30 May 2011

Update - a new page - How to make Playlists

Well, I've completed one of the two main things I wanted to do with this blog.  I have finally written about Playlists.

Playlists help you organise your music and listen to it in new ways.  Yes, iTunes has the 'Genius' function, but that is rather mysterious and doesn't tell you how it has chosen the tracks.  For example I had one that apparently chose Prog Rock, but Dire Straits turned up in it.....  not good.

You can find the entry above, next to 'How to rate music'.

Spend some time over Playlists, don't try and do it all in one day - you will get upset and confused.
Play around with them and find out iTunes limitations - and work out ways around them.  Hopefully I have shown some of my answers to the difficulties that exist.

Oh, PS - near the bottom on the right hand side, you can now get these Blog posts emailed to you, instead of having to go online.  It works really well - I for example cannot get access to this website at work, but I can get the emails! Negatives: It takes a while - it might be a day late.... and the formatting doesn't travel well on email.....

28 May 2011

Buddy Rich - The Beat Goes On

Buddy Rich - The Beat Goes On
Driving back from the Crinklies today, this smashing summer hit came on as Track 23 and all was right again with the world.

Yes, it is another cover - the original was by Sonny and Cher, but the less said about that the better.

You will probably know it for being sampled by the All Seeing Eye in the 90's.... but lets just listen.

"Oh yeah" you are all saying now.  I know this.  Darn tooting right you do.  What a track.
Well, it was written by Sonny and Cher, and the original drums on that track were by Buddy Rich.  Later Buddy wanted to record it with his daughter Cathy, who was 19 at the time (not 12 as he often stated, for what reason I can only be afraid of).  So who did he get to produce it?  Sonny Bono. Nice little circle there.

The song itself starts so beautifully gently, with those two simple guitar sting chords and those three bass notes, with Buddy keeping the drumming right down, riding the cymbals lightly, but in strict double time.

Then one of popular Jazz's greatest amateur vocalists comes in. Buddy's daughter may not be a diva vocalist, but the simple nature of her performance matches the slow driving build of the music and rhythm perfectly. Seductively sliding between notes, really powerfully pushing the answer lines of the song and just perfectly stopping singing without all the droning 'oooohs' and 'aaaaaaaahs' that many singers feel they need to add into the last note of the line. Through it all she has, perhaps unsurprisingly, an innate sense of rhythm. Just listen to how each syllable is carefully thought through and placed.  Because of this non-diva attitude and non-showman style, with near perfect delivery, we get an impression of a strong woman, with a laid back but defined attitude. Just excellent.  Where did she learn to sing like this?  Probably through her fathers old mate Frank's daughter, Nancy Sinatra. And I can only find this one video of her...
On seeing that, you may wish to dismiss my previous comments about innate sense of rhythm because of her dancing.  Do remember that television was still new, and the pressure of singing not only in front of a huge audience, but your famous perfectionist father would have been huge.  It is still one of my favourite vocal performances of all time.
And the horns manage to do something similar to that great piece by Wes Montgomery and Jimmy Smith from a few weeks back - they rip a hole in the sky and just wail like there is no tomorrow. Through all of this great slow build and almost perfect singing, the drums have been slowly building, an extra tap here, a snare hit there, a cymbal crashing out until he too can let rip in an almost ecstatic flurry of fills that hammer home like nobodies business.

But, it's not 'Cathy Rich' at the top of the page, or on the record sleeve, it's her fathers, Buddy.
Now this guy is certainly in the top 5 drummers of all time. He started playing from a ridiculously young age - at 18 months he was on the Vaudeville circuit as "Traps the drum wonder" and at age 11 fronted his own big band. His most famous gig in life was probably with the Tommy Dorsey orchestra, but he also played with Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

However his forte was as band leader.  But he was known as a hard task master with a short temper, probably due in no small amount to the bootleg tapes that were passed around for decades later of him telling his band off.
Yowza.  Pretty harsh.
Too harsh?  Maybe, but I understand his passion.  This is his name, his music and his money paying for these musicians.  You're goddamn right his opinion matters.  That's what a bandleader is all about.  Maybe his method is not 21st Century, but I can't be alone in thinking that occasionally we all would like to express ourselves that way.
That is not to say he wasn't personable - here he is on Parkinson with Roy Castle and.... Kenny Everett.

