Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Fools on Primrose Hill

One foggy morning in November 1966, almost 40 years ago to the day, the Rolling Stones. manager Andrew Loog Oldham, and photographer Gered Mankowitz piled into 2 cars from Olympic Studios at dawn and drove to the top of Primrose Hill, the vast public park in Northwest London.

The Stones had been up all night putting the finishing touches on their new record, Between the Buttons, and the plan was to breathe the fresh air and take some photos for the cover.

Between the Buttons was a quirky departure from the usual R&B and Blues driven fare the Stones dished up; these tunes had a Kinkish, vaudevillean/music hall whimsy, sprinkled with some driving rockin rhythms with just a touch of Charlie Watts' subliminal offbeat jazz drumming that evoked the diaphanous pop-flash of moddish swinging London. "Connection", "Amanda Jones", "Yesterday's Papers", and "Backstreet Girl" were some of my favorites - now little heard on the radio by Stones fans generations removed, and forgotten by all but the hard-core fans from the era.

The record was notable for the almost complete disappearance of Brian Jones from half of the numbers; he was embarked on a more precipitous slide into the vapor of stonedom. However, here he surfaces as "colourist" on the tunes, adding marimba, recorders, flute, trumpet, piano, harmonica, organ, sax, and sitar in just the right places.

That morning when the gang arrived on Primrose Hill they chanced on a bearded hippie flute-player poised on one foot and oblivious to the celebrity status of the Stones. Mick Jagger offered him a joint and he accepted it offhandedly, with a mere "Ah, breakfast!".

Gered Mankowitz took a number of pictures that morning in the mist and added to the atmosphere by rubbing a bit of vaseline on the camera lens. He recalls Brian Jones as being a difficult subject; burying his head in a newspaper or mugging in the group photos. Nevertheless, the resultant photos carry on the distinct flavor of the Stones as five individuals; Watts and Wyman craggy, calm and indifferent, Jones cocooned in impenetrable mischief, Jagger (open-mouthed of course) and Richards off to the left somehow in motion towards the future- albeit Richards in a hazed motion, fully immersed in the the vaseline sector of the lens.

A few months after the Stones photo-shoot, Paul McCartney, along with pal Alisdair Taylor and his sheepdog Martha, drove up to Primrose Hill around sunrise. McCartney often brought Martha for walks up there and was delighted that other dog-walkers recognized him only as one of them and freely chatted on about their dogs.

That morning as the sun rose McCartney and Taylor were commenting on the beauty of the view, and even waxing philosophical about the existence of God when Paul noticed that Martha had gone missing. He turned around and there. as if out of nowhere, stood a middle-aged man in a stylish raincoat. They exchanged greetings and the man commented on how beautiful the view of London was. Paul, again, looked out but when he looked back seconds later the man was no longer there. Taylor was also witness to this and they were perplexed as to where the man went as they were in an open area and the nearest trees were too far to have been reached in a few seconds. (Of course Martha returned, lest we forget "Martha My Dear" on the White Album)

They continued to talk about this incident the rest of the day and were resigned to the fact that people would assume psychedelics were involved - not the case here.

That day McCartney began working on his song "Fool On the Hill". Some months later, when he and Lennon were working on "It's Getting Better" (a phrase that came to him on another Primrose Hill walk) McCartney played John a sketch of "Fool" on the guitar. John said it was a great song and encouraged him to write it down immediately.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Micheal O'Domhnaill 1952 -2006

I was saddened to hear that a longtime idol of mine, much beloved by all who follow Irish music, Micheal O'Domhnaill, had passed away this July ( I hadn't heard until a week ago) as the result of a fall at his home in Dublin.

Micheal was a singular guitar stylist as well as a fine singer, often in Gaelic, of little heard traditional tunes passed down from his family who hailed from the gaelic-speaking sector of Donegal.
His great gift was to accompany virtuosos such as Tommy Peoples, Paddy Keenan, Paddy Glackin, Matt Molloy, and Kevin Burke and make them sound even better. He strummed with a subtle drive that propelled the melody forward like a polyrhythmic wave rather than a steady predictable chunk-beat. His choice of chords was almost modally jazzlike - minor 11ths and 9ths derived from DADGAD tuning and others that would have bent the ear of a Ravel or Bill Evans - but it was accenting and painting the tonal backdrop of the melody of the tune that was his priority.
He was also a soft-spoken and considerate person, an excellent foil for the laconic wit of his story-telling fiddler par excellence partner of years past, Kevin Burke.

