Classic Melting Pot

5 for Shadow Morton…R.I.P.

February 24th, 2013
Foto © George Schowerer

Foto © George Schowerer

Heard the news that Shadow Morton passed away on Valentine’s Day, as I was driving home from my show on KPFK this past week.  Shadow Morton is perhaps best known as the driving force behind one of the greatest girl groups ever, The Shangri-Las.  As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, the Shangri-Las are one of my all-time favorite bands and “Remember” is one of the most amazing songs I’ve ever heard.  When I set up a “Pound For Pound” between the Shangri-Las and Ronettes, I acknowledged that the Shangri-Las had a more lasting influence and strangely enough it seems Shadow Morton himself took notice.

ShadowMortonComment

I don’t know if that was really Shadow Morton or not, but I’d like to hold on to the idea that it was. Morton wrote songs, produced and recorded a number of bands in the 1960s and 1970s.  According to his NY Times obituary, Morton wrote over 300 songs, most of which were never recorded.  I sincerely hope his family finds a way to get those songs into the hands of gifted musicians so that we will be able to get an even fuller appreciation of Morton’s considerable talent.  With the fundraiser ongoing at KPFK (including an Oscar special this week, we’ll be back on the air next week), I won’t be able to pay proper tribute to Morton, but I wanted to definitely take a bit of time to mention a few of my favorite Shadow Morton songs/productions.

 

The Shangri-Las – “Remember (Walking In The Sand)”

While “Be My Baby” is still my favorite girl group song of all-time, “Remember” as a song is so much more stunning. Nothing else really sounds like this song. Yes, it has elements of the style of the time, but the way everything comes together is so distinctive and fascinating sonically that again there’s really no comparison to this song and any other from this period of time. The fact that Morton essentially put this together in a matter of hours, all of it, writing the song, finding the band and a space to record the demo, is absolutely astounding.

The Shangri-Las – “Give Him A Great Big Kiss”

I know “Leader Of The Pack” is the big song from the Shangri-Las, another track that Shadow Morton wrote for the group. But to me, there’s nothing better than Mary Weiss’ introduction to this song, “When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in Love…L.U.V.”! and later on when the girls ask Mary about her new man and she says “He’s a Good Bad, but he’s not Evil”…pure bad girl perfection.

Vanilla Fudge – “You Keep Me Hanging On”

For some time I was a really big fan of the Box Tops version of this track, until I realized that Vanilla Fudge were the first group to employ this over-the-top rocked out treatment of the Supreme’s hit. As much as I love Alex Chilton, there’s really no comparison, particularly in those drums from Carmine Appice, who later on would feature in one my favorite 1970s LPs, from Cactus. The fact that this was “directed” by Shadow Morton (as described on the 45), just makes it even more special.

Iron Butterfly – “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”

This one might be more legend than reality. But even though he is uncredited, it appears that Shadow Morton played a major part in this classic bit of psychedelic music. Apparently the band had a hard time recording this song, so Morton convinced them that there was some kind of malfunction but that they should keep playing to work out the kinks, while secretly recording the unsuspecting band. Morton himself at times confirmed the story and at other times mentioned how he was so drunk that he didn’t really remember too much, so it might have all been because of engineer Don Casale. No matter what, it’s such a great story and it is clear that Morton was in the studio, even if he never receivetd a formal credit.

New York Dolls – “Human Being”

It was pretty clear that the New York Dolls were fans of the Shangri-Las, after appropriating the opening lines of “Great Big Kiss” for their song “Looking For A Kiss” on their debut. It must have been a dream come true for the band to work with Morton on their second album Too Much Too Soon, one of the best examples of Rock’n’Roll America has ever produced. “Human Being” might just be my favorite song from the Dolls, and it’s something that wouldn’t sound quite the same without production from Shadow Morton.

DillaJarreau

Al Jarreau – Brite ‘N’ Sunny Babe
Al Jarreau – Thinking About It Too
Al Jarreau – All

Now, I know exactly what you’re thinking…why are you posting up a record from Al Jarreau?!?!?!?!! Well, this one has a little story behind it. In January word spread that Ma Dukes, J Dilla’s mother, was putting up a portion of the famed DJ/Producer/MC’s record collection on Ebay for fans to own a bit of Dilla’s collection. The records were discovered in a storage locker in Detroit recently and the family made the decision to sell a portion of the collection with the funds going to the J Dilla Foundation. When I first heard about this, I will admit that I was a bit saddened. I’d prefer to have Dilla’s collection preserved and archived as an artist of his growing legacy deserved. However, the more I thought about it, I took it under consideration that as a Hip-Hop DJ coming up in the years way before Serato and all the rest, it was highly likely that this collection had quite a few “Doubles,” and “driftwood” that don’t necessarily need to be archived. So actually it’s a pretty special thing, giving fans the chance to own a record that according to the family was actually bought by Dilla and was included in his collection.

