Archive for the 'groove' Category

11
Feb
19

Stan Kenton and his Orchestra “Cuban Fire!”

This is a totally pop-culture reference, and a dated one at that, but there’s a part of the first number here that reminds me totally of the title song of the Jonny Quest TV show from the 1960s. I guess it’s just this particular horn part, maybe a trumpet. If you watch that show now, whether you remember it or not, with the sound off, you might be shocked at how primitive the animation is. I mean, the art is good, but it’s just pretty clunky and not overly sophisticated. I don’t remember it like that at all, I think, because the sound is very sophisticated, and the score is amazing. Sound and music create a much more complete picture than image does. This record reminds me of records my dad had—he had some Stan Kenton, I think, but not this one—this is a lot more intense than what my parents normally listened to. It’s got a kind of insane album cover, all orange and black, like a highly stylized illustration of a conga player, possibly on the edge of a volcano, or Hell. On the back there’s about an hour’s worth of liner note reading (including detailed notes for each song). There are a lot of liner notes, actually—I’m going to put this on a “do on a rainy day” list—to read these liner notes—I’ve seen shorter novels.

I think this is one of those records where the best way to approach it is to go song by song (there are only six), and because each one feels like a mini-drama, describe what each song makes me visualize, or think of, or feel. The titles are in both Spanish and English, but I’m just including the Spanish (which is Greek, to me), so as not to be narratively influenced. Fuego Cubano – A guy in a white suit drinking rum and cokes at a bar, in Cuba, naturally, just kind of not sweating somehow and calmly waiting to be detained by the authorities. El Congo Valiente – A well-dressed European couple, a very shallow looking man and a beautiful woman, are dashing from airport to airport, carrying their undersized valises, trying not to miss their planes (in each airport). Recuerdos – The guy in the white suit again, but this time suavely being escorted into the bank lockbox area where he fills his valise with some unrecognizable currency, then leaves unmolested, except at the end we are made aware that this is just a flashback. Quien Sabe – Now our hero is piloting some kind of super fast and also totally silent aircraft, flying very low, passing over small islands dotting an impossibly blue sea. The mood is optimistic. Le Guera Baila – This is the couple from earlier, but this is back in time because they don’t know each other—she is at the bar and he comes in and introduces himself, orders them both a rum and coke (he drinks them both) and then she leaves. La Suerte de los Tontos – The man and the woman are making their getaway in an elaborate chase scene, first riding in the back of produce truck, then stealing a motorcycle. As both they and the authorities (in small cars) approach the dock, and the waiting yacht, there is a freeze frame, suggesting an ambiguous ending, or maybe indicating that this entire escape is all in the guy’s mind, and he’s probably dead or in prison. FIN.

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08
Feb
19

Thelonious Monk “Pure Monk: Thelonious Monk Piano Solos”

This record is some sort of a cheapo re-issue, I think, on the Trip record label. I’m guessing all eight of these songs were on other records, and they’re all solo piano. I think this record came out about 1974. Thelonious Monk released a lot of records and was immensely well-known and popular (while there are people who just can’t stand him at all). Ever since I first heard some of his recordings, in 1981, I’ve been fascinated with him, because I didn’t know there was any music that sounded like that. I feel like I’ve written about him a lot, and so I’m just repeating myself, so I’m not going to write much here. I guess there are times when I don’t feel like listening to his music, just because it’s my favorite—it’s like, if you have a favorite food, do you eat it every meal? But most of the time when I hear a recording of him playing, whether with a band or solo, I just stop what I’m doing and listen. There’s something there, connected right to my brain—I mean, it’s almost like without the microphones and magnetic audio tape and records and speakers or even my ears. It’s too bad you don’t find his records in cheap stores all that often—I guess they go for a lot of money. This one is probably not very desirable among collectors, and as an object it’s pretty lackluster—it’s just an uninspiring presentation. It almost seems like it could have come out yesterday, so it’s kind of weird that it came out like 45 years ago. I’m talking about the cover—the record itself sounds fine. The music, of course, is great—look, I don’t have a favorite food—or book, or writer, or movie, or artist, or a favorite anything. Except for Thelonious Monk’s music—all of it—that’s my favorite music.

