Thursday, September 30, 2010

Day 34: Funkdamentals, Louis Armstrong/Duke Ellington Selections from the "Complete Session," 4-Sight Self Titled

I guess I can take a few minutes away from obsessively checking the status of the video to work on my long term project. The completely clean and unrecognizable CDs keep popping up, including a sampler from a box set I don't remember coming out. Apparently they over-fed the beast. I guess you can't entice a dog on a full stomach. How many times can I restate that metaphor?

That probably means I should just get to it...

Various Artists
I almost feel like I shouldn't have to listen to this album to consider it listened to. Thanks to a friend's parents growing up, I listened to all of this all through my childhood. Other people my age might have Thompson Twins or Depeche Mode or Wham! in their closet of shame--or maybe they have a bunch of metal bands they have that they guiltily admit that they really liked (or no guilt, who knows...), but I have this stuff. Before Jazz (and before a brief detour in early rap), there was Funk for me. In fact, Funk is why I played the sax. I saw a video with Clarence Clemens standing on a tall white pedestal playing the tenor sax and I thought, "Damn...that's my instrument, I want to play that!"

My vision was to stand in the horn section playing Earth, Wind and Fire or behind someone like James Brown. I wanted to be on that giant white pedestal growling out an eight bar solo in a funk or soul song. That was my very first image of my potential future self as a saxophonist. Obviously, that image evolved and I've talked about the various stages of that daydream before.

These are the songs I sing mindlessly when I'm completely idled. The "Give It To Me" chant..."Giveittomegivemethatstuffthatfunkthatsweetthatfunkystuff(give it to me!)" I don't really think about it. It's just the music in the back of my head. And since it's the first music I 'learned,' it shapes my tastes in music I like now.

The weird thing is that outside of funk, I really don't like dance music. And I absolutely don't dance to this or anything. I bob my head, but no dancing.

Man, I love Fantastic Voyage.

I don't know what the dancing thing is, really. I could come up with a bunch of excuses. It's not that I'm ashamed of my dancing (though it is, really, just awful)--I don't have the desire to dance (my brief romance with breakdancing aside--also, just awful). Dancing is one of those things where I don't know if I'm watching a good display of talent or I should put a wallet in the person's mouth to keep them from swallowing their tongue.  I even took a graduate level class on dance analysis, nothing.

Do your dance, do your dance, do your dance QUICK! Cameo never managed to popularize the cod piece.

Familiarity is probably a big contributor to why this CD was never opened. I knew all these songs, I could play them back in my head pretty easily, there was no rush to get them on the player. No doubt they came home with something I hadn't really heard.  Certainly it didn't come home during the Great Monster Rancher Play.

For record store employees who also loved their video games, Monster Rancher was a godsend. A video game where you make monsters from your own CDs? Couldn't be more perfect. In fact, the game was designed to get you to combine monsters and make them better that way, presuming I guess that people would run out of CDs to make monsters out of. For us, this was not a problem. We never really made it far in the game, we were too busy finding out what monsters all of our CDs made. We even had informal tournaments where we'd bring over ten CDs we hadn't put in yet, generate the monsters and have them fight it out for supremacy.

My champion monster came from Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, a pretty spectacular Naga. It seemed fitting. I miss that game.

For all of the fawning over Funk, the only other just pure funk on my iTunes before the project is a couple of Funkedelic albums when I realized that I was losing them. I used to have the entire Funkedelic catalog, but they all went adrift and only two, Hardcore Jollies and The Electric Spanking of the War Babies, were saved.

Duke Ellington/Louis Armstrong
Selections from "The Complete Session"

This seemed too short to count as its own CD. This is another one of those advance promos where they don't even have the artwork sorted out or at the very least produced and they're not giving me the complete cd.

This is really a CD that was waiting for iTunes or related media player. Because there really wasn't going to be an instance where I was going to throw in a CD with four tracks, one of them with false starts and conversations to have in the background or something of that kind.

I guess if I had a multi-cd player, like my brief moment in my bus, then it would work.

This is another one of those legendary artist CDs where I don't really know what to say. I can't really comment on the sounds that everyone knows even when they don't listen to jazz.

I went through a heavy Armstrong phase for a bit when I was living in a house with a lot of roommates. One of my roommates was pretty into The Carpenters. This created a fusion in my head when bored at work and I started singing Carpenters songs in Armstrong's voice. It's a moment that delights me to this day. Try it, it's awesome.


I usually have been listening to the CD for a little bit before I start typing. The process goes, I pop in the CD, transfer it to the hard drive, get the Amazon player link, scan the cover, and then start assembling it into the blog. By then, the CD has digested and I've been listening to it for a little bit. Usually I've looked up anything I didn't know as well. I haven't done this one because I really didn't know who the hell it was and I kind of wanted to see what my reaction was going to be.

Turns out it's a progressive jazz quartet. Everyone in the group has managed to continue playing (and the bass player has apparently become a professor at Michigan State while playing bass in the Lincoln Center Orchestra.) But as this particular group, just this once.

Wow, on track four it got all fusion-y on me. Still a little funky though.

There were a few groups of like this when I was there, jazz combos with names (instead of the "So and So Quartet). I usually didn't see many follow up albums from most of them. In fact, Sex Mob is the only group I can think of that I saw two or more of.

Which isn't to say that these groups aren't any good, they are. I really like this, not as much as Black/Note, a group from the same period, but it's pretty good.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Day 33: Rizwan - Muazzam Qawwali "Sacrafice to Love" and Blues Routes sampler

Another day, another bag, the same old Albatross. I'm back and the stack of CDs doesn't seem any smaller. I've found a bag of 'fresh' CDs, it seems, and there should be less 'failures' in this one. But just from the surface of it, it's also a bag I'm not entirely aware of. Both of today's CD's I don't really recall seeing that often if at all. I don't know how this bag (it's still in a paper bag, most of the CDs had been moved to a re-usable shopping bag) managed to survive, but now it's the second to be digested into the Project. Let's get to it.

Rizwan - Muazzam Qawwali
Sacrifice to Love

This is another Real World CD, Peter Gabriel's vanity world music label. I've talked about it before. We move from Africa to Asia for this collection of Pakistani music by Rizwan - Muazzam Quawwali.

I know next to nothing about what's going on, to be honest. Fortunately, the liner notes are intact.

Of course, the liner notes are a little sparse on the subject. This seems to be a Real World failing. These are the nephews of the renowned Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who introduced the west to Qawwali music, essentially (from the liner notes) Sufi and Islamic devotionals. Musically it seems to rely on heavy call and response, lengthy flowing vocal lines and a diverse and driving percussion, though not really heavy. The harmonium is kind of cool. According to wiki (no thanks, Real World liner notes...) the music is supposed to be rather high energy to "induce hypnotic states both among the musicians and within the audience." 

No warnings to not drive or operate heavy machinery seen on this CD however.

