Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Choo Choo Ch'Boogie by Louis Jordan

A 1982 compilation. One of ten LPs I bought (a quid each or ten for a fiver) from Keith's record shop in Kingston. It was a Music For Pleasure pressing and the cover was so tacky I hesitated, but it was mono, had some proper liner notes and — crucially — had a track called 'Inflation Blues' ("Hey Pres, please cut the price of sugar so I can make my coffee sweet"). So I risked my 50p. 

It actually sounds great, is immaculate and unplayed, and the music is catchy and intoxicating. Smashing snarky sax. And it includes 'Caldonia', which featured so memorably in the James Brown biopic Get On Up. There is a bit of odd crackling echo and the occasional spitting snapping on some tracks — dramatic but very brief distortion. I wondered if it was the system (the valve amps about to explode) but I think it must just be this pressing, or maybe just some tiny specks of crud... 

The informative liner notes, by Bill Williams, make the interesting point that this style of music underwent a revival (including the release of the album in hand, presumably) after Joe Jackson's 1981 LP Jumpin' Jive. 

A highly catchy standout on this excellent compilation is 'Open the Door, Richard'. Apparently 'Tamburitza Boogie' (aka simply 'Tamburitza') features the organ playing of Bill Doggett who would be a major instrumentalist of the rock and roll era. Williams observes that Jordan was a huge influence on the rock and rollers. In fact he left his label Decca just a few months before his producer Milt Gabler 'masterminded' Bill Haley's 'Rock Around the Clock' session. How interesting... Nice album. Good find.

Louis Jordan, Choo Choo Ch'Boogie (Music For Pleasure MFP 50557)

(Image credits: all from Discogs.)

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Cop Show Themes by Henry Mancini

On Dusty Groove this is considered something of a holy grail, so when a sealed original pressing turned up (for $40, ouch), I took the plunge. 

It's a sealed, mint copy all right (a cut-out which would originally have been remaindered for a buck or two), but it has a serious and dramatic edge warp at the outer perimeter of the record. Like it's been exposed to heat. 

Oh Christ. (Did I mention the $40?) But the beginning of Side 1 plays perfectly and the beginning of the record is where the warp lies. Fingers crossed for Side 2. 

Now, the music. I had a CD of this and I'd listened to it and never understood what the fuss was about. Well, the cause of the fuss is immediately evident from the vinyl version. Even though this is flimsy seventies vinyl (1976 to be exact) probably the cause of the warp it is sonically splendid. It seems the folks at RCA hadn't forgotten how to make records since the days of Living Stereo. Magnificent clean, open sound. 

The spacey, wailing, soaring electric organ on Mancini's own 'Mystery Movie Theme' by Clare Fischer no doubt appeals to hipsters (it certainly appeals to me) but the loping country music beat of this tune takes a bit of getting used to. The insouciant, scampering electric piano solo by Artie Kane on 'The Streets of San Francisco' is another highlight. In fact 'The Streets of San Francisco' (composed by Patrick Williams) is an odyssey of immense musical virtuosity. My god, it's good. 

And then there's Ronnie Kane's alto sax on 'Bumper's Theme' (from a TV movie of The Blue Knight, based on Joseph Wambaugh's novel) which also has some tasty trumpet and flugelhorn from Graham Young. 'Bumper's Theme' is something of a throwback to the slinky jazz of Mancini's own Peter Gunn, and indeed it's a Mancini composition. Graham Young has a piercing, Mexican sounding solo on 'Kojak'. 

The guitar solo on 'S.W.A.T.' (a Barry DeVorzon composition) by Lee Ritenour is tremendous, reminiscent of his heyday on Steely Dan. 

And since it's a ludicrously short record (about 12 minutes a side!) I don't have to wait too long to find about the effect of the warp on Side 2. It plays fine. There's a bit of surface noise here, but it doesn't seem to be related to the warp. Phew. 

Other solo highlights include the harpsichord (Artie Kane, again) and Don Menza's tenor sax, both on Mike Post's 'The Rockford Files'. It's beginning to seem I'm just listing the soloists who are (helpfully) credited on the back of the album cover, but their contributions really are outstanding. 

What a magnificent record. It just sounds wonderful, even though the sight of this poor mangled piece of vinyl rotating on my turntable is equal measures pitiful and laughable. I'm chuffed that the album also includes a version of Morton Stevens's 'Hawaii Five-O', one of my favourite TV themes of all time. And dig the Roy Lichtenstein-style cover art. 

