27.5.15

Gorō Yamaguchi - A Bell Ringing in the Empty Sky (1969)


Goro Yamaguchi is most probably the greatest Japanese shakuhachi player of the second half of the 20th century. He was recognized by the Japanese government for his artistic contributions and was designated "National Living Treasure" in 1992. He passed away on January 3, 1999, at age 65. Yamaguchi was born in 1933 to a musical family. His father was a famous shakuhachi performer and his mother a shamisen and koto player. His father taught him the Kinko style, one of the two major shakuhachi styles of the 20th century. During the postwar period, Yamaguchi quickly became one of the most respected shakuhachi players in Japan. He received many awards and was often sent abroad by the Japanese government as cultural ambassador. He also produced numerous LPs, CDs, and video teaching tapes and appeared regularly on radio and television. Until his death, he taught shakuhachi at the Tokyo University for the Arts, the only national university in Japan with a traditional music department. Goro Yamaguchi was a gentle, private person with little desire for publicity, yet his influence was felt around the world. His music demonstrated a balance between the elements needed to play sankyoku ensemble and honkyoku solo music. In his teaching, he continually stressed that music cannot be divorced from everyday life -- otherwise the music becomes soulless. His philosophy of shakuhachi playing could be summed up in the following statement: One's life must become musical and one's music must become one's life...(Bruno Deschênes)

26.5.15

Elliott Randall - Randall's Island (1970)


Elliott Randall (born 1947) is an American guitarist, best known for being a session musician with popular artists. Randall played the well-known guitar solos from Steely Dan's song Reelin' in the Years and Fame. It was reported that Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page said Randall's solo on Reelin' in the Years is his favorite guitar solo of all-time. The solo was ranked as the 40th best guitar solo of all-time by the readers of Guitar World magazine and the eighth best guitar solo by Q4 Music.

Randall began taking piano lessons at age five. At nine, in 1956, he switched to guitar. He attended New York City's High School of Music & Art, where he was classmates with Laura Nyro and Michael Kamen. In 1963, at sixteen, Randall met Richie Havens in Greenwich Village and began gigging. Randall did some early work behind The Capris and The Ronnettes, and by 1964 was recording "small-time" demos.

Between 1966 and 1967, he taught music in Ohio. Returning to New York, he began working as a staff musician for the Musicor record company. He began recording with friends around 1968, including Tim Rose, and made demo recordings with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker—who at the time were with Jay and the Americans. In 1969, he joined the band Seatrain, opting for that band rather than joining Wilson Pickett in Muscle Shoals. In 1970, Randall signed with the Robert Stigwood Organization, which managed Cream, The Bee Gees, John Mayall, and The Staple Singers. He formed a band called Randall's Island, which recorded a few albums on Polydor.

In 1972, The Stigwood Organization bought the rights to Jesus Christ Superstar and produced the show on Broadway. They hired Randall's band to perform the music. There, Randall met guitarist Vinnie Bell, who was experimenting with various electronic effects. Randall began to dabble in electronics as well, and whenever Bell couldn't make a gig, he recommended Randall.


In 1972, Randall left New York for California. He reunited with Becker, Fagen, and childhood friend Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter, and recorded the first Steely Dan album, Can't Buy a Thrill. Randall's guitar work on Reelin' in the Years became popular as the song became a chart success, and soon, as the solo gained fame and respect, Randall began getting calls from other artists.

Randall has had a history of turning down permanent gigs, instead favoring session work. He did become a touring member of ShaNaNa in 1974, exiting amicably in 1975. Becker and Fagen asked Randall to become a permanent member of Steely Dan, but Randall politely declined, as he felt that the band's dynamics would make the band dissolve after the third album—which happened. Later, Randall played with Steely Dan on their fourth and fifth albums, Katy Lied and The Royal Scam. In 1980, John Belushi asked Randall to be musical director for The Blues Brothers, a position he also turned down. Jeff Porcaro and David Paich offered Randall the chance to be a founding member of Toto, and he rejected that too.

