Soundbreaking: Stories From The Cutting Edge of Recorded Music

I find it interesting when we are allowed a further look inside the recording process. I can’t wait to see what is in store with these wide ranging eight PBS episodes.

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Sir George Martin had a last project: a documentary series on the impact of recorded music. Unfortunately, the legendary Beatles producer died before the final work was completed, but his spirit imbues every frame of Soundbreaking: Stories From The Cutting Edge of Recorded Music, an 8-part series that airs on PBS beginning  Nov. 14.

Each hour-long episode tackles a different topic, including recording vocals, the electrification of instruments, the artistry of sampling and the rise of the music video.

Where is our Love Song?

I received an email this morning. It contained an invitation from Congressman John Lewis via the White House. I was invited to virtually attend the opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture today at 10:00 am ET.

I was thankful for that invite as I got to witness the celebration of a vital 100 year project come to fruition on the National Mall.

There were wonderful speeches and presentations.

My favorite moment was Stevie Wonder’s words and the question he had for us to contemplate,  “Where is our Love Song?”

With all that’s been going on in Charlotte the symbolism of promoting unity through the opening of this museum was not lost in the music of my heart.

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Forever Motown At The Downtown Cabaret Theatre

It has been ages since we have frequented the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, CT. We’ve always liked the ambiance of this venue. You can BYOB with an intimate setting that seats just 209 people.

We saw the production, Forever Motown, earlier this evening. This is the music near and dear to the music of our heart. We grew up on listening to the sound of Motown on transistor radios and phonograph players in the 60s and the 70s.

The cast was versatile, four male vocalists and three female vocalists, backed by a piano player, guitarist, bassist, and a keyboard/saxophonist.

The tapestry of soul music was performed by a cast of veteran entertainers, including former members of The Jones, Main Ingredient, The Temptations, The Spinners & The Marvelettes, peppered with Broadway savvy performers who had leading roles in “Dream Girls”, ” Your Arms Too Short to Box With God”, “Porgy & Bess” and “Showboat”.

 

The iconic Motown Sound was recreated down to the slightest vocal and musical nuance by such American icons as Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Lionel Richie, Mary Wells & the entire Motown roster of stars.

It was a wonderful show with the performers giving their all. They ended with The Temptations medley and inviting us up to dance to The Jackson Five, “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground).

Highlight of Last Night’s Grammy Awards…

Last night’s Grammy Awards Show from the Staples Center in Los Angeles was stellar. Many fantastic moments, Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr performing live together, Pink’s Cirque de Soleil acrobatics, The Highwaymen commanding total respect, Daft Punk, Pharrell, Stevie Wonder and Nile Rodgers tore it up.

The one performance that crossed many boundaries was Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons. Their collective energy had the star studded audience on their feet.

Here is a video of their bombastic set.

 

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Sendup of It’s A Shame – The Spinners

“It’s a Shame is a song co-written by Stevie WonderSyreeta Wright and Lee Garrett and produced by Wonder as a single for The Spinners on Motown’s V.I.P. Records label.

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It was performed in music video form during the closing credits of The Three Stooges by Sean HayesWill Sasso & Chris Diamantopoulos (who play the Stooges in the film) and Jennifer Hudson (who plays Sister Rosemary). The performance is credited to “The Spinners and The Three Stooges”, but also includes uncredited vocals by Hudson.

Jeff Beck – Jazz/Rock Fusion Era

I trust my blog readers are enjoying this week’s topic of jazz/rock fusion.

Today’s subject is guitar aficionado Jeff Beck. I have been a huge fan of Jeff Beck’s ever since I saw him in 1969 as the headline act at The Fillmore East. He was fronting The Jeff Beck Group in those days, with Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on rhythm guitar and Nicky Hopkins on keyboards. I caught their final Fillmore appearance on July 3rd, 1969 (43 years ago…).

There is no denying the stunning contributions Jeff Beck has contributed to music over the decades. I was quite taken with his jazz/rock fusion era. It was such a game changer for him and the music being produced in the mid-70s.

With Blow by Blow, Beck delivered a fusion masterpiece. The collaboration with Sir George Martin, Max Middleton and Stevie Wonder delivers us a rich set of music legacy.

Asked to describe the music, Jeff Beck said, “It crosses the gap between white rock and Mahavishnu, or jazz-rock. It bridges a lot of gaps, It’s more digestible, the rhythms are easier are easier to understand than Mahavishnu’s. It’s more on the fringe.” (Source: Jeff Beck: The Fusion Years by Jas Obrecht, 2010)

The instrumental song from Blow by Blow,  “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” has become Jeff Beck’s signature classic. Every time I hear it, it stops me in my tracks. I understand perfectly why Stevie Wonder gave Jeff Beck this song. He knew it belonged to his magic fingers alone. There are very few song’s in jazz/rock fusion that epitomize the cry of the heart as “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers”.  I have seen Jeff Beck do this song live twice and each time it was a moving experience.

Jeff Beck followed Blow by Blow with Wired in 1976. He switched it up by adding Jan Hammer on synthesizer and Narada Michael Walden on drums. They had  all jammed together while on tour with the Mahavishnu Orchestra the summer before, which was how the

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nucleus was formed. Wired was a tougher album to assimilate but once digested it stick to your ribs. The Charles Mingus track, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” grabbed me first. It has become a staple choice in Jeff Beck’s set lists. Jeff Beck and company execute it with total precision.

