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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

 

 

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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

 

Fifty Year Friday: Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington

Recorded in December 1966, released in June 1967,  and winning a Grammy for  Best Instrumental Jazz Performance – Large Group or Soloist with Large Group in 1968,”Far East Suite” is one of the finest concept albums of the 1960’s.  A collaboration between Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, as is the case with much of the Ellington catalog between 1939-1967, this work is a set of reflections of the Ellington band’s 1963 world tour that included visits to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, and then later, their 1964 visit to Japan. All the music with the exception of the last track on the LP, “Ad Lib on Nippon”, is inspired by their 1963 exposure to locations of the Near East.  This is not music based on music of those locations, but music inspired by impressions of these locations. The construction and quality of each composition blending crafted arrangements, colorful chords and chord voicings, and including solos that enhance and not detour from the arrangements, make this recording one of the gems of anyone’s LP or CD collection (the CD including alternative takes of tracks 1-3 and track 8.)

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

(All compositions by Ellington & Strayhorn except 9. by Ellington.)

  1. “Tourist Point of View” – 5:09
  2. “Bluebird of Delhi (Mynah)” – 3:18
  3. Isfahan” – 4:02
  4. “Depk” – 2:38
  5. “Mount Harissa” – 7:40
  6. “Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues)” – 3:00
  7. “Agra” – 2:35
  8. “Amad” – 4:26
  9. “Ad Lib on Nippon” – 11:34

Personnel

Billy Strayhorn initial inclinations were towards classical music, but the oppressive social barriers at the time made an entry into the classical realm much more difficult than one into the  jazz world. Strayhorn was talented enough to excel in either, and given the nature of classical composition in the 1930s-1960s, it’s fair to comment that the more meaningful and relevant new music was being produced as jazz and not the “avant-garde” school music composed for the concert hall and academia, which received limited performance and provided limited commercial recognition and compensation.

Billy Strayhorn was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 1964, and bravely fought on, continuing to compose, even at the end when hospitalized, with his last year including works like “Blood Count” and “U.M.M.G. (Upper Manhattan Medical Group).”  On May 31, 1967, he lived his last day in Billy Strayhorn’s body, but continued to survive through his arrangements, compositions and recordings, with this memorial album, “… And His Mother Called Him Bill”, a timeless work of deep love and respect from Mr. Ellington and his orchestra, providing an everlasting, very personal homage to this great 20th Century giant.

On the original LP, the last track is a fortuitously captured recording of Duke Ellington reflectively playing  Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom” with bass player Aaron Bell, however the chance recording only has one working microphone and captures only the piano portion of this private performance.  Later, a trio version of this was recorded, but the producer found the spontaneous version more emotional and selected that. Both versions are particularly poignant with the solo piano version more personal and the trio version more polished. One can get both versions either in the Duke Ellington Centennial Edition 24 CD set or in the most recent (2016) CD reissue.  The tracks on the original LP are all excellent and transcend any stylistic classification.  If you love listening to the very best music, whether classical, jazz, rock or anything else, and attentively, actively listen to music, not just having it on as background but diving deeply into its innermost fabric, then you will find this album enormously rewarding.

Original LP [from Wikipedia]

  1. “Snibor” (Billy Strayhorn) – 4:16
  2. “Boo-Dah” (Strayhorn) – 3:25
  3. Blood Count” (Strayhorn) – 4:16
  4. “U.M.M.G. (Upper Manhattan Medical Group)” (Strayhorn) – 3:09
  5. “Charpoy” (Strayhorn) – 3:05
  6. “After All” (Strayhorn) – 3:28
  7. “The Intimacy of the Blues” (Strayhorn) – 2:55
  8. “Rain Check” (Strayhorn) – 4:34
  9. Day Dream” (Ellington, John La Touche, Strayhorn) – 4:18
  10. “Rock Skippin’ at the Blue Note” (Ellington, Strayhorn) – 2:59
  11. “All Day Long” (Strayhorn) – 2:56
  12. “Lotus Blossom” (Strayhorn) – 3:52

2016 CD reissue

  1. “Snibor” (Strayhorn) – 4:16
  2. “Boo-Dah” (Strayhorn) – 3:28
  3. “Blood Count” (Strayhorn) – 4:18
  4. “U.M.M.G.” (Strayhorn) – 3:14
  5. “Charpoy” (Strayhorn) – 3:07
  6. “After All” (Strayhorn) – 3:52
  7. “The Intimacy of the Blues” (Strayhorn) – 2:58
  8. “Rain Check” (Strayhorn) – 4:37
  9. “Day Dream ” (Ellington, Latouche, Strayhorn) – 4:25
  10. “Rock Skippin’ at the Blue Note” (Ellington, Strayhorn) – 3:02
  11. “All Day Long” (Strayhorn) – 2:58
  12. “Lotus Blossom [Solo Version]” (Strayhorn) – 3:54
  13. “Acht O’Clock Rock” (Ellington) – 2:23
  14. “Rain Check [alternate take]” (Strayhorn) – 5:22
  15. “Smada” (Ellington, Strayhorn) – 3:21
  16. “Smada [alternate take]” (Ellington, Strayhorn) – 3:20
  17. “Midriff” (Strayhorn) – 4:35
  18. “My Little Brown Book” (Strayhorn) – 4:13
  19. “Lotus Blossom [Trio Version]” (Strayhorn) – 4:56

