Friday, December 25, 2009
The Spike Jones Show aired from 1954-61 on both the NBC and CBS networks. It remains one of the most manic, and hilarious programs ever. The Best Of Spike Jones is a three-disc set, and marks the first time any of this material has appeared on DVD. It is little wonder the man is held in such high esteem by those in the know, the frenzied song take-offs really are one of a kind.
Spike is just all over the place, beginning and ending songs with his starter’s pistol, using various-size milk bottles as percussion instruments, as well as his trademark “horn-tree.” Plus the band is superb. To be able to play music this complex, while performing the bits included in each tune takes a rare talent.
I had only previously seen short excerpts of these shows on certain "Golden Age Of Television" compilations, so seeing the programs in their full glory has been a real treat. Right from the top, with the uproarious opening segment, the fun never lets up. One of Spike’s most famous hits was his take on “The William Tell Overture,” presented as the radio play-by-play of a horse race. The addition of visuals to this piece just makes it all the funnier.
Comedian Billy Barty was a regular on the show, and his send-up of Liberace, as “Spikowski,” is indelible. Another classic features a guest appearance by Eddy Arnold. He runs into Spike on the sidewalk, and they decide to perform an impromptu duet, Eddy with his guitar, and Spike with his ever-present pistols. They are immediately arrested, and the next scene features them in a jail cell. Spike’s jailhouse “stripes” have a fur-collar, and Eddy is in some sort of striped tuxedo. There is also a slot-machine in the cell, and somehow the rest of the band have joined them. The whole thing is wonderfully ridiculous. Other great guest stars appearing on this compilation include Howdy Doody and Zasu Pitts, although neither match the surrealism of the Arnold appearance.
The first two DVDs of The Best Of Spike Jones contain three and a half-hours of classic entertainment. Disc three consists of two unaired pilots, which do not differ much from the format that was eventually bought, and add some nice historical context to the set.
All three DVDs are in black and white, and while the quality is not perfect, the prints seem to have been fairly well-preserved, and have been digitally re-mastered.
Artists from “Weird Al” Yankovic, to Frank Zappa have cited Spike Jones as an influence, and even the legendary comedian George Carlin sung his praises. If you have ever wondered what all the fuss was about with Spike, this Best Of DVD set is the perfect way to check out his unique sense of humor. I swear, even all these years later, the material remains as outrageously funny as ever.
When the Count passed in 1984, the jazz world lost one of its final remnants of the Big Band era. Could he have possibly imagined that 25 years later, an orchestra bearing his name would still be out there? Probably so, as he put the wheels in motion for The Count Basie Orchestra to live on long after his death. Still, it is an unusual experience to hear such a modern take on the music he had such a tremendous role in forming.
The history is important in relation to Swinging, Singing, Playing, because the subtitle of the record is The Count Basie Orchestra Salutes The Jazz Masters. The Orchestra’s reverence for the history of jazz is almost the entire point of this disc. I say almost, because there also happens to be some damned fine music contained here as well.
The opening track, “Too Close For Comfort,” is a case in point. The original 1956 version by Ella Fitzgerald was so indelible that it became something of a standard, covered by Sammy Davis Jr., and his buddy Frank Sinatra, no less. The Count Basie Orchestra’s version pulls in the brilliant Nnenna Freelon for vocals. Freelon was an excellent choice, as she is totally in her element singing against the prominent, and very swinging horns.
Janis Siegel (of The Manhattan Transfer) is probably the better-known vocalist on this set, and her three performances are outstanding. Her scat-singing on the Ella classic “Like Young” is sublime. Her other two appearances, “I Have Waited So Long,” and “Close Your Eyes” are first-rate too. The presence of the renowned pianist Hank Jones on “Close Your Eyes” may have been an additional inspiration for her.
Although Swinging, Singing, Playing is primarily a vocals-infused recording, there are some noteworthy instrumental performances as well. I am particularly fond of “Naiomi’s Blues” in this regard. James Leary opens the tune with some fine bass work, followed by (the unfortunately named) Tony Suggs’ piano, then the palpable trombone of Mr. Clarence Banks. A nice tune all around.
In this context, it is somewhat disconcerting to hear John Coltrane quoted a couple of times, but it was specific, and intentional. What is unsurprising is the fact that the best tune (for me at least), “Naiomi’s Blues” was written, and dedicated to Count Basie himself.
Smiling down from that Big Band In The Sky, I imagine that Count Basie would enjoy what his Orchestra is doing these days.
Easter Monkeys may be one of the most obscure bands I have ever reviewed, and also one of the finest. They came out of the fertile scene of Cleveland, Ohio in the early 1980s, and are yet to receive their proper due. With the release of Splendor Of Sorrow, Smog Veil Records hopes to rectify this slight.
It is strange how these music scenes work. London, San Francisco, New York, and Seattle have all been acknowledged as “hip“ centers. But Cleveland played host to one of the coolest ever from about 1975-85. The “big” names are fairly well-known: Devo, Pere Ubu, and The Dead Boys. But as any local denizen can tell you, there were probably ten better bands that were never heard outside of town.
Easter Monkeys were one of them, and Splendor Of Sorrow holds an appeal that resonates to this day. “Take Another Pill” kicks things off in a rollicking, drug-addled style. The Easter Monkeys’ punk-rock meets Captain Beefheart-thing is apparent immediately. Another highlight for me is “Heaven 357,” a tribute to Ubu, in the guise of a painful lament.
Easter Monkeys were a ground-breaking amalgam of punk and jazz, yet nowhere near as hokey as that description sounds. The tradition Easter Monkeys share with both punk, (or just plain rock), and jazz, is the DIY mentality. Listening to the workout the band gives both live, and in the studio of “Nailed To The Cross,” one has to wonder how it played later on.
There is a certain amount of satisfaction in coming across such a great package as Splendor Of Sorrow. In addition to the audio-disc of Easter Monkey’s one and only LP, plus a couple of singles and demos, there is also a DVD of a live performance, shot in 1982. Raw and unprofessional as hell, the DVD seems exhumed from someone’s garage. The night was obviously fun for everyone involved.
25 years on, do Easter Monkeys really matter? I would say yes. They combine the best of the Albert Ayler-inspired frenzy of The Stooges Funhouse, with the cool Midwest-branded thing of Husker Du and The Replacements. This is a great, if unknown band.
All in all, Splendor Of Sorrow is a very nice find.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Poly Styrene’s vocals are still as brilliant as ever. Thirty years on, she sounds as vital as she did in 1977. I miss Lora Logic on the sax, nevertheless Live At The Roundhouse - London 2008 is every bit the great anniversary show one would hope for.
Germ Free Adolescents has taken its deserved place next to the first Clash LP and Never Mind The Bollocks as one of the most vital initial salvos of British punk. Unfortunately, when the record was originally released, it was only available in the US as an expensive import, which limited things considerably for the band.
By the time X-Ray Spex disbanded in 1979, they had recorded a mere 16 songs. 12 appeared on Germ Free Adolescents, with the remaining four spread out on various singles. All of these, save “Plastic Bag,” are performed on Live At The Roundhouse, plus four later numbers.
Poly Styrene (Marian Joan Elliott), wrote and sang all of the songs, so it is no surprise that when she left in 1979 to join the Hare Krishnas, the band fell apart. Over the course of the past thirty years, X-Ray Spex have re-formed in various guises, most notably with their 1995 record, Conscious Consumer, which promptly went to the cut-out bin.
So it was a bit of a revelation to hear Poly on this 30th anniversary live celebration of Germ Free Adolescents. The lady still rocks! Not only that, but she can still hit the notes as strongly as ever, which is a pretty impressive feat in itself.
The show opens with the classic “Oh Bondage, Up Yours,” and the pace never lets up. Particular favorites are from Germ Free Adolescents, such as the title song, the aforementioned “Oh Bondage, Up Yours,” "Warrior In Woolworths," and “Art-I-Ficial.” Special mention must go out to one of the later tunes, as well—the ballad “Crystal Clear” is a great one.
As cool as Live At The Roundhouse is, the record is obviously geared towards a specific market: nostalgic old punkers like myself. But I honestly believe that the packaging and presentation of this disc could be a real possibility for the nearly comatose record industry.
Live At The Roundhouse includes the basic CD of the concert, a DVD of the show, and a 24-page booklet entitled “Poly Styrene’s Diary Of The Seventies,” which is hilarious. It is a first-class collection of material, priced at what a regular retail CD would go for.
The professional band Poly Styrene has assembled behind her for this anniversary of the defiantly punk Germ Free Adolescents is somewhat discombobulating. It just does not fit with the memories of the young punk chick who first recorded “Oh Bondage, Up Yours” in 1977. Reportedly, the song was originally intended as a screed against Sex Pistols svengali Malcolm McLarenen's "Sex" clothing store.
But it makes a weird sort of sense at the end, when Poly brings out not only her daughter, but also her granddaughter for a reprise of her anthem. Whether the song was ever intended to have had the reach it has had is irrelevant; "Oh Bondage" is one of the greatest blasts of punk ever.
