Good Music We Can Know

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Savage Mambo Fever Dream of Exotica: Perez Prado- Voodoo Suite (1954/55), Exotic Suite of The Americas (1962)

The King of the Mambo Universe: Perez Prado. This: his finest album. Voodoo Suite's first half is the title track, a side-long suite of epic proportions. Hard hard swinging brass, Afro-Cuban ferocity, wild chanting, and voodoo drums with a pummeling sensuality. I heard a story that Perez actually staged a fight in the studio to attain "authentic" or visceral sounds of some kind. This suite is a masterpiece, a terrifying and gratifying journey into that popular fiction of jungle darkness and taboo ritual, full of danger, pleasure, violence, and lust. This is one of my favorite Exotica selections ever, hands-down.

Side two opens on a furious rendition of "St. James Infirmary Blues," which is really just one of the Great Songs of the World, and the band slays it. It's awesome, in the way the Bible uses the word Awesome.

The rest of the album is good in the way Prado is always good. Hard-swinging mambos with a goofy pop touch, lush sensuality, superb production, and a surprisingly hard edge. Great, great record.


Made many years later, Exotic Suite has a similar format, and is sort of a companion piece to Voodoo Suite. It's not quite as electrifying, but it's still pretty incredible, resembling much more a traditional Exotica record, with its liberal and deft use of lush string arrangements-- and less frantic voodoo-mambo breakouts, for better or worse. 

Side two, again, is comprised of more standard pop/mambo instrumentals, but they're all really good. They will make you yearn to dance on an outdoor patio on a cool summer night.

Perez Prado is one of the greats, oh my friends, and these are two of his greatest works. Avail yourselves of his mastery, and revel in his art.

Sophisticated Daydream of Exotica: Robert Drasnin- Voodoo (1959)

Drasnin was not an Exotica pro, in the manner of Denny, Lyman, and Baxter-- until '59 he had mostly done TV themes and the like-- but when asked to pump out a record of that popular "exotic" stuff, he pumped out a juicy good one in the form of Voodoo. The great thing about a good Exotica record is how devastatingly archetypal it is-- it sounds just exactly like something specific, yet describes a period of time in the American zeitgeist that's as nebulous as it is recognizable. Americans may well know this music in their blood. It is the sound of the dreams of their ancestors....

This record is that way. It's one of the best Exotica records, bar none: precise, beautifully conceived miniatures of Tiki dreams, with lovely vocals, chimes, and everything else you would expect from an archetypal Exotica record. The first song, "Chant of the Moon," is worth the price of admission all by itself.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Let's Live Through This Night, Let's Just Kiss and Fight: Shankar Jaikishan- Bombay Talkie (1970)

Here's another great Indian film soundtrack, this one by the great Shankar Jaikishan. The title theme of the film is phenomenal, and there are several variations of it on the record (one of which was on soundtrack to The Darjeeling Limited). The first, which has disarmingly charming "doo-doo" wordless vocals, is perfect. The last puts words to the melody-- which, by the end, you've already heard so many times-- and they are simple, beautiful, hopeful (and English, which is nice for me as an English speaker).

Another great song (also used in The Darjeeling Limited) is the sublimely goofy "Typewriter, Tip Tip Tip," a wonderful tune that is apparently performed in the film while dancing on a giant typewriter. Or so I've heard.

The rest of the album is gorgeous incidental music. It's really good. I got this from Parties Sarees and Melodies, a great blog of Indian film music. Click the link to see that article on this record, as it's much more informed than mine.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Heartache in the Subcontinent: Satayjit Ray- Charulata (The Lonely Wife) 1964

Here is a really short, really beautiful record: the soundtrack to Charulata, by Indian filmmaker Satayjit Ray. I have never seen the film, sad to say, but the music is subtle, sophisticated, and heartbreaking in a gorgeous, quietly insistent way. Highly recommended.

One of the songs was used in the Wes Anderson film The Darjeeling Limited. Just so you know.

