Back in the early '80s, when I was a beer-swilling, poverty-stricken, disco-hating, post-college naif, my favorite kind of music was jazz-fusion. My early-80s self was particularly smitten by Tom Coster's first two solo records. I regretted having to sell those albums to an Indian graduate student prior to one of my many cross-town moves. When I learned this summer that Fantasy was reissuing both albums on a single CD, I thought it might be fun to see if the music still moved me.
The verdict? I still enjoy most of the tunes, but more than a few sound dated.
Tom Coster is a talented guy who, like most fusion keyboard players in the early '80s, experimented extensively with synthesizers. Unfortunately, the keyboard sounds of that era do not hold up particularly well here in the late '90s. Thus about 50% of this recording sounds dated. It helps that Coster teamed with some ace players, particularly drummer Steve Smith and guitarist Joaquin Lievano, on T.C. (1981) and Ivory Expedition (1983), the two releases that are combined here.
Some of these cuts sound like they should accompany an old basketball highlight film or a wind-surfing documentary. The tracks that stand up best are those that feature Coster on acoustic piano. They include: "I Give My Heart To You," which features a hot solo by Lievano; "Can't You Stand It!," a catchy track on which Coster's intense playing brings to mind Chick Corea; and "Till We Meet Again" and "I Give You My Love," two beautiful keyboard ballads. Other highlights include "Zulu Queen" and "Caught In The Act," percussive tracks that might have been written for Coster's old band Santana.
Though Ivory Expeditions is not nearly as strong as Coster's 1993 CD Let's Set The Record Straight> or his recent work with Vital Information, hardcore fusion fans will find a good number of gems among these 18 tracks. If you're a long-time fusion fan like me, they might even conjure up some memories.
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid. For some reason I remember an arrangement of Hey Jude they did. My first real exposure was Stan Kenton in the Smithville, MO high school gym. Kenton and the band director there were old friends, so he would play there from time to time. My dad took me without telling me where we were going and it was the only show he ever took me to. I remember that Bobby Shew played Send In Clowns and I damn near levitated I was so excited. The huge sound and amazing chords floored me. I believe I was 13 at the time. I immediately started practicing and taking lessons. Music became a passion and nearly a career. I also listened to Dick Wright's Jazz Show on KANU every night. I can't even start to explain what I learned lying in bed listening to Dick talk about jazz. I met him once when I was struggling to put together a solo for Joy Spring playing in a combo at KU. Stopped by his office and asked for recommendations. He showed up at my jazz ensemble rehearsal the next day with a tape with example solos. What a kind man Dick Wright was.
My advice to new listeners is to stop worrying about what music is important and focus on music you like. I spent quite a bit of my music life listening to important music I didn't necessarily like. Must say I have quite a bit more fun now listening to music that I deeply enjoy. Some of it is even important.
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