Music Guides

Rebel Rebel: A Rock Listener’s Guide to 
Early Modern Classical Music

If you’re curious about classical music but new to the genre it can seem overwhelming at first with so many periods, styles, composers and performances to choose from. At Jive Time we’re still learning, but it’s been a fun and rewarding journey. With this guide, we’ll share some of our experience with the classical-curious among our adventurous rock-oriented readers. We began our quest by looking for the similarities to rock music instead of the differences.

Many important composers, including all of the artists featured in this guide, were considered musical rebels in their day. Their controversial ideas, ahead of there time, continue to influence classical, jazz and popular music decades later. Rock began borrowing liberally from classical in the late-60’s, which was a period of intense innovation. The Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Velvet Underground are just three well-known examples of many rock musicians incorporating orchestral interludes, dissonance, and other symphonic elements into their sound. As the sixties grew into the seventies, taste-makers such as David Bowie, Brian Eno, John Cale and Frank Zappa brought classical to the forefront of their work, even dedicating entire albums to the genre. Classical was also a prominent factor in the progressive rock movement and continued to meld in genres as diverse as heavy metal, post-punk, electronic music and in today’s ambient music and post-rock.

Even to the uninitiated there are already many familiar names and music in classical: Everyone will recognize pieces by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev from film, television and commercials, and countless rock musicians have named electronic pioneers Varèse, Cage and Stockhausen as major influences. While all of these composers demand exploration, this guide will start instead with composers of the early and mid-Modern eras (loosely 1880-1940). Because of these composers’ experimental nature and ability to push boundaries, the five compositions below create a good starting place for those of us weaned on the defiant sounds of rock and punk.

1. Igor Stravinsky (Russia; b.1882, d.1971) Petrushka (1913): Stravinsky’s music is relentless and pulsating, dramatically unyielding, with subject matters that were years ahead socially. Petrushka is a ballet that tells the story of a puppet that comes to life and develops and experiences human emotions. His 1913 ballet, The Rite of Spring about a woman who literally dances herself to death was so eccentric and morose that it sparked a riot on its premier. Petrushka is not as … Read more›

Everything Scatter: A Guide to Afrobeat 
and the Music of Modern Nigeria

Nigeria has one of the richest musical histories of any country on the African continent. Considering the competition, that is really saying something. A country wracked with centuries’ worth of war, poverty, and countless other social ills, music has remained a constant unifying force, and it is the lifeblood of its peoples. For Nigerians, music is not a huge part of life—it is life. In fact, it is said that every Nigerian boy is given a drum before he learns to walk.

The evolution of Nigerian music can be traced back thousands of years, but it was its more modern forms that made the country a major player on the world music stage in the second half of the 20th century. It didn’t hurt that by this point the country already had a rich base shaped by a cross-cultural pollination dating back to the early days of colonization. Much of this occurred in the Nigerian capitol and busy port city of Lagos, where the heavily-rhythmic yoruba form dominated. Beginning in the 1900s, a plethora of musical influences, among them ragtime, calypso, meringue, blues, and even some Celtic forms, would join the mix, over time giving birth to a sound that was truly pan-global in every sense of the term.

But perhaps the most significant event in the evolution of modern Nigerian music was the arrival of highlife from neighboring Ghana in the early ’50s. A form with a resemblance to Trinidadian calypso and the American big band sound of the ’30s and ’40s, highlife would evolve and truly come into its own in Nigeria. Heavy on the brass, Nigerian highlife bands slowly began to emphasize the electric guitar, an instrument with widespread availability all over the world by the early ’60s. Vibrant, rhythmic, and extremely danceable, highlife became a major touchstone of Nigeria’s modern cultural identity, which in itself had taken on a whole new meaning following the gaining of the country’s independence from Great Britain in 1960.

Highlife continued to evolve throughout that decade, occasionally even leaving the confines of its national borders to enjoy some niche popularity in some western countries. One of its prime exporters was a young multi-instrumentalist by the name of Fela Anikulapo Ransome Kuti. In the early ’60s, Fela’s gifted musicianship landed him a spot at the prestigious Trinity College of Music in London, a city that at that time was experiencing the rumblings … Read more›

Glossy Grooves: Selected CTI Recordings

Creed Taylor Incorporated, or CTI Records, is a jazz label fashioned by producer Creed Taylor. Taylor was widely celebrated as the founder of the famed Impulse! label as well as producing classic records for Verve. Impulse! was regarded as being one of the most adventurous labels in jazz during the mid sixties, known for its high quality packaging and eclectic musical styles. When Taylor formed CTI records in 1967, he took these aspects with him. Along with his producing chops, Taylor recruited the great Blue Note legend Rudy Van Gelder, who provided studio time and sound engineering skills. This dream team, alongside some of the top musicians in jazz, created a body of work consisting of high quality, slick (occasionally too slick) recordings of the late sixties and early seventies. Most of the music was a fusion of jazz, funk and R&B, along with Latin themes sprinkled with floating, introspective, surreal interludes. Taylor would frequently provide a string section to the recordings as well. There were also some surprises, with freer more experimental styles integrated into the discography.

