Seven Deadly Sins
Bill Russo & His Orchestra Seven Deadly Sins LP (Roulette, 1960)
Some more Third Stream music for you and if this has a bit of the Kenton sound to it, consider that Bill Russo had a four year stint in Stan Kenton's band, playing trombone and writing. Russo also was high school pals with the great Lee Konitz and studied with Lennie Tristano. On the classical side of things, he was taught by John Becker, a student of Charles Ives. Add to that the time in which this record was made, the tail end of the era of noir jazz, and you have a great listen.
I am sure that this record went over big with the Playboy crowd (an editor of the mag penned the liner notes), as it has that swank yet sophistocated sound to it, the kind of tunes you put on the reel-to-reel while you fix a Manhatten for the well stacked miss you dragged into your split level pad. You are hoping that the combination of booze and admiration for your high but not too high brow musical tastes, as well as the copies of the New Yorker, Time, and Sports Illustrated on the coffee table, are gonna get her out of her skirt and you sans turtleneck. Better hurry up before Russo gets too brooding and she wants to talk Kierkegaard. Start blowing philosophy and you'll never get laid.
City of Glass / This Modern World
Stan Kenton City of Glass / This Modern World LP (Capital, 1952)
After years of ignoring Stan Kenton albums because I was under the impression that they were all Benny Goodman style big band romps, I picked up a copy of Cuban Fire! because I was just getting into Latin music and the cover was so damn cool. It is a pretty hot record, but I figured it was as wild as Kenton got. Not a chance. A couple years later I was given a stack of old records by a guy. "I heard you like records. My dad died, you can have these." The stack contained a Martin Denny album, some best of Monk, a bunch of shitty Melachrino Strings records, and this one by Stan Kenton. I listen to the Monk and spin the Martin Denny. About a week passes and I decide to check out the Kenton album. It has a cool cover, but so did the Melachrino Strings albums. Ah why not? I am alone in my apartment and no one is gonna come over tonight, let it spin. Gahhhhhhhhhh! A couple minutes into the first song and I am so fucking anxiety ridden, I have to leave the room. I come back into the room and listen to the rest of the record standing! Up to that point I had listened to a lot of fucked up shit. I'd had sex to Throbbing Gristle. Slept to Whitehouse. Ate breakfast and read the paper while listening to Current 93's Dogs Blood Rising. None of that creeped me out or sent my nerves into a clench. But Kenton's City of Glass / This Modern World really freaked me out. The sound that came out of the speakers was not painful in a sense that it hurt the ears. Nah, City of Glass is composed like it was written while the composer chewed on a florescent light bulb. And perhaps he did.
You see, Kenton didn't birth the songs; he was just the person delivering them. The parent of these sounds was a buy named Robert Graettinger. Born in Southern California, Graettinger played music for a while, before giving it up to write. He was in his early 20s when he gave Kenton some songs. Kenton didn't know if they were brilliant or bullshit, but he recorded them anyway...and then took Graettinger on as staff. Graettinger rarely spoke to anyone besides Kenton. Even when Kenton took him on the road, he sat by himself. His diet consisted of scrambled eggs, vitamin pils, cigarettes, and booze. He hated to sleep, saying he'd have enough time to do that in the grave. He lived by himself in a filthy apartment above a garage, which he rarely left. He was tall and skinny, had caved in cheeks and was very very very pale. Many described him as "looking like death". He died of cancer at age 34. And he wrote some fascinatingly fucked up music.
Listen to this and you realize how radical Kenton was to not only record this stuff but to take Graetinger on as a writer! Especially when doing so nearly ruined Kenton's carreer. Needless to say, Kenton fans were not too happy with these sounds. A bit later, Kenton went back to standard jazz but for a while he had a good run of really wild records. This is one of them. If you want to read more about Kenton and Graetinger, check out Irwin Chusid's book Songs in the Key of Z.
Mike Simpson Jungle Odyssey LP (Evolution, 1966)
Let's start off the new year right, with a record that exemplifies everything that was right about the music industry from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, an era when the record labels had yet to gotten their sales down to a science. Not sure what the hell would take off, their release process was the musical equivalent of throw shit against the wall to see what stuck. This uncertainty lead to many sounds that would not have come about under a strict hits hits hits regime and resulted in a lot of records that probably "should have not" been made, Mike Simpson's Jungle Odyssey being one of them. A fusion of animal sound effects record and exotica, Jungle Odyssey is a very strange record when you think about it. The animal sounds on the record - elephant, hippo, hyena, monkey, etc. - are noises you market to kids. The music - heavy on the easy listening, light on the exotica - is adult territory. Sure, Martin Denny got away with jungle calls, but he also created a music that was a bit more than faux Enoch Light. The album cover isn't quite children's record, nor is it standard exotica. And the record label, Evolution, is one of the strangest that I've come across. Not that they release weird records, it is that none of the records they put out (at least the ones I've stumbled on) really fit snuggly in one genre. There is always something "wrong" about them. By the early 70s, labels like Evolution had either died or figured out a formula to market, and experimentation was left to those putting out private pressings and a handful of indie labels. Of course, the music industry got things wrong with assuming that the public's taste could be reduced to a science and are late to many new sounds. And fine by me, those blind spots enable indie labels to thrive.