Thursday, December 24, 2009

Henry says hey

The 2009 Xmas doodle from the great Henry Grimes, jazz bassist extraordinaire.

Carminho, Fado, EMI

Carminho, whose mother Teresa Siqueira was a fadista and owner of Taverna do Embuçado, a well-known Lisbon fado house, has been listening to and singing these songs and songs like them since before she was a teen, which itself ended just a half dozen years ago. This is to say that, while young, her experience with the music is actually quite lengthy and it shows on her solo debut.

She clearly is intimately familiar with what it means to sing fado. Traditionalists might balk at what a Mariza or, certainly, a Mísia does with the music. Not this, it is perfect fado, whether zippy, as in Marcha De Alfama or Voltar A Ser, resigned to the vagaries of life, as in O Tejo Corre No Tejo or A Voz, or melancholy, as in Carta A Leslie Burk or Senhora De Nazare.

What I find particularly attractive about her, however, is not that she sings fado very well, which is true of many fine fadistas, but the quality of her voice. I am tempted to call it husky, although rich might be a better characterization. Her voice is similar in quality to, in a jazz context, Nina Simone's or, more recently, Lizz Wright's with hints of Billie Holiday, all of whom I would love to hear taking a crack at fado. That being unlikely (impossible), I look forward to hearing a lot more from Carminho.

Mariza, Fado Em Mim, Times Square Records

With which she arrived in 2001. Loucura is a statement of her considerable traditional fado chops and Poetas signals her intention to extend the music, while still maintaining the tradition, by incorporating modern sensibilities, an impression then enhanced by Chuva following.

Ó Gente Da Minha Terra would be a dramatically sad song if Pee-wee Herman were singing it. Mariza singing it in concert sometimes makes herself cry. This song, if no other, and there are others, would have marked her for stardom. Oiça Lá Ó Senhor Vinho is an energizing fado romp about what happens when you drink too much wine and also related to Sr. Vinho, the venerable fado house where I had dinner a week ago tomorrow. It is, as well, a song frequently sung by Amália Rodrigues, as is Barco Negro (the last listed track), which Mariza takes in an unusual, interesting deliberate fashion.

Stick around for the bonus track, which only seconds what I said about Ó Gente Da Minha Terra. I saw, heard her do it live Saturday night in Lisbon. Never gets old. If you really want to be blown away, see the CD (or better yet the DVD) Concerto Em Lisboa.

Amália in English

Besides the pleasure of hearing the operatic voice in wondrous form and the vocal gymnastics she employs singing it, there is something incredibly sensuous, in both the contexts of the word, about hearing Amália Rodrigues sing The Nearness of You in English, with just a hint of her Portuguese accent for spicing.

From Coração Independente (Independent Heart), iPlay, an excellent compilation in conjunction with a museum exhibit of the same name looking at Amália's life and legacy 10 years after her death in 1999. Super versions of Barco Negro and Ai Mouraria on this as well and the fado ditty É Ou Nao É? is a delight I just do not grow weary of hearing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Amália on film

I enjoyed everything about my trip to Lisbon last week, except for my bag arriving a day and a half after me. Thanks American Airlines. But my favorite interlude was probably the better part of a day I spent at Amália Coração Independente, a 10-years-after-her-death restrospective on the life and impact of the great fadista Amália Rodrigues.

One thing really cool about the exhibit was the plethora of film clips it includes of Amália singing at various ages and in contexts including concerts, television, film and informally. A clip from the Coke Time variety show with Eddie Fisher and Don Ameche, in which she sings Coimbra (April in Portugal) and gets a bottle of Coke at the end (the boys bring one out for all of them), made me chuckle. A clip of her singing along impromptu with her mother, the two it looks like just sitting in the back yard, was gripping.

Here are a different series of clips I found in a Web review of the exhibit.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Where fado began...

...more or less. Things I learned in Lisbon. Historical marker at what was (in theory) once the place where lived Maria Severa Onofriana, or A Severa, a tall, elegant and gracious prostitute who sang in taverns and bars and was known not only for her singing and guitar playing but her aristocratic lovers. She is the first known great fadista (singer, female or male, of fado) and the subject of a novel, a play and the first Portuguese "talkie," all titled A Severa.

I think fado is very much like blues and jazz, originally a music of outsiders, outlaws and outcasts fashioned as a means of coping with difficult lives and protesting the injustices in which that difficulty was rooted while promoting cultural identification and solidarity.

Later, it becomes accepted by the so-called better elements of society and then a darling of the intelligentsia, particulary when Amália Rodrigues, the greatest of fadistas, and her favorite composer Alain Oulman begin to marry fado music with serious, landmark Portuguese poetry.

Yet, I posit, like jazz and blues, fado even as a now respected and mostly respectable art form, retains the intrinsic qualities that make it exciting (my grandmother would probably have said racy) and powerful. Fado, likewise, has roots in the music and dance of Africa and African slaves, in Brazil and elsewhere in the former Portuguese empire. Sound familiar?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Amália Rodrigues, Lisboa a Noite, Blue Moon

We're guessing, because the literature with the CD gives us no clue, but the guess is that this is the Rainha do Fado (Queen of Fado) in the '50s, at the height of her career with the traditional fado, simple accompaniment of Portuguese guitar, classic guitar and bass, thus making her voice, and what a voice, primary. The version of Barco Negro (Black Ship) might be the definitive version of a song that gets to the very essence of fado's seafaring roots (and the longing for the seafarers gone and of the seafarers for their country, home, families and lovers left behind them). She navigates Coimbra, another classic fado song, in Portuguese and then renders it in English. It is fado either way, could it not be? On Nao Quero Amar she works that incredible voice every which way but loose and I am, and everyone should be, impressed, followed by almost overwhelmed on Petenera Portuguesa. In my experience, only Ella is capable of such vocal manipulation. An aside, this is my favorite picture of her. Look at her face, her eyes and mouth, they say fado.

