Fish Out of Water

“Yes” has been around for over 30 years, releasing their eponymous first album in 1969. Of the five founding members, only two have remained with the band for their entire tenure: vocalist and lyricist Jon Anderson, (even Jon was missing once, supplanted by Trevor Horn of “The Buggles” on 1980’s release “Drama”), and bass player Chris Squire. But perhaps that’s because, without Squire, “Yes” literally wouldn’t be “Yes”, since he owns the name.Squire is ocasionally listed as ‘lead’ bass player, as if there were more than one. Where most bassists are content to be part of the percussion section, thumping along with the drums, Squire, like Jack Bruce of “Cream” and Tony Levin of everywhere, plays leads, not just rhythym. “Yes” classics like “Roundabout” and “Starship Trooper” just wouldn’t have had the same presence without Squire’s unconventional style.

Drama[l1]Y[/l1]es” has been around for over 30 years, releasing their eponymous first album in 1969. Of the five founding members, only two have remained with the band for their entire tenure: vocalist and lyricist Jon Anderson, (even Jon was missing once, supplanted by Trevor Horn of “The Buggles” on 1980’s release “Drama“), and bass player Chris Squire. But perhaps that’s because, without Squire, “Yes” literally wouldn’t be “Yes”, since he owns the name.

Squire is ocasionally listed as ‘lead’ bass player, as if there were more than one. Where most bassists are content to be part of the percussion section, thumping along with the drums, Squire, like Jack Bruce of “Cream” and Tony Levin of everywhere, plays leads, not just rhythym. “Yes” classics like “Roundabout” and “Starship Trooper” just wouldn’t have had the same presence without Squire’s unconventional style.

Squire’s musical training was classical, in a sense. As a boy, he joined the church choir in order to be with a friend who had joined. Almost as if foreordained by the gods of music, the new choirmaster from Cambridge was a perfect mentor for the young Squire; so talented that he ended up at Charles and Diana’s wedding. According to Squire, their church choir became the best in England, travelling from church to church giving concerts.

Classical training, an ear for complex harmonies and construction, and proximity to the divine, are all evident in Squire’s only real solo album, “Fish Out of WaterFish Out of Water.” Released in 1975, consisting of only five tracks, it is a master work that few rock albums can match. Squire is joined by fellow “Yes” alumni Bill Bruford and Patrick Moraz, along with Andrew Pryce Jackman, arranger for Barbra Streisand, Michael Crawford, and more, and Mel Collins, frequently seen with Dire Straits, Alan Parsons, King Crimson, Clannad, and a host of others.

While Squire’s voice works well in his harmonies with Anderson and Howe on “Yes” tunes, on “Fish Out of Water” we see the fruits of his choir training. There is a precision and control in his singing which isn’t obvious until you listen for it. Each of the songs on “Fish” has long complex lyrical sections which require exact timing and phrasing to work with the syncopations and rhythmic complexities of the music. Chris is dead on, every time. His singing has a subtlety which does’t force itself to the fore; it must be sought out and discovered.

Each song flows into the next, as in a classical composition. Well, except for the break between side one and side two, since it was originally released on vinyl. Second Winter(You see, kids, a long time ago, we didn’t have CDs, with all the music on one side. They made ‘records’ out of vinyl, and you had to stop halfway through the experience to turn it over and hear the other side. This resulted in anomalies like Johnny and Edgar Winter’s “Second Winter” having three sides. Honest it did.)

The songs:

  • “Hold Out Your Hand” – The opening notes of the album are the pipe organ of (I believe) St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The bass jumps in right away to establish dominance, driving both the melody and rhythym. Not quite a pop tune, this was still the obvious single, in my opinion. The pipe organ solo is a rare effect which lends an ethereal air seconded by the strings. It flows without pause into
  • “You By My Side” – A beautiful love song, both lyrically and musically. The simplest of the album’s tunes. If “Hold Out Your Hand” was the obvious single, this should have been the follow up.
     "Here am I dreaming  I stand by myself Look and it's easy to see, that, I'm not the only one reaching for a new kind of wealth Reaching with nothing to hide And you by my side"
  • “Silently Falling” – Flutes, oboes, strings; then a single flute, trickling down to a pool below, then lilting back up to Chris’s voice. An eleven minute long work, it gradually turns from classical to a very “Yes” sounding prog rock tune. After establishing the new ‘rock’ theme, everything begins to wind up to a frenzy of organ, piano, bass, and drums; faster and faster, until suddenly – silence. Now, piano and horns, softly supporting Squire’s quiet voice, leading us through a reprise of the opening theme and into a fusion of the two themes. “Falling” depends much on the piano for its feel. It doesn’t sound like a complex piece in spite of its length and the varying thematic segments. One of only two tracks to actually fade out at the end.
  • “Lucky Seven” – Side Two opens with a simple keyboard intro, then a syncopated dance between Squire’s bass and Bruford’s drums. Next, Mel’s sax introduces one of the two themes, and almost immediately Chris’s voice introduces the other. The complex rhythym continues throughout the song. The lead instrument is the bass; not the sax, and not the vocals. Snapping, popping, fluttering in a tremolo the likes of which few bassists could muster, it is powerful even in the segments where it falls silent. Subtle punctuation by a real string section adds a surreal feeling. Finally, near the end, we’re treated to a writhing sax solo by Collins. Oddly, this complex piece was the single chosen for glory and renown by the record label. This ain’t top 40 pop.
  • “Safe (Canon Song)” – On a stage set by the piano, flute and orchestra join Squire’s voice in a fifteen-minute long piece which is more classical than rock. The most difficult vocal lines of the album, the music and vocals don’t always seem to be going the same direction, but always end up at the same destination. Building, then easing, building again, then moving off in a new direction; it is a marvelous blending of chamber music and progressive rock. After all, didn’t prog rock always want to be chamber music when it grew up? In the end, it builds to a large climax of horns, piano, then the full orchestra to a grand finale. But not quite the finale; the final minute and a half of the album is extremely quiet and very unusual bass playing; it sounds as if it’s been filtered though a Leslie organ amp, the way Jimmy Vaughan does his steel guitar sometimes. Sliding, whispering, a tiny, one-instrument fanfare, and then, finally, silence.

