Friday, 25 September 2020

Italian Ping Pong, 1971 and 1973

I remembered this band from 20 years ago when I first got into this genre (progressive rock) and that was mostly thanks to the brilliant innovation that was Napster-- which allowed the sampling of music we had no idea was good or not, without spending a penny.  Amazingly Italian Ping Pong has a wiki page.  Then I promptly forgot about it in the frantic and unseemly haste at discovering new gems that this addiction/hobby engenders in its victims.  I listen to it now as if I never heard it before.  There must be so many albums that got trampled underfoot like that by my desperate accumulation of lost works that so amuses my wife (are you sure it's not just the same album you keep collecting?)...  I wish I could erase my memory of Led Zep (like in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind!) and The Beatles too for that matter and listen to them as if for the first time like my kids are able to do (actually they dislike them both, especially the former).  Imagine that!! Enjoyimg Stairway to heaven again!!  Discovering Black Dog, Four Sticks, Out on the Tiles, the Presence album!!  Wanting to learn to play it on the guitar, too!  Man that's cool the way the song starts with acoustic guitar and recorder and gets harder and more electric until that crazy breathless loud loud finale, and as I walk on down the road, a lady I used to know...  Speaking of which, I was amused to read a news story from Brazil-- not fake news at all-- about an uncontacted indigenous tribe deep in Manaus, Amazon, who had never heard of electricity, radio, guns, cellphones, tv, millenials, selfies (!), etc.,  who sat down with an anthropologist for the 1st time and started singing as a greeting, theres a lady who's sure, all that glitters is gold, and she's buying a stairway to heaven.  Boy, was he surprised.  Well, not that surprised, having grown up in North America.  Luckily he had brought along a double-necked guitar which, at the end of the night, the tribal leader after drinking an excessive amount of palm wine, smashed and set afire. Really happened, Jimmy Page should be proud.  When's the reunion tour, Jimmy?

Anyways, it's lovely and humble Italian pop-folk like my old favourite Maxophone, but with slight touches of progressive-- more so in the 1973 than the initial, very hesitant and amateurish 1971 album.  Really enjoyable from beginning to end, consider the Miracle of Il Miracolo:

Like, wow. As those millenials say.

Speaking of millenials, again, I'm old enough to remember a time when the old virtues were still talked about-- you remember those things like selflessness, humility, generosity (vs. avarice) and vanity especially, was looked down on.  The idea of taking a picture of yourself in front of a mirror-- like, wow.  What's wrong with you?  Back then I mean.

Nowadays imagine the reaction if I said selfies are vanity.  Even the most conservative politicians wouldn't dare say it.  And in the same breath they tell us abortion is a sin!  People have made their whole careers and lives out of vanity today, like Kardashians.  No, go ahead, post thousands of pictures of yourself in underwear or less for billions of human to see, that's great!  Don't let me stop you.  Don't let your embarassed father stop you.  Don't let your boyfriend get mad.  Don't worry that hordes of young teenage boys are masturbating daily, hourly, to your image and sharing it between themselves.  Post some more!  Why not take that thong off!  Read every single intelligent comment about 'wanna suck your tits'!  Be proud of it!  Make some money off those pix, too!  Yeah-- monetize 'em! It's better than working at the local Jack Astors right?

And I want someone who believes in humanity's future to tell me why they think this is a positive signal for our society.... because I regretfully would have to disagree.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Review of the phenomenal British composer Neil Ardley


Neil Ardley made the three masterpieces: Symphony of Amaranths, Kaleidoscope of Rainbows, and Harmony of the Spheres in the seventies as a sort of trilogy, but in the earlier days the library records: Greek Variations, which I found quite disappointing, Mediterranean Intrigue (KPM), which I found very disappointing (partly because it recycled most of the ideas of the former), and Will Power the tribute to Shakespeare which I found profoundly depressing (because I love Shakespeare and hold him as the greatest writer ever), and with the New Jazz Orchestra/Mike Gibbs, the brilliant Dejeuner sur l'herbe and the 1971 Radio Live recent CD release.

So Symphony of Amaranths (1972) is the most hesitant, which makes sense since it followed closely on the heels of the 'Third Stream' jazz movement (melding classical with jazz, but not rock) with a first part that forms a kind of 20-minute long composition ending in a long and rather unnecessary set of improvisations, the second side consisting of some really odd songs and a spoken poem over composed instrumental music (The Dong with the Luminous Nose).  I don't feel much of this is entirely successful, if at all.  And I could easily understand if the average listener, the average human, laughed in disgust if I were to be brave enough to play it for their enjoyment with a straight face stating it's a masterpiece.  We could be quite amused too by the choice of emoticons the 'millenial' person would come up with, especially since with my bad eyesight and lack of understanding of this mystifying new hieroglyphic I would be completely left in the dark with regards to the meaning-- especially if one of those neologistic acronyms like WAKSKIG was added in.  Like, to the Ardley music.  Wait-- whaaaat???

