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Saturday, August 19, 2017

George Crumb - "Music For A Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III)" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1975 (Nonesuch)

I know his name well, but not his music whatsoever till I purchased this piece of vinyl of George Crumb's "Music For A Summer Evening."   I was intrigued by reading that the music on this album consists of two amplified pianos and percussion.  How can that possibly be a bad thing?  

The music here is a combination of great peace, and then dramatic mood change with the percussion and the sound from the two pianos.   There are also vocals in the mix as well.  That reminds me of Japanese Kabuki music, and that is another added twist to this work that's very American, yet looks beyond its border.  At parts, when the pianos are playing a melody, it sounds like something from the 18th-century European court music.  It's only traces of the melody here and there that comes through the textures, especially in "Myth" on side two.  

The percussion on this piece is a lot of instruments: vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, tubular bells, bell tree, claves, maracas, sleigh bells, wood blocks and other such instruments. "Music For a Summer Evening" is a solid piece of mood, which I'm fond of, or at the very least a visitor in those woods. 

Love - "Da Capo" Vinyl, LP, Album, Mono, 1966 (Elektra)

Love's second album.   More musicians and fewer songs on the second round.  The first six songs on the A-side is magnificent.  The band was progressing soundwise from the first album to "Da Capo" and what one hears here, can see the congo line that led to "Forever Changes."  Another significant change was to remove Alban "Snoopy" Pfisterer from the drums to organ and harpsichord.  His playing gives the first side a masterful baroque pop feel to the material.  Also, the addition of Tjay Cantrelli on sax and especially flute adds a potent part of the cocktail to the Love sound.  Johnny Echols' guitar blends into the orchestration of the songs, as a soloist, but as part of the overall power of its instrumentation. Most of the songs are by Arthur Lee, but Bryan MacLean's "Orange Skies" is just heartbreakingly beautiful.  "7 and 7 Is" my favorite garage/punk/god knows what piece of sonic delight.  When I was a child, I couldn't get enough of this song. In Los Angeles, it was played on the AM radio, and it was like a spiritual being was connecting to me as a listener who had the portable radio glued to my ear.  Perfection!

It's interesting to compare "Da Capo" to another album that was recorded and released that year (1966) and sharing the same recording studio (RCA Studios in Hollywood) and engineer, David Hassinger and that is The Rolling Stones' "Aftermath."   Like Love, the Stones were experimenting with instrumentation within the pop song format, and both had a long jam track.  The Stones' "Goin' Home" and Love's "Revelation."   Without a doubt, both are very similar.  "Aftermath" came out first, but Arthur Lee claims that the Stones saw Love do this song live, and therefore copied or inspired to do their own version.  The big difference between the two is that Stones' song lasts for ten minutes, and Love's "Revelation" takes up the entire side of the album.    Musically it's different, but sonically and recording wise it's a brother or sister related recording. 

The prevailing opinion is that no one talks about "Revelation," but for me, it works on different levels.  For one, the guitars are great and how they interact among the musicians is fantastic, and the opening and closing of the piece is Pfisterer's harpsichord, him playing Bach's "Partita No. 1 BWV 825."  I like the frame of Bach and having "Revelation" caught between the old world, and the then recent Sunset Strip jam piece.  "Da Capo" is the beautiful bridge between "Love" and "Forever Changes." 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Ennio Morricone - "La Proprieta' non e' Più' Un Furto" Album, Vinyl, Italy, 2017/1973 (Goodfellas)

The great fun of purchasing an Ennio Morricone album is that you don't know what to expect. For the beginner (and of course, you were introduced to the Spaghetti Western and "The Mission" soundtrack), I would look for the name Bruno Nicolai on the cover.  He sometimes arranges or conducts the orchestra for Morricone.  Think of him as David Bowie's Mick Ronson.   Stating all of this, "La Proprieta' non e' Più' Un Furto" is Morricone at his most adventuresome.  The hum of a synth, an acoustic guitar playing the melody at times, a voice through some electronic process, crazy percussion, harpsichord with another electronic keyboard of some sort - and bingo instant Morricone. For what looks like an Italian sexy comedy, this is very much an avant-garde work of music.  With touches of a glorious melody, of course.  If I walked into the room, and not knowing what is being played in front of me, I would swear it's a recording from The Letterists.  There is also some crazy Trumpet work, which I'm sure is played by Morricone.  The album turns like chasing a lizard.  You don't know what direction it's going - except you know it's a work of genius and therefore you just sit back and bathe yourself in the sounds of this record.   Also note, this is an excellent album package. It comes with a movie poster!  - Tosh Berman

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Donovan - "Barabajagal" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1969 (Epic)

A very good, but not classic Donovan album.  "Barabajagal" is Donovan at his most hippie twee, with songs like "Happiness Runs" and "I Love My Shirt."  And even "Atlantis," still, there is really no such thing as a bad Donovan song or performance.  There is the image of Donovan as the universal folkie turned flower child, which is true.  On the flip of the other side of the coin is that Donovan is a brilliant stylist/singer who brings jazzy overtures to his melodies and arrangements.  Mickie Most produced the classic Donovan sides (like this album), but I'm never sure what Most brings to the sonic table to a Donovan session.  Most is/was comfortable working with the Jeff Beck Group (who back Donovan on two songs on this album) and Terry Reid at the time who had a "heavy" sound.  

