Hal Willner And Lou Reed: Making Legacy Live On

Hal Willner’s Lou Reed (or Lou Reed’s Hal Willner)

Mention to Hal Willner that he’s a sort of keeper of the flame, and he grumbles. The producer has, since 1981, been an all-around music boss at Saturday Night Live as its sketch-music adaptor, coordinator and composer. Around this same time, he began to create and curate smart tribute albums to the esteemed likes of Nino Rota, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Kurt Weill and other genre-busting geniuses who forged a blueprint for the art form. Willner also created sonic sound beds for Beat Generation literary godfathers William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and their beatnik comic cousin Lenny Bruce.

“No, they don’t need me to do anything with their flames,” says Willner. “I am happily associated with Bruce and the Beats and am always available to that crowd,” pointing to the 2016 Burroughs-released work Let Me Hang You.
When it comes to the late, great Lou Reed, however, Willner is happy to carry a torch.

Reed’s last producer—“in a humbling list of illustrious names: Bob Ezrin, Tom Wilson, David Bowie, Mick Ronson, Richard Robinson, to say nothing of the guy who painted the banana,” he laughs, considering Velvet Underground associate Andy Warhol—is proud of tackling 2000’s Ecstasy, 2003’s The Raven and all original work and Reed compilations until his death in 2013. Their newest (but not last) collaborative production is the recently released The RCA & Arista Album Collection, which captures Reed fresh from leaving the Velvets up through depressive art rock (Berlin, Street Hassle), glam (Transformer), showy, silly soul (Sally Can’t Dance), swishy folk (Coney Island Baby), noise (Metal Machine Music) and more.

“It is a mammoth catalog that you think you know until you dig into it,” says Willner, mentioning how he and Laurie Anderson, Reed’s widow, separated out Reed love songs for the early summer 2016 all-Reed spectacular outside of Lincoln Center, where a “misty rain never felt so mesmerizing.” To quote Donald Trump, says Willner, “This is huge.”

Willner first worked with the daring ex-Velvet on 1985’s Lost In The Stars: The Music Of Kurt Weill, with the guitarist/singer morphing the German theater composer’s most plaintive ballad, “September Song,” into an era-appropriate Reed rocker. “I had the first Velvets album, Berlin and Transformer but didn’t cling to everything Reed did,” says Willner. “Rock got stale for me by 1975, so I moved to NYC to become a jazz producer because of the innovative work of Sun Ra and such. By the ’80s, however, jazz got stale, and I drifted back to rock.” And Reed.

“Lou wasn’t told to have a producer like most artists are by the label, he chose to,” says Willner. “He wanted another voice—a buddy, a partner—and that other voice happened to be mine. I’m also not just a record producer but rather an all-around collaborator, a one-stop shop. But with him, you came ready to work. He taught me to focus, really focus. You did your job. Bear with him. Listen hard, then harder. Follow his lead and call the shots when they needed to be called.”

The same was even truer when it came to The RCA & Arista Album Collection. According to Willner, Reed knew he was “obviously” dying, as did those close to him (“We all lived in denial,” says Willner) and wanted this re-breathing of his ’70s and ’80s catalog to be brilliant, a true last will and testament to his powers as a poet guitarist and sonic elocutionist. “It was amazing watching and listening to him pointing to what needed to be enhanced and what to be left alone,” says Willner.

According to Willner, the new boxed set is not “remixed” but rather reconsidered for Blu-ray sound. With that, Reed could realize that which had long been stuck in his head, like the dynamic effect of binaural sound that was Street Hassle (“his headphone album”) or to bring out the nuanced background vocals of that same album’s “I Wanna Be Black” and the Bowie/Ronson harmonies of Transformer. “Lou really marveled at their vocal lines and wanted their dimensions to sound greater,” says Willner. “He relived everyone’s contributions to his work.”

With that, Willner sees The RCA & Arista Album Collection as a gift to rock, jazz, poetry, punk, noise and pop—like Miles Davis, an ever-shifting palette of sounds that had peaks and valleys, but always made the music his own and changed the culture.

“To go from the Velvets to Metal Machine Music—all before 1975 and often with great criticism —is something to behold,” says Willner. “Lou Reed changed the game and often.”

