Some Bright Stars For Queens College

 

The culprit

Two weeks before I built it, I said for the benefit of everyone else in the room as they unpacked their effects pedalboards, that I’d never use one. I thought of myself as some sort of guitar purist. I was into my guitar, it’s pickups, and a cord plugged straight into a tube amp. At the same time I was playing bass in another band and in order to have more colors in my pallette, I’d started to bring the analog delay and tremelo pedals, and of course all the wall warts, patch cords, and irritating set-up that go with them.  It flew in the face of my of my plan to keep things as simple as possible.  Also we moved from one rehearsal room into another and in the process, I found, in a milk crate full of unloved pedals, a Electro Harmonix Micro Synthesizer.

That night I was playing synthetic beats and thought it would be interesting to hear them squashed through it (true).  It was these and other convergences that inspired me to build my pedal board which I no longer know how I lived without.  I run everything through it.  It’s great, it fits in a hard shell case.  I pull it out, plug it in, and I’m ready to go, tuner on and everything.  The hard shell case had been in my basement storing a discarded cassette machine, next to an old suitcase filled with tapes I’d often thought of getting rid of as I had no plans of going back to them, except occasionally to archive something I couldn’t find anywhere else.  A few of my posts feature these digitized recordings.

So the cassette machine, naked, went back down to the basement and my painting studio, where I have a pretty awesome stereo.  I had been listening to NPR or my mp3 player.  I got the bright idea of hooking up the tape machine.  I opened the suitcase which held almost 300 tapes, some dating back to the late ’70′s, and others as recent as 2001.

It turned out to be a great idea, the cassettes sound good , and a reminder that the mp3′s we all listen to are not better, necessarily, just convenient.  In fact an mp3 ripped from an audio cd is a rough equivalent to a song a taped off an lp.  I became reacquainted with my mixtapes from the mid to late ’80′s.  The most exciting discoveries being found in the space at the end where the 45 minute side was longer than the vinyl album and the dead space filled with the random odd thing.  I have about 3,000 cd’s representing most of the music I need to have at my fingertips.  I’d long ago foolishly discarded almost all my lp’s, and most of it has been replaced digitally, but there were a few long lost gems I began to realize I might find in the cassettes.  The lp’s have been gone for decades but here were copies pickled back in the day, all the wondrous surface noise which had sent me over to cd’s in the first place now a charming reminder of  how music used to sound.

The scene of the crime

I became obsessed with one recording in particular.  Out of all the music I’d ever heard, there was one astonishing bit of recorded music I’d never been able to replace on cd.  I knew it would turn up somewhere, unless it was something I’d taped over, which unfortunately  happened pretty often.  At least a quarter of them had been sacrificed for car tapes from cd’s I still have.  The lp in question was David Bedford’s Nurse’s Song With Elephants from 1972.

David Bedford had been involved with the british art rock scene in the late ’60′s and ’70′s as a string arranger for the likes of Roy Harper, and Kevin Ayers.  He orchestrated and conducted Mike Oldfield’s The Orchestral Tubular Bells album (1975).

(wiki)

The first album to consist entirely of David Bedford compositions was Nurses Song With Elephants, recorded at the Marquee Studios, and released in 1972 on John Peel’s Dandelion label. On this album, Bedford mixed classical ensemble with poems and voices. “Some Bright Stars for Queen’s College” uses twenty-seven plastic pipe twirlers, John Peel himself being among the pipe twirler players. There are five tracks on the album: “It’s Easier Than It Looks”, “Nurses Song With Elephants”, “Some Bright Stars for Queen’s College”, “Trona” (1967), and “Sad and Lonely Faces”.  Bass guitar on the title song is played by Mike Oldfield and the final track features a poem by Kenneth Patchen that is sung by Kevin Ayers.

