Archive for July, 2013


A Love Supreme

 

When I was a kid, I played saxophone.  I started when I was in the fifth grade, which was the first year we had the opportunity to join the Spencer Elementary School band.  Truth be told, I had never really paid much attention in music class before that…it was only graded S or U and occasionally an O if you answered a few questions right, and pretty much the highlight was singing “Big Rock Candy Mountain” in the second grade.  But playing saxophone in the band really opened up my eyes to a whole new world of musical experiences and got me interested in music, and probably most importantly, forced me to learn how to read music.  My mom rented me an alto saxophone from the music store next to the old Carlisle’s building in Ashtabula, and we went went over to the town park right across the street and I used the lesson book to learn how to put the thing together.  I also learned how to play G, A, and B that day.

So playing saxophone kinda became a big thing in my life all through my schooling.  My elementary band teacher was fun and ironically, he warned us all not to become music teachers (sorry, Mr. Parker, I didn’t follow your advice!).  By the time I got to junior high, I was pretty decent and spent both years as the first chair player.  Then in high school, I joined the marching band, even though it wasn’t the cool thing to do, and I auditioned for and was accepted into the top wind ensemble, the Symphonic Band.  By my junior year I was first chair in the Symphonic Band and second chair All-County.  I was taking lessons and getting superior ratings at Solo and Ensemble Competion…and yet despite all that success I had one major frustration…I couldn’t play jazz.

See, jazz is a completely different world than the traditional style that you are taught in school.  Saxophone really has no place in an orchestra (it was invented too late), but in a traditional wind band, it sort of becomes a cross between a clarinet and a french horn, so for the most part, you learn traditional technique.  Jazz however, requires something different.  It requires an incredible ear and the ability to improvise.  I requires the ability to anticipate chord changes and to spell chords almost instantly.  Yeah, I know that I said some of this stuff in the entry about Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue”, but my point is that jazz is a very intricate and complex style of music, and it takes an incredible musician to excel in it.  And despite the fact that I did play for a couple of years in my high school jazz band, I knew I just never had the touch.

But listening to Coltrane, yeah, he had it.  His quartet is good, but he is the one carrying the load.  Practically the whole 32 minute suite is an extended Coltrane solo, with just short interludes for the string bass, piano, and drums to have their moments.  Apparently in a moment of divine inspiration, Coltrane wrote this entire piece as a statement to his devotion to his religion, and the suite is composed as almost a four part jazz mass with each movement named after a stage in his spiritual journey.  Despite its connection to religion, this suite remains firmly rooted in the jazz genre and never even ventures near the more traditional church musics of gospel, spirituals, or hymnody.  Coltrane himself oscillates between intense wailing and a softer, more reflective side.  In the last movement, “Psalm”, he even tries to play on his instrument the words to a poem he wrote about his faith.  Kinda cool.  I picked this album up at the Half-Price Books near me on Bethel Road for $5.99 (minus my educator’s discount) and I have to admit that along with Charlie Parker, John Coltrane is one of the best saxophone players I have ever heard.  And it’s certainly better than that Kenny G “Duotones” CD mi madre bought me when I got my first CD player back in high school…

Other lists: Like the Miles Davis album, this record does not appear on any other Rolling Stone lists that I am aware of.  This is probably because the writers and editors at Rolling Stone are much better equipped to write about rock, R&B,  and pop music than jazz.

