Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports

A Pink Floyd album this is not. Neither is it truly a Nick Mason solo album. It’s more of a collaboration between Jazz artist Carla Bley and Nick Mason. Both were looking for something different to do in their respective careers. Since the success of “Dark Side of the Moon”, “Wish You Were Here”, and “Animals”, Mason wanted to do something outside of what was becoming the increasingly Roger Waters influenced Pink Floyd music. When Carla Bley contacted Mason about some new, less free-form jazz material she had written, it was just what he was looking for. So he lent his input and they co-produced this album.

Although Nick Mason’s name adorns the album, the drummer for Pink Floyd admits this is not really his first “proper” solo album, he labels it more of a musical experiment. Still, it is an exciting album, filled with a sound that is less non-conformist than Bley’s other material and a definite step outside the comfort zone of Pink Floyd’s success for Mason.

Carla Bley wrote all the songs for this album and co-produced it with Nick Mason, so some consider this to be more her album than his. I disagree. It is a collaboration between two artists wanting to do something outside what both felt had become considered the norm for them. My guess is that Bley didn’t want to alienate her free-form jazz fans, so Mason’s name was chosen for the marquee on the record. Plus, Mason’s association with Pink Floyd ensured a bit more commercial success for the record.

Sade – Diamond Life

There’s a reason “Diamond Life” by Sade (pronounced shah-DAY) was one of the best-selling debut albums in the ’80s. It’s musical combination of jazz, soul, and pop made the songs infectious and irresistible. And then there’s Sade Adu’s sultry and seductive voice. This is the perfect album to start off the day or relax to at the end of it.

Born in Nigeria, Helen Folasade Adu eventually moved to England where her creativity and beautifully exotic looks landed her careers in both modeling and fashion design. But it was while singing background vocals for a local band, Pride, that she found music to be her true calling. Changing her performing name to Sade Adu, she convinced three members of Pride to form a band with her. My guess is it didn’t take much convincing.

“Diamond Life” went on to sell over 4 million copies worldwide and topped the charts in numerous European countries. It hit number 2 in the U.K. and number 5 in the U.S. In the following years, Sade released many more successful albums earning them 9 Grammy nominations, taking home four. Their most recent album, “Soldier of Love” was released in 2010. It hit number 4 in the U.K. and topped the U.S charts.

U.K. – Night After Night

Eddie Jobson is an amazing musician. Case in point: his role in the British progressive rock band U.K. Not only could he play keyboards to a level that would make even Mozart smile, he was even more so a virtuoso on violin.

After their debut album, the prog rock supergroup lost its original drummer, Bill Bruford and lead guitarist extraordinaire Alan Holdsworth over creative differences. For their second album, “Danger Money”, U.K. replaced Bruford with the equally talented Terry Bozzio. The band decided to replace Holdsworth with…well, nobody. They instead placed more emphasis on Eddie Jobson’s keyboards and electric violin for the solos. Jobson was more than up to the challenge with their newer songs.

But what about playing the older songs live, on tour?

“Night After Night” answered that question in true evocation of Holdsworth’s talent. It’s on Alan Holdsworth’s solos where Eddie Jobson proves how amazing he is. He not only switches from keys to violin flawlessly but also adopts Holdsworth’s complex jazz infused solos perfectly to the violin without so much as flinching. If this was the album where you first heard U.K. you would swear the solos were written for electric violin.

Come to think of it, this is the album where I first heard U.K.

Well then, there you go.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out

Listening to The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s 1959 album “Time Out”, it’s hard to believe that their style of jazz was once considered to be inaccessibly out of the mainstream because of Brubeck’s consistent use of unusual time signatures. The quartet had a hard time getting booked to play even small clubs that seated less than fifty people because a lot of owners felt Brubeck’s style was just too complex for people to get. Music critics felt the same and totally dissed “Time Out” when it was released.

As it turned out, it was the critics and club owners that didn’t get it.

“Time Out” sold over 50 thousand copies shortly after its initial release and eventually sold over a million, making it one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time. It also nearly topped Billboard’s pop album charts stopping just short at #2.

After the success of “Time Out” the Dave Brubeck Quartet no longer had to worry about filling clubs that seated fifty people. The quartet started playing venues that seated a thousand or more.

In short, “Time Out” firmly founded Dave Brubeck’s reputation as a jazz pioneer and innovator who forever changed how jazz music is played and interpreted.

Billy Joel – 52nd Street

Although Billy Joel’s fifth album, “The Stranger” was his commercial breakthrough, it was “52nd Street”, his 1978 follow-up to it, that made him a star. The album topped the Billboard charts shortly after its release, had three top 40 singles, and brought home two Grammys, including Record of the Year in 1979.

In addition to being recorded at a studio on New York’s 52nd street, the album’s title also alludes to New York City’s jazz district, which the street runs through the heart of. The album has notable jazz leanings in many of its songs and is considered by most critics to be one of Billy Joel’s finest records.

The Amboy Dukes – Journeys And Migrations

Before Ted Nugent, there was The Amboy Dukes.

