Tuesday Vinyl

I’m working out of my office basement today which means that in between leading and preparing for all my coaching sessions I can finally catch up on and indulge in a little vinyl appreciation.  And this morning, it’s all beginning with something, well, a little off the wall, the original soundtrack for the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty‘.

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I live my life by a certain set of rules.  Among them are:  1)  Never pass up on a second helping of cheese, 2)  Justin Bieber, Adam Sandler and all the Kardashian’s are the epitome of evil incarnate on this earth and are to be avoided at all cost, and 3)  if ‘Mutiny on the Bounty‘ ever comes on television, you watch that shit!

Of course, there are more rules (many more, in fact) but there’s just not enough time nor bandwidth to list them all here.  Anyway, ‘Mutiny on the Bounty‘ (either, for the record) is one of the greatest films ever made and I’ve seen it (both versions) about a zillion times.  So when I found it recently in the soundtrack section of BJ’s Records & Nostalgia in Barrie, Ontario for $8.00, I snatched that shit up.  Because, while it may not be on television, not picking it up now and rescuing it from the dark recesses of the store would have been akin to just ignoring it altogether and flipping the channel and, that shit, simply doesn’t ever  happen.

This particular record is the original soundtrack for the 1962 historical drama film starring Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard and Richard Harris, and all based on the novel of the same name by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.  The film retells the 1789 real-life mutiny aboard HMAV Bounty led by Fletcher Christian (Brando) against the ship’s captain, William Bligh (Howard) (click HERE for the true history lesson).  Given its enormously inflated budget of $19 million, the film was literally a box office flop (the fools!), despite being the 6th highest grossing film of 1962.  It grossed only $13,680,000 domestically, earning $9.8 million in US theatrical rentals.  While it did not win any Oscars (blasphemy!) it was nominated for seven including Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and, yes, Best Music Score (Bronislau Kaper).

Like the movie for which it was composed, Bronislau Kaper’s composition is brash, thrilling, tense, playful, reflective, and dynamic.  Only Miklos Rosza’s ‘Ben-Hur‘ matches it in sheer scope and sweep.  Kaper’s use of South Seas rhythms and chorus, along with familiar English melodies, add authenticity to the seafaring saga that moves from the North Atlantic to the the South Pacific.  It totally makes me feel like I should have some dark rum with my coffee this morning and, maybe, a parrot on my shoulder.  While I still enjoy the 1984 remake ‘The Bounty‘ starring Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson, what that version doe snot have is this music score, instead using a nondescript synthesizer which, while at time eerie and creepy, is not as entertaining as this original soundtrack.

The range of Kaper’s score is considerable, from the powerful crescendo finale of ‘Making the Horn‘  through the stunning set-piece ‘The Storm‘  to wonderfully triumphant music for the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope, through the dramatic and tense sequence where the crew of HMS Bounty first encounter ‘Tahitians‘ – pungent, stabbing brass in violent collision with relentless ethnic drumming… Then there is the exceptional 10-minute set piece which brings the film to its intermission, a blistering sequence climaxing with ‘Outrigger Chase/Prisoners‘ and the introduction to the intermission itself.

Mutiny1And that’s just half the film.  The score turns darker once the lights dim again, with many terse, brooding and darkly anguished cues – for example ‘Breadfruit Overboard‘ – which while highly effective in context do make for a protracted listening experience.  As indeed does the morbidly expressive 15-minute finale montage of ‘The Vote/They’ve Given Up/Gentle/Christian’s Death/Definite End‘.

Yeah, pass the rum.

Even better is that this album is in perfect condition, complete with the color “souvenir” booklet that went with it without so much as a creased page or stain anyway.  Amazeballs!  This will definitely make for some good bedtime reading-slash-entertainment for HRH  one day.

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Drills/Easy Run (4k)

Today marks the then first “official” day of my Ironman training.  I’ve secured a new coach (not the Coach, mind you, but a new Coach) and I’ve seen the first few snippets of this weeks worth or training and – oi vay – it’s going to be a challenging few months for sure.  I’m glad that we got that relaxing down time by the pool when we did last week.  This morning, however, was only something intended to get the legs moving given they’ve had a whole seven days off at this point – aside from the multiple trips to the pool bar to refresh our cocktails, of course.  This morning’s extremely easy 4k drill run was set to a short album I have by Shakey Graves, the ‘Donor Blues EP‘.

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This short 8 track EP was released through the Bandcamp website back in December of 2012; the songs however were all written back in 2009 and recorded on a Tascam 4 track using one shitty mic and outdated software.

