Thursday, 17 April 2014

Moog-tinged jazz-funk from the King of Jingles: Vichyssoise - Bruce Clarke & Maryan Kenyon (1973)

Bruce Clarke was an Australian jazz guitarist, composer and founder of legendary label Cumquat Records. He was one of those diverse hired-guns of the Australian scene, active from the late fifties until the seventies when he started teaching. In 1957 he set up The Jingle Workshop, a studio and production company responsible for countless pieces of television music and soundtracks.

On this record Bruce teams up with Maryan Kenyon, a classical pianist from the Melbourne Conservatorium who worked at The Jingle Workshop. Bruce was a big fan of the Moog synth and Maryan ‘used her spare time to learn and master the equipment at hand’, so the liner notes inform us. ‘Maryan is not just a very pretty face’.

The notes, after having reassured us that the classically trained pianist featured on the album is good-looking (what about Bruce?), mostly wax lyrical about how unusual and eclectic this album is; a combination of bold, unique flavours, just like vichyssoise - a vegetable based French soup - which helps to explain why Clarke and Kenyon are posing in front of a giant leek on the cover. There is a wonderful and unexpected array of sounds to be found on this disc, mainly from the various Moogs and other electronics featuring in most songs. 

The feel of the album is dominated by white-Australian jazz funk with a hint of exotica, exemplified by the brilliant Djerba. Djerba opens with a slow, middle-eastern section scored by tom drums and a back and forth interplay between Clarke’s classical guitar and Kenyon’s wah-wah synth. The song then segues into an upbeat funk riff, allowing Kenyon some space to noodle around a bit with the synth and for Clarke to bring on some fuzz guitar.

Vichyssoise is a consistently good listen throughout due to well-chosen songs (about half originals by Clarke or Kenyon, the rest covers) and the extremely high quality of playing from the two stars and their band. Also, the very well-executed and constant presence of Moog and early synths on the tracks always keeps me entertained, setting it apart from other albums of it’s oeuvre.

Postscript: As inexplicable as it sounds, Howard Moon and Vince Noir appear to be members of Bruce and Maryan's band. Howard has a well documented love of jazz, but I'm surprised to see Vince involved. I'm pretty sure this proves the existence of parallel fiction realities.

Label: Cumquat
Released: 1973
Players: Bruce Clarke - composer/arranger/conductor, classic and electric guitars, Fender bass, Moog synthesiser, vocals
Maryan Kenyon - composer/arranger, Fender-Rhodes, acoustic pianos, harpsichord, Moog synthesiser, vocals
Brian Czempinski - percussion and special effects
Ted White - woodwinds (sax)
Llloyd Knapp - woodwinds
Barry Veith - woodwinds
Fred Hosking - woodwinds
Ron Anderson - woodwinds
Bill Harrower - woodwinds
Eddie Oxley - woodwinds
Keith Stirling - trumpets and/or flugelhorns
Bruce Gardiner - trumpets and/or flugelhorns
Reg Walsh - trumpets and/or flugelhorns
John Hughes - trumpets and/or flugelhorns
Ron Webb - trumpets and/or flugelhorns
Orme Stewart - trombones
Clive Webber - trombones
Jack Glenn - trombones
Col Williams - trombones
John Kennedy - cello
Judy Grieve - cor anglais
Maurice Sheldon - tuba

Strings uncredited.