Archive for the ‘vinyl’ Category

Album Review: Jaco Pastorius – Modern American Music…Period! The Criteria Sessions

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

This week, I’m quite busy attending Moogfest 2014 here in Asheville NC, the adopted of hometown of both myself and the late Dr. R.A. Moog, for whom the five day event is named. I hope and plan to bring extensive coverage to this blog very soon. In the meantime, here are some shorter-than-usual reviews. Please note that the relative brevity is in and of itself no comment on the quality of the (uniformly excellent) music.

Last Saturday was Earth Day. It was also Record Store Day. As RSD has grown in popularity – I read multiple reports of long waiting lines outside independent record shops across the country – there has been an associated increase in RSD special releases. Most notably (though not always) on vinyl and in exceedingly limited quantities, these releases are also often noted for the quality of the music they contain. Today and tomorrow I’ll review my favorite.

Jaco Pastorius – Modern American Music…Period! The Criteria Sessions
The young wonder that was Jaco seemed to burst onto the scene fully formed. A revolutionary bassist, Pastorius went on to gain great fame as a member of Weather Report, and then – not too many years later – suffer a fatal flame-out, a story that included mental illness, homelessness and deteriorating health. But while he lived, his muse shone brightly, and even before he became so well known, he had created enduring works. This collection of material brings together a great deal of previously-unreleased material, most of it dating from 1975 when he cut demos at Criteria Studios in Miami. A mix of original and cover material (including some by Charlie Parker, an oft-cited influence on the bassist), the set previews material that would surface on Pastorius’ proper debut, his self-titled 1975 LP. By definition less “produced” than the trackso n that set, these demo recordings nonetheless feel full put together. Other than percussion support and Alex Darqui‘s piano and Fender Rhodes, it’s all Jaco all the time here, on electric and upright basses and some more Rhodes. The sound feels a bit muffled throughout – this is a demo, and it is bass, after all – but it’s an eminently listenable set. Pastorius’ lightning runs up and down the fretboard are the highlights here. If you don’t like “busy” bass playing and think bass players should stick to the root note, stay far away from Modern American Music…Period! But if you’re unfamiliar with Jaco yet dig Frank Zappa‘s 70s fusion forays, you’ll find a lot to discover here.

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Album Review: Bethlehem Records Reissues

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

For several years in the decade of the 1950s, Bethlehem Records released some fine jazz albums. Recently Verse Music Group has licensed those albums, and is in the midst of reissuing them on both CD (nice enough, that) as well as vinyl, in their original 10” and 12” formats. While I’ve covered a few of these in recent reviews, today’s entry will take a quick look at three more.

Zoot Sims – Down Home
A 1960 set comprising eight numbers, this LP features the tenor saxophonist backed by piano (Dave McKenna), bass (George Tucker) and drums (Daniel Richmond). While there’s but one Zoot Sims original here (“I’ve Heard That Blues Before”), the songs are well selected to showcase the players’ chops and interplay. Leaning heavily in the direction of toe-tapping, lively, accessible jazz, it’s a worthwhile outing. The uncredited production (in hi-fi, not stereo) is clear but not up to the you-are-there ambience that Orrin Keepnews was getting for his clients’ sessions.

Bobby Troup – The Songs of Bobby Troup
A curious release, since Troup was a songwriter and these are all covers, it’s a nice collection nonetheless. Reissued in its original 1955 ten-inch format, the record draws mostly from the Great American Songbook, with all but one of the eight tacks composed in part by Johnny Mercer. (Side note: I attended Georgia State University in the early 1980s, and on one floor of the downtown “concrete campus” they had a Mercer museum. I wish I had paid closer attention.) Troup’s vocals are front and center, but Howard Roberts‘ guitar is a highlight throughout. The instrumental “Laura” is the best track here.

Pepper Adams – Motor City Scene
Technically, this 1960 release isn’t actually credited to Adams (nor to any one musician, for that matter); the lineup features him on baritone sax, plus Donald Byrd on trumpet, Kenny Burrell on guitar, pianist Tommy Flanagan, drummer Louis Hayes and Paul Chambers on bass. All that said, it’s Adams’ sax that’s the highlight of this five-number set. This album has received middling reviews, but I think it warrants closer inspection. Not groundbreaking, perhaps, but it’s a lively, varied collection that showcases each of the players. And the sound (again in hi-fi) is top-notch.

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EP Review: Marshall Crenshaw — Driving and Dreaming

Monday, March 24th, 2014

By now, most have either been hipped to the songwriting genius of Marshall Crenshaw, or they haven’t and sadly probably never will. With Crenshaw’s releases stretching all the way back to the early 1980s, you’re guaranteed heartfelt songwriting, ear-candy melodies and crystalline, no-bullshit production values. All that’s in evidence on this, the third in his ongoing series of EP releases.

