Ten-Year Anniversary Special

Dan Warburton's Top 40
Ludwig van Beethoven
Maurizio Pollini, piano
(Deutsche Grammophon 2CD)
It was a toss up between this and the late string quartets (any or all of them), but Pollini won. The only guy who ever played Beethoven as if it was Boulez. Good old Beethoven. In Pollini's reading you really get the sense of the composer struggling with the material, banging out that G major chord in the finale of Op.110 like Carl Ruggles "giving the chord the test of time". Or was that Antheil? Never liked Mozart; he was always too damn perfect. Give me Ludwig van anytime.
Claude Debussy
Well, it's just perfect. Yeah, I know I just said that was what I didn't like about Mozart, but what the hell. Form, orchestration, everything. Not one single note out of place. I rather like my old Boulez version, even if the recording needs remastering. Beware of conductors who try and play Debussy as if it's Mahler.
Bela Bartók
I'd take the scratchy old vinyl I grew up with (can't remember who's playing, as the disc is somewhere in a box in the basement of my parents' place), and definitely not the tortuously slow Seiji Ozawa recording, though to the best of my knowledge nobody has ever recorded the piece and followed the composer's (insane) metronome markings to the letter. Even Boulez couldn't quite manage it. After Stravinsky's Sacre this must be the most influential - in the sense of widely copied - piece of the twentieth century. Ask Stan Getz (Focus). It's also proof that serious mathematics can be rigorously applied to music without its losing its ability to make the hairs stand up where you didn't know you had any.
Igor Stravinsky
I hesitated over whether I'd take the old Boulez version of Le Sacre instead until I realised, while watching Fantasia with son Max, that I knew that damn piece so well I could sing it through in my head from beginning to end and therefore could probably do without it, so I opted instead for the arch neoclassicism the composer evolved into twenty years later. Fond memories of watching Lennie Bernstein's Norton Lectures The Unanswered Question, perhaps (though I prefer the old CBS version conducted by the composer to Bernstein's own recording). The second movement presents the perfect example of the old maxim "rules are meant to be broken": the third entry in the fugue is scored for flute in its lowest (weakest) register, while the first two voices feature flute and oboe in their middle / high (strong) register. You try doing this in your composition class and watch the teacher reach for the red pen.
György Ligeti
Wergo WER 60045 LP
I already wrote about discovering this in The Wire magazine a couple of years back, so I won't bore you with the story again. Suffice it to say that the "Dies Irae" is absolutely bloody terrifying through headphones at high volume. Nice thing about the old Wergo LP, and I suppose its CD reissue, though I don't have a copy, is that it also comes with "Lontano" and "Continuum" (I'll also take the plastic pochette from Lido Musique that came with the album when I bought it at that long forgotten but rather wonderful record store on the Champs Elysées in 1980 - ever see the film "Diva"?). If somebody wants to buy me a nice present one day, a copy of the full score of the "Requiem" would be grand; it's about three feet high and I haven't seen it since I first heard the piece as an impressionable teen in the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester.
Iannis Xenakis
Vanguard VCS 10030 LP
I saw Roger Woodward perform this with the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble at the RNCM in Manchester when I was 15, and it totally took my head off. Quite apart from the ferocious complexity of the final section - I assumed Woodward was playing more or less the right notes, but one can never be too sure: I remember him once screwing up the opening of Rachmaninov's Fourth Piano Concerto - there was the thrilling sight of trumpets and trombones blasting hell into the body of the piano before setting off on a walkabout through the concert hall with their music perched on those tiny clip-on stands used by brass bands. I'm choosing the old Yuji Takahashi vinyl recording because the flipside includes "Metastasis" and "Pithoprakta", and I figure you can't do much better than that as far as Xenakis goes. I was, though, half tempted to take the CD compilation of his electronic music that appeared on EMF a while back.
Karlheinz Stockhausen
Deutsche Grammophon LP 137012
Has this piece been reissued on a compilation somewhere (I wish someone out there would write in and tell me if it has), or do I have to make do with this old vinyl, which also includes "Mixtur", never one of my favourite Stockhausen pieces, and sports some of the most hideous cover art ever released? Whatever, this one is definitely in the goody bag. Perusing my well-thumbed copy of Jonathan Cott's conversations with the composer and re-reading Karlheinz's wonderful story of how he apparently dreamt a piece that included all the music of the world, I fondly relive the transcendental adolescent glee that drew me to the piece in the first place, but while the monumental and even slightly bombastic Hymnen has aged rather badly, the tight structure of this seventeen minute masterpiece has stood the test of time well. It's a damn shame Stockhausen fell out with Deutsche Gram and lost that groovy lifetime contract with total artistic control and all the trimmings: there's a whole generation of young cats out there who need to know how fucking good this piece is, and while one can admire Karlheinz for his artistic integrity, it's still frustrating to think that the only way you're likely to get hold of this little gem is by making the effort to get in touch with the Stockhausen Verlag.