26
Jan
19

Chicago “Chicago”

I bought a late-Seventies Chicago record when I was in high school and was so-so about it, then later I just didn’t like them at all, so it was a surprise to me when, a few years ago, I found myself compulsively listening to some of their early stuff, especially the hits. I bought this 1970 record, titled “Chicago” (but also referred to as Chicago II, I guess, because it’s their second LP) from a $4 bin—mostly fascinated because the cover was thin cellophane over what looks like a badly photocopied cover, and the label is this really exotic, old, Asian looking, beautiful silver printing on red, called “First.” What was it? I looked it up when I got home, and it turns out it’s from Taiwan, maybe legit, maybe a bootleg, who knows. I thought it might be unlistenable, but for $4, I was just curious. It turns out that it’s not only listenable, but a great record with great sound. I don’t know if it’s my imagination or not (and my stereo system is an ongoing adventure in inconsistency), but weirdly it sounds better than any other record—just really lush and warm. How much that has to do with the pressing, and how much is just the recording, playing, songs—I have no idea. One thing about the band, Chicago, that I really like, is how uncomplicated their early recordings are, while being tremendously complex—you know, in song structure and arrangements—but just all really organic sounding.

I finally got curious and consulted the internet about these Taiwanese pressings, and sure enough, people talk about the sound quality being really good. I didn’t want to go down that particular rabbit-hole though—you’ve got to protect yourself, you know, from the old rabbit-holes—but I did note that someone talked about the weird cellophane covered album covers that are just like covers printed on the back of other things and then wrapped in this plastic. Then, looking closely at the cover of this Chicago record, I could see this faint writing coming through, and it said: “Shaft’s Big Score!” So then I had to cut the plastic away to see what was going on, and it turns out the Chicago cover is printed on very thin paper, and the inner structure of the album cover is made up of a Taiwanese printed “Shaft’s Big Score!” LP, and a divider (it’s a double record) in the middle is the cover of “Blood, Sweat & Tears 3.” Just really bizarre. Anyway, not ever having heard this record, except for some of the hit songs, I just kind of thought maybe the whole thing was some kind of random bootleg collection, but as it turns out, it’s just their second record, and it is kind of bizarre, just all over the place, but really great from beginning to end. They sure were pretty ambitious for a new band. I guess their first few records were double records, like they just didn’t realize that most sane bands primarily put out single records. At first they were called Chicago Transit Authority, but wisely chose to shorten the name (seeing how it’s even more syllables than ELO, and probably could foresee a career of rock journalists’ cleverness: “elevated” or “missed the bus”) to Chicago, and adopted that dumb script logo that looks like the sign for a deli, or something printed on a fat guy’s softball uniform.

I don’t want to go down a Chicago rabbit-hole, either—well, I just did—looking over their discography, and history, about which I know nothing. I rarely consult other music writers (I read lots of music writers, but I mean, specifically, when writing a review), but I was compelled to check Robert Christgau’s “Consumer Guide” which is a great website, with no bullshit popping up, with an index, and searchable, tons of concise and insightful music writing (plus, he had the honor of getting a taste of his own medicine from Lou Reed, on that “Take No Prisoners” live record). Let’s see… Chicago… Christgau is… not a fan. To say the least. But I guess I am, now. Maybe I’ll pick up some more of the early records (I have a copy the their first “greatest hits” LP). Then, of course, I started reading about the tragic death of Terry Kath, and tried to remember what I thought about it at the time—1978. We didn’t have the internet, of course, and so we had to wait for any news to be on the radio or TV or in the papers, and then to really find out anything, next month’s Rolling Stone. I guess by that point I thought of the band as an insipid AM radio hits band, but still, it was pretty sad and senseless and depressing. Then later the same year, my hero Keith Moon died, and that really hit me hard. While I was legitimately sad, I remembered thinking that the intense public mourning for Elvis (the previous year) was kind of ridiculous (though it’s easy to forget that he was only 42). But Terry Kath and Keith Moon were barely into their early thirties. I don’t really believe that “only the good die young” thing (maybe it’s more that they haven’t had the time yet to become wretched), but considering another prominent 1946 birth… well, forget that (I try to avoid presidential politics on this site, but it is notable when someone goes from being merely a huge, reeking, cultural turd to a literal giant magnet for hate, racism, intolerance, and fascism).

