The first two shuffle features I did for this blog each brought up stuff from deep in my amassment of mp3s that I wasn’t much familiar with; this one’s a little different—it’s all music I’ve spent time with in one way or another. Download these five songs here.
Les Baxter: “Rain” (African Jazz, 1959)
Les Baxter was one of the exotica masters, and his African Jazz LP, while badly mistitled, is very entertaining. It takes most of its rhythmic cues from Cuban music, but it’s the crazy arrangements that I really love about this music. Baxter has strings, flutes and marimbas playing short, catchy melodies over cycling clave beats, but he also adds thunderstorm sound effects, chimes and bells, and toward the end, pounding kettle drums, used as a lead instrument. This music is on some levels easy to write off as kitschy, maybe even exploitative, but I think there’s far too much creativity in it for that. Kitsch can be strangely innovative.
Abdel Halim Hafez: “Samra” (live recording, probably 1976 or 1977)
This is a 23-minute live recording made somewhere near the end of Abdel Halim Hafez’s life. These long, labyrinthine performances of single songs were actually somewhat common among the big Egyptian performers of the mid-20th Century, and Hafez was among the biggest, rivaled only by Um Kalthoum in popularity. “Samra,” in its many different transliterated spellings, was paired with “Qariat al Fingan” (which also has a multitude of spellings) on his final LP, though I’m honestly not sure if this is the same version—writing on the subject in English is light on details, and I got this years ago off of a sort of clearinghouse server full of classic Arabic music mp3s. It had no album tag.
It is a really stunning performance, though. A huge string and percussion orchestra and choir essentially duel with the headline performer. Their job is to build bridges between his showcase verses, where he’s mostly alone, working through variations on the themes of the song, and their bridges have huge variety, some stabbing ferociously, others whirling like dust devils, and others responding more directly to his drawn-out lead vocal passages. It’s really something to hear.
Einsturzende Neubauten: “12305 (Te Nacht)” (Tabula Rasa, 1993)
This is a pretty sharp shift in direction from the sumptuous orchestration and ornamentation of the Hafez track. “12305” is little more than buzzing bass, scraping percussion and Blixa Bargeld’s menacingly hushed vocal. Randomly placed and mostly understated concrete and electronic noise intrudes here and there, and a dark synthesizer theme slowly emerges from the cultivated wreckage as the song goes along, but this is never really a showcase for anything other than damage and rust. The genre tag is industrial, but the tone and sound of it more post-industrial, a soundtrack to a tumbling-down factory that hasn’t made a thing in years.
Radiohead: “So Surprises” (2001/04/06 Pinkpop Festival, Landgraaf, Netherlands, 2001)
This is a live version of “No Surprises,” recorded, as my album tag implies in 2001 at a festival in the Netherlands. This is how I’ve taken to tagging all of my bootlegs, for whatever band: year/month/day, venue, city, county, and if the bootleg has a special, cutesy title, I usually add that too. This keeps things nicely organized in iTunes, as all the bootlegs line up in chronological order when I have things sorted by artist. this is a good version of “No Surprises” from a generally strong show, and the audience is clearly happy to hear it, clapping along at the beginning, even though this isn’t really the kind of song you clap along to.
Michel Legrand: “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (Legrand Jazz, 1958)
Legrand Jazz is the all-star jazz LP to beat all other all-star jazz LPs. Seriously. Michel Legrand was (and still is) a French composer—his most famous work is probably the score from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, or perhaps “Windmills of Your Mind” from the original Thomas Crown Affair. His foray into jazz was much more natural than a lot of other composers’ attempts to engage with the music—he really felt this stuff, and he assembled an truly astounding array of guys to play it for him. Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Ben Webster, John Coltrane, Hank Jones, Donald Byrd, Herbie Mann, Jimmy Cleveland, Art Farmer, Phil Woods, Barney Wilen, Paul Chambers, Milt Hinton, and bunch of others (31 musicians in all) all played on this album. Admittedly, it would’ve been hard for Legrand to put a foot down wrong with all that firepower at his disposal, but does much better than simply get by with his inventive arrangements.
"Don’t Get Around Much Anymore" features bassist Chambers and flutist Mann as its standout performers, and they are in top form, Chambers especially. The song was originally written and recorded by Duke Ellington as an instrumental called "Never No Lament" in 1940, but it was retitled two years later after Bob Russell wrote lyrics for it and new title stuck, even for new instrumental versions. I love Chambers’ long intro and outro solos on this; soloing on string bass is tough, and he phrases everything so beautifully. Also notable is the unusual horn arrangement, which is all trombones, with no trumpet.