Brand-new May concert calendar coming on Sunday: check back with us then. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #640:
King Crimson – Red
King Crimson have played an awful lot of styles over their off-and-on forty-year existence – mellotron-driven symphonic rock, crazed acidic jazzy stuff, nerdy staccato new wave, ambient soundscapes. This 1974 album finds guitarist Robert Fripp at his loudest and most metal-oriented, with bassist John Wetton amazingly terse and tuneful. Side one runs through the tricky time signatures and offhandedly ominous tones of the title track, Fallen Angel, the menacing One More Red Nightmare and violin-driven Providence. The sidelong suite Starless, rips a riff from Olivier Messiaen’s Concerto for the End of Time and takes it to its logical, murderous conclusion in over fifteen minutes of increasingly brutal, slowly stalking, crescendoing intensity, including the best (and longest) one-note solo ever played on any instrument (that’s Fripp shrieking and firing off sparks over Wetton’s slowly ascending, growling bass). Here’s a random torrent.
Brooklyn band Mamarazzi’s latest album Bewilderness has a completely original sound: a mix of funk, Afrobeat, hip-hop and a little salsa. A lot of this is totally psychedelic in an early 70s Isaac Hayes or Roy Ayers kind of way, and everything here, even the occasional slow jam, is danceable. The tunes are catchy; the hip-hop interludes are mostly party jams or guy-meets-girl scenes with the boudoir just a few feet away.
The opening track, Sobobo sets cheery sax floating over Andrew Aprile’s circular Afrobeat guitar. Boo Lynn Waltz is a deliciously suspenseful mini-suite, shifting unexpectedly from tense new wave funk to a chill organ interlude with mysterioso sax that morphs again into a vintage soul groove with sweet, jangly guitar and horns. The third track, a straight-up funk tune with a hip-hop bridge, features biting tenor sax harmonies from Tacuma Bradley and Sam Franklin. They follow that with a boudoir theme that leaps into an Afro-funk vamp – it sounds like it was written as a launching pad for audience participation. Gypsy Delight is actually a salsa song, with some joyous Cuban swing piano from Rob Cohen, with another oldschool soul interlude before the dance beat kicks in again.
The next couple of tracks are slinky psychedelic funk. Nu Dutch starts out with ominous wah guitar and timbales and builds to a lush, anthemic vibe, sax anchoring the fat, reverb-toned guitar. Seeds sets the bass against the hypnotic percussion of Tavi Fields and Sam Bathrick, with some tasty, breezy sax as it picks up. Packed with tricky, unexpected tempo and dynamic shifts, Grapefruit kicks off with a blaze of horns, slows down to a woozy sway with electric piano and guitar before it explodes. The way the trombone and sax converge over galloping Rhodes piano as it reaches boiling point is one of the high points of the album. Sunday Night Chicks could be the best song here, beginning as a pretty, summery theme with Eric Herman’s sliding bass carrying the melody in a Little Wing-style Hendrix kind of way. It gets apprehensive and then funky, hits an interlude where the sax pairs off against Jeremy Noller’s drums, followed by a blippy, trippy organ solo and then goes out the way it came in. The album winds up on a surprisingly quiet note with Gangster, a cautionary tale for a bad guy, with a trick ending and an outro that might or might not be part of the mystery. Mamarazzi are at Drom on 4/30 at 10ish on a great bill opening for ferocious gypsy bands Karikatura and Bad Buka.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #641:
The Stanley Bros. – All Time Greatest Hits
We’re gonna sneak another greatest-hits package in here because it’s representative, not necessarily because it’s any better than any other collection by these bluegrass legends – and their stuff has been packaged and repackaged a million times. Ralph and Carter Stanleys’ high lonesome voices, banjo and guitar, along with some topnotch 1940s and 50s Nashville players, rip through eleven songs, many of which have become standards. The real stunner here is Rank Strangers, one of the most vivid depictions of alienation ever set to music – its quietly resolute, suicidal atmosphere will give you chills. The one everybody knows is Man of Constant Sorrow; the rest of the gothic Americana includes Oh Death and White Dove. There’s also the prisoner’s lament Stone Walls and Steel Bars; the wry, amusing Don’t Cheat in Our Home Town; the English dance Little Maggie; the lickety-split Little Birdie, and for country gospel fans, there’s Beautiful Star of Bethlehem. Mysteriously, this one isn’t very easy to find, so in lieu of this particular item you might want to check out something just as interesting, the complete Rich-R-Tone 78s collection, which is decent although the journey from 78 to digital was somewhat less than successful.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #642:
Ennio Morricone – The Platinum Collection
Everybody’s favorite Morricone is The Good, The Bad and the Ugly soundtrack, right? After all, it’s where the Italian film music maestro created his prototypical spaghetti western sound. Give him credit for basically inventing southwestern gothic all by himself, but he’s actually much more diverse than that. This exhaustive four-disc retrospective showcases his eclecticism, with tracks from the 50s through the late 80s. Many of these themes are probably better known today than the B movies in which they appeared (The Ballad of Hank McCain, for instance). From guitar tunes to sweeping, lushly orchestrated overtures, wrenching angst to balmy contentment, Morricone evokes it all, usually in five minutes or less – much less, sometimes. The sixty tracks here include the dark proto-Bacharach La Donna Della Domenica; the brooding Sicilian Clan; the cartoonish My Name Is Nobody; the sweepingly beautiful Deborah’s Theme from the pretty awful Once Upon a Time in America; the totally noir Dimenticare Palermo; the plaintive accordion waltz from The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man; the iconic Fistful of Dollars, and of course tracks from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly including the title theme and the climactic cemetery scene. Here’s a random torrent via sharingisliberty.
