Archive for the 'Instrumental' Category

10
Oct
19

Thelonious Monk “Underground”

I got ahold of a nice copy of this record somewhere and it makes me happy to own it and to listen to it. I am not a collector, nor do I spend much money on records. As big of a superstar as Thelonious Monk was and is, you don’t see a lot of his records, and when you do, you have to pay for them. It’s kind of crazy he was so well-known because I don’t hear his music as at all mainstream, and I don’t personally know that many huge fans of his. A lot of his music is too challenging for the average person, even the jazz fan. I’m not a big jazz fan, generally—well maybe I am, but I can’t talk about it with too much knowledge. But there is something about all of this music—all Thelonious Monk recordings—that just connects with me on an almost subconscious level—or unconscious, or preconscious level—like from before my birth, if that holds any water for you. I have said, and publicly, that Thelonious Monk is not only my favorite musician and recording artist, but my favorite artist, period. That might sound like hyperbole, but then, who else would it be? I am writing this brief mention, of this 1968 record, Underground, one of his later ones, on the eve of his birthday, October 10, which for me is the major holiday of the year. They always play Thelonious Monk all day on his birthday, on WKCR in New York, and I can’t think of a better day to call in sick, stay home, play the internet radio, and draw or something.

There are seven songs on this record, none of them near my favorites by or recorded by him, but I like them all. I have never really heard a Thelonious Monk recording I didn’t like, I don’t think, which makes me feel like maybe I’m not a very sophisticated listener, which maybe I’m not—or maybe he just never made a bad recording. Of course, I haven’t heard them all, so I guess in that way I am somewhat unsophisticated. “Ugly Beauty” is on this record, which is actually one of my favorite Monk compositions, and this is a fine recording of it. That song could be the theme song to pretty much anything—in fact, just start with that song and build a world around it. I guess all the songs here are Monk compositions, except for “Easy Street,” which is a song I love and have heard a billion versions of. It’s funny, it really doesn’t matter if he plays standards or his own compositions—they all end up sounding like his songs. The band here includes Larry Gales on bass and Ben Riley on drums, as well as Charlie Rouse—sax on about half the songs. I’ve mostly only heard Charlie Rouse with Monk, but he’s one of my favorite horn players ever—there are some recordings on which he almost makes me forget to listen to Monk’s piano. An odd thing here, for a Thelonious Monk record, the last song, “In Walked Bud,” has vocals by Jon Hendricks. It’s a great song, and though I can’t say I like it better than some earlier versions without vocals, I love ending the record with this song, and I love Jon Hendricks.

I imagine people made a big deal out of this album cover, and even the goofball liner notes on back are mostly about the cover. It’s a photo shoot somewhere that’s dressed up to look like a French Resistance hide-out, with a piano, lots of weapons, bombs, and wine, and Monk and a woman in a beret with machine guns, a Nazi tied to a chair, a cow, and quite a lot more. The cow might be a live cow. This was some art director person’s dream day at work. It makes me think about how the album cover size is the absolute perfect format for certain art, it really is. Thelonious Monk had some great album covers, I mean a lot of them, and this one is right up there, and it’s right up there with all album covers ever, really. He always looks great, too, which seems to be effortless to him, but was it? I mean, his playing sounds effortless, too, and I’m sure it was not. I’ve lived in New York a couple of times, and like most people, it’s kind of exciting for me to see a celebrity, but imagine running into Thelonious Monk walking down the street—back when he was walking down the street—that would have been like the thrill of a lifetime.

04
Oct
19

The George Shearing Quintet “Burnished Brass”

My parents had this 1958 record and played it a lot, along with other George Shearing—but there may be no other music that sounds like my childhood than this particular record—George Shearing Quintet “with Brass Choir”—songs arranged by Billy May. I’ll always get a weird feeling from this particular, singular, George Shearing sound—a combination of nostalgia, comfort, and a little bit of sadness and even some queasiness. I mean it’s so present from my childhood, he almost seems like a distant uncle or something. Yet I know nothing about him, except that he was blind from birth and put out an insane amount of records. Once in awhile I’ll read something, then forget it—like I forget that he was English, born in London, and came to the US after the war. I’ve tried to figure out what that “Shearing Sound” is all about—it has something to do with how what he’s playing on the piano works with the vibes and guitar—but I don’t really understand it—it’s over my head—maybe some patient music person can explain it to me someday.

