Nostalgia in his Square Head

Every once in a while an album emerges that, in its final form, only seems to touch briefly on the full story behind its inception. Nostalgia in My Square Head is one of those albums. Songwriter/keyboardist Malcolm Hunter may not be known to the public at large as a musician and blues poet, but he has trodden the streets of New York—Brooklyn and Manhattan in particular—as an entertainer since his childhood days in Queens.

The sound of the city is what comes across loud and clear in this 12-piece collection of songs and sound-bites. Hunter surrounds himself with what he describes as the Makeshift Dream Orchestra, including Steely Dan alumni Jon Herington (guitar) and Michael Leonhart (trumpet), but also guitarist Jamie Fox, drummer John DiGiulio, bassist Michael “Tiny” Lindsey and other fine session musicians who have earned their stripes along their respective ways.

It’s no coincidence, the Steely Dan connection. Although Hunter more than admits the influence of The Dan’s music, in addition to his classical piano training when growing up, this project primarily embodies the reflection of his own experiences in the city of New York. Nostalgia in My Square Head is not an homage to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, for Hunter already paid his dues when he released the EP WUNDerground Radio (Malcolm Hunter Records, 2000) with the song “Like a Steely Dan Movie.” If this is an homage, it’s one centered around Charles Mingus, whose “Nostalgia in Times Square” appears as a pièce de résistance, with a subtle and tasteful arrangement that breathes Hunter’s sense of the city. Tom Smith masters his saxophone in a way that would most certainly please Stan Getz aficionados, while Hunter’s “5:30 Bounce” prelude and an underscoring presence throughout Mingus’ classic set the tone perfectly.

There’s funk, there’s gospel, there’s scat and there’s a lot of genuine jazz to be enjoyed here. Hunter’s narrative concept is highly entertaining and his obvious keyboard chops shine occasionally, while his vocals skirt around the danger zone, morphing from storyteller to modern times crooner, with a hint of Frank Zappa in “Invisible Man.” As a bandleader, he lets the members of his orchestra take plenty of leading roles and present themselves as outstanding musicians or vocalists. “Snow in Hades” is yet another unintentional homage, this time about singer Phoebe Snow who, in the 1990s, appeared in an underground concert where guitarist Eric Clapton was expected. For both vocalist Melissa Hamilton and Hunter, this song acquired special meaning when Snow passed away in April 2011, only a couple of months before Hunter’s planned release of Nostalgia in My Square Head. Trumpeter Rob Henke excels with ease, adding to Hunter’s sounds of a city that never sleeps.

Track Listing: No Kissin’; A Very Brief Respite; Invisible Man; Hide ‘n Sleep; Entre La Calle Y La Caneta; Cross: The Street; 5:30 Bounce/ Nostalgia in Times Square; Wreckage on Aisle 50; Hangups; Subwayride/Citywide; Snow in Hades; Nostalgia in my Square Head.

Personnel: Malcolm Hunter: vocals, keyboards; John DiGiulio: drums, percussion; Michael “Tiny” Lindsey: bass; Jamie Fox: guitar; Michael Leonhart: trumpet; Tom Smith: tenor, baritone saxophones; Melissa Hamilton: vocals, scat; Adira Amram: vocals; Meshach: vocals; Jon Herington: guitar (9, 12); Ivan “Funkboy” Bodley: bass (11); Rob Henke: trumpet (11); Scott Bailey: effects (6).

(source: All About Jazz

Reelin’ in the Years indeed

Social Media has made us antisocial in other capacities where it has enrichened us in some. The internet’s been a highway for long distant friendships and meeting likeminded individuals in other timezones, well, for quite some years now. If thoughts can travel at the speed of light, it’s what bounced, bumped and boogied in the olden days of the Yellow, the Sign In Stranger guestbook that prompted the existence of Mizar5, now Mizar6.

We love nostalgia. We preach nostalgia. And that’s why we deem it necessary to present you this extraordinary version of a famous Steely Dan song. Enjoy…

Snow in Hades (Tribute to Phoebe Snow)

Malcolm Hunter is about to release his new album, “Nostalgia in my Square Head.” It’s a collection of new and previously published material, songs that are carved into his soul and memory, for various reasons. This track is dear to him and bears extra meaning today, now that Phoebe Snow has passed away this morning. The track starts with a few moments of silence, out of respect for this brave and talented artist, mother and woman.

