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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Moondog - "Moondog" Vinyl LP, Album, white vinyl, reissue, 2017 (Columbia Masterworks)

A brilliant album that was recorded in 1969 and produced by James William Guercio, who also worked with Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears.  Thank god I didn't know that till I read the credits after listening to the album.  Which is incredible by the way.  There is nothing slick and phony about the production.  It's there to support Moondog's vision.  So in other words, he is just another fan.  The big theme here is Moondog's music arranged for a full orchestra.   What an odd narrative this Moondog fellow is.  Street performer in Manhattan in the early 1950s till the 60s, and friends to Leonard Bernstein to Charlie Parker.   And oddly enough, a roommate to Philip Glass.  Clearly,  Moondog is an influence or inspiration for Glass. I can hear the Moondog arrangement in Glass's work.  

The album starts off giving me goose-bumps all over my body.  The percussion kicks off, and the string section makes these tight notes that are hypnotic and then the melody kicks in.  It's called "Theme, make" and that is a proper title to such a hopeful and powerful piece of entrancing music.  The thing about Moondog's music is that it's very much an enjoyable experience. There's no cynicism in his approach making music that inspires to, as well as being touched by beauty.    There are the Bach like layers of sound that builds on top of each other.  He's a riff master!  

Even though it's a full orchestration, it sounds like a funky band, and how he does that is amazing.  A lot of the arrangements here are horn orientated with full strings behind it, and then there's the percussion which is in front and out of the mix.  "Lament 1" which is a tune he wrote for Charlie Parker, is really something.  Two saxes - one alto and the other baritone answering to each other's call, with the strings kicking in behind them.  A great piece of music.  Moondog's birthday is coming up next May (as I write it's April 30) and if alive he would be 100 years old.  A remarkable composer and performer.   May his recordings never fade. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Liberace - "Liberace At Home" Vinyl, LP, 1956 (Columbia)

Liberace without orchestration or (I presume) costumes.  At home, with his grand piano, and a set of excellent songs.   Liberace without the presentation is very much like Liberace Unplugged.   What seems to be a kitsch type of record is actually a beautiful album.  "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" is splendid, as well as "How Deep Is The Ocean."  One would think he may throw in a Chopin here in this set, but it's very much the Great American Songbook, done by the flamboyant pianist.  He's a good musician, and here he just turns off the visuals and showbiz galore, and it's just music for him and you, the listener. 

Paul Bowles/Francis Poulenc/Gold and Fizdale - "A Picnic Cantata" Vinyl LP, 1954 (Columbia Masterworks)

Besides this brilliant album cover, it's an excellent recording of a surprised match-up.  The great poet James Schuyler and legendary writer and composer Paul Bowles.  At this time, I can't find any information about this recording or how these two giants met.  Schuyler is very much part of the New York School of Poets and one of my favorite poets.  I love his work which is playful, witty, and significantly profound.   

Schuyler wrote the text to his and Paul Bowles' "A Picnic Cantata" which is pure delight.  The narrative is about women going out for a picnic, and that is basically it.  Nothing happens.  It's interesting that the work is dedicated to "Mrs. William Esty.  Mr. Esty is very much the ultimate Mad Man of Manhattan advertising culture, and Mrs. Esty is Alice Theresa Hildagard Swanson Esty.  She was an opera singer as well as an art patron who I suspected gave financial support to Bowles and Schuyler for this piece of music and text. 
The duo pianos of Gold and Fizdale is superb.  They were active in the 1950s and made a lot of contemporary music of their time.  For instance, Poulenc, whose work takes up side two.   Poulenc, a friend of Jean Cocteau, also knew Erik Satie, and I hear traces of Satie's aesthetic in Poulenc's piano compositions.   The album as a total is a very charming and sophisticated work.  I immediately think of Manhattan and all of its promises of that time.   For those who only know Bowles through his novels and short stories, he had a career as a composer and made the incidental music for Tennessee Williams' original Broadway productions.   For whatever reasons, Bowles gave up music composition and focused on literature.  A fascinating figure in his own right.  As far as I know this album was never released as a CD, or even on the streaming devices.  Still, if you're a vinyl digger in used record stores, it is not that difficult to find.  

The Kinks - "Preservation Act 1 & 2" Two albums Vinyl (RCA) 1973/1974

The last great Kinks project.  Ever since "Village Green Preservation Society" Ray Davies has thought out conceptually for that and future albums.  He started out as being an excellent observational songwriter, who knew how to do musical profiles on individual figures of the London or UK world. "Dandy," "Lola," and others, and prop them up as figures in a specific class or social order.  Davies used each album as a particular subject matter - and not as in a mood piece, but more in a narrative story or novel.  

