The Galaxy – I’d have a cigar, but I don’t smoke

Cover of "Miscellaneous Debris"

Cover of Primus’ Miscellaneous Debris

We began the show with some Primus.  I find it interesting when a band chooses to do an album of covers.  They display their influences, while at the same time giving us what can be interesting interpretations of the material in question.  Such is the case with this Primus covers album, Miscellaneous Debris, from 1992.  While we usually hear their great bassist Les Claypool playing with a four string bass, here we hear Claypool playing on a six-string fretless bass, with allows for a excellent, full, and chunky bass sound.  We heard their cover of Pink Floyd’s Have a Cigar, XTC’s Making Plans for Nigel, and Peter Gabriel‘s Intruder.

English: Arnold Schoenberg seated, painted in ...

English: Arnold Schoenberg seated, painted in 1906 by Richard Gerstl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Arnold Schoenberg wrote Verklärte Nacht (trans: Transfigured Night), Op. 4, in 1899, at the age of 25.  He was inspired by a poem by Richard Dehmel, which tells the story of a distraught young woman who confesses to her lover that she carries another man’s child.  The man’s response is that the child will be transformed by their love into his.  The emotions are expressed in the form of a tone poem, written for a string sextet.  His abandonment of classical tonality was still a thing of the future when this was written, but this is far from a standard Romantic-era piece – even if his 12-tone method did not yet exist, he was even then quite the harmonic adventurer, at one point calling for an inverted ninth chord (which caused the piece to be rejected by the Vienna Music Society).  The piece, with its frank treatment of sexual themes, was controversial when it was published in 1902Schoenberg wrote an arrangement for string orchestra, which is performed and recorded frequently.  Tonight’s recording is of the original version for string sextet, a 2000 recording by the Concertante Players.

English: James Brown, February 1973, Musikhall...

James Brown, February 1973, Musikhalle, Hamburg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We next heard some classic James Brown, music that helped define what we would come to call “funk”, music that would set the stage for 30 years of funk, soul, r&b and rap, and which brought a social consciousness into play.  Much of this influence was due to Brown’s business and musical acumen.  His attention to detail in the musical arrangements were a major part of his success.  We have this testimonial from long-time Brown saxophonist Maceo Parker:

You gotta be on time. You gotta have your uniform. Your stuff’s got to be intact. You gotta have the bow tie. You got to have it. You can’t come up without the bow tie. You cannot come up without a cummerbund … [The] patent leather shoes we were wearing at the time gotta be greased. You just gotta have this stuff. This is what [Brown expected] … [Brown] bought the costumes. He bought the shoes. And if for some reason [the band member decided] to leave the group, [Brown told the person to] please leave my uniforms ….

We heard Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, from 1965, Cold Sweat (Parts 1 and 2), and I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I’ll Get It Myself).

Cover of "Telephone Free Landslide Victor...

Cover of Telephone Free Landslide Victory

One of the more musically interesting bands of the mid to late 1980s was Camper Van Beethoven.  The band was one of the key parts of the indie rock movement, and their songs blended aspects of country, ska and punk, often injecting humor into the lyrics.  While they broke up in 1990, they reformed in the early 2000’s, and have since then put out two albums (which I have regrettably been unable to acquire).  Inconvenient, but not a bother, as there are plenty of classics for us to enjoy.  We heard Where the Hell is Bill and Mao Reminisces About His Days in Southern China, both from their 1985 album, Telephone Free Landslide Victory.  We then heard Sad Lovers Waltz and I Love Her All The Time, from their second album, II & III.  We also heard a selection, One Of These Days, from their 1988 album, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, before finishing with Take The Skinheads Bowling, also from Telephone Free Landslide Victory.

We finished the show with some classic Metallica: Creeping Death, from Ride The Lightning; The Thing That Should Not Be, from Master of Puppets; and Harvester of Sorrow and …And Justice for All, both from 1988’s …And Justice for All


The Galaxy – Music for a cold, wet night

François Couperin (1668-1733), composer

François Couperin (1668-1733), composer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We started the evening with a set of motets by François Couperin.  They were part of a set of motets that had been circulated through the possession of various collectors (including Louis Philippe I, “King of the French” during the July Monarchy) for many years.  Parts of the collection had been sold off over the years, but the entire set was eventually reunited by Louise Dyer, founder of the Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre.  These “petit motets” are interesting in that they display Couperin’s Italian influences.  Tonight’s recording is by a group of musicians from Les Arts Florissants, under the direction of William Christie, and featuring counter-tenor Paul Agnew.

