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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tosh Berman's 2017 Favorite New (for me) Albums

For the world, a total nightmare of a year.  For me, standing near my turntable and stereo speakers, an excellent year.  Here, and in no special order, are albums that I  have heard for the first time in 2017.  Some of the releases are very old, and some came out this year - but all, were first listening experiences for the year 2017.  The Ork Records and Webern box sets, I may have heard some of the music some years ago, but these are new packages for me.  Even though I believer the Webern box set came out in the 1960s.   The majority of the albums (all vinyl) I purchased are used, but some I did buy if they were reissued, or I was lucky finding it online or more likely in a record store, either here in Los Angeles or in Tokyo.   Nevertheless, for me, this was totally new music for the year 2017.  So, again, in no special order, here are the albums.  And keep in mind, that I did write reviews of some of the titles, but there are albums here that I haven't had a chance to write on, or about the recordings.  So here it is:

Sunday, December 10, 2017

George Russell and His Orchestra, Featuring Bill Evans - "Jazz In The Space Age" Clear Vinyl, Album, LP, Limited Edition, 2016/1960 (Doxy)

The ultimate and very obscure Mid-Century America, with a ting of the Space Age, the jazz album. "Jazz in the Space Age" is John Cassavetes walking down Time Square in the middle of the night, and there's rain and he is smoking.  Or it could be "Sweet Smell of Success."  Nevertheless, this is a classic noir jazz album that sounds like an original soundtrack recording, but alas, it is not the case.  At the crisp of the 60s, this is an album that theme wise looks to the future, but in reality, it's a brilliant work with Bill Evans at his peak, with Paul Bley on the piano as well.  In fact, it's dueling pianos.  

George Russell plays "beats and timed drums."   He also wrote all the pieces on this album.  It's a combination of orchestrated jazz but with interesting 'bop' type of solos and improvising sections within the orchestration.  especially from Evans and Bley.  I was sort of expecting a Joe Meek like recording, and that is not the case.  Still, the playing by Evans and Bley are incredible.  Since I got this album last week, I have played it a lot in the house.   The album cover is great, but the music is not kitsch whatsoever or even space exotica.  But it is Evan/Bley-tastic. 

The Cramps - "Songs The Lord Taught Us " Vinyl, LP, Album, 2016/1980 (Drastic Plastic Records)

The first full-length Cramps album.  Originally released in 1980.  Alex Chilton is the producer.  If I was at these recordings in the studio, I would sit by the exit just in case something weird breaks out.  More likely nothing odd happened during the recording of "Songs The Lord Taught Us" but sound wise it sounds like mayhem and within its vinyl grooves there are these people trapped within those grooves and they're trying to break free.  In other words, this is very much an intense listening experience.   It is also the perfect rock n' roll album.

The genius aspect of the early version of The Cramps is that they didn't have a bass player, neither an electric or stand-up bass.   It's two electric guitars, a voice, and drums without cymbals.  On paper, it sounds primitive, and that is an often descriptive term for their sound, but for me, that is like saying Harry Partch's music is primitive.  It's actually so simple that it's complex within the wave of sounds between the two guitarists with the addition of the big beat of the drums. 

Alex Chilton doesn't smooth out the sound but allows it to go crazy within the studio landscape.  It's Sun Records, but leave out the sanity button on the mixing/recording table.  It's both a tribute to the Sun sound and also acknowledging that it is using that 'sound' as the foundation to go onward.  The beauty of The Cramps is not their originality (which they have plenty of those ingredients) but also the fact that they are curators of a sound that they know well, and what they convey to the listener is the real deal. 

Chilton is the perfect producer for The Cramps.   The band knows a fellow traveler by instinct and it's interesting that afterward they never used an outside producer for future recordings.  In that sense, The Cramps became an isolated group that kept their world within its reach, and never comprise its sound or image to another corporation or another artist - unless it's a tribute to their sensibility of rock n' roll history.    In the nutshell, the perfect band making the perfect album, with the perfect producer of that time.  The Cramps with the help and assistance of Alex Chilton.   Perfection in practice. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

V.A. - "James Bond Greatest Hits" Vinyl, LP, Compilation, UK, 1982 (Liberty)

As our deeper pleasures are being taken away from us, James Bond is a treasure of passions that are buried deep into the cinema goers consciousness.  The appeal of Bond is a man who serves a common good for his culture, but also never eliminates the joys of the flesh and the alcohol.  In other words, he has a win-win situation.   Most of us customers only have a win-lose-win something in our lives, and Bond can express one who has it all.  The treatment of the world is not based on fact, but on desire, and therefore seeing a Bond film is like being on a vacation.  But one that only lasts for two hours or so.   Equally important to the entire Bond package, is the music.  John Barry served his master (Bond) as well as to the customer.  It's hard not to hum or whistle the Bond theme or whatever the main title song was of that time of that particular Bond film. 

The truth is, the best part of a James Bond film is the first 15 minutes.  Here you get the action sequence that is usually fantastic, and then the great montage that announces the title, and of course, the mixture of Monty Norman's Bond theme, mixed in with Barry's music.   To be honest, one can leave the theater after the opening and be pleased like after having a great meal.  The rest of the product is tourism, women, fight scenes, and the character (each different by various actors playing Bond).  The next best thing after seeing the film is having the soundtrack albums.  In 1982, Liberty Records put together a great compilation of Bond theme songs as well as some of its wonderful incidental music used in the films.   My personal favorites are "From Russia With Love" by Matt Monro, with lyrics by Lionel Bart (one of the more fascinating characters to come out of the 1960s music world) and John Barry.  And of course, "Goldfinger" sung by Shirley Bassey, written by Anthony Newley, Barry, and Leslie Bricusse.  Which by the way, I strongly recommend that you find Newley's recording of "Goldfinger," because it's incredible.