Love Tattoo, Imelda May, Verve Forecast

If I were going to get a love tattoo, it might be for Imelda May. I defy anybody to say she sounds Irish, which she is, on this, not that there would be anything wrong with said. Think Candye Kane meets Lavay Smith with a little bit of Jolie Holland (Falling in Love with You Again) and Madeleine Peyroux for good measure. Johnny Got a Boom Boom I might make my perfect soundtrack for kicking somebody's ass. Wild About My Lovin' makes me think of Martha Davis and the Motels, as does the title track. Big Bad Handsome Man? Mondo bluesy jazz tune plain and simple. I'm inclined to venture that she's a more interesting Norah Jones on Meet You at the Moon, or a more pristine, less froggy, female Tom Waits. Likewise the Waits analogy on Smokers' Song. Kind of freaky, I know. But an indication of how nifty the whole thing is. Smotherin' Me is a cool jump blues tune. It's You're Voodoo Working includes some mean Hammond organ playing by Danny McCormack (and tell me that guy ain't Irish; OK, he's not, he's English, as are the other musicians evidently, save Imelda), and well it should include some mean Hammond with that title. Nothing not to dig here from top to bottom. What I worry about is that she will have a damn hard time topping it in round two.

As my man Hugh Totten is wont to say...

..."the f--k you say," which is my take on Yellow Submarine by these Beatles guys I discovered. I mean, the title track itself is, "what the hell is this all about?" Hey Bulldog, you can talk to me, if you're lonely you can talk to me, plus dogs barking, plus you haven't got a clue, which, quite frankly, I don't, except that I know it's a pretty rocking tune. Then the second half of the CD is classical music. The f--k you say? It's all too much for me to take, well, not exactly. Love is not precisely all you need, but it is a pretty good start.

Cristina Branco, Ulisses, Universal International

I have stood on more than one big lake at night, far from the lights of the city, watching the moonlight shimmering on the water. I want to say that her voice on this shimmers, like moonlight on the black expanse of a big lake, or on the sea, more appropriately. Of particular interest: an English-language rendition of Joni Mitchell's A Case of You, which Dona Cristina makes into a fado even if it's not sung in Portuguese. There are some excellent fados sung in Portuguese as well, along with some wonderful Portuguese guitar playing by Custódio Castelo in what is, for the most part, the stripped-down accompaniment of tradition, although this CD is not, strictly speaking, traditional.

Overall, it is lighter and, in my feeling, not quite as gripping as some of the fado CDs I admire from, say, Mariza or Amália. But that isn't necessarily a criticism. Diversity is good, even in fado, and it can be nice to enjoy the intrinsic beauty of fado singing without the pain, or as much of the pain anyway, characteristic of the form. Muito bom.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Want fado, look and listen

Nice post on For The Sake Of The Song, a pleasingly eclectic music Web log (at least for this very eclectic music consumer). Five fine Amália Rodrigues songs you can listen to on line or download.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

White, not exactly

These Beatles guys I discovered, they just kill me. Take their latest, a set entitled The Beatles, which you can barely tell because on the cover the title is white embossed on white, making me want to refer to this as the "White CD," actually two CDs.

Back in the U.S.S.R., whatever the U.S.S.R. is, kicks off the proceedings and it's like a twisted Beach Boys tune. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da makes me think of Sonny Rollins' calypso tunes, St. Thomas, et al, only on LSD. The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill has Spanish guitar, reggae and tigers in it, the last of which would not be approved by Cahl. As you might expect, While My Guitar Gently Weeps includes some boffo guitar slashing. Happiness Is A Warm Gun: surrealistic. Danger Mouse surely gets I'm So Tired, probably Piggies, too, featuring some mean harpsichord music. Rocky Raccoon is clearly inspired by Springsteen's Wild Billy's Circus Story. Don't Pass Me By is essentially a Piedmont-style folk tune. You've got to say, these Liverpool fellows certainly appreciate a diversity of music. I appreciate their appreciation, and also Why Don't We Do It In The Road, and we might as well, a bad-ass blues tune.

And that's just the first disc. Birthday is how we should all usher in the next years in our lives, and many happy returns to you. Mother Nature's Son is a beautiful ballad with a Simon and Garfunkel sensibility. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey and Sexy Sadie draw on numerous mid- to late-70s rock anthems, Bob Seger's Old Time Rock And Roll among them. Helter Skelter is decidedly punk inspired. They often flirt with vaudevillian dance hall tunes, and more than flirt on Honey Pie. Things are happening in Revolution 9 that are akin to Tom Waits' What's He Building? Good Night is just weird as hell in this context, and yet not out of context somehow. This set is absolutely super, or at least smashing.

Cool John Ferguson, Guitar Heaven, Music Maker

What you get for helping these folks out. My man Cahl turned me onto it. "Cool John Ferguson is one of the five greatest guitarists I've ever heard in my career," said Taj Mahal. That's right, Taj Mahal. "Hey, 16 years is a nifty song melding the blues and Hawaiian music seamlessly," said Mr. Greg. That's right, Mr. Greg.

Me, I'm listening to this thinking of the late, great Eddie Fisher of East St. Louis, Ill., who, like Cool John Ferguson, is one damn fine guitarist everybody should know. Click this these folks' link and help 'em out.

Joana Amendoeira, À Flor Da Pele, La Chante Du Monde

Portuguese guitar, classic guitar, a bass and a voice, the latter the point and like clear water pouring from a silver pitcher beaded in dew into a crystal glass on a hot day when I am thirsty. I know it will be cold and oh so refreshing, seeming to me at that point in time to be the essence of life, on Barco De Sonhos (Ship Of Dreams), for instance.

