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

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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.