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by Jason Cook

7 Sep 2010


It’s difficult to mention anything musically related to The Exorcist series without first recalling prog-meister Mike Oldfield and what his theme from “Tubular Bells” did for the series’ antecedent entry. Oldfield’s excerpt did something honest for the horror genre; it delivered a clear mood, one clear of the tense strings that mired many soundtracks then to-date. Ennio Morricone, prolific trafficker in beautifully sleazy lounge and synth-funky giallo soundtracks in the 1970s, did something different for the Exorcist series’ second entry: he brought us clever smatterings of Les Baxter; he brought us surf-jazz funk, he brought us atonal clusters. The man brought everything he could bring.

Morricone’s name is not quite a household one, but his music, through its influence, reuse, or appearance in Grammy-winning soundtracks, is instantly recallable and nearly a filmic entity unto itself. Recently, Morricone’s music was sourced for use in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and other films. And just over ten years after Morricone’s landmark work on The Good, the Bad & the Ugly and the rest of the Dollars trilogy, he wrote music for John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), featuring a vinyl-only release often shadowed by Morricone’s thin margin of spaghetti western work.

by Dylan Nelson

3 Sep 2010


Throughout 1976, as Lee Perry was working with the likes of Max Romeo, Gregory Isaacs, and Dennis Brown decrying the violence and instability of Jamaican politics and the harsh injustices of Jamaican society, he was also collaborating with a young man named Junior Murvin on what would become one of the most famous statements of protest and solidarity in reggae history. “Police and Thieves” resounded across the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. In England, the song struck home with an oppressed immigrant population recently traumatized by the outbreak of violence at the Notting Hill Carnival in London; in the United States it made inroads with a progressive demographic still learning about the potency of the little island’s musical tradition. “Police and Thieves” is instantly recognizable: if you haven’t heard the album cut in context, you’ve heard the Clash’s punk version or the soundtracked clip from the film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

As always, though, this international reggae hit is rooted firmly in Jamaica. The song, and the album which followed, were products of the same circumstances that spurred forth War Ina Babylon, and the two records have an analogous message and tone, not to mention having enjoyed similarly illustrious and influential careers after their releases. Murvin and Romeo also invite comparison as singers—both men did an album at the Black Ark Studio that would come to define their careers. Murvin would work with the eccentric producer again in the ‘80s, but both vocalists have spent decades capitalizing on their Perry-produced recordings. Both benefited tremendously, one thinks, from the guidance of Lee Perry.  It would seem that in 1976, the Black Ark was the place to be for an aspiring singer.

by AJ Ramirez

2 Sep 2010


You ever have one of those periods where you decide to re-explore a band you haven’t really listened to in years and end up remembering why you loved them in the first place? Right now I’m on a very big Clash kick, something I haven’t experienced since roughly my junior year of high school (my fondest Clash-related memory of that period being cooped up indoors rocking out to the live CD From Here to Eternity during a summer family trip to Florida). Consequently, I’ve been making the rounds around YouTube the last few weeks in search of all things Clash in order to help satiate my renewed hunger for works of the legendary punk rock quartet. Viewing the group’s virtual promo reel, it’s plain that the Clash wasn’t the most conceptual group when it came to making music videos. Aside from the notable exception of the kooky “Rock the Casbah”, the British group’s videography is predominantly focused on performance clips. That’s certainly not a problem, given the Clash’s renown as one of the most exhilarating live groups of its era.

Unsurprisingly, the video for the Clash’s 1978 single “Tommy Gun” (taken from the group’s underrated second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope, a.k.a. “The First Attempt to Break America, via Lots of Hard Rock Guitars”) is a no-frills performance piece, devoted solely to presenting the band playing its damnedest on stage, the only concession to visual flair being a backdrop of assorted national flags.  Fuck the fancy set designs, this is punk rock. Despite its occasionally obscured cinematography (which seems dead-set on avoiding full-body shots of guitarist Joe Strummer as much as possible) and some of the song’s own deficiencies (with all its fits and showboating chord crashes, it’s essentially one long intro, albeit a striking one), all four members of the Clash overcome any flaws the clip contains by virtue of being so powerfully charismatic, demanding the viewer’s attention via the unbridled passion and sheer awesomeness they exude even when miming to a prerecorded track. In short, the Clash show how punks can be proper rock gods.

by Nathan Pensky

1 Sep 2010


Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” is an artistic tailspin from the recent heights of singles like “Bad Romance” and “Telephone”. Pop artifacts that borrow heavily from their forbears must contain some framework of originality; a difference must coincide with the sameness so as not come off as plain stealing. Lady Gaga has not even attempted this with “Alejandro”. She not so much stands as stomps on the shoulders of giants like Madonna, ABBA, and lesser wits like Ace of Base. A long string of cribbed beats and run-together pop references, “Alejandro” is a song truly made up of nothing, not even bothering to revel in its vacuity. Sure, the song is catchy and danceable, but considering the level of work that came before it, a simple pop song is a letdown. A stolen one is a tragedy.

by Jacob Adams

31 Aug 2010


I sometimes fear that the concept of the live jazz performance is slowly fading. While jazz still maintains a presence in major cities, public support for America’s truly original art form is undoubtedly not at an all-time high. With rising concert costs, it is increasingly more difficult for folks of average economic means to attend gigs. These circumstances are truly unfortunate, for nothing else in the music world rivals the vitality of a live jazz set.

Common wisdom states that a recording can never quite capture the magic that happens in a club or on a concert stage. It is curious, then, that a jazz fan’s induction into the music often comes through records. Where would the jazz world be without such masterpieces as Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme, or Maiden Voyage, all albums that originated in a studio?  Capturing the energy of a live performance on record is one of today’s major artistic challenges. Given the dire economic and cultural conditions described above, it is good to know that creative and engaging live recordings are still being made. One primary example is an album called Stories and Negotiations, released in April 2010 and recorded live in Chicago’s Millennium Park in August 2008.

Mike Reed, a Chicago drummer and composer, works with an octet—drums, bass, two tenor saxes, alto sax, trumpet, and trombone—called People, Places, and Things. Reed is not only a vibrant musician, but he also presents the music of local artists he admires, as well as dedicates himself to preserving the history of Chicago’s neglected jazz musicians of the past. On his professional website, he lists some of his major musical influences, including artists as diverse as the Impressions, the Beatles, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, and Neil Young. After just one spin through People, Places, and Things’ Stories and Negotiations, all of Reed’s influences and interests are prominently displayed.

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