Tag Archives: Jazz Fusion

Hot Rats-FRANK ZAPPA-1969

Just to give all the “he-can-only-make-fun-of-good-emotional-music-this-guy-cannot-be-taken-seriously” critics a swift kick in the nuts, Zappa went all instrumental, cast aside all the doo wop and spoken word parodies, and made an awesome all music all the time album which is my favourite Zappa album from the 60’s, as well as coming in the top 3 of my Zappa collection. Honestly even if this one only had Peaches En Regalia and the rest was corny Zappa jokes, I would still give this album a thumbs up because (a) Zappa jokes are Zappa jokes, some of them hit home some of the time, (b) Peaches En Regalia is the best damn Zappa song ever. It is just an awesome composition, not an improvisation, mark ye, just a great piece of composition, which fuses so many motifs in its short running time (more than the whole of Yes’s 80’s career and Tales of Topographic Oceans plus the whole of Phil Collins and late Genesis as also most of the later Tull albums and all music made in the last decade or so) that it is just a mind blowing piece of music. It ably demonstrates the strengths of careful composition (more in the vein of classical music and good death metal music) which avoids the predictability of normal rock verse chorus structure over random improvisation (let me come to that). Yes sirree. Hear that and tell me with a straight face that you cannot listen to Zappa because he doesn’t take music seriously. He does take it seriously, just not in the way all those neo prog/corny black metal/Yngwie Malmsteen people take it.

It is not about repetition mind you, which is a part of all of western music (and all pop music all over the world. Cannot comment on all the folk/classical styles of the rest of the world, though I am pretty sure that such a vital element is common to all human music) but about avoiding the mindless mainstream pop wherein if you cut one part of a song and compare it with a part which comes later on, you would not be able to tell which comes first and which comes last.

The rest of the album, here is the thing; it is directly a contrast with the opener, in that, it is mostly all what they call, improvised jazz fusion, (making my foregoing adjective utterly superfluous). However, it is Zappa-tized, so you never get the feeling of the music be distracting and over bearing, rather the improvs are very strong, carrying out the motifs and story telling in a compelling manner, especially in Willie The Pimp. Only by the last track do I feel the “now thats enough I need something else” feeling. Excellent.

It is hard to categorize Zappa as anything, but in my mind he will always be what I deem to be progressive music, not in the traditional Marillion-Tull-Spock’s Beard-esque sense, but more in the King Crimson-mid period Yes sense-breaking barriers, truly experimenting with music. Listen to this stuff and have patience.

-Baba T


If you are anything less than a true explorer/connoisseur of music, you are unlikely to have heard either of Mo’Bop I, II, or III or the musicians that constitute the band. So let me introduce you to the people involved: Kazumi Wantanabe is a much acclaimed Japanese Jazz Fusion guitar player, who no one in the mainstream must have heard of. On the same coin, we have Richard Bona, who is this amazing bass player, and an absolute master of grooves that fall into the cracks and spaces between notes. Expect more albums of his to be reviewed by me further on. Finally, we have Horacio Hernandez, a Latin percussion master, whose David Garibaldi-meets-Neil Peart drumming has won him a load of accolades.

And let me tell you this; the bouquets are well deserved. For most of the album, despite Wantanabe’s all-over-the-place guitar playing, and my obviously biased allegiances towards Bona on account of his being a bass player, I was most impressed at Hernandez’s drumming. It’s fast, in the pocket and flashy, seemingly all at the same time. Brilliant. Just as a suggestion, do check out his power trio with Michel Camilo and Anthony Jackson on YouTube. I guarantee furious clapping and general cheering with a fervour usually reserved for India-Pakistan cricket clashes.

Crappy cover

The album is in general very fast placed. The only exceptions is the inappropriately named “Lawns”, which is slow and melodious and the wonderful and lyrical “Dragon’s Secret”. Another thing notable in this album is a surprising lack of chords over all. I would have wished for more chordal playing but Wantanabe, ’cause I love the damn things. Here, he have loads of broken chords, and individual notes picked and all that, but the general paucity of chords disappoints me.

The general paucity of chords disappoints me.

The soloing by Wantanabe is all over the place, as I said, but it’s not the best part of the band, despite him being the bandleader. Richard Bona’s soloing and Hernandez’s drumming are the real stars of the show. Check out Bona’s unexpectedly rapid turn of speed in “Tiger Beam”, and the mellifluent singing of his bass on “Dragon’s Secret”.

