Monday, August 3, 2015

Flabbergasted Freeform Radio Hour No. 13

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Flabbergasted Freeform seems to be coming back to a monthly thing, the way it was always intended.  It's not quite in time for the blue moon of July but I hope you'll enjoy it anyway. I noticed the Mixcloud stream is markedly lower-resolution than what I uploaded there, so you might consider downloading the files directly below.






Download in 320 kbs

Download in FLAC

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Luiz Gonzaga - Canaã (1968)

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Luiz Gonzaga 
Canaã
Released 1968,  RCA-Victor  BBL-1434

01. Canaã (Humberto Teixeira)
02. Pobreza por pobreza (Gonzaguinha)
03. Festa (Gonzaguinha)
04. Nordeste pra frente (Luiz Queiroga / Luiz Gonzaga)
05. Valha Deus Senhor São Bento (Antônio Almeida)
06. Erva rasteira (Gonzaguinha)
07. Diz que vai virar (Gonzaguinha)
08. Baião polinário (Humberto Teixeira)
09. Saudades de Helena (Antônio Barros)
10. Tic-tac tic-tac (Antônio Almeida)
11. Canto sem protesto (Luiz Queiroga / Luiz Gonzaga)
12. Chico valente (Rildo Hora)

A rather mellow, atypical album from Gonzagão here.  It's a pleasant listen with some very melodic tunes on it, but it's also a confused mess of a record when you stop to really look at it.  It definitely suffers from the relative absence of his most renowned songwriting partner from the period, Humberto Teixeira, who only contributes two songs here that are also arguably the best ones.  (Strangely, he was corralled into writing the liner notes, but more about that later).   What immediately makes this record stand out is that Luiz Gonzaga's son, Gonzaguinha, wrote a bunch of the songs here.  Part of the student protest-song movement, Gonzaguinha would go on to become a respected MPB star in the seventies while still retaining his 'engaged' stance, putting out some real solid records as well as a few clunkers like everyone else.  But however poetic the lyrics might be here, the famously dour, humorless flavor of 1960s protest music just doesn't sound natural coming from the ebullient and emotive elder Gonzaga.  Hearing him sing lines like "It's always the same hunger / that drives me to despair. / It's always the same hand / that lives to exploit me," is really awkward.  This song, "Pobreza por pobreza", was rerecorded by Gonzaguinha the following year for the theater group Arena, for which it seems more fitted.   This sort of didactic, literal approach to a socially-engaged song-craft is in many ways the best argument for why a song like "Asa Branca," with its flowing, evocative, and multivalent imagery of drought, migration and redemption - is a tremendously more powerful statement than anything the self-defined protest singers could dream up.  In fairness to historical accuracy, it should be noted that Father and Son stood at different points of the political spectrum and, in a common effect of the generation gap of the time, this finds Gonzagão occasionally defending the military takeover of the country while his son was of course outspokenly against it.

I've included samples of both the Gonzaguinha and Gonzagão versions of this song by way of illustration, reversed chronologically so you can it hear performed by the songwriter first.


  
Gonzagão's version is noticeably less stiff and more agreeable to the ear.  Gonzaguinha finally did find the right tempo and approach to make the song work better several years later, in 1972  (you can check it out here).

 Two of  Gonzaga Jr.'s contributions to Canaã feature the rhythms of maracatu nação, the afro-Brazilian tradition tied to the xangô temples of this region, similar to but distinct from Bahian candomblé, and something that was (and still is) celebrated as an emblem of cultural resistance by the artistic and intellectual elites.  Introducing this rhythm into the godfather of the baião's repertoire is an interesting thing to hear, but it comes off a bit quaint, and in the end I'd rather hear him play a good xôte or arrasta-pé.  The sound of nação maracatu has been drawn on by a variety of artists making records for the commercial market, most effectively by Chico Science and Nação Zumbi who managed to both retain and translate its thundering urgency, but here it just sounds polite and slightly ponderous.

