Music Matters

I’m messing about in between other projects with two new websites, after all it’s not that having five already plus twitter, instagram and livejournal is enough, right? Neither are really active yet, one just needs a final kick and some config work, news4tri.com will take over from my livejournal as a source to post triathlon commentary.

The second, ctproduced.com will be my music website. The goal being to post as much information as I can about every album and CD I own that was produced by the legendary producer, Creed Taylor.  That currently numbers some 230 albums, allowing for duplicates.

The basic layout will be a simple picture per release, which when selected would take the user to a more detailed page about the release. Each page would include pictures, some form of audio sample, links to youtube tracks, information pulled from discogs etc.

In playing around, I’ve been posting links on instagram and twitter under my “Vinyl to digital:” meme.

I’m looking for feedback. Does a single graphic with some basic information seem interesting enough? What additional detail would be useful on that first page? If you click on the image below, it will take you to an instagram post. The idea being the same sort of post for detail about the album, only more commentary, more detail, and hopefully if I can get the samples and licenses right, more audio tracks.

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Leave a comment below, send email to the usually address, let me know what you think, ideas you have.

White Lies – podcast to follow Serial?

I have listened to the first two episodes of the new “White Lies” podcast, and have no qualms about claiming it is the next big podcast for me.

The podcast covers the death of James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister living in Boston. Reeb heard of the call by Martin Luther King Jr. for clergy across the country to come to Selma, after the day, hundreds of African Americans had gathered in Selma to march to the state capital and demand the right to vote and been brutally pushed back from the  Edmund Pettus Bridge by Alabama state troopers .
That day, Reeb bought a plane ticket, read his daughters a bedtime story and his wife drove him to the airport. They would never see him alive again. The story of Reeb is what this podcast is about. More accurately it is about who killed him and the lies that sprung up to protect the people that did it.
The NPR White Lies website makes great use of modern browser technology to lay out what happened, the story so far has used the best journalism and storytelling that NPR has. Take a look at the website, here is to the rest of the podcast being as good as the first two episodes. And no, as of today, May 24th 2019, you can’t binge listen.

 

Paranoimia

No, this isn’t a political post, it’s a blatant attempt to launch myself into the ring tone provider market(not!)

As I continue to ramble, sometimes alphabetically, through my 2000+ vinyl album collection, this had been sitting staring at me.

MaxheadroomMpegMan[1]It cleaned up nicely, and after editing, the tonality seemed pretty good. I’ve done a few personal ringtones before, it’s not complicated. This begged for one and here it is, wrappered at both ends by the iconic triangle. At 23-seconds its a bit on the long side, but still in “fair use” scope.

AI straight at you from 1985.

What I want to know is why are the only funny lines on this show, are the ones behind me?

Here’s MAX!

It’s Friday: The Soul Jazz Funk of Kudu

Hey, it’s Friday, I’m going to post a mix every Friday now of music that I like. At least for now, I’ll be posting link to other peoples mixes, but my aim is start putting together my own.

As I continue through my “Vinyl to Digital” project, I’ve be listening to some great jazz. So my mix for this week.

Vinyl the perfect archive medium?

As I continue to digitize my entire 2,000+ album collection, I’m constantly amazed by the quality and durability of Vinyl recordings.IMG_20190308_100641

It’s true that I have the really poor quality stuff yet to come, as part of a dj lot of 90’s trance/techno 12-inch singles, some without covers, and many that were sat in damp or wet conditions. The general usability of vinyl is amazing. Have a listen to this sample from Quincy Jones first album, the track is called: A Sleepin’ Bee

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Quincy Jones, recorded in 1956, probably pressed 1957.

The album is “This is how I feel about jazz“. It was recorded in 1956 exactly 1-year before I was born. It’s a mono recording, and this sample was taken from the album I own, a first pressing. admittedly I’ve cleaned and digitally enhanced the recording I made of the album. You can see pictures of the album and the actual vinyl on the entry in discogs via the link above.

