Five blistering recordings from the birth of Jugalbandi in 1993:
1. Baghdaddy-O (3:50) IL5
2. Uncle Sun (30:14) IL1
3. Atomic Research In The Quiet Bunker (14:25) IL4
4. Darkland Express (4:06) IL5
5. Under The Jam (19:45) IL4
(HS) This CD features performances that were recorded in early 1993, when Greg and I first formed Jugalbandi. (In fact, the tape of the 4/18/93 session that produced "Uncle Sun" and "Darkland Express" is labeled simply "Greg + Hyam 4/18/93" -- we hadn't even adopted the name Jugalbandi yet.) These recordings show that we were stretching our collective and individual musical imaginations in previously unexplored directions. And boy, were we ever full of piss and vinegar.
(GS) Hyam did his notes first, and I was so impressed with them, and felt they spoke so well for the album in pretty much all areas, that I was almost reticent to put in my two cents. I reflected for a bit and found what I wanted to say. Considering we're looking at the beginning of Jugalbandi here, let me begin by telling you a little bit about what it felt like to be one of the parents of this project, and what it continues to mean to me.Before meeting Hyam, I had done a lot of jamming over the years with just drums and guitar. To me, the power of a good band hinges on the interplay of those instruments. When we met in '88 through an ad in a local paper, our first few get togethers (which would eventually lead to Cold Sky) were just the two of us, and the chemistry was clearly there. Still, it's one thing to jam for fun, and another to plan a full, serious venture with just those two instruments -- especially when the basis is improvisation. I felt a mix of emotions at tackling this. On the one hand there was the fear of not being able to hold up all the non-percussive content and stay consistently interesting. How I chose, or managed, to fill that empty space would show off any shortcomings in my playing and imagination quickly. On the other hand, I'd never had such a practically limitless area to cut a sonic swath through, and that was very, very exciting. These recordings are early examples of how I attempted to meet that challenge, and what I did when first confronted with all that freedom.
Ten years later at the 2003 sessions, the same emotions were present, both positive and negative, despite having produced ample evidence by then that we could make it work, and that I did indeed have what it took to hold up my end. The problem is this: the longer you do it, the harder it is to stay interesting, to not say things musically you feel you may have said too many times before, to get ideas across in ways that are engaging, to perform with sensitivity and a contagious excitement. The fact that the feelings have remained relatively the same, though, is ultimately not an indication of no progress made. Instead, it points to a fact of life inherent in this manner of creating, which is: there's no way to really rest on your laurels. When we are creating music on the spot, when we are recording live with no takebacks, we are only as good as what we do in that moment, and the next, and the next. Our recordings then, are all really mini-documentaries. Something like the version of "Uncle Sun" on this CD is the musical equivalent of watching molten rock issue from a volcano and take form where it falls. This all happened a long time ago, but if you care to examine the evidence, you can relive the process and peek in as ideas solidify in time, thereby becoming substance and history.
Recording notes follow the individual song notes.
1. Baghdaddy-O (IL5) Recorded 5/9/93
(HS) Although Jugalbandi's mantra has always been "experimentation", when Greg and I first formed the band our repertoire naturally drew heavily from material we had previously played in Dog Neutral. "Baghdaddy-O" was a Dog Neutral group composition (although as with most of DN's material, the melody was written by Greg), and this performance provides sort of a bridge between the two bands. The song's middle-eastern feel was particularly appropriate for Jugalbandi, and the drone that Greg sets-up is strongly reminiscent of the tanpuri drone that often accompanies sitar/tabla duets in north Indian classical music. As a Jugalbandi vehicle, Greg and I always kept "Baghdaddy-O" as an IL5, although if we were to ever perform the song live again there's no reason why we couldn't stretch it out into IL4 territory, should the muse strike us.
(GS) I wasn't entirely sure we could pull off this one with just the two of us, but after concocting this stripped down arrangement, it worked out fine. I'm really happy with this performance, as it shows we could (and can) be tight and concise. It's also just a really kickass version of the piece. (A Dog Neutral recording of it will eventually surface, we promise.)
2. Uncle Sun (IL1) Recorded 4/18/93
(HS) "Uncle Sun" is pure IL1. The descending drum riff that begins the song wasn't even intended to be part of a song -- I was simply noodling-around during the session. But when Greg immediately launched into the guitar part we both jumped-in feet first with no idea that we were embarking on a remarkable half-hour musical journey. Although "Uncle Sun" covers lots of ground and travels through many twists and turns, it still manages to sound like one cohesive musical idea. The piece has some of the most intense and precise interplay between Greg and myself that we've ever been able to capture on a recording. It's clear that we were both listening to each other extremely closely -- to the point that the piece sounds like it sprung from a single musical mind, which is one hallmark of good improvisation. Close listening also reveals that we allowed ourselves to fully-develop our ideas without cutting them off early, yet we managed not to allow any motif to stay past its expiration date. This is a tricky balancing act to maintain, especially in a piece that lasts a half-hour. Our cutting room floor is littered with pieces that suffer from having ideas that were either undercooked or overcooked; with "Uncle Sun" we managed to get the recipe just right. (The moment in "Uncle Sun" that has always been the most transcendent for me is the beautiful melodic figure that Greg begins at 19:03 -- it's sheer magic.)
