Friday, March 25, 2011

A piece of the Grail

One of the great things about this modern age that most people either don't realize or take for granted is that  every lost or legendarily unseen piece of popular art out there seems to somehow, someway get back onto the marketplace. Comic books, music, TV shows, doesn't matter. It may be in some limited edition or from some obscure company but eventually someone gets it out there.  In the past year we've seen things like The Complete Thriller, Warren Beatty's and Arthur Penn's Mickey One, collections of the Barney Google and Bringing Up Father comic strips and a bunch of legendary recordings from the pioneering Free Jazz FMP label resurface.  In the near future a huge DVD set of Ernie Kovacs' TV work and a hardback collection of Floyd Gottfriedson's highly touted Mickey Mouse comic strip will be coming out. I've even seen an announcement of an official release of the Beach Boys' Smile in the near future.  But I've just seen a truly stunning announcement on Amazon. 
     Next Tuesday this record will be coming out on CD...

Bill Dixon's Intents And Purposes, one of the hardest to find and most sought after texts of the 60's avant-jazz movement. Actually I thought this had come out on CD back in the 80s at the dawn of the compact disc era, but even if it did that edition is now scarce as hen's teeth.  This was the first large scale ensemble recording of Dixon's music and really the only one recorded until he re-emerged on the performance scene in recent years to work with Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra and then with other young musicians he had influenced. Of course this would show up after Dixon's passing but according to its reputation this record is as important as any of Cecil Taylor's or Ornette Coleman's work from this period.  I usually hem and haw over buying things online. I ordered this as soon as I saw the listing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Joe Morello

A couple of days ago I heard that drummer Joe Morello had just died. Shame on me because I thought he had passed years ago.  Morello is best known for his many years drumming with the classic Dave Brubeck quartet and as such he is responsible for one of my all time favorite bits of music, the introduction and drum solo in "Take Five", a strutting snap and thump that still makes me catch my breath every time I hear it.  This is a live version of it from Ralph Gleason's old Jazz Casual with Morello snapping his wrists like they were made out of rubber and Paul Desmond wailing like a snake charmer.

Also here is a dance number from some ancient TV show done to the original recording of Brubeck's "Unsquare Dance" with another classic Morello bit.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Worry, young girls...

I've just seen two little known movies of wildly varying styles and quality:
The first was Don't Worry We'll Think Of A Title which lived up (or down) to the wit of its name.  I first heard of this movie long, long ago on some TV game show when comic Morey Amsterdam mentioned it as a new movie he was working on.  I hadn't run across it again in 45 years then recently I was browsing through the Instant Watching section of Netflix and lo and behold, there it was!

Amsterdam (left) co-wrote and produced this movie and his main co-stars were two of his fellow cast members from The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rose Marie and Richard Deacon.  The plot, a trifle about spies mistaking Amsterdam for a defecting foreign astronaut, doesn't bear much scrutiny. It mainly serves as a focus for old vaudeville jokes and painfully slow slapstick routines which prove, as good as the three leads were at verbal humor on the Van Dyke Show, the physical stuff was not their strong suit.

The best part of the movie was the frequent cameo appearances from other famous comics who passed through to do a brief line or bit and then left. These included Danny Thomas, Milton Berle, Carl Reiner, Steve Allen, and as you can see in the still on the right, beloved Stooge Moe Howard. Unfortunately these stopped halfway through the movie and things went downhill from there, including some haunted house gags that would have come off much better if Moe and his usual partners had done them.

The other film, a huge improvement after Title, was The Young Girls Of Rochefort, a 1967 musical directed by Jacques Demy.  This was a follow-up to Demy's earlier musical hit, The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, with the same composer, Michel Legrand and one of the same stars, Catherine Deneuve.  Where the earlier film was a somber romance, this was a much frothier and upbeat picture with a free-wheeling jazz based score and almost constant dancing. Deneuve and her real-life sister, Francoise Dorleac, play twins who teach music and dance in the French city of Rochefort and get involved with a couple of amiable carnival guys though they actually love other men who, in typically convoluted movie musical fashion, they never find until the film's end.

The picture has a lovely bright pastel color scheme and a constant flow of excellent music, featuring a melody that eventually became the standard "You Must Believe In Spring".  The high spirits and flowing beauty are helped along with an appearance from the matchless Gene Kelly, playing another American in France, if not really Paris,  and still dancing with his sublime grace and energy.  The film also provides a chance to see the beautiful Dorleac, who sadly died in a car accident shortly after this film was made.  She was just as lovely as her famous sister and turns out to be a pretty good dancer partnering Kelly in a brief ballet scene.  Watching this for the first time, I'm really surprised it's not better known as the fun tribute to classic Hollywood musicals it is.