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Mixtape #48 : Enoch Light

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Admiration’s one thing but, personally, there aren’t many musical figures whom i regard as full-on heroes. One of the few notable exceptions, however, is Enoch Light. Yesterday, 31 July, marked the 40th anniversary of Light’s death, and so as a small tribute to the great man my latest mixtape is a celebration of his work.

If his name’s not familiar to you, that’s not necessarily surprising. His earliest recorded work dates from the later 1950s, continuing until roughly the mid-1970s, and unless your musical interests encompass the very particular conjunction of big band, lounge, jazz and easy listening that flourished during this period, he’s unlikely to show up on your radar. My penchant for this music, which began when i was a child – listening to the LPs in my parents’ record collection – has steadily grown into a full-blooded passion, though for obvious reasons it’s not one that i get a chance to discuss on 5:4 very often (the one exception to date being my 26th mixtape devoted to Easy Listening, though as i was focusing particularly on the more laid back late ’60s/early ’70s sound in that mix i didn’t include any of Light’s music).

Enoch Light deserves to be remembered and celebrated not only for his music, but also for the pivotal role he played in greatly developing and improving recording standards and techniques. Having founded his own label, Command Records, in 1959, he pushed hard for the acceptance of stereo (and, in due course, quadrophonic recording), flamboyantly showing it off by using extreme separation and panning, often utilising a left/right hocketing effect that came to be known as ‘ping pong’ recording. One of his most radical decisions was to reject magnetic tape in favour of the increased clarity, stability, stereo positioning and resolution that could be obtained from recording onto 35mm film. The wonderful artwork that adorned Light’s albums combined stark minimalistic, geometric designs – some created by none other than artist Josef Albers – with bold exclamations about the quality and innovation of the recording. These beautiful sleeves occupy a unique place in the history of album artwork.

But, of course, most of all it’s the music that gets me excited. In his multiplicity of roles as conductor, arranger, producer, engineer and, in his own word, ‘originator’, Light created a legacy of music that brought together the brash exuberance of big band and jazz, the cool swagger of lounge, and the light, romantic elegance of easy listening, even managing to incorporate Moog synthesisers into his later work. By turns exhilarating and sublime, for me Enoch Light is one of the most significant and marvellous musical talents of the twentieth century.

For this mixtape i’ve selected some of my favourites from throughout his career, from the very first Command Records release, Persuasive Percussion (1959) to one of Light’s last discs, a quadrophonic album released on his equally forward-looking Project 3 label, Future Sound Shock (1973), the sleeve of which proudly proclaims: “After years of research, the producers, arrangers and artists at Project 3 have produced the recording of the future which will serve as a leader in the world of recorded sound for many years to come.”

In all, a little over 90 minutes of music by way of tribute to the wonder that was Enoch Light, 1905–1978. Here’s the tracklisting in full, followed by links to download and stream the mixtape. Read more

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Mixtape #26: Easy Listening

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For the new 5:4 mixtape i’ve opted for something a little different. i don’t tend to have musical ‘guilty pleasures’ as such, but one of my passions that i rarely talk about is for the plethora of easy listening LPs that were released in abundance during the 1960s and early ’70s. To an extent they were a development from the assortment of effervescent idioms that had exploded in popularity through the 1950s, particularly the Afro-Cuban and Brazilian dances such as the bossa nova, rumba and salsa, but jazz—including mild use of scat—was also central to the easy listening scene, along with instrumental versions of popular hits. Far more sophisticated and imaginative than the relatively restrained parallel ‘beautiful music’ genre that was eventually so heavily promulgated by the Muzak corporation, the similarities nonetheless meant that easy listening unavoidably become intertwined with ‘elevator music’. For this and for other reasons, easy listening has often been judged rather harshly, and it’s true that, charges of commercial exploitation aside, it is music very much of its time, not all of which has aged well. Even i can’t really listen to it without being instantly transported back to the late 1970s when my parents would fill their respective houses with the strains of Herb Alpert, Bert Kaempfert, Mantovani, et al. Yet while nostalgia no doubt plays a part in my love of this music, above all i adore the way it vividly captures the slick, lounging sophistication and late-night sleazy dreaminess that seems so quintessential of the time. The standard of the arrangements, too, was often outstanding, a quality easily overlooked when the genre is dismissed out of hand.

In choosing a selection for this mixtape, i’ve selected personal favourites that i think typify the guts and the glory of easy listening (with a couple of more Muzak-related numbers thrown in). Almost all of them are vinyl rips, but only in a couple of places have i cleaned up the audio, as to do otherwise would be to lose something vital. i don’t expect the names will be familiar to anyone with less than a passing interest in the genre, but Mantovani and Nelson Riddle should stand out (Riddle remains one of the finest arrangers of the 20th century; if you’ve listened to much Sinatra, you’ve heard his work); i had to include the great Hugo Montenegro as well—everything he touched seemed to turn to gold—and if the name Johnny Williams doesn’t immediately ring bells, this was before he met up with Spielberg and became the most significant film composer since cinema began. Another composer of soundtracks, David Whitaker, who died last year, is represented by a track with one of the most gorgeous introductions of the genre. i’ve also included a couple of contemporary pastiches by Jerry Martin and Marc Russo, composed as part of the marvellous soundtrack to the computer game The Sims.

In all, just over an hour of music, best heard late at night with the lights low while sipping on a Blue Hawaii. Below is the tracklisting in full—and if this mix whets your appetite, you could do a lot worse then head over to the superb In-Flight Entertainment blog, where lovingly-made rips of many of these otherwise unavailable albums can be found. Read more

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