Friday, August 20, 2010

Day 5:The European Broadcast Union Jazz Orchestra "100 Years of Duke Ellington" and "After Hours 4"

Two fake outs today from The Albatross. First was the Errol Garner CD that is apparently too scratched to be played by the computer, which kept spitting it out. I don't really remember ever listening to that CD so I don't know how it got scratched, but such is The Albatross. It joins the 'to be repaired' pile with Bang on a Can V.2

The next fake out comes in the form of what I thought today's new first CD was-

The European Broadcasting Union Jazz Orchestra
100 Years of Duke Ellington

This CD isn't available for download, so I've linked to the Amazon page that still has samples.

This is one of the fake outs that occasionally happens because The Albatross is made up largely of jazz and classical. What I thought I was picking up was a Duke Ellington, as in Ellington will actually be playing, CD. Nope. I'm picking up an album of Ellington charts played by a set of professional studio musicians.

This particular CD came out in 1999 and has been sitting on my shelf still in its wrapper. This CD has been following me around for more than a decade without me so much as unwrapping it. This CD is fresh as the day it was born and hopefully handed over to me to, I guess, get excited about.

At some point (and it might be here somewhere in The Albatross) the Chabot Community College Steel Drum Band recorded an album that was optimistically sold in stores. Not to put top level studio musicians in the same category as a bunch of community college students in a steel drum band (I was in that band two years before and a year after the recording, where we didn't so much as have a end of the semester concert I don't timing: impeccable), but that's kind of what I feel about this.

It's another live recording, and I think it really is one of those things where you're looking at all the skilled players you have and thinking, "Man, we're wasting all this talent and skill recording ins and outs to daytime talk shows and station bumpers." A combination of two concerts in Canada, produced by a French-Canadian radio station for broadcast in Geneva to celebrate the 100th year since Ellington's birth, by a band consisting of players from Canada, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Croatia, The Czech Republic, Denmark, Austria, France, Norway, Hungary, the US, Slovenia, and the Netherlands...I think that alone is a pretty good example of how powerful Ellington's music is and is a tribute unto itself.

I seriously didn't think the nationality list was going to be that long when I started it, I was just looking at the first page of bios. The sole American is a Russian immigrant.

What saves this CD from being a complete vanity is their selection. There is a half hour long medley at the opening that burns through the normal catalog of Ellington standards that everyone knows even if they don't know they know them.

The actual tracks are far more obscure, Harmony in Harlem, Heaven, Purple Gazelle. Sometimes stuff is not in the regular canon because it really isn't as up to par as the stuff that is. And then there's Ellington, where he just wrote too much awesome stuff to have it all be like that.

It also includes the larger later works that Ellington had performed in Europe like the Togo Brava Suite and a piece whose only reference I can find on Google goes back to this actual CD, labeled "Cent-Ellington 1st movement, The Promise and 4th movement The Gift" These are all Ellington's suites, longer works he did later in his career that either weren't jazz enough for jazz people or weren't classical enough (or at all) for others. As such, these are not often recorded and hard to find. This is not just another rendering of Satin Doll, this is stuff you're pretty likely to have never heard.

This is actually another surprise that has happened since I started listening. I started off (you can see it a few short paragraphs ago) bemoaning the goofiness of who this was versus who I thought it would be, but as I get into it--this is some rare and intriguing stuff, and not just because it's a decade old promo from a group that recorded once. This is the kind of thing I keep The Albatross for, right here. Stuff I wouldn't even know existed without it.

They weren't really set up to record that chant at the end, so even with pretty good headphones I couldn't make it out, but that was kind of awesome once I got into it.

Various Artists
After Hours 4

Another one that is not on MP3, at least at Amazon, so the link is to the CD page where you can hear samples. You can also buy a new copy for $102.59! I have to admit, I started thinking, "New MP3 player, here I come!" but used copies are $4.12. I don't know what makes the new copies so special, but there you are.

This comes from the This is Acid Jazz collection/label/can't really tell anymore. I've been trying to come up with a way to describe Acid Jazz and its place in time. Take a time when Enya and Ace of Base were popular, New Age actually had radio stations, and raves had reached the point where there were 'very special episodes' of 90210 about them. US3 had released a rap album sampling jazz that was flash in the pan popular. Acid Jazz is the blender result of that. Electronica, really, with horns. No soloing or improv the way you'd know it in 'regular jazz.'  The music that might end up being played in the Chill Room while you try and gently come down off your E.

