Giant Donut Discs ® – December 2017

31. 12. 2017 | Rubriky: Articles,Giant Donut Discs

[by Ken Hunt, London] This column brings together Maniucha Bikont and Ksawery Wójcinski, Jackson Browne, Olivia Chaney, Tracy Chapman, B.J. Cole/Emily Burridge, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Sandy Denny, Johnny Hallyday, Helena Matuszewska & Marta Sołek and, take a deep breath, Lars Moller & Aarhus Jazz Orchestra featuring The Danish Sinfonietta & Abhijit Banerjee. Now exhale. Apologies for the reminiscing so much.

WaxwingOlivia Chaney

One Wednesday this October gone, Olivia Chaney and I met at Kew Gardens station. We had been writing to each other because we had a friend staying with us whose singing and artistry had been a real influence on her. On her collaboration with the Decemberists called Queen of Hearts (2017), she sings a song from the repertoire of Anne Briggs. That was the impetus to me asking whether she fancied meeting Anne. I had a hunch they might enjoy meeting.

And that was why the three of us spent an excellent day at the botanical gardens at Kew walking and talking until dusk approached and the temperature began to drop. We adjourned wisely to the Tap On The Line, the pub at the station exit on the Kew Gardens side. There we continued talking, sharing ideas and making connections until past nightfall.

Waxwing is a song by Alasdair Roberts, arranged by Chaney, on her debut solo album, The Longest River. “Waxwing, waxwing, what do you bring/From the frozen north?/Waxwing, waxwing, we’ve been waiting on you.” The song and its subject matter have a number of personal resonances foe me. One time in Robin Hood’s Bay on the Yorkshire coast with Lal Waterson and her husband George Knight, as we crested the top of the steep hill from the pub, I heard birds calling. They caused me to train my ears to pinpoint the source of the unfamiliar voice. They were waxwings in all their elegant winter finery. I referred to that incident in the article about Lal Waterson with a rara avis link.

Alasdair Roberts’ song also has references to amber – “I bring the amber that I have gathered/On the northern seashore…” and “We have no need, no need of your amber,/Likewise your gold and your jewels…” Those lines wafted me back to exploring Prague in the early 1990s and Václavské náměstí. Back then Wenceslas Square had many Cold War hangovers. One was Polish shop selling amber jewellery. From The Longest River (Nonesuch 7559-79562-7, 2015)

Epilogue: Mumbai FootprintsLars Møller & Aarhus Jazz Orchestra feat. The Danish Sinfonietta & Abhijit Banerjee

This track is unique on this Danish-Indian album as it is the sole performance that doesn’t feature the primary Indian soloist, the violinist Kala Ramnath. Its launch pad is Lars Møller taking on the jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s composition Footprints from Adam’s Apple (1966). It is a composition that has figured periodically in Møller’s career. The combination of Abhijit Banerjee’s tabla and Jonas Johansen’s kit drums underpins the performance rhythmically. The soloist on electric guitar is Thor Madsen and his playing is simply divine. It’s not the most obvious track to choose, I confess. From Glow of Benares (Dacapo Records 8.226115, 2017)

Stand By MeTracy Chapman

This song appears on the remastered Greatest Hits album in a live version from The Late Show with David Letterman recorded on 16 April 2015. It is a solo version of the Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller song. Just electric guitar and voice. It distills the sound that turned my head about her.

When her eponymous debut album appeared in 1982 was released I reviewed it for Folk Roots and I have a dim memory of reviewing her major London show at the Royal Albert Hall for the same magazine. Too many decades of writing and too much auto-erase after reviewing to remember. (How many times have heard my words quoted as if for the first time of hearing them?) Tracy Chapman’s interpretation is lower-key than John Lennon’s but it is also moreish. From Greatest Hits (Elektra 081227950132, 2015)

GonionyHelena Matuszewska & Marta Sołek

This is the opening track of Helena Matuszewska (right above) and Marta Sołek’s interdisciplinary instrumental work, Projekt.Kolberg. The surname in the title is a reference to Poland’s celebrated ethnographer Oskar Kolberg (1814-1890), one of the folklorists of the Slav lands who shone light on the riches of their homelands. The album fell into my lap through an introduction to Marta Sołek one bright June day in 2016 in the Imperial Castle in Poznań, the palace popularly called Zamek.

The chain of events that led up to that meeting had begun at the Colours of Ostrava in the Czech Republic in July 2014. I had an invitation to attend the festival – one of Europe’s greatest music festivals – and that led to doing a bit more public speaking than originally touted because I wound up talking to Emilíana Torrini and 9Bach as part of the festival. Unbeknownst to me it proved to be one of the most life-changing festivals of my time on the planet. Not merely for the music and the festival but especially for the people I got to know there. One, for example, was the Canadian writer Paul Wilson whose life was entwined with Czechoslovakia’s punk-tinged rock group, the Plastic People of the Universe. On our hotel terrace in Ostrava over successive nights a bunch of us, festival directors, agents, musicians and writers met after the festival. We drank wine or whatever and drank deep of music and poetry. One night, though how it came about exactly is lost, Wilson and I talked about raga and the Plastic People of the Universe.

Bear with me, I’m getting to the point. Another of the people I first met at Colours of Ostrava was the Polish man-about-town Mateusz Dobrowolski. Two years later we met again at Ethno Port Poznań. He introduced me to Marta. She gave me this album. I listened to some of it that night after the festival and couldn’t believe my ears.

