Monday, November 30, 2009

Ithamara Koorax & Juarez Moreira “Bim Bom”

The beautiful and most ethereal of all vocalists practicing their art today, Brazilian Ithamara Koorax (b. 1965), has achieved what ranks among her very greatest achievements with Bim Bom, a brilliantly conceived tribute to the Brazilian composer, guitarist and singer João Gilberto.

Here, the multi-lingual, multi-genre singer tackles a bracing set of lovely, lilting melodies written or co-written by fellow Brazilian legend João Gilberto, accompanied most perfectly only by the guitar of Juarez Moreira, who is acclaimed by no less an authority than Milton Nascimento as a "mix of every musical element from Brazil” who “interprets them in a majestic way."

João Gilberto, born João Gilberto Prado Pereira de Oliveira on June 10, 1931, in Juazeiro, Bahia, is a Grammy Award-winning Brazilian singer and guitarist. He is credited with having created what we now know as “bossa nova” and has rightly become known as the "Father of Bossa Nova." His seminal recordings, including many songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, established the new musical genre in the late 1950s, which gained huge significance throughout the world in the early 1960s.

After many American musicians (Herbie Mann, Stan Getz, Charlie Byrd) embraced his music, he lived in the United States during much of the sixties, eventually leaving to live in Mexico. He returned to Brazil in 1980 and currently resides in Rio de Janiero, where he lives out a somewhat reclusive lifestyle, though he tours occasionally.

Despite many deserving tributes to such bossa-nova forefathers as Antonio Carlos Jobim, this disc serves as a reminder of another of Brazil’s most prominent tunesmiths and musicians – thankfully while he is still alive to enjoy the significance of his influence and such a worthy celebration of his achievements.

Ithamara Koorax shows her remarkable range throughout, much more relaxed than usual, befitting the songs’ mostly easy-going nature. Surprisingly, her most outstanding performances occur when she’s not even singing the Portuguese or English lyrics the songs provide, as on the improvisations she provides for “Minha Saudade” or in the startlingly haunting way she hums out such instrumentals as “Valsa (Bebel),” “Glass Beads” (which was only recorded once by co-composer João Donato on his wondrous 1965 album The New Sound Of Brazil), “João Marcelo,” “Undiu” (where she does little more than repeat the title, but so hypnotically that it sounds like a full lyric).

Moreira’s beautiful accompaniment throughout is a joy to behold. As the only accompaniment heard here, he is outstandingly forward in his contribution, but never at a disservice to the melody or to his singing partner. When he solos on electric guitar, it is, fittingly, electrifying, as he does on “Voce Esteve Com Meu Bern,” “Valsa (Bebel)” and “Acapulco.” Koorax is out of “An Embrace To Bonfá,” a tribute to fellow guitarist Luiz Bonfá, which gives Moreira a chance to shine in this exceptionally lovely composition.

Those familiar with Gilberto’s work will miss some of the better-known numbers from the guitarist’s repertoire. But it’s difficult to argue with what is actually presented in this beautifully programmed 41-minute set.

Producer Arnaldo DeSouteiro provides a crisp, clear palette for the two artists to express themselves and, in his notes, a beautifully detailed summation of each song’s history and importance. While one could wish for more, it’s hard to best what is provided on the lovely Bim Bom, one of the most notable releases of 2009.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Eddie Izzard - Death Star Canteen

This is the funniest thing I've seen in a long, long time. Comic Eddie Izzard's extremely hilarious stand-up routine gets turned into an even more brilliant lego short. It still brings tears to my eyes. I thank my nephews for bringing it to my attention. Enjoy!

"I will have the Penne a l'Arrabiata."

"This is not a game of who the fuck are you."

"What's the Death Star?" - "THIS is the Death Star!"

"You're Mister Stevens?"

"I'm not Head of Catering!"

"Why, with the power of the Death Star, do we not have a tray that is fucking dry?"

"You have to form a que if you want food."

"I'm not Jeff Vader. I'm Darth Vader."

"And everyone in this canteen...death by tray it shall be."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Happy 80th Birthday Rolf Kühn

Clarinetist Rolf Kuhn was born in Cologne, Germany, on September 29th, 1929. At the age of eight he learned to play the accordion and by the time he was twelve he was making an intensive study of the clarinet, piano and the theory of composition. Among his teachers was Hans Berninger, solo clarinetist in the Gewandhaus Orchestra at Leipzig, and responsible for musical theory was the director of music, Arthur Schmidt-Elsey.

However, the young musician did not feel suited for a career in classical music. Just before his seventeenth birthday, in June 1946, Kühn joined the Kurt Henkels Band as alto saxophonist and accordion player. Only a year later he was already standing out front improvising clarinet solos. His Amiga recording of “Rolly‘s Bebop“ won him a reputation as a rising star on his instrument, and then three years later, in 1950, his name shone out at the head of the list for top clarinet players in German jazz polls.

In 1952 Rolf Kühn moved to West Berlin and played for the first time in a quartet of his own at RIAS radio station. The way was paved to a successful musical career. Benny Goodman‘s musical expression had up to then formed his style but now Buddy DeFranco’s influence was on the ascendancy. In 1954 he got to know DeFranco personally during his stop at Berlin on the “Jazz Club USA” tour.

Meanwhile European jazz enthusiasts had time and again nominated Rolf Kühn as number one clarinetist. He set out for New York City, the jazz artist’s proving ground, in May 1956. Initial support for this venture was provided by the classical pianist, Friedrich Gulda, Benny Goodman‘s manager, Willard Alexander, and the critics Leonard Feather and John Hammond.

His career in the States started with quartet engagements in various jazz clubs. Then he appeared at the Hotel Pierre as soloist and musical director for internationally famed singer Caterina Valente, followed by an engagement in a program with Count Basie at Birdland.

It wasn‘t long before Benny Goodman took him into his own orchestra. The young man from Germany was to become the only other clarinetist that Benny Goodman would tolerate at his side: more than that, he actually entrusted him with the musical direction of the band during an illness.

In the summer of 1957 the triumphant tones of Rolf Kühn‘s clarinet were heard at the Newport Jazz Festival. A few months later he went on tour with the Tommy Dorsey Memorial Band. This was followed by further club engagements and recording dates, among them a Leonard Feather presentation on Metrojazz with an international sextet, a Verve production with a band featuring the vibraphonist, Eddie Costa and albums for Panorama and Vanguard under his own name.