This three-song EP follows the format laid out for the series: a new song (in this case, the catchy, midtempo title track) backed with a pair of tunes, one a cover (Bobby Fuller‘s “Never to be Forgotten” and a re-imagining of a tune from Crenshaw’s deep catalog. Ever the archivist, Crenshaw makes the Fuller tune his own, emphasizing the quick-riffage of the song’s signature and adding some lovely double-tracked vocal lines. He plays and sings everything on this and the other two tracks.

The loose-limbed rethink of “Someday, Someway,” his most well-known tune is, to say the least, not reverent. It’s his song, so he’s well within his rights to recast it in the manner he sees fit, but this version is dodgy. The beat is completely rethought, and the feel is totally different. He definitely scores points for having the moxie to attempt such a rethink, but in practical terms, this listener prefers to stick with the 1980 original.

Still, as Meat Loaf sang, two out of three ain’t bad. And any Crenshaw is better than none at all, so my advice is to pick this up if only so he’s encouraged to keep the flow of new recordings coming.

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Album Review: Benny Goodman Orchestra Featuring Anita O’Day

Monday, December 16th, 2013

I write often of Jazzhaus releases. Drawing upon the vast unreleased archives of German radio and television, the label presents unheard (or rarely-heard) jazz performances, mostly by venerated American artists. Clearly annotated and impressively packaged, these releases are almost without exception essential purchases for the aficionado of 1950s and ’60s jazz. The label’s “Lost Tapes” and Big Bands Live” series spotlight notable rare tapes from what I consider jazz’s finest era.

Their occasional vinyl releases are equally impressive: pressed on 180g vinyl and housed in sturdy sleeves along with mp3 download cards, they offer a unique artifact for the vinyl lover. But one area in which the vinyl releases generally fall ever-so-slightly short is in regard to content. Owing to the physical limitations of vinyl, the LP releases of Jazzhaus CD releases often have a track or three shaved off. True, the mp3 editions offer the complete sets, and it’s a small sacrifice to make for the privilege of having that warm 2-inch vinyl, but it does merit mention.

With that in mind, Jazzhaus’ latest effort is especially noteworthy. Another in the “Big Bands Live” series. Benny Goodman Orchestra Featuring Anita O’Day first came out on CD in early 2012; I gave it a brief review here. Released concurrently with that title were archival concert dates from Cannonball Adderley and Gerry Mulligan. The latter two would be released (in truncated form, as I mentioned above) on vinyl in Summer of 2013.

But now comes a vinyl release of the Benny Goodman set. And not only does it include most of the CD release, it adds more music: an opening track, “Let’s Dance,” Harold Arlen‘s “Get Happy,” a Goodman original called “Slipped Disc,” and Vincent Youmans‘ Memories of You.”

Completists might want both (though this 2LP set includes the customary download card) but if you must make a choice, the clear edge goes to the vinyl – in wonderful audio quality as per Jazzhaus standards – over the 2012 CD. Here’s looking forward to further Jazzhaus vinyl releases, especially one title for which they have to date been unable to resolve licensing issues for a stateside release, a 1978 set by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

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Album Review: Chet Baker — Early Chet

Monday, December 9th, 2013

If you’re inclined that way, you can take issue with the title of Early Chet: Chet Baker in Germany 1955-1959. By ’55, the renowned trumpeter had already risen to some level of fame in his native USA. He played with Charlie Parker in 1952, and by 1955 he had a tidy stack of releases under his own name. But viewed against the arc of his recording career (1952-1988), this eleven-track set does fall toward the beginning.

Typical of Jazzhaus’ releases, Early Chet presents heretofore unheard sessions in surprisingly blemish-free audio quality. Opening with Benny Goodman‘s “Lullaby in Rhythm,” Chet Baker is backed here by the hard-charging Orchester Kurt Edelhagen. It’s uncharacteristically uptempo; Baker was known mostly (if not exclusively) for softer, more romantic fare.

And that’s what he delivers on “I’ll Remember April,” from the same March 1956 studio session that yielded the opening cut. Caterina Valente sings while Baker and band provide understated backing. On Cole Porter‘s “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” Baker is once again showcased with big band accompaniment; it’s an effective synthesis of his romantic delivery in a large ensemble setting. On “Everything Happens to Me” and “Baker ’56,” the band swings behind the trumpet player; his playing is clear, enunciated and lyrical. The first side of the vinyl LP closes with “It Never Entered My Mind,” a soulful reading of the Richard Rodgers tune, from a second ’56 session with Edelhagen’s orchestra.

