September 11, 2010

Playlist Week of 9-11-10

* Biber: Mensa Sonora (Musica Antiqua Köln/Goebel) (Archiv Prod. CD)†
* J.S. Bach: Kaffee-Kantate, etc. (Concentus Musicus Wien/Harnoncourt) (Telefunken LP)
* J.S. Bach: Organ Works I (side 1) (ABC/Seon 2LP)
* J.S. Bach: Suites for Violoncello (ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)†
* J.S. Bach: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Linden) (d.1) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)†
* J.S. Bach: Sonatas for Viol da Gamba (Pandolfo/Alessandrini) (Harmonia Mundi CD)†
* J.S. Bach: Trio Sonatas (London Baroque/Medlam) (Harmonia Mundi CD)†
* Corelli: Trio Sonatas (Pinnock, et al.) (Archiv Prod. CD)
* Corelli: Sonatas, Op.5 (Manze/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD†
* Stravinsky: Ebony Concerto/Dumbarton Oaks, etc. (Ens. InterContemporain/Boulez) (DG LP)
* Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue, etc. (Pittsburgh Symphony/Previn) (Philips CD)
* Schwantner: Aftertones of Infinity (Eastman Philharmonic/Effron) (Mercury LP)
* Lutoslawski: Livres pour Orchestre (Eastman Philharmonic/Effron) (Mercury LP)
* John Coltrane: The Ultimate Blue Train (Blue Note CD)
* John Coltrane: Coltrane Time (Blue Note CD)
* Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Studio Recordings (d.4) (Columbia 6CD)
* Miles Davis: Seven Steps: The Complete Recordings 1963-1964 (d.3-7) (Columbia 7CD)
* Wayne Shorter Quartet: Vienna 6-29-10 (FM CDR)
* Miles Davis: Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965 (d.1-2b) (Columbia 8CD)
* Sun Ra: Cosmos (Spalax CD)
* Anthony Braxton: Quartet (GTM) 2006 (d.1) (Important 4CD)
* Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: Prairies (Lucky Kitchen CD)
* Pat Metheny Group: Pat Metheny Group (ECM LP)
* Pat Metheny: New Chautauqua (ECM LP)
* Bill Laswell: Oscillations (Sub Rosa CD)‡
* Bill Laswell: Oscillations 2: Advanced Drums'n'bass (Sub Rosa CD)‡
* Marvin Gaye: Let’s Get It On (Motown/MFSL SACD)
* Bob Dylan: Together Through Life (Columbia 2LP)
* Van Morrison: No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (Polydor CD)
* Van Morrison: Poetic Champions Compose (Polydor CD)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.3, No.3 (5-15-70) (bonus) (GD/Rhino 3+1CD)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.2, No.3: Wall of Sound (d.1) (GD/Rhino 2+1CD)
* Grateful Dead: Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL 5-17-78 (SBD 2CDR)‡
* Pink Floyd: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (Deluxe Edition) (d.1, 3) (EMI 3CD)
* Soft Machine: The Soft Machine (ABC/Probe/Sundazed LP)
* Soft Machine: Volume Two (ABC/Probe/Sundazed LP)
* Soft Machine: Third (Columbia 2LP)
* Soft Machine: De Doelen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands 1-16-70 (FM CDR)
* Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (Atco/Classic 2LP)
* Steely Dan: Gaucho (MCA DVD-A)
* Sonic Youth: The Eternal (Matador 2LP)
* The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots 5.1 (stereo) (Warner Bros. DVD-A)
* Robert Pollard: Moses On a Snail (GBV, Inc. CD)
* Boston Spaceships: Our Cubehouse Still Rocks (GBV, Inc. LP/CDR)



