Sunday, January 19, 2020

Stuart Hamblen--Columbia Hall of Fame EP (B 2827)

This morning's post was going to be the very down-home duo of Arthur Moore and Judie Woods, who recorded as Art and Judie, and who at some point became Mr. and Mrs. Moore.  The circa-1974 LP was sealed, so my needle was the first one to touch it.  Heard a lot of clunks, thunks, and pops, so I washed the record thoroughly.  It did no good.  Even after going through VinylStudio's de-clicker, the LP had loud thumps, bumps, and the rest.  I gave up trying to remove the noise, as my wrist was starting to fall off around track five, with all the splicing and overlapping I was doing.  I need my wrist for typing, playing the organ, operating the TV remote, and the like, so I quit.  A bad pressing, which isn't a surprise, since it's a tiny label (Rose Records of Vandalia, Ohio), but it was manufactured by Rite Records, and this is the first defective Rite pressing I've encountered.  I just hope, for Art and Julie's sake, the entire batch wasn't like this.

But that is what could have been today's offering, not what is.  What is are four superb Stuart Hamblen tracks from a Columbia Hall of Fame Series EP, put out in 1958.  The tracks themselves come from 1950, 1951, and 1952, and I wonder why it took me so many tries to get the date for the I Believe single?  I had to turn to the Online 78 rpm Discography to get that info, since Discogs and other sources seemed to have no record of the record.  Anyway, Hamblen has done the impossible with that track--he's done a version that I not only like, but which I like a lot.  Lovely sides, and I wish I had more than four to offer this morning.  This guy was terrific.  And passing up that Sacred label Hamblen LP in Goodwill is one of the dumber things I've done lately.  Oh, well.

DOWNLOAD: Stuart Hamblen (Columbia Hall of Fame B 2827)

It's No Secret (Hamblen; 1950)
Blood on Your Hands (Hamblen; 1950)
I Believe (Drake-Graham-Shirl-Stillman; 1951)
Is He Satisfied (Hamblen; 1952)

(Hall of Fame Series B 2827; 1958)


Saturday, January 18, 2020

Christmas Chorale--The Edward Carrington Chorale (1958)--in stereo!

I didn't expect to be doing a late Christmas post, but here I am, making a late Christmas post.  It's kind of fun!  Ernie put up the mono version of this LP ("A Reshared Rarity"), describing it as uncommon--and I have no reason to doubt Ernie's word, given all the Xmas vinyl he has seen and posted.  I post a decent amount of holiday stuff myself, and it's new to me, too.  At any rate, since Ernie had posted his copy, I didn't post mine during the holiday(s).  Ahhh, but then I realized I have the stereo version of the LP.  That was the game changer, as they say.  Whoever they are.

I told Ernie about my stereo copy, and he asked me to put it up.  So here it is.  The LP's condition could be better, but it's in mostly decent shape.  Acceptably decent, reasonably not bad shape.  I suspect someone played this with an expired needle at one point--it has that kind of wear.  Nothing that hurts the ear to hear, anyway, and the stereo sound is very, very nice.  Specifically, nice and full.  A number of the tracks sounded familiar, and I discovered there's a good deal of crossover with my Crystal Studio Choir post of this year.  My Crystal Choir LP (isn't that one of the most false-sounding group names in vinyl history?) is on the Audition label, which is part of the Grand Award family. so... that explains the cheat.  The tip-off track was Sleigh Ride.  Then I compared some others.  My LP is an abbreviated version of this, with thinner stereo.  As junk labels go, the G.A. stable of labels was more in the semi-junk category--beautifully produced, with good, often excellent, sound.  But the group had all the usual junk-label attributes, too--second-rate vinyl, re-namings of groups and issues (to get multiple sales for the same material, of course), and a line of "fake" hits ("18 Top Hits," anyone?). And this label group is probably responsible for the annoyingly persistent popular misconception that the junk labels had trouble capturing the sound of rock and roll, the idea being that, because the labels were using professional/traditional/establishment/old-timer musicians, these studio pros were confounded by the "new" rhythms.  An ancient meme by now.  That notion is absurd on a number of counts--for one thing, big band-era musicians had been playing rock-style rhythms for years as part of big band (where do people think the rhythms came from?), AND r&r, as I'm always pointing out, hardly started with Elvis--there are records from the 1940s that rock Elvis off the stand--and the needle out of his grooves.  (Nothing against Elvis, who I love!)  Most of these '40s discs were black, but they were derived from jazz, so....  But the Grand Award label stable, maybe because Enoch Light wasn't fond of rock and roll (or, like many folks, thought it was a soon-to-be-finished fad), at first (1955-56) produced "fakes" that sounded much more like the traditional pop of the day (or even earlier) than real rock and roll.  And so this feeds into a popular myth, and... there we are.  I don't think Enoch Light knew he was contributing in advance to a rock-culture misconception.  However, we're here to talk about Sleigh Ride and God Rest Ye Merry, not At the Hop, though I don't think anyone was resting at the hop, though they were making merry.  By the way, Snopes reports that "rest" had a meaning of "remain" or "stay."  As in, keep on being merry, gentlemen.  It was addressed to gentlemen.  Non-gentlemen had no requirements along that line.  Ladies, as usual, aren't mentioned.  Maybe merry-making was a guy-only thing, once upon a time.

