Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Monday, 28 February 2011

Exploito # 6 - The Haircuts and the Impossibles - Call It Soul!

Recognise those happy frugging girls? Its the same cover shot as the Mustang Freakout but with the Mustang cropped out. They're still having a far out time though.
Kicking off with a cover of the Beatles Why Don't We Do in in the Road (uncredited of course) the Haircuts, or is it the Impossibles get off to a good start.
I would guess that this was Miller and Sherman's attempt to tap into the Beatles market. After all, what did people know about the Beatles? They had funny haircuts!!!!
The guitar playing on the second song Bun Buster sounds familiar - could it be Jerry Cole?
And then we get to Sock It My Way, which thankfully is the Animated Egg. Its such a good song - slightly weird and freaked out, slightly slow and menacing, the shimmering guitar refrain is pure class and the tightly coiled, aching lead seems to be imitating an evil snake and it coils and darts at us. Brrrrrr!
Wilson Otis and Aretha however, is Paul Griffin which is the same song as Joshua Got Busted on the Mustang Freakout record. It sounds too much like 'I'd Rather Be A Hammer than a Nail' to me.
Billy Blues is a fun sax led thing. Its taken from yet another exploit record, Guitars a Go Go, which was yet again done by Cole but before psychedelic music became popular. I'm sure that I'll get round to Cole's pre-Animated Egg/Id output.
Over on the B Side Cherry Pie is not another Beatles cover, unfortunately but a very lame slow organ dance thing with some truly awful singing.
Down the Road Apiece is another weak song but I'm fairly sure its Cole in an earlier guise.
Luckily its followed by more Animated Egg - Inside Looking Out. This version though seems to have been recorded in a well. Its full of very odd sounding and strange echo. Perhaps Miller and Sherman had their engineers play around with it. Or more likely it was just another take on the song - why spend money on anything.
Next comes more Paul Griffin on Frankie and Johnny which was one of his 'hits' of 1968 - or indeed on his Dance to Swinging Organ LP from 1964.
And finally yet more Animated Egg on Down Down and Gone. Perhaps not the best Animated Egg track but still a fuzzy piece of danceable fun.
Its time to say goodbye to Paul Griffin aka the Mustang. But don't worry exploito psych lovers - next time we're going to get into T Swift and the Electric Bag.

Sunday, 27 February 2011


Sunday again and more jazz with a Christian twist.
Mary Lou Williams was a key figure in the bebop scene in New York in the late 1940s.
She played and arranged for all the 'great' names such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk and arranged for Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.
She was one of the many musicians interviewed for Nat Hentoff and Nat Shapiro's Hear Me Talkin To Ya where her central place in the group of jazz musicians who were creating bebop is clear. In one passage she recalls seeing a female pianist Lovie Austin sitting cross-legged, cigarette in mouth, writing with her right hand while accompanying the band with 'her swinging left'. "I told myself, 'Mary, you'll do that one day.' (And I did, travelling with Andy Kirk's band in the 'thirties on one-nighters.)"
Although she was not the only woman in jazz she was one of the few who was not a singer. She was tough and determined and in love with music.
However, in 1954 she stopped playing music and devoted her energies to the Catholic Church. She is quoted in the sleeve notes as saying "Music had left my head and I hardly remembered playing." What an extraordinary comment and an extraordinary thing to happen. Imagine being at the centre of a revolution, being part of a movement of ideas that would change the course of music and influence people around the world. Imagine being part of that and then, not only deciding to do something else, but being so immersed in your new path that you forget all the revolutionary passion you had before. Amazing.
If the sleeve notes are to be believed she would not have returned to music had she not been persuaded by her priest Jesuit Father Anthony Wood. Apparently he said "Mary, you're an artist. You belong at the piano and writing music. Its my business to help people through the Church and your business to help people through music."
What a remarkable journey for a musician to go on. I wonder what it was that prompted her to give up the thing she loved most. Was she tired of music, or the life that came with the music? Had she seen too many wild nights and debauched times that were ruining the lives of the people around her? Or was it rather the pull of the Church? Was there a calmness and certainty and purpose in Catholicism that she liked? Did it give her something to devote her considerable energies to, other than music?
I have to admire that in a person. Very few of us know the path that we should take. Very few of us devote ourselves to that path regardless of the costs. I hope she found happiness in her period of abstinence.
On 3 November 1962 at the Saint Francis Xavier church on 30 West Sixteenth Street in New York a civil rights mass was held in honour of Martin de Porres a Peruvian saint of African descent. At that service Mary Lou Williams' Black Christ of the Andes was first performed.
I think it is significant that her first piece of music to be performed was a piece intended to fit into the Catholic liturgy but also intended to praise a black saint. During 1961 and 1962 Martin Luther King Jr had been campaigning in Albany, Georgia for desegregation of the city. Mary Lou Williams' home state was Georgia and she had grown up in Atlanta, King's hometown.
The beautiful, haunting singing of Black Christ of the Andes is reminiscent of ecclesiastical music as well as gospel music from the black Baptist church from which she came. When I first heard Black Christ of the Andes I wasn't even sure it was jazz. Of course, debates about what is and what is not jazz are ultimately pointless but the 'non-jazzness' of this piece also makes me wonder whether Williams, in composing it, was trying to move away from the bebop she had helped for develop and was searching for another type of music. Perhaps Williams was trying to push the boundaries of jazz into the furthest corners of where is had not been before. In the way that Christianity was pushing into Peru and up the Andes, exploring new territory, was Williams trying to push her music into new territories and explore new modes?
She was, certainly, making a statement about racial equality, or rather the lack of it in the US. Not only was she introducing jazz into the Church but she was doing so in praise of a black saint. I am sure that no one could have failed to understand the significance.
The album, to me, seems strangely divided between the overtly religious pieces, Black Christ of the Andes, The Devil (described as humorous in the sleeve notes but I find nothing about being dragged to hell very funny), Anima Christi', Praise the Lord (which is a swinging piece of gospel) and A Fungus Amungus.
The last is a very experimental piece of music that you either think it daring and exciting or you think is a tuneless mess. You decide.
The other tracks, It Ain't Necessarily So, Miss DD, A Grand Night for Swinging, My Blue Heaven and Dirge Blues are less obviously religious either in execution or content. Of these my favourite is Miss DD apparently dedicated to Doris Duke a famously wealthy New York socialite, philanthropist and jazz fan (her Doris Duke Jazz Foundation still supports jazz). With just Williams and bass its a wonderfully vibrant and enjoyable piece of uptempo stuff. If Ms Duke was like Miss DD she must have been great fun.

