Theolonious Monk "Its Monk Time"
With its three compositions by Thelonious Monk, one might call this LP from 1964 “3 Standards and 3 Monks”. The 'High Priest' of bebop had reached a further pinnacle in his career and performed with his fantastic, skilful and well-rehearsed quartet at numerous festivals and concerts. As if in a dream, the musicians penetrate the apparently simple yet rhythmically complicated themes, interrupted again and again by Monk’s solo escapades on the piano. On the stage, Monk often stood up and jigged around the piano like a lumbering dancing bear, with one of his distinctive hats on his head; he plonks down on the piano stool after the Charlie Rouse solo; his enormous feet tap back and forth to the beat; he constantly fiddles with the ring on his finger; and he creates the most wonderful improvisations ever heard with his 'false' fingering.
Calling all jazz fans: Listen to Thelonious Monk, and you will have a ball – most especially if you put this super disc with the promising title "It’s Monks Time" on your turntable!
Maggie & Terre Roche "Seductive Reasoning"
Thanks to their undeniable musical talent, which allowed them to be taken seriously in the folk scene, the industrious Roche sisters’ career began when they were young. The duo began by singing Christmas carols, doo-wop song syllable puzzles, and tricky barbershop harmonies. They finally caught the attention of Paul Simon, who brought the gifted girls in as backup singers on his LP "There Goes Rhymin’ Simon", and was primarily responsible for the birth of their first recording. The lavishly produced album achieved high critical acclaim. Although it was a worthy professional debut, the public was hesitant to buy the album. The specialist magazine Rolling Stone commented drily and somewhat at a loss that the Roches weren’t everyone’s cup of tea.
Maggie and Terre Roche are a well-rehearsed vocal team however: with a range from hazy, finely balanced voices singing as one, right up to pearly, radiant brilliance, the Roche sisters enthusiastically penned a songbook which is almost without exception their very own creation. Mechanical bluegrass music ("Wigglin’ Man"), a steam-train character ("If You Emptied ...") and a somewhat crude and unrefined country aura make the subtle lyrics easily accessible to all, but the LP also offers the listener wonderfully ill-humoured verse ("The Mountain People") and story-like prose ("West Virginia"). This is a truly exceptional album, and well worth being discovered!
Bizet : Carmen & L’Arlésienne : Orchestre de la Suisse
The 19th-century suites with their collection of favourite songs and instrumental excerpts from operas are the clear forerunners of today’s 'Best-Of' culture. The "Carmen Suite" was assembled after Bizet’s death and brought the operatic masterpiece into the concert hall. The overture is fresh and rousing, the toreador theme marches in proudly and purposefully, followed by the destiny motif in the minor key which burns itself into ones ear and mind. With every bar it becomes obvious that this suite is not so much a series of excerpts but rather the true substance of its creator’s musical ideas.
All that remained of the five-act play "L’Arlésienne" after its unsuccessful premiere was Bizet’s incidental music, which he himself orchestrated lavishly and premiered with success. Similar to "Carmen", popular melodies are treated with the composer’s own unique style to make them ageless, and Ernest Ansermet and his orchestra stages them delightfully for all eternity.
Bach : Partitas No. 1 & 2 : Florin Paul
Formerly concertmaster of Sergiu Celibidache’s Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, today Florin Paul occupies the same position with Hamburg’s North German Radio Symphony Orchestra. Some years ago he travelled to a small and rather unattractive church in the south of France, which was blessed with heavenly acoustics. With a precious, loaned Stradivari, he performed a silky and delicate yet crystal-clear Bach which Andreas Spreer captured using dust-free Neumann tube microphones. Thanks to the church’s slight resonance, an aura of consummate polyphony with lingering harmonies is created when the music ebbs away. With Bach’s Partitas sounding like this, it is irrelevant who the soloist was in days gone by. How fortunate we are to be able to enjoy such glorious sounds today!
Michael LeGrand "LeGrand Jazz"
Michel Legrand, just 26 years old in 1958, already had a number of distinguished trophies on his shelves, among them the "Grand Prix du Disque", and could thus entice New York’s top musicians into the recording studio. Three large ensembles with stars ranging from Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ben Webster, Phil Woods and Bill Evans performed his new arrangements of famous numbers from the annals of jazz history. Michel Legrand breathed a touch of film music into zany Fats Waller’s "The Jitterbug Waltz", the serious Modern Jazz Quartet’s "Django", Bix Beiderbecke’s legendary "In A Mist" and Earl Fatha Hines’s portrait of "Rosetta". The fresh arrangements cast a new light on the old evergreens, and the solos are absolutely top class - the new arrangements seem to have been tailor-made for Miles Davis and Ben Webster.
