Archive for January, 2009


Donald Byrd – Kofi


When you assume you make an ass out of you…but mostly me.

Months ago, I drew up plans to complete the renovations on my condo with the goal of moving my girlfriend in.  It was a simple plan that involved expanding my closet to a walk in closet, remodeling my bathroom and updating the fixtures, and finally opening up storage space in my attic.  See, certain units in my building have a roof area over part of them that isn’t used.  I made the assumption that mine was one of those units.

I was wrong.

My friend Brian and I carved a hole in my wall in an attempt to see how much space was back there…but we hit a wall.  Literally, a plaster wall.  It was then that Brian suggested we venture onto the roof to see for ourselves what was on the other side of the wall.

The answer?  Open sky and my AC unit.  No attic.

I guess a hole in my wall is a small price to pay, but I guess next time I should investigate more before cutting into the wall.  Shit, you could even see the roof space on Google maps.

Another assumption you should never make is that all the best music from old artists has already been released, as is the case with this week’s pick – trumpeter Donald Byrd’s “Kofi.” 

Back in the 90’s Blue Note Records and EMI collaborated on a reissue series called Blue Note Rare Groove.  I had picked up a couple of these recordings, many unreleased, and was really impressed with the quality of both the recordings and the material.  This was some prime shit right here!  Unfortunately, most of those CDs are now out of print…although a patient selecta can still grab a copy if you look around.

Byrd was born in Detroit and attended The Cass Technical High School where he soon found himself jamming with Lionel Hampton.  After a stint in the Air Force, he got his bachelors (at Wayne State) and then masters degree in music from The Manhattan School of Music.  While getting his masters, he joined a little group called The Jazz Messengers, led by Art Blakely. Word.

In 1956 though, he left the Messengers and started jamming with all the heavy hitters in the jazz world.  Cats like Coltrane, Monk, and Herbie Hancock. It was during this period that he began to excel at a new brand of jazz called hard-bop, an extension of the Be-Bop style. This sound propelled Byrd all through the sixties until he reached the seventies and began to drift towards a new collaboration of jazz-fusion.  “Kofi” uniquely captures this moment in his career perfectly.

Culled from two separate recording sessions, one in 1969 and the other in 1970, “Kofi” finds Byrd straddling two worlds.  The first two tracks ‘Kofi’ and ‘Fufu’ are pure sixties hard bop, modal jazz and with help from his backing musicians Byrd creates pure magic with the best tracks on the album.  Notably different are the last three songs recorded in 1970.  ‘Perpetual Love,’ “Elmina’ and ‘The Loud Minority’ are proto acid jazz.  Moody and full of funky flavor.

If you’ve never heard of Byrd, or just heard of him in passing and aren’t familiar with his solo work, this is a great piece to own.

Just don’t assume you already know.



Big Night – OST


Over the years, I’ve noticed details in movie trailers that can tell you if a movie is going to suck or not.  They’re little details that most people never notice, but they happen all the time.

1. The Trailers on TV Suddenly Switch Marketing Tactics: I see this one quite a bit these days.  The first trailers for “Hancock” promoted it as a comedy.  When that didn’t go over too well, they started marketing it as an action film… instead of as the big piece of shit it was.  It means the film isn’t being received well.

2. Reviews: Trailers love touting good reviews, but the key is to see who gave the review.  Most great films will put the name of the publication in big bold print like “Rolling Stone Magazine calls it The Best Film of The Year!”  But if the movie sucks, they put the reviews in big letters and the source in illegible tiny letters underneath…like “This Film is a Triumph!” Jeff Craig – Sixty Second Previews.  This is usually because the reviewer sucks and gets paid to give good reviews to crappy films.

(Also avoid any film reviewed by Jeff Craig who apparently thinks the mere act of projecting moving images on a wall is ‘A Triumph!”)

Another variation on this scam is to declare things like “This is the Movie to see this season!” and deliver them as if they were reviews, but no credit is given…mostly because no one made that statement in a review.  A marketing hack did.

3. It Goes Straight to DVD:  Anytime I have to go to the video store with my parents I have to explain this concept.  “I didn’t know they made a fourth sequel to American Pie!” my Dad will say. And I’ll say “That’s because they were too ashamed to tell you.”

4. The Soundtrack Features a New Hit Song By Somebody: I don’t know why this usually is the case, but if they promote a movie with a song, then the movie is probably lacking…and the soundtrack is really lacking.

A good soundtrack is less concerned with hit songs and more concerned with songs that complement the setting and mood of the film, and nowhere is that more apparent than on the soundtrack to the 1996 film “Big Night.”

