Posts Tagged ‘jazz’

“A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane (1965)

Jazz fans will be familiar with the work of Rudy Van Gelder of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., who has been a recording engineer for nearly 70 years. He’s responsible for capturing some of the genre’s most enduring performances for posterity, with many top artists – the ornery Charles Mingus was a notable exception – choosing to use his talents.

Van Gelder had worked with saxophonist John Coltrane on many occasions, dating back to his legendary stint with the Miles Davis Quintet, before Coltrane entered his studio on Dec. 9, 1964.

“He had been in other studios, so he must have felt that I could help him be heard the way he wanted to be heard,” Van Gelder told author Ashley Kahn in 2001. “The fact that he was here said it all.”

With Coltrane were the other members of his quartet, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones. As Tyner recalled:

John said very little about what he wanted. If he had certain specifics that he wanted to add to the music or how he wanted it played, he would say it. I think this is so important, because it was an on-the-spot improvisation, honestly approached music, with no pretentions about it at all.

The band had played sections of the four-part suite that became “A Love Supreme” during live gigs, but the studio date marked the first time the musicians would attempt to bring Coltrane’s vision together as a coherent piece.

Van Gelder discussed with Kahn his role in capturing the proceedings:

All of them were two-track recordings, which eliminated an possibility of mixing later. The advantages of doing one or two tunes at a time in a direct-to-two-track mode allowed me to concentrate more on the balance, mix and overall sound. Yes, we could edit the takes, but we couldn’t change the balance.

So, in what truly was a live performance, the quartet launched into one of jazz’s most celebrated recordings.

Jones opens by striking a Chinese gong, the only time Coltrane used that particular instrument, according to Ravi, his son. Coltrane then enters on tenor sax with a tuneful E-major flurry before Garrison starts to play the four-note sequence for which the album is best known.

“Acknowledgement,” as the first section is titled, builds on the basic 4/4 rhythm as Coltrane solos, starting quietly and building with intensity. Jones adds his usual fluidity to complement the saxophonist before the entire band focuses on the thematic four notes.

The Coltrane takes an interesting turn, playing the pattern three dozen times in various keys, in some ways foreshadowing the New Thing atonality that he’d explore at length the following year. As Dave Liebman, who played saxophone in Davis’ and Jones’ bands during the 1970s, noted about Coltrane’s unusual foray:

It’s really towards what he’s about to go into, which is very, very free and non-key-centered improvisation. The way he takes that “a love supreme” motif, and transposes it through all the keys over the ostinato pattern that Jimmy is playing, is a real study. And McCoy is sort of in between, chasing Coltrane, and staying on the same key.

Eventually, Coltane starts reciting the key phrase, with Van Gelder adjusting the microphone after it failed to pick up the initial “a love.” He repeats the chant, augmented by overdubs recorded the next evening, until his voice and the other instruments, except for Garrison’s bass, drop out. Garrison plays a short solo segueing into the next part of the suite.

“Resolution” had been tested live, as evidenced by a recording made at a small Philadelphia club nearly three months before the Van Gelder session. In the studio, the band did seven takes, with the final try being the one that made it to the LP; an outtake is featured on the boxed set “Classic Quartet: The Complete Impulse! Recordings.”

Coltrane enters with a flourish to state the section’s theme, one of Coltrane’s more enduring melodies. Compared with what preceded it, “Resolution” hearkens back to the saxophonist’s hard-bop work of the ’50s, focusing on chord changes rather than the modal structure he increasingly came to favor.

The final two sections of “A Love Supreme,” titled “Pursuance” and “Psalm,” were recorded together as a single take and appear as a single track on some reissues of the CD. The extended piece starts with a Jones solo, as he provides a demonstration of “the master percussionist’s polyrhythmic approach,” Kahn wrote.

Jones was already known for a ‘busy’ style before any cross-cultural sounds exerted their influence, and his distinctive translation of African and Caribbean polyrhythms onto the traditional jazz trap kit involved a democratic use of all its elements.

“Pursuance” proceeds in a relatively straightforward manner, with Tyner providing a freewheeling touch by flailing away on a series of inventive piano clusters. Coltrane adds a majestic solo drawing on his “sheets of sound” use of harmonics before returning to the section’s main theme.

Again, a Garrison bass solo provides a transition between sections, leading up to a Jones roll on the tympani for the suite’s dramatic conclusion.

“Psalm” is a stark mood piece built on rubato, a disregard for strict tempo. The backing musicians provide a loose foundation over which Coltrane basically recites a poem through his saxophone. As Kahn wrote:

Like a libretto, the words to “Psalm” (eventually titled “A Love Supreme” and printed on the inside of the album cover) define the lyrical flow of the music; one can follow syllable by syllable. Each line crests and resolves, implying punctuation.

And so the John Coltrane Quartet emerged from that Wednesday night session with a full album’s worth of music, although some extra musicians, bassist Art Davis and saxophonist Archie Shepp, joined in for a second session the following night. None of those recordings appeared on the finish product.

“A Love Supreme” was released in February 1965 to critical acclaim and commercial viability: It sold some half a million copies in the next five years, Coltrane’s best effort in that regard by a wide margin.

