Five Things, Wednesday 24th September

I’m not making this up…
Stuart MacDonald, managing director of Aquila Capital, a hedge fund, DJs on Resonance FM as Dr Stu. A typical listing goes like this: “You are cordially invited to listen to the N@ked $hort Club on Mondays; one hour of loose talk about the poetry of hedge funds and the state of the world, plus heady music. No promotional agenda, no commercial intent… just Purest Alpha and Ponzi Bier in these interesting times. Host, Dr. Stu will be joined by expert guests, by Tantric Videolink from the US, Robert Savage, CEO of CCTrack, poet Joyce Goldstein. and music from the Orb/Gong, Steve Hillage, Jefferson Airplane, Terry Riley, and Neu.” He’s quoted in the City AM newspaper as saying, “I don’t see how anyone can fail to see the connection between hedge funds, psychedelic music and poetry.” I’ve not been so confused since Donald Rumsfeld’s known unknowns…

Blind Willie Johnson
At Michael Gray’s engrossing Dylan Weekend we listen to Blind Willie Johnson, singing in two different voices thus, (in Michael’s opinion) paving the way for Dylan’s own adoption of different voices at different times. And when we get home to catch up on Series Two of House of Cards, who appears on the wall of Freddy Hayes’ crib? Blind Willie. In one of the best episodes so far, brilliantly helmed by Jodie Foster and shot in exquisitely composed shallow-depth-of-field scenes, there’s collateral damage to Freddy’s BBQ Joint, the rib shack on the wrong side of town – Frank (Kevin Spacey) Underwood’s favourite bolthole in times of crisis.

Willie

Interesting interview with the modest and thoughtful Michael Cuscuna
Michael Cuscuna was the producer of Bonnie Raitt’s first two albums, so he’s a man with taste. And for his work in Jazz’s basement storeroom he deserves plaudits. And, if you like great jazz photos, check out his Facebook page: “When the late Charlie Lourie, my best friend and co-founder of Mosaic Records, and I bought the Francis Wolff archive of photographs from practically every Blue Note session between 1940 and 1967, we spent years sifting through this historic gold mine of jazz documentation. So many of the photos brought classic sessions to life. But there were some humorous images and oddities among the archive. One of my favorites is the photo of Philly Joe Jones and Art Blakey, two of the greatest drummers in the history of this music and two of the coolest, most colorful people I ever had the honor to know. It’s from a November 2, 1958 Blakey session with multiple drummers which I eventually issued as Drums Around The Corner. They are conferring about a tune, but it looks like two guys conspiring to topple a government or pull a great jewelry heist.

Drummers

You Gorra Luv It!
Sheridan Smith is Cilla Black. Yet another terrific central portrayal by a British actress, here in a tale that could fall flat – like biopics often do – but is great for these reasons: a) The art direction, set dressing and period clothes are never lingered on in that “We’ve spent a bundle on this, we have to show it off” way. They do the job incidentally, while being great to look at. b) There’s a rich seam of humour running through the script, a lightness of touch that tells the story whilst avoiding literalness. c) The music feels live (Smith sang live throughout the whole of the first episode). She also sings all the studio takes and the cute build-up to hearing her finally sing “Anyone Who Had A Heart” – held to the end of part two, even though we see her recording it much earlier, ends the episode brilliantly. The session, overseen by George Martin, has a fabulously-cast bunch of Abbey Road sessioneers with cardigans, suits, glasses and thinning hair.

One last thing on “Popular Problems”
As a designer, I feel that I have to note that Popular Problems continues the dreadful graphics that always litter Cohen’s releases. This is probably the worst yet. Dire typography, bad Photoshop solarisation and poor cutouts. Such a shame that the quality of the design doesn’t match up to the quality of the music. ps: I also wonder why he never does these studio albums with his stunning road band. Is it that he likes a patchwork way of working, or needs the privacy of a simpler approach? That’s not to diss the moody and excellent music on the CD, but when you look at what a great group of musicians did on “Be For Real” a few albums back, it just really puzzles me.

Len

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 19th December

Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground
As we drove along Spain’s Costa Tropical, past the last remaining sugar cane factory in Europe, the sky turned orange and Blind Willie Johnson came on the CD player. I don’t really have the words to describe this performance, but it may be the loneliest sound ever committed to shellac. Driving as the sun fell it stilled the conversation. Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to Paris, Texas is pretty much based around it. from wikepedia: In 1977 Carl Sagan and a team of researchers were tasked with collecting a representation of Earth and the human experience for sending on the Voyager probe to other life forms in the universe. They collected sounds of frogs, crickets, volcanoes, a human heartbeat, laughter, greetings in 55 languages, and 27 pieces of music on the Voyager Golden Record. Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground was included, according to Sagan, because “Johnson’s song concerns a situation he faced many times: nightfall with no place to sleep. Since humans appeared on Earth, the shroud of night has yet to fall without touching a man or woman in the same plight.”

Sky

Tony Staveacre, Letter To The Guardian
“Ravi Shankar did a great kindness to a young television director in November 1968. The great man was performing a raga in the BBC Riverside Studios (behind the Hammersmith Odeon) to be broadcast as part of the trendy BBC1 pop series How It Is. The trainee director had told the recording engineer to load a 20-minute videotape—that’ll be long enough. But it wasn’t. A raga is an improvisation, unpredictable in content and length. So the tape ran out while the maestro was still playing. The director, close to tears, had to go down to the studio floor, apologise for his incompetence, and plead with the musicians, Would you mind doing it again? The response was a shrug, a beatific smile and: Of course we can – and it will probably be better this time. And it was. The director was fired shortly after that, by telegram. I’ve still got it.”

Wayne Shorter On The Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way Recording Session, Mojo Magazine
“When we recorded it [in February 1969] there were no written-out parts. Miles didn’t want to know what you were going to play. “Play music that doesn’t sound like music,” he once told me. It was to get you out of your comfort zone… if he heard someone practising, he’d say, “Don’t practice!” He told John [McLaughlin], “Play the guitar like you don’t know how to play the guitar.”

In Praise Of Sinead
Clearing the hard drive, I watch an episode of Later from a few weeks ago. Amongst the dreary hipsters (yes Foals, that’s you—the world doesn’t need a Prog-Rock-Slash-Funkapolitan in 2012—songs that want to be instrumentals but still seem to have words) and the old soulsters (Graham Central Station—Where’s Sly? We need Sly! Larry has a microphone attached to his bass by a gooseneck. We can see why this has never caught on. Awful bass sound. They forgot to bring a song) and the Primark Bonnie Tyler that is Ellie Goulding, there is Sinead O’Connor, She is singing Nothing Compares To You. She has a flaccid band (imagine her backed on this song by Marc Ribot and Jay Bellerose instead, for instance) and by rights the song should have been consigned to the I’ve heard it too many times—it has no power left pile in the corner. But. But. She is one of the great natural singers of our age. There’s not an unmelodic note. Hell, there’s not an unmelodic breath between the notes… She rips the bloody guts out of the song and leaves them on the studio floor, focused on extracting everything it has to give. And, even when it’s just her breath you’re listening to, she sounds like no-one else on earth, and that’s a rare, rare thing.

Blue Note? Is That A Code Name?
Ever see something that you wished you’d thought of?
And something that you know how hard it is to do well?
Take a bow, Ty Mattson at Mattson Creative.

Homeland

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