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From Graceland To A Galaxy To Further Explorations: Chatting With Jeff Lorber And Eddie Gomez, Plus Paul Simon's Classic Turns 25

Posted: 01/18/12 09:07 AM ET

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A Conversation with Jeff Lorber

Mike Ragogna: Jeff, how are you today?

Jeff Lorber: Great, thanks. How are you, Mike?

MR: Well, thanks. Lately, you've been to performing as the group "Jeff Lorber Fusion." What brought you back to that name and when did you feel it was time to start recording your new album, Galaxy?

JL: Well, a little over a year ago, we recorded the album Now Is The Time. That was the first time that I've used the name Jeff Lorber Fusion in about 20 years or so. I really wanted to get back to the idea of "fusion" music. When I stopped using it, fusion music had become one of those things that people thought had seen its day, you know? Everything is cyclical in the music business. Now, all of a sudden, the idea of music that is harmonically more adventurous and rhythmically jazzier made everyone seem to think that the change back was a good idea. We did a tour of Europe and they called my band the Jeff Lorber Fusion, because I guess that's what they know me as there, that's how we came up with the idea of bringing the name back. So, we recorded Now Is The Time and it was very well received. We even won a Grammy nomination. Galaxy is part two of that record, in a way. It even technically has the same band members -- Eric Marienthal on sax, Jimmy Haslip on drums, and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. The last album actually had vocals as well. We had a woman by the name of Irene Bee that added some vocals to about four different songs. This one is a lot more instrumental, that's the big difference between the two.

MR: There was a long period of time when lots of jazz moved toward the smooth jazz side of the spectrum, whereas now, people are starting to return to listening to and producing more of the fusion sound.

JL: Well, I think the loss of a jazz radio presence or of any sort of record label support has a lot to do with that. It sucks, but at the same time, it gives jazz artists more freedom to get back to creating their own sound without worrying about being radio or record company friendly. There's really no reason why any jazz musician shouldn't feel free to explore the type of music they put out now. It shocks me when I see a lot of musicians continue on in their careers as if nothing has changed. They're still kind of making corny smooth jazz type of music and there's no reason for it. I think you should make music that's exciting and makes people say, "Wow." That's the main thing that I look for. You have to have something in your music that makes people sit up and take notice. If it's just wallpaper, there's no reason for it.

MR: Yeah, it seemed that for a while, we had strayed so far away from the essence of jazz and more towards the formula of smooth jazz that improvisation in a performance was almost unheard of.

JL: Exactly. I agree.

MR: Now, for Galaxy, you re-imagined some of your older tracks, one of them being the song "City" from your Wizard Island album. Can you tell us how you approached some of these revisited tracks?

JL: Well, I did the same thing on the Now Is The Time record. I feel like I've learned so much since the early days of the Jeff Lorber Fusion. That was exciting music, but now I'm working with real world-class talent and I know a little bit more about production and studio technique. That helps so much. In addition, I wanted to revisit some of my old tunes -- the ones that hold up and that I think would still be really fun to play live -- and give them a new look and feel. It's kind of my way of keeping those songs alive so I can keep playing them. Luckily, I think I have some songs from my early incarnation that hold up pretty well and are fun to play.

MR: I also think it's great that each song's revisit expands on the original version. Differing from pop music, in jazz, when you redo a song, you're adding years of experience, a better understanding of the genre and your own growth as an artist, making the song that much more interesting and, as you say, fun to play.

JL: Yeah. It's funny because there is something magical about those early incarnations of a song too. Even though I now have this experience and am working with amazing talent, there was something special about the song at the start. So, it's a challenge sometimes. One of the things that I have been fortunate with is that one of my songs, "Rain Dance," was sampled by Notorious B.I.G. and Lil' Kim and became a huge hip-hop track called, "Crush On You." I just like the idea of giving the younger generation a chance to hear this type of music and keep it alive.