Personnel

Check out Must Listen To Music for recommendations of other classic works.

Previous Fifty Year Friday Posts:

The Beatles

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

 

Fifty Year Friday: Hindustani Classical Music

 

In 1955, with funding support from the Ford Foundation, Yehudi Menuhin hosted the first Indian Classical Music Festival in the United States, The Indian Festival at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Yehudi reached out to Ravi Shankar, who he had met in 1952, to participate, but due to a personal situation, Shankar reluctantly declined and recommended, Ali Akbar Khan, one of finest sarod musicians in India, and Shankar’s brother-in-law. Though Menuhin was not familiar with either Ali Akbar Khan or even the sarod at the time, he took Shankar’s advice and invited Mr. Khan to come to the festival.

Ali Akbar was not so keen on taking the trip to the states. He was not sure how American audiences would react.  For the past several years he had been expanding interest in the sarod and instrumental music in general in Western India and had been making good progress. He performed live to receptive audiences in Bombay, worked on films and was making 78 recordings.  Thankfully, his friends encouraged him to go and per Khan, “My friends pushed me, more or less, through customs and on to the plane.”

The Modern Museum of Art concert was for April 19, with a recording session scheduled the day before in the Guest House of the museum. This would be the first time that Khan would be able to record more than a 78-length snippet of music, and he was pleased with the final results, the first long playing record of Indian Classical Music.

cover_for_angel_records27_edition_of_ali_akbar_khan27s_1955_album_music_of_india

Soon there we other full length albums produced in the U.S., U.K. and in India of both Hindustani Classical Music and Carnatic Classical Music, or, to over-generalize, classical music of Northern and Southern India.  Western classical musicians and composers, jazz artists, and rock musicians all had access to this music and many were intrigued, interested, inspired, or influenced by such music.

So by 1967, there are a number of fine albums released.

Call of the Valley

The best selling of these albums, and one that found its way into the listening rotation of George Harrison, Paul McCartney, David Crosby, Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn  is “Call of the Valley with Hariprasad ChaurasiaBrij Bhushan Kabra, and Shivkumar Sharma, and Manikrao Popatkar.

In a sense, this is a conceptual album, with the premise of a given day in the life of Kashmir shepherd as represented by the time of day that is associated with the ragas. (Ragas are classified according to time of day they are suited to, such as daybreak, early morning, late morning, afternoon and early night, late night and midnight ragas.)  The choice of instruments and general approach and style further push the boundaries of classical Hindustani music.  The combination of santoor (similar to a hammered dulcimer), guitar, bansuri (a wooden transverse flute) and tabla are more within a westerner’s listening experience than sitar, tabla, and a droning tambura.  Hariprasad Chaurasia’s magical, engaging melodic lines (on bansuri) along with the overall virtuosity and musicality of the ensemble make this an album that demands not only an initial listening but repeated exploration.

Track listing 

  1. Ahir Bhairav/Nat Bhairav
  2. Rag Piloo
  3. Bhoop
  4. Rag Des
  5. Rag Pahadi

Note that the CD contains the following bonus tracks not provided on original LP:

  1. Ghara-Dadra
  2. Dhun-Mishra Kirwani
  3. Bageshwari

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Another release that made a notable commercial impact in the U.S. and the U.K., holding the number one spot on Billboards Best Selling Classical LP’s list for eighteen weeks in 1967, is the Ravi Shankar/Yehudi Menuhin partnership “West Meets East”

On Side One we get the collaboration between the Western violinist, Yehudi Menuhin and the Bengali-born, Hindustani sitarist, Ravi Shankar, Shankar providing the western-notated music for Menuhin to perform from. In the sixties and early seventies Ravi Shankar became a household name in the U.S. for his appearance at Woodstock and his co-organization with George Harrison of the two benefit concerts for Bangladesh at Madison Square Gardens. Shankar also received an Academy Award for the Best Original Music Score for his work on the 1982 movie Gandhi

Side Two is a performance of one of Enescu’s violin sonatas. Menuhin had studied violin with the famed Romanian composer, conductor, and violinist, and Menuhin performs the work with his sister, Hephzibah Menuhin, on piano.  In general, Enescu music deserves more attention, and this sonata is just another excellent work by this talented artist.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All selections by Ravi Shankar except where noted.

