This album is surprising people in that it includes some rather raucous playing from Ava Mendoza on Electric Guitar. I guess, typically, we associate Mr Parker with acoustic instruments. (In fact, the only other electric guitar player I can think of, off the top of my head, that Mr Parker has played and recorded with a few times, is Joe Morris, (I’m sure there are others.)).
One way to describe the album would be “groove oriented”.
Basically the songs’ moods are set at the beginning by a short sequence of gestures from all three artists. The artists then repeat those gestures with theme and variation for the duration of the tune.
All three artists pursue their individual theme and variation simultaneously with each other. There aren’t many points where one or another of the artists drops out and allows the others to take center stage or to do a featured solo.
As far as I can tell, there aren’t any chord changes, per se, more a tonal space within each song operates.
The only tune which seems to really contain different zones of expression, is the title song, Mayan Space Station, where Mr Parker switches from plucked to bowed bass about midway through, giving the second half a different feel.
While the Rawk-Us electric guitar makes the album initially appealing in an obvious way to Rawk-heads, the density of the three artists’ gestures and the unrelenting pace of expression are ultimately not very Rock-ish.
It is a very dense album to unpack, with great playing from all three artists, but even after a week of listening, I still can’t quite decide how I feel about it.
Is it Expressionist Rock or Noisy Jazz?
I don’t know, and I don’t know if it matters, but it will definitely propel you into a different (head) space.
Mayan Space Station [AUM115]
William Parker: bass, compositions Ava Mendoza: electric guitar Gerald Cleaver: drums
Scott Walker (born Noel Scott Engel; January 9, 1943 – March 22, 2019) left the earthly plane this spring.
I’ve never listened to his critically acclaimed solo albums, so I figured, perhaps a fitting tribute would be to listen my way through as many of his albums as I could (easily) find.
Scott Walker first came into the public’s eye as the front man for the American Pop Group, The Walker Brothers. Their two biggest hits were “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)”.
After departing the Walker Brothers he launched his solo career with the album “Scott”, aiming a bit away from his mainstream pop music past, and more towards world weary Jacques Brel cabaret. In fact, his English versions of Brel’s songs were some of the highlights of his early work.
His next album, “Scott 2” continued in the same vein, with even more Brel tunes and a bit of a folk tinge.
Funny, no matter how pleasant the musical arrangement or how mellifluous his baritone voice, he cannot resist twisting the knife of weirdness with his lyrics.
Also he really seems to like singing songs about prostitutes and brothels.
“Scott 3” is a far more consistent album than the previous two. Plus, I’ve had it on repeat all morning and haven’t noticed a single mention of prostitutes or bordellos.
It seems like this is the album where he first got everything together, there are some pretty great songs and very good vocal performances.
Oddly, “Scott 4” was actually Walker’s fifth album, but “Scott Walker Sings Songs From His T.V. Show”, his actual 4th album, is not easily available.
While Walker’s earlier albums felt like they could be made almost any time in the 20th Century, Scott 4 has its feet firmly in the 1970s.
On many songs he jettisons cabaret stylings for electric guitar and rock vocal tropes. “Boychild” and “Duchess” are the stand outs here. “Boychild”, in particular, provides a template for much of the record label 4AD’s early sound.
On the previous “Scott 4”, Walker had added a new voice/persona to his arsenal, that of the pop jazz vocalist. Unfortunately, he continues that persona for several songs on “til the band comes in”, sounding like a dime store Tony Bennett. Particularly bad are the songs where he attempts to imitate African-American speech patterns. Embarrassing.
That said, “The War is Over” is as good a song, and performance, as any other he had put to vinyl up to this time.
Walker’s record label had been increasingly frustrated with the sales of his solo albums. After “Scott 4” and “til the band comes in” failed to chart, they saddled him with increasingly onerous producers and projects. When none of those worked out, eventually they dropped him. He found other labels and even participated in a reunion of “The Walker Brothers”. After a few albums from the reformed Walker Brothers, Walker dropped out of sight for about 10 years and didn’t release any recordings until 1984’s “Climate of Hunter”.
