The cinematic New Wave of the late 1950s to the early 1960s wasn't all French, it was many countries, including Poland. The legendary (for many reasons) Roman Polanski made an incredible film called "The Knife In The Water." A truly disturbing portrait of a trio (two men and a woman) who are on a boat drifting in the sea, and the psycho-sexual games that are played on the floating crap game. With the images of despair comes this fantastic soundtrack by Krzysztof Komeda, a magnificent Polish Jazz musician, and composer. He worked with Polanski up to "Rosemary's Baby" but then died under mysterious circumstances in Los Angeles in 1968. It may have been a mistaken drunken mishap between Komeda and the fascinating Polish author Marek Hlasko (the James Dean of Polish literature). This 7" piece of vinyl is ground zero for Jazz Cool. Four songs, that one will play over and over again. Essential must-have.
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Monday, May 29, 2017
Such a fantastic album cover. Originally this specific album came out in Italy. Sort of a greatest hits collection at the time, it shows the strength of The Shadows. The hits are here, "Apache," "Guitar Tango," and more. I'm intrigued by their sound. It seems simple, but there is something quite complex about how their music is put together. All four are fantastic, but the stand out (for me) is Jet Harris' bass playing, and Hank Marvin's guitar work.
Total showbiz act, but a very mysterious one to me. Among their incredible dance choreography, while playing their guitars and the smiles plastered on their faces, there is something manic or demon like in their presentation. I know very little of their personal lives, except I heard Jet went through tough times - still, it's a band that reshaped their world, and sort of spit it out to the public. A beautiful album, that's in mono. I think that format is the best way to listen to The Shadows. And yes, another amazing release from Doxy, that mysterious label from Europe.
I have always been attracted to Marianne Faithfull's "Summer Nights." It's a song about a feeling or a seasonal change. Her approach is folk but filtered through a London aesthetic that was happening at the time. The harpsichord is the first instrument one notices, and the chorus of the 'at a cafe' with the hand claps gets me all the time. It's a beautiful record on many levels. And so short. Only one minute and fifty seconds. It comes and goes, like a strong crush on a girl you see walking down a street. Also, the pitch and speed march on, it's not a song of reflection, but manic intensity. The chorus is a relief of the tension. I have read somewhere that The Smiths used to cover this song as part of their live act, at the beginning of their career. Now, that I would love to hear.
Thursday, May 25, 2017
You can never go wrong with an album that is credited "A Mickie Most Production." Beyond that, you can't normally go wrong with a Donovan album. "The Hurdy Gurdy Man" album is the Donovan album that people don't talk or write about. It has two hit singles "Hurdy Gurdy Man" (amazing) and the charming "Jennifer Juniper." Of the Mickie Most / Donovan albums, this one is his most Indian/world/exotic instrument LP.
First of all, Donovan is the most underrated singer of his generation. A superb stylist, with jazzy overtones. Two songs that stand out for me on "The Hurdy Gurdy Man" is "Peregrine" and "Tangier." Both have a strong Indian / drone influence, and yet, Donovan makes it very much his own. His approach to his songs is very much him. There is really no other Donovan. It's not only his voice but the presence and style of his music that makes him a very unique artist.
There is also the "twee" image Donovan has cultivated over the years, but when I hear his music, I don't think of the softness, but the beautiful arrangements. His psychedelia is different from say someone like the band Traffic (but close...) or the Fab Four. Some of the "drone" songs were co-written by David J. Mills, a close friend of Donovan's. "Teas" reminds me a bit of George Harrison, but I also hear Dave Brubeck's piano running through the mix as well. John Paul Jones, although not credited on the sleeve was very much part of the album through his talent as an arranger. It is rumored that Jimmy Page is on the album as well, but not proven. For sure Clem Cattini did the drumming. Nice to have a Joe Meek reference here. Clem was the drummer for The Tornados.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
"The Third Man" is one of my favorite films. Friendship is a good subject matter for a film. Especially a bad friendship. I have always loved the soundtrack by Anton Karas, with just him playing the Zither. Ah, the very name of the instrument makes me remember the days of Vienna, right after the war. Except I never been to Vienna. I only know Vienna through "The Third Man," through the eyes of Harry Lime.
I never realized that there was "The 3rd Man" TV show. An American or British show? Since this album seemed to come from the United Kingdom, I gather it's a British production. Nevertheless, it's Michael Rennie as Lime, and by this album cover, I already love the series. I'm also not sure when this album was released. By my estimate, sometime in the late 1950s.
