Two for Tuesday: Acoustic Alchemy

I can’t believe that I haven’t featured this band before now. By far, this is my favorite smooth jazz group. I could do a whole year just on them.

The concept behind Acoustic Alchemy was the blending of musical styles, including jazz, reggae, funk, Chinese, classical and flamenco, as well as the blending of Nick Webb’s steel-string guitar and Simon James’ nylon-string. They started in 1981 at a time when there wasn’t much demand in the UK (their home) for the sort of music they were doing. They recorded a couple of albums that didn’t sell well, and split in the mid-1980s. Simon James would go on to form the band Kymaera in the early Nineties.

Nick Webb met nylon-string player Greg Carmichael in 1985, and Acoustic Alchemy was reborn. One of their first gigs was as in-flight entertainment between the UK and the US on Virgin Airlines. They sent some demo material to MCA Records, who called them a few weeks later to record. That first album, Red Dust and Spanish Lace, was released in 1987 and was an immediate success, and over the next two years they released two more albums, Natural Elements (1988) and Blue Chip (1989).

MCA bought GRP Records in February 1990. By that time, GRP was a huge smooth jazz label with artists such as Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, and Dave Grusin, and Acoustic Alchemy was moved to that label for their fourth album, Reference Point, released later that year. 1991 featured the release of Back on the Case, which added country to their particular blend of styles. Webb discovered fourteen tracks that he had recorded with Simon James which formed the basis for 1992’s Early Alchemy. Their next two albums, 1993’s Against the Grain and 1994’s The New Edge, featured edgier tunes and a general harder edge to their playing.

In 1996, the group released the album Arcanum. It featured a couple of new tunes, but most of the album consisted of new recordings of old favorites. It was around this time that Nick Webb was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His last album with the band was 1998’s Positive Thinking…, and he was spelled for much of the album by longtime associate John Parsons. Nick died on February 5, 1998.

Greg Carmichael decided to keep the band going, and employed Miles Gilderdale, a sideman on several albums, as the new steel-string player. They made other changes as well, including a new label (Higher Octave) and new musical influences. The albums released since Webb’s death include The Beautiful Game (2000), AArt (2001), Radio Contact (2003), American/English (2005), and This Way (2007). Their latest album is 2011’s Roseland, and they’re currently on tour.

Again, limiting myself to just two tunes by the band was difficult, but I managed to pick a couple. The first is the title track from Roseland, their latest album which shows where they are today as a group. The second is “Casino,” a song originally recorded with Simon James, then re-released on Natural Elements and again on Arcanum. Every time I saw them live, this was the tune that they started the show with.

Acoustic Alchemy is one of the few bands that I can honestly say that I haven’t tired of, even after 26 years and sixteen albums. They always find a way to keep their music fresh and interesting. I hope you’ve enjoyed the music of Acoustic Alchemy, you Two for Tuesday, May 7, 2013.

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This ballgame is OVAH! An #atozchallenge retrospect

white-sox-logo-white

Man, this was fun. I want to thank Arlee Bird (who came up with the idea) and all of the people who dropped by this month as I took this stroll down Memory Lane, or down 35th Street in Chicago, whichever you prefer.

I should also recognize Wikipedia, the source for some of the little details on the players as well as their list of the White Sox All-Time Roster; Baseball-Reference.com, the source for all of the statistics as well as game logs and box scores (anytime I mentioned a specific date, such as the day Bill Voss ran headfirst into the left field wall or the day Gary Peters batted sixth, B-R’s information was critical); White Sox Interactive, which provided a lot of information on the Sox’ threatened move in the Sixties and Seventies; Richard Roeper, whose book Sox and the City, about the Sox from 1967 until the 2005 World Series Champions, gave me more background than I had; and the various sites that provided the images seen here.

There are far too many other people to thank. Start with the White Sox managers, coaches, and players from 1967 forward. Continue with the TV and radio announcers that brought the games to me, and the sportswriters for the Chicago newspapers (Chicago Tribune, Chicago Daily News, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago’s American (later Chicago Today), and Chicago Daily Defender) that reported on them. And let’s not forget my family, who were North Siders whose hearts were on the South Side, and who passed along the genes that allowed me to remember all this stuff…

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This is my second year doing this, and it’s been fun both years. Now comes the hard part: coming up with a theme for next year.

