more remote shores of experimental/improvised music – where she still remains. 'All blues' is the Mile's tune with Oscar Brown Jr's lyrics - which are secondary to the vocal timbre and finesse with which she negotiates the track, accompanied by Auger on piano, displaying his mastery of the bluesier side of jazz out of Bobby Timmons or Les McCann, say - those rolling, gospelly licks. These two songs are actually more jazzy than some of the others on the album which combines jazz, blues, and folk even (great Godamighty! Donovan covers and more!) - and pulls it off without compromising any of the ingrediental musics.
Light my firemp3
Go forward a couple of years and 'On the Corner' arrives – Miles trying to kill off the jazz critical establishment with a hearty dose of apoplexy. This album was universally hated by the jazz critical mafia and is a neglected masterpiece – as much for what it foreshadowed. I've chosen the daftest track – 'Mr Freedom X' which is a melange of what sounds like african percussion, indian tablas, electric bass, an electric sitar? - electric keyboards, and some randomish synthy-noise, slowly starting to build into a messy but infectious groove as the trap drums lock in. Add a few smears of Carlos Garnett's sax – whaddayagot? Jazz? Possibly not, Cyril... yet it comes from jazz even if it ends up in a sound world that prefigures trip-hop and other recent electronic boogies. It also sounds as if it was put together in the studio – Mile's and Teo Macero's african/jazz mixtrack and another heretical move. But when you figure that not long before this guy was still playing expanded bebop – you have to admire Miles' exquisite risk-taking – and his superior strategies in electronic ladyland – compared to the bland mess that fusion/jazz-rock was to become in the main (and that includes much of 'Weather Report' as well...).
Mister Freedom xmp3
The Elton Dean track is the most recent recording display here. A trio performance with Dean on electric keyboard and sax – shades of Graham Bond. Well, maybe not – this is much more jazzy – the most 'jazz' track out of all of these – and I can't quite see Elton Dean belting out 'Got my Mojo Working.' This is a dense sound with the electric organ underneath and the drums avoiding the more groove-orientated paths. Yet you can place it in the same lineage – coming out of both jazz and r and b – albeit the free-jazz side of things. And with a hefty reminder for me of the sprawling electronic improvised grooves that Miles initiated on 'Bitches Brew' and was to use as the seed-corn of 'On the Corner' among others – taken away and edited/spliced into new configurations. Here, this is a studio improvisation that doesn't sound overtly edited and has a cleaner sound despite the timbral thickness – only three instruments and the Fender Rhodes doesn't clash with the Hammond organ. But I can imagine this as a stripped-down echo of those Miles sessions with maybe a small homage to the sixties UK scene?
Good article about E Dean here...