Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Monday, 16 May 2011


From the title of this blog you could probably guess I was a Romero fan. I've loved his Zombie movies ever since I caught Day of the Dead on late night TV when I was far too young to be allowed to watch it. Which made it all the more thrilling!
I had never seen anything like it. The gore and blood were good, although I don't remember being too grossed out by them - perhaps it was a cut version. But it was the political message of the film that got me. Even as a small kid I could tell that this was an attack on consumer society - or shopping as I called it in those days. I can barely go to a shopping mall today without looking at all of the shopping zombies around me. I am, of course, not like them!
When I discovered that there were more films by the same director I was thrilled. What I didn't realise is that they were all so different. Of course, being different they also have very different soundtracks.
The soundtrack to 1968's Night of the Living Dead wasn't released until 1982. In part that was because the 'soundtrack' consisted of library cuts chosen by Romero from the Capitol Hi-Q Library.
When choosing the music he wanted, Romero made a deliberate effort to select music that he thought evoked earlier horror films. Whether deliberately or accidentally he chose tracks that had been previously used in The Hideous Sun Creature, Teenagers from Outer Space and Terror from the Year 5,000 (none of which I've seen!).
The use of library music, although undoubtedly financially motivated, unintentionally adds to the tension and in some places horror of the film. The music is 'familiar', it instantly evokes the kind of emotions that are expected. We have all heard this 'kind' of music before and, even if we don't consciously hear it our emotions are directed by it.
String driven and melodramatic, these tracks have, for me, moved beyond mere background music and now remind me of each scene. However, without the images of the zombies the music can in places be quite beautiful. I particularly like First Advance by Ib Glindemann for its imaginative use of heavy percussion and strings.
If you haven't seen the film, shame on you. And now is your chance to see it:-

Night of the Living Dead was such a success that it was inevitable that Romero should make a sequel, although he tried not to and made the not very successful romantic comedy There's Always Vanilla, the unsatisfactory Season of the Witch, the creepy Crazies and the even more creepy Martin before returning to the undead.
The story of the production of Dawn of the Dead is convoluted. You can read about it here.
One of the results of Romero's partnership with Italian film-maker Dario Argento was the use of the Italian prog rock band Goblin on the soundtrack. Goblin's first film score had been for the European cut of Romero's Martin.
Needless to say the music is much more modern than the 1950s cuts in the previous film. But then Dawn is also a more sophisticated film. Shot in colour, with a bigger budget and superior special effects the synthesisers and metronomic beat of the Goblin score provides the perfect accompaniment.
I love the space that each track has and the way that they develop slowly. The build of tense is achieved in much the same fashion as the earlier library tracks, but this time it is a synthesiser rather than a string section that produces the creepy effect.
Claudio Simonetti, keyboardist for Goblin went on to write disco and I think you can hear it in some of the funkier passages of the record.
Although, for me, the highlights are the electronic pieces there are also some, very strange, violin tracks which sound very unconvincing.
Just as there are many versions of the film there are many versions of the soundtrack, even a Japan only 45!
I am afraid to say that mine is the Dagored 2000 release.
In the end the Goblin music was only used in the Italian/ European release (which was cut in a different way too).
However, my version of the extended cut includes the Goblin music as well as the music used on the American release.
Again if you haven't seen the film then there must be something wrong with you:
Here it is:

The Goblin music was only part of the Dawn of the Dead soundtrack but until the nice people at  Trunk Records it was unavailable.

Terrible sleeve mind you. Doesn't it look slightly like Phil Seaman? Check for yourself here.

Just as he had done for Night of the Living Dead, Romero used library recording for his soundtrack to Dawn of the Dead. Using the De Wolfe Library this time Romero brought together a group of song with a completely different feel.
Gone are the 50s B-Movie horror strings and in their place is a mix of menacing synthesisers, some very avant garde sounding works and even some Radiophonics.
I tracks such as Cosmology Part 1 by Pierre Lemel are almost too difficult for me to listen to - although just for the sake of this blog I have done!
One of the 'highlights' of the record is The Gonk by Herbert Chappell. It appears at the end of the film as the zombies take over the mall and in particular as they walk across the ice skating rink. Personally I've never really liked it but others do.....
Figment by Simon Park on the other hand is a great bit of uptempo action music, not really horror more cop music.
Hats off once more to Romero for finding these perfect tracks.

Perhaps the experience of having Goblin score Dawn of the Dead influenced Romero but I suspect that the decision to involve John Harrison in the soundtrack was an attempt by t the studio to produce a marketable product. Some of the quirkiness of the library tracks has gone unfortunately.
That said I like this soundtrack very much indeed. The opening track The Dead Walk is almost disco. In a way this record reminds me of the music of John Carpenter, particularly his score for Assault on Precinct 13, particularly Breakdown which is fantastic.
The vocal numbers If Tomorrow Comes and The World Inside You Eyes, could, perhaps, have been left of the record but you can't have everything.
I was playing the side long The Dead Suite recently and my daughter asked me to take it off. "Its very scary music daddy," she said. And that is all you need to know about it.
If you've read down to here you have surely seen the film but if not here it is:

