|Happy New Year from the Polar Bear Plunge|
Happy to arrive without being covered with papier mâché, I was greeted at the door to a full house in celebration. Adults mingling and kids running around. Olivier, one of Barbès’ proprietors and good friend, explained that they were having a party for a two year old but it wouldn’t disturb our meeting.
So on to the back I went to set up. I started to sound check with some Banda Black Rio and soon had a toddler dance party in the back while the BYOV attendees began to funnel in. A heartwarming Park Slope moment….
Our themes for BYOV #17 were:
a) You GOT to hear them live... So many musicians/groups sound incredible live but fail to produce the same energy and musicality in the studio. Choose a live track that truly captures a musician or band at their best, or at least most accurately, more than any studio record did.
b) A Murderers' Row. We'd like to hear your example of an "All-Star" band that deserves that title or unexpected/unlikely all-star bands.
c) Got the spirit. As a rule, BYOV isn't aligned with any religious group or belief. We do realize that many composers are, however. We'd like to hear your favorite religious dogma-tism inspired release/musician. Perfect way to ring in the holidays, eh?
Dig on in.
1. Frank Zappa – “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing” from You Are What You Is (Barking Pumpkin Records PW2 37537, 1981)
Presented by: Richard Gehr – MP3 – Theme: C
I had originally thought that the religious theme would either be extremely popular or avoided by most presenters. Richard had no problem being the first to seize upon the opportunity to present a tune inspired by religion but emphatically not of it.
Richard introduced the piece by saying that it was the “most obvious and pandering” example of “dogmatism” he could find. Plus, he thought it was a good gospel song.
The faux gospel/country strain blared from the speakers.
Ashley and Steve guessed Frank Zappa simultaneously.
We all giggled as we listened through the song and its lyrics with their unrepressed disdain for modern religion.
“The number one ain’t you. / You ain’t even number two.”
You Are What You Is presents Zappa at his post Mothers best with more focused songwriting and ever present satirical lyrics. He goes on to try his hand at a number of different song forms on this record besides this countrified gospel.
I knew of Zappa’s experiments with a multitude of musical genres but hadn’t recalled an effort to approach gospel before and no one had a recollection of any earlier work that had.
Richard made it perfectly clear that his view of the holiday season echoed that of Zappa’s overall view on religion. So our holiday meeting began with a focused anti-holiday feature. How pleasant.
Steve: “Thank you for bringing in Zappa.”
2. V.S.O.P. – “Jessica” from The Quintet (Columbia C2 34976, 1977)
Presented by: Thomas Heberer – LP – Theme: B
Thomas brought in a recording that featured a group of jazz heroes from the 1960s who had diverged from “jazz” to do other things. He felt that ultimately this was a “wonderful example of an all star ensemble.” We would certainly agree after listening.
Thomas had come across this recording as a young jazz fan in Germany. He said that many young jazz players/listeners first heard the work of these musicians through this recording. The European festival circuit has always had an eye (and ears) for all star collaborations and meetings of stars.
Thomas: “Though, ninety-nine percent of the music didn’t live up to the grouping.”
The group featured on this 1977 live performance did happen to “live up” to its name.
The room was silent as the understated ballad began.
I could see Steve’s fingers mimicking those of the pianist right before he guessed that this was the V.S.O.P. group.
V.S.O.P. was a jazz super group originally created in 1976 by legendary pianist Herbie Hancock, which featured saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. This grouping was 80% of the Miles Davis Quintet from the 1960s. Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard was the Davis ringer in the ensemble.
Ted: “This was a different context for Freddie.”
Thomas: “He was much more subdued than usual.”
The group had no studio recordings, but were featured on three albums taken from live performances: V.S.O.P. - The Quintet (Columbia, 1976), Tempest in the Colosseum (Columbia, 1977) and Live Under the Sky (Columbia, 1979). The last two recordings were only released in Japan.
The Quintet recording was compiled from two dates, both in California: July 16, 1977 at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley and July 18, 1977 at the San Diego Civic Theatre.
