Archive for the 'Instrumental' Category

03
May
20

Martin Denny “Exotica”

I’ve had a lot of Martin Denny records over the years—I must have left some behind when I moved, here and there—they’re relatively easy to find, cheap—kind of your classic thrift-store record that is worth picking up, even if scratchy. They must have sold a lot of them. This one is the first “Exotica” genre record, apparently—from which Exotica got its name. It’s a good name for anything. It would be a good name for a soap review website: Soap Exotica. Oh, wait, that exists (it’s mine). It would be a good name for a restaurant, say Egg Exotica, or Exotica Taco. Martin Denny kept putting out several records a year all through the Sixties and beyond—I don’t know how many in all. I suppose there are some real connoisseurs of this music who might have their favorites, might have them all ranked, even! Those kind of nuts walk among us! I will, at some point, try to find some good writing about Martin Denny, and Exotica in general, and see if there is a consensus “best” record. I believe I have a few more, right now, but I’m not sure. As a fun exercise, I’m going to try to imagine I’m hearing this (and this type of music) for the first time. First, there’s the novelty of the birds, the sound effects, the jungle sounds. Depending on who you are, that might get old, say, anywhere from one listening to never. Then, I guess, somewhat, it reminds me of stuff I’d hear as a kid, like the Latin rhythm George Shearing records that my parents played. I can’t remember if they had any Martin Denny, or Arthur Lyman records, but I don’t think so. Anyway, I could listen to this stuff all day long, when I’m in the mood for it, but who can predict one’s moods? I would probably be a much bigger fan, overall, if my apartment was decorated to look like a Tiki Bar (something I could do), and if I was mixing up an occasional rum drink with tropical fruit (something I’d be better off not getting back into, at this point).

28
Feb
20

Big Bay Band “Heathsville”

This is one of those records that makes no sense, as nothing on the front cover, back cover, or label matches up that well—you’d almost think it’s in the wrong cover, but the songs actually match up. According to the label, it’s “The Big Bay Band,” who sound to be an accomplished swing band, and do put some flair into some of these songs. Of course, some of them are too corny and unlistenable, but others, like “I’ve Got the World on a String” are pretty inspired (well, it’s a great song). The cover is a $1.98 photo session out in the woods with three women holding up various horns, jubilantly. If you squint, they actually look like zombies in a scene from Dawn of the Dead. Only the closest woman’s grin gives it away—not zombies—jubilant. Which makes me think about all the people who have been playing zombies, or extras as zombies. It’s probably a little harder than it looks, to get the facial expression and the movement just right. Though it’s beyond me, at this point, why anyone cares.

23
Feb
20

The Dell Trio “Cocktail Time”

I expected this to be one of those corny records, like “Music for…” (“Music for Dressing Deer,” “Music for Cleaning Game”) like you’ll find in the open-one-day-a-week antique stores in the North Woods, and are sometimes on the sound-system of supper clubs—but this isn’t corny at all, it’s just a great record. Since the record has no info on it whatsoever (except song titles, and ads for about 50 other Harmony (the label) records, I’ll just have to make up a bio: The Dell Trio consists of Grandma Eunice Dell on the church Hammond, local handyman Charlie Bill Pike on accordion, and Bob Flippen mixing the cocktails, occasional jug, and glass percussion. No, wait, there’s a guitar on there, too. I suspect that the organ is playing bass and also doing the percussion. But like I said, I just made that up—there are actual real people playing on this record, not fictional characters, and a real Dell Trio somewhere in the past. Or maybe they’re still together, playing in an early spot at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. But most likely they are elderly, not touring much, or passed on. I’m not even sure I’ll be able to find anything about them with the internet.

This is a really good record, though, and worth picking up if you see it in a thrift store. It’s got a racy album cover, what looks like a man’s legs and a woman’s legs protruding from a sofa, though we don’t see the rest of them, they’re out of frame, but we’re led to believe they’re making out. The room is over-lit by a hanging paper lamp, and there’s green and orange/pink pillows on the floor, suggesting bohemianism. A little table is holding two cocktails, a Martini and an Old-Fashioned, and there’s a standing ashtray with a cigarette that has gone out. There’s also a little clay-potted plant on the table—I don’t know what the plant is, but I think it’s supposed to suggest, but not advertise, marijuana. Songs include “Cocktails for Two” and “Stumbling” (never heard that one before!), two moon songs in a row, and also a couple of my favorites, “September Song” and “Laura”—nice versions. One could have a worse hobby than collecting all the recorded versions of “Laura”—there’s a lot, and they’re pretty much all good. I’m obsessed with that movie, if I haven’t mentioned that recently.

