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Archive for the ‘1968’ Category

Fifty Year Friday: Joan Baez, Baptism: A Journey Through Our Time, Randy Newman

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From 1967 continuing into 1968 and forward, popular music continues to become more serious, stimulating, and consequential at the same time that modern concert hall music (commonly called twentieth century classical music, modern classical music or avant-garde classical music) continues to struggle to appeal to sizable audiences, with most classical music concerts programming music from the 19th and 18th centuries with a few early, relatively accessible twentieth century works, like Debussy’s orchestral works or Stravinsky’s Firebird included now and then.

In the late sixties many of the best artists and bands in popular music became just as intent on creating works of artistic value as anyone in the more traditional and established areas of the fine arts.  When such artists or bands were lacking in a given area, they would either extend their own skills or reach out to others to assist them in completing a given objective or vision.  More and more this meant including orchestration in their albums.  At first this may have been more driven by producers and the commercial interests of the record companies, and in many of these cases the orchestration was added as something appended to the original product, as in the case with Stanley Turrentine’s “Look of Love” where strings are overdubbed on top of previously  recorded tracks.  But there were also many cases where the orchestration was part of the fabric of the music — or where electronic keyboards and more sophisticated usage of electric guitars, electric bass guitars and percussion replace the instruments of the traditional orchestra, further empowering the artistic determination of the artist or band.

Before the prevalence of electronic keyboards, either the artist or someone in the band had to be a skilled orchestrator or be able to effectively collaborate with a skilled arranger and orchestrator.  In Joan Baez’s case, she was able to partner with Peter Schickle on three of her albums.  Schickle, the mastermind behind PDQ Bach, with three PDQ Bach albums already to his credit on Vanguard, was also composing for film when he partnered with her for the third time on Joan’s 1968 concept album, Baptism. Though neither a commercial nor critical success, Baptism is a strong political statement against war and the ongoing inhumanity characteristic of “civilized” societies.  No doubt, some who had purchased this album were disappointed at the ratio of spoken word to singing, and I suspect this is not an album many will care to listen to more than once or twice, but as a document of the times, this remains an effective artistic statement with a well-selected mix of readings. some excellent orchestration, and Baez’s beautiful vocals.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

  1. “Old Welsh Song” (Henry Treece)
  2. “I Saw the Vision of Armies” (Walt Whitman)
  3. “Minister of War” (Arthur Waley)
  4. “Song In the Blood” (Lawrence FerlinghettiJacques Prévert)
  5. “Casida of the Lament” (J.L. Gili, Federico García Lorca)
  6. “Of the Dark Past” (James Joyce)
  7. London” (William Blake)
  8. “In Guernica” (Norman Rosten)
  9. “Who Murdered the Minutes” (Henry Treece)
  10. “Oh, Little Child” (Henry Treece)
  11. “No Man Is an Island” (John Donne)
  12. “Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man” (James Joyce)
  13. “All the Pretty Little Horses” (Traditional)
  14. “Childhood III” (Arthur Rimbaud, Louis Varese)
  15. “The Magic Wood” (Henry Treece)
  16. “Poems from the Japanese” (Kenneth Rexroth)
  17. “Colours” (Peter LeviRobin Milner-GullandYevgeny Yevtushenko)
  18. All in green went my love riding” (E. E. Cummings)
  19. “Gacela of the Dark Death” (Federico García LorcaStephen Spender)
  20. “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young” (Wilfred Owen)
  21. “Evil” (N. Cameron, Arthur Rimbaud)
  22. “Epitaph for a Poet” (Countee Cullen)
  23. “Mystic Numbers- 36”
  24. “When The Shy Star Goes Forth In Heaven” (James Joyce)
  25. “The Angel” (William Blake)
  26. “Old Welsh Song” (Henry Treece)

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It’s certainly not a mystery why talented composers would choose to pursue the popular music of their times — music that they listen to, their friends listen to, and reflect the time they live in — as opposed to less popular music of academia, which can only unconvincingly assert its lineage to the great music of  Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.  One should expect that the most engaging, commercially viable, and prevalent music would attract a substantial proportion of able and talented musicians and composers: it was the case during the jazz era, the swing era, the be-bop era, and in the late sixties, during some of the most exciting days of rock music.

Randy Newman’s father and mother were not professional composers, but three of his uncles were:  Alfred NewmanLionel Newman and Emil Newman  — all noted Hollywood film-score composers, with the most famous, Alfred Newman, conducting, arranging and composing about two-hundred film scores, nine of which won Academy Awards.  Randy already had written a number of songs including a B-side (“They Tell Me It’s Summer”) for a hit single of the Fleetwoods (“Lovers by Night, Strangers by Day”), the song lyrics for Bobby Darin’s “Look at Me” (the title song of the 1964 movie, “The Lively Set”), and songs recorded by Dusty SpringfieldPetula ClarkJackie DeShannon, and the O’Jays, when he dropped out of UCLA, only one semester short of a music degree. By then, he had taken courses in music theory, music history and probably one or more orchestration classes, though clearly he had already learned the basics before his UCLA studies having written background music for a 1962 episode of TV’s The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and then eventually providing music for other TV shows including  Lost in SpacePeyton Place,  Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and one of my favorites as kid, Judd For The Defense.

With several years of experience in songwriting and orchestra scoring, Randy Newman released his first album, Randy Newman, in June of 1968.  The album did not sell well, and Warner Brothers provided any dissatisfied buyers the opportunity to exchange the album for any other album in their catalog.