Maybe it's the harmonium working overtime, but I'm feeling a lot of similarity between this and Zydeco music. It's not just the drone of the harmonium sounding like an accordion (natch), the percussion and tempo kind of fit in, too. Zydeco doesn't really go for as long, flowing vocal lines, but otherwise, it's not entirely different.

These are some long songs, each over 15 minutes.

The liner notes have a weird quirk. On the translation of the third track (the lyrics are remarkably short for songs that go on for so long), it starts off with what the Qawwali is supposed to be. This one is called I Am the Dust of the Street of Mohammed. The discription contains a brief note on the piece, "A 'naat' - a song in praise of Prophet Mohammed, Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH)." It's that last bit that seems trippy, the acronym there. I mean, I'm used to hearing that following the mention of Mohammed, but I've never seen anyone put it down as just initials. I wonder what the story there is.

This was released in 1999 when the two artists that make up the group were teenagers, apparently. I don't have anything insightful to fill in that information, really. I think it just exhausts what I know about this CD.

Various Artists
Blues Routes: Blues & Jazz - Worksongs & Street Music - Heroes & Tricksters

Well, another bag, more blues compilations. This is pretty interesting in that it's part of a Folkways series of concerts. Apparently it collects various folk permiatations of the blues in American culture. It started off with a raildriving song by the Gandy Dancers (Gandy Dancers apparently a term for railstraighteners for the tool manufacturer, Gandy...see Real World, those are useful liner notes...) lead by a guy named John Henry followed by the song John Henry.

Not that anyone can tell, but I haven't been writing much about this CD because the liner notes are actually fantastic. I've had my fun with some of the more over the top liner notes so far, and of course blues has been a leader in the field of ridiculous.

But these, these are pretty good. Each track gets its own little section where the style of blues represented is given a brief but clear introduction including what makes it distinctive, its history, development and place in the rest of the blues cannon. So while I should be winging my way through commenting on the music and searching the nooks and crannies of my brain to try and remember all of this stuff that I may not have known in the first place, I'm instead filling in a bunch of gaps, like the railroad thing at the beginning. Or the history of the banjo, which I never apparently knew.

According to the liner notes it more or less evolved from a stringed gourd instrument brought over by slaves from West Africa. When it became a common feature of minstrel shows mocking black culture it sort of fell out of favor for the guitar. I never knew that. Of course, I never really liked the banjo, but I should have at least known where the instrument came from.

This is another Smithsonian CD so I guess it shouldn't really be that much of a surprise.

I'm on to a recording of the Mardi Gras Indians, black groups that act as 'tribes' during Mardi Gras with elaborate costumes. It even gives a list of CDs that contain nothing but Mardi Gras Indian recordings. This is like the champion of liner notes.

Following that is a band with paint bucket percussion. I had the opportunity to interview San Francisco's own Bucketman (who will be the first to tell you that he's been featured in Pursuit of Happyness and various TV shows.) He's a pretty entertaining guy to talk to. Doesn't really relate to this recording, but he was fascinating to talk to. This recording is apparently an example of Washington D.C.'s go-go music, a sort of folk rap form using bucket percussion. Awesome.

This CD should come with a unit of American Music History. It's probably the most informative thing I've listened to without actually getting a unit or two in the process.

See, I didn't know there was a San Francisco/Oakland 'sound' to blues. But it's clearly awesome. Joe Louis Walker is quoted in the liner notes describing it as "more swinging, as opposed to th real hard Windy City shuffles. It's more of a swing jump thing --very danceable."
Show all
But mostly it started off with some heavy slide guitar, which I love.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Back in Business Again

So again there was a bit of a hiatus, this time unannounced. It became showtime for another project that turned out to demand pretty much all my free time and then some, but I'm pretty happy with the outcome. Head on over to The Sandwich Machine for the details. What's more important is that I'll be feeding The Albatross again starting tomorrow at noon.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Day 32: Stephen Foster "A Family Album" Hurchu Alliance "Chasin' Heat"

Well, it's happened, the last of the CDs in the bag are multiples. Or are they? There are only three CDs in the bag, and two of them are large jewel cases and the other is not a CD that was for sale at my store. Of large CDs one is an opera. I just don't have it in me to do another five hour stint today, so that's for another time. But the other one is just a case of over packaging, it's in a double CD case in order to have thicker liner notes, or as they bill it 'a book.'

So lengthwise today is not as bad as I thought it was (considering I just kicked the three hour opera down the street some more.) Instead it's another one of those harsh juxtapositions.

Stephen Foster
A Family Album

When folk music gets old enough, someone formalizes it. Then you get something like Camptown Races sung by an operatic tenor. This probably isn't a rule, but that's my impression of this CD right off the bat. That and it's weird to hear an operatic tenor sing about the relative happiness of the 'darkies.' Fuck, this country was racist. Anyway...

This, as I mentioned, was in a double jewel case but only had a single CD in it. It's another one of those CDs that allowed me to be pretentious without putting much effort into it. Oh, hey, Foster is the Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair guy...good to know.

Well, this is what it was for, that kind of thing. So I could not only go, "Oh, yeah, that's a Stephen Foster song," but I could also go, "And I have a recording of it right here." Sure, it'd be the stiffest recording of the song possible, but I would have it. The packaging makes a lot of the decleration of Stephen Foster Day (January 13th). I don't know if the CD came out in 2001 or not, to commerate it. Seems reasonable. Hmm, also good to know, he did that "Swannie River" song and it's not called Swannie River, it's called Old Folks at Home. I have a feeling this is just going to keep happening. Yep, there's Beautiful Dreamer.

So the book is actually a biography written by Stephen's brother and originally published in 1896. It's a little over fifty CD sized pages. I guess I should read it, but I'm a slow reader and won't be done before the album is...and, you know, I'm lazy. Apparently the CD is meant to not only demonstrate that Foster is the person who wrote all those songs, but is also a 'bonafide' Romantic era composer. Apparently, at least according to the forward, Foster was filling a need that was created by the prominence of pianos in American homes in the late 19th century.

Honestly, I really should know more about this guy than I really do. When I picked the CD up I went, "Oh, it's that 19th century folk guy that wrote a bunch of the songs we know." Which is true, but doesn't really qualify as 'knowing' anything about the guy. Or which songs, exactly.

There's a kind of depressing song about a sister asking if her brother was killed in battle, and apparently pressing for details.

And of course they bookend the collection with O' Susanna.

Hurchu Alliance
Chasin' Heat
 I don't know where someone would go to get this particular album, so I linked to their Facebook page. This would be one of the true, absolute treasures of working at a record store, the coveted consignment CD. But it's not, though it's similar in every way except one. It wasn't consigned at our store. Instead, it's a rap album from a group that included my brother.

To the best of my knowledge, my brother never listened to an abundance of rap. He has always, as long as I've known (there was a long period where we did our own things) a metal head. But he's also been pretty open and the kind of person his friends wanted to collaborate with, and so this rap album is the result.