Essence of life, essence of fado, although Amor, O Teu Nome, or Sem Querer (Without Want) might actually make you think of Patsy Cline. Meu Amor Que Te Foste Sem Te Ver and Digo Adeus Ao Teu Adeus (When I say Bye Bye, more or less) are, however, purely fado.

Art Blakey, Free For All, Blue Note

I'm not sure there could be anything more difficult than deciding what you consider the best Jazz Messengers CD. The music is almost universally great, the musicians are almost universally great, running a gamut from Clifford Brown to Wynton Marsalis and Jackie McLean to Javon Jackson, with Art Blakey, of course, always at the eye of the hurricane (and the Messengers' music is, in fact, almost always a perfect storm).

But if I had to pick one, if somebody put a gun to my head and said choose, this might be it. Freddie Hubbard on trumpet in his prime (what a golden, yet powerful, tone: every bit of Maynard Ferguson and possessed with subtlety to boot) and Wayne Shorter, displaying the chops that made him integral to the second great Miles Davis quintet, are the headliners, and rightfully so. But it is the incredible support of Cedar Walton, Reggie Workman, Curtis Fuller and Abdullah Ibn Buhaina himself, employing his kit to drive this session relentlessly, even on a ballad like Pensativa, that makes the set stand out. Free For All, Hammer Head (both Shorter compositions) and The Core (Hubbard's) are, jeez, where do I catch my breath pieces. Four songs, 37 minutes of lightning in a bottle, with more than a little thunder courtesy of Mr. B.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Katia Guerreiro, Fado, Milan

In basketball terms, and why not, she is Larry Bird to Mariza's Magic Johnson. Both magnificent, but one (Mariza and Magic) just a tad more versatile and engaging than the other. Her voice doesn't modulate over the range that Mariza employs, but she obviously sees the "court" as few others can and interprets, for instance, A Cidade Saudade with a perfect fado sensibility, or even Lisboa, done in French. I have an iTunes play list titled My Fadistas and she is one (with Mariza and Amália, which is some good company).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This can't be good...

Donuts they give kids in the student Cluster Challenge at the SC09
supercomputing conference. "I'm going to die of diabetes right now."
Max Hapner, after eating one slathered in Oreos. And he's a thin guy.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Art, as in Tatum

"I don't feel that I have all of the technical facilities that I would like to have." -- Art Tatum

"That's the musical equivalent of hearing Alfred Hitchcock tell a reporter that he wished his movies were scarier!" --Terry Teachout

From this cool article, title You Never Saw Art Tatum Sweat, on the centennial of Art Tatum's birth, which was Friday (November 13, 2009).

The way Art Tatum plays the piano, man, that is just scary. --Mr. Greg

If you don't know Art Tatum and you look at the video here, one note. Art Tatum was blind. Which means the video is scary. CD suggestion: Art Tatum, Classic Early Solos (1934-1937), Decca (via GRP). This is the kind of stuff that prompted Fats Waller to say, one night at he cub where he was playing and Tatum showed up, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm just the piano player. God is the house!"

Terry Teachout has a wonderful new biography of Louis Armstrong out, by the by. Title: Pops.

Amália Rodrigues, Obsessão, DRG Records

She has been singing fado for something like six decades here. In a few years, she will be gone. Her voice, once pristine and soaring, is now rough around the edges and the weight of the years that have passed prevents it from flying to the heights it once, and not so long ago, did.

Yet, the voice is no less emotive. I feel every year as she sings and it makes her more approachable in some way. I want to tell her she reigns still, Queen of Fado, that I admire her, perhaps more now even than the yesterday when her voice was perfection, that I love her. As the years mount in my life, I should give as much.

This might be my favorite Amália CD.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fados, Carlos Saura, Zeitgeist Video

Should win an Oscar. I had expected Fados, a new documentary film by Carlos Saura, to be a documentary about Portuguese fado music in the same, traditional sense as Calle 54 or The Buena Vista Social Club, excellent documentaries respectively covering Latin jazz (generally) and Cuban jazz (in particular). But Fados, while an excellent documentary about fado from my perspective, is more like a performance by the pianist Jason Moran I saw at Chicago's Orchestra Hall in 2007. Moran mixed multimedia elements, such as archival film and slides, employed both literally and impressionistically, and live music to document the story of Thelonious Monk's famous large-group Town Hall concert, the development of the music played in that concert, the role of the Jazz Loft and its denizens in the process, and Moran's own musical roots in Monk. Fados likewise weds some stunning live performances of the music with archival film, stills and other multimedia elements to outstanding effect. The archival film in the movie "chapter" that serves as a tribute to Amália Rodrigues, the most famous of fadistas, is as gripping as fado music itself tends to be when sung by Amália; I shed tears.

But Fados, unlike the Moran performance, also liberally employs live dance to illuminate the history, development and currency of fado and, as with the multimedia elements, quite effectively whether literal (the chapter Homage to Lucília do Carmo is a marvelous drama executed in dance and music that clearly illustrates the story told by the words of the song) or impressionistic. I've seen Fados likened in at least one review to a series of music videos and each of its 18 chapters could, in fact, stand as miniature film on its own. Still, taken together they make a whole that I think captures the essence of the music. You may not walk away ready to win a fado trivia contest, but you will walk away with a genuine feel for the beauty and meaning of fado.

Of course, the music is central to the film and there are some wonderful performances in it, Mariza, today's Amália, dueting with Miguel Povda on Meu Fado Meu, veteran fadistas Carlos do Carmo singing Hombre en la Ciudad (Man in the City) and Argentina Santos singing at all (she's 90), Lila Downs in Homage to Lucília. One of my favorite segments is House of Fados, in which a group of fadistas in the kind of hole-in-wall Lisbon club I must experience essentially engage in a cutting contest. Willie "the Lion" Smith and Luckey Roberts would likely have appreciated it, and the music, too.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Top Shelf Jazz, Fast & Louche, Arse Deco

A jazz band from Wales that claims the following: "A heady mix of crooning melodies, filthy swing and rakish banter served up with an exhilarating cocktail of kazoo solos, anarchist misconduct and safari suits" and warns on the cover of the CD "Achtung! You may hear some naughty words!" What's not to like?