Friday, 6 May 2011


Nina Simone once said: "Jazz is not just music, it's a way of life, it's a way of being, a way of thinking. I think that the Negro in America is jazz. Everything he does - the slang he uses, the way he talks, his jargon, the new inventive phrases we make up to describe things - all that to me is jazz, just as much as the music we play. Jazz is not just music. It's the definition of the Afro-American black."
Is Alice Coltrane's Lord of Lord's jazz? Certainly musicians who appear on jazz records are on Lord of Lords. Apart from Coltrane herself there is Charlie Haden on bass and Ben Riley on drums. But, perhaps surprisingly given her famous husband, there is no brass.Instead the trio of jazz musicians are joined by a string section consisting of four first violins, four second violins, four violas and four cellos.
The music that they make is not 'jazz' in a pure sense. Indeed it is a fruitless discussion to undertake to pin down what is and what is not jazz. My purpose is rather to point out the uniqueness of this record, not just as a record in the jazz idiom but as a record in any idiom.
Alice Coltrane was born Alice McLeod and had her musical upbringing in Detroit where she rubbed shoulders with the likes of Yusef Lateef, Kenny Burrell and Barry Harris.An accomplished pianist she had played for many years professionally when she met John Coltrane.
In some quarters she was blamed for the splitting up of Coltrane's 'classic quartet' but the truth seems to be that Coltrane was outgrowing the quartet format and his increasingly spirituality and interest in non-Western music were pushing him towards the further experiments that he would undertake in the last few years of his life. It was as much his quest for spiritual enlightenment as his music that influenced Alice - if the two could be separated.
When John Coltrane died Alice was bequeathed the rights to his recordings. This gave her a solid financial foundation and if she had wanted to, she need never have worked again.
Instead she entered into a deal with Impulse which allowed the label to release as yet unreleased works by her husband and for her to record in whatever way she wanted.
Initially with her first few releases she seemed to be continuing in the path of her husband. However, with each new release she was exploring more and more of her own musical consciousness.
Alice was one of the very few female musicians of the jazz avant garde and certainly the only one to lead her own groups. When I think of the 'new thing' or free jazz I tend to think of serious young men in suits and ties, of 'the struggle' and of attempts to violently break free from convention. Indeed many jazz musicians thought that women were not able to play, particularly instruments such as the sax and trumpet, in the same way as men.
I don't think that this casual sexism was particular to jazz in the sixties or even to music. However, most of the successful or critically praised female jazz musicians of the period were either singers or piano players. Alice's use of the harp was often criticised as a gimmick rather than an effort to bring new sounds to the jazz palete.
So, as well as being a woman in a very masculine world, and a woman who did not need the help, financial or otherwise or men, Coltrane was also a very spiritual person.

In 1969 Alice began to attend lectures by Swami Satchidananda. By 1975 she had founded the Vedantic Center. Her music began to evolve along more eastern and spiritual lines until, by the late 70s she was recording only her interpretations of bhajans or Indian devotional songs.
It would, I think, be wrong, however, to say that her music on this record was only related to eastern spirituality. Her earlier experiences in the Baptist Church are clear in the final track, Going Home. The linear notes say: "Going Home is a gospel-orientated spiritual that is sung in homes and churches throughout the United States today. It was one of my parent's favourite songs." However, she goes on to say: "Gospel and Spiritual music are some of the greatest Attributes of the Creator to have been bestowed abundantly upon the children of the Nile i.e. African Americans". And the link between the Baptist Church, Egyptology and eastern spirituality is made!
I think this record bring together many of the different strands of her life. The use of repetitive almost drone-like patterns seems to emulate Indian chants, most notable in the track Lord of Lords, the inclusion of Gospel and Spiritual music links, explicitly back to her youth, and the inclusion of a version of Stravinsky's Firebird not only echoes the composer's attempts to link jazz and classical music but could also refer to his  influence on her husband's music and indeed that of Charlie Parker who was known to carry a copy of the Firebird Suite with him.
I don't know how this record was made but I love this quote from producer Ed Michel about her recording style in general: "She would usually play something.At that period, especially among the New York players, they thought of themselves as pretty free guys. That was where it was headed. You would suggest a harmonic environment, with a bass figure, and open it up from there .... Especially in the beginning she would do that. She shared that desire to take whatever form existed and find a place where it would naturally, organically open up into what was a tremendously empowering space for musicians who had the capacity to deal with it. It was an astonishing experience. A lot of LA studio string players, who were symphony guys, when they first encountered it, thought 'wow, what's going on here?' and then ate it up. They loved it."
A great, spiritual record, this is not one for people who want to dance or even nod their heads. It is however, as 'way out' as any horn-led free assault you will ever come across.

If you are interested in Alice Coltrane this book is recommended.: Monument Eternal: The Music of Alice Coltrane

Thursday, 5 May 2011

King Kong - Article in Ebony Magazine

I discovered the following article about the musical King Kong in the December 1961 issue of Ebony  - thank you google books!

The writing is very much of its time but the photos are very interesting. I particularly like the shots of cast members in London.

Scroll down to page 80 to find it.

The article about female engineers is also very much of its time!!!!!

Have a look here Ebony - King Kong