Rewind Reviews #1 - By Volume

Holding on too long is just a fear of letting go, because not every thing that goes around comes back around, you know. QOTSA - ...Like Clockwork
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Rewind Reviews #1

Keelan Harkin looks back on Oscar Peterson, Elton John and Built to Spill. Author: on July 25, 2012
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It’s strange how music builds up a canon that we so easily forget in the midst of new releases and references to the digital age. In our new feature, Keelan explores his favourite corners of years and decades gone by. You know, before Merriweather Post Pavilion. Yes, there was a before.

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Oscar Peterson – Hymn To Freedom

The thing that made Oscar Peterson stand out, much in the same way as Duke Ellington, was his ability to turn a form of jazz increasingly considered tired and stagnant into something wide-eyed and star-gazing. Peterson simply sounded different from his cohorts. A little warmer, a litter richer in tone, neither of which even begin to touch on his chops at the keys, which, it goes without saying, were phenomenal. His trio was always a minimal backing – solid metronomes with just the hint of flair – serving the man at the piano. In this light, the trio’s 1962 album Night Train was the epitome of what made the group and its lead man so

wonderful. Perhaps only approached by The Canadian Suite in terms of success, Night Train catches a dozen or so gems and packages them into one of the greatest studio performances in jazz history.

It goes without saying, then, that “Hymn to Freedom”, the closing track from Night Train, remains my favourite jazz composition of all time. It contains all the soul that such a title would suggest and contains a masterful performance from the Canadian (for my money surpassing Glenn Gould as the greatest Canadian musician ever). Rollicking and playful at first, what ultimately brings tears to the eyes is the solo towards the end of the piece; Peterson rolls into a series of tremolo chords that pick you up with the warmest of hugs and just tell you “yes, it is all okay.” Hyperbole perhaps, but the type of feeling it produces is the stuff that elevates the great songs to the legendary. An interesting note, and perhaps an indication of how strong of an album Night Train is, the studio version is perhaps the best recording of the song. Only the live performance from Denmark 1964 comes close to matching the emotiveness found in the studio version. This is mainly due to the space and warmth found in the recording—because the song is, amazingly, less about the spontaneity of improvisation and more about old feelings and new perspectives.

Elton John – Curtains

Admittedly, this song has a personal bias pulling me beyond the parameters of its sound – a bias steeped in late night singalongs with family, post-reunion, spirits in hand, enjoying every last ounce of the night, delaying inevitable hangovers. On the other hand, “Curtains,” closer to Sir Elton’s classic 1975 album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, lends itself more than aptly to such a personal connection. So while the song has a great personal place, that place has been carved there through merit. As far as album closers are concerned, “Curtains”

is a model for the anthemic slow-build, tumbling its crescendo into a memorable refrain for the coda. A coda of “ahhhs” and “oohs” and “love me, love me, bab[ies].” The guitar tone with just the perfect amount of gravel in its haunches as it glides through the chord pattern. Of course, it’s really all the slowly building drumming courtesy of Nigel Olsson. The drumming matches the slowly intensifying images of past youth before spilling over the nostalgia for that finale. It simply is a great way to end an album.

It is an album that deserves to be named alongside your usual fare as one of the greats of the 1970s but is often overlooked mainly because Elton John’s music is often pigeonholed into the semi-cheesy pop of his 80s career (or, “Candle in the Wind”), which is to ignore a part of his songwriting that is showcased so wonderfully on “Curtains.” Trading in the usually stuttered gospel rhythms for a slow, steady, pounding 4/4 beat, the song – and the entirety of Captain Fantastic for that matter — uses space and timbre excellently, not solely concerned with writing the notes, but also writing for the resonant sounds the notes make. All of this and the sheer grandiosity of it make “Curtains” and personal favourite of mine, and something worth digging out of the milk crate.

Built to Spill – Velvet Waltz

While “Velvet Waltz,” with its epic psychedelic guitar solo of a coda, might seem at first blush like the type of song that would end an album (much like our aforementioned “Curtains”), repeated listening proves that it could be nowhere else but smack-bang in the middle of Perfect From Now On. The trajectory of the song just demands it. The nearly nine minutes of psychedelic pop perfection unfurl themselves as one giant parabola of guitar haze and washes of warm tones atop that steady waltz time-keeping on the kit from the ever-reliable Scott

Plouf. Mix in a rollicking bass from Brett Nelson, a wonderful guest spot from cellist John McMahon, and, of course, the brilliant lyric, vocal, and guitar work of front man Dough Martsch, and what you are left with is quite simply one of the most massive songs to ever be recorded. And the recording is important: without such fine production from Phil Ek, the overwhelming amount of melody would be lost in the wall of guitar haze. Instead of being lost, however, it grows and morphs into something more than a monolith of squall. Grand in stature but never shying away from the finer details, “Velvet Waltz” is just a really exciting song to listen to. It is a song deeply tied to imagination, forever creating new images and textures for the listener to explore. Frankly, it does not get better than the shift in the middle song, after a nice cello fill, when the drums finally flesh out. Martsch knows this is a moment worth waiting five minutes for: “you took all that moment / and you left it in the sun / now it’s gone because you left it in the sun.”

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