Songs

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A new book from the University of Minnesota Press by Rick Shefchik explores the history of the sixties rock scene in Minnesota. Customers tell us Everybody’s Heard About the Bird is a great read for fans of local music and we’re looking forward to getting a copy over at Moon Palace Books, our favorite book shop in town.

Soma Records is synonymous with sixties Minnesota rock and roll. The label released stacks of singles in several genres, but hits by garage rock bands like the Trashmen, the Gestures and the High Spirits are the label’s lasting legacy. In its heyday, Soma released a couple compilation albums (Big Hits of Mid America) but these are long out of print. The awesome reissue label Sundazed Records distributes three collections of singles from the Soma catalog, which include some songs which were previously unissued.

soma records

The High Sprits’ cover of “Turn on Your Lovelight” has always been one of our favorites from the label. Also included here for you to enjoy is “I Can Tell” by the Chancellors, which is one of the previously unissued songs included in The Soma Records Story. They were probably best known for their cover of “Little Latin Lupe Lu.”

 

There is a theory within evolutionary anthropology which posits that human language evolved from music, and that our earliest spoken communications were derived of songs imitating the sounds of the natural world around us. Darwin proposed this in The Descent of Man in 1871, although the idea was slow to gain traction or merit research.

One remarkable implication of this remarkable idea is that music may be one of our deepest connections to the natural world, and the most direct and genuine expression of our thoughts and emotions, transcending language.

Music has long played a central role in our ceremonial, civic and social rituals, and on a daily basis provides us a respite from those trappings which isolate us from our more primitive role in the natural world.

pharoah jewel

Pharoah Sanders’ 1969 album Jewels of Thought was on our turntable this cool morning, before we ventured out to get muddy cleaning up the garden after last night’s storm. The first song, “Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah,” is a prayer for peace sung by Leon Thomas, whose collaboration with Pharoah is best known by “The Creator Has a Master Plan” on Pharoah’s previous album, Karma. The band on this album is a particularly impressive assemblage of top jazz musicians.

Thomas’ prayer for peace is performed by sextet of Christians and Muslims together. There are two bassist and two drummers: Richard Davis, Cecil McBee, Idris Muhammad and Roy Haynes, who are all favorites of jazz fans. The pianist is Lonnie Liston Smith, who co-wrote the music with Sanders.

There is a rich history of racial unity in jazz. Imperfect at times, it is more often inspiring. The seven performers on Jewels of Thought all performed and recorded with white jazz musicians as well. Our favorite of Pharoah’s many albums (Sprits, recorded in 2000) has him backed by two percussionists, one black and one white. And Richard Davis performance on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, probably one of the white-est records of the era, is a classic collaboration.

Less often discussed is the role of jazz on the vanguard of religious unity. There are many Muslim jazz musicians who are some of the most successful and popular, such as Ahmad Jamal who we posted on Monday. Your record collection is just another way in which Muslim have contributed to this country.

jamal stepping out with a dream

We have always been fans of Ahmad Jamal, which is why he turns up on the Hymies blog fairly often (recently here). He is certainly one of the most successful small combo pianists in the world of jazz. His catalog of seventy-five or so albums rarely steps outside of the trio format, and just as rarely does he record with electric instruments.

The only thing we like more than the opening track on this 1976 album from his years at 20th Century is the dapper suit he his wearing on the cover.

 

On the song “Handicapper” Jamal is joined by guitarist Calvin Keys, who is one of the few musicians to join Jamal’s trio for more than a few recordings. Keys was a successful side-man but also released a few albums for the Black Jazz label which have recently come back into print.

Jamal’s occasional jaunts on the Fender Rhodes electric keyboard are some of our favorites of his albums. Notable is his performance at the 1971 Montreux Jazz Festival, which was split over two albums (Freeflight and Outertimeinnerspace), which is one of his first electric performances.

It’s good to have some classical music in your collection.

In fact, we feel every record collector should own at least a dozen classical albums, and ideally more. Us Gen Xers grew up during the music’s decline in popularity and appreciation. Our parents generation enjoyed classical music, and watched Arturo Toscanini and Leonard Bernstein introduce pieces on television.

We saw music programs eliminated when we went to school (and we are fortunate today, here in Minneapolis, that they have been reinstated). As with many other forms of music, people don’t enjoy western classical music because they don’t have a point of entry to begin to appreciate it.

Here’s an example which we think about from time to time: some years ago we bought a collection from someone who lived in one of those enormous houses on the lakes. In the basement there was a luxurious home theater, which included an elaborate sound system. The owner wished to make more room for his collection of movies (we have never seen so many DVDs in all our lives) and planned to sell the collection of audiophile albums he had impulsively purchased. There were half-speed mastered collections of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Sinatra, and so on. There were also deluxe editions of jazz standards like Kind of Blue, and he was more than happy to demonstrate the extraordinary sound quality of his $8000 stereo system.

