Wednesday, March 31, 2010

“Keep on Truckin’” by Eddie Kendricks

Today’s disco discovery: The great Eddie Kendricks (1939-92), one of the founding members of the mighty Motown institution, The Temptations, put out this incredible dance single – a number one hit in its day – in 1973. It comes from Kendricks’ eponymous 1973 Tamla album – his third solo album after leaving the Temps.

Oddly, I knew nothing about this song until very recently, although even in 1973, when I was 10, I would have adored this incredible funk groove. I’d like to provide two versions. The sweet, elongated original…

…and the beautifully stylized instrumental (something that Motown was very good about a lot of times) – with some great instrumentation including the prominence of clavinet, organ, wakka-wakka guitar and vibes – and that magical horn and string section (arranged by Motown staffer James Carmichael):

How sweet it is.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

“Baker Street” by Bennie Maupin

A real treat is this little-known 1978 45-only release of reed player Bennie Maupin’s cover of Gerry Rafferty’s hit “Baker Street.” Rafferty’s excessively popular song, which made saxophonist Raphael Ravenscroft one of the only saxophonists pop listeners of the day could name for about three months, dominated pop radio during the summer of 1978 and made it to #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and #4 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.

The song, originally heard on Rafferty’s United Artists album City to City, his first solo album after the weird dissolution of Stealer’s Wheel (“Stuck in the Middle”), appears in its original form on countless 70s compilations and was also covered by such jazzers as Jon Faddis (Good and Plenty) and Maynard Ferguson (Carnival) – curiously, both trumpeters.

Recorded during the original hit single’s success in July 1978, Bennie Maupin’s cover was probably rush-released after his 1978 Mercury album Moonscapes was finished. To my knowledge, the song has never appeared anywhere on LP or CD. The Mercury single is backed with an edited version of the LP’s opening track “Nightwatch.”

Like Maupin’s two Mercury albums from 1977 and 1978, “Baker Street” is produced by Pat Gleeson, who likely performed some, if not all, of the keyboards heard here. The arrangement is decidedly funkier than the melancholy original and definitely in the Headhunters groove, which should have assured this song of far more airplay and cult appeal than it ever got.

Maupin, who is not known to cover pop tunes elsewhere, plays a variety of reeds on the piece (mostly background flutes), but plays Ravenscroft’s iconic sax lead and Rafferty’s vocal line on the soprano sax – a unique contrast to the original. No musicians are credited here but there is a great likelihood that the Headhunters groove is probably performed by fellow Headhunters Blackbird McKnight on the rock-ish guitar, Paul Jackson on the incredibly supple electric bass and Mike Clark or possibly Harvey Mason on drums and maybe even Bill Summers on percussion.

Maupin briefly solos but at slightly more than four minutes, the song just doesn’t feel like enough as is. It’s a shame this never caught on. It’s definitely worth tracking down.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Cincinnati Kid: Lalo Schifrin Film Scores, Vol. 1 (1964–1968)

A great long wait has ended for anyone interested in the tremendous music Lalo Schifrin provided to his earliest American films with Film Score Monthly’s newly-issued and remarkable five-disc set, The Cincinnati Kid: Lalo Schifrin Film Scores, Vol. 1 (1964–1968).

Much of the music included on this magnificent recording has never been available on vinyl or CD and while most of the work ranks as some of Schifrin’s earliest in American film, it also stands as some of the composer’s most enjoyable and memorable music in the medium.

Lalo Schifrin is one of the most distinguished composers of the Silver Age—and still going strong today. He may have been the most influential, however, when he broke into movies and television in the 1960s—his unique synthesis of jazz, symphonic, pop and avant garde styles was invigorating. For the first time, FSM presents an extended collection of Schifrin’s 1960s theatrical film scores, comprised of a quintet of M-G-M original soundtracks and related album recordings.

Rhino! (1964) was Schifrin’s first Hollywood score, written for an African safari adventure starring Robert Culp, Harry Guardino and Shirley Eaton. Schifrin was recommended by MGM Records (where he was a recording artist) as being the film studio’s answer for Henry Mancini on Hatari!—a tall order, but one Schifrin pulled off with a vibrant and exciting symphonic score, featuring exotic African instrumentation and several memorable themes and musical set pieces. Unfortunately, space limitations (among other things) prevented this set’s inclusion of the ultra-rare 45-rpm release of “Theme from Rhino!” b/w “Rhino Romp” that was issued by MGM in 1964 and Schifrin’s recording of “The ‘7 Faces of Dr. Lao’ Theme” recorded at the same February 1964 session and issued on a different, yet equally rare 45-rpm single.

Once a Thief (1965), Schifrin’s second feature score at M-G-M, is a corker of a jazz soundtrack for Ralph Nelson’s film noir starring Alain Delon, Jack Palance and Ann-Margret. Schifrin’s score, at turns dynamic and poetic, was heralded by jazz critics as one of the rare, authentic uses of the idiom in a Hollywood movie. The album includes both the original soundtrack (never before released) and Schifrin’s 1965 Creed Taylor-produced LP for Verve Records, Once a Thief and Other Themes (also including selections from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Joy House, and a few non-soundtrack pieces).

Disc three features what is probably Schifrin’s best-known score for M-G-M, The Cincinnati Kid (1965), the Norman Jewison film starring Steve McQueen as an up-and-coming gambler in 1930s New Orleans. Schifrin wrote a bluesy score centering on a theme for harmonica, sung (with lyrics by Dorcas Cochran) over the end titles by Ray Charles. The album features both the MGM Records album (a hybrid of original soundtrack and re-recorded selections) and the complete original soundtrack as recorded for the film, including many alternates and unused cues. Schifrin himself recorded the soundtrack album in 2002 for his own Aleph label (I was fortunate enough to do the notes for that set) and the composer insisted upon including Ray Charles’ original recording of the main theme from 1965 in this set of new recordings because Charles’ performance was “truly irreplaceable.”

Discs four and five feature two late-1960s films in which M-G-M tried to build feature careers for the stars from The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Robert Vaughn (in 1967’s The Venetian Affair) and David McCallum (in 1968’s Sol Madrid), by casting them (separately) in unrelated stories of international espionage. Schifrin’s scores to both films are excellent: pulsating, moody Cold War intrigue for The Venetian Affair (featuring cymbalom), and diverse, often Latin-flavored pop and jazz for Sol Madrid (alongside more traditional scoring).

The set includes Lalo Schifrin’s original 45-rpm release of The Venetian Affair‘s main theme “Our Venetian Affair” and the exquisitely exotic “Venice After Dark” (which featured on the brilliant 1996 compilation Mission: Impossible…And More!) as well as the ultra-rare Julius LaRosa version of the main theme “Our Venetian Affair” – which differs considerably from the Don Costa-arranged version which appears on the singer’s Hey, Look Me Over album.

While lyrics were written by Norman Gimbel for Sol Madrid’s main theme in a song called “Nice To Know,” there is no evidence that such a song was ever recorded and, subsequently nothing to that effect is included here.

Disc five concludes with an assortment of bonus tracks from Schifrin’s M-G-M work of the period, including themes from TV projects Medical Center (Schifrin’s first of two released versions of the theme), the extraordinarily rare and never-before released themes from Schifrin’s early 70s TV specials The Mask of Sheba and Earth II and a very rare recording called “The Haunting,” a very strange 45-only song released by MGM Records in 1963 that is alleged to be “inspired by the MGM Picture The Haunting” (a great film, yes, but this music could hardly be said to be a successful component or like-minded inspiration).

The entire five-CD set, save for a few tracks, is in excellent stereo sound, remastered from the original 35mm three-track scoring masters (for the original soundtracks) or ¼” two-track album masters (for the record albums). The excellent liner notes are by Schifrin authority Jon Burlingame. The amazingly comprehensive track-by-track commentary can be found at Film Score Monthly’s web site.

Amazing…and essential.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Agatha Christie’s Poirot - Series 5

Agatha Christie’s Poirot – An Introduction
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 1
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 2
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 3
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 4

1. The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (first broadcast January 17, 1993): An archeological dig in Egypt led by Sir John Willard and financed by the American Mr. Bleibner leads to the opening of the Tomb of the Egyptian King Men-her-Ra. Immediately upon opening the tomb, Sir John Willard dies quite suddenly of heart failure. It is suggested that the curse of the long-dead King is responsible. Soon thereafter Mr. Bliebner himself dies and his nephew in New York also shoots himself to death. The Curse of Men-her-Ra is blamed again. Sir John’s son intends to go to Egypt to finish his father’s work and Lady Willard intervenes by calling in Poirot to investigate the supernatural forces at work. First published in 1923 and included in the collection of stories Poirot Investigates, The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb, also known as The Egyptian Adventure in the US, is the earliest of Agatha Christie’s “archaeological mysteries.” Although such later stories as Murder in Mesopotamia (1936) and Appointment with Death (1938) derive from the author joining second husband Max Mallowan (1904-1978) on his Middle East excavations, the origin of this story probably originated from the then-recent discovery of King Tut’s tomb, enlivened by a touch of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s supernatural suggestion. Clive Exton’s script stays predictably close to Miss Christie’s story. But Exton conceives a back story here for four of the dig’s principals with a peculiar will that motivates three of story’s four deaths. The guilty culprit is apprehended rather differently here too. Peter Barber Fleming helms the first of only two of his Poirot films (Yellow Iris is the other) and does a fairly competent job bringing the story to life, suggesting scenes in Egypt (which is really Spain), London and New York (using stock footage and an obviously British set). Anna Cropper (1938-2007), as Lady Willard, also appeared memorably in the 1987 Miss Marple film Nemesis while Richard Bebb (1927-2006), the uncredited narrator of the Citizen Kane-like “newsreel” that opens this as well as five other Poirot episodes, appeared in the 1985 Miss Marple film A Murder Is Announced. Simon Cowell-Parker (Nigel Harper) also appeared in Clive Donner’s 1986 TV film Dead Man’s Folly (with Peter Ustinov as a contemporary Poirot). Most curiously, Rolf Saxon (Dr. Ames), Olivier Pierre (Henry Schneider) and Paul Birchard (Rupert Bliebner) all appeared with David Suchet as Louis B. Mayer in the 1999 HBO film RKO 281, a dramatization of the making of Citizen Kane.

