Category Archives: Music

Your Time Is Up – Lament For The Blues

You are beloved
You were ordained
To conjure sunshine
On days it rained

You are remembered
You are revered
Your locks are greying
Just like your beard

Now your days are numbered
And your hand is slow
The axe that thundered
The frets that glowed
The voice that rumbled
The riffs that flowed
Your time is coming
Pay up what’s owed

You trod the stage
Played for the crowd
Contained your rage
Sang soft, not loud

Now no one listens
No one hears
And through the silence
The faintest cheers

And in the distance
A sweet sustain
Held by the Marshall
The old refrain

Now your days are numbered
And your hand is slow
The axe that thundered
The frets that glowed
The voice that rumbled
The riffs that flowed
Your time is coming
Pay up what’s owed

untitled

 

Art Full Of Soul – Music Review

imagesF8RC0A4B
The way a man walks, the way he talks, the timbre of his voice, the cadences of his speech, his little variations in phrasing a thought — all have so much to do with individuality. The same thing is true of a man’s playing in jazz… his tone, the way his sound moves, his feeling for time. That’s why jazz is consistently fascinating. You could ask six guys to play an identical solo, but when you heard the results, you’d hear six different solos.’
That’s Leonard Feather quoting alto sax player, Art Pepper, in his sleeve notes for ‘Smack Up’, Pepper’s 1960 album for Contemporary/OJC. I first heard the album about 20 years ago. I hadn’t consciously avoided West Coast jazz before then but had somehow gravitated toward the East Coast and Parker, Gillespie and Davis. So this album, and Pepper’s swing, his time, was something new.
Not long after recording the album, Pepper was imprisoned for 3 years for heroin possession. So it’s not too much of a stretch to see why the Harold Land composition was selected as the opening and title track. Pepper was an addict for long periods of his adult life but contemporary reportage agrees that the majority of his recording and gig dates were straight ahead examples of Pepper’s brilliant musicianship.  This album is no exception and is never far from my turntable.
The selections on the album are a little unusual in that they are all compositions by saxophonists as differing in style as Benny Carter and Ornette Coleman. There are no standards or show tunes. So the track listing ranges from bop to swing to the soulful 5/4 of Pepper’s own ‘Las Cuevas de Mario’.
Throughout, Pepper is decisive and urgent. The music swings and the bop has a cutting edge. When Pepper attacks the changes, you will listen. There’s something going on here. The rhythm section just cooks along and the trumpet and piano commentaries are wonderfully well judged. The quintet, led by Pepper, has a voice – and the voice has soul. The music they make will move you.

Personnel: Art Pepper -alto sax; Jack Sheldon -trumpet; Pete Jolly -piano; Jimmy Bond -bass; Frank Butler -drums.
Track Listing
1. Smack Up (Harold Land)
2. Las Cuevas de Mario (Art Pepper)
3. A Bit of Basie (Buddy Collette)
4. How Can You Lose (Benny Carter)
5. Maybe Next Year (Duane Tatro)
6. Tears Inside (Ornette Coleman)
7. Solid Citizens (Jack Montrose)
8. Solid Citizens (alternate take)

pepper1

 

 

On A Mission From God – Music In Film (Part III)

cabaret1

 

Cabaret (Bob Fosse 1972) is a great film and is the vehicle for the defining role of Liza Minnelli’s career. Minnelli is Sally Bowles as she works the stage of the Kit Kat Klub in the Berlin of 1931. The Weimar Republic is shortly to give way to the rising wave of National Socialism but Sally is largely indifferent to all of that. Sally has given her heart to the Kit Kat Klub and her relationships with the audience, her fellow troupers and her lovers have the appearance of warmth, of intimacy – but are only theatrical. She is the film’s decadent heart.

Fosse’s direction of the actors and the action creates a supple ease to accommodate the now familiar juxtaposition of Nazi ‘purity’ and an amoral society. The extraordinary set pieces build to a performance of the title song at the finale which echoes the nihilism and desperation not only of Sally’s soul, but of nations about to experience the most profound tragedy of modern history.
‘Cabaret’ is that most difficult of things; a downbeat musical masterpiece.

