Friday, September 28, 2012

Mixed Formats: A Thousand Curses On Love


 I could have sworn I'd posted something by Baka Beyond sometime in the past, but no…it's not in the labels yet, so this is the first.  I have posted Afro Celt Sound System, though, which offers a similar combination of African and Celtic music. 

Baka Beyond came about in 1992 when musicians Su Hart and Martin Cradock left home for the Cameroons to live with the Baka tribe.  Ten albums later, the blend of (mostly) African and UK musicians is still going strong.  This song is a cover of the Gaelic "Mile Marphaisg Air a Ghaol" (A Thousand Curses on Love), from their East To West release (2002). 

Now, I love Celtic music and I love African music, too, so weaving them together intimately like this, to me, is the utmost brilliance.  And sorry for the YouTube post and not the mp3, but I'm still a little gun-shy these days, and this seems the least likely to bring down the wrath of  Voldemort You-Know Who.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mixed Formats: Peaches en Regalia

Dweezil Zappa: Peaches en Regalia

purchase link [Frank Zappa/Hot  Rats - Peaches en Regalia]

Life goes on. Your favorite music blog may be facing hard times – but it is still online and it is pumping out new tunes for you to listen to.  Once again, we’ve got a new topic for you and your bloggers are doing their best in the face of difficult odds to bring you songs of mixed styles that don’t really fit any genre.

First and foremost in this category for me is Frank Zappa. Yes, he had a number of songs that made it into the Top/Pop lists, but he always gave the impression that it didn’t really matter to him whether it was a hit or not (perhaps better if so, but … what mattered was impact: did it carry a message?)

His music touched on jazz, folk, and – of course – pop/rock. And it is with this in mind that I choose Zappa for my “doesn’t  fit any genre”  posting)

Life goes on. While not an outright fan of Zappa’s offspring, I  appreciate the fact that Dweezil and Moon Unit care enough for their father’s legacy that they are putting time and effort into keeping the flame burning (yes, I am sensitive to the pecuniary incentives)

Peaches en Regalia, originally from the Mothers’  Hot Rats album, combines pop, rock, jazz and classical genres in one piece. Zappa’s original selection of instrumentation and notation make this clear.

For my “safe” posting (having been repeatedly burned posting my own mp3s recently), I am linking to the son’s version of “Peaches”.  Dweezil may lack his father’s flamboyant style, appearance and guitar chops, but the rendition is credibly authentic: the xylophone, the tempo, the notes could almost be mistaken for a recording by his dad.

Suppose you comment and tell us what the genre is?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mixed Formats: Kurenai

Some music just comes across better live and visually, so I'm taking this chance to post the YouTube video of my gateway J-rock group, X Japan.  This is the 2009 live version of X Japan's Kurenai, one of their staple hits, slightly reconfigured for added dramatic flair.  The first 5 minutes offers up a symphonic-electronic duet by Yoshiki on piano and Sugizo (also of Luna Sea) on violin.  Vocalist Toshi steps in for a bit, then Yoshiki scoots up to his drum kit and Sugizo grabs his guitar for the speed-metal finale.  Reasons that this is awesome and full of win: 

- the competitive Breck-girl hair tossing and dramatic arm swoops
- the matching lucite piano (Yoshiki's signature Kawai),  violin, and drums
- the over-the-top costuming with liberal applications of leather
- Toshi so overwhelmed at first that he can hardly sing
- the video of deceased guitarist and former member Hide throughout the song's second half
- Toshi and Yoshiki at 7:40 sharing a smile: Toshi had been in a Japanese cult for the previous 10 years, estranged from his BFF Yoshiki, and they're clearly glad to be together again.
- the crowd making the 'X' sign and singing along near the end
- the unexpected reuniting of one of the most influential Japanese rock bands after a pretty shocking breakup 10 years earlier, a concert which had been repeatedly delayed for months.  The crowd is awed and terrifically excited to be there.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mixed Formats: Your Hand In Mine

Explosions In The Sky: Your Hand In Mine

I used to have a subscription to Mojo, an English music magazine that epitomizes the rock snobbery that I have to sheepishly admit to sometimes indulging in. I used to love their album reviews, which often seemed to create micro sub genres on the fly—“Oasis influenced post-apocalyptic arena rock” “Neo-Goth industrial grindcore” “Downtempo synth-banjo drone” (OK—I made those up, but the real ones were similar). How to classify music by genre is, as with most things critical, a matter of personal taste.

