Friday, December 1st

Five or so people from the last couple of weeks…

ONE BRAD PAISLEY & CARRIE UNDERWOOD

5-bradncarrieFor their introduction to the 2017 CMA’s. We have to acknowledge a Dixie Chicks level of bravery here, in the heart of the heartland. “Right now, he’s prob’ly in his PJs, watching cable news, reachin’ for his cellphone…”

TWO TIFT MERRITT
For this piece of beautiful and honest writing, in the Oxford American’s Kentucky Issue. An excerpt: “Into the five blue spot lights, into the thin Midwestern crowd and a smattering of cabaret tables, I take the stage alone. The neck of the guitar settles its weight into my hands. I move the tuning pegs with the ease I move parts of my own body. Maybe this is my last Shank Hall. Maybe the night before was my last Chicago headline. Whatever my failures, the music comes easily on that little stage. The sound carries itself, my voice on its back. For a long time, I thought I’d one day get a bus, eat right on the road, show up rested to a good crowd with a hot band. Now, as usual, I am on the road tired and sweaty. My mind wanders, but the rhythm keeps itself constant in my body as I play. I recognize myself in the dimly lit eyes of the audience – trying to align myself with beauty, mid-prayer for meaning. I give what I have to give without expectation that it will come to anything but the good feeling of giving. I do not promise myself that with one more record, one more tour, everything will make sense at last.”

THREE JEFF GOLDBLUM
For his piano playing behind Gregory Porter on the Graham Norton Show. Where did that come from? Maybe I dreamt it. Porter could sing the song acapella for all the backing he needs, but that seems to be what gives Jeff G permission to play with the minimalism that he does…

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FOUR DAVID CASSIDY
For sneaking a smokin’ blues (“Rock Me Baby”) into the Top Forty – if you look beyond the slightly gauche lead vocal, there’s much to enjoy as Larry Carlton and Dean Parks have fun doubling up and duelling.

FIVE DELLA REESE
5-dellaFor her inspiration. Marc Myers, JazzWax: “Born in Detroit, Reese was a role model to many of Motown’s female singers, who were being groomed to become supper-club soul vocalists. When I interviewed Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas, she told me that Reese held a special place in her heart: “While I sang “Dancing in the Street”, I thought about Riopelle St., where I grew up on Detroit’s East Side. We had street-dance parties there all the time. I loved the East Side. When I came up with the Vandellas’ name, it combined Van – for Van Dyke St., the East Side’s main boulevard – and the first name of singer Della Reese, whose voice I admired.”

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Extra! 55 Hours in Berlin

Richard Williams has been the Artistic Director of the Berlin Jazzfest for the past three years; 2017 is his last year and I wanted to make up for missing the first two. So, picking up tickets for three performances (the rest were sold out) and buying seats on three trains, I packed my poor knowledge of contemporary jazz and a small bag and headed to Berlin.

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I arrived a couple of days after the festival started, but as the train pulled into the station, Richard texted with tickets to that evening’s programme. So started my time in Berlin, a wholly enjoyable blur of astonishing musicians, attentive, clued-up audiences and great coffee. Some highlights:

ONE TYSHAWN SOREY
My introduction to the festival was the artist-in-residence’s Trio, with Cory Smythe on piano, and Chris Tordini on bass. Sorey prowled around a small city’s worth of percussive devices and instruments (including a drum kit, a parade drum, vibes, keyboards and a large gong) accentuating the music at one moment, driving it the next. It was impressive but I didn’t feel entirely engaged.

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However, the next day featured Tyshawn in a supporting role (although I don’t think it can really be described as such). Playing a conventional kit in a trio with the powerful Angelika Niescier on saxophone (she was the recipient of this year’s Albert Mangelsdorff Prize) he was flatly astonishing. I’ve never seen a drummer make such a thundering, roiling noise with such clarity. Simultaneous rolls with each hand, a pumping bass drum, and slashed cymbals combined in an exhilarating performance where he was always alive in the music but never grandstanding. A mobile phone had gone off in Sorey’s previous appearance and one went off here, too. Richard said that had never happened before. I posited the theory that it was something to do with Tyshawn’s unique energy field…

TWO MÔNICA VASCONCELOS
The World Service producer and presenter, with her longstanding band, played her recent album of songs about living in Brazil under the military government, The Sao Paulo Tapes. Produced by Robert Wyatt and featuring songs written by some of Brazil’s greatest, the projected backdrop of photographs from that period added an unsettling element to her midnight set in a theatre space off the main concert hall.

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Her warm, lovely voice sat on a fantastic bed of bossa rhythms, expertly played. With two basses (double and electric), great guitar from Ife Tolentino and Ingrid Laubrock’s sax to the fore, it was a perfect jewel-like performance.

THREE AMBROSE AKINMUSIRE
During a fantastic suite of music commissioned for the festival, based on the four songs that Mattie Mae Thomas left the world when she was recorded in Parchman Farm in 1939, guitarist Marvin Sewell played an achingly moving blues, intense and soulful. His buzzing slide sounded like the grooves of a 78 come to life, before he switched back to playing the oldest pattern of the blues, setting up a throbbing pulse as Mattie Mae’s voice ghosted into the tune, sampled, cut up and looped. At the same time, vocalist Dean Bowman worked around and off her performance.

As it developed, composer and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire stepped in, his beautifully burnished tone pulling the music from the farm to the city with a moody five-note melody that sounded angular and sophisticated in contrast. The music built and built on the piano and trumpet until Sewell came back in to match Akinmusire’s explorations, sounding almost like Larry Carlton with Steely Dan. The band’s groove stayed strong, never losing sight of Mississippi, even as the guitar and trumpet played like cat-and-mouse over the top. It was astonishing to think that they had played this piece only once before, at their rehearsal together the previous day. “How in the pocket was that!” Richard exclaimed at the concert’s end, his first tentative thoughts of Ambrose using Mattie Mae Thomas as a starting point triumphantly realised.