Side one

  1. “Prabhati” – 4:08
  2. “Raga Puriya Kalyan” – 11:45
  3. “Swara Kakali (based on Raga Tilang)” – 8:46

Side two

  1. Sonata for Violin & Piano No. 3 in A minor, Op. 25” (George Enescu) – 24:08

Personnel

In 1967, EMI starting releasing an eleven volume, “Music in India” series.  The first of this, is a duet between revered sitarist Vilayat Khan and Bismallah Khan on shehnai, which, traditionally, is more appropriate at weddings and festivals than in classical music.  However, Bismallah Khan, through his own mastery of the instrument and of Hindustani classical music,  elevates the shehnai to an instrument deserving its place and recognition in Hindustani classical music.  The combination of sitar and shehnai is a great choice for the first volume of this series as perhaps easier for western ears to embrace a duet between such diverse instruments than an album of just the sitar. As usual with such duets (named jugalbandi which is translated as “entwined twins) there is tabla accompaniment, performed on this album by Shanta Prasad.

Folder

Another important LP from this Music of India series, is volume six with the remarkably skilled Nikhil Banerjee on sitar.  This is not a duet like volume one, but more of a solo performance with accompaniment provided by Kanai Dutt on Tabla and Viram  Jasani on Tanpura (which provides the basic, foundational drone.)

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Sundaram Balachander  melds his background in Carnatic music with his deep understanding and mastery of Hindustani music to provide a rich, personal voice that borrows from Carnatic vocal traditions. The veena is a particularly intoxicating instrument to listen to, and this is a great recording for showcasing this instrument. Prior to this album, Nonesuch had released an LP of his music in 1965 with mridangam accompaniment.

Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan - ECLP 2351 - front

Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan, is yet another stellar sitar artist, and this 1967 album is nothing short of amazing, particularly side two, a single 18 minute plus raga, with its colorful and exploratory passages. This will be the most difficult recording to find of the ones listed in this post, but is the most representative of traditional Hindustani Classical Music.  If you cannot track down a recording, you can find a version currently on youtube:

khan 1

Fifty Year Friday: Jobim “Wave”; Zappa, “Absolutely Free”; Beefheart “Safe as Milk”

 

wave

Jazz fan’s will likely know of Antonio Carlos Jobim two albums with Stan Getz, particularly the first one, Getz/Gilberto containing “Desafinado” and the classic version of “The Girl from Ipanema” with  Astrud Gilberto‘s seductive vocals.    That first album, added fuel to the already burning fiery desire of Americans to hear and dance to bossa nova, and elevated Jobim to a marketable American music business commodity.

“Wave”, released in 1967, became Jobim’s best selling album, providing smooth, comforting music for middle America and many non-jazz record consumers. The music is well-crafted, well-arranged and well-performed with Jobim playing guitar, piano, celeste and harpsichord, Ron Carter on bass, Urbie Green on trombone, and a small string orchestra with french horn and flute/picolo all providing the most mellow dance music possible.   It is not exactly jazz and, in a sense, sets the tone for a genre of music that would be called smooth jazz,  a style not demanding listener attention or involvement, but played for its soothing, relaxing qualities.  Such smooth or background music became prevalent in shopping centers, in restaurants and in many work places that now added such music or substituted smooth jazz for the previously provided muzak. In 1987, Los Angeles radio stations KMET, once one of the coolest, most progressive album-oriented,  FM radio stations in Southern California, changed its letters to KTWV and called itself “The Wave” playing “adult contemporary jazz” becoming one of the un-coolest, most un-progressive stations in the Greater Los Angeles area ultimately influencing other radio stations to take the same path.

Of course, none of the blame should be attributed to this fine Jobim album; it is just worth noting that soon background music became virulently prevalent, irking many musicians that believed music should be actively listened to and not absorbed.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim.

  1. Wave” – 2:56
  2. “The Red Blouse” – 5:09
  3. “Look to the Sky” – 2:20
  4. “Batidinha” – 3:17
  5. Triste” – 2:09
  6. “Mojave” – 2:27
  7. “Diálogo” – 2:55
  8. “Lamento” (lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes) – 2:46
  9. “Antigua” – 3:10
  10. “Captain Bacardi” – 4:29

 

frankzappa-absolutelyfree

Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention did not produce either easy listening music or anything that could be considered conservative.   This is the Mothers of Invention’s second studio album and every bit as adventurous as the first including mixed meter and quotes from Stravinsky’s three most famous ballets, “The Firebird”, “Rite of Spring” (“Le Sacre du printemps”) and Petrushka.  Each side of the original LP can be viewed as a single piece rather than a set of unrelated tracks due to redeployment and relationship of music material.  Humor is a inseparable part of this innovative album that many Zappa fan’s cite as one of their favorites.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Frank Zappa.

