STOMU YAMASHTA-GO TOO.

STOMU YAMASHTA-GO TOO.

By the late sixties, jazz was at a crossroads. It was no longer as popular as it had once been. Its popularly had plummeted. Comparisons were being drawn with blues music. 

Although there had been a brief resurgence in the blues popularity earlier in the sixties, many of its biggest names were struggling to eek out a living. They played wherever they could get a gig. Some had even turned their back on the blues. For many it was a worrying time. Part of the problem was, the blues hadn’t really evolved. While the same couldn’t be said of jazz, its popularity was declining, and declining rapidly. Something had to change.

Jazz albums were no longer selling in the same quantities as a decade earlier. Some established labels struggled financially. So did the newer labels, who promised a brave new world in jazz. That didn’t happen. Across America, jazz’s decline was noticeable. Many jazz clubs were now putting on pop and rock groups. Jazz was, yesterday’s music. It was a dying genre. However, had jazz’s demise been overstated?

That proved to be the case. Riding to the rescue, like jazz’s very own caped crusader, came fusion. A mixture of jazz, funk and rock, fusion proved to be jazz’s savour.

From the late sixties, its popularity exploded. Gary Burton’s 1967 album Duster, is seen by many as the first fusion album. However, it was Miles Davis who was at the forefront of fusion’s rise. He released a series of albums which helped define the genre. 

Miles Davis released Miles In The Sky and Filles de Kilimanjaro in 1968. Both albums influenced the development of fusion. However, it was the release of In A Silent Way in 1969 was crucial to the genre’s development. So was Bitches Brew, Miles Davis’ seminal fusion album. It featured a stellar lineup, including Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, John McLaughlin and Airto Moreira. Many of the musicians who were in Miles Davis’ fusion band, went on to form their own bands

In 1970, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul and Airto Moreira became part of Weather Report. A year later, in 1971, John McLaughlin founded The Mahavishnu Orchestra. They became two of the best known names in fusion. However, as the seventies unfolded, many more fusion bands were founded across the world.

One of the leading lights of the British fusion scene, was Ian Carr. He founded Nucleus. Two of its members Karl Jenkins and  John Marshall went on to found Soft Machine. Across the Atlantic, Chick Corea formed Return To Forever, a Latin inspired fusion band. It featured vocalist Flora Purim and percussionist Airto Moreira. They seemed to have been inspired by Santana.

However, later, Return To Forever changed direction, and fused elements of psychedelia and progressive rock. By then, Larry Corryell had formed his own fusion band, The Eleventh House. Larry had been part of the fusion scene since the early days. Others were jumping on the bandwagon.

Many of jazz’s veteran vehemently criticised fusion. They disliked the genre, and didn’t approve of the marriage of funk, jazz and rock. These veterans didn’t seem to realise if jazz hadn’t evolved, it would be dead. Some of the veterans seemed to be preaching a form of musical apartheid. It was a strange stance to take. Despite the stance of many veterans, some veterans broke ranks and took what others saw, as jazz’s equivalent of the King’s Shilling. Buddy Rich, Dexter Gordon and Maynard Ferguson were realists, and realised that fusion was the future of jazz. Fusion was quickly conquering the world, and by 1976, found its way to Japan.

One of the first Japanese fusion groups were Casiopea. They were formed by guitarist Issei Noro, bassist Tetsuo Sakurai and keyboardist Hidehiko Koike in 1976. That was the same year that one of Japanese music’s most innovative musicians, Stomu Yamashta, founded a supergroup, Go.

Go.

By 1976, supergroups were nothing new. Go however, was different from many supergroups. It had been formed by  Stomu Yamashta, Steve Winwood and Michael Shrieve in late 1975, and featured musicians from all over the world. America, Britain, Germany, Jamaica and Japan were all represented on this what was immediately hailed a global supergroup. 

As supergroups go, Go was one of the biggest. It featured a total of seventeen musicians and backing vocals. Among them were British born vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Steve Winwood. Basisst Rosko Gee, another member of Traffic and former Wailers’ guitarist Marvin Junior were both Jamaicans.  Tangerine Dream’s keyboardist Klaus Schulze had been born in Berlin, Germany. Former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve and guitarist Pat Thrall, both hailed from San Francisco. Another American, was New Jersey born guitarist, Al Di Meola. He was a veteran of fusion, and had been a member of Return To Forever. Al had also played alongside everyone from Stanley Clarke, Jan Hammer, Jean-Luc Ponty and John McLaughlin. His experience was vital. So was the experience of British born arranger and and co-producer Paul Buckmaster. Along with Stomu Yamashta the pair co-produced Go’s debut album. It was recorded in New York in February 1976, and released in April 1976.

