Monday, 28 May 2012

The Australian Ark - Derek Strahan (1970)

If I had to name an all-time favourite genre it would be nature documentary soundtracks - particularly if they're Australian and from the sixties or seventies. Admittedly, it's a fairly limited genre, so at this point, finding a new one (new to me, anyway) is pretty exciting. While doing a little wandering on the internet, I found the soundtrack to Shell's Australia; a thirteen part series by Robert Raymond documenting the natural history of Australia which originally aired in the early seventies. The soundtrack, titled The Australian Ark, was composed by Derek Strahan during 1969-70 and features the talents of a number of Oz jazz players including John Sangster and Derek Fairbrass. I've only been listening to it since I obtained it this morning, but from my initial impressions, it sounds really, really good. The inclusion of Sangster on percussion lends the soundtrack a very similar feel to Sangster's own soundtrack works and also the celebrated soundtracks of Sven Libaek. I don't have a rip of this album - it was never released on vinyl, although a cassette tape was released by Strahan in 1980 - but the whole thing can be purchased on CD or mp3 from CD Baby. Strahan seems to release all his music independently, so purchasing this album will directly support this Australian composer and his fine work.

If you want to hear some of the music in context, there are a couple of videos of the original documentary available at the National Film and Sound Archive's australianscreen site.

Snips N' Snails Sugar & Spice - Peter McLean (1973)

Snips N' Snails Sugar & Spice is another Australian children's folk record from the seventies. This one is by folk singer Peter McLean on whom I can find little to no information. All I can really deduce about the guy is that he either had a lot of money to spend on this record, or he was friends with some very good musicians; amongst the many players on the album are names such as Errol Buddle and Warren Daly. He also had the budget to put a lovely colour booklet as part of the cover featuring the lyrics and pictures of adorable children wearing very seventies clothing.

Although I was a little put off by the lyrical content at first - outside of it's original context, this whimsical seventies artefact can seem a little creepy - the quality of production, arrangement and the songs themselves are really very good. Like Shirley Jacobs, McLean inserts a little of that famous seventies social consciousness into some of the songs (although nowhere near to the degree of Jacobs). One of my favourite tracks 'If I Were A Child' contains the amusing refrain 'I'd wonder why they make me fight their dirty, stinkin' wars' delivered with utmost sincerity. The album also seems to have some connection with autistic children as there is a brief piece of text on the last page of the LP's booklet that mentions the Autistic Children's Association - although that's all it is, a mention, there's no further information or context, so who knows what McLean was trying to convey.

Occasionally embarrassing lyrical moments aside, this is a great children's folk record with strong melodies accompanied by a lot of instrumental layers; string sections, recorders, flutes, and choir vocals make this a very enjoyable listen.

Label: Cherry Pie
Released: 1973. I was able to work this out as one of the tracks 'Tom' was released as a single and is recorded as entering the charts at 48 in this year.
Players: Peter McLean - vocals
Peter Martin - electric guitar, acoustic guitars
Dave Ellis - bass
Jim Kelly - guitar
Warren Daly - drums
Dick Holland - electric piano
Lindsey Doyle - drums
John Harding, Cliff Hanney, Shirley Beauman, Nancy Clements, Janet Harvey, Francis Swales and John Lyle - violins
Nathan Waks, V. Vidler, Hans Gyors, Lal Kuring - cellos
Errol Buddle - concert flute, recorder
Col Loughnan - concert flute
Doug Foskett - alto flute
Dave Rutledge - alto flute
Warren Judd - baritone vocals
Ian Caldwell - tenor vocals
Lyndria Maywald - 2nd alto vocals
Lynne Martin - 1st alto vocals
Jan Judd - 1st soprano vocals
Jenny Parr - 2nd sopranos
Angela Cowl - 2nd sopranos


Australia's Shirley Jacobs - Shirley Jacobs (197?)

Shirley Jacobs was a folk singer and anti war activist who was active in Melbourne during the seventies and eighties. She regularly performed for the inmates of Pentridge Prison and eventually fell in love with a prisoner who had been incarcerated for blowing the whistle on police corruption in Victoria. On this record Jacobs sings songs aimed at children, but her social consciousness comes through very clearly on most tracks. On 'Sad Eyed Teddy Bear' she sings about a young boy who grows up to fight in a war and dies. On 'Tribal Girl' she sings about an indigenous girl, a 'dreamtime girl' and 'the songs your people know'.

