Saturday, October 2, 2010

Pipes and Woodwinds: Behind Blue Eyes

The Chieftains with Roger Daltrey: Behind Blue Eyes


To finish out my posts for this week’s theme, I wanted a song that had both pipes and woodwinds. For that, I knew I would need The Chieftains. The Chieftains began life as an Irish traditional band, one of the best. But, in 1991, they were looking to make a live album, and leader Paddy Maloney wanted to do something to make it special. So he invited Roger Daltry of The Who and Nanci Griffith to participate. It was a decision that would turn out to be very important to The Chieftains. Since then, most of their albums have included collaborations with artists who wouldn’t normally be thought of as traditional artists of any sort. In the process, The Chieftains have made fascinating connections between their music and those of their guests. It doesn’t always work, but the results are never dull. With Daltrey and Griffith, it did work beautifully.

Behind Blue Eyes, as rendered here, shows that Roger Daltrey could have been an Irish ballad singer in another life. The woodwind here is Matt Molloy’s flute. The pipe is the Irish version of the bagpipe, the uilleann pipes. It is played by Paddy Moloney.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pipes and Woodwinds: Roland Kirk Edition

Roland Kirk: Mingus-Griff Song

Roland Kirk: Mood Indigo


Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a one-man woodwind section. He could play three reeds simultaneously, and then go right into a flute solo (as he does on Ellington's "Mood Indigo"). He also modified his horns to produce unique instruments like the manzello and the stritch. and he was fond of throwing a siren into the mix whenever the mood struck.

He was often seen as a novelty act by the jazz purists of the day, but eventually came to be recognized as one of the truly unique voices in the genre. Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson nicked a fair bit of his flute style from Kirk, and they even recorded a cover of his "Serenade to a Cuckoo" on their first album.

The two songs I'm sharing in this post originally came from the live album Kirk in Copenhagen, recorded in October 1963 and released the following year (predating is adoption of the "Raahsan" moniker). Years later, the tracks were reissued as part of a mammoth 11-CD boxed set that included a much-expanded version of the Copenhagen album with the songs resequenced in proper order, putting these two tracks back-to-back. Not only do they make for a nice contrast in tempos, but at the end of the "Mingus-Griff Song" track, he explains how he will play "Mood Indigo" with the three reeds simultaneously playing different parts of the original arrangement. It's worth stating explicitly that Kirk is the only horn player on these tracks. Kids, don't try this at home!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pipes and Woodwinds: Clarinet Connections

Brave Old World: Brave Old Sirbas


One of the pleasures of this week‘s theme for me is the chance to present some klezmer music here. Some readers at this point may be going “aha!!” But probably more of you are wondering what I‘m talking about. Klezmer is Jewish celebration music that Jewish immigrants brought with them from eastern Europe to the United States in roughly the period from 1890-1920. This music often featured the clarinet, and it reached its peak in the 1920s, with clarinetist David Tarras leading the way. And then, klezmer disappeared.

Fifty years later, a group of Jewish-American musicians seeking their roots began to discover old klezmer recordings from the 20s, and klezmer was reborn. Brave Old World were a group that was in the thick of this revival. Brave Old Sirbas is a fine example of the sound of klezmer clarinet. I presented a fuller discussion of klezmer music last year on my blog, Oliver di Place. The songs are no longer up, but you can read that here.

Benny Goodman: Puttin‘ on the Ritz


So klezmer may be new to you, but I’m sure that you have heard of Benny Goodman. In discussions of Goodman’s music, not much is usually made of his Jewish background. But Goodman apparently received his first musical training in 1919 at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue, so I think that it is not too much of a stretch to say that he must have heard klezmer music as a boy. I can hear the influence in his playing, although he was also obviously influenced by the sounds of early jazz that were coming from New Orleans. Still, the connection is there. Goodman is, of course, best known for his big band recordings, but I have chosen a trio recording to better focus on his clarinet playing. It may well be fair to say that the klezmer revival musicians, many of whom started out playing jazz, were also influenced by Benny Goodman.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pipes and Woodwinds: Winter in America


Gil Scott-Heron: Winter in America


This bleak vision of dystopian America circa 1974 is courtesy of Gil Scott-Heron, a socially conscious vocalist who creates a unique fusion of jazz and soul. Winter in America features the flute, a hauntingly gorgeous choice that highlights his chilling words.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pipes and Woodwinds: Around This Corner

Sarah Harmer: Around This Corner


Sarah Harmer: Just A Closer Walk With Thee


The classical reeded woodwinds of the standard orchestra - clarinets, oboes, bassoons - make an occasional appearance in the middle of more than a handful of acoustic pop songs, joining in for the third verse or the bridge, then sticking around for the remainder of the piece.

