Raise Every Voice Ö
I cannot emphasise enough how much I love Electrelaneís 'The Valleys'. Itís going to take some beating for drink-dropping-moment of the year. And the Ďlane should be celebrated for the audacious arrangement, the sublime way Siegfried Sassonís words are incorporated, and above all the choral setting.

I confess I am an absolute sucker for choral arrangements, which is odd as I am so ignorant about classicism. Yet give me some oddly unexpected choral workouts in the pop medium, and I am won over.

Now before you say Polyphonic Spree and Hidden Cameras, can I just say Donald Byrd please? I am ordinarily against the idea of slapping a set of old songs together to provide a random soundtrack to a film, but occasionally it works, and the songs perfectly complement the action. I am thinking of Harvey Keitel dancing to the Rolling Stones in Mean Streets, and more to the point the use of Donald Byrdís 'Cristo Redentor' in A Bronx Tale. Perhaps itís not the greatest film in the world, but it made me rush out and get hold of Byrdís A New Perspective for that astonishingly moving track. And it still absolutely kills me every time.

The choral arrangement is sublime, and in my view defines what can be attractive about spirituality. Then when the trumpet comes in, itís heartbreaking, as the tension mounts and Herbie tinkles away in a perfect dreamy fashion. I just defy anyone to listen to that track without shutting their eyes and feeling there is something special out there.

And the whole LP is great. Although I understand there is a little bit of controversy as Max Roach also used Coleridge Parkinson to direct a small choral group on his excellent Itís Time set a year or two before. So what? They're both excellent LPs, and if this (choral jazz) is a bona fide genre then I want to hear more.

Itís not a genre mentioned in my jazz bible (Robin Tomensí Points of Departure) but one of the great moments in that book is the trombone debate. Our Robin struggles with liking Tony Studdís contribution to Gil Evansí Out Of The Cool so much. Myself, I am a huge trombone fan. And Max Roachís Itís Time is another great trombone record too, with Julian Priester making some vital interventions. Can someone persuade Electrelane to add some trombone to their next recording session?

I suspect my love of the trombone goes back to Dexys and the presence of the great Big Jimmy. And it was wonderful to see the trombone playing such a pivotal part in the triumphant return of Dexys last year. Did we ever give Mick Talbot credit for his part in that project? I only say that because now that Donít Stand Me Down has been rehabilitated as a bona fide classic, surely itís time for the Style Councilís Confessions Of A Pop Group to gain a similar status. It really does have one of the greatest first sides of any record.

And the highlight is the bleakness of 'The Story of Someoneís Shoe' where the theme is offset by the gorgeous choral work of the Swingle Singers. Confessions may be flawed but it still is an exceptionally ambitious record, and improves with age.

As does the work of the Free Design, who perhaps more than anyone bridged the gap between the Swingle Singers and the Beach Boys in a way the Weller of Confessions would have wholeheartedly approved of. Erudite apostles of the Free Design (myself I am years behind the likes of Tim Gane, Joe Foster and Bob Stanley as ever) would naturally lean more to the outfitís soft rock or sunshine pop connections. I like to draw the link to the Carpenters as well, and claim we should not treat that exceptional duoís work as wallpaper. Behind the hits lies a collection of amazingly beautiful and strange songs. And, for example, the exquisite vocal arrangements on their debut LP (now known as Ticket To Ride) are as out there as anything rare and wonderful that has been given the approval of the likes of Tim, Joe and Bob. In fact I heard Tim play 'All I Can Do' from that first LP on a radio show recently. And we should not forget the link between the Carpenters and Sonic Youth, which are entirely natural.

But I am not sure even the Carpenters came up with anything as perfect as 'The Valleys' by Electrelane. It really is that good!

© 2004John Carney