Malcolm: “Snow in Hades is a story where I got a tip to hear Eric Clapton at a private, unannounced gig, in the early 90s, at an upper east side club, called Hades. I was expecting to hear/see a “god” as Clapton is so often referred to. However, when I got to the club, there was no Clapton; rather Donald Fagen, Walter Becker, Phoebe Snow, Boz Scaggs and the Uptown Horns. They were doing a warmup gig for what turned out to be the New York Rock & Soul Revue at the Beacon Theatre. So I did see Snow in Hades – and Melissa’s reference at the end of the tune…”he’s a poetry man” was a direct reference to Phoebe’s tune…
(with the kind permission of Malcolm Hunter Music, © all rights reserved 2011)

NEW YORK — It wasn’t long after the release of “Poetry Man,” the breezy, jazzy love song that would make Phoebe Snow a star, that the singer experienced another event that would dramatically alter her life. In 1975, she gave birth to a daughter, Valerie Rose, who was found to be severely brain-damaged. Her husband split from her soon after the baby was born. And, at a time when many disabled children were sent to institutions, Snow decided to keep her daughter at home and care for the child herself. The decision to be Valerie’s primary caretaker would lead her to abandon music for a while and enter into ill-fated business decisions in the quest to stay solvent enough to take care of Valerie. Snow, who worked her way back into the music performing world in the 1980s and continued to perform in recent years, died on Tuesday from complications of a brain hemorrhage she suffered in January 2010, said Rick Miramontez, her longtime friend and public relations representative. She was 60.

Snow never regretted her decision to put aside music so she could focus on Valerie’s care. She was devastated when her daughter, who was not expected to live beyond her toddler years, died in 2007 at 31. “She was my universe,” she told the website that year. “She was the nucleus of everything. I used to wonder, am I missing something? No. I had such a sublime, transcendent experience with my child. She had fulfilled every profound love and intimacy and desire I could have ever dreamed of.” After her stroke last year, Snow endured bouts of blood clots, pneumonia and congestive heart failure, said her manager, Sue Cameron. “The loss of this unique and untouchable voice is incalculable,” Cameron said. “Phoebe was one of the brightest, funniest and most talented singer-songwriters of all time and, more importantly, a magnificent mother to her late brain-damaged daughter, Valerie, for 31 years. Phoebe felt that was her greatest accomplishment.”

Known as a folk guitarist who made forays into jazz and blues, Snow put her stamp on soul classics such as “Shakey Ground,” “Love Makes a Woman” and “Mercy, Mercy Mercy” on over a half dozen albums. Snow’s defining hit, however, was “Poetry Man,” which she wrote herself. The song, anchored by her husky voice and a fluid guitar, was a romantic ode to a married man. It reached the Top 5 on the pop singles chart in 1975, and garnered her a Grammy nomination for best new artist. Soon after that, her daughter was born. She was born with hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid in the brain cavity that inhibits brain development. Snow’s husband, musician Phil Kearns, left her while Valerie was still a baby. For years, Snow fought the diagnosis of Valerie’s mental condition, but in 1983, she told The New York Times that she had accepted her daughter’s fate.

Snow in Hades (tribute to Phoebe Snow) by Play My String THANG

“I’ve finally settled into realizing that my daughter is what she is,” she said. “Any progress she makes is fantastic, but I no longer foresee any miracles happening. I went through phases of the occult and of trying to find every single doctor in the country who could possibly do something. I realize now that I can’t move mountains.” While she was caring for Valerie, her career started to take a downward spiral. Inexperienced in the music business, she broke contracts with record companies and others, and found herself embroiled in a number of lawsuits and severe financial problems. “With my quick success, I didn’t have time to learn the ropes of the music business,” she told the Times in the same interview. “Because my first record was such a hit, I was terribly spoiled and I thought I couldn’t do anything wrong. I was also desperate to make tons of money because of my responsibility to my daughter. And there was no longer any joy in making music.”

She started to make her way back into the music business and by the early 1980s was performing shows again. In 1989, she released her first album in eight years, “Something Real.” She also supplemented her income doing through the 1980s and into the 1990s by singing commercial jingle for companies including Michelob, Hallmark and AT&T. Among her other hits was her duet with Paul Simon on the song “Gone at Last.” She also sang “Have Mercy” with Jackson Browne. Snow was born Phoebe Ann Laub to white Jewish parents in New York City in 1950, and raised in Teaneck, N.J. Though many assumed she was black, Snow never claimed African-American ancestry. She changed her name after seeing Phoebe Snow, an advertising character for a railroad, emblazoned on trains that passed through her hometown. Snow quit college after two years to perform in amateur nights at Greenwich Village folk clubs.

