by Charlie on October 22nd, 2008
The edifice referred to in the title is the Impulse! record label, and while John Coltrane may not have sustained, or guided the direction of, the label as much as this collection’s premise promotes, he certainly was, as much as Miles Davis, the cultural figurehead at the apex of jazz until his untimely death in 1967. Impulse!, a branch of ABC records, was known as the only major label to provide a home for the prominent avant garde musicians who followed Trane’s inspiration, but actually the whole range of jazz in the ’60′s was represented in the Impulse! catalog.
Founded in 1961 by Creed Taylor (who left almost immediately to head the Verve label’s jazz division), Bob Thiele took over the reigns until the end of the decade. A veteran journeyman record producer, Thiele’s catholicity and openmindedness were often matched by his stunning lapses in taste, something that, for instance, Blue Note’s Alfred Lion, could never be accused of; as all-over-the-map as Impulse! tended to be, both stylistically and aesthetically, the good stuff far outnumbered the cheese, and this 4 disc anthology is a great selection of the riches of the ’60s jazz scene.
Here we find traditionalists like Earl Hines, Pee Wee Russell, Count Basie and Benny Carter alongside free jazz firebrands Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler and Pharaoh Sanders. Speaking of great tenor players, this set contains a feast – from Golden Age progenitors Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, also the underrated Ellington stalwart Paul Gonsalves, to modernists Sonny Rollins and Yusef Lateef, not to mention Coltrane himself. Though not known for it’s Hard Bop releases, a staple of the Blue Note label, there are two fine examples of the form by Art Blakey and Freddie Hubbard, as well as early jazz-rock leaning cuts from Gabor Szabo and Chico Hamilton. All this and Charles Mingus, Gil Evans and Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. The only thing you’re really missing here is the chance to fixate on the gorgeous double-fold album covers while you are listening. There’s a whole book of nothing but reproductions of Blue Note album covers (rightfully so); there should be an Impulse! art book as well.
It’s a pity that the richness of the ’60s rock scene has tended to obscure the fact that jazz was also in as artistically vibrant a period as it had ever experienced. If you want to be introduced to the other Sound of the ’60s give this set a listen.
by Charlie on October 17th, 2008
Anybody up for over two hours of blatant Communist propaganda? Hands? Well, me neither, not usually, but an exception must be made for Mikhail Kalatozov’s daffy and gorgeous 1964 film " I Am Cuba". Commissioned as a Russian/Cuban goodwill co-production, the result was ill-received by the cultural commissars of both countries, considered by the Soviets to be decadently over-stylized and by the Cubans as the culturally tone-deaf, overly-romanticized work of a foreign interloper. Ideological and nationalistic concerns aside, the resultant movie is a hell of a feast for film freaks, among them Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, who were behind Cuba’s restoration and American release.
If Orson Wellles had been given a massive budget and complete artistic freedom, the result might have been very similar to the baroque glories accomplished here by director Kalatozov and his cinematographer Sergei Urosevsky – stunningly composed deep- focus high-contrast visuals throughout, and a long tracking shot over and through the swimming pool of a decadent capitalist hotel that can compare to the opening shot of "Touch of Evil". The influences of Antonioni and Fellini can also be detected; it seems that veteran Soviet filmmaker Kalatozov (who had gotten attention in the West for his 1957 "The Cranes are Flying", one of those films that get described as "anti-war" but is really nothing of the kind- still well worth viewing) was ready to take full advantage of the post-Stalinist artistic freedoms. He may have regarded the Cuban Revolution as one last chance for "Communism with a human face" (as the poet said,"his hope was a rope, he should have known"); his romantic "decadent formalism" may have pleased few in its intended audience at the time but has taken its place today as one of the cinema’s magnificent follies. If the idea of a mash-up of "Touch of Evil," ‘The Battle of Algiers" and "L’Aventurra" sounds remotely interesting to you I advise you to give this a view.
Also there is a great score by Carlos Farinas (why won’t anyone release the soundtrack?).
by Charlie on June 5th, 2008
Greg Shaw was one of those rare non-musicians whose influence on the development of pop music was incalculable. First as a publisher of fanzines and later as the head of the Bomp! Records label, Greg was in the forefront of chronicling and championing underappreciated music of the ’60s and ’50s, as well as supporting and promoting the burgeoning punk and new wave scenes. This book is primarily an anthology of articles and features by Shaw and other writers reprinted from his various publications, plus a historical and biographical overview provided by Mick Farren and ex-wife Suzy Shaw.
