Tag Archives: phil manzanera

Dear John

John Wetton just passed away. Many fans have known that this brave and talented artist had been fighting cancer, going through successive treatments that did not lead to recovery. I didn’t know John, only met him twice, but I love his work and have great respect and admiration for his life and journey. The verses and choruses of his greatest music have been running through my head this morning since waking to read the sad announcement. He was and will be remembered as one of the most important and prolific rock artists of our time.

Just want to say a few things, without a deep encyclopedic review of the man and his work. While John lent his time to several projects early in his career, the first really impactful music I heard from the man was from his work with King Crimson. Back when we used to accost our friends to exclaim, “listen to this record!” one of mine handed me two LP’s – wettonjohn2017_crimson_lark_72dpiCrimson’s Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (1973) and Starless And Bible Black (1974). I found this music cast a kind of strange spell while at the same time being aurally shocking, challenging beyond belief, utterly lacking in the kind of sound that would attract anyone but serious musicians. It captivated me and made me a lifelong fan of those who contributed. These two albums capture almost everything that made John such a compelling songwriter, player and vocalist. To be sure, his work on that thunderous monster bass was often stunning – take “The Talking Drum,” a relentless dissonant instrumental driven by Bill Bruford’s tuned toms and John’s four-string attack. The momentous sound of his bass could and sometimes did overwhelm the mix in concert. Full stop… one great bass player.

But what always stuck with me, and kept me collecting John’s work through the next 40 years was his truly golden expressive voice. There was a majestic power to that voice, an incredible sustain and phrasing that alternated between sarcastic and sublime, often with a touch of vibrato but more frequently long clear pitch-perfect tones. This was a voice tailor made for progressive rock, particularly on those songs that seemed to come from an earlier time, that pre-industrial acoustic-meets-electric modern renaissance. Take his gorgeous vocal on “Book of Saturdays” and lines such as “Every time I try to leave you, You laugh just the same.” Or, something more intense and biting from “Easy Money” “Getting fat on your lucky star… Making easy money.” John had an uncanny ability to deliver what dynamic prog music demanded, a lead vocal that could easily flex between gentle and more violent passages. Right from the start, that voice had everything in its arsenal -a yearning that brought the blues, a bite, a howl for justice, a plea for sanity, or just a call to celebrate.

wettonjohn2017_uknancover_72dpiAfter Crimson’s untimely disbandment in 1974, John cast about a bit, eventually forming U.K. with prog luminaries, a band that racked up just two albums followed by a live one taken from the tour I saw, their sophomore outing supporting Danger Money when they opened for Jethro Tull in 1979 as a three piece. This legendary band, though short-lived, tops my list for great Wetton compositions played with maximum dynamics by virtuoso musicians Eddie Jobson, Bill Bruford, Allan Holdsworth and Terry Bozzio. To a great extent, while similar to Crimson in dynamics, this work finds John in his best voice, alternating between near ballads like “Renevous 6:02” and “Ceasar’s Palace Blues.”

When this outfit also broke up, John released his first solo album, which made clear that he was well capable of writing music that was easier on the ears, more major tones, a bit less minor. With this under his belt, John went on to form “super group” Asia where he found the commercial success that had eluded his more musically challenging work of the 70s. With the debut Asia album John finally made a more accessible form of pop music that also captured a wider audience. The concert in support of the album was unforgettable, a master class in prog and pop that I will never forget. I’ve seen him live in concert numerous times over the years, and never saw a lazy or subpar performance, even when he had a cold or off night.

