Thursday, December 24, 2015

Top 10 New Records of 2014 (just a bit late)

I have had this draft saved for an entire year.  I started it last January, just under a year ago.  It became overwhelming to write about my favorite albums because it just pours out of you so fast, your fingers can barely keep up, even if you are a stenographer.  

The problem with a post like this is that you can only take so long to finish it, or it is no longer relevant.  No one wants to read a year end list in spring. 

Still, I am pretty proud of the writing I did.  I only made it through my top 5, and #5 looks like I kind of trailed off.  Apparently I had also planned to do a mix with all these albums, which never came to fruition even though I did a ton of mixes throughout the year.

Today is Christmas Eve, and I just woke up an hour ago and I'm drinking coffee and catching up on my blog and decided to unleash this one.  Just got done listening to side A of a Christmas gift from my girlfriend which she gave me last night.  Without an ounce of humor, I will freely admit I got emotional and cried when I got the record - I have a bit of an attachment with this one.  The record AND the girl.  She also got me a rare Jack Jones that actually contains his most famous work (track A1) which I swore did not appear on an LP.  I must have handled 500 or more Jack Jones albums in my lifetime as every thrift store in the land is filled with them, but I've never seen this one and I know the cover would have caught my eye.  The theme song is indeed re-recorded but its only groovier, it's disco level has been amped up to 11.

So here is to 2015, and the records from the year previous.  Cheers!

I picked up 301 new 7" and 12" records (and one or two 10") in 2014.  They came at record stores, thrift stores, estate sales, garage sales as well as some gifts and the standard online shopping.  I analyzed my list by the date I added them to my collection and started to whittle away at the stuff I bought 'just to have' (a bit ashamed to admit I do this at all).  Then I removed anything I previously was familiar with musically (wanted to own it on vinyl as opposed to another format).

Then I started to really think about the records that have left a lasting imprint on me over a year or a portion of it.  I thought hard about what records will continue with me on my journey through life and continue to be listened to as the years peel off the calendar.  It wasn't super easy to do and I had to make some tough (and honest) decisions but I came up with ten in the end.  They must have been personally impactful because I remembered where I got each one (and I made 114 posts last year!).

This post is best enjoyed whilst listening to the below mix which was put together just for the occasion.  This list is in order by the date I picked it up - it was just too difficult to try and organize them best to worst as I love all my little children.  Maybe this list is totally inaccurate, maybe I screwed it all up and chose the wrong ones.  If so, then at least it is a nice snapshot of a year searching for records.

Pat Metheny Group - First Circle
Like many people, I got introduced to Pat via 'Last Train Home'.  I was familiar with him insofar as that he was a jazz guitarist, but I knew little else.  While I've been enjoying fusion jazz for years, I was always slow to explore his work.  Looking back, I think it was him...I know he takes pride in being a regular guy and to be honest, it always weirded me out.  Because I didn't know his 'regular guy' getup was honest, I just couldn't compute the whole thing.

Once I started looking for his stuff I regretted the times I had seen it in the past.  As it usually goes, now that I had an eye out everything fell off the map.  I looked and I looked.  I first struck gold with this album at Logan Hardware back in January.  I was pissed that I did not find Still Life (Talking) and I remember being slow to even 'waste my money' on this one as I didn't really want it.  However, I had read that there were some similarities between the two albums as well as Letter From Home so I took the plunge.

The album begins in the most outrageous manner via the opener 'Forward March'.  I read a quote from Pat somewhere once why he decided to put this on the album (much less as the lead off song!) and he said 'seemed like a good idea at the time'.  I think it is a great idea! As someone who listened to hiphop for a very long time I am well acquainted with the idea of an 'Intro' to kick off an album.  While in the rap world, where the intro is usually concrete - spoken word, boasting and the threats of things to come - this is about the boldest statement you could start a conversation with.  I guess it really has no place on an album besides as the first track, but again, to include it at all is quite a risk.

In its simplest terms, the song is a very good rendition of a school band, approximately 5th grade level.  I played the french horn in 7th and 8th grade and it definitely renders some serious memories.  It contains flubbed notes and other errors and flaws as kids tend to do.  It goes on perhaps just a touch too long (that is, too long to the new listener.  I can honestly say I enjoy it everytime for reasons to be explained shortly) but that is the beauty.  As you are beginning to think 'this joke is not very funny' and perhaps as you are even about to try and change the station, it abruptly ends.  Silence.

I think the title is the best summation of the whole mentality behind it.  This is our first foot forward, and we are going for a walk, friends.  When you are greeted and even relieved with that silence, the second track starts and you are just pummeled with what can only be called a rock beat.  THIS is fusion! "Yolanda, You Learn" is a great example of Pat during this era and largely even beyond.  Super riffing on a heavily processed guitar and the obvious feeling that you are listening to a small ensemble...just a four piece, cranking it out.  The drums are just relentless even during the quiet, tense moments.  These guys performance is just spectacular and totally inspiring and evident of what this album can do to a person.

