Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kindred Spirit

A short detour from the project for a quick look at a true music collector thanks to Very Ape Productions out of New York. I don't know anything about them, I ran across the video on Vimeo via Stumble. It's a nice portrait of someone who collected his music on purpose and through an even more dated medium. I have to say, I kind of hope he never is able to sell and instead able to restart the store/dream. Thanks to Sean Dunne for this portrait, and I hope he doesn't mind me embedding it here.

The Archive from Sean Dunne on Vimeo.

Day 16: Nat King Cole "Live at the Circle Room" Larry McCray "Born to Play the Blues"

Today is representative of just taking CDs home because I could. I knew I had to have some Nat King Cole and I in theory liked the blues, so home came these two different CDs.

This mentality is the chief contributor to the nature of the Albatross. I don't know if I ever honestly had the intention of listening to either of these CDs, but they were free and I had plenty of space in the Bus, so home they went.

There have been culls in the past, and somehow neither of these CDs were removed regardless of not having listened to them or even having the honest intention to do so. How could I get rid of a Nat King Cole album? And I had no idea what the blues CD sounded like, and didn't have the time to listen to it, so it got a stay too.

Well, today the CDs are redeemed as I at the very least give them the listening they deserved years ago.

Nat King Cole Trio
Live at the Circle Room
Right off the bat, I'm stunned at how many of these CDs are expensive now. This one new is almost $40, used $10.

This is a live broadcast of a radio program, apparently. There certainly isn't any of that "24 bit remastering" going on here. The recording is presented hiss and all, with all the clanking and chatting of the attendees in the background as well.

Wait, I have to stop here and make sure I just heard this set of lyrics right...

"Baby let bygones be bygones / I'll punch a hole in your nylons / because if you can't smile and say yes / please don't cry and say no."

I'll admit, I'm a little disturbed.

Anyway... this also has the announcer on the recording, something I looked for in my collection. I've been mentioning this and trying to figure out exactly what it is I expected to do with the recordings that had narration on them... honestly, I don't know.

The Singles buyer at the store would make mix tapes of top singles for in-store play every now and then, but, even better, he would make 'mix tapes' for other workers and each one of them was coveted. He had a knack for taking other tracks and mixing the music and sound effects in fairly awesome ways. He was doing mash ups long before the internet made me aware of them again. I'm not going to say 'before anyone else,' just before I knew of anyone doing them. The hands-down favorite was when he took the Star Wars book on tape from the moment Luke Skywalker destroys the Death Star and had that fade into the song Cocaine by JJ Cale. I have to admit I do pale imitations of those mix tapes now when I make a CD for someone, but his were absolute master pieces. To this day, I can't watch Star Wars without humming Cocaine at the end or hear Cocaine without thinking of Star Wars. So I guess my obsession with gathering these announcers was to emulate the master of mix tapes, our Singles buyer.

There is no drummer in this trio, just piano, bass, and guitar.  It's pretty much as you'd expect, Cole's voice is smooth and pleasant, the playing good. A trio of this nature doing the usually bombastic Basie piece One O'Clock Jump is a little strange. He repeats My Sugar is So Refined and Oh But I Do...I wonder if it's because he feels like no one is paying attention anyway - you can hear the crowd noise picking up in the background. A ringing cash register has become the replacement percussion.

I find myself trying to pick out conversations on the headphones, especially during the instrumental parts.

Larry McCray
Born to Play the Blues
Right off the bat there are two flags while I wait for this one to download. First, I'm always a little uneasy with blues artists who want the blues. I know this is an ambiguous point, but I prefer my blues to be a completely shitty situation that the singer doesn't want but what can they do, they got the blues right down to their bones.

Second is the Flying V guitar on the back cover. I can't help but associate that with cheese ball rock from the 80s. Let's see how this goes...

Well, after the initial fake out of the opening of the title track that, for a moment, led me to believe that it was going to be just him and the guitar, which would have been awesome, the 'big blues' sound isn't that bad, really. No horns so far, but a big Hammond B-3 sound and drums that are too closely miced.

There's a nice write up here in the liner notes, about McCray working the GM assembly line in Michigan while playing blues on the side before he 'made it', from Niles Frantz of WBEZ Chicago/FM...the station that This American Life comes from. That doesn't really have anything to do with anything, except now I have a kind of nerdy Ira Glass in my head telling me hard knock stories of the blues. I have to say, awesome. I would pay good money (or bad, I don't care) to watch Ira Glass, Bluesman.

See this is what I'm talking about, I Feel So Damn Good (I'll be Happy When I Got the Blues). I mean, I get it, he's so used to being down that he feels uncomfortable feeling up, but it just doesn't have the same pain-induced ring of someone down wanting to be up--fantasizing about driving big ol' Cadillacs instead of fantasizing about when he'll be bummed again. I guess there's a chance he spent a fair amount of time building Cadillacs, sort of would suck the joy out of that...

All in all, this kind of blues, the self labeled 'rock-blues,' takes too much pain to mention the blues. I Was Born to Play the Blues, I Feel So Damn Good (I'll be Happy When I Got the Blues), Same Old Blues, Worried Down with the Blues. Blues has never been shy of putting 'blues' in the title, but in rock-blues it always seems forced.

An interesting reversal from Stormy Monday, considering that Monday is going to be the traveling bluesman's day off after he gets paid, so it's a Sunny Monday. Nice take.

I'll grant that my 'complaints' amount to complaining that it's not exactly the flavor of Ben & Jerry's you like...it's still pretty good. If they were playing at the bar, I'd buy another beer and hear their second set.

One of the things you can hope for from this kind of blues albums is a good road song, and I Wonder is shaping up to be one, with it's opening guitar figure. That's key to a good road song, a good opening figure.

I like these little shifts that happen in the narrative, "You made me turn my back on my very best friend / and while my back was turned you were messin' around with him." I'm sure there's a term for that, where one turn of phrase is then turned to mean another one. I just don't know what it is, I just like it when I see it.

Awesome. Twice I dated a woman across a river, I could have used a song called That Woman Across the River...

I like it when the day's random selections have something line up, like songs about shoes or in this case, sugar based puns in songs about one's 'baby.'

Monday, August 30, 2010

Day 15: Jimmy Heath "The Professor" and Albert Ayler "Witches and Devils"

I think that what the Albatross is teaching me is that perhaps really jazz is too big. It really is. This might be true of all kinds of music. I'm sure if I dug enough I'd find that there isn't enough time in this world to absorb all the really good Klezmer music out there. (I seem to remember picking up Klezmer music...)

But jazz is too big. There is simply too much good stuff out there. You have to dedicate your life to absorbing all of the fabulous artists, and ultimately end up with an unmanageable beast of a collection for your troubles.

Today's two CDs are from artists I 'know' but don't really know. They're prolific, very present in the history of jazz, great players, I just don't know enough about them because I know Sonny Rollins, Branford Marsalis, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Paul Desmond instead. I may have only one album each from either of these guys and my collection is full of completely phenomenal and prolific players of whom I have exactly one CD. There may be no hope. It might just be that you can never really know jazz unless you make it your life's work.

Perhaps that's fair enough. You don't have to know every little thing about your entertainment. But every time I find one awesome recording that I should have known about I worry about all the ones I don't. It reaches a point where finding good recordings is actually worrisome.

Here's what is worrying me today:

Jimmy Heath
The Professor

I try and not look too many things up lest this turn into some digest of Wikipedia and random jazz reviews I manage to find in a Google search. The idea is to mainly write about what these CDs mean to me after having dragged them around with me all this time without really exploring them.