Steve remembered the recordings that were recorded live in Japan as being over the top and full of pyrotechnics.
“The beginning of the end. They got too used to how they could push certain buttons for audience response.”
Acerbically: “The music was particularly aimed at the coked up Japanese fans in Tokyo during the late ‘70s.”
Thomas was impressed by Hancock and Company’s ability to “play music from the ‘60s but from a different angle due to their own unique directions they’d taken in the music.”
Ted remarked that each individual had grown and developed since their days with Miles. A few had quite different musical personalities and, thus, different sounds.
“Tony had different nuances and Ron was amped up which makes him sound completely different.”
Ashley commented on the “fluctuating effect” that could be heard while Hubbard was playing. Maybe a sign of the eventual decline of his lip? Those CTI records and the soaring high notes held within were notoriously bad on his embouchure.
Finally, Thomas reiterated that this recording was a “gateway drug” for fusion fans who would eventually fall for jazz.
3. Charlie Parker – “Round Midnight” & “Lester Leaps In” from Complete Live at Birdland – May 17, 1950 (Rare Live Recordings, 2009 (1950)) & Live at Rockland Volume 2 (Legends Live, 2011 (1952))
Presented by: Ted Panken – CD – Theme: A & B
“These show a side of an artist – live - that you wouldn’t hear in the studio.”
Ted had brought two recordings from two different sessions, which were recorded two years apart. One, he mentioned, was an allstar date.
As soon as Ted put in the CD, Steve: “Is it Live from the Birdland?”
It was indeed Charlie Parker performing Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” at the famed Birdland Club in New York on May 17, 1950. The recording also featured Ted’s allstars: pianist Bud Powell, bassist Curly Russell and drummer Art Blakey (Fats Navarro was on the date but sat out on the tune).
Steve wanted to start a discussion: “Other than this music is perfect, what in this music got you into jazz? What did you hear that made you love it?”
There were some comments on the depth of Powell’s playing.
Steve: “Like Monk but with all the technique Monk didn’t want to use.”
Ashley: “That also fits for religious experience.”
Ted admitted that this was his single favorite track. While interviewing musicians at WKCR, he found out that it was many musicians’ favorite.
This recording was done right before Navarro died.
“Thank God it was recorded.”
It was likely recorded by Boris Rose off of a live radio feed.
Steve mentioned that jazz historian Dan Morgenstern has argued that this recording was made earlier than previously thought.
Ted: “I don’t want to overly romanticize what was happening then, but there really was amazing art coming out of sleazy settings.”
There was an encore performance to be heard from Bird.
This example was one not typical of Parker as he took what was for him a long solo. Also, it was not as “artful” as what we would expect from the saxophonist.
Steve: “Well if you were playing more than two choruses back then, you were practicing.”
Ted: “Maybe he was practicing.”
Before the music even began to play, Steve: “So this must be ‘Lester Leaps In’ from the Rockland Ballroom….”
Ted: “You are such a spoil sport. Yes it is ‘Lester Leaps In.’”
Who was the drummer on this? Max Roach.
Has anyone determined what was Parker’s longest solo on record?
Ted: “This is definitely one of them.”
“It has to be.”
We continued to listen to the acrobatic Parker as he continued to follow his muse in a more expansive manner than usual. The concert was on September 26, 1952 and has long been a classic among Bird aficionados. The group Parker played alongside featured pianist Walter Bishop, guitarist Mundell Lowe, bassist Teddy Kotick, along with drummer Roach.
Ted brought the music into context by repeating that this music was being performed in a dancehall.
“This is a dance….” Ted trailed off shaking his head.
Apparently, a handful of the Bird with Strings pieces were performed at this date.
“You can really hear his Kansas City heritage in the music. Especially, his mimicking the blues shouts during his solo.”
The consensus was that Parker’s true character was shown when he performed live. The shining examples of which would come for the famous Benidetti tapes.
We also discussed a pretty amazing study and dissection of Parker solos and performance by the great saxophonist/conceptualist Steve Coleman which was on the now defunct website Jazz.com. Link here. Check them out.
