Reed Robins Liner Notes...
I think Jimi Hendrix is the ultimate icon of pop music. In his day, he was
most famous for redefining the sound of the electric guitar. At the time,
most people first exposed to his music developed their impressions (good
or bad) from the sound of that axe. That's because the sound itself was so
new. He was the first guitarist to really exploit the electronic
distortion caused by overdriving the electronics of a guitar amp to get a
legato (sustained) tone from the instrument using what was essentially
nothing more than a technical flaw in the design and building of
amplifiers--the fact that one cannot turn their volume controls up too high
without causing distortion of the signal passing through them.
In essence, this is how Jimi Hendrix discovered the guitar sound that has
shaped the music industry for the past twenty years.
His sound was so awesome that it gave him ranges of expression as a
performer that no one else of his day even came close to. I couldn't hear
him without experiencing a personal catharsis. The musical approach was
apocalyptic. To the unappreciative it must have seemed downright scary,
but to fans like me it was pure passion - a tone capable not only of
singing but also screaming or crying as well. Some referred to it as
"noise". (Of course, given that distortion is technically noise by
definition, their semantics weren't altogether incorrect.)
As a matter of fact, one thing Hendrix was actually doing (wittingly or
not) was challenging the notion that noise has no place in musical
expression. He didn't do it first, though - In my later years I've begun
to appreciate the music of other composers who made that step first. If
you listen to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring or Varese's Ionization, you can
hear how noise has been used effectively in the realm of "serious"
What Hendrix did was bring the musical gesture of noise to the masses.
Listening to Jimi's sonic landscape is to listen to the sounds of the
twentieth century. His melodic motives are filled with these references.
His tone, as well as his incredibly creative use of the guitar's "whammy
bar" were the catalysts for this new vocabulary of sound. A particular
favorite of mine, for example, is his melodic use of the sound of the
Doppler effect in improvised solos. (such as the moment when a passing
train blows the horn and you hear its pitch go down suddenly--one of those
aural sensations made possible to humans only by 20th century technology.)
To this day, He remains the most creative guitarist/recordist I've ever
heard in this respect.
As a twelve year old guitarist trying to imitate Jimi's moves, that sound
was the most elusive element--absolute magic. These days we have lots of
new pedals, tuners, and digital signal processors, yet we're still just
imitating Hendrix' sound. A sound which he delivered with a minimal pedal
setup and an amp "turned up to 11".
Therefore, it's only natural that we've let that aspect of his creativity
overshadow other aspects of his art. I have also been guilty of that.
Actually the idea for this CD started with covering a single song and
blossomed out to be an entire collection based on the merits of the music I
discovered when I looked at the basic songs - the melodies, harmonic
structure, arrangements, etc. The melodies exhibit a degree of
sophistication in terms of their relationships to the underlying harmonies
which one seldom finds in music of this genre - yet their linear logic is
ultimate simplicity. His free borrowing of styles - Waltzes, Tangos,
Gospel, Blues - shows the sophistication of his inspiration. His
arrangements and choice of unusual song forms have variety and always add
clarity to his musical message.
To top it off, I was stunned to go back and really listen in the studio to
his records. They're pioneering the techniques we're now all using in
multitrack recording. The use of doublings, overdubs, wild pannings,
flanging effects, sound effects, reversing tape, varispeed effects--it's
wildly creative. It's rough around the edges though... As a matter of fact
it's been said that in some cases his music itself is better than the
existing recordings of it in terms of production quality. (To be fair
though, that could be said of a lot of recorded music from the past.)
In the same light, I was impressed by how his songs convey a meaning in and
of themselves - just melody and harmony - even without the "icing" that his
sound, talent and musical charisma provided them. I was also impressed
with their ability to cross the lines of style, into this realm of jazz
I was inspired to do this collection in part by recordings of jazz pianist
Oscar Peterson's treatments of the music of West Side Story, and the songs
of Frank Sinatra - recordings made some 30 plus years ago. In Oscar's case
I found - knowing the original music as I do - that I learned a lot about
enjoying the original performances from his new renditions. In some cases
he captures a mood as well or better than the original recording, and in
other instances he recruits the musical content to emulate a new mood of
his choosing or to fit his style. While I don't know what the nature of
Oscar's original connection with the music he recorded in these instances
is, this new perspective gives these compositions new life, and extends
their appeal to those who, for instance, might not ever elect to listen to
a Frank Sinatra record.
In my case, my connection to the music of Hendrix is extremely strong. It
was the music I was weaned on, it represented my first expression of
musical individuality, and he was my first mentor. So it's not outlandish
to say that the music of Jimi Hendrix provided the inspiration that
compelled me to be a musician in the first place. I've found no matter how
far I get in the pursuit of adding technique and sophistication to my own
musical vocabulary, I can return to Hendrix' music and find that original
inspiration intact. Somehow, I find that comforting, Perhaps it's a sign
to me that as you grow up at least some things actually do stay the same.
Perhaps he's one of a few remarkable musicians that created an art that
will remain timeless. Maybe I just can't argue with that energy! Whatever
it is, doing this CD has allowed me to come full circle. And while the
gift Jimi gave me I can never begin to repay--I hope this effort can be a
small step in that direction.
Reed W. Robins
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