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With Bill Nicholas


Paul Horn: Jazz Suite On The Mass Texts Arranged By Lalo Schifrin

I just didn't think it was possible: at the ripe old age of 46, an album grabs me and it is all I want to hear. I sit, transfixed, listening over and over.

Living as a collector in 2016 and owning thousands of albums at my stage of life--in a world of Youtube and unlimited access to music--is hardly the same as hearing The White Album or In The Court Of The Crimson King for the first time as a teenager; especially when there was no internet and your choices were limited to your local 1985 record store.

But hell does freeze over sometimes: I have found an album in my stacks that has, in the past month,  become as important to me as those great Beatles and King Crimson monoliths.  The recording is Paul Horn's Jazz Suite On The Mass Texts, arranged by Lalo Shiffrin. The suite was recorded in 1964 and released the next year by RCA Victor on the old black label.

Now, I am a secular guy who knows very little about the Catholic mass--or any kind of mass, although this album has had such an impact on me,  I want to see a mass one day.

But what draws me in now is the music Horn and Schrifin created. Start with "Kyrie." Here is a piece that illustrates the many levels this album works on. "Kyrie," has the haunting spirituality of a choir the complex chord changes of the most advanced orchestral jazz, yet swings extremely hard. This track packs more dynamics  into three or four minutes then most artists put on an album. Yet it is never over-complicated and always genuine.

"Interlaudiam"works as cinematic jazz--the type Schifrin would soon compose for films like Bullit and Dirty Harry. "Interlaudium" is celebratory--drawing you into both the sacred ritual of the mass and the secular drive of jazz. Religion as theatre? The sacred and the profane bound, never to be separated? Perhaps. But what is sure is the attraction you feel to the music. You are locked into Schifrin and Horn's grip, their flair for musical drama,  and there is no turning back

"Credo" is Horn improvising with no tonal or time limitations, using elements of the free-jazz of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, spreading like wild fire in 1964. Notice how the vocals are used in the background to create a creepy, almost-chant like sound. Another texture among so many to absorb.

 "Agus Dei," uses the vocal parts to create a more etherize feel. "Offertory"is a flute solo by Horn, reflecting Schifrin's love for flutes. Schifrinn would later use the instrument extensively in film and TV scores, such as Mission Impossible. "Prayer" works the same way, but without instrumental backing.

But the track that really drew me into the mass was "Sanctus." With its loud declarations, strange flute sounds, extreme rhythm abstraction,  and wrath-of-God piano motif,"Sanctus" nails you to the ground, leaving you unsure of what you just heard.  THe solution--listen again and again

I am glad that I could introduce you to the Jazz Suite On The Mass Texts.. I am glad Youtube gives access to this music. BUT! you really need to hear this piece in full on a good stereo. Issued in 1965, RCA Victor put out both stereo  and mono versions of the mass.  The stereo version is a bit louder--at least on my LP copy--and it is great to hear the voices and the instruments moving between your speakers. But there is an argument for hearing this massive wave of sound in mono--all that richness packed density into one channel. The Solution: get them both.

Amazon also offers the mass as an MP3. I have not heard it in digital. Frankly, I prefer the 1965 charm of the RCA Victor Dynagroove records, with their black labels, shiny lacquer, and inner sleeves, advertising the latest Broadway musicals and Jim Reeves albums.

And those were available in mono and stereo too--but for those, you're on your own,


Black Pyramid

In my past few entries,  I have written about big band jazz, or esoteric jazz-folk. Now, I love nuance in music, but sometimes, I need a good kick in the teeth. Enter Black Pyramid;

We'll get to the facts about Black Pyramid shortly, but start by listening to this song, "Visions Of Gehenna".This music knocks you to the floor with its distorted guitars, its throbbing march-of-doom drum beat. Not convinced? Unlikely  but for good measure, listen to "Cauldron Born." from their self-titled album, issued in 2008.

Black Pyramid was formed in 2007 The band featuires Eric Beaudry on bass, Clay Neely on drums,  and Andy Beresky on guitar. They are from Northampton,  Massachusetts.

The music: Stoner rock? Doom metel? (Someone described the band as "Psychedelic War Metal") If I cared about genre labels, I would accept these. But I care much more about the visceral punch this music offers--and that there is plenty of music just as powerful. Listen to the band next to "Funernalopolis" by the group Electric Wizard.. Listen to the thud of the Pyramid's "into The Dawn with "Cracked Flesh" by Raspberry Bulbs.

But maybe you're a classic rock fan. Maybe you have no context for modern hard rock. Maybe you just plain think this stuff is a bunch of noise.  Sure: 2000's production makes this music heavier than your 1970''s Deep Purple albums. But listen to ""Swing The Scimitar" next to "Hole In The Sky" by Black Sabbath. Listen to"Endless Agony."next to "Voodoo Child." by Jimi Hendrix.  Compare "Stormbringer" (its not the Deep Purple song) to "Argon Acumulator" by Hawkwind.

And remember--alll this old music felt loud and scary when it was released


Gary Mcfarland

Gary McFarland was a composer and band leader who recorded from the 1960's until his death in 1971. Where composers and band leaders of the era, like Stan Kenton and Don Ellis worked with strange time signatures and atonality, McFarland worked with melodic, even pop music structures.