As a session player, Randall played with artists such as The Doobie Brothers, Tom Rush, Elkie Brooks, Carly Simon, Carl Wilson, Peter Wolf, Peter Frampton, James Galway, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and The American Symphony Orchestra, among many others. He was also a music consultant for Saturday Night Live and Oliver Stone and did projects with producers Gary Katz, David Kershenbaum, The Tokens, Steve Lillywhite, Eddie Kramer and Jerry Wexler. A full list of artists and producers with whom Randall has recorded can be found at elliott-randall.com.

In addition to artistic projects, Elliott has also played, produced, and composed myriad advertisements (jingles) for television, radio and cinema, for clients including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Miller Beer, Budweiser, Cadillac, Ford, McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, CitiBank, General Mills, Nabisco, Procter & Gamble, MTV, ESPN, CBS, ABC, BBC-TV and countless others. Since the advent of midi in the early 1980s, Randall has worked as independent consultant for a wide range of companies—including Akai, Roland, Korg, and Yamaha—in musical instrument and amplifier development, recording and sampling technology, software design, and education.

Randall's recent projects include recording, production, and consulting on streaming Internet content. He is currently recording a new CD in London, New York, and Ireland that blends Celtic, Afro-Cuban, and other global musical influences. He recorded and plays with his London-based band Posse and NYC-based Randall's Rangers.

Randall appeared as a guest at London's Hammersmith Apollo on July 1, 2009 with Steely Dan to play lead guitar on Reelin' in the Years. Many clips of this performance are on YouTube.

Randall plays a 1963 Fender Stratocaster. The neck pickup is a 1969 Gibson Humbucker. He often plays through a Fender Super Reverb. He was listed as an endorser for Dimarzio pickups in the company's product brochure circa 1981.

In an article in Guitar Player Magazine (July 2007) Randall was asked what rig he used to record the solo on Reelin' in the Years. He states, "That was my '63 Fender Stratocaster with a PAF humbucker in the neck position, straight into an Ampeg SVT bass amp. The SVT wouldn't have been my first choice for an amp--or even my fifth choice--but it worked a storm on that recording!" (wikipedia)

Dead Moon - In The Graveyard (1988)


Dead Moon was a United States punk rock band from 1987 to 2006, formed in Portland, Oregon. Fronted by singer/guitarist Fred Cole, the band also included bassist Toody Cole, Fred's wife, and drummer Andrew Loomis. Veterans of Portland's independent rock scene, Dead Moon combined dark and lovelorn themes with punk and country music influences into a stripped-down sound. Fred Cole engineered most of the band's recordings and mastered them on a mono lathe that was used for The Kingsmen's version of "Louie Louie". Their early records, such as In the Graveyard, were released on the Tombstone Records label, named for the musical equipment store Fred and Toody operated at the time. Soon they caught the attention of the German label Music Maniac Records, and toured Europe successfully. Not until the mid-nineties did they tour the United States. Much of their following is in Europe.

A U.S. filmmaking team (Kate Fix and Jason Summers) produced a 2004 documentary, Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story, which played in independent theaters around the U.S., New Zealand, and Melbourne International Film Fest, and was released on DVD in the fall of 2006. Dead Moon has recorded for labels such as Empty Records, but most releases are on Music Maniac abroad and Tombstone in the U.S. The Tombstone label has also provided cheap mastering and duplication for other bands, serving more as a cooperative than a promotional vehicle. Though Fred and Toody are in their fifties, they showed no signs of slowing down on their 2004 release Dead Ahead, continuing to tour the globe until 2006, which saw the release of the Echoes of the past compilation.

In December 2006, near the end of the Echoes of the Past tour, Dead Moon announced their disbandment. Their last gig was at the Vera club in Groningen on November 26, 2006. Fred and Toody currently own the Tombstone General Store in Clackamas, Oregon, and are building a shopping center nearby.

Pearl Jam covered the song "It's Okay"; they often segue it with their song "Daughter" in live performances. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam has also covered "Diamonds in the Rough" and "Running Out of Time" with C-Average.