George Shearing was popular enough, sold enough records, that you can find beat-up copies for nothing, and I’ll pick them up when I see them, like this one. I’ve hardly ever paid any attention to the front cover, which is a woman in a sparkly red dress lying on some golden satin sheets—she’s looking up seductively while exposing the full length of one of her long legs. On the bed with her is a trumpet, a trombone, and a French horn. I wonder if this record was subliminally responsible for me attempting the cornet as my first instrument—though I totally failed to get anywhere with it. I should have taken up the French horn—is there a cooler instrument out there, when you really think about it? I loved the picture of Shearing on the back cover so much I put it on the cover of one of my zines (an early issue of The Sweet Ride, from the Eighties). I never thought too much about the individual songs on this record—they all just kind of melt into each other with ultimate smoothness—but this is probably the first place I heard the standard, “Memories of You”—and I’ve always really loved that song. The rest of the songs, except for “Cheek to Cheek,” I couldn’t name, off-hand, but they are all so familiar, it’s like they’re DNA—the song “Burnished Brass,” for instance, with this smooth horn part that drops in and out with the piano—it could be the main theme for the documentary on my life. Yet, listening now, I feel like I might have gotten annoyed by this record, then dismissed it entirely. Now, it almost holographically recreates the space I grew up in so vividly that it’s somewhat overwhelming.

13
Sep
19

Sonny Criss / Gerald Wiggins / Erroll Garner / Stan Getz

The reason I have a random system to choose records to write about is because if I didn’t I’d never get to one like this where it’s a nightmare to even know what to call it much less to alphabetize it or catalog it. Those four jazz musicians are listed on the cover, but that’s all the information we get. The actual label lists those four names, but in a different order, and also includes Wardell Gray. What the fuck, people, I give up. It’s a Crown Records release from 1963 with two songs on each side, jazz, of course, and I guess it would be considered be-bop. It’s kind of a classic thrift store record because no one can sell it for anything and the cover isn’t even interesting, just the four names in various colors. There may have been some insert or info on a sleeve, but it’s gone now, if it existed. The back cover is just a Crown Records catalog in tiny print—kind of fascinating in itself, just to see all these records listed and categorized. But who is playing what on this one, I have no idea. I’d be tempted just to funnel it back to the thrift store, except you can just put it on and enjoy listening to it. Each song has a full combo, so I have no idea who else is playing, or who is playing on what or not playing. There’s also drums and bass, naturally, but also guitar and vibes on some songs. I’m sure some jazz expert could tell me, but I don’t really care, when it comes down to it. I’d rather know who was drinking coffee and who was drinking wine, who was smoking, and who was eating bagels.

The second side is a couple of standards, “Hot House,” and “How High the Moon,” with both songs sounding like they’re recorded live, and murky as hell. Not unlistenable, I guess, that is if you’re in the mood for murky bullshit. The first side, though, sounds like studio recordings, very crisp, well-recorded, great recordings. Good songs, too, that I don’t know—the first is called “I’ll get Away” and the second, “Miss Beat”—I didn’t immediately find anything about them on the internet, but didn’t dig too deeply. I asked Siri what each song was, and she named them, but instead of listing an artist, she gave me some squiggly lines. “What’s that all about?” I asked Siri, but she didn’t answer that, and instead gave me some sarcastic hipster bullshit talk. I asked a friend who said it’s probably Japanese. He’s not Japanese, though, and doesn’t read Japanese, but it’s a good bet, I suppose, so I’ll go with that. It’s not like we’re identifying mushrooms in the wild or anything. I’m thinking these songs were released on some kind of Japanese re-release, and that would explain that. Kind of. I also asked Shazam, and it got the first one, but told me the second one was “Photon” by Deetron—uh, I don’t think so—I don’t know who that is, but it’s emphatically not this. So I guess I’m just going to let this record’s mystery reign, and maybe some day some info will come to light, but I’m not holding my breath. Well, I might be—holding my breath—but that’s another story, and not related to anything about this record.

02
Aug
19

Lionel Hampton “Silver Vibes”

For some reason, I never put this record on, most likely because the cover makes you think it’s not all that much. I mean, a photograph of what I assume is a vibraphone, closeup, from the top—and you know, it may as well be a boardwalk. Or some shit stacked in a warehouse. The vibraphone is one of the coolest looking instruments—but not from the top. I mean, it could be stairs, or a fence. If it was out of context, you’d have no idea what it was at all. Terrible cover. Come on Columbia records! You know how they say “you can’t judge a book by its cover?” That goes for everything, metaphorically or not, and certainly vinyl records. Do I, Mister Smart Guy, have a better suggestion? I certainly do: Lionel Hampton playing the vibes. Lionel Hampton with the musicians on this record. Lionel Hampton partying. Lionel Hampton getting tea. Lionel Hampton and Lionel Ritchie getting tea. Lionel Hampton playing with Lionel Trains. Lionel Hampton in The Hamptons. Lionel Hampton eating breakfast. Lionel Hampton sitting across the desk from some jackass at Columbia Records pleading to have a better album cover. In short, any photograph of Lionel Hampton at all would be better than this cover.

