Music for dancing

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But first, this: the editors of The Star Tribune should be ashamed of today’s front page story about Prince. Their speculation that Prince’s sudden death was due to drug use is based on “unnamed sources” which are clearly the half-brother who sued the rock star several times, and a downright greedy lawyer.

Where the Carver County Sheriff’s office has reminded people that Prince was “a very good neighbor” and declared they will respect his privacy, The Star Tribune has sunk to a new low by placing their unfounded speculations on the front page. Even their own local music writer called the article out as “pitiful.”

Let’s hope that’s the last word on our hometown newspaper, which once again proves to be an embarrassment.

Here’s something from the lighter side of music news:

The Louis Armstrong House Museum has shared with the world rare footage of the legend himself in the recording studio. It was discovered in a warehouse in 2012, and released through the help of his daughter Andrea Bass. One would think there would be more film of Armstrong recording, considering his long and prolific recording career, but there isn’t — making this glimpse into his work all the more valuable to fans.

This was followed by a second discovery which delighted jazz enthusiasts all over the world. In a storage facility in Germany, three metal mothers featuring Armstrong and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra were found. They had been sent by Okeh Records for pressing by Odeon, but for some unknown reason were never used.

The result is magnificently clear sound for the recordings, made in 1928.

The metal mother falls in the middle of the process of 78rpm record production. It is cast from the lacquer first cut, called the master, on a lathe by a skilled engineer as the recording is in progress. These are very delicate and ideally cast as quickly as possible into a form called the matrix, through a process called electrotyping. In brief, the lacquer is dipped in a bath derived from metals, commonly copper or nickel, while an electrical current is passed through.

Thus far we have created one ‘positive’ image of the recording, and one ‘negative’ image. The difference is that the first, the master, could be played back on a phonograph (this would, of course, destroy the soft and delicate lacquer). The matrix, a reverse image of the master, could not be played back on a phonograph.

The third stage is the production of the metal mother, such as the three from 1928 recently discovered in Germany. These are likewise produced by the electrotyping process, but the results are once again a ‘positive’ image of the recording. For 78rpm records, the sound on a metal mother is stunningly clear. There will be none of the familiar frying pan. Engineer Nick Dellow transferred the three recent discovers, and kindly has shared them on Youtube for all the world to enjoy.

If you are curious about the remaining two stages of the process of production, here they are: the metal mother is used to create a new ‘negative’ image of the recording called the stamper. This is the piece used to finally press the records. Several may be made, depending on how many records the label intends to press.

These parts may all be stored, although after some use the stampers must be changed so they are often discarded. Discovering long-lost metal parts may provide an improved recording of recordings from the era. This is what inspires, for instance, the folks who have been scuba diving in the Milwaukee River for years, in hopes of finding metal parts from Paramount Records, the legendary blues label which shut down production in 1935. It has long been thought employees tossed hundreds or more metal mother and other parts into the river. There is a chapter devoted to this in Amanda Petrusich’s great book, Do Not Sell at Any Price.

Fortunately, these newly discovered recordings of Armstrong and Ellington are available for all to enjoy!

Jazz legend Ramsey Lewis will turn eighty-one next month. He has released more albums that we care or count or dare to collect — but we always enjoy playing them. Especially when we come across one we’ve never seen before. One of the great things about his epic discography is that there’s always something awesome to discover.

For nearly a decade he led the Ramsey Lewis Trio, rounded out by the rhythm section of “Red” Holt and Eldee Young. The early albums lean on jazz standards, but they had their pop breakthrough with a cover of “The In Crowd” in 1965. His backing band left, forming Young-Holt Unlimited (whose sound is characterized by this super swingin’ hit). Holt’s replacement, Maurice White later became a founding member of Earth, Wind & Fire. Lewis never held on to a backing rhythm section as long as he had with his first group, but his albums always feature top performers. Young’s replacement, Cleveland Eaton, stayed with Lewis well into his funkiest years.

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Ramsey Lewis had three million-selling mid-sixties hits, pretty unprecedented for a jazz artist. “The In Crowd,” “Hang On Sloopy” and “Wade in the Water” all came from Lps which included jazz standards and sweet arrangements of pop hits. Wade in the Water augments his regular trio with a brass section and is one of our favorite Ramsey Lewis albums.

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Ramsey started playing on a fender rhodes and other electric pianos while he was still recording for the Chess Records jazz-leaning subsidiary Cadet, but he really took on electric keyboards after he started recording for Columbia

them changesOur favorite early electric jams from Ramsey come from Them Changes, which is also unique in being possibly the first album recorded at the club which became First Avenue (it was then the Depot).

When Ramsey left the Chess labels to record for Columbia, he started working with larger groups. Some even included a second pianist.

