Sunday, 24 January 2021

Echo & The Bunnymen ‎– Original Album Series (2009)

Style: Alternative Rock, Indie Rock, New Wave
Label: Rhino Records, Korova, Sire

CD1: Crocodiles

1-01.   Going Up
1-02.   Stars Are Stars
1-03.   Pride
1-04.   Monkeys
1-05.   Crocodiles
1-06.   Rescue
1-07.   Villiers Terrace
1-08.   Pictures On My Wall
1-09.   All That Jazz
1-10.   Happy Death Men

CD2: Heaven Up Here

2-01.   Show Of Strength
2-02.   With A Hip
2-03.   Over The Wall
2-04.   It Was A Pleasure
2-05.   A Promise
2-06.   Heaven Up Here
2-07.   The Disease
2-08.   All My Colours
2-09.   No Dark Things
2-10.   Turquoise Days
2-11.   All I Want

CD3: Porcupine

3-01.   The Cutter
3-02.   The Back Of Love
3-03.   My White Devil
3-04.   Clay
3-05.   Porcupine
3-06.   Heads Will Roll
3-07.   Ripeness
3-08.   Higher Hell
3-09.   Gods Will Be Gods
3-10.   In Bluer Skies

CD4: Ocean Rain

4-01.   Silver
4-02.   Nocturnal Me
4-03.   Crystal Days
4-04.   The Yo-Yo Man
4-05.   Thorn Of Crowns
4-06.   The Killing Moon
4-07.   Seven Seas
4-08.   My Kingdom
4-09.   Ocean Rain

CD5: Echo & The Bunnymen

5-01.   The Game
5-02.   Over You
5-03.   Bedbugs And Ballyhoo
5-04.   All In Your Mind
5-05.   Bombers Bay
5-06.   Lips Like Sugar
5-07.   Lost And Found
5-08.   New Direction
5-09.   Blue Blue Ocean
5-10.   Satellite
5-11.   All My Life

Box Set Cover Photography By – Janette Beckman
Design (Heaven Up Here, Porcupine, Ocean Rain) – Martyn Atkins
Producer – All Concerned, The Bunnymen, Hugh Jones), Ian Broudie, Kingbird, Laurie Latham, The Chameleons

Call it what you will -- nostalgia, history, the collector mentality -- but filling gaps in your archives or just rediscovering an artist or album just got a whole lot cheaper with the Original Album Series.

Here, for example, are the first five Echo albums -- Crocodiles from '80, Heaven Up Here, Porcupine, Ocean Rain and their self-titled release from '87 -- which sell at $20 in New Zealand.

Okay, they aren't flash remasters or have added tracks (seriously though, who needs either?) and yes, aside from The Cutter and a couple of other tracks Porcupine isn't much cop, but at $20 for five albums you can hardly complain.

Here is their terrific debut and Ocean Rain, and Heaven Up Here also has more than a few moments. And this was the classic period for the band: their stunning drummer Pete de Freitas (killed in '89) quit before that final album and singer Ian McCullough left in '88.

Listening across these albums you can hear a band move from heroic and dramatic declamatory songs (Rescue on Crocodiles) to more crafted pop hits (The Killing Moon on Ocean Rain). The production echo also got turned off along the way.
Graham Reid / Elsewhere

Fred Weinberg ‎– The Weinberg Method Of Non-Synthetic Electronic Rock (1970)

Style: Psychedelic Rock, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Anvil Records, Q.D.K. Media

01.   1958 Revisted
02.   A Childs Life
03.   A Theme For Julie
04.   Animosity
05.   Big Fat Woman
06.   Cowboy Gregg
07.   Heavy Breathing
08.   Money Talks
09.   Keen Machine
10.   Muck De Foog
11.   Ode To Billy Joe
        Bonus Tracks
12.   Sanctuary
13.   Gumball
14.   Supersonic
15.   Aum Mau Mau
16.   Ah, Ha!
17.   El Condor Pasa
18.   Speedo