FOUR RENÉ URTREGER AT 83
To the Maison de France for a showing of Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, Louis Malle’s first film, which famously has a Miles Davis soundtrack. The last surviving musician from the band that recorded it, René Urtreger, gave a solo recital after the screening. His talent was barely dimmed by the passing years. He had become a pop arranger for Claude François and a film composer for Claud Berri before returning to his first love, jazz, in the late 70s.

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In conversation with Richard, René was mischievous and spry: “I become friends with Miles Davis, we share the same room. And now I can tell it, it’s 60 years after – he had an affair with my sister. Okay. My sister has Alzheimer’s, she has forgotten everything (awkward audience laughter). Sorry, that’s life… I ask her about Miles, she says, who?

FIVE NELS CLINE LOVERS
Nels Cline is a master of so many guitar genres it’s dizzying. Quite a few (even the rock ones) were on display here, as he played his album of standards and oddities (like Henry Mancini’s “The Search for Cat” – a short cue from the Breakfast at Tiffany’s score and Sonic Youth’s “Snare Girl”). Conductor and arranger Michael Leonhart guided the brilliant chamber orchestra, partly made up of talented German music students – there was even a harp, always great to see.

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Moving from the noir of New York to the bleached-out tones of sunny California, Nels altered his style in response to the songs. Not one of nature’s front-men, he remained mostly seated behind a workbench covered in pedals and boxes and a lap steel (used to wonderful theramin-like effect on “I Have Dreamed” and “Why was I Born?”). From the naggingly beautiful blues of Jimmy Guiffre’s “Cry, Want” to the dissonance of Annette Peacock’s “So Hard it Hurts/Touching” this was a shape-shifting treat. And the last song, “The Bond”, a simple melodic riff that built into a hypnotic, sweeping soundscape, may just have been the best.

AND FINALLY… DR LONNIE SMITH
If Nels was the heart, Lonnie must be the soul, and it does your own soul good to watch him, a man so in command of his oeuvre (the funky Hammond writ large) that the audience is at one with him from the off. Looking for all the world like Zoltar the Fortune Teller in Tom Hanks’ Big, he lets out a howl of joy as he comes across some amusingly cheesy melody or plays a lick that he really likes. The Leslie speaker behind him was a throbbing, whirling presence of its own, and he worked his way through a barnstorming and crowd-pleasing set, his pedal bass-playing locked tight into Johnathan Blake’s hyper-attuned drumming. The guitar of Jonathan Kreisberg, who covered the bases from Wes Montgomery to James Brown, was the icing on the cake.

What a great place to end my Berlin adventure. I’d heard wailing improvisations, hushed, subtle orchestrations, blistering musical conversations and glorious melodies. The silence of Berlin on the Sunday morning after the Saturday night made it all seem dreamlike – the result of seeing ten concerts in 55 hours, perhaps. Whatever, it was fantastic to be immersed in such a creative space for such an intense period, and to see so many great collaborations work across boundaries of geography, race, language and culture.

Wednesday, November 1st

A tribute to Fats, a weird Sixties jam, some notable films, and a rather extraordinary gig…

ONE BEST OPENING PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK
Amanda Petrusich, The New Yorker, on Fats Domino: “The moments in my life in which I experience the least complicated kinds of joy are usually when I’m listening to a record by a piano player from New Orleans: Jelly Roll Morton, Professor Longhair, Tuts Washington, Champion Jack Dupree, Allen Toussaint, and, especially, Fats Domino. I can’t explain the alchemy – let the biologists map out precisely what happens on a chemical level. It doesn’t matter how leaden or battered I might have been feeling before – how encumbered by my own cynicism, how spiritually ransacked. There’s an exuberance inherent to this music that is purely, mystifyingly transformative. In an instant, everything lightens.”

TWO FATS AND THE BYRDS
Later in the Fats Domino piece, Amanda P, when talking about his first hit, “The Fat Man”, says, “…but I’d still challenge anyone to make it through the bit after the second verse – in which Domino begins to scat in falsetto, approximating the wah-wah-wah sound of a muted Dixieland trumpet – and not be left at least slightly agog. It’s a nonverbal, nonsensical chorus that’s not exactly a chorus, yet is somehow a flawless chorus—effervescent, unexpected, profuse.”

So for lovers of that, I’d recommend this – Domino backed by the Byrds on The Barry Richards Turn On Show (such a title!), one of a number of “free form” TV shows that were on local UHF TV stations around America in the late Sixties. Start at 7 minutes 30 seconds to see Fats teach the Byrds “Walking to New Orleans”. He tells Roger McGuinn to play the two notes that start the song. “No… staccato. Just hit ’em…” and then, satisfied that they at least vaguely understand him, he leads them into the song. Skip Battin (I guess) on drums and Chis Etheridge (I guess again) on bass try to fit into the rolling groove of Fats’ piano, and Clarence White moves over and plays the answer lines back to Fats… “That’s it, three chords, no bridge… no solo”. Fats looks momentarily worried when the tv director asks him if they’re ready to do a take, before Barry wanders back into frame to introduce the song, snapping his fingers to denote that he’s with it. Fats continues the rehearsal until Skip’s got inside the rhythm, then says: “We ready!”

