Melting Pot

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Natasha Diggs was our guest this weekend on Melting Pot. Though she’s been a DJ and collector for over a decade, I only recently find out about her. In the last several months, it seemed like I kept hearing about this incredible DJ based in New York, first from Seano of KPFK’s Soundwaves, where she did a Guest DJ set in May of this year (and also in June 2013) and especially in the run-up to the latest edition of Danny Holloway’s Blazing 45s series, which occurred this past Friday with Natasha featured as one of the many fantastic DJs on the bill. On the regular you can find her in NY as one of the residents for Mobile Mondays at Bowery Electric, 327 Bowery @ 2nd St, along with Just Blaze, Joey Carvello, Misbehavior, Operator EMZ and others. NDiggs2 It took me all of 5 minutes of watching her skills in the mix in some videos online for me to feel deeply sorry for missing out all these years, and also to immediately contact her to try to bring her into the studio for a chat and guest DJ session. Thankfully she was able to come in and spend sometime with us, despite a weekend where she was busy spinning at Amoeba Hollywood, The Echoplex and The Ace Hotel.

In our short interview (Natasha was a bit under the weather and losing her voice, next time she’s in town we’ll dig deeper into things) we discuss a little bit about her background and how she came to collect and mix primarily 45s. We also talk about her approach to spinning at a variety of venues. One of the many things I appreciate about Natasha is that when you watch her DJ, aside from the top-notch skills and selection, it’s really clear that she absolutely loves this music and loves playing it for people who also love to dance. Her mix is almost a full hour long, featuring all vinyl and all 45s, and moving through a variety of genres and styles in that space of time. Throughout the guest set she showcases her great ears for tunes and also battle ready skills to match, especially on some classic breaks like “Hot Pants,” “Impeach the President,” “The Handclappin’ Song” and “Cold Feet.” She didn’t let on too much about upcoming plans, but I have a feeling there are big things in store for Natasha Diggs in the next year, including hopefully a return trip to LA. Don’t make my mistake…do not sleep on this one…she is a mighty mighty force with those tiny records.

Natasha Diggs Interview on KPFK’s Melting Pot: 07-12-2014
Guest DJ Set from Natasha Diggs on KPFK’s Melting Pot: 07-12-2014

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Charlie Haden & the Liberation Music Orchestra – Song For Che
Charlie Haden & the Liberation Music Orchestra – The Introduction/Song Of The United Front/El Quinto Regimento/Los Cuatro Generales/Viva La Quince Brigada/The Ending To The First Side

A great and glorious light in this world has gone out…on Friday, July 11th, we learned of the passing of Charlie Haden. I’m not sure it’s possible to fully understand the impact Haden’s music and style have had on musicians the world over. I’ll leave that for others. Instead here I’ll just tell of the effect his music has had on me, a subject I’ll return to next week when I host an hour long tribute to Haden on my radio show. I have no memory of the first time I heard Haden on bass. I’m sure it must have been at some point in high school, when I was starting to take baby steps into jazz, but I don’t remember it. I’m sure I had heard his music, particularly from the years he spent with Ornette Coleman, by the time I arrive at college. Surely by the time we (myself, James Diggs and Daryl “G-Wiz” Felker) brought jazz back to Album 88 I must have been familiar with his name and his work. By the time James and Daryl had left the show and it was all my own I’m certain I must have owned several records with Haden playing on them. At that time, shortly after my mother’s death, I engaged in quite a lot of record therapy and with the jazz show, much of what I dug up was out of print jazz on vinyl. At the time I had pretty extreme tastes, either funky soul-jazz that often got sampled by Hip-Hop producers or the fiery free and spiritual jazz that was rarely ever heard on the radio.

At some point in that period of time I bought a copy of this album, the first by Charlie Haden’s collective of musicians known as the Liberation Music Orchestra, originally released on Impulse records in 1970. In those days my ears were not as patient as they are now, I’d buy 10-15 records in a week and generally listen to the ones with breaks (or that I thought had breaks) and leave the others for some later day, often Sunday when the “Blue Note” aired. I may have listened to this album once or twice, I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but I do remember vividly when I finally HEARD the music on this album. I was going about my business with the album on the turntable, probably alphabetizing other records, and the moment on the first side where everything falls away and you hear, a chorus of voices rise up, almost like voices from beyond the grave, to sing a few lines of Spanish Civil War Song “El QUinto Regimento” before a blistering flamenco style solo arrives from Sam Brown that closes with a solo from Haden himself with these lightly cascading cymbals in the background. When I heard those voices and then the music that followed I stared at my turntable from across the room for a good long while. In all honesty I wasn’t sure if the voices actually came from the record, which didn’t make sense, why would these Spanish voices be coming out of this avant-grade jazz record, or there was some kind of ghostly happenings afoot.

