Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth

“There are dark parts to life.  We all want to tuck our heads down and cry somewhere.  But there’s a lot that’s really beautiful.  It’s amazing, a blessing, that we have all these influences.  That’s what this album is saying: you don’t have to be overwhelmed.” — Kamasi Washington, quoted in July 2018’s MOJO magazine.

If you take mainstream American media seriously (just once, for fun), Kamasi Washington is the latest Savior Of Jazz.  Leading a vanguard of hot young musicians from South Central Los Angeles, Washington has been everywhere at once since he emerged in 2004, working in the bands Young Jazz Giants and Throttle Elevator Music, playing with R&B/hip-hop stars like Snoop Dogg and Flying Lotus, even writing string charts for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

In 2015, Washington unleashed his first solo statement, The Epic, and the jazz world was understandably blown away.  The 3 hour, 3-CD concept album, performed by The West Coast Get Down (Washington’s 13-piece, double-rhythm section band) with strings and choir, channels the “spiritual jazz” of 1960s heroes like John Coltrane and Sun Ra into a fluid, expansive historical survey of black consciousness.  One example of the man’s range and ambition: Disc Three, subtitled The Historic Repetition, whipsaws from Charlie Parker’s “Cherokee” through Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune” to Terence Blanchard’s “Theme for Malcolm,” moving from a whisper to a scream, contentment to anguish, simplicity to maximum overdrive with seemingly effortless mastery and power.

Crossing over to a wider public, Kamasi Washington had it all, and everyone wanted him on their side (critic Greg Tate, riffing on Washington’s work with Kendrick Lamar, tagged him as “the jazz voice of Black Lives Matter”).  After The Epic, the floodgates opened: Washington composed a suite for New York’s Whitney Biennial, guested across the modern musical spectrum, and toured worldwide — including a stop in Ann Arbor, where I heard his 8-piece band The Next Step live in 2016. 


So when you’re on top of the heap, or in the center of the storm, where do you go next?  With Heaven and Earth (only a double album — but hold that thought!) Washington makes a classic move, diving deep into a personal take on African-American spirituality, with new music informed by the gospel tradition and the blues.  As he said to the British magazine Dazed:

The inspiration for that is this idea I had that the world is the way we imagine it to be, but it’s also informed by the way we experience it … The journey, you realise, is one and the same: how you imagine the world affects how you experience it. The world your mind lives in, lives in your mind.

Continue reading “Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth”

Travis & Fripp Appdate

From Discipline Global Mobile:

Three new [IPhone/IPad] apps featuring Theo Travis & Robert Fripp go on sale today.

Each app features a different selection of performances by Travis and Fripp, contrasting in mood and key. This trilogy recreates the unpredictable dynamics of live performance, creating a new experience on each listen.

The three apps utilise a wide selection of performances by the pair ingeniously designed to work together in infinite permutations. Both Travis and Fripp have recorded brand new music for the apps in the studio in 2018, but these performances blend and combine with others gathered from live multi-tracks from the albums: Live at Coventry Cathedral, Thread, Discretion and Between the Silence (2018 3CD) and also concert recordings from Malaga, Madrid, Newlyn, Rome, Broad Chalke and the Bath Festival.

Developed by [Burning Shed founder] Peter Chilvers, who has previously collaborated with Brian Eno on the apps Bloom, Trope and Reflection, each recombines a selection of performances painstaking assembled by Travis from multi-track recordings from over a decade of collaboration, enabling old performances to mix with new, studio recordings to mix with live, and exclusive unreleased material to play with familiar performances.

The apps present a unique type of performance of musical texture and space, the building of long slow melodies, and the creation of slowly shifting harmonic soundscapes. Once the apps are started they will play continuously allowing endless performances by this remarkable duo.

As DGM head honcho David Singleton says in his latest diary entry:

[The apps feature] improvisations and multiple layers that will randomize in glorious ways to create a unique performance every time you listen.

Anyone who has been reading my diaries will know that I am something of a “broken record” in my passion to liberate music from the single “frozen recording” into something more fresh and exciting. Not computer-generated music, which holds limited appeal for me, but recordings no longer frozen into a single artefact …

This is not for everyone, or for all music … I am a huge fan of the well-made recording. But just imagine if you did not have to choose between a number of different, but equally good, guitar solos. Or vocal takes. Or drum parts. They could be subtly combined so that you captured an extended present moment. Perhaps think animated GIF, not a full movie. Here’s to dreaming! In the meantime, anyone listening to the Travis & Fripp Apps will be hearing something that no-one has heard before or will ever hear again.

Not unlike a King Crimson concert …

Having been a stone fan of Robert Fripp’s ambient efforts since I attended a 1979 Frippertronics performance at Detroit’s Peaches Records, I give all three of these apps my heartiest recommendation.  Firing them all up today provided a marvelous musical experience while going about my daily business, reading, writing a blog post — or just relaxing and letting two master players do their thing in ways even they didn’t anticipate at the time …

— Rick Krueger

In Concert: #Yes50

Yes at 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids Michigan, June 29, 2018

Before this past Friday, I’d seen Yes live three times: back in 1984 on the second leg of the 90125 tour; twenty years later on their 35th anniversary tour, which featured Rick Wakeman on keyboards and culminated with the recording of the Songs from Tsongas video; and at a 2011 club show with Benoit David singing that started rough, then picked up steam to become a genuinely thrilling night.