The quartet played the entire suite in concert just once, a July 26, 1965, performance at the Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, France, that was professionally recorded and is available as part of Impulse!’s “deluxe edition” CD. The live version is more dissonant than the studio effort, as Coltrane’s music had veered considerably in that direction during the seven-month interim.

As a matter of fact, Coltrane had booked a June session at Van Gelder’s studio to record “Ascension,” a 40-minute composition featuring numerous guest musicians improvising in turn. And for the last two years of his life – he died July 17, 1967 – Coltrane explored increasingly unconventional realms; check out his four-CD “Live in Japan” set (consisting of just six songs!) for a representative sampling of what he was delivering.

In that context, “A Love Supreme” serves as the bridge between Coltrane’s relatively subdued and wildly experimental periods. And as such, it has turned out to be his most enduring contribution to the world of music.

That goes for Rudy Van Gelder, too.

“In a Silent Way” by Miles Davis (1969)

The Miles Quintet of the mid-1960s ranks among jazz’s most heralded aggregations, along with John Coltrane’s Impulse!-era quartet, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Davis’ own five-piece from a decade before.

Miles, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and the late Tony Williams jelled together playing primarily standards and hard bop, as captured on the quintet’s Plugged Nickel recordings from late 1965. But in a manner similar to other musicians of the period, Davis began to shift the emphasis toward harder-edged arrangements, integrating elements that shared structure with rock music.

The release of “Filles de Kilimanjaro” in 1968 showed Davis leaning squarely in that direction, with the compositions “Frelon Brun” and “Mademoiselle Mabry” among the early example of what later would be coined jazz-rock fusion.

As the sessions for “Filles de Kilimanjaro” gave way to those for a follow-up album, Davis began playing with some of jazz’s top names, who would go on to become fusion legends: guitarist John McLaughlin, bassist Dave Holland and keyboard players Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul. McLaughlin had moved from his native England to play in Williams’ group, Lifetime, and Miles was so impressed on hearing the guitarist that he immediately invited him to record.

The results hardly pleased jazz purists, who probably had hoped Davis would stick with bop instead of progressing toward other musical forms, like Coltrane and others had done with “New Thing” free jazz. Miles’ music certainly wasn’t as atonal as the New Thing, but it hardly sounded like what he had done in the ’50s.

The “In a Silent Way” LP features one two-part composition on each side, “Shhh/Peaceful” and “In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time,” with Zawinul sharing songwriting credits with Davis on the latter. Going into the finished product was a great deal of editing by producer Teo Macero, as By Paul Tingen wrote in “The Making of In A Silent Way & Bitches Brew”:

“His influence in Miles’s music can be likened to that of George Martin with The Beatles. Macero was the one who tied the many disparate musical segments together, and edited them into a new whole, in some cases virtually recomposing the music. In A Silent Way, for instance, contained less than 27 minutes of musical material in its pre-edited form, and was cleverly looped by Macero to extend the music to 38 minutes.”

The result is a steadily paced, fascinating flow of music, opening with Zawinul’s electric piano, Corea’s organ and McLaughlin’s guitar setting an easy tone. After a few minutes, Davis plays the main theme of “Shhh,” carefully phrasing the melody on his trumpet as the other musicians continuing in a modal style, with no chord changes.

McLaughlin takes a relatively low-key solo, compared with much of his later work, starting at about the six-minute mark. As Zawinul noted in Tingen’s article: “He (Davis) told John McLaughlin to play as if he didn’t know how to play the guitar. As a result John’s playing was among the best of his career.”

Shorter then takes his turn, overlaying a continuous descending piano pattern, as Williams and Holland maintain the rhythm in an earnest but relaxed manner. McLaughlin returns for some more tasteful guitar before the main theme comes back into play.

The second composition begins with McLaughlin playing an ethereal theme backed by a sprinkling of keyboards and Holland’s droning bass. Davis joins in, playing the same somber style, until the 4:11 mark, when the full band backs a relatively fluid trumpet solo.

The dual composition, and perhaps the entire album, coalesce around 12 minutes in, when Miles blows freely over full-volume accompaniment, demonstration the vast potential for fusion. The piece ends with a reprise of the dulcet tones of the opening, with Davis fully setting the tone with his empathetic work on the horn.

“In a Silent Way” lays the groundwork for a series of Miles Davis recordings that push the envelope, eventually transcending jazz, rock, funk or whatever label you might want to place on his music. By the time he “retired” in 1975, Miles and his band were playing fully improvised shows at blaring volume, with the band leader turning his back on the audience to concentrate on creating new revelations with each performance.

Jazz, in its basic form, is supposed to be all about capturing the moment. And Miles Davis certainly answered the bell in that regard.

“The Inner Mounting Flame” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra (1971)

For a guitarist who primarily did session work in his native England during the mid-‘0s, John McLaughlin’s reputation preceded him.

On March 25, 1969, he sat in with Jimi Hendrix for a jam session at the Record Plant in New York City. An album from the resulting tapes was set to be released in the ’70s but was shelved, one of the few Hendrix recordings that seems to have escaped such a fate!

