Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #864:
The Electric Light Orchestra – No Answer
OK, we concede to all you ELO fans out there. There are more of you than we ever thought – what a pleasant surprise! This one was always lurking in the wings here, and you just pushed it onto the list. The 1972 ELO debut album – and the rest of the band’s early output – differentiates itself from most of the other orchestrated rock albums out there with its rustic feel. Jeff Lynne would overdub the string section over and over again to simulate the lushness of an orchestra, a sound that he was never quite able to replicate, which actually works better here than he probably ever thought at the time. The scrapy cellos add a sinister edge to the iconic, vaguelly Orwellian British hit 10538 Overture, the hallucinatory Queen of the Hours, the chamber-metal instrumental Battle of Marston Moor and the angst-ridden Look at Me Now, which picks up where Eleanor Rigby left off and takes it to the next level. There’s also the thorny Roy Wood acoustic guitar instrumental First Movement, Lynne’s piano boogie Manhattan Rumble, the charmingly oldtimey Nellie Takes Her Bow and Mr. Radio and the wrenchingly gorgeous lament Whisper in the Night, arguably the best song Wood ever wrote. He would exit after this album to do retro 50s Americana with Wizzard, leaving Lynne at the helm free to pursue his visionary blend of rock and classical music. Although we’re trying hard to limit this list to one album per band, you just might see these guys again here somewhere down the line. Here’s a random torrent.
Peter Jaques of Brass Menazeri describes klezmer as a “gateway drug” to the music of Eastern Europe. The same could be said for violinist Joe Kessler’s band Klezwoods,since that’s his background. Their debut album may be classified as klezmer, and many of its most exhilarating moments are on its Jewish songs, but the material here spans the entirety of what used to be the Ottoman Empire. Basically, it’s haunting minor-key dance music with Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and occasional latin tinges, and it pushes the envelope, its jazz-influenced, playful arrangements utilizing the whole band and giving them a richer, fuller sound than it would seem their nine members could create. The band is colossally good: Sam Dechenne on trumpet, Jim Gray on tuba, Jeremy Gustin on drums, Greg Loughman on bass, Michael McLaughlin (of Naftule’s Dream) on accordion, Brian O’Neill on percussion, Alec Spiegelman (of Miss Tess’ band the Bon Temps Parade) on clarinet and sax and Tev Stevig on electric guitar.
The opening track, a Yemenite Jewish number that Kessler learned from his father Jack (a highly regarded cantor), takes on a lush majesty, plaintive clarinet contrasting with muted trumpet, distant accordion and sweeping violin. The tricky Bulgarian dance Gankina Oro has the first of several bracingly rippling guitar solos by Stevig, this one sounding like a bouzouki but with better sustain. A Turkish folk melody, Bahar Dansi pulses along on a reggaeish beat, a playfully warped sax solo kicking off a boisterous game of hot potato between seemingly everybody in the band. They follow that with a somewhat deadpan, methodical take of Mache Teynista (The Mother-in-Law Dance), blippy tuba under tense, staccato accordion.
The highlight of the album is the slinky, hypnotic, absolutely gorgeous Cuperlika, from Macedonia, darkly pointillistic guitar giving way to the violin, accordion and finally a powerful, epic crescendo. Hey Lady sets levantine violin to a jaunty, altered tango beat with spiraling jazz guitar and a long, adrenalizing crescendo. Stevig takes his most intense solo of the night as the band vamps behind him on the Middle Eastern tune Nassam Aleyna. Syrtos is a Greek number which actually sounds more like traditional klezmer than anything else here other than the romping medley of hasidic dances that closes the album. And there’s also Giant Jew, a tongue-in-cheek klezmer take on Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Loughman’s solo bass tiptoeing deviously around the theme. The chemistry between band members makes Kessler’s split-second choreography work perfectly: as it should, considering how much fun this band is obviously having. The klezmer crowd will love this, as will anyone with a fondness for the dark, otherworldly singalong melodies and tricky rhythms of Eastern Europe. It’s out now on Either/Orchestra’s upstart label Accurate Records. Boston area fans can enjoy their cd release show on October 4 at Atwoods, 877 Cambridge St. in Cambridge.