When Go was released in April 1976, critics were already familiar with Stomu Yamashta’s music. By then, he was almost a veteran. Stomu Yamashta helped popularise world music back in the sixties. Right through to the seventies, Stomu Yamashta was one of the leading lights in the burgeoning world music scene. He had also released a string of groundbreaking albums, including 1971s Red Buddha and 1972s Floating Music. They’re just two of around fifteen albums Stomu Yamashta had released or collaborated on, before founding Go. It was well received by critics.

Already, Stomu Yamashta had a reputation as a musical pioneer. The music he released was always innovative and influential. Constantly, Stomu Yamashta fused multiple and disparate musician. Go was no different. Critics and cultural commentators saw Stomu Yamashta releasing an album which saw fusion continue to evolve, Go. It proved a popular album,

When Go was released in April 1976, by Island Records, the album reached number 160 in the US Billboard 200 charts. Not long after this, Go headed out on tour and in Paris, recorded a live album, Go Live From Paris.

Go Live From Paris.

When Go’s tour arrived in Paris on 12th June 1976, Island Records had arranged for a mobile recording studio to be waiting for Go. 

It was a slimmed down version of Go that had taken to the road. Steve Winwood took charge of piano and vocals. Drummer Michael Shrieve, keyboardist Klaus Schulze and guitarists Al Di Meola  and Pat Thrall were joined by conga player Brother James. Karen Friedman one of the the backing vocalists called Thunderthighs. They had featured on Go. However, she was the only member of Thunderthighs that were part of the touring band. A new name was bassist Jerome Rimson. He was a more than able replacement for Rosko Gee. This was the lineup that took to the stage in Paris, and worked their way through fourteen tracks. They were later released as Go Live From Paris.

After the recording of Go Live From Paris on 12th June 1976, the album was released later in 1976. Critics were won over by Go Live From Paris. The album was proof that Go were capable of taking their sound to the stage. Not all fusion bands could do that successfully. Go could. However, despite the glowing reviews of Go Live From Paris, the album failed to chart.  Go Live From Paris was the end of an era.  

Go Too.

When Go began work on their sophomore album Go Too, it was a very different band. One of the founding members, Steve Winwood, had left Go. His replacement was Jess Roden, who ironically, was well known to Steve Winwood. Jess Roden had supported many Island Records’ acts over the years, including Traffic, who Steve Winwood had been a member of. However, the addition of Jess Roden wasn’t the only change to Go’s lineup.

There were two new faces when Go reached the recording studio. The first was vocalists Linda Lewis, who would share the lead vocals with Jess Roden. However, this resulted in a change of direction for go. This wasn’t a case of swapping like for like. Nor was the replacing bassist Rosko Gee with Paul Jackson.

Rosko Gee had been Traffic’s bassist. They were a rock group. Go were a fusion band. While Rosko Gee passed muster on Go, Paul Jackson was much more suited to the role. He was one of the most respected jazz bassists, and had played on some of Herbie Hancock’s best albums, including 1973s Head Hunters. Paul, a versatile bassist, had also played alongside Azteca, Harvey Mason, The Pointer Sisters, Stanley Turrentine and Eddie Henderson. So, Paul was a more than adequate replacement for Rosko Gee, who unfortunately, had joined Can. His replacement, David Jackson, made his way to New York to begin work on what became Goo Too, which has been recently released by Esoteric Recordings.

At Camp Colomby, New City, New York recording of Go Too got underway. Stomu Yamashta had written Prelude. He cowrote Seen You Before, Madness, Mysteries Of Love, Wheels Of Fortune, Beauty and You and Me with Michael Quartermain. Ecliptic was penned by Stomu Yamashta and Klaus Schulze. These eight tracks were recorded by the new lineup of Go.

This included a rhythm section of drummer Michael Shrieve, bassist Paul Jackson and guitarists Al Di Meola and Doni Harvey. Klaus Schulze, John Peter Robinson and Stomu Yamashta all played synths. They each had a different “weapon” of choice. For Klaus, it was a Moog, John’s was an Moog and Stomu’s an Arp. Each had their own distinctive sound. Meanwhile, Brother James added a percussion. Jess Roden and Linda Lewis added vocals. Backing vocals came courtesy of Doreen Chanter, Liza Strike and Ruby James. Accompanying Go, were The Martin Ford Orchestra. Arranging Go Too was Paul Buckmaster, while Stomu produced the album. Once Go Too was completed, it was released later in 1977.