The second side kicks off with the sole number featuring Baker’s Quartet, performing “Bockhanal.” It’s a nice change of pace from the big band selections, but in the end it’s the latter that are the most interesting. The remainder of the disc features Baker backed by the Tanzorchester des Sudwestfunks in a session from 1959. That set focuses mostly on standards, including Rodgers’ “Isn’t it Romantic?” (Answer: yes.) and Jimmy Van Heusen‘s “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” The string-centric orchestra here is a bit syrupy, but Baker’s playing – accented with brief solo spots from clarinetists and such – enlivens things a bit.

With so many of jazz’s greats long gone, it’s a gift to modern-day listeners to hear these long-lost recordings from German TV and radio sessions. Early Chet is another worthy entry in Jazzhaus’ highly-regarded “Lost Tapes” series.

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Album Review: The Monochrome Set — Volume, Contrast, Brilliance

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Note: be sure to read all the way through; there’s a new Monochrome Set DVD reviewed as well.

The Monochrome Set were one of those bands who never broke stateside. Though they enjoyed critical and (limited) commercial success in their native England, in the USA they were all but unknown. With a sort that seemed like a cross between early XTC and The Jam with a cafe society vibe, in some ways they’re the musical missing link between Paul Weller‘s first group and his Style Council releases.

But of course Weller had nothing to do with the Monchrome Set. Led by the one-named Bid (on vocals and guitar) and ably backed by the cleverly-monickered Lester Square on lead guitar plus drummer J. D. Haney and bassist Jeremy Harrington (the latter was replaced in 1980 by Andrew Warren), the band played a unique set of songs (all composed by Bid solo or with various bandmates) that remain stylistically difficult topin down. There are hints of dub, ska, punk, new wave, no wave…you name it. Ansd Bid’s laid-back vocal style adds a romantic, devil-may-care air to all of the songs, regardless of the style in which they’re played.

Volume, Contrast, Brilliance…Sessions & Singles Vol. 1 (there would never be a second volume) collected odds and ends form the group’s heyday (1978 through 1981, with a few stray tracks from 1986). Originally issued in 1991 on Cherry Red, the album is now the latest in high-quality, vinyl-only releases form UK-based Optic Nerve. A splendid purple-blue vinyl LP encased in a sturdy sleeve, the reissue also includes a lovely three-color poster depicting the album’s cover art.

The album bookends many of the radio tracks with brief intros and radio interviews that show the band’s sense of humor (check out some of the song titles, such as “Silicon Carne”), and the fact that radio programmers often didn’t know what to make of them.

Perhaps the finest track on the set – both musically and lyrically – is “The Ruling Class,” from a Do It radio program session in 1981; here the band sound a bit like Jazz Butcher. “Viva Death Row” is oddly reminscent of Tav Falco’s Panther Burns at their most rickety, crossed with the danceable white funk of Gang of Four. Decidedly uncommercial-sounding, The Monochrome Set are nonetheless intriguing and often fun.

But wait, there’s more!
That a Monochrome Set live visual document should even exist is a surprise; even more so that said video captures the group in one of its few American performances. Dating from early in the band’s career, the newly-released M-80 DVD shows the original lineup onstage at a “new wave” music festival in Minneapolis MN. With only about a half dozen songs in common with Volume, Contrast, Brilliance, this DVD includes an enure 18-song set in pretty good audio quality.

That’s the good news, however. The images (which I’m pretty sure were originally shot on black-and-white video rather than film) look as if they were downloaded off of YouTube. Pixelated and blurry, the video is watchable, but not much more than that. And the band adopts a jaded attitude onstage: they play at top speed, but Bid and his mates affect a bored vibe throughout. The contrast between high-speed, off-key playing and monotone, off-key singing might have been tres cool in 1979, but watching it on this poor quality video, it’s none too exciting. In particular, Jeremy Harrington’s pulsing bass work is rendered flat here, though that may be down to the audio mix rather than his playing. Regardless, M-80‘s existence is more than justified by its rarity. Just know that you’ve been warned.

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Album Review: Photon Band — Pure Photonic Matter Volume 1

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Sometimes an album’s opening track is a red herring. That’s the case with “Thought Crimes (Part 1),” the first cut on Photon Band‘s Pure Photonic Matter Volume 1. While a shimmering, minimalistic band plays a simple tune in the background, we hear a lo-fi/treated recording of a little child reciting numbers. It’s strange and not all that appealing. But then things shift quickly into a rocking, tuneful style with “What You See.” it may as well be a different band; the song sounds like a rockier, less quirky Robyn Hitchcock, or a dialed-back Smithereens.

