2018 November 14 • Wednesday

A few years ago Lucio Menegon (a.k.a. Reverend Screaming Fingers) and I co-wrote music for a preview for a comic book. It was basically scoring a movie trailer but the movie was a comic book.

We didn't discuss it at all but when we got together we had both written out an idea and picked F# minor as the key. So it was fairly easy for us to join our two pieces, smooth it out, make sure it fit the trailer, and then record the thing at Lucio's studio with Chris Cawthray on drums.

You can hear this, and buy it, along with another piece, "The Outside Groove", that Lucio wrote to go along with, I think, a trailer for an ebook.

Check it out here, and after that go take a look at his latest release, Music For Driving and Film, Vol. III (The Desert Years), also in a groovy, guitar-driven instrumental zone.

2018 November 12 • Monday

For the 543rd Soundtrack of the Week we just wanted to do something different. And so here we have what is probably most of the score for a movie called Here at the Waters’ Edge and it’s more or less by Leo Hurwitz and Charles Pratt. The score doesn’t really have a composer per se, as it consists of field recordings of sounds “in and around the Port of New York”.

Before you get agitated, let me assure you that I’m aware of and even sympathetic to the ideas of found or ready-made art and improvisation and chance operations as a form of composition. Nevertheless, whatever “composition” content might be contained herein must be minimal, it seems to me.

So what will you hear? Not much in the way of music, except in a John Cage sort of way. The closest things to musical instruments are rather magnificent foghorns and deep-throated ships’ whistles, as well as what sounds like trolley bells (though I believe that NYC’s streetcars were already gone by the time of this recording).

You’ll also hear the sounds of waves, trains, industrial machinery, birds, children’s voices, airplanes and such. It’s described on the back of the record as an “abstract symphony”, which seems fair enough, though it could certainly be more abstract and more symphonic. The liner notes also assert that it will “affect you deeply”, which simply wasn’t at all true in my case, though I did appreciate it as an interesting document.

2018 November 09 • Friday

Light in the Attic has released this incredible lost album of surf instrumentals by Lee Hazlewood: Cruising' for Surf Bunnies by The Woodchucks.

The only thing that anybody seems to know for sure about this music is that it was recorded in October 1964 in Studio E of United Recorders in Los Angeles, CA.

Nobody knows who played on it, though Al Casey is nominated as the likely lead guitarist. Apparently The Woodchucks was a band name that Hazlewood used for several recordings of instrumentals executed by session musicians of the day, ienvitably referred to now as The Wrecking Crew.

Almost all of the tunes are by Hazlewood and several will be familiar to fans of surf music.

The immortal "Baja" is here, split into two parts with half on each album side. It's interesting to note how slowly the band takes this song. It might be half the speed of the famous recording by The Astronauts.

"Movin'" is also taken much more slowly than probably every other recording of it you've heard. These performances don't sound sluggish, though, more atmospheric.

This possible emphasis on atmosphere might explain why there are three versions of Les Baxter pieces here, the singature "Quiet Village" and the lesser known "Bangkok Cock Fight" and "Cricketds of Karachi".

Quiet Village is taken at a similar tempo as "Baja" and "Movin'" but only the B section is really recognizable as the Baxter tune. The "Bangkok Cock Fight" is an uptempo, driving surf raver that doesn't really sound, to my ears, much like the Baxter piece at all.

"Crickets of Karachi" is a fairly straightforward interpretation of Baxter's original, midtempo and a nice piece.

The exotica theme presumably includes "Torn Sarong", credited on this CD to "Y. Roche". I don't know who that is or what the original of this might be. But it's another cute kind of singsongy tune, very similar to "Crickets of Karachi".

Going back to Hazlewood's own pieces, "Johnny October", is a genuinely haunting piece, suggesting the theme for a surf western, if only such a thing existed.

"The Nomads", with "D. Cole" as co-author, is another surf gem, also somewhat haunting in both its sonic feel as well as its chords and melody.

We get another rare uptempo, driving number with "The Man", which sounds as much like a hot rod piece as it does a surf piece. Those two flavors are often mixed together.

Next is a very Link Wray sort of tune, "Angry Generation", a slinky and sneaky sort of "Rumble" like tune. The bass player really shines on this one.

Finally there's "Batman", another much covered Hazlewood piece. As played here it sounds like most other takes on it that I've heard.

This band is great, whoever's actually in it. Cruisin' for Surf Bunnies is one of my favorite surf albums. And it only took 54 years for it to come out!

2018 November 07 • Wednesday

Ace Records continues to put out amazing compilations of old rock and roll, pop, blues, etc. This new release is one of their best and perhaps most obscure: She Came from Hungary!: 1960s Beat Girls from the Eastern Bloc.

The liner notes give an interesting overview of what the political and cultural situations were in Hungary in the 1960s. A governemtnal resolution called the Use and Practical Spending of Leisure Time by Young People basically gave permission for teenagers to form rock bands and many of those bands had female singers. And now we can hear some of them!

All of it is my kind of sing, swinging and stomping sixties rock/pop with cool keyboard and guitar sounds.

Márta Bencze's "Csak Fiataloknak" borrows a big chunk of Henry Mancini's Peter Gunn theme and her strong and soaring voice makes you wish she's recorded the actual theme. (It ended up with words. Sarah Vaughan recorded a vocal version.) According to the liner notes, the title means "Only For Young People".

