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Fifty Year Friday: Nirvana “The Story of Simon Simopath; The Kinks “Something Else”

SimonSimopath.jpg

Recorded in July 1967 and released in October, before The Who’s “The Who Sell Out”, Van Park’s “Song Cycle”, or The Moody Blues “Days of Future Passed”, this album is more than just a collection of songs around a theme or concept; unlike many concept albums of 1967, this is a musical story — really the first such rock album to do this.

This is a story that mixes fantasy, allegory and science fiction.  It takes place in a psychedelic future, a six-dimensional city where Simon Simopath is a discontented little “citizen-boy” who more than anything wants to grow wings and fly.   Set before the turn of the 20th Century, his parents, like many parents of millennials, encourage Simon, telling him he can do anything he wants to do.  As one might guess, and as said to be the case with many millennials, Simon, on leaving school drifts from job to job, “unable to derive fulfillment from his work”, depressed for not having wings.  This results in a breakdown and Simon is hospitalized.  Unfortunately, mental therapy is not any more advanced in 1999 than it was in 1967, and Simon is released without results after six days.

Fortunately for Simon, he writes the Ministry of Dreams for the chance to take a supersonic space jockey test and passes, thus winning his wings, so to speak.  But note, we are still on side one with six more songs to go in this relatively short, approximately 25 1/2 minute album.

Not counting the studio musicians and the orchestra, Nirvana (this is the original group called Nirvana — not  Kurt Cobain‘s Nirvana that later settled out of court to pay for also using this name) is basically a singer-songwriter team of Irish musician Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Greek composer Alex Spyropoulos, who share vocal duties on this album. Campbell-Lyons also plays guitar and Spyropoulos is on keyboards.  Simon Simopath, overall, looks past the style typical the rock groups of 1967 towards that sparkling, creatively arranged pop-rock blend that George Martin and the Beatles perfected with Sgt. Pepper and that continues into the seventies with groups like Supertramp and XTC.  It shares qualities that one finds two years later in late 1969 in the Who’s Tommy (for example, the song “We Can Help You”) and even later in 1972 in the musical “Pippin.”

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

  • All songs written by Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropolous
  1. “Wings of Love” – 3:20
  2. “Lonely Boy” – 2:31
  3. “We Can Help You” – 1:57
  4. “Satellite Jockey” – 2:35
  5. “In the Courtyard of the Stars” – 2:36
  6. “You Are Just the One” – 2:07
  7. “Pentecost Hotel” – 3:06
  8. “I Never Found a Love Like This” – 2:50
  9. “Take This Hand” – 2:17
  10. “1999” – 2:09

The 2003 Universal Island Remasters collection includes both stereo and mono versions of the album on one disc. This release contains several bonus tracks:

  • 11. “I Believe in Magic” (b-side to “Tiny Goddess”)
  • 12. “Life Ain’t Easy” (previously unreleased version)
  • 13. “Feelin’ Shattered” (b-side to “Pentecost Hotel”)
  • 14. “Requiem to John Coltrane” (b-side to “Wings of Love”)

All songs composed by Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropoulos

Personnel

  • Patrick Campbell-Lyons – guitar and vocals
  • Ray Singer – guitar
  • Alex Spyropoulos – piano, keyboards and vocals
  • Michael Coe – French horn and viola
  • Brian Henderson – bass
  • Peter Kester – drums
  • David Preston – drums
  • Patrick Shanahan – drums
  • Sylvia A. Schuster – cello

Production notes

  • Chris Blackwell – executive producer
  • Brian Humphries – engineer
  • Syd Dale – conductor

About halfway through their four year ban from performing in the U.S., something that deprived the group of significant financial opportunities during their prime years, the Kinks released their fifth studio album around September 1967.

The music is immediately accessible and Ray Davies’ clever lyrics reflect upon English social situations, characters, and topics with a particularly English point of view.   Top tracks include “David Watts”, “Death of a Clown”, “Two Sisters” and “Waterloo Sunset.”

Nicki Hopkins, who adds vitality to the 1967 Rolling Stones’ “Between the Buttons” with his lively piano contributions, also takes this Kink’s album to another level starting with the opening seconds of “David Watts” and continuing with piano-infused improvements on several other tracks including the second track,  “Death of a Clown.”

“Two Sisters” includes harpsichord (not sure if this is Ray Davies or Nicki) and strings. “No Return” successfully incorporates elements of Bossa Nova with appropriate melody chord changes and nylon stringed acoustic guitar. “Situation Vacant” includes more Nicki Hopkin’s piano, some Ray Davies’ organ, and Dave Davies’ guitar, but it is the lyrics that most diverge from typical pop fare capturing the dynamics between husband, position, and an “ambitious” mother-in-law.”