Side one: “Absolutely Free” (#1 in a Series of Underground Oratorios)
No. Title Length
1. Plastic People 3:40
2. “The Duke of Prunes” 2:12
3. “Amnesia Vivace” 1:01
4. “The Duke Regains His Chops” 1:45
5. “Call Any Vegetable” 2:19
6. “Invocation & Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin” 6:57
7. “Soft-Sell Conclusion” 1:40
Side two: “The M.O.I. American Pageant” (#2 in a Series of Underground Oratorios)
No. Title Length
1. “America Drinks” 1:52
2. “Status Back Baby” 2:52
3. “Uncle Bernie’s Farm” 2:09
4. “Son of Suzy Creamcheese” 1:33
5. Brown Shoes Don’t Make It 7:26
6. America Drinks & Goes Home 2:43

Personnel[from Wikipedia]

Note that there are several additional musicians on this album including Don Ellis on trumpet on “Brown Shoes Don’t make it”

 

safeasmilk-bds1001-covers

Another less-than-easy-listening album is Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band’s “Safe as Milk” which starts from a blues foundation but includes uncommon time signatures and unique instrumental divergences. On one hand, a traditional blues fan might prefer to spend their time listening to a true blues album by someone like Howlin’ Wolf rather than this Don Van Vliet (A.K.A Captain Beefheart) psuedo-blues album. However, despite some superficial similarities in Howlin’ Wolf’s and Beefheart’s voices, and “Safe as Milk’s fairly straightforward first track, there are enough deviations here, musically and lyrically, from other more solid blues albums of the time to take this album on its own terms. Guitarist Ry Cooder, having played with Taj Mahal in the short-lived Rising Sons, makes important arrangement and performance contributions. Historically, this is an important album as it captures a band in transition to a more adventurous style that merges blues, free jazz and art-rock into a genre I could only call head-spinning, head-splitting, free-style post-blues

So even though this is much closer to standard fare than later Captain Beefheart albums, it contains a number of adjustments to standard rock/blues that make this an album worth checking out.  “Yellow Brick Road” borrows the first part of its melody from “Pop Goes the Weasel” but strays off into its own tune with a mix of innocent and suggestive lyrics. “Autumn Child” pushes into both art-rock and progressive rock territory with its Zappa-like opening and changes in meter, texture, tempo and mood.  Electricity” is the stand-out track, with lyrics and music flirting with psychedelia (note the guitar imitating the sitar), blues, bluegrass, and rock, and, once past the brilliant introduction, is very danceable. The rising oscillations of a thermin closes out the song.

 

Whereas one can put on “Waves” (and even “Absolutely Free” under the right circumstances) and delegate it to the background with little trouble, if one does this with some of the Beefheart “Safe as Milk” tracks like “Electricity”, “Plastic Factory” and “Abba Zaba”, they simply become distracting and annoying; however, play this album on a good audio system that can untangle the aggressive texture into individual and distinctive voices and the music flies by and, if not always pleasant, is unexpectedly absorbing and engaging.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All songs written by Herb Bermann and Don Van Vliet except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Sure ‘Nuff ‘n Yes I Do” 2:15
2. “Zig Zag Wanderer” 2:40
3. “Call on Me” (Van Vliet) 2:37
4. “Dropout Boogie” 2:32
5. “I’m Glad” (Van Vliet) 3:31
6. Electricity 3:07
Side two
No. Title Length
7. “Yellow Brick Road” 2:28
8. “Abba Zaba” (Van Vliet) 2:44
9. “Plastic Factory” (Van Vliet, Bermann, Jerry Handley) 3:08
10. “Where There’s Woman” 2:09
11. “Grown So Ugly” (Robert Pete Williams) 2:27
12. “Autumn’s Child” 4:02


Personnel 
[fromWikipedia]

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band
  • Don Van Vliet – lead vocals, harmonica, marimba, arrangements
  • Alex St. Clair Snouffer – guitar, backing vocals, bass, percussion
  • Ry Cooder – guitar, bass, slide guitar, percussion, arrangements
  • Jerry Handley – bass (except 8, 10), backing vocals
  • John French – drums, backing vocals, percussion
Additional musicians

Fifty Year Friday: Velvet Underground “The Velvet Underground & Nico”; Nico “Chelsea Girl”

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I am having second thoughts about posting these album reviews of music of 1967 — fifty years ago.