I have seen numerous edition of "The Third Man" soundtrack over the years, but it was Michael Rennie that made me put down $5.95 plus California sales tax. Side one is the beloved and classic Karas soundtrack, but side two are Fritz & Jacky, who do Zither duet. The titles are in German. So, I'm not even sure it this music was used in the TV series or not. The music is not as good as Karas, but the playing is quite lively. Oh, and I should state that the Karas soundtrack is the same as the Orson Welles/Caroll Reed film.
|A1||Third Man Theme|
|A2||Visions Of Vienna|
|A4||Cafe Mozart Waltz|
|A6||Wien, Weib, Wein|
|B1||Die Annemarie Aus Rotterdam, Einmal Kommt Die Grosse Liebe, Erzahl' Mir Ein Marchen, Marina|
|B2||Ein Kleines Schiff Am Grossen Meer, Der Cowboy Hat Immer Ein Madel, Der Negerkonig "Bum"|
|B3||Halt, Bitte Bleiben Sie Doch Stehn, Liebe 1st Ja Nur Ein Marchen, Pack Die Badehose Ein|
|B4||Quicksliver, Du Ahnst Es Nicht, Was Du Fur Mich Bedeutest|
Monday, May 22, 2017
For the first fifteen minutes or so at the record store I thought I was carrying around "The Best of Sparks" - but alas, I was wrong. It's the same cover as "The Best Of..." but it's actually "The Rest of Sparks." This album is part of the vinyl box set "Sparks The Island Years." Someone at the store separated the albums within the box, and here I'm with this new purchase of an essential Sparks' vinyl album. "The Rest of Sparks" is a collection of all the b-sides during their years at Island Records. Like the A-Sides and albums, they never put out a bad recording. So, for the first time, you have Sparks classics like "Barbecutie," "Lost and Found," and the totally absurd "The Wedding of Jacqueline Kennedy to Russell Mael." From 1974 to 1976, Sparks couldn't fail. Well, to this day, they never failed. But for many, the Island Records era for this band was like catching lightning in a glass jar.
I have always had a fond taste for b-sides. My favorite habit (of many) is when I get a 45 rpm single, to play the B-side first. For many, it's usually a throw-away song to make one focus on the A-side, but alas, I would argue that the masterpieces are usually on the flip side. "The Rest of Sparks" is one of my favorite Sparks' albums. If there is a weak cut, it's probably "I Want To Hold Your Hand," which is oddly enough my least favorite Beatles song. Still, "Lost and Found,"England," and others here are essential Sparks' recordings. To have these songs on one piece of vinyl is something that makes me extremely happy.
One of the rare cuts here is "Tearing The Place Apart," which is brilliant songcraft writing. One would think that Cole Porter or Noel Coward wrote the song, but alas, Ron Mael is one of the great songwriters of not only his generation but in the history of the American Song Book. Which I know from me sounds like over-loving a songwriter's work, but he's clearly on the same genius mode as Porter.
|A1||Lost And Found|
|A6||The Wedding of Jacqueline Kennedy to Russell Mael|
|B1||I Want To Hold Your Hand|
|B3||Gone With The Wind|
|B5||Looks Aren't Everything|
|B6||Tearing The Place Apart|
Saturday, May 20, 2017
"The Group" is Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, who we know is a band that Ennio Morricone is associated with. Totally experimental, and more John Cage-like than what we think of with respect to Morricone's more mainstream movie soundtrack work. "The Feed-Back" is Gruppo di Improvvisazione with an incredible beat. The one consistent instrument throughout the recording of this album are the drums. It's very Can/Neu like, that it's a beat that doesn't give up.
The music is free-form, but the drums keep everything grounded to a groove. An adventuresome DJ can play this album in a nightclub, and I don't think there will be that many people leaving the dance floor. There are only a handful of recordings by or with Morricone that has nothing to do with film scoring. So it's interesting avenue or opportunity for him to do what he wants to without the restrictions of a producer. Which comes to mind, does a filmmaker dare tell him what to do?
To give full credit to the band, it consisted of Walter Branchi, Renzo Restuccia, Bruno Battisi D'Amario, Egisto Macchi, Mario Bertoncini, John Heineman, and of course, Morricone.
Friday, May 19, 2017
What an incredible double-sided single. Of course, I know the Rolling Stones version of "It's All Over Now" which is amazing, but The Valentinos version is remarkable. Written and performed by Bobby Womack and his brother, this is an amazing recording. It's funky but what makes this record a real go-go is the drummer. I don't think I have ever heard such a fantastic drum track than this single. "Lookin' For Love" is born to be played in a dance club. Do the Valentinos have an album? All I can say is that this single or the two songs are excellent. I can't imagine what they must be like in person. I'm not sure when this record was recorded, but my guess its somewhere between 1961 and 1963. Wow.
The Honeycombs, if truth to be known, is my favorite band. Over the years I collect their recordings, which is not a lot. They only did three albums, and that includes a live album made and recorded in Tokyo. The brilliance of The Honeycombs is the combination of great songs with brilliant production by Joe Meek. "I Can't Stop" should have been a mega-hit around the world, but alas, it never reached the heights "Have I The Right." Nevertheless, it's a masterful song with a driving beat and chorus. The b-side for me is the super treat. A song by Meek, "I'll Cry Tomorrow" is superb drama and I get goosebumps hearing Honey's (the female drummer) backup vocals during the chorus.
