The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Guilded Palace of Sin

The Gilded Palace of Sin isn’t strictly a country rock record. But when Parsons chose to mix the country with whatever else, he did it so well that it drew the ire of the Nashville establishment who felt that Parson’s music was a stain on the wholesomeness of pure country music. A sort of hippie invasion, if you will. Looking back, it’s funny to think about. Not only Nashville’s revulsion at Parson as an unsavory character—because there were no unsavory characters in country music—but also because country rock and country pop now dominate a large section of the consumer music market. That sort of genre blending, the country aesthetic mixed with dance beats or rock riffs, is a flower off the tree of Parson’s Cosmic American Music. Although I’m not so sure he would be happy with the dumb-downed legacy that is the current state of country music. American it is. Cosmic it is not.
Counterbalance No. 153: Flying Burrito Brothers’ ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’ by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

The Guilded Palace of Sin remains for me, after forty-six years, one of my favorite pop records of all time, certainly in the top five.

I put the following compact disc in my car player and listened to it twice.


The hook for me, once again, was Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel magic. His playing reinforces my own sense that The Burrito Brothers were a psychedelic country band, with Sneaky’s shapeshifting steel fronting the lead guitar aesthetic with its leaps between swirly chorus-effect and bandsaw fuzz.

Plus, marvels of lip-synch and stand-up pedal steel.

Sneaky Pete also anchored The Flying Burrito Brothers on tour.
Calgary, August 1970

There are some fine audio-only concerts from 1970 on youtube.

Seattle Pop Festival – July 27, 1969

December 6, 1970 – Lyceum Ballroom – London, England

To Turn the Key In the Lock

Today, celebrating the 80th birthday of the finest and most important people’s musician of the African continent, South African composer, pianist, bandleader, educator, Abdullah ibrahim, I pull to this blog archival posts from the Mantra Modes blog. This article highlights my favorite of his many recordings. I have added at the end a note about his record from last year, Musashi.

(1999/2014) Over the course of a recording career that will surpass four decades at the dawning of the new century, Abdullah Ibrahim has gifted the world with a singular and distinguished discography. (62 records as of this note being written in 1999). As a musician of the people, or as a creative improvisor, or as a artist in the African tradition, this portfolio is unique among international artists in the modern era of recordings. Yet, it is important to note that this tangible documentation is merely the tip of the artist’s gift, most of which has been directly transmitted via performances and his work with musicians, (especially younger ones).

Ask anyone who has been blessed by that life-moving experience at a concert or ‘gig’, or come into tune and played with Ibrahim about the impact of his artistry.

The 62 records, of which thirty or so are currently available, vary in quality. Yes: they range from the very good to the very fine to the exceptional. No recording is not the issue of the artist’s integrity and devotion.

In each decade Ibrahim has offered up at least one signal offering for that decade, and sometimes he’s offered up several. There are no missteps at all. Defects in recording quality, or musicianship are few, and nowhere are they enough to undermine the artistic moment. The pianist and composer is one of a literal handful who’s recorded documentation has obtained this level of consistent high quality. And, perhaps, only his noble precedents, Duke and Monk, composed modern songs of African tradition more generously.

Mostly, as you experience these records over time, the familiar gets transmogrified and retransmitted in an opus designed to bring joy, then to sympathize with and quicken the soulful listener. Every single record will reward the sensitive attention, evoke one’s ‘receptivity’. This is their true aim.

I’d like to suggest a few initial doorways to go through. They all lead home should you get turned on. If this happens, then proceed to the recordings which lead to the center of this music, as far its documentation. Let me offer five suggestions for those initial doorways and then suggest, from there, three further routes directly into the center of this artistic wellspring.

