For many music fans, this year – and we’re not even two months into it – began sadly, with the demise of talented and influential musicians such as David Bowie, Glenn Frey (The Eagles), Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane; Jefferson Starship), Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream) and, in early February, Maurice White, the founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, a much-loved, highly-praised American band.

In his elements: Maurice White (centre) founded the much-loved American band Earth, Wind & Fire which took black pop to a different level by fusing funk, soul, R&B, blues and rock. (Photo: Getty Images)

In his elements: Maurice White (centre) founded the much-loved American band Earth, Wind & Fire which took black pop to a different level by fusing funk, soul, R&B, blues and rock. (Photo: Getty Images)

I hadn’t heard Earth, Wind & Fire in a long time and White’s death, albeit a sad occasion, became a cue for me to dig out their Greatest Hits album, the one with 17 songs including Got to Get You Into My Life, Can’t Hide Love, Shining Star, Let’s Groove, Saturday Nite, and many more – all hits from 1974-81, the period that is considered to be the band’s golden era.

Many critics who’ve acclaimed Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF) say the band had the ability to cross generic boundaries; that they took black pop to a different level by fusing funk, soul, R&B, blues and rock but I think that at the core of Earth, Wind & Fire’s sound is funk and groove – the rhythm that the interplay of drums, keyboards and bass brings to their music.

EWF’s lead singer Philip Bailey was versatile – he had a four-octave range and could sing everything from funk to blues to gospel to rock and roll. Added to that were White’s mellower vocals; the meticulous arrangements involving horns, guitars, besides the funky keyboards, drums and bass; and a generally upbeat spirit, all of it making for a spirited musical experience.

I haven’t heard a single EWF song that isn’t uplifting: the Greatest Hits album closes with Getaway, a song about escaping boredom and seeking joy that may well epitomise the band’s musical spirit. White suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had to retire from the band in 1994 but continued to remain active in controlling EWF.

Also watch: Jefferson Airplane – Volunteers (Live at Woodstock Music & Art Fair, 1969)

After an hour or two of EWF, as homage to Paul Kantner I pulled out my Jefferson Airplane collection and chose Surrealistic Pillow, their second album from 1967. Pioneers of the San Francisco sound during the Summer of Love years, their music was redolent of psychedelia, of the ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ era of hippiedom.

Sweet goodbyes: Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane), Glenn Frey (The Eagles). (Photo: Getty Images)

Sweet goodbyes: Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane), Glenn Frey (The Eagles). (Photo: Getty Images)

On Surrealistic Pillow, Airplane do some of their most memorable songs. There’s Somebody to Love, which was written by vocalist Grace Slick’s then brother-in-law, Darby; there’s Today; there’s the Alice in Wonderland inspired White Rabbit; and there’s Plastic Fantastic Lover.

After the Airplane broke up, Kantner, Slick and some of the others formed Jefferson Starship. I have their 1975 album, Red Octopus. So I played that too. Starship had a more commercial sound than its mothership, Jefferson Airplane. But a nice trip down memory lane it was.

Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream) and David Bowie (right). (Photo: Getty Images)

Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream) and David Bowie (right). (Photo: Getty Images)

And then, since I’d embarked on that journey, I pulled out Froese’s German electronic band, Tangerine Dream’s Le Parc, which is an album from 1985 and has nine tracks, each of which is inspired by a famous park around the world. So you get tracks such as Central Park (New York), Bois de Boulogne (Paris), Zen Garden (Ryoanji Temple, Tokyo), Hyde Park (London) and so on. It’s not their best-known album but I like the theme.

I then heard one of their earlier albums, Stratosfear (1974), which marks the band’s move to a more melodious sound, with the Moog synthesizers still ruling but less experimental and not so off the wall. Tangerine Dream’s most influential years were during the 1970s and some of their music from that era may seem prescient when you listen to some of today’s modern electronic dance music.

As a tribute to Glenn Frey, I eschewed all The Eagles albums (including that one particular Eagles song for which Frey wrote the lyrics and that you must have heard in elevators, restaurants and rest-rooms) and went for 1993’s Glenn Frey Live, which has concert versions of several songs, including Desperado, a Lyin’ Eyes/Take it Easy medley, and New Kid in Town.

Also watch: David Bowie – Live at BBC Radio Theatre

That left me to decide which David Bowie album to play. It was a tough decision. I have tons of Bowie from over the years – studio albums, live ones, compilations and collaborations. I finally settled on a BBC sampler of six songs and one short interview from the 1969-72 period and which has on the playlist Hang Onto Yourself, Ziggy Stardust, Andy Warhol and Waiting for the Man. In the interview, David Bowie, then 22 (it is 1969), talks about Space Oddity, which had just released. He’s soft-spoken, self-deprecating and full of humility. So refreshing.

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The first time I heard Sublime, the band had already broken up and its talented lead singer, driving force and the man who can be credited for the band, its sound, and its essence, Brad Nowell, was already dead. And, as it happened, the first song by Sublime that I heard and that made me sit up and take notice of the band was not even (well, not fully as we shall see in just a bit) written by the band. It was Scarlet Begonias, originally written in 1974 by Robert Hunter (words) and Jerry Garcia (music) for the Grateful Dead.