Darlene Love - "Stumble and Fall" / (He's A) Quiet Guy" 7" 45 rpm vinyl single, 1964 (Philles Records)
I just purchased this 45 rpm single at Rockaway Records. Produced by Phil Spector and both the A and B side is arranged by the fantastic and great Jack Nitzsche. There is the Wall of Sound, and then there is 'this' Wall of Sound. Both songs, "Stumble and Fall" and "(He's a) Quiet Guy" is the iconic sound of Spector working with Nitzsche. So much sound! So many instruments! Honestly, it's a fantastic record. If the credit label is correct (and the songs are reversed, which makes this single a real collector's item) the songs are written by Phil Spector/V. Poncia/P. Andreoli. According to Discogs, this single was pulled out of the market at the very last moment and replaced by The Ronettes "Walking in the Rain." Using the same catalog number 123. Not a bad find for $2.99. But the music here is priceless.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
Nico before The Velvet Underground is very much Nico. The voice. There is only one woman with a voice like that, and she with her "it" looks is pretty wonderful. The A-Side is a song by Gordon Lightfoot, with production by the great Andrew Loog Oldham, with arrangement by David Whittaker. Nico, on this record, and at that time, must have been a darker version of Marianne Faithful. Or maybe that was in the thoughts of Oldham? The b-side is much more of an interesting piece of recording. Jimmy Page produced and co-wrote (with Oldham) "The Last Mile." Just Page which sounds like a 12-string acoustic guitar and Nico's voice. This would not be out of place in a future Nico album. The beauty of Nico is whoever writes the songs, they lose that identity to Nico because her presence and voice are so prominent. This is not the greatest Nico single/songs but for the completist a must-have. Now, if I can get the Gainsbourg "Striptease" single by Nico - that will be something.
The Roxy Music empire just kept on giving in 1973. Two brilliant Roxy albums, a fascinating Bryan Ferry solo, and then a Phil Manzanera solo, and then the Eno explosion. Being a consumer that year was very expensive and incredibly fun. I remember the feeling that everything was possible, and music will go to explore new avenues and landscapes. But of course, with make-up!
Robert Fripp, the guitarist, and the brains behind King Crimson, and Eno (before Brian) made the ultimate bedroom music album. A tape recorder (or two) and guitar with effects. The music drew the listener into an abstract world of aural pleasure. No vocals, but a sound that had no beginning or no end. "The Heavenly Music Corporation" was not a shocking piece of music, because I suspected that Eno will eventually come to this point with his music. What is fascinating is that the music is not made by spiritualists (well, not Eno) but with the physical world of pleasure and desire. Eno's later recordings deal with the ambient landscape, but this is more of music that transform your world and to be engaged with it as well.
At the same time, it's the ultimate guitar album. Just as important as Jimi Hendrix or surf music. Also of great interest to me is the album cover and packaging. The mirrored room is not one of meditation but to follow your glaze to one's inner world. Which I suspect by the playing cards on the table is a lot of fun.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
The Zombies - "The Zombies Greatest Hits" Vinyl, LP, Album, Compliation, Mono, 2017 (Varése Sarabande)
A limited edition (3000 copies) of the old fashioned greatest hits album. The Zombies are an exceptional band with two wonderful songwriters in their midst (Rod Argent and Chris White) as well as the breathy pop-perfect vocals from Colin Blunstone. Jazzy in that London Soho mode, The Zombies are the perfect soundtrack to a wine bar around 11:30 at night. I can smell the tobacco from the grooves on this album. The early hits "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No" are here of course, but the surprise track for me is "Indication." Incredible song. It is a bridge from their old early 60s sound to the "Time of the Season" era. And there is not a song better than "Imagine the Swan." It's not a surprise that an audience picked up on them. They're too good to be obscure.
1965 was the year for Sonny and Cher, and especially Cher since she had a solo career as well as working with her husband Sonny. To be honest, I never really cared much for Sonny and Cher's music. Nor do I exactly love Cher's voice. What I do love about this album is that it captures the best in 1965 pop music. You even have a Ray Davies song "I Go To Sleep." Sandie Shaw is well represented on the album with "Girl Don't Come."
Sonny produced and arranged this album, and the training with Phil Spector does show, as well as using a lot of the same musicians as Julius Wechter and Barney Kessel. "The Bells of Rhymney" is pretty great It's has a manic harpsichord. The annoying thing is that Cher's voice is totally in front of the mix. It almost sounds like a karaoke tape. She has a voice but doesn't really do much with it. It's flat in that it conveys nothing special. Just for the sake of the vocals, I suspect that the mono edition will be much better.
John Cage - "The 25-Year Retrospective Concert of the Music of John Cage" 2 x Vinyl, Booklet, Limited Edition, 1959 (Modern Silence)
Ground zero for John Cage recording. This phenomenal album is the essential document of a great concert that took place at Town Hall New York City in 1958. Produced by Cage's good friends Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and filmmaker Emile de Antonio. This is, at the time, was Cage's celebration of 25 years of composing and making music. With the help of the art community, a concert was placed, and at this event, Cage and others performed his "greatest hits." This is not only a document of a concert but also an important cultural moment that took place in Manhattan.