Despite the Jazz Fusion virtuoso billing of this album and band, there are some surprisingly Latin flavours waiting around to catch the listener’s interest. Witness the sun n’ surf goodness of “Good Fellows”. It’s one of the more danceable tracks, as is the following (keyboard driven) “Infancia”. All this adds a lot of warmth to the otherwise slightly sterile world of Jazz Fusion. Greg Howe-for instance- would really benefit from a more diverse and multicultural band rather than fellow Americans Victor Wooten and Dennis Chambers. It would inject a healthy dose of some warmth into his music.

All in all, this is an excellent album, and surprisingly for a Jazz Fusion album, one which I can listen from the beginning to end in one go because of the variety available. It’s a bit like one of those mixed vegetable soups that actually works because of the variety of tastes it accesses. Excellent. This sounds right.

- El Bajista



Time Squared – THE YELLOWJACKETS – 2003

The Yellowjackets. What a nice name. A much nicer than some bands today. ‘Arctic Monkeys’ and ‘Dashboard Confessional’ just aren’t good names. Anyway, you would expect a band with a name beginning with ‘the’ to be some sort of an Alternative influenced garage rock thing. But no, this is Jazz Fusion (and sometimes full on jazz). And apparently a very well lauded one, with more than 10 Grammy Nominations.

I first came to know of them through an interview of Bassist Jimmy Haslip, who strings the bass upside down (yup, like Hendrix). Apparently, he is quite a well known Jazz Fusion bassist. Hmm…do I like him? Yes, but he doesn’t rock my world. And neither does the rest of the band. Yet.

The Stephen Hawkins equivalent of Motorhead, this.

I had heard an earlier album of the ‘Jackets (Blue Hats, which I’ll review soon), and I immediately identified a pattern in the two albums. The first song is always a great, melodic, almost poppy tune, whereas the second one is a full on jazz tune, complete with a ticklish walking bass line. Pretty cool, but its not necessarily something I can appreciate. In the case of this album, the two tracks in question are “Go-Go” and “Monk’s Habit”. The latter track is noteworthy not for the soloing by the piano and sax (in fact, they are pretty uninvolving to me), but for the walking bassline by Haslip, which in the higher frequencies dissuades the untrained ears into believing that he is in fact thwonging away at an upright bass. Good shit. Great drumming too.

As far as the overall sound of the group is concerned, they don’t sound revolutionary by any means, but have the sound of a highly competent, tight and articulate Jazz Fusion ensemble of the highest order. This also means that they will inevitably compared to Weather Report, the grand daddy of all Jazz Fusion Bands, by which they are CLEARLY influenced.

A pleasant surprise is “Healing Waters” which has vocals on it. After the first hums, I expected a some nice lyrics invoking spurned-love-by-the-moonlight. Or something. Instead, what I got was a few ooooh’s and aaaah’s. That’s a bit like getting to meet Megan Fox dressed as a nun.

One slightly disappointing feature in this album is the lack of Haslip’s soloing. I wish he would exploit the extremely sweet voice of his bass. He chooses not to, except on one or two tracks. However, there is still some pretty great bass playing scattered throughout the album. Check out the polyrythms in “Time Squared”. They carry the song. However, Ferrante and Bob Mintzer (Saxophone) do a great job making his absence in the soloing department quite un-apparent. And as I said, the drummer is pretty good too.

A not-so-nice fact is that this album lacks good ‘tunes’. The outlining themes of the songs (called ‘Heads’, I think) aren’t really strong enough to suck me in. Of course, there are a few in which the heads are good enough, but there are too many without a real solid and memorable melody to take off from. Jazz farts, I come from a much more poppy side of music. While I’m not expecting Britney Spears hooks, I do think musicians have a responsibility not to be so indulgent as to turn away a potential fan with off-putting chords forming the main melody of the song, like in ‘V’ and ‘Claire at 18′. What do these names mean anyway?

This last issue is the major problem with this album, I feel. I’m hardly the target audience of this music, but I would have liked to be sucked into it. Good music immediately communicates to a lot of people and leaves out a few. But great music inspires and moves nearly everyone. Think The Beatles. If this album had more tunes, I probably would have loved it. I will surely do a couple of other ‘Jackets albums, but this one doesn’t quite sound right.

El Bajista

Care for some more 16th laden ‘Jackets songs. All reviews HERE. (Only one at the time of typing this).

More intimidating JAZZ/JAZZ FUSION stuff HERE.


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