Posts filed under “Friday Night Jazz”
It’s that time of year again!
Following our successful outings the past four years, we’re at it again. Our (belated) Different Kind of Top 10 Music List for 2008.
There are a gazillion Best of Lists out there (and one list to rule them all). Most of these lists aren’t relevant to adults (yes, I am now putting myself into the category of adult, about 26 years late). If you have a family, career, hobby, you probably don’t watch a ton of films or listen to 200 new CDs each year.
Hence, this list. Rather than cranking out yet another list of CDs you likely never even heard of (much less even heard), this is a more useful list: What a relatively informed music fan has been playing the hell out of all year. These are what was most frequently spinning in the car/ipod this past year — my personal soundtrack for 2008.
Let’s get busy:
• Elvis Costello & The Imposters Momofuku: One of the greatest rockers of all time returns to form. This disc reminds you why Elvis was so great — hard edged yet hook laden, rock-n-roll with catchy tunes, and as Elvis always does, lyrics that are both witty and acerbic. His none-too-subtle wordplay remains as clever as ever.
Is Costello really that curmudgeonly Englishman? His recent US television appearances (A Colbert Christmas, ) somehow belies the acerbic anger of his music. Perhaps writing whimsical melodies as counterpoints is the way he exorcises his raging demons.
Regardless, much of this disc sounds like the The Attractions have reunited, none the worse for the passing of the years. The classic early-Attractions organ, the driving rhythms all give Momofuku its familiar feel. I am a huge fan of Elvis, but especially the early work: My Aim Is True, Armed Forces, and This Year’s Model. No Hiding Place, American Gangster Time, Flutter And Wow, Stella Hurt and Pardon Me, Madam, My Name Is Eve could have fit in easily on any of those classic discs. Its a return to his 1977 song writing punk, and is Costello’s most straightforward album since Punch the Clock.
This CD has the added attraction (no pun intended) of being one of the most overlooked albums this year.
• Herbie Hancock River: The Joni Letters: Speaking of overlooked: The mellowest selection this year is this gorgeous stunner that slipped by nearly everyone. That is, until it won both Album of the Year and Best Contemporary Jazz Album atthe Grammy Awards in February 2008.
The disc is lovely — cool and richly textured all the way through. As both a pure Jazz disc, and as a reinterpretation (homage really) to Joni Mitchell, it is a delight to listen to. The guest musicians are terrific: Hancock’s delicate piano playing matches well with saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and they are joined by guest vocalists Leonard Cohen, Tina Turner, Norah Jones, Corinne Bailey Rae and Luciana Souza, as well as Joni Mitchell herself. The sublime recording perfectly captures the poignancy and melancholy of the songs in their languid new jazz format.
Trivia: Not only did this disc face stiff competition from Kanye West, Foo Fighters, Amy Winehouse, and Vince Gill, but River was the first jazz album to win “Best Album Grammy” in over 4 decades. The 1965 winner was the brilliant Getz/Gilberto (Stan Getz and João Gilberto). Time will tell if River has the staying power of Getz/Gilberto — but its off to a good start.
I guarantee that any jazz fan will find this disc a wonderfully enjoyable diversion.
• Death Cab for Cutie Narrow Stairs: One part King Crimson, One part Coldplay, 2 parts Ben Gibbard.
I find this album vastly more satisfying than 2005′s Plans, which was too uneven, but had a few great songs. Narrow Stairs is more open, consistent, and has less of a restrained formulaic feel to it. Like Plans, it has a few high points, but doesn’t suffer the same weaknesses of the last album.
The first two songs — Bixby Canyon Bridge and I Will Possess Your Heart — are immediately recognizable as Death Cab’s, but have have a harder edge and a better (for lack of a superior word) flow. No Sunlight is a typical DCFC pop song, as is Cath…
Where the disc really soars is on Grapevine Fires, a song I played compulsively all year. Its a gorgeous melody, deftly using subtle instrumentation and lush harmonies to full effect.
If this is what Chris Walla’s production does, he should have been used by Coldplay (rather than Brian Eno). No one is going to accuse this disc of being overlooked. It haunted me most of the year, with melodies I could not get out of my head.
Bonus — the MP3 version is $5.
• Adele 19: Imagine a smarter, sober version of Amy Winehouse, and you get Adele Adkins. Her voice is bluesy, rich, voluptuous. In addition to Winehouse, her other influences include the likes of Etta James, Dusty Springfield, and Billie Holiday. Those 4 alone are reason to give this disc a whirl.