English: Ornette Coleman, Moers Festival 2011

English: Ornette Coleman, Moers Festival 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ornette Coleman holds an interesting place in jazz history.  He became one of the leaders of the avant garde jazz movement, and his Free Jazz album even lent its name to a sub-genre.  Yet his method was far more subtly different than what one might gather from his reputation.  His major innovation was to unlink improvisation from the standard chordal structure that to this day remains common in jazz – yet his improvisations remained melodic, even if they were more freely structured than what people were used to.  But his music was still a major shift for jazz musicians and fans.  One of the key albums of Coleman’s catalog, the “watershed event”, was The Shape of Jazz to Come.  Recorded without a chording instrument (i.e. piano), Coleman and his quartet (Don Cherry on trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass and Billy Higgins on drums) simply state the primary melody, then improvise freely.  It is truly a wonderful listening experience, and hints at some of the things to come.  We heard three songs from this album: Lonely Woman, Focus on Sanity, and Congeniality.

Cover of "Dazzle Ships"

Cover of Dazzle Ships

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark was (and still is) one of the more interesting of the New Wave bands to come out of England.  This is because they combined excellent pop sensibilities and exquisite songwriting skills with a willingness to experiment and take chances.  At various points throughout their career, they wrote a number of songs that featured interesting instrumentation and soundscapes, and are considered quite influential by a number of modern acts, including The Killers, Death Cab for Cutie, and LCD Soundsystem.  We heard a few of their songs tonight, culled from several albums: Always (from their self-titled Debut), VCL XI (from their 2nd album, Organisation), Souvenir (from their 3rd album, Architecture and Morality), and finished with a set of songs from their excellent Dazzle Ships: This is Helena, International, Dazzle Ships, and The Romance of the Telescope.

Live in Europe (Otis Redding album)

Live in Europe (the original album, pre-remaster) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is always fun listening to one of Otis Redding‘s live recordings.  While he made some truly classic soul recordings in the 50s and 60s, the stage was where the man truly belonged.  Happily, there are some excellent live recordings that have been remastered and repackaged, including the excellent Otis Redding Live! in London and Paris.  Originally issued as Live in Europe, this expanded collection gives us most, if not all, of the shows performed in London on 3/17, and Paris on 3/21, 1967.  On a number of occasions I have played excerpts from the London show, so tonight I played a few songs from the Paris set: Respect, I Can’t Turn you Loose, and I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.

Ride the Lightning

Ride the Lightning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In researching music for some promotional clips that I’ve assembled, I was impressed by a few instrumental tracks by Metallica.  Metallica has not recorded a large number of instrumentals, yet the ones that they have recorded hold a pretty significant place in their catalog.  Notably, each of their early albums (Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, …And Justice for All) included an instrumental.  That practice ended with the Black Album, so the inclusion of an instrumental (Suicide and Redemption) on Death Magnetic is considered by some as a return of attitude to the musical philosophies that were in existence during their early phase.  Of course, another way to look at it is to recognize that the instrumental pieces are great music.  We didn’t do a full instrumental set – we just heard Call of Ktulu (from Ride the Lightning), followed by The Thing that Should Not Be, from Master of Puppets.

We do like to emphasize contrasting genres on the Galaxy.  So it felt fitting, as a conclusion for the show, to follow Metallica with a couple of songs from Portishead: Sour Times (from their 1994 album Dummy); from Third (2009) we heard Magic Doors and Threads.

The Galaxy – Put some enthusiasm in that music!

There is a scripture in the Bible that speaks about God’s distaste for lukewarm Christians.  (Revelations 3:15-16 – “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”)  I confess that I feel the same way about music.  I’m not much for “lukewarm” music, and to be quite honest, I’m not into cold music, either.  I like my music hot.  Now, this isn’t to say that I have a set definition for what is “hot”.  If there is one, it starts with driving musicianship.  This can be achieved through multiple means and in multiple genres.  This is the common thread that ties my various disparate genres together – a high degree of musicianship.

