2024 February 26 • Monday

Happy birthday!

The great Donald Byrd composed the 819th Soundtrack of the Week: Cornbread, Earl and Me.

The score, performed by The Blackbyrds with Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson conducting orchestral backing, begins with "Cornbread", a great jazzy funk tune with a relaxed and sunny energy to it. The lyrics are all about the character of Cornbread, "a man with a plan".

Next is "The One-Eye Two Step", which starts out with some really funky solo electric bass guitar played high up. I think. When the band comes in the bass drops real low but maybe it was a different instrument. With everything else going on, drums, guitar, keyboard, horns, I can't quite tell if I still hear the same thing it started with. But I think it's electric bass high then low.

"Mother/Son Theme" is a short and tender ballad featuring flute, a love theme but maternal not romantic love.

Trumpet takes the lead for the slow and smoldering "A Heavy Town", a very late-night romantic jazz tune.

Then the record explodes with the intense, high-energy action jazz funk disco whatever of "One-Gun Salute" that's in either 6/8 or 6/4. Take your pick. Wailing sax solo on this one.

We get deeper into dramatic underscore with the suspenseful "The Gym Fight", which has drums, bass and guitar playing spare, linear, unison lines, building tension until the horns come in and the funk beats come crashing down.

Side 1 ends with "Riot", which has most of the work being done by strings and drums, the former bringing intense dissonance and the latter keeping up a consistent and unnerving groove, punctuated by piano notes here and there. Then the strings sprint to the finish with an assist from other members of the orchestra (percussion, winds) At the end there's a surprise appearance by wordless chorus in a Morricone mood.

Side 2 starts with "Soulful Source", an almost unbelievably funky song with a devastating "Superstitious"-ish rhythm and infectious vocals ("baby, baby, what can I do?"). This is the kind of record where you just can't pick a favorite song but this one is way up there.

Then we get sensuous horn and string arrangements that Henry Mancini and Elmer Bernstein would have been proud of for the short but stirring "Mother/Son Talk".

"At the Carnival" is a 3/4 piece that starts with a calliope-esque keyboard intro and then shifts into a laidback and dreamy jazz waltz with some very '70s sounds. Then it segus right into "Candy Store Dilemma", a fast 4/4 jazz number with walking bass.

The suspense is back with the mysterious but totally groovy midtempo deep funk of "Wilford's Gone", with amazing trumpet playing and some very cool string and percussion arrangements.

Then it's a return to the somber but sweet mother/son theme music for "Mother/Son Bedroom Talk", followed by the tense and ominous "Courtroom Emotions", another pwoerful piece for orchestra, especially strings.

But the record ends on a high note with a reprise of the irrepressible "Cornbread", one of the happiest songs ever to come out of the Gutbrain HQ speakers.


2024 February 19 • Monday

The 818th Soundtrack of the Week is a bit different, being a Billy Taylor group playing Jimmy Jones's jazz arrangements of Richard Adler's music for the Broadway musical Kwamina.

There's quite a group here: Billy Taylor on piano, as well as leading the ensemble, plus Clark Terry on trumpet and flugelhorn, Jimmy Cleveland on trombone, Julius Watkins on French horn, Jay McAllister on tuba, Phil Woods on alto sax, Frank Wess on tenor sax, Jerome Richardson on baritone sax, Les Spann on guitar, George Duvivier on bass and Osie Johnson on drums.

The record kicks off with "Something Big", a breezy and swinging "Old Devil Moon"-ish tune that ought to elevate anyone's mood. I can't listen to this without snapping my fingers. Taylor takes a great solo.

"I'm Seeing Rainbows" starts with some startling drum work from Johnson before settling into a fairly uptempo and energetic jazz groove. The melody reminded me a bit of "Just You, Just Me".

This is followed by "Ordinary People", a tender ballad that features Phil Woods and, according to the liner notes, took eleven takes and two hours to get.

Cha-cha rhythm and a bit of Mancini-ish whimsy infect "The Cocoa Bean Song", which benefits greatly from Osie Johnson on the drums. Taylor plays wonderfully as well with a bright, light and cheerful touch that might remind you of Vince Guaraldi.

The first album side closes with "What's Wrong With Me", which lets Phil Woods cut loose on a brisk, driving yet relaxed piece that has some West Coast jazz energy in it.

Flip the record and first up is "Nothing More To Look Forward To", a soulful and swinging number with a but of a New Orleans feel to it.

"Another Time, Another Place" has a Cole Porter meets Duke Ellington sort of shape and lets Jimmy Cleveland step out on the trombone, as well as Mr. Woods again on the alto. Les Spann gets a nice guitar break too! And Taylor has a relentless and brilliant piano solo.