I, however, did listen to a lot of rap a really long time ago. Like, Kurtis Blow, Egyptian Lover, Grandmaster Flash, Whodini long ago. I don't really have an impartial way to judge this music. I kind of got over the notion of my metalhead brother as rap artist when I saw this group preform in San Francisco. I thought it would be awkward but really, he kind of owned it. Like I said, I can't be impartial and say, "this is great!" or whatever. It's not embarrassing to listen to.

At the record store I kind of got used to referring to people by nicknames. Plinko, Hawkman, Roach, Railroad, The Casual Male. Almost everyone there called me Walrus. At a certain point it went from seeming weird to seeming normal. Most of the nicknames were dispersed among the skater kids that worked at and hung around the store. Flattering nicknames were not common, even Casual Male was snide. But since I left I've normalized, so it stands out now when I talk to my brother who doesn't generally use nicknames refer to members of Hurchu by their nicknames.

Being an older brother I always feel like I have to give advice, but when he was doing this I had a limited pool to draw from. "Well, I like Wu Tang, um...listen to Rza?" I have no idea if that influence is really noticeable. My understanding of the arrangement was that my brother did the beats as well as contributing rap parts. He's pretty good at manipulating his voice, so I'm not entirely sure which one is him to be honest. I'm liking the samples from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Ah, Explode. After my first year at UC Santa Cruz I spent the summer at my brother's place. One afternoon one of his friends came over and spent a few hours recording the hook to this song which is pretty straight forward, "Because I explode, watch me explode, because I explode." Nothing really wrong with that, it's a hook. But after a while of it I remember getting strange about it, I think doing impressions of various comedians explaining their tendency to explode and their desire to have one watch them do so.

I was able to recognize my brother on the slightly Eminem-esque rap ballad with a bit of narrative to it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Day 31: Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers "At the Cafe Bohemia V.2" 32 Jazz Sampler Miles Davis "Blue Miles"

So this is the thirty-first day. I've been actually doing this for a month. The time period is longer because of the hiatus, but thirty one actual days of cds going onto the hard drive. I don't really have anything profound to say about it but that I'm rather enjoying doing it.

It's all jazz day on the 31st day, and all jazz that I tend to prefer, so it's an easy day for listening because I'm likely to enjoy the heck out of it. We'll see if that translates. I was also suckered again by CDs in sleeves, but this time it's only going to result in three hours of music instead of yesterday's marathon five. When I originally decided to do this, five was the first number I came up with until I realized that five CDs a day meant listening to five hours of music straight through every day and write about it while it happens. It doesn't sound horrible, I'm sure critics do it, and just listening to music that long is not bad at all. But having to comment on it, and my decision to wear headphones to give the music it's best (under the circumstances) representation, that clearly would have been too much. And besides, critics get paid to do this, and I don't know that this blog has a reader I haven't met, so two it is.

Except today, where it's three.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
At the Cafe Bohemia V.2

This has always stood out to me as the halmark of post bop jazz. Not this particular album, which I apparently didn't even take out of its case until just now, but The Jazz Messengers in general. I may have mentioned this when I did the Tony Williams Trio, but drummers make the best bands, and the biggest proof of that is Art Blakey and his messengers. The jazz critic written liner notes tell me that this is the original line up (as much as I admire the Jazz Messengers, I don't really know the line up history--I just know that any time I pick up a Messengers CD the line up is going to be awesome.) The Messengers went from this super band line up to be the greatest predictor of remarkable talent until Blakey hung up his sticks.

This is not a volume two in the box set sense, but it is a companion recording to another that I'm hoping comes up because it's got some of my favorite Horace Silver numbers on it, apparently.  It's of course another Rudy Van Gelder edition...I wonder if I should have been tagging those all this time?

I have been sitting on my Art Blakey anecdote, and I don't think I've already blown it. I wanted to use it yesterday when it was probably a little more appropriate. I was backstage at a Terrance Blanchard performance at Yoshi's in Oakland--I don't remember if I got back there because of the record store or because a former record store employee had become artist liaison for Yoshi's--anyway, I was sitting backstage while Blanchard held court. He was talking about his days as a Messenger and playing with Art Blakey. He was part of that crowd I talked about yesterday, the musicians that came out of school jazz, the technicians. He even talked about how they (including himself) loved to flex their skill by creating complicated, difficult, technical pieces. They'd all come in, Blanchard explained, with these hard, technical pieces to try out. But they'd get three or four bars in and Blakey would wave them off. "What is this?" Blanchard quoted, doing his best raspy Art Blakey voice, "Look here, anyone can write something no one can play. It takes talent to write something people want to hear." Blanchard explained that it changed his entire approach to music. To be fair, this is in no way an admission that Blanchard rejected his academic, technical past. He had reached a point of training himself, of study, that all of that was completely on demand. He wouldn't have been the player he is without that command. It just signaled a time to develop a different direction built on that philosophy.

That story effected me pretty deeply as well, even if I didn't continue on in music.

The CD opens with a track that threw me off completely, and the internet didn't help at all. The liner notes cleared it up, the track that sounded an awefull lot like Tenor Madness but was labeled Sportin' Crowd was in fact what Tenor Madness...when it was recorded six months later by Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. And when a young Walrus played the snot out of it in high school. I had not sufficiently understood how chord changes related to each other for far too long, so I jumped at any chance to play the blues progression.

There's a weird thing that happens at the end of I Waited for You. At the end of the nine minute track the band launches into another tune for 15 to 20 seconds until it fades out. It's a weird choice.

Various Artists
32 Jazz Sampler

This is the kind of thing that I could only get from working at the store. I don't think it's the first of its kind I've done, because that seems familiar. I don't even think that this is the first one from 32 Jazz now that I think about it. Maybe not, my posts aren't as searchable as I'd like them to be...probably my fault.

This is a collection of 32 Jazz's hard bop/post bop artists, for the most part. This was a sampler of upcoming re-issues. Sometimes this meant that I was about to get six new awesome re-issues, sometimes it meant that this was all I was going to get. Since the Albatross is completely unorganized I have no idea which one is the case here. I don't know that I've seen these albums at any point, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything.

The second track on this album is one of those Real Book charts I never really got the hang of, Freedom Jazz Dance performed here by Eddie Harris. Turns out I wasn't that far off, it's just that kind of melody, I just never listened to it with a rhythm section. Or maybe I did and never made the connection.

You know, one of the things I'm discovering about myself through all of this is that I am a way bigger fan of hard bop that I thought I was. I liked it when I was learning jazz because it was funky, not as hard to play as bop and not, in my teenage estimation, as corny as swing. But my impression of it was that it wasn't always as funky as I thought it was, but that really seems false. Or I've grown into it, or something. Because of the 'straight jazz' CDs that have gone in, I've really enjoyed the hard bop ones most consistently. Rather than trying to use my own words to define hard bop, since it only seems appropriate at this point, I'm going to link to a definition.

It might be that any song named Feels So Good is going to be pretty cool. Mose Allison gives a groovy, laid back, very different Feels So Good than Chuck Mangione.

