STEVE KHAN-EYEWITNESS, MODERN TIMES AND CASA LOCO.
STEVE KHAN-EYEWITNESS, MODERN TIMES AND CASA LOCO.
During the seventies, Steve Khan was one of the top session musicians in New York. He seemed to work non-stop, and was the go to guy for anyone looking for a guitarist. Steve Khan had worked with some of the biggest names in music; including Steely Dan, Blood Sweat and Tears, Billy Joel and Thijs Van Leer. Mostly, though, it was soul, funk and jazz musicians that Steve Khan worked with.
From Esther Phillips and George Benson to Ashford and Simpson, The Brecker Brothers, Bob James, Larry Coryell and Hubert Laws, Steve Khan had worked with them all. However, this was just part of the Steve Khan story.
Part of the Steve Khan story is documented on BGO Records’ recent release. It’s a double album featuring three albums, Eyewitness, Modern Times and Casa Loco. They were released between 1981 and 1983. However, Steve Kahn’s career had started at the end of sixties.
The former drummer and pianist turned guitarist, had moved to L.A. in 1969. Since then, the youngest son of lyricist Sammy Cahn had been forging a career as a musician.
For eight years, Steve Khan was content to play on other people’s albums. However, eventually, Steve Khan decided to embark upon a solo career in 1977.
Despite making the decision to embark upon a solo career, Steve Khan continued to work as a session player. He also toured Japan with the CBS Jazz All Stars. Then later in 1977, he released his debut album Tightrope
When Steve Khan released his debut album in 1977, he was already thirty-seven. He had signed to Columbia, and his debut album Tightrope. It featured some of the top session musicians, including The Brecker Brothers and Bob James, who produced Tightrope. Bob James was forging a career as a producer, and gave the album his his trademark sound. Tightrope was well received and launched the career of Steve Kahn. He would return a year later with his sophomore album.
Just a year later, and Steve Khan returned with The Blue Man. This time around, Steve Khan decided to arrange and produce the album himself. What didn’t change, was that some of the top session musicians accompany Steve Kahn on The Blue Man.
Among them were The Brecker Brothers, David Sandborn, Ralph McDonald and Steve Gadd. With such an illustrious band accompanying Steve Khan, it was no surprise that The Blue Man well received by critics and was a success in the jazz charts. After just two albums, it looked like Steve Khan was about to enjoy a successful solo career.
In 1979, Steve Khan returned with his third solo album. Arrows. Again, Steve Kahn was joined by some of the top session musicians. Many had played on Steve Khan’s first two albums, and returned for Arrows with musicians like Errol “Crusher” Bennett, Will Lee and Jeff Mironov. Together, they played on what some critics regarded as the best album of Steve Khan’s three album solo career. However, when Arrows was released in 1979, music was in a state of flux.
1979 was a game-changer for music. Disco died at Comiskey Park, Chicago on 12th July 1979. Suddenly, record shops couldn’t even give disco records away. Meanwhile, major labels started dropping disco artists. Financially, this was a disaster, as disco had been a cash cow which everyone had milked. To make matters worse, other popular genres were struggling.
This included fusion, which was no longer as popular. Some of its biggest selling artists including Weather Report, Herbie Hancock and John McLaughlin were only selling a fraction of the albums they used to. These were worrying times as the seventies gave way to the eighties.
Luckily for Steve Khan, he still had plenty of session work. There was be no shortage of work for a top class guitarist. However, by 1981, Steve Khan’s thoughts turned to his next solo album, which would become Eyewitness.
For Eyewitness, Steve Khan’s usual band spent the weekend of the 7th-8th November 1981, recording five songs. Steve Khan had written Dr. Slump, Guy Lafleur and Eyewitness. The other two tracks Where’s Mumphrey? and Auxiliary Police were recorded by four friends who had jammed and recorded for years.
They had been doing so since drummer drummer Steve Jordan, bassist Anthony Jackson, percussionist Manolo Badrena and guitarist Steve Khan had been working on Steely Dan’s Gaucho album. Since then, the four musicians had worked together, and met at Steve Jordan’s Chelsea loft where they jammed. After a while, everything fell into place and the quartet were making music together. At first, it was recorded on a cheap tape recorder. However, when they listened back to the tapes, they realised that the music they were making deserved to recorded and released.
While the four friends had recorded fusion, it was a bit more innovative than much of the fusion being released. The music was intricate, complex and accessible. It was fusion with a twist. No wonder. Look at the equipment the band used.
