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Friday, November 25, 2016

The Viscounts' "Harlem Nocturne" (Amy Records, recorded in 1960, released in 1965)

The Viscounts, from New Jersey, where they started in 1958, made this album "Harlem Nocturne" in 1960, and somehow it sounds like the father of the first Lounge Lizards' album and the first solo Andy Mackay (from Roxy Music).   The basic sound is a great beautiful melodic saxophone, echo electric guitar, electric organ, and of course drums.  They have two sounds on this album.  Upbeat rock n' roll, and then dreamy.  The slow and dramatic ballads like "Harlem Nocturne, "I Cover the Waterfront," "September Song," and the great theme song to the French gangster flick Le Grisbi" are soaked in blue mood, that reeks of stale smoke and strong whiskey.   

I mentioned the early Lounge Lizards, because there is something sophisticated about how they approach their material, as well as The Viscounts.  The creepy organ sneaks between the guitarist and sax player, and it sits there in a very solid fashion.   The John Lurie melodic sense is also here.  With respect to Andy Mackay, the sax player's method is very similar to the Roxy Music member.  The glistering guitar is consistently in dialogue with the sax, and it's an orchestration that serves the song.   "Harlem Nocturne" is an exciting discovery for me.  God knows what one will find at their local record store - in this case, Mono Records on Glendale Blvd. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Gil J Wolman - "Wolman et son double" Vinyl LP, (Alga Marghen)

"Wolman et son double" 

Gil J Wolman is one of those figures that is almost ghost-like in the 20th century avant-garde.  Painter, poet, fllm-maker, and member of both The Letterist movement as well as Letterist International, which eventually turned into the Situationist International.   Works by him are sparse in the States, but one that is here for sure is his album “Wolman et son Double.” Influenced by Anton Artaud’s lecture/performance in Paris in 1947, Wolman takes the sound poetics of Artuad and is applied to his own sensibility, which serves him of course, but clearly a tribute to Artaud as well. 

Gil J Wolman
Letterism came from the post-war years of World War II, mostly organized by poet/filmmaker Isidore Isou. The principal mediums for this group are poetry, film, painting and political theory.   Sort of a little brother to DADA and Surrealism, but Isou and company looked up to DADA poet Tristan Tzara, but not much of the other artists in those two movements.  The other medium they had an interest in is performances and recodings using the voice as an instrument, but not necessary with the actual words, but sounds.  Like his fellow Letterist and “vocalist” Maurice Lemaître, Wolman made sound art, and did a recording sometime in the 1970s of his performance work.  “Wolman et son Double” is that work. 

The Letterist International

Multi-tracked, and often very intense, there is a heaviness compared to Lemaître’s work, which is quite funny and very sexual.  Wolman clearly takes his influence of Artaud, but to another level.   The album is very much a musique concrete recording, but all from his vocal abilities.  Screams, hiccups, coughing, breathing, yelping -all adds a sense of tension.  It’s a brilliant piece of work (the recording) and the ideal state of hearing it is in a room, playing this album very loud, and in total darkness.  A limited edition of 350 copies. 

Gil J Wolman

Friday, November 18, 2016

Maurice Lemaitre -Poémes et Musiques Lettristes et Hyperphonie"

Maurice Lemaitre - "Poémes et Musiques Lettristes et Hyperphonie"

This album is a limited edition release, and therefore an important purchase for one who wanders into the world of European Avant-Garde and dwell into it's charm and seduction. Maurice Lemaitre is by all means, a Letterist. Letterism was a movement that started in Paris in 1946 that co-piloted by the great Isidore Isou. Also involved was Gabriel Pomerand, Gil J Wolman, and, of course our artist here, Maurice Lemaitre. With a theory of 'Kladology, ' which is a branch of knowledge that is somewhere between the figurative and the abstract. Letterism is the little brother to DADA. It eventually rolled into the realm of The Situationists, but that's another narrative.

"Poémes et Musiques Lettristes et Hyperhphonie" is a compilation of recordings made by Lemaitre from the 1950s to 1968. Every track is vocal orientated. Yet there are mixtures of sounds. For instance, Lemaitre uses French rock n' roll instrumentals as a background to his vocal gymnastics - and without a doubt, Lemaitre can project his voice across the room. When you look at the Discogs site for this album, it mentions the genre is "Non-Music." I do not share that insight, because these recordings are very musical, but maybe not in the way that one has experienced music.

Most if not all of the pieces here are in French, but some are clearly just sound works. I may be missing out some important aspect of the work not knowing Frnech, but on the other hand, the performances take the listener to a new landscape, and I like the new territory! This is a superb album on so many levels. As a document of Avant-Garde Paris in its early days of post-war, as well as a dynamic listening experience. It's all exceptional. For those who want to focus on the roots of The Situationists (Guy Debord world) and those who want jump into the eros/politics/drunkness of that period in the St Germain des Prés world - this is simply a must to have.

