Archive for the 'Excess' Category

12
Apr
19

Virgil Gonsalves Big Band Plus Six “Jazz at Monterey”

For one thing, if you see this 1959 album cover somewhere, like at thrift-store prices, you can’t NOT buy it, with the monochrome, crude pasteup of Virgil Gonsalves and an enormous baritone sax perched death-defyingly on a cliff overlooking the Pacific, facing a witch-like wind-blasted tree. He looks kind of like the guy who does your taxes or fixes your porch, but that horn is no joke. The bold red letters, JAZZ AT MONTEREY—irresistible. If I was starting a record company, I might steal the Omega Records label design outright—it’s one of the coolest I’ve seen. I’m not sure if this is considered “cool jazz” or what—someone correct me. I mean, it is cool, very cool, cool as a cadet blue DeVille—but I’m not sure if it’s/he’s the official member of any movement. In the first song (and all of them) you can imagine soundtracks—to stuff like a guy wearing sunglasses driving a convertible really fast, somebody standing on a corner, two scientists making love, captains of industry eating whole fish, dentists at war with each other, the city of tomorrow, a really good poetry reading—I don’t know. Mostly, what I am thinking about this record is that I like it.

On back, there’s really long and extensive liner notes by Johnny Adams, Jazz DJ at KIDD in Monterey—way too much to paraphrase here—I didn’t even read it all! I’ll get to it some day, because he’s going into great detail, and ends by saying: “SO… bend an ear and listen!” And this is a listening record for me, meaning I’m going to put it on again, just to listen to it, see? I also like how he says that Virgil Gonsalves “has not one direction, but many.” I feel like I can hear that in the music. I believe there is a six piece band playing on some songs and a band twice that size on other songs… but it all sounds simultaneously minimal and maximal, subtle and complex. Virgil Gonsalves, besides being the bandleader, also plays the baritone sax, which is a very cool instrument. The lineups here are pretty much piano, bass, drums, and then horns, and more horns—saxophones and trumpets. Horns, lots and lots of horns. And more horns. Did I say horns?

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06
Apr
19

Julie London “Calendar Girl”

This is one of the best theme records of 1956, if not ever, as each song represents a month of the year. Naturally, some months have more than one song written about them, while others needed an obscure song dug up, or a new one composed for this record, I’m guessing—so a lot of work had to be done and hard decisions had to be made. Like, it starts out with “June in January”—representing the first month of the year. The other aspect of this theme thing is that the album cover, both the front and back, are each decorated with six calendar style pinup photos of Julie London in skimpy costumes. Older people reading this might have an indelible image of Julie London in a nurse’s uniform, from the TV show, Emergency! in which she convincingly played a nurse, and about which I have no nostalgia. Her husband, Bobby Troup, played a doctor, but in real life he wrote “Route 66” as well as some of the songs on this album.

The best way to approach this record, then, is song by song, with visual accompaniment of the cheesecake photos—and to make matters richer, there are liner notes by Richard Breen (screenwriter of Tony Rome 1967), a man who needs no introduction, as I’m not going to paraphrase any, busy as I am writing my own. “June in January” is a song I’m well-acquainted with, and JL’s calendar photo is with balloons and a noisemaker, presumably after hours of the New Year’s party. February is a valentine, naturally, a big heart and a bear-skin rug, but a sad song, “February Brings the Rain.” “Melancholy March” is another sad one, the bear rug again, a see-through nightie, a feather duster, and green telephone (reminding me of how sad it is that cell phones will never be cool or beautiful objects). “I’ll Remember April” (especially this one) and she’s donning a polka-dot bikini and a parasol. “People Who are Born in May” is a goofy song that I’m not going to try to make sense of. JL is wearing a gingham bikini and is posing with basket of flowers. “Memphis in June” has some really nice imagery, and the pic is of her wearing a wedding dress, but one that wouldn’t be appropriate at a first wedding, a church wedding, or really any wedding, outside of the Playboy Mansion.