One of my favorite Donovan songs is on this album, and it's "To Susan Waiting on the West Coast."   A tune about a soldier in Vietnam writing to his girl back home.   Simple narrative but Donovan can bring out the pathos with his overly British twee-Jazz, that works brilliantly with this song.  I'm also a fan of "Superlungs My Supergirl."  Terry Reid also did a fantastic cover of this song around the same time this album was released - again, the Mickie Most connection.   Beck and gang back Donovan on the title cut, and clearly the Beck aesthetic on guitar is very prominent on "Barabajagal."  He's riffing like crazy under the mix of rhythm and the backup singers.   Although not individually credited, I imagine Nicky Hopkins is on the album.  The piano playing is superb throughout the disc, and the only song besides the Beck group (none of the musicians besides Beck is clearly credited) is the song "Where Is She," with session great Alan Hawkshaw on piano.  The rest I think is Hopkins.  

In real time, I bought the Donovan albums when they originally released. This was the last Donovan album for me.  Perhaps due to the marketing of that time, or me moving on to my teenage years, I gave up on Donovan.  It wasn't until recently that I started to pick up on Donovan's great Epic albums to provide them with that serious re-listen.  I'm now a bigger fan of his work, looking back on material that is of course, charming, but also has elements and textures that was very much present in the late 1960s - the acceptance of music from other cultures.  In that sense, Donovan was or is a great traveler. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Ennio Morricone - "Eat It" Vinyl, LP, Album, OST, Limited Edition, Italy, 1969/2016 (Cinedelic)

Ennio Morricone.  "Eat It."   I think the composer's name and the title of the film say it all.  The original Italian title of the movie is "Mangiala."  I haven't the foggiest idea what the film is about, but I suspect it has something to do with science, eating meat, and sex.  I'm sure it's a good film, but the soundtrack is incredible.  This may be a good introduction to the overall sound of Morricone's music. Because you have the strong melodies part, the amazing orchestration (arranged by pal Bruno Nicolai), and total noise ambient all in one package.  

Then again, it's hard to contain Morricone on just one album.  I just did an inventory of the albums that I own by him, and it came to 60.  None are bad, some are super good, and there are the exceptional ones.   "Eat It" is for sure up there.  There is one major melodic theme that runs through the album but re-arranged in many ways.  My favorite cut, and for a future club hit, is "Quinta Variazione Aricami."  A percussion work- out that Adam Ant must have heard somewhere in his musical past.  An incredible rhythmic song, with the classic Morricone melody laying on top of it or by its side.  A chef's method, which Nicolai brilliantly arranged.  

As mentioned, there are various types of music on this soundtrack, and all of them are essential Morricone.  There is a need to actually go through his entire catalog and write about it.  Perhaps I can do this as a book.  Till then, I'll write about my Morricone collection here ... and there... but mostly here now. 

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra - "Masterpieces by Ellington" Vinyl, LP, Album, Reissue, 1956 (Columbia)

My favorite Duke Ellington disc.   It's also an important statement about the 12" album format as well.    In the era of the 10" album or 78 rpm recordings, there was/is a time limit.  When the 12" album came out, I think one can have 20 minutes on each side of the record, and anything beyond that can affect the sound quality or mastering.    "Masterpieces by Ellington" is only four songs, but all in their original length the way Duke thought it out and played with his orchestra when they did live shows.   So in that sense, this format is the real meaning of the Ellington aesthetic. 

One of my all time favorite songs is "Mood Indigo."   I'm a huge fan of Frank Sinatra's version on his album "In the Wee Small Hours," but here on the Ellington album, I get goosebumps when I listen to this version.  The singer for the orchestra at this time, Yvonne Lanauze, gives a sexual presence to the smokey and seductive "Mood Indigo."   The long instrumental passage before the vocal just builds up and then - bingo!  There she is, and it's like a release after being teased for the first seven or however long the instrumental passage is.    The other three cuts here, "Sophisticated Lady," "The Tattooed Bride" (what a great title), and "Solitude" adds depth due to the natural length of the songs.  If you're an Ellington fan, more likely you have this album.  If you're not, or not have been introduced to this genius' work, then "Masterpieces by Ellington" is a great entrance way to Ellington & company's magic. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Love - "Love" Vinyl, LP, Album, Mono, 1966 (Elektra)

Love, the band, from my hometown Los Angeles.   I was 12 when this album was released.   I have no recollection of them before "Love" was released.  I imagined that they played on the Sunset Strip. Still, this album is the best music to come out of Los Angeles 1966.  I always felt that they were sophisticated.  Not exactly a garage rock band, but something classy.  I listen to this album 51 years later, and I'm still in love with the sound made by Arthur Lee and others.  

Arthur Lee, perhaps the lead Love (with Byran Maclean as secondary importance in the band) had a rare talent to throw an unusual lyric, such as "slip, slip, slip" in "A Message to Pretty."  Johnny Mathis sounding on the ballads, or rocking with intensity on the upbeat numbers.  It's not surprising that they covered Bachrach/David's "My Little Red Book."  There are these jazzy approaches to the straight ahead pop song in Love's work.  Maclean also had an incredible voice; that's angel-like but perhaps carrying brass knuckles behind his back.   There is something very street/smart about Love.  The Byrds I know are Los Angeles based, but I sense Love was more in tuned to the streets of L.A. and all the by products of that culture. 

Love's first album sound is the very rhythmic guitars with a beat.  It reminds me of Lou Reed in the Velvet Underground.   Both Lee and Reed can write and sing something that sounds simple, but then there's the complexity in what we think is simple.   It's that juxtaposition of sweetness and hardness in their music that keeps me listening to this record.  The other thing I want to note is that I strongly suggest listening to the Mono version of "Love."  The stereo mix or format doesn't work for me, with regards to this album.   The music here needs to be confined in a space that comes from one direction.