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From a darkened vault deep beneath the streets of Cincinnati, Ohio I excavated a door that led to the storeroom of Fraternity Records.   If subterranean exploration isn’t your thing, you can also find this gem of pop history on the Nuggets’ compilation set.

Rockin’ out of Tyler, Texas (the birthplace of Doolie Wilson, the piano player in the film Casablanca), Mouse and the Traps recorded various singles between 1965 and 1969.  Two of their efforts , “A Public Execution” and “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win”, were regional hits.

The leader of the band, nicknamed “Mouse”, was Ronnie Weiss. Two of their best known songs, “A Public Execution” and a cover of “Psychotic Reaction”, are not actually credited to this band but to simply Mouse and Positively 13 O’Clock respectively.  They had a somewhat tangled history too arcane for this space but for me the highlight of the track is the presence of lead guitarist Bugs Henderson.

I had the good fortune to see Bugs play live a year or two before he passed in March 2012.  It was at a PRS Guitar Experience in Maryland and although there were lots of fantastic pickers on hand, Bugs brought some serious chops and a great sense of humor to the stage.  You could tell he was having a blast.  RIP Bugs.

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The band had some comparisons to Dylan’s new electric sound at the time but went punkier with their “Maid of Sugar, Maid of Spice” release.  Many regard it as their best effort but it didn’t repeat their earlier success on the charts.   The Dylan influence is very strong here especially in the structure of the verses.  Very cool treatment and well worth a listen.

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Enjoy…

 

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Okay, just when you thought it was safe to go back into my music collection, I’m offering something a bit closer to the edge of reality as you know it.  We’re about to color outside the lines in a way that makes Cecil Taylor or Ornette Coleman look like Top 40 pop.  But…it wasn’t always that way.

A few years ago, I worked with a guy who reintroduced me to the music of Sun Ra.  Although I had once experienced seeing Sun Ra and his Arkestra back in the day at The Joyce Theater in NYC (a wonderfully intimate venue), I’m chastened to report that I didn’t appreciate it enough for the monumental art that the concert offered.  My youthful self hadn’t matured enough to appreciate the avant-garde of jazz interpretation.  I would someday but…..

For the those of you who may not be familiar with this way out cat, he would have celebrated his 100th birthday this past May.  Unfortunately, he left this planet on May 30, 1993 at the age of 79.  Born Herman Poole Blount in Alabama, he changed his name legally to Le Sony’r Ra and professed a cosmic philosophy.  He claimed, among many things, that he was of an Angel Race from Saturn.  Who are we to scoff or disagree?  Perhaps that’s where he’s holding court right now.  It might raise questions about who is buried here but his soul maybe intergalactic.
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In his early years he paid his dues and worked his way up to be fronting the Sonny Blount Orchestra but he knew it was going nowhere.  His vision told him he was other worldly and he adopted it fully.

Sun Ra was an early developer of free jazz improvisation.  He led orchestras (purposely mis-spelled “Arkestra”) of various sizes and personnel and they changed constantly.  His treatment of bebop and free jazz not only pushed the boundaries of jazz interpretation but influenced countless others to do the same.

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Sun Ra, a piano and synthesizer player, very much in the same vein as abstract visual artists, knew his craft well and was prolific across all jazz genres.  With one of the largest catalogs in jazz, Sun Ra released over 100 albums and composed more than 1,000 songs.

I currently have eight of his releases (Okay, I have  way to go) in my collection and among my favorites is a 1977 release titled “Some Blues But Not The Kind That’s Blue”.

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The tracks are mostly standards with Sun Ra’s interpretive touch.  Classics like Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s  “My Favorite Things” and “Tenderly” and even “Black Magic” by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen are very well done.  Listen with different ears to the treatment in light of how Trane or Monk would have handled these gems.

The AllMusic Review nailed it perfectly “Although the Arkestra is notorious for its outside playing and cacophonous tendencies, this album shows they could play it straight as well as anyone in the game. Wonderful stuff.”

I’ve also included an interview he did in Helsinki in 1971.  Dig it…

Enjoy….

 

 

 

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Venturing further into free jazz this week on my train rides home, I dug up my copy of Ornette Coleman’s 1959 tour de force masterpiece “The Shape of Jazz To Come” to add to the iPod.  I’ve had this CD for a few years and I remain amazed that this is more than 55 years old.  The music was clearly well ahead of its time.

TSOJTC was Ornette’s third album and like many of the jazz recordings from that time it was recorded in a single session.  This time it was May 22, 1959 at Radio Recorders out in Hollywood.  Ornette had assembled a heavy quartet that, in addition to his own alto sax, included Don Cherry on cornet, Billy Higgins on drums, and Charlie Haden on bass.

Coleman composed all the tracks and the opening track, “Lonely Woman“, is the sole one to have now reached the status of jazz standard.  The session also included two outtakes, “Monk and the Nun” and “Just for You” which were released years later on a compilation album.

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None of the instruments used on the album play chords.  Like most jazz compositions, a theme is stated up-front and then the musicians improvise.  By introducing an approach where chord patterns are abandoned completely, Ornette forms the basis of free jazz.  Despite the off-road excursion, the album has a blues feeling and remains melodic.  This album is considered to be the start of the genre and is the foundation of its future development.