I have working players and readers for most media that I’ve ever worked with and owned. I don’t have working computer tape drives, the sort that we used on mainframes from the 60’s to the early 2000s, or the modern versions. Nor do I have an IBM Mass Storage System for a couple of the cartridges I own. Also missing from my collection is a Videocassette Player(VCR). Although I could get one, I have no interest in collecting video tapes. “Videos” as they became known are perhap the worst example of home tape use(more on this later).

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Reel-to-Reel Tape

I do have two working reel-to-reel tape decks; a working dual cassette recorder/player; an 8-track player/recorder; a diskette drive: numerous CD, DVD drives and players; heck I even have a videodisc. All those formats though have their problems. Anything based on magnetic media, which would include tapes, cassettes and 8-tracks, as well as diskettes, can easily be ruined by putting them near or on top of something with a strong motor which destroys the magnetic encoding.

They also suffer from read errors. Almost anything that uses tape, uses a rubber or silicone wheel to move the tape. They often usually need a form of tension to hold them in the right place to pass over the head in order to be read. The wheels are destined to either attract dirt, or worse, cleaning with the incorrect fluid, which causes the material on the wheel to become “sticky” or decompose, which causes the tape to stick to it and jam. Tape itself is also prone to decomposition, and wear. It’s not unusual to pick up old cassette or reel-to-reel tapes that have the magnetic material flaking off.

Early “floppy” discs if stored correctly, are still useable, but since they have such small amounts of digital storage, really have no practical use. Yes, you can still get 3.5-inch diskettes and a drive, and the drivers are still embedded in Windows 10. The same can’t be said for 5 1/4-inch and 8-inch floppy discs. Again, these have so little space they are of no practical use today.

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CD, DVD, Laserdisc

Once we moved to laser based read/write heads and optical discs, a whole new era of problems opened-up. CD’s sold as the perfect solution and virtually indestructible, but in practise, they were so convenient they are used everywhere, and the surface quickly became scratched. While they can be re-polished and even re-surfaced, the problem with anything digital is that you depend on the error recovery built into the drive, and if it cannot read the data, and as explained in this video, be error corrected, the optical disc data just can’t be read. If the drive won’t read it, you can’t get at the data in order to correct it.

I have a eight professionally produced and manufactured DVD’s from the early 2000’s that are on triathlon training. I decided it was time to see if they could be sold on ebay. Before listing them, I decided to play each one and ensure it was OK. The oldest of the DVD’s wouldn’t read on the external drive I use for my laptop, no matter what I tried, including simple repairs. It does play in a dedicated blu-ray DVD player. Frustrating.

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The rough end of my collection – 90’s DJ vinyl

However, vinyl records always play, even if only poorly. Records suffer from four types of problems, each of which can be corrected, either digitally, or physically.

The first is surface noise and clicks. Basic surface noise is easily removed provided you can find a section of the record that has noise and no music or sound. You simply sample the noise and tell the software, in my case, the excellent open source Audacity, to remove all noise as sampled. Clicks can also be removed, sometime just by software, other times by digitally editing the wave form, for the very small time period, reducing the amplification to the point where the click isn’t heard.

Second, jumps. Where a record is scratched, if the scratch is deep enough, instead of the stylus gliding along the track, the scratch causes the stylus to jump one more more tracks. You can’t physically correct these, but given a digital copy, you can replace the bits. Small, identical sections, for example a few seconds from a chorus and can be cut and pasted over the original jump section. If that’s not possible, again, you can adjust the amplification to make the jump almost unnoticeable.

When listening to music tracks, unlike processing digital data, or watching digital TV, at least in my experience, the faint sound of a jump is often missed as you are immediately processing/hearing the sound that follows.

Third are warps. A significant warp or bend in a record requires careful heat treatment. I’ve had hit and miss with this, but on the couple of albums I’ve tried, I was able to heat and flatten the vinyl to the point where it was playable, and then required time to digitally correct the sound defects. Given the availability of cheap vinyl records on @discogs and ebay, it’s often worth just buying another copy.