One: it’s not easy to write reviews about music: to describe music in words is an impossible activity, and at best one ends up describing their reactions to the music, which, really, is self-centered, possibly narcissistic, and either self-indulgent or masochistic (writing music reviews can be very painful as one recognizes that keystrokes being captured by WordPress fall immeasurably short of the sound waves that are captured by audio recording devices.)

Two: shouldn’t I be writing about recent album releases? To write reviews about albums already accepted as established classics doesn’t help generate income for the musicians (if they are still alive), encourage them to create more music, or provide the service of bringing  previously ignored music or musicians to people’s attention.

Three: there are others out there writing music reviews that get less visitors than this blog, and yet their reviews are better, more interesting and more informative. When I have visited such blogs, I am shocked to see posts that range from being hours old to months old without a single like or comment.  What keeps them going?

And so I take the time to ask myself, am I providing anything of value to my reader or, if not to my reader, is there anything that I get out of this?  And I really don’t know at this point if any single one of my reviews has caused someone to listen to music they would otherwise have missed out on.  But I do know, once I take the time to reflect on it, that I do get something out all of this: knowing that I need to write something, I am listening to this music differently than I normally would. I am not only listening intently, but with the need to find something I can communicate out to someone else.

During much of my regular music listening, I listen seriously, and I direct my attention directly on the music. I am seated.  I am not dancing, driving, cooking, or watching sports with the sound turned down.  I am a human receiver, trying to absorb and enjoy as much of the music as possible. When I listen to music I am planning to write about, I am no longer in receiver mode, but in explorer mode.  I am looking for places to pitch a tent, clues for sources of water, tracks of game in the vicinity, evidence of past occupants or current inhabitants.  I am reaching out, straining my eyes to see the distance, taking notes mentally; I normally don’t do any of these things when I am listening for enjoyment.

And so knowing that I must write about what I am listening to changes the listening experience.  If it is a digital source, I might even pause, rewind and replay. I find myself looking for strengths and weaknesses in the music instead of taking it on it’s own terms. It’s like the difference between dating someone for the enjoyment of their company and dating to determine an appropriate life partner.

And there is the selection of material.  When I listen for enjoyment, I pick something I am in the mood for, or something I just bought, or something that will provide a unique experience.  When I am writing a post about one of the best albums of 1967, the selection process is limited to that year, and I have to find something that is pretty good and that others will enjoy.  When listening, I ask myself, is this album good enough to mention as a “Fifty Year Friday” album, and if the answer is no, the album has served it’s purpose as a candidate and either I tolerantly listen to the end, or I stop and put on something else.

And to select an album, I review all potential choices: albums in my collection I have heard dozens of times, both as an dedicated listener and as background to other activities, as well as albums that I purchased, and never played — or played the first track — or continued past the first track but made secondary while reading liner notes, reading a book, or doing something else.

And so we come to this Velvet Underground album. I know this is a good group: a very important group in its place in the history of music.  And I was a fan of Lou Reed’s “Transformer” album, at least marginally, having heard it a few times in 1973 and 1974. And so, back in the early 1990’s, when I would buy a few dozen CDs every month, mostly jazz and classical, I saw this in the local mega-bookstore bin,  and not having a single Velvet Undergound CD, and knowing this was supposedly a good one, I immediately bought  it with a few dozen other CDs.  When I got home, this CD had to compete with a previously purchased 18 CD set of Nat King Cole, a Chet Baker CD, the complete Bill Holiday on Verve, a 6 CD T-Bone Walker set, a Captain Beefheart CD and several new classical CDs. Neither the Velvet Underground nor the Captain Beefheart won  me over after the first couple of tracks, so I set them aside, meaning to listen to them soon, but never doing so.

But now, in 2017, looking for worthwhile albums from 1967, I select this previously neglected CD, and listen to it with full attention. And to my surprise, it is a musical treasure.

If Sgt. Pepper’s is the first example of progressive rock, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” is the first example of Art-Rock, at least that I know of.  I am not always a fan of so-called Art Rock — it can get on my nerves, but like the genre, free-jazz, when it is done right, it is great — when it is just an excuse for lack of structure, vision, content, it is like so much of the so-called classical “Avant-Garde” (neither classical or particularly innovative) of the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s — a waste of valuable listening time.

This album, though, has direction, intensity, texture, form, structure.  There is a sense that there is a canvas with dimensions in space and time that is being systematically addressed with points, dabs, strokes, shades, groupings and contrasts.

