Sunday, January 22, 2012
REGGAE—If there was any real excitement in the Reggae scene last year, I missed it. New albums by Etana, Gyptian, various new young voices… ho hum. Tribute anthologies honoring vocal greats Beres Hammond and recently dead Gregory Isaacs, and Country Music (huh?). The “JamRock” single by one of Marley’s many sons… was that in 2011? Well, I did enjoy We Remember Gregory (VP Records VPCD 1927) with one CD devoted to remakes of Isaacs’ familiar hits--by Tarrus Riley, Duane Stephenson, Chris Boomer, Natel, Etana, Busy Signal, Jah Cure, and many others—and a second CD of old-style instrumental versions (not dubs) of the same tracks, driven by the reeds of old warhorse sax soloist-turned-producer Dean Fraser. (That second CD is pretty much superfluous, however, polite but lacking in pizzazz.)
Then reaching back into the past, back to 1980, I also picked up the grandly expanded 2010 reissue of UB40’s amazing debut, that dole-card package called
ROCK—I suppose the gradual re-emergence of Brian Wilson made this set inevitable… and hooray for that. Not Smiley Smile (truncated bastard stepchild LP), not Brian Wilson’s Smile (or whatever the remake from 2009 was called), but the real thing, the original Smile Sessions recorded by the Beach Boys as they were, a
SOUL/R&B—For a couple of decades the Kent/Ace group of labels over in England has been compiling or reissuing great Southern Black Music of the Fifties to Eighties—James Carr, Percy Sledge, George Jackson, artists issued on small local labels and on Modern and Dootone out in L.A., all the best sessions of the Memphis to Muscle Shoals recording studio circuit. The set I’d name their crowning achievement came
Musician-turned-producer Rick Hall had “big ears” and some hard-earned luck, white Southern Soul and an indomitable will, and he turned a small studio in a small corner of Northern Alabama into an influential musical empire. Aspiring session musicians and songwriters flocked to cap-F Fame, where they gained sufficient small-f fame to move on to other studios and/or major careers in Memphis and Nashville. (Most prominent among those cool cats were the longtime main rhythm section of Barry Beckett, Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, and Roger Hawkins, songwriting session men Dan Penn and Spencer Oldham, and regular guitarists Joe South, Duane Allman, and Travis Wammack.)
In the meantime artists and producers eagerly made the trek to Muscle Shoals, anticipating that on-the-spot head arrangements, Hall’s canny luck, and the funky
SOUNDTRACKS—Supposedly there are between three and five thousand crazed/dedicated/collector-serious film score fans scattered around the States and the globe (Golden or not), and a half-dozen or so specialty labels dedicated to issuing/
BEYOND CATEGORY—Which section gets the music of Kurt Weill? Classical or Show Tunes? Pop Music or Jazz? The album I’m recommending belongs in all four.