Steve Reich
ECM 1129 LP
Give me the old ECM recording instead of the more recent reissue: the chomping bass clarinets that pulse in and out of the piece's opening section sound so much better. This was another one of those epiphanies - coming across the sleek, polished surfaces of these clean eleventh and thirteenth chords after four or five years of prolonged and probably unhealthy exposure to Webern, Boulez, Stockhausen, Ligeti, Xenakis and Cage was one hell of a shock. It wasn't just the sound of the music either, but the transparency of its form and structure: I was instantly seduced by (and to this day remain sentimentally attached to) Reich's idea of "pieces of music that are, literally, processes". Music for 18 Musicians kick-started an interest in minimalism that obsessed my own compositions for nearly two decades. It's a shame Steve has really gone off the boil in recent years - I always thought "Different Trains" was the first station on a branch line leading to nowhere - but enough bitching: check out those maracas.
Charles Mingus
Again, the story of how this one came into my life was covered in The Wire (#201, November 2000), so I'll spare you the nostalgia. If pushed to choose one musician above others, the choice is simple. Eric Dolphy. The quintessential mix of intellect and emotion, technical excellence and raw soul power, awareness and total assimilation of tradition and pushing the envelope. Someone once said that Dolphy represented for Mingus an equivalent of Ornette Coleman that he could understand. Quite apart from Dolphy and his legendary solo on "So Long Eric", not to mention his devastating work on "Meditations", this Mingus sextet was one of the killer groups of the decade, and their 1964 European tour was thankfully well documented on record. The contributions of Johnny Coles, Clifford Jordan and Jaki Byard are outstanding, and the Mingus / Richmond interplay was never better.
Eric Dolphy
Though most people know this album for the rare (and fateful) snippet of Dolphy speaking at the end ("When you hear music, after it's over, it's gone in the air.. you can never capture it again.."), it's a fabulous treasure, thanks to the inimitable piano playing of Holland's Misha Mengelberg. I put it to Misha in our 1996 interview that it was shame Dolphy never played with Monk (he agreed); well, he got the next best thing with Mengelberg. Han Bennink plays it pretty straight on drums (no sign of the insane cymbal-frisbeeing monster he turned into a few years down the road), and bassist Jacques Schols keeps the thing well anchored. Most of Dolphy's recordings in Europe were flawed in that he was often teamed up with rhythm sections that, although perfectly competent, were about ten years out of date in terms of language. Last Date blows them away, and it's such a joyful life-affirming experience that you even forget to wonder what Eric might have done had he lived a little longer.
Keshavan Maslak
Leo LP LR101
This was the first Leo album I ever heard, I think, on the late Charles Fox's "Jazz Today", a Radio 3 programme that used to air on Tuesday afternoons when I got home from school. He played "Overear Woman". What a sensational ballad, and just listen how Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink totally fuck it up. Leo Feigin told me that "Quick Majestic Death in Manhattan" refers to Maslak's arrival in NYC, where Ornette Coleman had encouraged him to settle. Within weeks Keshavan was washing dishes in a greasy spoon to pay the bills.. Apparently, Feigin and Maslak (now known as Kenny Millions and running a restaurant somewhere in Florida) had a falling out, and Leo won't be reissuing this on his Golden Years imprint, despite strenuous protests (from me). Maybe Maslak has reissued it himself. In fact, I think he has. Go get it then, it's an absolute killer.
