The brassy opening bars of ‘Goldfinger’

Here’s a video clip of the opening credit from “Goldfinger,” the latest film being profiled by Bullz-Eye.com in its look back at all the James Bond films.

John Barry had proven himself far more than able in various musical capacities on the first two Bond films. So, even though he had never before written a pop hit, he was finally allowed to write the music for the opening song, and what a song it was.

The brassy opening bars of “Goldfinger” announce melodramatically that we are in for an adventure of vast proportion and the music is jazzy yet almost operatic in scale. The lyrics, from the theatrical songwriting team of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, were inspired by Bobby Darin’s unlikely hit version of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil’s “Mack the Knife,” (the only megahit we know about a thief, murderer, and rapist). As Barry had no problem admitting, the astonishing, hell-bent-for-leather vocals of singer Shirley Bassey were crucial to selling the outrageous lyrics, a warning that gold-obsessed millionaires may not be good boyfriend material. The song was, of course, a tremendous hit. It remains easily the greatest Bond theme and, for all its near-camp excess, one of the greatest movie theme songs of all time. The rest of the film’s score isn’t so bad, either.

Good stuff.

Muskrat Ramble from Louis Armstrong

Muskrat Ramble from Louis Armstrong with some bathing beauties from the 1920s in the background.

The Marsalis Family: Music Redeems

stars:
RIYL: John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Harry Connick Jr.

The first family of New Orleans jazz gathered for a special concert last year at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and thank goodness they recorded it for release. There is far too little collaboration in this clan – patriarch Ellis on piano, Wynton on trumpet, Branford on sax, Delfeayo on trombone and youngest brother Jason on drums. They’re all world-renowned musicians and hearing them together is something special. This CD also makes a great gift for any jazz fan – it’s a historic gathering of the Marsalis clan, including stories and anecdotes about growing up in New Orleans. The proceeds also go to educational programming at the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, “the heart of the New Orleans Habitat Musicians’ Village.” The project was conceived in 2005 by Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr. (who also guests in this performance) in partnership with New Orleans Habitat for Humanity following Hurricane Katrina.

The band opens with Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee,” featuring an up-tempo walking bass line from the bassist Eric Revis, some dynamic whistling melodies from Jason and a great piano solo from Ellis.
Wynton and Branford both speak afterward about growing up, with Branford noting how Ellis’ breakthrough song “Monkey Puzzle” (written by James Black) was almost like a cartoon theme song to the kids. The classic song receives an eight-minute treatment, with great solos all around and some stellar work by Jason on the vibes.

A pair of Ellis-penned tunes follow. “After” is an elegant solo piano song, and then “Syndrome,” an old school piano-based tune that brings in the rest of the band with some smooth unison horn lines. Harry Connick Jr., then joins the ensemble for “Sweet Georgia Brown,” where sparks fly on sensational dueling pianos between Connick and Ellis. Another peak occurs with a reading of Thelonious Monk’s “Teo,” which oozes the jazzy jazz that comes from such great horn players. There’s also another superb piano solo, followed by a succession of stylish horn solos that are like a jazz playbook.

Ellis Marsalis III then delivers a poignant spoken word poem written just for the occasion to honor his father, “The Man and the Ocean.” A nearly 10-minute version of Jason’s “At the House in Da Pocket” follows and it’s a magic track, with the horns seeming to hold an animated conversation while the other instruments vamp out behind. The Marsalis family chemistry really starts flowing here and it’s only a shame that this track basically ends the set instead of setting the stage for more. But in classic New Orleans fashion, the group apparently exits through the audience playing a rousing version of the traditional song, “The 2nd Line.”

This entire performance will make you want to book travel to New Orleans at your nearest convenience. If you can’t make it in person, the next best thing may be streaming local radio station WWOZ, without a doubt one of the greatest and most diverse stations on the planet. (Marsalis Music 2010)

Austin City Limits Music Festival – October 8-10, 2010, Austin, TX

The 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival continued to make the three-day event’s case as one of the best festivals on the planet. It went off with nary a hitch, and in fact, this year’s edition may have had the festival’s best weather yet. There was no dust, no rain to turn Zilker Park into a giant mud pit (like last year) and the high temperature never reached 90. The sunny afternoons were still plenty hot, but the evenings were downright balmy. Some local fans bitched about the overall lineup when it was first announced, but there truly was something for everyone in the festival’s ever-eclectic lineup. The festival once again sold out well in advance, and again proved to be one of the best weekends of the year for any serious music fan.