If you do decide to go down this route, you’ll need to carefully heat with a hairdryer, and then be prepared to weight in down with a heavy weight that is totally flat, like gym weights. Also it requires only very little heat and a lot of weight and, and time. I’ve taken two plus hours and yes, I’ve ruined a few by overheating, which causes the grooves to collapse. The warp will be gone, but so is the groove.

The final form of damage is a crack in the vinyl. Success here depends on the original type of record. Shellac 78’s are easily glueable these days. It requires care and any seepage above the surface must be removed. It’s common the hear a loud pop as the needle passes over the crack on each revolution. The pops can be removed digitally. And, yes, I do have a number of 78’s.

Repairing singles/45’s if they have one crack, is often not necessary. 45’s tend to be thinner vinyl, you can place the record on the turntable, and assuming you have a felt or cork matt, gently push down on both sides of the crack and then play it and remove the pops digitally. Albums and singles can be glued. It’s better if you can, to glue just the edges and allow the capillary effect to get some of the glue into the actual crack.

And that’s it. Apart from a couple of records that I failed to fix the warp on, I’ve never had a vinyl record I couldn’t make a passable digital copy of. If you are interested in some ideas of how to physically recover, restore, rescue vinyl records, John Manship from the UK has some great tips.

I have no plan to sell my vinyl when finished. They’ll just sit there in the corner of the living room, looking great, and a perfect archive. You can follow my vinyl to digital journey here, on twitter.

Oh, one more thing. The ease of use and creation of CD’s also lead to massive counterfeit operations, and so while you might have thought that all the piracy action was online in digital files, it wasn’t. This case from 2018 year shows, one of the top sellers of CD’s on Amazon, was in fact selling fakes. You can read about it here or watch the news report here. So CD’s are easy to use, perhaps a little too easy!

And yes, there was a period where bootleg vinyl records were common, less so today but still worth taking great care if you are buying rare records.

The Opposite of Truth

If there is a betrayal of that trust [in public organizations], there is a crime. The opposite of truth is not just a lie, the opposite of truth is chaos.

The chaos that is in danger of bringing down the institutions we depend on, to deliver justice.

The final words of fictional character, Dr Nikki Alexander (Emilia Fox), in the finale of Season 22 of the BBC Series Silent Witness. Writers Virginia Gilbert and Michael Crompton have come up with one of those most memorable of TV moments. This is right up there with ACN ‘News Night’ anchor Will McAvoys speech of why America is not the greatest country in the world, written by Aaron Sorkin.

Trump, #BREXIT, et al. All seem to be creating chaos, by undermining the institutions, through the opposite of truth.

Remembering Terry Callier

Terry Callier
Terry Callier. Image by Johan Palmgren

Today is the 6th anniversary of the passing of Terry Callier.

I’ve been meaning to write this in time for the anniversary of his death for at least the past 3-years. After really enjoying his Hidden Conversations album [youtube playlist], I put it on my to-do list and here it is. I’ve tried not to just repeat all the other obituaries and rather make this more of a retrospective.

I don’t recall precisely when I became aware of Terry, sometime in the late 1990’s. Probably in some activity or performance around the 1998 release of his Timepeace album. My favorite Callier track, as I suspect many of his UK fan base was the eponymous Ordinary Joe, only bettered by the Nujabes 2005 album remix version.

Terry and his music reminded me why, and rekindled my love of soul music. His style, reminiscent in many ways of Gil-Scott Heron, lyrics often protest or love based. The ying/yang of soul music.

Callier, a Chicago native, he grew-up in the same Cabrini neighborhood as Major Lance, Jerry Butler, Ramsey Lewis and Curtis Mayfield also Charles Stepney, and via his early recording on Chess, house drummer Maurice White, who with Stepney went on to create the Earth, Wind and Fire sound and extravaganza. That area of Chicago was a petri dish for soul music. Callier though was largely undervalued and overlooked in the US. His style, his music, and his personality didn’t fit into a music business stereotype.