And if I ever grow up, I want to be Chris Squire. At the very least, I dream of one day creating a musical effort as intellectually stimulating and musically fulfilling as “Fish Out of Water.”

On and On About La Jolla

La Jolla is one of the most beautiful places on earth. A suburb of San Diego, California, it occupies a small coastal plain between a sharp knife of hills and the Pacific Ocean. It has a small town feel to it; only about a mile wide and a few miles long, you can drive through in minutes. But I could spend the rest of my life there and never miss the rest of the world. Some of the most breathtaking coastline in the world, stunning architecture, fabulous restaurants, a modicum of seclusion from the hustle of the ‘real’ city; it’s nearly perfect.La Jolla was almost the subject of Stephen Bishop’s preciously non-tragic non-love song “On and On” as well.

[l1]L[/l1]a Jolla is one of the most beautiful places on earth. A suburb of San Diego, California, it occupies a small coastal plain between a sharp knife of hills and the Pacific Ocean. It has a small town feel to it; only about a mile wide and a few miles long, you can drive through in minutes. But I could spend the rest of my life there and never miss the rest of the world. Some of the most breathtaking coastline in the world, stunning architecture, fabulous restaurants, a modicum of seclusion from the hustle of the ‘real’ city; it’s nearly perfect.

La Jolla was almost the subject of Stephen Bishop’s preciously non-tragic non-love song “On and On” as well.

The local ‘old rock’ station, KGB, used to do a benefit every year. Local bands would submit tapes of tunes and the 10 best would be compiled in that year’s ‘Home Grown’ album. They range from interesting to spectacular. Ron Satterfield, who later formed Checkfield, appeared often. (Ron’s ‘Light of the City’ from ‘Home Grown IV’ is one of my 10 favorite songs of all time; too bad it’s just not available anywhere but used vinyl.)

Bishop, born in San Diego in 1951, allegedly submitted his tune (with the opening line ‘Down in La Jolla’ instead of ‘Down in Jamaica’) on the wrong format tape, and was disqualified without even getting a listen. That’s okay; it probably deserved a wider audience than the Home Grown albums got.

La Jolla is also host to the annual Raymond Chandler writing contest. Hosted by the La Jolla Chamber of Commerce, submissions of short stories in Chandler’s style or in parody of his style are awarded small cash prizes.

I always wondered why all the submissions were parodies. I assumed it was because it was easier than writing a serious piece in Chandler’s style. When I tried to submit a vignette I wrote while I was an unemployed construcion worker, I found out otherwise: all submissions become the property of the La Jolla C of C. Why would I write something I really cared about and then give it away?

Still unpublished except on the web, my vignette, “Simplicity Itself” was written in about 10 minutes, and hasn’t change a word since the night I awoke from a sound sleep with it fully formed in my head. I recommend listening to Dire Strait‘s song “On Every Street” while reading it.

California Stars

I spent the evening on the back patio Sunday, looking at the stars (and a few planets.) Like rudy says, the grandeur of the universe sure puts our petty problems in perspective. It’s nice to live at the back side of town, near an estuary and the ocean, where the city lights don’t do as much damage to stargazing.Another batch of California stars are addressed by Wilco and Billy Bragg on “Mermaid Avenue”, an album of previously unrecorded Woody Guthrie songs. Put to music by Bragg, Jeff Tweedy, and Jay Bennett in various combinations, the albums (volume II was released in 2000) are a combination of the folk songs we’d expect from Woody, and the folk/rock/punk we’d expect from Bragg and Wilco.

[l1]I[/l1] spent the evening on the back patio Sunday, looking at the stars (and a few planets.) Like rudy says, the grandeur of the universe sure puts our petty problems in perspective. It’s nice to live at the back side of town, near an estuary and the ocean, where the city lights don’t do as much damage to stargazing.

Mermaid AvenueAnother batch of California stars are addressed by Wilco and Billy Bragg on “Mermaid Avenue“, an album of previously unrecorded Woody Guthrie songs. Put to music by Bragg, Jeff Tweedy, and Jay Bennett in various combinations, the albums (volume II was released in 2000) are a combination of the folk songs we’d expect from Woody, and the folk/rock/punk we’d expect from Bragg and Wilco.

Mermaid Avenue“California Stars” has unusually sensitive lyrics compared to much of Guthrie’s catalog; beautifully poetic. The music, in this case by Bennett and Tweedy, is more traditional. Mostly acoustic, it also includes some slide work by bluesman Corey Harris which is reminiscent of Tweedy’s days as a nephew of Uncle Tupelo. Rolling Stone did a nice writeup of the first album when it was released, including some background information and comments from the band.

Let’s hope Nora Guthrie continues to find voices for her father’s unrecorded lyrics. Like a Beatles reunion or finding a lost Gilbert and Sullivan opera, resurrecting Woody’s words is a music lover’s dream come true.

