Kronomyth 1.0: BLUE UNICORN GRASS. Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys had come down from the mountains to play for the freaks in San Francisco. The banjo player was a rock and roll star. The engineer was a recently paroled LSD millionaire. That the group only lasted nine months wasn’t a surprise; that they came together at all was a miracle. Old & In The Way is the recording of the miracle. The record created an audience for a band that no longer existed, which somehow makes perfect sense in the strange world of the Dead. As a bluegrass supergroup (not my phrase, since I’m pretty sure those two words don’t belong together), the band united two generations of Bluegrass Boys (Peter Rowan and Vassar Clements), Jerry Garcia and his partner in musical crime, John Kahn, and David Grisman, who had played with Rowan in several recent groups including, most recently, Muleskinner. Despite its reputation as country’s country cousin, bluegrass is not an acquired taste. It is a universal good. Something about the blending of mandolin, fiddle, bass and banjo resonates with the human heartstrings. Sad songs seem sadder, happy songs seem happier, and the moments of musical abandon in between produce pure joy. Now that I’ve piqued your interest, I feel compelled to tell you that Jerry Garcia is not the draw. Rowan and Clements are the ringers, Grisman is the glue. That’s not to suggest that any egos were involved; it would be antithetical to the collaborative spirit of bluegrass. But if you came here to hear Jerry sing, you might come away disappointed. Or, more than likely, you’ll be glad you went out of your way to follow Jerry on another interesting trip.
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will.” – The Law of Thelema.
Kronomyth 3.0: ALEISTER CHUMLEY. The story of Graham(e) Bond takes a decidedly dark turn after the demise of the Organisation. Goaded on by the dual demons of drugs and the particular madness that plagues all of us in one measure or another, Bond arrived at the conclusion that he was the illegitimate son of Aleister Crowley (a very debatable though not impossible claim) and began assuming the role of the bastard prince of darkness. The British record industry turned its back on Bond (admittedly, there existed a limited market for an overweight warlock) and so he moved to California to record his next album, Love Is The Law (so named for Crowley’s Law of Thelema). Recorded with drummer Hal Blaine and what I’m guessing is future wife Diane Stewart on vocals (don’t quote me on that), the record largely picks up where Bond left off, with scorching organ-based blues/jazz/rock songs such as “Strange Times, Sad Times,” “Moving Towards The Light” and “Our Love Will Come Shining Through” (which was written several years earlier). Despite some excellent performances from Bond and Blaine under what one suspects were less than ideal conditions, the material gets noticeably thin after the first few tracks. (“Crossroads of Time,” for example, is a mishmash of borrowed classical themes, “Hit The Road Jack” and summer of love sloganeering.) A handful of instrumentals attempt to fill the gaps, a doomed venture with only two musicians. Bond’s voice and vision remain unique, and he had few peers on the Hammond organ. You’ll hear that on this album, especially in the beginning. You’ll also witness the beginning of the Graham Bond Deterioration, as he struggles to channel those talents into consistently good music for thirty minutes. The Sound of 65 was a revelation. Love Is The Law is the revelation unravelling. Bond fans should get around to hearing this and the Magick albums eventually, but I’d point you to Solid Bond or Ginger Baker’s Air Force first. The expanded compact disc reissue is a bad match, adding early singles that now give you the before and after of a good thing.
Kronomyth 6:01: I, ME, MIND. The music of The Beatles and, by extension, John Lennon has been so over-analyzed, picked at and picked over, that there’s almost no joy of discovery anymore in hearing this music. It’s a shame, since I don’t believe that contemporary listeners will ever experience a “Mind Games” or “Meat City” without immediately being told what it really means, where it really came from and a dozen other annoying realities foisted upon you. Part of the problem, I suppose, is man’s intrinsic need to rationalize everything a posteriori. Genius, they say, is a process, and inspiration is an accumulation. What I see and hear in “Mind Games” is the hand of God, the author of music and millipedes and everything else. And I wonder sometimes if all of these facts and opinions aren’t like so many silver crosses to ward off the “demon” of a divine will that doesn’t need you or me or John Lennon to make things happen. Then again, it’s 3:30 in the morning, and I probably shouldn’t pontificate after three cups of coffee.
