Miles Davis – “In a Silent Way” (1969)

February 27, 2010 at 3:31 pm (Miles Davis, Music, Reviews & Articles)

A Sept. 1, 2003 Stylus review by Nick Southall…

 

“Miles the dresser, Miles the boxer, Miles the bon vivant, Miles the pioneer.” — Frank Glenn (from the original LP liner notes)

By ’69, of course, Miles had already wound his way down many paths, his meandering dance turning jazz on its head time and again. The albums Miles produced during the mid to late ‘60s hinted at the direction he would take as the decade folded, but not one of them fully prepared people for the changes in store during ’69. In a Silent Way marked the point at which Miles left conventional forms of jazz behind altogether, and moved into completely new ground. Previously he had reinvented old forms, made them his own by painting his lyrical, melancholy trumpet lines indelibly over whichever canvas he chose as his basis of expression. But come ’69 Miles started creating new canvases altogether, the world of jazz was simply not large or vivid enough to contain his perpetual and undying will to create, his need to seek new avenues of expression.

Moving away from the creative, modernist hard bop that Miles pioneered in the mid ‘60s, Miles in the Sky had looked at the future with trepidation, wanting to break free of itself and leap into the unknown, but seemed scared to do so. Filles de Kilimanjaro headed more successfully towards the territory of the fusion to come, but was still undeniably the work of a classic jazz quintet, however superlative that quintet may have been. In a Silent Way saw the famed quintet of the ‘60s dissipate, and the structures and rules of jazz as played by Miles dissolve along with them.

In a Silent Way presented a new kind of music, a music that rose from the ether, drifting and meandering like smoke caught in candlelight. Miles assembled a fluid octet for In a Silent Way that included three electric pianos (played by Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul) and the electric guitar of the young John McLaughlin alongside soprano sax, bass, drums, and Miles’ trumpet. Together the band were perhaps the most cohesive and telepathic outfit Miles had put together, a feat considering the gift Miles had for assembling young talent. But however superlative the band may have been for In a Silent Way it remains an album largely built on the studio skills of Teo Macero and Miles himself. Behind the scenes, Miles and Teo took the tapes of the In a Silent Way sessions and transformed some beautiful, folk-tinged, melody-driven sets into two exquisite, beguiling and otherworldly pieces of music. Using techniques that pre-dated the proliferation of tape loops, cut-ups, edits and sequencing in rock, pop, hip hop and dance music, Miles and Teo took apart the original recording and reassembled them outside of any traditional or accepted jazz structure or melodic framework. This idea of taking jazz away from its birth, genesis and flowering as a live art and into the studio would soon become standard practice, but in 1969 it was groundbreaking.

In terms of mood, In a Silent Way treads similar ground to Miles’ classic Kind of Blue, weaving its strange, formless ways around a hazy, after-hours ambience of subdued tones and delicious melancholy. The music itself though, is far away from the structured beauty of that album. It is free, unfettered and uncontainable, a liquid pool of keys and atmospheres from which originates a series of open-ended vamps and solos, and a rhythm that is sometimes barely present, at other times sinuously, subtly funk-inflected. There are no rules to this music, no boundaries. The players pick up on each other, establish riffs, whispers of melodies, and either leave them to dissolve or else gently breathe life into them. Shorter fills space, floating in and out of audibility, until it is his turn to articulate a moment. Miles sits back, in control, his presence notable by a waft of trumpet here and there, his image reclined against the studio door throughout, nodding his head as the music of his band matches the music in his mind. But really it is the three keyboardists and McLaughlin who make In a Silent Way the work of wonder that it is, the constant, slowly undulating core of sound over which McLaughlin weaves his way through a never-ending daze.

In A Silent Way is timeless. The fresh modes of constructing music that it presented revolutionised the jazz community, and the shifting, ethereal beauty of the actual music contained within has remained beautiful and wonderful, its echoes heard through the last 30 years, touching dance music, electronica, rock, pop, all music. People may cite the vast classicism of Sketches of Spain, the wonderful, beautiful sorrow of Kind of Blue, or the seismic impact of Bitches Brew, but In a Silent Way is perhaps the understated peak of Miles’ career. The strange, elusive beauty of this album captures the essence of Miles and his music, distils his ongoing quest to find new ways of expression, and opens up new worlds to all who listen.