But from some reason it was important to look this one up, because it was a name that would have made me go "Oh yeah, that guy" - and then hope there were no follow up questions. Not the first time that the Albatross has done that to me in this process.

But also because I have started to try and do all the site building stuff like getting the MP3 player and scanning the cover after I started to listen to the CD so I don't sit and feel compelled to write things while I'm listening even though there isn't much to say. Because of this I have been listening and the recordings don't sound the same. Turns out this is a compilation from sessions in 1974, 1985, and 1987 released a year after he left the Aaron Copeland School for Music as 'The Professor.'

So the liner notes (strangely intact) lean heavily on the notion of learning jazz and the complexities of that. I hadn't realized that I learned jazz in a bit of nexus where more or less it had just been begrudgingly decided that you could in fact teach jazz. If jazz could be taught, it would lose some of its mystique. It was no longer that thing that came magically from the fingers of giants.

But that has always been ridiculous, as the liner notes concede. Charlie Parker studied the hell out of Stravinsky scores, and players studied other players to see what the were doing, what they had come up with. Formalizing that didn't take away the mystique because there is still an 'it' between the players that study the book and the truly great players. But there is no harm in giving those players with 'it' the structure they need to not have to re-invent the wheel just to get where they're going.

So Jimmy Heath, after playing with Miles, Milt Jackson, Cal Tjader, and more became a professor of jazz formerly in the way he would have been for any young player secretly taping his shows so he could take them home and transcribe them to find out what he did.

I hate finding out that awesome people were teachers only after they're done teaching. Not that I would have the nerve to actually try and be a student of awesome teachers because I would feel that "I'm not ready." Ultimately that constant feeling of not being 'ready' is what eventually undermined my foray into music.

I just realized I have been bobbing my head to this track without really thinking about it, turns out to be a tribute to Sonny Rollins. There are other tributes here, one to Ben Webster, one to the saxophone itself.

There is a lot of jazz guitar on this CD, which is always a little tricky. I either like it or I hate it. When I like it, though, I tend to really like it. In defiance of that, I'm okay with this guitar. It's pretty good, not that annoying tone that too many guitarists adopted I think in the 80s, transitions smoothly between a rhythm instrument and melody instrument.

Okay, CD, you have me. It has found my already documented weakness for goofy chanting on track with the droning "There's no end..." on the track naturally titled No End. Usually I find soprano sax taxing because it's harder to play than the people who pick it up like to admit, but Heath doesn't have the buzziness I usually associate with soprano sax. And, as I said, there's a chant. Tell me that Salt Peanuts isn't one of your favorite bop tunes and that it isn't because of the "Salt peanuts! Salt Peanuts!" yelled in the middle of the head. Unless of course you don't know 'bop' or the tune Salt Peanuts. In that case, check it out and tell me it isn't awesome for the above reason.

They avoided irony and did not end the CD with that track. Instead, it ends with one of the tunes I liked to play the most, Sophisticated Lady. Basically, I didn't know my scales and chord changes that well, so I learned a lot of ballads which I felt were easy to fake it on. There's a tuba on here, sounds like. The tuba got shafted in Jazz... it was there at the beginning and people use it from time to time but, as far as I know, there hasn't been a 'legendary' tuba band leader. Every other instrument got their moment in the sun, but the poor tuba toils in obscurity.

Albert Ayler
Witches & Devils

It's hard to believe but CDs really had a short run on center stage as the music medium of choice. When I started at the record store we still called it a record store, for one, and CDs were really only about a decade old. There were still hold outs coming into the store complaining about our diminishing audio cassette section and arguing that they didn't want to have to 'replace all of their tapes' (as if after you buy your CD player it would sneak around in the middle of the night and smash all players of outdated media.)

So one of the ways that CDs were sold was the increasingly 'detailed' digital remasterings. No movement of Moore's Law was too trivial to trigger the re-release of some marginally remastered catalog of a label's material. Jazz and Classic Rock got it the worst. Since the mine was richer over in guitar land the whole thing got much more comical with rock re-releases. Audiophile store regulars would call in like clockwork looking for that Boston or Kansas re-issue with the new-process-of-the-moment and bonus tracks of the five minutes the engineer left the mic on accidentally.

For jazz, though, it meant that some titles collecting dust on the shelves of a label's catalog got to see the light of day. And so this '24-bit remastered' Albert Ayler CD ended up in my collection.

This gap in my knowledge hurts the most because I love free jazz. After years of making fun of it, one day sitting down and letting John Coltrane's Om! play all the way through, I just got it. It helped that the music program I was enrolled in at college had been very focused on New Music, but it finally clicked with me and I've been a fan ever since. But if progressive jazz is hard to come by, free jazz is nearly impossible. Free jazz is what I played at closing time to empty the store.

And again, the covers don't help me. Free jazz artists don't meet me halfway by having an album cover with them pouring honey on their head while banging a trash can lid on an ice sculpture of the Mona Lisa to let me know the music inside is going to be the disjointed frantic collective improvisation that I've come to love from free jazz. Okay, I don't know that I would have guessed from that album cover either, but you have to admit, it would be hard to ignore.

This CD resisted the draw of others for 'bonus tracks' and remains only four tracks at a relatively brief 36 minutes. Frantic, wild, atonal minutes. The titles are consistent, there is a theme that Ayler was approaching. There is the title track, followed by the much shorter Sprites, then the longer Holy, Holy, followed by another short track, Saints.

This is something you see every once in a while from free jazz performers, where they suddenly pop into melodic mode as if to say, "See, I can do that too, I just choose not to." There is always pressure on a free jazz performer to prove they don't have to play free jazz.

This is pretty early in Ayers' career and in free jazz in general. It's really frantic. According to the liner notes he used a plastic reed usually reserved for members of marching bands or parents who are tired of replacing reeds. It's a unique and recognizable sound. I wish I had dug this up earlier.

But it was all just too big.

Week 2 in Review

I think that, transitioning from week one to week two, the most disturbing thing that I'm noticing is that the CDs that I bought on purpose are not holding up as well as the CDs that I just ignored. Some great progressive jazz has sprung up this week, which is a shame because it's hard to get exposed to that kind of stuff. You're not likely to walk into a hotel lobby and hear it. The best way is late at night on your local college jazz station.

Late at night the student DJs take over and one of two things happen: they either know their stuff and play some things you aren't likely to hear, or they have no idea and are grabbing albums at random and the same thing occurs. Or you have a huge amorphous collection of CDs following you around and you find new stuff that way. Or hey, read this blog--fewer storage issues and you don't have to twiddle away eight years at a record store...

I'm going to ape last week's format until I settle on how to go about this:

Top Hits: I'm going to have to go with James Carter and Archie Shepp, though I actually quite liked Stefon Harris/Jacky Terrasson. But I think the only ones making it to my diminutive MP3 player are the first two.

The misses are World Flutes 1 and Let's Go Bowling, I'm afraid. I don't know that I'd need to uncheck either, but I might not even notice that they were playing until I decided I really wanted to listen to something I wanted to listen to. I still feel bad about the World Flutes 1 thing, but ultimately it is what it is.

Most embarrassing is Vision, because of the memory of how much I whored myself for that ridiculous CD.

Most revisited was Archie Shepp, even though it was a recent add. Sax and trombone is a potent combination.