MR: Let's jump back and chat a bit about your album Wizard Island where you introduced a now very famous artist by the name of Kenny G, right?

JL: Yeah, we were good buddies. He's a talented guy and it was a lot of fun working with him. I mean, his music since then has become very narrow compared to the stuff that we did. Obviously, what he does these days is still technically challenging, but from a harmonic and a rhythmic standpoint, he's more into the smooth jazz kind of thing than fusion jazz.

MR: Though, I would imagine if you let him loose on a more fusion type of style, he could still really let go, right?

JL: I would hope so. I know he occasionally takes himself out of his comfort zone and plays with new people. I think he has the ability to do that.

MR: Can you tell us about Galaxy's "Horace," which is dedicated to Horace Silver?

JL: It's funny because when I was just getting into jazz as a senior in high school and through my first couple of years at Berklee College of Music, Horace Silver was the only jazz pianist that I could listen to and sort of understand, so I learned a lot from him. He was sort of my entryway into figuring out the basics of blues, be-bop, and jazz piano playing. Later, I began to understand more about the great piano players like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Red Garland and so many other guys. Horace was like my training wheels, in a way. His songs were so melodic, compelling, and catchy. Actually, the melody on the song "Horace" reminds me of one of Horace's tunes called, "Cooking At The Continental." I recently decided that it would be a good time to pay homage to Horace and write a song in his honor.

MR: Was it invigorating to you to get the Jeff Lorber Fusion back together?

JL: Well, the thing that's incredible is that everyone was so excited about it -- the musicians, the record company, our management, even promoters. Everybody seemed to like the idea. When you get feedback like that, it's kind of obvious that you've hit a nerve and can assume you're doing something right. These days it's just tough to survive in the music business, period. So, you're really lucky if you can find a project that everyone actually gets excited about.

MR: Let's talk a bit about some of the other artists that joined you on this album. You had Randy Brecker join you on "The Underground."

JL: Yeah, that's right. That's actually one of my favorite songs to play live. It's fun to play live because it really focuses on whoever is playing the drums, it's a Latin song. That was kind of a special tune because the song had come such a long way since I first recorded it and I wanted to capture that. We were very lucky to get Vinnie Colaiuta who is such an incredible musician and so incredibly busy. (laughs) It's kind of hard to get him sometimes, but the timing was right, he was available, and he really set the tone for the album and that song in particular. The drum part on that is just perfect.

MR: Speaking of your music with a Latin feel, you also included "Samba."

JL: Oh, yeah. That's another one that I love to play live. That song's actually very popular in Europe. There were a couple of dance music DJs that took the music from that song and had some pretty big hits. In fact, Pete Tong, an English DJ, plays this version of the song by a group called The Pasta Boys that sampled it and made a big hit out of it.

MR: Also, Michael Brauer was involved in the making of Galaxy.

JL: That was actually a really lucky thing. A lot of people don't know who Michael is because he works behind the scenes as a mixing engineer, but he's someone who I've always been a huge fan of. I remember in the '80s, he did a bunch of r&b records that, when they came out, all listed him as the mixer and they all sounded incredible. They were really imaginative, interesting, and different -- almost like sound sculptures. Then I sort of forgot about him until the last record was nominated for a Grammy and we were at the awards show and there Michael was getting an award for Best Engineered Record of the Year for his work with John Mayer. Turns out he's stayed in the business and has been really successful -- he mixed the last Coldplay album, Colbie Caillat, Ben Folds, and a lot of other pop artists. Anyway, we started talking through email and turns out he knew who I was. At the very end of the project, I was in Europe, and I was going to head home to start mixing the album. As it turned out, he had a day off where he could help me mix and I had a little bit of money left to pay him. So, I flew back from Germany to New York and we spent from 10 am until 2 am in the studio working on six songs. It was so great, very spur of the moment. He did a great job. I thought I was going to have to mix everything like I did the last time, but it made my job a lot easier this time mixing only five of the songs by myself.

