ongoing by Tim Bray

ongoing fragmented essay by Tim Bray

SotD: Fast Freight 21 May 2018, 7:00 pm

My Dad, back when I was a really little elementary-school kid, used to play music by The Kingston Trio, and they stuck to me the way things you hear as a kid do. This is music of a different era, but there’s this one song, Fast Freight, that I think is timeless.

The Kingston Trio Debut Album

I actually inherited my Dad’s copy of their eponymous debut album — from 1958, scratchy and in mono, and one time I cued it up, wondering if it’d sound like what I remembered. Some of the tunes haven’t worn well, like when they try to do British accents, and they had basically no sophistication, but they sang interesting harmonies and took some of the songs at insane speed, so there’s quite a bit to like.

Anyhow, when Fast Freight came on, I noticed that I’d put down whatever I was reading and shut my eyes to listen. It was written by Terry Gilkyson (never heard of him); a straightforward folk tune The wheels are saying to the railroad track / Well, if you go, you can't come back. If you go, you can't come back. But it’s got a nice melody and the Kingstons really make something of it, fooling with the harmonies and tempo and volume in really intelligent ways and digging deep into the feeling of the song. It’s really a treat for the ears. And there’s something special about the 1958 vinyl, it’s got that you-are-there vibe, three guys with acoustic guitars and good voices down at the other end of the room. But I just now played it on Spotify and it sounds pretty good there too.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon. No video, sorry.

SotD: Angel From Montgomey 20 May 2018, 7:00 pm

This is one of John Prine’s greatest, and that’s really saying a lot. It’s a surging, passionate song about being old and feeling empty. It’s got a little novel in the lyrics and a tune anyone can hum along to, so great that you don’t notice how sad it is.

John PrineStreetlights by Bonnie Raitt

It originally appeared on Prine’s self-titled debut, which has already provided another Day’s Song, but never really got into the mainstream until Bonnie Raitt got her teeth into it on Streetlights in 1974. Bonnie says I think “Angel from Montgomery” probably has meant more to my fans and my body of work than any other song, and it will historically be considered one of the most important ones I've ever recorded. It's just such a tender way of expressing that sentiment of longing. I dunno, I like lots of her other covers, but she sure has done well by it.

It’s a wonderful live song, there’s plenty of room to broadcast heartbreak or a big guitar solo. I’ve seen Mr Prine and Ms Raitt perform it, but my fave ever was by an obscure Canadian band called the Leslie Spit Treeo, whose name you can’t even understand unless you come from Toronto. They played it as straight-ahead hard rock with throaty, howled singing.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. By John Prine on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon. By Bonnie Raitt on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon. As for video, this is “official” not live, but the Leslie Spit Treeo will show you a good time.

SotD: The Longships 19 May 2018, 7:00 pm

This is off Enya’s Watermark album, which sold a zillion copies and put Orinoco Flow on a few people’s can-never-hear again list because every radio in the freaking world played it all the time in 1988-89. Even if you’re one of those, there are lots of other things on this record to like, and this one I like especially.

Watermark by Enya

Now, Enya would never ever let a rough edge or a raw tone creep into her creations, and the artifacts on her recordings could never ever be performed live because they are the result of prodigious over-tracking and other studio wizardry; although perhaps one should say witchery?

You may like this record but unless you’re an audiophile with speakers that can get down below 30Hz, you’ve never actually heard it properly. You’ll notice a big bass-drum that punctuates the song, and it is superbly recorded. There are relatively few speakers in the world that can really come close to that drum, and you know, it’s a perfectly fine song even on ordinary songs. But if you ever happen to be in the company of speakers that can do the trick, see if you can cue up The Longships; the huge soft thunder of the drumbeats complete the song in a way I lack words to describe.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon. There’s no live video; no great loss for reasons covered above.

SotD: Walk Away 18 May 2018, 7:00 pm

Way back in the Songs of the Day, in February I wrote about a Joe Walsh tune and added “If I keep doing this, he’ll get a rocker into Song of the Day.” I have, and now he has: Seems to me / You don’t want to talk about it / Seems to me / You just turn your pretty head and walk away. Great stuff.

