Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Robert Pete Williams - Louisiana Blues

Louisiana bluesman Robert Pete Williams had a unique, haunting style. His verses aren't constructed in the standard AAB format most blues conform to, but are unrhymed, stream-of-consciousness ruminations on the subject of the song. His guitar playing is unpredictable and virtuosic, interacting with and amplifying his lyrics. 

Williams was serving time in Angola when he was discovered and recorded by ethnomusicologist Harry Oster. Louisiana Blues dates from 1967, after he had been released from prison. It was released on the John Fahey's Takoma label, which specialized in blues and folk music. Here's a sample of Williams' beautiful music from this album:


Monday, July 17, 2017

Jam Session Featuring Maynard Ferguson

In case anyone actually checks out this blog, I'll apologize for the dearth of posts this month. I have been and will be on the road for much of July.

Maynard Ferguson's first 12" LP was an informal blowing session for EmArcy, Mercury's jazz division. Jam Session was recorded in 1954 and issued the next year. The record has two long tracks, one per side. Ferguson is frankly the least interesting soloist here - Herb Geller, Bob Cooper, Milt Bernhardt, Claude Williamson, and Max Roach all contribute fine improvisations, though. Bassist John Simmons is solid throughout, although he doesn't solo. Bob Gordon is listed in the credits, but his baritone sax is nowhere to be heard - I suspect he left the session after recording the tracks issued on an earlier 10" Ferguson LP.

Here's the entire album on YouTube:


Friday, July 7, 2017

Marcel Mule Plays Ibert and Debussy

Marcel Mule, who was born in France in 1901 and died a hundred years and six months later, was one of the 20th century's pioneers of the classical saxophone. He is the father of the French school of saxophone playing, and scores of pieces were written for him. If the extremes of his style - a fast, almost nervous vibrato, a sometimes harsh, almost metallic, sound, and a tendency to go sharp at the ends of notes - have been modified and softened by his followers, his musicianship and influence endures.

This early-50s Capitol 10" LP finds Mule playing two French compositions for saxophone and orchestra. The Ibert  Concertino is one of the best and most well-known pieces for saxophone and orchestra (or chamber orchestra, in this case), and Mule's reading is somewhat dated in several respects, such as his avoidance of the altissimo passages - those sections utilizing the notes above the "normal" range of the saxophone.

Mule's recording of the Debussy Rhapsodie, on the other hand, is among my favorite versions of this piece. That might not be saying much - Debussy was not enthusiastic about writing the Rhapsodie, and it might be his weakest work. But the Rhapsodie is not without its charms, and Mule brings out the best of what Debussy put into it.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra on Vanguard

The New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra was the late-1960s brainchild of pianist Lars Edegran, a native of Sweden who found his way to New Orleans earlier in the decade. Except for fellow Swede Orange Kellin on clarinet, the band was composed of New Orleans veterans: trumpeter Lionel Ferbos (who was still playing shortly before his death at 103 in 2014), Paul Crawford on trombone, William Russell on violin, bassist Walter Payton, and drummer John Robichaux. The band played classic ragtime, including arrangements from the famed "Red Back Book" of ragtime orchestrations for just such a small band. But they quickly expanded beyond that. The NORO basically played the music that a New Orleans society dance orchestra would have played in the first two decades of the 20th century - rags, jazz, pop songs, and novelties.

The presence of Lionel Ferbos and William Russell is particularly interesting. Ferbos typified the Creole trumpet style - elegant, controlled, and beautiful. Russell was best known as a scholar, writer, and record producer involved with traditional New Orleans jazz, but before that he was a classically trained violinist and composer.

The New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra recorded for several labels in their heyday; this double album on Vanguard was originally produced for the Swedish Sonet label by Sam Charters. Here's their version of "Bugle Boy March," an adaptation of a march called "American Soldier" that was much loved in New Orleans."

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Jeremy Steig - Dark as a Dungeon

Jeremy Steig (1942-2016) was one of the most unconventional of jazz flutists. His sound was raw, with little of the purity of the classical flute sound, and his improvising was wildly imaginative. His 1963 debut album for Columbia records, Flute Fever, was a masterpiece, although few listeners recognized it as such until the small, uncompromising reissue label International Phonograph put out an exemplary CD version in 2013. Accompanied by pianist Denny Zeitlin, bassist Ben Tucker, and Ben Riley on drums, Steig seemingly came out of nowhere with an album of uninhibited, unpredictable jazz.

But the story doesn't end with either the original LP or the International Phonograph reissue. Columbia issued a single from the session, which sank into oblivion even faster than the LP. And unlike the album, it has never been reissued. One side is very short, edited version of "Oleo" from Flute Fever, but the other side doesn't appear on the album or the CD reissue.

Steig takes a somewhat Coltrane-ish approach to Merle Travis's haunting "Dark as a Dungeon" on that unreissued side. If this track is not quite equal to the best parts of Flute Fever, it's still very good, and fascinating to hear. You're unlikely to hear it anywhere else, so here it is:

Dark as a Dungeon

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Sun Ra - The Soul Vibrations of Man

Here's another original Sun Ra El Saturn album - a really good one, musically. The Soul Vibrations of Man was one of two Ra albums recorded live at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago in November, 1977. (The other was Taking a Chance on Chances). My copy came in a plain black sleeve, although other copies were issued in a conventional sleeve with cover art. Much of side one features a flute duet, and the rest of the album is a nice mix of composition and improvisation. Recording and pressing quality is of the usual indifferent Saturn quality. But what a great album!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Sacred Harp Singing with Dinner on the Ground

Sacred Harp singing is a southern U.S. style dating back to at least the mid nineteenth century. The hymnbook called The Sacred Harp was first published in 1844, and its descendants and variants are still used by Sacred Harp singers today.  The book uses shaped noteheads, each of which corresponds to a different pitch. Traditionally, the first verse of each hymn is sung with solfege syllables (fa, sol, la, etc.) before the words are sung.

This excellent album was released around 1970 by the Sacred Harp Publishing Company, the Georgia firm that publishes the "official" Sacred Harp hymnbook. The singers are anonymous, but the recording was made in Birmingham, so I would guess that the singers were chosen from Alabama and the surrounding states. The performances are accomplished, and not as raw as many less formal field recordings of the style. As I write this, there are a couple of copies of this hard-to-find record on Amazon for around 150 bucks. I paid about 1% of that for my near-mint copy at a flea market.