Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
rob + = email

2011 April 29 • Friday

Sputnik sent shockwaves through the United States and around the world, but it did not have to be that way. Rocket scientists on both sides of the Iron Curtain had hoped to launch an artificial satellite at some point during 1957 or 1958 as part of an internationally coordinated programme to study the earth and upper atmosphere. They also knew that the Soviet Union was capable of being the first. When the President of the US Naval Academy of Sciences sent a congratulatory letter to the head of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, calling Sputnik "a brilliant contribution to the furtherance of science for which scientists everywhere will be grateful", he was reflecting enthusiasm for what many saw as an international breakthrough, not a particular nation's chance to gloat. Even the Soviet propaganda machine seems to have played down its significance. Pravda's announcement of the launch was relatively mild, below the fold, and emphasized basic technical facts. Above the fold? An article titled "Preparation for Winter is an Urgent Task".

—Ethan Pollock, The Times Literary Supplement, April 15 2011

2011 April 27 • Wednesday

Bonnie Guitar has been one of my heroes for years, ever since I got Bear Family's Dark Moon CD.

Now Bear Family has released another Bonnie Guitar CD, By the Fireside.

While there are some tracks on Dark Moon that are among my favorite recordings of all time, I think I like By the Fireside better as a CD. Who knows, maybe I like it better just because it's new.

One of the great things about it is that it's truly solo, no back-up singers, no band, just Bonnie and her guitar—and she sounds awesome here!

The recordings are kind of a mystery. Nobody knows how they came to be recorded or why. The liner notes suggest that they were meant to display Bonnie Guitar's versatility and Guitar herself said, when interviewed for this release, that "it was definitely a master session, not a demo".

She wasn't on a label at the time but recorded these songs at RCA Victor's Hollywood studio and played a Gretsch White Falcon.

For reasons I don't understand, Bear Family's CD presents only half of the material from these sessions, "the fifteen best" of the 29 songs she recorded.

Maybe they are the best, but I'd still like to hear all of them, especially the Bonnie Guitar originals (including "unidentified") and her versions of "Wildwood Flower", "Night Train to Memphis" and Hank Williams's "There'll Be No Teardops Tonight".

By the Fireside is only a little over half an hour, so it seems that all of the tunes could have fit. It's an excellent CD, though. But maybe Bear Family's working on a Bonnie Guitar box set. That would be great!

2011 April 25 • Monday

The 162nd Soundtrack of the Week is music from the television series Hawaiian Eye.

The music comes from various composers but is apparently arranged by musical director Warren Barker.

My favorite piece is the main title, a Les Baxter/Henry Mancini type groover that I'd heard previously on Buddy Morrow's Double Impact album. The composer credit is given as "David, Livingston". There's not a lot of info on this CD.

"Vallee, Henderson" wrote the hypnotic and swinging "Deep Night" and Maurice DePakh gets credit for the martial "Steele on the Prowl".

"Soft Green Seas" is an island atmosphere with a bluesy swing section by "Fiorito, Weeks, Anderson". "Audinot, DeBru" came up with the propulsive "Rhumba Rhapsody" and Charles Henderson penned the laid back, West Coast jazz-influenced "Cabbie Kim", which has nice use of Hawaiian percussion.

The spirit of Esquivel seems to guide Charles Henderson's "Cricket's Corner", with its space-age reverb strings and percussion. Maurice DePackh also contributes a second tune, the bluesy bongo-accented "Lopaka's Beat".

There are also some songs on the CD, Cole Porter's "Let's Do It" and "What Is This Thing Called Love?". The former is sung by Connie Stevens while the latter gets a very cool instrumental rendition with excellent use of electric guitar, vibes and percussion.

Robert Conrad sings "You're Getting To Be a Habit With Me" and Poncie Ponce sings "When My Dream Boat Comes Home".

2011 April 22 • Friday

Listening Rowe thought, as he often did, that you couldn't take such an odd world seriously, and yet all the time, in fact, he took it with a mortal seriousness. The grand names stood permanently like statues in his mind: names like Justice and Retribution, though what they both boiled down to was simply Mr Rennit, hundreds and hundreds of Mr Rennits. But of course if you believed in God — and the Devil — the thing wasn't quite so comic. Because the Devil — and God too — had always used comic people, futile people, little suburban natures and the maimed and warped to serve his purposes. When God used them you talked emptily of Nobility and when the devil used them of Wickedness, but the material was only dull shabby human mediocrity in either case.