Composed By – F. Weinberg
Producer, Arranged By – Fred Weinberg

Reissue of an obscure electronic music album, originally released in 1968, with bonus tracks. Another historic event for fans of experimental exotica: Martin Denny, Bruce Haack, Pierre Henry, Dick Hyman, Perrey & Kingsley, etc., described as "a synthetic sound revolution with great songs, like Bruce Haack with a Psychedelic touch." From the LP's original liner notes: "The Weinberg Method of Non-Synthetic Electronic Rock (or the Electronic Rock Method of Non-Synthetic Weinberg) is a revolution in sound (or sound in revolution). To be more precise, the W.M.N.S.E.R., as it is affectionately known, is a way of taking the sounds of common musical instruments (twang), sounds of every day life (beep-beep), sounds of the human body (hic-cup) and altering them electronically to create a totally new concept of recording. In the hands of Mr. Weinberg, the human heart-beat becomes a bass drum, an ambulance siren becomes a slide trombone and the sound of a secretary filing her nails becomes a 24 piece string section. Undoubtedly, Fred Weinberg is the first man in history to orchestrate an alka-seltzer fizzing, a computer-card computing and a toilet flushing. When Mr. Weinberg leads his orchestra, the whole world is in the pit. One of his earliest experiments in sound was the time he recorded an ant walking on sand. Unfortunately, the experiment was cut-short by a myopic ice-cream vendor. Of course, this is not to say that Fred Weinberg was the first man ever to discover that the sounds of every day life can be more harmonious than the sounds of traditional music. For instance, George Bernhard Shaw once said, 'Nothing soothes me more, after a long and maddening day of pianoforte recitals, than to sit and have my teeth drilled.' (Shaw? Didn't he used to be the lead singer with the Del-Vikings?) To sum up, then, The Electronic Weinberg Rock of Non-Synthetic Method is simply an assortment of natural sounds that are slowed-down, speeded-up, turned upside-down and inside-out. Sound like sound never sounded before."

Guru ‎– Jazzmatazz Volume: 1 (1992)

Genre: Electronic, Hip Hop, Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Chrysalis, EMI

01.   Introduction
02.   Loungin'
03.   When You're Near
04.   Transit Ride
05.   No Time To Play
06.   Down The Backstreets
07.   Respectful Dedications
08.   Take A Look (At Yourself)
09.   Trust Me
10.   Slicker Than Most
11.   Le Bien, Le Mal
12.   Sights In The City

Vibraphone – Roy Ayers
Flute – Courtney Pine, Gary Barnacle
Guitar – Ronny Jordan, Zachary Breaux
Keyboards – Simon Law
Saxophone – Gary Barnacle
Trumpet, Piano – Donald Byrd
Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar – Lonnie Liston Smith
Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone – Courtney Pine
Vocals – Carleen Anderson, Dee C. Lee, Guru, MC Solaar, N'Dea Davenport
Producer, Mixed By, Arranged By – Guru

After a recent review of Gang Starr’s album “One of the Best Yet” featuring posthumous Guru vocals, I started thinking more about Guru’s catalogue of work both inside and outside of his best known tandem with DJ Premier. We’ve covered a few of those entries over the decades including albums like “Baldhead Slick & Da Click” and “8.0: Lost & Found“, but Keith Elam is best known outside Gang Starr for the Jazzmatazz album series. As a younger Flash I viewed these releases as a natural extension of the jazz & hip-hop fusion Gang Starr created, done so that Guru could rap with live musicians instead of flowing to samples of their work. Now that I’m older I also realize these albums also owe a debt to the creative differences that made it hard for Gang Starr to see eye to eye, frequently extending the number of years between releases for what is still one of my all time favorite rap groups.

