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273: The Necks, ‘Sex’

Posted by jeff on Nov 3, 2017 in A Cappella, Jazz, Nordic, Other, Rock, Song Of the week

The Necks, ‘Sex’

Rachael Price, ‘They All Laughed’  (the whole song)

Tarzan and Jayne

When I was 11, I wanted to be The Lone Ranger.
When I was 12, Mickey Mantle.
When I was 13, Mickey Hargitay (Jayne Mansfield’s husband).
When I was 14? A disk jockey on WSAI.
When I was 15? A disk jockey on WSAI.
When I was 16? A disk jockey… Well, I’ll leave it to you to extrapolate.

But I’ve matured. I no longer want to be a DJ on a Hit Parade station. I want to have a late-night slot on a very hip FM station, where I can wear shades (sunglasses) On Air and pick songs not by teeny-bopper sales (or by the $ of the distributor’s gift to the DJ) but by my very meandering rivulet of semi-consciousness.

So I’m going to fulfill my little fantasy this week, and present you with my personal Top Ten of the past fortnight or so, the best of the music that tracked its dirty little feet across my virtual turntable. In ascending order, just like at WSAI, to keep suspense at its peak.

Necks

[If you click on the What’s New tab on this page, you’ll see a chronological list of all SoTWs]

#10 Laura Nyro, ‘Stoney End’ (Seattle bootleg, 1971)

Yes, we dedicated SoTW 270 to this very cut, and SoTW 271 to a wider sampling of bootleg covers by Laura. I’ve been binge-ing on her bootlegs, and you’ll probably be hearing more about this inspiring music. But for a month now, I just can’t get enough of this thrilling, chilling treatment of a superb song I had previously not appreciated sufficiently.

#9 Barbra Streisand, ‘I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today’

I’ve listened to BS’s version of ‘Stoney End’ a couple more times, trying to figure out why that was a hit instead of Laura’s original, but to no avail. The world is not a fair place. I wrote a posting a long time ago (SoTW 20) about why I admired Barbra Streisand until she became famous at the age of 22, and never since. I listened to the “Stoney End” album. It’s not embarrassing, just a waste of vinyl. Or bytes or whatever. Barbra trying to be hip. She should just be Barbra.

Necks

But I did trip over this little gem—Randy Newman’s stunning ‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today’, recorded for the “Stoney End” album (1971), released only in 2012 on her “Release Me” CD. It’s just Streisand with Randy accompanying her on piano. It doesn’t have a single electron of the sincerity of the original, from Randy’s masterpiece first album, which had its own posting in SoTW 85. But still. The girl’s got pipes.

#8 Cilla Black, ‘Alfie’

While we’re on the subject of chanteuses shouting, I happened to hear the original version of Burt Bacharach/Hal David’s ‘Alfie’, by Cilla Black, orchestrated and conducted by Burt himself. Coincidentally, this song also had its own dedicated SoTW 220.

There’s a great clip of that session, mucho recommended. And here’s the two of them reflecting back on that recording session years later.

Cilla Black (nee Cilla White) was born in Liverpool (1943), a pal of The Beatles, managed by Brian Epstein. They gave her ‘Love of the Loved’, ‘It’s For You’, and ‘Step Inside Love’. Like many non-Brits, I was surprised to learn that Cilla became a major media ikon in the UK, hosting her own TV variety shows and whatnot. You might enjoy the rather charming and unpretentious TV biopic, “Cilla”.

Värttinä

#7 Värttinä, ‘Lasetus’

Flowing along the ‘women singing strongly’ stream, Värttinä is a Finnish world music band that’s been around for 30 years. They started out as a youth group collective, and have morphed into a successful group with floating membership, which “revived the unique polyphonic music of the Finno-Ugric people of Karelia”, eschewing ‘the long-accepted cultural notion that women should sing unaccompanied’. Oh, those Finns!

Come on, give it a chance!. No dedicated SoTW to these gals (yet), but we have explored the Finnishish band Folk‘Avant in SoTW 264, Nordic Roots music in general in SoTW 71 about Lyy, and their cousins The Bulgarian State Radio and Television Women’s Choir (Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares) – SoTW 30.

Necks

#6 The Real Group, ‘Li’l Darling’

Scandinavian singers. And in two weeks, Maestro Peder Karlsson is coming to our shores, so you know who I’m going to be listening to: the young The Real Group. Here they are in a favorite of mine, written by Neil Hefti for Count Basie’s seminal album “Atomic Basie”. Here’s SoTW 168 on ‘Girl Talk’, another great song by Hefti. And here’s SoTW 101, featuring Kurt Elling’s version of ‘Li’l Darling’.

