Monday, October 25, 2010

Day 59: Ali Farka Toure "Radio Mali" & Duke Ellington "The Best of Duke Ellington Centennial Edition"

I continue to be amazed at how grouped up these CDs are. It's like the CDs that were alike wanted to hang out together or something.

Ali Farka Toure
Radio Mali

I've talked before about my failed amatuer ambitions towards ethno-musicology. One of the underlying curriousities that drove that was the circular notion of influences and cross fertilization that music undergoes. Ali Farka Toure is a fantastic example of that.

I'll admit that I didn't really know anything about him, so after writing that first paragraph I did the "don't say something stupid" Google search to see if I was about to get a detail wrong. Instead I made the same observation that everyone has made about Toure's music, about the intersection of traditional African music and music that is influenced by traditional African music.  I just called the sky blue...

Well, regardless of how well tread and obvious my observation is, it's still pretty intriguing to hear Africa re-absorb the blues. I don't have any translations or liner notes to go on to see the translations of the lyrics, so I don't know if subject matter carries over or not. I know that the music remains solemn and mournful sounding.

According to Wiki this is a compilation of earlier recordings, which makes sense since the style, instrumentation, and recording quality shift around from track to track.

There's a bit of a pedal tone to some of these tracks that becomes sort of hypnotizing.

Duke Ellington
The Best of Duke Ellington Centennial Edition

Another day, another Duke Ellington tribute. This one features recordings from Ellington himself, however, from a box set (I believe) that spans his entire RCA recording career.

At least they resisted the temptation to make Take the A Train the first track (it's all the way down at number 8).

This instead features some early recordings, and oddly enough the recordings I'm more familiar with as far as Ellington goes. I didn't, for whatever reason, listen to many of the Strayhorn era and later Ellington but rather a lot of these rough early recordings. It might be that I just picked up anything with Ellington on it from the bargain bin and that was filled with recordings that had cheap rights. Or maybe there was a focus on early recordings at the time I started listening to jazz. I don't know, but albeit still well known pieces like Black and Tan Fantasy and East Saint Louis Toodle-O are instantly recognizable to me and stir up that weird nostalgia for when jazz was still a new world to me. Same goes with Rockin' in Rhythm, I would hum the squeaky saxophone line to this day really, though I don't often remember the name of the song indicating I probably listened to it on tape most often.

Sure enough, the music here is presented in chronological order so that the listener gets to speed read through Ellington's 50some year long music career and hear how his music evolved. Honestly, the best way to put together a compilation of this kind.

Bitter sweet is that two of my favorite and most moody Ellington pieces, Mood Indigo and Creole Love Call are stuffed together on a medley with Hot and Bothered. Granted it's a long medley, over seven minutes which is pretty ground breaking for the time. Also, apparently, when they recorded it they did it from two distinct mics with a time delay so the person who remastered it was able to do so in stereo, pretty cool.

I had a recording a long time ago in which Ellington narrated Mood Indigo explaining that the song was a boy and girl who met every day to play, and they loved playing together, but today it was raining and they couldn't see each other, and this was their mood. Now that I think about it, it might not have been a recording but rather something I read, but I seem to hear that story in my head being told by Duke. Either way, the song has remained heartbreakingly romantic in my head ever since. I heard a story about Creole Love Call, too, something about a singer humming the melody to a set of riffs that eventually became Creole Love Call, but that's less vivid. (According to Wiki, it's actually a melody lifted off King Oliver...not nearly as romantic a notion as the story I had heard...)

Well, apparently there are lyrics added after the fact to Mood Indigo making it not at all about that. The internet ruins some perfectly good myths sometimes.

Now I have another version of Day Dream, this time as a feature for Johnny Hodges, a saxophonist I got into when I felt like most of my playing was going to be in big bands anyway. Plus, it was hard to find an alto saxophonist that wasn't under the shadow of Bird.

So that's four versions of Take the A Train so far, and we've really barely started with the project. Work Song is closing in with a more eclectic spread with a Latin version, Duke's version, and a surf version. Though it's cheating a little, the surf version was already there. I went through my 'surf thing' after I left the store. I mean, I still like it, but there was a six month 'collect all the surf I can' bender I went through while in college. And of course it's a different Work Song with Ellington.

Never knew there were lyrics to Come Sunday, either. I kind of prefer it without lyrics, it was another one of those moody Ellington songs that I really liked. To complete my tour of moody Ellington, Sophisticated Lady is coming up in two tracks. I hadn't realized that my favorite Ellington was in his ballads as much.

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