Tuesday, December 11, 2012

BYOV - Meeting #16

Another lovely fall day in Brooklyn found me at Barbès with a record player, computer and a pad and pen. Yet I was unprepared….

As I grabbed my pregame coffee at Colson Patisserie next door, I ran into Ashley Kahn, who happened to be joining us for the first time.

Of course, Ashley had to be the first person to ever bring a 45-rpm single. And  me without an adaptor… It was a phonographic emergency!

Fortunately, the local Music Matters store on 7th Avenue was able to help provide some plastic, neon yellow adaptors that fit the bill. I’ve been wearing one around my neck ever since. You never know when one will come in handy….

Another interesting, unlikely phenomenon occurred on that Nov. 11th meeting: The majority of music played was not jazz. Overwhelmingly so.

Here were our themes de resistance:

a) Odd instrument out. Is that a sitar with the Beatles? An alp horn with 2 Live Crew? We'd like to hear your best example of a foreign (non-Western) instrument (and/or musician) alongside "typical" Western instrumental configuration. 

b) BIG BANG! Bring in a track that you feel has huge influence. It can be on society, a musical genre, technology.… Whatever....  

c) It grows on you…. You know that song that the first time you heard you were like... "This song sucks..." But then you realize you are singing it in the shower, when you brush your teeth and while listening to your Radiohead records. Bring that song. 

Read on and enjoy!

     1.    Emilio Solla & The Tango Jazz Conspiracy – “Remain Alert” from Bien Sur! (Fresh Sound FSWJ 042, 2010)
Presented by Robert Futterman – CD – Theme: A

Robert wanted to introduce us to a European instrument that he had been unfamiliar with until he heard this track. He was wondering if we would be able to identify the instrument and where it originated from.

A feisty drum solo emerged and then the introduction of a nasaly, screaming horn.

Robert: “And that’s it…”

It was obvious that this was a bagpipe of some sort.

“Yeah… But what is its nation of origin?”

There was some head scratching as the increasingly Latin vibed piece continued to play on. The pipes died off and didn’t return for the rest of the composition.

It was François who guessed that these were Galician bagpipes. He was correct, to everyone’s surprise. The recording featured Victor Prieto performing on the instrument.

Of course, I knew why he had an inside knowledge of the instrument and made him explain.

Sunnyside will be releasing an album by another Galician bagpiper, Cristina Pato. François first met Pato while she was working on composer/conceptualist Bob Belden’s Miles Español project that was released a couple of years ago. Pato has been performing jazz, classical and folkloric music with the instrument for some time with ensembles like Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble.

The Galician bagpipe or gaita comes from the northwestern part of Spain near the Portuguese border. Most popular in the Middle Ages, the gaita made a comeback in the 1970s. Why not?

When you have a bagpiper playing some sort of jazz related material there has to be a mention of the legendary Philly saxophonist/bagpiper/kilt-enthusiast Rufus Harley.

      2.    Sainkho Namchylak – “Tanola Nomads” from Out of Tuva (Crammed Disc CRAW 6, 1993)
Sainkho Namchylak & Evan Parker – “Hurzu” from Mars Song (Les Diques Victo 042, 1996)
Presented by Jason Weiss – CD – Theme: A

Jason also went for the non-western instrument route for his musical selection, though his choice didn’t feature an instrument. His example was a vocalist of extraordinary skill and individuality.

Jason: “She’s really an exotic instrument.”

We heard atmospheric gongs and some wet reverb before a big voice came in. The singing was lovely but the composition was bordering on new age.

Steve: “So the electric bass was the foreign instrument to her right?”

No guesses were made to whom the artist may be. Jason mentioned that she had been recording for nearly 25 years.

Richard: “It sounds a lot like something on the Real World label. I’m not a fan.”

The vocalist was Sainkho Namchylak, a Tuvan vocalist who had studied the tradition of throat singing but had wanted to do more. She had limited opportunity for advancing her style as the Soviet powers that be made her perform only in the traditional music of her Mongolian heritage. 

Eventually, Namchylak was able to leave and thereby perform/record in a number of different settings.

Our listeners weren’t happy with the production on this particular track and were wondering if Jason might have any recordings with her in a more interesting setting. As a matter of fact, he did.

Thomas had mentioned that he knew Namchylak’s music but as an improvising musician. Apparently, she was a fearless improviser who was known to be open to any sort of “pick up band” she could put together.

Jason then played us a track of Namchylak performing with saxophonist extraordinaire Evan Parker. It was much better received.

Gilles: “Oh! I have this!”

After a few deceptive cadences, Steve: “I’ve already heard three full endings… Just tell us when it is done.”