2. The Underdog (first broadcast January 24, 1993): Sir Reuben Astwell is discovered murdered in his study late one night. His nephew, Charles Leverson, is arrested for the murder. But Lady Astwell is certain that her nephew had nothing to do with the crime. Poirot considers the other members of the household for the crime, including Lady Astwell’s companion, Miss Lilly Margrave, Astwell’s brother, Victor, and Astwell employee Mr. (Owen, in the book, Horace, in the film) Trefusis and discovers many motives for the crime and the true murderer, an underdog, in the end. First published in the UK in 1926 and as part of the US collection The Under Dog and Other Stories, this novella is considerably altered for its 1993 TV presentation. Only the names and the guilty party remain the same. The book reveals Reuben Astwell to be an industrialist that usurps prosperous gold mines in Africa while the film turns the megalomaniac into the thoroughly disagreeable CEO of a company manufacturing a synthetic rubber invention called Astoprene with the intention of selling it to the Germans to ramp up their war machine. As such, the motive for the crime becomes considerably different too. Scripted by Bill Craig (1930-2002) in his only Poirot outing, The Underdog is quite a bit more colorful than Agatha Christie’s original, an admittedly laborious little tale, and tied more to what was really happening in the world in the mid 1930s, when many of the filmed stories take place. The script removes George, Poirot’s valet, from a rather lugubrious role as a stunt double and sounding board and replaces him with Captain Hastings, whose social standing acquaints him with Leverson, and Miss Lemon, who is able to employ her hypnotic technique somewhat interestingly on this occasion (a bit of tomfoolery one Dr. Cazalet induces in the novella). While, in the book, Poirot is invited into the case by Lady Astwell after Reuben Astwell’s death and Charles Leverson’s arrest, the film engages the detective before any crime is committed to appreciate the awful Astwell’s collection of Belgian miniatures (which are apparently notable for being larger than other miniatures) at Astwell’s rather unbelievable invitation. Craig’s script nicely changes Trefusis from a secretary to a chief chemist and modifies Victor Astwell’s attentions (doing business with the enemy) and affections (from Lilly Margrave to Lady Astwell). Sadly, the script makes Lady Astwell quite a bit more demure and mousey than she is in the book. John Bruce, who only directed one other episode from this series (The Case of the Missing Will), helms a nice-looking episode here, showing something of a fondness for German director Fritz Lang throughout. The film recycles a car chase out of the not too dissimilar film presentation of The Incredible Theft and includes the book’s false reference for a servant (similarly questioned by Poirot as was Ursula’s reference in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). Dennis Lill (Sir Reuben Astwell) also appeared in the 1983 episode “The Sunningdale Mystery” of Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime.

3. Yellow Iris (first broadcast January 31, 1993): Several years earlier at a dinner party hosted by Barton Russell, his wife, Iris, is stricken and dies suddenly, the victim of potassium cyanide poisoning. Russell later reconvenes the same group of people, including Russell’s business partner, Stephen Carter, Iris’s sister, Pauline Wetherby, and her suitor Anthony Chapelle and the Argentinean dancer Lola Valdez, in order to ferret out the person in the group he believes is the murderer. Poirot joins in the festivities of this deathly reunion and Iris’s sister, Pauline, is apparently poisoned in the very same way that killed Iris several years before. First published in 1937 as “Case of the Yellow Iris,” this short story appears in the collection The Regatta Mystery (1939) and was later expanded by Miss Christie into the 1945 novel Sparkling Cyanide. Agatha Christie herself wrote a version of the short story as a radio play, broadcast on BBC National Programme on November 2, 1937, although the script of the play remains unpublished. Here, dramatist Anthony Horowitz transforms Christie’s interesting set up into one of the series’ richest, most colorful and captivating mysteries. Much has changed on this story’s journey from page to film, most notably the back story which transports the place of Iris’s death from New York to Buenos Aires (during a political uprising) and the span of time between dinners from the book’s four years to the film’s two. Horowitz’s script inserts Poirot into the Argentine affair, which the political uprising prevents him from solving, adds not one but two up-market restaurants called Le Jardin de Cygnes (Garden of Swans) and utilizes the yellow iris to a much more notable effect. Horowitz also dramatically alters Stephen Carter’s character, removing any hint that there might have been more than one reason for Iris’s death. Like director Peter Barber-Fleming’s previous Poirot effort, The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb, where Spain doubles for Egypt, Spain probably doubles for some of the shots included here, particularly the Buenos Aires exteriors. The interiors are particularly splendid and the colorful cast delivers one of the better ensemble performances in the whole series. Agatha Christie’s story actually contains the lyrics that are used for the song “I’ve Forgotten You” – scored particularly well by (probably) Neil Richardson – but the script does not make any use of Christie’s “There’s Nothing Like Love,” Pauline and Anthony’s song, probably because Horowitz’s script doesn’t place much levity (or importance?) in their relationship. Geraldine Somerville (Pauline Wetherby) will be familiar to many for roles she played after this including, DCI Jane “Panhandle” Penhaligon on Cracker as well as the deceased Lily Potter in the Harry Potter films.

4. The Case of the Missing Will (first broadcast February 7, 1993): This grand episode of Poirot is the only one in the series to have almost nothing whatsoever to do with the book it is based on. Only the title and the names of Andrew Marsh and the Bakers remain the same between the two stories and the headstrong “new woman” Violet (Marsh, in the book, Wilson, in the film) maintains her heady feminism in both cases. Agatha Christie’s short story, first published in 1923 (and in the US in 1924 as “The Missing Will”) and included in the collection Poirot Investigates, finds Violet consulting Poirot over a strange will her recently deceased Uncle Andrew has made insisting that upon his death, she as his only living relative inherit his home, Crabtree Manor, for a year – if she proves her wits – then the home is to be turned over to a hospital. Poirot intuits that Andrew Marsh has hidden a large fortune or an alternative will somewhere in the house for the girl to find and goes about investigating the matter. Poirot discovers the second will’s hiding place, but the will is inexplicably burnt. Poirot determines that Andrew Marsh, playing a very strange game of wits with his niece, has left the “missing will” in a fairly obviously place, but written it out somewhere in disappearing ink (!). The film, craftily scripted by Douglas Watkinson in the first of his three Poirot dramatizations (The Chocolate Box, Dumb Witness), adds quite a number of other characters, beefs up the arguments for and against feminism, stirs the pot with any number of mysterious parentages and blends in Andrew Marsh’s murder for good measure. The film starts with the rich Andrew Marsh announcing at a New Year’s celebration that he has made a will that substantially benefits his good friend Dr. Pritchard, along with allowances for Phyllida Campion, who administers a girl’s college at Cambridge, and two young boys, Robert Siddaway, his lawyer’s son, and Peter Baker, his housekeeper’s son. Miss Campion is enraged that Marsh has left nothing at all to young Violet, but Marsh argues that she will be taken care of by the man she marries, perhaps young Robert or young Peter. Ten years later, Andrew privately consults his friend, Hercule Poirot, to tell him that he is dying and wishes to change his will to benefit Violet entirely, to correct his mistake of years before. Late that very night, Marsh receives a strange phone call and is lured to his folly where he is subsequently murdered. While Marsh never had the opportunity to change his will, the original will benefitting Dr. Pritchard has suddenly gone missing. Evidence later found at the crime scene points to Pritchard as the killer. Then it is suggested that Andrew Marsh has indeed fathered a child and that one of the two boys may in fact be his son and, with the missing will, the sole beneficiary of Marsh’s vast estate. All told, it’s a ripping good yarn, taking Christie’s original concept into a very different direction that stays quite true to the tradition, abounding in such Christie references as Dead Man’s Mirror (parents murdering for their children’s sake), Cat Among The Pigeons, Dead Man’s Folly, etc. John Bruce again directs an opulent episode here in the last of his two Poirot outings (The Underdog is the other), capturing what looks like the real University of Cambridge grounds and buildings (possibly interiors too). Another superb cast is assembled for this stirring little thriller, many of whom have other links to the Agatha Christie film tradition. Richard Durden (Dr. Pritchard) also appears in the 2006 Poirot film Taken at the Flood as Pebmarsh and the 2004 Marple film The Body in the Library as Mr. Prescott. Beth Goddard (Violet Wilson) also appears in the 2008 Poirot film Appointment with Death as Sister Agnieszka. Terrence Hardiman (John Siddaway) also appeared in the 1987 Miss Marple film Sleeping Murder as Walter Fane while Rowena Cooper (Sarah Siddaway) also appeared as Dr. Kleber in the similarly titled 1984 episode of Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime called “The Case of the Missing Lady.”

5. The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (first broadcast February 14, 1993): While Hercule Poirot dines one evening with his friend, Dr. Hawker, the doctor receives news of a frantic phone call from one of his patients, Count Foscatini, saying that he’s just been killed. Poirot accompanies the doctor to the Count’s flat to discover that the man has indeed been killed, the victim of an apparent bludgeoning. Poirot is troubled by the appearance of the Count’s dining room, particularly the window and the curtains, which were strangely left open. Mr. Graves, the Count’s valet, eventually returns to the flat indicating that the previous day his master was engaged in what was obviously a blackmail situation with the mysterious Signor (Paolo, in the book, Mario, in the film) Ascanio. The negotiations were to be concluded that night over dinner. Signor Ascanio is then arrested for the murder but Poirot believes he is innocent of the crime. First published in 1923 and included in the collection Poirot Investigates (and published in the US in 1924 as “The Italian Nobleman”), this story sees the return of Clive Exton, who fleshes out Agatha Christie’s story with some fitfully fanciful and somewhat confusing flourishes. Excepting the bizarre nature of the initial phone call – which, of course, comes from the original story – Exton ramps up the drama considerably, but perhaps too much, adding Bruno Vizzini, a car dealer who is working with Captain Hastings on the purchase of an Italian roadster (and who is obviously engaged in other various questionable activities), Margherita Fabbri, as Vizzini’s rather too-capable assistant (or something else?), an immensely staged Italian wedding, a fun little car chase involving Hastings’ new car (recalling, with a wink, the film of the previous The Adventure of the Third Floor Flat) and most interestingly of all, a peculiar relationship forged between the already married (at least in the film) Mr. Graves, masquerading as private secretary to the Italian nobleman, and Miss Lemon. Exton plays with the idea of just who is blackmailing whom and, most notably (and realistically), the nature of the scandalous papers at the root of the resulting crime. There are also necessarily a number of other characters added to the brew, including the unlikely talkative Darida (the handsome Alberto Janelli), who works for the Italian Ambassador, whose position is altered greatly by Exton’s changes. Despite the complications which may necessitate repeat viewings to fully grasp, The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman stays true to Agatha Christie’s original and is sufficiently enlivened to be consistently engaging right up until the very end. Curiously, some of series composer Christopher Gunning’s music here suggests John Barry’s music for the James Bond series (though there is little doubt that Neil Richardson was engaged to provide the wedding music). This episode marks the second of two appearances of actor Ben Bazell as Sgt. Beddoes (the other is One, Two, Buckle My Shoe) and the first of two appearances actor Arthur Cox makes as the book’s Dr. Hawker in the series (Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan is the other).