Well, if the music sucked it could be a downer. But the music doesn't suck. In fact, it's super. If you like Bix, Django, Al Jolson, Pops, Sidney Bechet, Cab Calloway, et al, this will be a delight. Why do I think that Puttin' on the Ritz, which we all know, is the first track in large measure to set up Istanbul (not Constantinople). Their Web site is a trip as well. Gilbert and Sullivan would have appreciated Gentlemen in Squalor.

The New 5, Introducing The New 5, Blue Canoe

In Austin, Texas, you tend to think alt rock, country and blues (me in particular, not being like all that turned on by alt rock and country), but music town actually has a thriving jazz community as well (trumpeter Thomas Heflin included) mostly on display at the Elephant Room, which is just a really excellent jazz club with a worthy selection, and cold, of beer and friendly employees and patrons.

This is Heflin and mates from Texas the university doing hard-, post-bop but sounding not at all like the '50s or '60s, rather, appropriately, like the 2000s. I'm not going to say they're every bit as good as, say, the Branford Marsalis Quartet, but I am going to say they're not too far from it and you would spend a lot less to hear them live. Good Fight makes me think of the second great Miles Davis quintet. Michael Arthurs on tenor sax and Peter Stoltzman on piano also are boffo.

A belated happy Halloween

Forgot to post this.

None the worse for the wear.

Amália Rodrigues, At The Olympia Theatre, Monitor

In Paris in 1956, and at the famous venue where I saw Sonny Rollins a few years ago, by the by. I wish I had seen this. Then again, I might have immediately walked out and jumped into the Siene figuring that nothing was ever going to be better, thus missing Sonny Rollins, so what the heck.

Listening to her shift gears with her voice the way she does on Fado Corrido (or La Vai Lisboa, for that matter) would surely have caused me to swoon. The version of Barco Negro here has had the tune cycling through my head, waking and in dreams, since I first listened to it the other morning. That is powerful singing. Wonderous version of Coimbra, too. Again, it is as she should be heard, with only Portuguese guitar (Domingos Camarinha) and classical, or Spanish, guitar alongside. Amália, the song, Fado Amália as she introduces it, made my heart ache before I ever knew just what it was she was singing. And that is powerful singing.

A day like today...

Is not meant for sitting in front of a TV watching a mediocre professional football team.

It is meant for paddling in the sun under the blue sky and watching herons, bald eagles and such.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Tour indeed...

In Magical Mystery Tour, the latest from these Beatles guys I discovered, I hear about every rocker and popper since 1967, from Yes to, dare I say it, Billy Joel. Very clever of the Liverpool boys to incorporate such disparate elements in their music.

Lots of nifty tunes, for instance The Fool on the Hill and Your Mother Should Know, which she does. But like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, this is another concept album where the songs all work together to create, more or less, a unified whole. They're kind of copping Soft Cell on I am the Walrus, which I am, and Baby You're a Rich Man has to be inspired by Devo's Beautiful World. I don't know why, but Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane strike me as really heartfelt. All you need is love, I guess.

Amália Rodrigues, Fados e Guitarradas au Portugal, Accord

This is a pristine format in which to hear Amália da Piedade Rodrigues sing fado, her voice with only a set of Portuguese and classical guitars, save for a couple of random tracks backed by an orchestra. From a French label and not dated, but she sounds young here. A Minha Cancoa e Saudade isn't the only place where she will tear your heart out.

Bonus: some guitarra-only tracks featuring big hitters like Jaime Santos on Serenata a Lisboa. Django would no doubt be down with it.

The voice rules, however, dominating even the orchestrated tracks like Ai, Mouraria.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mísia, Garras Dos Sentidtos, Detour

Roughly speaking, the title means "clutches of the senses" and the senses here seem to be capturing inputs that lead to melancholy, perhaps over loves, life, a litany of things gone, which is to say it has the true feeling of saudade at the roots of traditional fado. The instrumentation is likewise fairly traditional, heavy on the guitarras, but also including an accordion, giving it a French musette feel in spots, and piano. Less modernistic than some of her other stuff, I like it, and she projects her voice strongly throughout, sounding more like a fadista than a pop singer.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On St. Crispin's Day...

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Deolinda, Cancão Ao Lado, World Conncetion

Modernistic, kind of like if Jolie Holland decided to sing fado, although Movimento Perpetuoa Associativo is more like Richard Thompson doing fado, accompanied by Coimbra fadistas. Do I love it in a fado context? Not really. Do I appreciate it as an extension of the music for the 21st Century? Yes. Is it unpleasant at any juncture? No. Garçonete Da Casa De Fado is a trip, and kind of nasty like Lucille Bogan singing the blues. Excellent modern fado.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mariza, Live In London, Silva Screen

An Interesting contrast to Concerto Em Lisboa, which comes along a few years later. In baseball terms, she's all fastball here, a young power pitcher who awes with all the speed (or volume in this case) in the world.

Now, she has a breaking ball (more than one actually) and an uncanny command and placement of the off-speed pitch, in short impressive subtlety mixed with all that power and passion and, in addition, a much more complimentary command of her body movements.

Which is not to say this isn't going to get you all teary eyed in places, like Barco Negro, an absolute fado classic, or O Deserto. You look at that face on Primavera and you be will if you have a heart at all. I think Ó Gente Da Minha Terra is really cool jazz-infused fado. Há Festa Na Mouraria, if you ask me, gets to the very essence of fado. I love her madly. Sue me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Stylin' at TC's Lounge

I wish I looked as good.