A consummate showman.  But probably the best clip in history of Buddy Rich (and there are a lot of them - just type his name into YouTube for a great hours entertainment) is this - from the Muppet Show - he shows humor, showmanship, and why he is considered one of the best drummers of all time....

26 May 2011

Les Paul and Mary Ford - How High the Moon

Les Paul and Mary Ford - How High the Moon

I'm tired again.  Crap at work again - everyone seems to be sodding off. Makes a stressful place so I was really glad when this beauty turned up.

Oh yeah.  Now whatever music you like, you wouldn't be able to listen to it if it wasn't for this.

Yes, that is a hell of a statement.  But it is honestly 100% fact.

Les Paul invented it all.

 A beautiful little standard that is happy and 'cute' with no cynicism involved. Now if we are talking about composition, yup, he didn't write it.  We have come across this before - go and look up the Andrews Sisters "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" which also wasn't written by them.  Times were different. Songwriters wrote songs, others performed them.

Why was Les Paul's version so much better, and why was it top of the charts for 9 weeks?

Well, it sounded like nothing else.  And for once that really means something.

You see Les Paul more or less invented the electric guitar as we know it and also almost all aspects of modern recording.  Why? Because he was a tinkerer and a perfectionist.

Why did he invent the electric guitar?  Well, having a guitar that was acoustic wasn't loud enough to stand out in a big band, and the semi-acoustics with a pickup that were available were prone to awful feedback, due to the hollow cavity.  So the story goes - he went and got a railway sleeper and cut it down to the right size and slapped the sides of an Epiphone guitar on it 'so it would look right'.  It took a while to catch on, but the Gibson Les Paul model which derived from it, is still popular today.

What about recording then?  What did he do there?  Well, same as the guitar.  He didn't like how it wasn't working for him.  So Bing Crosby told him to go and make his own then.  Well, being a tinkerer, he did.  Along the way he invented overdubbing, reverb and multi-track recording.  Why is this so great?  Well, lets see how Alistair Cooke got on with him when he asked.....
You see the truth of the matter is, before multi-track recording, if you wanted harmony vocals, you had to get more than one singer in the studio at the same time - hence the reason the Andrews Sisters existed - 3 singers could cover 3 lines.....

He continued working with Ampex to make it possible to record and re-record more and more tracks and even owned the first ever 8 track.  To try and get a bit of perspective on this, and how astounding it was remember that even The Beatles recorded their early albums in mono and on two or 4 track machines.  Admittedly, my iPhone now has a 4 track recorder on it, but in the day you couldn't just bung a bit more memory in your Mac and abuse all 256 tracks.  You were limited and you had to do it right.

But even still, his influence is not complete - the music mattered.  Being technically clever is one thing, but if you can't actually perform, it is wasted.  Les Paul with his trio and with Mary Ford recorded albums full of tuneful melodies, you'll still hear them used in adverts, and their inspiration was endless.  The first song The Beatles ever played in the Cavern Club was 'How High the Moon'....

He quit recording so much in the mid 60s, and apart from a solo album showing off new recording techniques, and two great albums with Chet Atkins which won them Grammys - that was that.  He did however continue playing live every Monday night in a Jazz Club in New York City with his trio. Famous players would join him whenever they were in town from Eddie Van Halen and Slash to Duane Eddy and Steve Miller.

A year after he passed away, Jeff Beck performed a tribute show at the same club, with many big names. And Imelda May.
I think he would have loved it. It will remain a regret of mine, not being able to see him play live, but by golly we have a lot of music to remember him by....

24 May 2011

Ozomalti - Cut Chemist Suite

Ozomalti - Their debut album
Now here is something you are unlikely to have heard of....
Forgive me for getting all hipster on you, it's not my style (really) but this really is one of those albums I can't reccomend enough to people.

And until I hit Wikipedia, I didn't really know much about them all....

I did know about one member of the band - and this is his track - the Cut Chemist Suite.

Oh yeah party people!