Nick Southall

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Andrew Bailey – “Jeff Beck Is Back in Action” (1971)

February 27, 2010 at 9:00 am (Music, Reviews & Articles)

From issue #85 (June 24, 1971) comes this Rolling Stone article on guitar wizard Jeff Beck, who had just formed a new version of The Jeff Beck Group at the time. He had just recovered from a car accident, and had also recorded an album in 1970 at the Motown studios that has yet to be released…

For some time, Jeff Beck had the reputation for being the epitome of English white-blues smartie-pants guitarists. A breed of questionable ethics, it seemed, with Beck the most suspect of the lot. He was cranky, egotistical, he fired musicians, stalked off stages, was moody. A shmoe, and after a while only the groupies cared that he was one of the progenitors in the list of Anglophallics in 1968 Anglophilac America.

There was no denying he had rock and roll sense. And he has had a few rotten turns. He’s news now because he’s finally, after a two-year lay-off, gotten a new band together. He recorded a week’s worth of rock at Island’s studios, when suddenly affairs were steeped in intrigue.

A growing animosity seems to be developing between Beck and his managers, RAK. Beck, unhappy with the new record contracts being drawn up, flew to America to negotiate privately with Columbia. RAK, unhappy that Beck was doing things behind their backs and having already paid for the studio time, confiscated the tapes. The last word is that Beck, now even more distraught at losing the tapes, and thinking it unpractical to loose his gang of hoodlums on RAK, is attempting to compromise by offering two per cent of the record money to Mickey Most (who, along with Peter Grant, is RAK), in return for the tapes.

“And that’s a fuck of a lot too,” growls Beck. “If the album’s somehow a million seller, that could mean $20,000.”

Conceivably, a guy could get the blues.

He was rehearsing daily at the Country Club, an old Jewish social hall-turned-rock club in fashionable Hampstead, London. The place has never really been renovated — it’s a psychedelic ballroom with overstuffed chairs, chandeliers, murals, committee-chosen wallpaper. Still, in its squalor and pallor, rock bands know that they get an honest shake from the clientele.

“We’re not going to throw away the heavy sound,” is the first thing Jeff gets off his chest, bouncing up and down. “There’s just some things you have to keep. I mean, drummers and bassmen have been working for years to get that sound down, you just can’t chuck it all out for acoustic guitars, can ya? Naah, I like it funky.”

This is a funky-looking crew. Alex Ligertwood with the bashed-in Glasgow face is the new vocalist; handsome Trinidadian Clive Charman on bass; dumpy, intellectual Max Middleton, wearing an SS leather trenchcoat, on electric piano; and Cozy Powell, an exact look-a-like to Beck, on drums.

Cozy was with Beck when he recorded the Motown tapes last year, a project that everyone was dying to hear, but Beck didn’t want released. Here was someone who actually gone in and learnt the secrets of the Kingdom. A skinny English cat, yet.

Producer Mickie Most, looking back on it all, thinks it was strange. “It was another world. Understandably, it was hard for Jeff to get the feel of the music right away. They never heard of Jeff, or me; they just thought we were a couple of English blokes out for a blast. Very strange.”

Actually, Motown did know who Most was. This fellow Most is responsible for something like 45 gold records over the last six years, with overall sales around 125 million. One of those legendary Man With A Golden Ear characters and, to be sure, the hits were with sure-fire marks like Donovan, Herman’s Hermits and the Animals, but there was a talent. So it was that Motown made overtures to Most to get him on their Rare Earth label, add a little color to the situation, maybe, and thence the label got mixed up with Beck and the nice fat sound. But more on Most later.

“This band is kind of a Motown experiment,” says Alex Ligertwood. They do a version of Stevie Wonder’s “Show Me to Where There’s Music” and Beck often relaxes into some riff like “Reach Out,” and of course, there’s a hefty brace of Motown cartridge tapes on the dashboard of his Mustang for when he goes cruising.

He’s a hotrodder, after all. “He’s been down there in Eggerton fucking around with his cars for the last two years,” grumbles manager Grant.