The Lonely Wife 192

Don Cherry: Om Shanti Shanti Om

Here is an excellent video of Don Cherry performing for television in 1976. I don't know anything else about the circumstances here, but the performance and music is electrifying. Don Cherry is one of my very favorites, and this is prime 1970s Cherry: international players and multi-ethnic traditions, spiritual pocket trumpet solos, and lots of vocals. At the end it segues into a bit of music from his album, Brown Rice, but the rest of it isn't on any album I've heard. Does anyone know if this track is on record anywhere?

Generous reader Joandleefe has left a link to the Don Cherry album Actions in the comments. Check it out. Fans of Eternal Rhythm will note a similarity in the scale Cherry is playing around with, and fans of European vocal jazz will enjoy the singing throughout. It's really cool, classic Cherry stuff.

Here's a newer link: ACTIONS (160)

Spiritual Jazz Obsession: Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda- Divine Songs (1987)

If you have never heard the fantastic spiritual jazz or devotional music of Alice Coltrane, then there is a universe of beauty in store for you. I think her best jazz efforts are on the fantastic Journey into Satchidananda-- a masterpiece in every sense which finds her playing mostly harp alongside some of the best work Pharaoh Sanders has ever done-- but Divine Songs, for me, is undoubtedly her best devotional record.  Not that that's an easy call.

Here is an amazing cassette rip of Divine Songs that I found at Ile Oxumare. Go there and get it from him, it's just amazingly good, then poke around his blog, which is full of treasures (edit: this is no longer possible, and his blog is now-invitation-only).

This tape is very rare and mostly consists of Alice's rich, soulful intonations and eastern-style gospel vocals over drones, choruses, and synths in a manner so achingly tasteful and spiritual and masterful and deep... I can't fathom a universe where it only exists in cassette form. Oh, God! It's like the feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff with strong wind all around you yet somehow feeling no fear, only a transcendent exhilaration. Exceptionally good. So thank you, Il Oxumare, and the universe thanks you.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Unparalleled Moments of Beauty: Les Paul and Mary Ford- Brazil (1948)

Husband and wife Les Paul and Mary Ford were an unstoppable hit-making machine in the early fifties, racking up a whopping sixteen top-10 hits between 1950 and 1954, and selling six million records in '51 alone. Strangely, while there's no shortage of legacy when it comes to Mr. Paul and all his various works and guitar innovations, this wildly successful romantic duo is rarely mentioned today. Perhaps their most lovely record, Brazil, hasn't even been released on CD, left to linger so lovely in the shadows of history, waiting to be rediscovered as the gorgeous gem it is.

It's so damn beautiful. While it opens with a zippy bit from Paul that showcases the nutty quicksilver picking of his own innovation, it quickly settles into soft, romantic torch songs with lovely, smokey vocals from Mrs. Ford and a classic exotica feel. These songs are what this LP are all about. "Just One More Chance," specifically, is a thing of unparallelled beauty. One of the best songs I've ever heard.

The only problem is, the whole thing is a bit slight. At only 22 minutes, it almost seems designed to leave you with a keen sense of longing. Still , this is a hell of a great little record.

Brazil (320)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Supernatural Meditation, or, "Getting High Near A Stereo": Two Eyes From Different Worlds


Psychedelic jazz raga with sitars, tablas, electric guitar and saxophones. Formally trippy. I like these "psychedelic" records from this time period that just are what they are; no band ego, no message, just a solid piece of near-anonymous music for people to like, if they care to. That is, perhaps, the appeal of Library and Exotica records, among others. For all the adjectives you could ascribe to it, it's just, "Music."
Which isn't to say Dream Sequence is conservative. It's pretty crazy, but always accessible, a quality that's weird in and of itself when applied to this type of druggy space-out music. You know, it's a pretty great record.

Try Cosmic Eye

For Supernatural Meditation (1975)

This is a lot less professional, and a lot more weird, but still fits in the vein of "music to do weed to, in a room." Lo-fi tape effects, reverb guitar, dark ambient, and a miniature sense of the spiritually epic... I wouldn't suggest meditating to it, probably, but it's got to be good for something, like wandering around at dusk in a hooded robe. It's really cool sounding and really cult-y, so get it and put it on next time you go ghost hunting.