The greatest tragedy was the Count Plays Duke fatal flaw. Two great tastes that would have tasted great together, but just wouldn't play on the computer.

The biggest surprise was Bert Kaempfert and Pete Seeger. I knew Seeger was cool, but it was just damned interesting as well, and Kaempfert was no where near as cheesy as I thought he'd be.

The project has been going well for me. At the very least it has given me something to concentrate on. The organization question is starting to be an issue, but I have some suggestions I think I'm going to take up. And the Facebook group as of today is just one away from 20, long since surpassing the fan page for my VW Bus. So far we haven't managed to stump iTunes and only Amazon with stuff that was never commercially available. I'm about 2/3rds of the way through the first bag with so, so many more bags to go.

Thanks for taking the ride. As always tell anyone who might be interested, tap the social media of your choice, and join the Facebook group to get a preview of the upcoming CDs and notification when a new post is up.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Day 14: US3 "Cantaloop" (Single), Stefon Harris and Jacky Terrasson "Kindred", Archie Shepp "Live in New York"

Going for another triple at the end of the week as this time I've encountered an honest single and it seems a cop out to count it as a full album. Getting more into CDs I don't remember ever getting, including unopened ones.

The worst part is the addictive nature that brought on the Albatross in the first place, because after starting this project, I've wanted to actually go and get more music. I'm discovering music that I had that I really enjoy every week so far, but I still feel the need to go and actively add to the pile. Something has to be wrong...

Three empty nests today as well--Duke Ellington in Sweden, Don Byron "Romance With the Unseen", and Jerry Granelli Jeff Riley.

Cantaloop (Single)

It's hard to find too much to say about this. I suppose I should be embarrassed by this quickly faded rap fad of one taking samples from the Blue Note catalog to make modern rap songs. I hoped it would catch on, I'll be honest about that. I have some rap in my past. I liked Run DMC, Kurtis Blow, and Grandmaster Flash...I even went to a Fat Boys concert. I've made my peace with it.

But I grew into jazz, and when it looked like I could combine my early love of hip hop and jazz, sure--sign me up. And Cantaloupe Island is a funky song all by itself, perfectly fitting into a hip-hop mix.

So I was into this as much as anyone else with at least a passing fascination. But Cantaloop was the only one that did, and US3 faded quick. I don't know if they're recording anymore or off doing other things or what, but I never heard from them again the entire time I worked at the store.

Singles on CD are a difficult thing for me, but that might be because I'm not often that into 'remixes.' I get it, it's several different takes on the same song, and that can be intriguing, but essentially I have the same song now five times. To its credit, some of the later remixes are fairly different, but they all come back to the old Herbie Hancock piece.

That was a refreshing side effect, people started searching out Herbie Hancock records to find out where that track came from. This of course wasn't Hancock's first foray into Hip Hop, he was also responsible for the iconic Rock It, which prompted my dad to speculate that Herbie Hancock didn't know how to play piano. Little did he know...

I think singles exist to completely cure you of liking the song after listening to five slightly different versions in a row. I still like it, but man, I'm kind of done with this song for like a month or so now.

I have to admit, there was a part of me that was hoping I'd end up for at least a little while as a saxophonist in a live Jazz/Rap band. I was kind of willing to be a whore on the sax, mostly because I felt, no matter what, the horn always classed up the joint. I had a bias, obviously.

Stefon Harris and Jacky Terrasson

There are probably some sound reasons I never got around to listening to this CD. All white covers are never a good sign, The Beatles aside. White covers and white suits, double whammy. People named Stefon, also not generally a good indicator. All respect to Stéphane Grappelli, but violin is still a little hard to get into in jazz.

And as much praise as I had for the vibes earlier, it's still a bit of a land mine instrument.

When taking home boxes of CDs at a time, these all seemed like sound reasons to put off listening to this CD.

My mistake, apparently. While there are some tracks that are easy going and light, this is a progressive jazz CD that goes right along with the earlier James Carter CD and anything else I would normally listen to.

It has a pretty good spread of traditional Jazz standards and modern pieces, like the rather smokin' Rat Race that finds the two performers chasing each other in overlapping solos.

This is a far more intense jazz experience than the cover suggests.  I'm not sure what they were trying to convey. I guess it's pretty hard to come up with a concept for a jazz album cover, now that I think about it. There's only so many shots of a guy standing next to his instrument one can try and pull of.  I remember reading an interview with Wynton Marsalis where he complained to the photographer that he didn't want to hold his horn in yet another photo-shoot, though he eventually did. Now that I think about it, it might have been Chet Baker. Doesn't matter, I guess.

I mean, rockers can identify the 'hard-coreness' of their music by the look of the cover and the amount of stage make-up their performers wear, but a progressive jazz album could end up looking like a fusion album by the cover.

This is another damaged set of liner notes, so I don't have much insight into the CD itself, but this is really pretty good.

Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd
Live in New York

I've mentioned before my fascination with trombone players and there not being enough of them. Well, the Albatross has been hiding this unopened gem since 2001. Roswell Rudd, which by the way is an awesome name, joins saxophonist Archie Shepp (I'll admit right now I thought he played piano) for a live concert in New York.

There's a lot here for me to like. Progressive jazz sound, trombone, live music banter right off the bat, with Rudd introducing his composition Acute Motelitis with "Trapped in a motel room in the middle of nowhere." There's even poetry, apparently.

Eventually the Albatross was going to reveal my fascination with spoken word, and it apparently decided to slip it in here on what is apparently a super album of 'things I dig.' Yep, I like spoken word. Now, I thought what you're thinking, that it meant that I like slam poetry. Turns out, not so much. I mean, there have been a few instances of slam poetry that I have actually liked, but it took a whole lot of bandless rap artists before I got to those. I feel that poetry struggled really hard to let people know it didn't have to rhyme only for slam poets to re-enforce the idea that it had to.

But that aside, I actually dig spoken word. It all started with a quest to find a recording I had read about of e.e. cummings, which I never did. But I discovered a lot of Beat recordings and other spoken word story tellers and kind of got into it. This also led to my beard, but that's apparently a long story that after I typed out I realized even I didn't care about...

Every track, it seems, is getting an introduction. A heartfelt tribute to a loved one with the a pretty cool nickname (Steam), and the introduction to Pazuzu that made it sound like a summer insect, but is instead apparently a demon who is also featured in The Exorcist. Also the gargoyle that Prof. Fairnsworth lets loose in Futurama. The two trombone Slide by Slide...jazz titles like their puns...this song metamorphoses a lot in its 11 minutes. I also like the acknowledgment at the end, "Thank you very much for Slide by Slide...featuring everybody..."

I've never been comfortable with saxophonists who also sing. Perhaps it's jealousy. Maybe it's that the trumpet is easy to hold to one side out of the way, but the saxophonist has to lean over his horn dangling awkwardly from his neck or to the side to sing and we have an extra hand to position when we start to play after we sing.

Or it's just that I can't sing so I don't think other saxophonists shouldn't either. Nice closer with a tribute to Elmo Hope.

The Albatross closed out with a lot of lies and fake outs (including the disappointing Fatal Error of the Count Basie Plays Ellington...) but also some albums that were destined to languish in obscurity if I actually selectively went through this. Not bad, Albatross...now quit killing good CDs in the process...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Day 13: Bert Kaempfert Double Album and Filo Machado "Cantando um Samba"

There are different criteria that go into what CDs you'll take home versus CDs you'd pay money for or even bother downloading, though I imagine the latter is a lot similar. The key difference is the opportunity and how that comes about.

