Hey, I’m finally doing what I created this weblog for – reviewing records! I did quick reviews of a pile of records just now. Cover art to appear soon if it isn’t there already. Those in New York City, please come to the Knitting Factory tonight at 10pm. The Isolators are playing.
Alvino Rey: 'His Greatest Hits' (LP; Dot; 1961)
For such a boringly titled LP, this is quite incredibly good. I believe this is Alvino's concession to the early 60s trend of bandleaders to re-record their hits in the newly available 'Hi-fi Sound'. Hence we get re-recordings of 'Steel Guitar Rag', 'Mama Blues' (which I recommended over at musical taste), 'Rose Room', 'Hindustan', 'Bloop Bleep', 'Tiger Rag', 'St Louis Blues', 'Cement Mixer', 'Idaho', 'On the alomo', 'Near You' and 'Guitar Boogie'.
How does that sound? Not that interesting? Well, in fact, it's quite superb, and really one of the best records I've ever bought. The arrangements are quirky, but never jarring or tasteless. The recording and sound quality are superb, and Alvino's guitar playing (he plays several different types, and is pictured on the back cover with half a dozen of them) is top class. I'm quite partial to this stuff anyway (for example, I LOVE the recordings Les Paul made in the late 40s, 50s and early 60s), but I have to recommend this album to absolutely anyone. It's brilliant, and stands head and shoulders above most things ever released.
Compilation - Birds and Brass: 'Golden Hour of' (LP; Pye/Golden Hour; 1969-1976)
There is some confusion over 'Birds and Brass', so I will try and clear it up, to the best of my knowledge. As in the 'Exotic Guitars' conundrum, which I will cover another time, there were actually two 'Birds and Brass'. Well, actually, one was called 'Birds and Brass', and the other was called 'Birds'n'Brass'. The one represented on this record is probably the inferior one, and the person behind it is Stan Butcher. The reason why there is interest in the Birds and Brass is probably a handful of tracks featured on the 1996 and 1997 'Inflight Entertainment' compilation CDs, which are excellently-selected collections of mostly UK-issue easy listening gems from the late 60s and early 70s. This sound is exemplified by 'Sorta Soul', a superbly funky instrumental with catchy female scat vocals, which was featured on 'Further Inflight Entertainment'. However, the 'Birds'n'Brass' behind this record were a different group, masterminded by Keith Roberts, and recording on Charles Berman's hibrow UK budget label 'Rediffusion'. To my knowledge, they released just one LP, 1970's 'SOUNDSATIONAL'. I don't own this, but apparently it has many more tracks with that great beaty UK easy sound, including a cool version of 'American Woman'.
Anyway, back to the more goofy and laidback pleasures of Stan Butcher's 'Birds and Brass', this LP is a Golden Hour production, meaning that 60 minutes worth of tracks are squeezed onto some poor quality vinyl, leading to slightly inferior sound quality. That said, there are some very enjoyable tracks hidden among the largely silly collection of songs. The first track, 'Birds meet brass' is a classic of its type - over the top scat vocals and a pantomime type backing. 'Sounds of Mars' is disappointingly dull, but 'Janie' is a very nice bossa instrumental. There are also some nice versions of 'somethin' stupid' and 'Mood indigo'. But there are also plenty of tracks I could have done without, such as 'chim chim cheree' and 'release me'. Overall, it's an interesting record to have if you see it in a charity shop, but I would advise against making the mistake of a few previous ebay shoppers and mistaking this for a record by the similar-sounding 'Birds'n'Brass'...
Bud Shank: 'Plays Music from Today's Movies' (LP; World Pacific; 1967)
This is a surprisingly strong album. I now have a couple of Bud Shank's instrumental LPs on this label, and they're both better than I had expected. This one is elevated by its excellent choice of material, including 2 Lalo Schifrin numbers ('venice after dark' from The Venetian affair and 'the pin' from Murderer's Row) and the superb 'Hurry Sundown'.