Fred and Toody formed a new band called Pierced Arrows with Portland punk musician Kelly Halliburton, whose father played in a band called "Albatross" with Fred in 1972, of Severed Head of State, Defiance and formerly Murder Disco X. Pierced Arrows played their first show debuting on May 18, 2007 at Portland’s Ash Street Saloon with the reformed Poison Idea. Andrew Loomis now plays drums for a band called The Shiny Things from Longview, Washington, along with Terry French (vocals) Becca D. (lead guitar) and Marc Nelson (guitar).


Folks often like to laud the most remarkably enduring of rock music’s veterans by dubbing them ‘immortal’, and if you generate enough money that people are willing to pay for your blood to be changed in a private Swiss clinic, that illusion is more likely to be prolonged. At some point, though, cold reality is going to kick in. In the case of Fred Cole, singer and guitarist of Oregon’s Dead Moon, his fifty years of writing and releasing music – all the more astonishing for never having a bloated paycheck as motivation – were put on ice in March this year, when he needed emergency open heart surgery. A diagnosis of 80-100% arterial blockage sounds a bit hairy, to say the least, but true to form, Fred recovered faster than expected; the business of being a brilliant, singular and enormously admirable totem of underground rock can continue from its paused position.

Formed in the late Eighties by Fred and his wife Toody, who married in 1967 and have played in bands together since the early Seventies, Dead Moon are no longer a going concern, although the couple’s current band Pierced Arrows is along similarly anthemic, stripped-to-a-skeleton lines. They maintained a fierce release rate in their time, however, starting in 1988, ’89 and ‘90 with the three albums tackled here, on account of their CD reissue on Portland punk label M’lady’s (they’re also available on esteemed archive imprint Mississippi, should you prefer vinyl). Fred and Toody, plus Dead Moon drummer Andrew Loomis, would never have claimed to have invented a new rock’n’roll language – time-honoured imagery, which some might call clichés, are embraced here with passion – but at no point on these albums does it feel like a superfluous Xerox of the past.

A Dead Moon song, typically between two and three minutes long, might call back to blues, country, rockabilly, the mid-Sixties garage explosion that kickstarted Fred’s career in 1964, and the autonomous DIY punk scene (which the band managed to be a glowing example of, while largely existing outside of it). Greg Sage, of Portland’s occasionally brilliant Wipers, heartily endorsed Dead Moon early on, and the band’s debut LP In The Graveyard has a Wipers-y feel at times. Less instrumentally deft and lower of fidelity, sure, but ‘Graveyard’ and ‘Don’t Burn The Fires’ combine a yearning sweetness and a punky forward momentum with a determination to present electric guitars, bass and drums in as un-manipulated a fashion as possible. (source)

François Couturier - Nostalghia - Song for Tarkovsky (2006)


Zaczyna fortepian. Samotny, zawodzący, uwodzący, tęskny. Kilka powtarzanych formuł, zawieszonych, jakby bliskich. Skąd? Gdzie? Dołącza akordeon. I wtedy wszystko jest już jasne. Początek arii "Erbarme dich" z "Pasji Mateuszowej" Bacha. W dźwiękach akordeonu ta muzyka brzmi ulicą, codziennością, zwyczajnością, Mahlerem, "Braćmi Karamazow" w reżyserii Krystiana Lupy ze Starego Teatru (mogłaby być muzyka do tego spektaklu)...

Tak, Couturier ma w sobie to wsysanie teatru Lupy, tę leniwość, zatrzymanie czasu, uświęcenie czasu, to snucie, kiedy wydaje się, że nie ma nic, a jest wszystko. I jeszcze więcej... Poza tym Couturier, jak Lupa, lubi Tarkowskiego. Ta płyta jest tego najlepszym dowodem. Jej tytuł główny, tytuły poszczególnych części (choćby Solaris I i II,­ Andrei, Ivan, Stalker), lead pod tytułem ("muzyka inspirowana filmami Andreja Tarkowskiego, grą jego ukochanych aktorów i sposobem operowania przez niego kolorem i dźwiękiem"). Jak to brzmi?