At his Kent estate, Beck is working on a custom ’32 Ford Coupe, with a 350 Chevy engine and a Powerglide. A Little Deuce Coupe. And everybody’s already heard about his Model T, the one with the 327 and the B&M Hydroshift, the one that he crashed most violently on the very same weekend he was to join Tim Dogert and Carmine Appice in that much waited for super charged supergroup from the ashes of Vanilla Fudge that never got moving because Beck was lying in a hospital bed with a concussion.

They’ve moved the rehearsals up to a dingy, dusty old dancehall in far north London, behind a pub called?honest — the Fishmongers Arms. This place is even more hysterical than the last. The last time the Fishmongers Arms saw this kind of action … was when Gene Vincent and his Houseshakers had a rave last year.

The band cooks. It’s “heavy,” sure, but it’s not glue-sniffing heavy, it’s mostly thudding Romilar action. Cozy Powell is one of a few drummers who can use twin bass drums and not get lost in them. Max Middleton was a classical pianist student for 18 years and this is his first venture into pop. And he doesn’t use all the old stock riffs. And Jeff tapes his feet as he plays, a rare sight for guitarists; it’s up-beat, crystal-clear chording, then it’s all a slide back into Motown Heavy.

Beck has been out of action for two years, and in that time he’s not heard too many new groups. After the crash, he lost a lot of interest in guitar. This band is conceivably not a progression, as such, and its, roots are in an established energy happening. Then again, London Town, all your bands have progressed so much, progressed on to such other meaningful, things, that raw funk stands … isolated, usually.

Beck used to play in the Tridents in 1965, a semi-pro rhythm and blues band, one of the many but for Beck’s echo chamber and his teenage guitar freak-outs during Bo Diddley’s “Nursery Rhymes” down at the Hundred Club. “A big old African riff, y’know, where you could play the wrong notes and times and it would still sound great. On the echo, I used to have a half-second, quarter-second and eighth-second delays built in, and I could let it build and build and build. I’d play another note and on-and-on-and-on.

“One night we’d just done a great set when this chap comes out of the audience, smoking a cigar, and asked me if I wanted to join this group. And I said, ‘Naah. Fuck off, man.’ And then I thought that if I had some more money, I could do more things. Then I found out that the group was the Yardbirds.

“I didn’t like them when I first met them. They didn’t say Hi or anything. They were pissed off the Eric had left, they had thought that the whole Yardbirds sound had gone. That was the impression I had got. They said, ‘Can you play blues?’ I said, ‘Wot, slow blues? Chi-ca-go blues?’ They said anything. So I honked around. They said to get rid of the echo … you don’t use an echo in Chi-ca-go blues … yeah, that’s just what they said!”

It was about that time that blues started coming down on Beck personally. As he admits, “I wasn’t ready to go from the semi-pro, straight to the glamor.” He missed gigs, he started fussing with the sound. He also recorded some very novel tracks with them, including “Heart Full of Soul,” “Shape of Things,” and “Better Man Than I” In short, he breathed a second life into the band. They were solid avant-garde for the adolescents.

His exit from the Yardbirds was less than graceful. “I had a nervous break down, y’know,” he philosophizes. “I don’t know if you know what a nervous breakdown really is, but I had one. It was in St. Tropez for his concert, and I had fainted and fell down about three flights of stone stairs, couldn’t even speak to the doctor, and after he gives me about 3000 prescriptions, he tells me I’ll be alright. I just have meningitis. And I thought. ‘Hoowah, my mother told me meningitis was a bad disease.’

“It was when I was convalescing that Jimmy Page joined the Yardbirds. He was the one that got me in the band in the first place as they approached him before me. He said no, but recommended me. Anyway, I really wanted Jim Page on lead guitar with me because I knew it would sound sensational. We had fun. I remember doing some really nice jobs with page. It lasted about four or five months, then I had this throat thing come on, inflamed tonsils, and what with inflamed brain, inflamed tonsils and an inflamed cock and everything else …”

Just before the final split, Beck vented his revenge in Antonioni’s Blow Up. “When Antonioni said that he wanted me to break my guitar I had a fit. I said, ‘Wait a minute, that’s Townshend’s thing.’ I didn’t mind playing a very wild number with lots of violence in it, lots of chords smashing away, but I didn’t actually want to destroy the guitar. What a cheat, the first part shows me playing a Les Paul and in the second part I’m smashing up a cheap old $35 Japanese model.”