We came across a copy of his 1973 album Funky Serenity for the first time recently. Ramsey and Eaton (joined by blues drummer Morris Jennings) are in top form on this cover of Luther Ingram’s “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want to be Right)”. Funky Serenity has quickly become one of our favorite Ramsey Lewis albums.

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A very popular album from this period is Sun Goddess, which finds Ramsey joined by his old friend Maurice White and some of his Earth, Wind and Fire bandmates. The album was another huge pop hit for Ramsey.

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We really wanted to include the funky Spiderman song from Ramsey’s next album, Don’t It Feel Good, but we couldn’t find our copy (our record collection at home isn’t very organized!). You’ll have to check it out from the link.

Ramey Lewis still lives in Chicago, but if you look at his official website you’ll be surprised to find the eighty-year-old still tours extensively. He just finished a four night stand at Washington DC’s Blues Alley last weekend, and next month he’ll be in Seoul, South Korea!

Irene loves coming to the record store every day, but like most older dogs she does not love walking in the snow anymore. Our puppy, on the other hand, couldn’t love it more. She’s a boxer, which according to our veterinarian at the East Lake Animal Clinic, are “the clowns of the dog world.” Watching our kids throw snowballs to her during this morning’s snowfall, we quickly understood why.

And what a perfect morning to tell you about this upcoming album from local composer Paul Fonfara, The Seven Secrets of Snow. While we might have a hard time explaining exactly which genre it would fit into in our otherwise organized shop, we are quite certain it is one of our favorite albums of the year.

Fonfara was commissioned to provide material for a documentary about the Russian clown, Slava Polunin, whose theatrical productions are legendary (check out this trailer for Slava’s Snowshow). Andrew Douglas, the London filmmaker who directed a documentary about Jim White, Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus, did not finish the film about Slava, but Fonfara’s songs survived in the form of this new disc. It will be debuted on Saturday with a performance at the Cedar Cultural Center, along with a short film to accompany each song and stunning visual art by the incomparable Whitney A. Streeter.

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We are here on the Hymie’s blog are well-known to know very little about cinema, but to have omnivorous taste when it comes to records. The Seven Secrets of Snow is a captivating amalgam of jazz, carnival music, Eastern European folk, and chamber music. One will not be surprised to find members of the Poor Nobodys, Dreamland Faces, the Bookhouse Trio and the Brass Messengers amidst the cast assembled by Fonfara for the production. Each of these collaborative groups has years of experience creating works which combine theater, film, or other media far beyond your turntable with the music. The songs are alternately ideal music for dancing (this reflecting Fonfara’s work with the Brass Messengers) and introspection (drawing from Dreamland Faces and the Poor Nobodys). While driven in two directions, Fonfara’s imaginative songs compliment one another well, as for instance do Van Gogh’s various paintings to feature snow-covered settings.

While The Seven Secrets of Snow is not explicitly a jazz album, it fits snugly alongside several of our favorites from the 90s and early 00s, an under-appreciated period of innovation in the genre. “Tar Sands,” for instance, reminds us of Bill Frisell’s album The Intercontinentals, for its incorporation of a traditional folk motif and modern jazz in an arrangement which slowly builds tension. Fonfara is featured on the clarinet throughout the album, and is as agile at shifting styles as Don Byron, whose 1996 album Bug Music also came to mind. A highlight of that disc was Byron’s interpretation of several songs by Raymond Scott famous for their frequent appearances in Looney Tunes. Scott’s “Powerhouse” is, without a doubt, one of the most inspired themes in search of a movie (to paraphrase Charles Stepney) and found its home when the composer sold his catalog to Warner Brothers in 1943. His songs have since been licensed for other cartoons, including the Simpsons, Ren and Stimpy and, naturally, the Animaniacs. To draw an interesting parallel to Fonfara’s Seven Secrets of Snow, Raymond Scott once recorded an album with an all-star band credited only to “The Secret Seven.”

And likewise, while The Seven Secrets of Snow is not explicitly an album of chamber music, there are passages which could have come from Prokofiev’s film scores for Lieutenant Kije and Alexander Nevsky or, from a melodic point of view, the late quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich. Fonfara is allowed wide freedoms in his arrangements due to the exceptional talent of the musicians he has conscripted. Few composers, for instance, have the luxury of writing for the singing saw, because they are not fortunate enough to work with Dreamland Faces’ Andy McCormick (the instrument was featured in Krzstztof Penderecki’s surreal comic opera, Ubu Rex and in the score to One Flew Over the Cuckoo‘s Nest by Jack Nitzche). Fonfara’s friendships benefit us listeners, because the arrangements are performed with precision and enthusiastic energy.