WORLD—Many record stores and on-line sellers lump (white) Cajun and (Black Creole) Zydeco in with World Music. True, it was started by French Acadiens chased from the Canadian Maritimes, who settled eventually in South Central Louisiana; but it quickly absorbed elements of Country and Caribbean Music, New Orleans
Well, forget it. Look for the Swallow and Maison du Soul, Valcour and La Louisianne labels for the sounds of Southwest prairies and swamps—plus Rounder Records for its amazing roster and classic albums. Dig into three generations of Ardoins (from Amade to Chris); the Balfa and Delafose families; anything with mad fiddler Michael Doucet or cranky accordion-maker Mark Savoy; friends and rivals (little) Boozoo Chavis and (huge) Beau Jocque; white guys Steve Riley and Bruce Daigrepont and black guys Nathan Williams and Buckwheat Zydeco; old-time Cajun accordionist Nathan Abshire and modern Zydeco accordionist Clifton Chenier (who pretty much created it). And after you’ve absorbed
But in the spirit of year’s best lists everywhere, I want to recommend the one excellent anthology I found that was actually issued in 2011--The Rough Guide to Cajun & Zydeco (World Music Network RGNET1265CD), a 15-track, hour-plus sampler of the hottest current or recent performers—which also comes with a no-number bonus CD: Bayou Road by Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, presumably an earlier set from last year's Grammy-winning Carrier group. But the Rough Guide compilation takes the prize for its currency, quality, and variety. Exciting young bands Feufollet, Pine Leaf Boys, Lil Nathan and the Zydeco Big Timers, and Kyle Huval and the Dixie Club Ramblers vie for attention with solidly established acts like Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole, Geno Delafose and French Rockin' Boogie (that's
“Rough Guide,” you say? Not really; it’s a lot sharper than that.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
ALT.COUNTRY/AMERICANA—With a gilt-edged array of artists eager to participate in a special tribute, 30 songs by one of the best songwriters in the game, and many inspired and affectionate performances, you just can’t go wrong with This One’s for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark (2CD set Music Road MRRCD012). Carefully
Guy Clark is a wry, laconic, sometimes whimsical performer. It seems he’d rather repair guitars and write songs for other folks to sing--or like me, sing along with. (Take it, Ed!) “I wish I was in Austin, mm-hmm, In the Chili Parlor bar, Drinkin’ Mad-Dog Margaritas, And not carin’ where you are…”
BLUES—Lost in limbo for four decades, but finally issued a few months back, my vote for Blues release of the year goes to Son House in Seattle 1968 (Arcola A CD 1008), a nice 2-CD package with Son strong and live, sermonizing and sounding sober, his guitar and vocals powerful and exciting, his interview and between-song raps sweet and witty and wise. I witnessed all this; I was there. And I wrote at greater length about House and the concert some weeks back (find it a few posts down).
COUNTRY—I’ve chosen two discs/artists here, a standby fave and a new discovery (new to me, that is). Somehow I completely missed the excited buzz, the “out there, bad girl, say anything” antics, the amazing hits, the major awards, the big romance and wedding… in short, I missed everything that’s happened in the eight years since cute and nubbly blonde-bomb Miranda Lambert slammed into Country with sass
Tough act to follow, but my man Vince Gill’s got the chops: master musician and brilliant songster, with one of the most pleasing voices around (tackling with aplomb Blues, Bluegrass, Cajun, Country, Cowboy songs, Folk, Gospel, and anything else you got), he succeeds too as husband, father, golfer, producer, practical joker, easygoing Christian volunteer, back-up vocalist happy to help as needed… His last album was an astonishing 4CD box set with Gill’s songs everywhere; it sold for the price of a
FOLK—At the Edinburgh Festival in 1983 or ’84 I listened in wonder—transfixed, mesmerized, reveling in each new old song—to a landmark, life-changing concert, vocal and guitar only… ah, but when the glorious voice box is June Tabor’s, and thego here.)
JAZZ—Well, it ain’t Sketches of Spain… but it ain’t chopped liver either. I’m talking about Miles Espanol: New Sketches of Spain (Entertainment One EOM-CD 2104). Who knew 2011 would become another year of Miles, what with those "New Sketches," a couple of official Sony “bootlegs” of Miles live in Europe, the Columbia Legacy CD called Bitches Brew Live (with performances taped at Newport 1969 and Isle of Wight ’70), a mid-Nineties Warner Bros. release called Live Around the World I’d never paid attention to till trumpeter/teacher/composer/conductor Bill Kirchner recommended a track from it. Heck, even Dave Holland’s album with flamenco guitarist Pepe Habichuela called up memories of the original Sketches.
