(Above: Return to Forever rock Stanley Clarke’s “School Days” to close their performance at the Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo.)
By Joel Francis The Kansas City Star
Stanley Clarke announced to an excited Midland Theater crowd that this latest version of Return to Forever wasn’t like all those other reunion bands who declare that a tour was their last time around. Rather, the bass player said, Return to Forever were just turning a new page.
Keyboardist Chick Corea has reconvened his famous Return to Forever groups several times since the band’s 1970s heydays. The current incarnation –- dubbed Return to Forever IV -– comprises Corea, Clarke and drummer Lenny White with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and Frank Gambale on guitar.Clarke’s comment may have seemed an odd way to describe a two-hour repertoire was at least 30, and sometimes nearly 40, years old, but while the tones and textures of the original recordings remained unchanged, it was obvious the musicians were having fun exploring this music in a new context.
The quintet’s massive sound easily filled the big room. Playing at rock-show volume they opened with “Medieval Overture,” the first of three songs pulled from their classic “Romantic Warrior” album. White’s drums and Corea’s keys were pristine throughout the night, but it took a couple songs before Clarke and Ponty got the prominence in the mix they deserved.The telepathy Corea, Clarke and White have developed playing together over the decades were obvious from the first notes. While they were far from ringers, it seemed to take Ponty and Gambale a moment to insert their voices in the conversation, although the mix may have contributed to this as well.
Once the sound and musicians adjusted the already-nimble music hit warp speed. Ponty had already soloed before sounding off of Corea’s piano during the snippet of “The Shadow of Lo” that prefaced “Sorceress,” but in that moment he established his presence.
Ponty dominated the next number, a reading of his 1975 composition “Renaissance.” The first completely acoustic number of the night, it demonstrated the ensemble was still just as powerful in the quieter setting.
On “Romantic Warrior,” the other unplugged number, Clarke essentially turned his upright into a massive drum by slapping the neck with alternating hands. Although everyone took impressive solos, Clarke and Ponty’s seemed to generate the most applause throughout the evening.
The night ended with a celebratory romp through Clarke’s “School Days” with Clarke and Gambale standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the front of the stage strutting and strumming like rock stars.
Zappa Plays Zappa: Pairing RTF’s progressive jazz with Zappa’s progressive whatever-it-is was inspired. Dweezil Zappa led an eight-piece band through a one-hour exploration of his father’s catalog. The arrangements were faithful enough to the original recordings to satisfy Zappa’s rabid following, but managed to include several delightful surprises as well. Corea joined the group for “King Kong.” The set also included “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?” “Big Swifty” and “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.”
RTF Setlist: Medieval Overture; Captain Senor Mouse; The Shadow of Lo (excerpt) > Sorceress; Renaissance; After the Cosmic Rain; Romantic Warrior; Spain. Encore: School Days.
(Above: “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” was Charles Mingus’ tribute to Lester Young. It has been a regular part of Jeff Beck’s performances for the past 30 years.)
By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star
The guitarist’s guitarist, Jeff Beck has a long and varied career. Here are some of the high points from each of the genres he’s worked in.
“Ultimate Yardbirds” (2001)
The song “For Your Love” brought the Yardbirds their first big hit, but it cost them their guitarist. When Eric Clapton quit the group for abandoning their blues roots, Jeff Beck was recruited. Beck’s tenure in the Yardbirds bridged the early rave-up blues era and the later psychedelic rock phase. For a brief period, he was joined by Jimmy Page on bass and, later, second guitar. Shortly after the Beck-Page incarnation appeared in the film “Blow Up,” Beck left the band and started his solo career. He has, however, participated on several of the Yardbirds’ reunion albums.
Note: The Yardbirds’ catalog was a frustrating mess of reissues and piecemeal compilations until Rhino released the two-disc anthology “Ultimate Yardbirds.” The collection contains every A-side, key album tracks and a handful of rarities across all three eras of the band.
