Archive for the 'jazz' Category

11
Feb
19

Stan Kenton and his Orchestra “Cuban Fire!”

This is a totally pop-culture reference, and a dated one at that, but there’s a part of the first number here that reminds me totally of the title song of the Jonny Quest TV show from the 1960s. I guess it’s just this particular horn part, maybe a trumpet. If you watch that show now, whether you remember it or not, with the sound off, you might be shocked at how primitive the animation is. I mean, the art is good, but it’s just pretty clunky and not overly sophisticated. I don’t remember it like that at all, I think, because the sound is very sophisticated, and the score is amazing. Sound and music create a much more complete picture than image does. This record reminds me of records my dad had—he had some Stan Kenton, I think, but not this one—this is a lot more intense than what my parents normally listened to. It’s got a kind of insane album cover, all orange and black, like a highly stylized illustration of a conga player, possibly on the edge of a volcano, or Hell. On the back there’s about an hour’s worth of liner note reading (including detailed notes for each song). There are a lot of liner notes, actually—I’m going to put this on a “do on a rainy day” list—to read these liner notes—I’ve seen shorter novels.

I think this is one of those records where the best way to approach it is to go song by song (there are only six), and because each one feels like a mini-drama, describe what each song makes me visualize, or think of, or feel. The titles are in both Spanish and English, but I’m just including the Spanish (which is Greek, to me), so as not to be narratively influenced. Fuego Cubano – A guy in a white suit drinking rum and cokes at a bar, in Cuba, naturally, just kind of not sweating somehow and calmly waiting to be detained by the authorities. El Congo Valiente – A well-dressed European couple, a very shallow looking man and a beautiful woman, are dashing from airport to airport, carrying their undersized valises, trying not to miss their planes (in each airport). Recuerdos – The guy in the white suit again, but this time suavely being escorted into the bank lockbox area where he fills his valise with some unrecognizable currency, then leaves unmolested, except at the end we are made aware that this is just a flashback. Quien Sabe – Now our hero is piloting some kind of super fast and also totally silent aircraft, flying very low, passing over small islands dotting an impossibly blue sea. The mood is optimistic. Le Guera Baila – This is the couple from earlier, but this is back in time because they don’t know each other—she is at the bar and he comes in and introduces himself, orders them both a rum and coke (he drinks them both) and then she leaves. La Suerte de los Tontos – The man and the woman are making their getaway in an elaborate chase scene, first riding in the back of produce truck, then stealing a motorcycle. As both they and the authorities (in small cars) approach the dock, and the waiting yacht, there is a freeze frame, suggesting an ambiguous ending, or maybe indicating that this entire escape is all in the guy’s mind, and he’s probably dead or in prison. FIN.

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08
Feb
19

Thelonious Monk “Pure Monk: Thelonious Monk Piano Solos”

This record is some sort of a cheapo re-issue, I think, on the Trip record label. I’m guessing all eight of these songs were on other records, and they’re all solo piano. I think this record came out about 1974. Thelonious Monk released a lot of records and was immensely well-known and popular (while there are people who just can’t stand him at all). Ever since I first heard some of his recordings, in 1981, I’ve been fascinated with him, because I didn’t know there was any music that sounded like that. I feel like I’ve written about him a lot, and so I’m just repeating myself, so I’m not going to write much here. I guess there are times when I don’t feel like listening to his music, just because it’s my favorite—it’s like, if you have a favorite food, do you eat it every meal? But most of the time when I hear a recording of him playing, whether with a band or solo, I just stop what I’m doing and listen. There’s something there, connected right to my brain—I mean, it’s almost like without the microphones and magnetic audio tape and records and speakers or even my ears. It’s too bad you don’t find his records in cheap stores all that often—I guess they go for a lot of money. This one is probably not very desirable among collectors, and as an object it’s pretty lackluster—it’s just an uninspiring presentation. It almost seems like it could have come out yesterday, so it’s kind of weird that it came out like 45 years ago. I’m talking about the cover—the record itself sounds fine. The music, of course, is great—look, I don’t have a favorite food—or book, or writer, or movie, or artist, or a favorite anything. Except for Thelonious Monk’s music—all of it—that’s my favorite music.

