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Archive for December, 2017

Century Sunday: 1917 Part 2

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First off, HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone. Hope your 2018 is filled with discovery and joy!

Going back 100 years, 1917 approximately marks the end of the ragtime era and the beginning of the jazz era.  On April, 1, 1917, Scott Joplin, the “King of Ragtime”, died at the age of 48, having written dozens of published ragtime piano pieces, a ragtime ballet, and two operas, “A Guest of Honor”, confiscated in 1903 as collateral for non-payment of bills and lost forever, and “Treemonisha”, praised as, “…an entirely new form of operatic art” by  American Musician and Art Journal in 1911, then neglected for decades, and then finally receiving a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1976.

It’s hard to accurately assess Joplin’s influence on music, but one could make the case he was the most influential single composer of the last 150 years.  Stride, Jazz, Swing, Boogie Woogie, Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Roll, Rock, Progressive Rock, and Hip Hop all have the equivalent of genetic markers that go back to ragtime, of which, Joplin was the most important voice.  It’s not clear that without Joplin, serious ragtime composers like James Scott and Joseph Lamb would have ever had a voice, or if ragtime would have achieved enough momentum to have any popularity or influence.

In other classical music, we have new operas from Sergei Prokofiev   (The Gambler) , Giacomo Puccini (La rondine), and Richard Strauss (Die Frau ohne Schatten [Woman Without a Shadow].Carlos Chávez  composes his first Piano Sonata (Sonata fantasia), Claude Debussy his Violin Sonata in G minor, Alexander Glazunov his second Piano Concerto in B, Op. 100, Charles Ives his Three Places in New England , Maurice Ravel  the often played piano work, Le tombeau de CouperinOttorino Respighi his Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 1  , Igor Stravinsky his symphonic poem, Le chant du rossignol  and his “etude” for pianola, Karol Szymanowski his third piano sonata and his String Quartet No. 1 in C majorHeitor Villa-Lobos starts on his second symphony and completes his 4th String Quartet,  and Sergei Prokofiev  his Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 19, Visions fugitives),  two piano sonatas (Piano Sonata No. 3  and Piano Sonata No. 4) and his landmark neo-classical Symphony No. 1

Musicians born in 1917 include:

Ella Fitzgerald, jazz vocalist (d. 1996)

Lou Harrison, composer (d. 2003)

John Lee Hooker, blues singer, songwriter and guitarist (d. 2001)

Buddy Rich, jazz drummer (d. 1987)

Thelonious Monk, composer and jazz pianist (d. 1982)

Dizzy Gillespie, composer and jazz trumpeter (d. 1993)

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Seventy Year Saturday: 1947

With the world recovering from the worst war ever, World War II, and the cold war just starting, 1947 was a year of many musical landmarks.

In classical music, there are new operas by Benjamin Britten (Albert Herring),  Gian Carlo Menotti (The Telephone) Francis Poulenc (Les mamelles de Tiresias), and Virgil Thomson (The Mother of Us All.)  Sergei Prokofiev completes his  6th Symphony (Op. 111) reflecting the tragedies of World War II, and condemned by the Soviet government for its modernism. Arnold Schoenberg completes  A Survivor from Warsawthe grim story of a holocaust survivor during his ordeal in a Nazi concentration camp.  Other notable works composed in 1947 include the following completed compositions:  Samuel Barber – Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Vagn Holmboe – Symphony No. 6, Aram Khachaturian – 3rd SymphonyWitold Lutosławski – Symphony No. 1, Heitor Villa-Lobos – String Quartet No. 11William Walton – String Quartet in A minor —  and  Edgard Varèse – unfinished work, Tuning Up, a parody of the orchestra tuning process before the start of a concert.

