Good Music We Can Know

Friday, September 30, 2011

Vampire Bow: Noel Ellis- Noel Ellis (1983)

I don't have a lot to say about this one except that I've been digging it surprisingly hard, of late. Noel is the son of Alton Ellis, of considerably greater fame, but this record is a giant winner. The songs are long, dubby, and gritty-- the production value is serious and unadorned, almost black and white, like a xerox of the original-- and Noel's delivery is winningly mysterious in all his mystic repetitions. The big highlights here are "Marcus Garvey", which I can't seem to stop playing (partly because I'm fascinated by the curious figure of Mr. Garvey himself), "To Hail Salassie", and the weird-ass "Rocking Universally"


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Heavy Black Sounds: Purple Image- Purple Image (1970)

Continuing on this funk hunt- here's the sole release and 1970 debut of Cleveland super-heavy psych-funk outfit, Purple Image. A lot has been made about just how rock-oriented they are, working less within the more dominant (for black artists) soul idiom of the time, but that only serves to obscure just how funky this album is. Still, it's worth noting that at its heaviest moments, it's as heavy as Jimi Hendrix a la "Machine Gun" or The Stooges on Fun House. And like on those examples, even at the height of heaviness, it's not just heavy metal excess- it's hard and mean and direct, and still ultimately groove-based. Truly a Black Rock Beast, is Purple Image.

The highest highlight for me is the opener, "Living in the Ghetto", a rip-roaring series of ghetto tableau ("Mama's in the kitchen cookin' midnight supper!"), punctuated by utterly wicked electric guitar "Machine Gun"-isms. You might actually hear specific licks swiped from "Machine Gun", a worthy source to quote if ever there was one, and it enriches the track's dialogue between Black Music and Heavy Metal. (Come to think of it, I think The Stooges said they were cribbing "Machine Gun" when they wrote "Dirt" in this same year, to continue the Fun House comparisons.)

The other enormous highlight of the record is a monstrous version of Bob Craig's "Marching to a Different Drummer". A thrashing, relentless, fifteen-and-a-half minute onslaught that starts out as a funky singalong, then mutates into a psych-rock apocalypse, complete with a free-jazz saxophone to drive the guitars into chaos, and a crunchy harmonica infusion near the end.

Follow the link to Digital Meltdown and grab this bad puppy (at 256), then check out the equally great Fugi record he has there (Mary, Don't Take Me on No Bad Trip) and the especially excellent Black Merda self-titled debut, as well.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Used to Leave You Hangin' in the Bed by Your Fingernails, Screamin': Betty Davis- Nasty Gal (1975)

The other day I spun Nasty Gal for the first time. I've been on a fiendish funk-hunt, searching high and low for funk, black rock, psychedelic soul, and black art music that falls on the side of the Funkadelic, rather than Parliament. I adore the experimental, groove-and-texture based, stoned-ghost swamp-gospel of Funkadelic's first three records-- whereas I generally sort of loathe Parliament's funk-funk-FUNK-afunk-FUNK-FUNK bullshit. I know it's all the same dudes for the most part, but there's a gulf between the extremes of their intent, depending which name they're operating under. Anyway, I'm always searching for stuff that can stand up next to those first three Funkadelic records, and in the course of that trippy funk safari I found a huge, pleasant surprise-- one that had been hidden conspicuously in plain sight.

I don't know why I'd never given Betty Davis a shot before. She's obviously awesome (and being a Durham, NC girl, you know she's legit), but I guess I assumed she was like a Rick James Disco P-Funk type. And I suppose that in a way she is, at that, but she's so much more than that. Nasty Gal is fucking amazing. It's so heavy, so nasty, so hot and hard and relentless... in an all-out battle for sexual aggression in soul, funk, and rock music, I don't think anyone could take the Betty Davis of Nasty Gal, no man nor woman. She scarcely sings a word on this record-- her voice emerges raw like a demon from a lustful place at the edge of holy rage. It's beyond a growl, or a scream. No Tibetan fire demon or tiger monster could look as ferocious as she sounds here. It's awe-inspiring. It's terrifying. When she comes in at the beginning of "F.U.N.K." and snarls from the depths, "EFF... U... ENNN... K-- Help me Nicky now HELP ME!", you'd be forgiven if, instead of dancing, you simply froze up in a kind of fear.

Now, you might be thinking, all this sounds like the kind of P-Funk in-your-face funkaship stuff I'm claiming to drastically dislike. The thing is, Ms. Davis and her insanely awesome band, Funk House, manage to achieve maximum aggressive, hardcore funkiness without losing sight of the essential swampiness, the Hendrix-inspired, experimental black-rock ethos; that something that's hard and mean but still wild and trippy. I mean, on top of these kind of grooves, she could easily be singing about how it's nothing but a party, y'all, but she isn't. She's singing such startling, sexually aggressive lyrics that it's not only too alarming to be labeled simply, "fun"-- it also becomes such a strident, potent, and unapologetic statement of empowered female sexuality that it demands to be taken seriously and considered significant.

It's not what she's saying, so much as how she's saying it, of course. She's way past the relatively restrained sex-machinisms of James Brown, somewhere deep in territory on the other side of Iggy Pop, circa Fun House-- feral and howlingly orgasmic, but far more nuanced and pointed. Betty Davis isn't just cumming and screaming all over the place, motherfucker, she's taking you to school. This is surgery. It is a warzone for which you were not prepared. Throughout the record, she presents the concept of her total sexual willingness and submission in such a way that turns the tables completely on the male listener. She'll do anything-- in fact, she basically demands to do everything-- and she's amused by her partner's resulting discomfort, insecurity, and terror. "You said I turn you on I turned you inside out... You said I love you every way but your way and my way was too dirty for you now."

