Thursday, August 19, 2010

Day 4: Stan Kenton Orchestra "Stompin' at Newport" and Toots Thielemans "The Live Takes"

Two minor milestones have been reached.

The prime stack that was the arbitrary beginning of the project is now shorter than the stack of CDs that have been uploaded. This raises a question I have been putting off: what exactly am I going to do with the CDs that have already gone through the process?

I don't really have an answer yet, so I'm going to continue to put that off.

Also, one of the Project CDs has made it onto the closest thing I have to regular rotation: I loaded the Henry Mancini music onto my diminutive MP3 player (a cheap 2GB Coby I bought for I think $30 that likes to do things like reject a track at random, or only import half of one, or its best trick yet, take the several hours of radio shows and music I loaded for the long flight to Germany and leave me with three The Shadow programs I already knew pretty well...)

This is the biggest tragedy of The Albatross. I've never had more than a portable CD player. I at one point ran it through an old 70s tuner from my parents, but not even that anymore. I don't even have a portable CD player anymore. Nothing. Not in my car, not anything. The only things I have is my beat up old Mac and my often ignored PlayStation 2. I've been dragging around thousands of CDs without having much in the way of actually playing any of them.

Today's selection consists of artists that I would instinctively say I know, but if follow-up conversation ensued it might be revealed that I am not 100% sure what they even play. I mean, I know the styles, but not the instruments.

Stan Kenton and his Orchestra
Stompin' at Newport

Sometimes big band music can sound like I'm coming in at the middle even though it just started. Such is the case with The Opener.

I should know more about Stan Kenton, but I don't. I wasn't sure if he played trombone or piano (piano) and I don't really know which pieces he's famous for. I mean, everyone plays everything. Hell, I'm sure I've played Stompin' at the Savoy before.

That's a problem I have with big bands, through high school and both stints as a music major in college, most of that was spent playing in big bands. It's a love/hate thing. I can't help but hear even the best big bands scholastically, but then I spent so much time playing in them that it's probably the style I can most identify with.

It's a live CD with a polite audience, recorded obviously at the Newport Jazz Festival. Sometimes that produces some cool things, like Frank Sinatra saying "I feel sorry for people who don't drink, because when they wake up that's the best they're going to feel..." or Cannonball Adderley telling the story of Jeannine to an audience only to realize he was in France speaking English. So far, this is just polite introductions.

There's dirty jazz...lowdown jazz where the trumpet player plays into a dancing woman's breasts (true story), where people throw their hands up like a revival meeting, and then there is polite jazz. Sit quietly, tap your toe if you must, dance in a very orderly fashion jazz. That's this jazz.

I don't think it was always like that. I don't think it's even meant to be like that. It just grew up. It can't keep up with the kids...and it worked hard to get where it is, it doesn't have to impress you (though it really should), these days it likes to just take it easy.

I feel uncharitable describing it that way. I mean, it's Stan Kenton. It's good. If I wanted to sit down to some clean, well executed big band music, this would be it.

Holy Crap, Lennie Niehaus. Well, that changes things a bit. I forget he's a saxophonist (for shame) and tend to think of him as an arranger and soundtrack composer. This is kind of cool to hear him in his 'original' element. I had never thought of it, but he has the trajectory I thought would be cool for me, play sax for a while, enjoy that and then start composing scores for movies. Somehow, this was to make me famous enough to appear on The Muppet Show. Long story.

Now they're mixing it up. La Suerte de Los Tontos (Fortune of Fools), a 6/8 Latin piece that's actually pretty groovy. And pertinent, the last film I made was called Fortune's Fool for a quick-bake film festival. This would have actually been a little appropriate for that short, I think. But we had a good composer for the short, so it's all good.

This I think sadly falls into the category of CDs I think I should have. It's good, no doubt. But I think after years of playing in big bands I might have become immune.

Toots Thielemans
The Live Takes V.1

How kick-ass a harmonica player do you have to be to take an awesome name like Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor, Baron Thielemans, and go by "Toots"? This good. I'll admit I had to look him up because all I knew was "good" and it was something that was supposed to be in the collection, like poor Stan up there. He's been everywhere. He's on the Billy Joel song Leave a Tender Moment Alone and in Old Spice ads, apparently... the tone is unmistakable... as soon as you hear it you have that "Ooooooh, that's that guy?" It's like finding out all the movie trailers were voiced by the same guy (there are actually a few, but one really well known one).

But even through all of's...the harmonica. Taking the harmonica seriously feels like trying to frame your kid's paintings. But here it is. This isn't blues or bluegrass...there isn't a hoedown in sight...just this gentle Belgian breezing through a Gershwin medley.
So many friends have tried to turn me on to Bela Fleck, but it just doesn't matter if he's the Jimi Hendrix of the banjo, it's still the banjo...and this uncharitable attitude kind of carries over here.

Except I can find a niche for this, I think. Because listening to the second track, Começar de Novo, I kind of feel like pouring out some heavily accented monologue about lost loves or something while driving a convertible along a Mediterranean coast. AH! How did all these clapping people get in my convertible? Oh, album...

An aside, the album opened up with I Loves You, Porgy, which I remember best from the dramatic reading the CSU Sacramento piano player gave the lyrics when preparing for a Gershwin concert. In that context, they're kind of embarrassing. But, as I remember, funny as hell.

I've never had a stronger urge to skip ahead than just's not that I don't like what I'm hearing, heaven help me I like Stardust, and Body and Soul is next and I like that, too. But there's a track at the end called That Misty Red Beast and I have to know how this gentle string infused sound manages a title like that.

It's also a title I wouldn't have known when I got this CD. There were several ways to distinguish promo CDs from 'for sale' CDs. The most common way is to hole punch the bar code or a slot cut in the spine. If you've bought a used CD from a store go check and see if any of the bar codes have been punched. If that's the case, someone like me has sold their promos to the store. For a while it was the only way for me to make 'ends meet,' as they say. Other promo packing methods included cardboard sleeves instead of jewel cases, like the Mancini promo, or a giant sticker that reads:
License. This CD is property of Record Company [sic] and must be returned on demand. It is licensed for promotional use and has not been sold. This CD cannot be transferred without consent of Record Company [sic]. Use or retention of CD signifies acceptance of this license.
I have a friend who is a lawyer, I really should ask him why legalese abhors the word 'the.' That's how it's referred to, "Record Company." I guess labels were too lazy to come up with their own sticker? Anyway, this giant sticker that in no way prevented the sale of CDs to used record stores generally covered up some of the best information on the CD; In this case, the name of the last three tracks.

To date, no record company has ever asked for their disc back. I guess I'm tempting fate by posting this to the internet, but at the moment I have, like, five readers so I think I'm good. Besides, if this isn't promotional use, I don't know what is...I have the Amazon widget and everything...

Three Views to a Secret is a pretty cool name, too. Sounds like a really pretentious short film. The funkiest track on the album so far, too.

Not, so far, something that can be said about That Misty Red Beast. Rather this 'smooth jam' could be playing in the lobby of your favorite dentist. Oh, it progresses, because that piano solo was pretty smokin'. Ah, I see, it cools down for the start of someone's solo and then works itself into a lather. At 11+ minutes long, it allows for a slow cook...also, cool French in the middle of the song as the band remarked to each other briefly.

Now why include the 'encore clap' after the last track. I can see it didn't work, or at least didn't make it onto the album. Just seems mean.

Anyway, Day 4 is in the books. On to what tomorrow brings...

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