A View of Jude Cole

Jude Cole writes lyrics that satisfy me emotionally. While he claims to be just another happy guy, he has an intuitive grasp of misery. When you feel the need to get teary-eyed, Cole can do the trick as well as any.His album “” is a great blend of solid rock tunes and heart-wrenching ballads. Backed by Jeff Porcaro and Leland Sklar (among others) Cole turns in an impressive performance as a guitarist as well as a lyricist and singer.

A View from 3rd Street[l1]J[/l1]ude Cole writes lyrics that satisfy me emotionally. While he claims to be just another happy guy, he has an intuitive grasp of misery. When you feel the need to get teary-eyed, Cole can do the trick as well as any.

His album “” is a great blend of solid rock tunes and heart-wrenching ballads. Backed by Jeff Porcaro and Leland Sklar (among others) Cole turns in an impressive performance as a guitarist as well as a lyricist and singer.

  • “Hallowed Ground” – In a snappy electric tune, we’re introduced right away to so many aspects of the performer – lyrics which actually qualify as poetry; vocals unpretentious but heartfelt; multiple layers of guitars, acoustic, electric, slide; all wrapped around the feeling that no matter how badly you want it, you can never go back.
  • “Baby, It’s Tonight” – One of only two of Cole’s songs I’ve ever heard on the radio, a stronger keyboard influence (provided by Dave Tyson, occasional Doobie Brother) implies a quieter tune, but the chorus dispels any illusions of a bland pop tune. Excellent engineering gives depth by overlaying vocals on echoed vocals and other subtle effects. The lyrics could easily be taken as a sexual advance, but the rest of the album, and in fact, Cole’s body of work, suggests something less physical, more emotional.
  • “House Full Of Reasons” – With a piano constantly struggling for attention, Jude sings about the torture of living somewhere he’s no longer loved. The lyrics paint a painful picture of the little things that seem so important when the big things go wrong.
  • “Get Me Through The Night” – We’re so conditioned to expect the lowest common denominator from modern musicians that it’s easy to dismiss a song with a title like this without realizing that, rather than a come-on in the local bar, it’s a prayer for strength. Initially strongly acoustic, the chorus is shouted over a handful of electric guitars. The tune finishes with a guitar solo, repeated chorus, and one final scream of agony.
  • “Time For Letting Go” – About how hard it is to accept an unpleasant reality. “It’s time for letting go, we can’t hide what we both know.” A simple straightforward tune, Jude’s singing (both lead and multitrack backing vocals) carry it without the need for fancy musicianship.
  • “Stranger To Myself” – A glimpse at a darker side of the man, ‘Stranger to Myself’ is about obsessive love (if it can be called that); an overwhelming need to possess someone regardless of the consequences. More edge than most of Cole’s songs, with an interesting guitar solo of lower notes instead of the usual high-pitched squeals we’ve come to expect from rock guitarists.
  • “This Time It’s Us” – An a capella intro softens this piece about realizing it can happen to us. Lyrical despair without respite; a warmup to “Compared to Nothing.”
  • “Heart Of Blues” – A blues-rock howler Stevie Ray or Eric could be proud of. Riveting acoustic guitar and a tapping foot are joined by Jude’s voice: “Well I’m tired of losing you; I’m so tired of losing you. The way you come and go, you must be wearing out your shoes!” Another acoustic guitar, snapping fingers, and more of the multilayered vocals we’ve begun to expect. The second verse adds drums and electric guitars, but it’s the slide guitar solo that makes the song truly memorable. Short and punchy, it starts with a few short sweeps up and down the neck of the guitar, a few runs sideways across it, some amazing vibrato and a final run all the way down to the bottom. Makes my hands sweat just to listen to it. Final verse, another solo, fade to black.
  • “Compared To Nothing” – This time, the piano establishes early dominance and never gives in. A slow sad ballad, Jude is at his most miserable, singing about how trivial all those big problems seem now, when they’re compared to what he’s got left – nothing. In spite of a tasty guitar solo, I still think of it as a piano song. “I want to wake up in the morning, above these lonely streets, and feel you lying next to me.” It’s a special skill to wring so much emotion out of such simple lyrics.
  • “Prove Me Wrong” – Another prayer, but a defiant one. Very unconventional drum rhythms drive the tune, making it seem harder than it really is. Excellent use of that multilayered vocal thing he does so well.

Falling HomeI Don't Know Why I Act This WayCole recently released a fifth album, “Falling Home” and achieved a bit of commercial success with “Speed of Life” from his fourth album “I Don’t Know Why I Act This Way” which we’ll spend some time with one day.

Singles

Trivia question: the drummer on Steve Miller’s “My Dark Hour” is listed in the credits as ‘Paul Ramon’; what’s his real name?Hover here for one hint

[l1]T[/l1]rivia question: the drummer on Steve Miller’s “My Dark Hour” is listed in the credits as ‘Paul Ramon’; what’s his real name?

Hover here for one hint

Another hint

Answer


Some random thoughts regarding the tunes I listened to on my way to work today:

  • Hush” – Deep Purple – Jon Lord once said, “I think my organ playing has something to do with the sound of the band.” In stand-up comedy, we call this ‘humor by understatement.’ While many of the band members were extremely talented it is Lord’s performances on a Hammond B3 organ which typify this band’s sound for me.
  • Quinn the Eskimo” – Manfred Mann – No, not the wimpy studio version (and please, for your own sake, avoid Dylan’s original; a classic example of bad arranging.) Side two (did I say that? well, on vinyl, it was side two!) has three tracks, two of them live, which show what a powerful rock band this was. The closing track is a huge keyboard extravaganza. After the opening verses, the pace becomes frenetic as drums, guitar and keyboards all try to out-intense each other. Chris Slade should have stayed with the band. His drumming is almost machine-like in its precision, but there’s too much feeling to ever mistake it for anything electronic.
  • “I Still Miss Someone” – Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Foggy Mountain Boys – Lester Flatt was a great singer. No, his voice isn’t polished and refined, he doesn’t reach up to those impressive high notes; instead, he made simple tunes about human emotions sound genuine. When Lester was happy, you were happy; when he sang a sad song, you cried. While Earl’s banjo was the flashy partner, Lester’s voice is what I miss.
  • Commercial music?
    • “Rock and Roll” – Led Zeppelin – I was mystified by the brouhaha over the band allowing Cadillac to use this song in their commercials. Let me see; huge commercial conglomerate wants to pay aging rock stars an annuity every time one of their commercials runs. Am I missing the moral dilemma? I’ve been muting commercials since the advent of the remote control, but I listen to this one. Loud.
    • “Lust for Life” – Iggy Pop – Sorry; can’t even remember the product or service. Maybe Royal Carribean cruises? Had you told me 25 years ago that this pounding irresponsible tune by a guy considered a freak (even in an era of freaks) would be played on commercial television to augment the selling abilities of the medium, I would have laughed. But then, I still do, every single time I hear this song.
       "I've been hurting since I bought the gimmick About something called love; Yeah, something called love. Well, that's like hypnotizing chickens."
  • “(Outside the Gates of) Cerdes” – Procol Harum – Robin Trower occasionally got ahold of Keith Reid’s lyrics before Gary Brooker got to them. While Brooker tended toward the beautifully orchestrated pieces, Trower is a bluesman. “Cerdes” opens with a bass line I just can’t resist, and includes some fine guitar work by Trower. As usual, Reid’s lyrics hover somewhere between confusing and bizzare.

Constructing a Tangent to a Bubble

Not feeling any music today. Instead, I’ll ramble about one of the most influential books in my life and see if anything musical comes from it.My father’s stories were one of the highlights of my youth. His adventures growing up in a quiet Wisconsin valley (he and his brothers built a working glider, in which the youngest of them made a successful flight from the highest hill around – only to fly through the living room of a small travel trailer parked at the bottom); his life in the Air Force, where he recalled the terror of flying below the clouds in the Bering Strait, then climbing up to land on pack ice to rescue someone; even the more pedestrian work in the local creamery; his whole life was the stuff of his stories. I truly believe he found everything fascinating.

[l1]N[/l1]ot feeling any music today. Instead, I’ll ramble about one of the most influential books in my life and see if anything musical comes from it.

My father’s stories were one of the highlights of my youth. His adventures growing up in a quiet Wisconsin valley (he and his brothers built a working glider, in which the youngest of them made a successful flight from the highest hill around – only to fly through the living room of a small travel trailer parked at the bottom); his life in the Air Force, where he recalled the terror of flying below the clouds in the Bering Strait, then climbing up to land on pack ice to rescue someone; even the more pedestrian work in the local creamery; his whole life was the stuff of his stories. I truly believe he found everything fascinating.

Looking back, a really smart kid would have jumped at such a father’s suggestion that the best adventure book ever written was “The Royal Road to RomanceThe Royal Road to Romance” by one Richard Halliburton. My brother and I weren’t to be fooled, though. We sure weren’t reading any book with the word ‘romance’ in the title! In his usual laissez faire fashion, he let the matter rest until one of us discovered on our own that, back in the 20s when the book was written, ‘romance’ meant adventure! That sold us.

In the late 20s, young Richard Halliburton fled his boring classes at Princeton to go out into the world in search of adventure. Just as a warm-up exercise, he and a friend, with no climbing experience whatsoever, climbed the Matterhorn.

During his trek around the globe, Halliburton spent the night on the grounds of the Taj Mahal (a capital offense for a Christian in those days) during which he swam in one of the sacred lily pools (a capital offense for anyone.) Years later, when someone challenged the authenticity of his published account of the incident, he returned with photographic equipment and repeated the offense in front of his camera.

Unable to resist the possibility of seeing the stars from the top of Gibraltar, he stayed inside the grounds of the British fortress overnight after spending the day taking pictures of the highly secure establishment. He was robbed by pirates on a ferry from Macao and thought it “a jolly adventure”; he was the first foreigner to ever climb Fujiyama in the winter. He climbed the Himalayas to the province of Ladakh in Kashmir, just because he couldn’t believe the reports of the practice of polyandry – the shortage of women in the village of Lamayuru had led to the practice of a woman marrying, not one man, but a man and all his brothers.

Halliburton was likely certifiably insane. Who else would climb Olympus and spend the night on the top in a thunderstorm? Who else would jump into a 70-foot deep well in Mexico, just to relive the experience of ancient human sacrifice? Who but a crazy man would buy an airplane, hire a pilot, and set out across the desert to Timbuktu without any real hope of getting there?

Whatever his mental state, Halliburton fit more life into his few short years than most of us could fit into a hundred years. At the age of 39, while attempting to sail a Chinese junk from Hong Kong to San Francisco, Halliburton disappeared during a storm.

Are 40 years of Halliburton’s lifestyle worth as much as 80 years gathering dust? I’ve already outlived Richard by 10%. It must be time for something.

One song I distinctly remembering listening to while reading “The Royal Road” as a teen was “South Side of the Sky” from the Yes album “Fragile by YesFragile.” While so many of their longer tunes are more akin to orchestral works than hard-edged rock, two-thirds of “South Side of the Sky” couldn’t be classified as anything but rock. Hard driving, blues-based; making excellent use of Chris Squire’s heavy bass, Bill Bruford’s sharp drumming style, and Steve Howe’s guitar. The middle third, though, is a very pensive piano piece, which eventually grows to include muliple layers of vocals, and finally the whole band, in a melody and rhythm completely different from, but complimentary to, the primary tune.