Genius of America was a brilliant comeback album, but Americans didn’t come back in large enough numbers to hear it. The Tubes remained a popular attraction overseas, however, and several years later Genius was re-mixed, expanded and re-packaged as Hoods From Outer Space for European audiences. I remember Genius of America being very good, but I don’t remember it being this good. Either I didn’t give The Tubes enough credit in 1996, or they nailed it with the new mix. Hoods features a different track order and leads off with the two “new” tracks: the raver “Hoods From Outer Space” (which had actually been a part of their live show since 1989) and a readymade hit co-written with Steve Lukather, “I Know You.” For my money, the music on Genius/Hoods is better than anything to come out of the Capitol years; it’s a shame that Bill Spooner missed this party. In explaining how this music could be so much better than the last incarnation of The Tubes, the logical answers are Gary Cambra and time (“Fishhouse” and “Fastest Gun Alive,” for example, were written years before they recorded Genius). Fee Waybill has also made a quantum leap as a songwriter; he’d clearly been reading up on how to be a better songwriter since Read My Lips. Now, The Tubes didn’t create this music in a vacuum; in fact, they borrow quite a few familiar tricks on songs like “Big Brother’s Still Watching” and “Around The World” (shades of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”). But the high production value and hitmaking machinery don’t detract from The Tubes’ singularly strange worldview. I haven’t listened to Hoods and Genius side by side, so I couldn’t speak to the difference in the mixes, but I’d be inclined to give Hoods the nod as the better disc. I also like the track order on Hoods better; “After All You Said” is a better goodbye than the dark “Around The World.”
Kronomyth 7.0: IN THE GARDENS OF MEMORY, IN THE PALACE OF DREAMS. In a more perfect world, they would put a statue of Jefferson Airplane near the Capitol Building (ideally, with their backs against one wall), yet, even doing that, you won’t find a better monument to the band’s achievement than The Worst of Jefferson Airplane. It might be the one American rock record from the 1960s that everyone should own. The selection is not only generous but also does a brilliant job of condensing a difficult oeuvre into a succinct, sensible package. “Today,” “Embryonic Journey” and “Lather” aren’t obvious choices, but they are informed choices, painting the picture of a band with very different personalities. Do you need to hear “Chushingara” to appreciate Jefferson Airplane? Maybe not, but you do need to hear it to appreciate “Lather,” and it’s that kind of thoughtfulness that makes The Worst such a wonder. In a world where quick cash-grabs were quickly becoming the norm, this record is a throwback to a nobler age. It also does an excellent job of judiciously displaying the contributions of Marty Balin and Grace Slick, nowhere more eloquently stated than in the juxtaposition of “Somebody To Love” and “Today.” In the 21st century, a pair of extra tracks were added (“Greasy Heart,” “Watch Her Ride”) to cover the essential singles, but The Worst isn’t a better album for it. In either version, The Worst of Jefferson Airplane is the best way to experience the band for the first time. After that, enjoy the ride through the rest of their catalog.
Somewhere in the dim and mote-filled halls of the conservatory/factory where young, impressionable hands are chained to the Byzantine machines of long-dead madmen, one mind rebelled. It was the gypsy music of American jazz, the exotic smoke that spilled from the bronze censers of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, that captured the imagination of a young student named Jean-Luc Ponty. When the smoke cleared, the classical world and its dying gods were one gray, gifted violinist poorer, and the rest of the workaday world one technical electric violinist richer.
An album of unremarkable (save for the remarkable presence of the violin) bebop followed in the form of Sunday Walk (1967), but the real magic began when Ponty plugged in his violin and began making jazz fusion albums. In between apprenticeships with the archmages Frank Zappa and John McLaughlin, Ponty quietly went about setting the jazz world on its ear by thrusting his electric violin into the new language of electric jazz, beginning with the grand guignol gesture of an entire album of Zappa compositions recorded with the Mothers, King Kong (1970).
After the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Ponty swam into the wide, cold arms of Atlantic and began making progressive rock/fusion albums that capitalized on the commercial market created by Mahavishnu, Return To Forever, Weather Report, etc. By the release of Imaginary Voyage (1976), a Ponty album could be expected to rise near the top of the US Jazz charts and make a rumbling among the general record-buying public as well.