Part preacher, part activist, gentle soul, unassuming, and real Dad, Callier was renowned for making short term decisions based only on what was right. He effectively quit the music business in the mid-80’s to become a full time Dad and support his daughter who decided she wanted to stay in Chicago and attend high school there.

By the mid-90’s though, Callier got caught up in the whirlwind of being an American black musician is the UK. It’s something that happens to you, and for you, if you let it. Unlike the American music scene, where you still have to fit into a predetermined stereotype, and your music has to be classified within a narrow band, so it can be sold across a vast market. It Britain, your music has to be good, not exceptional, and YOU have to be adopted, and malleable enough to adapt to the your adopted market.

A great current example of this is Gregory Porter. He’s already Nationally famous in the UK, sells out the largest venues and can regularly be seen on TV. He is even front man for his own series on the BBC, Gregory Porters Popular Voices.

Callier was not just exceptionally authentic, after years of neglect by the US music industry, he was excited to absorb the admiration and inquisitive demand from the UK music industry, and especially the artists. Calliers music blossomed, not just his past work, but his future work. The story of how Acid Jazz founder Eddie Pillar contacted Callier and brought him back to music, is included in pretty much every write-up about Terry, including this obituary from his hometown paper, the Chicago Herald Tribune. In a Guardian article/interview by Tom Huron, following Calliers death in 2012, Pillar himself tells how this came about.

Hey, wassup? It’s Terry, Callier, I got a new way to flow for Ordinary Joe, you know!

and with those words, as he opened his return to music and introduction to the UK at a sold out 100 Club in London, 1991. In the years that followed via both label agreements, and through exposure getting absorbed into the emerging UK hip-hop scene. Over the coming years, Callier was involved in Giles Petersons UK label, Talkin’ Loud, stable-mate Urban Species; this low-res home recording of Callier and Urban species on the autonomous Later with Jools Holland, shows Terry in great form playing the soul man to the hip-hop

His work continued with Beth Orton, and not just samples, as is often suggested, but entire new tracks and collaborations, like “Bother to Brother” with Paul Weller, released on UK label Mr Bongo , the haunting Love Theme from Spartacus with north London duo Binns, Hardackers, Zero 7 who became a leader in the then emerging Chillout scene; and many more. It’s the collaborations with Massive Attack though that are the best for me, especially the music, lyrics and video for Live with Me.

Callier, like many others, including Alexander O’Neal have found the UK Soul, Jazz, Dance music scene much more compelling than the USA. It’s geographically smaller, much more diverse, less racially profiled and it’s had a successful business span of 50 plus years, and continues today.

It’s easier to perform live, you can get to most of it within day. Musicians and fans can stay home, or at the very least avoid flying to get to gigs. Word travels fast, and there is a national media who broadcast news and tv, that doesn’t require you to spend months on a tour bus in order to spread the word. Most of all the charts are not segregated. When you make #57, as Terry did with Love Theme from Spartacus, it was behind Madonna, Simply Red, RUN-D.M.C. and everyone else, not in a narrowly defined segment.

Calliers real impact can be measured by the fact that the BBC, and the major British broadsheets(the serious papers), The Guardian , The Independent all ran obituaries as well as the New York Times, Most remarkable though, perhaps, was the 2012 Terry Callier Tribute Concert at the Islington Assembly Halls. The youtube video, below, captures the beauty of Terry and his music. His original version of Love Theme to Spartacus.

I would rather be playing music, but what’s important isn’t always what you want, and what you want isn’t always what’s important. Isn’t that the truth?” – Terry Callier

Keep Terrys name alive!

Three to follow-up with:

Read: Jazzusa,com Interview with Terry – Terry Callier, Reluctant Musician

Hear: Massive Attack tribute Windmill Hill sessions.

See: Electronic Press Kit for Terry.

Terry Callier EPK from Alistair Batey on Vimeo.