Catherine Russell’s latest cd Inside This Heart of Mine is the great album the Moonlighters didn’t release this year. A purist, inspired mix of swing blues and shuffles from the 1920s to the present day, it cements Russell’s reputation as a connoisseur of brilliant obscurities, and a reinventer of some which aren’t so obscure. Her band is phenomenal: Matt Munisteri on guitar and banjo, Mark Shane on piano, Lee Hudson on bass, Brian Grice on drums, with Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Dan Block on tenor sax and clarinet and John Allred on trombone, among others. The oldtime sound here reminds just how edgy, and fun, and actually ahead of its time much of the material here was: the band play it with joyous intensity and bite. This isn’t exactly safe, easy listening.
The title track, a Fats Waller tune, is recast as a slow, darkly torchy swing blues, trumpet and trombone consoling each other. All the Cats Join In transforms Peggy Lee’s seemingly innocuous 1946 jaunt to the ice cream parlor to something far more adventurous, taking it back in time another twenty years to when the place was probably a speakeasy. Block’s sax is so psyched to be there that he misses his exit and stays all the way through the the turnaround. Another Waller tune, We the People, gets a celebratory dixieland-inflected treatment.
The ruefully swinging Troubled Waters, based on the 1934 Ellington recording with Ivie Anderson in front of the band, is a suicide song, but Russell only alludes to it: she doesn’t go over the top, leaving the real mournfulness to Kellso’s muted trumpet. By contrast, Maxine Sullivan’s As Long As I Live is jaunty and understatedly sultry, with genial piano from Shane. The apprehensive ballad November, by producer Paul Kahn, is characteristically dark and understated, pacing along slowly on the beat of Munisteri’s guitar, with lowlit ambience from Rachelle Garniez’ accordion and Sara Caswell’s violin.
Just Because You Can, written by Garniez – one of this era’s most individual songwriters- is a pacifist anthem. Russell gives it surprising snarl and bite, if not the kind of disquieting ambiguity that Garniez would undoubtedly bring to it, Caswell’s violin handing off to Munisteri’s devilish banjo. The rest of the album includes a lazy, innuendo-laden Long, Strong and Consecutive (another Ellington band number); a vividly wary version of Arthur Prysock’s Close Your Eyes; a hilarious take of Wynonie Harris’ 1954 drinking song Quiet Whiskey; a strikingly rustical, even bitter banjo-and-tuba cover of Willie Dixon’s Spoonful; and a couple of upbeat, 1920s style numbers to close it. The fun the band has playing all of this stuff translates viscerally to the listener. Simply one of the best albums of 2010. It’s out now on World Village Music.
Maybe because today is a grade A grey day (to steal a line out of the Wade Schuman songbook), albums like jazz guitarist Tomas Janzon’s new one, Experiences, sound expecially good. Case in point: Jimmy Van Heusen’s Here’s That Rainy Day, which opens it. His raindrop approach is just understated enough to avoid being obvious. Janzon is well-known in Sweden; this seems to be an attempt to broaden his horizons outside his native land, and it ought to work. He takes a smart, laid-back, purist approach: Wes Montgomery is the obvious influence, but only one of many. His band is choice. Legendary Coltrane drummer Tootie Heath, in uncannily subtle mode, absolutely owns this album, coloring the songs with a quiet deviousness that sometimes spills over into unrestrained glee, alongside fellow veteran Art Hillery on piano and organ and Herbie Hancock sideman Jeff Littleton on bass.
Dave Brubeck’s Mr. Broadway gets a devious, somewhat furtive organ-and-guitar treatment, playing up its tongue-in-cheek humor even more than the original. Heath carries The Float, an original, alternating between an artful jazz waltz shuffle and cymbal-driven atmospherics, later enjoying a sly conversation with Littleton when the bass solos. A pretty Swedish folk song gets a treatment that’s part Wes and part McCartney, with a brief, solo live reprise at the end of the album. Moanin’ gives a quick nod to Jerry Garcia, Janzon’s warmly soul-tinged lines over Hillery’s staccato chords and Heath’s winking, on-and-off shuffle.
Yet another jazz waltz, Montgomery’s Full House, as Janzon wryly alludes in the liner notes, “adds nothing” to the original, but it’s inspired and true to form nonetheless. There’s also the pensively shuffling original Blue Bee; spiky, impressively spacious versions of Billie’s Bounce and Polka Dots and Moonbeams, and a terse, purist, bluesy cover of Jimmy Smith’s Messin’ Around. American guitar jazz fans should check out this guy stateside when he’s not in his dear old Stockholm.