Monday, April 19, 2010

Raul Ruiz/Jorge Arriagada double bill

"Le Film a venir," a 1997 Ruiz short that reminds me a bit of Borges and of Harry Mathews:

(watch it in full screen, the quality is excellent)

And selections from Arriagada's soundtrack for Ruiz's "Trois Couronnes du Matelot":

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Puccini to the blues

I just found out about this, and I find it fascinating. In 1959, Bobby Worth turned Puccini's "Quando m'en vo," a.k.a. "Musetta's Waltz," from La Boheme, into a pop song titled "Don't You Know?," which was recorded and turned into a hit by Della Reese.

Here is the Puccini original (a live recording with Maria Callas):

Here is Della Reese's original recording of 1959:

Here is a live recording of it that she did with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1962:

And here is another live recording (a later one, I would judge by her voice and the arrangement):

Just listen to how, slowly, over the years, the traces of Puccini's original orchestration (and instrumental counterpoint lines) fall away, and how Della Reese's vocal delivery turns more and more into the blues. A blues written by Puccini.

Honestly, I probably still prefer the original version (I was looking for the Toscanini version, with Anne McKnight singing Musetta, but couldn't find it online), but it's great to see the song survive as more than a museum piece. (I just wish Bobby Worth had kept the import of the original italian lyrics, they are a lot more interesting than the English text.)

I have to dedicate this post to another Anne McKnight I know, to whom I remember writing in a letter (those were the days!) about the Toscanini recording, well over two decades ago.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

An album a day #22: The Last Poets, "Oh My People," 1984

Spoken-word poets and proto-rappers The Last Poets re-emerge after a decade or so of obscurity, with production by Bill Laswell, to make an electro album (well, mostly: there still are conga and talking drum parts) and give the Soulsonic Force a run for their money.

Only track I can find, but it's a good one:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

An album a day, #21: Liza Minnelli, "Results," 1989.

A Pet Shop Boys album in all essentials, just with Liza on vocals. If you've never heard it before--boy, you're in for a surprise.

Another version:

an embedding-disabled one

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An album a day, #20: Killdozer, "For Ladies Only," 1989.

Madison, WI's finest second-generation hardcore band meets all the AM radio hits that tortured (or, secretly, delighted) them in the '70s. Candidate for the best all-cover album ever.

Those are the only tracks from the album I can find, but, as a bonus, here are other Killdozer covers (some appear on other of their albums):

An album a day, #19: V.A., "Yo! Unplugged," 1991 (never released)

How about an imaginary album, for once, or rather an album that I waited for years to be released, and never was? MTV Unplugged released tons of crap albums, but they never bothered to put on CD even a 20-second sample of Yo! Unplugged, from 1991. I was living in Paris for the summer, bummed at an unexpected breakup that had happened just as I got to France, so I unfortunately ended up spending too much time in my rented room, which--on the plus side--had a cable TV with MTV Europe on it. That's where I first got to see this, and my jaw dropped. Probably the best live hip-hop performance ever. Had it ever been released, the album would have contained amazing acoustic performances by Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul too.

Here's another (embedding disabled) LL clip from the same show.

Monday, January 18, 2010

An album a day, #18: Gentle Giant, "Octopus," 1972.

Medieval polyphonic prog rock in weird time signatures. But of course.

Here are some live performances:

And here is the studio album in its entirety:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

An album a day, #17: Malcolm McLaren, "Paris," 1994

And a track from the accompanying CD of instrumentals:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

An album a day, #16: Joker the Bailbondsman, "Cash or Collateral," 2002.

This is NOT alterna-friendly hip-hop like the Jurassic 5 or whatever Danger Mouse is producing. Putting on the tired persona of a dealer, Joker--Alaska's finest--raps about what you might expect, blunts and rolls of bills and, well, "hos," Gangsta rap years too late and at 40 below. However. The production is the strangest electro-techno, not an organic sound or Amen break in sight, making all that subject matter alien, somehow, and alienated, distant, eerie... As such, I can't help but see his videos (from this and his following album, "Bi-polar") as weirdly post-apocalyptic, Alaska actually coming to stand for a nuclear-winter L.A. Is this intentional? I have no idea, and yes I'm reading them as a white guy, academic, whatever (which I guess already makes me alienated from their intended audience). Still, the music, the production, speaks for itself.

