Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Louis Armstrong - Blues Accompaniments 1924-1927

If I were to compile a list of my favorite jazz players, it probably won't overlap with a "jazz genius top ten" by much. I'll take Sonny over Trane any day, ditto Fats and Brownie over Miles, and I am only lately starting to warm up to Parker, and then probably because of overexposure than because of a true emotional connection - I must've heard his Savoy sides more times than I've heard Pink Floyd. But there is one guy that will probably top both lists, and that is Louis Armstrong. Satchmo does it for me every time.
I'll take his Hot Fives/Sevens to a desert island, no contest. There is no point in sharing them, though: there have been at least three different "complete" reissues, probably more, and all are easily available elsewhere. However, his sideman recordings are more obscure. After coming up to Chicago in 1922 to play with King Oliver and then Fletcher Henderson, Pops was very much in demand as a studio musician and accompanist. I am sure he did not mind making some dough on the side, either, so there is a wealth of his solos backing the famous and not-so-famous blues singers of the day, from Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith on down. In fact, the record execs noticed that the 78s with his solos - even uncredited - often sold better, and that gave them a bright idea to record Armstrong as a leader; the rest, as they say, is history.
Today's share is a collection of tracks with Armstrong's participation, recorded between 1924 and 1927. There are some sublime solos here; my favorites are two Bessie Smith tracks - I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle and You've Been a Good Ole Wagon; another great track, He Likes It Slow, features the whole Hot Five and so appeared as a part of the "Complete" box sets. I should warn the prospective listeners that some of this is pretty sonically crude. Hot Fives and Sevens were an all-star band and they got all the latest studio gizmos and extra attention from the recording engineers; also, we get to hear the Hot Fives and Sevens after they've been put through the marvels of modern remastering. These tracks, OTOH, have none of the above; what they often do have is a distinctive unrehearsed "let's cut it and go drinking" one-take feel - the balance is all over the place, there are stumbles and rough spots, and the instrumentation is sometimes rather skeletal, such as the vocal-cornet-harmonium trio on the St. Louis Blues. So, for all the historical interest and occasional brilliance of Satchmo's solos, these probably won't be going with me to any desert island unless I'll be taking my 500GB hard drive with me.
A very thorough Armstrong discography can be found here, refer to it for session dates, personnel and instrumentation.
Track list and links are in comments.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Daily WTF

For those who think they have seen everything: a german a capella metal group van Canto does Metallica.

Dennis Schunke - Lead Vocals
Inga Scharf - Lead Vocals
Stefan Schmidt – lower rakkatakka vocals, wahwah solo guitar vocals
Ross Thompson – higher rakkatakka vocals
Ingo Sterzinger – lowest dandan vocals
Dennis Strillinger - Drums

Their 2006 album A Storm To Come is available here or here

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

There is common repertoire for every instrument. Every brass player comes across Arban's Carnival of Venus, every alto saxophonist encounters Parker's licks. For some instruments - piano, guitar - the literature is so extensive that there may not really be anything common for two musicians to share. If you're into country blues or Segovia, you can play guitar for fifty years and never get to learn Purple Haze. On the other hand, every slide guitar player can play Rollin' and Tumblin'. For many other instruments, the book is pretty thin: every banjoist can pick Black Mountain Rag, French horn's got its Mozart Third Concerto and Wagner bits, for harmonica there's My Babe, bagpipers have a handful of Scottish/Irish tunes... and how much is written for gamelan or theremin? It takes a long, long time to build a literature for an instrument - which makes the euphonium situation all the more miraculous.

Euphonium is a wonderful but obscure instrument of the brass family (it's also got a twin brother called a baritone saxhorn - the difference is like trumpet and cornet, i.e. pretty much none). Looking like a dwarf tuba, it is a tenor-pitched instrument with a range similar to that of a trombone. I blame its obscurity on the fact that there was pretty much no repertoire for it - until recently. In the last decade or so, an interesting thing happened: euphonium book spontaneously expanded and engulfed a most unlikely style - the video game music. A cursory search on youtube reveals hundreds of young euphonists (euphonimists? euphists?) bashing out this or that Mario theme, Zelda's Ocarina Of Time etc.etc. It's not like there's a music school somewhere with a particularly geeky/open-minded low brass professor - the players are from all over, Europe, UK, US, wherever. It seems like the idea of picking out a videogame tune on a euphonium or tuba is the most natural one.
Hereby, I present my case:

A one-man brass orchestra:

A one-man euphonium trio:

Final Fantasy 6


Here's one for three tubas

No less than five overdubbed euphonium parts - notice it's the same guy as the first video, euphonium07, Anthony Caillet - check out his youtube channel!

And this one must be the coolest videogame music interpretation ever - not on euphonium, though.