Nice stereo sound.  You'll hear the needle-damaged portions, but nothing hideously bad in the audio department (third floor, next to the legit labels).  If this is rare in mono, it's likely moreso in stereo.  I think this turned up for me in Columbus, Ohio, but I don't keep a log of where and when I find things (I often wish I did), so it could have been the Goodwill off Dry Creek Road.  The story has been consumed by time.  For all I know, it showed up in the shed, one day, as if out of nowhere.  "Hey, cool--a Christmas LP.  Wonder where it came from.  Doesn't matter, I guess."

No year for this at Discogs or Both Sides Now, so I'm giving it the year of the mono release--1958.  It very possibly came out in stereo the same year, as G.A. was doing stereo by 1958.  So....

DOWNLOAD: Christmas Chorale--The Edward Carrington Chorale (Grand Award 223 S.D.; 1958)


Hudson River Suite (Grofe)--Andre Kostelanetz and His Orch. (1955)

This time, it's Ferde Grofe's Hudson River Suite, plus a treat courtesy of fellow Grofe-phile/arranger Kevin Tam--a 1955 or 1956 interview with Andre Kostelanetz, in which Andre discusses the inspiration behind the suite and shares some Grofe details.  Andre had a charming Russian accent--a little thicker than I might have guessed, but of course I had no evidence to go by.

The voice behind the baton.  Thanks, Kevin!  I've put the interview in a separate file.

The suite itself is gorgeous, and I'll have to confess that this was not my initial reaction.  The year was 1981, and I think it was the third Grofe work I'd ever heard--after Grand Canyon and Mississippi--and it seemed too... light.  Too lacking in mass (despite the superb 1955, RIAA-curve fidelity).  I was expecting something more lively, I suppose.  Something more in line with what I'd come to regard as Grofe.  Nearly 40 years later, I find much to love in this suite, a piece which establishes its moods and describes its subjects in a subtle, restrained, and masterful fashion.  New York, the closing portion, was going to be longer--much longer--but for some reason Kostelanetz had Grofe shorten it to the blink-and-you'll-miss-it track we get here.  I'd have loved to hear the full movement, but it certainly makes for a memorable finish, even in its greatly abbreviated form (all 59 seconds of it!).

Rip Van Winkle was apparently written in 1932, though it didn't have a suite in which to function until Hudson River was commissioned in 1954.  I'd forgotten that the suite was the conductor's idea and not Ferde's--the Kosty interview reminded me of this fact--but Grofe's genuine enthusiasm for his assignment is evident throughout.  Unlike Aviation Suite, which has some inspired moments but suffers from too much repetition (even within its short playing time), Hudson River gives us perfectly and superbly maintained moods, with Rip (which also came out as a Kosty 45!) providing a bouncy, upbeat center.  Albany Night Boat, which, on first hearing (about 1981) struck me as pretty pointless, now impresses me as a masterful musical portrait, with the ingenious Dixieland section an amazing example of scored jazz that doesn't sound premeditated.  A neat piece of musical time-travel, similar to many moments in Grofe's 1960 San Francisco Suite, which you probably didn't know is available in a live performance (arranged by Kevin Tam, mentioned above) at YouTube.