“Truth” (1968), “Beck-Ola” (1969)
As a nonvocalist, Beck has always had to hunt for a singer. When assembling his first post-Yardbirds project, he nabbed a little-known English R&B singer Rod “The Mod” Stewart. He also recruited Ronnie Wood to play bass. The trio — joined by a rotating cast of drummers — made two albums together before Stewart and Wood left to join the Faces. Both records have a similar feel to the heavy blues/rock Beck’s former bandmate Jimmy Page was making with Led Zeppelin.
“Beck Bogert Appice,” “Live in Japan” (both 1973)
After the demise of the Jeff Beck Group’s second lineup, Beck teamed up with the rhythm section from Vanilla Fudge, drummer Carmen Appice and bass player Tim Bogert. While the studio album was a typical slab of power trio hard rock, the band expanded its template on the live album, stretching several songs to the 10-minute mark. Both albums contain Beck’s version of “Superstition,” the song Stevie Wonder wrote with Beck in mind, before Wonder’s manager persuaded him to keep it for himself.
“Blow by Blow” (1975), “Wired” (1976)
Beck teamed with producer George Martin for his first all-instrumental solo projects. Asthetically, the albums fit comfortably alongside Chick Corea’s “Return to Forever” and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. “Blow by Blow” contains two Stevie Wonder covers and a version of the Beatles’ “She’s a Woman.” “Wired” contains some outtakes from the “Blow by Blow” sessions and a cover of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” that has become a concert staple. The drummer on “Wired,” Narada Michael Walden, is in Beck’s current touring band.
After a five-year recess, Beck returned with Nile Rodgers of Chic. “Flash” was Beck’s bid for mainstream credibility and featured eight singers across its 11 tracks. The album won a Grammy and reunited Beck with Stewart on Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.”
“Crazy Legs” (1993)
The guitar sound on “B-I-Bickey-Bi, Bo-Bo-Go” and other early Gene Vincent singles had a big effect on Beck as a teenager. In the early ’90s he paired with the Big Town Playboys to pay tribute to Cliff Gallup, Vincent’s guitar player.
“Who Else!” (1999), “You Had It Coming” (2001)
Longtime fans were surprised when Beck embraced the samples and looping techniques made popular by the Chemical Brothers and Aphex Twins. “You Had It Coming” finds Beck sparring with guitarist Jennifer Batten and features an update of Muddy Waters’ “Rolling and Tumbling” with Imogen Heap on vocals.
Jeff Beck has popped up in some unlikely places over the years. Here are some of his most noteworthy performances on others’ albums.
Stevie Wonder – “Talking Book” on the song “Lookin’ For Another Pure Love”
Tina Turner – “Private Dancer” on the song “Private Dancer”
Mick Jagger – “She’s the Boss” and “Primitive Cool”
Roger Waters – “Amused to Death”
Jon Bon Jovi – “Blaze of Glory – Young Guns II” soundtrack
Hans Zimmer – “Days of Thunder” soundtrack
Buddy Guy – “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues” on the song “Mustang Sally”
The Pretenders – “Viva el Amor!” on the song “Legalise Me”
Toots and the Maytals – “True Love” on the song “54-46 Was My Number”
Cyndi Lauper – “The Body Acoustic” on the song “Above the Clouds”
Morrissey – “Years of Refusal” on the song “Black Cloud”
(Above: Mouth gets “Gnarly” at the Jackpot Saloon.)
By Joel Francis
The Daily Record
Fans wanting to pigeonhole Mouth’s music, do so at their own risk.
The three-piece Kansas City band combines elements of funk, jazz, pop, hip hop, electronica and progressive rock in their unique, dance-friendly instrumental songs.
“People have tried to make us either a jam band or a jazz/fusion band,” drummer Stephen “Gunar” Gunn says as guitarist Jeremy Anderson finishes the sentence. “Whatever genre people pigeonhole us as, they always complain.”
Talking with the band, which also includes bass player Zach Rizer, is like trying to catch a ping pong ball in a shower stall. The three are just as in synch in conversation as they are when playing. Words zip around as the three finish each other’s sentences and try to complete their own thoughts.
“I used to be afraid of being pigeonholed by the jam-band crowd,” Anderson says. “Honestly, they’re a lot more open-minded than anybody.”
