Week 6 – Album Review: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady by Charles Mingus

Live listening notes:

2 trumpet
1 trombone and tuba
3 Reeds
1 Soprano, Baritone Sax and Flute
2 Tenor Sax, Flute
3 Alto sax
Rhythm section
Piano, classical guitar, bass and drums
Recorded in 1963
The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
Album first listen
The brass on the hard right is scratchy and bulk.
The stereo field is wide
The constant build creates  tension
The left stereo field has way more movement than the right side at first
There are a lot of slow, methodical phrases
“Back to the drum opening – 12:8, 6:8, 9:8, 3:4 –  whatever musical stenographers may care to title what the composer heard in his head, is part of a very old idea that someday all good music will return from its assorted labels which inhibit it with fashions, styles, and certain celebrated rhythms of pounding exactness that lead this composer to believe that either the musician or the audience playing or liking such repeated debuts of so-called musical inventions must be nuts to need drums, bass, guitar, and piano to pound out the already too obvious time night after night ’til actually if sanity can’t be sustained one begins to like it without twisting or even dancing, popping fingers, or at least working out one’s frenzy in ye old brass bed mama.” (Liner Notes)
The ending of this paragraph is a very true representation of how the music affects the listener. I enjoy that the author stats that one begins to like it without twisting or dancing. It’s such a great statement and straight forward thought.
The music is spread out well through the field.
There is very specific seperation between various frequencies.
“Time, perfect or syncopated time, is when a faucet dribbles from a leaky washer.”(Liner Notes)
This is a great way to look at the elements of this song, the various inflections and uses of time and syncopated rhythms impact the entirety of the composition.
Track 2
Piano heavy still pretty heavy in the left stereo field
The echo and call is great
Lots of sax on the left and brass on the right.
Sounds like footsteps
The muted instruments provide the character
Walking
The drums and the muted trumpet. Sounds like a voice talking
The bass line grooves well the whole time
Track 3
Opens with piano very classical with runs and chords
Shock of an entrance
The flute mimics the piano melody line
The tempo changes are fascinating
This melody is my favorite
Utilizing the stereo field
Classical spanish guitar comes in
Clean, clear runs off the original melody line
Mess of sound but somehow consistent
Started loosing attention due to trance
The amount of theme repetition is great.
Bass line going so fast sounds like heavy metal
Track 4
Bursts of instruments
Bass solo clean clear
Never settles
Classical guitar changes with them
The mix hasn’t really changed
Lots of movement, the drums are rolling off the toms
The return to the melody after it’s trip to crazy town was extreme
The copying instruments
The heaviness of the drums coming out of the break were very heavy and pounding.
The muted instruments talk to each other
I love the gaining speed moments into the slow release
The ending with the sax now in the right
Great Quotes in the liner notes:
“music will make another turn in this century so that people will know how serious spontaneous composition “improvisation” really is and not just how loud and long it swings or how we swing and sway.'”(Liner Notes)
This is such a great statement, from the beginning Mingus wanted to challenge the average music listener with his sound. In the end, I believe he did.
“The three reeds, baritone – Jerome Richardson, tenor – Richard Hafer, and alto – Charles Mariano, were placed in what I called a V balance with the tenor sax at the V’s bottom and the baritone and alto closer to the mike. My reason was that I wanted the tenor sax further from the mike, softer of course, if one is inclined to believe that presence need be obvious. The notes written for tenor were considered in the voiced reed section’s overall effect as an illusion of sound-overtones coming through between the baritone and alto that are non-directional so as to give the sound of more than two obvious saxes playing but with possibility of being perhaps four or five.”(Liner Notes)
This is such an interesting way of recording these instruments. The fact that Mingus used overtones in the music in order to make the band seem bigger and more dynamic is incredible.