Anyways, by the Kaleidoscope of Rainbows (1976) the maturation of his composition is obvious and we have a really beautiful and total all-encompassing suite of symphonic melded with jazz, actually fusion since the 'rock basis' is now in place, just about perfectly, that flows very beautifully without dropping in interest and based on a wonderful octave-reaching melodic theme that is repeated throughout in different variations.  (That theme had appeared before in an earlier album btw I subsequently noticed.)

On Rainbow 5, you get a good taste of his style which usually but not always involves rapid percussion at an almost max heartrate overlaid with funky guitar chords, piano, and a long drawn-out melody in the horns for contrast, usually with many sustained chords or notes, giving that feeling of rushing through and observing slowly both at the same time:

In the same way the last album again forged a gorgeous symphony of classical jazz-rock with all the excitement of drums, guitars, electric piano, added to a full-on orchestra.  Here like in the style of easy listening the orchestra and particularly the strings never get dumb in the usual 'normal' classical manner, partly due to the way the orchestra (the individual instruments) was recorded.  On Fair Mirage, the composition is just other-worldly, although notice how similar the style is to the previous work (strong driving percussion, sustained melodies with long notes):

The commenter asked me about some of my favourite fusion albums, this trilogy would be one of the top ten, well, maybe too generous, top twenty.  Or fifty.  At least, from Britain.  Just kidding.

Now imagine my shock when I read his bio:

English jazz pianist and composer, and author, born 26 May 1937 in Wallington, Surrey, England, UK, died 23 February 2004 in London, England, UK (aged 66).
As well as being an influential jazz musician and composer, he also made a name as the author of more than 100 popular books on science and technology, and on music. When he retired in 2000 Ardley had written 101 books, with total sales of about 10 million.

Monday, 21 September 2020

Madura 1 and 2, 1971 & 1973

Like, wow.  It amazes me there's still gems like this I never heard of.  Maybe some of you knew it already, but I didn't.  After so many years of collecting this stuff, hard for me to believe.

When do I run out finally?

Here's a spot-on review on discogs, for once:

I bought this album when it first appeared on the shelves at local record stores way back when. Unlike today, you couldn't preview albums to see if it was a dud, or if your newspaper route earnings would truly be spent wisely. Sometimes, I would just look at the cover, read the personnel notes, associate members with other bands I'd heard of, etc.. and just take a chance - sometimes extremely disappointed - sometimes inspired beyond words. This gem was one of the latter, to put it in simple terms. I played the plastic right of this generously pressed double - album ear candy. All I could ask is "Why isn't there a HUGE cult following?" I really don't know, but I've turned so many people with discriminating tastes (both listeners and musicians) on to this goldmine and all agree - it is one diversely played out and produced LPs of my generation. The musicianship is superb - the vocals exceptional (the lead vocalist reminds me a lot of the late Terry Kath of "Chicago") and the entire project wreaks of energy and soulfulness - This is the REAL DEAL. You have every genre of music under the sun in this compilation, from Jazz to Funk - from Rock to Blues - I just cannot say enough good about it. Do yourself a favor and chase down a copy. I wore out 2 copies and it was extremely difficult to find another, but I managed. It looks like they are a little more common to find lately. Thanks for the great music guys!! Enough jawing. Go listen!!

So there's a lot to agree with in there.  Remember spending your 5 or 7 dollars allowance or chore money without having any idea of the contents of a record other than that it had a good reputation, or an intriguing cover?  Remember reading a rave review in the old Rolling Stone by some moronic coke-addled critic who adored I-IV-V and called the sequence brilliant, or in the encyclopedia of rock, and then being bitterly, bitterly disappointed at how terrible the songs were?  That's why it was so wonderful when those used record stores with dollar-bins showed up... or when you had friend collectors whose dads already had huge collections you could just 'illegally' copy on cassettes...

This album is sometimes all over the place as he said, but mostly stays in the funky or bluesy horn-rock electric guitar mode with a lot of different ideas-- in that respect, reminds me a lot of the little known US band I presented a year ago called The Screaming Gypsy Bandits-- that Doghead collection, I'm referring to, perhaps because it was a collaboration with multiple songwriters, or a hippie commune, where the women were shared as freely as the dirty bedsheets (Yech.)  Or maybe you could say it's like Backdoor, my recent post with horns tuned down and guitars turned up.  What really matters is that the songs are quite inventive and the riffs original, with a base of 'psychedelic rock' which usually implies simple 60's chord changes, but here, not at all.  And they had so many ideas that the first album is a double LP, like I think Chicago did, didn't they?  Or may be that was Chicago 2.

The other thing is look at those album images-- wow, wow.... they don't make covers like that anymore, do they.  The prosaic ordinariness of the farm image-- it says so much.  So American too.