Of course the cover artist is David Stone Martin whose wonderful work graces many jazz records. Are the hands locked together in praise or in pain? I've looked at this image a great deal and it seems to me to be showing the agony of the faithful as they turn to their religion during difficult times.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Exploito # 5 - Part 2 - Even MORE examples of exploito versions of the 'Now Generation'

So, just when I thought I had shown you everything I had about Donnie Burks, Little Joe Curtis and Paul Griffin, I find that, lurking at the back of my record collection there's more.
But not only that, some very kind people have either pointed me towards cheap acquisitions or even given me records (thanks Daniel in Oz and Steve in London)

So, without further ado here's Donnie Burks' solo album

I hope that it's really him on the cover as he looks like a nice bloke. But I have to wonder - why put him in front of wooden boards?

Anyway, released on Europa, Miller's German operation which, as well as inflicting a world of pain through oompah music and beer drinking songs, managed to sneak out a few good records, Burks', record is really pretty good.

You'll find CC Rider from the Now Generation record here and its just as good. The other tracks are also fun but the standout - as one of the owners of this record clearly knew, which was why he put a sticker with the name of the track on the sleeve, is Funky Funky Woman. No doubt its the kind of thing that people would have danced to on Northern Soul nights - but then again they danced to a lot of stuff.

I have to wonder why this record only got a 1969 release in Germany and not the US. Maybe DL Miller knew something about the US market. Anyway, as usual with him, over half the tracks are credited to him. However, Burks does get a few credits. I hope he got some money.

Next we have some more Paul Griffin aka The Mustang, this time from 1964.

This time, its pretty good. I might even be persuaded that Jerry Cole is the man on guitar.

The sleeve notes try and draw a connection between The Mustang and jazz organ greats like Jimmy Smith but only a cloth eared poltroon would make the link.

This is good time stuff in an old time rock and roll vein with some hoking sax and fuzzy guitar. I prefer it to Organ Freakout. For some reason I can only find one of these tracks on another record - but I'm sure that's just me. We'll get to that other record in a moment. Paul/ Mustang also produce a Beatles cover record. If life takes me past one I'll let you all know.

We've already come across Oscar Records before with their repackaging of The Now Generation. This time round they get to have a go at the Otis Redding, Little Joe Curtis record. Notice that poor Little Joe still gets the tiniest typeface.

Haven't we seen this happy woman before? Of course, we have. Never let it be said Oscar Records had an ounce of originality. This is a close up of the woman on the Soul Sauce cover shot. Gotta love it.

 And so, of course, is this! This is an Australia record on the Astor label, another Miller nom de plume.

