Articles by Dave Hoenack

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Depending who you ask, the American Recording Society was the first non-profit record label. Discogs considers it to be so, but sussing out the truth of such a claim lands a listener into the murky territory of Obi Wan Kenobi’s “certain point of view” pretty quickly. What is certain is that the ARS was historically significant to music lovers, even if the sort of record collectors who are only looking for things to sell on Discogs are unimpressed by the albums.

The label was launched in 1951 under the ‘book club’ model and with a specific goal of supporting American composers (think Copland, Ives and company). Its subscription service added a jazz series in 1956 under an arrangement with Norman Granz, familiar to collectors as the founder of Verve, Clef, Norgran and Pablo Records — all pretty essential jazz labels. ARS gave him the opportunity to move some of his stock of unissued recordings as well as promote artists under his umbrella.

When you’re digging through a box of albums, they don’t look like much — especially since they’re in these plastic sleeves. Audiophiles have discovered that the engineering of these records was of the highest quality. They came in soft plastic sleeves with fairly extensive liner notes included on an insert. The jazz highlighted in the short-lived series (about fifty records produced over a two year period) trends towards what you’d expect given Granz’s economic interests: there are sessions by Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz and Count Basie for instance. All were prominent artists recording for Verve Records at the time. One of the catalog’s standout releases was a “Modern Jazz” record with the Cecil Taylor Quartet on one side and the Gigi Gryce/Donald Byrd Jazz Laboratory on the other. Both sets were recorded at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival.

This was one of Taylor’s first appearances on LP, and almost certainly a surprising listen for the subscription label’s customers, who received the album in the mail in 1958. Taylor’s incredible approach was just forming at the time of this performance.

Our copy is not in especially great shape so we apologize for the so-so sound quality of these recordings. Somebody must have loved this album and played it a lot! Here, for those interested in early free jazz, is the Cecil Taylor side of the album:

 

This classic compilation of late 40s jazz singles contains several gems. The album’s liner notes remark that “the most important big band of the period … was that of Dizzy Gillespie,” and the record includes five tracks from the truly amazing large group led by Diz. Few records so successfully straddled the line between swing and bop, and Gillespie’s big band earned its place in jazz history.

The reason we love this compilation is that it is the only LP (that we know of) which contains “Rat Race,” a 1950 small group single by Count Basie. The tune is a tenor battle between Georgie Auld and Gene Ammons, and it also features guitarist Freddie Green — none of these jazz musicians are prominent figures in bop or modern jazz but each were enormously influential on the performers who were. “Rat Race” is a quintessentially swinging Basie side on the cusp of modern jazz.

An adapted version of the tune was arranged by Quincy Jones on the album One More Time in 1958.

The liner notes to this 1954 recording of L’Histoire du soldat describes the work as “a child of necessity.” Nearly any introduction to the work will likely describes Stravinsky’s despondent status at the time it was composed. He hand his family had settled in a small town near Lake Geneva a few years before the theatrical work was debuted in 1918. The outbreak of the First World War and the Russian Revolution prevented Stravinsky from returning to Russia — he would not see his homeland again for decades.

He was unable to collect royalties for some of his earlier works, so even though he had enjoyed enormous success with his works for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company (the celebrated tryptic of The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring) he was forced to ask for help to fund the production of L’Histoire du soldat. A Swiss musician and patron of the arts, Werner Reinhart, helped Stravinsky and received a dedication in return.

The form of The Soldier’s Tale is certainly set by the circumstances. Stravinsky wrote for a small ensemble, and this provided an opportunity to express his interest in jazz. The score calls for a seven piece group featuring violin, clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone, bass and percussion. There are three actors who read parts.

The story is based on a Russian folk tale, with text by a Swiss poet named C.F. Ramuz. It tells of a soldier who is tempted by the devil, only to lose everything he has. Using his ill-gotten knowledge the solider earns wealth and success only to encounter the devil again and lose.