McLaughlin, meanwhile, had come to America to join Miles Davis drummer Tony Williams in his trio called Lifetime, which also featured keyboard player Larry Young. From there, it was an easy step into session and live work for Davis, who was in the formative stages of his seminal work in jazz-rock fusion.

By 1971, McLaughlin was fronting his own band, which he called the Mahavishnu Orchestra with encouragement from his guru, Sri Chimnoy. Joining him were virtuoso musicians Billy Cobham on drums, Jan Hammer on keyboards, Jerry Goodman on violin and Rick Laird on drums.
The new band followed the general concept developed by Williams’ group, of jazz motifs played at dizzying volumes.

The Orchestra’s debut, “The Inner Mounting Flame,” captured the interest of the listening public, rising to No. 89 on the Billboard 200. McLaughlin was heralded as a new guitar hero, even as he pushed age 30. And Hammer started on a path that would take him to superstardom via “Miami Vice.”

“The Inner Mounting Flame” opens with a prime example of what to expect from the band’s sonic capabilities. “Meeting of the Spirits” features the musicians playing at full tilt, with McLaughlin’s guitar leads surging through a quirky rhythmic structure that puts the power of Cobham’s drumming on full display.

“Dawn,” as the title suggests, calms the proceedings down a bit, with Hammer’s electric piano setting an easy, upbeat pace. Following a Goodman-dominated establishment of the melody, McLaughlin steps up for a guitar solo at approximately the 1:20 mark. The results are astounding, as his fingers glide over the strings of his Gibson at lightning speed, the mastery of which must be heard to be believed.

The metallic overtones return with “The Noonward Race,” as McLaughlin again dominates proceedings with his breakneck runs. Rumor has Laird and Goodman getting into a fistfight during the recording of the piece, as the other members played louder to drown out the sounds of the altercation.

Cobham and Laird take a break for “A Lotus On the Irish Stream,” which features McLaughlin, Hammer and Goodman unplugged. McLaughlin shows his prowess on the acoustic guitar, an instrument he later played exclusively with his late-’70s band Shakti.

“Vital Transformation” picks up the dynamics significantly with Cobham contributing heavy percussion to start the tune, a technique he’d use effectively two years later on his stellar solo debut, “Spectrum.” A long middle stretch has McLaughlin and Goodman playing an adrenaline-fueled lead duet.

“The Dance of the Maya” opens in an unconventional time signature before breaking into a decidedly bluesy motif featuring Goodman’s violin. The song returns to its jazz inflections, with McLaughlin dazzling once more, before returning to the original rhythm.

Perhaps the most interest track on the album, and certainly the most influential, is “You Know You Know.” McLaughlin opens with a moody guitar theme, which eventually is joined by the other musicians and repeated over the course of five minutes, with everyone contributing his own inflections, before Cobham closes with a frenetic percussive run. The theme has been sampled by numerous contemporary artists, including Mos Def, Massive Attack, David Sylvian and Blahzay Blahzay.

Closing “The Inner Mounting Flame” is the relatively brief, full-volume “Awakening,” which also provides a showcase for Cobham’s drumming.

The Mahavishnu Orchestra did even better with its follow-up album, “Birds of Fire,” which peaked at No. 15 in 1972. But that was the group’s swan song, as inner tensions pulled it apart by 1973.

McLaughlin later recorded under the Mahavishnu Orchestra name, and while the results are interesting, they fall short of what the original lineup had to offer.

Of interest: Rick Laird retired from the music business in the early ’80s to concentrate on photography. In 2009, he found numerous photos he’d taken of jazz musicians that never had been seen. His work is featured on

“Head Hunters” by Herbie Hancock (1973)

Traditionalists will hate to admit it, but jazz reached its commercial zenith when combined with elements of rock for a musical style called fusion.

Whether the artistic component matched the sales is up for debate, but fusion still has plenty of fans, even though its viability petered out some three decades ago.

Keyboardist Herbie Hancock had been highly visible on the jazz scene, as a solo artist and as a member of Miles Davis’ band, since he was in his early 20s. By 1973, he was ready to embrace fusion in a manner that combined funky, synthesizer-driven grooves with inflections of traditional jazz.

The result was “Head Hunters,” a wholly accessible album for the average listener when compared with some of Davis’ pioneering forays into fusion. The album quickly raced to the top of Billboard’s jazz chart, hit No. 2 on the R&B chart and, to the great delight of Columbia Records executives, topped out at No. 13 on the Billboard 200.

All that made it the biggest-selling jazz album to date.

Of course, commercial success sometimes runs inverse to the musicianship involved, but “Head Hunters” deserves to be a part of any discriminating listener’s collection. Hancock teams with woodwinds player Bennie Maupin, bassist Paul Jackson and percussionists Harvey Mason and Bill Summers to present a quartet of expertly constructed songs.

Leading off is “Chameleon,” a group composition that features one of the most recognizable riffs of the ’70s. As Hancock and the rhythm section lay down the groove, Maupin overdubs himself to create a horn section that drives the melodic element. Hancock follows with a tasteful synthesizer solo before the song switches gears entirely.