“Peace yo, and welcome to Jazzmatazz – an experimental fusion of hip-hop and live jazz. I’m your host the Guru, that stands for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal. Now I’ve always thought of doing something like this, but I didn’t want to do it unless it was gonna be done right – know what I’m saying?”

Guru’s words in the introduction seem much more telling in retrospect. It’s implied here without being directly stated as such that Guru would not have launched this series without complete creative control over every part of the endeavor, and the fact he named it “Vol. 1” indicated right from the jump it would be an ongoing series. This wasn’t really an extension of Gang Starr at all – it was meant to be Keith Elam’s complete artistic vision done his way and “done right” in his own words. He does indeed do it right on the opening track/lead single “Loungin'”, a collaboration with jazz legend Donald Byrd playing trumpet like only he can.

This perfectly sets the tone and vibe for the rest of the album’s musical collaborations. Guru’s production proves him to be just as smooth behind the boards as on the mic, but it doesn’t get much smoother than the sultry N’Dea Davenport singing on “When You’re Near” or cooler than Branford Marsalis blowing the saxophone on “Transit Ride”. Then as now I’m struck by the irony of Branford’s younger brother Wynton Marsalis hating rap music so much. Wynton’s never been shy about expressing his opinion, which always made me think Buckshot LeFonque was Branford flipping his brother the middle finger. Family Thanksgiving must be interesting.

“No Time to Play” featuring Dee C. Lee and Big Shug on vocals (yes that’s really him crooning at the end) and Ronny Jordan on guitar was the album’s other big single. Understandably that might be where the proceedings ended for a lot of listeners, but for me the second half of “Vol. 1” is even more fascinating. Hearing Lonnie Liston Smith tickle the ivories on “Down the Backstreets” as Guru kicks his “wild monotone style”, one which he always said was best suited to the strains of jazz music, is cooler than a polar bears toenails, knahmean?

“So when you’re lookin for me, here’s where I’ll be
I’ll be walkin down the backstreets in your vicinity
Cause I been out here for a few
So all that you’re doin, ain’t really nothin new (nothin new)
I peeped the way you always perpetrate
You’re so phony, you make me wanna regurgitate
Since you’re ridin so high, you’re bound to fall
while I stand tall, and you don’t get no props at all out here”

Since I was only 18 when this album came out, the entire presentation was like an education into the world of jazz I only knew from the samples that snuck into rap tracks between P-Funk and rock music. Hearing Roy Ayers play vibraphone on “Take a Look (At Yourself)” is as much a pleasure now as it was then, and I didn’t even know what a vibraphone was back then. “Slicker Than Most” could be mistaken for a Gang Starr B-side if you’re not looking too close, but there’s Gary Barnacle playing saxophone and flute. I lucked out to have a pen pal who introduced me to MC Solaar before this album, but hearing him kick bars on “Le Bien, Le Mal” was still eye opening.

In the back of my mind I’m sitting here pondering whether I’m truly objective about this album given it was such a fundamental part of my youth, let alone the fact I still mourn Keith Elam’s passing almost a full decade after he left us. The problem is that try as I might I simply can’t find a misstep or a mistake that Guru made anywhere along the way in his plan to make sure fusing rap and jazz was “done right” on “Jazzmatazz Vol. 1“. N’Dea Davenport was good enough to be featured twice (let alone more) so “Trust Me” is just as good as “When You’re Near”. The sorrowful “Sights in the City” has so many features I won’t even list them all but they’re ALL good. Even the interludes like “Respectful Dedications” are cool as fuck.

The best part about going back to this album again may simply be hearing Guru at his prime, before the years had taken their toll on his mental state and mellow vocal tone. In the end I’ve just got to flat out tell you that for 44 minutes and 17 seconds I can’t find a single complaint to give you about “Jazzmatazz Vol. 1“, so if you only knew about Gang Starr and never sought out Guru’s solo projects before now, there’s no better one to start with.
Steve 'Flash' Juon / RapReviews