Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Bravo! Brubeck! (1967)

When people think of 1967 in the world of music the discussion almost always starts and ends with The Summer of Love and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. However, the year wasn't all about San Francisco, wah-wah pedals, and psychedelic rock. The proof is that one of the most highly regarded bands in jazz history was still playing at its full strength even though it was nearing the end of its eleven year run. Drummer Joe Morello, bassist Eugene Wright, and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond were all still working together with their leader, pianist Dave Brubeck, for a series of concerts in Mexico City.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet was quite eclectic. When a sweet and quiet passage almost lulled you to sleep Brubeck's piano playing would suddenly turn frenzied and then just as quickly he would return to more traditional territory. Desmond's sax work was never as intense as Brubeck's playing so he often was able to make the music more palatable for those listeners looking for the melody. Much has been made of the quartet's usage of unusual time signatures, and I'm sure it impresses musicians and composers, but most listeners only care about how the music sounds. No matter what time signature Brubeck used, or how complex his arrangements were, his band always played jazz that even casual jazz fans could appreciate.

The quartet's sound is easily identifiable on Bravo! Brubeck!. When you hear the interplay between Brubeck and Desmond there is no doubt about who you are listening to. This time, though, they shared the stage with two Mexican guests, guitarist Benjamin "Chamin" Correa and bongo player Rabito Agueros, who add some fine Latin flourishes to the performances. For these concerts Brubeck forgoes his usual repertoire and arranges several Mexican favorites to suit his own style. Among them are "Cielito Lindo," Frenesi," "Poinciana," and "La Paloma Azul." He closes the disc with a wild and barely recognizable arrangement of the rock standard, "La Bamba."

Bravo! Brubeck! is a nice set of live jazz to purchase because the song selection isn't duplicated on any other Brubeck release. If you are a lover of Brubeck, as well as a fan of both Latin guitar and percussion, give this disc a listen.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Commitments - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1991)

I've never seen the 1991 Irish film, The Commitments, but curiosity got the best of me when I discovered the soundtrack on CD for $2 at a local church fair. After one listen it became apparent that I have been missing out on some great music that stands on its own even without seeing the movie. There is nothing at all Celtic about the enthusiastically performed fourteen songs on this disc that make a strong case this small, music loving nation has a powerful affection for American R&B. The movie is about that love affair and how a bunch of working class Dubliners try to hit the big time simply by playing the music they love best.

The group's best lead singer is clearly Andrew Strong whose career took off after the flick became a hit. He has toured with Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Prince, and Lenny Kravitz and has released several best-selling albums. Strong's powerful voice can be compared to Wilson Pickett's and here he turns in two Pickett worthy performances of "In The Midnight Hour" and "Mustang Sally." He also shines on the Al Green penned hit made famous by The Talking Heads, "Take Me To The River," and Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness."

The band's three lady vocalists take turns singing lead on Aretha Franklin's "Chain Of Fools," and "I Never Loved A Man," as well as "Bye Bye Baby" from the Mary Wells songbook. Arkins is out in front on a blowup-your-speakers version of Roy Head's "Treat Her Nice" and on Clarence Carter's smooth "Slip Away."

Only you can decide if these arrangements stand tall against the originals, and if you don't believe they do, the reason may be the over-familiarity many have with the American classics. Most of The Commitments versions of these tunes are worthy of being hits and maybe they would have been if these talented Irish singers had recorded them first.

The film became widely influential by helping discover Glen Hansard, leader of the Irish rock band The Frames. Hansard is now famous for his Academy Award winning song "Falling Slowly" from the movie Once. It was also the first big break for The Corrs, each of whom won a small roll in the movie.

Many of these Irish singers and players in The Commitments may have blue eyes, but there is nothing blue-eyed about their soul.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Something Old & Something New

I'd like to make one additional comment regarding my post of of September 9, 2008 titled Are The Beatles Really The Greatest Of All Time? I acknowledge that The Beatles are not everyone's favorite artist. When I posed the question of whether or not they are the greatest act of all time it wasn't only because their music is so loved by so many people. It's because of their undeniably huge influence on pop music that continues to this day. Even if you like someone else a whole lot more than The Beatles it isn't a stretch to say they are the most influential and most important artist of the last half of the Twentieth Century. If you don't believe me read your music history.

But enough of living in the past. Let's move on to the the new millennium.

It's been a couple of months since I got my first ipod, a charcoal, 3rd generation, 8 GB nano. So far I've loaded over a thousand songs onto it and there is still a lot of space left.

Maybe it's the generation gap but I'm a late comer to Apple's sensationally popular miniature music player. I was hesitant about getting one for years. While I love the portability, flexibility, the size, the large amount of music it holds, and especially the shuffle feature, I was reticent for a couple of big reasons. First, and here is where the generation gap comes in, I grew up on LPs, cassettes, and best of all CDs. Owning a physical copy of a recording is something I loved and was accustomed to. I love album art, lyric sheets, and liner notes. While I know you can get all of these things on itunes and elsewhere online it just doesn't feel the same as owning a hard copy of the recording. It's not easy to fathom that a piece of music is really mine when I can't see the media or hold it.

I still play CDs in the car so I've used the ipod only with headphones or by plugging it into my large home theater receiver, almost always in shuffle mode. In the process I've noticed that mp3s don't sound as crystal clear as CDs do. Another disappointing thing I've discovered is that the era of single songs is returning. Appreciating an entire album is becoming a thing of the past because itunes allows the purchase of individual songs in lieu of the entire album.

