Archive for Florin Niculescu

When the Circus Leaves Town

Posted in Music Business, Players, Playing, This and That with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2016 by theguitarcave

…and we’re back! It’s been almost two years since I posted. I was diagnosed with a serious illness and had to have two surgeries, a few hospitalizations, and a bunch of other stuff. I spent last year in treatment and rehab and finally life has gotten back to a semblance of normal. The treatment was/is unpleasant, but since it seems to be working I’m not going to complain too much since the alternative (if treatment wasn’t working) no one would ever hear me complain again. Because of the surgeries, playing guitar can be a challenge, yet I find I’m playing better than ever and still enjoy it. People still read this blog and sometimes they write in and say nice things so I am going to keep it going for another year. There will be a flurry of activity over the next month or so, including a video lesson of my favorite licks. THANKS to everybody who wrote in last year about my post on Jim Croce and Maury Muehleisen. Also, THANKS to those folks who wrote to tell me of Bill Fritsch’s passing. He figured prominently in the 60s San Francisco scene and in my post Gimme Shelter and the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont. THANKS to everyone who comments or sends me messages! I really do appreciate it. I’ve adjusted to my situation. Everyone bangs into the hard wall of their mortality sooner or later. I’m grateful that I am still here and hopefully I’ll be here for a while.

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Some people who were really important in music, life and entertainment have died since 2014. I’m not trying to be overly morbid or anything, but some of these performers were really important to me and a whole lot of other people and their passing leaves a void where they once were. Soon there will be more great musicians in that band in the sky that on planet earth. The people who made the music and entertainment for the Boomer and Gen X generations are rapidly leaving town and it makes me wonder what will be left when they are all gone?

Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead! Wow! Shocking! Who will ever replace him? The guy had a rock and roll pedigree that went back to the 60s when he was a roadie for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He was in Hawkwind! He basically invented the brand of loud speed rock that he spent almost 40 years playing and never compromised for anyone. I saw Lemmy at Heathrow Airport in London back in 1988. I had just landed for a visit and then we were both at the luggage carousel. He was wearing an all white leather suit and his complexion, color, whatever you want to call it, was whiter than the suit. BADASS! Motorhead’s performance here is from the British sit-com The Young Ones, which featured comedian Rik Mayall, who passed away in June of 2014. A pioneer of early 80s alt-comedy, Mayall’s over-the-top performance in The Young Ones and many other appearances (BlackAdder, Bottom) earn him a rock and roll mention!

A long time ago I posted this interview with Yes bassist Chris Squire…well it’s not really an interview; he tells a story about opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience in London in 1967. Squire’s band YES was HUGELY popular in the 70s and 80s and he was always a big part of their sound. It’s hard to imagine any dudes my age that weren’t touched by this band at least a little bit. Always amazing musicianship and songwriting and basically one of the main pillars of progressive rock. I still like to crank this up once and a while and thanks to YouTube a whole lot of their prime entire concerts are online.

Riley “Blues Boy” King, who I wrote about here back in the day was one of the most influential musicians ever. From his early days on radio, through his groundbreaking Live at the Regal album to world-wide super-stardom, no one played and sang the blues like BB. He was also one of the hardest working people ever and was playing his signature heavy vibrato blues/jazz licks right up ’til the very end. The fact that he influenced everyone from Eric Clapton to Duane Allman to Adrien Moignard speaks volumes on his talent and wide-reaching appeal.

While I was never a huge fan of any of these guys, they all made their mark on the development of rock guitar: Gary Richrath, Sam Andrew and Paul Kantner. I remember watching Gary Richrath on TV in the 70s and then seeing his band REO Speedwagon live in the early 80s. I really liked the live album, You Get What You Play For and was ok with You Can’t Tune a Piano But You Can Tunafish, but I hated the multi-platinum ballad rock of High Infidelity, so I bailed after 1981. I really dug his Les Paul/Marshall sound though and he really had it goin’ on back in the day. Definitely knew how to move a crowd! Sam Andrew from Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Kozmic Blues Band and Paul Kantner from Jefferson Airplane/Starship were both legendary guitarists/instrumentalists and had long careers in the business. This clip of Big Brother at Monterey is the stuff of hippie nirvana and Kantner was the longest-serving member of the Airplane and the guy who engages Bill Fritsch of the Hells Angels in a “discussion” about the violence that is happening at the Altamont concert after Airplane singer Marty Balin gets knocked out trying to break up a fight. Here is that exchange along with the Airplane song The Other Side of This Life in all of it’s acid drenched, boob-shaking glory.