MR: Of course, your "sound" employs funk and r&b elements. Is that something that you aim for when you enter the studio, or is it something that happens naturally as you're creating?

JL: I think both. What you described is basically my musical personality. If you listen to my music from way back in the beginning, there are really strong elements of r&b, latin, jazz, be-bop, and even hip-hop. Hip-hop didn't really exist then. But in terms of modern music, a lot of innovation happens in hip-hop. I've absorbed a little of that. There's not a ton of it on this record, but it's something that I listen to and piece through here and there. Another thing that's key for me is collaboration. When I listen back to some of the earlier records I've made, about four records in a row that I produced and wrote, I think are pretty good. Then the rest tend to fall off a little bit to be honest with you. I think I ran out of good ideas the same way your favorite TV show loses you after the fifth season because of the writing. (laughs) So, what I've found is that it really works for me to find somebody to collaborate with. The last two records I've done, I've collaborated with Jimmy Haslip who is a great bass player and producer. He's got great intuition. I also worked with Bobby Colomby on the Now Is The Time album. He was one of the founders of Blood, Sweat & Tears, and he produced Chris Botti's records. He's a guy that I really respect. Unfortunately, he was pretty busy when I was working on this record but he was still involved a bit. I was able to play some of the album at various stages and allow him to weigh-in on what he thought was good and bad. He had a little bit of influence. I love to collaborate. I don't try to do anything myself because I only tend to fall into the type of style that I very much like.

MR: Do you have a favorite song on Galaxy?

JF: Well, I think most artists may say this but in my case it's really the truth -- this is definitely one of my favorite albums that I've ever made. I enjoy listening to the whole thing. I really enjoy listening to "Montserrat" and "Singaraja." We just started playing some of these songs live and they've been getting a good response. I think the entire album is pretty solid, but those are the songs that seem to hold up really well live.

MR: So, what is your creative process like? What inspires you?
JL: Generally speaking, I'm kind of in writing mode all of the time. I'm always looking around for ideas and sounds that appeal to me. I have these music books that I have carried around since the '70s, so when I get ideas, I just jot down chords and melodies and such. Also, with digital recording, it's so easy now to just turn on your computer and record something. There's really not a huge separation between demos and master recordings now. Back in the day, you'd make a demo at home, then you'd go into the studio and make charts and play the real thing. Now you can just turn Pro Tools on and start playing and if it's recorded well, you can capture that initial inspiration. If that holds up, you can keep it until the final product. So, there are some very nice advantages to the modern recording process.

MR: Do you prefer live performance or studio work?

JL: Well, when I'm in the studio, I do prefer to use live instruments -- I don't use a lot of synthesizers. Most of what you're listening to on my albums are real instruments. Sometimes, it's a real performance, but we like to overdub quite a bit, so it's not always all of us playing at the same time. But in terms of performance, I like both. I think they're both really important. One thing I find interesting is that when you spend more time in the studio, you become more focused and everything that you do in the studio becomes easier. Then once you've been on the road and you go back into the studio, sometimes it takes a while to make the transition back to that kind of focus. They're definitely two very different states of mind. I just love being creative, and I love the writing and production process. I also happen to love performing too, so it's all good. We're about to do a three-week European tour, which I've done for the last five years, or so. I think we might just play this album from top to bottom. I really think these songs will translate well to live performance. I don't even know if I want to do any of my older songs. (laughs) I think it's just going to be so much fun playing this record.

MR: As an artist, you have been nominated for a total of four Grammy Awards, right? You've been flirting with winning that award for some time now.

JL: (laughs) Yeah, I'm ready to actually win one. Last year, we were nominated for Best Contemporary Jazz Album, which unfortunately, no longer exists because they've narrowed the categories. But I was glad to see that Stanley Clarke, who also made a very fine album, won. At least I didn't lose to someone who didn't make a good record. I'm glad to see that someone that deserved it won.