First is AFRICAN RIVER, the third Ekaya recording, and, perhaps, the most purely ingratiating of the ensemble dates.
Second is AFRICAN MARKETPLACE, similarly celebratory, more rocking, full of zest.
Third is CAPETOWN FLOWERS, a trio date bursting with attractive melodies and concise essays. (As an added extra it gives the trio take on “Joan”, a composition from AFRICAN RIVER.)
Fourth is AFRICAN DAWN, likewise a concise solo piano review of several favored themes, as well as offering versions of compositions by essential ancestral precedents, Monk and Ellington.

Finally, there is the compilation THE MOUNTAIN, made up of most of the first two Ekaya dates. Ekaya is the very fine ensemble Ibrahim regularly assembles to etch little big band African music.

With this ‘ear hold’ on the mountain, you, the aware listener, are in a position to go where your hearing will take you! It should lead via several route deeper into this stream of music!

To proceed deeper into the sounds, first, and foremost, is the route through the South African ensemble recordings. Start with the essential group dates made with Kippie Moketsi in 1960 and reissued as a part of the compilation, (JAZZ IN AFRICA VOL.1; CAMDEN 1004) and his debut under his own name, DOLLAR BRAND PLAYS SPHERE JAZZ, reissued with the exception of one song on BLUES FOR A HIP KING.

This route naturally leads through the later South African ensemble dates reissued as CDs first on Kaz and then on Camden (in the UK.) This route includes MANTRA MODES, the first South African date after the artist returned home, as well as his first recording made with South African musicians after his return to South Africa, MADE IN SOUTH AFRICA TOWNSHIP – ONE MORE TIME. (note-2014-nowadays a rarity.)

The second route goes through the highlights of the Enja/Tiptoe dates which branch upward from the first four suggestions. These include the essential duo dates with Johnny Mbizo Dyani, GOOD NEWS FROM AFRICA and AFRICAN ECHOES; and more from Ekaya, NO FEAR, NO DIE, and MINDIF; and the rocking live date, SOUTH AFRICA. ZIMBABWE, an intense quartet moment featuring alto saxophonist and flautist Carlos Ward is essential and highlight of the discography.

Lastly is a direct route via the famous solo piano dates, sessions full of invigorating alchemical playing. These invoke both ritual realities as well as the innovative syncretism that fuses African tradition and the mighty ancestral rivers of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. Their vortex is entered best through AFRICAN PIANO, from the famous live sets recorded at the Jazzhus Monmartre in 1968. Next, proceed through the two Sackville dates and the ‘Felli Farm’ reissue, STANDARDS, ODE TO DUKE ELLINGTON, and, if you can find it, the Plainesphere date, AUTOBIOGRAPHY, (a high point,) reissued in Japan on Denon. The solo piano dates are all full of bright moments, magic and, graced with what could be described as the ebullience of the ancient African church.

I’d like to mention one other record. It is essential even as it stands apart from the discography as a singularly evocative, deeply personal moment. Recorded after Abdullah returned from 15 years in self-exile, it is a bittersweet celebration of loss and gain. KNYSNA BLUE showcases the artist as a one man band, yet it is the atmospheric and deeply revelatory title track with its (almost) impossibly affecting narration that reminds the listener of what is at stake in this peoples’ music. It is a shout out of hope aimed into the future. What is made the stake is, as Abdullah Ibrahim titled one of his compositions, simple yet starkly rendered on this profound record: ‘life is for the living, death is for us all’. Perhaps it is KNYSA BLUE that is the one key to turn after your heart has been stirred deeply…when you’ve experienced your own moment of Cape Town musical magic.

released 29 April 2014

Abdullah Ibrahim – piano, flute, vocals
Cleave Guyton – flute, clarinet, saxophones
Eugen Bazijan – cello
Scott Roller – cello

A new listener would do just fine to start with Ibrahim’s most recent record. (Sunnyside download at Bandcamp) The small ensemble ambience is keyed to a pair of cellos and flute, along with piano and voice. Unique to his discography, the new record is elegiac and gemlike. It’s beautiful, but, then, it is about beauty, and about the beauty that lasts, and is everlasting.