Side two begins with the simple but catchy Dave Davies’ “Love me till (sic) the Sun Shines”, followed by a partly-psychedelic “Lazy Old Sun.” Dave Davies’ “Funny Face” is well arranged and includes an effective contrasting bridge-like section, similar to something Brian Wilson might compose.

“Waterloo Sunset” is one of Ray Davies’ best compositions ever, lyrically and musically, and brings a praiseworthy album to an effective close.

Track listing[Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Ray Davies, unless otherwise noted.

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. David Watts 2:32
2. Death of a Clown Dave Davies, R. Davies 3:04
3. Two Sisters 2:01
4. “No Return” 2:03
5. “Harry Rag” 2:16
6. “Tin Soldier Man” 2:49
7. “Situation Vacant” 3:16
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Love Me till the Sun Shines” D. Davies 3:16
2. “Lazy Old Sun” 2:48
3. “Afternoon Tea” 3:27
4. “Funny Face” D. Davies 2:17
5. “End of the Season” 2:57
6. Waterloo Sunset 3:15

Personnel

 

 

 

 

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Fifty Year Friday: Dizzy Gillespie in 1967

 

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First and most important: Happy Birthday, John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie.  Born one hundred years ago, on October 21, 1917 and blessing us music lovers with his presence until Jan 6, 1993, leaving a catalog of excellent to must-listen-to music for many generations of listeners.

I was lucky enough to see him live in Oslo, Norway in 1978 and hear him and his group play “Night in Tunisia.”  He was personable, relaxed, and loved being in front of a small auditorium of very attentive listeners.  The music was excellent and the time raced by.  At the end, I realized how lucky I was to get a ticket that very evening an hour or two before the performance, and thus be able to witness such amazing music.   I am also thankful that I had a friend, who earlier, in California, had persuaded me to go with him to listen to jazz artists like Sonny Stitt and Milt Jackson, leading my onto the path of developing my love for bebop.

You see, Dizzy was one of the founding fathers of bebop, along with other giants like Charlie ParkerThelonious Monk, and Bud Powell.  The recordings he made in the 1940s with Charlie Parker are essential listening, and are as an important part of musical history as the premiere of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” (aka “Le Sacre du printemps”), Alban Berg’s two amazing operas, or the British Invasion and the rise of The Beatles and development of progressive rock.

We are very fortunate that on October 1st, 1967, three sets of music were recorded at the Village Vanguard, the famous jazz New York City jazz club.  The Solid State LP includes three tracks, one from each set, with Dizzy, Pepper Adams on baritone saxophoneRay Nance on violin, Chick Corea on piano, Richard Davis on bass, and, on drums, Elvin Jones on “Dizzy’s Blues”, and  Mel Lewis on the other two tracks.  Later, Solid State releases two more LPs of material, which Blue Note later releases on CD in a 2 CD set.

This music is not to be missed, the musicians are excellent and the playing is riveting. If you want to sample the first LP released by Solid State, you can find it on youtube:

Track listing (all compositions by Dizzy Gillespie)

 

  1. Dizzy’s Blues (aka”Birk’s Works”) – 14:30 (This is edited and the complete, nearly eighteen minute version is available on the Blue Note 2 CD set)
  2. “Blues for Max” – 9:10
  3. “Tour de Force” – 9:45  (This is edited and the complete, nearly twelve minute version is available on the Blue Note 2 CD set)

Personnel[edit]

As great as this music is, I would advise to supplement it with another live album,  “Sweet Low, Sweet Cadillac.” The Impulse record label brings together recordings from three different concerts in May 1967, one in NYC and two in L.A. to provide another glimpse of what a Dizzy-led 1967 live performance was like.  The playfulness and charm of the master is captured as well as some great music. This is the only recording I have where Dizzy sings, and, though not at the level as the 1967 Village Vanguard recordings, this is a treat not to be missed.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Dizzy Gillespie except as indicated
  1. “Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac” – 7:17
  2. Mas que Nada” (Jorge Ben) – 6:15
  3. “Bye” – 1:15
  4. “Something in Your Smile” (Leslie Bricusse) – 2:40
  5. “Kush” – 15:50
  • Recorded at Memory Lane in Los Angeles, California on May 25 & 26, 1967

Personnel

Fifty Year Friday: Larry Young “Contrasts”; Joe Zawinul, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Stream”

Front Larry Young Contrasts

Trained in classical and jazz piano, playing as a teenager in R&B bands, then recording soulful jazz for the Prestige label as a leader, then switching to the Blue Note label, Larry Young records one strong album after another, including the innovative 1965 Unity album with Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson and Elvin Jones which includes a progressive jazz version of the exuberant victory march from Zoltan’s Kodaly’s opera, Háry János.