The middle section of “Chameleon” is more reminiscent of Hancock’s highly regarded material he recorded for Blue Note, with his electric piano flowing breezily on top of Jackson’s fluid bass playing, backed by suitable synthesizer flourishes. Then it’s back to the original theme to conclude 15-plus minutes worth of jazz’s most essential compositions.

The album continues with an update of “Watermelon Man,” a song Hancock wrote for his debut album, “Takin’ Off” (1962); it later became a top-10 hit for Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria. The “Head Hunters” arrangement opens with the unconventional sounds of Summers blowing into a beer bottle before the song heads into more familiar territory, using an arrangements that’s credited to Mason.

“Sly” takes its title from one of Hancock’s prime inspirations for “Head Hunters.” As he wrote in the liner notes:

“I started thinking about Sly Stone and how much I loved his music and how funky ‘Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself’ is. I was hearing that song over and over and over again. Then I had this mental image of me playing in Sly’s band, playing something funky like that. Then the next image that came to me was about my own band playing in Sly Stone’s musical direction.”

The song “Sly” opens in a fairly relaxed manner before picking up the tempo with a section featuring Maupin’s fluid horn playing. Hancock keeps up the pace with an electric piano solo before the song concludes in the way it started.

The final track, “Vein Melter,” wraps up the album in a slow, steady rhythm that allows soloists Maupin and Hancock to play some of their most expressive melodies. Columbia released an edited version of the song as a single.

“Head Hunters” is in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, a fitting place for an album that stands as perhaps fusion’s defining moment.

As a music aficionado, I’ve made many friends over the years who are exceptionally accomplished performers. And while I’m somewhat envious – hey, I’ve spent decades working on my rudimentary skill set of singing and playing guitar – I really enjoy pulling out their recordings and giving them a listen.

At a recent networking event, I took quick note of that night’s entertainment: a jazz singer with the voice of the proverbial nightingale. (One of her specialties happens to be the standard “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”) It turned out that I’d met her several years earlier, after she recorded a well-crafted compact disc called “Bluebird Fly.”

And so I was reacquainted with the eminently talented and personable Jessica Lee, who just happens to complement her musical abilities with a distinctive knack for entrepreneurship. She’s in her 10th year of hosting a successful and innovative networking group that combines music with the business of business.

I have a long-standing habit of listening to jazz on Sunday mornings, and today I put on “Bluebird Fly.” Actually, jazz is just part of the picture: Jessica mixes it up with ballads, blues and a touch of good ol’ rock and roll to present a comprehensive portrait of the artist as a young woman.

You know you’re going to enjoy the album when it starts with a swinging version of the classic “Why Don’t You Do Right.” Jessica channels the late chanteuse Peggy Lee in presenting the familiar tale of a woman who craves cash, with stellar backing by Danny Shields and Chris Hemingway trading licks on guitar and sax, respectively.

Jessica and company switch gears for Brenda Russell’s “Get Here,” with John D’Amico, who does all the arrangements on “Bluebird Fly,” providing tasteful accompaniment on piano. The vocals put Jessica on display as an empathetic balladeer, imploring her man to “just get here if you can.”

When she sings the blues, Jessica’s precise phrasing comes to the forefront, as evidenced by “Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya” as she’s able to emulate song composer Louis Armstrong’s distinctive style. Shields again provides able backing, playing an extended solo that would make many a Texas bluesman proud.

“Right Place Right Now” and “I Just Wanna Love Somebody” return Jessica to ballad mode. On the latter, written the year the album was recorded by James Slater and Karyn Rochelle, Miss Lee makes the most of her range as a vocalist, hitting high notes during the title refrain in a seemingly effortless manner.

“Weary Blues” contains an interesting segment in which Jessica and John emulate a Victrola-era recording (without the clicks, pops and scratches) to emphasize the song’s ragtime vintage. Again, she proves herself worthy of following the path established by Satchmo and other jazz greats.

The bluesy ballad “Damn Your Eyes,” featuring co-executive producer Roy Ruzika on rhythm guitar, and the tender “Lover Man” precede some forays into the rock milieu.

“Son of a Preacher Man” is given a relaxed treatment compared with the popular version by the late Dusty Springfield, but Jessica’s smooth delivery is just as effective in conveying the message of female desire. Similarly, “My Baby Left Me” is more leisurely paced than what Elvis, Scotty and Bill recorded, and Andy Gabig’s harmonica serves as a pleasant complement to Jessica’s voice.

In between those two songs is the album’s longest track and perhaps its high point, a cover of Sade’s “Jezebel.” Relatively sparse accompaniment by D’Amico and rhythm section Virgil Waters (bass) and Lenny Rogers (drums) allows Jessica to demonstrate fully what she brings to the table as a vocalist.

Closing “Bluebird Fly” is the traditional “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” a duet with Jessica keeping in harmony with John’s piano playing.

Jessica produced the album with Hollis Greathouse, who plays bass on several tracks, and engineer Jay Dudt. Kudos to them for an eminently listenable and enjoyable product, and to executive producers Roy and Joan Ruzika for making it all possible. “Bluebird Fly” is a fine testament to the talents of a vocalist who deserves nothing but accolades.