Approach with receptivity and be engaged! Have fun. Be moved. May God will it so for you; for all peoples.

iTunes | Amazon

If you have any suggestions or corrections, feel free to contact me. Your input is appreciated.

I am indebted to Lars Rasmussen, author of Abdullah Ibrahim: A Discography. His comprehensive discography is the backbone to this resource. (More information is at the publisher’s Booktrader web site. There you will find absolutely essential resources about South African music and musicians.) His discography is an essential adjunct to a deep engagement with this music; highly recommended. My guide is dedicated to Lars Rasmussen. Thanks, man!

One King, and notable seekers in the School of Monk

I was scavenging through the old web site (1996-2004) and came across a page of recommended recordings having to do with what I term The School of Monk. In turn, The School of Monk has to do with the Kingdom of Ellington.

Without getting into it at all, it is enough to tell you that my love for jazz piano is primarily oriented to the synthesis obtained by Ellington, Monk, and those pianists who followed in their giant foot steps.

What follows is a brief selection of recommended recordings by one King and by notable seekers in the School of Monk. In an updated addendum, I will feature the cream of Monk’s recordings and update the list of followers to reflect the 17 years that have flown by since this listing was first published.

I also will re-publish the Monk materials featured on the old web site.

The King: Duke Ellington’s Piano Gems

1. Duke Ellington 1940-41 [including the Ellington-Blanton duets] (RCA/BMG)
2. Money Jungle (Blue Note)
3. Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn Duos (OJC-Fantasy)
4. Duke Ellington Trios (Capitol)
5. This One’s For Blanton (Pablo-Fantasy)
6. Live at the Whitney (GRP)

The School of Monk:
Three exemplars from the Fifties and Sixties
1. Herbie Nichols – The Third World (op:Blue Note; fully reissued on CD in ’97)
2. Carl Perkins – Introducing… (reissue: Fresh Sounds)
3. Elmo Hope – Plays Elmo Hope (reissue: Fresh Sounds)

The Best Teachers of the Moment
1. Jaki Byard – To Them, To Us (Soul Note)
2. Don Pullen – The Fifth Sense (Black Saint)
3. Stan Tracey – Plays Duke Ellington (Mole Jazz)
4. Horace Tapscott – The Tapscott Sessions, Vol. 1-8 (Nimbus)
5. Jimmy Rowles – As Long As There’s Music (op:Xanadu)
6. Kenny Barron – Two As One (Red)
7. Andrew Hill – Shades (Soul Note)
8. Tommy Flanagan – Thelonica (Enja)
9. Walter Davis – In Walked Thelonious (Mapleshade)

Path Weavers and Dancers
1. Irene Schweizer – with Andrew Cyrille (Intakt)
2. Marilyn Crispell – with Irene Schweizer; Overlapping Hands (FMP)
3. Geri Allen – Twenty One (Blue Note)
4. Jessica Williams – And Then There’s This (Timeless)

At the Feet of the Master
Cecil Taylor
1. The Feel Trio (FMP)
2. Looking: Berlin version (FMP)
3. Garden (Hat Art)

Randy Weston
1. Portraits of Monk (Verve)
2. In the Cool Night of Marrakesh (Verve)
3. The Spirits of Our Ancestors (Verve)

Mal Waldron
1. Super Quartet with Steve Lacy at Sweet Basil (Evidence)
2. Moods (Enja)
3. Git-Go (Soul Note)

Abdullah Ibrahim
1.. African Dawn (Enja)
2. Fats, Duke and Monk (Sackville)
3. Autobiography (Plainesphere)

Cut off just enough to feel well tailored.

Don’t you feel though, Don, that when you pick up on these weird guys and turn them into musicians…

You mean like Fellini does?

