Friday, December 24, 2010

Oh, the holidays

Performed the holiday gift-wrappping duties while while listening to, in order, Beverly Sills (The Great Recordings, Deutsche Grammophon, CD 1), Joan Sutherland (The Greatest Hits, London/Decca), Renata Tebaldi (Arias and Scenes, ODP), Beverly Sills (CD 2) and Mariza (Fado Tradicional, EMI). Each a big winner.

We're trying to get all of them for ICP (Insane Callas Posse).

The gegalowz would be so down with that.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mariza, Fado Tradicional, EMI

In the edition I own of a wonderful book Fado Português: Songs from the Soul of Portugal the picture facing the index is a picture of the legendary fadista Amália Rodrigues performing at a traditional fado bar accompanied by a Portuguese guitarist. Place Mariza in this picture instead and that is what you get with Fado Tradicional. I could witness such a performance, never see another and be satisfied.

Her previous CDs have included cuts like this, the voice that soars, implores and makes one think of Maria Callas here and Ella Fitzgerald there in concert with only the traditional fado accompaniment of Portuguese and Spanish, or classical, guitars (plus, sometimes, a bass guitar). As often, however, we have heard her accompanied as well by a symphony, African drums, a blusey, jazzy trumpet and her singing has reflected all of this (and more), although always fado as its core.

On this CD, fado is the main dish, spiced by her range of influences, but fado as Amália, and many others, as fervently if not as fabulously or famously, have served it up in the little tavernas of Mouraria or Alfalma. You feel them, the bars and the singers, in traditional tunes, traditionally rendered, like Promete, Jura (Promise, Swear), Rosa Da Madragoa (Rose of Madragoa) and Desalma (Soullless). Still, perhaps even more so, amidst the simplicity of the rendering and of the array of instruments surrounding her, I marvel at the command she has of that voice (check out Mais Uma Lua, Another Moon, or Dona Rosa) and gain in the process a new appreciation of her skill as a fadista. Essential Mariza. Essential fado.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Maria Callas, 100 Best Classics, EMI

So right now you can buy this 6-CD set on Amazon for $9.94 and I cannot conceive of anyone who is financially able not being tempted to do so. I don't care whether you like rock, rap, country, folk, reggae, salsa, tejano, fado, the blues, jazz, whatever. I don't care if you don't know a thing about opera or think you hate it.

You will spin these discs and you will sit there and you will think, or even say out loud, the gods surely designated this woman as a singer because there is no other explanation for it. And there isn't one track less than "wow" in the whole collection--100 cuts, never anything below stellar. That's unnatural.

Earlier today, I was listening to a Thelonious Monk CD titled The Transformer in which we get to hear Monk teaching himself the tune I'm Getting Sentimental Over You and then remaking it as his song, still something like the original and, yet, so much more. This is what Maria Callas does in all 100 songs in the collection here cited. Makes you glad to have ears and to be alive to use them.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Henry doodles, and I love it

2010 holiday email card from the great Henry Grimes. I look forward to these every year and to whatever music Henry produces in the year following.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Like my old dad used to say...

How do you know you know what you know? The answer, as dad knew, was sometimes you don't--if you take an honest look at that position you're so stridently sure of (and yeah, I'm talking to you Tea Party wingnuts). This, for instance:

"History records that President George W. Bush, who inherited a $236 billion government surplus from the Clinton administration in 2001, handed President Obama a stacked deck eight years later. The Congressional Budget Office's projected budget deficit for FY2009, beginning four months before Obama took office, was already in excess of $1.3 trillion. Indeed, the 2011 budget deficit is projected to be ever-so-slightly lower than the one Bush left on the White House doorstep. Despite the one-time $787 billion economic stimulus (spread over three years), no huge growth in government spending has taken place on Obama's watch. Three proximate causes of the rising national debt remain: the Bush tax cuts of 2001, his unfunded Medicare drug benefit, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

More in this succinct, informative commentary.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Robbie Hummel gone, Purdue barely Top 25

Reality: 2 potential NBA players still on team, 5 guys 6-5 to 6-10 to fill the gap, 1 junior point guard who's started 3 years. Let's say Robbie was going to average 20 and 15 this year, which is high. You're telling me Matt Painter can't get 4 points and 3 rebounds out of 5 replacements (realizing some will do more than others)? Defensively, 25 fouls to spend, which should allow them to be aggressive; smart, hopefully, but aggressive. Moreover, a diverse group, which could allow Purdue to really take advantage of favorable matchups.

None of that takes into account improvements by the other 2 potential All-Americans on the team (likely), two highly rated freshman guards, and a couple experienced juniors on the bench.

And people are saying they're barely still worthy of a Top 25 ranking? You just keep thinking, Butch, that's what you're good at. --The Sundance Kid

I kind of like it, though, because it may piss them off and motivate them further.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Ana Sofia Varela, Fados De Amor E Pecado, iPlay

So I was listening to my man John Prine today and, let's face it, John Prine is not the world's greatest singer. Mostly, he more or less talks through his songs in a sing-songy way and the point isn't his pristine or rangy voice but the words and the feeling with which he delivers them. True, as well, of the late (and lamented, in my house) Harry Chapin or Mr. Tom Waits. True also of my favorite male fadista Alfredo Marceneiro, whom I hear in Ana Sofia Varela singing Quase Um Anjo (Almost An Angel), Estranha Vontade (Strange Will), O Corvo (The Crow) and a lot of other places.

She does not sing in the precious tones of Amalia or generate the aural and emotional roller coaster that is the singing of Mariza. She does not make me think of a powerful blues shouter like Jimmy Rushing, as Carminho does. But she sings captivating, expressive, emotive fado as appealing to me as John Prine doing Sweet Revenge, Harry Chapin doing A Better Place To Be or Tom Waits doing Closing Time.