My favorite track: “Part 4 – Psalm”

Honorable mention: “Part 3 – Pursuance”

Quote: “A love supreme…a love supreme…a love supreme…”

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Legend

Ah, Marley Man.  I was excited when I found this at the Half-Price Books in Upper Arlington (UA…where all the Rastafarians in Columbus hang out…they get their ganga from the Chef-O-Nette gang) for $6.99 minus my 10% educator discount.  Actually, they had three copies, and two had the Island Records label and the other had the Tuff Gong label (still distributed by Island Records) which I believe was Marley’s own record label, so I of course I bought the Tuff Gong one (it was in better shape too :)).  Anyway, this is the first “Greatest Hits” package on the list.  There have been three compilation records so far (Elvis Presley “Sunrise”, Robert Johnson “The Complete Recordings”, and Muddy Waters “Anthology”), but this is the first true greatest hits record.  And in a way, I think its kind of cheating to put a greatest hits package on a list like this (there are more to come with Al Green and CCR), but at the same time, all the songs on this CD are truly great, and most were in fact hits, so I guess its okay.  Actually, I’m not really familiar with Bob Marley’s other work, and these are the Bob Marley songs I truly know…the same Bob Marley songs every frat boy and sorority girl learns in college (right, bro?) and every fake Rasta-man can sing along with at the skate-board park.

So there is this Irish band I like a lot, Seanchai and the Unity Squad, that plays a sort of Celtic/hip-hop/reggae mix.  It’s a weird mix, but most of the time it works.  Actually, they aren’t really Irish, they are from Brooklyn, but Seanchai (aka Chris Byrne) was a founding member of Black 47 before branching off and founding the Unity Squad.  They have a female co-lead singer, Rachel Fitzgerald, who likes to incorporate Marley’s “Redemption Song” into one of her songs, “Bogside Girl”, and it’s a pretty stunning moment when she performs it live.  And more than just that, the Unity Squad has in a small way continued to carry the torch for Marley’s main message of peace and understanding, even if they are a group of unlikely torch bearers.

Another experience I had with Bob Marley’s music was back in college on my way back from New Orleans.  Three of my good friends from the music department and I had gone down to the Crescent City for the Sugar Bowl game between Ohio State and Florida State.  And despite the outcome of the football game, we had a pretty amazing time on that trip.  So on the way home, we decided to stop off in Meridian Mississippi for the night, and right next to our motel, on a road that curved slightly down and around under a hill, was a bar called the Hidaway Lounce (actually, I’m pretty sure it was supposed to be the “Hideaway Lounge”, but it was spelled wrong on the marqee).  So we went in for a drink in our Ohio State t-shirts, and the locals took and instant disliking to us.  Well, not the sweet lady behind the bar (“Were you boys at the Sugah Bowl or the Supah Bowl?”), but the local rednecks playing foosball (“Around here we play with a firm wrist”) certainly did not care for us.  So once we were kicked off the foosball table, we went over to the jukebox and played “Get Up Stand Up”….message sent and received.  I guess they are still a little bitter about the Civil War down there (“Not only did Mississippi wait 150 years after Lincoln [to ratify the amendment abolishing slavery], they waited 6 months after Lincoln the Movie!” — Seth Myers, SNL), and after that it was strongly suggested that we leave their establishment (although Striffarino did manage to leave a present for them on their roof).  Ah, good times.

Finally, if I am going to reminisce about good times spent with Bob Marley’s music, I have to mention Black Cloud’s wedding.  Well, mostly good times.  Several years ago, Black Cloud decided to tie the knot down in the Sunshine State where he now resides.  Honored to be asked to be a groomsman, I flew down from my comfy Ohio apartment to the sweltering Florida sunshine.  However, since the shadow of the Black Cloud is never far away, the airline lost my luggage on both the way down and on the way back.  This was somewhat vexing, since my suitcase contained the kakis and the bowling shirt I was supposed to wear on the beach at the wedding.  Fortunately, the airline managed to get me the suitcase a mere 12 hours after I landed, so the disaster was averted.  At any rate, the wedding theme was “One Love”, as apparently Black Cloud had become a huge Marley fan (when he was just an Ohio boy he was a Parrothead…I guess Flada did have a positive effect on him).  In fact, Black Cloud is such a huge Marley fan now that he named his own progeny after Marley (so in retrospect, it’s definitely a good thing that he and his wife resolved the massive argument they got into at the wedding reception!).