6. The Chocolate Box (first broadcast February 21, 1993): Poirot recalls a case he was concerned with while still a policeman in the Belgian police force involving the sudden poisoning death of Paul Deroulard, a minister of state, who died of arsenic poisoning. Poirot, engaged to take the case by Virginie Mesnard, a cousin of the dead man’s deceased wife, discovers that Deroulard’s wife died of mysterious circumstances and that many people have the need to hush up the case of Paul Deroulard’s death. Poirot, though, ends up discovering what really happened. First published in 1925 and included in the collection Poirot Investigates, this remains one of the most touching of all the Poirot films ever filmed. Transformed by dramatist Douglas Watkinson, the story takes Poirot back to Belgium for the first time since his departure some two decades before, in order for Inspector Japp to receive (rather unbelievably) Belgium’s highest honor among policemen. Of course, Poirot encounters many of his former friends, colleagues and enemies, all of whom help to reveal the one mystery he has never been permitted to officially solve. Watkinson’s script takes many artful detours away from Agatha Christie’s story, including a possible love interest for Poirot (!), the explanation for Poirot’s lapel pin and Poirot’s complete understanding of the crime at hand (the color(s) of the chocolate box(es) – none of which is expounded upon in the short story). Filmed in Belgian locations such as Antwerp and Brussels, this is also one of the more picturesque films of the Poirot series. David Suchet, who assays both the young Belgian detective and an older, wiser self visiting Belgium again, is simply magnificent. It’s hard to walk away from this particular episode with a dry eye. That is due mostly to Suchet’s tremendous performance as Poirot, something he makes more human and much greater than the character in the book. The great Rosalie Crutchley (1920-97), who appears here as Madame Deroulard, also appeared as Mrs. Price-Ridley in the 1987 Miss Marple film Murder at the Vicarage while the equally great Preston Lockwood (1912-96), who appears here as the butler Francois, also appeared memorably as Canon Pennyfather in the 1987 Miss Marple film At Bertram’s Hotel as well as the 1983 episode of Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime “The Unbreakable Alibi.” Anna Chancellor (Virginie Mesnard) also appeared in the 2008 Marple film Murder Is Easy while James Coombes (Paul Deroulard) also appears in the American TV film of Murder with Mirrors (with Helen Hayes as Miss Marple).

7. Dead Man’s Mirror (first broadcast February 28, 1993): Gervase Chevenix believes he is being defrauded and convenes Hercule Poirot to his estate of Hamborough Close to investigate. Insulted but intrigued, Poirot consents and arrives to meet Chevenix’s wife, Vanda, his adopted daughter, Ruth, Hugo Trent, Gervase’s nephew, Miss Lingard, a literary assistant, and Lake, a business associate. One evening, upon the striking of the second gong, Chevenix does not appear as he always does for dinner. He is discovered, locked in his study, sprawled on his desk with a gun in his hand and the word “sorry” scrawled on a piece of paper. The victim apparently shot himself through the head and the bullet passed through to splinter the dead man’s mirror, but the more Poirot considers the character of the man and how he would have to be placed in order to hit the mirror as well, the more he believes the suicide is in fact murder. The novella Dead Man’s Mirror, first published in 1937, is included in the collection Dead Man’s Mirror, also published as Murder in the Mews, is an expanded version of a 1932 Agatha Christie story called The Second Gong. The story, of course, makes reference to the Tennyson poem that also gave title to Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side. Dramatist Anthony Horowitz condenses the novella quite convincingly by doing away with the Colonel Bury, Ogilvie Forbes and Godfrey Burrows characters and engaging Poirot’s participation with a real request from Chevenix rather than the rather hard-to-believe false telegram which lures the detective into the web of deceit. Horowitz also deals more realistically with forensics than Miss Christie’s story does and nicely spices up the tale with an auction, at which Poirot loses the titular mirror (said in the film to be an Edgar Brandt original) to Chevenix, more of Vanda’s mystical leanings, the change of Chevenix’s project with Miss Lingard from family history to art history (allowing a significant painting of a mother losing her child to be included in the film) and colorful business interests for both Lake and Trent (both of whom have business troubles in the film that Colonel Bury has in the book). Any number of the changes Horowitz makes to the story (a champagne bottle, a cufflink and the murderer framing someone else for the crime) are far more sensible than the literary garden path Miss Christie sends Poirot down in the book. Additionally, Horowitz replaces the novella’s Mr. Satterthwaite (from the Harley Quin stories) with Hugh Fraser’s Captain Hastings and the surprisingly clueless Major Riddle with Philip Jackson’s Chief Inspector Japp. Director Brian Farnham frames here one of the best looking of all the 50-minute Poirot episodes, something that is probably due to the film being set in and around the beautifully unique stone mansion that serves as Hamborough Close. Series composer Nicholas Gunning provides a most haunting musical score using voices and spare, near-dissonant instrumentation. Iain Cuthbertson (Gervase Chevenix), while not exactly Christie’s “man of Herculean build with a Viking beard,” also featured hilariously as Dr. Farson in the 1977 Ripping Yarns tale “Murder at Moorstones Manor,” a spoof of/tribute to Agatha Christie’s locked-room mysteries like Dead Man’s Mirror while Jeremy Northam (Hugo Trent) also featured in Robert Altman’s Christie-esque locked-room mystery Gosford Park (2001). The handsome Richard Lintern (John Lake) also appeared as Guy Carpenter in the 2008 Poirot film Mrs. McGinty’s Dead while Jon Croft (Lawrence, Trent’s business associate) also appeared as Inch in the 1992 Miss Marple film The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side.

8. Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (first broadcast March 7, 1993): While convalescing at the Grand Metropolitan, a seaside resort, Hercule Poirot meets Mr. and Mrs. Opalsen, who have an ostentatious set of valuable pearls that are soon stolen. Curiously, the jewels are stolen from the Opalsens’ hotel room while the couple is out, but seemingly during the time that Mrs.Opalsen’s companion, Celestine, was in the room with a hotel chambermaid. Poirot investigates. First published in 1923 as The Curious Disappearance of the Opalsen Pearls and in the US as Mrs. Opalsen’s Pearls, The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan is included in the collection of early stories, Poirot Investigates. It isn’t much of a story, but it allows Agatha Christie to outline how Poirot spots pertinent clues that others miss that help him solve the mystery (in this case, it’s dust). Anthony Horowitz’s script typically ups the ante by making Mrs. Opalsen an actress and her husband a producer, staging a play called, oddly enough, given all the references to Mrs. Opalsen’s rather large and unappealing countenance, “Pearls before Swine.” The play is a cheesy whodunit scripted by the penniless Andrew Hall who, of course, has a gambling problem that the stolen jewels could help offset. Horowitz throws in several references to Oscar Wilde, notably the 1908 film of Wilde’s stage play Salome (which is briefly seen at the beginning of this film to establish that Mr. Opalsen has purchased the great set of pearls Florence Lawrence wears in the film for Mrs. Opalsen to wear in her performance of the play) and a disguised character – not in the book – who assumes the name of the lead character in The Importance of Being Earnest. Horowitz tosses much more humor into the episode, the last, to date, of the 50-minute Poirot films, with Poirot constantly being mistaken for Lucky Len, a character in a newspaper contest who, if spotted, pays the successful spotter a few pounds. Despite some lovely location shooting in what is obviously Brighton on the sea, this is one of the lighter episodes of the entire Poirot series and one that is knowingly teeming with “characters” rather than “people.” Simon Shepherd (Andrew Hall) also appears as Dr. Rendell in the 2008 Poirot film Mrs. McGinty’s Dead and as Patrick Simmons in the 1985 Miss Marple film A Murder is Announced while Tim Stern (the bellboy) also appears as Alf Renny in the 2008 Poirot film Third Girl and as an attendant in the 2004 Marple film 4:50 From Paddington. Interestingly, this film features the actors Peter Kelly (Lucky Len) and Andrew Carr (who died four months before this film was first broadcast – as actor Hubert Devine), both of whom joined Hugh Fraser in the 1983 film Curse of the Pink Panther.

Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 6
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 7
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 8
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 9
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 10
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 11
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 12

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bennie Maupin on Mercury

Multi-reed player Bennie Maupin was already a veteran of the Marion Brown, Jimmy Owens, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Lee Morgan and Horace Silver bands when he was tapped to be part of Miles Davis’ magnanimous Bitches Brew in 1969.

He recorded often with the newly electric (and frequently recorded) Miles during this time as well as recording a number of records with Miles’ drummer at the time, Jack DeJohnette. While still a part of Lee Morgan’s outfit (Maupin can be heard on Morgan’s final recordings), Maupin became a pivotal part of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band in 1970.

Maupin recorded with Hancock’s various ground-breaking electric configurations throughout the early 70s (Mwandishi, Crossings, Sextant, Headhunters, Thrust and Death Wish) before finally issuing his very first solo album, The Jewel in the Lotus (ECM, 1974), a beautiful and beguiling set of atmospheric tonal textures and ambient free forms that sound nothing like what he was doing elsewhere at the time and everything that made him so transfixing as an improviser and sound collagist.

The reed player, who had by this point made a sinewy signature sound on the otherwise otherworldly bass clarinet, could be heard more familiarly on trumpeter and fellow Hancock-band mate Eddie Henderson’s equally electric – in all senses of the word – discs from the period (Realization, Inside Out, Sunburst). Maupin then got super famous by joining with Hancock’s former backing band, now calling themselves The Headhunters, who issued the first and, really, only noteworthy of their funk-jazz classics, Survival of the Fittest (Arista, 1975).

Of course, Maupin continued playing with Herbie Hancock throughout the rest of the 1970s, benefitting some of the keyboardist’s most popular electric forays, including Flood, Man Child, Secrets, V.S.O.P., Sunlight, Feets Don’t Fail Me Now, Direct Step and Mr. Hands.

But it wasn’t until 1977 that Bennie Maupin’s solo career was kick started with his first major-label release, Slow Traffic To The Right. The album appeared – surprisingly - on the Mercury label, whose pop success at the time with Bachman Turner Overdrive, Rush, Thin Lizzy and 10CC was matched by the country music glories of Tom T. Hall and The Statler Brothers, of all people. OK, they were doing well with the Ohio Players and Bohannon at the time too. Still, Mercury was not much of a jazz showplace at the time. But jazz really didn’t have much of a home anywhere at this point in the music. Even CTI was a thing of the past by 1977. But at the time the Mercury label was home to such forgotten sixties jazz renegades as Jimmy Smith, Chico Hamilton and Gabor Szabo. Charles Earland was there at the time too. It doesn’t change the significance or importance of Bennie Maupin’s music.

