Archive for the 'jazz' Category

17
May
19

Television “Marquee Moon”

When I started writing about my record collection back in 2006, I was determined to go from A to Z, so like, I was never going to get to Television—but with this new random system I have, it’s sure taking a long time to get to certain albums, anyway—but maybe that’s good. This one is kind of hard to write about, actually, because it’s maybe one of my favorite 10 (meaning 100) records of all time, and it’s kind of like a force of nature, so it’s a little like you’re photographing the Grand Canyon and expecting someone to pay attention to your snapshot when people have done time-lapse, panorama, satellite, helicopters, drones, parasails, jumping it on a motorcycle, and as they died falling in. So, if you’re reading this, and it’s the highly unlikely case where you’ve never heard this record, either you are going to have such high expectations that it will necessarily stumble, or you’ve hit the jackpot in life—you get to hear it for the first time, and you can only do that once. And then the second, third, etc…

It’s from 1977, I suppose the best year of punk rock, and it comes from the New York punk rock scene, but it sounds nothing like any of the other bands from that place or time, or really anywhere. There had to be a lot of people who hated this when it came out; I bet some were then won over, some weren’t, still aren’t. Bands were playing fast, short songs, for one thing, and these songs are long (longest is almost 10 minutes!) and there are extended guitar solos. It’s complex; it’s practically jazz. It’s weird to think this record came out the same year as Steely Dan’s Aja, but you can’t imagine them on the same plane, much less the same year—but the same people were buying them—and in a way, they are quite similar. Eight songs only, four per side, and one could make a strong argument that if you ranked the songs from best to worst they would line up in the exact order they are on the album—which might seem kind of dismal, except for the fact that they’re all great songs. I’ve definitely listened to side one more than side two—but the one nice thing about that is that I feel like I might still be able to discover something on the second side. The first side is so ingrained in my head nothing less than brain damage is ever going to allow me a fresh listen.

I’ve never paid much attention to the lyrics—though, and I’m not likely to at this point. That’s not true, there are a few lines that stick with me—it’s just that I couldn’t tell you what any of these songs are about. But I love the line: “Richie said: ‘Hey man, let’s dress up like cops…’” And a few others. I’m not going to talk about the guitars, okay? It just struck me that this could be the ideal record for a rainy Saturday afternoon, and if you wanted to spend a few excessive hours while giving it a few listens, use the internet and try reading all the ways people have used words to try to describe what those guitars are doing. I’m going to make this quick, though, by mentioning the cover photos—first there’s the kind of classic band photo, them all looking like they want to be the next one to make love—but it’s this high-contrast color that makes their hands look really crazy, kind of like one of those early Aerosmith records. I never bothered to look at the photo credits before, and it says Robert Mapplethorpe—I guess that guy knew his way around a camera.Then on the back there’s a photo of something that I’m guessing is abstracted by contrast—it’s credited to Billy Lobo. I think it’s supposed to represent the near death high you get, supposedly, from heroin, but I’m just guessing. Then, the inside sleeve band pic is very odd—it’s a great b&w photo, really, but printed weirdly, so the drummer and bass player have turned into shadows, while the inside of the drums are lit up. That the two guitarists are siting on kitchen chairs facing each other probably says more than bucket of liner notes could. And then, for as much as the photo is obscured in darkness, kind of amazingly you see all these details in hardware, chairs, amps, and shirts—really, it kind of simultaneously demystifies these guys as just regular schmoes, while elevating them to some kind of god love. Depending on who you are, you might focus more on Richard Lloyd’s guitar, or Tom Verlaine’s shirt, or everyone’s hands. I’m torn.

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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?

29
Mar
19

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross “The Best of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross”

I feel like I had another record by them awhile back, and I feel like I wrote about it, but I can’t find it. I picked up this one fairly recently—a little against my better judgment because it’s a “best of” record—and the cover (a stylized silhouette drawing of three howling cats) made me think this was released like, yesterday. Also because it’s a very clean copy. It’s also on that most common of all labels, the red Columbia one. So I was kind of shocked to see the record came out in 1974—that’s 45 years ago! Oh, now looking at the small print… this record was previously released as their record, “The Hottest New Group in Jazz” in 1959—so it’s essentially a re-release. So, as an object, it’s brand new—that is, if 1974 was now, but, well, the music… that makes more sense to me… it sounds like 1959.

