Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Feet/Feat: Get On The Good Foot

James Brown: Get On The Good Foot

I don’t like to dance, mostly because I look like an uncoordinated tub of Jello, and it has never been one of the things that I go out of my way to do. (Except at Princeton Reunions, at least since 2012) But if James Brown tells you to get up and dance, you get up and dance. I mean, the man is the Godfather of Soul. 

Brown had been performing since the 1950s, but starting in the mid- to late-1960s, he began to pioneer what came to be called “funk” music, featuring danceable grooves, with lots of soul and R&B influences, and performing it with a big band and lots of intense dancing. Often the songs included a social message in between the dance breaks. As I read that, I’m thinking to myself that the words don’t do the music justice. How’s this: It’s the kind of music that you feel in your gut and makes you want to move your butt. To steal a title from another band popular at the time, Funkadelic, “Free Your Mind….and Your Ass Will Follow.” 

A couple of years after that Funkadelic song came out, Charles released “Get On The Good Foot,” a song about dancing and partying to forget the hard parts of life. Originally released as a two sided single, which meant, for you young’uns, that you’d have to flip the 45 (just go with it..) over to play the second side. Apparently Brown, who owned Augusta, GA, radio station WDRW, interrupted the programming to introduce the unreleased “Get On The Good Foot,” because he thought it was going to be a big hit, and he called it—the song topped the R&B chart and reached 18 on the pop chart. Later that year, Brown released an album of the same name, featuring the full track, so that there was no need to turn it over (although being a double album, you’d have to flip it twice to hear the whole thing on your record player). 

And because we at SMM believe in uninterrupted funk, it’s the album version that you can check out, above.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021


Unless you are super hard or super poor, all of us need some shoes on our feet, so as to protect our tootsies from the assaults of hot tarmac, wet mud, ground glass or dog poop. You name it, any of those can make a make a walk in the park anything but a walk in the park, as well as giving ample opportunity to strut your stuff or stamp your style. So, tonight I am going to be looking at the popular topic of shoes through the medium of popular song. (Well, I like 'em.)

Barefoot/Ray Collins Hot Club

Barefoot isn't shoes, but I can't resist this instance of unshoddery, so delightfully kitsch it is. Apparently the title track of a German film, thus Barfüss, it is by the Ray Collins Hot Club about whom I know nothing. So imagine my surprise as I discover they still exist and are still playing, having only come into being this century.

Men in Sandals/Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby

Ooof! Has there ever been a better exposition of the horror of men in sandals? DOI, here, I am actually quite partial to a sandal in the summer, although only ever paired with shorts or flappy linen trousers, as they don't go with else. And never, absolutely with socks, that peculiarly English affectation that curdles my blood. Wreckless Eric is a chap unlikely to take kindly to the sort of men who rock that particular folly, with his wife, Amy Rigby singing and explaining exactly why.

Bad Sneakers/Steely Dan

I never got the fancy trainers argument, all these megabuck sports shoes worn as a badge of one-upmanship. Wrong generation, I guess, my son still near needing a separate room to house his collection, at 13 his defined go-to essential in a family trip to NY in the 90s being the Nike Store. To me they are just plimsolls or gym shoes, not my bag at all. I don't see Becker and Fagen ever having been that keen either.

New Shoes/Paolo Nutini

Back at the beginning of his career, Scots-Italian singer Paolo Nutini was a simpler soul, the pleasure of some new leather sufficient to give him joy. And inspiration. With his heritage, I can see him in a pair of snakeskin winkle pickers, so his expectation to be walking to the break of dawn, blister free, may be optimistic.
Blue Shoes Stepping/The Bible

I have a pair of blue shoes. Not suede, I am afraid, but still quite natty. I like a fancy shoe, having also examples in green and red, but the blue ones were a mistake, pinching my toes and hobbling my gait. The blue shoes quoted here sound a bit more promising. The Bible never got quite as much acclaim as they deserved, despite boasting Kirsty MacColl's brother, Neil, and ace songwriter, Boo Hewerdine in the frontline. 

In These Shoes/Kirsty MacColl

Talking of Kirsty MacColl, perhaps this is the time to veer off into the world of women's shoes, a strange and mysterious money pit where any link between the number of feet and the number of shoes needed is of no connection or relationship. A single pair is never enough and Imelda Marcos the only upper limit. (And, funnily enough, there is a song about Imelda.)

Soul Shoes/Graham Parker & the Rumour

Finally, a song that really makes me smile, especially in this version, filmed decades after Graham Parker and the Rumour originally recorded it, showing exactly my style, a built for comfort ambience embracing the band from head to their soul shoes. Of course, the video never gets around to showing their feet, but I will bet the shoes on show would be well worn and battered, much like the band themselves appear. Marvellous.