Lets sum the band up quickly - a wonderful mixture of LA musicians drawing on all of the musical influences of the area - hip hop, funk, rock, salsa - the whole 9 yards, all in one group.  The entire album just reeks of hot summers, laid back grooves and happiness.  It's about time too,  The world needs happy hip hop, and adding real musicians into the mix, with real guitarists, drummers and a full horn section is the equivalent of adding ice to a long strong drink - it just makes everything better.

But the man I want to concentrate on is Cut Chemist.  In this band he carries the title 'turntableist', and with good reason.
That's a track from another band he was in before / during / after the debut Ozomalti album - Jurrasic 5.  Quite similar in sound, but more hip-hop based.  Heavens - the man can mix.  He also, more importantly produced both albums. The essential element - apart from 'mad skills' in both of these tracks is knowing how sounds go together.  I can only postulate that from learning how to mix records into each other, he learnt how music goes together.  Listen to the first track again...

What is quite interesting is not what elements are in the whole song, but how they are left out.  The bass line for example only plays for half the bar - and sometimes nothing for up to a minute.  The horns come and they go. The rapper 'tuna fish?' has a couple of points where his near monotone rhythmical proclamations are in the mix alone. No drums, horns, bass of turntables.

Why is this a good thing? Adding more into the mix and removing instruments now and again adds tension and movement leading to a 'storytelling'.  Making music with movement draws in the listener. Queen coined the phrase with their least successful album - "Hot Space" - the gap between the music.  It's this gap - half a bar here and there without the main root instrument whether it is the drums or horns that adds shape and vitality to a tune.

The other important element of his style - that which seperates him from a hundred other turntabalists is rarer.  Humor.

And that's where todays rather short one will end. Cut Chemist, DJ Shadow and DJ Numark kicking it with nothing but 3 MPC samplers. Timing, skills, humor and an understanding of texture in composition.
The Ozomalti album is perfect for summer, but then so is Jurrasic 5 - the same guy, trying to bring us sunshine whenever we hear him.

23 May 2011

Pure Reason Revolution - The Bright Ambassadors of Morning

Pure Reason Revolution - Cautionary Tales for the Brave
Well, well, well, a 23rd Track that most people will in all likelyhood dislike because of many reasons, all of which I hope to show are unfounded.

What's to hate Geej?

A fair amount if you base judgement of books on their covers - let us list them:
1. The cover - what is that? A pretentious minimalist reworking of an Aligheri painting?
2. The song is nearly 12 minutes long - no need! Is it some sort of jam band epic with lots of noodling and improvisation?
3. The title - it's rather long isn't it?
4. The genre - Prog Rock.  Oh dear.

Just press play....

Well as you are going to be listening for a while, let me warble on a bit about why I own and indeed, like this.  You may have picked up that I love music.  A lot.  My retail therapy is second hand record shops - there is nothing like it.  Yes, the internet is great, but nothing beats the slow plastic slap of CD's being searched through in a decent music emporium.  My education started in Scorpion Records in my closest big town.  This, unfortunately no longer exists (thank you Sainsburys...). 

Whether it was an Adam and the Ants picture to colour in when I was only single digits in age, or a limited Queen single a little later on I would go to Scorpion Records.  They managed to find me rare King Crimson releases and replace even rarer Towering Inferno CDs after they were stolen.  These chaps knew music. 
Yes, they were a pair of old hippies,
Yes, the whole place smelled of joss sticks and yes, they paid bottom dollar for old CDs but they were the musical centre of the town.

In all my years of shopping there, I recognised one track that they played on the shop music system.  One.  Out of hundreds, if not thousands of tracks I heard.  Being a shy young fellow, I would normally never ask what was playing, if I liked it - partially through awe/fear of talking to such obvious genuises, and partially because I felt that asking would be tantamount to failure as a music afficianado.  I now realise the simple truth "If you don't ask, you will never know".  I remember overhearing some young pup in a suit in the late 90's reporting back to them research he had done on how they could improve sales and image of the shop.  The sentence that summed them up was their grinning one line reply;
"Yes, yes, I can see that people think of us as old, untrendy and not 'with it', but not aware of modern trends in music? That's just wrong.  Your research is useless"

They had kept the darn place running through folk, pub rock, psychadelia, metal, dance, prog - everything.  Because they knew and kept upto date with music.

