My Favorite New-To-Me Instrumental Albums Of 2013

Let the end-of-year lists begin! I usually listen to podcasts while working, but I started digging more into the world of instrumental records and scores this year than any other for a little wordless aural pleasure. Here are my six new go-to records when I’m in an instrumental mood.

The Enter The Dragon Score by Lalo Schifrin (1973)

I don’t think there’s much in the way of dissension when it comes to the idea that Enter The Dragon is a brilliant film. But, when watching this year, I also realized it’s got an awesome score by Lalo Schifrin. While making a purchase on Amazon earlier this year, I needed something to get up to free shipping and came across this score for a few bucks. Since then, I’ve been listening to this mellow, action-y, Asian themed music that allows my mind to wander and focus on either work or writing projects. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for more of Schifrin’s work because he was so damn good.

The Budos Band by The Budos Band (2005)

Around the time that I got Enter The Dragon, I tweeted out something along the lines of “Are there any bands that sound like they recorded the background music in Dirty Harry (also by Schifrin) or 70s cop shows?” My pal Justin Aclin responded with The Budos Band and a love affair was born. There’s a certain quality I don’t have the musical vocabulary to nail down that makes this 2005 record sound like it was made back in the 70s by a bunch of guys in huge sunglasses smoking unfiltered cigarettes. It’s basically like Justin jumped in my brain, figured out exactly what I was looking for and then gave it to me. I love this record.

Enter The 37th Chamber by El Michels Affair (2009)

At some point in the year, I came across Truth & Soul records and one of their bands El Michels Affair. They’ve got this record called Enter The 37th Chamber which is actually a series of instrumental Wu-Tang Clan covers. It’s like a more bass and drum heavy, hip hop-infused version of Schifrin’s Dragon soundtrack, which is something I very much enjoy.

Vertigo Score by Bernard Hermann (1958)

The Vertigo score was one of the many cheapo Amazon MP3 records I picked up this year. I haven’t listened to it a ton of times because it really does get under my skin with it’s beautiful, epic-ness but it really did the trick the few times I was looking for that exact feeling. I had a similar, but more intense experience with Hans Zimmer’s Inception score and really haven’t listened to it since that first time. Vertigo is by for the most orchestral record in my collection.

Cannonball’s Bossa Nova by Cannonball Adderley (1962) 

Cannonball Adderley is one my favorite jazzmen around. His track “Autumn Leaves” off of Somethin’ Else is one of my all time favorite songs. So, when I saw Cannonball’s Bossa Nova pop up on Amazon MP3 I just had to add it to my collection. Bossa Nova moves a lot more than some of the cooler jazz stuff of his I have, but it’s got great swing and makes for some nice, uptempo tunes to get through the day. This record makes me want to go on vacation REAL bad.

Downtown Rockers by Tom Tom Club (2012) 

After reading Please Kill Me, I was curious about any and all bands with connections to that punk/New Wave NYC scene. So, when I saw a Tom Tom Club record for a few bucks and read that the band consisted of Talking Head members, I was in. Turns out, though, that Downtown Rockers is a newer EP with five vocal-and-music tracks, one remix and then those first five tracks without vocals. I like the versions with words, but the instrumentals are just solid, guitar/drum/bass/electronic tracks with a few organs and other layers thrown on top that make for quality voiceless offerings. So, just imagine the above video but without all that singing and you have an idea of what I mean.

Music Musings: All That Jazz

A Quartet In The StudioI found myself in an interesting mood this morning. Feeling tired and sleepy, I decided to skip the usual morning podcast-listening session in favor of the recently purchased Mulligan Meets Monk record, a Thelonious Monk disc that found the master pianist teaming up with saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. 

mulligan meets monk

 

The experience got me thinking about jazz and my relationship with that musical art form. Growing up, I didn’t hear much of it aside from pieces in commercials, TV shows and movies here and there. It wasn’t until high school that I had my first real exposure to one of the few, truly American art forms.

At the time I had a website — I was very intent on calling it a site and not a blog because I thought the word was silly (it is) — where I would trade bootleg recordings with people. Actually, it’s still up because apparently Angelfire is still a thing. Anyway, out of nowhere I got an email asking if I would be interested in putting a banner ad up on the bootleg trading page in exchange for some swag. I said sure, popped in some code and eventually got a package in the mail from this company I’d never heard of.

It was Blue Note, the biggest jazz label around. I had no idea. Anyway, this happened twice and I wound up getting some records that might not have made it into my regular rotation, but definitely primed the pump for my later love of the genre. I remember getting Soulive’s Doin’ Something, Karl Denson’s Dance Lesson #2 and Charlie Hunter’s Songs From An Analog Playground.

I still listen to these records and am glad that they were the first ones I came across because they opened me up to the idea of new jazz. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, it’s a genre of music that is perceived to be mostly ruled by dead musicians. This is still a vast, evolving art form that new people are doing amazing things with.

I remember being blown away by the way Denson incorporated a DJ (DJ Logic to be specific) into his compositions, Soulive kept things fun and funky and Hunter brought in singers like Mos Def and a pre-fame Norah Jones to help bring his songs to life. There’s a vibrancy to those records that make them worth listening to and also built an interesting foundation for what jazz could be in my mind. This is not a stagnant form and it should not stay static. Art doesn’t work that way, museums do.miles davis bitches brew

The first classic jazz record I ever picked up was Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. That jazz/rock fusion album probably wasn’t the best place to dip my toe in for either the genre or Davis’ fantastic catalog, but one of my favorite magazines at the time Guitar World, did a huge feature on it and I was interested. Unfortunately, the acid washed improvisation wasn’t something I was quite ready for yet so I only listened to the full double album a few times before shelving it.

It wasn’t until my senior year of college at Ohio Wesleyan that I really continued my jazz journey. I’d pretty much nailed down all my required classes to graduate and decided to take it easy on myself both class and schedule wise. That translated into a very relaxed schedule that included Jazz 110 at the music building, a place I’d only been a handful of times in my college career (it was in a completely part of the campus).

The class seemed split between people like myself looking to get an easy credit and others who were legitimately into this kind of music. And, honestly, it was a pretty easy class. The hardest part came when we were played various instruments and had to write down what they were. That’s not my strong suit and I think I bombed that quiz pretty hard. But the rest of it was pretty basic stuff with a mix of history — tracing the music back to New Orleans — and memorization. For the final I remember listening to a long list of songs because we’d have to name them on the test after hearing a snippet. I’ve always been bad at remembering non-obvious song names, so that was tough too.

The songs themselves all came from the Ken Burns Jazz box set, which we had to buy for class. A lot of kids burned or downloaded it, but I got one (well, my parents got me one along with my other text books which I did feel a bit bad about because I was actually excited about the purchase. Still, I got a good deal on a used one). If you’re even remotely interested in jazz, that box is a great place to start because it takes a chronological look at the form going from old school New Orleans brass band stuff all the way up through Weather Report. In other words, it’s a great sampler.jazz the first 100 years

One of the big things I learned from that class were the different subgeneres of jazz. You’ve got everything from New Orleans and bop to blue, swing, acid, fusion and even jazz-rap. There is a ridiculous amount of music out there that, but the nice thing about the Ken Burns set and the Jazz: The First 100 Years textbook we used is that I got an idea of the form’s spectrum. From there I was able to zero in on the elements and subgenres that interested me most. For instance, I remember reading about Cecil Taylor’s crazy piano playing and then gave him a listen on the box set and realized I wanted to listen to more of that. You can do a lot of this with various websites and YouTube these days, but that’s not where my musical journey took me.

From there, I started exploring the greats. I picked up a couple Benny Goodman records — including one that’s a two disc full concert — got more into the biggies like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderly and Charles Mingus. I’ve also branched out into some of the odder stuff like Us3, a hip hop group that only sang over sampled jazz licks.

One aspect of jazz that I fell in love with pretty quickly was  how dramatic and comic book-like the whole scene was for a while. When I got into comics, I just dove in and started learning all I could about these characters. Eventually I built up a pretty solid mental database of who did what and when various characters teamed up. There’s a lot of that in jazz too. All of these people had these big personalities and crazy backstories. They were part of a band (team) for a period of time and then either moved on to another one or started their own. There’s also all kinds of team-ups all over the place. There’s a drama to the whole thing that sparked my imagination and helped me get interested in not just the music, but the people as well. Projects like The Quintet or Duke Ellington recording with Louis Armstrong hold a lot of appeal for me.

Another aspect of the form — at least the stuff I seem to be drawn to — is that it can be listened to on various levels. I can put something like Monk’s Alone In San Francisco and flow in and out of it while I do work or get some writing done. But, I can also sit and really explore these records, noting how they twist, turn and play with the form. I’m not nearly musical enough to get too in depth with this stuff, but I like a record that you could potentially sit in a dark room with and just experience. A lot of the jazz records I’ve listened to can be that.

While I still check out the jazz section of any used record store I find myself at, the main source of recently purchased records comes from Amazon’s MP3 store. Every month they put 100 albums on sale for $5 each and there’s usually a jazz album or two in there. That’s where I got Mulligan Meets Monk and a few others like Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ Moanin’, Cannonaball’s Bossa Nova, Miles Davis’ seminal Kind Of Blue and even the Willie Nelson, Winton Marsalis and Norah Jones Ray Charles tribute called Here We Go Again.

It’s kind of wild to think that I’ve only been into this form of music for 8 years or so. Sure there were those first few Blue Note records, but those could have easily turned into outliers in the statistical equation of my music collection, a funny story to tell from my online past. What’s even stranger to think about is how separated this kind of music tends to be in the world of pop culture. Jazz just isn’t out there in the pop world as much as other forms, so it’s possible to completely miss it if you’re not looking for something new and different. Now that I think about it, that’s another common theme between jazz and comic books. Anyway, I’m hoping to remedy that a bit with my kid and expose her to this stuff at an early age. I hope she digs that swing!

My 12 Favorite New-To-Me Records Of 2011

Okay, as promised, I’m finally getting around to writing about my favorite new-to-me records of 2011, just like I did last year. Of course, I’m not counting new old record by my favorite bands of the year, because that would just be redundant. As it happened there were a clean dozen records that really sparked my imagination and pleased my ears in various ways this year. I’m going to try and keep these short and sweet, but you never know when it comes to me. As you probably know, I can get a bit wordy. If you want to see all those words, hit the jump. Continue reading My 12 Favorite New-To-Me Records Of 2011

My 10 Favorite New Records Of 2011

Had I been more organized, I would have had this post ready to go on New Year’s Eve or Day, but as it is, I was busy and just didn’t have the time or wherewithal to get it together. I have been doing my research over the past few weeks and have come up with not one, not two, but three music-related best of lists for 2011. Like last year, I will list my favorite new music of 2011 as well as the older records I discovered in the year, but I’m also adding a new section about bands that I really go into this year. I’ll get into more detail when I get to that post, but there will be some albums on that list that could or would have been on this list, so technically, I had more than 10 favorites this year. As always, this list is in no particular order, so here we go. Continue reading My 10 Favorite New Records Of 2011

Christmas Stories: The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s Dig That Crazy Christmas

I know I’ve been severely lacking in Christmas Stories posts this year. It’s not because I’m not having trouble getting into the season, but I am having trouble writing posts about getting into the season. Also, turns out I’ve written about a lot of this stuff already, which makes sense because we watch most of the same movies and listen to the same records every single year.

But, I did get a few new Christmas discs that I’m pretty excited about. The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s Dig That Crazy Christmas from 2005 has been on my radar since it came out, but it wasn’t until Amazon sold the digital version for $5 (it’s $8.99 now) that I added it to our collection. I’d been a fan of Setzer’s since the swing revival of the late 90s. After getting Dirty Boogie along with the rest of the world, I also went back and got Guitar Slinger and later picked up the one and only ’68 Comeback Special disc. I really dig the rockabilly sound Setzer produces and thinks he really utilized his band. There’s also a lot of surf rock elements that I really enjoy.

Thankfully, all of those elements are on Dig That Crazy Christmas and it makes for a really fun holiday sonic adventure. There’s a great mix of standards like “White Christmas” and “Let It Snow” as well as blues and swing based tunes I hadn’t heard before and even a couple of original songs.

One of my favorite tracks on the record is the noodly mostly instrumental version of “Angels We Have Heard On High.” It’s already such a big and powerful song, which is both exemplified and amplified by the combination of the Orchestra and Setzer’s chops. And that’s really what I’m looking for in new Christmas albums: new takes on old favorites. Usually I’m the guy that wants new inserted into most things and that’s occasionally the case when it comes to Christmas music, but I usually want to sing along and if you can’t do it better or in a different way than Bing Crosby, Dean Martin or Peggy Lee, don’t bother. Setzer and company make these songs their own and thus give a nice rocking take on the songs I know and love.

Last Night’s Shows Today: Eureka, Warehouse 13 & Real Housewives Of New York

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these LNST columns. I’m still watching as much TV as ever, but I’m just not writing about it as much. I guess that’s because a lot of things are in reruns, I haven’ caught on to a lot of new shows and I’ve found other bloggers who write about the shows I like far better than I (and for actual money). Last night was a unique experience though as Syfy launched what looks like a pretty solid line-up of sci-fi themed, hour long shows. I only watched two of them, though because I’ve got to get caught up on my Housewives. Yes, I realize how sad that is.

EUREKA (8:00PM, Syfy)The missus and I lucked out and got completely caught up on Eureka‘s current season a few weeks back. Syfy was running a marathon and we tuned in exactly at the place where we left off during the previous marathon. Last night’s episode was the premiere of the second half of this season (yeah, it’s confusing). If you missed out, this whole season has revolved around Jack, Fargo, Allison, Jo and Henry dealing with a trip to the past that changed the present. This particular episode didn’t deal with that too much, instead focusing on Fargo and Zane accidentally launching themselves into space and everyone else trying to get them back safely. It’s a real “anything that can go wrong, will” story that shows off how good the Eureka writing staff is at playing within in their chosen genres. I’m still on the fence whether not getting into the greater mythology was a mistake or note. On one hand, it’s a kind of season opener so it might make sense to go light on the continuity, however, it’s not a season opener but a mid season opener, so why not jump in with both feet? I’ve got high hopes for the rest of this season. I’m guessing the Big Five’s big secret will start leaking out all over the place and am curious to see what the writers do with that.

WAREHOUSE 13 (9:00PM, Syfy)I didn’t write about it on the blog, but the last season finale for Warehouse 13 was pretty epic. While each episode that season had a solid monster of the week-type set up with Pete, Myka, Artie, Leena and Claudia tracking down artifacts that cause all kinds of havoc while also building on an overarching story. Things got pretty crazy at the end of the season with the world at risk and Myka quitting the Warehouse. The missus caught me up on that because I forgot most of it, so I was pumped for the premiere. And it turned out pretty good. I can’t really explain the episode because I missed a few of the details regarding the specific artifact, but people were getting killed and the Warehouse 13 crew–including new member and walking lie-detector Aaron Ashmore from Veronica Mars!–figuring it out. Of course, they run into Myka in her new day job and she SPOILER winds up rejoining the team with Ashmore staying on as well.

I did have one geeky problem with the episode though. The beginning is kind of ridiculous. Ashmore gets introduced as a New Jersey fed trying to figure out why a rock and roll museum is shooting lightning all over the place. Turns out Jimi Hendrix’s guitar is inside and causing the commotion. Claudia has to screw in his tremolo and whammy the guitar so it stops. My problems were two fold. First off, this whole scene just had a generally silly tone to it. The museum looked like a few pieces of clothes and a rack of guitars placed in an office building’s hallway. The dialog also got a little too inside baseball with Claudia geeking out when fire and lightning is literally inches away from killing her. Even worse than that, though, was the fact that Claudia picked up a normal right handed guitar to play. The problem with that is that, while Hendrix did play a right handed guitar, he flipped it over, switched a few parts and actually played it left handed. So, when she puts the guitar–which is not encased in anything by the way–over her shoulder, it’s normally right handed. If you’re going to throw around years and tremolos, you damn well better get all the details right. Just saying.

REAL HOUSEWIVES OF NEW YORK (10:00PM, Bravo, rerun)Because the missus and I were out of town from Thursday evening until yesterday afternoon, we missed a lot of our regular shows, including Real Housewives of New York and New Jersey. As such, when I saw that these reruns were starting at 10, I passed up on Alphas, but will probably catch up on it at some point this weekend. Quick funny story, I was in the living room watching RHONY while my wife was in the bedroom feeding the baby and watching Alphas. She was disappointed when she came out and I was watching Bravo.

Anyway, I’ve become enthralled with Brian Moylan‘s Housewives posts on Gawker, but figured I’d toss out a few observations of my own (I haven’t read his post(s?) on the most recent episodes. Anyway, the juxtaposition of Ramona dragging her daughter Avery to a burlesque store (which is really a sex store, right?) played up against Jill’s daughter Allie explaining to her that she’s taking a sex class (a pretty popular class at every college, if I remember correctly) and wants to be a sex columnist for a magazine (snicker, good luck with that honey) was amazing. This episode should have probably been called “Ramona’s a bad mother” because after emotionally traumatizing Avery at a sex store, she then meets up with her for lunch and asks if she can make some calls while they eat. Avery explicitly tells her mother that she misses her and wants to spend more time with her parents and Ramona completely brushes her off, later saying that Avery is constantly calling her and her husband to find out where they are and looking annoyed while doing it.

There’s some other junk with mothers and daughters, including LuAnn–who’s become the most insufferable of the ladies by far–teaching her too-hop daughter to drive out in the Hamptons. It must have been a fluke when both of them were in the same county at the same time, so they made the best out of it. There’s also a bit where the Countess’ producer–who happens to look exactly like Tintin–plays her new song for her. It’s awful as you might expect. I hope that guy never works for legit people ever/again.

The rest of the episode revolves around Sonja’s burlesque party (which is why Ramona was in a burlesque store earlier). Most of the attendees didn’t seem to know what burlesque really was as it looked like a messy mash-up of Victorian, steampunk, circus master (Mario) and vintage Clockwork Orange thanks to Kelly. I am absolutely a one hundred percent heterosexual male, yet anytime Sonja smushes her lady bits into a supposedly sexy and far too revealing outfit and starts prancing around, I get a little sick in my stomach. She does not got it, she should not flaunt it, she just looks like a sad old lady looking, nay BEGGING for attention.