A teenage publisher of sci-fi and fantasy zines, including Entmoot, the first American J.R.R. Tolkien publication, by 1966 Greg was the co-editor of Mojo Navigator, after Crawdaddy the first "serious" rock music magazine. Reprinted here are perhaps the earliest in-depth interviews with the Grateful Dead, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Country Joe & the Fish, and the Doors. Read the rest of this entry »
by Charlie on May 8th, 2008
When I think of William Shatner, as I so often do, I marvel at the range of his characterizations. First there is Kirk, the ultimate Hero of our time (and of all time to come). Then there are the more conflicted protagonists, such as the monk Alexei from the 1958 Brothers Karamazov, or the soldier Marc in the all-Esperantu Language fantasy Incubus. There are characters that combine good and evil in equal measure, like Denny Crane, or the Priceline Negotiator. But never has the Shat Man revelled in pure evil more than in the role of Adam Cramer, the title character of 1962′s overlooked B-movie classic "The Intruder".
Scripted from his novel by Twilight Zone stalwart Charles Beaumont, and directed by the legendary Roger Corman, The Intruder follows "outside agitator" Cramer, ostensibly a representative of the mythical "Patrick Henry Society", who travels to small Southern towns stirring up the passions of the white citizenry against desegregation. Cramer seems to have no deep convictions himself, using his far-right oratory for self-aggrandizement, and to exploit his followers.
The Intruder was true guerilla film-making, Corman taking his crew to a small Missouri town, whose racist townspeople did not realize the movie was anti-racist in theme until late in the production, at which point the film-makers’ lives were threatened and shots were fired at them. The small contingent of Hollywood actors were supplemented by scripter Beaumont himself in the role of a principled school principal, while sc-fi writer pals William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson (authors of Logan’s Run) were drafted in to play local red-necks. Mobs of local yahoos were played by themselves.
Shatner is pretty amazing in this, for the most part eschewing his beloved patented Shatnerisms for a very straight-forward riveting turn as a chillingly charismatic hate-mongerer. The enjoyment in watching this full-blooded thoroughly entertaining melodrama is somewhat mediated by the realization that the extras expressing such hatred were the real deal, a disturbingly cinema-verite aspect that reminds us of what much of this country was like less than fifty years ago. This is supposed to have been the only film Roger Corman has ever made that has lost money (we can hope it is recouped by the DVD sales); well worth seeing both for intrinsic merit and as a historical reminder….and a remarkable performance in the lead. You thought you knew Shatner? You don’t know Shatner, not until you’ve seen this film.
by Charlie on April 14th, 2008
Anybody remember the Black Lizard paperback imprint from the ’80s? This series reissued noirish crime and mystery novels from the ’30s through the ’60s, most importantly the first extensive domestic reissue of Jim Thompson titles. Well, now the Hard Case Crime series is continuing the tradition, bringing back long out of print novels, mostly from the ’50s into the ’70s, along with a number of new works.
Speaking of new titles, first thing I should mention is Stephen King’s contribution, The Colorado Kid, which, being a King work, will probably be the first Hard Case Crime that most people will sample. Unfortunately, it may also be the last, being possibly the lamest prose the author has ever situated between two covers – precious, indulgently whimsical ( a mystery without a solution! ) and tonally incongruous within the other books, like slotting a Gene Autry film in a Spaghetti Western festival.
That out of the way, anyone with a taste for this sort of genre fiction should find much to enjoy. There’s a whole passel of fine and varied early Lawrence Block numbers; a page-turning non-Perry Mason entry by Earl Stanley Gardner; solid hard-boiled tales by Donald Westlake, Day Keene, Pete Hamill, Wade Miller, Richard Powell, and many more. David Dodge submits two fun combinations of exotic adventure and tough guy detection. For those with a leaning towards the Real Dark Stuff, there are novels by Cornell Woolrich, Gil Brewer, Charles Williams, and Seymour Shubin: protagonists doomed from the first page, inexorably spiraling down into the darkness. You know – they’re called Cozies, I believe.
Can’t forget to mention the gorgeous cover art, gaudy but artful tributes to the pulp paperback styles of the ’50s and ’60s.
by Charlie on March 31st, 2008
Long a legend among trawlers of esoteric musical experimentation, An Electric Storm, by the studio-based aggregation know as White Noise, has finally been given a proper reissue. Although this album seems more an interesting curio than a revelation it is still a must-listen for fans of 60′s rock.
