2017 January 16 • Monday

Here's a Lalo Schifrin score I didn't know about until recently and it's our 448th Soundtrack of the Week: Boulevard Nights.

This is a pretty rocking album, a mixture of funk, disco, salsa and whatever else. Tons of percussion, groovy keyboards, chanking guitars, sweeping string lines on top and several vocal numbers, including one by George Benson.

This is '70s gold here for sure, a soundtrack for dancing. Only the last three tracks, the main title theme, "Dolor" and "Last Act" take things down a little bit to let you catch your breath. Otherwise it's nonstop movement.
2017 January 13 • Friday

Here's the second A. E. Van Vogt book I've ever read, The House That Stood Still.

The other one was Slan, which I read mostly because John Zorn, Elliott Sharp and Ted Epstein used to have a band of that name.

I don't remember much about either of these books but at least Slan I read twenty years ago. The House That Stood Still I just finished a little while ago, though to be fair I read it in tiny bits, sporadically over a fairly long period of time, while also dipping into two other books and trying to diminish a pile of Times Literary Supplements.

So all of that was going on. The House That Stood Still is about a house in California that's been there for a really long time. Thousands of years? And something about the house makes people who live in it immortal. So there's this group of immortals who keep it for themselves but they're fighting amongst themselves about whether to take the house and go to another planet with it, to avoid an imminent nuclear war on Earth, or stay and try to prevent the aforementioned nuclear war.

The story and its events have distinct pulp appeal, namely sex and violence and a typical male American hero. Vogt keeps things moving, ending almost every chapter on a cliffhanger.

The first line is, "His first awareness was of a man saying quietly from the darkness: 'I've heard of such wounds, doctor, but this is the only one I've seen.'".

There are several reasons to read books like this but one of the most compelling is the admirable and attractive efficiency of the writing. This short paragraph is a representative example of what impressed me.

With a feeling of urgency he walked the two blocks to the nearest taxi stand. And then it was another two blocks to the cemetery gate from where he paid off the cabman. He jogged most of the way. The stamp of his shoes on the hard road merely transformed his impatience into sound. He slowed finally, puzzled.

Vogt uses the literary equivalent of a jump cut to take his protagonist walking, driving and then jogging, with a minimum of words and fuss. It's part jump cut, part brush stroke. And then, after this textual legerdemain, her magically produces a remarkable poetic flourish: "The stamp of his shoes on the hard road merely transformed his impatience into sound".

All this in a single paragraph that contains only one comma. And it's all functional and necessary to the story.

2017 January 11 • Wednesday

The music at the ECM marathon portion of this year's New York City Winter Jazz Festival was completely satisfying. But an event of this sort could benefit, I think, from a little imagination and risk-taking.

There were five performances. First was Michael Formanek's quartet with Tim Berne, Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver.

Then Jakob Bro's trio with Thomas Morgan and Joey Baron.

This was followed by the Ravi Coltrane/David Virelles duo.

After which you saw Thomas Morgan again, this time playing duets with Bill Frisell.

And finally Nik Bärtsch's group Mobile, with Sha, Kaspar Rast and Nicolas Stocker.

The theme of this year's festival is "Social Justice" and an announcement was made to that effect at the beginning of the evening. And that was 100% of the social justice-related content of the evening.

Which isn't exactly a surprise.

One of the things about music is that it's music. A C-minor chord doesn't "mean" anything. Neither it nor any other chord, or scale, or note, or aggregation of "sounds that are not words" can reasonably be expected to make a coherent statement about social justice or anything else. The best you could hope for would be some kind of sonic impressionism that would be open to any number of possible interpretations.

So presumably the social justice parts of the festival were in the panel discussions, not the concerts. There's nothing wrong with this, I'm just rejecting what might have been a suggestion that I have somehow made a positive contribution to social justice by attending the ECM marathon last weekend. There doesn't seem to be any connection between those two things.

And if you're going to kick of a music marathon by declaring your interest in working for social justice, you might wish to be as inclusive as possible in your booking. There were no women playing music on stage that night, for example.

Regardless of who is creating the music, however, the music itself is what most of us are there for.

Most of us.

There were too many photographers and they practically ran wild. Much of the music was quiet and the riotous clicking of shutters and the squeaks of wet boots were beyond distracting, approaching ruinous levels of interference.