Given that all of the records were just randomly selected and sent out to buyers, there really was no way to anticipate what you would get. After the first batch sold out quickly, a few people reported getting records from Deodato and Cannonball Adderley as well as George Shearing. When the second batch popped up just after Dilla Day, I decided to give it a shot and buy just 1 record. I could have bought a great deal more, but that seemed selfish. I wasn’t buying the record as an investment, it was truly about owning a (potential) piece of history if the record you bought was something that Dilla might have used on a sample. Of course I was hoping for some kind of obscure, rare private press funky gem that I’d never heard of and would be impossible to get. I knew it was a distinct possibility that I might get a complete “lemon” of a record. MaDukes

Which brings us to Al Jarreau. Never, even when I was a highly impressionable kid, have I liked Al Jarreau’s music. His sorta-scat style has always struck me as being too over the top and when he really starts going I’m not sure if there is anything that is more un-listenable. So, when the record finally arrived and I opened it up and it was Al Jarreau, I’m not gonna lie, I hung my head down, shook it unbelievably and just laughed, loudly. Of all the possible records that could have been in Dilla’s collection…Al Jarreau!?!??! Seriously?!?!?!? I kept on feeling like that until I actually listened to the record. I have to admit, minus a few times where it gets too “Jarreau-y” for my tastes, this is actually a pretty nice late 1970s soul album. I’m not a Dillalogist so I don’t know if he actually sampled any of the sounds on this record, but if he did, my money would have been on “Brite ‘N’ Sunny Babe,” which just has a really nice late-summer vibe and eminently sample-able introduction.

Despite my initial shock and frustration that THIS was the record from Dilla, I have to admit, I kinda like this record. There’s no way anyone could have convinced me to consciously buy an Al Jarreau record. Only Dilla could have gotten me to check this out and for that, and all the music he created, I am thankful.

Cheers,

Michael

NickCave

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Higgs Boson Blues

{Just heard that there is a live webcast of the album release show here in Los Angeles, Thursday, Feb. 21st at the Fonda.  You can watch Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds in all their sartorial and sonic splendor through RFB’s Youtube Channel at 8:45 West Coast Time}

Any new music from Nick Cave is a thing to be celebrated. The fact that along with his band, the Bad Seeds, the man has arguably never released a bad record is quite an achievement. Perhaps I’m biased. I’ve been a fan since around 1994, when I first truly heard the band’s music on Album 88 and a performance at Lollapalooza that year sealed the deal. Unlike the last album, Dig Lazarus Dig, which clearly was influenced by the Grinderman project and had a bit more of an edge and groove to the music, Push The Sky Away, tones things down considerably, with much darker tones to the music and much more epic sweeps the music. This is not a record to listen to while the sun is still up, it’s an album built for cruising dark city streets well after midnight, where menace or salvation lurks around every corner.

All of that is on display in the longest track on the album the track that feels like the centerpiece of the album, even though it’s the next to last track, “the Higgs Boson Blues.” The track I think also showcases Cave’s singing more than any other track on the album, (I still dream about Cave releasing an album in a stricter jazz or blues style, but I recognize that’s just his style). Just yesterday I was reading about some of the Higgs Boson discoveries, filled with more than a bit of dread, much of which is hinted at throughout the song. I don’t know what possessed Cave to fit Miley Cyrus into this tale, but he’s probably the only songwriter around that could pull off a Hannah Montana reference + hint at the future suicide of Cyrus, while also musing about Higgs Boson, Robert Johnson & the Devil and the assassination of MLK,  and still have it all strangely make sense. Push The Sky Away is a worthy addition to the long catalog of Nick Cave, sure to be one of my favorites of the year.