Then it's ballad time again with "Happy Is the Cricket", a delicate and beautiful piece in which Taylor's piano is mesmerizingly lovely.

Finally there's "Sun Is Beginning To Crow", another gloriously swinging tune, definitely ending on a high and letting the baritone sax take the spotlight also. It's a mystery to me why these tunes aren't standards. I don't think I'd ever heard any of them before, and that's just bizarre.


2024 February 12 • Monday

Happy birthday!

Taj Mahal's music for Brothers is the 817th Soundtrack of the Week.

It starts with the sensuous and bluesy 6/8 "Love Song in the Key of D", which features steel drum as well as other percussion and drum set along with sax, bass, guitar etc. Taj Mahal sings "Love me like the river / Love me like the wind".

Then there's "Funky Butt", that has a solid groove and a funk feel in the bass part but is otherwise a pretty straight up and down and sunny sort of song that tells a story and has a lot of steel drum action. "Ain't no doubt about it."

"Brothers Doin' Time" is a swaying and silky smooth song with Taj Mahal singing and playing some tasty guitar lines as well. Again the steel drum adds a lot.

Side One concludes with "Night Rider", which flirts with disco a bit but has some unexpected changes of tempo and feel and, of course, Mahal's plaintive and soulful singing.

The second side starts with "Free the Brothers", a long track with layered percussion grooves and a few vocalists chanting the title in unison.

Then comes "Sentidos Dulce (Sweet Feelings)", a slinky groove instrumental featuring the alto saxophone.

"The Funeral March" doesn't actually sound much like a funeral march but is a soul piano piece with some really deep pocket playing from the rhythm section.

After that comes "Malcolm's Song", a slow 6/8 piece a bit similar to "Love Song in the Key of D", but instrumental, with alto sax as the main voice and ample support from the steel drum.

Things wrap up with "David and Angela", a beautiful instrumental piece that features not just the steel drum but also the kalimba. It's a lovely, swaying, relaxing and pretty track and ends the record on a very positive note.
2024 February 09 • Friday

And here's another fantastic soul re-issue: Calvin Arnold's Funky Way.

Arnold was a great singer, songwriter and guitarist, all three talents quite clearly displayed here.

The title track was his big hit and it's just a devastating groove, absolutely irresistible. You'll want to hear it a hundred times. It has to have been sampled by somebody.

While the record leads with the strongest number, the whole thing is just great, the energy and musicality maintained at a very high level throughout.

The grooves, the guitar work, the horn arrangements, the songs, all just amazingly good.
2024 February 07 • Wednesday

The Gutbrain treasurer approves about 90% of requisitions for additions to the music library here. Soundtracks make up a big chunk of that, of course, but compilations and re-issues are right behind them.

This week Marie Queenie Lyons's Soul Fever has been honoring our turntable.

It's a high-energy soul record, so there are a few horns but very subtly deployed. All the instruments cohere into a solid force. You can focus on the guitar or the conga or the bass or whatever but everything is working all together.

Once the young Radcliffe feels a thrill in being in a stranger’s house without permission, a switch has been flipped and soon there are illegal entries to the local morgue and the zoo. Neither of these go as planned and Radcliffe and her two older cousins and partners-in-crime are lucky to get away unscathed.

There are three ballads but the rest of the record is like the world's grooviest bullet train. Occasionally you might hear a hint of of what would become known as Ethiopiques. And even a too-familiar song such as "Fever" gets totally transformed here.

What makes it all succeed is Lyons's voice, not just the instrument itself but her delivery, phrasing and gusto. It's a fantastic record!
2024 February 05 • Monday

The 816th Soundtrack of the Week is Banning by the great Quincy Jones.

First there’s a song, “The Eyes of Love”, sung by Gil Bernal, with a kind of druggy “Summer Place”/“Look of Love” sort of feel to it. It’s in a lilting 6/8 and has a nice melody.

The main title begins with flutes and woodwinds flying out of the orchestra, soon joined by brass and then the rest of the ensemble for a swinging and dramatic instrumental version of “The Eyes of Love”, for which Jones even brought out the electtic harpsichord. Later on there’s some really nice bluesy/jazz electric guitar soloing.

The next piece, “Don’t Make Waves”, is almost all percussion, very atmospheric and slightly avantgarde-sounding. Other instruments come in, such as electric guitar and clarinet but it’s mostly about the percussion section.

“Members Only” is the main title theme again (“The Eyes of Love”) but this time as a waltz with electric harpsichord and some other tasty flourishes.