Even though these recordings have slumbered in the archives for many, many years, they are not the least lethargic!
Ian Dury "New Boots and Panties
It is not difficult to call Ian Dury the very epitome of British rock music in the Seventies. The rough charm of his bawdy Cockney accent, spiced with snotty rock, which he often belted out in pogo punk, was just the thing for the boulevard and lent a voice to the British working class. His penchant for the grotesque, which he often expressed in the most vulgar of words (»I bet your mother fed you with a catapult«) or what Sounds magazine described as brutal fairground music, gave birth to a collection of weird characters who were looking for a home in vinyl, as Village Voice observed.
This search resulted in the present album, which consists of a whole gamut of earthy downtown sounds. Beginning with the mechanical drive of disco beat ("Wake Up And Make Love With Me") and pure, unadulterated rock ("I’m Partial To Your Abracadabra"), Dury and his band work towards smirking circus music to arrive at hard punk. His lyrics are honest, coarse and harsh and thus totally unacceptable for glamorous pop venues. You simply had to hear him live – or on this record.
Al Green "Call Me"
What connects celebrity chefs and pop stars is their fine nose for ingredients, especially when hot and spicy ones are mixed with milder elements to create an aromatic result. A combination of 'sweet' and 'funky' is the secret of Al Green’s gloriously sentimental and sensual pop songs, which in the sexually free Seventies were often referred to as »songs to make love by«. What swings along gently is, however, Al Green’s subtly controlled falsetto, which he can tone right to the threshold of audibility. But watch out! This music belts out some fiery sounds right from the very first number. The sinuous, swinging request in the brilliant hit single "Call Me", the relaxed and groovy "Stand Up", with its sharp wind interjections which demand one’s unerring attention, are typical for Green’s style, just as is his almost disturbing capability to gain comfort from loneliness ("I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry"). This rhythmically powered music can best be described as light, intensive, dynamic but never flashy ("Your Love Is Like The Morning Sun"). It finds its earthly culmination in soul ("I’m Waiting") and spiritual depth.
Ella Fitzgerald sings the Johnny Mercer Songbook
The Johnny Mercer Songbook is the very last release by Speakers Corner in the superb Ella Fitzgerald songbook series. To speak of 'songs' by Johnny Mercer, and just calling him a 'composer', falls far short of the truth for he is the personification of a top composer, a great lyricist, and a shrewd businessman, who set up a monument to himself with his extremely successful record company Capitol Records.
Ella sang Johnny Mercer’s compositions over and over again, and on this recording we have a wonderful version of "Something’s Gotta Give" and Johnny Mercer’s theme song and showpiece "Dream". His inspiration as a lyricist is masterly. Who else could have thought of such a gorgeous introduction to Stan Getz’s number "Early Autumn" »When an early autumn walks the land and chills the breeze and touches with her hand the summer trees …«? Or the refrain from "I Remember You": »When my life is through, and the angels ask me to recall the thrill of them all«.
All in all, Johnny Mercer composed or wrote the lyrics to over 1000 songs, 13 of which Ella performs here in masterly fashion and in her own inimitable style – mellifluous, electric, or swinging.
Kenny Burrell "Guitar Forms"
It’s sad but true: the work done by arrangers of jazz music is very necessary – especially for a large ensemble – but they are caught up in a conflict between the exact notation of the composer and contemporaneously the wishes for free improvisation by the soloists. So often their work is not taken notice of by fans, or is criticised by the musicians, and record companies only pay them badly, if at all. All the more reason then to admire the excellent arrangements for various combinations of instruments, which Gil Evans produced during the course of his career.
"Guitar Forms" with Kenny Burrell as main soloist is a must-have for lovers of soft tones, finely chiselled compositions, guitar fans and friends of Latin Jazz. Just listen to how genially the drums and low-register horns are contrasted with one another, in "Lotus Land" for example, and how the number swings from beginning to end, and Spanish flair is generated. This title and "Greensleeves" are highly recommended to start off listening to this LP.