Side Two: “Sleigh Ride in July” is a nice compliment to the first song on the record, and the Preston Sturges movie, maybe, but it’s a weird song—the expression “I’ll take you on a sleigh ride in July” sounds at best too aggressive, and possibly felonious. In the picture she’s holding a firecracker big enough to destroy a house. Also, what this reminds me of is when, in grade school, I mixed up the spelling of the month of July and the name Julie (who I had a crush on), and I never got over being mortified. “Time for August” is a sultry song, and the pic is JL in a very small bikini sitting on some tangled fish nets, holding some kind of a large ball which I have no idea what that is! “September in the Rain” is about springtime, which for some reason feels like September? Another fishing theme, and this time she looks like Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island. “This October” is another Bobby Troup song, and she’s wearing probably the most sexy Devil Halloween costume ever attempted, and of course there’s a pumpkin. “November Twilight” is a beautiful, melancholy song, and JL is wearing tasteful black lingerie and sitting on satin draped over something, maybe a large compost bin? Finally, she’s a scantily dressed Santa Claus with wrapped presents, and tells us that she’ll keep us warm in “Warm December.” Wait, but there’s one more, “The Thirteenth Month,” the “month of remember”—a very sad tune—perhaps she’s a ghost—but the picture—(this one full-size, on the inside as the cover opens, facing the liner notes) is flesh and blood—but especially flesh, as there is no costume to speak of, this time, just some tastefully draped ermine.

29
Mar
19

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross “The Best of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross”

I feel like I had another record by them awhile back, and I feel like I wrote about it, but I can’t find it. I picked up this one fairly recently—a little against my better judgment because it’s a “best of” record—and the cover (a stylized silhouette drawing of three howling cats) made me think this was released like, yesterday. Also because it’s a very clean copy. It’s also on that most common of all labels, the red Columbia one. So I was kind of shocked to see the record came out in 1974—that’s 45 years ago! Oh, now looking at the small print… this record was previously released as their record, “The Hottest New Group in Jazz” in 1959—so it’s essentially a re-release. So, as an object, it’s brand new—that is, if 1974 was now, but, well, the music… that makes more sense to me… it sounds like 1959.

The music on this is all good, I like every song, and I can listen to this at every meal. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross are—well, you know—a vocal group consisting of Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, and Annie Ross. (I’m not sure if they considered calling themselves: Annie, Jon & Dave.) I first heard one of the songs from this record, Annie Ross’ song, “Twisted,” when Woody Allen used it as the title song in his movie, Deconstructing Harry (1997)—along with jump cuts of Judy Davis in a murderous rage. It’s the best opening of any of his movies (well, except for maybe Manhattan). Though the very first place I ever saw her was acting, playing a singer in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993). I believe you can find some old footage of her, maybe on YouTube (I’ll look), yeah, on some kind of old TV show that is made to look like a casual party, where you know, Count Basie happens to be playing and people (Annie Ross, then Lambert and Hendricks and Joe Williams) break out into some jazz singing. I’ve already said something else is the “best thing on the internet”—but really, this may be. It’s great. And this album’s not bad, either—like I said, all the songs here are good—they’re fun, and all pretty unique while fitting together like anything. My favorites here being Cloudburst, Twisted, and, really, just all of them. And Summertime (some day I will make a mix tape of all the versions I can find, and this is a particularly killer one).

I just noticed that there are some extensive liner notes on the back cover, written by Jon Hendricks, which I failed to read before, so I will now—written for this re-release in 1974 (he mentions Watergate)—really good liner notes, kind of a poetically conveyed history of the band, ending with his poem (“the shortest jazz poem ever heard.”) “Listen.” I’m going to steal that. That’s perfection, poetry-wise. But where do you go from there? I guess imperfection, which is also beautiful, and contained in all my favorite stuff. As part of his brief history of each of them, and them getting together, he tells us that he’s from Toledo, Ohio (interesting to me since I’m from non-literally a stone’s-throw from there), home of Art Tatum, among others, and also the expression “Holy Toledo”—which he says: “derives from the fact that there are only two bad weeks in show business: Holy Week and a week in Toledo. And if you happen to be booked in Toledo during Holy Week, well—’Holy Toledo!’”

22
Mar
19

Pete Rugolo “The Sweet Ride”