07
Feb
19

Easy Williams “Easy Does It”

I never heard of “Easy Williams” but I saw this record in a thrift store and no way I was not going to buy it, based on the cover alone, which is a highly arranged portrait, set up in a studio, I guess (there’s no background). A woman (we’ll presume Easy Williams) is stretched out on her stomach on couch pillows, and just behind her, a young boy wearing what looks like a jockey uniform is fanning her with a huge fan made out of some kind of giant bird feathers. The whole setup is a reference to something, I guess, but I don’t know it, so I’m not getting it, I suppose. It’s possible it could all be highly offensive. But at face value, it’s just plain weird. And on the other hand, not really weird at all. She’s taking it easy, and a servant of some kind is fanning her. My favorite thing, though, are all the details in the set-up. The cushions she’s lying on are yellow, red, and blue—cleverly, the same colors as the letters on the “Dot” record label (one of my favorite labels)—though the blue might be green—but there is a blue one, too—these random, brightly colored cushions. She’s dressed casually, jeans, no shoes, though her jewelry might weigh several pounds. She’s sipping some champagne and looking off somewhere to the left. Theres’s also a bowl of fruit, and a lit cigarette in a long, long holder, resting across an opened box of chocolates. The red pillow is actually more of a queasy orange (unless the cover is faded) which matches pretty much the shimmering, satiny pants of the boy with the fan. Now that I look more closely, maybe it isn’t a boy after all, but perhaps a “little person”—possibly of some difficult to determine ethnicity. Maybe it is offensive, after all, but I’m sure it’s all in good fun. Though we’ve heard that before.

The record sounds a lot like you’d expect from the cover—12 vocal numbers with minimal jazz arrangements, some with guitar and vibes and flute. I know some of the songs, like the first one, “Easy Street,” which sounds like Julie London’s version, but even more sultry. “Mean To Me” is another of my favorites. “Easy Come, Easy Go” is also a killer, here, as well as “A Woman Needs So Little.” They’re all good—I prefer the slowest and the quietest ones. Her voice is great—they didn’t really need to drown you in reverb, but I guess that’s part of the “Easy Does It” feeling they’re going for. Looking quickly on the internet I don’t see anything about Easy Williams, so I’ll have to go with what’s here. The brief liner notes mention that it’s her debut. Where she went from here, I have no idea. It occurs to me that maybe there is no “Easy Williams”—I mean, there’s a fine singer here, singing, but not credited, and of another name. After all, would a woman in 1957 call herself “Easy” Williams? It’d be like, if you were a guy, going by something like “Martin Everhard.” Maybe this is one of those records made to exploit the young people with hi-fi lifestyles, like those mood music, “Music for…” records—(you know, “Music for Dining,” “Music for Cleaning,” etc.) I could see this going on the turntable at make-out time—just maybe keep that album cover hidden! Still, I want to believe there’s an Easy Williams out there somewhere—maybe someone will let me know.

06
Feb
19

The Jonah Jones Quartet “Swingin’ at the Cinema”

This is a thrift store record if ever there was one—well, actually, I don’t see it as often as “Jumpin’ with Jonah” (from the same year)—but this must have been next to a few hi-fis in the late 50s and early 60s. This particular copy is in really good shape considering it’s over 60 years old—how do these things survive? Jonah Jones plays trumpet, and he put out a lot of records of popular songs for wide audiences. The theme here is songs that were featured in or made popular by particular movies—though I couldn’t tell you, for sure, looking at the list of 12 songs, which movies. I could look it up, but I’m not going to. The liner notes on back are anonymously written, and in two paragraphs use a variation of the word “swing” about nine times. It also describes the record as “perky”—and Jonah as the “jaunty man at the helm.” That’s a pretty fitting description of the musical approach here, and anyone who knows me is aware that “jaunty” is a word I like to use to describe things I find jaunty—and it’s not for me. Perky is worse, but I don’t even use that word. If that’s your preference, I think no less of you. My favorite two songs are the two that Jonah Jones sings on—maybe he’s not a great singer, but that’s where perkiness has its charm. The cover is a pretty great full color photo of two jaunty women in a beautiful movie theater lobby sharing a seemingly candid laugh. One is holding a box of popcorn. I thought of that movie theater scene, with Micky Rourke, in the movie, Diner (1982), then felt ashamed of myself.

02
Feb
19

Muggsy Spanier “Tiger Rag / South”

This is an old Mercury 45 I got in an Easter basket of discarded sleeveless seven inch records which, for the most part, I’ve yet to listen to. Both songs are instrumentals, energetic, jaunty, dixieland jazz. This is music I admire, and I like it in a kind of intellectual way, trying to make out what the instruments are and how they play together, but it doesn’t really make me feel anything, except jaunty, which for me is like ketchup on waffles. I’d never heard of Muggsy Spanier, so I looked him up with Internet. He was from Chicago, and was a successful and prominent jazz cornetist. I guess it was after I tried taking piano lessons and failed, my second attempt at an instrument, in school band, was cornet. I’ve kind of had it in for that thing ever since. It’s a word that seems to be missing a syllable, or a trumpet that seems to be missing a few inches. I really should make a point of checking out the awesome cornetists through the years (Bix Beiderbecke comes to mind) in order to try to get over my grudge, which was no fault of the horn’s. I guess this is a good start. Anyone named Muggsy is okay with me. (It occurs to me that I’ve probably seen this name before, in passing, and thought it said “Muggsy Spaniel”—leading me to think he was a cartoon dog.) So, I’ve got that straightened out. Perhaps some other Muggsy Spanier records will come my way. In the meantime, I have this one in the record box.

