Thursday, November 17, 2011

Music Library: Only Ones, Opal, Opeth, Orchestra of St. Luke's, Ornette Coleman

The Only Ones - The Only Ones (1978). Utterly phenomenal slice of power pop-punk anchored by "Another Girl, Another Planet," one of the best songs of the punk era. The Only Ones had a lot of Rolling Stones and Big Star mixed in with their punk guitars and attitude, and it is only right and natural that they influenced both The Replacements and Yo La Tengo. This is a great album by any measure.

Opal - Happy Nightmare, Baby (1987) and Early Recordings (1989). With a guitarist from Rain Parade and a bassist/vocalist from The Dream Syndicate, Opal was a Paisley Underground supergroup of sorts. When bassist Kendra Smith left during their first tour, the band recruited singer Hope Sandoval to replace her and then changed their name to Mazzy Star, which was quite popular for a while during the 90s. These tracks sound like the work of a band halfway between Rain Parade and Mazzy Star, and that's not a bad thing. I like Rain Parade and The Dream Syndicate more than these songs, but I like these quite a bit, too. I'm indifferent to Mazzy Star, though.

Opeth - Blackwater Park (2001). Prog-metal! But while I love some prog and some metal, this is all the Opeth I need. I like this album, but my heart is not truly brutal enough to listen to this often, I'm afraid.

Orchestra of St. Luke's - Bach: Four Concerti For Various Instruments (1994). This Bach cat can swing!

Ornette Coleman - Something Else!!!! (1958), Tomorrow Is The Question! (1959), The Shape Of Jazz To Come (1959), Change Of The Century (1960), This Is Our Music (1961), Free Jazz (1961), Ornette (1962), Ornette On Tenor (1962), Beauty Is A Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1958-1962), At The Golden Circle In Stockholm, Vols. 1 and 2 (1965), New York Is Now (1968), The Complete Science Fiction Sessions (1971), Of Human Feelings (1982), and Sound Grammar (2006). I don't need to convince you of Ornette Coleman's brilliance, do I? In my opinion, he's one of the  greatest musicians/theoreticians that jazz produced (I'd put him in the top five along with Monk, Trane, Miles, and Mingus). Under his direction, his band tore into his knotty compositions and remade jazz into something far more unpredictable and exciting. The first eight of these albums were released on Atlantic, with a variable band that always included Don Cherry on cornet or pocket trumpet. The band often had Charlie Haden on bass and Billy Higgins on drums, too. And pretty much all of these albums are utterly breathtaking, even fifty years later. The Shape Of Jazz To Come and This Is Our Music are my favorites, but only by a hair. The Beauty Is A Rare Thing collection includes some outtakes that are equal to the greatness of the albums. The Golden Circle live albums are also phenomenal, practically bursting at the seams with great ideas. New York Is Now, recorded with Coltrane's former rhythm section of Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones, is an interesting attempt to recast traditional "modern jazz" into something new. Science Fiction is all over the map, with Stockhausenish noise and Sun Ra-ish vocalizing and elements of funk and soul. It is my least favorite of all of these Ornette albums, but please keep in mind that it is still an incredible album. Of Human Feelings is some pure 70s-style Miles afrobeat-funk with some dips and turns that actually remind me of Captain Beefheart. I love it. Sound Grammar is a two-bass quartet album that won Coleman the Pulitzer Prize. Uncharacteristically, most of the songs are reworking of older compositions, but the music still sounds amazingly fresh and vital for the work of a 76-year-old man. Here's Ornette on SNL playing a track from Of Human Feelings after being introduced by Milton Berle, of all people.


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