(Review) Chicago Odense Ensemble

Chicago Odense Ensemble Vinyl Jacket and Sleeves
In the last year or so it seems that a few groups that I follow have chosen as a template for their recent albums the genre-defining and game-changing 1969 Miles Davis album In A Silent Way. In the Davis oeuvre, In A Silent Way represents his first full-step into electric fusion jazz and the precursor to Bitches Brew. The album itself is two compositions– on the LP, one per side– which are made up of edits of a much longer recording session by legendary recording engineer Teo Macero.

In 2008  musicians gathered in Chicago to collaborate on a new work. The group consisted of Rob Mazurek of Isotope 217 and Chicago Underground, Jeff Parker of Tortoise and Isotope 217, Dan Bitney of Tortoise and Isotope 217, Matt Lux of Isotope 217, Brian Keigher, Jonas Munk of Causa Sui and Manual and Jakob Skott of Causa Sui. A joining of bands from Chicago and Odense, Denmark named Chicago Odense Ensemble.

In Spring of 2010, I started hearing about this album from the folks at the boutique French record label AdLuna. AdLuna makes very-small-run releases with gorgeous packaging– all labors of love. The label had releases by Thrill Jockey alumni, including Rob Mazurek’s solo work Abstractions on Robert d’Abrissel, and Jeff Parker (on Doug Scharin’s Activities of Dust project) and now Chicago Odense Ensemble. The ambitions of the label for the release matched the promise of the recording. This album was going to represent AdLuna’s first venture into vinyl– a media befitting the importance of the album, and would give them the ability to stretch their packaging chops with the larger canvas.

Chicago Odense Ensemble on the Turntable

An undertaking of a project this size was going to be a stress on the small label, so they reached out to the fans with a pre-order campaign in June. By November, the packaging and other details of the release were ready and they were only going to press 250 180g LPs and 500 CD’s making this a very limited release and very desirable for collectors. Today, out-of-print Thrill Jockey titles can fetch around $40, and those are usually limited to 1000 LPs per pressing. I can only imagine the future value of this release!

In April 2011, the album was finally completed and ready to ship the pre-orders. The folks at AdLuna felt especially generous and decided to give away six sets of the test pressings to some lucky fans who pre-ordered the release. These six sets required some special packaging and shipping materials, so the winners had their releases shipped a bit later. As it turned out, I was one of the lucky six! The package included the LPs as expected and also included the test pressings which were wrapped in very special paper and were personalized with a letter of ownership as well as each of the records having the owner’s name written on them. As I write this, I’m still astonished by the effort and personal touch put forth for this!

Chicago Odense Ensemble Test Pressing Wrapped

The test-pressings were wrapped in a special Himalayan paper called lokta paper made from the bark of the lokta bush or Daphne bush. The included letter says this:

The lokta paper has been made in the Himalayan region for over 1200 years. Handcrafted, the paper is made from the inner bark of the bush which grows at a high altitude of 6500 to 9500 feet. It is very strong and is an incredible eco-friendly choice. The Nepalese claim that the lokta paper lasts for 1,000 years if protected from sunlight.


Chicago Odense Ensemble Test Pressing Unwrapped

The Chicago Odense Ensemble album is the result of a coming-together of two camps of musicians from seemingly different genres. The album is more about the exploration of groove and improvisation than it is about strict composition. In fact, this album is partially inspired by the aforementioned work done by Miles Davis, if not the resulting proto jazz fusion that followed. In a similar way to the Davis albums Chicago Odense Ensemble was created by marathon recording sessions followed by Monk taking the recordings back to his studio and editing and massaging the recordings into the resulting tracks.

Taken in whole, Chicago Odense Ensemble is an impressively cohesive work, no doubt supported by the very fruitful original sessions recorded in 2008. Considering the improvisational nature of the original tracks, the editing brings these tracks into individual compositions with unique moods and movement.

Here are my listening notes for each of the songs:

1. Parallel Motions (9:50) – dual improv of cornet and guitar  over repeating and building bass, guitar and percussion.

2. Emanuelle (9:23) – almost a dub track with the rolling echo. In the last two minutes of the song it switches to a more organized finish with brushes on the eights and chiming clean guitar chords underneath a trumpet melody.

3. Spirals (1:36) – Melancholy little interlude. Arpeggio clean guitar and coronet with a bell mute.

4. Glide Path (4:30) Bongos and atmospheric guitars. Lots of Isotope 217 and Tortoise influence on this track. Pretty, if a bit incidental

5. Soup (6:19) First song previewed from album. Starts with a marching snare and circular guitars builds in a circular fashion adding in frenetic cornet runs and guitar to the end.

