Archive for October, 2008

FREE “FIRE AND WATER”

10 October 2008

The news abut the elections in the USA has become a background drone, but one thing popped out from this white noise — that the song to support the campaign to elect Mr. Barak Obama is called “Obama (Yes We Can)”.

At first it was the “Yes we can” that caught my attention — could this be a rip off of our very own “Bob the Builder” hit sung by Neil Morrissey?

Then I heard it was written by and performed by our own Andy Fraser! Well, obviously I HAD to dig out a Free album (Fire and Water) and give it a spin for nostalgia’s sake; I LOVE the fat bass Andy got way back in 1970 when Hendrix was alive, and Cream and the fab four were still “together”.

I had forgotten how fabulous this album is, and what a great band Free were. Maaaan, it was a trip!

Paul Rodgers and Andy Fraser (at just 18 back then) co-wrote the album’s seven tracks, starting with the title track, and finishing with their biggest hit, the all-time classic, “All Right Now”.

01 – Fire and Water – A major;
02 – Oh I Wept – E minor;
03 – Remember – Ab major;
04 – Heavy Load – D minor;
05 – Mr. Big – E minor;
06 – Don’t Say You Love Me – E major;
07 – All Right Now – A major.

If memory serves me right, this album went top 20 here and in the USA. A simple four piece, with each part pared down and simplified, Free are as inspirational as they are distinctive. Paul Rodgers can sing, but it’s the fills that make him so special, so soulful. Paul Kossoff on simple, emotional lead learned from Peter A Green on tour supporting and jamming with the original Bluesy Fleetwood Mac. Simon Kirke on drums — drums that are integral to the tune. And of course, Andy Fraser’s fat sparse bass.

Andy’s Bass solo on Mr.Big has always been a classic.  He’s got a cheekiness about his bass lines, a great tone and personality that is not about showing off, and not even about being in the back line or rhythm section, but about being part of the tune, a compositional part of the whole song.

When I hear Free, I am always reminded of a lecturer who used to make us test our artworks by demanding of each component “Are you needed — would it be better with or without you?”. Every note and noise enhances Free, exclude one rimshot or bass note and it would suffer; it all fits perfectly together — and the gaps provide the space that makes them seem grander and more powerful that a mere four piece.

In my early bands I used to try to get the guys to stop overplaying — to get some build-ups or at least some dynamics involved (not always successfully — people just wanna play all the time) — and I would often play them Fire and Water (and their later live album) to make the point.

Funny the things that trigger a musical nostalgia trip!

Here’s a video of Andy’s song from You Tube:

It seems that Andy has not lost his sparse (and typically fat sounding) bass line!

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ALI FARKA TOURÉ “SAVANE”

1 October 2008

I am presently listening to Ali Farka Touré’s last album, “Savane“. It’s from 2006 and has 13 tracks of what Mr Farka Touré himself called his best work. I was intrigued by this album for two reasons, (1) Ali Farka Touré knew he was dying as he was making it, and (2) this album is raved about in “world music” circles.

It was also time to become acquainted with Ali Farka Touré after all these years. His name has floated about the periphery of my awareness for long enough! As a guitarist, I was interested in why he was ranked number 76 on Rolling Stone Magazines list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” — I knew he played with Ry Cooder (but then who hasn’t) and that his stuff had won Grammys– and I was aware that his stuff (from Mali) is supposed to be the real origins of what-we-know-as “Blues”.

Somehow, despite knowing all this, “Savane” is surprisingly both “African” and “Blues”, very guitary (but not showy-guitary if you know what I mean). There is a lot of guitar on the record, but it’s mainly rhythmic.

Blues-wise, it’s got the acoustic guitar, the rhythms, the repetitions (loops, riffs), the mumbling, even the mouth organ or harmonica!

It is not English, but it is still comprehensible.  The “Africanness” makes itself known from time to time — not because of the language, but in terms of music — particularly with choir and “twirlyness” of the guitar playing.

There is a sax, and electric guitar, such as on “Beto” — but the track is neither blues nor “what we come to expect of African music”.  I guess I take “African” music to be a bit happier or something.  This is the effect of the Paul Simon factor probably LOL!

To be honest, one would not really suspect that Ali Farka Touré was dying, or indeed that he himself was aware of his impending demise (he fought bone cancer for years) from merely listening to this album.  I am not sure this information adds much, and “Savane” doesn’t need anything to add anything as it stands perfectly well on its own. But then again, the blues is the blues — and what is more blues than facing death?

The title track has a great electric guitar intro that sounds almost Spanish-Moorish at times, and then a Reggae rhythm is set up against a very American Blues melody, then very Africanish singing with sort-of Kurdish sounding trills. It’s just weird — but only in the thinking or explanation, not in the listening; it is mad, it is eclectic, but it comes together very well.

The starts of “Penda Yoro” and “Ledi Coumbe” really do sound like Muddy waters tracks, but the “Machengoid” and “Banda” sound North Indian, and “Soya” sound very African!

Because it is sung in a foreign language, it tends to be considered like instrumental works, and either listened to or used as background.  I wonder if something so foreign can find a natural place in MY lifestyle, if you know what I mean.

For example, some pop music can be associated with holidays or other events, some more serious music can bring back amazing memories or create a mood — driving music, dance music, sing-a-long music, and so on.  At this stage, I cannot say what I might associate with this music other than to relate it to the early blues that I LOVED when I was a lad learning to play guitar and bass.

Time will tell, I guess.
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