Of delightful metamorphoses: Sublime may have had a short run when lead singer Brad Nowell (above) died of a drug overdose at the age of 28, but their albums (below), compilations and a box set still find loyal takers. (Photo: Getty Images)

Of delightful metamorphoses: Sublime may have had a short run when lead singer Brad Nowell (above) died of a drug overdose at the age of 28, but their albums (below), compilations and a box set still find loyal takers. (Photo: Getty Images)

As a long-time Deadhead, I instantly took note, especially because Nowell had added a verse or two to give the song a nice and edgy twist. In the Sublime version of the song – I’d highly recommend Deadheads who haven’t to listen to it – Nowell references the “Summer of Love”, a “microbus”, a hippy lifestyle that involves a bit of dealing in mushroom, ecstasy, nitrous oxide and sundry other, um, psychotropic substances, as well as a not-so-happy brush with the law. As a bonus, the band also sampled James Brown’s Funky Drummer on the song. That was enough to hook me.

Also watch: Sublime – Badfish (Live At The Palace/1995)

Sublime’s music is categorised by some writers as a genre they call ska punk – ska originally being a form of Jamaican dance music that pre-dates reggae. But the influences that shaped Nowell (guitar and vocals), Eric Wilson (bass) and Bud Gaugh (drums) go beyond those genres. You can add to that list of their influencers garage rock, rap, blues and psychedelia, especially psychedelia. Sublime’s songs have a very robust bass line (a characteristic of ska music); blistering guitar solos that could be blues-rock influenced; and the danceability of reggae. It’s incredible how things can evolve within a Sublime song – metamorphosing from garage punk to reggae to ska and rock.

Sublime launched their first album in 1992 and could manage to record just three studio albums in their career.

Sublime launched their first album in 1992 and could manage to record just three studio albums in their career.

Sadly, Sublime had a short run. They launched their first album in 1992 and could manage to record just three studio albums in their career, the first one clandestinely by sneaking into a studio at a California university at night. Their third album, titled Sublime, came out just after Brad Nowell’s death in 1996.

Nowell died from what is believed to be a heroin overdose in a motel in the band’s home state of California. He was just 28. Sublime’s songs aren’t without controversy either. On their debut album, 1992’s 40 Oz. to Freedom, Sublime have a humorous song called Date Rape that is about a date-rapist and his victim and ends with jail for the perpetrator who gets sodomised in jail.

Also watch: Sublime – Date Rape

Many consider that song homophobic – particularly, the last verse where Nowell sings: “Well, I can’t take pity on men of his kind, /even though he now takes it in the behind.” There’s a video of the song in which male porn star Ron Jeremy acts as both the judge who sends the perp to jail as well as the co-prisoner who later… well, never mind.

Besides the three studio albums and some live cuts, Sublime in post-Nowell years have released several compilations and a box set. And loyal fans abound even now. And although the remaining members of the band have regrouped and renamed themselves Sublime with Rome (after Rome Ramirez, guitarist and singer, joined them), their fare hasn’t met with the kind of following Sublime still has.

If you like your reggae shaken up with ska, punk, funk and groove, it’s the band for you. And if you’re a Deadhead, I’ve already told you the song you could listen to before you dive into the rest of their catalogue.

TAILPIECE: Confused by the barrage of music blogs, reviews, year-end lists and so on? Want to try something different? Writer/artist Chris Prunckle does a review and music blog all in six-panel comic book form.

Photo: Chris Prunckle

Photo: Chris Prunckle

Wannabe is the name of his music blog, which sometimes even has an interview with a musician. Head over to Wannabe’s website. And don’t forget to check out his recent post on 2015’s best 11 albums. His take, of course. All in comic panel form.

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Beginning with their first studio effort in 2007, Red Album, every LP by Baroness, the heavy metal band from Savannah in the US state of Georgia, is titled with the name of a colour. Their second album was called Blue Record; then came 2012’s Yellow & Green (it was a double album); and then, last month they released their latest, Purple. The colour thing for their album titles seems apt.

Baroness (left, with frontman and guitarist John Baizley in the centre) performs in Chicago in 2012. (Photo: Corbis)

Baroness (left, with frontman and guitarist John Baizley in the centre) performs in Chicago in 2012. (Photo: Corbis)

Baroness, as I said, are a heavy metal band – some music critics affix prefixes such as ‘stoner’, ‘alternative’ or ‘sludge’ to their genre but the fact is that they are a heavy metal band. And heavy metal bands are? Well, they are loud, deep sounding, aggressive, distortion-loving purveyors of music that is not necessarily associated with colour other than different shades of black. Dark and brooding is how the music played by most heavy metal bands can seem. But Baroness are different. Their music, even when it has all the required attributes of metal – loudness; heavy beats; and fierceness – is also vibrant and colourful.

Also watch: Baroness live at Saint Vitus Bar

On Yellow & Green, there are songs, such as Twinkler, which begins with a melodic acoustic guitar (albeit against the background of a mildly ominous sounding giant fly’s buzz); there are lyrics, such as those on March to the Sea, that can seem uncommon for a heavy metal band: There was a whisper/Once there were heralds and parades/ You sang your secrets through the tolling of the tide/ The fugitive rooms, the amateur tombs/ The silence and the cries/ The quickening beat/ Your march to the sea/ Never to return; and on Purple, their latest, there are guitar solos and drum lines, such as the one on The Iron Bell, which can make them sound like a southern jam band (albeit one that is probably amped up on speed and steroids).

Four years ago the future of Baroness may have seemed uncertain. The band, while touring the UK, met with an accident when its tour coach fell 30 feet, injuring most members of the band, two of them, the drummer and the bassist, very badly. Those two ultimately had to quit the band and to many it seemed that Baroness would never play again.

Baizley's gorgeous Art Nouveau-inspired album covers of Purple (above, left) and Red Album.

Baizley's gorgeous Art Nouveau-inspired album covers of Purple (above, left) and Red Album.