CTI remains an important aspect in the evolution of jazz and popular music, especially in hip-hop and neo-soul. Dozens of samples have been lifted from these records; the warm analog production on these records has influenced musicians from all over the spectrum. The presence of Taylor’s craftsmanship (and those tasty beats the DJs all love) can be heard from artists such as LL Cool J and Snoop Dog to Erykah Badu and Prince as well as various electronic free funk groups like Isotope 217. Although several of the records have not aged well (Taylor would often add string sections that tended to water down the music and now sound dated), an abundance of records from CTI still hold relevance today.

Basically, Creed Taylor’s CTI put the “smooth” in jazz before it became a dirty word to purists. In fact, two factors remain pure: the clean beats and the glossy grooves. Here are five records that should be of interest:

1. Freddie Hubbard Red Clay (1970)-A dark, austere album, modern, while at the same time nodding to the great West Coast Cool records of the late fifties. Not only is this essential for any CTI collection but in any jazz collection, period. Electric and acoustic, yet not quite fusion, funky but still swings, this record helped the trumpeter escape the inevitable shadow of … Read more›

Dead Wrong: A Non-Deadhead’s Guide 
to the Grateful Dead’s Studio Albums

There are very few bands as polarizing as the Grateful Dead, but even their most rabid fans and harshest detractors can agree on one point: The band personified a type of relationship a band can have with its audience. It’s now a model that many bands — especially those of the “jam band” variety — emulate and strive for, and one that is almost taken for granted in today’s fragmented music-consumer culture. It’s easy to forget just how pervasive the Deadhead phenomenon was, especially when it peaked during the final years of the Dead’s active existence. But all parties must come to an end, and when the Grateful Dead (wisely) decided to call it quits after Jerry Garcia’s sad but unsurprising death in 1995, the coliseum and stadium parking lots emptied out, and many Deadheads moved on.

Looking back on this era, it’s clear now that the Dead’s cultural impact often eclipsed their actual music. But as the shows become fading memories for those who experienced them and as a new generation of listeners discover the Grateful Dead, the focus is returning to the band’s rich musical history — where it belongs. Often brilliant, usually at least interesting, and only rarely unlistenable, the Grateful Dead weren’t afraid to take chances, and they adapted to changing times and environments while compromising very little for either. It’s a well-worn cliche that the Dead’s strength was as a live-performance unit. Indeed, a hardcore Deadhead can likely recite the set-list, verbatim, from the second set of a 1987 Alpine Valley show, but if you ask him if the original “Fire on the Mountain” is on Terrapin Station or Shakedown Street, you’re likely to be met with a blank stare.

In many ways, this preference for the live Dead is warranted, but it’s not always justified. The Dead’s natural habitat was onstage, for sure, but even during their best years (late ’60s and early ’70s), their exploratory jams did not always take flight, and they could be sloppy and meandering just as easily as they could be virtuosic and transcendental. Sometimes the controlled environment of the recording studio helped the Dead reign in some of their more excessive tendencies and focus their creative energies into making more cohesive musical statements. The end results of these endeavors varied widely in quality, especially during their later years. And there is certainly no avoiding the fact that … Read more›

Funky From Now On: 
A Guide to Funk, Part I “Proto-Funk”

Funk’s advent was the result of a convergence of many musical events, a “perfect storm” precipitated by the coalescing of all the major postwar African-American musical forms, among them jazz, blues, r&b, and gospel. Like many other innovations in American popular music, it came into its own in the ’60s. Its evolution can be heard in the output of musicians from just about every major US city, but Detroit, Philadelphia, Memphis, and New Orleans (see below) were the real hotbeds of activity. But if there is one individual who can be seen as the form’s prime architect, it’s a man from Macon, Georgia by the name of James Brown. Accentuating rhythm above all else, and essentially making his backing band, the Famous Flames, a massive percussion instrument, the Godfather laid the groundwork for The Groove. This proto-Funk sound exists in some shape or form on just about all of his King Records releases from Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag onwards. But many of his peers were also throwing down. Here’s a short list.

1. The Bar-Kays Soul Finger (1967) Though there are other great tunes in this assortment of instrumentals, its title track, with its thumping bass and blasting horns, is deservedly the standout. Even the record’s unavoidable association with one of the greatest tragedies in Soul music history—it’s the only one the original lineup recorded before  three of its members perished with Otis Redding in a plane crash—can’t  detract from its joyous groove.

