Friday, December 30, 2005

Ensemble Ambrosius
Finland's fabulous Ensemble Ambrosius

Just a quick note as NYE barrels down upon us and I drill myself on the melody and words to my vocal selection, "What Are You Doing New Year's." It's not a bad song; it might be amusing, toward the end of a pious Christmas program, particularly if I were more than just wishfully Jewish. Singing the song *ON* New Year's Eve itself makes no sense to me at all, but predictably enough, no one's asking for my opinion.

One takes one's New Year's Eve employment where one can, and tomorrow mine will be on the outskirts of Sacramento, playing for the contra dancers there. A world away from my old milieu of martinis and neon, the contra dance is proof that nerds need someplace to flirt, too. But I digress.

I recently had the chance to view "Downfall," a great, recent German film about the 1945 fall of Berlin, seen from the vantage of a politically apathetic German stenographer. I can't quite reconcile my keen, lifelong interest in World War Two with not knowing until now that Finland's army did deal a decisive blow to the forces trying to hold Berlin against Russia's invasion. Thank you, Finland.

Ensemble Ambrosius is a septet of Finnish classical musicians whose early-music group scored a minor hit with their transcriptions of music by Frank Zappa. The performances are nearly flawless, yet pulsating with vigor and rich with expression. It would seem these youngsters really LOVED their Zappa. I love what they've done with it. You can buy this record online with US Dollars now.

Ensemble Ambrosius
I said "LOVED" because I'm told they've moved on to concentrate on presenting their own compositions, and may be sore over a dissipation of their popular acclaim. Still, those of us who hoped for so much when the classical world began to play Zappa's music have much, at last, for which to be grateful. Thank you, Finland.

Inca Roads (excerpt) - Ensemble Ambrosius
Ensemble Ambrosius home page

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Old Puppy
Old Puppy At SF Ferry Building

The guy standing, who looks like he's wearing his band uniform under duress, is Billy Wilson, and this is his band, Old Puppy. It's an outgrowth of our old duet, UKEBOX, which gives this web log its name. Making a unique supergroup are the added talents of Kurt Stevenson (more about whom in this log's November archive) and the singular Pete Devine on percussion. Pete played hatbox percussion on Billy's CD YUKETIDE: A Ukebox Christmas.

Old Puppy's Christmas list has one thing on it: a weekly regular for four, playing for brunch diners. What do you think, Santa?

(I'll be hawking YUKETIDE down at the busker's spot in front of Peet's on Fourth Street in Berkeley until Christmas is over, from eight to eleven am. The gendarmerie unplug amplifiers, but so far, not in the morning.)

Old Puppy Nabolom
Old Puppy At Nabolom Bakery Christmas Eve Morning
Left to right: Billy Wilson, Steven Strauss, Cynthia Wilson

Old Puppy - Where Or When
YUKETIDE - (Funky) Silent Night

Monday, December 19, 2005

Jack Teagarden

When it comes to natural, unaffected trombone playing, the certified wonder of the trad jazz world was Jack Teagarden. His lovely and talented sister Norma, a jazz pianist I had the honor of accompanying on string bass a few times in the eighties, was quoted as saying her brother could tick off the harmonic overtones of a thunderclap. That he would think to do such a thing paints a portrait of a man posessed by his awe of music.

Through the generosity of my long time jazz friend "Fiddle Ray" Landsberg I offer for your enjoyment this simmering two-sided release of the swing perennial "Ise A Muggin." Side A gives us the song, a chance to strut some persuasively rhythmic syllables in tribute to the viper's alma mater. Side B is largely taken up with a droll bandstand lesson in, perhaps, gambling, and a demonstration of a number counting game that starts out goofy and goes up from there. If you try to play along with the game it will give your brain a stretch, which will make it harder to keep from laughing. "Somebody sang it and the song was born." Join in, won't you?

(Somebody told me under "religion" in Charlie Parker's passport it said "musician." Do you think this could be true?)

Ise A Muggin - Jack Teagarden

Monday, December 12, 2005

Young Red Sovine

Here's the only version of this song I've gotten to know. Seems there are a lot of covers of this song; I think somebody said Alec Plankton (?) had a big hit on this one, way back when. For my money this is a Red Sovine song, top to bottom.