More in the acid rock vein is "Ha Csak Egy Fokkal Szebb Az Ördögnél" by Gabi Fenyvesi. The fuzz guitar is definitely an asset here.

A lilting 6/8 rhythm and jangly electric guitars, one of them possibly a 12-string, gives Zsuzsa Koncz's "Keresem A Szót" a Byrds feel, while parts of the melody might remind you of "Hey Joe".

"Könyörögni Nem Fogok" by Zsuzsa Mátray sounds like a blend of The Rolling Stones with Booker T. & The MG's on acid. As impressive as the organ and guitars and drums are, it's definitely her voice that's making this happen. Some nice soloing from the guitar and keyboards, though.

Sarolta Zalatnay's "Zöld Borostyán" has perhaps the most interesting arrangement and some very unusual phrasing of the vocal lines in places. There's an acid wah-wah guitar freak-out at one point and a driving breakbeat drum part throughout.

If you were wondering where the harpsichord and strings are in all this, then skip ahead to the minor key and anxious-sounding "Most Kéne Abbahagyni" by Kati Kovács. This song comes close to recapturing the symphonic bombast that used to be the delivery vehicle for teen pop.

And that's just a sample! There are 24 songs on this CD and they're all great!

2018 November 05 • Monday

The 542nd Soundtrack of the Week is a lovely score we found on viny at Chicago's redoubtable Dusty Groove record shop: Ustad Vilayat Khan's music for The Guru.

It starts with a main title theme that uses both Indian instruments as well as electric guitar and a drum kit supplying a grooving backbeat. The theme itself is delightful and jaunty, similar in some ways to the "Ode to Joy".

You'll hear it several times on this record, in different arrangements. The second track, "Jenny's Theme", is a more syncopated arrangement of it with the melody played on flute.

"The Haunted Palace" is a suite of four different cues played on traditional Indian classical instruments and is by turns tuneful and textural, atmospheric and intense. There's some incredible tabla playing here, courtesy of Pandit Shanta Prasad.

Khan himself plays sitar while Ustad Imrat Khan, Vilayat Khan's younger brother, is on both surbahar and sitar and Ustad Shakoor Khan plays sarangi.

There are also two vocalists, for the two ragas that close the record, "Rag Malkauns" and "Rag Yanani". There's also an instrumental "Rag Bilawal". All three sound like other Indian clasical music pieces I've heard, as I believe they're intended to.

"Rag Bilawal" is based on the main theme. "Rag Malkauns" is a short number with powerful vocal and violin contributions. "Rag Yanani" is almost thirteen minutes long and closes out the record. It might be based partly on "Tom's Boat Song", which Michael York sings on Side A.

The singers for the ragas are Ustad Zinda Hasan Khan and Ustad Fayez Ahmed Khan.

It's an excellent record, very different from the Bollywood soundtracks I've listened to. I'd like to hear more like this.

2018 November 02 • Friday

Just in time for this Halloween I managed to read a book that I bought last Halloween: the two William Sloane novels To Walk the Night and The Edge of Running Water presented in one volume as The Rim of Morning by New York Review Books.

Both of these novels were written in the 1930s and provide a certain kind of reading satisfaction that seems to come almost exclusively from novels of that time. The writing and pacing are perfectly modulated, the tone is always even, everything is constructed with perfect deliberation and solidity; the feeling is like being drawn forward inexorably and smoothly on a perfectly natural current. Nothing is out of place or sloppy; nothing seems contrived or a product of authorial laziness or desperation.

Also typical is the intensely atmospheric nature of both books. Sloane appears to do this effortlessly, which makes it all the more effective, but the reader can also be aware of how well crafted and exciting it is, while reading, which is a perfect combination.

To Walk the Night has as its framing device storytelling itself. "Bark" Jones has to explain to his best friend's father all the events leading to and surrounding the suicide of the recently deceased young man.

The two sit outside the father's house on Long Island and talk all through the night and Sloane is excellent at balancing the story with its telling, as well as describing the passage of time through delicate observations of the light on the bay.

The story centers around a strange woman and an even stranger death, practically a locked room murder mystery, though technically not. Ingeniously, Sloane gives the reader vital information about how this first death (not the suicide) occurs, but it's cleverly disguised and presented so up front and center stage that it's hiding in plain sight and I expect most people will simply note it with curiosity and forget about it, as I did, even though Sloane makes a point of bringing it to our attention.

The story builds and moves forward inexorably and has a wonderful climax. While To Walk the Night has less action and more ambiguity, it was my favorite of the two.

Its first line is "The form in which this narrative is cast is necessarily an arbitrary one". The amount of pleasure that sentence gives you is probably a good indication of how much you'll like the rest of it.

The Edge of Running Water is easier to describe: mad scientist tries to build a machine to communicate with the dead, more or less.

Also in there are conflicts between locals and outsiders, science and the supernatural, virtue and vice, grief and love...

It's both more character-driven and more concerned with action and proceeds in a fairly straight line from its beginning to its end. Sloane again likes to end on a note of ambiguity, leaving the fate of two of the characters unknown and almost certainly unknowable.

While perhaps more ordinary than To Walk the Night, The Edge of Running Water is still very engrossing and was a joy to read.

Its first line is "The man for whom this story is told may or may not be alive".