Michael Tippett
PTM publisher Guy Livingston is for some reason always horrified when I tell him I like Tippett (actually, I don't like everything he did). Well, I'm not the world's biggest Antheil fan either, so vive la différence. Guy would argue though - and he'd be right - that there's no better way to get into a piece than actually play it yourself, and that's what I did in my late teens, when I escaped to rural Hertfordshire for an extended weekend of string orchestra rehearsals. As well as this piece, we also rehearsed Strauss' Metamorphosen (see below) and Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (that one cost me a fortune in broken strings). Evening rehearsals in Piggott's, a farmhouse formerly lived in by engraver Eric Gill, were invariably concluded about 10pm to give us all enough time to take a short cut through a muddy ploughed field and consume as many pints of tepid local bitter as humanly possible. I've since sobered up (well, nearly), but I still love this piece to death. Ironic, isn't it, that the slow movement is always described as "typically English", when in fact the melody is a Negro spiritual. That's the British Empire for you.
Richard Strauss
This is another one of those pieces I played about fifty times sitting on the third desk of the violins. You've got to admire old Strauss for sitting out World War II as if nothing was going on and writing this, a non-stop outflow of unashamedly Romantic music (are there more than a couple of dozen of pizzicato notes in the entire piece?) while not too far away in space and time a bunch of new young cats was getting ready to (so they thought) revolutionise art music at the Darmstadt summer school. Strauss is one of those figures (Fauré, Delius and Sibelius are others) who carried on writing into the early and mid twentieth century as if blissfully unaware that anything else was happening. At least Richard had a look over the abyss with Elektra, even if he did step safely back with Rosenkavalier.
Miles Davis
OK, I'm sure everyone has a copy of this album by now, but I'm not about to choose a more obscure Miles outing just for the sake of snobbishness, though Dark Magus and Get Up With It certainly came in a close second and third. I know that they've now released the complete Kind of Blue sessions, with every cough sneeze wheeze burp fart and false start, but I haven't heard it and hopefully never will. There's something so utterly perfect about every note on this album - I wouldn't want to shatter the magic by finding out how it was done. It's almost impossible to single out any event for special mention, but Cannonball's solo on "Flamenco Sketches" is just about as close to pure love as you're ever likely to get. That might be the daftest thing I've ever written, by the way. I've actually worn out two vinyl copies of this, and even the CD is looking a bit battered. Happy to announce that Fred Frith also chose this one for his desert island in his interview with me back in 1998.
Luc Ferrari
Musidisc 245172
Nice CD compilation that features not only the original "Presque Rien No.1, le lever du jour au bord de la mer" (still sounds as fresh today as the morning he recorded it from his bedroom window in a hotel in a tiny fishing village on the Dalmatian coast.. for details see the Luc Ferrari interview), but the wacky insanity of "Music Promenade" and the second and third "Presque Riens", which aren't as good, though there's a cracking thunderstorm halfway through No.2. The hilariously out of tune brass band near the end of "Music Promenade" is one of only two works of art I've ever experienced that actually made me fall off my chair laughing. The other is the description of the motel love scene in Thomas Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49.
Robert Fripp
You'll have realised by now that I had a strange, fucked up adolescence, getting off on Mantra instead of Spiral Scratch like most normal spotty teens. But I made it my business to catch up, and I'll bet that most of my fellow college students who were thrilling to The Associates and early Material are now comfortably tucked away in balding middle age listening to Bach cantatas, whereas I'm still getting plenty of teenage kicks from the Buzzcocks. But wait, this is supposed to be about Robert Fripp's grandiose - if a little self-indulgent - 1979 solo album. Solo album's a bit misleading a term for a piece of work that relies to such an extent on the appearances of various Fripp alumni guest stars - Peter Hammill, the Roches, Peter Gabriel..- but there's something compelling about Fripp's master plan here, with the Gurdjieff-inspired prophecies of his guru J.G.Bennett rapping on about the impending flood. This was the first real rock album I ever got to know inside out, a door that opened on to numerous vistas that I've been exploring ever since, and I make no apologies for remaining deeply attached to it.
George Adams / Don Pullen Quartet
One miserable autumn night in 1981, I took a train down from Cambridge to London to catch the Carla Bley Band at the Roundhouse. Wandering around Soho before the gig, hesitating over whether or not I should blow more of my student grant on US imported vinyl at Harold Moore's, I passed by Ronnie Scott's and saw that the Adams / Pullen group were playing. Last night of a week's residence. Already familiar with their work from Mingus' Changes (shit, I should have chosen that too) and Earth Beams (Timeless), it was an opportunity too good to pass up. The Bley gig was grand, but sitting within spitting distance of George on the front row of Ronnie's two hours later was unforgettable. Lifeline hadn't yet been released (on Timeless), but the material on the album figured heavily in both sets that night. I especially remember Adams' vocals on "Nature's Children", and exchanging a few words with Don Pullen at the bar (when he told me his favourite musician was Eric Dolphy - yep, I was already asking musicians dumb questions like that - I think I nearly kissed him). When it was all over I walked all the way to Liverpool Street and took the fabled mail train back to Cambridge, arriving just in time to crawl home, have a shower and go off to morning lectures. Don, George and Dannie have all passed on now (bassist Cameron Brown is still on fine form, I hear) but "Lifeline" is still very much alive.
