This weekend our daughter got to choose for family movie night and we watched Sing, a cartoon about animals in a singing competition. If there’s an eight-year-old in your family too we recommend it. And after watching the movie we were all thinking about our favorite songs, one of which was performed by a gorilla pianist. Turns out it was a cover of this 1983 hit by Elton John, from the album Too Low for Zero. It’s a pretty good tune, but the video is incredible. It’s our new favorite…
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We’ve been waiting a couple years for a new album by one of our favorite songwriters in the Twin Cities. Brian Just (whose Brian Just Band once told the City Pages “We didn’t waste time thinking up a cool band name”) is equal parts Brian Wilson and Jay Kaye — that is, he walks his own wavy line between almost familial familiarity and the detached amgibuity of the latter’s single album (a 1968 psychedelic masterpiece titled J.K. and Co.). Just often offers everything the others lack, especially in delivering a live performance that can alternately cut right to the core of rock & roll yet also offer inspirationally pondering moments. His albums are superbly crafted and often to our ears earn that old compliment offered to be very best and briefest of Rossini and Verdi’s operas: there is not a single superfluous note.
These things take time and we’ve been patient even though we’ve heard about it’s recording for what feels like ages. It sounds like the anticipated album, Changing Traffic Lights, will drop the “Band” from the spine, but we don’t expect a stripped down affair or the disappearance of his long-time collaborators. In fact, the two early ‘sneak peeks’ through these videos suggest something more substantial than 2013’s Enlightenment and the group’s over-titled first album released two years earlier. The video for “She” posted on Youtube today, coupled with an earlier one for the title track, offer a sample in line with what we’ve expected.
It’s planned for a September 9th release with a special show at the Turf Club, and it will be Just’s first recording available on vinyl. We are sure to post again about this album’s anticipated arrival.
We have been so busy with all the collections coming in already this summer that we haven’t had a chance to listen to all the exciting records around here. We’re also surprised and glad to have expanded our selection of tapes as of late, and we have been borrowing a few to listen to in our van when moving records.
One of the exciting things that happened around here recently is that we met John Penny, a jazz guitarist and composer whose impressive resume includes on of our favorite local LPs from the 70s. After we told him what fans we were of the self-titled Soltice album which originally appeared in 1977, we was kind enough to give us a copy of a recent remastered CD by Riverman Music in South Korea. The disc is packaged in one of those mini LP cases which are popular with East Asian record collectors, and the sound is stunning. They’re available, along with one of his albums from 1997, through Mr. Penny’s website here.
He also let us know a little about what the rest of the band is doing these days, and also added that a recent reunion reminded them all about how the band had been one of their greatest musical experiences. From a message he sent about the band today:
Drummer Tim Pleasant first went east and became a fixture on the New York and later, the LA jazz scenes. Bruce Henry went on to an international solo career as a jazz and pop singer. Guitarist John Penny pursued opportunities as a composer for film and television, with a solo artist career. Bassist Jay Young stayed in Minneapolis, where he is a highly sought after mainstay on the local jazz scene and educator. Saxophonist David Wright went on to be part of the three time Grammy Award winning band Sounds of Blackness while maintaining an active freelance career. Trumpeter Jim Gauthier pursued an academic career and now devotes most of his energies to performance and composing.
We were impressed to learn (though not at all surprised) that the Soltice LP received a five-star review from Downbeat, who called it “intergalactic funk.” Above we have a song recorded from our copy of the album — which seems to have been ‘borrowed’ sometime since by a friend — called “Men from Mars.” I was written by Mr. Penny’s bandmate, Jim Gauthier.
Copies of this album turn up here in the Twin Cities from time to time, and you could also purchase an original on Discogs for a pretty reasonable price. We recommend it to any fan of Minnesota jazz.
Sonny Knight’s website has announced the sad news that he passed away this week at the age of sixty-nine. Sonny was connected to the past and present of Minneapolis music, having performed under his own name (“Little Sonny”) in the seventies before joining the band Haze, and much later enjoying a revival with Secret Stash Records’ flagship group the Lakers.
We were fortunate to meet Sonny a few times during his second or third career as the frontman for the Lakers, and remember him as easygoing, thoughtful and above all gracious. We left our encounters with the impression he deeply appreciated the opportunity to perform, and we were impressed by his insight. Sonny Knight was not only a singer, but also a veteran, a truck driver, and an incredible storyteller. We are all fortunate some of his stories found their way into songs these past several years.
For today’s post we have a 1983 collection of contemporary classical pieces produced by the Minnesota Composers Forum. We chose the first piece on the album, which is by Eric Stokes, who founded the University of Minnesota’s electronic music laboratory and taught in the music department for 29 years. Stokes is also the composer of seven operas, several of which debuted here in Minnesota.
Stokes passed away in an auto accident on Interstate Highway 94 in 1999. He was remembered by a colleague as “a rebel … but also one of the least cynical people I’ve ever known. He was very positive and I think his music showed that too.” Stokes counted Charles Ives, John Cage and Harry Brandt as his primary influences as a composer, and his music was often highly percussive as in this piece and a performance at the Walker Art Center’s old stage titled “Rock and Roll (Phonic Paradigm 1).” In that work rock were rolled around the stage and hit together by several performers.
These Minnesota Composers Forum records are really interesting, and there are four other pieces on this particular one. Here’s an excerpt from the notes to Tintinnabulary (Phonic Paradigm IV) by Stokes, which you can hear below. The performers are Stokes and Jay Johnson.
In composing such a piece, several orders and types of struck, reverberant objects were used. The resulting sounds were recorded. By means of simple procedures, unique properties of these recorded sounds found distinctive places in the compositional plan. Composition therefor, in this instance, was and is a function of foresight & afterthought.
The New York Times has reported the passing of Batman star Adam West under the headline “A Sad Day for Gotham.” West, who was eighty-eight, would have appreciated the wry humor. His portrayal of Bob Kane’s caped crusader was a world apart from any other interpretation of the comic book hero. In the Times obituary, he described his approach to the role:
What I loved about Batman was his total lack of awareness when it came to his interaction with the outside world. He actually believed nobody would recognize him on the phone when he was Bruce Wayne, even though he made no attempt to disguise his voice.
The short-lived series was a masterpiece of clever camp, with West at its center. As Batman (and, spoiler alert, millionaire Bruce Wayne) he encouraged the young citizens of Gotham to eat their vegetables and wear their seat belts. He hoped his adversaries could be redeemed.
One of the series’ most endearing features was Neil Hefti’s unforgettable “Batman Theme” and Nelson Riddle’s swingin’ mod score. Several unusual records came out of the series, including a single by West himself and another by Frank Gorshin, as the Riddler, which was written and arranged by Mel Torme. Frank Zappa wrote and arranged a song for Burt Ward titled “Boy Wonder, I Love You” and best of all Burgess Meredith recorded an awesome single, “The Escape” backed with “The Capture.”
Hefti and Riddle each released LPs of music from Batman. In line with the television show’s camp approach, the theme (a hit for the Marketts and Hefti himself) credited “Words and music” even though there was only a single word in the song.
His album, fairly rare today, contained the theme and eleven additional tunes with fun titles like “Evil Plot to Blow Up Batman” (heard below).
The Nelson Riddle LP contains the actual television score, or at least a sampling of songs from its three seasons. It also has hilarious clips of dialogue which feature West at his best.
Here are a couple tracks from the soundtrack LP in honor of the actor, who couldn’t ever really escape the role he played so well but came to embrace it. We grew up watching re-runs of Batman and we never really outgrew the show.