I’ve really been enjoying Soft Machine’s first two albums which were recently re-issued on the Sundazed label, listening to them at least once a week since I picked them up less than a month ago. Mastered from the original analog tapes and pressed on “high-definition” 180-gram virgin vinyl, these late-Sixties classics have never sounded better (not that they sounded all that great to begin with, but still...). The eponymous first LP was recorded in a hectic four-day session at the Record Plant in 1968 while on a U.S. tour with Jimi Hendrix (with whom they shared management) and produced by the legendary Chas Chandler and Tom Wilson. Supposedly compiled from impossibly brilliant first-takes, the music crackles with zany invention and expert musicianship that transcends the somewhat murky recording. What makes these early Soft Machine albums so interesting is the absence of guitar: instead of the usual six-string heroics a la Hendrix, Mike Ratledge’s piano and organ playing drove the band in a neo-classical direction, away from the more typical blues-based jamming of the time and into extended formal structure and experimentalist improvisation. “Prog Rock” starts here! Meanwhile, Robert Wyatt’s seemingly ramshackle yet supremely musical drumming keeps things aloft (even in the oddest meters) while his plaintive, wistful singing adds an endearing Pop Art veneer that sounds both irrevocably of its time and fresh and convincing today. This album is a perfect combination of catchy songsmith-ing and vertiginous improvisation wherein time stops and the music becomes a portal into a parallel dimension in the space-time continuum. Indeed, The Soft Machine is a neglected psychedelic masterpiece and Sundazed has restored it to its original vinyl glory. No, they didn’t reproduce the original die-cut cover with the spinning-wheel insert; to have done so would have no doubt been prohibitively expensive. However, a paper reproduction of the spinning-wheel’s trippy collage is included, which is nice.

Despite these triumphs, their wonderfully melodic bassist, Kevin Ayers, suffered a nervous breakdown shortly after this grueling tour and made a hasty departure from the band. In 1969, friend and sometimes roadie Hugh Hopper was brought in as a replacement and his massive fuzz-tone dominates the band’s second album, appropriately titled, Volume Two. While hinting at the instrumental jazz-fusion the band would later wholly embrace, Wyatt’s mischievous voice and Dadaistic songwriting still carries the day, reciting the alphabet one minute (forward and backwards) and scatting doggerel the next. Organized as two side-long suites, there are nevertheless moments of pure pop gorgeousness that arise from the relentlessly evolving instrumental textures, as on the fragmentary “Thank You Pierrot Lunaire” on side one (dig the Schoenberg reference!) or the unadorned acoustic pastoral of “Dedicated to You But You Weren’t Listening” on side two. Overdubbed horns (played by Ratledge, Hopper and his brother, Brian) contribute a more overtly jazzy feel on segments like “Hibou, Anemone and Bear” and “Orange Skin Food” and bring to mind Frank Zappa’s work with the Mothers of Invention during this period (in fact, Absolutely Free was an admitted inspiration for these sessions). Volume Two is perhaps not as mind-blowing as their nearly-perfect debut, but it is still a stimulating listen. It is a transitional album, with the band moving rapidly away from baroque psychedelia and into the kind of slick jazz-rock that would define the band in the 1970s. Indeed, Wyatt would be forced out after their sprawling (and at times dull and self-indulgent) Third album and things would never be the same. It is interesting to speculate about how they might have sounded if they had tried to save their marriage of quirkily melodious songcraft and expansive instrumentalism evidenced on these first two albums. Perhaps the tensions inherent in such an undertaking were irreconcilable. In any event, these records continue to inspire after more than forty years.

In this day and age of thirty-to-fifty-dollar “audiophile” re-issues, Sundazed should be commended for making these classic all analog LPs available at such a reasonable price. Packaged in beautifully printed, heavy gatefold jackets, the vinyl is flat and quiet and well worth the $17.99 each I paid for them at Grimey’s New and Pre-Loved Music. I’ve heard some complaints in some quarters about Sundazed’s pressing quality, but I have never had any big problems—and I have a bunch of ‘em. Are they perfect? Not always. But minty originals of the first two Soft Machine albums are nearly impossible to find and these sound very, very good to my ears. How could you go wrong? Way recommended!


Special thanks to Sam Byrd, whose tireless advocacy (and impeccable taste) finally convinced me of the genius of Soft Machine (and particularly Robert Wyatt). Thanks, Sam!


Sam said...

My pleasure, Rodger! Love your comments on the two Soft Machine LPs. These albums are near and dear to my heart, and it's great that Sundazed has reissued them so you can hear them in all their glory (my old ABC Probes were always pretty rough!). One thing to watch out for: the album Fourth. Wyatt didn't leave Soft machine until after Fourth, not Third. While Third is indeed sprawling (but to me rarely dull, especially with its inclusion of Wyatt's masterpiece "Moon in June"), Fourth is tighter and jazzier, with Wyatt's brilliant drumming keeping it from getting too slick. No vocals on Fourth, but even so it's an incredible album, well worth checking out.

