Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Guest Spots: Cassandra Wilson In A Contemporary Mood

Here's a set of Cassandra Wilson collaborations with a more contemporary feel. Styles range from jazz and soul to hip hop. The oldest song is from 1981, and the most recent was released in 2015. A few covers (of the Beatles and Prince) are included.

Cassandra Wilson was born in Mississippi. I believe she started her recording career in New Orleans with a Latin jazz group called Jasmine. She moved to New York City in 1982, and soon became involved with the M-Base Collective

After nine solo albums, Cassandra signed with Blue Note in 1993, and found immediate success with Blue Light Til Dawn. She has released another ten albums since then. Cassandra Wilson's next album will be titled Jupiter Rising. Hopefully it will be out soon, with some tour dates as well!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Guest Spots: Cassandra Wilson Sings Standards

Today is the birthday of Cassandra Wilson, one of our greatest living singers. Several sets from her stellar musical career are on the way, but let's start with standards, shall we?

Ms. Wilson is an outstanding interpreter of jazz, rock, blues and country music. Her 1995 album New Moon Daughter opened with the tragic "Strange Fruit" and concluded with a breathtaking version of Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" -- and in between, Cassandra performed unique readings of Hank Williams, Son House, "Love Is Blindness" and "Last Train To Clarksville", as well as stellar originals such as "Solomon Sang".

Today we have a collection of songs that have been essayed by innumerable balladeers over numerous decades. As with other features in this blog's "Guest Spots" series, these songs are not drawn from the artist's own albums. Cassandra Wilson has collaborated with many musicians, and has contributed songs to soundtracks and tribute albums. Romantic jazz isn't the usual fare around here, but hopefully you will find as much pleasure as I do in the richness of this extraordinary voice.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Sherwood In Dub

The Near Jazz Experience
Here's a set of dub versions and remixes produced by Adrian Sherwood during the past 20 years. Included is a track from his recent collaboration with the Near Jazz Experience (thank you to The Swamp for sharing this recording, from a NJE radio session). 

The NJE is a trio led by Terry Edwards (sax and trumpet), with Mark Bedford (Madness bassist) and drummer Simon Charterton.  Back in the 1980's, Charterton and Edwards were in the bands Serious Drinking and The Higsons. Bedders and Edwards first recorded together in 1988 as Butterfield 8.

The Voice Of Thunder (Prince Far I) is heard on two tracks: "Wise Blood" (from Echo Dek, Sherwood's dub version of Primal Scream's Vanishing Point LP); and "Garden Of Perfume" by Temple Of Sound (a tune that also features Jah Wobble and Ghetto Priest). Singers and players seem to keep reconnecting with each other in the On-Universe.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Sherwood At The Frontiers

There have been two volumes of "Sherwood At The Controls", retrospectives of Adrian Sherwood's production work. A long-promised On-U compilation of international artists called "Dub No Frontiers" has yet to be released.

"Sherwood At The Frontiers" is a homemade compilation of reggae and dub from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Today, artists from around the globe can collaborate easily online; but decades ago, Adrian Sherwood and his On-U Sound compatriots traveled to Poland, Japan, Italy, and other countries to collaborate with singers and players. 

Sherwood (among others) recognized that dub techniques could be utilized in rock, blues, jazz, rap, and the folk musics of many cultures. "Whatever I've applied my own production techniques to -- be it industrial music, funk, anything -- I've made sure the production settings are using similar space and frequencies as in those great Jamaican productions."

The artists themselves incorporate local influences (such as folk instruments, musical styles and indigenous languages). Dub from Poland (or New Zealand, or Wales) may seem unusual, but reggae is no less likely to have worldwide appeal than rock, jazz, blues or hip hop.

In this set, Adrian Sherwood produces and remixes music from Spain, Italy, France, TunisiaIndiaColombiaBrazilNZJapanPeru, and the Democratic Republic Of The Congo. Some of the artists reflect the history of the African diaspora (as does reggae itself); others have been displaced by the idiosyncrasies of modern migration. For example, Mamadou Diouf is Senegalese but lives in Warsaw.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

In The Precinct Of On-U Sound

Coneyl Jay photo of Little Annie from DP 21
The first On-U Sound Disco Plates (released in 1982-83) were 10" records that featured Kishi Yamamoto's black and white portraits, each in a bold and angular frame.

