Archive for the Music Category

Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds – Mbube

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on May 19, 2022 by telescoper

And now for something completely different…

The other evening it was warm enough for me to sit out in the garden, listening to the birdsong until it got dark. I couldn’t identify some of the sounds so when I came inside I started googling about for various combinations of “birds singing in the evening”. To cut a long story short I found this, and it’s been in my head ever since so I thought I’d share it here.

The song Mbube by South African singer and composer Solomon Linda was first performed in 1939 and was an immediate hit in his native land. Since then it has had more cover versions than I’ve had hot dinners, mostly with an English title The Lion Sleeps Tonight or Wimoweh, a not-entirely-accurate phonetic attempt to render the isiZulu phrase uyimbube (“you are a lion”) which occurs in the song. Solomon Linda sold the rights to the Gallo record company for just ten shillings in 1949 so never received significant income from the worldwide sales. The song was also used in the Disney film The Lion King without any royalties being paid, leading to a lawsuit brought by Linda’s surviving relatives (which was settled out of court).

There are two other fascinating things about this tune.

The first is that the “lion” referred to in the song is none other than the famous Zulu king Shaka Zulu (the subject of this famous poem) who acquired legendary status after his death. Rather like King Arthur, there was a folk belief that Shaka is not dead but only sleeping and one day he will return to liberate his people from their colonial oppressors.

The second is that the (mostly wordless) falsetto vocals were improvised by Solomon Linda (over wonderfully sonorous and rhythmically compelling bass riffs) but it was not until near the end (about 2:22) of this, the third, take that he was inspired to produce the melody that is now universally associated with the words “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight”.

Anyway, here it is.

Notes on Eurovision

Posted in Biographical, Music, Politics with tags , , , , on May 15, 2022 by telescoper

To nobody’s surprise Ukraine won last night’s Eurovision song contest after collecting a huge dollop of the televotes. After the jury votes, the United Kingdom’s entry was in the lead which surprised me because I thought it wasn’t much of a song at all. I’ve never been very good at picking the tunes that do well though. I didn’t like Ukraine’s entry – Stefania by the Kalush Orchestra – much either, but obviously there are special circumstances this year and I’m not at all sorry that they won.

In fact I thought the best song – and the best singer – by a long way was the Lithuanian entry sung by Monika Liu, who held the stage brilliantly by standing there and singing, without any fancy staging. She finished a disappointing 14th.

Monika Liu

Other entries I enjoyed were: Spain, catchy dance number with excellent choreography that finished 3rd; Moldova, an energetic performance full of humour (7th); and Norway, whose entry Give that Wolf a Banana was enjoyably deranged (10th). The less said about the other entries the better. I’m still as baffled by how Sam Ryder’s entry for the UK, Space Man, did so well in the jury votes as I am that Lithuania did so badly there, but there you go. What do I know?

I’ll state without comment that the Ukrainian jury gave a maximum douze points to the United Kingdom, but in return the UK jury gave Ukraine nil points

Anyway, three things struck me as I sipped my wine and watched the show:

  1. Ironically the Opera on the radio last night was Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg which is about a sixteenth century song contest that resembles the Eurovision versiononly in the length of time it goes on for. Perhaps someone should write a modern music drama called Die Meistersinger von Eurovision?
  2. I think the Research Excellence Framework would be much more fun if it were done like the Eurovision Song Contest. Each University regardless of size could be given the same distribution of scores to allocate to the others (but not itself). I can see interesting patterns emerging during that!
  3. When I was formally presented with my DPhil in the summer of 1989, the graduation ceremony took place on the same stage (at the Brighton Centre) on which Abba won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with their song Waterloo.

