Jul 062020

Lately, I’ve been playing a song by a local (to Philadelphia) songwriter, Tim Bowen, now sadly deceased, that uses the trick of modulating repeatedly within the song, changing the key, seven times. Since that song is not available on-line. I give you this classic example:

The immediate inspiration to bring this up was hearing this song on the WFMU morning show:

I always loved how that trick works here to create a palpable sense of pandemonium in behind Gil Scott Heron‘s onslaught of images.

Can you think of any other examples? Is it cheesy or genius?

Jan 212009

Back in my younger days, it took me a long time to warm up to more traditional acoustic jazz, even after being hooked on Bitches Brew-era fusion. My problems centered around the ride cymbal-centered drumming common in pre-1969 jazz and the stiff formality of sequential soloing broken by arranged ensemble pieces. Of course these were pinhead impressions based on my very limited exposure to the wide variety of jazz available, but that’s how I saw things.

Pharoah Sanders, “The Creator Has a Master Plan”

Pharoah SandersKarma changed all that. This large ensemble jam based on thematic material from Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, provided the gateway to stronger, more dangerous forms of jazz. It acclimated me to traditional jazz approaches to drumming and its acoustic instrumentation cured me of my adolescent aversion to non-electric jazz. Although featuring some loose arrangement details, such as the flute carrying the basic theme through long sections of Pharoah’s soloing, the epic magnitude of the piece, and the floating nature of the soloist versus the accompaniment, makes it a fine JAMuary candidate. Don’t miss the double double-basses; Lonnie Liston-Smith’s piano; and the thick broth of french horn, flute, and various drummers/percussionists. Finally, Leon Thomas’ vocal is the jazz vocal for folks that don’t like jazz vocals: a jammin’ bit of late-’60s ingenuousness sitting comfortably in the ensemble, extending and, in some sense, rectifying Coltrane’s singing on A Love Supreme.

The album consisted of two pieces, “The Creator Has a Master Plan” and “Colors.” The former, included here, originally spanned a side and a half with a transitional fade to get from side A to side B. When first purchased on CD, I was very disappointed to find that MCA had skipped the expense of revisiting the master tape to restore the continuous take. Fortunately, they corrected this transgression on this subsequent improved quality release.

Jan 142009

What would JAMuary be without at least one visit from the “Mother of All Jam Bands,” the Grateful Dead? The legendary “Dark Star” was the opening cut on Live/Dead, the 1969 record of the band at the height of its JAM Powers. And JAM it is, a long, modal, free-form expansion of a 3-minute single into a 23-minute exploration into the outer limits of rock. It is not the most rockin’ of JAMS, but rather a contemplation of subtle interplay, tone, and feedback that you will concede rises far above any charges of mere noodling.

The Grateful Dead, “Dark Star”

Don’t miss Phil’s resonant melodic inventions, Bobby’s light touch on rhythm, and most of all, Jerry’s repeated reinvention of his guitar tone for each of the flowing sections. In fact, anyone with an open mind should agree that it sounds as if “it’s planned out” and not mind it at all.


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