The jazz influence gives her voice a timbre, almost a world-weariness, far beyond her 19 years. Much of the disc itself is spare, stripped down. You can only produce songs like “Best For Last” or “Crazy For You” with just a bass, a piano, and Adele’s vocals with a very special voice, and she delivers.
Despite being a technical virtuoso, she knows what to do with her instrument, as opposed to the histrionics of a Mariah Carey. For those who say she has no Winehouse influence, listen to “Chasing Pavements” or “Cold Shoulder”).
• David Byrne and Brian Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today I was such a big Talking Heads fan that I bought the last Eno/Byrne disc, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and actually listened to what was essentially an early experiment in mash ups, loops and recording technologies.
This disc is nothing like that earlier effort. First off, it was made to be listened to, a huge improvement over the prior effort. The new album is intriguing and surprising in how accessible and interesting the songs are.
Surprisingly, this is the closest to a Heads album we have heard from him since the end of the T-Heads. Given how prolific and eclectic Byrnes has been since then, that’s saying something.
Byrne himself has described the music as ”folk electronic gospel” to which I would add new age, pop and ambient.The music is slow-to-midtempo, and Eno’s effervescent sonic gloom always nearby. Yet despite this, the disc is uplifting. Its sublime, kinda bizarre — and very listenable.
Bonus: $5 MP3 download of the album too good a deal to a pass up.
I got off to a late start working on my annual “different” music list. I have about 10 discs this year that qualify, and I wanted to see what I missed over the last few months.
One thing that surprise dme were the number of discs I went to check out that they were all available in MP3 format at Amazon — 50 Albums for $5 dollars or less.
At the same price, I prefer the physical format — but at $5 and under, the MP3s are a no brainer.
Amazon has a number of promotions going on. One is 25 days of free holiday music in MP3 formats. I downloaded Calling on Mary by Aimee Mann, Midnight Clear by Andreas Vollenweider, Ave Maria by Heart, Coming Home For Christmas w/Victoria Shaw… by Jim Brickman.
100 Days, 100 Nights (Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings)
Strange Overtones (by David Byrne and Brian Eno)
Here’s a few highlights from the increasing selection of reasonably priced ($5.00) downloads:
Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
David Byrne and Brian Eno
Viva La Vida
Well, given what a mad week/month this has been, and how overdue this is, its that time: Without further adieu, Satchmo:
I’m sure you’ve heard a Louis song or three: Hello Dolly, When the Saints, What a Wonderful
If that’s all you know of Satchmo, you are missing out. Considering his innovations as an artist — amazing song-writing skills, unique vocals, mastery of the Coronet and the Trumpet, especially his stratospheric solos — these well known ditties are practically boring.
Oh, and after he forgot
the lyrics on the 1927 song "Heebie Jeebies," he invented Scat singing.
He was one of the most influential musicians in jazz history, setting new standards for originality and invention.
There are a couple of ways to get to know the works of Louis Armstrong: The most basic is to grab one the Best Of discs. For those of you who want to go this way, try the The Definitive Collection.
The collector types are more inclined to go for the complete earlier years, including his various ensembles known in this box set: The Hot Fives & Sevens. (Note that Columbia version is considered a much inferior remastering: The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings).
But of all of the Louis Armstrong works out there, none are more delightful than the many duets he recorded with Ella Fitzgerald. Aside from the small fact that her voice is incomparable to any female jazz singer before or since, there is a strange and beautiful complementary combination that is so unique and incredible. I can listen to these all day long — they are unique works of art.
You can also check out Porgy & Bess soundtrack, but that is more for fans of that show.
(NOTE: There are all manners of different variations of these, so look at the song list before buying variations of the same album.)
From a WSJ article this past summer:
"From 1925 to 1928, bandleader and trumpeter Louis Armstrong led a recording group, known as the Hot Five and Hot Seven, through nearly 90 recordings. These tracks are now considered among the most seminal, enduring and influential recordings not only in jazz but in American music and include "Big Butter and Egg Man," "Hotter Than That," "Struttin’ With Some Barbecue," "Potato Head Blues," and "S.O.L. Blues." In these dozens of sides, Armstrong abandoned the traditional collective improvisation of New Orleans-style jazz and almost single-handedly transformed the music from a group art into an art form for the soloist. He left behind two- and four-bar breaks of earlier jazz in favor of entire choruses of improvisation. In the 1920s, Armstrong would, more than anyone else, take the role of soloist to new heights in American music.
