Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Beyond our Ken

Ken Nordine's "Colors" grew out of a series of radio paint commercials for the Fuller Paint Company in the 1960s. Yep, you read that correctly. Paint commercials. On the radio. Nordine's free-jazz concoctions worked, though, as you can hear from these few samples. They don't always evoke the particular colour, but his free association clearly hit a nerve with the listening audience, who went out and bought Fuller's paint in such numbers that they kept on commissioning these 90-second spots. The original Philips LP ran to 24 tracks, each of about 90 seconds, with names like Amber, Yellow, Ecru, Azure and Russet. The Asphodel CD reissue of recent years includes 10 extra tracks, with titles such as "Let's Get Naked", and "Kill Your Parents". I'm lying, of course. The extra tracks are named Mauve, Sepia, Coral, get the picture.

I first came across Mr. Nordine through a terrific compilation called "Stay Awake", a Hal Willner project featuring an eclectic mix of artists covering Walt Disney songs. Sinead O'Connor sings "Someday My Prince Will Come", Bonnie Raitt and Was(Not Was) cover "Baby Mine", Tom Waits makes "Hi-Ho It's Off To Work We Go" sound like the soundtrack to Eraserhead. In between you get Sun Ra, NRBQ, Aaron Neville, Suzanne Vega, Harry Nilsson, Yma Sumac and Ringo Starr. And Ken Nordine's dulcet tones bookending the whole experience and hinting at the dark underbelly in much of Disney's work.

More recently he collaborated with Ninja Tunes' own DJ Food on "The Ageing Young Rebel", but his list of collaborations is long and diverse, from Fred Astaire to the Grateful Dead to Moloko. A figure somewhere between Edgar Allan Poe, William Burroughs, Charles Mingus and Charles Saatchi, Ken Nordine is a true one-off.

Download: Olive; Maroon; Burgundy (all deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

A good 1998 interview

Listen to Ken's Word Jazz radio show

Buy Colors (making the Mighty Boosh seem 40 years too late)


borat said...

i just saw this video with Ringo in it. I guess that it’s about Dave Stewart’s (from the Eurythmics) first group in the 70s that never released their album back then, and now there’s a big VH1 special on them July 5th @ 6.

anyone else heard about this?

irkthepurists said...


BrianT said...

My favourite track has always been 'Lavender', if only for ken's velveteen intonation of the opening word, set against a backing of summer-fields strings...