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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 4. 22 March 1972


page 13


Charlie Byrd: Guitar Artistry Riverside

In recent years when guitars have come equipped with successively more sophisticated hardware, we rarely hear the instrument as just naked wood and strings.

Who nowadays plays in a modern idiom without even an amplifier? Charlie Byrd is one of the few jazz guitarists to learn his craft from sources other than jazz. Byrd found his inspiration in both folk music and the classics.

He studied the classical guitar with Sophocles Papas and Andres Segoria, and learned the literature of traditional guitar from 16th and 17th century Europe to modern Latin American concert music. But he also heard folk music - flamenco, Hungarian and the Country Blues.

There are instances when you can point to these influences in his playing, but the guitar as instrument appears to be Byrd's real influence. He thinks guitar - its tone, its chords, its rhythms and how they are produced. His successderives from his technicalability to say what he thinks and feels about his instrument.

In contrast with most other contemporary forms of music, Byrd's jazz has nothing to say. It's pure revelry and of a quiet, light and easy kind, but conducive to catharsis nonetheless, by its pure rhythms and striking clarity. And it comes as one helluva relief from the harshness of a lot of rock.

For a while the album struck me as being dated - it seemed too sweet and rosy - the way the world looked from bible class coffee bars. Its also the sort of music that can slip into the background very easily. There are no obtrusive musical obscenities. Charlie Byrd uses an unfamiliar lead instrument in jazz, but still this is perfectly honest and good music.

* * *


How pleasant, when asked to review a recording of a work whose idiom is entirely distasteful, not to have to hide a begrudging admission that the piece is well played and recorded behind protest at this perpetration of a bouquet of Bohemian fold-tunes in the name of "symphony". Dvorak's symphonic music may be pretty silly, but it was never so gross as to warrant the debasement to which it is subject in this issue which appears as a compendium of errors of modern recording.

The sound is completely artificial - for once the proverbial kerosene tin does seem apposite - a curious and highly metallic sheen which is utterley unreal, I am shocked at the amount of out-of-tune playing, unclear rhythmic articulation, dynamic imbalance and the continual "whipping-up" of the climaxes (eloquent enough as they stand), in a manner beloved of fashionable young men of the podium and reminiscent of the grimiest of Dr. Graham'sevangelisings. Mr. Jorda often takes a curiously literal view of the score markings which leads him into several traps; staccato articulation of parts of the Introduction and of the opening of the Scherzo so fragment the phrase as to render the musical shape quite meaningless. The record surface on the review copy is un-pardonably noisy and there are some bad editing slips And so on.

The label may be a cheap one although the copy submitted does not say so. Lest the makers plead 'economy' let me add that that is the last excuse or reason which I will accept in justification of the sort of nonsense here permitted. It might be appropriate to suggest some kind of protest against the monolithic commercial recording structure by ignoring its effort in the present contemptible case, and showing that it cannot assume that any half-witted performance of big-name, second-rate music will be lapped up by a gullible buying public.

If there are people who will buy this disc, good luck to HMV. If you must have a recording of the piece, don't buy this one. It is very, very nasty.

"Galactic Zoo Dossier," with Arthur Brown'.

"Music started as a loon for me, then it got serious and now its a loon again." So said Arther Brown of his association with new group Kingdom Come. Superficially at least, it would seem that Brown has changed from the days of this Crazy World. Gone is god of hell-fire painted faces, flashing teeth, black magic and primitive basicness. Instead we are confronted with a barrage of electronics, bizarre science-fiction and heavy up-dated driving music. The primitive Arthur Brown is replaced by the futuristic surreal one. But beneath it all, the sobbing shrieking voice is unchanged, only transferred to the setting of a new age.

Galactic Zoo Dossier starts with deceptive timidity with a religious message (tongue held firmly in cheek) audible from amid a confused pile up of voices, but then proceeds to range (or perhaps ramble) over a large number of modern musical forms. Heavy orthodox riffs are swallowed in majestic organ, while on some tracks the listener is treated to speeded up tapes, unorthodox organ, electronically-distorted metallic vocals, jazz-inspired solos, gentle acoustic guitaring... you name it.

The tracks are all run together so to provide a continuous stream of music and weird sound effects so that it takes so long (half way through the second side on first hearing) for the record to lose its freshness and charm, Kingdom Come play well, especially Michael Harris on organ, but are not, I think, quite of the standard demanded by such an ambitious project. The key to the album's success (or rather, lack of failure) must lie in Arthur Brown's singing which provides a sustained link throughout the musical meanderings of his group. If everything else has changed about Brown, his voice has managed to retain its wide range, its hysterical tortured scream, its pained sobbing and its immense power. Still his vocal gyrations would do justice to Screaming Jay Hawkins or James Brown. It is a (backhanded) tribute to Arthur Brown that the record tends to be somewhat dull when he is removed from the lead vocal spot.

Cover of Galactic Zoo Dossier record

This record is certainly not everyone's, but, despite occasional lapses in power, it is not at all bad — if you like your music with just a suggestion of the avant-garde and not too mush innovation, that is. The new Brown must pale by comparison to the old, but he is still worth a listen.