“Don Butterfield opens on contrabass trombone with pedal point blast. The contrabass trombone to my knowledge is as rare to find as is a player such as Don. He has refused to play the instrument when requested by rock and roll promoters as a gimmick of odd sound that might start a fad and promote the sales of a million or so records. Don, aside from pedal point notes of both contrabass trombone and tuba, is written in counter lead and center tones on tuba to spread my voicings and help form the illusion of spreaded brass or full ensemble. Don plays two tubas at once with one mouthpiece. Yet it’s difficult to catch him doing this. It’s easy when he takes off a night though to realize that last night there were two tubas and tonight there is just one.”(Liner Notes)
The pedal blast is to what I was referring to earlier in this post. It reminded me of the first iterations of Hans Zimmer’s score of Inception. Also, the fact that he was able to play two instruments to help form the illusion of spreader breads is such a great concept and really adds to the composition as a whole.
“…heard it in my mind’s ear. Also for helping to show that modern music is not owned by adolescents who can’t or won’t play plunger or bend a brass instrument to sound other than what it sounded like in parade bands.”(Liner Notes)
What a great statement from an artistic genius. He was always wanting more for music, he reminds me of a love stricken husband who is frustrated that his wife (music) is not living up to her potential.
 “Classical guitar was originally heard and written as in this composition but played by piano at the Vanguard. I wrote the guitar solo; Bob Hammer wrote the one bar modulation going into and the two bars leading out of the guitar solo on the B side from a Spanish piece I’d written some time before.”(Liner Notes)
This was probably one of my most favorite moments in the entirety of the piece. I love when the guitar comes in, for me, it grounds the composition and gives you a different flare in a moment that desperately needs it.
“This music is only one little wave of styles and waves of little ideas my mind has encompassed through living in a society that calls itself sane, as long as you’re not behind iron bars where there at least one can’t be half as crazy as in most of the ventures our leaders take upon themselves to do and think for us, even to the day we should be blown up to preserve their idea of how life should be.”(Liner Notes)
It is important to point out that these are the thoughts of a genius. He was not finished with music, he heard more music in his mind than people needing water. He constantly wanted to continue to press on and make more music and transforming that music onto records.
“He seems to state that the black man is not alone but all mankind must unite in revolution against any society that restricts freedom and human rights.”(Liner Notes)
In the review of the piece, this quote defines the entirety of the record quickly and perfectly. Mr. Mingus was a tortured man and music was the only thing that made sense.
“In all three tracks of Side I there are recurrent themes of loneliness, separateness and tearful depression. One feels deeply for the tears of Mr. Mingus that fall for himself and man. There can be no question that he is the Black Saint who suffers for his sins and those of mankind as he reflects his deeply religious philosophy. His music tells of his deep yearning for love, peace and freedom. A new note has crept into his music. Where once there was a great anger now one can hear hope. As with much of his past music, Mr. Mingus cries of misunderstanding of self and people. Throughout he presents a brooding, moaning intensity about prejudice, hate and persecution.”(Liner Notes)
Music has such an intriguing way of getting the composers feelings out onto a pice of paper or through the fingertips. The loneliness that is present in this record is not hard to find and is demonstrated obviously and beautifully through the record.
“The deep mourning and tears of loneliness are echoed and re-echoed by the instruments in Mr. Mingus’ attempt to express his feelings about separation from and among the discordant people of the world.”(Liner Notes)
Overall, this record presents some incredible musical ideas and is simply too good to pass up. If you have any interest in Jazz, this is a must listen.

