Night Music clips on yootoob

Surprising music show, maybe the coolest ever, even. And in the ’80s, of all places. I just happened to think there might be better clips on the internet by now than I could find on my couple of moldering video tapes. And sure enough, here’s
one treasure trove:

And the preview, some Funky Chicken. (I thought Rufus was my ‘celebrity sharing a birthday’, but all his bios I’m seeing now say a day earlier). But there’s so much more. Pharoah Sanders. NRBQ. Loudon. Toots. Bootsy. And, People who weren’t even alive.

PABL009 – Yola My Blues Away – Skip James (1931)

How many copies of the same records does a person need? When it comes to those mysterious and timelessly great Paramount blues records of the late ’20’s, as many as it takes. Back when we started listening to them, there would be only one source available and it would be barely audible. But, there’s no doubt that the very challenge of hearing through all those pops, crackles and hisses made us hear all the more for the effort. And the enshrouding noise enhanced the romance and air of mystery. But despite all that, there remained the nagging questions about just what notes were being played on those distant guitars; and the enduring fantasy: what if I could be there and really hear Charley Patton play and sing?

The earliest re-releases of the 78’s generally involved turning the treble down to reduce the scratchiness. Sometimes way too far down. They pre-digital Yazoo releases sometimes did different eq’s on each side of the stereo groove, sometimes to good effect. That label had the best releases, and to my ear still does a lot of the time. They get access to the best originals, and use good turntables and stylii (current transfer masters have many custom stylii of different diameters to touch different parts of the groove wall so they can find the sweet spot on different records), getting the best out of the mechanical processes before going digital.

Some of the biggest disappointments have been releases from the Columbia Roots & Blues series, which was so exciting because they actually have the original metal master parts in their vaults. But, in spite of working from these pristine sources, they seemed to feel the need to over-process, with the decisions left too much to the software, until every last trace of noise is gone but with much of the feel of the music along with it. The sound is thin and, to me, often annoying.

Well, here’s yet another guy jumping into the digital remastering pool, and with yet another approach and to different effect. Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio is working over a number of the greats.

http://www.pristineaudio.co.uk/

He is doing what he calls ‘digital heavy lifting’, working over individual phrases and moments in detail. Patching broken waveforms, working detailed multiple eq’s to try to make the guitar sound like what he thinks the guitar would have sounded like in person. In other words, remaking the record rather than trying to present it as is in best condition. These opposed approaches have advocates who will argue the issue in great detail at endless length. I’ll listen to both and wonder.

These records feature selections, rather than the ‘complete in chronological order’ programs that some labels attempt. He doesn’t have access to those ‘best copies available’ original discs, and has to content himself to working from other peoples’ transcriptions from varying sources. That, unfortunately, means that all that hard work is on top of a flawed foundation. Like all other versions before it, this can not be thought of as the ultimate. I’ll just have to keep buying every new remastering that comes along, I guess.

These records offer a listening experience that is decidedly worth pursuing, though. There are some nuances of the performance that are far easier to grasp than ever before. And, a great sense of presence to be sure. To my ear, there is just a bit of constriction to the sound; the Yazoo versions exist in a more natural ‘space’, and are ultimately slightly more satisfying emotionally. But, there are definitely revelations to be had from Mr. Rose’s Pristine work. And, if you’re trying to work out a Charley Patton guitar part, this might get you a little closer view of the genius.

Happy Birthday, Pete

Pete Seeger, 90 years old today. His generation (including my parents) seem to have the market on longevity (while my generation is dropping like flies, already); but not even that many of his fellow WWII survivors were out standing upright and playing the banjo in the freezing cold of this year’s January. Let alone doing it in front of the President-elect, in the city that tried to throw him in jail 55 years earlier.

Pete testifying:

The testimony:

http://www.peteseeger.net/HUAC.htm

Here’s one place playing some music for the occasion:
http://www.downhomeradioshow.com/2009/05/pete-seeger-turns-90-happy-birthday/
I don’t have the time or strength to write the book on Pete right now. Heck, that would mean catching up with what he’s been up to, when there’s no one who could even keep up with him. There was a very nice biography on him broadcast on PBS last year, and it showed me many things about his life I had either never heard or forgotten over the years. I guess he never much focused on telling us his own story, except as it related to his telling of other people’s stories, and their telling of their own. By the end of the movie, I was saying, “I take back any of the nasty things I’ve had to say about Pete over the years.” Not that I ever stopped being his fan, but I certainly saw some weaknesses between when I got into the whole earlier folk movement in my early teens, and when I learned so much more about the more rootsy original versions that inspired it. Not that I would take kindly to any ignorant punk putting him down. But, sure, Pete’s blues weren’t that bluesy. His easy-going approach to other languages turned ‘mbube’ into ‘wimoweh’ in most of the world’s mind. he would choose ideology over aesthetics repeatedly.
Still, I see now, he is authentic as any of those sources. He has been the most whatever the heck he is that anyone could possibly be. He got every drop out of it. Unflagging effort, unsullied virtue, untiring seeking and sharing. Love, peace, justice, universal brotherhood of man. School drop-out, hobo, protester, cabin-building rural independant… if it weren’t for his shunning of drugs, alcohol and free sex he would indeed be the prototypical hippie.
One of the most amazing and mysterious things about his history is his effect on popular culture. he has spent most of his life not only not pursuing fame and commercial success, but attacking the very concepts. And yet, he keeps coming back to the ‘top of the charts’ decade after decade. Talk about the weeds cracking the sidewalk.
I guess there should be some mention of the star-studded spectacular, though I’m not that hot on it. He’s spending tonight at Madison Square Garden with Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder, etc. and certainly not that happy at the prospect. “I’ve already had too much publicity”, he says. But, it’s going to raise a lot of money for his pet project of keeping a sloop sailing the Hudson, raising awareness for its’ cleanup. He had this idea a long time ago; and it happened.