Goniony translates as Chased. On it Helena plays the suka, Poland’s unique fiddle bowed and played upright, using fingernail technique. Marta fiddle and cello. The melody is gorgeous, a folk dance the delivery of which is like something out of an  Early Music repertoire. From Projekt.Kolberg (Karrot Kommando KK80, 2015)

Almost Cut My Hair – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Steve Silberman in the booklet notes to this 3CD anthology of the work of David Crosby says how this track (which originally appeared on the band’s 1970 Déjà Vu LP) “can seem like hippie kitsch now”. It’s a good line. Administrations and regimes come and go but some take longer to go and outlive several lifetimes. Choosing this piece of “paranoia and defiance” (referring to Crosby’s delivery) fitted. I got a heavy cold for Christmas, my winter haircut trim went wrong. And this song kept playing in my head over and over.

Crosby for all his faults, many and various, has been a consistent influence beginning with the Byrds but via this outfit and his solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name… through to the present. Plus Crosby is a dream interviewee, experience has taught me. From Voyage (Atlantic/Rhino 8122-77628-2, 2006)

Out of the Blue No 2B.J. Cole/Emily Burridge

An introduction from the Canadian singer and songwriter Bonnie Dobson whose curious ears seldom do other than amaze me. She amazes me because I thought I listened to a fair amount of music. This is a composition by Emily Burridge. It opens this duo album of pedal steel and cello duets. The artwork says this is a “limited edition”. Its music is quite outside the norm. Other pieces are house arrangements of Satie, Purcell and Copland. From Into The BlueDuets for pedal steel guitar and cello (BJEM01, 2015)

Lives In The BalanceJackson Browne

This song of Jackson Browne’s has been around for a fair few years and down the decades I have written a fair few words about it. It is about “secret wars” and coffers filled. The band here is Browne, Althea Mills and Chavonne Stewart on vocals. The rest of the band is Bob Glaub on bass, Greg Leisz and Val McCallum on guitars, Mauricio Lewak on drums and Jeff Young on keyboards. A refreshing take on a song, the relevance of which has not diminished in the slightest. From The Road EastLive In Japan (Inside Recordings SICX 30050, 2017)

Oj borom, boromManiucha Bikont and Ksawery Wójciński

This was another tip-off. It is the nature of festivals that sometimes it is impossible to get to see even one’s prepared or proposed short list of acts appearing at a festival. Maniucha Bikont (vocals) and Ksawery Wójciński (bass, vocals) were not on my short list at Ethno Port Poznań for 2017 but that was more to do with fitting in work-related matters with essential socialising and interviewing for a 2018 article in fRoots.

When I am anywhere, regardless where, regardless how familiar or new a place is, I rely on people pointing me in the ‘right direction’ and at Poznań a friend I first met in 2016 called Wojciech Mania worked his magic at expanding my scant Polish education. I had missed the Bikont and Wójciński performance for some reason. At Wojtek’s recommendation, I bought this sumptuously packaged artefact released on the same label that put out Helena Matuszewska and Marta Sołek’s album mentioned above.

Musically speaking, the song, the album’s title track, knocked my socks off. The sonorities are astounding. “Through woods and birch forests a drunken boy is coming.” is how it opens. How it finishes is a story for another time. Plus I would like to think that something has been lost in translation. From Oj borom, borom… (Wodzirej ISBN 978-83-947498-0-4, 2017)

The Pond And The Stream (demo version)Sandy Denny

Associations. Thinking about Anne Briggs and Olivia Chaney brings me back to this song of Sandy Denny’s about Annie. Never had the privilege to meet Denny, though I saw her perform on numerous occasions with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay.

This song also wafts me back to conversations with Dave Swarbrick about Sandy Denny. Swarbrick died in June 2016 and his voice is still in my head. He and I had laughed like drains together throughout a friendship that had lasted decades. I visited him while he was in hospital. At this point he couldn’t speak. He wrote, “How’s it going to end” on a scrap of paper. I scribbled, “Busby Berkeley.” He cracked up.

Back to Sandy Denny. Additionally, Phil Smee’s design and artwork summons the spirit of Alfons Mucha so nicely. It hits the spot. From The Notes And The WordsA Collection of Demos and Rarities (Island Records/Universal 371 246-9, 2012)

Noir C’est NoirJohnny Hallyday

Rest in peace, Johnny Hallyday, born Jean-Philippe Léo Smet (1943-2017). Although this French version of Los Bravos’ hit Black Is Black isn’t exactly restful, it also reminds me of a long-running conversation with the English political songwriter Robb Johnson. The track reminds me of hitchhiking through France in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There would come a point during the midday heat when lifts dried up. Drivers were taking a break from the road and grabbing lunch. It was a cue to find a place to get a diabolo menthe (a soft drink made of peppermint cordial and lemonade) and some bread and cheese. Many of these bistros and bars had a jukebox. They provided a world of Aphrodite’s Child singing Rain And Tears, the Byrds doing Lady Friend and dozens of 45s by Johnny Hallyday and Françoise Hardy. This song was one of Hallyday’s from that period of my life, from a time when the kindness of strangers made such a lifelong impression on me.

Carla Bruni wrote a memory of Hallyday in The Observer, a UK Sunday broadsheet. Of all the things I read about him after his death, it was the one that stuck out, partly because she was communicating from a point of having got to know him privately. “One day, six or seven years ago, when my husband [the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy] was still in office, Johnny invited me to sing with him for a TV show. I was so thrilled to be asked. We sang this very beautiful song called Quelque chose de Tennessee, about Tennessee Williams. There is a talking part at the beginning, which I did. And then he started singing, and really it was like a storm coming into the studio. He was not so young then, and not so well, but his strength was completely intact. His voice actually got better as he got older, it was lower and had more blues in it – it was like a burning forest fire. It was a magical experience.”

Rester vivant (Stayin’ alive). From La Génération perdue (1966) and elsewhere.

Read the whole piece from 17 December 2017 at www.theguardian.com/music/2017/dec/17/carla-bruni-remembers-johnny-hallyday-observer-obituaries-2017

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