Compromising exactly of 25 minutes worth of music, it was the perfect length for a quick trip up the  Friendship Trail to do some leaping, skipping and prancing drills.

The Austin, Texas based singer-songwriter, Alejandro Rose-Garcia (aka “Shakey Graves”) has this to say about the main track on the album:

“‘Doe, Jane’ was written while I was holed up in Los Angeles waiting for the phone to ring. It is about the process of becoming domesticated and the fears associated with being tied to another. The name actually comes from The Wire (which I was knee deep in at the time) and refers to the tag on an unidentified dead woman’s toe.”

Aaaaaaaand, that’s about all I could find online about it.

As far as the music goes, it’s okay albeit entirely forgettable.  There are some likable elements of Jack Johnson-like lyrics (‘Good Police‘) and I can especially identify with ‘Stereotypes of a Blue Collar Male‘, the tale of a 22 year old frustrated man-boy who tries to cuss someone into being his one and only.  Hey, I was there once.

And so with these first few tentative steps behind me, I’m now officially on the Ironman path for the next 5 months.  It’s going to be a long, strange, and certainly breathless trip indeed.

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Flight WC681 from Varadero to Toronto

We’re nearly home (thank, Christ!), zipping across the sky at 35,000ft.  Hopefully, our flight will not be turned around like the other flight that left yesterday and had to return back to Cuba thanks to mechanical issues.  Truthfully, if that happens on this flight I hope that our pilot opts instead to crash land in the middle of the Caribbean and we’ll just take our chances.  At least the food promises to be better.

That means there’s time for one last album (in fact, the last album on my iPod), the ‘Otis Blue‘  album by Otis Redding.

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Released on September 15th, 1965 on Stax Records, is the third studio album by the legendary soul singer.  The album mainly consists of cover songs by popular R&B and soul artists, and, bar one track, was recorded in a 24-hour period over July 9th and 10th (1965) at the Stax Recording Studios in Memphis, Tennessee.  The album was critically acclaimed upon release and became one of Redding’s most successful albums; it reached #6 on the UK Albums Chart, and was his first to reach the top spot of the Billboard R&B chart.  Furthermore, it produced three popular singles, all charting at least in the top 50 on both the Billboard R&B and the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It is considered by many critics to be Redding’s first fully realized album.

Three of the eleven songs were written by Redding: ‘Ole Man Trouble‘, ‘Respect‘, and ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long‘.  Three songs were written by Sam Cooke (Redding’s idol), a soul musician who had died only a few months earlier.  As was the case in the previous albums, Redding was backed by house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s, a horn section of members of The Mar-Keys and The Memphis Horns, and pianist Isaac Hayes.

‘Otis Blue’  is included in a number of “Best Album” lists, including Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, Time magazine’s list of the All-Time 100 Greatest Albums, and Robert Dimery’s “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die”.  My Bible (Mojo, August 1995) ranks it at #31.

Besides his tributes to Cooke, also featured are Redding’s spellbinding renditions of ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction‘ (a song epitomizing the fully formed Stax/Volt sound and which Mick Jagger and Keith Richards originally wrote in tribute to and imitation of Redding’s style), ‘My Girl‘, ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water‘.  ‘Respect‘  and ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long‘, two originals that were to loom large in his career, are here as well; the former became vastly popular in the hands of Aretha Franklin and the latter was an instant soul classic.  Among the seldom-cited jewels here is a rendition of B.B. King‘s ‘Rock Me Baby‘  that has the singer sharing the spotlight with Steve Cropper, his playing alternately elegant and fiery, with Wayne Jackson and Gene “Bowlegs” Miller’s trumpets and Andrew Love’s and Floyd Newman’s saxes providing the backing.  Redding’s powerful, remarkable singing throughout makes the album gritty, rich, and achingly alive, and an essential listening experience.

And thus, my reentry back into normal life begins.

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On the Balcony

Kelly and I spent a rather entertaining afternoon doing absolutely buckus in the hotel’s Main Concourse.  Entertaining in that we plopped our asses down in a comfy chair and did little else other than sip cappuccino, read and craft out our “Cuban Survival Guide” (which, for the record I will link HERE once it has been published online)…just as planned.  It was glorious.  We’re back in our hotel room now and Kelly is getting ready for our scheduled French cuisine “dinner” (and, yes, I continue to use that term very loosely) so I’m slipping in another chapter out on the balcony.  I’ve had enough of the Cuban jazz though, so I’m reverting back to a little more Soul Explosion with the ‘Soul Men‘  album by Sam & Dave.

