Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ensemble HD Live At The Happy Dog 2013

What a great LP. What a great story.

Five members of the Cleveland Orchestra plus pianist Christina Dahl, director of chamber music at SUNY Stony Brook in New York, play chamber music at a not-at-all-fancy pub on Cleveland's near west side. The programs draw standing-room crowds from the first night with little more than word-of-mouth notice. Joshua Smith, principle flautist with the orchestra, and Sean Watterson, Happy Dog owner, decide to record the ensemble live in said little bar.

They hire Thomas Knab, former recording engineer with Telarc, who uses a minimal number of vintage analog microphones to record the ensemble in this unusual space, and they release it on pristine heavy-weight vinyl (also available as high-resolution download). The sound of the record is immediate and beautiful.

I'm far from an expert on chamber music, but there are many reviews out there. Some of the arrangements are truncated, and this seems to annoy a few purist reviewers, but mostly the reviews are quite complementary. The repertoire is a mix of chamber music from Beethoven to Arvo Part with quite a bit of twentieth century material. There is some challenging music and some sublime.

I'm a fan of the orchestra, and a firm believer that classical music should do whatever it takes to spark the imagination of a newer, younger audience. If you'd like to hear just what that might sound like from some of the best musicians in the world, here's your chance. The record is available from Bandcamp.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Death A Band Called Death 2012 (DVD) Death ...For The Whole World To See 2009

This is a fascinating documentary of a hard rock band made up of three black brothers from Detroit that made some glorious protopunk music in 1975.

Even reading it, it doesn't sound right.

The documentary traces the bands early development (and particularly rare and permissive parenting) that allowed these brothers to develop a raw, loud, angry rock and roll sound that predates punk in it's angry vocals and hyper-speed drumming.

The DVD is a blast, and follows the story of the resurrection of this anomalous band in 2008 after an early self-released demo single became a sought-after rarity and found its way into the hands of DJs at clubs in the mid 2000s.

In 2009, Drag City Records released their "debut" album, ...For The Whole World To See, seven songs recorded in 1975 at United Sound in Detroit that includes the two tracks from the remarkable single that caused their rediscovery and reunion.

There is certainly reason to say they were punk before punk, but the playing has none of the early punk DIY ethos. The Townsend/Hendrix influenced David Hackney is no two-chord punk guitarist. He's hot and inspired, and the arrangements are tight. There are moments of prog-like complexity, some psychedelia, and plenty of hard-driving rock and roll.

The songs are odd, occasionally lyrically strange, and Bobby Hackney's vocals surely contribute to the punk comparisons. They sound like The Who crossed with Black Sabbath on speed. What's not to like?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Zappadan 2013

Here I'm is...The zombie woof!

Zappadan 2013 is underway, and this year, someone set up a Zappadan blog with links to many Zappadan celebrations. It's here.

One of my favorites is this amazing version of Zombie Woof by the Asphalt Orchestra.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Zappadan 2013 Zappa In New York 1978 Wazoo 2007

Ah, the festival of Zappadan is upon us once again. Celebrate (or don't) the life and works of one of America's greatest modern-day composers and general all-around thinker.

Take your time and spend these next 17 days however you want to. Frank might have wanted it that way. Or maybe he'd think Zappadan foolish. Too bad he's not here to let us know. He would have been 70 this December 21. In keeping with the spirit of Zappadan, how you choose to celebrate this wonderful time is entirely up to you. If someone tells you you're doing Zappadan wrong, you can be sure they don't get it.

Me, I like to mention his music, which I mostly love, and since I talk about music here at this blog, it makes sense. This year I added two Zappa titles to my collection. They are Wazoo and Zappa In New York. Both are live recordings, and both are good, and on some level, unique.

 Zappa In New York boasts the Saturday Night Live horn section and Randy and Mike Brecker. Recorded Christmas week 1976, it's jammed with plenty of fine moments, including super hot instrumentals (The Purple Lagoon, The Black Page, Manx Needs Women, Sofa) and outrageous humor (The Legend Of The Illinois Enema Bandit, Punky's Whips, Titties And Beer). It also includes guest narrations from Don Pardo himself. The core band includes the incomparable duo of drummer Terry Bozio and vibes player Ruth Underwood. Generally a solid live outing, much of which was intended for Zappa's Lather release.

Wazoo is a very very special thing indeed. Recorded in 1972 at the end of a very brief tour, it features the 20-piece Mothers Of Invention/Hot Rats/Grand Wazoo band, a group of Zappa regulars augmented by ace studio musicians that only toured because, well, because Zappa asked them. Who could turn that gig down?

This is Zappa's big band concept executed magnificently in a live setting. The live version here of The Grand Wazoo is thrilling, as is Approximate, in an exceptionally deep reading. The 32-minute The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary in four movements is fairly different from the later 1978 studio recording, and every bit as good. The recording is clean and neat, and sounds like it was taken right off the mixing board.

I really can't describe how incredible this band is, and this stuff isn't easy. Or how magnificent these compositions are. That said, this isn't for the Dinah-Mo Hum crowd. This is serious music, and you should probably sit down and not operate heavy machinery.

Happy Zappadan, one and all!

Previous Zappa posts here.