Her voice is prettier than those dudes, but the end result is the same: good tunes, and better stories, well told. The album title means fados, essentially fates, of love and sin.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ralph Towner, Paolo Fresu, Chiaroscuro, ECM

Chiaroscuro is art characterized by contrast between light and dark and here, I would have to say, Towner's guitar is the dark and Paolo's trumpet and flugelhorn are the light, which is maybe not what I might expect, although in point of fact neither is all that dark nor overly bright. Mostly, this is very peaceful music, bordering on classical, Sacred Place for instance, particularly where Towner's playing is concerned.

Paolo, as always, makes me think of Miles, not in an imitative sense, also as usual, but as a logical extension by a man with a horn who comes from the European tradition. Their rendition of Blue in Green is a perfect example and simply marvelous. Likewise the rest of this duo session, a format that gives them both plenty of room to work. Doubled Up makes me think of a two-man Jazz Messengers piece, or Miles and the second great quintet at the Plugged Nickel.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What he said

Now this is the guy I voted for and would dearly like to see more of.

WASHINGTON (AP) - After skirting the controversy for weeks, President Barack Obama is weighing in forcefully on the mosque near ground zero, saying a nation built on religious freedom must allow it.

"As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country," Obama told an intently listening crowd gathered at the White House Friday evening to observe the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances," he said. "This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."

Friday, August 06, 2010

Miles Davis, Agharta, Columbia

So I figure you like Miles in his electric period or you don't (and I do, as well as liking him during any other of his decisions to change music), but I think, if I were trying to turn someone onto it, I might suggest this.

Pete Cosey on guitar, bassist Michael Henderson, Al Foster on drums and Mtume generating percussion created a near-perfect soundscape for Miles' trumpet to interact with, recorded live, no less, in 1975 at what may be the last juncture that you can say he was at a height of his powers. Oh, he was very good later, but he kills here, as does the rest of the band, which you only have to listen to the fantastically diverse Interlude to get. Sonny Fortune on saxes and flute reinforces my belief that he's grossly underappreciated.

Blind Gary Davis, Harlem Street Singer, Prestige

Samson and Delilah, which has meaning far beyond the face value of the words, its marvelous singing and mesmerizing guitar playing justifies the purchase even if the 11 other tracks were mediocre, as they're not.

Take, I Belong to the Band, which is about as impressive as Samson with more than a minute less to work everything out, or Pure Religion, essentially a 2-minute, 57-second avant-garde gospel and blues piece. I mean to say, Albert Ayler would get it from one end to the other. The song, the concept, the whole damn thing. Death Don't Have No Mercy in particular.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Alejandro Escovedo, Real Animal, various

Back Porch, Manhattan Records EMI, but also Blue Note, if you notice on the back of the CD, which I notice because Alejandro makes me think of jazz as I have listened to him now through five CDs since developing a jones with his latest, Street Songs of Love. Nah, he's not a jazz musician. Except maybe he is at heart.

He assimilates stuff. I think of Springsteen and the E Street Band, the Sex Pistols, neither necessarily surprisingly, Muddy Waters and, for gods' sake, John Prine and even Randy Newman (Nuns Song) listening to this. Golden Bear, I'm thinking of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators. Not that he is really like any of them.

He bends forms to his own purposes. He does things you wouldn't expect. He slips in odd instrumentation (like the frigging hot violin--yeah, I said hot violin--that colors hard-rocker Smoke) and makes it work. He's frequently discordant and adept at manipulating tension and release, a la Monk and Miles, in his lyrics (Chelsea Hotel '78) as well as his musical structure. He knows how to work in a good sax solo, like on Sensitive Boys.

Rockin' for sure, but thoughtful, as well, the classical strings opening Hollywood Hills, for instance. Tom Waits would be down with the whole program, I expect.

Plays a damn fine guitar, I might add.

Friday, July 23, 2010

P!nk, Missundaztood, Arista

This has to do, what, with avant-garde jazz and the blues and reggae and fado, my purview? Well, it has this not exactly what you would expect thing going (take Respect), and it is generally discordant, lyrically as in My Vietnam if not always, but sometimes, musically in a Monkian sense. Likewise, the words are generally ironic, in, more or less, a Robert Johnson, Bob Marley or Albert Ayler (in Albert's case ironic sounds not words) sense (see 18 Wheeler). What I perceive is that she is laying herself bare in her music, which when you think about is precisely what Miles and Coltrane did, or any good fadista does, and, hence, I respect it. Oh, and Misery, Aretha would R-E-S-P-E-C-T it. She could certainly sing soul well and kind of does here, like on Eventually, and I think she would be a fine fado singer, too. Gone to California is a blues. Which is to say, this isn't typical pop bullshit, but something I might, actually, listen to in 2111 and beyond.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Eddie Harris & Ellis Marsalis, Homecoming, ELM

This is as excellent a saxophone and piano duo pairing as People Time with Stan Getz and Kenny Barron, one of my all-time favorite jazz sessions (and People Time: The Complete Recordings, Sunnyside, 2009, which includes all seven sets from which the original was derived, is even better).

