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Phish: Live In Utica Box Set In Stores 5/24!

On October 20, 2010 Phish played their first ever show in Utica in the heart of the Mohawk Valley.  Utica Memorial Auditorium is a hockey arena with a capacity of about 5,700 and a design very similar to another round room and favorite Empire State Phish venue, Madison Square Garden.  Utica was the smallest venue on Phish's fall tour and the atmosphere was charged with electricity - the music was swinging, inspired and transcendent with a crowd that rose to the occasion.  One clever fan even went so far as to craft a "Guyutica" sign that no doubt helped shape the night’s events.  A new camera mounted at the front-of-house position accentuated the light show in a way never before featured on a live, indoor Phish DVD.  Set one was bookended by a soul sandwich, opening with "My Soul" and closing with "Run Like An Antelope" ("set the gearshift for the high gear of your soul").  "Vultures" and a funky "Wolfman's Brother" > "Cities" with local references brought the show to an early fever pitch.  The music seemed to play the band as intricate, full-band improvisation intertwined the songs of set one throughout an absurdly creative sequence of "Guyute", "David Bowie" and "Wilson”.  The show's theme song "Guyute" bloomed again repeatedly during "Saw It Again" and "Run Like An Antelope", both of which oozed with exquisite detail fueled by a fully mind-melded band and audience.  Set two built on the momentum of a stellar first set, opening the door with a patient, jazzy "Sand" > "Theme From The Bottom" and diving headlong through it with an explosive combination of "Split Open And Melt" > "Have Mercy" > "Piper" > "Split Open And Melt" > "Slave To The Traffic Light" that nearly blew the roof off the Utica Aud. By the time “Birds Of A Feather” re-appeared during “Piper”, it could accurately be described as Uticular.  In keeping with its series of interrelated themes, nearly optimum flow and an overall magical glow, Utica also showcased some relative rarities from The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday such as "McGrupp And The Watchful Hosemasters" and "Tela".

The nearly three hours of music on the Utica box set was recorded with 64 channels of digital multi-track and beautifully mixed and mastered, appearing on the DVD's in 5.1 Dolby surround and full-resolution, uncompressed PCM stereo. The video was shot with 8 cameras (16:9 widescreen), recorded and post-edited in High Definition.  Combining a stellar performance with gorgeous improvisation and a healthy sense of adventure, Utica makes it clear that the band is back and playing for keeps.

The Utica box set features the complete October 20, 2010 performance on 2-DVD’s and 2-CD’s to be released nationwide on May 24th.  The box set presents three hours of crucial Phish in an intimate venue with an inspired audience that returned the energy at every turn.
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Check out some clips from Live in Utica:
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a video clip of 'Wolfman's Brother'

Soulive's Al Evans Unearths Crushed Velvet

Royal Family Records has announced the May 24 release of the long lost 1970s' motion picture soundtrack The Big One by Crushed Velvet & The Velveteers. This never-before-issued soul music gem was recently unearthed by Soulive drummer Alan Evans when a family friend in Buffalo, NY put him in touch with the movie's director Cleo McBride. A 1974 Shaft-meets-007 Blaxploitation production, The Big One never made it to the big screen as the film was reported to have been destroyed in a fire soon after completion. The soundtrack recordings remained dormant until Evans was recruited to mix the original sessions and release it through Soulive's record company Royal Family Records. The Brooklyn-based label will release the soundtrack as both a free mp3 album download and on limited edition vinyl.

