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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Oscar Levant - "Oscar Levant Plays Chopin" Vinyl LP, 1952 (Columbia Masterworks)

As Oscar Levant was once quoted that "what the world needs is more geniuses with humility, there are so few of us left."  Which comes to mind while listening to Levant's recording and playing Chopin.  Both were clearly the genius, in their ability to change one's landscape to fit their presence in that world.  I'm a long time fan of Levant's wit and Chopin's melodies.  A lunatic, like him and another quotable genius, Serge Gainsbourg, loved Chopin's music.  One wonders what they saw in him that made them both be such fans.   There is sadness in Chopin's music, and I suspect both suffered from the dregs of depression.  I wouldn't say they were depressive artists, but more of the fact that they had to run ahead of the dark depression as it tries to take over their soul/lives. 

This is an album of Chopin hits performed by the hysterical lunatic Oscar Levant.  I can't think of a more perfect relationship.  For Levant playing Chopin and for the listener to dwell in both of their worlds. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Kenny Graham - "The Small World of Sammy Lee" Vinyl, LP, Album (Trunk Records) 2014

For a guy who lives in Los Angeles, I'm totally obsessed with the subject matter of 1960s London, especially the years before the Fab Four (Beatles) hit the scene.  One of the key figures in that time was an entertainer, songwriter, performer Anthony Newley.  An inspiration to a young David Bowie, Newley struck me as an eccentric artist.  But that thought is mostly due that I'm an American, and the British, even though we share a language (of sorts), our cultures are distant apart.  Nevertheless, there is an obscure film made in 1963, "The Small World of Sammy Lee," starring Newley as a nightclub owner in Soho London, who owes money to his bookie.  He has a certain amount of hours to find that money, and there we have "The Small World of Sammy Lee."

The other interest in this little narrative is the soundtrack to this film.  Composed by British Jazz musician Kenny Graham.  I know one other Graham recording, and it's "Moondog and Suncat Suites."  An album that is a mixture of Graham's compositions as well as songs by the great New York City composer Moondog.  If that is not odd enough, that album is engineered by Joe Meek!   The thought of Meek was working on Moondog's music ... Is mind blowing.  

Johnny Trunk, the brains, and power behind Trunk Records is a Kenny Graham fan. He located this 'lost' soundtrack through Graham's daughter, who had it stored away in her attic.  Trunk found a box that said "Sammy, " and five years later he has this release on his label.  "Soho at Dawn," the opening cut for this album and I presume the film, is a beauty.  It smells like Soho at that time of the day, and I get a sense of a chill as if I was walking a Soho street.  The rest of the album is just as cinematic with obvious jazz touches, but it's very focused on its theme of urgency, yet sadness at the same time.  A moody work.  

There is not a whole lot of information on Graham.  Just a handful of vinyl releases through the years,  and although he seems to be a man at the right spot and time, his place in history appear to pass him by.  Which is a shame.   I have also read that he wrote essays about music, and was very much an anti-rock n' roll guy, yet he was intrigued with electronics and I have a feeling that in an aesthetic sense, must have worked will with Meek.  "The Small World of Sammy Lee" doesn't have that much information on it, with respect who played what on the album.  Was Meek involved?  I doubt it since it was recorded in 1963, and I think at that time it was the height of Meek doing what he's famous for. On the other hand, it's wonderful to have this obscure and slightly eccentric album in my hands and through my ears.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Various - "La Musique dans Le Film D' Alain Resnais" Vinyl, LP, 2017 (Doxy)

Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet's film La Valse De Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad) is a masterpiece that is not to everyone's liking.  The ultimate chic arty film of all time.  The score to that movie is the hit off this album of Resnais' soundtrack music to his films made in the 1960s.   All of side one is devoted to Marienbad, and it's written and performed on organ by Francis Seyrig, whose sister is the star of the film, Delphine Seyrig.  It seems he did this score and he also made the music for Robert Bresson's "Procès De Jeanne D'Arc"  -  so his career may have been short, but was clearly talented and in the right place at the right time.  The Marienbad soundtrack is just an organ.  I'm presuming a large pipe organ.  Incredible sound.  And very dark goth sounding that I think would have made a great piece of music before the band Bauhaus came on the stage.   When you see the film, you can't imagine another score attach to it.  The music represents the imagery which is beautiful, sexual, and a sense of regret or at the very least, a bad mood.   A very precise and pointed music.  The music was originally released as a 7" EP single.   I can't imagine how great that must have sound - just having that powerful organ coming from a speaker in the early 1960s. 

"Hiroshima, Mon Amour (Suite)" is by Georges Delerue and famed Italian film composer Giovanni Fusco.   It reminds me of early Stravinsky.  The film "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" is a doomed romance between a French woman and a Japanese man.  Like Marienbad, it deals with memory or how one perceives things in contemporary life.  Another excellent package from the mysterious Doxy Records. 

