Jive Time Turntable

Kalima “Four Songs” (Factory, 1985)

R-1549929-1227690914.jpegA mid-period release that didn’t seem to fit anywhere with their label-mates going House and Electro, Kalima were an interesting group… a tangent of flagship Factory band A Certain Ratio they might have been, but very much a stand alone act.

While ACR had a dark, brooding Velvet Underground meets Mutiny vibe about them, Kalima craned their ears to more sophisticated Jazz and South American pop. Members of ACR make up Kalima’s rhythm section and more, but the direction behind Kalima’s lush numbers comes from siblings Ann and Tony Quigley, who provide vocals and sax, respectively.

The “Four Songs” EP is a great introduction to this interesting Factory venture, not quite sophisti-pop (no electronic keyboards or drum machines), they come off as earnest practitioners of forms gone by, around a time in the U.K. when House music was coming into vogue. -Wade

Popol Vuh “Hosianna Mantra” (Pilz, 1972)

MI0002982480Florian Fricke pioneered the use of synthesizers in German rock, but by the time of Hosianna Mantra he had abandoned them (eventually selling his famous Moog to Klaus Schulze). While In den Gärten Pharaos had blended synths with piano and African and Turkish percussion, Hosianna Mantra focuses on organic instrumentation. Conny Veit contributes electric guitar, but other than that, Fricke pulls the plug and builds the album around violin, tamboura, piano, oboe, cembalo, and Veit’s 12-string, often with Korean soprano Djong Yun’s haunting voice hovering above the arrangements.

As the album’s title suggests, Fricke conceived of Hosianna Mantra as a musical reconciliation of East and West, a harmonization of seemingly opposed terms, combining two devotional music traditions. That notion of cultural hybridity resonates throughout. On “Kyrie” droning tamboura, simple piano patterns, ethereal, gull-like guitars, and yearning oboe ebb and flow before coalescing in a passage of intensity and release. The epic title track adds another dimension to the fusion, emphasizing a Western rock sound with Veit’s spectacular playing to the fore, simultaneously smoldering and liquid, occasionally yielding to Djong Yun’s celestial vocals. Above all, Fricke envisioned this as sacred music, intimately linked to religious experience; however, as his musical synthesis of disparate religious traditions indicates, he was seeking to foment a spiritual experience beyond the specificity of any particular faith.

Indeed, Fricke called this album a “mass for the heart” and that aspect can be heard most succinctly on the melancholy “Abschied” and the gossamer-fragile “Segnung,” which blend an austere hymnal sensibility with a more mystical vibe. Julian Cope has said that Hosianna Mantra sounds like it was made in a “cosmic convalescent home” — an excellent description underscoring the timeless, healing quality of this music, which is far removed from the everyday world and yet at one with it. -Wilson

Ponytail “Ice Cream Spiritual” (We Are Free, 2008)

220px-IceCreamSpiritualAn ecstatic rush in LP form, Ponytail wound up centrifugal surf riffs with stomping drums and added one shrill singer that managed to invoke the space between Bossa starlets and Yoko Ono. While it makes since that their square one instrumentation had them opening for Battles and Hella, they didn’t come off so much as rigid math-rockers thanks to Molly Siegel’s vocal contribution and some exciting (lively!) lead guitar breakaways.

Proof of this shines through on “G Shock” and “Celebrate The Body Electric” when lead guitarist Dustin Wong actually breaks free of rhythm and indulges in solos (Hendrix is a hero of his). And for every other track he is a great foil to vocalist Molly Siegel’s joyous outbursts, while the hyperagile rhythm section churns away.

A short lived act from Baltimore that apparently put on some mad parties (one involving a Kool-Aid Man costume breaking through a wall), Ponytail delivered a rush of energy that was swirling and positive, and not such a bad thing to be drawn into. By “Ice Cream Spiritual” they were at the peak of their powers. -Wade

Cecil Taylor “Unit Structures” (Blue Note, 1966)

MI0001843438Atonal to the nth, but Cecil Taylor was probably the most classically trained and proficient player in Free Jazz at the time. Miles Davis said reviewers were crazy for their rave-ups, and claimed they were drinking too much coffee. True, Cecil here isn’t in full tumult mode so much as providing foundations for his players at hyper velocity. And later recordings would have less players or have him solo, showing off the man’s real soloing potential.