"Preservation Act 1" and "Preservation Act 2" are separate albums, but in actuality, one project. I'm sure there was a business issue of putting out a three-disc set at the time and a very ambitious project on top of that.    For me, and I think others, I see this as one big work.  So I'm going to treat this as one album here.  "Preservation" is very much a major Ray Davies work.

It' reminds me of Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht's "Three-Penny Opera, which takes place in London, and actuality is based on John Gays "Beggar's Opera" which was written in 1728.   What Ray did was bring the political satire back to British roots.  The music at times have a Weill touch, but with Ray, there is an additional British Music Hall presence as well.   The musical (and "Preservation" is a musical) takes place perhaps in the future, but the foundation is clearly post-war London or another industrial town.   Flash is the main villian here.  Corporate gangster.  Street thug.  He's all that and more.   Flash even has his own theme song that runs through both albums.  Not far from Weill/Brecht's Mack the Knife character.  The narrative structure hangs on the balance of the rise and fall of Flash.

The beauty of a classic Kinks song is that it's like a small movie in your presence.  There is nothing abstract in Davies' songs.  Most if not all are clearly films or theater pieces that is set in music.  "Preservation" is his first leap into the musical world, or at the very least imagining his songs set in a much bigger landscape.  

I remember seeing the Kinks doing a live version of this album at the Santa Monica Civic.   Ray at his theaterifal mode of entertainment.  It's interesting to read interviews with him now, where he comes off as being stand-offish, distant, and not comfortable in his own skin.   On stage he's the ultimate performer.  Music Hall tradition fits Ray Davies to a perfect 't.'   From 1963 to 1974, Ray Davies couldn't do anything wrong.   A brilliant songwriter and an incredible performer.  He fits in both the British band invasion and the glam era without any trouble.   "Preservation" has beautiful ballads and humorous songs.  Someone should present this as a new musical.  It's a shame that Davies is not more known as a writer for musicals. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Mel Powell/Vladimir Ussachevsky/Otto Luening - "Music For Electronic & Older Instruments" Vinyl, LP, 1968 (Composer Recordings Inc)

I have an addiction to music that was recorded in the 1950's/1960s that deal with electronic tape manipulations.  My favorite composers, and who often worked together is Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening.  Both were with the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York.  Which is a cell in NYC that was devoted to making new sounds.  This album, "Music for Electronic & Older Instruments" was released in 1968, but most of the music was composed in the early 1960s.  
Side one is devoted to my heroes, and the first piece is a collaboration between Ussachevsky and Luening.  "Concerted Piece" is a dual of sorts with a full orchestra and tape manipulated sounds.   They have done this before, and it never fails.  The tension between live and real music being performed with the addition of a 'future' technology is pretty incredible.  
"Wireless Fantasy" is the masterpiece on the album, and it's by Ussachevsky.  It goes back to the origin of radio sounds, and it's kind of a nostalgic piece of work because it is both a tribute but also a source of that noise that was made in the early 20rh century.   When I heard it for the first time, I immediately thought of Kraftwerk's "Radioactivity" album.   Which is also a throwback to a sound or at the very least a tribute to early technology.  
The second side is devoted to Mel Powell who I don't know.  The works on this album are electronic or tape orientated but with some pieces that are the total real instrument - although very 20th century modern.  "Two Prayer Settings" is voice by Charles Bressier, with text by Paul Goodman, and music performed by the New York Soloists.  It's a beautiful piece of music, and Bressier does his work with great voice and skill.   The electronic piece he does is called "Events, a nice" and it is text by Hart Crane, read by actors.  He prerecorded the actors and does a cut up with them, and it's a  beautiful piece but not essential for my taste.  His other tape piece is "Second Electronic Setting, " and it's hardcore tape music.   I like it.
What is great about this album is that it's a collection of works that were at the time modern and new, and I like to think of myself drinking a martini in a mid-century home with my hi-fi listening to this album.  Bland yes, but it feels great. 

Brian Wilson - "Presents Smile" CD, Album, U.S. 2004 (Nonesuch)

Such an articulate and well-thought album, and incredibly up to the title "Smile," yet the original recording by The Beach Boys was one of complete misery.  The saddest Beach Boy had to dig in a profound psychotic state to produce this masterpiece.  The irony is that this is one of the great 'sunny' albums ever made.  Once over that cultural shock, one is amazed that Brian and company decided to do a re-recorded version of what once thought was a lost masterpiece.  But nothing is lost, and now we have two separate albums.  One is the re-discovered Beach Boys recording and of course, the Brian Wilson re-did version of 2004.   The Beach Boys version in another post.  