Joy Division
I know it's kinda hip nowadays to take a dump on Joy Division. OK, so the songs were rather bleak and miserable, and Ian Curtis didn't look all that happy on the one occasion I ran into him in a pub outside Manchester, but life was pretty bleak and miserable in the grimy suburbs of Manchester when Thatcher swept to power. So much has been written on this group, and on Martin Hannett's production, it's hardly worth my adding anything else, but JD are always good material for one of those "what if..?" conjectures. If Ian hadn't hanged himself, would we have had New Order (and by extension, much of 80s dance music)? What would he be doing today? Guesting on Barry Adamson albums? Yikes, he's better off dead.
Homemade cassette compilation
One of my pals at Cambridge was a mathematician called John Fotheringham who hailed from somewhere near Hemel Hempstead and had the biggest collection of original punk 45s I'd ever seen. As I'd more or less missed out on punk when it was happening, apart from a very brief stint as "manager" of a punk band at school called The Nonskills, I asked John to make me a cassette compilation of his favourites. The old battered Sony BHF 90's sitting in front of me right now, and I can do no worse than list the songs he put on it, as they're all without exception fucking killers. Following up on the lines of enquiry prompted by this tape cost me an absolute fortune. If you're out there, John, I hope you've still got your collection and haven't flogged it off for £100 at a car boot sale. And if you've got a CD burner and can do a CD copy of the tape, here's what's on it: "No Sly Moon" (The Box); "In Shred" (The Chameleons); "So Run Down" (Psychedelic Furs); Things That Need Fucking" (Action Pact); "Sense of Loss" (Inca Babies); "Rockaway Beach" (Ramones); "Holiday in Cambodia" (Dead Kennedys); "Dead Pop Stars" (Altered Images); "Tension" (Killing Joke); "Sick On You" (Hollywood Brats); "Jonny" (Holger Hiller); "Orient" (X Mal Deutschland); "Green Grass of Home" (John Otway); "Have You Got 10p?" (The Ejected); "Hey Ho My Cholesterol Level is Low" and "Don't Make Another Bass Guitar Mr Rickenbacker" (Danny and the Dressmakers); "Bommerlunder" (Die Töten Hösen), "New Rose" (Damned); "AWOL" (The Three Johns); "There Is No International Rescue" (The Cravats); "Kitchen Person" (The Associates); "Humor Me" (Pere Ubu); "Two People In A Room" (Wire); "Babylon's Burning" (The Ruts); "I Fought the Law" (The Clash); "Smile" (The Fall); "Primary" (The Cure); "Thirteen Feelings" (The Associates" and "Can't Stand Rock and Roll" (Anti Nowhere League).
Philip Glass
The original Tomato recording, please, not the more glitzy recent one on CBS. I suppose I could have just as well gone for Music With Changing Parts or Music In Twelve Parts, but a certain sense of nostalgia forced my hand. In a fit of sheer bravura (lunacy, rather) habitually associated with besotted undergraduates, I actually transcribed this entire opera by ear in keyboard reduction as part of my Cambridge BA dissertation. Believe me, apart from playing it yourself, there's no better way of getting to know a piece of music. Finally getting my paws on an authorised copy of the score a few years later was almost anticlimactic. In a sense, "Einstein" was the beginning of the end for Glass - it marked the beginning of his obsession with chord progessions and the subsequent abandoning of the linear additive process approach that made his early music so richly ambiguous. He was still rolling up to and including Koyaanisqatsi (just about), but dropping the needle onto anything he's written since is a depressing reminder of the fact that I'm growing old. He is too. Enough of that, though - I finally got a chance to see Einstein live in Paris in the early nineties, complete with Lucinda Childs and Robert Wilson (who the French annoyingly refer to as "Bob", as if they all knew him as a close friend). I found out later that my then future wife Marie had tickets for the show the same night but actually forgot about it and went home to her family in Angers. Ah, the folly of the youth.. still, I suspect it'll be revived yet again before too long. And if the ending of "Spaceship" doesn't get your juices flowing, there's frankly no hope for you.
