Archive for August, 2009

TAL WILKENFELD

30 August 2009

[Pictue of Tal Wilkenfeld playing bass guitar]The buzz about Tal Wilkenfeld is that she is (a) a bassist; (b) young; (c) female; (d) good looking; and (e) Australian.

I find all that a bit silly to be frank. That she is such a talent is enough — it is merely a matter of secondary interest that she is a girl.

Maybe the surprise is not that she’s a girl, but that a girl got the breaks and made it to the top.

Is she Good-looking? Well, I think she is — and so do loads of commenters on YouTube and forums — but I don’t think she thinks she is good-looking — and I like that even more. She does not dress up, she’s no Candy Dulfer, no high heels, no split skirt. No, Tal wears trainers or boots, jeans and a tee shirt. No make-up. No need. And she makes goofy faces and just generally seems not very self-aware.

In short, she reminds me a LOT of my bass-playing wife!

I had heard there was a buzz in the scene, and I went to see her play with Jeff Beck in Glasgow — and she was superb. I must say, though, that I have been more “blown Away” with stuff I have seen her play on YouTube.

embedded video from Youtube

For example, I have two recordings of Angel’s Footsteps on Jeff Beck albums, and they are both live — one is 22 July 2006 in Japan, the other is the Official USA Bootleg version also from 2006 — and I’m afraid that Tal’s version on YouTube kicks both of them out of the park. After hearing how Tal connects with Vinnie and the rest of the band, Pino Palladino’s work pales considerably — and that is no mean feat; Pino was in Jools Holland’s band and is the bassist with The Who, so he’s no fool.

I was discussing this recently, and it seems that Jeff Beck’s band was mostly British, despite what the names sound like; Jason Rebello is an English keyboard wiz., Pino Palladino is Welsh!

Having an American Rhythm section would change the band too much (the drummer, Vinnie Colaiuta, is American), so Tal, being Australian, could therefore be the perfect fit — enough American, but still a bit British somehow, still slightly on the outside of the native scene.

But all that speculation aside, she has talent — and more to the point she blends perfectly into the band. Pino — IMHO — just did not connect as well as Tal. Listen to the dropped beats, the missed timings, the misunderstandings — they are all there on record.

Embedded Video from YouTube:

How delicious is THAT clip? (I already linked to it on my Jeff Beck post) — her licks, her connection to the Jeff on entering the bridge, the serious connection with Vinnie’s ticking rolls, the build-up, paradiddles, she’s so instinctive in support, and also in fills in the gaps and push-pulls with the timing — and she seems to add chemistry, fun, to the band! And that brings out the best in them.

Can I just say that I cannot get enough of this video, I must listen to it once every day or so, and I appreciate it more each time.

So while I can see why her being Australian works with the band, I don’t see it as important out of that context. In other words, it should only be mentioned when others’ nationalities/ backgrounds/ cultures are mentioned; in itself it’s nothing.

There are plenty of female bass players — Carol Kaye, Suzi Quatro, Jackie Fox, Tina Weymouth, Julie Slick, etc., but what makes Tal different is that she’s exceptionally talented as a jazz bassist; she has her own voice.

Now, a lot of people compare her to Jaco Pastorius, and that’s daft; Jaco invented stuff, played fretless and so on. But it’s something to be mentioned in that kind of company, it’s enough to have debates about that — no one in their right mind would do that with Julie Slick or Tina Weymouth.

  • To me, Tal does Jeff Berlin better than Jeff Berlin; she’s got a better sensitivity to the overall work and to the band.

If she wants she can sometimes evoke Jaco’s phrasing such as at the beginning of this  Live Freeway Jam with Jeff Beck:

Embedded Video from YouTube:

Transformation‘ is the name of Tal’s debut album. It is fabulous — just go and get a copy; you will wear it out listening to it. I love it! Tal is amazing and Wayne Krantz’s guitar is superbly “out of the box”.