Besides his technical mastery, what else set him apart? His big, beautiful tone; his rich imagination as a soloist; his perfect sense of time; his deep understanding of the blues; his projection and authority; and the force of his musical personality.
And he boasted a gift for personalizing the material he recorded, transforming it into music that is unmistakably his in sound and style and ownership. The essence of jazz — making something new out of something old, making something personal out of something shared — has no finer exemplar than Armstrong."
The most interesting Jazz album I have heard this year has been Herbie Hancock’s tribute disc to Joni Mitchell — River: The Joni Letters.
Mitchell’s poetic folk and jazz style lends itself well to a more pure jazz interpretation, and Hancock does just that. It does the material great justice.
Considering how fabulous the disc is, it sold next to nothing before winning a Grammy for Album of the Year — and not a whole lot more since. That’s a shame, as it is a cool delight. Perhaps last year’s messy and inconsistent A Tribute To Joni Mitchell is to blame… except for k.d. lang’s languid version of Help Me, the rest of the album was mostly a bust.
That’s a shame, because this album really deserves a chance to shine on its own. Hancock is a legendary jazz musician, keyboardist, and producer. His star-studded list of vocalists includes Corinne Bailey Rae ("River"), Norah Jones ("Court and Spark"), Tina
Turner ("Edith and the Kingpin"), Luciana Souza ("Amelia"), Leonard
Cohen ("The Jungle Line"), and Mitchell herself ("Tea Leaf Prophecy"). Saxophonist Wayne Shorter adds a smooth and mellow flavor throughout.
One of the highlights of the disc is River (see video below). Hancock creates a fine balance between jazz improvisation and adult pop. Listen to how he arranges this song, pulling its jazz essence to the fore, while Corinne Bailey Rae wraps her voice perfectly around this Mitchell composition.
Perfect for our Friday Night Jazz session . . .
Herbie Hancock featuring Corinne Bailey Rae – River
Saw ‘em live a few times, most recently on Wednesday night at the Beacon Theater. If you ever get a chance to see a concert in a small venue with large artists, its a very interesting experience (3rd row center doesn’t hurt either).
Their music is characterized by "complex jazz-influenced structures
and harmonies, literate and sometimes obscure or ambiguous lyrics,
filled with dark sarcasm." They are known for their "adroit musicianship
and studio perfectionism." (Wiki)
I was trying to figure out the best way to recommend material from The Dan — which albums you must own — but I simply cannot offer up anything better than the 4 CD box set.
Steely Dan are justly famous for their use of "chord sequences
and harmonies that explore the area of musical tension between
traditional pop music sounds and jazz." These 4 CDs reveal a musical dynamism that is unmatched in modern
music. The lyrics are sardonic,
engaging and humorous. Indeed, it is one of the greatest catalogues in the annals of
pop/jazz music history. That’s one reason why Steely Dan makes my short list of greatest American Rock and Roll bands. (Note that on Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums, Pretzel Logic is #385 and Can’t Buy a Thrill is #238.
Also of note: Citizen Steely Dan: 1972-1980 contains what may very well be the best Amazon review I have ever come across.
Your other option is to grab a few single discs. If I had to cut it down to just 3 CDs, here’s how I would roll: Surely, you can pick any of the five early Dan CDs — all are great — but my favorite is 1975′s Katy Lied ($7.97). The album saw took otherwise classic rock style songs, and arranged and played them in a jazz idiom. With Michael McDonald’s background vocals, the Dan infused a smoky Soul flavor. It was complex mashup of styles that worked wonderfully.
My second disc choice has to be the great Aja, a groundbreaking 1977 CD. It was a favorite of audiophiles, stunned recording engineers, oh, and dominated FM radio for a year. Aja was even more heavily jazz-influenced than Katy Lied, and was graced with top-notch jazz musicians: Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Wayne Shorter and Chuck Rainey.
Aja won numerous awards, shot into the Top Five in the U.S. charts within three weeks of release, and was one of the first American LPs to be certified ‘platinum’ for sales of over 1 million albums. It was that good. Aja is #145 on Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums. If I have any complaint about this slick disc, it was that the radio play was so overwhelming it became a bit played out way back when.