The best tracks have a great beat and mid-late 60s mood to them. I wish I could describe that better. What I'm basically trying to say is that they are very groovy, but not quite funky, in the way that a lot of records recorded around 1965-6 seem to be.
Cal Tjader: 'Hip Vibrations' (LP; Verve; 1968)
This is probably the best Cal Tjader record I've bought so far. I really enjoyed the gentle funkiness of his 'solar heat' album on the skye label, so was really looking for more from that era (1969-70), but when I found this slightly earlier Verve release (in less than perfect shape), I took a chance. I'm very glad I did - the record achieves a really superb blend of jazzy—yet still very pop—grooves and vibes. Highlights for me so far have been 'Canto De Ossanha' and 'Sweet Honeybee', but the whole album is solid.
David Whitaker: 'Hammerhead' (LP; Colgems; 1968)
I came across 'Hammerhead's apartment' on a Colgems label compilation and was excited - the warm strings and great bossa instrumental sound were very much my thing, and recalled some of the best moments on Morricone's 'Mondo Morricone'-compiled recordings. Sadly, this soundtrack album doesn't offer much more than that to me. There is a great vocal version of the same theme (vocals are by Madeleine Bell). The rest of the album is slightly jumpy and frenetic. I imagine it would have worked brilliantly in the film, but rather like some of Quincy Jones's interesting soundtracks, this isn't something I could regularly enjoy all the way through.
Frank Hunter: 'White Goddess' (LP; Kapp; 1961)
A fascinating 'exotic' LP from the early 60s. Hunter, who as far as I know was a Kapp label staff arranger, and never made another LP like this, mixes well-chosen standards (Poinciana, Jungle Drums) with some superbly inventive originals. The originals have evocative names (like 'Ritual of the Torch', 'Strange echoes', 'Lost plateau', 'Mist of Gorongoza'), and also sound superb, with mysterious wordless vocals and great percussion and vibes.
To be completely honest, I think I only started really appreciating 'exotica' in the last couple of years, having spent four or five years hearing and learning all about it, but choosing instead to listen more to soundtracks, later easy listening records and brazilian music. The time for 'exotica' and me has definitely now come, and this record is a great one to have.
Les Reed: 'The Girl on a Motorcycle' (LP; Tetragrammaton; 1967)
I just picked this up recently. It's extremely cool - lots of motorcycle effects over a jazzy, Michel Legrand-like orchestral backing. The main theme has a wicked organ lick. I notice the production of the 'British Lion Orchestra' is by Peter Knight, who was responsible for some the string arrangements on Scott Walker's solo albums, as well as on the exquisitely brilliant 'Elis Regina in London' LP from 1969.
Nancy Ames: 'Latin Pulse' (LP; Epic; 1967)
An upbeat album, with a handful of really outstanding latin 'beat' tracks, with a stomping, 'now sound'-type feeling which is somewhere between the 'discotheque' sound and the kind of mod pop sound found on slightly later records. Hmm, was that a good description? I think not, sorry. The liner notes describe it as having a 'sensuous beat', which sounds about right.
Anyway, the album's contents are mainly versions of famous songs, sung in Spanish, such as Yesterday ('ayer'), Call me ('Dimelo') and A Taste of Honey ('Un gusto a miel'). Some are great, others slightly less so. The highlights are probably the two numbers which Brad Bigelow, owner of the excellent Space age pop site put on a tape for me about five years ago: 'Carcara' and '1-2-3'. Both are short but great showstoppers with a pulsating latin beat.
Nelson Riddle: 'Changing Colors' (LP; BASF; 1973)
An interesting Nelson Riddle record, very different to his earlier American recordings. This was recorded in the Black Forest of Germany with Claus Ogerman for the MPS label, which gives it a different edge. Indeed, I'd say this is far, far more interesting than the two late 60s US albums I have by him ('the contemporary sound of..' and 'Nelson Riddle today'). Highlights here are two originals, 'Sao Paulo' (recommended at musical taste) and 'Changing colors', as well as Antonio Carlos Jobim's excellent 'Lamento', which was included on the German 'Snowflakes' compilation of mood music material on the MPS label. There are also pop covers (like 'my sweet lord' and 'close to you'). A very nice LP.
