Thursday, 21 June 2012

The ghost of Getz, or how recordings once sounded!

As an avid vinyl collector I love it when an LP comes through the post to be reviewed. I could almost say .... it makes my day! I was born in 1960 when that was the way of the world. I remember saving up my pocket money until I had enough to buy a 45, or single as it was known. I'd head off down to my local record shop looking for a particular record with particular a title or song in my head that I'd heard that morning on the Ed Stewart show on Saturday mornings, or even better Alan Freeman's Pick of the Pops (*) with his great Sign of the Swinging Cymbal theme tune. Of course if you weren't sure if it was the right record, or that you actually liked the record, you could stand and listen in a booth.

So why the nostalgia? Well here's a record recorded recently with the loving technology of the past, and with (what to me seems) great respect for sound and musical quality which reminds me of the work of recording artists in the 50s. As you will notice (from the cover) this is a recording from James Allsopp (tenor sax), Riaan Vosloo (double bass), Ross Stanley (piano), Tim Giles (drums). They've made a slight detour away from the normal paths of modern jazz that they follow in their own spare time to give us a 'blast from the past', but on their own terms. Once In A While is dedicated to the sound and style of the great jazz recordings of the 50s. It's a collection of standards with a couple of tunes re-written over standard changes that conjure up the atmosphere from past times perfectly. You may wonder .. does that mean the music is old fashioned, not so! For anyone who follows the jazz scene today we know the majority of musicians are trying to find new avenues of adventure to present themselves in - which is a good thing. However, it's rare to hear young musicians taking such care to reproduce not only the music, but also the sound. Tunes such as Moonlight in Vermont, Isfahan or Chelsea Bridge are not only loving remakes (which will have you curled up around a real fire), but also fine pieces of playing in their own right. The sound of James Allsopp's tenor sax literally gave me deja-vu. Even if his solos are truly his own one can help but hear 'The Sound' (**) himself hanging in the air, as if somewhere unforeseen in the studio. Yes, the ghost of Stan Getz (for me) looms high over the group, giving the music a timeless feel. One For Swiss played over the changes of Cherokee bring back memories of Getz and Oscar Peterson's versions of Tours End, or Cherokee itself from the Getz and Lionel Hampton meet Peterson collaboration. All the players on this release seem totally immersed in the music and play it with the true feeling that is needed. Ross Stanley accompanies the group totally within the idiom, and he solos hard when needed. Tim Giles and Riaan Vosloo do what a rhythm section should do .... play time and make everybody sound good! The solos are short and never outstay their welcome, giving a balance to the recording which makes it thoroughly enjoyable on many levels. One can enjoy the music for what it is, and from a modern viewpoint looking back as a tribute of sorts. However this is not some sort of nostalgia record, the music swings hard when needed (in fact most of the time), and with the inclusion of Coltrane's Syeeda's Song Flute you have reference to the bridge between the Broadway musical tradition and modern post bop which brought us contemporary jazz as we know it today. 

Lastly the aspect which caught my imagination (and ear) so much is the beautiful sound of the recording, something which I think is worth more than a passing phrase. When listening to the record one notices how warm the music is, not only the notes but also the sound itself. This not only adds to the music, but is in fact part of the music, and something we rarely hear (or notice) nowadays on recordings. A band on CD sounds nothing like a band live, due to the 1s and 0s being so perfect. However, this recording places the group right in your front living room with just the right balance between the instruments and the brightness of the sound, or as already mentioned it's warmth.     

I asked Riaan about the making of the record to which he replied :

"We wanted to make a record that was relaxing to listen to, not only in terms of the musical content but also in terms of the sound. There was no digital involved in making this record at all, we recorded to tape, mixed to tape and then mastered directly from the tape to the lacquer! The only time digital came into the equation was when we recorded the vinyl into the computer!"

What more can I say about this record? Not much really, it's a record to own not only because of the excellent music, but also the concept and presentation of the project - you can always check out this album here. But if you want a real treat buy the LP (***) and enjoy that lovely warm sound of vinyl which will fill you (and your room) with music as it should sound.

Footnote on the art of the LP : Of course all that seemed to have disappeared and we now have mp3 downloads, and CDs with covers that are so small it's difficult to read some of the text, if they have any cover notes. Here we are in 2012 and it seems that vinyl is in a healthy state considering it was meant to have been wiped out many years ago. For a few I won't have to convince you, but for others who threw away their systems, LPs, decks and amplifiers I recommend you spend a few bob and reconsider moving back into the vinyl world. It not only has the advantage of being it's sounds great (especially with the new 21 gram releases), looks great, AND it can't be copied, or at least as easily as mp3s, and it's a real object ... you can hold it! Long Playing Records, also known as LPs, a 12 inch or a 33 (because they turn at 33½ rpm), also have the advantage of their 12" square cover size, inspiring many great covers (or art works), something that CDs don't lend themselves to so easily. Check out some of the more original, or bizarre covers for jazz here, or rock here. Oh well, enough of all that, who needs convincing, they're just great, I wouldn't give them up for anything!

