Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra – World of Funk (2011)

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World of Funk is a highly-engaging triumph of world-infused funk. From the opening seconds of the record, the instrumentation is instantly intriguing. Shawn Lee holds nothing back with an impressively vast array of instruments here, and assisting musicians aside, Lee is quite a one-man show. Elliot Bergman plays kalimba, Stuart Bogie on alto clarinet, Andy Ross is on flute and saxophone, Michael Leonhart plays cornet, trumpet, mellophone, and vibraphone and Dom Glover is on trumpet. But Lee steals the show playing sitar, ektar, balaphone, tanpura, kalimba, steel drum, castanets, cithara, vibraphone, xylophone, bulbul tarang, charango, bouzoki, talking drum, and udu all over this record, giving it a rich, dimensional worldly flavor. The five vocalists further contribute to its brilliance with echo-laden eastern-influenced crooning and a sprinkling of funky tropicalia.

The album offers a lush textural soundscape which classies up any space it occupies – a rich sonic wallpaper deserving of the attention of any aspiring bohemian.

“Nao Vacila” is a powerfully funky track, with Bardo Martinez on the organ and bluesy guitar from Clutchy Hopkins, and Michael Leonhart firing off shots on the trumpet. And the fun low-fi retro-Latin stylings of “La Eterna Felicidad” would be perfectly at home on a record by A Band of Bees. The organ really locks in this track as a slow-groover.

From start to finish, this is a tour-de-force of heady, fat-bottomed funk with enough going on to keep you tuned in and jiving for the entirety of its nearly hour-long span. This is definitely an album worth picking up.

Revolution Starter Kit

I’ve just returned from antiquing escapades with my lady friends and brought home several groovy treasures!

I picked up my first-ever Pharoah Sanders record – a mint first press of the legendary Karma LP featuring “The Creator Has a Master Plan.”

I also snagged original copies of Jimmy McGriff’s deeply-funky Soul Sugar LP and a newly traded in first press of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s noise pop debut, Psychocandy from 1985.

Before I left I also grabbed a clean copy of The Trouser Press Guide to 90s Rock – a mammoth oversize reference text of 2300 of the greatest punk, grunge, indie-pop, techno, noise, avant-garde, ska, hip-hop, new country, metal, roots, rock, folk, modern dance, and world music recordings from the decade of my high school years.

It’s the first time I’ve considered buying a critical text on rock music (I usually prefer 20th century classical and jazz), but this seemed an excellent starting point.

AND as a nifty bonus, from the Devil’s Library section of the antique mall I picked up a (R)evolution: A Journal of 21st Century Thought zine from The Anarchists of Chicago in the early 1980s which features a piece by Aleister Crowley.

‪#‎sh*tyoucantbuyatthemall‬

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Journey into Jazz

Inspired by a lady-friend jazz-fan (who found Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music captivating upon first listen!), I decided it was time I ventured further into the world of jazz.  Until now I had steeped comfortably in my hot kettle of Miles Davis’ electric period and Sun Ra’s psychedelic avant-garde trips like Space is the Place.  I was ushered into this flavor of fusion by Herbie Hancock and his electro-funk jazz classics like Headhunters, Thrust and Sextant.

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But I knew full-well that the 50 years which led up to these electric freak-out albums were rich with milestone recordings which demand to be heard.  Every “must-hear” jazz list is brimming with albums from 1922 to 1970, so I went to work compiling a list of albums to introduce me to classic jazz.

I constructed a starter-set of 65 essential jazz records from 1925 to the 1970 and have been experiencing them one record at a time.

I explored resources such as r/jazz’s sidebar of essential jazz, I conducted an RYM search for highly-rated LPs in the jazz genre from 1920-1965, and at the recommendation of some friends I ordered a copy of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, LP and Cassette.  I was delighted to find a first-edition available for $1, so I ordered it right away.

