Monday, January 18, 2010

Big Brown Lozenges

My brother has put the film he and Sara made together a couple of years ago online. It's called Perennial and is a beautiful meditation on nature and a year in their life spent walking around Chicago (and Georgia) filming water and leaves and snow and ducks. Apparently there is a sequel in the works. I'm addicted to embedding, but you can see a larger version on the Vimeo site.

Perennial from Simon Hunt on Vimeo.

Simon would have to confirm this, but I think that might be my autoharp making a cameo on the soundtrack. Not played by me of course, but surely this justifies an associate producer credit!

Dust Out A Sound Boy

I can't seem to stop embedding things this month (got another one after this). Originally I was going to just post this song with little commentary, but then it struck me as an elegant illustration of Jamaican music's implicit argument against copyright. Recorded sometime in the early 1990s, Super Beagle's "Dust Out a Sound Boy" uses the famous Stalag rhythm. If you're unfamiliar with the term 'rhythm' (also spelled phonetically as riddim, but I will never be comfortable doing that), we're more or less talking about the music that backs the vocal, especially the bassline melody. Rhythms are endlessly recycled in reggae and there are some that are more than forty years old that are still in use; Stalag is from 1974 and was originally produced by Winston Riley, who also produced Super Beagle's take.

The infinite creativity of the rhythm phenomenon is already an argument against copyright; though the penury of all but a very small number of people in the JA music business should give pause to anti-copyright activists looking to idealize the situation. Super Beagle complicates the situation even further by basing his vocal melody on perhaps the most famous rhythm of all, Real Rock, and borrowing the lyrical structure from perhaps the most famous version of that rhythm, Willie Williams's "Armagideon Time". Non-reggae fans might know that song from The Clash's cover of Williams's classic, which was recorded in 1980 at Studio One where the original "Real Rock" was recorded thirteen years earlier by Studio One's house band Sound Dimension. Somewhat to my surprise, the New York Times has a nice little history of Real Rock here.

So, in addition to serving as argument against taking an overly assiduous approach to enforcing copyright, "Dust Out a Sound Boy" also encapsulates what can be both daunting and fascinating about trying to ground yourself in the history of Jamaican music--and I didn't even explain what a 'sound boy' is or who Fuzzy Jones, whose voice you hear introducing the song, is.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

R.I.P. Vivian Jackson

Dance Crasher is reporting the very sad news that reggae producer/singer Vivian Jackson, aka Yabby You, has died. As a fan of many musicians who were active in the 1970s, it feels like one of my idols passes away every month or so, though, given the depressing number of Jamaican artists who died at a young age, part of me is mostly grateful that they got to live long enough to see their legacy shown some appropriate reverence. Jackson was a relatively unsung producer until the now sadly defunct Blood & Fire label began reissuing his work. Their Jesus Dread compilation--the name derives from Jackson's unique religious outlook which combined elements of Rastafarianism with more orthodox Christian beliefs--is one of the very best releases in B&F's peerless discography.

Here is "Conquering Lion" from 1972; the chorus gave Jackson his nickname.

I also quite like Big Youth's deejay version on the same rhythm. And this King Tubby dub version of "No Tarry Yah" sung by Tony Tuff is another favorite.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bridge Carols

It won't be out until February 9, but below you can listen to the new album, Bridge Carols, from Laura Gibson and Ethan Rose (you can preorder the album and download an mp3 on their site). Beautiful and bewitching, the album is the evocative result of Laura's lovely, haunting voice being processed through and juxtaposed with Ethan's electro-acoustic sorcery.

As some of you already know, Ethan is an old friend of mine--though I've been woefully inadequate at staying in touch with him the last couple of years--and even when we were young teenagers I had a hunch he was some kind of genius. His other albums are all excellent too, and it breaks my heart that I was never able to make it to Transference, his amazing-looking collaboration with glass artist Andy Paiko at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, OR.

Monday, January 4, 2010

More Good News

I can't honestly say I have the background to fully understand the implications of the American Law Institute's decision to cease its support for the death penalty, but this New York Times article sure makes it sound pretty momentous: "What the institute was saying is that the capital justice system in the United States is irretrievably broken."

In less important news, the MPAA has absolved itself of over forty years of sinning by being instrumental in not making me see a computer-generated alien sex scene (in 3-D!) in Avatar. Okay, this is of a piece with the MPAA's generally depressing stance that it's bad for teenagers to see people have sex with each other but super awesome to see them die violently, but still: in this one instance, I think they might actually have been right.