The social commentary mostly works okay in the children's song format, however there are some missteps such as 'Friendly, Green, Luminous Bear', a ham-fisted equating of the mistreatment of the titular bear with racism. (Also on this track, the bass player seems to be completely unfamiliar with the progression - it's amazing that they kept this take.) My favourite is 'I Know A Girl Who Looks Through Windows' - a lovely folk melody with a great interplay between major and minor sections. This is an interesting folk album although the lack of variety in melodies and arrangement can get a bit samey after a while.

Label: RCA Camden
Released: Unsure, probably early seventies.
Players: Shirley Jacobs - 12-string guitar
Ade Monsbourgh - recorder, melodica, trumpet
Doug Wallace - guitar
Peter Hayes - 5-string banjo
Jim Beal - drums, maraccas, glockenspiel, bells, triangle, tambourine
Frank Taylor - piano
Allan Pope - electric bass
Children of Essex Heights State School, Victoria join Shirley on the choruses of 'Sad Eyed Teddy Bear', 'Topsy On The Truck', 'Friendly, Green, Luminous Bear'.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Don Burrows And The Brazilian Connection - Don Burrows Quintet, Sydney String Quartet, Octavio Burnier & Claudio Cartier (1979)

My view of 1970s Australia is derived entirely from pop-cultural artefacts. Through my incomplete, stochastic lens, the Australia of the seventies was a land far more isolated than today, infused with a unique kind of funky antipodean jazz. A land where flute was king, and Don Burrows reigned supreme as it’s finest exponent. It’s hard to imagine a time when a jazz flautist was the most successful and prolific of instrumentalists, but in the magic heyday of Australia in the seventies, anything was possible.
Like any prolific musician, Burrows has his hits and misses. The first record of his I ever bought - Don Burrows Presents The Brazilian Connection, is one of the hits. This is a double live LP recorded in 1978 at the Sydney Opera House and Canberra Theatre featuring the Don Burrows Quintet, the Sydney String Quartet and two Brazilian singer-songwriters; Octavio Burnier and Cluadio Cartier. Each track features a performance played by different permutations of these musicians. For example, some tracks feature just the Brazilians with the string quartet, some feature all the ensembles playing together, a couple feature the classic duo lineup of Burrows and guitarist George Golla and so on.

Although this is Don’s record, the Brazilians - Burnier and Cartier - steal the show. Tracks like 'Don João (King John)', 'Sitio Azul (A happy, country weekender)', 'Adventura Espacial (Adventure in space)' and 'Recreio (Playtime)' have a beautiful sound, particularly when the guitarists are accompanied by the string quartet. Although the overtly jazz flute feel of much of the LP has dated somewhat, the songs by Burnier and Cartier still sound very fresh and quite contemporary.

That being said, the tracks featuring all the players are amongst the best material on the LP. My favourite track on the LP is probably 'Lembrando Ed Kleiger (Remember Ed Kleiger)'. Opening with the Brazilians singing a gorgeous melody over a funky backing from the Don Burrows Quintet, highlighted with flourishes from the Sydney String Quartet which then segues into seven odd minutes of extended solos from our esteemed players. 'Lenda das Amazonas (Legend of the Amazons)' is another track where the players go all in, follows much the same format as the latter tune and is equally as good.

Don Burrow’s albums seem to be less sought out and celebrated than those by other Oz jazz players of the seventies - possibly due to their sheer abundance. This LP however, is well worth a listen and easily holds its own in comparison with other lauded Australian jazz LPs from this era.

Label: Cherry Pie
Released: 1978 (Recorded live at Sydney Opera House and Canberra Theatre)
Players: Don Burrows - flutes, clarinet, percussion
George Golla - guitar, percussion
Tony Ansel - electric piano, synth, percussion
Paul Baker - bass, percussion
Paul Jansen - percussion

Octavio Burnier & Claudio Cartier - 6 and 12 string guitar, vocals, percussion

Harry Curby - 1st violin, percussion

Derel Tincu - 2nd violin, percussion
Alex Todicescu - viola, percussion
Nathan Waks - cello, percussion