MR: You all sort of know each other, don't you? Is there a sort of camaraderie there?

JL: Yeah. A lot of those guys, like Herbie and Chick, are my idols, so I'm very lucky to have been able to get to know them and work with them.

MR: You also did a little bit of work with Playstation on Castlevania, isn't that right?

JL: Yeah, I guess so. (laughs) That was great. You know, when you're a studio musician in LA, sometimes the phone rings and you get to do some kind of interesting things. I guess that's what happened that time. I got a call from someone who produces music for Sony and got asked to do that project.

MR: May I ask you something personal?

JL: Sure, go right ahead.

MR: You suffered from a kidney disease and had a kidney transplant, right? How's your health?

JL: Well, it's something that runs in my family. It's called Polycystic Kidney Disease and my mother and my sister both died younger than they should have. It's a disease that actually affects a lot more people than you might think. There are about 600,000 people affected in the U.S. and around 2 million people worldwide. Oftentimes, you don't hear about it because a lot of people who have the disease are on dialysis, so they're still alive but they've had kidney failure. So, there needs to be a little bit more attention on making people aware and getting the government to spend a little more money on finding a cure for this, though there are scientists working on a cure that have some promising ideas right now. I was very lucky to have gotten a kidney transplant and I'm very close to my seven-year anniversary of the surgery. I've been very fortunate, and since I've had that transplant, I've led a fairly normal life.

MR: Congratulations, Jeff. It's also a very touching story because it was your wife who donated the kidney to you, wasn't it?

JL: Yeah, that was a very nice Christmas and birthday present. (laughs)

MR: Jeff, do you have any advice that you'd like to share with new artists?

JL: I used to halfway tell people that they should really want to pursue a life in the music business because it's a really tough business, which it is. But now with the economy being in the shape that it's in, I think the music industry starts to look better than it used to because at least if you're really good at it, passionate about it and willing to put the effort in that it takes to excel, you've got about as good a chance at making it in the music business as you do in any other field. But it takes a lot of passion, work, and practice. Another thing to consider is the fact that there are a lot of jobs in the music industry in general -- there are jobs for executives, engineers, recording artists. Then you have film and TV where there are areas of a lot of work for engineers and producers and writers. It's a big industry with a lot of levels, so if somebody loves it, I think they should go for it.

MR: Jeff, thank you so much for spending some time with us today, and best of luck with your new album, Galaxy.

JL: Thanks so much, Mike. I enjoyed being here.

Tracks:
1. Live Wire
2. Big Brother
3. Montserrat
4. Singaraja
5. Galaxy
6. City
7. Horace (dedicated to Horace Silver)
8. The Samba - with Larry Koonse
9. Rapids
10. Wizard Island
11. The Underground featuring Randy Brecker

Transcribed by Evan Martin


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A Conversation with Eddie Gomez

Mike Ragogna: Eddie, how the heck are you?

Eddie Gomez: I'm doing fine, Mike. How are you?

MR: Great. Now, your new album with Chick Corea and Paul Motian, Further Exploraitons, is a kind of tribute project to Bill Evans. You all played with Bill before, right?

EG: That's actually not the case, though most people assume that. When I joined Bill, Paul had already left. Having said that, Paul would come in on occasion and sit in with us. As far as any kind of real long-term playing, Paul and I never really played together much. It was just kind of him sitting in and such. By the time I joined the trio, he had moved on to do other projects and work on his own music. Lately, as you may know, he was really essentially involved in his own projects and his own music. That's essentially what he did.

MR: And it was sad to hear about Paul's passing.

EG: Oh, it's terrible. I have a picture of when we worked together and he looks like the healthiest guy on the planet. His demeanor was always jovial, good-natured and happy. If he was suffering through anything -- and I don't think he was at that time -- but if he was at the beginning of something, then we certainly couldn't tell. Onstage he was still just pure magic.

MR: Well, he will be missed by many.