The non-Gonzaguinha tunes here are also a mixed bunch.  The closing track, Chico Valente, is a bit of a classic, and was penned by Rildo Hora who incidentally has a bunch of arranging and producing credits, including on some albums that I plan to share here soon.  There are two songs co-authored with Luis Queiroga, a humorist and radio personality who had written tunes with Gonzaga as far back as the 1950s (and whose son is currently a recording artist).  "Nordeste Pra Frente" begins as a light-hearted deposition to an imaginary journalist about how much the Northeast has changed into a happening, groovy place with girls who wear miniskirts, men with long hair, hotels that serve Scotch and country people with Japanese radios.  But the tune quickly devolves into political propaganda.  By the time of the second verse, where Gonzaga praises the progress and accomplishments of various cities in his native Pernambuco, I began to think "Jesus, this sounds like SUDENE propaganda," and sure enough by the third verse he is singing the praises of that organ of the state.  SUDENE, for those who don't know, was the development agency charged with analyzing and addressing the Northeast's perennial problems of drought, poverty, illiteracy and overall "under-development."  Originally populated by leftists like the economist Celso Furtado, the organization was pretty thoroughly co-opted after the 1964 military coup and reoriented towards big capital-intensive projects through which they courted foreign investors in the same strategy used throughout the dictorship's "economic miracle" more generally.  (In fact I have some odd and slightly unnerving archival photos that I took of some SUDENE material from this era found in a special collections section of the state archive of Pernambuco, a small book published in English and specifically targeted at the US and English business communities).   The song goes so far as air the "common sense" opinion of the dictatorship's apologists - that the "old" SUDENE wasn't accomplishing anything until the new military government took it over.  So while this song might be upbeat and kind of "cute," it is also creepy and that makes it hard for me to get behind it.   My friend Bertha also points out that the title is uncannily similar to a propaganda phrase used during the Medíci years of the dictatorship, as found in this "cute" little ad that would run before feature films or in between TV commercials:




The penultimate song, "Canto Sem Protesto," is also co-written with Luis Queiroga.  Artistically it is definitely an improvement over "Nordeste Pra Frente."  It also adds further to the cognitive dissonance that has been building up during the album, in that it is basically a rebuttal to his son's generation of university-based protest singers.  It illustrates in very plainspoken, earnest terms the aforementioned generational divide, saying that his role as a singer is not to make social commentary but to bring people joy.  This of course touches on a debate that never goes away about the role of popular music and entertainment.  But as expressed in this song, it's part of a pretty profoundly conservative worldview:  "He who has hate in his heart doesn't sing / And I wouldn't want to hear them sing anyway" he says in the first verse, presumably alerting us to the likelihood that he probably wasn't going to embrace punk rock when it came around, and then follows this with "Since the time of Pilot / Jesus protested / but since he wasn't a singer / there's weren't big crowds // Since then there is always something / that needs to be protested / But that's not my song / My place is to bring joy."    Say what you will about the point of view here, but this is pretty clever, managing to get in a dig about the inevitable self-aggrandizement of socially-engaged 'pop' music while also giving them a bit of genial sympathy.  On the one hand it represents a typically "traditional" worldview in the Northeast, one that is acquiescent about the region's injustices and even openly supportive of the social hierarchy that undergirds them.  On the other hand it also expresses the opinion - completely legitimate, in my view - that protest music just wasn't Gonzaga's style and he wasn't going to change simply to keep up with fashion.  Pity he didn't stick to that position while recording this album...  There is more going on here than just the pressures on an artist with more than twenty years of career behind them to stay "relevant" - that is something that we find in all times and places.  The debate here is particularly weighty because of the role that the Northeast has played in the country's cultural politics, taking center stage as a nexus of artistic creation in clusters and bursts of activity since the 1930s.   The stark inequalities of the region, and the resilience of its stalwart residents to find ways to survive them (if not necessarily overcome them), made Northeastern themes a favorite of the mid-60s protest song movement.  And here was Gonzaga, the best-known singer from the region whose image hinged on the notion of his own authenticity, and he was taking a different point of view.

