Saturday, March 20, 2010

John Zorn; The Dovells

The Secret Museum:
Jim Webb & Michael Mooney

John Zorn & His
Radical Jewish Music

It is hard to talk about John Zorn’s music since it defies all accepted borders and has encompassed almost every stylistic trend of the last 50 years. He is a musician (saxophonist), record label owner (Tzadik), artistic director (The Stone performing space in N.Y.C.), besides being one of America’s most prolific composers, appearing on over 400 recordings.

Zorn became better known starting in 1985 for his release titled “The Big Gundown,” where he adapted the music of filmmaker Ennio Morricone into his anything-goes style of avant/jazz that helped solidify his stature as one of New York City’s most respected “downtown” artists. The word Downtown here is not just where this collective group of musicians lived, but is a term that became the catch phrase for all things experimental. He also has a large discography of film soundtrack recordings, recorded prolifically in the early ’90s with his noise/metal/punk/jazz outfits called Naked City and Painkiller.

Up until 1994, I would not have called myself a big Zorn fan. Naked City/Painkiller were so extreme at times that even though you could occasionally marvel at its sheer power and complexity, I never seemed to find the right time in the day when its punishing moments could be listened to for more than a brief period. Zorn released Kristallnacht in 1992 and it revitalized his interest in exploring and contributing to his Jewish roots. He founded his record label Tzadik (righteous man) in 1995 and decided to write one hundred songs for his latest band called Masada. They incorporated elements of Klezmer, Eastern European folk music and classical string parts to create a new kind of Sephardic chamber jazz sound. The Masada String Trio and The Bar Kohkba Sextet have also recorded these songs and in 2004, Zorn wrote three hundred new compositions for a series called “The Book of Angels.” “The Book of Angels” is now up to 13 released volumes of music, with Uri Caine, Erik Friedlander and Marc Ribot being just some of the musicians that have recorded these new compositions. This extended period of quality music encompassing everything from the Masada quartets through the 13 volumes “The of Book of Angels” is easily Zorn’s most consistently enjoyable work for me. Volume 13 was released in January 2010 and is titled “Mycale.” It continues Zorn’s unpredictable ways with 33 minutes of music performed a capella by four female vocalists. I still find that some releases from Zorn outside of the Masada/Angels series are too ambitious for my tastes in music. He released a three CD metal/free jazz play in 2006 (“Moonchild/Astronome/Heliogabalus”) that had spontaneous sounds coming from vocalist Mike Patton instead of words. John was awarded a MacArthur Foundation grant of $500,000 in 2006 and his muse continues to take him far away from following any one established path as a writer and performer.

His music is consistently more melodic now than in the past, and his strength as an original writer remains unchanged. With his Masada/Book of Angels work, Zorn has taken strands of classical, jazz and traditional music and interwoven them with his modern influences to create something truly unique. Now it doesn’t matter what time of the day it is, I find myself listening to these various string trios, Klezmer and jazz infused releases. The radical part of John Zorn is not politically based in pro or anti-Zionist messages, but in his ability to synthesize the musical roots of the Jewish Diaspora into a modern songbook that can be reinterpreted by other musicians in the years to come.

“I’m not interested in politics, but in people, music, and knowing about human feelings.” – John Zorn.

Recommended listening:
Bar Kohkba—“The Circle Maker”
Masada String Trio—“50th Birthday Celebration”
Cracow Klezmer Band—“Balan; The Book of Angels vol. 5”