—Graham Greene, The Ministry of Fear, 1943

2011 April 20 • Wednesday

My brother alerted me to the Kung Fu Fridays blog.

He called my attention specifically to an entry with a link to footage from Tsui Hark's The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, a 3-D remake of his own 1992 Dragon Inn, which was itself a remake of King Hu's 1967 Dragon Inn.

Normally a remake of a remake would be pretty depressing, but when it involves Tsui Hark doing one of his best films in 3-D with Jet Li—well, that seems promising. You can see some on YouTube here and here is the page Kung Fu Fridays linked to.

I also learned from Kung Fu Fridays that Wong Kar-wai is making an Ip Man film, called The Grandmasters, starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai. I'm excited for that, too, even though Christopher Doyle is not the cinematographer.

2011 April 18 • Monday

The 161st Soundtrack of the Week is Hawaii Five-0 by Morton Stevens.

This is the original soundtrack album reissued on CD by Film Score Monthly. Unlike most TV soundtrack albums, the Hawaii Five-0 LP contained music from the original soundtrack recordings, not re-recordings. At only about half an hour in length, it displays an impressive range of material.

First up is the theme, of course. It's one of those themes, like Mission: Impossible or Get Smart, that has to be part of any attempt to remake, reboot or update the original show. Of course, not only was the theme great, but Reza S. Badiyi came up with the brilliant credits sequence to go with it.

"Call to Danger" is a thrilling piece with urgent horn figures on top of a barrage of Hawaiian percussion. "McGarrett's Theme" is, surprisingly, a laid back bossa nova tune with delicate lounge horn playing on top of quiet guitar and percussion.

"Front Street" begins with a tough back beat, and then in come those late-'60s cop-show horns and electric bass. It's pretty awesome. There's some fuzz guitar in there, too, and it eventually builds up and takes off. There's even a drum solo!

"The Long Wait" is a suspense cue with pitched drum and other percussion creating an atmosphere of tense anticipation. "Blues Trip" is more acid rock than blues, no doubt source music for some scene.

The main theme is the template for "The Floater", a successful mutation and variation of the famous piece. "Interlude" has a sombre beginning but becomes a gentle piece for flute with strings plucking arpeggios.

"Operation Smash" is a sort of acid soul jazz groove. Probably you could dance the hully-gully to this. "Beach Trip" mixes a pulsating bass line with some psychedelic percussion and guitar. It takes things down a notch for an organ line played over a bossa nova-like groove

"Up Tight" starts out very much like "Beach Trip" but with a prominent part for the piano. It settles into a different kind of groove, and has more of a serious feel to it.

The record concludes with "The Chase/Hawaii Five-0". You can probably imagine what that sounds like!

2011 April 15 • Friday

The new issue of Coin-Op is out!

This is the "Municipal Parking and Waterfall" issue. In addition to dazzling comics, there are biographical sketches of jazz musicians Warne Marsh, Lucky Thompson, Tony Fruscella and Herbie Nichols.

Coin-Op is created by graphic designers Peter and Maria Hoey. Visit Coin-Op Studio to see their beautiful work.

Their comic is one of my favorites and I recommend all three issues. If you order from them directly, you might get a lovely thank-you note like this.

2011 April 13 • Wednesday

Dexter is somewhat famous for loving the subway. He knows many of the routes by heart and can tell you not only the names of every stop on the 7 or Q lines, for instance, but also what transfers are available at each stop.

He's a bit over three years old now but even when he was two he was informing startled passengers on the F that they could transfer at Broadway-Lafayette station to the B, D, M and downtown 6 trains.

Alice and I take long subway rides with him a few times a week, usually going out to Coney Island and then taking a train from there to some other destination. Flushing and Astoria are popular goals because the trips are long and involve a lot of time on elevated tracks. There's also something good to eat when we get there: Chinese food in Flushing, Thai in Woodside, Greek in Astoria.

