Grover Washington Jr. – Winelight (1980)

I don’t recall how Washington came to mind, but I looked him up, along with some top recommended albums. I ended up adding to my list everything he was band leader for, from his debut to 1980. This, from the final year in that range, was one of the two big recommendations. 

Listening to the “master quality” version on Tidal, the main sensation I am experiencing from this is blandness. Given how early in the decade this is, Winelight certainly does a good job of predicting the sound for the decade, at least in museum, art gallery and dinner party circles. 

“Let it Flow (for Dr. J)” starts off interestingly, with a sparse but not empty arrangement and some interesting rhythms. It’s after the intro, when Washington’s own lead sax takes over, that the interest levels wane. Based on the title, I assume it’s a tribute to the great basketballer, at that time, playing in Philadephia. And I can hear the pattern of the game in the backing, bassline skittering about like a crafty dribble. “In the Name of Love” starts less promisingly, but is still dragged down by Washington’s anodyne lead lines. Googling him now, I see he was one of the founders of the “smooth jazz” genre, so caveat emptor I guess.

It’s not all bad. “Take Me There” is a touch more energised. Obviously, the production and playing are top notch, if not very flashy. While listening, I did get the occasional twang of nostalgia, as feelings and images entered my head. Some were experienced, such as visiting department stores in the run up to Christmas, as a child in the 80s. Aramis meets Athena; illumination, hair and shoulderpads everywhere. Others were concocted by my subconscious, like a Sunday walk in Central Park: wrapped up, walking among the skeletal trees in the pale, fading light of a winter afternoon. Again in the 80s – there’s no escaping that element of the experience. 

I suppose in that sense, that’s the charm of this music? It’s like a cardigan or a mulled wine. It’s comforting: the sax melodies will only ever remind us of the 80s – experienced or not – and the electric piano (Rhodes?) played by Richard Tee, sparkles around the mix like fairy dust. Then you’ve got “Just the Two of Us”, featuring the excellent Bill Withers, complete with (synth?) steel drum accompaniment from Ralph MacDonald. Now that is a classic.

While perfectly competent, this isn’t the sound I seek at the moment. I’ll persist with Washington; maybe his 70s work will be more to my taste. I can’t see myself listening to this too much in the future, except perhaps as accompaniment to an American Psycho reading session. That said, if you introduce an element of irony to proceedings, it’s shocking how similar some of this is to the currently lauded (not least by me) Thundercat. I may have to investigate that link… Less exciting, he apparently brought Kenny G to public attention. I think that sums this up.

Listening report. Quarter 2. Or maybe quarter 1. Either way, it’s April-June 2020

Here is a quarterly listening report. If I was really on it, I’d have done one for the first quarter. I guess I can call it the financial year, not that this report has anything to do with finances. It’s just some dork listening to music, logging it and then writing nonsensically about it. 

What you might guess is that I didn’t particularly fixate on any one artist or album. But I did make a more concerted effort than I have in the last few years to actually listen to new or recent music. Especially hip hop, as that (along with R&B) seems to be pretty much the only genre with any weight nowadays. Outside the world of Nascar, at least.

One of the aspects I, rather ghoulishly, focused on was the recent spate of dead rappers. Some were killed the old fashioned gangsta rap way: getting shot. But a lot of them just overdosed on prescription painkillers, which is almost even sadder. It’s certainly a lonely way to go. I’ve seen recent rap (Soundcloud rap or whatever you want to call it) get compared to nu-metal, but this trend, combined with the introspective lyrics and lack of machismo, remind me more of grunge and its myriad heroin overdoses.

One of the most divisive figures was the late XXXtentacion, who first came to my attention when he was accused of brutally beating his lover. He next came to my attention when he was robbed and shot, shortly after. He was 20. He’s had two US number 1 albums. He’s platinum around the world. I’ve not looked this up recently, but as I recall, his top song on Spotify had over a billion plays. With a B. Fucking hell.

So why would I ignore him, or Juice Wrld? Or massive artists who are still alive, like Post Malone (who none other than Phil Anselmo has vouched for as a legit rocker)? Exactly. I’d have to either be ignorant as to what is going on, or else so churlish as to dismiss such success as… what… not earned? Wrong? Of course, anyone who has listened to the Spice Girls or U2 will know that being the biggest does not necessarily make you the best. But still, I’d say their success would warrant listening to them and making your mind up. I felt so old when I realised a Drake song had been UK number 1 for 15 weeks and I’d never heard it. So I listened to it. It was shit, but at least I know. 

So I’ve not been playing anything on repeat. But I’ve listened now to XXXtentacion. And Post Malone. I listened to Billie Eilish before, but I did again this quarter. Her album is pretty damn good. I don’t think I like it as much as the first Banks or FKA Twigs albums, but it’s good. 

I do really like Poppy. Now, I must admit that ordinarily I do write off YouTubers. I do think their success isn’t really earned, and from what I’ve seen, they don’t tend to have much talent. And it makes me feel a bit hypocritical that I said what I am doing with these people what I said I shouldn’t do with musical artists. But here we are: life is a complex beast. 