David Tudor, Merce Cunningham, and Cage's wife, Xenia, as well as the composer, performed pieces in front of a hostile audience. At least their catcalls mixed in with the bravos are clearly in the mix. This is a real live recording! Listening to the album, I really feel its presence in front of me. There are not that many live albums that have that affect for me. The works here are legendary, and Cage at the height of his creativity. Beautiful packaging; this album is priceless to me.
Someone was pumping genius air into North London around 1966 or 1967 because Dave Davies and his older brother Ray Davies took that air and made incredible recordings. I don't know if this was a marketing plan from the record label at the time, or Dave actually wanted to do solo recordings, but as far as I know these are Kinks' records. The four songs above are written by Dave and lead vocals by him as well. For most, these songs were placed in the Kinks' Something Else" album, but it's interesting to hear this EP out of that context or landscape.
"Death of a Clown" is Dave's commentary on his role as a touring musician, who is consistently on the move from one world to the next. It's a great song and a great record. "Susannah's Still Alive" I believe is a very personal song about a child produced by Dave and his girlfriend at the time, and he was kept away by the girl's family. Or is that an urban rock story? Another great piece of work. In fact, Dave Davies is probably just as brilliant as Ray, and his world fits in the Ray landscape, but just an additional voice in the narrative. "Funny Face" has always been a fave of mine as well. Ray is telling a story, but Dave's work is always on a personal level. Musically he is not that far off from Ray's work. So, it fits organically in the Kinks' world.
I bought this EP in Tokyo at a great music shop called "Pet Sounds." It's a neighborhood store in the Meguro area of the Metropolis. Not a large store by any means, but hard not to purchase something from there.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Well, here I was in Japan and living in a very small town that was part of Kitakyushu. An old port town that saw better days before the war. I couldn't speak a word of Japanese when I lived there, and my main entertainment was watching this late night TV show called "Ika 10" or something like that. It started off at Midnight and it seemed to stop around 4 in the morning. It was an old fashion battle of the bands type of show, where the best band do a song, get judged, and then get invited again next week, and then they keep going to the top of the pyramid. The great thing about this show is that they basically ignored the boy or girl band J-Pop sound, and focused on eccentricity. In other words, a true group of indie rock bands, but kind of weird for the mainstream at the time. Yet, the show became a hit of sorts, and all the bands made records, etc.
One of my favorite bands from this TV show was a group called TAMA. I didn't only like them, I was crazy about TAMA. The Tokyo fab four's line up was acoustic guitar, minimal drum set, electric bass, and accordion and some keyboards. The music was pre-world war two Japanese pop but twisted. Their clothing they wore on stage was also from the era of the late 1940s. A very strange band.
I bought their CD with great anticipation, and I wasn't disappointed. As mentioned the music is very acoustic based, I guess in a sense Japanese folk music, but with a lo-fi aesthetic and very catchy. To me, and being a foreigner, I thought for sure if I can bring them to the U.S., it would be TAMA mania. Four good-looking guys, who play (really) original sounds. It was an ah-ha moment for me. Alas, I didn't have the means or perhaps talent to be a manager. As far as I know this is their first album, and they continue to make albums for the next five or six years. I think they are brilliant.
As a kid, I had all the American Beatles releases as it happened. Seeing the film "Hard Day's Night" was like going to another planet for me. My dad and mom took me to the Village Bruin to see the movie, which I think was the first weekend of its release. The theater was full of screaming children and teenagers. I couldn't hear a word of dialogue throughout the screening. Instead of upsetting me, it was a new way for me to see a movie -with the audience being a bigger part, even bigger than the actual film. Even when I watch the film now, I still expect to hear screams coming somewhere, maybe under the living room couch. The American version of "Hard Day's Night" never seemed like a proper Beatles album. Due to that side one, was all the Beatle recordings, and side two was the George Martin stuff - which I never listened to as a kid.
Around 2015 I had the urge to buy the mono reissue of "Hard Day's Night, which the British edition is issued throughout the world. Two sides of Beatle recordings! Now it sounds like a proper Beatles album. The real main reason why I wanted to buy the album was to hear the mono mix (just like what I heard in my childhood) but also for the song "Things We Said Today." For me, this is the secret or underrated song to go under the radar of pop Beatle culture. It's mysterious and very sexual, and it has that singer communicating with the listener effect - where I feel it's a secret message that John and Paul are telling me. What is that secret? That, I don't know. It's the mood of the piece. It has layers of depth that I would need a diving suit to truly understand the song. The album is great, but "Things We Said Today" is the real deal.