But this album is a keeper.  From the beginning we see a thoughtful approach to songwriting.  The first song, “Love Song” immediately makes an impact with its dry, wry humor, its shrewdly crafted orchestration, and its structure: Newman’s ending to the song eschews the standard return of the chorus and ends with a bridge section that is followed by a final, modified verse with a simple brief coda, creating not a climax, but an ending that aligns well with the sober, yet tongue-in-cheek message: “When our kids are grown with kids of their own, they’ll send us away to a little home in Florida; we’ll play checkers all day ’til we pass away.”

Newman’s unique delivery, the reflective piano accompaniment, the excellent orchestration, often veering intentionally away from the core song material, make their mark on each and every track.  Repeatedly Newman is taking up the voice of the underdog, the rejected, or the trodden-down, forgotten citizen, even when reflecting on the status of God as in “I Think He’s Hiding.”  Songs like “Bet No One Every Hurt So Bad”, “Living Without You”, and “Linda” not only reflect on the sadness and angst of the persona of the lyrics (the point of view, narrator, speaker) but provide commentary on the character of that persona such that we may feel some sympathy but would sometimes also wish to distance ourselves a little from some of these characters if they came into our vicinity.

On the song “Cowboy”, perhaps the best song on the album, we feel genuine empathy and compassion for the persona. This is a song from the heart without any clever commentary or cloaked irony.  Newman raises this to an art song with his orchestration.  The work starts off with the images of the prairie, the orchestration developing and sculpting the mood, supporting the lyrics and evoking some of the characteristics of the music of Aaron Copland. Following “Cowboy”, “Beehive” is an interesting variant on the well-known “St. James Infirmary Blues”, followed by the classic “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”, recorded by Judy Collins in 1966.  Ending this excellent album is “Davy The Fat Boy” — a track that might be considered politically incorrect today, but it is not a portrait about Davy but about the scoundrel exploiting him.  The orchestration/arrangement is again the star here, and it is every bit of an art song as anything turned out by the Beatles or Beach Boys.

In an act of full disclosure here, I once saw Newman perform “Love Story” on network television a very long time ago — perhaps this was in 1970 on an “In Concert” program — or perhaps on late night TV — and at that time, hearing him accompanied only by his piano, I was not impressed enough to follow-up further by purchasing an album or requesting it as a possible present for the next birthday or Christmas.  It turned out that for me, Randy Newman was an acquired taste, cemented by taking a music history course at my local college during my senior year in high school, in which course, the cellist, and course instructor, Terry King, played part of Newman’s “Sail Away” album. King had played on that album and reminisced about the experience.  Later that same week, Mr. King played, with great pride, a recording of Schubert’s Erlkönig.  At the end, one of the students asked “what was so special about that?  It’s just a song.”  King, unflustered, replied that no, Erlkönig was not an ordinary song, it was truly something extraordinarily special, but didn’t go into any details to support that conclusion.  At that point, I thought, yes, Schubert’s Erlkönig is quite dramatic and special — and even catchy, in an early-nineteenth-century-equivalency-of-hard-rock sort of way — but it is a song — and I thought back to that earlier class in which King had played Randy Newman — someone who also wrote songs, but one hundred and fifty years later. Yes, a song is a song, but there is no particular boundary to how good (or bad) it can be.  It’s up to the listener to make that evaluation, and if enough listeners have a favorable opinion over time, that song may have some longevity.

So possibly, the songs of Randy Newman will be around in the 22nd century.  If so, this album, out of print for fifteen years before being released on CD, and generally ignored by the rock critics of 1968, provides more than just an interesting assortment of early Randy Newman tunes, but a complete, and rewarding, musical experience.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All songs written and arranged by Randy Newman.

  1. “Love Story (You and Me)” – 3:20
  2. “Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad” – 2:00
  3. “Living Without You” – 2:25
  4. “So Long Dad” – 2:02
  5. “I Think He’s Hiding” – 3:04
  6. “Linda” – 2:27
  7. “Laughing Boy” – 1:55
  8. “Cowboy” – 2:36
  9. “Beehive State” – 1:50
  10. I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” – 2:55
  11. “Davy the Fat Boy” – 2:50
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Fifty Year Friday: 1968 Jazz-Rock and Fusion

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In the late 1960s, rock music’s commercial value to the record companies far exceeded that of their jazz and classical products.  This led to many dismal outcomes, including two particularly appalling trends.  One was to try to commercialize and update jazz, with the record companies convincing (and in many cases failing to convince) reluctant jazz musicians to include rock tunes in their albums, often resulting in half-hearted attempts that included some token improvisation between the initial statement of one or more verses and the chorus and their return.  The other was to try to elevate rock music, or provide a more palatable version of it to older consumers, by saccharine orchestral or quasi-big band arrangements.  The cultural impact and commercial success of such attempts were thankfully very limited.

At the same time, a diverse range of rock groups were incorporating jazz elements into their music, and, musicians with varying degrees of jazz experience or jazz exposure were being included in some bands. Soon Miles Davis and John McLaughlin would make jazz fusion history and reap wide commercial recognition and compensation.  But prior to that, the talented and innovative vibraphonist Gary Burton, looking to make the move away from straight-ahead jazz and appeal to younger audiences drew upon his own love of popular music and started to blend jazz and rock elements in a series of four notable albums in 1967 and 1968.