The first thing that struck me is the center of his voice has moved. On the early records he’s a chest/throat singer. On Hunter, his voice has moved to his head. Also, he is singing with a consistent persona, rather than flitting from one to another from song to song.
Musically, it reminds me a bit of Brian Ferry albums from this period, but without the backup singers. Interestingly, Evan Parker provides soprano sax parts on a couple tracks!
Lyrically, he has really found his voice, though I would be hard pressed to tell you what any of the songs are about.
The only distracting thing are a few horrible mid-1980s style guitar solos.
Overall, it feels more compelling, and, perhaps, honest, than any of his earlier albums.
I’ve been listening to “Tilt” exclusively for two days now and I don’t really feel any closer to understanding it.
It feels alien yet compelling. I’ve no idea what any of the songs are about, but the words seem to make some sort of dream-like sense.
The same with the music, light classical might be alongside samples of power drills or feeding back guitars.
Some sort of hermetic watershed or culmination of his work up to this time. Eerie and astounding.
Someone really should have warned me about “The Drift”. This is one of the darkest pieces of artistic expression I’ve ever run across. Seriously. And I’ve read some dark shit.
This is going to haunt me.
I’m gonna be seeing the flayed and dismembered bodies of various animals out of the corner of my eye for weeks.
Reminds me of some of Ben Wheatley or John Hillcoat’s early movies.
The lyrics on “Bish Bosch” are nearly as opaque and gruesome as its predecessor “The Drift”, but somehow there’s an air of humor over the proceedings that makes it a bit less of a claustrophobic ordeal. In fact, the longest song, “SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)”, clocking in at over 20 minutes, is pretty much nothing but a series of, often unaccompanied, well, I hesitate to call them “jokes”, but, at least, shaggy dog stories. The stories in sequence, one after another, as not-quite-jokes, actually gets funny, after a while, in the way William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” is “funny”. Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome. Bish Bosch seems to bring together Walker’s early obsession with the world weary cabaret songs of Jacques Brel and fuse their sensibility with the gruesome black humor of his later work. It’s not exactly pretty, but it works.
I guess if you were only familiar with Scott Walker’s work with the Walker Brothers or his early solo work, you might be a bit surprised by “Soused”. Handsome “Pop Singer” works with bearded, robe wearing, drone metal dudes!? On the other hand, if you’d only heard Walker’s Tilt, The Drift, and Bish Bosch, you’d be, like, why didn’t this happen sooner? It would have prevented those bad 1980s guitar solos on “Climate of Hunter”! Anyway, this is mostly Walker, with the Sunn O))) boys providing the correct atmosphere for his bleak, gruesome songs. Pretty Great, if you are a fan of Walker’s later work or Sunn O))).
After finishing with this phase of the Lutheran Hymnal Project, I wanted to move in a different direction, and cover some popular songs, along with learning to use techniques like real time audio effects and looping.
The first primary sound source is my recording of Lutheran Hymn 602, aka “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow”, aka the Doxology. The second primary sound source was a feedback loop I made of the ambient sound in my work office building.
Everything is chopped, mangled, and looped in various ways, mostly using the features of an audio program called, “AudioMulch”.
Apparently, this whole “Lutheran Hymn” thing puzzles quite a few people, so I thought I might write a little post about it.
First off, I grew up in a small town in South Western Wisconsin which was mostly populated by Norwegian and Lutherans. I grew up singing these hymns every Sunday. When I was old enough, I joined the children’s choir and continued in church choirs through most of high school.
Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs and interviews with musicians, and a lot of them talk about their very early inspirations.
Many of those musicians were lucky enough to have grown up going to African American Gospel churches or to belong to some ethnic group with an interesting folk music tradition.
However, as mentioned, I grew up going to a Lutheran church in Wisconsin. That is my tradition, and in a lot of ways, my “folk” music. That, and “Old Tyme Gospel Music”. But perhaps more about that later.