Of course, I am familiar with Lionel Hampton, and as soon as I put this on, I knew it was a mistake to not have worn this record out. Incidentally, me and this record, we’re like the same age. But if I was half this fresh, I’d be getting slapped so much I’d need a weekly dentist appointment. Can’t afford it. Anyway, the liner notes are good and almost make up for the cover. I’ll type a bit: Jangling nerves? Here’s music with a wonderful, silvery tone, varied by the darker colors of trombones. This is smooth, easy-going music, that swings, nevertheless. It goes on. I love the description of the trombones having a “dark color”—it makes total sense when you think about it, and it really does sound lovely on this record, the trombone heavy arrangements with vibes over the top. It’s cool, kind of earthy, and simultaneously breezy and melancholy. Some standards I know, some I don’t, but it doesn’t matter, this is just the perfect record for a Friday night (which it is) to unwind (which I’m doing) while mixing a cocktail from your well-stocked bachelor bar (not exactly doing that; having coffee), waiting for your date to arrive (waiting being the top-heavy part of that sentiment). After this, maybe I’ll put on one of those thrift-store, easy-listening, budget classics: Music for Waiting.

21
Jun
19

Paul Horn “Visions”

I should have known who Paul Horn was, or maybe I did, kind of, but forgot or wasn’t thinking about it when I picked up this record. I was drawn to it because it looks like someone made the album cover while either on acid or in a therapeutic situation while being detained—whether it be by the authorities, caregivers, or cultists. Apologies to cover designer Glen Dias. That sounds too harsh—and it really is quite stunning and beautiful, but also kind of fucked up. It’s really pretty bizarre, and not slick, and if it wasn’t for the prominent “Epic” logo in the corner, I might think this record was totally homemade. That’s a compliment. There are liner notes on the back, by producer Henry Lewy—neatly typed, not scrawled in blood or anything, but laid out in the shape of a butterfly (or a bat? Or a concretion?—anyway, I can’t read it). There’s a reason that writing—which is just an already rather difficult-to-translate code of communication—is laid out with the end of each line continuing on a justified left margin. These liner notes are telling me they want to be admired as a design, but not read. Or maybe it was just someone’s—over there at Epic—bad design idea.

Another record from 1974—I seem to be drawn to that year without even trying. I’m not sure what to make of this record, actually, some of it sounds just right on, with a mellow groove, and some fine playing, and of course some really nice flute by Paul Horn. I could imagine putting this on quite regularly. But then it will get to a part that sounds just kind of insipid to me. It’s interesting, this record is all cover songs—David Batteau, Joan Baez, two by Joni Mitchell, three by David Crosby, and three by Stevie Wonder—but it sounds like a real unified band sound—so you kind of recognize the songs, but the style is Paul Horn (or his band on this record—I don’t know enough Paul Horn to say if this is a deviation). I’ll have to pay more attention to see whose songs translate best to this style. But right now, I’m having trouble paying attention to anything. Still can’t sleep, headache every day. The headaches are getting worse. Can’t concentrate. Where was I? Oh, yeah, I started to imagine putting this record on with a dinner guest over. Maybe I’ve just cooked some, I don’t know, some quinoa, kale horseshit. Borrow a corkscrew from the front desk and open the best bottle of red $12 will buy. If I started drinking again, I think the last thing I would be able tolerate is red wine. Like, for some reason, I really associate red wine with depression. Anyway, one song comes on, and it’s prefect mood music—and yeah, I guess I’m talking about a date. Then the next song comes on and creeps me out! I guess one song will make me feel like a very suave guy, kind of liquid, mind and body as one. And then the next one will make me feel like I’m in a commercial for a 401(k) Plan. It’s totally schizo, this record. I’ve heard movie soundtracks this schizo—in fact most movie soundtracks are, which is why I rarely listen to movie soundtrack records. Maybe I won’t write about this record now. But then, I might put it on a year from now and have the same exact reaction—so maybe I should write about it, get it over with, as a kind of warning, or an antidote… for my future self.