So what did he think when he saw the flick? “I was thoroughly embarrassed I had fucking hard-on in the picture, man! This chick I was going out with at the time said, ‘Oh my god, don’t go see that film, it’s so embarrassing, I didn’t know what to do, I took my mother to see it and there you were … this horrible, sinister thing hanging down the side of the screen.’ It gets hot under them lights, after all, rupturing myself with those tight trousers.”

A rock and roll star in what Mickie Most wanted to be. “I was like the Elvis of South Africa,” he acknowledges. “I had 11 Number One records down there.”

Understandably, the kind of rock-flame neo-Buddy Holly act he was doing that transports you to the top down there, didn’t work in Beatle-struck London, and in 1964, after a series of bill-bottoming debacles, he began producing. His first assignment, lucky enough, was that half-hour session in which the Animals turned out “House of the Rising Sun.” The luck began, the hits began, the Product began.

As a “popcorn producer” (Beck’s term), Most was incomparable. Whether doing the Yardbirds or Lulu, he used his own restraint and rarely got lost in the excess: heavy or arty. It was later, however, upon release of two relatively bland Terry Reid albums (bland when considering the talent), that Most’s ability to keep up with the times was sometimes questioned.

Most built Donovan a heady musical image. He got rid of the old scruff Dylan image and gave him a new up-to-date Folk Rock image. “Donovan was a song-writer, and he’d sometimes write up to 30 songs a week, all of which he wanted recorded. I just picked the hits out, such as I picked out ‘Mellow Yellow’ and I selecte ‘Sunshine Superman.’ Don was surprised at these choices, but they were hits. When we began to grow apart was after his California trip. I wanted to keep building him, make him more powerful, more melodious. He wanted to go backward, into more personal music. You know, flutes and things.”

One of the last things they did together was the Donovan-Beck Super-session. “The Jeff Beck Group at that time were a bunch of gigglers. Donovan was, and is now, very serious about things. It was like a monk amongst a load of playboys.”

Most’s first production of Beck, apart from the Yardbirds, was “Hi Ho Silver Lining,” a single of unimpeachable pap, which broke across the airwaves, heading for certain chart success … all during the 1967 summer of love. Avant-Beck. He had formed his band with Rob Stewart, Ron Wood and Mickey Waller, but his next record out was a cover version of “Love Is Blue.” Which, to this day, gives Beck the blues.

“Mickie wasn’t the slightest bit interested in recording my sort of music and I couldn’t say to him, ‘Look, you don’t know what’s going on,’ because he had 20,000 gold disks on the wall saying ‘I do know what’s going on.’ So for a couple of years I wasted my career doing junk tunes.”

And then the story turns into the pages that everyone knows so well. They followed Cream to America, but were actually fronting a wave that meant something entirely different from Cream. It was a different image, and it could almost be seen as some obvious formula, some … taste be damned.“I wasn’t ready for Nicky Hopkins’ wistful piano behind me. It took away the raucousness, but that’s not what I wanted in my band. I just wanted to lay down all the guitar I could put down without being interrupted.”

Mickey Waller and Ron Wood were fired in mid-tour. Ron Wood was rehired. Nicky Hopkins began to get feisty about the band’s direction. He was allowed to quit.

“I saw other groups, like Sly … groups that really floored me, and they made me realize that this group was limited, that there was an end to it, and that’s the time to get out, finish it.”

It was at the Singer Bowl in New York, summer of 1969, that Beck was doing his encore of “Jailhouse Rock” when members of Led Zeppelin came jumping out from backstage, doing an Aztec two-step, having a drunken goodtime on Beck’s stage. A raid. The twin Marshall stacks were split and Page was given a guitar and this kid in the audience was bubbling out of control, “Wow! … it’s like … the two greatest guitarists in the whole world! Right here in the Singer Bowl!”

“It was funny,” says Beck, “because that’s when they took over.”

It’s all different now, of course. There’s specialist bands. Everyone has their own kind of rock release.

