A week ago here in LA, Brasil came to town in the form of Joel Stones and his legendary store Tropicalia In Furs, roughly two years after closing down in NYC. As of yet, Stones hasn’t fully set up shop, only a pop-up store for a weekend, but from the response, he seems like he’ll be back. As a fan of Brazilian music from the 1960s & 1970s, it can be extremely difficult to get these records here in the states. Out in the wild of “regular” stores, you’d be lucky to run into a greatest hits collection. If you go the Ebay/Dicogs route, you’ll be paying shipping costs that are almost as expensive as the records themselves and waiting for a month before they arrive (IF they arrive!). So, a store like Tropicalia In Furs, dedicated to rare, psychedelic and funky Brazilian music is a dream come true. If not for my upcoming trip to Cuba, I would have gotten many more records than I did and spent significantly more money. I was able to get a nice little haul, mostly just solid titles, but a couple of rarer ones that I’ll definitely feature here in coming months.
This Ronnie Von record was one that I tried to win from a online auction that Stones did last year. Recorded in 1970, this album walks the tightrope between the rocking MPB sounds of Roberto Carlos and the fuzzy soul of Tim Maia or Erasmo Carlos. “A Maquina Voadora” and “Imagem” both bring the fuzz and have a lovely headnodic sound. I’d heard those tracks and knew what to expect for most of the record. “Baby De Tal” was a surprise, toned down, much more soulful and emerged as my favorite track. My ears and yours are made all the better by having Tropicalia In Furs back on the scene, here’s to hoping that the store opens up full-time in the very near future.
As I think I’ve mentioned previously, over the past year I’ve been buying many more vocal albums than normal, seemingly one of the many strange unintended consequences of my separation and soon to be finalized divorce. More so than just getting vocal albums I haven’t owned, I’ve been tracking down vocalists I hadn’t heard before. I found this album on the same trip to Groove Merchant that netted the Ensemble Al-Salaam album. The cover design was absolutely a drawing point, the stark photo, the strange greenish hue to the black and white image, the pensive woman, clearly melancholy and slightly out of focus. But what was most intriguing was the fact that there was no artist information on the cover, a very rare thin indeed. Only “When Your Lover Has Gone.” Without hearing the music or knowing who the artist was, I would have likely bought the album, solely on the strength of that cover, which is one of the most distinctively beautiful ones I’ve ever seen.
Quick flip over, identified the artist as “Clair Austin sings ‘When Your Lover Has Gone’ & other songs of unrequited love, with Bob Scobey, trumpet, Barney Kessel, guitar, Stan Wrightsman, piano, Morty Cobb, bass, Shelly Manne, drums.” I’d certainly heard of Kessel and Manne, Scobey’s name rang a slight bell, but Clair Austin was someone I hadn’t heard of. Part of the reason for that is that she really didn’t record much or for very long. Austin began singing some time in the 1930s, but WWII meant that she was separated from her drummer husband, Chuck Austin, while he was fighting. After the war, the Austin’s became accountants and settled into suburban life in Sacramento. But, at some point in the late 1940s, Austin began singing again and landed a recording gig with Kid Ory, and this one with Bob Scobey, before largely fading away again into obscurity.
Austin has a really distinctive and slightly unsettling style of singing. There’s something about her voice that sounds both wrong and right. Though I’ve seen writers compare her to Peggy Lee, I don’t hear that at all. Her phrasing is straight out of the 20s or 30s, as a strange mix of Bessie Smith & Billie Holiday with just the slightest of Swedish accents. I’m not sure if Scobey chose these songs or Austin chose them, but it’s an interesting mix, and another drawing point for me, since the majority of them are ones that I’d never heard or rarely see on other vocalists albums from this period of time. My copy of the album isn’t pristine, so my favorite songs, “This House Is Haunted,” and “My Melancholy Baby” have some assertive pops and clicks, but I share them nonetheless solely because of how lovely they are.
I always like to start the new year with a bang, and this is one I’ve been holding on to for just this moment for a couple of months. Back in April I made the pilgrimage to the Mecca of record stores, Groove Merchant, with the mindset that I was only going to trade records, of which I had quite a few. Cool Chris wasn’t there, but B-Cause (who released the essential Soul Boulders series with the one and only, Matthew Africa) was and he was able to get a hold of Chris on the other side of the country at the WFMU Record Swap. While there were maybe 7 or 8 records that I’d had my mind on, this album, one I’d never seen before, was by far the one that I simply had to have. The trade knocked off $100 from the price, but it still cost me a pretty penny, though as you can tell from the sounds, it’s absolutely worth it.