4. Milton Cardona – “Ogu’n” from Bembé (American Clavé AMCL 1004, 1986)
Presented by: Me – LP – Theme: C
For my selection, I opted for a more direct religious example (not to take away from the Church of Bird).
The listeners nodded their heads to a chant with response accompanied by a percussion ensemble. The African and Latin influences in the music were overt.
Richard: “It’s like a Sunday in Queens.”
Ted was able to guess that this was percussionist Milton Cardona’s recording for American Clavé. He thought that it may have been the famous Cuban rumba group, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas.
Puerto Rican percussionist Milton Cardona recorded an album of liturgical music for use in Santeria (or Lucumi) practice. The recording included the Eya Arania, which “facilitates communication between the Orishas (Gods) and the devotees. This is done through a series of chants for each Orisha, led by an Akpwon (singer) and Ankori (chorus) in a call and response pattern while the bata (three different sized, double-headed, hourglass shaped drums) play corresponding rhythms.” (From the album notes.)
Additionally, Santeria/Lucomi is “a form of musico-religious expression of Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Blacks in New York, derived from beliefs and practices of the Yoruba people of Nigeria and Dahomey in West Africa. These beliefs were brought to the New World as a result of the Slave Trade. From volutary organizations known in Cuba as “Cabildos,” the Yoruba derived Lucumi, and other religious and secret societies of African origins emerged.”
This particular track featured the chant and corresponding rhythms for the Orisha Ogu’n, “the God of all things iron and mineral, and the God of War.”
Along with the recordings, I brought an interesting book called Power of the Orishas by Migene Gonzalez Wippler. This book provides a pretty in depth look at all the Orishas and practices of Santeria.
Among the many powers of Ogu’n, I found that the Orisha could be summoned to prevent car accidents:
“About one quarter pound of ground meat is well mixed with palm oil (Manteca de corojo). The mixture is then sprayed with rum and cigar smoke and divided into six equal parts. These are then rubbed around the four tires, the front and the back of the car, asking Oggún to keep the car and its occupants safe from accidents.”
Very interesting stuff.
Richard mentioned that he almost brought a similar musical selection.
On the topic of Santeria, we discussed perhaps the most famous musician/Santero, Larry Harlow of Fania fame. Born Lawrence Ira Kahn, Harlow was a Brooklyn born Jew. His musical journey led him to Afro-Cuban music and collaborations with Johnny Pacheco and then the famed salsa label Fania Records.
The Afro-Cuban music wasn’t the only part of the culture that caught his interest. Harlow, El Judão Maraviollos, began performing Santeria in his New York City apartment, with all the accoutrements: altars, animal sacrifice, etc.
5. Peter Gabriel – “The Feeling Begins” & “Of These, Hope” from Passion: Music for the Last Temptation of Christ (Geffen Records 9 24206-2, 1989)
Presented by: Ashley Kahn – YouTube – Theme: C
Ashley brought in two recordings representing “the spiritual side of things.”
We heard the swelling synth drone, Middle Eastern strings and duduk (Armenian oboe). An aggressive beat with a number of different percussion pieces was then introduced, picking up the pace.
“Is it L. Subramaniam?” No, it wasn’t the Indian master of Carnatic violin.
“Is this from some religious music compilation?” No. It isn’t the form as much as the context of the music that relates to the spiritual.
Ashley gave the hint that this was recorded to accompany a film.
No one was able to guess this was British singer/songwriter/conceptualist Peter Gabriel’s score for the Last Temptation of Christ, Martin Scorsese’s 1989 film starring Willem Dafoe as Jesus.
Gabriel wanted to feature a mixture of Middle Eastern and world music sources along with his own experimentation with electronics and new age music. He went on to win the Grammy for New Age Album of the Year with this recording.
“The Feeling Begins” featured a number of world music performers including violinist Shankar, percussionist Hossam Ramzy and duduk masters Antranik Askarian and Vatche Housepian.
