Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dead Links and More

I apologize to the readers of my blog that I haven't been uploading at all and that many of the links no longer work. I will fix that in the next few days and hopefully post some new things. Most of the first half of the year was spent working on my thesis which I thankfully completed in May, while the rest of the year has been a time to delve into more material for future posts. I have tried to make my blog a mixture of genres and styles and not just appeal to one group of people per se, but if the readers have an opinion on which type of my posts they like better, feel free to share.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Tom Jones - Live at Caesar's Palace (1971)


In many ways, Live at Caesar's Palace succeeds where many live albums fail; It is as good as a studio album. Oddly enough, the recording is more like an authorized bootleg than a typical album. That's not to say that the album has bad sound, just that we get to hear the banter of Tom Jones with the rowdy crowd and get a sense of the concert environment. The album opens with an introduction over the loudspeaker with the band playing a segue into "The Dance of Love," an uptempo number that not only showcases Jones but the talents of his band from the driving feeling of the guitar and bass to the impressive low register playing in the trombone section. The next track, "Cabaret," is a good example of how the album covers an eclectic variety of music albeit with Jones's trademark. Jones and his soulful vocals are definitely a focus of the song, but this is one of the stronger arrangements on the album with the horns being featured prominently. Immediately after "Cabaret" ends, we hear Jones giving his introduction mixed in with some playful flirtatiousness. The next track, "Soul Man," has Jones exploring his R&B side. Jones may be a white Welshman, but he definitely has the style down. After this song closes, there is more banter, this time probably slightly racier. However, most of the raciest material was probably edited out of the recording. Keep in mind, this is the concert where women threw their panties and room keys on stage, so the craziest stuff is not present. The next track, "I (Who Have Nothing),"  is the first ballad on the album and probably the style that Jones is most associated with along with the uptempo rock numbers like "It's Not Unusual" or "She's a Lady." The end of this track showcases his vocal abilities as he closes the track in a drawn-out operatic manner, much different than the earlier studio version. As this track ends, we hear a heckler shout out "Delilah." Interestingly, this is the next track, but due to the unknowns of editing, maybe the track order was changed around to make this work. Maybe Tom Jones gave into a heckler. There is audience interaction where a woman asks Jones for his tie, and then into the next track "Delilah." This is a personal favorite for a few reasons. The brass sections in this tune are great, the transition from 4/4 to a 3/4 waltz feel during the chorus, and it is amazing that someone got away with writing and recording a song about killing a cheating girlfriend. After the second chorus listen for the trumpet section playing their riff. The first time is like the studio version, but is followed by the lead trumpeter Bobby Shew taking his part up on octave. After the end of "Delilah," there is more more banter, this time slightly awkward as Jones is talking to a young girl about her mother. The following two tracks, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "My Way," are both ballads albeit from different musical traditions. Jones's success on ballads are partly due to his proper vocal technique. He is definitely a baritone, but he uses proper air support to sing into the tenor range and pull off those long held notes. "My Way" is definitely one of the strongest ballads on the album. Make sure you listen to the embellishment at the end of the piece where he goes to a higher note than the original before landing on the end note. The following track "God Bless the Children," is one of the weaker tracks on the album in my opinion. It just seems too stylistically removed from Jones's other material. When the horns play the backgrounds during the choruses (except the first), they sound very reminiscent of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." They aren't rhythmically connected, but the chord voicings are very similar. Following this tune we get introduced to some of the band including lead trumpeter Bobby Shew, drummer Kenny Clare, bassist John Rostill, background vocalists, guitarist Big Jim Sullivan, and conductor/arranger Johnnie Spence, with the instrumentalists taking solos after their introductions. Shew most likely was part of the Caesar's Palace house band with the "rock part" of the band travelling with Jones. House bands at Vegas at the time were some of the best in the country as many musicians tired of the road in big bands would leave a band in Vegas and settle down as Vegas had the best wages for a musician. Kenny Clare is notable for his solo, as well generally unknown, he has quite a history with a number of jazz musicians. In my opinion, his playing is kind of reminiscent of Buddy Rich. The following two tracks, "Resurrection Shuffle" and "She's a Lady," are both great uptempo numbers leading up to the three tracks that make up a sort of climax of the album. The three next tracks, "Till," "Hit Medley," and Hi Heel Sneakers are a climax of the album in that they seem to get an amazing positive reaction from the audience. The first, "Till," is a soulful ballad ending on an impressive held note that lasts for around twelve seconds. "Hit Medley" is just a short compendium of Jones popular songs of the time, but is worth a listen to hear the variations from the original studio versions. "Hi Heel Sneakers" begins with the crowd going wild and really adding a lot of energy to an already energetic track. The album closes with "Rock n' Roll Medley," a group of songs from the 1950s that Jones opens with "Well, when I was just a little boy/ My one and only joy/ Was listening to that good old rock n' roll' But, now that I'm a man/ I still get all the kicks I can/ Listening to that good old rock n' roll." I'm curious if Jones wrote this short introduction given his personal history of contracting tuberculosis as a child. It was during this two year isolation that he would sign along with records, and consequently began him on his career as a singer. I typically don't listen to a lot of vocalist-centered albums, but I think Jones has a great sense of style and his albums typically have an eclecticism that lend to interesting listening.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Expect Posts in the Near Future