The Album

After about a month of searching, I’d already found Sad And Lonely Faces, so I knew I was on the trail and success was possible.  I found a cassette simply labelled “ex Albums ll”, which I sussed was made of choice cuts just before selling the records to buy my first cd’s back in 1991.   I’m a painter and all this time I’m listening, I’m painting pictures, sometimes not paying real close attention, but this time I was standing there, waiting to see what came next.  About 3/4 of the way through, and after Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s amazing Space Guitar, and Magic Sam’s 21 Days in Jail, there it was, I’d found my holy grail.

I’m not sure why I picked this out of everything to obsess over, except that it’s one of the most oddly compelling pieces I’ve ever heard.  There is a lot of air moving from acoustic sources, always a powerful experience.  All those girls voices make my hair stand on end in a good way.  Anyway I was very happy to hear it again, and wanted to share it this holiday season.  Enjoy!!!!!

Some Bright Stars For Queens College

Crimson Jazz Trio

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Happy New Year! I had this idea to put together a year-end-of-decade something, but really the decade we just finished was the worst of the six I’ve been alive in so far. Okay, the ’80′s fucking sucked, too. And it’s not just music we’re talking about. I was going to say something about the good times from 1967-1977, and then I remembered that whole Vietnam war thing.  Then I thought I’d go on about how great all the new technology is. In fact this blog would have been a fanzine I never would’ve bothered to cut and paste together, get printed, and assemble. All the music I don’t buy anymore. I used to spend over $1500 per year on recorded music. A fair amount of what I post came magically from the web. I love my cell phone, and digital camera. And then I’ll be out in public somewhere hearing what is ostensibly music, and there it is: autotune.  So as usual everything’s a decidedly mixed bag.

I also thought about a Vic Chestnutt memorial, but I’ve hardly heard any of his music.  A friend sent me a version of his “Kick My Ass” by Garbage, which is great.   Frankly, the minute I heard about Vic Chestnutt and his tragedy, I was so saddened that I couldn’t bear to seek out his music.  Life is hard enough without a wheelchair.  That he was out fighting the good fight was all I needed to know.  I listened to part of one of his albums once, and hearing him struggle to breathe and sing was enough for me.  I felt like I was suffocating. I hope he’s found peace.

Instead I’ve decided to post a recent discovery, thanks again to sakalli (see blogroll).  The Crimson Jazz Trio was lead by Ian Wallace, King Crimson drummer for one of their least loved periods.  He played on the decent, and kind of low-key Islands,as well as the truly horrible EarthboundRobert Fripp has done much to rehabilitate the reputation of this particular incarnation by releasing other live documents much superior to the aforementioned travesty.

The Crimson Jazz Trio will favorably remind many of The Bad Plus, as they are a jazz piano trio playing an interesting repertoire.  In this case it is the music of King Crimson. They cover a fair amount of the Belew territory, although you would not know it from this post.
I’ve spent a lot of time with this music over the years, so hearing it in a jazz context is really fun.  Maybe I’d enjoy more jazz if I knew the old tunes those bop guys were deconstructing in the 50′s and 60′s.

In researching this post I also found out that Ian Wallace passed onto the great gig in the sky on February 22nd, 2007, a few months after some of these recordings.  Even though he was a top session drummer for over 40 years, he is still best remembered for the year and a half he spent in King Crimson.

Ian Wallace 1946-2007

21st Century Schizoid Man
Pictures Of A City
Cat Food
Ladies Of The Road
Starless
Lament
Red

Christmas Bullshit

 
 
 
 
 
 

The true spirit of Christmas?

The true spirit of Christmas?

I used to hate Christmas for all the usual reasons. Not believing in God, or that Jesus was anything but a radical rabbi for starters, crass commercialization, gathering with family, people I have nothing in common with except ancestors. The list goes on and it’s boring as hell.
A couple years ago I fell in love and acquired a daughter, which makes it impossible to hate Christmas without being an asshole. As long as she has a good Christmas, I have one, too.
She’s ten this year and has figured out that there is no Santa Claus.
Maintaining belief in the face of all the evidence took it’s toll. Last year we left out a plate of cookies and she realized the note Santa left was in Mommy’s handwriting.
One way I’ve learned to embrace the season is to make mix cd’s of Christmas music and send them out to family and friends as Christmas Cards.

