Share this article

print logo

Listening Posts: Soul Goes Psychedelic, Gershwin, Phish, Woody Shaw

Psychedelic Soul

Various Artists, “Soul Goes Psychedelic” (Goldenlane). Like so many pivotal comminglings in the history of popular music, this one happened in the late ’60s, and carried through the first half of the ’70s, before being consumed by the insatiable cocaine-addled beast that was disco. Yes, dear reader, I refer to the marriage of soul music with the expanded consciousness and disregard for convention that marked psychedelic music’s nascent phase. Psychedelic soul, as the two-headed monster came to be known, made funk trippy. And Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix looked down on their creation, and saw that it was good. This new 35-track collection traces the arc of psychedelic soul’s existence, starting with great jazz arranger Oliver Nelson’s 1975 masterpiece “Skull Session,” and moving in non-chronological order through space funk nuggets from the Brothers Johnson, prog-funk tricksters Nektar, Santana, Billy Preston, Dr. John, Ohio Players, and of course, Sly Stone. It all adds up to woozy thrill ride through an era when the word “fusion” had no malicious connotations. Fantastic. ∆∆∆½ (Jeff Miers)


Gershwin, “Rhapsody in Blue,” “Strike Up the Band Overture,” “Promenade,” and “Catfish Row” Suite from “Porgy and Bess” performed by pianist Orion Weiss, clarinetist John Fullam and the Buffalo Philharmonic conducted by Buffalo Philharmonic conducted by JoAnn Falletta. The second volume of Falletta and the BPO’s series of Gershwin records finds young pianist Orion Weiss doing a bang-up job on what is probably the greatest Philharmonic Orchestra pops concert piece ever written in America – Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” sometimes affectionately called “The Monster” by pianists who essay it from the underside of its technical requirements (who emphatically do not include Weiss.) It’s an idiomatic recording of arrangements of music so much in the American bloodstream that it makes you laugh when your pulse rides along with it. The BPO’s soloists in the gorgeous solo parts are splendid. The big BPO disc to come will be Naxos’ recording of the “Ilya Murometz” Symphony No. 3 of Reinhold Gliere, but until then this one is certainly a great pleasure.” ∆∆∆ (Jeff Simon)


Jeffrey Biegel, “Grand Romance” (Steinway & Sons). I love that pianists are rediscovering the old salon repertoire, challenging music from the past that fell from favor because pianists 50 years ago realized that playing it could hurt their reputation. Jeffrey Biegel has resurrected terrific supervirtuoso gems like Eduard Schutt’s “To My Beloved,” and three pieces by Moritz Moszkowski. There’s also music by Schloezer, Levitzki, Sgambati, and other names lost to time, as well as by Anton Rubinstein. Biegel has a prodigious, crisp, clean technique. The only trouble is, I wonder if it is too crisp and clean for the music in question. It’s perfect for clever toccata-like bonbons like Adolf von Henselt’s “If I Were a Bird” or the novelty “Rush Hour in Hong Kong” by piano pedagogue Abram Chasins. In pieces with more soul – Moszkowski’s “Caprice Espagnol,” Biegel should surrender more to the music’s devil-may-care panache and wallow more in its richness and romance. Hats off to him for including Schulz-Evler’s evocative and challenging “Arabesques on the Blue Danube,” a piece that was first recorded in its entirety by Buffalo native Leonard Pennario and is now finding its way into the mainstream, where it belongs. Paderewski’s Nocturne in B flat and the delicate “Conversations” by Cesar Cui are two other lovely additions. What fun this disc is. ∆∆∆½ (Mary Kunz Goldman )


Christiane Oelze, soprano, Eric Schneider, Klavier (Solo Musica, Deutschlandfunk). I love that word Deutschlandfunk. The name Oelze, too, is fun simply to type. But aspects of this disc frustrate me. Oelze has a marvelous soprano voice. There is a sweet artlessness about it and it is a pleasure to hear. She is perfect for a smoldering Strauss slow song – in jazz, you would call it a ballad – like “Morgen,” or “Die Nacht” or even “Allerseelen.” She’s less successful, though, in such heated, hormonal songs such as “Cacilie,” “Standchen” or “Heimliche Aufforderung” ... oh, dear, if you don’t know German you would think I was referring to auto parts, but they really are some of the most passionate love songs ever written, and Oelze is just too slow and tepid with them. She sings them as if she doesn’t have any idea of what the songs are about. You have to throw yourself into music like this or else not attempt it at all. The generous disc also includes the “Four Last Songs.” Schneider does a fine job with the challenging piano parts. ∆∆½ (M.K.G.)