Gary Burton worked with Stan Getz from 1964-1966,  during the period of Getz’s continuing ascendancy into fame from his successful merging of samba, bossa nova and jazz — Getz achieving significant recognition and acclaim from the 1963 Getz/Gilbert album that included the incredibly commercially popular “Girl From Ipanema.”  Perhaps Burton learned invaluable lessons of the breadth and flexibility of jazz, and that when it honestly and sincerely embraced and fully incorporated other elements, how it could extend its capabilities and capacity to appeal and captivate to a wide range of listeners.  Or perhaps Burton just followed his instinct of embracing the music he loved and creating music that, most of all, appealed to himself.

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During this period that Gary was working with Stan Getz, the first historically significant jazz-rock group, The Free Spirits, formed in 1965.  Playing in New York as opening acts or at very small venues, their music ranged from rock and roll to psychedelic rock,  similar to other rock bands — with the exception of the jazz background of four of their five members.  For the most part, the jazz element present was similar to the jazz element in contemporaneous rhythm and blues.  The songs on their 1967 Out of Sight and Sound album are appealing and accessible, with solid, often frenetic and dynamic drumming from Bob Moses, soulful, bluesy saxophone from Jim Pepper (no relation to Art Pepper),  and catchy compositions and expressive guitar work from Larry Coryell.  Additional band members were rhythm guitarist Columbus “Chip” Baker and bassist and vocalist Chris Hills.

After the Out of Sight and Sound album, Larry Coryell, and then later,  Bob Moses, joined up with Gary Burton.  Just as Larry Coryell significantly influenced the sound of the Free Spirits towards a contemporary rock sound, Larry Coryell would have a significant impact on the sound of the four Gary Burton albums he was a part of.

The first of these four important Gary Burton quartet albums, Duster, recorded in April 1967, and sometimes referred to as the very first fusion recording, includes guitarist Larry Coryell, talented bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Roy Haynes.  Larry Coryell had further sharpened his skills as can be heard on this indisputable example of early jazz fusion, “One, Two, 1-2-3-4” available on Youtube here.

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The second album, Lofty Fake Anagram, with Bob Moses now on drums,  was recorded in August 1967, and is a little more mellow, with continuing impressive interplay between Burton and Coryell and impressive bass work from Steve Swallow.

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The third album, recorded a month earlier in July 1967 and released in 1968, is the dramatic concept album, Genuine Tong Funeral, written by composer and pianist Carla Bley and subtitled “A Dark Opera without Words.”   Focused on the topic of death and mourning, this mixture of third-stream and avant-garde composition covers a wide range of emotion and even includes passages of irony or dry humor reminiscent of Kurt Weill.  Besides some amazing, prodigious vibraphone work by Gary Burton, using his usual four mallets and to fine effect,  there is some outstanding, pushing-the-envelope soprano sax from Steve Lacy, some nicely-miked acoustic bass work from Steve Swallow, and some welcome tuba passages performed  by Howard Johnson. The album’s last track, with a chaotic free jazz section breaking from the confines of the suite’s structural boundaries, perhaps indicating some level of relief or release from grief is followed by a return of the “Survivors” theme, providing an appropriate and proper closure to the suite.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Carla Bley
  1. “The Opening / Interlude : Shovels / The Survivors / Grave Train” – 6:37
  2. “Death Rolls” – 1:36
  3. “Morning (Part 1)” – 1:43
  4. “Interlude : Lament / Intermission Music” – 4:28
  5. “Silent Spring” – 7:58
  6. “Fanfare / Mother of the Dead Man” – 2:51
  7. “Some Dirge” – 7:47
  8. “Morning (Part 2)” – 1:17
  9. “The New Funeral March” – 2:40
  10. “The New National Anthem / The Survivors” – 6:34
  • Recorded in New York City in July 1967.

Personnel

The fourth of these four Burton/Coryell albums, recorded live at Carnegie Hall on February 23, 1968, is simply titled “Gary Burton Quartet in Concert.”  Of particularly note is the amazing contrapuntal duet between Burton and Coryell in the recording of “Lines” and the overall excellence of the group’s performance of “Walter L.”  The album ends with an avant garde treatment of “One, Two, 1-2-3-4”, notably different than the original performance on Duster.

Track listing

All compositions by Gary Burton except where indicated
  1. “Blue Comedy” (Mike Gibbs) – 9:02
  2. “The Sunset Bell” – 5:17
  3. “Lines” (Larry Coryell) – 3:06
  4. “Walter L.” – 6:36
  5. “Wrong Is Right” (Coryell) – 6:14
  6. “Dreams” – 5:49
  7. I Want You” (Bob Dylan) – 3:06
  8. “One, Two, 1–2–3–4” (Burton, Coryell) – 10:45

Personnel

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In early 1968,  former Stan Kenton big band saxophonist, Steve Marcus, New Zealand born jazz keyboardist, Mick Nock,  and three former members of The Free Spirits,  guitarist Larry Coryell, bassist Chris Hills, and drummer Bob Moses,  recorded two jazz-rock albums, produced by jazz flutist Herbie Mann under Steve Marcus’s name.

The first album, Tomorrow Never Knows, appropriates five well known rock tunes and either imposes jazz commentary on them (“Mellow Yellow”) or develops and transforms them (“Tomorrow Never Knows”).  Added at the end, as a sixth tune, is Gary Burton’s “Half a Heart.”  This is one of those albums that may sound initially bizarre, with the band still wrestling to establish an overall sound and approach, but becomes more sensible and coherent after repeated listenings.