It was only a matter of time before Satin Doll came up. I had invoked it as the 'generic standard' enough times that here it is. It's being done by Raashand Roland Kirk, who sounds like he has a few saxophones in his mouth. I'm being literal here, Kirk would occasionally play multiple saxophones at the same time.

This is also a much different Angel Eyes than I am used to. A little groovier. This one is performed by Hank Crawford, not the high school big band favorite of any band that had a really good lead alto. I should explain that, but that's really it--there is a ballad called Angel Eyes that about three or four jazz bands would do at every competition that's lead by the first alto. I was expecting that song, but it was apparently a different Angel Eyes.

I really hope these albums pop up in the collection. I only managed to find MP3 downloads of two of the albums on Amazon, but they're both good.

Miles Davis
Blue Miles

I'm pretty sure I have this twice, but the other one may not have survived. This is a themed compilation of Miles Davis recordings that, at least according to the CD, try to establish him as the "King of the Blue Hours between midnight and dawn." Apparently to refute him being the prince of darkness, which I've never heard him called, though he did record a song called that. Not sure that really counts.

This is the Round Midnight I'm most familiar with, the version from the movie of the same name the second most. This is probably the version of Round Midnight that everyone is most familiar with, even if they don't know they know it.

Miles Davis was really, really good at ballads. I mean, he was really good at trumpet in general, but he really smoked ballads. He's famous for saying, "You know why I quit playing ballads? Cause I love playing ballads." I guess there's a couple ways to take that, I don't know what he said after or before that.  Certainly Miles wasn't one to wallow in a comfort zone to be sure.

I usually don't like compilations, I prefer to hear the whole album. I want that artist's 'moment', so to speak, their complete thought. I would hear people complaining about having to buy a whole album for one song and I would think, "Man, listen to better music." But I guess there is an argument to be had for, "I just want to sit back and relax to some mellow, smokey Miles Davis music."

Or, I guess, if I was trying to seduce a classy lady in a cliched movie in the roll of pretentious douchebag. I do feel like I should be sipping wine instead of water for this. Though now any water I consume makes me a little nervous if the computer is anywhere near it...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Day 30: Stefon Harris, Jason Moran, Gerg Osby, Mark Shim "New Directions", Joe Lovano "52nd Street Themes", Andre Previn "A Streetcar Named Desire"

Well, I kind of stepped in it now with my more 'pure' notion of the grab bag technique. I pulled out a weathered and worn CD that turned out to be a three CD modern opera and a CD sleeve that was cleverly disquising two CDs without any marking whatsoever.

It's not the first operatic style CD I've had to do, but I think it is my first three CD set that has had all three discs in them. And all but one track transfered. Well, I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

Interestingly enough, I think this is the first time an artist has repeated, and it's managed to do it in an interesting way. Not too long ago (like two days ago) I did a Greg Osby and Joe Lovano collaboration. Well, tucked in the very damaged little unmarked sleeve were separate albums from both artists. I'm not sure if this is pure coincidence, of if I received these all together and throughout all the upheavel they managed to stay somewhat united, but it's kind of cool. Add in Stefon Harris who was part of day 14. Though it won't give me much to say since I exhausted my stories about both artists two days ago, but I'm doing six hours of music today, so maybe if I'm not typing the entire time it's a good thing.

Stefon Harris, Jason Moran, Greg Osby, Mark Shim
The Blue Note New Directions Band
So, first, that's not the normal scanned image since the plain sleeve that the CD was in had to be destroyed in order to extract the CD.

So apparently this was an attempt by Blue Note to get all of their young turk players together in the same way that there used to be that cross fertilization. This also has Osby playing in that slightly wild way that I'm more used to rather than that slightly tamed way he laid down with Lovano earlier.

This is the result of what happens when the new hot jazz get together.

In the seventies there was a flood of the first of the 'film school' filmmakers. Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola, and Lukas were the first real wave of people who had studied film and filmmaking academically. In the late 80s and more in the 90s the same thing happened with jazz. More so than with filmmaking there was not only a sense that jazz couldn't be taught, but rather that it shouldn't be taught. There was a real feeling that the old Louis Armstrong adage was law,  "If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know." You couldn't teach jazz in a classroom, the conventional wisdom went, it had to be learned in the clubs at the feet of the masters. It had to be in your soul and if it wasn't, tough luck.

I've briefly discussed the change in this in the 80s with the recording from Jimmy Heath, "The Professor." I was a product of this as well, I learned jazz academically. I also spent a fair amount of time following around local jazz acts and watching them in clubs and tugging their ears, but I learned a lot in a class room.

What this resulted in was a wave of extraordinarily technical players. I don't say this pejoratively, this technical skill did not substitute expressiveness or feeling. Sure, there were some amazingly technical players that emerged briefly who didn't have that hard to define 'feel.' But the ones with that hard to define element were also amazingly technical players.

So a gathering like this it is almost like the honor students putting on the science fair. There's no fake volcanoes here, if they're going to do something on volcanoes, expect actual lava.

The pieces are selected out of the Blue Note library, but this is no list of common standards. The most common piece on here is Song for My Father. The other tracks are ones like Theme to Blow UpNo Room for Squares, Big Bertha, and Commentary on Electrical Switches. This is deep catalog. Hard bop, progressive selections that come from a well studied, extremely well trained musicians who want to flex the muscles they toned. This is not beginners jazz. You want Satin Doll, go to a hotel lobby.

Joe Lovano
52nd Street Themes

Again I don't have the real cover, but at least this album is available for download at Amazon, so it gets the big player unless you're running AdBlock, in which case you get nothing.

This is almost the opposite of the previous album, which is not to say it isn't technical. It's in fact fairly heavily arranged, bringing four saxes, a trumpet and a trombone in as the horn section. The title is a tribute to the famed section of 52nd St. that was home to a large amount of jazz clubs through the middle of the twentieth century. These are all fresh arrangements of charts you might hear walking down 52nd street on a Saturday night. The arrangements are done by a Willie Smith, but not "The Lion" Smith from an earlier entry.

This kind of feels academic in a way. When you put a bunch of jazz students together, the first thing that usually happens is you put them in big bands, but big bands are pretty limiting. Unless you're the first trumpet, alto, tenor, or piano player you're not looking at many solos and the solos people do get are not very long. So now you sort your students into combos, but you usually only have a handful of rhythm section players (they were sorted out when the big band was selected) and an abundance of horn players, so in school you get a lot more 'nonets' and octets and the like. And because that's really too many horns to have just do unison lines, they also do arrangements. I performed in a few groups like this, usually doing Hard Bop tunes.

There isn't a lot of these 'in the wild' so to speak. Economically, it's hard to get a gig that pays nine members. Or for a label to foot the bill on a relatively low selling jazz CD with that many musicians on the invoice. But it certainly is more common on CD than live.

Influence-wise, I did this a little backward. This is largely bop from 52nd Street's heyday and New Directions was largely post-bop.

