Archive for the 'Instrumental' 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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06
Feb
19

The Jonah Jones Quartet “Swingin’ at the Cinema”

This is a thrift store record if ever there was one—well, actually, I don’t see it as often as “Jumpin’ with Jonah” (from the same year)—but this must have been next to a few hi-fis in the late 50s and early 60s. This particular copy is in really good shape considering it’s over 60 years old—how do these things survive? Jonah Jones plays trumpet, and he put out a lot of records of popular songs for wide audiences. The theme here is songs that were featured in or made popular by particular movies—though I couldn’t tell you, for sure, looking at the list of 12 songs, which movies. I could look it up, but I’m not going to. The liner notes on back are anonymously written, and in two paragraphs use a variation of the word “swing” about nine times. It also describes the record as “perky”—and Jonah as the “jaunty man at the helm.” That’s a pretty fitting description of the musical approach here, and anyone who knows me is aware that “jaunty” is a word I like to use to describe things I find jaunty—and it’s not for me. Perky is worse, but I don’t even use that word. If that’s your preference, I think no less of you. My favorite two songs are the two that Jonah Jones sings on—maybe he’s not a great singer, but that’s where perkiness has its charm. The cover is a pretty great full color photo of two jaunty women in a beautiful movie theater lobby sharing a seemingly candid laugh. One is holding a box of popcorn. I thought of that movie theater scene, with Micky Rourke, in the movie, Diner (1982), then felt ashamed of myself.

03
Feb
19

The T-Bones “No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In)”

I bought this record in an antique store (cheap) awhile back, never having heard of it (since, I seem to run into it constantly, either mentioned, or physically) because I thought the title was so bizarre—I mean, that title is just kind of weird. And then the cover is broken up into 12 squares, four consisting of words, but the other eight are black and white photos of various stomachs. I never really sat down and catalogued them, but it’s a boxer, ballerina, miniskirt, belly dancer, jack hammerer, businessman, and chubby guy in a hurry. The first song is the title song, and then the second is a version of the Chiquita Banana commercial—and either there is some kind of well-timed scratches on this song, or there is someone playing that wooden fish you scratch with a stick, a little off, and directly into the recording process, without benefit of filtering or mixing. I mean, I really don’t know. There’s also versions of the hits, “Fever” and “Let’s Hang On” and a song called “What’s In The Bag, Goose.” All of it is really pretty cornball, kind of sounding like some studio musicians came in on a Saturday for a little under the table cash for one-take-on-the-side work. There isn’t really a band called The T-Bones, is there? I’m guessing the moonlighting musicians took their cash and drove a few blocks (I’d say walked, but this is LA) to Musso & Frank and had a few cocktails and T-Bone steaks, and thus the name.

But why make all that up when there is some definite liner notes (though micro-font) on the back, sandwiched in-between a larger version of the the two businessmen (doing God knows what) from the cover. Actually, all that it is about is how there are actually some television commercials that are so good—that people want to watch them. Funny, because I’m listening to this during the Super Bowl, and people have talked about (at least in the past) how they watch that dull and plodding game just to see the commercials. Personally, I find the commercials even less watchable than the boring game. But both infinity better than the halftime entertainment, which—I mean, if you were like tied to a chair with your eyes propped open with toothpicks—could be considered a humanitarian violation.

02
Feb
19

Muggsy Spanier “Tiger Rag / South”

This is an old Mercury 45 I got in an Easter basket of discarded sleeveless seven inch records which, for the most part, I’ve yet to listen to. Both songs are instrumentals, energetic, jaunty, dixieland jazz. This is music I admire, and I like it in a kind of intellectual way, trying to make out what the instruments are and how they play together, but it doesn’t really make me feel anything, except jaunty, which for me is like ketchup on waffles. I’d never heard of Muggsy Spanier, so I looked him up with Internet. He was from Chicago, and was a successful and prominent jazz cornetist. I guess it was after I tried taking piano lessons and failed, my second attempt at an instrument, in school band, was cornet. I’ve kind of had it in for that thing ever since. It’s a word that seems to be missing a syllable, or a trumpet that seems to be missing a few inches. I really should make a point of checking out the awesome cornetists through the years (Bix Beiderbecke comes to mind) in order to try to get over my grudge, which was no fault of the horn’s. I guess this is a good start. Anyone named Muggsy is okay with me. (It occurs to me that I’ve probably seen this name before, in passing, and thought it said “Muggsy Spaniel”—leading me to think he was a cartoon dog.) So, I’ve got that straightened out. Perhaps some other Muggsy Spanier records will come my way. In the meantime, I have this one in the record box.

