Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


Excuse this slightly rambling post. I;m trying to work out some ideas on the fly so I hope some, at least, makes sense!

Don't expect Paul Bley's Solemn Mediation to be as exotic as the cover might make out. There is Paul, looking very serious and preppy with his buzz cut and button-down shirt but still without shoes, reading a book at the foot of the Buddha. What is he reading? Is it a religious text, is he seeking enlightenment, is he in some way meditating? Meditation, Buddha, a quest for knowledge, possibly a jungle behind him, all of these things point to the record being concerned with Eastern spirituality. Is this record going to be in any way exotic I hear you ask.

Solemn Meditation was released in 1958, the same year as another pianist called Martin Denny released Exotica. The covers of both records evoke and unnamed 'other' place with east Asian overtones. The titles of the Bley compositions, are Drum Two and Beau Diddley with Dave Pike contributing Persian Village. Compare these to Quiet Village, Love Dance, Ami Wa Furi and Waipio on Exotica. However, the two record could not be more different despite these superficial similarities.

Denny's group and Bley's were quartets, both also including vibes, Arthur Lyman in Denny's group and Dave Pike in Bley's and neither group featured brass players.
Why am I comparing these two records you might ask? I want to draw some parallels with non-American influences in jazz and in 'pop' or in Denny's case exotica.
Of course the most obvious difference between the two records is that the music on Bley's record is much more clearly in the jazz idiom. He covers songs written by Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge as well as Porgy from Gershwin's jazz influenced musical. Meanwhile Denny relies heavily on Les Baxter who, although recording a number of records with the word jazz in the title (Jungle Jazz, African Jazz), writing for prominent swing bands in the 1940s and experimenting with rhythms and instruments from Latin America and elsewhere, is not considered to be a jazz musician.
While i grant you there is considerably less swing in Denny's record it is clearly as concerned with the nature of sounds and rhythm as Bley's. Indeed at times I can hear Dave Brubeck's experiments underneath the bird calls and percussion flourishes.
What is also missing on the Denny record are the clear references throughout Solemn Meditation to other jazz musicians and trends, most notably bop and pianists such as Bud Powell and fellow Canadian Oscar Peterson.
Strangely what I don't hear on Solemn Meditation is much experimentation. Given that Bley was, at the time of recording this record, playing with Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry and that his bassist Charlie Hadden would go on to join the Colemen group, Solemn Meditation is solidly in the bop tradition.
Now, I'm not suggesting that Exotica is more experimental than Solemn Meditation but perhaps it pointed the way for a new direction in a way that Solemn Meditation did not. Remember that both Coltrane and Yusef Lateef listened to and liked exotica records before they discovered field recordings. What they were listening for were new instruments, unusual sounds and original approaches to composition.

To be continued.........


This record is a Britjazz obscurity. Recorded in 1962 it reveals British jazz trying to find a distinctive British (as opposed to American) voice. The role and influence of America on the jazz music of the rest of the world is a hotly debated issue. Here we get a glimpse of some of the leading jazz musicians in Britain in the early sixties attempting to pull away from the enormous influence of American jazz and create a new indigenous kind of jazz music. 

Peter Burman ran a nightclub in 1960s London called the El Toro and was also involved in the National Jazz Federation. Many well known British jazz musicians played the El Toro and Burman used it as a place to identify and promote (in all meanings of the word) musicians who he felt had promise. Thus he brought to the attention of the BBC some of the leading jazz bands of the period. Bands he recommended would be auditioned by the BBC and, if they passed, were given the opportunity to appear on the radio.
This led to Burman organising concerts, which he called Jazz Tete a Tete's, in the Recital Room at the Royal Festival Hall. These concerts were broadcast on the BBC's Jazz Club.
Although none of the broadcasts survive Burman, with the help of the ubiquitous Denis Preston, managed to get some of the musicians to record in Preston's Lansdowne Studios. This record is the result of these sessions.

If I'm honest what first drew me to this LP was the presence of Shake Keane. Keane had already recorded some of the most adventurous avant garde jazz ever committed to vinyl with Joe Harriott. The Joe Harriott Quintet released the seminal Free Form in 1960 and Abstract in 1962. When Keane recorded the tracks on this record in January 1962 the Harriott Quintet were half way through recording Abstract.
Of course, Harriott's free form experiments were utterly original and owed little to America. However, they were also not taken up by the British jazz scene. Indeed many British jazz musicians were openly scornful and mocking of the Quintet's music.
There is none of this experimentation in Keane's playing here. Instead he supports the Pat Smythe Trio. Smythe was also a member of the Harriott Quintet. In his way he was as important to the Harriott sound as was Keane. According to Coleridge Goode it was Smythe's harmonic subtlety and range of musical knowledge that made free form music a real possibility.
Keane and Smythe both had knowledge of classical music and, perhaps not surprisingly for music that originated in one of London's most prestigious concert venues, the music they produce here is very much influenced by the mix of jazz and classical music that came to be known as the 'third stream'. I think given Keane's other appearances on experimental third stream recordings, most notably David Mack's New Directions, this is hardly surprising.
However, of all the recordings on this record the Smythe Trios are perhaps the most 'jazz'. Of the three tracks, two are from recognised jazz greats, Miles David and Max Roach, albeit in radically different forms, while the third is the standard, Ole Devil Moon.
For me these tracks are the highlight of the record. however, they are not at all the most ambitious.

Johnny Scott, in 1962, was the leader of a quintet and had been playing jazz for a number of years. He would later move into studio work for movie scores which in turn led him into cinema composing where he has scored music for movies such as The Shooting Party and Greystoke. He has also scored classical pieces, played in classical orchestras and even conducted.
His contribution to this record is a Suite in Three Movements. I can hear definite elements of cinematic music in each movement and although his music definitely has a foundation in jazz, it is obviously pulling in a completely different direction from Harriott's free form experiments.
Although the sleeve notes compare these pieces by Scott to the American third stream I would suggest that they rather represent a more British approach to the fusion of jazz and classical music. I find his flute playing and the percussion to be very evocative of Benjamin Britten.

Ray Premru's group consisted of some great British jazzmen. Kenny Clare, Bob Efford, Kenny Napper and Eddie Blair. Unfortunately their contribution is the least interesting on the record, perhaps because it is the least experimental.
Despite also leaning heavily on classical conventions it is rather stale music that never manages to lift itself above or beyond its conventions.

Finally, the record closes with some marvellous music from Alan Clare. Again owing rather a lot to classical music, in this case Debussy, Clare's music is truly sublime. I think its his playing, his tone and phrasing, that really give his contributions such depth and beauty. It is a shame he did not record more!
He is ably assisted by Lennie Bush on drums, Dave Goldberg on guitar and Bob Burns on soprano sax. Their playing is very restrained putting Clare's playing at the forefront.
Of all the music on this record, Clare's is the most difficult to pigeon-hole. Is it jazz, or classical, or something else entirely? Its certainly very beautiful and unique.