The Ensemble Al-Salaam was a spiritual jazz septet from the New York area. From the pictures on the back of the album, they all look to be very young, likely no one above 21. The music on this album is so exceptional, so singular, that even though it very easily fits into the “spiritual jazz” genre, it still defies a bit of explanation. Records like this are what I like to call, “Just Listen Records.” You tell someone that you’ve heard something amazing, and they ask, “what does it sound like?” or “what makes it so special?” and the only answer of consequence is “just listen.” This is not a record you play for just anybody, but one that you protect. Not in a snobbish way, but in the way that you protect a friend that is so sensitive and sincere that you know everybody won’t appreciate them or “get them” the way you do. Interestingly, the band themselves seem to be aware of the special vibe created by their sounds, as they discuss on the back cover:
Someone may ask you, or you may ask yourself, “What type of music is this?” Well, it is music played by the Ensemble Al-Salaam. Therefore it is salaam (peace) music. Peaceful, but not weak, firey and yet non-violent. The music is greater than the sum of our collective beings. But then there are the Kafir (non-believers) who will hate this music, those who will lie about it, try to steal it or even deny it’s existence, those who will try to define and label it, thereby limiting its ability to soar, to fly above the minds clouded by pseudo intellectual reference marks. The music will survive all of this because it is truthful. It is dynamic. In fact, our music is God’s purest breath of life – expressed each time we touch the wood and metal of our musical instruments.
As someone who spends an awful lot of time talking about music, describing, categorizing it, I really can’t improve on what the band has to say about their own music. It is a powerful experience hearing these songs, whether you have before, or this is your first listen. Records like this are why I started this blog, why I continue to share music through it and why I continue to keep searching for connections between newer and older sounds. The beauty of “Peace,” “Optimystical,” “Circles” and “Music Is Nothin But A Prayer” is hard to describe fully…just listen.
Forces conspired against me throughout the year to keep me from putting things together quite the way I promised in year five, but nothing these days can stop me from sharing great music. Here’s the “Top 20″ of the past year, curated lovingly and mixed meekly by yours truly. Now, I promise, and this time I REALLY mean it, that for Year #7, we’ll have some truly special things to share. So, until next July, enjoy these tunes and all the rest to come…Dig On It!
1. Jun Mayuzumi – Miracle – Angel Love
2. Nina Simone – Do I Move You? – Nina Sings The Blues
3. Jon Kasandra – Good Whiskey, Bad Women – The True Genius
4. Carl Sherlock Holmes – Black Bag – Investigation No. 1
5. Jon Lucien – Would You Believe In Me – Rashida
6. Luiz Gonzaga Jr. – Galope – Luiz Gonzaga Jr.
7. Los Tainos – Amor Mio – Los Tainos
8. Tami Lynn – Mojo Hanna – Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone
9. DJ Rogers – Celebration – DJ Rogers
10. Sod – Pushie – Face The Music
11. Yao Su Yong – Extremely – Gold Record Album
12. The Main Attraction – Everyday – And Now…
13. Leon Thomas – The Creator Has A Master Plan – Spirits Known and Unknown
14. Light Rain – Beautiful Friend – Dream Dancer
15. Bobby Callendar – Rainbow / Nature – Rainbow
16. Muddy Waters – Bottom Of The Sea – After The Rain
17. Brother Jack McDuff – Come and Carry Me Home – To Seek A New Home
18. The Albert – Pity The Child – The Albert
19. Bo Rhambo – Dream Awhile – Enchanted Evening
20. Little Jimmy Scott – Our Day Will Come – The Source
Not sure why I haven’t posted this, I’ve had this record for three or four years and thought I would have by now. The Main Attraction might not have even drawn my attention if not for the all-world sample of their song “Everyday” by the Avalanches on their track “Since I Left You” (which as you can tell, reimagines a love song as a kiss off song). Their sound is very much the norm for this bubblegum pop period of time and aside from the three songs above, there’s nothing much to write home about. But there are moments, in “If I’m Wrong” and “Jonathan” that seem to show that there might have been something special here if the band had been able to branch out a bit more. Hell, I might have liked even a regular cliched kind of 60s “Baby Don’t Leave” kind of lyric instead of “Jonathan” since the arrangement is one that would have made all three Walker Brothers smile. But “Everyday” is brilliant and beautiful and since you probably can find this record for $2 or less, well worth the price of admission on it’s own.