Making my Roky malt

At Amy's Ice Cream in Austin. Ice cream, double sweet cream (instead of milk) and double malt. Malt-o-licious. That Roky Erickson really knows his ice cream.

What Barbara Jordan said...

We have a positive vision of the future founded on the belief that the gap between the promise and reality of America can one day be closed. It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision.

Still holds.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Jazzonia, Little Boy Don't Get Scared, Douglas Records

You best be attentive, and have quick ears, to glean Cottontail from this, or Moody's Mood For Love, or Angel Eyes. They are there, in effect as the base for a stew of avant-garde jazz, electronica, soul-inflected vocals and hip-hop recitations, turntables and bass beats. Byard Lancaster on saxes and flute and Graham Haynes on cornet and flugelhorn season it with some electric Miles-, Head Hunters-, Weather Report-reminiscent horn work. What I really dig, however, is the funktastic organ playing of AACM veteran Amina Claudine Myers.

From the mind of Bill Laswell, and certainly an example of his evolutionary concept collision music, which brings together genre-crossing collections of musicians to see what happens. What happens in this case is different, but cool I think. Robert Gardiner calls it "strikingly new and yet lovingly tied to the past" in his liner notes and I'd says that's about right.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Monk at 92...

Which he would have been Saturday. In commemoration, NPR had one of its periodic "Listening Party" discussions, with Epostrophy, a version where Milt Jackson plays the vibes, as the subject. I thought this comment on the interchange between Bags and Monk was insightful:

"It's sort of like seeing two people at the end of the bar in an intense dialogue. They're compelling because it seems really to mean something to both of them, and you kind of want to know what they're talking about."

Personally, I often feel like I'm eavesdropping when I listen to Monk. I'm just glad he invited us to do it.

Sgt. Pepper's Sound

These Beatles guys I discovered have really slipped over the outside of the envelope with their latest, titled Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Like their other CDs there are certainly a lot of catchy ditties here (With A Little Help From My Friends, When I'm Sixty-four, Lovely Rita) and some tending-to-sad ballads (She's Leaving Home and Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, although the latter might be viewed more as abstract than melancholy).

But this session is about more than a(nother) collection of nifty songs. It is that, but the songs and the music, to my ear, hang together to create a unified work with a certain feeling and sound, intentionally I suspect. In my estimation, the coloring with "little" instruments, found sounds and vocal flourishes outside the boundaries of song lyrics makes this a relative of Roscoe Mitchell's Sound and the work of Mitchell and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, i.e. avant-garde jazz. I find that Sgt. Pepper's has the same visual, not just aural, impact on my brain as I listen. From a rock perspective, it makes me think of Bruce Springsteen's The Wild, The Innocent and The E-Street Shuffle, a favorite. Sgt. Pepper's has amusingly cool CD cover art, too. A magical musical tour.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Stan Kenton, City Of Glass, Capitol Jazz

I have this Stan Kenton thing going and let me say this, there has probably been no radical advancement in generally conventional big band jazz since him. Maria Schneider? Love her. Maybe. William Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra (Mayor Of Punkville rules), yeah, but that, and other things like it, are decidedly in the avant-garde. This is not, and yet it sounds like, and no where is it more obvious than on Everything Happens To Me, Sun Ra scored the session and conducted it. That impression only mounts as the CD progresses (it sure as heck does on House Of Strings and A Horn) and, yet, it all runs in a jazz (and classical) vein.

The level of musicianship is almost overwhelming, no surprise. Art Pepper, Bob Cooper, Shelly Manne, Joe Mondragon, Maynard Ferguson, Bill Russo, Bud Shank, Conte Candoli, Frank Rosolino, Richie Kamuca and Lee Konitz are in the ensemble at various points. Jesus. (So is Keith Moon, OK, he's the trombone player not the other guy, but what the heck.)

Owned it for years. What possessed me to pull it out today was Kenton's West Side Story, which I received yesterday and have listened to like a half dozen times since. Recorded roughly 10 years later, it is not, let me tell you, your father's (or mother's) soundtrack. Heck, Herman Poole Blount would probably have appreciated it.

Lavay Smith, Miss Smith To You, Fat Note Records

I don't just love Lavay Smith, I LUV Lavay Smith, so the release of her first CD in 9 long years (and only her 3rd ever) is an occasion in my house. These things strike me. You can think of the evolution of her singing as more Bessie Smith then and more Big Momma Thornton now, or more young Billie Holiday then, and more older Billie Holiday now. A little heavier, a little slower, but maybe even more emotive in its relative maturity.

Her big band, the Red Hot Skillet Lickers, was love-worthy then and, in my estimation, is stunning now, see the Bill Oritz trumpet solo on the Duke's (and Billy Strayhorn's) It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing) and the Charles McNeal alto sax solos on Dizzy Gillespie's 'Deed I Do and Daddy, an original, of which there are a few on this, a bonus. (Bessie and Big Momma would have made hay with I'm Not Evil.) The take of On The Sunny Side Of The Street kills and they do a rousing (like it couldn't be) When The Saints Go Marching In and an appropriately languid I Ain't Got Nothin' But The Blues. Band guys sing Pops-style with regularity on this, check out trumpeter Danny Armstrong on Basie's Boogie Woogie (I May Be Wrong), and it just works. Gold as far as I'm concerned.

They're playing at Yoshi's in San Francisco on Halloween and how I wish I was going to be there.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


These Beatles guys I discovered slay me. They just keep doing more and more bizarre stuff with every new CD. Revolver, their latest, is like plethora of dramatic vignettes set to rock music but with strings and stuff, too.