Jam Band

Phish, “Ventura”: six-disc box set (Jemp Records). A wonderful memento of Phish’s summer tours of 1997 and 1998, and in particular, the band’s stops at the Ventura Fairgrounds during both of those summers. Phish and Southern California have had a long and lovely relationship, and these shows reveal the bedrock of that relationship – torrid, marathon-length shows that rank among the Vermont foursome’s finest. Both of these Ventura shows boasted smoking setlists, and Phish hit the ground running both nights. Highlights are too many to list, but the grinding white funk of opener “NICU,” the Zappa-meets-Santana eloquence of “Stash,” the epic “David Bowie>Cities> David Bowie” jam, the ebullient “Bouncing Round the Room,” and the definitive takes on “Bathtub Gin” and “Split Open and Melt” certainly number among them. If you’re planning on road-tripping to a show on this year’s summer tour, “Ventura” will be good company for the ride. ∆∆∆∆ (J.M.)


Woody Shaw, “The Complete Muse Sessions: Limited Edition Collection” (Mosaic Records seven disc box by mail only from Mosaic, 425 Fairfield Ave., Suite 421, Stamford, Conn. 06902 or There are few more tragic stories in the last 50 years of jazz than the story of Woody Shaw. He was the great contemporary trumpet virtuoso contemporary of Freddie Hubbard and came right after the generation of Lee Morgan. Wynton Marsalis - who comes to Artpark in Lewiston on Monday – has acknowledged his harmonic influence. Though there are many who prefer his later, universally acclaimed records on Columbia (most notably “Rosewood”), it’s these, his Muse records released between 1974 with the classic “The Moontrane” and 1987 that may the most impressive chunk of his recorded achievement. His story begins the way a good bebop trumpet virtuoso’s should as a sideman on Blue Note (in 1965 on Horace Silver’s classic record “Cape Verdean Blues”) but very early on, his playing with Eric Dolphy marked him as one of his time’s great inside/outside players. The truly astonishing disc among the nine first-rate records from the Muse label captured and reissued on these seven discs is “The Iron Men,” a date from 1977 with saxopohonists Arthur Blythe and Anthony Braxton, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Victor Lewis. The roster of fellow musicians all through these records is remarkable, from Joe Henderson, Larry Young, Ron Carter and Joe Chambers in 1965 to Steve Turre, Kirk Lightsey, Ray Drummond and Carl Allen in 1987. Shaw’s rise and decline through failing eyesight, a failing marriage (to agent Maxine Gregg who moved in with then husband Dexter Gordon in 1983) ended mysteriously when he fell off a subway platform onto the tracks in an event which no one has ever been sure wasn’t deliberate. He lost his left arm and subsequently died in the hospital of kidney failure at the age of 44. (But then, he was near-blind at the time.) Shaw’s beginning to flex his muscles as a leader on these superb discs from Joe Fields’ Muse Label. They range from hard bop, post-bop to avant-garde. A strong early portrait of a musician who just didn’t live long enough. ∆∆∆½ (J.S.)


Joel Harrison, “19: Infinite Possibility” (Sunnyside). It’s not true that the only great jazz orchestras in the Gil Evans tradition these days are European. This brilliant disc – one of the best of what is a very good jazz year – comes from a jazz guitarist and composer whose band on the disc not only uses Evansish French and English horns but marimba and vibes and includes the composer/leader’s searing slide guitar solos. This music is ablaze with ever-shifting instrumental color and fine solos by tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, pianist Daniel Kelly and trombonist Alan Ferbers and Curtis Folwkes. Unlike Evans’ own music (rather than his conducting of Cecil Taylor’s), Harrison’s music suddenly bursts into Taylorish splatter and dissonant jazz expressionism. There really isn’t a moment on this disc that isn’t riveting although the number of eclectic ways that it is makes it very rare. Harrison continues to be one of the more dramatically talented guitarist/composers in jazz. ΩΩΩΩ (J.S.)