Monday, November 15, 2010

This Is Vintage Now Review

This Is Vintage Now is an ambitious music project headed by David Gasten which in David's own words tries to "bring older styles to the current time in a way that connects with current audiences but is still non-obtrusive." Sounds good to me! I for one embrace looking to the past to create the future and music is such a living creature that it should be constantly revisited and refreshed.

According to their website, the objective of their first CD is to "showcase 'bicultural' Vintage-style artists that bring the sounds of the 1940's-1960's to today without compromising the original sound." Do they deliver? The answer is both yes and no and , of course, is complicated and based on personal preference as music usually is.

Beverly Kenney
The CD starts strong with a jazz track from Beverly Kenney "Tea for Two," which was actually recorded in 1955. Accompanied only by piano, Kenney's voice has a fragility on par with fellow 50s vocalist Helen Merrill, with a shot of Sheila Jordan and Sarah Vaughn thrown in. I agree completely that she is obscure enough to be "rediscovered" for this compilation, yet this track sets a high standard for the rest of the album as well.

On track 2 "Get On Up and Boogie", Big Jay McNeely immediately catches the listener with his question "Are you ready for some Boogie Woogie?!?" and jumps into a high energy audio assault of vocals, stride piano, guitar, bass, drums, conga drums and a pair of saxes. Like Kenney, McNeely has been making music for quite some time and helps to create the base on which the other tunes on the CD will be compared to, conscious or not. The contrast of this jump blues tune against the first really grabbed me and I started to look forward to the next tune.

The next song "Just One Dance" by Caro Emerald did not let me down and became my favorite on the compilation. The mix of jazz, torch song, and big band with dance pop is to me the essence of what This Is Vintage Now should be, a marriage of old and new in a way that supports each other. The short instrumental sax and piano jazz samples are perfectly blended behind a catchy vocal line to almost create a call and answer within the verse. The addition of a horn section over a pop band harkens back to Joe Jackson's successful crossover album Steppin' Out, however this tune is much more dance oriented.

Ilana Charnelle
At this point I am totally with this CD. Unfortunately, this is also where things start to falter. The next two songs, "Piece" by Ilana Charnelle and "Tears On My Pillow" by The Pharohs, are troublesome for various reasons. Ilana Charnelle is a strong, expressive singer, similar to Fiona Apple, and the song "Piece" is noteworthy with compelling lyrics, however it is awkward in the context of this particular compilation. It is not the sparseness of the instrumentation, voice and piano, because the first song on the CD is the same. It is more that the song has too much of an indie feel to it compared to the other songs. This is felt mostly in the melody line in the verse which tends to linger around the same note. The bridge section is closer to a "vintage" sound in that the melody and lyrics are on equal footing much more like a Tin Pan Alley song, however the bridge is only 16 bars out of essentially a 48 bar song. While I would agree that Charnelle's song is channeling a Janis Ian sound, this is really the only song on this CD to cover this type of genre and it really sticks out.

The Pharohs song is a perfectly acceptable cover of "Tears On My Pillow" however there are some pitching issues in the vocals and sound quality issues with the recording. There is also nothing really "modern" with this rendition that leads me to believe that it will be pulling in a new audience beyond those who already appreciate Doo-wop.

Moving on, "Similau" by The Waitiki 7 is nice blend of lounge, exotica and bossa jazz, with a little bit of gypsy thrown in. This tunes definitely makes me think of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters album in that it is fleshing out a jazz idiom with native flavor. The juxtaposition of vibes, flute and violin in the different sections of the tune outline each flavor and provide quite a bit of texture in a fairly short song (3:22) for this genre. I personally would have liked the quicker middle section to have been longer to allow the soloists to explore more.

David Gasten
CD producer Gasten's own band David Gasten & the City Kids is next with "The Deacon Don't Like It." Like the Caro Emerald tune above this song holds firmly to the objective of the This Is Vintage Now with a mixture of swing, jump blues and whiskey- think Tom Waits meets the Cherry Poppin' Daddies. The use of a shout chorus and a guitar that fills in for the absence of a horn section is effective, giving the song a firm swing feel to it. There is no solo section in this tune which is unusual, however the song does not drag on due to the switch in underlying tempo textures in each section of the 16 bar blues.

The next tune "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" is another track from the 50s by  vocalist Carole Creveling. Creveling is another talented but overlooked jazz singer that has a fluid, sing-songy sound similar to a younger Anita O'Day or even Rosemary Clooney ala "Come On A My House." She is backed by a combo of piano, bass and drums and has a sound typical of most female jazz vocalists at that time. What is atypical is that she was 18 when she recorded the album that the track comes from, according to an interview.

