Archive for the 'Instrumental' Category

27
Apr
19

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond “At Wilshire-Ebell”

I didn’t even know I had this record, and I don’t have very many records, but then I regularly lose notebooks, and it took me months to find a particular pair of socks once, and then it turned out they didn’t grant me the gift of invisibility anyway. You can pick up Dave Brubeck albums in cheap bins, I suppose, because they made a lot, and he doesn’t have the collector appeal of certain jazz legends whose records you never see, like Coltrane and Miles Davis. I mean, you see those at record shops where you have to pay for them. Sometimes I question my cheapie approach to cheap records—why not just spend the money on ones I really, really like? But if I start questioning that, I have to question my whole life, like why can’t I figure out how to make above poverty level wages. And just, generally, why do I suck so much? This thinking is a vicious cycle. It’s much better to just try to keep moving.

I picked a random card, Ace of Spades, lined it up to my random record picking system, and this one came up. It’s got a glossy cartoon cover, a drawing of a proscenium, presumably the Wilshire Ebell theater in Los Angeles, with some little cartoon musicians, white guys with glasses, Dave Brubeck at piano and Paul Desmond with an alto sax. The drawing is small enough to fit full-size on a cassette, without the theater that dwarfs them, of course, but then you’d lose the effect. The back cover is covered with words, not one but two sets of anonymously written liner notes. It’s a delight, if not particularly entertaining or weird. This 1957 record is on Fantasy, who seemed often to favor the red vinyl, so if nothing else, when you’re having a guest over, the visual of putting the records on will mix well with a well-mixed cocktail and mood lighting. This record, in spite of its live recording format, could function well in that setting. All good songs on here, standards that don’t sound enough like classic versions to put them in the forefront of your evening’s activities. The massive but polite applause at the end of each number sounds like someone briefly turning on a water faucet full blast.

For me, I’ll always associate Brubeck with his most famous composition, “Take Five,” (written by Paul Desmond) which, if you’re a certain age, you’ll not be able to disconnect from its use commercially here and there, now and then. I seem to remember some really corny TV stuff from my childhood that used either Dave Brubeck music or very similar stuff, but I can’t remember what exactly—nor do I particularly want to return to it, as I consider the bulk of my TV watching as a mild version of childhood trauma. Not to be negative—I love Dave Brubeck. Maybe I should just have a Brubeck marathon someday, with all my thrift-store vinyl, to try to shake overplayed associations. Really, I could spend weeks, or even a season, listening to nothing but scratchy old “Cool Jazz” records—though it would be best in hot weather, preferably while staying at a beach house, overlooking the vast Pacific.

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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?

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.

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?

18
Feb
19

Gene Krupa “Gene Krupa”

I’d picked up a battered copy of this record and had it laying around for awhile (it’s got a great cover—and action photo profile of Gene Krupa playing drums, and a very modern layout)—I’m not really sure what I think about Gene Krupa one way or another, maybe thinking he was on the flashy side, or the show-biz side—you know—but this is Gene Krupa as bandleader, with his orchestra and a lot of really excellent musicians. And when I put it on, finally, I said, “Oh, no!” as it starts with a raucous, even jaunty bit—the trumpet is playing “Yankee Doodle”—but it’s a bit of a fake out, audience yelling, “No!” (I don’t know the motive, though!) And then they settle into a nice version of “After You’re Gone,” and then the second song, “Murder He Says,”—woman singer, who is that?! So I had to look, and it’s Anita O’Day—which reminded me of why, at one time, I called Anita O’Day my favorite singer—her singing has that quality on this song—I don’t know what it is—it’s: “that quality.” Then the band goes into a slow, atmospheric, instrumental version of “Tuxedo Junction.” It’s not until the end of the next number (that has a vocal by Irene Daye—pretty interesting that both Anita O’Day and Irene Daye sang with Gene Krupa) that G.K. gives us a little drum fireworks, but just a taste—then a little more on the next song, a very swinging, “Disc Jockey Jump,” and finally the song “Massachusetts” features Anita O’Day again—it’s a train song, but a good one, another great vocal. And so at this point, I’m thinking I actually hit a home run with this record—almost afraid to turn it over.

But I do, and it’s starts out with “Let Me Off Uptown,” with conversational vocals, back and forth, Anita O’Day and Roy Eldridge (who then goes into a trumpet solo, of course) great song! Then “Slow Down” another nice vocal by Anita O’Day, and same with the next one, “Boogie Blues”—“Don’t the moon look lonesome shining through the trees.” And then another one—this turns out to be the Anita O’Day album I don’t have (there’s a lot of them I don’t have, like all of them). And then, what’s like a really unexpected bonus, the song “Knock Me a Kiss” sung by Roy Eldridge, which I know, of course, from Louis Jordan, who I also don’t have any records by. (Anita O’Day and Louis Jordan—reminders to get out my cassette tapes.) Anyway, overall, this is a great record with a lot of surprises. It’s only later that I see the extensive, serious liner notes on back, which covers who played and sang one what, and the recording dates—which are a-while back. Sometimes you get a record that has great promise, and it turns out to be a real bummer, but other times, like this one, you get a record not really hoping much one way or another, and it turns out to be one of the better things, at least on that given day, in your mortal possession.

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.

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.




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