Somebody sitting behind me during the Coltrane/Virelles set was taking so many pictures (with a loud shutter sound camera) that I wondered if they might be making a stop-motion animation film.

And the Coltrane/Virelles set brings me to my other complaint: excessive amplification.

Michael Formanek's bass amp—or something—was feeding back during his set. And his bass did seem to be over-amplified.

Did it have to be amplified at all? Did anything have to be miked? They were an acoustic quartet.

The start of the Ravi Coltrane/David Virelles was delayed because there was a problem with getting the microphones to work. But why did they have microphones? A piano and saxophone duet shouldn't need them. And when Virelles played percussion at one point, the excellence of what he was doing was marred by his occasionally hitting a microphone that, I think, didn't have to be there.

Bill Frisell had a problem with a cable during his set. But he's an electric guitarist, this wasn't a case of amplifying something that didn't need to be amplified. Though yet another problem of an electrical nature seemed to be the real theme of at least this part of the festival. (The projector also went on accidentally during Frisell's set. There were gremlins in the wires that night.)

All of this made it an especial relief when Nik Bärtsch's group took the stage for the final peformance. Not only were they coming from a much different musical place than every other performer, but they also played completely acoustically, no microphones, no amplifiers, nothing.

So if you were just thinking that the acoustics and dimensions of the concert hall required all of the amplification I've been describing, Mobile proved otherwise. They were beyond refreshing.

Next year: try it without microphones and amps unless it really, really isn't going to work without them.

Curtail photography or ban any camera that MAKES NOISE!

And invite some women.
2017 January 09 • Monday

For the 447th Soundtrack of the Week let's get away from it all and listen to Basil Poledouris's music for The Blue Lagoon.

I remember wanting to see this movie when it came out but never did. Now I'm kind of curious to read the book, which came out in 1908! And apparently there's a British silent film adaptation from 1923 Blue Lagoon Studies should be a college course somewhere.

The music is sweeping and romantic, frequently tender and always affecting. Poledouris makes the most out of his main title and love themes, as one might expect.

Some of the writing reminds me of John Barry and occasionally the classical music canon is recalled. It's a lush and large orchestral dramatic score.
2017 January 06 • Friday

More great music out of Sweden! This time it's a record called Hommage Till Jan by the organ player Merit Hemmingson.

I had never heard of her before but Johan Lindström, one of my favorite guitarists, is in the band, along with drummer Ola Hultgren and vocalist Tobias Fröberg.

Hemmingsen plays Hammond B3 but this record is apparently a tribute to Swedish pianist Jan Johansson, who died in a car crash in 1968. He made several records of jazz versions of folk songs, of which one, Jazz på svenska (Jazz in Swedish), is still the best selling jazz release ever in Sweden (according to Wikipedia as of this writing).

What Hemmingson appears to have done is to record her versions of some of these folk songs, with her band. (Johansson's Jazz på svenska was a piano and bass duet recording.)

The result is fantastic, a richly textured and nuanced album of many moods and colors, with impeccably tasteful musical contributions by everybody.

Lindström is as subtle as ever and Hemmingsen is a thrilling discovery for this Hammond fan. Records like this are reinvigorating and inspiring.

2017 January 04 • Wednesday

Who knows a lot about Angolan music? Not me! But almost 20 years ago I bought a record called Angola 72 by Bonga, an athlete turned singer and political dissident/activist.

I didn't know what the songs were about but I loved many of the melodies, the smooth and insistent rhythms and pulsations of the chord changes, its plaintive and exciting qualities.

Then last year I discovered that several of those songs were apparently by a woman named Lilly Tchiumba, who had released an earlier record on Smithsonian Folkways.

There isn't much about her online but this record is amazing and I highly recommend it.

2017 January 02 • Monday

The startlingly original and ahead of its time electronic score by Delia Derbyshire and Elsa Stansfield for Pamela Bone's Circle of Light is our 446th Soundtrack of the Week.

The music is presented in two pieces, "Part One" and "Part Two".

It's not easy to tell what's going on. Some of it sounds purely electronic and some of it sounds like it's manipulating recorded sounds, of wind, for instance, or honking geese.

However it was created, the result is mesmerizing and hypnotic, looking ahead to ambient and trance music, as well as numerous avant garde and experimental creations.

And this was 1972!

Soundtrack music has often been ahead of its more respectable and more acknowledged sibling in the concert hall or in experiemental listening venues. This is another one of those times.