And you’d most likely think that Beck and Zeppelin were always good buddies unless you’d seen those old acrimonious interviews with Beck, stating how Zeppelin stole half his act. He won’t say it now. “When Jimmy’s demo was playing to me, and I heard “You Shook Me,” the number I did on the Truth album, and I heard the arrangement, it just sort of … I dunno, it wasn’t the same, but the choice, the approach, it was in the same bracket … the category …”

Strong vocals and a loud guitar? “Yeah, right. I just thought, well … I’m quite honored, really. I do wish them the best of luck.” No matter what the scene is now, Beck is trying to make a comeback. He’s never had the urge to see Rod Stewart and the Faces, probably out of an avoidance for anything discouraging. On the other hand, he did go and see Cactus, the band that Tim Bogert and Appice put together without him. “I liked it … it was couldn’t-give-a-shit music. But they didn’t have anything to say musically, they were doing old fashioned blues.”

By the end of June, Beck wants to do a couple of feeler exercises in Germany, then head for the States. “I had a bad complex, y’know, a while ago, and it quietens you right down … it gives you a nasty fright … I began to realize I’d turn into a vegetable if I didn’t watch it. A fractured skull can fuck up a lot of things. … This tour could be a disaster, but then it could be great … this time I have to make it work. There’s no room to fuck about, really.” 

Andrew Bailey

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“The Pete Townshend Page #8”

February 27, 2010 at 8:32 am (Music, Pete Townshend, Reviews & Articles)

Written for Melody Maker, March 13, 1971…

 

LEARNING TO WALK — THE SECOND TIME ROUND

When Zappa first talked to Keith and I about his film 200 Motels, he said it was “All about how touring makes you crazy.” I said I felt the opposite. Touring keeps me sane, I said.

His lady friend laughed and at that point they figured, I suppose, that we’d already gone over the ridge last tour. I can’t help feeling, especially at times like this, with the group rehearsing, never appearing before an audience, how important it is to tour.

The WHO go insane when they aren’t touring. Maybe that would make a good film. “200 Rehearsals.”

As usual everything is a year late, the songs, the script, the energy. The point is that if you’re doing gigs, playing halls, facing people, it somehow keeps you in touch with their stand towards you. You can feel their reactions and moods as a mass, and make decisions about your music

and how to make it say what people want it to say. I was in the toilet after our return to Leeds University last year, and I overheard this conversation.

“Bloody great weren’t they?” “They were all right I suppose, not as good as Deep Purple.”

That was when I first got the urge to take another listen to a band I’d always admired as individual musicians, but not really taken much notice of lately. On another occasion. I talked to a load of kids at a gig at Hammersmith at the end of our last tour. They reminded us of songs we used to play years back that we’d forgotten about ourselves. One, “Baby Don’t You Do It,” a Marvin Gaye number, we play again today. It beats “Summertime Blues” in the Who nostalgia stakes. Brings tears to my eyes.

Could the Beatles have been saved by touring? I don’t know enough background to comment really but I can hazard a guess. I think they would still be together today if they had broken that ice that built up around them, ice that collects around the nose and toes very very quickly in recording studios. Clearly they deserved the long break they took after their heavy American tours, they also needed to allow the heat to die down a bit with regard to audience hysteria.

Maybe they weren’t able to foresee that kids wouldn’t scream at them forever. I’m not suggesting that was big-headed of them, but at the time it was difficult to hear what any lead singer ever sang at a big show. It wasn’t just screaming kids, it was also the fact that a microphone system to get the sound above the new powerful guitar amps was not available.

I do remember though, about the time of Sergeant Pepper I think, talk of a new Beatles’ performance. Road show-come Circus. I heard rumours of orchestras travelling with them, tapes being used to recreate the recorded atmospheres, we were on the list as a band to go along, that’s where I heard a few stories. Brian Epstein was alive then, and despite the fact that I only met him about six times, I know how much of a link man he was for the individual Beatles.

I think we have reached a point in our stage career where, despite the fact that our recordings haven’t reached Beatles’ standard, we are facing the same sort of decisions about performing that the Beatles faced when they were thinking of touring again after their long rest. Two guitars, a few voices and a drummer can do a lot more, but there is a point where you reach the end of your limitations. You produce only variations on a certain sound.