Blood, Sweat and Tears "3"
1970 was a really good year for Blood, Sweat & Tears. The colourful, distinguished group was awarded a Grammy® in the categories “Album of the Year”, “Best Contemporary Instrumental Performance”, and “Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)“.
The concept of merging jazz, blues and arrangements of classical themes worked well, with music journalist Leonard Feather commenting that »it brought music into rock«.
Everything seemed to be allowed – as long as it sounded good: almost spontaneously, it seems, the musicians develop a somewhat boozy, cheery "Hi-De-Ho" happening out of synthetically created chivalric fanfares, or conjure up a medieval scenario ("The Battle") with the archaic sound of a harpsichord and solo voice. That caustic big-band soul ("Lucrezia MacEvil") and seemingly familiar rock songs ("Fire And Rain") find their niche here fits in with the free spirit of this third album, which boasts no otherwise specified title. One listens to this disc, wondering what surprise is in store in the next beat, the next phrase, the next number. And there is a wonderfully liberating feeling in knowing that nothing is a ‘must’ but all is allowed.
Brucker "Symphony No 5"
Eugen Jochum was a modest man who did not use the media to draw attention to himself but rather to document his musical intentions. And right from the very beginning he focussed on magnitude. Aged only 23, he made his debut in Munich with Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 and so laid the foundations for his lifelong devotion to the Austrian composer’s works, as is demonstrated by his complete recording of the Symphonies that was made during the years 1958–1967. The present account of the Fifth Symphony was recorded roughly half way through his thorough exploration and study of Bruckner’s symphonic works. From the very beginning, the Concertgebouw Orchestra strides majestically towards the Finale with its sonorous brass sound in the chorale, and fugal sections. A divine atmosphere is guaranteed – quite literally – by the work being performed in the hallowed halls of the Benedictine Abbey in Ottobeuren to celebrate its foundation 1200 years ago.
Jochum’s fresh and scholarly account of Mozart’s “Linz” Symphony reminds us of his superb mastery of the Viennese Classics. The music, which ranges from festive cheerfulness to abrupt gloominess, is resolutely conducted – with the happy result that the hackneyed image of Jochum as an otherworldly specialist of the Romantic era is completely abolished. Measured against the conductor’s self-concept as a universal medium for expressing the ideas of the great maestros, the present recording is a befitting portrait of his superb versatility on the rostrum.
Tchaikovsky: Sleeping Beauty: Ernest Ansermet
His symphonies are ballets, his ballets are symphonies«; such has often been said about Tchaikovsky's lengthy dance compositions. This opinion is not entirely due to the fact that these works had to please the audience without being danced to after Diaghilev's legendary ballet company was dissolved. Rather more, Tchaikovsky's instrumental and incidental music is pervaded by movement and dance rhythms that act as a musical scaffolding.
Almost as legendary as the incomparable heritage of Russian music is the reputation of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, whose recordings are famed for their lush and saturated sound colouring. Ansermet transforms the score into a veritable firework of sound, without ever straining after cheap effects by means of a thunderous sound; the strings are clean and warm in all registers, the brass volleys blare out keenly, and the percussion is dauntlessly resolute. This performance and Decca's customary excellent sound recording render great homage to this music. All the more reason to be glad that this particular "Sleeping Beauty" has been awakened at long last.
Johnny Winter Selftitled
When an international weekly magazine calls a musician the »white pope of black art«, then it sounds suspiciously like charitableness towards a blues musician in his prime, whose good years are in the past. As if! In the case of Johnny Winter, the reviews of his 2011 tour were just as glowing as in his early years, when Rolling Stone magazine described the gaunt Mississippi bard as »a cross-eyed albino with long fleecy hair playing some of the gutsiest fluid blues guitar you have ever heard«. Intentional or not: Winter was able to win for himself some of the 'rocker' laurels that were reserved for the young Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. But Winter let everyone know that he was only interested in the blues, gutsy, evoking Howlin' Wolf's and Muddy Waters' growling groove, yet nimble-fingered enough on the strings to conjure up astoundingly sleek garlands of sound that fit precisely into each bar of music.
Winter remains pretty cool when people attempt to identify personal afflictions in his music: »When I play blues, I feel good« he stated recently to a journalist. That the same goes for over 40 years ago is substantiated by both sides of this debut album.
