Mantovani

Mixtape #31 : Autumn

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For the latest 5:4 mixtape, i’ve opted to explore music associated in some way with this time of year. Autumn is arguably the most poignant of the seasons, the ostentatious eruption of its gorgeous colours militated against by the pointed melancholy of its inevitable transition into the wastelands of winter. My infinitely greater namesake, the poet E. E. Cummings, often indignantly pitted the season against his beloved, despite its beauty:

cruelly,love
walk the autumn long;
the last flower in whose hair,
thy lips are cold with songs

for which is first to wither, to pass?
shallowness of sunlight
falls and,cruelly,
across the grass
Comes the
moon

Composers are no less affected by autumn, and the choices in this mixtape testify to the conflict it brings about. Something of its sheer loveliness can be heard in the still profundity of Celer, Brian Eno, Gunner Møller Pedersen (whose massive 6-hour A Sound Year is well worth exploring) and Darren Harper, as well as in the transfixed ecstatic overload of Belong. Autumn’s raw physicality finds expression through the exploration of field recordings in tracks by Manrico Montero, Scott Taylor, Steve Roden & Machinefabriek and Ennio Mazzon. The flipside of this can be heard in heartfelt ballads; i’ve included four hugely contrasting incarnations of the finest of them all, Joseph Kosma’s Autumn Leaves, by Mantovani, Emmy Rossum, Coldcut and The Flashbulb. Its melancholic lyricism is taken to the apogee of expressive force by Richard Strauss, saturated with an escapist surge by Andre Kostelanetz, and given a playful tilt by both Kalevi Aho (whose theremin sounds strikingly like a human voice) and Max Richter‘s subtle reworking of Vivaldi, rhythms made irregular and harmonies enriched with more romantic flavours. The seriousness of the season receives fittingly wistful treatment from Tor Lundvall and Wendy Carlos, while Takemitsu‘s engagement is almost shockingly aggressive. The inclusion of tracks by EL Heath and Kenneth Kirschner are (im)pertinent red herrings, both simply composed during this time of year but, wittingly or otherwise, fitting well into its general tone.

A little over two hours of autumnal bliss and brooding; here’s the tracklisting in full: 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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