Three brief reviews of albums newly acquired or recently revisited
GARY WRIGHT—THE DREAM WEAVER
[Warner Brothers 1975]
The truth is, I bought this as part of an Op Shop haul simply because it was in good nick and I have a soft spot for the cheesy 1975 radio hit, ‘Dream Weaver’. But it’s actually not bad at all, an odd combination of synth-heavy pop and Wright’s gravelly voice. That voice can easily be imagined fronting a heavy blues outfit, which is exactly what young Gary had been doing. He was part of British band Spooky Tooth before going solo.
The production is slick and the playing excellent. Drums are shared by Andy Newark and Jim Keltner. The remainder of the instrumental credits make interesting reading:
David Foster / Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ and Arp strings
Bobby Lyle / Clavinet and Fender Rhodes
Gary Wright / Moog bass, clavinet, Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, Arp strings, Moog brass, woodwinds and special effects.
How about that? Other than Ronnie Montrose guitar-guesting on ‘Power of love’ (not the Huey Lewis song), it’s entirely keyboard-based.
If you love Innervisions era Stevie Wonder and/or seventies keyboard sounds, you’d probably enjoy The Dream Weaver. Some of it really is funky. I was certainly pleasantly surprised—what a nice result from a two-dollar grab.
PAUL BLEY—THE PAUL BLEY SYNTHESISER SHOW
[Milestone Records 1971]
This is such an interesting album. Recorded between December 1970 and March 1971, five of its seven pieces are performed on ‘ARP synthesizer and RMI electric piano’ and the other two—purposefully the final tracks on each side—are ‘acoustical piano’. At this time few jazz artists had embraced electric keyboards (Miles Bitches Brew cohorts Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea being notable exceptions) and fewer still had explored the synthesiser as an improvising instrument. The standard jazz trio accompaniment of bass and drums makes the electronic keyboard pieces seem even stranger.
Sometimes sounding like bar music from a downmarket dive on one of the moons of Saturn (‘The Archangel’) and at others like something Stockhausen might have knocked out on a rainy afternoon in Prague (‘Nothing ever was, anyway’), it is strange and compelling music. ‘Snakes’ has a woozy Eastern feel over thrumming bass and percussion splashes, Nefertiti from another planet. ‘Parks’ could be Henry Mancini on acid.
Bley comments in the liner notes that the synthesiser is ‘quite legitimate and capable of great nuance; it has so many possibilities and cries for release and freedom’. What the innovative pianist might have done with a polyphonic synth is anyone’s guess.
After the alien textures of the manufactured sounds, the piano pieces are like a splash of cool water. ‘Gary’ is sparse and reflective, with lovely bass work from Glenn Moore, while ‘Circles’ has a restrained intensity and thoughtful economy familiar to fans of his ‘acoustical piano’ work. Recommended highly if you thirst for out-of-the-way synthesiser albums and can find your way around unfamiliar jazz terrain.
KLAUS SCHULZE—LA VIE ELECTRONIQUE 1
[SPV 2009, 3 CDs]
German synthesiser pioneer Klaus Schulze is a heck of an archivist, and not averse to plundering the vaults of his own electronic history.
In 1993, the Silver Edition of ten CDs merely whetted the appetite of fans of his brooding, drifting electronic art. Two years later came the Historic Edition, a further ten discs crammed with previously unreleased material. Think you have enough Klaus to be going on with? Think again. You could spring for the Jubilee Edition (1997, 25 CDs) or go the whole hog with the Ultimate Edition of—wait for it!—no less than fifty CDs, released in 2000 to celebrate the new millennium.
If that seems rather too much of a good thing, perhaps the more measured La Vie Electronique series would be a better bet. These collections are numerous (Volume 16 came out in 2015) and follow the electronic composer chronologically through his lengthy career. The Vinyl Connection collection holds five of the three-CD sets (Vols 1—4 and 6) which covers the first decade of Schulze’s output.
The phenomenon of ‘too much of a good thing’ is relevant here. In the period covered by the fifteen La Vie Electronique discs I have, Herr Schulz released twelve studio albums. All are worthwhile, certainly, but I found myself wondering what the deluge of archival releases really adds to his reputation. Does it risk diluting the impact of those original albums? And can over thirty hours of music of quality really be produced in such a relatively short time?
If you love the German electronic scene of the 70s you probably already know this series. If not, I don’t recommend La Vie Electronique as the place to start. Where could you begin with Klaus Schulze? A great question, and one deserving of its own post at some point.
Tchüss for now.