Regarding her age — I find that part really annoying. What age was Jaco Pastorius, Hendrix, Clapton et al when they  were at their peaks? That’s right – in their early 2os. So give her a break!

Tal is a great bassist, definitely the world’s best ever female bass-player, the best bass player produced by Oz, and one of the world’s best bass players around today.

She’s also not hard on the eye.

Go Tal!

Embedded Video from YouTube:

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POLAR BEAR

23 August 2009

I have been getting into my Polar Bear downloads again. they are so good it’s staggering. My favourite at the moment seems to be “Wildhorses” — utterly superb!

I know the drummer Seb Rochford is probably better known for his completely mental hairstyle, but that guy drums better than anyone these days. He tickles on “Isolation” like Gadd, elsewhere he’s like Bruford or Rich!

Amazingly, I found him listed ahead of David Bowie and Madonna in The Evening Standard’s list of the most influential people in London.

Rochford is important on the London Jazz scene with F-ire — Fellowship for Integrated Rhythmic Expression (see www.f-ire.com), I really wish I could get to London to see the all the free gigs at the Thames Festival on September 12th. *sigh*.

I saw him on Later with Jools Holland doing “Thing” with Electric Ladyland a while back, and for a while Seb seemed to be everywhere, but I have not heard much of him — or of Leafcutter John for a while.

All the tracks I have were free downloads from Polar Bear’s website, and I have some Room of Katinas that way too.

People might have heard Seb through Pete Docherty and BabyShambles or Corrine Bailey Rae, or even Herbie Hancock, but he is at his best with Fulborn Teversham, Polar Bear, Room of Katinas and Electric Ladyland. Check them all out!

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LES PAUL

13 August 2009

I just heard Les Paul died :-(

My first guitar was a very good Les Paul copy.  I put on DiMarzio twin humbuckers myself — adding an extra toggle switch.  The action was incredibly low, the frets were minimal, and it had great sustain as it weighed a metric tonne. I used 8 gauge strings back then, Jeez.

I went on from there, and it was always Les Paul.  I tried the SG, but came back to LP.  For years I tried Fender guitars and just couldn’t connect — especially with maple necks.  A rosewood Les Paul was my choice.

The downside was not having a Twang bar (whammy or tremolo arm), slide was out unless you could afford two and raise the action on one of them! And they weighed. Much. After a gig you needed an osteopath.

I eventually made the switch to a Strat — but I still miss the playability and ease of the Les Paul. I suppose I would really love an ES335… maybe one day… the 335 seems to be able to do everything, a good compromise instrument.

You have to take your hat off to old Les — what an influence on the world of music and engineering.  He was very technically minded, mechanically, electrically, electronically and acoustically. He developed instruments, parts and techniques that are everywhere today.  The layered overdub, the delay — loads of effects.

If there was a genius in modern music, it was Les Paul.  He made good business too — from selling records to selling guitars. The man was a brand, a signature — a safe, dependable and quality name… and that speaks volumes nowadays.

RIP Les – you made it to 94, but you will live forever really!

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ADRIAN BELEW

11 August 2009

I can vividly remember the big buzz surrounding Frank Zappa’s “Baby Snakes” plasticine video on “The Old Grey Whistle Test”. I have always been a bit “funny” about Zappa — in that he was clearly a genius, but that (for me) he sometimes went too far, that he overstepped the mark sometimes.  But hey.

Frank Zappa is to Rock what Miles Davis is to Jazz or John Mayall is to Blues in that he discovered and nurtured so many that have gone on to become legends themselves.  Among the people Zappa discovered are guitarists Steve Vai and Adrian Belew.

Belew was poached from Zappa by David Bowie for the “Heroes” tour in 1978 to which I took Barbara Thomson (sister of John Martyn’s bassist), and as the two of us perched ourselves high on the stack of plastic chairs way up in the gods at the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow, we were struck by the weird sounds contributed by Belew’s guitar.