The track listing is:

1. The Big One (Main Theme)
2. Thunderbird
3. Felecia's Love Theme
4. Detroit Slim
5. The Lay Down
6. Memphis Stomp
7. London Black (pts. 1,2,3)
8. Big Chase
9. The Big One (End Theme)

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More about Crushed Velvet & The Velveteers

In the late 60s and early 70s, Buffalo, NY was a well-known hotspot for funk and soul music. One of the stand-outs on the scene was a guitarist and vocalist who went by the name Crushed Velvet. He backed many of Buffalo's finest musicians and was the first call most national hit-makers would make when needing to assemble a local band for Buffalo dates. Inspired to start his own band, he assembled Crushed Velvet and the Velveteers. They hit the scene hard bringing a tight new sound to “The Queen City." The response was so overwhelming that it quickly became clear the next logical step was to set their sites on New York City. As plans were being made for a move to the Big Apple, Crushed Velvet got a call from an old band-mate turned filmmaker Cleo McBride. Cleo had recently been given his first big break to direct a film called The Big One. This was not going to be a run of the mill Blaxploitation movie, but a film to turn the industry on its head. The main character was to be the first African-American spy hero, chasing down "the man" across the world.  Crushed Velvet believed this could be the band's ticket to the top, so plans for NYC were shelved. Instead, they began recording the album of their lives.  After nearly a year of writing and recording, the soundtrack was near completion. It was around this time that Crushed Velvet received the devastating news that would shatter those dreams. On March 23, 1974, the home of Cleo McBride was burned to the ground along with all of the master film reels for The Big One.

After the fire, all that remained was the shock and allegations of an entire community.  Cleo McBride was the first to claim that the government was at fault for the destruction of his work because of its positive and powerful depiction of a "black man as a strong, worldly hero."  With no film to accompany the music and an overall paranoia associated with anything having to do with The Big One, the soundtrack was shelved. Crushed Velvet broke up the band and disappeared from the Buffalo music scene.

In 2010, Soulive drummer Alan Evans was contacted by a family friend who'd been in touch with Cleo McBride. Aware that Evans, a Buffalo-native, had achieved a great deal of success in the music industry and was also operating his own recording studio PlayonBrother, they shared the story of The Big One and Crushed Velvet & The Velveteers, hoping he'd listen to the tapes. Intrigued by the story, Evans agreed and what he found was pure soul music gold. He took to the task of mixing the recordings and preparing them for worldwide release through Soulive's label Royal Family Records.

THE BIG ONE, the original motion picture soundtrack by CRUSHED VELVET & THE VELVETEERS is available May 24 as a free mp3 album download and on limited edition vinyl through Royal Family Records.

Watch video with Al Evans explaining history of The Big One

Download a free mp3 of "The Big One (Main Theme)"

Labor Records reissues Heiner Stadler’s album Tribute to Bird and Monk

A truly groundbreaking landmark recording, Tribute To Bird and Monk, was widely lauded when it was first released in 1978 – credited as one of the best and most unusual albums of that year by Neil Tesser in a Jazz Magazine article that noted the record’s “tough, bright, innovative resiliency” and earning the coveted five star (highest) rating in a Downbeat review by critic Jerry de Muth (who called the two LP set “a brilliant mixture of arranged and free jazz”) and garnering arranger-producer Heiner Stadler a place in the magazine’s Annual Critic’s Poll as a Talent Deserving Wider Recognition.  More than thirty years later, the album originally released on Tomato Records, is a coveted collectors item whose importance has only been compounded with time, while Stadler’s pioneering conception continues to be a talent very much deserving of wider recognition.  Now reissued as a compact disc on his own Labor Records imprint, it is likely that Stadler’s unique talent will again be heard as deserving increased attention and the music will once more be praised on a level comparable to when it first appeared. The considerable artistic success of Stadler’s pioneering project can be credited as much to his visionary assembling of a truly distinctive ensemble to perform his inventive orchestrations, described by de Muth as “far more than arrangements,” noting that “recompositions would be a better term.”