Here we have Harris, who really should be considered a tenor giant, and Marsalis, patriarch of one jazzy family and a stunning musician in his own right, on an out-of-print session from 1985 and reissued on the Marsalis family label with his son the stellar drummer Jason Marsalis in charge. Ethereal Moments, 1&2 is a track that really strikes me as revelatory because it could be taken as excellent 1) Third Stream music incorporating European classical forms and jazz or 2) advanced avant-garde jazz, neither of which you would necessarily associate with Harris, whose reputation suffers (unjustly in my my mind) from some of his more commercial efforts and Marsalis, at heart a New Orleans traditionalist. This is not, however, an out session (although some of the Harris licks on Zee Blues make the think: Archie Shepp). Ethereal, for example, is followed by an inside, but creatively Latinized, version of the Harold Arden-Johnny Mercer tune Out of This World, which is followed by a post-bop rendition of Darn That Dream, which would have struck a chord, so to speak, with the second great Miles Davis quintet, or Stan Getz and Kenny Barron for that matter.

The original clocked in at 42 minutes, so Jason Marsalis added four tracks with his father dueting with the young New Orleans pianist Jonathan Batiste in December 2009, a tasty bonus, and a final track, Blues at the End of the Session, with Ellis on piano, Batiste on melodica and Jason drumming that is a boffo blues and as good as anything else on what is a track-after-track gem.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

You can have my book when you pry it ...

I am reading the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot in the Kindle app on my iPad as I ride my exercise bike in the morning and it has me worried. More or less on a lark, I opened it in the Kindle app on my iPhone over lunch downtown today. The book came up in the exact place, the beginning of Chapter 36, where I left off on my iPad at the end of this morning’s ride at home.

That ability to keep track of my place through the ether is certainly a nifty trick. But think, I also carried the book with me without having to carry the book, or anything else other than what I normally carry--my cell phone.

Then there is the way I have bumped up the type size of the book on my iPad to make it easy on my not-as-young-as-they-used-to-be eyes, and the ease of turning the pages simply by swiping my index finger across the screen. Likewise, the iPad sits flat on the book holder that’s a feature of my bike and the pages don’t have to be clipped down to keep the e-book open, or unclipped to turn them. I don’t even have to turn on the reading lamp connected to the book holder; iPad backlight. Moreover, the Kindle book is hyperlinked in many places, for example to more information about DNA or historical incidents like the Tuskegee experiment.

So what worries me? I love books. When I moved into my condominium pretty much the second piece of furniture I bought, after a bed , was a set of bookshelves. I don’t think books are going anywhere soon, certainly not my books. But I also love bookstores, I love spending hours perusing them, even when I don’t buy anything (which isn’t often). I now have to think--given online sellers like Amazon, et al, and buy them, carry them, read them anywhere e-books--that brick and mortar bookstores will soon go the way of film cameras, record shops and video rental stores. You may be able to find one (I hold out hope for the kind of wonderfully overstuffed used bookstores I adore), but it won’t be easy, convenient or in every community of decent size. Technologist though I am, I dislike the thought nonetheless.

The other thing that bothers me about reading Immortal Henrietta in Kindle form is this: it’s a stunningly good book I would love to loan, or give, to someone else; great science journalism, great journalism period, excellent reportage and marvelous writing. But I have no easy (or legal) way to pass on my e-copy.

I’ll just have to go to the bookstore and buy copies for people.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Now I am really sorry I stayed up too late, got too lit and passed out on Alejandro Escovedo in Austin, Texas, that time because his new CD Street Songs of Love is better every listen I keep giving to it. Tender in places, tough in others, which is appropriate to the topic, great guitar play throughout (Street Songs rocks). Favorite track: maybe Fall Apart With You, kind of of doo-wop with an edge. But I dig it all.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Harpin' on it

I was hanging out around Fisherman's Wharf one time and ran across Dave Earl playing there and I have to say that on his CD S.F. Blues he plays some mean harp. I mean Little Walter mean, if you know what I mean.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Archie Shepp, Phat Jam in Milano, Dawn of Freedom

So I was thinking the other day I wonder what Archie Shepp has been up to and of course I Googled it and I found Archie here working with my man Napoleon Maddox, late of Iswhat?!, which might have been the best melding of jazz and hip-hop ever, and now I see they're severely, and correctly, bad-rapping George W. Bush and his era, rightly so, among other things, plus Oliver Lake, Joe Fonda and Hamid Drake are playing on this and I'm saying, damn, you talk about supergroups, gotta love it, and the saxophone playing kills, too.

Fred Anderson, Dark Day, Atavistic

Like The Missing LInk this is a 1979 session, recorded live in Italy, but with the addition of another horn, Fred's musical compadre trumpeter Bill Brimfield, which offers a different view of Fred at his heights.

Fred's marvelous, inventive solos that sometimes make you feel like you're listening to sounds from another dimension are here in very healthy measure, in extended pieces barely clocking in at less than 11 minutes and running up to a half hour in a couple cases. Most striking to me, however, is what a good ensemble player Fred also was as he interacts with Brimfield, Steve Palmore on bass and, as on The Missing Link, his favorite drummer Hamid Drake, so young he's still listed as Hank.

As an aside, titles from Atavistic's Unheard Music Series, of which this is a part, are always excellent in my experience.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fred Anderson, The Missing Link, Nessa

I own a dozen CDs from the great Chicago tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson, who passed away at 81 Thursday. Almost any of the live sessions at Fred's Velvet Lounge is wonderful. (He was still playing wonderfully when I heard him on the occasion of his 81st birthday this spring.) But if I had to suggest a disk to turn someone on to Mr. Anderson for the first time, it might be The Missing Link.

It's a 1979 date with drummer Hamid Drake, the musician with whom Fred was maybe most symbiotic, the notable Adam Rudolph on percussion and on bass Larry Hayrod, who seems to know how to play with Mr. A about as sympathetically as Harrison Bankhead or Tatsu Aoki, two other bassists with whom Fred clearly dug playing.