Bassist Anthony Jackson preferred a six string bass. Steve Jordan’s drum kit featured timbales, a cowbell, two hi-hats, two snare drums and even a broken splash cymbal. Percussionist Manolo Badrena’s equipment was constantly evolving. As he went into the Eyewitness’ sessions, he deployed timbales, congas and even a turtle shell. Steve Khan’s band were it seemed, no ordinary fusion band.
When they went into the studio on 10th November 1981, everything clicked over the weekend at Mediasound studios. Steve Kahn and Doug Epstein co-produced the album, which was recorded over two days. Eyewitness was complete by the 11th of November 1981. Little did Steve Kahn realise, that he had recorded the best album of his solo career.
Eyewitness was released to widespread critical acclaim. Although described as an innovative album of fusion, Latin and blues can be heard on Eyewitness.
The Latin influence is most prominent on Eyewitness, a slow burner, which begins as a ballad and breaks out into a Latin groove. Guy Lafleur is another track with a Latin influence. It’s played in 6/8 time and features the band at their very best. At the heart of the action is the rhythm section, who power along the arrangement while percussion Steve Khan’s guitar intertwine. It’s a musical masterclass.
So is the tonal jam Auxiliary Police, where the band improvise seamlessly and showcase their versatility and undoubtable talent. However, one of Steve Khan’s finest moments comes on Dr. Slump. He delivers an almost Hendrix inspired performance on a memorable, bluesy track. For Steve Khan, Eyewitness had been a career defining album, and one that had proved popular in Japan.
When Eyewitness was released, the Japanese music market was one of the most lucrative in the Western world. It was in Japan that Eyewitness received some of the best reviews. Eyewitness received critically acclaimed reviews and this resulted in Steve Khan and his group being booked to play four nights in Tokyo.
The venue for the four nights in Tokyo, was the Pitt Inn.That’s where Steve Khan’s band would take to the stage during four days in May. There was a problem though. The band had no named. So when it came to signing the contract, the other three members of the band were reluctant to sign it. So Steve Khan signed the contract, and when the band arrived at the show later that day, they were billed as Steve Khan and Eyewitness.
Over the next four days, Steve Khan and Eyewitness were booked to play four shows. Two of these shows, at the Pit Inn were to be recorded for a live album, Modern Times. The two dates that had been chosen, were May 3rd and 4th.
Choosing two days made sense. If there were any problems on the first night, they had a chance to make amends the following night. Each night, the whole set was recorded. This allowed the band to choose the best tracks when they returned home, and began working on their first live album, Modern Times.
Back home, Steve Khan and Eyewitness listened to the two nights that had been recorded. Eventually, they settled on four lengthy tracks lasting nearly forty-five minutes. This included Blades (For Wayne Gretzky), The Blue Shadow (For Folon), Penguin Village and Modern Times. However, what would become Modern Times wasn’t released in America.
Instead, Modern Times was only released in Japan. When it was released in 1982, it was to unequivocal critical acclaim. Japanese jazz critics were won over by Steve Khan and Eyewitness’ first live album Modern Times. It was a reminder of the groundbreaking quartet’s performance earlier that year.
Blades which opened Modern Times, is an explosive mixture of rock and Latin, with contrasts aplenty. From quiet sections, the arrangement explodes and the quartet are off and running; improvising and pushing musical boundaries to their very limits. Sometimes, futuristic sound effects are combined with an impressive array of urgent percussion. Then at the heart of The Blue Shadow’s success is the interplay between the rhythm section. They play as one, while Steve Khan unleashes a stellar solo. He’s joined by Steve Jackson, and he matches him every step of the way, as they play in double time. It’s a peerless performance, before they head into Penguin Valley.
Here, Steve Khan and Eyewitness improvise, and percussionist Manolo Badrena relies heavily on his arsenal of special effects. They’re used effectively, on both the percussion and vocal. All the time, the rhythmic powerhouse of Anthony Jackson and Steve Jordan drive the arrangement along, adding a Latin flavour to this genre-melting track. Then Modern Times closes with the title-track. Penned by the band, Anthony Jackson switches to his six string bass, which makes its debut. Soon, he’s pushing it to its limits, as the sonic adventurer discovers what it’s capable of. All the time, the band are improvising and taking the listener on a groundbreaking voyage of musical discovery which they’ll want to repeat. Sadly, only those in Japan were able to enjoy the musical journey that was Modern Times.