Barry: “Here’s Fats Antoine Domino in a jam with the Byrds, the Byrds, and F– ” at which point Fats cuts him off and starts singing “I’m walking to New Orleans”, the camera shot tight on his extraordinary face. But they’d never rehearsed the ending – after the third verse it trucks along with Fats humming a lovely phrase over and over, while Clarence and Skip answer him before he draws it to a close with a raised arm and a shambling blues ending. It’s really, well, sweet is the only word…

THREE IF YOU’VE GOT TWENTY MINUTES TO SPARE…
Watch Undeniably Donnie, a film about Donny “Flipside” Fritts, whose album from 2015, Oh My Goodness, this short film was made to promote. Kris Kristofferson supplies the narration (“Every morning his hands draw close to the keys of his Wurlitzer piano”) to a wistful and touching portrait of one of the great backroom boys of Alabama music. Known as the Alabama Leaning Man in honour of his totally laidback style – “I’ve only seen him run twice…” says Kris, before adding, “the truth is I’ve never seen him run…”. John Prine, who often recorded in Muscle Shoals, sums Donnie up: “It’s like when you see a character in a movie, and you just feel really close to that one character as the plot develops – usually it’s not the, y’know, main person in the film, it’s a character actor, y’know – and Donnie’s a living, walking character actor…”

FOUR BILL FRISELL: A PORTRAIT

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On Sunday, I’m hoping that I can get back to the city in time to go to the first London showing of the above film by singer and filmmaker Emma Franz. I’m always transfixed by Bill Frisell’s playing, whether he’s creating soundscapes and atmospherics, or modestly laying out a simple effects-free melody line from an ancient song that speaks to him. His touch is so delicate, yet so intense. If you feel the same way, then there are still some tickets left for the showing at the Curzon Soho this Sunday, November 5th, at 3pm.

Here’s Emma on Bill: “My own life experience includes many years having worked around the world professionally as a musician. I had long been an admirer of Bill Frisell’s music, as he seems to encompass everything that fascinates and excites me about music. In his music, there is individuality and universality, technique and simplicity, diversity, intensity and depth, and the sense of adventure of a child. Bill Frisell has already left a unique stamp on music, been artistically successful and critically acclaimed, yet remains an eternal student; humble, open-minded and constantly self- challenging.” I really like the idea of a musician making this film, and following Bill across his wide-ranging musical life. He’s been quoted as saying: “She got at something that I don’t think anybody’s ever [captured] – you know, it’s about the process, or whatever it is that I [go through]. I felt like you could actually see that.”

FIVE LOREN CONNORS AT CAFE OTO

5-loren2On a screen in a small music venue in Dalston a film is projected. In it a man shuffles around an apartment, struggling to free a record from its packaging. As he bends over you see a scar from some surgery running up his neck and into his hairline. The music that comes from the record when he drops the needle onto it is distant, ethereal, delicate, and distorted. Appalachian Blues, I wonder? Maybe Widescreen American Western Music? The man shuffles through drawings, hundreds of drawings, and hundreds more photocopies. He lays rolls of paint-splashed paper down on the floorboards of an apartment as the ghostly sounds play. That’s my introduction to Loren Connors’ world. The film is, appropriately, called Gestures. Then Connors walks on stage with a cane and a three-quarter sized student model Stratocaster (a Squier Mini, Fender’s diffusion line), sits down and starts a swirling, shifting piece. I’m transfixed. He builds walls of sound and then coaxes up tiny notes that sit on top, all the while using minimal chord shapes and flickering fingers to brush the strings. At times it’s angry and buzzing, but the impression I’m left with is a subtle and mesmerising beauty.

I’m there with Calum. I was saying that I’d never been to Cafe OTO, so Calum kindly gets us tickets for something coming up that he thinks I’d enjoy, and he’s spot-on. He last saw Connors years ago, when his hair was long and draped over his face when he played. Now he looks like one of Christopher Guest’s ensemble players, straight out of A Mighty Wind or Best in Show. At some point in the 45 minute performance, Loren’s partner, Suzanne Langille, starts reciting  a Keats ballad – La Belle Dame sans Merci – “And this is why I sojourn here/Alone and palely loitering/Though the sedge is withered from the lake/And no birds sing.” It’s alternately beguiling and creepy, which is, I think, its intended effect. It ends to wild applause. Loren sits back down, plays for another minute (an encore?) and that’s it. Brilliant.

5-loren

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Friday, October 27th

ONE “THE FURNACE RANG WITH A THOUSAND GROANS”
I’m not going to mention the Dylan play anymore (I’ve learned my lesson) but, in one of those strange coincidences, as I got into the car – but prior to finding Bryan Ferry’s fabulous version of “Hard Rain” on my phone – I checked my email. There was a note from Michael Gray, Legendary Professor of Dylan. We hadn’t been in touch for at least nine months, so it was amusing that he emailed at that precise time.

5-skiffleHe was kindly pointing me to an Australian review of a new compilation album that features the Ken Colyer Skiffle Group doing “Down Bound Train”. I always assumed that Ken, Alexis, Lonnie and the gang’s gently percolating tune was based on an old “Casey Jones” style trad song. I was wrong. It was written by Chuck Berry. And thus Ken became the first British artist to cover a Chuck Berry song. Before the Beatles. Before the Stones. Which seems somewhat amazing. I can only assume that their blues antennae were set for Chess Records because of Dixon, Waters and Wolf, and somehow in early 1956, flipped Chuck’s “No Money Down” to listen to the B-Side.