If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it.  It follows two Italian brothers (played by Stanley Tucci and the always awesome Tony Shalhoub) trying to keep their struggling Italian restaurant afloat without compromising their values.  Their dreams seem close to fulfillment when a competitor promises to send Louis Prima to the restaurant for dinner, and a lavish feast is prepared.  I won’t spoil the rest for you, but if you like Italian food, this movie has got some serious food for visual masturbation.  And if you like Italian music, then you’re in for a real treat.


The problem with most movies that go for a retro vibe in their soundtracks is that they tend to simply devolve into piles of kitsch and uninspired top 40 rehashing (Forrest Gump, I’m looking in your direction.)  But “Big Night” seems to avoid this pitfall and come up with some really nice pieces.

Sure the Louis Prima numbers are no brainers with hits like ‘Oh, Marie’ and ‘Bouna Sera,’ but it’s the authentic old country sound of Claudia Villa’s ‘Stornelli Amorisi’ and Matteo Salvatore’s ‘Il Pescivnedolo’ that really brighten up the set. Toss in some inspired swinging jazz work by composer Gary DeMichele and you have a soundtrack for your next pasta night…or wine drinking stupor.

To be honest, I think that playing this soundtrack while cooking actually makes your food taste better.  I could be wrong, but why take that chance?


Van Morrison – Astral Weeks / Moondance


I had a puzzling incident with a jogger this morning.

I was heading down the road next to my house when I approached the intersection and got in the right turn lane.  I’m not sure where the jogger was at this point, but I’m certain he wasn’t at the corner…certain because he was wearing fluorescent yellow and that shit is kind of hard to miss.

Anyways, there’s  traffic coming down the road and I’m slowly edging out, waiting for a clearing when I hear a knocking coming from my back window.  I look back to see this dude standing there, but at the same time the way was clear so I just ignored him and drove off.  My question is;  What’s with the knocking?  Could you not just cross behind my car, or were you so outraged that I had inadvertently caused you to slow down you had to make a show of it?

Either way, I’ve discovered that I don’t care…and that was the high point of my day.

Your welcome.

Van Morrison is another in a long line of brilliant artists who have been pigeon holed into being defined by one or two songs.  In Morrison’s case, that song is ‘Moondance’  from the album of the same name, and ‘Brown Eyed Girl.’  I’m torn between hating this phenomenon for depriving the world of a great body of work,and loving it at the same time because less people will ruin it.

There are some who will argue that “Astral Weeks” is Van Morrison’s best album, and I’m not gonna argue.  It’s deep, personal, artistic and poetic all at the same time and it works beautifully as a piece of art. Hell, even Lester Bangs couldn’t stop talking about how it changed his life…but it just doesn’t rock like “Moondance” does.

George Ivan Morrison was born in Belfast in 1945, and was raised on his fathers extensive soul,jazz and blues record collection acquired on a trip to the US years earlier.  It probably didn’t hurt that his mother Violet was a singer and tap dancer as well. At the age of 11 he received his first acoustic guitar and was soon playing in local skiffle bands with his friends. When he got turned down from a band he wanted to join because they already had a guitar player, he took up tenor saxophone and did that for a while.  During this formative time it became clear that Van was a leader, taking on most of the singing and arranging in every band he joined.

When he finished school he was expected to do what most young men in his neighborhood were expected to do…get a regular job. He tried, but his heart was in the music, so at age 17 he went on a European tour with his band The Monarchs before returning in 1963 and disbanding. Soon after he and fellow guitarist Herbie Armstrong joined Brian Rossi and the Golden Eagles and Van had his first gig as lead singer.  But the gig was short lived as Van was soon joined up with The Gamblers, who then changed their name to Them and a legend was born. Van was the only songwriter and had soon penned a number of hits for the band including the seminal rock standard ‘Gloria.’

If I was lucky enough to write a song as awesome as ‘Gloria,’ I think I’d just retire…but not Van the Man.

Van was on his way. Soon he was the lead of the resident house band at LA’s Whiskey a Go Go where The Doors were the opening act…notably influencing the other Morrison with his stage presence.  But soon the band was embroiled in a dispute with Decca Records and Morrison returned to Belfast intent on quitting the music business altogether.  Bert Berns, Them’s producer persuaded him to come back to New York and record a solo album on his new label, Bang Records.  The sessions proved fruitful when the new album “Blowin’ Your Mind” was released in 1967 with the lead single “Brown Eyed Girl.”

The only problem was that Van wasn’t consulted on the production or release of the album…and he wasn’t happy with the results.  Morrison wanted something different.  Berns died soon after the albums release, leaving Van in a contract dispute and he began to slip into a downward spiral.  He moved to Boston but had trouble finding gigs, although those he did find helped him get his footing back.