(both links 320)

Monday, May 10, 2010

From the Australo-Symphonic Adventure Library: Sven Libaek- Australian Suite (1969)

A pop symphony in six parts from the brilliant Mr. Sven Libaek. Supposedly the most expensive record ever made in Australia at the time, but this is a fact I likely will not check. Essentially the same tone and instrumentation as his other work, which is mostly for TV and film (some of which can be found elsewhere on this site), the music benefits from an opportunity to stretch out its themes and leitmotifs in much longer, more complex, compositions. The effect is, as one might expect from Libaek, grandly cinematic, well-meaning and adventurously optimistic, like a Tintin book. It's not quite as distinctively otherworldly as the best of his work, but in a way that I find hard to pin down... it's still unmistakably Libaek, with all the vibes and harmonica and jazzy shuffling that implies, but with less of the gentle electronic effect, and not as hip, perhaps. To be pat: less "modern," more "classical." Anyway, it's really great. Very sophisticated, pleasant stuff. A real expedition for a relaxed and active mind.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Got the Fever in My Pocket: The Velvet Underground- Live at The Gymnasium (1967)

Here is a live recording of the Velvet Underground in 1967. There are very few live recordings of the Velvets during this period, and hello! what the fuck! here is this. Not only does it feature an otherwise-unrecorded song ("I'm Not A Young Man Anymore") it also boasts a very early version-- the "debut," supposedly-- of "Sister Ray," played with great intensity, showcasing those jabby dagger guitars alongside a clumsy and awesome first draft of the lyrical delivery. Not as long as the later renditions would grow to be, and not as fast or loud as the album version, this recording is most remarkable for the youth of the band and the unguarded live performance. Or, perhaps its strength lies in the sheer number of times Reed enthuses about the sucking on of ding dongs, with palpable delight.

The highlight, for me-- even more than "Sister Ray"-- is the really street hard performance of "Run Run Run," an awesome but often somewhat-overlooked track which is here allowed room for some smack nasty guitar interplay. Also on Gymnasium is a good version of "Waiting For the Man," and a clear, rocking "I Guess I'm Falling in Love," a fairly uncommon track with very few good vocal recordings (the most widely heard being the instrumental from Another View). The sound quality throughout is a bit faded and murky around the edges, but overall remarkably clear (especially around the vocals), making it a true treasure, a real gold god damn nugget.

A Workout at the Gymnasium

Deep Cry of a Baritone Brazil: Nelson Ferraz- Lamento Negro (1956)

Here is another Brazilian record from Loronix, and what a doozy it is... a collection of slightly theatrical tunes sung in a chocolatey-rich baritone, like a roof mournfully tarred in black molasses. Although a bit unwieldy at times, the title track and a stunning piece called "Navio Negreiro" make it worth a listen. The arrangements by Maestro Radames Gnattali are great, and the supporting vocals are cunningly organized. There's not a lot I can say, because there's not a lot I know, but with a cover like that, how much yakkin' do you need?

Try it out or don't. Mr. Ferraz is beyond caring.


Monday, May 3, 2010

The Genius of Free Jazz: Archie Shepp- Three Savage Sons of Shepp

Here's a trifecta of Archie Shepp records:

Yasmina, A Black Woman

A typical Shepp album, in that it starts with a free-blazing afro-inferno heavy on repetition and blowout saxing, then shifts to something more classical but still pretty wonky. The first track here is amazing, and the rest is just great.

(from wiki) Yasmina, a Black Woman is a jazz album by Archie Shepp, recorded in 1969 in Paris for BYG Actuel records. It features musicians from the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The first track, giving
its title to the album, is a long free jazz piece by an eleven-piece orchestra; in it, the references to Africa that Shepp had experimented with only a few weeks earlier in Algiers are to be found in the use of African percussion instruments, or the African incantations sung by Shepp himself at the beginning of the track. The other two pieces, a homage to Sonny Rollins written by trombonist Grachan Moncur III and a standard, played by a more traditional quintet and quartet respectively, are more reminiscent of the hard bop genre, although the fiery playing of the musicians, notably Shepp himself, gives them a definite avant-garde edge.