Tom Waits
The first time I heard this I was smashed out of my tree on cheap whisky at 3am in someone's student room at Cambridge. And that's probably the best way to appreciate Waits' slurring magnificence in his cover of Lenny Bernstein's "Somewhere", which also contains one of the worst edits in the history of recorded music, right before the end. I like most of Waits' post-Swordfishtrombones stuff, but the boozed-out sleaze of the Asylum stuff still works every time. Oddly enough, austere post-minimalist British composer John "I have been touched by the hand of God" Tavener is a big Tom Waits fan. Bet you didn't know that.
Michael Torke
Argo 430209-2
When I arrived in Rochester NY (in a snowstorm) in January 86 the first thing I did was look up David Drucker, a pal of mine who'd done the MPhil in Cambridge and was nearing the end of a DMA at Eastman. Almost immediately he said I had to hear John Adams Harmonielehre and Michael Torke's Vanada. The Adams piece didn't do much for me (it's another fine example of the overriding influence of Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements), but Torke's piece blew me away. Here was what I'd been looking for: a formally tight piece whose procedures and structures were immediately evident - the heritage of minimalism - but whose language owed as much to funk and rock as they did to Reich and Glass. Michael had by then checked out of Eastman, though we did meet up about a year later, by which time he'd moved to NYC and signed some sort of lifetime contract with Booseys. Vanada was eventually released on Argo in a recording with the London Sinfonietta and Michael himself on piano, but I still have a cassette copy of the recording of the work he made at Eastman (and paid for himself), and it rocks. And, unless I've missed out on something really big, he still hasn't done anything to top this piece.
Donald Fagen
Insert cassette in Walkman as you leave 492 S. Goodman, Rochester NY, press play, proceed north on Pearl on foot and by the time "Ruby Baby" comes riding in, the skyscrapers of Downtown Rochester are coming majestically into view. This was my walking to school music for about six months until the fabled upstate NY winter kicked in in early October 1986. It was fellow composer Todd Levin who turned me on to Steely Dan (whatever happened to Todd Levin?), and I'm making no apologies for including it. To paraphrase John Zorn, improv snob eat shit. OK, it's the brash sheen of corporate America, with the impossibly optimistic lyrics, perfect production, crème de la crème horn section, but check out Greg Phillinganes' kickass solo on "Ruby" and Michael Brecker's magnificent tenor break on "Maxine". It was hard to choose between this and side one of Steely Dan's Gaucho - especially "Glamour Profession" - I managed to wear out copies of both in under a year. Graduate studies in music theory and composition at Eastman School of Music can do funny things to you.
The Smiths
In the same way that I all but missed out on punk when it was actually happening, The Smiths only came into my life with a vengeance in California in the summer of 1987 (by which time it was more or less all over for the Morrissey / Marr songwriting team), when I took the cassette of it with me on the road in my then girlfriend's beatbox. It was one of those machines that can rewind and repeat a track ad nauseam, and I have distinct memories of listening to "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" twenty times in a row while driving through the Point Reyes national seashore, which is about as far as you can get from Morrissey's Manchester. A few years later at an all-night Derek Jarman festival at a cinema in Paris I finally saw his video for "The Queen Is Dead". Has anyone issued that on DVD?
Chaka Khan
Nearly opted for Echoes of an Era, Chaka's only bona fide jazz album - and what a great jazz singer she is when she wants to be - but that Arif Mardin production and the Brecker Bros horn section (again) swayed my decision. By now everyone knows how (and why) Mardin grafted the original Charlie Parker break from "A Night In Tunisia" onto "The Melody Still Lingers On", but the album's worth the price of admission alone for Chaka's inspired duet with her brother, "We Got Each Other." It's enough to make you seriously consider incest. I have it on good authority from someone who worked at Warner that Ms Khan was once apparently stopped going through French customs and her luggage inspected. The local douaniers were not a little surprised to come across some interesting "toys".. And why the hell not! The woman has a gargantuan appetite, a stupendous voice and positively oozes sexuality - and more importantly, femininity and humanity - good on ya, Chaka. You're welcome here for Earl Grey and salmon and cucumber sandwiches next time you're in town.