More importantly, what you get is Fred at his most robust, sound fully developed, although he would tweak it for the rest of his life, and playing in a way that clearly illustrates his inventive straddling of Charlie Parker and Lester Young, his first influences, and Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, and beyond. I don't know that anyone else, any saxophonist anyway, with the possible exception of Sonny Rollins, has ever been better at tying together the idoms of bop and post-bop jazz of the late 1940s to early 1960s and the avant-garde jazz of the late1960s and the 1970s. And then he kept retooling it for the '80s, '90s and 2000s, always sounding modern, yet his roots in the tradition always evident. Fred's music may have been "outside," but it was never inaccessible and ever lyrical. I'll miss him.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Blue in Pres

Lester Young makes On the Sunny Side of the Street so blue it is darn near not the same song, and there is genius in that. The Complete Aladdin Recordings, Disc 2, Blue Note.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ana Moura, Leva-me Aos Fados, World Village

The title basically means take me to a fado house and, having been in a few, I feel qualified to say this is exactly what she does. You get kick-ass fado singing, sparsely accompained by guitarras and a bass here and there.

Ana is not Amalía, nor Mariza. Her voice doesn't regularly soar, it's rooted, earthy, in the same vein as Carminho's and I would not wish to be without either.

And here is the coolest thing about it. She sings Por Minha Conta and I, with my limited Portuguese, have no idea what that means without looking it up, at which point I find it more or less means On My Own, and I think, well, duh. The whole session goes like that. You just kind of know what she's singing about without even understanding the words she's singing (Talvez Depois, Perhaps Later, of course).

Or, put another way:

Why did you want to explain
what can only be felt
What are soul, light, mankind?
Why did you want to explain that?

Tell me, where is the sense
of something which has no sense
That which joins tears and laughter
Tell me, what sense is there in that?

From Crítica da Razão Pura, Critique of Pure Reason. Some things you know, and some things you just know. I just know this is really good fado, and really good music in general.

Anat Cohenn, Clarinetwork, Anzic

My daddy played the clarinet because Benny Goodman, the rock star of my daddy's day, not to mention Artie Shaw, the Stones to Goodman's Beatles, played the clarinet. But most people have been playing it the same way since, or like Johnny Dodds if they are rooted even further in the past, which is understandable. These guys were giants. Giants.

Nonetheless, variety is the spice of life and variety, in clarinet terms, is what Don Byron, born New York City, USA, jazz central, provides to, apparently, no end. Anat Cohen, residence NYC, USA, born and raised Israel, may be one-upping him, however, and isn't that a kick. Live last night, I heard her rework Fat's Waller's Jitterbug Waltz in a thoroughly modern, yet eminently logical, manner. On Clarinetwork, ably supported by Benny Greene, Peter Washington and Lewis Nash, she does it with Sweet Georgia Brown, Lullaby of the Leaves, After You've Gone and What a Little Moonlight Can Do, among other things.

St. James Infirmary is not Louis Armstrong's St. James infirmary, but rather, an adept extension of said (and bluesy as hell), which I could likewise say about St. Louis Blues (W.C. Handy and Bessie Smith would have dug this version) and Body and Soul (Coleman Hawkins himself would have been duly impressed). Every second of this session is interesting.

Roky Erickson, True Love Cast Out All Evil, Anti

If you know anything about Roky, how you can listen to Roky, as on Ain't Blues too Sad, sing about shock therapy and not be moved, or sing Please Judge (which has some cool SFX) and not be moved, I don't know.

You also get Goodbye Sweet Dreams, which has a decided 13th Floor Elevators cast to it, Be and Bring Me Home, which is almost a country ballad, and Bring Back the Past, which is a nifty rocker with some discomfiting lyrics of its own.

John Lawmman and Birds'd Crash are like classic surrealistic Roky circa Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog), while the title track kind of straddles the Elevators and Roky surreal. Forever, well, Forever, heck, Sam Cooke would have appreciated it, likewise a lot of guys who made careers building off of Sam Cooke. Think of as One is absolutely zen, and pretty jazzy as well.

So we waited a long time for this and for our patience what we got is, well, Roky. I myself am damn happy with the payoff.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Must-have brews

One of may favorite brewers commemorating the 40th anniversary of one of my most treasured albums by one of my all-time main jazz dudes (in which I am hardly alone), not to mention an international legend.

I will be drinking Bitches Brew, and listening to Miles Run(s) the Voodoo down yet again while doing it.

And probably doing the Pharaoh's Dance after two, too, Tutu.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A late valentine...

In my iTunes library are 36 instances of My Funny Valentine, which is, let's face it, a great song. Babs Streisand doing it, classic. Miles Davis instrumentally, classic, Chet Baker vocally and instrumentally, classic. Maybe the height of Chet Baker's checkered career.

But, I said God damn, nobody, I think, nobody, ever did it better than the blues- and stride-inflected and funk-eee version by Mr. Bobby Timmons on This Here Is Bobby Timmons, which you ought to own for numerous reasons besides.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Think it's about health care legislation, think again

"The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935."

From a Frank Rich op-ed in the NYT today with an interesting, and I think accurate, take on what's really at the root of the right-wing furor over a health care bill, whose prototype, he notes "is the health care legislation Mitt Romney signed into law in Massachusetts (that) contains what used to be considered Republican ideas (and) does not erect a huge New Deal-Great Society-style government program (but rather) delivers 32 million newly insured Americans to private insurers."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Not so blue

Every day I have the blues, unless I am listening to Elmore James sing Every Day I Have the Blues, or Sam Cooke singing Twisting the Night Away (and pretty much anything else), or Bob Marley and the Wailers doing No Woman No Cry, or Charles Mingus wishing Oh Lord Don't Let Them Drop that Atomic Bomb on Me (or anyone else).

