During the summer months of 2017, as the radio run of "BACKLOG" had come to its conclusion, there arrived a moment where every artist has to ask himself/herself the omnipresent question: "Now what?" When one has been involved in music and the arts for a long time, you just know that this moment is always going to arrive, and an answer will have to be provided. There was still some work to be done for "BACKLOG" but, was there something else that I could do to keep the flow of a long career moving in a positive direction? Since BGO Records (UK) had done two wonderful reissue packages drawn from my earliest work as a solo artist, combining the Columbia years: "TIGHTROPE"(1977)-"THE BLUE MAN"(1978)-"ARROWS"(1979) on two CDs in 2015; and then, reissuing "EYEWITNESS"(1981)-"MODERN TIMES"(1982)-"CASA LOCO"(1983) in 2016. These releases were absolutely wonderful for me, pleasing for the older fans who desperately wanted to have these recordings on CD, and for a couple of generations of newer fans who had never been exposed to these recordings and the music contained therein.
After, what I would refer to as, the 1st Eyewitness reissue, I thought that it might be possible to somehow construct a 2nd such reissue that would include the three albums still connected to that musical philosophy, but featured great drummers: Dave Weckl and then, Dennis Chambers, as the music grew and tried to move on from the original and incredible Steve Jordan years. How would it be possible to make 2 CDs out of so much music? I am speaking of trying to present all of: "PUBLIC ACCESS"(1989) with Anthony Jackson(Contrabass Guitar), Manolo Badrena(Percussion & Voice), and Dave Weckl; add in 3 tunes that appeared on HEADLINE"(1992) with Anthony, Manolo, and now Dennis Chambers; and finally all the music from "CROSSINGS"(1994), which again included Anthony, Manolo, Dennis, and Michael Brecker(Tenor Sax) on 3 tunes. After great deal of trial and error, and with the help of placing various combinations of the additional tunes into the program Toast, I finally found the two sequences that would work, and would then include ALL of this music. Knowing this, I presented this idea to Andy Gray and Mike Gott at BGO Records and, miracle of miracles, they liked the idea, and decided to go ahead and present it directly to Universal Music, who controls all three of these recordings.
As the decade of the '80s was rapidly drawing to close, I was confronted with the painful reality that I hadn't recorded any new music under my own name, as a leader, since 1983. That was beginning to feel like far too long a gap. There had certainly been some great disappointments during the in-between years. What was I going to do? In my solitary searching, I began to remember that there had been some unfinished music that we had been working on as Eyewitness between 1984-85, just before we had to sadly let go of that dream. Fortunately, though not very accurately catalogued, I had been recording our rehearsals, jams, etc. on cassettes, and so, I went into the deep recesses of my music closet, and dug-out all of the cassettes. It took some time, and lots of listening, but, I ended-up rediscovering the seeds of the four tunes that would come to be known as: "Sisé"; "Kamarica"; "Botero People"; and "Mama Chóla." Once I knew that I had these tunes as a starting place, I immediately phoned both Anthony and Manolo, and asked them, "IF I completed all of these tunes and had them ready, would you want to be part of our group moving forward?" They said "Yes!" and my labors began. Those four tunes were really picking-up where the group-composed tunes from "CASA LOCO" had left off - a wild combination of influences, cultural and otherwise, with each player bringing his unique vision of music-making to the table. This kind of composing would also include the incredible lyrics and singing of the brilliant Manolo Badrena. As Steve Jordan had become very involved with other genres of music and music production, I decided to place the all important drum chair in the hands of the then rising star, Dave Weckl. Dave and I had known one another when his brilliant career was just getting started, and it was thrilling that he very much wanted to be a part of this new effort. Because of the depth and the complexity of all of the new music, this would be the only time in my recording career where we actually rehearsed the music for 5 straight days, working extremely hard at it. I will never be able to express my gratitude to Anthony, Dave, and Manolo for everything that they gave to this music. You have now heard the results, but you can't imagine the depth of their contributions.