BTW, here are some videos of Jessica and friends performing in January:

“Ain’t Nobody’s Business”

“I’ve Got to Use My Imagination”

“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”

“Blue Train” by John Coltrane (1957)

In the pantheon of jazz, John Coltrane generally is recognized as the Last Giant; in fact, that’s the title of a somewhat unrepresentative anthology of his work. Among jazz aficionados, Coltrane’s death in 1967 at age 40 left a void that has yet to be filled. And probably never will.

Coltrane was about a week short of his 30th birthday when he entered Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Hackensack, N.J., to record a one-off album for Blue Note Records. At the time, Coltrane was hardly a “giant.” His best-known work was as tenor sax player in Miles Davis’ band, but he lost that gig because of drug problems just as Miles hit the big time by signing with Columbia Records.

Subsequently, Coltrane found himself recording with a variety of artists for Prestige Records, the results of which since have been encapsulated in a 16-CD set. Yes, I did spend a couple of hundred bucks for it …

In the meantime, Blue Note founder Alfred Lion signed Coltrane for a one-record deal, and he recorded it on Sept. 15, 1957, with a lineup drawn partially from Davis’ band: Paul “Mr. PC” Chambers on bass and the inimitable “Philly” Jo Jones on drums. Rounding out the lineup were Kenny Drew on piano, Lee Morgan on trumpet and Curtis Fuller on trombone, an instrumental rarely employed in Coltrane recordings.

The day’s work yielded a record that established Coltrane at once as a major songwriting talent and a practically unbelievable wielder of the tenor saxophone. Each of the album’s five songs serves as a showcase for his playing within the friendly confines of eminently listenable tunes.

The title track is the most well-known on the album, and perhaps within Coltrane’s immense catalog. The beginning call and response sets the tone for a pice that, throughout its 10 minutes, treats the listener to constant inventiveness among the musicians.

“Moment’s Notice” serves as a showcase for each band member showing off his chops, with Drew contributing a particularly melodic piano run before the whole ensemble reprises the upbeat melody.

“Locomotion” is the fastest-paced song on the album, which the instrumentalists playing to a theme that might emulate a train ride. “I’m Old Fashioned,” the standard written by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer, slows down the pace considerably, allowing Coltrane to demonstrate he could do more than play lightning-fast runs on his horn.

The proceedings wrap up with “Lazy Bird,” which despite the title picks the pace right back up. Morgan takes the first solo, and it’s a memorable one, showing the speed and complexity that a brass player can conjure. Fuller’s spot is a bit disappointing by contrast, especially when Coltrane follows with his pristine chops.

According to Michael Cuscuna’s liner notes in the 1996 CD reissue of “Blue Train,” Coltrane called it his favorite album of his own work. It certainly put him on the map as far as the jazz world was concerned, and it remains probably the most listenable of the many recordings he produced during his relatively short career.

“Spectrum” by Billy Cobham (1973)

The first major jazz artist to incorporate rock elements into jazz playing was Miles Davis, whose “Filles de Kilimanjaro” in 1968 hinted at what would become one of his greatest achievements, the following year’s “In a Silent Way.”

Davis’ floating cast of musicians served as the proving ground for what would become the Who’s Who of jazz-rock fusion, including Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira and British guitarist John McLaughlin.

Columbia Records, Davis’ label, was quick to sign the band McLaughlin founded in 1971, the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The quintet he formed – with Jan Hammer on keyboards, Jerry Goodman on violin, Rick Laird on bass and Billy Cobham on drums – played astonishingly intricate instrumentals at a volume associated more closely with Blue Cheer or Black Sabbath than anything having to do with jazz.

The original Mahavishnu Orchestra, unfortunately, lasted only a couple of years, and toward the end of that run, the percussionist recorded his first solo album.

“Spectrum” is one of the crowning achievements in fusion, with Cobham choosing wisely for his fellow musicians: Hammer, Lee Sklar on bass and the late Joe Farrell on woodwinds.

On guitar was a kid who’d started in the rock ‘n’ roll milieu, the late Tommy Bolin. The Sioux City, Iowa, native had played in a Colorado band called Zephyr before forming his own fusion group, Energy. He later replaced Domenic Troiano (who’d replaced Joe Walsh) in the James Gang.

Bolin met Cobham through former Jimi Hendrix producer Eddie Kramer at Electric Lady Studios in New York City. And the guitarist, just 22 at the time, met the expectations Billy had come to expect by working with McLaughlin.

Chris Jisi and Mark Bosch wrote about the resulting collaboration in a 1988 article for Guitar World magazine:

“‘Spectrum’ was, according to Hammer, an almost completely spontaneous jam. For Bolin, it turned out to be much more than that: It earned him long-desired recognition and is probably his most widely known recorded work. An integral stepping stone in intertwining the rock and jazz idioms, ‘Spectrum’ struts with smoky jazz/rock/funk grooves, setting the pace for Bolin’s white-hot guitar excursions. Although Cobham handed out charts, Bolin did not read music. Instead, he was told chord changes and fed melodies off of which he and Hammer played. As a result, his raw energy blends effectively with the technical parts played by the other musicians.”

