Category Archives: vocal

Goodbye 2016 (we will not miss you)

I have been dreading having to write a wrap-up piece about the year 2016. The last post that I made was in November when Leonard Cohen died. Since then, it seems to have been difficult to write anything. It has never been my intention to have my blog look like an obituary column but, it quite often feels like that.

In recent years, I have been reminding people that the musicians whose music we have enjoyed since the ’60s and ’70s are now mainly in their 60s and 70s. That means that the inevitable signs of mortality will surely take hold. This has certainly been the case in 2016.

The year seemed to start off on a high note with a brilliant new release (Blackstar) by David Bowie. However, this event seemed to quickly get overshadowed when Bowie died a couple of days after its release.

The death of Bowie seemed to resonate hard and deep within both the music industry and among his long-time fans. As someone who had been a fan for 45 years, I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. This seemed to be a shared experience as many people that I talked to or exchanged messages with appeared to be doing their best to hold back a wellspring of tears. Many tried but did not succeed. The last time that I can honestly recall such a reaction was when John Lennon was brutally gunned down.

But, that was just the start of a year that appeared to be voracious in its appetite to take away so many musicians and music related personalities away from us. It didn’t matter which genre of music was your favourite, the losses touched all aspects of music from rock, pop, R&B, jazz, classical and avant-garde.

Bowie, Cohen and Prince were among the biggest or most influential names for most of the year and then word of the death of George Michael slipped in on Christmas day.

I’ve owned records by many of the people who have passed this year. I’ve seen some of them in concert. I’ve even had the pleasure to meet a couple of them. The sad fact is that as time marches on, more of these people will make the headlines as they continue to leave us. So, let’s enjoy their music while they are still here and continue to honour their memory after they are gone.

Music can make us happy. Music can make us sad. Music can make us think. Music can make us feel how great it is to be alive. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you like, it just matters that it means something to you. Be grateful for that. It is rare.

Here is a very brief list of some of the musicians and music-related people we lost in 2016:

Signe Anderson (Jefferson Airplane)

Gato Barbieri

Paul Bley

Pierre Boulez

David Bowie

Leonard Cohen

Tony Conrad

Keith Emerson

Glenn Frey (Eagles)

Dale Griffin (Mott the Hoople)

Merle Haggard

Sharon Jones

Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane)

Greg Lake

Neville Marriner

George Martin

George Michael

Scotty Moore

Alphonse Mouzon

Pauline Oliveros

Rick Parfitt (Status Quo)

Prince

Leon Russell

Dave Swarbrick (Fairport Convention)

Rudy Van Gelder

Alan Vega (Suicide)

Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire)

For a much more detailed (and depressing) list of the people that we lost this year, please visit Musicians Who Died in 2016.

Leonard Cohen 1934 – 2016

Canadians have a reputation for being rather quiet, polite and certainly not braggarts. It seems to be an inbred part of our culture. We have produced some of the most talented people involved in the arts but, we seem very surprised that their work becomes known outside of our own country. Luckily, the rest of the world has embraced such Canadian artists as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen.

It seemed quite fitting that within hours of his passing, the word that Leonard Cohen was gone appeared to make the news around the globe. His words and music appeared to resonate well beyond our Canadian borders.

Although he was a successful poet and novelist in his early years, Leonard wished to have a career with which he could actually afford to pay the bills. He was in his thirties by the time he began to set his words to music. Judy Collins and others began to cover his works and Cohen soon followed suit to begin his own recording career.

Both his dark voice and even darker lyrics seemed to make for an unlikely path to success. However, he became an unlikely “star” none the less. His worked garnered both love and respect from other artists and his audience.

As with any artists with such a lengthy career, his also included many ups and downs – musically, personally and financially. Through it all, he kept going and created a body of work which would keep his star shining right up until the end.

Those who thought that his music was a doom and gloom have missed the point on many occasions. There was often a great deal of humour hidden among the black thorns.

When I began playing his album Old Ideas upon its release back in 2012, I was soon laughing out loud. The song Going Home pretty well says it all.

Going Home (Leonard Cohen / Patrick Leonard)

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn’t welcome
He just doesn’t have the freedom
To refuse

He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

He wants to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat

A cry above the suffering
A sacrifice recovering
But that isn’t what I need him
To complete

I want to make him certain
That he doesn’t have a burden
That he doesn’t need a vision
That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding
Which is to say what I have told him
To repeat

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without this costume
That I wore

I’m going home
Without the sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without this costume
That I wore

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

David Bowie – Stardust, Diamonds, Heroes and Ashes

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The clock radio went off at 5:30 AM and the lead-off new story is about David Bowie. His latest album – Blackstar – was released just three days ago and the news reveals that Bowie’s voice is now silenced. Apparently, a well kept secret regarding 18 months of suffering from cancer has now become public.