If like me, you had only previously heard this in digital versions you must seek out the vinyl. It's a revelation.

Henry Mancini, The Cop Show Themes (RCA AFL1-1896)

(Image credits: all from the incredibly useful Discogs.)

Monday, 14 July 2014

RCA's Classic Film Scores

Thank heavens for car boot sales (in America the equivalent would, I suppose, be swap meets). This year I attended the grand local annual event and came back with a bag of 19 LPs (and also a CD, but we'll pretend that didn't happen).

Amongst the treasures on vinyl was this soundtrack album. Ignore the slightly dodgy cover; it's a masterpiece. More importantly, it's one of a series of masterpieces. The music is by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, drawn from various classic movies.

These are not the original original soundtrack recordings. In other words, they're not the music which was originally attached to the print of the film. They are re-recordings. This is almost always the case with so-called "original" soundtrack recordings. But these are great re-recordings, and part of a magnificent series of 15 LPs (some sources say 14) issued by RCA in the early  1970s.

The project was the brainchild of Charles Gerhardt, who conducted the National Philharmonic Orchestra on the recordings. They featured music by Hollywood greats such as Korngold, Bernard Herrmann and Franz Waxman. The music was superb, the performances were magnificent and the recordings and pressings outstanding — this was the last hurrah of quality vinyl before things went digital.

Elizabeth and Essex is splendid, particularly the Sea Wolf score which features gorgeous use of harmonica. But if you are into the golden age of film music, then really any of these Gerhardt RCAs are worth seeking out. They're well worth hearing on CD, but it's the vinyl you really want, if you can find it.

(Image credits: the LP cover is from the reliable Soundtrack Collector. The photo of Gerhardt at the piano, baton in mouth, is from Classical CD Review.)

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Roland Kirk Meets Cy Coleman

One good thing about that fascinating little vixen of an American jazz singer I once knew (Hi, Kat!) was that she introduced me to the music of Cy Coleman. Coleman was an irresistible jazz pianist and a distinguished composer of popular songs and Broadway shows. He's probably best known for classics like Big Spender, Witchcraft, When in Rome and The Best is Yet to Come. Oh yes, and the Playboy Theme.

I just love his stuff, but he is definitely what you'd call mainstream, so I was astonished to discover that Roland Kirk, the mad genius of avant-garde jazz, had recorded a beautiful version of a Cy Coleman song. I only know this thanks to a recent episode of the excellent Radio 3 program Geoffrey Smith's Jazz devoted to Roland Kirk. The song in question is I've Got Your Number and it is just dynamite. 

As soon as I heard it, I had to have it. And when I saw what the cover of the relevant album looked like — a brilliant black and white caricature by Desző Csanàdy — I was totally lost. (Here's another great piece of art by Csanàdy, a pyschedelic book cover.)

Picture me hunched over the computer, after midnight, looking for this LP. I found one in a few minutes and ordered it. A very nice UK flipback copy.

This is a stupendous album, an irresistible blend of the far out and the popular — as exemplified both by the choice of songs (besides the wonderful Coleman composition there is also a lovely cover of A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square) and the presence of the Benny Golson Orchestra — hilariously listed on the Radio 3 Geoffrey Smith website as the Benny Goodman Orchestra. 

Now, that really would have been strange bedfellows.

This album is a revelation, and well worth seeking out.

(Image credits: The beautiful cartoon cover on the US LP is from Collector's Frenzy. The British version — the copy I own — is from the Ian Gourlay listing on Gemm, where I bought it (thank you, Ian!). The slightly less wonderful photographic cover is from Music Stack.)

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Temptation by Piero Piccioni

Kronos Records is an excellent boutique record label based in Malta who specialise in issuing CDs of rare film scores and other sought after music, most of which have never previously been available in any form. They are run by Godwin Borg, who is an eminently nice guy (Hi, Godwin!). I first got in touch with Kronos when I was in search of some choice items by Piero Umiliani. I bought these and soon began exploring other treats and treasures available from Kronos.

One of the most surprising was by another great Italian composer called Piero — Piero Piccioni. It's a soundtrack for an obscure 1968 film called Temptation. It's a beautiful, jazzy, bossa-influenced score and cut from the same cloth as Piccioni masterpieces like The Tenth Victim, particularly in its use of swirling electric organ and sensual saxophone. Utterly delightful and irresistible. Perfect music for a laid back dinner party, or enlightened easy listening.

