Tag Archives: Jazz

[154] Uri Caine – Urlicht/Primal Light

25 Mar

Klezmer or Classical?  Jazz or German?  Secular, Religious, or just a hot mess?  This is one of the most wide-ranging, eclectic, schizophrenic albums I have ever heard, and I think I like it.

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It’s all over the place, with sections of Free Jazz chaos prompting people to ask me to turn it off, and others of haunting vocal chants which inspire people to ask me to turn it up, followed by  hectic accordions and showbiz piano sections keeping me and everyone else who hears it on their toes.

Somehow it is all tied together – presumably by the guiding mind behind each changed (at times tortured) composition, Gustav Mahler.  I’ll never know for sure, though, as don’t think I would recognize “a piece of Mahler’s” outside of this decidedly non-traditional setting.

The big brassy horns are reminiscent of so much of the Jazz – both experimental and traditional – I’ve been enjoying over the last 3 years.  The piano and drum solos are a pleasant and unexpected diversion.  But is the shift of gears into whirling Klezmer and later the familiar strains of Cantors praying – at times accompanied by crazy syncopated rhythms – which ensures my attention is constantly returning to this vast and varied soundscape.

I’m curious to hear the original, untainted Mahler pieces.  But not interested enough to actually, you you, seek it out and listen to it.  It appears to be the mystery as much as anything that I am drawn to.

Yes, there are moments where it sounds like the 14 piece band happened to be tuning up while the mic was live.  No, there really isn’t a cohesive sound on display.  But I don’t care.

I kind of love it.

Next Week:  Camaron De La Isla – Le Leyenda Del Tiempo

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 154 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 154 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (129 of 154 = 84%)

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[141] Lord Buckley – His Royal Hipness

18 Dec

I am honestly not sure how to approach describing what it is that Lord Buckley does.  The fact that the best I can do is say, “Hear it for yourself” is in the end as strong a recommendation as any I have made to date.

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It is an “almost” experience.  It is almost a novelty / comedy record, save that it is too sustained, too serious.  It is almost a jazz record, save the fact that there is only a phrase or two of actual music over the vocals on each spoken word track.  It is almost offensive, save for the earnestness, the obvious lack of intent to offend.  It is almost incomprehensible, until your ear drops in and you start to catch what Buckley is getting at.

It is almost amazing, save that I am just not sure how to fit it into my life.

So much of what it isn’t, but what is it?

Well, it certainly is a truly bizarre choice of recording in the context of the music that has come before.  And it certainly comes with a very healthy pedigree, having been lauded by the biggest names of both music and comedy, from Bob Dylan and George Harrison to Robin Williams and Lenny Bruce.

It is also unique and satisfying and challenging and ultimately enjoyable.

At times the Lord Buckley persona feels like an expanded take on a minor character escaped from the Goon Show which ran at the same time as Buckley was recording.  And I do so love my Goons!

I enjoy the speeches more than the narratives – Gettysburg and Marc Anthony over the Jonah or Gandhi stories – but in either case there is pleasure in catching the old meaning in the new words, almost as when a reader starts to grok Nadsat (to mix literary metaphors . . .)

His Royal Hipness is a performance caught in time, which was not quite of its time when recorded.  Timelessly dated, a paradox and an outlier, as much as anything to date Lord Buckley should be experienced at least once.

To quote an ad campaign which has lingered in my mind far longer than the product it was selling ever did, “Try it – you might like it . . .”

Next Week: Tim Buckley – Dream Letter: Live in London, 1968

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 141 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 141 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (117 of 141 = 83%)

[136] Oscar Brown, Jr. – Sin & Soul

13 Nov

How many more times am I going to be shocked to the core at the holes in my musical education?

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The combination of Brown’s vocal prowess, his silky instincts for entertaining, and his sharp social commentary is an unforgettable cocktail.  Many of the songs are smoothly infectious – as cool as anything the Rat Pack ever did – but Brown almost casually throws in biting, searing moments like the chilling “Bid Em In” where he unflinchingly, straight faced plays the slave owner selling off a 15-year-old girl.

As my wife commented, “Sammy Davis never touched a song like that.”