The Real Group in its young days made a lot of pretty perfect music. I’ve written about them a lot, including SoTW 59 ‘Joy Spring’ and SoTW 209 ‘Waltz for Debby’.

The human voice. The only instrument created by God. You listen to the young The Real Group, and you know He really knew what He was doing.

Vocalocity

#5 Vocalocity, ‘Nueiba’

Well, that’s easy. The Real Group inspired the entire genre of Modern A Cappella, of which I’m a proud devotee. Four years ago, together with my partner and buddy Ron Gang, I formed Vocalocity, a 40-voice rock choir/power vocal ensemble. I’ve written about us in SoTW 207.

One of the many aspects of the group that I’m very proud of is that we sing pretty much only scores that were custom-written for us by the greatest arrangers of this genre in the world. We also get a big kick out of commissioning foreigners, especially them Nords, to revisit classic Israeli rock-pop standards.

So here’s a brand-new studio recording of Vocalocity singing ‘Nueiba’ by Shlomo Gronich. It’s arranged by the wonderful Ms Line Groth Riis. Here’s Gronich’s original.

The song is from 1982, when Israelis were feeling isolated and threatened militarily, politically, economically. Young people would take off for Nueiba for a few days, an oasis in the Sinai desert on the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. It was an ultimate escape, an isolated, idyllic getaway from all the world’s stress (the first 8 bars of Line’s arrangement). I was there in 1971, the week before my wedding. Sand, sea, surf, quiet, peace. Unspoiled, peaceful, natural beauty (all the rest of the song).

Touché

#4 Touché, ‘But Beautiful’

Paddling along the a cappella stream, Jesper Holm is a great conductor of Modern A Cappella. We in Israel just brought him to teach a group of conductors as part of a course given by the Royal Academy of Music from Alborg/Aarhus, the only institution in the world (I believe) to offer a degree in conducting this music. His group, Touché, is the closest I’ve heard to vocal perfection. You hear a cut and say, ‘Okay, they gave it a face-lift in the studio’. But I’ve heard them live, twice. They’re perfect live on stage as well.

‘But Beautiful’ was written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke for Bing Crosby to sing to Dorothy Lamour in the movie ‘The Road to Rio’ in 1947. I think Jimmy and Johnny would be pretty darned pleased to hear what Jesper and Touché have done with it.

#3 Jacob Collier, ‘Human Nature’

If you want to know what’s new in music, listen to what Jacob has done in the last two months. Here’s a new live performance of his treatment of the Michael Jackson song. I think it’s pretty great.

I’ve sung Jacob’s praises in SoTW 236 and will probably continue to do so in the future. He’s been working with a singer I admire, Becca Stevens (I had the opportunity to ask her all my geeky questions.) Here’s their brand new clip together. They seem to be having a lot of fun.

I have some reservations. He’s an overwhelming genius, everyone agrees. But he has yet to touch my heart. Is he freakishly talented, but merely a millennial with a digital personality? Or is he being expressive, just in a language I don’t perceive, let alone understand? Ah, Jeff, why spoil the party?

Ooh-ooh-ooh

#2 Rachael Price, ‘They All Laughed’

Guesting on Chris Thile’s “Prairie Home Companion” (PBS) just two weeks ago. On the site you can find links to a whole bunch of really outstanding videos which I recommend highly.

Chris Thile is a great musician (see SoTW 131), and I saw a side of him I hadn’t seen before on clips here such as ‘Calvin and the Ghosties’ and Your Lone Journey / Hell Among the Yearlings , by Chris and Rachael and an all-star band. This (and a bunch of other clips from the show) are knockout music.

But it’s Ms Price who steals the show with the Gershwins’ standard ‘They All Laughed’. By all rights, this should be #1, but I wrote about Ms Price in collaboration with Vilray in my very last posting, SoTW 272, and previously about her band Lake Street Dive (SoTW 206), and you gotta give someone else a break with the headline.

She does the Peggy Lee ‘I Love the Way You’re Breaking My Heart’ and Simon’s ‘American Tune’.

But it’s ‘They All Laughed’ that’s been keeping me awake at night. I’d like to tell you what Rachael Price does to me when she does that thing with her shoulders and her hands on “Ooh-ooh-ooh, who’s got the last laugh now?”—it’s like… it’s like… Well, there might be kids reading this, so I’m not going to write it.

Isn’t the suspense killing you? Drum roll, fanfare, and–

Necks

#1 The Necks, ‘Sex’

Some of my friends and I have been listening to The Necks pretty much non-stop for the last few weeks. They’re an Australian jazz-rock minimalist piano trio that’s produced about 20 distinguished but indistinguishable albums over the past 20 years.