Track listing

  1. Eight Miles High” (David CrosbyHarold E. ClarkJames McGuinn) – 4:44
  2. Mellow Yellow” (Donovan Leitch) – 4:50
  3. Listen People” (Graham Gouldman) – 2:25
  4. Rain” (John Lennon, Paul Mc Cartney) – 7:02
  5. Tomorrow Never Knows” (John Lennon, Paul Mc Cartney) – 11:07
  6. Half A Heart” (Gary Burton– 5:21

Personnel

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The second album, though, Count’s Rock Band, (“Count” referring to Steve Marcus’s nickname and not that of William James Basie) is more organic, polished, and finely finished. There are only two rock covers here,  “Scarborough Fair” which is a straightforward rendition, based on Simon and Garfunkel’s version, arranged exquisitely with single focus, not straying a single step outside of its intended character, and Mick Jagger and Keith Richard’s Backstreet Girl; this modest tune is placed in an finely-crafted French cabaret-like setting with accordion  accompaniment, followed by an spellbinding jazzy middle section that evolves from straight-ahead, highly accessible jazz to wildly aggressive free jazz, followed by the return of the calm and tender original section.  The album also includes two compositions by bassist Chris Hills, which both work convincingly as final, unified outcomes of blending blues, rock and jazz.

If none of these musicians had ever recorded a note, jazz and rock would inevitably come together, just like twins separated in later years through pursuing different careers and interests, but meeting again in their more mature years.  In the case of rock, though, it’s relation to other music is more complex than simple siblinghood.  The young rock and roll looked very much, and acted very much like a young, somewhat clueless child of blues and jazz (and the baby sibling of the more capable rhythm and blues) but as rock and roll matured into rock, it developed its own identity, eventually accepting not only the best of what it’s parents could offer, but exploring all other available musical influences, examining and absorbing recorded and written music of all accessible areas of the globe and all accessible time periods.

Track listing

  1. Theresa’s Blues” (Chris Hills) – 12;19
  2. Scarborough Fair (Traditional,  Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel)” – 2:39
  3. “Drum Solo” – 3:55
  4. Ooh Baby” ( Chris Hills) – 12:14
  5.  “C’est Ca” ( Chris Swansen) – 0:19
  6. Back Street Girl” (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards) – 5:46
  7. “Piano Solo”  – 0:51

Personnel

Fifty Year Friday: Overcast

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This debut album by the Southern California group, Overcast, recorded in January of 1968, and released prematurely on April 1, 1968 prior to any marketing effort or activity, due to a simple clerical mistake, sold less than 800 copies, many of which were purchased by family, friends and, even though they were given several gratis copies, band members themselves.  It was first re-released in 1989 as a CD and later pressed on 180 gram vinyl as a limited edition LP; one can also find one or more tracks included in various compilations and box sets.

Bill Fortney was born in Whittier, California, and moved to La Mirada in 1959 at the age of 11, learning guitar from his uncle, who being intermittently unemployed, lived on and off with his sister, Bill’s mother, and her family, giving guitar and piano lessons to neighborhood children and, on occasion, playing studio gigs recording unaccredited guitar work for technically deficient rock guitarists or providing short passages of  acoustic or electric guitar for lower budget movie soundtracks.  The young nephew never took a liking to the piano, there was none in the Fortney home, but, instead, Bill spent hours upon hours playing all three of his uncle’s guitars until his father bought him an inexpensive nylon-stringed acoustic guitar for his 15th birthday and then a second-hand scarlet-red Vox Clubman electric guitar for his 17th birthday.

In his senior year of high school, Bill hooked up with Douglas Brandt and David Amato from nearby Buena Park and played local high school dances under the band name The Blue Ravens, then The Blue Jeans, then The Ever Expanding Bright Blue Jeans,  covering everything from early Beatles and Beach Boys to singles by The Bachelors, The Marketts and the Hondells. It was during this time that Fortney and Brandt starting taking chord sequences from the various songs they had learned by ear and imposed new melodies and words to create their own songs.  These rarely went over well when played for a dance audience, but were worked and reworked until Jan 12, 1968, when The Ever Expanding Bright Blue Jeans, now named Overcast, a name change that happened shortly after watching the Doors on the Jonathan Winters show in late December 1967, with Fortney and Brandt agreeing on the need for a shorter and somewhat darker name,  had their first of two three-hour studio sessions to record their debut album, originally proposed by drummer David Amato to be titled, “With a Chance of Showers”, but changed simply to Overcast after the record label tried to get them to change the name of the band from “Overcast” to “A Chance of Showers.”

The album opens up with the bass-dominated instrumental “Weather Endeavor” which is primarily blues-based except for a psychedelic middle section in which Douglas Brandt’s friend, Rick Stephenson plays saxophone against Fortney’s wailing, Hendrix-influenced guitar. In this middle section, the band modulates from C major to D major with a ensuing mish-mash of major, minor and dominant seventh chords until a sustained half-diminished seventh-chord on B precedes a decisive return back to C major for a heavily modified A section rampant with chord substitutions.  The result, though adventurous and unusual, comes off more unfocused than artful.

This is then compensated for by the second  track,  “Action Reaction”,  which is a simple three-chord riff-based rocker, with Brandt’s bass conspicuously emphasized and borderline decent drum work from David Amato.

The third track “Break Out of Salina, Kansas”, is a two-part five-minute track with the first part containing the same chord sequences as The Door’s “Break on Through” and the second part matching the chord sequencing of The Door’s “Soul Kitchen.”

Side one closes out with “Please Plead Plea”, a sorrowful lament entreating the love interest of the song to apologize for past wrongs and beg to be taken back. Again Brandt’s bass stands out with Fortney’s electric guitar imploring and beseeching throughout.