TWO “SULPHURIC FUMES SCORCHED THEIR HANDS AND FACE”
Wikipedia tells us that “Down Bound Train” was inspired by Berry’s fire and brimstone religious upbringing. Both his parents were staunch Baptists and sang in the Antioch Church Choir, which rehearsed at his home. “It is a song about redemption and a warning against alcohol abuse. A man who has too much to drink falls asleep on a barroom floor and has a vivid dream about riding a train, which is driven by the Devil himself. When the man wakes up he renounces the demon drink. It’s one of the first rock records to employ a fade-in and fade-out.” Chuck’s version is hotter and hipper than Ken’s, for sure, and features a fine vocal and a great lyric:
“The passengers were most a motley crew,
Some were foreigners and others he knew,
Rich men in broadcloth, beggars in rags,
Handsome young ladies and wicked old hags…”
But the topping is the fabulous galloping guitar he plays throughout, which leaps forward from the backing for a couple of rhythm solos. [Listen in the audio player to the right].

THREE “THE STRANGER AWOKE WITH AN ANGUISHED CRY”
Listen to this“Respect” from A Brand New Me: Aretha Franklin with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and tell me if it doesn’t strike you as totally redundant…

FOUR “WIDER AND WIDER THE COUNTRY GREW”
Also, please help me to understand this Bang & Olufsen advert in the latest John Lewis magazine: “The AW17 Collection (this Autumn/Winter, I get that at least) embraces that magical slice of time where everything just falls into place. Crisp, lilac sunrises, grey city skyline days, rich brown dusks and violet nightclub vibes – all set in the unique landscape of Japan”. I think we’re talking about tiny speakers.

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FIVE “AND THE PRAYERS AND VOWS WERE NOT IN VAIN”
A letter to The Guardian that was bang on…
Sincere thanks to Laura Barton for her excellent review of Bruce Springsteen on Broadway (13 October). Rich in insights while devoid of cliche, her warm perceptive report conveyed much of the intimate feeling of being there, sensing that it was something special and exceptional. The accompanying monochrome portrait was exactly right, capturing the man’s essential humanity. Ms Barton, as ever, selects each phrase with care: “We’re not at the theatre any more.” With that, she has told us everything. I have to cope with never getting a ticket, but great reporting.
Irvine Stuart
Dorridge, West Midlands

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Extra: Girl from the North Country

NOT FARGO, FARRAGO
I decided to spend an afternoon traveling in the North Country fair but sadly wished that I’d never taken leave of London Town. (To see what prompted my going, see Five Things Extra: That Dylan Play, where two friends with opposing views write about it).

Honestly, upfront I have to say that there’s more nuance and depth of character in a silent movie than there is in Girl from the North Country. Yes, I speak as a slightly reluctant attendee, but not because I was proprietorially feeling How dare they… or snottily assuming critical feelings about a work in another medium purloining Bob’s songs to its own ends. I’m not even sure that I would have been offended by Ben Elton scripting a play based around these songs, as he had done for Queen. And – also honestly – the music, arranged by Simon Hale, is delivered beautifully, with sensitive guitar, piano, bass, and fiddle accompaniment that manages to mostly stay away from a Mumford hoedown, and deliver true heft behind some good singing.

But, dramatically speaking, well… Nothing here made me feel that the writer, Conor McPherson, had any understanding of these people and their problems in this small midwestern town. The plot seemed laughably dated, cobbled together from offcuts of Steinbeck, O’Connor, and O’Neill. Slow-witted lunk? Check. Old rich man who thinks money can buy him the love of a poor but pretty girl? Check. Con man masquerading as a bible salesman? Check. Boarding-House owner with debts and a mistress? Check. Black convict trying to escape… I could work my way through the cast, but you get the drift.

There’s an almost offensive use of dementia as a dramatic device, with Shirley Henderson having to play the afflicted wife of Nick, the Boarding House owner. From the back of the stalls she looks too young (even if she isn’t in life) and plays her as a sexually incontinent, gratuitously swearing Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Really. Bits of business at the boarding house ( in a variety of clunky American accents) get interspersed with musical moments that are meant to round out character and story, but for every line that fits, there are two that seem tangential or just plain weird. “Sign on the Window” and “Went to See the Gypsy” (with its mention of “that little Minnesota town”) work at the start, but “Señor” (“Señor, señor, do you know where we’re headin’? Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?”) seems to carry a heavier apocalyptic load than these flimsy characters can bear.

And while it was great to hear songs from, say, the Empire Burlesque period, where Dylan’s own versions have weak or unlistenable production, some decisions didn’t come off. Especially in the case of “I Want You”, sung in counterpoint to a reprise of “Like a Rolling Stone”. Slowing the song’s essential skipping beat to a funereal pace and disastrously over-enunciating the lyrics (Musical Theatre Alert!) rendered those beautiful rolling and tumbling lines (“The guilty undertaker sighs/The lonesome organ grinder cries/The silver saxophones say I should refuse you”) dead on arrival. It also contained the unfortunate call and response of…
“How does it feel…” (LaRS)
“So bad…” (IWY)

I thought Bronagh Gallagher the most impressive singer (she also played very tidy drums on a few songs) especially on “Sweetheart Like You”/True Love Tends to Forget”, but I found myself more than once involuntarily leaning forward and putting my head in my hands. I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of the performance so I had to stop myself emitting weary sighs, but by halfway through the second half, I felt my patience being stretched thin, as thin as the dramatic arc of the story.

Thinking about the success of the play (it’s transferring to the West End soon), and the standing ovations at the finale, I wondered if there are people who go to see every musical in the West End, regardless of type. I heard the people behind me say that they must go home and listen to this Dylan guy, and I don’t mention that as a criticism. What I do think is that the bar is set too low if this farrago gets five stars from Michael Billington in The Guardian.