Everything's going to be alright (not all right).

Tony Monaco, Fiery Blues, Summit Records

Ashleen absolves me of my sins.

Crosscut Saw explains why (kind of like the Sermon on the Mount).

The Hooker is my way home because, hey, no sin, cast the first stone, mofo, and if you're honest, you don't throw it, unlike, say, Glenn Beck.

By Stormy Monday I say Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy on me, or not, I'm still standing, even if it is All Blues.

The Preacher preaches and the B3 will set you free. But not too soon.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Amen to that brother

A party that promotes ignorance and provides a safe house for bigotry cannot serve the best interests of our country. Little teaser from this great op-ed by Bob Herbert in the NYT today.

Look, I respect your right to disagree with your elected officials and to voice your disagreement. That's democracy. But when you condone--and you do condone it if you don't condemn it--humiliating someone suffering from a debilitating disease, shouting racial slurs at a man (in fact, a hero) who was beaten and jailed in the process of making sure we all could vote, and broadcasting assassination threats against members of Congress and the president, you are morally decrepit.

Want the elected officials you disagree with gone? Fine. Vote, and build and distribute (anybody can do it in the Web 2.0 era) reasoned and reasonable arguments to get other people to vote with you.

In the process, I would respectfully suggest you keep in mind these words of advice from my grandmother: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Thelonious Monk, The Transformer, Explore Records

I was sitting at the bar in a Chicago jazz club one night and heard some guy opine that while Monk was a great composer, he couldn't play the piano: wrong, as this set so aptly shows.

Monk, in fact, was a masterful piano player who could play in any style (as Horowitz and many other pianistic big hitters recognized) and he was particularly good at stride, which underlies, and sometimes not very deeply, so much of what he does.

But he chose to play his way and there was a disciplined methodology behind his rendering of his own compositions and his transformation of standards, pop tunes and songs penned by other people generally.

And so to The Transformer, two CDs on which Monk, for one hour, seven minutes and eight seconds plays exactly one song, I'm Getting Sentimental Over You, while we get a what is to me a fascinating window into his process and a deeper understanding of his musical mind. On the first CD, from home tapes by his wife Nellie, we hear him learning the song (rather quickly, I would add), transposing its key to his preferred E flat and getting a feel for its structure and the tempo he will use. By the fourth track he has it dripping in stride and has begun to improvise on it; then on, over, under and around it in the 28-minute fifth take and the 18-minute sixth.

The sound is quite good and the practice takes are followed by three live performance recordings of Monk's quartet ranging from seven to 12 minutes and offering different perspectives on the finished product. What amazes me, and it probably shouldn't, is just how incredible Monk was even when practicing. I say it probably shouldn't amaze me because what he produced obviously didn't happen by magic. It took a lot of work leading to a lot of finely developed skill.

As an aside, if you want to understand Monk's music and his life, you probably can't do better now than Robin D.G. Kelley's recent Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, which hipped me to The Transformer. The book is an exhaustively researched biography and a great read.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Louis a little later

The Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, 1925-29, are classics, yes, but JSP's Louis Armstrong: The Big Band Sides 1930/32 is filled with great music and primo Pops, both singing and playing that horn. Shine is a classic itself in the case of the latter to the point of almost being scary, especially if you think what it's doing to his lip.

He recasts another classic, Tiger Rag, and puts his stamp on a classic that wasn't one yet, Body and Soul (which won't be classical until Coleman Hawkins and Billie Holiday come along). There is incredible sadness in the way he sings Just A Gigolo and the words he deploys improvisationally, but he won't leave you in the dark and his zippy trumpet solo lights the way out.

Also includes an early version of When It's Sleepy Time Down South, destined to become his performance closer, not to mention some early solos on an unusual instrument for jazz (at that time) called the vibraphone by a guy named Lionel Hampton. Two great CDs at a great price.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

From a guy who really, really needs access to health care

"One of the things I love most about Japan is the public health care system. When I feel bad, I can go to the doctor without going bankrupt or worrying that my insurance company's going to drop me."

A comment, which highly amused me, by Jake Adelstein, a Jewish kid from Missouri who ended up as an investigative reporter in Japan covering the yakuza, the Japanese mob, at considerable potential threat to his health, not to mention his life.

That's Japan, mind you, a notably socialist nation. Oops. Never mind...

Health care reform debate aside, Boing Boing has an interesting interview with him.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Turns me on

Hey, I'll admit it, Tatum O'Neal and Jodie Foster have always turned me on.

But never as much as Art Tatum playing Humoresque, Piano Starts Here.

Or Paul Gonsalves in chorus after chorus on the Complete Ellington At Newport 1956.

Which is Fair & Square if I'm not Crazy as a Loon (in the CD title and words of my man John Prine).

Stuff you need to hear

The Real McCoy, Robert Nighthawk, Live on Maxwell Street 1964.

I was live on Maxwell Street once. Not in 1964. I had a great pastrami on rye, though, heard some good blues and thought about buying some slightly used hubcaps. Didn't.

Also, They Called her Easy, Harry Chapin, Short Stories. I've always been kind of easy and partial to short stories, apologies for that hundred-inch train thing I wrote once.

And Sonny Rollins Isn't She Lovely (yeah, that one), Easy Living.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Eleanora Fagan, Dee Dee Bridgewater, DDB Records

Dee Dee Bridgewater frequently makes me think of Billie Holiday on her new tribute to Eleanora Fagan (aka Billie Holiday), but she almost never makes me think she's trying to sound like Billie Holiday rather than Dee Dee Bridgewater and that's what a tribute should do.