—A.D. Amorosi

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From The Desk Of matt pond PA: Orchid Mantis

The 11th matt pond PA full-length, Winter Lives, features artwork that evokes Windham Hill’s catalog. Winter Lives arrives 11 years after Pond’s nearly all covers EP, Winter Songs. Pond, a New Hampshire native, understands the season that inspired Winter Lives, but he needed to write winter songs in the spring, so the album would arrive in context. Given his background, Pond didn’t scratch down too far to find inspiration. “It’s just visceral,” he says of winter. “There’s this coldness and shut-down emotional temperament to people in northern places, but when you get through that, there’s so much depth and reality to northern people.” Pond will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com over the next two winter weeks. Read our new feature on him.

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Pond: These mantes from southeast Asia perfectly mimic flowers in order to trap and consume their prey. The males remain small and plain, while females pose and posture their way to their lavish moth-meals.

Beautiful and evil. (Please pardon the inverted carnival mirrors, but I love the meaning of these bugs.)

Human beings. Our benevolent shimmers merely mask the primal motivations. Money and lipstick aren’t anything more than a superficial sleight of hand. Songs may merely be sad spiderwebs for the melodically inclined.

Look, I apologize for ever putting a scarf on a dog. Or for a cartoon lifetime of anthropomorphism. From now on, I just want to know what’s what.

If you’re gorgeous and hungry—you’re probably going to eat me alive.

I get it. I have a grilled cheese head. It’s cool.

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Film At 11: Joan Of Arc

It’s time again for another video from Joan Of Arc, which will finally release He’s Got The Whole This Land Is Your Land In His Hands later this month. The mid-tempo, off-kilter “Two-Toothed Troll” gets a clip full of neighborhood fun and fireworks. Check it out below.

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Live Review: Liberation Music Orchestra At The NYC Winter Jazzfest

On Tuesday night in downtown Manhattan, the 13th annual NYC Winter Jazzfest concluded its massive music marathon with a conscious concert at the le Poisson Rouge nightclub featuring Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. The festival itself ran January 5-10 and hosted more than 100 different artists on Friday and Saturday nights. Complimenting the festival’s 2017 theme of social justice, the LMO provided a compelling live set that was powerful, politicized and poignant.

Originally formed in 1969 by late bassist Charlie Haden along with arranger/pianist Carla Bley, the Liberation Music Orchestra has existed as an outspoken vehicle of protest and resistance for five decades. Balancing ecological, humanist and political commentary, Haden’s LMO has released a recording every 10 years or so, usually coinciding with the prominence of a Republican administration. This includes the recently released Time/Life (Songs For The Whales And Other Beings) on ECM, which was recorded prior to Haden’s passing.

Although Bley did not take part in the NYC performance due to conflicting commitments, the oversized, virtuosic band used her distinctive arrangements throughout, including an authoritative version of Miles Davis’ “Blue In Green” and distinctive twists on both “Amazing Grace” and “America The Beautiful.” With the gifted Geri Allen substituting for Bley on piano, the LMO boasted a mother lode of excellent musicians including saxophonists Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek, trumpeters Seneca Black and Michael Rodriguez (who served as bandleader) and veteran trombonist Curtis Fowlkes.

The premise of music illuminating protest is central to the LMO, and the band persists in upholding the outspoken legacy of Haden’s insurgent vision. The group closed the show with a moving version of “We Shall Overcome,” which was also the final number on its first album back in 1969.

There were plenty of socially conscious performances during the Jazzfest. Composer/trombonist Craig Harris’s Breathe was another massive ensemble expressing discontent and hope, remembering the martyred Eric Garner and exploring themes of Black Lives Matter. Chicago wunderkind bandleader Mike Reed’s Flesh & Bone showcased explosive rhetoric by clear-eyed poet Marvin Tate and provided bracing counterpoint with a hard-charging band that included saxophonist Greg Ward. Saturday’s ECM Stage at New School’s Tishman Auditorium hosted bassist Michael Formanek’s group with saxophonist Tim Berne, keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver, as well as performances by Danish guitar phenomenon Jakob Bro, duets by saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and pianist David Virelles, and guitarist Bill Frisell working in tandem with bassist Thomas Morgan.

Once again the NYC Winter Jazzfest was an unqualified success and its heightened attention to social justice was right on time. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Or as they say in Portuguese, “A Luta Continua.” The struggle continues.