But the remaining members, including frontman and guitarist John Baizley, bounced back after spending months in recovery. And then came Purple. As is customary for the band, Baizley not only wrote the songs but also did the cover artwork for Purple, which, as it has always been for the band’s other albums, is gorgeous. Baizley’s artwork is influenced by the Art Nouveau style; it is intricate and decorative with a mythological theme (an aside: if you want to explore Baizley’s art, go to www.aperfectmonster.com).

Back to the music. In many ways, Purple, the first album by Baroness after the band’s accident, carries a sense of the trauma that the band members underwent. It is dark; it is heavy; and, while Baizley’s songs don’t directly refer to the incident, the mood captures it.

Yellow & Green was for me the most accessible heavy metal album I have heard. Its infectious melodic hooks, bright guitar solos and harmonised singing completely upturned my pre-conceived notions of a heavy metal band – much like another band, the black metal group Deafheaven had.

In contrast, Baroness’s first two albums were heavier, fitting the definition of the heavy metal genre better. Now, Purple takes another step in the evolution of the band: on this new album, the deep and loud sound is layered with melodies, guitar riffs and choruses – a perfect blend of the heavy and the light.

TAILPIECE:
The late David Bowie’s last album is the only one of his albums that doesn’t have an image of him on the cover; instead it has a black star and that gives it its name, Blackstar. Bowie who died at 69 on January 10 after an 18-month-long battle with cancer was an itinerant experimenter – both with his music as well as his looks.

The legend from Brixton: David Bowie's last album, Blackstar, had the experimental singer fronting a jazz band, a perfect epitaph for a storied life. (Photo: Getty Images)
The legend from Brixton: David Bowie’s last album, Blackstar, had the experimental singer fronting a jazz band, a perfect epitaph for a storied life. (Photo: Getty Images)

Those who’ve tracked Bowie’s brilliant career and his rapidly changing musical style – from art rock, glam rock, soul, funk, and electronic – will find that Bowie’s last album is a jazz album with the singer fronting a jazz band. A perfect epitaph for a storied life.

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Few musicians do confessional songs as well as John Grant does. In his second album, Pale Green Ghosts, released in 2013, he is sad and bitterly angry, particularly because of a bad break-up with a partner and his songs, therefore, are replete with sharp barbs and cutting remarks about his ex done with finesse and great style.

Colorado musician John Grant’s voice is so warm, he makes even the meanest things he sings sound enjoyable. (Photo: Art Magg)

Colorado musician John Grant’s voice is so warm, he makes even the meanest things he sings sound enjoyable. (Photo: Art Magg)

Listen to GMF on the album, which, incidentally, features Sinéad O’Connor too, and you’ll know what I mean. It’s not only on his studio albums that Grant mixes his trademark cocktail of irony, humour, anger and bitterness so perfectly. In May last year, I saw Grant open for The Pixies in New York and he was equally adept at it live. That night he did songs from his first two studio albums – Queen of Denmark and Pale Green Ghosts – the first less bitter than the second, and engaged well with the audience (which comprised mainly hardcore Pixies fans, many of whom may not have heard him before) with his banter. Now, Grant’s third album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, is out and it’s yet another phase in the career of the Colorado-born musician who has made Iceland his home.

Also watch: John Grant – Global Warming

First, the album’s title: apparently, it’s a transliteration of Icelandic for midlife travails and Turkish for a bad dream. Intro (as is Outro) is a reading from the Bible’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. But those apart, it is what you expect a John Grant album to be. Only, he may have surpassed himself with this third studio album of his. Its songs seethe, bristle, mock and rue. There are references to broken love; to lust; and to Grant’s ongoing struggle with the fact that he is HIV positive. On You & Him, he’s at his vitriolic best when he addresses an ex-lover: You and Hitler ought to get together/ You oughta learn to knit and wear matching sweaters, and elsewhere on the same song: You’re so sweet I really love how you hate/ You seem like someone they should chemically castrate.

Grant is also self-critical to the point of being self-loathing on some of this album’s tracks. In the title track, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, he refers to (presumably, his) haemorrhoids, his memory lapses in middle-age, and his HIV. Sample: I can’t believe I missed/ New York during the 70’s/ I could have gotten a headstart/ In the world of disease/ I’m sure I would have contracted/ Every solitary thing.

Name and shame: The title of John Grant’s new album – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure – is apparently a transliteration of Icelandic for midlife travails and Turkish for a bad dream.

Name and shame: The title of John Grant’s new album – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure – is apparently a transliteration of Icelandic for midlife travails and Turkish for a bad dream.

But there’s always more than the deep and emotion-laden lyrics that we’ve come to expect in Grant’s songs – it is the evolution of his music. If Pale Green Ghosts had electronic pop via the synthesiser, which evidently Grant loves, the new album has synth runs that are multi-textured; bass lines that pulsate funkily; and a slickness that makes everything gleam.

Yet, I like Grant because of his words and because his voice, deep and full of warmth, makes even the meanest things he sings so enjoyable to listen to – such as (on Voodoo Doll): I made a voodoo doll of you/ And I gave it some chicken soup/ Did you feel any warmth down deep inside?/ Did you feel how your blues went away and died?

Tailpiece: I watched He Never Died, a new film by Jason Krawczyk, last week starring the 54-but-still-studly Henry Rollins, frontman of the erstwhile hardcore punk band, Black Flag. In the film, which is half comedy half horror, Rollins plays Jack, an immortal, reluctant cannibal who quickly turns violent. There’s gore; there’s blood; there’s even a speck or two of love. It’s an odd kind of film that has found some critical acclaim, particularly among non-mainstream audiences.

