With a morning to myself and a pile of chores, I sat with the start-me-up coffee and pondered what to spin. What would get me going for a few hours of productive office work? How was I feeling today? Pretty heavy, actually. A chesty cough and a bit distracted by a knotty work issue. Something powerful to break through the smog.
FIRST SPINA while back I took a punt on a CD by Earth, and liked it a lot (as discussed here). So this heavyweight double vinyl title was duly acquired. It hasn’t had much turntable time, so why not start the day with some post-metal roar?
Opener ‘Torn by the fox of the crescent moon’ has a deep, rolling Black Sabbath chug that really sets the scene for what is to come and illustrates guitarist Dylan Carlson’s modus operandi admirably. Guitars, thunderous slo-mo riffs, granite psychedelia. Plus some surprisingly accessible vocals. Guest Mark Lanegan adds a grainy melody and sand-paper contrast to ‘There is a serpent coming’, a tune that might well freak out Adam and Eve but will thrill those of a more, er, evolved musical disposition. I loved the long side b piece ‘From the zodiacal light’, featuring Rabia Shaheen Qazi. Her vocals are both inviting and exotic to these mundane ears, as she adds rich subtle textures to the thick instrumental mix.
Great stuff. I’m fully awake now.
It was at this point that I decided two things. One, I want to play more unfamiliar music. Two, I do not want to do any office work. Luckily these two desires complimented each other perfectly, so I shelved the sheaf of book-keeping papers and got out the record cleaning gear. Well, there has to be some productivity, doesn’t there?Seeking the maximum contrast with Earth, I pulled out an LP on the highly respected British folk label Topic. It’s a wonderfully quirky collection of recordings made by Mike Yates in southern England during the period 1972 to 1975. Mr Yates, following the trail pioneered by legendary US archivist, ethnomusicologist and field recorder Alan Lomax, visited villages (and their pubs) in Sussex where he sought out venerable folk singers who carried in their ageing crania the traditions and songs of the region.
The voices, all sounding suitably elderly, vary in strength and quality, but all display a humanity and authenticity that made this record both a surprisingly enjoyable spin and a fascinating window into another age. There is a surprising seam of humour in the songs on this collection, something one might not find so easily in songs from northern Britain. One of my favourites was the rendition by Harry Upton (well into his 70s at the time) of ‘A woman’s work is never done’; another was ‘The Molecatcher’, sung by Louise Fuller who, the liner notes tell us, was a widow for many years prior to moving from Sussex ‘to Surrey to remarry’. All the best, Louise.
After an album of unaccompanied English folk songs, where next on my contrast crusade?
It was Father’s Day in Australia a few weeks back. While out and about with the family, I managed to parlay the goodwill afforded the patriarch on this particular feast day into a quick visit to one of my Record Store haunts.
It was pretty slim pickings, I must say. Maybe the racks had been plundered earlier by those who were not being forced to consume a delicious breakfast of home-made pancakes while basking in the love of their child and better half. Whatever, I thought I might leave empty-handed (except for one of the recent Peter Gabriel re-releases that was lurking in the ‘New LPs – Discounted’ bin) until I picked up a Moog LP I’d never seen before.Who could resist the intense gazes of these three moodily lit Japanese musicians? Or their wonderful band name? All kinds of stupid, vaguely racist wonderings came instantly to mind when contemplating the cover. Is the name a misspelling of Car Mats? Calm-ettes? Are there any moog sounds that aren’t electric? Even though a glance at the track listing revealed that this was doubtless one of those rather unadventurous MOR LPs that abounded in the late 60s and early 70s, the kind of lounge electronica that people who bought James Last records might be tempted to splash out on, still I could not go past that album cover.
Sure enough, it is the sound of polite, momma-san and poppa-san covers enlivened by bursts of Mr Moog’s famous synthesiser picking out well-known melodies. Still, the version of Gershon Kingsley’s immortal ‘Popcorn’ is lively, ‘Riders in the sky’ has a fine, loping momentum and even ‘House of the rising sun’ (a compulsory inclusion, I assume) comes off entertainingly. But you can’t help wondering if the disconsolate expressions on the musicians faces are due to their frustration at not recording an LP of screeching, densely packed industrial strength electronic noise-rock rather than this easy-listening sake-sipper.
It was on my first visit to London in 1990 that I picked up an ECM album featuring pianist Art Lande and saxophonist Jan Garbarek; Red Lantra became one of my favourite contemporary jazz albums (it still is). Yet although I acquired a number of Garbarek titles (not all of which did the biz for me), I rarely saw any by the pianist.So it was unsurprising that I hesitated not-at-all when encountering this ECM release a month back. In addition to Lande, the album features Mark Isham on trumpet and flugelhorn, Bill Douglass on bass (and flute) and Kurt Wortman on drums. Mr Lande calls his group Rubisa Patrol after the title of his previous album. I was unable to find a meaning for the name, other than the title of the long opening piece of this album. Over a rhythmic piano base that starts and stops, Isham’s trumpet goes on a journey of great variety in tone and temperament. This is jazz to hitch a ride with, to venture into unfamiliar terrain. It’s great hearing Isham play with passion and power, Lande running complementary lines underneath and sometimes moving forward to take the wheel. The trumpeter contributes the other piece on side one, a lovely, deceptively simple ballad entitled ‘Livre (Near the Sky)’.
The second side has three pieces, opening with the bright latin flavoured ‘El Pueblo De Las Vacas Tristes’, which goggly-translate assures me means ‘Village of the Unhappy Cows’ though I’m a bit dubious about that as it is a rather jaunty tune.
Bass player Bill Douglas breaks out his flute for ‘Perelandra’, perhaps named for the middle book in CS Lewis’s science fiction trilogy. It is a beguiling and slightly mysterious piece and a lovely change of pace. The album closes with ‘Sansara’ where Isham and Lande again elegantly share the space.
Musically, the long opening piece is the most demanding on the record but if you are a fan of trumpet and sinuous compositions that unfold like dunes, this might be one to seek out. Finally, a word about the striking cover photo by Georg Gerster—now there’s a real projective test. What do you see? Answers in unmarked envelopes slipped under the office door, if you please.