Noted curmudgeon John Lydon (Rotten) certainly felt this way. Of X-Ray Spex, his comment was, “They came out with a sound and attitude and a whole energy—it was just not relating to anything around it—superb.”
The distinctive voice of Steve Kilbey comes in, and I am immediately transported to one of the best concerts I saw this year. The Church managed to release one of the best records of their career with Untitled #23, not to mention the fact that their 2009 tour of the US was one of their most successful ever.
Ever since Kilbey's first solo record, The Slow Crack, I have always known that he keeps the personal stuff for himself. In all honesty, though, I think just about everything he has done as a solo artist would have fit within the context of The Church. Unseen Music, Unheard Words certainly backs up this impression. There is not a song on here that would have sounded out of place on Untitled #23.
Apparently, the disc was recorded in an interesting manner. Martin Kennedy of All India Radio and Pray TV created the music, then mailed the tracks to Steve Kilbey, who then wrote lyrics to fit. Kind of an Elton John/Bernie Taupin situation in reverse. What the two of them managed to come up with, though, is quite extraordinary. Leading off with “Eyes Ahead,” Kilbey sets a tone of solitude, longing and loss that pervades the album throughout.
Beautiful? That too.
Like Mark Lanegan’s first solo LP, The Winding Sheet, or Chris Bell’s I Am The Cosmos, Kilbey reaches into his own heart of darkness. The results are as deeply moving as anything I have ever heard.
The pain of “Stretch Into The Stars” is so real, it is difficult to describe. Kilbey presents a break-up on Valentine's Day that obviously destroyed him. The song is followed by the more upbeat “Maybe Soon,” which balances the previous hurt with a dose of new possibilities.This is the brilliance of the perfectly titled Unseen Music, Unheard Words.
I cannot deny the contribution of Martin Kennedy’s music, because all of it fits so incredibly well. But this is a record that delves deep into the soul of a true poet, Steve Kilbey.
He is an amazing talent. Right up there with Van Morrison and Nick Drake, as far as I am concerned. Like Neil Young's On The Beach, this is a record that speaks to people who may not be so impressed with the latest Pop thrills.
Having put time in with both Gary Burton and Joe Henderson’s bands, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel has certainly earned his chops. The fact that his latest recording, Reflections, is his eighth as bandleader does not hurt either.
Kurt may be best known for his previous recording, The Remedy - Live At The Village Vanguard, from 2007. On that powerful disc, he was able to let his inner Mahavishnu run wild on a slew of original tunes. On Standards, Rosenwinkel takes a very different approach. Along with bassist Eric Revis (Branford Marsalis Quartet), and drummer Eric Harland (Charles Lloyd Quartet), Rosenwinkel interprets a number of famous ballads.
The disc opens up with a nice take on the Thelonious Monk classic, “Reflections.” Kurt’s guitar leads follow the original faithfully, and it is a wonder to hear such a great song updated in this fashion. But the bass solo by Eric Revis is even more memorable. This is a player destined for great things.
Song five is another Monk tune, “Ask Me Now.” The trio’s adaptation is just as effective as it was on “Reflections,” right down to another great bass solo from Eric Revis.
Rosenwinkle’s trio also tackles a couple of Wayne Shorter compositions, both “Ana Maria” and “Fall” by the former Miles Davis saxophonist receiving a nod. It is a sign of a true master to hear Kurt go from the hard-bop of Monk’s piano, to the elegant sax lines of Shorter without ever missing a beat.
The only Rosenwinkel original among the eight tracks on Standards is “East Coast Love Affair.” Although this song is basically a ballad, Kurt is able to show off his nimble guitar-playing ability to excellent effect throughout, especially in the introduction.
Reflections certainly lives up to it’s title. While the tempos are for the most part relaxed, the level of musicianship is top-shelf. There is never a sense of any of these three men laying back. In a trio format, everyone is right out there, front and center. It generally falls upon the bass player to hold things together, and Eric Bevis does an excellent job.
After listening to Standards a few times though, I have found that the unsung hero is actually drummer Eric Harland. His rhythm is as spot-on as it gets. I love the fact that he never feels the need to get showy. The guy can certainly keep time, but more importantly, he knows that in this context, he does not need to “prove” himself.
Reflections is a disc well suited to those times of the day that one may feel “reflective,” such as late at night. But truthfully, this music is done so well that it suits my listening habits any time.
Like the career of Guided By Voices itself, the DVD The Devil Went Home And Puked is a beautiful mess. The footage comes from the archive's of GBV main-man, Robert Pollard, and is assembled in roughly chronological order from 1994 to date.
Guided By Voices were initially regarded as leading exponents of the lo-fi movement, popular in the early Nineties. The DVD reflects this low to no-budget approach, with most of the material seemingly originating from friends' camcorders. It suits the music perfectly, as GBV really were dedicated to the DIY aesthetic.
What becomes a little frustrating is the “video collage” manner in which the DVD was put together. There are segments in here that are simply confusing for the casual fan such as myself. For example, what is the significance of the newscast segments about the Boston University hockey team? I am sure there is a reason this material is included, but it is beyond me. And watching the perky news team’s banter adds exactly zero to my enjoyment of Guided By Voices.
Fortunately, that type of stuff is kept to a minimum, and is a minor quibble. Far more exasperating is the snippet format itself. There is so much tantalizing footage, from live appearances to actual produced video, that you just want to see them all the way through. I realize that The Devil Went Home And Puked is Robert Pollard’s project; and who am I to criticize the master’s artistic choices? But still.
This situation is somewhat rectified in the bonus section, which features nine full-length videos. Particularly effective are the ones for the classic “Best Of Jill Hives,” and also “Shadow Port.”
There is a performance piece inspired by the GBV song “Gold Star For Robot Boy,” included as well. Your tolerance level for anything calling itself "a performance piece" should tell you whether you will love or hate this. Finally, there is a section titled “Loving Memories” which reflects on all of the members who passed through Guided By Voices over the years 1983-2004.
The Devil Went Home And Puked is definitely geared toward the serious Guided By Voices fan. I am not sure how much a novice will get out of this. The music is great, as always. But the format is a little tough to follow unless you already know the material. As a vision straight from the head of Robert Pollard though, The Devil Went Home And Puked is a worthy curio.
Monday, December 7, 2009
It has been a busy year for Canadian prog-metal titans Voivod. After suffering the loss of founding guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour in 2005, the band almost packed it in completely. But after a period of mourning, they decided to stay together. At first they went back into the studio to finish the final tracks Piggy had played on, which were released last summer as the Infini album.
To get their chops back in shape though, Voivod did a tour of Japan in 2008. And that is where the live DVD Tatsumaki was recorded. The first order of business became finding someone to play guitar at anywhere near the level of Piggy. Fortunately, the band did not have to look far. They found Dan Mongrain in Quebec, and he has slotted in nicely.
The show opens up with a super-charged take on their anthemic song “Voivod,” and never lets up. Right off the bat, Mongrain shows what he is made of with a smokin' hot solo. The pace never lets up as the band rip through great live versions of “The Unknown Knows,” “Overreaction,” “Panorama,” and “Nothingface,” to mention a few highlights of the 12 song set.
Their finale has to be seen to be believed though. Since I have never seen the band live, I can only speculate that they have been performing this tune for a while in their set, but in any case, it is incredible. They pull out the great, acid-drenched “Astronomy Domine.“ The song was written by the late Syd Barrett, and comes from the classic first Pink Floyd LP, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.
Voivod just tear this song apart. It is an awesome spectacle, and worth the price of the DVD alone.
As for bonus materials on Tatsumaki, there are some pretty good things. First is a cool interview with Dave Grohl, who has been a fan for years. There is also a three song mini-set recorded in July 2009 in Quebec City. The songs the band performs to this rabid crowd are “Panorama,” “Treasure Chase,” and “Tornado.”
Finally, they have included the unreleased mini-documentary Panorama: Seeking Voivod. The dialoge is spoken in French, with English subtitles.
In sum, Tatsumaki is an excellent DVD document of their Japanese tour, and a great way to see the band, and their new man onstage.
As a founding member of the legendary CAN, (which reportedly is an acronym for Communism, Anarchy, Nihilism), Irmin Schmidt’s credentials in the rock avant-garde are unimpeachable. CAN’s influence seems to grow with each passing year, but Schmidt’s true passion seems to have always been soundtrack work. Over the past 35 years, Irwin Schmidt has composed music for over 40 films and TV programs.
A three-CD collection of his music was released in 1995, titled Anthology: Soundtracks 1978-1993. The new two-disc set Filmmusik Anthology Volume 4 & 5, is devoted to the years since the original collection.
CAN’s early-Seventies albums such as Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, and Future Days have been compared to the contemporary records Miles Davis was making. On the surface, CAN’s music had little in common with In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, or Jack Johnson. But dig a little deeper, and the recording techniques were nearly identical.
Davis would assemble his band in the studio and improvise literally for hours, recording everything. This material was then edited down to create the final LPs. CAN’s music of this era was created in exactly the same way. I bring all of this up because the first eight tracks here are strikingly reminiscent of another Davis classic, Sketches Of Spain (1959).