Though I’ve had a hiatus here and there, this is the first Sunday since 2010, that I don’t have my show on Sunday. Melting Pot has moved to Fridays from 8-10pm and it definitely feels a bit weird, somewhat like the discombobulation that occurs at the beginning of daylight savings time for us in the US. I’ll work it out, and probably end up posting Friday’s shows on Sundays, so it’s almost like it’s still on Sundays. Today thought, during the time I used to be doing my show, I’ll be watching the new documentary on Nina Simone, Liz Garbus’ “What Happened, Miss Simone?” 2015 has been a pretty great year for documentaries, but this one in particular I’ve been waiting for. I’ve been a fan most of my adult life of Miss Simone. When Simone passed away, I was lucky enough to host a tribute show with Oliver Wang on KALX to celebrate her music and life. Hell, even my dog is named Nina, after Simone. Strangely though, until fairly recently, I had a lot of music from Nina Simone, but not actually a lot of records from her.
That all changed when I saw a beautifully rendered dance routine to “Do I Move You?” My admiration for the dancer and her dance was one thing, but part of the effect it all had on me is that it was like I was hearing this song for the first time. The album that “Do I Move You?” is from is one of her biggest. Released in 1967, it was her first album for RCA, and contains several of her signature songs, including House Of The Rising Son, Put A Little Sugar In My Bowl and Backlash Blues. All of those songs I knew well and had digital copies, but for whatever reason, I’d just never bothered to get this record. When I was blown away by that dancer and that song, I knew I had to rectify that situation immediately. The experience caused me to redefine a number of things and led to a couple of months of tracking down classic albums that should be in my collection because of how much I treasure the music, but like this album were not in my possession.
Over the past year, as we’ve seen greater civil unrest, related to police brutality and racism, the music of Simone has remained as relevant as when it was originally recorded in the 1960s. With the week we just had here in the US, I feel it’s a particularly apt time to reflect not just on Simone, but especially her song, “Backlash Blues.” Written by the legendary poet Langston Hughes, “Backlash” takes a very different tact as a protest song. There’s a defiance here, that’s not always present in songs like this, and something that of course really comes through in the performance of Simone:
Mr. Backlash, Mr. Backlash
Just who do think I am
You raise my taxes, freeze my wages
And send my son to Vietnam
You give me second class houses
And second class schools
Do you think that all colored folks
Are just second class fools
I’m gonna leave you with the backlash blues
When I try to find a job
To earn a little cash
All you got to offer
Is your mean old white backlash
But the world is big
Big and bright and round
And it’s full of folks like me
Who are black, yellow, beige and brown
I’m gonna leave you with the backlash blues
Mr. Backlash, Mr. Backlash
Just what do you think I got to lose
I’m gonna leave you
With the backlash blues
You’re the one will have the blues, not me
Just wait and see
When you look at the amazing changes that have happened in the last week, the stunning quickness with which Southern states have begun the process of removing the Confederate battle flag from public grounds after the Charleston Church Murders and the Supreme Court’s decision that legalizes gay marriage throughout the country, it can feel like Nina & Hughes song has prophetically come true. But it should also be a reminder, that in moments of change, which was very true of the turbulent 1960s as it is for this moment, what is positive for one group is often viewed negatively by another, and the backlash can sometimes be severe. It’s worth noting that this week we’ve seen at least 5 churches set on fire throughout the South, and this summer has only just now begun. But when you’re on the right side of history, you keep fighting, because you know eventually, we’ll leave the inequality, oppression, discrimination and the backlash in the past. And when we do, we’ll still be marveling at the music and majestic of Nina Simone.
P.S. If you haven’t seen it or heard about it, here is the trailer for “What Happened, Miss Simone?” the new documentary on the life and times of Nina Simone:
On Sunday, I’ll be doing my 200th show on the KPFK airwaves, and my last on Sundays before moving to Fridays from 8-10pm on June 26th and will spend those two hours highlighting some of the music associated with Dale Ossman Warren. Warren spend a number of years producing, writing and arranging songs for Motown, Shrine, Sidra, Drew and others before finding a home on Stax. At Stax he worked on a number of classic albums, particularly with Isaac Hayes, David Porter, and his own project, The 24-Carat Black.
As I’ve been prepping this tribute (which will feature, from start to finish, the “Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth” album in the second hour Sunday at 5pm), I’ve been digging into a number of projects that Warren was associated with, but that I hadn’t heard before. This album from John Kasandra is an especially interesting one, as it comes a year before the concept album “Ghetto.” It’s clear, since Warren produced, engineered, arranged & conducted the music for the album, that this album carries much of his vision.