Another example of the style and sound of this new record is “Jubilee Street” which has a suitably seedy video, made all the cooler by that classic Nick Cave strut as we walks down the titled street:

kpfk-logo

Last full show before the fundraiser, and since it’s been a while since we had a full two hours of music to play, we had a LOT of new tunes to bring you, including new music from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Alice Russell, Adrian Younge feat. William Hart and Ghostface Killah feat. Adrian Younge, Shugo Tokumaru, Toro y Moi and more. There will be a fundraising special on this Oscar Sunday, but we’ll be back to raise funds for KPFK in a couple weeks!

Melting Pot on KPFK #116: First Hour
Melting Pot on KPFK #116: Second Hour

Playlist: 2-17-2013
{Opening Theme} Booker T & the MGs – Melting Pot – Melting Pot (Stax)

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The Lebron Brothers Orchestra – Dance, Dance, Dance – Brother (Cotique)
Hot 8 Brass Band – Bingo Bango – Recorded Live at KPFK (KPFK Archives)
Fela Kuti – Black Man’s Cry – Black President 2 (Knitting Factory)

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Jimi Hendrix – Crash Landing – People, Hell and Angels (Experience/Legacy)
Adrian Younge & William Hart of the Delfonics – Just Love – Adrian Younge Presents The Delfonics (Wax Poetics)
Dennis The Fox – Piledriver – Country Funk 1969-1975 (Light In The Attic)
The Black Opera feat. Mayer Hawthorne – Queen of Hearts – 12” (Self-released)

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Alice Russell – Heartbreaker Pt. 2 – To Dust (Tru Thoughts)
Toro y Moi – Grown Up Calls – Anything In Return (Carpark)
Bomba Estereo – Mozo – Elegancia Tropical (Soundway)
Blu & Exile feat. Jasmine Mitchell – More Out Of Life – Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them (Dirty Science)
Geater Davis – I Can Hold My Own – Lost Soul (Ubiquity)

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Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge – Rise Of The Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons To Die (Soul Temple)
The Amazing – Gone – Gentle Streams (Partisan)
Marcos Valle – O Cafona – Garra (Light In The Attic)
Charles Bradley – Strictly Reserved For You – Single (Daptone/Dunham)

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Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Higgs Boson Blues – Push The Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd.)
Ann Sexton – Have A Little Mercy – 7” (Seventy-Seven)
Tindersticks – This Fire Of Autumn – The Something Rain (Constellation)
Sun Kil Moon – Track Number 8 – Among The Leaves (Caldo Verde)

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Jose James – No Beginning, No End – No Beginning, No End (Blue Note)
Amor De Dias – Same Old Night – The House At Sea (Merge)
Shugo Tokumaru – Tightrope – In Foucs? (Polyvinyl)

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{Closing Theme} Dungen – C. Visar Vagen – Tio Batar (Kemado)

Lebron Brothers Orchestra – Dance, Dance, Dance
Lebron Brothers Orchestra – Don't Be Afraid
Lebron Brothers Orchestra. – Since You've Been Gone

All this talk about Lebron James over the past week got me thinking about the other Lebron…the Lebron Brothers. Recently picked this up at the PCC Record Swap (2013 so far has been a really good year for tracking down rare latin LPs, so far I’ve already copped this plus records from Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri and the Latinaires) and while I’d never seen it before, thankfully I had my trusty portable along with me to check this record’s bonafides. Really all it took was dropping the needle on the sure-fire latin soul of “Dance, Dance, Dance” to make up my mind that I wanted this one.

So far, I haven’t found a Lebron Bros. record that disappointed and Brother is more than satisfying, with some tough latin tracks such as “Pancho” and “Digalen,” a few slower soulful numbers in “Daddy’s Home” and “Don’t Be Afraid,” the “Tighten Up” inspired upbeat track “Couldn’t Give You Up” and a couple of real exceptions on Latin records like this. A pure instrumental in the “Boogaloo Lebron” and “Since You’ve Been Gone” a song that starts out in English before shifting to Spanish, ala the live version of “Azucar” (though in the reverse order). Not sure if my luck is going to continue throughout the year, but 2013 is looking like a very good year as my vinyl collection regains it’s former glory.

Cheers,

Michael

Marcos Valle – O Cafona

Garra, the second full-length record from Marcos Valle is a VERY tough record to come by. Thanks to the good folks at Light In The Attic, we all can revel in this bit of post-bossa/post-tropicalia/pre-black rio slice of Brazilian goodness as well as 3 other 1970s records from Valle. Some might be surprised that “O Cafona” is essentially a novela theme song, but if you paid attention when I raved about the soundtrack that features a different version, you know that novelas in Brazil had some seriously good and often exclusive music. Valle’s version here slows things down just a tad, makes the drums a bit punchier and adds some almost proto-rap vocals to make it extra-nice.