Loud Live At Leeds, or soft Live At Leeds. The Stones broke their jinx. Mick Jagger rang me up just before they went on the road again, and wanted to know all the worst gigs.

Brian Jones had announced that he was to leave the group, and Mick wanted a guitarist too. He invited us to take our weary bodies out on the tightrope when the Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus hit the rails.

In other words, he had the same motivations as did the Beatles a while earlier. He wanted to get back on the road. Back on the stage, playing to people. Making records takes a long time, you don’t get reactions for months after you have performed. Making films takes even longer. You don’t get reactions for years sometimes. I think the Stones found that unbearable.

At least Mick did. Instantaneous reaction. That’s what everyone needs. I weighed up all the wasted time in my life the other day. I had ordered a machine for my studio, and was given a delivery date six months on. Six months is half a year. A year might be as much as a fiftieth of my life. So do I wait for the machine. How can I? This is one of the most important things to hit the Who during out rehearsals.

If you are going to develop new sound systems, they have to be designed and built. Then they have to be tested and proven. Only then can you decide whether they are worth using or not. Imagine the problems facing the Beatles and their six-group, two-orchestra, tape machines and sound effects road show. Dreams mate, Dreams.

Some of our new equipment has taken a full 18 months to reach stage maturity. Our new P.A. mixer has been growing steadily in size and reliability for a whole year. Special tape decks have been flown over from the States and mixing facilities designed to incorporate them into the system. I have been churning out demos and scripts like a coffee machine in the tea break. 

Fiddling with three makes of Synthesiser and twenty brands of tranquilisers. Luckily the Stones have already built a superb mobile sound studio in a furniture van. We hope to record all the sound in our new film using it if it’s available. It was designed by Glynn Johns, Glynn will be working with us on the film when it begins this year.

Glynn engineered our first three records, in a sense he invented our sound, or at least that sound that emerged from Shel Talmy sessions. He was one of the few people to contain the recording of the Small Faces too. That partnership culminated in one of the best rock albums with a theme ever. If not period. Ogdens of course. We are looking forward to hearing the playbacks.

If nothing else, the past year’s preoccupation with electronics has bestowed on me an inate love of wire. The sight of a Moog Synthesiser smothered in patch cables brings me to a state approaching orgasm. A 13 amp plug starts my heart beating faster, and the inside of a television set is enough to reduce me to tears. My latest addiction is chewing solder. What a high man. Really burns me up. Keeps my mind in flux. Never get stoned on a dry joint, chew solder. Yuk. 

We’ve done it though, Nearly. I think we’ve come closer to breaking up and nervous breakdowns than ever before in our careers, but we’re getting results. The point seems to be hammered home to us all the time. That no-one can afford to wait long periods of time to get their creative work finished. Film makers and classical composers amaze me. Their stamina and patience, is appalling, their courage incredible.

We can’t even wait for ourselves to catch up. I am in a peculiarly schizo position. One part of me says it takes time to write, I need time, touring burns time. The other part of me says I can’t write unless I’m alive, I’m not alive unless I’m touring. That isn’t to infer that we’d starve if we didn’t work. Our roadies would. Ha, Ha. But we wouldn’t, Tommy sees to that. It just illustrates that the only people what are able to come up with anything really new, are new people. With clear heads and no addictions to smoke filled ballrooms, or maybe they are free of the burden of continuous introverted recording sessions.

Year in year out, following one record with another. Trying to improve all the time, and needing endless studio time to do so. It’s no good making incredible records though, if you can’t enjoy people’s enjoyment of them. Sales mean nothing in that respect. They mean more money to make more recordings, but they don’t give a musician the feedback he so desperately needs.

Drunken crowds of jeering kids. They give you the feedback you need. Good on ’em. You can’t go wrong. You can’t fool yourself, you can’t pretend they like it for its deep, hidden spiritual implications when they’re jumping up and down to the heat of the music and shouting so loud they can’t hear the words anyway.

Touring does make you crazy, but recording makes you lazy.

P.S. Thank you, Andy Roberts for your tumultuous response to my campaign to bring back freedom to the musicians’ elbow. Got mime if you want it! Looks like the Musicians’ Union can go back to sleep, yours was the only letter of support I got. See you at the next Branch meeting, we can play darts, eh? — P.T.

Pete Townshend

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