Other lists: “No Woman No Cry” ranks #37 (actually, it is the studio version, but the write-up admits that the live version from this album is better), “Redemption Song” is #66, “Get Up Stand Up” is #302, and “I Shot the Sheriff” is #450 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time.  Bob Marley is #11 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists and is #19 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers.

My favorite track: “Redemption Song”

Honorable mention: “Three Little Birds”

Quote 1: “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery…none but ourselves can free our minds”

Quote 2: “If you know what life is worth, you will look for yours on earth”

Quote 3: “Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing is gonna be alright!”

The Band

I have a confession to make: I had a really hard time staying awake when I was trying to listen to “Music From Big Pink” back in the spring.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like it…maybe I was just overwhelmed with work and grad school.  But I kept dozing off while I was listening to it, and then I would wake up and restart it from the point where I nodded off (recently I listened to it on an elliptical at the gym, and fortunately I stayed awake, otherwise the consequences would have been painful). So when I bought this album from Amazon for $7.49, I was worried I would have the same problem,  which is why I enlisted the help of a friend at work, the Conspiracy Theorist, who is quite a fan of the Band.  Actually, the most excited I have ever seen him at work was one day when he was asked to cover the band director’s class and he found a copy of “The Last Waltz” in the music DVD library and he forced the kids in the class to watch it with him.  So I asked him what he likes about the Band the other day, and he said that he thinks the musicianship is top notch and that the group actually plays together as an ensemble.

And after listening to this self-titled album and “Big Pink” again the other day, I would have to say that I agree.  It may be because the members of the Band actually lived together and recorded both albums in the house they were living in, eschewing the traditional recording studio thing, that this group is such a cohesive musical unit.  Of course, for “Big Pink” they recorded it in the big pink house in Woodstock, New York, but for the Brown Album they rented a house in Hollywood Hills from Sammy Davis Jr.  This album is much less of a stylistic grab bag than “Big Pink”, this one coming across as mostly folky and bluesy.   Actually, was almost entirely written by Robby Robertson, which is probably why it seems more cohesive as a whole.  Bob Dylan is missing from the Brown Album, and while his influence can still be felt on songs like “King Harvest (Has Surely Come”, this record is certainly Robby Robertson’s baby.  And actually, speaking of influence, Richard Manual’s vocals seem to have had a large amount of influence on Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows who sings in the same thin, slightly out of tune, almost crying kind of way.  Very cool.

Well, I would be remiss if I ended this blog entry without talking about the song “Look Out Cleveland”.  Actually, I really would rather talk about the city of Cleveland than the song (which is a great song, but it would be better if the second line didn’t mention Houston).   See, being from northeast Ohio, I have a strange, passionate, undying love for the city of Cleveland.  Despite years of losing sports teams, and several broken hearts from the years the Indians, Browns, or Cavs actually came close (the 1997 World Series still hurts the most), I still get excited for every new season.  Growing up about 45 minutes from Cleveland, my family would head into town to see Indians games at the old Municipal Stadium or to see shows at the Playhouse Square when I was a kid.  Later on in high school, C-town was a great escape from small town life and it was a short drive to Coventry Road to hang out a trendy coffee shop or downtown to see a show at Peabody’s or the Agora.  Actually, I saw my first adolescent rock show in Cleveland when the Artistic One and I scalped tickets to see Pearl Jam in the spring of 1994 (of course, we ran into Lord Bacchus and Lightning 101 at the show too).  In college, Gear Head and Black Cloud were living in Cleveland, and there were several debaucherous nights partying down in the Flats and on West 6th Street.  So yeah, Cleveland holds a lot of good memories for me, and I still try to get up there at least a couple times each year to hang out and see the sights.  And one of these days, one of the Cleveland teams will break through and win a championship!  At least, I can dream it will happen…

Other lists: “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is #249 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time.