Dub Is a Weapon is another one of those great live bands that everybody takes for granted: like John Brown’s Body (just reviewed here), the road is where they excel. But they’re just as good in the studio.Want to get to know Dub Is a Weapon? This band knows how to get you hooked. Head on over to their music page and get four free downloads of their most popular songs. Then you can download the live shows up at archive.org. After all that, if reggae, or dub, or stoner music is your thing, you will probably want their latest album Vaporised, which is just out.
These guys really max out the possibilities you can get with reggae. Their instrumentals typically kick in with a catchy hook, feature a lot of gorgeous guitar/alto sax harmonies, and as much as you can get absolutely lost in a lot of this, it’s more straight-ahead and tuneful than all the dub acts who just vamp out on a single chord. If you know somebody who thinks dubstep is cool, turn them on to this – it’s the real deal. In fact, in a strangely woozy way, this album is one of the best of 2011.
These songs are long, six or seven minutes at a clip. The first one, Turbulence sets an eerie minor tune over a bubbly bassline and quickly goes down to just bass, percussion and wah guitar. Then the horns come in – it’s like classic Lee “Scratch” Perry but with more energy. They go spinning down to bass versus drums, then up to a sunbaked bluesmetal guitar solo that eventually pans your headphones. Finally, after about six minutes, it goes back to the hook and then sneaks out. It’s a good indication of what to expect as the album goes deeper.
Turmoil lets the aliens in the front door early. A balmy sax emerges and floats overhead, the bass goes up an octave, unexpectedly, the band cooks and then chills out again. Track three, Seven Doors starts out as ska before the rhythm goes completely haywire – is that 17/4 time? And then they do a really cool organ interlude, like dub Lonnie Smith. Asheville is not the bluegrass that its title might lead you to believe: it’s a launching pad for a long, thoughtful alto sax solo. The one vocal number here, Forwarding Home, is a sly, knowing Rasta repatriation anthem with a nice chromatic chorus and lots of snaky Middle Eastern-tinged guitar.
Persistence is another fast one with a sweet Balkan horn hook, a brisk drum/bass interlude and a lot of tongue-in-cheek scratchy guitar noise. A slinky minor-key groove, Curva Peligrosa has more of those nice guitar/sax harmonies, a slow, hypnotic guitar solo and a couple of echoey breakdowns. The best solo of all of them is from the guitar, on the devious, poppy Destiny – which is actually a one-chord jam if you think hard enough about it. The last cut, Insurrection keeps a suspenseful roots pulse going all the way from the trippy intro through some LOL swoopy stuff from a theremin, which the guitar finally nudges out of the picture, as if to say, enough. Then the theremin comes back in just to give the guitar the finger. Watch this space for NYC area shows.
The end of the month invariably sneaks up on us and then we find ourselves scrambling to put together a new monthly NYC live music calendar – we’re working on one for May and June right now. We’ll try to squeeze in an album or two in the meantime if we can. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #643:
Los Saicos – Wild Teen Punk from Peru 1965
Los Saicos invented punk rock. In 1964. In Peru, off all places. Los Saicos (pronounced “los psychos”) had the raw, screaming vocals, amusingly antagonistic lyrics and sledgehammer guitars going a dozen years before the Ramones or the Clash (who most likely never knew they existed – sometimes great inventions happen in different places at different times). In their brief mid-60s heyday they never released an album or for that matter anything outside Peru. This reissue compilation collects pretty much their whole repertoire. Their big hit, still a cult favorite today, is Salvaje (The Savage); the surprisingly quiet, doo-wop tinged Ana was also a hit. There’s also the stomping, eerie surf punk of Come On; Lonely Star, which sounds like fast noir Orbison pop; the Peruvian ghoul janglerock of Cemeterio and El Entierro de Los Gatos (The Cats’ Burial); the brooding, hypnotic Fugitivo de Alcatraz; Te Amo, a sneering love song parody; Demolicion, a punked-out Twist; and the macabre R&B of the aptly titled Intensamente. Here’s a random torrent via Psychedelic Obscurities.
