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 – Trying a little tenderness

Booker T and the MGs

Booker T and the MGs: (l-r) Donald “Duck” Dunn, Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Al Jackson Jr (who was killed by a home intruder in 1975)

I was saddened to learn this evening of the passing of the great session bassist, and longtime member of Booker T and the MGs, Donald “Duck” Dunn.  His story is a great example of the notion that a musician doesn’t have to become hugely famous in order to do great things.  Dunn joined the MGs in 1965; prior to that, he was the regular bassist with the Bar-Kays, another instrumental group that, like the MGs, played on numerous Stax sessions.  Looking at a list of recordings that Dunn participated in is like leafing through a history of pop, soul and R&B: Wilson Picket’s In the Midnight Hour, numerous Otis Redding records, including Sitting On the Dock of the Bay, Presenting Issac Hayes (another Stax regular who frequently sat in with the MGs when Booker T. Jones was unavailable), The Staples Singers’ Soul Folk in Action, Albert King’s King of the Blues Guitar, Delaney and Bonnie’s Home, Mitch Ryder’s The Detroit  Memphis Experiment, among numerous other recordings.  He was a participant in both Blues Brothers movies, hand-picked by Dan Aykroid.  It is also interesting to note that Booker T and the MGs were among the first racially integrated bands in rock/pop music.

Photo of musician Donald "Duck" Dunn

Donald “Duck” Dunn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a tribute to Donald “Duck” Dunn, we started the show with the London set from Otis Redding’s 1967 album Live in Europe, with the MGs playing:

  • Respect  – although Aretha Franklin’s version is more well known, Redding actually wrote the song, and recorded it with Dunn and the MGs in 1965, whereas Franklin recorded her version in ’67.  Attentive listeners will notice the lyrical differences.
  • My Girl – the Temptations song
  • Shake
  • Day Tripper (a soul rendition of the Beatles classic)
  • Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)
  • (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – Redding does the Rolling Stones
  • Try A Little Tenderness

We then heard three songs from Booker T and the MGs:

  • Green Onion (this was prior to Dunn joining the MGs.  The bassist here was Lewie Steinberg, the MG’s original bassist)
  • Sunday Sermon (1970 b-side with a rather prominent bass line)
  • Soul Limbo
Joy Division in 1979. Left to right: Stephen M...

Joy Division in 1979. Left to right: Stephen Morris, Peter Hook, Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had received a request a few weeks ago for a certain song from Joy Division, following my New Order set. While I neglected to bring that song this evening, I would hope that a nice live Joy Division set would make up for the omission (I had actually thought that I had a live rendition of the song in question, which in fact I do not have).  From a January 198o live recording, we heard New Dawn Fades, Transmission, Disorder, and Isolation.

We then heard a few from the NYC band Interpol, who have been accused from time to time (especially in their early days) of being Joy Division clones.  I don’t know that I would agree with this, but one must say that there are worse things for a band to be referred to than as “Joy Division clones”.  From their 2004 album Antics, we heard Evil, Narc and Not Even Jail.

It is hard for me to resist the music of Loretta Lynn.  Her songwriting is personal and distinct, with strong story-telling images that don’t rely on the story to leave an image  Tonight we heard You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man), Don’t Come Home A-Drinking (With Loving On Your Mind), and Woman Of The World (Leave My World Alone).

Cropped screenshot of Benny Goodman and his ba...

Cropped screenshot of Benny Goodman and his band, with featured vocalist Peggy Lee from the film Stage Door Canteen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had brought some Benny Goodman last week, but was unable to get around to it.  But such is the advantage of my musical selection process: if I miss something one week, I usually end up leaving it out around the house (inadvertently), in a handy place where I can find it and utilize it for the next week’s show.  Such is the case this week, as we managed to put together a lovely set from the live recording from Goodman’s legendary January 1938 appearance at Carnegie Hall in New York City.  From the fairly recent remaster of this excellent 2 disc live album we heard Blue Skies, Loch Lomond (with vocalist Martha Tipton), Blue Room, Swingtime in the Rockies, and Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen (again with Martha Tipton).

I was pleased to read this week that Alice in Chains are beginning the work for a new album (I’ve also heard similar hints this week from the Deftones, although theirs is a bit more abstract: they’ve been posting pictures of mixing boards and amps on their Facebook page).  So we closed tonight’s show with a couple of AIC songs: All Secrets Known (from their most recent album, Black Gives Way To Blue), and Angry Chair (a Layne Staley composition from Dirt).

The Galaxy – “New” music for the New Year

Live in Europe (Otis Redding album)

Image via Wikipedia

For starters, Happy New Year, everyone!  I pray your 2011 is rich with blessings.

I get quite a thrill when I stumble upon a new artist, a young musician ripe with creativity and brimming with promise.  St. Vincent (the stage name used by Annie Clark, who has formerly played with the Polyphonic Spree and other artists) is one such artist.  Her music is unique and original, and quite a joy to listen to.  She also is a fine musician with a flair for lovely guitar lines.  My daughter suggested that I play some of her music tonight, and it was an excellent suggestion.