That’s what we have in “Unit Structures” in most cases; grounding that appears as quickly as it’s replaced for his associates to blare across. It takes about half of the first composition “Steps” before room is given for Cecil to play in some negative space of his own, while two bassists give color to his building blocks of sharps and flats.

Listening to this, “Conquistador” or any material to come later, it puts a grin on my face to think he played for President Carter in the White House. What a treat! -Wade

Mi Ami “Watersports” (Quarterstick, 2009)

homepage_large.a4031480Mi Ami have an ability to execute aural peaks and valleys like few pop groups have ever known how to do. Within each individual song is a crescendo, from the whispered and paranoid panting of Martin-McCormick and subtle metal beating from Palermo, to a racket of all the brutal parts looking each other in the eye and screaming. Just as quickly, though, they can drop it down and develop a groove, usually with the assistance of the bass, that envelops one’s sense of rhythm, all-encompassing.

A brilliant example of this is the two-song assault of “The Man In Your House” and “New Guitar.” “The Man In Your House” begins understated and disconcerting; an effects-laden guitar line covers the track in an odd, quiet blanket. From there, Martin-McCormick’s whispers grow to shouts of sex and sadness, while his guitar screeches and wail. The suspense grows as the track gets louder, and then it immediately segues into “New Guitar,” a jittery, stilted statement of seemingly nothing, carried out with Martin-McCormick’s competent hands manhandling and tearing at his guitar. The song’s beginning is a brilliant resolution to the song before it, and once this primal energy beams out, the trio jumps back four steps and carries out a mid-tempo groove, complete with a bass line rooted in funk and dub.

So much of Watersports’ appeal is in its embrace of the physical, but the album’s final third is a dirge into the mental abyss. Indeed, the album consists almost entirely of the members going ballistic on their respective parts, but this happens so sparingly, if at all, in the final two tracks. “White Wife,” a manifesto towards sincerity and honesty, is quiet, sad, and slow. Here, the trio is exploring their sonic workspace in a very profound way: not through flexing their chops, but through creating space. The song, probably the most cerebral track on the album, dips and undulates until you get to “Peacetalks/Downer,” which, like the best of shoegaze music, creates volume in lines that should be quiet. It all builds without changing, until the album slowly fades into oblivion.-Tyler

Konono Nº1 “Congotronics” (Ache, 2004)

R-502149-1167286650.jpegKonono Nº1 used makeshift mics and placed them on a number of simple thumb pianos to create raw but beautiful sounding amplified percussion, backed with joyous cries and traditional drumming. An African guitar band they are not, but another music style worth investigating, definitely so. These swirls of grooves went unheard for a time, and have only recently surfaced in the previous decade.

For those of us who turned to Africa looking for new sounds and inspirations, King Sunny Ade and Fela Kuti may have been quite a jump. This music was deeply political, and could be heavy, in contrast to its uplifting grooves and non-confrontational delivery. It was guitar music, but so un-rocking and unrelenting in groove that it set a new template for some of the more interesting groups of this last century in the U.S. You can call it cultural appropriation, except our last batch of boundry-pushing musicians come across as inquiring, collegiate, and earnest in their borrowing… Understanding and respect of culture is taken away, basically, along with these mined musical forms. An empathic give and take.

Konono Nº1 are not a guitar-pop band, but they are one of those recently appropriated sources, all minimal groove, all positive vibes that keep on giving from front to back. This is an album that can send you on a journey, so get ready to be wowed and altered by music still yet to be fully heralded. Worth picking up. -Wade

Amon Düül II “Wolf City” (United Artists, 1972)

Wolfcity1The most noticeable difference between this 1972 release and classic albums like Phallus Dei (1969), Yeti (1970), and Tanz der Lemminge (1971) is the shift from lengthy “freak outs” to shorter pieces that emphasize melody and harmony. In fact, most of the seven pieces on Wolf City are in the 3-6 minute range with only Surrounded by Stars reaching 8 minutes in length.

I for one do not mind the change at all because it turns out that Amon Duul II was just as good at writing shorter pieces as they were at writing the longer pieces. The major selling point for me on Wolf City is the haunting, drifting melodies that are developed on this album – they are simply wonderful and make me forget the pieces are only a few minutes long. Furthermore, the interesting thing (and this is really clever) is that spacey, instrumental preludes and interludes are worked in here and there to create the illusion of a larger piece. The use of loads of synthesizers does not hurt either.