Wilson and his co-pilot for this project (and long time band member) Darian Sahanaja did a remarkable job in bringing this album back from the darkness.   Almost a clinical study in how to bring up something dead to life.  Lazarus indeed!   The album touches on exotica but also American theater music.  It reminds me at times of Aaron Copeland's orchestral scores.   The vastness of America on one album.   The album is eccentric in that it paints a big picture of what things should be, and I think the sadness that comes with the album is knowing the story behind it, but alas, an imaginary landscape.  

For those who know the Beach Boys' "Smiley Smile" or the singles "Heroes and Villians" "Surf's Up," and "Good Vibrations" is re-hearing these classics in their rightful place and time.  It's like getting a sketch, but now we have the whole painting.   Everything fits well.   Van Dyke Parks' lyrics are incredible, and it's amazing that he jumped on the Brian Wilson train to fulfill this adventure.   "Smile" as I listen to it, seems like an old-fashioned musical.  There is nothing really avant-garde about it, yet, it is very much a modern work.   Also, it doesn't compare to any other works out there. It's very original in its scope and sound.   A toe tapper! 

Frank Black - "Hang On To Your Ego" Vinyl, 12", 45 rpm, 1993 (4AD)

One of my all time favorite 12" singles ever.  I like it so much that I have it both on vinyl and on the CD format.  First of all, Frank Black couldn't do wrong in this time period of the early 1990s.  I feel that his early solo work is now overlooked, especially compared to the Pixies years.   Black was making art-pop songs that were beautifully written and sonically superb.  His cover of a Beach Boys Pet Sounds classic is full of energy and bounce.  He's a guy who gets it.

The main reason to buy this long playing single is the b-side.   "Surf Epic."   The title says it all.  It's a surf instrumental that lasts for ten minutes.  It's a beautiful melody that keeps on building in layers of intensity and melody. It's a classic piece of music by Black, and it's a shame that it's not more well-known to the world.  There is something very Jack Nietzsche about the work as well.  Probably due to its forceful arrangement.   One doesn't lose interest due to the length.  In fact, when the song is over, I just put the needle at the beginning of the song.   Excellent. 

Tom Verlaine - "Warm and Cool" CD, 1992 (Rykodisc)

Who or what is Tom Verlaine?  For me, one of the more interesting figures to come out of the NYC music scene of the 1970s.  I don't know how he did it, but he somehow made himself as a ghost in a scene that was vivacious and innovative.   I find him to be the essential musician of that time period and place.  Yet, his existence is spirit-like.    Throughout that era and into the 1980s, I couldn't get enough of Verlaine's music.   The solo albums are never bad, but uneven.   "Warm and Cool" is the one Verlaine album that is very different from the rest of his recordings.  For one, it's an instrumental album, but it's a record that doesn't sound like his other recordings.  I can recognize the guitar playing, but the setting is totally different.  

I think a listener now would think the music is David Lynch or something from his world.  "Warm and Cool"  sounds very much like a soundtrack to a very moody film.  The guitar is the main focus, with the bass and drums just supporting the guitarist.  Jazz like with Noir overtures.   For me it has a Hank Marvin (The Shadows) take on darkness.  The melodies are sweet, and Verlaine is very much a strong melody  maker than a riff master.  It's a very clean record and you can visualize Verlaine's fingers on the fretboard.  

The songs here are short except two or three that go up to the six-minute length.   For those who are fans of Television, this is not typical (if I can properly use this word here) of that band's music.  It has a late night approach and although there are places where the music sounds like it was improvised, but I suspect it was well-thought out before the recording.  "Warm and Cool" is exactly what this album sounds like.  And again, I would recommend this album to any Hank Marvin fans out there. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Damned - "Eloise" Vinyl, 12", 33 1/3, 1986 (MCA Records)

"Eloise" is one of the great songs from the last century.  I don't have the Barry Ryan original recording, but I do have this 12" mix/version of the song by The Damned.    Time-to-time I walk into a room, and someone is playing a best of The Damned album, and it's like "why don't I have the entire catalog from this band?"   That I don't answer for nor will I go into it in this particular post.   One thing I do know for sure, The Damned has good taste.   They do the song with great pomp, but respect to the original as well.   It must have been hard to believe that a band starting out with "New Rose" (another incredible record) had somehow led to "Eloise."   Plus the fact that they further their good taste by doing a great version of John Barry's  "Beat Girl."    A record can't get more fun. 

V.A. - "Bandes Originales des Films de Jean-Luc Godard" CD, Japan, 1994, (Hortensia)

Over the years there have been many great reissues or original vinyl that are connected to Jean-Luc Godard's film work.  As a Godard fanatic, I want them all!   But if push becomes a shove, and there is a fire in the house, and I have to reach out for that one Godard soundtrack collection, it would be Bandes Originales des Films de Jean-Luc Godard."