I can't say any of it is less than captivating. But I really like this thing Eleanor Rigby. Love To You is super weird, a bluesy song about relationships and settling for them, only rendered as an Indian (the subcontinent kind) tune. Then they lay this Yellow Submarine deal on you. What kind of minds decide to slip a Vaudeville-style ditty into a rock LP? There's genius in that.

For No One is a slice of my life and undoubtedly a lot of other people's. And there is genius in that as well. No question about it, got to get this music into my life.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What did I know?

These Beatles guys I discovered continually amaze me. Just when you think you've got them figured out, they toss something at you like Rubber Soul, which includes stuff like Norwegian Wood, with a decidedly Middle Eastern tinge, Nowhere Man, which is nearly operatic not to mention prescient, Michelle, about as ballady as it gets, What Goes On, which is a perfectly serviceable rockabilly tune, and a lot of other stuff I just didn't see coming. These guys are really good and getting better all the time.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sonny in St. Louie

Tenth time a(nother) charm. Big ovation as soon as he steps on stage energizes him, if he wasn't already, and he starts slinging guns right out of the gate on Sonny Please. What he does to close In A Sentimental Mood is as incredible as anything I've heard him do live or recorded. Even his comping is more of a challenge to his side dudes than a compliment, although, consumate pro, he is certainly complimentary. Kobe Watkins rises to the challenge on My One And Only Love and Sonny slams it right back at him, 50 some years difference in their ages be damned. Guy turned 79 this month. Gives you hope. My new best Mr. Rollins interlude.

Sent from Mr. Greg's iPhone.

Just sayin'

I'd have had no problem being Charles Parker's worthy constituent.

Nelly Furtado, Mi Plan, Universal

Nelly, whom I've been madly in love with since Whoa Nelly!, and who is Portuguese-Canadian, will one fine day do a fado CD and make me very happy. Until that time, and that time may never come, correct that, that time will eventually come, I will be happy with Mi Plan, which is in Spanish. And yet, nonetheless, displays Nelly's captivating (to me anyway) mix of of pop, hip-hop, Latin, world music and, yes, fado, sensibilities. I might make Vacacion my anthem. Moreover, Feliz Compleaños is pretty close to being really hip fado. Whoa, Nelly!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Yum, yum

Cake my masterful cake-making co-worker Jade made me. Chocolate stout. Beat that, sucker.

I have such a sugar high right now and I only ate one piece of it. A pretty big piece, granted.

Bix mix

Like Louis Armstrong, who considered him a peer, Bix Beiderbecke produced a light with his horn that just brightens up the day. Good case in point, Since My Best Girl Turned Me Down on Mosaic's The Complete Okeh and Brunswick Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer and Jack Teagarden (and, man, is that ever a lineup) Sessions (1924-36).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Just thinking out loud...

Sometimes I wonder why anybody picked up the tenor saxophone after Coleman Hawkins. You sure had to have a pair. Thoughts on the King Porter Stomp (Disc 3, Track 9) and Christopher Columbus (Track 10) on The Fletcher Henderson Story: A Study In Frustration, Columbia. Also Stealin' Apples, with Red Allen on trumpet as a bonus. Not to mention Blue Lou, which, quite frankly, gives me wood.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Just thinking out loud...

Mostly everything Benny Goodman did--and, hey, I love Benny Goodman--Fletcher Henderson did first (and, one might argue, better), with Coleman Hawkins in the vanguard no less. So The Fletcher Henderson Story: A Study In Frustration, Columbia, tells me.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Terence Blanchard, Choices, Concord

Intelligent, in the manner of Miles' great '60s quintet, soulful, bluesy jazz with elements of fusion and a nod to his News Orleans hometown now and then, featuring impeccable playing by the leader himself on trumpet (man, does he soar on Winding Roads) and saxophonist Walter Smith III, as well as some fascinating licks from Lionel Loueke on guitar. All of which makes this a darn fine listen.

But the really interesting part is how well the interspersed spoken-word interludes by Dr. Cornel West fit into the program. In both what he says and the way he says it, the dude is positively riffing. A few comely neosoul vocals from Bilal, too. (When Will You Call is a goodie.) I wish everyone was this adventurous with their latest CD.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The very definition of "aggressive stupidity"

"I think he's a very upstanding guy. I think that's his reputation and I think that reputation will be with him here. I really don't foresee any problems."

--Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear on John Calipari, the $31.65 million U.K. hoops coach.

You know, the guy who just had his Final 4 season with Memphis voided by the NCAA, making him the only college coach in history to have Final 4s voided at two different schools. (UMass was the other.)

In these tumultuous times it sure is good to see some things never change, like Kentucky's willingness to dance with any devil for a bit of basketball success.

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, Impulse

I routinely pass over this when flipping through my Coltrane thinking I just won't be able to get into it. Then, I'll pull it out for one reason or another and remember how wrong I was skipping it all those times before. Yes, it is one of those "What were they thinking?" ideas pairing the tenor and the torchy singer. But I'm glad they thought of it.

On this trip through, it struck me what a near-perfect performance My One and Only Love was, from Coltrane's wonderful solo leading into Hartman's singing to Coltrane's uncanny comping behind Hartman to the subtle, note-perfect backing of McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. One more reason (as if A Love Supreme, Crescent, et al, were not enough) this Coltrane quartet is legendary.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond, 1975: The Duets, Verve

Crap I was listening to when this came out, what a waste. If they're eminently sympathetic on the other things in their oeuvre, like muy famoso Time Out, the point is only put into bas-relief by the duet setting. Nowhere more than on Koto Song, a stunning six-minute improvisation, and Balcony Rock, two minutes that says about six minutes worth. A musical delight. Be sure to stay to the end for the live version of You Go To My Head, which inspired the idea of a duet recording.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

McCoy Tyner, Today and Tomorow, Impulse

Like Reaching Fourth this is another opportunity to hear Tyner in the '60s outside the context of the Coltrane quartet (of course, you want to hear him inside the context of the Coltrane quartet as often as possible, too). He does a rapid-fire Night in Tunisia with the dexterity of a stride master like Luckey Roberts or Willie "The Lion" Smith and plays Autumn Leaves with the elegance of a Dave Brubeck or Oscar Peterson.