Henry Mancini Breakfast at Tiffanys
Long nights, dizzy parties, a variety of men-friends and breakfast standing before the window display of the famed jewelry company govern the life of the dazzling Holly Golightly, who has in reality a very ordinary name and poverty-stricken background. All the more rich is the musical carpet that Henry Mancini lays beneath the feet of the exotic, wealthy-husband-seeking socialite. The tender, plaintive worldwide hit "Moon River" apart, Mancini and his Hollywood musicians mix a sugar-sweet sound with enough acrid elements to glaze over the capricious lady's character. The cool big band sound is spiced with a bold trumpet solo ("The Big Blow Out") and mellow violins with a suspiciously tame male choir ("Breakfast At Tiffany's"). As is well known, there is a great deal of dancing in the film, including a number with a Latin-American rhythm ("Latin Golightly") and a grooving mambo ("Loose Caboose"). At the end of the film even the "Moon River" swells to become a bubbling cha-cha, as though to say that a "happy end" must in no way sound sentimental.
Henry Mancini The Pink Panther
The film director Blake Edwards brought into existence what is probably the best opening sequence to his comic crime film when he commissioned a young enterprising company to produce an animated Pink Panther cartoon film. The creative team came up with the idea of giving the cold, glittering diamond the guise of a cool, pink panther, which leads a bungling detective on a merry dance to the slinky sound of the Panther theme.
Mancini would not be Mancini if he did not bathe the film location – the skiing resort Cortina d'Ampezzo –in highly varied musical colours and genres. His well-known love for dance music finds itself in the samba ("It Had Better Be Tonight"), the shuffle ("Champagne And Quail"), and the cha-cha ("Something For Sellers"). But also the ballad, sung by a muted trumpet and saxophone ("Royal Blue"), or the simple combination of keyboard and strings ("Piano And Strings") are all woven into the story. One of the most memorable and delightful sounds is that of the accordion, whose melodies evoke an atmosphere that is filled with the Bohème, Paris and the sound of the musette. This music is never gaudy, but subtle, just like a panther padding quietly along. And if your appetite is now whetted for more, there is an extra portion of Mancini to be found in "Breakfast At Tiffany's"
Verve MG V-8252
Herb Ellis: Nothing But The Blues
Although guitarists played an important role in rhythm groups ranging from swing to hard bop, they are an exception as bandleader. Among the most successful are George Benson, Wes Montgomery and Herb Ellis who passed away this spring. The present blues LP was the second recording made under his direction for the Verve label.
»My mother tells me I always played the blues«, said Herb Ellis in thinking back to his childhood. And this is exactly what he did on this LP from 1957: blues in every shape and form, in every mood, in every tempo. There’s not a dull moment with this range of variation; that’s simply impossible when his fellow musicians are called Ray Brown and Stan Levey. He freed himself quite simply from the piano (and maybe also from the omnipresence of Oscar Peterson) – the piano stool remained unoccupied. Just listen to this LP as far as "Royal Garden Blues" and with the hot-blooded Roy Eldridge, nicknamed 'Little Jazz', on the trumpet and Stan Getz, the cool and relaxed musician on the tenor saxophone, you will certainly know why blues is the talk of the town.
Recording: October 1957 in Los Angeles
Production: Norman Granz
Philips 835204 AY
Shostakovich: 6 Preludes & Fugues from Op.87
As little as Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues conformed to Soviet musical dictates, these ambitious works were all the more highly regarded by the experts. What appeared as decadent and formalistic to Stalinist augurs is no less than an homage to Bach’s "Well-tempered Clavier" in the form of 24 miniatures, in the major and minor keys around the circle of fifths. Shostakovich dedicated his compositions to Tatiana Nikolayeva whom he got to know at the Leipzig Bach Festival in 1950. Little did he know that she would promote his musical gems right up until her very last breath, when she died on stage while performing his Opus 87 in 1993 in San Francisco.
Although Sviatoslav Richter never recorded the complete cycle of Preludes and Fugues, the present recording with his personal selection is one of the most distinguished interpretations of these works. Richter’s refined performance brings out the strict form found within the modern compositional style, allowing the biting sarcasm or ludicrous melodies to sparkle, and explores archaic rhythms. But Richter, the experienced romanticist, is also a master of Schumannesque expression in the form of languid melodiousness in the middle range of the keyboard. At long last this hard-to-find, yet easy to listen to, recording is available once more.
