John McLaughlin

Django a Go Go 2017

This was an evening to remember! As I mentioned last month, I was psyched for this concert and I can say now that I had a fantastic time at Django a Go Go and saw some GREAT live Gypsy Jazz in one of the best venues in the world (Carnegie Hall)! It seems the accompanying bandcamp and smaller concerts out in Maplewood, New Jersey were also well-attended and a roaring success. While talking about it from the stage, organizer Stephane Wrembel described the whole idea as “CRAZY”, but it worked out beautifully. Stephane has been playing/promoting these concerts since 2004 so he is definitely adept at pulling all of the necessary elements together and had all of the right kind of help. Gypsy Jazz is more popular than ever in New York City!

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My girlfriend and I arrived at Carnegie Hall, had a nice glass of wine, checked out some of the history in the place at the museum and then made our way to our seats at about 7:30. Together we have seen some great shows at all of the big venues in New York over the years, but neither of us had ever been to Carnegie Hall. What a great place. So much history and a part of a very different time, yet it remains so functional in the modern era. The view from our seats was awesome — completely unobstructed, which is just what I was going for. While I’ve seen people say that the show was sold out, that isn’t completely true. Our area of the balcony was not, which was GREAT! We could really stretch out and enjoy the show and the others who were around us were cool and likewise had plenty of room. I knew the sound would be amazing. It’s Carnegie Hall! While the above pic might make it seem like the 2nd balcony is too far away, it really wasn’t. As I have mentioned on this blog in the past: it was Django Reinhardt’s 1953 version of Night and Day, this video of Stochelo Rosenberg and seeing Stephane Wrembel live that inspired me to learn Gypsy Jazz. I’ve seen Stephane in many incarnations over the years, but have never seen Stochelo. I have also never seen Al Di Meola live and so this was what I was psyched for going into the concert.

Stephane started the show to great cheers from the hometown crowd and after acknowledging the importance of the night and his thanks to the fans, began the show solo with his sublime version of Django’s Improvisation #1. His band joined him on the next tune, the very kinetic original number, Prometheus. As always, Stephane’s playing was brilliant and his band was great. They totally nailed the tunes and then provided great backup for everything else over the course of the evening. Nick Driscoll joined in on saxophone for a great Coltrane-type version of Django’s Troublant Bolero. Totally cool. There was some singing from David Gastine who did a Jean Sablon tune and then related that his dream had always been to sing Take Me Home, Country Roads at Carnegie Hall. Hmm. Not what one would expect at this show, but he nailed it, had people singing along (including us for a chorus [blame the wine]) and got a big ovation for a job well done. Stephane also played Bistro Fada, his very well-known theme for Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris movie. Then they were joined by guitarist Larry Keel who played some serious Doc Watson country style guitar. The show reminded me of an old-time variety show or maybe Prairie Home Companion. Stephane explained that this has always been the theme behind this concert; bring many divergent styles and musicians together and make it happen!

Then it was time for Stochelo Rosenberg and he did not disappoint. He was CHARGED! He explained before starting that he hadn’t been to Carnegie Hall since 1993 when he was invited by the great Stephane Grappelli. Twenty-four years later he returned thanks to another Stephane and completely burned through his original, modern Gypsy Jazz classic, For Sephora. To see and hear him play this song live was an incredible experience. Everything I wrote about in this post regarding Stochelo’s incredible technique; his strength, touch, tone, and articulation was on full display. Even the other musicians onstage were just shaking their heads as he blazed through 4 choruses of the tune. It was brilliant! It was awesome! They followed up with a Django-era classic, Coquette that also sounded great! I could see everything Stochelo was doing and he was very animated and having a good time, which is a bit unusual for him. Usually he lets his hands do all the moving. Al Di Meola came out next and related that he too had played the hall 42 years ago with Chick Corea and also hadn’t been back since. He launched into a very dramatic classically-inspired solo piece that went through many movements before coming to a big climactic ending and then the ensemble finished with a blazing version of Indifference. During this tune, Stochelo, Al, and Stephane did all kinds of tag-team soloing and comping that was a prelude of the great things that awaited us in the second set. It was a pretty amazing first set and the show had already run more than an hour and a half. And it only got better!