On the same CD, which weighs in at a generous 74 minutes, is a TV score for La Figlia del Capitano (The Captain's Daughter) which is a very contrasting piece — bleak, classical and reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann, notably Herrmann's work in his CBS era, such as the Walt Whitman Suite.

Godwin regularly holds sales when selected CDs — such as this one — are offered at tremendous bargain prices. So you should sign up for email updates. And you can also follow Kronos on Facebook.

(Image credits: The CD cover is from the Kronos catalogue. The moody photo of Piccioni is from the Kronos biography page. Thanks, Godwin.)

Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Record Store Day

Every year on Record Store Day all sorts of wonderful limited edition albums are released on vinyl. They're available briefly, first come first served, and then they're gone... Unless you're willing to buy them from the profiteers — the "flippers" who buy low and sell high on eBay.

This year I had a list of records I wanted to obtain, and high on that list was the reissue of Ennio Morricone's milestone score for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It came with a special illustrated insert sheet featuring different versions of the movie posters from all over the world and was pressed on transparent green vinyl.

I was all set to line up before opening time at my local record store (Banquet in Kingston — hi chaps!). But events conspired to keep me away. (My cat was fatally injured. I spent the day at the vets and sitting beside the phone waiting for the bad news. Not fun.)

But I managed to pick up this Morricone LP at a not-unreasonable price from a decent sort of flipper and I've now had the chance to listen to it. And I'm seriously impressed. And very surprised.

Often records which are pressed on coloured vinyl sound terrible. (Remind me to tell you about the orange Bride of Frankenstein some time.) So I'm always wary of anything that isn't plain old black. But this Record Store Day Morricone sounds terrific.

Indeed, I'm hearing details on here I've never noticed before. So much so that I'm wondering if they used alternate versions of some of the tracks. I'm going to do a comparison listening with other releases of the LP which I've got, and I shall report back. 

But in the meantime, this is well worth getting hold of, if you can find a copy at a reasonable price. (It originally retailed for about £30 in the UK and $30 in the USA.)

(Image credits: the cover shot is from groovy little Dusty Groove. My favourite record store in the whole world — sorry, Sister Ray! the Japanese movie poster is from Illustraction Gallery. The Italian one is from the Movie Poster Shop.)

Saturday, 31 May 2014

A Ligeti Odyssey

Like virtually everyone else of my generation I first became aware of the extraordinary music of György Ligeti — pronounced "Jurge" (rhymes with "surge") "Liggetty" (rhymes with higgetty-piggetty) — through Kubrick's use of it in 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

Ligeti wasn't entirely pleased by this exposure or, some say, by the fact that his music had been distorted in the film. 

You can read more about that here, but in the end Kubrick and Ligeti settled out of court and Ligeti came to be pleased by the association of his music with 2001. Kubrick, for his part, would return to Ligeti's music for The Shining.

These observations have been prompted by an excellent documentary on BBC Radio 3 about the life and work of Ligeti. It's fascinating and informative and Ligeti comes across as charmingly unpretentious. 

He describes how the Fourth Movement of his Piano Concerto, sometimes called The Fractal Movement was actually inspired by a Marx Brothers movie.

In Night at the Opera, Groucho packs his tiny ship's cabin with visitors, including a stream of waiters bringing him boiled eggs. The room rapidly fills to bursting point, just as the sparse sound world of the Fourth Movement begins steadily more dense. "It's not the Fractal Movement," said Ligeti with amusement. "It's the Boiled Egg Movement."

Even more appealing to me, it reveals that Ligeti admired the work of Henry Mancini and was influenced by him, consulting Mancini's book on orchestration and studying works like the Pink Panther Theme. Suddenly György Ligeti doesn't seem such a daunting, austere or formidable figure, but an approachable musician of genius.

There was also a first rate program of music accompanying the documentary on Radio 3, though by the time you read this it will probably have expired. The documentary however, looks like it will be available indefinitely. Have a listen.

(Image credits: The 2001 cover is from Amazon. The LP of the Shining, with great cover are by Saul Bass — and a surprisingly rare album — is from Flickr courtesy of William Creswell. The Pink Panther is from Jazz dot Com. Thank you all.)