Lay Down Sally - Red Sovine

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Eric and Suzy Thompson
Eric and Suzy Thompson have been two of the best friends a folkie can have. They've introduced me to some of the best musicians I've ever played with, and they themselves are in the front of that number. Each of them has graced my upcoming album of 'ukulele instrumentals with their unique and distinguished string manipulations, and I'm grateful for their gifts.

In a long-forgotten and enchanted time, when September Eleven was Stacey Street's birthday, I got to participate in the recording of a modest gem of modern jug band performance. Fourth Street Messaround is a CD Eric and Suzy Thompson produced at home with the engineering talents of Brendan Doyle. The band, dubbed The Todalo Shakers, augments the essential Thompson kernel with the musical talents of W. B. Reid on six-string banjo and Frannie Leopold on guitar. All sing. I was brought in with the challenge of using a bow on my string bass to evoke the deep, slippery sound of a big stone jug.

The Todalo Shakers
I love the results. Below I've posted a link to the title track, which features a spooky ending that gives me a chill no matter how many times I hear it.

Under that I have a link to Eric and Suzy's home page, and a link to one of their Todalo Shakers pages. Five more Todalo Shakers tunes to listen to when you get there. Be a good sort, then. There you go.

Fourth Street Messaround - The Todalo Shakers

Web site of Eric and Suzy Thompson
Eric and Suzy's Todalo Shakers pages

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Art Fowler And His Ukulele
I thought it would be a good idea to share an exceptional recording, a rare example of a uke-strumming singer whose appeal is almost entirely musical. He's not pouring on the charm in the manner of the master entertainer, but he's really delivering an adroit and nuanced performnce. He makes it sound mighty easy.

No Wonder She's A Blushing Bride - Art Fowler And His Ukulele

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Beth Custer
Beth Custer, composer, clarinet goddess, called this morning while I was at a rehearsal at Max Ventura's. She wanted me to sign a letter she's sending to Kurt Weill's people, explaining that she can't send them the score for my setting of Song Of The Brown Islands (it's about Petroleum!) because I misplaced the pages. So we just met around the corner over mint tea; I signed the letter, and Beth gave me a copy of her clarinet quintet's new CD, "agony pipes and misery sticks." This is track nine of sixteen; on vinyl it would open side two.

Beth's web site is an inspiration to me. Use the link in my right sidebar and check out her awesomeness. When her home page comes up, you hear a subtly funky groove, then she starts singing to you as if from the next pillow, huskily urging you to wake up and piss a ring around yourself because the world is on fire. The subject of the song? OIL.

I didn't even ask her permission to post this track, but it's not as though anyone who personally knew and loved Kurt Weill is going to pay for their kid's tuition with the money they're charging her for playing his tune on her album.

Like a dork, I gave her the URL of this blog before the air kisses. I had her write it down. Hi, Betty.

Das Lied Von Den Braunen Inseln - Clarinet Thing

Enclosed please find an improvised (mostly) duet for mandolin and 'ukulele, recorded in Berkeley by Derek Bianchi. This comes from "Strings And Wings," Radim Zenkl's CD of improvised duets with players of every kind of stringed instrument Radim could get across from. In my sidebar to the upper right of this page I've placed a link to his home page, which will likely reward your visit.

Radim Zenkl
Don't hate the player: mandolin marvel Radim Zenkl

I'll edit this post soon and fill in some background. There's an angle. For now, though, just groove on the Stravinsky-inspired ancient Eurasia peasant vibe.

Tribal Callings - Radim Zenkl, mandolin, with Steven Strauss, 'ukulele

Radim Zenkl's home page

Monday, November 28, 2005

Kurteus Maximus
San Francisco's Kurt Stevenson is either the most trustworthy person playing beautiful guitar or the greatest guitar player you'd ever want with you in a tight spot. As far as I'm concerned, he is both. He backs up my electric 'ukulele playing so judiciously, you can't tell how hard I'm leaning on him. Recorded by the legendary Bruce Koball in the summer of two thousand four, we assay an obscure Chet Atkins take on a cajun two-step with our hat out in front of the Fourth Street Peet's Coffee in Berkeley (low notes from the 'cello of Mrs. Kerry Parker).

In my right sidebar there's a link to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about a project Kurt recently graced with one of his more obviously unusual talents. The reporter barely scratches the surface.

Cajun Stripper - Archer String Band