In jazz, bebop artists continue to gain the attention of listeners, Thelonious Monk, at age thirty, records several masterpieces for Blue Note including Ruby My Dear, Off Minor, Well You Needn’t, In Walked Bud (a tribute to Bud Powell, based on the chord progressions of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies”), and the incredible ‘Round About Midnight.  Wardell Grey and Dexter Gordon record The Chase, and Dexter Gordon and Teddy Edwards record The Duel. Charlie Parker, Max Roach and Miles Davis record several sides together under various names (Charlie Parker All Stars, Miles Davis All Stars, Original Charlie Parker Quintet) in combination with various other musicians such as Bud Powell, Duke Jordan, John Lewis, and J.J. Johnson.  Parker also records tracks with trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro,  Howard McGhee, saxophonists Wardell Gray, Shorty Rogers, pianists Erroll Garner, Dodo Marmarosa, Russ Freeman, guitarist Barney Kessel,  bassist Red Callender,  and others, leaving some incredible recordings for future generations to marvel over.

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For those that were around New York City to catch live music, they could see the aforementioned Miles Davis All-Stars at the Savoy, Louis Armstrong at Carnegie Hall with his big band, and The Count Basie Orchestra at the Paradise Club in Atlantic City or at the Strand Theater in Lakewood, New Jersey, supporting Billie Holiday.

For musical theater lovers in London in 1947, Annie Get Your Gun (Irving Berlin) opened at the Coliseum on June 7 and ran for 1304 performances and Oklahoma! (Rodgers & Hammerstein) opened at the Theatre Royal on April 29 and ran for 1543 performances.

Of the many babies born in 1947, notable future rock composers and musicians include David Bowie and folk singer Sandy Denny, born in January, Derek Shulman and John Weathers of Gentle Giant born in February, Elton John in March, Steve Howe and Iggy Pop in April,  Ronnie Wood, Mick Fleetwood and Mickey Finn (T.Rex) in June, Brian May (Queen), Arlo Guthrie, Peter Banks (Yes, Flash), Mitch Mitchell (The Jimi Hendrix Experience) and Carlos Santana in July, Ian Anderson in July, Marc Bolan and Meat Loaf in September,  Bob Weir (Grateful Dead) and Laura Nyro in September, Greg Lake and Joe Walsh in November and Gregg Allman, Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra) and Burton Cummings in December.

In movies, we have the timeless Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street, as well as The Bishop’s Wife with Cary Grant and Loretta Lynn and It Happened on Fifth Avenue.

The next few years would bring major changes all over the world. Fortunately that world as it was in 1947 has been well documented in records, movies and books.

 

Fifty Year Friday: Singer/Songwriters; Additional Groups and Artists

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Singer/Songwriters

2017 is soon coming to a close, and so must our fifty year anniversary reflection on 1967.  If we had started these posts earlier in 1967, instead of starting mid-year, we could have highlighted many more albums.  Those we chose were personal favorites. Some of those not included are also worth noting.

1967 provide of wealth of albums by singer songwriters from Arlo Guthrie and his  captivating “Alice’s Restaurant” album to Van Dyke Parks first album, “Song Cycle.”

Warner Brothers Records hired Van Dyke Parks with high hopes based on his previous work with Harper’s Bizarre, The Byrds, Tim Buckley, and Paul Revere & the Raiders, and then spared no costs for Parks to record his album — racking up session hours and using a full orchestra.  When “Song Cycle” was played for the president of Warner Bros. Records, his reaction was apparent confusion: “Song Cycle?  Okay — where are the songs, then?” The label didn’t release the album until December 1967, a year after it was recorded, until, as the story goes, Jac Holzman of Elektra records offered to buy if from Warner Bros.   Once released, it’s sales where less than expected, and prompted Warner Bros.  to run full page newspaper and magazine advertisements that said they “lost $35,509 on ‘the album of the year’ (dammit)” and offered owners of the album the chance to send in their worn-out LPs of “Song Cycle” in exchange for two new copies, so one could be passed on to a friend.

