Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ali Jihad Racy and Simon Shaheen: Taqasim: The Art of Improvisation in Arabic Music

Taqasim is an exceptional recording issued by Lyrichord Records of improvisations by two masterful musicians, buzuq player Ali Jihad Racy and oud performer Simon Shaheen.  This 1991 album is said to be the first instance of these two instruments paired together and the three tracks, "Magam Kurd;" "Maqam Nahawand;" and "Maqam Bayyati" feature phenomenal playing as the men alternate solos building upon a melody on their respective instruments, demonstrating both exceptional speed and control as well as wonderful melodic invention.

Generally, taqasim have been employed in supportive roles in Arabic music performances, either as introductory to a song or as a connective bridge between two parts of a larger suite.  In some cases, longer taqasim performances have been demonstrated, although the constraints of modern recording limited its availability in that format.  With this record, however, the opening "maqam" or melodic development, is 20 minutes long, while the remaining two are 13 and 9 minutes, respectively.  In any case, listening to these two masters "duel" with their exceptional soloing makes the time go by so quickly.

Of note is the way in which Racy and Shaheen build off the melodic theme, using four-note tetrachords of varying scales and pitches to modulate from one maqam or melodic mode to another.  So, while there is a defined structure with the tetrachords as established within the maqam, the skilled improviser has a great deal of freedom in creating those modulations. 

The names of the pieces are, in fact, the monikers given for tetrachords, that is, the "Kurd;" "Nahawand;" and "Bayyati" are tetrachord types which define how Racy and Shaheen craft their interpretations.   The Nahawand, for example, is roughly analogous to the first four notes of a minor scale in classical music in the West.  The "Kurd" generally corresponds to those notes in the Phrygian mode.  The Bayyati (Bayati) is the more common of the tetrachords used in Arab music.

As to the instruments, they are similar in appearance, having pear-shaped bodies with plucked lute strings, but the oud has a deeper sound and is unfretted and the buzuq has a longer neck, smaller body, frets, and a more metallic, ringing sound.

Racy, a native of Lebanon, is a long-time professor of ethnomusicology in the renowned department at the University of California, Los Angeles and has recorded two other Lyrichord albums and a collaboration with the tremendous Kronos Quartet (whose Howl, U.S.A. album has been featured on this blog.)  In addition to the  buzuq, which has a relationship to the saz, which comes from Iran and Turkey (a great Axiom Records release by Talip Ozkan is to be detailed here, as well.)  He is also a master of the nay, a reed flute that is to be noted in a later post here on the amazing music of the Whirling Dervishes.

Shaheen, who hails from Palestine, is also a dual instrumentalist of note, being also a violinist.  He performed on another featured item from the blog, Material's Hallucination Engine and his connection to that collective's leader, Bill Laswell, led to a Shaheen album, released on Laswell's fantastic Axiom label, devoted to the music of Egyptian composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab, who skillfully blended Arabic and Western styles together in rich orchestral pieces--this record will also be covered here.  Shaheen also made a complement of sorts to Taqasim, when he released Saltanah with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, a musician from India who created his own sitar/slide guitar hybrid--another album, blending the maqam with the raga,  that will someday make an appearance here.  Recipient of a National Heritage Award from President Clinton, Shaheen has two bands, lectures, composes film soundtracks and much more.

It is hard to think of an album that has as much power, grace, skill, and art using improvisation from established structures than this--jazz improvisationis equally as thrilling.  Moreover, anyone interested in guitar music can easily see how the origins of that Western instrument can be traced back to the many impressive musical traditions of the Near and Middle East.  Finally, music is the "universal language" and examples like Taqasim show that, whatever cultural differences exist in a sometimes polarized and politicized world, music gives an opportunity to transcend those variations through something relatable and unifying.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sonny Sharrock: Ask the Ages

Some twenty-five ago, while flipping channels, YHB came across a PBS program that looked to be from the late 1960s or early 1970s.  Comedian Bill Cosby was hosting a show featuring jazz musicians and there was band that didn't particularly make any impact, so it was just about time to either turn the TV off or find another channel, when, suddenly, a guitarist launched into a solo that was mesmerizing and mind-blowing.  Rather than the clean, liquid tones of most jazz guitarists, this buy used feedback, lightning-quick strumming, and effects that reminded vaguely of Jimi Hendrix.  Then, the tune ended and the program went elsewhere without identifying who this incredible musician was.

