"Kaffir Song" excerpt
AUSTRALIAN JAZZ - THE LIBRARY CONNECTION #1
I want to write about some ideas here, so click the preview above for a soundtrack while you read. While I've been following a couple of strands in 70s Australian jazz, I've also been listening to a lot of 'library' music, and have been led to wonder why I hear so many similar stylistic threads across these two genres.
Library music, for those unaware, is music composed under contract to companies who subsequently sell it off to film makers, TV programs and commercials, usually by genre - action, romance and so on. Strangely, this older production process is most closely paralled in the production and marketing of contemporary pop music, as the large companies battle to get singles from their latest flash-in-the-pan starlets over the credits of the latest teen slasher film ...
A lot of library music records from the 1970s (and more recently, the 1980s) have retrospectively been hailed as great music, although they were not taken seriously back in the day. In the same way that we recycle fashions and cultures from decades past - by reducing them to signifiers, dressing with an 80s "look" taken from a video clip rather than dressing like people actually dressed in the 1980s - over time we appreciate the reductionist vision of something like "soundalike" blaxploitation library music; whereas back-in-the-day we may have seen it as a gauche simulacrum of what we considered to be "real".
In some ways the Australia of my childhood in the 1960s and 1970s was a "library culture", a distant vision of an idea of England transplanted into a hostile climate. As a then-anglo culture, we would sweat it out over a hot oven roast for Christmas lunch (these days it's cold seafood) in a mid-summer temperature of 40 degrees, the sun nearly melting the fake Christmas snow that shopkeepers would spray onto their windows from a can. Heavily winter-robed Santas would faint in shopping centres from heat exhaustion. As late as the early 80s I remember marvelling at the 60s 'mod' revivalists sweating it out in their thick parkas in the hot summer sun, as they rode their scooters in formation to Bondi Beach. A copy of a copy of a copy.
It was a million miles away from the diverse Sydney that I live in now, with its essentially eurasian population - we all eat with chopsticks as much as with knives and forks - with architecture that begins to emerge from the urban environment rather than pining for an imagined homeland, and social mores that reflect a mix of cultures, sexualities and peoples.
Musically - particularly in genres with an african or afro-american heritage, such as jazz - in these earlier times we were a step further removed from the European distillation of jazz that occured from interaction with American players - on the other side of the planet, we'd copy the distillation, which is perhaps why some of the Australian jazz of the period - Crossfire, Galapagos Duck and others- reminds me of some of the MPS catalogue.
With a small population, jazz players and composers were also forced to find employment wherever they could, often composing for nature documentaries, TV shows, commercials, corporate videos - whatever they could get. This would often make up the majority of their recorded output, and thus it was natural for some of the made-to-style aesthetics to carry across to their "own" records - music that refers to jazz, or as in the title of this record, a "Jazz sound".
I'm starting this strand of exploration with this particular record because it features two of the people I'm going to track across a few albums each, woodwind player Don Burrows and percussionist/vibraphonist John Sangster. You might know their sound from a series of better-known soundtrack albums by film composer Sven Libaek, such as the underground "Inner Space" soundtrack for a television ocean documentary, and "Solar Flares". Burrows' tenor and breathy flute, together with Sangster's vibes, are pretty much the hallmark of the Libaek sound.
Most of the other players here would also appear on Libaek's soundtracks, as well as Burrows' earlier, great soundtrack for the 1968 film "2000 Weeks". Interestingly, that film itself engaged with the same concerns of "faux-English" culture that I was talking about above. Now, I'm with Bacoso in his summation of Burrows' 70s albums there - they're uneven, always include some stinkers, and his constant guitarist George Golla was always a somewhat-constrained, workhorse jazz musician. Neverthless, there are some good moments on several of these albums that I'm going to try and extract.
In retrospect, I think Burrows' importance in Australian jazz was more that he attempted to explore beyond his own capabilities and experience, delving into many musical cultures, and opening the eyes of people who were attracted to his own easy style, but subsequently led to other places. John Sangster, however, went on to achieve more in his own explorations.
This album was originally released in 1966 on EMI/Columbia, then re-released in 1977.
The '77 version has a cover (above) that could have resulted from a psychedelic battle between the various 1970s wallpapers that inhabited my childhood home, with everything eventually merging to a sullen, browny pink. I've put both covers in the downloads so that you can choose your favourite.
"Kaffir Song" excerpt
Although this is neither a library nor a soundtrack album, the good tracks here are the ones that reference other musical cultures in what I'd call a "library style". I can imagine some sections of Sangster's "Kaffir Song" played over flickering black-and-white 50s footage of African natives on a hunting expedition, with a jokey faux-British voiceover contextualising their exploits for Harry and Mabel back home. But I like it for Sangster's vibes workout and Burrows' fife sound.
"Esa Cara" excerpt
Burrow's "Esa Cara" shows his burgeoning interest in the rhythms and melodies of Brazil, a fascination that would later result in a number of interesting collaborations. I like the sweetness of his tenor here, even if it does dive for the easy harmonic resolve a little more often than the relative boldness of 'actual' Brazilian harmonic progression.
"Rain On Water" excerpt
Starting with a cymbal crash, Sangster's "Rain On Water" would go well with faded colour 16mm footage of Japanese people undertaking some sort of religious ceremony (El Goog reaching adulthood? Wara Katsu attaining ninja status?) - perhaps with a dissolved overlay of falling cherry blossoms. It's a distant Antipodean idea of "Japanese-ness" that I somehow like on its own referential terms.
"De Veras?" has some good melodies, but after that we descend into the elevator filler. Generally we've got sparse textures here - there's no drum kit apart from on the closer "Pink Gin". Sangster later developed his skills as a drummer on the local stage version of 'Jesus Christ Superstar', but after this album the quartet took on Alan Turnbull as a drummer while Sangster went off to develop his own work.
Anyway, I'm clearly back to my long rants, so I'll leave you to check this one out. Let me know what you think of it.
1. "Kaffir Song" - 4:27 - (John Sangster)
2. "Love Is For the Very Young" - 2:25 - (David Raksin, arr. Golla)
3. "Esa Cara" - 3:18 - (Don Burrows)
4. "Slightly Blue" - 5:50 - (Don Burrows)
5. "Hard Sock" - 4:06 - (Don Burrows)
6. "Rain On Water" - 3:25 - (John Sangster)
7. "Algeciras" - 3:13 - (John Sangster)
8. "De Veras?" - 3:29 - (George Golla)
9. "Pink Gin" - 3:50 - (George Golla)
Don Burrows - fife, flute, alto flute, clarinet, alto saxaphone
John Sangster - vibes, percussion
Ed Gaston - bass
George Golla - guitar
Produced by Eric Dunn
Columbia-EMI SCXO 7781
Recorded on 8 June & 5 October 1966
re-release 1977 : World Record Club R 05193
Liner notes by John Rippin
AUSTRALIAN JAZZ AND THE LIBRARY CONNECTION
#1 : Don Burrows - "The Jazz Sound of the Don Burrows Quartet" (1966)
#2 : Don Burrows - "The Tasman Connection" (1976)
#3 : John Sangster - "Australia and All That Jazz - Vol. 1" (1971)
Vinyl rip by Simon666 (WAV/MP3)
Album links in this post go to Orgy In Rhythm, The Manchester Morgue and Holy Warbles.
Please thank these folks if you visit them and snatch their records.