No funky stuff here I'm afraid, unless you think that the 101 String doing string leaden covers of soul songs is funky. They make a reasonable fist of some of them but to be honest no one would buy this record for the music alone. Would they?

But there is something so wonderfully exploito about the reuse of the cover, albeit in reverse, for the 101 Strings that it tickles me.

Finally we get back to some Animated Egg. The Young Sound '68 even has the sub-title - Out of Sight Hits for the Now People.

From the Animated Egg we get Sure Listic and I Said, She Said, Ah Sid - prime stuff

From the Mustang we get Frankie and Johnny from Swingin' Organ. What a hit from 1968!

From Little Joe Curtis we get Your Mini Skirt. I think I'm beginning to really like Little Joe.

And finally Donnie Burks gets in on the act with CC (Or See See) Rider.

You also get some 101 Sting pop cover action if that's your bag.

Have a long look at those rather mop-top looking guys on the cover. You'll be seeing them again too.

Although I like this record you have to remember that this is supposed to represent music in 1968. It goes without saying that anyone into popular music wouldn't have been seen dead listening to such out of date stuff. However, notice the 'Special Sale' sticker on the sleeve. This record was being sold for 77 cents. This was what these types of records were all about. Cheap records for supermarkets. Just think how low the production costs had to be to make any money from a 77c record!

For our next excursion into this amazing world we get back on the trail of Jerry Cole and the Animated Egg with the slightly ludicrously named Haircuts and the Impossibles - tune in


The life of songs can be peculiar. Songs such as My Way, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and Ferry Cross The Mersey have had rich and varied lives.
Shrimp Boats is another of those examples. How did a song written as a vocal number in 1951 become a song of amazing beauty on a South African jazz album, recorded in 1978 but only released in 1987?
In 1951 songwriters Paul Mason Howard and Paul Weston composed a song called Shrimp Boats is a Comin' for Weston's wife Jo Stafford. As she was a singer the song was a vocal number. Weston and Stafford were pop music royalty in the 40s and 50s. Stafford was said to have been one of the most popular female singers with the armed services, was the first female singer to sell over 25 million records and was described as 'America's most versatile singer'. Weston arranged for a multitude of artists, such as Bob Hope, Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby as well as working with Johnny Mercer. For those interested in this fascinating couple I direct you to the Paul Weston and Jo Stafford Collection at the University of Arizona.
Her version of the song is upbeat and fresh in that fifties way that seems too wholesome to be true. There is something slightly reminiscent of New Orleans in her delivery - no doubt attempting to give a song about shrimp boats a Southern flavour. It sold prodigiously and if you are all interested you can easily pick up a copy of the single.
For some reason it was copyrighted by The Disney Corporation, no doubt to use in a film. However, I can find no evidence that it was ever used in a Disney film.
It was also recorded by amongst others, Pete Fountain in a Dixieland style and Les Baxter in a remarkably straight version - oh for some exotica when you want it!
How did it travel to South Africa and into the ears of Dollar Brand? However it happened it clearly made an impression as it's a song that he's recorded at least twice and played live on numerous occasions. I think his best recorded version is on his Peace (also known as Dollar Brand + 2) album on As-Shams, The Sun. As just a trio with Victor Ntoni on bass and Nelson Magwaza on drums its a seductive, lyrical interpretation. His later recording of the song on the Dollar Brand meets Buddy Tate album is far more widely available as it was released on Chiaroscuro. Although I like that version too I'm not sure that Cecil McBee and Roy Brooks were as au fait with it as their earlier, South African counterparts.
Basil 'Mannenberg' Coetzee was part of the Cape jazz scene which spawned Dollar Brand amongst others. He played with Brand on the seminal Mannenberg Is Where Its Happening album in 1974 and was one of the leading tenor sax men in the country.
Through playing with Brand, Coetzee clearly learnt Shrimp Boats. It is such a beautiful song with such a strong melody that I can see why he wanted to stretch out on vinyl and explore its full potential. His version last the whole of side A of the record and clocks in at 25 minutes and 9 seconds. Almost long enough to go out and catch some shrimp yourself!
The song opens slowly with Coetzee and keyboardist Lionel Pillay gently testing the water of the refrain that will take us through the next 25 minutes. It slides back and forth, perhaps a bit like the waves or a boat on the sea. Percussionist Rod Clark backs them up with some lovely chimes which sets the nautical mood. The Shrimp Boats are getting read for their journey.
There is slight pause and the bass (Charles Johnstone) and the drums come in. Pillay adds some slight organ flourishes, Clark switches to maracas and then Coetzee enters with the main riff. The boats have launched and we feel we are on the sea. Its an inviting, easily navigated ocean and the boats set off in a happy, jaunty manner.
Now we are joined by Stompie Manana on trumpet who adds another layer of beauty and the band is complete. The boats are still happy, bobbing up and down on the hypnotic main riff. I haven't heard Manana's playing elsewhere which is a shame as on this record he is wonderful, soaring and leaping around the refrain almost like birds following fishermen out to sea.
We are still slightly sea tossed as Coetzee and then Pillay solo to relaxed and atmospheric effect. Suddenly you notice the rolling bass-line of Johnstone and the gently rocking drumming of Clark but then its back to the sounds of Coetzee's tenor which make the Shrimp Boats sounds happy and inviting.
Suddenly things change as the bass-line speeds up, the drums are faster and Pillay's piano suggests more spray. Are we heading into choppy waters? Perhaps but its still nothing that the shrimp boats can't handle and Manana's trumpet remains reassuring and in control.
Coetzee too retains his amazingly pure tone and warm sound and although the waves may be higher the music suggest that there is nothing to worry about.
The, again, there is a slight increase in the tempo and Pillay starts his solo on electric organ. I love his playing and this solo is no exception. One fells that the small shrimp boats are struggling against the waves and the elements but are, despite it all, prevailing.
And prevail they do. With the warm and gentle tones of Coetzee returning to the refrain, the same gorgeous chimes and warm organ sound the boats come back to shore.