Overall, this record is not a lost masterpiece. At best if provides a snapshot of a moment in the development of British jaz as it stuggled to find its identity. If you come across it, pick it up. Its an interesting listen.

Monday, 15 October 2012


For reasons that I can't begin to explain, this record hasn't been far from turntable for the last few weeks.
In case you don't know him, Don Burrows is one of the key figures in Australian jazz. If you ever come across a record from Australia that contains jazz it will also probably have Burrows playing on it!
Released in 1963, On Camera collects together some of the music Burrows and his band recorded for TV shows such as The Bryan Davies Show and This Is Jazz.
Oh, for a time when you could see and hear jazz on television. I don't know about you but round these parts the only jazz that gets shows on any of the hundreds of channels I get are concerts of sixties jazz luminaries but only recorded at the sunset of their careers, usually for some reason in the early nineties. There is definitely nothing showing young, avante garde, or interesting modern jazz. Imagine a whole programmes devoted to it! But then again in 1962 the world hadn't yet been completely changed by the arrived of the Beatles! I'm sure they didn't mean to, but their success put an end to the era when jazz could be considered pop music, much less popular music.
Anyway, I digress!
With Burrows on this record is a veritable supergroup of Australian jazz musos. Accompanying Burrows on brass is Errol Buddle on tenor, as well as oboe, bassoon and clarinet (that's him on the front cover with a bald head and 'tache). Rounding out the brass section is Johnny Bamford on trombone. Judy Bailey is on piano, as well as celeste, glockenspiel, George Golla is on guitar, John Sangster is on drums and George Thompson on bass. Each one is a name to be reckoned with in Australian jazz. 
In the early sixties all of these musicians, and many other jazz musicians, were making the lions share of their livings playing for TV, movies, and adverts. Just as in the UK and America, there was a demand for musicians who could play jazz, but who could also read music and be relied upon to turn up to a recording session at the right time and not too drunk! It was in this atmosphere that musicians such as John Sangster learnt about arranging and writing. All of the musicians on this record had long experience in this world. It may not have been very glamorous and you may not have been able to play exactly what you wanted but it paid well and was fairly solid work.
I'm sure that is why Burrows chose these six for his band. After all they would be recording music for TV shows, often broadcast live and frequently with little time to rehearse before hand.
But these were no faceless session musicians. At the same time as they may have been knuckling down to session work, in the evenings, everyone on this record, and many more musicians were jamming in the El Rocco. A Sydney nightclub in the Kings Cross district, El Rocco became in the early 60s one of the places for jazz musicians to congregate and engage in sometimes fearsome jam sessions that might last all night. Everyone apparently could have a go, but few could take the pressure. All styles were welcome from Trad Jazz (of which there seems to be a lot in Oz) to more avante garde styles influenced by what was going on in New York.
Like all such crucibles of musical invention, the El Rocco was both welcoming and off putting at the same time. However, it provided a place for musicians to push at the boundaries of jazz in a way that paying gigs never would have done.
Can you hear any of that experimentation in On Camera?
I'm not sure. Don't forget the music here was intended to be sent by the Australian Broadcasting Company into the living rooms of Australians all over the country. It wouldn't do to have anything too 'way out'. You might be pleased to find jazz on the box but you wouldn't have been able to get anything experimental, much less dissonant!
However, there is something playful and irreverent about the whole record. Perhaps its the way they deconstruct the songs they cover. The Porgy and Bess Medley, Moon River, Nutcracker Suite, Begin the Beguine all start conventionally enough. You might think you were getting an easy listening version of each one. Then, almost without you realising it, the band have headed off in their own direction and left the familiar song somewhere far behind them. What's going on, you might say, I know its supposed to be Begin the Beguine, what's happening now? And just at the point that you might wonder if they are still playing the same track, like the professionals they are, they slide back in and you can sit back in your armchair, puff your pipe and drink your tea. Phew, I thought for a terrible moment that those jazzers were up to their old tricks, and were trying to pull a fast one on me!
However, by a long way the standout track for me is the Burrow's penned The Wailing Waltz. Everyone has a crack at trying to wrestle it away from the others. From George Golla's intro to Burrow's own flute solo, Sangster's pushing drumming in the background, Bailey's strident, off-kilter piano until to winds up a slightly sweaty but very pleased with itself heap at the end its an endless enjoyable piece of music.

Friday, 5 October 2012


The surf scene in California started the careers of many musicians who would go on to be mainstays of rock, jazz and pop music. Lee Hazlewood, Jerry Cole, Emil Richards, Phil Spector, Jack Nietzsche, Glenn Campbell, Carol Kaye, Tommy Tedesco, Hal Blaine and many others came out of the surf music scene. One of the strangest collaborations was between aspiring producer and label owner, Mike Curb and a young adventurous guitar player called Davie Allan. Never really part of the mainstream, Davie Allan nonetheless produced some of the toughest wildest music ever to have come from surf - that is until Klaus Fluoride of the Dead Kennedys!
Allan is most famous for his work on a number of budget biker flicks. His unique fuzz guitar sound seemed to perfectly emulate the sound of an angry Harley and his wild, almost psych, approach to music seemed to encapsulate the growing counter culture in California. That he was a very straight guy with no personal experience of bikes or drugs doesn't seem to matter. As well as the biker films Allan also provided music to any number of drugs, teen, violent, mondo films
The story of Curb and Allan's work together is usually portrayed as one of typical record company exploitation. It's alleged that Curb took writing credit for many of the tracks that Allan played on, forced Allan to play on many of the releases on his Sidewalk and Tower labels and mismanaged Allan's solo career. It doesn't help that after Allan and Curb stopped working together, Curb went on put out ever poorer quality records usually by the eponymous Mike Curb Congregation, became an executive for a 'proper' record label, MGM, where, having got religion her persuaded them to drop any artists whose drug use he disapproved of and then finally he got into politics as a Republican.
However, although the relationship between Curb and Allan was not equal, I don't see it as being any more unequal than many other producer/artist relationships. Curb genuinely did write a lot of the material that Allan recorded and Allan has even said as much. As for the accusation that Allan was forced to work on too many sessions and record too many terrible song, Los Angeles was full of session musicians looking for work and who were prepared to play any gig as long as it paid. The list above shows how many brilliant musicians there were who also appear in some surprising and not always very good musical places.
Having said all that it is Allan's playing that stands out and long after Curb is forgotten it is Allan's signature fuzz guitar sound that will live on.
Follow me through the Davie Allan story on vinyl. As ever there are some omissions and I will aim to fill these in as soon as I come across the necessary records!

Curb and Allan were in the same choir and when Curb's ambitions led him to Mercury he took Allan with him. Finally he was taken on as a producer and worked alongside surf producer extraordinaire Gary Usher. He used many of Usher's techniques on his motorcycle records, including the recycling of tracks and the tendency to include one or two great songs and lots of filler. West Coast Action Sounds - Go Go With the Buddies is the second Mercury motorcycle record he produced and already it contains a number of tracks lifted of his earlier Buddies and Compacts record! Covering just about every Californian fad from bikes, to cars, to skate boards to skiing this is a nice but not exactly adventurous record. Allan had yet to fully explore the possibilities of fuzz and while there are some hints his playing is very much in the Dick Dale mould. Good, but don't loose any sleep if you haven't got a copy!

