Tuesday, February 24, 2009

O Som Dos Blacks

I'm a big fan of Brazilian DJ records from the 1970s. Taking a look at the tracks that were picked and all of the pictures and documentation of that era is like a secret window into a scene that is long gone. Sure, the Baile Funk parties that continue to rage in the same neighborhoods of Rio owe alot to their precursors such as the the parties thrown by Luizinho Disc Jockey Soul and his cohorts. This particular LP is from 1977 and shows what the height of the Black Rio DJ scene was all about. This album has got some serious funk on it and most of it is pretty deep. I've picked my favorite four cuts from here, but there are some other great ones to sample. If this scene is interesting to you and you wanna learn more, check out Thomas Fawcett's excellent website - Brazil Soul Power. Further down, I embedded a clip from the film "City of God" otherwise known as "Cidade de Deus" which has a scene depicting a favela soul baile. If you haven't seen the movie, check it out (the music is SUPERB!) or just peep the video to get a taste of what one of these 1970s soul parties must have been like. You gotta love the cover of this album. You just couldn't do this in the US! But Brazilian racial politics are different and being a "white" guy who DJs "black" music you could legitimately dress up as a half-black-face uncle sam. God Bless Brazil!

Hudson County - Bim Sala Bim
This is a rare one that's been comped here and there. Killer track.

Brother Soul - Cookies
Love it. That opening must have been sampled somewhere. This should have been my theme song from my cookie-stealing adolescence.

Zulema - Wanna Be Where You Are
A great cover of this tune done in a really upbeat style.

Chocolate Milk - Never Ever Do Without You
I've always liked Chocolate Milk for their work with producer and songwriter Allen Toussaint, but I had never heard this uptempo number until Luizinho introduced me.

And here's the "City of God" video. Skip ahead to 14:00 for the beginning of the party. I recognized the following songs in this sequence:
1) Dance Across the Floor - Jimmy 'Bo' Horne
2) So Very Hard To Go - Tower of Power
3) Kung-Fu Fighting - Carl Douglas.

Also, Seu Jorge's character is getting down at this party, towards the end.

The following are all images from the back of the LP. The miracle of modern technology is that I can take pictures and blow them up. These are the best of the bunch. I particularly like Luizinho's "O Som Dos Blacks" logo!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Stormy Monday

So, what they tell me is that THIS is what a February in San Francisco is supposed to be like, as opposed to the 70+ degree sun-drenched weekends we'd experienced earlier in 2009. It's been raining off and on for more than a week now. God knows California needs it! But like I mentioned in my previous post, there's something comforting about knowing that your activities are limited to what you can take care of indoors.

I've been meaning to post this tune for awhile and naturally, the timing had to be just right. Here we are on a stormy Monday listening to Latimore's classic rendition of this tune.

Latimore - Stormy Monday
It didn't occur to me until after I wiki-ed the song that I probably first really listened to this song on the Allman Brothers live at Fillmore East album. Latimore's version is such a breath of fresh air and such an unexpected hit tune for this warhorse of Florida Soul music. He takes on this classic without much modern adornment except for the electric piano. But Latimore is clearly comfortable playing the blues as he masterfully covers this oft-covered classic as if he woke up with a bad case of the mondays. My fiance, Jamie, likes to think she's a low-maintenance kinda girl, which I'm thankful to say she is . . . most of the time. Knowing me as she does and my fondness for musical references, particularly cheesy ones, she likes to tease me by saying she's "easy like Sunday morning," to which I usually respond, "you mean easy like Monday morning." Ouch! Burn!

He is Standing By!

Ok I'm going to get a little bit obsessive. But in my approximately 25 years of chasing records, I have rarely been as impressed by a tune in the way I'm impressed with "Step Forward" by Leroy Stewart. I really care about this record. Might be my favorite recording ever.

In a way, it isn't special at all. A little about the record business in the place where this it comes from—Jamaica, West Indies: in the 1970s the commerce was (and to a lesser extent still is) all about 45s, not albums. These 45s were released at a frantic pace, recorded and mixed quickly and pressed on cheap crackly vinyl with the record label applied out-of-center and the song title sometimes written by hand, or not at all.

Vocalists were dime-a-dozen, often lining up outside the studios for a chance to impress a producer with their skills and perhaps get a chance at the microphone to earn a few bucks. Dozens of tunes might be recorded over the same popular backing track, and producers would work to make it sound different each time, through the mixing. Engineers might mix 3,4, 10 records in a day.

My point is that "Step Forward" is something that was produced quickly in assembly-line fashion, to the extent that the people who made it might not even remember doing it. But that's also part of the charm. When you're one of too many singers in the neighborhood who want to make a record for a pretty well-known producer, the pressure is on to perform well.

This is gospel music, straight up. This vocalist—who to our knowledge didn't make any other records—has a delivery that can only come from a total devotion to what he's saying. He probably grew up singing in the church, like many Jamaican singers then and now. But there's something truly exceptional about this performance. All I can hear is a hungry guy who, after an eternity of waiting to make a record, finally gets his chance, and just leaves his entire soul on the tape.