In a way, all of these things combine to make an otherwise unremarkable album, one that was barely on my radar, into a sort of time capsule of all the contradictions and tensions in Brazilian society and their corresponding dynamics in the world of popular culture.  The album's liner notes, as I pointed out earlier, were written by Humberto Teixeira, in spite of him only having contributed two songs here.  These notes are somewhat beguiling because they are largely addressed to people standing in the wings of contemporaneous debates, not exactly illuminating anything for the casual listener in 2015.  In them, Teixeira suggests that baião was by nature always a type of "protest" song in the most pure sense, in that simply to sing about the Northeast at the time it came on the scene was to shed light on the lives of a forgotten people.  At the same time that he contextualizes the contribution of the baião to the idea of a national song-writing tradition, he also inadvertently seems to be interring it in a museum, speaking of its history in a way that comes off kind of like a eulogy.  And there is no denying that the golden age for baião and forró had in fact come and gone - the vast majority of canonical classics and staples in the repertoire date from the 1940s to the early 60s.  Of course there would be people like Domiguinhos to carry the torch and contribute some more immortal compositions, or groups like Trio Nordestino to heat up the dance floor.  But the time of composers like Teixeira and Zé Dantas, who churned out hundreds of songs that remain classics to this day, was already receding in the rear view mirror at this point.

 In fact it would fall upon the brilliance of artists like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil to reclaim that "contribution to national song" on its own terms:  they embraced the work of Gonzaga, Jackson do Pandeiro and others without the need to ventriloquize them into mouthpieces for political activism.  Just as they did with samba, the Tropicalístas' irreverent treatment of this body of work ends up being the most sincere homage, decentering and subverting the use of these styles of music as vehicles for any kind of over-arching political ideology, whether from the right or the left.  Gonzaga and Jackson owed a debt to the Tropicalístas for the resurgence of interest in their music which enabled them to have productive and lucrative "final acts" in their late-in-life careers.  I say this, too, as a non-Brazilian who was introduced to their songs by way of albums from Gal Costa, Caetano, and Gil.  The first time I heard Gal sing "Sebastiana" I nearly crapped myself, and wasted no time in tracking down the original.  Naturally when I heard Jackson do Pandeiro's version my first reaction was a bit of "WTF?!", as Gil's arrangement had drastically dismembered and reconstructed it into a tropical Frankenstein.  And yet somehow those crazy baianos were tapping into the essence of these songs.  They were certainly getting closer to the spirit of these Northeastern genres than their contemporaries in the student protest song movement, with whom they had a notoriously antagonistic relationship.  Meanwhile many of those Northeastern artists with roots in the student movement ended up rising through the music business ranks and coming back with a less strident approach during the mid-70s, in the careers of the new generation of MPB singer-songwriters like Belchior, Fagner, and of course Gonzaguinha.  That stuff has it's place, and I will defend the early albums from all those guys from their detractors.  Gonzaguinha, who group up carioca in Rio de Janeiro rather than the Northeast, would eventually collaborate as a performer with Gonzaga Sr. in the late 70s and throughout the 1980s, releasing some very commercially-successful albums where they were given equal co-billing.  But in an alternate 1968, I would much rather be listening to Gonzaga singing songs with "Veloso/Gil" in the composer credits than Gonzaguinha or, for that matter, Luis Queiroga.  Instead, we have this confused, conflicted jumble of pleasant songs.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Ceccarelli - Ceccarelli (1977)

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Ceccarelli
"Ceccarelli"
Released 1977 - Inner City (IC 1057)

Forget It    
I'm A Skunk    
Big City Bright    
Ded's Circus    
Life Is Real Only Here (Part 1)    
Speed It Up    
What The...    
Where Is Here    
Life Is Only Real Here (Part 2)    
His Love    
Space Out

Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 - dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced (for 16-bit). Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