Allan and the Arrow's first album is a little cracker. Skip over their version of the Shadow's Apache and head straight to Tee Pee to get a full blast of their sound. Driving, fast paced, relentless surf with pounding drums and a catchy piano lick, its a great tune. A harmonica makes an appearance in Twine Time and to close the first side we get the great Rebel (Without a Cause). Side two is dominated by Scratchy. A great slab of Duane Eddy inspired guitar instrumental with a hint of the fuzz that would make Allan's name. The LP closes with Comanche (after Apache - geddit?) and a great end it is too.

Allan would explore the fuzz further on his next record and first soundtrack, Skaterdater. Released on the Mira label and featuring Al Casey on guitar, Larry Brown on drums and Joe Osbourne on bass, this is the soundtrack to a short film about LA teenage skateboarders. The film was quite successful as you can see from the record cover!
However, in the main it's still basically coming from the world of surf music. Producers had been trying to find other pursuits to replace surfing that would continue the music and take it beyond the West Coast. So there were hot rod records, motorcycle records, power boat records, skiing records, and skateboarding records. However, perhaps unintentionally it lay the foundations for the rest Allan's career.

 Before leaving Mira Allan was session guitarist on this frankly bewildering record.
Without doubt the campest record in my collection, Teddy and Darrel take out most of the double in double entendre and leave you in no doubt that they are singing (if you can call it that) about sex.
Lisping and simpering in a completely stereotypical way the duo fly very close to the bone for a record released in 1966. Someone must have thought that there was a market for these camp covers or else why would they record These Are The Hits You Silly Savage? You should listen to These Are The Hits as, for no other reason, it will make you completely reasse Hold On I'm Comin! As far as Allan in concerned there is nothing in the way of fuzz guitar and so don't get it if you want something tough!!

Luckily for history exploito film producer Roger Corman liked the fuzz he heard in Skaterdater and decided that it was what he needed for his forthcoming biker flick Wild Angels (what kind of movie might he have made if he'd heard Teddy and Darrel!).
The Wild Angels created a template that Allan would follow for much of his soundtrack work. There was a theme, The Theme From the Wild Angel, a freakout track, an absolute powerhouse of crazed fuzz, in this case the justly famous Blues Theme and some filler - no one needs to hear the Hands of Time's Lonely in the Chapel. Although some of the tracks are credited to Davie Allan and the Arrows, Allan and his Arrow cohorts played on every track and the bands credited were entirely fictional. Curb obviously liked to make it seem that he was in charge of a larger roster of acts when in fact other than Allan there were few others.

So successful was The Wild Angels and Blue Theme was such a runaway hit that Curb hurriedly got Allan and the Arrows back into the studio to knock out a follow up.
The Wild Angels Vol. II runs to just under twenty minutes and is nothing more than a retread of material on the original record.
However, Dark Alley and The Last Ride come to the rescue and save what might otherwise have been a pretty desperate record.
Allan's fuzz sound is now very much to the fore which is a good thing.

 But Allan and Curb won't only working on biker soundtracks. Dr Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs was a kind of James Bond meets Gidget movie staring Vincent Price and Fabian. There is even a sequel of sorts Dr Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.
The soundtrack includes Curb stalwarts, Terry Stafford, Guy Hemeric, Harley Hatcher and Davie Allan.
If you listen closely you can hear him playing on the Candles track This I Say.
Overall I like this record more that I should. Its stupid and lightweight and generally pointless. Or perhaps those are reasons that I should like it? I'm particularly partial to the Mad Doctors tracks for some reason!

Riot on Sunset Strip is justly a classic soundtrack if not a classic movie. Using real band, The Standells and the Chocolate Watch Band there is a real garage punk feel to this record. It might really be music that kids listened to rather than music that record and film company executives thought they listened to! However, Curb, as he was the producer, couldn't help but add some of his own bands. So we get the forgettable Debra Travis, Drew, The Mugwumps and The Mom's Boys. There was also the Sidewalk Sounds, really Davie Allan and the Arrows. Allan also played on Mugwumps and Mom's Boys tracks. None of these stand up to the fuzz of the earlier biker soundtracks unfortunately.

 Meanwhile Curb agreed with Corman that Allan would provide the soundtrack for Corman's next biker film Devil's Angels.
Curb pulled out all the stops and teamed Allan with Wrecking Crew stalwarts Carol Kaye, Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel and Jerry Styner.
My God but its a killer group! Fuzz monsters such as The Devils Rumble, The Ghost Story and Devil's Angels are just too mean and hard to keep within the grooves of a record. They demand to be let loose to go screaming down the road, raising hell, taking bad drugs, and sleeping with your wife. If you have to get one Allan biker soundtrack it must be this one. Sure there is the usual filler, a bongo theme and a strange carnival track but the good tracks are just too good to miss.

Taking a small break from relentless soundtracks, Allan and the Arrows next appeared on Sidewalk's Freakout USA LP.
Anyone familiar with exploito psych records will immediately see this for what it is - a plastic trip of the first order!
Curb 'bands' the Hands of Time, the Mom's Boys and The Mugwumps reappear for this cash-in. They are joined by other 'groups' The Aftermath, International Theatre Foundation, The Glass Family and Everybody's Children.
I'm pretty sure its Allan on the Hands of Time (I Like the Way You Freakout and Psychotic Reaction), the Mom's Boys (Yellow Pill and Up and Down) and the Mugwumps (Season of the Witch). Most likely its him on the other tracks too!
As it says on the back "..you can rest assured that you'll fall down and pass out screaming with the Psychotic Reaction sounds of today's frenzied Freakouts - USA". Of course! Pick it up for fun. If you look closely at the photo of my copy you'll see that someone has added transfers of old cars to the cover - in my mind that just makes it even more of a freakout!

Thunder Alley was a vehicle (geddit?) for Fabian and Annette Funicello after the surf movie fad had run its course it was similar to Elvis's racing movies, Spinout and Speedway.
The soundtrack boldly announced that it was introducing the Band With No Name and includes on the reverse a picture of some likely looking lads in 'mod' attire. In fact not only did the band have no name it wasn't even a real band. It was really just Davie Allan and the Arrows in disguise. And so was the Sidewalk Sounds who we last saw on the Riot on Sunset Strip soundtrack and who we will see later.
As for the music, all the Band With No Name and the Sidewalk Sounds contributions have Allan's twangy fuzz guitar in full effect. My favourite is the Theme From Thunder Alley which closes the record but Calahan's Vision is also very fine. Pete's Orgy wins the prize for best title even through the song itself is only about 30 seconds long!