Well, yeah, but Fellini just uses his freaks for one camera frame or something. You…

Yeah, but that’s what I’m going to do from now on. Just like Fellini. Like, I want to get across to the people. I want to be commercial. I want to play rock ‘n’ roll. Do you know, this new album is the only one that has paid itself back and then done some! None of the others did. You see, I think everything is commercial. I thought ‘Trout Mask Replica’ was a very commercial album, didn’t you? There was a lot of humour on that album that I thought people would pick up on. That’s the only thing I give Zappa credit for. He was asleep most of the time at the controls, but if it hadn’t been for him, that album probably wouldn’t have come out. Also, he free-associates, there is a song on Zappa’s last album I like. It is called ‘Montana’ – I just like that title, you know, ‘Montana’.

But what Don Van Vliet does in art already has what the catalogues call a “distinguished aesthetic history” – which is not, of course, something to be ashamed of. And what he did in music was totally new. This is why people will always tend to be less interested in the development of his technique as a painter than in how he learnt to play the harmonica by holding it out of his parents’ window.

…which reminds me of a story evidently not repeated in the archive of the excellent web site devoted to all things Don Van Vliet, The Captain Beefheart Radar Station.

I vaguely recall I first read this story in Creem Magazine a long time ago. The Captain was asked what was the greatest solo he ever heard, and he told the interviewer something like: “Well, I was driving in the deep night on a straight shot through the desert, going 80mph, and I took a D Hohner harmonica out and thrust it out the window. Glory, man!”

Beefheart is the source also of the following:

Captain Beefheart, (Don Van Vliet,) describes the most memorable performance he ever witnessed.

I saw Monk once at a theatre in San Fernando Valley. They gave him a grand piano, a really beautiful Steinway, with a cut glass bowl of roses. He came in late wearing a trench coat. He dumped the bowl in the piano, knocked down the lid, and hit one note. The sound: everything going into the piano, the strings, the water splashing, the roses. And then he left.



1. Listen to the birds. That’s where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren’t going anywhere.

2. Your guitar is not really a guitar. Your guitar is a divining rod. Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you’re good, you’ll land a big one.

3. Practice in front of a bush. Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush dosen’t shake, eat another piece of bread.

4. Walk with the devil. Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the “devil box.” And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you’re bringing over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.

5. If you’re guilty of thinking, you’re out. If your brain is part of the process, you’re missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.

6. Never point your guitar at anyone. Your instrument has more clout than lightning. Just hit a big chord then run outside to hear it. But make sure you are not standing in an open field.

7. Always carry a church key. That’s your key-man clause. Like One String Sam. He’s one. He was a Detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. His song “I Need a Hundred Dollars” is warm pie. Another key to the church is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty-making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he’s doing it.

8. Don’t wipe the sweat off your instrument. You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.

9. Keep your guitar in a dark place. When you’re not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don’t play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.

10. You gotta have a hood for your engine. Keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house, the hot air can’t escape. Even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow. ?

For my own part, the amazing dynamo man, Jamie Cohen, plucked down Trout Mask Replica on his turntable in 1969, and maybe he said ‘And if you think Zappa is weird,’ and it went down. That was my first experience of the avant-garde for sure. My own appreciation is centered on a few amazing bootlegs from 1971, and, much later, the masterful string of ‘free rock’ records he made between 1978 and 1982 before hanging up his harp and growl. Doc At the Radar Station (1980) is one of my favorite records, and, considering that it burst out of the magic volcano in the midst of the punk musical revolution, it is also one of the greatest musical commentaries on popular music…ever. RIP Don Van Vliet (January 15, 1941 – December 17, 2010)

Thirty years? Have a great new year in music.

Graham Parker – the year, 1976

33 years ago, 1976, was the bicentennial year, but for me it was mainly the year I latched onto a dream job running a record department in the back of a book store in the college town of Middlebury, Vermont. Very soon after my arrival I struck up a friendship with a like-minded jazzbo and began sitting in on his weekly radio show on the college station, WRMC. One way or the other, I would spend one radio slot a week there for nine years, mostly presenting jazz on Tuesday nights under the title Groovin’ High. Tidbit: for two years CNN’s Frank Sesno read the news after my show.