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos

Buck Owens with the classic Buckaroos lineup: Owens, Don Rich (g), Willie Cantu (d), Tom Brumley (steel guitar), Doyle Holly (b)

The artist that we started the night with, Buck Owens, had a knack for great songwriting, and he had a top notch group of musicians who could bring his musical vision to life.  It is easy to focus on lead guitarist Don Rich, whom we hear singing high harmony vocals here as well, but Doyle Holly, Tom Brumley (the son of noted gospel composer Albert Brumley) and Willie Cantu were all fine musicians as well.  We heard a lovely set from Owens’ Live at Carnegie Hall disc: Act Naturally, Together Again, and Love’s Gonna Live Here.

Metallica, mid-80s

Ride the Lightning-era Metallica

I do love to shift gears, to mix my pitches (to use some baseball lingo), as I enjoy the contrast from one genre to another.  Although the selection of Metallica was not an attempt to maximize the contrast in genres, I can’t think of a better way to do so than to jump into some early Metallica.  They have it all – musically tight exploration of what the genre can do, with great songs and great performances.  We heard  Master of Puppets (surely you know which album that one is from) and One (I would hope that you’re familiar with …And Justice for All).

Duke Ellington, c. 1930s

The ever-dapper Duke Ellington, c. 1930s

Now, one of my main thematic interests for the evening was a celebration of the birthday of the great jazz musician and composer Duke Ellington.  We cannot give the Duke sole credit for making jazz great – that credit belongs to a group of persons, a group that he holds a charter membership in.  But his work was truly vital in establishing jazz as an art form.  His early recordings are some absolute treasures, and we heard a few of them tonight – Harlem Twist (a redo of his earlier East St. Louis Toodle-oo, The Moochie, Saturday Night Function, Move Over, Ring Dem Bells – all from 1930 or earlier (Ring Dem Bells was the only one of these from 1930).  Each of these recordings are pretty important in the history of jazz, with moments that make the jazz lover salivate freely (i.e. Bubber Miley’s growling trumpet lines in Harlem Twist, or Baby Cox’s vocals on several of the songs, or the unbelievable recording quality on several of these songs – these are from the 1930s, after all).  We also heard a few songs from the classic 40’s era band –  (Otto Make That) Riff Staccato, Prelude to a Kiss, and Caravan.  Just a small demonstration of the greatness that the Duke left as his legacy, the same greatness that would inspire countless great musicians that would follow.

New Order, c. mid '80s

New Order, c. mid '80s (Bernard Sumner (g, v), Gillian Gilbert (synth, guitar), Stephen Morris (d, synths), Peter Hook (b, synths)

Another study in contrasts comes with our inclusion of some classic New Order.   New Order is unique in the manner in which they constructed dance music, while at the same time maintaining the standard of music that was fully constructed, and many of their albums present both dance music and more elemental post-punk rock.  Tonight we heard a sampling of some of their classic dance songs:  Blue Monday (from 1983’s Power, Corruption and Lies), Bizarre Love Triangle (from  1986’s Brotherhood), and Mr. Disco (from 1988’s Technique).

OMD, c. 1983

OMD, c. 1983 (clockwise from top: Martin Cooper (sax, synths), Malcom Holmes (d), Paul Humphreys (synths, vocals, etc), Andy McCluskey (v, bass, synths, guitars, etc)

While it is a good thing to hear some good New Order, it is just as instructive to hear other bands who were influential in the development of electronic rock music, such as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.  Like New Order, OMD were heavily influenced by Kraftwerk (the title of their second album, Organisation, refers to an early group name of Kraftwerk’s), although their focus tended to be more along the electronic line than of the dance music trend, at times bordering on the experimental.  Their music was indeed quite experimental for the time, with liberal use of tape collages, found sounds, and other electronic musical advances.  We heard Almost and Mystereality from their self-titled first album.  We then heard 2nd Thought and VCL XI from Organisation.

It is interesting to note some of the hidden connections between New Order and OMD, aside from their mutual interest in Kraftwerk:

  • OMD put their first single out through Factory Records, which was New Order’s long time label.  It was produced by Martin Hannett, the noted producer who helped Joy Division find their sound.  Hannett also worked with JD after they became New Order, but the members of New Order quickly learned how to handle mixing boards, and soon elected to produce themselves.
  • OMD’s 1980 album Organisation is said to have been heavily influenced by Joy Division, with its darker feel and jarring drum sounds (which was brought to Joy Division in part by Martin Hannett).
  • OMD gave Stephen Hague his first full record production credit when he produced their 1985 album Crush, the album which served as a chart breakthrough for OMD in the US.  Later that same year, New Order brought Hague in to do a single and b-side for True Faith, resulting in part from the success seen with OMD.
  • Peter Saville did the album art for several of OMD’s albums throughout the early ’80s.  He is, of course, well known for his work on albums issued by the Factory label, including those of New Order’s.