You know, there was some bad James Gang karma back in the day. When I was sort of in the biz, as the resident house manager for all the rock concerts at a Canadian University, I’d talk to roadies and there was this epithet: “James Gang Roadie”. It was a bad thing to say to a practitioner of the trade.

James Gang

But then earlier this week, a friend at work told me that he’d been to the current Eagles tour, good seats, and I asked “Is Joe Walsh still with the band?” and he said yes, and he was the liveliest, most entertaining member. Say what you will about Joe, he’s been playing a lot of good music for a lot of years.

I have another funny story about this song. Back sometime in the Seventies, in connection with that University gig, I stage-managed our first-ever punk-rock show, a Canadian band called Teenage Head. I was fairly astonished when they opened up with Walk Away, but I’ve been permanently in love with punk ever since that night.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. Here’s a cheesy but musically fine video capture. Here’s a bonus: a much older Joe Walsh and band having fun with Funk #49.

SotD: Attention Please 17 May 2018, 7:00 pm

We’re going a little off the beaten track here; Attention Please is the title track from the 2011 album of the same name by Boris, which Wikipedia describes as an “experimental band”, whatever that means. They are from Japan and play mostly extremely loud drone metal, but with occasional excursions into soft moody stuff, for example this song; they are fabulous musicians.

Attention Please by Boris

Most of Boris’ albums are mostly atmospheric guitar noise, but the story I read somewhere is that vocalist/guitarist Wata wanted to do some crooning and the band was OK with that.

Boris have several albums I wholeheartedly recommend; my faves are Akuma no Uta and their collaboration with Sunn O))), Altar, which has an all-star cast and also some slightly less metallic stuff.

I’ve blogged about Boris before in Photos of Wata of Boris and (just last year) Live Metal is Better. Both have some groovy pictures, and Wata is super photogenic; she just oozes charisma.

If they’re coming near your town, run don’t walk, go see them. Wear earplugs to protect your hearing.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon. As for live video, this performance is a little sharper, but this one has a better look at Wata.

SotD: Steve Reich’s Sextet 16 May 2018, 7:00 pm

Steve Reich is one of the larger figures in Twentieth-century “New” (as in non-pop) music, and has done well because his works are tuneful, dreamy, and engaging. Sextet is my personal fave because, along with all those other things, it’s got loads of energy. It’s 25-ish minutes long; the five minutes of the last movement are the highlight and a really great introduction to Reich, if this is new territory to you.

Sextet is in five movements for six players, two pianos and percussion with lots of hocketing. It’s dreamy then flashy; I loved it the first time I heard it and still do.

Yale Percussion Group plays Reich’s Sextet

I caught a Steve Reich tour sometime last century and it opened with a piece called Clapping Music, for two players clapping, one of them being Reich himself, a simple rhythm shifting slowly and entertainingly against itself. It was a nice way for a composer to welcome you to an evening of his music, and then I got the giggles, because when they stopped clapping the audience had to start clapping for the clapping. Anyhow, they played Sextet that same evening and it was a thrill to hear.

I mentioned “hocketing” above; that’s when two players play alternate notes of a musical phrase. Reich does it a lot and in Sextet it’s end-to-end.

My favorite recording of this is on Sextet / Six Marimbas from 1985. While I’m linking to the final movement for its flash and intensity, the earlier parts have a swoony, dreamy charm, produced in part by applying bows to vibraphones.

If you like the sound of this and want to check out more Reich, I recommend Tehillim and Muic for 18 Musicians.

This the 136th in the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. Sextet’s last movement on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon. And here’s a fabulous live performance by the Yale Percussion Group, who play without music; I’m in awe. Watch the vibraphonists’ hammers and the pianists’ hands and see the hocketing.

SotD: With You There to Help Me 15 May 2018, 7:00 pm

I’m going back to the ones that I know / With whom I can be what I want to be… This is the opening number of Jethro Tull’s 1970 album Benefit. I don’t know if it’s absolutely the album’s highlight, but it’s a fine song.