I saved this album from being thrown in the trash by a college radio station.  A bunch of us volunteer DJs had been tasked with sorting through thousands of LPs in a storage space over the course of several months and deciding what was worthy of putting into the main library and what would be discarded.  I came in at the end of the process, when the management told us we could just scavenge for things to keep before they began tossing stuff for good.  It was and still is a fantastic radio station, but  I discovered  a lot of the indie kids considered a lot of quality music to be unworthy.  And a lot that was pretty collectible too,  without much defacement to the album covers - Judy Sill white label promo, going to the trash?  Bridget St. John on Dandelion? One-off heavy psych rock bands like Alamo or Granicus?  Or Coleman Hawkins and Bud Powell records on Pablo, kind of boring past-their-prime recordings like everything on Pablo but still surely not destined for a landfill.   It was my moral obligation to save these from oblivion and take them home.  Including this album, a specimen that has potential to accomplish the rare feat of pleasing or at least sparking the interest of both the "rare groove" hunter and those into whimsical prog-rock bands fond of making up their own mythological universes.



During the Great Radio Purge of 2008, Most of the good jazz had been put back into the library.  Now granted the first stage of this 'trim the fat' operation worked on the honor system, presuming that someone stumbling across a Sun Ra album on Saturn Records was going to keep it at the station and not take it home... This may be why I absented myself from the first stage, wishing to avoid such ethical dilemmas.  Also, volunteering isn't a very lucrative occupation , I was already doing two radio shows for them, and doing any more would impinge on innate laziness.  In any event, I was remotely aware of André Cecarelli's name as a figure in European jazz and jazz fusion, but mostly I was attracted by the bright mandala oil painting gatefold cover because I like shiny things.  Opening it up, I found some guide notes that had been typed by the reviewing DJ and glued neatly to the inside jacket, which is a nice touch since usually they are handwritten on index cards fixed sloppily on the jacket with a glue stick, or just written directly on the album covers in ballpoint pen.  After appreciating the DJ-reviewer's tidiness, I then noticed some of the additional musicians on the recording:  Janick Topp and Claude Engel (Magma), Didier Lockwood (Magma, Pierre Moerlan's Gong), Ernesto 'Tito' Duarte (Barrabas), Alex Ligertwood (Brian Auger's Oblivion Express, Santana).  I mean, c'mon, it had to be worth at least a listen, right?


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The album may not be as far out as this list of heavy friends playing on it might lead you to believe, nor as good as it probably ought to be, but it has some intense moments.  I am less enamored of it than the DJ tasked with reviewing it in 1978, but then he or she also seemingly did not recognize any of the musicians who played on it and so perhaps had lower expectations than I did.  As the reviewer states, this is much less jazz (as might be expected from something on the Inner City label) and much more fusion or jazz-rock (they suggested calling it "big band fusion...")  The reviewer makes a comparison to Mahavishnu Orchestra, which I don't really hear:  this stuff takes itself far less serious than anything John McLaughlin has ever played on.  There is none of the sci-fi loonyness of Magma either, which may be a relief to many of you.  If anything this stuff puts me in mind of Jean Luc-Ponty and George Duke, or maybe just mid-70s Zappa when George Duke was playing on his records.  Bonus points for the use of steel drums on the track "Ded's Circus."

If I had to some this album up in one sentence it would be: "The kind of record that Howard Moon from The Mighty Boosh would get very excited about."  In fact the gravely spoken word on the interlude "What the..." on side two sounds suspiciously like the Spirit Of The Blues character from that show.

As a bonus, I photographed the track-by-track notes from the anonymous late-70s college DJ before having a go at removing them.  Word to the wise, removing adhesive material that has been in place for over thirty-five years is not a guaranteed success (but I knew that before beginning).  The stickers weren't really bothering anybody, but I knew they were there and it would bother me sometimes late at night and I would consider digging through a few thousand LPs to find this one and try to remove them at 4 a.m.  I opted to leave the reviewer's overall impressions in place, however.  I mean it's part of the history now, right?




Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Cal Tjader - La Onda Va Bien (1980)

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Cal Tjader
La Onda Va Bien
Concord Picante 1980

    1. Speak Low 6:04   
    2. Serengeti 5:05   
    3. Star Eyes 4:32   
    4. Mambo Mindoro 3:47   
    5. Aleluia 4:09   
    6. I Remember You 4:33   
    7. Linda Chicana 5:19   
    8. Sabor 4:26

Sleeve notes:   
Cal Tjader, vibes
Mark Levine, piano and Fender Rhodes
Roger Glenn, flute and percussion
Vince Lateano, drums and percussion
Rob Fisher, bass
Poncho Sanchez, congas and percussion

"La Onda Va Bien is a slang expression implying smoothness, hip-ness, and first rate quality. These characteristics are indicative to the music of Cal Tjader and also to the taste of those who listen."

Recorded in San Francisco in July 1979.


This record lacks some of the fire of his Prestige work in the years leading up to this, with the ballads being a little too saccharine-flavored for me, but there are some real cookers on here too.   Serengeti is an aural safari. The one Tjader original, Mambo Mindoro, is a natural centerpiece, with Poncho Sanchez on fire throughout, and also notable for its brevity as it comes in at slightly under four minutes.   I'm rather fond of the very creative, liberal interpretation of the Edu Lobo/Ruy Guerra composition Aleluia.  Of the slower numbers, I enjoy the Johnny Mercer tune "I Remember You" here, with the Rhodes giving just enough gritty texture to balance the sweetness, and a nice jazz flute solo that could only have been improved if Roger Glenn had played it shirtless like Herbie Mann.  Mark Levine contributes a quietly smoldering original descarga jam in Linda Chicana, and the album ends on a high note with a composition from former Tjader band member João Donato, Sabor.

 "La Onda Va Bien" apparently kicked off the "Picante" sublabel of Concord Records.  Like all Concord releases the sound quality is flawless - and that's not always great, because I like a few flaws in both recordings and performances to keep it interesting.  Too much of the Concord catalog is so slick that it becomes sonic wallpaper.  But Tjader and Company carry off a laid-back, final-set-of-the-evening-at-3 a.m. feeling here.  This 80s-era CD pressing sounds stellar too, extremely warm with a ton of dynamic range.  If you're new to Cal Tjader this might not be the place to start, but it's a very solid album. 


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Flabbergasted Freeform No. 12 (June 2015)


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Enjoy!

also for download

 in 320 kbs mp3

in FLAC 

Dora Lopes - Diploma de otário
Rubens da Mangueira - Estrangeiro no samba
Jackson do Pandeiro - Três pedidos
Carmelia Alvez - Eh! boi
Evaldo Braga - Não Atenda
Buddy Rich - Heaven On Their Minds
Los Wemblers de Iquitos - Un Silbido Amoroso
Tata VIega - Give It Up For Love
Sergio Mendes and Brasil 77 - Moçambique
Ronnie Laws - Tell Me Something Good
Tati Viega again - Give It Up For Love (reprise)
Joni Mitchell    - Dreamland
Luiz Gonzaga - Festa
Monty Alexander - Sly Mongoose
Byron Lee and the Dragonaires - Hot Sweet and Jumpy
Libre - Tune Up
Jimmy Scott - When Did You Leave Heaven?

Tommy McCook & The Supersonics - The World Needs Love

Monday, June 22, 2015

Jackson do Pandeiro - São João Autêntico (1980)

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 Jackson do Pandeiro
São João Autêntico
1980 Sinter 2493-009


01 - O navio tá bom na marcha (Antonio Barros)
02 - Canoeiro novo (João Silva – Raimundo Evangelista)
03 - Sanfoneiro de vocês (Carlos Diniz – J. Nilo)
04 - Dá eu pra ela (Venâncio – Corumba)
05 - Três pedidos (Jackson do Pandeiro – Maruim)
06 - Vamos chegar pra lá (Almira Castilho)
07 - Na base da chinela (Jackson do Pandeiro – Rosil Cavalcanti)
08 - São João na roça (Antonio Barros – Jackson do Pandeiro)
09 - Acenderam a fogueira (Maruim – Jackson do Pandeiro)
10 - São João no brejo (Zé Catraca)
11 - Véspera e dia de São João (Jackson do Pandeiro – Maruim)
12 - Viva São João (Jackson do Pandeiro – Buco do Pandeiro)

Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Audio Technica AT440MLa cartridge), Speedbox power supply; Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; Click Repair; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 - dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced (for 16-bit). Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

Like the last post, this is also  a compilation of São João material, this time by the great Jackson do Pandeiro.  As a collection, I find this to be a better listen than the Gonzaga record, something that you can put on from start to finish, in part because of the great variety here. 