—Mitch Myers; photo by Dave Kaufman

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MP3 At 3PM: Miss Ohio

Miss Ohio recently put out a career retrospective called White Hot: The Best Of Miss Ohio. The collection features a track that clearly belongs on our website: “Magnet.” A lackadaisical tune that weaves a six-minute tapestry of mid-tempo rock, “Magnet” is a sweet and luminescent tune worthy of dark, snowy days. Check it out below.

“Magnet” (download):

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Essential New Music: Hope Sandoval And The Warm Inventions’ “Until The Hunter”

As it happens, there are many pop-savvier moves than opening your first solo-project album in seven years with a nine-minute meditation on a single, hypnotic organ chord while heartbrokenly repeating “I miss you” no fewer than 33 times. But there are probably none that are more Hope Sandoval. By now, whether fronting Mazzy Star, her Warm Inventions project or guesting on a particularly downcast Massive Attack or Psychic Ills track, you know what you’re getting from the Los Angeles chanteuse: an overflowing cup of hushed, sultry melancholy, which perfectly describes Until The Hunter, her third release with My Bloody Valentine’s Colm Ó Cíosóig as the Warm Inventions.

But it’s not all songs in the key of sad; “Let Me Get There” is a beautiful little bit of loping ’70s radio pop created in collaboration with Kurt Vile, “Treasure” invents a new codeine-country subgenre, and “Liquid Lady” weaves its black-magic woman-y vibe in a manner not entirely dissimilar from Janis’ finest moments with Big Brother (if sung at a totally different octave). It’s not all successful—I could do without Ren Faire sung/spoken-word tropes like “A Wonderful Seed” again—but as mood music for a particularly rainy series of months, it’s a perfectly bummed-out comedown.

—Corey duBrowa

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From The Desk Of matt pond PA: Elena Ferrante’s “The Days Of Abandonment”

The 11th matt pond PA full-length, Winter Lives, features artwork that evokes Windham Hill’s catalog. Winter Lives arrives 11 years after Pond’s nearly all covers EP, Winter Songs. Pond, a New Hampshire native, understands the season that inspired Winter Lives, but he needed to write winter songs in the spring, so the album would arrive in context. Given his background, Pond didn’t scratch down too far to find inspiration. “It’s just visceral,” he says of winter. “There’s this coldness and shut-down emotional temperament to people in northern places, but when you get through that, there’s so much depth and reality to northern people.” Pond will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com over the next two winter weeks. Read our new feature on him.

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Pond: There’s only one way to the top. And it sure ain’t down.

I’m looking up at a coffee shop full of strangers, and I can’t help but think that we seldom welcome people as they are anymore—including me. The curation of our profile and personhood is just about the slipperiest slope out there.

The Days Of Abandonment. There are some reviews that consider the descent of main character to be clichéd. After a lifetime of familial dedication, Olga is abandoned by her husband Mario. She goes down, disrupted and scouring the depths of sanity.

While the signposts may be similar to those that have already appeared, the description and intensity of the Olga’s dive are incomparable. It’s a palpable pain that brings me closer to a grief-case I’ve grown accustomed to hiding from everyone, including myself.

Both disturbing and real—from here on out, I’m on a treasure hunt for everything that matters. A quiet quest for all that beguiling dirt beneath our shuffling feet.

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Film At 11: Wesley Stace

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MAGNET’s Philly buddy Wesley Stace is set to release Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding February 24. He recorded it with the Jayhawks. (Good call, Wes.) Check out the Madden Meiners-directed video for “Better Tell No One Your Dreams,” which we’re proud to premiere on magnetmagazine.com today.

Says the always quotable (and really fucking smart) Stace of the clip, “The message of the song is self-evident, but I had a hard time coming up with a video, because all the images in the lyrics—being from actual dreams of mine—are so literal. So I thought I could make a virtue of this by literally acting out every line: But who’d be fool enough to do that? Well, a very-pretentious-perhaps-not-very-good, but well-meaning, man of the theater in a black polo neck and sneakers, who likes to put on one-man shows called things like ‘Dreams,’ because he saw Spalding Gray once and it changed his life. To him, it’s the most meaningful piece of art ever created, but it really only makes sense to him; the audience aren’t so sure. So he’s presenting this show, with props and stark lighting, in his off-off-off-Broadway black-box theater, but meanwhile some of his own greatest fears—nightmares from our collective subconscious—are bubbling to the surface.”