I apologize to the regular readers of my blog (if there are any) that I haven't been posting at all for the last few months. Being in grad school and working on thesis has really taken a lot of time that I would normally devote to listening to music and posting interesting material on my blog. Fortunately, the first draft of my thesis should be done at some point in the near future, so there should be new material posted soon.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Baby Huey and the Babysitters - The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend (1971)


One of the relatively unknown acts from the late 1960s blues-rock scene in Chicago, Baby Huey and the Babysitters shares some musical similarities with groups/individuals like the Electric Flag and Curtis Mayfield (not surprising as this album was recorded for his Curtom label), and albums like Super Session. It has the driving guitar/bass/organ combination that is characteristic of these blues-rock/psychedelic groups, yet has the horns on an equal level as the rest of the band like Curtis Mayfield and similar soul acts of the day would have done. The album opens with "Listen to Me,"a track that is all organized around the original bass line that sets the foundation for the song. The psychedelic influence seems to show in this tune, as during the verses Baby Huey sings in unison with a distorted guitar. This track also shows influence of horn rock bands of the Chicago area, such as the Ides of March, with the very accented, strong horn sections. This is probably the strongest track of the album, not only for its delivery, but also for its exploration of various styles. "Mama Get Yourself Together," sounds like it would accompany a fast-paced montage in a blaxploitation film and has a lot of similarities to Mayfield's film score Superfly in my opinion, with the prominence of the guitar and horns. To some degree, it is also a bit unusual that an album featuring a singer would have instrumentals, almost suggesting that the instrumentalists are very much like a segue scene in a movie, instead transitioning from one vocal track to another. The next track is a cover of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Going to Come." It is a decent rendition with the main differences from the original being the prominence of the guitar and organ in the mix during the verses and the high energy of the bridges. This track also further demonstrates the eclectic influences of the band with the addition of a gospel cover. "Mighty, Mighty," a Curtis Mayfield tune, is one of the stronger tracks on the album and also gives an example of a recording of the band in a live setting. "Hard Times," is one of the weaker songs in my opinion, mainly because the accompaniment of the song seems to differ stylistically from the vocals. "California Dreamin'" is probably the strongest cover on the album in my opinion, as the melody being carried on the flute with Hammond organ creates a nice texture to evoke a "dream-like" mood. The statement of the chorus with its very warm, high energy brass lines contrasts well with the cool, dreamy flute lines to present a nice arrangement of the tune. The following track, "Running," relies heavily on studio techniques to open the track. While the track is not the strongest vocal on the album by far, it is interesting to hear how the studio techniques are used to create a layered track with some interesting timbres created through distortion. The album closes with another instrumental, "One Dragon Two Dragon," that features flute. The track has an almost bossa-nova feel due to the chromatic nature of the tune, albeit with notable differences in the instrumentation. This is an album that is very hard to classify into any one genre, as placing it into the blues-rock, psychedelic, or soul categories does not necessarily convey the complete style or influence. of the album.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Harry Nilsson - Aerial Ballet (1968)