     3.    Elaine Brown – “Seize the Time” from Seize the Time – Black Panther Party (Vault SLP-131, 1969)
Presented by Me – LP – Theme: B & C

For my part, I wanted to bring a recording that was “truly” revolutionary. It also turned out to be a piece that I had to learn to love.

The swelling horns and emphatic drums presaged a powerful female vocalist with a message. The driving low horns kept driving momentum that underscored the dramatic lyric about “seizing the time.”

No one was able to guess that the vocalist was Elaine Brown, who was the Deputy of Information for the Southern California Chapter of the Black Panther Party when she recorded the album Seize the Time in 1969.

I had originally come across this record when I was collecting a bunch of pianist/bandleader/arranger Horace Tapscott recordings a few years ago. He did the arrangements on this recording.

As I mentioned, I worked at liking this one. Obviously, the music’s message wasn’t aimed at me. I could appreciate the message, however, and the fact that Tapscott was involved was enough for me to dig it.

I mistakenly said that the recording was released by the Panthers. Daniel Richard was sure that the record was released by the Vault record label, a West Coast operation that put out records by a multitude of California groups, including the Challengers, Ernie Watts and the Chambers Brothers. He was absolutely correct.

I also was incorrect when I said that “Seize the Time” was the Black Panther national anthem. The real one was entitled “The Meeting.” Included here.

      4.    Hippopotamus – “Hippopotamus” from Explorer Series - Animals of Africa: Sounds of the Jungle, Plain & Bush (Nonesuch H-72056, 1973)
Presented by Richard Gehr – MP3 – Theme: B

Richard told us that his selection wasn’t a big bang but a little bang. He also mentioned that the record that this composition came from had a distinct local impact.

We heard some kind of guttural sounds and what seemed like birds. Maybe some sort of field recording….

“Are we supposed to ID the vocalist?”

“It sounds like some sort of animal.”

Richard: “Yeah. But what animal?”

I guessed the hippo. Folks seemed astonished that I was able to guess it correctly. Maybe the years of watching National Geographic specials had finally paid off.

So there were some giggles about the hippo noises and the fact that Nonesuch released this record in the 1970s on their Explorer Series, this edition chronicled animals of Nairobi and Kenya. The real laughs came when they found out that this recording had an impact on the Downtown New York experimental music scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s, specifically with artists like John Zorn and Elliott Sharp.

Steve was rolling: “I hear it. It’s their roots!”

“So is this a performance?”

Richard: “Yeah. It’s all solo, free improvisation.”


What else was on the record?

“You got your wildebeest. You got your lion. It is just like a night at the Stone.”

      5.    Minor Threat – “Minor Threat” from Minor Threat EP (Dischord Records 3, 1981)
Presented by David Stoelting – MP3 – Theme: B

The next piece was definitely a big bang in the realm of politics and musical form. David mentioned that we would probably get the name of the group quickly because it was in the lyrics.

He also mentioned that it was punk rock…

Steve: “Oh no…”

So we listened intently as the guitar began to pummel us.

Someone guessed Fugazi. He was close.

This was Minor Threat. The legendary DC punk band that Ian McKay led before he created both Fugazi and his Dischord record label.

David had always been impressed with Minor Threat and McKay. The group had an ethos that he could respect. They stood for three things: “being anti-Nazi, not getting wasted and punk rock.”

I mentioned that I had the opportunity to see McKay in action with Fugazi when I was a freshman in college. I recall it being an uncomfortable experience as McKay scanned the crowd while he performed. At any attempt at moshing, he would stop the music and scream at the guilty mosher, “Stop fucking moshing! We’ll stop playing right now. Don’t ruin this for everyone else.”

No moshing at a punk gig? Strange days.

      6.    Frankie Smith – “Double Dutch Bus” from “’Double Dutch Bus’ b/w ‘Double Dutch’” (WMOT Records 4W8 5351, 1981 (1981))
Presented by Ashley Kahn – 45rpm – Theme: C

For his selection, Ashley brought a record that he had “hated but then grew to like.”

“So I had to buy the 45.”

Good thing I had made my run for an adaptor or we wouldn’t have been able to listen to this gem.

A recognizable dance beat and digitized car horn were heard.

Ashley said that this song was omnipresent when it came out, hitting especially hard in Philadelphia where it originated.

Of course, there were only a couple folks who recognized the sample used by Missy Elliott on her hit “Gossip Folks.” Although, we forgot whom the original artist was.

It happened to be Frankie Smith, who had been a songwriter for Philly International but later created this hit.