Slow Traffic to the Right (Mercury, 1977): The first of Bennie Maupin’s only two Mercury albums during the late 1970s is the extraordinarily fine Slow Traffic to the Right. Despite the jokey cover and a questionable title, it is a tremendous landmark of seventies fusion – and one of the finest albums jazz produced during this time. Surprisingly never issued on CD, this Bennie Maupin album was produced and supported by synthesizer specialist Pat Gleeson, who writes an encouraging and remarkably accurate liner note when he says “This is it – the long awaited statement by America’s premier contemporary reed player, Bennie Maupin. He contributed powerfully to the development of jazz in the historic Bitches Brew sessions with Miles Davis. He continues to shape American music through his association with Herbie Hancock and Headhunters. And now, supported by some of the finest players in the world, Bennie Maupin makes his own statement.” Indeed. Maupin is supported beautifully here by the Hancock-influenced Patrice Rushen or the underrated Onaje Allen Gumbs on keyboards, fellow Headhunter Blackbird McKnight on guitar (who solos on “You Know The Deal”), Ralph Armstrong or Paul Jackson on bass, James Levi on drums, Mwandishi-mate Eddie Henderson (who solos on “Quasar”) and Craig Kilby on mostly backgrounded horns and Nathan Rubin, who helms the strings.

Kicking off with “It Remains to Be Seen,” a piece of L.A.-styled, Headhunters-like funk, we’re on a playing field of higher-than-average jazz-fusion values. Led by Maupin soloing sensually on saxello, “It Remains to Be Seen” is a funk classic, with Patrice Rushen beautifully anchoring the piece, and in a well-constructed solo, on acoustic piano. “Water Torture,” perhaps the album’s single greatest moment, shows Bennie Maupin at his very best. Soloing on tenor sax, Maupin overdubs his signature bass-clarinet rhythms and allows for Ms. Rushen’s gorgeous electric pianisms. Something should be said for the remarkably intoxicating and simple horn arrangements here, courtesy of Onaje Allen Gumbs, and strings, arranged by Nathan Rubin. It’s a most remarkable performance that renders his electrified sax on the mid-tempo “You Know the Deal” somewhat more flaccidly than it would be heard otherwise if programmed differently (though Ralph Armstrong’s electrified bass here gives plenty enough to work with for any sampler looking for a ready groove to exploit).

“Eternal Flame,” with Maupin on soprano sax, Gumb’s brief “Lament,” with the leader featured on bass clarinet in a piano duet with the composer, and the lovely space funk of “Quasar” (which Maupin first unleashed on Herbie Hancock’s 1972 album Crossings) with Maupin on soprano and flutes, harks back to the sound and style of The Jewel in the Lotus, with more ambient textures and filmic pastures. While these aren’t necessarily the album’s highlights, they are significant musical statements nonetheless. One senses these are the pieces that are most aligned with Maupin’s own musical sensibilities. You have to wonder why the guy never scored more films. It seems that many films would welcome this sort of music.

One could wish for far more music here. Sadly, there’s only about 33 minutes of music on this album. And certainly the programming could have been better. But what’s here is magical, magisterial and, at times, ethereal, and worth any investment, particularly if seventies jazz is your thing.

Moonscapes (Mercury, 1978): The second of Bennie Maupin’s two Mercury albums is decidedly less successful than the first. But it’s not without the attendant charms that go along with any of Maupin’s always magnificent performances. The album, more interesting than anything either Tom Scott or Gary Bartz were turning out at the time, does seem more of a contractual obligation sort of outing rather than something meaningful. Unfortunately, it’s peopled more by LA session players than the previous album – something of a mistake that probably could not be avoided. Bobby Lyle mans most of the keyboards (Onaje Allen Gumbs plays electric piano on “Just Give It Some Time” and “Sansho Shima”), Mike (“Maniac”) Sembello is on guitars, Abraham Laboriel is on bass, fellow Headhunter Harvey Mason is on drums and Mingo Lewis is on percussion. Pat Gleeson, who is producing again, is credited with “synthesizer programming,” but he probably plays more keyboards here than he’s credited with.

The program isn’t terribly memorable. But it is worthwhile, and its brevity would certainly seem to make it easy to compile on a single CD with Maupin’s previous Slow Traffic to the Right.

“Nightwatch,” which opens the album, is decent late-70s fusion funk, with Maupin soloing well on tenor sax, aided by Bobby Lyle’s keyboard stylings (probably Pat Gleeson’s too). As an aside, “Nightwatch” was issued as the b-side to Maupin’s 45-rpm only single release of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” in 1978. “A Promise Kept,” comes closest to what one would hope for from a Maupin album. It’s not perfect, and the melody is hardly enticing. But Maupin solos quite nicely on soprano, supports himself nicely with an overdubbed bass-clarinet ostinato and Lyle (?) weaves in some nice keyboard prowess underneath.

Most of the far-too-brief album is, at best, a fair assessment of Maupin’s capabilities. “Farewell to Rahsaan” is a tribute to multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who died shortly before this album’s release on December 5, 1977. This simple, yet evocative piece finds Maupin sticking to the soprano sax, accompanied only by electric piano, Beverly Bellows’ harp and some light percussion. It seems unfocused and unfinished, but, again, not without interest. Gumb’s very pop-oriented “Just Give It Some Time” aims for Grover Washington, Jr.’s chart success with little accomplishment (it never got a 45 release to my knowledge either). Maupin’s “Sansho Shima,” which is reprised from Herbie Hancock’s 1976 album Secrets, is a decent showing for the leader on soprano sax, sparked by the spiky interjections from guitarist Sembello.

“Anua” is surprisingly lifeless, despite Maupin’s many horns and Lyle’s keyboard overdubs. It’s fair-to-middling background music. But either the melody or the chord changes just weren’t enough to make Maupin’s somewhat interesting improvisations worth much. The chock-a-block rhythm doesn’t help. The brief “Crystals” finds Maupin stating his initial intentions on tenor before a strange fade out that reveals the pointlessness of the whole affair.

One really has to wonder what went wrong here. Bennie Maupin probably had much more music within him. But, for some reason, it doesn’t quite come through on Moonscapes. You have to assume that not too many people picked up on it either. There certainly wasn’t much hit-worthy material to be heard here. It was almost Bennie Maupin’s way of saying he either didn’t care or wasn’t much of a leader.

Indeed, while he stuck it out with Herbie Hancock for another few years, Bennie Maupin sort of disappeared from the music scene for quite some time. He was first spotted on Herbie Hancock’s own Mercury outing Dis Is Da Drum (1995) some years later, then he turned up on The Return of the Headhunters (1997), his own Driving While Black (1998, with Patrick Gleeson) and The Detroit Experiment (2003). Then he finally came out with some more notable solo statements on the Cyrptogramophone label, the excellent Penumbra (2006 – recorded in 2003) and the ethereal Early Reflections (2008 – recorded in 2007).

Bennie Maupin should be more available to jazz listeners. But his Mercury recordings will appeal to those that want to hear more of the great multi-instrumentalist in his jazz-fusion prime.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Nicola Conte Presents Spiritual Swingers

Compilations such as this are almost always disappointments. For me, there are far too many vocalists present. But Nicola Conte, whose most recent albums have swarmed in too many vocalisms, has assembled a rather terrific set of “spiritual swingers” here from the European-owned Universal Music catalog.

I’m not sure that all of the tracks presented here would qualify as many other people’s definition of “spiritual swingers,” including mine. But the music, as presented, is a remarkably coherent and surprisingly enjoyable set none the less.

You have to wonder if Conte knows what he’s talking about when he says that “many boppers turned their heads to discover consciously their African roots” – especially as so many of the artists present here are white or black artists appropriating white pop material. It doesn’t matter. Spiritual is as Spiritual does. One man’s floor is another man’s ceiling and so on.

This is a GREAT compilation…hitting on some lesser known and lesser compiled treats that sound absolutely stunning as a set. Even the vocal pieces have a great spiritual quality to them that are less about vocal acrobatics and more about musical qualities.

Maybe that was the idea. And it helps me understand musical philosophies that don’t necessarily accord with my own. This one works particularly well:

1. Afro Blue / Abbey Lincoln (from Abbey is Blue, Riverside, 1959)

2. New Delhi / James Clay (from A Double Dose of Soul), Riverside, 1960)

3. Bogota / Ahmad Jamal (from the great Macanudo, Argo, 1962)

4. Taboo / Dorothy Ashby (from In A Minor Groove, New Jazz, 1958)

5. Baltimore Oriole / Lorez Alexandria (from For Members Only Argo, 1963)

6. Swahili / Clark Terry (from Clark Terry, EmArcy, 1955)

7. Jungle Fantasy / Yusef Lateef (from a 1961 45-rpm single)

8. My Favorite Things / The Sound of Feeling with Oliver Nelson (from Leonard Feather Presents The Sound Of Feeling And The Sound Of Oliver Nelson, Verve, 1967)

9. Modette / Roy Haynes (from Cymbalism, New Jazz, 1963)

10. A Taste Of Honey / Andy Bey & The Bey Sisters (from Andy Bey & The Bey Sisters, Prestige, 1964)

11. Senor Blues / Anita O'Day with the Gary McFarland Orchestra (from All The Sad Young Men, Verve, 1961)

12. Spanish Castles / George Gruntz (from Jazz Sound-Track “Mental Cruelty”, Decca, 1960)

13. Subo / Klaus Weiss Trio (from Greensleeves, Philips, 1966)

14. Juan-Les-Pins / Staffan Abeleen Quintet (from Djingis Khan, Sonet, 1962)

15. Big P / The New Jazz Orchestra (from Western Reunion London 1965, Decca, 1965)

16. Milestones / Mark Murphy (from Rah!, Riverside, 1961)

17. The Hooter / Ernie Wilkins And His Orchestra (from the 1961 Riverside 45-rpm single)

18. Feeling Good / Pat Bowie (from Feeling Good, Prestige, 1965)

As Dusty Groove says: Spirit, swing, and a whole lot more -- a mighty collection of music all hand-picked by the legendary Nicola Conte! There's a deeply soulful groove to the whole thing -- and a touch of the exotic as well -- and the package really reminds us a lot of the great Gilles Peterson Universal collections that were out a few years back -- full of deep tones and rich colors, and proof that when you've got the right guy at the helm, a collection of older jazz tracks can be way more than just the sum of its parts!

Listen here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jerry Cotton – FBI’s Top Man

Jerry Cotton returns!

More than 40 years after the last feature of the "G-man" series had been filmed, Jerry Cotton once again explodes across German theatre screens! In response to this exciting cinematic revival the long unavailable music of the original series has been gloriously resurrected for a brand new compilation.