So, this was the background for 1976. Graham Parker released two superb recordsHeat Treatment and Howlin’ Wind in the same year! I have to confess too: to my tastes, both records wiped away my fascination with the Boss, who had released Born to Run the previous year. To place these records in context, both Elvis Costello and the Sex Pistols would issue their debut records the next year. Meanwhile, the FM radio dial was increasingly dominated by corporate rock.

Parker recorded for Mercury, yet their hype machine fell short with his one-two punch in 76. There really wasn’t a place for pub-rock driven singer-songwriter rock and roll on the stateside dial. I didn’t need any extravagant pitch. As soon as I learned that Parker had hired en-mass the legendary Brinsley Schwarz outfit to be his back-up band I was off my rocker. They were my favorite countrified import from the isles, and Silver Pistol (1971) and Nervous On the Road (1972) remain among my favorite listens in the down home vein of The Band and Better Days and Bobby Charles. Okay, as it turned out: guitarist Schwarz and keyboardist Andrews, and they picked up buddy Martin Belmont from Ducks Deluxe.

Billy Rankin-drummer
Bob Andrews-piano
Nick Lowe-bass
Ian Gomm-guitar
Brinsley Schwarz-guitar

Only a little of that flavor is in the mix of Parker’s two opening shots. Parker is a ferocious soulman and one of the great rock-and-roll songwriters, and the Brinsleys morphed into The Rumour so as to match the ferocity with their own fervor. No hits was the reward for two statements of fierce rock and roll. Only surprising—since the era’s trends were unkind to so much terrific music—in that the two records have nary a bad cut, and, including lots of hit-worthy cuts.

(I count Heat Treatment, Black Honey, Pourin’ It All Out, and Fool’s Gold, just from Heat Treatment.) It was the same result for Squeezing Out the Sparks, released in 1979, albeit at least it is considered one of the great rock records. However, it came out in even more ungenerous times: 1979 was the year disco broke through, and, punk ruled most muso’s hearts.

Quality wins out in the end. Graham Parker has been churning out grown-up rock and roll ever since that bicentennial year–enough so that he is one of the masters.

Graham Parker tells the story himself on his defunct blog Chairman Parker. It’s an amusing and edifying read.

Graham Parker (home page | Wikipedia)

All-time favorites

Brinsley Schwarz – Silver Pistol
Brinsley Schwarz – Nervous On the Road

Graham Parker – Howlin’ Wind
Graham Parker – Heat treatment

Desert island worthy:

Graham parker – Squeezing Out the Sparks

New and likely fab:

Graham Parker & the Rumour – Live in San Francisco

Play Something Sweet

Make this land a better land
In the world in which we live
And help each man be a better man
With the kindness that you give–Yes We Can

Allen Toussaint

My soul bro Jamie dropped me an email reminding me today is Allen Toussaint‘s birthday. I’m not sentimental about birthdays, even to the extent of being careless. Nor do I track the birthdays of the hundreds of musicians I favor. Yet, the reminder got me to thinking and reflecting upon Mr. Toussaint. This same friend some 26 years ago turned me onto this giant of American music when he dropped the diamond on a Meters record produced by Toussaint. If I remember that day provided a party package of ‘awlins funk as he kept skipped to his stacks and brought me my first taste of Chris Kenner, and Lee Dorsey, and Fats Domino.

So it started.My softest spot remains for Allen Toussaint. Of course he’s basically the king of the entire N.O. crew. I think the only way you can account for a 50+ year career that, for example, reached yet another high musical spot with his record made for Verve Forecast in 2006, The River In Reverse, is that Allen Toussaint is a genius. Life, Love and Faith (Reprise 1972) is an all-time favorite Toussaint record.