The tasty local cuisine available at ACL is topped only by New Orleans’ Jazzfest (although unfortunately neither fest seems willing to bring in local beer), and the football tent returned to enable sports fans to get a fix in between music sets. There were only a handful of occasions where the crowd scene proved overly massive and hard to navigate. Overall, it was three days of near-utopian rock ‘n’ roll bliss. If the word “groovy” is overused in this review, it’s only because there were indeed so many such moments. The biggest problem was choosing between competing bands in a series of mind-bending conflicts: Silversun Pickups vs Broken Bells, Monsters of Folk vs LCD Soundsystem, Phish vs The Strokes, The Flaming Lips vs Band of Horses, and the terrible three-way Friday night dilemma of Sonic Youth vs Robert Randolph & the Family Band vs Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses. Cloning technology can’t arrive soon enough.

Friday, October 8

Those Darlins, Austin Ventures Stage
This upbeat Tennessee quartet featured a relatively unique mix of country punk and garage rock to create a fun vibe. Singer/guitarist Jessi Darlin’s gritty voice recalled Courtney Love at times in its ragged splendor, but with more of a country flavor. “Red Light Love” saw the band at its best on a fuzzy, melodic rocker about the combination of good love and good music.

Blues Traveler, AMD Stage
It seemed like a flashback to the mid-’90s when Blues Traveler drew a huge crowd to the festival’s second largest stage to really get ACL going. It’s been great to see the band able to persevere through the tragic death of original bassist Bobby Sheehan and the health problems of singer/harmonica ace John Popper, who is now fit and sounding great as ever. Underrated guitarist Chan Kinchla always keeps things groovy on his PRS guitar and his brother Tad fits right in on bass. A cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” was a surprise crowd pleaser, followed shortly thereafter with the band’s 1994 hit “Run-Around.” But the clear peak of the set – and one of the top highlights of the entire weekend – occurred when the band welcomed 15-year-old violinist Ruby Jane to sit in on “Mulling It Over.” Jane, who would play her own set on Sunday morning, proved to be a dynamic prodigy. She immediately accented the hard rocking tune in tasteful fashion, before teaming with Popper for a superb violin-harmonica duel that won the weekend’s first huge cheer.

The Black Keys, AMD Stage
The Akron, Ohio-based blues rock duo hit the stage at 4 pm in front of a massive crowd that made it tough for anyone arriving late to get close enough to enjoy. There were so many people camped out in their lawn chairs that the entire area became quite difficult to navigate. The Black Keys are clearly surging in popularity – they played to about 10,000 fans at the 2008 Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco, but this crowd was at least three times as large. I finally gave up and decided I’d rather check out the next band on the intimate BMI stage.

ACL Black Keys


Read the rest after the jump...

Miles Davis: Bitches Brew Legacy Edition & Dogfish Head: Bitches Brew

Bitches Brew (album):

RIYL: Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Return to Forever

Bitches Brew (beer):

RIYL: Dogfish Head Raison D’etre, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Tröegs Flying Mouflan

Miles Davis’ creative spirit in the late ’60s and ’70s was particularly restless, and his music gave voice and volume to that restlessness, as he found new fans and embittered jazz purists by adding electric instruments to his palate. In a Silent Way (1969), in particular, saw Davis and his sidemen playing with side-long compositions built from extended sessions that were cut and edited by Davis and producer Teo Macero. It was dense, sometimes difficult, often beautiful music, requiring active engagement on the part of the listener, and also an open mind. Rock writer Lester Bangs might have said it best when he described it as “part of a transcendental new music which flushes categories away and, while using musical devices from all styles and cultures, is defined mainly by its deep emotion and unaffected originality.”