It's all cobblers, innit?! My favourite.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Jazz Covers: Gil Evans and Jimi Hendrix

The Gil Evans Orchestra: Voodoo Chile

I’ve written about the cover of “Little Wing” that is on this album (or, at least some versions of it) a couple of times, as well as mentioning seeing the Gil Evans Orchestra at a free outdoor concert in Florence in 1981, which was great, but I really don’t remember whether they played any Hendrix that night. I knew enough about Evans in 1981 to know that he was worth seeing, especially at that price, but not enough to really know about the music. Except to remember that I really enjoyed it. 

Gil Evans, a pianist and composer, is probably best known as an arranger, particularly for Miles Davis, after whom Evans named a son. Although his career was mostly in the jazz world, Evans’ musical tastes were broad, and he was a particularly big fan of Hendrix. In fact, Hendrix was scheduled to record and perform with a big band led by Evans, but Hendrix’s death prevented this intriguing combination from coming together. Instead, in 1975, Evans released an album of Hendrix covers, all done with an unusual 19-piece big band, including, among others, Hannibal Marvin Peterson, Lew Soloff, Pete Levin (brother of Tony), David Sanborn, John Abercrombie, Ryo Kawasaki, Tom “Bones” Malone, and Howard Johnson. 

The songs are, of course, great, and the arrangements, by Evans and other members of the group, are inventive, interesting and sometimes unexpected. For example, the version of “Voodoo Chile” controversially begins with tuba master Johnson sounding like he’s playing the kazoo, before the orchestra weighs in. And while Johnson takes a tuba solo, there’s no lack of guitar wailing, It’s a polarizing take, but certainly one that makes you think. 

The Gil Evans Orchestra also backed Sting (who started his musical career as a jazz bass player) on his excellent, more rock-oriented cover of “Little Wing,” featuring a great guitar solo by Hiram Bullock, a regular Evans collaborator and former member of David Letterman’s band. Sting and Evans performed together in Italy, in a performance that was released as a live album.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Jazz Covers: Spyro Gyra

purchase [ Vinyl Tap ]

My previous post, I interpreted the current theme as covers of a jazz classic. Here, a jazz band (well ... jazz-fusion) doing covers of music from the 70s.

One of my favorite jazz-fusion groups is Spyro Gyra. Their music is kind of easy to listen to - not the kind of jazz that requires you to work hard. And while I recognize that there is a place for that kind of musical experience, it's generally not my favorite experience: I prefer accessible melody.

I don't keep track of what most bands are doing on an ongoing basis and I had my doubts that they had ever done any covers - mostly not their "thing". But wait ... no ... There's their <Vinyl Tap> album: all covers in their jazz/fusion style. The band has been around in various configurations since 1974, and this collection from 2019 was their 31st.

A number of prominent reviewers express scepticism that the band could pull off an album of covers - but they do. Remarkably well. All of them filled with unexpected notes- the essence of jazz.

And, while you really should go out and get yourself a copy of the whole album, we can give you a handful right here. And then maybe you'll head out a buy it for the rest.

Thursday, June 3, 2021


After the last post there was only one possible follow on piece, to look at a brilliant and mesmerisingly accurate spoof on/homage to Brubeck, and, of course, the Stranglers. One that had a fair few fooled. 

Was Dave Greenfield, the late keyboard player for the Stranglers, and the writer of the repeating harpsichord riff in the song, influenced by Brubeck? He would say not, but it does not seem unreasonable to think each were influenced by the composers of the baroque period, as, for that matter, will have been Ray Manzarek, often and lazily touted as Greenfield's main contemporary influence. Who cares, frankly, I love 'em all, and could listen all day to any of these three.

Laurence Mason is a music graduate of Leeds Conservatoire who likes messing around with the available technology, as well as being an adept player of many instruments. When Greenfield died, he wanted to pay tribute and, already aware of the acknowledged similar ambience of both Golden Brown and Take Five, apropos existing mash-ups like this, decided to go a step further: 

A little tribute to Dave Greenfield (keyboardist with The Stranglers who died with Covid-19 last week) and Paul Desmond (saxophonist with the Dave Brubeck quartet – the anniversary of his death is at the end of this month).

Also because I’ve been enjoying editing videos and recording stuff over the last couple of months. A couple of people have asked how I made this video so here we go – I took a clip from a 1964 live version of Take Five (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT9Eh…) and made the drum loop by chopping up the intro and turning it from 5/4 into the 3/4 – 4/4 groove that Golden Brown has. The upright bass sound is sequenced from Logic, and the piano part was played in using one of the piano sounds from a Nord Electro 5D. Then I played the sax part over the top (I play a King Zephyr alto and for this I used a hard rubber Yanigasawa mouthpiece rather than my usual bright Guardala).