Another cat from San Francisco I really dug was the late Dan Hicks — singer, songwriter, guitarist and swing band leader par excellence. Dan and his various bands like The Hot Licks and The Acoustic Warriors had that Hot Club meets Bob Willis swing sound and I have long been a fan. Supporting musicians included the incomparable Sid Page on violin, John Girton on guitar and future Hot Club of San Francisco leader/guitarist Paul Mehling. Vocalists Naomi Eisenberg and Maryann Price always helped give the band and extra layer of awesome-ability. All of Hicks’s songs were filtered through his trademark dry, deadpan humor and considering The Hot Licks opened for bands like Steppenwolf back in the early 70s I think it’s fair to say that he qualifies as a true legend in the acoustic/swing community. All of those old records, if you can find them, are treasures! I will write more about Dan and his bands in an upcoming post.

Glen Frey of The Eagles died recently and you know what’s amazing? I have had literally a thousand albums, tapes and discs pass through my hands over the years. I have weeks worth of songs on a hard drive. But I have never owned an Eagles album or even had Eagles songs on a mix tape. I don’t know what that says about them…or me? A whole lot of people did like The Eagles though…they sold an staggering amount of records.

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Of course the biggest star to pass away in the past two years was David Bowie. I wrote a post on Bowie’s first guitarist Mick Ronson way back in the early days of the blog. I must confess I wasn’t Bowie’s biggest fan. As a rockin’ dude, I certainly liked some of his stuff and loved Mick Ronson’s guitar playing, but thought Bowie’s output was uneven over the years. While I love tracks off of his first 6-7 albums, I don’t think he ever delivered a solid classic album like Rubber Soul, ZOSO, Who’s Next or Exile on Main Street. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was certainly very close. In the pre-Let’s Dance days, before he was a world-wide phenomenon, what I remember is that Bowie was really hot with the girls. Women LOVED Bowie. He had the same type of appeal as Freddie Mercury and Queen in that he combined hard rock with Bertolt Brecht and Edith Piaf so as a listener you were never sure what was coming next, rock and roll or a lounge act. Vocally, he seemed to be exactly equal parts masculine and feminine…sort of like how Miles Davis played trumpet. I probably appreciate his ambient music now more than I did before, but still dislike a lot of the “industrial” stuff. Don’t think I’m ever gonna be a fan of machine music…sorry.

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Bowie was a multi-instrumentalist and played a lot of guitar over the course of his career, including almost all of the guitar on the Diamond Dogs album, which had the “hit” title track and the genre-defining Rebel Rebel. He was also really good at bringing the right musicians together and pushed them to perform well. He worked with some of the best guitar players ever, including, Ronson, Carlos Alomar, Nile Rogers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Earl Slick. Here is a video interview with the late Mick Ronson that serves as a great retrospective of his early guitar days, the years with Bowie, and offers some insights into Bowie the artisté.

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I listened to the Station to Station disc recently and it was pretty good—it’s fun to throw on discs that haven’t been played in a while. Golden Years is a pretty great song isn’t it? Back when I interviewed Mick Ronson in 1989, I mentioned really liking the guitar sound on some very early songs like Running Gun Blues, Black Country Rock, and Width of a Circle. He was pleasantly surprised that someone in America would know and like that material since the album, The Man Who Sold the World, in it’s pre-Nirvana Unplugged days, wasn’t very well-known or popular. I still like that material a lot…it was really fucked up…in a good way. David Bowie and all of his artistic partners definitely expanded the borders of music, fashion and art and he deserves a lot of credit for making life, music, and the arts more interesting and colorful…and my girlfriend really, really, really liked him.

The “5th Beatle”, Sir George Martin, just passed away last week at the age of 90. Wow! What a great life! If he had done nothing but produce The Beatles from 1963-1969 that would have been enough, but of course, he did much more than that. Since he was older than many of the artists he worked with over the years he brought a very paternalistic presence (as well as a great set of ears and a wide wealth of musical and technical knowledge) to every project he was involved in. He would also go on to produce another of my favorite albums, Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow. Totally awesome record, which is why it ranks a review in the right column.