Side two opens up with “Fifth Tuesday of March” which is similar to the Kink’s “Love me ’till the Sun Shines.” This track is followed by “Sawdust and Certainty?” with marimba and organ contributing to a song full of contrasts, the music vacillating between contending against and partnering with decidedly opaque and impenetrable lyrics.

The third song of side two is “Sampson and the Philistines” a musical sermon against giving into the establishment, cutting one’s hair and becoming blind to the evils of the military-industrial complex — especially when this is done for the sake of landing a summer job.

The fourth song, “Short Wave Radio Girl” is based on the chord sequence of the Hondell’s “Younger Girl” but faster paced and with an added section in the middle based on another local group’s work, The Parade’s 1967 hit “Sunshine Girl.”

The album ends with “Electrical Connection”, apparently an attempt to create something akin to The Door’s “Light My Fire”, though clearly falling short commercially and artistically. Claire Stanston proves effective on organ, and, once again, we have Rick Stephenson on tenor saxophone and some notable guitar work by Fortney.

All tracks written by Bill Fortney and Douglas Brandt except where noted.

Side A

No.

Title

Length

1.

“Weather Endeavor” (Fortney, Brandt, Polson, Amato, Rick Stephenson)

7:19

2.

“Action Reaction”

3:25

3.

Break Out of Salinas Kansas

5:04

4.

“Please Plea Plead”

3:51

Side B

No.

Title

Length

7.

“Fifth Tuesday of March”

2:54

8.

“Sawdust and Certainty?” (Fortney, Polson, Claire Stanston, Paul Mayer)

3:22

9.

“Sampson and the Philistines”

2:52

10.

“Short Wave Radio Girl”

4:31

11.

Electrical Connection(Fortney, Brandt, Polson, Amato, Claire Stantson, Rick Stephenson)

5:47

Personnel

Overcast

  • Bill Fortney – guitar, lead vocals
  • Douglas Brandt – bass guitar, vocals
  • Greg Polson, guitar
  • David Amato, drums

Additional Personnel

  • Rick Stephenson – tenor saxophone
  • Claire Stanston – organ, piano
  • Paul Mayer – marimba

 

 

Fifty Year Friday: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention; United States of America

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Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention: We’re Only in It for the Money

In the summer of 1969 my family drove up to the San Francisco to take a cruise to Alaska on the Princess Cruise Line Ship,  MS Italia, and visited with my Aunt and then dropped me off for most of the day to visit with my cousin who was rooming with two or three other college students.  As typical, there the living room was the shared area, and it was well-stocked with a stereo system and dozens of LPs.  Several of them were recent recordings of Baroque music, this being the era of the baroque revival where driving around San Francisco one can find multiple FM stations playing mostly baroque music with works of not only J.S. Bach and Telemann, but seemingly dozens of Italian Baroque composers with names like Torelli, Tartini, Tortellini, Samartini, Scarlatti, Spumoni,  and on and on. So though my natural instinct was to dive into the treasures of Baroque music stacked around the stereo and against the sides of the speakers, my attention was redirected by an album that looked like Sgt. Peppers, but clearly was not.

“My roommate is a big Frank Zappa fan”, explained my cousin. “He’s got all the albums.”

That is, all the albums up to the summer of 1969.  And so I started with “We’re Only In It For the Money”, intrigued and yet mostly thrown off balance for much of side one and, to a lesser extent side two, but comforted by having the lyrics printed on the back.   Then putting on “Reuben and the Jets”, I was even more puzzled, abandoning it at the end of the first side, going on to the next Zappa album, and then ultimately shifting to one of the many Baroque albums I had initially neglected.

A few weeks later, during my first semester in college, I was able to explore Zappa’s early catalog at my own pace, and appreciated better the musicianship, music, and unconventional point of view, though not particularly embracing the sarcastically, disparaging tone and the interspersed droppings of scatology that were as much a Zappa trademark as the predictably unpredictable musical discontinuity and divergent shifts. I would not become a Zappa fan until Hot Rats, but was still able to enjoy and laugh at these early albums, particularly Freak Out, Absolutely Free, and We’re Only it For the Money. 

So Fifty Years later, I am not yet ready pronounce, We’re Only it For the Money as a masterpiece of Western music, but can unequivocally state that it is a work of genius and something everyone should hear, if not just for purely musical reasons, for both musical and historical purposes.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Frank Zappa.

Side One

#

Title

Length

1.

Are You Hung Up?

1:23

2.

Who Needs the Peace Corps?

2:34

3.

“Concentration Moon”

2:22

4.

“Mom & Dad”

2:16

5.

“Telephone Conversation”

0:48

6.

“Bow Tie Daddy”

0:33

7.

“Harry, You’re a Beast”

1:22

8.

What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?

1:03

9.

Absolutely Free

3:24

10.

“Flower Punk[11]

3:03

11.

“Hot Poop”

0:26

Side Two

 #

Title

Length

1.

“Nasal Retentive Calliope Music”

2:03

2.

Let’s Make the Water Turn Black

2:01

3.

“The Idiot Bastard Son”

3:18

4.

“Lonely Little Girl” (“It’s His Voice on the Radio”)

1:09

5.

Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance

1:35

6.

“What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body? (Reprise)”

0:57

7.

“Mother People”

2:32

8.

