Moar Dhafer Youssef.

Needed a bookmark.  “Odd Poetry” done live.

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



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.


Dhafer Youssef again…

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

Les Ondes Orientales‘:


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.

Dhafer Youssef again: get a load of this guy!

For all its irritations and annoyances in this crazy, nascently-weaponized world of social media, YouTube remains an absolutely astonishing resource.  From Pandora I recently first heard Tunisian oud-ist (if that’s not a word, I think I should make it one) Dhafer Youssef, and was captivated by his sense of mood on his Ascetic Journey.  Today, simply on a lark, I thought I’d chase a link or two of his, on YouTube, and see where it led.

(cue sound of jaw dropping)

Holy smackers, Batman, get a load of this guy!  Let it never be said that cross-genre innovation and muttery is dead or even mildly unhealthy.  Wow!

First, check out Dhafer Youssef the vocalist, fully as impressive there as he is with the oud heroics, in “Delightfully Odd“:

Aside from that marvelous voice, the ensemble strikes me a whole lot like the small groups of Israeli bass wizard Avishai Cohen and fellow Tunisian Anouar Brahem–which is to say, for me at least, gloriously alive, engaging, and unapologetically athwart easy categorization.  A great group, captivating music, exquisite sound…and Youssef himself is infectiously engaging.

Next, I ran across “Winds and Shadows”, which…oh hell, just watch it:

Magnificent.  What a marvelous blend of traditions!

And as I hear more, I’m becoming even more impressed by his touch and dynamics, to achieve simply massive amounts of space within these pieces and groups.  Check out this trio, with the same Norwegian guitarist from the Winds and Shadows clip, along with trumpet and flugelhorn, in this medley:

Man…now I’m a huge fan of Miles’ interpretation of Aranjuez on the Gil Evans collaboration Sketches of Spain–“huge” as in, I hold up Miles’ absolutely heart-stopping “the softer you play it, the stronger it gets” solo in that piece as one of the finest musical moments I have ever heard, anywhere–and with that context for where the bar is set, I really like this arrangement and delivery.

So, I needed the bookmarks, if just for me!   🙂


‘Blockhead’, imagined…larger.

It’s fun when the Crafties in my TwitFace space show me new musicking things.  One great example, which deserves further posting, has been an introduction to Petra Haden’s a cappella work, among which she has done more than one King Crimson / Guitar Craft piece.  (Check out Hope, Red, and The Sheltering Sky (!);  she’s apparently keen to release an album of such that may wind up with the name “Sing Crimson”.)

This clip is of drummer Dan Moore, playing “Blockhead” on Steve Ball’s Tiny Orchestral Moments project, and it immediately made me wistful for GCCO.

Not only is it fun watching Dan, but the entire arrangement is pretty rich.  (As in:  possibly rich enough to be open to the “ensemble cast film” criticism…but hey, I’m a fanboy and I like it anyway.  🙂  )


Bobby McFerrin, just killin’ the point.

I have long felt that just about everybody “knows” basic music theory, even if they don’t have fancy names to go with the concepts.  Some things in life just tap directly into the human hindbrain.  I try to describe it, usually along these lines:  “Look, I could sit down and play a simple sequence of chords in a room full of ‘tone-deaf noobs’ , and yet everyone in that room will know–know–if I end the sequence ‘correctly’, or if I botch it.”  Seems to make sense to me, but I still get blank stares.

Well.  Perhaps my problem is that I use too many words* to try and make that point.  Behold the glorious gift of nature that is Bobby McFerrin, who needs no words at all to demonstrate what I would argue is very nearly the same idea.

Wow.  Just–wow.  It’s almost impossible for me, as an instructor and an advocate, not to get juiced when the audience responds perfectly to each successive, unannounced note.

I’m delighted to be able to point to such a great example of the “everyone understands already” idea, but hell, part of it is just the joy of watching a true master at work.  And McFerrin is at least that.  I recall vividly the first time I got to see him live;  he had a set at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2005, which was awesome enough on its own (at that time I had some–some–idea of what he could do), but it was the usual TBF cross-pollinations that really took it beyond the planet.  When he came out and sat in with the trio of Béla Fleck, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Stanley Clarke (!!!), I figured it would be something spectacular, and it most certainly was!  But the actual high point, believe it or not, was when he guested on Alison Krauss’ set;  he said he wanted her to sing a particular tune of hers (don’t recall now what it was), and she agreed…and then Union Station (Krauss’ backing band, one of the most accomplished in the genre), clearly in on whatever this deal was, left the stage.  She seemed both giddy, to be singing with one of her heroes, and also a bit terrified, not to have her usual crew behind her, and not quite sure what was going to happen…but she took a deep breath and started singing…

And McFerrin “played” all the band’s parts, with his voice, at the same time, against Krauss’ vocal.  It was absolutely stunning;  I have never seen anything remotely like it.

So, by all means take the point from Bobby McFerrin, instead of from me.  Believe me, I don’t mind that a bit.  🙂

* No snickering, now.