Archive for the 'jazz' Category

12
May
18

Harpo Marx “Harpo”

This 1957 LP doesn’t know if it wants to be called “Harpo in Hi-Fi,” “Harpo featuring Harpo Marx,” or simply, “Harpo.” The cover is a zany photo of Harpo Marx peeking through strings of a harp, pulling them apart as if he’s parting curtains—as if we can’t see him fully through the harp strings, anyway. This album features a dozen excellent tracks with various instrumentation, all including Harpo Marx on harp. It almost seems too perfect that a person known for being one of the Marx brothers, named Harpo, would also be an accomplished harpist. But then, truth is stranger than fiction. And why wouldn’t it be.

The accompanying musicians belong to the Freddy Katz Orchestra, though some of the songs are arranged by Harpo’s son, Bill Marx, who went on to be a theater critic. There are some standards here, as well as a some of Harpo’s compositions. There’s a lot of variety, and a lot to pay attention to, though it’s all very lovely. I could listen to this record from the beginning of the day until twilight, each number throwing me into a different mood, from nostalgia to melancholy to romantic. I’m afraid if I let myself, even, I might be compelled to mix myself a cocktail and sit on the veranda, neither of which are healthy options for me, but are both sounding good right about now.

The other interesting thing about this record is that it’s intended as a Hi-Fi test or demonstration record, as Harpo apparently was a Hi-Fi buff—and so the liner notes, besides noting the composer of each track, also reveals the particular instrumentation (including Harpo whistling) so you can better assess how your system is preforming. There is even technical information about the recording process, including details about the studio and mics, which should delight the technical geek. But that doesn’t mean you can’t just sit back and enjoy this record, and I find it highly suitable for: romantic dinners, cocktails on the veranda, crafts, reading magazines, and making love. All of which I’ve tested, with the record, at least to some degree.

Advertisements
21
Dec
17

Les Baxter and His Orchestra “April in Portugal” / “Suddenly”

Whenever I happen to have a random pile of 45s for whatever reason (I just always do) there always seems to be a Les Baxter record, and I never listen to it. This one, from 1953 (on that boring, purple Capital label) has been kicking around for awhile, and I think this is the first time I’ve put it on. So I asked Internet for a bit about Les Baxter, and I didn’t realize he was an Exotica guy. That makes me a little more interested. “April in Portugal” sounds like it has a zither in there, but I don’t know. It’s a bouncy instrumental that I could picture playing along with some robotic contraption at House On The Rock. “Suddenly” is a vocal number, with Bill Kennedy singing, and is an actually pretty nice song, kind of romantic and corny. “Suddenly the night was very still and your touch became a thrill and I knew I was part of you, but I told my heart to be still, until your lips kissed mine,” (like disembodied lips, kind of creepy). The idea here is that two people were not really on each other’s radar, and then suddenly they’re kissing, and rest is history. Or eternity, if you believe in that kind of stuff.

15
Dec
17

The Dave Brubeck Quartet “Newport 1958”

It’s kind of amazing to me that we live in a time when you can pick up a record like this for nothing, and because it’s been produced on an indestructible format, it has not only survived but is superior to anything that’s come along in the last 60 years. I just put this record on like it was no big deal, and holograms of this jazz quartet popped up in my room (not all see-thru and distorted like in a sci-fi movie, but indistinguishable from my memories, and me). The extensive liner notes pinpoint Thursday, July 3rd, 1958, and a salute to Duke Ellington (some of these songs are his compositions). This is a nice record. If the hologram strikes you as a little too real, you can focus on the album cover, which is a slightly expressionistic painting of the quartet (or else four guys with glasses playing piano, bass, drums, and sax). The painting’s by Bob Parker (somewhere, someone has the original) and I’m going to make a note of his name, because hopefully I’ll see other work by him. Can you take the A Train all the way up to Newport? When it’s a time machine, you can, and that’s what this record is.