That dialed-back vibe may be a result of the fact that Photon Band is essentially one guy (Art Di Furia) who plays everything except drums (and he even does that on one track). As the tune unfolds, it heads into a dual lead guitar duel of the sort Thin Lizzy used to do. The dry production vibe makes the track feel homespun, but it’s otherwise a well-produced catchy tune that begins to recall The Byrds in its verses. “From Eternity (to Here)” feels like paisley underground and features some lovely chord changes. It recalls Beau Brummels and Jackie DeShannon crossed with, say, the fuzzed-out guitar work of Teenage Fanclub.

“Posi-vibe” feels like Loaded-era Velvet Underground or T. Rex; its spare arrangement put the focus on the vocals and melody, and as the song unfolds, it too fuzzes out. The guitar solo evokes memories of Allman Brothers, of all things. Suffice to say this album’s all over the place, but somehow it all makes musical sense.

The instrumental “Went to the (Space Bar)” is a jolly, jaunty little number, the sound of a rock band trying to play c&w and somehow succeeding. It has a late sixties cracked folk-psych vibe, like an unfinished Moby Grape outtake might sound. “Found in Space” involves a good bit of what used to be considered studio trickery (backwards tapes etc.) and it’s more a brief mood piece than an actual song.

After another brief textural piece, the jangling “Believe in Believin’” kicks side two into gear. Again, the dry production style gives the record a slight feel of demo-itis, but this track’s squalling guitar encourages listeners to overlook that slight drawback. “…But I Wanna Know” comes, then, as a shock, with its gauzy, woozy feel. “Pret-ty Lies” is almost powerpop, with a good hook and fine melody. It’s marred only by that persistently thin production. As with many of the songs on the record, one comes away with the feel that the demoey feel will hold back the potential success of an otherwise excellent album. Listeners who can listen beyond that will find plenty to like, but doing so does require a bit of work.

“Don’t Feel Bad” (not the Rain Parade tune) is another melodic pop number that combines fuzzed-up guitars with a catchy pop melody and a Beatlesque outro chord. “Thought Crimes (Part 2)” dispenses with the kid vocals and instead serves up a thumping drum beat and layer upon layer of distorted guitar; it’s a one-chord psych freakout that crosses a Neil Young/Crazy Horse style with krautrock. The aptly-named “Repose” wraps things up in a gentle manner, all picking guitars and such. It’s over too soon.

Word is that Pure Photonic Matter Volume 1 is limited to 500 copies on vinyl. I have one, and I’m keepin’ it.

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Album Review: Stuck In Love, The Writers Playlist

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

The 2012 theatrical release Stuck in Love somehow completely escaped my notice. In fact I still haven’t seen it, and know virtually nothing about it other than what I’ve read on IMDB. (Update: Turns out it was initially release in 2012 but got limited theatrical release in the USA in July 2013.) It stars Greg Kinnear (Mystery Men) and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind).

Varese Sarabande is a boutique-type record label that deals mostly in soundtrack releases; in my somewhat vast album collection I have but one of their releases, a now long-out-of-print best-of Hudson Brothers collection. But now the label has released a new vinyl album called Stuck in Love: The Writers Playlist. One supposes that this indicates that the record isn’t exactly a soundtrack, but rather a collection of songs (some from the score, some sympathetic to the story line or vibe) selected by the writer/director Josh Boone.

Boone’s liner notes explain his motivations for selecting the songs; he observes that “[m]usic is one of the most powerful tools a filmmaker can use to evoke emotion.”

He’s right, of course. Selections include a selection of mellow/acoustic-leaning indie artists of a pretty high caliber: Conor Oberst (“You Are Your Mother’s Child”), Bright Eyes (“The Calendar Hung Itself…”) and a 1997 Elliott Smith track (“Between the Bars”). Things do rock up a bit with Like Pioneers‘ “Polkadot,” but in general a gentle feel is the order of the day. The songs evoke a contemplative, emotion-laden atmosphere, one that conjures images of a younger (say, mid 20s) mindset and perspective. Perhaps the strongest track on the entire set is “Will You Be By Me” by Wallpaper Airplanes.

The Mike Moggis/Nathaniel Walcott (the latter of Bright Eyes) songs and score pieces fill out a large chunk of the record; those shortish pieces range from Eno-esque “Nosebleed” to the impressionistic “Rusty Tucks Kate In,” which sounds like The Cure at their most wordlessly tuneful. Not to sell these pieces short; they’re finely textured and quite lovely.