But in all of this there was only a single classical album, the Funk & Wagnall’s Family Library of Great Music edition of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Not a particularly great performance or recording at all. We never understand how someone could have such interest in the sound of his records, but so little interest in discovering a wide world of new music to hear.

Schubert’s life story should be a Netflix documentary about an unappreciated genius, whose talents were recognized only after his untimely passing.

Franz Schubert died on November 19, 1828, at the age of thirty-one, following an extended illness which marred the frantic late years of his short life. Although we cannot be certain, it is likely Schubert suffered from syphilis, and was either killed by the venereal disease itself, or the backwards treatments common to the time. Schubert was hardly as vibrant a character as Mozart, who lived but four years longer, and his story would not be as ribald as Amadeus, but it would still be a similar portrait of an extraordinary musician who left this Earth entirely too quickly.

Throughout his tumultuous professional life Schubert was shockingly prolific — composing well over five hundred songs, seven symphonies (and several famously “Unfinished”), as well as operas, overtures and s stunning collection of chamber works. All of this was largely lost on his contemporaries until long after his death, as Schubert’s music was scantly published and rarely performed in public.

His brother Ferdinand and other friends held onto his scores after his death, but they were slow to publish them. It was a decade before his Symphony no. 9 in C Major (“The Great”) was debuted, and decades more before the same for the Symphony no. 8 in B Minor (“Unfinished”) — this second launching his rise to the echelon of western composers.

The now nearly universal praise for Schubert’s chamber works is, in our opinion, the longest overdue. Schubert’s mastery of lieder (songs) won widespread praise well before the works by which he may, today, be held in the highest esteem. His Piano Quintet in A Major (“The Trout Quintet”) is one of the most widely recorded chamber works in the classical repertoire and a concert favorite around the world, as are the C and D Minor Quartets. This second is his celebrated “Death and the Maiden” Quartet.

In addition to being largely unperformed and unpublished, Schubert’s romantic ambitions appears to have been just as unfulfilled. He is widely believed to have been a homosexual, in part because for all his intimate letters to male friends, not a single love letter to a women has survived. His orientation may have driven him further into small insular circles, like the music societies which supported his music or the casual court of his friend Franz von Schober, an actor (often of women), poet and bon vivant, whose enthusiasms extended to then-exotic orientalism and homosexuality. There seems to be no great love or acceptance found in Schubert’s short life.

Death and the Maiden

So shy was Schubert that it’s said he couldn’t find the courage to introduce himself to his hero, Ludwig van Beethoven, when they passed one another on the streets of Vienna. Their first meeting in 1822 went terribly for the younger composer, although Beethoven expressed great admiration for Schubert on his deathbed. These would probably be pretty big scenes in the movie. It’s too bad we can’t get Sebastian Cabot to play Beethoven (see: Tuesday’s post).

Schubert was underground music.

His String Quartet in D Minor was debuted at a house show in January 1826 with the composer himself playing the viola. It was performed perhaps only once again while he was alive, and not published until three years after his death.

Remarkably, the debut for most of his works took place in private residences, house shows hosted by supporters or musical societies. Only once in Schubert’s life, on the 26th of March, 1828, six short months before his death, was there a public performance with the program being entirely his music. This rare professional triumph afforded him the opportunity to buy a piano.

Always regarded as a natural talent (one early teacher said, “he has learnt everything from God, that boy”), the spontaneity of Schubert’s inspiration is the stuff of legend. Some songs were said to have been written on the back of napkins in coffee houses and taverns. In one year he wrote 145 songs.

Schubert’s outsider status is cemented by his belated recognition of a musical form previously on the outskirts of legitimate composition. His body of lieder (songs) is a cornerstone of the form, which dates to medieval German traditions, but becomes something entirely different after the publication of Schubert’s nearly 600 songs, some written in cycles that we might think of as like concept albums today. He excelled in other forms, but in this he exceeded even Beethoven in his unique mastery of a marriage between words and music.

Some of Schubert’s outsider status may be the stuff of legend. For instance, a letter once found its way to him addressed only with: “Franz Schubert, famous composer of Vienna.” Still, so much of his music remained unknown even into the modern era. A century after Schubert’s death, Rachmaninov expressed shock to learn he had even composed piano sonatas. Today they are considered some of the finest of the late romantic era. And our favorite work for solo piano, his Moment Musicaux, was basically unknown into the same period.

 

Schubert was aware he was dying when he composed the “Death and the Maiden” Quartet.