Keyboard master Keith Emerson, from Emerson Lake and Palmer fame took his own life last week. According to reports he was suffering from depression and heart disease and shot himself with a firearm. According to his girlfriend, he was also suffering from hand issues that prevented him from playing at the virtuoso levels from his glory days and was trolled by fans on the internet who didn’t like his new music. Pretty messed up if that’s true…While I wasn’t ever a huge fan of ELP, like YES above, it was inconceivable that anyone from my background could not know who they were and recognize songs, like Lucky Man, From the Beginning, and Karn Evil 9 (Welcome Back My Friends), and Still You Turn Me On. One of the giant bands of the progressive era.

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While he wasn’t a musician I’d give a rock and roll salute to Ken Stabler, 70s quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. “The Snake” was a rock and roll outlaw cut from the same cloth as Ronnie Van Zant and Clint Eastwood’s 70s Man with No Name/Josey Wales characters. He had the rock and roll hair, “studied the playbook by the light of the jukebox”, practically invented the late 4th quarter comeback and led the Raiders to some of the most exciting victories in pro football and finally to Super Bowl victory in 1977. I used to LOVE watching the Raiders play late on Sunday afternoons. You just never knew what was going to happen until the final seconds were up. His family related that Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama and Van Morrison’s When The Leaves Come Falling Down were part of the soundtrack to The Snake’s peaceful passing. One of his last acts before dying of complications from cancer last year was to donate his brain to a study of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). He was found (post mortem) to have had Stage 3 of the illness (in part or totally) thanks to all of the hits he took as a quarterback decades earlier. I wish he had achieved the recognition when he was alive, but I’m glad that he will finally be enshrined.

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Closer to home, right after New Year’s 2015, my friend and the long-time musical director for CAB CITY COMBO, Paul Rubin, passed away. I wrote about the Combo here and here back in the day and in wake of his passing a couple of albums have been released here and here. We had a lot of fun over the years making music and silliness and although we had stopped in 2004 there was always the possibility that we might do more. That’s the thing about death: it’s always so final. Paul was also a very good friend and everyone knows how hard it is to lose a good friend. Unfortunately, once the 50 year-old milestone is passed, losing people is something that becomes a bigger part of life. I always valued his opinion and input on things I was doing and he was an early supporter of my gypsy jazz enthusiasms. We went and saw Tchavalo, Dorado and Samson Schmitt along with Florin Niculescu one hot summer day in the Jazz at Lincoln Center space many moons ago. Great concert, great time. I had plenty of these moments with Paul over the years and I am glad I can look back with happiness and a certain measure of pride on all the things we did together.

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Finally, my mother also passed away last week. She and my father both had a great love of music, but it was my mom who always indulged my passion for it and helped me along the way. She had played horn and piano when she was younger and her side of the family was very musical. She also taught me the importance of fortitude, perseverance, and hard work in the attainment of meaningful goals. The first guitar I ever played was actually hers…given as a present by my father one Christmas. She was never a great fan of rock and roll and couldn’t understand why I played it so LOUD, but the fact that I liked it was enough for her to grudgingly respect some of it. She liked The Beatles, Yo Yo Ma, Arlo Guthrie, and Simon and Garfunkel. She was impressed with Eddie Van Halen’s writing and playing skills, loved classical music and enjoyed coming to Lincoln Center, especially if it was for The Mostly Mozart Festival. She was an influential, well-loved person to her family, friends and associates, but above all she was…MOM. It hurts to lose one’s mother, but now she is free and forever out of pain.

All of these people shaped me to one degree or another and some of them shaped entire generations. That kind of influence does not dissipate with their passing because it remains in their creations and in people’s memories. Guitar players and other musicians keep other musicians alive by playing their licks or covering their songs. Music that was written almost one hundred years ago is played constantly at blues, jazz, and gypsy jazz jams all of the time. We all owe a debt to those people who have meant so much to us and we can make their legacy (words, music, creations, thoughts and deeds) eternal and if we do, and if we bring some of our own legacy to the world, then we too will remain even after we are gone. The circle of life is, after all, the circle of life.

SMOOTH OPERATOR — Romane

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2011 by theguitarcave

Most people in the United States have never heard of Romane (Patrick Leguidecoq), a classically-trained, Gypsy-Jazz and Parisian-style guitarist of the highest caliber. Romane is totally suave…as in GQ You Can’t Touch This suave. He was actually the first modern Gypsy-Jazz player I became interested in after a friend laid the Ombre CD on me 10-12 years ago. The music was a revelation! I still love the CD and have acquired a bunch of Romane product since then, including the two CDs featured in the right column where he partners up with another GJ master, Stochelo Rosenberg. (Of course you gotta be really good if you are going to play with Stochelo) Not only can Romane play with the best of them, for my money he is easily one of the best writers of this style. He’s not a guy to do a CD with 6 Django Reinhardt covers on it even though he can burn or make his guitar sing on any song that is thrown his way. I wish he would play the East Coast in the near future. He is on the list of people I would really like to see. Here he is with Stochelo playing Stochelo’s Double Jeu.