Recording: July 1963 in Paris
Jimmy Smith: Bashin'
Right up until today rumour has it that Creed Taylor enticed the organist Jimmy Smith to leave Blue Note and change to the Verve label by means of a very large fistful of dollars. One things is clear, however: that Jimmy Smith never revealed a single word about this delicate matter; but it is also clear that the whole concept of his music took on new dimensions when he changed over to his new backer. Recordings with Wes Montgomery were just the beginning; large ensembles, superb arrangements by Oliver Nelson, and fine contributions by his soloists created a magnificent background for the 'new' Jimmy Smith on this and subsequent LPs.
Despite its title, "Bashin’", there is absolutely nothing to criticise on this LP. The A side presents the new concept: a wonderful, swinging background against which Jimmy Smith can develop his full potential. Oliver Nelson’s light and airy arrangements further enhance the standard themes: soloists are never confined within set limits but are gently guided; the riffs are presently precisely and cleanly, without ever sounding overloaded.
The use of the organ is also quite fascinating: beautifully relaxed in "Beggar For The Blues" which is arranged for a trio; swinging in the title number "Bashin’", and cheerful in the style of an old cowboy song – "I’m An Old Cowhand", whereby this version has no need to stand in the shadow of Sonny Rollins’s almost classical version.
The old Hammond B3 organ has experienced a revival over the past few years. Jimmy Smith, on the other hand, can look back on a great musical and commercial success story ever since the Fifties – as with "Bashin’"!
Recording: March 1962 in New York by Rudy Van Gelder
Production: Creed Taylor
The World Of Miriam Makeba
t was Miriam Makeba’s destiny to broadcast an image of South Africa to the world without actually being in the country. She fought against Apartheid and the Regime in South Africa by means of persistent political agitation and, of course, lots of music. But it took a good deal of perseverance and the ups and downs of appearing in clubs and shows until the songs of the South African singer, who was expatriated in 1959, were heard in her new adopted country, the USA.
The good old formula, whereby protest in music only reaches its objectives through entertainment, also holds good for this early song compilation, which is filled with artistic originality and brought great commercial success. Alongside the rousing, melodic and groovy Afro-World music numbers, there are several 'global players' such as the cleverly arranged ballad "Forbidden Games", the bluesy spiritual numbers "Little Boy" and "Wonder Of Things", and a cracking Latin number entitled "Tonados De Media Noche". The wonderfully bright sound of Hugh Maeskela and his band enhance the highly varied characters of the selected pieces. Here we have a musical vista of at least half of our world, which fits perfectly on one LP.
Recording: June and July 1963 by Mickey Crafford in RCA Victor's Studio A and Webster Hall, New York
Production: Hugo Peretti & Luigi Creatore
Philips PHS 2-920
Beethoven: Sonatas For Piano & Cello
Possessing a complete recording of Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas gives far more satisfaction than merely having the set to fill the shelves. On the one hand it offers one the opportunity to compare Beethoven’s art of composition at various stages in his life. And on the other hand one can already recognise in the early Opus 5 how he breaks with the traditional sonata in which the solo instrument merely provides an accompaniment and treats the two instruments as equal partners in the creation of the movements.
Richter and Rostropovich devote themselves to their task with verve and freshness. The two early works are marked by the rich and full sound of the cello and an elegantly performed piano part, while the two Russian musicians foster a contemplative, introverted style in the A major Sonata. This respectful approach also lends itself well to the C major Sonata where the free, fantasia-like character with wide-ranging shading is shown off to advantage. Beethoven’s break with the traditional sonata-form layout is carried to extremes in the D major Sonata, where the cello ignores the powerful theme on the piano in the first movement. The work’s brittleness is effectively revealed by the two musicians in the transition from the sensitive Adagio to the austere, freely worked final Fugato, while their resolute and analytical approach to the work and technical prowess on their instruments is highly rewarding.
Recording: June 1962 at Rosenhügel Studios, Vienna, and July 1961 at Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, by C.R. Fine
Production: Harold Lawrence
Ellia Fitzgerald and Louis Armstong "Ella and Louis Again"
It's impossible not to praise these recordings to the skies. The two musicians Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong are a sure guarantee for swing and expressiveness, for musicality, and for mutual understanding. One might even go as far as saying that they were the very epitome of jazz between 1930 and 1960, that they were the best of the best as regards quality, that they achieved remarkable success, and were extremely popular. And to crown it all, Oscar Peterson and his Trio, a fantastically groovy rhythm group, were invited to join them in the studio.
