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Fifty Year Friday: Far Out 1967, Part One

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Morton Subotnick, “Silver Apples of the Moon”

Morton Subotnick, one of the founders of California Institute of the Arts, co-founded San Francisco Tape Music Center in 1962 , left his teaching post a Mills College and moved to New York City  and accepted an artist-in-residence position at the newly formed Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.  His previous works and performances attracted the attention of the New York City based Nonesuch  label, which provided Subotnick the opportunity to compose the very first electronic work commissioned by a record company.  “Silver Apples of the Moon” was the result and quickly became a best selling “classical music” album and a staple of most university music libraries.

Classical music of that time, and electronic music in particular, generally was inaccessible and avoided traditional use of melody, harmony and rhythms to produce works that seemed more composed by chance, process or mathematical rules than to be products of the heart and soul.  Subotnick breaks with this general trend, balancing the non-traditional sounds with an overall lightheartedness and whimsy, with the first side being more varied and the second side simpler, and somewhat less captivating, with use of rhythmic motifs and a less complex, varied texture and range of sound elements.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

  1. “Part A” – 16:33
  2. “Part B” – 14:52

Personnel

  • Morton Subotnick – Buchla synthesizer, Liner Notes, Primary Artist
  • Bradford Ellis – Digital Restoration, Mastering, Remixing
  • Michael Hoenig – Mastering, Remixing
  • H.J. Kropp – Cover Design
  • Tony Martin – Illustrations

 

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The Mesmerizing Eye,  “Psychedelia, a Musical Light Show”

As often the case in the sixties (1960’s rather than a reference to my age), the music produced by the “established” academic artists was often less compelling and relevant than than what was being done elsewhere.   Here we have an album by the obscure band, The Mesmerizing Eye, that in my view has much more to say to the listener than Subotnick’s “Silver Apples of the Moon.”  This is the only album released by The Mesmerizing Eye, and not clear to me if this was really a band, or if this album was a work of one or two people.

Musique concrète is a classification applied to music constructed by mixing various recorded sounds, sometimes environmental and urban sounds, sometimes such sounds with instruments added, but generally with the intent of creating an auditory experience that is produced from a mixture of disparate sounds, that have disparate associations, and that we traditionally hear in various and disparate contexts.   This album draws heavily on that tradition, relying on the medium of tape for the assembly of the final product, yet unlike so many of these type of excursions layered onto tape, there is a general sense of order, meaning, and intent. The album is not only interesting and engaging, but the titles and back-cover liner notes provide additional context and clarity into the music’s relevance and purpose.  For example, from the notes for the third track on side two, “The War for My Mind”: “Too many commercials on TV, too much telling us what to do — go to school, wear a tie, cut our hair.  They want to control our mind.” Right on! This is classic 1967 anti-establishment philosophy!  And, in terms of too many commercials and conformity to the onslaught of commercial messages, more relevant to us today than ever.

The tracks dissolve into each other, with a variety of instruments that varies from track to track.  Instruments include church choir, church organ, church bells, piano, acoustic and electric guitar, trumpet, flute, bagpipes, calliope and additional instruments mixed with various background sounds (including the mandatory crying baby) on other tracks. Under twenty-five minutes, always moving forward with a sense of purpose, and making good use of it’s stereophonic capabilities, this little album leaves many of the works by established academia-blessed composers of the 1950’s and 1960’s in its dust. Difficult to find on LP, impossible to find on CD, this  album is available on YouTube for those that don’t require lossless audio quality:

 

Tracklist (from discogs.com)

A1 Birth Of A Nation 2:42
A2 Rain Of Terror 2:26
A3 Tempus Fugit 2:09
A4 Opus 71 2:24
A5 Twenty-First Century Express 2:32
B1 May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Flute 2:10
B2 Requiem For Suzy Creamcheese 2:15
B3 The War For My Mind 1:54
B4 Dear Mom, Send Money 2:08
B5 Exercise In Frustration 2:07

Companies, etc.

Credits

 

George Russell’s Othello Ballet Suite was recorded in Stockholm in one of the Radio Sweden studios on November 3rd and 4th 1967.  At a little under 30 minutes, this work for orchestra and jazz musicians is performed by 23 musicians including several noteworthy Swedish jazz musicians and the Norwegians Jon Christensen on drums and Jan Garbarek on tenor sax.  Sometimes majestic and beautiful, sometimes wild and exuberantly chaotic, sometimes showcasing individual soloing brilliance, sometimes a collective of orchestral anonymity, this work is adventurous, forward, and bordering on uncivilized, yet alluringly riveting, and mostly coherent.

