3.11.2005

Let's Go Swimming

It was about 2 months ago. I had stopped into Earwax, the little record store on Bedford Ave. to see if they had any random vinyl I couldn't get at my record store. (Yes, I know, I have a problem.) While browsing through the Dub section I started to tune in to what they were spinning in the store. I was charmed by this wave of layered vocals and echo-drenched cello. At first listen it appeared to be some sort of minimalist dub, but typically dub is simply a groove with tweaked out stuff(vocals, percussion) on top- this was different. This was a song. A wonderfully delicate song with a melody that floated around the room. I realized I was running late for rehearsal and had to split. On the way out I asked them what was playing and was told Arthur Russell's "World of Echo". Aha!

I had heard of Arthur Russell while working at my record store. I had seen his "Calling Out of Context" album get reissued earlier in the year. Apparently, he was a downtown NYC music scene legend from the 70's and 80's who had died in the early 90's of Aids. I ususally found that whole downtown scene a little too avant garde for my tastes so I wasn't that interested in checking him out. Don't get me wrong, I think John Zorn and Glenn Branca do some pretty intense shit, but it's not something I find myself pulling out to listen to time and time again. It's more interesting to me conceptually than as music to listen to. So I pretty much chalked up Artur Russell as one of those guys. I was wrong.

Arthur Russell was completely unique. He was a classically trained cellist who had played Indian Classical music, worked with Phillip Glass, as well as accomponied Allen Ginsberg when he would do poetry readings. But what I found most interesting about Arthur Russell was that he also wrote and produced disco music. Really wild disco music that you definitely won't hear on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. The fact that he could coexist in these two opposing musical worlds is why he is my latest musical obsession.

A few days after hearing him in Earwax I picked up "World of Echo". This album could be the most bizarre of his catalog. It is simply his voice and cello performed live through a personally designed echo effect unit. It has a completely improvisational feel, though occasionally you hear fragments of songs he had recorded on other albums. The style of his singing and playing is so fluid it feels as though the music is warm water pouring out of my headphones and into my earholes(as they say). And his voice, oh, his voice. It's so majestic and beautiful and intimate, but kind of strange. In fact, Jessica Jezel doesn't like his voice at all so it might not affect everyone like it did me. But I do love it and what it sings about. His lyrics always seem to be deeply personal and shyly romantic. I adore the longing in his voice when he sings "Her love is her gift/but she thinks of us as friends". Yeah, I'm a big softie.

Anyways, since I discovered "World of Echo" I've picked up the other two colllections of his music that include more of his disco based work. This stuff might deserve a post all it's own, because I feel I've already blubbered on enough about "World of Echo". In the meantime, if you're interested in hearing some of his stuff let me know and I'll gladly make you a mix. That's what good friends do. And lastly, I raise my cup of coffee to Arthur. If there is a heaven, you are surely there entertaining the angels.

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3 Comments:

Blogger d said...

wait a minute...? (brain whirrs slowly) did he do a new order remix? confusion or something?

7:58 PM, March 12, 2005  
Blogger george said...

Actually, you're thinking of Arthur Baker. He's actually in the "Confusion" video where they go to the club to play the track for all the disco heads. He's the dude with the beard. I wonder if the 2 Arthurs ever crossed paths? Hmmmm...

Not being download savvy I could only find free audio of Arthur Russell's "Calling out of Context" album at Amazon. Though it's more dancey, some of my favs are "You and Me Both", "Platform on the Ocean" and "Get Around To It."

10:26 AM, March 14, 2005  
Blogger Pete Galub said...

I've been a fan of Arthur Russell since Audika released the previously unreleased album "Calling Out of Context" What I absolutely love about AR is that he writes great songs with rich emotional content and is extremely creative with the sounds/sonics he gets. I think he was pretty special and that is an amazing collection. Fun factoid: jennifer warnes (of "I've Had the Time of My Life" fame) sings backups on a couple of songs. I recently purchased the re-issue of "World Of Echo" and highly recommend that one as well. The Rough Trade release has a DVD as well (unfortunately Audika version doesn't) Next on my list is "The World of AR" but I don't see it for less than $18.99. That collection has more "dancey" stuff. I believe that some of those songs were legit underground dance hits. Also, David Byrne plays guitar on one tune. Anyway, the man was truly special, and it takes a lot for me to say that. Go discover him if you haven't yet!

7:06 PM, March 14, 2005  

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