* = Check out this amazing link with a complete recording of Pick of the Pops. What's amazing is the reel-to-reel featured. We also (my dad) used to record the program sometimes so we could listen later. This way I'd single out certain tracks and be able to find out who'd sung or played what. It's also wonderful to be able to hear (again) what we were listening to at the times.
**= Stan Getz was know as 'The Sound', and rightly so.
***= Be warned, this a limited edition (of 300 copies)!

Monday, 18 June 2012

I still have a life, I think?!

There seems to be a glut of article recently on topics which bring into question some of our basic understandings and values concerning free time, creativity, the family, our private lives and today's modern society. UNICEF recently published a very interesting report which highlights some of the major problems facing our society today. It seems that and our materialistic approach to life is not helping to create happy and stable families.........what a surprise! One of the most interesting things in the BBC article was the comments section where people again and again talked about family values, Sunday opening times, the pressure of both parents having to work, meal times, and even property prices being on a long list of possible causes. I doubt anything will change in the future as politicians  and the public alike seem to be unable to get a grasp on our society which is running out of control. This little blog article doesn't seek to change anything, but I was inspired to put some of my thoughts into writing, and as a child of the sixties remember things from a different vue-point.

Recently in a language class we were talking about activities at home. Many of the students all answered when asked to name activities in the house (with and without their children) everyone said "I watch television." When it came to my turn I had to think of an alternative answer, as I have no television. The teacher asked, rather surprised, "You have no television?"
"No" I replied. 
"But, what do you do with you time?" One of the students asked.
I must admit I was at a loss as what to answer for two reasons. 
a) I didn't have enough vocabulary to answer the question properly - It was a Flemish (Dutch) course.
b) I'd never been at a loss for things to do, in fact there just isn't enough time in the day to everything I'd like to do.
I finally answered "I read, or listen to music!", which was perfectly true also.
At that point the classroom went into near mass hysteria debating between themselves (and across the class), how was that possible, nobody can live without a TV. If you can imagine Chicken Run being re-enacted in my classroom, then you have the picture. However, it did make me understand that the majority of our society in the western world (and other technologically reliant countries) are all controlled, or one could say 'slaves to', the television and it's various derivatives.  Of course the fact that you're reading this online means I use this medium, and you to read it.

The great 'Banana Splits' from the late 60's.
Being a child of the sixties I was brought up on television. Saturday mornings meant The Banana Splits (which we loved), Batman, Spider Man, along with a whole load of Gerry Anderson - Captain Scarlett, Thunderbirds, Doctor Who and many others. However, television was not only controlled - yes children's TV was ONLY from 15h30 to 17h45 on weekdays, and a few programs for schools in the morning such as Play-School, BBC 2's program for children. I think adults TV also stopped at midnight +/- which probably sounds boring, but somehow I suspect is a little healthier for our society. From day to day I find books of all sorts piling up, novels and non-fiction, CDs and LPs lying around in bigger and bigger piles, sometimes just for my own pleasure others for reviewing. At that point I haven't even started practising my instruments (I'm a musician for all those who don't know), composing, writing parts and scores for the various groups. I love photography and could spend all day walking around taking pictures, working on them etc (I was working in 'real film' until recently, but my last camera started to break down .... so I've gone digital, for the moment). And of course the list goes on with - my children, getting out to run or bike or go walking, and so on and so forth. I think one can see that an average 24 hour day is not long enough, and I hope that the same applies to you (whoever you are), after all there's so much to do and so little time AND it's exciting to create, discover and learn, don't you think so?

How do we fill our creative time now and are we aware of how important that time is? Do we make our own decisions and are we able to ignore the sheer power of large corporations, social media sites and the like? Here's an article on the BBC news pages that you should take a look at, and in my opinion ask yourself some serious questions on how we are living our lives -  Beyond the couch : TV goes social, goes everywhere.