John left behind a large catalog of solo work, and collaborations with so many peers, including most notably keyboard player Geoff Downes and guitarist Phil Manzanera. These albums explore every facet of the rock art – some jazz-infused, some progressive, most really essential rock music with some pop to balance it all out. He worked tirelessly, releasing numerous albums, touring frequently. Sure there were some bumps in the road, but there is so much treasure in the man’s large catalog of music that it will stand the test of time as a major contribution to the form.

wettonjohn2017_arkangelcover_72dpiMy favorite moment of John’s is on his 1998 solo album Arkangel. It reportedly came at a time of personal challenges for this artist, and it’s hard not to consider the title track and some of the content overall as autobiographical. Opening with a crack of thunder, this powerful tome includes fitting lyrics for the fighter:

You are my arkangel, my heart and my right hand
When in the face of danger we stand

The danger is over, the artist now quieted, rest in peace John Wetton, safe journey.

wettonjohn2017_withuk_72dpi

Because John is featured in my book for his work with both U.K. and King Crimson, I searched for months for photos of the man, and fortunately discovered Lisa Tanner, one of the great photographers of the era, who captured this really beautiful shot of John and his frets…thank you Lisa!

Gilmour Returns to the Royal Albert Hall

Gilmour_AdDavid Gilmour, famed guitar player and vocalist of Pink Floyd fame staged a short tour supporting his new solo album Rattle That Lock visiting several venues in Europe and the U.K. this fall. We caught one of several dates booked at the Royal Albert Hall on 2nd October 2015. It was a lovely evening featuring a nearly equal number of selections from Gilmour’s solo and Floyd output.

Gilmour_AcousticGilmour recently announced the demise of Pink Floyd as the release of his new solo album drew near. The final record under the Floyd banner, The Endless River, out just last year, brought together jams and song ideas that originated during development of the last proper album, 1993’s The Division Bell. The overwhelming impression I got from interviews and press around this project was that it was exhausting, and it made sense that Gilmour later announced the end of the band. Despite this epitaph, it was expected that he would include songs from the Floyd, and there were quite a number of these in the set list, including “Astronomy Domine,” “Fat Old Sun,” “Money,” “Us and Them,” “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” “Wish You Were Here” and closers “Run Like Hell,” and “Comfortably Numb” from their early catalog. In addition, “Sorrow” from A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and “High Hopes” and “Coming Back to Life” from The Division Bell, rounded out the later Floyd material.

During the encore, “Time” and “Breathe (reprise)” from Dark Side Of The Moon called to mind dear departed Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright and the lyrics he delivered so perfectly during Gilmour’s prior tour, supporting On An Island. Somehow it seems so long ago:

Every year is getting shorter; never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I’d something more to say.

Gilmour_Time

The recent recording Rattle That Lock is packed with music rooted in blues-rock, with a mix of genres sprinkled in, as it was with Gilmour’s last solo outing, On An Island. Despite a rather listless title track, there is much to admire in this work, from jazz-club riffs to haunting slow-hand blues. The best of the new songs came off nicely live. The first three tracks opened the show, followed later by four additional songs “A Boat Lies Waiting,” “In Any Tongue,” “The Girl in the Yellow Dress,” and “Today.” All things considered, a nicely drawn set list of solo and Floyd gems.

As to staging, the psychedelic lighting, stage level and follow spots, and the huge round screen, were again spectacular. A few classic Floyd videos were presented onscreen, and new films for tracks “Rattle That Lock,” and “The Girl In The Yellow Dress” the latter directed by David Madden, were fantastic. For that one, Gilmour suggested we all imagine ourselves at a French café; a fitting image for this jazzy piece and it’s animated imagery. The Royal Albert Hall was long ago the venue for a summer evening concert from Pink Floyd in 1969. During that show, a powerful smoke bomb ended the concert, resulting in a lifetime ban from the hall. Lifted only eight months later, it was a short-term bit of notoriety for the Floyd. The lighting, films, lasers and vapors were present again for Gilmour this time, sans explosions. It was a feast for the eyes and for the proggy-blues fan in all of us.

Gilmour_BandGilmour delivered his typical searing guitar solos expertly and his voice was in good form, with plenty of gravel when needed, but still able to deliver smooth soft tones. His band, mostly returning from the last tour, was professional and tight. Musicians included returning band members, guitarist Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music fame, Jon Carin on keys, guitars, and vocals, Guy Pratt on bass and vocals, and Steve DiStanislao on drums. Joining this time was Kevin McAlea on keys, and Joao De Macedo Mello who supplied expressive winds (Theo Travis played same on the European leg.) Bryan Chambers and Louise Clare Marshall covered backing vocals.