I feel like I should talk more about this, but really I got nothing. It's good.

There's a pretty cool solo sax piece towards the end called Abstractions on 52nd Street. I dig solo saxophone, you usually have to head to a street corner for that.

Andre Previn
A Streetcar Named Desire

So, I still have that problem with operas in English. And I got three hours of it ahead of me. I like Tennessee Williams, though. I don't really know too much about this particular play except for the iconic line, which I'm hoping will be spectacular.

So, I have this for two reasons. The first is that I was an advocate modern composition, and new operas fell into that category, despite my difficulty in hearing them in English. I know it's unfair, but it just sounds like Opera parody. Blame Adam Sandler.

The second reason is it is the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. So it was a new opera performed by the local orchestra. I had to take the promo. Besides, it wasn't like anyone was going to fight me for it. I think i pulled it out once and tried to listen to it. That's apparently going to be the last time, however. I came back from the bathroom and found out that 'snap' when I got up was me splitting the second CD in half. Well, at least I got it onto the hard drive...

Oh yeah, there's the "STELLA!" Done by an opera singer. Happens a lot earlier in the opera than I thought it would. But then I don't know this play that well.

I think I may have discovered that the only thing harder for me to accept than English operas is opera sung with an affected southern accent. Also, wearing headphones for five hours makes your ears sweaty, something I wasn't aware was possible. When I do audio work I tend to at least move them to my forehead between takes.

I'm in the home stretch and I haven't really said much.  I keep getting this feeling like the reader is sitting in front of me waiting for me to comment, but that's not at all the case. Obviously.

Rape scenes in general are rough to watch or listen to, but in opera form they are a special kind of disturbing.

Ha, I got distracted and hadn't noticed that the music had gotten a lot more up beat and brassy, iTunes had moved on to the Canadian Brass Super Hits...

Well, opera is a rough spot for me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day 29: Wynton Marsalis & the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra "Blood on the Fields" and Philip Catherine "Blue Prince"

So, it's time I stopped 'throwing back' the double CDs and got to it before it becomes tragic. And why not start out with an opus paired up with something I haven't the foggiest idea about?

Wynton Marsalis & the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra
Blood on the Fields

So, at least in my mind if not in reality, there was a distinct rivalry in attitude and philosophy between the two more famous Marsalis brothers (Jason and Delfeayo I didn't really know...). Wynton represented a scholarly look at the past, a complete embrace of the history and tradition of jazz. He was the ambassador, the professor. There is a fair chance that if anyone under a certain age knows anything about jazz and its history it is directly because of Wynton Marsalis.

Branford, however, represented the new, the now, the ten minutes from now. He was picking up the torch of Coltrane, Dolphy, of the progressive players that came before him and running headlong into that territory. Sure, he was still using traditional quartets and trios (Buckshot LeFonque not withstanding), but he was playing that dissonant rapid sound pioneered by jazz musicians of the late sixties. Though I do remember him at a show, trying to figure out what to do for an encore, laughing when someone called out "Giant Steps".

I was firmly in the Branford camp. I mean, what teenager likes bookworm-y history nerds? I was already nerdy enough for listening to jazz in the first place, I wanted in on the hip, the defiant. Besides, Branford played sax, I played sax. My side was chosen. I bought Branford religiously (even albums where Branford guested on, which explains the Sting CD I had for a moment), trying to get every Branford recording there was and all but ignoring his brother.

It's not that I didn't like his brother. Clearly, awesome. But I had made my choice, you can either repeat the past or write the future. Black and white, one or the other. Surely that's how it is.

Then I got Blood on the Fields. Holy crap. It won a Pulitzer Prize, so I don't really have to write it up like it's some hidden treasure. If you're into jazz even a little bit, it's a pretty famous album. To catch others up, it's basically a jazz oratorio about a family transitioning from slavery to freedom. (wiki link, since I realized I more or less just repeated the first sentence... I had thought there would be more criticism on the work itself rather than the political controversy of the award, but that's a publicly edited encyclopedia for you...)

Blood on the Fields repudiates everything I so smugly claimed when I bored someone with why I liked one Marsalis more than the other. This was traditional, modern, complex, simple... frankly incredible. It reminded me of Charles Mingus' Epitaph or the larger works of Ellington towards the end of his life. This was the large work that jazz had been trying for since 1917. This was completely amazing, far in advance of anything I had heard while still shin deep in traditional jazz structures. And it sounded badass.

I was wrong. Dammit. And now I had missed out on what Wynton had been doing this entire time, so I didn't see it coming.

Sadly, this is still one of the only Wynton albums I have, and he is very prolific, so it would be quite the effort to catch back up.

So if this was so earth-shattering, why is it lost in the Albatross? Well, it's long, for one. It was always one of those things that I wanted to sit down and listen to all the way through. Especially after the first CD blew my mind so much. But I never got around to it. I didn't have a CD changer until a recent pick-up of a five disc DVD changer free off Craigslist, and that was problematic and would have to be played through the TV. The first disc ended up an orphan, drifting around in one of the caseless piles probably too scratched up now to play. Once deep in the mix, it just got lost. I'd see it and think, "That's awesome, I should listen to it sometime" - and then nothing.

I really hate when the music I really like has a completely depressing theme. I remember when I actually listened to what was being said in Strange Fruit... that song was beautiful, but now I want to cry every time I hear it. And of course the coolest track so far on the second and third CD...Forty Lashes. I mean, it's okay to like it, it just means you have to change your vocabulary about it. "Forty Lashes fucking rocks, man. I love Forty Lashes! I gotta hear me some Forty Lashes!" Just doesn't sound right.

Fortunately, the last two tracks, Freedom is in the Trying and Due North , are also awesome without the same baggage.

Philip Catherine
Blue Prince
Well, that first track wasn't at all what I was expecting. I was thinking how unfair the line up was, really. I mean, this guy I hadn't heard of was following an album I already held in pretty high regard. I was kind of expecting to ramble on new age-y artists and nondescript covers or something.

But instead the first track exploded with a pretty hot progressive thing going on, now I'm all thrown off.

I mean, the second track has cooled down, has that post-Jaco Pastorius fretless bass, more Weather Report than Wes Montgomery.

Of course, as I type that (and look up how to spell Wes' last name...) there comes a track that's more Wes than Weather Report. This guy is kind of all over the place in an awesome way.

I really don't know anything about this guy. I thought it was going to be a blues album to begin with. And with that English professor look he has on that cover, I wasn't expecting much in the way of blues. Maybe he was going to be another Paul Brady. The Amazon reviews implied that he was a fusion player, which is kind of true, but also kind of not. This is actually pretty cool.

Which is not to imply that I can think of  a lot of things to say about it. Each track has been a kind of stand alone that he's brought something interesting to.