Palermo Shooting is a Wim Wenders film from 2008. It is a film I must admit that I have not yet seen. Based on the music, and Wenders’ excellent credentials, it is one I will be seeking out. One of the more fascinating aspects of the music Schmidt recorded is the man he chose to fill the “Miles” role on trumpet, Markus Stockhausen.
As most CAN fans know, Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay formed the group after meeting as students of the famous musique-concrete pioneer, Karlheinz Stockhausen. Markus is his son. His appearance with Schmidt on the Palermo Shooting tracks completes a very poetic 40-year circle.
Volume 5 of this collection is dominated by Irmin Schmidt’s work for television, with ten of the 18 tracks devoted to the series Bloch. Much of this material reminds me of another truly groundbreaking composer in TV, Angelo Badalameti. While I have not had the privilege to see Bloch, the music evokes such a similar sensation to what Badalamenti did for David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, I feel that this is a program I need to look for as well.
There is a world-wide vocabulary to music and film that has transcended efforts of restraint for many, many years. The career of Irmin Schmidt is a testament to this. While Filmmusik actually works as background music one could play for anywhere, it is quietly subversive as hell.
They call her NOLA. The acronym for New Orleans, Louisiana has come to stand for many things over the years. It is a town full of mysteries so deep that even the most devastating of floods cannot wash them away. Birthplace of the blues, jazz, and riverboat dreams, New Orleans has always been the home of dangerously attractive legends.
The current blues legend in NOLA is Bryan Lee, who has been a local fixture for nearly 30 years. I really thought that his excellent 2007 album, Katrina Was Her Name, would have broken him big nationally. But maybe, with a little luck, the rest of the world will hear his new one, My Lady Don’t Love My Lady.
My Lady is old-school, roadhouse blues, the type you just do not come across much of anymore. Once in a while, guys like Stevie Ray Vaughan or Robert Cray will come along and light up the charts, but they are rare. Bryan Lee’s talent is right up there with both.
My Lady Don’t Love My Lady features a couple of pretty heavy hitters in the blues field paying tribute to Mr. Lee. Both Buddy Guy and Kenny Wayne Shepherd make brilliant appearances on the record, but neither detract from the overall power of the main man.
The album opens up with a nice turn on an old Dr. John tune, “Imitation Of Love,” and right from the start you know you are in for a good time. While Bryan Lee’s guitar is unquestionably the prime attraction, the first thing I noticed is just how good his band is. The horns are as tight as they get, and pianist David Maxwell is amazing.
This is shown over and over again throughout the album. The title cut is a nice example of this. Like B.B. King’s beloved Lucille, Bryan’s guitar is his “other” lady, to which the song pays tribute. When he lets fly with a solo straight out of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” you know he ain’t lyin’.
Young guitar-slinger Kenny Wayne Shepherd is a NOLA native, and was mentored by Bryan Lee. He has always acknowledged the master, and even had Lee appear with him on The Tonight Show in 2007. His solo on “Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough” is luminous.
Anyone who saw Buddy Guy in The Rolling Stones’ Shine A Light knows that he was the highlight of the concert. Watching him and Keith play off of each other was fantastic. Listening to him here on “Early In The Morning” evokes a similar impression. Although no verification is needed, the appearance of Buddy Guy on this record certainly confirms the respect Bryan Lee is afforded.
There is a fact about Bryan Lee I did not really want to mention in a review of such a great record. But based on the fact that he goes by the nickname Braille Blues Daddy, I guess I have to. The man has been blind since the age of eight. What that has to do with the commanding music of My Lady Don’t Love My Lady is left up to you.
All I can say is that this album is as powerful a blues record as you are likely to hear in this or any other year.
Tin Huey are the embodiment of every rock-critic cliché imaginable. They came out of the same mid-Seventies Akron/Cleveland scene that produced Devo, Pere Ubu, The Dead Boys, The Bizarros, and Rubber City Rebels. After wooing Village Voice lifer Robert Christgau, they were signed to Warner Brothers, who released their Contents Dislodged During Shipment LP in 1979.
It was a brilliant debut, full of quirky songs and wild time changes, all done with a sense of humor not unlike that of NRBQ. It went nowhere, and sealed their fate as a critics band forever. Chris Butler moved on and formed The Waitresses with Patty Donahue, and the rest of the group made their own way through the music business jungle. In 1999, Tin Huey got back together for a second album, Disinformation. It sold even less than Contents.
And now we are presented with a collection of leftovers and live tracks, with one of the best titles ever: Before Obscurity. Actually, the full title is Before Obscurity: The Bushflow Tapes, Bushflow being the name of the studio of the late founding member of Tin Huey, Mark Price.
I use the term “leftovers” facetiously, because a hell of a lot of bands would salivate at having material this good as remnants. From the opening track “Heat Night,” (which later appeared on The Waitresses debut Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?) through their live take on The Stooges’ classic “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” Tin Huey just flat-out rock.
As Christgau states in his liner notes, “This is not the kind of band I usually like.” It is a point well taken, because as Tin Huey’s career showed, they are not for everyone. But for those who choose to partake, Before Obscurity contains a wealth of clever music.
My first thought on hearing their previously unreleased version of “Heat Night” was of Steely Dan. Not the Dan that we are familiar with though. More like if Becker and Fagen had returned to New York after Pretzel Logic, and gotten involved in the then burgeoning CBGB scene.
And just as quickly as that fantasy materialized, we were into a live version of “Slide,” frat-boy rock of the highest order. The next thing you hear is the distinctive voice of Patty Donahue, she of “Christmas Wrapping,” and “I Know What Boys Like” fame, fronting the band. This live recording of “The Comb” is billed as the first live appearance of The Waitresses.
The 14 tracks that make up Before Obscurity proper all maintain this level of greatness. The surprises are endless. Whether a weird time-change, or a completely out of place lyric (or so it seems), Tin Huey never seem to falter. They really are that great bar band you just know will some day make it, against all the odds.
I know it is somewhat ludicrous to consider tracks 15-18 as bonus cuts in this context, but the fidelity is so poor, I think they are intended that way. As the sleeve notes warn: “Best listened to if a longtime fan, musicologist, or flirting with unconsciousness.” The four songs were recorded live at The Townhouse in Kent, OH in 1973.
Christgau sums things up by mentioning that the only appropriate music to follow Tin Huey is Captain Beefheart. I understand where he is coming from, with the complexity and humor and all. But my choice is pretty simple, I’m just going to get the rest of their albums, and listen to Tin Huey all night long.
When Andy Partridge of XTC decided to launch his Ape House record label, there was really only one band in the running. They were a group from Ireland, yet named themselves after a fictional pirate hero of English children’s stories, Pugwash. While the trio have flown under the radar for the past ten years in the United States, Pugwash have become a pretty big deal in both the Irish and English music presses.
They have released three albums since their inception: Almond Tea (1999), Almanac (2003), and Jollity (2005). Their fourth, Eleven Modern Antiquities is due out in 2010. Giddy is a 13 song compilation of Pugwash's work over the past decade, including two songs from Antiquities.
Andy Partridge hedged his bets pretty well, because if Giddy gets any airplay, Pugwash could find a big audience in the United States.
The disc opens up with “Apples,” a glorious symphonic pop tune on par with classic later period XTC. From there we move on to the defiantly naïve track, “It’s Nice To Be Nice.” The only way I can describe this song is Rubber Soul era Beatles, met with classic Beach Boys harmonies.
The Beach Boys effect is no surprise, as one of the many guests to appear with Pugwash is Nelson Bragg of The Brian Wilson Band. Other notables who pay tribute include Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory of XTC, Michael Penn, and Glen Tilbrook of Squeeze, among a host of others.
Thomas Walsh is the leader of Pugwash, writing and singing all of their songs. He claims to have grown up on a steady diet of Beatles, Kinks, and ELO.
The influences are certainly apparent on Giddy. “The Season Of Flowers And Leaves,” seems to channel “She’s Leaving Home,” while “Cluster Bomb” features Jeff Lynne-style strings a-plenty.
The Ray Davies connection is a little more subtle. Walsh's tribute to his hero gets to the heart of the matter, and is great fun as well. "My Genius" states Walsh's claim right from the beginning, “You fell, for my genius, but my genius, is out of a bottle.” Sounds sad, but this is an ode to inebriation, as only an Irishman can put it. “Where would we be…with sobriety?” is a celebration of getting loaded, Ray Davies style.
Schoolboys in disgrace, always.
The song is done to a swinging bossa-nova beat that Mad Men’s Donald Draper probably would have dug. It then careens wildly into classic English music-hall territory. “My Genius” is as overt a Kinks tribute as you will ever find.
Although they are never mentioned in any of the press materials, and Walsh would probably deny it, the effect of Oasis is overt. Both “Finer Things In Life,” and “Two Wrongs” would have slotted in perfectly on (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?
“Two Wrongs” segues in a beautiful way into the final track here, “Anchor.” For me, “Anchor” is the most XTC sounding track on Giddy. Coincidentally, it is my favorite song as well. Walsh’s innate lyricism allows him to impart a wonderful sentiment that a lesser talent would have ruined.
