Monday, 25 November 2013

Brandes - Ward MacLean - Strange Fruit [repost]

This was posted here, and this is what he said:

" An amazing lost record that builds atop a foundation of Joni Mitchell's late-70s jazz-rock style (cf. her record Don Juan's Restless Daughter or the German Sango posted earlier) a progressive architecture with unusual instrumentation, original chord changes and odd tunings (dropped D appears in a couple of songs), occasional string quartet accompaniment, dissonances with the requisite minor seconds and tritones, all those myriad gothic embellishments that make progressive rock or any fiercely imaginative non-mainstream music. Of course, there are a few throwaway songs, some simple syncopated acoustic tracks such as the "Festival Blues" song and the generic "A Song" on side a, "Lovely Vivian" on side b (tracks that to me appear commercially oriented and which I recommend you delete and ignore), but the closing 3 songs on the record feature some pretty astonishing originality. I detected some Nick Drake influence on "Liverpool Street" and in fact the song "Spider" which I sampled below, is actually dedicated to Nick (and presumably about him) ! --surprising considering at the time he was virtually lost and unknown as an artist.

Check out on track 4, "How can a soul survive" the way the guitarist (not clear who it is) proceeds to do an almost atonal walking bass-style solo on acoustic punctuated with odd bass notes in the middle of the tracks. It's hard to play these crazy notes on the guitar when so much training involves playing 'correct' chords on this particular instrument. Again it's a 'no-brainer' that these guys had classical musical educations in universities. Or check out the lugubrious string quartet on track 9 "The Spider" which adds an eerily melancholy dimension to the song (in the booklet the tuning is described thusly "both all strings one tone below concert" [i.e. both guitarists]). Note how the slackness of the strings adds a kind of slight echoey - dungeony atmosphere to the plangent piece. On the closer, "Lost and Found", the bottom string is tuned down to a low C for both players, and surprisingly, a bass sax sounding like a bassoon provides some highlights to the chords. Again the chord progression diverges in a very unique way after the intro. The tritones here are partly between the bent blues note of F sharp and the regular classical use of tritone for mystery effect -- as if a synthesis between classical and the blues -- brilliant!

Of course the title of the album seems to be a homage to Billie Holliday's famous song based on a poem about the lynching of african-americans in the South, but there is no real reference to this in any way. Could it be just a coincidence? I doubt it considering the deep jazz knowledge of the artists.One of the most charming aspects of this record is the 12-page booklet that appears as an insert, of which I've excerpted a couple of layouts below. It records the odd tunings of the guitar of which the musicians obviously were quite proud (a hallmark of Nick's style too).
When I think of the creative composition and masterly artistry on this record, it really seems sad to me it was lost so completely, when these artists evidently put so much work into their product. It reminds me again of the quote or paraphrase from my favourite animated movie about the man who planted trees: "When I think of all this man did in his lifetime, it fills me with wonder at all we can accomplish ..." "

Nothing to do add to that.