Archive for the 'smooth jazz' Category

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.

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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.

16
Dec
18

The George Shearing Quintet with Nancy Wilson “The Swingin’s Mutual!”

I heard that Nancy Wilson passed away a few days ago, and I recalled hearing her music now and then over the years, mostly on the radio. Then I remembered that—among my limited, rag-tag record collection—I have this 1961 album of her singing six songs with George Shearing. I have as many Shearing records as by any artist, because for one, you can find them, and not for a million dollars, and they’re all either pretty good or excellent. But also, I probably listened to more George Shearing than anyone as a kid because my parents had a lot of his records and seemed to play them more than anything else. That distinctive vibes along with the piano sound is probably more entrenched in my brain than fear. Nancy Wilson sings on half of these twelve songs; I would have liked it better if it was all of them, but it’s a fine album, regardless. “The Nearness of You” is a standout, and they’re all good. She must have been only in her early twenties when they recorded this, but she sounds very mature and has a lot of personality. She’s an Ohioan, and about the same age as my mother. I like to think she was maybe in Columbus when my dad was in college there. I know my dad saw George Shearing in Denver when he was in the service out there. The album cover is pretty odd, the two of them sitting back to back, both in in plastic Eames chairs, Nancy Wilson holding a Shearing album, glancing over her shoulder at George, and Shearing kind of propping himself up with her her “Something Wonderful” album (which was like her second, this being only her third). She went on to record 60 or 70 albums, no doubt covering all my favorite songs, so I’ll keep an eye out for them. The only sad thing is, unless I’m missing it, they didn’t collaborate on any more records—because, besides good music, for the album cover, they could have each held up this album cover, and started a kind of infinity mirror thing. Just an idea for one of the parallel universes.

03
Nov
18

Herbie Hancock “Headhunters”

I’ve never been a huge Herbie Hancock fan, though I’ve always liked him more or less, but kind of a lukewarm love (Herbie Hancock fans don’t want to hear this)—like, I’ve owned a few of his records over the years, but I’m not usually burning to put them on. But this one has such a weird cover that it kind of screamed out to me (not necessarily a good scream, but a loud and got my attention scream). Anyway, I think HH has done some soundtracks over the years (can’t be entirely sure with no internet to reference) and I can really imagine a lot of this music as a soundtrack—but a really strong one, like, I’d watch that movie just to see a guy driving an early-Seventies LTD thru Harlem with this music playing. In fact, I’m guessing a 1973 LTD, gold with a green faux fabric top—a lot about this whole scenario says 1973 (I’ll see if there’s a date on the disk when it stops spinning…)

The cover is a kind of photo collage of HH at the keyboard with his band behind him in blue shadows, but it’s not HH really—or it is HH, I guess, but instead of his head there’s a huge orange circle, that from a distance looks like an orange with eyes and a mouth and some kind of insect pincers on the top of the head—but upon closer examination it’s evident that the eyes are knobs and the mouth is a VU meter. I can’t tell if the pincers coming out of the tip of the head are like antennas, or grabbers, or if it’s organic or mechanical—regardless, it’s all kind of creepy. I’m listening to the record a few times through as I’m writing, and I’m actually liking it more and more—maybe this is the HH record for me. It’s got some weird instrumentation and some pretty hardcore repetitious grooves (I mean as opposed to all the stopping and starting kind of stuff I don’t like as well). I’ve been working at a grocery store where the muzak system plays such a bizarre mix of about a dozen or 20 songs (seems like less, but is probably actually more) that it could have only been selected by a computer algorithm. But what if they just played this record? I wouldn’t be working, I’d be partying—couldn’t have that.

30
Jul
17

Michael Franks “The Art of Tea”

I had never heard of Michael Franks, saw this record in a thrift store and bought it against my better judgment. The picture on the cover, of him, doesn’t tell you much, unless it tells you this record is 1975. There are some familiar names playing on this record: Wilton Felder, Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, and more, and I’m listening to it as I look for him on the Internet. He’s a jazz singer/songwriter; all the songs here are his, and there are lyrics on the back, and there’s some good ones. On second listening the record is already growing on me. I like his voice a lot—it’s equal parts a little odd and way smooth. He’s been putting out albums pretty regularly since 1973, and he’s got a website, looking pretty good, now in his seventies, and still playing. Don’t know why I’ve never heard of him. One song here, “Popsicle Toes,” I’ve heard before—I believe done by Diana Krall. How about these lyrics from that song: “You must have been Miss Pennsylvania/With all this pulchritude/How come you always load your Pentax/When I’m in the nude?” Or how about this one, called “Eggplant”: “When my baby cooks her eggplant/She don’t read no book/And she’s got a Gioconda/Kind of dirty look/And my baby cooks her eggplant/About 19 different ways/But sometimes I just have it raw/With mayonnaise.” In the lyric department, he’s definitely got it going on, at least here in 1975. And did I say that the whole record is smooth?—something that might have put me off at one time, but now I’m into it.

14
Mar
09

George Benson “Weekend in LA”

Ever since the suffering, bored days of high school, I’ve always considered George Benson’s 1976 milestone, “Breezin'” as shorthand for “insipid.” So it was with great trepidation that I put on this double, LIVE, LP from two years later, the dreaded cultural abyss of 1978. But to my surprise, I’m rather enjoying this low key, smooth jazz experience—really, I’m not kidding. I’ve graced my turntable and neighbors with this LP more than a few times lately. Perhaps I have mellowed like a fine wine. I’m not exactly coming home from school, putting on the Sex Pistols, and pounding a quart of hard cider like I was doing in the days this was pressed. No, these days Ray Speen has used his crack pipe to prop up the wobbly leg of his game table where he’s slowly working on an enormous jigsaw puzzle of the Taj Mahal. That image in the reflecting pool—as still and perfect as it is—just drives you crazy! But that’s another subject.

At first I thought this was a single record, as the second disk is gone. Then I noticed that I was in possession of Record 1 Side I, backed with Record 1 Side IV. That’s Roman numeral “4” for all you intravenous drug abusers who can’t get their minds off the dope. Try a jigsaw puzzle, really. The best song is on side “IV”—the awesome Leon Russell’s “Lady Blue.” Other standouts are “Weekend in LA”, which could be synonymous with “mellow,” and “On Broadway” which could maybe be the theme song for everything in the 1970s I’d like to forget. But in a good way. You can barely tell this is a live record, the audience is so subdued; they sound like they’re all sitting in comfortable seats next to blonde ladies, sipping gin sours.

The cover is as equally classic, with “George Benson” “signed” in red neon, and George assuming the (strictly reserved for superstars) Jesus on the cross pose, that is if Jesus had been gripping a hollowbody, George Benson signature Ibanez in one hand, which, who knows, maybe he was. There are a couple more good pictures of GB, and really, he’s got one of the best moustaches of all time. This could very well be my moustache model for my new look. I’m already, as it is well known, fond of those open collars big enough to double as a jib, Genoa, or even a mainsail. Not something you’d want to wear on the high seas, but fine for tropical, LA nights.




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