Rolf Kühn returned to Germany in late 1961 and, as prodigal son and now something of an American jazz star, he set about on an ambitious recording and performing agenda. Where once, long ago, he might have been cast in the shadows of Buddy DeFranco or Benny Goodman, he had long since succeeded in developing his own voice and crafting a style that developed over increasingly more interesting albums on the Brunswick, Amiga, CBS, Impulse, Intercord, Metronome, Horzu, BASF and MPS labels.

In celebration of Rolf Kühn’s 80th birthday this year, the German arm of Universal Music is making five of the clarinetist’s most sought after and long out-of-print albums available for the first time ever on CD.

These collectable editions include such beauties as Rolf Kühn feat. Klaus. Doldinger (Brunswick, 1962), Transfiguration (Saba, 1967), Impressions of New York (Impulse!, 1967), Total Space (MPS, 1975) and Symphonic Swampfire (MPS, 1979).

The music runs the gamut from traditional jazz swing (Rolf Kühn feat. Klaus. Doldinger) and European free (Transfiguration, Impressions of New York) to free fusion (Total Space) and out and out jazz fusion (Symphonic Swampfire).

While there are many more albums the great clarinetist, composer and arranger participated in during this period, one can only hope that these few CD releases will reignite interest in the great and prolific Rolf Kühn and his extremely interesting musical career.

Rolf Kühn feat. Klaus Doldinger (Brunswick, 1962): One of Rolf Kühn’s first recordings in Germany after a long stay in the United States, this very engaging album recorded in late 1962 finds the clarinetist combining forces with future fusion pioneer Klaus Doldinger and his trio. The presence of organist Ingfried Hoffmann gives this group a flavor not unlike the Eddie Davis-Shirley Scott groups that recorded so prolifically around the time. But Rolf Kühn’s clarinet offers the proceedings an even more unique and likable essence. Anyway, how many other attempts at matching the clarinet with an organ group are there out there? A winner from start to finish. Features Rolf Kühn, clarinet, with Klaus Doldinger, tenor sax; Ingfried Hoffmann, organ; Herman Schoonderwalt, bass; Cees See, drums.

Transfiguration (Saba, 1967): A remarkably free session that finds brothers Rolf and Joachim Kühn sparring with a rather free-spirited European rhythm section featuring the young Karl Berger on vibes. Rolf dominates. But Joachim seems to be setting the agenda. Berger is a special guest indeed, befitting his “guest” status, even despite his lack of worldwide acclaim at this point. It’s hard to believe that Rolf’s early fans – or recent listeners – would go for this. But you have to respect the man for his chance-taking abilities. Features Rolf Kühn, clarinet, with Joachim Kühn, piano; Beb Guerin, bass; Aldo Romano, drums; Karl Berger, vibes.

Impressions of New York (Impulse!, 1967): After appearing at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival in another aggregation, Rolf Kühn and his brother were offered the opportunity to record for the fabled Impulse! label by producer Bob Thiele, who was issuing any number of free-jazz records by the movement’s lead provocateur, John Coltrane (as well as Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, etc.). The Kühn brothers are caught here in a quartet with Coltrane bassist Jimmy Garrison (and Italian drummer Aldo Romano), during the same period of time that Coltrane actually died. This free-wheeling session is one of the few ways that any Americans even knew of the Kühn brothers, particularly Rolf (Joachim lived in the United States in the mid to late seventies for a time, releasing a few fusion-oriented albums through some American labels). Features Rolf Kühn, clarinet, with Joachim Kühn, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Aldo Romano, drums.

Total Space (MPS, 1975): Like a crazy Blaxploitation soundtrack album of the period, this unusual free fusion album exposes much of the period’s oddly contradictory elements of rabidly exploratory talent mixing with (somewhat) commercial and funky expectations. Like many a MPS album of the period, there is some tremendous improvisation to be heard here by some engaging soloists. It would be interesting to hear what the surving members of this group might do ten years after this – or today. Total Space has much to recommend and stands strong not only as one of the strong European jazz releases of the mid seventies but also as an enduring remnant of the fusion movement of the period. Featuring Rolf Kühn, clarinet, with Albert Manglesdorff , trombone; Gerd Dudek, sax; Joachim Kühn, keyboards; Philip Catherine, guitar; Bo Stief, bass; Kasper Winding, Daniel Humair, drums plus brass.

Symphonic Swampfire (MPS, 1979): Rolf Kühn had not issued an album since Total Space some four years before. Immersed in the orchestral worlds of film and television, he had desired the opportunity to release a jazz album with more orchestral elements. Not exactly the orchestral jazz piece that Verve would have released some 15 years before, this is, nevertheless, a wonderful piece of funky fusion jazz. A tribute to the Ibiza home he’d resided in during the summers of the seventies, Rolf Kühn devised a most engaging album, and probably one of the more approachable works he’d done in some time. I did the notes for this particular release. But it really is my favorite of all of the five albums in the Rolf Kühn 80th birthday Anniversary Edition. Features Rolf Kühn, clarinet/arranger, with Charlie Mariano, sax; Herb Geller, sax and flute; Joachim Kühn, Thilo Von Westernhagen, Claus-Robert Kruse, keyboards; Philip Catherine, guitar; Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, bass; Bruno Castelucci, drums plus brass and strings.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Honestly, Who Cares About Sarah Palin?

As a marketing person, I can understand publicity, yada, yada, yada. But ANY coverage of Sarah Palin is beyond ridiculous. Does anybody really care?

Even if you're more to the right than I am, how can you possibly take this stuff seriously?

As John Cleese once said, “Sorry, Michael, you’re not the funniest Palin anymore.” Why won’t this non-entity just go away?

And what's up with this bizarro cover on this week's Newsweek???

Monday, November 16, 2009

More Mancini In The Seventies

Composer, conductor and arranger Henry Mancini (1924-94) was riding a wave of success as he entered the seventies – particularly following the number one hit success of his cover of “Love Theme From Romeo And Juliet” – and was consequently writing and recording at a pace that belies the calm exterior he always presented.

But while the film work was plentiful, the popularity of the many films Mancini worked on during the period never found the audience or the musical popularity of such earlier successes as Breakfast at Tiffany’s or The Pink Panther - even though, to his credit, Mancini took real chances with his film choices and was constantly escaping the expectation to produce the sparkling and witty light jazz he trademarked years before.

For whatever reason – and many of them probably had little or nothing to do with the quality or quantity of Mancini’s music – fewer Mancini soundtracks were issued in the seventies. But Mancini’s label, RCA, kept cranking out one Mancini record after another. These cocktail collections, often classified as “easy listening,” a musical genre that was as good as dead at the time, found Mancini exploring even more divergent musical paths than he had even surveyed in the past (though the batch of records listed below isn’t as “hip” as some of the others explored earlier).