They also provide a nice business model. Mouth tape all of their shows and try to saturate the market with recordings in hopes that the music will find its way out ahead of the band.
“These shows in Topeka and Wichita are the first time we’ve done two shows out of town in a row,” Gunn says of a recently completed road trip. “Right now we’re just trying to figure out how to play and get out on the road where we’ll at least earn near our gas money.”
Mouth – the name is a play on the fact that there’s no vocalist – perform in Springfield, Mo. on Saturday and will celebrate their first birthday on Jan. 29 at the Jazzhaus in Lawerence, Kan. One year ago the trio was playing a First Friday art exhibit and dipping their toe into the scene at the Jackpot Saloon.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to get a cake in, but I want to make party favors, maybe put songs on a CD and give them out,” Anderson said. Several friends of the band, including guitarist Matt DeViney, who co-founded Gunn’s previous band Groovelight, and local MCs Reach and Phantom will also help celebrate with the band.
Although hip hop is now a staple of the band’s catalog and all three members were longtime fans, embracing the genre was purely a business decision. After six months of drawing meager crowds, Rizer looked at what was getting covered in the music press and where people were going and decided hip hop was the way to go. As soon as they made the switch, they attracted some attention in The Pitch. They also started growing unexpectedly as musicians.
“When you take anything from samples, you not only have to learn the parts, but you have to learn how to put them together,” Rizer says. “There are a lot of subtle things at work, like tambour and tone. The funny thing about hip hop is that DJs will play samples against each other you wouldn’t think to combine.”
For Anderson it was a chance to add his favorite elements of progressive rock – long, intricate parts – and incorporate them in a hip hop setting.
“Our songs are structured like progressive rock, but feel like hip hop,” he says. “We’re not playing prog hop, though. We’re playing hip hop.”
The members of Mouth grew up in musical families. Anderson’s little brother got a guitar, but never played it, so the 10-year-old started noodling on Steely Dan and King Crimson licks. Gunn grew up immersed in music. His dad was a drummer in the band Heat Index and moved out to California in his ‘20s to pursue a career in music. The white bass drum in Gunn’s kit was originally part of his dad’s rig.
“When I was 13, my dad didn’t want me to play because he thought it was bad for my ears,” Gunn says. “He put the kit away in the attic, but I kept getting it out and playing.”
Rizer’s father was also a musician. His dad and grandpa, both named David Rizer, were jazz musicians. Grandpa Rizer played guitar with Oscar Peterson and Charlie Parker. David Jr. plays trumpet, bass and sings and plays regularly with Everette DeVan at the Blue Room.
“My dad never pushed, but I was always surrounded by music,” says Rizer, who counts Bootsy Collins, Jaco Pastorius and Motown bassman James Jamerson among his influences. “I didn’t listen to anything rock-ish until I was older.”
At Shawnee Mission Northwest High School, Anderson introduced Rizer to rock and roll, while Rizer shared his love of funk, soul and jazz. Gunn, meanwhile, forged his own path, eventually performing at Wakarusa Music Festival with Groovelight in 2005.
“That show was kind of a turning point for me,” Gunn says. “At the time, I was into the whole progressive side, with odd time signatures. I was into Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever. At Wakarusa I realized people want to dance, not just listen. I used to play for the one guy who would appreciate us and tell us about that one measure 13/8. Now it’s come full circle to just wanting people to dance.”
One number the trio play is “Bad Wolf,” a new song that takes its name from Doctor Who. Anderson is seated, bent over his guitar, his nimble fingers dancing across the frets. When told his playing is reminiscent of Adrian Belew, he humbly replies “It should. I have his guitar and amp.” As Rizer’s groove takes over the melody, Gunn applies a hip hop/reggae rhythm on the drums. There’s very little eye contact; each musician lost in his own world.
“When we’re onstage, we definitely look at each other more,” Anderson said. “We’re constantly trying to push the boundaries of the song and include different elements.”
After a year together, Mouth has no future goals beyond continuing to push each other and trying to find a balance between the written and improvised.
“I’m looking forward to seeing where the music goes,” Gunn said. “We just pour ourselves into different scenes and see what happens.”