Each song is set to a film, which will be presented along with the performance on Saturday at the Cedar. Like Slava Polunin’s productions, they would appear to each be montages presenting ruminations centered around the themes of natural beauty and mortality. We have not seen all of the films and so instead have created our own imagery.

The title track — like Prokofiev’s “Troika” from Lieutenant Kije or Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall” — invokes a morning much like today’s here in Minneapolis. And this reminds us we need to shovel in front of the shop once more before its time to open. We hope you’ll enjoy these songs from Paul Fonfara’s new album. If you are like us a fan and want to take a closer look, there is a Kickstarter page to fund the disc’s recording and production, and while it’s contrary to our general discomfort with crowd-funding, on the subject we’ll plug our noses and offer the link here. You could likewise support this project by going to Saturday’s show at the Cedar. We are certainly looking forward to it!

Paul Fonfara and the Ipsifendus Orchestra will perform the songs from The Seven Secrets of Snow, accompanied by the films, on Saturday December 5th at the Cedar Cultural Center. Also performing will be the Brass Messengers and the one and only Jim White. Details on the Cedar’s site here.

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Pop Wagner’s 1988 album Disco on the Bayou might look like a novelty along the lines of Saturday Night Fiedler, but it’s actually a great combination of his familiar cowboy stylings and cajun classics like Clifton Chenier’s “I Yi Yi.”

Pop has about ten albums dating back to 1977, and on them he performs with lots of favorite local musicians: Peter Ostroushko, Butch Thompson, Tony Glover, Charlie Maguire and Bob Bovee, to name a few.

A genuine, old fashioned cowboy, Pop is also known for his rope tricks and tall tales, as well as his hand-made mohair cinches for you equestrians out there. You can find out more about that from his website (here).

Pop is next performing on Saturday November 28th at Patty and the Button‘s annual vaudeville show at the Heights Theater (details, on Facebook, here). Other performers include the awesome Adam Kiesling, the Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers, Christina Baldwin and master of the mighty Wurlitzer organ, Harvey Gustafson. Other special guest include tap dancer Miss Molly and puppeteer Liz Schacterle. It’s an afternoon matinee, and last year we had a fantastic time with the kids!

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This month marks six years we have been posting records here nearly every morning, from universal favorites to (to quote The Simpsons) “the tragically ludicrous! The ludicrously tragic!” Along the way, we’ve done our best to introduce interesting music from the past and present, with a particular emphasis on all you can find without leaving the Twin Cities. We’ve also done our best to get in a cheap shot at Paul McCartney at least a couple times a year.

Remarkably, the Hymies blog has survived in spite of Dave’s minimal talents when it comes to anything with a screen or keyboard. On rare occasions we’ve had to enlist help (our record label, for instance, has been able to host its download codes here entirely thanks to one of the fellas from this underrated band, who sadly aren’t playing anymore).

The Hymies blog survived our five block move, three shows by the Taxpayers, and the time a guy on Yelp called us “trashy,” but this week the MP3 player finally became so obsolete it doesn’t work with our updated site. If you take a scrolling stroll down memory lane, you’ll find the songs embedded in earlier posts appear different. They’ll still play as before with an additional click (a problem we may or may not begin to explore fixing in the more than 1,650 posts in our past). Many hundreds of the records heard here are ones which passed through the shop briefly and were recorded and photographed to share with you, so we couldn’t reproduce the files even if we had the time.

marriage of figaroThis week we introduce a new MP3 player! It will allow us to continue sharing records here for another six years or more. It’s fairly new software and its developers have announced plans to add a variety of additional features (maybe one day you’ll finally be able to smell the records through the internet). One of its most appealing features is that it should be more adaptable to smart phones and other devices Dave simply doesn’t understand.

Today, instead of welcoming our new player to the team with a track from the “Difficult Listening” section, we’ve chosen to present Mozart’s magnificent overture to The Marriage of Figaro, performed here by the Vienna State Opera in 1958. For the record, our new player can present stereo recordings as well.

What other improvements will the future hold? Maybe someday a new digital camera which doesn’t take blurry pictures of the jackets!

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If anything killed disco, it was the cheap knock-offs that flooded record bins at the end. Everything from “Yuletide Disco” to Saturday Night Fiedler to this abomination. Unfortunately, for every good disco record — say every copy of George MacRae’s “Rock Your Baby” or Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You” — there’s a dozen dogs like the Average Disco Band, and so popular recollection of disco is of schlocky, commercial crap.


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Sunday’s re-run from the Hymie’s archive featured some lesser-known dance crazes we recalled celebrating. Today’s is freshly imported from the south seas and features cheerful, Hugh Downs-ish instructions. We hope you and your friends have fun doing the Bamboo Hop!

 

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