Sunday, October 3, 2010

Day 37: Sarah Vaughan "The Gershwin Songbook V.2 and Steve Swallow "Always Pack Your Uniform on Top"

I'm getting a late start today. I fooled myself by thinking I didn't have much to do this morning and so I could totally watch Punisher:War Journal on cable instead of pre-write today's entry.

Not worth it in the slightest. Anyway, let's get to it.

Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan: The George Gershwin Songbook, Vol. 2
For female jazz singers there's always the 'big three,' the ones that people know who aren't even into jazz. Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughan are the royal court of female jazz singers. Not to take anything away from other extremely talented singers.

I'm sure there's some sort of 'what Beatle are you' type personality test that goes with who you prefer, but I'm not about to figure that out. But I have always felt that Ella and Billie were just a little higher on that pedestal than Vaughan. Like, if I were asked I would feel like I'd have to answer "Billie!" or "Ella!" if asked my preference, depending on if I wanted to sound edgy and soulful or like an appreciation of vitriousity. But really, I think of the three I really like Vaughan. Which is not to say I don't like Holiday or Fitzgerald. I still hum the Cottontail solo I heard all the way back from high school, and there is just something distinctive and haunting about Holiday--especially in songs like Strange Fruit.

But there's something about the way Vaughan sings. I recognize that this is really just a subjective thing, there's something ridiculous about trying to rate numerically performers in general and especially performers on this level. I guess there's something intoxicating about the internet that makes you lean towards that. Anyway, love Vaughan. And Gershwin has a pretty good songbook.

This has one of my favorite Gershwin tunes on it, Someone to Watch Over Me. My romantic fantasy has always been a torch singer, and Someone to Watch Over Me has always been one of the top songs for that fantasy. It was the only reason I would watch Mr. Holland's Opus, to watch that student sing that song.

This collection has a lot of well known tunes on it.  I was going to comment that they must have spread them out over both collections, but really it's just that Gershwin wrote a lot of well known tunes. These are actually pretty interesting arrangements, though. And it's hard to come up with an arrangement of Summertime that will stand out, really. Everyone does that song.

Embraceable You is another one of those fantasy songs. The sultry torch singer sings that and I play tenor sax as a back up in a club where they still allow smoking...for effect.

Steve Swallow
Always Pack Your Uniform on Top

I seem to remember thinking that there weren't enough 'new jazz' groups to listen to and fawning over my Black/Note CD as an isolated case. But only 37 days in and it turns out that all I really had to do was pay attention to the pile of CDs that I was being sent home with every week. Right now, as the CD plays, it's just a guy more or less noodling on his guitar to an audience, but I do recognize the saxophone player on the cover of the unopened CD, so I have some notion of what I'm in for. Ah, there he is, Chris Potter has joined the guitarist on his saxophone.

Okay, that's kind of awesome. The liner notes to this CD is sheet music to the tracks. No explination (I was looking for the meaning behind the title), no lead in. No jazz critic or fellow musician waxing poetic about the artist or for that matter explaining who the hell this guy is. It is literally just pictures of the band recording and the sheet music to the CD. That's really cool. This is what the album is, this is what it's about--the music, here it is. That's it.

These might be my favorite liner notes yet. Well, the history of the blues ones were pretty good and informative, but as far as single artist liner notes go, these are the champ.

You don't get a lot of bass players as leaders of the band, but this really is pretty damn good. The eleven minute plus opening track had a cool disjointed rhythm to it that was inventive without resorting to the usual abrasiveness (though, I admit I really like the abrasiveness). I often consider guitar a diluting agent in jazz. It more often than not 'smooths' things out, and this isn't neccisarily an exception (even the Mahavishnu Orchestra has some mellowness to it that I blame on the guitar). Maybe it's that all the guitarists that really like the grind went to rock and all the ones that wanted to chill played jazz, I don't know. But this group has no piano, that roll is filled by the guitarist.

I kind of zoned out to this CD. I just kind of fell into listening to it, it's pretty good. I wish I had something more profound to say about it, but I don't.

I made it with an hour and fifteen minutes to spare! Unless you're on the East Coast, in which case...who are you? I mean, I'm happy to have you, I just don't know where you came from...

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