 Isn't this one of the best record covers you've ever seen? Very cool. Teenage Rebellion was a mondo movie purporting to show the 'real' life of teenagers. And in case you are in any doubt the track titles tell you what these kids are up to. Orgy Around the World, The French Kiss, Pot Party, The Call Girl and The Gay Teenager (perhaps Teddy and Darrel?). Oh to have been a teenager in the 60s when it was all sex and drugs. When I was a teenager I would have killed for sex or drugs, but that's a different story.
There are no bands credited on the record but there can be no doubt that its Allan behind the opener Teenage Rebellion, The Young World  (an early version of Action on the Streets) Make Love Not War and Pot Party. Only Allan could produce that deep down dirty fuzz sound. I'd guess that the slightly surf inflected other tracks feature our man as well. Special mention must be made for Pot Party. Over a Duane Eddy like background a super serious voice over warns/titillates the listener about the drug problem. "If marijuana is the appetiser the advent of the space age technology has provided the main course - LSD, the crazy acid!" Of course.
I also have a soft spot for A Young Girls Mistake which is a crazy moog track that could be straight off a JJ Perrey library record.

Gypsy Boots was a LA character who was into nature and the ecology before it was hip. A friend of Eden Ahbez who wrote Nature Boy, Gypsy Boots had his own health food store and appeared numerous times on Steve Allen's TV show.
With long hair a beard he look positively bizarre in the late 50 and early 60s. Now he wouldn't make anyone look twice.
I've no idea who was the brains behind this record. Boots can't really sing but shouldn't have been a problem. The real problem is that the songs are terrible and the music is appalling. My advice to you is not to buy this record.

Now we're talking! Packed with mosrite monster fuzz action Blues Theme is all killer and no filler. Every track is a perfectly delivered slice of guitar instrumental mind warp. However, in 1967 no one was interested in this kind of music. The cash-in movies that Allan provided soundtracks for were a better indication of where the kids' minds were and unfortunately for him they were no longer at the beach.
The record starts with the Arrows most famous cut, Blues Theme and also includes Theme from the Wild Angels. Theme from the Unknown and Sorry 'bout That are all recycled from elsewhere. But as they are amazing examples of surf guitar shredded by fuzz its not a problem.
Action on the Streets is a particularly wild and crazed piece of music that could only have more fuzz if the vinyl grew a beard. It has to be heard to be believed. Their take on the Thunderball Theme is also pretty damn fine too.
I can't tell you how great this record is, you'll just have to go out and buy a copy and find out for yourselves!

Mondo Hollywood was a similar kind of film to Teenage Rebellion. A 'documentary' the supposedly revealed the strange side of LA it included our friend Gypsy Boots.
Thankfully he didn't contribute to the record but some other familiar names crop up. Remember Teddy and Darrel and The Mugwumps? It also has the first appearance of the 18th Century Concepts, a band for whom Curb would produce a number albums.
Allan only contributed Moonfire, a typically fuzzed out excursion into the freakiest areas of guitar action.
I suspect that he is also on all the other tracks but who knows?
Great cover, don't you think?

Another great record cover.
Using their Sidewalk Sounds alias, Allan and the Arrows fourth biker soundtrack could have built on the strengths of Devil's Angels.
Instead someone at Tower/Sidewalk though that the way to go was Mariachi Brass. Not so much fuzz as brass!
There are some moments of relied, notably The Loser's Bar and Gangrene's Fight but its too little too late.
By now Allan had been working on so many records, soundtracks, sessions and his own records, that perhaps the quality control had gone a little awry? Or maybe Bob Summers, who produced the record had cloth ears?

Cycle-delic Sounds - the title says it all. If you are reading this you should stop right now and go and track down a copy of this record. It is without doubt one of the greatest instrumental records ever produced and it takes the surf-based format and injects about as much fuzz as anyone before or since has injected into any music.
There are three tracks from biker movies - Cody's Theme and Devil's Angels from the Devil's Angels soundtrack and Born Loser's Theme from the Born Losers.
The rest are all originals and are incredible. The record opens with what is Davie Allan's greatest moment. A seven minute trip into the unknown and back again. Layers and layers of distorted and crunched guitars attack the music as though life itself depended on it. Screaming from every side, Allan's guitar sounds like it is blazing off to another planet and is taking you along for the ride. It weaves in and out, builds up, comes back down only to build up once again.Its a howling fuzz monster that you need to hear - now!
After that the other tracks seem almost polite in comparison. But they aren't. Invasion, Blue's Trip, 13th Harley, Another Cycle in Detroit and Grogg's Hog tear through your ears like bats out of hell. Rough, raw and fierce they are the sounds of surf put through a blender and reconfigured as a new musical creature.  The record closes with Mind Transferal which features backwards vocals and even backwards drums!
If you have any taste at all you will love this remarkable and unique record.
Oh, and isn't the cover cool?

After reaching such a pinnacle of fuzzed out mayhem what else was there to do but record another biker soundtrack? Credited to the Sidewalk Sounds and Eddie and the Stompers the music on this record keeps up the tremolo/fuzz pace of its predecessors.
The main action is at the Stompers and the Souls and the Glory Stompers.
As usual there is a fair share of filler but you've come to expect that by now haven't you?
Apparently some of the music on here was originally intended for another Corman classic The Trip but the Electric Flag got that gig instead!

I wonder what a film called Mary Jane could be about???
Staring Fabian and Diane McBain its a rather disappointing dangers of drugs film. Its not as good as Psych Out.
The soundtrack on the other hand is very good. Grogs Hog gets recycled as Bay City Boys but the rest of the music is original. You'll have to skip over the Mary Jane Theme twice. Once by Mike Clifford was bad enough but to have it again sung by Mrs Miller is too much for anyone to take.
There's no mental fuzz action but that's ok because its a largely percussion lead affair.
Standout is Gas Hassle.

Fabian was, again, the star of the next Allan soundtrack record - Wild Racers.
Its largely a snooze-fest despite the Arrow's involvement, again sometimes credited as the Sidewalk Sounds.
The Wild Racer's Theme raises a little interest but overall its not a very interesting record.
Possibly the most interesting thing about my copy is that its from Canada!

Wild in the Streets is a pretty groovy movie starring Christopher Jones, Shelley Winters and Richard Pryor.
Allan's fuzz doesn't feature much on this record although it does have its moments, most notably Psychedelic Senate which has some groovy sitars. The music was composed by exotica god Les Baxter or Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill.
Mos of the tracks are credited to the 13th Power which I suspect is really another Curb non-band and is actually Allan and his Arrows.
Allan and the Arrows also recorded their own version of the soundtrack which was released at the same time. I haven't tracked a copy down yet but as soon as I have I'll add it in.

Another spin off from the movie soundtrack was this record which included the tracks Shape of Things to Come and Fifty Two Per Cent from the movie.
Its actually not a bad record and has some fine moments. I particularly like Captain Hassel and Shine It On as well as the two movie tracks.
I don't think its Allan, there is certainly none of his trademark guitar sounds on it.
Does anyone out there know who Max Frost and the Troopers were?