Harry Nilsson authors his second album, Pandemonium Shadow Show, originally intended to be titled after Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, which is a mix of Nilsson songs and several covers including two Lennon/McCartney songs. Nilsson’s droll lyrics and musical arrangements provide character to a well-executed and produced album.  The album includes the definitive version of Nilsson’s “Without Her”, sparsely arranged with flute, electric bass, strummed guitar and cello. The album fared better in Canada then in the US, eventually catching the attention of  Beatles publicist Derek Taylor who sent copies to the Beatles.  Purportedly, John Lennon listened to the album over and over again, playing it back to back for a total of 36 consecutive hours.

1967 provided the release of two Bob Dylan albums, Dylan’s eighth studio album “John Wesley Harding”, an album filled with songs that appear were written first as poetry and then Dylan added music to them, and a greatest hits album compiling classic Dylan songs from his first seven albums.  For many of us, born between 1954 and 1960  this was our first exposure to Dylan besides what was played on AM radio.

Also for many of us born in that mid to late fifties time frame, the great North American singer songwriter of our time was not American Bob Dylan, but Canadian Roberta Joan “Joni” Mitchell.  At this time, Joni had not recorded an album but, after moving to the U.S. and performing in various clubs, was gaining attention from these performances and in several of her songs that more established artists recorded.

The most notable 1967 Joni Mitchell song, was recorded by Judy Collins on her 1967 album Wildflowers album (released in 1968.)  This song, “Both Sides Now”, would reach #8 on the U.S. pop singles, making it Judy Collins biggest hit and being the most contributing fact to the Wildflowers album peaking at the number 5 best selling album on December 1968.

Laura Nyro  released her debut album,  More Than a New Discovery Recorded in 1966, initially released in 1967, and then reissued in 1969 and again in 1973, this album showcases Nyro’s songwriting skill and versatility with many of the songs being covered by other artists, including “And When I Die” (Blood Sweat and Tears), Wedding Bell Blues” and “Blowin’ Away” (The Fifth Dimension), and “Stoney End” (Barbara Streisand.)

Recorded in 1966 and early 1967 the Deram label releases Cat Stevens’ first album,  Matthew and Son The album makes the UK Top 10, and has several successful singles. Later that year,  Stevens records New Masters which is released in December 1967, and sells significantly less copies than the first album.

Also in 1967, Tim Buckley released his second album, his most popular and generally most acclaimed album, Goodbye and Hello.   Tim Hardin released his second album,  simply titled Tim Hardin 2.  Leonard Cohen’s releases his first album, the captivating and engaging Songs of Leonard Cohen, after Judy Collins’ recording of his song “Suzanne” brought Cohen to the attention of legendary record producer  John Hammond. Cohen’s debut album begins with “Suzanne” and includes several fairly profound songs like “The Stranger Song”, “Sisters of Mercy”, and “Stories of the Street” as well as the well known “So Long, Marianne” referencing his close companion, Marianne Ihlen.

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Additional Notable Albums of 1967

The Beach Boys release two excellent albums, Smiley Smile and Wild Honey.  

Pretty Things releases their distinctly interesting, and accessible “Emotions” album, full of life and musical vibrancy with brass instruments adding further energy. Recorded in late 1966, and early 1967, it did not sell well, perhaps this was a result of ineffective distribution or marketing or perhaps the album was a bit ahead of its time, sounding more like it was recorded in 1968 or early 1969.

The first album of what many consider the first rock supergroup, Cream, sets the stage for later heavy rock bands (and by extension, heavy metal bands) with their second album, Disraeli Gears. Though there were many influences that spawned hard rock and heavy metal, Cream had a significant impact on many such younger rock musicians.

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Art (Art essential being an earlier formation of the group, Spooky Tooth), infuses rivulets of blues and wisps of psychedelia into their only album, Supernatural Fairy Tales  creating a thick-textured album, perfumed with an aroma of cannabis. Earlier to the recording of this album, several of the same musicians under the name “Hapshash and the Coloured Coat”  recorded an album earlier in 1967, titled “Featuring The Human Host And The Heavy Metal Kids” — this being, as far as I can tell, the first reference to “heavy metal.”