Aerial Ballet gets its title from Nilsson's Swedish grandparents who were trapeze artists, so while the album cover suggests something a little different, the truth is in the name. This album was quite influential in its day, having been a favorite of the Beatles to the point that they requested copies of the album to give away. Aerial Ballet opens with "Daddy's Song," a personal song about Nilsson's own father, who left he and his mother at a very young age. The track starts with a very positive view of the early events of his life, but quickly turns negative despite keeping a very uptempo, energetic mood. "Good Old Desk" is a track that might be best described as a "poetic still life" of a tune. While the tune is about a desk, it is described in very poetic terms with Nilsson often resorting to personification. "Don't Leave Me" is one of my favorites from the album and probably one of the strongest tracks on the album. The gradual layering that builds to the chorus really gives the track a nice progression. The tune is written in a sort of bossa nova style, with the original statement of melody by Nilsson and guitar is later augmented by strings and brass. "Mr. Richland's Favorite Song" is the story of musician who gradually fades out of the spotlight until the musician knows "all of his fans by name." It's tracks like this that showcase Nilsson's real strength as a lyricist. "Little Cowboy" is actually a bedtime song that Nilsson's mother sang for him as a child. I'm unsure if the verse and the harmony was actually realized before Nilsson recorded the song, but I doubt that it did. The next track is "Together" which has some nice building moments queued by the strings, and is nicely arranged albeit simple. "Everybody's Talkin'" is probably the most well-known track of this album having been used in the music for Urban Cowboy. Written by singer-songwriter Fred Neil, the tune has a folk quality despite the string accompaniment. "I Said Goodbye to Me" is most interesting for its rhythms. The song is primarily in 3/4, but sneaks in a bar of 2/4 at the end of the 8 bar phrase. The song is also unique for incorporating spoken word as the song progresses. "Little Cowboy (Reprise)" seems to be a homage to old Western films with the melody being whistled, with Nilsson only coming with vocals at the very end of the track. "Mr. Tinker" is very similar to "Mr. Richland's Favorite Song" in subject matter as it tells the sad tale of a tailor. "One" will be recognized by most listeners, but listeners are most likely more familiar with the Three Dog Night cover. The original Nilsson version is a bit more mellow, and sad-sounding with the driving organ and melodious flute accompaniment. "The Wailing of the Willow" like "Don't Leave Me" seems to be influenced in some respect by bossa nova. The maracas, background vocals, and the strings seem to be reminiscent of Jobim or Sergio Mendes to some degree. The album closes with "Bath," with to some degree seems to be reminiscent of big band music when the brass plays bluesy "shout choruses." Nilsson's real strength seems to lie in experimentation and a myriad of influences coming together to create a unique singer-songwriter sound, but his tracks aren't always the strongest musically speaking. There are some great tracks on the album, but every track is not consistently great. Still, if you are interested in singer-songwriter music of the late 1960s to early 1970s, you should definitely give this album a listen.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Badfinger - Magic Christian Music (1970)


