Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 41: Red Rodney "Live at the Village Vanguard" and Dave McMurray "Peace of Mind"

I'm doing it again, though it's with CDs I don't particularly feel like listening to at the moment. So this time I'm ensuring that the bag will end with something profoundly boring...good times.

In other news, the collection officially won't fit on a base model iPod Touch. It has crested 16 gigs.

Today the CDs are fairly related so their pairing doesn't really conjure up much. Eventually I'll break myself feeling the need to include a preamble even when I don't really have anything to add. Off we go with today's CDs.

Red Rodney
Live at the Village Vanguard

Red Rodney for me is one of those mythical jazz players more than he is Red Rodney, be bop trumpet player. It doesn't help that in his youth he looks like Alfred E. Newman...

Anyway, Rodney is myth more than man because of his role in the story of Charlie Parker, who for obvious reasons captured more of my imagination than other jazz musicians. First there is the oft repeated anecdote about the time Rodney played in Bird's quintet. He was the only white player in the band, which caused problems in the south where segregation was strong. So when they played in the south they billed him as "Albino Red"

A little more dark is the story of Rodney showing up with heroin to shoot up with Bird in the original 'I learned it from watching you!' moment. Hand in hand with the stories of Bird's drug use was the effect that it had on other musicians that wanted to 'play like Bird.' Rodney's encounter with Parker (and who knows how true it is or if it even really happened) is the personification of that effect. That this story is so closely tied to the story of Charlie Parker might be a product of the fact that I came up in the world of Academic Jazz. I think it becomes a problem to discuss the rampant drug use of one of the forms greatest musicians and not feeling like they should emphasize the negative effects. But it's not a health class, so they tag on the story of "Albino Red" to make sure it's a cautionary tale and then move on.

I don't know how many people have this impression of Red Rodney, like the first thing they think of when they hear the name 'Red Rodney' immediately think of those two stories. I mean, it was pretty commonly told--I read it in two books on Bird, it was in the movie Bird, I remember hearing it in every jazz history class I took. There has to be at least a few people who, if I'm being honest, like me who only know him that way.

I must be odd to be known more as a cautionary tale than as a musician.

This was recorded in 1980, according to the liner notes, after his 'dental issues of the 70s' had passed. That's what it says. According to Wikipedia he was arrested in 1975 on drug charges and gave music lessons to a member of MC 5 while in jail. I don't know if 'dental problems' is a euphemism for 'I got arrested for drug possession' or if he also had dental problems.

As a result this is not as burning as a regular be bop album would be. There are a few ballads, all in all more easy going than a be bop album would be. For a live album it's fairly well recorded.

Dave McMurray
Peace of Mind

Alright, I'll admit that I am horrible with names. It is one of the many barriers to any aspiration I might have about being a musicologist.  About half the time when I relate stories here I have to do a few Google searches to remember the names of who was involved or make sure I'm thinking of the right person.

So, yeah, I'm bad with names.

But this was unfair. This is something I've thought for the entire time I've had this CD up until this moment when I had to enter the name on the blog.

See, there is also a tenor saxophonist named David Murray...tenor saxophonist for one of my favorite groups of all time, The World Saxophone Quartet. He also does solo albums of post-bop progressive free jazz that are fantastic.

And up until I had to correct the spelling that's what I thought I was about to listen to. But just as I started to go "Wait, is there a 'Mc' in his name? That doesn't seem right?" the CD had loaded and started playing. None of this seemed right. Instead of listening to dissonant wild sounding free jazz I'm listening to smooth fusion jazz closer to Grover Washington than late John Coltrane. By now the track I'm on has a DJ.

So...this is not at all what I expected, and all the cool little things I had loaded up in my brain to talk about this saxophonist are void because this is a different saxophonist. I don't know anything about this guy.

So far the best I got was noticing, in the midst of my confusion, that the first song had a bridge that used the bass line from Herbie Hancock's Chameleon.

I thought it was strange that the album was produced by Don Was. Well, apparently only one song.

The liner notes are no help at all.

I always have a little disdain when I  say 'fusion,' but not all fusion is equal. There's a huge gulf between Bitches Brew and the Yellowjackets. This still has extended solo sections if not strictly head-solo-head, it just also has a lot more synthesizer and processor effects and layering. Still has an unshakable layer of 'smooth jazz' to it, though.

It's hard to get over the disappointment, so this album isn't really getting a fair shake. Though the track 1988 was kind of funky.

And if I'm honest with myself, I'm kind of digging In This Life because I've been bobbing my head to it the entire time. However, I have no idea what the random screech from a bird of prey is all about. Every two bars (so unless it's a really hip bird outside my window...) there's a really short screech. Weird.

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