Jethro Tull live

I suppose most few readers are young enough to have known about Tull in their prime. They really were the complete package: Great songs, polished musicianship, and they put on a hell of a show. There were a lot of different members over the years, but the sound was always built around the charisma and throaty singing of Ian Anderson and the tasteful and forceful guitar of Martin Barre. Also, while this matters to few, their songs usually had something to say, something worth listening to; they were humanists.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. As for live video, this one has eccentric — well, let’s be honest, druggy — camera work, but it’s a clean, sharp performance. This one has better visuals (and if you haven’t seen Tull footage before, you should take a look) but lousy sound.

SotD: du Pré Plays Elgar 14 May 2018, 7:00 pm

I have heard sober-minded people argue that Elgar’s Cello Concerto played by Jacqueline du Pré is the single greatest instrumental performance of any piece of music, any genre, any instrument, ever. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but the claim is not crazy at all. Fortunately for us, it was captured beautifully, sound and pictures too.

Du Pré was an interesting character, torn away from the world of music in mid-life by multiple sclerosis. She led a colorful life, and I really enjoyed the 1998 biography by her sister Hilary, A Genius in the Family: An Intimate Biography of Jacueline du Pré (also sold as Hilary and Jackie) but I see it’s at least semi-out of print; keep your eyes open in used bookstores.

Jacqueline du Pré

In an earlier blog piece I wrote: “You can get her landmark recording, with her fiancé Daniel Barenboim conducting, on any number of different CDs, and I can’t imagine not owning it. Aside from the fact that it’s one lovely tune after another, the remarkable combination of Elgar’s clever writing, Du Pré’s explosive tone, and some very clever conducting create a remarkable illusion that on a few occasions, she’s playing louder than the rest of the orchestra put together; it’s something to hear.”

I have this performance on a collection named Impressions, which I highly recommend. All of it is fine, but it’s the first movement of the Elgar that will grab you by the heart and not let go for a second.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. The first movement on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. Now, we are blessed in that you can watch her play on YouTube. Sit down and fasten your seat-belt. In the biography, I read that after each tour, Ms du Pré had to take her cello into a luthier for rebuild and repair because she more or less wrecked it with the intensity of her playing. Watch this and you can see why.

SotD: You Really Got Me 13 May 2018, 7:00 pm

Oops, we’ve been too long without a Maximum Rock and Roll song; thus this Kinks classic. The Kinks are cool but to be honest, there are only a couple of their songs that stick in your head from one year to the next; this is one of them. But if you’re too young to have seen them perform at their peak, you missed something special.

The Kinks

I remember a concert at some huge hockey rink in the early Eighties; I have rarely in my life been so entertained. It was a big stage with two long runways out into the crowd; one for Ray Davies, the other for Dave. Their rock-n-roll moves were exciting and graceful and seemed totally spontaneous, which meant they’d practiced a lot or had just been on tour for a long time.

There was this thing that I guess was a routine part of Kinks gigs back in the day: Every song or two, some woman would burst out of the crowd, charge up on the stage, and throw a big hug on Ray Davies, who grinned a huge grin every time. Then she’d be courteously escorted off-stage by a security guy. It was kind of hilarious.

The performance were fast and committed and just totally fun. Then, at the end of the show, they pulled this awesome trick: There were a few big hits that hadn’t been played, so we were expecting lots of encores. They came back pretty fast, not making the crowd work for it, played one minor, song, said, “Thanks, bye”, left the stage, and suddenly the house lights came up. Twenty thousand people howled in outrage and in about three seconds, they killed the house lights, and the Kinks roared into You Really Got Me while the crowd was still yelling. I’ll never forget it.

The whole experience is nicely captured on their live One for Road album, which is really great; it’s effectively a greatest-hits package that captures a lot of the energy and fun of the shows; way more than the sum of its parts.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. The One for the Road live version on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. Here’s a nice live video from about 1980.

SotD: BWV 131 12 May 2018, 7:00 pm

This is by Bach. You’ll sometimes hear it spoken of as “Cantata no. 131” but that’s misleading, because it’s among the first — maybe the first — of his cantatas. The 131 is its entry in the “BWV” works-of-Bach numbering system. It doesn’t actually have a name, but the text is from the 130th Psalm in German and begins Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir “Out of the depths I call, Lord, to you”. It’s exquisite. As I write this, it’s 310 years old.