Us and them: I dug out 2009’s The Dark Side of the Moon – the cover version by The Flaming Lips, with Henry Rollins.

Us and them: I dug out 2009’s The Dark Side of the Moon – the cover version by The Flaming Lips, with Henry Rollins.

But I digress. Having watched Rollins, I longed to listen to some of his music. But instead of Black Flag, I found myself digging out 2009’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Not the Pink Floyd original but the cover version by The Flaming Lips who were accompanied by Rollins. There’s a version of Brain Damage with Rollins on vocals that is not to be missed. The album is titled The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs with Henry Rollins and Peaches Doing The Dark Side of the Moon. It’s a cover of Floyd’s famous 1973 album done in its entirety. And done very well too. Worth checking out.

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I think it was around the middle of this year or thereabouts that a new anthology of Miles Davis’ tunes put together in a four-CD set was released. The common thread for most of those 40 tunes, which together run for nearly five hours, is that they are from live performances between 1955 and 1975 at the Newport Jazz Festival where Miles Davis had played gigs, beginning in the early years as a sideman, and then in later ones as band-leader.

Miles runs the voodoo down: Miles Davis performing at Jazz Scene, a BBC TV show in 1969. The jazz trumpeter’s innovation and influence has been singular. (Photo: Getty Images)

Miles runs the voodoo down: Miles Davis performing at Jazz Scene, a BBC TV show in 1969. The jazz trumpeter’s innovation and influence has been singular. (Photo: Getty Images)

The set showcases the works of the jazz trumpeter whose innovation, experimentation and influence has been singular. For years, since it was first held in 1954, the Newport Jazz Festival has been like the Holy Grail for jazz musicians and a venue which often marks a launching pad for the careers of the young and talented. Something of that sort may have happened to Miles Davis who was not yet 30 when he played at Newport in 1955.

On Disc One, the first three tracks were recorded at the festival that year and Davis was in the band but it was led by the legendary jazz pianist, Thelonious Monk. Davis was a sideman. But a sideman whose solos on the three tracks (Monk’s Hackensack and ’Round Midnight, and Charlie Parker’s Now’s the Time) wowed the audience and the critics and is said to have got him his first major recording deal with Columbia.

Also watch: Bye Bye BlackBird – Miles Davis & John Coltrane Live at Newport ‘58

The next set of six tunes on Disc One was recorded at the festival in 1958. By then, Davis was the leader of a sextet whose other five members were Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (alto sax), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Bill Evans (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums), names familiar to every jazz aficionado. The sextet did Parker’s Ah-Leu-Cha, Monk’s Straight, No Chaser, and Dizzy Gillespie and John Lewis’ Two Bass Hit: bebop and cool jazz that is guaranteed to perk you up each time you listen to it.

By the time you proceed to Disc Two, it is 1966-1967, and Davis has a quintet now with Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums, all legends in their own right.

It’s the last acoustic phase for Davis and the music of this era of his career is like a sneak preview of what is to come – the improvisations are less structured; the tempo is faster; and the contrast with his earlier era sound is rather dramatic.

For a demo, you could listen to the two versions of Monk’s ’Round Midnight – the one on Disc One and the one on Disc Two. Then you hit Discs Three and Four and before you know it you’re in Davis’s electric territory. There’s Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett playing electric piano; Michael Henderson is on the electric bass; and musicians such as Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey are on electric guitars.

It’s the 1970s and Davis has been releasing revolutionary albums such as Bitches’ Brew; Jack Johnson; and On the Corner. The music is path-breaking; its mood psychedelic; and history is being made. On the 13-minute-long Directions, the opener on Disc Four, Davis is playing the electric trumpet, Jarrett is on electric piano and Henderson is slapping the electric bass. Things couldn’t get any better.

All blues: Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 is a journey that takes you on a trip that tracks the restless evolution of one of jazz’s biggest influencers.

All blues: Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 is a journey that takes you on a trip that tracks the restless evolution of one of jazz’s biggest influencers.

The Newport box-set, titled Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4, is a journey that takes you on a trip that tracks the restless evolution of a highly talented trumpeter and one of jazz’s biggest influencers. And, because it came out as an anthology in 2015, it has turned out to be one of my favourite albums of the year.

Peppy pop: Canadian artist Grimes’ new album Art Angels is on frequent duty on my playlist. (Photo: Getty Images)

Peppy pop: Canadian artist Grimes’ new album Art Angels is on frequent duty on my playlist. (Photo: Getty Images)

But just as a counterpoint to so many hours of jazz, I’ve got another album on frequent duty on my playlist. It’s Grimes’ Art Angels. Grimes is the stage name of Claire Elise Boucher, a Canadian singer, composer and producer, who is all of 27 years old. But her music is enigmatic and unclassifiable: it straddles uptempo pop; R&B and country; but also synthesiser-driven ambient sounds and experimental art pop.

Also watch: Grimes – Kill V. Maim – live in Chicago 2015

On Art Angels, which is her fourth studio album, the opener, Laughing and Not Being Normal is like a super-short operatic song; that is followed by California, a earworm-inducing peppy popsong; on the very next one, Scream, she’s accompanied by a Taiwanese rapper and screams, shrieks and yelps to create a song that’s strangely pleasing; and on REALiTi, she injects her song with a dose of electronic dance music that makes it so infectious that you want it to last longer than the five minutes it does.

Art Angels is Canadian artist Grimes' fourth studio album.

Art Angels is Canadian artist Grimes' fourth studio album.

Five, incidentally, is the longest in minutes that a Grimes track goes on for. Now compare that with the longest track in Davis’s Newport box set: Funky Tonk (Disc Four) clocks in at 25 minutes and 44 seconds.