Spottiswoode & His Enemies’ new album Wild Goosechase Expedition is a throwback to those great art-rock concept albums of the 70s: Dark Side of the Moon, ELO’s Eldorado, the Strawbs’ Grave New World, to name a few. And it ranks right up there with them: if there is any posterity, posterity will view this as not only one of the best albums of 2011 but one of the best of the decade. Songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Spottiswoode calls this his Magical Mystery Tour. While the two albums follow a distantly parallel course in places, the music only gets Beatlesque in its trippiest moments. Ostensibly it follows the doomed course of a rock band on tour, a not-so-thinly veiled metaphor for the state of the world today. Most of this is playful, meticulously crafted, Britfolk-tinged psychedelic art-rock and chamber pop – the obvious comparison is Nick Cave, or Marty Willson-Piper. Fearlessly intense, all over the map stylistically, imbued with Spottiswoode’s signature sardonic wit, the spectre of war hangs over much of the album, yet there’s an irrepressible joie de vivre here too. His ambergris baritone inhabits the shadows somewhere between between Nick Cave and Ian Hunter, and the band is extraordinary: lead guitar genius Riley McMahon (also of Katie Elevitch’s band) alternates between rich, resonant textures and writhing anguish, alongside Candace DeBartolo on sax, John Young on bass and Konrad Meissner (of the Silos and, lately, the Oxygen Ponies) on drums.
As much lush exuberance as there is in the briskly strummed title track, Beautiful Monday, there’s a lingering apprehension: “Hoping that one day, we’ll be truly free,” muses Spottiswoode. It sets the tone for much that’s to come, including the next track, Happy Or Not, pensive and gospel-infused. Slowly cresendoing from languid and mysterious to anthemic, the Beatlesque Purple River Yellow Sun follows the metaphorically-charged trail of a wide-eyed crew of fossil hunters. The first real stunner here is All in the Past, a bitter but undeterred rake’s reminiscence shuffling along on the reverb-drenched waves of Spottiswoode’s Rhodes piano:
I was young not so long ago
But that was then and you’ll never know
Who I was, what I did
How we misbehaved
Who we killed
I’ll take that to the grave
The song goes out with a long, echoing scream as adrenalizing as anything Jello Biafra ever put on vinyl.
A bolero of sorts, Just a Word I Use is an invitation to seduction that paints a hypnotic, summery tableau with accordion and some sweet horn charts. A gospel piano tune that sits somewhere between Ray Charles and LJ Murphy, I’d Even Follow You To Philadelphia is deliciously aphoristic – although Philly fans might find it awfully blunt. The gorgeously jangly rocker Sometimes pairs off some searing McMahon slide guitar against a soaring horn chart, contrasting mightily with the plaintive Satie-esque piano intro of Chariot, a requiem that comes a little early for a soldier gone off to war. It’s as potent an antiwar song as has been written in recent years.
All Gone Wrong is a sardonic, two-and-a-half minute rocker that blasts along on a tricky, syncopated beat. The world has gone to completely to hell: “They got religion, we got religion, everything’s religion,” Spottiswoode snarls. Problem Child, with its blend of early 70s Pink Floyd and folk-rock, could be a sarcastic jab at a trust fund kid; Happy Where I Am, the most Beatlesque of all the tracks here vamps and then fades back in, I Am the Walrus style.
This is a long album. The title track (number twelve if you’re counting) might be an Iraq war parable, a creepy southwestern gothic waltz tracing the midnight ride of a crew who seem utterly befuddled but turn absolutely sinister as it progresses: it’s another real stunner, Meissner throwing in some martial drum rolls at the perfect moment. All My Brothers is a bluesy, cruelly sarcastic battlefield scenario: “Only the desert understands, all my brothers lie broken in the sand – freedom, freedom, freedom.” The satire reaches a peak with Wake Me Up When It’s Over: the narrator insists in turning his life over to his manager and his therapist. “Don’t forget to pay the rent…tell me who’s been killed, after all the blood’s been spilled,” its armchair general orders.