The album finally reached another passage where the old Spanish Republican songs were super-imposed again (which, incidentally, last for longer periods of time on this version only, the 1973 repress of this album, in some cases a full second or two longer than the original from 1970 and all of the post-1990s reissues) and I finally was able to move and went over to the turntable to begin the side over again, now with my full attention on the piece. I spent the next 26 minutes listening to this extraordinary piece of music, brought together by Carla Bley and inspired by the music of Spanish Civil War. Haden2From the opening notes of “The Introduction” through all that followed after I was completely mesmerized. I just sat there in front my stereo with my hand on my chin trying to process all of that beauty. When the piece arrived at “Viva La Quince Brigada” with it’s deep swells of emotion from the entire ensemble and especially the screaming saxophone of Leandro Barbieri and the chorus now singing “Ay Carmela” I was completely overwhelmed by this music and began to openly and uncontrollably weep. I’ve shed tears over music before and since, but I’ve never had that experience again. The experience fundamentally changed aspects of my character, beginning with an obsessive look into the Spanish Civil War, deeper investigations into political music and leftist political theory from outside the US and also forever shifted my listening habits so that whenever I buy music that is new to me, I always make sure to set aside time to hear it fully.

When I finally flipped the record over and played “Song For Che” I was just as deeply moved. After years of now listening intently to the music of Charlie Haden, in all his many groups and all the many styles he played in, there’s still not a more perfect song than this one that expresses everything that was so beautiful about him. About three minutes in there is a stretch where he plays the central melody in an almost flamenco style on his double bass as a short passage of Carlos Puebla’s “Hasta Siempre” makes a brief appearance before all manner of glorious sounds erupt with the parts of the orchestra coming in led by Dewey Redman’s plaintive tenor saxophone. Every time the full group returns to the central melody near the end of this song, with Dewey’s Saxophone on one side and Don Cherry’s trumpet on the other, my heart swells. To this day it remains one of the most beautiful and deeply affecting pieces of music I’ve ever heard.

Haden3A few years ago, at the 75th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War, I did a tribute to the music of that conflict, including tracks from this album and other Liberation Music Orchestra releases (as well as the original tracks they interspersed in this album, which were released in 1963 on a 78 and reissued on CD in 1996 with notes in English, Spanish and French). At one point during the broadcast a caller called in saying that he was Charlie Haden and thanking me for doing the show and for playing his music. I honestly didn’t believe it was him until he called up again at the end of the show to give me his post office box address to send a copy of the show to, which I promptly and inexcusably lost. I thought I might have dreamed the whole thing until Maggie Lepique, the Music Director at KPFK, told me that Charlie had called her and wanted a copy of the show. In the last several years I’ve had an opportunity to interview Charlie’s son, Josh Haden and his group Spain, and have had short conversations with one of his daughters Rachel Haden who sometimes works in a local record store (in fact I bought this particular copy of this album, replacing an older one, at that store and she was at the counter when I brought my records and she beamed and proudly showed it to her co-worker). Though they play different styles of music than their father, his light shines in them and thankfully will be carried on in their music and their lives.

I feel incredibly lucky to share music like this, here online and on the various radio stations I’ve been at. Even people who don’t like Avant-Garde music recognize the incredible majesty of these songs. I’m also thankful that I got to see Charlie Haden perform late last year, perhaps one of his last public performances, as he led a CalArts edition of the Liberation Music Orchestra, performing a variety of songs, including a tribute to the then recently departed Nelson Mandela. It was sadly clear just what ill health Haden was in at that time, so frail and especially at the beginning of the night seemingly unable to stand or talk for stretches of time. But as the music played and he got excited by what the young musicians were doing, he kept coming to the microphone and telling stories, most of them centered of love in one form or another. That night closed with one of my most cherished memories, as Haden took up his bass and played some of the sweetest and saddest notes I’ve ever heard in a blissfully long rendition of “Blue In Green.” As with the first moment I really heard his playing on this album, I’ll never forget hearing Haden play on that evening. We all should feel blessed to have spent time with and been able to hear such lovely music from a truly lovely human being.