To me, the lyrics of “Anchor” evoke those of something like “Surf’s Up,” or a lost XTC song from English Settlement, “Jason And The Argonauts.” It is really, really good. I hope that with the launching of Ape House, and the Andy Partridge connection, more people will hear this band.
On my end, I am looking forward to the release of Eleven Modern Antiquities. Pugwash seem to have a lot to offer the music world.
By the time Cluster’s sixth album Curiosum was released in 1981, much of the music world had caught up to them. Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius had been recording together since 1970, beginning with Conrad Schnitzler’s seriously avant-garde Kluster. After three records, they split off and recorded together as a duo under the rubric of Cluster.
Along the way, they managed to exert quite an influence, most notably on Mr. Brian Eno. There were three collaborations incorporating Cluster and Eno released in the mid-1970’s. They were to have a profound impact on later generations of musicians. Harmonia (1976), Cluster & Eno (1977), and After The Heat (1978) contain the DNA of the entire “ambient” genre that was to fully flower in the coming years.
What had always set these two pioneering Kraut-rockers apart was their embrace of all things experimental. Curiosum is no exception. Opening up with the strangely childlike bells of “Oh Odessa,” the seven tracks comprising this record show a continued growth in their musicianship.
“Proantipro,” and “Tristan in der Bar” are the most rhythmic tracks the duo had yet recorded. “Proantipro” in particular reflects a newer approach, with a dirge-like stomp closer to the tribal sounds Eno and David Byrne were working with on My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts.
The synths Cluster were using at the time sound pretty dated today, but I remember this as being the epitome of cutting-edge in 1981. “Seltsame Gegend,” and “Charlic” both represent a kind of look to the future, while acknowledging their past sounds and visions.
Fans of the classic ambience of Cluster & Eno will not be disappointed with Curiosum either. The two tracks that are my personal favorites hearken back to those soothing tones, “Helle Melange,” and “Ufer.”
The eight-minute miniature ambient suite “Ufer” is outstanding. This is the sound of two men who had explored this type of music long enough to know what works, and what does not. It is a reminder of just how much Cluster had already contributed to the underground musical vocabulary. Listening to “Ufer” today, some 28 years after it’s initial release is a great experience, as it remains as poetic now as it was back then.
The same can be said for all of Curiosum. For many groups, album number six is far removed from their initial inspiration. For Cluster though, this is just another step in the journey.
This is a well-titled disc, because Curiosum should appeal to anyone curious about a wide variety of music. Ambient, electronic, world, early Eighties, chill-out, and Krautrock, are just a few areas Curiosum touches on. It is nice to see such an obscure gem back in print.
Friday, November 27, 2009
This is one sweet set of music for fans of old-school jazz piano. Pleased To Meet You is the first recorded collaboration between pianists Oliver and Hank Jones. They are unrelated, but brothers on the ivories. At the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2008, their idea of recording together finally came to fruition.
Pleased To Meet You kicks off with a classic Duke Ellington tune, “What Am I Here For?” It is a wonderful showcase for the complimentary styles of the two pianists. Listening to the way the two play off of each other is exhilarating.
“Makin’ Whoopee” is another example. It is rare to hear two soloists of any instrument play together, especially in jazz. Monk never brought another pianist in, and neither did Oscar Peterson. That is one of the reasons I enjoy Pleased To Meet You so much.
The quartet for this date is filled out by bassist Brandi Disterheft and drummer Jim Doxas. While Pleased To Meet You is very much a showcase for the headliners, there is room for the rest of the band. On the very first track, “ What Am I Here For?” Doxas takes a nice drum solo. The leaders of the band offer bass player Disterheft his space on the very next track, “Groove Merchant.”
Pleased To Meet You is comprised of a mix of standards and originals. There are the Monk and Ellington tunes previously mentioned, as well as pieces from Oscar Peterson and others. Both of the Jones men contribute as well.
Oliver Jones was 74 when this record was recorded, and Hank Jones was 90. I love the fact that jazz musicians are still as incredibly vital as these men are. There is never a missed note on Pleased To Meet You. For anyone who enjoys piano-based jazz of the bop era, this is a damn cool record.
Pleased To Meet You is very much a piece of the past. It is also a great reminder of what this music can still be.
Friday, November 20, 2009
The Bureau B label is rapidly becoming my favorite record label in the world. They continue to reissue some of the most provocative music ever made. Most of it comes from Germany, and is usually called Krautrock. The term is a bit of a misnomer, especially considering Zero Set, but it stands as the best shorthand available.
The self-titled Zero Set LP was originally released in 1982. While it features musicians from the Krautrock heyday of the 1970’s, it is far from the progressive extravaganzas the genre is known for. Zero Set is a record that sounds like a blueprint for the funky, percussive and proudly electronic jazz that Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis pursued to great effect in the 1980’s. It is a shame that nobody else ever heard it.
The record is a percussive extravaganza from a super-session of German experimental music pioneers. Dieter Moebius is best known for his work in Cluster; Mani Neumeier was the drumming, driving force of Guru Guru; and Conny Plank produced everyone from The Scorpions to Neu! to Kraftwerk. Zero Set comprised a trio of musicians who clearly were at the top of their game.
The heavy percussion of opening track “Speed Display” says it all. The best fusion of The Mahavishnu Orchestra only hinted at these possibilities. From there it is a short journey to “Pitch Control,” which anticipates the beat to a well-done electronic sound the song “Rockit” made so famous.
Most presciently of all is the final cut, “Search Zero.” This is a tune that prefigures everything Miles Davis made as his trademarked sound of the 1980’s. It is a sadly illuminating track. Marcus Miller always took credit for the idea of sampling Miles’ trumpet, but the whole thing is established here, five years prior.
Discovering the Kosmiche Musik roots of Miles Davis’ final era is an amazing thing. Zero Set is in no way, shape or form a jazz record though. This is the sound of pioneers in every way as adventurous as any, creating the music they wanted to.
Zero Set stands as a truly great record. Thank you Bureau B for putting it back out there for the world to hear.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti was an amazing talent. During his approximately 20 years of active recording, he recorded nearly 50 albums, toured the globe, and single-handedly invented the genre of music known as Afro-Beat. He was also arrested over 200 times, beaten mercilessly, and spent a lot of time behind bars in his homeland of Nigeria.
Fela’s Afro-Beat was a mixture of jazz and funk, with traditional African elements thrown in at times. His songs usually stretched out well over ten minutes, and often filled a whole side of a vinyl LP. Fela’s lyrics were sung in what is known as Pidgin English, which he used so that a large part of the continent could understand what he was saying.
And what Fela had to say got him into a lot of trouble with the authorities. He grew up in the last days of English Colonialism in Nigeria, born to a middle-class family who were somewhat radicalized activists. When Fela traveled with his band to the US for the first time in 1969, he met some members of the Black Panther party. When he was deported soon after, Fela had developed something of a revolutionary spirit himself, and expressed it in his music from then on.
Fela’s Afro-Beat records were immensely popular in his homeland, which is little wonder. His music is fantastic. Many of the songs stretch way out in a groove similar to that of a James Brown or George Clinton. His bands featured up to 30 members onstage, who would take leisurely, and at times incredibly powerful solos throughout the pieces.
Fela’s lyrics were always the main point though. One of his most well-known tracks, “Zombie,” proved to be literally incendiary at one show. “Zombie” opens up with some superb sax from Fela, over a rhythm track as funky as anything Sly Stone ever did. When Fela’s lyrics, which compare the military to zombies, were played at a concert in Nigeria, the place erupted in a riot.
The new, two-disc compilation The Return Of The Black President contains 13 songs, a few of which were edited slightly, for space considerations. There is not a weak track among them. Fela’s band were as tight as any jazz or funk unit have ever been. There is so much joy in this music, it is disconcerting to read about the horrible conditions so much of it was recorded under.
A couple of my personal favorites include the track chosen to open this compilation, “Lady,” and the full 17 minute version of “Army Arrangement (Part 2).”
Knitting Factory Records have fully committed themselves to the music of Fela, and The Return Of The Black President is just the beginning. They now have the rights to all of his work, which will be released on CD and vinyl as well as digitally.
The deluxe edition of Black President includes a DVD titled A Slice Of Fela that is quite interesting. The first segment, “Music Is The Weapon,” is an excerpt from the film of the same name, made in 1982, and features him playing live in his nightclub in Nigeria.
The second segment, “Powershow,” is a furious recording of the band playing that song live at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1978. It is about ten minutes long, and is really something to see.
The third segment, “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense,” is excerpted from the BBC program of the same name, from 1984. This is some pretty fascinating material also, as it includes live footage from the Glastonbury Festival, and interviews with Fela.
The final portion of the DVD features interviews with two experts on Fela, Carlos Moore, the biographer who wrote Fela: This Bitch Of A Life, and director Bill T. Jones. As unlikely as it may seem, Jones is bringing Fela and Afro-Beat to Broadway, with a musical simply titled Fela! All of this material is introduced by actor Sahr Ngaujah, who plays Fela in the show.
The Return Of The Black President is an outstanding compilation of some of Fela’s greatest works. But there was so much more to the man’s life than just his music. At one point, he declared his compound in Nigeria a separate state, which resulted in an ambush that nearly killed him, and actually did result in the death of his 82 year-old mother.