01
Feb
19

The Chico Hamilton Quintet “Sweet Smell of Success”

This is a soundtrack record, more completely titled: The Chico Hamilton Quintet Plays Jazz Themes Recorded for the Soundtrack of the Motion Picture “Sweet Smell of Success” (and there’s an even longer version on the actual label, which sounds like someone’s Oscar acceptance speech). If you’ve never seen the movie Sweet Smell of Success (1957) you can keep reading, because I’m not going to talk about it, and also consider yourself lucky because it’s a great movie, even if it might take all your strength to get to the end, drama-wise. It’s grim! But it’s one of the most beautiful black and white movies you’ll ever see, and it’s got two of the most over-the-top performances, by two actors who probably would have paid to deliver what is some of the most over-the-top dialogue you’ll ever hear. It’s also got a great score, and in fact there are two soundtrack albums—one is Elmer Bernstein, and the other, this one, with music from the movie played by The Chico Hamilton Quintet—who actually appear in the movie, quite prominently, as the jazz band that one the characters (not one of the above two) plays guitar with. I knew nothing about Chico Hamilton before I saw this movie, and I still don’t know much, except he was a jazz drummer who then started this band that featured a cello. I’ve never heard any of their records, but if this one is any indication, they might definitely be worth picking up.

The album cover has a wallet-size picture of the band, but is mostly taken up by a big photo of Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster (actors referred to, above) who both look like they’re on the verge of actually exploding. They don’t, literally, anyway, but they come as close as an actor can without special effects. There are extensive liner notes on back, nicely written, though anonymous, which is too bad, because the beginning of the third paragraph makes this statement: “Side Two is one of the most unusual recordings ever attempted.” Ever attempted! It goes on to elaborate, but I’m neither going to retype it nor paraphrase, here. I didn’t find it as such, on first listening, but then I think there are things going on here that I’m not yet attuned to, so hell yes, I’m going to put it on again. It could be a great record for painting abstract paintings, or writing, abstract or not, or even cooking a decidedly not abstract dinner, which is what I’m going to do right now.

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.

16
Dec
18

The George Shearing Quintet with Nancy Wilson “The Swingin’s Mutual!”

I heard that Nancy Wilson passed away a few days ago, and I recalled hearing her music now and then over the years, mostly on the radio. Then I remembered that—among my limited, rag-tag record collection—I have this 1961 album of her singing six songs with George Shearing. I have as many Shearing records as by any artist, because for one, you can find them, and not for a million dollars, and they’re all either pretty good or excellent. But also, I probably listened to more George Shearing than anyone as a kid because my parents had a lot of his records and seemed to play them more than anything else. That distinctive vibes along with the piano sound is probably more entrenched in my brain than fear. Nancy Wilson sings on half of these twelve songs; I would have liked it better if it was all of them, but it’s a fine album, regardless. “The Nearness of You” is a standout, and they’re all good. She must have been only in her early twenties when they recorded this, but she sounds very mature and has a lot of personality. She’s an Ohioan, and about the same age as my mother. I like to think she was maybe in Columbus when my dad was in college there. I know my dad saw George Shearing in Denver when he was in the service out there. The album cover is pretty odd, the two of them sitting back to back, both in in plastic Eames chairs, Nancy Wilson holding a Shearing album, glancing over her shoulder at George, and Shearing kind of propping himself up with her her “Something Wonderful” album (which was like her second, this being only her third). She went on to record 60 or 70 albums, no doubt covering all my favorite songs, so I’ll keep an eye out for them. The only sad thing is, unless I’m missing it, they didn’t collaborate on any more records—because, besides good music, for the album cover, they could have each held up this album cover, and started a kind of infinity mirror thing. Just an idea for one of the parallel universes.




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