“Sunday Morning” is the last song recorded for the album, but it makes sense for it to open the album as it is most accessible and apparently disarmingly innocent of all the songs.  The celesta provides a music-box like introduction, to a peaceful, tranquil tune with lyrics that belie the musical serenity:

“Sunday morning
And I’m falling
I’ve got a feeling
I don’t want to know”

This is a song that could have gotten substantial airplay.  Perhaps it didn’t due to the contrast between the pleasantly serene melody and the disheartening lyrics. Perhaps it didn’t because of Lou Reed’s distinct half-spoken and sometimes imperfect intonation. Or perhaps there were commercial reasons or lack of the necessary behind-the-scenes connections.

The musically bucolic first track is contrasted with a rough, repetitive, blues based “Waiting for the Man.” The lyrics are again bleak, portraying a New York City heroin addict, looking to score from his dealer.

Since music is generally my main focus, let’s get the lyrics out of way.  Lou Reed’s writing is direct, brutally honest, and of its time.  These are not the clever, playful, roundabout lyrics we find in most of the more socially-relevant music of the time. This is a much more accurate, even painful, representation of reality.  Lou Reed connects with life’s realities  rather than just observes or comments on life:

“I’m waiting for my man
Twenty-six dollars in my hand
Up to Lexington, one, two, five
Feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive
I’m waiting for my man

“Hey, white boy, what you doin’ uptown?
Hey, white boy, you chasin’ our women around?
Oh pardon me sir, it’s the furthest from my mind
I’m just lookin’ for a dear, dear friend of mine
I’m waiting for my man”

The music here is frantic, with hints of barrelhouse piano transformed into a pounding commentary on withdrawal and drug dependency.  This is not pleasant music.   This is musical drama.

Lou Reed is sometimes flat, and occasionally here or there sharp, but, thankfully, he wavers more like a gymnast maintaining equilibrium on the balance beam, his pitch violations compensated by his confident and appropriate delivery of the text which unfailingly communicates the intrinsic meaning and essence inherent in the words. Not the case with Nico.  At the insistence of Andy Warhol, Nico was added to the band to perform lead vocals on a few of the tracks as well as some backing vocals.  On the third track of the album, the wistful ballad, “Femme Fatale”, the combination of being out of tune and lack of consistent expression erode her voice’s timbral strengths inviting one to consider how much better the album would have been with Lou Reed replacing her lead vocal assignments.

It is with “Venus in Furs” that this album takes off into another musical sphere.  Not only is the focus on the substance, with a given mood and direction deftly and often roughly crafted for each track, but we get a range of music styles — some of that immediate time period and some hinting at the near future.

One can identify the influences in this album: Bob Dylan, blues, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, free jazz (Lou was a fan of Cecil Taylor), classical avant garde, modernism and experimental music (Cale studied with Humphrey Searle, and after coming to the U.S, had ties to Iannis Xenakis, John Cage and La Monte Young), British Invasion, British Skiffle, Indian and eastern music (note the drone and guitar in “Venus in Furs”), and possibly the New York Hypnotic School.  More to the point are the many hints and foreshadowings of future styles of music including minimalism, psychedelic, glam rock, art rock, progressive rock, punk, goth, and grunge.  I will take bets on Velvet Underground having influenced Peter Hamill, David Bowie, PJ Harvey and groups like the Residents (at least a little), Explosions in the Sky, Sex Pistols, Joy Division, U2, Sonic Youth, Talking Heads, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, R.E.M. and countless others.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Lou Reed except where noted.

Side A
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. Sunday Morning Lou Reed, John Cale 2:54
2. I’m Waiting for the Man 4:39
3. Femme Fatale 2:38
4. Venus in Furs 5:12
5. Run Run Run 4:22
6. All Tomorrow’s Parties 6:00
Side B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
7. Heroin 7:12
8. There She Goes Again 2:41
9. I’ll Be Your Mirror 2:14
10. The Black Angel’s Death Song Lou Reed, John Cale 3:11
11. European Son Reed, Cale, Sterling MorrisonMaureen Tucker 7:46

Personnel

On the original album:

Production

  • Andy Warhol – producer
  • Tom Wilson – post-production supervisor, “Sunday Morning” producer
  • Ami Hadami (credited as Omi Haden) – T.T.G. Studios engineer
  • Gary Kellgren – Scepter Studios engineer (uncredited)
  • Norman Dolph – Scepter Studios engineer (uncredited)
  • John Licata – Scepter Studios engineer (uncredited)
  • Gene Radice – post-production editor, remixer
  • David Greene – post-production editor, remixer

For those that want to hear additional Lou Reed compositions from this time period, they can listen to “Chelsea Girl”, Nico’s solo album recorded in 1966 after “Velvet Underground & Nico”, and released in October 1967. The name of the album is a reference to Andy Warhol‘s 1966 film Chelsea Girls, in which Nico starred and includes a Lou Read composition of that same name. Besides Lou Reed, John Cale and Sterling Morrison making contributions, we also get two Jackson Browne compositions and his guitar on five of the tracks. Jackson Browne was providing back up for Nico’s small venue performances in 1966, and romantically involved with her until 1968.