Peace be with you Charlie Haden, thank you for all you shared with us…

MilesTackett

Miles Tackett – Everything

{Tomorrow Night (Thursday July 10th) Miles Tackett is having his record release party over at the Bootleg Bar, performing with his backing band “The Three Times” along with Mexico 68, Luther Russell and yours truly spinning some tunes throughout the night!!!}

“Music Man” Miles is perhaps best known as the driving force behind the mighty Breakestra. He’s also well known around these parts for two legendary nights, Root Down (currently on hiatus, though occasionally getting together as the Root Down Sound System) and Funky Sole (still growing strong every Saturday at the Echo). Recently he debuted a new project, Miles Tackett & the 3 Times, releasing music under his own name for the first time in a long long time via the just released album The Fool Who Wonders. For fans of his other projects, the tunes on this album may be a bit of a surprise. First off, while Miles handles a lot of the instruments on the recording, his work on guitar is featured most prominently. There are some definite nods to Hendrix, but Miles’ style is maybe a bit more akin to Stevie Ray Vaughan in his more Hendrix inspired moments, though it really doesn’t sound like either man explicitly (that makes more sense sonically than it might on paper, as you can hear on “Everything” above, or “One More Time” on the album). It’s not a straight funk sound as some might expect given Breakestra’s history, instead it’s more of a soulful rockin’ style that also has roots in his Laurel Canyon upbringing. The other surprise is Miles’ singing voice, something that I don’t think I’d heard until he started performing this solo material. There’s a real tenderness that comes out of his singing, particularly because of the phrasing where many of the ends of his words hang around, that reminds me a bit of Buddy Miles’ early work, while again retaining a sound all its own. It’s something that you hear on the mellower tracks like “Come Away,” “Paradise” or the cover of “Everybody’s Been Burned,” but you still hear it even when the band kicks it up a notch, as they do on “Everything.” That ability to seamlessly mix together a variety of different elements is one of the strengths of his previous work as a DJ and with Breakestra, and it’s something that is just as welcome here as Miles emerges with his a sound all his own.

As a bonus, here’s the video for the first single from the album, “Just What I Need”:

Charnett

Bass virtuoso Charnett Moffett is coming into LA for two shows at the Catalina Jazz Club this Friday and Saturday, July 11th and 12th! I’ve never seen a more dynamic and awe-inspiring bass player as Charnett Moffett, he may very well be the best bassist to emerge post-Mingus and post-Haden. Raised up in the musical Moffett household and named “Charnett” by his father, drummer Charles Moffett, as a tribute to Ornette Coleman, the man has been thrilling audiences since his emergence as a teenager in the Moffett family band. Since then he’s played with all of the big names of the past 30 years, Branford and Wynton Marsalis, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock just to name a few. Last year he released two albums on Motema Music and these shows will showcase his “Spirit Of Sound” trio. If you’d like to see Charnett Moffett perform live (and believe me YOU DO) at Catalina’s Jazz Club on Saturday July 12th, make sure to e-mail me at michael[at]meltingpotblog.com by 12noon on Friday!!!

Here’s Charnett performing a song from one of the two albums he released in 2013, “The Bridge,” on solo bass:

This one is from a few years ago, but showcases the dynamic style of Moffett, on both upright and electric bass, watching him perform it just doesn’t seem possible for one human’s hands to move that fast:

5year

Oh boy, this past year was motherf**ker…no other way of saying it. This year was the first I actually contemplated ending this blog. There were so many issues going down on the home front that I didn’t have nearly the time, energy or effort to work on this blog. But as I’m sure is the case for many of you, musical therapy is one of the best ways to feel better and as things have gradually settled, I’m able to more consistently post things here and also spend more energy on producing the best radio show that I can. Year 5 was a tough one, but I’m still here and it seems there are more than a few of you out there who are still here too. I really appreciate the time you spend on this blog and hope the music finds you in your time of need, the way it has in mine. I’m very excited about this next year on both this blog and the radio show. I’m hoping to have a special mix in honor of this 5th anniversary from one of the most talented DJs here in LA, stay posted for that, as well as the usual “Deepest Digs” from yours truly…onwards and upwards folks, this time with feeling!

Peace be with you all,

Michael

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2014 has been another really solid year for music, especially new jazz artists expanding the boundaries of the genre. Quite a few records from 2013 that slipped under my radar find their way into the show as well…we’ll see what the second half of the year has in store for us, but for now enjoy the “Best So Far”!

Melting Pot on KPFK #170: First Hour
Melting Pot on KPFK #170: Second Hour

Playlist: 07-06-2014
{opening theme} Booker T & the MGs – Melting Pot – 7” (Stax)

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Karol Conka – Caxambu – Batuk Freak (Mr. Bongo)
BadBadNotGood – Can’t Leave The Night – III (Innovative Leisure)
Spain – Love At First Sight – Sargent Place (Glitterhouse)
Perfect Pussy – Interference Fits – Say Yes To Love (Captured Tracks)
William Onyeabor – Body and Soul – World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who is William Onyeabor (Luaka Bop)
Stanton Davis – Delta 6/Brighter Days – Isis Voyage (Culters Of Soul)