Night Boat, which initially had me thinking, "This is a suite movement?" is now one of my favorite suite movements.

A contemporary assessment of this LP, written either for High Fidelity or Stereo Review, sarcastically described it as useful for testing one's hi-fi speakers (a knock on the sound effects used in Rip Van Winkle and the closing movement).  Grofe wasn't too popular with the critics by the 1950s.  Or maybe even before the '50s--I think there was much resentment that the Grand Canyon Suite was highly regarded by Toscanini when, in the minds of many critics, more worthy American composers had been passed over.  I think the bottom line is that light music often gets no respect. I know of two other commercial recordings of Hudson River--a Dutch recording in 1984 (which I'll be posting), and the 2002 NAXOS recording, conducted by William Stromberg.

Grab your paddle and sail down (and/or up) the Hudson River Suite--and don't forget to download Kosty's comments about it.

DOWNLOAD: Hudson River Suite (Grofe)--Andre Kostelanetz and His Orch. (1955)
                   Andre Kostelanetz, interviewed about the suite (1955?)

The River
Hendrik Hudson
Rip Van Winkle
Albany Night Boat
New York

Hudson River Suite (Grofe)--Andre Kostelanetz and His Orch. (Columbia CL 763; 1955)


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Aviation Suite (Grofe, 1944)--Ferde Grofe and Hollywood Studio Symph. Orch. (1946)

So... yeah.  Along with Valley of the Sun, this is probably the most rare Grofe I'll be offering, ever, and I had wanted it forever--for decades--and I was certain I would never have it.  Never.  No chance.  And then, a few years back, I got it on eBay for $9.99.  No other bidders--just me.  Still in semi-shock.  Half of me is fine, but the other half is dribbling his lips, going, "A-bibbbliibblliibliblb...."  Ten bucks.  Plus postage.  Grofe's Aviation Suite, conducted by the composer.

There was no way I could get the jacket lettering to stand out without grossly distorting the scan.  It barely even shows in real life, even at the correct angle of lighting.  "Guild Records," it says, and your guess is as good as mine.  The following information is to the best of my knowledge, and any corrections are welcome.  1) Aviation Suite was written in 1944, and it contained more movements than the four contained here.  2) This recording was done by Grofe in 1946 for the ARA label, with whom he had just signed a contract to record his own works, and then (aieee!!!!) the label folded.  So much for the follow-up works.  A 78 set came out, but I don't recall the label, and then--in 1950, I believe--this 10" LP came out on the REM Hollywood label, with "Guild Records" written on the front cover (the back is blank), and I still don't know what "Guild Records" is all about.  3) Given some of the problem areas, sound-wise, I'm guessing this was dubbed from the 78s, though the sound isn't all that bad--the pressing, yes; the sound, no.

The one other Aviation Suite recording is this one, from 1984, which thrilled me to death at the time. Ferde Grofe, Jr. was involved in having that LP come out, and for some reason I have four copies of it.  So, if you're in the market for one....  Anyway, the 1984 version has five movements instead of the four on this disc, with Glamour Girl the title of movement 2, instead of Hostess (Hostess seems to make more sense).  On this disc, Take Off uses the beginning portion of Plane Loco, a movement otherwise missing from this, probably to keep the work within its allotted time.  I'm not sure why the entire suite wouldn't have fit, especially since it's not very long, but then I don't know ARA's recording scheme--10-inch, 12-inch, three discs, four discs?  So I can't make a good guess.

With my regular .7 mil LP needle, things sounded dreadful in the quiet spots, but my 1.2 stylus took the fidelity to the skies (the best I can do, pun-wise, at the moment), improving the sound so much, you would knot believe how much.  The sound is good beyond anything I expected.  All it took was finding the right response curve (two tries, working from scratch), VinylStudio's amazing de-clicking filter, some manual de-clicking, and slight EQ adjustment.  The sound was a little bottom-heavy, so I did some careful cutting, gave the highs a slight boost, and... that sent things soaring.  Okay, that was terrible.

I looked up some flight terminology for pun purposes, but, as you see, I didn't get far off the ground.  Many of the terms were over my head, anyway.

