Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Jaco Pastorius: Modern American Music… Period! The Criteria Sessions

Monday, May 1st, 2017

Let’s just skip past the bit in which I apologize for not writing much. I’m so terrible at this that I had to reset my password.

Prologue: I’ve had a new manager for the last three months, as part of a job swap between different institutions. Friday was his last day, and he gave the members of my group parting gifts. He was a former jazz geek like myself, and we’d spent some time talking about jazz and jazzy things in our weekly meetings; this informed his decision to purchase for me an album that I didn’t even know existed, Jaco Pastorius’ “Modern American Music… Period! The Criteria Sessions.

It’s the demo recordings of a young (23!) Jaco Pastorius, unseen and unheard, only one copy in existence, until it’s mass production in 2014. They did what they could to remaster it for mass production; there’s tape hiss, fade ins, etc… it’s a demo, after all. And it is marvelous.

I could go on about the music; demo recordings and trial runs of songs that would appear on future Jaco Pastorius and Weather Report releases, the odd instrumentation (TWO steel drum player!?), the absolute wall of sixteenth notes that still create a structure and groove that you can build a house on. I won’t, though. This is an amazing album, very worth listening to, and I recommend it. For someone unfamiliar with Jaco’s work, I’d first recommend his debut release and his work with Joni Mitchell and Pat Metheny as starting points, followed by this album as a “SEE!? SEE WHERE THAT CAME FROM!” reference.

What I will discuss, though, is that this is the first time in probably 15 years that I’ve really sat and listened to Jaco. Which seems strange, considering that he is hands down the biggest influence on my bass playing. Yes, my main influences in my early years were absolutely Les Claypool, Cliff Burton, Brent Alwin from the Style Monkeez, and Billy Gould from Faith No More. These were bassists I could aspire to, mimic, and absorb. With enough time spent in my room, I could play their bass lines, and learn from them. When I first heard Jaco in 1996, it was like putting on the sunglasses.* It was a sobering moment. Not only could I not physically play his music, I didn’t understand the theory behind it. I think of music mathematically;** melody is the solution to a harmonic problem, and bass lines are really alternate reality melodies. At least, that’s how I understand it now. ANYWAY, Jaco’s basslines alone were tremendously complex both harmonically and rhythmically, and yet somehow perfectly created a perfect groove. Looking at the transcriptions of his bass lines, you’d think that he was grossly overplaying, yet when listening to the music, this belt fed machine gun of notes creates a steady foundation for the rest of the band. I would spend hours working on one. single. measure. Trying to understand the “why” of the notes and rhythms. Trying to build up the physical dexterity and endurance to play through THIS. There was a period of my college years (two years to be precise) when I almost exclusively listened to Jaco, spending hour after hour in the practice room trying to “get it”. This was a time in my life when music was breaking me; I’d practice until midnight, then shut off the lights in my practice room and wait for security to sweep through the music building, then turn the lights back on and practice for a few more hours. I’d leave HFA disgusted with myself for not being able to play fast enough, or not being able to keep up a frenetic sixteenth note pace through solo changes. I’d spend another hour walking circles around campus, fingers still twitching, spirals of notes spinning around in my brain. And then one day, I watched an instructional video by bassist Michael Manring (a former student of Jaco), in which he talked about his frustrations in trying to sound like Jaco, how he would stay up late at night practicing and he kept making mistakes, and then he realized that those mistakes were his musical voice coming through. It was sobering, and slightly terrifying. That’s when I stopped trying to get into Jaco’s head, focused more on just playing music, and started enjoying playing bass again. When I taught bass lessons, I’d recommend certain Jaco tunes or use his lines as instructional material, but since then I haven’t even really listened to Jaco’s work.

It’s refreshing to listen to his early work with “fresh ears”. You can absolutely hear bass lines and ideas that he would use for the rest of his life (and since he died at 35, a very short life). It’s also interesting to listen to this after I’ve spent so many years listening to very technical metal music. His bass playing seems much more “alive” than I remember it being, and I think that’s simply due to the fact that the recordings are raw, unprocessed, straight to analog. No overdubs, no studio magic. Just pure, raw, recorded talent.

*Except instead of seeing dystopian messages and aliens, I saw my own crippling musical inadequacy.
**Which is hilarious because I’m notoriously awful at math.

Alice In Chains – Dirt

Friday, September 11th, 2009

I listened to Facelift about five times while driving over the Labor Day weekend, and realized that I don’t own a good copy of Dirt, one of my favorite albums of all time.* A trip to Half Price Books later, and I had my very first copy of Dirt on CD (I also picked up Unplugged, but that is a completely different post).

As I mention here, Dirt was a “soundtrack of my life” album for my junior year in high school. In that post, I write:

Put on this album, and I instantly go back to January ‘94, -20 degrees, driving around in my friends 1972 Delta 88, looking for a party out in the middle of nowhere. That pretty much sums up that entire year for me.

This album has incredible staying power. It still sounds as sludgy and dirty as it did back then, and Layne’s lyrics and delivery hit as hard as they did the first time I heard it. The production doesn’t sound quite as dated as some albums from the early nineties do today, and honestly, the way that the bass and the drums play off each other throughout the album should be the basis for a textbook on what a rock rhythm section should sound like. The vocal harmonies are amazing, and I have spent countless hours in the car singing through this album, taking turns singing each vocal part. A simply awesome album.

* I own a copy on cassette, AND TOTALLY DON’T HAVE a crappy mp3 version of the album, complete with CD skips.

The Agonist – Lullabies for the Dormant Mind

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

OK, I admit it. I have a thing for growly female metal singers. Through some random Youtube video searching (I believe I was actually looking for Light This City videos – which reminds me, I need to talk about Stormchaser at some point), I found Canadian band The Agonist. I was hooked at one listen to “…And Their Eulogies Sang Me To Sleep”.

Lullabies for the Dormant Mind is their second studio release, and it is a very, very dense “metalcore” album. I personally think they’ve got a little of a melodic death metal sound to them, but that’s just me. A surprising amount of twists and turns rhythmically, with superb drumming throughout. I was fairly surprised to find quite a bit of clean vocals on several of the tracks, including an entire multi-tracked acappella version of “Swan Lake, Op. 20”, which is very well done. Singer Alissa White-Gluz is a fantastic growler, and her clean vocals are quite good. I imagine that’s difficult to keep up while touring.

Another surprise is the use of keyboards (although probably samples live). Keyboards are definitely hit or miss in a metal band, but the orchestral and choral stabs that punctuate the tracks flesh them out quite a bit, adding a perfect touch of creepy morbid beauty.