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.)