Most of the albums, like “Sex”, contain one single hour-long cut droning along timelessly on only two chords, or even one, with miniscule changes. It’s hypnotic, it’s a trip. I really enjoyed writing SoTW 86 about Steve Reich and Minimalism, because I learned an awful lot doing the research.

The Necks “Sex”

One needs music like this. Intelligent entertainment. I need music all the time. But you can’t listen to ‘Visions of Johanna’ or ‘Crescent’ when you’re just waking up, or when you’re trying to fall asleep. Or when you’re trying to concentrate. Yeah, sometimes The Real World raises its ugly little head and demands the focus of our attention. Like Work, or Wife, or just mental Weariness. But I still need music. And The Necks are so darned useful for sharp, convincing, meaty background music.

All of The Necks’ albums sound pretty much alike (and I’ve been listening to all 20, over and over). Full disclosure: I chose “Sex” just to catch your eye, because I’m pleased to promulgate obscure music which deserves to be heard. I admit, they’re not the most inspiring music I’ve ever heard, but one can’t be inspired all the time.

They keep me going. But when I’ve caught my breath, I keep going back to #2, Rachel (‘Ooh-ooh-ooh, who’s got the last laugh now?’) Price. She takes my breath away. She tries harder.

That’s all for now, folks. See you again next week, same time, same imaginary station.

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103: Little Stevie Wonder, ‘Fingertips’

Posted by jeff on Oct 25, 2017 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Have you ever thought about the relative personal-ness of the various wind instruments? It’s a subject that occupies me at various moments of repose. How much harder it is to get a personal tone on, say a brass instrument (trumpet, valve trombone) than it is on a saxophone, for instance? Not that a brass player can’t express his personality on his ax; but it’s a whole lot harder to recognize a trumpeter from just a few notes than it is a saxophonist. A pianist is even harder. A glockenspielist may be even harder than that. A vocalist, obviously is the most individually expressive instrument, but God made that one, so it’s not really a fair competition. Anyway, it seems to me that running a close second to the human voice, and far ahead of the rest of the pack of wind instruments, is the harmonica.

Read more…

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022: Roberta Sá and Chico Buarque, ‘Mambembe’

Posted by jeff on Oct 19, 2017 in Brazilian, Song Of the week, Vocalists

I’ve had a good life.

I’ve thought a lot about the facts that I was awarded life only because my grandparents had the prescience to leave Belarus; and that I was born into the wealthiest country in history at a time of freedom and therefore presented with unlimited possibilities of all sorts; and that I was born into a people with a very special history, with concomitant obligations and baggage; that I had the luxury of choosing the country I wanted to live in and the good fortune to live a life I chose, rather than following one I was born into; and that I was born at a time that my coming-of-age coincided with the bloom of the Beatles’ and Dylan’s recording careers. I may have missed the existence of the walkman during my formative years, but all in all I think I was well-born.

But if I were able to do it all over again, I think I might have chosen to be born in Brazil, sometime after the advent of bossa nova. Their music is so often so magical that it makes everything non-Latin sound plodding and pedestrian. My friend Miki did have that good fortune. He can do just a little clapping shuffle with his hands, and it sounds like dancing. He sent me an email this week with the subject “You will fall in love” and the link to our SoTW

He, of course, was right.

All too frequently I discover music through obsessive detective work — someone I respect makes a passing reference to an artist I’m not familiar with. I start following clue after clue, fall into a binge of three days or four weeks poring through the entire discography, acquiring a dozen CDs, ignoring work, family, and reality listening to them, reading interviews transcribed from Croatian radio, the whole shebang.

But in this case, I did it right, just like a normal human. Well, almost. Miki sent me the link, and I watched it. Then I watched it again. And again. And again. You can figure out the ellipsis. And I did indeed fall in love with the girl, the song, the clip, the event filmed there. As has every person I’ve shown it to in the last week, as will I hope you as well.

So it was only after watching it 30 or 40 times that I took a break to research, document, dissemble, dissect and analyze the poor thing.