Even further out is the companion work, “Electronic Organ Sonata No. 1” which was recorded in 1968.  The piece is full of interesting textures and includes many interesting moments, but for me, falls short of the appeal of the ballet suite.

A digital version of the material on this LP is available as part of a 9 CD set, “George Russell ‎– The Complete Remastered Recordings On Black Saint & Soul Note.”

Tracklist (from www.discogs.com)

1 Othello Ballet Suite (Part I)
2 Othello Ballet Suite (Part II)
3 Electronic Organ Sonata No. 1

Credits

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

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

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

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

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

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

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

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

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

All songs composed by Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropoulos

Personnel

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

Production notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Track listing[Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Ray Davies, unless otherwise noted.

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

Personnel

 

 

 

 

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

Front Larry Young Contrasts

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

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

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

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

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

Personnel

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

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

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

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

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

Personnel

 

 

Fifty Year Friday: Mahler’s Sixth Symphony and “Song of the Earth”

Gustav Mahler’s Sixth Symphony performed by Sir John Barbirolli and the New Philharmonia Orchestra (live recording of August 16, 1967 — Proms performance)

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Gustav Mahler’s sixth symphony was first performed in May 1906 by the composer. Interestingly, Mahler performed the movements in a different order (Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, Finale) than the order in the version published two months earlier. What apparently occurred was that Mahler, during rehearsals, decided that the symphony worked better if the second and third movements were swapped, placing the scherzo in its historically more traditional place after a slow second movement and before the last movement. Mahler notified his publisher to put out a second edition with the new order of Allegro, Andante, Scherzo and Finale and to include errata additions to unsold copies of the first edition.

For the next few decades, Mahler’s sixth was performed with the Scherzo following that Andante slow movement.  Then in the 1950s the first editor of the Critical Edition of Mahler’s works, Erwin Ratz,  came to the conclusion that Mahler had got it right originally and that despite Mahler always conducting the Sixth with the Scherzo after the Andante, that the correct order should be with the Scherzo before the Andante. Without any solid supporting evidence, Ratz, when finalizing the “authoritative” Critical Edition of the Sixth Symphony in 1963, stated in the preface that Mahler had meant to revert to the original order as represented by the first edition, but did not (as Mahler had died in 1911.)

Turns out we now know that Ratz had falsified evidence to support what probably was a personal conclusion based on his analysis of the score.  The Scherzo shares thematic material with the first movement as well as tonal orientation.  Analysis may support a view that Mahler wrote the piece to be performed in the order Ratz proposes, but composers certainly are allowed to make changes, as Mahler not only did to the order, but to the score itself,  and Mahler, known for revising his published works, probably would have made further changes over time if he had lived longer.

In 1998, the latest Critical Edition of the Sixth was released, with the Ratz error still in place, but then in 2004, The Kaplan Foundation published a paper including an essay by recording engineer Jerry Bruck and an essay by Reinhold Kubik, the new chief editor of the Mahler Critical Edition. overturning the Ratz order of Scherzo before Andante and refuting Ratz’s assertion.

Thus with a few exception, all recordings between 1961 and around 2000 or so, have the Scherzo occurring before the Andante.  One notable exception is the live January 1966 Berlin Philharmonic recording conducted by Sir John Barbirolli and the live August 16 1967 and the August 1967 studio recording performed by New Philharmonia Orchestra and also conducted by  Sir John Barbirolli.

Performing a complex work like Mahler’s Sixth demands serious study of the score. It is not a work that easily comes together into a comprehensible whole.  For this work to sound like a single unified piece with an overall logic and message, it requires a major commitment by any conductor.  Barbirolli was indeed very serious in his study of this work.  Perhaps it was through such score analysis that led to Barbirolli’s decision to put the Scherzo after the Andante. Perhaps he realized that the Andante provided the necessary contrast, release of tension, and proper overall flow when coming between the opening movement and the scherzo.

When these recordings where first issued, the two live version had the movements in the order they were performed, but for the August 1967 studio version, EMI reversed the order of the middle movements to place the Scherzo back earlier as was indicated in the erroneous critical edition.  Reportedly, Barbirolli was more disappointed then angry at this, but thankfully, current CDs of this studio version have the Scherzo properly placed as the third movement as performed originally and consistently by both Mahler and Barbirolli.

There are only a few recordings of the sixth undertaken before these three Barbirolli recordings in 1966 and 1967.  Since 1967 there have been several dozen recordings, most of these occurring in the CD era.  For those recordings made in the last forty years of the twentieth century where the Scherzo was performed before the Andante, one might just be tempted to program the CD to play these in the proper order, but this doesn’t quite work so well as each of these conductors crafted an overall performance architecture to work around an earlier placed Scherzo.  In my opinion, switching the order, just makes these performances less logical and cohesive, not more.