The story goes that Smith had at one time wanted to be a bus driver. Apparently, racist policies within the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in Philly made it impossible. Smith still had access to a recording studio due to his association with the Gambles & Huff record label, however.

While at the studio for another session, Smith began improvising a theme and lyrics over a rhythm. The lyrics of the song “Double Dutch Bus” were initially an effort to vent about his woes over the bus driving turn down. Along with those, came nonsensical lyrics that have since become legendary in the hip-hop world. Smith also giving birth to the “izzle.” (See Wikipedia or Snoop Dogg).

Apparently, the lyrics that we hear on this track were the g-rated version of his protest rap. I guess we sort of get the picture.

     7.    Last Poets – “White Man’s Got a God Complex” from This Is Madness (Douglas Z-30583, 1971)
Presented by Thomas Heberer – LP – Theme: B & C

It was just about this time when we realized that there was a surprising lack of jazz being played at this particular gathering. Not that it was a bad thing. It was kind of refreshing.

Thomas: “Well… This isn’t jazz either.”

Thomas wanted to play a piece by a group he felt was the “biggest bang” in the last 40 years in pop music.

“Not that I’m a pop expert.”

He also explained that for a long time he had originally ignored the work of this group assuming that the music wasn’t sophisticated enough to catch his attention. Thomas did give the music a chance and ultimately enjoyed the efforts of this unique, groundbreaking ensemble.

The instantly recognizable voices with percussion accompaniment came over the speakers.

Steve: “Is this the Last Poets?”

It certainly was. We were hearing the voices of poets Alafia Pudim and Umar Bin Hassan on their second LP, which was recorded in 1970 for Douglas Records.

The Last Poets have been lauded as important musical precursors to hip-hop, along with efforts by James Brown and Gil Scott-Heron. The group had stood apart from others as they eschewed singing for a steady stream of poet lyricism alongside minimally produced rhythmic foundations.

The overtly political tone of their recordings especially influenced the more radical element of hip-hop, namely Public Enemy and NWA.

Ashley: “They were the first rappers and the last poets.”

Our new attendee Wesley mentioned that he had been involved in a project where members of the Last Poets recorded with modern rappers with good results. He remembered a great exchange between the Poets and the rapper Common, who was in awe of the legendary lyricists.

      8.    David Essex – “Rock On” from Rock On (Columbia KC 32560,1973)
Presented by Steve Futterman – MP3 – Theme: C

Steve wanted to play a tune that he used to hate. The more he listened the more he grew to become more impressed by the “strange, exotic production of this pop song.”

Steve was surprised that it never broke into the 1950s rock thing like most popular releases. This music was surprisingly different.

The slow grinding groove was more reminiscent of reggae than to the blues drenched rock of the time.

Steve: “It was such a dope record.”

Ashley guessed that this was singer David Essex’s big hit “Rock On” from the album of the same name.

“Did he ever have any other hits?” No.

“It must have been influential in some way?”

Wesley: “Maybe on Prince.” I would say Lenny Kravitz, too.

“It also has a kind of (Sly Stone) ‘Family Affair’ sound, too.”

Richard: “I think it sounds very T.Rex-ian.” Maybe Marc Bolan had an effect on Mr. Essex as they were both English.

      9.   Frankie Ford w/ Huey “Piano” Smith and Orchestra – “Sea Cruise” from “’Sea Cruise’ b/w ‘Roberta’” (Ace Records 554, 1959)
Presented by Ashley Kahn – LP – Theme: A

Ashley had another selection he wanted to present. This one showcased an unusual instrument, actually it would be questionable whether it could be considered an instrument at all.

The sounds of waves lapping and the ship bell were enough for Steve to guess “Sea Cruise.”

Steve: “Isn’t the track someone else’s tune?” Yep.

The story behind “Sea Cruise” was that the track was recorded by New Orleans legend Huey “Piano” Smith but the producers removed Smith’s vocals to add those of Ford.

The intriguing “voice” on this track would be the foghorn that was used toward the end of the recording used to punctuate the rhythm section. Quite a punch. There was also another similar voiced instrument included on the recording, a wonderful bass saxophone handled the bass line through a good portion of the tune.

Ashley thought that there was a “big bang” aspect to this track, too. It was very apparent that the substitution of a black vocalist for a white one was an effort to crossover to reach a broader (white) audience. This definitely wasn’t the first time and certainly wouldn’t be the last. There was also such a tremendous use of post-production tricks with the added atmospheric sounds and the foghorn.

    10. Cootie Williams and His Orchestra – “Fly Right (Epistrophy)” from Cootie Williams and His Orchestra 1941-1944 (Classics 827, 1995)
Presented by Thomas Heberer – LP – Theme: B

We went back to our jazz roots for Thomas’s next selection.