This was the best part about working at a record store, finding stuff like this that I never would have otherwise. Eventually, I would have come across Blood on the Fields, but Philip? I apparently wasn't intrigued enough to open the case. There's no way I would have listened to this without the Albatross. There isn't much coverage for Belgian jazz guitarists.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Day 28: Joe Lovano & Greg Osby "Friendly Fire" and Don Byron "A Fine Line"

There's a failure in the blind method and my own weakness is setting me up big time. The grab bag method is all fine and good, except when I feel a double CD in my hand and think, "Man, I'm not up for that at the moment."

Of course this means that soon it's going to be nothing but multiple CDs that I have to do. And I have only myself to blame. But for now, I've kicked that can down the road and serve up two very different kind of progressive jazz CDs.

Regarding Ping...I have yet to figure out what the point of that even share my iTunes purchases with the public? Apparently it only notices activity within the iTunes store. For the featured CDs I can either use the ten it picked at random from my collection (that I bought through iTunes) or I can clumsily look for the album in iTunes. For two days straight the album hasn't come up. I thought it might have been another way to experience the collection, but it looks like it's just a way to look into my shopping cart. Meh.

Joe Lovano & Greg Osby
Friendly Fire

There are CDs in the Albatross that are 'familiar' without me having ever actually opened them or played them. They just surface a lot and I notice them. Maybe they have a catchy cover, a strange album name, or, in this case, two great tastes that taste great together that I probably kept intending to listen to. Joe Lovano was someone I got into in college, helped out a great deal from working at the store. Osby, I came across at the store, otherwise I might not have never heard of him.

And that would have been a shame, because I dig Greg Osby. With Lovano, on this CD, he's a little more on this side of wild with his playing. There's even a track called Serene. I don't know who is playing the flute, perhaps both of them...the liner notes are fused shut.

There was a time where I thought that two saxophones together was...I guess, unnatural. It just didn't seem right. Four or more saxophones? Of course, who wouldn't love that? But a band where there were two saxophones as the only horns, that was just wrong. There had to be a trumpet or trombone chaperone to prevent anything untoward. You simply could not lead a band with two woodwinds, it was unheard of. A combo consisted of one brass and one woodwind, at least if two or more horns were involved, and that's just the way it was.

I'm not sure why I thought this, I don't know what I had against two of my saxophone brethren standing up together to lead a combo. There wasn't any precedent for it. The fact of the matter is, two saxophones can sound great together, they don't need a brass to get down.

Two trumpets, though, that's just wrong.

This is a positively sedate recording, really. Not to say it's easy listening or anything, and I'm not about to confuse it with the Pat Metheny soundtrack, but it's pretty easy going by the standard I'm used to hearing these two play at. Maybe I've played it up in my head. It's still pretty awesome, though. The guys play pretty well off each other. And they switch things up enough that the tracks don't bleed even if you're not paying attention. There's the flute/sax bit, and another where they both play sopranos (a dangerous proposition in anyone else's hands.)

Don Byron
A Fine Line: Arias & Lieder

I first got hip to Don Byron when he released an album called Bug Music performing the full songs of all the pieces composers like Carl Stalling would sample for the cartoon scores.

Normally I don't really like the clarinet. Too many keys and fingerings, kind of a strange sound. And they were too eager to be in marching band for some reason. I mean, it's not like anyone can hear the clarinet...

Anyway, Byron turned out to be the kind of curious musician that I really like. So much so that I apparently have duplicates that have been lost. I bought Bug Music twice (and am really hoping that it pops up in this process.) One of the empty nests was a sleeve for this CD (which itself doesn't have a front case at all).  That really wasn't all that uncommon. We'd get promos in the sleeve like that in advance of the CDs release and then when the release date would come another promo in a proper jewel case.

I felt there was something familiar about this CD even though I'm fairly certain I never got around to listening to this album, and there it is, on the personnel on the back cover, pianist Uri Caine. I had mentioned him in passing when I raged against piano players (good times...) as a musician composer who manages to successfully blend music from the classical canon into a modern jazz (among other things) texture in a way that escapes most. His hand print is noticeable here as Byron takes music from Ornette Coleman, Gershwin, Roy Orbison, Schumann, and even Henry Mancini.

So, even without the no doubt over the top liner notes, we can see what the 'fine line' alluded to in the title is all about. It's really been a kind of pulling towards the center. The Coleman song was a little less 'wild' than it would have been for another free jazz player, while the Orbison or Schumann songs are a little more 'out there' than they would have been otherwise. All of that is laden with the unique sound that Uri Caine manages. It's this weird blend of American pop music of the early sixties, Eastern European folk, and whatever else he can find. If you spun an AM dial and wrote down the first eight genres you came across, it might be something like listening to a single Uri Caine piece.

A bass clarinet, the saving grace of the clarinet. I can't stay mad at an instrument that has this in the family.

I really wish I had noticed that Caine was on this album earlier. Caine is one of the only survivor CDs from the Albatross, the first to make it onto the hard drive when I first got my computer in an effort to make sure I always had it. Add onto that Byron, whose playing I really enjoy, this would have wound up in regular rotation had I known.

Byron rids himself of the band to do a Chopin song on the end (though thanks to a quirk of iTunes and a sketchy CD I have the Stevie Wonder song playing last). Not something you usually associate with Chopin, so it's a nice touch.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Day 27: Kenny Kirkland and Thelonious Monk "Genuis of Modern Music V.1"

Back in the swing of things with a shiny new computer and an iTunes with a weird new look. Not that it really matters, because it's the same old Albatross. Today there is an actual apples to apples comparison, not that the selections really have to be compared by any stretch of the imagination.

But it's two piano players, the legendary Thelonious Monk and Kenny Kirkland, the late piano player for the Branford Marsalis Quartet.

Kenny Kirkland
Kenny Kirkland

I have to first be honest, I have spent most of this CD being too clever for my new computer. Apparently, after searching for drivers and trying to install them and then make everything work the way it used to, the machine came packed with everything needed already in it and all I had to do was plug stuff in and go. I hate when I'm the one who can't set the clock on the VCR, but then by making that dated a reference I fear I'm doomed to be just that.

I should clarify that, in high school and for some time after that, I was a fan of the Branford Marsalis Quartet like other kids may be fans of Green Day or Blink 182 or Good Charlotte or whatever. (I should have come up with bands from when I was in high school instead of bands that were popular when I worked at the record store, but I honestly couldn't think of any... I was too busy being a fan of the Branford Marsalis Quartet.)

I even sat in an elevator for a few hours waiting for a show to open so I could get tickets. (Perhaps, you are thinking, a true fan would have bought tickets in advance...well, I didn't have a lot of cash and only got paid that day, smartypants.) The show was taking place on the third story of a three story restaurant with a performance lounge. The third story wouldn't open up until the show started and I didn't want to hang out in the lobby. (I found out the third story didn't open up by accidentally gaining access to it and being asked, "Oh, are you with the band?" Foolishly, I said no.) I was joined by a fellow music major (I was a music major at SacState at the time) and we sat on the floor of the elevator waiting it out.