As I walked back to my car, I scanned through my iPhone for some music to clear my head. Brian Ferry irreverently blasting out “Hard Rain” fitted the bill as I pulled out from the Cut and onto Waterloo Bridge. When, a few songs later, Lou Reed’s “Dirty Blvd.” burst out of the speakers, I pulled over and listened, powerfully struck by the fact that he paints – with shocking detail – a fully rounded and realised story in the three and a half minutes it takes to play out. Dreams, inequality, racism, celebrity, poverty, politics, and violence. All vividly brought to life. Three and a half minutes. The last two and a half hours is just wasted time.

Friday, October 6th pt. 2

Yes, I know it’s Thursday the 12th…

FOUR DESERT ISLAND DISCS
In a nicely left-field Desert Island Discs bookended by Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin, cancer specialist Siddhartha Mukherjee played “Round Midnight” and talked about the links that Indian music has to jazz (and in later selections, flamenco and Philip Glass): “I was very late to the jazz party, which was unusual, because of course, the connections between jazz and Indian classical music are so apparent now – both improvise, both are rhythmically complex, both melodically similar… Once I discovered all these parallels I became addicted, and I discovered Monk when I was in Oxford.” I’d never heard the Vijay Iyer Trio playing “Galang”, but the programme sent me shooting off to find it. A headlong syncopated rocker, it was the song that started M.I.A.’s career, co-written with Elastica. Iyer’s take is a fair way from M.I.A.’s but it’s absolutely terrific.

FIVE (A) VELS TRIO
It seems to be the week of the piano-led trio. Support act for the Souljazz Orchestra at Rich Mix was Vels Trio – electric keys, drums and bass. We arrived at the end of their set but caught two songs. According to their agent’s website, they are “the result of three experimental jazz musicians born out of collective obsession, emotion and improvisation to sculpt contagiously frenetic compositions.” Sounds about right. I couldn’t take my eyes off the drummer, Dougal Taylor, as he propelled those frenetic compositions, beautifully shading the peaks and troughs. I was also struck by the fact that he was using his wallet to dampen his snare…

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FIVE (B) SOULJAZZ ORCHESTRA
The Souljazz Orchestra challenge the packed, polyglot London audience at Rich Mix to resist their groove, and from the first note the crowd are under their spell. There are Caribbean shuffles, funky sissy struts, swishing NYC disco hi-hats and earthquake house explosions – all underpinned by an Afrobeat sway. At one point, Pierre Chrétien, the keyboardist (vintage Hohner Clavinet D6 and some mighty bass keyboard below it), introduces a song as Somalian Disco and that’s pretty accurate too. Daughter points out that the three sax players take the knee (I thought they were doing a James Brown thing) during “Mr President”, written during Bush, updated to Trump and the song that got them noticed by Gilles Peterson (who receives a shout-out tonight) 11 years ago. Impressively, you can get their latest release on cassette – which I do. Highly recommended.

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Friday, October 6th pt. 1

Recovering from a late night/early morning of sweating inside Rich Mix with the glorious Souljazz Orchestra [a big thank you to Ginie], this week’s Five Things comes in two parts…

THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING?
This is eerie and totally fascinating, an empty Camp Nou as Barcelona play Las Palmas with no crowd, following the Catalan Independence referendum. It’s the sounds you’re never really privy to during matches; the players talking to each other – “Luis, do me a favour!” – as Suarez tries to claim a penalty, or without the soundtrack that usually accompanies the action – the weird lack of drama as Messi insouciantly rounds the goalkeeper to score, for instance, or Suarez ripping his shirt after he misses… to a deafening silence.

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This description, from Sid Lowe’s excellent report for The Guardian, captures the strangeness of it all: “At 4.13pm, Barcelona’s anthem blared out. The referee came out of the tunnel and picked up the ball from that absurd plinth, hurriedly throwing down the one he had in his hand, and the players followed. Echoing round, the anthem opens with the line: “The whole stadium cheers; we’re the blue and claret people.” When it closed, a “brave cry”, the place fell silent and the whistle went, heard by all. There was no one in stands, where the mes que un club slogan sat exposed. The directors’ box lay empty. The board watched it from somewhere inside. So did the players’ families, a lift-load of kids leaving together at the end.

Every shout was audible. A free-kick was greeted with “oh, so you give this one?”, there was something about a “mother’s shell”, and the standard call of any park anywhere: get out, push up, man on, quick, that’s it, near post, no foul, good. There’s something odd about actually hearing someone shout: “Leo! Leo! Here, Leo!” at Messi. Something odd about it all. Something sad too, a kind of what’s the point when it’s like this? But it was fascinating too. You could close your eyes and more or less follow the game, imagining the kind of pass delivered by the noise, the ball struck or stroked. Phwump or tac.

From way, way up, you could hear Messi get hit, and the satisfying sound of his free-kicks being saved: leather then latex on the ball. From way down there they could hear the radio commentators shouting when Busquets scored. And when Messi got the second and third there was gentle applause from a ballboy behind the goal. Suddenly, somehow, in an empty stadium there was also someone running on the pitch, swiftly removed by stewards. He appeared to be wearing an independence shirt and carrying a piece of paper. With barely seconds to go Luis Suárez put a shot wide. His scream rolled round the seats and he tore at his shirt, ripping it wide open and walking off.”

