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Some nights just call for quiet jazz piano.  The only light in the room from the glow of the amplifier tubes.  Just remember to invite Gene Harris along.  I’ve been a long-time fan of great solo and small group jazz piano – Oscar Peterson and Thelonious Monk of course, some early pre-Top 40 Nat King Cole, even some small trio stuff by Ellington.

A few years ago in my search for sound I came across Gene Harris.

Born in Benton Harbor, MI – a smallish town on the east coast of Lake Michigan (across the lake from Chicago), Harris was known for a style that was warm and influenced by blues and gospel.  It is sometimes referred to as soul jazz.

From 1956 to 1970, he played in The Three Sounds trio with bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy. They recorded on both Blue Note and Verve.

According to Wikipedia…

He was mostly retired to Boise, Idaho, starting in the late 1970s, although he performed regularly at the Idanha Hotel there. Then, Ray Brown convinced him to go back on tour in the early 1980s. He played with the Ray Brown Trio and then led his own groups, recording mostly on Concord Records, until his death from kidney failure in 2000.

 

Gene Harris

  1. “This Masquerade”- written by Leon Russell
  2. “All the Things You Are” – great jazz standard with Johnny Griffin as guest on sax.
  3. “Straight, No Chaser” – a Monk composed standard with guest Clark Terry
  4. “You Don’t Know Me” – country ballad made famous by Ray Charles
  5. “Blue Bossa” – a wonderful standard composed by Kenny Dorham

Enjoy…

 

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Back in 1997, Grape Records released a compilation CD that celebrated the works of Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939).   It’s a fascinating look at Yeats’ writings and is highly recommended for all (including those of you who don’t have the” auld sod” in your genes).  A highly creative blend of poetry and music across genres with an all-star cast ranging from Richard Harris to Van Morrison with input along the way from the likes of Shane MacGowan (of The Pogues and later Shane MacGowan and The Popes fame), The Waterboys, and Christy Moore.

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W.B. Yeats

My favorite track is a toss-up between Van Morrison’s “Before the World Was Made” and The Waterboys “The Stolen Child”.  Both are just stellar in so many ways.  I’d heard the Van track many times before and was happy to find it on this compilation but I hadn’t heard The Waterboys tune. I’m glad I did.  Just perfect.

The disc also includes a track of Yeats himself reading his poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree“.  A glimpse of history there and a perfect toast to the old country included below.

  1. “The Stolen Child” – The Waterboys
  2. “Before the World Was Made” – Van Morrison
  3. “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” – W.B. Yeats
  4. “Yeat’s Grave” – The Cranberries
  5. “The Fish” – Sinead Lohan

Enjoy…

 

 

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Question Mark and the Mysterians (usually written as ? and the Mysterians on record labels) were formed in Bay City, Michigan, in 1962.

The group took its name from the 1957 Japanese science fiction film The Mysterians, in which aliens from the destroyed planet Mysteroid arrive to conquer Earth.  A slight detour here, the film is a classic of the sci-fi genre.  Director Ishiro Honda had some good films on his resume at that point and The Mysterians was no different.  I tracked down a sci-fi film blog called V-Cinema (found here: http://www.vcinemashow.com/the-mysterians-1957/  which summarized the film as follows:

1) Men with advanced (read: atomic) technology land on the home islands and destroy civilian targets.

2) Said men want a small piece of land on which to build a base.

3) They also want to breed with Japanese women, much as the American GI’s did.

4) Lastly, their secret purpose is to take over Japan for themselves. America never wanted Japan’s land but our cultural influence was unmistakable.

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Digression over…back to the band…

Sometimes referred to as the first “punk rock” group what is less well-known is that they were the first Latino rock band with a hit record in the US when they released “96 Tears” in 1966.