The lyrics, about walking into a blizzard in the mountains, and accepting the inevitablility of death, when combined with the almost peculiar middle bars, have given rise to an idea for a science fiction movie in my head. If anyone’s got Harrison Ford’s number, I’d be glad to discuss it.

Paris or Alaska?

Jimmy Buffett’s music was one of the links between my father and I. At least, I’ve always felt that way, until I remember that my father probably only heard one of Jimmy’s tunes his entire life. Funny how your memory adjusts to your beliefs.My father, like the singer of “A Pirate Looks at 40” really was a pirate two hundred years too late. He never quite adapted to a normal 9-5 workaday world. Before my parents married, he’d been in the Air Force, stationed in Alaska. He made no secret of his dream to go back to one particular valley, build a cabin, and live out his days in peace.

[l1]J[/l1]immy Buffett‘s music was one of the links between my father and I. At least, I’ve always felt that way, until I remember that my father probably only heard one of Jimmy’s tunes his entire life. Funny how your memory adjusts to your beliefs.

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My father, like the singer of “A Pirate Looks at 40” really was a pirate two hundred years too late. He never quite adapted to a normal 9-5 workaday world. Before my parents married, he’d been in the Air Force, stationed in Alaska. He made no secret of his dream to go back to one particular valley, build a cabin, and live out his days in peace.

But like the singer of “He Went to Paris”, and in fact, like so many of us, he put his dreams on hold. Just until the kids were older. Just until the kids were grown. Just until mom was ready. Ten years, then twenty, finally, thirty years went by, the dream unfulfilled; and then, it was too late.

Although I identify strongly with the hopeless romantic in some of Jimmy’s tunes (“Come Monday”, “Stars Fell on Alabama”) and with the delirium of a beautiful daughter (“Little Miss Magic”) I’ve never quite achieved pirate status. But like my father, I’ve put off too many dreams for far too long.

So now the question is, where first – Paris or Alaska?

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If you’re looking for a good introduction to Jimmy Buffett, the anthology ‘Boats Beaches Bars & Ballads‘ provides a pretty good overview of the man’s work. If you’d like to try a smaller bite first, the album that hits all the right spots with me is ‘A1A.’ “A Pirate Looks at 40”, “Life is Just a Tire Swing” (with that title, how can it miss?), “Tin Cup Chalice”, about actually fulfilling some dreams, and John Sebastian’s moving ode to lost time, “Stories We Could Tell.” More than any other song, it makes me regret the times not spent together.

 "Oh, the stories we could tell
  And before we have to say that last farewell
  I wish that we could sit upon a bed in some hotel
  And listen to the stories we could tell"

32 Down

I’m a die-hard fan of the TV series “Due South” starring Paul Gross. Most fans of the show are aware that Gross is also an accomplished musician, even providing some of the music which always played such an important role in every episode. It was, for instance, the first place I heard Sarah McLachlan’s “Possession”, long before I heard it on the radio.For the three of you who’ve never seen it, the series is about a Canadian Mountie, Benton Fraser, who first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father, and for reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, remained, attached as liaison with the Canadian Consulate.

[l1]I[/l1]’m a die-hard fan of the TV series “Due South” starring Paul Gross. Most fans of the show are aware that Gross is also an accomplished musician, even providing some of the music which always played such an important role in every episode. It was, for instance, the first place I heard Sarah McLachlan‘s “Possession“, long before I heard it on the radio.

For the three of you who’ve never seen it, the series is about a Canadian Mountie, Benton Fraser, who first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father, and for reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, remained, attached as liaison with the Canadian Consulate.

The episode “Mountie on the Bounty” featured a tune (written by Gross and Jay Semko, peformed by Gross and frequent musical partner David Keeley) called “Due South Soundtrack Volume IIRobert MacKenzie.” A heavily Celtic influenced blues-rock ballad, it tells the fictitious story of the wreck of the “Robert MacKenzie“, a coal freighter lost in Lake Superior. (The real Robert MacKenzie was an iron barque built in Glasgow in 1860 and sunk off Jutland in 1903.)

First, the pipes; bagpipes, and rolling drums, fading. Abruptly, a chorus of sailors shouts “32 down on the Robert MacKenzie!” and we’re off. Pounding drums, crunching electric guitars and bass, then Paul’s voice begins the story. Every pause is punctuated by the bagpipes and a tin whistle which never really goes away. It’s hard not to sing along with the simple infectious chorus:

 "Steel boats, iron men 32 down on the Robert MacKenzie"

Gross’s voice has an interesting bluesy sound which reminds me of my father’s singing; or perhaps, reminds me of Gordon Lightfoot’s earliest work. Unlike many blues rock tunes, the lyrics are clearly understandable as long as one has a map depicting places like Keweenaw Point and Bit Griese Bay. After a nicely handled false ending, replete with the clash of steel being crushed in the waves, we’re treated to a rousing finale worthy of such a momentous event.

It has been said that Gross originally wanted to use Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” for the episode, but for reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, decided not to go through the effort necessary to get permission and wrote “Robert MacKenzie” instead. Not bad for a last minute subsitute. Don’t tell Gord I like Paul’s tune better, although Lightfoot’s tune tells a true story rather than being a work of fiction.

On the “Due South” soundtrack volume II (there is also, not surprisingly, a Due South Soundtrack Volume Ivolume I; both are filled with excellent music, unknown tracks by big names, others by people less famous) this track concludes with a bit of dialog not uncommon in this quirky series:

(It helps to picture Gross, tall and ramrod straight in his bright red Mountie uniform.)