Thomas: “From my perspective, this was a big bang, especially in the world of jazz. The structure of this song brought something new to the music. For 1942, this was a departure from the same obvious forms.”

The snappy cymbals led to a big band arrangement of an extremely well known theme. Well known to jazz heads, at least.

“Now we’re talking!”

Steve: “This is Cootie Williams Orchestra playing ‘Epistrophy,’ right? With Joe Guy on trumpet?”

This was indeed Williams’s take on Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” but as it was originally issued as “Fly Right.” This was the first recording of a Monk composition before he became the king of esoteric yet beloved jazz melodies (and harmonies for that matter).

Monk wasn’t involved otherwise in the performance. The pianist recorded was Kenny Kersey. It was interesting to note that another famed bebop pianist was involved with the recordings included on this CD. In 1944, 20 year old Bud Powell, who was under the legal guardianship of Cootie, performed “You Talk a Little Trash,” “Floogie Boo,” ”Do Some War Work, Baby” and “I Don’t Know” with the Cootie Williams group. Not on this recording as was originally thought, however.

Historically, drummer Kenny Clarke has received credit for helping with the composition, though it might not have been the case.

Thomas was impressed by the composition for a number of reasons. It was harmonically very different than most pieces around that time which for the most part used harmonies based on Tin Pan Alley songs. The structure was wholly original and moved away from the common II-V-I form epidemic in jazz at the time. It also provided a departure from the stereotypical blues and 32-bar structure.

“It was always in that form unless it was recorded in Canada. Then it was AABA, eh?”


      11.  Lou Rawls – “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” from You’ve Made Me So Very Happy (Capitol Records ST-8-0427, 1970)
Presented by Wesley Verhoeve – MP3 – Theme: B

Wesley was inspired to present a track that he felt helped to unleash a tremendous talent on the pop world in the 1970s.

“Everyone knows the artist. This is more about the producer.”

An all too familiar piano riff and tambourine oozed from the speakers.

Me: “Ah… De La Soul.” They sampled it.

“Well then it must be Lou Rawls with David Axelrod producing.”

Oh course everyone knew who Lou Rawls was. David Axelrod, on the other hand, wasn’t so well known.

Axelrod was a composer/arranger/producer who began working in jazz in the late 1950s in California. His first production was Harold Land’s The Fox in 1959. His most productive stage of his career came after he joined Capitol Records and began producing a wide range of artists like Rawls, Cannonball Adderley and the psych rock group the Electric Prunes.

Eccentric record collectors and hip-hop fans have been equally impressed by the three solo recordings Axelrod produced in late 1960s: Song of Innocence, Songs of Experience and Earth Rot. Many of his productions became fodder for hip-hop productions in the 1980s and 1990s.

I first became aware of this tune from the sample De La Soul used for their song “I Am I Be” on the 1993 album Buhloone Mindstate.

Even this performance was a cover as the first version was recorded by Brenda Holloway for Tamla Records in 1968. Blood, Sweat & Tears also recorded a popular version shortly thereafter.

     12.  OM – “Chipero” from With Dom Um Romao (JAPO/ECM 60022, 1978)
Presented by Me – LP – Theme: A

As the majority of the group packed up their belongings or finished their beers, I threw on one last record.

This selection presented a non-western instrument alongside an avant-garde, jazz-rock ensemble.

The percussion heavy sound led to an almost oriental feel before a solo berimbau began to play and start up an ostinato pattern. Slowly the guitar, bass and monkey impersonations began to come together.

This was the band OM featuring reed player Urs Leimgruber, guitarist Christy Doran, bassist Bobby Burri and drummer Fredi Studer. On this record, OM was joined by Brazilian percussionist Dom Um Romao, who handled percussion. Romao was also featured on the berimbau.

The berimbau is a Brazilian stringed percussion instrument made of a long rod (verga) with a gourd resonator (cabaça). The instrument is played by striking a steel string (arame) spanning the length of the verga (think bow and arrow) with a stick (baqueta). Different tone inflections can be made by putting pressure on the arame with a dobrão (stone or coin) while striking it with the baqueta.

This instrument provided a very distinct sound to the overall compositional makeup of the tune.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

BYOV - Meeting #15

So the weather on Oct.14th wasn’t nearly as terrible as I hoped that it would be. After a summer of very comfortable temperatures, BYOV doesn’t really need to have nice weather any more as our turnouts have been a bit slim.

So at 3pm and the sun shining brightly, I waited in the dark recess at the back of Barbès sipping coffee and hoping some fellow music geek would show.