McMahon gets to take the intensity as far as it will go with The Rain Won’t Come, a fiery stomping guitar rocker that wouldn’t be out of place on Steve Wynn’s Here Come the Miracles. The album ends on an unexpectedly upbeat note with the one dud here and then the epic, nine-minute You Won’t Forget Your Dream, a platform for a vividly pensive trumpet solo from Kevin Cordt and then a marvelously rain-drenched one from pianist Tony Lauria. All together, these songs make the album a strong contender for best album of the year; you’ll see it on our best albums of 2011 list when we manage to pull it together, this year considerably earlier than December. It’s up now at Spottiswoode’s bandcamp site.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #644:
Taraf de Haidouks – Band of Gypsies
Active in their native Romania since the 90s, this exhilarating 2001 album by the scorching acoustic gypsy band makes Gogol Bordello seem tame by comparison. It’s as otherworldly and ecstatic as you could possibly want. Brief, blistering violin dances – Dance of the Firemen, Sorry Only My Sorrow, A Storm Crosses the Danube in the Company of a Raven and Caricura Dances intermingle with the lickety-split fiddling of The Return of the Magic Horses, the tricky, Macedonian-flavored A Gypsy Had a House and Absinth I Drink You, Absinth I Eat You, which is much further from blissful than you would expect. Green Leaf, Clover Leaf sets a buffoonish duet to a gorgeous tune, followed by the stark lament Little Buds, Bride in a Red Dress – which sounds like a syncopated version of the Exorcist theme – and the closing showstopper, Back to Clejani, whose lead instrument sounds like a broken tuba. The entire album is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent.
Rude as it is to eavesdrop, some conversations are worth repeating. Saturday night’s concert at Weill Hall featured characteristically eclectic and enormously entertaining music from Gunther Schuller and his younger colleague Mohammed Fairouz, seated together inconspicuously in the crowd. After one of Fairouz’s pieces had reached its end, Schuller nudged him. “About one note – I think it’s an “A” – in the second movement…it’s like punching a hole in it. It doesn’t work. With such beautiful atonalities, to have this bland note? You have to take it out.”
Which sums up the enduring value of Dr. Schuller – whose recent 85th birthday the musicians and composers were celebrating – better than any accolade ever could. Imagine: a composer who would use any means necessary to avoid blandness. Rather than taking umbrage, Fairouz was grateful that the former New England Conservatory president had given the work such a close listen. “I’ll find it,” he responded confidently.
This was a celebration of substantial music, which took itself with the utmost seriousness at times; other times, not at all. In a brief onstage discussion prior to the concert, Schuller – “A guy who doesn’t rely on the system,” as Fairouz understatedly explained – campaigned to expand his concept of third-stream to a “brotherhood or sisterhood of music,” to include not only jazz and classical but all global musical styles as well. Schuller pointed to the internet era’s explosion of available recordings as reason for optimism and the eventual triumph of complete syncretism, but reminded that effort and willingness to abandon outdated preconceptions would be necessary to cement the paradigm shift.
The music was just as much a celebration of eclecticism. Schuller’s Sonata for Alto Saxophone opened the program, pianist Katie Reimer nimbly negotiating its starlit expanses and trickily skipping passages, alternating and then converging with Michael Couper’s effectively dynamic birdcalls and pensive deliberateness. Farouz’s Furia, from 2010, followed, a string quartet of Tema Watstein and Michelle Ross on violins, Mary Sang-Hyun Yong on viola and Michael Katz on cello establishing a grave, foreboding ambience for baritone Mischa Bouvier to stoically deliver a lyric by Borges. In essence, it’s about reaching the pinnacle of success and hating every minute of it. As Katz coyly injected a little swoop and dive into the horror-movie sonics, Bouvier stern and immobile, it took on an amusing surrealism.
A far more serious suite, Fairouz’s Four Critical Models was next. Assembled as two statements, each followed by a response, the first, a bustling, agitated semi-conversation between Couper’s sax and Rayoung Ahn’s violin sought to illustrate a Milton Babbitt quote about the struggle for serious music’s survival. Its rejoinder employed marvelous microtonal violin intricacies inspired by something Theodore Adorno once opined. A hideous anti-Arab screed by British playboy imperialist Evelyn, Lord Cromer was surprisingly downplayed via some bright and probably intentionally generic Middle Eastern tropes; its response, inspired by Edward Said, worked a beautifully still, logical series of gently shifting sostenuto notes or simple motifs.
The evening’s showstopper was Schuller’s Paradigm Exchanges, a series of witty, shapeshifting vignettes that often segued seamlessly from one to another, with echoes of both Bartok and Messiaen. Here Reimer, Katz and Watstein were joined by Vasko Dukovski on clarinet and bass clarinet, and Magdalena Angelova on flute. Through its fourteen movements, pretty much every possible permutation of the quintet was utilized. Watstein’s confidently eerie tritone-packed solo made a high point in the opening fanfare, followed by a vivid conversation, Dukovski maintaining a perfect cool as Katz’s cello grew more agitated. As the segues continued, it became impossible to figure out where one movement ended and the next began. Angelova provided strikingly apprehensive accents against Messiaenesque stillness; a bit later, Reimer got to hint gleefully at an evil buffoon theme, and then illuminate a murky bass clarinet drone. Eventually a canon emerged; the whole ensemble brought it to an end with an eerie flourish, an escape from a roomful of funhouse mirrors. Somewhere there’s a surreal suspense movie that needs to be made to utilize this literally mesmerizing, cinematic work.