But apart from the virtuoso singing, there are a few other strange and wonderful features of this record. For some reason, 100% of the vocal sound is on one side of the stereo spectrum [stereo means there's two tracks, one for each speaker, but usually they have a lot in common], such that you basically have an instrumental on the other track. The production is super spare, like there's a cathedral of space between the instruments.

But my favorite thing about it just might be there by mistake. Maybe on purpose, but more likely because the tape machine wasn't properly maintained, the vocal track has a "bleed" that gives you a faint echo of each word about a half second before (not after) every note he sings. It's like delay, but in reverse, and combined with this particular singing performance, it's an astonishing ghostly effect.

As I said, it's pretty likely that this same backing track was used on multiple records with different singers, and that the engineer tried whatever creative things he could think of to make the track sound different each time. On this version, he's gone particularly spare. He uses the hi-hat as the anchor.

Imagine what a mixing board looks like, with sliding faders that control the volume of each instrument. Then imagine the mixing board with all the faders except the hi-hat channel turned all the way down. "Tsit-tsit-tsit-tsit…" Starting from that base, he adds touches of each instrument by sliding the faders up and down, sometimes seemingly at random, to complement the vocal, like a painter adding colors.

I love how he takes out the bass line when the chorus starts, and brings it back much later than you think it should, like he had to lean over and get the telephone and missed the beat. But that just adds to the sense of tense anticipation that pervades the whole thing.

Listening to this tune, you're on the edge of your seat, waiting for everything.

You're waiting for the bass player to finish each ten-note loop. If you notice, in that loop there's almost more resting than playing. "Boop boo boo boop [wait wait wait] boop boo boop [wait] boo boo [wait] boo [wait wait wait wait wait]."

You're waiting for the snare drum to come back and devastate your ear. There are only three proper appearances of the snare in the whole song (not counting the intro), and the rest of the drum strokes are all on the rim, which gives tons of power to the real snare sound when it finally arrives.

And in hearing him beg you over and over to "Please live good!", you're waiting for your heathen self to just give up and accept God in the way that this dude does.

So without further ado, here's "Step Forward" by Leroy Stewart, original release date and label unknown. We do know that it was released on Live & Love records in the UK in the 1970s and later featured on the US compilation LP "All that Jazzbo" in the early 1990s, but it’s likely there was a small Jamaican pressing at some stage. The producer may have been Prince Jazzbo, but given the vintage, our sources suspect it was engineered at King Tubby’s or elsewhere. Thanks to Flashman for turning me on to this, and for the research assistance.

Leroy Stewart - Step Forward

[Note: If you listen on little computer speakers, you're wasting your time. It was made to be played on giant speaker cabinets in a huge dirt lot full of sweaty people. At least put on some headphones!]

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chove Chuva

It's been raining for a couple days straight here in the Bay Area and god knows we need it, but shit is kinda depressing when it rains non-stop. We have a couple of leaks in our storage area with the requisite drip-dropping of slowly filling receptacles. I like the rain because it forces you to slow down and relax or at least sharpen your focus to what's in front of you in your immediate INDOOR vacinity.

My all time favorite song about rain is Jorge Ben's classic "Chove Chuva." The melancholy melody and simple-as-pie lyrics ("Chove Chuva, Chuva sem parar" = "The rain is raining, rain with no end") matched with a killer slow-burn jazzy groove make this an understated masterpiece from one of the greatest Brazilian songwriters and he recorded it at the age of 21. The summer I spent in Brazil I had the chance to spend the weekend with some Brazilian peers (friends of a friend where I was interning) at a beach near São Paulo called Ubatuba. As we were driving out there Ligia warned me that it was probably going to rain the whole time, so not to get too excited about the "beach." The local nickname for the town is "Ubachuva". Sure enough it poured the whole time, but we all had a great time chilling on the hammocks in the garden, grilling up fresh fish, drinking beers, playing cards and listening to tunes from the guitar and the boombox. I happened to have a CD or two (pre-Ipod days) of some Brazilian tunes and thankfully one of them included "Chove Chuva". When that song came on it just fit the mood so perfectly and I could finally imagine the approximate atmosphere, down to the climate, of where the king of Samba Soul, Jorge Ben(jor) wrote one of his finest tunes.

Here's a post inspired about Jorge's tune and a relaxing and much needed Brazilian or Bay Area rain.

Jorge Ben - Chove Chuva
The classic from Jorge Ben's breakout album on Phillips from 1963. Not owning the original vinyl myself (though I do have a 4 song EP from this album) I don't know the details, but according to Joe Sixpack, "Here Ben works with several of the best samba-jazz and pop bandleaders of the bossa era, including Maestro Gaya, Meirelles, and Luiz Carlos Vinha... Combined with Ben's sleek vocals, each arranger spins magic."