(GS) This original version of "Uncle Sun" remains in a special category for me, even though I love both versions from Jugalbandi 1999. This was the first time just the two of us did an IL1, and it's huge, diverse, sprawling, yet organic. Most importantly, it's really satisfying as a piece of music, at least to us. For me, it felt like a barrier had been passed, as though I had moved up a notch creatively. Pieces like this really do make you feel you are part of something unfolding, rather than consciously spinning out the material. I agree with Hyam about it seeming as though we were one mind -- it just sounds like the thing issued forth whole. Hyam's work is really tasteful, creative and dynamic throughout.
3. Atomic Research In The Quiet Bunker (IL4) Recorded 4/25/93
(HS) "Atomic" is another holdover from the Dog Neutral songbook. Greg and I always enjoyed playing it because its light, jazzy feel provided a nice change of pace from the harder-edged material that made up the majority of Jugalbandi's repertoire, and because it provided a blueprint for improvisation in a different direction. Subsequent versions of "Atomic" featured a double-drums passage, but the version here remains the definitive guitar/drums performance. Greg uses his digital delay to great effect (sorry, I couldn't resist the pun) at several different times during the piece.
(GS) "Atomic" has always left the door open for me to work out in an effects-free sound, at least for part of the time. That's liberating too, believe it or not, and has the added bonus of shutting up people who view the effects as a crutch. On this version though, I couldn't have cared less, and so I did whatever I felt like. My feeling then, as now, was, "keep it interesting", it's the ultimate goal. This was also always a great opportunity for Hyam to break out the brushes. That was fun to work with. I don't think the percentage of drummers out there who actually know how to use them is very high, but he's among them. It's a very wonderful, textured sound that benefits greatly from our limited instrumentation: subtleties are much more audible.
4. Darkland Express (IL5) Recorded 4/18/93
(HS) "Darkland Express" is four minutes of good hard-drivin' rock 'n' roll, with lots of double bass drum work and lots of rapid-fire unison figures between Greg and myself. It's the most composed piece Jugalbandi has ever played, (which is understandable, considering its origins). Bordering on being an IL6, as far as the drum part is concerned "Darkland Express" is an IL6 -- everything I play is composed for the piece and doesn't vary from performance to performance.
(GS) This really is perilously close to an IL6, maybe a couple of bars away from being one, at the end of the short guitar solo. Fans of the original on the album of the same name will recognize that otherwise the structure is almost identical. I had serious doubts this would work with only two instruments, but I was mistaken. Heavy, hard energy throughout. Hyam's slamming drum part made this thing into the chugging steam engine it deserved to be.
5. Under The Jam (IL4) Recorded 5/9/93
(HS) During the 5/9/93 recording session I forgot to hit the 'record' button when Greg and I started playing "Under The Bridge". After we played the song's intro section I realized my error and then started the recorder while Greg was playing the short cadenza into the main part of the song. (See Recording Notes, below, for an explanation of how the intro section was created for this release.) I think the knowledge that this take would be incomplete may have somehow had a liberating effect on both Greg and myself, because what followed that snafu was what I consider far and away to be the single best piece of balls-to-the-walls playing we ever did together. Although Greg and I bring a vast range of influences into Jugalbandi's music, in "Under The Jam" we proudly wear our love of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra (and its manic McLaughlin/Cobham guitar/drum duets) on our sleeves for all to see. After twelve incredible minutes of country-tinged fusion jamming, "Under The Jam" reaches an amazing climax at 12:31, but instead of ending things there Greg and I fearlessly zoomed forth into brand-new territory and spent the next seven minutes staking yet another musical claim, after which we finally brought the piece down to the gentlest of landings. Even after listening to it countless times over the past fifteen years, "Under The Jam" still takes my breath away.
(GS) This a perfect example of why I like to improvise with something that has an expected format, or better, when there is none, or the forms aren't formal, they're maybe only suggestions. When I step off that path -- when I go where I feel like going, regardless of where I'm supposed to go -- that's when I seem to be at my best. When we recorded this, I wasn't at all worried about following the cues or patterns we'd set up for "Under The Bridge". We weren't trying to get a perfect version of the piece, so instead of having marks we were obliged to hit, they were there if and when we wanted them, like "get out of jail free" cards. We could jam castles in the air, if we felt like it. At times like that, all sorts of interesting little chunks spill out of the hidden spaces in your head, and you are likely to find yourself living things you only thought about in abstract terms, like daydreaming about the type of music some inner sense of power or emotion would make. Not a series of notes or chords, just concepts or feelings. And then one day you're waving your hands around and you're live, really doing it, right in the middle of it.