For Bitches Brew (1970), Davis expanded his band, as well as his vision. A given track might have featured, in addition to his trumpet, two or three electric pianos, saxophone, bass clarinet, one or two electric basses, two drum kits, one or two additional percussion pieces, and electric guitar. It was a tempest coming out of the speakers, with intricate compositions to match that gave the maelstrom a form and power virtually unheard of in jazz at the time.

The mastery of Davis and band on Bitches Brew has never been clearer than on  Sony’s new Legacy Edition, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the record’s original release. Though the bonus tracks are questionable additions (we’re not sure why sub-three-minute “single mixes” of four of these cuts were needed in the first place), the pristine sonics of the remastered discs bring all manner of nuance into full relief.

“Pharaoh’s Dance,” which opens the record, has an insistent yet understated groove, which enables Davis to steer and pianists Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul (who composed the song) to throw sparks at will. Davis himself sounds particularly fierce on “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” foreshadowing some of the dark themes and sounds he would build in later “fusion period” live albums like Agharta and Dark Magus.

Those records would go deep into the funk of the early ’70s; here, Davis’ vision is more in line with the wide open textures of late-’60s rock. You can hear it in the rhythms of “Spanish Key,” which are as simultaneously unfettered and locked-in as were the Grateful Dead’s two-headed percussion hydra at the time. Guitarist John McLaughlin is all blues in “Spanish Key,” but given to shorter lyrical bursts in Bitches Brew‘s title song, in which the instruments bounce around and into one another in a fabulous blanket of echo. In some ways, you can hear elements of ’70s fusion, noise rock, and even prog take root in these fertile moments of brilliance. There was certainly enough here to take as inspiration for a long time to come.

The music of Miles Davis, Bitches Brew in particular, served as inspiration to Sam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, a Delaware-based creator of fine “off-centered ales” with a seriously devoted following (this writer included). To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Bitches Brew the album, Dogfish has created a limited edition Bitches Brew beer – a marvelous combination of three parts imperial stout and one part honey beer.

May we suggest drinking your 750 ml bottle of Bitches Brew beer while watching the DVD included in the Bitches Brew Legacy Edition set, an hour-plus program taped in Copenhagen in 1969. Open the beer and take a whiff – you’ll notice the deep bouquet, almost like a wine that’s aged in mahogany. Put on the DVD and watch the band – all acoustic, except Chick Corea’s electric piano – launch into the cosmic groove of “Directions.”

Pour some beer into a wineglass or brandy snifter – no pint glasses; this stuff is meant to be savored, slowly, in small portions. Notice the opaque brown in the glass, the tan head; take another sniff as air hits this elixir and the woodiness of its scent comes to life. Take a sip and revel in that malty first hit, that lingering bitterness. Give it a moment to sink in.

Watch the band bounce off one another, particularly Corea and drummer Jack DeJohnette, weaving in and out of one another’s path, pausing only to listen to a note, a snare hit, something to push the conversation into its next phase. Hear saxophonist Wayne Shorter expound at great length on a theme, echoing a phrase from Davis’ own horn, or pulling a fragment from his leader and expanding it. Marvel at how muscular the band sounds, how tight – it’s not as expansive as the massive Bitches Brew ensembles, but just as strong in its own right.

Take another sip, this time leaving the beer in your mouth a few seconds before swallowing. Notice the sweetness of the honey beer gently touching your palate before the bitter wave washes back again as you swallow. Notice the chocolate and coffee tones in that wave as you think to yourself how seeing the music being made onscreen makes it all the more inspiring – a young, cool Shorter in the final stages of his apprenticeship with Davis (soon to launch Weather Report); a young, hippie regalia-bedecked Corea, coaxing just the right notes from his piano; a powerful Dave Holland, fingers flying over his upright bass’ strings, keeping up nicely with the propulsive forces around him.

Note that there is something special about seeing Davis play, watching him at arguably the height of his creative power, making powerful new music, in complete control of his band, while being led by his muse. Take another sip. Drink it all in. (Sony Legacy 2010)

Miles Davis’ MySpace page
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery’s Web Site

Click to purchase Bitches Brew at Amazon.

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