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When you listen to Continuum, a song off Jaco Pastorius’ solo debut album that came out in 1976, the electric bass he plays on it sounds like it is singing. As if it is not just a musical instrument but a voice.

Jaco  Pastorius' influence on generations of bassists has been profound. (Photo: Getty Images)

Jaco Pastorius' influence on generations of bassists has been profound. (Photo: Getty Images)

On the same track Herbie Hancock plays the electric piano, Lenny White is on drums and Alex Darqui is on piano. All of them are great jazz musicians, accomplished and acclaimed, but Pastorius, then 25, stands spectacularly apart with his lyrical bass lines and instantly discernible talent. Pastorius lived for just 11 more years after that solo album came out, dying tragically after a violent brawl with a bouncer outside a Florida bar but his influence on generations of bassists – in jazz, fusion and even rock – has been profound.

Three decades after his untimely death, another famous bassist, hard rocking Metallica’s Robert Trujillo, has unveiled a documentary, Jaco, that he has produced on the life of the legendary bassist. The film, released commercially only recently, features musicians such as jazz greats like Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, funk’s Bootsy Collins, rock’s Carlos Santana and Flea, and singers Joni Mitchell and Sting who talk about the bassist, his life and his work.

Another famous bassist, Metallica's Robert Trujillo, has made a documentary on Jaco and his troubled life. (Photo: Getty Images)

Another famous bassist, Metallica's Robert Trujillo, has made a documentary on Jaco and his troubled life. (Photo: Getty Images)

The film has rare footage too, including clips from Pastorius’ shows and his childhood. Then, of course, there is the music. The soundtrack of Jaco, available separately as well, is a trove of 12 songs that showcases the bassist’s solo music; his work as part of the jazz fusion band Weather Report; his work as a collaborator with artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell and glam rocker Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople; and also covers and tributes by musicians such as Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela and the rapper Tech N9ne.

Although Pastorius played both the double bass and the bass guitar, his hallmark was the use of a fretless instrument that gave the sound he produced enhanced fluidity. His technical abilities were outstanding as was his use of harmony. And many will swear that he is the best bass guitarist of all time.

But sadly his life was troubled. He suffered from acute bipolar disorder and his frequent alcohol and drug abuse didn’t help matters. His family life ended unhappily and for a while towards the end he lived on the streets. On the Jaco (the soundtrack) album, his daughter Mary Pastorius has a song, Longing, which is a deep and poignant tribute to her father. And the tailpiece on the same album is an upbeat cover of the Pastorius song, Come On, Come Over, by Red Hot Chili peppers’ Flea, Trujillo and his band, Mass Metal.

If your’re a bass lover, this album can be a great way to begin exploring Pastorius’ extensive discography.

Talking of extensive discographies, Bob Dylan’s just got longer. The most recent addition to his Bootleg Series is Volume 12: The Cutting Edge 1965-66. These are 18 discs (yes, 18!) that make up a collector’s edition of unreleased demos, outtakes and versions of every note or song that was played, replayed or botched up, during the recording of three Dylan albums from that period—Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde.

Play replay: This recent addition to Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series is a collector's edition of 18 discs.

Play replay: This recent addition to Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series is a collector's edition of 18 discs.

I love those albums and take them out often for a spin, but 18 discs of outtakes from their recording sessions may be a bit much. Especially since you’ll have to listen to multiple takes of songs from those albums and a bit of studio banter. In case you’re planning to spring for that 18-CD set do keep in mind that you’ll get CD No. 4, which has 17 versions of Like A Rolling Stone – that is, in addition to the five versions on CD No. 3. Interested? I’m not.

What I am interested in, however, is Dylan’s Bootleg Series Volume 11: The Basement Tapes Complete, which I own and I find quite satisfying. This one’s a six-disc set of unofficial, home recordings of songs that formed the basis of The Basement Tapes album. The recordings are from 1967 and the band accompanying Dylan comprises Robbie Robertson (guitar, drums and vocals); Richard Manuel (piano, drums and vocals); Levon Helm (drums and vocals); Garth Hudson (keyboards); and Rick Danko (bass). Yes, the band that would shortly afterwards be called The Band.

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On that fateful Friday, 13th of November, just before the terrorists burst into Le Bataclan in Paris and gunned down 89 people, the American band, Eagles of Death Metal who were playing their gig there, had done six songs. They’d finished their amped-up, fuzzy guitar-laden cover version of Duran Duran’s Save A Prayer and had launched into their own Kiss the Devil, when the attacks began and the tragedy unfolded. We don’t know whether the band’s playlist that night would have included I Love You All the Time, a love song that would have resonated in happier times with the romantic city of Paris and not only because some of its lyrics are in French: Ce soir c’est le soir et toi avec moi/ Et tu viens me voir, tu viens… ouh la la (Tonight is the night and you with me/ And you come to me, you just… ooh la la).
Eagles of Death Metal performing at Le Bataclan, Paris, before the terrorist attack happened

Eagles of Death Metal performing at Le Bataclan, Paris, before the terrorist attack happened.