Then, in 1991, when jazz had become a major interest/preoccupation, a review was read for an album called Ask the Ages by Sonny Sharrock and the writer raved about the recording and the pyrotechnics of the guitarist.  Because the tenor and soprano saxophonist was Pharoah Sanders and the drummer was Elvin Jones, both former players with the great John Coltrane, who was then occupying a great deal of listening time for YHB, the album took on added interest.  Little did I know . . .

From the first track, "Promises Kept," the powerful playing was stirring.  Sanders, whose fiery performances of the 1960s and first half of the 1970s, had given way to a more melodic, peaceful style, hearkened back to the glory days of such great albums as Karma (covered in this blog recently) and blew with an intensity and passion unheard for years.  Jones, always a master of polyrhythmic swing, plays tremendously on this album.  And, the youngster in the group, bassist Charnett Moffett, whose father, Charles, was a great drummer, holds down the bottom and keeps a strong pulse going for his elders (though they play as if they were of Moffett's age!)

After Sanders' lengthy and impressive solo, Sharrock launched right in and that sound immediately connected me back to that TV show from a few years back.  That was a very cool surprise--never would have expected that!

Surprising, too, after the fireworks of that opening tune is the gorgeously-played ballad, "Who Does She Hope to Be?" which showed that Sharrock, for all the mindboggling technique, blazing speed and monster sound is a master musician who could tap into the soul of a melodic piece with as much effect as in the faster tempo material.

"Little Rock" and "As We Used to Sing" are also top-notch flights of creative power and ability and the extremely tight playing of the quartet, who hadn't performed together previous to this date, is something to behold.

The highlight, though, and truly one of the great pieces of music YHB has ever heard is the earth-shattering nine-and-a-half minute excursion into hyperdrive, "Many Mansions."  Sanders again blows with an sustained intensity and interest that has to be heard to be believed, but then is followed by Sharrock's unbelievable shredding, sliding and screaming soloing.  It really can't be described by a total amateur.  Amazingly, Jones is third-fiddle on this record and he has a great, rumbling and crashing solo on this masterpiece of a tune.  Moffett, meantime, continues to support these masters with suppleness and strength.

At the time this album came out, I didn't know much about the co-producer Bill Laswell, nor was I aware that the label, Axiom, that released this essential album as an imprint of Island Records was his.  Nor was it known to me that Laswell had tracked Sharrock down (he was a truck driver and caretaker for mentally challenged children) after he had given up music and worked on a comeback with him, including the delightfully chaotic quartet, Last Exit, which will soon be profiled here.  Laswell's production is typically clear and clean, with the players recorded very skillfully to maximize their solos.  As a bassist, Laswell gave particular attention, it seems to me, to bringing Moffett's bass up front more so he could be given the opportunity to show his skills amongst his elder masters.

Moreover, Sharrock's recording debut came courtesy of Sanders and his 1967 album, Tauhid.  Sharrock had also recorded with Miles Davis on this A Tribute to Jack Johnson sessions in 1970, though most of his contributions were edited out (they can be heard, however, on the Complete Jack Johnson Sessions box set, which will be one of the "For Fanatics Only?" entries on this blog one day) and what was left was uncredited.

The remarkable Sonny Sharrock (1940-1994)

As too often happens, Sharrock was on the verge of signing his first major label record deal in 1994 when he suddenly had a massive fatal heart attack.  He was only 53.  Even though he died too soon and before he could present, perhaps, his music to larger audiences, Sharrock's work with Laswell, both in solo and group presentations, including Last Exit and records like Ask the Ages, endure. 