Warner Brothers soon bought out his contract from Bang and Van went back to work.  Catching him at his most hungry moment as an artist proved a boon for Warner Brothers when Morrison delivered “Astral Weeks” the next year.  An eclectic mix of folk, jazz and poetry that to this day defies any real classification.

If you don’t own it, I pity you and urge you to do something about it.

But as deep and depressive as “Astral Weeks” was, Morrison flipped it all around when he dropped “Moondance ” in 1970.If you’ve never heard anything but the title track, you’re missing out.  This was a classic rock album that doesn’t sound like any of the classic rock albums coming out at that time. Upbeat and seemingly effortless, it was undeniable proof that Morrison was as much a producer and bandleader as a poet.


Imam Baildi – ST


Whew!  The holidays are finally over and it’s time to get back to music…more notably Imam Baildi.

Unfortunately they are both new, and from another country so there isn’t that much information out there about them. So for the time being I’ll regale you with a little tale I call:


First, a little background on me.  I’m the last of three kids and my sisters are 8 and 10 years older than me.  They’re both married and they both have kids…the exact opposite of myself.  Between them they have eight kids so when you include my parents, that’s 14 family members to buy gifts for.

Now, I like giving gifts as much as recieving and I put a lot of effort into my gift choices.  On the Chistmas in question, I dropped well over $300 on my family and only asked for one gift…a Lomo camera.  That’s it!  That’s all I wanted, and all they had to get me…and if they didn’t know what else to get me they could simply ask.  Simple, huh?



First let me tell you how much I hate the “family gift.”  That’s where I buy 5-7 gifts for every member of a family, and they give me one gift from all of them in return.  This is a rip off.  Not that I expect the 3 year old to get me a gift, but when you hear what i got you’ll understand my fury.

So Christmas Eve arrives and we go to open presents.  My oldest sister, who has five kids, hands me a package to open.  It’s a pair of Santa Clause boxers that play “Jingle Bells” when you push Santa’s nose.  She felt this was hilarious, but I had to retrain myself from smacking her in the face.  Wearing those hideous boxers would only ensure I never got laid.  I dropped over $100 on her whole family and I get a $9 pair of underwear?!?!  One crappy gift down.

My other sister hands me a box excitedly and begs me to open it.  It’s a bright teal Mickey Mouse bowling shirt…with all the Disney characters embroidered all over it. “I saw this and immediately thought of you!” she said.  I thank her, but in my head I’m screaming “WHY?!?!? HAVE YOU EVER SEEN ME WEAR ANYTHING DISNEY…OR TEAL FOR THAT MATTER???  I’M TWENTY NINE YEARS OLD!!!”  I toss it into the pile.

Next I open my Mom’s gift.  It’s a photography book.  A photography book called “Prominent Feminist Figures of the 20th Century.”  WTF?  Seriously?

“I saw this on sale at Costco!” my mom chirped (she loves Costco) “You like photography, right?”  I aknowleged that I did, but asked her if she happened to notice that it was photographs of hairy women…I was getting pissed.  My Dad came through with the only redeeming gift, a box set of  The Ernie Kovacs Show…which was fucking awesome.  But then I look around and notice that there’s nothing else in my pile.  Where’s the Lomo camera I asked for?

“Oh…” my Mom says “We figured you could just go get it yourself.”

I nearly pitched a fit.  My Mom gave me a lecture about sounding ungrateful.  I told her I was ungrateful because all I got was crap.  Everything I got that year got thrown in the trash (except the Ernie Kovacs Vids…my Dad keeps his standing as a good gift giver) and from then on I decided to get everyone cheap gifts because anything else wasn’t worth it.

A few years later, my family adjusted the rules so now I only have to get stuff for everyone’s kids.  It’s easier, but now I get nothing in return…except from my parents who have since learned their lesson and at least get me the one thing I ask for.

Now, back to Imam Baildi who take their name from a baked eggplant dish.  I discovered them while searching for something completely different (porn) and was immediately struck by how well they mixed traditional Greek folk music off of old 78’s with electronic and hip hop beats.  It’s a simple formula, but a lot of simple formulas have been screwed up over the years, so you got to give them credit.

My good friend Becky is Greek and I gave it to her to play for her Grandma and Aunt.  It ended up as an old lady dance party at her house…and I expect it would spark a kind of dance party anywhere.  Whether its the moody ‘Samba Clarina’  you see above, or the intensely catchy  ‘O Pasatempos’ on top, Imam Baildi shows that the recipe started by St Germain can easily be applied to all kinds of world music.

Their CD is awesome, but they apparently have a limited edition 12 out there where they mashup their stuff with Jay-Z and the Beastie Boys. (Hit me up if you have a digital copy of this BTW!!!) You can check out their MySpace page or look for their music on the web.

I hope we see more of this kind of shit in the future.

Happy New Year!



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