My favourite track: “Look Out Cleveland”

Honourable mention: “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)”

Quote: “I work for the union ’cause she’s so good to me, and I’m bound to come out on top…that’s where she said I should be!”

Horses

My first experience with the Godmother of Punk was thanks to R.E.M., a decidedly not-punk band.  Back in the summer of 1996 they released one of their most underrated albums, “New Adventures in Hi-Fi”, and Patti Smith sang backing vocals on the album’s lead single, “E-Bow the Letter”.  Actually, it was early September and Ohio State hadn’t started yet (before the semester switch, OSU’s autumn quater always began the last full week of September, which usually meant I had a few boring extra weeks of working for the Evil Empire and attending high school football games…Go Eagles!), so I was still home for the summer, but I remember My Generation, a cool independent record store in Westlake was having a midnight release party (somewhat ironic since “My Generation” is  a bonus track on the CD edition of “Horses”…recorded at the Agora in Cleveland, Ohio one month and one day before I was born :)).  So I convinced the Gear Head to go with me (we had just finished a run of “Grease” at the Ashtabula Arts Center) and we made the trek out to C-Town.  Now Gear Head wasn’t even a big R.E.M. fan, but he had fun scouting out used bin for Def Leppard albums, and I actually ran into a friend from the 19th floor of Lincoln Tower (my dorm and floor at OSU), The Unstoppable Mary K, who lived nearby in Parma and who is possibly the biggest R.E.M. fan I ever met.  Small world.  Especially in the day before cell phones, Facebook, and constant communication.

So “E-Bow the Letter” was my first experience with Patti Smith, and I have always enjoyed her vocals in that song (although their is a pretty awesome version floating around the world wide interweb with Thom Yorke singing her part).  What I never realized before was how the half-spoken word lead vocal by Michael Stipe was very much influenced by Patti Smith’s song “Birdland” from this album.  Another of my favorite bands, Pearl Jam, has a similar almost-spoken word track titled “I’m Open” that also owes a debt to “Birdland”, and neither of those bands is a punk band (well, sometimes Edward Louis Severson III thinks he’s a punk, but he’s a surfer, not a punk).  Which brings me to my point that even though Patti Smith is considered to be one of the primary figures in the birth of New York punk rock, her influences go far beyond that genre.  This is the first female singer on the list that isn’t a folk or a pop singer (actually just the third female artist on the list, and James Taylor is nowhere to be found this time), and Patti Smith’s influence in the world of rock and roll is substantial.  Many of the riot grrrl bands of the nineties like Hole and L7 used Patti Smith as a blue print, as well as other more mellow singers like Natalie Merchant, who covered Smith’s “Because the Night” on her MTV Unplugged album.

In a related note, I guess I should mention that even though her status as the Godmother of Punk is well known, this is not a punk rock record.  Sure there are hints of what would come after the birth of punk rock, but this album is way more of a rock record.  Actually, its a very artistic record, incorporating Patti Smith’s interpretations of other artists’ songs (opening with her radical version of Van Morrison’s “Gloria” and working Chris Kenner/Fats Domino’s “Land of 1,000 Dances” into “Land”), and moving into the realm of free verse poetry on “Birdland” and parts of “Land”.  There is also reggae death music in “Redondo Beach” and good old fashioned optimism in “Free Money”.  “Break It Up” is a counter cultural transcendent song in the vein of the Door’s “Break on Through”, and Smith emotes genuine sentiment in “Kimberly” and genuine regret in “Elegie”.  It’s sort of a rock and roll roller coaster ride, but it works.  And its good value for the $8.08 I spent on this album on Amazon.

Other lists: Patti Smith is #83 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Singers and is also #47 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.  “Horses” is also #10 on the list of the 100 Greatest Debut Albums.

My favorite track: “Birdland”

Honorable mention: “Gloria”

A word from the Princess: “I think she has a jagged little pill!”

Quote: “People say ‘beware’ but I don’t care.  The words are just rules and regulations to me (me).”