Most of the records feature covers of one or more of the Mancini film themes that didn’t get full soundtrack albums, forcing anyone who liked Mancini the film composer to at least sample the Mancini orchestral records made for popular consumption.

But it was often on these records that enterprising listeners could hear how insightful and enthralling an arranger of other people’s music Henry Mancini could be. Because so many of the tracks that Mancini covered on these records were so well-known (standards, pop hits and other composers’ film themes), astute listeners are obliged to consider Henry Mancini less as a spectacular songwriter and more, much more, as one of the most remarkable arrangers of the twentieth century.

This list is my second attempt to note more of Henry Mancini’s albums from the 1970s, a period when his music didn’t get a whole lot of critical – or popular – attention. The handful of records listed here may be even less familiar than those from the previous post. But you really must marvel at all of the great music that Henry Mancini produced during the seventies…

Mancini Country (RCA, 1970): Like the previous year’s A Warm Shade of Ivory and Six Hours Past Sunset (with the great title song), the focus on Mancini’s “first ‘Country Music’ album” is mostly on his own piano playing; this time, though, as it explores a genuine country music agenda. The program covers the predictable (“Release Me,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Stand By Your Man”) as well as the pleasantly unexpected (“Let It Be Me,” made popular by the Everly Brothers and also done for RCA by Chet Atkins, “Almost Persuaded,” first made popular by David Houston, “Make The World Go Away,” made popular by Eddy Arnold and “The End Of The World,” a hit for Skeeter Davis produced by Chet Atkins). Mancini’s only contribution to the program is the wholly appropriate “Phone Call To The Past,” a variation of Gunn’s “Theme For Sam” with lyrics (that aren’t sung here) by Johnny Mercer. Like Ferrante & Teicher, Mancini’s piano caresses the melodies a little too delicately here, his touch being a bit more lace than the leather that’s called for. Mancini also doesn’t do the record any favors with orchestrations that are far too rich for the material and incompatible with the occasional country & western flourish. The Nashville trimmings are provided by electric bassist Harold Bradley (Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson), organ player Beegie Cruser (Chet Atkins, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash), steel guitarist Lloyd Green (Faron Young, George Jones, Warner Mack) and other Nashville studio pros like Pete Wade, Norbert Putnam and Jerry Carrigan. Bradley’s tic-toc electric bass in particular gives the album something of a Bert Kaempfert-goes-country sound that surprisingly negates Mancini’s otherwise dominant personality from the endeavor almost completely. Despite the pianist and arranger’s audible sincerity and the album’s genuine prettiness, Mancini Country is unlikely to appeal much to country music fans or convert those who never liked country music in the first place. (“Phone Call To The Past” is also featured as the B-side to Mancini’s 45-rpm single release of “Theme From Love Story.”)

Theme From “Z” And Other Film Music (RCA, 1970): Similar in nature to Mancini Plays The Theme From Love Story, which came out later in the year, this equally unimaginatively titled album is one of Mancini’s better collections of film themes. Mancini, “no newcomer to the film music scene,” as the album goes, here covers recent collaborator (on Me, Natalie) Rod McKeun’s moving “Jean” (from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), Alfred Newman’s surprisingly charming “Airport Love Theme,” a Basie-like version of Burt Bacharch and Hal David’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” (from Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid), the inevitable “As Time Goes By” (from Casablanca) and Jerry Goldsmith’s somewhat out of place “’Patton’ Theme.” Mancini also provides two particularly beautiful themes from his score to The Molly Maguires (whose soundtrack was issued in 1970 on Paramount Records), the exquisite main theme and “The Hills From Yesterday.” Aside from the tremendously invigorating and variegated orchestrations Mancini provides throughout, this collection scores extra points for exploring movie themes written by non-American composers such as Mikis Theodorakis’s “Theme From ‘Z’,” Stelvio Cipriani’s “A Man, A Horse, And A Gun” (from the spaghetti western The Stranger Returns) and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Love Theme From ‘The Adventurers’.” Credited soloists include Ethmer Roten on flute (“Jean,” “The Hills Of Yesterday”), Dick Nash on trombone (“Airport”), Jimmie Rowles on electric calliope (“Raindrops”), Ted Nash on alto sax (“Airport,” “As Time Goes By”), Art Smith on recorder (“The Molly Maguires”) and Mr. Mancini himself on piano (“As Time Goes By,” “Love Theme From ‘The Adventurers’”). But no credit is given for the exquisite acoustic guitar work heard throughout (notably on “Jean”) or to the compelling sensitivity provided by the unnamed electric bassist – although it’s likely Carol Kaye who plays on the Cipriani track. Highlights include the two Mancini tracks, “Jean” and “Airport Love Theme.” (“A Man, A Horse, And A Gun” was issued in 1968 as a 45-rpm single. “Theme From ‘Z’” backed by “Theme From The Molly Maguires” was also issued in 1970 as 45-rpm single. “The Theme From “The Molly Maguires” was recorded again by Henry Mancini in 1984 with James Galway on the excellent In The Pink and in 1990 on Erich Kunzel’s Mancini’s Greatest Hits.)

Brass On Ivory - Henry Mancini/Doc Severinsen (RCA, 1972): Paired together for the first of two recorded occasions, composer, pianist and arranger Henry Mancini collaborates here with The Tonight Show trumpeter Doc Severinsen on a late-night set of sleepy ballads. Or should we say snoozey? The feeling is so laid back it’s nearly somnambulant. Both of these Hollywood mainstays were going for something mellow (hella-mellow), or what liner notes writer Tom Paisley calls “a ‘love’ of an album.” Presumably this is meant to refer to the respect the two had for one another and their musical chemistry seems compatible too. But Brass On Ivory just never quite clicks. The pair covers the spectrum of the day’s mellow hits (“Brian’s Song,” “If,” “Never My Love” and “We’ve Only Just Begun”), mellow jazz standards (“Willow Weep For Me,” “Poor Butterfly” and “Misty”) and mellow Mancini classics (“Dreamsville” and a solid reflection on “Soldier in the Rain”). Mancini also contributes the album’s seemingly incomplete title track, written especially for Doc Severinsen, and the pretty “Sometimes,” a lyric (not sung here) written for dad by daughter Felice and set to music by Mancini himself (the Carpenters recorded the song for their eponymous 1971 album and, later, Peggy Lee and Shirley Bassey recorded it as well). Mancini’s orchestral and choral embellishments are often backgrounded here in favor of letting the soloists speak their placid though pleasant piece. But the arrangements are uncharacteristically gloomy at times, with “Brian’s Song” and, strangely, “We’ve Only Just Begun” sounding like little more than funeral dirges. The orchestra does kick up a notch, however, on the nicely refreshing after-hours take of “Willow Weep For Me” and the tired big band sound – a la The Shining - of “Poor Butterfly” (an old Broadway standard long-time Mancini associate Julie Andrews reinvigorated a few years before in 1967’s Thoroughly Modern Millie). These two tracks and the two new Mancini contributions make Brass On Ivory notable but not essential. (“Brass On Ivory” was issued as a 45-rpm single, backed by “Poor Butterfly.” Brass on Ivory was issued on CD in November 2009 by Wounded Bird.)