In 1978, to commemorate the one year anniversary of this horrible event, Fela married 27 women in a mass wedding. He continued to record, tour, and suffer beatings from the police until the end. Fela passed away from complications of AIDS in 1997, and it was reported that his funeral was attended by over one million people.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti lived an extraordinary life, and The Return Of The Black President is just the first of what looks be an enormous amount of recognition for him. It is a fine place to start, as his mix of soul, funk, and jazz called Afro-Beat is timeless. The deluxe edition of this package, with all the live footage is well worth it, because as amazing as his records are, nothing compares to seeing the man and his band live, in full-flight.
The legend of Thin Lizzy is a glorious and ultimately tragic one, perfectly reflecting the life of the band’s founder, Phil Lynott. He was a larger than life character, both literally and symbolically. Towering at well over six feet, Lynott was of mixed-race descent, but considered himself an Irishman. Watching him lead the band on the Are You Ready? DVD, it seems as if Phil Lynott was born to be a rock star.
Many of us Yanks first heard of Thin Lizzy with their anthem “The Boys Are Back In Town” in 1976. It really seemed as if they had the world at their command in the late '70s. In 1978 they released one of the all time great double-live LPs Live And Dangerous, and in 1979 followed it with Black Rose: A Rock Legend.
Running parallel to these achievements, though, were internal struggles that eventually overpowered the unit. Besides Lynott’s uniquely poetic lyrics and singing style, a huge part of the Lizzy sound were the twin guitars of Gary Moore and Scott Gorham. Moore had left and rejoined the band a couple of times by 1981, the year Are You Ready? was filmed.
Guitarist Snowy White takes Moore’s place on Are You Ready? While the music does not suffer at all from this change in personnel, White had little of the charisma of Gary Moore. Still, the main focus of this concert remains Phil Lynott. The 19 songs that make up the nearly two-hour show are excellent and run the gamut of the band’s career.
The concert was filmed in Loreley, Germany and became the first to be shown on the legendary German TV program Rockpalast. A definite highlight is “Cowboy Song”/”The Boys Are Back In Town,” and live versions of “Chinatown,” “Jailbreak,” and “Rosalie,” stand out as well.
The only drawback in the footage is the lighting. In 1981 the kinks in filming a live concert had yet to be worked out. Consequently, there are a few instances where the entire band is washed out by the spotlights. I guess that is the price we pay for seeing such historical material, but it is a shame nonetheless.
There are no bonus features at all contained on Are You Ready? but with a nearly two-hour concert to enjoy, I have no complaint. This is a nice document of a great band, and even without Gary Moore, they put on an remarkable show. Are You Ready? is essential viewing for rock fans of all ages.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Desert rat Nick Oliveri has played with everyone in Southern California by now it seems. His first band was with Josh Homme, which eventually morphed into the legendary Kyuss, and later became Queens Of The Stone Age. In between Kyuss and Queens, Oliveri put in time with godlike shock-rockers the Dwarves, as bassist Rex Everything.
In between these commitments, and fronting his own Mondo Generator, Oliveri has played with an incredible number of others. A partial list includes: Eagles Of Death Metal, Auf der Maur, Masters Of Reality, Blag Dahlia Band, and the Mark Lanegan Band. This guy stays busy.
Whether meant as a tribute to friends—or simply because he did not have enough time to write a full album—Oliveri’s Death Acoustic is mostly covers. You have to give the man credit. though; who else would do acoustic versions of songs by the Dwarves, GG Allin, and the Misfits?
Oliveri’s taste is eclectic, to say the least. Death Acoustic opens with a killer take on “Start A Fight,” by obscure Italian punks Raw Power. This is followed with Nick’s voice at it’s sand-paper best on his own “Invisible Like The Sky.” Next comes a song I had to laugh out loud upon hearing, Oliveri’s acoustic stab at the Dwarve’s classic “Dairy Queen,” from Thank Heaven For Little Girls.
A couple of songs he wrote with old friend Josh Homme and company follow. First up is “I’m Gonna Leave You,” originally recorded by Queens Of The Stone Age on their Songs For The Deaf album. He then reaches back to “Love Has Passed Me By,” from Kyuss.
Nowhere is Oliveri’s distinctive strum more pronounced than on the old Misfits warhorse, “Hybrid Moments.” The highlight has to be the final cut though. Nick Oliveri strums a malevolent guitar, and brings his all to a version of the GG Allin anthem, “Outlaw Scumfuc.”
Death Acoustic is well titled. As a whole, this record is anything but easy-listening. Oliveri's playing style is aggressive as hell, and with this choice of tunes, Death Acoustic is much more than a simple vanity project. It is a downright spooky set, and howls as strongly as a desert wind on the wrong side of midnight.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
It’s a rainy Saturday morning here in Seattle, and I happened upon a review of the new Hall & Oates box set by a favorite Blogcritics writer, Connie Phillips. She mentioned a live cover version they did of the classic Billy Paul song, “Me And Mrs. Jones.” It inspired me to go back and listen to the original, which is on the box set Love Train: The Sound Of Philadelphia.
I wound up listening to all four discs of this incredible set again, and was reminded of just how brilliant the Philadelphia International label was at its height. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff owned soul music in the pre-disco age. Just look at the roster of talent on this box: The O’Jays, The Stylistics, The Delfonics, MFSB, Harold Melvin And The Bluenotes (featuring Teddy Pendergrass), the list goes on and on.
Besides The O’Jays though, most of these acts are remembered as “one-hit wonders.” Name another song by The Three Degrees besides “When Will I See You Again,” and drinks are on me (no Googling allowed).
My point is that the Philadelphia International label was the great successor to Motown, and has never been given the credit it deserves. “Classic” Motown was really an early Sixties phenomenon, outside of notable exceptions like the Jackson Five and Marvin Gaye. Likewise, Philadelphia International was an early Seventies thing, besides the later emergence of Teddy Pendergrass in the latter part of the decade.
So why is it that “The Sound Of Philadelphia” is so forgotten today? It defines a particular point in AM radio history with songs such as “Backstabbers” by The O’Jays, “Then Came You,” by The Spinners, and “Kiss And Say Goodbye” by The Manhattans. These tunes are period pieces to be sure, but I never get tired of hearing them.
What happened was disco, and Philadelphia International got caught up in it. In retrospect, it was a huge mistake to take the quick buck with extended mixes of “Bad Luck” or “I Love Music.” Incidentally, these versions are not available on Love Train, but are worth seeking out.
Regardless, the patented groove of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s productions took a backseat to The Bee Gees and their Saturday Night Fever ilk. Don’t get me wrong, Saturday Night Fever is a great record, but there is nothing on it as powerful as “Me And Mrs. Jones.”
And there’s the rub. Love Train: The Philadelphia International Story is a snapshot of a particular moment in time which will never be duplicated.
The only thing missing is the first white performer to appear on Soul Train, Sir Elton John. While the theme to Soul Train, MFSB’s “TSOP,” is included, Elton’s homage to the music with “Philadelphia Freedom” (1975) is not. It’s too bad, because at the time not only Sir Elton, but John Lennon’s Walls And Bridges and David Bowie’ Young Americans were also paying specific tribute to this fantastic branch of the music tree.
Love Train: The Philadelphia International Story is a box set that I cherish.
Friday, November 6, 2009
There is trouble in Iraq, and it is not anything the military was expecting. A microscopic alien life form with the properties to possess the living, and resurrect the dead has been discovered. The problem is that these aliens do not play well with others. Their entire modus operandi is to kill off the humans, and take over their bodies.
When is a zombie film not a zombie film? In the case of Evilution, it is when the zombies are “Alien Possessed Lifeforms,” according director Chris Conlee. Whatever you say, Mr. Director. But Evilution is a zombie flick of the first order, and a pretty fun one at that.
The Iraqi compound that the aliens were in was bombed, but one of the scientists managed to escape, with the remaining specimens in hand. Newly civilian, Darren Hall (Eric Peter-Kaiser) has a plan for the aliens, he wants to try and communicate with them. Fool. He finds a really creepy low-rent apartment to conduct his experiments in, and things quickly spin out of control.
On the plus side, he has a smoking hot neighbor named Maddie (Sandra Ramirez) who inexplicably just wants to do him. This is another “only in Hollywood” moment, but the interlude serves a purpose. While the dork is getting it on, some street junkie breaks into his apartment, and injects himself with the alien specimen.
Instant alien zombie-mania! This is where the movie gets good, as the apartment tenants go all Night Of The Living Dead on each other. Big bad Sgt. Collins (Tim Colceri) has tracked Darren down, and shows up just in time for the party. Eventually, even Darren’s new squeeze gets bitten by the alien bug. The movie ends with him making the ultimate sacrifice, pulling her with him off the top of the building, killing them both.
The DVD extras include interviews with the director, cast, and stunt people. There is also a segment discussing the location Evilution was shot in. It was an old, abandoned hospital, that everyone swears was haunted. It seems to me like the perfect place for a flick like Evilution to be shot in.