The reason is because it's an excellent package, the cover becomes a poster, but beyond the visual, the music on this CD is fantastic.   It covers "A Bout de Souffle" (Breathless), "Pierrot Le Fou, " "Alphaville," and the great soundtrack to "Le Mepris" (Contempt).  Very much a perfect compilation of the early Godard soundtracks, all on one disc.  Of course, the original soundtrack albums can be fitted on a 10" ep, when originally released - but to get all of it here is a fantastic buy.  The Japanese know how to put a music collection together.   The composers/performers are Martial Solal, Anna Karina (Godard's then-wife, and a brilliant actress), Antoine Duhamel, Paul Misraki, and the legendary Georges Delerue.  Find and buy!

Serge Gainsbourg - "Théatre Des Capucines 1963" CD, France, 2003 (Mercury)

This is an album or CD one doesn't see around that much.  It's perfect.  I have the CD, but I really want the 10" vinyl that came out in 2003.  I don't think the album was ever released in 1963, the time of its recording.   Why?  Nevertheless, it's a brilliant live set from one of the great songwriters of the 20th century.  For me, the jazz/latin Gainsbourg period is the best. I know he's mostly acknowledged for "Melody Nelson" and his work with Jane Birkin, which of course, is fantastic.  But the music that he made and recorded from the year 1959 to the early 1960s is incredible.  Gainsbourg was on a streak that was like a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto.  Just non-stop pleasure. 

"La Javanaise," "Intoxicated Man" "Negative Blues" and others - all magnificent.  The backing band was just Elek Bacsik on electric guitar and Michel Gaudry on double bass.   Minimal precise, and no wasted space.   Whatever you do, do not ignore the early Gainsbourg magic or his genius at the time. 

Noel Harrison - "Collage" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1967 (Reprise Records)

Noel Harrison is known for his role in "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., as well as being the son of Rex.  But he also made a series of albums, and had a huge hit with Michel Legrand's "The Windmills of Your Mind."   And he had been making recordings since the late 1950s.  A recording artist of good taste and his very last album was a recording of Jacques Brel songs - which makes perfect sense with what one thinks of Harrison's music career.  "Collage" is the ultimate 1967 folk/pop album from Harrison.  It's interesting to note that the songwriter/singer was in full bloom at this time, but Harrison is mostly a singer who covered songs.  But his taste was exquisite, and this is one of my favorite albums from that period of time.  Mostly due to his liking, but also he had that British/French attitude towards the craftsmanship of a good song, and '67 produced a lot of great music in that category.   

He covers Dylan's "Just Like A Woman" but also "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen.  He also had the wisdom to do "Museum" by Donovan, which is a fantastic underappreciated piece of work.   A Bob Lind song (another underrated figure) and a great version of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum.   And of course, it ends with "Strawberry Fields Forever."   The beauty of the album is how Harrison approaches the material.  It doesn't feel like he's just singing the hits of the day, but for sure he had an individual and real connection to these songs. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tom Recchion - "Proscenium" Vinyl LP, Limited Edition with Vinyl 7" 45 rpm (Elevator Bath)

Tom Recchion's "Proscenium" is like going into a room, and there is nothing there, but this eerie, beautiful sound, that is hard to distinguish from something natural in the air, or man (person) made.  All I know is I can sit at a table in this room and do some writing or something creative.   The music (sound) is demanding, so you can't read a book there, but you can think through the levels of aural pleasure that is this album.

I'm not sure how Tom made this record.  I once in awhile hear what sounds like a piano, but is it him playing or just a sample?  Listening to the album becomes a mental exercise where you describe smoke that lingers in the air, which is the graphic on the cover by the way.  Or is it a spirit of some sort?  Or both?   Music that is abstract becomes a sound sculpture. I can almost see it, but not really.  Although I feel I can walk right through it.  Artists like Brian Eno has done ambient music - sometimes for a specific space and time - "Music for Airports" for example.  "Proscenium" is a work that gives me a sense of place, but not time.  I sense not a large space, but a room.  It's interesting to read the titles which is "Entrance Music No. 1" or "Exit Music No. 1."  There is also "The Mesmerized Chair" and of course, "The Haunted Laboratory."  I don't have to know the titles, but it's interesting that they do convey a space or studio of some sort.  Space is vague, but the emotions are not.  It's a very warm album, and I feel good being contained by its sense of seduction.   I have this album on vinyl as well as an MP3 (code comes with the album), and I often listen to it while writing.   I like it because it doesn't free up my brain/mind but puts me in a room that I can focus in.  In a practical way, I can recommend this music if you're a writer and need time to reflect on your thoughts.  Or it can be music that you enter in, but you can stay inside for hours.

