Decade Diving (Round 3)
A left-hand piano figure rocks up and down before a bluesy right hand enters, along with drums and bass. It’s cool, it’s groovy, it’s ‘My sweet potato’, the opening cut on And Now!, Booker T & The MG’s third album. But hang on a minute, shouldn’t we be hearing organ? That’s what Booker is famous for isn’t it? Indeed, and after that keyboard warm-up we are back in organ-grinder mode for the soulful gospel of ‘Jericho’ with some fantastic call and response rhythms between the leader and guitarist Steve Cropper. His solo is just so economical and righteously swinging that you wanna jump right over those tumbling walls and boogie with Joshua.
The R&B ‘No matter what shape’ is up next, a pleasant if unremarkable groove, before a song that is a life-checker for me. Not familiar with that term? It’s a song that, when spun, so demands some sort of bodily movement response that if it don’t happen, Jack you dead. ‘One mint julep’ is so infectious, so blues-infused, so almightily rocking and grooving that whatever you are doing right now you should get to a decent stereo to listen, and listen good. Am I preaching? Probably. Sorry. ‘One mint julep’ does that, even without consuming the actual drink*.
Back in pure soul territory with ‘In the midnight hour’ that sways and shimmies and has another bitin’ Steve Cropper solo. Things slow right down for ‘Summertime’ (remember the cover of ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ on The Magnificent Moodies? Porgy and Bess was a great source of material for both jazz and pop in the 60s). You have to be real tight to play real slow. The band delivers; it’s goose-bump good and yet again Cropper’s solo stands out.
That rounds out side one. The flip side is just as good and follows a similar template: some rockin’ soul (‘Working in a coal mine’), R&B sass (‘Don’t mess up a good thing’), and soul jazz (‘Soul jam’).
In other words, it is sweet as a nut and all done in a touch over 35 minutes. For this fan And Now! shades its more famous older sibling, Green Onions. But don’t take my word for it; get ‘em both. You won’t be disappointed.
* The mint julep is a mixed alcoholic drink, or cocktail, consisting primarily of bourbon, water, crushed or shaved ice, and fresh mint. As a bourbon-based cocktail, it is associated with the American South and the cuisine of the Southern United States in general, and the Kentucky Derby in particular [Wikepedia]. The song was written by Rudy Toombs and was an early 50s hit for The Clovers. It is alleged to be one of the first hit songs about drinking alcohol.
With a sleeve that instantly evokes the first Black Sabbath album and a photo/dedication to Vincent Crane (Atomic Rooster) on the back cover, it seems pretty obvious what Italian band Standarte are offering. If your guess was dark keyboard driven heavy prog evoking the early 70s, give yourself a prize. Perhaps an upside down crucifix on a silver chain or a black cape.
This is music for those nostalgic for a period where mellotrons wheezed, drums pounded, and organs sent waves of pulsating chords crashing upon your midnight consciousness. In addition to the basic trio (oh, how I love a heavy rock trio) comprising Michel Profeti (organ, mellotron), Daniele Caputo (drums, vocals), and Stefano Gabbani (bass), we have short sections of narration in an educated English voice by Steve Mattews (sic). These sections are suitably fantastical, involving dangerous Spider women, mysterious rivers, Droog-like gang rituals, and so on.
Parts of some songs, such as ‘Tolerance town’ are so powerfully Rooster that you’ll laugh out loud, either with delight at the richness of the homage or astonishment at their bare-faced cheek. Some of the relentless blues-based grooves just as strongly evoke the Sabs. Yet there is plenty of creativity here, including some uncredited guitar that augments the trio textures. With strong vocals (never dominating), lots of variety (including mandatory chanting monks on ‘A war was declared’), well constructed compositions and great playing throughout, if this heavy prog retro-rock is your black velvet bag, you’ll be in heaven. Or hell.
As this appears to be the organ edition of Decade Digest, let’s round out this trio of keyboard-centred albums with something completely different. After Booker T’s soulful jazz/R&B groove and the heavy sounds of Standarte, the avant-classical work of Peter Michael Hamel is a serious change of tone.
The German composer has been associated with minimalist composition, though Hamel (as performer and teacher) has also emphasised experimentation and ‘being in the moment’. On Organum, his eighth album, he is listed as playing ‘Pipe organ, Vedic conch and Tibetan cymbals’. I’ve misplaced my Vedic conch or I’d challenge him to a duel. Anyway, the definition of the word ‘Organum’, reproduced from The New Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, explains how it is a kind of medieval polyphony that morphed and changed over time, but retained the essential element of a sustained part (usually tenor) with more ‘mobile’ upper parts.What of the music? The Allmusic guide is brief and to the point. ‘Hamel’s contemporary interpretation of the medieval musical concept known as “organum” involved an intricate interplay of modal melodies. These four extended works on pipe organ culminate in acutely intense barrages of sound and sensation. This is a challenging album.’
Sure, it is challenging in parts, but in its entirety, quite magnificent. Transporting, majestic, spiritual; all these words popped into my head while listening. At times Hamel sounds like Martin Luther turned on by Terry Riley, at others like a spaced-out second cousin of JS Bach. But all this is wide of the mark, really. Here is my borrowed conjuring of how Organum felt on the voyages I took this week. The image is by philosopher, observer, artist, and poet Michael Leunig.