That's when a man in the same Spiderman t-shirt I was wearing walked in with another man using a cane. I made a casual comment about Spiderman and turned to my friend who was aghast. I asked what was up and he simply pointed and went, "Kenny Kirkland." It was then I realized that the person I was talking Spiderman with was Jeff "Tain" Watts. Watts turned to continue the conversation with me once he got out of the elevator but I hadn't gotten the nerve to follow him and I once again missed my free ticket to hang out with the band.

What does any of this have to do with Kenny Kirkland's self titled album? Not much, but I have met him and it was awesome.

In a lot of ways it really is a Branford Marsalis Quartet with Kirkland calling the tunes. There are a few tracks with different artists on that wouldn't happen on a Marsalis CD (since they don't involve the saxophone). So basically it's my favorite band with the piano player calling the shots for a change.

So you'd think I was definitely happy to get this promo. And I likely was. But it wasn't opened. This one actually baffles me, because, like I said, I was a huge fan. I really have no idea how this managed to escape being played even once.  Perhaps it's one of those CDs that I got duplicates of and somewhere in the Albatross there is an open copy floating around. It's a good album, but I'm not an impartial judge.

The liner notes are pretty classic jazz liner notes, even if they are written by Branford himself. It starts out with the traditional throw to the history of jazz, followed by trying to place the artist within that history of jazz. If the player is modern like Kirkland, then you have to establish him or her through the artist's influences.

Then there is the run down of how that artist applies these influences. Since this is written by a fellow artist who actual plays with Kirkland, so it wanders into strict music theory that you'd have to be a musician to understand.

Sometimes I wonder if jazz fans who aren't musicians (at a certain point, I start to wonder if the only fans of jazz music are musicians themselves and this is just natural) understand all of that theory babble that accompanies discussing jazz or if it's just the 'noise' they accept as part of the conversation, like they learn what these mean in the abstract, as if Csus7 means "red" to them or something.

Thelonious Monk
Genius of Modern Music V.1

Monk looms huge. It's hard to pick a Thelonious Monk story to start with to get into my relationship to Monk's music.

Ultimately, I should talk about the first Monk promo I got, and how it led to me having to compete for promos ever since.

I was hanging out with my friend who was the main buyer at the store. I don't know if he had actually gotten to that point yet or not, but that's what he was when he finally left to be the distributor of promos rather than the receiver.

It happened at his apartment where he was going through his own growing Albatross and he handed me a Thelonious Monk CD (for all I know, this one, though it may have been a box set). I was thrown off, for a moment I forgot myself and could only think "How on earth could someone just give up a CD like this?"

From that point I launched unfettered into who Monk was and what he meant to jazz. I blurted out jazz liner note-esque history in some sort of rambling free form--without thinking about it I was trying to talk this person out of giving me the awesome, awesome CD. Who knows what I was thinking.

Later, when taking a playwriting and screenwriting class to hold off student loans while at a junior college, I replicated that speech about Monk in a sort of nonsense play called The Potentially Great Adventures of Captain Sedentary and Stationary Lad. The titles of the characters had actually come from the same friend, as we sort of halfheartedly mocked the distance between our dreams and our ambitions. It was a throw-away script that I thought was a movie except it took place in one room and essentially behaved in every way just like a play. Later that summer, I was invited to turn it into a play to have it performed, and that started the transition from music to film and theater. It all began with me talking about Monk.

Monk is probably the most important non-saxophonist that shaped how I listen to music. He was a bop piano pioneer that didn't use a wall of notes (or, as Ira Gitler would put it, 'sheet of sound,' but he wasn't talking about bop). I became fascinated with his use of dissonance and sparsity. And all of his tunes in the Real Book were challenging to play but sounded awesome once you got them right. It felt good to be able to call a Monk tune that wasn''t Blue Monk. It was like telling the combo, "Yeah, I've been practicing."

Typical of the remasters of the time (and probably still) there are a lot of 'alternate takes' on this album. The pretentiousness of the title, given that it was put out in Monks lifetime from a set of sessions at Blue Note, is forgivable because it comes from someone so completely awesome. Watch the documentary "A Great Day in Harlem" for how the other famous, established legendary jazz musicians react when Monk shows up... and he was still pretty young then. When you're that cool, you get to have a title like Genius of Modern Music.

It might have been the movie "Round Midnight" starring Dexter Gordon that did it in for me. Something about that tune I would play over and over again from the soundtrack while trying to imitate that raspy voice that Gordon had when I told stories.

Well You Needn't is another example of a tune you can't shake but puts you just off balance enough to be thrown for a complete loop once he starts to solo.

And In Walked Bud is one of my favorite charts of all time. I remember going to a tribute to Bud Powell where I think Chick Corea was upset someone else had done that song before him but he just did it again anyway. I mean, it's jazz. It's never the same twice anyway, or you're doing it wrong. I could have that entirely wrong, including who the concert was for. Everything but the song in question is a little hazy.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Back in Business

New computer, new iTunes, same old Albatross. Project:Albatross will be back up and running with two new entries tomorrow. iTunes 10 users can follow the project on Ping under the name Project Albatross. I have yet to completely know how that will work out, but there it is.

Glad to be back and on a computer that can actually run modern programs.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Temporary Hiatus

Well, the poor beat up Mac that was serving as the vessel for this project suffered a fatal blow last night when a full glass of water was poured all over it. It was touch and go, and in the end, 'go' won. Relief is on the way, but it's going to be a bit. A week+ it seems. Until then I'm on a computer without a CD drive and therefore unable to  process CDs into the external drive. I'll alert the facebook crowd as soon as I'm back up, anyone with RSS feeds will of course find out that way.

On the plus side I may actually get to use the new features on iTunes.

Day 26: Woody Herman and his Herd "Woody Live: East-West" Tony Williams "Young at Heart" Blue Note Years V.3 Organ and Soul

This may not be as much a function of the Albatross as it is the way I actually function. Sometimes I do want to put away the CDs that have been playing around in my rotation, but I don't always have the time or the inclination to find the case. So I just put them in any one I can find.

I've talked about this before, the Fake Out. But there was an aspect of the Fake Out that I hadn't mentioned, the Double Down. More than one CD in a case at a time.

Well, today there is a Fake Out AND a Double Down at the same time. What I thought was going to be my second comedy CD, a Berkeley concert by Lenny Bruce is instead two CDs that I'm kind of hoping make it (as I type this I haven't tried to injest them.) But it's two cases so I'm just going to go with the rule that they both have to go in.

But first up, yet another big band CD...

Woody Herman
Woody Live: East and West

I really have to find out what's making these CDs so expensive. I mean, I'm limiting myself to Amazon because...well, to be honest I want a new music player and if for some reason people start reading this blog and want the music I'm listening to I'll get a few pennies towards that goal, but at $30-some dollars for a used CD I might be better off opening a used store.

If only these CDs were in anyway good condition. Well, this one is, I just opened it and there isn't any damage, but for the most part.