While I may have initially been exposed to Space Oddity or some tracks from The Man Who Sold the World, my first real exposure to Bowie came with the album Hunky Dory in 1971. Many tunes from that album were constantly on the FM airwaves in the Windsor / Detroit area at the time. It wasn’t just Changes and Life on Mars. It was also Queen Bitch, Andy Warhol and Oh You Pretty Things.

And then there was Ziggy. He was seemingly the man who fell to earth and changed the face of music and style. A flaming red-haired alien who rocked like nobody else at the time.

Bowie seemed like a person who could single-handedly  both start and end an era. He had a vision that seemed unstoppable in an era of ever changing fads and fashions. Since nobody seemed to know what he would do next, there was an endless curiosity as to what would be his next revelation.

In the beginning, he played in short-lived bands who played R&B. By the time of his debut LP, he was planted firmly in a mode reflecting his admiration for popular singer Anthony Newley. But, it was his subsequent release of Space Oddity which would gain him more attention.

That led to his joining forces with guitarist Mick Ronson on the Tony Visconti produced The Man Who Sold the World. From there it was on to Hunky Dory and then the creation of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

After the “retirement” of Ziggy, Aladdin Sane took the stage. The dystopian world  of Diamond Dogs morphed into the plastic soul of Young Americans and then the Thin White Duke of Station to Station (and his appearance in Nicolas Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell to Earth).

It was his 1977 project with Brian Eno which changed the game once again. The album Low presented one side of rocking tunes with another side of spacey, avant-garde electronic explorations which would develop into what would become known as The Berlin Trilogy (along with “Heroes” and Lodger).

From there, Bowie jumped around into dance music, more rock and roll and drum & bass excursions. His restless creativity pushed and pulled him into whatever direction he considered interesting for many more years.

After a silence of nearly ten years, Bowie proved that he could still surprise and suddenly announced a new single and LP back in 2013. The Next Day was a stunning new effort which was kept under wraps until the last moment.

With the release of Blackstar last week, Bowie seemed to be aware of the fact that this would be his farewell gesture to his long-time fans. At least he lived to see its release.

I only got to see Bowie in concert one time. It was to become his final concert tour. The show on May 14, 2004 at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario featured some 26 songs spanning his long career.

One other Bowie event that I was pleased to attend was the David Bowie Is exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2013. Over the course of a two hour trek through this show, one could get a close look at everything from stage costumes to hand-written lyrics to abandoned album cover designs.

David Bowie may no longer be with us but, his legacy will certainly continue for years to come. His life and work will become one of the benchmarks by which others in the performing arts will be measured.

David Bowie 1947 – 2016 

DavidBowie-Is-catalogue-SpaceOddity-lyrics

Patty Waters – In Concert 2015

If you read my earlier blog post about Patty Waters (or know me in real life), you’ll be aware of my affection for her ESP label debut LP. Well, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the recording of that album (December 19, 1965). So, it seems fitting to make another post about Patty at this time.

Last month, Patty gave a rare concert appearance at the Jazzhouse in Copenhagen, Denmark. Luckily, quite a bit of the performance was captured on video on that night of November 8th.

Here are clips from that show featuring Burton Greene (piano), Barry Altshul (drums) and Tjitze Vogel (bass). Enjoy!

 

Recent Arrivals – Leo Records

Pianist Uwe Oberg’s latest release – Twice, At Least – is a solo outing recorded at concerts in Germany in 2012 and 2015. In addition to the self-penned compositions, he also plays works from Annette Peacock, Steve Lacy, Carla Bley and Thelonious Monk.

Throughout the performances, Oberg expands the sound of the piano by often simultaneously playing the keyboard while also reaching inside to pluck the strings. This practice adds an extra layer of detail and expressiveness to the works which are already detailed and dynamic.

Hearing these live recordings makes the listener wish that there they were in the audience to see the performance first-hand. An excellent collection of works which excite the ears with their dynamic variations.

VocColours is a quartet of poetic vocalizers who have teamed up with musician Eberhard Kranemann to produce a unique blend of voices along with double bass and electronics. Throughout their CD entitled Luxatio, the ensemble bobs and weaves through a tapestry of vocalizations with sympathetic sonic accompaniment by Kranemann.

The result is a quilt of sound full of abstract sonic imagery and highly interesting blending dynamics.

The other two most recent releases in this latest batch from Leo Records share many similar sonic traits.

14 rue Paul Fort, Paris features the trio of Joelle Leandre (bass), Benoit Delbecq (piano) and Francois Houle (clarinets). Ramble is by the quintet known as SWQ and features Sandra Weiss (sax, bassoon), Jonathan Moritz (sax), Kenny Warren (trumpet), Sean Ali (double bass) and Carlo Costa (drums).

