Thursday, 23 July 2015

Checkmate by Shelly Manne

Purchased from the excellent Jazz House Records, this looks gorgeous, clean, almost new. It's a 1962 British mono pressing of a US Contemporary album which is legendary for its sound quality, and is also sought after (by me) for the John Williams TV score it contains (yes, that John Williams). Beautifully quiet run in groove... 

The LP was recorded by Howard Holzer not Roy DuNann,who was the famed Contemporary recording engineer — sort of a West Coast Rudy Van Gelder. But “Howard Holzer was a genius, too,” according to Lester Koenig’s son. (Lester Koenig ran Contemporary.) Apparently Holzer was mentored by DuNann. 
I love the sax, which turns out be be Richie Kamuca (“one of the most overlooked of the Lester Young disciples to emerge in the fifties” — Mosaic newsletter). Russ Freeman’s piano is delicate and adroit. Kamuca does a lot of work — and great work — here. He gives a small combo a big band sound.  Kamuca has a huge sound. 

This is a terrific record. Sharp, fresh, keening trumpet — Miles Davis influenced —  by Conte Candoli. Wonderful sound quality. Kamuca is gorgeous. Some very interesting drumming, which isn’t surprising. And moody bass by Chuck Berghofer —also propulsively rhythmic. A real winner.

Shelly Manne and His Men  Play the Music of John Williams from the TV Series
Checkmate (Vogue LAC 12315 — originally on Contemporary)

(Image credits: the cover is from EIL, the labels from Discogs. The labels don't actually represent the British Vogue pressing, annoyingly, but images of these are not to be found on the internet. Yet.)

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Man from O.R.G.A.N. by Dick Hyman

I saw this on Dusty Groove in their bachelor pad/space age section (called Now Sound) and then tracked down an eBay copy from a Danish seller which was in better shape than the Dusty Groove one (sorry, boys) — it's also a white label promo copy, so an early pressing and therefore more sought after. (Early copies off the stamper should sound better.) 

The album is on the Command label, famed for both their wacky abstract cover art (Mike Gething of Little Amber Fish is a big fan) and their high tech stereo sound — "Command Records will delight the most discriminating audiophile." There is a reassuring block of text on the back cover detailing Technical Data. Telefunken microphones, check; Ampex tape recorder, check; Westrex cutter, check; Scully lathe, check. On to the music... 

Hyman, a well-known keyboard wizard, plays the Lowrey electric organ here. The album opens with a superlative version of Schifrin's 'The Liquidator'. 

Less welcome is 'The Third Man Theme'. I've always hated that £*%^@ zither atrocity, and it's no better here with the zither absent (I say this in the full knowledge that it is a beloved classic and has sold gazillions of copies). 

The title track is an improvement, though it's a bit of a country & western oddity. 'Honey West', with its noirish slant is much superior. 'I Spy' is a sort of a sound drama with snatches of dialogue and traffic effects. Indeed Hyman subtitled the arrangement 'Tone Poem of a New York Traffic Jam'. It doesn't have the fluidity and appeal of comparable efforts by Kenyon Hopkins or Roland Shaw, who can make sound clips seem part of the music rather than jarring interpolations. 'I Spy' still has a pulsing appeal, though it sounds to me like the fade out was cut off by some ham fisted chump. All the Telefunkens and Ampexs in the world won't save you from clumsy human intervention. 
'Man Alone' by John Barry from The Ipcress File is lovely, displaying some particularly nice guitar by Tony Mottola with a bossa feel. 

If not for the Third @£$$%^ Man this would be wall to wall high quality spy music. 'Thunderball' has a galloping, almost Spaghetti Western feel (more guitar, this time by Al Casamenti) with some wailing high pitched sputnik electric organ — apparently achieved by using the "piccolo attachment." 

The third Barry track, 'Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' is another highlight, with the whispered accompaniment more effective than the intrusions on 'I Spy'. Schifrin's 'The Cat — Theme from Joy House' isn't about to supplant Jimmy Smith's take, but it has a pleasant 1960s science fiction feel. 

'Agent Double-O Soul' is equipped with some nicely groovy female vocals. You can almost see the singers gyrating in their giant giant birdcages, mini-dresses lit up by the psychedelic colour splashes of the oil lamp. Again with the abrupt cut-off, though. 

There is the occasional bit of very light noise on my LP — some tics deep in the grooves. And the vinyl has a tiny warp. But this copy is probably as good as it gets. A keeper.

Dick Hyman The Man from O.R.G.A.N.(Command RS 891 SD)

(Image credits: all from Discogs. Thank god this isn't my copy with the grubby labels.)

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.)