If there is a reader who happens upon this entry, has not expressed much interest in jazz, has never heard Sonny Sharrock, but enjoys masterful guitar and ensemble playing, you simply cannot do better than to give Ask the Ages a try.

Sonny Sharrock:  Ask the Ages (Axiom, 1991)

1.  Promises Kept  9:43
2.  Who Does She Hope to Be?  4:41
3.  Little Rock  7:12
4.  As We Used to Sing  7:45
5.  Many Mansions  9:31
6.  Once Upon a Time  6:26

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wire: Pink Flag

Labels, labels, labels.  When Wire released its first album, Pink Flag, at the end of 1977, the punk revolution in England was nearing its end, or at least what has been referred to as the "first generation" was coming to a close.  Speaking of labels, it was interesting that the band was signed to Harvest Records, a subsidiary of the massive EMI label, best known for issuing "progressive rock" works from the likes of Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, The Move and others--seemingly a world away from that of Wire!  This was also true of 1980s signees Duran Duran and Thomas Dolby.

In any case, Wire bore little resemblance, to YHB, to the Sex Pistols or early Clash or The Damned or lots of other early punk bands.  Sure, the songs were short, had a certain attitude to them, and could move along at a fast clip.  But, there was something clearly different about Wire that set them apart from virtually anything on the so-called "punk" scene at the time.

At any rate, easy labels and ready comparisons are not of much interest here, anyway.  The 21-song album featured the steady, metronome-like drumming of Robert Gotobed (Grey), bassist-vocalist Graham Lewis, guitarist Bruce Gilbert, and vocalist-guitarist Colin Newman, but producer and keyboardist Mike Thorne was essential to the band's sound to the extent that some have referred to him as Wire's fifth band member.  His role would only increase in the two subsequent albums, to be covered later in this blog.

The first track, "Reuters", sounds almost nothing like the punk music of the day, though its heavy guitar, echoey bass, and crisp drums nicely supplement Newman's Cockney-inflected delivery of lyrics that, dealing with the reporting of war and human rights abuses, are far more mature and advanced than what most contemporaries had on offer.

Moving briskly through great pieces like "Three Girl Rhumba;" "Lowdown;" "It's So Obvious;" "106 Beats That;" "Strange;" "Feeling Called Love;" "1 2 X U;" and many others, Wire throw out ideas left and right, with varied tempos, unusual melodies, and ironic lyrics barely developing in any given piece, before the next one, generally quite different that those before and after, kicks in and the sequencing may be as integral to the success of the album as any other element.

This was a band that, though not proficient musically, were definitely so in terms of ideas and their execution and Pink Flag does not sound at all dated, nearly thirty-five years after its release.  Wire would go through several iterations through its history (YHB did not hear them until the 1987 record, the excellent The Ideal Copy, which showed the band pursuing a very different sound, if not fundamentally altered attitude), but Pink Flag is a bracing start for a great band not content to stand still or rest on its laurels.

Wire:  Pink Flag (Harvest, 1977)

1.  Reuters
2.  Field Day for the Sundays
3.  Three Girl Rhumba
4.  Ex Lion Tamer
5.  Lowdown
6.  Start to Move
7.  Brazil
8.  It's So Obvious
9.  Surgeon's Girl
10. Pink Flag
11.  The Commercial
12.  Straight Line
13.  100 Beats That
14.  Mr. Suit
15.  Strange
16.  Fragile
17.  Mannequin
18.  Different to Me
19.  Champs
20.  Feeling Called Love
21.  1 2 X U
22.  Options R (Restless Retro 1989 CD bonus track)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ludwig von Beethoven: Favourite Piano Sonatas

This post highlights a very impressive double-disc package of Beethoven piano sonatas issued by the German record label, Philips, and consists of performances recorded between 1970 and 1977 by Alfred Brendel, born in what is now the Czech Republic and who lived for many years in Austria.  At around 40, he finally received recognition outside of Austria and later moved to England where he still resides, at age 81, though arthritis ended his performing career four years ago.