In selecting veteran cornetist Thad Jones, a Monk alumnus and one of the most renowned arrangers of his day, to be an important member of the band filled out by much younger musicians who were closely associated with more modernist, even avant garde aspects of the jazz genre, Stadler imbued the date with an intriguing traditionalist facet at atime when tradition and innovation were virtually at war.  Tenor saxophonist George Adams, most recognized for his work with Charles Mingus made him at home in both camps, but his fierce uninhibited sound was certainly heard as being outside the mainstream.  The youngest member of the group, trombonist George Lewis as a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians was clearly recognized as a member of the avant garde.  Stadler’s choice of rhythm section mates could be considered most astute, with multitalented pianist Stanley Cowell as one of the few players of his instrument to find a place in the post Ornette realm of forward looking modernism. Virtuoso bassist Reggie Workman, a veteran of Coltrane’s innovative band and  then a member of Max Roach’s creative quartet was extending both the range and the role of the bass.  While Lenny White, known for his pioneering fusion work on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Chick Corea’s Return To Forever, proved to be a propulsive force, capable of swinging with fiery power.  The addition of percussionist Warren Smith on tympani for a pair of tracks further contributes to the band’s uncommon sound.

In his introductory comments for the reissue Tribute To Bird and Monk (prefacing the late Robert Palmer’s original liner notes) Jazz Journalist Association President Howard Mandel observes,  “By casting a unique sextet of New York City’s best improvising instrumentalists to explore the potentialities and retain the essences of music by two great jazz modernists composer-producer Stadler proved prescient. In 2010 tribute projects proliferate, though few take the dramatic leaps to create new art from indestructible aspects of established creations that Stadler’s does.” With remixed sound by the brilliant engineer Malcolm Addey listeners can now appreciate more the nuances of Stadler’s polytonal arrangements and the soloists’ daring improvisations on the six tracks split evenly between Monk and Parker compositions.

As Palmer points out in his liner notes (now reprinted) Parker’s opening “Air Conditioning” begins, “deceptively as it turns out, with a unison theme statement in C.”  Deceptively, as it is, because Stadler’s “polytonal manipulations on the theme …especially evident in the horn backgrounds that frame the solos.”  Each of the sextet members improvise boldly with Jones kicking things off with one of the date’s most conventional statements, followed by Lewis who pushes things a bit further out, preceding Adams who gradually takes things into space, with the ensembles raucous backgrounds deftly referring to Parker’s melodic line.  Cowell’s outing is particularly adventurous, proving himself to be one of the very few keyboardists who wasable to interpolate the vocabulary of Cecil Taylor into the more traditional language of bebop.  Workman, whopowerfully pushes the unit throughout, acquits the bass as an instrument quite capable of holding its own in the spotlight, while White solos musically, hearkening to Max Roach’s work with Bird.

Drums dramatically open Monk’s “Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are,” followed by Workman’s vigorously bowed bass and the horn section’s statement of the theme, which begins ominously before morphing into a carnival-like mood reflecting the composer’s sly sense of humor. Cowell, the lone remaining soloist, improvises lengthily here – referencing Monk frequently, occasionally with verbatim phraseology -- as horns enter and exit at odd intervals chime in with backgrounds transcribed from Monk’s original piano solo with Cecil Bridgewater (subbing for the snowbound Jones) playing with free spirited assurance.  Palmer notes the performance seems to be a particularly radical recomposition with each phrase of the theme voiced polytonally and separated from the next by a free collective improvisation, with Stadler’s score warning “don’t improvise too long in order to avoid losing the continuity of the melody.”

Parker’s ” Au Privave” features the trombone of George Lewis whose years of experience playing numerous uptempo Bird songs with Anthony Braxton finds him well prepared for his exemplary work here.  Adams plays the opening theme over Workman’s bass walking (in a different key) joined shortly thereafter by the horns. Lewis improvises marvelously, following Stadler’s instructions to vary his tempo, playing either slightly faster or slower than half time, while the rhythm sections plays in the set tempo.  The result is in Palmer’s words “constantly shifting mosaic of tempos … and each tempo swings.”