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This is the 3rd album by R&B duo Sam & Dave, released in 1967 on the legendary Stax Records label. It reached #5 on the Billboard “Black Album” chart in 1967 and #62 on the “Pop Album” chart in 1968.  The album launched the hit single ‘Soul Man‘ upon the world which ranked #1 on the “Black Singles” charts and #2 on the Pop Singles charts. It also won Sam & Dave a Grammy in 1967 for Best R&B Group, Vocal or Instrumental.

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This afternoon’s entertainment coming soon to a blog near you…

Because R&B was such a singles-driven market in the 1960’s, many albums released by Stax and Motown were big on filler.  But that generally wasn’t the case with Sam & Dave’s albums, which boasted many gems that weren’t released as singles and enjoyed little, if any, radio airplay.  Listeners may be surprised to learn that as popular as this twosome was in 1967, ‘Soul Men‘  contains only one major single: the anthemic title song and its B-side, the charming ‘May I Baby‘.  Among the first-class album tracks never released as singles were ‘Rich Kind of Poverty‘, the punchy ‘Hold It Baby‘, and the gospel-drenched ballads ‘Just Keep Holding On‘  and ‘I’ve Seen What Loneliness Can Do‘.  My personal favorite, however, is ‘Broken Down Piece of Man‘.

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View from the balcony…

As was customary, the team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter wrote the hits, and Hayes’ production was so utterly sympathetic in capturing the tough, swaggering singing styles of both Sam Moore and David Prater that he surrounded them with punchy, driving arrangements by the Memphis Horns, Booker T. & the MG’s, and the studio aces at Stax. Hayes pushed the level into the red on a number of these tunes, making for dynamite performances from the duo. This is one of these records that feels live because of its crackling energy.  For those with more than a casual interest in Memphis soul, this is about as good as it gets.

Anyway, it’s time for “dinner”.

God help us.

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Beach Walk (1.75k)

A storm front is rolling in this morning so my planned beach swim has been nixed given the huge waves and the big, attention grabbing red flag signaling that it is not safe to go in the water.

Here’s the scene:

This has not however deterred the lone hat salesman from attempting to pedal his wares which, is either a testament to the Cuban work ethic, or their complete indifference to what is going on around them.  So instead of swimming, I’m going for a little beach walk (1.75k) to look for some rocks and shells n’ shit with the last of my Cuban-inspired albums, the ‘Essential Cuban Anthology‘.

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Released on August 7th, 2009 on the Not Now Music label, this collection of 50 tracks included classic Cuban numbers from noted Cuban musicians like Beny More, Ruben Gonzalez, Compay Segundo, Celia Cruz, Perez Prado, Desi Arnaz and many more.

There’s not much more to say other than it’s interesting to hear some of the solo work from the same cast of compelling musicians featured in the Buena Vista Social Club album I listened to yesterday.

So with that being said, here’s a few photographs from the walk:

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No swimming today…

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“The sea was angry that day…”

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Looking down the beach….

I think our plan for the rest of the day, given the current cool and windy conditions is to retire to the Main Concourse in one of the large comfy chairs, sip some Cuban coffee, read, and do a little people-watching.

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More Beach-bumming Around

Day Three of our much-belated Cuban honeymoon and we’re back at the beach, earlier this time for a choice spot in which to enjoy the atmosphere.  Up to now we’ve typically been sleeping in late and, therefore getting here too late to secure a front row seat but the early morning fart I let loose with this morning in the room (which, I proudly note, smelled exactly like the “buttered lobster tail” we had for “dinner” last night) sure helped inspire an early start (ie. getting out of the room…fast!).  We bobbed in the surf together for a little bit before I completed another 1500m  beach swim, and we are laying down now to enjoy the rest of the day, me with the ‘At Carnegie Hall‘  album by the Buena Vista Social Club…especially since we are seeing them perform tonight*.

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The Buena Vista Social Club was originally a members’ only club in Havana, Cuba, that closed in the 1940’s.  There it held dances and musical activities, becoming a popular location for musicians to meet and play during the 1920’s through the 40’s.  In the 1990’s, nearly 50 years after the club was closed, it inspired a recording made by Cuban musician Juan de Marcos González and American guitarist Ry Cooder with traditional Cuban musicians, some of whom were veterans who had performed at the club during the height of its popularity.

