Thursday, August 19, 2010

Day 3: Milt Jackson "Sa Va Bella," "The Best of Al Jolson", and Disappointment...

One of the most consistent elements about The Albatross is that it is full of lies and disappointment. If you follow this on Facebook you'd be expecting Chuck Mangione and the compilation Bang on a Can V.2. 

At least that is what The Albatross would like you to believe. But, as many times in the past, The Albatross was raising me up (who wouldn't look forward to juxtaposing inoffensive smooth fusion with an experimental music compilation?) only so it could bring me down.

Chuck Mangione's album The Feelings Back is an empty nest. The CD has long since flown the coop. Perhaps this is one that I listened to right away and that never made it back. It's too bad. I have a big soft spot for Mangione in a bizarre nostalgia way. When you're a kid in some ways you're at your musically purest. You like things on a completely gut level, you just get hooked on something without really knowing why. It was that way with Feels So Good.

Honestly, I believe that if listening to that song doesn't make you smile at least a little you might be dead inside. Mangione is the soft side of Chucks with beards...maybe there should be a counter facts about Chuck Mangione (Kittens look at pictures of Chuck Mangione to brighten their day, Rainbows are the sky smiling because Chuck Mangione is underneath it...sorry, moving on...) That wasn't on the missing album, but there is something warm and friendly about Mangione's tone that would have been comforting right now. Like footie pjs or having someone tuck you in. You wouldn't want anyone to catch you enjoying that as an adult, but admit, deep'd still be nice.

But as much as The Albatross lives to surprise, it also lives to disappoint.

So it goes also with Bang on a Can V.2. But this one has had a much more tragic fate. The CD has been, I'm guessing, soaked, and is not only dirty, but fuzzed to the liner notes. It may have rendered it unplayable, I'm going to try and recover it tomorrow. So, two more deep I go.

That brings us to Great Swing Classics in Hi-Fi...which is also an empty nest. Apparently an album where a bunch of largely white (while still legendary) band leaders re-recorded songs in the new 1950s 'hi-fi'. Oh well, on to the next one...

At last, a case and a CD...

Milt Jackson
Sa Va Bella (For Lady Legends)

I dig jazz vibes. The Modern Jazz Quartet was one of the first groups I started to get into when I began to explore 'real' jazz (post-Mangione fascination.) The vibes are, at least to me, the quintessential cool jazz instrument. It's smoking with a cigarette holder. It's the guy who can pull off a smoking jacket. It's the martini drunk by the guy who cares how its made. I should be listening to this on a hi-fi while sitting in a large leather chair on a plush rug with a fire place in the middle of the room.

This album is also a poison pill to my brain. A tribute to the woman who influenced Jackson (with Etta James doing vocals) it contains some of the most persistent earworms that vocal jazz has to offer. Right off the bat with Lady, Be Good (I love songs meant to be sung to women sung by with most things of this nature more common than songs meant to be sung to men sung by men...still...) What a Difference a Day Made...that song has officially been stuck in my head for over a decade alongside the theme to I Dream of Jeannie. My only hope is that at least in jazz there really is no 'definitive' approach to a song and the given melody, especially for singers, is...well, optional. But no doubt tomorrow I'll be walking around humming the version of Lady Be Good I'm familiar with and only occasionally remember why.

Looking down the track list, Send in the Clowns is coming up...that's another hunk of stinky cheese that I can't get enough of. Interesting track order - Good Morning Heartache and This Bitter Earth bookends A-Tisket A-Tasket. It's like a bummer sandwich with a rainbow inside.

Fun fact: Up until this moment I thought it was ...a Day Makes, not Made. I've been mishearing that for years. Good to know.

I played vibes in high school briefly. Well, vibraphone. I don't think you get to use the hip cool 'vibes' until you're laying it down Milt Jackson style. This was for drum line. I faked out the instructor because I was trying to see how to hold four hammers and he for a moment thought I could do that. He hated me a little after that.

What the hell...the band does this out-of-nowhere chanting at the end of what would otherwise be a hokey standard (A-Tisket A-Tasket). I love it... I don't understand it ("So do we so do we so do we" and then "no no no no"), but I love it. Ever since John Coltrane's Om! and A Love Supreme I've had a thing for chanting in songs.

Seriously feel like I'm trying to woo a classy lady with's the kind of jazz you can play and have a copy of the Kama Sutra too prominently displayed on a coffee table and totally get away with it.

Send in the Clowns is less cheesy without an over-emoting singer performing it. On vibes it's just smooth. That may be because everything on vibes is smooth.

An appropriate end to the album with the title track doing a little Latin feel. Latin jazz can be really smokin'...and sometimes it can be like someone 'spicing things up' by putting a little pepper on their BLT. This is the latter. Nothing wrong with that, don't want to disturb the tobacco pipe smoking you should be doing while listening to this album.

Transitioning from this album to the next in my iTunes library, Moby doing a cover of Verb:That's What's Happening (another promo that had made it on iTunes before being lost to the beast) is a little jarring.

Al Jolson
The Best of Al Jolson

Another instance of Amazon not having the album on MP3, but you can listen to samples here.

This is one of those 'archive' promos I would grab that I would get a bit of a hard time for. Truth be told, I fancied myself a bit of a musicologist, or at least I wanted to be until I realized I didn't have the aptitude for it. Plus my ego wouldn't let me be anything other than a performer, not someone who comments on look at me...

Al Jolson is one of those artists I'm more familiar with as a parody than with the actual artist. To say that about Al Jolson specifically is kind of interesting I guess. I was probably in the last generation to watch old cartoons un-edited, all the racism fully intact. That meant rubbery characters in black face making like Jolson belting out "Swanee" and "Mammy" while little Picaninny caricatures would dance happily, perhaps munching watermelons...we watched these on TV between (and sometimes in) Bugs Bunny cartoons. I think there was a sense that this was wrong, just old.

Maybe it's the cartoons...maybe it's time...maybe it's sensitivity...Jolson just sounds hokey. I mean, he is. This isn't really a revelation, now that I think about it. He's the most famous person of a group of people that did a horrible thing...I wonder, without the black face, would he stand out in the canon of singers? I think there is an argument for it...there were a lot of black face singers...

According to the liner notes it was Jolson's stage presence that made him legendary, his ability to engage an audience in a time when live performance was king. You can certainly hear it in the recordings, even without seeing him you can tell he's a very animated singer...and not just in the context that I know him, as a racist dancing flower...

So this is a strange place to be. I felt at the time and feel now it's important to have this. It's a part of American music history, warts and all...and it really is good for what it is. But it's still, I would feel the need to sheepishly explain if My Mammy came up on party shuffle.

Like the old racist cartoons, I think that they should be accessible, but I don't really have a problem with them not being shown on Saturday morning anymore.

Hallelujah I'm a Bum Again...the theme song to how some Republicans envision the unemployed I guess...sorry to get political, it was too hard to resist...

Listening to this CD is making cartoons funnier retroactively. In that uncomfortable kind of way...

I think that owning this kind of stuff (stuff only for its historical value) has a little element of that guy who carries way too much knife hoping for that one instance where someone has to cut a thick rope..."I got it!" I have this stuff waiting for some instance where someone's going to need a specific music and I'll have it. Of course the daunting nature of The Albatross defeated that.

As I said, The Albatross is full of lies and disappointment.

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