On both recordings, the ensemble players are seeking to create a flowing and abstract sound picture. The musicians listen to the sounds emanating from around them and spontaneously react to the situation at hand. It feels more like an improvisation of sound clouds than a a musical progression.

These clouds bend and blend to create a wonderful distortion of musical reality. Two sonic excursions which provide an aural palette of curious abstract imagery.

Leo Records website 

 

Recent Arrivals – Discus

If there is one thing that you can anticipate from the releases on the Discus label, it’s to expect the unexpected. This is a case in point.

frostlake is Sheffield-based singer, musician Jan Todd. On this debut release (White Moon, Black Moon), she creates layers of her voice and multiple instruments alongside contributions from other fine folks from the area including Martin Archer, Charlie Collins, Terry Todd and others.

The first thing that strikes you is the reverb-drenched near-whisper vocals. These are combined with layers of dreamy instrumentation that evokes a folky, psychedelic, progressive soundscape. It almost feels like one of those unearthed rarities of what is now termed “acid folk” recorded in the late ’60s or early ’70s.

However, the sound is brought up to date with one foot in the past and another with a hold on the present and future. The music is dreamy yet never slipping into a maudlin melancholy. There is always something going on to keep the listener engaged as the background sounds blend seamlessly with the often haunting layered vocals in the foreground. Definitely an album inviting repeated late-night listens.

Martin Archer’s latest release – Echoic Enchantment – is a collaboration with poet Bo Meson. Martin goes into some detail about the project’s genesis in the liner notes of the CD.

Inspired by a performance by Bo’s poetry group, Martin was inspired to create a work written around the text. The musical portion of the disc-length range from sparse basslines to haunting string sections evoking an atmosphere not unlike Ligeti or Pendereski. These sections are juxtaposed with others based on “directed improvisation” which have been edited and collaged featuring percussion, piano etc… which incorporate text which weaves its way into the soundscape.

The work flows and glides in several directions often creating a haunting and evocative atmosphere. A lengthy sonic journey that provides multi-layered scenery for the ears.

Discus website

 

Sandy Denny: Remembered Again

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Sandy Denny was one of the richest voices to come out of the British music scene during the 1960s and ’70s. She was a person who was much admired and respected within her area of folk and folk-rock music. Unfortunately, at the time of her death in 1978 at the age of 31, the promise of her hard work seemed to never be fully realized.

Mick Houghton’s new book about the late British singer brings together impressive amounts of information which help to gain an insight into the events which shaped her path through her musical career.

Many surviving members of her inner circle of friends and fellow performers have been interviewed to provide an insight into her rise and fall. These include people like Richard and Linda Thompson, Al Stewart, Ralph McTell, John Renbourn and members of Fairport Convention. Archival interviews with many other people including her late parents are also mined for extra depth into her character.

Denny began singing in folk clubs when just barely into her mid-teens. She sang what were called floor spots. These were performances by young hopefuls whereby they could sing and play a few songs without having yet achieved the status of being a credited performer on the main stage. Eventually, she did move onto that stage where she succeeded in attracting the attention of the audience and other folk musicians.

The story traces her first recordings with other musicians such as Alex Campbell and Johnny Silvo to her move to join the Strawbs with Dave Cousins. Of course, the thing that may be of most interest to many people was her joining Fairport Convention as a replacement for singer Judy Dyble.

Her days in and out of Fairport are covered in lengthy detail and bring the experience to vivid life. This includes such events as the horrific van crash which took the life of drummer Martin Lamble and Richard Thompson’s then girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn. Fortunately, Denny was travelling in another van with Trevor Lucas and his bandmates from the group Eclection. However, that did not prevent her from feeling the scars of the tragic event.

Houghton artfully weaves the story dealing with Denny’s involvement with Fairport Convention, her departure to start her group Fotheringay and her time as a solo recording artist.

Her personal life and relationships are also covered in great detail. Both that personal life and her musical life were often victims to her own emotional ups and downs. Bouts of insecurity often seemed to derail her attempts to keep things both musical and personal on a steady track. The addition of heavy drinking and cocaine use also served to keep things off a productive path.

I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn (a line from Denny’s song entitled Solo) is a well documented and well paced book which helps to put Sandy Denny’s life and career into perspective nearly forty years after her death from a fall down the stairs.

This is essential reading for any fan of British folk music from that era.

(I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn by Mick Houghton is published by Faber & Faber, London) 

Recent Arrivals – Discus

DiscusCDs-Tippetts&Archeretc...-flat

One of the best things about doing a radio programme featuring non-mainstream music for many years was receiving music from like-minded folks from around the globe. Such was the case back in the ’90s when I received a package of CDs from Martin Archer on his Discus label.

Martin continued to send me music and I continued to feature it on the airwaves. We also corresponded quite frequently and a musical relationship built up. In the ensuing years, we have played together live many times on my visits to the UK and we’ve also contributed to each other’s recordings.