When I worked at WPRB in college, we had classical, jazz and rock shows, and late at night, we had “specialty” shows—prog rock, punk, avant-garde, etc. And I think most people were comfortable that Mozart was classical, and John Coltrane was jazz, and Led Zeppelin was rock. That Genesis was prog and The Ramones were punk. But could you play a Phillip Glass piece on a jazz or rock show? Or Pat Metheny on a rock show? I know I heard Van Morrison’s “Moondance” on a jazz show. And what the hell were you supposed to do about Brian Eno? Luckily, there was no formal test, although when I was program director, I might have made a call to a DJ who played the Sex Pistols during the classical programming or segued Beethoven from The Police.

When I started using an mp3 player, I was confronted with the “genre” field, and iTunes also allows you to use narrow sub genres—Alternative Rock. Indie Rock. Alternative and Punk. Punk. Not to mention Unclassifiable. I tend to keep things pretty broad—Rock, Jazz, Folk, Blues, etc. But even that can lead to moments of staring at the screen trying to decide the proper genre.

Which brings me to Explosions in the Sky, and “Your Hand in Mine.” The band is usually classified as “post-rock,” a genre which seems to assume that “rock” is over, and we have moved on. This would probably be a surprise to pretty much anyone who listens to rock music. According to Wikipedia, “The term ‘post-rock’ is believed to have been coined by critic Simon Reynolds in his review of Bark Psychosis' album Hex, published in the March 1994 issue of Mojo magazine.” Mojo magazine strikes again!! Reynolds defined the genre as "using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbre and textures rather than riffs and power chords."

The original version of “Your Hand in Mine” appears on Explosions in the Sky’s album The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place, in an 8:16 version, featuring the four members’ chiming guitars and active drumming. The producer of the movie Friday Night Lights (adapted from the book of the same name) approached the band, and much of the movie soundtrack was Explosions in the Sky music. The version of “Your Hand in Mine” that appeared in the movie was shortened, and strings were added by the arranger David Campbell, who happens to be the father of Beck (someone also familiar with cross-genre music).

The movie Friday Night Lights is very good. It was adapted into one of the great TV series of all time. The theme for the TV version of Friday Night Lights sounds like Explosions in the Sky, but it isn’t. It was written by W.G. Snuffy Walden, a veteran composer of TV themes (including The West Wing, another great TV show). Check out the video:

But it really, really sounds like Explosions in the Sky, whose music was, in fact, used in a few episodes of the show.

So, to sum up, this song was written for an album, adapted for a movie version of a book. The movie was adapted for a TV show, whose theme was influenced by the original music. I think that qualifies as “mixed formats.”

Mixed Formats: Rockit


This week’s theme is an experiment. We will be presenting songs in a variety of formats, and I mean that both in terms of the music itself and the way we present it. Some of us still have file hosting and will be sharing mp3s. But others, myself obviously included, will share videos. There may also be some streaming audio. The goal is to present as much music as possible for you, our readers. This mix of audio and visual formats may be how we proceed for a while at least, so I hope you will take the time and use the comments to let us know what you think. Incidentally, the picture on the sidebar this week is by artist Miriam Pinkerton. You can get a better look at it, as well as seeing more a possibly purchasing some of her work here.

Rockit was an MTV sensation in 1983. Probably very few viewers, however, had heard of Herbie Hancock before. Hancock had long before established himself as a jazz master. He was with Miles Davis when Davis invented jazz fusion, and Hancock greatly advanced fusion with his Headhunters band. But Rockit is not jazz, is it? The song combines a funky groove with a lead line on synthesizer with the turntablism of Grandmaster DST. Hancock was finding in the music that would later be called hip-hop the same improvisational spirit he knew so well in jazz, but the song is surely not jazz itself.

Or is it? Here’s Hancock and his band performing the song again, this time live in Los Angeles in 2008:

Now, some connections snap into place. Now, on finding this video, I understand at last how Herbie Hancock could have been responsible for Rockit in the first place. This version of the song makes clear how it relates to Hancock‘s jazz fusion work. It is unquestionably the same song, but this treatment brings it home for me. The band stretches out, and this version is clearly jazz.