Nico’s vocals are slightly better than on the Velvet Underground album, but there are still serious problems with pitch and in providing appropriate emotional delivery of the lyrics.  The string arrangements, instrumental backing, and strength of the compositions help alleviate some of Nico’s performance shortcomings.

 

 

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

Side A

  1. “The Fairest of the Seasons” (Jackson Browne, Gregory Copeland) – 4:06
  2. These Days” (Jackson Browne) – 3:30
  3. “Little Sister” (John CaleLou Reed) – 4:22
  4. “Winter Song” (John Cale) – 3:17
  5. “It Was a Pleasure Then” (Lou Reed, John Cale, Christa Päffgen) – 8:02

Side B

  1. Chelsea Girls” (Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison) – 7:22
  2. I’ll Keep It With Mine” (Bob Dylan) – 3:17 Note: this song was recorded by Dylan in 1965 but remained unreleased on any of his own albums until the 1985 Biograph set.
  3. “Somewhere There’s a Feather” (Jackson Browne) – 2:16
  4. “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” (Lou Reed) – 5:07
  5. “Eulogy to Lenny Bruce” (Tim Hardin) – 3:45

Personnel

Technical

Fifty Year Friday: John Coltrane; Jefferson Airplane “Surrealistic Pillow”

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“One positive thought produces millions of positive vibrations.” — John Coltrane

Coltrane’s left us fifty years ago on July 27, 1967.   He played, improvised, and composed music for a number of essential albums including “Blue Train”, “Bags and Train” with Milt Jackson, “Giant Steps”, “Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane”, “My Favorite Things”, “Live at the Village Vanguard”, “Duke Ellington & John Coltrane”, “Coltrane live at Birdland” with an incomparable version of “Afro Blue”, the one of a kind “John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman” album, and the classic “A Love Supreme.” Also of note is the June 1965 session (released in 1970) as the album “Transition” with the title track being essential to fans of  the music contained in a”Love Supreme.”  There is also music recorded in 1967, released years after Coltrane’s death, that could be classified as Free Jazz including “The Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording” recorded on April 23, 1967. It’s interesting to compare a 1963 live version of “My Favorite Things” to the 1967 version:

Thank-you, Mr. John Coltrane for the all this incredible music you provided.

Twenty-six year old department store model, Grace Slick, a graduate of Palo Alto High and resident of the Bay area (San Francisco Bay area) after reading an article about one of the local bands, Jefferson Airplane, in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, went to see them live where they played regularly (“The Matrix”, a club on Fillmore Avenue) and was soon inspired to start a band, with her husband, his brother, and three others.  

This band, “The Great Society”, named after LBJ‘s set of programs to address unjust social conditions, soon opened for other more established Bay Area groups including Jefferson Airplane, and eventually attracted the attention of Columbia Records which offered them a recording contract at about the same time that the Jefferson Airplane was looking to replace their female vocalist, Signe Toly Anderson.  Mrs. Anderson, an expecting mother, felt that she could no longer tour with the band and take care of a newborn and so gave notice, informing the public, on October 15, 1966 with words befitting any flower-power child: “I want you all to wear smiles and daisies and box balloons. I love you all. Thank you and goodbye.”

Grace Slick left her band, which not being able to continue without her, disbanded, and she joined Jefferson Airplane, bringing with her two particularly notable songs: the Great Society’s lead guitarist’s medium-tempo song “Someone to Love” and her own drug-inspired composition, “White Rabbit.”

Jefferson Airplane embraced both Grace’s powerful singing and these two tunes, which they re-arranged, maybe not for the better, but certainly with greater commercial appeal.

“Surrealistic Pillow”, Jefferson’s Airplane’s second album and the first album with Grace Slick takes advantage of Grace’s high-energy vocals from the very first track, where her background vocals are of more interest than Marty Balin’s main vocals and perhaps the main melody itself. The second track, is “Somebody to Love”, played with more force and at a faster tempo than the Great Society arrangement.

This album also includes a song that Marty Balin wrote originally for Tony Bennett: “I wrote it to try to meet Tony Bennett. He was recording in the next studio. I admired him, so I thought I’d write him a song. I never got to meet him, but the Airplane ended up doing it.” Jerry Garcia plays guitar on several tracks for this album including the short repetitive electric guitar phrase heard here:  


“Today” is followed by the evocative, marijuana-paced (and perhaps marijuana-influenced) Balin composition “Comin’ Back to Me.”

