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.

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