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View from the deck chair

In 1998, a recording, named ‘Buena Vista Social Club’  after the same Havana institution, became an international success, and the gathered ensemble was encouraged to perform with a full line-up in Amsterdam in April 1998 (two nights). German director Wim Wenders captured the performance on film and the one that followed on July 1st, 1998 at Carnegie Hall, New York City for a documentary – also called ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ – that included interviews with the musicians conducted in Havana.  Wenders’ film was released on June 4th, 1999 to critical acclaim, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary feature and winning numerous accolades including Best Documentary at the European Film Awards.  These performances were hugely successful and only further expanded the reach of Cuban music internationally.

This is a live double album by Buena Vista Social Club and producer Ry Cooder, performed at the very same Carnegie Hall in 1998, but released over ten years later on October 13th, 2008.  The performance featured veteran Cuban performers like Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez, Compay Segundo, and Omara Portuondo.  Of the four older legends, those who had made music together in Cuba before Castro, only Omara remains on the Earth, and she is still quite active. The other three, vocalist Ibrahim, pianist Rubem, and guitarist and vocalist Compay (he lived to be 96!), have passed away.  The youngster of the group, guitarist Eliades Ochoa, continues to record and tour.

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Live and in person at the Salon Plenario in the Plaza America, Varadero, Cuba (Feb. 3rd, 2016)

The performance is profound, sensual, and beautiful. It is true that eight of the songs that appeared on the eponymous studio album are replicated here as well, but these live versions blow them away.  In addition, the 16 songs here, offer extended instrumental workouts to go along with the glorious vocals, making each tune – from the opening ‘Chan Chan‘  all the way through to the glorious bolero ‘Silencio‘  duet between Ferrer and Portuondo – reflect all of the lived history not only of the singers, but of the entire era for an audience to behold.  Segundo’s rich and lived-in baritone inhabits disc two’s opener, ‘Orgullecida‘, so fully that no one should ever be allowed to cover it again.

As is the standard for Nonesuch, the sound of the evening is fantastic, the spark in the mix has been left in, and the backing band sounds as varied and tight as it did in the film.  This set is every bit as necessary as the solo albums by the singers, and perhaps even more than the studio effort. It is not only a historical document; it is a living, breathing piece of work that guarantees the transference of emotion from tape to listener, and cements the Buena Vista Social Club’s place not only in the Latin music pantheon, but in the larger context of popular music history.

And, please, don’t take my word for it…click HERE.

*It was amazing.  Full stop.
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Relaxing Poolside (Part 2)

It’s ironic that I’m here in Cuba and I’m being force fed the same FM pop pablum that I avoid at all costs back home.  Fortunately, the drinks are plentiful and now that I know to ask for the “top shelf” stuff (Havana Club), they’re also very potent.  I’m also noticing as well, that the more I drink the more the more I’m really digging this Cuban music since it’s uniquely European (Spanish primarily) orchestration combined with a largely poly-rhythmic African percussion is perfectly suited to passing the time poolside while turning myself into a human bacon strip.  Next up on the Cuban playlist is the influential ‘A Toda Cuba le Gusto‘  album (click HERE) by the Afro-Cuban All Stars.

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The Afro-Cuban All Stars is a Cuban band led by Juan de Marcos González (formerly a player for Sierra Maestra).  Their music is a mix of all the styles of Cuban music, including bolero, chachachá, salsa, son montuno, timba, guajira, danzón, rumba and abakua.  They are known internationally for this 1997 album, which was recorded at the Buena Vista Social Club sessions (more on that later).  Members have included Rubén González, Orlando “Cachaíto” López, Ibrahim Ferrer, Raul Planas, Pío Leyva, Manuel “Puntillita” Licea, Félix Baloy, Yanko Pisaco and more recently Caridad Hierrezuelo and Pedro Calvo.

A Toda Cuba le Gusto‘  is a lively, spontaneous record that manages to sound both relaxed and forceful at the same time, which shows off the talents of many of Cuba’s elder statesmen of Afro-Cuban jazz.  Over gently pulsating conga grooves and low-register ostinatos, such luminaries as pianist Ruben Gonzalez and singer Manuel “Puntillita” Licea float dramatic melodies, as their solo contributions are answered by brass section chords as thick and sweet as the Cuban rum cream in my pina colada.

As might be expected, the trumpets blare with traditional Cuban bravado, evoking gentle romance and fiery passion with equal ease.  The opening track ‘Amor Verdadero’ is a great intro of the Cuban “feel” for the rest of the album.  The next track, however, really captures my attention however where the resident gringo, Ry Cooder, gets in some choice licks.  It is easily my favorite song on the album, ‘Alto Songo‘  (click HERE), which plays a funky upright bass riff against a seemingly improvisational piano lick.  It’s stunning perfect for an equally stunning Caribbean afternoon and might just be the best thing I hear all week.

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