And yet, I had recognised only one song in all those years. Which brings me to this photo.....
The Shapesmith in Scorpion Records - April 2006
As they were closing down, the Shapesmith and I went to pay one last somber visit to this field of dreams for music geeks.  The amount of stock was pretty low, posters, which normally covered every square inch of wall were missing and tapes were, as they had been for the previous 10 years, available at half price.  However, the music playing was still, to me, unrecognised.

"I know this song!" shouted the Shapesmith.
"But I do - it's Pure Reason Revolution"
"Double Bullshit"

So we went up to my favourite hippy, with scraggly jumper and 70's 'tash - "Who is this?"

Needless to say, he was right, and I bought it there and then.

So let's attack those four statements at the beginning, shall we?
1. - The cover.  Well, it turns out that this isn't an album, but an EP and this cover followed the same style as the previous 2 albums.  So actually, thematically it does follow the style.
2. - The length.  Yes, it is long, but as you will have heard, it's not noodling or improvisational at all. It is a carefully organised and planned piece with carefully laid out sections - mellow, harmony vocals, big rock bit aroung the 8:15 mark all reworking the original theme.
3. - The title.  Hmmm. Now here is where I out-geeked the Shapesmith.  I recognised the line.  Not the song or the band, but I knew the line. It's a bit like learning latin - by knowing all about older bands and their music you can hear who they influenced in a more modern setting.  The line is from the second main section of Pink Floyds Echoes - on the Meddle album. Which brings us to the last point...
4. - Genre.  I hate genres.  I really do.  They ruin interpretation at a base level. Admittedy so does album artwork and song titles. Videos completely re-interpret tune content. I don't use Genre in any of my 'intelligent' playlists. Because some things you just can't categorise.  Think back to the hoard of work that Frank Zappa produced - do you say he is 'Rock'?  Wrong. "Jazz"? Nope.  What about categorising each album.  Still too difficult.  Albums such as 'Lather' have rock, classical, spoken word, jazz and Doo Wop on them.  If you think I am going through each song - think again.

By saying that this is 'Prog-Rock' lumps PRR in the same brain-hole as Yes, King Crimson, Focus and numerous talented but unpassionate artists.  You can smell the patchoili oil just by mentioning that genre.

It is probably good, however to list influences and associated artists - if you know of their work, you can part judge these guys. I can hear touches of Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree, Gong, Ozric Tentacles, Kraftwerk, Mogwai, The Orb, Radiohead, Nirvana and Mike Oldfield.  What is most surprising is that they have short hair...well, shortish.
You have to admit, you were expecting to see a hoard of Steve Hillage clones.
An intelligent and beautiful chune, full of hippyish delay pedals, modern sampling and electronics, humanised with echoing choruses of voices and arranged with careful skill.  A worthwhile addition to the collection.

It all comes down to this, you clearly can't judge a book by it's cover.

20 May 2011

Les Bell - Old Jock Radio

Les Bell in his expansive studio complex
Not a tune write up, but a bit of a quicky on why I cut short the piece on the Dresden Dolls.

This attractive gentleman to your left is Les Bell, and he is a radio DJ. In my mind probably the last DJ who gives a shit.

We'll get into the who, what, whys and whens in a bit.  Just feast your eyes on the trailer for the station....

Well.  To be honest, I could just stop there, but you may be in two minds about what the hell is going on....  As this is about music and specifically my relationship and memories with it, I'll write about my first introduction to his gift to the world.

I like the Beta Band.  No bloody surprise there.  I wasn't however, for my own shame, a big fan at the time they were active. I knew of them.  Probably had a tape of the 3 EPs, liked the cover of the first album, bought the second to test my hifi with and ignored the third because I didn't like the cover.
Let it be know - I am an occasional twat.

Many years went on, and whilst shopping in Asda of all places, realised I had come out without any music for the car.  For me, that is a painful thing. So I headed to the 'entertainment' section. "2 for £10".  Smashing, I thought, grabbing some old soul album and looking for something else saw the Beta Bands "Greatest Hits". Sure, why not - I like some of their stuff.  What a stonker.  Apart from the live bonus disc (worth buying the greatest hits for in it's own right) it really did what a greatest hits album should do - introduce you to the different 'faces' and styles of chune a band is capable of.  So much so that I ordered the missing albums for my collection within a week. 

