Awesome-ness!

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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.

Session guitarist Grady Martin appeared on so many hit 45s in his epic career it would take a collector a while to find them all. Everything from rockabilly classics like Johnny Horton’s “Honky Tonk Man” to country standards such as “On the Road Again” — with stops along the way to discover guitar fuzz on Marty Robbins’ “Don’t Worry” and offer up an enduring riff on “Oh Pretty Woman.”

He also recorded a number of records of his own. Included in them is this cover of the theme from Dragnet, which is both silly and awesome at the same time.

This post is a re-run of a post which originally appeared in 2014.

Our pal Craig is always bringing in odd finds from his thrift store trips, and he recently found this awesome tape of a 1988 radio documentary about Radio First Termer, a pirate station briefly broadcast in Vietnam.

vietnam radio first termerRadio First Termer broadcast just over sixty hours, for three weeks in January 1971. Its host, Dave Rabbit, is now known to have been US Air Force Sargent Clyde David DeLay. You can hear one of the only surviving recordings of the original broadcasts here.

Here is a fun 45 to brighten up this dreary Monday morning. You will almost certainly recognize the voice.

Jim Henson was one of the most universally beloved celebrities in America at the time of his sudden and tragic death in 1990, but he was hardly an overnight success. In fact, Henson’s slow rise to fame is an inspiring tale of perseverance and passion. It was a few years after the release of this single that Henson, as Rowlf the Dog, became a regular character on The Jimmy Dean Show – You can watch him clown around about one minute into this episode. He even makes a joke about his host having “a new hit record.” Henson himself, performing as Ernie, hit #16 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 1970 with the single “Rubber Duckie.” This is one of several times Sesame Street produced an unexpected hit record.

One of Henson’s magical legacies is the way he, along with Sesame Street‘s musical directors Jeffrey Moss and Joe Raposo, revived the music of Vaudeville and early American theater. This was carried on when The Muppet Show debuted in the fall of 1976, and throughout the franchise’s ongoing films. This included performing early 20th century hits like “The Bird in Nellie’s Hat” and “The Varsity Drag” as well original songs like Henson’s incredible duet with himself in “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along.”

All of this was still in his future when Henson released “The Countryside” in 1960 with its ridiculous credit “Orchestra conducted by Frank Sinatra.” Of course, years later Ol’ Blue Eyes did record Henson’s signature tune, “Bein’ Green,” which was written by their mutual friend Joe Raposo for Sesame Strret with the simple instruction, “We need a song for the frog.”

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.

 

solstice 1

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.

In Chris Reimenschneider’s Star Tribune story about the Suicide Commandos new album, out last week, Chris Osgood quipped that the band is “one the one-album-every-39-years-plan. It’s worked well for us so far.” The album’s release also marked a revival of the Twin/Tone label, always a subject of local music lore.

For the Suicide Commandos, who earned more attention for adopting a highway in 2015 than for their reunion recordings on a 10″ split record with the Hold Steady released by the Current a couple years earlier, Time Bomb should merit some much deserved recognition outside of the Twin Cities. Truth is, we might like it even more than that 1978 classic, The Suicide Commandos Make A Record.

The Suicide Commandos were Minnesota’s punk rock pioneers — bands like Hüsker Dü, the Suburbs and the Replacements came in their wake. While the Commandos have said it was the passing of Tommy Erdelyi, the last surviving original Ramone, who inspired their decision to record again, it can’t help but have been influenced by the recent reunions of the ‘Burbs and ‘Mats.

But Time Bomb is everything that Songs for Slim, the hodgepodge Replacements ‘reunion,’ wasn’t. It’s a helluva record you’re proud to put next to those ultra-rare local classics, whereas Songs for Slim is a record you feel stuck with because, well, it was for a good cause. The twelve new Commandos tunes are laden with wry humor and the sort of insight that comes with age, all laid over riffs and hooks most bands would love to add to their repertoire. The trio has been playing occasional shows together for at least a decade, but its still amazing that Time Bomb sounds like the work of a tightly-rehearsed act working a regular gig.

The single was posted on Youtube earlier this year and although it’s not as incendiary as their legendary “Burn it Down” video it sure whet our appetite. And absolutely everything about Time Bomb delivered on the promise.

Any record which cheerfully name-checks the great Dave Ray is going to satisfy us, but its actually the darker descriptions of being in a band (in “Hallelujah Boys” and the small-town bar portrait “Pool Palace Cigar”) which stick to the ribs, if you’ll pardon the expression. The album also offers descriptions of disastrous relationships in Dave Ahl’s brooding “Frogtown,” and the ensemble written “If I Can’t Make You Love Me” (which concludes, naturally, with “I’ll make you hate me”), but its overall impression is sealed by the final two tracks by Steve Almaas and Osgood, respectively.

Time Bomb isn’t an especially political album, but there are unsurprising undertones. Ahl and Osgood performed on the streets during the 2008 R.N.C. protests in St. Paul, after all. The closer, “Late Lost Stolen Mangled Misdirected” is a catchy anthem in the Social Distortion tradition about holding on to some hope even though you may feel all of those things in the title because sometimes “broken things get resurrected.”

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