Monday, April 22, 2013

Dirty Projectors
"Swing Lo Magellan" (Vinyl)

I'm glad to have finally acquired a copy of this album; I'd been listening to it on the ipod for a while and was continually impressed by the album.  Purchasing it for myself was only a matter of time.

I don't know if anyone had heard of Dirty Projectors before 2009's "Bitte Orca" but this album (released 2012) is actually their seventh full-length album.    Existing along the fringes of public consciousness has its benefits, including recording with Bjork.

Bandleader Dave Longstreth has a unique taste for blending lo-fi/hi-fi sounds together and building trippy beat patterns based on poly-rhythmic motives.  Rather than analyze, it's far more fun to just sit back and enjoy.
Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page
"Guitar Boogie" (Vinyl)

This is an odd album.  The UK's three most important and influential figures of rock guitar playing all joined forces to create this album of muddled, unfocused blues tunes.

I have the US's Pickwick release of this album.  I liken the music a lot to the album artwork.  It's supposed to be trippy and psychedelic, but at its end its confusing and distracting.

What could have been an earth-moving collection of guitar pyrotechnics ends up being a footnote waaay at the bottom of the pages of each of these guitarists' biographies. And maybe not even there.
It's been a long weekend.  Not quite a catch-up, but hopefully back on schedule...

Claude Bolling, Yo-Yo Ma
"Suite for Cello & Jazz Trio" (Vinyl)

This recording, along with Bolling's suite for jazz flute (with Jean Pierre-Rampal) was a huge seller in the early 80's. I've seen countless copies of this album at thrift stores over the years.  I'm not sure why it isn't a more popular album today, especially considering Yo-Yo Ma's enduring popularity.

Actually, this is an important album to look at considering Ma's exceptionally wide influence and interest in different musical genres.  In the subsequent decades Ma would go on to release albums of jazz, bluegrass, tango and world music that made him the most recognizable figure in classical music.

Regarding this album specifically: the album is recorded well; the piano cello parts are well balanced and mixed with the beautifully recorded jazz combo that swings in and out of participation.  I rather like the piece.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dennis Russel Davies, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
"Copland: Appalachian Spring" (Vinyl)

My historical knowledge of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra isn't extensive, but there are a few names on the roster for this recording that are still making with music with the SPCO.
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, currently locked-out by its management, has enjoyed a rich history of music-making in the Twin Cities. Indeed, the Twin Cities' ability to field two world-class ensembles is unique and enviable.

This recording was released in 1980 and is something of a historical landmark.  Regarded by many to be the first digitally recorded album to see wide release, it was recorded at Sound 80 Studios in Saint Paul.  This recording went on to win the SPCO a Grammy Award.

This recording has a very "live" feel to it, with musicians obviously sitting in a studio space (as opposed to on stage at the Ordway Theater) and some of the technical edges are raw; all things that would be "corrected" in today's all-digital studio playground.  As it is, it's a good reminder for how orchestras actually sound.
"Oh, no! It's Devo!" (Vinyl)

Released in 1982, "Oh, no" saw the emergence of Devo as a synth-based futuristic band of misfits that were gleefully unapologetic about their inability to be pigeon-holed.

Perhaps one of the few bands that remains forward-sounding even to today, Devo began working on this album by asking the question: "What would an album made by fascist clowns sound like?"
The answer is most readily observable with the first track, "Time Out for Fun" which is a calculated reminder for leisurely activities.

I've always appreciated Devo and Mark Mothersbaugh.  Mothersbaugh would go on to write some of the more memorable film scores for Wes Anderson; it would seem that he has always been a mind outside the common current.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Reiner, Chicago Symphony
"Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste" (vinyl)

This is an RCA gold seal rel-release of a recording originally put out in 1960.  If I find the original pressing I'll happily swap it out for this one.  I understand a label's strategy in re-packaging their back catalog and trying to squeeze a few additional farthings out of music you already own, but the quality of records was on a steady decline after the 1960's, particularly with classical labels.  For whatever reason, the cheapest options for jacket materials and vinyl were used.

I have nothing against this RCA gold seal - it's a very sturdy record in great shape; I'd just rather have the original.  I'm sure the album cover is much more compelling.

About this music: it's awesome.  Duh.
Performance: Killer.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Quincy Jones
"Big Band Bossa Nova" (Vinyl)

I just found a re-release copy of this album down in Omaha over the weekend.  Printed on hefty 180g vinyl, this is the sort of quality no-frills pressing you want to find; obviously made by music-lovers for music-lovers.