Belew played guitar on Bowie’s Live “Stage” album and on the “Lodger” studio album. But there is something wacky about Belew — he’s a bit “Bill Murray” if you know what I mean.

embedded video: AB on Japanese TV Ad – You Tube:

He also kinda reminded me of The Monkees’ Nesmith a bit. He was perfect for Dave Byrne’s “Talking Heads” — two wackos, and getting back to Zappa-type stuff.

Personally I think Adrian’s singing sounds a lot like Byrne’s, it’s the phrasing mainly.  Anyway — he then joined the new King Crimson in about 1981!

Discipline” is utter genius — what a revolution, what a fantastic blend!  Robert Fripp put together a helluva band here — the legendary Bill Bruford on drums for heaven’s sakes — the hottest drummer at the time, getting back with Fripp and KC — and then the bald Tony Leven on stick bass straight from Peter Gabriel’s band — and then Belew on vocals and guitar.

embedded video:King Crimson “Elephant Talk” live You Tube:

For me, it’s the guitars and vocals made this album — and that is mostly Adrian Belew! Man, he makes it look so simple — and FUN!

Fun is pretty much overlooked in the guitar world and serious music business. Thank Goodness for Adrian Belew, that’s all I can say.  He’s Keith Moon mad and manic, but he doesn’t cross the line the way that Zappa sometimes did — it’s not about perverted sex or swearing with Adrian, just silly.

embedded video:Adrian Belew:  “I’m Down”, 1983 You Tube:

“I’m Down” and “I See You” reveal a love of the Beatles and messing about in their style. How enigmatic — he is a funster, he likes pop, yet he’s in King Crimson and is considered one of the world’s most revered guitarists!

Through the rest of the 80s, Adrian continued his pretty varied side projects — some solo work and sessions — such as Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”, Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and “Earth Moving” with Mike Oldfield.

I like that he didn’t forget his old pals, forming “The Bears” and starting to put out fun, lightweight albums.  Then he was back with David Bowie in 1990 as Musical Director for “Sound and Vision”.

That’s quite a CV! But I love this next bit…

In 1998, a musician and lover of Rock music, Paul Green needed to finance his Philosophy degree at the University of Pennsylvania, so he started teaching from his tiny home. Soon Green had 17 students — including a 12 year old bass player called Julie Slick. Julie’s Dad owned a Café and once played the drums — he even had a kit and his 11 year old brother son Eric was a drummer too.

Green needed somewhere bigger to teach, so they started using this a friend’s Café.., and Julie got to play bass with her father on drums!

These sessions were a big hit, and Julie’s brother became the permanent drummer and also signed up for lessons with the newly founded Paul Green’s School of Rock.  The school became a big success and was turned into a national franchise, attracting professional players to do master classes.

Adrian Belew gave a master class for the school in February 2006 — where he met Eric and Julie — and just 3 months later they were touring and recording with him!

Eric is a drum teacher at The Paul Green School of Rock, and Julie works in a restaurant (Rembrandt’s) when not playing with Adrian.  Julie always wears a loose dress and is barefoot when she plays the bass.

Isn’t that brilliant?

It’s like he’s doing what Zappa did for him — he’s helping others.  Not just Eric and Julie and The Bears, but he has also found the time to produce and play guitar on Mexican Rock bands — Caifanes album: “El silencio” and Santa Sabina’s “Símbolos“.

Lead-wise there really is no-one like AB. He loves effects (whereas I don’t use them very much) and writes for particular amps and pedals! His twangy rhythm playing can be heard as influences in bands like Lloyd Cole and The Commotions.

He has not really influenced my lead guitar playing, but he nevertheless makes me want to pick up a guitar.  He has also influenced my outlook — while he is very creative and pushes himself, he somehow manages to remain simple, tuneful and melodic.  He seems to be helpful and altruistic to the underdogs — Mexicans and young kids, and that is the true way — not meeting with world leaders to save the planet.