I also went online, and found that they had broken up.  Damn.  What else was there to get?  I noticed that they had released a DVD of their greatest hits as well.  Well, back off to Amazon and Play for Geej then.  It turned up, and I was even more impressed with the style of the band's "Professional unprofessionalism".  They clearly took the music seriously, if not the whole selling out and acting pretentious malarkey.  One of the sub-menus on the DVD said "Trailers" so I clicked it. And a number of these buggers turned up...
Cheaply made fake trailers with Steve Mason (The Beta Band's singer and main songwriter) other band members, Mani from the Stone Roses and Primal Scream and a few other faces....  All pretty crappy, but with a certain charm and skill about them that made you like them, no matter that the production values were low.  Also included was that video at the top. A promo trailer for www.OldJockRadio.com

To be honest with you I could have flipped a coin as to whether it too was a fake or not, but I took a chance and typed in the web address expecting to find the statement "Error 404: Not found".

How wrong I was. What I found was the genuine website of an internet radio station in Edinburgh.  These fellows had a bunch of old shows available to download and broadcast live every Thursday night from 9pm to 11pm.  I say 'they', what I mean is 'he'. He, being the director of the trailers, Beta Band documentary, and owner / Disk Jockey of Old Jock Radio, Les Bell.

What you will hear, when you tune in, is genuine radio.  Just like in our youth we imagined it was.  We thought the radio was everything - honest, true, loving and loved. However, we know with hindsight and cynicism that not to be true.  We learn what a radio playlist is. We find out that the DJs don't chose the music, don't know the interviewies personally and are merely marketing salesmen.

Not OJR - to quote his own FAQs "Old Jock Radio is a completly independent internet station that has been plying its evil trade across the planet for the last five years. We tip our hat to no-one and are completly non profit and as such we say what we want and play what we want."

The full story of this station ought to be told by the owner, and I hope one day, he will. He's a generous chap that way...

After listening in a couple of times, I dropped him an email - basically saying "Love the show - thought I ought to tell you, it's good stuff".  Within a week he had sent a bunch of DVDs stacked full of old shows, badges and assorted stuff.

What will you hear?  Special guests? Yup, but they wont be promoting new books.  They will be friends, other listeners, his brother Dod, Steve Mason brought in Scroobius Pip, and occasionally no-one but Les, sat in the studio, with an internet connection and a Spotify database.  So nothing happens then?  Nope, it's interactive. You sign in on Windows Messenger and can join in, live.

Because he is such an amiable person, you do join in.  It's easy to do, and you are made to feel welcome.  You do, as he says "Shape the show". So what happens during the show?

He chats, you join in, there is music.  You know - radio. There is occasional themes - quiz nights (e.g. Celebrity Sex Pest quiz), Star Trek night (Live from the Enterprise), tributes to Chas and Dave, The Krankees, Elvis and even a visiting American Pastor.  It's fun.

What I particularly enjoy is two things, which only this particular format can afford.

1. It is uncersored.  There is swearing. People use bad language every day in the real world, why should radio broadcasts be any different? It's all very free and open - you can't fake that.
2. The music is his choice.  Not some marketing gimps' choice.

I have been introduced to more music via Old Jock Radio than any other radio station in my life.  Why? He's got a good taste in music.  He knows the difference between Good music and Bad music. It could be dance music, punk, reggae,  country and western.  If a request comes in he will play it.  If it is crap, he'll say so. If it's good, you'll hear it again.

Obviously it's not perfect - nothing is. It is produced by one man, for two hours with little preparation and no money. But that is also it's charm, it's honest through necessity.

Tune in one week, you'll find yourself joining in in no time.


19 May 2011

Dresden Dolls - Coin Operated Boy

Dresden Dolls
Every morning for the last two months, my iPhone has tried to wake me with this song.  I thought that Amanda Palmer's vocals and the changing tempo of the drums would be guaranteed to wake me.

Well, seeing as I have slept in a bit too much recently, I think we can say that experiment failed.

Imagine waking up to this at 5:30am every weekday...

Good God.  I am absolutely in love with Amanda Palmer, and I don't care who knows it. My heart now probably belongs to her due to the fact that her astonishingly powerful voice has woken me every morning for the last 60 odd days. Deep lying psychological issues can only come to the fore quickly now.