-Jim Webb

The Dovells: You Can’t Sit Down

It’s commonly accepted that the First Dark Age of Rock resulted from the following factors: Little Richard found Jesus, Elvis got drafted, The Killer married his 13-year-old cousin, Buddy crashed, Chuck violated the Mann Act, Eddie Cochran crashed. When we look at the Billboard Number One singles from 1960-61, it appears that the rot has set in: Teen Angel, Theme From A Summer Place, Wonderland By Night, a little Lawrence Welk. But see who else is here: Everly Brothers, The Drifters, Ray Charles, Maurice Williams, The Shirelles, Del Shannon, Ernie K-Doe, plus Orbison, Gary U.S. Bonds, Bobby Lewis, Dion, The Marvelettes. Not too shabby, all considered. 1962 is almost as good: Joey Dee, Gene Chandler, Bruce Channel, Little Eva, Ray Charles again, The Four Seasons, Crystals, Tornados. OK, so Bobby Vinton, Connie Francis, and Neil Sedaka are also in there, but there’ve been worse horrors inflicted by the record-buying public. 1963: Steve Lawrence (who I like), The Rooftop Singers, Bobby Vinton (again), and The Singing Nun on the one hand—The Four Seasons (right on), Ruby and The Romantics, The Essex, Chiffons, Jimmy Soul, Lesley Gore, The Tymes, Stevie Wonder, Jan & Dean, The Fireballs with Jimmy Gilmer, and The Angels on the other.

Now, keeping in mind that Year Zero 1964 gave us Number Ones from Vinton (twice! – that’s enough now), Dean Martin, and Lorne Greene (!), the hard facts emerge (and remember, we’ve only been looking at songs that hit the top of the charts; the following rockers enjoyed single success during the same time period- Barrett Strong, Charlie Rich, Miracles, Clarence “Frog Man” Henry, Rosie & The Originals, Freddie Cannon, Sam Cooke, Orlons, Isley Brothers, Booker T and The MG’s, Clyde McPhatter, and many more. Also, this was a time when independent labels and regional sounds reigned supreme- there was always something interesting cooking, and competing with the majors, in the Great Melting Pot): a) there’s always been crap in the Billboard charts, b) Rock Music was alive and well during the early 1960s, and c) we didn’t need the Beatles to save us after all.

The Dovells from West Philadelphia reached Number Two in the fall of 1961 with “Bristol Stomp”: whomping kick drum and snare, ride cymbal, tambourine, one guitar, three doo-wopping Overbrook High grads in back, and the tremendously tremulous white-soul lead vocal of 19 year-old Leonard Borisoff. It’s simple, sloppy, careening and pounding—in other words, Rock and Roll. A few minor hits followed over the next two years, mostly cash-in attempts at exploiting the next teen dance sensation (Jitterbug, The New Continental, Hully Gully, Froog, The Monkey), though outside of Philadelphia, none came close to reaching the heights of “Bristol Stomp.” With one exception.

If any further evidence is required that Rock and Roll was not only still alive in early summer 1963 but kicking arse royally, The Dovells deliver the goods with resolute and stunning conviction. “You Can’t Sit Down” leaps from the speakers with quick drum-roll, organ wash, handclaps and a frantic Borisoff declaiming what you gotta do:

Hey pretty baby,
Don’t you hear the drummer thumpin’?
You gotta shake it like a crazy,
’Cause the band is sayin’ something.
Everybody is a-jumpin’,
You gotta slop, bop, flip-flop,
Hip-hop, all around.

Wild organ, fast and hard drums, out of control tenor sax—this was the sound of East Coast Young America. Jerry Gross, Arnie Silver and Mike Freda join in:

You can’t sit down, you can’t sit down
You gotta move, move, move, around and ’round.
You gotta fly, fly, fly, way off the ground.
They’re puttin’ down, a crazy sound.
No, no, you can’t sit down,
You gotta make it, break it,
Shake it all around.
You gotta slop, bop, flip-flop,
Hip-hop, never stop.

Equally crazed “Betty In Bermudas/Dance The Froog” would follow later that summer, then “Stop Monkeyin’ Around/No No No,” but by December, Borisoff was gone (he’ll return in ’65 with the Northern Soul classic “1-2-3”) and the hits dried up. That same month, on the other side of the country, Portland’s Kingsmen would provide one last brilliant gasp of pre-invasion U.S. chart action before everything changed forever.