The third selection is Donald Fagen’s solo disc, The Nightfly (a previous Friday Night Jazz selection). Even if you get the Dan box set, you have to add this CD to the mix. The WSJ called The Nightfly "one of pop music’s sneakiest masterpieces" and I think that moniker fits well. The key to this is the music’s timeless quality. It was retro back in
1982, and over the years, has never grown to sound tired or even of a specific era. It remains fresh, even 25 years later.
Not only did the CD win critical acclaim amongst the jazz and pop
reviewers, but the disc delighted audiophiles of all stripes. You see, The Nightfly was one of the first fully digital recordings of popular music. Add to that the usual crisp, sleek production The Dan were famous for, and you have a recipe for a phenomenal recording.
Any of the above provides a rewarding aural experience. These are amongst the best music from the 1970s/80s era, and indeed of all time.
Before we jump to the videos, one little bit of trivia: Since both Becker & Fagen were avid readers of 1950′s "Beat" literature, they decided to name the band "Steely Dan" after a dildo in William Burroughs’ "Naked Lunch" . . .
videos after the jump.
I was searching out some of my favorite Jazz artists on YouTube, when I randomly stumbled across this video of Chet Baker. For those of you unfamiliar with Baker, he was a terrific Trumpet player who was later "discovered" as a wistful blues singer, specializing in ballads and love songs.
Chet Baker’s vocal style is unmistakably unique — my favorite
description of his his voice is "at times, it seems like he’s
hanging onto the melody by his fingernails." He seems at times half a tone off where you might expect him to be.
There is a lovely
melancholy, a gentle beauty, to the way he wraps his voice around a
song. The soft, simple sentiment embodied in his lyrical approach to ballads
can turn any song into a brooding lament.
There’s quite a few other videos at ChetBaker.net . . .
Either of these two CDs are good places to start exploring Baker’s works:
"His vocals were absolutely distinctive, sung in a high-pitched, even
fragile voice seemingly drained of emotion and yet possessing an
inherent charm, a detachment that might be both the antithesis of style
and its definition, whether it’s heard as sensitivity or indifference.
The singing is a double of his trumpet playing here, spare and barely
present but achieving much through nuance and suggestion. Pianist Russ
Freeman is an almost constant partner, supplying deft chords and
harmonic daring, amplifying Baker’s ideas. Their empathy is especially
evident in the beautiful instrumental "Moon Love," but it’s just as
significant on signature Baker songs such as "My Funny Valentine,"
"Let’s Get Lost," and "Like Someone in Love." –Stuart Broomer
New videos after the jump
It was a real eye opener: This clean, cool recording of lovely Latin melodies, overlaid with a delightfully dry, reedy saxophone that infused everything with a sophisticated flavor. That was Gerry Mulligan’s sound.
NPR radio described Mulligan as "the most influential baritone saxophonist in jazz."
But Mulligan was more than that — he was a
commanding composer, an innovative musician, someone who pushed boundaries, yet remained accessible and enjoyable to listen to.
Mulligan’s light and airy baritone saxophone was the epitome of the the "cool" jazz sound. Yet its amazing how easily he could interact with many other musical styles: Ben Webster’s blustery tenor (the epitome of a "warm" sound); Monk’s percussive, fractured piano rhythms and dissonant tunes; the sweet, subtle tension between Mulligan and Chet Baker.
You can pretty much grab any random Mulligan album (I put up a decent selection here) and not be disappointed. You will see scattered around a broad selection of different styles, eras, and musical cohorts.
Are you a Brubeck fan? Monk? Chet Baker? Webster? Desmond? Grab anything, sit back — and enjoy.
Mulligan became known for his writing and arranging skills in his teens. He wrote for Johnny Warrington’s radio band in 1944, and for Gene Krupa’s band two years later.
Mulligan hit the big time when he became known for his work (writing, arranging, and soloing) on Miles Davis’ defining album, "Birth of the Cool." Gerry’s compositions for this album included "Jeru," "Godchild," and "Venus de Milo," all songs that would remain in his repertoire long after the initial success of the album had died down. (This album launched and aided several careers of important jazz figures).
Mulligan’s last record came out as one of his most beautiful. Lovely tunes, clever arrangements, and understated fabulous players mark his last recording (John Scofield and
Grover Washington, Jr. play on this).
Mulligan Discography (massive PDF)