I didn't know this, till I started writing this piece, but the proscenium is a theatrical term meaning "an arch framing the opening between the stage and the auditorium in some theaters."  It's a great album. I keep hearing new things in it, and it maybe just my ears playing tricks on me, but the vinyl listening experience is different from the MP3.  The medium alters same music, but space.  It never ends.   I like that.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Yoko Ono - "Plastic Ono Band" Vinyl, LP, Album (Secretly Canadian)

A brilliant album.  Yoko Ono's voice is like a wind instrument.  Perhaps a sax.  The more I listen to this album, the more I think of her voice as an instrument.  It mashes perfectly with Ringo, Klaus, and John.  The production is straightforward with the echo in the right place or aural location.   The ending of "Why Not" as it merges into the sound of a train is awesome.  It's beautiful work.  The whole album is perfect. Without a doubt, Public Image's Metal Box album is at the very least the cousin piece to this LP. 

John, Klaus, and Ringo are amazing.  Ringo is a great drummer, but here he goes nuts, especially on "Touch Me."   It's strange to hear this album at this moment because it feels like it was recorded this year.  Not in 1970.   The mixing of the drum set, the sturdy never failing bass playing, and John's guitar is a groove monster.   "AOS" is Yoko with Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman, Ed Blackwell, and David Izenzon, recorded in 1968. It's a great piece of music and performance.  It's interesting to hear Yoko's voice, and again I think of it as a wind instrument, against or with Ornette's sax.  Sex as a performance!   And oddly enough it fits in perfectly with the rest of the album.  I think in 1970, John and Yoko were at their heights with respect to vision and doing their art.  And the packaging on this re-issue is excellent.  Comes with a poster of the Ornette Coleman/Yoko concert as well as a small booklet of photos - just a perfect package with the perfect "Plastic Ono Band."

Mick Ronson - "Slaugher On 10th Avenue" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1974 (RCA)

I think it's impossible not to love Mick Ronson.  He was the main Spider in Bowie's Ziggy.  His arrangements and of course, guitar playing,  is perfect.  What he did was not original, nor visionary, but I think he's the type of artist who can look at a diagram or music score and know how to make it work or becoming a brilliant piece of music.   I think of Bowie as using the Duke Ellington method in making sure he surrounds himself with the cream of the best.   Ronson as the second lead or music leader is exceptional.  And it is always interesting when such artists do a solo album.

"Slaughter on 10th Avenue is by no means a perfect album, but it's highly enjoyable, but lacks the visionary scent to make it really an essential piece of music.  Saying that "After Dark" is one of the great glam songs of that era.  A brilliant piece of arrangement and delivery.  "Love Me Tender" is an Elvis song that for me, didn't work for Elvis (besides being an iconic hit!) nor does it for Ronson, on this opening cut.   A very weak way of starting a really good album.

Still, when playing this album from beginning to end, it seems almost like a resume at work.  The arrangements of standards such as the title cut, and his take on Annette Peacock's "I'm the One," (which I think Ronson is on the original recording?) shows off his sensitivity in dealing with covers.  "Love Me Tender" doesn't work,  because he didn't do a radical remake of it, just sort of kept it as it is.  Which is fine, but again, and lots of people would disagree with me, but it's not that great of a song.   

Ronson was stretching out his boundaries, by including a variety of music on this debut album.  He was a man of great taste (most cases) and a great loss when he passed away in the 1990s.   His work on the first Ian Hunter album is perfect.   As a solo artist, I think overall he is weak.  But when he backs someone up like Hunter or Bowie, of course, it's a magnificent sound.  And that goes for the same on his work with Morrissey.  

Sonic Youth - "Goodbye 20th Century" 2 x Vinyl, LP, Album, U.S. (Sonic Youth Records - SYR4)

For the past few years, I have been interested in purchasing 20th-century experimental/classical music on vinyl.   The medium of vinyl is important to me because I listen to music differently on vinyl than say through my computer.   For me, I like to jump into the aural landscape without being interrupted by words, things, or anything else around me.  So, yesterday I purchased an album that I have wanted to hear for awhile now.  "Goodbye 20th Century" (a great title by the way, especially since this album was recorded in 1999) is Sonic Youth performing avant-garde classical music by legendary composers.  Christian Wolff, Pauline Oliveros, James Tenney, John Cage, Takehisa Kosugi, Yoko Ono, Nicolas Slonimsky, Cornelius Cardew (a composer I want to be more familiar with), George Maciunas, and Steve Reich.  