Brown slides back and forth across the album between clean crooner vocals and the accented African annunciation, a fascinating and certainly deliberate decision.  Here you’ll find a more or less definitive version of the standard, “Straighten Up And Fly Right” sung with crystal clarity and sunny smile, alongside the affected patter – almost unrecognizable as English – of “Rags and Old Iron”.

This is followed closely by the hugely comedic howl of, “But I Was Cool” . . .

There is a magnificent juxtaposition here, a tightrope balance between warming embrace and squirming discomfort, tragedy and hilarity.

For all the astute blending of assimilation and non-, in the end all of the choices Brown makes are right on the money – by turns thought provoking, moving and amusing, but always entertaining.  The arrangements span from lush orchestral to non-existent and every stop along the way, with Brown’s expressive voice conveying every emotion and capturing every nuance of a number of insanely catchy melodies.

So, yet again, why does it take an honestly insane endeavor (an album a week for over 20 years?  What was I thinking?) for me to even hear the name, let alone the music and the mind associated with it?

Now I’ve heard Oscar Brown Jr. sing “Forbidden Fruit”, it is an earworm which will stay with me forever more and I am glad of it . . .

Next Week:  Ruth Brown – Miss Rhythm

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 136 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 136 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (112 of 136 = 82%)

[132] Clifford Brown and Max Roach – Clifford Brown and Max Roach Quintet

16 Oct

Call it a Quintet if you want to make the other four feel good about themselves, but all I hear when I listen to this amazing album is that hot horn.

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Sure, you can give credit to bandleader and drummer Max Roach for setting the pace and keeping the whole thing ticking over. And I have no doubt that I am overlooking huge contributions from the rhythm section, from the pianist, from my usually beloved sax.

But the truth is for the first several plays you would have been hard pressed to getting me to admit hearing anything but Clifford Brown’s wonderful trumpet.

Taking Roach’s rhythm and dancing all around and through it, the trumpet stars here both on sedate explorations and hectic chases. The melodies are catchy and clever and the smooth fun never ends, and when I finally acknowledge that this is indeed a group effort the other players and their instruments do not disappoint or distract.

It is a genuine surprise when I realize that ever member of the Quintet has multiple solos throughout the recording.

The question strikes me, “Where does this fall in the hierarchy of my Jazz enjoyment to date?” And the answer is not a simple one. That I love this sound, that it is played in home and office for weeks at a time (to approval from all who hear it) is a given, as is the fact that I will listen to Clifford Brown again in the future. (I’ll be breaching Max Roach again in another decade or two . . .)

What is not as obvious is whether I enjoy exploring this inventive but ultimately traditional sound as much as I do the truly experimental Free Jazz experiences which have been such a highlight of the 1,000 to date.

Time will tell, but in the meantime you or I could do far worse than spending an hour or two with these warm and welcoming tunes.

Next Week: James Brown – Live At The Apollo

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 132 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 132 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (108 of 132 = 82%)

[127] Anthony Braxton – For Alto

11 Sep

This is not background music.

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I am sure that there will be many people who hear these almost tuneless, almost ugly tracks and dismiss or dislike them instantly, but I find them intellectually and aesthetically fascinating.

It took me almost no time at all to discover that I could not listen to this double album of solo alto saxophone at my desk.  Each time I tried, work would stop entirely as I found myself attempting to follow and understand the dizzying path around which the single instrument was dragging the melody.

The speed of the fingering would be astounding enough, but the breath behind these breakneck runs and great raw squeals defies explanation.

For Alto is a very different animal than much of the cool-hot melodic Jazz I have so enjoyed to date.  Braxton is closer to experimental modern classical at times, wailing and challenging in equal measure.

The recording strips down some of the ideas heard in other Free Jazz masterpieces to a single voice, leaving the sax out on a limb without a safety net, soloing in exhausting 10 minute explosions with no band, trio or quartet to share the load.

There is a palpable sense of exploration on show which I find irresistible, whether Braxton is stretching a rhythm to breaking point or forcing sounds from his instrument which perhaps no saxophone had ever made before.

Then the album begins to wind down, the pace slows, and Braxton’s explorations turn to the depth and texture of the tones he can coax out of the eponymous instrument. The melodies remain rambling and seemingly unfocused, yet still I cannot tune out for even a moment.