6. Spine Dots (3:20)  Ominous and unstructured, atmospheric and swelling fragments of instruments a lead-in to “Delivery.”

7. Delivery (11:59)  African rhythms – shakers and guitar and bass playing same notes. halfway though the rhythm becomes more loose/more jammy. Becomes more frenzied in last two minutes and cacophonous

8. Pretty Nice (6:35) Appropriately described by the song title which is in-turn inspired by the studio chatter included at the end. Nice bright track. mellow percussion. nice way to wrap up the album.

At the time of this writing there are less than 100 of the LPs remaining. Visit the Chicago Odense Ensemble website for ordering information. You can order the CD here as well. For any order, they have immediate digital download, too.


Chicago Odense Ensemble “Soup” by Adluna Records

Happy New Year! A Look Back at 2009 for Playbsides.com

A recurring tradition for me is to recap the site statistics for playbsides.com with some commentary on the content that was seeing the most traffic for the site. I said it last year– but probably I’m the only person who really is interested in this information, but again, I’m going to do it for posterity sake.

February 21st, 2010 will be the fourth year of playbsides.com! The traffic to the site increased pretty dramatically over the last couple of years. Some of the new traffic is a result of my use of twitter and facebook to share new article posts. Some of it is that I happened to blog about some things that people were really interested in and I got some new inbound links. I also undertook a substantial site redesign and introduced the new “Play B-Sides” logo you see at the top of the page which was designed by the very cool guys at cottonfactory.com. Check out their “I Buy Vinyl” tee! I also got rid of the ineffective Google AdWords campaign that was doing very little and replaced it with a MOG campaign. The nice thing about MOG is that it is music-blog centric and there are some blogger bennies like free access to their MOG music streaming.

In 2009 I had 42,113 unique page views! This is over twice 2008’s 18,964 unique page views– a pretty good feat, I think, and showing that the crowd of viewers is steadily growing. When those 18,964 unique page views happened, folks spent an average of 2:27 minutes there, which is pretty good. Around 71% of those visits end up leaving the site, which is generally supported by the high number of search hits to the site– most people are only reading one article when they get here. This really isn’t surprising or revelatory.

The rundown of most popular articles are:

At #1 for the third year running is the home URL of http://www.playbsides.com which was visited 3,283 times. 1,077 of those visits came from someone entering the URL in a browser which is surprising. 917 of those visits came from google.com. The rest of the major hits came from facebook and other places where I use the URL of the site in an e-mail signature.

At #2 is my article comparing the Fender Baritone guitars— this is the third year running for this article #2. Obviously people find the article useful even though none of the guitars compared are still in production. An astonishing 3,018 hits to this article! 2,007 hits came from google with the rest of the hits coming from a number of guitar sites.

At #3 for the third year running is my article on the Fender Hard Tail Stratocaster. 2,324 hits on that article, with 1,758 views coming from google.

At #4 is yet another guitar article– this time it’s about my 2008 acquisition of one of a Guitar Center-exclusive Gibson Les Pauls. I’m assuming that there are a lot of people looking at getting these entry-level American Gibsons and are trying to find more information. In fact, I think that my article might be the only place where this information is collected. Gibson doesn’t have any information about this particular Les Paul. 2,173 views with 1,200 of those coming in via the google express. Interestingly, someone in October on the Portland Craigslist was linking to the article which drove 60 views on 10/11.

At #4 is a 2009 article about David Sylvian’s new album Manafon at 1,828 hits– 1,145 of which came from google. Whew! I was getting worried that I wasn’t creating any new content of interest! Still– what kind of article can topple my guitar ones? Maybe I need to just write guitar reviews– Fender, Gibson, Taylor, et al– feel free to contact me about where to send guitars for me to review.

At #5 is a 2009 article about one of Ryan Adam’s digital download releases under his PaxAm label. 1,439 page views on that one. Ryan mysteriously stopped releasing these previously-unreleased gems. There was a lot of chatter about it and interest. He even pressed a 7″ single with a promise of some more physical and digital releases. I hope that Mandy can talk him into doing more releases!

What will 2010 bring? Well, I’m hoping for more opportunities for interviews and concert reviews. I’ve got a couple of things starting to solidify already and I’m pretty jazzed about it, so I hope it pans out. Stay tuned, gentle reader!

B-Sides in the Bins – Record Store Day “Crawl”

Since Cedar Rapids, IA no longer has an Independent Record Retailer, there are no stores here participating in Record Store Day 2009.  Record Store Day has been going on for a couple of years and I haven’t participated in it.

