JoeMc on 02/18/2010 at 09:00AM
One of the all-time great artistes of the accordion was a diminutive Sicilian immigrant with bad eyesight and a bum lip named Pietro Frosini. Although he was barely five feet tall, he stood head-and-shoulders above the players of his day. Even today, among accordionists, he is considered to be one of the greatest players who ever hoisted the instrument. He lived up to his renown as "The Wizard of the Accordion."
What made him so special? Well, technical facility for one thing. The dude could play rings around just about anybody. He wasn't just fast, but flawless, his playing almost liquid in its sure and smooth motion. Not only that, but he was doing it on a chromatic accordion, a beast harder to master than the standard piano accordion. Chromatic accordions rely on a button system instead of a keyboard system, with more complicated fingering patterns and other arm and wrist gymnastics. The buttons are set up on the chromatic scale of half-step intervals instead of the standard major and minor scales most employed by musical instruments. Frosini made playing this challenging instrument sound easy.
Frosini was indeed technically accomplished, but what makes him such a master is that he also had taste. His playing is rarely busy. Take a listen to his version of "Wedding of the Winds" and see if you don't agree, and then read on below for more about the "Wizard of the Accordion."
JoeMc on 02/10/2010 at 02:00PM
Last year on a short trip to London, I had the good fortune of catching a gig by the duo Brethren of the Free Spirit, a collaboration between guitarist James Blackshaw and lutenist Jozef Van Wissem. As I listened to the players interact, I remember feeling that the music was somehow modern and ancient at the same time. Shades of art music, classical music, and folk music colored what I heard, but none of those terms adequately described the hypnotic, gauzy yet focused sounds coming from the stage. James Blackshaw's circular guitar playing anchored the duo, but what really got to me was that lute player, whose brightly plucked instrument added something almost spiritual to the music.
That was my introduction to Jozef Van Wissem, the lutenist whose records under his own name are among the most satisfying acoustic records around. His record on Important from last year, It Is All That Is Made, is a sublime piece of work that I can't seem to get tired of. I soon found out that the prolific gentleman has been recording since 2000, and he has made a bunch of records. Listen below to a track from his 2008 album, A priori. It's a beautiful track that captures a lot of what is special about his sound. And, if you like this track, the whole album can be downloaded from the FMA for free here.
JoeMc on 02/03/2010 at 10:35AM
OK, first things first: She's not really Canadian.
She was born in Virginia and grew up in Tacoma. But she went to school in Vancouver, and that's where she got involved with Canadian cuddlecore band Cub (remember Betti-Cola?), and started making her own music. Not long afterwards, she hooked up with those New Pornographers dudes, and before you know it, indie superstardom.
But Canadians love her. CBC Radio calls her an "honourary Canadian," and that's where the track below is from, courtesy of new Free Music Archive curators CBC Radio 3.
But here's something I didn't know that I just found out: Her latest album actually debuted at #3 on Billboard's Hot 100 when it came out last March. So I guess Americans love her a lot, too.
JoeMc on 01/21/2010 at 02:15PM
Not too many people would argue with the contention that jazz transformed American music. Before it, there was parlor music, the brass band, and sentimental balladry; afterwards, its brash energy and rawness spawned R&B, swing, rock 'n' roll, and so on. Key to this transformation was the jazz band's stripped-down approach to the blues, led by an instrument that has become so closely identified with the music that its very image can represent it: the saxophone. In a relatively short period of time, the sax became the quintessential jazz instrument, raised to prominence by such skilled practitioners as Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, and Lester Young.
But there was a time, before jazz, when the saxophone was considered little more than a honking novelty horn useful for circuses and comedy acts. It took the work of an unusual little group of saxophone afficionados called the Six Brown Brothers to raise the saxophone up from its comedic origins to a place of respect in the musical community. Listen below to hear one of their records, and read on for their story.
JoeMc on 01/06/2010 at 04:34PM
When I logged on to the FMA this morning, I really wanted to hear something happy, something that would make me feel a little more excited about starting my day. Lo and behold, after a couple of "not quite right"s, I found my tonic for today: Smokey!
I talk not of bears or Miracles here, but of Mr. Smokey Hormel, a man who needs no introduction to guitar enthusiasts. He's one of those guys whose guitar tone is pretty much recognizable out of the box; you've no doubt heard him on records by Tom Waits, Beck, Joe Strummer, Johnny Cash, and about five thousand other people. Lately, Smokey has gotten interested in Congolese dance music from the late 50s and early 60s, and that's the kind of stuff he's doing with his new outfit, Smokey's Secret Family.
Back in September of last year, Smokey's Secret Family appeared on one of WFMU's broadcasts from Barbés in Brooklyn, a series of remote broadcasts shepherded by Rob Weisberg of the Transpacific Sound Paradise program (Saturdays, 6 to 9). Here is a track from that concert, and a fine one it is.