Originally released in 1962, this was near the beginning of Quincy Jones' illustrious career.  It features Jones' own arrangements of different Latin-themed tunes, capitalizing on the popularity of the Latin music craze during that decade.

Most famously, the lead-off track, "Soul Bossa Nova" was used as the theme song for Mike Myers' "Austin Powers" films in the 1990's.  To be fair, this is how I knew what I was holding.
Pink Floyd 
"Animals" (Vinyl)

Album #500!

Released in 1977, this album was tucked between the release of 1975's 'Wish You Were Here' and 'The Wall' in 1979.  Perhaps a bit like my generation's Flaming Lips, this album was Floyd's tenth studio album. (To be fair, most people hadn't heard of Pink Floyd until 1973's 'Dark Side of the Moon,' which was already their sixth album.)

Referencing George Orwell's 'Animal Farm,' the songs on this sprawling concept album are loosely correlated to different characters in Great Britain's political arena during the 1970's.
The album wasn't terribly well received, nor has it ever received the same attention as the albums that bookend it.

I won't say this is my favorite Floyd album; I'll bet you this is probably most appreciated by stoners who are able to listen to the track-less sides

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Black Keys
"Brothers" (Vinyl & CD)

 Released in 2010, this was the Akron duo's sixth album (third with Nonesuch) and their mainstream breakthrough. It was their first Grammy win, it was their first chart-topping single, their first blockbuster album sales.
So it's tragic that this was the beginning of their end for me.

The Keys began as a dirty, fuzzy garage rock blues duo that played bars. Of course they had dreams of fame and fortune, but I didn't know that meant they would change their music in order to achieve success.
As it stands, the Keys early albums (on Fat Possum) are my favorite albums. Their first release in Nonesuch (Magic Potion) was still fantastic, but everything since then has shown a decline into radio-friendly pop-oriented rock that feels very generic by comparison.

"Brothers" is an improvement over its predecessor, but still points the band in a new direction that has gotten them MTV play and magazine covers regularly.
I won't begrudge the Keys their success; they've worked hard for it. Similarly, they'd better not begrudge me the opinion that they used to be a much better, more important force in rock 'n roll.
St. Vincent
"Actor" (Vinyl) 

Released in 2009, this was around the time of St. Vincent's performance on Austin City Limits which raised her profile to a whole new audience of fans. Since then, she has only been gaining momentum. Recording with David Byrne for 2012's "Love this Giant" has been a well-earned victory for the session-musician-turned-songstress.

One of the highest compliments I could pay St. Vincent is that her music sounds like no one else I've ever heard. She combines her ingredients into such a unique cocktail of flavors that tastes like no other. Amongst her techniques is some of the most distinctive guitar playing since Zappa.

What's fascinating is that so far (after three albums released to date) Vincent just keeps refining her craft; she's a creature that lets me believe her best is still yet ahead.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Thelonious Monk
"Criss-Cross" (CD)

Released in 1963, this was Monk's 26th album (second with Columbia.)  This is a CD re-mastered copy full of bright stickers telling me what an important album it is.  Which it is.

I must admit to something: so much of this jazz sounds like...jazz.  I'm not sure I'm learning the difference between the schools, the trends, the regions, the decades.  I don't know if I'm any closer to learning anything meaningful about jazz than I was when I started. 
Sure, I can identify different elements and discuss specific characteristics, but the vocabulary is still eluding me. 

This album is cool, baby, cool.

Am I getting the hang of it?

Monday, April 08, 2013

Elton John
"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (Vinyl)

Yes, Sir Elton John has put out greatest hits albums.  Two volumes, actually.  But it has been said that all you really need is this album and you're covered for the majority of Sir John's memorable output.

Released in 1973, it was hardly his first (it was his seventh, actually) but it's regarded as the best of his chronology. It includes his monster hits "Bennie & the Jets," "Candle in the Wind," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting."

Lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote all of the lyrics for the songs on this album and then handed them over to Elton where he and his band were staying; at a 18th century French mansion, hanging out and recording whatever Taupin would drop off in the morning.

Elton John's melodic sense is incomparable, I suppose that's why forty years after its release the music from this album is still so magnetic and memorable.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

The Jonah Jones Quartet
"Swingin' 'round the World" (Vinyl)

This album was originally released in 1958 on Capitol.
Part of Jonah Jones' "Swingin'" series which included "Swingin' at the Cinema" and "Swingin' on Broadway."