And then there were geeks! Let’s not go crazy. We had something like twelve people all told but considering the last few months, that was a tidal wave.

I was happy to see a crowd for one of my favorite collection of themes to date. Here they are:

A) Multi-kulti. We want to hear interpretations of roots music that we've never heard before.
B) All souled out. Bring an example of an artist who would be considered a "sell out." Is he/she really selling out? Should we dismiss as gimmick or learn to love? 
C) This one is for the ladies... Let's hear your favorite female artist regardless of genre.

We’ve come to expect some interesting music and opinions. #15 proved to have plenty. Read on.

     1.    George Russell – “All About Rosie” from Modern Jazz Concert (Columbia Adventures In Sound WL127, 1957)
Presented by Joel Harrison – CD – Theme: A

Joel: “This interpretation of a traditional theme is one of the best of the 20th Century by one of the best composers/arrangers of the 20th Century.”

That was a strong statement by a man who is very studied in the art of arrangement and composition.

Within five seconds of listening, Steve was able to guess George Russell’s reinterpretation of the old African American spiritual “Rosie, Little Rosie.”

Steve: “How does the nursery rhyme go?” Don’t really know.

Joel: “This could have been written today. It sounds so modern.”

The piece was written for a showcase at the Brandeis University Jazz Festival in 1957.  Some thought they remembered a televised broadcast of the piece being performed, perhaps the same performance that was recorded on June 10th at the Festival.

“Is that a flute I hear?” No, vibes.

The ensemble included Teddy Charles on vibes, pianist Bill Evans, guitarist Barry Galbraith, trumpeters Art Farmer and Louis Mucci, saxophonists Hal McKusick and John LaPorta, bassist Joe Benjamin and drummer Ted Sommer.

This particular selection has been released on a couple of different audio incarnations, the  easiest to find being the Columbia compilation The Birth of the Third Stream that featured selections from Gunther Schuller’s Music for Brass and Modern Jazz Concert. The latter release presented selections from the Brandeis Festival, including “All About Rosie.”

     2.    Amina Claudine Myers – “Jailhouse Blues” from Salutes Bessie Smith (Leo Records LR 103, 1980)
Presented by Me – LP – Theme: A & C

My selection began with a bass solo, which prompted the question if the piece was by the bassist. No it wasn’t but the mystery artist would appear soon after.

It was pretty quiet in the room as the piano and vocal came in.

Steve was quick at guessing the tune, which was Bessie Smith’s “Jailhouse Blues.”

Steve: “Talk about incredible non sequiturs…”

Apparently, there were quite a few hidden sexual innuendos dispersed throughout the lyrics of Smith’s tunes, including this gem.

There were still no guesses at who the artist performing the piece was, though there were plenty of heads nodding along.

“What year is this?” 1980.

No one guessed pianist/organist/vocalist Amina Claudine Myers.

Steve: “That makes sense.”

The track featured accompaniment by bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Jimmy Lovelace.

“Kind of wish it was just bass and piano.”

The track fit the themes of female artist and transformed roots well. Depending on how you view Myers’s career trajectory, listeners could potentially view Myers’s signing to Arista/Novus and her pop attempts on the label as selling out. Personally, I have no problem with these releases.

Joel remembered taking Myers and saxophonist Dewey Redman on tour in the 1980s. He said that during a sound check, the two began to play an impromptu spiritual duet. He recalled it being some of the best and most beautiful music he heard on the tour and requested that they perform a piece like that in concert. Joel was rebuffed but still holds the memory dear.

     3.    George Shearing ft. Marjorie Hyams – “Conception” from (The Definitive George Shearing, Verve 2002 (1949))
Presented by Robert Futterman – LP – Theme: C

Robert decided to dig a little deeper for his selection. He thought that we might guess the composer/headlining artist but maybe not pick up on the musician he intended to present, a female performer.

The track was a fairly standard jazz ensemble recording featuring both vibes and piano.

Richard: “Well… It isn’t Gary Osborne or Terri Gibbs…” That was pretty obvious. Terry Gibbs might have been a better guess. Gary Burton?

“Is the mystery artist the vibraphonist?” Yes.

Steve began to reel out names of vibists before settling on possibly the only female vibist, Marjorie Hyams.

Steve’s omniscience determined that this recording must be George Shearing’s “Conception,” which was recorded on July 27, 1949.

Along with vibes, Hyams also played piano and was a skilled arranger. She had performed in groups led by Woody Herman, Mary Lou Williams and Charlie Ventura prior to playing with Shearing. From 1951 to 1970, Hyams performed and taught around Chicago. She died in June 2012.