There are other in-depth Bond compilations out there, but this one is a favorite because it was the first for me, and second, Barry and others have done their best work, regarding serving the master, that is James Bond. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Catherine Ringer - "Ring n' Roll" Vinyl, 2 x Vinyl, LP, Album, 2011 (Because Music)

These days when I think of the word France I immediately think of Catherine Ringer.   She and her late partner in crime, Fred Chichin were in Les Rita Mitsouko, not only the greatest band in France, but I think one of the great groups of the 1980s.  Chichin a great multi-instrumentalist and co-writer along with Ringer was a force of nature that couldn't fail to charm.  When I heard their album in Los Angeles at my friend's studio, I was seduced by the first song on side one.   Since the tragic passing of Chichin, I worried about what will happen to Catherine Ringer.   Worries are worries, but "Ring n' Roll" (released in 2011) is as great as any Les Rita Mitsouko album. 

Ringer has that 'it' quality that is difficult to define.  A great beauty, but the additional charm of her personality and force is breathtaking at times.   Beside Grace Jones, there is not another chic artist like Catherine.  She can walk into the room and transform it into another dimension.  So when she gets hold of a song, it's a wow moment.  On the most elementary level, I think of her as a French female Iggy Pop.   Another artist who has that 'it' quality that is hard to dispute or understand.  For one, Ringer knows how to rock.   As a singer, she can sing the most heartbreaking melody, but then in a flip of a coin, she can be hysterical.  Truly a star at its most glamorous and profound stature.  "Ring n' Roll" is 12 songs long and not a bump in the road for the entire album.  She works with RZA, Mark  Plati (one of David Bowie's great musicians), who I presume is her son, Rauol Chichin (on guitar), and a Japanese artist by the name of Coba.  Which funny enough the song, "Rendez-Vous" sounds like a Shibuya pop song from the 90s, but with Ringer bringing the music to a more textural level.  

Life cannot be a bowl of cherries for our Catherine, but when I listen to this album, I'm smiling from Side A to Side C (three-sided album).    The production (by Ringer, as well as RZA and Plati) is always a surprise, in that it follows the logic of one's imagination.   It has the Iggy "Lust for Life" zeal, but I feel Ringer takes it to the next level - a genius level.  One of the great artists of the 20th and 21st century.  

Liquid Liquid - "Successive Reflexes" 12" 45 rpm, Vinyl, EP, Reissue, 2015/1981 (Superior Viaduct)

Liquid Liquid is a remarkable band from New York City, and they made noise in 1981.  "Successive Reflexes" is an EP of five tracks.  They're really not songs, but more of a groove with tons of percussion instruments. There's a tiny essence of a piano, but mostly it's bass and drums.  In a sense, they remind me of ESG, another band from the New York area of that same time/era.  Clearly, LCD Soundsystem is very much influenced by Liquid Liquid, which is a hybrid of post-punk, dance music and disco - yet, more geared in the dub era of Public Image Ltd.   They also remind me a bit of the Factory Records band A Certain Ratio.   

They made live recordings, but I prefer this EP of studio work, due to the experimentation of the sounds they are making.  There is something clinical but raw sounding about their approach, but it is clearly music to make you hop, twist, and shake your body parts.   

Monday, December 4, 2017

Alex Chilton - "Like Flies on Sherbert" Vinyl, LP, Album, Reissue, 2010/1979 (Vinyl Lovers)

There is music that brings sunshine to one's life, and then there is something like Alex Chilton's "Like Flies On Sherbert" that expresses an inner terror.    The world, in a sense, is a very organized series of relationships, that when one gets up in the morning, it is a high percentage that you will make out OK to get to bed that evening.  "Like Flies On Sherbert" conveys a life that is not in that motion.  One wakes up and faces a series of disasters, and how one dodges the bullet by the end of the way, depends on how you win out in the end if you are not damaged that badly.   This recorded mess of an album is a masterpiece. 

Big Star's third album, was a record expressing Alex Chilton heading in a direction in life that there were no guarantees that things will end up OK.   "Like Flies On Sherbert" is more of a mental state than a piece of music.   Its Southerness is of the gothic variety, and Chilton is one of the great figures of the South, in my opinion, in the same territory as William Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor.  The fact that the album cover is an image by the great photographer William Eggleston, gives this album a special nod to a culture that is both beautiful and rotting at the same time.   The music here, as played, is like the best food on the planet, but rotting in the back of a fridge, that is not always plugged in. 

Like Big Stars' "Third Album" this is a recording that has a few different editions and song selections.  The one I 'm commenting on is the album that was released by Vinyl Lovers in 2010 and includes four extra songs or bonus cuts.  Nevertheless, it fits into this aural madness.   Chilton's first official solo album is not a country or garage rock album, but hardcore Rockabilly.  Not nostalgic rock n' roll, but Rockabilly as a modern piece of music.  It has strains of The Legendary Stardust Cowboy or Hasil Adkins, then say Elvis Presley at Sun Records.   This is not about the music performed as tightness, but blown-up in a careless manner.   It's the audio equivalent of Gustav Metzger's work as a visual artist.  Alcohol never sounded so dangerous and crazed than "Like Flies On Sherbert."

The album is half originals and half covers.  The covers are mostly obscure rockabilly songs or deep country music.  The one surprise here is a cover of KC & The Sunshine Band's "Boogie Shoes." The original pieces of music on this album are minimal but carry much emotional weight.  The sexuality is wreckless such as "Girl After Girl," "My Rival," and "Hey! Little Child."   Being in the gutter and looking up at the stars, or even death can be a positive light.  One of the great albums of all time.