The sassy sprint through All of Me is as good an example as any. A couple exceptions might be Fine and Mellow and God Bless the Child and even her renditions of said are hardly imitative. I think it is just that Billie Holiday so "owned" those songs it must be hard to do them now without a little of her creeping in. James Carter does some magnificent sax work on both tunes and throughout this CD (also bass clarinet and alto flute), which I bought in large part because of the backing combo Bridgewater assembled for it with Carter, Edsel Gomez on piano (and arranging), Christian McBride on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. Talk about a super group.

The version of Strange Fruit is fresh, dramatic and nearly as gripping as Billie Holiday singing it. Full CD title: Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959) To Billie with Love from Dee Dee Bridgewater. You feel that love, too.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

John Prine, Great Days, Rhino

Anthology with all the good stuff through The Missing Years in 1991, including classics like Illegal Smile and That's The Way That the World Goes 'Round (informally known as Half an Echilada) and some things I haven't heard him go back to lately but miss, The Late John Garfield Blues comes to mind and Come Back to Us Barbara Lewis Hare Krishna Beauregard. I'd forgotten Saddle in the Rain, an ill-advised pairing of Mr. John with a disco beat in back of him, which somehow works nonetheless.

Occurs to me that with John Prine, as with Harry Chapin or, for that matter, Louis Armstrong, it isn't how great his voice is but how he deploys what he's got and on what. In the matter of the latter, the choices on this 2-CD set are impeccable.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Words of wisdom...

...from Art Pepper.

"If you can't play this and play the shit out of it, on horn or drums or anything else, don't play." Speaking of Cherokee, The Complete Village Vanguard Sessions.

And he plays the shit out of it, and mostly everything else, too. He was in a bad way from a substance abuse perspective when he made this, living on the edge and the music, likewise, is almost always on the edge in the truest sense of the term. Sad thinking about his life, but he's scintillating playing in the moment.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Bugge Wesseltoft, Playing, Jazzland

Highlight: Take 5 stripped down to its blues, that's right, blues, roots, which is interesting because Bugge sticks pretty much to piano, with some well-placed drum machine licks and a few other electronic flourishes later in the piece. Interesting because this CD is largely about Bugge doing it all, à la Keith Jarrett, in a solo piano outing but mixing in (post-production, I assume) the computerized effects he's known for incorporating into his "new conception" of jazz, his vocal manipulation on Singing a prime example.

Then again, Talking to Myself (Part One and Part Two) are about as pure a solo piano ballad à la Jarrett as you can get, offset after by effects-oriented Rytme and Hands, the latter possessed of a decidedly bluesy cast. Jimmy Cliff's Many Rivers to Cross he turns into a peaceful, piano-only gospel tune. A gem of a CD.

Horace Tapscott, The Dark Tree, hatOLOGY

New Hat Hut reissue of a 1989 live recording maybe legendary only among fans, this reminds me of Miles' second great group with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock in its level of sophistication (see Live at the Plugged Nickle) and its skirting of the limits of conventional jazz without drifitng into late Coltrane or Art Ensemble of Chicago territory. John Carter's clarinet and Tapscott's piano are essentially classical, albeit in a jazz context, on parts of the first set version of The Dark Tree, a 20-minute opus that I think maintains the intensity of a Jazz Messengers' performance (pick one, with Art Blakey driving they were pretty much all intense). In this case, Andrew Cyrille on drums and Cecil McBee on bass lay the perfect base for Tapscott and Carter, and get in some good solos as well. It's particularly interesting to hear Cyrille play in more of an "inside" context than usual for the free jazz drumming icon. He swings throughout. Blakey would have been down with Sandy and Niles on the second CD, too. Carter makes me sorry the Messengers never used a clarinetist. I hear a different Art, Tatum, in Tapscott's solo.

On Sketches of Drunken Mary, Tapscott shows some Monk influence in a lengthy and impressive solo but at a speed a lot faster than Monk typically employed. McBee's solo response to Tapscott's call is just great bass playing in which he employs the instrument's entire palette judiciously. Likewise on CD two's Barvarian Mist. The level of synchronicity Cyrille and McBee generate with Tapscott on Lino's Pad stuns. Listen for Tapscott's quoting of Greensleeves around seven minutes in; there's a Sonny Rollins-style cleverness in the way he slips it into the mix. Carter playing the clarinet strikes me as a window on what Artie Shaw would have sounded like had he played in the 1970s, '80s and '90s instead of the '30s, '40s and, briefly, '50s. Until Don Byron and Anat Cohen came along, I can't think of any clarinet player both this skilled and modern sounding. One for Lately features Tapscott (well comped by Carter) in a pianistic display of Coltrane-like sheets of sound. At the end of 2010, I may look back on this as my favorite purchase.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Katia Guerreiro, Tudo Ou Nada, Le Chant du Monde

Ser Tudo Ou Nada, the title track per se, is perfect fado in the way she uses her voice and the guitarras behind her, Paulo Valentim on Portuguese guitar especially. Likewise Vaga and Quando.

Classify Muda Tudo, Até O Mundo as a wonderful zippy fado in the vein of Fadinho Da Ti Maria Benta, Amália style. Her matter-of-fact delivery on Canto Da Fantasia reminds me of Alfredo Marceneiro and in general she tends to be less a drama queen than a purveyor in song of life's ironies, although she can be dramatic when called for as well.

She is surely one of the best younger fadistas working today and in Mariza's neighborhood. Absent Mariza, I could certainly deal with a diet of Katia and Carminho.

Masterful the first time

Well, the wheels are clearly off for these Beatles guys I discovered. I have to think that The Beatles Past Masters, basically two CDs of alternate takes, is it for them as a group. Like I said in respect to their last CD, Let It Be, having exhausted, for now, the possibilities in their group sound, their next step is probably careers as leaders individually, kind of like Miles Davis separating from Charlie Parker's group or, later, John Coltrane stepping out on Miles.