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The Internet feat. Tay Walker – You Don’t Even Know – Feel Good (Odd Future)
Ned Doheny – A Love Of Your Own – Separate Oceans (Numero)
Chicano Batman – Magma – Cycles Of Existential Rhyme (El Relleno)
Asha Bhosle & Chorus – Koi Lutera – Bombay Disco (Cultures Of Soul)
Los Macuanos – Iglesia De San Miguel Canoa – El Origen (Nacional)

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Grace Jakcson – Gonna Get U – 7” (Ximeno)
Anthony Valadez feat. Bird – Good Looking – In Search Of… (Plug Research)
Bart Davenport – Every Little Step – Recorded Live At KPFK (KPFK Archives)
Michael Bloomfield – Hymn Time – From His Head To His Heart To His Hands (Legacy)
Sun Kil Moon – I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love – Benji (Caldo Verde)
Ikebe Shakedown – Rio Grande – Stone By Stone (Ubiquity)

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Joanna Gruesome – Secret Surprise – Weird Sister (Slumberland)
Nick Waterhouse – It #3 – Holly (Innovative Leisure)
Ana Tijoux – Rio Abajo – Vengo (Nacional)
Soul Jazz Orchestra – East Flows The River – Inner Fire (Strut)
Zara McFarlane – Her Eyes – Recorded Live At KPFK (KPFK Archives)
Kris Bowers – Vices & Virtues – Heroes + Misfits (Concord)

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Charnett Moffett – Bassland – Spirit Of Sound (Motema)
Unwound – Plight – Rat Conspiracy (Numero)
The Beta Club – Freak Beat (Cinematic Mix) – 7” (Cartel)
Warpaint – Go In – Warpaint (Rough Trade)
Madlib & Freddie Gibbs – Shame – Pinata (Madlib Invazion)
107th Street Stickball Team – Barbara With The Kooky Eyes – Let’s Boogaloo Vol. 6 (Record Kicks)

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Miles Tackett & the 3 Times – Just What I Need – The Fool Who Wonders (Root Down Records)
Hokis Pokis – Nowhere – The Magic Of Hokis Pokis (Luv n’ Haight)
Rodrigo Amarante – Mana – Cavalo (Easy Sound)
Debruit & Alsarah – Alhalim – Aljawal (Soundway)
Nedelle Torrisi – Can’t Wait – Nedelle Torrisi (Self-Released)

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{closing theme} Takuya Kuroda – Green & Gold – Rising Son (Blue Note)

AmeSon

Ame Son – Eclosion
Ame Son – Reborn This Morning On The Way Of…
Ame Son – Hein Quant A Toi

This post marks the last post of our fifth year, with our anniversary being July 7th. I first heard of Ame Son from a collection Finders Keepers put out a few years ago called the BYG Deal, covering some of the more proggy & psychedelic recordings from BYG/Actuel Record label in France. On that compilation was a edited version of “Eclosion” that blew my mind. It remains one of my all time favorite psychedelic songs because of the way the drums tumble out of the speakers and for the searing electric guitar work. Needless to say, that wee taste was all I need to put the album from the group on my radar.

A couple of years ago I finally tracked down a decent copy of the album Catalyse from Ame Son. I really dug all the tracks and must have listened to the album if not daily, certainly weekly for several months. Something bugged me about the album though, it seemed like there was either a problem with the track listing or I had the feeling like one of the songs on the second side was edited. Eventually that nagging feeling sent me to the Internets and specifically to Discogs, where I discovered that my feelings were true. I learned that for whatever insane reason, the folks at BYG had significantly truncated “Reborn This Morning On The Way Of…” essentially cropping off 90% of the song and attempting to seamlessly blend it into the next track.

I then learned that on the German pressing the song was presented in it’s full version. So, then I had to find the German version, released on the Metronome record label. When I finally did, I was able to appreciate “Reborn” in all it’s glory, but I ended up with another problem. I liked the packaging and the sequencing of the French version better! Even the lyrics to the songs, sung in English and French, were written in German on the Metronome release. I thought about keeping them both, but since I’m not a club DJ or producer with great turntable skills, having doubles has always seemed a bit greedy. So ultimately I ended up trading the French version with Cool Chris of Groove Merchant for a few other records. I suppose that’s the definition of a win-win situation…now, if only I could find a German version mispress that has the songs sequenced in the way they are on the French version. Not likely to happen, but a boy can dream can’t he?

One final thing about this record, when I first played “Hein Quant A Toi,” and it got to the part where the flute is amplified and distorted, my dog couldn’t figure out what was going on and why the speakers were making such a weird sound, she just kept turning her head, giving the speakers a sideways glance that I’ve only seen dogs give when they find something strange and peculiar…if you have a dog, you should play it for them and see how they respond.

