Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day 46: Charlie Hunter/Leon Parker "Duo" & Miles Davis "Kind of Blue"

Today is a return for both artists and possibly the biggest challenge as far as finding something to write about. In the first one I think I exhausted my stories about him and the second one it's one of the best reviewed CDs in jazz, anything I say is going to be ridiculous.

Charlie Hunter/Leon Parker

Another day, another Blue Note CD. I was going to suggest for a second there that I get Blue Note to sponsor this blog, but really they already have by supplying all of these CDs.

As I stated last time that Charlie Hunter came up that I was always a bit more of a fan of his saxophonist than I was of Charlie Hunter, and this album doesn't have any saxophone on it. This is exactly as advertised, a duo of guitar and percussion. With Hunter's characteristic multi-layer playing (something I first became aware of with the 'double tap' playing of Stanley Jordan), the drummer/guitar combo is a little more filled out than it would seem.

Hunter tries to give his guitar a 'synthesizer' sound, so it tends to give me a smooth jazz vibe when listening to it. Still has a pretty good groove to it if my bobbing head is any indicator.

I'm only in the intro of the song so far, but he's giving a pretty cool 'spy movie' feel to the standard You Don't Know What Love Is. This is a smokey version to stand next to Billie Holiday's, really. It wouldn't be out of place in a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack, either, with the low sustained string bass and reverb heavy lead, it has that kind of surf flavor that pops up now and then on his soundtracks. That really was kind of awesome. Relatively short, for a jazz number.

That's true for a lot of the tracks on this album. It's ten in total coming to just under forty-five minutes.

There's a Beach Boys song on here, too, but you'd have to strain to recognize it.

I honestly remember getting this CD and kind of not caring. It wasn't the full group, I wasn't as into Hunter as I was the people he played with, the first track wasn't that dynamic. I just gave it a pass. Now that I listen to this, I was wrong, this is actually pretty cool.

"Duo" albums are pretty common in jazz, especially on Blue Note. The idea is either to legitimize a lesser known player or to hope that there is a multiplier effect of putting together two well known artists in an 'event' style performance. This usually means that I get some awesome hyperbolic liner notes ensuring that me that this was a pairing of the gods, that the universe had focused its energies to create a near perfect moment in jazz. But no such luck, it's really just simple credits. Which is too bad because I really would like to know the story behind Calypso for Grandma. Whatever the story is, the song is pretty peppy. And allows for the biggest moment for Parker to cut loose.

Miles Davis
Kind of Blue

It's one of the most iconic albums in jazz. It has what could most accurately be described as a 'super group' as its line up with Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly, Paul Chambers, Bill Evans John Coltrane...every track is recognizable even to people who may not listen to jazz (especially if they listen to NPR, likely they've heard at least a few of these tracks used as bumpers.) Google "top ten jazz albums of all time" and you'll find Kind of Blue on just about every list at or near the top.

If you don't own this album, you kind of suck.

This is, I think, my third or fourth copy. I had it on vinyl which was thrown away with my comic book collection (frustrating...). Then I lost the first two CDs and more or less assumed that I had lost this one. It's one of the few albums where I know almost every note. While I was typing I found myself humming along to Adderly's solo in So What? I knew that the BART ride to work was exactly as long as All Blues. I haven't listened to this album in years, but in the years I did listen to it, I listened to it a lot.

The trivia that you can find anywhere on the internet: It's an all 'modal' album rather than using complex key changes and chord structures. The group didn't know what they were going to record until they showed up to record it, they had an idea, but the charts weren't presented to them until the day of.

One of the greatest elements of this album is its complete simplicity and openness. This isn't the bombastic bop or deep grooved hard-bop of the time, or the chaotic avante-garde that member John Coltrane would later go on to play. This is an open canvas style music, which works great when the players you give that canvas to are legends. It was this kind of open experimentation that eventually led to Cool Jazz, which Miles Davis pioneered.

I was going to contrast it with the other albums that came out that year, but instead I'm finding out that it was the best year ever. Time Out, Duke Ellington's score to Anatomy of a Murder, Mingus Ah Hum, Portrait in Jazz, Shape of Jazz to Come, Giant Steps...all in one year. Holy crap. These are some of my favorite albums and also a pretty good representation of those 'greatest jazz album' lists. What was in the water that year? To underline how bad ass this group is, on that list is albums by two of the band members, Portraits in Jazz by Bill Evans and the absolutely legendary Giant Steps by John Coltrane. Incidently, Coltrane tried that whole Miles Davis thing of just giving everyone the music the day of the session, except he gave them the most challenging set of changes in jazz resulting in in Cedar Walton nearly trainwrecking during his piano solo. No one holds it against him.

Whats more is each one of those albums represents a landmark in a new and separate direction in jazz. If you were to look at the development of jazz as a tree, this would be where the tree shoots off into a bunch of separate branches.

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