Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day 2: Henry Mancini "Music from Peter Gunn" and Art Pepper "Art Standards"

I'm going to start out with some more comments on The Albatross itself again because todays first CD is too awesome to be distracted by anything else, plus there are so many stories it evokes that this would get lost.

I was thinking of how the Prime Stack came to be, how to explain how these discs were up front. It really is the most accessable set of CDs, a munched mismatched stack of CDs right by my door that had been assembled from refugees from other storage places or orphans that had found themselves packed in with other items and tossed aside when I needed something else. Most had mercilessly found themselves underfoot, or under something else. I had moved them into their current 'Black Sheep'-esque squadron by the door in order to give the cable guy access to the room, never really looking at what they were.

And that's how it ends up working. I've been relying on this Olduvai Gorge method of discovery, that through movement and non-related activities music from the collection would shuffle up, surface and be either discovered or rediscovered. The metaphor became more fitting when earlier today I went looking for a hat in the main storage where the bulk of The Albatross now sits and actually unearthed an audio cassette I had made in high school from LPs, one side containing Gil Evans Out of the Cool and the other Sonny Rollins Bass Trio. I had discovered both of those artists, very different from each other, that summer and bought those albums immediately. They ran on a near continuous loop on my Radio Shack 40w (with equalizer!) car stereo. That is, until I discovered The Dirty Dozen Brass Band...There have been many tragic casualties in The Albatross, CDs I've really liked either swallowed by the beast or sacrificed in a move. And then some remarkable retentions, like a tape of maybe the first time I started to understand and enjoy jazz.

Also, I should mention how, at the moment, I'm writing these. Since I have to listen to the whole album according the arbitrary rules I set out I'm essentially writing these as a stream of consciousness as I listen to them and what they make me think of. So some of them might be short if the CD doesn't really make me think of anything. Or, if the CD is particularly packed with memories, it might be quite long...so, here's Hank...

Henry Mancini
Music from Peter Gunn

You could argue that Henry Mancini might be the Norman Rockwell of American music, but dammit, I like him. Perhaps it would be more accurate to think of him as the John Williams of his day, the go-to soundtrack guy that was going to give you something iconic for whatever movie it was you're going to make.

Perhaps too iconic. The theme to Peter Gunn is easily more popular than the detective show it opened. Hell, there are a lot of people my age who still think of it as 'the Spy Hunter' theme. (Just thought about it, that game was named for the antagonist...after all, you were the one being hunted, so you didn't play a spy hunter, the game hunted you...I guess that wasn't unheard of, but it just occurred to me.) I don't know that anyone associates Baby Elephant Walk with Hatari.

There is another issue with this album specific to The Albatross. I love the Peter Gunn Theme. A lot. I mean, who doesn't. About a year ago, I thought, "Surely I have this." But therein lay the problem...where? And how the hell was I going to find it? It has been a subject of conversation, especially when working on plays and theater projects or the like. Someone knows I have this collection and they ask, "Do you have x?" Probably. "Do you think we could-" I have almost no hope of finding it before the show goes up. (Incidentally, I'm pretty sure I don't have anything by the punk band X, but it's possible.)

So with Peter Gunn I did what I encouraged others to do. Give up. I went to iTunes and bought the hell out of Peter Gunn. I bought the original that I'm listening to now (with other cool themes from the show), I bought a version done by Ray Anthony. I bought a version by Dick Dale. I even hunted down the Art of Noise version with Duane Eddy. It was easier to assume I didn't have it than it would have been to go on the archeological expedition neccesary to discover the unobtrusive, badly damaged little yellow sleeve it was in.

It was opened, I had listened to it (how could I not?). But by now the cardboard had warped and stuck together and I had to rip the thing apart to get to the CD. So now Hank, as I like to call him (more on that in a second), will be an orphaned CD without a case. It is one of the worst fates for a CD in The Albatross, an almost certain death knell of scratches, stains, or being crushed underfoot. It's a crying shame, really. While there have only been three CDs so far, this is the greatest save that this project has put forth.

There is a kind of 'really good high school big band' element to this. That I guess won't make sense unless you had a really good high school big band. I think it's because these kind of charts were naturals for student big bands and because so many people just really were trying to do what Hank did.

The track names are awesome:
The Brothers Go to Mothers
Session at Pete's Pad
Fallout! and Spook! (exclamation points not added by me)
A Profound Gass (I just finished listening to that one, correctly billed)

This CD, released on June 15, 1999 according to the weathered package, was riding the heels of that whole retro-lounge scene that sprung up from the ashes of the short lived swing revival. During those two years I got a lot of old Hank, among other things.

The "Hank" thing comes from a brilliant piano player and friend of mine in high school. I had talked about him in a blog entry from an earlier blog telling essentially this story: I was at his house to rehearse, or hang out, or both, and there on his bookshelf was a thick biography of Henry Mancini, "Or Hank, as I like to call him" Jacob would intone in his usual deadpan. It was a gift from a relative, no doubt a desperation gift as reading Jacob was a near impossibility. "Well, he plays piano, maybe he'll like this." I applaud their restraint, my relatives often resorted to things like sunglasses with musical notes on the lenses. But he actually read it (he also being more polite than I) and had gained an admiration for Hank and, he felt, a familiarity enough to call him Hank. Being a saxophonist, I naturally knew the theme to The Pink Panther but until that conversation had not really appreciated Mancini the way I should. Listening now reminds me of that. And of Jacob. That guy was awesome. Still is, as far as I know. You can buy one of his CDs here. He probably has more, but he was never one to brag.