Although the movie is obviously a fairly low-budget affair, Chris Conlee and his production crew have made the most of it. Evilution is a worthy addition to the zombie genre, and lord knows we can always use more zombie flicks.
Aggronautix recently honored legendary punks GG Allin and Tesco Vee with their own bobblehead dolls, which the company calls “Throbbleheads.” The company has now upped the ante with the third installment in the series, producing its first "double-headed" Throbblehead. The latest incarnation features both Blag The Ripper (formerly Blag Dahlia) and HeWhoCannotBeNamed of the Dwarves on one larger-than-ever platform.
For those not familiar with the Dwarves, they were an uncompromising punk band of the late 80s and early 90s. Probably their most infamous album came out on Sup Pop in 1989, titled Blood, Guts And Pussy. The cover alone made their reputation. It featured a stark photo of two naked, blood-soaked women in front of a white background, plus a naked dwarf sodomizing a rabbit.
The music was relentless hardcore. The longest of the 12 songs clocks in at 1:23 and is a lovely ditty titled “Motherfucker.” Other top hits from the album included “Detention Girl,” “Skin Poppin’ Slut,” and “Insect Whore.”
The Dwarves double Throbblehead figure is 5 1/2 inches tall, and comes packaged in a sturdy plastic clamshell casing. The display box is a nice tri-windowed affair. Blag the Ripper and HeWhoCanNotBeNamed are portrayed as they appear onstage, Blag with his microphone, HeWho with his axe. Their attire features HeWho’s ever popular lucha libre mask, bondage wear, and Blag’s skull boner buckle.
This baby will make a hilarious addition to every old geezer's punk collection. As with GG Allin and Tesco Vee, Aggronautix are releasing the set in a limited, numbered edition. The Dwarves run is only 1,000, so if you want one, do not hesitate. The GG Allin T-head was a 2,000 piece run, and it sold out almost immediately.
The best place to get the new Dwarves double-headed Throbblehead is straight from the source at Aggronautix.
Like the religion itself, The Christians is epic in scope. This five-disc, 13-hour DVD box-set provides a sweeping history of the past 2,000 years as seen through the prism of Christianity. This is no religious tract however. The documentary takes a neutral look at the impact Christianity has had on the world through history, both good and bad.
Certainly no other religion has ever approached the cultural influence upon the Western world that Christianity has. So much so that the basic timeline of Christianity’s development is pretty well-known by the layman.
The early Christians were persecuted by Rome, before the religion became the official doctrine of the empire. Many, many wars were fought in the name of Christianity over the centuries. Gorgeous cathedrals and churches were erected in Europe to honor Christ. And in the present day, we have endless debates on evolution, the separation of church and state, and abortion, all in one way or another tied to Christianity.
Thank goodness this is a British production, with their legendary reserve intact, otherwise things could have gotten out of hand. Especially in regards to our current culture wars.
One of the more notable aspects of the series is the location filming. Host Bamber Gascoigne and crew traveled to more than 30 countries around the world to provide the footage, and much of it is remarkable. I was especially taken with the tours through centuries-old cathedrals and monuments. The architecture, and artwork of these structures is breathtaking at times.
A handy bonus feature included in the package is the 16-page accompanying booklet. In it, we find highlights of each episode, as well as a section titled “Questions to ponder.” This is a nice touch, although the series was produced originally as entertainment, by focusing on some of these ideas, the episodes becomes a little more educational as well.
Other extras include photo galleries titled “The Culture Of The Cross,” and “Christ In Art.” There are also text biographies of select influential people in Christian history called “Architects Of The Faith.”
The 13 episodes of The Christians were originally shown on the British ITV network in 1977, and re-broadcast on PBS in the United States during the 1980s. The newly produced Introduction by a now grey-haired Gascoigne brings the events of the past 30 years in Christianity up to date. The most significant of which was the fall of Communism in 1991.
The Christians is an extraordinary historical overview of Christianity over the centuries. This is a DVD set that I heartily recommend to anyone interested in Western civilization, and how it has been shaped by one of the most powerful cultural forces of all time.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
On Eric Muhler’s fifth album, The Jury Is Out, the pianist can be heard breaking all the rules, again. “I’ve never followed the correct path toward being a ‘jazz pianist," Muhler states, “There are so many rules about what you can and cannot play, it’s almost stricter than classical piano.”
Muhler’s playing can be compared to both Keith Jarrett and McCoy Tyner. The understated approach of Thelonious Monk comes to mind at times as well. But The Jury Is Out is no one-man show. Muhler has assembled a worthy quartet, featuring bassist Michael Wilcox, drummer Brian Andres, and saxophonist Sheldon Brown.
On this 2008 live recording, the group were very definitely on. Muhler’s piano is a revelation during the title track for instance. He is all over the ivory, much like Tyner sounded in the early 1960s.
Muhler’s music is a mix of the traditional forms of jazz, with more modern elements thrown in. Nowhere is this mix more prominent than in some of the bass playing from Wilcox. During the opening track, “Punkly,” Wilcox’s bass positively pops. For a minute there I thought Bootsy Collins had dropped in.
The sax of Sheldon Brown really stands out in his solo spots. On extended cuts such as “Alexandra Cristina A.M.” he complements the ballad with some extremely tasteful lines. The sound of John Klemmer comes to mind at times on this track. During his solo on the final “Jane At Home,” Brown really lets loose, reminding me a little of the great Wayne Shorter.
One of the more interesting uses of Brown’s sax comes in the early part of “Sand Castles.” Following Muhler’s piano introduction, Brown’s sax comes in, and plays a near perfect quote of Dave Burrell’s keyboard as recorded on “Lower Egypt,” the great Pharoah Sanders track from the 1967 LP Tauhid.
It may be coincidental, but I hear a lot of Sander’s and even John Coltrane’s styles in Brown’s playing, and these elements add a great deal to the whole of the quartet.
Part of the reason for the diversity inherent in The Jury Is Out is rooted in the intriguing life Eric Muhler has lived. As a 60 year old man, he has had some interesting experiences. He was Jimi Hendrix’s chauffer at Monterey Pop, and his grandfather is the famous occultist Aleister Crowley.
In the end though, it all comes down to the music. And, cliché or not, the jury is in on this one. The Jury Is Out is a very good modern-day jazz record, and one well worth hearing.
Portland, OR filmmaker Bill Plympton’s first feature, Guns On The Clackamas is pretty intriguing. This faux documentary purports to chronicle the 1991 shoot of the most troubled film in Hollywood history: Guns On The Clackamas.
The problems begin almost immediately. The original financial backer insists on giving his girlfriend the lead female role. Director James X acquiesces for the sake of the movie, not even bothering to give her a screen test. When the cameras roll, we discover that she has an insurmountable stuttering problem. She can yodel without stuttering though, so a scene is filmed with her yodeling her lines.
When this approach is abandoned, she is fired. Of course her rich boyfriend then pulls out of the production, and the cast is left high and dry. James X is desperate for money now, and manages to get a couple of Catholic priests interested. Everything is looking good until some pictures of the producer and his dog are publicized. It seems that the pup was a little more than simply “man’s best friend.”
The production is then contacted by the “Man-Dog Love Association” and offered some money, which is politely declined.
Even though nobody is getting paid, they continue to film. To drum up some cash, the crew is directed to remove half of the screws and nails used on the set, and return them to the hardware store for a refund. The resulting accidents mark the first deaths associated with Guns On The Clackamas.
The funniest scene is the one ostensibly filmed at night by the campfire, when the bad guys sneak into camp. There was supposed to be a cloth over the lens to make it appear to be nighttime, but they did not have one. So the whole scene is shot in broad daylight. Definitely a nod to Ed Wood here.
The scrimping naturally extends to catering. On one particularly hot day, most of the cast makes the mistake of eating the macaroni salad. The food poisoning proves to be fatal, wiping nearly everyone out, including the two leads.
But the show must go on, right? To finish the movie, James X films the static corpses of the leads, and has actors dub in their lines. A brilliant solution.
Guns On The Clackamas is pretty funny. In one of the bonus interviews, director Bill Plympton describes it as “Spinal Tap meets Blazing Saddles.” While I would not go that far, The movie does have its moments. Gus Van Sant must have thought so. He makes a cameo appearance as himself early on.
The DVD extras include a five minute appearance on local morning show Portland Today, and a short bit featuring Plympton hawking the film at IFP in New York. For some inexplicable reason, there are also a series of text-only duck jokes here also.
While Guns On The Clackamas is not Spinal Saddles, or Blazing Tap, it is a very good first picture from a director worth keeping an eye on.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
According to the Guinness Book Of World Records, Dr. Who is listed as the longest-running science fiction series in the world, and the most successful of all time in terms of broadcast ratings, DVD sales, and other associated merchandise. The original run of the series was an astonishing 26 years, from 1963-89.
The premise is a fairly standard science fiction one. Dr. Who is a Time Lord who travels through time and space in a contraption called a TARDIS (which is an old style British Police Box). He, and the various associates who accompany him, are on a mission to fight the forces of evil in the universe.
Chief among these adversaries are the Daleks. They are a unique looking bunch, kind of like moving trash canisters with lights all over. Their greeting is a not so subtle “Heil Hitler” arm extension. Their “arms” actually resemble nothing so much as a toilet plunger.
