Friday, March 27, 2015

Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells

Richard Branson and Nik Powell opened a mail order record store in London specializing in Krautrock music. As the record store grew into a success, they decided to branch out into new interests and started their own record label in 1972. They called it Virgin as they were all new (virgins) to business. Their first release was Mike Oldfield's progressive rock album Tubular Bells, which stayed on the British charts for over 5 years, topping at number 1. A pretty good feat for a label and musician’s debut. 


Mike Oldfield recorded Tubular Bells when he was only 19 years old, playing most of the instruments himself, which was uncommon in the early 70's. While the writing and performance is amazing, what really helped this album become huge was using the opening riff of the title track as the theme for the movie The Exorcist. This launched Oldfield's music to a very broad audience. 


This 49 minute instrumental album went on to win a Grammy for instrumental composition in 1972. Globally it has sold 16 million copies to date and was a major player in making Virgin Records one of the most important record labels in history. Not bad for a 19 year old Mike Oldfield.  


Tubular Bells launched a long and respectful career for Oldfield and he is still releasing new material. To date he has 25 studio albums released with three of them landing at number one on the UK charts. Tubular Bells was actually not his first number one. Oldfield released his second LP, Hergest Ridge, in August 1974 and this album debuted at number one. With the new publicity, Tubular Bells again gained popularity and climbed the charts (where it had never left, just dropped) beating out his second album for the top spot.


It seems that Oldfield and his labels were always trying to recapture the magic of Tubular Bells: releasing Tubular Bells 2 & 3 and even rerecording the original album in 2003. While this other material is good, it pales in comparison to the original. Besides, it would be hard for them match the publicity originally from being the theme to The Exorcist.







Sunday, March 1, 2015

Miles Davis - Green Haze

Miles Davis was born in Alton, Illinois in May, 1926. His parents encouraged him in music at a young age, giving him a trumpet and starting him in lessons (his father gave him the trumpet while his mother encouraged the piano). Davis moved fast and started playing professionally locally at only 16 years of age while still in High School. After graduating, he moved to New York City where he began music studies at the Juilliard School of Music. While in New York he began playing regularly at jam sessions in some Harlem nightclubs. Eventually, Davis dropped out of school to concentrate on performing, bouncing between many jazz bands including a stint with Charlie Parker Quintet where he also contributed on their recordings. After Miles and Charlie Parker separated ties (band friction caused by drugs and money issues), Miles began working mainly as a freelancer. Fast forward several years of playing with some of the most influential jazz musicians and battling a heroin addiction, Miles signed a contract with Prestige records in 1951 where he began his solo career.

Green Haze was released in 1976 and is a rerelease of Miles’ first two albums with Prestige Records: The Musings of Miles; and Miles – The New Miles Davis Quintet.

The Musings of Miles features Red Garland on piano, Oscar Pettiford on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums and, of course, Miles on trumpet. This is the first 12" LP released by Miles, however he had released some budget 10" LP's with Prestige prior. It was recorded June 7th, 1955 at Rudy Ban Gelder's home studio (Gelder was a fames Jazz recording engineer). This is a great introduction to Miles, an easy listen with 4 traditional jazz songs and 2 originals. Wait until you hear the sound quality they achieved in the 50’s... if only all albums were mixed this good.

Following the release of The Musings of Miles, Davis’ band made a few switches. Paul Chambers replaced Oscar Pettiford on bass, and John Coltrane was added to the lineup on tenor saxophone, forming The New Miles Davis Quintet. The Miles album was his second full length LP but there were actually recordings made between this album and The Musings of Miles. After Musings was released, Miles played at the Newport Jazz Festival where he was noticed by Columbia Records executive George Avakian, who offered them a contract. They reached an agreement where they could start recording, however, the material could not be released until after Miles fulfilled his contract with Prestige. So, while the album Round About Midnight was recorded in November 1955, the previous month, they could only release it when they were released from Prestige (this album was eventually released in March 1957, their first from Columbia).

This album has a mix of Jazz standards and pop with “The Theme” being the only song composed by Miles Davis. While I really like both of these albums, I’d have to pick The New Miles Davis Quintet as my favorite. Of course, the obvious introduction of John Coltrane to the lineup sways my choice, but also Paul Chambers' addition on bass also plays a major role. Chambers' bass playing is very modern sounding for the time period, almost sounding like he could handle all of the rhythm alone with his fast scale runs and tight timing. It’s pretty impressive considering that the liner notes insists he was completely wasted drunk during these sessions. He proved to be very influential to the genre.

I really like these early Prestige recordings of Miles, now begins the quest to track down all those early 10” releases.