But the bigger attraction here, I think, are the three cuts with horns, including underappreciated Frank Strozier on alto, Thad Jones on trumpet and, most notably, John Gilmore on tenor. It is Gilmore's presence that prompted me to buy the CD. Tyner played, and still plays, plenty of his own sessions. But there are few recordings of Gilmore outside the context of Sun Ra's Arkestras.

I certainly think Gilmore's playing is important in that context and respect (even cherish in cases like Jazz in Silhouette, The Magic City and Lanquidity) the music. But Sun Ra's output was very much about ensemble play and having the pieces making up a greater whole. Soloists tend not to stand out. Gilmore gets an opportunity to stand out here on tunes such as T 'N A Blues and Three Flowers in a more conventional setting than with Sun Ra, highlighting the marvelous, singular tone I think of as deep but not heavy, and just what a great jazz tenor saxman he was.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Donny McCaslin, Declaration, Sunnyside

Between his high-energy (and often higher-register) tenor, Ben Monder's guitar, Edward Simon's piano and the brass band behind them, there's certainly nothing to make you feel lethargic on M and Fat Cat, which open this. Declaration, more of a ballad, makes me think of the Branford Marsalis Quartet with brass, which is a compliment. Even it soars. Uppercut and Rock Me, as you would expect from the titles, romp like (but don't sound like) the first two tunes, although epic might be a better word than romp for M. Rock Me has an interesting fusion interlude, Monder shredding and Simon on electric organ. Late Night Gospel is the kind of tune that says last call.

The brass is generally used effectvely for accent and color rather than being overwhelming, a tribute to the deftness of the musicians behind those instruments (variously trumpets, flugelhorn and french horn, trombones and a tuba) and to the composer and arranger. All songs and arrangements are McCaslin's and it's nice to hear a collection of entirely new music. And interesting, intricate, sophisticated thoroughly 2000s jazz, albeit it with a firm grasp of the tradition, at that. Yes, I'm impressed.

I'd like to hear more, from tubist Marcus Rojas in particular.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

And some things are...

Sometimes people call a thing timeless and my mind questions it. Disco Inferno, not timeless. The Deep, not timeless. Swashbuckler, not timeless.

Giant Steps, timeless. Not only the title track, but every minute otherwise. What more can you say about a session that also included Naima, a ballad to define the term, Mr. P.C. and Syeeda's Flute Song, all of them, well, timeless.

One thing I never noticed before, Coltrane used three different pianists and drummers in the course of recording this music. I think that's indicative of two things that contribute to making this such a notable session: 1) the force of his vision and 2) the steady anchor of Paul Chambers on bass. Timeless!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Like I was sayin'

Which isn't to say that Interstellar Space is not a prime example of the symbiotic musical relationship Coltrane and Rashied Ali developed.

Saturn says it all, cool planet, cool song, or hot, depending on your perspective. Leo, which didn't even make it on the original, you figure they're making up as they go along, but you wouldn't know it from the way they jibe, which is as if they were dancers following a choreography. Check out Coltrane on the bells at about 7:50. Even there, it's a pair fully complimentary.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The right stuff...

Rashied Ali obviously had it. Besides Coltrane in Coltrane's later period, he banged the cans behind Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler and Pharaoh Sanders, not to mention Don Cherry and William Parker, among others, not that you need many others in terms of free jazz with that lineup alone.

Still, Elvin Jones is always my favorite Coltrane drummer. They were just meant to be (The Drum Thing on Crescent would be Exhibit A, a Love Supreme Exhibit B). Rashied Ali and Coltrane were more of an opportunistic, albeit it fortunate, coupling. They needed each other to go where they were going musically at the time and they evolved into a complimentary pair. (Everybody thinks of their duet session Interstellar Space in this context, and it is a good example; I think it is maybe even more evident on Olatunji Concert: The Last Live Recording.) But it wasn't a no brainer, as was the pairing of Coltrane and Jones (nor is the music Coltrane and Ali made; it requires intellectual engagement). This tension makes Coltrane's Meditations, where he used both Jones and Ali, a pretty fascinating listen with a whole lot of drumming in it. Listening to Meditations, Interstellar Space and Olatunji in succession provides a good view of the partnership.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Oops 2

From the Washington Post:

"At a recent town-hall meeting in suburban Simpsonville, S.C., a man stood up and told Rep. Robert Inglis to 'keep your government hands off my Medicare.'"

In other news, I hear Stephen Hawking is moving to the U.K. to avoid the possibility of...

Oh, never mind.

I'm not much for death panels; who really is, despite the delusional workings of Sarah Palin's mind and mouth? But I think I could get behind a public spanking panel for the aggressively stupid.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

McCoy Tyner Trio, Reaching Fourth, Impluse

You wouldn't know right off this is the pianist moving ever forward along the cutting edge with Coltrane at the time (1962, a year after Live at the Village Vanguard and two before Crescent and A Love Supreme). He sounds more like a bluesy Bill Evans.

Roy Haynes maintains the beat in perfect harmony with his mates, not a surprise. The special thing about this is really hearing, with plenty of room in the trio setting, what a fine advanced yet conventional bassist Henry Grimes, an absolutely great avant-garde bassist then and now, could be when the situation called (Benny Goodman used him, too). Good version of Old Devil Moon.


From the Investor's Business Daily:

(In a piece panning Obama's health plan, and the idea of national health care generally.)

"People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless."