After such an amazing A side the B side was always going to have a lot to live up to.Their version of Winston Mankuku's Yakahal 'Inkomo is good but lacks the power of Mankuku's original. The cover of Weathereport's Birdland is best forgotten.

Monday, 21 February 2011


What is the sound of library music? Indeed can you even say that there is a 'library sound' given that library music covers just about every conceivable style of music?
Nevertheless there is something, some indefinable element that sets it apart from commercially available recordings.
Bernard Lubat's work can be found largely on French library recordings and is inventive and interesting.
How he came to make a record for the hip boutique record label Les Disques Pierre Cardin I am not sure. No doubt couturier Cardin thought it would be a shrewd move to branch out into music and he must have had some adventurous A&R men as, in his label's short life, it released some marvelous, albeit not terribly commercial stuff. As you would imagine each release was thoughtfully packaged and this is no different.
Enlarge the image and have a long look at it. Designed by Emmanuel 'Pinpin' Sciot, I think its a rather beautiful collage that hints at all manner of pop cultural and avant garde interests. And is the face at the centre of the eye happy or shocked, is she laughing at us, or with us, or is she amazed to be seeing us at all?
You probably can't see but the corners of the sleeve have been 'curved' which is a lovely touch for a record cover.
Altogether a very thoughtful piece of design.
The record kicks of with some quacking a la Donald Duck, presumably from some of Lubat's Mad Ducks. However, if I am honest, the quacking doesn't remind me so much of Donald Duck but of the protagonist in The New York Ripper. Another movie/library connection although the film came out in 1982 and the record came out in 1974. Lubat did compose for film and TV as well as for library records, but not I am afraid to say for Fulci's misogynistic effort.
The first track however, is pure gold. Pappy Thomas, largely led by Claude Engel's fuzzy guitar but ably supported by Eddy Louiss on the organ, is a funky slow burning groover that just doesn't seem to stop. If it were in a movie it would be played during the scene where the male lead sees the female lead for the first time dancing in a mod-ish basement nightclub with 'psychedelic' lights playing across her beautiful form. Engel's guitar gets so heated that at one point I wonder if he's actually still playing the same song and hasn't wondered off onto some kind of Hendrix exploitation record. Wigged out man!
After the funky nightclub scene our two heroes have met. To the strains of the next song, To Yashima they drift around swinging London, looking into each other's eyes and making sweet love. The music is light and airy, the wordless vocals drift smoothly moving ever upwards. Eddy Louiss takes his organ work into the swirling, twisting song and also moves ever upwards. Amidst all of this calmness check out the drums - played by Monsieur Lubat the drums are skittish and driving, perhaps pulling away for the wonderful vocal harmonies but nevertheless underpinning the whole. Music for love's young dream.
After the dreamy interlude our boy and girl get back to the important business of solving the crime (whatever it might be) but now they are being chased. Vendredi Chez Astrid Trassoundaine (Friday at Astrid Troussoundaine's) sounds from the title as though it should be another dreamy track. Instead we get funky drumming and more fuzzy guitar attack. Whatever is happening at Astrid's its active stuff. This time Francois Gimenez does the guitar honours and he delivers the goods - as long as what you want are distorted guitar solos. The whole track collapses under the weight of its own freaky fuzzness before, just about, finding its feet with a lovely vibes solo as it fades away into the night.
Side two starts with some more off-putting duck impersonations before heading off into the beautiful Shouara. If our boy and girl want something to listen to while they are having meaningful sex this is the one for them. Again it feature the wordless singing of Annie Vassiliu, Daniele Bartoletti, Christian Padovan, Henry Tallourd and Michel Pellay. Soft guitar and piano accompany our young lovers as they gently celebrate their youth and beauty until some busy drums bring them to a climax.
Just as well they've finished because Au Bon Livre (Ode to Malcom Lowry) is very busy stuff. Malcolm Lowry wrote, amongst other things, Under the Volcano which is without doubt one of the most gut-wrenching depictions of a man's life destroyed by drink. He was also a favourite author of the OuLiPo group of writers and I wonder if that was an influence on Lubat? Au Bon Livre has some fantastic percussion, again courtesy of Lubat which may be an attempt to recreate the Latin-American setting of Lowry's book. There are moments during the song where I think that its one of those 'freak-out' tracks that you usually get on biker soundtracks. But then the inventive percussion comes through, as does the vibes and piano and you realise what an inventive piece of music it is. The piano refrain gets into my brain and is very hard to shift.
Finally, after their drink/drug freak-out our heroes get to the end of the movie. With another shot of mad duck noise Mickey Schroeder's Dreams contains only some clear, aching piano played by Lubat. Whatever Mickey is dreaming about it is a happy dream.
But perhaps not, as the very last sound on the record is a door being slammed. The end.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