19
Feb
20

Perrey & Kingsley “Kaleidoscopic Vibrations: Electronic Pop Music from Way Out”

This is one of those early electronic music records that I like a lot better in theory than for actual listening—though it’s okay, really, if you’re in the mood for that kind goofy, beeping, semi-comic synthesizer stuff—you know exactly what it sounds like without hearing it. There’s a handful of very familiar cover songs—some of which one wishes one may never hear again in any version. Theres’s few original compositions by Perrey and Kingsley, this French and German electronic geek odd couple who released a few records of this kind and were apparently influential. There’s an entire back cover of liner notes, but what got my attention is the mention of this early electronic keyboard called the Jenny Ondioline—which I’d never heard of—though there was a woman I had a crush on by that name. I was never sure if it was her real name, but suspected that it wasn’t. There is also a record by the band Stereolab by that name.

I guess now is a good time to disclose that I’m listening to records while staying at a rustic cabin in the “North Woods”—it’s as big as a castle, has a pretty nice record player, but the vinyl is somewhat eclectic. Probably more than I’ll have time to check out, though, if this rabbit-hole is any indication. Fortunately, there’s no internet up here so I have to rely on my crap memory. (Once a day or so, I’ll be heading into the nearby town, Elk Shores, to the Red Apple Cafe, with wi-fi, where I can post a review or two.) In this case I’m just as happy not to disclose the location of the cabin because I just realized I’m sitting here with an exceedingly rare record: the label is Vanguard, which says: “Recordings for the Connoisseur” and also “Stereo”—but on this particular disk it says: “Stereolab”—so I’m pretty sure this is one in which the band by that name traveled into the past in order to make their branding mark. So impressive is that fact, I was prompted to read the liner notes by Elmer Jared Gordon, and about the Jenny Ondioline he makes this rather cryptic claim: “…a minute keyboard electronic, requires a skilled playing technic inasmuch as the whole keyboard is manually vibrated as its notes are depressed, and the vibrational variants can characteristically color and subtly alter the sound produced. This ondioline typically suggests a tenuous and oddly plaintive quality so unique that even the highly sophisticated Moog mechanism with its infinite faculties cannot duplicate it.” Now I know why she called herself Jenny Ondioline.

12
Feb
20

Boots Randolph “Boots with Strings”

I’m not sure where this record came from, but if I bought it, it was on the strength of the cover photo, a moody closeup of a guy looking into the bell of his saxophone like he’s trying to figure out what got in there. One presumes it’s Boots Randolph. He plays in that style that sounds like he’s trying to get it out, whatever it is, somewhat forcefully—which is okay, just not my favorite use of that horn. With anything you blow into, there’s a lot of danger involved, and there’s a fine line between passable jazz horn and melodica atrocity. Boots Randolph was close to my dad’s age, which doesn’t really put anything in perspective or anything, but he is a Midwestern guy, too, and put out his first record the year I was born. This record came out in 1966, the year my first car was built (it was a VW Squareback). He put out “Country Boots” the year I first smoked weed, and “…Puts a Little Sax in Your Life” the year I graduated from high school. The dude put out a lot of records. He’s got a Wikipedia page, no surprise, but the weirdest thing there is the sentence: “Early in his career, he often billed himself as Randy Randolph.” Which refers back to nothing, and “Randy Randolph” is BOLD—and why? It’s not a link. I’ve never seen anything bold on a Wikipedia page—just the name of the page—so maybe it’s just when it’s someone with two names? Anyway, the fatal flaw here is (and this is entirely subjective, but then what isn’t?)—there’s not one but two Lennon-McCartney songs, one on each side, so they lie there like queasy little time-bombs. I love John and Paul and the Beatles, but there was a time period when it seemed like everyone had to include one of their songs—in everything from a bar mitzvah to a creepy garden serenade—and the most overplayed ones, no less. Rarely if ever do you hear an inspired cover of a Beatles song—in fact, it’s so rare, when you do hear one, fresh, inspired, or in some way better than the original, it’s worth making a great big point of it. Not here, I’m sad to day. My favorite song on the record is “Days of Wine and Roses” which starts with a little choir bit, which comes back later, and the sax lays back, more or less, just kind of squeezing out like a tube of toothpaste.

