Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day 25: Pat Metheny "A Map of the World" and Willie 'The Lion' Smith "The Memoirs of Willie 'The Lion' Smith"

I don't really have much of a preamble to add today. Today's selection represents another set of people I know, but don't really know. I'm just going to get to it.

Pat Metheny
A Map of the World

So, a long time ago, VH-1 used to have this block of programing, I think on Sunday nights, that ran just jazz videos. Sometimes it was hosted by David Sandborn... maybe it was always hosted by Sandborn, I don't know. But anyway, it was jazz music videos.

What's that, you say? How many jazz videos can there be? Not many, is the answer. Every week consisted pretty much of the same videos. There were some standouts:

Take the A Train by an all-star band.

Royal Garden Blues by Branford Marsalis.

Hattie Wall by the World Saxophone Quartet

And Last Train Home by Pat Metheny. It was a fusion song by this dude with crazy hair and an even crazier guitar, but damn if it wasn't catchy. That programing block started me on collecting Branford Marsalis and World Saxophone Quartet recordings. As it would happen, I already had the album that the version of Take the A Train came from. But as catchy as Last Train Home was, I never ended up even getting that album. After a while, Marsalis and the WSQ would lead me down the path toward more dissonant jazz, 'harsher' sounding stuff and I grew ashamed of the fusion I used to like early in high school. Metheny became part of that past.

Except I started seeing him playing on tracks with the guys I was listening to now. Like playing with Ornette Coleman. Clearly there was more to this cat than it seemed.

So every once in while a Metheny album would come up and I'd grab it and think, "This is going to be the crazy stuff, right?" To the best of my knowledge, none of it turned out to be.

This is another one of those soundtracks from a movie I haven't heard of. And again, a rather successful film, winning Golden Globes and starring Sigourney Weaver and everything. The music features really warm guitar with string back grounds. The music is pretty sad to melancholy. The logline makes the movie sound like kind of a bummer, "A woman's life falls apart after she's blamed for an accident on her property."

And, out of nowhere, there's a kind of funky track called Sunday. I have to say, that bit reminded me a bit of the scores to early Spike Lee movies. Not the soundtrack, the actual score--I'm not saying in the middle of a Pat Metheny album something like Public Enemy started happening.

There have been little specklings of sounds from the film, but not in the way we've come to understand that. It's not memorable lines or big sound effects, it's ambient sounds of cars in driveways or kids in a distant backyard, and then a really faint Weaver asking someone if they really want to run away to the desert. It adds to the overall eerie effect, really kind of cool. Though I don't know that I would notice if I wasn't wearing headphones.

There is a similar effect used on the soundtrack to Mickey One by Stan Getz. I'm really hoping that CD turns up in the Albatross... Anyway, it adds a unique feel to the score and helps connect it to the movie in a way that I had already commented was sometimes difficult. Especially when you hadn't heard of the movie until you read the subtitle of the album to realize it was a soundtrack.

This is a long CD with a lot of very short tracks. With the exception of that one track, Sunday, they're all pretty similar. You don't even get much of that distinctive sound of Metheny's super strange guitars, though it is there.

Probably not a good sign that I didn't quite notice the album ending.

Willie 'The Lion' Smith
Another CD that is surprisingly expensive now. Not the most, but a contender to be sure.

This is going to be fun for me, to be honest. It's about as perfect as it gets. Willie is one of those legends that I know is a legend but I really don't know much about him.

Well, I'm about to get a crash course in Willie Smith from Willie himself. The title of this CD isn't a euphemistic notion of playing greatest hits, it's literally Willie himself sitting down at the piano and telling the story of his life in the way an old vaudevillian stride player would, interspersed with songs and figures on the piano. In essence, you get a chance to hang out in a parlor with a legend while he tells stories.

He starts off delineating between ragtime players and stride players (stride players, apparently, have good left hands). He's rather proud of his studied musicianship, of playing good houses with other musicians who knew their stuff instead of what he calls 'three chord players.' There is certainly a hint of that piano player attitude that I hinted at earlier.

Seriously, it's too bad this is so expensive because it's about the most awesome thing that has popped up that I can imagine. I wish my Mac wasn't a busted hulk of its former self, then I could step outside and light up a cigar and imagine I'm sharing a stogie with Smith as he lays out the history of 20th century music from the first decade on from a first person perspective while laying down absolutely stunning piano tunes in between.

I've been trying to place Smith's accent, I think it's closest to Archie Bunker's. "First" is pronounced "Fiy-st."

This is a disjointed history, a sort of rambling through a half century of music with a who's who, anecdotes of various performers, a guide to terminology of either music of the scene, various practices of the piano hall player. Recorded in 1964 to preserve his unique perspective and knowledge of the history of 20th Century American music, apparently he sat in a room with two tape recorders going and a producer prodding him on with questions that have been edited out.

This is a fairly remarkable time capsule recording, if I had realized what it was at the time I would have been glad to have it. I'm glad that it eventually surfaced.

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