I think I am going to curate my own São João-themed compilation and put it out as a limited edition CD and vinyl release.  I will call it "More Songs About Marriage and Corn", and the cover art will feature 100 Polaroid close-up photos of a Festa Junina bonfire arranged in a mosaic.  Production starts tomorrow.

There is no information whatsoever on the jacket of this "econo-series" budget LP by the Polygram-family Sinter label.  Jackson, like Gonzaga, recorded and released hundreds of songs, released on dozens of LPs and CDs (although Jackson's catalog is poorly represented on compact discs).  The tracks on this seem to be drawn from the 1960s and 70s.  I mentioned the variety earlier, which applies to the different sub-genres of festive Northeastern dance music played here, but also the instrumentation found in the arrangements.   There's saxophone, clarinet, even a tin whistle found in these groves.  There is also the talented Almira Castilho on two songs.  This may not be an essential record - in fact, I forgot I owned it until stumbling on it last week, and this post is officially the quickest vinyl-to-blog-rip in the history of this blog as I am normally notoriously slow and unhurried about these sorts of things.  But there is still another week left of Festas Juninas during which this cute little collection is still relevant, so I moved a little quicker for you, dear readers.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Luiz Gonzaga - São João na Roça (1962)

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Luiz Gonzaga
São João na Roça
1962 RCA-Victor

01. São João na Roça (Luiz Gonzaga / Zé Dantas)
02. Fogueira de São João (Luiz Gonzaga / Carmelina Albuquerque)
03. Festa No Céu (Edgar Nunes / Zeca do Pandeiro)
04. Olha Pro Céu (Luiz Gonzaga / José Fernandes)
05. Noites Brasileiras (Luiz Gonzaga / Zé Dantas)
06. São João Antigo (Luiz Gonzaga / Zé Dantas)
07. São João no Arraiá (Zé Dantas)
08. O Passo da Rancheira (Luiz Gonzaga / Zé Dantas)
09. Dança da Moda (Luiz Gonzaga / Zé Dantas)
10. Lenda de São João (Luiz Gonzaga / Zé Dantas)
11. Mané e Zabé (Luiz Gonzaga / Zé Dantas)
12. São João do Carneirinho (Guio de Morais / Luiz Gonzaga)


Well the festas juninas have been in swing in the Nordeste for a few weeks now, and the midsummer holiday of São João (June 24) is rapidly approaching.  This is, in essence, a holiday album.  I believe it is the first long-player of what would turn out to be many LPs that Gonzagão released to commemorate / cash-in on this prototypically Northeastern holiday.  I am not a fan of "holiday albums" of any stripe, to be honest.  If I had to rank them, the list would probably mirror pretty closely how I feel about the holiday in question.  Hence Halloween, Carnival, solstices and equinoxes near the top, Christmas would be at the bottom near Talk Like A Pirate Day, and São João would be somewhere in the middle with New Years Eve and Groundhog Day.  It's a lovely holiday, stretched in typically Brazilian fashion to encompass all of June and into the first week of June.   But as readers of this blog know, I am by nature cantankerous and curmudgeonly, and maintaining cheeriness for such a prolonged period of time is very exhausting.  Also, I've never been interested in marriage and I can only eat so many things made from corn.

This is the type of record that you pick a few tunes for your party playlist but don't typically listen to from start to finish.  And I think that's fine, especially since it is actually a collection of 78s recorded and released between 1950 and 1960.  In fact this appeared twice as an LP with this title: once in the late 50s and then again in 1962 with a few added tracks.   LOTS of Zé Dantas here, who was Gonzaga's most important songwriting partner aside from Humberto Teixeira.  Highlights for me include Dança da moda  and the wistfully melodic Noites brasileiras.  I may gravitate to the latter because it is the only thing approaching a mid-tempo song here.  Why do Pernambucans all have to play music so damn fast?   They talk fast too.  Can't they slow down once in a while?  Get off my lawn!