After a truly wild & crazy journey to get the recording done with the great engineer, Malcolm Pollack behind the desk, I only knew that the album would have a home in Japan at Polydor K.K., and there was some security in that. But what would happen here in our own country, the good old U.S. of A.? I tried to shop the album everywhere, and no one seemed to want "PUBLIC ACCESS." Finally, after a long, long struggle, Larry Rosen and Dave Grusin agreed to take the album for their highly successful GRP Records label. However, it was not without some testy negotiating. Larry wanted to edit down all the long tracks to have a better chance at radio. I refused to do that! Finally, the compromise struck was that I would pay for, out of my own pocket (like the whole album), Special Radio Edit CDs to be made, and the consumer CD would be left alone, intact, and just as we had intended for the music to be heard. You can't imagine my sense of relief. Because of GRP's powerful national and worldwide distribution, I had no idea about the reach that this music was making, especially in South and Central America, the Caribbean, and Europe. It was not until years later that I could sense the impact that we had made with this music. In truth, I am still humbled by that. Again, this only happened because GRP made the record available - in the end, that is simply everything! This kind of success did not change our lives in the least, nor did it enable us to tour at all. Our only gig in this configuration of players was at the MODERN DRUMMER Festival presentation by Dave Weckl. That was it.
The '90s began, and yet again, it was back to square one because, after investing so many years in the Eyewitness group and concept, I felt that the only way that I could try to go out and play live more would be to pare it down to a trio with acoustic bass and drums. My initial plan was to try to be flexible enough to be comfortable with a rotating cast of as many as five bassists and five drummers, always being forced to mix-and-match, because of the availability of these great players. There were several combinations that I enjoyed, and very much so, but, after recording a fast, direct-to-2trk. demo with Jay Anderson(Ac. Bass) and Joel Rosenblatt(Drums) that I had sent to Polydor K.K., hoping that they would allow me to record that way, I was told that I had to record with more well-known players. This is, of course, an old and very familiar story to many. Basically it comes down to this: "familiar names breed familiar sales"! A rather distasteful notion, but, an industry standard. It was painful to have to tell this to Jay and Joel. Then, after much thought, I felt that I could capture something in the music that we had been playing by recording with old friends, Ron Carter and Al Foster. And so, in 1991, "LET'S CALL THIS" came into being. Sacrificing the chemistry that Jay, Joel and I had for name value was, in the end, a big sacrifice, even though many people continue to tell me how much they love this album.
Though "LET'S CALL THIS" was well-received in Japan, when I approached Polydor K.K. and Hiroshi Itsuno in early 1992 about continuing in this vein, he suggested that I record 1/2 of the album with Ron and Al, and then the other 1/2 with Anthony, Manolo, and now Dennis Chambers. Of course, I was more than happy to do that! At the time, my plan was to record 4 tunes with the newly regenerated Eyewitness, and those tunes would be: "Blues for Ball"(McCoy Tyner); "Turnaround"(Ornette Coleman); "All or Nothing at All"(Lawrence-Altman) and "Caribbean Fire Dance"(Joe Henderson). This recording was to become "HEADLINE," but only 3 of the 4 tunes made it to the disc. Sadly, "Blues for Ball" was lost, because I decided to play it in McCoy's key of C-minor, which puts the guitar in a very dark register, and I didn't compensate for that. The result was a very muddy sounding guitar, and it was too late to either fix it, or re-do it. The saddest part was that the performances by Anthony, Dennis and Manolo were just spectacular. I still feel terrible about losing their performances to this day. So, for this reissue compilation, with group and musical continuity being the key thread to making such a release work, only the 3 tunes with Anthony, Dennis and Manolo appear here. Again, sonically speaking, there is great continuity, because on both "PUBLIC ACCESS" and "HEADLINE," Malcolm Pollack did the mixing.