Brzmi muzyką w muzyce. Prócz Bacha ("Pasja" pojawia się także w ostatnim fragmencie - L'éternel Retour), słyszymy jeszcze - dwukrotnie (Nostalghia, Andrei) - temat z trzeciej części "Sonaty na wiolonczelę i fortepian" Alfreda Schnittkego oraz fragmenty "Amen" ze "Stabat Mater" Pergolesiego (Toliu). Poszczególne części mają też swoje dedykacje: m.in. dla operatora Svena Nykvista (Crépusculaire), scenarzysty Tonino Guerry (Nostalghia), kompozytora Edwarda Artemiewa (Stalker), aktorów - Erlanda Josephsona (L'éternel Retour) i Anatolija Sołonitsyna (Toliu).

Brzmi nieziemsko, zmysłowo, sennie. Prosto, bezpretensjonalnie, a jednocześnie z tym rodzajem grawitacji, że zostajemy przygwożdżeni do krzesła, ale unosimy się - wysoko, wysoko... Lecz co można robić innego, kiedy słucha się gry kwartetu, w której czuć każdy nerw muzyki, każdą jej zmianę, tę wspólnotę przeżyć, która zaraża wszystko i wszystkich, pozostawia przestrzeń, ale nie pozwala odejść. Każe współuczestniczyć. Wieść niesie, że Couturier ma na jesień przyjechać z "Nostalgią" do Polski. Zaczynam tęsknić... (Tomasz Cyz)

***

“What kind of world is this if a madman tells you you must be ashamed of yourselves? Music now!”

So espouses Erland Josephson as Domenico in Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1983 masterpiece Nostalghia, of which this album by pianist François Couturier takes the name. Domenico is, in many ways, himself a musical figure. As the very madman he admonishes, one who shackled his family in their own home for seven years as protection against an imperfect world, he is constantly refolding his own psyche in a leitmotif of fixation, building reality from blocks of fanciful impulses, each more poetic than the last. Yet as Tarkovsky himself once averred, art exists only because the world is imperfect. Music thrives on insanity.

That said, the even keel of Nostalghia presents the listener with such an expressive compass that even the most elemental sound becomes a northward tug. Anyone who has followed Couturier’s ECM travels will know that he is a musician of many directions. From the taut classical forays of Poros to the border-crossing trio recordings with Anouar Brahem (see Le pas du chat noir and Le voyage de sahar), he is anything but predictable. Counting cellist Anja Lechner, accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier, and saxophonist Jean-Marc Larché among the present company, he darkens Tarkovsky’s blueprints with the press of every key until they are ashen with wayfaring.

The album’s outer circle is inscribed by way of “Erbarme Dich” from Bach’s St Matthew Passion, which seeds the opening and closing tracks by way of profound lament. In the absence of words, “Le Sacrifice” (Bach’s aria appears in the Tarkovsky film of the same name) holds on to the text of the moment. In the absence of the cross, one feels the intersection of piano and accordion as a sacrifice in and of itself. The feeling of decay is palpable—surely, if imperceptibly, approaching disappearance—as was Tarkovsky’s play of color and shadow. The concluding “L’éternel retour” unravels by way of piano alone. Like a lost entry from Vassilis Tsabropoulos’s The Promise), its hand closes the lid of a box that houses creative spirit. That the song bears dedication to Erland Josephson indicates Couturier’s attention to detail in paying tribute not only to the artist of interest, but also his brilliant actors and collaborators.

“Crépusculaire,” for instance, honors Sven Nykvist, Ingmar Bergman’s right-hand cinematographer (who also filmed The Sacrifice) and moves accordingly by the touch of Lechner’s picturesque bowing. Her feel for notecraft and harmony is matched only by her attention to atmosphere. Couturier blends pigments with charcoal-stained fingers, each a pontiff reduced to a smudge across gray sky as the accordion finds its peace in the waters below. The combination aches with dew, trembling on grass stems when the three instruments at last share the same breath in focus.