05
Feb
20

The Best of Perez Prado

I don’t know anything about the history of the mambo—I could read some stuff on the internet and repeat it here—or you could tell me what you know over cocktails some evening. I don’t know, I don’t see myself starting to drink, but if I find myself reading stuff on the internet and then repeating it, I might just might, sitting glassy-eyed on some pirate’s shoulder. Perez Prado was Cuban, then moved to Mexico in the Forties, and was instrumental in mambo becoming hugely popular. The back of the record says he’s the “King of the Mambo.” Of course, Elvis was called the King of Rock’n’Roll—but we know it was Chuck Berry. I’m wondering who this record, from 1967, was for exactly, because by 1967—well you know what the kids were listening to. There is a popular and fun—but definitely corny—side to this music, and I’m thinking the same people buying this are the people who were buying the big-selling records that thrift stores just still can’t seem to get rid of. It’s hard for me to listen to the songs on this record without seeing the movie scenes (even if not exactly, specifically) they are attached to—or imagine someone eating some kind of Jello salad and drinking a whiskey sour. Though some of the songs—or more likely, parts of some songs, I can listen to the music being played—sometimes with a lot of style that makes me wonder what the life of the musicians was like. There’s some incredible bits, here and there. Or what was Perez Prado’s life like? Is there a movie about him? There has to be, right?—I’ll see that, sometime.

02
Feb
20

The George Shearing Quintet and Orchestra “Black Satin”

This George Shearing Quintet record is a little different than some others I have in that there is orchestra, arranged by Billy May. There’s something about it that I like almost better than any I’ve heard—it’s hard to say why. There’s something kind of odd about how that Shearing sound—his distinctive piano, coupled with vibes and guitar—sounds with the orchestra. Maybe it’s just that this was one of the records my parents had, and I heard it a lot as a kid. I don’t remember at this point exactly which Shearing records they did have, but pretty much every time I hear any of them, it takes me back to childhood more completely than anything—I can smell what the house smelled like, the carpet just after vacuuming, the late-afternoon sun coming in the west-facing picture window. There’s always something a little sad about it, but comforting, too. I could probably put this record on once a week for the rest of my life. No weak spots—but then there rarely is (that I’ve found) with Shearing. The drawing on the back cover, with the brief liner notes, is a formally dressed rich, young, white man and woman sitting on one of those round couches, like a plush couch wrapped around a post, like the ones in the lobby of the Hotel Breakers, in Sandusky. The joke here is: “Get a room,” because if you ever tried having sex on one of those round couches… what am I saying? No one’s tried that! The cover photo shows a young woman in a slim back dress with some kind of crazy beads draped around her neck that looks like a dead fish, if you squint. She’s reclining on, maybe partly under, what’s supposed to be, of course, “black satin”—but if you really look at it, it more resembles a photo-studio setup of black, plastic trash bags! I’m not sure this doesn’t represent a very bad day in a Capital records photo studio. The woman looks pretty great, like she’d just as soon kick your ass as make out—and if you use your imagination, you could comfortably put this cover photo on a movie poster about alien pod people or a punk rock album various artist collection called, “Straight Outta Da Trash.”

10
Jan
20

Gil Evans “The British Orchestra”

Up until now, Gil Evans didn’t crack my top ten Evanses—somewhere behind Bill, Bob, Dale, Jeff, Robert, etc.—a formidable list, sausage or not—Monsieur Jeffrey being the one I’ve met, and my hero. Bob (the sausage king) not to be confused with Robert (The Kid Stays in the Picture). Dale, the only woman here, partner of Roy Rogers (see: “a Roy Rogers roast beef sandwich). Bill and Gil both played piano, were important collaborators with Miles Davis—of course it gets confusing if you’re just not a jazz enthusiast or record collector. I count myself as someone with an encyclopedic gap of knowledge about just about everything, jazz included. Though I’ve spent hours and hours listening to Bill Evans—never get tired of that stuff. Gil, however, I know nothing about—I picked up this record with my fingers, put it on. The label says: Mole Jazz, it’s a British pressing, recorded live, March 14, 1983. I could probably tell you where I was on that day—Kent, Ohio, Spindizzy Records—listing to the new shipment of British punk and new wave records, not liking much. I probably wouldn’t have given this much of a chance either, since the first track is pretty guitar heavy, and guitar jazz just put me off for the longest time. I’m still pretty much on the fence when it comes to electric guitar jazz. Maybe I’m on the fence with jazz in general. I’ll wake up every morning at 4 AM and turn on WKCR, and sometimes it’s jazz that I love, and other times I’ll be kind of blocking it out until I realize how much I hate it, at which time I’ll say: “Why would anyone play that on purpose?” I think what it comes down to is that in general I don’t like “jazz fusion”—it’s just not my thing. I know that’s a huge generalization, but there you go. Any time I hear an exception, I’ll be glad to point it out. I’ve listened to this record a few times now, and all this nonsense I’m writing is my way of not having to write anything biographical about Gil Evans (you can easily go elsewhere for that). And also not have to make any decision about this record. There are four long instrumental songs, all live with a large band. The second one, “Friday the 13th,” is a Thelonious Monk number, and my favorite—probably because it sounds like a Thelonious Monk composition, and reminds me of him—not only my favorite jazz musician, but my favorite musician, ever. As far as the rest of it, there are moments I like, but entirely too much saxophone here, guitar there—so, the closer it sounds to noise (seemingly formless and chaotic) the more I like it, and the closer it gets to rock (the dreaded rock, the insipid), the less I like it.

