Sunday, 28 December 2008

Guns N' Roses - Use Your Illusion II 1991 (MFSL UDCD-712)

Use Your Illusion II (MFSL UDCD-712)

Genre: Rock
Format: FLAC + cue + log
Released: 2007
Label: MFSL
Number of Discs: 1

When Guns n' Roses recorded their major-label debut in 1987, after a few years of slogging in L.A. clubs, they titled it Appetite for Destruction. It was a proclamation that they would rail against and knock down anything that stood in their way; it would become a banner adopted by millions who wanted to turn their dead-end street into a freeway. Four years later, when the band is closer to its destination than its members ever had any right to expect, Guns n' Roses release two follow-up albums: Use Your Illusion I and II. The title is a confession; now that the physical barriers are gone and nothing stands in their way except maybe their own myth, they've got to set their sights on something less tangible. "Old at heart," Axl Rose sings on "Estranged," from II, "but I'm only twenty-eight." Like Aerosmith in the classic "Dream On," they realize that to go on, you've got to have faith....

Friday, 26 December 2008

Stanley Clarke - The Toys of Men 2007

Stanley Clarke


Genre: Jazz / fusion
Format: FLAC + cue + log
Released: 2007
Number of Discs: 1

Stanley Clarke’s influence continues to be felt long past his 1970s glory days as a member of pianist Chick Corea’s flagship fusion group Return to Forever and as a solo artist whose School Days (Epic, 1976) remains required listening for any aspiring electric bassist. In the intervening years, despite the occasional high profile gig, he’s been more heavily involved in soundtrack work and solo albums that, while pleasant enough pop/jazz, have never quite lived up to the promise of those early years....

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Yellowjackets - Samurai Samba 1985

Samurai Samba 1985

Genre: Jazz/Smooth-jazz
Format: APE + cue + log
Released: 1985
Label: Warner Brothers
Number of Discs: 1

T he hive is alive with the sound of saxophones, but it’s still all about the groove on Samurai Samba. Keyboardist Russell Ferrante chooses soft keyboard textures, the rhythm section of Haslip and Lawson keep things funky, and Russo’s saxophone comments on the action but doesn’t drive it the way he would on Shades. Otherwise, there’s not much that separates this Samba from their other moves: you have the crossover pop song (“Lonely Weekend”), intoxicating grooves (“Homecoming,” “Deat Beat”) and soulful, smooth jazz (“Daddy’s Gonna Miss You,” “Silverlake”). Since I’m naturally distrustful of jazz, I tend to watch a band that will slip a “Sylvania” and “Silverlake” onto the same album with a raised eyebrow. My tastes tend to run more traditional, which is to say I favor the sly dissonance of bop and its related offspring. Yellowjackets do that too, on the closing “Samurai Samba” of all places, but making an album with a little something for everyone only makes everyone a little happy. Of course, as I’ve said before, I have a big blind spot when it comes to jazz, and the ‘80s saw a transitional period where jazz, funk and pop music got swirled together into a kind of supermarket samba that initially attracted new listeners to jazz. If you ask me, the new listeners were people in silly turtlenecks with unpronounceable audiophile components (“The D is silent...”) who were convinced that jazz was the audio equivalent of wheat germ, but I don’t know why you would ask me. It is interesting, however, that jazz critics who would pore over every note recorded by Miles Davis or John Coltrane and gush at the achievements of Weather Report and Pat Metheny would seldom devote a fraction of the energy to breaking down the work of Yellowjackets or Tom Scott. But then I tend to lump jazz into one big bucket, and clearly there’s a little jazz elf at work in the bucket rolling some of the jazz grapes to one side and some to another. And that’s how I started with a hive analogy and ended up with a grape-rolling elf in a bucket. Tsk.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Yellowjackets - Lifecycle 2008

Lifecycle 2008

Genre: Jazz/Smooth-jazz
Format: FLAC + cue + log
Released: 2008
Label: Heads Up
Number of Discs: 1

The Yellowjackets are usually a quartet but for this CD they welcomed guitarist Mike Stern as their special guest on seven of the ten tracks. Stern makes a significant contribution - not only extending the group's palette of sound but also contributing a couple of his own compositions (Double Nickel and Dreams Go). Stern's seemingly lazy, legato guitar gives a laid-back feeling to some tracks. On other tracks, it spices up what is already a spicy mix.

If you wanted to pigeon-hole the Yellowjackets, you might say they are playing like Weather Report might have played if that band had stayed together for many more years. The Yellowjackets' style still embraces jazz-fusion but, as I suggested in an earlier album review, their range is far wider. They play with plenty of sophistication, which is augmented by Mike Stern. In fact the band originally included a guitarist (Robben Lee Ford) but that was 15 years ago and, after several personnel changes, this is the group's twentieth album....