Monday, May 15, 2017
The West Coast version of Velvet Underground of Japan? Jacks is a band that is for sure NOT J-Pop, in any fashion or manner. It's very 1968, and one imagines if it was a better world here, they would be on Elektra Records here in America. They would fit in with Love, The Doors, and bands of that fashion. What sounds like at times, a stand-up bass, an electric flute, and a stinging electric guitar. One would say they got their sound from West Coast rock at the time, but there is something more organic or rooted in Japanese music.
The band, to give them full credit here: Yoshio Hayakawa; vocals, guitar, Haruo Mizuhashi; lead guitar, vocals, Hitoshi Tanino - Fender bass, upright bass, and Takasuke Kida; drums, flute, vibraphone. Hayakawa is a mournful singer, which sounds regretful, but then the melody becomes poppy and then turns back into darkness. And that's "Love Generation." "Where" is a groove fest of a tune. Handclaps and 'yeahs' in the background. Not exactly a party, but a late night mood of a song. In fact, Jack belongs to the evening.
For those who are curious about the underground Japan rock scene of the 1960s and 70s will need to have this album. Ground zero here. I love Jacks.
The Rolling Stones - "Jumpin' Jack Flash/Child of the Moon" Vinyl 7" 45 rpm single, U.S., 1968 (London)
For some, this was back-to-basics from the psych world of "Their Satanic Majesties Request" world, but alas, I still hear the strains of that landscape in both "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and it's great b-side "Child of the Moon." Brian Jones' either on sitar or mellotron gives the song that acid touch, that makes it not only a riff-master piece of rock. It's a great record due to the layers of texture in what seems to be a simple rock ditty. "Child of the Moon" is Kenneth Anger. At least that is the first image I obtain while listening to this song. It reeks of decadence and that is why this single is loved so much. This is the band at its height of its strength. The Stones still do "Jumpin' Jack Flash" on stage, but the versions I have heard (recordings) it always sounds flat to me. It's the soup itself that is important, not the song. And the original recording is pure magic. So yes, this is very much part of the Satanic Request year(s) or months.
Johnnie Ray is one of the most underrated singers of the 20th century. For a man who was such a sensation is to this day, have problems with editors when it comes to the spelling of his name "Johnnie." I can't count all the times I have read "Johnny" instead of Johnnie." The causal culture historian may see Ray as one of the symbolic figures of the safe and bland 1950s (Ha!), but the fact is this gay orientated pop singer is more of a Rhythm and Blues performer than anything else. He also wrote some of his songs, which are generally terrific. As a performer, there is no one better than him. His ability to have what looks like a nervous breakdown on stage, as well as his visually chunky hearing aid brings a vulnerability to the package that is downright seductive.
This package "High Drama" is not the first Johnnie Ray compilation, but it's the first one to see him as a significant recording artist. This and a collection put together by Bear Family Records (a label that never fails) are superb introductions to the magic that is Johnnie Ray.
Even the song titles bare a sense of wonder, mystery, anxiety, and existential dread, such as "The Lonely Ones," "How Long, How Long Blues," or "She Ain't Say Nothin' at All." There is also in his songs tied into nature, that is sensual and more emotional than a picture postcard of a beautiful place - for instance, "Mountains in the Moonlight." It is almost how a classical German approach to nature in the woods or forest. There is a spirituality that goes hand-in-hand with one's mood, more than anything else.
"Cry" is, of course, the hit on this collection, but there are two songs here that knock me to my knees, and that's "Soliloquy of a Fool" (perhaps the iconic type title from this singer) and "Such a Night." Both are passionate somewhere on the scale of 1 to 10 being at least 12. "Soliloquy of a Fool" is almost a minimal electronic piece but done with orchestration. For my ears, a recording that is very much ahead of its time, and needs to be re-listen to in the 21st century. "Such a Night" is Johnnie going wild and over-the-top in sexual overtures. This collection is an excellent introduction into the mystique and wonderment that is Johnnie Ray.
Saturday, May 13, 2017
Edgard Varèse may be the first classical composer that I heard. Which makes me sound very sophisticated, but it was all due to my parents having his music played in the household hi-fi set. It's hard music to ignore even for a small child who was in tuned to the Mickey Mouse theme. As an adult, I started to buy Varèse's music through various used record stores, and now I have at least five albums by him. He didn't produce that much music in his lifetime. In that sense, he reminds me of Thelonious Monk, in that he composed little, but every note of music he made/wrote became essential listening experience.
This album consists of four compositions, and all are performed by The Contemporary Chamber Ensemble with Arthur Weisberg conducting the Avant-orchestra. It's a fantastic album that focuses on the music he wrote mostly in the 1920s. One thinks what kind of audience was into this type of noisy and intense music? There are traces of exotica perhaps due to the heavy percussion, but it's music that is energetic and muscular. There are no traces of a feminine presence within its music. Well, there is Jan DeGaetani singing mezzo-soprano, but the overall effect is aggressive and forward orchestration.