27
Apr
19

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond “At Wilshire-Ebell”

I didn’t even know I had this record, and I don’t have very many records, but then I regularly lose notebooks, and it took me months to find a particular pair of socks once, and then it turned out they didn’t grant me the gift of invisibility anyway. You can pick up Dave Brubeck albums in cheap bins, I suppose, because they made a lot, and he doesn’t have the collector appeal of certain jazz legends whose records you never see, like Coltrane and Miles Davis. I mean, you see those at record shops where you have to pay for them. Sometimes I question my cheapie approach to cheap records—why not just spend the money on ones I really, really like? But if I start questioning that, I have to question my whole life, like why can’t I figure out how to make above poverty level wages. And just, generally, why do I suck so much? This thinking is a vicious cycle. It’s much better to just try to keep moving.

I picked a random card, Ace of Spades, lined it up to my random record picking system, and this one came up. It’s got a glossy cartoon cover, a drawing of a proscenium, presumably the Wilshire Ebell theater in Los Angeles, with some little cartoon musicians, white guys with glasses, Dave Brubeck at piano and Paul Desmond with an alto sax. The drawing is small enough to fit full-size on a cassette, without the theater that dwarfs them, of course, but then you’d lose the effect. The back cover is covered with words, not one but two sets of anonymously written liner notes. It’s a delight, if not particularly entertaining or weird. This 1957 record is on Fantasy, who seemed often to favor the red vinyl, so if nothing else, when you’re having a guest over, the visual of putting the records on will mix well with a well-mixed cocktail and mood lighting. This record, in spite of its live recording format, could function well in that setting. All good songs on here, standards that don’t sound enough like classic versions to put them in the forefront of your evening’s activities. The massive but polite applause at the end of each number sounds like someone briefly turning on a water faucet full blast.

For me, I’ll always associate Brubeck with his most famous composition, “Take Five,” (written by Paul Desmond) which, if you’re a certain age, you’ll not be able to disconnect from its use commercially here and there, now and then. I seem to remember some really corny TV stuff from my childhood that used either Dave Brubeck music or very similar stuff, but I can’t remember what exactly—nor do I particularly want to return to it, as I consider the bulk of my TV watching as a mild version of childhood trauma. Not to be negative—I love Dave Brubeck. Maybe I should just have a Brubeck marathon someday, with all my thrift-store vinyl, to try to shake overplayed associations. Really, I could spend weeks, or even a season, listening to nothing but scratchy old “Cool Jazz” records—though it would be best in hot weather, preferably while staying at a beach house, overlooking the vast Pacific.

12
Apr
19

Virgil Gonsalves Big Band Plus Six “Jazz at Monterey”

For one thing, if you see this 1959 album cover somewhere, like at thrift-store prices, you can’t NOT buy it, with the monochrome, crude pasteup of Virgil Gonsalves and an enormous baritone sax perched death-defyingly on a cliff overlooking the Pacific, facing a witch-like wind-blasted tree. He looks kind of like the guy who does your taxes or fixes your porch, but that horn is no joke. The bold red letters, JAZZ AT MONTEREY—irresistible. If I was starting a record company, I might steal the Omega Records label design outright—it’s one of the coolest I’ve seen. I’m not sure if this is considered “cool jazz” or what—someone correct me. I mean, it is cool, very cool, cool as a cadet blue DeVille—but I’m not sure if it’s/he’s the official member of any movement. In the first song (and all of them) you can imagine soundtracks—to stuff like a guy wearing sunglasses driving a convertible really fast, somebody standing on a corner, two scientists making love, captains of industry eating whole fish, dentists at war with each other, the city of tomorrow, a really good poetry reading—I don’t know. Mostly, what I am thinking about this record is that I like it.

On back, there’s really long and extensive liner notes by Johnny Adams, Jazz DJ at KIDD in Monterey—way too much to paraphrase here—I didn’t even read it all! I’ll get to it some day, because he’s going into great detail, and ends by saying: “SO… bend an ear and listen!” And this is a listening record for me, meaning I’m going to put it on again, just to listen to it, see? I also like how he says that Virgil Gonsalves “has not one direction, but many.” I feel like I can hear that in the music. I believe there is a six piece band playing on some songs and a band twice that size on other songs… but it all sounds simultaneously minimal and maximal, subtle and complex. Virgil Gonsalves, besides being the bandleader, also plays the baritone sax, which is a very cool instrument. The lineups here are pretty much piano, bass, drums, and then horns, and more horns—saxophones and trumpets. Horns, lots and lots of horns. And more horns. Did I say horns?




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