But if 'Forward March' is the intro to the album, 'Yolanda' is the intro to 'First Circle'.  I don't know how much I can or want to try to analyze this song but I will say that it makes me cry, sob even, everytime I listen to it.  For me personally, it is truly the most beautiful piece of music I have ever heard.  Pedro Aznar's vocals are crying out, crying to be heard and I want to reach out and say that it's ok.  The composition is just triumphant in the end, its not sad, its so overpowering and intoxicating I am getting emotional thinking about it.

The last song on Side A is 'If I Could', a solo piece on the keys by maestro Lyle Mays.  This is just genius tracklist arrangement as this piece fits perfectly into the puzzle laid out before it.  You need it to close you eyes and experience something less intense and just try to bring yourself back down.  Less intense maybe, but no less beautiful.

If I begin to write about Side B, this blog post will just be about this album and to hell with the other 9.  So let's move on.

Gil Scott-Heron - Pieces Of A Man
I guess everyone is familiar with the expression 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised' and many still are acquainted with the song itself.  While entertaining, it is a total misnomer for the organic soul that represents the rest of the material on this record.  I bought this on the discogs marketplace after I came into some dough from selling some old releases of my own that were worth a few bucks.  I couldn't afford the real first pressings which are worth $50+, I still paid $20 for my reissue.  The jacket is kind of beat and more importantly, the record is actually a bit warped.  Still, it plays well enough, though side B can suffer a bit (unless I use my homemade spindle clamp to mash it flat).

Speaking of sides, the two sides should be titled 'Day' and "Night' or something...not just because they are dissimilar (or even near opposite) but because they also carry different emotional baggage.  Side B is a plea to God that starts with the title track, a song I at first could hardly tolerate due to its barren soundscape, save for Gil-Scott's voice.  But once you tune in, you can't look away.  But it was the fourth track on side A that got me to impulse buy the record, 'Home Is Where The Hatred Is'.  I have a few friends that are dead or have been imprisoned from drug use and abuse, and I've experimented plenty myself.  I don't know that I've ever heard a more accurate portrayal of the life then the opening lyrics, even if I never did experience that first hand.

The band is first rate, led by 'Pretty' Purdie on the trap kit and continuing with Hubert Laws and Ron Carter.  I don't say it because I feel the voice detracts from anything, but I'd love to get a hold of the master multitrack tapes and make myself an instrumental version of the album.

Walter Wanderley Trio, The* - Cheganca
I first became familiar with Walter when I found a copy of 'Organ-ized' at the now defunct Thrift & Fish Co.  I bought the record that day because it was one of those that you find which looks so old, yet in such good condition that it must be a reissue or a fake.  Then you realize it isn't - and you have to have this relic, no matter the music found in it's grooves.  Luckily for me, Walter is an easy sell to most of the world's population.

To be honest, I never listened to 'Organ-ized' that much...I listened enough to know what it sounded like and to know that I liked it.  So when I found 'Cheganca' at Laurie's Planet of Sound, it was largely a 'consolation prize': the record you buy for yourself so you don't feel the trip was a waste, when you can't find anything else.  When there is nothing left, I am a completist and I can always work on someone else's discography.

I have acquired a number of other pieces of that discography since but none come close to 'Cheganca'.  Maybe that is just because it is so accessible.  The opening of the first song starts with a whistle and drum and just as you begin to wonder what it is all leading up to...BOOM.  The beat drops and the organs kick in and you will sway, you will dance and you will move.  The rhythm and the organ over it can only be described as 'bubbly', its a strange combination of something delicate that tickles something else, inside you, and makes you move...then multiplied by an alternate force that reckons with a oil derrick which rises, then SLAMS.  It makes you want to shut your eyes and try to get in step with this universal force; the human tuning fork.

Lalo Schifrin And Orchestra* - Bossa Nova New Brazilian Jazz 
1962 is a year prime for bossa nova breeding, especially on an 'exotic' release like this filled with straight ahead jazz and not the diluted pop version yet to come (I love that stuff too and own crates and crates of it).  I previously knew Lalo only as the man that scored the Bruce Lee epic and had no clue he was a jazz cat, or that he was Brazilian! 

But I should carry on no longer with my attempts to qualify this release musically (not that it does not have such a pedigree).  A record is as much the music it holds as the set and setting in which you attained it.  I had such a good time with a couple strangers at their garage sale...this was the only record from the garage - I found a few more lurking in their basement still on the bookshelf! This platter is a bit beat but I don't care and I doubt I'll find another anytime soon.  If I do it will probably be much more modestly priced then the 50 cents I paid anyway.

Ray Price - For The Good Times
You can all thank my mysterious girlfriend for this one.  You know, the one you see lurking the background of pics and of whom I reference in nearly every post.  Ray Price is the second artist she passed onto me from her grandmother, who exposed her also to Engelbert Humperdinck.  This is the album that started it all for her and I...I had already dubbed and begun to obsess over the album when I found my own (quadraphonic!) album at a record store downstate, in Bloomington IL.

Kris Kristopherson is a great songwriter and, many would add, a great singer.  I don't totally disagree but it is difficult for me to imagine the title track being performed with any more minimal arrangement then the one found her.  Truly one of the most sad and bittersweet sets of lyrics ever penned, I can't imagine the heartbreak it took to inspire them, or the maturity to turn it into something beautiful such as this.

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