I love this record. Its not such a strange thing to say that I love a record that I own. But I've loved it since the moment I first heard it in a record shop in west London, I loved it when I got it home and now, some five years later, I still put it on the turntable and I love it all over again.
So that's enough of me gushing. And really there is no need to read anything else I'm going to write. Stop reading right now and go on to ebay or gemm and get a copy of this.Its not expensive and has been reissued numerous times. What are you waiting for? Go on, do it now!
Still here? Well if you are you might as well read what I've got to say about it as I try and explain why I love it.
Mose Allison (you say his first name to rime with bows) was born and raised in Tippo, Mississippi - the back country of the title.
His music has always had a blues flavour to it. However, he played with many of the West Coast jazz men such as Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and Bob Brookmeyer. I have a couple of Zoot Sims records with Mose Allison and he comes across as a good pianist in the 'cool' style. Its difficult to hear him as the fluid stylist he is on this record.
The first side of this 1957 record is taken up with the Back Country Suite which was written between 1945 and 1956. The ten pieces are "musical sketches based on these recollections of childhood experiences," as Ira Gitler tells us in the linears. Gitler makes explicit references to the blues influences on Allison and names a number of blues musicians. Strangely they are mainly guitarists, some electric. While the blues is definitely present in his playing I don't really hear B.B. King. But I do hear Fats Waller and Nat King Cole.
The music of the suite is happy and uptempo. It evokes pleasant times, easy times. I would guess that he looked back on his childhood with happiness. Allison's playing is smooth; sometimes, as on Warm Night he is almost into easy listening territory.  But is has a real warmth and soul that I love. You don't need to be into jazz to 'get' Mose Allison (which is probably why so many rock musicians have 'got' him!).
As he is playing in a hornless trio the music is never sharp or discordant. You can imagine people enjoying it in a night club but also in a crowded bar or even on a porch with an iced tea.
Later in his career Allison would become known for his vocal numbers. Here he only sings on two songs and when he does, his voice leaps out of the speakers. On Blues he sings 'The young man, ain't got nothing in this world'. I have to say that, although its called Blues and the words are about unhappiness, there is something in his voice that does not make me think of the blues.He re-recoded this song as Young Man Blues and it was covered by the Who.
Side two continues the jazz-blues theme as he improvises around some fairly standard blues riffs. It is part of his great ability as a musician that you do not feel he is trying too hard to impress while playing magically. I suspect that this record was, as were so many Prestige records, recorded very quickly. However, you can hear that these are songs he has played many times and truely knows.
All but one of the songs on side two are standards. I have a soft spot for his take on Blueberry Hill but he does get very close to being too smooth on I Thought About You. His version of One Room Country Shack suffers in the same way as Blues from being simply too warm and smooth to be convincing as blues and you just don't get the feeling that Mose was singing about something he had experienced.
He is ably assisted on the record by Taylor La Fargue on bass who played on a number of Allison records and Frank Isola who played with Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan. However, it is completely Allison's record and his band mates have little space to come to the fore.
Despite the blues influences this is happy and cheerful music that always puts a smile on my face. Go and get it and I hope that you will find the same thing too.