Workman and White open up Monk’s “Straight No Chaser” before the horns begin playing fragments of the well known melody with the various separate components linked by collectively improvised horn ensembles. Jones solos first, playing with an inspired abandon Palmer described at the time of the original release as “his most exciting and creative recorded work in years.”  Cowell again proves himself to be one of the most creative soloists of his generation improvising in tandem with the primordial Workman in a manner recalling Monk, while White’s drums run the gamut from New Orleans to out(er space) in a rhythmic duel with the horns’ staccato background. Workman’s extended unaccompanied bass solo brings the horns back in and the bassist walks things to a close

“Misterioso,” the final Monk exploration again begins with a Lenny White solo, his drums here joined by Warren Smith’s tympani, as various members of the ensemble play fragments of the bluesy theme to frame their percussion discussion, with Cowell’s piano clearly drawing the line between Monk and Cecil Taylor.  Workman’s bass is in the spotlight again, displaying a vast sonic array with incredible pizzicato and arco sections that are sensitively backed by the rest of the band on a truly masterful interpretation of the Monk classic engendered by Stadler’s daring arrangement which concludes with a return to the percussion section’s buoying of the theme.

Parker’s “Perhaps” ends the date on one of its lighter notes, with brass playing the not so widely known Bird line to open things up for Adams’ breathy flute as the rhythm section swings over Workman’s fast walking bass, joined intermittedly by trumpet and trombone, breaking up thetempo before Adams lets loose on tenor playing with a full emotional range -- from terrifying to tender -- that leads to a final ensemble statement of the theme with an almost conventional tone that offers an unexpected final relief.

The durability of this music, as daringly modern todayas it was when it was made more than three decades ago, stands as a tribute not just to Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, but also to Heiner Stadler, whose sympathetic vision of the two great composer’s creativity has brought their sound into the future while paying homage to the tradition from where it sprang.  As Mandel notes, “Tribute is a fair indication of Stadler’s powers. In it, he demonstrates that Bird and Monk wrote immutably multi-faceted music from which inspired individuals can generate kaleidoscopic variations, and that their music has inspired him to stretch form in a manner indisputably wed to content. There is no higher tribute than an artist making something new and enduring out of sources he admires and acknowledges.” This is the splendor Heiner Stadler provides to us with his Tribute to Bird and Monk.”

SNL's Christine Ohlman's new CD with Marshall Crenshaw

Christine Ohlman, a.k.a. “The Beehive Queen,” whose “day job” is that of the flashy, gritty long-time featured vocalist with the Saturday Night Live Band, has completed her first new album in five years, The Deep End, to be released by the Horizon Music Group through Selct-O-Hits on April 6, 2010.

Having won the respect of many fellow artists over the years, Ohlman recruited a stellar group of them to contribute to the new CD, including Marshall Crenshaw, Dion DiMucci and Ian Hunter as duet partners, as well as an all-star list of accompanists: G.E. Smith, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel from the Del-Lords, NRBQ veteran Big Al Anderson, Catherine Russell, the Asbury Juke Horns (Chris Anderson and Neal Pawley) and more.

Working in a swampy, guitar-driven style of contemporary rock/R&B, Ohlman and The Deep End co-producer Andy York (John Mellencamp) crafted 15 songs of life and love tempered by loss. It is Ohlman’s first album of new work since 2004; her recording hiatus followed the deaths of both long-time producer and mate Doc Cavalier and guitarist and founding member of Ohlman’s Rebel Montez band, Eric Fletcher. (The band presently includes Michael Colbath, bass; Cliff Goodwin, guitar; and Larry Donahue, drums.)