My favorite piece on the album is "Ecuatorial" and that is due to the surprising instruments that come up out of the arrangement. A powerful organ meets Thomas Paul's bass singing mixed with a series of percussion instruments. Also, there are two Ondes Martenot (invented in 1928), which is an early electronic keyboard that sounds very much like a theremin. The other thing that is a real plus for me is using the poetry of Vincente Huidobro in the composition "Offrandes," who was a fantastic poet, and friend of Picasso and I presume Varèse as well. Great album.
On one level, probably the most 'difficult' album in my collection. On the other hand, it's everyday life as being interpreted by the great Pierre Henry. From awakening to death. All is exposed on this concept album of life being lived on a physical level. Musique concrète all, or mostly through what sounds like a door being open and closing.
Musique Concrète is a style of music that I find interesting because it's based on the everyday sounds of a composer who captures that moment and rearranges the sounds for their purpose. Through either tape manipulations or some other electronic means, it is giving the natural or organic sound another dimension. "Variations For a Door and a Sigh" is not for everyone, but for those who want to dwell into the inner-world, I recommend this album. And it may be just me, but I find it sexy. As the statement on the back cover of this album: "This recording should be played at full volume, and listened to in darkness." Which is an excellent recommendation.
Friday, May 12, 2017
"Sunshine Superman," I think is the first Donovan album that I purchased in the year of its release 1966. You can't get more 1966, than "Sunshine Superman." The song was a big hit on the radio and very hard to avoid if one even dared to do so. Everyone loved that song. I clearly remember driving with my dad on Sunset Boulevard and hearing this song in another car's AM radio speaker. Once on the radio, everyone put the volume up. Very summer-like soundtrack.
Donovan always had that ultimate hippie white robe thing going, but the truth is, he's a masterful pop songwriter and an incredible singer. His appeal for me is that he has a jazzy vocal, but that is blended into his beautifully orchestrated pop music mode. He has a very unique sound, that goes beyond the image of flute, guitar and bongo drum. Even his earlier folk recordings had more of a jazz cafe quality than New York's Washington Square. The other great ingredient in his overall sound of his albums is the talent of hitmaker Mickie Most. He often used Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones on his recordings, and I suspect (especially Jones) are on "Sunshine Superman."
"Season of the Witch" is the other outstanding track beside the title that is iconic like. Druggy, groovy, and hypnotic; one would think this would be the ultimate laid back garage rock recording of all time. It hints of exotic overtures, which makes it irresistible. The truth is, the whole album is on that train of thought. It flows like pouring a beautiful glass of wine into a large wine glass. The other highlight is the closing song "Celeste" which is Donovan's most beautiful melody and delivery.
The first cut, "My Size" yells out 1971 classic rock. The chunk-chunk guitar cords and Entwistle's voice sounds like it is recorded in another room, is classic riff-rock. My favorite parts of a Who album are always the John Entwistle songs. When Pete gets spiritual, John is more interested in rock n' roll issues like revenge, violence, and in a spiritual mode, how to recover a night of drinking. "Smash Your Head Against the Wall" is the ultimate solo bass player's solo album who belongs to a major band. And remember John wrote "Boris the Spider" the best Who song ever.
"What Are We Doing Here?" is the song for musicians who are on an endless tour. I imagine John wrote this between groupie and drinking sessions where one gets on a reflective thinking 'woe me" state of mind. The truth is I'm making light of his lifestyle, but under the humor and rock n' roll behavior is a great songwriter. To call him and Keith Moon the rhythm section is slight, due that both lead players on their instruments. As Noel of Oasis fame had commented, if not in exact wording, that The Who is a band that has a lead singer, and a lead guitarist, but also a lead Bass player as well as the lead drummer. That is an accurate description of The Who.
Entwistle's first solo album is him playing everything except guitar and drums. His arrangements are excellent, especially what he does with the horn section. Not exactly like a soul horn section, but more of a British toot-toot horns, and it's very useful on these set of songs. "Heaven and Hell" is a magnificent piece of work, and "Ted End" is one of Entwistle's great underrated songs. Worth the price of this album.
One of my favorite (and there are many, to be honest) post-punk bands is Magazine. Howard Devoto backed by a super band of sorts, with Barry Adamson, Dave Formula, John Doyle, and guitar god John McGeoch. Their sound is orchestrational in the same line as Roxy Music, in fact, they remind me of that band, due to not an image, but the way the music is put together. Every player in the group contributes to the group, and Devoto turns on his magic to make it work fantastically.
Without a doubt, this is their most commercial album, with solid songwriting, but the album moves from one track to another without a weak link. The one other influence I pick up on is Motown. I suspect the whole band is into the classic Motown sound. That, and a touch of funk mixed with the post-punk aesthetic and that vision to look out to the world makes Magazine a very unique musical force of its time.