Big Screen, Little Screen (RCA, 1972): This is the first Henry Mancini album to wisely split the concept between film and TV themes. Later such examples include 1977’s Mancini’s Angels and 1978’s The Theme Scene and, like Big Screen, Little Screen, none of these are as successful as their promising concept might suggest. This one finds “Henry Mancini, His Orchestra and Chorus” (come on, it’s 1972 already!) assembled to reflect on mostly forgettable or regrettable theme music. Mancini covers the predominantly unknown film themes from Nicholas and Alexandra, Summer of ‘42 and Kotch. He also adds an icky choral version of his own country-ish “All His Children,” from Sometimes A Great Notion, and a surprising, yet de rigueur and rather stiff reading of Isaac Hayes’s “Theme from Shaft.” Side two, or the TV side, thankfully dispenses with the chorus for the most part but serves up duds like “Cade’s County,” the nearly parodic “Johnny’s Theme” (from the Tonight Show, featuring a great Basie-like rhythm, Mancini’s brilliantly conceived flute chorus and nice spots for Larry Knechtel’s organ, Jack Sheldon’s trumpet and Jerome Richardson’s tenor sax) and a strange old-timey take on All In The Family’s “Those Were The Days.” Mancini contributes his well-known “Mystery Movie Theme” to the TV side of the program (used as is again on Mancini’s 1976 album The Cop Show Themes) and a remarkably stunning arrangement of Quincy Jones’s superb “The Ironside Theme.” Hailed to the fore with an attention-getting gong (suggesting TV’s Kung Fu), Mancini’s “Ironside” – which is much better suited to The Cop Show Themes than “Mystery Movie Theme” – is a bravura performance that bristles with action and adventure, skillfully re-arranged by Mancini to up the ante on the tune’s inherent excitement. Studio pro Larry Knetchtel, who at the time was a member of Bread, offers a dynamic organ solo and the song goes out with the heart-pounding race of tympani rolls (suggesting another of TV’s action shows, Hawaii Five-O) that leaves you breathless and wanting more. Despite the album’s incoherent mix of styles and unfortunate choice of tunes, Big Screen, Little Screen is especially notable for Mancini’s typically brilliant readings of “Johnny’s Theme” and “The Ironside Theme” but, sadly, little else. (“Mystery Movie Theme” backed by “Theme From ‘Cade’s County’” and “Theme From Nicholas And Alexandra” were issued as 45-rpm singles. A 45-rpm single of “All His Children” featuring Charley Pride on vocals was also issued. Although Charley Pride sings the song on the original Decca soundtrack album Sometimes A Great Notion, the singer probably overdubbed his vocal on top of the choral version re-recorded for Big Screen, Little Screen for the RCA single release. The single’s b-side, “You’ll Still Be The One,” is a Charley Pride performance that does not include Henry Mancini.)

Brass, Ivory & Strings - Henry Mancini/Doc Severinsen (RCA, 1973): The second of two pairings of pianist, composer and arranger Henry Mancini with Tonight Show trumpeter Doc Severinsen, this record continues pretty much along the same lines as the first one with the two soloists emoting as such overtop a bed of Mancini’s luxuriant strings and choral oohs and ahhs. With the exception of Mancini’s “Love Theme For Laura,” from the 1973 film The Thief Who Came To Dinner, the whole album could be nothing more than outtakes from the previous year’s record. Who knows? The mood, again, is mellow. But this time the feeling isn’t as dirge-like as before. Both Mancini and Severinsen ratchet up the pulse a bit here to something almost human like, with playing that sounds a lot more involved than before – not unlike a better Al Hirt record of the period. Again, there are covers of the mellow pop hits of the day (“Ben,” the very C&W take of “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” “Without You,” “Make It With You”), Mancini originals (“Theme for Doc” and “Love Theme For Laura”) and a surprisingly high quotient of mellow jazz standards (“Round Midnight,” “Lover Man,” “Wave,” and “I Can’t Get Started”). The uncredited trombonist – probably Dick Nash – takes several solos (“Lover Man,” “Wave”) that let you know you’re clearly in the lush, verdant fields of Manciniland. Mancini himself sounds stronger and more meaningful on his piano statements here than he did on the previous album. Doc Severinsen sounds pretty good throughout, if occasionally out of place (and possibly added after the fact), particularly on “Make It With You,” “Wave” and “Love Theme For Laura.” Together, as before, Mancini and Severinsen fare best on the jazz standards; material they obviously have more of an affinity and an affection for. It’s not entirely the dud the previous album was, Brass, Ivory & Strings is still not as wondrous an outing as this pairing of Hollywood’s musical kingpins would have you to believe was possible. But with its wakka-wakka guitar and near-Blaxploitation groove, Mancini’s almost completely out-of-place “Theme For Doc” is the best thing here – and elicits a fairly exciting solo from the Doc himself. Surprisingly, this song never found life outside of this little known album, either as a single or as a film or radio hit.

Visions Of Eight (RCA, 1973): An odd and seemingly incomplete soundtrack for a forgotten and obscure film, Visions Of Eight focuses on eight different aspects of the 1972 Olympiad directed by eight worldly and significant directors of the period including Milos Forman, Kon Ichikawa, Claude Lelouch, Juri Ozerov, Arthur Penn, Michael Pfleghar, John Schlesinger and Mai Zetterling. Mancini adapts his approach to the diverse demands of the varying directorial styles and different story aims and comes up with some interesting – though not consistently satisfying – music; much more in line with other composers who were certainly influenced by Mancini’s. The Euro-feel of “Pretty Girls,” the electronic “Spaced Out” (which sounds like a cue right out of The Night Gallery) and “Warm Up” gives this album a bracing charm that’s most unusual for the typical Mancini project, suggesting that Mancini was as influenced by those composers throughout the world he undoubtedly mentored in one way or another. Mancini’s “Olympic Village” gets one of Mancini’s sparkling and witty travelogue themes (re: “Mégève,” “Summer in Gstaad”), which stands in stark contrast to the horrific terrorist attacks that occurred there at the time. Some of the melodies presented here like “Soft Flight,” “The Race” and the circus-like “Hurdles and Girdles” suggest ground Mancini has trod well before – but proves that he was the right man for such a peculiar job as this (Mancini’s protégé, John Williams, would prove to be equally adept in later years). Regardless, Mancini comes up with some predictably strong themes here that include “Ludmilla’s Theme” (for the Russian gymnast Ludmilla Tourischeva), the march-like “Salute to the Olympians” and, most notably, the “Theme For The Losers,” which differs greatly from Mancini’s earlier – and quite beautiful – “Theme For Losers” (from Me, Natalie). An odd album, to be sure, but not without its peculiar and numerous charms. (“Ludmilla's Theme” was issued as a 45-rpm single, backed by “Pretty Girls." "Olypmic Village" was also issued as a 45-rpm single.)