The track also featured drummer Denzil Best, who could also play trumpet and piano. Best even accompanied Shearing on piano while Shearing manned the accordion on another recording.

Shearing was an adept accordionist, having begun his career in a blind accordion band in the United Kingdom.

     4.    Laura Nyro – “Tom Cat Goodbye” from New York Tendaberry (Columbia KCS 9737, 1969)
Presented by Zak Shelby-Szyszko – LP – Theme: C

I’m so proud of Zak for bringing a piece of vinyl. The virus is spreading.

Zak prefaced playing his selection by saying that this particular female artist has been a major favorite of his for some time.

Of course, Steve guessed singer/songwriter Laura Nyro immediately. I think that we’re going to have to institute some sort of time limit before Mr. Futterman can give his guess. Shot clock?

Me: “Is the volume okay?”

“Yeah… But can you take some of the reverb off?” Some scoffs.

Steve asked Zak if he felt that Nyro was properly lauded as an artist.

Zak: “No. She has been grossly underappreciated.”

Kimberly: “She was a goddess. She has never gotten her due as a songwriter.”

Robert remembered seeing a marquee at the Fillmore East that had Miles Davis opening for Nyro. The association with Miles was a bit deeper than that as Nyro had invited him to appear on one of her recordings. He turned the appearance down stating that she didn’t need him.

Nyro did have a penchant for jazzier sounds. A later recording featured Alice Coltrane and Gregg Allman on the same track.

New York Tendaberry was an early record but Nyro’s style and prowess grew exponentially from record to record.

Steve: “She grew in giant leaps beginning with very concise pop songs which grew into these big, involved compositions.”

Zak was impressed by Nyro’s handling of transitions in her music. The compositions could be very herky-jerky, going from one musically concrete segment to another but handled with panache.

Zak: “It gives her music a certain freedom but there is control within that freedom.”

Kim: “This gives the effect that she was really playing for herself giving the listener a sense of eavesdropping. ‘Okay… Let me leave…’”

Jason asked what had become of Nyro. She passed away in 1997 after a fight with ovarian cancer. She recorded sporadically in the late 1970s with large breaks throughout the 1980s. In 1988, Nyro began to tour again in smaller venues. Her final album Walk the Dog and Light the Light was released in 1993.

Nyro was an activist as well as an artist. She was a feminist (she led an all woman band for some time) and was also a vocal member of the lesbian community.

In the end, Nyro has remained a cult figure but one who has kept resurfacing with more and more interest.

     5.    Captain Beefheart – “Bluejeans & Moonbeams” from Bluejeans & Moonbeams (Mercury SRM-1-1018, 1974)
Presented by Richard Gehr – MP3 – Theme: B

Always a fan of music of the more bent variety, Richard brought a synth filled, schmaltzy number performed by an artist incredibly hard to pin down.

Jason: “I recognize that voice…”

Richard: “This record was a famous sell out record from a famous sell out.”

We listened on with open ears but puzzled faces.

It happened to be Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart. After nearly a decade of making idiosyncratic/weird avant-blues records, Beefheart tried to swing for the commercial seats. After releasing three middling records in the early 1970s, Beefheart’s Magic Band quit. His next recording, Bluejeans & Moonbeams, was recorded by a quickly assembled ensemble before going on the road for tour dates that were already booked.

The record was a soft-rock bust. Richard proved there were Beefheart fans of all creeds.

“Is that Gary Lucas on guitar?” No. It is someone you’ve never heard of. (Dean Smith as a matter of fact.)

Zak: “This sounds better than the rest of Beefheart’s stuff…” Gasp!

There seemed to be a general consensus that Beefheart’s earlier material was the strongest. Zak just ain’t down with no Troutmask.

Then the synth solo came in. Laughs all around.

Steve to Richard: “I don’t know what’s weirder: Beefheart doing this or you defending it…”

Richard: “It’s the shit! Beefheart attempting to be normal is weirder than just about anyone else.”

There was also the question of whether Beefheart was ripping off Dr. John or vice-a-versa. Not likely. Mac Rebennack had already had a long career in New Orleans as a songwriter and session guitarist before he moved to California and created his Dr. John persona. The fact that other musicians were working along similar lines in California in the mid-1960s was purely coincidental and reflected the popularity of certain music in these locales. The fact that Van Vliet and Frank Zappa attended the same high school should not be overlooked as their musical tastes seemed to converge.

     6.    Muddy Waters – “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” from Folk Singer (Chess LPS-1483, 1964)
Presented by Steve Futterman – MP3 – Theme: A

Steve: “Now here is a great example of a roots artist paying homage to another roots artist.”

