Breath Of Life – Under The Falling Stars

Important points

New wrinkles – the most dancefloor-oriented number (“Hide”) not only has slight touches of chicken-scratch rhythm-guitar but, momentarily, a ska backbeat! It’s not as “commercial” as “Until the Day” which, in every detail, sounds like it could have come from Bel Canto circa 1994-8.

Long time no hear – three songs sort-of have trip-hop beats. “The Magic of Dreams” in particular could be left over from “Silver Drops” – not only musically, it even reprises the “catch catch” motif!

Reconnecting with strengths – some well-placed feedback eruptions, and some dissonance (actually just jazzy chromaticism)

Lyrics – they’re still dealing in images of transcendence and transformation, but where the last two albums were full of characters who seemed to be withdrawing from physical existence (whether painfully or painlessly) – and doing so in places-of-worship, as often as not – here they’ve returned to the more benign transcendental imagery of the “Silver Drops” era. (More underwater imagery, and so much “dreaming” you might mistake them for Baptist ministers or German philosophers!).  Of course it’s foolish to pay too much attention to B.o.L lyrics- when the usual problems of broken English and “unfortunate turns of phrase” remain intact. (Again refer to “Stolen Dreams”).

Try this

And this

And then this

And to put it in context, here’s one of their old “hits”, for an encore


Claire Lemmon – Cleaner

At last it’s on YouTube – one of the greatest albums of all time (I’m not kidding – just listen.)

To those who heard it back in ’99, it was the “Plastic Ono Band” or “On My Way To Where” of its time.

Newcomers – prepare to have your guts wrenched (“Post”), to be tickled (“Swoon”), to worry for the singer’s mental health (“Welcome Hawaii”, “Stripy Assistant”), and for grade-A earworms (“Scary”, “Stupid” )

Zappa/Mothers “Go Ape”

The latest in the current series of Beat The Boots-type releases (above-ground bootlegs) on the Smokin/Eat To The Beat labels – this came as a bit of a surprise.

Unlike the others, all of which have some claim to “usefulness” (yes, even the audio of Barcelona 1988), this show has already been released as part of the original Frank-Zappa-endorsed Beat The Boots series (on Rhino/Castle), where it was copied from a bootleg album called Tis The Season To Be Jelly (the concert was around the start of the Christmas shopping season). Packaging fans ought to seek out the vinyl of the Season… edition, for the bizarre short-story on the back cover (a post-nuclear-apocalypse thing).

But for anyone who happens by the Go Ape edition…

One of the earliest substantive Zappa live recordings, sourced from a radio broadcast, this is (probably) the second half of the Mothers’ show in Stockholm in November 1967, this is as near as we get to an authentic glimpse of their highly-theatrical 1967-season shows at the Garrick Theater or the Albert Hall (there are definitely no Garrick Theater audio recordings, whatever you may have read!)

Divided into distinct segments – starting with twelve minutes of goofing around with ’50s/early ’60s pop tunes and FZ’s imitations of same. Vocal harmonies are as inexact here as they were on Absolutely Free, and we’re reminded that – whether he saw it that way or not – Ray Collins’ performance is as much about vocal caricature as singing. (In folkloric terms, the best bit is “No Matter What You Do”, a song-fragment which basically repurposes Frank’s unloved “All Night Long” collaboration with The Animals. Comparable to the similarly-obscure “Bust His Head” – both may in fact be Zappa/Collins co-writes).

Naturally the second segment is “jazz-rock-fusion / free-improv + performance-art mode for twenty-five minutes”. The bulk of it is comprised of one of the best versions of “King Kong” you’re ever likely to hear. Played as a jazz-waltz (like on the Uncle Meat album) instead of 12-8 (like every other pre-1981 rendition), it has excellent solos from Bunk Gardner and Don Preston but is dominated by a long and anguished-sounding solo from Ian Underwood: comparable to his Copenhagen outpouring on the Uncle Meat album, or, in a certain mood, I might say, better.

Eventually Frank takes up his baton and the chaos begins. We get a short, hasty, rendition of “It Can’t Happen Here”, but it’s only the mustard in this particular burnt-weeny sandwich. There are ingredients you’ll hear in every conducted-improv – i.e: the 5-4 beat – and there are ingredients which Zappa collectors have heard somewhere before – Don’s synthesizer screams and Floydian Farfisa-organ soloing, and the Freak Out-style routine where various Mothers recite monologs simultaneously (including some Spanish and some sheer incoherent gibbering). But here they combine into something unique – something which listeners may find genuinely unsettling: the sound of encroaching insanity, an audio hallucination in digital audio. Maybe it’s the moment of radio-scanning a la John Cage that makes the vital difference, or maybe it’s Ray, who seems to be babbling into one of those voice-changing toy-microphones.