This was a Grofe rush job, I'm pretty sure, with a killer start, but a weak middle, and a finale that brings everything soaring back to life... only to sort of stall out by groove's end, with a turgid, by-the-numbers theme-and-variation close.  The suite is ingeniously structured, as usual, like everything Grofe did (his sense of form was superb), but there's ultimately too much technique over feeling, in my view.  With the busy and unpredictable (but overly derivative of Gershwin) Plane Loco removed, there's too much repetition of material, since Hostess, while lovely and a beautiful piece of string scoring, is simply a sixteen-bar section that repeats, and Clouds--though it beautifully paints a musical picture of same--is too, well, thinly spread.  Pianissimo three-chord phrases can only be repeated so many times, especially when the variations are so subtle.  The movement needs something besides the fairly breathtaking full-orchestra crescendos (not far from the start) to propel the movement.  (Get it?  Propel?)

I'm fond of Clouds, and for the reasons stated, but if only it could have been shortened or graced with some extra... suspended liquid droplets?  No--it's too suspended as it is.  Anyway, a suite this short shouldn't have two slow, repetitive movements as part of its cargo. Still, a flawed Grofe suite is way better than none.  Hear this for its inspired moments.  And, boy, is this thing uncommon.  Thank goodness that eBay listing didn't fly past my radar....

DOWNLOAD: Aviation Suite (Grofe)--Grofe/Hollywood Studio Symphony O., 1946?

Take Off

Motor City

Ferde Grofe and Hollywood Studio Symphony Orch.  (REM Hollywood 2, 1950.  Re. 1946?)


Monday, January 13, 2020

Valley of the Sun Suite (Ferde Grofe; 1952)--Arizona State College (Tempe) Symphonic Orch., c. Ferde Grofe

The story of the Salt River Project, the Valley of the Sun Suite, was composed by Ferde Grofe on request, the notes inform us, "of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Honorable Howard Pyle, former Governor of Arizona, for the celebration of Reclaimation's Golden Jubilee in 1952."  No recording date is given, so this could be the premiere performance or a later one.  At any rate, this LP is not a common item, and this certainly isn't one of Ferde's better-known works, though I regard it as a joy from start to finish.  From the mysterioso first movement to the joyous, Johann Strauss-esque (am I allowed to type that?) conclusion, this is mood music of the highest class.  Making things more interesting are Grofe's reuse of cues from his 1950 movie score for Rocketship X-M  (in The Dam Builders) and the insertion of a chord sequence from his very first work, Broadway at Night (1924), at the beginning of the last movement.  Grofe was not shy about reusing material, and why not?  X-M itself reuses a portion of his Symphony in Steel (1935), and his score for The Return of Jesse James (1950) uses the opening section of his Tabloid Suite (for a telegraph office scene).

Anyway, I figured it was time I re-posted this.  Though the original post is long gone, I notice that my file is still up.  It appears someone was linking to it--which is great!  That means I was continuing to share it and not realizing it!  This recording is very uncommon, I should note.

Many folks, understandably spoiled by Grand Canyon, dismiss Grofe's other works with "I was hoping for the Grand Canyon Suite," but not every piece can be a composer's masterpiece, to be fair.  And it's foolish to expect as much.  It's to Ferde's credit he didn't keep rewriting the same hit.  A credit to his virtuosity, and to his genuine love for each and every locale he chose for his suites.  Anything I can do to help keep his music alive in cyberspace, I will do, and gladly.

Give this one a chance.  I've grown to love every last bar, and I've even forgiven Ferde for the awkward franken-segue toward the end of Jubilee, which he must have penciled in at the last moment.  No biggie--the movement is so superbly alive and tuneful, it's as if that rough cut never happened.  Enjoy!  And check YouTube to see if Kevin R. Tam's arrangement (and revival) of this piece is still up.  I forgot to do so before writing this....  (Update: Yes, it is, and in a single post.)

DOWNLOAD: Valley of the Sun Suite (Grofe)--Arizona State College (Tempe) Symphonic O., c. Grofe

Valley of Ditches
The Dam Builders
Masque of the Yellow Moon
Reclamation's Golden Jubilee

Valley of the Sun Suite (Grofe)--Arizona State College (Tempe) Symphonic Orch., cond. by Ferde Grofe (Canyon ARP 249)

Recording year probably 1957--see comments.  Thanks, Ernie.