#ROW80 Round 2 2013: Out of the frying pan and into the fire

Having finished the A to Z Challenge for this year, I turn my attention to the Story a Day for May. This should be fun.

I’ve dealt with the large number of emails that I was receiving, mostly blog posts: I’m now using Feedly to accumulate the RSS feeds. Much easier to deal with, and I can start following the Blogger blogs as well as the WordPress ones. For those of you who use Google Reader and need to find an alternative now that it’s going away, Feedly will help you move everything over, because, at least for now, it’s using the Reader engine. They assure me that their own engine will be in place by July 1.

Anyway, on to the update:

  • Writing: Did my hour’s worth most days this week. I have a feeling that I’ll be doing it a lot more regularly in the coming month.
  • Reading: Not so much. I have a bunch of books, including the Lee Child one, that I intend on getting to, loaded to my Kindle, which is also my phone because Mary’s lost her Kindle and needs mine for when she depletes the battery on her iPad. The bad news is that the battery on my phone is depleting much more quickly than it should, so it’s off to iResQ in Kansas to have a new battery installed. Anyway…
  • Tweeting: Getting better at this. I sent quite a few tweets this past week.

That’s it from this end. Hope your week is going well!

Two For Tuesday: Lee Ritenour

Back in the late Eighties, Mary and I were at our local Blockbuster Video (now an Advanced Auto Parts store) and I found a videotape of a concert by Lee Ritenour. I had never heard of him (although I had certainly heard him, even though I didn’t know it at the time), but I saw a young guy playing guitar on the tape box and I decided that he couldn’t be that bad. I took it home and Mary and I watched it, and I was amazed at the music that I heard. I love instrumental, guitar-based music and had developed a taste for what was coming to be known as “smooth jazz,” and Lee did it all.

Lee Ritenour has been around since 1968, pretty amazing when you consider he’s only in his early sixties. He played his first session for the Mamas and Papas when he was sixteen and soon earned the nickname “Captain Fingers.” Coincidentally, that’s the name of our first selection today; in this particular recording, he’s accompanied by Ernie Watts on saxophone, Patrice Rushen on keyboards, Harvey Mason on drums, and Abe Laboriel on bass. He started his solo career in 1975, with the album First Course, and did albums in the jazz/funk and Brazilian styles. In 1991, he recorded Stolen Moments, which featured him playing straight-ahead jazz influenced by Wes Montgomery’s use of octaves and the technique of playing with his bare thumb. The title track from that album, a jazz standard written by Oliver Nelson, is the second track; he’s accompanied by Brian Bromberg on bass, Alan Broadbent on the piano, Harvey Mason on drums, and Ernie Watts on saxophone. Lee has gone on to be the original guitar player of Fourplay (as we heard last week), record a tribute album to Montgomery (one of his influences), and in 2010 celebrated his fiftieth year of playing guitar with the album 6 String Theory.

Lee Ritenour, your Two for Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

Richie Zisk (#atozchallenge)

Richie Zisk: outfielder, bats and throws right (source: whitesoxcards.blogspot.com)
Richie Zisk: outfielder, bats and throws right (source: whitesoxcards.blogspot.com)

Joined the White Sox: 12/10/76, traded with P Silvio Martinez from the Pittsburgh Pirates for Ps Terry Forster and Rich Gossage
Left the White Sox: 11/2/77, granted free agency
White Sox statistics: 141 games, .290 average, 30 HR, 101 RBI

Another of Bill Veeck’s rent-a-players (see Oscar Gamble), Richie’s year on the South Side cost the White Sox two of the best relief pitchers in the major leagues, including a future Hall of Famer. Was it worth it? Yes! The 1977 “South Side Hit Men,” led by Zisk and Gamble, went 90-72 and were in contention all season, eventually finishing third in the American League West, four games back of the Texas Rangers and twelve back of the Kansas City Royals. This was the season that I first went to a ballgame with my future father-in-law, and we bonded over many beers and Camel cigarettes. Richie left in free agency after the season and signed with the Rangers, and the White Sox reversed their record in 1978 (71-90).