I am extremely pleased to have been involved in this particular collection, celebrating the great series of German films that (along with the Edgar Wallace films of the same period), set the tone for crime cinema in Germany during the sixties and scored by the great Peter Thomas. I wrote the liner notes for this CD, my second most pleasurable occasion to write notes for a Peter Thomas collection (here is my first) – but I actually wrote these notes quite a while ago and before the other set.

Let me explain.

This project started over two years ago. Apparently, there was a book coming out in Germany chronicling the very interesting Jerry Cotton film saga. Universal Music opted to accompany the book with a disc celebrating Peter Thomas’ distinctive wacky-jazz music that featured in all eight of the Jerry Cotton films made in Germany with American lead actor George Nader (1921-2002), who is phenomenal as Jerry Cotton, between 1965 and 1969.

Universal Music had asked me to write notes for the CD, even though I felt thoroughly ill-equipped to write such a set of notes. They wanted an American’s perspective on this Kraut cinema’s music. Then, I watched the films. Wow! I loved them. It was like discovering a whole new language – a whole new form of cinema. How weird. How wonderful. How massively entertaining. And I loved what Peter Thomas’ music added to each film.

Some of Thomas’ music for the series had already appeared on the 1998 discs Film Musik (Polydor) and 100% Cotton – The Complete Jerry Cotton Edition (Crippled Dick) – but neither is necessarily complete or accurately referenced, despite all accounts to the contrary.

It’s probably likely that a complete set of Jerry Cotton music is nearly impossible. Peter Thomas is an exhaustive composer and trying to keep up with him would require someone even more amazingly comprehensive. As I say in the notes, “(t)he films are overflowing with music, it's as if there are eight million stories in the naked city and Peter Thomas has a song for each one.“

Anyway, when it was announced that there would be a film remake of Jerry Cotton in 2008, everything was put on hold. My notes had already been turned in and ok’ed by the powers that be. We just had to wait to find out what was going on with the film remake. The book apparently languished – and I don’t even know if it’s ever been released – and Universal Music lost the rights to the Jerry Cotton music during the lull.

Then, the great folks at All Score Media in Germany, who recently issued the dazzling Peter Thomas set Van De Velde: Die Vollkommene Ehe (The Perfect Marriage)/Das Leben Zu Zweit (Every Night Of The Week): Music From Two German Sex Education Films (1968/69), picked up the Jerry Cotton set. It is All Score Media who has finally made this music available once again.

The track line-up is a little different than I thought it would be, but it is still magnificent. So is the packaging. The cover is just beautiful. And Peter Thomas biographer Gerd Naumann also provides a nice text about the various films (only in German though).

Undoubtedly Peter Thomas' soundtracks to all eight movies, composed between 1965 and 1969, are the highlight of the series. Thomas re-configured American jazz the way the filmmakers reconfigured New York City, mixing it up with sounds that appropriately call to mind the military, the lounge, the chase (of course) and even the circus.

Thomas goes for the jazz jugular and spices up the proceedings with his own brand of ephemera: gunshots, screams, scat singing and wild improvisation that must have made participating musicians happy as hell.

It’s crime jazz at its best! The 28 tracks come with a 24-page booklet, including detailed liner notes by Douglas Payne, presented in both English and German language, a filmography, and numerous full sized color film stills.

Available from my friend Chris' Soundtrack Corner or Dusty Groove.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


For those that have never heard of it, “library music” is made for use in radio, TV, film and advertising. This type of music allows producers and directors the opportunity of fitting pre-existing music of many stripes into productions without the expense of commissioning a full score from a particular composer.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) was assembled using library music – as, indeed, was most all of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The American release of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1979) was too, although European prints of the film, known as Zombi, had the Italian prog-rock combo Goblin write music for the film that sounded like mall Muzak (the great “Supermarket”).

These days, only director Quentin Tarantino chooses to “score” his films with themes from many older films and TV shows. It’s not exactly library music, but it’s the same idea and, if nothing else, proves how very potent pre-existing music can be. He somehow manages to make music sound far more iconic in his films than the songs ever were in the first place.

Library music, which flourished throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s and mostly throughout Europe (American unions prevented many American composers and musicians from producing library music), allowed directors and producers to get something that “sounds like,” say, Lalo Schifrin without having to pay Lalo Schifrin to get it. Oddly enough, the great Ennio Morricone himself recorded loads of library music. So you could actually get music that sounded like Ennio Morricone done by Ennio Morricone himself, if you so desired.

Initially, library music provided scores of emotional cues: Surprise! Fear! Tension! Sadness! Happiness! Mystery! Danger! You Get The Point! But when rock and roll started infiltrating many films in the late sixties (The Graduate, Easy Rider, etc.), this sort of thing became very passé and actual song styles pervaded the library market: Rock! Jazz! Big Band Swing! Country and Western! Funk! Disco! You Know What I Mean! It was about this time when library music became much more interesting.

(The Music Library, a tremendous book issued in 2005 by the British FUEL Publishing company, details many of the various manufacturers of library music and a great number of the ultra-rare releases this music generated over the years. The 207-page hardback book is magnificently illustrated with hundreds of record covers and includes a marvelously engaging 17-track CD highlighting just some of the music this genre has produced. There’s enough to fill, well, a whole library.)

This is where we meet Emphasis, an album of library music recorded in Zurich, Switzerland in May 1975 by producer Jane Peterer for the Pick Records label by a quintet of superb Swiss musicians in a very CTI-like jazz-fusion mode. The album was issued in small quantities back in the day and somehow came to the attention of Andy Warhol, who the recent Sonorama CD’s notes indicate (rather unbelievably), told the film director Federico Fellini, “you must hear Emphasis!” Just why that might be is a complete mystery, given what is known about both of these dead people, who can neither confirm nor deny this strange quote.

Regardless, the German Sonorama label has finally resurrected this one-time rarity on CD, restoring this marvelous music to pristine availability in the digital age. The musicians on Emphasis include guitarist/bassist Pierre Cavalli (Stephane Grappelli, Freidrich Gulda, Wolfgang Dauner’s The Oimels, Ingfried Hoffmann’s Hammond Bond and composer for many little-known French TV shows), who wrote four of the disc’s 12 tracks (“Rainmaker,” “Dr. Bonnie – Mr. Clyde,” “Bad Omen” and “Leave Me Alone”), keyboardist Renato Anselmi (someone who has recorded a number of jazz albums in Sweden, most recently in the New Age tradition, and in the jazz rock band Peacock with Emphasis member Fernando Vicencio), who wrote another four of the disc’s tracks (“Mackintosh,” “Very Lights,” “Gargantua” and”Pleasant Landscape”), flautist/saxophonist Fernando Vicencio (Dizzy Reece, DRS Big Band in the 1970s), who wrote “Rocking Bird” heard here, drummer Nick Liebmann (Benny Bailey) and percussionist Curt Treier (mostly known as a drummer elsewhere, specifically with Peter Jacques, Bruno Spoerri, DRS Big Band and Helmut Zacharias). Interestingly, Vicencio, Cavalli and Treier all reunited on the 1976 Mike Barone/Victor Burghardt Orchestra album Maiden Switzerland (Discovery – issued 1978).

The sound of Emphasis is very much the sound of jazz fusion that came to be identified solely by the mighty CTI label of the early 1970s. Indeed, the three cover tunes featured on Emphasis all have a heritage that can be traced back specifically to CTI Records. First, Stevie Wonder’s “Too High” features memorably on Joe Farrell’s marvelous 1973 CTI recording Penny Arcade, the first-ever jazz cover of the fascinating tune (the song also features on several of Freddie Hubbard’s post-CTI albums). Second, Milton Nascimento’s “Vera Cruz,” first heard on the composer’s 1969 CTI album Courage was also covered on Astrud Gilberto’s 1971 CTI album Gilberto with Turrentine and a different version of the same performance also features on Stanley Turrentine’s CTI compilation LP The Sugar Man and some CDs of the tenor saxophonist’s Salt Song. Finally, Gene McDaniels’ “Feel Like Making Love” featured on Bob James’ 1974 CTI record One (James, and much of the rhythm section on the CTI recording, figured largely on the original song recorded by Roberta Flack).

Some of the record recalls familiar sounds in the jazz fusion so prevalent at the time. “Mackintosh,” for instance, recalls Tom Scott in his L.A. Express role or even his TV soundtrack mode of the period (though Vicencio plays an electric sax) or some Southern Comfort-era music of The Crusaders. “Very Lights” is sort of what would have happened if the Headhunters met in a sort of showdown with Return to Forever. The fascinating “Gargantua” suggests 1975-era Weather Report – from the Shorter-esque soprano sax to the varying stylistic changes – as if filtered through quite a number of other fusion groups of the period (this is slightly before the group would have hit it big with “Birdland”). “Leave Me Alone” can not be mistaken for anything other than the music Deodato was producing at CTI and MCA between 1972 and 1976 (a little electric jazz and a little schmaltz soundtrack mixed together in a beguiling brew).

The remainder of the record is very much like so much of the soundtrack music of the period – but these are also undoubtedly the best numbers on the record. The Cabildo’s Three-like “Rainmaker” (with a very John Tropea sounding guitar solo), the Schifrin-esque “Rocking Bird” (with its immaculate flute lead recalling something that could have come out of Enter The Dragon), the Piero Umiliani-meets-The Sunshine Band (!) “Dr. Bonnie – Mr. Clyde,” “Bad Omen” (slightly reminiscent of Augusto Martelli’s Il Dio Serpente) and the predictably pastoral “Pleasant Landscape,” fused with enough interesting key changes to suggest the storm over the horizon (sort of like the way Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” accompanied a love sequence in Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty For Me). All are all classic examples of great jazz fusion that made for immediately exciting listening upon initial hearing – but stuff that couldn’t be bought for love nor money at your local record shop.

Fortunately, that’s all changed now. And, really, you must hear Emphasis. It's excellent.

The truly beautiful original cover art is maintained for Sonorama’s lovely digipak release, featuring session photos and liner notes in three languages.

"Life on Mars" by Dexter Wansel

Today’s disco discovery: the incredibly spaced-out jazz funk classic “Life on Mars” from the album Life on Mars (Philadelphia International, 1976) by Dexter Wansel – always one of my favorites.

Produced, arranged and written by Dexter Wansel. Dexter Wansel: keyboards, synthesizers, vocals. Al Harrison: trumpet, flugelhorn. Bobby Malach: saxophone, flute. Calvin Harris: guitar. Derrick Graves: bass. Darryl Brown: drums, percussion. Barbara Ingram, Carla Benson, Evette Benson: backing vocals. Another great one recorded at the famed Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia, Pa.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

“Warp Factor II” by Montana

Today’s disco discovery: the funky, jazzed-up disco classic “Warp Factor II” from the terrific album A Dance Fantasy Inspired By Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (Atlantic, 1978) by Montana.

