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Sunday, May 29, 2011

L'Apocalypse Des Animaux (Polydor, 1973)

When we talk about Apocalypse we usually mention tragedies: the end of the world, the last pages of the Bible and even our own death. Vangelis, Greek multi-instrumentalist that might know a little bit about tragedies (being from Greece), elaborated a soundtrack which could be called the first New Age record of the modern era. Before Apocalypse there was practically no word about the dangers of pollution.

It's important to recall the moment in which this album appeared: 1973. Humanity was facing an Energy Crisis caused by a war between Israel and Egypt. Arab countries stopped the oil supply to the West and hell broke loose when gas went up and we looked at our surroundings and realized: if gas can run out, so can other things.

We looked up and there was a huge hole on the Earth's ozone layer. Skin cancer started becoming a concern (specially for white people vacationing in the Caribbean) and all of a sudden, the enviroment wasn't to last forever because we were destroying Mother Earth, the recycler of all things.

In this context and with what the world is facing now, 35 years later, Vangelis' music is a reminder and an inspiration for us to fight against pollution and save the planet from ourselves. The Soundtrack of a 1972 TV documentary series made by Frédéric Rossif, L'Apocalypse Des Animaux pushed the envelope of ecology awareness by telling us the history of wildlife and the cycle of Nature in less than 35 minutes. The album, like Mother Nature's process, is fascinating, beautiful, and makes us listen to it over and over again. I don't have to say that whoever has listened to it on vinyl must have had quite an experience.

I usually describe how an album develops and I'll do the same here; however, it's really my personal point of view and you might find this record related to something completely different if you don't know the tracks' titles. With a record like this one it might not matter at all. The music is so ethereal and subtle it will conquer your heart easily no matter how you want to describe it.

The album opens with the generic theme of the series: African percussion starting and ending abruptly, like a village gathering call. Then we're hit in our solar plexuses with a tune called "La Petit Fille De La Mer", a nostalgic view of the Ocean, that might be strange for our city views but it's really where life on earth originated. "Le Singe Bleu" and "La Mort du Loup" are very sad tunes about a blue monkey and a dying wolf and here we are submerged into the vortex of the opera: how can we protect the delicate equilibrium of nature if we can't take care of ourselves and vice-verse? We're about to become the animals we're extinguishing by our own foolishness.

"L'Ours Musicien" is a very short tune, clumsy like a dancing bear, that cues to a big synth masterpiece: "La Creation Du Monde" in which the music puts us in the middle of the creation process twenty thousand million years ago, when the Earth was a hot rock and life appeared as simple cells trying to get organized in order to survive. "La Mer Recommencée" ends the album in an outstanding way, but it's not exactly the end...

Don't expect a lecture on the Origin of the Species, Global Warming or the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Vangelis is performing, essentially, a TV soundtrack that happened to stand by itself because of beautiful and accessible melodies. The Rossif documentary series, unfortunately, is out of print and extremely hard to find. It is known that Vangelis recorded more music for it so, why not, Universal Music should release the complete Apocalypse sessions and score big.

With L'Apocalypse Des Animaux, Vangelis had his solo career paved for success after dissolving Aphrodite's Child. He collaborated two more times with Frédéric Rossif in 1975 and 1979 for the documentaries La Fête Sauvage (a more percussion driven score) and Opera Sauvage (electro-acustic Vangelis at the peak of his creativity). He still records and performs today, but if you must have just one Vangelis record in your collection, or in order to start a Vangelis one, don't go for a Greatest Hits one, Chariots of Fire or Bladerunner. Get this one and get your mind enlightened.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Astrud Gilberto: "Berimbau"

Astrud has an incredible voice: mellow, sympathetic and even childish sometimes. This song, recorded in 1965, is in my humble opinion, her best moment. She has the incredible Gil Evans Orchestra backing her up (see previous post), giving her vocals a fuzzy, warm pillow of winds right off the beaches of Brazil, even though it's actually a sad love song. From the album Look To The Rainbow.

Gil Evans
Kenny Burrell with the Gil Evans Orchestra: “Moon And Sand”

Kenny Burrell is one of the most versatile jazz guitar players and this track, a collaboration with Canadian arranger Gil Evans, puts him on the spotlight and gives us a very similar emotion that of Metheny's "Travels", but with a Latin twist. It's almost impossible not to identify Evans' arrangement style once you listen to his orchestra; and here, his horn section proves a haunting background for Burrell's tasteful, passionate acoustic riffs. This is one of the most interesting guitar performances with a Latin combo that I have ever heard. The congas are drastically panned to the left and the small drum kit at the right. The orchestra is in the back, and Kenny's acoustic guitar (recorded unamplified and without any compression devices) is dramatically closer to the listener. Rudy Van Gelder's engineering skills give the listener the sensation of being in a nightclub. Reverberation is one of the "key signatures" of the analog Verve Jazz sound in the Sixties, as we can hear in this tune recorded by Van Gelder himself at his personal studio. From the 1964 album Guitar Forms.

Pat Metheny Group: “Travels”

Pat Metheny is my favorite guitar player and one of the most creative jazz composers in the last 30 years. Always writing, playing, recording and touring, he has won Grammy after Grammy for almost each record he’s released with his group. This track, a very slow, mellow ballad played live featuring Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcellos, is from his 1983 double album of the same name.

Metheny and his band, also featuring Lyle Mays on keyboards and Mark Egan on bass, had a string of albums for the ECM record label that were proof that human beings are not on the verge of self-destruction. Travels was the live compilation that included some new tunes, like the title track: a melody that puts you right there in the middle of Kansas, watching falcons fly by. Enjoy!


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