Georges Delerue / Piero Piccioni - "Le Mépris, The Complete Original Soundtrack" 2 x Vinyl, LP, 2014 (Doxy)

The Georges Delerue score for "Contempt" (Le Mépris) is perfect. A haunting theme that expresses the down mood of the Jean-Luc Godard film.  I have so many versions of this particular soundtrack - mostly all on CD, except for this vinyl set.  The unusual aspect of this package is that it has the obscure and Italian soundtrack to the film by Piero Piccioni.  How did that happen?  That, I don't know.   I think the nature of the cinema movie world at the time of the 1960s were complicated, and for whatever reason, the Italian distributor decided on the Piccioni score for its Italian release. 

I prefer the Delerue music, just because it has been a consistent reminder of this cinematic masterpiece as well as being a great piece of music, with or without the images attached to the work.  The Piccioni score is a good listening experience, but nowhere near the genius French take on the soundtrack.  

Doxy is an excellent and a very mysterious label.  It's a borderline bootleg record company that seems to make use of the copyright laws in Europe.  Saying that I find the recordings themselves pretty great, and their packaging, although often vague, is superb.  The vagueness comes to solid information, for instance,  where did they get their sound resource?  From the original tapes, or is it from a digital resource?  I don't know.   On the other hand, they either take the original packing of albums or do their own take on whatever the album is.  I have at least a dozen titles from Doxy, and I'm happy with all of their albums in my collection.  Also, they are very much a curated company that they only release albums and artists that are truly great - and, or, very hard to find as an original (official) release.  So they're serving a purpose to the vinyl fan, and "Le Mépris" is a fantastic and fascinating double album.  To get both recordings in one package is pretty amazing. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Andy Starr - "Rockin' Rolllin' Stone" 2 x Vinyl, 7", 45 RPM, EP, Limited Edition (Sundazed/MGM)

Rockabilly music is for sure, falling into the rabbit hole and struggling to get up for some air.  It's a potential minefield of great recordings lost to history.  I have never heard of Andy Starr, until one day at Rockaway record shop, I decided to pick up this disc due to its cover.  I'm glad I did because it's an excellent record.

I imagine at one time there were thousands of Andy Starrs' out there, making records and then having those recordings disappear into the mist of time.   Luckily, this has recently been released as a double 45 single set,  and it's hardcore rockabilly that reminds me of the essence of someone like Jack Scott.   The band on these recordings are excellent - and very much the standard set-up of stand-up bass, electric guitar, and acoustic guitar.  The backup vocalists are also superb, which again, reminds me of Scott's arrangements and recordings.  Nevertheless,  Starr is not unique, but clearly wonderful. 

The four songs here pretty much captures the Starr universe.  I don't think there are any more recordings by Starr in commercial existence, but what we have here is four exceptional performances with great vocals and band, doing their best to burn down the studio and elsewhere beyond its walls.   Great rockabilly music.  

The Honeycombs - "Something Better Beginning"/"I'll See You Tomorrow" 45 rpm vinyl single (Pye Records)

"Something Better Beginning" is one of my favorite Ray Davies tunes.   It has an incredible amount of drama, and the comparison between The Kinks recording and The Honeycombs version is the drama is presented in a much higher state.  I'm presuming that Ivor Raymonde is responsible for the sound/recording of this song - or it could be Joe Meek.  But it doesn't have the Meek eccentricity.  Still, a beautiful record and The Honeycombs nail the pathos of a romance that may or may not happens. 

B-side "I'll See You Tomorrow" is pure Meek via the songwriting talent of Howard Blaikley (actually two songwriters credited as one).   The melody I believe is based on a Shubert composition.  Dennis D'Ell is one of my favorite singers from the British Invasion era - and Meek really knew how to use his voice.  I often think that D'Ell is the character that Meek imagines himself as - at least vocal wise. A great 45 rpm single.  The Honeycombs are the most underrated band from the British 1960s. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Martial Solal Joue Michel Magne - "Electrode" Vinyl, LP, 1966 (Cacophonic)

Martial Solal + Michel Magne + Jean-Claude Vannier = Wow!   Kind of a super band or super musicians getting together for one album.  What we have here is the amazing talents of Martial Solal and trio (Gilbert Rovère on bass and Charles Gellonzi on drums) plus composer Michel Magne's orchestration and then with the additional genius of Jean-Claude Vannier's arrangements.  First of all, when you hear the very first note on Solal's piano, you're immediately drawn to Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" in which Solal did the soundtrack.   And not surprisingly, when one hears "Electrode," you think soundtrack music because there is something incredibly visual within the music. 

Magne composed the music here, and Vannier takes that music to another planet.  It is jazz, but with avant-garde leanings and sounds from Magne and Vannier, who both can be experimental on their own each recording.  So what we have here is the Solal trio doing what they do, which is magic, and Magne's composition which is pushing the envelope between the medium of jazz and 20th century written score.  Vannier then kicks the whole project into another soccer stadium.  Recorded in 1966, it's a lively energetic album.  And for those who are hung up on the sounds of early Godard (like me) will find this album amazing.