The music on this is all good, I like every song, and I can listen to this at every meal. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross are—well, you know—a vocal group consisting of Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, and Annie Ross. (I’m not sure if they considered calling themselves: Annie, Jon & Dave.) I first heard one of the songs from this record, Annie Ross’ song, “Twisted,” when Woody Allen used it as the title song in his movie, Deconstructing Harry (1997)—along with jump cuts of Judy Davis in a murderous rage. It’s the best opening of any of his movies (well, except for maybe Manhattan). Though the very first place I ever saw her was acting, playing a singer in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993). I believe you can find some old footage of her, maybe on YouTube (I’ll look), yeah, on some kind of old TV show that is made to look like a casual party, where you know, Count Basie happens to be playing and people (Annie Ross, then Lambert and Hendricks and Joe Williams) break out into some jazz singing. I’ve already said something else is the “best thing on the internet”—but really, this may be. It’s great. And this album’s not bad, either—like I said, all the songs here are good—they’re fun, and all pretty unique while fitting together like anything. My favorites here being Cloudburst, Twisted, and, really, just all of them. And Summertime (some day I will make a mix tape of all the versions I can find, and this is a particularly killer one).

I just noticed that there are some extensive liner notes on the back cover, written by Jon Hendricks, which I failed to read before, so I will now—written for this re-release in 1974 (he mentions Watergate)—really good liner notes, kind of a poetically conveyed history of the band, ending with his poem (“the shortest jazz poem ever heard.”) “Listen.” I’m going to steal that. That’s perfection, poetry-wise. But where do you go from there? I guess imperfection, which is also beautiful, and contained in all my favorite stuff. As part of his brief history of each of them, and them getting together, he tells us that he’s from Toledo, Ohio (interesting to me since I’m from non-literally a stone’s-throw from there), home of Art Tatum, among others, and also the expression “Holy Toledo”—which he says: “derives from the fact that there are only two bad weeks in show business: Holy Week and a week in Toledo. And if you happen to be booked in Toledo during Holy Week, well—’Holy Toledo!’”

15
Mar
19

Tamiko Jones “Tamiko”

I had never heard of Tamiko Jones when I picked up this record for nothing—I bought solely on the cover, a full size headshot of her, equal parts odd and beautiful, with painted on eyebrows and pale lipstick—kind of a hunting photo, really, with such a limited depth of field that her dark eyes are barely in focus, while her ears are part of the background blur. The stark red letters: “Tamiko” are in a kind of “Exotica” font that led me to believe this record might be in that vein, but it’s not at all—it’s kind of pop jazz vocalist stuff—pretty straightforward, but really nice, and to me has kind of an odd edge that I can’t really place. Sometimes she sounds a little like—it almost came to me—but I lost it. If we’re to believe Internet, she was born in Kyle, West Virginia and raised in Detroit, so it’s safe to assume she must have visited the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, during it’s prime years. It also says she is part Japanese, part British, and part Cherokee. The album has virtually no credits, but some is arranged by Jimmy Wisner, and some by Pete Dino. There is some standard sounding pop orchestra, and then some that sounds pretty otherworldly, with haunting vibes, some pretty prominent flute, and… do I hear a harp? There are some bossa nova songs, probably my favorites here. And a nice version of “You Only Live Twice,” my favorite Bond song (not in part because it makes no sense). A Bacharach/David number, which I always like. Really, I’m pretty captivated by this record, to the extent that I don’t want to ruin the spell by listening to it too many times right now—I know I can come back to it and have the same kind of curious reaction to it—at least I hope so. So I might write about it again.

