Playlist for 11-14-10

1. String Quartet No. 2 Op. 64 "Quasi una Fantasia" by Henryk Gorecki.  From Kronos Quartet: Gorecki: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2, Nonesuch, 1993.

I'm glad to have been able to share this recording with people via KZUM, but I wish the circumstances were happier: Gorecki passed away last week.

I discussed this quartet on Words on Sounds a few years ago in some detail--if you're interested, click here. For today, I would just like to add that this recording/composition made a huge impression on me, causing me to change my major to classical composition in college, and I'm grateful for hearing it.  Rest in peace, dear Henryk.

2. Romance by Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man.  From Out of Season, Go Beat, 2002.

Beth Gibbons is well-known for her work as vocalist for Portishead, a favorite of mine.  Portishead has truly created their own musical universe, and it's interesting to hear Gibbons outside of that context.  In contrast to Portishead, this music is more based in folk and Motown styles, and it doesn't feature the characteristic trip-hop percussion stylings so particular to the Portishead approach.  While most of these songs feature relatively sparse arrangements, a few songs such as "Romance" have slow-build Billie Holiday-meets-Motown style arrangements that work wonderfully.  Check it out for yourself:

3. Taut by John Parish & Polly Jean Harvey.  From Dance Hall At Louse Point, Island, 1996.

This is my favorite track from the first of two collaborative albums from PJ Harvey and John Parish.  PJ uses almost every vocal approach she has in this song, from whispers and gentle, faux-child moments to belt-it-out, plaintive wailing.  I especially like the drum approach, both in terms of the playful performance itself and for the mixing style that places them in a different sonic space from the rest of the music, and then drops them back into the same environment at particularly emphatic moments.

4. Absolute Zero by Faith No More.  From Digging the Grave CDEP, Slash, 1995.

This is my favorite song from Faith No More, which tragically only saw release through B-sides and Greatest Hits/Rarities compilations.  Dating from the "King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime" recording sessions, "Absolute Zero" represents the perfect combination of Faith No More-esque elements: we get the chugging heavy guitars.  A great tribal drum beat holds everything together.  Roddy's keyboards enrich the incredibly memorable choruses.  And we get a great vocal performance from Patton, along with a great set of lyrics in the grand absurdist tradition of "The Real Thing."  There's even a great false ending.  I'll never understand why this wasn't placed on KFAD proper, or pushed as a single.  I think it could've been their second "Epic," popularity-wise.

5. Kitchen by Sex Mob.  From Dime Grind Palace, Ropeadope, 2003.

This is the opening track from the first Sex Mob album to feature all original compositions.  Bandleader Steven Bernstein uses Sex Mob in as a kind of workshop for "fun" jazz ideas--the sound and sentiment sometimes remind me of Joey Baron's trio that we listened to last week.  Bernstein always features his slide trumpet playing on Sex Mob albums, which I really love.  The whole band perfects that same kind of tight-but-loose style that makes the downtown scene so fun.

I think of groups like Sex Mob and Joey Baron's Barondown, and bands like the Lounge Lizards who came before them, as a more nutritious version of the retro-swing acts that had some commercial success in the 90s like the Squirrel Nut Zippers.  If you were/are into that style and want to go deeper, the Sex Mob is a great place to start:

6. O Canto da Ema by Cyro Baptista.  From Beat the Donkey, Tzadik, 2002.

Another downtown scene regular, percussionist Baptista's ensemble works brings various Latin American styles to NYC through lots and lots of percussion.  I find this album and it's successor, "Love the Donkey," to be a great compliment to the Sex Mob records when I'm in the mood for some fun-yet-out jazz.

7.  Birthday (Justin Robertson 12'' Mix) by the Sugarcubes.  From It's It, Elektra, 1992.

This one was played for Eric, former DJ with Other Music, who celebrated his 40th B-day with an awesome party at the Zoo Bar the same night.  Generally, I'm a bigger fan of Bjork's later work than the Sugarcubes material.  That said, this remixed version of "Birthday" is marvelous!  I like it way more than the original.  This is a great example of a remix that actually becomes its own composition, adding so many new layers of sounds, textures, dynamics, and rhythmic pulses that it becomes a whole new song.  If you like Bjork's solo stuff or the Sugarcubes, the "It's It" album is a double-disc of remixes that split the conceptual difference between those camps.  There are a few duds here, or tracks that didn't age well, at least, but most of it sounds better to me than the proper Sugarcubes albums.

8.  Pontificate by The Matthew Herbert Big Band.  From There's Me and There's You, K7, 2008.

The Matthew Herbert Big Band is a project that deserves more attention.  Herbert has described his personal approach to music in a manifesto you can read here, and it's worth reading.  For a fellow who mostly produces music sold as "electronic music" of various varieties, it's a compelling list: no drum machines, real instruments wherever possible, only personally-made samples (not of others' music), etc.  For the big band project, have some sampled sounds added to the live-band mix, and they're mixed in really creative ways that can create those "hyperrealism" soundscapes we discussed before.  Some of the samples apparently originate from field recordings done at Parliament!  Highly recommended.  Check 'em out live:

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