Archive for the 'Soundtrack' Category

04
Oct
19

The George Shearing Quintet “Burnished Brass”

My parents had this 1958 record and played it a lot, along with other George Shearing—but there may be no other music that sounds like my childhood than this particular record—George Shearing Quintet “with Brass Choir”—songs arranged by Billy May. I’ll always get a weird feeling from this particular, singular, George Shearing sound—a combination of nostalgia, comfort, and a little bit of sadness and even some queasiness. I mean it’s so present from my childhood, he almost seems like a distant uncle or something. Yet I know nothing about him, except that he was blind from birth and put out an insane amount of records. Once in awhile I’ll read something, then forget it—like I forget that he was English, born in London, and came to the US after the war. I’ve tried to figure out what that “Shearing Sound” is all about—it has something to do with how what he’s playing on the piano works with the vibes and guitar—but I don’t really understand it—it’s over my head—maybe some patient music person can explain it to me someday.

George Shearing was popular enough, sold enough records, that you can find beat-up copies for nothing, and I’ll pick them up when I see them, like this one. I’ve hardly ever paid any attention to the front cover, which is a woman in a sparkly red dress lying on some golden satin sheets—she’s looking up seductively while exposing the full length of one of her long legs. On the bed with her is a trumpet, a trombone, and a French horn. I wonder if this record was subliminally responsible for me attempting the cornet as my first instrument—though I totally failed to get anywhere with it. I should have taken up the French horn—is there a cooler instrument out there, when you really think about it? I loved the picture of Shearing on the back cover so much I put it on the cover of one of my zines (an early issue of The Sweet Ride, from the Eighties). I never thought too much about the individual songs on this record—they all just kind of melt into each other with ultimate smoothness—but this is probably the first place I heard the standard, “Memories of You”—and I’ve always really loved that song. The rest of the songs, except for “Cheek to Cheek,” I couldn’t name, off-hand, but they are all so familiar, it’s like they’re DNA—the song “Burnished Brass,” for instance, with this smooth horn part that drops in and out with the piano—it could be the main theme for the documentary on my life. Yet, listening now, I feel like I might have gotten annoyed by this record, then dismissed it entirely. Now, it almost holographically recreates the space I grew up in so vividly that it’s somewhat overwhelming.

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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.

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.

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.

20
Nov
18

Jim Croce “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”

It must have been a major milestone in Jim Croce’s career when he felt that a critical mass knew how to pronounce his name, I mean, if he ever felt that was the case, because people probably kept mispronouncing it. But he was huge at one point, due to a couple of really big hit songs, on the radio all the time. The one on this record is “Time in a Bottle”—which is a song that tormented me, age 12 or so, I suppose, hearing it on the AM radio constantly, one of those songs I will forever associate with getting ready for school in the morning, since my parents always played the AM radio in the kitchen. It’s funny, because it seems like there are two Jim Croces, the one I’m familiar with who had the hits like that “Bad Leroy Brown” song, and then all these songs I’ve never heard, a lot of which don’t sound anything like the hits and are some pretty good songs. A lot of them seem to be about being poor, being on the road, being a poor guitar player and singer on the road. Once you can afford your “Time in a Bottle” Lear Jet or tour bus, what do you write about then? Or maybe he got screwed out of his hit record money like so many musicians.

He’s looking out from a church window on the cover with a stogie in his mouth, and sitting on his guitar case, on the road, on the back cover, wearing some serious walking boots and a jean jacket with a CAT Diesel Power patch. He’s also holding a stogie—again an album cover with a guy smoking on the front and back cover. Smoking was really important to a lot of people’s identities back in the day, and I guess it might still be. One interesting note, this song, “New York’s Not My Home” (about living in NYC for a year and not liking it)—I had never heard, and then while working on a Franke Latina movie he was considering it for the soundtrack, so I had my brother, Jeff, do a rendition of the song, which he did, a couple versions—great song! And he did a really great cover, nothing like the original– and so for me, that song is always going to be his version, which I think is a lot better than JCs—but don’t tell Croce I said that because you don’t want to mess around with Jim.

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.

30
Oct
18

Bob Dylan “New Morning”

I’m not exactly sure where this record fits in the BD timeline—it seems to be one of his Nashville records, produced by Bob Johnston, there’s studio musicians, and David Bromberg plays on it, and Al Kooper, and there’s a lot of piano. This is a great record; I kind of wish it was the first Dylan record I ever heard and then based my whole BD experience on the foundation of that experience. Somehow I’ve never heard much of it—though “If Dogs Run Free” somewhere came to me in a weirdness care package. I think it’s pretty likely that this record was released well after BD’s replacement with the new Dylan, but some of the songs here are from the original Dylan vault. That said, the new one is pulling off some pretty good replication of the old one, to the extent that I don’t even feel confident offering my track by track guess on who is singing. Somehow I never heard the song “The Man in Me” until I heard it in the movie, The Big Lebowski—and it’s a great song, and really important to that movie.




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