Ted Nugent is probably known as much for his right-wing political activism and outspoken nature, especially when it comes to his support of the 2nd amendment to the U.S constitution (the right to keep and bear arms) as he is for his guitar playing. Whether or not you agree with Ted Nugent’s political views or like his in your face, sometimes brash nature, you can’t deny he is one of the best rock guitarists ever. It’s that incredible guitar playing that really makes “Journeys and Migrations” the great compilation that it is.

The album gets it title from The Amboy Dukes’ early albums “Journey to the Center of the Mind” and “Migration”. The Amboy Dukes only had one big hit in their existence from 1968 to 1965. “Journey to the Center of the Mind” from the album of the same name, pretty much represents the psychedelic sound of most of the songs featured here, although the band does occasionally wander into jazz, doo-wop, and hard rock territory.

In order to release their records in Great Britain, The Amboy Dukes had to change their name, since there was already a band performing there under the same name. Appropriately, they chose to call themselves The American Amboy Dukes.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland

I have a bit of extra time this morning before work, so I figured I’d put on a double album. Not just any double album, but one of the heavy hitters of rock and roll; a double album that anyone who loves rock and roll needs to listen to before they die.

With its combination of rock, blues, jazz, funk, and psychedelia, “Electric Ladyland” had numerous hit songs for The Jimi Hendricks Experience including their most successful song, “All Along the Watchtower”, a cover version of a Bob Dylan song. Bob Dylan also had a hit earlier with his folk oriented version of the song.

Jimi Hendrix was very much known for being a perfectionist in the studio. With the recording of “Electric Ladyland” Chaz Chandler became so frustrated with the multiple takes Hendrix was demanding (drummer Mitch Mitchell reportedly recorded at least 50 takes for one of the songs) the producer of The Experience’s previous records quit near the beginning of the “Electric Ladyland” sessions, prompting Hendrix produce the album himself. Hendrix’s perfectionism obviously paid off, as this third and final album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience was their most successful record.

Because of the cost and hassle of booking studio time for all the takes Hendrix demanded during the recording of Electric Ladyland, Hendrix decided to build his own recording studio of the same name afterwards. Unfortunately, Hendrix would record only one song at the Electric Ladyland studio – the short but sweet instrumental “Slow Blues” – before his untimely death in 1970. The song remained unreleased until its inclusion in a retrospective Jimi Hendrix Experience box set that was released in 2000.

Santana – Abraxas

Q. What do you get when you combine Latin rhythms, psychedelic rock, and one the best guitarists of all time?

A. The second album by Santana, 1970’s “Abraxas”.

Like many artists, Santana’s music has changed through the years, morphing with the times. No matter what era you of Santana you listen to, one constant is the infusion Latin, blues, jazz, and rock and roll music.

Santana went into the studio to record “Abraxas” shortly after performing what was one of the most highly regarded performances at the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival (considered by many to be second only to the unforgettable closing set by Jimi Hendrix). Consequently, the band’s confidence level was high (as were the band members themselves most likely) resulting in what is arguably the best of Santana’s early work.

Although the cover artwork perfectly fits the Latin and psychedelic feeling of Santana’s music on this album, it was actually painted by a German born artist, Mati Klarwein. The painting, which wraps around to fill half of the back cover as well, is considered by many to be one of the best album covers of all time. Because of its extravagant detail, it can only be truly appreciated in the larger size of the original 12 inch vinyl.

Frank Zappa – Joe’s Garage, Act I

Like a dry Merlot wine, a hoppy IPA, or a the smokey-sweet burn of a good bourbon, “Joe’s Garage” by Frank Zappa can be an acquired taste. A three-part rock opera of sorts, it is more than anything, a social commentary about the dangers of censorship, government control, and the resulting rise of a dystopian society.

The lyrics can get crude at times, but then, Zappa is trying to push the limits on this album. Of course, musically as he always does, but also lyrically, especially in the songs “Catholic Girls”, “Crew Slut”, “Wet T-Shirt Nite”, and “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”. Along with the theme of the album, as narrated by the Central Scrutinizer, Zappa seems to openly challenge government censors to just try it.

Like any Zappa album though, the true greatness here is in the playing and in the combination of styles and the structures of the songs. Sometimes the edginess and crude humor of the lyrics distract from really noticing the brilliance in what’s being played and how it’s arranged, but that just means you have to listen to it again to hear what you missed. Like I said, it’s an acquired taste.

Act I of “Joe’s Garage” came out in September of 1979. Acts II and III came out about a month later. Even though all three acts were released in a complete set in 1987, in honor of having to wait for the conclusion of the story back then, I feel like listening to the final two acts at some later date; in a month or so.

Yes – The Yes Album

I am really digging what an awesome bassist Chris Squire was. I mean, I always knew he was good – and all the members of Yes are great in their own right – but for some reason, when I cranked up “The Yes Album” just now, my ears started focusing in on his playing and…

…I am really digging what an awesome bassist Chris Squire was.