Saturday, November 25, 2017

All the Fixings: Gravy Waltz

Sarah Vaughan: Gravy Waltz


Joe Williams: Gravy Waltz


Let me start this post by talking about Steve Allen. Allen was the first host of what would eventually become known as The Tonight Show. Allen was a comedian, but he also was a piano player and song writer. Allen claimed to have written 8,500 songs, but there are different ways of counting. Take Gravy Waltz for example. The tune was written by Ray Brown, who was the bass player at the time for the Oscar Peterson Trio. Steve Allen had nothing to do with the writing of the music, but he did add the lyrics after the fact. Oddly, although a version of the song was used on Allen’s show, that one was an instrumental. The record of that version was credited to “Steve Allen with Don Trenner and His Orchestra”, and the songwriting credit on the label was for “R. Brown- S. Allen”. Although the piano is featured prominently on that recording, Allen was not the player. Still, Allen’s lyric is a good one, but one must look elsewhere to hear it. I looked to two of the best jazz singers active in 1963, when the song enjoyed a burst of popularity.

Sarah Vaughan is still a legendary figure today. Her Gravy Waltz is a celebration of the importance of family. Her voice had a soulfulness that instilled this song and so many others with a powerful emotional depth. By contrast, Joe Williams is perhaps lesser known today, but was at least as famous at the time. He was known as Big Joe Williams from his long stint with the Count Basie Orchestra, and he had also made a name for himself as a blues singer. His Gravy Waltz, despite his blues pedigree, was more of a light-hearted romp. So, dear readers, I offer you to different moods from Steve Allen’s lyric. Either way, our Thanksgiving feast here an Star Maker has some fine gravy.

Friday, November 24, 2017

All the Fixings: MFO

Purchase [MFO]

I've waffled back and forth for 10 days about this theme, but I am going to go with this one. Seems to me that I have likely been down a similar path before, being that I post to you from .... Turkey. 

No better time than the present to go for this: the holiday and the political climate being what they are. US-Turkish relations are at an all time nadir. The list of grievances is long. 

A summary look at both sides of the various crises: 2 months ago, the US consulate stopped issuing visas. Turkey responded in kind. Then there's the long running issue of the PKK affiliated YPG that the US has been supplying with arms in Syria (both sides agree that the PKK is a terrorist organization, but ...) And simmering in the background is the Turkish claim that a religious leader holed up in Penna. is behind the recent coup attempt, but evidence presented to the US hasn't convinced the American courts that there is enough to extradite the man. There's the recent NATO drill where the faces of the best of Turkish history were used as "the bad guys". Oh, and there is the court case of the Iranian-Turkish money laundering scheme in contradiction to the US embargo which may well involve some sensitive implications for powerful men. [It\s bad enough that this post would well get me blocked from further SMM contributions.]

All this said, what better time to celebrate what may be the best group that Turkey has ever come up with. Yes, there's Tarkan - a rare Turkish artist who has actually made it into the World charts more than once - and he brings a melange of East and West,something that Turkey singularly can lay claim to as the country that has land mass in both Europe and Asia. Istanbul is one cool city as a result. And there are many more Turkish music artists that I could recommend, many of whom make the best of East-West fusion. In addition to a healthy collection of other eclectic styles. It's a scene with checking out.

But it is Mahsar-Fuat-Ozkan who hold the top spot in many people's heart. They've been around for more than a generation. They're kind of a local CSNY: folk-rock. They're getting on in years but still at it with regular concerts even if their albums are getting fewer and farther between.But it's theire classic that have nailed for them a place in the local psyche. And maybe now in yours.

Turkish pop for your post-turkey day listening:

Monday, November 20, 2017

All The Fixings: Linger (The Cranberries)

The Cranberries: Linger

Continuing my sub-theme of Thanksgiving foods that I didn’t like as a child but do now, we turn to cranberry sauce. Growing up, my best recollection of this staple side dish was a thick cylinder of bright red jiggly jelly, lying on its side on a plate, still bearing the indentations of the can from which it had been extruded. There was never any sense that this was a food that could be prepared from natural ingredients; instead, it was almost like a prop, put on the table because it was supposed to be there, not because there was any sort of clamor for it.