Christine is a musicologist of note of whom SNL bandleader Lenny Pickett, quoted in the New York Times, once said, “She knows the really good, obscure stuff.” The covers on The Deep End were lovingly chosen from her fabled record collection. She duets with Dion on the obscure Southern soul gem “Cry Baby Cry” and with Crenshaw on a Motown classic, Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells’ “What’s the Matter With You Baby.” A third duet with Ian Hunter on Ohlman’s own “There Ain’t No Cure” celebrates her love of the music and language of the Delta behind a punked-out, soul-searing groove. It’s one of a group of eleven new originals that includes “The Gone of You” (a song of loss and longing so central to The Deep End’s theme that it appears twice: in a full-band version and in York’s evocative, loop-driven demo, dubbed “After Hours” both for Ohlman’s late-night vocal and its darkest-before-the-dawn sensibility); the Muscle Shoals-tinged ballad “Like Honey”; flat-out barnburners “Bring It With You When You Come” and “Born To Be Together”; and Ohlman’s post-Katrina lament “The Cradle Did Rock,” which will appear later this year alongside tracks by Irma Thomas, Dr. John and Allen Toussaint as a bonus cut to the reissue of Get You A Healin’, a CD benefitting the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic.  The late Eric Fletcher is memorialized in the album’s third cover, a pristine reading of Link Wray’s “Walkin’ Down the Street Called Love.”

Ohlman and her previous recordings have impressed critics. The late Brownsville Station leader, bluesman and musicologist Cub Koda, writing in Stereo Review, believed, “Musical treasures like this don’t come along very often. Ohlman is the number one secret weapon in America’s gal-singin’ sweepstakes.” Charles M. Young in Playboy observed, “The first thing you notice is her tough, rousing, sexy voice.” Elmore magazine noted: “Few singers today are truly versed like Ohlman in all things soul. Tough and raw around the edges, she belts with a voice steeped in the heritage of this musical tradition.” All Music’s Hal Horowitz raved: “Ohlman never sings a tune halfway . . .she’s the leader of the pack.” And of the new album, critic/broadcaster Dave Marsh said, “There are so many ‘wow’ moments.”

In addition to her years on Saturday Night Live, Ohlman has an impressive resume. She sings on the theme song for 30 Rock; performed at Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary bash at Madison Square Garden with George Harrison and Chrissie Hynde; performed at President Obama’s Inaugural Gala in Washington, D.C.; led Big Brother & the Holding Company in a Central Park tribute to Janis Joplin; worked on a musical with Cy Coleman, who compared her sense of timing to that of Peggy Lee; and frequently duets with blues legends Hubert Sumlin and Eddie Kirkland. She also edited Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham’s autobiography 2Stoned (Oldham described Ohlman’s Wicked Time as “a deep swamp theme to a movie Burt Reynolds wished he’d made’)  and worked with Bonnie Raitt and Ry Cooder at the Rhythm & Blues Foundation Awards — all while continuing to torch clubs up and down the Eastern Seaboard with Rebel Montez. She counts among her friends Willie Nile, Syd Straw, Charlie Musselwhite, Hal Willner, David Johansen, Paul Thorn and Marshall Chess.

A Connecticut native and resident, Ohlman played with G.E. Smith in the Scratch Band in the 1970s, leading to her long association with Saturday Night Live. Her stint in fabled Studio 8H of Rockefeller Center includes the Sinead O’Connor and Ashley Simpson meltdowns (she was present for both) and the current season’s hilarious “Swine Fever” commercial parody, featuring a magnificently beehived Ohlman in full Dolly Parton regalia. She fondly recalls waltzing around 8-H with the late Chris Farley to Paul McCartney’s impromptu rehearsal performance of “Hey Jude.” With her long-time mate, the late Doc Cavalier producing, Ohlman released four records with Rebel Montez: The Hard Way (1995), the live Radio Queen (1997), Wicked Time (1999) and Strip (2003). In 2008 with current business partners Alex DeFelice and Vic Steffens at Horizon Music Group, she released a career compilation called Re-Hive. Yet she has remained under the radar — a best-kept secret. Until now.

Reflecting on The Deep End’s central theme of love both lost and found, Ohlman says, “Rosanne Cash and I were talking and she asked me if I’d written sad songs. It wasn’t until then that I realized I hadn’t. Ultimately, this album is about love and the courage to fall into it. Loss just informs you; it opens emotional doors that couldn’t possibly have opened before, no matter how much you thought you knew about it. I wrote about love — the newness of it, the glory of it, the loss of it, the sadness that can come from it, the wonder of it . . . the sweet bitterness of it.”