A mere twelve years ago, I blogged about this work and about cantatas in general; how they came to be and why there are so many of them. If you want to know more, go read that.

BWV 131

BWV 131 has five movements; I like all of them, but the middle movements, two through four, are where the real gold is. Two is basically a two-part piece for bass soloist against the soprano section, with a bit of oboe and cello. Three has the choir sections singing against each other, as smooth as silk and as complex as spider silk. Four is a tenor and a cello dancing in front of a backing vocal section. There was a time, in the first half of the seventeenth century, where if you went to church in the right place in central Germany you’d get fresh music by J.S. Bach every week.

My favorite recording is this one featuring Belgian musicians led by Herreweghe; the soloists are great but the production lets the awesome backing vocals, mostly endless ascending or descending lines, be heard clearly. That Amazon link doesn’t have a streaming version of the performance, but you can find it here.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist.

  1. Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir: Amazon, iTunes, Spotify.

  2. So du willst, Herr, Sünde zurechnen: Amazon, iTunes, Spotify.

  3. Ich harre des Herrn, meine Seele harret: Amazon, iTunes, Spotify.

  4. Meine Seele wartet auf den Herrn von einer Morgenwache: Amazon, iTunes, Spotify.

  5. Israel hoffe auf den Herrn; denn bei dem Herrn: Amazon, iTunes, Spotify.

As for live video, if you want something intimate, with cool original instruments and even a Theorbo (wow!), and great camerawork here you go. But this take led by Ton Koopman, with a larger ensemble, seems to have more feeling and touches me more deeply, except for the tenor solo in movement 4, which is clearly better in the first video. Here’s another YouTube of the same performance, with a lousy picture and only the first movement, but with a couple of minutes of erudite and affectionate commentary from Koopman, which I enjoyed listening to.

SotD: Stone Flower 11 May 2018, 7:00 pm

These essays have been love letters to songs, but in this case it’s really to an album: Santana’s Caravanserai, from 1972. I it’s not just a disc-full of songs, it’s a 51-minute explosion of rhythm and passion, the songs are just pieces of the puzzle. Since it’s the song of the day, I have to pick one: It’s Stone Flower, written by Antônio Carlos Jobim, who’s appeared here before.

To the extent Caravanserai has a hit, it’d be Song of the Wind, or maybe Every Step of the Way. I like Stone Flower because along with the guitar/percussion assault, it embeds a nice friendly little pop song.

Caravanserai

One reason the album is so great is the band, which includes Michael Shrieve, long one of my heroes, and Neil Schon, later of Journey fame.

It’s also worth talking about the sound. There’s a curiosity; the album was originally increased in quadraphonic sound, an audio trend that lasted about fifteen minutes in the early Seventies. But mostly it just sounds great, the guitars and drum and Hammond organ parts arranged with care and captured with love. Yeah, there’s flashy drumming and hotshot guitar shredding, but you almost don’t notice because you’re just going with the flow of the songs. It’s a truly great piece of music; the whole album I mean, as a single piece of music.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. Stone Flower on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. You can’t buy the album from Amazon, but here are album links at Spotify and iTunes. As for live video, there’s nothing from Caravanserai out there that captures the feeling of the record.

SotD: Norwegian Wood 10 May 2018, 7:00 pm

Ah, a Beatles classic, everybody loves those. But I actually want to highlight a performance by Patricia Barber, who takes this song further than any Beatle, living or dead.

Patricia’s appeared in this series before, which puts her in pretty select company, and I’m OK with that, I’ve never understood why she’s not an international megastar.

Norwegian Wood is from a live album called Live: A Fortnight in France, recorded on tour, which is utterly charming end to end. As is almost everything she’s ever shipped.

A Fortnight in France

The notion of taking a simple pop tune and wrapping an extended jazz tangle round it is not exactly new or surprising. It helps that Ms Barber sings in a warm, unironic tone end-to-end, showing real respect for the simple song at the center of the tangle. In this particular context it’s relevant to note that she’s a lesbian.