Country Gentleman (RCA, 1974): Despite the fact that Country Gentleman was recorded entirely in Hollywood four years after Mancini’s previous attempt at country music, Mancini Country, which boasted contributions from many Nashville studio pros, this album feels more authentic – and interesting – than its predecessor. Mancini covers country-ish pop songs of the day (Helen Reddy’s “Delta Dawn,” John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”), genuine country hits of the period including Red Steagall’s 1973 hit “If You’ve Got The Time,” which was derived from a well-known jingle for Miller beer, George Jone’s 1972 hit “A Picture of Me (Without You),” Ray Price’s 1970 hit version of Kris Kristoffersen’s “For The Good Times,” Roy Clark’s 1973 hit “Come Live With Me,” David Houston’s 1967 hit “With One Exception” and Tammy Wynette’s 1969 hit “The Ways To Love A Man” and a genuine country classic in Hank Williams’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” Mancini takes to the piano like a man on a mission, truly in the impassioned, gentlemanly spirit of the proceedings, nicely roused to a genuine country luster with the aid of James Burton’s guitar, Buddy Emmons’s steel guitar, Tommy Morgan’s harmonica and, most surprisingly, Larry Muhoberac’s organ. While Mancini’s lone contribution to the program is a country-fied movie medley including “All His Children” (from Sometimes A Great Notion), “Tomorrow Is My Friend” (from Gaily, Gaily) and “Dear Heart,” he contributes some dazzling arrangements to “Delta Dawn,” “A Picture of Me (Without You),” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “The Ways To Love A Man” and his own “All His Children.” The album’s highlight, though, is surely the funky “Delta Dawn,” featuring Crusader Larry Carlton’s fittingly wailing guitar, a version of the song that probably deserved to find life as a single. What Mancini displays on Country Gentleman is affection and devotion to a good melody and what he achieves is the blurring of the boundaries that genre classification often places on what is just a darned good tune.

W.C. Fields And Me (MCA, 1976): Even in Henry Mancini’s period-piece film scores, which seemed to become increasingly more prevalent in his Hollywood career, his sense of melodic invention could not be suppressed. Perhaps that’s why so many film producers wanted him for this sort of thing. This odd and obscure film, like Mommie Dearest several years later, is a biopic of a well-known actor out of the old Hollywood fighting personal demons while struggling with their evolving popularity in their chosen field. Mancini contributes three main themes here, of which this rather thin soundtrack album repeats several times too often with invasive and unnecessary scraps of Varlerie Perrine and Rod Steiger’s dialogue peppered throughout. Mancini’s main theme, heard here five times as an instrumental and once with lyrics (by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston” of “Mona Lisa” and “Dear Heart” fame) and a chorus under the title “The Joke’s On Me,” is a ravishingly gorgeous piece of music that deserves to be much better known. The waltz-like melody is carried by Willie Schwartz’s lilting clarinet, buttressed by Dick Nash’s signature trombone, and gets a melody by Mancini that suggests the past as much as it does the dichotomies of human nature the film strives to portray. The glitzy big band swing of “Welcome To Hollywood” gets two too many airings here – seemingly all the same – and the elegant “Carlotta’s Theme,” which also deserves to be better known, also gets three shots on the album. Mancini’s expert handling of the orchestral colors on “Carlotta’s Theme” is also evident on the brief cue “A Long Way From Philadelphia,” heard only once on the album. Despite too much repetition – and the needless and needless amount of dialogue – this little-known soundtrack album deserves to be heard to witness the beauty of Mancini’s main theme and “Carlotta’s Theme,” neither of which ever had much play elsewhere in Mancini’s discography or in the raft of Mancini covers performed by others. (“The Joke's On Me” was issued as a promotional 45-rpm single.)

Other records in Henry Mancini’s capacious seventies catalog include those previously covered hereMancini Plays The Theme From Love Story (RCA, 1970), The Mancini Generation (RCA, 1972), The Thief Who Came To Dinner (Warner Bros., 1973), Hangin’ Out With Henry Mancini (RCA, 1974), The Return Of The Pink Panther (RCA, 1975), Soul Symphony (RCA, 1975), The Cop Show Themes (RCA, 1976), Mancini’s Angels (RCA, 1977), The Theme Scene (RCA, 1978), Who Is Killing The Great Chefs Of Europe? (Epic, 1978) and ”10” (Warner Bros., 1979) – as well as these (compilations and re-packages not included):

Darling Lili (RCA, 1970)
Sunflower (Avco Embassy, 1970)
The Hawaiians (United Artists, 1970)
The Molly Maguires (Paramount, 1970)
Henry Mancini Live In Japan (RCA, 1971)
Mancini Concert (RCA, 1971)
Sometimes A Great Notion (Decca, 1971)
Mancini Salutes Sousa (RCA, 1972)
Oklahoma Crude (RCA, 1973)
The Great Waldo Pepper (MCA, 1975)
A Concert of Film Music (RCA, 1976)
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (United Artists, 1976)
Just You And Me Together Love with John Laws (RCA, 1977)
Revenge Of The Pink Panther (United Artists, 1978)

Several of Henry Mancini’s soundtracks that were not originally issued at the time, but have later turned up on CD, include a suite from The Night Visitor featured on CD credited to Elmer Bernstein for Midas Run (Citadel, 1971), Silver Streak (Intrada, 1976) and Nightwing (Varese Sarabande, 1979).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bernie Worrell with Talking Heads

Bernie Worrell had spent more than a decade with the P-Funk clan (Parliament, Funkadelic, Booty’s Rubber Band, etc.) when things started falling apart in 1980. “I finally left in the early ‘80s,” Worrell told waxpoetics in 2006, “’cause P-Funk was crazy, all over the place. Got complicated with George [Clinton]. Tired of the shit. I was doing sessions and got a call from Jerry Harrison; I didn’t know who the Talking Heads were. Went to Sigma Sounds [NYC], listened to some, and I liked it. I went with the Talking Heads for about four years.”