2. Sly and the Family Stone Dance to the Music (1968) This sophomore effort by the Bay Area psychedelic soulsters is where they really find their footing. Much more of a group effort than Sly’s later work, its melding of fuzzed-out guitar, stinging brass, life-affirming vocals, and the stellar basswork of one of funk’s greatest innovators, Larry Graham, ushered in a new era.

3. The Meters (1969) – No other city is as deserving of the title “The Cradle of Funk” as New Orleans. In the late ’60s, literally hundreds of artists in that city cooked up potent stews of tight grooves and fat beats, and the Meters were the undisputed head chefs. Their Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn-produced debut features a smoking collection of instrumentals, including the original version of “Cissy Strut”, now a Funk standard.

4. Eddie Bo and the Soul Finders The Hook and Sling (1997) Elsewhere  in the Crescent City, … Read more›

Quiet Chaos: 
An Introduction to ECM Records

ECM Records is a jazz label founded in 1969 in Munich, Germany by producer/bassist Manfred Eicher. ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) became known as a label that created a musical environment all its own. The recordings were sparse, minimalistic and relying on space as an accent to create what is now widely known as the “ECM sound”. Most of the recordings were rooted in jazz but combined with other genres. As well as blues, funk and rock, various forms of European folk, world music and contemporary classical music frequently found its way into the landscape. From the packaging, to the pristine production style, Eicher’s releases all are linked with a certain aesthetic that ties them together; he has definitely had a vision in mind. One reviewer from Coda Magazine described the music as “The most Beautiful Sound Next to Silence.” But not all critics shared the same opinion.

The music was, and still is, ostracized for being self-absorbed, cold, and lacking soul. Depending on the listeners taste, the label has also been credited (or accused) of ushering in the New Age era. A number of releases do indeed have these qualities that can drag down and can get a bit arid. But there are many recordings that hit the mark, where space fills the gaps and silence gains a voice, resulting in exciting and innovative art.

Manfred Eicher’s ECM has had a significant impact on the evolution of jazz and improvised music and how it is produced, performed and recorded. By using subtlety as a tool, and combining different styles, his musical stamp has managed to produce some exploratory, modern sounds that could easily suit a broad range of musical tastes. The label is still active and going strong today and Eicher is still applying his “less is more” approach to dozens of recordings each year.

Listed here are some releases that will hopefully dispel some of the negativity surrounding the label:

1. Gateway Gateway (1975) Guitar trio set featuring John Abercrombie on guitar, the great Jack DeJohnette behind the drums, and Dave Holland on bass. This record covers everything from post-bop swing to abstract, sonic explorations. This is a criminally underrated guitar trio record, if not one of the best releases from ECM.

2. Chick Corea , Dave Holland, Barry Altschul ARC (1971) Chick Corea on piano with Dave Holland on bass and Barry Altschul on percussion – Any … Read more›

Beyond the Gilded Palace: 
A Guide to Country Rock’s Golden Age

Even though early rock and roll was deeply rooted in country music, the two were ideologically at odds from the start. This rift became more pronounced as the ’50s gave way to the ’60s, and by 1965 Nashville was more provincial than ever, seemingly impervious to the supernovas of musical activity in cities like London and LA. Nevertheless, rumblings of a sea change can be heard during this time period even in the music of Rock’s prime movers, the Beatles’ “Run For Your Life” on Rubber Soul just one example.

In 1966, less than a year after he had almost been booed offstage for playing an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival, Bob Dylan would travel to Nashville to cut a little record called Blonde On Blonde. Similarly, even on their early albums the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield wore their country influences on their sleeves, this mark of distinction becoming even more pronounced with each release. Something needed to give, and give it eventually did in the summer of 1968. Embracing traditional country & western (some argue to a fault), the Byrd’s landmark LP Sweetheart of the Rodeo announced the arrival of a new aesthetic. Released the following spring, Bob Dylan’s downhome Nashville Skyline upped the ante even more.

These records confused both the squares and the hippies when they came out, but not as much as when Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman defected from the Byrds to form the Flying Burrito Brothers. Parsons, most largely responsible for the Byrd’s dramatic switch to Country purism on “Sweetheart…”, needed a broader sonic canvas to explore his “Cosmic American Music”, and he would do just that on 1969′s The Gilded Palace of Sin. Its cover, depicting the long-haired Parsons in a marijuana leaf-patterned rhinestone suit, conveyed its mission statement almost as much as the music within. Unlike the Byrds’ and Dylan’s albums, The Gilded Palace of Sin took pieces from country and rock and reassembled them into something truly unique. Of the three releases in this “Country Rock Holy Trinity”, the Burrito’s album sold the most poorly, but its long-term impact exceeded that of its counterparts. Immediately after its release, musicians of all stripes took notice, and decades later the alt. country movement would be born when bands such as Uncle Tupelo and the Jayhawks returned to this well with a similar M.O. But the few years between the … Read more›