Today's selection reflects that with differing degrees of success. Both CDs represent something I ultimately didn't know that much about but thought I should. One is unopened, and the other I don't remember, so I don't know how much of a success there was in that...

Bert Kaempfert and His Orchestra
The Wonderland of & Dancing in Wonderland
I had mentioned this before, but part of the 'design' of the Albatross, before it became clear that the beast would become unsearchable, was to have a wide selection of music that might be appropriate for whatever situation came up, sort of a musical Swiss Army knife. It's unclear now what situation it was that I was thinking of where I would need this, but I diligently collected music that I normally wouldn't have but gladly did when it was free.

Towards the end of my time at the record store, I had already made the transition from music to film, and my last few years there coincided with my time writing plays, so maybe I imagined being in on someone's rehearsal while they mused, "Were can we get some really cheesy easy-listening dance band music?" and then, like a hero, I would jump in and say, "Why yes, I have this collection of Bert Kaempfert music!" and everyone would swoon.

Alright, I didn't really believe anyone would swoon.

But the reality is, aside from the unsearchable nature of the Albatross, you have to have listened to this stuff to know what you had, and if you've read previous posts you know that there is music I genuinely like that I haven't listened to. So I never even got around to opening this one.

I have to say, five tracks in, I've been really unfair to this CD in my head. I mean, it is cheesy dance band music of that Lawrence Welk variety (no accordion so far) but it's not really that bad. It's actually pretty listenable. There's nothing really over the top, no outlandish instrumentation that you would expect from a composer that uses "Wonderland" so often in his album titles. In fact, this might not have worked for my intended purposes, it might not have been cheesy enough.

I'm trying to think of a way to describe the sound. It's fairly close to a less bombastic big band. It really is just a dance band that you might hear after a particularly well attended bingo night.

For combined pricing it is a bit of a champ, new is $49.99 and used is $54.99. Opening it apparently made it worth $5 more...

Ah, there's a signature of this kind of music, the choir. I don't know how to describe it except as that undefined mass of voices that sing in unison and sound like they are standing across the room from their mics. And that mall organ sound. (I'm not sure that this is a universal phenomenon, but mall based piano/organ stores around me would generally have someone sitting and playing one of their organs to entice people inside to buy one of these wonder devices.)

This is also a champion in 'greatest juxtaposition' in what I'm listening to and what's playing on the TV. Usually I just didn't bother to turn the TV off before I put the headphones on, but today there is something I am actually watching on purpose, the Rolex Grand Am Series Montreal 200. So while hokey (but again, listenable if not actually enjoyable) dance music plays, endurance sports cars 'dance' around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. It kind of gives the whole race a surreal look, reminiscent of the 'ballet' sequence in the movie Grand Prix. If you're not a racing fan, none of that made sense to you, but I'm okay with it.

No music collection is complete, really, without a Musak-esque version of Unchained Melody.

Filo Machado
Cantando Um Samba

This was almost another fatality, but I was able to save it at the expense of the liner notes.

Another Brazilian CD release perhaps in the wake of Buena Vista Social Club, or at the very least more vigorously promoted as a result of it.

I initially thought this would be a lot more of a contrast with ol' Bert up top, but two tracks in I'm seeing a lot more similarities than differences. Both are easy going, light sounding albeit in different ways. There are a lot more synthesizers in the first track than the cover would suggest. The second track features just voice (literally going "La da de di dum", guitar, and soprano sax. But it's followed up by a group of singers with lots of phase shift in the beginning. It seems to bounce between heavily produced and folksy simplicity.

Ultimately both albums are dance-y in their own way, gentle. Even the close choir of voices are present. Machado doesn't have the large orchestra that Kaempfert has and more or less (for obvious reasons) confines himself to a samba feel all built around his guitar, but I suspect that I could play both CDs together without it being all that jarring. Just every once in while the music would have less instrumentation and be in Portuguese.

I enjoy this a little more, I don't know if it's the instrumentation, or the way the music is put together, or if it's just pretentiousness that makes me instinctively look down my nose at the 'easy listening' Kaempfert. It feels groovier, I guess, I find myself nodding my head to the kind of manic scatting Machado is doing.

But then come back the synthesizers and heavy mixing (the sounds of party goers) on the track Pam Pam. Makes it sound like the front office lobby.

For a sharper contrast of what I'm hearing and what I'm seeing, the sports cars have given way to sprint cars at Knoxville. Good Ol' Boys in big V8s throwing themselves around a dirt track to the docile sounds of samba... awesome.

There are far more 'over-produced' tracks on here than the cover would lead you to believe. I've found my interest wandering waiting for something like that second track. And here it is, a scatted samba rendition of Paul Desmond's Take Five. This has made everything worth it. Simple guitar rhythm and a nonsense scat sped through the deceptively difficult melody.  This is one of the first jazz songs I liked, long before I knew what jazz was and was just pulling records out of my parents' collection to listen to. Deep in there I found a compilation with Take Five on it and the catchy piano figure and strange feel (I didn't yet know what a time signature was, much less that 5/4 was an odd one) got me hooked on it. This is about as far away from that as you can get, and yet it is still incredible cool. Made the whole thing worth it.

And now we're back to heavy production, sound effects, and electronic instruments. It was fun while it lasted.

The last track, Babaluê Babaluá, was pretty cool in that weird Bobby McFerrin kind of way.

More similarities than contrasts. The Albatross continues to surprise.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Day 12: Let's Go Bowling "Mr. Twist" and the Olympia 1994 Preview Disc

I've mentioned before that the Albatross is full of lies and disappointment. Today it dished up a particular kind of lie and disappointment with a Fake Out. What I thought I was preparing to ingest today was the debut album from The New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble, but the Albatross had other plans. Instead, it dealt up Let's Go Bowling's Mr. Twist. I should at least be thankful that it kept in in genre. Must have been during one of those heady moments where I tried to organize the Albatross and it didn't take.

Without further ado...

Let's Go Bowling
Mr. Twist
This is the second instance of music I bought on purpose, and strangely enough it can be linked back to the same uncle, which honestly didn't occur to me until I started to write this.

This doesn't trace all the way back to Junior High School, however, this happened when I was already an adult. I was visiting my uncle and he showed me a few tracks of the California Ska-Quake compilation of third wave ska. Sure, it was catchy, it was upbeat beat, but deep down the truth of it more than likely is that if you put horns in something, I'm in. A genre of music with saxophones? Sold.

So I went exploring. What I found was that I had a definite preference for what seemed to be labeled "third wave" or "California" or "West Coast" or whatever they settled on. But what I learned most of all was that ska was at its best when it was doing covers. I discovered this by buying albums like this and the album like this that the case belonged to. I genuinely like the New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble, another 'super band' of ska players from other big time bands doing jazz standards with reggae influenced dance beats.

And honestly I can get by on this for the most part. I mean, saxophones go a long, long way. But it never really hooked. I bought a few of the albums from the artists on compilations that I seemed to like, but I don't really remember many of these CDs making much of an appearance in whatever kind of regular rotation.

Let's Go Bowling seems to have carried over a lot of 'second wave,' if I understand the distinction. They seem like they could perform some English Beat and be fairly faithful.

It's been so long that I really don't remember what song it is I identified with or liked. I'm hoping I"ll hear it and it will jog some memory and it will all come back to me. But perhaps not.