Hot 8 Brass Band perform at KPFK

Rock With The Hot 8!

Just in time for Mardi Gras, it was our distinct pleasure to welcome the Hot 8 Brass band into the KPFK Studios last week as they kicked off a US/Canada tour in LA. Hot 8 Brass is one of a handful of New Orleans brass bands to break out from the Crescent City and bring their sound to an international audience, particularly through their recent releases via Tru Thoughts, including last year’s The Life & Times Of The Hot 8 Brass Band.  During their time at our studios, the band performed three songs, two from their latest release “Steaming Blues” and “Bingo Bango” as well as an older track, “Rock With The Hot 8.”  We talked with them about the new record, competition between brass bands in NOLA and the continuing effects of Hurrican Katrina on the city and its people.  If Hot 8 is coming to your town, believe me you do NOT want to miss this band.  Big thanks to Jaz at Tru Thoughts for setting things up and Stan Misraje for his usual sonic wizardry.  Enjoy this to the fullest!

Hot 8 Brass Band on KPFK's Melting Pot: Recorded 2-04-2013

Nice to be back after a Super Bowl break from the show. Unfortunately, we found out about the passing of Donald Byrd earlier in the week, so we had to pay tribute to a true giant in modern music and do so during the first hour, playing music from the many different periods of Byrd’s career. At the start of the second hour we have an interview and performance with New Orleans’ Hot 8 Brass Band (separate post coming). This left us with only one set of music, featuring the Hot 8’s brilliant cover of the Specials “Ghost Town,” “new” music from Jimi Hendrix and a short tribute to J Dilla, who passed away 7 years ago yesterday. Next week we’ll be back with a full show and loads of new music + tickets!

Melting Pot on KPFK #115: First Hour
Melting Pot on KPFK #115: Second Hour

Playlist: 2-10-2013
{Opening Theme} Booker T & the MGs – Melting Pot – Melting Pot (Stax)

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Donald Byrd – Quiet Temple – The Third World (TCB Records)
Donald Byrd – Cristo Redentor – A New Perspective (Blue Note)
Donald Byrd – Senor Blues – Senor Blues (Blue Note)
Donald Byrd – Penecostal Feeling – Free Form (Blue Note)

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Donald Byrd – Blackjack – Blackjack (Blue Note)
Donald Byrd – Weasil – Fancy Free (Blue Note)
Donald Byrd – The Little Rasti – Ethiopian Knights (Blue Notes)

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Donald Byrd – Black Byrd – Black Byrd (Blue Note)
Donald Byrd – Think Twice – Stepping Into Tomorrow (Blue Note)
Donald Byrd – Spaces & Places – Spaces & Places (Blue Note)
Donald Byrd – Lansana’s Priestess – Street Lady (Blue Note)

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Hot 8 Brass Band – Interview & Performance – Recorded Live At KPFK (KPFK Archives)

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Hot 8 Brass Band – Ghost Town – The Life & Times Of… (Tru Thoughts)
Jimi Hendrix – Mojo Man – People, Hell & Angels (Experience/Sony Legacy)
J Dilla – Stop! / People / Diff’rence – Donuts (Stones Throw)

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{closing theme} Carlos Nino & Miguel Atwood Ferguson – Find A Way – Suite For Ma Dukes (Mochilla)

Donald Byrd – Quiet Temple
Donald Byrd – Prophesy
Donald Byrd & Booker Little – Wee Tina

With the passing of Donald Byrd, this album has been very much on my mind. I can’t remember exactly how I came across this record. I know that I had it while living in Atlanta, so I might have gotten it out there, or on a trip to Chicago or New York. I’m sure I was drawn to it because of what at the time was my recently developed love affair for all things Booker Little, who remains my favorite trumpet player. Running at a close second is likely Donald Byrd, so the two of these men playing together was well worth whatever price I paid for this one.