After a short intermission, Stephane, Stochelo, and Al came out alone and Stephane related before they began how influential the Friday Night in San Francisco recording of Di Meola, Paco De Lucia and John McLaughlin from 1981 was to him and to many guitarists he knew. (It was to me too). I was expecting they might do this and as soon as I saw the three of them come out I knew they would! They launched into Mediterranean Sundance and it was EPIC! No, really, it was so good they all hugged at the end of the 12-15 minutes worth of awesome playing. I am not even going to describe how epic it was, but the playing from all three was magnificent! They followed it immediately with a great version of Chick Corea’s Spain joined by Keel and bass player Ari Folman-Cohen. Crazy good. For me everything that had happened between when Stochelo appeared and the end of Spain alone was worth the price of admission. But there was more! A great swinging version of Django-era Georgia on My Mind, with Stochelo playing all of Django’s brilliant lines and chordal fills and It Don’t Mean a Thing with sublime Freddy Taylor-type vocals on both by Ryan Montbleau. Then there was a great guitar hero version of Nuages (with a solo intro by Stochelo to open) that also featured some more great sax from Nick Driscoll. Finally, there was the big rave-up at the end with the Gypsy Jazz anthem, Minor Swing that included the great Paulus Shafer and Stephane’s student, Sara L’Abriola, that succeeded in bringing down the house!

The week after the concert I saw this page of the program (didn’t look at it the night of) and this review from Downbeat and both show a program I totally don’t remember in spots, but I think I’m remembering correctly. I know that Coquette was played because Stephane briefly introduced it as a song Django wrote (which he didn’t) and that had Stochelo shaking his head no (because he didn’t) while if they had played Djangology, that would have been true, since that is a Django Reinhardt composition. Minor Blues was definitely not played and neither was Dark Eyes and if Double Jeu was played it was worked in as a part of Indifference because I know Double Jeu from that awesome Romane/Stochelo Rosenberg DVD that I have raved about on this blog a number of times. Anyhow, I’m sure there had to be some alterations and spontaneity and that is what jazz is all about!

Finally, as I wrote here, I lost my mother almost a year ago to the day of this concert. She was always my Number 1 musical supporter and over the years I was able to take her to many different cultural events in NYC, which she always enjoyed. We never saw anything at Carnegie Hall though, but I like to think she was with me for this great night of music. My girlfriend lost her father about six months ago. He lived to the ripe old age of 94 and while that is quite an accomplishment in and of itself, the fact that he was stationed on Iwo Jima with the Japanese army when he was but a lad of 22 makes it all the more amazing. He was wounded in an air raid and was evacuated from the island before the final American assault. One of the bullets that struck him remained in his leg for his entire life. He passed away just after I bought tickets for Django a Go Go and bequeathed the field glasses from the his army days to his daughter to use for the concert. We were able to get up close and personal to some of the action on stage and that was great! After all of these years, and so many miles, they still work and he would’ve appreciated that they were put to such good use. Swords into plowshares and all of that. I felt very fortunate to have been a part of this evening with so much great music and great playing by all of the musicians. Of course, it was a monumental night on a personal level for me to see Stochelo! I am also glad that Stephane took it all on and set up such a great program of events and hope to see more in the future!

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Jimi Hendrix in Words and Pictures (part 1)

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Over the years I have amassed plenty of Jimi Hendrix reading and listening material and I have decided to share it. (I also wanted to use this shade of blue in one more post) Jimi is easily one of the most important guitarists to have ever picked up an axe, and, like Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, and Eddie Van Halen — there was pre-Jimi and then there was everything after. His influence lit up the music world, no doubt about that! So I’m gonna use a couple of posts to show some of the cool photography and say a little bit about the paraphernalia I have. (All of the pics that follow come from the following books: ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky by David Henderson, Jimi Hendrix • Electric Gypsy by Harry Shapiro and Caeser Glebeek, Black Gold by Steven Roby and Mitch Mitchell’s, The Hendrix Experience). While it is true that Prince, the recently departed (and may he rest in peace) Paisley Park hero was a great guitar player, Jimi was the original king of purple style and sound.

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Before the books though, let’s talk music …briefly. Here is how I would rate the Jimi Henrix material that I’ve heard or had or both over the years.

Are You Experienced? ***** Brilliant! My vote for his best. Never gets old even though I have probably played it well over 500 times in my life.

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Axis: Bold As Love ****1/2 A very close second to Are You Experienced? Jimi, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bass player Noel Redding expanded on the brilliant music that made them famous and redefined rock and guitar playing. There are a couple of numbers that are derivative (Ain’t No Telling, Little Miss Lover) but the best ones (If 6 Was 9, Little Wing, Spanish Castle Magic, Up From the Skies, Castles Made of Sand and the title cut) are amazing and Jimi’s use of the studio and new pioneering effects makes this as much of a groundbreaking record as the first.