Ah Um! 100 Years of Mingus

Posted in Jazz with tags , on April 22, 2022 by telescoper

I discovered this morning that the great bass player, composer and bandleader Charles Mingus was born one hundred years ago today (on April 22nd 1922 in Nogales, Arizona). That gives me a great excuse to end the week by posting some music by him. The 1959 album Mingus Ah Um is one of my favourite albums not only in jazz but in any musical genre, and I think it’s a must-have for anyone interested in “modern” (i.e. post-War) jazz, so that’s what I’ve picked.

There are many great things about this album but probably the greatest of them is the extraordinary blend of thematic material and musical styles in represents. It would take a very long essay or even a book to pay appropriate homage to the kaleidoscopic variety of the shifting patterns and textures Mingus creates from ensemble and solo passages. Mingus’s compositional techniques allowed his musicians a remarkable freedom to express themselves which, together with the constant rhythmic and melodic variation, inspires them to great heights of inventiveness. Jimmy Knepper’s trombone solo on Pussy Cat Dues is really superb, as is the long sax solo on Goodbye, Porkpie Hat (a eulogy for Lester Young) which is usually attributed to Booker Ervin but I think is actually played by John Handy. Mingus himself introduces the first number Better git it in your soul, a wonderfully riotous Gospel-inspired creation, that explodes into life after his opening statements on bass.

There are not many albums that comprise traditional elements such as swing riffs, bop lines, and Gospel inflections alongside avant garde ideas like the intro and coda to Bird Calls, which sound like premonitions of the free jazz of Albert Ayler and others. A number of fine jazz composers inherited the legacy of Jelly Roll Morton (to whom Mingus doffs his cap in the last track) and Duke Ellington, including Gil Evans and Tadd Dameron, but in my view none was finer than Mingus.

Here is the whole album. Listen to the first track, and if you’re not hooked you can have your money back.

Handel’s Messiah at the National Concert Hall

Posted in Music with tags , , on April 16, 2022 by telescoper

I wasn’t there in person yesterday – I haven’t been to a concert for a couple of years now – but I thought I’d share this recording of the sold-out Good Friday performance of Handel’s Messiah from the National Concert Hall in Dublin. Although nowadays associated mainly with Christmas, Messiah was intended to be performed at Easter and had its premiere 280 years ago in Dublin on Good Friday in 1742. The National Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Nicholas McGegan, with soloists including Máire Flavin (soprano) James Oxley (tenor) and Stephan Loges (bass-baritone) with the National Symphony Chorus (David Young, chorus director). Enjoy!

The Old Rugged Cross – George Lewis

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , , on April 15, 2022 by telescoper

A descendant of Senegalese slaves, George Lewis was born in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1900 where he learned to play the clarinet and started to play with jazz bands in the 1920s. Many musicians left New Orleans for Chicago during that period but Lewis stayed and lived on in relatively obscurity until the New Orleans “revival” began in the 1940s. After appearing on records with likes of Bunk Johnson, Lewis became a sort of Patron Saint of traditional jazz, with a style rooted in the home-town traditions of Gospel Music and Street Parades that was very different from that of the popular clarinetists of the Swing Era such as Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. Lewis was never a great player from a technical point of view, but he was an authentic emblem of early Jazz and the back-to-basics move he represented proved very popular especially in Western Europe and Lewis had a late renaissance in his career in which he travelled widely playing with “traditional” bands around the world during the height of the “trad” boom of the fifties and sixties. He died in 1968.

Anyway, because it’s Good Friday I thought I would post this video of him in his later years playing the hymn The Old Rugged Cross, which was written in 1912 and has been a staple of New Orleans funeral processions ever since:

Blues Yesterday – Art Hodes

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on March 22, 2022 by telescoper

I’ve long been a fan of Art Hodes, a brilliant jazz and blues pianist, whose self-taught style reminds me quite a lot of Thelonious Monk, although Monk was a modernist and Hodes a traditionalist. It was only tonight however that I was reminded that he was actually born in Mykolaiv (Ukraine), in 1904, although he moved to America when he was only a few months old. He’s probably best remembered for some of the great early records of the Blue Note label, including some with Sidney Bechet, made in New York in the late 30s and early 40s, but he spent much of his later life playing and recording and living in and around Chicago. He died in 1993.