EG: Yes, he will.

MR: Let's change gears and jump into talking about Further Explorations. Can you give us a little background as to why you guys recorded a project like this?

EG: Well, very simply, Chick called Paul and myself and said that he had this idea -- Chick could never be accused of not having great ideas and concepts -- and this was something that he had always wanted to do that he finally just pulled the trigger on. The purpose was, of course, to dedicate an homage to Bill Evans who was one of his idols. He wanted me and Paul for rather obvious reasons, and was able to get us because it worked with both of our schedules. We generally don't like doing things like this with other musicians or pianists, but Chick is a musical creature and is someone that could pull off a project that wasn't tried or tawdry. It would be something that we could be proud of. We also liked that Further Explorations implied that we were taking Bill Evans music beyond where it had been; his music was just the starting point from which we would try to go to other places. It's really just a trip based on Bill's feeling, sound and art. So, when Chick called me, it was really easy to say yes to this project.

MR: I also wanted to mention that I loved your work on Chick Corea solo works such as The Leprechaun and The Mad Hatter, a couple of the more melodic fusion records of the '70s.

EG: Yeah, there were a few of them -- the two that you just mentioned, Friends, which won a Grammy, Three Quartets, and some others. Those albums mark special notches in Chick's belt along with so many of his other records from other projects and bands. All of these albums, including the ones that I'm on, really stand out for him. So, I'm really proud of that because it sort of includes my body of work. Chick and I go back even before we started recording together because we used to get together when we were still teenagers, really. I was about 16 and he was a couple of years older, and we would get together once a week and just rehearse stuff. I knew Chick from the Julliard days. I didn't go to Julliard, I was still in high school and I would just go up to rehearse. We were friends and aware of each other for a while. There was a connection there even before we started to record with each other.

MR: Nice. Now, this is a live album that you guys pulled from some of your nights at The Blue Note last year, right?

EG: That's right.

MR: One of the things that I love about this album is that I feel that jazz musicians often shine most in live performances, and with this album, you capture some of that magic.

EG: You know, I tend to favor live recording, though I do like studio recording. They really are two very different animals. Live recording is more akin to going to the theater and catching that moment that was evanescent, that you would never hear or see again unless it's recorded. Studio recording is more like film when you can do things over, tweak things, layer things. They're just two different methods. I do love live recordings because they capture the essence of what spontaneous, creative, improvised music is all about.

MR: What would you say the ratio of improvisation to "set" music is when you play live with Chick?

EG: Well, in general, it's about 70% improvisation when I play. With Chick and Paul, it was probably closer to 99% because to them, that was the whole point to get the creative juices flowing. Basically, if we had anything in front of us, it was a sheet of just notes or a melody. From then on, we would just go. Sometimes we didn't even have that, we would just go off the top of our heads. Usually, we were heading in a certain direction because of a theme that we were working with. There was a lot of so-called free playing where we just listened to each other. With Paul, it was so natural because that's where he came from musically; he breathed that. He was a perfect partner for that kind of playing, and I would like to think that it was reciprocated from his side because he was the master of making music out of thin air.

MR: Speaking of coming out of thin air, "Song Number One" makes an appearance for the first time anywhere on this album. Can you tell us the story behind this song?

EG: That was kind of a melody that was unearthed, like Schubert's 8th Symphony or something. This one was actually finished though. I remember this piece because Bill was working on it when I was still around and I would sort of try and play it myself. We never actually played it together. I remember listening to him sort of sculpting it, and I don't think we ever performed it live or anything. Then Chick found it somehow and he kind of approached it from a different angle than I did. Anyway, we did perform it. We found something but we really weren't sure what part of the animal it was from, you know? (laughs) But you know what animal it is, and where it should be.

MR: Now, because this song was found so many years after it was started and you guys have sort of made it your own based on your interpretation of Bill's starting point, would you consider this song to be co-written by you, Chick and Bill? Where do you draw the line with something like that?