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Beginning chronologically, I sampled The Hall of Fame 5-disc collection of Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens (1925-1930), The 24-disc Duke Ellington Centennial Edition (1927-1943), and the undeniable jazz classic – Ellington at Newport (1956).

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I enjoyed the fast-paced bebop stylings of Dizzy Gillespie.  It had a similar energy to what I would soon hear on Coltrane’s Giant Steps (1960).  Blue Train (1957) and A Love Supreme (1965) followed shortly thereafter in my first-listen journey.

Next on the recommended list was The Quintet: Dizzy Gillespie / Charles Mingus / Charlie Parker / Bud Powell / Max Roach – Jazz at Massey Hall (1953).  The album is clearly one of the finest examples of a live jazz recording – a collaboration of the biggest names in jazz at the time of the session.  It adds a great energy to the room when it’s played, and I’m certain that I’ll be revisiting this disc often.

From there I picked up four of Charles Mingus’ most memorable recordings – Blues & Roots (1959), Mingus Ah Um (1959), Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (1963) and the classic – The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, also from 1963.

But what really grabbed me at first-listen was a strong fascination with the more experimental free jazz LPs like Ornette Coleman’s boldly-titled releases including The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959), Free Jazz (recorded in one single take in 1960), Change of the Century (also from 1960) the spacey Science Fiction (1971) and Body Meta (1978).  From Coleman I branched out further and listened to Eric Dolphy’s 1964 classic, Out To Lunch.  As avant-garde as it is, the album has quite a mellow feel and I left it on repeat for three full plays through.

I already have 75 Sun Ra albums ripped from vinyl in my library, but I have yet to really explore them beyond The Heliocentric World and Space is the Place.  Now that I’m really getting into jazz it seems appropriate that I add his library to my listening list as well.

Bill Evans’ albums between 1958 and 1961 were next on my list, along with Cannonball Adderley’s Something Else (1958), the Complete Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington Sessions, Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto’s 1963 classic, Getz & Gilberto, and Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane from 1961 (recorded in 1957).

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That disc secured my certainty that I needed to hear more from the biggest names in jazz, so I was very happy to find a 54-disc archive of Ornette Coleman, and three 24-bit vinyl rip discographies of John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and of Thelonious Monk.

I have no doubt that I’ll enjoy the Ornette Coleman library, and I will wait a few days to receive my copy of The Penguin Guide to Jazz… before sinking my teeth into the 24 bit vinyl archives of Coltrane, Ellington and Monk.  (A fella could get lost in there without some direction.)

The autumn season has two paid weeks of vacation in store for me, and I plan to spend them reading, researching, and listening to these ~250 new records and will have a blast picking out a handful of titles for which I’ll order original pressings to finally expand the jazz section of my library.

Fall is coming – warm your home with beautiful music!

Treasures Untold

Between my recent motherboard failure and setting up the replacement PC my stepfather so generously donated to me, I’ve picked up a lot of vinyl that didn’t make it to my blog.  I thought I’d take a moment to highlight some of the better ones that I’ve neglected.

First, I found Funkadelic’s Electric Spanking of War Babies in NM shape at an antique shop.  It is another outstanding example of Pedro Bell’s artwork.

The next item I picked up was the first album to feature regenerative tape loops which Robert Fripp and Brian Eno dubbed ‘Frippertronics.’  The album is an ambient classic – No Pussyfooting.

Side A is the standout track at over 20 minutes in length, titled “The Heavenly Music Corporation.”

I insist on tracking down original pressings whenever possible, and I was lucky to find an extremely clean copy at a great price.

And thanks to my friend Brrrn and good timing at a flea market, two more early Eno recordings fell into my hands.  One was Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) – Eno’s second solo album and the other was a long-time favorite collaboration with Harold Budd titled Ambient 2 – Plateaux of Mirror.  Plateaux was one of my first digital ambient albums many years ago.