Just like Go and Go Live From Paris, Go Too was released to critical acclaim. Some critics embraced Go’s new sound. This fusion of disco, funk, pop, progressive fusion and rock went down well with record buyers. Go Too, the reinvention of Go, reached number 156 in the US Billboard 200. It had just managed to surpass the success of Go, which reached number 160. It looked like Go were going places. Or were they? Maybe Go Too had seen Stomu Go Too far from the starting point of fusion?

A myriad of sound make their presence felt as Prelude unfolds. One minute they bubble, the next a storm gives way to cinematic and dramatic sci-fi synths. They’re scene setters, and the start of a musical adventures. Sounds assail the listener, as if they’re being taken on a futuristic journey. Synths are at the heart of Go’s sound and their success on this captivating and cinematic track.

It gives way to Seen You Before. It’s a mixture of disco strings, a funky rhythm section and synths. Josh and Linda trade vocals. His vocal is a powerhouse, while Linda and the backing vocalists keep things soulful. When the vocals drop out, the synths create a dramatic backdrop. The synths add a progressive fusion sound. Meanwhile, braying horns, soulful harmonies and disco strings combine. By then, the rhythm section and synths create a dramatic backdrop. At the breakdown, there’s a return to fusion at its purest. Then a rocky guitar and disco strings combine with sensual, soulful harmonies, and this genre-melting journey continues to captivate, as Go head to the dance-floor.

Rolls of thunderous drums open Madness, before the arrangement becomes uber funky. That’s down to the bass and guitar. The synths add a funky hue, before creating a dramatic, buzzing backdrop. By then, Linda is adding a soulful powerhouse. She’s augmented by soaring harmonies, and is more than a fitting foil for Josh Rodden. Meanwhile, the rhythm section, searing guitars and squelchy, buzzing synths provide the backdrop for Linda and Josh on this genre-melting epic.

Mysteries Of Love has a much more understated introduction.  A harp gives way to a piano and melancholy strings. Gradually, the arrangement builds and a soul-searching ballad unfolds. Josh delivers the lyrics as he ponders the “Mysteries Of Love.” Soon, the rhythm section and tender harmonies are added. Along with the piano and strings, everything seems to be falling into place. This includes the searing, heart wrenching guitar solo. It’s added at the breakdown, and proves a more than fitting replacement for  the vocal. It soars across the arrange, as strings and cooing harmonies are added. Then when Josh’s vocal returns, and later, when  Linda’s vocal enters. Everything is falling into place, and this beautiful ballad proves to be one of Go Too’s highlights.

Just like Prelude, various cinematic sounds can be heard at the start of Wheels Of Fortune. They seem unnecessary, and don’t add anything to the track. It’s a case trying to be too clever, and failing badly. Essentially, it’s twenty-seven seconds of their life the listener won’t get back. After that, disco strings and the rhythm section combine with one of the funkiest, chiming guitars on Go Too.  Just as the listener is enjoying the band stretch their legs, Josh Rodden’s vocal enters. As usual, he unleashes a powerhouse, and sings call and response with the backing vocalists. The backing vocalists are much more subtle and soulful. Behind them, playful keyboards, a powerhouse of a rhythm section and dancing strings combine. Then Go, including Linda and the backing vocalists kick loose. Thankfully, the breakdown offers welcome respite. Later, it’s just Linda, the rhythm section and exotic percussion. Bookending the track are sound effects which conjure up images of an equally exotic beach. This works, unlike the start of the track.  However, overall, when Go spun these Wheels Of Fortune, they didn’t win. Neither did the listener.

What sounds like a deserted beach greats the listener on Beauty. Just a piano plays before Linda’s tender vocal enters. Soon, a subtle, but funky bass and distant strings combine. Bubbling synths are joined by dramatic, cinematic strings and gospel tinged harmonies. By the sci-fi synths and piano join woodwind in accompanying Linda’s heartfelt vocal. Soon, it’s replaced by Josh and the arrangement builds. A Spanish guitar, swathes of strings and piano add an element of drama, before Linda’s vocal, augmented by harmonies return. From there, the arrangement literally floats thoughtfully along, and in the process, seems to loose its way.

