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.