Moar Dhafer Youssef.

Needed a bookmark.  “Odd Poetry” done live.

Inspired, as usual, by the studio record spin on Pandora.

Just…wow.

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Return to Forever.

The first album, that is.  Before it was a group name.

For all my interest in the experimental/avant-garde/fusion/prog, I must shamefully confess that I have never understood the widespread opinion that Return To Forever ever actually improved on that record.

In my world, it’s a true masterpiece.  Oh, it has its flaws, for sure, but it is really the only RTF record which for me truly comes alive.  For all the virtuosity which followed, none of it was as raw, as urgent, as insistent, as this.

I suppose this is where I appear to join the “fusion” critics who say that as the music got louder and flashier, it also got less and less interesting.  It’s a fair conclusion to draw.

It does strike me as a at least a bit weird, though.  I mean, I love Al Di Meola’s fireworks on his own records, and his later work also does a good job of showing how lyrical he can be when he slows down a bit.  Stanley Clarke may be a bit hit-or-miss for me as a composer, but when he does connect it’s stunning, and one cannot fail to notice his nearly superhuman playing skills.  (My favorite Clarke is his small-group work with Bela Fleck, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Al Di Meola…simply breathtaking.)  I never really made a connection with “classic lineup” drummer Lenny White, which probably isn’t fair since he arrived with the changes I didn’t identify with, and I don’t have another context to view him in like I do with the other band members.  I suppose there’s the implicit compliment that I never really noticed him one way or the other, so he must be a perfectly good drummer, but that’s always been a bit unsatisfying, as an impression, for an active listener.

And Corea himself…is just an enigma for me.  Ultimately, in RTF, I can say with confidence he flat loses me with the wanky keyboard sounds that are and have always been like nails-on-chalkboard for me.  I absolutely love his acoustic piano improvisations records, and there is no doubt about his compositional skills and playing virtuosity…but really, other than solo improv piano, and the first RTF record, I need to have Corea playing with someone else–as a peer rather than as a bandleader–to really get into him.

For those who don’t know, there was a second RTF record with the same lineup as the first.  That one did have some great moments, most notably on the last two pieces–which sound to my ears like they are from the same creative session that produced the first record–but in general it doesn’t have the same spark of life, or the wonderful hooks.  The singing on Light as a Feather, for me, went too much further down the path of lyrical cheese;  the 1972 record hinted at that in a couple of places, but there, the underlying musical hooks and movement just plain overpowered it.  (And singer Flora Purim’s voice was put to magnificent effect without words, as well.)

As an overall effort, I think that first record had it all.  You can hear all the playing brilliance you want, clearly–at those moments which serve the music rather than smothering it.  There is space to breathe.  Joe Farrell’s use of reeds, especially flute, is masterful.  Clarke’s bass tone is both rough and palpably alive, both on electric and acoustic instruments.  And although it does sound inevitably a bit dated, Corea’s electric piano tone adds, if not outright creates, the album’s mood, and it sounds wonderful.  And I think Airto Moreira, for all his subsequent fame as a supplemental percussionist, is underappreciated as a kit drummer;  his grooves here are infectious, and the pitch on his snare is just sizzling.

Anyway, this needed a bookmark.  The first RTF record comes out every once in a while, for me, and every time it does I marvel at how well it holds up.

 

And then there is Rufus Cappadocia.

Why hello there, Rufus Cappadocia.

Dang!

Things seem to happen in groups, don’t they?  And so I was just getting adjusted to the impressive creative fount in cellist Vincent Segal, when suddenly on Pandora, via Dhafer Youssef, I started to hear this insistent piece from Cappadocia:

Well, naturally at some point I had to see if there was a clip of him playing that…and I ran into the following two clips…not exactly slickly produced, but still:

As if I in any way needed more evidence of the infinity of the creative muse.

(Among all the other obvious awesomeness, oh, that wrenching harmonization starting at 4:34 on the second part…yes, dude, your cello says that better than any of us ever could.)

Yeah, I’ll bookmark his own site too.  (I did not fail to notice his interest in instrument design.  🙂  Worth checking back on!

Rob Brown on odd times.

Saw this one from Rob Brown, and it needs a bookmark here.

Wow, quite a lot to unpack in there.  Of course, I’m not even a drummer, but just the thinking behind it, the approach, seems to be pretty universal.  Having spent so much time simply counting, I really like the suggestion of how to “fit the quarters” into the eighths-based time that Brown credits to Dave Weckl.  Gonna have to try that!

And I’m thinking about ideas for incorporating this into both one-and two-handed separation exercises on guitar.  We’ll see where that goes…

 

Dhafer Youssef again…

…because I just can’t seem to get enough of this guy.

Les Ondes Orientales‘:

Wow!

And check out this ensemble with that Norwegian guitarist, a beautifully brassy clarinet (to which there must be some sort of story), and a hammered dulcimer looking (but not played that way) zither instrument called a qanun, that I’ve not heard of before.

What a wonderful show this must have been.

Note to self:  do not pass up a chance to see this guy.

Bach, ‘Ciaccona’, on Yepes-pattern guitar.

Oh, hell yeah.  This right here.

It is only partial praise to say that I dig Moran Wasser’s arrangement here;  the source material is such a solid masterpiece that any arranger would seem to have nearly unlimited freedom to stretch out and experiment without breaking anything.  Nonetheless, a convincing job adapting the extended pitches;  absolutely lovely tone;  and well played.  Bookmarked!

My first real exposure to J.S. Bach’s Partita for Violin #2 (aka simply Ciaccona, Chaconne, etc.) was Bert Lams’ wonderful arrangement for the California Guitar Trio, and in many ways I still prefer much of Bert’s phrasing and accents to anything else I’ve since heard.

What’s interesting to my ears, here, is that the CGT‘s timbres, produced by flatpicking steel strings on the “plasticy, plinky” Ovation guitars with which they began their adventure back in 1991, certainly contrast dramatically with Wasser’s Yepes-pattern extended range classical guitar, played fingerstyle.  The contrast deepens as well when you consider that the tonal range of the CGT’s six-string Guitar Craft-tuned guitars (C2 to G4, open) is actually greater than the tonal range of the usual Yepes tuning (D2 to E4), spread out over its ten strings–although I can see the eleventh, harp-style string on Wasser’s instrument here, and haven’t tried to figure out exactly what he may have done with that or even the rest of his tuning–so who knows?  Vive la différence, right?  What a wonderful world that we have both editions to admire.

And hell, the piece was originally written for solo violin, after all, and while expanded-range orchestrations are wonderful and lovely, you don’t exactly…lose much, staying within the original pitch range, which bottoms out at G3.  I’ve expounded before on this marvelous and maddening clip of Mike Marshall, informally playing the piece on mandolin (which is tuned identically to violin):

Simply lovely–even in the bootleg-informal setting, with the maddening gap (sigh).

And, just to round things out, why not include a clip of Rachel Podger, playing the piece on a baroque violin, in an attempt to get as close as possible to what Johannes Brahms might have heard, when he was inspired to say of Bach’s composition:

On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.

That would have been a heckuva calling card for Bach, had he been alive to use it.

So, do you get the feeling that somehow I like this piece?

(I know, that’s some low-hanging fruit. right there.  Guilty as charged.)

 

UPDATE:  By further happy accident I also ran across this wonderful performance, with excellent visuals of the player’s hands.

I must can haz bookmark.  🙂