The next biker movie that Allan would work on was the Hellcats.
As you can probably tell from the cover it was about female bikers.
Just as the momentum was going out of biker films so it was going out of Davie Allan and the Arrows. The title track is another fuzzed out stormer but is it just me or by now hasn't Allan done about all there was to do with this sound? Its not a bad track it just isn't very inspired.

Allan would play on a few further biker soundtracks. Wild Wheels pitted beach buggies (good) against bikers (bad).
The music is a bit of a disappointment although it does have Allan singing on Makin' Love which is a re-recorded version of the Arrows' Makin Love Is Fun.
Its credited to the 13th Committee - possibly related to the 13th Power from Wild in the Streets?

Allan also contributed a very surf sounding track to another biker movie The Hard Ride.
Its a lovely song but has absolutely no fuzz at all.

Allan would also play on a surfing movie called the Golden Breed. I've yet to track down an original copy I can afford but when I do I'll include it here.

In 1969 Curb would sell of Sidewalk Productions for $2 million and go and work at MGM. Allan found that the work simply dried up and disappeared. tI wouldn't be until the 80s that he recorded under his own name but it is for his incredible body of work in the late 60s that he will be best remembered.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Jerry Cole - Between Surf and Psych

Between his reign as the go-to guy for surf and hot rod instrumentals (read about it here) and inadvertently spawning a slew of psychedelic cash-in (read about The Id and the Animated Egg here), Cole was involved in a series of rockabilly inspired records. Sticking with the Bihari's Crown and then Custom labels, Cole followed the tried and tested cheapo record formula - get into the studio, record as much material as possible, use as many old ideas as you can (why waste anything) and leave the design geniuses at the record label to package them up in as corny a way as possible. If you want to read more about Crown click here.
However, despite everything seeming to count against these records having anything of interest in their grooves, Cole's musicianship and professionalism shine through.
Its not psychedelic, its not surf, its not really even rockabilly. But don't let that put you off. These are worth turning your ears to.

Credited to the Stinger, Guitars A Go Go features some fine, fuzzy blues based playing. I particularly like Mo Jo, which is really just a Howlin Wolf knock off - but this is the world of exploito so who cares? I'm also partial to the opener, 007 Rides Again, if only because the title is trying to link the record to the Bond-craze. Its got zero to do with James Bond. Meanwhile, Mustang has a very Buzzsaw-type vibe with loads of Link Wray-esq fuzzy guitar action. Side one closes with Dang Thing which has some nice, clean, surf playing from Cole. I'm pretty sure it appears on one of his hot rod records but I can't place it. Time to crack open the sax for side two and frankly, to these ears, its not an improvement. That is until we get to the slightly crazed, uptempo One for the Money. You can image the kids go-going to this one! All in all I like what the Stingers are doing on this record. Sure the production is almost nonexistent and sure the music is derivative but its no-nonsense fun stuff. And I've got to love it for that!

It made a kind of sense to put out the first Stingers record in 1965 but by 1967, when Volume 2 (now credited to Jerry Cole and the Stingers) came out it must have been old hat. However, it does open with Yeah Yeah Yeah, which is just The Id's Boil the Kettle Mother without the strange lyrics. Done in a more obvious rock and roll style its pretty good although it fails to reach the levels of weirdness the Cole got to with the Id. There's a lot of very fine blues-y piano on this record, and thankfully no sax! It's not as good as its predecessor, however. As usual the titles are amusing as they are obviously trying to reference hits of the day. Paperback Lover (Paperback Writer), Along Came Mary (And the Wind Cried Mary), Yeah Yeah Yeah (She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah).

Its a return to form with A Go Go Guitars, although unfortunately not a return to fuzzy guitar. Now Jerry has dropped the Stingers altogether so perhaps Crown thought people would buy the record for his name alone. It opens with Hip Hugger - which appeared in a different guise on a number of other Crown exploitos. And guess what, next we have another version of the song that would become Boil The Kettle - here called Boss Hair. I'm sure I've also heard Teen Age Fair before as well, but I'm so addled by all these exploito records I can't be sure where I've heard it. Side 2 has a distinctly blues-derived sound and while its a long way from actually being the blues, its very listenable for all that!

What do you do when there's a new 'fad' and you are a knock-off label like Crown? Of course you repackage your old stuff as new stuff. Don't buy these records. Why I hear you ask? Because they are just repackages of the A Go Go/Stingers stuff, because they are NOT psychedelic in any way, and because, for some reason, they sound even worse than their predecessors. 


Thursday, 13 September 2012


 This, unjustly neglected record, is by Glenn Ghanababa Warren. However, it has his father, Guy Warren's fingerprints all over it!
The description on the sleeve perfectly described the music within the grooves:- "Discussed in Africa ... Recorded in Europe ... Mastered in America." So we have a record with a definite African flavour, largely played by Brits and remixed with a light (and sometimes not so light) fashionable disco-influenced style. And when it works its a pure joy!
Released on Ghana's Safari Records in 1980 - what a great record label symbol! Does anyone know if they released any more records?

It seems plausible that a young man would persuade his father to adopt a more modern sound. But I can't help feel that the ever ambitious Guy would have been well aware in 1980, when this record was produced, of the successes of such African musicians as Manu Dibango, Fela Kuti and his old rival Olatunji in the US disco scene. He was certainly aware of the rock band Osibisa as the string arrangements on this record and rhythm guitar were supplied by Kiki Gyan who had played extensively with the band. Furthermore, he must also have been aware of the jazz-funk, jazz-rock movements if for no other reason than the British jazzers on the record were part of these scenes.
Foremost from the British jazz scene on this record was Ian Carr. Carr played with Guy Warren in the sixties on his own records and on Warren's Afro Jazz LP. By 1980 Carr, together with saxophonist Brian Smith and keyboard player Geoff Castle and bassist Billy Kristain had all played together in Carr's jazz-rock-funk outfit Nucleus.
The final elements in the mix are Tom McCarthy and Sharon Shapiro who produced a number of disco records in New York. I think the presence of Michael Benedictus, also as arranger, who would go on to produce Don't Make Me Wait together with Larry Levan as the Peech Boys, must also have helped give this record its dance-floor-friendly flavour.

For a Guy Warren fan such as myself one of the joys of this record is hearing three of the great man's tracks re-recorded. Monkies and Butterflies and Highlife are from Africa Speaks, America Answers (read about it here), while Happy Feeling is, perhaps his most well know track as it was covered by Bert Kaempfert.

Needless to say the playing is exemplary. There is a different feel for each track. The opener, Monkies and Butterflies is a joyous party track with the band chanting and singing over a, sometime shambolic, but always infectious rhythm. Carr provides a great solo.

Next is Eyes of a Fawn which reminds me somewhat of a slightly less tight Brotherhood of Breath - which is a compliment!

The best part of the final track on the first side, Laakpaa, is the second half which consists of nothing more than chanting, singing and basic percussion. Magnetic, hypnotic stuff.

