Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Day 23: The Charlie Hunter Quartet "Songs from the Analog Playground" and Smart Music "You Know, You Can"

Starting out of the box with a fake out, I was looking forward to today, because I thought it was going to be Greg Osby and I was going to start having a progressive/free jazz saxophone representation to at least keep pace with the current leaders, blues and big band music.

But instead, it was another progressive/funk jazz player hiding inside the Greg Osby CD.

Even better, there's also an ambiguous self help CD in today's line up. Seriously, I can't wait.

The Charlie Hunter Quartet
Songs from the Analog Playground

There was a brief period of awesomeness for progressive/funk/free whathaveyou jazz in the 90s. Honestly, it might be happening now and I just don't know about it. But, for a while, it seemed like there were a bunch of artists coming out with interesting, quirky, funky jazz. Sex Mob, Medeski Martin and Wood, and guitarist Charlie Hunter.

I have to admit that, initially, I was way more into Hunter's saxophonist than I was into Hunter himself, though I certainly found him interesting. He had formed a band that was at first called James T. Kirk, named for James Brown, Thelonious Monk, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, but Paramount had something to say regarding that so the band became T.J. Kirk.

This exhausts the immediate knowledge I have of Charlie Hunter. I do know that there were bigger Hunter fans at the store than me, so I'm surprised I have this. It might have been something we got multiple promos of or maybe I squirreled it away in an act of pure dickishness (because I knew by this time that I wouldn't likely listen to it that often).

At the time, I had an aversion to anything too fusiony. I still have it for the most part, but I'm not as strict about it. And because I'm forcing myself to listen to these things all the way through, I'm more prone to letting the CD develop instead of ejecting it at the first hint of processing or electronic instruments.

And there is a lot of that here. It's definitely a funky album a little more than it is straight jazz. Mos Def and Norah Jones make contributions. It's closer to Branford Marsalis' short lived Buckshot LeFonque than it is Wes Montgomery.

The track that just started up is the lead contestant for 'best track title so far,' it's a funky little piece called Mitch Better Have My Bunny. Awesome. It's a pretty groovy little track.

Much of this is based more on the formula of 'figure/solo/new figure/solo/figure/out' rather than 'head/solo/solo/solo/head.'

Wait, I know this Norah Jones song... or rather, I know the Roxy Music single More Than This that Jones and Hunter have given the smooth jazz treatment. As you might have guessed, the dot dot dot represented a Google search.

This might be 'girlfriend jazz.' The kind of jazz you can listen to with your girlfriend that doesn't like jazz but have it still be at least remotely interesting. Or 'car jazz,' perhaps a less sexist way of putting it. Jazz you can play in the car without someone reaching for your presets.

Kurt Elling is doing his 'vocalese' bit on Desert Way. I have a hard time with vocalese, I find it goofy, but at the same time I get Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross' Twisted stuck in my head on a regular basis. And King Pleasure would give me an opportunity to 'sing' Charlie Parker solos with out going "doodlydodododdeededede". Though I'm not 100% certain which one is worse...

The lead singer from Galactic also makes a contribution on the smokey track Spoonful. It's another one of those 'cruising across the desert in the middle of the night' songs. I get enough of these, I think I'm obligated to actually drive across a desert in the middle of the night. As soon as I actually get a stereo in my Bus...

This second Kurt Elling track is also the second track that is just percussion and the guest vocalist, the first being the opening track featuring Mos Def. This is not an artist that splatters his playing wall to wall on the album. Certainly he is featured a great deal but, to his credit, he does not get in the way of the music, to the point of not even playing guitar on two tracks so far. And Percussion Shuffle appears to be, unsurprisingly, a lengthy feature of traditional and improvised percussion instruments.

If you've spent more than half a day with a percussionist, this track will sound all kinds of familiar. Eventually, around them, everything either becomes a drum or a stick and you quickly learn what everything you own or are surrounded by sounds like when struck against or with.

Mos Def is returning with a track called Creole, which so far sounds a bit like a variation on Miles Davis' So What. But rather than that stumbling forward rap style that Mos Def has (it always feels a little ahead of the beat, like a waiter with a tall stack of dishes that you think he's going to drop, but turns out he's just that good at carrying dishes that he can lean the stack ahead of him at will...) he's actually singing this track. Not actually in Creole, though. Pretty decent, really. Kind of like the 'smooth jazz' Roxy Music cover earlier, so not as funky as I'd like it. None of the dissonance I would have expected.