 

maxresdefault

9 Songs (Michael Winterbottom 2004) is a plain film. At the time of its release it was considered controversial due to its frequent bouts of unsimulated sex, including an actual male orgasm. It earned the twin signposts of mediocre critique – ‘notorious‘ and ‘pretentious’. It is neither.
The story follows the year-long relationship between a young Brit, Matt, and an American student, Lisa, in and around London. They share a liking for live music and go to gigs at the Brixton Academy and elsewhere where they see bands such as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Franz Ferdinand.
I could describe Winterbottom’s direction of the sex scenes as being sensitive and I might make a case for them as being somehow metaphorical. But the truth is that, for me at least, such scenes are like a trip to the circus; once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I’d be more inclined to parley a sort of Benny Hill connection between these scenes and the director’s surname, complete with raised eyebrow and lecherous leer. That would, at least, alleviate a plainness matched only by the Norfolk Broads.

 

takingsides

 

Taking Sides (István Szabó  2001) was always earmarked to be the concluding piece in this series. It is undoubtedly flawed – but it strives to encompass important aspects of the human condition;  moral obligation, both personal and national loyalty and the role of art, and artists. We are asked if the aesthetic should be above the political – so the title is as much an invitation as it is a statement of intent. It’s make your mind up time, folks.
The story, as best as I can tell, is a true one. Wilhelm Furtwangler, played by Stellan Skarsgard,  is the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra as WWII begins. He elects to stay in Germany even though he is encouraged by friends to leave and even though other notable musicians, such as Otto Klemperer, have fled. Once the war is over, the Allies establish De-Nazification Tribunals to determine the extent to which prominent German citizens ‘collaborated’ with Hitler’s regime. Furtwangler’s interrogator is Major Steve Arnold, played by Harvey Keitel.
What follows is complex and we may place differing constructions on what we see and hear. Arnold is brutish and unsympathetic toward his prisoner, treating him and his rationalisations with scorn. An angry idiot torturing a genius because of his genius? Or a skilled investigator determined to unravel the dissembling of a closet Nazi? Furtwangler argues that his loyalty was to his music, his orchestra and his nation; that art is always above politics and that he never joined the Nazi Party. Arnold asks him, ‘Why, then , did you play at Hitler’s birthday party?‘ And so on.
There are several junctures in this story where you may feel that you have reached an understanding of the actions and motivations of Furtwangler and slip comfortably into the guise of moral arbiter and reach a decision. But István Szabó has second-guessed you if you have. He produces some newsreel footage at the conclusion of this film which will most likely confound you. Which was probably his purpose all along.

Author’s note  That concludes this series and I do hope that you’ve found something enjoyable, maybe something to take further. I will write about some music documentaries, live concert movies and soundtracks soon. I do appreciate feedback, whatever it is, so feel free to drop a coin in the hat marked Comments below.

Closing Trivia The movie ‘All Night Long’ (Basil Dearden 1962)  was an updated version of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ set in the 60s London Jazz scene. Patrick McGoohan is ambitious drummer, Johnnie Cousin, playing Iago to Paul Harris’ Othello, bandleader, Aurelius Rex.
Patrick McGoohan‘s character, Johnny Cousin,  uses the phrase “Be seeing you” when he says goodbye to the road manager, Berger, towards the end of the movie. This is a commonly heard phrase in The Prisoner (1967), The Prisoner (2009), and was also one of McGoohan’s catchphrases in Danger Man (1960) and Danger Man (1964) .

 

48628560

 

 

On a Mission From God – Music In Film (Part II)

amadeus_still8

 

Amadeus (Miloš Forman 1984) was adapted for the screen by Peter Shaffer from his own play. The largely fictional story of a rivalry between Mozart and Vienna court composer, Salieri, takes its inspiration from an 1830 play, Mozart and Salieri, by Pushkin and the subsequent opera of the same name by Rimsky-Korsakov.
The film sets out two principal themes; the process of artistic creation and the excellent being the enemy of the good. Mozart and Salieri are devices to these ends. Moviegoers hoping for accuracy and truth will be disappointed. This is a movie, not a history lesson. Genius is God-given. Nothing to do with the gene pool. Mozart was as much on a mission from God as Jake and Elwood Blues.
I still find Tom Hulce’s turn in the title role to be affecting as it moves between the poles of behaviour. In the final scenes, a dying Mozart dictates the Requiem Mass in D minor to Salieri who transcribes the score. Genius and mediocrity resolved in tragic union. The essence of great cinema, it seems to me.