Over on side two we get the full disco treatment. I'd love to hear this in a proper club situation - in fact I'll have to play it sometime! It just builds and builds without a let up as strings, female vocals and even some disco synth stabs are added. Its definitely the most 'modern' track on the LP.

After such a dancefloor killer the last two tracks, both covers of earlier Guy Warren tracks seem somewhat subdued. However, after you have calmed down from Love of Rhythm, both Happy Feeling and High Life have much to offer.

I urge you to track down a copy of this fine record. Although its not super rare, I've seen it in some shockingly bad conditions, so spend a bit of time and track down a decent copy! Good luck

Thursday, 9 August 2012


Africa Speaks, America Listens is a truly remarkable record. Remarkable not only for its musical content, an as-yet-unheard-in-the-US-fusion of West African highlife and jazz, but remarkable also for its assertion of a cultural equality between the American and the African continents. Indeed, from the title you might be forgiven for thinking that America is the passive member of the partnership. Furthermore, unlike many of Warren's later solo recordings the other musicians on the record were, with two notable exceptions, white Americans. Although this is Warren's conversation with America, I am afraid to say that my copy is a UK Brunswick copy. The cover on the US album shows Warren playing against an almost Constructivist background and is much cooler that then UK version. There's also an Australian version with its own sleeve but I haven't seen one.
Guy Warren arrived in the US in 1954 and having played in London with Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists (if anyone has any recordings of Warren with the band let me know!) and in Ghana with ET Mensah, he quickly found gigs, albeit not immediately very lucrative.
Through a contact at Down Beat magazine he met Gene Esposito who hired him to join his Latin Jazz band, which was composed entirely of Italian and Jewish musicians. He also met Red Saunders, again through connections. Saunders was a veteran drummer who had played with Albert Ammons and Joe Williams. Through Saunders, Warren secured a recording date at Decca. Saunders would play on the record but only minimally, despite receiving top billing and a hefty slice of the royalties.
It may, on paper, have sounded like an unpromising combination but Warren was able to marshall his forces and pull of a coup.
As I've mentioned in reviews of Warren's later LPs, he was never interested in producing jazz with an African flavour but was rather determined to produce a hybrid of the jazz played in America and the jazz played in Africa. The music on this record, considering it was his first LP as leader, is an amazing mix of highlife, traditional African music and American jazz. That the mix not only works but that he manages to get the right combination of all the differing elements (and managed to get his diverse band to play at the top of their game) is, I believe a tribute to his advanced vision and musicianship.
The record opens with Guy and band members chanting - presumably Africa speaking! Warren then plays the bamboo drums, the first example of a wide variety of African percussion instruments used throughout the album. Where Warren's playing and overall musical vision differs from those of percussionists such as Olatunji is that he employs traditional instruments in the service of modern music rather than jazzed up versions of African songs. Just as the listener thinks the track is going nowhere it takes a sudden swerve (or should I say fade out) into a more forceful and muscular direction. It is almost as though, having started to speak softly and attractively, Africa is now speaking directly and demanding to be heard as an equal. It is a great introduction.

Ode to a Stream, like the later My Minuet, seems to me to owe something to the European classical tradition, in this case to the impressionist composers. Johnny Frigo plays the violin solo. Frigo would go on to record some interesting but scarce records for modern dance. Maybe we'll get to this one day!

Duet sees Warren playing with Red Saunders. I must admit that while it is interesting, Saunders is just too conventional against Warrens imaginative percussive onslaught. Not I suspect Saunders' fault but Warren is just better!

Eyi Wala Don (My Thanks to God) has some great piano-work from Gene Esposito while Warren plays the drums. Can someone tell me what he is saying?

Monkies and Butterflies on one of my favourite tracks on the record and in fact one of my overall favourite of all Warren's songs. The band really comes together there, particularly Esposito and Johnny Lamonica on trumpet.With the female vocals in the background this is such a happy track.

The first side closes with J.A.I.S.I (Jazz as I see It). While very enjoyable, compared to the previous track, it just seems too conventional to my ears, although the conga and bass interplay and solos are a highlight.
Side two kicks off with Invocation of the Horned Viper. As ever Warren's playing is terrific. I can't help feel, however, that overall it is a little too 'exotica'. What do you think?

Chant continues the adoption of traditional music, in this case, a drum ritual to accompany a dead body being carried to a cemetery. Just as it is about the go the way of its predecessor, the piano and sax come in to add a jazz element.

My Minuet is a very strange song indeed. I would love to know more about it. The sleeve notes very unhelpfully just say that it is "almost 18th Century Drawing Room style". What were Warren's influences to create such a song?

The Highlife is, to my ears, surprisingly flat when you consider that Warren was a key part of highlife music in Ghana. I think the most off-putting aspect of it are the lyrics which are incredibly trite.
I like the Eyes of the Fawn. The horn section really seem to be comfortable with it, perhaps because it allows them space to improvise over the top of Warren's playing. For some reason it makes me think of some of the experiments of Kenny Graham in the UK!

Finally FE-ED-TO-NE closes the record with a bang. What a great track! It perfectly pulls together the various elements of jazz from both continents into a perfect blend that allows both to come out. The beginning of Warren's singing and playing, gives way to Esposito's driving piano solo. He is joined by the horn section which pulls the track in a more 'American', West Coast-cool direction. The Warren comes back in to finish the track. Africa and America are in conversation but Africa has the last word. 

Thursday, 19 July 2012


When Bea Benjamin (or Sathima as she was nicknamed by Johnny Dyani) and Dollar Brand (who would change his name to Abdullah Ibrahim when he changed his faith) arrived in Zurich as self imposed exiles from apartheid their prospects cannot have been good. They knew few people, didn't speak French or German, and had little money.
That would all change when Benjamin managed to persuade their hero Duke Ellington to come and listen to them perform after a concert he was giving in the city. Ellington, recently given an A&R role at Reprise by its owner Frank Sinatra, loved what he heard of the pianist and the singer. He booked both of them into a recording session in Paris a few days later and out of this came Brand's Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio. However, the session also produced about twelve tracks which highlighted Benjamin's singing. For reasons that are not clear these were not released at the time and only saw the light of day in 1997 because an engineer kept a copy of the tapes.
Both Benjamin and Brand had grown up loving the music of Ellington and it seemed a natural move for them to record his songs. However, Benjamin continued to return his music. She recorded Prelude to a Kiss with Brand in 1969, sang with Ellington at a Jazz Vespers service in New York in 1972, in 1976 staged a concert tribute to Ellington in Harlem and in 1979 she recorded this record.
Sathima's musical development was marked by the influence of American jazz musicians, including Ellington as well as singers such as Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald and more 'pop' singers such as Doris Day, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. She has also spoken of the influence of the church on her singing as well as of South African songs, both traditional and modern. So, like most South African jazz musicians, her musical style was born from a mix of different and competing influences which came together to produce something unique.
There is nothing on this record that sounds as though it could only have come from Africa. However, Benjamin's take on these tracks is truly her own and, whether it is the glacial tempos, the sparse accompaniment or her precise and subtle singing style, she sounds as though she could not be an American singer much less a European one.
Benjamin is sympathetically backed by Americans Onaje Allan Gumbs on piano, Vishnu Woods on bass, John Betsch on drums and Claude Latief on congas.
My favourite track on the album is Benjamin's take on Billy Strayhorn's Lush Life. She really seems to encapsulate the world weary, dissipated, disappointed but still resilient essence of Strayhorn's lyrics. I can believe that she really has been through the 'too many through the day, twelve o'cocktail.' and that she will 'rot with the rest of those whose lives are lonely too'. Gumbs' is terrific and Betsch provides just enough brushing on the drums. It is truly moving and unique take on a classic song.