Produced, Arranged and Conducted by Vincent Montana, Jr. Vincent Montana, Jr.: percussion, vibraharp, tympani, bells. Keith Errol Benson, Allan Schwartzberg: drums. Jimmy De Julio, Neil Jason, James L. Williams: bass. Bobby Eli, Norman Harris, Ron James: guitars. Cotton Kent, Ron Kersey: keyboards. Larry Washington: conga. Bill O’Brien: synthesizer. Don Renaldo, Christine Reeves, Rudolph Malizia, Charles Appolonia, Charles Parker, Leonore Wolaniuk, Diane Barnett: violin. Anthony Sinagoga, Davis Barnett: viola. Richard Amoroso: cello. Walter Dewey Pfeil: harp. Jack Faith: flute, piccolo, tenor sax. Joseph De Angelis: French horn; Rocco Bene, Even Solot, Joseph Cataldo: trumpets. Roger De Lillo, Robert Moore, Richard Genovese: trombones. Edmund Moore. Recorded at the famed Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia, Pa. “A Tom Moulton Mix”!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Patrick Gleeson’s Star Wars

In 1977, synthesizer progenitor Patrick Gleeson released one of the countless tributes to John Williams’ ground-breaking Star Wars score on the Mercury label. But of all the many covers this score and its main theme received at the time and since, there are few that are as artistically successful and creatively pleasurable as this particularly entrancing endeavor.

Whereas so many others tried to make something commercial out of Star Wars - Meco, of course – and others tried to make the music something it wasn’t (jazz, for example, as Don Ellis attempted), and others still just reproduced the music as is, Gleeson recognizes Star Wars for the contemporary classic it was and how it provided the perfect sketchpad for his particularly colorful electronic palette.

Gleeson clearly admires and respects George Lucas as a mythmaker and one of the great all-time storytellers, John Williams as a composer of timeless, classical stature and Star Wars as one of the great products of Twentieth Century music. There’s no disco beats or R2D2 Moog nonsense here, although the Moog synthesizer obviously figures largely throughout. Gleeson takes this stuff seriously and delivers serious music too.

Tony Maygarden writes that Patrick Gleeson began experimenting with electronic music in the mid-'60s at the Mills College Tape Music Center using a Buchla synth and other devices. Upon hearing Walter Carlos' Switched-On Bach in 1968, he left his job in academics, bought a Moog synthesizer, and started Different Fur studios in San Francisco.

In 1971 Gleeson began playing with jazz great Herbie Hancock, and his Arp 2600 synth playing can be heard on Hancock's Crossings and Sextant [he is also part of other such Mwandishi band albums as Eddie Henderson’s Realizations, Julian Priester’s Love, Love and Bennie Maupin’s excellent Slow Traffic to the Right and Moonscapes, both of which were also produced by Gleeson too]. He toured with Hancock's band during this period. Gleeson has worked with many other jazz musicians, including Lenny White, Freddie Hubbard, Charles Earland, Joe Henderson and others. He last toured with Stomu Yamashta's band in 1977.

In 1976 he released his first solo album of synthesized music, Beyond the Sun - An Electronic Portrait of Holst's "The Planets" . The album is dedicated to "Robert Moog and W. Carlos." Walter Carlos also contributed the liner notes: "...Gleeson's grasp of color -- orchestral, textural, infinitely elastic shades of subtle grays and contrasts between families of timbre -- is simply stunning." A beautiful sounding recording, Beyond the Sun was nominated for a "best engineered recording-classical" Grammy in 1976.

Recorded at Different Fur, San Francisco in July 1977, Patrick Gleeson’s Star Wars is hard to classify. It’s equal parts jazz, rock and classical yet it sounds nothing like any of these three genres. It’s a mix that works quite nicely, though. There are plenty of superlative players on board here, transcending any mimicry far above plagiarism or disco copycatism. Other than Gleeson – on any number of keyboards – listeners here can witness Tower of Power’s Lenny Picket (sic) on the electronic lyricon and “E-mu,” Ronnie Beck, Billy Cobham, James Levi and (Headhunter) Harvey Mason on drums, a string section and arrangements by Gleeson, Charles Mims (Patrice Rushen) and Andy Narrel (sic – presumably the same guy now known as a steel drummer).

Much of the music is familiar, from the main theme (which Gleeson’s liner notes indicates shares a hip funk bass line that is very 1977 with a late 50s bass line to commemorate Luke Skywalker’s “throwback to the science fiction hero of the fifties”) to the well-known and oft-parodied “Star Wars Cantina Music” (which, in Gleeson’s hands, has a surprising flair for the big-band jazz Williams’ theme honors so nicely). Both of these performances, as expected, wound up as the 45-rpm single release from this album.

The superbly melodic “Princess Leia’s Theme” (also covered memorably by David Matthews on his excellent 1977 CTI album Dune) sounds like it could have come directly from Miroslav Vitous’ wonderful and hugely underrated 1976 album Magical Shepherd (which featured Herbie Hancock playing most of the keyboards Gleeson plays here), but is nowhere near as profoundly “out there” as Vitous’ album must seem to many. Gleeson offers up a tremendously tuneful performance of an exceptionally memorable Williams tune that probably deserved to find life – in this version or some other format – as a pop radio staple.

Gleeson shows an especial talent for art rock classicism in “The Tatooine Desert” (suggesting similar ideas put forth by Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and others) and “Droids” and caps things off with the surprisingly funky “Ben Kenobi’s Theme,” boasting a terrifically supple string arrangement that suggests (of all people!) Henry Mancini. My copy of the record ends with a synthesizer lick from “Ben Kenobi’s Theme” engraved into the vinyl groove which keeps on playing and playing unless your turntable has an automatic tone arm (the funny thing about this is I picked up my copy of the album recently at a new coffee/art/record shop in Cleveland called Loop!).

The album’s highlight is the transfixing “Death Star,” a worthy sample and one of the greatest examples of keyboard jazz-rock ever heard. Gleeson constructs an electronic concerto here, delivered with an orchestral precision that never ever feels forced, phony or fatigued. Gleeson weaves a string orchestra and voices into his exciting arrangement that takes the otherwise well-known theme light years away from its video-game familiarity.

Patrick Gleeson’s “Death Star” is a grand moment and only one of the best reasons to search for Patrick Gleeson’s Star Wars. There is a galaxy of other good reasons too. This record, "Patrick Gleeson's stunning and surreal interpretation of the music from the film" (the album jacket's hyperbole is actually right on the money this time), deserves to be much, much, much better known.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Agatha Christie’s Poirot - Series 4

Agatha Christie’s Poirot – An Introduction
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 1
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 2
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 3

1. The ABC Murders (first broadcast January 5, 1992): Hercule Poirot receives a taunting letter indicating that something noteworthy will occur in Andover on the 21st. On the appointed day, a Mrs. Alice Asher is found murdered in her shop with an open A.B.C. rail guide close by her side. Her ex-husband is immediately considered a suspect for the murder until another letter appears indicating the occurrence of something more in Bexhill-on-Sea on the 25th. Miss Elizabeth Barnard is found strangled that day on the beach, also with an open A.B.C. rail guide near her body. Then, Poirot receives a letter indicating that a further misdeed is scheduled for Churston on the 29th. Unfortunately because the letter is misaddressed, Poirot only receives the letter on the 29th, when Sir Carmichael Clarke is discovered battered on his estate in Churston with an open A.B.C. rail guide by his side. Poirot and the police are baffled and the media grasps hold of the sensational story, terrifying the entire country as the ABC Murderer seemingly goes through the alphabet in a murderous rampage. A group of the survivors, including Mrs. Asher’s niece, Miss Barnard’s boyfriend and her sister and Carmichael Clarke’s secretary and his brother, band together with Poirot to investigate. Then, Poirot receives another letter alerting him a few days ahead of the next murder in Doncaster on the 11th of the following month. First published in 1935, “The A.B.C. Murders” was first filmed in 1966 as a spoof called The Alphabet Murders, with Tony Randall as a very Clouseau-like Poirot and Robert Morley as the goofier-than Nigel Bruce’s Watson-like sidekick, Hastings. It’s no surprise that this film was written by the same writing team that gave us the bizarre and utterly ridiculous Miss Marple films starring Margaret Rutherford. Like those films, The Alphabet Murders has little to do with Agatha Christie’s story

Agatha Christie’s engrossing and sadly too believable novel presages any number of actual thrill-kill serial killers – who are far scarier than the fictional one presented here - namely the Zodiac killer of the sixties. But of course, England had already suffered the Jack the Ripper slayings (referenced by the author in Chapter 8) to have some knowledge of serial killings by the time this novel appeared. There is something especially notable in Christie’s use of publicity in the novel, something of a character all its own. She doesn’t really make a big deal of it. But the references to publicity throughout are especially prescient, given the number of killers who have since sought attention via publicity, the number of innocents claiming to be guilty in order to acquire some modicum of publicity and the number of citizens that do right (or wrong) not because its right (or wrong) but because it benefits their acquisition of publicity. Miss Christie’s style had certainly come into its own by the time of this 1935 novel and nicely references the earlier Poirot novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) in Chapter 1 and even alludes to the forthcoming Poirot novel Cards on the Table (1936) in Chapter 2. She plants clues that were always there among the rabble for all to see that could not possibly be detected by the average reader until a second reading – making her sleuth a keen observer and most brilliant spotter of consistencies. In this case, stockings are dropped in rather cleverly for those who want a hint at what’s going on.

Clive Exton again returns to helm this dramatization, which stays remarkably faithful to the original novel with only a few exceptions. One is the ridiculous but amusing framing device of Poirot welcoming Hastings back from an extended stay in South America, where the Captain has bagged a crocodile he had stuffed as a gift for Poirot. Another places Japp at the helm of the crimes, replacing the book’s clueless Inspector Crome and several others involved in different parishes, including Japp himself. Still another is the grandly staged horse race in Doncaster, to which the entire investigative group is dispatched to watch out for something they could never possibly find. Exton’s script also glosses over the unexplained murder in Doncaster (in the book, the Alphabet Killer kills an “E,” not a “D” – in the film, you don’t know who the victim is) and allows Poirot to use his little grey cells to solve the real nature of the killings much earlier on than he does in the book. One slip Exton makes is assuming that Mrs. Asher’s niece inherits when the woman has a surviving husband. But the script fortunately does away with Christie’s (unnecessarily symbolic) references to children’s author E. Nesbit that help Poirot solve the mystery and the even sillier idea of Poirot having the guilty person’s gun disarmed without his knowing.