Under producer Brian Eno’s tutelage, the band had already begun exploring new sounds and textures and by 1980, their fourth album, the progressive Remain in Light, had found the Talking Heads advancing their detached, ironic and sometimes just plain pretentious sort of art rock into more interesting fields of polyrhythmic grooves. It was intoxicating – especially for what passed for rock music of the day – and made for a sound that most listeners had never heard before.

Still, Worrell found the Talking heads “[s]tiff! No rhythm, man.” What he brought to the group laid down a foundation of funky fire that had guided P-Funk throughout the outer reaches of the galaxy only several years before. “See,” says Worrell, “they used to sneak into P-Funk shows while they were still art students in Providence. I basically brought part of the band with me so that they would sound good. They knew who to call.”

In April, 2002, Worrell was reunited with Talking Heads in New York when the band was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame (Parliament-Funkadelic had been inducted five years before and Worrell was part of that historic event as well). With Worrell back in place behind a bank of keyboards on the stage of Radio City Music Hall, Talking Heads performed show-stopping renditions of their classic songs “Burning Down The House” (Worrell's synthesizer work gave this remarkable Top 20 hit its definitive eerie quality) and “Life During Wartime.”

Here is an overview of Bernie Worrell’s brief tenure with Talking Heads.

The Red And The Black - Jerry Harrison (Sire/1981): Guitarist Jerry Harrison, the sexiest of the Talking Heads, was also the one in the band most interested in what funk could add to the group’s sound. A former member of Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers, Harrison is the Head who suggested the African polyrhythms, introduced Bernie Worrell into the group and made it clear on his terrific 1981 solo debut, The Red And The Black, that he intended to take the band in new, more interesting directions. The mere absence here of Brian Eno, who had produced the breakthrough Talking Heads albums Fear of Music (1979) and Remain In Light (1980), suggests that Harrison had his own ideas for the band and was more influential on the band’s direction than is commonly thought or acknowledged. Recorded during June of 1981, The Red And The Black is a jewel of the Talking Heads’ discography. Featuring some of the same musicians who would enhance the Talking Heads during their Speaking In Tongues tour such as Bernie Worrell, Steve Scales, Adrian Belew, Dolette MacDonald and Nona Hendryx, Harrison’s solo album serves as a blueprint for the Talking Heads that would become a popular phenomenon two short years later. The engaging album, which was issued on CD in 1996 and has long since been out of print, contains three songs featuring Bernie Worrell, all very much in the Talking Heads’ 1980-83 groove: “Slink” (with Worrell on organ), “Magic Hymie” (which Worrell co-wrote with Jerry Harrison and Nona Hendryx, with Worrell on clavinet and synthesizer) and “Fast Karma/No Questions” (with Worrell on clavinet). Again, Worrell’s presence is palpable and his direction provides some of the strength this album derives. These three tunes, which represent only one third of the album’s total music, are the strongest pieces on display, clearly a sign that Worrell’s contribution was clearly an asset that gave the Heads the edge they developed when Worrell joined their ranks. Even so, The Red And The Black is highly recommended and one of the great soloist records that emerged in the early eighties when arty rock band players went solo (former Magazine man Howard Devoto’s 1983 Jerky Versions of the Dream was another and ex-Policemen Stewart Copeland’s 1983 Rumble Fish soundtrack and Sting’s 1987 Nothing Like The Sun probably also qualify too).

The Catherine Wheel - David Byrne (Sire/1981): Talking Heads leader David Byrne mans his second solo album – after his collaboration with Brian Eno, My Life In The Bush of Ghosts, released earlier in 1981 – the score to Twyla Tharp’s Broadway production of The Catherine Wheel. The result is an effective continuation of what the Talking Heads began with on 1979’s Fear of Music (Eno also contributes here, though, rather minimally – so does multi-instrumentalist and co-writer John Cernoff, guitarist Adrian Belew, drummer Yogi Horton and fellow Head Jerry Harrison). It’s an arty soundtrack that nearly defines the “downtown sound” of the early eighties – a little rock, a little jazz and a little electric experimentalism that practically set the standard for this sort of thing. It’s an excellent soundscape that stands very well on its own as a musical testament to what was hip, cool and unlike just about anything else at the time. It’s clear here where the art in the Talking Heads was coming from. The Catherine Wheel makes it easy to hear. This is an excellent musical adventure, made with very few musicians outside of Byrne himself, who plays many of the instruments heard here. The majority of the album is made up of instrumentals, which sound pretty good (Wayne Horvitz and Adrian Belew, among others including Laurie Anderson, would later tread the very same paths Bryne stakes out here). There are a few “songs” here, which would fit comfortably on any Talking Heads album of the period (“His Wife Refused,” “Eggs In A Briar Patch,” “Poison,” “My Big Hands (Fall Through The Cracks),” “Big Business,” “What A Day That Was” and “Big Blue Plymouth” – most sung in Byrne’s traditional neurotic shout sort of singing). But Byrne adds a signature here that shows where the majority of influence in the Talking Heads was coming from. The original album, probably recorded during the summer of 1981, was originally issued with a black matte cover and contained 11 songs. The1990 CD release of The Catherine Wheel, issued with a red matte cover (inexplicably, there was a blue matte cover for the cassette version of the expanded score) adds a whopping 12 tracks, bringing the total time to a nearly seamless 73 minutes, which apparently comprises the complete score to Twyla Tharp’s production. Worrell appears on “His Wife Refused” (mini moog, piano), “Combat” (which was not on the original LP, on piano) and “Big Business” (clavinet). Worrell’s contribution isn’t that significant here apart from the otherwise brief and lightweight “Big Business.” But this music probably ranks among the best work David Byrne ever did under his own name. Excellent, no matter how you perceive it, and – more notably - The Catherine Wheel stands the test of time particularly well.