Blasé (1969): This is pretty bonkers even for Shepp, and one of my favorite of his by a long shot. Very little is blase about it, obviously. Opening on a dissonant harmonica and piano "blues" with an out-there vocal performance from Jeanne Lee, you can tell from the start that this is an intense and unusual record. A lot of people grumble about the primitive, musically unsound harmonicas, playing in the wrong key-- but I'm the kind of guy who says, hell with it, let the man be wrong and see how it sounds. Who cares about the rules of music when the jazz is free?

The next track is a menacing crawl with a great opening solo from Shepp...
it's all perfectly lazy, languid, even... then Lee starts in with the poetry: " who shot your sperm into me... I give you a loaf of sugar and you tilt my womb 'till it runs! All of Ethiopia awaits you!" It's pretty amazing, powerful stuff. It may suffer accusations of camp from time to time but its far too earnest and righteous (and, in my opinion, simply good) to qualify for such demerits. And with Shepp, it's always about passion and anger with a hint of intellectual restraint. Then the harmonica juts in, playing what may be "Frere Jacques", and the sax again gets lazy and loud all over everything, and it's a fever dream, a weird little thing that is perfect. This track is incredible.

Side two gives us the expected: a traditional with an off-kilter arrangement from Shepp, and a Duke Ellington composition, both vocal, followed by a blowout that almost feels like an afterthought until it cools down and reveals itself to have a fascinating little coda. This is a very very good Shepp album if you don't mind things getting a little weird. Why would you?

Blase (320)

Mama Too Tight (1966): Massive, massive blowouts with little revelations of calm and big smacks of marching tunes. Not one of my favorites, but certainly an excellent record. One of those monsters that shows as much sophistication and composition as it does savage savage improvisation.

wiki: Mama Too Tight is an album by Archie Shepp released on Impulse! Records in 1966. The album contains tracks recorded by Shepp, Tommy Turrentine, Grachan Moncur III, Roswell Rudd, Howard Johnson, Perry Robinson, Charlie Haden and Beaver Harris in August 1966. The Allmusic review by Thom Jurek states "Shepp had hit his stride here compositionally... lots of free blowing, angry bursts of energy, and shouts of pure revelry are balanced with Ellingtonian elegance and restraint that was considerable enough to let the lyric line float through and encourage more improvisation. This is Shepp at his level best"


More Shepp to come. I have more.
And of course if you want his best album, go here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Oh, Those Beautiful Brothers!: Moreno e Moreninho- Capelinha de Santos Reis (1950s)

Oh, boy. What a great cover. Two brothers, dressed like the fanciest fellows in Brazil... gazing off into space with utter and total contentment, hands ever so slightly touching... standing in a lovely swamp, near some cypress knees.

This is Moreno e Moreninho's Capelinha de Santos Reis. I don't really know anything about this record or these beautiful men, but this is some really great music. Some kind of Brazilian old-time folk music with ragged edges and raga harmonies. No picture of paradise painted here, and no smooth Portuguese-language suavity-- just the sound of a very rootsy carnival with a high lonesome wail and a really echoey sound system. Amazing.

Moreno e Moreninho 192

Lost in the Flood, Lost in the Fire: Lula Côrtes e Ze Ramalho- Paêbirú (1975)

This gem of Brazilian psychedelia is, or was, extremely rare-- supposedly because most of the original pressings were lost in a flood (according to wiki, others) or a fire (allmusic). But this cult item of intrigue needs no myth to validate it. It's just excellent.

A double album with each side addressing a different element, it jumps from free-folky jams, to achingly pastoral instrumentals, to ethereal psych-jazz, to almost krautrock in the vein of Can's ethnological forgeries... from improvisation to composition. In a way, it resembles the patchwork of Pink Floyd's studio section from Ummagumma, but, you know, way more beautiful. Maybe that's a useless comparison.

Anyway, this is an amazing record. It's just beautiful, surprisingly weird, undeniably savvy, both experimental and traditional.

Paêbirú 320

Sophisticated Daydream of Exotica: Les Baxter- Ritual of the Savage (1952), Sacred Idol (1960)

In an early post I expressed my passion for Les Baxter and wrote of what I feel to be his finest album, Tamboo! The only album capable of contesting the supremacy of Tamboo! is here, Les Baxter's first masterpiece of Exotica: Ritual of the Savage. This album marks the de facto birth of the genre, the truest moment of its invention, the alchemical synthesis of all its parts and prototypes into the golden, perfect thing. Just read the back cover notes below, and you will see an inadvertent yet self-assured manifesto for the genre. I'd quote it, but it's so perfect, you'll just have to see for yourself.

