As we approach the release of "Slow Rust" - here's the third of 10 albums which I feel have been part of the inspirational makeup of The Tangent over the years. It's not a "best of" or a chart, there is no Number One. The first one featured was UK's first album and the next was Van Der Graaf Generator's "Still Life". Today we move out of the formal Prog Rock arena to Joni Mitchell, almost certainly my favorite solo artist ever - and this album which in case you hadn't realised was inspirational to the titles of so many Tangent Records - "The Hissing Of Summer Lawns".
Truth be told that Joni's work is so varied and of such a high standard that choosing one would be difficult - were it not for the fact that this one had a big impact on me and my journey as a musician/listener. And I think the reason why it had this effect was that in many ways she was reporting back to the world on the discoveries that SHE had made. Her career had been as an angelic voiced folk singer - easily comparable with artists such as Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne - Carole King - even John Denver.
But somewhere (well Court & Spark) there was this shift and Joni started to use jazz as part of what she was doing. And it wasn't a kind of "get some old jazz legends and make a smiling record in awe of them" type of thing. Not at all. Joni went for what was the latest thing - up and coming "happening" musicians - people working in fusion. "Bitches Brew" was still fresh in the memory! "Summer Lawns" has a unique ensemble feel. I know many would have thought that I'd choose a Pastorius contribution album... but although I love it to pieces, Hejira was a much starker and simpler album. THOSL is dense, complex, orchestrated and full of subtle colour and nuance. It's prog. In its way.
From time to time, all over this album you can almost see scenes from the TV series that were on at the time. The USA really did use innovative Jazz tinged music in the 70s, often in their many detective shows - and you can often hear these influences in Joni's album. Joni was an artist in a state of progressive flux, which is why I feel so many of us in the main area of the genre are beholden to her. The first time I ever sat down to eat a meal with Pale Rider or "Roine" as I knew him, we ended up discovering our mutual love of Joni - and thus ending up not talking much about "Prog" that night. I often hear her in TFK music, and hope that people have spotted her hand in our stuff too, "The Company Car" from "Down & Out" and a fair few bits of "The Celluloid Road" spring to mind as an observer of my own work. You may know others that I hadn't spotted.
So my first introduction to the world of Jazz fusion really came through a folk singer who was embracing something new to her and advancing into it very quickly - to the point of being influential on that movement itself. Aged 16-17 it was a ticket to loads of other music I was about to discover and she opened the door. On "Hejira" in the "Song For Sharon" Joni goes to buy a Mandolin and sees a wedding dress in a shop window - finding herself gazing at the world of the role she is expected to take by society... and of course buys the mandolin - we assume. Many years ago this happened to me when the first job I ever took (a Piano Technician) was entirely taken in order to finance my first car. In 1978 - all the money for my car was spent at Kitchen's Music Shop in Leeds on my first Synthesiser - the Yamaha CS30. Since then I have never owned a car - or indeed even driven one. Thankyou Joni...
Like Peter Hammill, Joni could sing about anything. She was the real deal. Her songs on Summer Lawns sometimes look at the claustrophobia of life in Suburban North America - contrasted with the open wildness of the Jungle in "The Jungle Line" She was also one of the first to be talking to the prog rock generation from her viewpoint as a key member of half the population of the planet. A Woman's take on it all. Back in those very male dominated days where women were often just put in front of male dominated rock bands to sing - Joni was the complete package, writer, arranger, lyricist, innovative guitarist, pianist - and her special touch on the instruments and production was felt by all who loved it. She challenged, she commented, protested, reminisced, cajoled and laughed with us all. She sang about music - something I later came to enjoy, she sang about fictitious characters presumably based on real ones... the stories in "Edith & The Kingpin", "Harry's House", "Song For Sharon" "Coyote" and "Old Furry Sings The Blues" are real world stories - songs about the minutiae of life through her wide open eyes. I often place Hammill and her together in my mind as two people who have really SEEN the world we live in during our lifetimes. Their wisdom of that world is positively inspiring and has been inlfluential on all my efforts. I often wonder if she's even heard of him... if they ever met etc.
This process here is not about "Andy's Top Ten" - it's just ten albums I feel are influential to our journey. However, this one would be very high in my personal choices - an album I'd like to listen to many times more, despite the 40 and more years it's held my attention so far. It introduced me to Jazz. It introduced me to North America/Canada. And so importantly it introduced me to women and what they really felt in a world where they were draped over the fronts of cars fawning over James Bond, running from Benny Hill or screaming wildly through a Man's adventure movie. For a young man - locked away in a boys boarding school - Joni was an important signpost to the world that waited just beyond the walls. Words to a new generation about new attitudes. This was the classic album in which the starry eyed hippy singer actually produced a manifesto that made the earlier ideals she had sung of actually work, in the world Men and Women live in right now.
"A Helicopter lands on the Pan-Am Roof
Like A Dragonfly on a tomb
And business men in button-downs
Press into conference rooms.......
Batallions of paper minded males
Taking commodities and sales
...... While paper wives and their paper kids
Paper their walls to keep their gut reactions hid"