Consider the track Doctor Honoris Causa (i.e., Honorary Doctorate for a [good] reason, like Jeffrey Epstein's degree from Harvard which had numerous-- counting in the teen numbers-- good reasons behind it).  This is from the second album. It's not just the high energy fusion rhythm section, the excitement of the percussive motor, the swirling synths, the interesting chord drops up and down keeping the flow going strong, the addition of interesting instrumentation with the unexpected appearance of horns, the light touch of strings, the never-ending movement of the piece that sounds like an exciting vision-packed train trip through a dense slum like Calcutta, but fast forward to the 4:06 mark, the keyboard chord that ke knocks out on top of the driving C tonic, which is so totally abruptly different-- it's chords like that, to me, differentiate this particular 70s style of progressive rock from anything which is done today (cf. the recent recommendations in these pages like Zopp)--  a chord like that has never been heard before and likely will never be heard again in the history of human music:

Incredible, just incredible.  How did they come up with these ideas, back then?  The giants lived in the past, as the Greeks well knew...

From the first album, with its all-crazy themes of dreams, death, rebirth, reincarnation, redemption and damnation, remember my wife's usual comment they where all stoned back then, My Love is Free:

Absolutely insane?  So you're sitting in a university class on songwriting or pop composition, the prof presents this song to be analyzed by the students as the perfect example of Everything Wrong, What Not To Do when composing melody, chords, ideas, lyrics.  Please people, please avoid these mistakes if you wish to have that number one hit.  You have broken multiple rules of harmony here.  

And that's exactly what makes me happy.  

Thank you to the men who created these gems.

Thank you to the folks who share them.

Friday, 18 September 2020

Richard Kruza - Oui [feat. Zbigniew Namyslowski] (1988)

From discogs:

Music composer, vocalist; lecturer of Bartók Béla College of Musicart.
Plays vibraphone, keys instruments, synthesizer, piano & percussions.
Born in Chojnice, Poland on July 16, 1939.
Died March 19, 2020

Note that our previously featured Namyslowski is credited as producer on this record.
The music was written by Kruza, except one track by Csaba Deseo, remember him?
In keeping with the later year of 1988 the music is a bit more unnecessarily accessible than one would have wanted.
There are the usual loud echoey chords that were so typical of the 80s casio keyboard sound and needless to articulate, the dreaded digital drum machine.  The whole is entirely quite libraryish, with all instrumental descriptive tracks.

A very throwback track, Between you and me, note that it's Kruza who is playing the vibes here:

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Last of the Retour to Haiti with Gerald Merceron in Haiti Insolite, Kako 1915 (Unusual Aspects of Haitian Music)

Here is what I assume to be the last of this series of Haitian jazz/fusion albums related to the brilliant and unknown Gerald Merceron.  Of course, there may always be more albums not entered yet in the database that will turn up later, it always surprises me when that happens--though it shouldn't by now.  In terms of this blog, a search function just might work for you here, though it has been problematic for me for the oldest posts from probably more than 5 years back.

It all started about that far back when I discovered the Kote Ou album from Mushi Widmaier-- posted here, an album which remains for me one of the most underrated unknown masterpieces in the world.  I bought an original LP from 1982 for less than 100 USD and couldn't believe it when I saw it selling in the hundreds about 2-3 years later.  Subesequently of course you can see a rerelease came out in 2017, so anyone can hear the beauty of the music.  Nonetheless, I'm sure the original release will remain a collector's item and thus appropriately priced.  Mushi produced some more music that can be found and sampled on amazon, here, or here on youtube. Anyways, that LP led to the Energie Mysterieuse one from 1979 with involvement and most compositions from Merceron, and that one was unquestionably brilliant too, especially in the melding together of classical and fusion, and the really oddball and original melodic lines Merceron was able to come up with, like magic, as I always say, compared to the average songwriter facing a piano or guitar and coming up with a circle of fifths progression or even worse, a mixture of I, IV, V, maybe the II minor.

As a result of the strength of that one I resolved to collect all the remaining albums, there was an original Jazz Compositions from Haiti which proved generically disappointing, and was posted the most recent, 2 years ago, then the brilliant Tet San Ko in which the nutty imaginative songwriting technique just went through the roof, out of the ballpark, and the follow up one called Bokassa Grotraka that made fun of the cannabilistic dictator or Napoleonic 'emperor' of Central African Republic-- a story so crazy that you have to read it on wikipedia to believe it.  Mention should also be made of the solo album of Lionel Benjamin, who sang on almost all the releases, including this one.

This is the rarest by far of the 5 related albums from Merceron, and quite indisputably the worst, being mostly regular jazz.  Information here.  Sigh-- a recurring problem when I try to complete these discographies, necessary as it is.  The first track is one of the wonderful crazy melodies typical of Merceron, but the second half of side a is a purely improvised solo piece that seems to me a little self-indulgent.  The second side as I said is given over to the generic jazz in quartet format.

Here is the first track, the title track:

The blurb on the front:

Modern classical music art songs and jazz themes composed by Gerald Merceron, played by Brazilian, American, Haitian and French musicians
This record includes "Criar" with lyrics by Agostinho Netto, late president of Angola, music composed played and sung by Gerald Merceron