Sam said...

And here's my playlist from last week:

Playlist 2010-09-13

*Anthony Braxton Large Ensemble: 2010-04-29 Wesleyan (CDR) disc 2
*Rodger Coleman & Sam Byrd: 2010-07-30 Nashville
*John Coltrane: Heavyweight Champion (disc 1)
*Miles Davis: The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965 (disc 7)
*Miles Davis: 1964-07-12 Tokyo (CDR)
*Billie Holiday: Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia 1933–1944 (disc 3)
*Charles Mingus: Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
*New Loft: 2010-07-21 "Balance Shift Payload Maneuver" (wav)
*New Loft: 2010-09-01 "Vitalis and Slippery Fingers" (wav)
*Evan Parker-Transatlantic Art Ensemble: Boustrophedon
*Howard Riley-Tony Oxley Orchestra: 1970-01-23 Hamburg (CDR)
*George Russell Sextet: 1964-07-03 Newport Jazz Festival (streaming)
*Saxophone Special (Brotzmann/Parker/Brueker/Tchicai/Lacy): 1978-03-28 East Berlin (CDR)
*Sun Ra: Crystal Spears
*Cecil Taylor Quintet: 1965-07-02 Newport Jazz Festival (streaming)
*Cecil Taylor Unit: 2003-09-07 Sardinia, Italy (CDR)
*Cecil Taylor-Tony Oxley Duo: 2004-08-28 Austria (CDR)
*Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Before Today
*James Brown: Live at the Apollo (1962) Expanded Edition
*Elvis Costello & the Attractions: Imperial Bedroom
*Lesley Gore: It's My Party: The Mercury Anthology
*Grateful Dead: 1972-12-10 Winterland
*Grateful Dead: 1972-12-11 Winterland
*Grateful Dead: 1972-12-15 Long Beach, CA (CDR)
*MGMT: Oracular Spectacular
*Rolling Stones: LIVEr Than You'll Ever Be (boot CDR)

Reading log 2010-09-13

*Cross, Charles R. Room Full of Mirrors (started)
*Hall, James W. Silencer (started)
*Barth, John. Book of Ten Nights and a Night (finished)
*Marlantes, Karl. Matterhorn (finished)
*Larson, Gary. The Complete Far Side (in progress)
*Tanner, Tony. Prefaces to Shakespeare (in progress)
*Theobald, Lewis. Double Falsehood (Arden Shakespeare ed.) (in progress)

Anonymous said...

Hi Rodger,
Just a note to say thanks for posting such an interesting blog covering much of the music I enjoy. I have been catching up on your previous blogs and I'd like to thank you for bringing the Anthony Braxton - Complete Arista Years box set to my attention as it's been something I have wanted for years but hadn't realised it had been reissued. What a wonderful set - my playlists look very similar to yours but with no classical music, but plenty of Dead, Sun Ra, Dylan, Trane etc.

Rodger Coleman said...

@Sam - Third is great, but the sound quality is awful. Do you have the 2007 remaster of this? It has a 2nd disc of a live show from this period. Sounds interesting. I'll have to keep a lookout for Fourth. Hey! I found those Robert Wyatt mix CDRs you sent me a million years ago -- I'm gonna check 'em out again!

@Rob -- thank you so much for your comment! That Braxton/Arista/Mosaic set is great, even if you already have the LPs. Excellent sound. Better grab it before it goes out of print! Thanks again for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Hi Rodger,
Glad to see you read my comment, you are maintaining an excellent site and I just wanted to let you know it was appreciated.

The Braxton set has arrived and is already playing on my IPOD. It may simply be nostalgia on my part but the music has a sound which is both clear and brilliant and warm and rounded at the same time. I know that is a contradiction but that's how it sounds to me, just wonderful.

On the Soft Machine front I have to admit to secretly enjoying Fourth (as well as 5th & 6th). I wouldn't have touched them with a bargepole in the 70's but to be fair the loss of their Art Rock credibility without Wyatt didn't really diminish the quality of the music. Of it's time but much more enjoyable than I'd expected.