Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Louis Jordan

I'm not gonna front -- there's tons of people intimately familiar with the life, career and musical output of Louis Jordan. Hitherto, I was NOT amongst them. I KNEW the name but it registered as "old swing dude." And nothing more, shamefully.

But as I was reading the Little Richard biography I came across a segment where Richard mentions his early repertoire once he started gigging in earnest and he mentions Louis Jordan's "Caledonia" a song that currently rings a bell owing to the Rebirth Brass Band's rambunctious version. So I start poking around online, note that he was also responsible for "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead" that I know as well via Rebirth and much effusive praise being tossed his way.

So I order up the JSP box "Louis Jordan And His Tymany Five" - $22 + $3 shipping, wait a couple weeks and it appears in the mailbox this past Monday afternoon. And I must report that as Harry Smith (Anthology of American Folk Music) said of the Magickal Childe edition of the Necronomicon - "This is something you'll like; if you like that kind of thing." Though I must admit that this cat was unusually influential.

This collects his work from 1938 - 1950: 131 selections. There's a lot of great lively, big band numbers that swing like a garden gate in a hurricane, full of the joie de vivre that premium dance music ought to and of course that WAS the primary intent of this much. Lively, upbeat, punchy. So if ya dig pre-bop jazz standards (as does Mrs. W.) you'll find plenty to please ya here.

Then you come across a selection of songs that provide obvious templates for the earliest R&B and rock 'n' roll. Songs like "Caledonia" whose piano parts and sax riffing wound up as essential parts of the rock vocabulary. Here's a video link: 1947's "Early In the Morning" marries boogie woogie piano with loping Calypso-flavored bass resulting in an ensemble sound that Professor Longhair would eventually adapt as his signature piano style (playing the bass parts with his left hand). You'll also find songs like "I Hear You Knockin' But You Can't Come In" and "Let The Good Times Roll" (here's a video link: that were covered or borrowed from to create some of the most iconic songs in the rock 'n' roll canon

Jordan also cut a dizzying amount of songs in a novelty vein that attained such popularity that they became basic parts of popular American culture - songs like "Open the Door Richard" that my often kinda racist old man still will start singing spontaneously - 60 years later. Songs that showed up on popular 50/60's children's show - Captain Kanagaroo, "The Green Grass Grows All Around."

It's really kinda shocking and humbling to realize how pervasive Jordan's influence has been on a wide spectrum of music over a protracted period of time.

I realize that most folks out there already knew that and that I'm late to the party. But I'm glad I finally got here!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Directly From My Heart To You

"Little Richard 5 Classic Albums Plus Bonus Singles" has arrived and it's certainly worth the $7.50 + $2.98 shipping. There are four CDs here
The first comprises Little Richard's first two album for Specialty
The second contains his third and final album for the label + tracks from compilations, film and live cuts from his Australian comeback tour.
Third disc features his first two gospel albums
Fourth disc is all single sides
There are NO liner notes - just a track listing on the back that does let you know what album the various tracks stem from.

The first two discs -- well I'm glad to have ALL the Specialty material instead of a just a greatest hits. I don't think there's anything left to say about the these performances -- this is a feral yet stylish as rock n roll ever got. I've said this before and I'll stand by it: everything important about rock n roll TO ME is contained in these performances. I'd trade the entire subsequent history of rock music for this in a heartbeat. Nothing that came after added anything but veneer and froufrou. Period.

Disc three had me really intrigued as the idea of Little Richard performing gospel -- as if blues and R&B aren't essentially secular lyrics set to gospel jams in the first place -- was highly appealing. But as I listened through appears that Richard felt the need to change his singing voice as well as his lifestyle and message in embracing a sacral path. His singing is nothing but fine, but it's more plummy, restrained and polite. Meanwhile, he's joined, and often overwhelmed, by a full choir on the majority of tracks. So while "Pray Along With" are fine gospel albums per se, they do NOT feature Little Richard bringing his signature incendiary voice and ecstatic singing style to the gospel genre. Which is sorta strange as his "rock" style is so clearly influenced by the most extremely expressive and inspired gospel performance style in the first place. So this disc winds up being primarily of educational value. But important in that this is what Richard gave up his burgeoning pop career to pursue -- so it's fascinating to hear what he had in mind when he made that move.