This the 130th in the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, iTunes, and it’s not on Spotify. But to make up for that, here’s a completely lovely performance from the “Ladies’ Jazz Festival” in Gdynia, Poland.

SotD: Gone, Gone, Gone 9 May 2018, 7:00 pm

Or, in full, Gone, Gone, Gone (Done Moved On), written and recorded by the Everly Brothers in 1964. I ran across it on the Robert Plant/Alison Kraus collaboration Raising Sand, which is really a fine piece of work. I’d never really listened to the Everlys till I started writing this, but that version is excellent too.

That Plant/Krauss collaboration came out of the blue back in 2007 and sold a lot of copies, and made a lot of people smile. It’s produced, and the songs curated, by T Bone Burnett; he did a fine job.

Plant and Krauss

When Plant and Krauss went out on tour, they threw in a few Led Zeppelin songs, most of which were absolutely charming. As far as I know they were never shipped as a recording, but courtesy of YouTube, here’s The Battle of Evermore, When The Levee Breaks, and Black Dog. It’s hard not to enjoy listening, partly because Robert and Alison seem to enjoy performing so much.

Back to Gone, Gone, Gone; the Everlys are harder, faster, tighter; committed rock and roll. Their close harmonies are breathtaking. Maybe a teeny bit more musical quality, but Robert and Alison still more interesting.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. The Everlys on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. Plant/Krauss on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. As for live video here are the Everlys with horrible picture but awesome dancers; and again with better picture but no dancers. Alternatively, here’s a super-polished take by Robert and Alison, paired with Rich Woman.

SotD: It’s Wonderful 8 May 2018, 7:00 pm

The full title is They Say It’s Wonderful, written in 1946 by Irving Berlin, and since then covered by more or less every crooner living and dead. The version I want to write about is off the awesome John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, recorded in 1963. I have read more than one critic claiming that this is the best album ever recorded. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it really is very very good music indeed.

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

Picking just one song off it is tough, because they’re all so great. There’s sort of a formula; Hartman glides through an old standard, making his huge baritone float and dance, while Coltrane and McCoy Tyner (who should be on the cover) hang golden ornaments on the walls of the song.

I’m picking Wonderful because it’s a little lighter and a little and more direct than some of the songs. At the other end of the spectrum is Lush Life, which is difficult and indirect and sad and monumental. You could do worse than just sit down and either put on or stream the album, end to end.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, Spotify, iTunes. Here are a couple of extras: Johnny Hartman sings Lush Life,and Bob Dylan does My One and Only Love (no, really).

SotD: Falling 7 May 2018, 7:00 pm

This is Julee Cruise singing the Twin Peaks Theme, composed by Angelo Badalamenti; David Lynch gets a songwriting credit so I suppose he contributed lyrics. Like Audrey Horne said, “I love this music; isn’t it too dreamy?” Some dreams are nightmares.

The sky is still blue
The clouds come and go
Yet something is different

Isn’t it too dreamy?

I work in a building in downtown Vancouver that makes a visual statement; its lobby is full of light and soaring timber, and there’s a Fazioli piano that I hear cost $300K and anyone can play; usually pretty anodyne stuff. But one time I came back from lunch and this guy was playing the Twin Peaks Theme, the piano melody going up and up into the light and space; it was almost unbearably intense. I went and sat near him while he finished, and then I said “so cool”, surprising him; he gave me a big smile and we shared a moment.

I never watched the Twin Peaks reboot, but I watched it all the way through the first time — on actual TV, with commercials. What a piece of work.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. There’s no live video of Ms Cruise singing this, but I think anyone who knows this music will appreciate the official video. All these years later, and some of the soft-focus clips of fresh-faced young people romancing still make me shudder.

SotD: S.O.B. 6 May 2018, 7:00 pm

This is by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, outta Denver, from 2015. You’ve probably heard it on a radio near you. It’s a fine, stirring, uplifting tune that happens to be about detox.