The album was only ever released in Japan, until 1985 when Modern Times received a release in America and Europe. By then, Steve Khan and the band had released another solo album, Casa Loco.
Just like Eyewitness, Casa Loco was recorded at Mediasound studios, in New York. However, originally the recording sessions were a bit more informal.
They began at Steve Jordan’s Chelsea loft. It was turned into a makeshift recording studio, where Steve Khan and Eyewitness would jam their way through the six tracks that became Casa Loco.
Four of the tracks, including The Breakaway, Casa Loco, Some Sharks and The Suitcame were penned by the band. Steve Khan wrote Uncle Roy; while Penetration was a cover of a surf rock classic. However, surf rock wasn’t the only genre that influenced Steve Khan and Eyewitness on Casa Loco.
Everything from surf rock to jazz, Latin, R&B, rock and world music shine through on Casa Loco. So does the influence of The Police, complete with Sting inspired vocals. These influences would result in the most eclectic album of Steve Khan’s career.
Critics were quick to point this out in their reviews. Most of the reviews of Casa Loco were positive, and remarked that Steve Khan and Eyewitness had reinvented their music since Eyewitness. Casa Loco was a much more eclectic album, that allowed the band to showcase their versatility.
That was the case from Casa Loco’s opening track. When engineer Doug Epstein asked the band to play at Mediasound, Steve Jordan started laying down an almost manic, propulsive beat. Next to the party was bassist Anthony Jackson. Suddenly, the rest of the band climbed onboard, and quickly launched into a three minute jam that was unlike anything they had recorded before. From there, they embark on the twelve minute genre-melting title-track. Everything from jazz, Latin, R&B, rock and world music is combined during this all conquering epic. It gives way to Penetration, a cover of The Pyramids surf rock classic. It’s given a makeover, where harmonies and a myriad of effects are added to what’s akin to a wall of sound, as Steve Khan and Eyewitness reinvent this familiar track. After this, it’s all change.
After some interplay between the rhythm section, Some Sharks becomes a moody, broody, meandering track. It’s played in 4/4 time, with the rhythm section and percussion playing leading roles. The vocal although delivered in Spanish, stylistically, has been influenced by Sting. Meanwhile, the band are enjoying the opportunity to improvise, as they showcase their individual and collective talents. Then on the final two tracks, one individual steals the show, Steve Khan.
On Uncle Roy, Steve Khan takes centre-stage, and unleashes some of his finest guitar solos. The rest of the group play a subtle supporting role. Atop the arrangement sits Steve Khan’s over-dubbed Stratocaster. Its addition adds the finishing touch to one of the album’s highlights. Closing Casa Loco was The Suitcase, which features another guitar masterclass from Steve Khan. This time, he’s playing high up the register, and his clean crystalline guitar at the heart of everything that’s good about this blistering, explosive track. It certainly leaves the listener wanting more.
Sadly, Casa Loco was the end of the road for Steve Khan and Eyewitness. They split-up in 1985. However, four years later, in 1989, they reunited to complete four unfinished tracks. These tracks became the album Public Access, which was one of their most successful albums. That would the last time the four members of Steve Khan and Eyewitness recorded together.
The best albums Steve Khan recorded with Eyewitness were Eyewitness, the live album Modern Times and Casa Loco. They were recently reissued by BGO Records, and celebrate the best years of fusion pioneers’ short career. Given the ambitious and groundbreaking music Steve Khan and Eyewitness released, they should’ve enjoyed much more success than they did.
The problem was, Steve Khan and Eyewitness came to the party too late. If they had released Eyewitness, Modern Times and Casa Loco a decade earlier, they would’ve enjoyed much more commercial success. Back then, fusion was at the peak of its popularity, and pioneers like Steve Khan and Eyewitness would’ve been rubbing shoulders with fusion royalty. However, between 1981 and 1983, when Steve Khan and Eyewitness released their trio of albums, fusion was no longer as popular. This affected sales of Eyewitness and Casa Loco. So it was almost inevitable that the band split-up in 1985.
Now, thirty-three years after the release of Casa Loco, Steve Khan and Eyewitness are receiving the recognition they so richly deserve. Eyewitness, Modern Times and Casa Loco have been remastered and reissued by BGO Records. Now a new generation of fusion fans have the chance to discover three albums of ambitious and innovative fusion from Steve Khan and Eyewitness.
STEVE KHAN-EYEWITNESS, MODERN TIMES AND CASA LOCO.