Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Week 5(ish) Charity Shop Gem of the Week: Le Steel-Band De La Trinidad ‎– Magie Caraïbe

This week, we welcome our esteemed guest contributor Dan Wall from Funky Navigation, to provide our features...

When Ralph MacDonald sang 'You need more Calypso in your life' he wasn't playin' with ya; you probably do ...and he knew it. There's nothing like a bit of Calypso to raise the spirits and inject some Caribbean swag into your stride. It's like Berocca for the ears. 
Despite the rather ordinary and unassuming title title, this Charity Shop Gem of The Week is no ordinary Calypso LP.  What you get here is an alternate take on the sound of Trinidad; this is a Trinidad after-party, the type not advertised to tourists. Gone is the usual gaiety synonymous with steel bands, this has a different vision, a dark side. The arrangements are sublime, some straight pan, others mixing conga and electric guitar. The tune selection is also pretty surprising. 'Coming Home' is a tidy, low-slung version of the Ben Tucker penned tune 'Coming Home, Baby',  popularised by Mel Torme. The arrangement and lazy vocal styling on their cover of Gershwin's 'Summertime' is so insanely good, one can feel an instant increase in temperature and humidity as it plays. Then there is their unique proto-reggae take on the traditional island ballad - 'L'Homme A La Grosse Tête'; a bitter sweet song full of disillusionment and sorrowful observation, which at 1.57 minutes is the aural equivalent of a shot of Angostura Legacy Rum. If that alone doesn't hook you there are also two original numbers from steel pan legend - Desmond Bowen (sadly no longer with us) that suitably demonstrates that these boys knew exactly what they were doing. The latter of which, 'Calypso Jazz improvisation', can be heard on this Month's Curious Music For Curious People podcast.

Week 5(ish) Freak Of The Week: Wong Ching Yuan – A-Go-Go & Off Beat Cha Cha

This week, we welcome our esteemed guest contributor Dan Wall from Funky Navigation, to provide our features...

Following on coincidentally from the Betty Chung / Jun Mayuzumi 45 featured here back in August, the Orient coughs up another curiosity for us this week in the form of this four- track EP of Singaporean Popcorn/Beat coolness. Now this is all a matter of perspective because our friend Wong Ching Yuan here - responsible for this slice of Mandarin Suave, also happens to be incredibly popular with grannies all across Asia and has recorded around 800 songs in a career spanning 40+ years! That being said, here he manages to craft a sound that is haunting and other worldly. Twanging guitars drenched in echo and a hypnotising vocal style float through the air like wisps of opium smoke. This is a great example of the 'a-go-go' sound he helped proliferate throughout Singapore, Malaysia, and beyond. Check it out on this month's Curious Music For Curious People podcast.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Chicago - I'm a Man (7" version 1969)

The eagle-eyed may notice that Week 3 and 4 have been announced on the same day. Your CMFCP correspondents were sunning themselves in Turkey last week so you'll excuse our poor time-keeping...

Continuing with the Chicago theme, middle of the road Dad-rockers Chicago step up for Week 4's instalment of Charity Shop Gem of the Week. Except on this record, found in a charity shop bin for 99p, they're about as far from middle of the road as can be!
1969 single I'm a Man, a cover of the Spencer Davis Group hit, is a brutal, almost tribal freakout that has been a mainstay of my DJ sets for 10 years. I just had to share it with you as it has possibly the greatest drum solo of all time. Where the later studio recording is clean, polished and by comparison unremarkable, this is an assault on the ears from a band going full throttle!
The first drum solo lasts about 90 seconds and starts about a minute into the song... it's a fucking bold move but the intensity and raw energy is astonishing. I haven't found this version anywhere on the web so I may upload it to youtube myself, but in the meantime, here's a similar live recording from about the same era. You get the gist, but trust me the 7" version is bonkers!

Art Ensemble of Chicago - People In Sorrow

Offering little info upon its battered sleeve than the title and date of recording, this appears to be a late sixties live jam by Lester Bowie and his cohorts, with a somewhat abstract, sombre bent. Eschewing the playful, upbeat jazz of other Art Ensemble... albums, both of the 20-minutes cuts on offer here are beautifully sparse, with the pops and clicks of the record grooves often more present than the music proper. A meandering marimba (?) propagates throughout, accompanied by the occasionally light percussion or brass, and an underlying (if not omnipresent) bass, with every instrument willing to give the others an abundance of space. The groups competence shines not in fast playing and difficult riffs, but rather in the ability of multiple instruments to emerge at once from a seemingly infinite nothingness in perfect harmony, a sudden burst of flowing bass and melodic trumpet that soon falls back into the intermittent wash of throaty sax purrs and lazy percussion. Even at its most active the music doesn't appear to actually be going anywhere - bass-lines and saxophone solos appear to have no discernible start or end,  looping perpetually with neither repetition or variation, only to be unceremoniously lost in a creeping flux of bells or primitive yells. It sounds a world away from 'experimental' jazz as we have come to expect, invoking a far more ritualistic, organic form, and is utterly captivating throughout.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Freak of The Week 4: Afro Rock Festival (Various Artists)

Lions roar in the distance, hyenas wail and a cacophony of savannah sounds burble away as Assagai's Kondo begins, soon launching into a driving afro-percussion riff replete with monkey-calls and chirping birds, that loops for a few minutes before abruptly ending. 
With more safari soundscapes than you can shake a stick (or spear) at, and some pretty wild afro/rock n roll crossovers that err on the side of the afro, this compilation is pretty bonkers and a shoe-in for Freak of the Week. 

I can't find any of the tracks on the record available to stream on the internets, so perhaps you should wrap your ears around my latest mix, where Osibisa's Black Ant features...