Some tense and suspenseful figures from piano and strings with horns playing in low registers signals potential danger in “Dental Fleece”.

Then there’s a cocktail lounge small combo instrumental version of “The Eyes of Love” followed by the half tension, half romance cue “Poker/Take Tea and Me”, which also revisits the main theme.

A main title variation with pizzicato string backing and a quasi-bossa syncopation follows in “Banning Can’t Forget”, which has some nice saxophone playing.

Did you want to hear a slow blues version of the main theme with electric harpsichord and vibes? Skip right ahead to “Relay Chase”. It does explode into action in the second half, however.

“Mad Pad/A Lack of Lass” starts with some gorgeous saxophone playing and then proceeds to almost Tex Avery-style bouncing around before settling on the main theme again.

The main theme as a slow, deliberate flute feature comes next in “Fixation”, which has an unexpected upshift in tempo and energy at the end.

More intriguing blends of percussion instruments and space, mixed with some Laurie Johnson-ish horns, comes next. Jones gets the most out of the melodic capabilities of percussion instruments, as well exploiting their unique timbres.

A second theme, played beautifully by strings, harpsichord, piano etc., gets a run through in “Rendezvous/Price Control”, which ends up back at the main theme with some very sultry saxophone playing.

Both themes are referenced in the romantic “I Want You” before we move onto the toe-tapping, stealthy spy sounds of “The Tournament”. Parts of it sound almost like Masaru Sato’s Yojimbo score.

“Trying Tie” and “Sudden Death” continue “The Tournament” for the most part, with “Sudden Death” adding a perky flute and some exciting orchestral punctuations.

The “Finale” and “End Title” take us through “The Eyes of Love” again and the CD concludes with an alternate, sharper and more modern version of the main title. When it relaxes into the melody it has a brighter, more swinging feel to it, a bit like some of Neal Hefti’s music.
2024 February 02 • Friday

Something lost in the Mission: Impossible movies, because they’re primarily a star vehicle action franchise, is a certain psychological element that was central to the original show. Human beings are extremely susceptible to biases and tendencies and one of the most common and most powerful is a reflexive submission to authority. In the Mission: Impossible TV show, simply putting on the right uniform was enough to infiltrate a high-security area. The real-life relevance and application of this tendency have been proved numerous times in studies and in practice.

For an extremely engaging and exciting account of someone who went pro with the exploitation of this weakness in our armor, you should definitely treat yourself to Jenny Radcliffe’s People Hacker: Confessions of a Burglar for Hire.

Radcliffe grew up in working class Liverpool in the early 1980s and was free to roam with her friends all day. This was mostly a healthy experience but she had some traumatic experiences with bullied and one especially terrifying incident being held prisoner by a deranged woman who intended to do her great harm, if Radcliffe’s mother hadn’t managed to find her and rescue her.

Once the young Radcliffe feels a thrill in being in a stranger’s house without permission, a switch has been flipped and soon there are illegal entries to the local morgue and the zoo. Neither of these go as planned and Radcliffe and her two older cousins and partners-in-crime are lucky to get away unscathed.

After a bit of not so legal work in the Liverpool club scene, starting with running packages of unreported cash income and quitting once this escalates to guns and being manipulated into defrauding people, Radcliffe becomes a freelance security consultant, demonstrating to people that they’re a lot more vulnerable than they realize.

From there she gets a regular corporate job but is secretly pursuing a sideline as a “penetration tester” on the side, an occupation that brings her into some shadowy and precarious worlds. One of her regular clients is a man she never meets but who always knows where she is at any given time and pays her very well. She more or less figures out that he’s in the intelligence community or some branch of law enforcement, but other than that he’s a mystery.

No matter how good your physical or technology-based defenses are, any human being is a weak link in the chain and this is where Radcliffe focuses her plan of attack. One client tells her that since they just spent £2 million on a new security system, the only way she’ll be able to infiltrate the site is if someone opens the door for her. Well, that’s exactly what happens, or what she makes happen.

There’s story after story of this sort but it’s always interesting and suspenseful as Radcliffe’s talent for “reading” people is accompanied by a talent for writing them as well, presenting the reader with vivid and unique situations and characters.

Of course things often go wrong and she has to improvise and there are some really close calls. Just like in Mission: Impossible!

This isn’t just a really fun book, it’s also cautionary and educational. We’re all vulnerable to social engineering. So is Jenny Radcliffe. We can’t be perfect but we can be more realistic about our weaknesses and better prepared for those who might try to use them for malicious purposes.

The first line is “Social engineering is the pre-eminent component of the overwhelming majority of cyberattacks today”.