Electric Ladyland **** While many people think this is Jimi’s magnum opus, I disagree. Side 4 is brilliant, Side 2 is very good and combined with Side 4 would’ve made a great (single) third disc. Side 3 is kind of boring; the sound painting tale of Mermanism is dated and Side 1’s 15-minute blues jam Voodoo Chile is too long and has likewise very dated lyrics. Is the album ambitious? Yes. Some great tunes? Absolutely! All Along the Watchtower, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), Crosstown Traffic, Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland), Gypsy Eyes, Still Raining, Still Dreaming, and House Burning Down are all classic Jimi. But it’s just not the solid double album it could’ve been, unfortunately.

Band of Gypsys *** This disc is just so-so and the band was likewise. To me, anyone but Mitch Mitchell playing with Jimi was akin to anyone but John Bohnam or Keith Moon playing with Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend, respectively. Also, some of the “songs” are really just jams that are trying to be Sly and the Family Stone or something. This era is often heralded as Jimi searching for a new sound or a change in direction, but I think in many ways he was floundering. Machine Gun and Them Changes are great and if nothing else this disc shows that Jimi’s capabilities as a live guitarist were never in doubt even if everything else was.

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Everything released after Band of Gypsys is suspect because Jimi died in September of 1970. The studio product is especially crappy, except for a few bright spots. It’s important to remember that Jimi was a perfectionist in his writing, playing, and even his live sound. He would be totally bummed at some of the stuff released after 1970 that, of course, he had no control over.

The Cry of Love ***1/2 This a pretty good record and has some really great tunes: Freedom, Angel, Ezy Rider, In From the Storm, Drifting and Straight Ahead. Completed post-1970 by engineer Eddie Kramer and Mitch Mitchell it might not be exactly what Jimi would’ve done had he still been alive to complete it, but it is close. There are also no obvious acts of sabotage or douchebaggery that would appear on subsequent releases. An important thing about this disc is that it proves that right up until the end Jimi was playing some absolutely amazing guitar and bringing great riffs into the studio and that is a great legacy.

Rainbow Bridge **1/2 A mix of studio and live stuff that sounded maybe ok in 1971. Much better stuff would emerge later. Dolly Dagger, Room Full of Mirrors, and Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) are good rips but I don’t think they were completely finished. Some great guitar nonetheless. Incidentally, the movie of the same name as this album, which was seen by every Hendrix fanatic at a stoned-out midnight movie showing circa 1975-1985, was one of the dumbest things ever put to celluloid.

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War Heroes ** A friend had this album but we didn’t play it much. More for the outtakes pile.

Hendrix in the West ** Live album. Weak set list but the performances aren’t bad. It was obviously getting to the point where anything that could be milked was. Does anyone need to hear Jimi playing Blue Suede Shoes given the wealth of live material that was obviously available and would be released later? I think not.

Crash Landing * The first of the Allan Douglas-produced albums. Worthless and criminal considering Douglas brought in session musicians to fill out what was already substandard material and then claimed co-writer credit on 5 songs. Without Jimi’s name and picture on the cover no one would’ve bought this pile of shit.

Midnight Lightning * See above. Douglas hacks his way to another shitty Hendrix album, this time aided by Jon Bon Jovi’s cousin Tony Bongiovi. I never bought either of these albums, but a roommate had them, so I’ve heard them and then promptly never listened to them again.

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The Essential Jimi Hendrix Volume Two *** I bought this because it had the Experience playing a cover of Them’s Gloria in the studio on an inserted 33 1/3 single with the album. It was actually pretty genius packaging. The song was a bit of a disappointment though and the rest of the album had already been released.

Jimi Hendrix: High, Live and Dirty *1/2 Also known as Bleeding Heart, or Woke Up This Morning and Found Myself Dead or…any of the other 14 names it was released under throughout the years. Basically Jimi’s private jam tapes from The Scene in 1968 that were stolen when he died. Or not…These jams included many rumored people but one person definitely there is a very drunk Jim Morrison yelling various obscenities. Supposedly, Janis Joplin was also in the audience that night. Talk about the planets aligning. Johnny Winter was long alleged to be the second guitarist but he swore to his dying day that he never met Jim Morrison. So it might’ve been Rick Derringer. The thing is…for a boot…some of this stuff is pretty good. I had the record while I was in college. The version of Red House and Tomorrow Never Knows have a lot of great guitar goin’ on. Interesting, but ultimately exploitative.