The album sails by quickly, which is impressive seeing that it’s a good 40 minutes or so in length. Oberst’s song was written and recorded specifically for the film, and the other songs feel as though they were, too. The film is billed as a comedy-drama, but if the tone of the music is any indication – and all signs suggest that it is very much the case – then Stuck in Love will almost certainly lean more in the dramatic direction. If it’s as consistently good as the music on its “writers playlist,” the film might be well worth seeing.

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A Quick Jazz Vinyl Update

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Three titles released on the Jazzhaus label last fall are now available on vinyl as well:

  • Legends Live: Dizzy Gillespie Quintet – Liederhalle Stuttgart November 29, 1961
  • Legends Live: Albert Mangelsdorff Quintett – Audimax Freiburg June 22, 1964
  • Lost Tapes: Zoot Sims – Baden-Baden June 23, 1958

All three are worth your time; reviews of all three (well, their CD counterparts) are here. As a rule, Jazzhaus vinyl releases are of excellent quality, on 180g vinyl with a download card included.

UPDATE: Jazzhaus’ Gerry Mulligan set from1977 is also out on vinyl now. A bit about that set’s CD counterpart is here.

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Album Review: The Turtles – Happy Together (180g vinyl)

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

In my last entry I covered the new 180-gram vinyl monaural reissue of The Turtles‘ debut LP, It Ain’t Me, Babe. Released in tandem in 2013 on their own FloEdCo imprint was their third album.

Eighteen months after It Ain’t Me, Babe (we’re skipping their 1966 LP You Baby, as it hasn’t been re-released on 180g vinyl as of this writing), The Turtles’ third LP Happy Together hit the shelves. As was the practice of the day (in the USA, at least), the album was built around the group’s most recent hit single, the monster title track, which had bumped The Beatles‘ “Penny Lane” from the charts in February. Though soon the group would begin to chafe at what they saw as a churning-out of mindless pop confections (their oft-misunderstood hit “Elenore” was a skewering of this sort of thing), on Happy Together The Turtles show themselves to be exemplars of that brand of breezy pop. True, some of this was the kind of music your circa-’67 parents might not mind, but that didn’t render it insignificant. No, a cut such as “Makin’ My Mind Up” makes full use of horns and other embellishments, but it’s also a nearly perfect pop song. And even though Howard Kaylan later claimed to dislike it, the movie theme “Guide for the Married Man” is a wonderful three minutes of pop, full of as much melodrama and humor as one could reasonably expect. And their signature “ba ba ba” vocals make it very much of its time and delightful at once. New drummer Johnny Barbata‘s kit is mixed way out-front, and it’s thrilling in its simple precision and jazz-inflected subtleties.

The gentle, string-laden “Think I’ll Run Away” sounds like a synthesis of the group’s abandoned folk-rock sound and the sort of thing they’d go for a few years later with “Lady-O.” Serious fans might not have noticed at the time, but The Turtles were giving The Beach Boys a run for their money in terms of vocal arrangements. Kaylan’s near-whispered vocal on “The Walking Song” is contrasted by the slightly nutty lead vocals turns by the other band members.

The group turned to songwriters Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon for three tunes on this LP: besides the title track, the duo provided The Turtles with the underrated “Me About You” and the perennial horn- and string-centric favorite “She’d Rather Be With Me.” “Happy Together” will forever be the song most associated with the group, and a fine song it is. To these ears, the album mix of the song seems to place certain instruments far more out-front than the single mix. Ba ba ba indeed.

Guitarist Al Nichol even gets an original composition on this record, “Person Without a Care.” It’s no better nor worse than most sunshine pop hits of the era, which is to say it’s a pretty good composition for someone not known as a songwriter. “Like the Seasons” is The Turtles’ second recording of a tune written by the young Warren Zevon (the first was the non-LP single “Outside Chance”). Musically it’s yet another forerunner to the sublime Judee Sill-penned “Lady-O.” The record closes with what would otherwise be an impressive baroque-rock track, “Rugs of Woods and Flowers.” Instead it’s marred by a mannered, over-the-top lead vocals. The vocal melody line strongly recalls the bridge from Allan Sherman‘s 1963 comedy hit, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.” Good for a laugh and little more, it regrettably ends an ace album on a bum note. But Happy Together‘s charms remain undeniable nonetheless.

Both 2013 vinyl reissues are straight recreations of the original packages, right down to the misspellings of artists’ names (they do add the web address, though). No bonus tracks nor download card are included; the only concession to modernity is the pressing of the records onto high-quality 180 gram vinyl. Since your original copy is either (a) worn out, (b) nonexistent or worse yet (c ) on compact disc, these two are essential slices of 1960s goodness.

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