Anyway, from what I’ve heard, Poppy found fame as a YouTuber. Doing what I don’t know. I also hear that she did some vaporwave-style pop albums. But this year did a metal album! And I kind of really like it. It’s a bit Andrew WK in the sense that it’s a very self aware metal album. And very poppy. It feels almost like artificial heavy metal, but it’s so well made and so well thought out that I don’t care. There are so many twists and turns that it stays interesting. It’s well-performed. Yes, I like the Poppy album. 

And here are the most played songs. Marvel at how they have little-to-nothing to do with the albums. This is my concession to nostalgia. I just love listening to randomised playlists of favourite songs, especially in the shower or in the kitchen. I swear I didn’t listen to that Mad Season song so much though. That’s dodgy data quality.

I should mention the Boom Bip & Doseone album, too, Circle. It originally came out in 2000, but I got it in 2002, after falling in love with the group that Doseone was in then, cLOUDDEAD. That one had long, rambling, almost surreal rap songs. This one is the opposite – I’ve compared it to a hip-hop version of Fantomas – with many short tracks. Rather than the usual rap thing of a DJ doing the beats and an MC rapping over them, it seems Boom Bip constructed complex, evolving aural vignettes to accompany Dose’s rapping. That may not have happened, but that’s how it seems to me. And it’s absolutely brilliant: one of those classics that nobody has heard. Anyway, I’m chuffed because I tweeted about listening to the album, and they retweeted it.

And David Lee Roth is just great.

UFC on ESPN: Blaydes vs. Volkov

Curtis Blaydes vs. Alexander Volkov

This was one of those times when a fighter looks great-but-who-gives-a-shit. 

Heavyweight Curtis Blaydes knocked out Junior Dos Santos heading into this one, which was a decent recovery after two losses in the last few years to the scariest guy in the UFC, Francis Ngannou. Alexander (just me who wants to call him Nicolai?) Volkov had been on a decent run since 2016, beating Roy Nelson, Stefan Struve and Fabricio Werdum, before stuttering with a knockout loss to Derrick Lewis in October 2018. Since then he beat Greg Hardy, which I wouldn’t consider a return to form necessarily. 

So neither man is amazing, but certainly still near the top of a weak heavyweight division. In this one, Blaydes used his wrestling to bypass Volkov’s striking advantage and essentially dominate him on the ground. Great, right?

Not so much. There were comparisons raised between Blaydes and Cain Velasquez; people even called him “a heavyweight Khabib”. Both comparisons were way off the mark. Both Cain and Khabib are really active when they drag a victim howling to the ground. They tie up the legs, constantly work on their position and never fail to drop many bombs on their opponent. Blaydes did what Stipe Miocic did to Ngannou: control position very well, tire out your man… but not do very much actual damage at all. 

Rather than a heavyweight Khabib, Blaydes is a heavyweight Sean Sherk. He got the win, but who cares. In fact, in the fourth and fifth rounds, it looked like Volkov was getting a second wind, and defending takedowns as Blaydes tired. Alas the knockout eluded the Russian.

Justin Jaynes vs. Frank Camacho

Next on my review was actually the televised prelim opener, but I’m bumping it up the running order because there was such a good performance for the winner. So Frank Camacho is the Crank, not Macho. Who’s Macho Camacho then? Jaynes overcomes a three inch height and five inch reach disadvantage to get a very aggressive win. He ducks a wild shot and drops the Crank with a double left hook. He then piles on the pressure until Herb Dean stops it, but manages to get cut in the chaos. No idea when that happened, but man this was good. Jaynes one to watch.

Josh Emmett vs. Shane Burgos

Co-main event Emmett vs. Burgos was a really good fight in terms of heart, if not the best technically. Emmett injured his lead knee in the first round, but fought through it heroically. Burgos took a bunch of head shots throughout but only fell in the third. Emmett sat him down twice with left hooks, after threatening the right previously. That was clever. Very kickboxing-dominated fight. I think there was a takedown late in round one, and then a bit of guard each time Burgos went down. Very entertaining, mind. Emmett won it, blown ACL and all.

Raquel Pennington vs. Marion Reneau 

This was another good scrap. Reneau was good early, as she displayed better skills than the much bigger Pennington. I swear, it was hard to believe they are in the same weight group. And that size told as the fight went on. Pennington went a lot to the Thai clinch for which Reneau had no answer. Knees to the body tired her out, and elbows damaged her. First round to Reneau, but decision to Pennington. 

Belal Muhammed vs. Lyman Good

Pretty fun contest. Good is a muscle guy, and he fought like a muscle guy – bit stiff, throwing power rather than volume. Muhammed was more finesse, and did more in rounds one and two. Good finally started seeing dividends from his power shots in the last round, and had Muhammed in a lot of trouble. Muhammed did enough for the decision though. 

Jim Miller vs. Roosevelt Roberts

Crafty veteran Jim Miller made quick work of the celebrated Roberts. Roberts seemed to slip throwing a kick, Miller got on top of him and never let him up… at least until Roosevelt had verbally submitted to an arm bar. Really impressive win from a man that I thought was on the slide. But he’s only 36 after fighting for what seems like centuries. So let’s see what he does next.