Anyway, here’s a record that wasn’t released until 1994, after his death, which is typical of his relaxed yet slightly quirky take on the blues and which I couldn’t resist sharing today because of the Ukrainian connection.

The Great Gate of Kyiv – Horowitz

Posted in Music with tags , , , on March 3, 2022 by telescoper

Modest Mussorgsky’s Piano Suite Pictures at an Exhibition was inspired by a series of artworks by his friend Viktor Hartmann. The 10th movement of this suite was based on a design for Bogatyr Gates intended to be placed at the entrance to Kiev Kyiv:

Hartmann’s plan for the Bogatyr Gate

The gates were never built, so at least they can’t be destroyed. Here is the piece played live at a concert in Carnegie Hall by Vladimir Horowitz, who was born in Kyiv.

A Time for Peace Piece

Posted in Jazz on February 22, 2022 by telescoper

With all that’s going on in the world right now it seems appropriate to repost this beautiful track by the great jazz pianist Bill Evans. I remember reading somewhere that Bill Evans recorded this right at the end of a session, in 1958. It was unrehearsed, entirely improvised and done in one take. It’s based on a simple two-chord progression that subsequently appeared in Flamenco Sketches, one of the tracks on the classic Miles Davis album Kind of Blue. To my ears, Peace Piece is more redolent of the composition style of Erik Satie than any other jazz musician I can think of. Although it starts out very simply it becomes more complex and fragmented as it develops, and makes effective use of dissonance in creating tension to contrast with the rather meditative atmosphere established at the beginning. Anyway, this is one of my all-time favourite tracks by one of my all-time favourite jazz musicians so I hope you don’t mind me sharing it on here.

Jazz Quiz – Spot the Link

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , , , on February 11, 2022 by telescoper

Time, I think, for a quick lunchtime jazz quiz. Here are two great old records from the classical period of Jazz. Can you spot the link between them?

The first is a slow blues recorded in 1928 called Superstitious Blues featuring a formidable singer by the name of Hattie Burleson in the company of Don Albert (trumpet), Siki Collins (soprano saxophone), Allen Van (piano), John Henry Bragg (banjo) and Charlie Dixon (brass bass):

The second, an up-tempo stomp recorded a year earlier in 1927, is one of the hottest jazz records ever made – the way it catches fire for the last 45 seconds or so is absolutely sensational no matter how many times you listen to it. It is performed by the Johnny Dodds (on clarinet) and his Black Bottom Stompers, consisting of George Mitchell and Natty Dominique on cornets, John Thomas on trombone, Charlie Alexander piano, Bud Scott banjo and Johnny Dodds’s younger brother, Warren ‘Baby’ Dodds, drums.

So, what’s the connection?

Well, nobody tried to answer so I will: real name of Don Albert, the trumpet player in the first track, was Albert Dominique and he was the nephew of the more famous Natty Dominique who played on the second track. Not a lot of people know that.

Carúl Inis Córthaidh

Posted in Music on December 20, 2021 by telescoper

The Wexford Carol is a traditional Christmas song whose origin is obscure. It is often said to date from the 12th Century, or even earlier, but music historians consider it more likely to be from the 15th or 16th Century. Whatever its provenance, it’s a fascinating folk melody with a haunting, timeless quality to it.

The song is associated with Enniscorthy in County Wexford so is called in the Irish Language Carúl Inis Córthaidh or Carúl Loch Garman, Wexford being one of those towns in Ireland with an Irish name (Loch Garman) that bears no phonetic relationship whatsoever to its English name. Anyway the song is very well known and there are a lots of versions floating around, but is usually sung in English so I thought I’d post a version in Irish. Altogether now “Ó, tagaigí uile is adhraigí …”