30/06/2018: “Rhapsody In Blue” by George Gershwin

gerschwin

The idiosyncratically named “Rhapsody In Blue” is probably one of the most famous classical piano pieces.

The piece could be classified as jazz as well, using a lot of freeform melodies. Either way, it’s a wonderful thing to listen to, with a whimsical feel. It doesn’t feel at all as stuffy as some classical pieces, but doesn’t have the sometimes intimidating chaos of an experimental jazz piece.

There are orchestral versions, with the famous clarinet part right at the start, but the piano version is my favourite. It’s very buoyant and carefree, and Gerschwin’s ability to create and sustain interest in melodies is amazing.

The song makes a lot of use of rubato, which is basically messing about with the tempo, which helps to keep the song engaging. Additionally, there’s the use of blue notes from jazz, hence the name of the song. Blue notes are notes that are slightly differently pitched from normal.

The piece was originally composed in 1924, and the version I’ve chosen is from 1993’s Gerschwin Plays Gerschwin: The Piano Rolls. I find the concept of piano rolls very interesting; Gerschwin’s playing is transcribed onto sheets with holes in that can be reproduced by special pianos.

A lovely song!

29/06/2018: “The Passenger” by Iggy Pop

iggypop

The guitarist on here is Ricky Gardiner, and the song also features piano and backing vocals by David Bowie.

In fact, the song was partly inspired by riding around in David Bowie’s car, which is something Bowie used to do a lot at a certain period in his life, which is recorded on the song “Always Crashing In The Same Car”.

Anyway, Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” is a song that, although containing a rich array of instruments and some great playing, is really held together by Gardiner’s classic guitar riff, and of course Iggy’s singing. The drums have a swinging feel to them, which helps to maintain the feeling of motion that accentuates the “travelling” theme of the song.

The bassline is pretty tidy as well, following the guitar and adding some depth.

The lyrics are mainly descriptive in nature, and speak to a carefree way of life, the idealised lifestyle of a rockstar on tour.

The song was released on Lust For Life in 1977.

A good song for reflection…

28/06/2018: “Hard Noize” by Dillinja

hardnoize.jpg

“Hard Noize” may well be my favourite drum & bass tune, at least of the less “intellectual” type of D’n’B anyway!

For one thing, the bass is absolutely monstrous. On big speakers, this song will vibrate your eyeballs…

But really, this song shows how Dillinja is such a master at constructing a dancefloor hit that can captivate an audience for 5 minutes without getting old.

The song opens with an eerie selection of beeps and crackles with strong delay effects, before quickly dropping into the main beat.

As is often the case with this sort of thing, simplicity is key, and here is no exception. The bassline goes up and down a scale, and the drums clap away with a 2 step beat (with some well timed breaks). Then, midway through, the second bassline comes into play, making the song even heavier.

The release was a 12″ single in 1998 with Lemon D as well, backed with”Fluid”.

What a belter of a tune!

27/06/2018: “I Don’t Believe A Word” by Motorhead

motorhead

Motorhead are mainly known for their blisteringly fast shredding metal tracks. This song makes me wish they’d slowed it down a bit more…

Lemmy’s voice is the sort of voice I like to hear. On a different planet altogether from the samey auto-tuned, crystal clear voices on modern pop songs, Lemmy’s broken and distinctive growl is a refreshing change from the sweet and pure high pitched voice that is often considered the nicest singing.

On “I Don’t Believe A Word”, those crusty and whiskey soaked tones come into their own. A sort of bitter anger is conveyed in a way that I honestly can’t imagine any other singers doing. There are plenty of other husky voiced rockstars, sure, but only one Lemmy.

The song is underpinned by a simple guitar riff, played at a low pitch. In contrast to many other Motorhead songs, this guitar is not a shredding sound, and I think this allows more room for melody.

The lyrics are incredibly dark and nihilistic, and this fits the tone of the song perfectly. It’s a cold and harsh song, but at the same time, it has a sort of austere grandeur to it. It’s beautiful in the same way as gothic architecture or death valley.

The song was released in 1996 on the underrated Overnight Sensation album.

RIP Lemmy.

26/06/2018: “Tears” by Hijak

white label

The sampling is pretty heavy here… the song is basically the intro to “No More Tears” by Teedra Moses, with a heavy bassline and more drums.

But to me, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hijak  (Skream’s brother, incidentally) has re-purposed the original neo-soul groove into a soulful dubstep classic.

The new song is both a banger, with it’s hard hitting sub bass and shuffling halftime drums, but still manages to retain the soul and emotion of the original to a degree I would consider perfectly satisfactory!

The song has been around in a few iterations, but the main difference is the intro, so the version released in 2012 as a white label backed with “Butcha” can be viewed as standard. The song was originally released in 2008, but in a very limited run.

Quality…

 

25/06/2018: “Mbira” by Kevin Volans Ensemble

mbira

Kevin Volans is an Irish composer with South African roots. Much of his music provides a synthesis of Western musical culture with traditional African instrumentation and rhythms.