OK, that’s the guitarist’s standpoint. The project belonged to the percussionist, though, and he responded with a songwriting and instrumental effort that solidified his reputation as fusion’s pre-eminent drummer.

The six tracks on “Spectrum,” three of which open with fluid percussion solos, are uniformly listenable, unlike some of the more esoteric elements of jazz-rock at the time. For example, the opener, “Quadrant 4,” remains one of the best-known exercises in fusion, with Bolin’s scorching guitar duetting with Cobham’s high-energy drumming to lead into a memorably stuttering melody augmented by Hammer’s keyboards.

The album reaches its summit, as does possibly fusion in general, with “Stratus,” the most nearly perfect marriage of jazz and rock. The song became a staple in Bolin’s repertoire for the three years he had remaining after the release of “Spectrum.”

Unfortunately for its fans, “Spectrum” turned out to be purely a one-off collaboration. Cobham later joined forces with keyboard player George Duke, fresh from his stint with Frank Zappa’s band, for some enjoyable mid-’70s recordings. Hammer teamed up with Jeff Beck for the height of the legendary guitarist’s fusion period, and in the ’80s, the Czech keyboardist became a full-fledged star with his theme song for the hit TV series “Miami Vice.” (For the record, I have yet to see an episode.)

Bolin eventually replaced Richie Blackmore in Deep Purple, then OD’d in Miami after opening for Beck.

The fusion of jazz and rock peaked shortly after the release of “Spectrum.” The genre still has many adherents to this day, but they’re going to have to search long and hard to find something as listenable and enjoyable as Billy Cobham’s debut.

“Third” by Soft Machine (1970)

In my formative years, I had the luck to have a friend whose siblings had substantial LP collections.

I’d go through the albums and make mental notes about stuff that seemed to be intriguing. Such was the case with a band called Soft Machine, which, according to my friend’s brother, was kind of like Pink Floyd.

Well, that kind of was true. I discovered that Pink Floyd and Soft Machine often shared bills at the UFO Club, the mecca of London’s psychedelic scene circa 1967. But the music produced by the two bands bore little resemblance, other than to appeal to patrons of the UFO and other such venues.

By 1970, when Soft Machine released its third album, the psychedelic approach had turned more toward a nascent form of jazz-rock. Still with the band from the original quartet were drummer-vocalist Robert Wyatt and keyboard player Mike Ratledge, but the basic concept had expanded to a horn section for the “Third” project, most notably the late Elton Dean on saxophone. (Yes, Reg Dwight took the first part of his stage name from Dean after both played together in a band called Bluesology.)

The most striking element of “Third” is its track listing: four sides on the original LP; four songs. Actually, they’re more like suites with single titles, but for listeners who love long jams, the album hits the nail on the head.

Side One is “Face Lift,” composed by the late Hugh Hopper, the band’s bass player. The track is taken from two live performances in January 1970. After a lengthy, droning start punctuated by short bursts from each of the instruments, the song proceeds into its theme, a heavy, stuttering riff benefiting particularly from the dual horns of Dean and Lyn Dobson, who was a proper band member during the recordings. “Face Life” eventually drifts into more introspective territory before wrapping up with backwards-tape effects.

Ratledge is the composer for Side Two, “Slightly All the Time,” and Side Four, “Out-Bloody-Rageous.” “Slightly” actually contains some compositions that have stood on their own for various other Soft Machine recordings, including “Noisette” and “Backwards,” and is augmented by Jimmy Hastings on clarinet.

Amid the jazzier elements is Side Three, Robert Wyatt’s “Moon in June,” which represents his final vocal contribution to the band. In fact, he recorded the first part of the composition on his own, except for a memorably melodic bass solo by Hopper. Apparently, the other Softs weren’t inclined to participate in Wyatt’s esoteric musings. So they sat out until the second half of “Moon in June,” which more closely resembles the stylistic approach of the rest of the album.

“Third” probably represents Soft Machine’s creative apogee. The followup, “Fourth,” contained to one record, further explores the jazz element, with Dean’s free-form blowing taking on a more prominent role. Wyatt, on the other hand, simply played drums and left the band after its release.

The story of Soft Machine, in fact, is one of constant personnel changes, as meticulously documented by Graham Bennett in his book about the band. Ratledge, the last remaining member of both the original band and “Third” lineup, departed in 1975, but Soft Machine kept going until the early ’80s.

In addition to the albums released during the band’s existence, a wide assortment of archival recordings are available, primarily issued by Cuneiform Records.

As for original vinyl copies, you might have to look a bit further than your friend’s brother’s record collection.

As a follow-up to a post from last week, here are some videos about the Jazz & Blues Entrepreneurial Thursdays networking group founded and perpetuated by musician-entrepreneur Jessica Lee.

First, a 5-minute video about the networking group:

Second, a performance of “Why Don’t You Do Right”:

And third, another performance, of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”

I had to play a bit with the audio portion of “Do Right,” so ignore any clicks, pops or changes in dynamics. “Nightingale” is fairly pristine.

