Sunday, July 17, 2011

What's New?: 7.17.2011

Budget shopping, bin scouring for bargains and just good ol'fashioned wheelin' and dealin'. . .

Nicola Conte — Jet Sounds Revisited volume 1 (2002)

On a whim, Dave notified me of a cutout deal on this double ten inch EP. The price was too good, so I couldn't say no. At the time, I thought I would just be getting something I already had on CD, but in a quirkier format (and I had never heard this stuff on vinyl, so hey). When I got the thing home, I was pleased as punch to discover that, despite there only being five songs spread across the two ten inch records, two of those songs were not included on the CD version of this album (of which I had and have enjoyed for many years). Indeed, the Dining Rooms' beat heavy, trip-hoppy remake of 'Jazz Pour Dadine' and the Freeform Arkestra's trippy, very outwardly-tuned "Traffic Replay" of 'Trappola Mortale' are like brand new tunes to me. Couldn't be happier, as after a bit of research, it seems volume 2 of the vinyl issue of the album contains nothing that's not already on the CD. Fate, as it were.

Mike Oldfield — Ommadawn (1975)

Indeed, Mike Oldfield, indeed. I've had a sort of mindshift in the last few months in regards to this guy. After I watched this (because I am, let's face it, an absolute whore for music documentaries; whether I care about the music being discussed or not), I was intrigued. I already knew and liked 70's Yes. But, why was Mike Oldfield being discussed? Isn't he a new age guy? The pieces from Tubular Bells played in the documentary didn't sound like new age music (at least not the crappy sort). So, a flip through a thrift store record shelf and I had me a copy of Tubular Bells for fifty cents. Brilliant stuff. Went back a few days later and grabbed the copy of Hergest Ridge for the same price. Liked it just as much, if not more. And now, this one. It's a bit more of a hard nut to crack off the bat. But I do like it. There seems to be a nearly overwhelming sense of melancholy to the whole thing, although it does contain some right beautiful passages on side two. This album, and the other early Oldfield works, very much remind me of things that I already love: floatier John Martyn, early Durutti Column, even Tangerine Dream at some points, etc. Great stuff, indeed.

Leonard Cohen — I'm Your Man (1988)

Leonard goes. . . synth-pop?! Actually, yes. I mean, why not, really? He was essentially an outsider to the folk-rock world that welcomed him in the late 60's, so why shouldn't he sound just as much like an outsider in the 80's, seemingly trying to sound like the Pet Shop Boys? I like how ridiculously dated it sounds. Primitive sequencers, completely out of place background vocals and everything just generally sounding like it belongs in an episode of Miami Vice (ok, maybe Miami Vice after smoking a few joints). The uber-dated sounds don't really derail Leonard's wry, husky baritone vocals and poetic (and predictably great) lyrics. Definitely a time period piece, but Leonard's vocals are the sole reason that anybody could listen to this in 2011 and still be engaged with the material.

David Bowie — Pin-Ups (1973)

I've long had a soft spot for this Bowie album. It's a covers record and, if nothing else, it illustrates just how captivating the Spiders from Mars were as a band, because, even though most of the material remains unchanged from the originals, the songs still take on a new life; a rockin'-out-and-lovin'-it sort of vibe that just plain works. Not his best anything, but I still find myself going back to it most frequently out of all the Ziggy-era albums. This is the version on Ryko which includes one b-side and one outtake. Bonus tracks, hooray!

Miles Davis — Amandla (1989)

After going back to Aura recently and finally venturing into the last third of this book (after years of just not caring), I went for the last studio album released while Miles was alive. I've written off this period in Miles' catalogue for so many years, admittedly without actually hearing much of it (I guess I just saw smooth jazz covers of 'Time After Time' and 'Human Nature' and panicked, wouldn't you?). After actually going in and listening to this album (and Aura), I can say I like at least some 80's Miles. This album does have gratuitous sequencers and synths, but there's really a sense of getting back to grooves and a sort of free funk sound. There is a very cool go-go undertone to most of the album and while Miles isn't in top form, he at least is having fun and doing more than just stating melodies. The closing song 'Mr. Pastorious' finds Miles playing be-bop again for the first time since the late 60's. It is one point where his playing sounds in top form again and it's a rather moving ballad performance. Colour me pleasantly surprised.

Miles Davis — Live at the Fillmore East March 7, 1970: It's About that Time (1970)

The only existing recording that includes this sextet (Miles, Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland and Chick Corea). This was recorded between two opening sets (one for the Steve Miller Band, for Neil Young and Crazy Horse; talk about mismatches) in the weeks before Bitches Brew was released, but a few months after it had been recorded. This is just ace stuff, all the way through. Absolutely scorching renditions of 'Spanish Key' are included on both discs, while 'Miles Runs the Voodoo Down' on disc two sounds trippier than anything either Steve Miller or Crazy Horse could've presented to the hippie audience. Besides Chick Corea's electric keyboards and Dave Holland playing a bit of electric bass (he mostly sticks to acoustic), this was an all acoustic band still. Exceptionally colourful and far reaching music, considering that context. Just killer stuff.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What's New?: 7.6.2011

More assortments of musical smorgasbord. . .