Eagles of Death Metal play a brand of music that is not even remotely close to ‘death metal’, a particularly extreme form of metal that is loud, distorted and aggressive. The music of Eagles of Death Metal isn’t like that. They play loud, of course, but theirs is a blend of blues rock and psychedelic rock that is unpretentious and easily accessible. I Love You All the Time and their version of Duran Duran’s Save A Prayer are from the band’s new album, Zipper Down whose cover art you will have to check out for yourself because it’s funny but probably not quite appropriate an image for this magazine to carry. That’s the point about Eagles of Death Metal: their quirkiness. Everything from the band’s name to some of their songs and lyrics have a spirit of irreverence. On Silverlake (K.S.O.F.M), the band takes a jibe at a hipster enclave in Los Angeles (and by the way, you may like to check what K.S.O.F.M. stands for; this being a family mag, I can’t tell you, at least not here).
Eagles of Death Metal are a band from Palm Desert, a small town in California, and were founded by Joshua Homme and Jesse Hughes. Homme, a multi-instrumentalist, rarely plays live in the band (he wasn’t at Le Bataclan), although he plays drums for most of their recordings and composes many of the songs. Homme’s a key guy to track. Not only in Eagles of Death Metal but also his other project, Queens of the Stone Age, a hard rock band also from Palm Spring and whose newest album, …Like Clockwork, got nominated for the best rock album in the Grammys.
But my contact point with Homme is a weekly one – via radio. On Apple Music’s Beats1, a 24×7 worldwide radio channel that has broken new ground with its radio programming, Homme does a weekly show called The Alligator Hour. He sometimes has a musician whom he interviews or discusses things with or some other guest but best of all he has one of the most eclectic playlists that I’ve heard. Take his most recent episode, which starts with a nearly eight-minute version of Funkytown (you know the song – Won’t you take me to…) by the disco-funk band Lipps Inc. As soon as that song fades, Homme plays Johnny Winter’s Rollin’ and Tumblin’, a blues song from that gifted guitarist’s album, The Progressive Blues Experiment. Then comes Generationals, a new wave band from New Orleans that I hadn’t even heard of. Homme digs deep to find gems to play. On his show, I discovered Chron Gen, a British punk band from the late 1970s; rediscovered Eurhythmics, their lead singer Annie Lennox and their synthpop sound; and heard Dick Dale, an incredibly fast guitar picker whose surf guitar style is unique and whose music hasn’t lost its pace since the 1960s though Dale is 78.
Joshua Homme, one of the founders of the band, at the drums. Homme rarely plays live for the band, so he wasn't at Le Bataclan that fateful evening

Joshua Homme, one of the founders of the band, at the drums. Homme rarely plays live for the band, so he wasn't at Le Bataclan that fateful evening.

The band members of the Eagles of Death Metal, their crew (except for one who died in the attack) survived the dastardly attack at Le Bataclan but so many of those who’d gone to their gig didn’t. There’s another bit of the lyrics in that same song, I Love You All the Time, that is in French:  Ah dis-moi pourquoi. It means: Oh, tell me why.
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There are times when I dig out and play the old copy of an album that has never left my collection of music. It’s Jazz at Massey Hall by the Charlie Parker Quintet. It’s an album that I have as a CD as well as in lossless digital files and if I get one in vinyl format I shall buy it. The concert took place in Toronto’s Massey Hall on May 15, 1953.

The Jazz at Massey Hall album cover.

The Jazz at Massey Hall album cover.

The band was what we can (blasphemously) borrow from rock’s lexicon to describe as a ‘supergroup’: Parker on saxophone; Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet; Charles Mingus on bass; Bud Powell on piano; and Max Roach on drums. These five were unarguably the stars of that era’s bebop, each one on top of his game, and the concert was the first and only one that they recorded together. For Bird (Parker) and Diz (Gillespie), this was the last time they would record together because Parker died a couple of years later.

Charlie parker quintet: The band was what we can describe as a ‘supergroup’: 1. Charles Parker on saxophone 2. Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet 3. Max Roach on drums 4. Charles Mingus on bass 5. Bud Powell on piano. (Photos: Getty Images)

Charlie parker quintet: The band was what we can describe as a ‘supergroup’: 1. Charles Parker on saxophone 2. Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet 3. Max Roach on drums 4. Charles Mingus on bass 5. Bud Powell on piano. (Photos: Getty Images)

The concert is a perfect example of bebop, a jazz style that emerged in the 1940s and one that is characterized by a fast, uptempo and frenzied pace, and trademark solo improvisations by each player. All the five musicians were the best exponents of bebop and the album’s six songs showcase their talent perfectly.

But what adds a mythical dimension to the album is its fascinating back story. First, the concert’s organisers didn’t realise that May 15, 1953 was also the date for a Rocky Marciano versus Jersey Joe Walcott boxing match with the result that they couldn’t sell enough tickets to be able to pay the musicians. Second, Parker (his heroin addiction had made him infamous) landed up without his saxophone, which he had pawned ostensibly to get drug money. So he got a plastic sax from somewhere and played that through the gig. Third, pianist Bud Powell who was out with permission from a New York hospital where he was being treated for mental illness, came drunk and remained so through the performance. Fourth, Gillespie kept meandering off backstage between his solos to try and catch the commentary on the boxing bout and would come back and announce what was happening to the audience. Fifth, the original recording was so terrible that Mingus went back and re-dubbed his bass lines.

Yet, it’s such a great album that one version of it is marketed with the title, The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever. As soon as the band begins with the sizzling opening tune, Perdido, which showcases both Parker’s saxophone and Gillespie’s trumpet, and then moves into Salt Peanuts (a Gillespie composition from 1942), you know that you’re on to something unique here.

As you progress through the rest of the album – All the Things You Are, 52nd Street Theme (a Thelonius Monk composition), Wee (Allen’s Alley), Hot House and, finally, A Night in Tunisia – things get even better. It is very rarely that I spin Jazz at Massey Hall and don’t repeat it. It’s just that kind of an album – I can’t get enough of it.