Old woman’s voice: “So what’s your story? You work in a circus?”

Fraser: “Uh, no ma’am. Royal Candian Mounted Police. I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father, and for reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, I’ve remained, attached as liaison with the Canadian Consulate.”

Old woman: (in a very matter-of-fact, this-happens-every-day tone of voice): “Don’t take anything.”

Fraser: (in the same tone): “Understood.”

Gross recently wrote, directed, and starred in what is called ‘an outrageously Canadian romantic comedy’ called “Men With Brooms.” I won’t even bother to explain; I’ll just hope it’s released eventually somewhere closer than Toronto. It looks like a good time.

Scheherazade

For a thousand and one nights, tales so bewitching that a powerful ruler, mad with jealousy and power, set aside his murderous intent so as not to be deprived of their continuing enchantment. While the stories have been the subject of numerous recreations in paper, celluloid, and digital media, their narrator has been less honored.Scheherazade, wife of King Shahryar, was the namesake of a magnificent symphonic suite by Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov. No less ambitious is the more recent 25-minute long work composed and recorded by the progressive rock group Renaissance in 1975.

[l1]F[/l1]or a thousand and one nights, tales so bewitching that a powerful ruler, mad with jealousy and power, set aside his murderous intent so as not to be deprived of their continuing enchantment. While the stories have been the subject of numerous recreations in paper, celluloid, and digital media, their narrator has been less honored.

Scheherazade, wife of King Shahryar, was the namesake of a magnificent symphonic suite by Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov. No less ambitious is the more recent 25-minute long work composed and recorded by the progressive rock group Renaissance in 1975.

This version of the Arabian Nights story, entitled “Scheherazade and Other StoriesSong of Scheherazade“, focuses on three portions of the tales, as lyricised by Betty Thatcher: The Sultan, The Young Prince and Princess, and The Festival. Michael Dunford’s music provides a rich backdrop for the real star of the piece, the astonishing voice of Annie Haslam. Reputed to have a five-octave range, Annie makes you feel that she is Scheherazade, captivating with both her stories and her voice.

Opening with some very eastern sounding horns, a mini-overture grows as the strings, then piano, drums, and electric bass join. An upbeat cheerful horn-filled fanfare is followed by a dark, foreboding vocal section; the betrayal of The Sultan by his wife. Harmonizing vocals describe the sultan’s cruel response; taking a virgin bride each night, then beheading her at dawn to guarantee no woman will ever be unfaithful as his wife was. But tonight, the virgin bride is Scheherazade, and the brightening of the melody tells us things will be different this time; flutes, chimes, and a choir join the original voices, climbing to a more positive conclusion to this opening movement. It closes with a feeling that it could be a standalone piece, if it weren’t for the unfinished story.

Now, the subtle notes of the piano announce the love theme. Followed immediately by the tale of The Young Prince and Princess as told by Scheherazade, it isn’t yet clear if the love theme is for them, or perhaps for the sultan and Scheherazade.

A delicately beautiful song, only a quiet acoustic guitar and oboe accompany Haslam’s voice as she sings of their love.

 "And you would cause the sun to see your light and then be shamed You cover darkness with a thousand secret flames With your love O my love O my love, my love

 And I would cause the wind to blow A hundred different days And bring the perfumes of the gardens of the ways Of your love O my love O my love, my love"

First the piano, then the orchestra swell the delicate love song to a gentle conclusion. At the end, when Annie sings, “He would vow to love her for the rest of all his days” we know that, although it may be about the young prince and princess, it’s also a sign that Scheherazade has won the sultan’s love, and with it, her life.

Dawn; but instead of preparations for an execution, we have preparations for a wedding! (Dawn, by the way, sounds ever so much like “The Day Begins”, the opening track on the Moody Blues‘ “Days of Future Passed.”) An opening fanfare, then we’re whisked down the winding streets with a parade; joining the jugglers and jongleurs, the merchants and customers, young and old alike dancing in the streets to celebrate the wedding feast.

As quickly as it began, the parade disappears, leaving us alone with Scheherazade as she prepares for her sultan. Slow melodic flute, glittering piano; Scheherazade is at peace.

Now the sultan; perhaps not as calm and composed as his bride-to-be, the sultan’s fugue begins with a single piano melody, then a second contrapuntal melody; now oboes, and finally the full orchestra, taking us to The Festival.

We’re treated once more to Annie Haslam’s voice, describing the gifts from afar being laid at Scheherazade’s feet. Sounding at one moment like a pop tune, with insistent drums and bass, and in the next, like a movement from a Tchaikovsky symphony, the festival builds intensity. The people cheer their sultan, but, knowing she has saved more than her own life, even moreso their queen. As her subjects sing her praises, the orchestra takes us to the finale, capped once more by Haslam’s crystal voice in the final note.

Renaissance provided the soundtrack for my teenage years. I may be prejudiced, but I have yet to find any work which does a better job of combining the grandeur of the classical style with the power of a rock band better than “Song of Scheherazade.”

A remakable bit of trivia: the live version, recorded at Carnegie Hall, was released before the studio version; an unusual twist, especially with such a complex piece. For fans of progressive rock, I’d recommend the live album. It contains an excellent cross-section of the band’s repertoire. Containing the studio version of “Song of Scheherazade”, “Scheherazade and Other Stories” opens with the excellent jazz/rock/classical fusion piece “Trip to the Fair” which was actually played on US radio twice (or perhaps more; I only heard it twice.)

Comment: Jumping Japanese Jazz

Until I have the time to properly implement the ‘comments’ section of the site, I’ll post new comment announcements right here. Today, Ben Dyer comments on ‘Jumping Japanese Jazz.’