Monday, November 7, 2016

BARNEY WILEN: Un témoin dens la ville & Jazz sur seine (Doxy) 45 rpm, 12" Vinyl Record

Another in the great series for the label Doxy, of Jazz music, composed for French films.  Here we have a very young French sax player Barney Wilen, who became known internationally after working with Miles Davis, on his score for Ascenseur pour l'échafaud.  Un témoin dens la ville is a classic noir-like score to its film, which one can smell the alcohol from the streets of the right bank.   Well, it does have one of the great French stars, Lino Ventura (born in Italy I think, but still...) in a film I have never seen.  I must make note... but if it's anything like its soundtrack, it's a must.  Sadly, I don't know the other musicians on this recording, but this 1958 piece of wonder really reflects on what is on the above album cover.  The mood is tense, with moments of intense beauty.

Side two is Jazz sure seine, which is Wilen playing with various members of the Modern Jazz Quartet, such as vibe player Milt Jackson on piano and the great Kenny Clarke on drums. I'm not sure if this was originally made for a film track, but it clearly brings pictures in one's head.  The music is touched with a lightness that's superb.   This is a fantastic album that will melt your brain, and bring warmth to your soul.

À BOUT DE SOUFFLE Musique de Martial Solal (un film de Jean-Luc Godard) Doxy 45 rpm vinyl

Over the years, and especially on CD there has been many re-issues of the soundtrack to à bout de souffle.  Mostly various collections of French New Wave music throughout the late 20th century and 21st century.  But, I have to say the best is from the mysterious label Doxy, who issued this album sometime in 2015.  It's a single disc, but in 45 rpm, and one side is the score by Martial Solal, performed by the great pianist as well as with top-notch French Jazz musicians from 1958.  What makes this specific album unique is that on the other side, it's "Concert pour clarinet et orchestra by Wolfgang Mozart; performed by an orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. 

For those who are fans of the film, you know the Mozart recording is played in one scene, where Jean-Paul is in hiding from the police and he's with his love.   Now, as far as I can gather, Doxy is very much a bootleg record company that puts out fantastic out-of-print albums or recordings that somehow lost their copyright - nevertheless, this mysterious label has released incredible albums on vinyl, and always with wonderful packaging. 

So, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I would buy this edition of the soundtrack, not only for the Mozart piece, but also the sound / mastering is great.  Not sure where they get the original sound source, it can be digital, but still, you're paying for their great curating taste.  Solal's music and performance are superb.  It mirrors the film's sense of wonder and adventure, and it's supreme French Jazz, which to me is über-cool.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Moondog "The Viking of Sixth Avenue" (Honest Jon's Records) Double Vinyl Album

Moondog “The Viking of Sixth Avenue” (Honest Jon’s Records) Double Vinyl Album

The great thing about art is one never knows when they will confront genius. Moondog was a composer and performer who played his music on the streets of Manhattan. To be exact on 6th Avenue and anywhere between 52nd and 56th street from the late 1940s to 1972. An odd tourist attraction but he also had some positive attention from Charlie Parker, Leonard Bernstein, Steve Reich, Julie Andrews, Igor Stravinsky, and his future roommate Philip Glass. 

In appearance, this blind composer and musician wore eccentric costumes that resemble Viking uniform, including helmet. He would stand on a busy street corner, playing his compositions on his own hand-made instruments. Yet beyond all of that, Moondog’s music is extremely original, catchy, with beautiful melodies. On the surface, one can hear the sounds of the Native American, but mash-up with the textures and overtures of Bach’s compositions. Clearly he influenced both Reich and Glass, but overall Moondog made music for everyone. He wrote and performed pop, ambient, rhythmic compositions, as well as classical. In other words, an artist that is extremely hard to be defined, and truly original. 

Causally, Moondog can be seen as an outside music artist, because he did work on his music without proper schooling or music industry backing - although he did end up on a major recording label. Yet, his music is very much disciplined and not always eccentric. When you see the iconic vision of Moondog or hear stories about him sleeping on the streets of Manhattan, you get a sound in one’s head. And you do get that, but Moondog went beyond the cliché outside artist by making accessible music that anyone can enjoy. He’s avant-garde, but Moondog is also very much of a pop artist or composer. There are melodies on this album that will stick inside your head and heart. 

Honest Jon’s Records (label out of London, as well as a record shop) has released “The Viking of Sixth Avenue” which is a double vinyl album compilation of early Moondog EPs (from his own label at the time) as well as the rare 10”s. Some of the recordings are from the streets of Manhattan, as well as in the studio. All superb. In a beautiful way, the street sounds add texture to the Moondog performance, and in no fashion does the urban traffic sounds interfere with the aural delights of this genius and his recordings.  I suspect one is not going to find a more perfect album than “The Viking of Sixth Avenue.”