For this disc, any tune that just happened to have some far-away title (like "Madrid" or "Brazil") would qualify for world-traveling.
The truth is everything here receives the same breezy, jazzy treatment.  I'm enjoying this album a lot.
Audio Adrenaline
"Hit Parade" (CD)

Audio A's first 'greatest hits' compilation was released in 2001. In addition to a line-up of their best known songs it also featured two new songs, including the lead-off "Will Not Be Swayed" and "One Like You."

If anyone was looking for an introduction to this band's music, this really is a very capable collection and a good place to start.  The band's unique sound throughout their career is captured well with songs like "Get Down" "Some Kind of Zombie" "Chevette" and "Never Gonna Be as Big as Jesus."

Another visit to the grooveyard of forgotten favorites.  There's a reason this band enjoyed commercial and critical success.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Wes Montgomery
"A Day in the Life" (Vinyl)

Released in 1967, this was Montgomery's eighteenth album. It was also only two albums away from his untimely death in 1968.

Regarded by many to be one of his generation's most influential jazz guitarists, Montgomery had a long career that began with Lionel Hampton's band and led to his successful solo career.

This album contains a cornucopia of influences.  Whether it's the Beatles' title track (also, 'Eleanor Rigby') or Percy Sledge's 'When a Man Loves a Woman', there is no defining Wes Montgomery's list of inspirations.

What's funny to think is that when this was recorded, all of the tunes on this album were brand-new.
Don Sebesky arranged and conducted the orchestra which (oddly enough) credits Emanuel Vardi with playing in the viola section.  Also, Herbie Hancock plays piano on this album.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Rage Against the Machine
"The Battle of Los Angeles" (CD)

1999's 'Battle for Los Angeles' was definitely Rage's most successful album during their on-again-off-again career that has spanned nearly three decades.

Who could be considered the most compelling ingredient of this band? Zach de la Rocha's banshee vocals? Tom Morello's ubiquitous guitar stylings? The relentless, violent backbone provided by Tim Crommerford and Brad Wilk?

No matter who your favorite was, you can't deny that Rage Against the Machine carved a brand new niche for themselves.  Emerging from the malaise in the immediate post-grunge, Rage sounded new and vital.  Whether pundits want to call it nĂ¼ metal, scream-o or rap-metal, it doesn't matter.  Rage brought a brand new combination of sounds to a ready public.

I don't agree with hardly anything Zach de la Rocha or Tom Morello stand for, but I use this as an example of the power of music to convey your ideas.  Great music makes the medicine go down a whole lot easier.

Vladamir Horowitz
"Beethoven: 'Appassionata' & sonata no. 3" (Vinyl)

April has been a slow month. My apologies.  It's been quite busy around here.

I found images of at least three different releases of this very recording on the RCA label.  The image you see is for an RCA Red Seal, there is also a "Living Stereo" release, and what I have is an earlier, shaded dog monophonic pressing.  The cover photograph was the same on all three releases.

These early piano recordings are particularly impressive. At a time when orchestral and chamber music recordings were still working the kinks out, the engineers were able to capture an amazing array of dynamic and articulations from the piano that rivals any recording done with every modern convenience.

I'm not exactly sure when this recording was made, but at latest, it dates from the early 1960's, during the height of Horowitz's appeal and power.

Monday, April 01, 2013

The Supremes
"Baby Love" (Vinyl)

MoTown recordings are another corner of music-making where the original embodiment of a particular tune can be a bit confusing.
So many songs were put out as 45 rpm singles and that's how they became hits either through individual sales or radio airplay.

What I possess here is a collection of tunes by the Supremes (headed by Diana Ross) released on Pickwick.  I wasn't able to find anything further about where many of these tunes were originally from or how they were selected for compendium on this album.

But that's beside the point, I suppose.  These are the original recordings of some of the Supremes' best loved songs.  You can't go wrong there.
Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic
"Karajan Conducts Overtures" (Vinyl)

There was an age of high interest in the late-romantic German composers where the music of Wagner and Mahler was the crowning jewel in western music tradition.  It was during this time that Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic rose to prominence with their lush interpretations of these composer's music.

This is an early Angel recording (odd, because I don't think I've ever seen Karajan on anything other than a Deutsche Grammophon recording) from the 60's.  The cover photo has nothing to do with the recording; in fact, I'm not even sure that is the Berlin Phil pictured on the cover.  I'm 90% sure it's the Hollywood Bowl amphitheater, so many other questions can be raised.

The Philharmonic plays through a set of standard overtures on this recording: "Der Freischutz," "The Flying Dutchman" and "Lohengrin." In fact the only thing outside of the late Germanic tradition is Mendelssohn's "Hebrides" overture.