North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘Mark on Music classic

Blood on the dance floor: Miles Davis’ Live Evil

leave a comment »

In the second half of the 1960s, Miles Davis put together what’d be known as his second great quintet: pianist Herbie Hancock, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums. As this group recorded seminal albums like E.S.P., Miles Smiles or Miles in the Sky, Davis’ music began shifting away from strict jazz.

Throughout his career, Davis was always shifting away from the jazz mainstream. He turned down a gig with Duke Ellington while putting together the nonet that’d record The Birth of the Cool, revolutionizing jazz from stuffy big band arrangements into a compact form: a tightly-knit group that would alternate solos between arranged sections of music. Just listen to Move, a song with a composed head, room for soloing and a finish, with everything crammed into a frantic three minutes. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M.

June 3, 2013 at 9:00 am

One and Done: Six Canadian Bands That Only Released a Debut Record

with one comment

Editor’s Note: Originally published Feb. 6, 2012 at Flashfact.org. A postscript has been appended to the bottom.

It’s harder than you’d think to find bands that only released one album. Generally, if a band is any good they have a little staying power. Sometimes even if they’re not any good, too. Even one-hit-wonders seem to stick around for a little while: did you realize Len released five albums? That The Odds released four? Even Jale – a band that only seemed to be around for a matter of weeks – released two albums.

But it still happened. Each of the following bands here were, and in one case still are, very good. But somehow, they left just one album for their legacy, at least while they were still together. And when I say album, I’m talking a full length: something substantial, with more than a couple songs. EPs, compilations and remix albums don’t count. Neither do records released well after the band broke up: do those reflect the bands intent, or was it a way for a label to recoup costs? I’m not counting stuff released if the band went through substantial changes, either: if they added new members and changed their name, I’m considering that a different band.

Read the rest of this entry »

Arts & Crafts at ten: their ten best releases

leave a comment »

Ten years ago, Broken Social Scene released their second record You Forgot It In People. With some help from Paper Bag Records, it was the first album on the Arts & Crafts label, with the iconic bar of color down the side. The label started as a way to release music made by the band it’s associates, but within a few years it started releasing albums from outside talent: The Most Serene Republic, New Buffalo and American Analog Set, among others.

Soon, it’d become one of the best labels in the country. Known for it’s iconic album designs, high quality of releases and a willingness to try new things; they were doing digital downloads as far back as 2005. While they’re more or less committed to a certain style of indie rock, the label’s made interesting expansions over the years. In recent years, they’ve released the lush acoustic rock of Timber Timbre, the spooky, powerful music of Cold Specks and even managed to land Bloc Party.

As the label turns ten, I’ve offered up my ten favorite records on the label. It’s something of a fluid list: most of these spots are interchangeable, depending on my mood, and on another given day, I might swap one or two out for a few others. But don’t hold that against them: by and large, Arts & Crafts has been steady in it’s releases. There’s only been a handful of albums they’ve released I’d consider subpar and off the top of my head, I can’t really think of any total flops (although I’m probably not going to be listening to Valley of the Giants any time soon). Read the rest of this entry »

From Chunga’s Revenge to Carnegie Hall: Frank Zappa’s Flo and Eddie years

leave a comment »

A Mark on Music classic, from the Flashfact.org archives. 

In his lifetime Frank Zappa released over 60 albums, a slate ranging from rock to jazz to classical, with stops all over the place: albums recorded by computers, comedy songs, side-long instrumental jams. It’s easy to break his career up into various stages, usually his backing band.

First were the original Mothers of Invention. Later on came the 20-piece Wazoo band, the first of his large ensembles. In between those two came his Flo and Eddie band, maybe the most maligned of his career. If the names sound vaguely familiar, they’ll sound instantly so when listened to: they’re Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, the two vocalists from The Turtles. They were joined by multi-instrumentalist (and longtime Zappa collaborator) Ian Underwood, bassist Jeff Simmons, jazz legend George Duke and Aynsley Dunbar, who narrowly missed out on drumming for Jimi Hendrix and King Crimson.

This group released four albums while active, plus another one issued in the early 1990s and a live set released late last year. Most of these albums were recorded live, showing this band at what Zappa must have felt it did best: making jokes and telling stories on stage.

Two of those live albums are Fillmore East, June 1971 and Just Another Band From L.A., and each features a long suite of mostly dialogue. Fillmore has the groupie routine, a skit about being in a band and getting action from a local groupie; the other has “Billy the Mountain”, a long story-song about a mountain, his wife Ethel (a tree) and their trip cross-country. They’re both interesting documents of this band, but the jokes haven’t especially aged well. And the best part of this band is hardly shown at all: these guys could play.

