Music for dancing

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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.

pop wagner

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!

average disco band

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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We all know the twist the funky chicken and the electric slide  – most of us have probably done at least one of them at a wedding  Here are some dances that may be unfamiliar to you (although Laura and Dave danced all of them at their wedding)

THE BUMP

(as introduced by Alvin Cash and the Crawlers)

“Bumpity bump bump…”  Sounds pretty good to us.

THE TURTLE

(as introduced by Ichabod and the Cranes)

This seems like it would be the perfect hipster dance because all you do is stand there.  If only you could also talk about the time you saw the band before they were cool.

THE PIGEON

(as introduced by Bert)

Sesame Street Fever is not the first time Bert did the pigeon.  Its just the funkiest.

THE STRAND

(as introduced by Maureen Gray)

Must have been a slow dance.

THE HUMPTY DUMPTY

(as introduced by Bobby Pickett)

This is the B side of a single that came out a year after the million-seller “Monster Mash” (credited to Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt Kickers).  Like everything Pickett recorded after his smash hit debut – even the 2005 protest song “Climate Mash” – it never escaped the shadow of the perennial Halloween classic. Still, we love to do the Humpty Dumpty.  Let’s all do the Humpty Dumpty!

 

Today is In Heart of the Beast‘s annual May Day Parade down Bloomington Avenue, which ends with a wonderful festival in Powderhorn Park. It is one of our favorite days of the year here in South Minneapolis.

We forgot to find a good May Day song this year, so here’s a fun one about dancing.

dance on

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