Joking aside, thank god people like the Dresden Dolls exist.  As good as some modern popular musicians are - much of it is as boring as recordings of my grandfather breaking wind.  It's nothing new, nothing exciting, smells quite bad and is probably a load of shit.

But why did I think that the Dresden Dolls would wake me up?  Well, when I listen to music I like it to make me think. 
Not all the time - sometimes I like music to drift around me - I'm not necessarily talking about ambient or Muzak here - I mean disposable music.  Think of good pop - Good pop should be enjoyable but forgettable.  The majority of good 50's Rock'n'Roll hits are this type of pop.

However, much of the Dresden Dolls isn't disposable - jerky time signatures and maniacal tempo changes pushing needles into the music receptors of your brain forcing you to play an active role in the listening process. Palmer's voice can change in the blink of an eye from sweet and innocent to aggressive scream as can her piano playing.  In many ways her style is reminiscent of Tori Amos and the whole Cabaret scene of 40's Berlin.  I guess that is where their name came from...  If you don't know what 40's Berlin cabaret sounds like - go and watch the bloody film Cabaret.  It's honestly quite good.  Music wise, at least.

The other half of the musical conspiracy at play here is the drummer - Brian Viglione.  Play that track again, but don't look at the video.  Just listen to him hitting those skins.  Gosh darn it, he is good. He matches the timbre and tension of the piano and voice perfectly.  No 'straight 4/4' beats going on here. He has played with loads of unheard people, as well as the Nine Inch Nails, on a set of drums he made out of scrap metal and wood he found outside the studio.  As you do.

I'd like to see Ringo bloody Star's face if he tried to play along to this.  You would be able to stretch another emotion  out of his miserable millionaire face.  Fear.

And finally we see a live performance. Watch that bad boy go.
Time has run out, OJR has started.  Get a couple of their albums - The Dresden Dolls or Yes, Virginia.  Another track you ought to listen to on YouTube is 'Backstabber' - I'll say no more on that as it is likely to turn up here one day.

So am I still in love with Amanda Palmer?  Yes, but massively intimidated, and after a bit of Wikipedia research massively heartbroken.  She appears to have married Neil Gaiman.  Bastard.

17 May 2011

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention - King Kong

Mothers of Invention - Uncle Meat
Well I know what I have listened to today as the 23rd track without looking it up.

Why?  Well I was looking through the old music collection and found a few old albums missing.  No idea how, but I lost quite a few in the painful hard drive failure of 2009....

One album that was completely missing was Uncle Meat.  And what was worse - I couldn't remember it as being stand out in any way....

I mean - look at the cover, it is hideous.  It is also the Mothers of Invention.  Much of the Mothers material is really quite unlistenable.  So I shoved the album on and was astonished, it's great - by far my favourite MOI album.

And the standout track?  The one that takes up the whole of side 4 - King Kong.

That version right there ladies and gentlemen is magical.  A BBC recording.  And pretty free willed as well. Start playing it at around the 2minute 30 mark for the melody.  I always find it a shame now, when I see crappy little effects on screen to try and 'funk up' the images, but it does seem to work with this tune.

How do I know that todays 23rd track was this without looking it up?  I made up a playlist of just the different versions of this tune and played it all day long.  Magic.
Surely it was boring?  Nope.  Not one bit.  Let's find out why....

A bit of history - who were the Mothers of Invention? Well, you know I love Zappa's music, and these chaps were his first band.  Music geeks will argue that I have over-simplified it.  Well, yes.  I have.

A bunch of guys in California playing in doo-wop and bar bands were brought together by FZ to play new music.  His music, specifically. It was the time of hippies and everything being 'new' and challenging.  The chaps he managed to get to join were all quite good at what they did musically, so wanted to call themselves "The Mothers" - as at the time "Motherfuckers" was the slang term for talented musicians.  Record company didn't like that. So they renamed themselves "The Mothers of Invention" why? Because it was neccessary....

Were the musicians really good?  Well Ian Underwood (alto sax, youngest looking) is a classically trained musician, and Don Preston (keyboards) did the soundtrack to Apocalypse Now. So yes.