The World of Sitarsploitation

George Harrison's love of India, its music and philosophies, would have a profound effect on the Beatles and, as they were leaders of pop cultural matters in the mid to late 1960s, this influence would extend beyond the band to the rest of the world.
Allegedly first introduced to the sitar by Roger McGuinn and David Crosby of the Byrds in California in 1965, Harrison, the instrument first appeared on a Beatles track on Norwegian Wood.
The Beatles were not the only band interested in the exotic sounds of the sitar, in particular its drone effect. The Kinks, the Who and most importantly the Yardbirds can claim to have been ahead of the Beatles in utilising the Indian instrument on some of their tracks.
However, they did not go as far as Harrison and record a track that was closer to Hindustani music than to European pop music. Using musicians from the North London Asian Music Circle, Love You To, on Revolver started a minor pop music trend. Followed up by Within Without You on Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club band, the use of the sitar in pop and rock quickly became a shorthand for exoticism, spirituality and transcendence. In other words its was another way of saying that the music was like a trip!
Unfortunately, as Harrison discovered, the sitar is a difficult instrument to master and its use does not always complement the structure of pop music. Masters of the instrument such as Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan found themselves becoming increasingly popular in the US and Europe and audiences strove to become part of this authentic and new (to their ears) music.
However, where there is money to be made, there will be exploitation records. I have already written about the brief Indo Jazz moment in UK jazz (read about it here) as well as Bill Plummer and Emil Richard's jazz sitar experiments read about it here and here. Despite being musically intriguing and genre expanding, sitar jazz records were always going to be a minority interest. How much more lucrative it would be to use this strange sound and, just as the leading groups of the day were doing themselves, use it on pop music.

Released in 1966, Raga Rock in many ways epitomises the Sitarsploitation LP phenomenon. Using LA's crack session musicians, the Wrecking Crew, this record features Tommy Tedesco, Howard Roberts and Herb Ellis on guitars, Dennis Budimir on 12 String, Bill Pittman on bass, Larry Knechtel on organ and electric piano, Lyle Ritz on fender bass and Hal Blaine on drums. A killer band if ever there was one. Prior to this there had been another Folkswingers record, which although not including any of the same musicians, did include other LA session people. The first records more accurately lived up to the name being covers of folk hits of the day. This time round they added Indian sitar player Harihar Rao. Rao, an ethnomusicologist at UCLA and an associate of Ravi Shankar would, in 1967, publish the influential Introduction to Sitar.
Here he is mainly used to play around the American musicians giving the hits of the day an exotic feel, Having said that, it is a very enjoyable record. Songs such as Hey Joe, which has a very enjoyable exchange between Rao and one of the guitarists certainly benefit from a sitar treatment.
The choice of material is also important. Paint it Black, Eight Miles High, Norwegian Wood, Shapes of Things were all songs that in their original forms used Indian influences.
The first and possibly the best of the genre.
The concluding track is an original penned by George Tipton. Tipton was the arranger on this record and, according to the sleeve notes, was qualified to arrange a sitar record because he had worked with Jan and Dean and the Mariachi Brass! However, with its fuzz guitar, insistent sitar lines and tight rhythm section it is a triumph and leaves me wishing that they had given him the chance to write a whole album.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic at Decca, the label that had originally turned down the Beatles, decided to get aboard the sitarsploitation bandwagon with this effort.
I have not been able to track down any info about Mr Kothari other than what is offered in the sleeve notes. Kothari was a Ugandan Indian who at the time of recording the record had been in the UK for seven years. Amazingly during that time he has spent all of his leisure time playing the sitar.
Unfortunately instead of going down the rock route of the Folkswingers, Kothari draws on pop hits of the day. We therefore get Strangers in the Night, Winchester Cathedral, Downtown, Guantanamera, the Sound of Music and Cast Your Fate the Wind.
Of greater interest is his version of Eleanor Rigby which is the best thing on the record. His own compositions, traditional in sound rather than pop or rock orientated, are also worth listening to.
All in all I'd recommend passing on this one unless you find it in a charity shop for a few pence.

Who was Lord Sitar? Was he a moonlighting George Harrison as some believed at the time? No he was instead Big Jim Sullivan one of London's premier session musicians (Big Jim Sullivan as opposed to Little Jimmy Page), whose work appears on any number of UK records in the 60s and 70s including, apparently, over 50 UK number ones.
On the face of it, Lord Sitar looks as though he is going to give us more of the same medicine as Chim Kothari. Look at some of the tracks, If I Were A Rich Man, Emerald City, Black is Black. But wait! We also get Daydream Believer, I am The Walrus, Eleanor Rigby, I Can See For Miles and Harrison's Blue Jay Way. Can the good Lord pull it off?
Well its touch and go. If I Were a Rich Man struggles to overcome the material and in some places succeeds. However, its not until we get to the Monkees Daydream Believer that things start to look positive and that is more to do with the strength of the song rather than the chamber orchestra arrangements. Over on the b-side I Am The Walrus, already a very trippy track, gets the full sitar treatment and comes out all the better for it. Eleanor Rigby trundles along nicely. However, all the stops are pulled out for I Can See For Miles which I'm sure would have made Pete Townsend proud - or cry - or both. I'm also very partial to the version of Blue Jay Way with the wordless vocals at the start really giving me a thrill.

In the same Big Jim comes around for another crack at sitarsploitation, or as they call it Sitar A Go Go. My copy is part of the Super Stereo Sounds series that also reissued records by Pete Rugolo, Quincy Jones and others. The first press has a green cover with Big Jim twanging away and ethereal figures floating above him.
Perhaps because he arranged the record himself or maybe he was just getting better at it, but Sitar Beat is a far superior record to Lord Sitar.
Kicking off with a great take on the Beatles' (you almost can't have a sitarsploitation record without a Beatles cover!) She's Leaving Home, Sullivan gets stuck into Sunshine Superman which I love. Perhaps this version of Whiter Shade of Pale is a bit limp but then again the song nothing more than a puddle of slush anyway. However, it is on Sullivan's originals that this record really takes off. Ltts and The Koan are intriguing and effective tracks that show off his playing to the best. The Koan has some great tabla, flute and guitar as well - its a really interesting track.
On the second side Graham Gouldman's Tallyman lends itself well to Sullivan's sitar work. Another highlight of the album is the Sullivan penned Translove Airways (Fat Angel). Over a funky drum beat, fuzz guitar and maddeningly repetitive flue riff and a string section, Sullivan's sitar swirls around, creating a floating, flying, falling feeling. Far out man!
In the top league of sitarsploitation records and one that is well worth picking up.

