5 YEAR REWIND: PI-R-SQUARE



(As part of our 5th year anniversary, we’re revisiting 20 key songs. This post was originally published on October 23, 2004).

Pi-R-Square: Fantasy Pts. 1 & 2 (Unity Edit)
From 7″ (Wee, 197?). Available on Jazzman 45.

“I had a minor epiphany the other day. It began with the general and rather obvious observation that I own a lot of records. Too many. What I have just barely fits into my current apartment and frankly, it’s not going to sustain itself much longer if I keep bringing in more LPs without thinning the herd a bit.

The thing is: it’s not at all clear if I even need/want most of what I have. In picking out songs for this site, I don’t want to just throw up some half-assed songs just because I think they’re “ok”. I want to share music that demands to be noticed, tunes that will kick your ass and leave you, broken in an alley, songs that take you someplace that you never want to come back from. Forget the merely passable.

For example, I own at least half a dozen Brian Auger LPs and ’nuff respect to him but I don’t know if there’s anything on them that’s truly amazing. I own almost every album on Bernard Purdie’s Encounter label but seriously, I don’t know if there’s more than one or two songs on that entire imprint that can even ride the same train as with a descriptor like “sublime” Don’t even get me started on CTI (why do I own any Deodato LPs on that label? I mean, really?). The list goes on.

Basically, I need to clean house and start dumping every mediocre or middle-of-the-road piece of vinyl stacked in my apartment. I need to focus on the music that’s left, the indispensable records, the albums and singles that I’d protect with a passion that’s normally reserved for childhood pets and letters from your first love. In short, I need to just keep the music that’s on par with “Fantasy.”

For a long time, “Fantasy” was one of the Bay Area’s Holy Grail 7″s – costing well into the hundreds for an elusive copy. One assumes the group was lead by pianist Lonnie Hewitt (one of Cal Tjader’s longtime collaborators) since Wee was his label. The song is not longer such a best-kept secret: it’s been reissued and comped several times and a local collector turned up a few boxes worth of stone-cold mint copies that the 7″ can no longer be considered all that obscure. But who cares – the point is that this song is really stunning. What I love about it is how slow and patient it builds and when the funk hammer drops, it transforms the song and takes it to that proverbial “next level.”

I never get tired of listening to this song and among my various Bay Area-related records, it’s top rankin’, no doubt. Now if only all my records packed this much quality. Maybe we’ll get there one day.

At least I can have my Fantasy.”

5 YEAR REWIND: KANYE WEST



(As part of our 5th year anniversary, we’re revisiting 20 key songs. This post was originally published on April 11, 2004).

Kanye West: All Falls Down (original mix)
Deleted from College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella, 2004)

“Imagine you’re Lauryn Hill. You’ve gone from one being one of hip-hop’s greatest artists ever to landing somewhere between an enigma and a joke. Your career is so far gone that kids think “Doo Wop” is old school now. One day, Kanye West, one of the hottest producers in the game, calls you up and says, “hey, I’ve made this conscious song about the contradictions about being black and having class aspirations, blah blah blah and I really want to sample your song from the Unplugged album – you know, that double-LP that effectively destroyed your career? Anyways, I want to redeem it by making this really dope song using your voice, is that ok with you?” Somehow, you decide “no,” thereby forcing Kanye to hire a sound-alike in the form of Syleena Johnson, a perfectly good Hill knock-off but the point is that she’s a knock-off, not the real deal.

The song above is the original mix, using the Lauryn Hill sample, as it appeared on the early promos for Kanye’s album. In the opinion of most, includes yours truly, it is the considerably superior version simply because Lauryn just sounds better. You decide.”

5 YEAR REWIND: HARVEY AVERNE


(As part of our 5th year anniversary, we’re revisiting 20 key songs. This post was originally published on April 30, 2004).

The Harvey Averne Dozen: You’re No Good
From Viva Soul (Atlantic, 1968)

“”You’re No Good” kicks off the Harvey Averne Dozen’s Viva Soul and the song is so good, so sublime in its affect, so remarkably not like anything else on the album that you wish Averne had pressed this up on 45 so you could have the song without the clutter of the rest of the LP to deal with. Don’t get me wrong, Viva Soul is a decent Latin album in its own right and had “You’re No Good” not appeared on here, I would still have found pleasure in songs like the mid-tempo mambo, “The Micro Mini.” But “You’re No Good” opens the album on such a stupendous note that the desperate desire for the rest of the LP to sound the same can only be met by consecutive waves of disappointment as you skip tracks to realize that “You’re No Good” is some kind of aberration – lucky to exist but still alone in the world, at least the world of Viva Soul.

Averne himself isn’t a great vocalist here – he belts out a passable but unremarkable performance that reminded me of a Tony Bennett knock-off in a Vegas bar. That’s not quite as bad as it sounds but Averne isn’t about to topple Otis Redding or Al Green off the top of the canon. What makes “You’re No Good” so damn good is the chorus of female singers, sounding like the latter-day Ronettes or similar girl group. Averne sings against them in a call and response between himself and what sounds like a bevy of girlfriends he’s cheated on. We hear their grievances first as the song opens on a brassy opening of horns and vibes that gives way to a funky, walking bassline and jabbing piano chords. They sing: “I don’t trust you when you’re out of sight/like you were last night.

On Averne’s reply – “I don’t want to hear anymore/enough of that jive/I know the score…” – the song brings the horns back in and the arrangement switches from soul into pop, only to swing back to soul when the women come back: “If you love me/like you say do/then make up your mind”. It’s a great exchange, not quite as tit-for-tat as, say, Otis Redding and Carla Thomas’ “Tramp” but like that classic, “You’re No Good,” is light and playful in its attitude too.

It’s those moments, when the women are seeking their revenge that every element in this song: the arrangement, production and vocals, all come together beautifully. There is something both incredibly soulful and funky about these women’s singing and it creates that moment of pop brilliance that so many songs hope for but few attain. I don’t know what Averne was thinking in writing this song, insofar as the rest of the album doesn’t sound much like this cut, but whatever inspired him is our blessing as well.”

FIVE YEARS OF SOUL SIDES


Today, Soul Sides turns five years old as an audioblog. In internet years, that means we should qualify for a pension soon and I have, of course, all of you to thank for the constant support over that time. Soul Sides has also been graced with very supportive press over the years as well and I’m very humbled by their favorable words.

In honor of those five years, I plan on commemorating in a few ways. The first is in reposting key songs (in my opinion) that Soul Sides has plugged over the years – I picked 4 per year. At the end, I’m going to create a limited edition CD with all 20. And finally, later in March, I’d like to have an anniversary party at Boogaloo[LA] to commemorate as well.

And if you have some personal favorites, I’d be curious to know what they are – feel free to discuss in the comments.

To kick off the 5 year celebrations, here’s the very first post (w/ sound) I made for Soul Sides, five years ago today:

Originally posted Feb. 29, 2004.


    Dizzy Gillespie: Matrix
    From The Real Thing (Perception, 1971)

    This has long been not only one of my favorite Gillespie cuts of all time but one of my favorite soul jazz tunes, period. Based on the original composition of Gillespie’s pianist Mike Longo, “Matrix” just grooves with a smooth, smoky beauty. The recurring horn riff is super funky and catchy, the main guitar line is similarly memorable and the bassline breakdown? Sublime. Throw in some snappy drumming and you have one helluva dance floor spin not to mention excellent listening material.