Honestly, is there anything cooler than that low "BWWW-AAAAAAHHHH!!!" from a group of trombones? Oh sweet, this is Spook! It features the aforementioned trombones, a heavy almost surf reverb guitar rhythm and some great slack-jaw saxophone (I just made that distinction up, but it's the best way to describe it.) Seriously, if I had theme music I'd want it to sound like that piece. It's the kind of music that would enable you to lean back at a 45 degree angle as you walk.

Because of the way iTunes has decided to order the tracks, it's finishing with the theme...I actually don't want this to end, I'm kind of bummed. This really has that "I could listen to this all day" thing going for it. I'm sorry Hank...I didn't mean for you to get lost in the shuffle like that.

Art Pepper & The Hollywood All-Stars
Art Standards

So, just a quick note. When I decided to do this I wanted to be able to put up samples if it required it, but that was going to be a lot of work, that's when I ran across the Amazon widget. For those of you with AdBlock, there's an Amazon widget that plays samples from the albums without me having to do much. The trade off is you all can't see it. The other shortcoming is that some of this just isn't going to be on MP3, such as this album. So the Amazon player that those without AdBlock do see has MP3s from a similar album with shared tracks. The album name links directly to the actual album on Amazon. Why not the iTunes Store? I don't know...the Amazon widget came up and I used it.

This is another CD that I was likely pretty happy to get. Not only is it jazz, but it's a jazz saxophonist, what better? Art Pepper has that West Coast sound, more melodic and smoother than the harder driving stuff on the other coast. My theory is that the Pacific Ocean has a calming effect...I guess that doesn't really account for the war in the Pacific...it's not a perfect theory, but in general West Coast tends to be synonymous with 'more relaxed.'

I liked getting albums with standards on them, because then I'd get to hear something out of The Real Book and maybe learn a new chart or a different way to approach one I already played. Or even more embarrassingly, find out I've been going about it all wrong. Which is not to imply that I didn't like new stuff, I loved it. Just for different reasons.

On headphones this sounds like it was recorded using the 'dreaded bass direct'--the method of recording a bass with pick-ups vilified in the liner notes of Branford Marsalis recordings as, of course, the 'dreaded bass direct.' Now that I think about it, probably kind of like relying too heavily on lav mics to record dialog, something I've been guilty of in less than ideal conditions I'm afraid to admit.

Here's something from the liner notes-
On these, Art teamed with cohorts old and new to record a variety of tunes, many of which had been in his repertoire years ago. But there was a rub: while Pepper was the de facto leader, selecting the material and the participants, and deciding what takes would be issued, the albums were, due to a contractual agreement, released under the other artist's names. For example, one was called Sony Stitt and his West Coast Friends.

So this is kind of a 'best of' for a larger box set that gathers these recordings under Art's name. That's kind of cool.

Ah sweet! Bernie's Tune. I love this and I can never remember the name. I have a recording 'somewhere' of Gerry Mulligan doing it with Chet Baker (who I think took heroin for our sins...you can't be that good looking and sound that smooth and play trumpet that well without making the rest of us feel just far too inadequate...the heroin had to be so he could walk among us...)

Bernie's Tune is just damn catchy. This is a pretty good version, though I have a deep and unnatural love for the baritone sax, so that's probably where my loyalties lie...

If J.J. Johnson was the music I wanted to play, this is the music I thought I'd end up playing. Pepper can fly through those bebop lines in a way I never could, but the melodic stuff, that I tended towards. I felt if I could just get a few fast lines under my fingers I could play this jazz in hotel lobbies all over the world. I had a knack for dreaming big and small at the same time.

I don't think that How High the Moon should have lyrics (it doesn't here), the only way to properly play this song is too fast for lyrics to be sung.

Speaking of Chet Baker, My Funny Valentine is on this album. A fellow playwright in school had written a monologue into a play about this song that changed the way I viewed it. Everyone thinks of it as this sweet, romantic heartfelt song--but the lyrics (not sung here) spend the entire time slagging off the other person...kind of makes the 'I love you' message sort of backhanded. It's like the theme song to some sort of emotionally abusive disproportionate relationship where one side is constantly reminded of how 'lucky' they are to have the other.  Well, he just mentioned the insulting part, but that sort of leads to the rest of it. Pretty song, though. This is kind of a Zack Snyder version...slow-fast-slow...

The "Playboy After Dark" effect is a little creepier when the movie playing on the TV that I can't hear is Spanking the Monkey, if I understand what just happened...

This album I think is perfectly fit for my new-ish 'iTunes' lifestyle. Wanting to listen to this is like wanting a flavor, not a specific food. Like, I get the urge to listen to Bird or Trane specifically, but this stuff more generally, which would then lead to Art Pepper because he's awesome at it. This, then, is perfect for the shuffle.

In contrast to How High the Moon, 's Wonderful works better with lyrics. Too many repeated notes.

Shadow of Your Smile with Lee Konitz on sax and Pepper on clarinet...I love this song. I would play this song a lot and pretend I wasn't trying to seduce chicks with it...mostly because it didn't really work.

But I was totally trying to seduce chicks with it.

Kind of a weird opening line by Konitz. Still pretty cool.

It just occurred to me that clarinet might be the Ray Romano of jazz instruments.

Five and a half minutes and it still felt quick.

That's it. Day two and the merest fraction of The Albatross has been chiseled away at. It's a strange feeling to confront the beast.

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