 

delius-fenby-russell

Song of Summer (Ken Russell/BBC 1968) is a black and white film made for the Omnibus series on BBC television. Its subject is the final 6 years of the life of composer Frederick Delius and his relationship with Eric Fenby, a young composer who offers to transcribe Delius’ work as Delius is blind and partially paralysed.
This film is part of a body of work that Ken Russell did for the BBC in the 60s. He wanted to redefine the biopic – dispense with the clichés, the blandness and create detail and realism. In this he is aided by a brilliant cast, particularly Max Adrian as Delius. Just as ‘Amadeus’ argues the dichotomy of brilliance and mediocrity, so ‘Song of Summer’ argues the conflict between Delius’ lyrical, haunting music and his tyrannical, vexatious nature. (Although some scholars argue that this ‘disposition’ was largely due to Delius being in the tertiary stages of syphilis) In any event, this film stands as an extraordinary testament to Ken Russell’s own genius – which dissipated significantly in his later years.

 

round-midnight-1024x576

 

Round Midnight (Bertrand Tavernier 1986) is set in 50s Paris and tells the story of sax player Dale Turner, played by Dexter Gordon. As with the two movies above, the story concerns itself, primarily, with a relationship –  as Dale is befriended by Francis, a poster designer, who idolises Dale and sets about rescuing him from alcoholism.
Dale’s character in the film is a composite of jazz musicians, Bud Powell and Lester Young. Powell had been befriended, in 50s Paris, by young writer, Francis Paudras,  on whose memoir, ‘Dance of the Infidels’, this film is based. The authentic locations, Herbie Hancock’s score, the appearance of several top jazz musicians, including Hancock, and Gordon’s central performance all combine to create the beautiful fragility of a life played out to a jazz score. A lovely film.

 

bound-for-glory-movie-958087649

 

Bound for Glory (Hal Ashby 1976) tells Woody Guthrie’s story as he emerges from Oklahoma into mid-30s depression America and in particular, the  California of the dust bowl refugees. As Woody travels the land, hitching and box car riding, he writes and plays his music.
The movie looks and feels authentic. Ashby’s attention to period detail is winning and Garrett Brown’s Steadicam, the first time his invention was used in a movie, gives David Carradine as Guthrie –  and the ever-present panoramic scapes – real presence. But it’s all very earnest, very calculated. You want Carradine’s rictus to break into a toothy smile. I’m sure Woody had a sense of humour but Carradine plays him as if the sheer weight of becoming the national troubadour was breaking his back. But 70s movies were often a bit like that, I suppose.
When I first saw this film in the 70s, I remember thinking that ‘This Land is Our Land’ would make a much better National Anthem than the ghastly incumbent. I still hold to that view.

Well, I’ll take another break and return with the final part shortly.

Closing Trivia; When he lived in Denmark, Dexter Gordon, star of ‘Round Midnight’ became friends with the family of the future Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, and subsequently became Lars’s godfather.

hero_EB20010121REVIEWS08101210301AR

 

 

 

 

 

A Very British Music

What kind of fool am I that sits on a hill?
Well well well, I won’t get fooled again
Shattered as I am, I’ll pick up the pieces
Because I’d like to spend my life
With a girl like you
Lola

Baby please don’t go into the mystic
Baby come back
To your little tin soldier
Your man of the world
Yeah, yeah – walk right back
Alison

I’ve never known a girl like you before
You are so beautiful to me
How do you do what you do to me?
I, who have nothing
But a ticket to ride on the carousel, the roundabout
Ruby Tuesday