 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Tell Caetano and Gil to cancel their Tel Aviv concert in July

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It is amazing how upset some people get over the idea of a cultural boycott.  Perhaps that is because they actually make a difference.  If they didn't, the government of Israel and its lobbies would not be spending a boatload of money to defame the BDS movement at every turn as well as attempting to impose a gag order on artists, scholars, and intellectuals who endorse it.  For that reason, I'm disabling comments for this post because I don't have the time or energy to deal with the inevitable abusive trolls and propaganda-bots.  The reality is that playing in Israel right now is on the same level as performing in South Africa during the 1980s when the full severity of apartheid could no longer be covered up by its facilitators in Europe and America.  Plenty of artists continued to play in South Africa, either indifferent to the suffering or making the same type of excuses being made today by those who see no problem with performing in Israel.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Black Ice - Black Ice (1977)

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Black Ice
"Black Ice"
1977 HDM Records (HDM 2001)


A1     Shakedown     7:06
A2     Blind Over You     3:36
A3     Girl, That´s What I Call Love     2:51
A4     I Feel The Weight (Over Losing You)     4:07
B1     The Wine Is Bitter (But The Grapes Are Sweet)     4:08
B2     Touch     3:35
B3     Making Love In The Rain     3:15
B4     I Want You Back     3:12
B5     You Got Me Going In Circles     2:46

    Producer – Hadley Murrell

Black Ice is: Antone Curtis, Gerald Bell, Cleveland Jones, Frank Willis, Ralph Lars

Associate producers: Ray Jackson and Eddie Horan
Arranged by Ray Jackson
Strings by Bill Henderson
Audio engineers: Angel Balestier and Dennis Sands (ALB Productions)
Mastered by Bob Mac Leod and Kevin Gray (Artisan Sound)
Distributed by Amherst Records, Buffalo NY



This is the sole sentence that somebody has entered into the Discogs entry for Black Ice: "A funk and soul unit from US who never sustained much commercial success or had any lasting aesthetic impact."  Ouch. Sounds like somebody who is owed royalties or is otherwise carrying around a grudge opened up a Discogs account just to write that.  If I limited my listening habits only to artists who had a "lasting aesthetic impact," my library would be much smaller. After all, all that 'seminal' stuff has to impact something, right?

Black Ice, who only made three albums spread out between 1976 and 1982, do come off a bit like a group in search of an identity, and their sound on this first record was slightly anachronistic.   Although the perfectly-cropped erotic cover of this album may have still been contemporary with 1977, the music recalls the early to mid 70s, a combination of  The Spinners and a less complex version of early Kool and The Gang.  In fact a listen to the best-known (and best) track off of it, "Breakdown" - recorded and released as a single before the rest of the material - is likely to give the impression that you are in for a wilder, funkier ride than you will actually get.  That song is a raw, uncut funk monster (which incidentally features a riff that is only a few sixteenth-notes shy of being Jungle Boogie).  Although the remaining tracks on the record can get pretty funky too, there is nothing nearly as heavy, nor anything where the band are given the space to cut loose as they do on this track.  So my own first reaction on buying this LP was a bit of anti-climax, based on the expectations of this first cut.  Most of the other tracks are slower or mid-tempo ballads.  But being influenced by or even emulating The Spinners or The Four Tops is not a bad thing at all, so it didn't take long for me to readjust the parameters of my listening.  The fact is that Black Ice were a really solid vocal group and these are solid songs.

The first three minutes of "Shakedown" can be found here (the album version is 7 minutes!)

As harsh as the anonymous Discogs critic might have been, he or she is kind of right.  In the compressed time-space of popular music, this kind of group probably seemed a bit old-fashioned by 1977, and the sound of their next album, which didn't come out until two years later - the wonderfully titled "I Judge The Funk" - reflects a consciousness of that and a desire to update their sound.  This had mixed results.  That record has its moments in the way of a few well-written ballads and at least one monster jam (the somewhat goofy 'Play More Latin Music'), but there are also stabs at disco-funk that are not quite convincing.