Brendel was known as a skilled performer of works by Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and others from the 18th and 19th centuries, though he is also highly regarded for his performances of twelve-tone row serialist composer Arnold Schoënberg.

Beethoven, of course, had a long and varied career filled with staggering works embracing his nine powerful symphonies (to be featured in a "For Fanatics Only" post one day), dynamic string quartets, and a catalog of excellent concertos.  In the liner notes essay "A Spiritual Journey:  Beethoven Piano Sonatas" by Julian Haylock, a musician who has written biographies on such figures as Puccini and Rachmaninov, worked as a critic and penned a great many essays for liner notes, the writer notes that "the piano was Beethoven's natural expressive outlet" and the composer was a virtuoso on that instrument, especially in physical performances that had a profound impression on audiences and often physical ones on the battered pianos, to boot.

The seven sonatas featured on this impressive 150+ minute set feature some of Beethoven's most beloved and timeless works, such as the "Appasionata," "Pathétique," "Pastoral," and "Moonlight."  The latter, titled the Quasi una Fantasia by the composer when completed in 1801, has generally been considered the best, or at least one of the finest, of Beethoven's works for piano, though some have taken issue with the popular title of "Moonlight," pointing out, with ample reason, that the "Fantasia" is more appropriate because of the great range of emotions, tempo, and coloration embodied in the three movements. 

The power of the final movement is such the Haylock quotes a friend of Beethoven and composer Anton Reicha regarding his role in Beethoven's rendition of this astounding movement: "He asked me to turn the pages, but I was too busy wrenching the strings out of the piano as they broke, while the hammers got jammed . . . I worked harder than Beethoven!"

Another nice little anecdote, touching upon Beethoven's often-prickly personality, deals with his "The Tempest," which opens disc 2 of the set.  When asked about the inspiration for the sonata, the composer is said to have burst out with "Read Shakespeare's The Tempest!"  There doesn't appear, evidently, to be much directly in common between the two works, so it is assumed the composer was applying a caustic sense of humor that may not have caught on particularly well.  While there is much passion and energy in this work, there are also beautiful moments of contemplation and calm, as is often the case with the great composer's best work.

Meanwhile, the "Pathétique," which was finished in 1798 was a highly-successful work from its release and its middle movement, the Adagio cantabile, is famed for its melody.  The work has often been viewed as being directly influences by Mozart's 14th piano sonata from about fifteen years before.

The "Appasionata," finished in 1805 or 1806 as Beethoven's hearing had greatly deteriorated, begins solemnly and stately enough, but is soon transformed in its first movement into a propulsive and driving force of nature with crashing cords from both hands complemented by some gorgrous lyrical themes.  The second movement, as is often the case with "middle passages" in classical music is a more soothing, calming exposition of a theme and several variations.  Intensity returns full throttle during the closing movement with ends in a staggering coda of great power.

This set of seven of Beethoven's thirty-two piano sonatas is an excellent cross-section of his works in that genre and Brendel plays exquisitely throughout.  Amateur listeners, such as YHB, can benefit greatly from Haylock's concise and clear discussion of these works, and this essay is an excellent example of liners that strike a solid balance between being too technical or worshipful and being too general or vague.  Philips has put out a disc that seasoned Beethoven lovers and newcomers alike should appreciate.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The African Mbira: Music of the Shona People

The staggeringly diverse catalog of the Nonesuch Explorer records embraces many "folk" recordings of indigenous music from around the world.  Recently, YHB was fortunate to pick up a dozen discs formerly used in a bookstore kiosk and sold without artwork or cases.  While a couple of these were duplicates, ten of them were not and for ten bucks this was a whale of a bargain.