The Daleks sinister campiness was a huge hit immediately upon their first appearance on the program. In fact, the period leading up to the first feature-length film has been described as “Dalekmania” in Britain.
That first film, Dr. Who & The Daleks was released in 1965. The soundtrack was scored by Malcolm Lockyer. The second feature, Dalek’s Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. came out the following year. That soundtrack was by Bill McGuffie. Both of these are being released together for the first time on one CD, by the Silva Screen label.
Lockyer’s score for the first picture is fairly standard soundtrack music from this era, comparable to Herrman or Bernstein I suppose. There are a couple of nods to the James Bond theme in his “Fanfare” however, and the “groovy” guitar sound of “The Petrified Jungle” is a scream. The more fully realized tracks such as “The Trap,” “The Swamp,” and “The Mountain,” towards the end are much more satisfying.
I find Bill McGuffie’s score for Daleks Invasion Earth to be the more enjoyable of the two. There is a distinct jazz influence to his work which translates well. The five minute “Daleks And Robomen” positively swings, as if it were a British cousin of Neil Hefti’s Batman music. “Smash And Grab (Reprise) And End Titles” closes things out in a peculiar way. It is as if the Miles Davis of Sketches Of Spain has somehow wandered onto the set. The whole effect is weirdly perfect.
The rare bonus tracks are the real find here though. To cash in on all the fun, Malcolm Lockyer released a single titled “The Eccentric Dr. Who” b/w “Daleks And Thals” The A side is such a period piece. Imagine Ventures, Dick Dale, and The Munsters getting together for a session. Its great! The B-side is as sinister sounding as anything involving Daleks should be, with a dash of Goldfinger thrown in, just for kicks.
Bill McGuffie’s contribution here is an interesting, jazzy take on Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue In D Minor.” He calls it “Fugue For Thought” and it ran in the pre-credit opening of Daleks Invasion Earth.
There are also two tracks of effects that were used in the film, “Tardis Effects,” and “Dalek’s Effects.”
This compilation is about as thorough as one could be it seems, and it was obviously a labor of love for everyone involved. On the back cover there is even an old Sugar Puffs cereal ad with an offer to: “Win A Real Dalek.” Dr. Who fans should not pass this one up.
It’s Saturday morning, do you know where your children are? Back in the 1960’s, mine always did. I was sitting in front of our black and white TV, with a big bowl of Quisp, watching cartoons.
The folks at Warner Brothers sure got it right with these cartoon collections. The latest, Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960’s Volume 2 is every bit as good as Volume 1 was. The two disc set contains 12 shows, each of which originally were half-hour episodes.
Most of the shows revolve around a character. Take The Quick Draw McGraw Show for example. The one here is episode ?. After Quick Draw opens the show by shilling for Kellogs, we get a ‘toon from Snooper & Blabber, one from Augie Doggie, and of course a Quick Draw McGraw. Add some unique funny business with the “host” and voila, you have a show.
The discs lean pretty heavily toward the Hannah-Barbera characters, but the most memorable moments come straight from the Warner vaults. The Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and Road Runner Shows are outstanding. The 1959 “Baton Bunny” starring Bugs as the conductor of the Warner Brothers Symphony Orchestra is great.
Another classic is “The Wild Chase” from 1965. “The Big Race” is on, between the Road Runner and Speedy Gonzales. Of course their respective nemesis’ Wiley Coyote and Sylvester are there to cause some mayhem. This is a great one, and I won’t spoil the outcome by revealing who is actually the winner.
There are a few characters on this set I do not remember at all. In 1966 Hanna-Barbera introduced the world to “The Space Kidettes” who even had their own show. This is one wacked out cartoon. There are four Kidettes who live in a space-clubhouse that looks to be made from an abandoned lunar module. They are forced to deal with bad guy Captain Skyhook and his trusty mutt Static, who are trying to steal their treasure map. Parents? Who needs 'em?
The ultimate Space-Age cartoon has to be The Jetsons. Thank you Warner for including “Elroy’s Mob.” The original run of the series was just 24 episodes, run in the 1962-63 season. “Elroy’s Mob” is number 24.
The funniest moment for me comes when Elroy’s buddy Kenny Countdown is watching his TV wristwatch in class. Elroy looks over, and we zoom in on an episode of The Flintstones. Kenny has a great line here: “This must be the billionth rerun.”
The only bonus feature to speak of is a five minute documentary titled “Completely Bananas: The Magilla Gorilla Story.” Apparently Magilla was the last of the Hanna-Barbera “funny” animal characters. They went fully into the next era of Johnny Quest type heroes after Magilla.
Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960’s Volume 2 contains five solid hours of cartoon fun. Now if I could just find a box of Quisp, I’ll be all set.
Sitting down in front of the DVD player, giant cereal bowl in hand to watch Saturday Morning Cartoons 1970s Volume 2 is a very different thing than watching the simultaneously released 1960s collection. Although both rely heavily on Hanna-Barbera produced programs, the product HB were creating had changed dramatically.
Kooky animal characters such as Quick Draw McGraw, Wally Gator, and Augie Doggie were pretty much over, as the studio’s emphasis became focused on action-adventure cartoons. Of the 12 shows contained on this 2 DVD set, half fall into the adventure genre. Things had gotten much more serious in cartoon-land, even Yogi Bear had sobered up.
The 1970s Volume 2 set contains quite a number of pilots. The first episodes of The New Adventures Of Gilligan, Sealab 2020, Yogi’s Gang, Valley Of The Dinosaurs, and Inch High Private Eye are all featured.
The Valley Of The Dinosaurs episode “Forbidden Fruit” is a prime example of the action-adventure field in animation. It is sort of a Swiss Family Robinson in prehistoric times. The Butler family somehow fell into a whirlpool in the Amazon which transported them to a land that time forgot. Thankfully, there are some friendly cavemen to help them hide from the dinosaurs.
It seems as if the live action TV stars of the 1960s were having a rough time of it in the 1970s. The New Adventures Of Gilligan features the voices of Bob Denver, Alan Hale, Jim Backus, and Natalie Shafer. The New Adventures Of Batman has both Adam West and Boy Wonder Burt Ward intoning their animated alter-egos.
The strangest aspect of all though has to be the new “socially-conscious” trend that took place in the early 70s cartoons. As a kid, I had no idea of the messages in some of these, but as an adult I find the indoctrination somewhat startling.
The short-lived Sealab 2020 is interesting as it equates exploration of the oceans with that of space. The explorers are even called “Oceanauts.” The first episode “Deep Threat” from 1972 concerns itself with nuclear waste being dumped in the oceans. A serious concern to be certain, but one for six year-olds to worry about?
Even more bizarre is Yogi’s Gang. Another first episode, “Mr. Bigot” is possibly the strangest Hanna-Barbera cartoon I have ever seen. Yogi has built an ark, like Noah’s I guess, but it flies. Yup, it has a propeller that is powered by Magilla Gorilla running on a treadmill. A very PC touch.
Populating the ark are all the 60s H-B gang: Atom Ant, Ricochet Rabbit, Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss and the rest. This episode is titled “Mr. Bigot.” Yes, there is a villain out there with a “Bigot-Gun” set to turn all of mankind into hate-mongers. When the formerly friendly Mr. Cheerful gets zapped, and turns on the gang, Yogi springs into action. Good guys that they are, the animals turn the other cheek and bake him a cake.
As Snagglepuss should have said: “Heavens to Mergatroyd!” What kind of a lesson is this? It took a quick trip to the menu bar and an episode of the always reliable Bugs Bunny/ Road Runner Hour to cleanse my mental palette.
Then there is the Banana Splits Adventure Hour. This is a glorious mess of live action, cartoons, and music. For some reason The Splits’ antics still crack me up. The live action Danger Island serial cliff-hanger is a little odd, as it is just literally cut with scissors in the middle of a scene. There is no method to it at all. Just snip, and no word about tuning in for the next episode or anything.
The Banana Splits song “Soul” is the best part. Filmed in that super-cheesy Hollywood version of psychedelia, the video for “Soul” is great. The singer even gets in name-checks of Otis Redding and Ray Charles, for the hip kindergartner in the crowd.
The only bonus feature included is titled “The Power Of Shazzan.” This is a five-minute documentary on the short-lived Hanna-Barbera show, mainly featuring interviews with people associated with its production.
Watching Saturday Morning Cartoons 1970s Volume 2 is fun. If nothing else, it serves as a reminder of what a truly bent decade it actually was.
Elton John: The Bitch Is Back certainly is an appropriate title for a book purporting to capture: “The passion, the outlandishness, and the complexity of Elton John’s life.”
Sir Elton has lived a few lifetimes in his 62 years, the past 40 of which have been in the public eye. Author Mark Bego spends a few token pages on Elton’s youth, when he was called Reginald Dwight. The seminal event for the young man was his parents’ divorce. Reg embraced his mother and new stepfather immediately, leaving his biological father out in the cold, basically for the rest of his life.