Short of having a visionary in the group (or someone determined to leave "a lasting aesthetic impact), vocal groups frequently need a good producer to set an agenda and direction.  The small HDR Records seemed to lack this, although most of the tracks on their first two records have a writing credit from "Associate Producer" Eddie Horan.  I also don't know anything about Horan, but he apparently recorded an album of his own in 1978 (which I have not heard), released on HDR but also picked up by TK Records out of Miami - oddly enough, a label that I would have recommended to Black Ice had I been around and had anybody asked me.  I am not even a blip on the map of soul music crate-digger scholarship, so what do I really know.  But TK Records (and their large family of affiliated subsidiaries) had a knack for taking artists who may have cultivated regional interest in clubs or local radio and getting some modestly-successful commercial recordings out of them.  With no releases between 1979 and 1981, the intervening history of Black Ice is unknown to me.  But their last album (also titled simply Black Ice) once again shows a stylistic shift, this time into the early 80s with bass synths and perhaps a mild influence of electro-funk - once again, these are elements that make up many a great record in my collection, but not ones which Black Ice were necessarily good at incorporating.   In my imagined, filling-in-blanks history of the group, I propose a narrative of  the group slipping into an undefined hiatus while some of them attempt solo careers, not having much luck, and then reconvening around 81-82 for one last reach for the stars.  This final album also involved a switch to a new label, Montage, who with artists on their roster like Rose Royce represented a potentially higher profile for the band.  Things didn't seem to work out too well for them at Montage either.

 Is this '77 record a lost classic?  I don't  know.  But the opening track is pretty phenomenal, and the rest of it holds up well after repeated listens.  My one gripe might be the gratuitous female groaning during "Making Love In The Rain" that is mixed twice as loud as the music and makes me reach for the volume knob if there is anyone within earshot with whom I am not getting freaky.  It sounds like a producer's afterthought, and the song doesn't need it.

This was another vinyl transfer I had sitting on my hard drive for two years, reluctant to share because I didn't like the audio quality.  My copy is kind of crispy, my stylus and cartridge at the time were a bit on the bright side, and there is one track with the hi-hat mixed so high that it might kill you ("decapitation by hi-hat" was a finishing move I tried to pitch to the creators of Mortal Kombat but nobody seemed to think it was as cool as I did).  While typing up this post, I noticed that one of the mastering engineers was a young Kevin Gray, which explains why (hi-hat on one track notwithstanding) the album actually sounds really good.  Gray has gone on to become one of the most respected mastering engineers out there, and in particular has been working on stellar reissues lately released by a few audiophile labels. 

To make my delay in this post even more shameful, a reader specifically requested this album after I played 'Breakdown' on one of my first podcasts.  I told him I planned to get around to it... Well here it is!






Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Flabbergasted Freakout Freeform No. 11, May 2015

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Flabbergasted Freeform Freakout No. 11 by Flabbergasted Vibes on Mixcloud


More details (like a tracklist) will come when I damn well feel like it.  Enjoy!

320 kbs download

FLAC kbs download 

 


Rufus Thomas – Love Trap
Roy Ayers’ Ubiquity – Love
The Main Ingredient – Happiness Is Just Around the Bend
Charles Earland – Warp Factor 8
Hatfield & The North – The Yes No Interlude
Barbara Mason – Trigger Happy People
Nico – Frozen Warnings
Laurel Aitken – John B.
Rotary Connection – I Am the Black Gold of the Sun
Steve Hillage – The Salmon Song
David Crosby – Laughing
Joe Henderson – Black Narcissus
Michi Sarmiento y Su Combo – Hong Kong
Nico Gomez – Lupita
Hugh Masakela & Letta Mbulu – Mahlalela
Marcos Valle – Deixa o mundo e o sol entrar
The Three Degrees – Collage
Led Zeppelin – When the Levee Breaks
Fairport Convention – Crazy Man Michael
Joe Higgs – There’s a Reward
Herbie Mann – Flying
Gene Harris – Lean On Me