Sunday, 6 February 2011


How much difference can we accept in our society?Are there some basic tenants of Western society that are inviolable and we should uphold these, even at the risk of losing sight of some of the other elements that make up our society? How far should people integrate into a society at the risk of losing their own cultures?
I think that these are questions that were as important in the America of 1959 when this record came out as they are now.
There was, of course, the Civil Rights Movement, which after the Montgomery Bus Boycott had somewhat lost momentum by 1959. Its greatest successes were ahead of it. There was the long shadow of the McCarthy-ite hearings, the witch-hunt that trampled on the rights of Americans in the quest to root out suspected Communists. America was still the home of the company man and non-conformity was uncommon, and slightly feared. Perhaps Abdul-Malik, given his interest in music and instruments from the Middle East followed the increasing American influence in the area. After the Suez Crisis in 1956, American oil companies increased their presence in the region and the American government increasingly provided help to undemocratic leaders in order to provide 'stability' and indeed by 1959 there had been a US military presence in Saudi for nine years.
However, unlike popular conception, the 50s in America were not in cultural-stasis waiting for the explosion of the 60s. Rather it was a period of intense experimentation and searching for new forms and approaches and few areas were are exciting as jazz. Musicians were bringing many different influences to jazz. Influences from Africa, from the Far East even from European classical traditions. Why not from the Middle East?
Abdul-Malik was born in Brooklyn to Sudanese parents. Unlike many other US jazzmen he did not come to Islam later in life but was born into it. Introduced to jazz at an early age he soon became an in demand bass player (we've already come across him on Art Blakey's African Drums and you can hear more of him with Coltrane at the Village Vanguard or on Monk's Misterioso). Perhaps inevitably he began to mix the music of America with the music of his roots.
This record shows how that mix might work. Using some of the top hard bop musicians in New York,  flautist Jerome Richardson, Benny Golson and Johnny Griffin on saxes, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Al Harewood on drums and Lee Morgan on trumpet, they are joined by Naim Karacand on violin, Mike Hamway and Bilal Abdurrahman on darabeka and Abdul-Malik himself on oud.
Like all marriages this one has some areas of harmony and others of tension. The two tracks that are at the East and West extremes are Takseem (Solo) and Searchin'. Takseem has no traditional jazz elements too it. The hard-boppers must have all popped out for a coffee or something while this track was recorded. A rhythm is laid down with the darabeka while oud and violin extemporize around the beats. Over the top is some very beautiful singing by Jarkarawan Nasseur. I am afraid that I do not know what she is singing about but it sounds to me as though it is the song of a sad woman who's man has left her.
This is immediately followed by Searchin which is straight ahead funky bop. It seems almost a shock after being taken on a journey to the Middle East to be returned to New York via a track that could be by the Jazz Messengers.
But it is Isma'a (Listen), the first track on side two that really shows what a true meeting of the two musics could produce. Starting with the opening  of the oud and the darabeka the track begins from the 'East' with a repeated motif which is then joined first by drums and then by the sax. Using the initial motif rather in the same way as they might use a complicated bass line, the drums and sax weave around the oud and darabeka and the song gathers pace. Then, Lee Morgan's trumpet cuts through, at first repeating the line of the oud but then in a wonderful and imaginative solo, soaring above the East and West elements into pure delight. That Lee Morgan sure could play! As the song comes to an end one by one the Western elements drop out until it is just the oud playing the refrain. Really exciting stuff that ends too quickly. I could have had a whole side of just this song. Apparently that arch-bandwagon-jumper Herbie Mann covered Isma'a on one of his albums but I have yet to hear it.
So, can a jazz record point that way through the thorny questions of multi-culturalism and integration? Of course you cannot learn how to live from a record. However, maybe there is something to be learnt from a Muslim in a Christian country who learnt to play a style of music that was indigenous to his adopted country but at the same time tried to bring something of his parent's country to that music.

Hunt it down and enjoy it.