I’m a hog for you babe
I’m a gnu, a g-nother gnu
And I love my dog more than I love you
When that albatross flies
All around my hat
Jean genie

Over bridge of sighs
To rest my eyes
With a head full of snow
The L.S. bumble bee and the hurdy gurdy man
Would love to turn you on
Lucy

96-who

Original Sin

I’ve been in and around music for a hell of a long time – certainly most of my adult life. Over the years, I’ve developed some ideas about quality, permanence, ability and relevance. I’ve tried to be discriminating you might say. But above all, I do love music. And I love musicians and what they give to the world. That’s why, mostly, I don’t buy into the bagging of musicians when they’ve aged and no longer have much to say, much that’s worth hearing. I guess most of these old boys and girls have only ever had one job and that’s the only one they know. Whatever. I don’t have to buy their new albums, not even for old time’s sake. I did write an earlier blog on this subject which focused on Rod Stewart.

So, that’s one bugbear. There is one other and it’s about covers. A few months back I got into a discussion with friends about Jimmy Barnes and his recording of ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’. This great song was first recorded by Percy Sledge in 1966. It was written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright who were part of The Esquires, Sledge’s band at the time. The majority opinion in the room was that Barnes’ version was better than Sledge’s original. I took issue with that for two good reasons, as I saw it. Firstly, Jimmy Barnes cannot sing and he slaughtered this fine ballad like only a character from one of Billy Connolly’s Glasgow pub stories could. Secondly, accepting that my opinion in the matter of talent may not be universal, no cover can ever be ‘better’ than the original. You can prefer it – but it can never be better. There can be no besting of being first, being original, having uncompromised integrity. I can admire a good forgery, perhaps be taken in by it – but it is still just a forgery. Something that exists only by dint of an earlier original that inspired or provoked imitators. Having got that off my chest, I’ll happily admit to admiring many cover versions of great songs. And I’m happy for them to co-exist alongside the originals. It doesn’t need to be an ‘either/or’ decision. Al Green’s ‘Take Me to the River’, for instance is a fine example of Green’s coy juxtaposition of sensuality and spirituality. But when David Byrne and Talking Heads took the song on, lust and religion were thrust together in one pounding, insistent punk-fuelled rhythm. Genius. But not better.

There are also many examples of cover versions that have superseded the original to the point where the original is all but forgotten. The cruel irony for some of these songs is that, often, the original is infinitely superior to the cover. I’m not going to make a list but if you’ve got this far you may like to check out Gloria Jones’ 1964 recording of ‘Tainted Love’ which ought to obliterate all memory of Soft Cell’s 1981 cover. An even better choice would be Bessie Banks’ 1964 recording of ‘Go Now’ which is several light years distant from the 1965 version which became a hit for the Moody Blues – a band whose music, I might add, should have been consigned to the Atlantic’s Puerto Rico Trench years ago.

In closing, I need to pay tribute to my all-time favourite cover of a great original. ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ is one of Paul McCartney’s greatest songs and covered by The Faces on ‘Long Player’.  Macca has acknowledged that his own live performance of this great ballad was influenced by how Rod and the Faces performed it. Not better. Not either/or. Just great.

rod-stewart-02

 

 

American Music

American Music is my private dancer
It dances across the water
And the water holds me down
Letting the days go by
Into the blue again and out of the black
My my

American Music woke me up this morning
And asked me to loan it a dime
to buy some black coffee and cigarettes
While we waited at the crossroads
For the slow train coming by
Have mercy

American Music? Ah um says the preacher
It gonna make you get up – get on up
To seize everything you ever wanted
But first we take Manhattan
Then we take New York, New York
One time

American Music gonna mess your mind
And you’re still a fool time after time
If you listen to the music in a fever
And see white rabbits eight miles high
With some guy in the sky
Strange days

American Music on Beale Street
On Broadway
On Green Dolphin Street
On the street where you live
Skyscrapers bloom in America
Cadillacs zoom

American Music rocks around the clock
In the ghetto and the length of Route 66
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
On the lonely highway perhaps?

Life don’t work out my way……

chuck-berry