I find the basic harmonies and melodies of these old hymns, especially the more open ones, to be quite moving and powerful.
When I was looking around for some music to learn and play on the clarinet, I thought to myself, “Hey self! It might be funny to track down a Lutheran Hymnal, and learn those old hymns on the clarinet.” Get re-in touch with the memories and feelings of my youth, good and bad.
As a bonus, the hymns are neither particularly challenging nor long, which is, in fact, a big bonus for someone with a full time job who is also trying to (re) learn Jazz and to play the clarinet and sax.
I can transcribe, transpose, and record all 4 parts of the hymn in a few hours, and it is good for me to learn the recording, mixing, and arranging software. Most important, I am re-learning to play harmony parts with other instruments, even though I am playing all the instruments myself.
So, that’s what’s up with the hymns.
I hope you enjoy them a little bit, and that they might remind you of something of your past or present, good or bad.
Please turn to number 32 and join with the clarinets in, “Rejoice, Rejoice This Happy Morn.”
Name: WIE SCHöN LEUCHTET.
Tempo: With movement
Music: Phillipp Nicolai, 1556-1608
Text: Birgitte Cathrine Boye, 1742-1824
Tr. Carl Doving, 1867-1937
Like our previous Phillipp Nicolai Hymn, “Wake, Awake“, I find the harmonies in “Rejoice, Rejoice This Happy Morn” very powerful. This is one of several hymns which use this melody, the most famous of which is the original, number 404, “How Brightly Beams the Morning Star”.
From the wikipedia article regarding “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”:
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a Christmas carol that first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems, having been written by Charles Wesley. Wesley had requested and received slow and solemn music for his lyrics, not the joyful tune expected today.
There were some alternate melodies, so I actually ended up with 1 Clarinet playing the “soprano” part, 2 Clarinets doing the “alto” parts, 1 Clarinet playing the “tenor” part, and 2 Bass clarinets doing the “bass” parts in the final recording. Total of 6 clarinet parts. I’ve been tweaking the Audacity “Church” Reverb effect presets so that it has less effect on the levels of the tune.
Please turn your Service Book and Hymnal to number 24 and join with the clarinets in “While Shepherd’s Watched Their Flocks by Night”.
Music: Gottfried Wilhelm Fink, 1783-1846
Text: Nahum Tate, 1652-1715
“Wow, dude, like when the Angel of the Lord came down to announce Jesus’ birth to the Shepherds, man, SHEPHERDS! they must have been like, quaking in their boots and totally freaked out!”
“Oh man, you’re so right! They must have been OUT of their minds!”
“Give me another toke, I’m going to write a poem about it!”
While Shepherds watched their flock by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.
‘Fear not,’ said he, for mighty dread
Had Seized their troubled mind;
‘Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind
‘To you, in David’s town this day
Is born of David’s line
A Savior, who is Christ the Lord;
And this shall be the sign:
The heavenly Babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swathing bands,
And in a manger laid’
Thus spake the seraph, and forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels praising God, who thus
Addressed their joyful song:
‘All glory be to God on high,
And to earth be peace;
Good will henceforth from heaven to men
Begin and never cease!’
Anyway, I was playing the melody and thinking, jeeze, this seems familiar, I feel like playing it faster, it seems kind of ‘folky’. I paced it at 90, then felt compelled to play it double time.
After recording it, I realized, “Oh right, wait, isn’t this melody REALLY similar to Hymn 14, ‘Rejoice All Ye Believers”?’ Huh, I guess Gottfried Wilhelm Fink was also familiar with “Swedish Folk Melody”. Nice to know my instincts are based around melody.
I haven’t been super please with the Bass Clarinet on the tenor parts. That range of the Bass Clarinet is just a little too assertive for a tenor part. This time I transposed it down and octave and played it on Soprano Clarinet. I did play the Bass Part on Bass Clarinet.