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Screen Reviews

The Apartment

The Apartment

directed by Billy Wilder

starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray and Ray Walston

MVD

The Apartment stands as one of Billy Wilder’s greatest comedies, although today its not all that funny. C.C. Baxter (Lemmon) works for an insurance company in New York. He lives in the west 60’s and looks for love. But he’s not the only one looking; his supervisors all borrow his apartment for their own trysts; often leaving him out in the cold and rain. C.C. falls for the elevator operator Fran Kubelik (MacLaine) even though she’s seeing the big boss Sheldrake (MacMurray). Hijinks ensue, but rather sad ones as this is a tale of infidelity, casual sex and attempted suicide. The pressure is high, and eventually C.C. decided that happiness is more important than a career and the story resolves into a happy-ish ending.

Shocking in its time, this movie now comes across as rather tame by today’s sexual standards. The minor bosses are played for laughs; Ray Walston arrives with a Monroe-esque blonde and four cocktails and proceeds to boot C.C. out into the cold. C.C.’s landlady and his neighbor can’t believe the amount of sex he appears to have, and the banality and overwhelming population of New York adds an interesting backdrop to the social commentary. Widely acknowledged as the best comedy of Wilder’s career and the post war era, the movie engages and the characters all feel very real. Lemmon is the perpetual nice guy even though he’s made a deal with the devil, MacMurray is shady and ambivalent and not the man I recall from My Three Sons. Walston and the other mid-level execs feel predatory, and it’s innocent Miss Kubelik who feels the saddest as she’s kicked from man to man and treaded on worse than the prostitute she almost is.

The packaging of this classic story gets high marks. Along with the fresh Blu-ray strike, there’s a stack of documentaries and interviews that do an excellent job of setting the time and space the movie debuted in. A small, neatly bound hardcover book accompanies this with more interviews and stills. I took he trouble to watch all the special features prior to the film itself; that made the cultural context much cleaner. This is a black comedy and not the sort of silly drag farce Some Like It Hot or Seven Year Itch projected, but it’s a touching look at the price of selling your soul and darn nice love story for the post war pre-sexual revolution era.

mvdb2b.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Love

Love

Black Beauty

High Moon

Once the most innovative bands in LA, Arthur Lee’s “Love” is now just a historic relic, like a bundle of letters from World War II. His was one of the first integrated bands from a time when the biggest battles of the Civil Rights wars had yet to be fought. There are reissues out there (www.ink19.com/issues/october2010/printReviews/foreverChanges.html) of the original vinyl along with and some grainy videos on YouTube but this collection adds new dimensions to his smallish catalog.

Acetates were quickie one-time cuts of musical tracks intended for the producer to make any minor mix tweaks before an album was committed to the pressing plant. It’s almost like galley prints of a novel or a press proof for an advertising campaign. The fact these still exist is pretty amazing as is the effort that went into cleaning them up. Sixteen tracks were rescued and the quality is amazingly high given the source materials. Some of theses tracks are pretty wild. On “Young and Able,” Lee announces “I got a snake coming out of my body”. Bold words indeed. “Can’t Find It” pulses with blues power and “Walk Right In” covers an old folk classic made famous by The Roof Top Singers. Yeah, I’m sure you remember them as well… “Beep Beep” has an island feel, and “Stay Away” has the sharp electric edge of late ’60s psych rock. The run order of these tracks seems to track their technical quality; the first half dozen are crisp enough for AM airplay but tracks near the end suffer from low dynamic range, poor equalization, and other relatively tolerable faults. You wouldn’t be shocked if your grandpa’s WW2 letters had ink fade, would you?

Accompanying this collection is a thorough 40 page book filled with pictures, history and personal recollections from various collaborators and friends over the years. Lee’s story is typical: a bright kid surrounded by music, he drifts in to playing guitar and eventually starts a band called “The Grass Roots.” He has to change the name when he finds another band already recording under that moniker. He has a few fast hits, develops a following and then just sort of fades away. The details are in the book and many other places; consider this your history assignment.

High Moon Records: www.highmoonrecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Tony Bennett and Bill Evans

Tony Bennett and Bill Evans

The Complete Tony Bennett / Bill Evans Recordings

Concord Music Group / Fantasy

They say “everything old is new again” and here’s a re-issue that proves the point. Like so many musical releases crossing my desk, there’s more than a stack of cleaned up CDs to be had, out there you can groove to an old school 180 gram vinyl stack of wax ready to acquire pops and skips a too cool surface hiss. This is a collection for purists of male vocals, modern Jazz, and the Great American Song Book.

