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Archive for October 28th, 2013

Review: Van Morrison, “Moondance: Deluxe Edition”

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Van Morrison - Moondance BoxOver forty years after Van Morrison first declared it a “marvelous night for a moondance,” the Irish troubadour’s seminal 1970 album has become even more marvelous, ‘neath the cover of October skies.  Warner Bros. Records has afforded Moondance the deluxe treatment, adding three CDs of session material and one Blu-ray with high-resolution stereo and surround mixes to the original 10-song album.  With this truly immersive listening experience, Morrison’s third proper solo album takes its place alongside the likes of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and SMiLE and the canons of Elvis Presley, Miles Davis and even The Monkees, offering up warts-and-all sessions for enjoyment, dissection and exploration.  Of course, this compact yet lavish box set (more accurately, a linen-bound book set) wouldn’t hold up if Moondance itself wasn’t such a stone-cold classic.  Luckily, it’s an album of such depth that the 4-CD/1-BD package is more than warranted.  And for those who want just the highlights, Warner has also issued a pared-down 2-CD version as well as a single-disc remastered edition with just the original album.

Though its warmly melodic songs – equal parts jazz, folk, soul, blues, pop and rock – are certainly accessible enough to stand on their own, Moondance is an argument for the art of the album.  The artist’s Warner Bros. debut Astral Weeks was the darkness before the dawn, and its follow-up Moondance continued its juxtaposition of the spiritual and the earthbound.  But Moondance rendered those themes with light replacing dark, and an altogether different intensity.  Morrison’s crack band of Jack Schroer (alto and soprano sax), Collin Tilton (tenor sax/flute), Jeff Labes (piano/organ/clavinet), John Platania (lead and rhythm guitar), John Klingberg (bass), Gary Mallaber (drums/vibes), and Guy Masson (congas, credited as “congo drum”) brought his finely-honed compositions to life in arrangements that veered from rollicking to rootsy.  In addition to lead vocals, Morrison also played rhythm guitar and tambourine.

After the jump, we’ll delve further into Moondance! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 28, 2013 at 12:57

Posted in Box Sets, News, Reissues, Reviews, Van Morrison

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“Taxi” Driver Bob James’ Funky Fusion Celebrated On New 2-CD Anthology

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Bob James - Rhodes ScholarEvery day, somewhere in the world, someone is watching Taxi – and hearing the catchy yet wistful theme song composed by Bob James.  The television comedy, created by Mary Tyler Moore Show alumni James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, David Davis and Ed. Weinberger, ran from 1978 to 1983 and netted eighteen Emmy Awards.  But the original music of Taxi is just one of the many credits of jazz great Bob James.  His spellbinding ouevre has just been compiled by the Decision Records label in association with James’ own Tappan Zee Records for the 2-CD compendium Rhodes Scholar: Jazz-Funk Classics 1974-1982.

The compilation’s title comes from James’ mastery of the Fender Rhodes electric piano, an instrument developed by Harold Rhodes that was practically ubiquitous in the sound of seventies fusion jazz.  Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul and Bill Evans are among the legendary pianists who took to the instrument in jazz settings, while in R&B, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles also cottoned to its singular sound.  But the Fender Rhodes arguably had no more prominent home than Creed Taylor’s CTI label.   Taylor’s label aimed to blend jazz with pop, rock, funk and R&B overtones, a formula it mastered on albums from unquestionable giants like Wes Montgomery, Quincy Jones, Stanley Turrentine, Hubert Laws, Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, Paul Desmond, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and the pre-mainstream fame George Benson.

The Missouri-born, Berklee-trained Bob James’ first outing as a leader was 1963’s Bold Conceptions for the Mercury label, but it remained his only such recording until 1974.  Instead of pursuing above-the-title stardom, James busied himself as a keyboardist and arranger, contributing an arrangement to Quincy Jones’ 1969 CTI record Walking in Space which first acquainted him with the Fender Rhodes.  As Andrew Mason recounts in the comprehensive liner notes that accompany Rhodes Scholar, James never intended to become so closely identified with the instrument.  He had generally found its use as a novelty in jazz, explaining to Mason that “some of my favorite players occasionally would use the Rhodes – Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans – and I was quite critical of the way they played it, because I could tell that they weren’t really embracing it as a musical instrument.”  He realized that “if I used the same technique that I would use on the acoustic piano, it was too heavy and sounded clunky and awkward.”  And so his more subtle approach honed specifically for the Rhodes established James as one of the instrument’s virtuosos.  He continued arranging and playing at CTI, which spun off from its A&M Records roots into a true independent, and made significant contributions to sets from Grover Washington, Jr., Stanley Turrentine, Milt Jackson, and others.  Outside of CTI, James could be heard on recordings by Paul Simon and Neil Diamond.  But James’ key role at Taylor’s label led to the artistic rebirth on his 1974 album One, which is where Rhodes Scholar begins.

After the jump: what will you find on this new compilation?  We have more details plus the full track listing and order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 28, 2013 at 10:43