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.

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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.”

Happy Birthday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today we honor the birthday of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a national holiday. Happy Birthday, Dr. King, born on January 15, 1929.

Stevie Wonder , social activist, was one of the main figures in the campaign to have the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. become a national holiday, and created this single to make the cause known.

I am a student of non-violence and peace who is incensed about the state of poverty in the United States. The division between those who have and those who have-not has never been such a chasm. Today more than 46 million Americans are living below the poverty line the most ever in U.S. history.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his book, “Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community”, a book I was studying from on the day he died, reached out to the issue of impoverishment. I share his words with you in the hopes that we together can Occupy Poverty and wipe it from the face of the earth.

Where We Are Going

from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 1967 book
“Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”

In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: There are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike.

Up to recently we have proceeded from a premise that poverty is a consequence of multiple evils: lack of education restricting job opportunities; poor housing which stultified home life and suppressed initiative; fragile family relationships which distorted personality development. The logic of this approach suggested that each of these causes be attacked one by one. Hence a housing program to transform living conditions, improved educational facilities to furnish tools for better job opportunities, and family counseling to create better personal adjustments were designed. In combination these measures were intended to remove the causes of poverty.

While none of these remedies in itself is unsound, all have a fatal disadvantage. The programs have never proceeded on a coordinated basis or at a similar rate of development. Housing measures have fluctuated at the whims of legislative bodies. They have been piecemeal and pygmy. Educational reforms have been even more sluggish and entangled in bureaucratic stalling and economy-dominated decisions. Family assistance stagnated in neglect and then suddenly was discovered to be the central issue on the basis of hasty and superficial studies. At no time has a total, coordinated and fully adequate program been conceived. As a consequence, fragmentary and spasmodic reforms have failed to reach down to the profoundest needs of the poor.

In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.

Earlier in this century this proposal would have been greeted with ridicule and denunciation as destructive of initiative and responsibility. At that time economic status was considered the measure of the individual’s abilities and talents. In the simplistic thinking of that day the absence of worldly goods indicated a want of industrious habits and moral fiber.

We have come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands it does not eliminate all poverty.

We have come to the point where we must make the nonproducer a consumer or we will find ourselves drowning in a sea of consumer goods. We have so energetically mastered production that we now must give attention to distribution. Though there have been increases in purchasing power, they have lagged behind increases in production. Those at the lowest economic level, the poor white and Negro, the aged and chronically ill, are traditionally unorganized and therefore have little ability to force the necessary growth in their income. They stagnate or become even poorer in relation to the larger society.

The problem indicates that our emphasis must be two-fold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position, we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available.

In 1879 Henry George anticipated this state of affairs when he wrote, in Progress and Poverty:

“The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature, and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves, driven to their task either by the lash of a master or by animal necessities. It is the work of men who perform it for their own sake, and not that they may get more to eat or drink, or wear, or display. In a state of society where want is abolished, work of this sort could be enormously increased.” We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal on their own to alter housing decay. Negroes, who have a double disability, will have a greater effect on discrimination when they have the additional weapon of cash to use in their struggle.

Beyond these advantages, a host of positive psychological changes inevitably will result from widespread economic security. The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life and in his own hands, when he has the assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he know that he has the means to seek self-improvement. Personal conflicts between husband, wife and children will diminish when the unjust measurement of human worth on a scale of dollars is eliminated.

Two conditions are indispensable if we are to ensure that the guaranteed income operates as a consistently progressive measure. First, it must be pegged to the median income of society, not the lowest levels of income. To guarantee an income at the floor would simply perpetuate welfare standards and freeze into the society poverty conditions. Second, the guaranteed income must be dynamic; it must automatically increase as the total social income grows. Were it permitted to remain static under growth conditions, the recipients would suffer a relative decline. If periodic reviews disclose that the whole national income has risen, then the guaranteed income would have to be adjusted upward by the same percentage. Without these safeguards a creeping retrogression would occur, nullifying the gains of security and stability.

This proposal is not a “civil rights” program, in the sense that that term is currently used. The program would benefit all the poor, including the two-thirds of them who are white. I hope that both Negro and white will act in coalition to effect this change, because their combined strength will be necessary to overcome the fierce opposition we must realistically anticipate.