For Alto is a signpost, a signal expressing what music can be. It demonstrates the theory that music is all but limitless, by taking the listener beyond those perceived limits without losing the way, without wasting the time of either performer or follower.

Listen to Anthony Braxton take his sax to the limit before you die. Perhaps you will not like what you hear.

But I bet you have a strong reaction.

Next Week: Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 127 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 127 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (105 of 127 = 83%)

[116] James Booker – New Orleans Jazz Wizard Live

26 Jun

It seems that James Booker never played just one note on his piano when there were keys to either side there for the taking.

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But to reduce New Orleans Jazz Wizard Live down to merely its technical merits does it a huge disservice.  Much as I discovered with Martha Argerich way back in the as it is quickly apparent that there is feel and nuance here to spare, elevated rather than shouldered aside by the incredible skill in execution.

Take even the very first track, “On The Sunny Side Of The Street”.

For two and a half minutes the piano jumps all around the familiar and pleasing melody, exploring and trilling, a sublime mixture of Jazz and Blues that I would be happy to listen to forever more.

Then, completely unlooked-for, Booker’s rich and textured vocals kick in, and the song and the album soar.

The pattern continues, with a vocal track followed by an instrumental, and throughout I have to keep reminding myself that there is only one instrument being played, not the whole damn orchestra which Booker somehow manages to suggest.

By my rough count and erratic memory, this is the fifth of 116 recordings to include one of my favorite songs, “Come Rain Or Come Shine”.  (4% for those tracking stats at home.)  It seems it may be a  favorite of Tom Moon’s, too.  This begs the chicken-and-egg question of whether such a great song makes an album it is on, or whether a great album frames the song and raises it to greater heights.

This version is respectful and contemplative, the vocals dripping with loss and longings past, the piano far more restrained than previous.  It moves me in that way that the best performances of the best songs do.

That the record moves directly from the polite applause of an audience unsure how to respond to this quiet highlight to the breakneck pace of an instrumental “Something Stupid” is the juxtaposition of a supremely confident showman.  The raucous response that the end of the latter song coaxes from the crowd is well-earned.

I love everything about all 37 minutes of this 9 track masterpiece.  Even the moments between songs.

Next Week:  Lo Borges – Lo Borges

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 116 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (17 of 116 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (95 of 116 = 82%)

[106] Paul Bley – Fragments

17 Apr

Described by various reviewers as “cold” or even “frigid”, Fragments is a very different Jazz animal to much of what I’ve discovered to date in the 1,000.

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The best moniker I have come accross to explain what it is I’m listening to here is “Chamber Jazz”.  Here is music for an audience, serious music to be examined and appreciated, to be enjoyed intellectually rather than intuitively.

Once I recognize this, there is much to enjoy in these reflective, measured compositions.

Bley apparently ascribes to the truism that the only thing that practice makes you better at is practicing, so these recordings are apparently hugely improvised, although planned and discussed at great length before instruments were ever picked up and tapes set to roll.

The result is an intriguing mix of structure and spontenaity, of unexpected chords being presented, then deconstructed by piano, guitar and sax in fascinating ways.

This is in no way background music, not something that will pleasantly set a mood over food or drinks.  It demands attention and is quite unlike anything I have heard before.

The closest analog would perhaps be the Minimalist works of Reich and Glass that I devoured at University, but Bley and company are somehow more tonal – more musical – than those experimental works.

Fragments at once welcomes you into an embrace while inviting you to keep a respectful distance.

The one exception is the vigorous and almost Rock-like “Line Down”.  Guitar develops some distortion and the drums drive the piece forward, but still without ever being the instrument to kep the beat.  Here, I can all but smell the smoke, taste the bourbon.

Here is the Free Jazz (in every definition of the word “free” you care to choose) which I have been exploring and enjoying – indeed, enjoying exploring.

It just goes to show the huge range of styles and philosophies which begin to make up the four little letters that spell JAZZ.

This may not be my favorite style – I find the Hard Bop of Blakey and the Free Jazz of Threadgill more actively enjoyable – but there is undoubtedly a time and place for listening to these carefully constructed, painstakingly unrehearsed fragments of Paul Bley.

Next Week:  The Blind Boys of Alabama – Spirit of the Century

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 106 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (16 of 106 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (87 of 106 = 82%)

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