It’s hard to pin down, but something seemed a bit off in the show this time. It feels wrong to blame it on Gilmour’s stage presence, being that he has always been a bit stoic live, rooted in position about his pedals and microphone, eyes often closed. So possibly it was the ordering of the set list, the large number of down-tempo songs, the lack of guest performers, or the mood of the musicians on this particular night, but the whole lacked energy. Having David Crosby and Graham Nash present to sing harmonies on two of Gilmour’s best two solo tracks “On An Island” and “The Blue” was special and poignant on the last tour, and they were present on September 23rd, but not for our show. The last tour also saw visits from Robert Wyatt and David Bowie but no one other than Crosby/Nash appeared this time. And obviously, the absence of Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright was felt. Maybe what we witnessed was actually a bit of serenity from a man who has broken a few of his own chains, free of past encumbrances, owing nothing to anyone, and living in the moment.

Gilmour_Run

In retrospect, any chance to see this legendary musician is an event, given his continuing stature as one of rock’s greatest guitarists. The tour continues next year where we will catch one of three nights at the Hollywood Bowl – recommended to any fan, particularly as these solo shows are few and far between. Get yourself a ticket and go before the time is gone, and the song over.

Following Protocol

protocol_adDuring a lifetime collecting music by all manner of progressive and classic rock bands, I’ve occasionally delved into the jazz-rock and jazz-fusion genres. Looking back to the 70’s and 80’s, there was just so much music to discover, these forays into jazz tended to be short lived but always added fulfilling instrumental ear candy to my collection. The attraction back then was usually when one of my favorite drummers joined a project of this kind. The first I can remember was Phil Collin’s work with Brand X and their unbelievable debut Unorthodox Behavior followed by Bill Bruford’s exciting first two solo albums. Many of my friends owned the Return to Forever album Romantic Warrior featuring the amazing Lenny White on drums. I also had Jeff Beck’s 1980 masterpiece There and Back (check out opening track Starcycle), and Mike Rutherford’s underappreciated Smallcreep’s Day (favorite cut Romani) from that same year, not realizing these included the incredible musician Simon Phillips on drums.

Simon Phillips
Simon Phillips

Instead, Simon Phillips name first came to my attention for his work on 801’s Listen Now and 801 Live (w/Phil Manzenera and Brian Eno) both recorded in 1976 but first heard by these ears until several years later. His technically brilliant, often polyrhythmic playing distinguished him immediately – it’s emotive, infectious, and smooth despite its complexity. Simon has plied this trade with scores of musicians and bands since the 1970’s, including a twenty-year stint with Toto.

Andy Timmons
Andy Timmons

Recently I’ve been fortunate to see Simon with PSP (Phillips Saisse Palladino) and last week with his “Protocol” band. The Protocol II album in 2013 established this new four-piece instrumental group with chemistry to spare, including Andy Timmons (guitar), Steve Weingart (keys), and Ernest Tibbs (bass) joining Simon. Last week, they staged a concert as Protocol II at Yoshi’s Oakland Feb 17, 2015.

Steve Weingart
Steve Weingart

It was a wonderful evening as these crack musicians highlighted some of the new work from the upcoming Protocol III album, along with prior tracks, and encore “Gemini” from Protocol II. The music would be considered as fantastic by anyone interested in smooth yet complex instrumental jazz-fusion, characterized by energetic playing, quick changes in meter and key, and abundant solos. With some jazz bands, lengthy solos and pyrotechnic displays can leave me bored and bewildered. Not so with this outfit as none of these elements are overcooked – instead the melodies are set upon solid compositions – with jams fitting tightly into the framework of every piece. Each of the four members are entertaining to witness live – Adam’s smoking guitar leads and sense of humor shine – Steve’s keyboard flights are fluid and organic – and Ernest while not coming up front for leads, consistently fills out the low end of the spectrum with fantastic fretwork. Simon is in a league of his own, sounding perfectly at ease with this band, he amazed us with his intense, precise and yet loose playing, coming to the fore a couple of times for short solos that demonstrated his immense skills. Catch this how if you can – it comes highly recommended!

The Band
The Band