Kim: “Ohh… Meta.”

Steve: “Yeah… It’s meta.”

We heard an acoustic blues set with two guitarists and a very familiar vocalist.

Robert: “Oh yeah… Muddy Waters doing ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.’”

This was blues legend Muddy Waters’s rendition of the “Original” Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” which featured Willie Dixon on bass, Clifton James on drums and Buddy Guy on guitar. The album was recorded in September 1963 in Chicago as an intended all acoustic project.  Waters had already begun playing electric guitar by then.

Steve: “Can you get any more behind the beat?”

A number of attendees were trying to, apparently, as they drummed along on the tables.

Zak: “It is so relaxed. And you could recognize Waters’s voice anywhere.”

     7.    Jonas Knutsson - “Polska Efter Tommos Anders, Älvdalen, Dalarna” from Blåslåtar (Country & Eastern, 2011)
Jonas Knutsson & Horn Please – “1:a Lorikspolskan” from Horn Please! (Country & Eastern, 2007)
Presented by Jason Weiss – CD – Theme: A

Jason brought two tracks by the same artist that had elements of roots music that was jazz in essence.

“Try to imagine which country…”

We heard a frolicking solo soprano saxophone in a very folkloric and melodic setting.

“Is it Middle Eastern?” You could imagine it that way, but no.

Steve: “It is a soprano sax sounding like an Eastern instrument, though.”

Richard: “It reminds me of Jan Garbarek. It sounds Nordic.” It is.

Eastern? It sounded like a polka to me.

Jason played another selection from the same artist that featured more instrumentation, which really fleshed out the sound.

The saxophonist was Jonas Knutsson, a Swedish musician who recorded these two albums for percussionist Bengt Berger’s Country & Eastern label. The first was a solo soprano record and the second was a collection of traditional Swedish songs arranged for six horns (two players happened to be women).

Steve: “Oh! He must have sold out!”

The latter piece was credited to fiddler Bjorn Stabi. Jason had come across  Stabi and his peer Ole Hjorth’s music as a young man at the Berkeley Public Library. Recordings of their repertoire were included on the Nonesuch Explorer record series released in 1971.

Apparently, Jason’s attraction stuck and was aided by the improvisatory concept of Knutsson. (Not to mention Jason’s attraction to the soprano sax.)

We talked briefly on the history of Scandinavian musicians using folkloric elements in their work. A recent favorite of mine has been the duo recording between Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Håkon Kornstad entitled Elise , where the Norwegian musicians take traditional Norwegian hymn melodies and improvise around them. A beautiful record.

     8.    Yma Sumac – “Taita Inty (Virgin of the Sun God)” from Voice of the Xtabay (Capitol Records L244, 1950)
Presented by Gilles Laheurte – CD – Theme: A & C

Our new attendee, Gilles, brought a selection featuring a cultural mash-up done by a talented female vocalist.

The opening gong bang set us up for a cheesy arrangement but the incredible high ranged, operatic vocals were inspiring.

Indefatigably, Steve: “Yma Sumac.” It would seem so.

Gilles was impressed by Sumac’s incredible range, apparently four octaves and “even five octaves at her peak” according to Wikipedia.

Sumac was born in Callao, Peru in 1922. She recorded in Argentina before making her way to the States where she was signed by Capitol Records in 1950.

I asked into what genre she would be placed. There was obviously a large exotica/lounge music market in the 1950s as mood music was in vogue as stereo equipment became more accessible.

Steve: “There are definitely certain elements of camp at work here.”

It might be unfair to confine such an extraordinary talent to such a pedestrian genre. Ultimately, we decided to be magnanimous and simply agree that her work “defies category.” Nice of us, huh?

As a whole, we didn’t know much about Sumac. Jason mentioned that there were recordings released by Bernard Stollman’s ESP label.

Richard: “Well it’s all there on the Google.”

     9.    Fiona Apple – “Every Single Night” from The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Clean Slate/Epic 88691978631, 2012)
Presented by Jeremy Udden – MP3 – Theme: C

Next, Jeremy played some pop music. Admittedly, a little bit out of this group’s comfort zone.

This was the first tune off this popular female artist’s new recording that was released about three months ago. Jeremy had been a fan for some time but felt that this was her best work to date.

For pop music, this was pretty idiosyncratic. A mixture of tin-pan alley, typical pop form and a little something special (or just bizarre). It had to be Fiona Apple.

Not everybody was familiar with Ms. Apple. Not too surprised here. A couple had heard about her only recently because of her latest trouble with the law at a renowned traffic stop in Sierra Blanca, Texas and a certain cache of marijuana and hash. But who hasn’t been pulled over there? Willie? Snoop?