It was great to join fellow Progarchist Bryan Morey at Grand Rapids’ hot new club, where I’ve recently heard Marillion and Utopia, to catch Yes barnstorming through “Mitchigan” (Steve Howe’s onstage pronunciation) on their 50th anniversary tour. As Bryan mentioned in his review, they brought an excellent show to town — well structured and paced, showing off each band member to best advantage, wowing listeners with great ensemble playing and building to an encore that was tons of fun. My personal impressions follow:

Continue reading “In Concert: #Yes50”

Soft Machine Returns!

News from Theo Travis, sax-man to prog giants like Steven Wilson, Robert Fripp and David Gilmour:

In September 2018, Soft Machine release their new studio album ‘Hidden Details’. This is the first Soft Machine album (as opposed to Soft Machine Legacy album) in 37 years – since ‘In the Land of Cockayne’. It features John Etheridge (guitar) Roy Babbington (bass) and John Marshall (drums) alongside Theo on Tenor and Soprano saxes, flute and alto flute and Fender Rhodes electric piano.

Theo has written four tunes for the album and there are arrangements of two classic Soft Machine tracks – Out Bloody Rageous (from Third) and The Man who Waved at Trains (from Bundles) . There are also various group improvisations. The music is broad ranging from psychedelia to jazz rock to free form improv’ to simple pop-ish tunes to hypnotic mood pieces …

With the release of the album the band featuring John Etheridge, Theo Travis, Roy Babbington and John Marshall will go on a Soft Machine 50 Years World Tour celebrating 50 years since the first Soft Machine album.

The various vinyl & CD editions of ‘Hidden Details’ are spelled out in Theo’s post; Sid Smith (author of the definitive King Crimson biography) has mentioned that he’s written the liner notes on his Facebook page.   Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if a download version of the album will show up at Soft Machine’s Bandcamp site.

North American tour dates (the band’s first since 1974, when founding organist Mike Ratledge, guitarist Allan Holdsworth and Adiemus guru Karl Jenkins were in the group) will include:

  • Saturday 06 October: Orion Studios, Baltimore MD
  • Sunday 07 October: Theater of the Living Arts, Philadelphia, PA
  • Tuesday 09 October: Roxy & Duke’s Rockabilly Roadhouse, Dunellen, NJ
  • Wednesday 10 October: Daryl’s House, Pawling, NY
  • Friday-Sunday 12-14 October: Iridium, New York, NY (3 shows)
  • Tuesday 16 October: Mod Club Theatre, Toronto, ON, Canada
  • Wednesday 17 October: The Tralf, Buffalo, NY
  • Thursday 18 October: Beachland Ballroom and Tavern, Cleveland, OH
  • Sunday 21 October: Progtoberfest, Reggie’s Rock Club, Chicago, IL
  • Monday 22 October: Shank Hall, Milwaukee, WI
  • Tuesday 23 October: The Turf, St. Paul, MN

Since I’m hoping to see the band at Progtoberfest, I’ve been listening to the Softs’ original recordings recently, and am primed to dive into the Soft Machine Legacy albums of the 21st century.  Watch this space for some serious Retroarchy coming soon …

— Rick Krueger


Moody Blues News

From the latest post on my favorite classical music blog (which also regularly includes fascinating insights regarding world music and Sufism), On an Overgrown Path:

Long Distance Voyagers is a 796 page resource book about the Moody Blues rock band. Surprisingly given the high profile of the band – they have sold more than 80 million records and were one of the pioneers of the concept album and of classic rock – this is the first major volume devoted to their oeuvre. The book is the labour of love of Marc Cushman, who is best known for his monumental books analysing Star Trek and Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space series. This latest massive volume is equally monumental – it is only volume one taking the story of the band up to 1979.

Recently I have been impressed and rewarded by several major historical books about art music icons, including the Nick Drake anthology Remembered For A While. This comes from long-established publishing house John Murray, and has commensurate high design values and sharp sub-editing. Long Distance Voyagers comes from new media publisher Jacobs Brown and suffers from the lacklustre design and lightweight sub-editing that are the hallmarks of desktop publishing. But this should not detract from what is a very rewarding document for those who, like me, underwent their musical and other rites of passage in the 1960s to the soundtrack of In Search of a Lost Chord.

Needless to say, this beauty went on my Amazon wish list immediately, with plans to purchase it Very Soon Now.  Blog author “Pliable” is a former EMI classical recording engineer, eclectic in his musical tastes and erudite in his commentary.  His pungent, all-too-sharp observations on the negative effects of social media recently prompted him to sever his links to Facebook and Twitter (a gutsy step I’ll honor by keeping this post off them).  I can’t help but agree with his lament in a previous post on the magnificent Moodies:

Gone are the days when Visconti’s Death in Venice, Ken Russell’s Music Lovers, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ and Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Pictures At An Exhibition could add a new diacritic to young lives. Instead the mantra of our digital age is ‘more of the same please’ driven by the insidious dynamic of social media approval.