Ska and Reggae’s Missing Link: 
A Guide to Rocksteady

Aside from reggae, ska was arguably Jamaica’s most important musical form, at least in terms of long-term cultural impact. Becoming ubiquitous all over the island at an astonishing speed in the early ’60s, ska grabbed hold of Jamaica’s musical consciousness like nothing had before. What’s more, despite its strange rhythms and heavily-Jamaican-accented vocals (when it wasn’t entirely instrumental), it crossed cultural boundaries almost effortlessly, making it catch on like mad in Britain and—to a lesser degree—the states.

Many Jamaican artists who eventually became international household names, among them Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, cut their teeth as performers during ska’s reign. In 1964, Millie Small scored an international smash hit with her skanked-up cover of “My Boy Lollipop”, and soon ska was everywhere. But by 1966, it was mysteriously vanishing in one place: Jamaica. A visit to a typical Kingston dance hall around that time would reveal that things were changing. Ska was becoming more melodic, more centered on the vocalist(s), and slower. Nobody knows for sure why this happened, but there are some theories. One suggests that during the summer of ’66, a brutal heatwave gripped Jamaica, forcing the musicians to slow things down on the dance floor so revelers wouldn’t collapse from heat exhaustion. Another postulates that the increasingly widespread availability of American soul records might have been a factor. (This would certainly make sense, as Stax and Motown influences can be heard all over the place on many Jamaican sides that were cut around this time.)

Whatever the cause, ska was metamorphosing into something completely different, so much so that it needed a new name; rocksteady seems to be the one that stuck. Rocksteady’s heyday was even more short-lived than its predecessor—-really only about two years-—and by the end of 1968, things were changing again. Recording technologies on the island were improving. Rastafarianism’s influence continued to spread, prompting a more socially conscious and politically-charged aesthetic. By the end of the decade, rocksteady was no longer, and reggae prevailed. But for many connoisseurs of modern Jamaican music, rocksteady represents its high point. It’s a form that’s rich and complex, yet raw, pure, and deeply soulful. It’s a truly unique product of its place and time, but one that transcends geography and culture, and which remains timeless. Here are five shining examples.

1. Prince Buster: Fabulous Greatest Hits (1980) – Though acquiring a popularity in the UK that at … Read more›

Beyond Nuggets: 
A Guide to ’60s Ephemera

In 1972 Elektra Records’ Jac Holzman asked future Patti Smith Group guitarist and bassist Lenny Kay to compile what was a essentially a glorified mixed tape, resulting in Nuggets: Original Artyfacts of the First Psychedelic Era. This release became synonymous with the term “Garage Rock”, but this designation is not entirely accurate. Though rough and tumble staples like the 13th Floor Elevators and the Seeds are represented, more poppy-sounding bands like the Mojo Men, Sagittarius (featuring Glenn Campbell on vocals), and a host of other acts—some of whom were nowhere near a suburban garage when they cut these sides — are there too. Nuggets’ legacy is not so much its innovative (re)packaging of near hits, but its role in defining an aesthetic and its establishing of multiple genres and sub-genres: acid rock, power pop, sunshine pop, imitation Merseybeat, Dylan copycats, blue-eyed soul, even early Latino-rock  — they’re all here along with more that send rock critics reaching for their thesauruses and record collectors scrambling for their paypal accounts. Perhaps neither Kaye nor Holzman knew the long-term ramifications of their Frankenstenian experiment. Indeed, the monster they created essentially spawned a whole industry, that of the Esoteric 60’s Music Compilation. It’s an industry that refuses to die, even almost 40 years later. Exploring this brave new world can be a daunting task. Here then is a quick guide to some logical starting points:

1. Pebbles – Conceived and created in Australia only a few years after the original Nuggets, this series focused on more raw and obscure (though not entirely unknown) acts from the US. Numerous volumes and offshoot series of widely varying quality proliferated through the 70’s and 80’s, but volumes 1-6 are pretty darn solid.

2. Back From The Grave – One of the few series worthy of the “60’s Garage Rock” classification, the US bands represented here are young, fast, raw, and sometimes very poorly recorded, which undoubtedly adds to its authenticity.

3. Acid Visions – Regional garage and psych compilations are very common. This one focuses on the Lone Star State, which produced a surprisingly diverse and consistently high quality array of sounds in the ’60s. The third and final volume focuses on female artists, a very underrepresented demographic in this male-dominated realm.

4. English Freakbeat – Since suburban two-car garages are not as common in England, perhaps it was inevitable that a moniker for similar music … Read more›