“Nostalghia” is for screenwriter Tonino Guerra, with whom Tarkovsky co-wrote the screenplay for that very film. It opens us to the affectations of the full quartet and takes its inspiration from Schnittke’s Sonata No. 1 for violoncello and piano. This gentle music is a wish turned into stone and laid in stagnant water. The most obvious dedication, “Andrei,” also incorporates the Schnittke. A steady pulse in the left hand frees the right to orbit the keyboard, while the accordion fits like wind to wing over barren plains of consciousness.

“Stalker” gives proper attention to Eduard Artemyev, who wrote the soundtracks for that film and Solaris, and meshes bucolic and hypermodern impulses in kind. Its impactful pianism gives up many relics, each more sacred than the last. Anatoly Solonitsyn, lead actor of Andrei Rublev, is the final dedicatee. With its allusions to the “Amen” from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, “Toliu” multiplies shades of night.

Although Couturier consciously avoided the evocation of specific Tarkovsky scenery (this is more than a concept album), the feeling of pathos is so visual that one might as well be watching a film by the great director. The pianism shines like the water so prevalent in Tarkovsky’s cinema, if not swimming among many artifacts strewn below the surface. And in any sense, Couturier is very much the director of all that one hears throughout the program, as borne out most directly in the freely improvised “Solaris I” and “Solaris II.” In these the soprano saxophone turns the sun into a pilot light, and the world its oven, even as the rest of the ensemble hangs icicles from the eaves. Still, the overall effect is more literary than filmic, picking up words and turning them into actions that grow with listening.

“Ivan” references Ivan’s Childhood, Tarkovsky’s first feature. Its declamatory beginning spawns an almost theatrical feeling in distorted fairytale gestures before the quartet rejoins to finish off strong. In the wake of such confluence, Couturier’s solo “Miroir” wipes the slate clean, leaving superbly engineered ambience as the only evidence of an inner world to be discovered. Each step taken on this Escherian staircase walks a path of light.

Perfection may be an impossible ideal, but this album almost touches it. It’s a sheet of paper curling into its own insecurity for want of inscription. Don’t let it slip through your fingers, no matter what kind of quill you wield. (ecmreviews)

24.5.15

Salvador Dali & Igor Wakhevitch - Etre Dieu (1974)


Igor Wakhevitch's score for Salvador Dali's audio visual « opera poème » (initialy written in 1927 but recorded in 1974). This is an obsessional, decadent, surrealist, provocative, grotesque, mystical, erotic musical comedy with Salvador Dali narratives, improvisations (in French). The music perfectly serves Dali and others actors' voices with a medley of strange synthesiser loops, creepy lysergic ambiences, expressionist string orchestra arrengements, percussive abstractions. This is clearly a visual work for the ears and gorgeously impregnated of mental pictures and dreamlike suggestions. An intriguing, ambitious audiovisual exhibition that remains really avant gardist with many ideas and a different atmosphere for each scene. Not a progressive rock classic but a historical phenomenon with a rather unique eccentric abstract musical painting. (source)

This is no conceptual, pranksome shenanigan but a serious, pharaonic musical coup de maitre charged with a cornucopia of  progressive ideas and practices respecting sound architecture and theatrical composition. One of the most adventurous, defiant, dynamic, ethereal, ghastly, religious music I’ve ever heard. Think of Ghédalia Tazartès deeply bedded in the tradition of european avant-classical music. I believe I went through the multidimensional poundings of Varèse, Xenakis glissandi, VIP-seat operatic grace and purity, the sublime mystique of near-heretical chants, the stream-of-consciousness eloquence of french dissidents, early-electronics burblings, Hadesian drones, a horde of crazy people (including Ghédalia Tazartès) and deranged sounds,  all manner of inclement weathers, and most shockingly, proggy guitar licks that stretch long enough to form a psychedelic rock number reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats. That was my word. (source)


Laurence Vanay - Galaxies (1974)


Laurence Vanay is the pseudonym for Jacqueline Thibault, wife of producer and musician Laurent Thibault (Magma). Her debut album “Galaxies” (1974) is pure genius: almost all instrumental, with gorgeous keyboards of many types, acoustic/electric guitar, even a little Zeuhl bass. There are wordless vocals on many of the tracks, although she occasionally sings in a soft, seductive manner. Incredible, spacey “avant-garde progressive chanson,” a Holy Grail for most collectors of 70’s underground French music. Rivaled only by the early work of Brigitte Fontaine for pure inventiveness. Sublime compositions: unique, melancholic and very powerful.

