Lucifer’s Friend – Banquet

I can’t believe the difference in sound between Lucifer’s Friend’s 1970 eponymous debut and their fourth album, 1974’s “Banquet”. It’s hard to realize it’s actually the same band. Gone is the metal crunch of the overdriven guitars and Hammond B3 organ that put them in league with Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Black Sabbath. Those sounds are replaced here with more rounded guitar tones and a Fender Rhodes electric piano. Oh, and don’t forget the full horn section. All that, along with the free-flowing extended solos, leaves “Banquet” having much more in common with the progressive, jazz-rock fusion sounds of Traffic, early Chicago, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and ELP than it does with any metal band. About the only things consistent between this and Lucifer’s Friend’s debut album is the incredible musicianship and John Lawton’s amazing voice.

Then again Lucifer’s Friend was a band that seemed to strive to sound different on every new album. I think the diversity in their sound from one album to the next is a big reason they had a hard time gaining popular traction outside of their native Germany. Their fans never knew what to expect from them from one album to the next. The thing was, that’s what I admired about them.

Stanley Clarke

Jazz fusion is a style I need to add more of into my record collection.

When one thinks of Stanley Clarke, they think of two things: bass and jazz fusion music. Stanley Clarke is probably the person most singularly responsible for bringing recognition to bass as a lead instrument instead of just part of the rhythm section. Jazz fusion, with its freeform breakaway jamming style was absolutely the best fit for Clarke’s playing style. He is absolutely amazing to listen to.

Stanley Clarke recorded this self titled album – his second solo effort – while he was still in the band “Return to Forever” with Chick Corea. “Return to Forever” was a great fusion band, that for the most part, focused on traditional instrumentation. Usually, guitar or keys were the lead instruments. On Clarke’s solo efforts, it was all about the instrument he played. It was all about the bass.

Side one consists of more traditional jazz fusion. That is, if one can really call any jazz fusion “traditional”. It’s really a style That’s all about playing what you feel and feeling what you play. Listening to Stanley Clarke, it’s evident that he feels it.

“Spanish Phases for Strings and Bass” kicks off side two with a combination of neo-classical and Latin music. That’s followed by the four-part jazz fusion masterpiece “Life Suite”, which can be best described with one word: “epic”.

I think the reason I don’t have more jazz fusion in my collection Is because to me, jazz has always been a style of music that should be heard, and seen, performed live. But that doesn’t mean it can’t make for a great studio recording. Stanley Clarke proves that here.

Jean-Luc Ponty – Upon The Wings Of Music

Chilling and jamming to some jazz fusion courtesy of the violin musings from Jean-Luc Ponty’s true solo debut album.

Although he did come out with an album about five years prior, that album contained songs written primarily by  Frank Zappa. “Upon The Wings Of Music” is a collection of songs that were also written by the French violinist.

Up to this point in his musical career, Jean-Luc Ponty was known primarily as a very in-demand session musician and was a former member of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, another very influential jazz fusion group (this is where I first discovered him). In an interview, Ponty said that he felt restricted not being able to perform his own music. Because of the recognition he had achieved while playing with others, Atlantic Records signed him almost immediately when he announced is solo intentions. 

“Upon The Wings Of Music” was very successful on the Jazz charts and also had some crossover success, holding a place on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart for several weeks.

Jean-Luc Ponty & Stephane Grappelli – Violin Summit

I don’t know much about Stephane Grappelli, but I do know who Jean-Luc Ponty is, and if he looked up to Stephane Grappelli for his violin playing…well, that’s good enough for me.

Jean-Luc Ponty is a highly regarded classically trained violinist who found his calling to be not in classical music but in jazz. This I knew. What I didn’t know until reading the liner notes on this album was that Stephane Grappelli influenced Jean-Luc Ponty to throw himself into jazz music.

I knew early on in his career, Jean-Luc Ponty played and toured with Frank Zappa. What I didn’t know was that right after he finished touring with Zappa, he recorded this album with Stephane Grappelli, who was a jazz legend in Jean-Luc Ponty’s native France.

I knew I liked to go to garage sales to look for old vinyl records people were getting rid of for pennies on the dollar. What I didn’t know a couple of weeks ago when I stopped at that garage sale, was that I would end up finding an album that I had no idea existed, by an artist I revered, playing with an artist who he highly regarded. An album that will from that day forward remain one of the hidden treasures in my record collection. 

An album that almost nobody knows.

Jeff Beck and The Jan Hammer Group – Live

Jazz fusion. A culmination of jazz blues and Rock. Music that is best performed live. Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer had to have known this when they collaborated two record this album in 1977. The interplay between the keyboards and guitar is exquisite. Then again, all the musicianship on this record is.

The album opens with Freeway Jam and closes with blue wind. Two of my favorite Jeff Beck songs, both of which are perfect for live improvisation. Old songs feature solos that are extended out from the studio versions.

As the album title implies this is an album that focuses on two artists, both masters of their craft. The performances are mostly instrumental, with only a couple of songs on side one having vocals. I kind of wish they would have made the album entirely instrumental. In my opinion, the singing somewhat detracts from the quality of the rest of the album. Listening to the audience response to the songs, I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way. Still, this is a great live album.