There are many re-tellings of what we call a Faustian tale, in which a bargain is made with the devil in exchange for knowledge — this name comes from an alchemist and scholar, Johann Georg Faust, who became the subject of folk tales after his death.

Christoper Marlowe’s 16th century English play solidified the relationship between the historical figure and the prince of darkness, and an early 19th century play by Goethe is considered a monumental achievement of German literature. This inspired three operas — first Hector Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust (1846) and second Charles Gonoud’s Faust (1859). A third, darker interpretation by Arrigo Boito, Mefistofele, was met with poor reviews at its debut in 1868.

There have been several symphonic tellings of the tale as well, and of course the story became entwined with the “Crossroads” legacy of the enigmatic blues guitarist Robert Johnson. A crossover country hit by the Charlie Daniels Band has been attributed by the fiddling bandleader to a poem by Stephen Vincent Benét, who also wrote a short story on the subject (“The Devil and Daniel Webster”) which has long been a favorite.

Unlike Johnny, the fiddling hero of the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” the soldier Joseph is eventually tricked by the Devil in the Stravinsky/Ramuz story. One of the last numbers contains the story’s moral:

No one can have it all, that is forbidden. 
You must learn to choose between.

A graphic in this month’s National Geographic traces the roots of several folk tales, and follows ones such as these to a 6,000 year old Mesopotamian story of a blacksmith who exchanges his soul for the power to weld any materials together. In this story the hero uses his power to stick the devil to the dirt on the ground until he is released from the bargain.

The Solider’s Tale was adapted into a feature length cartoon by R.O. Bleachman in 1984. It was also the subject of a controversial re-write by Kurt Vonnegut which focused on the violence of war. Vonnegut praised Stravinsky’s score and retained it, but felt in interviews the text by C.F. Ramuz lacked depth. Although Vonnegut’s version received harsh reviews, its certainly true that The Soldier’s Tale is largely remembered as one of Stravinsky’s most interesting works.

A recent New York Times story has upset many readers who feel it offers a positive portrayal of neo-Nazism. We finished reading “A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland” with more pity for its subject than contempt, but we see where many readers were offended. Our perspective is that the portrait of Tony Hovater’s life in suburban Ohio presented a pathetic little man with a middling career and a trashy rental home.

Adhering to the Times‘ long tradition, the story refers to him as Mr. Hovater although it seems unlikely that anyone else, aside from maybe a parole officer, has ever addressed him with such respect. Our impression of the story was that author Richard Faussett wanted to alarm his audience with the apparent normal-ness of his subject, and this intention was misunderstood by readers. Faussett’s error was in assuming Americans’ deeply held distaste for fascists and Nazis would suffice, and his story doesn’t take issue with some of Mr. Hovater’s most un-endearing qualities, like his fear that Antifa would “bash up” his wedding. Of course this didn’t happen bercause — this is important — he is not important. Anyone stupid enough to have a Twin Peaks tattoo is not worthy of the New York Times‘ ink nor the readers’ time.

The New York Times story makes passing reference to Mr. Hovater’s past performance with a metal band, but doesn’t offer up its name. This implies he had some sort of actual career, instead of a brief stint drumming for a band which, by any definition, meets any metalheads standard of sucking. Perhaps if press covering metal music were more willing to call out boy band trash we’d have a better sense of Mr. Hovater’s contributions to society prior to the Times story.

We’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to look into his musical career and join the cacophony of criticism. Instead of linking to his former band’s hilariously lame Youtube videos, we’ll offer a quote from one of the books seen on Mr. Hovater’s shelf. Journalist William Shirer famously wrote in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich that “the cardinal error of the Germans who opposed Nazism was their failure to unite against it,” and this is sound advice still today. Let’s put out differences aside and agree that as Americans we all loathe Nazism, fascism and racism. And while we’re at it white supremacist heavy metal sucks.

Don Cherry was everywhere in the world of modern jazz in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Free jazz enthusiasts know his work best through the early Ornette Coleman recordings, first in the quintet with pianist Paul Bley and later in the key-less quartet which recorded a series of six albums for Atlantic Records. With the same rhythm section of Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell, Cherry recorded an album with John Coltrane as well.

