Saturday, June 19, 2010

5. From the estate of Cavell Nichol: Acker Bilk

Genre: Jazz
Place of Purchase: Auction, Wellington, $16 (bulk lot)
Why I bought this: I had no choice

My ownership of several Acker Bilk records stems not from an interest in lightweight jazz, but from an auction house policy of selling a lot of LP’s alphabetically.

For the many years radio announcer Cavell Nichol hosted a jazz show on New Zealand’s 2YC station. With the snazzy title Cavell Nichol’s Cavalcade of Jazz, Cavell’s show mostly consisted of mainstream jazz with a few excursions into the better known fringes; Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane. Like a genuine record collecting bloodhound I had dutifully cut the auction notice out of the paper (notifying the public the deceased’s possessions were up for grabs), pocketed my dole for the week and headed downtown.

Turning up at the auction house I discovered that Nicol’s collection of 600 records had been divided up into lots of 20, arranged alphabetically. If I wanted those original 60s/70s Coltrane and Coleman discs it turned out I was also going get myself some Bill Coleman, Jimmy Cleveland and a ton of Acker Bilk.

For $16 I got myself not only 20 LP’s from the B-C section but also about 40 reel to reel ¼” tapes and an Akai ¼” reel to reel tape player. Outside the auction house I hungrily piled my booty into a cab and sped home.

The Coltrane and (Ornette) Coleman LP’s have been played for a few years now. I’ve even found time for the zippy uptempo of Jimmy Cleveland. The ¼” reel to reel tapes are a massive archive of jazz taped off air. But until now, nothing of the 4 records I own by Mr Bilk.

Musically, this is trad jazz and not really my cup of tea. But while the music is indeed lightweight,  Nicholl’s attention to Bilk is not. Inside each LP are clippings, reviews, previews, interviews, all cut from pop magazines and newspaper, lovingly treasured and itemised. Inside one is a 7”. If I get rid of these albums, the clippings will have to stay with them.

Any lingering sense of sentimentality towards Mr Bilk is more or less done away with by the cover of Acker In New Zealand which  fills me with a powerful sense of yechh. Acker sits in the engine of an Air New Zealand plane his very tight trousers, his bowler hat and devilish moustache all combining for a sense of the aging Lothario on tour. One wonders why this British musician returned to NZ so often, if it was indeed for the ladies, Mr Bilk certainly also struck a chord with the jazz aficianado Mr Cavell Nichol.

Friday, June 11, 2010

4. Musical Follies: Liberace / Star Blaze

Genre: Lounge
Place of purchase: Unknown
Why I bought this: I didn’t - Birthday Present from 'friend'

The cover of this LP shows Liberace standing by his limousine waving joyously to his unseen fans. Clad in a white fur coat, bulbous rings and with a smile bigger than a casino jackpot, the image is less an acknowledgement of his audience than a celebration of the reinvention of Wladziu Valentino Liberace as the King of Las Vegas.

From behind his piano Liberace leads the band in a medley of light classical, lounge shuffle and cocktail jazz. One could either admire Liberace’s Showbiz dexterity or lament his desperation to be loved; either way the sum total of constantly switching styles is a complete lack of substance.

There is an old showbiz maxim about how some performers only come alive onstage; here it also proves to be the venue for Liberace’s slow death as inbetween songs he talks about his outfit, his rings, and makes awkward attempts to sort-of tell the audience he is not gay.

The audience sounds surprisingly small. One wonders who they are - desperate deluded housewives hoping this Ninny will take them away from their aging, wilting husbands? Indeed, if this music has any usefulness it would be as background for the opening scenes of The Love Boat where 'Doc' shimmys over, picks up a middle-aged heiress' bags and with a twinkle in his eye says "May I help you?" Hilarious, ridiculous but ultimately just plain Laborious.


Genre: Musical
Place of Purchase: Unknown
Why I bought this:

A 1982 New Zealand musical about... Space! And why not.

There is a curious mixture of ambition and modesty about this release. Written by the twin talents of John Reynolds and Shade Smith the back of this LP states that it could be staged by 'schools or community groups'. At the same time, the very fact of Star Blaze’s existence as a real vinyl LP makes me wonder if Messrs Smith and Reynolds had greater ambitions for Star Blaze than it’s likely fate as Room 6’s end of year production.

Certainly, the plot is wide ranging, combining action, romance, space battles and a character described as ‘Dr Sneech - traitor with a brilliant mind’. Tell you what, if I was in Room 6, that’d be the role I’d be gunning for.

Unfortunately though, just reading the plot makes my mind hurt;

Star Blaze tells the story of a group of female freedom fighters on board the spaceship ‘Vigilant’. After a space battle they capture the evil dictator Odium and his Heavies. However, with the assistance of the traitorous genius Dr Sneech, Odium captures the ship and forces it to land on the Planet Zodark. All the pirates are taken under guard to Zodark City except Sandy, the daughter of the captain who manages to escape. Alone and frightened in the outlands of Zodark she meets a young Zodark called Astro and after an initial period of mutual suspicion, the two become friends. However they are quickly captured by a band of roaming monsters called the Horriffs whose personal appearance is so repulsive that for years they have struck fear into all Zodarks. But it transpires that they are in fact ‘misunderstood monsters’ who simply want to be friendly to everyone.

Bloody Hell.

Musically, Star Blaze resembles sparse New Wave rock meets the Wiggles, with a sort of awkward exuberance reminiscent of Waiting for Guffman. Most is utterly forgettable, and does not in any way evoke space. Apart from that, there is very little info about this on the LP sleeve or on the internet. Or maybe there's lots, but I certainly can't be bothered looking for it.

Just when I was ready to write this LP off I discovered the tune Misunderstood Monsters, sung by The Horiffs, of course. Heh. This fills me with glee. It’s appeal may also have something to do with it’s wholesomeness, for which, after Liberace. I am grateful.