Richard wasn’t a fan of the music. Once again, he brought up the Real World label as reference to weakened world fusion music. It wasn’t mentioned but Real World was begun by Peter Gabriel. He felt that the Passion Sources album was better than this effort.
Richard: “I guess this pick is seasonal, too.”
We listened to another track, “Of These, Hope.” This was accompanied by a scene in the movie where Jesus faced his first temptation. This intense track featured Mustafa Abdel Aziz on arghul providing a drone. Shankar was also present on violin alongside Massamba Diop on talking drum.
Ashley appreciated Gabriel’s use of space and he felt that his use of North African rhythm elements was excellent. The down side was that the music was dated with a very late ‘80s sound.
Many listeners remembered the controversy that erupted around the making of the The Last Temptation of Christ, most importantly the movie depicted Jesus sleeping with Mary Magdalene.
6. Replacements – “Iron Man,” “I Will Follow” & “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” from The Shit Hits The Fans (Twin/Tone Records TTR 8443C, 1985)
Presented by: Ashley Kahn – CD – Theme: A
Ashley also wanted to present a group that he felt was a tremendous live act that presented aspects not present in studio efforts.
From the speakers: “Iron Man? Yeah, okay…”
Immediately, Steve: “The Shit Hits the Fans.”
We heard an extremely loose version of the Black Sabbath evergreen done by the Replacements, a Minneapolis rock group that had its heyday in the 1980s.
Ashley had grown up during the first explosion of punk and thought he had heard “every raunchy thing.” But this release surprised him.
The records the Replacements made in the studio were good pop/rock records. The band’s persona totally shifted when they performed live, however. The group would become loud, drunk, crazy and absolutely riveting live.
Ashley: “The depth of music they could draw from was amazing.”
Thus the covers presented here: “Iron Man,” U2’s “I Will Follow” and the Rolling Stones’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
The Shit Hits the Fans was recorded in 1984 at a live show at the Bowery in Oklahoma City on Nov. 11, 1984. It was recorded by a fan with a cheap tape recorder, which was confiscated by the band.
The group was just about to release their first album for Sire Records. They decided to put the live recording out as a cassette tape only release on the Twin Tone label.
Ashley: “The band plays what is essentially the listening library of every young man at the time.”
Ashley saw the band three or four times.
Looking back, Steve admitted that he loved the group but felt that he missed the point.
“Why would I pay to hear a band do stuff that they messed around with in a garage?”
Ashley could only shrug: “It’s in the title….”
Richard: “I think they sound authentic enough.”
Ted: “They sound unlistenable.”
Ashley: “It depends on your aesthetic.”
Ted admitted that he attended his first arena rock show only a week earlier: The Rolling Stones at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Steve (a big Stones fan): “A good start.”
7. Charlie Christian – “Topsy (Charlie’s Choice)” from Live Sessions at Minton’s Playhouse – New York, May 1941 (Jazz Anthology, 1989 (1941))
Presented by: Steve Futterman – MP3 – Theme: A
The final selection was presented by Steve and was a live performance by a musician who had a short career but was the first to present his instrument in a new canon.
The muted live performance of a jazz guitarist began to waft over the room.
It wasn’t long before a couple of listeners piped up with Charlie Christian’s name.
This was the legendary guitarist’s tremendous take on Eddie Durham’s “Topsy” which was recorded at Minton’s Playhouse by Jerry Newman in 1941, a year before Christian’s death. The band featured trumpeter Joe Guy, pianist Kenny Kersey and drummer Kenny Clarke.
This would turn out to be the only live jam session to have been recorded with Christian, who can be heard really stretching out on the tune.
Christian was the first to present the guitar as a melodic rather than rhythmic component in jazz playing. Quite a revolution, really. He also helped to forward the be-bop cause.
Steve: “A classic example of ‘play as long as you want.’ I don’t always think this is necessarily a great thing but it happens to be Charlie Christian, so it all works out.”
Someone mentioned that Christian sounded like early Wes Montgomery, circa 1948 or 1949.
Sarcastically, “I hope he sounds like Montgomery. This is where early Montgomery was coming from.”