I haven't been listening to the lyrics as much, but what I have listened to hasn't had that sense of whimsy I usually associate with ska. But their horn parts are a little more involved than just horn blasts here and there, as well as plenty of solos. And an organ.

All good choices, but I don't find myself as into this as I think I should be. I remember having this feeling when I bought it and ended up listening to the Ska-Jazz band instead. All the pieces are here, I'm just not and was not as into it as I would have thought.

Various Artists
Olympia 1994 Preview Disc

Probably the biggest contrast so far in the project, this, obviously, was the yearly preview of all the upcoming classical releases from the Olympia label. I wish I could say I remember much about them, but I don't. The sticker on the back indicates that they were distributed by Allegro, which I seem to remember were a rather small distributor, but had a lot of stuff I like, so maybe some of that came from Olympia.

I guess the part that jumps out to me the most is the date. I can never remember when I started at the record store, but clearly I was there by at least 1994. That was a healthy chunk of my life spent helping people find Usher and Pearl Jam CDs.

I was hired initially because of my knowledge of classical. I'm by no means a total aficionado, but I was a music major, I had just left college with my music history classes fresh in my mind and my newly seeded appreciation for 20th century composition. I was also hired for my knowledge of jazz, which was much more developed, but there was another jazz expert hired at the same time. He would have, by comparison, liked The JazzTimes Superband a little more than the James Carter CD and therefore his tastes were more in line with the commercial interests of the store.

Being the store's 'Classical guy' had some amusing moments. First of all, there were four people with my first name, so we all went by nicknames. Mine was given to me by another friend on a separate occasion and as soon as the staff of the store heard it, I was forever Walrus. In addition to that, I sported (still do) long hair and a narrow three inch long goatee that was at times died green and even experimented with a handlebar mustache that, before I stopped, was done up like Salvador Dali. I worked at a record store, my boss had a purple mohawk, it was the time to try that kind of stuff.
What all of this meant is that, when someone had a classical question, the employee would tell the customer to hold on, then go to the intercom and say, "Walrus to the classical section." And then when this help, apparently named Walrus, would show up, he'd be a green-goateed, handlebar-mustached, long haired guy. The reactions varied between disdain, disappointment, shock...very infrequently a shrug. But ultimately I think stuff like that was part of the record store experience. I mean, again, I am by no means the expert to beat all and there are a lot of cats who know more than me, but I still knew my stuff, and I knew that section pretty well. So if you needed help, chances were pretty good I was going to be able to help you.

What I'm finding sad is that sixteen (Christ...) years on from getting this CD I'm not retaining as much about Classical as I once knew. I think what I liked about Allegro was that they had some of the less accessible stuff, modern composers or under-performed works. In with the Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Liszt, and Shostakovich there is Roussel, Kabalevsky, Vainberg, and Gorecki.

Gorecki had the closest the classical section (before Chant) had to a break out hit. And he is a modern composer, so I was much more happy with that. For a brief time, his Symphony No. 3, a dark and brooding piece of minimalism, was a hot seller. I wasn't sure where people were hearing about it, but it sold at a regular pace. And when people had trouble finding it, I was able to push other modern composers like Arvo Pärt, Gavin Bryars, and John Tavener.

The earliness of this CD I think is the only reason I got it. By the time I left I had gotten the person who eventually ended up managing the store into 20th century compositions and he had a natural inclination towards Eastern European composers. This CD focuses on both rather well, including composers from the 19th century (Glinka) and 20th century (Gorecki and Vainberg (Weinberg)). Had this come in later I never would have gotten it. He might have listened to it a little sooner than I have, but he's one of the people whose "Albatross" was much larger than mine. I remember visiting him a few years back just after he had dumped thousands of CDs in the trash because he just didn't want to deal with it anymore. And he still had a sizable collection. This CD has a piece from the soundtrack for a 1965 Polish movie about a soldier in World War II (Salto by composer Kilar) followed by the Soviet Anthem. He totally would have taken this CD later on.

And hey, that part of the soundtrack is actually pretty cool. A hint of Mancini in it, really. I like this stuff, I just don't know as much about it as I used to. I used to be surrounded by it all the time, absorbing some bit of it on a regular basis. Now I just drag it around from place to place not knowing it's really there...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day 11: Terry Evans "Walk That Walk" and Pete Seeger "Headlines and Footnotes"

My pretension was that my music library would constitute some sort of music appreciation class. I have to admit that I envisioned it as some sort of musical equivalent of some well-read professor's den full of 'must reads.' That I would be able to walk to a section, I guess tobacco pipe in hand, and pull from some shelf and be able to remark on that moment in musical history or the importance of this particular influence or how interesting so-and-so incorporated such-and-such.

In short, I was privately plotting to be a complete bore at best and douche at worst.

I don't know why I wanted to do this. I can see people's eyes glaze over when I try to explain to them how music works or why they like the stuff they like or the development of this or that. Hell, I sometimes get bored myself. I don't throw parties and if I did I couldn't just put this stuff on random and expect anyone to stay (or at least commandeer my stereo).

Perhaps I'm living that fantasy by blogging the collection. I get to say all the 'smart and well considered' stuff about the CDs to almost no one (thanks to those that are reading), get it off my chest.

It's personified most popularly now in the Hipster's Dilemma. Alright, as far as I know no one calls it that and there probably is something else called that, but I don't feel like googling. For the sake of my argument, here is the Hipster's Dilemma: You've stumbled onto something fucking cool. It has changed the way you look at and consider whatever it comes from. Well, it's no fun to enjoy it completely by yourself, but the people already into it are way ahead of you. So you have to hip other people to it. But if that happens too often, now there are too many people into it and you're just one of the crowd.

I'm not really all that concerned that I'm going to hip 'too many' people to abrasive jazz or obscure CDs that didn't sell when they had the chance. But the first half is true. It's no fun to dig something all by your lonesome. You need that acknowledgment, this is awesome. Recognize its awesomeness.

Which travels a little bit from my original point, which is that very infrequently does the Albatross present itself in a manner that allows for that 'music appreciation' way. Except today, where it has served up another Telarc Blues release from a half session/half lead act, and a folk legend.

Essentially being represented are the two co-existing folk forms of the American 20th century played back to back. This is awesome...dammit.

Terry Evans
Walk That Walk

As much as I made of the universality of the blues in the last post, the truth is you really don't know what you're getting when you get a blues CD in the same way you wouldn't if it simply said 'jazz' or 'rock.' There's Chicago Blues, Delta Blues, there's blues that sounds suspiciously like rock (or rock that sounds a lot like blues), there are singers happy about getting the blues, there are singers seriously bummed out by the blues. There is blues that you dance to, there is blues that you tap your feet to, there is blues that you cry in your beer to.

Sometimes the cover can help you out. For instance, a lone bad-ass lookin' guy standing in something representing travel like a set of train tracks or an empty road, you're likely to get a band. It will be a little less rigid on the whole '12 bar' thing...it'll be the electric, and the singer is likely not to be happy about the blues.

According to what I was able to salvage from the liner notes, Terry Evans plays on a lot of other blues players albums and then has a handful of his own. Despite the guitar case on the cover, he only contributes guitar on a few songs, the rest of the guitar work handled by Ry Cooder, apparently returning the favor for Evans' appearing on Cooder's albums.

The truth is that I wasn't exposed to much actual blues early on. I found blues in jazz history classes where we discussed the influences and foundations of jazz. As much as I loved all the jazz I discovered in those classes I kept thinking, "No, wait, that was awesome, too...why are we spending so little time on it?"