What fired me up when I heard Romane is how the music— the outrageous chords, sophisticated runs and blistering picking— doesn’t sound like anything this country has ever produced. It’s Jazz, but it isn’t, and because of the acoustic WHOOMPH! the music never sounds like that laid back, noodling stuff that many people think of when someone says the dreaded J-Word. What makes Romane so suave is that he never sacrifices melody and good musical sense for relentless chops and “out” playing that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. You probably wouldn’t want to throw his music on at your next classic-rock barbeque, but it certainly works for many other settings and occasions. You would certainly get the attention of any musicians present because not only are the songs and playing awesome, the music ALWAYS swings. It’s the hallmark of the style and it’s an infectious thing for sure. Here’s Romane playing his composition, Swing for Ninine at the Samois Festival in 1994 with violin virtuoso Florin Niculescu.

There is a great variety of mood and intensity on Ombre and Acoustic Spirit. Romane can dazzle you with unbelievable stuff like Legendé, Gypsy Fire or the funky country twang-influenced Paris Nashville, and then cool you out with really mellow stuff like Selene or the every easy bolero, Monticello, which is built off of the following E7M9/13 chord. Give it a whirl on your axe and feel the magic. I can’t get enough of that sound. (The numbers are “open” “6th fret” “7th fret”. You can bar the “6” group with your first finger and play the “7” group with your 2nd finger as a bar or any combination of your remaining fingers).

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Rhythms like boleros, waltzes, rhumbas, rhumba waltzes, bossas (bossa nova) all figure heavily in Gypsy Jazz and Romane’s catalog. They can be very difficult to play because they are usually done at pretty high-clip tempos. Because there is no improvisation to worry about (at least with the waltzes) they are a very good exercise for building up the picking technique and timing. Here is Romane with a very stylish jacket playing the well-known waltz, Mont. St. Genevieve.

So… like what you’re hearing so far? Intrigued? Already trying to learn Gypsy Jazz and hungry for more? Not interested in playing Gypsy Jazz but perhaps thinking some of those licks and runs are pretty cool? Well you could buy this DVD…it’s chock full of info and demonstration and even though Romane does not speak English, the DVD does have subtitles in three languages and a small booklet showing the important stuff. I think he either did two versions of this instructional DVD or there was extra footage because it is packaged under different names at a few different locations. As always, my advice is to buy any of this stuff from DJANGOBOOKS.COM if you are in the Americas or Asia and check with a comparable European dealer if you are in Europe or Africa. Some of the clips from this DVD are on You Tube, HERE. The embed option has been disabled so I can’t show them. This is not the whole DVD, but follow the You Tube links for the 3 chapters. The second set can be shown here but it has no subtitles. If you can follow along there is some more free learning to be had!

What I really like about Romane and all of the Gypsy players is that they are very generous with their knowledge and because they know so much, they are excellent teachers. The Acoustic Spirit CD shown above ships with the CD for listening and another CD that contains tabs and rhythm play-a-longs!! Who else does that? Seriously! And when I bought it at Virgin it was $14 or something. A total steal of a deal. If you are the ambitious sort you might want to add Romane’s L’Espirit Manouche to your collection. This awesome book contains every theoretical gem of an idea that you will ever need to be a pro guitar player in this style, or any style really. Though it offers no help with the very important picking technique, it does explore music theory and harmony in great detail while providing 14 of Romane’s songs as exercises and illustrations to the lessons. I do have to qualify this gushing with one criticism though and I really hate to do that but — There should have been a better translator brought on-board to help put Romane’s knowledge into English. The book is for an English audience and Romane has a virtual set of Encyclopedia Britannicas of musical knowledge in his brain. I am getting through it (a long off and on process) but there are sections that really try the patience of anyone attempting to figure out the major revelation that is supposed to be happening because the English phrasing just doesn’t make sense. Sometimes it takes 2-3 goes or I skip the writing and just work on the songs. I’m still glad I bought the book and the more I learn from it and other sources, the more comfortable I am with it because I can ignore the writing and focus on the music.