Music (was my first love)

was the title of a great John Miles track from a 1976 John Miles album called Rebel. R-1785293-1295199568.jpeg[1]Strangely although I loved that track, it was one of the many I for the most part gave away, or sold for next to nothing in the Spring of 1983 when I moved to New York. I can remember to this day renting an estate car for the day and loading up the vinyl I wasn’t going to keep, and driving down to Kentish Town in London and offloading it all at some used record shop.

Of the some 2,000 albums I have now, I’ve been working through the general soul, jazz, dance, and disco albums from A-Z, over the last 2-years. I’ve learned a lot, and often go back and remaster favorite albums.

Remastering music, often involves compromises, since we’ll never hear the music as clearly as the musicians and engineers did at the time of recording. Not only don’t we have the instruments in front of us, we don’t have the same range of speakers. Even the music on standard commercial CDs is encoded at 16 bits, versus 24-bit recording in the studio.

Still, I think I’ve finally made a breakthrough. I’ve always recorded at 4800hz, 24-bit, but finally I did an album today that’s as good a the same album on ripped from the CD version at 24/4800.

 

How Funk went Swing

My vinyl to digital conversion effort has taken an involuntary pause as my NuWave Phone Converter and pre-amp has failed. Fortunately the makers, PS Audio, or only up in Boulder, so I drove it up there last Friday to drop it off for repair and will go collect it tomorrow.

While tidying up some of my more recent conversions, it caused made me reflect on a few trends, and at least, as far as I can remember them happening. I wrote over 10-years ago about the Day that disco died(for me). One question has been answered with the discovery, and posting on Youtube of scenes from the Clash, January 1st 1977 gig at The Roxy.

Unlike for most, when disco died at the 12th of July, 1979 burning of disco records at Comiskey Park.

Loads of material written and even some video about the punk period, circa ’76-’77, there are also many books and videos about the pure “Disco” period that ran from say late ’78 through ’84, especially in London. Little though has been written about the period from ’75 to ’78 that didn’t include punk.

Even Simon Reynolds Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past. . Published in 2011, Reynolds looks at Pop Cultures addiction to retro themes based on past success. Reynolds covers extensively Northern Soul in Chapter-7, he misses our generations key retro theme, and jumps straight to the Mod’ revival bands and culture of bands like the Jam and 2-Tone.

Come 1972, the kids of London and the South East were looking for something after and the reggae and ska of the late sixties, Motown, and similar. Over the next 2-years, on the backs of many great one-hit-wonders, like Tom the Peeper by Act One, and also from more perennial bands like the Three Degrees, new acts like George McRae, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, meant that soul/dance music had caught on big time. In September ’74 almost half the actual pop music chart was music of black origin, predominantly soul/dance music.

None of the early jazz oriented funk, driven by bands like the Fatback Band, made the charts. Tracks from their first album, the 1972 Street Dance, and later tracks from their 1974 album Keep On Steppin’, again lead by the title track, combined with the totally dance-able Wicki Wacky had been big club hits but had yet to make a chart breakthrough.

By the summer of ’75, when the Fatback Band had their first UK chart record Yum Yum, title track from their 1975 album. In the UK, by the time your youth cult became mainstream, which it always did, it was time to move on.

What had been bubbling under in 1975 was a pivot to swing. The summer of ’75 had seen the epitome of modern swing dance, The Hustle enter the chart, and by July that year had become #3 in the UK Pop Chart. Van McCoy’s emblematic track “The Hustle” had been a club hit for a while in early 1975, and it would be the start of a movement that would carry through to 1977’s Saturday Night Fever and beyond.

The Hustle was a dance for couples. To this point, soul/dance and Jazz funk dancing had been mainly an individual thing. As you can see if this video

We started looking for a different direction. As Reynolds suggests, we fell back on a retro theme. We briefly flirted with ’65 and dressing like the Beatles, clothes were available cheap in what were then Second Hand shops. What was more readily available, especially in London, was army surplus. There was a large surplus store on the north end of Tottenham Court Rd commercial district, prices were right the direction for the summer was set.