Of the two 1967 Barbirolli recordings, both are worth a listen, and the notable differences are as follows:

  1. The 1967 live recording sound is not such a great recording sonically.  The studio recording is much better.  Even the earlier 1966 Berlin live performance is significantly better sounding than the 1967 live recording.
  2. The 1967 live recording is far from a flawless performance with some audible flubs by the orchestra.
  3. The pace of the two recordings are much different. The tempo of the live 1967 recording, like the live 1966 recording, is an appropriate tempo to keep the music moving forward and connect the various ideas.  The tempo of the studio recording is puzzling slow::
    1. First movement: 1967 Studio: 21:20. 1967 Live: 19:08
    2. Second movement: 1967 Studio: 16:03. 1967 Live: 14:00
    3. Third movement: 1967 Studio: 13:59. 1967 Live: 12:08
    4. Fourth movement: 1967 Studio: 32:48. 1967 Live: 29:23
  4. The orchestra sounds more engaged and more focused in the live recording.  Some of this may be due to the faster tempo, but certainly playing live often brings out the best in concert hall performers.
  5. Unfortunately, both these recordings omit the repeat as noted in the score of the first movement, a common practice when recording long works during the LP era.

This 1967 Live recording may suffer slightly in comparison to more recent recordings of Mahler’s Sixth, but historically, one has to love how Sir John Barbirolli not only took on what was then a vastly underappreciated work, but got so much right in performing this work.

Mahler’s “Lied von der Erde” (“Song of the Earth”) performed by Otto Klemperer and Philharmonia Orchestra, New Philharmonia Orchestra, Christa Ludwig mezzo soprano, and Fritz Wunderlich tenor

 

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Recorded in February and Novemeber 1964 at two venues (with the orchestra changing its name from “Philharmonia” to “New Philharmonia” in between) and released in 1967 on a 2 LP set along with five songs from two different Mahler works (two songs from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” and three of five songs from “Rückert-Lieder”) this was the best recording of Gustav Mahler’s “Das Lied Von Der Erde” found in college music libraries in the 1970s, where music majors like me often went to listen to such works as part of their music history studies. This recording captures the music with detail and beauty, presenting a relatively forward plane of sound such that solos are clear and both singers are placed in front and not lost amidst a large orchestra. It is a real joy to listen to on a good audio system with the clarinet, oboe and flute lines distinct and luminously clear  throughout and the two soloists balanced so well against their orchestral accompaniment.

There is no disputing the importance or quality of what many consider to be Mahler’s greatest work.  Composed in 1908, it was written after 1) Mahler had suffered through the politics of hatred and antisemitism that forced him to resign as director of the Vienna Court Opera, after 2) Mahler learned that he had a fatal heart condition, probably a congenital defect that had claimed the lives of his little brother and later his mother, and, 3) worse than either of these for any parent, the loss of his five-year-old daughter, Maria to scarlet fever and diptheria.

marial “With one stroke,” he wrote to his friend Bruno Walter, “I have lost everything I have gained in terms of who I thought I was, and have to learn my first steps again like a newborn”.

“Das Lied Von Der Erde” is a symphony in six parts written on the text of seven poems from Hans Bethge’s first book of translation of Tang Dynasty poetry, “The Chinese Flute.” Mahler begins “Das Lied Von Der Erde” with these dark words attributed to wandering Chinese poet, Li Bai:

“The wine beckons in golden goblets
but drink not yet; first I’ll sing you a song.
The song of sorrow shall ring laughingly in your soul.
When the sorrow comes, blasted lie the gardens of the soul,
wither and perish joy and singing.
Dark is life, dark is death!”

Mahler’s “Song of the Earth” is a work one can listen to repeatedly absorbing the sparkling, transitory joy, the moments of anguish, despair, and bleak, unshakable sorrow, and the spiritual sophistication and beauty of Mahler’s chromatically extended tonality.  Of all the recordings out there, this 1967 classic recording by Klemperer, the Philharmonia Orchestra/New Philharmonia Orchestra, Christa Ludwig, and Fritz Wunderlich is a perfect place to start or return to, depending how many times you have listened to “Das Lied Von Der Erde.”  Otto Klemperer was one of the few conductors who actually knew Gustav Mahler, heard Mahler conduct, and survived into the age of stereo to record him.  Perhaps this is the closest to hearing how Mahler would have recorded this work.

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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