Still there is something to be said for this collection. The somewhat stripped down, to my ear, versions of, for example, From Me To You, Thank You Girl, Long tall Sally, I Feel Fine or Revolution offer a different perspective on those songs. It isn't as radical a shift as jazz musicians routinely make in recasting tunes, but noticeable. They did some business early on in Germany and the German-language versions of I Want Hold Your Hand (Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand) and She Loves You (Sie Liebt Dich) make for amusing interludes. I Call Your Name has a more prominent blues cast and Slow Down shows off its boogie-woogie roots more prominently. Call The Ballad Of John And Yoko rockabilly and You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) boffo performance art.

We can only revel in what they've done, which is marvelous, and hope they work it out, don't let us down and get back (with Billy Preston) to where they once belonged, which is together, like Duke and Johnny Hodges, although, Christ, you know it won't be easy.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Mariza speaks

Nice interview with Mariza ahead of her U.K. tour, in which she quotes Dizzy Gillespie, talks about making music with Wynton Marsalis and expresses her admiration for Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, among others.

On growing up in Mouraria, the traditional wellspring of fado:
"If (the people of her neighborhood) are very sad they are very deeply sad. If they are in love they are deeply in love, everything is conducted in a very emotional, dramatic way. So they spent lots of time singing, or listening to music in their houses, and I was there listening too, and singing. It was like instead of having a doll I was having music to play with. At the beginning I never saw it as anything other than that. I was just singing because I loved music and I wanted to do something that made me feel good. It’s the same today. I’m there because of the passion that music makes me feel."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Von Freeman, Inside Chicago Vol. 3, SteepleChase

I bought it for Vonski on tenor, and Dr. Freeman is always worth the price of admission. But I have to say Paul McKee on trombone and Ron Perrillo on piano really flesh this out and make it special.

On Blue Moon, which they render as wonderful, bluesy (appropriately) and soulful post-bop jazz, Brad Goode on trumpet adds a nice solo, too, followed by a standout romp from Mr. F.

Standards mostly (memorable runs through Star Eyes and What Is This Thing Called Love) getting extended treatment live at the Green Mill in 1993. As good as the solos are, the ensemble play is outstanding. I wish I'd been there, but this is the next best thing.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lila Downs, El Alma De Lilia Downs, Narada

She may not be a fadista per se, but her interlude Homage to Lucília do Carmo in Carlos Saura's film Fados is a highlight of the movie and this CD is one highlight after another, none, maybe, and ironically, more magnificent than what she does with La Cucaracha, which begins as kind of heavy metal thing, meanders along a Tito Puente path, and then ends up as, basically, a Latin rap. In any event, it has little to do with the goofy song I, we, learned whenever.

Somebody was really thinking about the selection here. Everything before La Cucaracha builds up to it and everything after kind of builds on it, or sounds as if (see Diginificado or Arenita Azul). It's all, that is to say, good and, often, excellent, albeit unofficial, fado. Check out Paloma Negra and La Martiniana, which makes me think of Ai Mouraria.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ana Moura, Guarda-me A Vida Na Mão, World Village

Preso Entre O Sono E O Sonho and Porque Teimas Nesta Dor and Quen Vai Ao Fado interest me because she renders them in the fashion of Alfredo Marceneiro, probably my all-time favorite guy fadista. Now, this is not a commentary on her voice because Marceneiro had kind of a Frankie Valli thing going (think Big Girls Don't Cry, et al), so it's not like her voice is disconcertingly, manishly deep or anything.

I am thinking more in terms of delivery, which is kind of matter of fact, with a hint of irony. This thing happens to me, it is sad, painful, whatever, but that's life, eh? You live and you learn. It's a great long as you don't weaken. Whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Gal fadistas, let's face it, tend to be drama queens, Amália and Mariza, prime examples. Which is fine, drama is good, music that's as gripping as Hamlet or Death of a Salesman is good, more often than not with Amália or Mariza, great (see O Gente Da Minha Terra, Mariza). And Ana Moura, as on Guitarra or Ás Vezes or, most notably, Lavava No Rio Lavava can be dramatic, too. But the change of pace in much of this CD makes it special, and it's what makes her a special fadista.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Amália Rodrigues, O Melhor De Amália, Edições

Com Que Voz, 1970, is one of her classic LPs, and maybe her greatest. Her voice is in a mature but masterful shape, every trick in her considerable bag at this point still fair game. The guitarradas behind her, Fontes Roches on guitarra Portuguesa primary among them, are masterful and the arrangements by Alain Oulman, who was her guy from an arranging perspective, also are masterful. But who has a record player now, if you can even find the record? And the CD came out long ago, too, so try finding that for less than $100, used.

Or you can buy this 2007 compilation, which includes 7 of the 12 tracks from Com Que Voz, many tracks from other hard-to-find sessions and numerous best-of cuts from CDs you can still find (56 songs in all, mostly '60s and '70s, followed by '50s and a few '80s, so mostly prime decades for her). In fact, I might suggest these 4 CDs as the perfect collection of Amália if you are going to have just one. Then again, like the old potato chip commercial, try sticking with just one after this one. Not too easy, particularly after Maria Lisboa or the incredibly gripping Trova Do Vento Que Passa and Gaivota (Seagull) from Com Que Voz, the title track from which appears here as well, bordering on overwhelming. Com Que Voz, it means with what voice; her voice, and an addicting voice it was.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Rosa Negra, Fado Ladino, ARC Music

My opinion, the fadista here, Carmo, is quite good but not great, although Meu Amor, Meu Amor (My Love, My Love, and I came up with that translation on my own, without looking it up, which means my Portuguese is getting better) could change my mind.