Of these ten, three concern the amazing mbira music from the Shona tribe of Zimbabwe.  This title was released in 1971 and features Dr. Abraham Dumisani Maraire, who was a professor of African literature and languages at the University of Zimbabwe in the capital city of Harare, but was also an ambassador for the beautiful and plaintive music of the mbira, a thumb piano, the richness and melodicism of whihc belies its small size and seemingly simple structure.

Dr. Maraire died in 1999, but this recording and others preserves the remarkable music of the Shona, in which the repetitive notes of the mbira lead to vocalizations that play off the simple melodies of the instrument, while rhythm is steadily maintained via the hosho, or gourd rattle with either seeds in it or a bead net around the outside of it.  Meanwhile, the hosho player performs a vocal accompaniment that is sound-based and which plays off the lyrics sung by the main vocalist and mbira player and there is often a third vocalist to further enrich the singing of the others.

Notably, there is not a passive audiences at performances conducted by the Shona.  Those present are either directly playing music or engaged in dancing.  There is also an improvisatory flavor to these pieces, as new sections are added according to the mood established by the piece and the players and what may appear to be monotonously repetitive is actually a subtle series of variations on the themes established in the early part of the songs.

The six pieces on this record are all uniformly excellent and the other recordings acquired at the same time are The Soul of Mbira: Traditions of the Shona People (1973) and Shona Mbira Music (1977), both featuring other well-regarded performers of the mbira and accompanying vocal music.

The African Mbira:  Music of the Shona People (Nonesuch Explorer, 1971)

1.  Kana Ndoda Kuramba Murume  5:48
2.  Tipe Tizwe  4:20
3.  Misorodzi  7:33
4.  Gumbukumbu  6:43
5.  Ndini Baba  6:22
6.  Urombo  6:22

Thursday, June 7, 2012

For Fanatics Only? John Coltrane: The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings

Every so often, there'll be offerings under the heading "For Fanatics Only?", highlighting box sets that the casual listener or fan of a performer or group would not likely be interested in, but which a true fan-atic would probably appreciate.

The first of these covers a set that expands upon what is, after A Love Supreme my favorite John Coltrane recording.  The single album Live at the Village Vanguard, released in 1962, took three tracks from four nights of recording by notable engineer Rudy Van Gelder and became famous (or infamous) for the mind-boggling Chasin' the Trane, in which the legendary tenor and soprano saxophonist launched into a performance without a head arrangement or theme and proceeded to blow his way through nearly 16 minutes of stunning tenor sax playing, puncutated by phenomenal variations in color, tone and phrasing and presented with remarkable control.  Van Gelder remarked that he named the tune because he literally was "chasing" Coltrane with the recording equipment to capture the performance in highly challenging circumstances in a small, packed and oddly-shaped basement nightclub.

The other two tracks from the original album include the solemn and stately "Spiritual," in which Coltrane developed a theme from an old 19th-century gospel spiritual and used his soprano, as well as his tenor, to create beautiful and also heart-wrenching solos.  Trane's work is juxtaposed in interesting, if unusual ways, by the sinewy and twisting bass clarinet work of the sadly undervalued Eric Dolphy, who was making impressive and challenging music as a leader with Prestige Records (a Blue Note live album of Dolphy's has been featured on this blog already.)  Meanwhile, the standard "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" swings strongly, due in large measure to the stellar rhythm section of bassist Reggie Workman and drummer par excellence Elvin Jones, who works the brushes as well as anyone in jazz, and features excellent soloing from pianist McCoy Tyner.

In 1963, two more lengthy tracks formed the backbone of another album, Impressions.  The title track features the same chord sequence as the famed Miles Davis track "So What," a piece on which Coltrane performed from the popular and critcally-successful 1959 album Kind of Blue.  But, as all great artists do, Trane took the source material from a familiar environment and then transmuted it into something completely his own.  The other piece, however, is just as staggering.  "India," which in its modal form of playing, but also Trane's soprano sax playing, does evoke a broad feeling of Indian music and the musician had been listening to Indian classical music, as exemplified then by sitarist Ravi Shankar and sarod master Ali Akbar Khan (these two were also recently profiled on this blog for an album of their performances from the 1960s.)