White Noise was formed in London by classically-trained expatriate David Vorhaus, who, enthralled by the musical possibilities opening up in the pop-music scene, hooked up with like-minded electronic composers from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop ( including Delia Derbyshire, performer of the Dr. Who theme ). With the exception of drums and vocals, all the music here was generated electronically. While the Moog Synthesizer was ubiquitous at this time, used by everyone from Sun Ra to the Monkees, White Noise went the traditional route of electronic composition, painstakingly splicing and mixing their materials using tape recorders and jerry-rigged equipment. After over a year of recording, the result was released in 1969 …. to an almost complete lack of interest, its subtleties perhaps finding no place within a scene becoming dominated by either Maximum Heaviosity or bucolic back-to-the-country trends.
Here in 2008 much of An Electric Storm sounds startlingly contemporary. What would have been side one in the vinyl era could be considered the "pop" side, 5 short cuts using conventional song forms. Sometimes early Soft Machine ( or late Zombies ) can be taken as referents, but I am reminded much more of Stereolab, or any number of other post-punk, post-modern bands that combine pop sensibilities with experimentation. Side 2 consists of 2 long pieces of a more abstract nature, "The Visitations", in which the narrator comes to the realization that he is dead ( sort of a spacy, muted, very British take on Bloodrock’s DOA ), and the concluding track "The Black Mass: An Electric Storm in Hell", which doesn’t quite live up to it’s title ( Hey, could anything? ), being basically an echo-enhanced drum solo overlaid with gratuitous noise and demonic shrieking.
While, unlike some of it’s enthusiasts, I can’t see this recording changing anyone’s life, I can still recommend this to any fan of the period, as side one particularly stacks up well against many of the more vaunted releases of it’s time.
by Charlie on March 24th, 2008
Directed by Richard Lester, the 1979 release Cuba was a box office failure on release, not surprisingly for a film that presents a hero who is ineffectual and somewhat ridiculous, attempting to rekindle a romance with a much younger woman that may never have been what he though it was. Add that said hero is played by Sean Connery and one can understand why audiences were non-plussed. However, anyone willing to approach this film on it’s own terms will find a visually gorgeous, intriguingly ambiguous entertainment, perhaps Lester’s most overlooked film.
Connery plays Major Dapes, an "honorable" mercenary hired by the Batista regime to advise the Cuban army on fighting guerrillas; Dapes discovers a corrupt to the core society on the verge of collapse, with a ruling class willfully oblivious to the sea change about to engulf them. Dapes attempts to restart a romance with a wealthy landowner played by Brook Adams, but it becomes aware to the audience that their personal relationship doesn’t amount to a "hill of beans" in the context of the momentous changes looming.
Richard Lester is best known for A Hard Days Night and Help! as well as such notable works as Petulia, the Three Musketeers, and the Four Musketeers, and Cuba bears all the hallmarks of his style: visual density, with information-loaded, painterly shots, and all sorts of almost surreal bits of business inserted; much overheard and ambient dialogue, often of an ironic nature; and a panoply of finely drawn supporting characterizations and bit parts, here by such estimable performers as Hector Elizondo, Jack Weston, Martin Balsam and Denholm Elliot. Cuba may not be a scrupulously accurate chronicle of the Cuban Revolution – I don’t think that was the intent- but it provides a mordant and glittering canvas of a world that is about to transform irrevocably.
by Charlie on March 14th, 2008
Here’s a book that I had been eagerly awaiting for quite some time, and for the most part it realizes my expectations.
Subtitled "Rock ‘n’ roll’s last stand in Hollywood", L. A. scenester Dominic Priore has fashioned both a history and a polemic, detailing the extraordinarily creative and wide-open Los Angeles area pop music scene spanning roughly the arrival of the Beatles in early 1964 to the Sunset Strip teenage riots of late 1966, which effectively closed down much of the music scene (said riots, and the draconian police and governmental response to same, being the inspiration for the Buffalo Springfield’s "For What It’s Worth"). Priore covers the whole kaleidoscopic range of Los Angeles music in the ’60′s, from Dick Dale and the birth of surf music, through the coffee house folk scene, Johnny Rivers and the go-go bar performers, folk-rock, garage punk, into psychedelia and nascent country rock, with look-ins at soul and jazz along the way. Priore also covers pop-art, fashion, Hollywood’s use of Rock in films and television (especially the Monkees phenomenon) and the long roll call of music clubs and hipster hangouts that were essential to the vibrancy of the scene – Pandora’s Box, the Whisky A Go Go, the Trip, Brave New World – names to conjure with…
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