This is the first studio release of the band called Badfinger, a name derived from the working title of a Paul McCartney album or a John Lennon tune called "Badfinger Boogie" depending on your source. However, this is the second studio album by the band, as the first released for Apple Records (the label owned by the Beatles) was under the name The Iveys. What is interesting is that a great deal of the material from The Iveys' Maybe Tomorrow is reminiscent of the material on this first release under the Badfinger moniker. The album opens up with "Come and Get It," a tune by Paul McCartney that was written specifically for the group. McCartney even attended the studio date when the band was recording the song. While Badfinger has been compared to the Beatles at times, it's tunes with the direct Beatles connection that may lead to this interpretation. While I won't deny the sonic similarities, I think it's important to meet the band on its own tunes and concentrate on the songwriters in the band like Pete Ham without always looking for the similarities to Beatles material. The following tune is "Crimson Ship," a  driving, medium-tempo Pete Ham (rhythm guitar; piano), Tom Evans (bass guitar), Mike Gibbins (drummer) tune, that is notable for the organ during the verses and Joey Molland's solo guitar during the chorus. It is the driving rhythmic element that is one of the main ingredients of the Badfinger sound and "Crimson Ship" is a good example of such a song. "Dear Angie" is a ballad that originally appeared on the earlier Iveys release and is actually penned by a former member of the band, Ron Griffiths. The most memorable parts of the song are during the bridge when the strings become much more intense with periodic solo guitar. While the song stays mostly in minor, it's interesting to note that the tune actually ends on a major chord. "Fisherman" is a sort of musical poem that I believe is supposed to be reminiscent of a sea song and originally appeared on the earlier Iveys release. Written by Tom Evans, it may have been written during his earlier life in Liverpool or when the band was based in Swansea, Wales. Both being coastal towns, the song elements such as the sound clip of the sloshing of boots, the flutes, and the violin seem to suggest a sea song interpretation. While the lyrics are very literal, the invoke a visual scene in which the musical elements add another layer. "Midnight Sun," a Pete Ham, is a very straight-forward call-and-response rock tune. "Beautiful and Blue," first released on The Iveys' Maybe Tomorrow, is in the pop realm of the band opening with solo vocals by Tom Evans accompanied by Molland's guitar that opens to vocal harmony in the bridge. The second verse becomes denser yet as strings enter the mix, and the guitar begins accompanying with motivic material. "Rock of All Ages" is a driving, up-tempo number that shows the band exercising its "harder" side. "Carry on Till Tomorrow" sounds like it from a much earlier time during the verses with only vocals and an almost Alberti bass being played by acoustic guitar. The chorus opens up much more when the drums enter and the guitar begins strumming chords and the vocals utilize a pyramid effect to layer harmony. An Evans, Ham tune, "Carry on Till Tomorrow" shows how vast and wide-ranging the songwriting duo's ideas were. I mean, how often do you hear strings supplying a driving, rhythmic pulse under a guitar solo? "I'm in Love," a Ham tune, is a very light-hearted tune, but it shows how many styles of music Ham was exploring at the time rather than sticking with the ballads and medium-tempo songs that were generating the hits. It also originally appeared on The Ivey's Maybe Tomorrow. "Walk Out in the Rain" is probably my favorite obscure tune on the album. The song is very well crafted with the harmony changing in order to create chromatic movement in the motifs in the vocal part. It's also interesting that the bridge goes to the parallel minor, as well changing styles. Another interesting element is that after each bridge the verse becomes more layered. Originally the vocals are supplied by Pete Ham, then Molland's guitar enters the mix, and finally the whole band enters to supply vocal harmony. "Angelique," a tune originally on Maybe Tomorrow, is a very vocal heavy tune with only lightly-strummed guitar and the occasional musings of electric harpsichord providing a counterpoint line. "Knocking Down Our Home," a Pete Ham tune, is very reminiscent of theatre or even Tin Pan Alley. A verse opens the tune with Ham's voice ending on the minor seven of a dominant chord and then going into a sort of Latin rhythm accompanied by trumpet and saxophones. This track is also one that originally appeared on the earlier Iveys release. "Give It a Try" is a great medium tempo track with all of the Badfinger elements: vocal harmony, driving rhythms, and the solo guitar interjections. "Maybe Tomorrow," the title track of the earlier Iveys release closes the album. This track has songs nice moments, especially when the voices of Ham and Evans are accompanied by the strings. during the chorus. This is the album that essentially marked Badfinger's initial success that would peak with 1971's Straight Up with tunes like "Baby Blue" and "Day After Day."

Monday, April 1, 2013

Chris Connor & Maynard Ferguson - Double Exposure (1961)