I can’t get enough of another band of six extremely talented musicians. Singer John Bell, bassist Dave Schools, lead guitarist Jimmy Herring, percussionist Domingo S Ortiz, keyboardist John Hermann, and drummer Todd Nance make up Widespread Panic, a band from Athens, Georgia, which is known more for its long jams and for its melding of rock, blues and folk music all with a southern twist.

This September they released a new album, Street Dogs, which was recorded live in a studio. It’s their best studio effort in a long time. The 10 songs have a loose, live, gig vibe but yet are remarkably well recorded. The trademark Panic sound is there: John Bell’s gravelly vocals infused with just the right touch of disquiet; the versatile Dave Schools who plays the bass guitar like it’s a lead guitar; Ortiz and Nance’s nicely complementing percussion and drums; Hermann’s keyboard in a style that is redolent of New Orleans jazz; and above everything else Jimmy Herring’s superlative lead guitar.

Live and alive: Widespread Panic’s new album, Street Dogs, has a loose, live, gig vibe but yet is remarkably well recorded.

Live and alive: Widespread Panic’s new album, Street Dogs, has a loose, live, gig vibe but yet is remarkably well recorded.

Widespread Panic struggled for a bit after they lost their original lead guitarist Michael Houser in 2002 but Herring (also a member of Aquarium Rescue Unit and Jazz is Dead – the latter a band that does Grateful Dead songs only in instrumental jazz style) is a perfect fit. On Street Dogs, his virtuosity as well as that of the other members shines brightly. If you’ve never heard Widespread Panic, get this album for a starter. And then go on to their live ones.

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I’m sitting here on a Saturday evening and writing this in Vaasa, a city on the west coast of Finland. It has a population of 66,000; is walkably small; and the temperature at 5pm outside is around 10 degree Celsius. Inside, the heating makes it nice and comfortable and, I’m sipping a cup of chamomile tea.

Why I’m saying all this is because there’s another thing about Vaasa or, perhaps, about all of Finland and most of Scandinavia – it is the quiet; the near total absence of noise or sound. It’s almost as if you’ve a pair of noise cancelling headphones jammed on your head. That’s why I’m listening to music sans my trusty earphones. I’m playing them through a moderately powerful wireless speaker system and my selection for this evening has begun with jazz. More specifically, it is John Scofield’s new album, Past Present.

Also watch: John Scofield Quartet Live at Jazz

The album title is significant. Scofield is a jazz guitar maestro who has played with a range of musicians that is impressive not just because of their names (they include Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, Jaco Pastorius, Phil Lesh, John Mayer and Medeski, Martin & Wood) but also because of his ability to ace it with his guitar work in genres such as jazz, jazz-rock, rock, soul, blues… you name it, he’s done it.

A note of melancholy: John Scofield's new album was composed by him in memory of his son who died a few years back of cancer in his twenties. That added a tinge of sadness to my listening session.

A note of melancholy: John Scofield's new album was composed by him in memory of his son who died a few years back of cancer in his twenties. That added a tinge of sadness to my listening session.

If you try to check out his own albums (the ones he has played as a leader of a band) you’ll be spoilt for choice because there are nearly 50 of them since the 1970s that you would have to choose from. And if you want to also listen to ones on which he’s played as a part of someone else’s band (such as Billy Cobham, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and many, many more), you’ll likely be staring at another 100 albums.

Also watch: John Scofield Quartet – Jazzwoche Burghausen 1994

In the 1980s, Scofield, a Berklee alum, now 63, turned from pure jazz to fusion – a genre that has marked his career for many years now. But, in the early 1990s, he and his quartet did a few albums for the venerable jazz label, Blue Note (on one of them, Time on My Hands, his band members included drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Joe Lovano and bassist Charile Haden).

Versatile oeuvre: Scofield has played with a range of musicians, including the likes of Miles Davis. (Photo: Getty images)

Versatile oeuvre: Scofield has played with a range of musicians, including the likes of Miles Davis. (Photo: Getty images)

These were works of pure jazz of the high-paced, up-tempo bebop kind and showcased each of the quartet member’s virtuosity. But after two or three albums, Scofield went back to fusion and experimenting, playing with a range of musicians and dabbling in various genres, creating albums that sounded absolutely superb for many like us but perhaps not what would hook the purists.

In Past Present (and that is why it is significantly named), Scofield, saxophonist Lovano, drummer Bill Stewart (who’d played on some of Scofield’s 1990s bebop compositions) and bassist Larry Grenadier, team up to deliver a jazz album that is played on traditional acoustic instruments (even Scofield’s guitar is acoustic but powered by an amplifier).

The nine tracks are like a nostalgic trip back to the bebop era of the 1940s when rock hadn’t dipped deeply into jazz’s oeuvre to borrow heavily and fusion wasn’t a word common in music. Listening to them at moderate volume levels amid Vaasa’s quietness, I couldn’t help but marvel at the greatness of members of Scofield’s minimalist ensemble.

All the compositions are Scofield’s and although they’re wrought in the upbeat bebop style, there’s something laidback and effortless about them – only musicians as good as these can make something sound so stunning without appearing to be trying hard at all! I also read that Past Present was composed by Scofield in memory of his son who died a few years back of cancer in his twenties. That added a tinge of sadness to Saturday evening’s listening session.

After Scofield, I turned to India and chose a local band from my city. When Delhi band Man.Goes Human nudged me on Twitter to check out their new self-titled album, I wasn’t sure what I was going to hear.

 Pleasant surprise: Delhi-based band Man.Goes Human has the requisite dose of originality and is refreshingly low-fi.