As 1993 began, and my personal life had already descended into an extremely dark period, in one sense, some musical creativity, and being surrounded by dear friends and colleagues, would save me again. Polydor K.K. agreed to continue to record me, but this time, they wanted an album with Anthony, Dennis, and Manolo, but..... they wanted me to have a guest artist too!!! Of course, this idea was very upsetting to me. Why couldn't the quartet, and our style of music-making be enough? But, when it comes to this area of trying to get things done, one cannot behave like a child, and hold one's breath until you turn blue if you don't get your way. So, the perfect compromise solution was that I asked Michael Brecker if he wanted to be a part of the project and, as he was trying then to limit his appearances as a guest on too many recordings, he said that he would love to do 3 tunes with us. And so, with that settled, Michael would appear on "Descarga Khanalonious"(Khan); "I Love Paris"(Cole Porter) and "While My Lady Sleeps"(Bronislau Kaper-Gus Kahn). The album was recorded in late December, 1993, just before New Year's Eve. The wonderful thing about this reissue compilation is that you get to now have the entirety of "CROSSINGS" which was released in 1994. From an audio perspective, because Malcolm Pollack was not available to do the recording, I was so very fortunate that James Farber was available to do the album. This fateful stroke was to have a lasting impact that continues right up to the present. For years, after all the work, all the recordings, I have often felt that "CROSSINGS" had become my most beautiful sounding recording. I am speaking of the audio presentation.
With the recording of "CROSSINGS" having been completed during January of 1994, once again, my hope was that I would be able to tour more often, especially here in the USA. But, it seemed that the best opportunities would come in Europe. But, as it often was, I could not afford to bring Manolo Badrena along, there just wasn't enough money in the budget. And so, in late April, Anthony Jackson, Dennis Chambers and I took-off for Europe. That tour did yield one wonderful thing. On the last night of the tour, we played a concert/live radio broadcast in Köln, Germany for WDR, and by some miracle, 14 years later, in 2008, that live recording became the 2-CD set, "THE SUITCASE." We're all extremely proud of that album, because it represents how we played together at that time. The Eyewitness group did not come together again until 2011, when we entered Avatar Studios and recorded, "PARTING SHOT," but that was to be much more in pure Latin Jazz context. Sitting here now, I don't know that we will ever see that combination of players together again. For that alone, it makes this reissue package so very special.
Now, some 2 years after the 1st Eyewitness reissue, trying to inspire BGO Records to consider an Eyewitness 2 reissue package seemed like a good idea, but certainly never a sure thing. As we had already succeeded in establishing a good working relationship with Universal Music, I once again decided to take the same very pro-active and aggressive course of action and, I took another great risk, and asked my dear friend and graphic designer, Janet Perr to redesign 3 of the covers that we had considered for for the 1st Eyewitness reissue for BGO Records, using Jean-Michel Folon pieces from various periods of his work.
In the end, once the good news was confirmed for this reissue in 2017-18, we decided that the image, "Guitarre"(1992) was best but still in the spirit of the two of the three album covers. Over the many years, I have received so many positive letters and e-mails about the work of Jean-Michel Folon, and his presence on my covers, I thought that this would be wonderful opportunity to give the fans of this music, and the covers, a chance to see something new. You are free to view the 3 DESIGNS that were considered. And so, I can only express how very grateful I am to company president, Andy Gray for being so receptive to this rather unusual presentation offer from me, the artist. I am so pleased that Andy saw all of this as a positive, and was willing to use this cover design for the package. It is all especially moving and emotional for me as Jean-Michel's beloved wife, publisher and manager Paola Ghiringhelli Folon passed away just this past April 29th, 2012. For my part, this reissue will also be dedicated to Paola's memory, and for all her kindnesses to me over the many years that we all remained friends.
Photo: Dave Weckl, Manolo Badrena, Anthony Jackson, and Steve Khan
"PUBLIC ACCESS" Group
Photo by: David Tan
Photo Collage: Manolo, Dennis Chambers, Steve, Anthony, and Michael Brecker
Photo by: David Tan
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