I have the John Cage/Christian Wolff album, which I love.  I think that specific album was recorded in the early 1960s, and it's an amazing document.  Wolff actually worked with Sonic Youth in the studio for his two recordings on this album.   Of all the composers I find him to be the most Cage-like, but that is my take on the sound of his work.  I never read an essay on or by him, so I'm very much an amateur listener at this point.  "Burdocks" for me is great.   Having Christian Marclay on turntables on this track really adds an intensity to the piece.   But beyond that, I don't find any weaknesses on this album.  The other composer who is on this album, and covered by Sonic Youth is Takehisa Kosugi.   It's very much a collaborative work.   Besides the fab four, there is Jim O'Rourke (before he officially joined the band), and William Winant among others.

What impresses me is that this is very much of a Sonic Youth album.  With guest stars of course.  It's interesting to hear a rock band (in theory) covering the territory of the avant-garde.  They do so with a large respect for the material but also don't give up the core sound of Sonic Youth.  When Kim Gordon gives a vocal, it immediately reminds me of Ennio Morricone's film scores -especially when he scored horror/sexy films from the 1970s.  Come to think of it, Morricone would fit like a hand in a glove on this album.   An excellent album. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Jack Nitzsche and his Orchestra - "Chopin '66" Vinyl LP (Reprise)

One of my favorite all - time albums.  Jack Nitzsche's arrangements for Chopin.  This on the surface sounds very kitsch, but the fact is this is a very moving album.   The Nitzsche touch is a golden one, and whoever he does arrangments for or production for that matter, is always the right touch.  Here he takes on the great piano music by Chopin and transforms these music pieces into an epic orchestration that is more pop orientated than classical.   

There is no written history of this album being made, so I'm not even sure why it exists.  "The modern sounds" that is stated on the cover, is the full-blown Nitzsche talent in making the perfect orchestration that is neither overblown or downtrodden the original score.   Yet it is very 1966 in that pop mode of perfection that came out of that year. Think of The Beach Boys "Pet Sounds" and perhaps the last puff of the great Spector recordings.   Nitzsche takes Chopin on the route of pop but turns these beautiful melodies into a magnificent soundscape.   I love this album.  

Dirk Bogarde - "Lyrics for Lovers" Vinyl, LP, Album (Decca)

I'm such a Dirk Bogarde fan that I have this album on CD, and the original vinyl mono disc as well.   I remember going to The Last Bookstore's vinyl department, and finding this in the "B" section.  It was a great moment because I have been looking for this specific album on vinyl for years. The right price and of course the right Dirk Bogarde album.  Recorded and released in 1960, this was made between heartthrob teen idol Dirk and dark, decadent Dirk.  One of the great British actors - there is not one bad film with him in it.  That, I know is saying a lot concerning one's filmography - and one I'm sure Dirk had a lot of misgivings about their quality.  Overall he can turn something mediocre into a gem.   And his later films with Visconti and Losey are, of course, complete masterpieces.  Now, this album is... not a masterpiece.  More of an afterthought on Bogarde's career.   I'm imagining that the powers to be insisted on him doing this album of classic pop songs.  He doesn't sing, which is a disappoint, but what he does do is recite the lyrics in a very cinematic manner. 

"Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" starts off Dirk lighting a match and off he goes.  Low volume orchestration backs the recital on all songs.  Dirk does the lyrics in a very hammy conversational tone as if he is talking to you the listener.  For me, it is just a remarkable document of a time when stars had to reach beyond their abilities.  Still, this is very much in all, a Dirk Bogarde performance.  Which is a very good thing indeed. 

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. 

Brian Eno - "The Ship" vinyl, LP, Album (Warp Records)

It seems I have spent my adult life with Brian Eno.  I have been buying albums from this artist over the years - some are masterpieces, some are OK, some are not-so-OK, and some that leave me just scratching my head.   In a nutshell, one of my favorite noisemakers.   Eno is not a genius, but he's smart, and his approach to throwing in the musical avant-garde ideas into the rock n' roll mix is brilliant.  Like any artist that has decades of work behind them, they falter here and there.  In my opinion, his recent works have regained his edge, which I thought he lost.  But alas, Eno is back!
"The Ship" is an exquisite almost ambient piece of music with vocals altered by electronics.  It's murky with the sound of a ship going down in the ocean.  It reminds me of Gavin Bryars' great piece of music "The Sinking of the Titanic" which in theory is relative to this work.  Eno was the first to record the Bryars piece for his Obscure record label.  What's interesting is that Eno mostly has made music for institutions, airports - but places that don't have a strong identity, and are neutral landscapes.  This album makes me think of location or place that is very specific in mind.  It's a ship that is sinking or lost.  You can't find this on a map, but one has a picture of it in their mind.   It's a lonely and sad album.   It ends up with some sort of light by his version of Lou Reed's (through his band The Velvet Underground) "I'm Set Free."  
The other key ingredient on the album is the use of strings.  I don't recall Eno ever using a string section, except for the b-side of his album "Discreet Music."   I would like to hear more recordings from him using orchestration. I think it's an area that he can explore more depth and sound textures.   On vinyl, it's a double album, and the essence of the work needs to be listened to from the beginning to the end.  There is a narrative that is in place, but not a story.  Just a mood that you need to experience in a format that doesn't jump around.  The emotional punch of the Lou Reed song is not strong if you don't play the other part of the recording first.  It is very much a composition.    Great.  