The numbers are all from the Great American Songbook and are easily recognizable; the introduction has hardly got underway before your feet are tapping to the beat of "Don't Be That Way" right up to "Learnin' The Blues". And it is between these two poles – swing and the blues – that music is made. Producer Norman Granz certainly had a stroke of genius when he signed Ella and Louis to his Verve label.
Baden Powell "Solitude on Guitar"
The acoustic guitar shares the same destiny as so many music companies: almost all of them dabble with the six strings at some point, many attempt to play entertaining harmonic roulette with it, but only a few really make the grade. Baden Powell belongs to the small circle of guitarists whose early virtuosity is perfectly combined with a keen sense of harmony. Powell demonstrates this special talent in his slow numbers in particular, in which broken chords are developed like a bud opening out to a blossom. He guides the listener cautiously through his melodies in that he makes a tiny pause before a harmonic change. Full timbre and lightness are not a question of what is written down on the manuscript but result from a powerful performance, as is shown by the totally un-Brazilian, gentle major-minor key version of the children's song "Kommt Ein Vogel Geflogen".
Naturally, the wonderfully crafted, animated and bouncy bossas flow along easily. As befits the album's title, the guitar is in the limelight here, driven on, held back, and then propelled forward by the rhythm group. The ballad "Se Todos Fossem Iguais A Voce" is strongly recommended to whet your appetite for the bossa "Na Gafieira Do Vidigal".
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Requiem K. 626
Among all those sacred compositions that deal with the end of life, Mozart's Requiem penetrates one's heart and soul like no other apocalyptic work. One reason for this is surely the rather mysterious story surrounding its composition, a mixture of truth and legend, which arose during the arduous last months of the ailing Salzburg composer. Although the various developmental stages and the extent to which Mozart's pupils participated in the composition may never be fully clarified, the mystical power of the enigmatic fragments remains constant to this day. Sir Colin Davis lends an immediate relentlessness to the sounds of despair that is already apparent in the tense, pulsating opening bars, and which is taken to the very limits of playability in the climactic "Dies irae". While the swift tempi might appear rather surprising, they serve to dampen any sort of opera-like sentimentality of which many recordings are guilty. The consolatory timbre in the vocal parts make them come across as oases of calm in the prevailing atmosphere of biting cold, fearsome drama, and flickering hope, all of which breathes musical life into this mass for the dead.
Ben Webster "Soul Of Ben Webster"
The forerunner of this LP, Ben Webster's "Soulville" (Verve MGV-8274) was extremely successful, even for Verve standards. It was only logical, therefore, to invite Ben to a further studio session in New York in July 1958. But for the recording of "The Soul Of Ben Webster", a completely different ensemble had been called together. The trumpeter Art Farmer - best known for Cool Jazz - along with Harold Ashby - a fellow musician from the Ellington crew - and the swinging rhythm group guarantee that 'Big Ben' (as he was known) didn't lose his bearings during the superb harmonic progressions. "Chelsea Bridge", surely played in a thousand different ways by Duke Ellington's orchestra, is a real gem even when performed by a small ensemble, as here.
All in all, this is a convincing medium-sized ensemble made up of remarkable protagonists whose improvisations are of the very highest calibre from beginning to end. And that opinion is still valid even 50 years later!
Wizz Jones: Right Now
A great deal has been said about Blues and Rock'n'Roll musicians being inspired to great things by folk music. But one hears little about those who work quietly in the background, far removed from dazzling light shows, power amps and fog machines, and who create new strains of tender plants from the roots of traditional folk, so to speak. One such person is Wizz Jones from south England. He can write songs, and he can sing – but it would be far too simple to describe him as a songwriter. His cultivated and versatile performance technique on the guitar bears witness to his personal aspiration for perfection on his instrument. With Jones all this culminates in highly original high-end folk: he's particularly laid-back in groovy numbers ("Right Now", "No More Time To Try"), where the elastic and springy sound of the guitar is enhanced with chirping sitar and wavering bottleneck slides so typical of the times. Alongside these are the carefully re-worked traditional melodies ("American Land"), a 17th-century tune ("Raven") where the singer plays 'call-and-response' with himself, and a solid 16-bar blues ("Deep Water") in the early Chicago style. Particular attention should be paid to the numbers in which he collaborates with Alan Tunbridge and is fired by his genial ideas – specially recommended: "Mary Go 'Round".
