Monday, May 28, 2007

The first big vinyl hunt of '07

Playing right now: Miroslav Vitous - Universal Syncopations II (upcoming CD on ECM)

This story happened about two months ago, but it was the kind of adventure for which this blog was created, so better late than never....

I was looking around on Craig's List and saw a posting for jazz and soul albums that I guy in Pittsburgh was selling. Ha cha, I thought, that's for me. I've never taken action on a Craig's List posting before but figured there was gold in them hills, so now was the time. It was about 11:30 on a weekday morning when I called and spoke to the seller's mother, who said the guy was still in bed. It was hard to tell from her voice how old she was or how old the guy might be. Between that call and a callback a few minutes later, we made arrangements for me to come and check them out the next morning. I had to work at 2, so 11 would be a good time to stop by.

When I went into work that afternoon, I mentioned my upcoming journey to a friend of mine who's as fanatical about vinyl as me. I asked if he wanted to come along and he said sure. The ad had mentioned something like "rare soul and jazz" and "make a deal for anyone buying a lot" so I figured this wasn't going to be a case of finding Hank Mobley Blue Notes or original Coltrane Impulse albums for a buck a piece. He probably wanted to sell things for what they're worth. My friend and I both decided we'd limit ourselves to $50 so we wouldn't go crazy.

The next morning we were greeted by a guy who didn't look a day older than 25. He took us up to his bedroom and let us run wild through the shelves of vinyl that he had. And it was insane. Doubles of original James Brown albums on King. Almost all of the Pharoah Sanders albums on Impulse. The Jazz Messengers (WITH MOBLEY!) on Blue Note, with the West 63rd Street address on the label. The Silhouettes album on Segue. I think there was some Nathan Davis on Segue too. This kid knew his stuff. I meticulously pulled bunches off of the shelves and looked at covers while my accomplice just made a big stack of stuff that looked interesting to him.

After about an hour we reached the saturation point. Neither of us wanted to look at anything else. Between the two of us, we scoured the shelves anyhow. There was an additional rack of psych and rock stuff which included Love's first and Forever Changes, but nothing I wanted.

I kept telling myself to keep a poker face when it came time to figure out a price. I had grabbed $70 thinking that the extra $20 might give me a little bit of leverage, to perhaps talk him down to $50 and get a better deal with the extra cash that I forgot I had.

Well, that mindset changed when he told my friend that his stack, about 70 albums high, would go for $300, to which my friend didn't bat an eye. Damn, brother, you're better at this than I am!

My stack was $150, or $100 without the Silhouettes album. I finally paired it down to $70 and got the following:

The West Coast Pop Arts Experimental Band - s/t
Jackie McLean Plays Fat Jazz (on Jubilee)
Dizzy Reece - Possession, Exorcism, Peace (a '70s album by the Jamaican-born trumpeter who did some albums on Blue Note during the '50s; unfortunately this isn't very good)
Bill Evans - Further Conversations With Myself (yellow label promo, mono)
Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers - Jazz Cornver of the World Vol. 1 (see reference above)
Pharoah Sanders - Karma (my friend was cool enough to let me have this one, since I've wanted it for a while)
Joe Henderson - In 'n Out ('70s Blue Note reissue, still haven't played it yet)

Seemed like a good take: $10 per album, some of which were worth more than that, some less.

Oh and my friend? He bought $50 worth of his pile that day and went back the next day for the rest. Crazy, huh? He brought another co-worker who is even more into collecting than us.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

the weird 45 of the day that I loved in 1974

Playing right now: WJAS-AM. "My Kind of Girl" which I think is by Steve Lawrence.

When I visited my folks on Mother's Day, I grabbed a handful of 45s that I got from a neighbor when I was about 7 or 8. They were all radio promos, and most of them had the same song on either side, mono and stereo. Well, some of them are pretty rare, according to the Goldmine book. One is a 45 by Nolan Porter on ABC. I played it a lot and really liked it. Luckily it's not beat to crap because the book says a mint copy is worth $100. That's for the stock copy with an A and B side. Wonder how much a promo is worth.

Along with The Blast Furnace Band & the Grapevine Singers' "Hammerin' Hank," the other oddity is "Take Away Her Heart of Stone" by someone/some band named Kenny, on Atco. It's kind of a soul-doo wop '70s tune because there are back-up guys doing accompanying vocals. (My friend Eric and I always got a kick out of the basso guy's counter melody under the other's "HEART! Of stone." After the third shout of that phrase, bass dude comes in with something like "going to leave me on myyyyyy ownnn." Then the lead voice comes in. It's kind of falsetto and sounds like it was recorded from across the room, with reverb coming across it in the process. When I first heard it, it was hard for me to make out lyrics to songs that weren't on the level of "I Love Trash" but all these years later, it's still hard to make out what this shrieker is saying. But it's still catchy, with a good four-on-floor beat.