While in the book, Cust attends screenings of a non-existent film called “Not A Sparrow” (a reference from the chapter of Matthew in the Bible often cited as an example of God’s awareness of every life, no matter how small), Andrew Grieve’s film has Cust attending several showings of Alfred Hitchock’s real 1932 film Number 17. And like many films of the 30s, Grieve’s film uses multiple spinning newspapers to (comically) convey information and push the story along as well as, more importantly (and more seriously), reflect the public’s anxiety over the serial killings.

All in all, this feature-length presentation of The ABC Murders (with no periods, as in the novel) is a near perfect representation of Agatha Christie’s beguiling book, with principals David Suchet, Hugh Fraser and, particularly, Philip Jackson (who gets some of the film’s funniest lines) in particularly fine fettle. Nicholas Farrell (Donald Fraser) also appeared memorably in the 2005 Poirot film The Mystery of the Blue Train as Knighton while Miranda Forbes (Mrs. Turton) also appeared earlier in the Poirot series as the Landlady in Double Sin. David McAlister (Inspector Glen) also appeared in the 1987 Miss Marple film Sleeping Murder as Raymond West.

2. Death in the Clouds (first broadcast January 12, 1992): On a return flight to England from France, Hercule Poirot is joined by such passengers as Lady Cicely Horbury, socialite Venetia Kerr, the dentist Norman Gale, the detective-fiction writer Daniel Clancy, the young and handsome French archaeologist Jean Dupont and Mademoiselle Giselle, a mysterious woman who resides in Paris. Poirot’s discomfort with air travel permits him to sleep through much of the flight, though, during the course of the flight a wasp appears to annoy some of the passengers. Then it is discovered that Mademoiselle Giselle has died sometime during the flight. Poirot is awakened by the commotion and begins to look into the matter. At first it is believed the woman died as the result of a bite from the wasp. But a dart laced with poison is soon discovered nearby, leading Poirot to conclude that the lady’s death is murder. All aboard the plane deny knowing the woman. The investigation reveals that the woman was a well-to-do money lender for English society types. It soon turns out that the few suspects, which remarkably even include Poirot, have either means or motive for murder. But who had the opportunity? Poirot investigates, as much to clear his character as to discover the real murderer.

First published in 1935 under the title “Death in the Air” and known also as “Mystery in the Air,” Death in the Clouds commemorates the beginning of a regular London-Paris air service using converted bombers as aircraft. Like The Yellow Iris (1937) several years later, the curiously plotted Death in the Clouds turns on a murder committed in full view of all witnesses because the murderer disguises themselves as a servant who, most remarkably, is not normally noticed at all by anyone present. Mr. Clancy allows the author (at least in the book) to get in a couple of satiric comments on writers and the writing process – as well as Japp’s jabs against detective-story writers’ constant go at making the police seem like idiots, presaging Ariadne Oliver’s presence in Christie’s stories, which begin with the following year’s Poirot novel Cards on the Table (note too that the book’s Clancy has a thing for bananas much as Miss Oliver has a thing for apples!). The book even enters into many thoughtful passages about “foreigner phobia” that forces Miss Christie to make Hercule Poirot a suspect too (the film glazes over this rather jokingly, and the very un-P.C. humor isn’t dwelled upon for very long, for very good reason).

The film, scripted by William Humble in his only Poirot outing, excises a number of characters on the murderous flight (James Ryder, Jean’s father, Armand Dupont, Dr. Roger Bryant and two male flight attendants) and changes Jane Grey from a hairdresser’s assistant to a flight attendant and morphs her into Poirot’s girl Friday (the film even makes brief – and accurate – reference to the character’s name deriving from a 16th century queen). Humble’s script does away with several unnecessary items such as Giselle’s little book, Giselle’s manservant, curiously named Georges, Poirot’s ridiculous (and obviously feminine) matchmaking and the investigator’s involvement in a faux blackmail plot to flush out one of the suspect’s connection to the dead woman (the film uses disguise, as does the book, to flesh out several suspects). Unlike the film, the book does not send Japp to Paris, which seems a bit far fetched in the first place. The book also makes several references to the earlier Parisian Poirot plot, Murder on the Links (1923), particularly in Chapters 6 and 11, and to the previous year Poirot novel, Murder on The Orient Express (1934) in Chapter 21.

Actor turned director Stephen Whittaker helmed this presentation of Death in the Clouds, his only film in the Poirot series, which presents a number of appropriately scenic shots in Paris, including the Sacré-Cœur Basilica at Montmartre (which Suchet’s Poirot claims “looks like an enormous birthday cake”), the Palais-Royal, a Salvador Dali exhibit somewhere in the city, the Champ de Mars at the Eiffel Tower and a scene at the chic La Palette bistro. One significant alteration of the script takes the story’s participants from various enjoyments at Le Pinet to a more logical presence at the French Open, named after aviator Roland Garros (which prompts a clever bit of scripting, when the sport-opposed Poirot is questioned about going to Wimbledon, something he’d done earlier – but not for tennis-related reasons – as part of The Veiled Lady).

The film makes several other notable but not entirely judicious changes, including Clancy’s even more bizarre behavior (his fictional character tells him what to write!) and Lord Horbury’s unnecessary visit to Poirot’s office. Even more significantly, the film raises the question of complicity in Giselle’s daughter, who shows up much later in the book than in the unnecessarily mysterious way she is presented in the film. Giselle’s daughter is a somewhat innocent victim in the book. But the film implies that she is undoubtedly an unwitting participant or someone who is stupidly blind to the bizarre nature of her very unusual situation. One of the stranger changes sees the film’s Japp traveling to Paris in pursuit of the criminal and taking over French police inspector Fournier’s office and investigation in much the same unbelievable way as FBI man Mr. Burt takes over Japp’s office and investigation in the film version of The Adventure of the Cheap Flat.

When examined closely, it’s not an entirely satisfying plot, especially given the much larger size of present-day commuter flights. But, strangely, it is supremely engaging and engrossing, whether you’re reading it or watching this film of the story. Amand Royle (Venetia Kerr) also appeared in the 1987 Miss Marple film At Bertram’s Hotel

3. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (first broadcast January 19, 1992): Mr. Morley, a dentist, is discovered dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound on the very day he has kept an appointment with Hercule Poirot. Curiously, the dentist’s receptionist is also called away under what turns out to be false pretences on the same day of the dentist’s death. The investigation leads to other people scheduled to see the dentist on that day, including the prominent financier Alistair Blunt, a Miss Mabelle Sainsbury Seale, just back from India, and a new patient named Mr. Amberiotis, also recently arrived from India. Soon thereafter Mr. Amberiotis is found dead of an anesthetic overdose, which seemingly provides corroboration for why the dentist might have taken his own life. Then Miss Sainsbury Seale disappears. Weeks later, a woman answering to the lady’s description is discovered dead with her face smashed in at the vacated apartment of one Mrs. Chapman. But dental records reveal that the dead woman is not Miss Sainsbury Seale but rather the mysterious Mrs. Chapman. Poirot determines that each death is murder and sets about finding the culprits of each crime.

First published in 1940 and in the US in 1941 as The Patriotic Murders (published again in the US under the equally absurd title An Overdose Of Death), One, Two, Buckle My Shoe seemingly witnesses Agatha Christie’s fear of and respect for dentists (note Death in the Clouds and the obvious suspect in The Cornish Mystery). Perhaps, though, it is more akin to Alfred Hitchcock’s well-known portrayal of the police. It is also yet another of Christie’s stories that significantly employs disguise as deception and, at least in this case, it is the disguise – the titular buckle – that helps Poirot untangle the web of deceit on hand (pay attention again to the stocking, as in The ABC Murders). The clever plot turns on any number of unbelievable coincidences, mostly involving Mr. Amberiotis’s convenient appearance at this particular dentist at this particular time and the murderer’s hard-to-fathom knowledge of the dentist’s receptionist, Grace Neville, and her friend, Frank Carter. Still, it’s a corker of a plot that inserts a bit more of Miss Christie’s politics than has been evident before – though a strictly political reading of the story might be a far-fetched way at determining the author’s political point of view, other than, perhaps, to suggest a possible turning away from long-held conservative values.

Clive Exton’s script does away with Morley’s partner, Reilly (and his list of suspect patients), the overwhelming suggestion of espionage – as suggested by subplots concerning a retired official from the Home Office, Mr. Barnes, a radical fellow romancing Blunt’s niece and a trivially-handled assassination attempt on the Prime Minister – a conveniently titled book being read by the dentist’s pageboy (“Death at 11:45”) and the presence of Poirot’s manservant, George. The script also makes the time difference between India and the present ten years, when the book evinces a nearly unbelievable gap of almost twenty years. The film’s prologue outlines the whole India affair most colorfully with a performance of Much Ado About Nothing, which also deals with multiple marriages, and the visit of the Prince of Wales to Calcutta. A most significant change makes Helen a “secretary” rather than a “second cousin” – either, though, seems too difficult to readily accept. The film, directed by Ross Devenish who previously helmed The Mysterious Affair at Styles, adds the visualization of two little girls playing hopscotch, repeatedly singing the nursery rhyme that gives this story its title, some lovely settings and a real Mrs. Chapman. Joanna Phillips-Lane gives a tremendous performance in a number of differing parts. Peter Blythe (1934-2004), who appears as Blunt, also appeared on the 1983 “Finessing the King” episode of Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime while Rosalind Knight (Georgina Morley) also appeared in the 2006 Marple film The Moving Finger. The highly distinctive Helen Horton (Julia Olivera) also appeared in the 1987 Miss Marple film At Bertram’s Hotel as Mrs. Cabot and, just as distinctively, in the 1972 film of Agatha Christie’s Endless Night (as Auth Beth – “we were shocked!”). Christopher Eccelston (Frank Carter) appears here right before his better known appearances as DCI David Billborough on the great Robbie Coltrane series Cracker.

Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 5
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 6
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 7
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 8
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 9
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 10
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 11
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 12

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Johnny Hodges on Lone Hill Jazz

During the sixties, while actively touring, recording and serving as one of the star soloists in the relentlessly restless Duke Ellington Orchestra, the great alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges (1906-70) maintained a pretty active social life as a leader himself. Hodges often appeared on the Verve label and most frequently in the company of organist Wild Bill Davis (1918-95).

There was an influx of new talent coming into jazz during this period and many of the Johnny Hodges records of the sixties capitalized on this fact, to almost no fanfare then and far too little remembrance today.

Of course, a great deal of Duke Ellington’s music – and Billy Strayhorn’s too – can be heard here and superbly appreciated in a vastly different environment than Ellington often provided for the saxophonist.

