Hard News by Russell Brown

13

Friday Music: Aretha and the power of song

The times in which the great Aretha Franklin has passed, like the times in which she emerged, require us to consider not only her remarkable contribution to popular music, but what she meant even beyond that.

I'm indebted, then, to Chris Bourke, who this morning shared this Facebook story of a moment in 2005, from the writer and musician Warren Zanes:

Aretha waived her fee to headline the Sam Cooke tribute I produced some years ago. That didn't mean it was cheap. Traveling light wasn't her thing. As she told me later, she did it for Sam. Solomon Burke was on the same show. He said he'd waive his fee also . . . if I could create a moment onstage during which he and Aretha would sing together. Likely he knew as well as I did that such a decision was not mine to make. It was Aretha's. And she hadn't even gotten back to me about which songs she'd be doing. I told her manager about Solomon's wish. No response. When the day of the event came, Aretha closed the show with a pure and beautiful performance. After that, Solomon was going to lead the many performers gathered in an encore of "A Change Is Gonna Come." We'd created a moving throne for Solomon that enabled us to get him on the stage pretty quickly. As he was being wheeled out, Aretha watched from a chair at the side of the stage. To our surprise, she didn't go back to her dressing room. Solomon went into the song. "I was born by the river . . ." It was gorgeous stuff. I watched Aretha watching Solomon. Then, a few lines in, I saw that Aretha had held onto her mic. And for whatever reason, it was still on. This still doesn't make sense. But there it was. With Solomon a verse in, Aretha still hidden at the side of the stage where the audience couldn't see her, she lifted the mic up and started singing with Solomon. For a few seconds, no one, including Solomon, knew where this voice was coming from. I just watched her, stunned. When it

finally registered with Solomon, Aretha stood up, straightened her gown, and walked onto that stage. There were tears running down Solomon Burke's face. It may be the deepest musical moment I've ever witnessed. Solomon called me into his dressing room after the show, holding me to his chest and not letting go, thanking me. But I told him I couldn't take any credit. It was all Aretha. The next night, we did a gospel show, with Aretha opening. She wore a long robe with a golden cross on the back. Her contract said she'd do two songs. She walked onto the stage, kicked her shoes into the audience, and didn't leave until she'd done six of her favorites, like she was talking to God. Rest in Peace, Miss Franklin.

I think it's important to read those words before watching the video of that moment, just to appreciate everything bundled up in this performance of Sam Cooke's keening, epochal liberation song. I had tears rolling down my cheeks watching it.

I think, in this time when small minds and small talents clamour to tell us we must be apart, hearing someone whose gifts were so transcendent telling us better is powerful and valuable.

And then there's the dance. I'm playing some records at a birthday party this weekend – and I've never been happier to be able to say "I've got that on vinyl":

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Maybe I'm just all infused with the power of song today. Because that was there too, yesterday evening at the launch of Avantdale Bowling Club's debut album, among friends and family, overlooking K Road.

This really is quite a record: its torrent of thoughts and feelings, the technical virtuosity of Tom Scott's delivery, the way the band's contribution deepens it all. It struck me last night how key JY Jong-Yun Lee's saxophone playing is on the album. It's both a foil to Tom's voice and a voice in its own right. It's actually the first thing you hear on the album, and also opens this excellent new mini-documentary about Tom by Jordan Arts [Update: those first notes on the record are actually played by Ben McNicoll. Both he and JY are on the track and it can be hard because of the way it was produced for even the players to tell what's  whom, but the opening notes are definitely those of Ben (they were joined quite seamlessly into a subsequent part by JY, then back to Ben for the end of the phrase). He says they're "some of my proudest recorded sounds" and fair enough too.]

There was, of course, another star last night: the person 'Quincey's March' is about. Jacinda's not the only one juggling a baby:

Here's the video:

It was also notable, and in keeping with Tom's longtime attention to the creative community around him, that the album launch was also the launch of a small exhibition of related art (by Jacob Yikes) and photography (by Luca Macioce and Tak Soropa). You can pop up the stairs to CorpStudio (86 Pitt Street, above Leo O'Malley menswear) to see those works and buy limited-edition ABV merchandise from midday to 10pm today and tomorrow, and midday to 5pm Sunday. There will also be guest DJ sets.

And you can now buy the album on Bandcamp. (You can also, of course, listen to the album on your streaming service, but it's buying from Bandcamp that really pays an artists's rent.)

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Amid what seems to be a rush of great local albums, another singular vision. Dudley Benson's album Zealandia has been eight years in the making and it's an immensely detailed expression of layered thoughts about cultural nationalism, where classical violins hold hands with pop drum machines.

As attached as I am to its themes, I feel like I haven't got down deep enough in it to write more than that by way of review yet – especially when a couple of our best close listeners have done that already. Zealandia has been reviewed twice on RNZ in the past week. First, by Nick Bollinger, who reaches for Lilburn to define what he's hearing:

Put simply, records this rich don’t come along very often. As far as ideas go, Dudley Benson has acknowledged that, as a pakeha, he’s taking a risk exploring issues of colonisation or the Maori spiritual themes that crop up through the record, yet to my ears, none of these discussions could be more timely.

Many years ago, the great New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn said that a musician "must develop an awareness of the place he lives in, not attempting a mere imitation of nature in sounds, but seeking its inner values, the manifestations of beauty and purposes it shows us … and perhaps using it as something against which he can test the validity of his own work."

And then, by William Dart:

Initially one stands back in some sort of awe at the immensity and utter detailing. On my first listen-through, I was imagining a musical equivalent to those extravagant Bavarian castles of King Ludwig, temples of and to the most delicious excess conceivable. Dudley Benson, drawing on everything from the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra and the NZ Youth Choir to a host of musicians playing harpsichord, harp, celeste, koto, slide guitar and bagpipes, creates the equivalent of a musical Neuschwandstein Castle, with just the right balance of rococo finery and sonic tukutuku.