A couple of years ago, when David Bowie died, and then a few months later, Prince died, I did feel pretty emotional, sad and devastated—again wondering if that made sense, not knowing them personally. But now, because of social media, you are very much aware of this as a shared experience. It is not at all unusual for people to mourn the loss of artists, public figures, who enrich their lives. Thinking about it now, when Terry Kath died, I was still in high school, living with my parents, and my shared experience about this kind of thing was primarily with them. And in those years, from the time of my birth, to the point at which I first moved away from home (which coincided, by chance, with Keith Moon’s death) my experiencing and dealing with the death of family members, friends, and public figures was a pretty intimate experience with my parents, and I feel like I was closer with them, on a communication level, than probably the average kid. So I’m thinking about that now… started out to write about this Chicago record… talk about your rabbit-hole…

05
Jan
19

The Walter Wanderley Trio “Cheganca”

I thought I had more records from Walter Wanderley, the Brazilian jazz keyboard hit recording artist and guy with a great name—but maybe that was before I lost all my records—anyway, sometimes you’ll see one in a cheap bin or thrift store, and I’m guessing that any or all of his vinyl is worth picking up. This one is all instrumentals, him playing organ with a couple of percussionists. I can listen to this any time of day, though coffee time and cocktail time come to mind as the most appropriate—but it would also work for painting an abstract canvas or the wood trim a bright color. This is on Verve records, from 1966, and the cover is a color photo of the trio in formal wear perched on gargantuan stacks of pallets of burlap bags of coffee beans. I’m assuming it’s coffee since one bag is stenciled “Brasil”—but who knows, it could be soybeans, or it could be Cheganca, because I sure as hell have no idea what “Cheganca” is.

I’m not even sure that if I spoke Portuguese I would know—I like to think that maybe it’s one of those things you know when you know, but it’s not for the squares. The album cover folds out to some extensive liner notes by Bob Lee with KRHM-FM, L.A. He says: “Walter Wanderley has no worry. He could play the Pasadena phone book and make it sound great.” What I do know is that this record would not only be appropriate, but essential if I was throwing a Holly Golightly style cocktail party (the only kind of cocktail party I’m interested in throwing)—it’s even possible this was playing in the party scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)—though that would require a time machine—and this record is one. I feel like I’ve heard this version of “Agua de Beber” in a movie somewhere (of course, I’ve heard a vocal version with Astrud Gilberto). Truthfully, much of this record is more upbeat than I normally care for, and also, I just quit drinking (25 years ago)—but that doesn’t mean I’ve been bright-eyed and jaunty for a quarter of a century. This music—in spite of it making you visualize odd groups of young lovers shopping in frivolity—also isn’t jaunty, which is kind of its miracle. And in a few cases, as with the standard, “Here’s That Rainy Day,” it manages to be both melancholy and upbeat at once, knowing that while there is no cure for a broken heart, painting your woodwork a bright color is a wise use of broken-heart-time, because time cures all things, maybe—but there’s a limited supply of it—and a serious limited supply of more.

28
Dec
18

Bruce Springsteen “The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle”