Kenny Wheeler — Gnu High (1975)

I've never been aware of Kenny Wheeler before, but as this is a quartet album, I was immediately interested upon seeing it because the rest of the band consists of Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock. It's only three tracks and all compositions belong to Kenny, but my main interest in this set is the backing band, as I believe it was the first pairing of Keith Jarrett's now-famous trio (the only other meeting I'm aware of in the 70's was 1977's Tales of Another led by Gary Peacock — though erroneously credited to Jack DeJohnette in that link). The music on this session is definitely more relaxed and casually enjoyable. Not without its headier stock-ECM moments (especially on the long tracks 'Heyoke' and 'Gnu Suite' which feature unaccompanied solos by all members of the band), it's still wonderful stuff. And quite beautiful most of the time.

Radiohead — Supercollider/The Butcher 12" single (2011)

'Supercollider' is good. And weird, coming immediately after the King of Limbs. I mean, anything by the band following immediately after that confused and confrontationally short album would have been a take off, but to lead this single off with a seven minute long, pseudo-Brian Eno on Another Green World, all electronic meditation is a little bit awesome and a lot unforeseen. It's a really mellow track and I can't say I'm crazy about it, but I do like it. The b-side wins again, in this case, with the uber-tense, excellently paced 'The Butcher.' A swarm of samples, low-register keyboards and syncopated drum machines switching time signatures constantly, it's the sort of song that you hear and wonder what the world would be like without a band so unconcerned with developing a familiar sound. Right on for the darkness.

Radiohead — The Bends (1995)

Hard to believe the same band is still together sixteen years later and creating such different music. I "collected" this one back in my Napster days, but I hadn't heard it a mighty long time. And yes, it's still a sure thing: I don't like 'Fake Plastic Trees.' Never have. Never will. It's kind of funny listening to this album now, how guitar-centric the band was. But how gosh-danged tuneful they were. It's so easy to listen to the band from Ok Computer onwards and just take them at that. But a listen to this album and things like 'Street Spirit (Fade Out)' are still chill-inducing — and, not to mention, that one fits right in with their current repertoire. Overall, yeah. Totally good album. It certainly has its group of dedicated fans.

Arthur Verocai — Arthur Verocai (1972)

I seem to remember when this reissue came out and I was intimidated by the obscurity of the material, so I didn't check it out. Years later, I'm a casual fan of Brazilian music (and specifically, the era that this album came from) and looking for something to really dig into 'the next level' and I remembered this album. I'm glad I did, because it's really fantastic. It does have quite a similarity to Jorge Ben albums of the same time; maybe just not quite as all out FONK-AY and a bit more focused on arrangements than on pure grooves (though there's plenty of that, too). The actual tunes and melodies are excellent. Very catchy stuff. Overall, it definitely has a sense of uniqueness about it, as within the first five seconds of 'Caboclo', you hear a slow acoustic arpeggio and some bubbling electronics. There's slow, dreamy, superbly arranged moments like 'Dedicade A Ela' and a straight jazz instrumental called 'Karini (Domingo No Grajau').' So, a really solid album that covers a lot of ground in just thirty minutes. It certainly didn't deserve to exist in such obscurity for so long.

Neil Finn — One All (2002)

It sounds like Try Whistling This but without the rough edges. Still, like everything with his name on it, there's catchy songs for days and a very likable, mature, acoustic strummy base to everything. It's easy to see why, after going back to his solo albums and the albums with his brother, the more recent Crowded House material is much more straightforward and stripped back. Just pure, honest and earnest pop from one of the modern masters of the style. Good stuff.

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman — John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (1963)

Seriously, I didn't already have this!?!! I have so much Coltrane, I guess it was easy to miss this one, as I have the quartet box set that documents the year that this album was recorded, but since it's not just the quartet, it doesn't have this material. So, I guess that makes sense. In any case, it's very reminiscent of the Ballads album, except that Johnny Hartman sings and McCoy Tyner gets next to no solo time. Really mellow stuff and I've always loved to hear Trane play ballads, so this is a no-brainer for me. Their rendition of 'Autumn Serenade' is just absolutely sublime; definitely the highlight for me. Not completely familiar with Johnny Hartman before hearing this album, but definitely interested in hearing more.

Felt — Stains on a Decade (1980's)

I've known about this band for a while, but I was always way too intimidated by the size of its catalogue. Additionally, the rarity of those albums on this side of the world only compounded my apprehension. I came upon this best of collection by chance, for cheap, so I figured I should go for it because I may never come across it again (even though I normally don't like compilations as my first taste of a band). Upon a few initial listens, they sort of strike me as Orange Juice meets the Field Mice. There's fifteen jangly tunes collected here that are full of catchy hooks and whimsical, esoteric vocals. Overall, it's a compilation, so it's of course all over the place, but I can't say there's a song in the bunch that I don't like. It's all pretty good, and I was especially pleasantly surprised to hear Elizabeth Fraser duet on a song ('Primitive Painters' — and a peak at the liner notes reveals that Robin Guthrie produced about a third of the tracks on the collection). Overall, really good stuff, but I now face being in the frustrating situation of liking the band, but knowing that the only thing I have by them is a fragmentary representation. Dah well. The search continues.