-Michael Mooney

Rock Action

Last month’s interviewees !!The!!Bang!!Gang!! will be playing at Seco Pearl on Saturday, March 27. This could be their last performance for a while. All-new material is promised. Manby’s Head open. Both groups will have their latest releases available for purchase. Admission: $5.00- $15.00.

Seco Pearl: 590 Hondo-Seco Road, Arroyo Seco, 7 p.m. (approximately, call first to confirm) 575-776-1225.

The following week, Caffé Tazza presents electricLuLuland. The artist formerly known as Les Lokey will be presenting ROCKSHOW on Saturday, April 3, in preparation for her upcoming “provocaTOUR.” Admission: $3.00- $10.00.

Caffé Tazza: 122 Kit Carson Road, Taos, 6-9 p.m., 575-758-8706.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

From The Archives (Part Two)- Doll By Doll: Gypsy Blood

The Secret Museum
Jim Webb & Michael Mooney

Doll By Doll: Gypsy Blood
(Automatic Records LP, 1979; Rhino Records CD, 2007)

"I see the bars of your prison when you cry"

Released in the early morning of the Thatcher era, Gypsy Blood is a towering monument to the failure of Punk. Working loosely within the Classic Rock idiom, on this recording (their second LP, following the speed-fuelled sonic claustrophobia of Remember- a relentless, dualistic masterpiece of horror and beauty) Doll By Doll blended elements of pub-rock, doo-wop, folk, country, psychedelia, gospel, early-60s pop melodrama, and the Velvet Underground, added their own unique guitar ferocity (albeit tempered here) and a late-70s dynamic production sheen (think Born To Run or Bat Out Of Hell). The result is a singular work of breathtaking magnificence, capped by the sweeping power of Jackie Leven's vocals.

This record simply sounds like no other. From the 1-2 radio-friendly punch of Teenage Lightning and the title track, through the majestic Stripshow, The Human Face and Highland Rain, and finally the unsettled and unsettling Endgame and When A Man Dies, Doll By Doll achieve that rarest of aims: absolute timelessness. The album could have been recorded in 1969, or last week. That it evokes a Britain (and Europe) about to disappear forever is the only clue to Gypsy Blood's moment in time.

Roundly ignored upon release (the album was un-issued in the US), Gypsy Blood's failure signaled the coming musical backslide- Spandau Ballet were just around the corner- that the English record buying public willingly accepted. Nearly 30 years later, it still stands alone, reflective of a time when music took chances and changed lives.
-Michael Mooney

"The Devil of Dreams is Black"

Why is this record so different and important that you should immediately pop round the local shop to order a copy? If I rave about how brilliant Gypsy Blood is, I risk becoming just another fanatic trumpeting his favorite group. But there is truly something special about Doll By Doll, a UK rock band from the late 70s/early 80s led by singer, guitarist and main writer Jackie Leven. Two guitars, bass and drums were the basic components, playing in a straightforward rock style that we’ve all heard before. They are musically tight as a group and play with passion. The magic for me, however, lies in two things which elevate this band from hundreds of others who suddenly appeared on the late 70s scene.

Jackie Leven’s vocals are unique, and will have you on the edge of your seat with the passage of each song, wondering where he will soar to next. I won’t compare him to Roy Orbison, or other celestial-voiced wonders, because, while he has taken on many influences (as Gypsies do), what comes out of his mouth is ALL Leven ALL the time. Jackie’s range is unbelievable, and he has the gift of a classic saloon singer for putting across real depth and emotion.

The other aspect of this band that is so enjoyable to me is the subject matter. These are no run-of-the-mill tunes about whiskey, women, or life on the road. Leven writes from an idiosyncratic perspective that makes his lyrics so much more interesting than anyone else’s. He will walk that lonely street and, by the time he reaches the next corner, you will feel that his world and yours are one. Stripshow is one of the most powerful songs I have ever heard in over 40 years of listening to music. On The Human Face, Jackie sings about knowing why Jesus wept (for the next 30 years he’ll continue to unravel that particular mystery in his solo career). You may at times find yourself close to weeping, too, at the beauty of this music.