The girl, Roberta Sá, was dropped out of the 2002 ‘Brazilian Idol’ competition after 4 weeks, but she’s had a pretty good run of it since. Many of the highly respected icons of Brazilian music have recorded with her, including Chico Buarque in the clip here. He’s 64, creator of an extensive and highly respected discography, a master of lyrics who managed to stay in trouble with the Brazilian authorities for many years.
The song itself was quite a surprise to me. It’s a homeless gent, maintaining that he shouldn’t be pitied, he has the freedom of a gypsy:

On stage in the square, the circus, a park bench
Running in the dark, graffiti on the wall
You will know me–Mambembe, Gypsy

Beggar, rogue, nigger,
Good or bad mulambo, singing.
Runaway slave, a lunatic.
I make my festival

Poet, clown, pirate, pirate, Wandering Jew
Sleeping on the road, nothing, nothing in
And this world is all mine

 

Chorus:
Under the bridge, singing
Beneath the earth, singing
In the mouths of the people, singing

But padding the clip with facts just distances us from it. I may just as well stick to my local Israeli associations—Uri Mamillian accompanying Meir Ariel and (oxymoron follows) a meltingly sweet and smiling Yonit Levi.

But of course none of that is the point. The point is the magic in the clip. The magic floating guitar. The charm, the sweetness, the utterly captivating power of the smile. And most of all, of course, the nascent, vibrant electricity between the two singers.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Esperanza  Spalding and sex appeal in female singers. Well, this clip is a lot more articulate than I am. Sometimes, that’s what it’s all about. And it can be great.

Just for an experiment, listen to the music without watching the clip. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? I’ve listened to quite a lot of Roberta Sá’s recordings, and they’re respectable, but really nothing special. I keep thinking of Ruhama Raz, for those of you who know her, sweet and innocent and girl-next-door harmless. And I’ve listened to some of Chico Buarque’s stuff, and it’s too lyric-based for me to overcome the Portuguese barrier (as I can do with many other more universally musical Brazilian artists).

But the clip, my gosh. It’s so disarming and charming and intoxicating. Like Miki said, I fell in love. And enough words, go enjoy the absolutely entrancing flirtation between these two singers.

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272: Vilray, ‘Do Friends Fall in Love?’ (with Rachael Price)

Posted by jeff on Oct 13, 2017 in Song Of the week, Vocalists

Vilray and Rachael Price, ‘Do Friends Fall in Love’

Vilray, ‘(I’d Like to Get You) On a Slow Boat to China’ (busking)

I’m a member of that dwindling species, the heterosexual male. I was raised (by a professional feminist) before the sexual revolution. I’ve never had the opportunity to really explore Mars (though I’ve looked at a lot of very beautiful pictures of Venus). I’ve never consciously cultivated my female aspect, painted my nails, or willingly ordered a “nice salad”.

I’m simply not wired to sense the attractiveness of males. I get that young Marlon Brando in a tight t-shirt can turn a head or two. But James Dean? I never wanted to coddle or cuddle him.

The female of the species—that’s another story. Take for example, Rachael Price, singer of the fine group Lake Street Dive, whose praises I have previously sung in somewhat hyperbolic terms. What can I say? She makes me a more than a little dizzy. She is, according to all five of my humble male senses, the epitome of what a woman can/should be. A chanteuse, a siren. A visage that demands my testostironical attention, a call of the wild to the fundaments of my DNA.

So when I see her dueting with this guy Vilray – how can I put this delicately? – whose abdomen looks more like a 40-pound bag of melting ice than a frosty 6-pack – I’m struck by the incongruity.  Not just struck. Floored. Astounded. And filled with hope.

Because physically, Vilray reminds me of myself in junior high. More girth than glam, more Bud than bod, more tummy than tone, more stagger than swagger. And here he is, harmonizing right up close with that most divine Ms Price.

And she’s smiling. Genuinely. She’s smiling at him. She likes him.

I’ve been told a million times that for the female of the species, the brain is an erogenous zone. I guess I believe it, in theory. But in practice, my mind can only believe that women are as shallow and superficial as us guys.

Vilray – in the strictly Chippendale sense (we’ll get to his fingers in a moment) – is a 5. Being generous, because I really admire the guy. Rachael Price is easily a 17. Seeing her harmonize intimately with him is for me a miracle of nature: the zaftig guy winning the hand (that’s a euphemistic synecdoche, folks) of the fairest of damsels.

Vilray, I’m telling you right here and now: You are my hero, the representative, the proxy of every male who has bewailed his less than Graecian physique and overcome. Go for it!

But Vilray is not just a symbol. He’s a flesh and blood young artist, a prodigiously talented one. And if there’s a guy from our sub-species who deserves to get the girl and sell a lot of records, it’s him

Vilray, born and raised in NYC, got his biggest exposure when he was filmed busking with bassist Damon Hankoff at the Metropolitan Lorimer station of the G train. The song is Frank Loesser’s ‘(I’d Like to Get You) On a Slow Boat to China’, originally recorded by Peggy Lee and Bing Crosby in 1948. You can hear Vilray’s warm, Sinatra-esque vocal, his 30s swing guitar picking, and his virtuoso whistling. But that’s just the tip of the aforementioned bag of ice.