The video was then edited using the clip I’d taken the drum loop from.” — Laurence Mason

This interview delves deeper. First imagined as a bit of fun, once embedded in Youtube, sufficient hits drew it to the attention of Paul Murphy, influential on the UK jazz scene, and it swiftly became available as a record to download or buy. Under the name, groan, of 'Take Vibe'. (With, on the flip, an equally iconic take on the Police's 'Walking on the Moon'.)

So, what else has Mason been up to? Initially a whole album was projected and, who knows, maybe it still is, lockdown possibly casting a cloud of best laid plans etc. I would certainly be interested.

Get Vibe

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Jazz Covers: Take 5


purchase [Time Out]

In 1958, the Dave Brubeck Quartet did a tour of EurAsia that was sponsored by the State Department. Their trip included a stop in Istanbul, from where I write my posts to SMM. I was only 3 back then, but some time in the mid 1960s, my parents added <Time Out> to their record collection, so I would have been listening to it at around age 10 (in Istanbul even back then).

Brubeck was affected by the music he heard in Istanbul such that their 1959 <Time Out> album makes much use of time signatures that could be Turkish. Not only does music from Turkey (and points east) use "non-standard", tricky time signatures, but also a musical scale that is based on Arabic music, where - instead of the 12 notes of a Western octave- there are 53 "koma". For most of us, music in school taught us about standard Western time signatures like 6/8 or 3/4 or 4/4 - what dominate rock and pop and even much jazz in addition to classical music. Turkish music makes use of these, but also more complex rhythms like 5/4 or 7/4 and 9/8 and more.

It was this influence that powered Brubeck and Paul Desmond when they wrote Blue Rondo a la Turk and Take 5. The 5 in the name is the 5 from the 5/4 rhythm.

Wikipedia informs me that Take 5 is "the biggest-selling jazz single ever", so it's no surprise that there are more covers than you can shake a stick at. The article also notes that the song brings in royalties of over $100,000 a year.

Friday, May 28, 2021


The suggestion offered from above was to look at covers of jazz standards, you know the sort of thing, bluegrass Brubeck, country Coltrane and math-rock Miles. (OK, I may have struggled with the last, but you catch my drift.) Me, I immediately thought of the current glut of polyglot artists, nominally 'file under jazz', but equally at home cross piste. I'm thinking the likes of Brad Mehldau, Herbie Hancock and, most of all, the extraordinary guitar of Bill Frisell.

Tired of Waiting For You/Guitar in the Space Age: Bill Frisell (2014)

Frisell is an unlikely looking axe-hero, but axe-hero he is, and, whilst always thought primarily a jazzman, you may be surprised how far he crosses over and how many records by artists in the fields he has appeared on. Far more, say, than Pat Metheny, who is a name often dropped into great guitarist lists, yet seldom strays from his niche, give or take a sole dalliance with Queen and being the subject, loosely, of a Richard Thompson song. Yet, ironically, it is to Metheny he owes his place, depping for Metheny when Metheny unavailable for a session, he suggesting the bright eyed novice with tousled hair to take his place.  This was for the icy wastes of ECM, the sometimes seemingly dour Nordic label that is the go-to for glacial instrumental jazz, instantly identifiable by their 'postcards of the tundra' album covers. A number of albums with them, ahead of hooking up with John Zorn on the New York scene, all avant garde and spiky composition. But being an in-demand musician for other muses and producing like-minded material wasn't enough. So, on a move to Seattle, Frisell started cooking up something new, investigating, variously, other native musical forms: americana, rock, pop even.

This century he has spent flitting relentlessly between projects: a torrent of his own composition, further expeditions into idiosyncratically exploring and totally revising the music of others and, most delightfully, beginning to pop up in the mainstream, alongside artists such as Elvis Costello and Norah Jones. At the time of writing he has 39 recordings in his own name or as an integral part of the billing, 22 since the year 2000. Add in a series of live recordings and it another 22, plus a truly ridiculous number of collaborations, guest appearances and cameos. Check out his web page. (Bet you wouldn't expect him to have ever worked with Richard Hell and the Voidoids!)

For want of any other methodology, here are a few of his covers, whether coming from his own records, from collaborations or any other source, all displaying his maverick control of the fretboard, approaching melody always from its polar opposite, yet always finding it, often unexpectedly. A beautiful tone, this is sweet music: no atonal skronking here to frighten those with terror of the J word.

You Only Live Twice/When You Wish Upon a Star: Bill Frisell (2016)

Across the Universe/All We Are Saying: Bill Frisell (2011)

Cold Cold Heart/The Willies: Bill Frisell (2002)

I Heard It Through the Grapevine/East,West: Bill Frisell (2005)

Magnolia/Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone: w. Lucinda Williams (2014)

Standing in the Doorway/Slipstream: w. Bonnie Raitt (2012)

As Tears Go By/Slipstream: w. Marianne Faithfull (1987)

And spot the great man, playing, in the video above.

More, here....