This record contains the original, often if not always superior, versions of many of the songs made famous by Martin Denny on his seminal early Exotica albums ("Quiet Village" being the most famous), but Denny's small band and more simple style can't quite compete with the intricate, masterful complexity of Mr. Baxter'-- and when hearing this album you know the songs belong to him alone. What Baxter invents here, in a pure and perfect form, I think he actually takes to an even more interesting level on Tamboo!, but if you only snag two Baxter albums, it is Tamboo! and Ritual of the Savage, the visionary blueprints for the whole of Exotica.

Update, 'cause I been thinking: Go back to the top of the post and click the cover of Ritual to enlarge. Look at the couple dancing in the background. I always thought they were dancing in an almost impossibly romantic fashion, the elegance and soft-focus of the paint contrasting the harder, more graphically rendered masks. But look at the body language: what I thought was his fluttering tie is actually her hand, flat on his chest, possibly pushing away. Her other hand grasping his arm tightly, her head thrust away from him, her mouth twisted with startled distaste as he leans in insistently, pulling her in to him by the waist. What is going on here? Is there any way they are just dancing pleasantly? Is this what is meant by the ritual of the savage?

Sorry to say, but I've been asked to remove this link by the copyright owner. This album is available in its entirety on the free market, so go get it. Or just look a little harder on the internet and get it that way, you deadbeat.

SACRED IDOL: "Strange and exotic music keyed to the mysterious legends of The Feathered Serpent of the Aztecs, from the motion picture The Sacred Idol."

Similar in sound to Tamboo!, with a darker overall palette and lots of vocal arrangements. Not as good-- it's less rich and varied, the recording quality is a bit murky, and the melodies are far less catchy. Still, this is sublime work from Baxter.

The beauty of Exotica is that, despite the colonial condescension that comes with indiscriminately appropriating vaguely ethnic rhythms and calling it "exotic," it seems to celebrate inclusively an international paradise of peace, sensuality, and exploration... this is not World Music, friends, it's just Music for the World.

I've also been asked to take this down, which is a shame, because I don't think this record is available in its original form or at a reasonable price. Use the internet to make this right for yourself. Someone else has it, I'm sure, in its intended form, and ripped from decent vinyl. Go look.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Sophisticated Daydream of Exotica: Les Baxter- Tamboo! (1954)

When I was a younger man, I picked this record up at a waterside thrift store in Maine. I had heard Martin Denny's Exotica several times and it had begun to pique my interest in the genre, but I still had no idea who Les Baxter even was. Baxter, I now know, is basically the main genius of Exotica. At his best, he elevates the escapist vacation and musical tourism of of the genre to the level of sublime. It is the complexities of this, his best album, that initially made me believe in this type of music as an art beyond kitsch-- a notion I now can refute entirely.

Baxter was, at heart, an unpredictable experimentalist. And while no one could be too surprised at the kind of music to be found on Tamboo, dig a little deeper and you find unbelievably complex and delicate arrangements perhaps unlike anything else he has ever done. Cinematic, evocative, and lushly exotic with velvety strings, deep dark drums and scampering bongos, haunting flutes, and "native" instruments lurking in every shadow... ominous yet friendly vocal arrangements with that heads-of-Easter-Island sound, complemented by extremely white, lovely female harmonies, humming and ahh-ing with heart melting loveliness.

This is too good to be easy listening, too complex to be a musical vacation: this is a sonic adventure, exploring a mangrove swamp in a dugout canoe, a jeep caravan across the Serengeti, hunting Tigers in India, lounging with island girls, searching for Aztec idols... this is an amalgamation of the perfect journey through all lands exotic; India, Africa, South America, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, all rolled into one cleverly forged piece of popular music for white American dads. This is a forgotten masterpiece, and the tip top of the genre.

Too bad: I've been asked to remove this link by the copyright owner. I highly encourage you to go buy this album or find it for yourself. It's out there, and it's worth the trouble.