That aside, the big thing is the instrumentation--trumpet, violin, piano, accordion, percussion and more--behind her, which seems to me to draw on European-style chamber music and Middle Eastern themes, which is fine, because fado has roots in said. (Check out Esta Pena De Ser Eu to see what I am talking about).

There are in evidence no guitarras, contrary to the fado tradition, and since this is supposed to be an example of novo, or new, fado, that's not bad. Still it is fado, whether Na Dança Do Meu Fado or the weird, dare I say Monkian, rendering of Barco Negro. OK, not, like, strictly traditional fado, but pretty darn interesting and maybe a nice entry for new-to-fado listenera.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Fado humor

Because if you really dig something, you need to be able to laugh at it, too, as a matter of perspective. Graphic novel and movie adaptation to follow.

So be it

OK, these Beatles guys I discovered are just playing with me on Let It Be, their new CD. I mean, I Me Mine is a frigging hard rockin' tune but it has, like, this orchestra floating behind it. What the heck is that about?

Then you get this kind of bizzarre musical ditty and word play followed by the title track, a song clearly intended for a church choir on the one hand with some kick-tail wailing guitars on the other and lyrics, in either context, just dripping with meaning. Lucille Bogan would have no problem with Maggie Mae, although I'm relatively sure she wouldn't apply a Liverpudlian accent to it. Chuck Berry would dig One After 909. I can see Sinatra, or Billie Holiday, making hay with The Long and Winding Road.

The thing that worries me is that I don't know where these guys go from here. I mean, they can never get back to where they were earlier in their collective career and why would they? Like Miles Davis, only in a pop context, they're musical seekers and I'm inclined to think they're probably at the point where the next logical step is to start seeking beyond the context of the group. Which is kind of blue for you and me.

Amália Rodrigues, Live In Japan, Música Latina

May of 1986 and her voice is no longer one of the most perfect voices heard ever. Soon, it will sound more like 10 miles of bad road, albeit no less emotive. Here, it probably sounds like five miles of bad road, but still no less emotive. She makes me think of William Goldman's description of Bronko Nagurski, his career near an end, running yet. "This old man starts forward and they're braced and he jumps sideways at them, the old man flies at them and they parted like water and he was through and the rest of the game was nothing." She sings Don Solidon without the fluidity of her youth, sure, but she bowls you over nonetheless. Ricardo Gonçalves, Antonio Molicas and Joel Piñto on the guitarras behind her are stellar.

The wonderful music aside, the other thing I really love about this is her obvious rapport with the audience, which is Japanese, remember. She spins up Uma Casa Portuguesa and they immediately applaud. They know the song and they know her. She gets them to sing along more than once and speaks to them with some frequency, in English as a language in common. On Coimbra (April in Portugal) and Lavava, for example, the interaction is simply darling.

And now and then, as on Malhão, she throws down like it was 1950. See Uma Casa Portugesa, the CD not the song, from this Dutch label as well, which includes a set of 1945 recordings from Brazil and her Town Hall Concert in New York in 1990, a fascinating contrast.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Damn, and I always wanted to be a roustabout

The 200 best and worst jobs in the U.S. in 2009 based on five criteria -- environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress. This according to a newly released study from job site I won't depress good friends of mine, and myself, by listing where newspaper reporting is ranked. But historian is No. 5 Prof. Dewar.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Mariza at Tasco Do Chico

If she had been there when I was, I wouldn't be here, because I would have jumped in the Tagus after, figuring, hey, how could life get any better.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Jokers, doing what they please...

That's these Beatles guys I discovered on their new CD Abbey Road, which must be some street in Liverpool, where they're from, although I have to say it pleases me, please, nonetheless.

So said, despite this being another one of the diversely odd collection of jags they're on since the unified theme they built on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Abbey Road is much like the white-covered The Beatles two-CD set, their last issue.)

Come together is a rock tune but with some surrealism to it, followed by the ballady tune Something and then Maxwell's Silver Hammer, which is an old-timey music hall ditty, assuming Rob Zombie was directing the show. I'm kind of thinking Octopus's Garden was left over from Yellow Submarine.

Then you get I Want You (She's So Heavy) and you're thinking, well, this is a bluesy thing continuing along the diversity path and it turns out it and everything after it, with a bit of a jarring transition (and there's some genius in that) to Here Comes The Sun are pieces of a musical mosaic, certainly from Mean Mr. Mustard on, including the wait-for-it track Her Majesty. It's all kind of stunning, not unlike, in a jazz context, Miles Davis' landmark Kind Of Blue, stuff so good you just let it be.

It's the guitarra stupid...

So a big reason I have fallen too much in love with fado music is the Portuguese guitarists behind so much of the best of it. In the tradition, a fadista, a singer of fado, woman or man, is backed by two guitarradas, players of the guitar, one a Spanish or classical guitar, which is basically your six-string acoustical model, the other a 12-string Portuguese guitar akin to a lute or mandolin, higher in pitch and more readily, it appears to me, played at high speed.

Which is how António Bessa plays in it impressively on Rapsódoa Portuguesa in the collection Fado from Membran Music, 10 CDs I bought on eBay for $14.95 and maybe the best value I have gotten from anything ever. (See also the great Jamie Santos on Danças Portuguesas or A Minha Guitarra.) Frankly, if I had paid $14.95 for the cut of Lenita Gentil singing Fado Para Este Noite (Fado For This Night) I wouldn't have felt at all bad about it. If you have any interest at all in learning anything about fado and see this for $14.95, or just like exploring different kinds of music, buy it.