CAN I GET TWO COPIES OF GENE SIMMONDS VAULT, PLEASE?
A great post at everyrecordtellsastory about the upsurge of vinyl subscription services (Jack White’s Vault, Turntable Kitchen, Experience Vinyl et al) also features this: “Slightly beneath White’s Gold Standard Vault is Kiss frontman Gene Simmons, fresh from trying to secure rights to the devil-horns hand sign…” Simmons will hand deliver his Vault to each punter who pays the $2000 dollar price tag. If you stump up $50,000 (sic) he will come and hang out at your house for a couple of hours. From the FAQs:

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I love the fact that they felt they had to add “including windows…”

THREE PHOTOS…
Running out of headline inspiration, as you can see. In the fabulous tome that I wrote about last week, 75 Years of Capitol Records, I noticed that Paul and Linda were photographed at home in West Sussex by David Montgomery in 1976, and pinned up in the background was Edward Kasper’s wraparound sleeve for The Band’s Moondog Matinee. As Nick DeRiso wrote at Something Else!: “I stare at the album’s original fold-out poster, a saloon setting from Edward Kasper that combines Helm’s old stomping grounds of Helena, Ark., with Robbie Robertson’s Cabbagetown, and I can’t take my eyes off [Richard] Manuel. He’s apart, the only one lost in thought. Robertson is working the jukebox, Hudson and Helm are sharing a drink, Danko is reading a music magazine. But Richard is alone, thinking — staring off into the middle distance. It’s like he can see something, already, that I still haven’t come to grips with more than four decades later: Richard Manuel is already gone.”

moondog

I hung it when setting up the workroom. It nestles in good company beneath Dylan by Antonin Kratochvil and Daniel Kramer, Neil Young by Henry Diltz, Woody Guthrie by Arthur Dubinsky, Leonard Cohen by Antonio Olmos, Ray Charles by Jim Marshall and David Bowie by the incomparable Antonin again. And the latest addition on the right – get your very own Jimi Hendrix English Heritage plaque. As a plate. Genius!

If you’re receiving the email out, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full Five Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

 

 

Wednesday, September 27th

ONE BARNEY’S BRILLIANT BOOK
Finding myself with a couple of hours to kill, I endeavor to make sense of Selfridges’ Music Matters season. “The transformative power of music. Amplified”, apparently. It seems to consist of windows dressed with cymbals, a pop-up vinyl store by Rye Wax, a few gigs and exclusive music-inspired collections by your fave fashion-forward designers. It all left me a little cold until I found the Taschen shop within the Books department. And there I saw 75 Years of Capitol Records. I remember Barney (Hoskyns) telling me that he’d been commissioned to write this a couple of years ago but I hadn’t seen it before. It’s beautifully designed and printed, and the storytelling (in the three sections I read before my arms gave out) is great. The Kingston Trio spread is stunning. The only downside is the price (£99.99 online, £135 in store), but you can’t have everything (as per usual, click on pictures to enlarge).

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TWO VOCODER LISTING ON EBAY
This may be the finest eBay listing ever. “I change the pitch from High to Low, so everybody can enjoy the show…” The fact that it’s perched on a tumble dryer is very “Internet of Things”.

THREE THE SWISS. WHO KNEW?
From Mashable: “On paper, Karlheinz Weinberger lived a mostly boring existence. He worked as a warehouse manager at the Siemens factory in Oerlikon, Switzerland from 1955 until his retirement in 1986, and lived in the same apartment for almost his whole life. But when he was off the clock, he set out with his camera to photograph the unusual. (He literally had “Photographer of the Unusual” printed on his business card.) In 1958, he fell in with the Halbstarken, one of Switzerland’s first underground youth cultures. These young men and women idolized the brooding sexuality of American rebels like Elvis Presley and James Dean, sported flamboyant hairstyles, and wore jeans and jackets adorned with studs, patches, and enormous belt buckles.” [The Cliff Richards one seems an anomaly here – Ed]

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FOUR THE END-OF-LIFE INDUSTRY JUST KEEPS ON GROWING…
…with a new wrinkle aimed at the baby-boomers. Your loved one’s ashes pressed into a record. Painful puns abound – the company is called And Vinyly – but at least we can feel safe in the knowledge that gran is forever in our record collection.

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FIVE IN JAZZ NEWS
It was a week of contrasts and timelines – a first album (Unnatural Events) launch by pianist/composer Tom Millar at the PizzaExpress in Dean Street and the 80th birthday celebration of composer and arranger Mike Gibbs. I went to Tom’s as we’d help kick-start his album (he’s the son of friends) but also because I really like his playing. I feel unqualified to actually write about jazz, so here’s a link to a well-balanced review by Kevin LeGrande at jazzwise.

I went to Mike Gibbs’ because George Foster had told me to. I’m so glad I did – it was a wonderful sound that his 14-piece band conjured up in the tiny 100-seat Vortex, with an audience made up of jazz lovers and musicians who’d played with Gibbs. His charts are restless and physical, and the assembled orchestra did them proud, with a supple rhythm section, a seriously great guitarist in Mike Walker and an amazing group of horn players (one of whom doubled on accordion, rather beautifully). I had invited Marcel along as he grew up listening to Mike Gibbs, and we discovered that Marcel’s dad and Mike Maran (who was seated behind us at a table with John Walters of eye magazine fame) were both in the rather sparse audience at Ronnie Scotts’ in 1972 when Gibbs’ Just Ahead was recorded. Oh, and Richard Williams introduced me to the mighty Evan Parker – it was that kind of night (see John Fordham’s Guardian review here).