Other notable albums, many heavily psychedelic (and some incorporating elements of free jazz) were released by groups such as 13th Floor Elevators, The Aggregation, Ten Years After, AMM, Chocolate Watchband, Clear Light, Country Joe and the Fish, The Grateful Dead, Kaleidoscope, Mesmerizing Eye, Moby Grape, Orbital, Pearls Before Swine, Red Krayola (The Parable of Arable Land), Rupert’s People, Sagittarius, The Seeds, Sly and the Family Stone, Sopwith Camel, Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Steppeulvene, Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Animals, The Beethoven Soul, The Box, The Ceyleib People, The Easybeats, The Factory, The Fire Escape, The Freak Scene, The Incredible String Band, The Lefte Bank, The Motions, The Serpent Power, The Smoke, Smoky Robinson and the Miracles, The Turtles (Happy Together), The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, The Yardbirds, Thomas Edisun’s Electric Light Bulb Band, Vanilla Fudge, and various more accessible or highly commercial groups like The Association, The Grass Roots, The Ventures, The Monkees (put together for a U.S. television series), and The Young Rascals.

This only scratches the surface.  I have not mentioned artists like Albert King (Born Under a Bad Sign), Nina Simone, Miles Davis, John Coltrane (Expression), Sam Rivers, Charles Tyler (Eastern Man Alone), Bill Dixon, Blue Mitchell, Freddie Hubbard, Gary Burton, Graham Collier, Herbie Mann, Roland Kirk, Marvin Gaye, Magic Sam, Otis Spann,  John Mayall, Miriam Makeba, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, Buddy Tate, and many others, some of which I have covered in previous “Fifty Year Friday” posts: there are a number of incredible jazz albums as well as blues, rhythm and blues, and soul music albums.

Though the term progressive rock is more formerly applied to many of the more adventurous and classically influenced bands of the early 1970s, for my money 1967 was the childhood of progressive rock with the birth perhaps occurring in 1966 with Beach Boys Pet Sounds, the Beatles’ Revolver and many psychedelia-tinged albums released in 1967, but recorded at the end of 1966. I challenge anyone to deny the progressiveness of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Procol Harum, Van Dyke Parks, or even groups like The Who, The Beach Boys, or The Doors.

This was a vital period in the expansion and diversification of rock music, the like of which has not been seen since.  Fortunately for us, even albums that were nearly impossible to get a hold of in 1967 are now relatively readily available, not only on CD, or in some cases freshly, pressed LPs, but also available through streaming services or on Youtube.

Most importantly, have a happy and fulfilling 2018, and don’t neglect to broadly explore the immensity of great music available to those of us alive today.

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Previous Fifty Year Friday Posts for the year 1967:

The Beatles: Sgt Peppers

The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour

Jimi Hendrix: Are you Experienced

Jimi Hendrix: Axis: Bold as Love

The Who: The Who Sell Out

Moody Blues: Days of  Future Passed

Byrds, Hollies and Buffalo Springfield

Love “Forever Changes”

Far Out 1967, Part One

Far Out 1967, Part Two

Nirvana “The Story of Simon Simopath; The Kinks “Something Else”

Dizzy Gillespie in 1967

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

Procol Harum “Procol Harum and The Doors “Strange Days”

Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington

Arthur Rubinstein, Pink Floyd

Marta Argerich and Carlos Paredes

David Bowie, Marc Bolan, John’s Children

John Coltrane, Jefferson Airplane

Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner

Hindustani Classical Music

The Doors: The Doors

The Velvet Underground

Aretha Franklin, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound

Mahler recordings

Rolling Stones: Between The Buttons

Jobim, Zappa, Beefheart

Fifty Year Friday: The Who Sell Out

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“Power pop is what we play—what the Small Faces used to play, and the kind of pop the Beach Boys played in the days of ‘Fun, Fun, Fun‘ which I preferred.” Pete Townshend (1967)

Somewhere in the mid sixties, rock and roll was replaced with rock.  The rock and roll music of the fifties, primarily based on blues and variations of blues chord sequences, slowly was overshadowed by music that was more message and substance oriented. The Beach Boys classic “Fun, Fun, Fun”, and the 1967 masterwork “Good Vibrations” is clearly Rock and Roll. The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is clearly rock.  I don’t recall the year, but sometime in the late sixties, I started correcting my dad when he referred to rock music as “rock ‘n roll” — I disdained Rock and Roll as a relic and lower form of music,  and loved Rock for its broad musical diversity and, for the best of it, it’s reach beyond dance music to serious listening music.