(NSFW, sexist, and all that. But the juxtaposition between the party chants and the production is, again, eerie.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

An album a day, #15: The Grassy Knoll, "The Grassy Knoll," 1995

"Oh, yeah, it's kind of like instrumental trip-hop, right? Or maybe like, uh, big beat? But then what's with all the jazz on top? Come to think of it, it kind of sounds like Miles Davis circa 'On the Corner'..." The best electronica/jazz fusion of the '90s (i.e., one that did not water down either of the two into some kind of easy-listening pap). The later albums made the Miles influence even more explicit with a lot more live improvisation, and they're good, but I still like the first one the best.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

An album a day, #14: Luke Slater, "Alright on Top," 2002

Hardcore techno hero gets vocalist, creates homage album to 80s house and new wave, in the process out-electroclashes electroclash (remember it?). Techno purists hated it, seemingly not having noticed that Slater was already doing electro on his previous album, "Wireless," of 1999. Their loss.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

An album a day, #13: Rialto, "Rialto," 1998

...or the little Britpop band that couldn't. Until earlier today, when I looked them up on AllMusic, I knew nothing about this band, though I've had and loved this CD for close to twelve years now. I found it used in some record shop (a reviewer's copy), and the cover design was close enough to Pulp's then-recently released "This is Hardcore" (one of my desert island discs) to intrigue me into listening to it. (It helped--or maybe didn't--that the title of the first song on the CD had alomost the same title as a song on "Different Class.") What I discovered was a Britpop band crafting beautiful songs, and combining the Scott Walker influence then so noticeable in Pulp or the Divine Comedy, with the more "middlebrow," perhaps, influence of the Beatles or psychedelic-era Stones, as could be heard in Oasis. In their clean, orchestral production, however, Rialto were much closer to the former than the latter. Their second album seems to have received much less press than the first (which didn't get that much to begin with), and I can hardly find anything out about the third--a sure indication of decline into oblivion. Too bad, their debut album is really worth a listen, and even more than one.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

An album a day, #12: "Sound of the Underground vol. 1", S.O.U.R. Records label compilation, 1994

An online listing for this exact release has proven, to my great surprise, extremely hard to locate--I can't even seem to find it on AllMusic. The discographic situation of early Drum and Bass is certainly vexed, with countless shoddy compilations appearing on countless fly-by-night, here-today-gone-tomorrow labels. However, as far as I can tell (and as any listen will tell you), this is (or at least chronicles) ground zero for demented early jungle, just after its emergence from hardcore rave. (Its catalog no. is SOUR UKCDLP 001). SOUR records put out a few more eminently worthy compilations in the mid-90s before sinking back into obscurity, but this is the one you need. Just listen:

Two more good ones with "embedding disabled":

MC Olive & Slam Collective - Heaven 'n Hell

Demolition Man, Frisky Dan and Terry T - Latest Craze

Monday, January 11, 2010

An album a day, #11: Jungle Brothers, "V.I.P.," 2000.

Oh, hell, just listen to the damn thing. One of the friskiest party albums ever.

Can't find much more, but here is a track from the JBs with the same producer (Alex Gifford of the Propellerheads), that was not on this album, but on the Propellerheads' own debut album:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

An album a day, #10: Sfinx, "Zalmoxe," 1978.

Ok, so this one's a bit of a pose, as you're most likely never to come across this album (though, if you dig around, you can find torrents of the entire thing). A conceptual album by Romanian prog-rockers Sfinx, about the semi-legendary figure Zamolxis (Zamolxe in Romania...n), a former slave of Pythagoras, who is supposed to have brought civilization (and wine-making!) to the Dacians, and was later worshipped as a god by them. Prog-rock enough for you? Dan Andrei Aldea, the leader of Sfinx in the '70s, before he defected to the west in 1980, is said to have conceived it as a double album as early as 1975, but did not receive permission from the Communist authorities to record it until three years later--and even so, the result is a single-LP patchwork of highlights from the intended project. Even so: it's a quiet kind of symphonic rock, with multi-tracked vocals supposedly inspired by Greek-Orthodox liturgies, and if it were in English and not in a minor language it could be seen as one of the top conceptual albums of progressive-rock, up there with "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" and "Dark Side of the Moon."

(Can't find anything on youtube, but if you follow the link you'll find MP3s of two of the tracks.)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

An album a day, #9: Michael Nyman, "Drowning by Numbers" soundtrack, 1988.

Ignore the movie itself, which wasn't Greenaway's best (that would be "The Falls," BTW). Nyman's soundtrack is best understood as a 40-some minute set of variations on the Adagio from Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major for violin a...nd viola. Since that particular adagio is one of the most luminously, transcendentally beautiful movements that Mozart ever wrote (that is, one of the most beautiful pieces of music in the history of mankind, period), that is a very good thing indeed. Nyman doesn't simply write variations on the melody of the adagio; rather, he picks out specific motifs--a two-chord progression, an interval--and structures entire pieces around them; so, though the melody itself is rarely identifiable, Mozart's harmonic universe is there fully. Gorgeous.