04
Jan
20

Deodato “Prelude”

If you have ever seen Being There (1979) and can listen to this version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and not vividly relive that opening scene, you must be suffering from brain damage and maybe want to get that checked out. If you’ve never seen that movie, I’m envious of you, because you have a great movie experience ahead of you—though I suggest waiting, hopefully, for a theater screening of it somewhere (I say that about all great movies, though it might not be realistic). If you’ve never heard this particular Strauss piece of music—no, that’s not possible. Anyway, this is an excellent version, and takes up half of the first side. The rest of the record is just as good, too. Actually, I think I like the rest of the record, on a whole, better, since it’s not weighed down with Peter Sellers or space stations. Particularly “Carly & Carole,” a Deodato number—and really, all of it. There’s a little of everything—bossa nova, rock and funk, jazz and classical, flute and a lot of space. The entire side two sounds like the soundtrack for an imaginary TV show about me—or at least a heightened, idealized version of fictional me. It’s got a great album cover too—a fine use of glossy deep green—kind of timeless—it looks like it might have come out yesterday, but it was 1973—at which time there was an offer on the inside cover to buy a print of the cover photo for $19.95, which seems like a steal to me, even then. This record was huge, I guess, at the time, though I was too young for it. It’s on the CTI label, and as I’m not a jazz collector, haven’t seen it a lot, but I guess it’s the label of Creed Taylor who seems to have been a big connection of Brazilian music to the popular US jazz market—is that right? Also, I noticed it was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder, a very familiar name, but just what all did he do? I looked him up and, Danger Will Robinson, there’s another gaping rabbit-hole just waiting for you to stumble into.

I admit to knowing nothing about this Eumir Deodato, apart from what I’m reading right now—he’s Brazilian, bossa nova pianist, likes that electric piano sound—composer, producer, arranger— still alive—wow, it looks like he’s got about 40 records. I’m going to keep an eye out for them—probably some are hard to find. This one is probably the easy one. He was fairly young here—his picture is on the inside album cover—and I’d guess he didn’t have a lot of trouble with dating. But anyway, if any of the others are even half as good as this record, they’re worth picking up. It would be funny if he got to be a major obsession with me, and I keep getting Deodato records—then the name of this one would be frighteningly apt. Not really related—I used to drive a Honda Prelude from the Seventies—that was a good car. Prelude is like an introduction to something else, right? So naturally you think, this is a taste of what’s to come… so I thought it was an odd name for a car, like, Oh, you’re going to get a better car. And an odd name for an album—it makes you think this record is just part of a bigger work. Which I suppose, if you consider all his work to come, even if it didn’t sell as much as this one, is apt. I can’t say how his other work compares, but I’ll keep an eye out for those records.

20
Dec
19

Hampton Hawes Trio “The Green Leaves of Summer”

I picked up this 1964 record knowing nothing about Hampton Hawes—sadly never had heard of him—and I wasn’t expecting much, certainly not that it would be so good, and instrumental jazz—piano jazz trio. I suppose I was guessing by the cover that it was going to be kind of mild crooner pop—only because of the bold yellow font on a blurry, bright green background, and bigger than life-size photo of a very handsome man, presumably Hawes, himself. And because he kind of resembles a young Harry Belafonte, naturally I just thought he was going to be a singer. Of course, that’s dumb of me. By chance, those two were born a year of so apart, and a few years before my dad. Though Hawes died pretty young, in 1977. I see that he wrote a memoir, so I’m going to check that out. (Found the book at the library, haven’t read any of it yet.) Apparently this record came out after he was in prison for five years for heroin possession. This is a fine jazz trio recording; Hampton Hawes on piano, Monk Montgomery on bass, and Steve Ellington drums. Great names—if you throw all six of those names in a hat, with the exception of “Steve,” it just oozes jazz. The liner notes, on back, by Lester Koenig is practically book length—I’m not going to read it now, but intend to later, like maybe when I listen to the record again. It’s one I’m going to leave out for awhile, for listening. It’s good, but subtle. Nothing jumped out at me on first listening, except maybe the first song, a Miles Davis composition called “Vierd Blues.” But often, subtle is a very good thing, calm and simple at first visit, like the Blue Hole, this little duck pond in Ohio that doesn’t look like much, but turns out to be bottomless and legendary.




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