Just had an exhausting but fun weekend with my brother visiting from London. I’ve had a few LPs continually on the turntable recently: Stillness by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 (their last album, from 1970), and Yummy Yummy Yummy by Julie London. I was also playing a batch of tracks from the last few years: Amon Tobin, DJ Food etc. I really like some tracks on these newer albums, but never get into most of them. I need to make a compilation.
Anyway, a couple of albums I couldn’t resist arrived this morning from Dusty Groove.
Johnny Harris: 'Movements' (CD; Warner; 1969-1970)
I came to this album after hearing Francis Lai's great version of 'Footprints on the moon' on a 70s LP I have by him. Johnny Harris composed that track, which was apparently used on British TV by the BBC to accompany footage of the moon landing.
It turns out that the LP is more famous for 'stepping stones', a funky, upbeat track with a lot of wah wah guitar, which was used in a Levi commercial a few years ago. The album has become very hard to come by, with even bootleg vinyl copies selling for big money. So I was pleased when I heard about this CD. I was even more pleased when I opened it up: there's a thick booklet with background information and interview snippets with Johnny Harris, and the artwork is faithfully reproduced.
The music is also delightful for the most part. The album opens with "Fragment of fear," a catchy and slow-burning soundtrack piece with a synthesized piano, funky drums, flute, and organ. The use of the piano reminds me of some of the better work by Pete Moore, another good UK session arranger of the 60s and 70s.
The short 'reprise,' from the same soundtrack score, is slow and repetitive, sounding like a Satie piece, but arranged for a guitar. Next up is the aforementioned 'Stepping Stones'. This features a violent-sounding flute and a fiercely-paced beat with some wicked percussion. While the sound is undeniably cool, it's repetitive, and I find the track a little overlong at 5:21.
The liner notes express Harris's apparent distaste for his record company's insistence that he include cover versions of contemporary songs on his album. Even so, his take on 'Something' is ok. It's long at over 6 minutes, and explodes into life for the last minute, with that kind of brassy, funky, stringy, and hip feel that the whole UK 'funky easy' sound is known for.
The next cover is 'Give Peace a Chance,' and it's pretty bizarre. The arrangement is extremely hip, but the song is not. The vocal, which I think is by Harris himself, is very low in the mix, and is joined by a pretty cheesy-sounding female chorus. Overall the track has quite a cool 'Hair'-style vibe to it, but I don't think I'd choose to listen to it that often.
The reason for my purchase comes next, in the shape of Harris's original version of 'Footprints on the Moon', which has apparently been sampled by some talented dudes ('wiseguys', I think). Anyway, Harris's version is pretty cool: a little less slushy than Francis Lai's, with more of an airy feel to it. The tune is really rather enchanting, and I highly recommend that you check it out if you didn't hear it already. I guess my only complaint about this version is that in the chorus section, it becomes rather bombastic, with full orchestra and choir. And the ending isn't quite as cool as in Francis Lai's version. Still, it's a winner.
The album concludes with a trio of covers. 'Light my fire' is first, and I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I actually find I miss Shirley Bassey's vocals slightly. Again, the arrangement is a little bombastic, but it's great fun. 'Wichita Lineman' is a very pleasant 'footprints'-style arrangement, with a slow, gently funky feel to it. 'Paint it Black' is very interesting. A slow descending chord sequence with a funky beat introduces the track, and then after you've forgotten that this is 'Paint it Black,' the tune comes in, played slowly on the piano. I kind of wish that was it, but in fact, the orchestra goes mental just over half-way through the song, and the remainder is played out at double speed with a huge beat.
This CD reissue contains 2 bonus tracks, 'Lulu's theme', a fast, rocking instrumental, and a mono version of 'Footprints..'
Overall, this record hints at utter brilliance, but in the end doesn't completely do it for me. There are some fantastic moments, and 3 or 4 excellent tracks, but the arrangements sometimes get slighly too brassy and bombastic for my taste. Hey, maybe that's just today though. It's still a very nice record and a very well put together reissue.
1. Fragment of fear
3. Stepping stones
5. Give peace a chance
6. Footprints on the moon
7. Light my fire
8. Wichita lineman
9. Paint it black
10. Lulu's theme (mono - bonus track)
11. Footprints on the moon (mono - bonus track)
Os 3 Morais: 'Os 3 Morais' (CD; EMI Brazil; 1971)
Another CD reissue that I bought on the basis of a single track. This Brazilian vocal group's interpretation of Marcos Valle's 'Freio Aerodinamico' really blew my mind when I first heard it a couple of years ago on the Blue Brazil Volume 2 compilation. Although I've made a few sightings of this LP on ebay, it has sold for over $100 each time. Thanks to the people at EMI Brazil, my search is over.
I'm not disappointed at all, but at the same time, the album is different from what I expected. The main element of surprise for me was the extent to which the group seem to have been influenced by the Swingle Singers. To me, this is no bad thing; it was simply unexpected.
The album opens strongly with 'se quiser valer,' a groovy number with brass and a great rhythm that reminds me of some of Marcos Valle's best work.
The second track, 'Odeon' is an interesting mix. It starts and ends in slow pseudoclassical mode, and then a bossa nova-style guitar come in, and there's a great late 60s 'A Man and a Woman' soundtrack feel, with wordless vocals and some great harmonies. It's a great fusion of that Swingle Singers sound and Brasilian pop. If you've ever heard the Polish group Novi Singers, this sounds a bit like their work, except slightly sweeter and less jarring. At the end, it morphs into a beautiful pseudoclassical piece, with a clear Swingle Singers influence.
'Tão preso pelo teu olhar' is a slower ballad, with beautiful instrumental and vocal harmonies.
'Sambachiana' has vocals that are sung entirely in the scat style, sounding like a fantastic mix of Novi Singers, Swingle Singers, and also Burt Bacharach (I'm thinking the track 'South American Getaway' here).
Although many of the tracks being interpreted on this album are not well-known outside Brazil, there are some famous numbers, including 'Desafinado'. This version is unusual - slow, jazzy, and not immediately recognizeable. It's as if the group are taking the 'off key' tag a bit too literally - there are lots of bizarre chord changes. It's definitely interesting, but kind of weird as well. It reminds me of some of the Tamba Trio's wilder tracks, except slower.
After 'Freio Aerodinamico' is 'Azul da cor do mar,' a slow number with high vocals and a nice slow groove to it. It's really quite charming.
Next up is an intriguing version of the standard 'Tico Tico'. This opens with a similar plucked guitar and strings background to 'Freio..', but then the scat vocals kind of change the atmosphere. The vocals sound free and liberated in a very cool way, reminding me again of the Novi Singers.
'Violão vadio', a Baden Powell composition, is a slow and beautiful ballad with strings. 'Bachianinha No. 2' is superb - solemn, yet fun, with a mixture of classical and bossa nova instrumentation. 'Historia de uma criança' is another slower number, a delicate tune with same the lush instrumentation as most of the rest of the album. This one could be accused of being very slightly schmaltzy, but it's so beautiful and innocent-sounding that I feel bad for saying that.
The album closes with 'Jequi-Bach', another superb Bacharach-Novi-Swingle hybrid track. I like this album a lot, and hope that the nice people at EMI Brazil will reissue some more of Os 3 Morais's albums.
1. Se quiser valer,
3. Tão preso pelo teu olhar
6. Freio Aerodinamico
7. Azul da cor do mar,
8. Tico Tico
9. Violão vadio
10. Bachianinha No. 2
11. Historia de uma criança