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.

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