I've been waiting awhile to share this album due to the tracks I really wanted to explicate. I think that certain albums imply a season whether it be the album title or the tracks within. Double Exposure is one of two albums that vocalist Chris Connor and trumpeter Maynard Ferguson and his orchestra collaborated on in the early 1960s. What is unusual is that Connor was signed to Atlantic at the time, where Maynard was signed to Roulette at the time. In a rare move, the record companies agreed to the collaboration with the stipulation that one record would be released on Atlantic and one on Roulette. Double Exposure is the Atlantic release, where Two's Company is the Roulette release. In retrospect, I think Connor was one of the finest vocalists of her time. She didn't simply sing the song as written; she often takes interpretive and rhythmic liberties that really add a lot to the music. The album begins with the often recorded "Summertime." Even from the first track of the album, the listener can appreciate the aforementioned rhythmic liberties that Connor takes as she sings very lyrically in vast contrast to the punctuated accompaniment of the jazz orchestra. This track also shows how well Maynard can add energy to a piece with his high register trumpet playing. The following track, "I Only Have Eyes for You," is a great example of the quality of arrangers had in his ensemble. The ensemble playing in the space that vocalist Connor leaves is well executed, and the stylistic transitions throughout the track make it a real joy to answer. "It Never Entered My Mind" is a relaxed ballad notable for its atypical instrumentation of having the woodwinds double of flutes and clarinets. This addition combined with the muted trumpets and the closely-voiced trombones create a great texture for the vocalist. The following two tracks are interesting in that both have lyrics penned by poets. "Two Ladies in De Shade of De Banana Tree" has lyrics penned by Truman Capote and is an uptempo number with a lot of energy and more of Maynard strutting his stuff in the upper register joined often by his trumpet section. The rhythmic precision of the band throughout the track is quite remarkable. The next track "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" is the main reason why I waited to share this until April. My favorite track on the album, the lyrics were penned by poet Fran Landesman and the title is actually a "jazz rendition" of T.S. Eliot's "April is the Cruellest Month" from The Wasteland. This track is fantastic for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Connor's interpretation of the rhythms and the inflections in her voice really display a feeling for the lyrics. Secondly, the arranging is phenomenal. The generally unknown Willie Maiden uses clarinets, flutes, and a vibraphone to create a lot of distinct colors and textures that only make a great tune sound ever richer. "The Lonesome Road" is an interesting blues number, with a slow tempo beginning transitioning into the faster section with a prominent baritone sax bass line. My favorite part of this track are the few examples of word painting such as when Maynard delivers a high note foray after the lyric "Before Gabriel blows his horn." The tempo changes in this track are really what makes it great to listen to. The following track, a version of Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are" is another testament to the arranging genius of Willie Maiden. Maiden manages to quote the Kenton tune "Maynard Ferguson" in the arrangement after the double time section. The melodic precision in the double time section make this track one of the best on the album for showcasing the instrumental talent on the album. The track even ends with Maynard playing the French horn "Black Coffee" is a favorite blues standard of mine, and Connor does a great interpretation of the lyric. The sliding doits and powerful sections in the brass are testament to the other notable arranger in the Ferguson orchestra at the time, Don Sebesky, most known for his later work for CTI. "Happy New Year" is a strange tune that begins with a quote of "Auld Lang Syne," but ends the quote on a minor chord indicating a dualistic tune whose subject addresses sads individuals who are not enjoying the reverie of the New Year celebration. The album closes with "That's How It Went, All Right," which is a great medium tempo closer to an album. The contrast of the bands' punctuated rhythms and Connor's relaxed vocal style, in addition the building sections present a lot of the musical ideas that are present on the rest of album.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Jean-Jacques Perrey - The Amazing New Electronic Pop Sound of Jean Jacques Perrey (1968)


Electronic music in the late 1960s generally seems to fall into two categories: reinterpretation of classical pieces or space-age pop material. The former could be represented by Switched-On Bach (1968), while this album is a great example of the latter. Jean-Jacques Perrey was known mostly for his tenure as a ondioline (an early electronic keyboard instrument capable of vibrato) salesman and his collaborations with Gershon Kingsley (famous for "Popcorn") before the release of his own material in the late 60s. Many may be most familiar with the sound of his music from the Main Street Electric Parade at Walt Disney World, which is actually a cover of he and Gershon Kingsley's tune "Baroque Hoedown. What's amazing is that this album is entirely Perrey's playing with the help of a sound engineer (who I believe added in the drum tracks). Perrey uses the ondioline and the newly-invented Moog synthesizer to create the wide range of colors and textures that make up his electronic music palette. Perrey shows a willingness to absorb a variety of styles from the operatic "Mary France" to the latin sounds of "The Mexican Cactus" and "Brazilian Flower." Despite having no formal training, Perrey's technique is quite impeccable as the fast runs in "Brazilian Flower" or on other tracks would attest too. While I would typically review each track, this is simply an album you have to listen to the whole way through as it's more like a book than separate tracks (an exploration of the capabilities of electronic instruments of the time, if you will). Perrey's music has gained some notoriety in the current world for the tracks on this album being used for original videos on YouTube. The nyan-cat-alternative "Rainbow Bunchie"(4 million views) uses "Brazilian Flower" and its primary theme and the strange "Going to the Store" (12 million views) uses "The Little Ships" as a CGI mannequin flails around for no particular reason. I know this album won't appeal to every listener, but I like that my blog has a variety and doesn't necessarily concentrate on one specific genre. Still, if you enjoy electronic music or are curious of what the possibilities of layered synthesizers and other electronic keyboard instruments may sound like, then it's worth a listen.