It might be best to listen to the Mozart first, if you don't know it. Here is a great performance with Heifetz and Primrose:

(I find myself wishing the Nyman Band had recorded the Mozart movement itself, for reasons of consistency, but I can't imagine their performance would have been as good as this.)

Friday, January 8, 2010

An Album a day, #8: Yamo, "Time Pie," 1997

If you frequented enough indy CD stores over the last decade, you probably flipped past this in the dollar bin, and didn't give it a second thought. What is it? Well, it's the "solo" project of not-Rolf-or-Florian ex-Kraftwerk member Wolfgang Flur (with an umlaut--on the "u", of course); except that it's not so solo after all because it was produced by Andy Toma and Jan St. Werner, aka German avant-garde electronica duo Mouse on Mars, who also shouldered a hefty share of the song-writing duties. So, if you were to think of it as a Mouse on Mars with guest vocalists album (albeit a work-for-hire one), you wouldn't be so far off. And you can also think of it as MoM's tribute to Kraftwerk, which after all it is; it's not a Kraftwerk pastiche (like another album I'll write up soon), but if you listen closely with this in mind, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. (It's amazing to me, btw, how many MoM fans have never heard of this album...)

"Stereomatic," with embedding disabled, so you'll just have to click through.

And here is the "Yamo electronic press kit":

Thursday, January 7, 2010

An album a day, #7: Weddings, Parties, Anything, "Roaring Days," 1988

If they were not Australia's pub band laureate, they should have been. An album of beautiful, heartbreaking songs, somewhere in between the Pogues' "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash" and the Mekons' "Honky Tonkin'," a tribute to Australian country music of the 40s a...nd 50s, and also to their hard-drinking and self-destructive heroes such as Brendan Behan and Dylan Thomas. In case you don't recognize where the band's name comes from:

"Any song you want
Playing requests now on the bandstand
El Clash combo... See More
Paid fifteen dollars a day
Weddings, parties, anything
And Bongo Jazz a speciality"

--The Clash, "Revolution Rock"

Can't find any videos of the recordings from the album itself, but here is an early live version of the title track:

And here are some much later, lo-fi live versions of other songs:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

An Album a day, #6: Live Human, "Monostereosis: The New Victrola Method," 1999

It's like a jazz piano trio, see, except that instead of a piano-player they have a turntablist (DJ Quest)... Really shows the extent to which turntable improvisation owes much of its structure to jazz improv.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

An album a day, #5: Spooky Tooth and Pierre Henry,"Ceremony," 1970

Yes, Spooky Tooth and Pierre Henry. (That's all I'm going to say. I figure that if I make myself write some critical evaluation every day I won't be able to actually keep up the one-a-day schedule).

Monday, January 4, 2010

An Album a day, #4: Henry Threadgill, "Song Out Of My Trees," 1994

Henry Threadgill, "Song out of My Trees," 1994. Threadgill is perhaps the most important composer in avant-garde jazz of the last few decades, writing not only heads but entire arrangements and structures (he is probably Mingus's greatest heir in this respect). More than that, he has an ear for ...instrumental tone and orchestration that perhaps rivals Anton Webern's. "Song out of My Trees" especially highlights this side of his musicianship, with atypical instrumentation, and even with Threadgill sitting out two of the five sides--indeed, perhaps the two most beautiful pieces on the record. They are scored for guitar quartet and, respectively, piano and hunting horn. "Grief," on which Threadgill plays his alto accompanied by two cellos, harpsichord, and accordion, is also stunning. I love all of HT's work, but sometimes I feel that this album, liberated from many of the genre requirements of "jazz," best does justice to his angular melodies and melancholy chordal world.

(Sorry, can't find any videos, but snippets can be heard here.)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

An Album a day, #3: Psychic TV, "Mouth of the Night," 1985

In between Brian Jones homages, Brian Wilson impersonations, and industrial instrumentals, Genesis P-Orridge & co. found the time to make this album of electronic music to accompany a modern dance piece. A very approximate description would be that it fits... somewhere between radical exotica, minimalism, and 60s tape loop experiments. A few years later, when he discovered acid house and trance, Mr. P-Orridge remixed portions of it over dance beats, but the original is much better.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

An Album a day, #2: "Transmitting from Heaven," Exist Dance label anthology, 1993

An album a day, # 2: "Transmitting from Heaven," Exist Dance label anthology, 1993. Though at first glance it may look like a compilation, actually all tracks were composed by Mike Kandel, usually with Tom Chasteen, under a variety of monikers, each corresponding to an electronic genre (or sub-genre)--instrumental tr...ip-hop, trance, etc. Probably the best intelligent album of electronic dance music (but not necessarily of "Intelligent Dance Music," or IDM, which can often mean "kind of boring") made in the U.S. in the 1990's. Or ever.