[l1]U[/l1]ntil I have the time to properly implement the ‘comments’ section of the site, I’ll post new comment announcements right here. Today, Ben Dyer comments on ‘Jumping Japanese Jazz.’

Renaissance Woman’s Journey Within

Recently, I was privileged to receive an advance copy of “Journey Within”, the first album by pianist, fellow web designer, and friend, Shirley Kaiser. In the hopes that you’ll be able to listen yourself in the very near future, I’d like to share my impressions of the original compositions which make up the album. For more information about Shirley, her musical philosophy, clips of all eight songs, and much more, please visit her website.Edit: Shirley Kaiser has graciously commented on my scribblings. I’m including her annotations in a different font.

Journey Within, by Shirley Kaiser[l1]R[/l1]ecently, I was privileged to receive an advance copy of “Journey Within”, the first album by pianist, fellow web designer, and friend, Shirley Kaiser. In the hopes that you’ll be able to listen yourself in the very near future, I’d like to share my impressions of the original compositions which make up the album. For more information about Shirley, her musical philosophy, clips of all eight songs, and much more, please visit her website.

Edit: Shirley Kaiser has graciously commented on my scribblings. I’m including her annotations in a different font.

“Journey Within” contains eight piano solos as beautiful and inspiring as the Renaissance Woman herself. Based on classical formats, the pieces generally run longer than pop tunes, but while they’re more complex than pop music and deserve audiophile-level attention, the melodies are memorable and meaningful enough to be enjoyed without unnecessary mental strain. All show clearly the composer’s powerful classical influence, but contain unmistakable references to jazz and modern music. Like many free-spirited intelligent musicians, Shirley’s style is not easily pigeon-holed.

All the music that I hear in my head has other instruments along with the piano, although there are piano solos within that. In order to get the music out there to be heard, though, what you’re hearing is actually piano renditions of fully orchestrated music. Sometimes it might be just a couple of instruments, a solo instrument such as a flute (often I use the higher areas of the piano to denote a flute). Other times, other pieces may have full orchestra.

  • “Love Song” – The opening track begins with the simple melodic theme that continues throughout the tune. A gentle song, straightforward and uncomplicated, it feels like it’s about, not love in real life, which tends to be anything but straightforward and uncomplicated, but instead, love in a fairy tale; love in a romantic movie; love in a dream. One of the shorter works on the album, it’s also one of my favorites. It fairly begs to have romantic Elizabethan lyrics written for it.

    You’re correct about this one not being inspired by romantic love. It’s inspired by the purest, most unconditional love, a spiritual love that recognizes, embraces, and celebrates one’s being.

    Actually, a movie I saw was the inspiration for this. I was at a retreat, and before the movie was over, the entire piece had created itself in my head. A dear friend had loaned me his synthesizer while I was there, so as soon as the movie was over I ran up to my hotel room and played it out in its entirety. I didn’t have any manuscript paper with me, so I sketched an outline of the melody and chords in my notebook and also called my home phone and played it into my voice mail so that I’d be sure to have all the details.

  • “Journey Within” – The title piece, as the name suggests, is very introspective. The pianolongest cut of the group, various pensive themes wind through and around each other. Having been recently exposed to the work of John Field, one of Shirley’s influences, that influence is evident to me in “Journey Within.” A repeating set of themes lead us down a quiet path to a private place where we can sit and think without the press of our daily cares. A very therapeutic composition which has a pronounced relaxing affect on me personally.

    It’s inspired by my own inner journey, of finally letting go, being in touch with my inner being, being at peace and centered. It’s inspired by my meditations, my journey of tapping into my soul and becoming one with it.

    After many, many years of trying to compose, I finally realized that I had to let it flow, that I couldn’t force it, that I couldn’t try to make it perfect in form or anything else. I had to let whatever was inside just flow on its own. The cork unpopped at long last, and out poured Journey Within. Much of it poured out at once, and I finished it in its entirety within just a few days. By letting it flow, it worked effortlessly, and it’s been that way ever since. So Journey Within was the beginning of an amazing journey that I’ve been on since then and was the first piece I wrote on this new journey that’s ended up with this CD.

  • “Sunrise Reflections” – The first of a few pieces which have a defined introduction, “Sunrise Reflections” soon introduces the melody which reminds me so much of the sunrise in the southern California mountains where I’m writing this. Away from the noise and confusion of the city, the sunrise on a silent country morning is an event you participate in, not just something that happens. This sunrise draws you in; it makes you realize this will be a good day. One of the tunes that I think is especially worthy of full orchestration.

    This one is inspired by the setting of a 5am sunrise over Lake Tahoe when the water is still as a mirror and perfectly reflects the world all around it while the sun rises over it sending the most amazing colors throughout the world and reflected by the Lake. It’s all about memories of the only times I got up that early when my babies would wake up hungry. I’d remove the curtains on the wall of glass overlooking the lake and make ourselves cozy on the couch. I’d feed my little baby in the most amazingly beautiful place at the most perfect moment watching the sun rise over Lake Tahoe on a very early, cool, crisp, totally peaceful summer morning.

    It’s also all about memories of watching their young childhoods at the Lake, running along the sand, building sand castles, laughing and playing, riding in the boat, sitting in the shade on the porch overlooking the lake, many things like that. It’s all about sweet, precious memories of my children when they were very young there at the Lake.

    The title is a play on words in one sense since I’m reflecting on beautiful sunrises and times and in the other sense it’s also actually about a beautiful sunrise reflecting on the lake.