The Atlantic Years (1975-1985) represent for many the sirloin of his body of work, although by Individual Choice (1983) his growing interest in synthesizers and a general sameness in his work (which had admittedly been there from the beginning) suggested that his progressive rock experiment had run its course, a discovery that most progressive artists had made simultaneously. As with many of his contemporaries, Ponty took his adventurous spirit into the field of world music, releasing Tchokola (1991) and No Absolute Time (1993) with African musicians. In 1994, he teamed up with Al Di Meola and Stanley Clarke for an acoustic world tour that resulted in one album, The Rite of Strings (1995). A decade later, he and Clarke repeated the experiment with Béla Fleck.
In the coffeeless coffee shops of the progressive pedant, debate still rages on over the greatest fusion jazz guitarists, but among these hierophants of higher musical consciousness few would begrudge Ponty his pedestal as the greatest electric fusion violinist of his era. The man has carved out a remarkable niche for himself, and while a strict diet of Ponty would be restrictive, I can personally and heartily endorse Upon The Wings of Music (1975), Imaginary Voyage (1976), Live (1979) and Fables (1985).
Kronomyth 14.5: DONTE’S PONTYTOURIO. When Dick Bock arranged for the Duke and Ponty dog-and-pony show at Thee Experience in the Fall of 1969, there was one little problem: no piano. So George Duke had to play the songs on an electric piano, and the rest is history. Twelve years later, listeners got a taste of what the evening should have sounded like with Live At Donte’s. Recorded in the Spring of 1969, the original Blue Note elpee featured four tracks that were part of Ponty’s repertoire at the time but had not been selected for the vinyl Experience. As much as I associate Duke with the electric piano, he is a fiend on the acoustic piano, turning in great performances on songs like Ponty’s “California” (from More Than Meets The Ear). In fact, these early records with Ponty provided great exposure for Duke as well. In this acoustic setting, John Heard is better heard (he’s a far better bass player than Experience would indicate), although drummer Al Cecchi is undermiked. The selections presented here are enjoyable: a pair of originals from Ponty’s last two albums, a Miles Davis song (“Eighty-One” from E.S.P.) and “People,” which Barbra had recently reprised for the film, Funny Girl. The performances are livelier than what you’ll find on Electric Connection, the interplay between Duke and Ponty more spontaneous and creative. At the time of its release, Live At Donte’s was strictly a supplemental release; something to add to your personal Ponty museum, but not an essential recording. These days, however, I would tell you that Donte’s is a place I return to more often than Sunday Walk or Electric Connection, and in fact may be the best way to experience Ponty’s early acoustic phase when you consider the expanded version released in 1995. That disc essentially includes an acoustic version of The Jean-Luc Ponty Experience as a bonus, featuring live recordings of “Foosh,” “Pamukkale” and “Cantaloupe Island,” plus a brief tip of the chapeau to fellow French composer Michel Legrand’s “Sara’s Theme.” The infernal machinations of record companies aside (e.g., the misleading cover), the expanded version of Live At Donte’s is a pleasant trip back in time.
Kronomyth 5.0: THE MAYALL MAN DELIVERS. The graffitoed walls that read “Clapton Is God” are surely singing somewhere, blissfully ignorant of their profanity. After the successful comeback of 461 Ocean Boulevard, Clapton and his crew took a trip in the Wayback Machine to dig up the ghost of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (“Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” “Rambling On My Mind”) and breathe life into the blanched Blind Faith (“Presence of the Lord,” “Can’t Find My Way Home”). Nearly everyone has commented that this live compilation (culled from shows on both coasts and the UK) is both an unexpected assortment and a welcome return to Clapton’s blues-rock beginnings. After a self-imposed, drug-addled exile, Clapton wouldn’t turn his back on music or the blues again. E.C. Was Here is a tour de force, led by the brilliant guitar playing of Clapton and George Terry. After hearing the hot licks on “Drifting Blues” and “Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” you’ll be tempted to run to the hardware store and buy a can of spray paint yourself. Organist Dick Sims is also terrific on this album. The rhythm section of Carl Radle (the lone holdover from the days of Derek) and Jamie Oldaker is rock solid, and Yvonne Elliman does well in the thankless task of sweetening Eric’s voice to approximate Steve Winwood. (Marcy Levy, we’re told, plays tambourine.) Other than the tasteless album artwork (the back cover is even worse), the only complaint I can lodge against E.C. Was Here is that there isn’t more of it. The band is one of Clapton’s best, and their performances of “Let It Rain,” “Badge,” “Layla” and “I Shot The Sheriff” should have been preserved for the listening enjoyment of later generations (#thinkofthechildren). A quick glance at the track listing is likely to illicit a shoulder shrug, but don’t let your shoulders lead you. Follow your heart; you’ll find plenty of it on this album.
