Sunday, February 25, 2007

Do toads spawn in the woods?

Enjoyed a pleasant walk with some friends in the Wye Valley last weekend. The woods were magical – lots of small tumbling streams, rocks covered in moss so lushly green it was almost luminous, lichen and fungi everywhere. One of our party is something of a bird spotter. I love the sound of bird song but have never mastered the art of identifying birds by their song. It was good to have somebody with us who could identify the songs, and so we came to learn which species were gracing our walk with their early spring warblings.

At one point on the walk we came across a scene that could have come straight out of a sc-fi B movie. Small ditches on either side of the path were full of what looked like some nasty alien goo that was seeping up through the earth’s fissures. If we hung around it would surely envelop us all in its deadly poisonous gloop. Of course it was nothing of the sort – just frog spawn. We had never seen so much of it in one place before, and I for one wasn’t expecting to see any so early in the year. From a quick bit of subsequent research it seems that frog spawn can appear anytime in February or March so evidently the particular mountain of it we came across isn’t another portend of global warming. It also struck me that I can’t recall hearing anybody ever refer to toad spawn. Do toads spawn? Was this toad spawn not frog spawn? Well, yes, toads do spawn, but no this wasn’t toad spawn as I have now learnt that that this long and stringy. Nevertheless I'm sure some toads were eyeing us along our walk.

And so, after taking you on a 10+ mile walk through the woods we have finally arrived at today’s circuitous and, it has to be said, flimsy link to the launching point of today’s musical offering “Toad’s Place”.

The Jeff Lorber Fusion were a favourite of mine back in the day when I caught the jazz-funk bug. I have all of their albums (they are on the floor in front of me now, clustered together like so much frog spawn –ha!ha!). When they started out they probably fell as much into the jazz-fusion category as jazz-funk. Whatever j-f label you care to choose the jazz (and funk, and rock) purists would, likely as not, throw their hands up in horror and declare it faux-junk. It’s true that with so many albums of those particular genres you could usually find one or two killer tracks on each album, but they would be surrounded by a number of distinctly run of the mill noodlings. However, I always thought Jeff Lorber’s early albums held up in the quality and listenability stakes pretty well throughout. The eponymous first album and “Soft Space” were released in 1977 and 1978 on the Inner City label. That label always struck me as having a simplistic design that was the epitome of cool. After that Jeff and the Fusion moved to Arista. “Water Sign” was released in 1979, followed by “Wizard Island” in 1980 and “Galaxian” in 1981. Over the span of these albums their sound gradually changed, becoming less sweet and mellow and straight jazz to more commercial upbeat and bright. Also by “Galaxian” Lorber’s synthesised keyboards increasingly dominated and there were even some vocal tracks, which was a bit of a shame as I really liked the horns, reeds and flute when they made appearances on the earlier albums. The Fusion, which had always been a somewhat fluid collection of musicians, disbanded after “Galaxian” and Jeff carried on under his own name and with the more synth dominated and smoother sound.

Jeff is still very much active, having released 20 albums in his name over the last 30 years. I not a fan of pigeon-holing music, and labels come and go. Currently you would put him in the smooth jazz bag. That label didn’t exist 30 years ago but is probably a fair catch all description of his sound.

I think “Toad’s Place” gets the nod as a “banger” and I was going to put up this alone. But then I gorged on all the albums and decided this post needed to be graced by a couple more tracks too. As a result this is a little bit late getting up because I have been struggling to decide which ones. This is what I settled on:

The Jeff Lorber Fusion – Toad’s Place 1979
from Water Sign

The Jeff Lorber Fusion – Curtains 1978
from Soft Space

The Jeff Lorber Fusion – Chinese Medicinal Herbs 1977
from The Jeff Lorber Fusion


Tuwa said...

Betty Wright has done some fantastic work; these are all new to me though. I especially like the third one for the wah-wah.

Rahul Dhalgade said...
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