What’s interesting to me is how this album fits in his discography, coming just before the 1973 masterpiece. The album doesn’t necessarily sound like the 24-Carat Black project, but there are elements that show that Warren was working through some things that would later on show up on that album. This is clearest on the intro to the monologue “The Other Brother.” As the female singers sing, “We Gotta To Go On, We Gotta Keep On Moving Along” you hear an electric piano playing the same theme that would later show up as a recurrent theme on the “Ghetto” album. The sparse and stark style of the horns and drums also share similarities with the sound of that underground classic.
It is a shame that Warren wasn’t able to keep moving along with his vision and continue to record more during this very furtive period of time, with Stax records folding in just a few years after these records were recorded. But we should be glad that we have all of these examples of quality (and especially glad that Numero was able to save some tracks from the “lost” album from the 24-Carat Black a few years ago). I’m thankful to have found this music and to be able to share it with you here and on the radio.
When you spend a lot of time (and money) on tracking down rare records, you sometimes will skip right over more well-known and easier to find things, precisely because they are well-known and easier to find. That was the case with me and this record for years. At some point in passing I’m sure I had heard “Rashida,” but because I always seemed to see this record around, and rarely for more than $5, I didn’t feel any burning need to add it to my collection. Earlier in the Spring I had a bout of record therapy that largely entailed me tracking down more classic, well known records (mostly Jazz from Mingus, Coltrane and the like) that everyone should have and that are great listening experiences. It was around that time that I picked this record up finally and I’m truly glad that I did.
Lucien’s sound strikes me as a kind of cross between Leon Thomas, Eugene McDaniels and Jorge Ben, with an emphasis on rhythmic wordless singing anchored often by acoustic guitar around soulful backing. “Rashida” is a classic, beautifully constructed and worthy of it’s reputation. It was the other songs that really surprised me, especially “Luella” and “Would You Believe Me,” that have a funkier approach that is right in my wheelhouse. Though this section, especially after 5+ years, is generally reserved for out-of-print and hard-to-find records, I think you’ll see me “Dig Deep” on other perhaps under-appreciated classics like this, just to keep reminding us just how good REALLY good music is.
Picked this up at a (fairly) recent trip to Atomic in Burbank. SOD were a horn-rock band originally out of the Vegas area. Their debut album, simply titled SOD, begins with a massive drum break that makes it a prized possession for those who collect such things. Breakdowns aside, I think both of the records are pretty comparable, solidly played…a lot of rock dudes don’t mess with “Horn-rock” but for me, this is a horn-rock album for the whole family.
“Pushie” takes a little while to get started, but once it does it rocks along just fine. As an added bonus there’s a nice “Funk #49″ inspired drum break down. “House Rules” has a really slinky funky groove from the guitar that will have your head nodding. David Axelrod is credited with producing this album, though it doesn’t necessarily have any of his trademark style, he does (in comparison with the first record, that I’m still trying to track down) give the band a warmer feel.
On a side note, that cover art, which looks like something pulled from a Twilight Zone or X-files episode, has got to be one of the most disturbing and unsettling ones I’ve ever seen.
Was taking a look at my shelves, wondering what I was going to put up here as I caught up with posts, and realized to my shock and horror that I hadn’t put this record up here. I’m not sure, but this might be the rarest record I own, or at least one of the ones that cost me the most to track down. For years I’ve sung the praises of “Black Bag,” ever since it ended up on a Luv’n’Haight collection it’s been a favorite of mine for it’s raw and heavy funk. I’d known about this record since then, but never saw it, never expected to see it. With all the turmoil in my life over the last couple of years I’ve done a lot of record therapy and this was a record that when I saw a copy available online, I just said “fuck it” and got it.
“Black Bag,” “Investigation,” and “Modesa” were already well known to me, though when I heard them separately I thought they were from different records. Though unfortunately a bit short with only 8 songs, “Investigation No. 1″ covers a lot of territory. The thing that I was most pleasantly surprised by were the slower and sweeter soul songs, including a version “Close To You” and “Better Think It Over,” shared above. Occasionally super rare records don’t live up to their hype, many of them really are just “one-trackers,” and you immediately feel buyer’s remorse after that initial euphoria. This one has staying power and ain’t moving out of my collection until I’m done with this world.