Our nation’s adjustment to a new mode of thinking will be facilitated if we realize that for nearly forty years two groups in our society have already been enjoying a guaranteed income. Indeed, it is a symptom of our confused social values that these two groups turn out to be the richest and the poorest. The wealthy who own securities have always had an assured income; and their polar opposite, the relief client, has been guaranteed an income, however miniscule, through welfare benefits.

John Kenneth Galbraith has estimated that $20 billion a year would effect a guaranteed income, which he describes as “not much more than we will spend the next fiscal year to rescue freedom and democracy and religious liberty as these are defined by ‘experts’ in Vietnam.”

The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking.

The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.

Bill Ortiz, Winter In America, A Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Gil Scott-Heron is our greatest urban poet. His words take us beneath the veneer of society where subsistence  merges to form a greater understanding. It is Winter in America, 2012.

Bill Ortiz‘s EP recording Winter In America is a heroic attempt that helps us to avoid despair. The music and the message push us safely back from the precipice of the winter of our discontent.

The opening track  is an ingenious remix of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Winter In America”. It commences with Bill Ortiz’s horn compelling us to take heed and listen. The track is gutsy and edgy. It crystallizes our attention on what is really going on in the streets across America.

“Winter In America” smartly acknowledges the Godfather of Hip-Hop, Gil Scott-Heron with lead vocalist Tony Lindsay (Santana) trading off lyrics with “The Grouch” on vocals and rap.

Well they say it’s a cold world

But we got a cold play my man

Rest in Peace, Gil Scott

Without you the revolution would not

What makes this EP even more full circle is the track, “I Still Believe”, a Phoenix Black remix with the eloquent spoken word voice of Linda Tillery and “Zumbi” from Zion I accenting with spoken word/rap. “I Still Believe” contains excerpts from Rev. Martin Luther King’s Nobel Peace Prize speech in Oslo.

The co-operation of Gil Scott-Heron’s revolutionary spirit lives on in his recently published posthumous memoir, “A Last Holiday“. There is a chapter in the book which details the tour that Stevie Wonder and Gil Scott-Heron were on to together where they lobbied for a national holiday for the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Gil Scott-Heron draws the correlation between the assassination of John Lennon and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. two great men of peace struck down by violence. As I write this review we are on the edge of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s  birthday and U.S. federal holiday. It just so happens that the Winter in America EP drops on Martin Luther King Day, January 16th, 2012 direct to fans.

Bill Ortiz states the purpose of this recording best when he says, “I try to bring all these elements of who I am musically into one voice.” You’ve done all that and more Bill with your fine achievement, Winter In America.

Winter In America
Bill Ortiz
Released: January 16, 2012
Label: Left Angle Records

Produced By Ali Zandinejad aka Phoenix Black, Bill Ortiz and Steve Heithecker

Track Listing:

1. Winter In America
2. I Still Believe (Remix)
3. Word Play (Remix)
4. I Still Believe (Instrumental)
5. Winter In America (Radio Edit)

The New Paul McCartney Website and More!!!!

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Image via CrunchBase

I love that Sir Paul McCartney is constantly reinventing himself. His latest ventures take us further into Web 3.0,with a rich multimedia experience accompanied by a vastly redesigned Website. The first hint I had of this new technology direction was an advertisement in the tour program booklet we picked up at the McCartney concert at Yankee Stadium this past summer.

The Website is powered by technology partner HP. The collaboration between HP and McCartney MPL Communications Ltd. is very exciting and stimulating for McCartney fans.

Sir Paul McCartney announced his brand new as yet untitled album yesterday in a press release on his blog 🙂 The first of his new songs that he has recorded only using his voice as an instrument is entitled, “My Valentine.” It is available as a preview for McCartney Collection Premium Account Members ($50). It is a striking recording that will reach your heart in a new musical fashion.

The premium account membership includes access to premium content, a lithograph, a plectrum, 4 button badges, membership card and letter, a t-shirt and high quality MP3 320kbs recordings of Good Evening New York City and Live at Hyde Park.

There is a lot to explore at McCartney.com. Go reacquaint yourself with your Beatle fan self. You know you want to 😉

Have a wonderful Christmas time. Gotta love that Abe on the drums with the bells and his Christmas cap 🙂