  • “Separation” – At first somber and pensive; clearly a sad tune, “Separation” feels so much like being away from the ones you love. Doc Watson - MemoriesA second theme, though, is strong and hopeful; a feeling of anticipated joy at being reunited. The two themes, sad and hopeful, flow into each other as they might flow through mind and heart. The hopeful theme reminds me strongly of “Thoughts of Never” by the late Merle Watson, son of guitar great Doc Watson.

    Yes, this one is inspired by being apart from those I love the most, my children. Divorce is a tough, tough thing in that regard, and it was a huge adjustment for me to be away from my children at night especially. Their rooms were so quiet and empty, the house was so quiet and empty, and it was a very painful and tough adjustment, despite the necessity of divorce.

  • “Maya” – From the opening moments, “Maya” is a more complex, more powerful melody. Now slow, now accelerating; even the quiet portions have a feeling of barely restrained power. Shirley has acknowledged being in a very ‘Beethoven’ mood during “Maya” and it shows. This is the rebel; the melody that doesn’t quite fit with the others, but manages to belong just the same. A colorful piece which took longer to appreciate than any of the others, it displays Shirley’s intimate grasp of the old masters in a very modern sounding work.

    This one is indeed a departure from the moods of the other pieces, while also being reflective of my inner journey at the time. Maya was inspired by the illusions we can become trapped in within this life. People are lured in by drugs, money, fame and fortune only to be destroyed by it, for example. People can betray us and cause so much pain. The interplay of the tantalizing melody is that illusion’s enticement, and then it returns to stab you when you’re not looking. Beethoven’s music was a big influence on this piece, certainly.

  • “Dancing in Circles” – If the title were any indication this would be cheerful, almost bouncy tune. But instead of joyfully sharing the dance with a partner, this dancer seems to be alone, spinning sadly on an empty dance floor. Its spirit somehow reminds me of Sting’sThey Dance Alone” and brings to mind visions of solitary dancers clutching photographs of missing loved ones; loving them, sharing the dance with their memory. But like all of Shirley’s music, it doesn’t just tell a story, it inspires feelings. Instead of melancholy, you feel the desire to join the dancer in hopes of easing their sorrow.

    Inspired by a whirlpool at the ocean and thinking of a couple of relationships that weren’t going anywhere….. just dancing in circles. This one for me is about being caught up in that whirlpool and working one’s way out, remembering to avoid those whirlpool, going nowhere dances in the future. It’s about learning lessons and growing within.

  • “Mended Wings” – Exceeded in length only by the title track, “Mended Wings” is a long journey itself, from a sad past to a hopeful, even joyful future. Building from a very quiet beginning, we feel the sadness of loss and separation build to the firm determination to build a better future. Although the memories of the past arise throughout its nine-minutes, the overall feeling is positive, at times even clearly forgetting there was ever a sad past. Rather than the giddiness of temporary happiness, we’re left with the lasting comfort of deep inner joy.

    Just as the title states, I imagine a beautiful eagle soaring once again, reaching new heights, flying over the Grand Canyon perhaps, over forests, and over the world’s beautiful, majestic scenery. And yes, the wings were injured, time was taken to heal and mend and become even stronger, appreciating even more the beauty and wonder of being able to soar. This is reflective of my own life and some major obstacles that I overcame.

  • “Celebration” – The album opens with its shortest tune, and closes with the second shortest. Here is the giddy happiness; the overwhelming feeling of things too good to be true. A large, round sound, this is another track that cries out for orchestration to even more fully realize the depth of its joy.

    This one is definitely giddy happiness, as you mention, celebrating the love of close friendships, and being so thankful and grateful for them. I wrote it for a dear friend of mine who encouraged me to record this CD and actually recorded it all for me. This one is dedicated to him (Ron Mann) and to the preciousness of friendship.

“Journey Within” has changed the way I listen to music. And if things go well, you’ll soon be able to listen for yourself.

Grapes of Route 66

I love Woody Guthrie. My father wanted to be Woody Guthrie. If he’d been a few years older, he would have been Woody Guthrie.Woody Guthrie was an honest man, trying to tell the truth in a dishonest world. There are places and times in the past where men like him were hunted and killed for what they did. It tells me something about the advance of civilization, about which I worry just a bit, that Woody Guthrie wasn’t put away by the government or lynched.

[l1]I[/l1] love Woody Guthrie. My father wanted to be Woody Guthrie. If he’d been a few years older, he would have been Woody Guthrie.

Woody Guthrie was an honest man, trying to tell the truth in a dishonest world. There are places and times in the past where men like him were hunted and killed for what they did. It tells me something about the advance of civilization, about which I worry just a bit, that Woody Guthrie wasn’t put away by the government or lynched.

His songs are wry, dry, and witty. His songs were simple statements of fact about simple ugly facts no one else was talking about. I honestly don’t know how much impact his music had on the course of events, or what its value will be perceived as somewhere down the road, but every once in a while it makes me stop and think, and that’s enough.

As much as I enjoy listening to Woody himself (my father sounded so much like him, it’s like listening to the recordings of him that don’t exist) there’s one cover of a Woody Guthrie tune that transcends musical boundaries: Odetta, singing “Ramblin’ Round” on the 1972 “Tribute to Woody Guthrie” album. Backed by Arlo Guthrie and a group of remarkable musicians not yet known as The Band, Odetta swings this simple folk tune into a rollicking blues rock paean to the man himself. It’s one of those tracks that I just have to listen to more than once (on the tape I play in my car, I have Arlo singing “Oklahoma Hills”, a childhood favorite, and Odetta’s cover alternating, repeated three times so I don’t have to rewind it.)

Just discovered that Joel Rafael will be performing at this year’s Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. Ah, to be in Oklahoma in June.