So yeah, more big band. What to say? I rather like Woody Herman more than I realized. Which I now realize is something I discover every time I listen to Woody Herman. There's a lot of energy to his arrangements and his bands playing, even when doing ballads like I Remember Clifford. And then, of course, there's Four Brothers, which you always wanted to be in a sax section so bad ass that the leader decided to do Four Brothers. I'm not as fond of the James Bond love theme sounding Free Again, however.

The Preacher is on here, the first combo jazz number I performed in public. I really like this piece, nostalgia aside. It made me think that Hard Bop was where I was at, but it didn't work out that way as much.

Interestingly, the liner notes is written by someone who has almost the same trajectory, talking about knowing Herman is important etc etc (he goes a little further, but it's the liner notes), but not realizing he actually likes Herman until he listens to the album. Of course, being liner notes, it's a little over the top in its exuberance:
...But if there were to be a subtitle to this fine album, after listening to it joyously several times, I'd have to call it Woody Live East and West or, The passion According to Now, because in its fervor there's sure and steady voice that speaks of the immediacy of the Age in wich it is sounded--an immediacy formed the best of the Past, the Zap of the Present, and the nervy, uncertain excitement of the Future.

These are apparently the original liner notes from the 1967 release, so all that "Now" and the "Future" talk is keeping with the times. I mean, we were two years away from landing on the moon.

Listening to this live recording on headphones you get to hear snippets of people saying things to each other on the bandstand. No good dirt, but it's still kind of cool for some reason to hear someone try to get Woody's attention or Herman comment on solo.

This is another short album, too, at just under 40 minutes (almost a dollar a minute if you buy it new...seriously, what's up with that? Is it that they'll print one just for you if you really want one?)

This last track has an awesome title, Waltz for a Hung Up Ballet Mistress.

Tony Williams
Young at Heart

Tony Williams is one of the concerts I went to blind. I knew he was supposed to be good, so I went. From my senior year in high school up until about the time I moved to the Bay Area, I would make regular trips down to Kimball's East, Yoshi's, Kimball's and various other places to see jazz artists on their way to japan (at least that's what a few of them told me.)

That was the other strange and cool thing, quite often they would talk to me. Not all of them, and not always the band leaders, but with a strange frequency they would pick me out and talk to me. The most shocking instance was the Tony Williams concert because I hadn't really even expected to see anyone, but Bill Pierce was sitting on a bench in the lobby and, being a saxophonist, I was trying to inconspicuous but totally noticed him. That's when he said, in his characteristic gruff jazzman's voice, "What do you play?" Not "Do you play," what. I don't know if he figured that the only reason someone so young would be at that show was because they were a young jazz musician or what, but he pegged me. He instructed me to sit down and we talked through the intermission. I honestly don't remember about what, I was absolutely floored that the dude I just saw completely nailing it on stage a few minutes ago was having a conversation with that he solicited.

This became a bit of a norm for me. I started more or less going to shows with the reasonable assumption that I might meet the performer and have a casual conversation. I don't know if it was mojo, or just the novelty of youth showing up, or what, but I was getting to meet some incredible people. When I became a buyer it actually became expected. The first time I met Branford Marsalis said he remembered me, Terrance Blanchard told me a great story about Art Blakey, Tony Bennett shook my hands like a movie mobster. But it was that first contact at the Tony Williams show that sort of stuck for me.

Hands down, drummers form the best bands. For all the jokes about drummers and musicians, at the very least in jazz, they really know how to pick 'em. A good drummer makes all the difference in the world, and of course, Williams is very, very good. Because of that first show I was always excited to get a Tony Williams promo when it came out, though I may have actually bought this one, I seem to remember having it a pretty long time, and the CD certainly shows that. I wasn't able to rescue the title track.

This particular album is just a trio, so no horns. Just straight piano trio stuff with a lot more drum features that would normally happen. It's got standards like On Green Dolphin Street and Body and Soul, some out-of-cannon selections like The Beatles Fool on the Hill. I want to characterize this but it just sounds like my first few years out of high school when I listened to stuff just like this all the time.

Oh yes! This Here, I fucking love this chart. I always forget its name, so I glazed over it when the track listings came up, but this is one of the coolest hard-bop pieces around. Sweet, thank you Albatross for eventually putting this back up. AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!! Cruel fate, it's a damaged track! Sadness now surrounds me...

Various Artists
Blue Note Years 3: Organ & Soul 1956-1967 Disc 1

The anidote to sadness is the Hammond B-3 organ, preferably played by Jimmy Smith. And Blue Note is here to deliver. The rep that handled Blue Note was pretty kind to me even though he didn't have to be. It was a big label distributor and I was going to carry his stuff regardless of how he treated me, but he knew I was a real fan of jazz and he made sure to hook me up with a lot of great stuff. Most of my really great classic jazz stuff is Blue Note, partially a function of Blue Note being THE jazz label, and partially a function of this guy hooking me up.  I mean, I was a soft touch. Truth be told I probably wasn't that good of a buyer, I just don't think anyone had the heart to remove me.

On the subject of performers talking to me, Jimmy Smith is an early early instance. So early in fact, that I didn't know who he was. And it wasn't my charms at all that were involved. I had been going to local jazz clubs for a while, to the point where the local jazz musicians had gotten to know me and my friend, the piano player I mentioned in the Henry Mancini entry.

It was a piano player that we had come to see when he started talking to an old man who had come to talk to him. He seemed to get pretty excited and let the old man sit down and start playing. We were bummed, to be honest. We thought the guy we had come to see was letting some cat sit in so he could go flirt with chicks. It wasn't out of the question. But instead he came and sat at our table, beaming.

"Do you know who that is?"

"A friend of yours?"

"That's Jimmy Smith, man. He just moved here!"

Yeah, nothing. We had never heard of him. But he was pretty cool. He later came over and talked to us as well, and we tried our best to hide the fact that we had no idea who he was. Joe, the local piano player, had filled us in enough to fake it. It wasn't until much later that we discovered who we had the privilege of meeting. Of all the encounters, his is the one I most wish I could redo.

Most people 'know' (even if they don't actually know it) Jimmy Smith for the organ figure in the Beastie Boys' Root Down sampled from the track and album of the same name.

Smith is the end all for organ for me know. To the point where I don't really know any other organ players. I have a few of these compilations, mostly gained for the exact purpose of finding other organ players. I don't want to be left flat footed if I find myself in a small jazz club and some other legendary organ player walks in.

Though most of these tracks are led by saxophonists or guitarists, two instruments that go well with the Hammond. I don't have the case anymore (apparently) so I don't have the list of band members to go by.

This kind of music almost demands that everything be in sepia tone and wearing tank tops and suspenders.

Disc One opens and closes with the lengthy tracks, Jimmy Smith's twenty minute The Sermon and then Grant Green's fifteen minute Blues in Maude's Flat (which is a clever name...) Every thing else hovers around six minutes long.

Organ music is awesome. I must have been playing this one a bit, and that's how it wound up in the Lenny Bruce case. I hope I find Disc Two.