All in all, this is a very good album that is recommended along with Carnival in Babylon (1972) which is somewhat similar. -Jeffery

Scritti Politti “Cupid and Psyche 85” (Virgin, 1985)

Scritti_Politti_-_Cupid_&_Psyche_85A change of attack was needed for Scritti Politti when pop form went back into vogue. Green Gartside ditched the first version of his group to work with session musicians, crafting perfect pop on top-of-the-line equipment. No longer presenting the jumble of styles heard on earlier singles, Scritti 2.0 would be crisp, clean, and pristine beyond recognition.

Green’s own living habits changed to reflect his new music as well. Originally a squat-dwelling punk with circles under his eyes, Green had kicked speed, started a workout routine and took much better care of his hair. He made the switch from ripped up blazers to sweaters and track suits. He still waxed lyrical of far-left ideals, but these statements are much more esoteric in this new pop format… It’s easier to focus on his vocal ability now, all saccharine-sweet in the mix next to sleek and dizzying sequencer beats.

All across the country, the U.S.A. played “Perfect Way” and “Wood Beez” on the air? It’s strange messages were pressed overseas by someone who once thought of himself as a Marxist, but the singles pressed beforehand with his first group were much harder for the average listener to swallow. Half listening, Scritti here sound like a rather innocuous pop act… but what were they subjecting us too beneath this shiny new surface? Hearing the contrast between the Rough Trade material and this monolith of a hit album is startling, but it’s similarities even more so. -Wade

Jimi Hendrix “Midnight Lightning” (Columbia, 1975)

JHMidniteLiteSo this is interesting… The idea of a rock producer bringing in session dudes to fill out the sound on collected, unreleased recordings of a dead man’s tapes. The sixth album released after Hendrix’s death, these sessions have been tampered with after the fact by Alan Douglass, a record producer who controversially turned down Hendrix’s original accompanists and brought in his own talent.

These days the idea of remixing and retrofitting old material seems like a non-issue. And it has to be said that the work presented here is strong; it doesn’t smell like a quick cash-in by Douglass at all. Original bass and drums (with only one unmolested Mitch Mitchell track) disappear… and new guitar overdubs are placed as well! But these additions don’t take away from Hendrix’s lead, hardly fiddled with, only on demos where his repeated phrases were obviously unintentional. In a way I’m reminded of Teo Marceo’s album work for Miles Davis, but Miles was alive then and agreed with his studio ideas. Depending on what your opinion may be on his work, it may reflect about what you’d think of the Douglass edits. Is it so wrong to string such strong performances together in a studio? Or would you rather have the demos with some obvious blemishes? Serious questions when the music created originally needed so little studio tampering. These people were geniuses without it.

But then maybe Douglass was a fitting studio-head, the one able to handle such bold work with a legend’s material. He saw an opportunity to wrap up loose ends and executed it how he saw fit. The results are striking and worth hearing, especially when you hear the power of “Machine Gun” and the rest of side two to follow. It’s a trick, but a good one. -Wade

Acker Bilk “Stranger On The Shore” (Columbia, 1961)

mr_acker_bilk_with_the_leon_young_string_chorale-stranger_on_the_shore_s_1The title track on this 7” was written in a taxi cab, concerning a French girl walking down a beach in England. This perfect piece of clarinet-led pop, easy-listening used in a popular BBC serial, was also taken to the moon and enjoyed by the crew of the Apollo 10. English Clarinettist Acker Bilk worked with the Leon Young String Chorale to create the sweet and sensuous mood, as welcoming as a lit wood-fire stove, long after the sun has set on your fondest beach memory…

The b-side is a moodier affair thanks to the addition of a slow, driving waltz pattern accented by an unchanging high-hat. No drums are to be found in the title track, and so the feeling of unbridled infatuation wasn’t grounded. “Take My Lips” has Acker still leading his Chorale, but coupled with the locked drumming, his group creates a feeling of want less innocent than “Stranger…” more like pent-up desire than innocent passion.

This single can touch the heart with its simple pop arrangements, and it’s classical/jazz components are placed with sophistication. Scour the 7” bin for this one! -Wade