“Sounds have always been of special significance to me. Since childhood, I improvised and composed songs and instrumental music… it seemed to me that music was the true language of emotions. It was with great difficulty that I managed to record the albums “Galaxies” and “Evening Colours” in very limited time with the means at hand, and with the help of faithful musician friends.” —Jacqueline Thibault

The Savages - Black Scorpio (1973)


The Savages is a Rock N Roll band from Bombay (now Mumbai), formed in 1960 and the starting point in tracing the history of rock music in India was of course the musicians that they have played with and watched concerts of. Strangely enough, they kept ending up at Rock Machine/Indus Creed. Everyone story led back to, "It all began with Rock Machine..." There were passing statements along the lines of, "Of course, there were bands before that but they did covers. They played club gigs but no one remembers." Founded in 1967 by Bashir Sheikh, the Savages went beyond playing cover versions, and started writing their own material. Back in the days, there were earlier variants of the rock competitions that we see today. One of these was the Simla Beat contest, sponsored by Simla cigarettes, an ITC brand. The Savages won the 1967 edition of the Simla Beat contest. Another prestigious Bombay festival was the Sound Trophy. The Savages won the Sound Trophy for Best Composition and Best Band in 1968, and in the process snagged a recording deal with Polydor India Ltd. The most consistent and well-remembered line up of the band was stabilizing at this point of time with Bashir Sheikh (drums and vocals), Ralph Pais (bass guitar), Hemant Rao (lead guitar), and Prabhakar Mundkur (keyboards and vocals). Various line up changes happened in the years after this with Hemant Rao leaving for Dubai and replaced by Russell Perreira. However, one of the crucial line-up changes featured the inclusion of a young architecture student, originally from Goa, named Remo Fernandes. Remo played with The Savages for a year and a half during his architecture course in Bombay. Featuring some of the first few original compositions by Remo, the album sounds like a delicate blend of retro rock, folk rock, and early acid rock. After Remo left the Savages, another line-up shuffle found Joe Alvares singing for the band. Notable for his booming tenor voice, Joe sang on the next Savages album, titled Black Scorpio. Though the album itself was mostly populated by cover versions, Prabhakar Mundkur had also taken to songwriting and the Savages frequently performed 7-8 instrumental originals, and 3-4 originals with vocals in the many shows that they played during these years. Joe Alvares left the band in 1974 for personal reasons and the band briefly tried to recruit another vocalist. At about the same time, Nandu Bhende's band, The Brief Encounter, was also faced by the prospect of some members leaving. Sensing an opportunity, the two combined to form The Savage Encounter. (source)


Maki Asakawa - Darkness II (1996)


Jazz and blues vocalist, lyricist, and composer Maki Asakawa was born in 1942 in Ishikawa Prefecture.  After a short stint working at the town office in her small village, she headed for Tokyo to pursue music.  She started by playing at United States military bases and cabarets, where she refined her style, which was largely informed by Billie Holiday and Mahalia Jackson.  Asakawa released her first EP, Tokyo Banka, on the Victor imprint in 1967.  In 1968, Asakawa got her big break when she appeared for three days running at the Shinjuku underground theater known as Sasoriza, a project of underground playwright Shuji Terayama.  Shortly thereafter, she signed with Toshiba (currently EMI Music Japan), making her official major label debut in July 1969 with Yo ga aketara / Kamome.  Since then, Asakawa has consistenly released music and appeared live, garnering praise for her unique interpretation of jazz and blues. She has collaborated with Yosuke Yamashita and Akira Sakata, and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto among others.  Asakawa died on January 17, 2010. (source)

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