Archive for the 'jazz' Category

19
Jan
20

Lena Horne “Stormy Weather”

This is a record I imagine a lot of people having in their collections in the late 50s—it’s got a classy cover, a photo of Lena Horne spotlighted in the darkness, maybe next to a piano—what I’d imagine to be a studio photo replicating a concert setting, but I don’t know. She was a huge star—the liner notes on back talk about how she was a star of first name recognition, like Ella and Frank—and those two come to mind listening to this record of standards—as her singing is every bit as singular as theirs—though none of them sound remotely like each other. So I like to think about a time when this record was on the normal person’s turntable—it’s anything but a boring record. I wonder if younger people know her? I suppose when you say “Lena,” now, more people think of Lena Dunham. As familiar as she is, I know nothing about her really—she lived into her 90s, had a 70 year career, passed away 10 years ago. She was at some point married to Lennie Hayton, who was known to wear captain’s hats, and conducted the orchestra on this record. One wonders if they are an inspiration to the Captain & Tennille. This LP is beat to hell, yet it plays—and just takes me back to a time before I was born. The first song, “Tomorrow Mountain” (Duke Ellington/John Latouche) is spectacular—crazy lyrics—the first I’ve ever heard it. Some of my favorite songs are here, including “Summertime,” “Stormy Weather,” “I’ll Be Around,” and “Just One of Those Things.” All 11 songs are good—nothing bland here, actually—you can’t really call this easy listening—there’s nothing easy about it. It’s out there, it’s jazz, it’s art—even a little challenging. I guess I’m going to have to keep an eye out for other old Lena Horne records now—I’m certainly happy to open another door to the richness of the past.

10
Jan
20

Gil Evans “The British Orchestra”

Up until now, Gil Evans didn’t crack my top ten Evanses—somewhere behind Bill, Bob, Dale, Jeff, Robert, etc.—a formidable list, sausage or not—Monsieur Jeffrey being the one I’ve met, and my hero. Bob (the sausage king) not to be confused with Robert (The Kid Stays in the Picture). Dale, the only woman here, partner of Roy Rogers (see: “a Roy Rogers roast beef sandwich). Bill and Gil both played piano, were important collaborators with Miles Davis—of course it gets confusing if you’re just not a jazz enthusiast or record collector. I count myself as someone with an encyclopedic gap of knowledge about just about everything, jazz included. Though I’ve spent hours and hours listening to Bill Evans—never get tired of that stuff. Gil, however, I know nothing about—I picked up this record with my fingers, put it on. The label says: Mole Jazz, it’s a British pressing, recorded live, March 14, 1983. I could probably tell you where I was on that day—Kent, Ohio, Spindizzy Records—listing to the new shipment of British punk and new wave records, not liking much. I probably wouldn’t have given this much of a chance either, since the first track is pretty guitar heavy, and guitar jazz just put me off for the longest time. I’m still pretty much on the fence when it comes to electric guitar jazz. Maybe I’m on the fence with jazz in general. I’ll wake up every morning at 4 AM and turn on WKCR, and sometimes it’s jazz that I love, and other times I’ll be kind of blocking it out until I realize how much I hate it, at which time I’ll say: “Why would anyone play that on purpose?” I think what it comes down to is that in general I don’t like “jazz fusion”—it’s just not my thing. I know that’s a huge generalization, but there you go. Any time I hear an exception, I’ll be glad to point it out. I’ve listened to this record a few times now, and all this nonsense I’m writing is my way of not having to write anything biographical about Gil Evans (you can easily go elsewhere for that). And also not have to make any decision about this record. There are four long instrumental songs, all live with a large band. The second one, “Friday the 13th,” is a Thelonious Monk number, and my favorite—probably because it sounds like a Thelonious Monk composition, and reminds me of him—not only my favorite jazz musician, but my favorite musician, ever. As far as the rest of it, there are moments I like, but entirely too much saxophone here, guitar there—so, the closer it sounds to noise (seemingly formless and chaotic) the more I like it, and the closer it gets to rock (the dreaded rock, the insipid), the less I like it.

04
Jan
20

Deodato “Prelude”

If you have ever seen Being There (1979) and can listen to this version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and not vividly relive that opening scene, you must be suffering from brain damage and maybe want to get that checked out. If you’ve never seen that movie, I’m envious of you, because you have a great movie experience ahead of you—though I suggest waiting, hopefully, for a theater screening of it somewhere (I say that about all great movies, though it might not be realistic). If you’ve never heard this particular Strauss piece of music—no, that’s not possible. Anyway, this is an excellent version, and takes up half of the first side. The rest of the record is just as good, too. Actually, I think I like the rest of the record, on a whole, better, since it’s not weighed down with Peter Sellers or space stations. Particularly “Carly & Carole,” a Deodato number—and really, all of it. There’s a little of everything—bossa nova, rock and funk, jazz and classical, flute and a lot of space. The entire side two sounds like the soundtrack for an imaginary TV show about me—or at least a heightened, idealized version of fictional me. It’s got a great album cover too—a fine use of glossy deep green—kind of timeless—it looks like it might have come out yesterday, but it was 1973—at which time there was an offer on the inside cover to buy a print of the cover photo for $19.95, which seems like a steal to me, even then. This record was huge, I guess, at the time, though I was too young for it. It’s on the CTI label, and as I’m not a jazz collector, haven’t seen it a lot, but I guess it’s the label of Creed Taylor who seems to have been a big connection of Brazilian music to the popular US jazz market—is that right? Also, I noticed it was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder, a very familiar name, but just what all did he do? I looked him up and, Danger Will Robinson, there’s another gaping rabbit-hole just waiting for you to stumble into.