While I might still hold on to that Spontaneous Combustion record, I’ve already said goodbye to this one from Bobby Callender. It’s no comment on the quality of the album, more connected to knowing that I’d be able to get something else that I’d truly cherish through a trade with Cool Chris at Groove Merchant. Rainbow is a true-blue Hippie psychedelic album of the times, with Callender reciting poetry to sitar laden, fuzz inflected psych sounds. “Rainbow” and “Nature” lead off the album and although they’re separate trakcs they just seem like they should go together and so, here they do. “Purple” is the magnum opus of the album clocking in a over 11 minutes, but it’s “Symphonic Pictures” that has the most staying power. Partially because of the recent events all over the country as communities seek redress for abuses from police, the words of Callender still ring depressingly true here in 2015. Apparently Callender released a couple of other records, both in a similar vein as Rainbow, though even more difficult to come by. I’ll be on the hunt for them, though chances are, I’ll likely run into them on a future pilgrammage to Groove Merchant.
Picked this up at a PCC record swap a couple months back. As I’m doing some spring cleaning of my collection (mostly connected to a quick trip up the Bay Area and to the Mecca of West Coast record stores Groove Merchant) I’ve been on the fence about this one. Spontaneous Combustion appears to be a studio concoction of Bob Thiele, legendary for his work with Impulse and Flying Dutchman, featuring nine dudes (all pictured and listed on the front cover) who played on a fair amount of jazz-rock-funk albums around this period of time. As far as I can tell, this is the only release from the band, and while most of the songs are nothing to write home about, when they get into some good business, it’s mighty good. In addition to getting right funky, there’s all kinds of little weird avant-funk flourishes throughout the songs presented here. Solid work if you can find it.
As I’m pretty sure I mentioned previously, I’ve been buying and listening to a lot of jazz over the past year. This record came my way via KPFK’s Jazz guru Mark Maxwell, host of Rise on Sunday/Monday Midnights to 2am on the station. Last year Mark was selling records at the Beat Swap Meet and mentioned that he also had some rarer things up on Ebay at that time. He asked me if I had heard this record from Buddy Collette, who did some really solid work with Chico Hamilton and on his own in the 1950s and 1960s…I had not. Lucky for me (though not I supposed for Mark), no one else seemed to be interested in this record and I got it for a shockingly low price (so low that I think I actually gave Mark some additional money, because it just didn’t seem right getting a record this good for that cheap).
Collette was a really central figure in the jazz scene here in Los Angeles, both as a musician and as a teacher (Eric Dolphy was a student of his and I think we can all be thankful for that), well respected though not as well-known as others associated with West Coast Jazz. Just over the past year I’ve added more than a few records featuring Collette, particularly his gorgeous work with Chico Hamilton in the 1950s. This album was a bit of a surprise, mostly because I hadn’t heard much from Collette out of the 50s/60s sweet spot. Though most of the album is fairly straight ahead and what you might expect (“Shatara” in particular reminds me of those Chico Hamilton years), “Fun City” and “Safari West” have a fantastic, almost Spiritual jazz quality to them. Like so many of the records Collette was associated with in his many many years as a player, this music seems designed to be played on calm and serene Spring days, just like the one we enjoyed today here in Los Angeles.
Apparently this was the first “belly-dance” album recorded by American artists, for trivia buffs. I’m not sure if I’m really “supposed” to like this music. It’s unabashedly on the “new-agey hippie” tip, but I can’t help but find the music beautiful and something that hits all the right notes in a sort of Game of Thrones background music kind of way. The slow burn of “Beautiful Friend” is just gorgeous, and as I mentioned previously, this album was probably one of the ones I listened to the most last year, just a great listen from start to finish.
Since 95% of the music on this blog tends to be funky, soulful or soulfully psychedelic, this might seem like an odd choice. But longtime readers (and anyone who just happened to pay attention last year’s tribute to Double Nickels On The Dime) know that I have a deep love and appreciation for the punk rock. The Universal Order Of Armageddon, along with the Nation of Ulysses, is a band that I might have had a chance to see during my youth in Atlanta, but regrettably, I never saw live. Like Ulysses, the band was an elemental force in the studio and on stage. Switch Is Down is perhaps their finest moment, and for my money is the best example of post-hardcore music. Every single element of this band just killed. Tonie Joy’s massive walls of feedback on guitar, the booming thunder of Scott Malat’s bass, the esoteric ramblings and screams of Colin Seven and more than anything else, the hard as hell drums of Brooks Headley. “Stepping Softly Into” is one of my all-time favorite songs from this period of time and something that I’ve frankly surprised has never ended up in a film. Perhaps an even bigger surprise is that Brooks Headley eventually left the music scene all-together and became a pastry chef in NYC. Hearing this music, I’m not sure anyone would have seen that coming. The band got back together for some shows a couple of years ago with hopes that they might record, since it was clear they’d lost none of their power. For now that remains a dream, but no matter the future, the past was searingly bright and will never be forgotten.