Here are a few of my favorite songs.

First is Joseph Spence. This version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is my favorite Christmas music.

Joseph Spence

Joseph Spence

Joseph Spence (born August, 1910 in Andros, Bahamas – died March 18, 1984 in Nassau, Bahamas) was a Bahamian guitarist and singer. He is well known for his vocalizations and humming while performing on guitar. Several modern folk, blues and jazz musicians, including Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, Woody Mann, Olu Dara, and John Renbourn were influenced by and have recorded variations of his arrangements of gospel and Bahamian songs.
He has been called the folk guitarist’s Thelonious Monk.

Detroit Junior, center

Detroit Junior, center

Next up is Detroit Junior’s terrific “Christmas In Jail”.

Emery “Detroit Junior” Williams, Jr. (October 26, 1931 – August 9, 2005) was a blues pianist, vocalist, and songwriter. He is know for songs such as “So Unhappy”, “Call My Job”, “If I Hadn’t Been High”, “Ella” and “Money Tree”. His songs have been covered by Koko Taylor, Albert King and countless other blues artist.
Detroit recorded his first single, “Money Tree” with the Bea & Baby label in 1960. His first full album, “Chicago Urban Blues”, was released in the early 1970s on the Blues on Blues label. He also has recordings on Alligator, Blue Suit, The Sirens Records, and Delmark.
Detroit Junior began his career in Detroit, Michigan, backing touring musicians such as Eddie Boyd, John Lee Hooker, and Amos Milburn. Eddie Boyd brought him to Chicago in 1956, where he spent the next 12 years. In the early 1970s, Detroit toured and recorded with Howlin’ Wolf. After the death of Howlin’ Wolf in 1976, Detroit returned to Chicago where he lived and performed until his death in 2005.

Roy Wood (right) and friend

Roy Wood (right) and friend

Roy Wood’s Wizzard is next with their 1973 hit “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day”. Besides Wizzard, Roy founded The Move, and Electric Light Orchestra. More about Roy another time.

Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens “That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!” is the only thing I’ve ever heard by him. Singer songwriter’s tend to scare me. I’m terrified of boredom. However, as this song is sublime, I’d be willing to explore more of his music.

Next up is “Christmas Time In The Motor City”, by Detroit Funsters Was (Not Was). (See earlier post)

“Merry Christmas” by NRBQ is a lovely tribute to Brian Wilson.

NRBQ is an American rock band founded in 1967. They are known for their live performances, containing a high degree of spontaneity and levity, and blending rock, pop and jazz styles of the 1950s and ’60s. Their best known line-up is the 1974–1994 quartet of pianist Terry Adams, bassist Joey Spampinato, guitarist Al Anderson, and drummer Tom Ardolino.

NRBQ

NRBQ

Merry Christmas Everybody!

Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town
Christmas In Jail
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day
That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!
Christmas Time In The Motor City
Merry Christmas

Los Straightjackets

 

This is the other Christmas music I didn’t mind hearing all the way through. Los Straightjackets play God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen like Pipeline.
Surf’s Up!  I promise no more Holiday cheer until after Thanksgiving.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Dona Nobis Pacem

 
I have recently been researching Christmas Music for use in a public space. It’s a long story I’ll get to later. Anyway there is a lot of Holiday music out there, much of it astoundingly bad.
Every once in a while something would come along that was only half bad. This is the only transcendent piece of music I found so it’s worth sharing.
I remembered liking this song as part of a Christmas show when I was in sixth grade chorus. It’s origin is Bach. I found a rendition on an album of funeral songs. The words are latin for “Bring Us Peace”.
This version, by South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the group famously backing Paul Simon on “Graceland”, mangles somewhat the beautiful melody in a surprising, and frankly beatlesque fashion.

Dona Nobis Pacem