Returning to the theme of Schubert’s life being like a “behind the music” tragedy, he was well aware his life would surely be even shorter than Mozart’s. Surviving letters suggest he was preoccupied with his rapidly declining health, and many symptoms he describes suggest mercury poisoning (mercury was a common, fatally flawed treatment for syphilis at the time). He likely suffered a great deal during his last months, and it is remarkable he continued to compose.

Many of his song cycles dealt not with the traditional themes of adventure or romance, but of spiritual journeys. It is from one of these, a 1817 song, that he drew the melody of the quartet’s Andante, and from which the later work subsequently earned its name. The song finds a young maiden pleading with death to pass her by. “I am still young, go rather / and do not touch me,” she sings (this is an English translation). In the duet for piano and voice, death assure her he is “a friend, and come[s] not to punish.”

It’s remarkable this and other heartbreaking works were composed in the same mind as the bright and cheerful Trout Quintet. Schubert had an innate ability to express emotion, making his chamber works an excellent introduction for people unfamiliar with most classical music. Ironically, the outsider is in many ways the most accessible.

Five days before his death, friends arranged for a final performance, and Schubert requested to hear Beethoven’s 14th Quartet. A friend remarked that the king of harmony ha[d] sent the king of song a friendly bidding to the crossing.”

We knew a guy who went to college in Appleton, Wisconsin, and had a chance to visit there a few times. There’s really no short route from the Twin Cities to Appleton, but at the time (nearly twenty years ago) there were a couple good record stores there which made for a nice reward. Also there were some good diners along the way.

duskWe really like this single by Dusk, a country-rock band from Appleton. The A-side is a straight ahead rocker fit for the neighborhood bar, and the B-side a little more in the direction of Gram Parson’s “cosmic American music.” Both songs are filtered through the Uncle Tupelo school of country-rock for your pleasure.

The single was released by Minneapolis’ own Forward Records. We’re hoping this suggests the band might be invited to play a show here in town this summer. We’d love to hear a whole set.

 

 

A collection which came through the record shop recently included the first three albums by Malo, a latin rock band from the seventies who celebrating their 45th year according to their official website. The band has been through many line-up changes over that time, and it retains two original members and several others who have been with the group since the seventies.

malo

The band had a number of top musicians from the San Francisco music scene of the time, including members of the Malibus and Naked Lunch. Their name was likely derived from the Mayan word for “good” or “fine,” and not from the Spanish word for “bad.” This would also explain the Mayan imagery on their album covers.

And the band certainly wasn’t bad at all. Two members, Gabe Manzo and Tony Menjivar, recently formed a Christian latin rock band, and they chose to name it Bueno!

Malo’s biggest hit was “Suavecito,” a love song written by percussionist Richard Bean. allegedly while in algebra class. Bandmates Pablo Tellez and Abel Zarate helped arrange the song and share writing credit. Bean and Zarate were, unfortunately, two of the members who left Malo in an unpleasant rift after the release of their first album in 1972. The first of several new groups debuted on Dos late that year, but the band was never quite the same.

o dos

Another loss was percussionist Luis Gasca, who left to record his own albums of more jazz-oriented latin music. His replacement, Francisco Aguabella was up to the task — he is especially great on “Marengue” on the band’s third album, Evolution. We posted one of his solo albums several years back as part of our tribute to Blue Thumb Records (here). We also posted a song from one of Jorge Santana’s solo albums (here). Although he left to start a solo career, Jorge — the younger brother of Carlos Santana — still sits in with Malo from time to time. The band is now led by Arcelio Garcia, who sings lead vocals. Sometimes his son, Octaviano, joins them.

malo evolution

Malo is not as well known as Santana, and their albums are surely more difficult to find, but each is worth the search. We have really enjoyed having these first three in stock this weekend.

Roaratorio Records remains one of our favorite labels based in Minnesota. One of their recent releases was a 7-inch with two songs by The Cleveland Wrecking Crew, a Quicksilver-ish Bay Area band from the 60s who never released any recordings.

And the label’s most recent release is the next in a series of un-issued recordings by Sun Ra and his Arkestra. It is the third such collection they have released, and the first which is a double LP. Owing to the ongoing interest in Sun Ra’s music, the other two are already out of print.

Sun Ra Intergalactic Thing

The tracks on The Intergalactic Thing are taken from rehearsal recordings at the House of Ra, the Philadelphia residence of Sun Ra and many members of his Arkestra. This collection contains much more information about the recordings than the previous two Roaratorio releases, including recording dates and personnel. All tracks are from the early winter of 1969, presumably the same era as Atlantis and My Brother the Wind.

We have several copies in stock, but anticipate that this release will also quickly fall out of print. We have been really enjoying it, although we suppose the astro-infinity music of Sun Ra isn’t for everyone. We really liked this track, “In Over and Under,” which reminded us of other clavinet classics in his catalog, like “Love in Outer Space.”

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