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Starting Point and Best Album 

 

Moondog—9

 

Released: 1969

1) Theme  2) Stomping Ground  3) Symphonique #3 (Ode to Venus)  4) Symphonique #6 (Good for Goodie)  5) Minisym #1: (I--Allegro; II--Andante Adagio; III--Vivace)  6) Lament 1 "Bird's Lament"  7) Witch of Endor: (I--Dance; II--Trio: a. [The Prophesy] b. [The Battle] c. [Saul's Death]; III--Dance [Reprise])  8) Symphonique #1 (Portrait of a Monarch)

 

While his first albums featured Moondog on the streets, performing solo, this album barely contains any of Moondog’s actual playing.  While the first albums had a few guest musicians here and there, playing “instruments” like tap shoes, this album has over half an orchestra, playing flutes, bassoons, cellos and all that fancy stuff.  While the first three albums were charming, homemade, do-it-yourself performances, this is a posh classical album.  But none of that means you won’t like this record if you loved the first three, because quite honestly, this album is impossible to hate.    

 

I’m not sure what happened in those twelve years between “The Story of Moondog” and this release…I don’t know if it was living on the streets, or his sometimes residence in his cabin upstate with no electricity, or his divorce, or what, but, damn…what a change of pace.  I know nothing of classical or jazz music, so I have no idea if this album is clever or breaks any new ground, but it is just about the most catchy and stylish orchestrated music I have heard.  Listening to it is like watching a movie: the layers of sound, all fitting together, telling some kind of beautiful, but slightly reckless story.  It only lasts a shade over thirty minutes, but there are hardly any wasted notes, and each tune really does capture your attention.  I know it sounds corny, but for a virtual homeless, blind, basically self taught, Viking lover of a man to come up with such an impressive, gripping album just makes the album sound that much more cool…you know?        

 

The opening “Theme” begins as a typical Moondog percussion piece, seemingly no different from any of his other records, but slowly the orchestration builds, swirling, rising towards a point just out of reach.  To me it sounds like a struggle… and the song ends before the mle is decided, leaving you feeling both unfulfilled, but eager for the resolution.  Stomping Ground” doesn’t bring you any closer to closure though.  After some brief street noises and a quick spoken word section by Moondog, the orchestration enters on a marching beat.  This isn’t military marching though; it is much too loose.  Instead it sounds like a city gang; some punk kids swaying down the streets—scheming, spying, and getting ready…creating an extraordinary edginess.

 

Unfortunately, “Symphonique #3 (Ode to Venus)” brings an end to the tension, with a five-minute, elegant moan, sounding like the scene when Juliet wakes to see Romeo dead and decides to kill herself.  Dark and attractive, it is not really something that gets my juices flowing (although I’m no classical connoisseur, so maybe it will really speak to you).  Symphonique #6 (Good for Goodie)” is definitely more my style though, beginning with a bass solo that sounds like the White Stripes.  Soon some horns come jiving in, be-bopping and head knobbing their way through a cool riff with swagger and purpose.  The song gradually finds dimension, adding instrument after instrument, with the bass getting fortified by a tuba, and all the instruments just groove—they hit it, you know…making this just about the coolest little classical/jazz piece: melodic, tough, and funky!   

 

Another short Moondog poem opens the six-minute “Minisym #1.”  At the beginning, this piece sounds like some fantasyland epic movie (like Willow or Lord of the Rings), all bombastic, but with some Medieval, elfin charm.  The middle though, is a more introspective section where the horns sound like they are having a deep conversation with themselves, a little cheesy, but tolerable because it leads to the intense closing, taken at breakneck speed, with Moondog’s crazy percussion keeping beat.  It has a great rock riff, with the horns taking the place of an electric solo…absolutely smoking.           

 

And the pace doesn’t let up with “Lament 1 "Bird's Lament".”  This piece was written for jazz great Charlie Parker when Moondog heard of his friend’s death.  But instead of being remorseful, this song cooks as well, having more of a restrained party sound that is outright ear candy.  It was used in some minivan commercials in the early part of this decade, so it will probably sound familiar, and it might just be the catchiest thing Moondog ever released…two-minutes of happy horn hooks.     

 

Witch of Endor” is something completely different, a mini opera done in six-minutes.  Each sectioned title perfectly depicts the music, with the opening and closing sounding like some sort of dance ceremony, and the middle going from a prophesy, to a battle, to the main character’s death.  Of course, this piece was the inspiration behind George Lucas having both Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader die on the planet Endor!  Seriously though, the music strangely could be used to explain that story perfectly…eerie, but cool J  The closing “Symphonique #1 (Portrait of a Monarch)” is the most cartoonish arrangement on the album, with a more bouncy feel…it is still slightly dark, but the humor can be heard here easily.  It isn’t my favorite tune on the record, not reaching the standards set by the previous selections until the beautiful coda.  Still though, it is goofy and fun and a great change of pace for the closer. 

 

Overall this is fantastic in a way that fairy tales are fantastic: loveable, innocent, touching, but with a slightly dark atmosphere.  The brevity does bother me a little, but it only makes me want to play the album over and over again.  As I have said a few times, this might not be a great album to the ears of an expert of classical or jazz, but trust me, it is accessible beyond belief, charming, melodic, fun, gorgeous, and a gem that you really need to uncover.

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