They started out as an instrumental act inspired by surf music and included Larry Borjas on bass, Bobby Balderrama on guitar, and Robert Martinez on guitars and bongos.  Early on Martinez switched to drums and his brother Rudy Martinez joined on vocals, calling himself “Question Mark” (written “?”).  The war called and Robert was drafted and Borjas enlisted. They were replaced by Eddie Serrato on drums and Frank Lugo on bass. Frank Rodriguez joined on keys, and this formed the classic “96 Tears” lineup.

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Rudy “Question Mark” Martinez wrote their biggest hit, “96 Tears,” in 1966.  The song started out as a poem called “Too Many Teardrops,” written years before the band was even formed.  The song is mostly noted for Rodriguez’s catchy Vox organ riff.  A low-budget adventure, the song was recorded on March 13, 1966, on a house porch in Bay City, Michigan.

The band released two more singles (“I Need Somebody” and “Can’t Get Enough of You Baby”) also charted, but were nowhere near as successful as “96 Tears”. These were compiled on the album 96 Tears along with a handful of other songs.

Question Mark and the Mysterians’ second album, Action, featured the band at the peak of its musicianship, but the album was not a commercial success. The band then briefly recorded with Capitol Records, Tangerine Records and Super K. The band lineup changed as the original members left for other projects. Mel Schacher, future bass player for Grand Funk Railroad, briefly became the bass guitarist until Richard Schultz took over on bass and co-wrote numerous songs with Rudy Martinez; including “She Goes to Church on Sunday,” which was licensed to Paul McCartney’s publishing company.

  1. “96 Tears”
  2. “She Goes To Church On Sunday”
  3. “Turn Around Baby”
  4. “I Need Somebody”

Enjoy…

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As noted in the past, every so often I come across an artist who is not entirely new to the music scene that just blows me away on every level.  The Milk Carton Kids are a case in point.  This indie duo has been around since 2011.  They’ve released three albums and are taking the music world by storm.

TMCK are Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan.  Formed in Eagle Rock, CA (near LA)  they’ve been compared to Simon & Garfunkel, The Everly Brothers, and Gillian Welch’s work with David Rawlings.  I hear a bit of Jayhawks in here too with a slightly more basic approach to the instrumentation.  It’s all good.

Featured on NPR’s Mountain Stage, SXSW, and tours with Joe Purdy and Old Crow Medicine Show, they combine perfect vocal harmonies and vintage acoustic guitar sound to create beautiful melodies.  They craft lush folk tunes that are bittersweet and flat out beautiful.

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Here’s a bonus for you… early on they were known for releasing their music for free!  The first two releases “Prologue” and “Retrospect” are still available for free download at their website.  http://themilkcartonkids.com/

It was difficult to choose just a few for the list below but be sure to take a listen to “Michigan”, probably their most popular tune, and “Hope of a Lifetime” – one of the most beautfiful tunes I’ve heard in a long time.

If you’re in the mood for some great music and like acoustic guitar with beautiful vocal harmonies, look no further.  You’ll be hearing a lot from The Milk Carton Kids.

  1. “Michigan”
  2. “Honey Honey” – clip from Conan – 3/27/13
  3. “Years Gone By”
  4. “Memphis”
  5. “Hope of a Lifetime” – from the 2013 Americana Music Festival

Enjoy…

I took some time off from writing the blog.  Busy with life and recharging the batteries a bit but I’ve been listening to a lot of great music over the past month and looking forward to bringing some of it your way.

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Let’s start off with some Ben Webster.  One of my favorite players of all time.  Ben wasn’t always held in the highest regard by critics mostly due to his sticking with the classic swing sound and not going “avant-garde” like ‘Trane and Sonny but, for me, he was, and still remains, one of the greats.

Affectionately known as “The Brute” or “Frog”, Webster was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young is one of the most influential swing players.  He laid down some raspy, throated growls but also played with a warmth that turned many ballads into works of beauty.  His rendition of “Danny Boy” for example is just a thing to behold.

He always said he was forever in the debt of the great Johnny Hodges.  Johnny taught him to really play and was a major influence. He started out young on piano and violin but eventually took up the sax.  I have a recording somewhere of him on piano which was impressive but just not at the level, of course, of his sax playing.