You might expect that the soundtrack of my favorite movie of all time would not be my favorite record of all time. Of course it isn’t. But part of my love for this the movie, The Sweet Ride (1968), is that the score is pretty great, as is the opening title song (which is also the end credits music). The score is by Pete Rugolo, who did tons of great scores, was an arranger and composer, made lots records, was all over the place. I’ll pick up any record I see his name remotely on. Also, this record is kind of two-for-one, because the title song (which sounds nothing like the score music) is by Lee Hazlewood and sung by Dusty Springfield—it would be worth buying even if the rest of the record was unlistenable, which it’s not. It’s a great title song, with really funny lyrics, and has been running a loop in my brain for the last 50 years. I mean that in a good way. The score has, what seems like, a deliberately trashy feel, which is appropriate, since it’s an exploitation movie. It kind of sounds like the score for one of those 1960s Tony Curtis movies where he plays a major sleaze, like one of those stories where a character from the Fifties rubs up against characters from the Sixties, and kind of comments on both eras, and the changing times, while trying to simultaneously sell itself with sex. But the score also rises above that—to a great degree, too—almost sounds experimental at times and, I think, is great art. This is appropriate because, in my opinion, the movie does the same thing. I mean, it rises above the exploitation movie, the trash movie, and is great art. Did I say it was my favorite movie of all time? (It isn’t, really, but it’s definitely tied for first.) It’s impossible to listen to this record without it recalling scenes from the movie—which is fine, and maybe it makes me like it more. But I would also say, as groovy as this record is, I might like it even more if I had never seen the movie. There’s my one word review: groovy.

01
Mar
19

Mountain “Flowers of Evil”

The guitars on this record just won’t quit. They may well outlast the demise of almost everything else on the Earth. In some future time, just after the cockroaches have even finally all died out, those guitars might still be going. But it’s just one guitar, right? Do I have to look this up? Sometimes I want to deal with a record just at face value, which is why I so enjoyed staying at various cabins in the “North Woods” where the internet is just a rumor, yet they have an old hi-fi and a stack of moldy LPs. This one has everything you need, pictures of the four guys in the band and simple descriptions of the instruments they play (guitar, vocals, bass, drums, keyboards), songwriting credits, some lyrics, but like a lot of older records, no date. (It’s from 1971.) Great front cover black and white band photo—the guys wearing their best stuff, but trying to look casual, and like the photographer was able to expend exactly one photo. On one guy’s shirt it says “Gerken”—but I think that was written there by the former owner of this LP—Gerken is a company that moves dirt from point A to point B. Or it could be a misspelling of gherkin, a type of pickle. Or it could be an obscure weed reference. Or the former owner’s name. At any rate, any of those things could explain the condition of this record (dirt, weed, pickle juice)—it’s close to unplayable. There are also liner notes explaining how side two—which is live—is really long (almost half an hour) which—considering that it was not really recommended making LPs that long due to diminishing sound quality— is really not all that bad sounding.

There has been nearly a half century of guitar heavy rock played, recorded, performed, and practiced by too-loud-neighbors since this record came out, which is a staggering amount, enough to sink the world and float the Titanic. So it’s kind of hard to appreciate what was likely the mind-blowing and groundbreaking nature of the hard rock this band was playing—but it’s just really difficult to put into perspective. I could probably enjoy it more if the record didn’t sound like it was being simultaneously murdered as it played. To be fair, I looked for some stuff on the internet, and there is some really great old footage of them playing live, and I very much enjoyed that. The guitar player and singer, Leslie West, is a big, sweaty guy, and really fun to watch play. I always love when a guitar player makes his guitar look like both a toy, a weapon, and an unwanted growth he’s trying to eradicate. I also really like certain guy’s names that are more often women’s names—not the unisex names, but the ones that kind of throw you off, like Leslie and Tracy. I don’t know why that’s important—and why names are important—but it is and they are.

28
Feb
19

Richard Harris “Slides”

This record is thrift store gold, not because it’s a rare find and worth anything, or even that it’s a great record, but because you will see it in thrift stores—usually recycling back through several times because people will buy it on a whim because of its whimsical cover (designed to look like a photographic slide, but record album size, with a clear plastic window revealing a very corny photo of Harris in a matching denim jacket and hat). Then they find they can’t deal with Harris-world, and send it back into the system. But if you do see a copy—and if you haunt the thrift store record bins long enough, you will—you should really buy it and give it a chance, because maybe, like me, the Harris-switch will flip in your brain and you’ll understand him as the genius that he is. I normally will never use the word genius—even for an undeniable one like Thelonious Monk—though sometimes I’ll use the word in a somewhat ironic way, like the genius who drives his car through something destructive but non-life-threatening. But then there is a certain type of genius where the word must be used hyperbolically to make your point, because pretty much no one agrees with you (though in the case of Ricard Harris, I bet there is a legion of people who do agree with me, but they’re people kind of like me—old guys, smoking pipes, who generally complain a lot, but love a few things passionately about which they spout their feeling via blogs to a totally indifferent and uncaring world wide nothingness).

