Tuesday, February 21, 2012

R.I.P.: PHIL KRAUSS

Today we pay tribute to a recently deceased legend, a true musical master...Whitney who...? No, of course I'm referring to the percussionist Phil Kraus, who just died at the ripe old age of 94. Kraus played countless sessions for everyone from Sinatra to Ben E. King - yep, that's his scratching sound on "Stand By Me."

But strange music fans know and love him for his huge assortment of exotic/oddball instruments deployed on numerous albums teamed with his partner in percussives, Bobby Rosengarden. Apart from appearing together on Enoch Light's popular series of Light Brigade albums, Rosengarden and Kraus also made a number of instrumental albums their own selves, like this nutty number from 1965. "Percussion: Playful And Pretty" may indeed have it's playful and pretty moments, but it's also an exercise in Space Age stereophonic panning, and strange exotic moods. Songs like "Satan Takes A Holiday" were odd to begin with, but even more so after these two and their crew of fellow top session cats got a hold of 'em - the song "Goofus" alone features such instruments as that old circus music maker, the calliope, and something called a "buzzimba: "...a Rube Goldberg-ish contraption made up of wooden resonators that buzz daintily like a choir of horseflies when struck with a mallet. You might call it a kind of percussive kazoo." (Sounds like an African balafon, actually.) And the totally bonkers "The Comedians" really lives up to it's title - it could be a soundtrack to a classic Mexican silent slapstick.

Rosengarden and Kraus "Percussion: Playful And Pretty"

For Want of a Star
Mr. Ghost Goes to Town
Johnny One Note
Chloe
All Through the Night
Satan Takes a Holiday
Sophisticated Swing
The Comedians
Speak Low
The Continental
Carnival
Goofus

Dig the liners:

"Spruced-up Mood Music"

Remember when you pulled down all the pots and pans in your mother's kitchen and made an "orchestra" out of them? Some kids never grow out of it. They become percussionists. One thing is sure about percussion: you're bound to get a bang out of it. But don't think percussion is nothing but a noise test. This album proves the contrary. It shows that in the hands of top-rank musicians, percussive instruments have a special kind of melodic charm and subtlety, sweetness and spice. Favorite old ballads emerge with new tonal gloss - a kind of spruced-up mood music. And rhythm numbers glint with tonal laughter - the sheer fun of clinking, clopping, tingling and tapping.

Bob Rosengarden, one of America's leading percussionists, along with equally ingenious Phil Kraus, pulled together for this session perhaps the most varied and sophisticated array of percussion instruments ever assembled before a mike. If you think percussion is just drums, then listen to the vibraharp, the xylophone, marimba, bell-tree, tom-tom, maracas, gourds, scratchers, chimes, cow-bells and temple bells.

"We even rounded up a whole set of Chinese wood blocks - some 30 or 40 of them," says Bob. "Old ones, from mainland China! You just can't get those any more. And for the last number - Goofus - we've really got something rare: a buzzimba!"
A buzzimba, it turns out, is a Rube Goldberg-ish contraption made up of wooden resonators that buzz daintily like a choir of horseflies when struck with a mallet. "You might call it a kind of percussive kazoo," Bob suggested.
The rest of the orchestra (clarinets, flutes, saxes, trumpet, trombone, bass, guitar, and piano) is made up of fairly conventional instruments. Except one. Arranger Sid Cooper had found a calliope - one of those outboard organs they used to play on the old Mississippi showboats. He just had to work that in, somehow, and trundled it into the studio on a serving cart. No steamboat boiler was handy, so a small air compressor was used instead to blow the pipes.
Soon the music was clopping along, softly and tenderly like a brook with syncopated rocks in its bed. Or suddenly it sounded as if the building were under attack from a flock or rapid-action woodpeckers. For Bob and his crew, all the banging, tickling and tapping on their strange instruments was audibly a labor of love. It's also a fine stint of sheer musicianship.

FRANCIS TRAUN


© 1965, Radio Corporation of America"



5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just feel sorry for that girl on the cover with a clarinet skewering her head.

-Phil Th

Mr Fab said...

That's what happens when you hire Herschell Gordon Lewis to do your album artwork.

367 said...

Rapidshare Link does NOT work ...
Can You Re-up This ???

367 said...

Finally!! I receive it !
Thanks !!!

Dirk Bill said...

What a sweet stack o' wax, Mr. Fab! I am reminded of the catalog I have of Emil Richards' percussion collection (including animal bells from every country before or since), and of a long-time friend, Stanley (Stan) Webb, who played bass sax on all the Pervasive Percussion LPs in Severe Stereo! Thank you for firing up my synapses!