You and Me sees otherworldly sounds added before futuristic synths emerge from the arrangement. They bubble and squeak, while the rhythm section add to the progressive fusion sound. Everything seems fine. Then Josh’s vocal enters, the tempo rises and the track heads in the direction of dance-floor. Disco strings join harmonies that veer between soulful and gospel tinged. After singing call and response, Linda’s vocal enters. By then, Go are flitting between genres. From the earlier progressive fusion sound, there’s been diversions via, disco, soul and gospel. Later, there’s a nod to prog rock, with the constant changes in tempo, in the penultimate track on this genre-melting adventure. It’s slightly unfocussed, and not Go’s finest hour. Sadly, it’s a case of what might have been.

Ethereal and quickly futuristic describes the introduction to Ecliptic. It closes Go Too, and sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack to a sci-fi soundtrack. Gradually, the drama builds as the synths take centre-stage on this soundscape. It’s one of the highlights of Go Too, and it’s a pity that there’s not more tracks like this on the album.

From the earliest days of his career, Stomu Yamashta was a musical adventurer and maverick. He was one of the pioneers of world music, and later, embraced  ambient, avant garde, drone, experimental, free jazz and proto-industrial. So it was no surprise that in 1976, that Stomu Yamashta embraced fusion.

Along with Michael Shrieve and Steve Winwood, they formed Go, and released their debut album Go in April 1976. Go Live In Paris was released in June 1976. At that point, Go looked like it had a big future ahead of them. Then they lost Steve Winwood. Replacing him wasn’t going to be easy.

Josh Rodden was merely an adequate replacement. That was all. Apart from on Mysteries Of Love, Josh Rodden resorts to unleashing a series of vocal powerhouses. It’s as if he knows he has big shoes to fill, and the only way he can do so, is to resort to power. Even aided and abetted by Linda Lewis, Josh Rodden was no substitute for Steve Winwood. Until the release of Go Too, nobody realised how weakened Go had been by the loss of Steve Winwood. To make matters worse, his loss resulted in Go having to change direction. 

Now Go’s music was a fusion of disparate genres. They moved away from fusion in its purest for, to what was akin to a journey through musical genres. This journey encompassed disco, electro pop, experimental, funk, gospel, jazz, pop, rock and soul. There was even the a nod towards prog rock, progressive fusion and world music. Despite what was a journey through disparate musical genres, Go weren’t the same band.

On some of the tracks on Go Too, Go moved towards the dance-floor. They even incorporated disco into their sound. It was a long way the early days of fusion, when it was seen as the saviour of jazz. Go like many, jumped on the disco bandwagon. Disco strings punctuate Go Too, as Go look longingly towards the dance-floor. However, Go seemed to hedging their bets.

They covered all musical bases, in an attempt to expand their audience. It worked, just. Go Too Reached number 156 in the US Billboard 200. This was four places better than Go. For the members of Go it proved to be a Pyrrhic victory. Although Go Too reached a wider audience, fusion purists turned their back on Go. Coupled with the loss of Steve Winwood, it was the end of the road for Go.

Go Too was the last album Go released. It was a short-lived project, that promised much. Their 1976 eponymous debut album was their finest hour. The followup Go Too is a case of what might have been. Although the album started well, it was far from a classic album. If the truth be known , Go Too is nowhere near a classic album. Things start to go awry on Wheels Of Fortune. From there, it’s downhill all the way, and Go Too only gets back on track on the closing track on Ecliptic. Ultimately, Go Too it’s a disappointing album, and not Stomu Yamashta’s finest hour.

Despite that, Esoteric Recordings have reissued Go Too twice since 2009. The initial reissue came in 2009, and the album was remastered. Recently, Go Too was reissued. However, it’s a case of caveat emptor. Some people who have bought what they believed to be the 2015 edition, have received a 2009 edition. If however, you wish to sample Go Too, the best way to do so, is buy a vinyl edition. Second hand vinyl editions can be found for the price of  the CD. However, Go Too isn’t a good place to discover the delights of Stomu Yamashta’s back-catalogue.

For newcomers to the music of Stomu Yamashta, then Go Too isn’t place to start. Instead, Red Buddah and Floating Music are two of Stomu Yamashta best albums. The music on both albums are innovative and groundbreaking. They feature Stomu Yamashta, at his creative zenith, as this musical pioneer embarks upon what was a long and mostly, illustrious career. 

STOMU YAMASHTA-GO TOO.

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