The Who, part of the British Invasion, deviated from what was pretty much a rock and roll group in 1965, opening their first album “My Generation” with “Out in the Street” immediately followed with James Brown’s “I Dont’ Mind” and songs like “The Good’s Gone”,  “La-L-La Lies”, “Please, Please, Please”, “It’s Not True”,  and Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man. ” However, like the Beatles, there were significant forays into a newer musical expression as hinted in “A Legal Matter” and in the instrumental “Ox.” By their second album, we get true rock pieces like John Entwistle’s classic “Boris the Spider.  By the third album, “The Who Sell Out”, an imaginative concept album that includes commercials interspersed throughout, mocking the format of commercial radio stations, The Who are a seasoned rock group writing and performing rock compositions, making use of such “power pop” chord progressions, modulations, and power chords (chords structures found in earlier Who songs such as”My Generation” and “Boris the Spider” — chords that just have the root and fifth — this not only omits the note that provides the major or minor quality of a traditional triad, but produces a simpler harmonic footprint producing an especially powerful effect when played loudly) that create a sound that is easily identifiable as the sound of The Who.  This is not the power pop of rock and roll, but power pop that is part of the new rock music movement.

The album opens strikingly, and aligning with it’s wanton-commercialism concept, with a jingle followed by John “Speedy” Keen’s (a friend of Who main songwriter and guitarist Pete Townshend) “Armenia, City in the Sky” — starting out much like a radio ad, lyrically, with “If you’re troubled and you can’t relax” but soon followed with more mind-altering-like lyrics and with a 1967 psychedelic and imaginatively crafted arrangement including backwards french horn bursts and various guitar effects.

“Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand” is both melodically appealing and lyrically bold (“Mary-Anne with the shaky hands — what they’ve done to a man, those shaky hands.”) Musically, “Odorono” is even more notable, forging towards the musical style perfected on their next album and yet done as a deodorant jingle.  If one doubts the genius of Pete Townshend to align music and lyrics without compromising either, this is prima facie evidence of his capabilities, as is the track that follows: “Tattoo” a tune that could work very well as jingle for the Tattoo industry.

“Our Love Was” is an ethereal gem, maintaining energy and vibrancy to the end, with Entwistle’s French Horn providing just one of many elements that make this arrangement special.

The Who’s 1967 hit, and arguably the best song of the album, if not of Townshend’s career, is “I Can See for Miles”, punctuated perfectly by Keith Moon’s drums and cymbals.

The second side, is also excellent and includes  “I Can’t Reach You”, “Relax”,  Entwistle’s chromatically-flavored, organ-accompanied “Silas Stingy”,  the beautiful “Sunrise” and the Who’s second miniature rock opera, “”Rael (1 and 2)”, even shorter than their first mini-rock opera, “”A Quick One, While He’s Away” on their previous album.

Released in the UK in December 1967 and the US on Jan 7th, 1968, some of the musical techniques employed in “The Who Sell Out” will be more fully explored in their 1969 full-length rock opera,  “Tommy”, which also further develops  musical material in the songs “Sunrise” and “Rael.”  Though this album was only marginally successful in the US when first released, climbing no higher than the 48th spot on the Billboard album chart, perhaps due to its unusual jingle-based concept, it is one of the best albums of 1967, music that should be explored by those looking to better understand the history of rock (as opposed to  rock and roll) or just looking for some well written, enjoyable power pop music.