The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads - Talking Heads (Sire/1982): Originally released as a double album in 1982 between Talking Heads’ magnificent Remain in Light (1980) and the breakout hit Speaking In Toungues (1983), this album catches three distinctly different phases of the band’s evolution as a performing entity. There is the raw, nervous energy of the 1977 foursome, the clearly evolving musicality of the 1979 unit and the mature intensity and dynamic showmanship of the expanded Talking Heads of 1980. The long-awaited 2004 CD release of this live extravaganza is greatly enhanced from the original LP with a whopping 12 previously unreleased selections and several more bonus selections previously issued in other obscure formats. It helps tell a more complete story of the development of this significant band, adding two tracks from the 1977 show, five tracks from two 1978 shows, a track each from two 1979 shows and six tracks from a 1981 show recorded in Japan. The evolution detailed here is nothing less than astounding. Simply compare the 1977 performance of “Psycho Killer” captured here with the newly added 1981 version to hear the musical maturity the Talking Heads – possibly even David Byrne alone - developed in concert (then listen to how the song evolves by the time of Stop Making Sense). The maturity and complexity in the songwriting becomes evident as disc two begins too. The Talking Heads clearly came into their own with songs like “Cities,” “I Zimbra,” “Once In A Lifetime,” “Crosseyed and Painless” and “Life During Wartime.” These are Bernie Worrell’s earliest recordings with the Talking Heads and, as such, he is credited on all 14 tracks of the CD’s second disc, recorded during 1980 and 1981, though he is only manning the rather anonymous clavinet and is pretty much audible only on “Drugs (Electricity),” “Houses In Motion,” “Once In A Lifetime,” (probably) “Animals,” “Born Under Punches” (briefly, toward the end of the song), “Crosseyed and Painless,” “Take Me To The River” (on organ?) and (probably) “The Great Curve.” It’s hard to get a sense of Worrell’s importance in the band from these recordings. He just seems like he’s going along for the ride or unwilling to lay his stamp on someone else’s music. Oddly, whether it was by choice or not, Worrell’s influence and significance in P-Funk had slowly and quietly receded during his last years with the Funk Mob to the point that he was nothing more than a name on the credits – not unlike his presence here. The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads is certainly an outstanding musical document and required listening for Talking Heads fans but as a source of Bernie Worrell’s contribution to the band, for completists only.

Speaking In Tongues - Talking Heads (Sire/1983): At the time, this highly anticipated album seemed like a disappointment. It had been nearly three years since the Talking Heads’ progressive Remain in Light and anywhere they went after that would have to be sensational. High hopes aside, Speaking in Tongues initially sounded blatantly commercial and radio’s instant acceptability of the album’s first single, “Burning Down The House,” simply confirmed it. In hindsight, the album follows a consistent path of ascendency in the musical evolution of the Talking Heads and has become a significant landmark of eighties pop: catchy melodies, inane lyrics that actually sounded logical in the comfortable framework the Heads constructed for them and an undertone of soulful funk – guided here by former P-Funk architect Bernie Worrell (on synthesizer here), Shankar on violin, Steve Scales and David Van Tieghem on percussion and the redoubtable Nona Hendryx and Dolette MacDonald on background vocals. Bernie Worrell’s impact on the Talking Heads is at its greatest here, as evidenced by the near brilliance of the album’s show-stopping opening number, “Burning Down The House.” Listen to how remarkably Worrell’s synthesizer drives the funk engine of this rollicking number as well as gives its other-worldly quality – something he hadn’t been heard to do since “Flash Light” and “Aqua Boogie.” Worrell himself places “Burning Down The House” in that upper echelon of the greatest pop songs of all time. (It’s worth noting that the Talking Heads were all big P-Funk fans in the seventies and Bootsy’s Rubber Band, which included Bernie Worrell, was hot with “Jam Fan (Hot)” circa 1978 which has the line “burning down the house,” a popular chant at P-Funk shows of the time.) As a “synthesist” here, as the CD’s liner notes so perfectly states it, Bernie Worrell contributes significantly throughout Speaking in Tongues, offering definitive, unique touches – and solos! – to “Making Flippy Floppy,” “Girlfriend Is Better,” the tremendous “Slippery People” (covered beautifully by the Staple Singers, of all people, several years later), “I Get Wild/Wild Gravity,” “Moon Rocks” and the Tom Tom Club-like “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody).” Unfortunately, Speaking In Tongues was the pinnacle of the Talking Heads’ artistic achievement; a successful blending uniting art rock with funky underpinnings and artful aspirations with commercial appeal. After this came the extremely poppy/silly Little Creatures (1985), the rather ridiculous True Stories (1986) and whatever Naked (1988, their last studio album) was. Bernie Worrell was gone – and his influence was missed. Talking Heads was the shell of what it once was and they disbanded shortly thereafter.

Stop Making Sense - Talking Heads (Sire/1984): The surprise success of Jonathan Demme’s 88-minute documentary film Stop Making Sense is as much a tribute to the remarkable music and stage show the Talking Heads presented during its 1983-84 tour as it is to Demme’s notable achievement documenting a musical experience on film not only with skill and grace but also with a fan’s sense of wonder and appreciation. It is now considered by many to be the finest concert film of all time. I saw the Talking Heads in Pittsburgh during the summer of 1983 (in the third row, right in front of drummer Chris Frantz’s parents, who were also Pittsburgh residents at the time – and you can just imagine the roar when they sang “heard about Pittsburgh, P-A”) and I can say that this film perfectly captures the dazzling aura and exciting atmosphere the Talking Heads created in concert at the time. Compared to the film, however, the 1984 soundtrack album (and CD) was a huge disappointment. Containing only nine of the film’s 16 songs and totaling only 45 minutes, it seemed to be something of a cheat. And without the visuals, the music just seemed, well, redundant at this point. Too much of the excitement – and certainly the Heads’ dramatic programming – was missing. This situation was fortunately corrected in 1999 in a 15th anniversary “Special New Edition” CD which contained every song heard in the now classic film. As expected the majority of music featured in the film comes from the band’s recent album Speaking In Tongues (six songs). But Stop Making Sense also captures nearly all of the group’s highpoints, with one song from Talking Heads: 77, three from More Songs About Buildings and Food, two each from Fear of Music and Remain In Light and, surprisingly, one each from The Catherine Wheel and Tom Tom Club albums. The presentation is superb, with Byrne entering the stage alone carrying only a guitar and a boom box for “Psycho Killer” and one by one adding band members until the whole band is on stage for the sixth number, “Burning Down The House.” This is where Bernie Worrell enters the performance and he – as well as all the others – make their presence count. Worrell burns down “Burning Down The House,” surely one of the concert’s highlights, on synthesizer (and in solo), rocks the rhythmic clavinet on “Life During Wartime,” reverts back to synth and amplified piano for “Making Flippy Floppy” (with a wacky quote of “America The Beautiful” on his other-worldly siren-like synth) and pretty much sticks to synthesizer for “Swamp,” “This Must Be The Place,” “Once In A Lifetime,” “Girlfriend is Better” (awash with Worrell quotes) and “Take Me To The River” (the more conventional keyboard solos heard here are probably performed by Jerry Harrison, who stands next to Worrell at his own bank of keyboards for much of the second half of the concert). All in all, the band gives superior performances of “Psycho Killer (Byrne solo), “Slippery People” (Heads + singers + bongos), a smoking “Burning Down The House,” a thundering “Life During Wartime,” the fun “Genius of Love” (which name checks Funkadelic as well as James Brown, “still the Godfather of soul” and Bohannon) and an exceptionally funkified “Crosseyed and “Painless” (the encore), featuring a scorching guitar solo from Alex Weir. David Byrne is particularly charismatic here, performing tremendously throughout, most notably on “Pyscho Killer,” “Burning Down The House,” Life During Wartime” and “Once In A Lifetime,” “Girlfriend Is Better” (the song that offers the line “stop making sense” and the one where Byrne enters in the big suit). The 1999 DVD release of Stop Making Sense also includes bonus footage of “Cities” (without Bernie Worrell) and “Big Business (with Worrell on clavinet)/”I Zimbra” (with Worrell on synthesizers – doing a brief solo at the end that I swear quotes “The Little Drummer Boy”). A powerful performance that twenty-five years later is proving itself to be timeless too.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Joachim Kühn “Springfever”