Saturday, 5 February 2011


The 1950s in South Africa saw a renaissance in music, writing, theatre and even in a small way in film. Ironically given the rise of the apartheid system at the same time, black artists of every sort found ways to express themselves, often in opposition to the white-run system.
A generation of well-educated and talented men and women were trying to improve not just their lives but the lives of their communities. It took a very brutal regime to snuff out these people and their desire for a better life.
But before that happened there was King Kong - All African Jazz Opera.
A conscious attempt to create a work that was developed by both black and white artists, King Kong became one of the most popular stage productions in South African history.
The music was written by Todd Matshikiza who, as well as being a talented musician, was also a talented writer and worked on the famous Drum magazine. He particularly liked Peter Rezant's Merry Blackbirds, a swing band in the American style, and wrote about them a number of times in Drum. He is described as using his typewriter in the same way as he played his piano.
Matshikiza had previously written choral works, apparently largely because his access to full orchestras was limited.
He was a regular at Dorkay House, a well known arts centre in central Johannesburg where musicians, writers and actors met and collaborated.
It was there that he was approached by Harry Bloom, a lawyer and writer and Percy Tucker, a booking agent, with the idea of producing a stage production using African jazz and jive.In the end the show was produced and directed by Leon Gluckman, with a script by Pat Williams, choreography by Arnold Dover and costumes by Arthur Goldreich (who also painted the picture that is on the record cover).
But it is the musicians who first attracted me to this record. The leads were taken by Nathan Mdledle (lead singer of the Manhattan Brothers) and Miriam Makeba (Mamma Africa herself).The orchestra included Gwigwi Mrwebi (who, together with some of the Blue Notes produced the Gwigwi's Kwela album in London), Mackay Davashe, Jonas Gwangwa, Kippie Moeketsi, Hugh Masakela, General Duze, Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu and finally Little Lemmy on pennywhistle.  Without doubt some of the finest jazz musicians of the era.
Not only were all of the cast and musicians black South Africans but the production was resolutely about and for the new generation of urban, recently migrated black people.
The musical is set in an unnamed Township that is probably meant to represent Sophiatown. Sophiatown was to the flowering of black South African arts what Harlem was to the Harlem Renaissance. A cramped, insanitary, dangerous place with illegal drinking establishments (shebeens), armed gangs of tsotis (gangsters), unpaved roads, little street lighting or electricity or piped water. However, it was a place where music flourished, the journalists of Drum found inspiration and as one of the few places where black South Africans could own property, home to a burgeoning middle class.
It is an environment that would have resonated with all those who had migrated to Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban and made their homes in the Townships there.
The main character is based on a real person - King Kong, the boxer Ezekiel Dhlamini. The story follows his rise and fall in the milieu of township life and ends with his arrest for the murder of his erstwhile girlfriend, the shebeen queen Joyce and his eventual suicide in prison.
It is not overtly political and therefore could be enjoyed by whites and blacks alike. However, its white liberal creators, perhaps naively thought that by showing a slice of black urban life they could persuade other whites of the humanity of their black countrymen. However, as Jonas Gwangwa points out in Gwen Ansell's Soweto Blues, it was 'well-known' that King Kong did not commit suicide in prison but was in fact killed by his jailers. Therefore, by showing that he committed suicide the musical underlined the lies of the apharteid system.
So much for the background and the relevance of the musical. What is the record like? It can surely be no coincidence that the first song on the record, Sad Times, Bad Times recalls George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and the story has echoes of West Side Story. The music is a deliberate attempt to create a 'classical' jazz music in much the same way that Gershwin attempted while at the same time as taking themes from the white classics and weld them to indigenous approaches.
On those terms the music is a success. However, to my ears, it is a pale reflection of the jazz and jive that was being played in Sophiatown. Listen to the music on this compilation:
Now compare the joie de vivre and sheer pleasure of these tracks with King Kong. I have to say that Kong is found wanting. The exceptions are Back of the Moon where Makeba's vocals are wonderful and Kwela Kong which has some fine penny whistling.

The production proved to be so popular that an opportunity to take it to London presented itself.
In 1960 most, but by no means all of the cast, went to London. Some of the musicians and actors had been denied passports on political grounds.
Many took the opportunity of being in London to flee the country, including Matshikiza.
Esme Matshikiza his wife recalled "We did it for the sake of the children, but at that point we still felt we would go home after three years or whatever. But then South Africa broke away from the Commonwealth and we had to make a choice between going back and losing job opportunities in England. There was really no choice; we decided it was best to take out British citizenship, but it was still an extremely difficult decision to make. Once we'd exchanged our citizenship we realised there was no going back, and in fact Todd never went back. By the end of his life he was a very sad man. He really wanted to go home again." Perhaps it is this fact that prompted another exile, Louis Moholo to produce such a sad cover of Wedding Song on his Spirits Rejoice album.
Strangely there are some tracks on the UK album that do not appear on the South African LP and vice versa.
The London production was slightly altered, apparently to make it more palatable to British audiences. Perhaps this made sound commercial sense. It ran for a year.
The musicians befriended some Brit jazzers, notably John Dankworth and Cleo Laine and some jammed in London's few jazz clubs, usually Ronnie Scotts. Interestingly, however, of those who did not go home, many went on the America rather than stay in Britain.
If the South African album fails to capture the elan of the jazz music of the time, the UK record is even thinner. The loss of Makeba on vocals is felt and although the 'new' tracks are very enjoyable, they are just too 'showbiz' to have any real bite.
If you are at all interested I would suggest you hunt down the South African version. Both records are important documents of their times and are interesting for containing early examples of the playing of some well known South African jazz musicians.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Exploito # 5 - The Now Generation:- Donnie Burks, Paul Griffin and Little Joe Curtis

As 1967 rolled on and hippies and flower power became 'in', Sherman and Miller continued to pump out their cash-in exploitation records. Just as they had leapt on surf and hot rod, rock and roll, and soul records so they latched onto the latest burgeoning youth movement.