For years, the best document of this band was the first album they appeared on: Chunga’s Revenge. It’s sort of a hodge-podge of material, containing a live jam, leftovers from Hot Rats and two scorching instrumentals between a few Flo and Eddie songs.

While the album never exactly keeps a certain feel, it shows a little bit of everything in and shows off everything this band did well: make you laugh, make you scratch your head at how well they interacted on stage and make you play air guitar over some of Zappa’s more ferocious licks.

On the title track and Transylvania Boogie the band rocks out like it’s nobody’s business, while songs like  “Would You Go All The Way” and “Rudy Wants To Buy Yez A Drink” have Flo and Eddie at their funniest: the second is about the musicians union, featuring Rudy (who wants to buy you a drink) and isn’t kidding around (he carries a gun to keep musicians in line). The live cut, an excerpt from a performance of “King Kong” shows the band interacting, playing off each others improvisations and eventually getting the crowd to join in. And “Twenty Small Cigars” is one of Zappa’s most underrated gems: a tidy little fusion number that should be a jazz standard. Despite it’s disparate parts, it’s the most constantly entertaining album this group released.

It’s an album easily lost in the shuffle. Chunga’s Revenge was released in October 1970, the third album Zappa released that year. He’d release two more in 1971 and Just Another Band From LA followed in early 1972. And like most of his albums it was out of print for years, even recently. But as of early this month, it’s been released, with a much better mix to boot: the sound’s a lot dryer, with the drums sounding more crisp and natural and the lower end less muddy than previous CD issues. It’s a great album for those interested in this era of Zappa and it’s finally back in print.

But like I said above, this was only a snippet of this band and mostly studio work, to boot. And this was a band that was best on stage. For those who already know about Zappa and have a bad taste of this era – too many dirty jokes, not enough good music – the Zappa Family Trust put out a four-disc set last winter that does nothing less but revolutionize this band’s legacy.

The set takes its name from the location: Carnegie Hall. It’s a collection of two shows Zappa played there in late 1971, the only time he played (or desecrated, as he says during the recording) this stage. It’s an admittedly long set, but it’s basically two complete concerts and for once, the music’s isn’t limited by a release format.

Two of the songs here are more than 30 minutes long: a “King Kong” that’s stuffed with jamming and solos and an extended “Billy the Mountain”, complete with new passages and solos, that goes for over 47 minutes, a song longer than either live album from this group. Both of these go a long way to showing how talented this band was: they were just as good at improvising for an extended period as they were at a scripted mock-rock opera.

The rest of these shows show this band – Zappa, Flo and Eddie, Underwood and Dunbar were joined by Jim Pons on bass and Don Preston on keyboards and Moog synth – in full flight, from another mock-rock opera (“Divan”, the story of Creation and also a giant couch in the heavens), to precision-level playing on rock passages (the twisting “Sleeping in a Jar”, the jazzy “Peaches en Regalia”) to the poppy “Tears Began to Fall,” a song that should have been a hit for this group (below is a different version of this number).

There’s a few surprise treats, too: an electric blues arrangement of “Who Are the Brain Police”, the early Mothers number “Anyway The Wind Blows” and a grateful Zappa announcing because of union rules, it’ll cost him $600 to play one more song but he’s more than happy to do it before launching into a jammed-out version of “The Mud Shark” from Fillmore East. These may mean little to the non-Zappa fan, but to the converted it’s a big deal: this is an artist who changed how songs were played between nights, let alone bands, and just because you’ve heard one version of “King Kong”, it doesn’t mean you’ve even scratched the surface.

But the best thing about this album is what it does for this era of his music. It’s been long looked over and just jokes and groupie talk. The 1992 album Playground Psychotics did little to remedy this: sure, it had an essential set where John Lennon sat in with the Mothers, but it’s long stretches of dialogue and audio verite marred what should have been an essential release. This doesn’t quite have the same quality as those recordings (it was recorded surreptitiously by Zappa in mono, although it sounds exceptionally good considering the circumstances) and the music isn’t quite as legendary as a Zappa/Lennon jam, but it shows just how good this band could be on any given night.

And this band could be pretty damn good.

(Carnegie Hall is available only through Barfko-Swill. At $42 it’s an expensive album, but when you think about it, it’s about $10 a CD. Not too pricy and a lot cheaper than paying to see Zappa Plays Zappa shamble through similar material.)

Originally published at Flashfact.org Aug 28, 2012

Written by M.

April 19, 2013 at 12:54 pm