Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2017 August 28 • Monday

Want to listen to something hauntingly beautiful and delicate in the morning while you have your first cup of coffee? I recommend the 480th Soundtrack of the Week, a collection of Hawaiian songs featured in the movie The Descendants.

Since I have a mild George Clooney allergy I'm not sure I can watch the movie. But the music is great.

There's also not much to say about it. Lovely songs, gently hypnotically performed with grace and understated feeling, lots of wonderful guitar playing and evocative vocals.

A few of them are by Gabby Pahuini, who has a special quality and strength.

It's the kind of record that makes me want to chuck everything and move to Hawaii and just play acoustic guitar. I had a similar reaction when I saw Vinicius Catuaria play a solo acoustic set (though of course it was Brazil that I'd be moving to).
2017 August 25 • Friday

Here's another page-turner and an unusual one at that: Bernard Werber's Empire of the Ants.

The first line is "'I'm afraid it isn't at all what you expected'" but before that there's this interesting bit of information: "In the few seconds it will take you to read these four lines:
—40 human beings and 700 million ants will have been born on Earth.
—30 human beings and 500 million ants will have died on Earth".

Empire of the Ants is the first book in a trilogy but so far the only one to have been translated from French into English. It tells a rousing story of survival, empire, conspiracy, terrorism, technological innovations for military and agricultural purposes, monarchy, an epic quest, love, honor and sacrifice... and that's just for the ants!

Well, really the ants and the other insects are the only interesting part of the book.

We go back and forth between parallel narratives, one insect and one human, and while the insect story is fascinating and exquisitely suspenseful all the scenes with humans are flat and dull. I don't know if it's the writing or the translation but whenever people are on the page the book loses all luster. And in some sections, when multiple people are in the same scene, it's impossible to tell who's supposed to be speaking.

But what is the story? This guy inherits his uncle's house, which comes with a cryptic warning never to go into the basement. This bit, early on, is such a hackneyed and obvious contrivance that it had me rolling my eyes.

But the parallel narrative is necessary to move this story along and since the human beings are so uninteresting, it makes sense to jazz up their story with this warning and the doom that seems to befall all those who ignore it.

The uncle was a crazy super specialist on ants which brings us to the other story, the quest of a handful of these creatures to discover information pertaining to a new secret weapon that has apparently been used on their russet ant colony by their enemies the dwarf ants. But their efforts are at first ignored and then met with murderous hostility by a cell of rock-scented ants.

More than that I won't say. But this book was actually thrilling, the parts with the ants, anyway. And it does tie up rather neatly and horribly, so much so that I was quite surprised to learn that it was the first part of a trilogy.

If part two appears in English I'll read it!

2017 August 23 • Wednesday

It's book review time again. A few weeks ago (at least) I read Jerrold Mundis's The Dogs.

Is it "far better than Jaws" as the Kirkus quote asserts? I don't know but I'm willing to read Jaws to find out, especially since I like comparing books to movie adaptations.

The Dogs could be marketed as "Jaws with paws", I suppose.

Certain dogs are being bred and trained and conditioned to create pure examples of the species, with all of their natural attributes honed to their maximum potential while erasing as much as possible the deleterious effects of millenia of domestication.

One of these dogs is separated from the institution doing this work and ends up in the care of divorced dad and professor Alex Bauer.

He bonds with the dog, Orph, but when Orph attacks his sons—not unprovoked, one of several gratifyingly gray areas—Alex can't keep him.

Orph ends up roaming around the mountains and puts together his own pack. They're only interested in survival but this puts them in conflict with humans and human interests and before long this conflict blows up into something bigger.

In some interesting ways this book is a little like First Blood, even with an almost supernatural link between the two main characters. (This was removed from the movie version of First Blood and the story plays better without it.)

Mundis knows a lot about dogs and conveys the information to the reader effortlessly. He handles violence in an unflinching manner, neither exaggerating nor understating, and the results can be gruesome and unsettling.

Sex scenes are less successful. Canine carnality is handled with what might be called aplomb but a human parallel comes off as contrived and not as convincing, as if sex and romance for the main character were contractually obligated. (Maybe it was.)

But this is a very engaging thriller that made this reader eager to keep turning the pages. The ending is satisfying and touching, even moving though the novel itself is not especially deep or even that memorable. The first line is "The sun was vigorous and the air tangy, the leaves were new".

2017 August 21 • Monday

If your ears are hungry for a classic style of soundtrack, old school writing and arranging and instrumentation, each cue a unit of dramatic substance suggesting actions, thoughts and feelings, then Alfi Kabiljo's music for Nikola Tesla, a made for Croatian television biodrama, is for you as well as being the 479th Soundtrack of the Week.