Devoto is a superb lyricist. No one writes lyrics like him. Full of literary references, such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky runs through the songs, especially their incredible "A Song From Under the Floorboards." One of the great classics to come out of that era. Sinister, disturbing, and yet magnificent. Their cover of Sly Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" shows that they truly admire genius in other worlds.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
If J.G. Ballard had a soundtrack to his novels, it would more likely be the early edition of The Human League. If Kraftwerk represented a "Germany" that is both realistic and what we think as German, then surely the League is British in that same fashion. Very electronic and minimal with respect to their arrangements, it is basically synths, and Philip Oakey's always distant, yet heartfelt singing. It's music that is very much part of the Industrial English cities landscape, but with insight into the future or a sense of dread that things are not that hot. It does have a relationship with glam rock, but almost a scholarly view of that music from the recent past. Its roots are Gary Glitter, but as listened to by someone in the future who is looking back to a much more cynical point than their present time. Which is shit. But when you have nothing, great things can happen upon you.
"Circus of Death" makes reference to "Hawaii 5-0" and its exotic culture via an American TV show is redefined by Oakey and company. There is no fear of technology of what the future will bring, because The Human League looks back at old culture junk, and somehow make it all new again. This is the sound of four guys in a group, or collective, that are commenting and reshaping their world. Listening to their music you can feel the English damp weather, and their electro-glam sound is hypnotic with catchy beats and sublime melodies. "Empire State Human" is a masterpiece. And their version of "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" feels just right in their hands. Ian Marsh, Martyn Ware (future Heaven 17), Philip Adrian Wright (responsible for their slides & film, and yet, a full-time member of The Human League) and of course, Oakey served a bleak, cold world, but I could live there.
Glenn Gould - Bach/ "The Art of the Fugue, Volume 1 (First Half)" Vinyl, LP, Remastered 2015 (Vinyl Passion Classical)
Originally recorded in 1962, this album by Glenn Gould performing and recording Bach's "The Art of the Fugue" on the organ is a sound that pretty much have been in my life for the past 50 or so years. My parents used to play this album at a very high volume. As far as I know this is the only recording with Gould playing the organ. These compositional pieces of music were Bach's exploration in monothematic instrumental works. Never written for any particular instrument, it is many ways Bach's thinking out a problem from a notebook. Gould I suspect was a musician who tackled music as an ongoing concern than a finished work of art. The process or the journey is very much of great importance to Gould, and it is intelligence as well as his skills on the keyboard that makes him such a fantastic artist.
The description above sounds cold, but the truth is, I often hum this melody in the bathtub. The ultimate riff builds on other riffs. It's like building a sand castle, and there is a wave coming in any second to tear down your structure. Trying to find the original mono Columbia Masterworks version is tough for me. I want one because that was the version that we had as a child, and I'm trying to recapture my childhood through the medium of vinyl. To recapture the past is a foolish activity because the memory is always the winner. Even over physical objects such as a vinyl from one's past. A European label, Vinyl Passion Classical, put this out in 2015 on vinyl. Not sure if it's a high-end bootleg label or an official release. The sound is great. And there is something magnificent about this music on vinyl. Gould has done so many superb recordings, but due to emotional reasons, this is my favorite Glenn Gould album.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Originally recorded in 1968, and a soundtrack to Roberto Faenza's film "Escalation," this is Ennio Morricone serving the boss. Very 1968 in parts especially with the sitar orientated cuts on side one. Being Morricone, there are choruses mixed with flute, an electric guitar that sometimes resembles a John Zorn game composition. The genius of Morricone is how he can even think of mixing genres and instruments on one piece of music. His imagination is as extensive and endless as a highway in the Texas desert. The music borders on the avant-garde, but the melodies kick in, and it becomes an odd hybrid of both worlds. Once again, Bruno Nicolai did the orchestration. The album is on yellow vinyl, for those who like their vinyl pretty, and in a limited edition of 500 copies.
It's rare that I comment on a brand new album and artist here, but Perfume Genius' "No Shape" is pure ear candy. Mike Hadreas simply has that "it" quality. The way pop music works is that it is always reminding you of the past, and there are traces of Bowie's "Hunky Dory" but now I'm picking up a touch of Prince, especially in the Prince-like title "Die 4 You." Soulful, smokey, and of course seductive, Hadreas has the ability to convey a world of pain that turns into pleasure.
There is a minimal sensibility in Hadreas' music, but this album opens up to other textures. The strings (not sure if they are real instrumentation are not) lurks like a creature from the deepest ocean, and about to nab the swimmer above. The aural landscape is dense. I have listened to this album on a streaming device, and that medium really doesn't capture the tone that one hears on vinyl. Producer Blake Mills and Hadreas made a thick soup in this mix, and one can take a spoon and choose whatever taste they wish. It's there in the deep textures of the mix.
Hadreas is a throwback to the image of the glam gay orientated 1970s. Not in a retro sense, but as a reminder of another world besides the overtures to the straight or conservative world that the gay community has orientated itself towards in recent times. A beautiful man making haunting ballads and noise at the same time. I'm a fan.