EG: It really is very easy to figure out, this is clearly a piece written by Bill Evans. When you find a manuscript of Mozart's, that music is Mozart's and no one else's. This is clearly Bill's music, but maybe there are little parts that aren't quite clear or totally finished. We just went into that song the same way we did every other song -- with the intent of being honest, musical, and getting as much emotion out of the music as we could. And the emotion was already there. Great music already has a lot of emotion out on the page. It takes some pretty horrible musicians to take that great emotion out of a piece of music or literature. This song was already beautiful, we just approached it with as much honesty and grace as we could to make sure that the emotion was what Bill intended. It also wasn't just about Bill, it was about putting us as an overlay to Bill's music in a respectful way.

MR: How would you describe Bill's contribution to music?

EG: I'd say it was huge. He was a pianist, and pianists are kind of the orchestra of jazz music. Pianists have a particular kind of influence as do drummers, horn players, bass players, etc. We all have our particular role and we infuse the music and the art form in our own particular ways. The great pianists over the years, like Fats Waller, or Count Basie, or Bud Powell, have contributed tremendous amounts, and it seeps into the pop world as well. Bill was not only one of the pianists whose music got out there, he really changed things in a harmonic and emotional way that separated the music before and after his time. You can hear it in people like Herbie Hancock, who was just coming up, and even Chick, who was obviously influenced by him. Again, I don't think this is just true for pianists. I think the whole art of this music crosses over into many areas and genres. I never felt like there was one note that Bill played that didn't mean something. I was lucky, I got to perform with Miles Davis as well, and I never heard a note that didn't go right to your heart. Whether it was a ballad or something fast, it just penetrated your being. There were no wasted notes with either of them. You could say the same about several others as well. They were just so profoundly expressive.

MR: Chick Corea's song, "Bill Evans," also appears on this project.

EG: Well, Chick as we all know, is an amazing composer and he's amazing for not only the music he puts out, but how prolific it is. His body of work is so diverse and amazing. He's like a filmmaker. He really thinks about each individual project and it's carved out in such a way that makes it very special. So, when he writes a piece of music, he's thinking about honoring that project. Obviously, his love and respect for Bill is present throughout the project and, of course, in the music he wrote.

MR: The song that ends the album titled is "Puccini's Walk." Can you tell us a little bit about that song?

EG: Well, Puccini was one of the great composers of the 19th Century. He and Verdi are probably the most well-known. Anyway, the way I got to that song was that the first pooch I had was named Puccini. So, I wrote him a little tune, which he later recognized. Whenever I sang the first verse, it was time to go out for a walk. It's as simple as that. (laughs)

MR: (laugh) I wanna go back and talk about something you mentioned before. You said that you worked with Miles Davis for a while, do you have any stories from working with him you can share?

EG: The first one that comes to mind is when I played with Miles in Chicago. We had played together several times all over the US, and we were playing in a place called The Plugged Nickel. After the first weekend, I thought we were doing pretty well just because of the feel of how things were going. On the last night after everyone left, he approached me and gave me a punch to my stomach that almost brought me to my knees. The thing is that he always traveled with his boxing trainer; he loved boxing and went to the gym just about every day. He didn't even say anything when he hit me. I don't know if I would describe it as a love tap or what to call it, but he had done this to some of the other members of the band as well. (laughs) I didn't take it as a negative thing or anything. I just kind of took it as a form of male bonding or something. I kept my feet and I didn't cough up any blood or anything. (laughs)

MR: (laughs) Wow. I also wanted to chat with you about your new solo album called Per Sempre.

EG: That's right. The title is Italian and translates to "forever" in English. I recorded it about a year or so ago in Italy. It's a lot my originals and some other originals from guys in the band. It's currently available through my website.

MR: Eddie, from all your years of experience, do you have any tips or advice for new artists?