Next in line is an interesting tune by Blake Jones & the Trike Shop called "If Hawthorne Were Foggy." The title itself is enough to warrant a listen, but the actual song is a delightful mix of ethereal wordless vocals, expressive surf guitar, talkative bass and bouts of glockenspiel. It's as if Brian Wilson and Duane Eddy decided to cover a Sean Lennon song at a circus. The lack of percussion in this song just adds to the amorphous feeling of floating through a dream, however the echo on the guitar adds a sinister sense of excitement as you half expect a zombie clown (courtesy of the glock). I love it and fits perfectly within the theme of this CD.

The Necro-Tonz
The final song on the compilation is“Fare Thee Well (And Go To Hell)” by The Necro-Tonz. Billed as Halloween jazz/swing, the group is a combo with vocals and sax that teeters on the brink of a rockabilly shuffle sound. There is something restrained about this particular recording that I can't quite place my finger on. It's as if everyone but the sax player is holding back or is fatigued from a day of recording. I keep expecting more as the song goes on and it never quite gets there. I would have especially liked to have heard more from the vocalist who has a powerful and expressive voice, perhaps some scatting. Overall this tune fits within the objective of the compilation yet is unremarkable in defining a new vintage sound in and of itself.

As I mentioned, the project is very ambitious as there are an incredible amount of genres just within the compilation's chosen eras of the 40s-60s, opening the door to thrill or disappoint listeners. Overall I was pleased with This Is Vintage Now and I would recommend it to anyone that appreciates a wide range of historical music genres, with a special affinity for swing and jazz.

This Is Vintage Now
Coming soon!
For more information contact David Gasten at DavidGasten at yahoo dot com 

Friday, November 5, 2010

19th Century Stage Music

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In the 19th century, Melodrama quickly became the most popular theater genre. The use of music to heighten the drama was the key ingredient in Melodrama's rapid popularity as audience members could relive their theater experience at home by performing or listening to favorite songs from a show. Audiences also delighted in the use of special effects, such as simulated natural disasters like fires and earthquakes, or fancy spectacles involving large casts and animals.

Listening: Reviews:
Home, Sweet Home (Bishop), CD1, #13 from Recordings for An Introduction to America's Music

Home, Sweet Home is one of the most popular songs of the 19th century and took the place of Yankee Doodle Dandy as the most favorite at the time. Taken from the1823 opera Clari, this melody of the piece was written by English composer Henry Bishop, but the words were written by American author John Payne. Payne started as an actor in his youth and began to tour, which caused him to spend much of his life abroad. Many believe that this is where he got the inspiration to write such sentimental lyrics that captured the hearts of any who heard the song. There is a detailed account here of how accutely the song would affect listeners, particularly in the military.

The song itself is written in a simple style of verse and chorus and the tune was reportedly based on a Sicilian Air from a book of airs that Bishop had edited in 1820. However, a subsequent lawsuit forced Bishop to admit that he had written the tune himself. The languid melody lends itself well to singing and allows the performer to express their emotions easily. The song also propels itself towards the downbeats of every other measure which also supplies a steady undercurrent allowing for group singing.

click for larger image

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Early Band Concert Music

pic from
Prior to the mid 19th century, brass bands were utilized mostly in the battle field as the brass instruments were heard more readily and their clumsiness did not lend very well to a more refined dance sound as woodwinds and string instruments did. However, post Civil War the quality and sophistication of brass instruments grew and many concert bands were formed. Concert music encompassed much of the popular music of the day and dance music was most definitely included.

Listening: Reviews:

Helene Schottishe, CD1, #20 from Recordings for An Introduction to America's Music

Written in the 1860s by Walter Dignam, the Helene Schottishe is a light and precise arrangement based on a dance form called the Schottishe. Similar to a polka, the Schottishe is a combination of steps and hops, which is apparent in the music that accompanies the dance. Accents within the song, such as staccatos, indicate where dancers would hop in a manner similar to earlier European court dances. As such the dance is most likely done by the middle to upper class in a ball setting.

This particular arrangement is for a concert band of 12 instruments: cornets, saxhorns and percussion. In an ABAC form, which is repeated twice completely, the music is purely to accompany the dance and is very balanced in sets of 8 for each section. The song is highly repetitive and predictable, therefore not making it very artistic. There are some dynamic contrasts within the music which happens mostly when a solo instrument is highlighted playing the melody. The instruments play crisp and sharp and the downbeat is accentuated in order to be clear to the dancers. At the end of the tune there is a slight ritard, which is where the dancers would most likely bow to each other.

To view an example of a Schottishe dance click on the video below