Young’s 1967 release, “Contrasts”, may not have the stellar personnel of Unity (Larry picks fellow Newark musicians that he knew or played with previously), but the musicianship and chemistry is excellent, and though “Contrasts” is not the classic that “Unity” is, it provides a magnetically engaging first side, and a diverse second side that includes a particularly evocative vocal sung by Althea Young (his wife, which as far as I know appears only one one other album, Young’s next Blue Note album), and ends with a free jazz track, “Means Happiness”.  Per the liner notes, Young was particularly fond of this last track, which is based on the word “Hogogugliang.” Unfortunately, an internet search on this term returns no matches, and I can find nothing that elaborates on the purpose or meaning of this track, except for the liner notes, which simply just indicates that “Hogogugliang” means happiness and is derived from Eastern thought.

Fans of modern jazz will not want to miss hearing the first side of this album, or the very tender and beautifully soulful version of Tiomkin’s “Wild is the Wind.”

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Larry Young except as indicated.
  1. “Majestic Soul” – 11:58
  2. “Evening” – 7:12
  3. “Major Affair” – 3:50
  4. Wild Is the Wind” (Dimitri TiomkinNed Washington) – 4:31
  5. “Tender Feelings” (Tyrone Washington) – 6:51
  6. “Means Happiness” – 4:47

Personnel

William Fischer  and Joe Zawinul were first introduced to each other in New Orleans, then, by chance, met a second time in Vienna (Zawinul judging an Austrian sponsored International Jazz Festival and Fischer working on an opera sponsored with a State Department grant),  and then once again by chance, met a third time at the Apollo Theater in New York where the got to know each other a little bit.  After some musical exploration together, in 1967, they recorded the music on “The Rise and Fall of the Third Stream” — the music composed and notated by William Fisher with one additional title composed by Austrian pianist and composer Friedrich Gulda. (Gulda also composed an interesting theme and variations on the Door’s “Light My Fire” and a Prelude and (jazzy) Fugue performed both by Gulda, and in an altered form during live concerts in the 1970’s, by Keith Emerson.)

Recorded in the latter part of 1967, beginning on October 16th, the “Rise and Fall of the Third Stream” is a thoughtfully composed and arranged album with a non-traditional string quartet (one bass, one cello and two violas), Joe Zawinul on piano, prepared piano, and electric piano, the composer, William Fischer on tenor sax, Jimmy Owens on trumpet, two hard bop jazz drummers, and classically trained Warren Smith on percussion.

Third Stream is the term composer  Gunther Schuller coined for music that blends elements of jazz and classical together, or in Schuller’s words exists “about halfway between jazz and classical music”, including jazz-like improvisation.  Although the title of this album seems to show a disdain for this term, the music embraces the concept fully, in the very best sense.  This is an excellent album from first track to last.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

  1. “Baptismal” (William Fischer) – 7:37
  2. “The Soul of a Village – Part I” (William Fischer) – 2:13
  3. “The Soul of a Village – Part II” (William Fischer) – 4:12
  4. “The Fifth Canto” (William Fischer) – 6:55
  5. “From Vienna, With Love” (Friedrich Gulda) – 4:27
  6. “Lord, Lord, Lord” (William Fischer) – 3:55
  7. “A Concerto, Retitled” (William Fischer) – 5:30

Personnel

 

 

Fifty Year Friday: Procol Harum “Procol Harum and The Doors “Strange Days”

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When I first heard Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade Of Pale” single in the summer of 1967 on AM radio, I had assumed it was an older song, perhaps from the late 1950s.  I was now twelve years old, but still musically very naive with no musical training except listening to AM radio and my very limited 45 collection assembled from the occasional 45 my grandfather gave me (he worked for Firestone and somehow he would sometimes get unused 45’s from the late 1950s) or from one of the few 45s my dad had purchased including two or three 45s of Ethel Merman and cast singing songs from “Annie Get Your Gun”, a Stan Kenton 45 of “Artistry in Rhythm” and a 45 with “Third Man Theme.”

“Whiter Shade of Pale” came and went on the Billboard charts, and I never gave the song or the group much thought, until later in life, when my next door neighbor brought over their “Grand Hotel” album.  Well, better late than never, and eventually I purchased their “Salty Dog” album, the A&M reissue of the first album, and their album with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.  This would be one of those rock groups that didn’t neatly fall into the progressive rock category, and one group that I was never particularly head-over-heels excited with, but I respected and appreciated for the well-written lyrics and well-crafted and arranged compositions.

Their first album, “Procol Harum”, was released around September 1967.  The original North American version on Deram includes “Whiter Shade of Pale” and omits “Good Captain Clack”, (also found on the b-side of the “Homborg” single), however the A&M 1972 reissue includes all the tracks of the original UK album plus “Good Captain Clack.”