I was one of those Springsteen fans who, before I was a fan, was turned off by all the Born to Run hoopla in 1975 but finally bought the Darkness LP in 1978, loved it, became a fan then, then went back to the first three records. I listened to his first six records to death, but after that I wouldn’t give him the time of day (and that’s more about me than him)—so I’m guessing there’s some great music from 1984 on that I missed, but, oh well. Currently he’s “On Broadway”—I know nothing about that, but I’ll guess two things: It’s really good, and I can’t afford it. I rarely look him up on the internet, but I’ve noticed that he uncannily resembles Jello Biafra—maybe they are friends. One thing I feel certain about, even never having met the man, I feel like he possesses a genuineness of spirit that even sainthood can’t diminish. That is based on a couple of live shows I saw in the late Seventies at the Richfield Coliseum (now a ghost) that I attended even after swearing off large venue shows. His concerts are legendary, and for once, legendary got that right. Anyway, I lost all my Springsteen LPs while movin’ around, so I made a point of picking up a copy of this one after I decided it’s the best. Someday I’m going to make a list of all the recording artists whose best record was their second one—there’s a lot! Also, this was from 1973 (as was his first record), further making my point that that was a pretty good year. There are more than a few of us out there, actually, that think this record is Springsteen’s best. We meet once a month in the VFW basement over hardshell tacos and Old Milwaukee Light and Skype with the national chapter, which mostly consists of mini-memorials for our recently passed and dwindling membership.

One reason I wanted a vinyl copy of this record is that I love the album cover (not so much the front, gigantic portrait—though if you isolate his thumb and stare at it, it will make you feel weird) because of the band picture on back—one of my favorite band photos ever. I’m not sure if they were yet called “The E Street Band”—but I liked this lineup even better than the later ones—which is saying something, because they were all good—but I just like the overall playing, production, and sound on this record. And this band photo, it’s the best. (In my opinion, there should only be two things in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: this photo, and a closed/out of business sign.) First of all, it looks like a really hot day, and they were able to maybe move down half a block from the Taste-E-Freeze to take a photo in front of the pawn shop. They all look “bad” (as we used to say), and not surprisingly, Clarence Clemons, the baddest. Garry Tallent looks like he has a leg cramp. Danny Federici looks like he was the only one who knew they were taking a photo that day. And if you didn’t know better, you’d think it was David Sancious’ band. My favorite, though, is Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, wearing cut-offs and an open Hawaiian shirt—for years I’ve used this photo as my summer fashion icon ideal—I just want to copy his look outright (though at this point, sadly, unless I’m able to trade in my stomach for some hair, it’s not ever going to happen).

Really, this sounds more like someone’s 20th record rather than their second—I mean in that it doesn’t sound like it’s trying too hard to please anyone as much as the people making it, and maybe that’s why I like it so much. There are only seven songs, but the three on side two are like 7, 8, and 10 minutes long! I like the production so much better than the later records, too—I guess it accentuates the songwriting. There’s no grandstanding, it sounds egoless, and it’s not too guitar heavy. On some songs the most prominent instrument is accordion—one of those being “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”—just that title!—which is one of my favorite Springsteen songs ever. Some of these songs—you presume before the record deals that these guys were playing in bars—but in what kind of bars could you play “Wild Billy’s Circus Story?” “Incident on 57th Street” might be prettiest Springsteen song ever, and just listening to it now makes me think about all the hearts he must have broken before getting his picture on the covers of Time and Newsweek. Listening to this record now confirms how much I like it; it’s the one I choose to put on if I’m in the mood for Bruce Springsteen. It’s also making me kind of curious, now, about what led up to the first two records. Maybe I’ll check out his autobiography. Anyway, I guess this record brings back some summer evening in the late Seventies, softly through my Advent speakers while sipping a rum drink, that fragrant, warm evening air, low lights in the “breezeway”—a room off the garage of my parents’ house that really was a time and place, and this record was part of it. Call it pure nostalgia, and I can’t argue with that, but that’s the sweet part of a good cocktail, and mixed with the right proportions of reality and weirdness, you get why the golden ratio is greater than the sum of its parts.

07
Dec
18

Lowell George “Thanks I’ll Eat It Here”

I picked up this record recently, having never heard it, and curious. I have always been a kinda fan of Little Feat—I bought one of their records in high school, liked about half of it, but loved a couple of the songs a lot. I might have bought some more stuff by them, including a live record, not long before I lost all my records. I was kind of fascinated with the band, but most fascinated with Lowell George—it seemed like what I liked most about Little Feat was him, and then he died tragically young (at the age of 34, in 1979, the same year this record, his only solo album, came out).