Cheers,

Michael

UndergroundMelting

Underground Vegetables – Melting Pot

I was very very very happy to run into another version of “Melting Pot,” one that I’d never even heard of, recently courtesy of the legendary Danny Holloway. Of late, Holloway has been issuing/reissuing hard to find music via his label Ximeno Records. Just ahead of the recent Beat Swap Meet, he sent a message that he would be there with this 45, and I immediately put in a reservation for a copy. Since I had to run to do my show on KPFK, I missed him that day, but was able to track him down before a recent gig at Dub Lab. Underground Vegetables’ version of “Melting Pot” on this 45 is shortest of any of the other versions (also considerably shorter than the version that can be found on Studio One Funk put out by the good folks at Soul Jazz Records), but it’s just as tasty as Boris Gardiner’s verison, with some interesting subtle changes to the sound of the original. On the flipside of this 45 is another rare cut, “Gonna Get U,” from Grace Jackson. Though this has a pretty straight reggae vibe, the track was actually recorded in Nigeria! Both tracks are most welcome additions into my collection as the summer of 2014 gets off to a fantastic start.

NickWater

One of the best months we’ve ever had on KPFK ended with one of our best Guest DJ sets, courtesy of Mr. Nick Waterhouse. Nick spent a little time talking to us in the first hour of Sunday’s program about his early days as a DJ and Musician. We also talked a bit about his approach to creating his signature sound. Freedom45Nick is known as a big time fan of raw, gritty rhythm & blues, and his guest DJ set certainly did not disappoint. For the most part he kept things mid-tempo and extra smokey, with some particularly choice cuts from Junior Wells, Ronnie Hawkins, Sonny Til, Lonnie Sattin and brand spankin’ new music from the Boogaloo Assassins, recorded by Nick himself. One 45 in particular I flipped out for was the Civil Rights inspired “Ride Freedom Riders from Harold Jackson & the Jackson Brothers. This might just be the best non-jazz Civil Rights song that I’ve ever heard, even though I’d never heard it until Nick played it on the show. Turns out this is a LA record, and Nick actually learned a bit more about it from Allen “Charmin’” Larman of Folkscene, who actually had met Harold Jackson. Deeply soulful set from Mr. Waterhouse, well worth many many listens for fans of this kind of music. Big thanks to Nick for coming on down with his big box of 45s and to Tenni Gharakhanian for setting everything up. Enjoy!

Nick Waterhouse Guest DJ Set on KPFK’s Melting Pot: 06-30-2014

Playlist:
Ronnie Hawkins – Southern Love – Roulette
Miles Grayson Trio – You Were Wrong – Hill
Ray Agee – Leave Me Alone – Kratton
Jackie Shane – My Tenament – Sue
Boogaloo Assassins – One and Only – Pres Records
Sonny Til – Hey Little Woman – C/P Parker Records
Dee Dee Sharp – Comin’ Home Baby – Cameo
Barbara Dane – I’m On My Way – Trey
B.B. King – Think It Over – Bluesway
The Clovers – One More Time – Porwin
Junior Wells – (I Got A) Stomach Ache – Vanguard
Jimmy McCracklin – What’s That Part 2 – Mercury
Harold Jackson & the Jackson Brothers – The Freedom Riders – Edsel
Jackie Ross – Hard Times – SAR
Young Jesse – Brown Eyes – Vanessa
Lonnie Sattin – Sweetheart – Sunbeam

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Closed out June in fine style with our usual all-vinyl affair, but with a not so usual guest DJ, Mr. Nick Waterhouse (separate post upcoming). In the first hour I got a chance to spin a little bit of vinyl, in tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and also short tributes to a couple of dearly departed soul men, Teenie Hodges & Bobby Womack. Also got a chance to play some newer vinyl, reissued sounds from Danny Holloway’s Ximeno Records from Underground Vegtables (another version of Melting Pot!) and Grace Jackson plus new sounds from the Beta Club. The rest of the time we spend with Nick Waterhouse, talking about his music and style in the first hour and then a 40+ minute Guest DJ set all on 45 vinyl in the second hour. The show ends with a very short song dedicated to WRAS Atlanta, Album 88 and the continued struggle to return the station, now that it has switched over to its new “format,” to being 100% student run and operated. “Come Sunday” is one of my favorite all-time songs, a song that focuses on the struggle of life and the optimism that things will be better as long as we keep holding on and keep pushing on. Next week it’s our “Best So Far” of 2014, and as good as June was, we’re hoping July will be even better! Thanks for tuning in!