This may be the first Richard Harris record I bought—though I’m not sure. I can’t really remember if I realized I was in love with “MacArthur Park” and then sought out Richard Harris records, or if it was the other way around. I think maybe I had this record for awhile before I figured out that I loved Ricard Harris records—I think for a long-ass time I didn’t really play it—and just was aware of the pretty ridiculous song, “Gin Buddy.” I mean, that is a great song, but it’s pretty silly, too. “He ain’t drunk, he’s just foggy, so one more gin toddy, and then I’ll take my old gin buddy home.” A lot of Richard Harris’ earlier stuff is written by and in collaboration with Jimmy Webb, one of the best songwriters of all time, and certainly the greatest weird one. There’s no J. Webb on this record, but who there is a lot of is Tony Romeo—in fact you could pretty much call it a Tony Romeo album with Ricard Harris singing—he wrote or co-wrote all but one of the songs, produced it and played on it. A great and prolific songwriter, he’s best known for the Partridge Family hit “I Think I Love You” (a song I think about every year on this (almost) date, the birthday of the first girl I ever had a crush on (never got over it) and for that, T. Romeo will always hold a place in my heart).

If you are one of the impatient youth, and don’t take the time to fully digest an album like you need to do with this one, you might just drop the needle on the title track, “Slides” which has a kind of really nice intro, just Harris singing to harpsichord. Then he goes onto narrate an actual slide show (we get slide projector sound effects, and some visual accompaniment and lyrics on the back cover). I like it, but I can see how it might kind of freak out the casual listener. But then the last song, “There Are Too Many Saviours On My Cross” (the only one written by Harris) is essentially spoken word (aka poetry) with orchestral accompaniment that sounds like the soundtrack for a very grim period war tragedy. It’s well-done, over the top, but probably not everyone’s cup of tea. It would be a crime to judge the album by these last two songs, though, because there are some really beautiful pop songs earlier, and if you don’t believe me, play them one at a time. “Roy” sounds like it’s going to be a Partridge Family song, and it builds to an emotional climax, a great pop number. “How I Spent My Summer” is also good, and sounds eerily like a Jimmy Webb song. “I’m Comin’ Home” is almost ridiculously catchy, one of those songs that you find yourself singing along with the chorus the first time you hear it. “Once Upon a Dusty Road” is another one that starts out quietly and then builds dramatically, then subsides, then explodes again, which Richard Harris can really pull off. The song that really snuck up on me on this record, because it’s just kind of hidden in the middle of the first side, is “Sunny-Jo”—it’s a very emotional love song (and no, I never even have been in love with someone named Sunny-Jo) that just kills me. It’s my favorite song late in the evening on the last day of February. I like it so much I’m going to put it on again, and I don’t joke about things like that.

25
Feb
19

Alec Templeton “Alec Templeton and his Music Boxes”

“If I were king, it would be a must that everybody have a hobby…” starts Alec Templeton’s intro, the first track of this record. And I agree, though I’d add, “but drinking and looking at pornography don’t count.” He then goes on to talk about his love for, and obsession with, collecting music boxes. I kind of like this thing of the first track being a spoken intro—kind of like an audio version of liner notes. Though you might get powerful tired of it if it’s a record you have “on repeat” (as the kids say). Though, maybe there is little danger of that here, as the remainder of this record consists of recordings of various music boxes—there are 45 tunes from 24 different ones, some of them quite grand, of course, and large, elaborate, ornate, and expensive. They all sound like music boxes. There are a few faded black and white photos of some of the boxes, but they don’t really do them justice. And some informative (written) liner notes that start out: “For the next 44 minutes, Mr. Templeton would like to take you away from the cares and tensions of today and transport you back to the gay, quiet era of not so long ago—the era of the music box…” There’s a signpost up ahead!

I could imagine (actually, I couldn’t) having a roommate who, this was his favorite record, and played it every day right after dinner. I’m afraid you’d have to kill him. I mean, this is an enjoyable record to listen to once or twice. I guess you could try to see how many tunes you can name. I have to say, that song, “A Bicycle Built for Two,” has just been forever altered for me after hearing HAL sing it while perishing in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). (Kubrick did that to a lot of music, actually—thanks, Stanley!) Talking about movies, if you are a filmmaker, this record might work really well into your resources—there could very likely be some scene in anyone’s movie where one of these music box songs is just the thing. The sound, the feeling of them, is far from neutral. I wonder why it is that we associate this music box music with some kind of ironic vision of the underlying tragedy inherent in our existence? Is it something leftover from past lives? Or just from other movies?




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