06
Dec
17

Stan Getz “Reflections”

This is a 1964 Stan Getz record, with “arrangements by Claus Ogerman/Lalo Schifrin” on Verve Records—11 short songs (I wish they were all longer!)—all really nice—what would be a great make-out record, except you have to get up too often to turn it over—but that’s one of the drawbacks of records, in general, for making out. I don’t know why this made me think about making out—I was not thinking of that; I suppose it’s because there is certain evocative appeal of these songs, and these arrangements, and this playing; that tenor sax is so out front at times it’s almost obscene. Or maybe it’s the songs with the choral arrangements, that sound like a movie (some of it is, such as Charade)—from a pre-rock’n’roll corner of the Sixties—a montage with beautiful people driving in a sports car with the top down, Cary Grant with a sick tan, or maybe Tony Curtis acting semi-inappropriate.

The cover has Stan Getz (I assume; he looks like that one character actor, you know, Jimmy Stewart’s cop friend in Rear Window) lying on a hillside in a seersucker jacket, smoking a cigarette, with an expression of either cool or defeat. It looks to me like the art department blacked out the area directly behind him so he wouldn’t just blend in with the grass, but it ends up looking more like we’re seeing a cutaway of him entombed in a fairly spacious grave. If you were to interpret it that way, you might interpret his expression as “not giving a shit.” You could even imagine this cover as one of those early anti-smoking ads, except he doesn’t look miserable enough, even for a man buried alive. Seeing how the album is titled “Reflections,” I’d have to say he’s… reflecting.

There are some serious liner notes on the back (three columns) by Jack Maher—I’d like to read it all, but maybe tomorrow after coffee. Okay, it’s now the next day. Have any of you reached the point in your life where coffee really does nothing as far as keeping you awake? I mean, it works in that it makes me feel normal, but say, to keep awake while reading three columns of text on the back of an album… no. Isn’t it great that someone would think it was cool to put three columns of text on the back of this album? I’d love to read it all, discuss it intelligently, but I don’t really feel like doing any kind of research right now. I know Lalo Schifrin from film scores, but I don’t know much else. I don’t know the Bossa Nova from a Chevy Nova, and I think the Samba is a pocket of dough, deep-fried and filled with something delicious. I read somewhere that everyone was all pissed off at Getz for “selling out” with this record—and I kind of love that idea, in its quaint sincerity—kind of like the folk people getting mad a Dylan for “going electric.” It’s a good reminder for anyone, in any time period, to step back and realize that even if you could look into the future, you have no idea just how bad things can and will get.

30
Nov
17

June Christy “Something Cool”

My dad had an identical copy of this 1962 record, so I kind of grew up with it, but don’t remember playing it a lot; more, I remember the distinctive album cover—a black and white (actually blue and white, for “cool”) illustration of June Christy with a three drink, closed eye smile, and an icy, sweating, tall drink in the foreground—so it’s bigger than she is. With an album cover like that you’re just asking for the ironic tag once the inevitable struggle with alcohol becomes public knowledge. The back has an even more stylized drawing of a highball and some brief biographical notes. I guess June Christy was famous for singing with Stan Kenton’s band and is most associated with “cool jazz.” This record, recorded with the Pete Rugolo orchestra, first came out in the Fifties, and was re-released many times in different versions and was ultimately her most successful album.

The internet tells me she was from Illinois and her real name was Shirley Luster, which is a great name, and you kind of have to wonder why she changed it, but it seems like people in entertainment all changed their names back then. This is a pretty upbeat, poppy record, and I always liked it; it’s got a few of my favorites: “The Night We Called It A Day,” “I Should Care,” “It Could Happen To You,” and the title song, by Bill Barnes, is really nice. I never listened that closely to her voice before, though I liked it okay, but now I’m paying more attention and finding it really captivating, kind of low, and very sexy, with a lot of personality. At times she reminds me a little of Anita O’Day and a little of Ella Fitzgerald, but also someone else—but I can’t figure out who. Maybe it’s not even a singer she’s reminding me of, but someone I know, or once knew. Oh, boy, I said I wasn’t going to fall in love again this year, especially with disembodied voices haunting lonely rooms above downtown shops, wind swirling early snow under a streetlamp. So much for promises.