Eugene Chadbourne
Parachute P 013 LP
While studying for the fabled PhD in Rochester NY I agreed, goodness knows why, to give composition lessons to a guy called Brian Seman (hope you're still out there Brian) who probably ended up teaching me more than I did him, if only through the cassettes and albums he lent me in lieu of payment. One of these was the legendary Eddie Chatterbox session where the good Doctor Chadbourne recorded a set of hair-raisingly insane cover versions of Thelonious Monk tunes (I'm happy to report that I have since procured the session from Dr Chad himself, complete with its warning that the sound quality is "atrocious"). The damage was done, the seed was planted, and I now own enough Chadbourne recordings to fill a suitcase, but I still harbour a special affection for the pre-Shockabilly Chad, and this justifiably legendary release on his Parachute label, complete with the inimitable birdcall garglings of John Zorn and the wonderful cello playing of Tom Cora has always remained a special favourite. The fabulous cut'n'paste liners recall how Chadbourne was accosted outside some grotty club in the South by a local redneck who was so incensed at Chadbourne's inspired mangling of Johnny Paycheck that he wanted the guitarist's testicles as a trophy. Happily, Eugene managed to extricate himself from this potentially life-threatening situation, and has gone on to reveal his considerable balls on numerous occasions. In a gratuitous plea for extra hits to the site, go read the interview he gave me a few years ago.
John Zorn
I came across Zorn's work in Rochester NY, and curiously I remember buying a copy of The Big Gundown in the Bop Shop on the same day I saw Pee Wee Herman for the first time. For some reason, I've associated the two ever since. Then, lo and behold, I found out JZ was playing a duo gig with Jim Staley (this must have been Spring 86) in town in a church hall RIGHT OPPOSITE the Eastman dorms. I ran round all the TV lounges and tried to persuade my so-called musician pals to cross the street and be blown to smithereens, but they were all too busy with MTV. So, fuckit, I went with my pal David, and together we represented 33% of the audience. Zorn used to say way back when all he had to eat was potatoes that any more than five people at a gig was disastrous. I doubt he'd say that again now. If he ever reformed Naked City I reckon he could fill the Albert Hall. I took my dad to see Naked City's first French appearance in 1989, expecting him to be absolutely horrified, especially when Zorn told the audience to fuckoff for sniggering at his remark that Brian Wilson was one of the great geniuses of the century. My dad loved it. He never heard Leng Tch'e though.
Geffen GHS 24209
I remember playing this mother really loud in my flat in Montmartre when I got it, and a young kid called Karim who lived across the passage leaned out of his window and threw me a cassette to make him a copy on. I duly did so, and asked him out of curiosity if he could actually understand the lyrics of the rap stuff he spent so much time listening to, to which he replied: "Oh oui, it's easy: sucky sucky fucky fucky.." Well, that probably goes some way to explaining the French "understanding" of hiphop. Check out Joe "The Butcher" Nicolo's fabulous production and the Dr John sample on "That's How We're Livin'". Fabulous, or as they used to say, def. Whatever happened to these guys?
Steve Coleman & Five Elements
JMT 862 005
I went to see Coleman at every available opportunity between 1989 and about 1995, when he added the rappers. One gig I remember at New Morning here in Paris started off with Coleman shuffling to the stage in some ludicrously oversized Nikes and asking for the house lights to be turned down. They duly were, and that's when he put the sunglasses on. Bam, straight into "Ice Moves". That track's on 1990's Rhythm People by the way, which came a close second. Had to choose On the Edge of Tomorrow though for Cassandra Wilson's vocal on Bunky Green's "Little One I'll Miss You". For a while, Coleman was really onto something: truly complex metrics that still rocked - I still haven't figured out all the changes in "Ice Moves" and I've been listening to the damn thing for thirteen years - but when he added the live rap and lost David Gilmore on guitar (that's GILMORE not GILMOUR, you dolts) it all settled back into 4/4. As for Cassandra, well she's still absolutely gorgeous but I wish she'd sing "Love Phases Dimensions" again instead of Beatles and U2 covers. Well, that's stardom for you.
