Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Axis: Bold as Love

Back in the day, there used to be albums known for the uniqueness of how the sound traveled from ear to ear, right to left, rather than just what the tune was. One of these such "headphone albums" was Axis. And it was friggin' awesome!

My first memory of this album is my dad playing it for me on vinyl on his record player. With his big-ass headphones. Koss Pro 4 A studio headphones which I later took with me to college and have in my basement to this day. Great set of headphones:

We would sit in the den of our townhouse on Jefferson court in Bensalem (funny that I now live with my wife in a townhouse on a different Jefferson court), which had a pretty psychedelic-ish carpet and paint scheme. And my would introduce me to a world of music I would come to know and love. You will definitely hear more about these listening sessions in future posts, as it had such an influence on what I listened to from that time on. Axis is no exception.

One of the things that made Axis such a great headphone album was that it was recorded in Mono. That had been a standard recording method in earlier times but when stereo came along, most rock recordings ditched the mono. There were a handful of other albums recorded in this method, and you can tell the difference when you hear it. Picture like your head is the single microphone in the room and the musician is standing in front of you. You hear him in both ears. If he moves himself all the way to one side of the room, you hear him mostly out of only the one side they moved to. Then if he moves to the other side, same thing. It can be used to create a really neat effect, one that Hendrix took great advantage of from the get-go.

The first tune, which isn't really a tune, is called "EXP". It's a radio station intro/interview with Jimi in character as "Paul Caruso" and immediately launches into a guitar screech/wail that travels from ear to ear, back and forth, a number of times in a really short period. It's totally cool. If you listen to this album, you MUST listen to it in headphones. Also, I know that there are remaster versions out there and I don't know if those still keep the mono or moved to a stereo recording so be aware to look for the mono to get the full effect.

I think the other thing that drew me to this album as a young child was that the songs were short, and had stories that were easily understandable. The longest track on the album is only 5:30 and all the others are 3-4 minutes. And if you look at the lyrics to some of the tunes you can see what I mean. "Wait until tomorrow" is a cute yet heartbreaking story of a man waiting outside his true love's window but unfortunately gets shot by her father while he is waiting for her. My favorite song on the album as a child, "Castles made of sand" is a life lesson wrapped in a little package. It talks of a few different little stories where unfortunately things don't turn out the way you would hope for the characters Jimi sings about. And lastly, I liked that the title track, Axis: bold as love, listed all the colors of the rainbow (hey I was a little kid, what do you want??!!)

I think that the headphone album is a lost art. There are some great other ones I would recommend checking out, though. Dark side of the Moon is probably at the top of the list. If you have any others, please share them in the comments section below!

Now, I'm gonna pop on some headphones and listen to some Jimi before I watch the Eagles game. GO BIRDS!

Friday, November 20, 2009


If you have any particular albums/artists/songs that you think would make for some good stories, there's a decent chance I have one! Drop your suggestion in the comments here and I'll see what I can do.... Thanks!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Herbie Hancock: "Mwandishi: The Complete Warner Brothers Recordings"

Ah, yes. Herbie Hancock. If all you know of this man is his 80's video and catchy tune "Rockit", you are SERIOUSLY missing the boat. You need to listen to some of his real jazz. Right Now!

I bought this album used at the 5 & 10 in Newtown, PA (which I believe is now a Starbucks. Figures). I was in high school, I think, a senior. I remember going and looking around with my sister Lisa, and I was pissed because she grabbed a sweet used copy of Led Zeppelin's "The Song Remains the Same" soundtrack before I could. That was a real find for used CD's, as it's a double-disc AND it's got a sick songlist. I've always loved "Rain Song", and the version on that soundtrack is great. I would have paid the album price just for that tune. The funny thing is that up until that point I can't think of any moment I had ever seen or noticed my sister being remotely interested in Led Zeppelin! I didn't even know she knew who they were! And now she was snatching the bargain used CD purchase of the century right out from under me??!! WTF?! But whatever. She beat me to it. I'm not bitter.

So instead I had to "settle" for this. This fine masterpiece of musical intelligence from a jazz legend who's catalog I had only scratched the surface of. I was in band in high school (hey, I was a drummer, who were the cool ones, so SHUT IT!), and also worked as a tech for the jazz band during my junior year. That gave me some of my first exposure to Jazz, and what started my interest/passion in the genre, but I was still in Jazz 101 at that point in my life. My Herbie Hancock knowledge didn't expand much past Chameleon.

So when I put the CD on for the first time, I was immediately hit by the funky, head-bobbing beat of Wiggle-Waggle and I knew that this one was a winner. To this day, whenever I play this album, I can't help but do the head bob. Plus, how can you not smile when you say the name of the song. Wiggle-waggle. Wiggle-waggle. It's a funny word. Is it even a word? I don't know. But I digress...