Then, I had my wife’s homemade cranberry sauce (see picture above), created from a bag of actual cranberries, and treated as a (near) equal to the other dishes that graced our Thanksgiving table. Sure, it was still bright red, and sure, it was still sweet, but it looked like actual food that a person would want to eat, not some sort of alien goop in tube form. There was a freshness, a tartness, and even some texture to the dish. And therefore, it helped to set off the richness of the turkey, gravy, potatoes, stuffing and other items that fought for space on my too small plate. Mix up a piece of white meat turkey, with a forkful of cornbread sausage stuffing and crown it with a dollop of crimson cranberry sauce, and you have created something sublime.

Of course, the chosen song really has nothing to do with Thanksgiving at all—it is a lament about the feelings that remain after a love has betrayed you—but it is one of my two favorite songs by the Cranberries, an Irish band from the 90s, fronted by Dolores O’Riordan, who has a beautiful voice and a thick Irish accent. I remember when they came out, thinking that they pretty much sounded like the Sundays, an English band from the slightly earlier 90s, fronted by Harriet Wheeler, who has a beautiful voice and an English accent (although I think she may be of Irish heritage). A quick search of the Internet indicates that I’m not the only one who has made this comparison. Both bands also had some early success, then sort of faded from public consciousness.

I could have chosen to write about the other song I like by the band, the more rocking “Dreams,” but thought that there was a tenuous connection to the Thanksgiving dinner table, where we would all “Linger.” Unless there was a good football game on.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

ALL THE FIXINGS: Frogs, SPROUTS, Clogs & Krauts

I confess to always feeling and being a little bit lost when this yearly staple comes around, not even sure entirely for what the thanks are being given for. (Is it the right to be free from your colonialist oppressors and for free speech? Good luck with that!) And all the fixings is what you eat with your turkey, right? Over here we eat turkey a few weeks later, for Christmas, a meal so set into tradition that I, for one, am glad it comes but one a year. I don't know what you guys eat with it, but it is the sprouts that cause most concern to many of my compatriots. Brassica oleracea, the brussel sprout, that miniature cabbage that, when boiled to buggery, has all the taste and texture of a dirty dishcloth. Thankfully, unlike bread sauce, chestnut stuffing and roast potatoes, there are a host of songs about this most flatulent of vegetables. Well, one, and strictly, not even that, a mention. In not even a song, just in the name of a record.

The Rumour were a terrific band, a collection of already rock-hardened veterans from the UK pub-rock circuit, corralled together as the tightasthis backing band of Graham Parker, tight yet loose, somewhat similar in style to a british Little Feat. Just too early for punk, Parker swept his howling wind into the decaying inspirations of early '70s rock music, with a return to snappy, angry songs, morphing the styles dismissed by prog into an aggressive and raucous joy. Good as his songs are, great they became with the inspired backing of Brinsley Schwarz (of the eponymous band) and Martin Belmont (ex-Ducks Deluxe) on guitars, Bob Andrews (also in Brinsley Schwarz, the band) on keyboards, Andrew Bodnar on bass and Stephen Goulding on drums. Like the Band, the direct comparison, I think, deliberate, all could sing. And, as was de rigeur for the day, they got their own deal, producing 3 LPs in their own right.

Max was the first, sturdy meat'n'potatoes rock, very much in the vein of Parker, including a great cover of Duke Ellington's 'Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me', alongside some self-compositions and one from Nick Lowe, another alumnus of Brinsley Schwarz, the band.

But it was the 2nd record, 1979's 'Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs and Krauts', that really gave them a character of their own, albeit one that failed to set the charts alive. The title a play on their respective ancestries, within a mongrel UK, with french (frogs), belgian (sprouts), dutch (clogs) and german (krauts) blood represented in their veins. The theme was loosely around that of the new Europe, the sense of hope following, shall I call it, BRENTRY (sic), six years before, a pole apart from todays ill-considered BREXIT. On Stiff records, it required a certain quirkiness to be included within that roster, sounding nothing like their earlier release. I loved it, never finding anyone who has even heard (of) it, let alone liked it, to this day.

A 3rd album appeared in 1980, 'Purity of Essence', a bit of a backward step, stylistically, depending upon which version you heard, it being markedly different in the versions related in the US and the UK. But the writing was on the wall. Andrews left the band, as in the backing band, the same year, ahead of Parker dispensing with all of them, bar Schwarz, the year later.

An afterword is the more recent regrouping of the band, again behind Graham Parker, in 2010, as part of Judd Apatow's feature film, 'This is 40.' To my knowledge this led to no leaderless band material. Pity, but I can confirm they were as solid an outfit as ever, with GP, based upon a live performance I caught in 2015.

Spread the Rumour!