The theme of the album is an ambitious one, Zealandia being the great sunken continent on which we’re poised. The title song is kept until last, a great nine-minute outpouring that sums up the historical and environmental concerns of the preceding eleven tracks.

William, too, concludes by settling on Lilburn and the way his influence has been combined with other voices to bring about "a new, vibrant musica tangata". This is music of our time.

You can buy Zealandia on Bandcamp.

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It's only two weeks till The Other's Way festival on K Road, and if you don't have a ticket you might want to get one soon, as it's selling quite quickly. There are a bunch of things to like about this year's festival: 

 • An All Ages stage in association with girls Rock Camp Aotearoa. The stage will start late afternoon for all ages ticket holders and then becomes part of the festival after 7.30pm with access still available to under 18s.

• A record 45 acts across 13 K Road venues, plus an after-party with DJ JNett at Neck of the Woods.

• A festival beer by Hallertau! (The indifferent quality of some venues' beverage offerings has been a bit of an issue in the past, so this matters.)

In the lineup, there's fresh (The Beths off the back of their bloody brilliant debut album) and fermented (Bailter Space, Headless Chickens). I know quite a few people excited about those last two, but some of us are also amped about the return of Collision.

The Tokoroa-born funk band, who broke up at the end of the 1970s after a tough time trying to make their way in Australia, was vaulted back into the conversation for the Heed the Call compilation. I had a chat with Collision's trumpet player Mike Booth this week and he happily acknowledged that the huge interest around that compilation is the reason they're back playing together.

Not all the 1970s members will be there on the night – two can't travel and one is no longer with us – but they've found some younger players and Hirra Morgan's daughters will be there on vocals. Will they play Dalvanius's 'Voodoo Lady'? Mike says they want to, but they're working out who can sing that vocal. I have an idea about that ...

Meanwhile, this, from a 1978 live-to-air on a Sydney radio station, just turned up on Soundcloud:

Now, you want a piece of that, don't you?

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 Two departures.

The coroner's report on the death of Peter Gutteridge has been published and it's almost unbearably sad reading. If only he'd made it to Dunedin; if only they'd watched him better at the hospital in Auckland; if only it had been different. Sometimes talent is fragile, and a life in music can be hard. (Music-makers, always be aware that that the New Zealand Music Foundation's wellbeing service is there when things seem to be turning to shit. There's someone who'll listen.)

But I think it's appropriate to note  something that's not in the report. Peter did play a gig, his last gig, during that trip to New York. Here's the story:

On September 1st of 2014, Peter Gutteridge played his first ever concert in the United States. He wound up playing by chance. The organizers of the show bumped into him at a Clean reunion, Peter was traveling with a plastic bag full of a few pedals and said that he was hoping to play a concert while in town. It matched up perfectly and he was added to this show at Palisades in Brooklyn. 30 or so minutes before the show started Peter was pacing around back stage when he struck up a conversation with me about a casio keyboard I was trying to fix. We chatted for a while and then he told me that he really needed a drummer and bassist. My friend Erin and I where already playing the show and were open to the idea. We went over a few riffs in the bathroom of the venue before hitting the stage and just got going with it. The set lasted close to 2 hours but it seemed like 15 minutes to me.

And here's one of the songs he played, with Erin Birgy from Mega Bog on drums and Zach Burba from iji on bass:

Penny Reel, who wrote as deeply and affectionately about reggae music as any journalist ever has, passed away this week in London.

I was fortunate enough to meet Penny (aka Pete Simons) when I was writing for Sounds in London in the 1980s. I'd been handed Put On Your Best Dress, a compilation of of the rock steady productions of Mrs Sonia Pottinger at Duke Reid's studio, to review – and directed to Pete, who kindly explained to me what this music was about. It was, he sad, the music everyone got up for at the dances, the music the old people loved. He really set me on the road. And Put On Your Best Dress is still one of my favourite albums ...

 I was far from the only young music journalist to benefit from Pete's kindness over the years. His NME colleague David Swift wrote about him in this comment on a Friday Music post a few months ago, recalling ...

 ... a lovely Jewish Rastafariian (!!) and hardcore Spurs fan. He led me into the depths of the Dalston, East London, ''front line'' in 1986 for a scary Brigadier Jerry gig. The Brigadier was fresh from JA and awesome, but boy, the riled-up youthman crowd was intimidating. I was the only pakeha, well me and Penny were, but I was ''safe, yeah mon'' with him at my side. He was an honorary Rastaman around London. He was mates with Tapper Zukie, and so I just worshipped his good taste.

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A couple of notable new videos: a trailer for the forthcoming Connan Mockasin album Jassbusters (an explanation of sorts as to what's going on can be found here):

And a hypnotic new single from SoccerPractise:

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And one last thing: if you're downtown in Auckland after work, get yourself along to Marbecks in Queens Arcade, where Emily Fairlight (from Wellington, via the tree-shaded roads of Americana) is playing songs from her album Mother of Gloom at 5.30pm.

She also plays a formal album release show tomorrow night at Anthology Lounge.

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Tunes!

 That Aretha song again, this time in a great edit by the Swedish DJ-producer Disco Tech. You can buy it here on Bandcamp.

A 2017 set by New Jersey DJ legend Kerri Chandler. No, it's not new – but what is new is that the man has put 43 tracks (all of them previously unavailable digitally) up for free download. Whoop!

And finally, quite a few DJs have been trying their hand at remixes and edit of Chaka Khan's 'Like Sugar' since it came out. I like this house-styled one by ole mates Rock 'n' Rolla Soundsystem. And it's a free download!

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