01
Feb
19

The Chico Hamilton Quintet “Sweet Smell of Success”

This is a soundtrack record, more completely titled: The Chico Hamilton Quintet Plays Jazz Themes Recorded for the Soundtrack of the Motion Picture “Sweet Smell of Success” (and there’s an even longer version on the actual label, which sounds like someone’s Oscar acceptance speech). If you’ve never seen the movie Sweet Smell of Success (1957) you can keep reading, because I’m not going to talk about it, and also consider yourself lucky because it’s a great movie, even if it might take all your strength to get to the end, drama-wise. It’s grim! But it’s one of the most beautiful black and white movies you’ll ever see, and it’s got two of the most over-the-top performances, by two actors who probably would have paid to deliver what is some of the most over-the-top dialogue you’ll ever hear. It’s also got a great score, and in fact there are two soundtrack albums—one is Elmer Bernstein, and the other, this one, with music from the movie played by The Chico Hamilton Quintet—who actually appear in the movie, quite prominently, as the jazz band that one the characters (not one of the above two) plays guitar with. I knew nothing about Chico Hamilton before I saw this movie, and I still don’t know much, except he was a jazz drummer who then started this band that featured a cello. I’ve never heard any of their records, but if this one is any indication, they might definitely be worth picking up.

The album cover has a wallet-size picture of the band, but is mostly taken up by a big photo of Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster (actors referred to, above) who both look like they’re on the verge of actually exploding. They don’t, literally, anyway, but they come as close as an actor can without special effects. There are extensive liner notes on back, nicely written, though anonymous, which is too bad, because the beginning of the third paragraph makes this statement: “Side Two is one of the most unusual recordings ever attempted.” Ever attempted! It goes on to elaborate, but I’m neither going to retype it nor paraphrase, here. I didn’t find it as such, on first listening, but then I think there are things going on here that I’m not yet attuned to, so hell yes, I’m going to put it on again. It could be a great record for painting abstract paintings, or writing, abstract or not, or even cooking a decidedly not abstract dinner, which is what I’m going to do right now.

05
Jan
19

The Walter Wanderley Trio “Cheganca”

I thought I had more records from Walter Wanderley, the Brazilian jazz keyboard hit recording artist and guy with a great name—but maybe that was before I lost all my records—anyway, sometimes you’ll see one in a cheap bin or thrift store, and I’m guessing that any or all of his vinyl is worth picking up. This one is all instrumentals, him playing organ with a couple of percussionists. I can listen to this any time of day, though coffee time and cocktail time come to mind as the most appropriate—but it would also work for painting an abstract canvas or the wood trim a bright color. This is on Verve records, from 1966, and the cover is a color photo of the trio in formal wear perched on gargantuan stacks of pallets of burlap bags of coffee beans. I’m assuming it’s coffee since one bag is stenciled “Brasil”—but who knows, it could be soybeans, or it could be Cheganca, because I sure as hell have no idea what “Cheganca” is.

I’m not even sure that if I spoke Portuguese I would know—I like to think that maybe it’s one of those things you know when you know, but it’s not for the squares. The album cover folds out to some extensive liner notes by Bob Lee with KRHM-FM, L.A. He says: “Walter Wanderley has no worry. He could play the Pasadena phone book and make it sound great.” What I do know is that this record would not only be appropriate, but essential if I was throwing a Holly Golightly style cocktail party (the only kind of cocktail party I’m interested in throwing)—it’s even possible this was playing in the party scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)—though that would require a time machine—and this record is one. I feel like I’ve heard this version of “Agua de Beber” in a movie somewhere (of course, I’ve heard a vocal version with Astrud Gilberto). Truthfully, much of this record is more upbeat than I normally care for, and also, I just quit drinking (25 years ago)—but that doesn’t mean I’ve been bright-eyed and jaunty for a quarter of a century. This music—in spite of it making you visualize odd groups of young lovers shopping in frivolity—also isn’t jaunty, which is kind of its miracle. And in a few cases, as with the standard, “Here’s That Rainy Day,” it manages to be both melancholy and upbeat at once, knowing that while there is no cure for a broken heart, painting your woodwork a bright color is a wise use of broken-heart-time, because time cures all things, maybe—but there’s a limited supply of it—and a serious limited supply of more.




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