Johnny Hodges had one of the most beautiful and distinctive sounds in all of jazz – a wail of love that was like one of the aural world’s most unique voices: sad and unyielding but powerfully uplifting all the same. Ellington himself wrote plenty of features for the alto saxophonist throughout Hodges’s long tenure with the orchestra, including “Jeep’s Blues,” “Hodge Podge” and, of course, “Isfahan.”

Wild Bill Davis proved to be an amiable and most remarkable foil for the saxophonist. Davis himself joined the Ellington orchestra from 1969 to 1971 and can be heard on some of Hodges’s last recordings with Ellington, namely on the exceptional New Orleans Suite (Atlantic, 1970).

The Spanish label Lone Hill Jazz has picked up many of Johnny Hodges’s records, especially those many forgotten releases of the 1960s, reissuing on CD a great number of wonderful performances that amount to something of a definitive study of the alto saxophonist during the period. The quality of the recordings is quite good and, in most likelihood, the releases are quite legitimate.

However you look at it, it’s great to have so much of Johnny Hodges’s formidable recordings available on CD. All of these recordings are wonderful to witness and a very highly recommended part of Ellingtonian musical lore. (Please note: the listings below correspond to tracks issued on the original LPs. None of the CDs detailed here contain any of the unissued tracks from the original recording sessions.)

Blue Hodge - Johnny Hodges/Wild Bill Davis Featuring Les Spann & Mundell Lowe: Combines the entire August 1961 recording Blue Hodge (Verve V6-8406) with Johnny Hodges on alto sax, Wild Bill Davis on organ, Les Spann on guitar and flute, Sam Jones on Bass and Louis Hayes on drums (featuring the three Gary McFarland compositions “Blue Hodge,” “Why Are You Blue?” and “Knuckles”) with the seven April 1964 recordings issued on Blue Rabbit (Verve V6-8599 – the remainder of this LP’s titles are included on the CD Mess of Blues below) with Johnny Hodges, Wild Bill Davis, Mundell Lowe on guitar, Richard Davis on bass and Osie Johnson on drums and the four October 1966 tracks from Blue Notes (Verve V6-8680 – the remainder of this LP’s titles are included on the CD Con Soul & Jazz – Wild Bill Is The Boss! below). Tracks:

01. And Then Some
02. I Wonder Why
03. Azure Te
04. Blue Hodge
05. Hodge Podge
06. It Shouldn't Happen To A Dream
07. Why Are You Blue?
08. Knuckles
09. Stand By Blues
10. There Is No Greater Love
11. Blues O'Mighty
12. Fiddler's Fancy
13. Things Ain't What They Used To Be
14. Wisteria
15. Satin Doll
16. Mud Pie
17. Rent City
18. Sometimes I'm Happy
19. The Midnight Sun Will Never Set
20. Sneakin' Up On You

Buenos Aires Blues - Johnny Hodges Quintet with Lalo Schifrin: Combines the 1973 album Previously Unreleased Recordings (Verve V6-8834), a March 1963 recording that was not issued for some reason at the time, featuring the piano and arrangements of Lalo Schifrin, and the entire 1962 album The Eleventh Hour (Verve V6-8492), an August 1962 recording featuring Johnny Hodges paired with a string orchestra arranged and conducted by Oliver Nelson. On the 1963 recording, Hodges and Schifrin are accompanied by Barry Galbraith on guitar, George Duvivier on bass and Dave Bailey on drums (two Schifrin originals are here too: “Dreary Days” and “B.A. Blues”). The 1962 recording features Hodges and Oliver Nelson’s orchestra accompanied by Bernie Leighton on piano and organ, George Duvivier on bass, Osie Johnson on drums. Tracks:

01. Mama Knows
02. I’m In Another World
03. Dreary Days
04. I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me
05. B. A. Blues
06. Wanderlust
07. All Too Soon
08. Somebody Loves Me
09. Away From You
10. Something To Live For
11. In A Sentiment Mood
12. I Didn’t Know About You
13. Guitar Amour
14. You Blew Out The Flame (In My Heart)
15. Theme From “The Eleventh Hour”
16. Love song From “Mutiny on the Bounty”
17. Solitude
18. Satin Doll
19. Don’t Blame Me
20. Prelude To A Kiss
21. Warm Valley

Mess Of Blues - Johnny Hodges/Wild Bill Davis Featuring Kenny Burrell: Combines the entire September 1963 recording Mess of Blues (Verve V6-8570) with Johnny Hodges on alto sax, Wild Bill Davis on organ, Kenny Burrell on guitar and Ed Shaunessey or Osie Johnson on drums with the three May 1963 Burrell tracks from Blue Rabbit (Verve V6-8599 – the remainder of this LP’s titles are included on the CD Blue Hodge above) featuring Hodges, Davis and Burrell as well as Jack Lesberg or Wendell Marshall on bass and Bobby Durham on drums and the entire January 1966 recording of Stride Right with Hodges and Burrell and Earl Hines on organ and piano, Richard Davis on bass and Joe Marshall on drums. Tracks:

01. Jones
02. I Cried For You
03. Love You Madly
04. Little John, Little John
05. Stolen Sweets
06. A & R Blues
07. Lost In Meditation
08. I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart
09. Tangerine
10. Creole Love Call
11. Caution Blues (Blues In Thirds)
12. Stride Right
13. Rosetta
14. Perdido
15. Fantastic, That's You
16. Tale Of The Fox
17. I'm Beginning To See Th e Light
18. C Jam Blues
19. Tippin' In

Joe’s Blues - Johnny Hodges/Wild Bill Davis Featuring Grant Green: Combines the entire January 1965 recording of Joe’s Blues (Verve V6-8617) with Lawrence Brown on trombone, Johnny Hodges on alto sax, Wild Bill Davis on organ, Grant Green on guitar, Bob Bushnell or Bob Cranshaw on bass and Grady Tate on drums with the entire July 1965 recording of Wings & Things (Verve V6-8630), featuring Brown, Hodges and Green as well as Wild Bill Davis on organ for five of the album’s eight tracks, Hank Jones on piano for three tracks, Richard Davis on bass and Ben Dixon on drums. Tracks:

01. Joe's Blues
02. I'll Walk Alone
03. Harmony In Harlem
04. Warm Valley
05. Wild Bill Blues
06. Somebody Loves Me
07. Solitude
08. Clementine
09. Wings And Things
10. Spotted Dog
11. Casanova
12. Dow De Dow Dow Dow
13. Peg O' My Heart
14. The Nearness Of You
15. Imbo
16. Take The "A" Train

Con Soul & Jazz – Wild Bill Is The Boss! - Johnny Hodges/Wild Bill Davis: Combines the entire January 1965 recording of Con Soul & Sax (RCA LPM-3393) with Wild Bill Davis on organ, Johnny Hodges on alto sax, Dickie Thompson and Mundell Lowe on guitar, Milt Hinton or George Duvivier on bass and Osie Johnson on drums with the entire Wild Bill Davis & Johnny Hodges In Atlantic City (RCA LPM-3706) –which has been issued as a domestic CD – with Davis and Hodges accompanied by Lawrence Brown on trombone, Bob Brown on tenor sax and flute, Dickie Thompson on guitar and Bobby Durham on drums and the entire Blue Pyramid (Verve V6-8635) recorded on three occasions between November 1965 and January 1966 (in between the sessions which yielded the underrated session with Lawrence Welk, of all people!) with Hodges accompanied by Larry Young on organ (!), Bill Sacher on guitar, Bob Bushnell on bass and Joe Marshall on drums on one track and Lawrence Brown on trombone, Jimmy Hamilton on clarinet, Wild Bill Davis on organ, Billy Butler on guitar, Bob Bushnell on bass and Herbie Lovelle, Johnny Hodges, Jr. or Joe Marshall on drums. Also included on this double-disc CD are five of the nine tracks of the 1966 Johnny Hodges album Blue Notes (Verve V6-8680 – without Wild Bill Davis – the remainder of this LP’s tracks are issued on the CD Blue Hodge above) and the only four tracks of Johnny Hodges’s almost unknown 1963 album Sandy’s Gone (Verve V6-8561), arranged by Claus Ogerman, that feature Wild Bill Davis (“Sandy's Gone,” “Candy's Theme,” “The Caretakers Theme” and “Again”). Tracks:

CD 1
01. On The Sunny Side Of The Street
02. On Green Dolphin Street
03. Lil' Darlin'
04. Con Soul And Sax
05. The Jeep Is Jumpin,'
06. I'm Beginning To See The Light
07. Sophisticated Lady
08. Drop Me Off In Harlem
09. No One
10. Johnny Come Lately
11. Just Squeeze Me
12. It's Only A Paper Moon
13. Taffy
14. Good Queen Bess
15. L.B. Blues
16. In A Mellow Tone
17. Rockville

CD 2
01. I'll Always Love You
02. It Don't Mean A Thing
03. Belle Of The Belmont
04. Blues For Madeleine
05. When I'm Feeling Kinda Blue
06. Pyramid
07. Nonchalance
08. At Dawn
09. Th e Brown-Skin Gal In The Calico Gown
10. Stormy Weather
11. Rabbit Out Of The Hat
12. Hash Brown
13. Blue Notes
14. Say It Again
15. I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me
16. Broad Walk
17. L.B. Blues
18. Sandy's Gone
19. Candy's Theme
20. The Caretakers Theme
21. Again

What’s not here (yet): Eight tracks from the little-known Sandy’s Gone (four tracks from this LP appear on the CD Con Soul & Jazz – Wild Bill Is The Boss! above); Everybody Knows Johnny Hodges (Impulse, 1964 – issued on domestic CD); the surprisingly wonderful Lawrence Welk & Johnny Hodges (Dot, 1965 – issued on domestic CD); Triple Play (RCA, 1967 – issued on domestic CD); Don’t Sleep In The Subway (Verve, 1967); Swing’s Our Thing (Verve, 1967) with Earl “Fatha” Hines; the very good Rippin’ and Runnin’ (Verve, 1968), with Billy Gardner on organ, Jimmy Ponder on guitar, Ron Carter on bass and Freddy Waits on drums; and the tremendous Three Shades of Blue (Flying Dutchman, 1970 – issued on French CD), arranged and conducted by Oliver Nelson.

For more information - and many more Johnny Hodges recordings from the 1940s and 1950s - visit Fresh Sound Records, which also features the Lone Hill Jazz set by Billy Strayhorn and Johnny Hodges, The Stanley Dance Sessions, a compilation of the 1959 Strayhorn septet album Cue For Saxophone (with Hodges listed as "Cue Porter") and the 1961 Verve album Johnny Hodges, Soloist/Billy Strayhorn and The Orchestra.