Thing is, to a degree, I kind of liked what Miles Davis was up to at the end of his career (I was lucky enough to see him in one of his last performances). And I think I was excited for what the prospect of Acid Jazz might be, so I snatched up Acid Jazz promos whenever they came up. Snatched sounds like there was competition, that's misleading. I casually acquired them with little to no resistance from my co-workers. Ultimately, I was hoping they'd be more Bitches Brew and less Paul Oakenfold. (Full disclosure, I messed up his name and thought, "I should check to see if that's the guy I'm thinking of"...I got a guy who apparently farts music...ah Google...)

For a more charitable description, here's Wikipedia:
Acid jazz is a musical genre that combines elements of jazz, funk and hip-hop[1], particularly looped beats. It developed in the UK over the 1980s and 1990s and could be seen as tacking the sound of jazz-funk onto electronic dance: jazz-funk musicians such as Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd and Grant Green are often credited as forerunners of acid jazz.[2] Acid jazz has also experienced minor influences from soul music, house music, acid rock, and disco.
While acid jazz often contains various types of electronic composition (sometimes including sampling or live DJ cutting and scratching), it is just as likely to be played live by musicians, who often showcase jazz interpretation as part of their performance. The compositions of groups such as Jamiroquai, The Brand New Heavies, Los Amigos Invisibles and Incognito often feature chord structures usually associated with jazz music.
The acid jazz "movement" is also seen as a revival of jazz-funk or jazz fusion or soul jazz by leading DJs such as Norman Jay or Gilles Peterson or Patrick Forge, also known as "rare groove crate diggers" or "Cataroos".

I would say that the 'fusion revival' predates Acid Jazz, but I guess that's a matter of perspective and I'm not prepared to go to the mat on that. By the time this compilation came out there wasn't much to distinguish it from the rest of the stuff on the adult contemporary station that played Sade and Shadowfax (the band, not the wizard's horse) on a near constant loop.

I think I remember liking Incognito, or hearing a track I liked, and that sort of fooled me into thinking I like Acid Jazz. I think more than anything, the name threw me off. On my own, I like some pretty abrasive music, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, The World Saxophone Quartet, Lester Bowie, John Zorn...dissonant free jazz--I was hoping that Acid Jazz would be like that for electronic jazz, or at least funkier, but it often is neither. And apparently I didn't have the patience to wade through all of it even though I was getting them for free, because I never found one I liked (with the possible exception of Incognito, if I'm remembering that right.)

I always hedge when I feel I'm being uncharitable, but seriously, I'm six tracks in on a compilation and I haven't even noticed the tracks changing much less could I identify them or distinguish them. To make matters worse, my brother has just stumbled me some Eric Dolphy and Headhunters-era Herbie Hancock (not knowing that I'm doing this at the moment). Before I was able to stop the YouTube videos, the contrast was pretty severe.

On the plus side, it makes an amusing if surreal soundtrack to the episode of Dirty Jobs playing in the background...

This is what smooth jazz needed, trunk rattling bass.

The track titles are what you'd expect from what you hear-
Playtime by Jimpster
Waterfront by Marschmellows (not making that up, go to the Amazon page)
Summer's End by Yada Yada

The current track that actually borders on funkiness has a pretty cool name, The Beautiful Women of Scant Virtue by Chris Standring. Plus it has hit a hot button with me, samples from ephemeral sources like science records, corporate videos, instructional films and the like. I guess that's sort of played out (though to be fair, this is from 1998), but I'm still a total sucker for it.

9 Lazy 9 and their Electric Lazyland also borders on funky. Plus, cool name.

Much like the band that dreamily brings this compilation to a close, Sad Rockets.

Alright, I feel bad for not being charitable again. There is a time and a place for this music, and Friday afternoon after having been roused by barking dogs is probably not it, especially not after some big band music. If I had done this entry at night like the last ones, perhaps winding down or after a drink or something I probably would have a better impression of it.

But such is the nature of the beast, I have to play what comes to the surface.

That's Day 5. Be sure to join the Facebook group to get a peak at what's coming up in the line up. Also, first successful mid-day completion!

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