“The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny”

6:25

Total length:

39:15

united states of america

The United States of America: The United States of America

Two days after We’re Only in It for the Money was released on March, 4, 1968, another unconventional and relatively radical rock album was released, the work of Joseph Byrd, other band members including vocalist Dorthy Moskowitz, and producer David Robinson.

I first heard this band in my first semester in college in 1973 as part of Music History 251, when the track “Garden of Earthly Delights” was played on the classroom’s barely adequate stereo as part of the listening example included in the course workbook. I was impressed but when looking for that record that weekend could not find it in even the larger chain record stores and so forgot about it until years later when it became available again through reissue.

The first track, “The American Metaphysical Circus”, opens up much in the spirit of Charles Ives with competing marching bands, a piano playing “At a Georgia Camp Meeting” and a calliope.  But going beyond Ives is the electronic effects — no Moog synthesizer, this was beyond the financial means of the group — but creatively generated effects from more basic sound wave generation equipment.

More obvious than the Ives’ influence here, is the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers’ influence.  The lyrics of that first track hearkens back to “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” — at least in the first verse:

“At precisely 8:05, 
Doctor Frederick von Meyer
Will attempt his famous dive
Through a solid sheet of luminescent fire.”

However as the song progresses the lyrics darken:

“In the center of the ring
They are torturing a bear
And although he cannot sing
They can make him whistle Londonderry Air”

And then political:

“And the price is right
The cost of one admission is your mind.

“We shall shortly institute
A syncopation of fear
While it’s painful, it will suit
Many customers whose appetites are queer.”

And such goes much of the album with decidedly left-wing, if not communist-inspired viewpoints (one track is titled “Love Song for the Dead Ché”), embedded into adventurous, well-crafted music.   This album, the group’s only offering (they broke up shortly after the release) is sometimes mentioned as a forerunner to progressive rock. For anyone interested in building up a collection of more exploratory and ambitious 1968 “rock” music, it is worth the trouble to track this album down — and it is a suitable companion for We’re Only in It for the Money next time you have ninety minutes set aside for some uninterrupted listening of some of the more progressive and unusual music from 1968.

Side One

Title

Length

1.

“The American Metaphysical Circus” (Joseph Byrd)

4:56

2.

Hard Coming Love” (Byrd, Dorothy Moskowitz)

4:41

3.

“Cloud Song” (Byrd, Moskowitz)

3:18

4.

“The Garden of Earthly Delights” (Byrd, Moskowitz)

2:39

5.

“I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife for You, Sugar”

(Byrd, Moskowitz)

3:51

Side Two

Title

Length

6.

“Where Is Yesterday” (Gordon Marron, Ed Bogas, Moskowitz)

3:08

7.

“Coming Down” (Byrd, Moskowitz)

2:37

8.

“Love Song for the Dead Ché” (Byrd)

3:25

9.

“Stranded in Time” (Marron, Bogas)

1:49

10.

“The American Way of Love”

  1. “Metaphor for an Older Man” (Byrd)
  2. “California Good-Time Music” (Byrd)
  3. “Love Is All” (Byrd, Moskowitz, Rand Forbes, Craig Woodson, Marron)”

6:38

Personnel

The band

Additional musicians

  • Ed Bogas – occasional organ, piano, calliope

Technical staff

  • Glen Kolotkin, Arthur Kendy – remixer
  • Richard Durrett – instrument design engineer
  • David Diller – engineer
  • David Rubinson – producer

Fifty Year Friday: Eli and the Thirteenth Confession

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“I’m not interested in conventional limitations when it comes to my songwriting” — Laura Nyro (Liner Notes to Stoned Soul Picnic: The Best of Laura Nyro <1997>)

Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, the second album of Lauro Nyro, released March 3, 1968, was as distinct as any album of 1968, eschewing formula-based songs and enriched with personal, intimate lyrics fitted into soulful, boundary-free music.  Here the music is first: this is not a work of a singer-songwriter that set poetry to music, but a musician, who wrote music that was poetry.  The words may not qualify for any Nobel prizes, but they melodically fit into the contour of the music more perfectly and naturally than that of any 1960’s pop, folk or rock singer-songwriter before her. This music flows naturally, sometimes with effortlessly applied tempo shifts and alterations, and at no point do the lyrics ever get in the way of the musical content, but instead, either get unconditionally absorbed or are truly music themselves.

And in the midst of an era (1967-1968) of some of the most creative and unconventional, but commercially successful music ever captured in recording studios, we have an album of music that is as fiercely independent as anything by Frank Zappa, Harry Nilsson, Van Dyke Parks, Al Kooper, Velvet Underground, The Doors, or The Jefferson Airplane.

This album, though, was not a notable commercial success, reaching no further than the 181st position (“181” is not a typo) on the Billboard pop album chart. Yet, the reach was there in influencing other singer-songwriters that were to make their own impacts shortly after this, or even much later, including Todd Rundgren, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Elton John, Kate Bush, Melissa Manchester, Joanna Newsome, Tori Amos. and many, many more.  In fact, so influential is this album, that listening to it today, it sounds more like a product of the early 1970s than just about any rock, pop, or folk album that I can think of that was recorded and released in 1968.  (Please challenge me in the comments, if you feel otherwise.)

Listening to this work on Youtube or via a streaming service, undercuts the high production and sound quality.  Best to listen to this in LP, CD or SACD format. A CD of Eli and the Thirteenth Confession with three bonus tracks is available at online retailers for around $5.00, a bargain difficult to pass up.  However, if you can find a copy of the Audio Fidelity SACD release, that is the one to get, as the sound is exceptional.