This is an alarmingly short record—nine short songs—which makes you think, did he just not record a lot for the sessions for this record, or is he kind of a perfectionist about what goes on the record? I don’t know, but I’m sure someone does—all I have to go by is the music here. These are some nice songs—though I’m not getting a feeling of any kind of thematic line running through them at first listening—so I’m listening to this record a few times. I like it, so that’s no chore. This could be one of my regulars, at least in this place, at this time. My favorite, maybe, is “Two Trains” (one of his compositions), in spite of it being undeniably a dreaded “train song.” I also like, a lot, “20 Million Things,” and “Find a River,” and Alan Toussaint’s “What Do You Want The Girl To Do”—which is the first song on the record, and just fairly irresistible.

I only noticed later that there are liner notes on the inside sleeve—quite a lot of writing, actually, all in the no caps, no punctuation style that kind of says, hey, I’m a musician, not a writer, but I got something to say here. Okay, it’s not liner notes, but lots and lots of album credits—kind of a funny way to present them, though. Likely scrawled by LG with a pencil on the back of a paper bag and transcribed by someone. A lot of names there, and even though a lot of these people have lots of career credits, you have to wonder if this one might have been particularly special.

The cover is a painting by Neon Park, who did most of the Little Feat album covers, as well as a lot of others. A very clean looking Lowell George is in the foreground wearing a blue bathrobe (that looks just like mine), and behind him there’s a park or woods with a lot going on, some of it probably containing secret meanings—or not so secret—what looks like a picnic lunch containing some cheeseburgers and a City Lights copy of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. And then some lounging people who look a lot like Fidel Castro, Bob Dylan with devil horns, and Marlene Dietrich (but a black and white version of her from The Blue Angel (though possibly wearing Dorothy’s ruby slippers). There’s a few b&w photos of LG on the back, one of which kind of portrays him as a rather moist drunk. But on the other side of the sleeve there’s a really nice photo of him fishing, after snagging some sea-weed. It’s a great photo—he’s really attractive, and it makes you think he probably had a good sense of humor—was likely a warm and genuine guy—one of those people you’d feel kind of elevated, just being in the same room with him. I always got that from his music, too, so I’m going to go on believing that.

03
Nov
18

Herbie Hancock “Headhunters”

I’ve never been a huge Herbie Hancock fan, though I’ve always liked him more or less, but kind of a lukewarm love (Herbie Hancock fans don’t want to hear this)—like, I’ve owned a few of his records over the years, but I’m not usually burning to put them on. But this one has such a weird cover that it kind of screamed out to me (not necessarily a good scream, but a loud and got my attention scream). Anyway, I think HH has done some soundtracks over the years (can’t be entirely sure with no internet to reference) and I can really imagine a lot of this music as a soundtrack—but a really strong one, like, I’d watch that movie just to see a guy driving an early-Seventies LTD thru Harlem with this music playing. In fact, I’m guessing a 1973 LTD, gold with a green faux fabric top—a lot about this whole scenario says 1973 (I’ll see if there’s a date on the disk when it stops spinning…)

The cover is a kind of photo collage of HH at the keyboard with his band behind him in blue shadows, but it’s not HH really—or it is HH, I guess, but instead of his head there’s a huge orange circle, that from a distance looks like an orange with eyes and a mouth and some kind of insect pincers on the top of the head—but upon closer examination it’s evident that the eyes are knobs and the mouth is a VU meter. I can’t tell if the pincers coming out of the tip of the head are like antennas, or grabbers, or if it’s organic or mechanical—regardless, it’s all kind of creepy. I’m listening to the record a few times through as I’m writing, and I’m actually liking it more and more—maybe this is the HH record for me. It’s got some weird instrumentation and some pretty hardcore repetitious grooves (I mean as opposed to all the stopping and starting kind of stuff I don’t like as well). I’ve been working at a grocery store where the muzak system plays such a bizarre mix of about a dozen or 20 songs (seems like less, but is probably actually more) that it could have only been selected by a computer algorithm. But what if they just played this record? I wouldn’t be working, I’d be partying—couldn’t have that.




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