Melting Pot on KPFK #169: First Hour
Melting Pot on KPFK #169: Second Hour

Playlist: 06-30-2014

{opening theme} Underground Vegetables – Melting Pot – 7″ (Ximeno)

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SNCC Freedom Singers – Woke up This Morning With My Mind On Freedom – Voices Of The Civil Rights Movement (Smithsonian)
Al Green feat. Teenie Hodges – Old Time Lovin’ – Let’s Stay Together (Hi)
Bobby Womack – Looking For A Love – 7″ (Collectables)
The Ronettes – Walking In The Rain – 7″ (Philles)
Booker Little – Victory & Sorrow – Victory & Sorrow (Bethlehem)

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Grace Jackson – Gonna Get U – 7″ (Ximeno)
Los Tainos – Amor Mio – Los Tainos (Arieto)
The Beta Club – Freak Beat – 7″ (Cartel)
Keno Duke – Too Late, Fall Back Baby – Sense OF Values (Strata East)

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Nick Waterhouse – Interview – Recorded Live At KPFK (KPFK Archives)

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Nick Waterhouse – Sleeping Pills – Holly (Innovative Leisure)

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Nick Waterhouse – Guest DJ Set – Recorded Live At KPFK (KPFK Archives)

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Duke Ellington feat. Ray Nance – Come Sunday – Black, Brown & Biege (CBS)

Death

Though they were obscured for over 20+ years, the proto-punk Death, thanks to reissues from Drag City and an ace documentary called “A Band Called Death” have rightly taken their place amongst the iconic bands of Detroit Rock City, including the Stooges and the MC5. The Hackney brothers have been performing together for the last several years and their sound has lost none of its potency from the 1970s, as you’ll find out when they perform here in LA at the Roxy on July 3rd. If you’d like to see Death, courtesy of Melting Pot, make sure to e-mail me at michael[at]meltingpotblog.com by Wednesday, July 2nd at 12noon!!!

If you haven’t seen the documentary yet…what are you waiting for!

Here’s one of my faves from the groups original EP from 1974:

And here’s a taste of what you’ll get when you see them live here in 2014, this one recorded at the 2013 Afropunk Festival:

Versus

Versus – Lose That Dress/Yeah You
Versus – Jealous
Versus – A Heart Is A Diamond

Baring any further postponements, sometime this week GPB will take over daytime programming at Album 88. Over the past month there have been many tributes, like mine and the one just recently orchestrated by college and community stations all over the country, pleas from indie artists and even a counter proposal that actually includes more tangible internships and media access to GSU students than GPB has promised. We’ll see how this ultimately plays out, but what is clear is how important Album 88 is to the thousands of people who have listened to it over the past 43 years and to the hundreds of us who had the privilege to work there.

My time at Album 88 was during the mid-1990s, a period of rapid change in the popular culture landscape. I arrived in 1993, at a period of time where “Alternative” was the new buzz word for the kind of music Album 88 had championed for 20 years, “college/indie rock.” At that time we had commercial stations essentially take our playlist, streamline it (the 88 playlist in those days had over 70+ different artists and 200+ songs, changed on a weekly basis, with additional input from the live DJs. Commercial stations, as they still do, chopped that down to 25-40 different songs, repeated again and again and again) and then sell it to the masses. This was the period of time when regulations changed and suddenly it seemed like Clear Channel owned every other station and you’d hear the same song, sometimes at the exact same time, on multiple stations in the same market. By the end of my time at Album 88, Hip-Hop had also branched out into commercial mainstream radio. Despite, or perhaps because of these changes, Album 88 emerged out of this period focused more than ever before on truly independent artists and local talent.

I worked as a music director from 1996-1997and the experience taught me more about music and the music industry, good and bad, than I’d probably bargained for. For me, it was really all about the music and that remains the case, which is the easiest explanation why I’ve spent 20 years in non-commercial college/community radio. When I look back at those years, there are many great records that remind me of my time there, some tied to specific memories or specific people. But if I have to be completely honest, there isn’t a record from that period of time that I love more than this one from Versus. I firmly believe that if Secret Swingers had come out at anytime over the last couple of decades it would have been hailed as the exceptional record that it was. Far too few took notice of the album in 1996, though the people of Atlanta got a healthy dose of it, we must have played virtually every song from this album at one point on Album 88, I certainly know that I did on my regular rotation shows during that time. Though I bought a copy at that time, it was one of the many casualities in 2004. This copy is one that I happily ran into several months back at Gimme Gimme records, which is really something else since only 2,000 of these were even pressed.

I’ve always thought that this record had the feel of a soundtrack, without ever being associated with a film or designed as such. It’s not because there’s a particular theme that runs through the record, it’s because the images the lyrics and music evoke are so vivid that when I listen to virtually every song on this record, it’s easy to visualize them as images and as if there’s a film going on. The album begins with “Lose That Dress,” a song that you’d think might have be a sexual reference, but it seems more like a plea from the singer to a friend that just simply needs to grow up, act her age, and stop dressing like she used to as a teenager so she can figure out who she really is for herself.