Finally, the last disc is mysteriously labelled "singles, A & B's" Some titles overlap with the repertoire of his first two albums. Slapping that on, ya note very quickly that none of this is rock 'n' roll. There're blues, jump blues, early R&B etc. And Richard's not quite sounding himself, singing a bit higher pitched, somewhat smoother. So I grabbed the Richard biography, look up the discography and lo and behold these are all his pre-Specialty! All well and good and creditable performance in already popular styles -- but all pre-dating his stylistic quantum leap into the wild, wooly and shockingly fresh style he'd go on to do.

SO...for $7.50 (+ shipping) this set gathers together practically all the material from the start of Little Richard's career -- his first three precedent-setting albums, the single sides he cut before them, the gospel he abandoned rock to pursue and a few tastes of his first comeback. Some of this stuff is GREAT and the rest is wonderfully instructive.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What costume shall the poor girl wear...

I've wistfully read about the All Tomorrow's Parties festivals for many year as it's never been especially convenient to attend; this series was inaugurated in the UK and recently introduced an U.S. based edition, but put on in the Catskills. So I was excited by the announcement of the US version moving to Asbury Park, NJ. And at the same time apprehensive. Memories of attending Lollapaloozas at various sites around the country, Woodstock II, Smokin' Grooves, etc. still sting. Parking a township away, slogging thru mud, bad food abounding etc...oy! And mind you, I've usually attended in an official capacity so had backstage access, VIP parking and all those amenities -- and I still dread the basic experience. My ideal of a great concert venue crystallized at the OLD 9:30 Club in Washington DC - good sound, nicely designed and relatively intimate space, dance/standing room in the main room, a long hallway with plenty of seating opening off to one side where you could rest your legs as necessary, and a back bar where you could escape all together IF YOU FELT LIKE IT.

I figured poor, little Asbury Park would be utterly swamped by the influx of music freak hepsters: nowhere to park, nowhere to grab a quick bite. Long lines everywhere. But in fact it was as idyllic as can be. We parked a block and half from the main drag - metered street parking (which was electronic so we could just put in for 6 hours then and there and not have to feed the meter). Ticket pick-up was calm and orderly. Once we had tickets we met a friend at the Convention Center which housed two of the venues, walked outside and had drinks on the veranda overlooking the beach and ocean and despite somewhat hiked prices -- still kinda lovely. Between acts we grabbed a bite at the venue at Aqua, an indoor restaurant and the chicken salad wrap was quite nice if -- again, somewhat overpriced ($14 for a wrap? but, hell, this is a resort town, this is what they do! Yr paying for proximity to the ocean and whatnot.)

I realize all the above gives my age away, that I'm focussed on the creature comforts. Well, ya know, I seed a couple shows in my time. Lotta great music. And at a certain point the contexts become a significant factor in rating a night out!

We saw two acts - The Pop Group and Swans - both recently reformed.

The Pop Group put on a good show. They played all the key tunes in their back catalogue, opening with "We Are All Prostitutes", including "She Is Beyond Good & Evil" in the set list and hitting all the key points in between. They threw in a Subway Sect cover (which unfortunately I couldn't identify). And put on a good show. Mark Stewart was in good voice, fierce, feral and sounding slightly unhinged singing his fiery songs of Marxist anguish -- all as relevant now as in Thatcherite England (if only the world had made any progress since then in terms of socio-economic justice and this had seemed quaint, instead of spot on). And the band was biting, spikey, playing their terse, twisted funked riffs.