Don Ellis - The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground (1969)


While this album may be one of Don's more commercial efforts, it also shows a willingness to absorb a variety of styles and reinterpret them in the jazz idiom. This album has Ellis covering songs from the counterculture (which some may say Ellis is part of anyhow), the singer-songwriter movement, and R&B, but Ellis also writes his own material in these styles. The album opens with "House in the Country" an Al Kooper (who consequently produced the album) composition from the Blood, Sweat & Tears album Child is Father to the Man (1968), which albeit true to the original has the Ellis eccentricity of using his electronic sounds at the beginning and close of the track and during breaks in the melody. The following track is a cover of Harry Nilsson's "Don't Leave Me" originally on Aerial Ballet (1968). This tune is essentially an expanded transcription of the original with Ellis liberally interpreting the melody and "jazzing" up the rhythmic accompaniment in the ensemble sections. While Ellis does not change much, his solo over the chorus adds a lot to the song and proves that while this may not be "high jazz material," it is worthy of interpretation of a jazz artist. "Higher" is the first of four tracks to feature the vocals of Patti Austin, an addition to the band during this period of Elli's band. This is one of the weaker tracks on the album in my opinion, with Ellis's ring modulator trumpet one of the only notable sections of the track. The following track "Bulgarian Bulge" is based on a transcription of a Bulgarian folk melody (a music known for its odd time signatures) and was recorded later on Tears of Joy. The latter recording is superior to this one in my opinion, due to the fact that the band was probably more familiar with the tune and consequently able to be more rhythmically free in their solos rather than conforming to how the beats were broken up (it's in 33/16 (2+2+2+2+3+2+2; 2+2+2+3+2+3+2+2)). "Eli's Comin'," a Laura Nyro composition, is in the same modus operandi as Nilsson's in that the track is an expanded transcription. This is probably the strongest cover tune, because while it is a transcription Ellis does a lot with the transitions from section to section and explores a variety of rhythmic feels. This tune was in the repertoire of a few bands at the time, with Maynard Ferguson having recorded it on M.F. Horn in 1967. The following track "Acoustical Lass" is one of the more interesting tunes as it seems that Ellis tried to write a pseudo-psychedelic pop tune that featured his trumpet. The tune is very sparse with only the leader on trumpet and electric piano and guitar as accompaniment, which gives the track a spacey, surreal sound. "Goood Feelin'" is Ellis' attempt to write a quasi-R&B tune, which in my opinion succeeds. The ostinato in the low brass sets the foundation in which all the other grooves are layered on top of. There is a sort of baroque pop section after an energetic solo featuring oboes and flutes, which is then developed until it the mood changes to a cheesy 20s "sweet" jazz feel. "Goood Feelin'" is notable if only for the variety of styles Ellis uses and the transitions which don't seem at all unnatural. "Send My Baby Back" is probably the strongest vocal on the album, but it shouldn't be remembered for its lyrics which consist of too many "yeahs" towards the close track. The strength in the song is the contrast in the vocal line for the verse and chorus, as well as the ensemble parts (the trumpet section entrances always give me chills). "Love for Rent," a Fred Selden contribution, is a sort of work-in-progress in my opinion, as the tune is later used as a section to his "Euphoric Acid" track on Tears of Joy. However, the tune has a great section featuring an Ellis solo on trumpet with an echoplex effect. "It's Your Thing" is mostly a straight-ahead cover, however, it's a bit humorous when you listen to the quarter-tones in some of the ensemble backgrounds of the song. "Ferris Wheel" is a great blues solo vehicle for trombonist Glenn Ferris. More than most of Ellis' band, Ferris uses quarter-tones to great effect and the backgrounds incorporate this same tonal effect. This track is also notable for the octavizers used in the sax section that make the section sound an octave lower in addition to the note they are playing. "Black Baby" was a late addition to the album and was an idea of Patti Austin's. While I don't find it one of the more memorable tracks on the album, it is a great track for listening to Ellis' conception of unaccompanied soloing in a blues style (especially the blue notes he hits using his quarter-tonal valve).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Minoru Muraoka - Bamboo (1970)