Sir Joe Quarterman and Free Soul
Charly CPCD 8079
I first heard this sampled by Kings of Pressure on "Give Me The Mike", a 1987 Hank Shocklee production I heard on John Peel's show, and then spent five years trying to hunt down every thing Sir Joe ever recorded, mainly 45s I paid an arm and a leg for at Manchester's long defunct Expansions record shop, until Charly reissued the album in 1995. Actually, the Japanese, God love 'em, beat them to it with an album of rare takes called How High (PCD 2806) in 1994. Did JQ ever record anything else? Is he still alive? What's he doing? I remember John Peel playing a track by Stanley Winston once ("No More Ghettos In America" on Stan's Soul Shop, a Charly compilation from 1982) and wondering the same thing. "He's probably a janitor somewhere," Peel deadpanned. Well, wherever you are Joe, and whatever you're doing, you changed my life for the better. May the force be with you.
Don Blackman and the Family Tradition
Arista 212582 LP (PCD 1306 CD, Japanese import)
This was another one I spent ages tracking down. Can't quite remember when I first heard "Heart's Desire" (maybe Radio Nova here in Paris? they used to play some cool stuff in the early 90s), but Don's piano solo rocketed right up there to joint first in my All Time Favourite Piano Solos list, sharing the bill with Roland Hanna's on Mingus' "Mood Indigo". I thought this 1982 album on Arista (Dave Grusin produced.. sorry, but I'm a sucker for his string arrangements) was the only thing Don had ever done under his own name - he does pop up on a few fusion outings by Lenny White - until a new Blackman album came out several months back. Thank God the FNAC in Paris lets you listen to albums before you buy the damn things: it's awful. Back in 82 though, the Family Tradition were cooking. Never was a big fan of Eddie Martinez' lead guitar solos though.
Curtis Mayfield
If I could bend the rules and compile my own favourite soul / funk album, I would. But I can't, though I can at least list a few that haven't made the cut: "Hard Times" (Baby Huey and the Babysitters, produced by Mayfield as it happens), "Skin I'm In" (Chairmen of the Board), "You're So Sexy" (Barkays), "Creepin'" (Stevie Wonder), "You're All I Need To Get By" (Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell), "Ridin' High" (Faze-O), "8 Counts for Rita" (Jimmy Smith). Forced as I am to take complete albums then, it's Superfly. The film itself is quite dreadful, as is often the case with those Blaxploitation pics, though the real footage of the mean streets accompanying the title sequence is pretty mindblowing. As for the album, well, as they say, every track's a cracker.
Shuggie Otis
Great that this was recently reissued on Luaka Bop, complete with several bonus tracks from Shuggie's even harder-to-find 1971 album Freedom Flight (including the magnificent "Strawberry Letter 23", which brought fame and fortune to the Brothers Johnson in a Quincy Jones-produced version). Inspiration Information was released in 1974, when Shuggie was just 21, and promptly disappeared off the radar, though apparently guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Otis turned down an invitation to join the Rolling Stones (a decision he may or not have lived to regret..). No wonder: it was years ahead of its time - "XL-30" sounds like late 80s techno - and slipped neatly down the crack between white pop and black soul. Despite that afro, Shuggie sounds more like Neil Young than Sly Stone, and the horn arrangements would make Becker and Fagen swoon. And like Stevie Wonder and li'l Roger Nelson a few years later, Shuggie did almost all of it himself. Though while the Purple One ended up a multi-millionaire, Shuggie has reached half century in near obscurity. I'll take Inspiration Information over any or all of the Prince albums though.
Various Artists
(reissued as BGP "14 RARE GROOVES" CDBGPD 035)
This compilation album features six tracks, "Fantasy" (Johnny Hammond), "Joyous" (Pleasure), "The Hump" (Patrice Rushen), "Always There" (Side Effect), "Do It Fluid" (The Blackbyrds) and "Concrete Jungle" (The Three Pieces). I spent the summer of 1993 lounging around friends' swimming pools and listening to as much rare groove as I could get my hands on. A cassette of this album (never found the original, and it's probably deleted now) kick-started an orgy of record buying trying to get hold of the entire back catalogues of Pleasure, Blackbyrds, Ozone, Breakwater, Faze-O, and even a few early Slaves. I still haven't found original vinyl copies of "The Hump" and "Concrete Jungle", and time's rapidly running out for this battered old TDK C90. Can anyone out there help, or do I have to spring for the CD?
Dr John
Blue Thumb GRB 70002
I was delighted to read somewhere recently that David Toop (who's one of the people whose record collections I've always wanted to raid, along with John Peel, John Zorn, Jim O'Rourke and Thurston Moore) listed Gris Gris as all-time favourite. Good man. It's tough, in fact, choosing just one Mac Rebennack for the proverbial desert island (Desitively Bonnaroo nearly made the cut), but I've gone for this one a) because I'm a total sucker for Tommy LiPuma production and b) I went with Marie to see the good Doctor perform most of the material on this album live in the Meridien jazz club in Paris just before the album was released. If the hairs don't stand up when you hear "So Long", then as Albert King used to say, "you gotta hole in yo soul".
