Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik Warner Bros. 07599-26681-2-5 (1991)
At the time, I certainly knew about the Chili Peppers. I probably liked them a little, but didn’t really pay any particular attention. My brother had What Hits!? and The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. Most of my friends had Blood Sugar Sex Magik I recall. And you heard the singles everywhere — the radio, MTV, other people’s stereos. For the most part, I forgot about them, and had no interest in the later stuff. So twenty years out, amidst a random visit back to some early 1990s music, I came back to this album. Well, it sounds better than I remember. The formula is pretty simple but still effective. It’s built on the kind of funk rock that Hendrix was doing with “Dolly Dagger,” informed by 70s funk too (thankfully omitting any 80s funk influence), with an awareness of punk and hip-hop hinted at in the music. Anthony Kiedis tends to stay within his vocal abilities, and by half rapping most of the time his street-wise delivery overcomes the limitations of the idiocy of the lyrics. But the band’s secret weapon is without a doubt guitarist John Frusciante. Prior to becoming a drug casualty (or his subsequent recovery), he just fills out the band’s sound with perfectly funky yet razor sharp solos. His tone is bolstered by a kind of flange or other effect that rolls his guitar tone around in every riff while still sporting a full sound with crisp edges. The band can do seemingly anything it wants behind his guitar.
So this album is mostly head-thumping, fun, pounding rock, with just a few changes of pace like the mellow hit “Under the Bridge” to prevent monotony. I wouldn’t have guessed this would have aged as well as it has. Thank Frusciante for that.
Miles Davis – Dark Magus CBS/Sony 40AP741-2 (1977)
Dark Magus is another great entry into the series of live recordings from Miles’ 1970-75 period. This particular one comes from a Carnegie Hall concert on March 29, 1974. It’s an excellent performance, churning out an energized voodoo funk jazz that could only come from Miles. The band had enough control and skill at this point to produce a sound live that couldn’t really be improved on in the studio, no matter how many effects and cut-ups were employed. There are slightly better recordings from the same period available, but this one is still an excellent album with a lot to offer. I actually consider it one of my favorites from the period. I wish there were dozens more like it! This is some OUT shit.
The Residents – The Third Reich ‘n Roll Ralph Records RR1075 (1976)
With The Residents, not unlike Frank Zappa, Negativland and Quentin Tarantino, I always feel indifferent. Their stuff is okay and a little funny, but grown-ups doing things so very juvenile kind of wears thin pretty fast for me.
Lou Reed – Transformer RCA Victor AFL1-4807 (1972)
One of Reed’s best-known albums. And really it is one of his finest. But you know, I think some of the “standout” tracks on this album I find the least interesting. It’s the “filler” like “Hangin’ ‘Round” and “Goodnight Ladies” that makes this one interesting to me. One of my favorite Lou Reed lines is from “Hangin’ ‘Round”: you’re still doing things that I gave up years ago.
Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy – Live at Dreher, Paris 1981 HatHut hatOLOGY 4-596 (2003)
This collection of two archival live recordings — Live at Dreher Paris 1981: Round Midnight, Vol. 1 and Live at Dreher Paris 1981: The Peak, Vol. 2 (both originally released in 1996) — features two long-time collaborators engaged in a great, public musical conversation. The album is just Lacy and Waldron, playing some originals but mostly Thelonious Monk tunes. The mood is a supportive one. Each performer gets some time out front, or by himself, with plenty of collaborative passages as well. Waldron plays with a blues tonality but also with blocks of repetitive riffs that lend a subtly hypnotic and thoroughly modern edge (the liner notes call this a hypnotic tension & release quality), which is confirmed by playing with sustain just enough to soften the rhythmic attack on his piano but never so much as to devolve into wispy sentimentality. Lacy plays lyrically and brightly when he wants to, then at times with tangly solos that sometimes reach for “extended technique” honks and screeches, always maintaining a humility that belies the virtuoso technique. While Waldron tends to synthesize disparate stylistic approaches, Lacy tends to alternate between them. Both players are clearly “inside” the Monk songs, enough that these versions sound nothing like they way Monk recorded them yet also evidence tremendous admiration — the kind that posits true admiration as adding something to the songs and growing them into unique performances rather than timidly deferential museum piece recreations. It is also music that finds few limits, pushing beyond the confines of formal structure while also making full and deft use of harmonic and rhythmic structure to develop themes that are long and deep. If these recordings leave any particular impression, it is of two familiar collaborators who anticipated playing mostly Monk songs, and doing so in a mutually advantageous way, but with few if any preconceived ideas about how they would musically implement their performances. So the listener gets to experience the performers offering up points and counterpoints, building up a rapport, all with full awareness of the audience for their performances. It is kind of a more intellectual and cerebral version of the same kind of feeling that drives the “feel good” vibes of everything from rock “jam band” music to reggae…you name it.
Patti Smith – Dream of Life Arista AL-8453 (1988)
Like almost any that could be named, this album could have been better. The muted and slightly tinny 80s production values aren’t a help, and replacing the keyboards with more guitar would have been an improvement by giving things more of an edge. But what is here is a pretty fine batch of songs (especially “People have the Power,” “Paths That Cross,” and “Looking for You (I Was)”). Patti’s vocals are strong and Fred “Sonic” Smith lays down some good lead guitar. Not a bad album by any means, and unfairly derided by some fans. The key to enjoying this is to allow Patti the range to make pop music, not just punk rock.
The Red Krayola – Introduction Drag City DC309 (2006)
There might be no other rock and roll band that has continued for so long, gone through so many reinventions and still managed to turn out good or great albums. Entering the band’s fourth decade (!), The Red Krayola offer up the humorously titled Introduction. It’s filled with a lot more straightforward pop/rock than you might expect. But it’s all well-crafted, well-written, and well-executed.