Pleasant surprise: Delhi-based band Man.Goes Human has the requisite dose of originality and is refreshingly low-fi.

What I got was a big and very pleasant surprise. The band, which describes itself as purveyors of “Progressive, Classic, Alternative Rock”, has everything that I look for in a band.

Their music (Noni on lead; Paul on vocals and guitar; Shitij who writes the lyrics and plays bass; and the remarkable Kaprila on vocals) has the requisite dose of originality despite the many obvious influences; what’s more, it is refreshingly low-fi and not ear-splittingly loud. That’s why they made it to my playlist. I think a Man.Goes Human gig could be worth checking out.

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When Blak and Blu was released by Warner Bros in 2012, Gary Clark Jr became an instant sensation. Critics raved that the talented young blues guitarist and singer could be a revivalist for the genre. Clark is much more than that. If you’ve heard Blak and Blu, you know how the 31-year-old is able to take the blues, infuse it with his raucous guitar playing and easy, super-smooth style of singing, and elevate it to a level rarely heard.

Reviving the blues: Gary Clark Jr has been making waves with his raucous guitar and smooth singing. (Photos: Getty Images)

Reviving the blues: Gary Clark Jr has been making waves with his raucous guitar and smooth singing. (Photos: Getty Images)

Soon, Blak and Blu and the several gigs where the young Texan wowed audiences got him calls. Important ones — such as the one from Eric Clapton who invited him to play at his Crossroads Guitar Festival and is believed to have said that listening to Clark made him want to play the blues again. High praise came from others too: such as Buddy Guy who thinks Clark is the new saviour for the blues. And from bands such as The Rolling Stones and The Foo Fighters with whom he has also played.

Also watch: Gary Clark Jr.: Rock in Rio USA 2015

So, three years after I first heard Clark, on Blak and Blu, on a few live recordings, and in the Jon Favreau film, Chef, I couldn’t wait to listen to his second studio album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, which came out last month. I was in for a surprise.

On Gary Clark Jr's second album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, the first thing that strikes you is restraint.

On Gary Clark Jr's second album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, the first thing that strikes you is restraint.

On Blak and Blu and the other live tracks, Clark’s music is distinctive for its rawness: his guitar influences range from Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan; but also, a bit oddly for a bluesman, the power chords and distorted notes of grunge bands — in fact, in a long interview to Relix magazine, Clark mentions Nirvana as one of his influences.

On Blak and Blu, the stand-out song is When My Train Pulls In, which, I think, showcases the bluesman’s oeuvre the best. His music, even on a studio album, is like listening to a live band. Or at least that’s what I thought. Till now.

On The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, the first thing that strikes you is the restraint. For the 13 songs, recorded not in an LA studio but in his hometown in Texas, Clark dropped his band and played every instrument on his own – diving deep into the music and making an album that is more like a personal project.

The searing guitar licks do show up on the new album but it also demonstrates how deep and mature a musician the young bluesman is. Genres are hopped with ease: from R&B (on Our Love) to gospel (on Church) to funk (on Can’t Sleep). His guitar is still the biggest magnet of his music but he also shows how comfortable and versatile his vocals can be.

The a capella opening to the first song, The Healing, is deceptive — it soon segues into a high-energy scorcher. And by the time you’re halfway into the album, and listening to Hold On, a song that is clearly a response to the resurgent racism in many parts of America, you are completely hooked to Clark. Again.

Walk into the dark side: In his new solo album, Faith in the Future, the booze-soaked vocals of Craig Finn (of The Hold Steady) tell stories that aren't going to make you happy.

Walk into the dark side: In his new solo album, Faith in the Future, the booze-soaked vocals of Craig Finn (of The Hold Steady) tell stories that aren't going to make you happy.

The other album that made its way to my playlist last fortnight was Craig Finn’s (frontman of The Hold Steady) new solo album, Faith in the Future. The Hold Steady and Finn make songs that tell stories – dark, sad and odd ones – about characters that inhabit the urban underbelly. Their songs are tales about people that are treated unfortunately by circumstances.

Also watch: Craig Finn – Maggie I’ve Been Searching For Our Son

The 10 songs on the new Finn album aren’t different. His booze-soaked bar-ready vocals; the bit of reverb in the music; and the stories that aren’t going to make you happy. If you fancy a walk into the dark side, it’s a perfect album to play. I like The Hold Steady, and their 2005 album, Separation Sunday, creeps back into my playlist often. Craig’s storytelling is compelling though the stories are often disturbing. An album to play when you’re down and intend to stay there for a while. What? That doesn’t happen to you?

Craig Finn. (Photo: Getty Images)

Craig Finn. (Photo: Getty Images)

DOWN MEMORY LANE:
There are two tracks on Miles Davis’s 1970 album, A Tribute to Jack Johnson: Right Off and Yesternow; the first is nearly 27 minutes long and the second nearly 26.

Stuff of legends: There are two tracks on Miles Davis's 1970 album that are probably the finest pieces of electric jazz I've heard.

Stuff of legends: There are two tracks on Miles Davis's 1970 album that are probably the finest pieces of electric jazz I've heard.

Originally intended as a soundtrack for a documentary on the legendary black boxer, it’s probably the finest piece of electric jazz I’ve heard. Yes, finer than Bitches Brew. Oh, and who else besides the ace trumpeter is playing? Well, there’s John McLaughlin (on guitar), Herbie Hancock (on organ), and Billy Cobham (on drums). Want more? There’s also Dave Holland (on electric bass), Jack DeJohnette (on drums) and Chick Corea (on piano). Legends. Just like the album. Get a drink. Put it on. And switch off the lights.

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