It’s easy to miss the fact that Frank never plays a guitar solo on this disc (a wise decision, during this era, if you ask me!). A couple of familiar embellishing-licks behind Bunk’s solo is the nearest we get to an FZ solo. This is probably not an artistic decision but a sign of illness. It’s likely that this is indeed the show described in Michael Gray’s biog, where he spent a lot of time offstage vomiting – in which case, it’s possible (though I doubt it), that Ian Underwood played some of the rhythm-guitar parts. Later that night Suzy Creamcheese would be nursing him through gastro-enteritis and listening to him recant his plan to run for the presidency, cursing his political timidity.

Eric Dolphy – Nightmare Fuel

This should be a TV Tropes entry, but the keepers of the TV Tropes website have stubbornly and abusively refused to provide me with an account – I don’t whether they’re discriminating against me or just my e-mail company.

I know from decades of trying to infect people with Dolphyism that, even for people well-travelled enough to know where he’s coming from harmonically, his exclamatory solo style can be annoying and even alarming to certain people.  And this after more than half a century, and the more abrasive screechy-atonal saxophones of the Ayler/Sanders/Brotzmann generation. Yes it’s 54 years at the time of writing. since he left this vale of tears in mysterious circumstances (diabetes, or brain haemorrhage – or medical neglect, or murder…?).

BTW – He was in fact buried, not cremated – so there aren’t any jokes to be made about a certain Zappa tune title!


The account of his last days in the film “Last Date”- which overturned the established consensus that it was simply an “undetected riot of sugar in the blood” that finished him off – could be Nightmare Fuel for some.

But musically, is there a genuinely scary moment in the extended Dolphy catalogue?

If so, then I would venture to argue that it’s not any of those shouting/howling climactic high notes in his solos. And it’s not “Jim Crow”

and it’s not any of those “musical argument” routines with Mingus [note 1].


The nightmare-moment is actually the classic Out To Lunch version of the ballad “Something Sweet Something Tender”.

There are obvious precedents for both the title and the actual tune, as we initially hear it on the album (first a fluid, rubato statement over arco bass, and then the trumpet-led slow-tempo statement, with Eric adding an embellishment or two while Richard Davis fills in the gaps with busy soloistic bass).  It could have been called “something Duke, something Strayhorn”.

And the title suggests romance, closeness…oh, no more nonsense, it suggests sex.

But don’t be fooled by the “sexy” title.  Or Eric’s one-chorus solo in which he can’t help getting a little lowdown ‘n dirty. I would argue that the real “meaning” of the tune becomes apparent with that potentially shocking musical twist-ending, after the third theme-statement, the one which ends with Eric’s little cadenza.

Maybe one doesn’t realise the “meaning” of the tune the first dozen times one hears the album track, but one may realise – with horror – when it suddenly springs to mind, when one is waking from sleep, in the early hours of the morning.

It’s a “song” about death. Not “petit mort”. The real thing.

Focus on that last section starting at approx 4.38 – when the arco bass and bass-clarinet restate the theme, so close in unison as to be one voice. Unaccompanied, save for the faint suggestion of two or three tones struck on gongs, or bells, very low in the mix [note 2].

That whole section of music is suggestive of the dying/dead person’s very last moments of consciousness, when the whole body has shut down.

In which that last shred of life, of personhood, within the brain (that which religious people think is “the soul”), perceives, sensory input already receded to near-nothing, utterly hopeless isolation and powerlessness. perceives being at an unimaginably vast distance from the world of the living.

And the final musical flourish – Eric’s little run up the scale over the final chord, over distant drum/cymbal beats and twittering high-register arco bass?

That’s the moment of annihilation. The electricity within the brain actually sputtering out.

Et puis l’eternite. Silencio.

If only it were the last track on the album, or the last track on side one, we could be sure of the veracity of this interpretation.

(1 = the studio version of “What Love” is just the most famous of several examples of the “musical-argument routine” in the Mingus catalogue.

Any idiot can spot Mingus’s string-bending “moth-er-fucker” phrases in these routines, but no-one ever draws attention to Dolphy, in the “What Love” iteration,  almost literally making his bass-clarinet say “what? what!” and “fuck you! fuck you!” (the latter in both angry-snarling and, at the very end of the track, arrogant-staccato tones)

(2 = this may be just vibrating bass strings deceiving the ear, but what if there really are bells or gongs buried in the mix? Not played by Williams or Hutcherson, but an echo of whatever was on the source tape before it was [improperly] erased and re-used? It’s not impossible – as soon as tape recording was introduced, and with it the concept of overdubbing, that gimmick followed.  The notion that jazz recording should only be about documenting spontaneous creativity was overturned first by £llington, then by Mingus, and (more famously) Miles Davis/Teo Macero. Van Gelder would be aware of all this).


Epilogue – This post should be filed under “anything Chris Knowles can do, I can do…differently!”

The Fall

While I’m here I think I should add a belated “RIP MES”.

