Monday, June 21, 2021


 Too obvious? Maybe, but surely they are the original pair of opposites, as in in the beginning was and all that. And you can play around a little with either of the polarities and steer a path down the middle, embracing dusk and/or twilight, trying to work out if they are the same or come from the opposite starting points. Light is a bit of a tinker, though, as it can also have an opposite with heavy, which I personally try to avoid, in any musical sense, if less successfully in my own life. Dark doesn't have any such, unless we talk chocolate, as milk chocolate is hardly the opposite of dark, or plain, as some will have it. Where would that leave the vile heresy of white chocolate? These, however, must be concerns for another day.

I thought this the opportunity to indulge my occasional pecadilloe into non guitar based music, into electronica, in fact. Or techno, as the music today featured probably was thought of. At least when both bands featured were just starting. I loved John Peel's putdown of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, arguably whose travails with synthesisers set the scene for the wider genre, road testing the prototype models. "A waste of electricity", the venerable DJ called them. Strangely, as synthesisers begat drum machines and sequencers, and computers became more prominent than keyboards, he became quite keen. Funny that. Anyhoo, be that as it may, I too was quite keen on techno. Reading the definition of the genre makes for daunting reading, so I guess I was no early adopter. Indeed, if Kraftwerk were trailblazers, with the Detroit and Chicago scenes picking up the influences and running, or dancing, with it, I was decidedly sceptic. I thought it was all a bit disco, especially the rooms and fields chokka with e-infused teenagers, blissfully off their heads, that I found distinctly off-putting. But then I caught Orbital at the Glastonbury Festival in the early 90's. Literally caught: we were making an early Sunday evening getaway, for work in the morning, getting caught up in the similar traffic jam of weekend only revellers. And, in the stationary car, heard the set and could see the lightship in the sky. Quite a formative moment. I suddenly saw the light. (See what I did there!)

Funnily enough, the car has remained my place of preference for listening to this genre, lapping up the associated, in my mind, and similar bands and musicians: the Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Moby and, of course, given this piece, Leftfield and Underworld. Sometimes to the extent of attracting alarmed glances cast my way, as I drive along, rhythmically thumping the driver side window in time. I recommend it.

So then, Light is here brought to you by the splendour of Leftfield, the track entitled 'Alternative Light Source', the title also of their 2015 long player. I think they were/are probably my darlings of the scene, with, especially, the remixes version of 'Rhythm and Stealth' being my all time leader of this pack, not unentirely associated that my wife being a huge fan. We met relatively later in life, with music our main comparator on the dating site(!) we both frequented, and she, a massive Faithless aficionado, liked a good bit of my tastes in this direction. (The rest, the folk, the country, the blues, the jazz, less so.)  Leftfield were also the first live band of this ilk I dared go see, in 2015, for the tour that promoted this album. I didn't know quite what to expect, somehow assuming an army of flare carrying floppy fringed fops, finding, instead, an audience not so different from me. And plenty my age or older, too. It was terrific, even if the "show" was just the three, I think, of them, tucked near invisibly behind abstract geometric sheets, through which coloured lights were shone, concentratedly beavering away on their hardware. The bass was extreme, subterranean rumbles that had me fearing that fabled note, over which no bowel has control. Thankfully it didn't come, and I forgave them the missed last train and taxi-ride home. So Light for the Light (as we call our good ladies round here.)

Dark comes, appropriately, from Underworld, the underworld supposedly lightless. 'Dark and Long' the track, from their inventively entitled 1994 debut, 'dubnobasswithmyheadman'. I came to them via the joyous lager lager lager of 'Born Slippy' on the 'Trainspotting' soundtrack. I confess I sort of went off them a bit after watching them on a BBC at Glastonbury filmed performance. And for silly reasons like the 'singer' dancing and having dyed hair, while the anonymous fella with him had to do all the IT heavy lifting. (Thank goodness I never saw the Prodigy, eh....) But I grew out of such daft prejudice, or, rather, my wife told me to, and they too continue to produce work of no small value, keeping the flame alive.

Opposites? Hmm, actually, if nothing else, I seem to have proven Dark and Light can be broadly much of a muchness. Am I bothered? Well, given dark light seems actually to be a thing.....



Saturday, June 19, 2021

Feet/Feat: Fats Waller


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I've spent a good part of the past week putting together a one-off special lesson about The Western, so maybe there is an historical commonality in this choice.

Fats Waller (1904-1943) apppears to have been amazingly talented and incredibly productive (something like 400 songs, compsed the score for the first Broadway musical written by an African American and more). Apparently, many of the 400 or so songs he sold to others and so ended up without being credited.

He was already playing the piano at age 6 and added the organ to his toolkit at 10, playing in his father's church. His success and fame was such that he toured Europe in the '30s.

There are several accounts of the night in 1926 when Fats was kidnapped at gunpoint and taken to a birthday party, where he was forced to play. The birthday boy was Al Capone. Waller's son said that the party went on for several days with Waller sleeping at his piano, and earning $100 for each song he played. Other accounts relate that he could sit down at his piano and easily finish off a gallon of bootleg whiskey and still keep playing. One account I read notes that he and Al probably got along just fine at that party.

I think you'll agree when you listen to the songs I have chosen that you can't keep your feet from tapping in time.

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

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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 (…) 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.

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