The Ex
Ex 036CD
My local pub in Rochdale, Lancashire was The Baths Hotel, which was a good half hour's walk from home. I used to amuse myself by taking different routes there every time, and many of them went down a dingy side street parallel to Drake Street, and passed right in front of Suite Sixteen studios (formerly Cargo studios, where Joy Division cut their first records). It was to this dreadful hole that Dutch punk rockers The Ex came in 1998 with the Mekons' Jon Langford to produce one of the toughest and rockingest (does that word exist?) albums of the decade. I think they chose Suite Sixteen because The Fall had recorded there (I know guitarist Terrie Ex certainly doesn't like Joy Division), but for whatever reason it was, they came up with an absolute cracker. Odd to think that at the time just down the road the kids of Madchester were getting E'd up and grooving to a whole new sound. Play Aural Guerrilla back to back with the Happy Mondays Wrote for Luck today and you tell me which one gets you moving.
Robert Wyatt
For some inexplicable reason I didn't get into this album until five years ago, though I certainly must have heard it dozens of times as a student. I got into it for real while touring France with the rock group Tanger in 1997 (Tanger's lead singer Philippe Pigeard wanted to do a cover version of "Sea Song", and thank Christ he never did). Wyatt always said that in a sense his life really began when he fell out of that window, though if you're bent on a career in rock music I wouldn't want you to think that defenestration is an obligatory move. Whatever, it's fucking awesome.
Taku Sugimoto
HatNOIR 802
One of the saddest things about being deluged with loads of new CDs is, of course, that you never get enough time to listen to them. I started out as a heroic idealist telling folk that I would never even contemplate writing a review of an album until I'd heard it properly (i.e. without distraction in an appropriate environment) at least five times. Well, that's down to three, if I'm lucky. And I'll hazard a guess that it's the same for many of my colleagues at The Wire and Signal To Noise. OR you can do like my friend Patrick Boeuf at Peace Warriors fanzine and listen to album to death before you review and watch your shelves fill up with stuff you never get round to hearing at all. Either way up, it's a frustrating business. (But, hey, I don't want to sound like I'm complaining..) One album I've gone back to time and again though in the past five years is Taku's HatNOIR album Opposite. With only two exceptions, the tracks are all under four minutes long, perfect, tiny jewels of crystalline sound, exquisite pitches, exquisitely poised in time and exquisitely played. Taku is still great at putting the right sound in the right place, but these days there are fewer and fewer of them. That's what happens if you spend too much time chatting to Radu Malfatti..
Various Artists
Charly CD NEW 173 (3 CD)
Instead of trying to find all fifty BYG Actuel vinyls, many of which have been reissued by Get Back (and what fucking horrible pressings - shit, there was a hole on my copy of Braxton's "This Time" big enough to stub a cigarette out in, and the replacement I got was just the same - if you've got the originals, for Chrissakes hang on to them), go for Byron Coley and Thurston Moore's handpicked three ceedee compilation. All the great moments of the label are here, from Sunny Murray's "Red Cross" (great way to kick off the set!) to Jeanne Lee's incomparable vocals on Shepp's "Blasé", to Jacques Coursil's wonderful "Black Suite" (hope the good folks out there who've been turning a handsome profit at the original artists' expense might care to remember that saxophonist Arthur Jones died in abject poverty on the street), to the apocalyptic "Echo" by Dave Burrell, still unmatched 34 years later (though I had a go myself on the new Return of the New Thing album), finally ending up with part six of Alan Silva's The Seasons. Amazing stuff. Look out for a forthcoming interview with Mr Silva here on the PTM website, and if you haven't already, check out Sunny Murray's priceless recollections of the period.
Stockholm Monsters
LTM CD 2330
Nothing much to add to what I wrote about this in the September 2002 issue, actually. So I suggest you go back and read that again.
Voilà, as my wife would say. Feel free to respond, especially if you'd like to try and find some of the above and think, for some reason, that I might be able to help you. Thanks for taking the time to peruse the above, and for visiting the site in general. Here's to the next forty years. — DW

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