Kiss the Sky **** A fairly good compilation. I bought it on cassette for my car. Has some of my favorite Jimi songs including Third Stone from the Sun, All Along the Watchtower, Are You Experienced?, and Purple Haze. Also contains the b-side Steppin’ Stone from the Izabella single, the live Killing Floor from Monterey and a slammin’ live version of I Don’t Live Today from San Diego 1969.

Jimi Plays Monterey ****1/2 Yes! This is what I’m talking about. Jimi and the Experience taking the US by storm at the Monterey Pop Festival. Great versions of Killing Floor, Hey Joe, Can You See Me?, Like a Rolling Stone, Wild Thing, Foxy Lady, Purple Haze, and Rock Me Baby. Then and now a totally live wake-up call to anyone who plays guitar.

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Radio One/BBC Sessions ***** Two things: The best Jimi stuff post-1970 was previously unreleased live stuff because 1) he was dead so he wasn’t making any new material and 2) it is really Jimi and the Experience (mostly) at the height of their creative powers, not a bunch of disco musicians hired by Alan Douglas to fill out Jimi’s studio sketches. Also, pretty much all of the stuff released by artists who appeared on some program associated with the BBC (The Beatles, The Stones, Zeppelin, Yardbirds) has been great and the Jimi Hendrix Experience is no exception. Fantastic versions of many songs, including never before released stuff like the supremo guitar workout, Driving South. I have both of these discs and they are phenomenal.

Live at Woodstock **** Iconic and pretty good, even though I think the band at this performance was lacking and it’s not terribly well recorded. It was a great Jimi performance, however and obviously this version of The Star Spangled Banner is one of the most defining 5 minutes of the whole 1960s decade. Other bright notes are Izabella, Spanish Castle Magic, Hear My Train A Comin’, and Villanova Junction, which I always liked for its jazzy, minor key overtones. Overall, not of the caliber of Monterey or BBC for sheer guitar awesomeness, but important nonetheless.

The Ultimate Experience **** An interesting, if slightly flawed compilation. The track listing was the result of a poll of his most popular recordings in Europe. My girlfriend has this disc and it has some of Jimi’s classics mixed in with lesser known songs like Wait Until Tomorrow, Angel, Highway Chile, Long Hot Summer Night, and Gypsy Eyes. It also includes Wild Thing from Monterey and The Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock. I think the disc flawed only because it omits some better material from all of the studio albums in favor of some of what I just listed (minus Angel and Gypsy Eyes) and also includes Burning of the Midnight Lamp, which is my absolute least favorite song Jimi recorded.

Blues ** I wanted to like this, but unfortunately I didn’t find it that enjoyable and it contains more Douglas hackery (splicing various takes together, pulling out stuff Jimi probably never would have released, etc, etc). Anyone who has spent more than a month listening to Jimi Hendrix knows he could play the f*ck out of the blues and that many of his songs were based around very bluesy motifs. Guitarists especially know this. That’s what makes all of the popular acclaim for this album stupid. It doesn’t deal with the fact that it was just another cynical ploy to extract money out of people for Hendrix material that was average at best.

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Jimi Hendrix ***1/2 — Another Midnight Movie Treat for many years and I’ve also had it as a DVD for a long time. It’s a pretty good movie and features a compilation of performances from throughout Jimi’s career and interviews with interesting people: Jimi, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Fayne Pridgon and The Ghetto Fighters and not interesting people like Lou Reed (did he and Jimi even meet ever?). All of the time Jimi appears onscreen playing guitar is movie gold though and for many years it was all that was available.

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Woodstock and Live at Berkeley *** — I have both of these DVDs. From a guitarist standpoint, there is something educational in watching any performance Jimi gave, of course. There is some blistering guitar work to be found but there is a spark missing from these later-year performances that was definitely there in 1967, early 1968. Jimi seemed very tired, physically and spiritually. Both movies are very instructive for how they illustrate the messy backdrop of the times that Jimi is immersed in and one can only imagine how that affected his mood and the performances. The Live at Berkeley movie especially has a lot of the political stuff that had completely overtaken any and all counterculture conversations (especially in Berkeley) by early 1970. Definitely worth viewing as an education, but not necessarily the best music Jimi ever played.

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So that’s it for Part 1…hope you enjoyed it. There will always be new Jimi Hendrix releases and I’ve heard some here and there, but I’m not fanatic about hearing every version of Hear My Train A-Comin’ that he recorded or played. The early stuff is what I return to again and again, although I did recently get some enjoyment out of listening to Cry of Love for the first time in a long time. Part 2 in this “series” will deal with the books I have and two others I had at one time and Part 3 will be very guitar specific. Stay tuned!

Here is Part 2 and Part 3 in this series.