I don’t know much about Rateliff, but the first time the song grabbed my attention and I started listening seriously, my eyes widened and I was thinking “sounds like delerium tremens.” Several people who are very close to me are alcoholics — all now sober at least for the moment, thank goodness  — and so I’ve seen the dark side of that street but I’ve only ever read about delerium tremens. Well, and now enjoyed a song about it.

Daniel Rateliff Dancing

Anyhow, it’s a fast song with a great tune and wonderful arrangement, and Rateliff’s voice stands way out among the male popsters, the ones on my radio anyhow. It’s rich and textured and super tuneful. All else being equal, I’d generally rather listen to women sing, but I sure do like this guy’s chops.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Spotify, Amazon, iTunes. It turns that Rateliff is a strong,committed performer, too; here’s a well-shot well-performed pairing of S.O.B. and the old Band number Shape I’m In. If he comes anywhere near me, I’m going to go see the show.

SotD: Immigrant Song 5 May 2018, 7:00 pm

Well, there has to be something here from Led Zep, and I’m picking this because, when I was sixteen and just feeling my way into the mysterious forest of popular music, someone said “Hey I got this new record” (that would be Led Zep III) and he dropped the needle on Immigrant Song, and in that instant I became a hard-rock fan; and I’ll be proud to die one. It’s a totally great tune.

Led Zeppelin III

I try to keep the Song of the Day a little off the beaten track and I was thinking of going with Kashmir instead because the guys in the band say it’s their favorite Led Zep song, and I like it a lot. I can’t claim Immigrant Song is obscure in the slightest. That’s OK because any day you listen to it your blood will run a little faster and your hindbrain will boogie with your medulla oblongata. I’m not going to talk about the riff (great), the vocals (great), the drumming (wow), the lyrics (kinda dopey, but effective). OK, I’ll drop in a quote about the lyrics which sort of excuses them.

We weren’t being pompous… We did come from the land of the ice and snow. We were guests of the Icelandic Government on a cultural mission. We were invited to play a concert in Reykjavik and the day before we arrived all the civil servants went on strike and the gig was going to be cancelled. The university prepared a concert hall for us and it was phenomenal. The response from the kids was remarkable and we had a great time. Immigrant Song was about that trip and it was the opening track on the album that was intended to be incredibly different.

You know, these days, when I’m driving around and Zeppelin comes on the radio, all I can hear is that drumming. Nobody’s ever sounded like Bonham.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon. As for live video this performance is said to be from Australia in 1972. I’m not 100% sure that the video is really actually of this live performance — there are continuity issues — but it’s a fine performance, and the video has some better-than-average-for-Zep moves on it.

SotD: Stolen Moments 4 May 2018, 7:00 pm

Oliver Nelson died in 1975 at 43 of a heart attack; he’d be a legend if he’d lived a little longer. Nowadays he’s mostly remembered for The Blues and the Abstract Truth from 1961, and Stolen Moments is the song on that record that’s always stuck to the back of my brain.

Original Blues and Abstract TruthThe Blues and the Abstract Truth

The original cover and the 1990 re-issue;
both with superb typography.

Nelson was a University-trained composer, who did well by jazz but was always writing music for one type of ensemble or another. The Blues and the Abstract Truth is a straight-ahead jazz album with an all-star band including Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, Freddie Hubbard, Paul Chambers, and Roy Haynes. Boy, can they ever play.

Stolen Moments is obviously a jazz number, but equally the work of a composer, with sections that have thoughtful relationships to the sections before and after them. It’s full of melodic gems and rhythmic indirection and, with that band, the breaks are obviously fabulous. It’s thoughtful, unhurried, tasty music.

This is the 124th in the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. There’s no live video of Oliver Nelson performing this, and he wasn’t that much of a showman. But there are plenty of Stolen Moments out there. I’m going to pick a performance by Bill Cunliffe’s band, which doesn’t sound much like Nelson’s take, but it’s tasteful and intelligent and good.