Inspired by Dexter's focus on the New York subway system, I decided to read Thomas Walsh's To Hide a Rogue, a 1964 thriller about a New York City Transit police officer.

A violent and vicious criminal has a plan to avenge himself on the woman he holds responsible for his crippling muscle disease (another physically handicapped villain) and the death of his brother.

Part of his plan involves killing a subway train driver and threatening to kill more unless the transit workers' union pays him $20,000 in cash.

The climax of the book takes place on the subway and in the subway train yards. I read some of the book while riding the subway with Dexter and maybe Dexter will like to read it when he's older.

The subway stations and lines weren't familiar to me—Triboro line, Linden Avenue, etc.—and I couldn't match them to a map at the Transit Museum that was from around the same time. This interfered a bit with my enjoyment.

It seems that much of the action takes place on what we'd call the 7 line now. Most of the trains seem to be running on elevated tracks in Queens and there's a Junction Place station that could be what we know as Junction Boulevard.

It's a decent page-turner with a good villain though the handling of sex is dated and puritanical, particularly in regards to homosexuality (typical of the time, I guess).

The title isn't so great, either. It's a line from a Ralph Waldo Emerson essay and doesn't have anything to do with the story, as far as I could tell.

2011 April 11 • Monday

The 160th Soundtrack of the Week is Henry Mancini's score for The Hawaiians.

This sequel to Hawaii has music that's very different from the previous film's Elmer Bernstein score.

The main theme finds Mancini using a foundation of island percussion as a platform for one of his most beautiful, soaring melodies. The sounds of the strings, horns and harp are classic Mancini. (One tiny bit of it is similar to a bit of Leonard Bernstein's "Maria" from West Side Story.) It's a good thing it's such a great tune, because you hear it a lot!

Much of the music is quiet and "Asian". Instruments such as a, I think, koto and other Asian reed, wind and percussion instruments are used often.

Occasional pieces sound like they could be fit into an episode of Mr. Lucky without much difficulty. There are also pieces that are mournful, swirling and mysterious, ominous, anxious, and so on.

Mancini's genius as an arranger and also as a creator of atmospheres is abundantly evident in this music. The Intrada CD has both the original soundtrack recording and the album presentation (a re-recording of new arrangements of certain cues).

2011 April 08 • Friday

Here's another interesting Spider-Man cover, but first let's take a look at the cover of Action Comics #1, featuring the first appearance of Superman.

Now here's the cover of The Amazing Spider-Man #306.

Pretty neat. Action Comics #1 came out in 1938, which is the number on the police car Spider-Man is hefting.

2011 April 06 • Wednesday

Going through some old comics the other day I was startled by this Bill Sienkiewicz cover for Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, one of three Spider-Man titles that Marvel was publishing in the 1980s. (The Amazing Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man were the other two.)

It's the second of two stories that I remember being serialized in all three titles. I guess this way they hoped to persuade you to buy three Spider-Man comics a month—which I was doing anyway.

Both of those stories were, I guess, attempts to do something for Spider-Man that was similar to what Frank Miller had done for Batman and Alan Moore had done for superheroes in general over at Marvel's rival, DC Comics.

Getting Bill Sienkiwicz to do the covers automatically raises the interest level. He did all three covers for this story but this is the one that caught my eye—because it's done in the style of Egon Schiele. Note that Sienkiwicz wrote "After Schiele" right above the Fall of the Mutants box.

2011 April 04 • Monday

The 159th Soundtrack of the Week is Elmer Bernstein's Hawaii, presented in two discs by the Varese Soundtrack Club. Disc one has the almost complete original soundtrack recording in mono and disc two contains the album version in stereo.

It begins with an overture, hand percussion that bursts into soaring and lyrical orchestral music, featuring Bernstein's wistful and romantic main theme for the movie. A second theme, suggestive of suspense and action follows, and then a third, an energetic figure that sounds mostly cheery.

The music for the prologue follows, beginning with hand drums and subdued, atmospheric orchestral music. The orchestra swells near the end and the hand drums come out in force for a segue into the main title, the third track on the first disc.

There's an abundance of great music here, some of Elmer Bernstein's best orchestral writing and arranging. His use of orchestral color is stunning when you hear it in stereo, for the album recording on the second disc.

2011 April 01 • Friday