The mbira is a type of thumb piano, which among other places is common in Zimbabwe. This is where Volans gained inspiration for Zimbabwe: Mbira, an album showcasing a blend of new and traditional rhythms played by an mbira ensemble.

“Mbira” is the last track on the album, and spans more than 10 minutes. It’s actually one of the only tracks on the album dominated by a retuned harpsichord rather than mbiras themselves. The mbira is more of a windchime sound, which is used to great effect on the rest of the album.

The song starts tentatively, before falling into an easy groove that locks the rest of the track in place. The instruments become more chaotic, but at the same time, nothing sounds out of place. A symphony of twanging…

By the latter part of the tune the rhythms cascade around each other like a flock of starlings, until the winding down at the end.

It’s a wonderful piece of music, and really quite entrancing once you get into it!

24/06/2018: “Watermelon In Easter Hay” by Frank Zappa

joesgarage

Frank Zappa is a very polarising figure. There’s no doubting his musical proficiency. But a good deal of his music, with it’s off the wall rhythms and catchy harmonies, is filled to the brim with smutty content that makes it sort of funny at best, and deeply embarrassing and offensive at worse.

Luckily, I can skip past all this with today’s track, because it is basically instrumental. The guitar does the singing!

The full name of the song is actually  “Playing A Guitar Solo With This Band Is Like Trying To Grow A Watermelon In Easter Hay”. A very Zappa-esque expression if there ever was one.

“Watermelon In Easter Hay” is from Joe’s Garage Part III, part of the epic Joe’s Garage concept album. The album was released in 1979.

The song naturally starts with a bit of weirdness, which is the way Zappa did things. The tempo of the track is very slow, with the drums beating away languorously. The bass is likewise very tranquil, leaving lots of space for the guitar.

The lead guitar is very melodious, with a sweet toned flow that works very well. It’s moving stuff,  and Zappa’s insistence on excellence is on display.

23/06/2018: “Cavatina” by Stanley Myers and John Williams

cavatina

The guitar is often used as a hammer, bashing out wailing solos, shredding hard and fast, strumming a few simple chords.

So it can be easy to forget just how entrancing a basic wooden acoustic guitar can be with a skilled player. A good classical guitarist uses the instrument like a delicate surgical tool, picking out the right notes and letting them ring and blend into each other in a way that even the best rock guitar players struggle to achieve with their distorted sound.

John Williams is one of the most famous classical guitarists of the latter 20th century. “Cavatina”, which provides a truly heartrending backdrop to the classic Vietnam movie “The Deerhunter” in 1978.

Stanley Myers had actually written the song for a 1970 film,  “The Walking Stick”, and the song was originally for piano, but rewrote it for guitar for Williams.

The song is built around Williams’ fingerpicking, with the addition of a tasteful string section, and a restrained double bass. The guitar is augmented by flutes later on, but the focal point of the song is the guitar, no doubt about it.

I’ve never really heard a guitar used to express wistful sadness so effectively, and that is in large part to the skill of John Williams. There are versions of him playing the guitar without the backing instruments, and the song remains almost as emotive.

Beautiful.

 

22/06/2018: “Johnny B Goode” by Chuck Berry

chuckberry

This is real good times rock n roll, from one of the guys who pioneered the whole thing!

That guitar lick is just incomparable. It’s not the most technically demanding playing but it does give a great feeling, to be sure. And once you’ve heard it a few times, you know it forever. It’s a copy of the opening of “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman” by Louis Jordan, which was released in 1946, but that’s a very different type of song altogether.

“Johnny B Goode” is from 1958, which is a few years earlier than many of rock music’s greatest hits. The song still has that rock n roll sound, with a few characteristics shared by blues and big band music. The bassline and the piano are particularly reminiscent  of a 40s dancing song. This period was where rock n roll started to transition into rock music proper.

The song is energised and on its toes, with the “go Johnny go” line providing a fun hook, while the bass struts around confidently, and the guitar drops into a clean blues strumming for the verses.

Still cool after 60 years!

 

 

 

21/06/2018: “Ye Ke Ye Ke” by Mory Kante

mory_kante-ye_ke_ye_ke_s_2.jpg

“Ye Ke Ye Ke” or “Yeke Yeke” was the first African single to sell over a million copies. Not an inconsiderable feat in a pre-internet age!

Mory Kante is a Guinean kora harp player and singer, who released “Yeke Yeke” in 1987 on the album Akwaba Beach. 

The song is a frantic, euphoric afro-disco cruise,  with a mixture of modern disco elements and Kante’s singing and harp playing.

The verses are more sparse but the vocals are still rich. It’s impressive just how much of the sound spectrum is filled by the combination of Kante and his backing singers.

The choruses are an explosion of sound, with the jubilant backing singers, the colourful brass, the African drums, all creating a brilliant and rapturous sound.

An interesting fact about Mory Kante is that he was literally destined to be a musician, being born into a family of traditional West African griots, which are kind of like medieval European bards. He learnt to play the kora in Mali as a child before returning to Guinea.

What a groove though!