Gary Booker’s dark baritone voice, along with his keyboards, Matthew Fisher’s Cimmerian organ, Robin Tower’s expressive guitar work and the high quality of Keith Reid’s lyrics and Booker’s compositions make this an engaging album.  Highlights include “Whiter Shade of Pale” (included on CDs and on the American LPs), “Conquistador” and “She Wandered Through the Garden Gate”, the guitar passages on “Cerdes” and “A Christmas Carol”, the organ and guitar in “Kaleidoscope”, the organ accompaniment and solos in “Salad Days”, and the Matthew Fisher composition, “Repent Walpurgis” which includes a Bach piano interlude and a couple of notable Trower guitar solos.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Gary Brooker and Keith Reid, except as noted.

Side A
No. Title Length
1. Conquistador 2:42
2. “She Wandered Through the Garden Fence” (two versions of this song were released—one with a “firm” ending, not a fade-out) 3:29
3. “Something Following Me” 3:40
4. “Mabel” 1:55
5. “Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)” 5:07
Side B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “A Christmas Camel” 4:54
2. “Kaleidoscope” 2:57
3. “Salad Days (Are Here Again)” (from the film Separation, 1968) 3:44
4. “Good Captain Clack” 1:32
5. “Repent Walpurgis” Matthew Fisher 5:05

US version

Side A
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. A Whiter Shade of Pale Brooker, Fisher, Reid 4:04
2. “She Wandered Through the Garden Fence” 3:18
3. “Something Following Me” 3:37
4. “Mabel” 1:50
5. “Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of)” 5:04
Side B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “A Christmas Camel” 4:48
2. “Conquistador” 2:38
3. “Kaleidoscope/Salad Days (Are Here Again)” 6:31
4. “Repent Walpurgis” Fisher 5:05
German version

Personnel[edit]

Procol Harum
Additional personnel
Technical
  • Simon Platz – executive producer (for Fly Records)
  • Eddy Offord, Frank Owen, Gerald Chevin, Keith Grant, Laurence Burridge – engineer

1967 had plenty of colorful, bright shimmering bands providing technicolor, rainbow-glistening music with plenty of upper register sunlight.  Procol Harum and the Doors provide a notably contrasting, distinctively dark, often gloomy, sound. They are more Mahler than Mozart, more Buxtehude than Vivaldi.  Even the bright spots, “Like People Are Strange” on the Doors second album, absorbs more light than it radiates.

“Strange Days” opens up with a repeating pattern anticipating German space rock, seetting an austere bleakness that is carried throughout the album.  The bass guitar intro that opens up “You’re Lost Little Girl” comes from dark subterranean underground caverns, supplemented by atmospheric and Morrison’s moog-synthesizer processed baritone vocals.

The dark, reflective music continues through the album.  “Horse Latitude” breaks the mood as it is more indulgent than germane to the overall mood of the album.  “People Are Strange” is more melodic and accessible, more catchy than indispensable, and more of a commercial single than an essential part of the album’s broad fabric, providing relief by breaking the general mood as well as providing an effective mood-based modulation to the upbeat “My Eyes Have Seen You.”  Elements of dusk and darkness resume with “I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind” and are nicely concluded with the final track, a nearly 11 minute psychedelic, expansive “When the Music’s Over” with its moog synthesizer, organ and Fender Rhode’s piano bass.

The lyrics, are dark, but at times spirited and environmentally militant.  Does Morrison foreshadow his death or the death of our environment?

“When the music’s over
When the music’s over
When the music’s over
Turn out the lights
Turn out the lights
Turn out the lights”
….
“Before I sink
Into the big sleep
I want to hear
I want to hear
The scream of the butterfly

“What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down
I hear a very gentle sound
With your ear down to the ground
We want the world and we want it…
We want the world and we want it…
Now
Now?
Now! “

 

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by The Doors (Jim MorrisonRay ManzarekRobby Krieger, and John Densmore).

Side A
No. Title Length
1. Strange Days 3:11
2. “You’re Lost Little Girl” 3:03
3. Love Me Two Times 3:18
4. “Unhappy Girl” 2:02
5. Horse Latitudes 1:37
6. Moonlight Drive 3:05
Side B
No. Title Length
7. People Are Strange 2:13
8. “My Eyes Have Seen You” 2:32
9. “I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind” 3:26
10. “When the Music’s Over” 10:58

Personal (from Wikipedia)

(Note: Not credited in Wikipedia, but there is clearly a moog synthesizer on the last track, “When the Music’s Over.”)

Previous Fifty Year Friday Posts:

The Beatles

Fifty Year Friday: Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington

Arthur Rubinstein/Pink Floyd

Marta Argerich and Carlos Paredes

Jimi Hendrix

David Bowie, Marc Bolan, John’s Children

John Coltrane/Jefferson Airplane

Thelonious Monk/McCoy Tyner

Hindustani Classical Music

The Doors

The Velvet Underground

Aretha Franklin/Simon Dupree and the Big Sound

Mahler recordings

Rolling Stones

Zappa/Beefheart

 

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