Do check out On an Overgrown Path — it’s always excellent reading about music that matters — as well as Long Distance Voyagers!

— Rick Krueger


Flashback Review: Yes Live in 2011

I wrote this review as a Facebook note in 2011 — my first online year of “too many concerts” (but not my last), when I heard Yellow Matter Custard, Yes, Bob Seger, Rush, Jeff Beck, Robin Trower, U2 and Paul McCartney live.  The following is unedited, except for a couple of cosmetic fixes (the occasional snark is still intact).  I think of it as an appropriate appetizer for my next Yes show, coming at the end of June! — Rick Krueger

Yes, The Orbit Room, Grand Rapids Michigan, March 20, 2011

Over the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that rockers should rock as long as they want to rock. Maybe it’s because I’m pushing 50, but I have fewer & fewer problems with icons from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, etc. touring endlessly. In fact, my favorite moment on the Crossroads 2010 DVD is a shot of Hubert Sumlin (guitarist for Chicago blues legend Howlin’ Wolf) sitting in a chair, an oxygen tube in his nostrils, jamming away & happy as a clam. Let it rock, I say.

The opening of Yes’ show at the Orbit Room, however, was a severe test of that credo. When Chris Squire trundles onstage and has to strap his bass guitar higher than ever before so his stomach isn’t in the way; when Alan White stiffly totters onto his drum riser; when the first two songs (“Parallels” & “Tempus Fugit”) feature wildly fluctuating tempos, slowing down not just from section to section, but from riff to riff — well, you have to wonder, however briefly, if some reunions should be left undone. Add a new lead singer who specializes in slo-mo interpretive movement, jazz hands a-plenty, and Riverdance spins during instrumental sections (on top of a salt-and-pepper crew cut), and the night seemed even less promising.

Fortunately, the music prevailed and the players whipped themselves into shape by the third number, “Yours Is No Disgrace.” Squire & White pounded out a revivified backbeat, Steve Howe unleashed his patented Chuck Berry-meets-country-meets-psychedelia guitar magic, and Oliver Wakeman not only proved a nimble & able replacement for his dad on keyboards, but also won the “longest hair in the band” award. As for Benoit David, that new lead singer — despite a few shaky high notes at the start, he quickly proved able to navigate Jon Anderson’s stratospheric vocal lines with confidence & joy, soaring on his own & locking into tight harmonies with Squire and Howe.


From then on, the night was pretty much an unalloyed treat. “Soon” (from the album Relayer) was a gorgeous ballad interlude, with lush lap steel playing by Howe and David nailing the stirring vocal. “Close to the Edge” had the last attack of shaky tempos for the night, but also sported solid ensemble playing, Squire shaking the room with his bass pedals, and Wakeman rocking out on all eight on his keyboards. “I’ve Seen All Good People” shone despite a dead mike on Howe’s lute (!) at the beginning, culminating in David-led handclaps & audience vocals. Howe’s solo spot (featuring an unaccompanied version of “To Be Over,” another Relayer track) was mind-meltingly good, both technical & tasty. The heavy “Machine Messiah,” an extended piece from the Drama album, served as a slam-bang intro to Yes’ heavy hitters. “Owner of A Lonely Heart,” “Long Distance Runaround” (with the least extended bass solo I’ve ever heard from Squire), “Starship Trooper” and the inevitable encore “Roundabout” got the all-ages crowd dancing, rushing the stage, singing at the top of their lungs, and motivating Howe to thank everyone for “being such a rowdy, crazy, great audience.”

Have the mighty fallen? To think of Yes (who did their last US arena tour 7 years ago) playing a 1500 seat club is more than a little sad. On the other hand, if they can overcome the obstacles of age, lineup changes, indifferent disc sales, and unpredictable sound systems to play shows with this much intensity and fire, I’d say it’s a good trade-off!




Van der Graaf Generator, Live at Rockpalast: Rick’s Retroarchy

Following in the wake of King Crimson, ELP, Yes and early Genesis, Van der Graaf Generator were pioneers of progressive rock that never cracked mass appeal, even in their native Britain.   Not that they necessarily tried; VdGG’s music (created from 1969 to 1972, 1975 to 1978 and 2005 to the present) was acerbic, obsessive and challenging from the word go.  Reveling in collision and contradiction, at once sharp-edged and tender-hearted, out of control and in sync, the music Peter Hamill, David Jackson, Hugh Banton and Guy Evans made on their 2005 reunion album Present and the resulting tour was the equal of what had come before — urgent, authentic, a triumph of their unique approach and chemistry, done for all the right reasons.

Now Germany’s MiG Music has released the climax of that tour — Van der Graaf’s concert from the Leverkusen Jazz Festival, recorded for German TV’s Rockpalast, the only full length live video by the classic line up.  This bargain CD/DVD set is strong stuff, with rough edges proudly on display; not for the faint of heart, yet ultimately life-affirming and absolutely essential.


Continue reading “Van der Graaf Generator, Live at Rockpalast: Rick’s Retroarchy”