She’s that girl that doesn’t want to act her age,
We’ve been friends for years and that’s why it’s ok,
I don’t know who she thinks she needs to impress,
Girl I know you’re special but you gotta…
Lose that dress, Lose that dress

On the album “Lose That Dress” goes right into “Yeah You,” as Fontaine Toups attempts to hold out the final note as long as she can, fails mightily, but picks it back up as Richard Baluyut screams “Yes!” and claps his hands. “Yeah You” is even more direct in its critique of bad behavior by a friend, in this case someone who is addicted to Heroin, which has put a major strain on the relationship. From there we move to “Glitter Of Love” which has a reference to Jennifer Jason Leigh that should feel dated, but instead feels timeless just because of the kind of actress she has been throughout her career.

You look real to me,
You’re Jennifer Jason Leigh,
but you’re taller than me,
and you carry a gun,
you look like so much fun,
I’m really stuck on you,
and that’s more than the truth,
Give me the chance to prove my star-crossed love

That “I’m really stuck on you, and that’s more than the truth” kills me every single time…Now, I could go on and on and on about every single track on this record, they’re all written so vividly, but given how long this post already is (and what’s waiting below) I thought I spent the rest of my time talking about the two tracks that have most kept this record in my mind for almost the entire 18 years since I heard it first.

“Jealous” remains my favorite song, it’s a song that I played during my final show at WRAS in May 1998, at the literal half-way point of the show. The song seems to detail a tumultuous relationship, it seems like one party is likely cheating on the other, or at least is suspected of it and the song deals with the effect jealousy has on the relationship with lyrics that seem to play out through a confrontation, a split and an attempt at reconciliation. Like a number of the songs on this album, there’s this great point/counter-point between the two vocalists that perfectly illustrates the conflicting emotions and feelings that come with an intense love affair that simply can’t last, As Baluyut sings “I’m not really asking you to stay, in fact I’m really wishing you were far away,” Fontaine coolly follows with, “I didn’t mean any harm, Don’t want to let you get far away.”

“Jealous” is also such a quintessentially end of the 20th century kind of a song. I feel proud to have grown up in an era where we could disconnect the phone whenever we wanted no one to find us or bother us. “Jealous” marks that time in its chorus, which is just about the coolest thing that’s ever been written:

Jealous…again,
Jealous like a good American,
Yeah we know,
Better to deny and never know,
How scare you are,
Baby please come home,
Come on baby, disconnect the phone,
Don’t keep pushing me away,
Come on baby, promise that you’ll stay

Though “Jealous” is my favorite song, it’s not the best song on the record (I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I think you know what I mean), the best song is “A Heart Is A Diamond.” This is the closing credits song, the song that plays after everything has been put in its place, all the loose ends have been wrapped up and the whole story has been told. I think it’s the best thing that the band ever recorded and lyrically it’s sheer gold, so even though this post is already longer than almost everything else on this blog, I just had to print them all here, with one caveat, I’ve never been able to figure out what they say in that line in the chorus, “we can make it work, with a little ____.” So, I’ve included the two words that seem to fit best from all my years singing along to this song in the car:

Every time you try to run away,
Someone’s there convincing you to stay,
You’re just gonna bury your heart in the ground ike a diamond,

Everyone is looking for answers to,
Questions they forgot to ask you,
You’re your just gonna bury your heart in the ground like a diamond,

Dig it up and then come back to me
We can make it work, with a little amnesty,
don’t forget, don’t regret the secret you told me,
A heart is a diamond til you set it free

Everyone is looking at you for a sign,
It’s hard enough to walk in a straight line,
And you’re just gonna bury your heart in the ground like a diamond

Do you ever feel like you’re too old,
To replace the memories that you sold,
Tell me all the stories that you never told, told anyone

Dig it up and then come back to me,
We can make it work, with a little empathy,
Don’t forget, don’t regret the secret you told me,
A heart is a diamond til you set it free

This memory could last a lifetime,
You can just sit there by yourself, silently,
A heart is a diamond until you set it free.

Play that song over and over again,
Don’t pretend you didn’t like it back then,
You’re just gonna bury your heart in the ground like a diamond

When you know your heart is breaking up,
Will you just let it come to a stop,
Or are you gonna bury your heart in the ground,
until it’s found

There’s no way at 21 I could have appreciated that verse, “Do you ever feel like you’re too old, to replace the memories that you sold, tell me all the stories that you never told, told anyone.” I certainly felt old, less than a year removed from my mother’s unexpected passing, but there’s a difference between feeling old and feeling that you are too old to live the kind of life that you wanted for yourself when you were younger. I’m happy that at (almost) 39 those lyrics aren’t directed to me, but they still feel like they’re for me, that they’re the kind of thing I need to say, and often do, to the people I love when it’s clear that they’re lost there way.