So I used my promo-gathering as a chance to fill the gap. But since I didn't know as much about blues as I did about jazz, I grabbed everything and hoped to sort it out later. Welcome to later.

The problem is that the barrier is sometimes a little lower with blues, and as recording got cheaper a lot of people who managed to learn the 12-bar format recorded. So my blues CDs are a bit of a minefield, which made me a little gun shy to go through them.

I've already mentioned I love the lyrics in blues. So much has been said about them I'm not going to find something new and clever to say in general, but some of the stuff here is awesome. The title track really breaks down apparently to advice on what kind of shoes to buy and what to do if they're not optimal. Ultimately, don't get shoes that are too tight. Apparently. Good advice.

Dance With Your Belly Up is described at the end of the song as holding your baby tight and letting her know it'll be alright...then sort of dancing with your belly up. He says he was sure that the listener didn't know how to dance with your belly up, and he was right. Still not entirely sure. When in doubt, assume they're talking about sex.

A blues about credit cards that kind of feels like a School House Rocks element closes the CD. It almost seems like the theme song to credit reform. I wish I had been packaging a news piece and knew I had this. Pretty cool. Even has a lyric about pre-approved cards and everything. "Get you to sign that big contract / that's when they kick you in the sack." Awesome. "Credit Card Blues, gonna be in debt until they lay your body down." I guess it's kind of a middle class complaint by blues standards, but still cool.

Pete Seeger
Headlines and Footnotes

Another unwrapped CD, but this time I think it's because I intended to give this one to my friend and collaborator (you can see some of his work under 'sous rature' on The Sandwich Machine). He had gotten into Woody Guthrie and 20th Century American folk music and this was a pretty good collection. I may have gotten a few of these, so I don't know if he ever got one. I guess if he hasn't I can give him this one.

That's not to say that I don't have a fascination with this kind of music either, but he knew (and still does, I think) a lot more about it than I did. From a musical stand point it pretty much just 'is.' Often they just took traditional melodies and wrote new words over them. It is more important from a cultural anthropology stand point than a musical standpoint. That interests me a great deal, but I was behind the curve on it.

In an awesome moment of symmetry the album opens up with a song about shoes. I dig it.

There's a song about a senator named Bilbo (not a song about Lord of the Rings...) scolding him for his xenophobic policies. "Listen Mr. Bilbo, listen to me / I'll give you a lesson in history / listen while I tell you that the foreigners you hate / are the very same ones that made America great." Could sing that song now, except of course the song's subject would confuse people I guess. "Bilbo Baggins is a racist? Ah man..."

There's sort of a working class journeyman ideal image I had of him but, I'm reading in the liner notes, he had intended to be a journalist and was traveling with his musicologist father collecting songs and he caught the bug. He dropped out of Harvard and started playing. The academic turned folk singer is probably more common, I guess, and it makes sense when you consider the commentary in his songs, accented here since it's a collection of topical songs, but it does kind of deflate that romantic image. Of course the movie Face in the Crowd does a pretty good job of that, too.

I have a few of these Smithsonian Folkways collections and I liked them a great deal. They essentially cataloged the first century of American recorded music that otherwise would have been lost.

Listening to this CD is like getting short three minute history lessons in stuff where by the time you go "Wait, what happened? That's fucking crazy, when was that?" there's already another song about another crazy thing that happened that you suddenly want to know more about. This isn't folk music about friendly dragons or spinning in fields. Oh hell, as I'm typing this, a song from the point of view of a seven year old who was evaporated by the bombing of Hiroshima. Yeah, this can get pretty depressing.

From what I can gather from the liner notes, Seeger never stopped gathering music after the trip with his father. Taking poems and other written works and bringing them to a wide audience and helping convey their issues with a musicologist-meets-journalist's ear.

Little Boxes, the song not about weed that is associated with weed now because it's the theme to Weeds, is on this collection. I had been told this before but I didn't believe it, apparently the woman who wrote it (Malvina Reynolds) really did write it about Daly City, CA, which in fact looks like a bunch of little boxes from the freeway.

I have to be honest, I'm not used to paying this much attention to the lyrics, but I'm afraid of missing something important. It's completely opposite of how I usually experience music, where I start to tune in if the music hooks me and then I find out about the lyrics.

He actually explains Guantanamera, turns out that's kind of depressing, too. "With the poor people of this earth I want to share my fate / The streams of the mountain pleases me more than the sea." Apparently the last poem of a Cuban revolutionary before he was killed in an aborted uprising.

I also tend to think of his time as being older, but there's a song about the Women's Movement in 1971 (cleverly playing off "There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly"), an anti-Vietnam song that can be applied to any quagmire situation, and a song anticipating the images from the first space flights.

Also, didn't know that The Lion Sleeps Tonight was on top of another song altogether. The whole Wimoweh thing is a South African song more or less about a king coming back to liberate his people. The Safaris (that 's what the liner notes say, Google disagrees...the Surfaris were a surf band, this song was first popularized as The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens according to the internet) just sort of co-opted and, as the liner notes put it, 'trivialized the song' into the one that we know.

An unexpected way to end a collection of folk songs: a breakdown of the science of the solar system and how it will come to an end, then an ode to his grandmother's culinary improvisational technique.

This is the kind of music you have to listen to with your finger on the Google search bar and a quick draw. The musicologist father has a lot to be proud of in his folk singing son.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Day 10: Superharps and James Carter Quartet "Jurassic Classics"

Double digits, should be a milestone of some sort. That means that today will mark 21 CDs from the Albatross processed onto the hard drive.

I've also plugged in the scanner so that I can include the artwork for at least the cover. The blog looked a little drab, plus now you can see what condition most of this is in.

The first of the blues CDs has come up, as well as the organizational issue. It's getting closer and closer to the time that I have to decide what happens to the CDs once they've been transferred. I'm no closer to a conclusion. In fact, I've put no more effort towards it than has been witnessed. By that, I mean, I think about it while writing the intros, write down that I'm concerned, and then do not revisit the idea again until a few days later while writing an intro. Safe thinking - only acknowledging a problem when you're safely involved in something else and cannot address it. I live by that...
Anyway, onto the music:

James Cotton, Billy Branch, Charlie Musselwhite, Sugar Ray Norcia

I just got done talking about the phenomenon of 'super bands' and it seems to have popped up again, except in a different way. Every once in a while there is a 'super band' that's actually just a gathering of notable performers on a single instrument. That's what Superharps is, a gathering of four exceptional harmonica players.

Harmonica is a tricky instrument. It can either be an awesome sounding blues/folk instrument or a grating tool of annoyance by that bastard in the corner who won't shut up. Obviously this is the former. It's easy to kind of get lost in the blues. I mean, largely it's that same progression of chords (it's even called 'the blues progression), even if people don't necessarily religiously follow that, it certainly can run together.

But aside from the progression, it's got lots of other cool things with its name on it, things like 'blue notes.' There is just something about the sound of the blues that transcends its repetitive chord structure or iambic lyric structure. (I'm really hoping that I come across a Bernstein CD I have that has on it a demonstration of blues' iambic pattern by turning a line from Macbeth into a blues song. It's predictably awesome.) Something that makes it infinitely listenable.

This must have come in a narrow period at the store, because we had an avid harmonica player that worked there and I'm surprised that I have this and not him. I think there was a period where I worked there and he didn't and this must have come in during that time. Or it just went in a box and since it said "Telarc Blues" (Telarc is the label) I wound up with it and the poor harmonica player got shafted. Too bad, because it's a pretty cool album.