I might have an accidental albums worth of Norah Jones songs, but none of it her regular catalog. Essentially I like a bunch of people who also seem to like Norah Jones or who Jones recorded with to establish her jazz bonafides. Every once in a while, these CDs pop up with a track or two sung by Jones. To the rest of the world, she might be 'that chick who did that song' (or maybe to the handful of people who saw the Wong Kar Wai movie, 'that chick from the film') but to me she has become the perpetual guest artist.

Smart Music Series
You Know, You Can

This one is a total mystery to me. I don't know why I have it. It's not classical music, its some sort of Yanni-esque pastiche of electronic music, sound effects, and what they call 'ancient music.' I guess this might have fallen under my buying domain, I don't know how or where.

There was a lot of this stuff that came out, mostly on the heels of that whole Baby Mozart stuff where someone had decided that Mozart could somehow make you smarter, or your baby smarter, or you a smarter parent... I was never really sure how it was supposed to work.

But it sold a bunch, which meant that there was a bunch of stuff like it bound to come out.

Like this.

Now, I listen to classical and jazz, and I've discussed the liner notes in blues, so I'm no stranger to pretense and hyperbole in liner notes. This, however, is my current hands-down favorite:
Do not use while driving or operating heavy machinery. In case of serious problems, The Smart Music Method does not replace sound medical or therapeutical advice. Producer, studio, record company or distributor are not responsible for any damages caused by inappropriate use of the music. Shuffle play is recommended (except for Dreams & Sleep albums). Play softly. Headphones improve the third dimension of sound.
The rest of the liner notes follow in the same vein. Checked off in the cover, apparently this makes use of brainwaves, nature sounds, ancient music principles, natural sonic surround sound. I guess I have to go to something else in their series for multiple music layers.

Apparently 'ancient Greek scales' were used in the composing of this CD (the ancient Greek scale is actually listed as "Lydian." I shouldn't mock too much. I'm well aware of how modality effects the mood of the piece, and Lydian mode is kind of a go-to favorite of mine.

The full list of elements on tap are laid out for me:
  • Scale: Lydian.
  • Nature Ingredients: Birds.
  • Brainwaves: Alpha States.
  • Planet: Sun.
I'm apparently free, according to the instructions, to do what I would normally do. Relax, think about whatever, keep my eyes open or closed. Just don't drive, of course. Oh, and think of a garden where I apparently can get away with anything.

I don't know why our minds have to always go to gardens. It seems like a bunch of people who can reprogram my mind and creativity with a CD could also come up with something other than the tried and true 'garden' that I have to take my mind to. I don't have anything against gardens, some of them are pretty nice. I went to a butterfly garden in Canada where a bird humped my shoe (true story). These are the things I think about when I think of gardens. Shoe-humping birds or peacocks stealing my bread. I guess if you don't pick something like 'garden' or 'ocean' (I like the ocean, I feel I have to be near it, even though I never go to it) then you end up picking something that sounds materialistic and that would throw the whole aesthetic off.

My racing games are buried in the Albatross storage, otherwise I think this would be a great experiment. I could do a few laps without 'Smart Music' and then do a few laps listening to it and see exactly what the effect on my driving might be.

The liner notes tout the advantages of what they call 'random music':
Suppose you walk in a forest. Birds are singing. They sing without a conductor and without any system. No bird sings the same song twice (tell that to the birds out my window ~me), no bird sounds exactly like any other bird. You never know when any bird will start singing or finish singing. You hear 'bird song.' Likewise, all separate instruments in random compositions can start and finish at any given moment. Together though, all instruments join to create a total effect that is more than the separate voices or instruments. The music in The Smart Music Series is based upon this unique natural principal.
I have to say, they're having a lot more luck, harmonically speaking, than I did when we experimented with random music in 20th century composition classes.

In the end this doesn't sound too different than the earlier World Flutes 1 compilation. It's ultimately a very repetitive music and I can't say that I'm overwhelmed with a sense of confidence or 'yes I can-itude.'  I did have to stop it twenty minutes in to unplug and restart the router...maybe it threw off my karma waves or something.

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