Our home club was Mash on Greek Street in SOHO. I don’t recall the club details, I do remember though it stayed open late as a “Restaurant” and it had a late night drinks license along with it. We paid something like £2.50, and that included chicken in a basket, which qualified as a restaurant. Upstairs was a restaurant, not sure what it’s name was MASH was in the basement.

We totally continued with funk and rare dance tracks, but a core function of the club was swing aka hustle dancing, increasingly in US Army Style uniforms. Monday evenings we’d head out to Canvey Island to the Goldmine, where Chris Hill took everything one step further and as well as playing Glenn Miller, he also held dance competitions, a full 2-years before any of us saw Saturday Night Fever. By February 1976, Manhattan Transfer had covered Tuxedo Junction, punk was starting to happen. It was time to move on.

David Johnson has some interesting observations about the Goldmine on his Shapers of the 80s website, including pictures.

Later that spring I tore my meniscus/cartilage playing soccer, which restricted severely my ability to dance through the summer. I went to France on the Canal Du Midi, and by the time I got back, the crew I’d been part of moved on. I’m convinced now that a few of us did go to the Roxy for the New Years Day ’77 Clash night.

IMG_20180820_213219Some of us kept in touch over the next few years, we did summer clubs, Great Yarmouth weekenders, the Bournemouth Soul Club, and others but it was never the same again. After I had a serious motorcycle accident in 1978, I did get back together with many of the gang in the summer of ’79, especially one college graduation party in South London, where I re-met Wendy, who’d become my wife a year later.

By then, clubs and disco were mainstream, the kids were younger, the 80’s and New Romantics were happening, it was no longer our time.

Secret Agent: Top-10

I’ve spent the last year plus digitizing my vinyl collection for personal use. I’ve done all my general soul/jazz/jazz funk and disco artists from A-K. Which in total is only about 1/4 of the collection.

My passion though is collecting albums made by, former A&M  producer/A&R manager Creed Taylor.  CTI was initially a sub-label on A&M Records in the late 1960’s. There were a number of classic albums released including

10-Years earlier, a 28-year old Creed Taylor, was working with a small orchestra on a series of albums with Kenyon (Ken) Hopkins, one of jazz’s great composers and arrangers. Ken spent the 1950’s and 60’s in New York studios, where he became king of “the concept album.”

I spend a lot of time hunting both in person and online for affordable but good quality albums on the Creed Taylor CTI and Kudu labels. I have all but two of the Kudu label, I’ve had more than 50% of the label output since the late 1970’s. I’ve also had probably 40% of the CTI label. Buying the remainder has been a fun, rewarding experience, I’m working on ideas for the 50th anniversary of the labels in 2020.

A few weeks back I mentioned my CTI project to Rusty Hodge, founder of SOMA FM and he immediately came back with

I’d love to get some of Creed Taylor’s “crime” stuff for Secret Agent.

I’ve had all four of the Hopkins/Taylor concept albums for a few years, but aside from the Sound of New York, never played them. They were really only there for completeness. While you can get some of the albums from specialist UK outlets Sounds of the Universe and Boomkat as downloads, they just don’t have the same atmosphere as the original mono albums, and especially after some re-engineering.

I was delighted to see four of the tracks in the SOMA FM Secret Agent by spins chart this week.

The four albums I’ve worked on for SOMA FM are as follows, interestingly these albums are not mentioned in either the Kenyon Hopkins or Creed Taylor wikipedia entries. I’ll have to see what else I can find out about that period. It is remarkable to me that Creed Taylor, possibly one of the key people behind the early Jazz > Funk evolution in the early 70’s was working on these soundtrack style albums 20-years earlier.

The Creed Taylor Orchestra album covers
Discogs listing page for the Creed Taylor Orchestra

You can sample the albums on youtube, you can buy MP3 downloads from Boomkat, or listen in on SOMA FM Secret Agent.