Fat mama is another one that just lays on the heavy organ, with a similar feel to Deodato's take on Also Sprach Zarathustra (which I ended up buying for a quarter on vinyl at the Friends of Ithaca Library book sale. HUGE find! but that's a whole other post). It's another one that gets the head bob going and doesn't stop until you get to the end of the song.

Tell me a bedtime story is one of those songs that, if you can whistle, you will whistle for the entire day. The song gets stuck in your head. But like in a good way. It's just a nice, smooth, mellow tune.

OK so I won't go through all the songs, but I'll just tell you there's a lot more great stuff, including a song with "Fat Albert" in the title, so you know it's good! One of the things that I think Herbie does so well is makes something so intricate and complex seem so simple. If you listen to the tunes on these two discs on the surface, they're catchy hooks with a good beat. But if you listen a little more closely you can hear how much is actually going on to add texture to those simple hook lines and it makes the songs that much more enjoyable. It really is fascinating. It's the kind of music that sounds good if a jazz trio were covering it, but would sound SICK with a larger group, like 8 pieces or something.

you can tell that the designers of this collection intended to do a little bit of a contrast between the two discs. The second disc is much more mellow. I'll admit I don't listen to it nearly as much as disc 1. But it's still worth the purchase/listen. I assure you.

So at least take a minute or two and check out the audio samples in the link below, and feel free to share your thoughts on this wonderful collection.

And to my sister Lisa, I thank you again for grabbing that Led Zep CD so I was forced into getting this. without that happening, who knows how long it would have taken me to become as interested in Jazz as I am because of this album.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Phish 11/4/1994 Onondoga War Memorial Syracuse, NY

Ok So I'm a huge Phish fan, I admit that. BUT, just because I choose to do my first post about Phish don't think that this is all going to be hippie jam-band stuff. Cuz it's NOT! But this particular show holds a special place in my heart, simply because it was such an incredibly fun experience all around. Let me explain....

I attended Ithaca College from Fall 1993 to Winter 1997 (hooray for the extra semester!). Ithaca is just a hop skip and a boring-ass car ride to Syracuse (or more frequently the Turning Stone Casino and Golf spa/resort, which was a wharehouse with table games when I was there). Being that I was in college and loved Phish, there was no way we were missing this show!

Turns out that year I lived on the 5th floor of the East Tower (WOOHOO!) with a bunch of friends and Fraternity brothers all together. We really lucked out with our RA that year as he was a really nice guy. He was also on the IC concert bureau. Turns out that IC had a deal with Syracuse concert buruea that they did this sort of ticket exchange where IC students would be able to purchase a limited number of tickets from a table set up in the student union. Our RA was kind enough to give us some advance notice, and told us that he would hold tickets under our name and we just needed to show up to pick them up. I actually have a poster somewhere in my basement right now that was hanging in our hallway that tells the date and time.

Problem is, I don't think anyone realized how many Phish fans attended IC. The line was INSANELY long, out the door and around the building, with people hoping to get their hands on these tickets. I bumped into my RA and he was freaking out that he was going to get in trouble and couldn't hold all the tickets he had promised to people if they didn't show up quickly. But hey, I got there in time, and I got mine. As did most of my good friends. So it was off to the 'cuse!

The cool part about the way this all went down is that first, we got great seats. Floor, 2nd section back. Second, all of the IC people pretty much had tickets in the same general area. so it was like a huge group of people were just picked up from one spot (the student union) and dropped right into those seats. It was fabulous.

Ok so there's a little bit of the story. Now, in no particular order, here are some thoughts from the show:

- I was still a relative Phish Noob at this point, having only been to my first show back in April (4/8/94 Rec Hall at Penn State. Awesome. Bumped into Kelman outside. Never forget it), so a lot of the songs were still somewhat new to me. But I swear that the first time I heard Suzy Greenberg in the first set it was my favorite Phish song. Of course it was a little different than the version that I had heard from my big brother in the fraternity that had horns (7/12/1991,497/Phish-mp3-flac-download-7-12-1991-Colonial-Theatre-Keene-NH.html), but it was damn good!
- "is he singing 'Simple' or 'Cymbals'?!" Turns out, it was both
- my first Colonel Forbin's Ascent, complete with an explanation of the Vibration of Life. Pretty friggin' cool if you ask me.
- Slave to the Traffic light is a great song to end a show.
-Loving Cup was something completely and totally new to me. And thus began a lifelong love affair with the song, in all it's iterations. In all my days seeing Phish, I have yet to see a bad version of this song (though the boys did try to play a bad one in their farewell tour leading up to Coventry, but I'll give them a pass).

All in all, a wonderful experience. So like I said, this won't be all Phish. But there will be a bunch. Hang in there. I'm sure I'll find something you have heard or like at some point. And in the meantime, why not take a listen to this show. Email me if you want a copy!

Till next time, Later.