Romane is at home in pretty much any situation as these last two clips illustrate. Above, he is playing with a big band on his really cool composition Opus De Clignancourt. In the midst of some great playing he breaks a string and hilarity ensues. The one below is from his new CD/DVD, Roots and Groove and features his composition, For Wes. There is a stripped-down duet of Romane doing this song with Stochelo on You Tube and the whole 35 minute show can be found on the Gypsy Jazz Masters CD/DVD that is reviewed at the top of the right column on my blog. Of course anything that Romane and Stochelo do is brilliant, but the Roots and Groove band turns this song into a whole other thing and it’s really smokin’ in my opinion. Romane is using a Stimer style pick-up which is a good move with the band he has with him in this situation. They are hot! The club is obviously really hot too…they are working up a sweat!

While Romane is always attempting new things, like many GJ artists he has a strong connection to TRADITION. His father was a very accomplished guitar player and so is his son, Richard Manetti. {HERE is a clip of father and son playing together…talk about bonding!} Aside from the familial, there is also a connection to the culture of the Manouche and the history of jazz, two branches of music and culture that have been intimately intertwined for the past 70+ years. It’s impossible for me to watch Romane, Stochelo or any of the others and not think that they create an environment that gets real close to the original guitar hero, Django Reinhardt and The Quintet of the Hot Club of France, or even people from a much earlier time who have propelled this musical lineage forward through many generations. I hear that in much of Romane’s music and while it is always interesting and sometimes thrilling to hear or see A TOTALLY NEW THING, there is something comfortable and life-sustaining in music and art that doesn’t disregard and pays homage to the vibrant sound and caravan spirit that has entertained people for generations.

Bireli Lagrene is Really Great!

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2011 by theguitarcave

This video was my introduction to the guitar monster known as Bireli Lagrene and from here I picked up his 2004 Jazz at Vienne Concert where he does a whole mess of great playing and has help from some of the best talent around today. This concert is really amazing and I know that word is thrown around a lot, but if you haven’t been exposed to this style or the people who play it, you will find this to be a real eye-opener. It’s almost too much to watch all at once as it goes for almost 3 hours and then there’s bonus footage. It is a testament, not only to how great the European gypsy jazz players are, but how super-duper comfortable Bireli is in any playing situation.

Not only are these guys so good musically, but they are also really fun to watch (like all of the faces Bireli is making in the video above). I went to Jazz at Lincoln Center a few years ago with a couple of friends to catch Tchavalo, Dorado, and Samson Schmitt along with amazing violinist Florin Niculescu. Their complete disregard for the Broadway showbiz rules was refreshing. Jazz at Lincoln Center can be a little, er, stuffy. But we had seats front row center and caught all of the mirth the guys were having onstage. Dorado and Florin spent the whole second half of the program sharing some joke that brought laughter from the first few rows, us included. To have a sense of humor and also have chops that put most people to shame are two of the best human qualities as far as I’m concerned.

Here is a video from the Jazz at Vienne concert with Tchavalo, Dorado and Stochelo Rosenberg doing the Django classic J’attendrai. Tchavalo played this at Lincoln Center and as soon as he started it — I got a similar feeling when I saw Buddy Guy, Johnny Cash, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray or Jimmie Vaughan — you KNOW you are watching the real deal. He was wearing a white suit and played like a man possessed. Dorado Schmitt is also remarkable and he played guitar, violin and even crooned a sweet ballad for us. To watch Tchavalo, Dorado and Florin  trade chorus after chorus with each other was just fantastic. A woman sitting in the next seat said “I can’t believe how good they are!” and I had to agree with her even though I knew we were going to see good show.

I encourage anyone the least bit interested to get the Jazz at Vienne DVD, you won’t be disappointed. Any guitar players interested in this style should watch the top video repeatedly and pay attention to Bireli’s right hand. THAT is what people call Gypsy Picking and nobody does it better than he. He also uses standard alternate picking when the mood strikes him, but plays the Gypsy Picking most of the time when he is doing this kind of material. The DVD has him onstage for a many segments — with his Gipsy Project, in duos, trios or group jams like the following. Bireli is a guy who can pretty much do anything.

Here is another video from the Vienne concert with Bireli, Stochelo Rosenberg, Tchavalo and Dorado doing the jazz and GJ standard Them There Eyes. This is these guys doing what they have been doing since they were kids — having a gypsy jazz  jam — only here they are in front of thousands of people.