Don't those kids on the cover look like they are having a groovy time? More 1964 than 1967 but there you go.

There was a genuine band called the Now Generation which included Jimmy Buffett and did corny country covers of the hits of the day. This is not them. Nor has this record anything to do with the Generation Gap.

Surprisingly there are some artists credited on the back cover. Little Joe Curtis, Paul Griffin and Donnie Burks all get a mention.

Many of the song titles have a strange 'sock' theme. Sock Me Your Love, Sockerina, Old Time Sock. Maybe I'm missing something here???

This record may be more familiar to UK readers in its Marble Arch incarnation.

 On the Marble Arch version there are no individual artists credits so the listener has the impression that it could all be by the same artist. I like the pop art sound effect on the boxing glove.

Who are this soul triumvirate, the Now Generation, who find themselves united by cheap exploitation cash ins?

Well Donnie Burks was multi-talented - a musician, athlete, actor and theatre producer. He was in the original cast of Hair as well many other Broadway plays and musicals and in a number of movies, perhaps most notably Shaft. No one seems to know how he came to record these tracks. The exploitation machine even put out a whole album of his stuff on Europa in Germany! I doubt very much if he ever saw any reward for the honour of being on a string of cash-in records.

I have not been able to find out any details about Little Joe Curtis. Except that he also appears on another record with Otis Redding. Of course Otis died in 1967 so this record many have been intended as some kind of tribute to him. More likely it is the result of someone finding some of his pre-Stax recordings.

My copy is on Marble Arch but you can also find copies on Alshire, Somerset and a label called Astor in Australia. They all have to same typography on the label with Otis's name writ large and poor Little Joe, living up to his name - despite providing the bulk of the tracks.
Otis's contributions are fine driving early sixties soul sides.
Little Joe isn't bad either and while he is no Otis Redding I like his tracks. You will be able to find Have Mercy on Me retitled as Mercy Mercy on Me on the Now Generation record and Sock Me Your Love is Bring Back My Love.

His track Mini Skirt is a stomper and Sock Me Your Love/ Bring Back My Love is also very good.

It is also worth noting that all of Little Joe's tracks are credited to Miller and Sherman. This was a common ploy by the exploito kings to further increased their profits - naughty naughty!

The last of the Now Generation is Paul Griffin. In some ways Griffin was the exploitation organ equivalent of Jerry Cole's guitar exploitation work. His songs can be found on a number of different records. Like Cole he was also a session musician who played on numerous recordings, including some by Dylan.

Here is one of his records on Somerset. Not sure I really agree with this segregated dance floor but there you go. Everyone certainly seems to be having a great time however.

Griffin's tunes are all instrumental so, like Cole and the Animated Egg, they could easily be repackaged again and again and you would never know until you had got the record home.

I have also read that Cole and the Id/Animated Egg were his backing band. Its not impossible but don't go expecting any kind of fuzzed out psych music. Its very much safe, pop-y, polite soul.

And, if you were tempted by the cover of The Mustang - Organ Freakout to think that the mod chicks were dancing to, as the back breathlessly describes it 'the swingingest hammond organ album since the birth of psychedelia' you would be very disappointed.
Despite some great song titles such as Golden Gate Freakout, Joshua Got Bust, Haight Ashbury Time and The Acid Test the music is the same as Paul Griffin's Soul Sauce.
The blurb on the back goes on to say, 'When the Mustang mounts his Hammond - and the 'amps', start cookin' - look out baby - its an organ freakout. All the same artistry and the down home abandon of 'Frisco '67 comes screaming out of the speakers. Call it Soul - call it electronic Soul - HERE'S WHERE IT'S HAPPENING.' You gotta love it.

Recognise these guys? Its another shot from the photo session that gave us the cover to the Now Generation record.

And the music? Although credited to the Haircuts its actually the same Now Generation record as before.

In many ways it is the perfect example of an exploitation record. Absolutely nothing about it is original - not the music, not the cover art, not the song titles not ever the name of the band. And that is why I love 'em!

(Just added - Check out Part 2 of this entry with even more exploito LPs from the 'Now Generation')