"Editor's Note: This version corrects the original editorial which implied that physicist Stephen Hawking, a professor at the University of Cambridge, did not live in the UK."

Somebody slipped on their ideology, I guess.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Another random baker's dozen from my iTunes library

1) Universal Message, Albert Ayler, might help me sort out String Theory, also, if you don't hear the blues in it you're not listening; 2) Encantamento, Mafalda Arnauth, I'm still lamenting that love I lost back when and she's singing about it, in Portuguese; 3) Violets For Your Furs, John Coltrane, working the upper register and hinting at his eventual importance; 4) Memoirs Of A Frozen Summer, Stefon Harris, good vibes, literally, although kind of sad in this case; 5) Miss Brown To You, Billie Holiday, she could be miss purple with pink polka dots and I would still, as Duke says, love her madly; Yesternow, Miles Davis, you say you want to take a shower after, so what?; 6) Moving Out, Sonny Rollins, Sonny does bop; 7) Begin The Blues, Barney Kessel, somebody asks you what jazz and blues have to do with each other, you could do worse than trotting this out

8) Blues For Philly Joe, Sonny Rollins, Newk shifts to hard bop and it won't be the last time he shifts; 9) The Lone Arranger, Chu Berry, big band plays, Chu gets something like 20 seconds to solo and that's all you end up thinking about; 10) Lonesome Road, Madeleine Peyroux, suck it in, go harder, keep truckin'; 11) Cottontail, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, that said, I need to comment why? 12) Scrapple From The Apple, Charlie Parker, no one, no one, played the saxophone like him before, or since; 13) Confirmation, Charlie Parker, sometimes clusters result from randomization, no complaint here.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Something to be said for Barco Negro (black boat)

Traditional fado tune, I now have six versions of it in my iTunes library (not as many as Round Midnight, 42, but there's time, I hope). For Ana Vinagre it's a lament, for Celeste Rodrigues kind of a fado march. For Cristina Nóbrega, the preferred approach is with a sense of irony. For Mariza, twice (Concerto Em Lisboa and Fado Em Mim), it begins with a drum chant over which she imposes the considerable range of her captivating voice, which spans Streisand to Sills in my mind at the moment (and undoubtedly more). I'm partial to the Fado Em Mim version. Névoa races through it with special effects, and not to bad effect.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Cristina Nóbrega, Palavras Do Meu Fado, iPlay

She has an expressive husky voice I dig and the music is pleasingly traditional in its simple accompaniment and mix of songs, from almost-romps like Madrugada De Alfama and Zanguei-Me Com O Meu Amor, to pieces with a sense of irony (even in Portuguese) like Disse-Te Adeus E Morri or Barco Negro to exceedingly sad tunes like Meu Amor, Meu Amor (Meu Limão De Amargura) and Com Que Voz.

The video shows she's accomplished even when warming up.

And we think we're so smart...

I have to be honest, I'm not sure I would have figured out how to get the worm as fast as the bird did. Note that he picks only the largest, and hence most effective, stones.

BBC article here. Of course, if Monroe had opposable thumbs, like me, he could just pick up the carafe and down the water and the worm. You know, kind of like drinking Mezcal.

Luisa Soares, Fados do Fado 39, Movieplay

The phrase "belt it out" comes to mind and I finally decided who she reminds me of, after a half dozen listens: Lavay Smith. I'm not intending to be critical in either case. In terms of Boss Springsteen, it's the difference between the unfolding of Thunder Road and the all-out assault of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. Both great songs magnificently rendered. And both Luisa Soares and Lavay are wonderful singers, who happen to take the Freeze-Out tack in their delivery.

You could say they sing with the subtlety of a sledge hammer. You also could say they sing joyously. I'd say the latter. Listening to either, or to Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out for that matter, is rousing. It's hard to listen to Sombras Da Madrugada (Luisa) and Big Fine Daddy (Lavay) and not feel good about it. Not necessarily giddy in the case of Soares, because she conveys, in songs like A Diva, the melancholy in many fado pieces. But even then, there's an energy surge to be had from her singing. I think Fado Cunha E Silva is one of my favorite fado tracks

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Mike's early stuff is scary good

Character flaw though it was, I had scant interest in art before 1999. Dogs playing poker was about it. That spring, I visited friends teaching in Italy and in short order experienced the Sistine Chapel in Rome and Michelangelo's David in Florence and, boom, I had an epiphany. (It didn't hurt that we then took the train to Paris and I visited the Louvre shortly after.) I have not passed on the art museums in various cities I've visited since.

So I have this thing for Michelangelo, as we all should, which made this story about his first known painting, The Torment of St. Anthony, being on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York interesting to me. "Mike" was 12 or 13 years old when he painted it. And yeah, it's kind of spooky. Imagine what he might have done if they had put him to work on the CGI for a horror flick, another kind of "art" I enjoy.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Amália and Trane

When I wrote about The Art of Portuguese Fado by Celeste Rodrigues, the younger sister of legendary fadista Amália Rodrigues, I probably shorted Amália's ability to sing fado in a manner that gets to its essence as a folk music. Certainly, there are many tracks where she is working at fado's very roots.

Still, listening to Amália even then can be almost painful. She is so good it can be shocking. Her singing is so personal it can be uncomfortable, like you're intruding on someone in what should be a deeply private moment. The situation fairly mandates that you can't listen casually, but must do so intently.

The thought crossed my mind last night that it's very much like listening to Coltrane from Live at the Village Vanguard on (and maybe starting with My Favorite Things). The music is so intense and, later, so increasingly spiritual that it can't, or shouldn't, be approached lightly.

That said, I wouldn't be without either. I don't think it is going too far to say such music elevates the spirit, soul, whatever. But a little Gene Ammons, or Celeste Rodrigues, something closer to the ground, has its place, too.