Because everything had to be new and fresh the jazz inspired MOI used this piece to improvise.  Apart from the melodic motif at the beginning everything is improvised.  Improvised under strict conditions though.  Re-watch the first 2 minutes of that recording.  All the musicians eyes are trained on FZ.  Why?  Because he is conducting them - little signals and signs to point to 'louder', 'softer', swing and so on.
Each time is different - a bit like the Mothers version of the Grateful Deads "Dark Star" - another improvisational piece. 

Apart from the exceptional musicianship, Coltrane sax solos, and humerous motifs added in left right and centre, why do I like it?  The timing of the melody.  It's not a normal 4/4 time signature - it is 3/8 which allows this rather odd melody to sing out. 

You don't see Coldplay writing like that, do you?

10 May 2011

Beastie Boys - Sabrosa

Beastie Boys - Sabrosa
So, a week.  A whole goddam week.

Have I not been listening to music? Of course not, but life gets in the way. Work is awful, family is upsetting at best, and Portal 2 was bloody addictive.

So this fell a bit by the wayside - it now continues...

Ahh the Beastie Boys....
Now I have a bit of a history with these fellows, I have to say.  Not wishing to blow my own trumpet (parp parp) but without me, they would not be around today.... but that is another story.

First thing is first, because if you like this you won't necessarily keep reading.  If you like this track and you want to buy it, don't buy Ill Communication.  Don't get me wrong, its a great album, and this is on it, but the mini compilation of their instrumental tracks (shown above left) is the puppy you want. 

The In Sound From Way Out.

It's probably not all that rare nowadays, but back then it was sort of limited at the time. Go get it.  Now.  Stop and head for Amazon or Play or whoever.

Right, you have ordered it, right?  We can continue.

The Beastie Boys originally may have been about Rick Rubin sampling Slayer and making a rap/rock crossover party album before people knew you could do that, but they realised pretty fast, if they wanted any long term success, that wasn't going to kick it 20 years down the line.

Luckily someone bought them instruments and forced them to learn them. On each album after their first one, there is usually one or two instrumentals, just carefully placed there, sort of an extra side dish, to be savoured by the enlightened.  You see, it's not all about the shouting.

So what did they play? The kind of music that they were sampling in the first place - mellow, soulful funk from the 60s and 70s. Let's remember "Root Down" is a sample of a Jimmy Smith track - there is the source right there.  And can they play it live - let us see....
An OK live version there, but the soundman needs his ears tested - where the hell is the bass in the mix?
And that is the main driver of this tune - the bass.  The auto-wah guitar is just a rhythmical device in this - funky as hell, but not exactly holding down a melody. It's all about seperate instruments finding their own space and taking up as little of it as possible.

It starts off with the guitar and keyboards playing simple lines off each other, before the toms and drums come in closely followed by that upright bass.   A simple line, but as each verse comes along, it has a slightly different approach - leaving space for the other instruments to move around.  And that space is filled, especially after the second run, where it sounds as though half the musicians have left the room by the toms, somebody pounding away, grabbing little fill motifs from 40 years previously and adding to the tension of the turnaround.

I think it is the fact that it is the opposite of the public image of the wee Beasties - a noise filled shouting match with no time to take a breath - that I like it so much.

Time to kick back, relax and pretend I'm in an old Dirty Harry movie....

03 May 2011

Peter Gabriel - Passion

Peter Gabriel - Passion
Normally for 23rd Track I write about one track.  The Twenty Third one, to be precise and rather obvious.

Today I will have to write about an entire album.  Why not just the track I heard?

Because, in my opinion, although there are standout tracks on this disc, it needs to be taken as a whole.

I came across this album in the same session as I came across Moby's Thousand and two unalike pieces of work really do not exist.

Peter Gabriel you know of.  It is most likely you know him as "That bloke who did Sledgehammer - you know the one with the video".  Well that is true.  He did.  He was first of all the singer for Genesis, and ran around dressed as a daffodil a lot.  He quit and released solo albums.  I know the Shapesmith is a huge fan of his early work - and is proud to own a German language version of one of the first four albums.  It would not be wrong to say that they are pretty darn good in their own right.

After some success, he got a little restless, and before he turned into a modern technology geek with all of that bumpf about immerse interactive music, he managed to do three quite important things.