One of the producers on the record is Bill Martin, who could very well be the same Bill Martin that wrote songs for the Monkees. I think he wrote "The Door Into Summer" and definitely wrote "All of Your Toys" which didn't make it onto Headquarters because he wouldn't give up publishing rights. (It's on Missing Links and the complete Headquarters box.) The other producer is Phil Coulter who doesn't ring a bell to me.

Any Google search of the artist and song title only yielded copies of the single that people were selling. The title alone brought up bibilical references.

So the question remains - who is Kenny and what is the story behind "Take Away Her Heart of Stone"? My guess is it was recorded as a one-shot and when it didn't take off, Atco gave Kenny the heave-ho. But I'd love to hear any info that anyone has.

And by the way, I'm not going to part with this record. Too much sentimental value. And the stereo side is pretty scratched up anyway.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Where's Howard Devoto?

Played a little bit earlier: Shelly Manne - Daktari
Music inspired by, or from, the tv show of the same name - can't say which, because I haven't read the liner notes yet. But it's a hoot, from cover (Shelly sitting at a drum kit surrounded by a sitting lion and two monkeys, one blowing a clarinet the other playing a guitar) to vinyl (a lotta percussion, not unlike one of those Visual Sound RCA albums; plus several reed players including Bud Shank).
This was one of the records Grant gave me when he was in town, the weekend before Donovan was born.

(Right now, nothing is playing because the baby just went down for the night. I just wanted to make sure this didn't have another "nothing playing right now" opening.)

Every couple of years I go through a phase where I'll pull out one album by Magazine and play it, then feel compelled to pull out all of their first three albums, plus the singles collection. I was really into that band when I was in high school. Of course there was the Buzzcocks connection (vocalist Howard Devoto was on their first EP) but I remembered my brother bringing home Secondhand Daylight when I was all of about 10, and I was impressed by it. I bought their first three albums pretty quickly and loved all three. The live Play was kind of pointless, except for one new song, so I sold it. During college my friend Frank gave me a new copy of it and Magic Murder and the Weather, their final album that I never got around to buying. Now I have the complete set. (Note: the red US version of After the Fact is a much better singles collection that the green UK counterpoint.)

All this comes into play because this morning over breakfast, I pulled out Secondhand Daylight and played side two. A couple of the songs had been going through my head at work and I couldn't take it any longer. I needed to hear them for real.

It's taken me awhile to realize that this album is inconsistant. It short circuits three songs in, after a strong showing, but it regains momentum on side two and holds its own until the end. Once, post-high school, I played the instrumental "The Thin Air" for my friends Patty and Tim (at that time current and future bandmates, respectively) and they both infuriated me by saying the song sounded like Pink Floyd. But they were right. It's mid-tempo with a metronomic beat and there's a sea of keyboards. However, there's more of a melody to it. This is followed by "Back to Nature" which is also pretty art rocky, starting with Devoto's voice and piano, before murky synths (played by Dave Formula, a rather homely Brit whose name I love) cue in a jumpy riff marked by some especially skiterring bass lines from Barry Adamson (later of the Bad Seeds).

After "Believe I Understand" comes a song that sums up the smug, intellectual cockiness that Magazine/Devoto was known for. The song is called "Permafrost" and it depicts the narrator running into an ex. The chorus consists of the lines "As the day stops dead/ at the place where we're lost/ I will drug you and fuck you/ on the permafrost." Nasty, nasty line, but such delivery. Plus John McGeoch plays one of the nastiest guitar solos in that song, which is really simple but escalates into a tumbling cascade of notes that get more dissonant and icy as they proceed. The whole thing is creepy and great.

Maybe tomorrow, I'll pull out The Correct Use of Soap, their third album. That's good breakfast music.


A couple weeks ago, I got word that the band Fake Brain broke up. They were from New York and played a few shows with the Mofones and we hung out both here, after shows, and in New York when I went up there. All good things must come to an end, and they had a good run while they were around: three great CDs, lotta tours, a rock opera. And the rock opera could've broken them through to bigger audiences if someone decided to back them. Jennie and I saw them perform it in New York in the fall of 2005 and it was hilarious.

But it makes you wish that bands like them - smart, funny without being jokey, catchy - could've gotten somewhere before they decided to call it quits.