Part of my criteria for determining how good a band really is is how well they represent themselves on stage.  Well-engineered recordings are a great thing to hear, but to my musician’s ears it is still important to be able to interpret the material in front of an audience.  There are options for the interpretive musician.  One can be like Rush and blow us away with the accuracy of their interpretation of the recorded material.  For Rush, this works quite well since their recorded material is so mind-blowing in the first place.  The opposite end of the spectrum is to work like Led Zeppelin, to use the recorded version as a starting point, subject to change and adaptation.  This also worked well for Led Zep, as they were brilliantly creative musicians who made their songs seem as if they were alive and breathing.

With this in mind, consider this clip of St. Vincent’s The Party, from a 2009 episode of Austin City Limits.  The album is an excellent studio album, one that Clark largely recorded herself, that comes across very well through good stereo speakers.  But Clark obviously has a clear vision for how she wants to represent her work, and you can see this in the arrangement of this song, and her selection of musicians who can manage 4 part harmony and who can all play multiple instruments.  Very professional, very competent, and the results are jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

Of course, I often dip into the classics, especially when I have live material.  Otis Redding was a true classic, and his death in a plane crash was all the more tragic because of the talent that was lost.  Thankfully, he left us a number of live recordings that do well in documenting the power of his live performance, particularly this sample from his legendary 1967 tour that led him to the Monterey Pop Festival, where he shared the stage with Hendrix, The Who, Ravi Shankar, and other stars of the day.  The man was absolutely irrepressible – you couldn’t keep him off the stage, and you really didn’t want to either.  The following video clip comes from that same tour.

We followed the great Otis Redding with some more promising talent that I came across in 2010.  Cancer Bats and Architects are bands that both toured with As I Lay Dying and Underoath last summer, an excellent show that showcased a number of talented young metal acts.  It was only natural for me to follow up these two bands with Underoath, whose most recent album I have yet to acquire.  Following this is The Deftones, who may have issued one of the best albums of 2010 with Diamond Eyes and participated in an excellent tour with Alice in Chains and Mastodon.

A video clip for one of our Architects songs…

The video for You’ve Seen The Butcher, which was just put out on October 28:

And, of course, the video for Rocket Skates, a song that is hard for me to deny when selecting from Deftones songs.

We follow the Deftones with something from Sergei Prokofiev, his Sonata No 6, Op. 82 in A.  Prokofiev poured his soul into his chamber music, and it shows in this beautiful piece of music.  The Sonata No. 6 was the first of Prokofiev’s three “War Sonatas”, and was premiered on April 8, 1940 by the composer himself.  The performer we hear here, the legendary Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, was a frequent champion of Prokofiev’s work, and he actually premiered the second War Sonata himself in Moscow in 1943.

We finish tonight’s show with Charles Mingus doing an extended 29 minute rendition of Fables of Faubus, with the great Eric Dolphy playing in what would be his last tour.  The performance was from a March 18, 1964 concert at Cornell University, a performance that had been all but forgotten until Mingus’ widow Sue Graham Mingus discovered a tape of the performance in her archive.  The tour is relatively well-documented, with Mingus’ famous Town Hall Concert recording (which had been thought to have been the first performance of the tour) and the legendarily bootlegged Paris concert both previously issued.  But this recording, taking place a fortnight prior to the Town Hall Concert, catches this particular ensemble at a high point, especially since Johnny Coles became ill during the Paris Concert, making this recording one of only a few recordings that captures this ensemble.  This particular song, long a concert favorite of Mingus that was first recorded for Mingus Ah Um, receives an excellent interpretation here.

The following is a copy of the “original playlist”.  The original, as always, is maintained at The Galaxy’s website.

Composer Performer Title Genre Label
St. Vincent
The Strangers
Rock, Modern, Indie
4AD, 2009
The Party
Laughing With a Mouthful of Blood
Lennon/McCartney
Otis Redding
Day Tripper
R&B, Soul
Stax, 1967
Otis Redding
Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)
Jagger/Richards
Otis Redding
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Otis Redding
Try A Little Tenderness
Cancer Bats
Sleep This Away
Metal, Metalcore
Distort, 2008
Rust No One
Architects
Numbers Count for Nothing
Century Media, 2009
Early Grave
Underoath
Coming Down is Calming Down
Solid State, 2008
Deftones
You’ve Seen The Butcher
Metal, Alt
Reprise, 2010
Rocket Skates
Sergei Prokofiev
Sviatoslav Richter, solo piano
Sonata No. 6 Op. 82 in A
Classical, 20th Century, music for solo piano
RCA Victor, 2001
Charles Mingus -w- Johnny Coles (t), Eric Dolphy (bass clarinet), Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Jaki Byard (p), Dannie Richmond (d)
Fables of Faubus
Jazz, post-bop, avant garde
Blue Note, 2007