1) He found World Music (and founded WOMAD)
2) He built the Real World Studios
3) He made this album

It is because of the first two that the third was possible.

In these days of instant downloads and the Internet, it is easy to find World Music - music not from the Western tradition. Back in the 80's and early 90's it wasn't.  There was no World music section in Our Price - it just didn't exist.  Gabriel found it on his travels and luckily for us, fell in love with it.  What he found problematic was that what recordings he did find were piss poor quality.  So we get to WOMAD - World of Music Arts and Dance. A festival that brought musicians from around the world to the ears and eyes of the West.  I've never been - can't really stand festivals, too many people for my liking. 

Whilst they were in the UK he took the chance to record them on quality equipment.  However, he realised if he wanted to do a lot of it (and he did) it would be cheaper to own a studio to do it in than rent one out.  So he found a set of buildings in Box and built what can be considered one of the best studios in the world. 

Why? Because he is a perfectionist.  You can hear that even in his pop hit Sledgehammer - everything is clean, precise and pure.  It has a one of a kind studio in 'The Big Room' - an enormous room with no barrier between the mixing desk and the artists.  What I wouldn't give for a tour and a demo... Just take a look at this. No four track tape to tape gubbins here, no retro technology - just the best...

And it was this set of interests, skills and technological wherewithal that all came into play when Martin Scorsese called him up to record the soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ.

I'm not going to talk about the film itself - perhaps Mr Green would care to.  I like the story and the acting, but there is something a little unfinished and unpolished about it for me.  It's really good, but any artistic merit it has became irrelevant compared to the controversy it caused.

Scorsese wanted atmospherics and authenticity.  Gabriel took him at his word and recorded this.  He studied exactly where in modern geography the bible story took place and gathered music, instruments and musicians from the surrounding areas as well as further afield to record in his custom built studio.

To quote Wikipedia (as I want to get some of this right);
"[he gathered future world music vocalist stars] Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Youssou N'Dour, and Baaba Maal to bring strong Middle Eastern and African voices to the project, and Balkan textures come via the ney flute and doudouk. [the rest of the artists] came from Pakistan, Turkey, India, Ivory Coast, Bahrain, Egypt, New Guinea, Morocco, Senegal and Ghana."

It's on this recording that you can really hear the size of that studio - you can't hear any artificial compression or slapback echo from walls no more than 6ft away from the artists as they perform.  There is no audio mismatch between the performance and the recording.  I really wish I could find quotes from an interview I read with him years ago on this very matter. His opinion was that the instruments and musicians were used to playing in the open air, outside, and that was the very same atmosphere and recording situation he set out to create in the Big Room.

A sense of space and openness. And that is what he captured.  Just listen to that first video track again.  Listen to how those opening flute lines glide through the air - you can almost smell the jasmine on the air as the artist plays as the sun goes down on a Tunisian coast. There is a drone in the background (the bete-noir of composers - essential but cheap and awful) but it is authentic sounding.  And then those astonishing drums come in.  Probably too loud and clean for modern tastes, but their haunting panicked rhythm drives a sense of urgency to counteract the mellow peacefulness of the wind instruments.

It is this seeming mismatch of modern studio sounds and ancient instruments that give Passion a life that mor

His quest for perfection is reflected not only in the music recorded on this disc but how it was released.  Most 'normal' soundtracks are shoved out onto the shelves before the film is released in order to drum up some marketing noise.  Gabriel instead went back to the studio and re-recorded, re-mixed and re-edited the pieces in order to release a coherent album, which could stand up on it's own merits rather than as mere sideline in a marketing budget. It was eventually released months after the film and still stands on it's own.

How does it sound? What is it like? If I was a plonker and you wanted a one line review it would be;
"World and ambient music meet and mix on an ex-Genesis singers soundtrack album"

So much wrong with that, but in essence it is correct.  Yes, it contains elements of World music with the artists and modal patterns common with non-western music.  It is also essentially an ambient album - influencing whole genres (World ambient, Ganga beats, the work of Bill Laswell....)

But it's lasting impression on me is the musical storytelling that it encompasses - it truly has a beginning, a middle, an end and as it is for a film on the story of a Mr J Christ, it too has a finale which resembles a resurrection - a miraculous rebirth.