Ennio Morricone - "Controfase" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1972/1915 (The Omni Recording Corporation)

A lost album that has been found, thanks to the record label, The Omni Recording Corporation.   Ennio Morricone is a master.  In my opinion, the greatest composer to come out of the 20th century.  To choose one, or even a few of his albums is something I can't do.  One has to accept none or all.  I choose 'all.'   I think in my collection I have over 50 albums - on CD and vinyl.  I tend to hover towards his more experimental work, then his big symphonic orchestra pieces.  But I'm such a fan; there is so such thing as a bad music from Morricone.   It's impossible!

"Controfase" is a recording that was lost to history but found by the label a few years ago.  It is a perfect example or almost a sampler of Morricone's interest in sound design and orchestration.   The mood on this album is creepy and dark.  It also features the talent of a fellow composer/arranger Bruno Nicolai as well as the great vocalist Edda dell'Orso and Morricone's experimental noise band Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza.   So on one album, you have the legendary collaborators that come and go into Morricone's recordings of the 1970s. 

Morricone's music varies between highly melodic pieces to dark noise.  This album is very much the latter.  The eight selections or pieces express every shade of darkness.  Anyone who has an interest in recording sound would find this album fascinating.  Incredibly textured, with layers of unexpected orchestrations with respect to various instruments and electronic effects.  This album just keeps on giving the gift of great music.  

Serge Reggiani - "Poètes 1" Vinyl, LP, Album, France, 1973 (Polydor)

One of my favorite figures from the French cinema world, who also happens to be a great singer.  To make a comparison, he reminds me of Bryan Ferry.  Not his identity or characteristics, but his voice. Ferry singing other people songs naturally make it is own, due to the limitations and tone of his voice.  Serge Reggiani is exactly the same.  Reggiani doesn't do the American songbook but instead tackles the poetry of Jacques Prévert, Victor Hugo, Charles Baudelaire, and Louis Bessières.   On "Poètes 1" it's bare music with a focus on the words.  My inability to understand French may limit me the enjoyment of this album, but that's not fully the case here.  Reggiani brings a sense of cool, but passion at the same time.   There is a long tradition of making songs out of poetry in France, and Reggiani is one of the greats to take on this medium.   There is "Chanson De Maglia" with music by Serge Gainsbourg.  How great is it to hear music with credit: written by Victor Hugo and Serge Gainsbourg.   I have three other albums by Serge Reggiani that features more Gainsbourg, but also Boris Vian material.  Reggiani is one of my favorite vocalists.  And not a bad actor!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Jacques Dutronc - "Jacques Dutronc" Vinyl, LP, 1968 (Disques Vogue)

Soundwise, a mixture of Bob Dylan "Highway 61 Revisited" with overtures to Ray Davies circa The Kinks 1965/1966.   Everything else wise, Jacques Dutronc is an original artist.   Dutronc started off as a session guitarist in Paris, and eventually met up with lyricist Jacques Lanzmann, and wrote many hits in the 60s.   The interesting aspect of their partnership is that Lanzmann is a much older gentleman than Dutronc, and I suspect that his lyrics reflect and make humor of issues that took place in the 1960s.    So there is the edge of two minds working as one. 

"Jacques Dutronc" is 12 songs.  I suspect that this recording is a 12" version of 3  7" EPs.   Every song here is a gem.  Borderline psych-rock but very much in a pop mode,  Dutronc expresses a great deal of fun though his music.   The Kinks reference for me is that I sense intelligence, that is beyond the hit-making process.  Dutronc's visuals on his album cover almost convey a joke, but I also think there is something serious under the joking.   For anyone who even has the slightest interest in French pop, need to have this album.  Dutronc's career is a long one, and his much later recordings are of keen interest as well.  More on that later!

Scritti Politti - "Songs To Remember" Vinyl, LP, Album (Celluloid/France) Rough Trade, 1982

One of the few great albums released in the early 1980s is Scritti Politti's "Songs To Remember."  As a young man, in the 80s, I remember buying all the 12" singles off this album, due to the re-mixed more sonic versions.  If you can find it, I strongly recommend to purchase "Faithless," which is great on this album, but the 12" single goes on and on, and it's an incredible piece of music.