Track listing and song credits

Last week’s Fifty Year Friday

 

 

Century Sunday: 1917 Part 1: Sweatman, OJDB, Kreisler, and Heifitz

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Son of a barber in Brunswick, Missouri, Wilbur Coleman Sweatman learned piano as a child from his older sister and soon started playing the violin, perhaps having taught himself on the instrument.  Later he also learned clarinet and made this his primary instrument touring with circus bands, eventually leading dance and jazz bands, and developing the unusual skill of playing two, and then later, three clarinets at once.

He recorded several cylinders and records as bandleader, one of the being possibly the very first recording of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag.  In 1911, he published “Down Home Rag” a work in 4/4 time (as opposed to the usual 2/4 time of ragtime works) that shares elements of the contemporary fox trots and turkey trots of the time.

In  December 1916, in a New York recording studio, Sweatman recorded two takes of “Down Home Rag”, each with notable melodic variations, arguably establishing him as the first band leader to have recorded jazz and these recordings as the very first recorded jazz records.  This was two months earlier than the Original Dixie Jazz Band recorded “Livery Stable Blues” and “Dixeland Jass Band One Step”, the latter based on Joe Jordon’s “That Teasin’ Rag” and being the first record to ever contain the word “jass”.  Later in 1917, Wilbur Sweatman would record additional tracks, several of which contained the word “jass” or “jazz” in their titles.  For additional information on Wilbur Sweatman, please refer to the excellent and well-researched biography, “That’s Got ’em: The Life and Music of Wilbur C. Sweatman” By Mark Berresford

Though Wilbur Sweatman recorded the first jazz record, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB) recorded the first record with the work “jass” or “jazz” in the title, when they recorded “Dixeland Jass Band One Step” in February 1917. More importantly, their record label, Victor, effectively promoted their material, even if as novelty, providing the sound of something akin to jazz to record buyers all over the country.  Already successful as a dance band, first in Chicago, then in New York, the fame brought by these recordings, and their next set on Columbia, further increased not only the popularity of the ODJB, but was a catalyst for jazz in general. Soon bands all over the country included the word “jazz” in their name or the titles of the records and soon true improvisational jazz music was available live and through records to a diverse audience across the United States.

Though jazz predates the recordings of Wilbur Sweatman and the Original Dixieland Jazz band by several years, records and the phonograph were the primary reason for the rapid spread and adoption of jazz as not only trendy, but popular and indispensable music.

Composer, and the greatest violinist of his generation (born in 1875, died in 1962). Fritz Kreisler recorded several times in 1917 for the Victor label. Taken with earlier recordings on Victor, going back to 1910, we are left with a diverse set of miniatures, some of which are Kreisler’s own compositions, some of which were even credited to other composers, long dead, until Kreisler revealed they were his own compositions in the style of those composers.

These are acoustic recordings, as were all recordings in 1917 and up until about 1925, which means that instead of using microphones to capture sound, large horns were used that generated vibrations to etch the groves in the mastering cylinder (very early on) or platter. In addition, the rotation of the platter was mechanical and not electrical. The performer or performers had to position themselves near the horn and the resulting recording had a limited frequency range between 250 to 2500 Hz (Hertz or cycles per second: vibrations per seconds, known as the frequency, determining musical pitch and the nature of the sound since a given instrument produces a set of vibrations for any given note.)  The human hearing range is around 20 Hz to 2000 Hz and the notes on the piano range from 27.5 Hz to 4186 Hz.  250 Hz is not very low: for example, the highest of the four open strings on the cello sounds at 220 Hz and middle C on the piano is around 262 Hz. The B natural, only a semitone below, is around 247 Hz, meaning that the left hand accompaniment of a piano piece like “Maple Leaf Rag”, disregarding “overtones” or the additional upper frequencies that the piano or any instrument produces for each given note, is almost entirely below the lower limit of the range available to recordings in 1917.  Thus, while one could record piano pieces on this technology, or in the case of many of the Kreisler recordings, violin with piano accompaniment, it sounds very thin and strange.  The amazing thing, psychologically, is how the listener adjusts and soon gets comfortable with the recorded sound, as unfaithful as it is to the original performance.