And though it pops its head in for emphasis subtly throughout the first verse, so it seems to be with the clarinet in Around This Corner, a catchy, bouncy piece of folkpop that led off Sarah Harmer's first major solo disk after years heading Canadian cult alt-band Weeping Tile. It makes a difference to the sound, to be sure, but it keeps surprising you. And the way it fades back into the music is so subtle, you forget it was there all along, until it comes back to bridge the gap between chorus and verse so sweetly, like a Woody Allen solo.

Harmer took the same tactic in Songs For Clem, her self-produced, never-intended-to-be-released gift to her father recorded the year beforehand, but only truly distributed after the runaway success of You Were There. It's rough cut, with rain on the roof coming in as a hiss on the track towards the end, but the clarinet lends a second line feel to the gospel harmonies, floating the old hymn somewhere heavenly.

Pipes and Woodwinds: Tsumagoi

sadao watanabe

Sadao Watanabe: Tsumagoi


Before you get all up in my grill, let me just point out that this is not J-Rock. It's pretty straight-up jazz by a world-renowned woodwind player who just happens to be Japanese. I used to listen to it when it came out in 1980, which far predates my J-Rock obsession. In fact, I used to play along to this tune on my really crappy saxophone, even though here, Watanabe-san features the flute (he usually plays alto sax too).

So, Columbia Records ended up with this guy on their label, and they wisely (or maybe just luckily), threw a bunch of other terrific jazz fusion artists into the mix and recorded their live Budokan sets. We've got Dave Grusin on keyboards, Eric Gale on guitar, and Richard Tee, Steve Gadd, Anthony Jackson, Ralph MacDonald, Jeff Mironov and the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Whew!

Pipes and Woodwinds: Disappearing One

Chris Cornell: Disappearing One


When grunge/metal heroes Soundgarden parted ways in 1997 (they have since reunited) I coudn't wait to hear what frontman and main songwriter Chris Cornell would do next.

Over the years his debut as a solo artist, the song Seasons on the soundtrack for Cameron Crowe's Singles in 1992, had grown to be a big fan favorite and it was obvious that whatever he was cooking up would be worth waiting for. The first sign of things to come was the sublime Sunshower on the Great Expectations soundtrack in 1998. The full-length Euphoria Morning hit the shelves the following year and the moment I heard it I had a new favorite album.

Perhaps surprising to fans of Soundgarden, the album couldn't have sounded less like Soundgarden. No grinding, distorted heavy metal guitars to be found anywhere. This was more similar to his Temple Of The Dog side-project from 1991.

Dark and melancholy, but always melodic and enticing the album is absolutely brilliant from start to finish. Great stuff on here, like the gloomy Steel Rain, the Jeff Buckley tribute Wave Goodbye, the bluesy When I'm Down and of course Disappearing One, in my opinion one of the best songs he has ever written.

I'm glad he put some clarinets in the intro or I'd have no reason to post it this week.

Pipes and Woodwinds: The Dreaming

Kate Bush: The Dreaming


If you don’t know what to listen for, you might say that there are no pipes or woodwinds in The Dreaming. There is, however, a strange bass drone that starts the song, and if you listen carefully, you will find that that drone modulates and continues throughout the song. That is the sound of the didgeridoo. The didgeridoo may be the only musical instrument that is made by insects. The Aborigines of Australia find logs that have been hollowed out by termites, and they then put the finishing touches in to get the didgeridoo to sound perfect. The resulting instrument was traditionally played in rituals to induce the trance known as the dreamtime. That is the basis of Kate Bush’s song, although I do not think that her take on it is very authentic.

For The Birds / Pipes and Woodwinds: The Blackbird

Silly Wizard: The Blackbird

[sadly, out of print]

I've always liked the slow, almost stately medieval pace and harmonies of this live tune from my favorite Scottish tradfolk band with the dumbest name ever, leading me to believe either that the words "silly" and "wizard" have slightly different connotations across the pond, or the seventies were even weirder than I had originally thought.

The soaring whistle that joins the vocal narrative just before the midpoint is intended to be the titular bird itself, I suppose, but it doesn't come off as trite as all that - after all, this sort of music is known for being emphatically literal without sacrificing a whit of beauty.