Chiitra Neogy's The Perfumed Garden isn't really a sitarsploitation record but it does have Jim Sullivan playing on it. Sexual liberation was a key tenant of the hippy ideal. The sexually explicit writing, sculpture and painting in India seemed, to Western flower-children to be more in tune with their views of sexual freedom than the button-downed European views on sex and love.
Thus a record such as this could be produced. The Perfumed Garden "contains writings which are designed to help human beings to achieve the fullest joy in their sexual lives." By today's standards they are not terribly sexual, but perhaps that's not the point.
Sullivan provided an underscore throughout the record and particular highlights are The Encouragement of the Lusty Wife, Leila the Flatterer and Krishna and the Cowgirls.My copy cost less than $5 on ebay and I wouldn't recommend you pay any more than that.

Ananda Shankar was the nephew of Ravi Shankar and he would go on the make a number of amazing records that fused jazz, Indian classical music and his own far-reaching vision.
However, his first record, made in the US in 1970, is often regarded as sitarsploitation because of its covers of the Stone's Jumpin' Jack Flash and The Doors' Light My Fire. Jumpin Jack Flash in particular is an amazing dancefloor killer. Throughout the record Paul Lewinson's Moog adds another layer of incredibly sounds and fascinating textures.  Listen to the washes of sound he adds to Light My Fire.
However, don't be fooled into thinking that this record is just about pop cover versions. Its so much more than the Folkswingers or Big Jim Sullivan. Shankar's own compositions are quite beautiful and are worth the price of the record alone. Tellingly he shares writing credits with Moog-player Lewison.
My favourite original compositions are Snow Flower, Metamorphosis and the epic Sagar (The Ocean). All three seem to me to combine the 'exotic' sounds of the sitar with some of the hippy peace and love vibe the instrument was meant to symbolise. Through using new music and with the addition of the moog, Shankar creates truly different music that is as spaced out as you want it to be.
It's really great stuff.

On first glance this would seem to be an exploitation record of the first order. I mean, why else would you call a record Pop Explosion Sitar Style and then NOT include any pop music. Why else would you have such an obvious 'eastern' sleeve that is an insult to women and Indians? Why else would the sleeve notes say that the music comes with "the heavy rhythms of the Rock Era"?
Strange as it may seem, however, the music on this record is not about exploitation but about authenticity. Read the story here. Suffice to say that the musicians behind this music, Clem Alford on sitar, Kashav Sathe on tabla and Jim Moyes on guitar did not expect their music to be packaged in this way.
Don't expect any cheap, ironic thrills from this record. Instead expect a serious attempt to fuse Indian classical music with western musical idioms.
Truly far out stuff.

Still to be included - Balsara and His Singing Strings, Rajput and the Seapoy Mutiny.

More info and soundclips to sitar records, including and amazing number of Bollywood soundtracks can be found here

Thursday, 5 July 2012


A while ago I wrote about Bernard Lubat and His Mad Ducks (read about it here).
In 1972 the band got back together, this time dropping the Mad Ducks name, and instead following a trend in rock groups (borrowed from jazz groups) of using their own names.
Still on the chic Les Disques de Pierre Cardin label, they were recorded in action at the Montreaux Jazz Festival. The '72 jazz festival also produced live recordings from label-mates Phil Woods and his European Rhythm Machine and Jean-Luc Ponty (neither of which have come my way yet but I'm sure they will!).
It like the fact that session-kings and studio-masters like Lubat and Louiss get the chance to play in front of people and at such a prestigious event as Montreaux. I also like the fact that this record consists of material that doesn't appear elsewhere - maybe even written with the event in mind!
And what a mix of music it is!
Unlike the Mad Ducks record, Live at Montreaux seems to stretch out and explore some pretty wild and frankly psychedelic places. Whereas the Mad Ducks was a fun, well dress mod, kind of a record this one really lets its hair down and goes on a trip!
Claude Engel's playing is also much more prominent and he bring a definite rock element to the proceedings. Perhaps not surprising for one of the founder members of prog group Magma, Engel's playing is technically brilliant and drenched in acid. Mindblowing stuff! His playing has the same effect as John McLaughlin's does in Miles Davis' group of about the same time. Its rock, its psychedelic, its 'out-there' and it pushes his band mates into some interesting and 'un-jazz-like' territory.
Jazz-veteran Eddy Louiss, however, is the jazz-foil to Engel's rocking. Playing fender and electric organ, his playing is more 'straight' jazz around which Engel seems to jump and dive.
Lubat's playing is also out of the top drawer. Never predictable, never repetitive (which for a drummer is really saying something) he isn't laying down the rhythm, he's a front-line contributor up there with Tony Williams.
Finally, Marc Berteaux provides the funk with his electric bass.
All of these elements come together on the opening track Les Adventures de Pinpin au Togo (Emmanuel Pinpin Sciot being their producer as well as the designer of the collage on the Mad Duck's album).
If you don't like jazz-rock or fusion then this track isn't for you!
What  I like best about it is that, while you can hear the fantastic musicianship of the people involved, it never becomes self indulgent like much fusion.
Live in a Magic Forest changes the tone from frantic and furious to calm and relaxed. Gently weaving the organ is relaxing, leading the listener further and further into the Magic Forest, accompanied by percussion and eventually joined by Engel's guitar and the music becomes more forceful and strident and suddenly the Forest is no long calm but buffeted by musical winds. Eventually, Engel takes off and we leave the jazz behind and move into a very prog world.
Over on side two we kick off with 5th of July, Dulong Street. A driving funky monster of a track this is, for me, the highlight of the record and the reason to track it down. Tight and funky bass, wild drumming, great organ work and, when he comes in blistering guitar, this is incredible stuff. I can only imagine what the audience where doing while this track was being played - and it wasn't sitting down! Engel's solo perfectly complements and doesn't overwhelm his band mates. It only lasts for 6 minutes and 20 seconds but it feels a lot longer.Terrific stuff!

The record concludes with Mickey Schroeder's Dream, which shifts gears from dancing through Dulong Street, to drifting away on a narcotic haze. Written by Lubat I wonder if it is him on the electric piano that opens the track. In a similar way to Live in a Magic Forest, this is swirls and eddies around your head. Gradually the drifting organ meets some phased percussion (could this really have been done live in 1972?) adding a further layer of psychedelia. Disembodied singing kicks off some slightly 'eastern' sounding percussion (still phased and treated) and we feel we are falling into a drugged up dream-like state.

That's enough for now. I'm off to find more Lubat stuff!