This year, it seems like all of the record labels have made special releases, including one from Thrill Jockey– which is a first for them! Along with my friend Erik and Alex, we are going to do a “Record Store Crawl” by hitting three record stores in two cities in Iowa– two stores in Dubuque and one store in Iowa City. The total trip will be 169 miles accounting for 3 hours of driving!

View Larger Map

I will be doing a live twitter of the events, which will also include pictures. I’ll be doing updates here, too as I can.

Click Here to follow my twitter

Happy New Year – A Look Back at 2008 for Playbsides.com

Last year at this time, I provided a year-end wrap up which included a breakdown of the statistics for playbsides.com. I’m fairly certain that I’m the only one who really is interested in this information, but still I want to capture it for posterity, if nothing else.

February 21st will be the third year for playbsides.com which is a feat in of itself I think.  Most of the “big” music blogs have been around for this long or longer, so that is pretty cool. I’m not sure how many people are regular readers– I have a handful that follow my site via RSS feed, but most folks come here via search engine by a large margin. Considering how many articles I’ve amassed here, it stands to reason that this will continue to be the norm.

2008 was a pretty big year for the website it seems. In 2007 we had 9,469 unique hits. We seemed to gain some very dramatic growth as we had 18,964  visits, with 16,651 of them being absolute unique visits accounting for 27,663 pageviews. The average visitor looked at 1.46 pages while they stopped by. I’d say this is supported by the fact that most of my traffic (66.42%) comes from search engines, so the average visitor would only be interested in the one article that was pertinent to the search result.

Speaking of search engines, google.com is still the top driver of traffic at 11,611 visits accounting for 61% of my overall traffic. My top keywords are “fender baritone” which is up from last year’s #2 position. Apparently people are very interested in that rather obscure guitar. At #2  is “Lindsey Buckingham Gift of Screws” amusingly enough. I have a handful of articles I’ve written over the last couple of years while Lindsey prepared that album and the prior Under the Skin which had a shared history in an unreleased album. Down to the #3 position from last year’s #1 is “play b.” Interestingly (and I say that understanding that you’ve bothered to read this far) the next five keywords were all variations on searching for the Fender Baritone guitars.

The top articles for 2008 were:

The homepage got 4,629 pageviews with 3,932 unique views. These stats are very similar to last year.

The second highest read article is not surprisingly the article on the Fender Baritone Jaguar at 2,429 unique pageviews– up from last year’s 1,754. The funny thing about this is that I seriously considered not selling this guitar last year just because of how popular this article is.

At number three is the article about the discontinued Fender Stratocaster Hard Tail at 2,156 unique page views.

At number four is the article I kept up-to-date providing the links to the freely-downloadable tracks for the new Pretenders album Break Up The Concrete at 1,414 unique page views. The popularity of this page is a testament of the power of mp3 crawlers like elbo.ws.  These mp3’s were “unveiled” once a week until the release of the album. The reason this article was popular was that no one else was keeping track of the prior-week’s downloads. A comment I would make is that most of the “internet PR” people don’t really understand how the Internet is used related to finding information and a lot of the neat opportunities for promotion are missed based on short-sighted planning like this.

In the third year of this blog I think I learned a lot about what kind of content is the stuff that people are interested in reading, and certainly what content is read most. As I look back on the year there were a lot of really interesting developments in the music industry and in some respects 2008 was sort of a turning point for the industry where it was taught some lessons– if not learned them. With news of the RIAA changing its tactics in prosecuting copyright violators one would hope that the approach to the music consumers would be one where the music industry would be more about getting the music to the fans in a format that they want than it is about holding on to old practices and ideas surrounding ownership. 2009 brings a US President that is a first in many important respects, but is also a President I think that represents the population more accurately when it comes to technology use– he was an avid Blackberry user, apparently he has a Zune (for whatever that means). His campaign was grassroots, but arguably won via a successful Internet campaign that he seemed to be very involved in orchestrating. Whether or not you agree with his positions on the political topics, he certainly is more like the people reading blogs like mine than the competing candidate was in my opinion. What this means for the country is anyone’s guess at this point, but I’m hopeful that we see more reasonable legislation when it comes to matters of intellectual property, copyrights and patents and social parity when it comes to availbility of technology and information.

What does 2009 mean to playbsides.com? Well, it probably means a site update. In a couple of weeks (or sooner) I’ll be introducing a new logo for the site– replacing or re-engineering the long-standing 45s picture above. I’ll continue to try to bring reviews of decent music– most of it will continue to be the somewhat obscure music I listen to– this is largely a factor of the major labels and now, large independent labels ignoring my very important, taste influencing, insanely great site– but really how many Radiohead and Death Cab reviews does the Internet need? 2009 will bring more of my “B-Sides in the Bins” articles, of course, as I plot my course to certain LP storage failure…

As always, thanks for stopping by and support your independent record retailer.