After listening to this record off and on and on and off again over the past 18 years I still marvel at how clearly personal these songs feel, written for specific people, specific relationships and how they still fit into some of the movies of my own life. One day, maybe I’ll write a story, or a novel, or a screenplay about those Heroic years at Album 88. If I do, this will certainly be the soundtrack.

Cheers,

Michael

BetaClub

The Beat Club – Brassa Nova

Brand new music from a fairly new collective of musicians with roots in the UK, Paris and the USA. The Beta Club most notably features Shawn Lee, doing what he does, but also features at least 9 or 10 other musicians and DJs, including Steve Haney of LA’s Jungle Fire. Headed up by UK DJ Sten La’ Ren and repped by the Paris DJs crew, the Beta Club produces a sound that might be best described as “Sinister Library Afro-Latin Psych Funk.” That might seem like a mouthful, but as soon as you hear “Brassa Nova,” and especially the flipside “Freak Beat,” from their recently released debut 45, you’ll see how it perfectly encapsulates the group. Not sure if this group will ever perform live or tour or even record any more music, but this one’s a keeper and well worth tracking down.

Zara

Our 5th year at KPFK has gotten off to a rather stunning start and it continued this past week when we welcomed UK vocalist Zara McFarlane into our studios. Earlier in the year McFarlane released her second album, If You Knew Her, on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood record label, and she’s garnered just about every accolade you gain get since then. The album is a collection of songs inspired by the women in McFarlane’s life, as well as a call to dig deeper and move beyond the stereotypes for Black women in particular. At KPFK she performed three songs from this album, accompanied by pianist Lincoln Cleary, “Open Heart,” “Her Eyes” and “You’ll Get Me In Trouble.” With just the piano backing her, there’s a much stronger emphasis on McFarlane’s voice and her songwriting, both of which are simply fantastic. In the interview we talked about her background, how she found her way into Gilles Peterson’s ears and on his label, a bit about the differences between her debut and this follow-up as well as some discussion about several of the standouts from the record, “Open Heart” and two covers of Jamaican songs, “Angie La La” and “Police and Thieves.” Big thanks to Stan Misraje for his production work on the sound and to Jessica Weber and Yolanda Martinez for helping set things up. Most of all, thanks to Zara McFarlane for spending this time with us.

Zara McFarlane on KPFK’s Melting Pot: 06-16-2014

BSM1

On a absolutely perfect summer’s day in LA, the most recent edition of the Beat Swap Meet was held in Downtown LA’s Chinatown. As we talked about during our interview with DJ 671, one of the organizers of the event, Beat Swap Meet is unlike any other record show I’ve ever been to, it’s more like a community block party. Yes there are tons of dealers with tons of records, but there are also 6 or 7 different spots with DJs and producers sharing music, a space for B-boys and B-girls to get down and many other vendors of every kind of variety all around. BSM2Virtually every time I’ve been there I’ve run into great records. This time was no different, picking up several records that I used to own and haven’t seen since, including Andrew White’s Fonk Update, Larry Young’s Heaven On Earth and a Keno Duke record on Strata East. This time around I also got a chance to spin some records. With so many DJs on the bill, we all only had 30 minutes to work with, which is a really short amount of time for someone like me who doesn’t really have a lot of skill and enjoys playing long songs. All week long I was debating how I’d make good use of that time, should I have a theme, focus on a particular genre, the possibilities were endless. Ultimately I just decided to focus on some personal favorites, most of which I’ve featured here in one form or another, hope you enjoy it! Beat Swap Meet won’t be back in LA until the Fall, but be sure to check their website for dates in other cities throughout the Summer.

DJ Set at Beat Swap Meet: 06-22-2014

Beat Swap Meet: 06-22-2014
BSM3Rotary Connection – Life Could – Aladdin (Cadet Concept)
Leigh Stephens – Another Dose Of Life – Red Weather (Philips)
Toni Tornado – Me Libertei – BR3 (Odeon)
Harlem River Drive – If We Had Peace Today – Harlem River Drive (Roulette)
Lenny White – Sweet Dreamer – Bug City (Nemporer)
Rahsaan Roland Kirk – Ain’t No Sunshine – Blacknuss (Atlantic)
24-Carat Black – I’ll Never Let You Go – Gone: The Promises Of Yesterday (Numero)
The Emotions – Boss Love Maker – Untouched (Volt)
The Ohio Players – Ecstasy (Matthew Africa Edit) – 7″ (Dubplate)
Tim Maia – Hadock Lobo Esquina Com Matoso – Nuvens (Seroma)

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