For quite some time, I was convinced that the signature song from this set, the exquisite and heartbreakingly beautiful “Quiet Temple” featured Booker Little’s trumpet. The way the opening notes flow out full of melancholy just sounded like Booker to me. But running across a discography of Booker’s work online started to get me to doubt that assessment and forced me to listen a bit more closely. More digital sleuthery confirmed that “Quiet Temple” features Donald Byrd solely on trumpet, in addition to Pepper Adams and Bill Evans. Part of the mystery is connected to the fact that this session was originally released on Warwick Records closer to the recording date of 1960. These songs were featured on a record called “Soul Of Jazz Percussion” which featured a large number of musicians in different configurations including all the aforementioned players plus Mal Waldron, Philly Joe Jones, Ed Shaugnessy, Paul Chambers, Curtis Fuller, Armando Peraza and more. Though the TCB version that I have gives both Donald Byrd & Booker Little top billing, the two masters only share three songs on the album, “Chasing The Bird,” “Wee Tina,” and “Call To Arms,” with Byrd as the soloist on “Prophesy” and “Quiet Temple.”

“Prophesy” sounds really different than most everything else I’ve heard from Byrd in this period of time. If you had told me that this was a Mingus composed or orchestrated track I would have believed you. I just sounds like a Mingus tune with the urgent rhythm and odd flourishes throughout. “Wee Tina” also sounds a bit different than what we’d associate with either Byrd or Booker, particularly because of the unique drum solo featuring what must be tiny tiny cymbals played by either Philly Joe Jones or percussionist Peraza.

But everything always comes back to “Quiet Temple.” Even with the imperfections of this particular pressing, the power of this song can’t be denied. The feel of the opening part, with the rhythm section and piano from Evans sets the contemplative tone, one that all conjures up a scene of rain falling steady in the night. When Byrd’s trumpet comes in there’s a mix of longing, sadness and perhaps a bit of loss that is further deepened by Pepper Adams soft baritone playing. The middle section, where the tempo picks up a bit seems like a memory of the past before things return back to those sad sad notes we heard at the beginning. And lord, the way that song ends, with that slowing down of the melody and into a totally unexpected crash of a gong or large cymbal. Breaks my heart every single time…just like the passing of another giant from the Earth.

Michael

5 for Donald Byrd…

February 8th, 2013

We learned this week that another giant has left us.  Donald Byrd has passsed away at the age of 80. As is the case with a lot of people from my generation, my love affair with Donald Byrd was largely connected to the use of several of his songs as samples in Hip-Hop. Having been into jazz even before I got deep into sample lore, I appreciated the depth and breadth of his playing from the late 1950s into the 1970s. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Byrd’s sound seemed to fit perfectly wherever it found itself. Whether he was playing blistering hard bop, the most soulful soul jazz, serene and pretty ballads or sweaty dancefloor jazz-funk, Byrd always sounded like he was just where he was supposed to be, comfortably at home. We’ll pay tribute to the many moods of Donald Byrd during the first hour of Sunday’s Melting Pot, for now here are 5 of my favorite songs from a legendary musician and great teacher, peace be with you Donald Byrd.

Donald Byrd – Blackjack

Likely the first track that I recognized as a being from Donald Byrd, even before I fully discovered Byrd’s playing with the Mizell Bros., was this deeply soulful number from a 1967 album of the same title. Pianist Cedar Walton lays it down hard and heavy, Smilin’ Billy keeps things soulful and breezy with the drums and Byrd, as usual soars through his solo. To this day, still on my all-time favorite soul-jazz numbers.

Horace Silver feat. Donald Byrd – Senor Blues

While Byrd had an amazing career as a leader, he also had a part in the recording of a number of exceptional recordings as a sideman. Perhaps my favorite is the vocal version of “Senor Blues” which unfortunately is not online, but the instrumental version also showcases Byrd’s playing very nicely.

Donald Byrd – Lansana’s Priestess

“Lansana’s Priestess” was the song that started my love affair with the Mizell Bros. style of production. More so than any other artist they recorded with during the 1970s, the Mizell Bros. sound blossomed with Donald Byrd. Though I’ve never had the guts to throw this on while DJ-ing in a club, as soon as the song begins I immediately want to dance. One of the most uplifting grooves of all time.

Donald Byrd – (Fallin’ Like) Dominoes

Simply put, my single favorite song recorded in the 1970s. Nothing fills my heart with joy quite like this song. “Dominoes” truly is the sound of summer. Trips me out that I was exactly 4 days old when this song was recorded.

Donald Byrd – Quiet Temple

I’ll saying quite a bit more about this one in a moment, but for now, I’ll just say that this is also one of my all-time favorite songs. “Quiet Temple” is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard and more than any other song it’s the one that’s been in my mind since hearing of Donald Byrd’s passing. A fitting elegy for a true giant.

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