Jeremy felt that the new work was especially well conceived by Apple’s new producer, Charlie Drayton.

I mentioned that I had become a fan of Apple in my teens because of my father. Dad would sporadically purchase music by female artists to play while he cleaned the house on the weekends. “I like when women sing to me” was his favorite retort. Some were winners: Tidal. Some losers: Toni Braxton.

Being a horror and b-movie buff, Kimberly enlightened us a bit on Apple’s father, who had attempted a career as an actor, his most famous role occurring in Christmas Evil.

“He had issues and then he had her…”

Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Wink…

     10.    Ran Blake – “Lost Highway” from Driftwoods (Tompkins Square TSQ2097, 2009)
Presented by Joel Harrison – CD – Theme: A

Joel thought of another artist to present.

“This guy is one of the greatest interpreters of American music. We’ll see if Steve can guess who.”

“Is this just piano?” Yes.

A lone, heavily reverbed piano sang out. The music was extremely subdued and introspective. There wasn’t an identifiable melody, rather, it was a rumination on a possible melody.

“Ran Blake.”

Jason: “Whatever he plays is always special.”

Joel: “I like that he always does little pieces. He is so concise.”

It was certainly true that most pieces that Blake performs barely make it to five minutes. Pretty odd for an improvising musician. Refreshing might be a better work, no?

“Was that improvisational or was he playing some tune?” Yeah, it was totally improvisational.

The tune that Blake was re-interpreting was Hank Williams’s “Lost Highway.” Whether Blake was using pieces of the melody or harmonic changes could not be discerned. Blake is the master of creating a mood. It is no surprise that many of the themes that he chooses to work on are from film scores, the ultimate mood music.

     11.   Dinah Washington – “What a Difference a Day Makes” from What a Difference a Day Makes (Mercury SR-60158, 1959)
Presented by Zak Shelby-Zsyszko – YouTube – Theme: C

Zak wanted to play this classic track for his mother, Linda, who happened to be gracing us with her presence that afternoon. This happened to be her favorite female musician.

The lovely vocals of Dinah Washington were recognized immediately.

Joel: “Listen to those background vocals. Wow… What a great arrangement.”

Zak wanted Linda to stick up for her fav: “What made Dinah your favorite singer?”

Linda: “It’s just her voice. She has this sassiness. She also has this weariness. It just speaks to me.”

Zak: “Her voice was never as clean as Sarah (Vaughan) or Ella (Fitzgerald). There was pain in there. Like she had lived these lyrics.”

Kimberly: “(She sounded) Almost like she was smiling through the pain.”

Steve: “That blues inflection… Mmm…”

Zak: “But she has this power but never takes advantage of it.”

Washington had known despair and heartache. She had been married seven times. (“Wow… Almost as many marriages as Larry King.”) There were also her addiction problems with drugs and alcohol. If anyone could express sorrow, it was Dinah.

     12.  Meadow ft. Laura Branigan – “In The Beginning: When You Were Young” from The Friend Ship (Paramount PAS-6066, 1973)
Presented by Kimberly Shelby-Szyszko – MP3 – Theme: C

Kimberly wanted to play this tune featuring her favorite female artist just to see if she had found a “Steve Stumper.”

Steve was quiet for a moment, then: “I know this!”

Kimberly: “I spoke too soon.”

Still Steve mulled over the potential vocalists.

Jason: “Is this recent? From the ‘70s?” Oh. This is so ‘70s.

“Did she have a long or short career?” Shortish.

Jason: “Joan Armatrading?” No. But a good guess.

“Did she have a major following?” At her peak, yes, but then a major fall.

“Where was she based?” New York City.

Richard: “Judy Henske?”

Steve, finally: “Melissa Manchester?”

Kimberly kindly gave more hints. This was a group effort from 1973. The singer then went on to a solo career that was plagued by bad material, e.g. Michael Bolton and Diane Warren.

Still more shakes of the head.

Kimberly: “She had a couple of big hits in the ‘80s: ‘Gloria’ and ‘Self Control.’”

No one guessed vocalist Laura Branigan. This recording was from an album called The Friend Ship by the band Meadow. In 1979, Ertegun signed her to Atlantic but held up releasing anything as the label tried to find the proper way to market her. Eventually, the plan was a bad one.

Kimberly expressed her appreciation for Branigan’s “unmatched pipes.”

“She has power but also vulnerability. To me, Edith Piaf is her only rival. The material was the only issue.”

Another example of what could have been...

Kimberly: “Sorry… I didn’t mean to bring everyone down.”

We weren’t bummed. We were enlightened.