Elza Soares - Chove Chuva
This song, evidently, is an extremely rare non-LP track that may originate from a single, but can also be found on a double LP label sampler called Tesouro Musical. Or you can get the pretty dope "Brazilian Funk Experience" CD. There's several more notable versions of this song, but there's one that can't be avoided . . . Topo Gigio's version. Topo Gigio was a puppet mouse with a TV show, duh.

Antonio Adolfo - Essa Chuva
We've already heard some sad Antonio Adolfo music before and even from this album. There's a lot more to go 'round. This album is a real masterpiece and is way up on my list of albums to track down.

Hyldon - Na Rua, Na Chuva, Na Fazenda (Casinha de Sapé)
We're hearing from Hyldon again and this his most famous song. Tim Maia covers this one with a superb reading on his Nuvens album. Hyldon's is still the best. I remember this song was used to great effect in the film City of God. The reluctant drug dealer was scheming with his girlfriend how they were going to escape the favela and move to the country and start a marijuana farm.

Friday, February 13, 2009

All I'm Saying is . . . Give Cheese a Chance!

Thanks to DJ Sean Marquand of Brazilian Beat Brooklyn flashed this James Last Orchestra album cover one late night at Black Betty and then months later (two weeks ago) I chanced upon this record for $0.20 at the annual Housing Works vinyl & paperback sale in New York City.

The track of note on this album is the surprisingly authentic Batucada cut called "Happy Brasilia". It kinda blows my mind that this troupe of marginally funky and rhythmically challenged Germans could deliver such a stomping and percussive homage to the Brazilian Samba. But, evidently I've been sleeping on the wonders of James Last as you can see here from the Wax Poetics online content - not funky enough to make the print issue, but funky enough for the internets.

James Last Orchestra - Give Peace a Chance
The other track of note is their sing-along romp through John & Yoko's "Give Peace a Chance." I haven't listened to the original in ages, but I love the funky intro to this chant-along and maybe because I haven't heard this song a million times, this version doesn't offend so much.

James Last Orchestra - Happy Brasilia
Teutonic Samba - dig it!

Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass - Summertime
And now on to the king of Cheese. It's hard to completely hate Herb because he gave us three great things: 1) A&M records, 2) The song "Rise" which most of you will recognize from the samplage in the Biggie tune "Hypnotize", and 3) Lani Hall, his wife the solo artist and former singer in Sergio Mendes & Brazil '66.

This version of "Summertime" has an arrangement that is just different enough that I can get down to it. The credits from the back of the record suggests that Herb was inspired by Ahmad Jamal's version of the song.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Mystifying Mamas - From Chicago to Paris

Just the other day I was revisiting this CD, Saravah by Cafe Apres-Midi, a Japanese compilation of music from the small, independent French record label from the late 1960s - 1980s. The range of music on here is just great with some French styles, lots of Brazilian influence, some Jazz, some soul and funk as well as some African styles.

The story goes that the label was started by singer and songwriter, Pierre Barouh (read more here if you can understand French). Barouh "discovered" Brazilian music while traveling in Portugal and was soon smitten. In 1966 he played a major musical role in the Claude Lelouch fim, Un Homme et Une Femme, otherwise known as "A Man and A Woman". Barouh sang on the soundtrack and even managed to insert his love for Brazilian music with the inclusion of the Vinicius de Moraes and Baden Powell tune "Samba da Bancao" recorded in French with Baden Powell on guitar as "Samba Saravah." The movie and soundtrack were huge hits and the money Barouh received for his performance, he directly invested into his new record label, Saravah.

In 1969 he traveled to Brazil and captured some of the country's best musicians in an extremely casual setting. The documentary was only officially released recently. Here's a clip of Paulinho da Viola jamming with Maria Bethania at a beach cafe.

The label was home to some excellent musicians and some great albums, such as Pierre Akendengue's two early 70s albums, Barney Wilen's "Moshi" and as well as Nana Vasconcelos and Bridgette Fontaine. While, I'm getting a little sidetracked here, the first song today was included in this Saravah comp even though it was originally issued on the obscure French label, Horse.

The Art Ensemble of Chicago Featuring Marva Broome - Mystifying Mama
Though I have found little evidence to definitively prove that the Art Ensemble of Chicago played on this recording, comparing it to the next track you can understand why its assumed it was them backing Ms. Broome. What a killer combination of Jazz and Soul, not quite soul-jazz but something close to that. Too bad she didn't put out more than this one single. Evidently she sings back-up vocals on Barney Wilen's superb Saravah album, "Moshi".

The Art Ensemble of Chicago Featuring Fontella Bass - Theme de Yo-Yo
So, this track isn't a product of Pierre Barouh's Saravah label, but that whole story was a nice excuse for letting me post this slamming jazz-inflected funk explosion. This song can get a little bit crazy, but I just love how the band bobs and weaves around Fontella's vocals and comes crashing down in a cacophony of horns and drums every now and then. I first heard this cut in Maine being played on public radio and I immediately had to track it down. Fontella was married to one of the Art Ensemble of Chicago players, Lester Bowie, at the time of this recording. Here's a bit of a bio on her.