On the Atlantic albums beginning with The Shape of Jazz to Come, Coleman performed on a plastic saxophone. This had originally been a compromise for the cash strapped artist, but he came to appreciate its dryer sound. Cherry performed here and in many of his recordings on the pocket trumpet, a smaller practice instrument which likewise had a slightly different sound.

In the 1970s Cherry explored Middle Eastern and traditional African music. He continued to work with Haden and Blackwell. His recorded results were more structured than the “harmolodic funk” Coleman was recording at the time with an early incarnation of his group Prime Time. Cherry’s album Brown Rice was first released in Italy in 1975 and was reissued in the United States by Horizon records (the edition seen in this photograph). The track you’re hearing is the title track from this album, on which Haden and Blackwell again join Cherry. He is playing his pocket trumpet as well as the electric keyboard. Cherry had played piano in Art Farmer’s band in his early career and often played parts on his own albums.

Rice, which is grown on every continent except Antartica, is a dietary staple for more than half the world’s population. In several cultures the word for “to eat” literally translates as “to eat rice.” According to Ricepedia (“the online authority on rice”), rice is the fastest growing staple food in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, both of which import most of their rice.

Brown rice does not have the bran and germ removed, as with white rice. It is a good source of many nutrients, including: magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, thiamine, niacin, vitamin B6, and manganese. It is also high in fiber. A diet rich in such whole grains has been shown to prevent the development of type II diabetes, heart disease and several common cancers. Brown rice also appears to provide a partial antidote to America’s obesity epidemic — a Japanese study this year found that the food may cause an epigenetic restructuring of the brain which reduces our desire for fatty foods.

Brown rice is also very tasty.

Last night an orange cat walked into the record store. Anyone recognize this li’l fella?

We sold out of the Record Store Day™ Black Friday releases quickly yesterday and returned to the normal business of albums that people actually want to hear, rather than re-sell online. We thankfully don’t have to hear from the Record Store Day™ mafia again until April.

This year’s list of un-necessary reissues contained a rare interesting release — a 7″ record featuring both sides of the 1946 single by Wynonie Harris that has gone down in history as the first appearance of Sun Ra. “Dig This Boogie” was distinguished by the son of Saturn’s boogie woogie style, but the single has been out of print for more nearly eighty years.

Hearing the earliest recorded document of Sun Ra’s time on our Earth inspired us to look into other pre-Arkestra recordings. One of the things we learned from the Wikipedia page about Sun Ra was that he performed in an un-recorded trio with Coleman Hawkins and Stuff Smith in 1948. The same page says that a home recording of Ra and Smith appears on Sun Sound Pleasure, and we went digging through our disorganized record collection for that album.

Sun Sound Pleasure is a unique Sun Ra record owing to its selection of standards instead of Ra originals, but sadly our copy does not include their recording of the 30s ballad, “Deep Purple,” recorded on an early paper-tape machine. The album is one of many albums originally issued on El Saturn, the label run by Ra and Alton Abraham, which is now in print after decades in obscurity. As Sun Ra’s recordings have become more widely available, his audience has grown.

The violinist known as Stuff Smith was born Hezekiah Smith in 1909, making him about five years the senior of Sun Ra, if we are to believe the biographical data regarding the self-proclaimed “Sun One.” Smith was a successful swing-era soloist and songwriter, and he hardly embraced bebop although he performed with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Though lesser known than Stéphane Grapelli or Jean-Luc Ponty, Smith was a pioneering jazz violinist. He was the first to explore amplified effects and his style was more in line with the solos of swing artists who transitioned to the modern era such as Coleman Hawkins. We think of him as second only to Joe Venut as a contemporary, and second only to Billy Bang as the greatest jazz performer on the violin.

On the 1965 session reissued on this budget-label album, Smith is joined by Grapelli who is a more conventional soloist. Smith is featured as a vocalist on “Blues in the Dungeon,” a tune which we believe Sun Ra must have enjoyed.

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