Again, if you live in the Pittsburgh area, love music and enjoy networking, you might want to give the group a try.

One of my favorite online resources is AllMusic.

The database, if it doesn’t literally contain all music, comes pretty darned close. It certainly is a great resource for learning about worthwhile listens.

The guide rates recordings, from 1 to 5 stars. Following is a list of the 5-star albums in my collection. Well, most of them. I didn’t delve into “various artists” collections, and there may be some single-artists compilations that I missed. But this might give you an idea of what to check out on Spotify, or if you want to actually spend money and support the various artists.

  • AC/DC: “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”
  • Allman Brothers Band: “Idlewild South,” “At Fillmore East,” “Eat a Peach”
  • Gene Ammons: “The Happy Blues”
  • Louis Armstong: “Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy”
  • Albert Ayler: “Live in Greenwich Village: The Complete Impulse Sessions”
  • The Band: “Music from Big Pink,” “The Band”
  • The Beatles: “Please Please Me,” “With the Beatles,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Beatles for Sale,” “Help!,” “Rubber Soul,” “Revolver,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Magical Mystery Tour,” “The Beatles,” “Abbey Road”
  • Jeff Beck: “Truth”
  • Chuck Berry: “St. Louis to Liverpool”
  • Big Brother & the Holding Company: “Cheap Thrills”
  • Big Star: “#1 Record,” “Third/Sister Lovers”
  • Black Sabbath: “Paranoid,” “Master of Reality,” “Volume 4”
  • Blur: “Parklife”
  • David Bowie: “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” “Low,” “Heroes”
  • Brinsley Schwarz: “Nervous On the Road”
  • Dave Brubeck Quartet: “Time Out”
  • Jeff Buckley: “Grace”
  • Butterfield Blues Band: “Paul Butterfield Blues Band,” “East-West”
  • The Byrds: “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”
  • Can: “Tago Mago”
  • Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band: “Safe As Milk,” “Trout Mask Replica”
  • Johnny Cash: “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison”
  • Ray Charles: “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music”
  • Charlie Christian: “The Genius of the Electric Guitar”
  • Eric Clapton: “Crossroads”
  • Sonny Clark: “Cool Struttin'”
  • The Clash: “The Clash,” “London Calling”
  • John Coltrane: “Blue Train,” “Bags & Trane,” “My Favorite Things,” “Duke Ellington and John Coltrane,” “John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman,” “A Love Supreme”
  • Chick Corea: “Return to Forever”
  • Elvis Costello: “My Aim Is True,” “This Year’s Model,” “Get Happy!!”
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival: “Green River,” “Willy & the Poor Boys,” “Cosmos Factory”
  • Crosby, Stills & Nash: “Crosby, Stills & Nash”
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: “Deja Vu”
  • Miles Davis: “Birth of the Cool,” “‘Round About Midnight,” “Relaxin’,” “Porgy and Bess,” “Kind of Blue,” “Sketches of Spain,” “Workin’,” “Steamin’,” “Miles Smiles,” “In a Silent Way,” “Bitches Brew,” “A Tribute to Jack Johnson,” “On the Corner”
  • Deep Purple: “Machine Head”
  • Derek & the Dominos: “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs”
  • Dillard & Clark: “The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark”
  • Willie Dixon: “The Chess Box”
  • Eric Dolphy: “Out There,” “Out to Lunch”
  • The Doors: “The Doors”
  • Bob Dylan: “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Blonde On Blonde,” “Blood On the Tracks”
  • Bob Dylan & the Band: “The Basement Tapes”
  • Duke Ellington: “Ellington at Newport,” “… and His Mother Called Him Bill”
  • Brian Eno: “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy),” “Another Green World”
  • Faces: “Five Guys Walk into a Bar …”
  • The Firesign Theatre: “How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All,” “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers”
  • The Flaming Lips: “The Soft Bulletin”
  • The Flying Burrito Brothers: “The Gilded Palace of Sin”
  • Funkdadelic: “Maggot Brain”
  • Gang of Four: “Entertainment!”
  • Erroll Garner: “Concert By the Sea”
  • Marvin Gaye: “What’s Going On”
  • Genesis: “Foxtrot”
  • Grateful Dead: “Workingman’s Dead,” “American Beauty,” “Dick’s Picks, Vol. 4”
  • Green Day: “American Idiot”
  • Herbie Hancock: “Maiden Voyage,” “Head Hunters”
  • George Harrison: “All Things Must Pass”
  • Jimi Hendrix Experience: “Are You Experienced?,” “Axis: Bold As Love,” “Electric Ladyland”
  • Howlin’ Wolf: “Howlin’ Wolf/Moanin’ in the Moonlight,” “The Chess Box”