The main title is a promising piece of music that shows Kabiljo's strenghts at creating lush and lyrical figures. "The Flight" and "The Wings" are suitably airy and soaring until a more serious note—it sounds like gravity—enters and grounds the listener.

"Childhood" is a beautiful piece, reminiscent of John Barry, perhaps John Williams also.

Several tracks evoke Tesla's travels: "Passage to America", "Prague", "Paris", London" etc. Kabiljo comes up with appropriate musical languages for each place.

"The Laboratory" has a mysterious and eerie feel to it, generating considerable suspense and excitement.

The music is so good it makes me very curious about the quality of the original production, from 1977.

2017 August 14 • Monday

Remi Kabaka's music for Black Goddess is the 478th Soundtrack of the Week.

Most of the pieces are very groove oriented. It's almost impossible not to tap your foot. "The Warrior", in fact, is for percussion only.

It's a small ensemble, just four people. Three of them play percussion and between the four are keyboards, tenor and soprano saxes, bass guitar and electric guitar.

"Brothers and Sisters" has a Stevie Wonderish feel to it and is sunny in tone.

"The Quest" sounds a bit like Fela but without his monstrous band and urgent saxophone sound. Still, I'm guessing that he was an inspiration for this track.

Things slow down and get heavy with "Slave March", which has a hypnotic quality to it, mostly one phrase repeated over and over.

The title track is more upbeat, with some active saxophone lines and nicely layered rhythmic figures underneath.

Which leaves the solo keyboard track "The Quest", a meditative and spacious tune that stretches out for almost seven minutes. It's not the longest piece on the record but it is just solo keyboard. Fela's influence might be here again, and perhaps also Sun Ra's.

It's a shame that despite the strengths of the compositions, the sound of the band isn't as good as it could be. The drums all sound great but the electric instruments just don't sound like they're very good quality. A re-recording or re-interpretation of this music could be really great.

But this is the original and it is quite good!

2017 August 09 • Wednesday

A new addition to the Gutbrain Records Casual Collection of Mostly Mid-Century Ephemera is a few issues of Hot Rod magazine from the 1950s.

Here's the first one.

It's a nice cover and of course my eye was drawn by the postage stamp.

This issue is notable because it has an article about a woman in the very male hot rod scene.

The hot rod scene itself is something I don't know much about. It appears to be made up of people building their own cars or modding cars that are ten, twenty or thirty years old.

Hot rods and hot rodders come up often enough in music, movies and books from the period, but it's taken for granted that the audience knows what it needs to know about it. I'd like to know more.

2017 August 07 • Monday

The 477th Soundtrack of the Week is this brilliant re-recording of several Jerry Goldsmith compositions for the television series Thriller.

Re-recordings of film music from conductor Nic Raine, the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and the Tadlow label are always intensely rewarding. With this program of relatively obscure early Goldsmith, they've done something really special.

While a complete and chronological collection of every piece of music, ideally from the original recording sessions, would still be very desirable, this CD of three tracks each for six different episodes (each including a suite of cues) is exhilarating, brilliantly produced and a very listenable album.

"The Grim Reaper" has some of the modernistic small-ensemble ideas that Goldsmith loved so much back in those days, as well as some Herrmannesque lyricism and use of space. There are some intriguing uses of instruments such as accordion and exceptionally strong violin playing.

"Hay-Fork and Bill Hook" allow for some pastoral themes and lovely melodies that are alternated or layered with stings and other suggestions of menace and suspense. Fiddle traditions as well as traditional European music seem to have been inspirations and the flute does a lot of work as a primary voice.

After that we go into the "Well of Doom". It opens with dark, low and loud instruments surging out of the speakers toward the listener. There's also some lovely ethereal harp and vibes playing but the looming and bellowing voices of the lower register brass instruments are never far away.

For "Mr. George" Goldsmith came up with a theme that has a childlike innocence to it. It sounds like it might be played on the glockenspiel and has a soothing beauty to it. This lovely theme is heard quite a bit but inevitably things take a disturbing turn...

The harpsichord gets a workout in "The Poisoner" as does the string section. Sometimes it sounds like the strings are blended with an electronic instrument as well. This is one of the most relentless dramatic of the scores here, very strong and solid.

The last episode featured is "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper", which has a Weill-like theme in 3/4 and some spacious and extended playing from effective combinations of just a few instruments at a time. Percussion is used especially well here.

Finally there's a medley of all six of the "End Titles" from these episodes.

This is really a fantastic recording! We can only hope there are more like this to come!