Happy New Year – A Look Back at 2007 for Playbsides.com

February 21st 2008 will be the second anniversary of It’s Time To Play B-Sides. As we start the calendar for 2008, I took a look at the website statistics for 2007.

According to Google Analytics, I had a total of 9,469 visits for calendar 2007. Of those visits there were 13,694 pageviews accounting for 1.45 pageviews per visit. I guess that is heartening! For those 1.45 views, folks spent an average of 45 seconds. Judging from how wordy I tend to be, I guess that means that people aren’t really reading the articles most of the time. Interestingly 86.71% of the visits were new visitors.

I realize, however that some percentage of the page views are coming from other websites caching my content like elbo.ws and others. 66.82% of my traffic is referred from Google. 20.39% comes from other sites referring me. 12% is Direct Traffic. A special “Boy Howdy!” to those 1,211 people!

Those visits came from 89 countries or territories. 5,976 not surprisingly came from the U.S. with the UK at a distant second with 619 visitors. Canada, who at least on the same continent with me came in 3rd at 501. Maybe I don’t have enough articles about Loverboy, Bryan Adams or Barenaked Ladies to keep the average Canadian coming back?

My top keywords, for what it’s worth were “play b” which accounted for 2.18%. I wonder how many of those folks were happy with the resulting page? #2 with 48 visits was “fender baritone” which is certainly reflected in the top content. Tied with “fender baritone” is “mike roeder” which also got 48 visits. If you do a Google search for “mike roeder” you’ll notice that my website is at the top of the page– TAKE THAT ALL YOU OTHER MIKE ROEDERS!!! There were 43 visits from “the ‘b’ side music blog” I’m at #47 on today’s results page from Google, and that is actually a reference from elbo.ws so, I can’t account for that traffic unless I used to be higher in the rankings for those keywords.
The most popular articles were:

The homepage got 4,330 hits with 3,639 unique views. Peeps spent 1:34 hanging there.

Fender Baritone Jaguars and the Bass VI got 1,754 pageviews with 1,495 uniques. Fans of the “Fat Cat” spent 3:16 reading that one. I guess that is one of the better articles I have written, and this article is always at the top of the list of popular articles every month.

2005 Fender American Stratocaster Hard Tail (review) got 1,024 pageviews with 916 uniques. Another discontinued instrument from Fender. Based on my statistics, maybe Fender should have kept this one around.

Beyond those articles, things drop off pretty substantially, and is really dependent on the age of the article from what I can tell, and possibly how much buzz surrounds the topic or act. My article that captures all of the rare Calexico tracks on iTunes got 420 hits last year, which is pretty impressive, really considering that folks would probably need to purchase the songs to really take advantage of it. I’m planning a refresh of that article to include the other collaborations and soundtracks that showed up last year.

The popularity of the guitar articles is enough to push me to spend more time writing about my guitars and related items. It’s really a pretty big part of my spare time so I should write up my research.

Last year was the year that I think playbsides really gelled for me personally as well as establishing a level of credibility. I got serious about taking pictures at shows to enhance the reviews which I think makes a big difference. I really enjoy working on this site and it gives me something to focus on that isn’t my day job. It is a really good diversion that is frankly much needed!

If you’re reading this and aren’t a Bot or Search Engine Spider or some other manifest of the interwebs, thanks for stopping by and making this hobby of mine worthwhile.

Here’s to ’08!

Playbsides.com Introduces Swag!

Look appealing to the opposite sex! I have had a cafepress store for a while and made a shirt that I wear frequently proudly proclaiming that it’s time to play b-sides. That shirt is the really expensive black one ($20!). I decided to make some white ones available and officially announce the store. As you can see by the picture, it utilizes the full version of my blog page header including the “hidden” records.

Visit the Play B-sides Swag Store!

I Won Something!

Stage Hymns had a contest last week where he was asking for suggestions about what cover song Tapes ‘n Tapes should cover– if they took suggestions for covers. Yours truly won by suggesting that they should cover the seminal Television song “Marquee Moon.” Per Joe, the keeper of Stage Hymns, “‘Marquee Moon’… is an amazing song, and an obvious precursor to much of the music that influenced Tapes ‘N Tapes.” The prize is an autographed 7″ single of “Insistor”/”Crazy Eights” that Joe got at the show he just attended. Joe says that he’ll be posting some versions of “Marquee Moon” in the near future.
So, big up to Joe and his nifty music blog… I’ll be adding it to my blog roll.

Now, if only Tapes ‘n Tapes would take the suggestion of that cover song…