 The basic sound of Scritti Politti is one of great sophistication.  A touch of reggae, soul, jazz, and singer/songwriter.  The main honcho of the band, Green Gartside,  had an interesting take on 'pop music' culture, which for him was seen through the eyes of a political theorist.   Well-read, and a one-time hardcore Maoist type of Leftie, he looked at the love song as a political statement or through the eyes of Derrida's reconstruct of things in front of him.

On the other hand, this album has the greatest groove flow.  The nine songs here are close to perfection, and there are great musicians on this album.   Green's voice is very white, but the backing is black in spirit, and even though there is this philosophical separation between thought and sound, it's a black soul orientated work.   Robert Wyatt makes an appearance or two, and one can clearly hear his influence on those tracks.  Scritti Politti made other fine and splendid records, but "Songs To Remember" is a masterpiece.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rod McKuen - "Rod McKuen Sings Jacques Brel" Album, Vinyl, 1973

My one and only Rod McKuen album in my collection of vinyl.  The only reason I purchase this record is because it's music by Jacques Brel, sung by McKuen, who also translated the lyrics from French to English.  Beyond that, the album is great. 

I never warmed to McKuen's boho image, which I find very showbusiness related.  It's not he's talentless, it is just he's the mainstream American versions of someone 'out there' and that he's ain't. 
On the other hand, he is one of the first English-speaking artist (besides Scott Walker) who has committed himself in doing Brel recordings, as well as translating his words.  The truth is, McKuen does an excellent job in performing Brel's works. His voice is not the typical showman type of vocalist, but he in his gravel way gives the material real grit and soul.   The orchestrations on the album are also great - in being true to the material, and backing McKuen's vocalization.  This album is the flip side to Scott Walker's recordings of Brel's music.  I would get both.  

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Evariste - "Do You Know The Beast?" LP, Vinyl 45 rpm, Limited Edition (Nosmoke)

I discovered Evariste's music either on YouTube (still there, look) or on someone's website.  My first reaction to this French Ye-Ye singer was 'oh a Jacques Dutronc" type.  Very little information on Evariste in  English.  For one, he's a Ph.D. doctorate in theoretical physics, at the age of 23, and was very much swept up in the May 68 Paris world of politics.  His hairstyle was extreme with one side short and the other very long.   And watching the promotional films he made in 1968 struck me as eccentric.  And that may all be the case, but also his music is great.  

Michel Colombier did the production and musical arrangements, and this is his best work.  That's saying a lot considering Colombier's work with the great Serge Gainsbourg and others, but here his arrangments are out-of-this-world.  Evariste's songs are over-the-top, and his vocal mannerisms are humorous, but re-listening to his work on vinyl  I now find it fascinating.  There is almost a musique concrete aspect to his vocals, in that he uses different tones, voices, and Colombier seemed to have an endless amount of impressions done musically to fit with the songs as well as the character of Evariste. 

The scientist aspect of his work is alluring and very much part of the image of Evariste.  His real name is Joel Sternheimer, and he took the name from Évariste Galois, a brilliant mathematician, who was able to determine a condition for a polynomial math problem when he was a teenager in 1829.   Galois was killed in a dual when he was 20.   The James Dean of Science!

Hearing Evariste's recordings on vinyl is like being in the country air for the first time after being locked up in a smokey room.  This 45 rpm master of 10 songs by Evariste, who only released two French EP's (four songs each) and one 45 rpm single (two songs) is the complete works.  Beautifully arranged and recorded, Evariste needs to be heard in its proper format.  The videos are great as well.  

Evariste, December 2012, photo by David Tinkham

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Miles Davis - "Asceseur Pour L'Échafaud" Vinyl 10" album, Limited Edition, Mono (Sam Records)

My favorite Miles Davis music.  Recorded in 1958, in Paris, with the great French musicians Pierre Michelot, René Urtreger, Barney Wilen, and the legendary American drummer Kenny Clarke.  This album has been re-released numerous times.  But I think Sam Records version is the best.  For one, they went back to the original analog tape to make this disc as well as the original negatives of the front and back cover.   Sam Records is a one-man operation, and he focuses on jazz that was recorded in France, mostly from the 1950s.  

Limited edition of 1,000 copies, is not the easiest find, but once you do, you'll love it.  For one, the sound is incredible.  The music for me is like if someone turned the lights off by a switch.  A mood changer that works like no other music.   A beautiful smokey aural experience. 

The other item of interest for me is that they have the original liner notes including the one by Boris Vian.   Long-time readers of my blog and my work know that I have an intense passion for Vian's writing and his social world.    It's a great reminder of his presence and importance in the French and American Jazz world.