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Tuesday, September 19th

ONE JONI BUGG
Well there’s inspiration, and then there’s stealing, but if you steal you have to make something better than the original, which this sorry attempt fails to be.

joniThe cover of Hejira is made up of 14 different photographs collaged by Mitchell and retouched by an airbrush artist. I had bought UNCUT’s Ultimate Music Guide to Joni Mitchell which has the unretouched image by Norman Seeff [above, left] on its cover. It’s generally terrific, and a good companion to the recent Rock’s Backpages book, Reckless Daughter, but I was slightly appalled to find that it barely mentions my favourite song, “Black Crow”. Mitchell’s open-tuned electric rhythm guitar scrubs out a midwest blacktop backdrop for Jaco Pastorius to dig into and move around, all angles, like a tractor twisting and turning in the endless fields that line the road. At the same time Larry Carlton’s hovering above with an electrical storm of distorted guitars. At one point Carlton and Pastorious leap into the air like a couple of crop dusters and circle the skies before being reined in by Mitchell’s high yelp. The song irons out for the fade where it races off into the distance and, right before it disappears beyond the horizon, Larry Carlton suddenly summons up the ghost of Mick Green and plays an outrageously swaggering rock & roll riff. It’s a unique sound, a unique song.

TWO I’VE JUST ORDERED…
The Invisible Man: The Story of Rod Temperton, the “Thriller” Songwriter, partly because it’s such an unlikely story, partly because he wrote “Always and Forever”. From Heatwave to Hollywood, he ended up as Britain’s third most successful songwriter. Jed Pitman on Thriller: “Temperton wrote three songs for the record, including the title track which began life as a song called “Starlight” but [Quincy] Jones asked Temperton to come up with new lyrics to fit the tougher theme that was emerging from other tracks around it. Rod knew he wanted one word because that fitted in with the song He said about writing lyrics that the meaning of them didn’t necessarily matter, the lyrics to him would disappear into the melody of the song. The lyrics themselves were all about how many syllables they were for each word to fit lyrically and melodically with the song structure. He’s effectively using the words as another musical instrument rather than sending a message. He wrote about 300 words down and then he wrote the word ‘Thriller’ and that was it, he stopped and went, ‘Wow, I can see it on top of the Billboard charts, I can see the merchandising, I can see everything – Thriller by Michael Jackson.’”

THREE ONE TRACK MINDS
The wonder of Wilton’s Music Hall is in its restoration. When you hear that a venue from the past has been restored you imagine a lot of gilt, a kind of “overloud” painting where the brashness of the colour may be accurate, but shouts too much, and there’s a general air of fussiness. None of this has happened at Wilton’s. A building at risk has become a beautiful encapsulated ruin (in the nicest possible sense).

A couple of months ago it played host to One Track Minds, a series where generally well-known people talk about a song that means a lot to them. A varied lineup included Tulip Siddiq, MP, comedians Mark Thomas and Harry Mitchell, sports writer Jenny Offord and session man and all-around entertainer Guy Pratt. It was great to hear Linton Kwesi Johnson’s “Want Fi Goh Rave” again, from the fantastic Forces of Victory album, to be reminded of how great Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy” is. Guy Pratt, session man extraordinaire [below, left], talked about being on a disastrous teenage holiday. There’s an excellent review of the show by John Sills at thoughtsfromwestfive: “In Guy’s case, he was at one point lying on a bunk bed, recovering from having tried smoking with an ‘evil’ cousin. He noticed a cassette player nearby and pressed play. A song came on, all jittering synthesizers, throbbing bass, strident guitars and, at the end, an Irish violin. He was mesmerized, and at that moment knew what he wanted to do with his life. Be a musician. And the song? “Baba O’Riley”, the opener on the Who’s 1971 album, Who’s Next.”

Harry Mitchell was the highlight, though. After a long set up about relationships and angst, he revealed that he cemented his friendship (with his friend, Ed) through a shared love of dancing to Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”. Sadly, he said, Ed can’t be here tonight… at which point, Ed arrived, and said dancing commenced.

5-wiltonsOne Track Minds is highly recommended, and back at Wilton’s on October 9th. Simon Napier-Bell is one of the six guests. Details here.

FOUR WIND RIVER: DON’T GO THERE
I expected much more from Taylor Sheridan. The scriptwriter of Sicario and Hell or High Water, here – as both writer and director – piles an implausible plot with clunky dialogue: “Can’t we call for backup?” “This ain’t really backup country… this is go it alone country” goes one bit of business, six words too long. Jeremy Renner is a hunter (and philosopher, judging by his gnomic utterances) and Elizabeth Olsen an FBI agent investigating a murder on a Native American Res. It’s an irritating film with a pretty good soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (although there’s nothing as memorable as the music created by Robbie Robertson for tv doc The Native Americans). It also has that thing where an unrelated song by a sensitive male songwriter plays over the end credits (in this instance, “Feather” by William Wild).

FIVE HAVE YOU HEARD OF BENARD IGHNER?
Me either. A month ago I was listening to Peggy Lee sing, sensationally, “Everything Must Change”, from an album recorded live in London in 1977. I knew the song – Nina Simone had covered it [among too many others to list here] but I wondered where it had come from originally. So I went looking, and found this obituary, by A. Scott Galloway (at TheUrbanMusicScene.com), of the man who wrote it, Benard Ighner. He had died a week or so before.

“Benard (not “Bernard” and the last name pronounced “eyeg-ner”) was most widely known and adored for his composition “Everything Must Change”. A deeply existential musing about the unmovable ‘way of time,’ it was introduced [on Quincy Jones’ platinum-selling 1974 album, Body Heat] by Ighner singing with hushed intimacy ascending into reverent earnestness over a dreamy surround sound arrangement of piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer, rim shots and a trombone solo by the great Frank Rosolino. Never a single, the haunting masterwork went a long way toward selling the full-length album as a 6-minute slice of interstellar Heaven.”

