Tag Archives: 1960s

[136] Oscar Brown, Jr. – Sin & Soul

13 Nov

How many more times am I going to be shocked to the core at the holes in my musical education?

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The combination of Brown’s vocal prowess, his silky instincts for entertaining, and his sharp social commentary is an unforgettable cocktail.  Many of the songs are smoothly infectious – as cool as anything the Rat Pack ever did – but Brown almost casually throws in biting, searing moments like the chilling “Bid Em In” where he unflinchingly, straight faced plays the slave owner selling off a 15-year-old girl.

As my wife commented, “Sammy Davis never touched a song like that.”

Brown slides back and forth across the album between clean crooner vocals and the accented African annunciation, a fascinating and certainly deliberate decision.  Here you’ll find a more or less definitive version of the standard, “Straighten Up And Fly Right” sung with crystal clarity and sunny smile, alongside the affected patter – almost unrecognizable as English – of “Rags and Old Iron”.

This is followed closely by the hugely comedic howl of, “But I Was Cool” . . .

There is a magnificent juxtaposition here, a tightrope balance between warming embrace and squirming discomfort, tragedy and hilarity.

For all the astute blending of assimilation and non-, in the end all of the choices Brown makes are right on the money – by turns thought provoking, moving and amusing, but always entertaining.  The arrangements span from lush orchestral to non-existent and every stop along the way, with Brown’s expressive voice conveying every emotion and capturing every nuance of a number of insanely catchy melodies.

So, yet again, why does it take an honestly insane endeavor (an album a week for over 20 years?  What was I thinking?) for me to even hear the name, let alone the music and the mind associated with it?

Now I’ve heard Oscar Brown Jr. sing “Forbidden Fruit”, it is an earworm which will stay with me forever more and I am glad of it . . .

Next Week:  Ruth Brown – Miss Rhythm

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 136 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 136 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (112 of 136 = 82%)

[134] James Brown – Soul Pride: The Instrumentals, 1960-1969

30 Oct

I think I enjoy these mostly instrumental and wholly impressive session jams even more than the familiar tunes that made Brown a household name.

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The whole thing, almost two and a half hours of freewheeling music, sounds like the soundtrack to an exceptional action movies with adrenaline and passion informing every note.  I can almost see the movement and color on the screen as Brown drives his buddies on in these late night recording binges, wailing occasionally or leading from the keyboard as every instrument imaginable takes its turn in the spotlight, adding its piece to the story.

This is the good stuff – artists performing for other artists, having fun, showing off.  The result could have been masturbatory but instead manages a wide-eyed “look what I can do” vibe as everyone shines, everyone soars.

There is so much joy in Brown’s music, and this is never more evident than in these 36 tracks spanning a decade.  You could throw this album on at almost any party, with almost any crowd and make your guests happy.

Whether it is hot horns, raging guitars or wandering electric piano riffs there is always something cool happening, technically excellent, subjectively pleasing regardless of the time or place or players.

The one constant is Brown, his recognizable aesthetic and legendary work ethic.

Next Week:  James Brown and the JB’s – “Sex Machine”

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 134 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 134 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (110 of 134 = 82%)

[133] James Brown and the Famous Flames – Live At The Apollo (1962)

23 Oct

Short and oh so sweet, this tight and tiny live set is an amazing primer for anyone wanting to hear for themselves why James Brown was known as the hardest working man in show business.

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Barely half an hour long (even after including the spoken word introduction and instrumental opening track) it is not clear that the audience could have taken much more of this high octane, passion filled performance. From the very first lines sung by that instantly recognizable voice nothing is left to chance and nothing is left in reserve.

The notoriously demanding Apollo crowd laps up every note and it is easy to understand why.

The band is admirably sharp, keeping up with Brown’s energy and providing the canvas on which his whooping and wailing can appear as an artist painting with vocal color rather than just a crazy man screaming at a wall.

Assigned by Moon to his R&B category, this could as easily be seen as prototypical Rock n Roll, with the Blues (of the Rhythm and Blues) buried pretty far in the mix, and the guitar placed well forward in the mix, often dueling mightily with the powerful horn section.

But whatever you call it, this opportunity to experience “Mr Dynamite” (to use one of the titles bestowed on Brown during the introductions) in the early blush of his full powers and success is well worth listening to.

Next Week: James Brown – Soul Pride: The Instrumentals, 1960-1969

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 133 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 133 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (109 of 133 = 82%)

[127] Anthony Braxton – For Alto

11 Sep

This is not background music.

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I am sure that there will be many people who hear these almost tuneless, almost ugly tracks and dismiss or dislike them instantly, but I find them intellectually and aesthetically fascinating.

It took me almost no time at all to discover that I could not listen to this double album of solo alto saxophone at my desk.  Each time I tried, work would stop entirely as I found myself attempting to follow and understand the dizzying path around which the single instrument was dragging the melody.