I'll miss those guys. They'll always remind me of the period of my life where I had just bought a house and Pulp was really getting its sealegs and the Mofones were reaching their potential. Those were the days........ I'm thinking of the kick-ass omelettes we had with Fake Brain at DeLuca's the day after one all comes back to food..

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Andrew Hill RIP

Playing right now: Ron Carter - Dear Miles, (Blue Note)

The June issue of JazzTimes was in the mailbox this morning and I have about six reviews in it. But that moment of euphoria was cut short when I read the death notices. Pianist Andrew Hill died on April 20. That's the first I'd heard about it. (The lesson here is that I need to look at the magazine's website more frequently, but at the same time, a newborn will often prevent that...)

I suppose it was only a matter of time. Andrew was 75, and was diagnosed with cancer just as he was making he return to Blue Note with his album Time Lines (which is reviewed here in a post from about a year ago. Look it up. Read it. Buy the record.) It's hard to say whether he went out on a high note (no pun intended) in that he was finally getting the recognition and respect that eluded him lo these last 40 years, or that he's going to join the roster of jazz innovators that will be bigger in death than in life (a la Mingus, Parker, Herbie Nichols).

But at the same time, Hill probably wouldn't like to be judged by which side of the success meter that he falls on. He'd prefer that people listen to the music. That's my guess at least. He never stopped making it. There are over a dozen albums on Blue Note that are still in print and all of them have the kind of music that makes you stop in your tracks and say, "Wait, what's he doing here? It starts in a familar setting but the music is going places that I never thought of. Two basses? That's crazy. They aren't playing together but they're moving together." Alfred Lion, who started Blue Note Records, considered Andrew the last big innovator on the label, someone on the same scale as Thelonious Monk.

In addition to the Blue Note ones, there are solo albums, some weird sessions for Arista-Freedom that include Lee Konitz and a bunch of large ensemble albums, which are especially deep.

Do yourself a favor and find a couple of them for yourself. Listen closely. And tell Andrew, thanks.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

There's such a lot of world to see....

Playing right now: The Best of Mancini, specifically "Moon River"

On Sunday afternoon, I played my son - who is five weeks old as of today - this album. It was my first attempt to, uh, educate this newborn on some of the music that impacted his old man at a young age. And I couldn't resist making him listen to "Baby Elephant Walk," truly one of the greatest songs there is.

Before you write me off, please don't take this story at complete face value. I know the kid didn't comprehend any of this. He won't remember any of it. He won't pick up on the nuances of the way Hank Mancini uses low brass and drums in "Hatari."

That's why it's funny. It wasn't about him. It was really about me. Me reliving a period of my life when the greatest thing in the world was when the 8-track tape of this album finally made it's way to that point in track 3 when the calliope started up and the trombones (muted bass trombones seem to be a Mancini trademark) kick it. (The family 8-track of the album eventually wore out and I bought the album.)

And there's something about "Moon River" that makes me rather wistful these days. Maybe it's due to that episode of "The Simpsons" where Nelson gets all choked up when Andy Williams sings that song. Or maybe it was that time, about 10 years ago when I heard it on WJAS and got REALLY EXCITED. Then I stopped and wondered what that was all about.

"Days of Wine And Roses"......that's so wistful too. There's a headstone in Homewood Cemetery with the entire lyrics carved into it. Wow. Those two loved each other. I love the movie of the same name with Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. It rips your heart out, but it's so well done. Jack Lemmon doing drama is intense.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

writing writing writing

Playing right now: Nothing, but the new Tanya Kalmanovitch/Myra Melford CD was going a little bit ago. And "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" will be on pretty soon. So I want to hear that.

This week was a big one for me and reviews. I turned in four to JazzTimes on Monday and four for Harp between Thursday and Friday, and I wrote a mini-feature for them this morning. The piece was about Gang Font feat. Interloper, which is not a hip-hop band or a jazz group w/a dj, but in fact a band that features the Bad Plus' drummer Dave King and Husker Du's Greg Norton, who hasn't really been in a band in over 15 years. I interviewed him probably two months ago and was sitting on it until now. The stuff is kind of prog-y, with a little bit of Captain Beefheart guitar in it.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

I'm back....I mean, I'm still here

Playing right now: in my mind, a song from Rahsaan Roland Kirk's Natural Black Inventions album. But nothing on the cd player or turntable

Dadgum, I haven't posted in ages. I got overwhelmed with freelance writing and auction stuff. Then my son was born on April 3.

But I will start posting more. I have a bunch of stories that date back a while. And a pile of discs that I'd like to talk about.

In the meantime I'll leave you with a quick thought: I just read in JazzTimes that Anthony Braxton is a big Johnny Mathis fan.

Crazy, huh?