Monday, May 8, 2017
This was my first introduction to the band Japan, and the voice of David Sylvian. My first hearing experience was "a Roxy Music rip-off." And on top of that, what a horrible name for a band. It's common knowledge that any band that names itself after a city, a state, a country or continent, sucks. But I do have to admit, it's a great album cover. The second listening experience brought me pleasures that are still with me. Japan was a very original band.
Sylvian's voice is very mannered in the Bryan Ferry mode, but he uses it in a different method with respect to his music. As for the band, the strongest presence on "Tin Drum is Mick Karn's fretless bass playing. A remarkable musician. To me, he's the Brian Jones of the band. The rest of the instrumentation the drums or percussion is sparse (by Sylvian's brother Steve Jansen) but in a very jazzy complexed manner. The keyboards (Richard Barbieri) add electronic effects that are mood more than melody. Sylvian carries the melody in his vocals. The band and recording (by the great Steve Nye) are tight. Almost if the air has been sucked out of the room.
On the surface, it's Asian sounding, but why? It's almost like a Wittgenstein response in that you know what's in front of you, but one can't define the experience. There are song titles that bring the image for instance "Cantonese Boy," "Visions of China," and "Canton." But it's a very romantic, yet at the same time, dry look at a culture or country. This is not negative criticism. I think Japan is exploring worlds that are known, but to them at the time, perhaps not that well known.
The band is eye-candy as well. You can't go wrong with a group of young guys in make-up. But their style at this time was sort of like Asian minimal chic, with a touch of Brooks Brothers button collar shirts, but of course, with make-up. Fans take them seriously, but I think if there was no Japan there would be no Radiohead.
The great Richard Wagner melodies played by a six-member band, live, in what sounds like a cafe in Venice Italy. Uri Cane is a composer, and a jazz and classical pianist. He has done a similar treatment to Mozart's music, but for me, Wagner is the key ingredient for this type of cultural mash-up. What Caine did was bring Wagner back to earth, not as this insane over-the-top composer, but as a classical composer who wrote these tender sweet incredible melodies. So in other words, Wagner stripped down. The theater is gone, the Norse gods are zipped, and what we have here is cafe music played in front of what sounds like an audience in some outside cafe.
It's a peculiar choice to present Wagner's music in this light, but one that is highly effective and what's more important strips the image off (at least for this recording and band) to appreciate the Wagner experience without the dramatics. The ensemble besides Caine on piano, is two violins, an accordion, stand-up bass player, and Violoncello. By far my favorite Wagner recording of all time. And beautifully designed package as well.
One of Ennio Morricone's over-the-top or borderline insane soundtracks from the 1970s. The music sounds like it for a film that is Bond-like but even more cartoonish. Beautifully conducted by Morricone's fellow composer Bruno Nicolai, as the great one arranged the orchestra. It seems to me whenever Nicolai and Morricone get together for a session, it is usually a fun and wild music journey. Here we have jazz touches that border on Rota/Mancini but with the craziest scat vocals. Dissonant strings with horns and what sounds like a bongo drum playing with the melody as if it was a cat chasing a mouse.
It can be my imagination, but it seems on this one particular soundtrack Morricone plays homage to John Barry, Henry Mancini, and Nino Rota. The music is light, but under Morricone's direction, it's textured in various and surprisingly turns. Not a well-known Morricone, which is a crime. For sure it is the ultimate bachelor groove music, but I think with an additional touch of poison. And on a side note, one can pretty much trust the taste of the people who do the Dagored record/CD label. Their packaging and of course, music, is fantastic.
Barney Wilen/Alain Goraguer - "Jazz & Cinema Vol. 1" CD, Remastered, France, 2000 (Gitanes Jazz Productions/Jazz in Paris)
It's no top secret that the Paris culture loves American Jazz. Similar to American pop culture being in tuned to the British Invasion of the early 1960s. Gitanes, the tobacco company that probably killed Serge Gainsbourg and many others, had the good taste to sponsor a series of classic French Jazz sessions, that are way out of print, yet, essential to the jazzier and French cultural maven. I think I have the complete series. The majority of the recordings are from the post-war years in Paris, from 1946 to 1959. A lot of it is American and French musicians who made recordings for the French market. A lot of American musicians, especially Black Americans, made a good living in Paris during those years. Thanks to people like by beloved Boris Vian.
"Jazz & Cinema" comes to five separate CDs. Their first volume is devoted to the soundtracks of "J'Irai Cracher Sur Vos Tombes" by Alain Goraguer (based on a Boris Vian/Vernon Sullivan novel) and Un Témoin Dans La Ville by Barney Wilen. Both from 1959. Both are great scores by these magnificent talented musicians. Goraguer is of special interest to me, due that he had worked with Vian, Serge Gainsbourg, and made a pioneering electronic score for La Planète Sauvage. The CD series is not expensive, and all come with great liner notes and images of the original release. Their outer CD covers look like a tourist trap attraction but believe me, the sound is great and the talent/recordings are all magnificent.