My biggest apprehension regarding the mp3 format is a possible PC disaster. If you don't make backup copies of everything purchased online all your music could be lost forever, and without warning, should something bad suddenly happen to your computer. Everything needs to be backed up, burned to CD, or stored somewhere else in order to reinstall it on a new computer, something that could be a long and involved task.

Despite its drawbacks I've learned to love my ipod because it has helped me become reacquainted with lots of music I haven't heard in a long time and because of its unique features and conveniences.

Finally, as part of this totally self-serving post, here are the first twenty songs played during my first ipod shuffle.

Absolutely Sweet Marie - Bob Dylan (Blonde On Blonde)
Till The Morning Comes - Neil Young (After The Goldrush)
Always Love - America (Here & Now)
Every Little Bit Hurts - Paul Thorn - (Hammer & Nail)
Medicine - Del Amitri (Live In Aberdeen)
Nothin' To Be Proud Of -Bett Butler ((Myths & Fables)
So Excited -Stevie Ray Vaughan (The Sky Is Crying)
Sea Legs- The Shins (Wincing The Night Away)
(I Know ) I'm Losing You - Rod Stewart (Every Picture Tells A Story)
Modesto Is Not That Sweet- The Hold Steady (Live at The World Cafe, Volume 24)
Line For Lyons - Chet Baker (Career)
The Load Out/Stay - Jackson Browne (Running On Empty)
You May See Me - Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (This Is Somewhere)
I'll Walk Away - James Hunter (People Gonna Talk)
Tell Me Why - The Mavericks (Trampoline)
The Price Is Right - Billy Bremner (Bash)
When God Made Me - Neil Young (Prairie Wind)
For My Lover - Tracy Chapman (Tracy Chapman)
A Time To Love - Stevie Wonder (A Time 2 Love)
Green and Red Of Mayo - The Saw Doctors (All The Way From Tuam)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Are The Beatles Really The Greatest Of All Time?

The Beatles are acknowledged to be the greatest musical act of the rock & roll era. Thirty-eight years after the release of Let It Be, their last official original album, let's take a look at their lofty status, as well as some of their huge accomplishments, and ask ourselves why. Were they really better than everybody else?

The Beatles were the first rock band to make writing and performing their own music fashionable. The only other rock band to regularly record their own original songs were Buddy Holly and The Crickets about a half a decade earlier. No one else seemed to follow suit until The Beatles who made it almost essential for an artist to write their own music in order to receive any kind of critical success.

The Liverpool quartet had three outstanding composers. A lot more has been written about the much loved duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney but George Harrison was no slouch either. He didn't really shine until 1965 with "Think For Yourself" and "If I Needed Someone" from Rubber Soul, yet by the time the group ended in 1970, one could argue that his songs were equally as good as those of his two more prolific and revered bandmates. If you don't believe me consider almost everything Harrison wrote for them from Rubber Soul and beyond.

The Beatles had two excellent lead singers. Paul McCartney's voice has always been one of the best in rock music and their three-part harmonies ("Yes It Is" and "Because" are perfect examples) were often impeccable.

The Beatles were not afraid to wear their musical influences on their sleeves. The cover versions they recorded for their early albums were often the "B" sides and rarities of other artists that few people were familiar with before they appeared on a Beatles record. Quickly, can anybody tell me who recorded "Mr. Moonlight" and "Anna" before they did?

The Beatles were among the first bands to use outside musicians to supplement the rock band format as their arrangements and productions became more intricate and sophisticated. They were early users of the synthesizer. They were pioneers of multi-track recording techniques that often allowed the four musicians to sound like a band twice its size.

I've listed only a few of The Fab Four's accomplishments. They achieved so many other "firsts" that have been so well documented over the last several decades that I'll spare you the boredom of listing more of them here. Music fans the world over already know them anyway.

So, let us move on to the big question that is the title of this article. I've often been curious about how much of the band's artistic freedom was a result of their superlative talents and how much was granted to them because of their enormous popularity and commercial success. The Beatles were permitted to take chances that other artists were never allowed to take. For instance, when someone told Lennon that radio wouldn't play "Hey Jude" because it was way too long at 7:11 his response was a simple, "They will because it's us." Not only was he right the song went on to become their biggest selling hit single.

Tracks from Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band were played on big-time commercial radio, even Top 40 stations, without the benefit of a hit single. What other rock band could say that in 1967? Did it mean there was nobody else was making albums at the time that deserved the same widespread airplay? Of course not. The Beatles fame made it easier to be granted privileges nobody else received.

I'm not trying to take anything away from The Beatles. They always have been, and probably always will be, my favorite artist. It's just that I've often wondered if other musicians were given the same freedom The Beatles had throughout their careers would they have been able to reach the same artistic plateau?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

How Cool Is This? The Top 100 Music Related Blogs

I've always been a modest guy, or I try to be anyway, but I can't help but make the following announcement.

A website out of Liverpool, England that sells musical instruments online just posted an article listing the Top 100 most popular music related blogs. I am happy to announce that to my utter astonishment Bloggerhythms ranks #87 on the list based on statistics compiled by the Alexa Ranking Service, an organization who tracks the number of hits a website receives. You can read all about how their traffic rankings are calculated here.

My amazement partially stems from the fact that rankings such as these usually go to bloggers who post far more frequently than Bloggerhythms does. In 2007 this blog only averaged one post a week and this year it will be a struggle to even achieve that total. Fortunately, it must mean that my posts are interesting to a good number of readers, so to all of you who come here regularly and appreciate what I do, here is a great big THANK YOU.

Please take note when you look at the list posted above that two blogs I read regularly, 70s Classic Rock and Layla's Classic Rock Faves, rank higher on the list at numbers 51 and 69 respectively. Congratulations go out to both of them!