08
Sep
17

Tom Waits “Nighthawks at the Diner”

This is a very early Tom Waits record, though I can’t remember exactly when I first heard it or where I got it, but it’s always been one of my favorites—of his, and favorite records period—and without a doubt my favorite live record—though it turns out—according to the internet—that it’s not really a live record after all. Apparently it was recorded at the Record Plant, in LA, in front of an invited audience used to replicate the sound and feeling of an intimate jazz club or piano bar. It’s really well done—they had me fooled. I always pictured this kind of sleazy, Sunset Strip nightclub, and throughout, he does refer to the Ivar Theatre repeatedly, and also “Rafael’s Silver Cloud Lounge,” and though I always figured he was kind of spinning tales, I still assumed this was in a legitimate club—you can almost smell the bourbon, vomit, and cigarette smoke bathed in red neon. Now, when I found out that I had been totally fooled, do you think I got angry? No. Because I have a high intellect, and I can enjoy being fooled, and I appreciate something so well executed.

His monologues before many of the songs are amazing in themselves; the one before “Eggs and Sausage” is particularly good and would make the record, even if that’s all there was. But there’s more, of course; in fact it’s a double record, and all the monologues and songs kind of blend seamlessly. Okay—now I notice—on the back of the album cover it says, right there, that it was recorded at The Record Plant. I guess I never bothered to read it. I also just noticed that there’s extensive lyrics on the inside, when you open it up—these are some long songs. I guess I never read along with the lyrics because you can pretty much make out every word—even though he’s doing a real Tom Waits-like, rough nightclub singer voice, he’s also clear as a bell. The lyrics are crucial. I can recall listening to this record in the spring of 1986, in Columbus, Ohio, while I painted my kitchen. So even to this day it feels like it’s the ideal record to listen to while painting a kitchen.

It would take me pages and pages to even kind of go over my favorite songs and excerpt my favorite lyrics. There are only two or three songs per side, but it all kind runs together, feeling like one live show, and it’s dense and extensive. Tom Waits must have been only in his mid-twenties when he recorded this, but he sounds convincing as an old-timer who’s been around forever. That’s part of the act. The cover photograph is of Tom Waits in a booth of a diner, photographed through a window—it could possibly be something an art department set up—but could also be a real diner—it would have been easy to find this diner in 1975. There’s nothing in that picture that doesn’t ring true. There are also seven people in the picture, in the diner, with him. I suppose I could scour the internet to find out if it’s known who they are—it could be the musicians, or friends, or real people in a real diner, who knows? Someone knows. It would be pretty cool to be one of those people. I just noticed, for the first time ever!—on the very bottom right of the cover, lying face-down in front of the diner window, is a person wearing a leather jacket. How did I never see that before? It’s kind of freaking me out—what else, in this lifetime—have I also not ever noticed? A lot, I’m sure.

21
Aug
17

Lionel Hampton “Apollo Hall Concert 1954”

If you believe the title of this record, and why not, it’s a live recording of Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra from 1954 at Apollo Hall. There are some audience noises, but not so much that it’s annoying. I find live rock records almost unlistenable (except maybe in a ironic, comic way) due to the crowd noise, dumb shit said between songs, and the sped-up, adrenaline (or coke) fueled versions of songs. Maybe I’m kinder to live  jazz because I know less about it; I can’t confidently tell a good performance from a bad one, but I guess I definitely like some much more than others—performances, musicians, and songs. My dad had a lot of Lionel Hampton records (not this one, but it inspires nostalgia, nonetheless) and my parents played them, so did I, so I kind of grew up listening to him. For whatever reason, vibraphone is my favorite instrument, or second to piano. In some extensive liner notes on the back of this album cover, the anonymous author goes on and on about how popular Lionel Hampton was at this time. As familiar as I am with his music, I know little about him, so maybe I’ll read more—but some other time. The liner notes just about put me under, just now. I’m still reading, actually. It’s a good record, though the last number kind of bums me out—too loud, fast, energetic, crowd-pleasing—though I’m sure if I was seeing it live in 1954, I’d be into it. The liner notes didn’t do much for me either, though I did like this line, when talking about the importance of rhythm: “Rhythm, which exercises a similar intoxicating effect to a glass of good, heady wine, but which leaves no unpleasant hangover.”




You can type the name of the band you'd like to find in the box below and then hit "GO" and it will magically find all the posts about that band!!!

Blog Stats

  • 11,597 hits

a

Top Clicks

  • None
August 2018
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  
Advertisements