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Shortly after his Carnegie Hall debut on November 7, 1917 RCA started recording Jascha Heifitz, only a couple of months away from his 17th birthday.  Just as Kreisler was the most notable and celebrated  violinist of his generation, Heifitz (1901-1987) was the most prominent and acclaimed violinist of his generation.

These 1917 recordings of Heifitz available on CD are compelling and vital.  The transfers are good, and once one puts in some time listening to recordings of this era, the significant sonic limitations of the acoustic recording process don’t pose any serious barrier to enjoying the music. We are very fortunate that Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, allowing it to develop, although slowly from a 21st Century person’s perspective. so that by 1917 we start having some real treasures of music captured forever on these ten and twelve inch shellac disks.

 

Fifty Year Friday: The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Axis: Bold as Love”

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Recorded in May and June 1967, and released in December 1967, composer, lyricist and guitarist, Jimi Hendrix shows a stunning amount of development since the recordings sessions (October 1966 through April 1966) of the first album, “Are You Experienced?”

The opening of the first track of “Axis: Bold as Love” borders on the puerile, yet to the rescue with the entrance of Hendrix’s guitar at the thirty-three second mark, we are assured of the exceptional.  Based on just the contents of the last eighty seconds of this first track, one can effortlessly make the case that Hendrix says far more in this one brief passage than can be found in Stockhausen’s entire “Hymen” (covered here in an earlier post.)

From there on, this album neatly blends the accessible with cutting edge guitar work and effective “interactiveness” (“interaction” is too weak of a word to use here) between bass, drums and Hendrix guitar.  With “Up From the Skies” we get a more relaxed, self-confident Hendrix on vocals than on the previous album, but still with more advanced and interesting instrumental passage work, indicative of much of his work in his later albums.  “Spanish Castle Magic” picks up musically from where “Foxy Lady” left off. Notable here is the bass/drums musical punctuation which becomes such a prevalent device in progressive rock and heavy metal (particularly Led Zeppelin which Hendrix purportedly never much cared for,  considering them excess baggage — a group that stole from others.  The closest to a direct Hendrix quote on this topic, attributed by Keith Altham and published in Melody Maker, shortly after Hendrix’s death in September 1970, was “I don’t think much of Led Zeppelin—I don’t think much of them. Jimmy Page is a good guitar player.”)

The album continues with “Spanish Castle Magic”, which again shows a more developed and innovative approach then the first album’s excellent “Fire”, including Hendrix adding a backward guitar track  Though the next two songs,  “Wait Until Tomorrow” and “Ain’t No Telling” are not particularly musically interesting, the arrangement adds enough life to make them solid dance selections.  And, as consistent through this album, Hendrix lyrics and guitar work take these works well above the ordinary.

“Little Wing”, a beautiful ballad, and “If Six Was Nine” are classics.  “You’ve Got Me Floating” is a positive and upbeat diversion, with Graham Nash and Move band members providing the back-up vocals in the chorus. Introduced with backward guitar, “Castles Made of Sand” provides us with another reflective Hendrix ballad. The next song, “She’s So Fine”, is written by bassist Noel Redding, and is a prototypical English rock song, with a Who-like chorus, and some interesting guitar from Hendrix. The Hendrix guitar solo at the end is just enough to provide justification for its inclusion.

“One Rainy Wish” starts out ballad-like in 3/4 (with a 4/4 and 5/4 measure added to enhance a dreamy introduction), lushful and soulful, then modulates into a heavy metal exuberant 4/4 chorus and then back to the A section with a fade out coda. “Little Miss Lover” includes Hendrix use of a wah-wah pedal, an effect that would be adapted by countless rock guitarists later on.