I've a very fond memory of briefly meeting Micheal back in 1980 when he and Kevin came to came to Santa Cruz Ca. on their tour of the States (they soon made Portland their home for many years).

They were to play in a church/venue that night. Sheryl, myself and our 1year old daughter Laurel were in a long line outside waiting to get in. Micheal and Kevin, themselves, came up alongside us and asked where they might find (what else?) a pub within walking distance for a quick drink and we pointed them in the right direction.
Just before the doors opened, the guys came back and they were very appreciative. Micheal said there were actual "cowboys" sitting next to them at the bar and described their attire wide-eyed as if he'd seen the Second Coming of Hopalong Cassidy.

Inside, they took to the stage and tore down the house. This audience was already hip to these guys and their former stardom with the Bothy Band (and this was way before Riverdance and other near collisions with utter Celtic schlock)and they were so taken by them it seemed they wouldn't let them go; the encore was like another show unto itself.

When we started Subterranean Jazz back in 1997 (?) I'd been thinking about improvising off of trad irish tunes for some time. In particular, I'd been greatly inspired by the jazz-like arrangement O'Domhnaill and Burke made of the slip-jig tune Promenade from the same-titled album from 1980. I fooled with merging Promenade (with different chords) and another slip-jig, Kid On the Mountain, and we all threw together a tune called The Irish Kid that made its way to our recording, Subway Sonnets; at the very least, a sapling transplant from O'Domhnaill and Burke sprouting up from the Great West home of gunfights and rugged trails.

* here is a recent recording of Micheal O'Domhnaill accompanying Paddy Glackin on fiddle found on youtube. You also get to hear a bit of gaelic spoken after and some playing from the group Altan who were also there.

* above, an early picture of Micheal (in the bright shirt at top right)
with the Bothy Band circa 1976. Kevin Burke far left, Donall Lunny, Paddy Keenan with the pipes, Matt Molloy with flute, and Micheal's sister Triona O'Domhnaill at the top.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Walks with Bud and Dexter

Bud Powell's mumbles from the piano chair on Our Man In Paris are audible throughout the record and I love it. They are part of the in-the-moment risk and ABANDONEMENT that is jazz. They should be sampled, I think, and stand as art.
Though considered to be past his prime by some, hollowed-out and cast upon shores of oblivion by drugs, electro-shock, and police beatings, Bud emerges here triumphant in raw brilliance.

Francis Paudras reminisces from (again) Dance of the Infidels about this period when Dexter Gordon and Bud were staying with him in Paris:

"If we left together, we would go for long walks through the silent streets. Sometimes Dexter Gordon came with us and I can remember his warm and resonant voice echoing through the streets. he walked on one sidewalk and Bud on the other: while I took the middle of the street.
Dexter didn't speak to Bud. He sang, in a perfect imitation of Billy Eckstine's langorous vibrato. Bud laughed til he cried. We wandered aimlessly. Time didn't matter. I remember those moments as something unreal. Dexter was blessed with eternal youth. Even close to death, nothing ever eroded his natural good humor.
Bud's and Dexter's language, like their music, had a special sound, a kind of swing based on an inner tempo. They had recorded together very early. I owned the records of the Savoy sessions of January 1946, and I had listened to them until I wore out the grooves. It seemed inconceivable to see them there together, like two kids, strolling through the night."

* pictured above, Bud Powell

Our Man In Paris

Dexter Gordon made this record in Paris in May of 1963, using a rhythm section that featured two American jazz legends, long since expatriated to France, pianist Bud Powell and drummer Kenny Clarke, along with the French bassist Pierre Michelot.

The first cut on the album signals the proceedings, laying out in clear terms what lies ahead so you can strap in for the ride or clear out.
After the humorous intro to Scrapple for the Apple where Dexter plays the riff from
Dragnet (? doubtless a reminder of scuffles in the Big Apple), he plays the jaunty Charlie Parker head. Here immediately; the paradox of a lighthearted but solid melody, stated by a saxophone sound that can barely contain itself within the allotted notes, breaking at the edges, and gnawing like a wild animal at the cage bars to have at it.
When the melody has been stated, and one expects the usual intricate bop lines, Dexter starts out like a sonorous taxi with the horn of a train, driving everyone from the intersection to state his case, beating/telegraphing out single notes as if to say "don't worry yet about the fancy licks, HERE IS THE SOUND and i am in LOVE with the SOUND!". Once the sound has been revealed, he proceeds to unfurl his graceful exuberant lines, and tears the tune to shreds.