The above article from the BBC seems to confirm for me the worst fears concerning today's modern world, the inability to make our own choices. What makes an individual is the possibility to be creative, or at least I would think so. I'm astounded at the amount of people who still support Facebook - and for that matter (me included) MySpace - especially when you see what these sites end up being used for, marketing. I was surprised to notice a remark from an outraged Facebook user recently who seemed shocked that he was being 'tailed' by Facebook, even when so called off-line. For all facebook readers who don't realise it, you are not logged off, even if you think you are read this article! I'm also surprised that people seem surprised they're being controlled or followed on a daily basis by their own computer. It's kind of scary to realise that social media sites are helping control what to watch, make suggestions about which websites your browsers will find interesting,  and so take away your creative choice. Some may argue that having such systems means that you're constantly being kept up to date, but in reality it has been shown that if you don't wipe your cookies (daily) from your web browser then you won't actually discover new web pages. Your browsing history determines what you see, or I should say what Google, Stumbleupon or whoever thinks you should see. In his very interesting article 'The Dark side of the Internet' Andy Beckett explains - among other things - what browsing is and why we should ask ourselves who controls what we see, and of course 'what' we see. If you're interested (i.e. you don't find what you're looking for on Google) you can always head to the Freenet - here.

Finally, the X-Factor and such programs seem (to me) to misdirect people as to what is and isn't good music. The TV is flooded with quiz shows that show our general ignorance but surprisingly appeal to a mass audience. Not only are the executives busy boycotting to get your attention, I have to wonder what the internet and controlled media are doing to the arts? In the music world the market for more experimental music is harder and harder to access and of course promote. Due to the ability of certain artists to spread themselves around the net like viruses it's difficult to make your own smaller (and humble) presence known. Many artists are now becoming experts on website building, tweeting, or just sending emails to alert people of their next concerts - even if you don't live in the same country. How do we know what is good any more? It's frightening to think that what you know, is only what you're being shown. Or maybe it doesn't matter and the phrase 'survival of the fittest' is what it's all about?

A small final thought : I once imagined a situation where an alien spacecraft was passing by our solar system and (without meaning to) somehow sent a massive magnetic pulse or wave out affecting our planet. The result of this magnetic wave was to knock out all electrical systems for the next 1000 years, the result being no electricity, total destruction of our computer systems, telephone networks, and all the rest. We of course would survive no problem, and so would literature, acoustic music, manual labour, agriculture and craftsmanship. I wonder if the future would be so bleak? 

As usual I apologise for straying away from subjects that are more in line with my profession (music) and will have something more in line with that subject to publish on the blog ... soon! Thanks for following.

Friday, 1 June 2012

HHAW - Hanslip, Higham, Antunes, Waremenbol.

An update after four gigs in Belgium, a wisdom tooth being pulled, and the financial crisis starting to kick in - or at least it's being felt over here. I could say something about that, but it's maybe best to keep that out of the blog, after all politicians have never supported the arts even if they pretend they do. In fact, they don't support anybody except themselves and to my amazement seem unable to see the misery they cause. Enough said, better still, and more important .... read on for more joyful fulfilling news. 

Well, I'm finished after a hell of a week (a few weeks ago now) of gigs with associate Mark Hanslip. Mark and I have been chatting away via the internet for the past few years sending each other questions, remarks and various reflections on music in general. The final result being a few small gigs which I organised over here in Belgium using my team of bassist Hugo Antunes and a fine young drummer Jakob Warmenbol.

Although the idea started out 'let's just play improvised music' I brought in a couple of loose tunes which we used as pivot points in the set to play either over, or move from section to section. I think that the music came across very well, and in most case (concerts) I was surprised at how easy it was, the music just flowed. The sound of the pieces, part from a Mingus type ballad, was very intense or one could say dense. Playing with Hugo and Jakob is like being in a boat out at sea where you can be floating in the gentle sway one minute and being thrown around in storm with sixty foot waves - all very exciting! Mark fitted in straight away and even mentioned that he had a few 'Outhouse' flashbacks (*) at times, which is not a bad comparison as maybe the music had some echoes of that period.  

Luckily Mark brought along his Zoom recorder - big thanks on my part - which meant he captured a little bit of those intense musical evenings. I've listened to most of the music and have to say it's pretty much 'steaming away' most of the time. The music, to my ears, flows naturally from the very first notes. Of course the quality of the recording is not your Abbey Road level, but that's not the idea, it's more of a musical souvenir. On another level it's also the starting point for maybe a real recording .... who knows?

I've included this recording (it's 18 minutes) of the beginning of the second set taken from the Muze evening in Antwerp. It's based around a loose melody known as 'The Line' which somehow seemed to inspire us each night into playing some very fine fiery music - which you'll hear if you listen. It's a concept that I'd like to develop, using melody and free improvisation to move the music in the directions needed. There's couple more hours of music sitting on my computer - all from Mark's 'Zoom' recordings - so who knows, maybe I'll post something else in the future. Or better still maybe we'll pull together, record something ... and do another little tour, hopefully somewhere near you! 


The Line - live at the Muze, Antwerp May - 2012

*= Mark was an original member of Outhouse, which is where I heard him for the first time.

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