A craftsman and perfectionist, Hendrix and his vision for this album was somewhat compromised with the objective of producer Chas Chandler, which basically was to get to the final take as efficiently and quickly as possible.  Thankfully, the final track, “Bold As Love” (with lyrics openly confessing that the negative emotions are, unfortunately, as capable of being as bold as love, and limiting us in giving and receiving love) was not rushed — with at least twenty-seven takes, and four different endings tried. The song starts off, casually, then shifts to an anthem-like chorus, with the effective interplay between the verse and chorus — the chorus triumphant, celebrating victoriously, and apparently ending the piece — but instead rather providing the embers for an Olympian coda, which rises like that mythical Phoenix, accompanied by mellotron and transcendental guitar, to provide a majestic finale to a song and an album unlike any other released in 1967.

One may be tempted to ask how musical history would have been different if Chas Chandler had produced “Sgt. Peppers” and George Martin had produced “Axis: Bold as Love.”  But like all such silly speculation (what if Lekeu age 24, had lived as long as Schubert, age 31, and Schubert had lived as long as Mozart, 35,  and Mozart had lived as long as Chopin 39, and Chopin had lived as long as Beethoven, 56, and Beethoven had lived as long as Stravinsky, 88) time is much better spent listening to those musical masterpieces left to us by the musical masters of their time.   “Axis: Bold as Love” is one of those masterpieces.

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Fifty Year Friday: Decca Panoramic Sound, Deram; Moody Blues “Days of Future Passed”

91e2plus49l-_sl1500_The listener of recorded music of the first six decades of the twentieth century will notice the leaps in improvement of recordings over those decades.  And though the sound improvements that took place in the sixties were not as dramatic as those before, progress did continue in creating more realistic and/or more engaging recordings.

Decca recording engineers experimented with ways of improving stereo recordings. They created a technique called “Decca Panoramic Sound” which created more depth and sound positioning.  Previously,  stereo recordings of jazz, folk and rock albums usually ended up with some music on the right channel, some on the left and some in the center (for example, the Beatles’ stereo version of Rubber Soul or Revolver.)  This not only made the music sound artificial but created a sense of detachment of parts from a natural whole.   With “Decca Panoramic Sound” or Deramic sound, for short, a more natural representation of a performance was possible, achieved primarily through a pairing of four-track tape recorders (later replaced by a true 8 track recording set-up) allowing engineering techniques that could place the content of any track at virtually any point of a left-to-right sound field.

Decca then launched Deram Records to realize this potential for rock, folk and easy-listening recordings.  In October 1967, six easy listening albums (“Strings in the Night, “Brass in the Night”, etc.)  were released using this new approach. Soon afterwards, as Deram continued to sign more interesting artists, in November 1967, Deram released the orchestra-backed, ambitious album Days of Future Passed by the Moody Blues.

Originally, the story goes, the Deram’s intent was to have the Moody Blues record a version of Dvorak’s New World Symphony.  Fortunately, the band had more interest in  their own original material and recorded what some people consider to be the first progressive rock album ever and others consider to be the first true rock concept album. (For those that read the post on Nirvana’s Simon Simopath’s concept album, although Nirvana’s album was released a month earlier, The Moody Blue’s album’s first session occurred in May 1967, two months before Nirvana’s recording session for “Simon.”  In terms of determining what is progressive rock, that is perhaps a topic for another post.)

Though basically an album of the psychedelic era, with its mellotron, tambura, sitar, spoken poetry,  pastoral, mellow musical elements, colorful lyrics, symbolic use of a single day to represent a higher abstraction, and psychotropically-flavored album cover, this is also album that blurs the boundaries between rock and classical music, which along with its use of a song cycle on the life of a given day, high quality music, and musical coherence creating a sense of a single work as opposed to a set of songs, establishes this is a work with more than just a commercial objective:  a work with an artistic purpose — a common characteristic found in these musically progressive albums of 1967.

Side 1: The Day Begins 5:45; Dawn: Dawn Is A Feeling 3:50; The Morning: Another Morning 3:40;  Lunch Break: Peak Hour 5:21

Side 2: The Afternoon: Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?) 8:25; Evening: The Sun Set: Twilight Time 6:39; The Night: Nights In White Satin 7:41

More complete track listing from Wikipedia

Musicians

The Moody Blues:

 

 

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