When I visited Martin in Sheffield last June, he was in the midst of about a dozen different recording and performance ventures. At that time, he played me a number of recordings that he was working on. Many of these are now available on this latest trio of double-CD releases.

Vestigium is the latest collaboration between Martin and vocalist Julie Tippetts. Every release in their series of works seems to magically rise above the previous  set. This is no mean feat as each of their projects are quite wonderful affairs.

This latest set is no exception as the individual works often vary drastically in their sound but manage to create a bigger picture which holds all of them together. Sonic backdrops can be minimal and shimmering with the vocal lines drifting through the landscape. Other times, a steady bassline and percussion beat bring the funk to the fore.

Listening to these works, it seems like both Martin and Julie were destined to lock their creative energies together. Julie’s dexterous vocalizations meld perfectly with the music. Martin’s ear for detail and the ability to create subtle layers for the vocals makes for a tapestry of aural delights. The final work in the set – Stalking the Vision – is a fine example of this sonic synergy in action.

Bad Tidings from Slackwater Drag is by Martin’s ten-piece big band called Engine Room Favourites. From the introductory tune – Song for Alice Coltrane – you know that you are in for a good ride. Tracks range from dense and frenetic to minimal improvised structures.

At times, I was put in the mind of Soft Machine and also was reminded of Julius Hemphill’s Big Band. The latter thought was confirmed as the concluding number of the set is a cover version of Hemphill’s classic track The Hard Blues. And ERF do a most admirable job in their performance.

Inclusion Principle’s Third Opening shows even more diversity for Martin and his cohorts. This is a trio which also includes Herve Perez and Peter Fairclough.

On this set, the sounds range from environmental field recordings, computer-generated sounds, saxophones, piano and percussion. From minimal soundscapes to wild hyper-rhythms, the pieces blend and weave their way through two CDs of diverse sonic contexts.

Definitely three more highlights for the ever-expanding Discus catalogue.

Discus Music website

 

 

The Mysterious Mystery of… Lois

Lois-SatinDoll-back-cover

There was a time when you could find some interesting records at the thrift shop for a buck. The negligible investment made it possible to take a chance on things that just looked a bit odd or interesting. That is how I discovered a record that still remains a mystery to me.

Lois – Satin Doll showed up during one of my scavenges at a local thrift shop. It looked interesting enough to risk a dollar. So, I grabbed it.

Lois was apparently a regular fixture playing lounge style organ at a restaurant called The Charlesgate Restaurant in Williamsville, New York. This LP was recorded live there. It contains a mix of old chestnuts like the title track, Misty, Call Me etc… It also contains Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man. The tunes are well played and her voice is very good on the numbers that she sings.

So, of course, I should be able to track down something about her on the interwebs. Right? Well… no.

The record is a private pressing manufactured by a company called Mark Custom Records in 1977. I have been able to find out that these folks are still around doing custom runs of CDs for people today. That’s where the trail runs cold.

Countless searches only turn up the odd listing on eBay which simply quote from the liner notes of the LP. So far, I have been unable to find out any information about the mysterious Lois herself.

If you have any information, I’d love to hear from you. Until then, Lois remains a mystery.

Lois - Satin Doll

 

Essential Sounds – Patty Waters

Back in the mid-’70s, I was listening to the radio (WABX, Detroit or CJOM, Windsor) when I heard a DJ talking about an record that he was about to play. He sounded very upset. He felt that this was a VERY special album and that in a perfect world everybody would own or at least hear it. He then played the piece which takes up the entire second side of the LP entitled Patty Waters Sings. I was so blown away by the sounds that I immediately went downtown and special ordered a copy of the record.

Recorded in December 1965 and released the following year on the wild and wonderful ESP record label, Patty Waters Sings is indeed an essential listening experience.

The first side consists of short songs with Patty on vocals and piano. The songs are minimalist works of art. Both the vocals and piano seem to hang suspended in space with a persistent mood of melancholy mixed with broken-hearted despair.

Every time that I have played this album for people, they would sit motionless and entranced by the sound. Jaws would drop.

And then there is the second side. Here, Patty is accompanied by Burton Greene (piano), Steve Tintweiss (bass) and Tom Price (percussion). The sole piece on this side is a radical reworking of Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.

During the course of this track, the band goes off into a manic level of improvisation while Patty seems possessed by a demon. She starts off quite traditionally but winds up sounding like she is running around the studio shrieking to the mass of angular sounds stabbing their way around her voice. It is a magnificent tour de force of both instrumental and vocal dexterity.

In a recent discussion on a music forum, the question was asked what one album you would save if you had to escape your home burning down. This was the album… and it didn’t take a great deal of thought to make the decision.

Patty released one more LP for ESP which was a live recording. But, her debut album is the one that really stands the test of time for its essential sounds.

PattyWaters-Sings