Sunday, November 12, 2017

Orchestration Identification

Let's continue the weekend the correct way, making the proper arrangements to honor a legendary and criminally undersung figure of the music of our lifetimes.
Last Tuesday, we lost someone whose name many do not know, yet whose fingerprints and aesthetic marks are literally all over songs that anyone reading this would be able to sing along to from memory.
Let me break it down to you: before today's honoree came along, the idea of strings and horns -- of orchestration itself -- applied to Pop and Rock music was a sad joke. 
No one had ever found a place for these sorts of hyperarranged charts in modern pop music before that didn't just immediately flip the "sappy, musical-momentum-slaying nonsense" switch on whatever track it was attempted upon.
Enter our hero, who began altering the molecular structure of music as the Sixties became the Seventies, initially to be found constructing vast, tensile and lush stringscapes on the early (and beloved) records of one Elton John.
The songs they elevated to permanent cultural reverential status together are always being played, somewheres in the world, on the radio. And they will be, long after everyone you know, have known and will ever know is decades deceased.
After he became the in-demand arranger in Rock -- let's just say those EJ records like Tumbleweed Connection, Honky Chateau and Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player were fairly popular platters --  he lent his singular talents to seminal sides by (omg he needs his own day on here) Shawn Phillips, Harry Nilsson, Carly Simon and The Rolling Stones, among countless other luminaries.
That's him working a tune out for the debut record of fantastic Italian songwriter Angelo Branduardi in 1974. He also worked on the debut LP of Judie Tzuke, the also-unsung British singer who was arguably Sade before Sade was Sade.
Did I mention he scored David Bowie's first smash hit -- a little ditty we call Space Oddity -- even before he initiated his association with Elton John? There are few people you could say had a permanent, DNA-altering effect on the music of our epoch, and Paul Buckmaster is a first-ballot entrant on that list.
It's so stark, what strings and orchestration were in the Sixties and what they became in the Seventies, thanks to PB. Always ready to employ melodic and harmonic gambits to embellish a track straight through the upper ionosphere, his arrangements are singularly identifiable, with equal parts emotion, clarity and bite. When I sing along to an EJ track like Levon, I sing along with the strings, not the words. Sorry, Bernie Taupin, no offense intended.
To properly commemorate the occasion of his passing this past week at 71, I have two items to help represent this extraordinary Maestro. One is a full hour segment from an Elton John performance at the beginning of 1972, in which PB conducts the full, 80-piece Royal Philharmonic alongside 10 EJ classics.
The other little tidbit I've got in the cloud today is a lovely 78+ minute mixtape, highlighting 15 of PB's most thrilling and indelible arrangements of the 1970s, compiled by yours truly from his work with artists known (Leonard Cohen, The Grateful Dead) and less known (Claire Hamill, Michael Chapman). Some will be recognizable hits, some more obscure album tracks, but all bear the signature sound of Paul Buckmaster.
Paul Buckmaster
live and in the studio
1969-82

I.
Elton John
Paul Buckmaster
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Royal Festival Hall
London, UK
2.5.1972

01 Your Song
02 Take Me to the Pilot
03 The Greatest Discovery
04 Sixty Years On
05 The King Must Die
06 Indian Sunset
07 Border Song
08 Madman Across the Water
09 Burn Down the Mission
10 Goodbye

Total time: 49:56

Elton John - piano & vocals
Nigel Olsson - drums & percussion
Dee Murray - bass
Davey Johnstone - guitar
Alan Parker - guitar
Madeline Bell, Lesley Duncan and Caroline Attard - vocals
with
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Paul Buckmaster - conductor

orchestral portion of the concert, sourced from the boot CD "Concertstück" on the Super Sonic label; 
sounds like a master VHS or HiFi Beta tape of an unissued TV broadcast or a master FM capture
gaps and jumps between songs smoothed/repaired by EN, November 2017
296 MB FLAC here

II.
Paul Buckmaster
Moonlight Mile
arrangements, 1969-82

01 Elton John - Levon
02 Claire Hamill - The Man Who Cannot See Tomorrow's Sunshine
03 Michael Chapman - Wrecked Again
04 Shawn Phillips - Us We Are
05 Judie Tzuke - Bring the Rain
06 David Bowie - Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud
07 Harry Nilsson - Without You
08 Leonard Cohen - Avalanche
09 Angelo Branduardi - Il Tempo Che Verrà
10 William Lyall - Maniac
11 UFO - Profession of Violence
12 Carly Simon - Embrace Me, You Child
13 Grateful Dead - Terrapin, part 1
14 Marc Almond - Big Louise
15 Rolling Stones - Moonlight Mile

Total time: 1:18:27

single CD of some of the Maestro's most iconic arrangements, compiled by EN
459 MB FLAC here
Of course it's 101% impossible to boil the astonishing and prolific career of someone like this down to a single representative CD, but those 15 cuts -- taken with the wild Elton John concert I included today -- are a great introduction to PB's seminal scores, anyway. So pull 'em on down and orchestrate your Sunday to an entirely different plane, courtesy of Paul Buckmaster; he, who left us a few days ago... but not before completely and subtly altering the soundscape of our world forever plus one day.--J.
6.13.1946 - 11.7.2017