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Sunday, September 10th

ONE IMAGE OF THE WEEK

5-cloudshillThis spectacular gramophone belonging to T.E.Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), seen at his tiny rural retreat, Clouds Hill, in Dorset. From the National Trust website: “The Music Room was where Lawrence used to write and where he entertained his guests. Sometimes they would listen to music played on the special gramophone Lawrence had made, with its huge horn. At other times they would chat, or eat simple suppers out of tins.”

TWO RIP WALTER BECKER 1
“To properly honor Walter Becker, your editor is auditioning 15 freelance eulogists.” 
– American music critic Brad Shoup, on Twitter.

RIP WALTER BECKER 2
Rickie Lee Jones: “The best musician of our group loved Steely Dan, and that was how I came to hear “Bodhisattva”, “My Old School”, “Pearl of the Quarter”. Lines about Annandale and oleanders with pesky stomping bass and drums. I mean these guys knew how to make music. They had a hit on every record – I mean a thing that was played on the radio over and over – that became part of how we saw our collective selves. I was brought up, you might say, on writing thick with imagery and subtle implication and I loved it. I loved the innuendo, the humor, the sting. The genius was as much in the part we filled in, the lines they didn’t write. That was where the sticky stuff of memory made their music a part of our own personal history. I knew about hiding behind the oleanders, heck I grew up in Arizona… It wasn’t the specific line, it was the sorrow and fury of the melody, Bring back the Boston rag. Tell all your buddies that it ain’t no drag.”
On the music player on the right hear Steely Dan in 1974 at the Rainbow Theatre in London ripping through “The Boston Rag.”

RIP WALTER BECKER 3
The “Mu Major” chord. This is the clearest explanation that I found. Apparently, its first appearance was in the 12th Century, in Perotin the Great’s “Viderunt Omnes”. It appears in many Dan songs, including “Deacon Blues”, “Black Cow”, “Don’t Take Me Alive” and “Fire in the Hole”.

THREE DON’T FORGET THE MOTOR CITY
I’m trying to finish Stuart Cosgrove’s book, Detroit 67 before I go to see the movie, but frustratingly, it’s a bit of a slog. Great research, fascinating information, but poorly edited, so progress has been slow. The story told here of the Supremes is perfect as a microcosm of the problems inherent in Berry Gordy’s Motown project, and the Florence Ballard material key, but there’s too much repetition and it isn’t focused enough. The evocation of that time in Detroit is terrific, and I’d still recommend it, but the skill involved in book editing should not be overlooked. (Still below from a selection of photos of performers backstage, taken by Magnum photographers – thanks, Bob).

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For extra background, this WXYZ-TV Detroit Channel 7 segment on Detroit in 1967 is interesting. There’s a lovely bit 11 minutes in where Dennis Coffey plays the intro to “Just My Imagination”. Which is just fabulous.

FOUR THE VILLAGE VOICE’S PRINT EDITION IS DEAD
I remember occasionally finding copies of VV in Camden, and on any trip to New York, it had to be picked up immediately. There were some excellent online tributes, amongst them this from Joe Levy, who was the music editor there in the late eighties/early and is currently contributing editor for Rolling Stone“In 1987 I was an intern for the Voice music editor, Doug Simmons. There was a strike benefit for the union that summer — Public Enemy and Sonic Youth played. It was at a small club, but Public Enemy’s show was already pretty much arena-sized, with the S1Ws stepping as Chuck D, Flavor Flav and Terminator X upended all notions of musical possibility. When Sonic Youth took the stage, they announced they would play an instrumental set because ‘Public Enemy had used all the words.’ Think for a second about these two groups, and how they defined the noise that New York City gave the world. And think about the next year, which would bring Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. Then think about the two of them showing up at a newspaper’s union strike benefit and playing back to back. That was the Voice, and its music section, in action.”

FIVE DON’T YOU LOVE A PRESS RELEASE FROM ANNIE (ST. VINCENT) CLARK?
hi, all.
it’s been a while. songs, albums, videos, shows, press. putting out a record is like having a bridezilla-style* wedding every 2-3 years. lots of “did you get the save the date? it was an email cause, you know, the planet…” and fussing over flower arrangements, except you’re walking down the aisle to your own music by yourself, to your “self.” your bridesmaids and groomsmen are your label, agents, managers, day managers, personal assistants standing expectant with a mixture of stress, excitement, pride. the fans are the attendees, who will pick sides (this side prefers the old you walking down the aisle, this side is onboard for the new you waiting at the altar, there is definitely one person who will protest the marriage in a drunken, dramatic way…) a lot of pomp. plenty of circumstance. but sometimes what gets lost in all the mothers-in-law, speeches, and seating arrangements (has this metaphor stretched so thin that it belies the fact that i have neither attended many weddings, nor aspired to my own?) is this simple fact: it’s about love**. At its best and at its core, it’s about love. that’s it. that’s all. that is literally the only point. (and i mean “literally” to mean literally.) this record is from my heart to yours. i hope it finds its way there.
love, ac
* yo, i know it’s sexist AF.
** for the sake of the emotional momentum of this note, we are choosing to ignore that century of marriage were not, in fact, about love but about wealth consolidation/women as chattel***
*** yo, i know that’s sexist AF.

A RECOMMENDATION
Ozark on Netflix. Money launderer for the cartel Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) has to get out of town with his wife (Laura Linney) and kids and swiftly relocate. To the area of the title (the highland region of the central United States) where the lake of the Ozarks has more shoreline than California. Great acting and terrific to look at, and there’s some nice work on the soundtrack, especially in the early episodes. One of the later ones has Bob Seger’s “Still the Same” running through it, used in almost every scene. I missed Bob and His Silver Bullet Band back in the day – just not on my radar, but I was pleased to make amends.

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