21
Feb
19

Nina Simone “I Loves You, Porgy / Love Me or Leave Me”

I was listening to the radio early this morning before work, WKCR, via the internet, and someone was playing a long set of Nina Simone songs. They don’t do a lot of talking that early. Then after work, half of a perfectly good ruined day later, back home, I turned on the same station (Thursday early evening is always good for jazz)—and in just one note—vocally, I mean—not even a syllable—I could tell it was Nina Simone again. She has such a recognizable, singular sound and style. So then I realized that today is her birthday, so they were playing pretty much all Nina Simone today. I don’t have any albums by her, at this time, unfortunately, but I remembered seeing this 45 in my random, found, 45 stack, so I used my random record selection system and willed it to fall on this one. “I Loves You, Porgy” is a Gershwin standard, and this is a really beautiful, quiet version, really nice. There were no doubt a lot of these 45s pressed, though it was very early in her recording career, I think, and I guess it was up there on the charts. It came out the year before I was born. Maybe I heard this on the radio, very young. This is my favorite music, stuff like this, and pretty much has been my whole life (besides brief forays, you know, into this and that). I wonder if music you hear before you were born, or your first year of life, sticks with you? “Love Me or Leave Me” is considerably more upbeat, and a good song, too—I know if from somewhere. Well, interesting Thursday night—I’m gonna go back to the radio for awhile, more Nina Simone. If the radio was always this good I’d never get around to listening to records.

18
Feb
19

Gene Krupa “Gene Krupa”

I’d picked up a battered copy of this record and had it laying around for awhile (it’s got a great cover—and action photo profile of Gene Krupa playing drums, and a very modern layout)—I’m not really sure what I think about Gene Krupa one way or another, maybe thinking he was on the flashy side, or the show-biz side—you know—but this is Gene Krupa as bandleader, with his orchestra and a lot of really excellent musicians. And when I put it on, finally, I said, “Oh, no!” as it starts with a raucous, even jaunty bit—the trumpet is playing “Yankee Doodle”—but it’s a bit of a fake out, audience yelling, “No!” (I don’t know the motive, though!) And then they settle into a nice version of “After You’re Gone,” and then the second song, “Murder He Says,”—woman singer, who is that?! So I had to look, and it’s Anita O’Day—which reminded me of why, at one time, I called Anita O’Day my favorite singer—her singing has that quality on this song—I don’t know what it is—it’s: “that quality.” Then the band goes into a slow, atmospheric, instrumental version of “Tuxedo Junction.” It’s not until the end of the next number (that has a vocal by Irene Daye—pretty interesting that both Anita O’Day and Irene Daye sang with Gene Krupa) that G.K. gives us a little drum fireworks, but just a taste—then a little more on the next song, a very swinging, “Disc Jockey Jump,” and finally the song “Massachusetts” features Anita O’Day again—it’s a train song, but a good one, another great vocal. And so at this point, I’m thinking I actually hit a home run with this record—almost afraid to turn it over.

But I do, and it’s starts out with “Let Me Off Uptown,” with conversational vocals, back and forth, Anita O’Day and Roy Eldridge (who then goes into a trumpet solo, of course) great song! Then “Slow Down” another nice vocal by Anita O’Day, and same with the next one, “Boogie Blues”—“Don’t the moon look lonesome shining through the trees.” And then another one—this turns out to be the Anita O’Day album I don’t have (there’s a lot of them I don’t have, like all of them). And then, what’s like a really unexpected bonus, the song “Knock Me a Kiss” sung by Roy Eldridge, which I know, of course, from Louis Jordan, who I also don’t have any records by. (Anita O’Day and Louis Jordan—reminders to get out my cassette tapes.) Anyway, overall, this is a great record with a lot of surprises. It’s only later that I see the extensive, serious liner notes on back, which covers who played and sang one what, and the recording dates—which are a-while back. Sometimes you get a record that has great promise, and it turns out to be a real bummer, but other times, like this one, you get a record not really hoping much one way or another, and it turns out to be one of the better things, at least on that given day, in your mortal possession.




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