Update: I listened to this album again last night and noticed that it includes a version of Dusty Springfield's 'Just a little lovin'. A pretty cool album, all in all, although perhaps too lush and slow for most people's taste.
Ramsey Lewis: 'Mother Nature's Son' (LP; Cadet; 1968)
One of the most beautiful instrumental pop albums ever made, in my opinion. This LP covers many different moods and tempos, but the piano playing is always tasteful yet interesting, and the beats are always beautiful and crisp. The production by Charles Stepney is excellent, and is enhanced by some occasional moog touches, which are cool sounding but not intrusive. Particular highlights are 'sexy sadie', 'back in the USSR', 'dear prudence', 'cry baby cry' and 'Julia'. But there really isn't a bad track on here.
Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66: 'Equinox' (LP; A&M; 1967)
Genius album. Almost every track is a highlight. This is one of those albums that makes me yearn to have been there when it came out, just because I can't escape the sense that a time when this was a huge hit must have been a better time to live. Nonsense I expect, but nevertheless, the thought occurs to me. The group's second album, this includes such greats as 'cinammon and clove' (covered well by the modern Italian band Balanco recently), Jorge Ben's 'chove chuva', a great version of Jobim's 'triste', and Marcos Valle's 'gente'. All are played perfectly with that great blend of percussive and tuneful piano lines, female vocals and solid Brasilian percussion. The result is accessible and really quite joyful and wonderful. And the really beautiful thing? The album sold millions in the 60s, and should be available very cheaply in a town near you!
Walter Wanderley: 'When it was done' (LP; A&M/CTI; 1968)
A strong and interesting Walter LP. It's a little more laid back than his records on Verve, all of which I love, but still very nice. This late offering, housed in a beautiful metallic sleeve with a cool Pete Turner photo, has a few vocal tracks (Walter himself does not sing, but there are female guest vocalists, including Anamaria Valle, wife of Marcos Valle). Highlights for me are an English vocal version of the superb 'Andanca' (great song; check out the Elis Regina or Beth Carvalho versions as well), here renamed 'Open your Arms (Let me walk right in)', and a cool version of 'Surfboard'. There's also material composed by Burt Bacharach ('reach out for me'), Eumir Deodato ('On my mind', which has also been sung by Astrud Gilberto and Maria Toledo) and Luiz Gonzaga ('Baiao Da Garoa'), Edu Lobo (the excellent 'Ponteio') and Chico Buarque ('Ole, Ole, Ola'). A nice LP
Warren Barker: 'Hawaiian Eye' (LP; Warner Brothers; 1962)
I just picked this up recently, and was really delighted with it. Produced by Alvino Rey, and featuring the stunning exotic arrangements of Warren Barker, this is a dreamy record, full of really cool instrumentals with vibes and bongos, as well as some nice vocals.
The tracks are
Let's Do it
Steele on the prowl
Soft green seas
What is thing called Love?
You're getting to be a habit with me
When my dreamboat comes home
I wish I had seen the series. Some day I will collect all the original films and TV series for which I like the music. Some day...
Xavier Cugat: 'Viva Cugat' (LP; Mercury/EMI; 1962)
An album I have great fondness for, since it was one of the first really interesting albums I picked up when I was first getting into interesting 50s/60s records. I remember the reluctance of the guy in the Oxfam shop when he was selling it to me. Anyway, it's a superbly atmospheric journey through some Latin American standards, with really cool thick percussion parts. Highlights are 'Isle of Capri', 'Perfidia', 'Jungle Drums' (a big personal favorite) and 'Anna'.