Actually, in the early 1990s, an older woman I knew from work had heard that I'd become a Coltrane fan and, as her son worked for MCA Records, then owner of the Impulse! Records catalog, gave me two cassettes issued by MCA of highlights of Trane's Impulse work.  The tracks that drew my attention most were excerpts from A Love Supreme, the tremendous "Out of This World" from the eponymous 1962 album, "Chim Chim Cheree," from a 1965 record that features some of Trane's most powerful and impassioned soloing, "Africa" from his first Impulse album, the masterful Africa/Brass, and, finally, "India."

For the fanatics, though, 1997 brought the mother lode: the release of the 4CD box set, The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings.  Everything that had been recorded by Van Gelder on 1, 2, 3 and 5 November 1961 is here.  There are 22 tracks of 9 individual pieces, including four versions of "India" and "Spiritual", three of "Chasin' the Trane" [well, one is called "Chasin' Another Trane" and features a frequent collaborator on drums, the inimitable Roy Haynes], two of "Impressions," "Miles' Mode," "Naima," and the traditional "Greensleeves" and one each of "Softly" and "Brasilia," the latter not appearing on record until the same 1965 album that featured "Chim Chim Cheree."

Trane was in an interesting experimental mode, not just by having Dolphy appear on several tracks, especially on the first night, but also in having two bassists, Workman and Jimmy Garrison, who made his debut with Trane at this engagement and became his regular bass player for the next 5 1/2 years, an oud player named Ahmed Abdul-Malik (recall that Nubian oud master Hamza El Din has also been spotlighted on this blog) who provided an exotic coloration on India, and the oboeist Garvin Bushell, a little-remembered jazz and classical woodwind multi-instrumentalist, whose career started in the 1920s and whose work on the 2nd and 5th of November, added a deeper layer of sound and color to "India" and "Spiritual."

For a devoted follower of Coltrane, who revels in his experimentalism, drinks in the wonders of his live recordings and is an aficionado of the previously released Live at the Village Vanguard and Impressions albums, this box set is an essential purchase.  Even the several versions of key tracks reveal a variety and diversity in lineups and performance that show just how amazing Coltrane's work was developing in the early 1960s.

Despite sour reviews from some critics who labeled the music "anti-jazz" or intoned that Trane should have saved his playing for the "woodshed" [in other words, in private rather than in front of an audience], or felt that Dolphy was completely out of place with Trane, these reactionary ripostes only seem more ridiculous as time goes on.  However, in 1962, the biting remarks had an impact on readers of jazz publications and, to some extent, to the musicians, especially Trane and Dolphy, with the former expressing disbelief at how the latter, universally known as a quiet and gently personality, was being raked over the coals by so-called authorities who were, fortunately, on the wrong side of history.

Whatever "anti-jazz" was supposed to mean in the light of the advancing the music as exemplified by Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor, Charles Mingus and many others by late 1961, John Coltrane with his Africa/Brass collection and this live recording vaulted into the front ranks of any type of musician anywhere, much less jazz.  This box set is a remarkable excursion into feeling, experimentation, passion, dynamics, etc. and, though Coltrane and producer Bob Thiele soon embarked on a series of records to counter the "anti-jazz" label, including albums featuring ballads, a collaboration with Duke Ellington, and another with the incredibly smooth singer Johnny Hartman, there was no turning back ultimately. 

In a way, the path from Live at the Village Vanguard to A Love Supreme is pretty direct and it is one of many reasons why I feel this are the two strongest Coltrane recordings in terms of the impact he had on the direction of jazz music or music generally.  The 4-CD box set, with a great booklet featuring many photos, a discography and an excellent essay by Mark Wild, just gives a much deeper and intense exploration to those fanatics interested and willing in delving deeper into the wonders of John Coltrane's music in late 1961.