But, I sensed that the wife and my journalist friend were less than impressed coz they sounded -- well, kinda normal. Coz the fact is that they wound up being mightily influential being one of the first acts to create reckless, high energy, punk-edged funk. And influence a buncha punky art funkers like the minutemen who in turn inspired folks like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sublime and...The Rapture...etc.

I fear lotsa folks saw The Pop Group as a buncha overwrought middle aged guys playing pro forma rock-funk...not realizing they created the forma!

While I was as eager as the next to hear their classic repertoire it would have been nice to see them produce a body of new work based on their original stylistic innovations with 30 years of added innovation, wisdom and skill added.

And that's what we did get from Swans. Now, I work with these guys so my opinions SHOULD be suspect. But I'll state this -- their nearly two hours long show (normally 2 1/2 hours when they're headlining in their own right instead of being part of a festival program) was either unrecorded new songs, tunes from last year's new album release + one old song - a radically retooled "I Crawled." It saw bandleader M. Gira pushing his musicians and listeners into new territory once again. Very loud (tho I didn't need earplugs and was quite comfy) in order to create particular acoustic phenomena you get with particular levels of volume and sonic density ala LaMonte Young, Glenn Branca. Sometimes very slow with bone crushing salvos by the massed ensemble being separated by a good 15 seconds silence(slap yr desk - count 15 seconds on a watch and slap it again to get a sense of what that feels like); tho those spaces are far from silent, being filled by the mass chords resounding, the different instruments resonating with each other, the overall sound slowly disintegrating -- and thru lengthy repetition the listener is effectively re-educated to actually hear every bit of it where normally, done for a few seconds at the end of a Metallica song it'd just register as "grandiose ending."

And other songs quicker, shapelier with wonderful layering of askew, cantileverd riffs building these monstrous, forbidding sonic edifices. Really a fascinating concert experience that is - perhaps - aimed at deprogramming listeners from their normal listening habits, getting them to just suspend all expectations and fully immerse themselves in the sound as music eddies back and forth from these deep static pools of sound-as-dark-matter to waves of concussive force. It starts out sounding monstrous and forceful, then seems to grow boring from the repetition and then suddenly transforms into being fully mesmerizing and delivering you into a delicious trance state.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Beauty's STILL on duty

When I was wallowing in the "Cosmino Matassa Story" - 4 CD set (absolutely stunning - if you wanna hear the language of vintage rock and roll being wrought - here it is!) the Little Richard tracks included got me contemplating the wonder of this man and his importance to modern music - which is, frankly, incalculable. I had a single disc Specialty collection which is largely sublime already. Bought the Charlie Gillett biography -- which Richard did extensive interviews for and which COULDA been issued as an autobiography "as told to." Wuddever. And that's as trippy and outrageous as I'd've hoped and that I remember reviewers noting.

This leads me to keep contemplating picking up his Reprise recordings, already owning "King of Rock N Roll" on vinyl. Rhino has a box with all three recordings that's a bit pricey - but you can also score each separately for about $7 -- so price wise that's more attractive a proposition.

BUT every time I'm grazing Amazon's listings I kept stopping at "Little Richard: 5 Great Albums +" = "Import-only four CD set containing six of the Rock 'n' Roll pioneer's album plus bonus tracks. Includes the albums Here's Little Richard, Little Richard Vol. 2, The Fabulous Little Richard, Pray Along Vol. 1, and Pray Along Vol. 2." and THAT sells for $7.50 NEW. And considering that used copies of his first two albums sell for about that APIECE -- hard to beat this deal - not with a stick! So I put in my order yesterday. Of course the mastering could suck - any accompanying artwork could blow -- tho in this pure content culture that's not so hard to deal with (esp. once you've learned to accepted the JSP Jelly Roll Morton box - I think the liner notes are literally written in 3 point type! and there's no sorta design consistency between each piece in the set - but - for $15 -- ya get a lotta insanely wonderful music)