The third album in the series of Jeff Beck’s jazz/rock fusion era was titled,  Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live,  a chronicle of their 100-show tour together. Jan Hammer….

I am not too familiar with this particular recording or the one that follows it, There and Back. I owned and played often Blow by Blow and Wired. Writing this blog post today has helped me to examine and appreciate their live album. Thanks to Spotify I can listen to it in full :).

The fourth album in the Jeff Beck jazz/rock fusion series, There and Back is the most obscure recording to my ears. This album was released in June, 1980. It caps off the five-year investment Jeff Beck made in jazz/rock fusion admirably.

Asked how he worked out the material for the album, Beck said, “I ripped myself apart, and I ripped Tony Hymas apart. I tried to get him to understand where I was at because Tony came in as an emergency player back in’78 when we had a tour of Japan lined up and had a problem with another keyboard player. And Tony picked up so quickly and had such a good ear and his musical training and understanding was so superb, I couldn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be a good idea to start schooling him in my ways. Sounds insulting to say ‘school him’ when he knows more about music than I do, but that doesn’t mean what I’m doing is not valid. In the first two weeks he had already begun to see what I wanted without me saying anything. So most of the music on There and Back evolved through our playing together. Tony writes everything down. He just scribbles on the backs of pieces of paper. And then when we run through it, I say, ‘Well, here I can’t get along with this framework that I’ve got to solo over. Let’s change that – take this chord out of there and put it somewhere else.’ It’s just custom-building music between us. Of course, if it’s his song to start with, whatever happens to it, it’s still his song. I’ve reached the point where I need to be led somewhere – on a melody level, not so much on the technique or guitar trickery level. The stuff pours out of me when I’ve got the right tune. I can’t help it – it just pours out! But if the tune isn’t right, then I’ve got to push it a bit. If it’s totally wrong, I’ve got to drag it.” (Source: Jeff Beck: The Fusion Years by Jas Obrecht, 2010)

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I want to personally thank Jas Obrecht for his Web column, “Jeff Beck: The Fusion Years“. It kept me grounded and focused on this blog post. He is a very competent music journalist and I learned a great deal from his Jeff Beck piece. Should you want more details than my blog post accomplishes here I urge you to browse over and read Jas’s article.

Paul McCartney, Technology + Collaboration

Members of the Paul McCartney Fan club ( like us) can order the high-resolution deluxe digital download edition of Paul McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom recording. This package includes two extra tracks, “Baby’s Request” and “My One and Only Love“, plus access to a free live download on February 14th, Valentine’s Day.

Paul McCartney is very meticulous in his recording methods. The high-resolution production process utilized is described by engineer Allan Rouse of Abbey Road Studios:

The audio industry has seen many technical innovations since Paul McCartney and Wings’s Band on the Run was first released on vinyl in 1973, the most notable being digital recording. However, with the introduction of CD came two advances, “de-noising” and “peak limiting” which have become increasingly unpopular within certain areas of the music industry and amongst audiophiles.

De-noising was introduced to remove the inherent sound, or hiss, associated with analogue tape. The amount of processing used to remove tape noise can be varied, but when used excessively, many believe that it also has a detrimental effect on elements of the musical sound.

Copyright 2012 Paul McCartney Website

Peak limiting is a process that increases the loudness of music. It is achieved by holding the loudest peaks down and raising the overall level of the music. Much depends on the amount of limiting applied, but at its most extreme the result can be a serious reduction in the dynamic range and often audible distortion.

The release of The Beatles’ remasters in 2009 saw a marked change in attitudes towards these issues, where both noise reduction and limiting were used sparingly with the aim of representing the master tapes more accurately. Such is the case with the newly remastered Paul McCartney and Wings CD of Band on the Run: tape noise reduction has scarcely been used and the degree of limiting is subtle. In addition digital technology has advanced with the ability now to offer recordings in 24 bit/96kHz/16 track. The high resolution version is being made available via download and is being offered in two formats: limited, which is comparable in volume to the remastered CD, and un-limited, which in comparison with the limited version will sound quieter, but retain the dynamic range of the original master recording.

Rosemary and I love most about Paul (in addition to his ability to leverage technology) is his incurable romantic personality. The timing of this new album, just a week before Valentine’s Day makes it the perfect gift for your Valentine.

Copyright 2012 Paul McCartney Website

The majority of the tracks are solo efforts with the exception of  two  Paul McCartney written songs, “My Valentine” and “Only Our Hearts”.

Eric Clapton plays guitar on “My Valentine”.

Stevie Wonder collaborates with Paul McCartney on “Only Our Hearts”. This marks the 30th anniversary of their classic hit, “Ebony and Ivory“.

Stevie Wonder joined Paul McCartney at LA’s Capitol Studios to record the track.

Paul McCartney spoke about working with Stevie again.

Copyright 2012 Paul McCartney Website

“Stevie came along to the studio in LA and he listened to the track for about ten minutes and he totally got it. He just went to the mic and within 20 minutes had nailed this dynamite solo. When you listen you just think, ‘How do you come up with that?’ But it’s just because he is a genius, that’s why.”