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.

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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.