Jackie's like an insomniac bus driver, cruising the late-night streets. His passengers are the tired, the hurt and the truth seekers. He lets you know you're not alone, and the common bonds we all share of joy and despair are illuminated by him in a way that reminds us of the beauty of everyday life. No matter how you're feeling when you get on his bus, by the time you arrive at your stop, life has become a more interesting ride.

1979 brought us a lot of great new music, but, in my opinion, Gypsy Blood battles The Clash's London Calling for best LP honors. I vote for Gypsy Blood. Get this CD if you like rock music that has power and intensity yet travels down a different path. You will not be disappointed.
-Jim Webb

Sunday, March 14, 2010

From The Archives (Part 1)

The Secret Museum

Horse Fly
Taos, NM
October 23, 2008
A musical dialogue between Jim Webb and Michael Mooney.

Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple: "Back in the late Sixties, there were few organists who could play like Jon. We shared the same taste in music. We loved Vanilla Fudge - they were our heroes. They used to play London's Speakeasy and all the hippies used to go there to hang out - Clapton, The Beatles - everybody went there to pose. According to legend, the talk of the town during that period was Jimi Hendrix, but that's not true. It was Vanilla Fudge. They played eight-minute songs, with dynamics. People said, "What the hell's going on here? How come it's not three minutes?" Timmy Bogert, their bassist, was amazing. The whole group was ahead of its time. So, initially we wanted to be a Vanilla Fudge clone."

-Guitar World Interview, Feb. 1991.
Quote hi-jacked from the The Highway Star: The Deep Purple Official Site
-Jim Webb

...thus began the long, slow decline of British Rock. Actually, Blackmore's full of crap. According to VF's official website, they didn't get to the UK 'til Sept. '69, well past their prime, and never played the Speakeasy. The Beatles by then were pretty much finished. If Clapton was there to "pose", Ritchie's gotta be off by 2 years. Blind Faith had debuted earlier that year; Eric's perm, robes, and poses were long gone. I remember seeing Purple on the Steve Allen show; had to be Summer/Fall '68. Their sound at the time was closer to Fudge than after Gillan arrived in 1969. Ergo too much cider for Ritchie…
-Michael Mooney

That Blackmore quote comes from the VF official website, too. I agree that Ritchie’s wine/hash/Mandrax intake has burnt out memory cells. I did think it was interesting that Blackmore, the self-proclaimed inventor of Heavy Rock, actually gave another band credit for influencing him.

I think we should seriously consider writing a newspaper column for CD buyers to help them on their way toward building a collection. There are a lot of 15 to 30 year olds that missed the whole golden age (1966-74) of Rock, and possibly the best of the 80s and 90s, who need a reference guide that will tell them exactly what releases to stay away from as well as which gems to track down. We could either do it in a Siskel & Ebert format where we both give our thoughts on a title, or you could take certain artists and I’ll grab others… Chapters on “sacred cows” where we trash the conventional wisdom of greatness (Van Morrison, etc.), but also make sure that they hear about Gypsy Blood, Mellow Candle, and hundreds of other “lost” classics. You and I have invested too much time in music the last 40+ years to keep this information inside our heads. I am so tired of reading Amazon reviews that turn out to be worthless, or bloggers who are way off the mark. We need to act. This is our calling, something we can leave behind for the future youth. Besides the esoteric and lost releases, we will lay down the truth on “major” acts. Deep Purple’s best is NOT Machine Head or Made in Japan. We can also list the 10 best tracks from any band (for the i-Tunes generation). I have told you before how much time I’ve wasted buying a record and not liking a group- only to find out 10, 20, sometimes 30 years later that I DO like them, I just bought the wrong title(s)…

We have it in our heads, and just need to put it down on paper.
-Jim Webb

Let's also keep in mind that certain assumptions can be made regarding the older fans whom may already be familiar with (at least some of) this. We won’t intentionally insult anyone’s intelligence, while reminding the reader that this is primarily a beginner’s guide.
-Michael Mooney
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