On a personal note, I prefer Laura Nyro’s original renditions over any covers of her works I have heard through the years. It’s great that her songs received greater airplay and were exposed to a larger audience, with the accompanying economic benefits for the composer, but aren’t the originals more complete and satisfying?  In this original version of “Eli’s Coming” we get no hint of the darker nature inherent in the lyrics (Eli representing something beyond just a heartthrob or hearbreaker, but perhaps, heartache, loss, disappointment, or defeat) — instead we get gospel-hysteria celebration, not of the coming of Christ, but of the coming of Eli, that one guy that is currently everything and unquestionably inspires both submission and devotion.

And how can one not marvel at Nyro’s vocal delivery, her effective melodic range, extensive tone-color range, and finely-varied emotional range?  As a singer-songwriter, she excels at both the songwriting and singing roles.

And on a more important personal note, my thoughts go to anyone at war with cancer or the families that have suffered a loss from cancer.  I have a friend whose sister was overtaken by ovarian cancer, the same insidious disease that ended the life of both Laura Nyro and her mother at the age of 49. As I type this, my thoughts are with my friend and her family. Medicine is making substantial progress against various forms of cancer, and we all hope we see more progress made more rapidly than ever. Having a healthy lifestyle may reduce the risk of some or even all types of cancer, but it does not eliminate that risk.  Please consider joining me in making a donation to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (90% of your donation is directed to scientific research) or another worthy  organization, such as the Cancer Research Institute whose funding assisted in the development of  the HPV vaccine, which can help prevent some types of cervical cancer.

LauraCNN

Track Listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Laura Nyro.

Side one

No.

Title

Length

1. “Luckie” 3:00
2. “Lu” 2:44
3. Sweet Blindness 2:37
4. “Poverty Train” 4:16
5. “Lonely Women” 3:32
6. Eli’s Comin’ 3:58

Side two

No.

Title

Length

7. “Timer” 3:22
8. Stoned Soul Picnic 3:47
9. “Emmie” 4:20
10. “Woman’s Blues” 3:46
11. “Once It Was Alright Now (Farmer Joe)” 2:58
12. “December’s Boudoir” 5:05
13. “The Confession” 2:50

Personnel

Fifty Year Friday: Tony Scott – Music for Yoga Meditations and Other Joys; Al Kooper, Blood, Sweat & Tears – Child Is Father to the Man

Tony Scott Yoga

As a jazz instrument, the clarinet can excel from the hottest of jazz styles to the coolest and laid back genres of jazz, but there is something inherently cool, soft and tender in the lower and mid range of the clarinet that lends itself particularly well to more impressionistic. more reflective, and more introspective music.   As bebop extended into various flavors of cool jazz, Tony Scott first appeared on the jazz scene recording with Miles Davis and other jazz musicians on three tracks for “Sassy” Sarah Vaughan’s 1950 album, Sarah Vaughan In Hi-Fi. In 1953, he recorded a 10 inch album for Brunswick, “Music After Midnight”, with the music including elements bebop, cool and swing, showcasing the clarinet as well as the talents of now well-known jazz greats, bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Philly Joe Jones, as well as the versatile and gifted pianist Dick Katz.

In December 1959 , Tony Scott visited Japan and recorded some music for a radio program with Yasko Nakashima.  When Tony asked Yasko if she would like to do some improvisation around the scale (set of notes) of the previous piece they had played, she deferred, not having a background in improvising: improvisation not being a component of traditional Japanese classical music.  He then turned to the conductor of the ensemble, Shinichi Yuize, a koto player, who, though, had not previously improvised publicly, was willing to give it a go.  Four years later, in early 1964, during Tony’s last visit to Japan, Shinichi Yuize, shakuhachi artist, Hozan Yamamoto and Tony recorded what many consider the first New Age album, Music for Zen Meditation.

No additional albums appeared to have been recorded or released by Tony Scott, until February 1968, when Music for Yoga Meditation and Other Joys was recorded. American Collin Walcott, student of Ravi Shankar, and later Paul Horn associate and then member of Oregon  plays sitar pairing up with Tony Scott who is on clarinet. This album, with its wide stereo separation and forwardness of the clarinet and sitar,  comes more closely to being New Age material then the 1964 “Zen” album which is more a blend of jazz and true classical Japanese music.

For whatever reason, Verve waited until 1972 to release Music for Yoga Meditation and Other Joys.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

  1. “Prahna (Life Force)” – 4:15
  2. “Shiva (The Third Eye)” – 5:06
  3. “Samadhi (Ultimate Bliss)” – 4:49
  4. “Hare Krishna (Hail Krishna)” – 6:15
  5. “Hatha (Sun and Moon)” – 3:40
  6. “Kundalina (Serpent Power)” – 4:42
  7. “Sahasrara (Highest Chakra)” – 3:10
  8. “Triveni (Sacred Knot)” – 3:20
  9. “Shanti (Peace)” – 2:48
  10. “Homage to Lord Krishna” – 5:04
  • All music composed by Tony Scott

Personnel

Production

Blood,Sweat&amp;TearsChildIsFathertotheMan

Musician, Producer and songwriter, Al Kooper, put together the first jazz-rock group, Blood, Sweat and Tears, recording Child is the Father to Man in late 1967, with Columbia releasing the album on February 21, 1968.  Though this album is far more pop and rock than jazz, there are some jazz elements, including Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn supplemented with  saxophone, trombone and an additional trumpet.  Kooper provides the starting point from which the later versions of BS&T evolve, and paves the way for other jazz-rock ensembles like Chicago, Chase and Lighthouse.