But getting back to Miles Espanol, it’s two CDs offering new versions of the Sketches tunes, plus originals in homage to the classic set, and some Spanish-sounding or Latin Jazz numbers given a Milesian makeover, the whole shootin’ match of 16 tracks arranged and produced by Bob Beldin, directing a rotating group of major stars and lesser lights alike. (You'll need to listen well because booklet and labels confuse order and placement on the two CDs!) Great to hear oud and dumbek mixing it up with flute and harp and French horn, bongos and oboe reinforcing bass and bassoon; and that’s just the opener, “Concierto de Aranjuez,” with Rabih Abou Khalil, Brahim Fribgame, Lou Marini, Edmar Castaneda, John Clark, Alex Acuna, and others. At the opposite extreme is Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s piano solo “Fantasia for Miles y Gil,” along with various duets, trios, and quartets played bracingly and gracefully and with all the Latin sway you could ask for—yeah, and wait’ll you hear the juggernaut of “Saeta/Pan Piper,” as inexorable as
The Sketches of Miles Espanol get better with every spin.
Part 2 coming soon.
Sunday, January 8, 2012
I’m still too p.o.’ed and despondent to try and recreate the text just now, and so my brilliant exegesis on a hundred years of Jazz in Seattle will just have to wait for inspiration to strike once more. (As I close-in on age 69, I’m not making book.)
That means another hurry-up fill-in:
A couple of months back I edged into a multipart examination of Kurt Weill in Jazz by talking about the recent sale of my 11,000-piece record collection. As mentioned then, I also held onto a hundred-fifty or so favorite LPs—not valued collectibles but musical performances I’ll want to hear often till all the listening’s done.
But once a collector, always a pushover. I still keep my eyes peeled for bargain discs and unknown wonders, and I decided to post photos of a selection of the more interesting finds, 20-some LPs paired up according to whatever visual or sub-genre relationships I could detect.
The first two, for example, are great African-American singers with deep, resonant voices. But Paul Robeson stayed serious in all circumstances ("Why these burdens, Lord?"), while Clarence Carter sang Southern Soul with a lascivious laugh added.
Paganini alone scorched the strings of his violin like a man dueling 24 devils, while Bartok’s composition needed that many string players and sounded like they were losing the duel!
From the mid-Eighties and each release avant garde after a fashion: saxophonist Garbarek and his friends play pieces in homage to Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer, but Czukay and Sylvian make their own dark poems from spiraling winter ghosts, empty iron vessels, and a host of keyboards and synths.
Folk guitarist Rush rambled down an alley in Cambridge, on his way to fame; 20 years later it was an alley in Nashville picked for the Scene of a different “Newgrassy” Crime.
Two examples of Jazz albums with illustrated covers, one by the famous David Stone Martin, the other by the possibly obscure Pat Heine—both sessions featuring Texas Tenor-style saxmen (Cobb and Stanley Turrentine); both albums scarce and collectable.
Classic Americana composed by Thomson for documentary films (the John Steuart Curry cover art chosen accordingly), and a classic, on-the-way-to-America ballet composed by Weill in Paris, documenting a sort of split personality (manic cover art by one Jim Endicott).
I don’t know if this is a pair to draw to, but it’s definitely a pair of aces, one a quirky songwriter with a rural bent, the other a classy hoofer as urbane as Broadway backstage, but both of them peerless non-singers who could sing the sun up and star dust down.
Two less-familiar albums from two of the greatest violinists of the 20th century… hell, the 21st too! (The cellist was no slouch either.) All intensity and precision, Heifitz and Milstein just didn’t fiddle around.
The man for mumbling and clowning but some serious trumpet too is Clark Terry; at 80-plus now, he’s still b-a-d, slowed but not stopped. Matthews, in contrast, lasted the L.A. equivalent of a New York minute; was this his sole record?
Winsome and willowy, soulful and smart, tender and tough and blue… are some of the words that describe the final four LPs. Mimi shared the best-of album with her late husband Richard (and sister Joan Baez too); and master musician Jimmy Giuffre of "Four Brothers" fame arranged and conducted for Ms. Hunter.
Ubiquitous in 1998 (a hit track here with Pretender-guest Chrissie Hynde), UB40 still rules the waves of U.K. Reggae--occasionally--but Horslips peaked in the Seventies. (Their Celtic folk-rock mattered; this earnest rockumentary LP didn’t, though the slight visual echoes of Lurlean’s much earlier cover are of passing interest.)
And thus a new collection begins.