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Webster played in a number of great outfits over the years but is known for his time with Ellington starting in 1935.  While the Duke is always a treasure, the years when Webster was in the band are still regarded as the greatest group Ellington had ever assembled.

Webster left the DEO in 1943 after an argument with the Duke and went solo.

If you’re looking to add some Webster to your collection there’s a lot out there but no better place to start than his 1953 release “King of the Tenors” with pianist Oscar Peterson and other jazz luminaries such as Harry “Sweets” Edison and Benny Carter. The disc is perfect from start to finish and showcases Webster’s talents well.

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  1. “Danny Boy”
  2. “That’s All”
  3. “Tenderly”
  4. “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”
  5. “Bounce Blues”

Enjoy….

 

 

 

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One of the most well-known and most recognizable instrumentals in modern music, “Green Onions” is the signature tune of Booker T. and The MG’s.  The house band at Stax and one of the coolest R&B outfits to ever grace a stage.

Recorded in 1962 at Stax Studios in Memphis and composed by the band, the song entered the Billboard Hot 100 charts in mid-August 1962 and peaked at No. 3 on 9/29/62.    The single also made it to No. 1 on the soul charts, but oddly not for consecutive weeks as it fell in and out of top spot three times.

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Sometimes referred to as the greatest single of all time, my favorite review came from Elwood Blues…

You know, people, I believe that this tune can be acquainted with the great classical music around the world. Now you go to Germany, you’ve got your Bach, your Beethoven, your Brahms…  Here in America you’ve got your Fred McDowell, your Irving Berlin, your Glenn Miller, and your Booker T & The MG’s, people…

 The song has been used in countless films, television shows, and covered by artists worldwide but, from my perspective, never quite as good as the original.  I’ve added some covers by Roy Buchanan, Harry James (a big band version), and a Mike Bloomfield / Al Kooper treatment.

Enjoy…

 

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In my musical development years  Captain Beefheart was a shadowy figure in my peripheral vision.  For a long time I only knew of him through his association with Frank Zappa.   A school chum of Frank’s, the Captain (aka Don Van Vliet) reportedly had a somewhat volatile friendship with Frank.  They shared some similar, albeit odd, musical tastes and eventually Beefheart landed on Zappa’s record label (Straight Records) where he was given complete artistic freedom to create. In true Zappa fashion, the label focused on avant-garde and unusual acts which I assume means Beefheart felt right at home.

Following their debut and sophomore releases (“Safe as Milk” and “Strictly Personal”) on other labels, Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band  released “Trout Mask Replica” in June 1969.  Considered a landmark work of experimental music, TMR has been cited as being a key influence of alternative rock and post-punk genres.  With elements of free jazz and blues, the record also draws from everything from folk music to sea chanties.  The band cut the basic double-record tracks in six hours and Zappa and some of his band mates lent a hand.

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The Captain and Zappa in an undated photo

Unlike some avant-garde works, I found TMR much easier to listen to.  I actually expected it to be more Brian Eno or John Cage-like but the Zappa influences come through strongly.  Lots of eclectic influences, varied instruments, and unusual tempos are the order of the day here.  Although not exactly your toe-tapping pop tunes, TMR received some critical praise and in retrospect is considered CB’s masterpiece and one of the most important records in rock history.

John Peel of the BBC said “If there has been anything in the history of popular music which could be described as a work of art in a way that people who are involved in other areas of art would understand, then Trout Mask Replica is probably that work.”

Robert Christgau gave the album a B+ and in a back-handed way commented that it was “… great played at high volume when you’re feeling shitty, because you’ll never feel as shitty as this record.”

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Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart (1941 – 2010)

  1. “Pachuco Cadaver”
  2. “She’s Too Much For My Mirror”
  3. “Veteran’s Day Poppy”
  4. “Frownland”
  5. “My Human Gets Me Blues”

Enjoy….