Friday, 5 February 2010

Joe Scott - A Symphony of Our Time


A Symphony of Our Time
256+ VBR LAME mp3
Vinyl rip & scans from MRL 307

Movement 1 (excerpt)

This is the second of two albums Joe Scott put together for Bob Shad's newly revamped Mainstream imprint, Mainstream Red Lion. The first, Motion Pictures: The NOW Generation, was a pretty straight-forward orchestral take on the hits of the day with some dope guitar fuzz by Jay Berliner (who would release one of the funkier albums on MRL, Bananas Are Not Created Equal) and some fine electric piano/organ/old skool analogue synth sounds from the keys of session man Frank Owens (check out his sole solo LP over at never enough rhodes) accentuating the arrangements. Personally, I very much enjoyed the set as it was anchored by some boffo bass from a youngish Chuck Rainey and provided a much meatier take on the "hip hits orchestra" meme that pervaded the sonic landscape from the mid-60s to mid-70s.

The line up for A Symphony of Our Time stayed much the same, with minor differences in the horn & string sections, with Romeo Penque added on flute while swapping Owens for Dick Hyman and Rainey for Joseph Macho (he previously played with Owens in support of Bob Dylan and in the group The Restless Feelin's and he would also go on to contribute to one of my all-time fave albums, Van Morrison's Veedon Fleece). Although the personnel changes were slight, the compositions took on a whole new level of complexity as Scott used the pop material as a spingboard to a true symphonic arrangement, rather than simply arrange the songs to be played by an orchestra.

In the intensely informative liner notes replete with massive music-geekery, Scott explains in detail his process and the manner in which he conceptualised the songs as themes to be developed in a classical mode. A case could be made for this recording to be considered as Third Stream, although academics would likely cringe at the thought since the improvisational aspect is hard to discern, the focus is much more on the "rock" than the "jazz" and the compositions do teeter on the precipice of being fugal. I would conjecture that the very act of melding the different themes together into a single movement would avoid its fall into the latter, but I'd have a hard time arguing the case in classicist court.

There are some surprisingly sublime moments here where Scott's gambit pays unexpected dividends. However, at times he overreaches (not necessarily a bad thing in itself) or keeps the structure too rigidly poppy or classical and winds up a bit too predictable or slightly cliché. However, you've gotta give the man an A+ for effort at connecting people with music from the other side of the fence and trying to create something new and completely different in an idiom that was all too often rife with ivory tower elitism, artistic laziness or outright crass opportunism. Years later this kind of treatment would be adopted by struggling symphony orchestras to get bums in the seats or by pretentious prog-rockers searching out a certificate of authenticity for their oeuvre.

I would love to have been able to provide some biographical info on Mr. Scott since the slightly generic name shows up in different roles from the 40s to the 00s and I wanted to get the facts straight. Was he the Trumpet player & arranger who worked with who worked closely with Bobby Blue Bland since the 40s? Was he the singer for mid-60s art rock act Ford Theatre as some claim? Was he the arranger & conductor for a plethora of rock and C&W acts in the late 60s and early 70s? Was he the bass player who worked with Aretha Franklin, The Staple Singers and Curtis Mayfield? Is he the guy who fronts a popular wedding band on these days? All of the above? AMG lists no less than 15 artists with the same name or variations thereof and speaking to the man himself would help nail it down.

I was hoping to do so before posting because the fine Mr. Bostrom, who hosts the other Scott album linked to in the first paragraph, sent me Joe's email over a week ago but I haven't heard back from the man yet. Unfortunately, time is of the essence since I'm aiming to post the last five remaining MRLs yet to appear in the blogosphere before the 12th of the month - Bobby Shad's 90th birthday! Rest assured that if Mr. Scott does reach out, I'll update the post with any info he feels like sharing with us...

1 Movement 1 (Sonata Allegro) - Introduction: House of the Rising Sun; Theme I: Ruby Tuesday; Theme II: A Day in the Life
2 Movement 2 (Andante) - White Room
3 Movement 3 (Moderato) - America
4 Movement 4 (Finale) - Theme I: Dandelion; Theme II: We Can Work It Out; Theme III: Yellow Submarine

Savour Scott's symphonic sonics courtesy of Soundological HERE or HERE.


cheeba said...

Mr Scott has accepted my request for an email Q&A, will post it when it comes in. Unfortunately I had pre-scheduled this to post and forgot to push it back...d'oh!

ish said...

Thanks Cheeba! some of these obscure Mainstreams are really rewarding.

Arkadin said...

Mainstream at its most bombastic, almost Wagnerian! A little too much for my taste at times. I would have wished there was some more jazz or rock as on other orchestral Mainstreams to make it more varied. As to that the Frangipane/Nyro remains my favorite. Nevertheless Joe Scott definitely knew how to handle a big orchestra - impressive orchestrations. Excellent rip btw - thanks a lot!

Jack said...

I have spent time with Joe Scott in the past and he is a musical talent in his own right. I have a reel to reel version of this work but want to get a digital version.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't familiar with this LP before, but will certainly be listening to it a great deal. Also, you do exceptionally good work.