Strangely, not a lot of people, even literate music people, know about McFarland, and this is a shame: his use of melody and chord structure were truly unique.

He was born in Los Angeles in 1933 and made his first recordings with Clark Terry in 1961, making a jazz version of How To Succed In Busness Without Really Trying.  Listen to the proceeding track, then listen to "Grand Old Ivy."

Even here, you notice how well McFarland lines up fresh-sounding chord changes and harmonics. He does the same on his album with pianist Bill Evan's The Gary McFarland Orchestra.

But McFarland soon began experimenting with softer, more subtle textures, such as quiet Latin jazz on 1965's Soft Samba. Notice the 1960's soundtrack feel here. He gives this treatment to the Beatles "I Wanna Hold Your Hand. and "Hard Day's Night" 

When most jazz eyes were on the free-improvisng "New Thing" of Albert Ayler, John Cotrane, Cecil Taylor and band leader Sun Ra, McFarand's art was creating fresh ideas in traditional song structures. The solo was always in service of the song, not the reverse. Listen to "Spring Song," with Gabor Szabo or "Soul Bird," with Clark Terry. (Ironically released on ABC Impulse! thought of mostly-unjustly-- as a free jazz label.)     

During the late 1960's, McFarland applied his style in diverse ways. He made two soundtracks, Eye Of The Devil in 1966, and, with Grady Tate,  Slaves, three years later. Between these, he made the big band  America The Beautiful: An Account Of It's Disappearance. 

This was the era of the Bealtes, when the lines between pop. art and social comment had disappeared. McFarland was, as mentioned, covering the Beatles in 1965: more impotently, he was growing in his ability to ignore pop and high art boundaries as the 1960's progressed. America The Beautiful captured the turmoil of U.S.A. 1968 without one lyric, using classical, blues and funk. Scoring a movie about slavery in 1969 had obvious racial and social implications.

Yet McFarland had his eye firmly on popular music as the 60's turned into the 1970's. In 1969, he made Today, which forged a jazzy soft rock.  Listen to his cover of Leonard Cohen's' "Suzanne " He also covered Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkn'" Notice the pop-vocals in these tracks, similar to bands like Cyrcle.

He created a more driving, funky take on this style on the gorgous 1971 album, Butterscotch Rum, with lyrcist Peter Smith. Listen to "All My Better Days" and the bluesy "Miami Here We Come."  This music is as polished as the most elegant 1970's pop. Hear the unique chord changes, the perfect harmonies, the freshness and unpredictability at work here. Play tracks from Butterscotch Rum next to Bread, Harry Nilsson, Jimmy Webb or Steely Dan to hear how well this holds up.

 In 1968, McFarland formed Skye records with Szabo and vibraphonist Cal Tjader. McFarland also arranged for other artists, such as Szabo Zoot Sims, Anita O'Day and organist Shirely Scott. He even produced folk-pop duo Wendy and Bonnie's 1969 album, Genesis, issuing this on Skye.

He died in 1971 under suspicous cirumstanes.


Comme a la Radio

This entry will be simple" I found a great album and want  to turn everybody on to it. It is Brigette Fontane's album  Comme a la Radio from 1971. This is a colaboration with Fontaine, The Art Ensemble Of Chicago, and singer and composer Areski Balkecem.

Fontaine had performed more traditional French music in the early to mid-60s: songs such as Jus sus Decadente But by 1971, Fontaine was clearly struck by the rabid rate of experimentation going on in rock, folk, free-jazz and world music.

Commee a la Radio boldly synthesizes these genre ideas into an amazing whole. Listen to the minimal jazz brass, the North African drum beat, the Middle Eastern drones. The music here is working on many levels at omce. This sound is scrumptiously hard to classify--as if we would want to. 

But for me, the big bonus of listening to this album is that I DO NOT speak Fronch. Hearing Fontaine's voice here is just like hearing an instrument--without understandable language, singers become pure, visceral sound, A new way to listen.

The playing by the Ensemble alternates  between free jazz and  organized parts and is expert throughout,

Comme a la Radio has been praised by Jarvis Cocker of Pulp


Yesterday's Children

As I said in my last article, I have been finding a wealth of obscure albums from the late 1960'S and early 1970's on Youtube.

One stand out is Connectict band Yesterday's Children. Their self-titled album is from 1969, but a listener would think it is from the mid-1970s. Listen to Richard Croche's growling rhythm guitar and his brother Denis' equally powerful voice, and you'll be immediately struck at how heavy this is for its era. Reggie Wright sails over the top with searing leads. Tracks like "Paranoia," "Sad Born Loser," and "Hunters Moon" demonstrate this.

But the album, recorded in New York City, also featured the Crosby, Stills and Nash-like vocals of "What Of I."

Still, the album is predominately hard rock, even proto-metal, and this is a plus. This band never loses itself with unneeded experimentation or genre detours. This is, simply, a great rock and roll album with tightness and punch. This hard rock band should have been bigger in a time when rock was getting harder