Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Alex Blake - Especially For You (Japan, 1979)

First of all I wanted to draw your attention to comments made by the sax player, Randy Keith, from Spaces - Border Station.  It's so interesting when an artist is able to give insight into a recording!  Please read comments at the bottom here.

After hearing the "Dreams" song from Danny Toan I felt I had to get this and listen to the original version, which has vocals, written by Alex Blake.  So the whole record is ripped for you here.  Unfortunately, both the record and the original version are relatively ordinary, humdrum, funk-rock with very little merit.  There are a few bass solos that are to me slightly agonizing if not downright traumatic. This record was released in Japan, as you can see from information here.

From discogs:

American (but born in Panama) jazz double-bassist and composer.
Played with : Lenny White, Billy Cobham, Pharoah Sanders, Randy Weston and others.
He also recorded as a leader.

More information, from jazz times:

“I started playing professionally when I was 12 years old,” says the Panamanian-born, American-bred bassist Alex Blake. “The music I was playing was Latin; I was playing with great percussionists like Kako and Patato.”
He’s also played with some of the biggest names in jazz: Dizzy Gillespie, Manhattan Transfer, Freddie Hubbard, Lenny White, Randy Weston, Billy Cobham, Sonny Rollins—”You name the groups, and I’ve played with them…I can’t even remember some of the groups I’ve worked with, there’s just so many.” Blake also toured Europe when he was 16 with Sun Ra and played an extended gig in Chicago, far away from his New York home. “I was kinda skipping school a little bit; my parents were a little pissed off.”


So how did the nearly 50-year-old Blake, who’s been around the world and back with high-profile bandleaders, elude entry in The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz and The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz ? And how did he only now release his aptly named second album as a leader, Now Is the Time: Live at the Knitting Factory (Bubble Core), featuring his quintet with Pharoah Sanders? “I had offers, and I wanted to do an album, but I had other things in mind; and I was so busy on the road, going out with the Transfer…I love writing, so I have a lot of material. Over the period of 1970 to now I don’t know how many tunes I’ve written…”
Blake’s first album as a leader, Especially For You (Sony), came out in 1979, but only in Japan; Now Is the Time marks his American debut. Bubble Core co-owner Adam Pierce, who plays vibes, bass and percussion in the dub-jazz duo The Dylan Group, saw Blake in performance and was so knocked out by the bassist that he offered to release an album. While the Bubble Core is eclectic, it has focused mostly on experimental electronica and rock; Now Is the Time marks its first straightahead jazz release—and it’s an auspicious debut.
In addition to Sanders, Blake’s quintet includes pianist John Hicks, drummer Victor Jones and percussionist Neil Clark. On Now Is the Time the group tears through three Blake originals and a cover of Guy Warren’s “Mystery of Love”—though “On the Spot’” is based on the changes to John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.”
“I was in Norway with Pharoah Sanders last year. We were rehearsing and we started going through a couple of tunes…and all of the sudden this tune started coming up in my mind, and the first couple of changes were like ‘Giant Steps.’ At first I said, ‘No, no, no, I’m not gonna go there,’ but it just kept staying there; it just wouldn’t go.”
Blake cites Richard Davis, Jimmy Garrison, Reggie Workman as bass playing influences, and also Jimi Hendrix and Eric Dolphy. Despite having a strong background in Latin music, however, Blake’s compositions don’t reflect that experience; but his bass playing does. “It’s a strumming technique; it’s like having a guitar and congas and putting them together with the bass. It’s a construct of strumming and playing the congas; that’s the percussive side of my playing. That’s the concept of my playing.”
Blake demonstrates his full arsenal of percussive techniques and lyrical lines on a remarkable solo performance of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help”: His bass playing sounds like an a cappella jazz singer improvising on the melody. It’s one of the few times Blake spotlights his own playing during the gig.
“On this album I was in the crossfire trying to decide whether to play a lot of solos or not. I didn’t play a lot of solos on this album; on the next album I plan to really do a lot of solos. I was more emphasizing the writing. Plus, I was so burnt out from travelling and playing and travelling and playing and so on and so on…the total energy wasn’t there.”
You wouldn’t know it from his spirited performance on Now Is the Time. ..

And now have a listen to the original Alex Blake version with vocals (please be forgiving):

This piano intro reminds me a lot of the unforgettable skit of Dana Carvey on SNL 'Choppin' Broccoli'.
And doesn't that chorus sound so muddled?

It's interesting to me how Danny Toan managed to craft such a gorgeous song from such unpromising material.  I've mentioned before how dreadfully I despise the downgoing minor chord progression especially starting from A minor (that is, A minor, G, F, sometimes including an Fsharp before, sometimes ending in the E), e.g. "While my guitar gently weeps"-- and of course the reason it usually starts from A is because that's the easiest version to play on the guitar-- god forbid someone should try to write such a progression starting from Eflat minor!  After "Stairway to Heaven" everyone sounds derivative when they try to use it.  Of course, Jimi himself (earlier) reinterpreted Dylan's bland song "All Along the Watchtower" and made it rock gold, with the echoey acoustic guitars hammering away at those tired old chords, and the laidback electric soloing and wah-wah running like a complex weaving pattern all through the song.  In that case I can still listen to the progression with enjoyment, but then I've been a lifelong Hendrix fan.  Also observe how Danny took what is just a bridging section between chorus and second verse, with the stepped up 4th intervals, and made it into an intro for the song-- these stepped chord pattern intros have been used before, e.g. Joni Mitchell's Jericho, or Fruup's masterpiece Gormenghast song (in my opinion the most brilliant use) but Danny tightened it up (which it really needed) to make it a true intro-- just genius.

Again, Danny's Dreams Come and Go: