Monday, August 31, 2009

Billie Holiday with Lester Young - Lady Day and Prez 1937-1941

August 26th was a centennial of Lester Young's birth. I would like to honor the memory of a musician after whom I took my alias - LesTP (Lester The Prez).

Billie Holiday and Lester Young were a match made in the music writer's heaven: Lady Day, the embodiment of jazz, and The Prez, the best and the hippest of the shade-wearing, sax-toting, dope-smoking jazz cats. Their musical affinity, the tender platonic relationship, the fact that they gave each other nicknames, their brief, tragic, self-destructive lives inspired countless pages of purple proze. I quoted some of the more florid writing before: "like mating eagles, they rose higher and higher..." etc.

However, their alliance is interesting not only as a backdrop for a cliche'd romantic story, but for some very specific musical reasons. Lester Young is well-known as Charlie Parker's boyhood idol and the biggest influence on bop playing in general. The following style elements are usually listed: emphasis on the melodic rather than harmonic improvisation, fluid phrasing that goes across the bar, a loose rhythmic approach with a tendency to play behind the beat.
People who talk about his recordings with Holiday also say that their musical styles were especially close, and they list much the same elements as above. Apparently, Holiday and Young developed this approach independently, but once they started playing together, it really clicked.
Billie Holiday was never considered to be a bop forerunner or a bop singer proper, like Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, or Anita O'Day - by the time bop started to take shape, she was already too invested into her extramusical/chemical pursuits to stay on the cutting edge - but at the time of these recordings she was definitely the first modernist among the jazz singers.

Second point: the music writer's fascination with the romantic couple unfortunately draws attention away from the other musicians that played on this. Sessions for a commercially and artistically successfull singer together with the best instrumentalist of the time are bound to draw a constellation of great accompanists, and they do: see the listing here (for recordings in chronological order) or here (track-by-track). Walter Page, Jo Jones, and Freddie Green are the celebrated Count Basie rhythm section, Claude Thornhill's future band became a veritable school for the cool jazz musicians, a former King Oliver/Louis Armstrong colleague Benny Morton is on clarinet, another sax is by Johnny Hodges, who really needs no introduction. As any great musician, Billie Holiday develops a special rapport with each one of them.
My favorite contributions, though, are by Buck Clayton: hear, for instance, his trumpet figures behind Billie on Easy Living. He is present on virtually every track. For bonus nerd points, Clayton is the single biggest contributor to the development of Chinese jazz/shidaiqu (wiki): he lived in Shanghai in 1934-1937, led a highly popular jazz band, and closely collaborated with Li Jinhui, the main architect of the shidaiqu sound.

But all the musical nerdery aside, these are some great pop songs from back when jazz was a good-time party music, before it got mired in the high-art pretensions. They are bouncy, catchy, groovy, melodic - and they are made by the greatest jazz singer and the greatest jazz instrumetalist of the time at the peak of their powers. Highly recommended!

Billie Holiday with Lester Young - Lady Day and Prez 1937-1941
256kbps, 125mb on megaupload
1. This Year's Kisses
2. Without Your Love
3. All Of Me
4. Me, Myself And I (Are All In Love With You)
5. I'll Get By
6. Mean To Me
7. A Sailboat In The Moonlight
8. I'll Never Be The Same
9. Getting Some Fun Out Of Life
10. The Man I Love
11. Trav'lin' All Alone
12. Time On My Hands
13. Laughing At Life
14. Back In Your Own Backyard
15. Georgia On My Mind
16. Let's Do It
17. Foolin' Myself
18. Easy Living
19. Say It With A Kiss
20. You Can't Be Mine (And Someone Else's Too)
21. I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me
22. She's Funny That Way
23. Romance In The Dark
24. I Must Have That Man!

There are several compilations of this material out there. This one is a single-disc collection of choice picks from their legacy. There is also a double-disc Complete Billie Holiday and Lester Young at Taringa, although the bitrate is a little lower. There is also another "Complete recordings" collection on 3 CDs that includes a disc's worth of alternate takes etc., but I don't have that one.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Grace Chang - Pathe 100 Vol.15

An upload and liner notes translation by Remorseful Prober.

Grace Zhang (Ge Lan, real name Zhang Yu-Fang) was born in the city of Haining in Zhejiang province, and grew up in Shanghai. She immigrated to Hong Kong with her family in 1949. In 1952 she passed a screen test for the Taishan movie company, and dropped out of school to star in the movies. Her screen name Ge Lan comes from the English name Grace, selected by a studio director. In this year she starred in her first movie, "Love in Spring" which was shown in Singapore in 1953. By 1957, after starring and co-starring in several more movies her popularity soared, and she was considered for a brief time the queen of musicals. In 1959 she was invited by NBC to sing on US television, on the Dinah Shore show. She was married to a wealthy businessman in London in 1961, and then retired in 1964, having starred in over thirty movies.
Between 1950 and 1960 she made records for the Bai-Dai label, the most popular being, "I love the Cha-Cha", "Carmen", "I Want Your Love" and "I Want to Fly in the Blue Sky." In 1973 she began to study Beijing Opera, and when the state-sponsored Beijing Opera Troupe visited Hong Kong in 1979 she was allowed to perform one song with them, a considerable honor. In 1989 she recorded an album of famous songs of the Chinese Opera. In 1994 she performed in an a-capella commerative concert for the 100th birthday of one of Beijing's most famous opera performers, Mei Lan-Fang. In retirement, she continues to make occasional appearances.

This collection by Grace Chang is doubly different from the previous Pathe 100 discs. The singers featured before started in the Shanghai nightclubs and dancehalls and moved away from the mainland after 1950. While Grace Chang grew up in Shanghai, she began her career in Hong Kong. I think this is reflected in a more pronounced Western influence in her music. Secondly, the performers so far were singers first, and except for Zhou Xuan, appeared in the movies mostly in cameo roles or solely on the soundtrack. Grace Chang was foremost an actress, although she starred in musicals. The Soft Film blog has several posts with clips from her movies, promo photos etc. Make sure to check out her version of Carmen (Habanera) - strumming (pretending to strum) a National Tricone, no less!

Tagged in Chinese on mediafire
Tagged in English on sharebee
1. I Want Your Love (I Want You to Be My Baby)
2. What Do You Want
3. Moonless Night
4. Beautiful Taiwan
5. Carmen
6. Butterfly Lovers
7. Love in the Countryside
8. Good Tidings Come to the Door
9. World of Shadows
10. How Can I be Without Him?
11. Unspoken Joy
12. Beautiful Dancing
13. Suddenly I See Him
14. The Hula Hula Twist
15. Girl Soldier
16. Love Blossoming Everywhere
17. Marriage as a Cold War
18. Barroom Angel
19. Crazy in Love (literal: Love Sounds Like “Ding-Dong”)
20. Moonlight Love
21. Can’t Deny the Heart

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pathe 100 Vol.3 - Yao Li

Another share by Remorseful Prober.
A compilation of songs by Yao Li (Yao Lee) [Bio at Wiki]. She first rose to popularity in Mainland China, singing in a Shanghainese dance hall style. Her brother Yao Min was also a successfull pop singer, and they often recorded as a duo. She was a rival of Zhou Xuan, and had a stage name of "Silver Voice" in counterpart to Zhou Xuan - "Golden Voice". After the revolution she fled to Hong Kong where she continued to record, her songs featured prominently in many movies.

Yao Li’s voice changed with time. Her initial success in Shanghai was partially indebted to the techniques and vocal training of Russian diaspora court musicians. In the 1940s, Yao Min asked her to imitate black singers from Hollywood films that were easily available in Shanghai. Her voice thus became lower and thicker, full of jazz’s lyricism. In the 1950s, however, she began to fall in love with the voice of Patti Page and developed a new hybrid style based on jazz and country music. @

This disc is most notable for inclusion of the original version of "Rose, Rose, I Love You", possibly the only China-to-America crossover hit ever.

"Rose, Rose, I Love You" comes from the 1940 film A Pitiful Singing Girl. The music and words were written by Chen Gexin and Wu Cun respectively. The singer of the song, Yao Li, played a minor part as a singer in the film. It proved to be an instant hit. This very same song was also the first Chinese song to be adapted with English words, to win international fame. It was the famous American singer Frankie Laine who sang the English version, which made its way to the top of the American popular song chart in the early 1950s. As time passed, many Chinese people came to mistake the Chinese version for an adaptation from the English version. The liveliness and high spirits of the music, the clever blending of Chinese tunes into a cosmopolitan style, were probably the reasons for its popularity all over the world. @

This song is also featured on the Remixed and Restored Vol.1 CD by Shanghai Restoration Project.

Tagged in English on sharebee
Tagged in Chinese on mediafire
1. Catching Lovesickness
2. Susan
3. Rose, Rose, I Love You
4. Lovers With The Same Fate
5. Don’t Hesitate
6. Little Brother
7. Keep Silent
8. Ay-ya-ya
9. I Don’t Want You
10. Little Shepard
11. Riding a Bicycle in Spring
12. Wasting Your Youth
13. The Riverside in Suzhou
14. Long Distance Love
15. Don’t Say No
16. Looking for a Trace of You in the Moonlight
17. Happy Youth
18. What Kind of World is This?
19. What is Love?
20. Golden Oriole Flying
21. Fantasy
22. Red Lights and Green Booze

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Richard Hell and the Voidoids - Destiny Street

I did not mean to continue the Quine retrospective, but there are some new developments with his recorded legacy.

It is well known that Richard Hell was unhappy with the Voidoids' second LP. Destiny Street was recorded in 1982, in a difficult period for Hell. ...the record is heavily guitar-laden - when I couldn't muster the self-possession to leave the house I'd call the studio and tell them to lay down another guitar track - says Richard himself in the original liner notes.
And this is from a Quine interview:
Q: I read that sometimes Richard Hell would cancel or even no-show when you were recording, and that you would just lay down more and more guitar tracks. If this is true, did you help mix these and decide which tracks were used in the final cut?
A: When we were working on Destiny Street in early '81, Richard did totally disappear for a week (that's the only time that ever happened). We had already done the basic tracks. But the time was already booked, so Naux and I went in and did a LOT of overdubs during that week (too many!).
Then Richard reappeared and did his vocals and fixed a few bass parts. Then over a year went by before the album was mixed. I was invited to participate but declined — I was busy, and couldn't face dealing with the nightmarish number of overdubs I'd done (backwards guitars, constant feedback, etc.). So I wrote down some of my opinions on how the record could be mixed, some of which were followed.
My one basic misgiving about the final mix is that many of the guitars on the "live" basic tracks were fairly inaudible, buried under overdubs that were only meant for adding subtle textures. But over the years I got used to that mix, and it's difficult for me to imagine the album sounding any other way, for better or worse.

Recently, Richard Hell came across the original tapes for the album and decided to do it justice: Using those original rhythm tracks as the foundation, Hell recorded fresh, new vocals, did some editing, gathered new musicians of the highest caliber for the lead guitars, and re-mixed all the elements to produce Destiny Street Repaired - says the official release. The new musicians mentioned are Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, and Ivan Julian.

In general, I would be excited to hear a "second take" like this one, especially with the star guitar players Hell picked. I recently posted Gerry Mulligan's second take on the Birth of the Cool, and I think it's a great effort, very much worth hearing. However, there is one caveat: those second takes should be an addition, not a replacement - what would you say if Mulligan's Re-Birth of the Cool was the only version available? Unfortunately, this is the case with the Destiny Street Repaired. Hell, the copyright owner, deliberately allowed the original to drop out of print and has no plans for bringing it back. A number of fans voiced their concerns: both of the original guitar players, Naux and Quine, are dead, and messing with their legacy like this is unfair. I would agree, except for the fact that it allows me to post the original officially-out-of-print album without any misgivings. Perhaps it should be titled Destiny Street DON'T FIX WHAT AIN'T BROKE.

Richard Hell and the Voidoids - Destiny Street
High VBR, 60mb on depositfiles
1. The Kid with the Replaceable Head
2. You Gotta Move
3. Going Going Gone
4. Lowest Common Denominator
5. Downtown at Dawn
6. Time
7. I Can Only Give You Everything
8. Ignore That Door
9. Staring In Her Eyes
10. Destiny Street

PS See The Hound's posts with Quine's unreleased recordings from 2004, shortly before his passing: one, two. Also, a Hell ROIR bootleg, Quine plays on tracks #4-9 and did overdubs on #11 and 14.