Side 2 starts with “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Second”, more for dancing then listening.  “DCBA” is relaxed and with somewhat puzzling lyrics:

“It’s time you walked away and set me free”

but later

“I take great peace in your sitting there
Searching for myself, I find a place there.”

and then in the middle of this

“Here in crystal chandelier, I’m home.
Too many days, I’ve left unstoned.
If you don’t mind happiness
Purple-pleasure fields in the sun.
Ah, don’t you know I’m runnin’ home.
Don’t you know I’m runnin’ home (to a place to you unknown? )”

“How do you feel” is one of those innocuous feel-good songs that would be comfortably at home on an album by The Mamas and Papas or The Association. “Embryonic Journey” is an excellent acoustic guitar instrumental, composed as part of a guitar workshop in Santa Clara by Jorma Kaukonen three years before he was invited to join Jefferson Airplane band by friend and fellow-classmate Paul Kantner.

The penultimate cut of the album, is the standout “White Rabbit”, rearranged musically to be succinct, focused, rhythmic and eerily similar to Ravel’s Bolero.  No concessions were made lyrically:

“One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don’t do anything at all:
Go ask Alice
When she’s ten feet tall.

“And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call:
Call Alice
When she was just small.

“When the men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low:
Go ask Alice
I think she’ll know.

“When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said:
‘Feed your head.
Feed your head.'”

I think it is at this point in time, more or less, that the commercial interests of the major music labels became more important than censorship of music with anti-establishment lyrics.   During the last eight weeks of summer, it seemed that one could not turn on Southern California AM radio without “Light My Fire” or “White Rabbit” being played at least once in any given hour. As a twelve-year old, I knew something was changing in the world around me as an older culture began to buckle under the weight of newer ideals — even if those ideals were plainly self-indulgent.

“Surrealistic Pillow” ends with a trippy, protypical Haight-Ashbury tune, “Plastic Fantastic Lover”, mocking the ascendancy of the boob tube:

“Her neon mouth with the blinkers-off smile
Nothing but an electric sign
You could say she has an individual style
She’s part of a colorful time.

“Secrecy of lady-chrome-covered clothes
You wear cause you have no other
But I suppose no one knows
You’re my plastic fantastic lover.

“Her rattlin’ cough never shuts off
Is nothin’ but a used machine
Her aluminum finish, slightly diminished
Is the best I ever have seen.

“Cosmetic baby plugged into me
I’d never ever find another;
I realize no one’s wise
To my plastic fantastic lover.

“The electrical dust is starting to rust
Her trapezoid thermometer taste;
All the red tape is mechanical rape
Of the TV program waste.

“Data control and IBM
Science is mankind’s brother
But all I see is drainin’ me
On my plastic fantastic lover.”

Music can transcend time, be a document of its time, or both.  “Surrealistic Pillow” is indisputably an important musical document of its time. As as listener, you must decide if it transcends time. For those of us that grew up with this music, it tends to take us back in time, which, I suppose, is as valid way as any to transcend time.

Track listing (from Wikipedia)

Side one
  1. She Has Funny Cars” (Jorma KaukonenMarty Balin) – 3:14
  2. Somebody to Love” (Darby Slick) – 3:00
  3. “My Best Friend” (Skip Spence) – 3:04
  4. Today” (Balin, Paul Kantner) – 3:03
  5. Comin’ Back to Me” (Balin) – 5:23
Side two
  1. “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” (Balin) – 3:45
  2. “D.C.B.A.–25” (Kantner) – 2:39
  3. “How Do You Feel” (Tom Mastin) – 3:34
  4. Embryonic Journey” (Kaukonen) – 1:55
  5. White Rabbit” (Grace Slick) – 2:32
  6. “Plastic Fantastic Lover” (Balin) – 2:39

Personnel (from Wikipedia)

  • Marty Balin – vocals, guitar, album design, lead vocals on “Today”, “Comin’ Back To Me” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover”, co-lead vocals on “She Has Funny Cars”, “My Best Friend” and “Go To Her”
  • Jack Casady – bass guitarfuzz bassrhythm guitar
  • Spencer Dryden – drumspercussion
  • Paul Kantner – rhythm guitar, vocals, lead vocals on “How Do You Feel”, co-lead vocals on “My Best Friend”, “D. C. B. A.-25” and “Go To Her”
  • Jorma Kaukonen – lead guitar, lead vocals on “Come Back Baby” and “In The Morning”
  • Grace Slick – vocals, piano, organrecorder, lead vocals on “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit”, co-lead vocals on “She Has Funny Cars”, “My Best Friend”, “D. C. B. A.-25” and “Go To Her”
  • Signe Toly Anderson – lead vocals on “Chauffeur Blues” (UK only)
  • Skip Spence – drums on “Don’t Slip Away”, “Come Up the Years”, and “Chauffeur Blues” (UK only)
Additional personnel
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