Even with good harmonica it's hard to find people who don't overwhelm their microphones so much that it doesn't really matter what they play or people who just hyper-ventilate into the poor thing. Or both. All the familiar harmonica flourishes are here, but it's distinguishable.

This is the kind of music that makes you want to drive around in a patina-covered old American convertible. Like a Bonneville or Cadillac or Buick. Ah, as if to hammer that home, they play Route 66. Perfect.

These may be the most succinct and perfect narratives available. They state the condition, restate the condition for clarity, identify the cause, and then let you know the consequence. All in three stanzas.

I read enough comics as a kid (and adult) to automatically associate 'super' with a hero of some kind, so staring at the comic style cover I imagine a traveling quartet of blues harpmen who also fight crime with their blues-like super powers. I don't know what those powers would be, but I'm sure they'd be awesome.

I'm also wondering what it is about the name "Ray" that attracts the prefix "Sugar." A "Sugar Ray," while I'm on the subject, would be an awesome super power. Again, I don't know what it would do (sweeten drinks from a distance? Beam some lovin' in a concentrated blast?) but I'm pretty sure it would be awesome.

For the most part this album has been trading back and forth, one or two performers on each track. Of course, you have to go out swinging, so there's a full-on easy groove blues at the end that's all four of them that goes 11 minutes. It's this kind of open ended jam session all comers thing that's part of what makes blues so awesome. Especially when you're there.

James Carter
Jurassic Classics

You're taught jazz by cool old men. Sure you might run into or have a hip young cat teach you some things, but it's only a matter of time before he (or she) introduces you to the cool old men that taught him, that he learns from. And one of the things that cool old men that teach you jazz will tell you, is that everyone likes jazz more than Americans even though it was born here.

Because of this you get cool Finnish orchestras performing some incredible Miles Davis tunes, broadcasting union orchestras stretching to find the rare charts in the Ellington library, and Japan releasing new albums from hot young jazz talent.

I don't really know who the cool old men who taught James Carter to play are, but they're probably the ones who told him to check out Japan. (According to his website, Marcus Belgrave).

James is one of those 'new guys' that I bemoaned yesterday, actually, except that I am much more into this than I am into yesterday's 'super band.' Rather than being part of that 'new fusion', he's part of that 'new progressive' that has Greg Osby and Branford Marsalis. Not jazz for the faint of heart, even if the play list is a set of standards. (Marsalis had named an album "Crazy People Music" after a friend of a friend came to a show and said that what he played sounded like the music 'crazy people would listen to).

This I love. The CD had been unopened until just now. Maybe I looked at it as a source for standards, if  I needed to know how a tune went I'd dig this up. These imports were (and are, though you can get the version of Jurassic Classics if you're not into Japanese liner notes) expensive. And usually were some of the best jazz available. It meant a few things: I wasn't allowed to open one for in-store play (but even if I was able to, it would get vetoed by some floor staffer for sure) and even if I could get someone into it the price would wave them off. We had a small handful of people that would buy these, and that was it.

So it meant not many promos and I couldn't really afford them even with my discount. And yet, when I get one, the poor thing doesn't even get unwrapped. Really is a total shame, because this is really exactly the kind of jazz I'm into. I get the feeling I say that a lot. There are a lot of jazz styles I respond to, and this is certainly one of them.

The depressing and I guess re-enforcing thing is that he's not much older than I am. I was never even close to being this good. I guess that doesn't matter, but sometimes with something that has a history like jazz, you can blame things on time and place. Like, if I had been playing at the time of Benny Carter or Lester Young, I would have been so much better because of what was around me. But really, jazz was one of the few art forms that benefited from the oral tradition being broadcast nation-wide and carried on cylinders, records, tapes, and other recordings. I can hear as much of all of that as I have patience for. In fact, I have a mound of it following me around with gems like this sitting unopened inside of it. So there isn't a 'time and place' as much as I'd like to blame it on that.

Interesting, while on his youth, when he recorded this (1995) he considered Equinox (Coltrane 1960) as much a 'Jurassic Classic' as the standard of all standards, Take the A-Train (Strayhorn 1941). I guess at a certain point it all starts to collapse. There's so much that happened in the world and in jazz from A-Train to Trane's Equinox. Carter manages to bridge that difference by adding things that had happened to jazz since Equinox and this recording.

He kind of has that big, harsh sound reminiscent of Sonny Rollins. I hate saying things like that because it always comes off as "Oh, he just sounds like this guy..." and that's not really true. There's no mistaking Carter and Rollins, it's just that in the great venn diagram of music, their circles are close.

Another day, another rendition of Oleo. It's hard not to smoke through this chart. I find myself humming the head and then end up doing a gibberish scat to it until I become self conscious. I guess it would be natural to compare this to yesterday's Oleo on The JazzTimes SuperBand, but it also seems unfair. I guess it's clear which one I prefer, but I don't know if that's the final arbitrator of which one is better.

That was awesome. I feel bad that I never opened it. I feel bad that I never tried to play it in the store. I feel bad that it had to come from Japan. But I feel great having finally listened to it and put it on the drive.

Day 9: Angel Music Sampler; Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis "Straight Blues"; Bob Berg, Randy Brecker, Dennis Chambers, Joey DeFrancesco "The JazzTimes Superband"

I'm going for a triple today, but that's not a symptom of some sort of extra burst of productivity or anything, it's really more because I happened to remember a particular CD as it came up and know it was more or less just a single/sampler. I know this because it was supposed to be a second chance promo to replace another that had presumably been lost. I say 'presumably,' because there's no telling, really. I may find at some point in this project that the original CD is still around, it just got buried.

This happens a lot. There are a few CDs that I have either acquired multiple times or straight out purchased several times. In fact I was more prone to having to replace purchased CDs because they migrated the most. So one of the things I expect to find going through all of this is a lot of duplicates. First up is one of the leading candidates.

Emily van Evera
Vision: The Music of Hildegard von Bingen

This represents probably the highpoint in my time as a buyer. While I still got to call myself a 'buyer' and while I bought for a large number of sections, the sales from those sections were a fraction of a fraction of the pop/rock/soul/hip-hop etc music that actually ran the store. I was a buyer, but I still spent most of my time doing other things. The real buyer spent all of his time talking to reps, going over catalogs, running reports, doing what you expected buyers to do while I closed out drawers and filed new product and occasionally pretended to look at catalogs to get out of closing out drawers or filing new product.

But then came Chant: The Origins, Form, Practice, and Healing Power of Gregorian Chant, and suddenly everyone was falling all over themselves to have this collection of medieval music from the Church. Gregorian chant was hot in a way that would have seemed comical before. This did more for Gregorian chant than Enigma.

So now the Classical buyers were actually getting wooed. And I got to go to my first luncheon where I ate fancy food, listened to a presentation and was given swag. And I was paid for the whole deal. All to sell this CD to my store, essentially someone taking the work of Hildegard von Bingen and putting it to electronica. The response to the popularity of Chant was to re-boot Enigma.

But it didn't matter. I was wooed. No-one wooed the classical buyer. I liked it. I wanted to be wooed again. So I put on the fur hat, got out the diamond tipped cane and I pimped. And I listened to the CD, regardless of what my other tastes were. And heaven help me, I actually liked some of the tracks. So when I lost the CD I wanted that song back, so I grabbed this promo. The problem: It was a sampler that had one track, and it wasn't the one I liked. So, I stuffed it into the Albatross.