There's not a bad track on this record. The aforementioned "F.U.N.K." is a highlight, paying tribute as it does to her ancestors in heaviness and soul, and the title track is hair-raising-- a total takedown of a guy who's been smack-talking her as a slut when the truth is he couldn't handle her power (the track also couches some amusingly phrased allusions to her perhaps pegging her partner). "Shut Off The Light" is similarly incendiary-- her guttural, threatening come-ons (almost mocking, predatory, yet righteous) and the band's thick, nasty-as-fuck groove represent an apex of the record's sublime extremeness.

There are a few breaks from the pummeling onslaught (an onslaught which never becomes simply tiring, as some heavy records do-- it's a thrill from beginning to end). The most dramatic exception is the nakedly honest ballad, "You and I", written with her ex-husband (who, I trust, need not be named) with contributions from Gil Evans. Other (slight) exceptions to the Funk House massacre are the smoldering smoke-cloud grooves "Gettin' Kicked Off, Havin' Fun" and "The Lone Ranger". The first is somewhat along the lines of Funkadelic's "Music for My Mother" or "What is Soul?" As it grooves along in a very menacing way, as Ms. Davis coos loaded inquiries as to how street-tuff you are ("Do you like to get high? Do you try to be cool?"), only occasionally launching into harrowing vocal interjections, demanding: "Tell me now!" "Lone Ranger" is the closer to the record, and it's one of the best tracks. Super-slow and swampy, it glides along like a crocodile in the water, going out on a two-minute cosmic orchestral coda that will likely induce goosebumps.

Here is a masterpiece that hasn't lost a bit of its edge or impact. Scary as hell and more fun than anything that's "fun." It's something you probably aren't ready for, something you'll never get used to, something that hurts as much as it feels good-- but you gotta start sometime. Betty doesn't wait forever.

N A S T Y G A L (VBR- props to the source)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Classical Exotica From the Depths of the Sleepy Lagoon: Edmond De Luca's Safari (1957); Stanley Black- The Music of Lecuona (1958)

Here are two records that I own on vinyl, but for some time have been unable to obtain a rip of (quality or otherwise-- these puppies are for some reason hopelessly obscure). That is, until recently. After the princely German gentleman and fellow Exotica proselytizer from The Sleepy Lagoon answered my call for Stanley Black's The Music of Lecuona-- and was then able to again make dreams come true with Arthur Lyman's Legend of Pele-- I figured I'd ask him if he had a rip of another Holy Grail desire of mine, Edmond De Luca's Safari. He did.

I'm so delighted to get a chance to enthuse on the subject of Safari. Unfortunately, I can't find much information on it, so all I have to work with is my emotions. Like many records of its ilk, I bought it primarily for its utterly marvellous cover art, but fortunately found the musical contents to be easily the art's equal.

Falling more on the classical/symphonic side of the spectrum, side one is a suite detailing the stages of an African safari and hunt. It's pure Rudyard Kipling adventure fantasy, laid out with orchestral arrangements of the maximum cinematic variety (especially evident in the dizzying heights of the strings and occasional call-to-arms/begin-the-hunt horns), and adorned generously with the sort of faux-African male vocals found on Tak Shindo's Mganga! or Les Baxter's Taboo! I cannot speak highly enough of this record's first side. It's a wonderful marriage of Exotica, 1950's epic film soundtrack, and the kind of classical, proto-Exotica ideas found in something like Sir Eugen Goossens Corroboree (or Ravel, or Dvorak, or Lecuona, whom we'll get to).

Side two is mostly one long composition, "Polovetsian Dances", followed by a shorter one, "Ritual Fire Dance"-- the latter being especially stellar. Despite losing the African backdrop in favor of something more Eastern European/Russian, the treatment and sensibility is similar. These are sensual folk-tradition-inspired orchestra pieces somewhat in the manner of Bolero, and they're really quite enjoyable. It's a bit of a step down from the evocative narrative, exotic geography, and epic cinematic quality of side one, but still more than worthy of inclusion in your collection.

This download, once again courtesy of the unbelievably generous spirit of The Sleepy Lagoon, is at a "blistering" 224kbps. Beautiful.


As is indicated by the title, this LP consists of the talented and versatile Stanley Black conducting the compositions of the amazing Mr. Ernesto Lecuona.

I don't know, and can't find, all that much about Lecuona, although I'm not a particularly thorough researcher. He's an incredibly gifted and influential composer, however, and he deserves a grander reputation than he currently enjoys. Certainly amongst Exotica lovers, his compositions are as familiar as a father: "Siboney" "Malaguena" "Andalucia" (also kniwn as "The Breeze and I"), "Canto Karabali" (better known as "Jungle Drums", and clearly amongst the three or four most major defining compositions of Exotica)-- and to a slightly lesser extent the Academy Award-nominated "Always In My Heart"-- have all been recorded countless times by bandleaders and musicians looking to assemble an Exotica record. (It's also worth noting, at this point, that his cousin, Margarita Lecuona, composed the stalwart Exotica masterpiece "Taboo." Fun Fact, I guess.)

Stanley Black plays all these compositions, and more, in a style that's lushly, softly Exotic, without dressing up the intrinsic beauty of the compositions too unnecessarily. Lecuona's mixture of early-20th century pop-orchestral music, classical European symphonic tradition, and Cuban folk rhythms don't need much retrofitting to come off as absolutely classic Exotica anyway. This type of cross-cultural musical alchemy is basically what Exotica is, making him one of the earlier and more significant visionaries of this art. That his compositions are among the most well-known, yet his name and legacy aren't particularly, is a funny little oversight of history. One thing is sure: this record is a journey into the heart of beauty, one of the more perfect things you could ever hope to hear. Please enjoy.