The next treasure is a deep cut, and one of historical significance.  I was exploring The Orb’s catalog and read about a curious track called “The Blue Room,” a 17 minute song which appeared on the album u.f.orb.  What I discovered was that the original single was in fact 40:00 long.

From Wiki:

The UK charts had recently decided that any release with more than 40 minutes of play would be classified as an album rather than single. The Orb thus decided to record a 39:57 version of “Blue Room” for a special release. “Blue Room” is the longest single to ever reach the UK charts, peaking at number eight.

If you have ANY interest in ambient house, you need to hear this song.

The last find in the spectrum of ambient music was a dollar bin neoclassical LP by David Lanz.  Nightfall is one of his best works.

There were several other discoveries including a number of Yes albums previously missing from my collection and Zappa’s Hot Rats which features wonderful contributions from Don Van Vliet.

Last but most certainly not least, I found a number of Sesame Street albums to add to my Jim Henson library.  It’s getting harder and harder to find ones I don’t already have, (over 40 at last count) so these were a treat.

The Ernie LP is extra special.  Mint in shrink, it includes some of my most beloved memories from the Street – “Rubber Duckie,” “Imagination,” “I Don’t Want to Live On The Moon,” and the hilarious “Dance Myself to Sleep.”

If only it featured “Put Down the Duckie” it would be my favorite Sesame record ever.  Sadly, that duet between Ernie and Hoots the Owl never made it to vinyl.

Here’s the video for “Dance Myself to Sleep.”  If you’re really savvy you might just catch the Andrews Sisters reference Ernie makes to a hit from 1941.  Watch for it!

Big PFunk score at the Fall Record Show

I’m back from the fall record show, and the funk table was back again this season.  I found a number of albums from the PFunk family, including Parliament, Funkadelic, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns and Bernie Worrell.

Prices were steep, but I talked him down on my top four from his stash.

Below is a shot of my Pfunk collection (minus the Horny Horns albums) before the show…

Make my funk the P-Funk - my collection before adding the LPs from the show

And here are the four new LPs I picked up.  The Bootsy album was sealed with a comic inside, pictured below…

More funk from the record show

Bootsy Comic

Also new in the mail from Germany is an absolute classic album from when I was a kid – They Might Be Giants’ all-time best-seller, Flood on vinyl.  This was the album that featured “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and “Particle Man.”

They Might Be Giants - Flood LP (German Import)

Flood LP

Preachin’ tha Funk

There’s no denying that funk and blues originated from early black gospel music.   Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee demonstrated the relationship between spirituals and the blues on the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage LP, recorded in 1959.  On that album, they performed “I’m Gonna Tell God on You” which I first discovered through a spiritual recording archive site called BAP-TIZUM.com.

The Blind Boys - Swing Hot Sweet Chariot

BAP-TIZUM is an archive of Black-American Christian spiritual music & sermons from the 1930s to the 1980s, all ripped from vinyl and streaming on the Web.

If you like 60’s R&B, soul, blues or funk music, you’ve got to check this out.  The site features recordings of preachers singing and screaming with blues guitarists, drummers, and gospel choirs cheering them on.  No phony Hollywood bull here, just honest to God soul.

The killer aforementioned example is Dave Whitfield’s version of “I’m Gonna Tell God On You (Part 2).”  This track builds and builds, growing funkier by the minute.

And this is the single funkiest version of “Dry Bones” you will hear in your entire life.  Most of America remembers this song from the cheesy 1950’s televised performance by the Lennon Sisters, or perhaps from elementary school.  This cut is belted out by a wound up, screaming preacher with an infectiously funky groove.

And all you P-Funk and Dr. Dre fans – check out Reverend Willingham and the Staples Singers from 1956 performing “Let Me Ride.”  KNOW where your funk comes from.

And to end the evening, I picked up a copy of an INCREDIBLE double LP set titled, Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal.

For more of that funky soul, head over to bap-tizum.com

Good God!  A Gospel Funk Hymnal