[14] Air – Air Lore

12 Jul

There is something visceral about vinyl, at least to a person of a certain age.

I hugely enjoyed tracking down and borrowing a turntable, finding the time and space to set it up out of the reach of curious 4-year-old hands, the visual and tactile pleasure of the spinning black disc.

But none of this explains or excuses the fact that this masterful recording is out of print and extortionately priced on CD! In this digital, print on demand age, there seems no excuse for an album to be unavailable, let alone one as lauded and enjoyable as this.

Air Lore

Air Lore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are paying close attention, you will have noticed that it has been the Jazz that has most caught my ear through the first dozen recordings, and if Abrams and Adderley were the appetizer, here is the main course.

What is it about the jazz that has made me fall in love? The extraordinarily high quality of the performers is a part of it, but there is an element of risk and a direct connection to the music that is irresistible so far, especially with the more experimental acts. I worry a little that if this keeps up I might find some of the more traditional jazz tame by comparison, not to mention the more traditional pop and rock up ahead.

A concern for another day.

The Air Lore disc alternates between Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton compositions (with a single original short thrown in for good measure), anchored in ragtime, but exploring far beyond.

From the first bars of the opener, the trio messes with the expected tempo and rhythm. There is a familiar ragtime melody in there somewhere despite the fact that each of the musicians is exploring it, enjoying it in a slightly different way.

The result is fascinating.

“Ragtime Blues” shifts seamlessly from mood to mood, with the frantic percussion driving and poking at the meandering sax and energetic bass. Every now and then Joplin peeks through, and each time it happens someone goes off on a detour. An early example is the minutes long solo bass riff that grooves just enough not to lose the thread before sax and drums return to the touchstone-like melody, which is played seemingly straight, from the end of the bass solo to the button.

Of course after the apparent button, it is the drummer’s turn to let loose.

Nothing is quite what it seems on first hearing. Air takes something old and makes it exciting and relevant and new – almost a definition of Free Jazz.

The first Morton interpretation – “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” – is a slower, lower, much smokier jam, initially played cleanly until the sax starts spiraling off the beaten path.

First the tempo shifts, then the melody is left behind with the sax reaching for unnatural highs. Just as it is all about to fall apart the bass steps in and takes over – sax and drums fall away – and we are back to slow, low smoke. When the sax returns, so does the melody, so pure it almost sounds sung.

Here is an album that demands to be listened to, not just put on while something else is happening. It is the focus, it is what you are doing while it plays. The tones are ever so slightly askew, the interplay between the three instrumentalists too complex to simply let wash over you.

Or at least that’s my experience as I watch the record spin.

“King Porter Stomp” is laid out like “Ragtime Dance”, and played straight enough that my wife recognizes and even sings along for a few measures to the Morton tune until inevitably the sax spirals away again and the drums fly off on their own. After a frantic, hectic moment we’re back and the song fades away to the only original on the record.

“Paille Street” has a melody that sounds almost classical in structure – simple and haunting – yet it is hounded on all sides by drum trills and bass stabs. The tune – played on a flute – responds, attempting to subdue the rhythm section by jumping an octave. In the end, the piece is a couple of minutes of near tranquility before the final number.

“Weeping Willow Rag” kicks off with an extended high octane drum solo, setting the stage for the fireworks to come. The bright and jaunty journey that the sax takes us on after is enhanced by such a buildup. You can hear the Joplin themes and stylings, the runs up and down the scale, but the sax reaches above and below the typical notes, coaxing unexpected blasts while bass and drum shift the rhythm further and further from simple toe tapping until a bleat from Threadgill brings it all back home.

I can almost see the silent movie playing behind this great instrumental as the song reaches its third movement, but just as I start to get comfortable, the solos begin again. This time it’s a skipping, jumping bass line.

By the time the solo is over and the Joplin melody is being played carefully straight again for a moment, I can *feel* the whole thing teetering on the edge of a big, beautiful, messy finish. This moment is extended delicately, gracefully as gratification is delayed and the groove slowly, slowly slides away and even returns for a moment to the center before a thoroughly conventional ending.

But my words will never do this magnificent achievement enough justice. Get out there and take a listen, even if you have to borrow a turntable, or swing by the Lincoln Center Library . . .

Owned before blogging? No. (1 of 14. 7%)
Heard before blogging? No. (3 of 14. 21%)
Recommend? Yes. (10 of 14. 71%)

Next up:  Arthur Alexander – The Ultimate

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2 Responses to “[14] Air – Air Lore”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [29] Louis Armstrong – Hot Fives and Hot Sevens | . . . To Hear Before I Blog - October 25, 2013

    […] more than glad to hear this, see the strong foundations that allowed Muhal Richard Abrams and Henry Threadgill to go wandering off where they […]

  2. [70] Sidney Bechet – Ken Burns’ Jazz | . . . To Hear Before I Blog - August 8, 2014

    […] have already declared my love for the far more experimental Jazz titans like Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill and Albert Ayler.  That is not to say I haven’t greatly enjoyed some more traditional voices […]

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