A decade later, On-U issued a second series of 10" Disco Plates, this time with monochromatic color sleeves featuring the photography of Coneyl Jay (on DP 21 through DP 27). 

In 2015, the On-U label revived the 10" Disco Plate once again with Kishi's photographs and the classic border design. The latest Disco Plate (DP 62) was released this year to accompany Lee Scratch Perry's Rainford album. (A dub version of this album, entitled Heavy Rain, has been announced for release next month.)

Some of the earliest Disco Plates were compiled in CD form, on Discoplate Collection Part 1 and Part 2Most of the Disco Plates from the early 1990's remain uncompiled, and some have never seen digital release.

Today we have five of them. Vocalists include Andy Fairley, Bim Sherman, Jesse Rae, and Little Annie, backed by the likes of Dub Syndicate and Strange Parcels. The Little Annie Disco Plates are my vinyl rips. For more of Little Annie, immerse yourself in this epic career-spanning post by my friend Nathan Nothin!

Friday, October 18, 2019

It's A Monster's Holiday!

Stinky to the rescue once again with a set of family-friendly Halloween songs. He compiled these for his nieces and nephews last October.

Everything here is appropriate for young listeners, and affectionately assembled with Stinky's fine-tuned taste in fine tunes.

Werewolves, vampires, Frankenstein and assorted monsters lurk within. The Cramps, The Ghouls and the Fuzztones are among the guests at this Halloween party. Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Screamin' Lord Sutch are both on the bill -- a double creature feature at the Monster Chiller Horror Theater!

My Thanksgiving mix from last year is still available and ready to be reheated. I will dish up something fresh here soon. Happy Fall to all y'all! 

Monday, October 7, 2019

True Or Falsetto?

"True Or Falsetto?" is the musical question posed by Stinky on this homemade album. In modern Western music, falsetto has a tradition dating back to blues and country music, doo wop, soul and pop. The falsetto voice continues today in indie rock (this Boston Globe article cites Jeff Buckley and Shudder To Think as influences on current singers.)

As a singing technique, falsetto can be used to convey passion, emotional vulnerability, theatricality, or as a demonstration of technical mastery. 

Among male singers, it can also express gender ambiguity, perhaps because of its innate artifice. We tend to equate a deep voice with machismo; a high male voice can be perceived as effeminate or emasculated. I think this ambiguity was a purposeful stylistic choice by certain glam, disco and metal performers. 

On the other hand, it requires a measure of confidence and bravery to challenge traditional male stereotypes. Falsetto can simultaneously express both tenderness and strength. It can convey loneliness, sadness and longing; or excitement, celebration and sexual attraction (as in "Got To Give It Up" or "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real").

The male falsetto voice can also heighten a sense of unease. Think of Thom Yorke, Josh Homme, or David Lynch's use of songs by Roy Orbison and Little Jimmy Scott.  Again, this may have something to do the aspect of artifice, conflicting feelings about traditional gender roles, and the risks of vulnerability. The Boston Globe quotes Wild Beasts' singer Hayden Thorpe: "“Singing in falsetto comes from a willingness to be unhinged and uninhibited, which I think is a kind of strength in itself.’’

I remember attending a Neville Brothers concert and marveling at the contrast between Aaron Neville's muscular build and his delicate voice. Singers like Neville, Smokey Robinson, and Jeff Buckley have voices of unadulterated beauty. When a falsetto harmonizes with other singers (in gospel, soul, bluegrass, doo wop or pop groups like the Beach Boys and the Hollies), the results are extraordinarily pleasing to the ear. I can't speak knowledgeably about the use of falsetto in the music of other continents: I'm only aware of a few of the world's great performers. 

These are only my thoughts, inspired by Stinky's compilation. It contains 20 songs by male singers, from the 1950's to the 1990's. If you can't get enough, visit Butterboy's blog for a hundred falsetto songs in popular music. (There is some overlap, but "True Or Falsetto" was compiled several years ago.) Many thanks once again to Stinky Le Pew!

Autumn always reminds me of one of my favorite falsetto songs, "Halloween" by The Method Actors. "Summer's over/ Here comes the weather!"