Needless to say, this kind of situation only happens if the people (or in this case person) you're working with clicks with you, has enough chops and a similar mindset to go to that place. It should be no secret, and no surprise, that an interaction of this type helps you feel larger than your conscious self, outside your own little ego walls. It's a perfectly rational explanation for something often tagged as mystical. You synch up with someone else on so basic a level in the act of creation, you lead each other in such an unspoken way, that the dynamic is itself a third thing; bigger than both of you, clearly, because it contains both of you, and so exists outside of you. This is the "macro form", if you like, for producing the music. There is one hell of an interplay going on here. Chops have a lot to do with it but don't necessarily guarantee anything. I've jammed with some people with incredible chops and we couldn't synch up at all. The quality of the resulting work was well below what could reasonably be expected from the talents involved. You've got to have chemistry, and Hyam and I have had it since day one in February of '88. When this is at its best (like here, or "Uncle Sun", or the title track of The View Is Better From The Top Of The Food Chain), I listen back and I'm only abstractly aware that I'm the guitarist. The music stands on its own, and leaves me dumbfounded at having been a part of it.
All of the songs on this CD were recorded direct-to-cassette (a Nakamichi 550 portable recorder) without overdubs. "Uncle Sun", "Atomic Research In The Quiet Bunker" and "Darkland Express" were recorded with just two Nakamichi CM300 microphones: one on the guitar (left channel) and another on the drums (right channel). While this produced rather schizophrenic-sounding stereo recordings (each instrument occupies its own acoustic space, with virtually no mixing between them -- particularly strange when heard through headphones), when it came time to master this CD that separation did give me a good degree of control over the sound. Consequently, on those songs I was able to adjust for a better balance between the guitar and drums, was able to improve the stereo by moving both the guitar and the drums more towards the center of the soundstage, and I could heavily EQ the drums to add presence to the bass and add some weight to the band's overall sound without affecting Greg's tone.
Some time between the 4/25/93 and 5/9/93 sessions I must have had a "eureka" moment when I realized that since I owned three identical mics and the Nak 550 had three inputs (left, center and right), I could achieve much more realistic stereo recordings by using two mics on the drums (left and right channels) and putting the third mic on the guitar and running it into the Nak's center input (which records it equally onto the left and right channels). "Baghdaddy-O" and "Under The Jam" were recorded using this setup. And while the resulting stereo recording certainly does produce a much more realistic "you-are-there" sense of acoustic space, this setup prevented me from fooling-around with those songs very much while mastering this CD, since there is no separation between the guitar and the drums -- both instruments are recorded on both channels. All I could really do was EQ the mix to again, add some weight to the overall sound and to help bring out the drums somewhat during "Under The Jam", where they're occasionally overwhelmed in the mix by the guitar.
"Under The Jam" presented another problem. During the 5/9/93 session I forgot to press the 'record' button at the beginning of "Under The Bridge". I realized this after we completed the song's opening section and then got the tape going, but this left the recording without a 'head' (which defines the song). As it turned out, this particular version of "Under The Bridge" was one of the most spectacular pieces of music that Greg and I ever made together, so we knew that even headless, it would someday see the light of day (its headless form necessitating the title change to "Under The Jam").
Although the song's lacking a head didn't bother Greg (he feels that the original recording is complete even without a head), it did always bother me. Soon after the session I got the idea that I could create a head by grafting a copy of the song's ending section (which is the same as its intro section) onto the beginning. However, attempts at this by bouncing copies between two different tape decks proved unsatisfactory, since at the song's end Greg abbreviates the held chord and adds a coda that isn't part of the song's intro. So along with the other songs in this collection, "Under The Jam" sat for nearly 15 years (sort of like a jazz/rock fusion version of the Headless Horseman).
I was finally able to tackle the editing problem this year, after installing Sony's Acid Pro 6 (a powerful digital audio workstation) into my computer. I brought the entire "Under The Jam" recording into Acid, then made a copy of the ending section (without the coda at the very end) and moved it to the beginning of the piece. I ran a copy of Greg's abbreviated chord through a reverb and a time-stretcher so it would fade-out naturally (this is what was missing from my earlier analog attempts at creating a complete version of the song), and tweaked the timing on all of it so that the meter was consistent. When I was finally satisfied with the result I sent a copy to Greg, and after a few listens he felt that it worked, so that reconstructed version is included here (still titled "Under The Jam", as a nod to its 'Frankensteinian' origins).
-Hyam R. Sosnow, 12/3/07