João Gilberto – Chega de saudade

Chega de saudade

João GilbertoChega de saudade Odeon MOFB 3073 (1959)


Chega de saudade was an album credited as the being the very first in an entirely new genre: bossa nova.  João Gilberto was the genre’s true master, the epitome of its cool, detached, laid-back qualities, with a voice perfectly suited to the music and an often-imitated but never duplicated style on the guitar.  He is supported by some jazzy accompaniment.  It is complementary.  Yes, this is music of the well-off, but it is music of the most aware and sympathetic among them.  In an era before the LP format really came into its own, this is one of the early milestones.  It still sounds great more than a half-century later.  His next few albums, though still good, lacked the utterly effortless cool achieved here.  Then came international success with the excellent collaboration Getz / Gilberto.  Also check out Gilberto’s arguably best album, the eponymous 1973 effort  João Gilberto.

On Fidel Castro’s Death

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The Swan Silvertones – You Pray On

You Pray On

The Swan SilvertonesYou Pray On HOB HBX 2146 (1972)


A pretty mediocre album.  It’s in the soul-inflected style of It’s a Miracle.  However, producer John Bowden has done an absolutely atrocious job recording this.  The instruments seem incredibly muddy and indistinct.  At times the recordings are so murky that it seems like the instrumentalists are just plain out of sync with the vocalists.  The murkiness of this recording is just as bad as on In God’s Hands.

The Swan Silvertones – You’ve Got a Friend

You've Got a Friend

The Swan SilvertonesYou’ve Got a Friend HOB HBX 2156 (1973)


You’ve Got a Friend is among the more listenable of the albums The Swan Sivertones recorded for HOB Records.  The group has better success here melding their vocals with the instrumental backing than in subsequent years.  Of note is the increasingly prominent use of raw, slightly twangy electric guitar and rock-inflected organ.  Though there really are no standout tracks, the version of the gospel standard “Well, Well, Well” and covers of James Cleveland‘s “Prayer Will Move It” and the recently popular “You’ve Got a Friend” are nice.

The Swan Silvertones – I’ll Keep On Loving Him

I'll Keep on Loving Him

The Swan SilvertonesI’ll Keep On Loving Him HOB HOB LP 2172 (1974)


A solid effort.  Longtime member John Myles was still around for this mid-1970s album, though his input seems to have been waning.  Louis Johnson and Sam Hubbard take lead vocal duties.  Most of these songs are respectable but not particularly remarkable.  The best of the bunch are the title track, the organ-drenched “Happy With Jesus Alone”, and “Life of a Sinner”.  The last of those finds Louis Johnson going much further than usual with some of his most subtly complex songwriting and arranging, with vocals punctuated by a somber horn and a jittery, rambunctious piano.  The group does seem to run a bit low on ideas in places.  So they borrow a guitar riff straight out of Al Green‘s “Love and Happiness” to open their version of “Leak in This Old Building”.  But generally The Swans bring enough energy to the table that it’s easy to let the album’s weaknesses slip by.  On the whole, this is a characteristic effort from the group’s tenure on HOB Records, and worth a listen for anyone with an interest in soul-inflected gospel.

The Swan Silvertones – Try Me Master

Try Me Master

The Swan SilvertonesTry Me Master HOB HOB LP 2182 (1975)


Try Me Master was the final album The Swan Silvertones released for HOB Records, and their last album with longtime member John Myles.  It’s a decent album for the period, with better production values than their many low-budget releases of the previous eight or nine years.  The group remakes their perennial favorite “Jesus Remembers” and adapts a few gospel standards.  The title track and “Please Help Me” (with keyboards a little like Joy Division‘s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” of all things) are the highlights.  The material is listenable throughout, if a little thin on side two.  Fans will probably enjoy this even though it doesn’t break any new ground.

Sun Ra – When Sun Comes Out

When Sun Comes Out

Sun Ra and His Myth Science ArkestraWhen Sun Comes Out El Saturn LP 2066 (1963)


Though a bit patchy in places, Calling Planet Earth is an unequaled showcase for the Arkestra’s mighty sax section of John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Marshall Allen and Danny Davis.  Sun Ra had a harder time recruiting brass players after relocating to New York City.  But the move actually strengthened the sax lineup, as Patrick came back into the fold–he tears up his solo on “Calling Planet Earth.”  [side note: Pat Patrick had relocated to New York ahead of Ra and had left his family behind in Chicago, including his son and future Massachusetts governor Deval]

Juçara Marçal – Encarnado

Encarnado

Juçara MarçalEncarnado (self-released) (2014)


Comes across vaguely like a low-budget version of Tom Zé‘s Vira Lata na Via Láctea (2014), with more conventionally pretty vocals.  Marçal is an excellent vocalist.  The album’s major limitation is the “math rock” guitar style of Kiko Dinucci and Rodrigo Campos (Dinucci appeared as a guest on the Zé album), which more often than not uses the raw repetition of riffs as a way to cover up a general lack of ideas.  The experimentalism of the music also falls prey to self-indulgence at times.  Yet Marçal has a way of making just about anything she sings captivating, which often counteracts the overbearing (and mostly boring) guitar.  The album improves somewhat in the second half, with shorter songs that have less guitar (and sometimes when it appears, it is more as a novelty and a contrast or change-of-pace, rather than with a serious “rock” sound, which works better).  There are a few promising aspects to this album (especially the songs “João Carranca” and “Canção Pra Ninar Oxum”), but for the most part it seems insufficiently thought-through and burdened by the very mediocre guitar playing.

Esperanza Spalding – Esperanza

Esperanza

Esperanza SpaldingEsperanza Heads Up International HUCD 3140 (2008)


I suppose I’m spoiled in having heard strong female artists like PJ Harvey, tUnE-yArDs.  Esperanza Spalding is not one of those women.  On Esperanza she accedes to a rather bland, established formula for vocal jazz, with hushed, breathy vocalizations, and warm, soft and non-confrontational backing, with a lot of rather vague third world-isms laced through.  It comes across as something between Sade and Diana Krall, with the kind of emphasis on lightweight pop rather than jazz that Norah Jones established as the dominant commercial form.  The lyrics here are banal, though there seems to be little attempt to make them the focus.  The album has finely crafted production values, but Spalding makes no attempt to establish her own voice.  She plays bass competently but not remarkably.  This album just drifts by without making its mark.