Dec 11, 2008

A random nostalgia bite

A funny scene the other eve:

I was invited to a young man's birthday celebration. Young, as in eleven years of age. After the requisite candle-blowing and gift-opening, the kids retreated to the living room while the adults retreated to the kitchen's liquid offerings.

Soon after, I heard the long lost but familiar strains of that 80's classic Whip It soaring through the air. Yes, it was those lovable, pot-wearing devils by the name of Devo kicking it up. Peeking in, I found the young 'uns taking in the famous MTv video that accompanied the song. Remember when MTv actually showed music videos? I do.

"Yeah, he got his hands on an old tape I had from back in the day on the life and times of Devo," the lads Mom related. "He must have played the Whip It clip 50 times by now."

Now, weren't we all similarly enthralled by this master work of story-telling when we first saw it? Let us recall the basic plot line here:

Cowpokes let off a little steam after a hard day on the range by downing a few cold brewskis, roughing-up their bitches, shooting off some rounds, getting into a little S&M voyeurism and raping the cross-eyed Asian neighbor.

Ah yes: nothing like reinforcing some of those good ole midwestern family values, is there? So, for your nostalgia fix of the day, may we present ....


Dec 3, 2008

Jazz legend highlights Frederick Allen Lodge benefit in Saratoga

With the soul-jazz revival currently in full swing, Melvin Sparks is finally getting long-overdue recognition as one of the early pioneers in the original incarnation of that musical movement.

While prominent vocalists such as Sharon Jones, Betty LaVette, Duffy and Amy Winehouse are leading the genre’s mainstream charge -- and marching to the bank -- the Mount Vernon-based guitarist has at least settled into a comfortable role as the proverbial musician’s musician who played a major part in keeping the genre’s flame burning for 40 plus years. With that has come Sparks’ individual revival as well.

Taking up the guitar at age 10, the Texas native was rolling on the roadhouse R&B circuit by 1963, backing such legends as Sam Cooke and Little Richard coast to coast. Fine-tuning his unique improvisational chops throughout that decade, he became an in-demand session player, appearing on releases by Johnny Hammond Smith, Lou Donaldson, Reuben Wilson and dozens of others.

Set favorite ‘Cranberry Sunshine’ is rumored to have provided the chord structure used in the Allman Brothers’ classic “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” He recorded his first solo album Sparks! in 1970, with several follow-ups in the ensuing years.

The timing could not have been worse, however, as soul-jazz declined in popularity and became nothing more than a historical niche genre for the next two decades. Sparks would release but one album in the 80’s, while keeping food on the table through the increasingly rare studio gigs for Jimmy McGriff, Fathead Newman and others.

The tide began to turn by the mid-90’s, and Sparks’ phone started ringing again. Gigs sprang up in not only the expected jazz club haunts but also in the not-so-expected world of jam band festivals, as artists such as Derek Trucks, Max Creek and the Greyboy All Stars would pay homage by inviting Sparks along for the ride. His free-flowing style fits in nicely with that improvisational framework, while also offering a fresh and unexpected surprise twist to a new generation of appreciative ears.

Sparks’ trademark guitar sound – quick, fluid runs on the high end strings, free of feedback or distortion – lead to his being credited as the inventor of various styles ranging from acid-jazz to jazz-funk to barbecue-jazz. The latter title might be the reason for local supermarket chain Price Chopper adopting the smiling giant of a man as the face and sound of their House of BBQ television spots.

Melvin Sparks and his instrumental trio – which includes B3 organ whiz Matt Orchestra and drummer Bill Carbone – appear Friday, December 12th at Saratoga’s Parting Glass as the featured entertainment for the Frederick Allen Lodge’s holiday fundraising benefit. The pre-show party kicks-off at 7PM, with the music starting at 8PM.

For those curious as to what the two scheduled sets might bring forth, the answer is best provided by the highlight track on his 2006 Groove On Up release, titled “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky!”

Supervisor Joanne Yepsen, a longtime booster of the Lodge’s cause, hosts the event. The Golub Foundation provides underwriting support.

Ticket Reservations HERE