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.