SotD: Mahler #9, Adagio 3 May 2018, 7:00 pm

In yesterday’s song, Lou Reed declaims Sittin' down by the fire / Ooo, the radio does play / A little classical music there… Hey, good idea! The fourth movement of Symphony No. 9 by Gustav Mahler is labeled IV. Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend. The German means something like “Very slowly, with reserve” and it’s slow all right but it’s not reserved at all, it’s full of wrenching howls of emotion.

The symphony is massive, typically eighty-plus minutes or more to play, and frankly I’ve no particular love for the first three movements. They’re tuneful in places but bombastic in others, with no movement, no feeling that they know where they’re going and want to take me along. Actually, I have a problem like this with lots of late-Romantic and early-modern stuff.

From Mahler’s Symphony No 9

I’m not sure what instrument this is for,
but it’s definitely the opening of the 4th movement.

But that last movement (warning, 20+ minutes), wow. It’s gracefully and massively sad, painting a dark picture on a soft dark background, the huge orchestra splashing strokes of sorrow so huge they fill any hall this is played in; or any room you’re in, particularly if you turn the volume way, way up.

Audiophile note: The sound of a full orchestra is way harder to reproduce than any electric music, but if your speakers can manage it, you really ought to take this one as loud as your amp will go without structural damage.

Highly personal note: I remember like yesterday playing this for a woman I loved, but it was becoming clear that night it wasn’t going to work out for us; she bent over weeping and fell from her seat to her knees on the floor, head to the carpet. There is sadness and there is sadness.

I have a live Karajan/BPO version that I’m very fond of, but it’s the only one I’ve listened to seriously so I can’t say it’s the best.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon (album link, they break the 4th movement into 8 tracks), iTunes (likewise) Spotify (likewise). Now as for live video, I kind of hate to link to the Vienna orchestra because last time I checked they were still a boys’ club, but this performance (link is to 4th movement) led by Leonard Bernstein is something very, very special.

SotD: Sweet Jane 2 May 2018, 7:00 pm

Some people just go out dancing / other people like us we gotta work. Lou Reed’s Sweet Jane has been special to me since the first time it crossed my radar, which I don’t remember since it was in the Seventies. This may be Lou Reed’s masterpiece.

I’m pretty old, but too young to have been into the Velvet Underground. But I was living in dingy basement back in those days when someone brought home Lou Reed’s Rock n Roll Animal and oh my goodness, every note on that record spoke to me, and it still does. I blogged at length on the subject a dozen years ago, Let me quote myself:

Let’s see: the band is tight as any famous-name classical string quartet, the guitars are orchestrated and played well; Lou’s vocals are wasted-sounding, which is appropriate, but the phrasing and timing is right up there. And the songs, those songs are jam-packed full of wonderful melodies and lyrics that get their hooks into your brain and won’t let go.

Well, OK, on the other side of the coin, yes, it’s heavy pompous Seventies glam/arena rock, and two of the songs are totally about getting high, and the guitar-playing isn’t very innovative (it’s very good, just not very innovative) and Heroin in particular hasn’t worn all that well. But still, this is really extra-fine music.

Rock n Roll Animal

In that blog piece I also dissed Lou’s remark that the best version of Sweet Jane was the Cowboy Junkies’, from The Trinity Session. But as I get older I find I keep going back to Trinity and often get teary-eyed. Its beauty is stark, the performance polished, and the recording sounds fabulous on the big system.

I only saw Lou once, one of his last performances, in 2010 as part of the Vancouver Olympics cultural festival. It was at a weird concert where a whole crowd of musicians not including Neil Young performed Neil’s Songs. Lou took an atonal electric charge at Helpless which was memorable if not actually good, and then joined Elvis Costello for the closing extended raw-noise melting down of Cowgirl In The Sand, which was actually pretty excellent.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).

Links

Spotify playlist. From Rock n Roll Animal: Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. From The Trinity Session: Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. As for live video, it’s a little disappointing, but here is Lou looking way druggy with part of the Rock n Roll Animal Band and lousy vocals in Paris, and then much older in a Velvet Underground reunion, with insufficient guitar roar but nice snappy vocals and Maureen Tucker’s downtown drumming. As for the Junkies, they’ve always been more a studio than a performance band, but this is pretty gripping.

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