Month: July 2019

Russian Circles, Blood Year (2019)–Preview Review

Are you lost on a howling, desolate, icy tundra, not knowing where you are, or even if you’re near anywhere, knowing only that you’re about to face an implacable enemy in high-tech, mortal combat? No? Good. Maybe you’re on space craft, and something’s gone wrong, and you’re hurtling in slow-mo toward some kind of seething, black-hole abyss. No, not that, either? Good.

Good, because Blood Year, the new album by the devastatingly heavy instrumental trio Russian Circles, won’t be fully released until August 2. If you’re planning any of the above adventures—or, maybe, making a score for a movie or video-game that dramatizes such scenarios—wait until early August, because, if the pre-release tracks from Blood Year are any indication, Blood Year is the soundtrack you need. It is such a buzzkill when your dark, cinematic adventures have the wrong music.

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GToD #6.2—Joni Mitchell and Pat Metheny, “Furry Sings the Blues,” from Shadows and Light (1980)

Part 2 of 2—Pat Metheny

Be sure to read Part 1, which focuses on Joni Mitchell’s song “Furry Sings the Blues” and her distinctive use of alternate tunings.

As noted in Part 1, Metheny’s presence in Mitchell’s touring band is one among his rare appearances as a sideman to an artist from outside the jazz world. Well before his 1979 gig as Mitchell’s lead guitarist, Pat Metheny had in place a sound and style very much his own. Throughout much of the show, he presses his well-known tone—via a Gibson Es-175 into a pair of clean Acoustic combos, gently enhanced with asymmetrical delay settings—into the service of songs distant from his own.

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GToD #6.1—Joni Mitchell and Pat Metheny, “Furry Sings the Blues,” from Shadows and Light (1980)

Part 1 of 2—Joni Mitchell

Be sure to check back on July 7 for part 2, which will focus on Pat Metheny’s contribution to “Furry Sings the Blues.”

Joni Mitchell’s “Shadows and Light” is a brilliant performance document that brings together stage translations of the singer/songwriter/guitarist’s mid-70s period. During this interval, Mitchell released one after another adventurous album: Court and Spark (1974), The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975), Hejira (1976), Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1977), and Mingus (1979). In contrast to the folk and softer rock leanings of her earlier recordings, the brief on this sequence of albums was strongly informed by jazz, and Mitchell brought aboard some of the most cutting-edge jazz musicians of the era, perhaps most notably electric bass innovator and virtuoso Jaco Pastorius.

Although Mitchell herself is the essential guitar presence on her albums, she invited occasional additions from jazz-rock lead player Larry Carlton and Robben Ford. By the time of the late 1979 gigs that led to Shadows and Light, her live band included one of the most innovative young jazz guitarists of the time: Pat Metheny. Four years out from his 1976 debut and close to the cusp of releasing American Garage, Metheny was in what have proven to be rare circumstances in his lengthy and still-evolving career.

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GToD #5—Jefferson Starship—“Jane,” from Freedom at Point Zero (1979)

Craig Chaquico on lead guitar

Say what you must about the group that shapeshifted from the band that made “Somebody to Love” to the band that made “We Built This City,” but anyone who wants to dis them too hard has to reckon with the high points of their output. While never a megahit, “Jane” has been an FM radio staple for four decades and may well be the most identifiable single from the Jefferson Starship incarnation. Much of its enduring appeal resides in the contributions of rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner and lead guitarist Craig Chaquico.

Beginning with a clean, phase-shifted arpeggiated Em7-Gmaj7 riff, the guitarists quickly kick on crunchy sounds and cue the rhythm section with a pick-up that precedes the tight and punchy main riff. The riff is simple, but the song resists reduction to a bonehead riff with dramatic chromatic climbs, a faux-Carribean breakdown, and a key change leading into the guitar solo.

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5 Scott Henderson Tracks That Are Really, Really Good

With the arrival of People Mover imminent here (On Apple Music, it dropped at midnight on Monday, July 1), I’ve been listening to a lot of Scott Henderson’s older music and getting excited about hearing new stuff from him. Below are five tunes, in chronological order, from Henderson’s previous releases. They represent his early days as a sideman; his work as a key member of the fusion outfit Tribal Tech; an interesting one-off collaboration with bassist Jeff Berlin and drummer Dennis Chambers; and his solo albums, but there is no attempt at ranking and no judgment of what is absolutely essential in his catalog—except in a couple of cases.

“Three Nighter,” from Jeff Berlin’s Champion (1985)

Champion was my introduction to Scott Henderson’s playing. I knew Jeff Berlin from Allan Holdsworth’s Road Games, and I was stoked to see that the bassist had Neal Schon and Neal Peart on his debut solo album, but it was the guitar contributions of then-unknown-to-me Scott Henderson that really turned my head around. On “Three Nighter,” Henderson’s rhythmic acuity shines as he riffs in unison with Berlin, carries melodic sections on his own, and digs in on solos that capture both bebop’s melodic contours and its spaces and pauses right next to rock guitar moves.

Click “continue reading” for 4 more choice Scott Henderson tracks!

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