Bobby Green vs. Clay Guida

Green won. I don’t know. Guida was doing his usual energetic “dancing about with a bit of wrestling” strategy. Green decided to play it cool, arms down, throwing pot shots. I think combos would have been more effective. I remember very little about this one. Green got a decision.

Tecia Torres vs. Brianna Van Buren

The experts had Torres winning all rounds on this one, but I thought Van Buren edged the first on her wrestling. But soon enough, Torres got really comfortable with her striking. Van Buren had no answer for that, so she walked rounds one and two. 

Marc-André Barriault vs. Oskar Piechota

Barriault did the business against Piechota. Piechota looked a lot physically better – leaner, bit rangey, no dodgy tattoos. But Barriault had the confidence, moving him against the fence, hit a decent takedown, and mainly landing the decent shots. He piled on the pressure until Pichoda wilted at the end of the second. 

Gillian Robertson vs. Cortney Casey

Robertson took Casey down pretty much twice, and won two rounds from that. Her wrestling was too good. She didn’t throw much ground and pound, and Casey threw up more submission attempts, but it was efficient ground domination. Bit boring though. Third round, Casey kept her busy with strikes, but the takedown came… and Robertson actually finished! That’s something. 

The Hired Man

Girlfriend suggested we watch the Hired Man, merely described to me as “a musical”. Not much to go on, but it was co-produced by the mighty Oldham Coliseum, so I was up for it. Turns out it is a Howard Goodall musical (he’s done a lot of worthy things in music, but I mainly know him for composing the theme tunes to Red Dwarf) based on a novel by Melvyn Bragg. I love Melvyn Bragg. It’s historical, and given how long Bragg’s been presenting In Our Time on Radio 4, I’m guessing it’s well researched. 

This is definitely a musical of two halves. The first, which gives the show its name, is about poor people in Cumbria trying to get work each day: this could be in the fields or the mines, but they have to barter their prices and really graft. At this point, all I can tell is that it’s in an indeterminate “olden days”, and the specific time doesn’t really matter.

But it’s fun. You get a sense of the struggle that people went through (okay, not really fun, then, but you know what I mean), specifically centered about a family. My first issue is that we don’t really know until after the interval that this is a family with two (nearly) grown kids. For now, it’s husband and wife (John – played by Oliver Hembrough – and Emily, Lauryn Redding), along with a mischievous rolling stone – Jackson (Lloyd Gorman) – who comes between them with his amorous overtures.

The second half is concerned with what I presume is the first world war. The programme tells me the initial setting was 1898 Cumbria, so this is a leap forward in time. So maybe the kids weren’t yet born in the first act. I feel they could have done a better job of communicating the time, as they do it again at the end, when the war has been over, and a girl who was single before the interval has been married for 15 or so years, and John and Emily are returning to their village after a long time away. 

As well as the narrative leaps in time, the songs didn’t bowl me over. They carry the story along well enough, which I guess is the point, but the secondary – still important – thing is for the songs to be awesome. Some were pretty hummable, and you got one duet with nicely overlapping lines, and one or two songs with multiple simultaneous vocals, but this wasn’t West Side Story in its complexity of vocal arrangements. You did get some excellent lead-chorus interchanges, so maybe I’m being a tad harsh. The instrumental arrangements were pretty lush, being what I assume were popular instruments in Cumbria at the time: violin, piano, cello, double bass, oboe and clarinet. 

If the writing of the musical didn’t blow me away, the performance actually did. The cast balanced singing and traditional acting very well, performing with passion and chemistry. What’s more, the cast had their instruments on (the great revolving turntable) stage for the massed numbers. It’s not only impressive to see people playing and singing in a musical, but I’m in awe at the fact that someone can sing and trot about on a rotating stage while wielding a double bass. Good work Gorman. 

There were some slight technical hiccups. For the first half, it felt like the male voices were being drowned out by the instruments, something they fixed for after the interval. This did lead to an unintentionally effective moment where John is singing a song of woe as Emily and Jackson are drawn toward each other. John’s words being drowned out, though we miss the detail, does actually lend the scene extra poignancy. 

I also really like the fact that, much like Miss Saigon, this is a war-focused musical that hits you with some hard blows. Key characters die, and there are some fittingly dark moments. These, and other moments of peril, are communicated very well using what is a minimalist set. This is a co-production between Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch, Hull Truck Theatre and the Oldham Coliseum. I don’t know who does what in this trio, but it’s pulled off with aplomb. I’ve seen a lot of excellent plays at the Coliseum, and appreciate that the group have put this on YouTube for now. Watch it for yourself:

(Eep. I might have been a bit late on the sharing!) And it might be worth donating to one or more of these, as obviously the arts are getting hit hard at the moment (here in Leeds, the council has threatened that museums, galleries and libraries could all get shut down as the city runs out of money. And this is apparently a city that’s doing well):

To donate to the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, visit www.queens-theatre.co.uk/join-support/donate/ 

To donate to the Hull Truck Theatre Future Fund visit www.hulltruck.co.uk/donate 

To donate to Oldham Coliseum Theatre visit www.coliseum.org.uk/your-coliseum-needs-you