The speed of the fingering would be astounding enough, but the breath behind these breakneck runs and great raw squeals defies explanation.

For Alto is a very different animal than much of the cool-hot melodic Jazz I have so enjoyed to date.  Braxton is closer to experimental modern classical at times, wailing and challenging in equal measure.

The recording strips down some of the ideas heard in other Free Jazz masterpieces to a single voice, leaving the sax out on a limb without a safety net, soloing in exhausting 10 minute explosions with no band, trio or quartet to share the load.

There is a palpable sense of exploration on show which I find irresistible, whether Braxton is stretching a rhythm to breaking point or forcing sounds from his instrument which perhaps no saxophone had ever made before.

Then the album begins to wind down, the pace slows, and Braxton’s explorations turn to the depth and texture of the tones he can coax out of the eponymous instrument. The melodies remain rambling and seemingly unfocused, yet still I cannot tune out for even a moment.

For Alto is a signpost, a signal expressing what music can be. It demonstrates the theory that music is all but limitless, by taking the listener beyond those perceived limits without losing the way, without wasting the time of either performer or follower.

Listen to Anthony Braxton take his sax to the limit before you die. Perhaps you will not like what you hear.

But I bet you have a strong reaction.

Next Week: Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 127 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 127 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (105 of 127 = 83%)

[126] Johannes Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 2

4 Sep

A quiet opening catches my attention, and the tinkling piano brings a smile to my face.  When an unexpectedly abrupt run and stab up the keys begins, I am fully engaged.

We are 90 seconds into the first Allegro movement of Piano Concerto No. 2.

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Here is an orchestra apparently with something to say, a conductor and pianist willing to let them be heard.  It is not so much call and response as point and counterpoint.  The orchestra states its position and the piano rebuts and refutes.

I am sure there is some sort of structure being adhered to, but to my ear the mood and tempo ranges far and wide, seemingly at will.  Again, I find myself intrigued.  It is all so pretty.

And I enjoy the feeling of never knowing what I am going to hear next.

As playful as it is brooding, as light and airy as it is dense and heavy – it almost sounds like schizophrenia might feel.  The switchbacks and sonic reversals ensure that the piece is constantly interesting, with a warm inviting sound making it a pleasure to sit back and let composer and performer take you where they will.

I wish I better understood what I have been listening to for the last month or so.  Brahms has a sound that appeals to me, but as with almost all of the Classical composers to date (certainly all except those behind a handful of pieces I knew well before embarking on the list) I do not have any real context in which to place him, no real objective way of comparing one piece to another, even within my own head.

So I will have to settle for “I like what I like”, without necessarily knowing why.

Next Week: Anthony Braxton – For Alto

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 126 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 126 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (104 of 126 = 83%)

[125] Johannes Brahms – Violin Sonatas, Opp. 78, 100, 108

28 Aug

When it comes to Brahms, it seems my preferences lie along “less is more” lines.

Here, as with the Sonatas for Cello and Piano, I am able to focus on the fragile melody and precise playing in a way I was not with the big Symphonies.  Once again there is an almost extrasensory connection between the two performers, driving and pushing each other to ever greater heights, yet always remaining firmly under control.

The violin is more clearly, and appropriately, the star here.  It soars and swoops within the framework provided by the piano, winding and creeping like a vine, engulfing and beautifying the structure.

The swell of the music makes me smile, spontaneously, unexpectedly, repeatedly.

Really, what more could you possibly ask for?

Next Week: Johannes Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 2

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 125 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 125 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (103 of 125 = 82%

[112] Dock Boggs – His Folkways Years 1963-68

29 May

This appears to be a case of more important than impressive.

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Although in truth I can’t figure out quite why this unassuming folk singer is seen as especially important either, unless you count his comeback from a 40-year hiatus.

His vocals aren’t as exuberant as The Balfa Brothers’.  His banjo picking isn’t as artful as Pete Seeger’s.  So I can’t think of a single reason why I would listen to Boggs over either one of the aforementioned.  Boggs’ music is pleasant enough – basic banjo picking under an old-man voice – but I struggle to find a single thing that elevates it in any way to the levels of the other recordings explored to date.

It is evocative, but harmless, toothless.  Music to eat to in a certain kind of Southern cooking restaurant.  Despite listening to 50 songs, almost two-and-a-half hours worth of music and more than once, I can’t pick out a single standout track, or indeed differentiate one from another at all!

I am frankly at a loss to understand how such a bland entry even made it into the discussion for inclusion into Tom Moon’s hallowed 1,000.  This is not the case of me not enjoying something that is challenging, or rejecting a sound that is simply not to my tastes.

It is just that I am left feeling nothing at all.

If any readers would like to enlighten me – to explain why they love this artist, these songs – I would be genuinely interested to hear what it might be I am missing.

Next Week:  Bonnie “Prince” Billy – I See A Darkness

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 112 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (17 of 112 = 15%)
Recommend? No. (92 of 112 = 82%)

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