I would see it now and then and know that it was the CD of disappointment. What I hadn't realized is that it wasn't just a single, there are three other tracks on it. The racily titled Thunder Entered Her by iTunes doesn't know, and some Busby Berkeley compilation by more people iTunes doesn't know.

The two upfront pieces go together, Thunder Entered Her and Vision are both classical-infused and a little foreboding. Thunder Entered Her is heavy, deep voices backed sparsely by equally deep organs. It's cool, but I feel like I'm about to walk in on something I shouldn't, involving robes and fancy knives. Somehow we make the transition from that to We're in the Money, which is only foreboding if you've actually seen The Gold Diggers of '33. Despite film school's efforts, I still associate this song with a prematurely elated Daffy Duck.

It occurs to me that now I could use my own Amazon player to find the %(*#& track I liked from Vision and get it once and for all...but I don't know that I would even remember it. Ultimately, I can't think of who this music was for. Too dance-y for the Enya crowd, not dance-y enough for the unce unce crowd, it ended up just being one of those 'bridge to nowhere' cross-overs.

This took longer to write than it did to listen to. Twice. Moving on...

Actually, I have to make an addendum - Thunder Entered Her was by 20th Century composer John Tavener and on iTunes the two last tracks are mismarked, which makes sense now. What I thought were ill-fitting bits of score to a Busby Berkeley film were in fact selections from an Itzhak Perlman recording Bits and Pieces called Sweet Remembrance. I guess I should read the CDs more often.

Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis
Straight Blues

More water damaged liner notes means that I don't get to see what this CD has to say for itself. With the frequency of damaged liner notes I think I'm giving the impression that I lived in a flood plain or something. A number of CDs in The Albatross were soaked when a roommate had left a sink on when drunk, and some more were damaged when, during a hasty move to a small space, I ended up storing some of them outside without really realizing it. Plus, you know, I can't have nice things.

This album gets off to an awesome start. It's a slow, groovin' bit called The Rev which features some Hammond B-3 organ and flute as well as sax. Considering the menacing organ I just listened to, this is a pretty sharp contrast. I have to say, I love the sax and am happy Adolphe Sax (absolutely not making that up) invented it, but the B-3 organ might be one of the greatest instruments ever invented.

I cheated a little bit and looked this album up, because we've gone from a smokey blues bit to a larger band all of a sudden, and I wanted to know who the other players were. So apparently this is a collection of recordings from a few decades of Lockjaw's playing put together with the theme being 'blues.'

Makes sense, the blues and sax go together in much the way that jazz and sax go together.

Sweet, the organ is back. According to the back of the CD, there is a veritable who's who of musicians on this album, including Jimmie Smith, Count Basie, Shirley Scott, Eric Dolphy and more.

Davis has that dirty, lowdown sound that I was never able to pull off. It's as if his sax has one of those '10 pack a day' smoker voices that can sometimes be strangely sexy. It's sweaty sax.

Even when doing ballads like Untitled Blues, there is that constant growl.

This is kind of how I pictured jazz in my head before I started to learn anything about it. I thought it was dirty, smokey, and gritty. I thought saxophones growled all the time and I was doing it wrong. I thought you listened to it in hot places where women would button their shirts low and hike up their skirts to keep cool. Saxophonists would walk across the bars during their solos, bass players would always be smiling big and nodding at people, and everything would be slightly sepia toned.

I don't know where I got this impression. It's never turned out to be true. Even though still edgy, even Davis doesn't really growl all the time, the women at jazz shows are modestly dressed, air-conditioners are usually functioning well, and none of the saxophonists I saw ever even left the stage for their solos. Maybe it's because I live in Northern California. Maybe because it's a fiction I created in my mind from a misunderstood hodge-podge of representations of jazz and blues in movies and TV. Maybe it's a little of both. I don't really know.

I think sometimes you can rate the potential awesomeness of an instrumental track by its name. The more nonsense it is, the better the chance that it's going to be fairly funky. If it seems like a reference to something work-a-day and fundamental, even better. Case in point: the swingin' but still funky Pots and Pans. If it had included a dialectic abbreviation, like just 'n instead of and, this would have probably been even funkier. Those are the rules. I don't make them, I just make them up.

I'm beginning to have a fascination with the way iTunes labels. As far as I know the last CD (admittedly obscure, being a promotional CD sent to sellers) was completely mislabeled, and the World Flutes 1 CD sort of gave up. This one has been labeled "R&B." While this is certainly a strong influence of R&B, I think someone tuning in for some Ray Charles or, for some reason, Usher, might end up a wee bit confused,

With all the legendary jazz out there it's easy to let legendary jazz slip through your fingers. I feel like this is the case with Davis. I clearly should have been listening to more of him, I was just too busy listening to other completely awesome saxophone players.

Bob Berg, Randy Brecker, Dennis Chambers, Joey DeFrancesco
The Jazztimes Superband

Every once in a while there is some sort of gathering that is dubbed a 'superband'. The problem I've always had with this is that in jazz it happens all the time. On almost any given legendary jazz performer's album you'll see a list of also legendary performers. I mean, just on that last Lockjaw Davis album that happened several times.

I guess that might be a rarer occurrence today with less jazz sales and performers not having to be quite as mercenary in their work to get by. No longer as easy to just record under another name to avoid a contract restriction, more agents and managers involved, not to mention egos, so a 'superband' is more of a special occasion than in the past. But as good as these players are, referring to them as a 'superband' makes me wonder what we would call things like the gathering that happened with "The Quintet" with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, and Charles Mingus? (Incidentally, I'm seriously hoping that CD pops up during this. I bought it a long time ago and I fear that it has been genuinely lost).

This is that sort of clean festival jazz. Like how I imagine those big headliner festivals. I don't know if 'new' jazz still sounds like this, but this was certainly big in the nineties. Direct mic on the drums, the 'dreaded bass direct,' a highly arranged head. It's good...just something always sounded off to me about these recordings. I think maybe--this is the kind of jazz my first instructors listened to, and I of course was looking for that aforementioned sweaty nastiness, so this always sounded like I had made a mistake, asked for the wrong thing. I hadn't realized that 'jazz' was a pretty broad term yet. So there is always perhaps an unfair hint of disappointment in listening to these.

I might have been excited to get this only to realize I got the wrong Brecker brother (kind of the same moment of discovery I just went through)--I would occasionally forget if it was Michael or Randy who played the sax. Michael Brecker did a lot of fusion that I just couldn't get into, but he really could play and when he did 'straight' jazz it was pretty good, if I remember.

I think that's what I'm cuing into, a bunch of guys who do a lot more fusion than 'straight' jazz doing a 'straight' jazz album. They're still damned good at it, but there's that lingering film of fusion from how it's recorded to how they comp. Still, though, they are flying through Oleo and it's pretty cool.

iTunes has decided that this is Bob Berg's CD, probably because he was listed first.

I'm having a hard time coming up with things to say about this. It's not bad, I'd stop the dial on the radio if it came on. If someone played it I might go, "Yes, this is a thing I like." It even has Freedom Jazz Dance on it. It's good I guess... if I didn't have all that Lockjaw Davis to listen to after all the other awesome stuff ahead of it...

Sort of unfair to new players, I guess. But I don't think that happens across the board. There are new players (or new in the nineties) that I really could get into. I guess if I had to slot it somewhere it would be 'music I might not listen to on purpose, but wouldn't mind if it came up.'