Etta James: At Last!
It’s as though the title "At Last" is trying to dupe one into believing that Etta James had experienced all the ups and downs that life could offer her by the year 1961: performing on great stages under the influence of drugs, her exodus from the scene, appalling jobs in seedy clubs and dives, and a brilliant comeback with an earthy voice in Montreux followed by a tour of the USA with the Rolling Stones. In truth, "At Last" should be seen as the potent motto of a debut LP by a vocalist who had just emerged from her beginnings as a gospel singer, and had now recorded promising single songs.
Two of the numbers, the bittersweet "All I Could Do Was Cry" and the lounge-worthy "Trust In Me", promptly landed in both the R & B and Pop charts. But the more carefree, candy rock ’n’ roll ("Tough Mary"), the weird and languishing song ("Girl Of My Dreams") and the stuff of finest ballads ("Stormy Weather") are all found in this highly diversified mainstream mix. An unobtrusive background of gentle strings and chorus, so typical of the times, sensitively enhances the carefully chosen numbers, somewhere between Rhythm & Blues, Soul, and Standard Jazz. The result is a timeless, highly accomplished and variegated LP from the beginning of Etta James’s lengthy discography..
Recording: January - October 1960
Production: Leonard and Phil Chess
Oscar Peterson & Nelson Riddle: The Trio & The Orchestra
Frank Sinatra once called Nelson Riddle the greatest arranger in the world. Well, you might be able to name one or two others whom you could put alongside him or maybe even above him. But that does not affect the elegance or relaxed swing that the highly acclaimed, and eventually wealthy, Nelson Riddle lent to crude compositions.
His collaboration with the piano virtuoso Oscar Peterson – who never omitted to play a number if he could show off his amazingly nimble fingers by doing so – is clearly of real benefit in the slow numbers: the melodies are more recognizable, Peterson’s unwavering sense of time is even more asserted, and his imagination is called upon.
This LP is a potpourri which emphasises on evergreens composed by Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, right up to Kurt Weill, whereby the children’s song "Someday My Prince Will Come" swings wonderfully, and the Benny Goodman classic "Goodbye" provides a worthy finale to this elaborate recording from 1963. It also offers a wonderful opportunity to put the record on the turntable, pour yourself a glass or two of good red wine – and just enjoy the music!
Recording: November 1963 at Radio Recorders Studio, Los Angeles, by Rafael Valentin
Production: Jim Davis
Muddy Waters "Live at Newport"
Great musical events are often born of both positive and negative energies clashing with one another. And so it was at the Newport Festival in 1960, which had already been rocked by violent tumults even before it started. The allures of commerce raised its ugly head; the Mingus Band wanted their share and named a fee that the organizers were not willing to fulfill. The echo came quickly: Charles Mingus and Max Roach organized their own festival in the near-by Cliff Walk Manor Hotel, and the "Newport Rebels" were born. Tempers escalated during the Saturday night concert and commotion broke out when masses of drunken teenagers got into a fight with the security personnel. Newport was on the brink of disaster. In the midst of this explosive atmosphere, and standing on the (quite literally) rotten planks of the festival stage, Muddy Waters performed songs which captured his audience's ears and heart, and called attention to his unique Chicago blues. For many white people, this night was the very first time that they had heard and saw a live performance by a black band. Numbers such as "I Got My Brand On You," "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "Tiger In Your Tank" are just as legendary as the members of the band, first and foremost James Cotton with his harp and Otis Spann on the piano.
Chuck Berry "St. Louis to Liverpool"
What did the black man on the cover making a giant leap want in far off Liverpool? Perhaps some royalties from the Beatles and Rolling Stones, who performed outrageously successful cover versions of some of his most important numbers? In no way did Chuck Berry intend to surrender his rock 'n' roll to the British Invasion without a fight, as some grouchy pessimists believed when the album first appeared. It rocks right from the very first number and one could almost believe that one was in a road movie when Berry belts out his songs about America and its people. Most of the numbers are written by Chuck and contain stylistic elements from country music and honky-tonk, bedded in his typical springy guitar riffs.
For more information on these titles, and others currently available, please view our Speakers Corner Catalogues