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MP3 At 3PM: The Ferdy Mayne

The Ferdy Mayne is the new project from songwriter Shane O’Malley Firek, and his new self-titled record is due in March. Submitted for your approval is “Pears And Asian Wine,” a downtrodden but slightly groovy rock tune that shows off Firek’s unique vocals. Check it out below.

“Pears And Asian Wine” (download):

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Ennio Morricone: A Fistful Of Dynamite

Legendary composer Ennio Morricone returns with the bold Morricone 60

From his roots in the avant-garde scene of his native Italy to the nouvelle, nontraditional symphony he composed for his most famous recent film score for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, composer, orchestrator and conductor Ennio Morricone loves to experiment.

These testing grounds might not include the early fuzz-tones, primitive rhythms, oddly tuned chorales or nature’s roars as did his earliest works. At the request of Italian “spaghetti-Western” (yes, Morricone supposedly loathes the phrase) director Sergio Leone, the composer engaged audiences with dusty, prickly scores for modern horse operas such as 1964’s A Fistful Of Dollars, 1965’s For A Few Dollars More, 1966’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and 1968’s Once Upon A Time In The West. Still, experimenting is his right and duty, even now as he manipulates the contours, luster and grand sweep of his best-known cinematic moments on his new album, Morricone 60, meant to signal both 600 compositions and 60 years in the biz.

“It is always difficult thinking about composing for a film while at the same time trying to find a compromise between that which can be, something that must be and something that should be understood and felt by an audience,” says the 88-year-old Italian known as “Il Maestro” through an interpreter from his apartment in Rome, his longtime home. Considering notions of experimentation, Morricone—who started out as a trumpeter along with spending time in Italy’s premier conceptual ensemble, Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza—remarks that he’s always looking to turn sound on its head. “I compose a piece of music that is interesting to me, that is relevant, contemporary and challenging because I do not wish to bore my audience,” he says. “Or me, for that matter. I want to feed my audience music that has dignity.”

And for the record, “No, I have not played the trumpet in nearly 50 years,” he laughs.

Talking about his initial, often dissonant influences in 20th-century composers Boulez, Stockhausen and Luigi Nono and the use of the “sounds of reality” to give his “instrumental music meaning,” that forum had to find its own form, its own shape, in his recollection. “Which was imminent; not all contemporary music had this, the sounds of reality, at the time,” he says. “But I used this to make a point, a sort of short circuit.”

Hence, the sweeping orchestration and noisy elements of scores for Leone, his baroque “giallo” (horror) for Dario Argento and Alberto De Martino; then a run of internationally famed directors from Bernardo Bertolucci, Lina Wertmüller and Pedro Almodóvar to Hollywood-Americans such as Brian De Palma, Mike Nichols, Barry Levinson, Warren Beatty and Oliver Stone.

Ask if he has heard or felt a difference in what he has written for Hollywood (he never even thought about moving to America, let alone learning to speak the language) as opposed to Mediterranean or European directors, he claims he never noticed. “It was always up to me to propose that which would solve a problem; that would fit a mood, a scene,” he says. “There are so many options. That is why it is difficult to strike the perfect balance no matter who the director is or where he is from.” More important for Morricone is that the music he’s composed—past or present such as those for new films (A Rose In Winter, La Corrispondenza) or those in pre-production (Aline & Wolfe)—must be able to exist outside the realm of cinema. “From the very beginning of the process, when I start writing a composition for a film, I write all music as independent and stand alone. If the music is audacious and powerful enough for a film, it must also have a life free from its images.”

This is why Morricone 60, recorded anew with longtime collaborators the Czech National Orchestra, is so powerful. Not because they conjure images of boots of Spanish leather and gunfire, but because their mood and colors do so on their own. The best example of that power comes in Morricone 60’s re-envisioning of the noisily classic “Main Theme” from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. Devoid of its usual gut-shot yipping howls and twangy guitars, the new version is rich with deeper bassoon and brass arrangements to maintain its sand-swept majesty. “The new album was meant to mirror what had come before,” he says. “Maybe this time, though, I did not have the original instrumentation available. So I change to whatever I see fit. I decide right there and then.”

Spoken like a true sonic adventurer.

—A.D. Amorosi

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