“Music is good, not evil. Poetry is good, not evil. Primitive, but oh, so true.” – Dmitri Shostakovich
Kronomyth 5.2: IN THE TIME OF ORAL GRAVE GRAVE LEGALITIES OF HATE. A pervading sense of powerlessness informs Oh, No! It’s Devo. You hear that on songs like “Speed Racer,” where dangerous stereotypes are already impressed upon children, or “What I Must Do,” where autonomy is replaced by automatons. Even the music felt powerlessness, as machines drained the blood and emotion from their muse. “That’s Good,” the second single from Devo’s fifth album, tackles the problem of how each society defines and reinforces its own concept of good. At least that’s always been my takeaway. Echoing “Freedom of Choice,” the audience seems to have no power (or preference) over whether it accepts or rejects this definition; learning to do with and without good things are both proposed with equal force. It’s a deep theme (Devo songs often are), deceptively performed with mechnical ennui, but these are life-and-death matters. The song was edited slightly for the 7-inch single and expanded for the 12-inch single. The 12-inch “extended” version is simply more of the same; no radical remixing takes place. A 12-inch picture disc single (available in two different picture versions) features an extended version of “Speed Racer” (another lap around the track, I would imagine).
Kronomyth 2.75: GLORIA IN REDUNDAM. This is one of the murkier chapters in the convoluted history of Them: an album recorded by a splinter group of the original band that was released in Sweden and, at least on the cover, appeared to be credited to Them. In reality, the band went by the legally approved name of Belfast Gypsies, and there seems to be some conjecture as to whether the official album title should be regarded as an eponymous album by Belfast Gypsies (with the reference to Them no more than a bit of bold cross-marketing) or as Belfast Gypsies by an alternate, unlicensed version of Them. At this stage, the connection to the original Them was the smallest of splinters; Pat (John) McAuley was the band’s original drummer, and his brother Jackie appears to have played in some version of the band as well. Guitarist Billy Harrison, who led the original defection, had already been replaced by Ken McLeod, while Mark Scott had the distinction of at least being the original bass guitarist in the group that featured Harrison. This dilution by degrees hardly boded well for the music and, no offense to the Swedes, their homeland has never been the epicenter of musical pop culture. All of which makes the fact that Belfast Gypsies is only marginally less interesting than Them’s official second album quite a surprise. Jackie McAuley is a screamer in the mold of Van Morrison, although clearly not up to his calibre (who was?), and the Gypsies are as professional and passionate as most British Invasion R&B acts from the period. Produced by the ghoulish Kim Fowley, the record doesn’t make any bones about cashing in on Them’s fame, from the bald rewrite of “Gloria’s Dream” (in which everyone lines up at the royalty trough) to yet another cover of Bob Dylan’s “Baby Blue.” The group also seems to get away with nicking Bach’s G string for the portentously titled “Aria of the Fallen Angels.” Despite these missteps, the album is a remarkably solid R&B exercise for a Swedish-only import. Jackie McAuley is a formidable singer, organist and harpist, and the rest of the band provides powerful accompaniment on songs like “Boom Boom,” “Midnight Train,” “The Last Will And Testament” and “People, Let’s Freak Out.” The record ends on an odd note: the disharmonious and dark “Suicide Song” and the paranoid “Secret Police.” It’s speculation on my part, but some of the more sinister undertones in the music may be the work of the crypty, creepy Fowley. This record and a few assorted singles represent the sum and substance of Them’s second act as the Belfast Gypsies. Thankfully, archivists have unearthed these recordings and given them a second life on compact disc and an audience to appreciate them.