Al Kooper departed from BS&T shorted after the release of this album, apparently due to creative differences, with his next project the bluesy jam album Super Session with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills.

Personnel [from Wikipedia]

Blood, Sweat & Tears

  • Randy Brecker – trumpet, flugelhorn
  • Bobby Colomby – drums, percussion; backing vocals (tracks 4, 10)
  • Jim Fielder – bass guitar, fretless bass guitar
  • Dick Halligan – trombone
  • Steve Katz – guitars; lead vocals (tracks 3, 8); backing vocals (tracks 3); lute (track 6)
  • Al Kooper – organ, piano; lead vocals (tracks 2, 4-7, 9-12); ondioline (track 8)
  • Fred Lipsius – piano, alto saxophone
  • Jerry Weiss – trumpet, flugelhorn; backing vocals (track 4)

Additional musicians

  • Anahid Ajemian – violin
  • Fred Catero – sound effects
  • Harold Coletta – viola
  • Paul Gershman – violin
  • Al Gorgoni – organ, guitar, vocals
  • Manny Green – violin
  • Julie Held – violin
  • Doug James – shaker
  • Harry Katzman – violin
  • Leo Kruczek – violin
  • Harry Lookofsky – violin
  • Charles McCracken – cello
  • Melba Moorman – choir, chorus
  • Gene Orloff – violin
  • Valerie Simpson – choir, chorus
  • Alan Schulman – cello
  • John Simon – organ, piano, conductor, cowbell
  • The Manny Vardi Strings

Production

  • Producers: Bob Irwin, John Simon
  • Engineer: Fred Catero
  • Mixing: John Simon
  • Mastering: Vic Anesini
  • Arrangers: Fred Catero, Al Gorgoni, Fred Lipsius, Alan Schulman, John Simon
  • Art direction: Howard Fritzson
  • Photography: Bob Cato, Don Hunstein
  • Packaging: Michael Cimicata

Fifty Year Friday: Miles Davis Quintet “Nefertiti”

 

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Recorded in June and July of 1967 and released, as best as I can determine, around February 1968, give or  take a month, Nefertiti is the ever-exploring, adventurous Miles Davis’s last all-acoustic instrument album. I also consider this one of the first albums to take significant steps into both Fusion and New Age territory.

Miles Davis time at Julliard is partially evident here (just as Tony Scott’s time at Julliard is partially evident in what some consider the very first New Age record, the 1964 album, Music for Zen Meditation.)  Miles seems to infuse Bartok and Satie, whose music he admired, into some of this work,  as well as possibly (this is maybe a reach on my part, based only on the nature of some of the rhythmic and melodic patterns) Olivier Messiaen.  Miles also drives his fellow musicians to further reaches of creativity producing a work like no other work recorded in 1967 or released in 1968.  Some call this free-bop, and there are elements of free jazz present, but overall this is generally an accessible album, very much a predecessor to the fusion jazz and progressive-jazz psychedelic/rock-impressionism that will soon follow in so many albums of the 1970s.

The title track, “Nefertiti”, recorded on June 7, 1967 as a single take, is named after the Egyptian queen, Neferneferuaten Nefertiti who, with her Pharoah husband, brought about a religious revolution in Egypt by narrowing religious worship from many gods to only one. And with this first track, “Nefertiti”, there is a singularity of focus.  Missing are solos from the trumpet and saxophone.  Instead, the two instruments blend into an ambient, cleverly crafted circular sonic stream (well done, Wayne Shorter!), much as when drifting into alternative realms of consciousness prior to sleep.  The piano, bass and drums provides the greater variety and commentary here, the entire work thoroughly and unapologetically breaking from the traditional be-bop approach to ensemble sections and solos.  We have a strong case for this being jazz minimalism despite the richness of material provided by Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, based on the foundational, hardly perceptible variations provided by Miles and Wayne Shorter.

“Fall”, “Pinocchio” (two takes) and “Riot” were recorded on July 19, 1967, two days after John Coltrane’s death.  This tragic and monumental event shapes the nature of the performances of these works, particularly Miles’ solos.  The other tracks on the Nefertiti album,”Hand Jive” and “Madness”, are more extroverted and were recorded on June 22 and June 23, respectively.  Though this album may not have been conceived as a whole work (the amazing “Water Babies”, the sharp-edged”Capricorn” and the reflective, surreal “Sweet Pea” [this last a perfect fit for the Nefertiti album] were also recorded during these sessions and released years later, in 1976),  it comes together nicely and provides a general mood of near-mystical introspection.  The performances by all members of the quartet border on mythical, with Miles inspiring and encouraging his fellow musicians in reaching further levels of excellence.

This a particularly subtle, perhaps initially elusive, album — one that many will not fall in love with on the first listening.  Not as accessible as the previous album, the 1967 Sorcerer, it is often considered to be more substantial: pushing jazz into an unexplored territory that soon becomes part of the language of not only jazz, but rock, fusion, progressive rock, new age, and late twentieth century classical music.   Darken the room and give Nefertiti your undivided attention when listening, if not already a devoted fan.

Side One:
 “Nefertiti”  — Wayne Shorter  (7:52)
“Fall” —  Wayne Shorter (6:39) 
“Hand Jive” — Tony Williams (8:54)
Side Two:
“Madness” —  Herbie Hancock  (7:31)
“Riot” —  Herbie Hancock (3:04)
“Pinocchio” — Wayne Shorter (5:08)

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