The story picks up steam when he joins a group called Bluesology, who went on to become Long John Baldry’s back-up band. As any music fan knows though, the real break came when he met Bernie Taupin. One of the more interesting revelations in the book was how Elton wrote the music to Bernie’s lyrics. Taupin would hand him the words, and Elton would compose the music right there on the spot. I don’t care what anyone thinks of Elton John, the ability to write like that shows an amazing talent.
The run Elton went on in the early 1970’s was unprecedented. Seven consecutive number one albums, including the very first one to debut at number one on Billboard. The only band that had enjoyed such sustained success before him were The Beatles. Now that is some heady company to be keeping.
Elton’s cocaine and alcohol abuse became big news in the 1980’s, but it had started long before. Bego traces the end of the “Elton-mania” era to drug use, and serious depression, despite all of the success. The Blue Moves LP was aptly titled.
The first two-thirds of The Bitch Is Back concerns itself with what most people consider the “classic” Elton John period, from 1970-76. From there, things go sideways in every manner imaginable. There was his infamous first wedding, to a woman no less, that eventually cost him 45 million dollars.
The drugs continued, his sexual appetites morphed into addiction, and the records became pretty spotty affairs. Elton became close to many of the rich and famous, most notably the Royal Family. But so much of this is either sad tabloid fodder, or breathless celebrity gossip. Honestly, the last hundred or so pages of The Bitch Is Back are a bit tedious. For all of his success with The Lion King or Aida, I just miss the fun Elton of “Bennie And The Jets,” or as The Pinball Wizard in Tommy.
I think the author does too, because the past ten years especially are pretty much phoned in. Here’s an example: “Throughout 2001 Elton was kept busy with solo tour dates and his ongoing Face To Face tour with Billy Joel.”
A couple of pages later comes this: “His 48th album Peachtree Road, was one of Elton’s main focuses in 2004.”
The dry prose reflects the subject. Elton John is now simply a product, a cash cow on tour with the occasional new record release. Once in a while he manages to generate some humorous headlines. His diva flap with Tina Turner is the best recent one.
I’m happy he’s clean and sober, and apparently found his one true love, but Elton John is and has been pretty boring for a long time. Then again, I’m just an old guy who as a kid in the sixth grade bought Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy the day it came out. I have only done that a couple of times in my life since.
So that early ‘70’s version of The Captain remains indelible for me. The good news is that the author seems to feel the same way. It is no coincidence that so much of the book is devoted to those years. Obviously he had to report on Elton’s life since 1976 though, and to be fair there were some pretty good songs, and some very juicy incidents to report on.
You can’t fault the author for the direction his subject chose to go in. Mark Bego did an outstanding job with Elton John: The Bitch Is Back. It is the most up to date an Elton John bio out there right now, and a fine read as well.
When Hüsker Dü split due to mounting tensions within the band, the future of Grant Hart seemed somewhat cloudy. He was suffering from some very public addictions, and things seemed a little sketchy for him at first. Thankfully, he was able to get clean, and go on to form the excellent Nova Mob.
The nine tracks that make up Hot Wax seem to have been recorded under a number of different circumstances. There are two producers listed, and the sound quality varies wildly from track to track. As a whole though, the record hangs together in a remarkably cohesive fashion.
Hot Wax opens up with “You’re The Reflection Of The Moon On The Water,” which is a garage-band extravaganza. There is a great vintage organ sound on it, similar to that of the legendary Them’s “Gloria.” It is a great way to kick off a record.
The garage band vintage organ echo continues on a number of tracks, including, “Charles Hollis Jones,” and “Sailor Jack.” Actually, “Sailor Jack” is sort of an unholy spawn of The Beach Boys and Question Mark And The Mysterians.
I have always been hard pressed to describe Hart’s voice, as he uses different inflections depending on the song. But on Hot Wax, there is a notable similarity to that of David Bowie, certainly of the way he intones “Changes.” A quick listen to “School Buses Are For Children,” and “My Regrets,” will confirm this.
One of Hüsker Dü’s all-time greatest songs is “Diane,” off Metal Circus. Grant Hart wrote it, and it shows off his way with a melody spectacularly. He still has the gift, as “California Zephyr” shows. This is sort of a Big Star meets the Dü kind of tune.
I’m not really sure what all the Greek mythological references are about, but they are here. The title of the album, Hot Wax is illustrated on the cover not with a melting LP or something similar. Rather, it features a rendering of Icarus flying too close to the sun. If you remember, the wings Icarus flew on were made of wax, and his flight melted them.
There is also a song here titled “Narcissus, Narcissus,” a mid-tempo rocker that sounds like a kiss-off to an ex-lover.
Twenty years after the demise of Hüsker Dü, one of the great American bands of all time as far as I am concerned, it is really great to hear one of the principles back at it.
Hot Wax is in its own way the perfect summation of what Grant Hart has always been known for. Great punk, great pop, and wildly provocative lyrics are what this record is all about. It really does have merit for those who exist outside of the Dü-obsessed like myself.
Hot Wax is a pretty good record from someone I had kind of given up on. It may not be Hüsker Dü, but for now, it will do.
Once upon a time there were giants in the field of jazz vocalists. The list is long, and includes such names as Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, and Nat “King” Cole, for starters. It has been a dying art for many years though, as all-instrumental music has pretty much replaced the vocalists of old. Besides Harry Connick Jr. I really cannot think of anyone else today who qualifies as a classic jazz singer.
That is until I discovered Sachal Vasandani. We Move is his second outing, on the Mack Avenue label. It definitely evokes images of the classic era of this type of music.
Opening with “Escape/There’s A Small Hotel,” Sachal and his trio set the pace for the high-quality hour of music to follow. It opens up with the quietly insistent sound of Quincy Davis’ drums, followed after a few bars by David Wong’s bass, and Jeb Patton’s cocktail-ish sounding piano. Right off the bat you realize that Sachal has put together a top-flight trio to accompany him.
This is nowhere more evident than on their cover of Thelonius Monk’s classic, “Monk’s Dream.” The song contains some great solos by Patton and Wong. Sachal delivers the lyrics in a pretty straightforward manner, reminiscent of Connick Jr.
Drummer Quincy Davis is great throughout, but his real shining moment comes on “I’d Let You Know.” As the song builds toward its crescendo, Davis just lets fly. You imagine him grinning ear to ear as he takes full advantage of the opportunity.
Sachal Vasandani’s voice is a little difficult to describe, just because it is so unique. There were more than a couple times I was reminded of the early Seventies singer-songwriter Jesse Colin Young. Which by the way, is meant as a compliment, I have always liked JCY.
Sachal flexes his vocal chops most effectively in the scatting style during “By The River St. Marie.” He gets pretty soulful in a couple of cuts as well, listen to “Heartbeat,” and “Travelin’ Light.”
To tell the truth, there is not a bad track to be found on We Move. It is refreshing to hear a relative newcomer to the scene with such style. I will be looking forward to hearing a lot more from Sachal Vasandani.
There has long been a sub-genre in science fiction called alternate history. The premise is pretty simple. For example, what kind of world would we live in today, had the Axis Powers been victorious in World War II?
The Virtual JFK - Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived DVD presents a “what if” scenario with Kennedy not being shot in Dallas. Narrator Professor James G. Blight prefers the term virtual history, which is pretty much a synonym to alternate history, minus the dreaded science fiction associations.
To prove his thesis, the Professor presents six events that occurred during Kennedy’s three years in office. Each could have escalated to war pretty easily, considering the heat of the Cold War at the time. In each instance, stock black and white footage is shown, most of it pretty grainy. Kennedy was able maneuver out of each confrontation without them becoming any more belligerent.
The six crises Blight cites as evidence are The Bay of Pigs, The Laos Crises, The Berlin Wall, The Showdown over Vietnam, The Cuban Missile Crises, and finally his attempts to quietly withdraw from Vietnam just 80 days prior to his assassination.
A huge amount of footage comes from press conferences, and are almost all grainy black and white, like the newsreels. The press conferences are interesting in themselves however, as we are able to see Kennedy charming the press with his humor, while deflecting most of the serious questions.
Professor Blight sums up his conclusions with this quote “It is almost inevitable that he (JFK) would not have had that war in Vietnam.”
The raw numbers themselves are pretty sobering. When Kennedy assumed office in 1961, there were approximately 3,000 US troops in Vietnam. Under LBJ in 1967, 8,000 soldiers had been killed in Vietnam. The figure jumped to 19,000 dead in 1968, the year Johnson bowed out of the Presidency.
The bonus features are interesting in that they all feature Johnson, rather than Kennedy. There is an eight minute statement concerning the resumption of bombing in Vietnam, for 1966. There is a 15 minute excerpt from Johnson’s 1967 State Of The Union address, which concerns Vietnam. And from 1968, there is a 15 minute statement to the country about the differences between North and South Vietnam. All of these segments are in black and white.
If Kennedy had lived, Vietnam may not have gone the way it did. In fact I am pretty certain Kennedy would have handled things differently than Johnson did. But really, so what? No amount of speculation can change what actually occurred.
The Virtual JFK - Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived DVD presents an intriguing hypothesis. If nothing else, it is always good for a little banter alongside the many other Kennedy conspiracies, allegations, and legends we have come to know over the years.