Check him out, he’s seriously good but anything but serious!

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RICHARD WAGNER

3 August 2009

I was checking Twitter and saw this tonight:

stephenfry Just going into the theatre. Götterdämmerung begins in 7 mins and ends in 6 hours and 40. I shall emerge a finer, purer better person.<2:53 PM Aug 1st from Tweetie

Stephen Fry has been going on about Wagner a lot recently, from his Tweets, it seems that he’s attending this year’s “Bayreuth Festival” at the “Festspielhaus”.

My my, it took me back. I can well remember feeling almost overwhelmed by Wagner — everything about the man was legendarily awe-inspiring.

For example, imagine me as a young, wide-eyed lad faced with “Der Ring des Nibelungen” — Wagner didn’t just write the music for this opera, he wrote the libretto, and this libretto is of his own story. It took him a massive twenty-six years — from 1848 to 1874 — to compose (on and off).

Wow.

He even invented special instruments for the orchestra to fill in the tonal gaps he spotted!

Wow.

It is for an unprecedentedly massive orchestra and takes about 15 hours.

Big Wow!

As a result of which, Wagner encouraged an annual festival for the performance of “the Ring”, and he helped design and build the “Festspielhaus” to cope with the orchestra size and staging.

Double wow.

But there’s still more — he was close pals with philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and was championed by Adolph Hitler! I was a pubescent schoolboy when I first heard about it, along with the intriguing information that initial performances were infamous for bringing women in the audience to sexual orgasm by virtue of the overwhelmingly powerful music!

— see what I mean?  It’s all pretty intimidating isn’t it?

This needed a run-up.  One needed to prepare for this. Loins need to be girded, mainsails hoisted, hatches battened and vitals stapped.

I had to approach “The Ring of the Nibelung” the same way I approached Joyce’s “Ulysses” — that is, slowly, and over time; some things cannot be rushed.

Now “The Ring of the Nibelung” was always intended to be a single work, one opera broken down into four parts which are often performed on their own:

  • Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold);
  • Die Walküre (The Valkyrie);
  • Siegfried; and
  • Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods).

I missed “The Rhinegold” at The Theatre Royal in Glasgow back in 2000 because I was in Sweden, so when the complete cycle came up in 2003, I thought I would give “The Twilight of the Gods” a whirl (there was no way I could devote so much time and money to seeing the whole thing). The Scottish Opera director was Tim Albery, and the conductor was Richard Armstrong.

I got Ruthie a ticket, but she couldn’t make it, and I had to go all by myself, leaving work early and rushing like mad through the so-called “rush hour” traffic to the Theatre Royal.  It was weird to go into an opera so early – in broad daylight no less.  If I remember rightly it was about 5pm or so! I emerged at midnight or thereabouts!

I heard later that this “Ring Cycle” won awards, which surprised me as it seemed to me to have been done on a small budget, but you cannot argue with the music — what a night!  Ruthie really missed something special that night, and I was so sad to have to throw away her ticket (even though it gave me room for my suit jacket!). Graham Sanders’s “Siegfried” seemed a bit tired and frayed at the edges, but Matthew Best’s “Wotan” was stupendous — he really kept the whole thing going, although Elizabeth Byrne was pretty good too, especially in the love duet with Sanders.

Anyway, I hope Stephen Fry enjoys the authentic experience in Bayreuth, we lowly folk can merely dream of such things!  — I don’t know that I would have the patience to suffer the waiting list for tickets, nor the finances to afford the whole thing, nor the ability to clear my diary for that long!

Anyway, I have the whole thing in FLAC format as I didn’t think MP3 would be of much use — would I really listen to this stuff on the walk to the office? It’s definitely one for the headphones and a nice bottle of French Merlot!

— Now there’s a “night in” — this is my equivalent of a girl’s pampering night — they can bathe by candlelight, all bubblebath and facepacks, and leave me to recline with my music! Bliss!

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