John Coltrane: The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (Impulse! Records, 1997)

Disc One:

1.  India  10:20
2.  Chasin' the Trane  9:41
3.  Impressions  8:42
4.  Spiritual  12:29
5.  Miles' Mode  9:53
6.  Naima  7:33

Disc Two:

1.  Brasilia  18:35
2.  Chasin' Another Trane  15:26
3.  India  13:14
4.  Spiritual  15:03
5.  Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise  6:25

Disc Three:

1.  Chasin' the Trane  15:55
2.  Greensleeves  6:08
3.  Impressions  10:49
4.  Spiritual  13:31
5.  Naima  7:02
6.  Impressions  14:45

Disc Four:

1.  India  13:55
2.  Greensleeves  4:51
3.  Miles' Mode  15:12
4.  India  15:06
5.  Spiritual  20:29

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Orbital: The Green Album

In the electronica explosion that hit England during the late 80s and early 90s, one of the best of the acts to emerge from the very busy scene was Orbital, comprised of the brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll.  The duo, who named their group after the M25 highway that circles London and off which many popular clubs and rave party locations were to be found in the so-called "Summer of Love" in 1989, recorded their first piece, "Chime," that year and the tune moved high on the singles charts when released by FFRR Records, in Spring 1990.  A year later, the dymanite "Satan" hit the charts, though not quite as high as its predecessor.

Quickly, Orbital set themselves apart from others in the busy electronica/techno genre through their melding of electronic and rock elements, both on their albums (in a field where singles and dance remixes ruled the roost) and live, where their rock-infused dynamics and elements of improvisation worked well within the "traditional" concert setting away from the club and rave warehouse scenes or live performances that relied almost exclusively on DAT recordings.  The fact that Orbital enjoyed a long career marked by the issuing of several excellent albums and also headlined major venues and events like Royal Albert Hall and the Glastonbury Festival was testament to the fact that they drew extensively from audiences inside and outside the electronica scene.

As the band released a few singles and EPs and generated a following, it was time to compile tracks from those on an album, simply named "Orbital," though known as the "Green Album" for the neon green color of the cover artwork.  Even if was a compilation of previously-recorded pieces, rather than an album generated at one time in the studio, the record clearly established Orbital as a group that had staying power.

While much of the "Green Album" is fast-tempo, high-energy dance music, the opener "Belfast" is a medium-tempo, more laid-back tune with a notable choral sample to give more an otherworldliness to the song.  More typical are the fuel-injected "Speed Freak," given a remixing by techno stalwart Moby, and "The Moebius."  The versions offered here of "Chimes"and  "Midnight" were taken from live recordings, showing Orbital's confidence that concert performances could stand easily with studio recordings. 

The version released in the United States varies its British counterpart, especially the inclusion of the excellent "Satan" and the very cool "Choice" which has a sample that leans a little toward the more politicized themes that Orbital would work with on later albums, including the high-water mark of their career, 1994s Snivilization, the second Orbital recording (after the American-only BBC and remix project, Diversions) heard by this listener.

Orbital released seven very fine albums until the brothers called it quits in 2004, but, after five years, the duo returned to live performances.  In April 2012, a new album, Wonky, was released and it'll be interesting to see what the brothers Hartnoll will do in phase 2 of their long and successful partnership.

Orbital (The Green Album (FFRR, 1991)

1.  Belfast  (8:05)
2.  The Moebius (7:00)
3.  Speed Freak (5:40)
4.  Farenheit 3D3  (7:04)
5.  Desert Storm  (12:05)
6.  Oolaa (6:22)
7.  Chime  (8:01)
8.  Satan  (6:44)
9.  Choice  (5:30)
10.  Midnight  (5:08)