  • Husker Du: “Zen Arcade”
  • Incredible String Band: “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter”
  • Etta James: “At Last!”
  • Keith Jarrett: “The Koln Concert”
  • Jefferson Airplane: “Surrealistic Pillow”
  • Lonnie Johnson: “Steppin’ on the Blues”
  • Robert Johnson: “The Complete Recordings”
  • Janis Joplin: “Pearl”
  • King Crimson: “In the Court of the Crimson King”
  • Albert King: “Born Under a Bad Sign”
  • The Kinks: “Face to Face,” “Something Else by the Kinks,” “The Village Green Preservation Society”
  • Kraftwerk: “Autobahn,” “Trans-Europe Express”
  • Led Zeppelin: “Led Zeppelin,” “Led Zeppelin II,” “Led Zeppelin III,” “Physical Graffiti”
  • John Lennon: “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band,” “Imagine”
  • Little Feat: “Little Feat”
  • Love: “Da Capo,” “Forever Changes”
  • Nick Lowe: “Jesus of Cool”
  • Magic Sam: “West Side Soul”
  • Mahavishnu Orchestra: “The Inner Mounting Flame,” “Birds of Fire”
  • Bob Marley & the Wailers: “Catch a Fire”
  • John Mayall: “Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton”
  • The MC5: “Kick Out the Jams”
  • Metallica: “Master of Puppets”
  • Pat Metheny Group: “Pat Methenhy Group”
  • Charles Mingues: “Mingus Ah Um,” “Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus”
  • The Minutemen: “Double Nickels on the Dime”
  • Moby Grape: “Moby Grape”
  • Modern Jazz Quartet: “The Complete Last Concert”
  • Wes Montgomery: “Full House”
  • Van Morrison: “Astral Weeks,” “Moondance”
  • Mothers of Invention: “Freak Out!,” “We’re Only In It for the Money”
  • Mott the Hoople: “All the Young Dudes,” “Mott”
  • The Move: “Shazam”
  • My Bloody Valentine: “Loveless”
  • Randy Newman: “12 Songs,” “Sail Away”
  • Parliament: “Mothership Connection”
  • Gram Parsons: “G.P.”
  • Joe Pass: “Virtuoso”
  • Jaco Pastorius: “Jaco Pastorius”
  • Pavement: “Slanted & Enchanted,” “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain”
  • Pearl Jam: “Ten”
  • Pere Ubu: “Terminal Tower”
  • Pink Floyd: “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” “The Dark Side of the Moon,” “Wish You Were Here”
  • Iggy Pop: “The Idiot,” “Lust for Life”
  • The Quintet: “Jazz at Massey Hall”
  • The Replacements: “Let It Be”
  • The Rolling Stones: “Between the Buttons,” “Beggars Banquet,” “Let It Bleed, “Sticky Fingers,” “Exile on Main St.,” “Some Girls,” “Singles Collection: The London Years,” “Forty Licks”
  • Sonny Rollins: “Sonny Rollins Plus 4,” “Saxophone Colossus,” “Way Out West”
  • Todd Rundgren: “Something/Anything?”
  • Pharoah Sanders: “Karma”
  • Santana: “Abraxas”
  • Klaus Schulze: “Moondawn”
  • Gil Scott-Heron: “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox”
  • The Sex Pistols: “Never Mind the Bollocks”
  • Sonny Sharrock: “Ask the Ages”
  • Wayne Shorter: “Speak No Evil”
  • Horace Silver: “Song for My Father”
  • Paul Simon: “Paul Simon,” “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon”
  • Skin Alley: “To Pagham & Beyond”
  • Sly & the Family Stone: “Stand!,” “There’s a Riot Goin’ On”
  • Small Faces: “The Darlings of Wapping Wharf Launderette”
  • Patti Smith: “Horses”
  • The Soft Boys: “Underwater Moonlight”
  • Sonic Youth: “Sister,” “Daydream Nation”
  • The Stooges: “Fun House,” “Raw Power”
  • Sun Ra: “Atlantis,” “Space Is the Place”
  • Talking Heads: “Talking Heads 77,” “More Songs About Buildings and Food,” “Remain In Light”
  • Hound Dog Taylor: “Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers”
  • Television: “Marquee Moon”
  • Thin Lizzy: “Jailbreak”
  • Richard & Linda Thompson: “Shoot Out the Lights”
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: “Texas Flood”
  • Velvet Underground: “The Velvet Underground & Nico,” “White Light/White Heat,” “The Velvet Underground,” “Loaded”
  • The Wailers: “Burnin'”
  • T-Bone Walker: “The Complete Imperial Recordings: 1950-1954”
  • Muddy Waters: “At Newport,” “The Chess Box”
  • Weather Report: “Heavy Weather”
  • The White Stripes: “Elephant”
  • The Who: “The Who Sings My Generation,” “The Who Sell Out,” “Live at Leeds,” “Who’s Next”
  • Tony Williams’ Lifetime: “Emergency!”
  • Wire: “Pink Flag,” “Chairs Missing”
  • Stevie Wonder: “Talking Book,” “Innervisions,” “Songs in the Key of Life”
  • Link Wray: “Rumble!”
  • X: “Los Angeles,” “Under the Big Black Sun”
  • Yes: “Fragile,” “Close to the Edge”
  • Neil Young: “On the Beach,” “Rust Never Sleeps”

By the way, I’ve been working on this list for a couple of weeks during some “down time.” And it’s been a lot of fun! Gotta listen to some of these albums again in the near future.