Here we find Tony Bennett and jazz piano master Bill Evans meeting up for a pair of magical recording sessions. You can read the liner notes and debate if these arrangements were truly improvised on the spot, but I can tell you this: off the cuff or pre-planned, they are some of the finest vocal recordings ever laid down. Bennett was an old school crooner from Queens; Evans a hot jazz pianist from New Jersey and they both shared widespread success. They teamed up twice in 1975 and 1976 to make two successful albums that were simple, direct and faithful to the sounds that defined a post- War musical scene that did its level best to ignore Rock and Roll.

Technically, these are very sparse arrangements with little more the piano and vocal and maybe an occasional riff from a snare drum. The first thing I notice is how empty these tracks sound, Bennett almost sounds distant and Evans is most noticeable for what he doesn’t play than what he does. Unlike most modern music that’s compressed to fill the dynamic range of the CD format, there are quiet parts you really focus on, crescendos that make you feel the microphone is pulling away, and bridges that take their sweet time getting anywhere. When there is quiet it speaks volumes, and when there’s a note or a lyric it feels like there is more, much more room for Bennett to reach into. A palpable sense of negative space in this sound makes it special.

The boxed set offers both albums and an equal amount of alternate takes. A specialist will pick apart the subtle shades of difference; the more straightforward among us will think we’ve just double-tracked the whole collection. The original releases are The Tony Bennett / Bill Evans Album and Together Again but 20 tracks make it into your hands. Bennett has his hits (“Do as the Romans Do,” “Make Someone Happy”) and delightful obscurities (” Waltz for Debby,” “You Must Believe In Spring”) but all carry a late night smoky lounge sound. This can be the soundtrack of you next Mad Men party or the back drop to a lazy rainy day in September. Wait, is that a title?

www.concordmusicgroup.com/artists/Tony-Bennett-Bill-Evans

Categories
Music Reviews

Ray Charles

Ray Charles

Live in Concert

Concord Music Group

Often, you don’t realize the significance of some albums until years after they have faded from the charts. This Ray Charles album fits in that category; in 1965 it was just another live album from an up-and-coming Soul musician. In retrospect, it stands as a major turning point in the acceptance of Blues, Gospel, and Soul by mainstream America, and this extensive re-mastered re-issue nearly doubles the musical content of the original.

With a piano and solid brass line full of double-quoted nicknames like “Keg” and “Hank” and “Hog,” Mr. Charles pumps out a variety of styles — “I Got a Woman” is upbeat blues, “That Lucky Old Sun ” takes the blues riff to a downbeat mind, “Baby, Don’t You Cry” is a jazzy love song, and ‘Two Ton Tessie” is a jazz novelty with a brothel back beat and vocal support from Ray’s “Raettes.” If you dig around the ‘net, you can see what was on the original vinyl and what’s on this digital platter. The big bonus is a complex, superbly executed “Georgia on My Mind.” Eventually this became his signature tune, and here you can revel in its raw appeal. “What I Say” is the other major addition to the collection, and its silly nonsensical lyrics hearken to the frat rock sound that would drive a number of 1980s comedies. “Making Whoopee” slows down, and while it leaves off the vocals until halfway through, the arrangement is modern jazz at its smokiest. At one point, you can even hear Mr. Charles inhale as if he’s about to sing a bar, then stop short.

It’s hard to find a wart on this collection; the microphone placement and mix are intimate and use all the dynamics that a CD format can provide. As always, there are useful and entertaining liner notes, although I’m pressed to find a font that small that will render very well in print or on iPhone. Soul and Blues and Jazz — oh my! Don’t miss this, it sounds better than the original, if that’s possible.

Concord Music: www.concordmusic.com

Categories
Music Reviews

The Triffids

The Triffids

In the Pines

Domino

Australian ’80s alternative trio The Triffids is yet another obscure college radio band to benefit from the re-issue treatment. Outside of the most studious listeners of imported jangle rock from that era, there’s a good chance that the current American audience will question the importance of revisiting this material. Truth be told, In the Pines, with its dizzying array of sounds and genres, largely comes across as vital as anything Oz is putting out today, from the subtle appropriation of the traditional song made famous by Leadbelly on the title track, and the not-so-subtle “Sweet Jane” riff cop of “Love and Affection;” the outlaw country of “Just Might Fade Away” segueing into the ’50s lounge ballad “Better Off This Way,” the wiry and raw rock of “Keep Your Eyes on the Hole” and the glorious Felt-isms of “One Soul Less On Your Fiery List.” It’s easily as willfully eccentric as anything put out by today’s folk collectives. Interestingly enough, these guys managed to cobble together most of this sound from the sheep shearing shed they commandeered to record this album, giving it a honest lo-fi feel noticeably absent from today’s crop. The disc’s only problematic moments come when it’s at its most thoroughly college rock, when the dated songwriting can, at best, inspire a simple shrug and shake of the head. They might not have broken any new ground on here, but it’s still a boon for The Triffids to make their way to U.S. soil, even roughly 20 years behind schedule.

Domino Recording Co.: www.dominorecordingco.us