Vilray is a man out of time, an anachronism. He is of the 30s, Tin Pan Alley and (fortunately) was somehow time-tunneled several generations forward. He sings pre-war songs (that’s WWII for the kids), writes pre-war songs, wears flamingo-hued jackets, sports a pencil moustache, and uses vintage gear “for the warmth”.

Check this out, Vilray’s ‘So This Is Love’, originally sung by Ilene Woods for the Disney film “Cinderella”.

I do what I can to be both original and evocative of the earlier time but you can only write what comes. I have been steeped in this music since I was 16 so it’s very instinctual now.”
I know, Vil, I know. At 16 I was collecting stamps and reading Sports Illustrated. At 16 Rachael Price was being taken to the drive-in by Brad Pitt.

Fats Waller is a particular touchstone for me. I play two tunes which I wrote for him to sing, ‘She Calls Me MacLeish’ and ‘Go On Shining’. The first is the kind of joke tune that he sometimes sings, ‘Pent Up In A Penthouse’ or ‘What’s Your Name’. The other one is one of his spacey mysterious songs like ‘Inside This Heart of Mine’ or Jitterbug Waltz. My approach to writing is usually to write for a singer or band from that 1925-1944 period of recording. That’s what the writers were doing then.”

Fats Waller (1904-1945) was an enormously popular and influential pianist, singer, songwriter and entertainer, a major figure of the pre-war Tin Pan Alley Western and Gypsy swing style, daddy of the stride piano. He’s pretty fabulous. And Lena Horne doesn’t look like she’s having a bad time here.

If you skimmed the quote from Vilray above, let me reiterate: He writes songs for Fats to sing. That’s my kind of guy.

I readily admit that Tin Pan Alley/pre-war swing aren’t my areas of expertise. So I’m listening to Vilray’s ouvre, boning up to write this, cramming as it were. Who are his predecessors? I get that the guitar is emanating from an earlier era, but I can’t put my finger on just who played that way.

Listening to new music, asking myself questions. Like I’ve done several trillion times in my life. Then I remembered Facebook. So I shot Vilray a note, late at night for me, late afternoon for him. And he responded. Hence ensued a short but fruitful Q&A chat, with the artist himself supplying the very information I’m interested in hearing. I think that’s the coolest thing in the world.

I once heard Jacob Collier say that he was fortunate to be of a generation which offered the tools for him to make whatever music/video was in his mind In His Room at the age of 18 (and what music it was!), then press a button and export it to the world (and become an internationally-recognized genius within months). Others would say that it’s this generation that’s fortunate to have a Jacob Collier to explore the potential that this digital revolution offers.

In any case, the next time I’m tempted to bitch about the internet’s effect on the way we don’t communicate, I’ll try to remember that I can sometimes engage an artist in real time. Amazing.

Anyway, Vilray told me that Les Paul was a major influence. I know he invented the multitrack mixer all by himself. I wasn’t aware that he invented the solid-body electric guitar and a whole bunch of other doodangles. And he’s a remarkable guitarist, a remarkable musician, as you can see here, with his charming and talented wife Mary Ford. Les Paul is only person to be included in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. I’m sure going to be listening to some more of him.

But of course Vilray isn’t just influenced by Fats Waller and Les Paul. He’s a throwback to that era (and Ms Price looks very happy to be joining him on that hayride), but he’s an original. He’s clever and suave and prodigiously talented.

“We share one 1930s Amperite ribbon microphone like the one Sinatra sang into when he was getting started and I use a Premier 76 tube amplifier from the 1950s (bought through Retrofret Vintage Guitars). Nothing sounds as warm and comforting as this old stuff.”

Vilray says that dim lights, both in concert and in his apartment, are part of the warm, vacuum-tube parlor-concert atmosphere he’s creating. I tried that line a couple of times. Luckily for us, when Vilray tries it on Rachael, it works.

Vilray looks and sounds like another time, but he is in fact a seriously creative young artist who right now deserves to be listened to and supported. He’s funny and sharp, a super singing stylist with a great voice, knockout chops on the guitar, and a wow-level whistler to boot. He’s got an interesting website, and lots of fine clips on YouTube and Bandcamp. I signed up on Patreon to help him record. Nu, for a few bucks you too can be a big shot patron of the arts.

A 1930s microphone, a real-time Q&A session, writing songs for a long-gone legend to sing, turning down the lights with Rachael Price. You gotta love this guy. So he’s not Brad Pitt. Who among us real people is? He really does deserve our respect, our attention, our money, and the hand and heart of that most amazing young lady. That’s the way the universe should work.

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