EG: If you don't love something enough and have the passion, desire, and focus not to be deterred by society and the people that are not going to inspire you, then you may not make it. You kind of have to be undeterred and single-minded about what you're doing , especially in the arts, because there isn't a lot of support for it. You have to just move straight ahead, love it a lot, and do it as much as you can. And you have to actually do it. This isn't the kind of thing that you can learn from a book. There are lots of books about this industry, and they can be very helpful, but you have to do it and keep loving it. That's what separates the special ones from the rest of the folks out there.

MR: How do you feel about the state of jazz right now?

EG: You know, there are a lot of very talented musicians out there right now. The problem is with your environment. You have to foster an environment where things can be nurtured and grow. That environment is not so great right now. I hope that someday, it'll return to that sort of environment like it was 20 or 30 years ago. I hate to sound like the old guy saying, "Back in my day, ..." But there were way more clubs so there were a lot more places to explore and play. I think you have to kind of create these places as well. I am starting to see it more and more though. I see it in the musicians in the park and the streets of New York when it's warm out. There are some extremely talented players as well, and it's great, but that's not enough. What we need is subsidy like they have in European countries. It's not just jazz that's suffering either, it's all of the arts. Overall, I would say that the state of jazz could be healthier. There are a lot of great musicians out there, but my fear is that jazz is going to become some sort of musicological novelty music rather than a sustainable art form.

MR: Eddie, I want to thank you so much for coming by and talking with us.

EG: Thank you so much for having me, Mike.

Tracks:

Disc 1
1. Peri's Scope
2. Gloria's Step
3. They Say That Falling In Love Is Wonderful
4. Alice In Wonderland
5. Song No. 1
6. Diane
7. Off The Cuff
8. Laurie
9. Bill Evans
10. Little Rootie Tootie

Disc 2
1. Hot House
2. Mode VI
3. Another Tango
4. Turn Out The Stars
5. Rhapsody
6. Very Early
7. But Beautiful - Part 1
8. But Beautiful - Part 2
9. Puccini's Walk

Transcribed by Evan Martin


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THE 25th ANNIVERSARY OF PAUL SIMON'S GRACELAND!

Man, it was 25 years ago. The Grammy-winning album Graceland -- following what was arguably Paul's best album to that point, Hearts And Bones -- helped change the rules of pop music and politics.

For those who remember, Paul was initially ridiculed by politicos for hiring African musicians during Apartheid. But his point was eventually embraced by most everyone, that music does not have borders, and in the process, Graceland added to the general discussion about racism and educated many about that part of the world's controversial policies without pointing one finger.

The joy delivered in this celebration of songs -- especially in the amazing title track that used "Graceland" as an exquisite metaphor -- was almost unparalleled in his previous recordings. He was now an adult singing to everyone, not just his age group. For grownups, a song like "That Was Your Mother" casually offered honest exhaustion about the process of child rearing without throwing the teenager out with the bathwater. For kids, there were those diamonds on the soles of her shoes. And, come on, who hasn't ended up sleeping in a doorway by the bodegas and the lights on Upper Broadway -- or something like that -- when they were young? Sure, we could now call Paul "Al," but really what that meant for those of us who for years learned about life through his music, was that we could now call him our friend. This was a thoroughly exposed, relaxed Rhymin' Simon at his best.

Graceland remains electric, extraordinary, and still an essential. And these days, obviously, everyone from Vampire Weekend to Brett Dennen and many, many artists in between still take cues from what this album presented musically. That's a good thing, and those "world" guitar figures, sideways lyrics, and twisting, melodic hooks that Paul introduced to the US's general population have since been incorporated in pop recordings for decades.

But why take my word for it? The album's Spring re-release will feature a documentary about the project titled, Paul Simon: Under African Skies, helmed by the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker, Joe Berlinger. It had its premiere at Sundance, and also will have a theatrical run, additionally airing on A&E. Hey, poor boys and pilgrims with families, you're goin' to Graceland one more time.

 
 
 

Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008