JoeMc on 12/31/2009 at 03:19AM
One of the greatest little stopovers on this gigantic, expanding planet known as the FMA is the archive for the 78 blog Excavated Shellac. I've sung the praises of this blog many times in the past, here and on the air, but as the end of the year approacheth, I feel compelled to finish 2009 with another huzzah for this wonderful project.
Curator Jonathan Ward has personally purchased, cleaned, and digitized highly rare 78s from around the world, and here they are for you, ready to be downloaded and enjoyed in your home. Modern technology hasn't always improved the way we live, but here is a nice example of how it sometimes does.
The FMA has dozens upon dozens of great material from the Excavated Shellac archive; you can always spot an Excavated Shellac song because it's accompanied by incredibly useful and well-informed notes about what you are going to hear on the 78 being presented. Needless to say, this makes my job today quite easy. All I need to do is hold up the "Go Thattaway" sign (click the "i" button) and you can find out what you need to know about each song in my mix.
Ah, yes, the Mix. The mix is simply a selection of some of my favorites from the collection. There is fandango from the Basque region of Spain; amazing kemençe (three-stringed fiddle) playing from Turkey; some beautiful singing from Morocco and Greece; Balinese Gamelan, among the first ever recorded; and to finish things off, an amazing piece by Mohamed Effendi El-Achek, one of the kings of Middle Eastern music. The title of this last piece translates as "Be Happy, My Heart," and that's not much of a stretch for me when I hear this wonderful music. I hope this mix makes your heart happy, too.
JoeMc on 12/22/2009 at 02:00PM
The world is awash in Christmas music this week, and I'm not planning to buck the tide. As far as I'm concerned, it's just a matter of picking which Christmas music you care to be drowned by. What's your poison? Will it be Bing? Frank? The Waitresses? Dogs? Power tools?
My Christmas poison will be none of these. I actually like Christmas music, amazingly enough, and every year I do my best to find a few songs that I haven't heard before. What fascinates me about Christmas music is that once you get past the usual suspects, your Bruces and Bobbys and Bings, you find that there are tons of forgotten Christmas songs just waiting to be discovered.
In fact, I just discovered one on the FMA.
TAGGED AS:holiday music
JoeMc on 12/16/2009 at 01:20PM
A couple weeks ago, the Cherry Blossom Clinic program with Terre T featured a live set by Dutch power pop band De Cylinders. Lest you think we've suddenly time traveled back to the Netherlands in 1980, let me assure you that this indeed took place in 2009. The band reformed recently and was playing its first ever shows in the United States. Luckily, they found time to stop by WFMU and play a snappy set of Amsterdam power pop for us.
De Cylinders perhaps would have remained a footnote for U.S. power pop fans rather than a living, breathing live band if it hadn't been for Sing Sing Records. Lately, this Brooklyn label has been giving an airing to some long-forgotten punk and power pop singles by pressing up shiny new plastic versions of the originals. Be sure to check out their catalog here and their fine blog. So far two of the three De Cylinders singles have received the Sing Sing reissue treatment.
The song I'm featuring today was the B-side of the band's first single and has become a bit of a theme song for some folks I know. Although the band members are a bit balder and greyer, they still play the power pop as if born to it. Vocalist Jolanda Markus, meanwhile, remains the band's most distinctive feature on wax and on stage.
JoeMc on 12/09/2009 at 01:58PM
The sad end of Marion Harris teaches us all a very important lesson:
Don't smoke in bed.
Back in 1944, the "Queen of the Blues Singers" fell asleep in the Hotel Marquis in New York City, ciggie still glowing, and by the next morning, there weren't just cigarette ashes for the maid to clean up.
It was a rather sad end, but maybe not so surprising given the run of bad luck Harris had in the years that followed the heyday of her career. In the span of a few years, she broke her jaw in a fluke accident, her house in London was firebombed by the Nazis with her and her husband still in it, and she developed a neurological disorder that sent her on that fateful trip to New York.
Twenty years before World War II, however, Marion Harris was one of the most popular singers in America, a woman who not only was the first to record some of the defining standards of the American songbook ("After You've Gone," "It Had to Be You," and "The Man I Love" among them), but who also was among the first white women to record jazz and blues songs when "race" records were considered off-limits to proper young ladies.
Have a listen to Marion's "I'm a Jazz Vampire" and then read on for more about her life and career.
JoeMc on 11/05/2009 at 12:15AM
Some days, nothing else will do but something funky, something that sends that warm flush from your head down to your feet. There's this great band from Austin, Texas that maybe you haven't heard about yet. They're called Brownout, and a recent track of theirs that popped up on the FMA gave me that special feelin' this week. Check it out: "Olvidalo" from their new record Aguilas and Cobras. See below for more about the band.