In her later years, Snow continued to make an impact musically. She sang the theme for NBC’s “A Different World” and the jingle “Celebrate the Moments of Your Life” for General Foods International Coffees. She also sang at radio host Howard Stern’s wedding to Beth Ostrosky in 2008 and for President Bill Clinton, who asked her to perform at Camp David during his presidency. In 2003, she released “Natural Wonder,” her first album of new, original material in 14 years. Her other albums include 1989’s “Something Real,” and 1981’s “Rock Away.” In 2008, she released a live album titled “Live” and a best-of CD in 2001. After her daughter died, Snow continued to perform. Despite her devastation; she dedicated each performance to Valerie’s memory. In an interview with CBS’ “Sunday Morning,” she said sometimes it was difficult for her to perform, as she remembered her daughter. “And then other nights I feel like it’s my strongest connection to her and it’s my way of sharing her with everybody,” she said. A private funeral is planned for Snow, who is survived by her sister and other relatives.

(sources: Huffington Post and Wikipedia)

There’s just no limit

Or is there? A few days ago I was browsing Joanna Wang’s channel in YouTube, for some NewTokyoTerror feed. I then strolled over to her Facebook page and stumbled upon one of the most bizarre yet fascinating series of clips I’ve seen in a long time. It turned out to be a South-Korean bassist, Hyunmo Kim. And he’s one heck of a bass player! The dressing up however is a main ingredient causing some hiccups at first, but once you’ve gotten used to his appearance and have watched him as a guy who seems to really be in touch with his female side, these clips are rated funny and hilarious next to simply brilliant.

A little more research offered yet another surprise, The Oriental Express, a Korean fusion band, or as is listed on their website, No. 1 Korean Fusion Band. Hyunmo Kim’s the bassist in this band, where traditional and classical Korean music is combined with jazz. This is what one can find described on the website:

Oriental Express is a new breed of fusion music group blending various genres including Korean classical music, jazz and music technology. Oriental Express was formed on 2004 with Youngjun Choi (Prof. of Seoul Institute of the Arts), drummer Hyounjong Kim (Prof. of Yeoju Institute of Technology), bass player Hyunmo Kim as main members. Choi is the leader of the group, responsible for composing and playing the keyboard. As gayageum player Kyungso Park , and haegeum player Jiyoon Chun joined on 2005, the current lineup of the group has been established.

With 3 albums out, including 2006’s first debut album ‘To The West’, 2007’s second album ‘Cruising Together’, and 2008’s third album of ‘Vision of the Road’, Oriental Express has pursued of an extraordinary and broadened genre of their own, trying to incorporate various rhythmical beats such as jazz, rock, latin, funk, disco, and even electric sound into Korean-style melodies. They’ve not only made great endeavors in delivering great performances but also in the development of software and hardware needed for the performance. They have been developing electric haegeum, electric gayageum, i-jangju, and now are expanding to include the Korean classical software synthesizer. In addition, various sensors and interactive real-time video software are under development, too.

The music of Oriental Express harmonized with Korean classical instruments and western-style modern music instruments cannot be simply condensed into a sentence definition in a way that ‘It is Korean traditional music.’ or ‘This is jazz.’ It can be defined only as Oriental Express Music. This is a new breed of sound created by the harmonious spirit of each players.

As I am writing this, the Amsterdam cafe where I am since about 14.30 this afternoon, is suddenly loaded with people. A lot of people. It’s quite annoying actually, but who am I to comment, they’re guests here just like I am. Liz Wright (her album Salt) is filling my ears via the earphones, as people discuss the images placed against the walls of this place. An artsy crowd, yes. Even the children.

Anyway, more to come in the following days, as I am here in Amsterdam for the Dutch Jazz & World Meeting 2010. Seminars, workshops, showcases. Musica, musica. And meeting up with John Kelman (All About Jazz) for the first time … to be continued!

New single Skinnie: Can’t Cut You Loose

A while ago, I posted a clip from a song recorded by Skinnie, a Dutch singer-songwriter. That clip was removed. Not due to copyright infringement. Nope. The idea was to release that clip with the new single. And so the clip and single were launched last Monday the 15th of November. For the new Skinnie video and song (featuring yours truly on vocals as well) you’ll have to visit this link.

The video I am presenting here is made by Nicky Dassen. She is the daughter of Pieke Dassen, a well-known actor, puppeteer, singer, painter and allround artist. They lived around the block where I spent my childhood. Nicky went to see a performance of the LSO mid October, the LSO is the regional symphony orchestra and they played a piece of Debussy, La boîte à joujoux. Filmmaker Richard Dols made a movie starring the puppets of Pieke Dassen.

Skinnie Dub

If you’ve read the All About Jazz review here about a new release from Skinnie, One Add One, you’ll probably have noticed the clip no longer works. I took it down. Not because of any copyright infringement. The clip sprung from my mind and my computer. No. It was taken down because of a happenstance. If you’re curious and would like to learn more, just click on the image and find out.