Week 5 – 78 RPM

The History of the 78

The 78 record was made around 1898 and continued into the late 1950s and playing at a speed around 78 revolutions per minute. The most common material that these records were made of is called shellac. This is a brittle material which uses a shellac resin.(Yale, 2014)

 

78s have various sizes, however, the most common sizes are a 10inch and a 12 inch diameter. The 10 inch records could hold about three minutes of recordings. The 12 inch record could hold about four to five minutes of recording time.

“Earliest speeds of rotation varied widely, but by 1910 most records were recorded at about 78 to 80 rpm. In 1925, 78.26 rpm was chosen as a standard for motorized phonographs, because it was suitable for most existing records, and was easily achieved using a standard 3600-rpm motor and 46-tooth gear (78.26 = 3600/46). Thus these records became known as 78s (or “seventy-eights”).”(Yale, 2014)

INTERESTING FACT

Due to the events of World War II, Shellac was in demand, therefore companies started pressing 78s to vinyl pressings.

 

Before the 1930’s, 78s were recorded by having the talent sing or talk into a big horn, their own voice was the power  that directly vibrated the recording stylus. Once this was vibrating, the stylus would cut the wax of the master record. These discs are known by audiophiles as “acoustic” recordings.


 

78 recordings are fascinating. It’s really the first step to all of the other steps that needed to happen in order to make the possibility of portable music. This was one of the first (if not the first) ways in order to record sound directly on to a recording medium.

This is a phenomenal short film from 1946 about 78s. It’s certainly worth the watch.

Sources:

“The history of 78 RPM recordings.” The history of 78 RPM recordings. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. <http://www.library.yale.edu/cataloging/music/historyof78rpms.htm&gt;.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 4 – “Bad” Jazz

First, It should be stated that when I say “Bad” jazz, I’m simply referring to the sound quality of the recording.

Things I’m listening for:

Are the instruments clear?

Is there any signs of clipping?

What is the instrument orientation like in the environment?

Does it sound good?

These are a few questions that I’m asking in order to locate “Bad” jazz.

On my quest to find some “Bad” jazz, I was led to the live recording of the Miles Davis Quintet, they were recorded live in 1969 in Europe. I choose this recording because I found the recording to be harsh and amateur. For example, during the drum solo, I found my self wanting it to be louder, clearer or even cleaner. Once the drum solos are over and the rest of the instrumentation comes in, you can hear faint echoes of a crowd that is there. The crowd was not incorporated into the recording very well, they sound very distant and disinterested.

The saxophone in this recording seems to hit the threshold of pain while listening to this recording. It’s full of clipped notes and unbalanced noise. Half way through the recording I didn’t even notice that there was a piano in the mix! The stand up bass is in the background and sticks out, however it is easily covered up by the unbalanced mixing when the trumpet comes in.

The trumpet (even though the featured instrument at times) seems tremendously overwhealming.

One of the main reasons that I think this recording lacks a good quality is because it’s not only live, but it’s recorded in Mono. This automatically limits the engineer in not being able to create a space in which the listener can relate to in reference to where the instruments are.  Compare this recording to a Rudy Vangelder live recording and you would be astonished!

Mono mix vs. Stereo mix Comparison of “Little Deuce Coup” (1963) by The Beach Boys

The beach boys have been apart of American culture since the early 60’s. It was their close knit harmonies and fun attitude that brought them instant popularity among the youth culture in America.

An interesting thing about the 50’s and 60’s is that music was undergoing a transition in how it was mixed. Most artist from the beginning of recorded sound until the 50’s and 60’s were recorded and mixed in monophonic traditions.  When the stereo mix came out, engineers didn’t know what to do with it. In fact, a lot of time the Mono mixes had the bands approval and the stereo mixes were something that the studio produced so they could sell it.

Below are two Youtube clips featuring the song “Little Deuce Coupe” from the 1963 capital records Lp. There are two versions of this song in which I will be comparing, a monophonic version versus a stereophonic version and the difference between them. Take a minute to listen to both versions.

MONO:

STEREO

Mono: The mono mix of this song seems to be overall well balanced and simple. The vocals are clear and the harmonies add a nice addition (which was their signature sound). The drums are apparent but not overwhelming and the guitar is crisp and add color to the fun culture of the song.

Stereo: From the opening of the song it’s apparent that the voices are now in stereo. The vocals stand out in an extreme way from the rest of the music. It’s almost as if Capital decided to just put the voices in a stereo mix and leave the rest in Mono. The music seems to be at the same level as the monophonic mix and doesn’t seem enhanced in any way. In the vocals specifically you can hear the inconsistencies in the recordings. The pops and slobber from the singers is also present which I found to be very distracting. One last comment, the lead vocal seems to be time delayed in each side to give a greater stereo effect.

After examine each track, it’s easy to see why a lot of people enjoy the original mono mixes over the remastered stereo releases. A lot of this music was actually meant to be heard in mono, so let’s keep it that way. However, as a Beach Boys fan I think I would love to listen to both side by side and do a comparison of the entirely of the record. Luckily, I’m fortunate enough to own the mono vinyl pressing and can’t wait to go and listen to it once again.