Minoru Muraoka's little known 1970 masterpiece Bamboo is primarily searched out due to it's use by DJs (as are the majority of Japanese releases in this vein), but it's really a fascinating album if viewed through a post-colonial lens. Jazz in Japan has had an interesting history and in its early days (and even later) players were typically viewed by the familiarities in their sound such as Nanri Fumio ("Japan's Louis Armstrong). If jazz was brought to Japan by the American "colonizer" even before the post-War Occupation, it was artists like Muraoka who combined it with an indigenous sound. It was jazz artists like Sonny Rollins who suggested that Japanese artists combine jazz with their native music albeit in a way that may have been offensive. Bamboo, however, does just that. What's most interesting is that through the post-colonial lens, Muraoka is not creating an entirely native music, but rather a post-colonial brand of jazz infusing native instrumentations and songs with musical elements of the American colonizer. The album opens with a track that exemplifies this view with a cover of Paul Desmond's "Take Five," only with a slight twist. In lieu of an alto saxophone and a piano, Muraoka plays shakuhachi, a traditional bamboo Japanese flute, with his band members playing the koto (a stringed instrument) and tsu-tsumi (pitched drums). The version is true to the original only with a decidedly different palette of musical colors. The second track "Mogamigawa Funauta" is a traditional song which translates to "The Mogamigawa Boatman," which originates in the Tohoku region in northeast Japan. The song has a very traditional sound, however, the addition of the electric bass adds a definite Western quality to the song, however the sections with only koto and shakuhachi sound like what may have a been a traditional way to perform the song. One of the most fascinating tracks on the entire album is "The Positive and the Negative," which combines so many different stylistic elements that it would be hard to confine it to one genre. The shakuhachi and koto create a texture that sounds much like the latter track and very songlike, yet the bass and drum set create a texture reminiscent of funk. While this form of jazz may be much more "Japanese" than most, it's hard not to notice the effect of American popular music on this album. Even in trying create a decidedly Japanese brand of jazz, there are still elements of the "colonizer" in the music. However, that's not to say I'm trying to lessen the  accomplishments of the album's innovativeness in introducing Japanese elements to a style of music that originated in the West. It's the insight that the album gives to the musical cultural exchange and relationship of Japan with the West, that makes the post-colonial lens such a tempting frame of examination to use. The next track is a cover of the Beatles tune "And I Love Her," furthering the connection between Japanese and Western popular music. This tune also introduces another traditional instrument, the biwa (a plucked string instrument, which engages in a sort of call-and-response with Muraoka's shakuhachi. "House of the Rising Sun" begins with an unaccompanied shakuhachi intro that gives way to the organ outlining chords that give way to the tune and the melody in the shakuhachi. While "House of the Rising Sun" is a very old American sun, it's difficult to see the connection The Animals version with the presence of the organ and electric guitar. "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" is also a cover, but a very lighthearted one sounding almost Latin with the rhythmic accompaniment in the bass and snare. The organ in the beginning of "Soul Bamboo" is practically transcribed directly from "Blues, Pt. 2" from the Blood, Sweat & Tears self-titled album released only a year previously. However, once the whole band comes the similarity entirely ends. While remaining in the jazz-rock style so popular during these years, Muraoka creates a great original tune utilizing some of his virtuosic technical skills on the shakuhachi. The following track is "Call Me," a song originally a Petula Clark song, but made famous by Chris Montez. However, while the Montez version is in a pop style, Muraoka's version is in a bossa nova style made obviously by the samba rhythm in the drums and the pronounced articulation in the shakuhachi. "Scarborough Fair" is the final track, and while it isn't one of the stronger tracks it further highlights the album's mixture of East and West. While the music Muraoka is covering may not be entirely American, it's probably not wrong to assume that his original exposure to this music came from Japanese relations with America. This album is a great introduction to this style of Japanese jazz that incorporates traditional elements with jazz and popular elements. I highly recommend this highly sought-after album for both its musical and cultural significance.