Despite a prodigious recording career, very few of virtuoso pianist Joachim Kühn’s records have ever made their way to the United States. By the mid-1970s, however, the German native, late of Paris, had briefly relocated to Southern California and contracted with the German arm of the American Atlantic label. The deal yielded six albums between 1976 and 1981 (not counting the 1988 Situations, a solo piano record), of which only two (1978’s Sunshower and 1979’s Don’t Stop Me Now) were recorded in the United States and, more surprisingly, only two were actually issued in the U.S., the aforementioned Sunshower and this one, Springfever, the pianist’s 1976 American solo recording debut – a second “debut” after the very different Impressions of New York, Joachim’s 1967 Impulse! album with his older brother and frequent recording partner, clarinetist Rolf Kühn.

Something of a child prodigy, Joachim Kühn (b. 1944) formally gave up classical music for the freer climes of jazz in 1962 and by the mid sixties had become one of Germany’s leading proponents of free-jazz exploration. Even from his first recordings with brother Rolf Kühn, who in 1964 was already a veteran of the German and American jazz scenes, it was clear that Joachim had made a profound and lasting impact on his older brother’s musical thinking. As rock began to emerge as a dominant musical force by the late sixties, Kühn succinctly merged this aggressive music with free jazz in the groups of Barney Wilen, Don Cherry, Alan Silva, Jean Luc Ponty, his brother Rolf and on many of his own free-spirited albums. Upon joining the legendary Euro-fusion group Association P.C. in 1973, Kühn started turning his attention to electronic keyboards, immediately achieving a more singularly notable result than many of the other switch-hitting keyboardists of the day had ever achieved.

Coming off a long string of records for Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer’s legendary MPS label with his brother – some of which are being released on CD later this month in honor of Rolf Kühn’s 80th birthday this year – and on his own, Joachim Kühn heads his first Atlantic album with an exceptionally electrified quartet featuring Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine (who first worked with Kühn in Jean Luc Ponty’s group in 1971) and Americans John Lee on bass and Gerry Brown on drums (who, together, had already released two albums on Blue Note and had both previously worked with Kühn and Catherine on the 1974 album Toots Thielemans And Friends).

The program of eight Kühn originals, recorded in Munich during April 1976, is typically eclectic and agreeably unpredictable. Indeed, it takes a few listens for some of the paths Kühn chooses to make sense as the journey is guided more by an artistic European sensibility than – at least as far as fusion goes – a more predictable and commercial American formula.

The long opener “Lady Amber,” featuring Polish violinist Zbigniew Seifert and German drummer Curt Cress, is a splendid sampler of the different keyboard textures Kühn can arrange to set the proper effect. While Seifert’s violin states the melody and offers occasional counterpoint, suggesting the fusion Jean Luc Ponty was promulgating at that point, Kühn very clearly makes his case for a significant voice of the jazz fusion movement with a strong sense of melodic invention and an iconoclastic logic of compositional structure. The ballad “Sunshine” is equally layered, but features Kühn’s acoustic piano on top, where his busy fingers traipse over the melody the way such classically trained pianists as Keith Jarrett or Paul Bley might had they chose to handle this sort of thing.

The solo “Spring Fever” especially reinforces Kühn’s fraternity with Jarrett. But here Kühn adds all sorts of notes, arpeggios and glissandi that Jarrett probably would have tempered a bit more than Kühn is inclined to do. While it doesn’t diminish the piece’s appeal, an enjoyably reflective sort of gospel folk music, it is the album’s sole manifestation of showy technique (form) over practical function, something Kühn is often guilty of elsewhere.

On the other hand, the funky “Two Whips,” “Morning” and “California Woman” each dominated somewhat more by guitarist Catherine, show how tremendously Kühn can serve a melody’s purpose with highlights and accents on just the right keyboard at just the right time. Curiously, when he lets others – particularly those as strong as Philip Catherine – state the melody or the theme as is so often the case on brother Rolf’s records, Joachim Kühn is more inclined to offer substantially more interesting solos or even pitch-perfect counterpoint. “Mushroom” and “Equal Evil,” both indistinct but nonetheless listenable slices of the fusion pie Kühn serves here, round out the program as good presentations of Kühn’s electric eclectics.

Oddly, Joachim Kühn was not heard on many other records available in America during the period other than Joe Henderson’s Black Narcissus (recorded in Paris in 1974 and California in 1975 before Kühn relocated to California), Dutch guitarist Jan Akkerman’s eponymous 1977 album (also not recorded in the U.S. – but like Springfever, an American-issued LP made available on CD recently by Wounded Bird), Billy Cobham’s Magic (Columbia, 1978) and on one track from Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine’s Splendid (Elektra, 1978).

Perhaps the less said about Kühn’s American follow-up, Sunshower (Atlantic, 1978), the better. All Music Guide’s Thom Jurek summed it up best, saying it “is one to be avoided at all costs.” Kühn moved briefly to New York in the early eighties, where brother Rolf resided some twenty years before, and recorded the excellent Nightline New York (Inak, 1981) with Michael Brecker, Bob Mintzer, Eddie Gomez and Billy Hart.

But now the Internet makes it much easier to find and sample Joachim Kühn’s music, particularly the many CDs he’s recorded for many labels like CMP, Owl, ITM, Label Bleu, ACT and Verve since the mid eighties and, more specifically, this fine collection of jazz fusion.