Born in Fort Worth, Coleman had made his way to Los Angeles. He was playing jazz at night and working as an elevator operator during the day.  He caught the attention of John Lewis who encouraged OC to enroll in the Lenox School of Jazz in Massachusetts.

Coleman composed and recorded TSOJTC when he was 29 years old and a month after its release he took up a residency at the famed NYC jazz club “The Five Spot”.

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Once again, I find myself wondering what those nights must have been like.  The late ’50’s in New York City, coined the Big Apple by jazzmen eager to journey here to play for the like-minded,  a hot, stuffy club at midnight, located on Cooper Square at the edge of the Bowery, a smoky cigarette haze envelops the room as four young men make their way through the crowd,  the laughter and chatter diminishes slightly as all eyes turn towards the small stage… the picture below was taken on one of those nights.

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(l-r) Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman, The Five Spot, 1959

The residency was intended to be a short stint but was extended to almost three months.  The New York cats, the jazz cognoscenti, came to hear this new sound.  Argument and spirited debate were ongoing from the press to other musicians. This was beyond bebop.  Towering figures like Miles and Mingus were not supportive while Leonard Bernstein and Lionel Hampton provided encouragement…and the four young men pushed on.

Reading about the clamor in the jazz world makes you realize the album had been given the perfect name.  It really was the shape of jazz to come…

Enjoy….

 

 

 

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One of my all-time favorite rock songs, “Different Drum” was written by Mike Nesmith (of The Monkees fame) in 1965.

It was originally recorded by The Greenbriar Boys (a bluegrass band) and can be found on their 1966 album, Better Late than Never!.   Mike did a madcap comedic version in The Monkees episode  “Too Many Girls” in December 1966.

The song is best known, of course, for the 1967 version credited to the Stone Poneys which featured a vocal performance by a young and up-and-coming singer named Linda Ronstadt.   It turned out to be her first hit single.

Linda flipped the gender references from the original lyric and although the band originally intended to record an acoustic version, the producer brought in studio musicians to record a fuller, more complex, arrangement.  As a result, Linda was the only member of the Stone Poneys to perform on the record.

Enjoy….

 

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Preview: Pink Floyd’s New ‘Endless River’

As previously reported, Pink Floyd is preparing to release their first album in twenty years.  The new release “The Endless River” is due in stores November 10th.

The Floyd organization has been releasing very short snippets of tracks recently as an advance taste of what is to come.

So far, the reviews from the mainstream press have had a common theme – Gilmour Shines.

From the Rolling Stone review by Daniel Kreps:

“That guitar sound is unmistakably Gilmour’s, and it still radiates as brightly as it did on “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” even though this brief snippet, despite its “Run Like Hell” undercurrent, is more reminiscent of Gilmour’s late-Seventies solo tracks like “Raise My Rent” and “Short and Sweet” than his Floyd output.”

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David commented:

“We listened to over 20 hours of the three of us playing together and selected the music we wanted to work on for the new album, over the last year we’ve added new parts, re-recorded others and generally harnessed studio technology to make a 21st century Pink Floyd album. With Rick gone, and with him the chance of ever doing it again, it feels right that these revisited and reworked tracks should be made available as part of our repertoire.”

Enjoy…..

 

 

 

 

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We’ve had a few mashups on the site and they’re always fun.  Here’s a great one I came across recently.  Leave it to Weird Al to nail this…

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A television showing John Coltrane, Equatorial Guinea, 1990

I haven’t posted much about jazz lately but it’s not because I haven’t been listening.  Months back a friend sent me a link to the video below.  It blew me away and opened my eyes (and ears) to an even deeper appreciation of John Coltrane.

Readers and friends know well that I hold Coltrane up very high in the history of jazz.  Then again, who doesn’t?  Who else besides Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, or Sonny Rollins deserves the recognition and deep study that Trane commands in his all too brief career that spanned but 20 years from 1946 to 1967?  How many artists performing today will say  that they haven’t been influenced by what Trane was blowing?  Very few, and probably only those that aren’t being honest.

In December of 1964 Coltrane recorded what many consider his finest achievement, “A Love Supreme”.

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Released two months later in February 1965, Coltrane’s quartet included:  John on vocals, soprano and tenor saxophones, Jimmy Garrison on bass, Elvin Jones behind the drums, and McCoy Tyner on piano.  Art Davis and Archie Shepp respectively  did some bass and sax tracks on alternate versions of “Acknowledgement”.  The album was recorded in one session at Rudy Gelder’s studio in Englewood, NJ.  It gives me chills to think about what that session must have been like.  What it would have been like to sit in that room while these four masters plied their art.

Coltrane approached the composition with deep spiritual intent. Trane’s handwritten sheet music (now in The Smithsonian) is notated “All paths lead to God”.

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Although the entire album is a masterpiece that belongs in every jazz (make that music) fans’ library, I draw your attention to the segment “4th Movement: Psalm”.  The accompanying video highlights how Coltrane’s saxophone “sings” the words of the psalm.  Using Trane’s own handwritten lyrics, you can follow how the music follows the words and the meaning.  It’s a fascinating treatment that I had never focused on despite having heard the recording countless times.

It will change how you listen to this masterpiece.

Enjoy…