Cancer Bats are a metal band from Toronto, Canada whom I was quite impressed with when I saw them opening for As I Lay Dying in St. Louis in 2010.  From their 2008 album Bears, Mayors, Scraps and Bones, we heard Sleep This Away and Dead Wrong.  I look forward to hearing more from this band.

Punk rock hardcore band The Bad Brains at Nigh...

We close the show with a classic live album from the Bad Brains, the seminal hardcore group that blended hardcore and reggae together back in the early to mid ’80s.  Their recordings were great (the Rock for Light album is a particular classic), but their live performances were absolutely incendiary – one reason why they are credited with being a major influence for bands ranging from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Flag and Living Colour, to the Beastie Boys (Adam “MCA” Yauch produced their most recent album).  Happily, we have an excellent recording of one such concert, The Youth are Getting Restless, recorded on 5/28/1987 in the Paradiso in Amsterdam.   From this very important recording, we heard Banned in DC, Sailin’ On, Fearless Vampire Killer, and At The Movies.

A great way to end the show – with a BANG.

The Galaxy – It isn’t Valentines Day yet!

Jimi Hendrix performs for Dutch television sho...

Jimi Hendrix on Dutch television in 1967 (Image via Wikipedia)

We started off tonight’s show with some Jimi Hendrix.  It has been a while since I’ve done some Hendrix on the show.  Of course, when I do Hendrix, it is hard for me not to do some live material, so we have here a mix of material from Electric Ladyland and the January 1, 1970 show that was memorialized on the Band of Gypsies album, and rereleased in remastered and expanded form as “Live at the Filmore East” in 1999.

Next we heard a lovely set of cuts from Charles Mingus.  Part of Mingus’ brilliance as a composer lay in his willingness to experiment while simultaneously hewing close to that which lay at the core of his sound – his blues, his gospel influences.  Another part of his brilliance was his unique ability to bring in musicians who understood and shared his unique musical vision, and then impart his musical inspiration to them aurally – he did not write sheet music.  The selections that we heard tonight contained a variety of musical influences, from hard blues to classical, and yet was fully, undeniably Mingus.  Charles Mingus was truly one of our great American composers.

I’ve also been in the mood to hear some Metallica.  This was inspired by a friend’s insistence that “Metallica sucks”, something to which I naturally strenuously disagree.  To me, the natural response is to play what may be one of the truly top-flight metal songs ever written, Master of Puppets, from the album of the same name.

We followed Metallica with a bit of Sonic Youth.  I’d been wanting to do some Sonic Youth for a few weeks, after my daughter had asked me about them.  It is a nice thing when you can share good, creative music with your family.  I played her material from their 1990 Goo album, from which we heard Dissapearer, and from their classic 1988 Daydream Nation.  I have done similarly here.

It has been a while since I’ve done a metal set, given all of the classical music I’ve been playing in recent weeks.  So I gave in to the urge to “rock out, with some choice selections from some choice bands.

Here is the official playlist, as maintained on my website.

Composer Performer Title Genre Label
Jimi Hendrix
Voodoo Chile
Rock, Classic, Psychedelic
MCA, 1968
Machine Gun
MCA, 1999
MCA, 1968
Charles Mingus
Jazz, post-bop, avant garde
Columbia, 1959
Pussy Cat Dues
Song with Orange
Columbia, 1960
Master of Puppets
Metal, Thrash
Elektra, 1986
Fade to Black
Elektra, 1984
Sonic Youth
Rock, post-punk, indie, experimental, avant garde
Geffen, 1990
Geffen, 1988
Cancer Bats
Scared to Death
Distort, 2008
Killswitch Engage
Rose of Sharyn
Roadrunner, 2004
Iron Tusk
Relapse, 2004
Lamb of God
Sony, 2004
Stormtroopers of Death
Metal, hardcore
Megaforce, 1984