I admit to knowing nothing about this Eumir Deodato, apart from what I’m reading right now—he’s Brazilian, bossa nova pianist, likes that electric piano sound—composer, producer, arranger— still alive—wow, it looks like he’s got about 40 records. I’m going to keep an eye out for them—probably some are hard to find. This one is probably the easy one. He was fairly young here—his picture is on the inside album cover—and I’d guess he didn’t have a lot of trouble with dating. But anyway, if any of the others are even half as good as this record, they’re worth picking up. It would be funny if he got to be a major obsession with me, and I keep getting Deodato records—then the name of this one would be frighteningly apt. Not really related—I used to drive a Honda Prelude from the Seventies—that was a good car. Prelude is like an introduction to something else, right? So naturally you think, this is a taste of what’s to come… so I thought it was an odd name for a car, like, Oh, you’re going to get a better car. And an odd name for an album—it makes you think this record is just part of a bigger work. Which I suppose, if you consider all his work to come, even if it didn’t sell as much as this one, is apt. I can’t say how his other work compares, but I’ll keep an eye out for those records.

20
Dec
19

Hampton Hawes Trio “The Green Leaves of Summer”

I picked up this 1964 record knowing nothing about Hampton Hawes—sadly never had heard of him—and I wasn’t expecting much, certainly not that it would be so good, and instrumental jazz—piano jazz trio. I suppose I was guessing by the cover that it was going to be kind of mild crooner pop—only because of the bold yellow font on a blurry, bright green background, and bigger than life-size photo of a very handsome man, presumably Hawes, himself. And because he kind of resembles a young Harry Belafonte, naturally I just thought he was going to be a singer. Of course, that’s dumb of me. By chance, those two were born a year of so apart, and a few years before my dad. Though Hawes died pretty young, in 1977. I see that he wrote a memoir, so I’m going to check that out. (Found the book at the library, haven’t read any of it yet.) Apparently this record came out after he was in prison for five years for heroin possession. This is a fine jazz trio recording; Hampton Hawes on piano, Monk Montgomery on bass, and Steve Ellington drums. Great names—if you throw all six of those names in a hat, with the exception of “Steve,” it just oozes jazz. The liner notes, on back, by Lester Koenig is practically book length—I’m not going to read it now, but intend to later, like maybe when I listen to the record again. It’s one I’m going to leave out for awhile, for listening. It’s good, but subtle. Nothing jumped out at me on first listening, except maybe the first song, a Miles Davis composition called “Vierd Blues.” But often, subtle is a very good thing, calm and simple at first visit, like the Blue Hole, this little duck pond in Ohio that doesn’t look like much, but turns out to be bottomless and legendary.

08
Nov
19

Frank Sinatra “A Man Alone”

I never heard this record until recently—though, of course, I’ve heard some of the songs—but I bought a vinyl copy—attracted to the cover—a giant, blown up, close-up of Sinatra, looking sad, his head the size of a watermelon, and just this ring he has on is nearly as big as a CD. The subtitle is “& Other Songs of Rod McKuen.” I guess it’s all written by Rod McKuen—is that true? It’s a great record—this was a real discovery here in 2019. There is one thing that I feel confident about, and that’s that my life will end before all the discoveries dry up—and that’s a comforting thought. Anyway, I liked this record so much I bought a second copy (believe me, I didn’t pay much for either of them) because the cover was slightly different, and it opens up and there are some photos inside and liner notes by Rod McKuen. Actually, in light of that, I think there might be too much here for me to write about at once—maybe I’ll write a second review sometime later. Because the thing I’m going to focus on first is the one song on this record that I don’t like, called “Love’s Been Good To Me.” I don’t hate this song (though I’m not remotely crazy about the harpsichord), but it’s just that it stuck in my head one day, and I realized that it was bugging the shit out of me, and I had to ask my self why.

It’s a catchy tune, and I have nothing against that, but I think what bugged me is the first line of the chorus—“I have been a rover”—which, there’s nothing wrong with that, so why does it bug me? I mean, there’s plenty on this record that’s kind of corny, and I like that stuff—I generally like corny, kitschy, overblown shit. But the word “rover” just irritates me for some reason, so I have to examine that. Maybe it’s the concept, of a man who travels around, never settling down. I mean, not necessarily a womanizer, or a cad—it can be an honorable thing, a restless person, who never wants to settle. I don’t know why that would bother me. Except for maybe because it’s a concept that’s pretty much always associated with men, with the underlying backwards traditional belief that a woman shouldn’t live her life that way. Of course, anyone you talk to now—I mean, whose head isn’t up their ass—isn’t going to think that way. But knowing that certain sectors of society, even now, and more so in the past, believed that, I guess maybe that’s part of what rubs me the wrong way.

But still, there’s something else. Maybe it’s just the word, “rover,” that bugs me (as words sometimes do, for no good reason). I mean, it just means “wanderer,” but still. Maybe it’s just one of those words whose core is rotted by negative association—in this case, sexism. Or maybe because it’s similar to “pirate,” in that there’s an inherent double-standard, because of its long tradition of being romanticized, but if you really examine it… not so great. What else. There’s that Led Zeppelin song called “The Rover”—what’s that about? I looked at the lyrics, and I’m reminded of a warning—if you’re going to look at Led Zeppelin lyrics, make sure you’re accompanied by either marijuana or the music, and preferably both. Rover was a traditional name for a dog, like Fido, but what kind of twisted bastard would name their dog Fido or Rover these days? Oh, and one more—Rover is the name of that huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea in The Prisoner (TV show). I love that thing, it’s weird—but Rover is a dumb name for it—sorry. What would I call it? “Huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea”—I guess. Well, this is a lot of analyzing just to figure out why this song bugs me so much. Maybe it’s just that damn harpsichord.

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.




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