Unfortunately I don’t have time to compile a Best Of The Fall, so I have to rely on what’s on YouTube already

In the unlikely event that any people who stumble across this page have never gotten acquainted with Smith & Co, well – I’m a purist – so this is what I recommend firstly and foremostly

This playlist has just a few of the singles and non-album tracks



The Acklam Hall gig (which may be the best place to hear Spectre Vs Rector)

and the “difficult” masterpiece which for better or worse will always define them in the minds of many historians…

and just to balance it out, war stories from three of the most famous Fallen Idols

Santana – updates


A few years ago I wrote a brief review on this site of Carlos Santana’s ’70s and ’80s albums, with and without the like-named band. (No hyperlink – you’ll have to look for it yourself )

Now I can add a few details –

that shambolic album with Buddy Miles is now known to be not very “live” at all – a bootleg of the actual live performance is available on YouTube.

and, as murky as the audio is in places, it shows that had the tape machines been working optimally, a better album could have been assembled.  Buddy still over-emotes in that manner we associate with cocaine users, but we have plenty of hot solo action to even things out – with Bob Hogins (the organist) and Hadley Caliman (wind instruments) emerging as the real stars of the show.  And the repertoire encompasses allusions to everyone from the Staples Singers to Eric Clapton.  Oddly, people are still having to debate which solos are by Neal Schon and which are by the leader – like I said before, anytime you hear the dreaded “volcano”, you know it’s Carlos.

As a bonus, the YouTube page above includes the contents of the fake live album (necessitated when the live recording was derailed by a combination of surface noise and power outages…a situation both Duke Ellington and George Shearing would have been familiar with).

Also on the Santana front, we’ve had a limited edition reconfiguration of the classic Lotus album – by some distance the best live record to bear his name.  And the new edition “reveals” that despite being a triple vinyl set (in a very elaborate gatefold), the original was by no means a concert’s worth of material.

The real value of this extended edition is that it comes closer to presenting “history as it happened” – now we know where “Mr Udo” fits into the continuity, where “Savor” went, and that that spectacular long version of “Neshabur” was definitely an encore.  The added material isn’t great, though.  For anyone who wondered why Leon Thomas bothered to turn up (he only had one lead vocal on the original), this new version affirms that he had several spotlit moments…but also that they weren’t all that successful.  As charming as it is to hear The New Santana Band tackle “The Creator Has A Master Plan” (a song Thomas co-wrote, lest we forget), and revive “Um Um Um” (no, it’s not Major Lance’s grating hit – it’s the “blues ever get you?” song hidden on Side Two of the Buddy Miles live album), both draw attention to Thomas’s tendency to sing off-key at the most inopportune moments.  “Light Of Life” – it was a highlight of the Welcome album but it translates poorly to the stage (off-key vocals).  But it’s not Thomas’s weakest moment – that’s “Japan”.  One hopes the audience were just laughing inwardly, not seething. at this rather childish Hallmark-card portrait of their homeland (which, musically, as with virtually all Western attempts at japanoiserie, actually sounds Chinese).

Finally, on the Santana front, I feel the need to add another instalment of Seemingly Obvious Things Which Some People Don’t Know (Part #3).

Re: The budget price albums, mixing Pacific Studio demos and live tracks from the Fillmore and elsewhere.

Pacific Studio Tracks – The standalone Jingo, As The Years Go Passing By, Persuasion, El Corazon Manda (the track given the name Latin Tropical is just an alternate mix of the same performance), Fried Neckbones (the track given the name La Puesta Del Sol is just an alternate mix of the same performance), the backing track for Shades Of Time (mis-titled Let’s Get Ourselves Together, in reference to an abandoned lyric), Treat (the longer of the two tracks to be mis-titled Santana Jam), With A Little Help From My Friends, Ever Day I Have The Blues, the short version of Soul Sacrifice (which actually has the theme at either end). the backing track for Coconut Grove, and the one-chord jams Jammin’ Home and Hot Tamales

Unknown Origin Tracks – Travellin’ Blues, the incomplete jam given the title Acapulco Sunrise, the longer version of Soul Scarifice (which is still incomplete – you get the solos but not the theme), the Jam In G Minor (which some releases mis-title Santana Jam, again!!), the incomplete version of Rock Me Baby, and the incomplete jams given the titles Funky Piano and The Way You Do To Me

Live At The Fillmore Tracks – Evil Ways and the medley of Jingo/Shades Of Time (the latter still mis-titled Let’s Get Ourselves Together)

Red Herring – Just Ain’t Big Enough (someone out there has comfirmed who it is, all I know is that Santana has nothing to do with it)

Explanatory aside

Anyone who’s found this page lately has probably been directed there from either YouTube or Amazon.

So – reference my recent inane babblings on those websites.  You can probably tell that – in addition to all the everyday turmoil and instability in my life (re: being out of work and, still, in effect, homeless) – I’m going through my mid-life crisis period of “nostalgia for things that never happened, in order to shut out memories of what did happen”.