Recent Listening

August 22, 2009

In an effort to keep myself honest, I am going to try and record for posterity (or whatever the bloggy equivalent of posterity is) every CD I purchase from now on.  I am sure that my wife must look at all the entries for “amazon.com” on our credit card statement and wonder what on earth I’ve been buying.  Well, mainly books, actually.  But some music, too.  It will be interesting to see whether my public confessions lessen the guilt I feel every time I tear open another one of those little brown parcels that the nice UPS man delivers.  Probably not.  Still, maybe this will at least get her to read my blog so she’ll know what I’ve been up to.

Movements in Colour

So, anyway, first up: Andy Sheppard, Movements in Colour (ECM).

I’ve always liked Andy Sheppard.  He rose to prominence at the end of the 80s as one of the young British lions of jazz.  His first album, an eclectic, intense and rather beautiful affair which featured Randy Brecker on some tracks to excellent effect, still gets plenty of play time on my CD player.  I was on my way to see him play in Marlborough with my then girlfriend (this would have been in 1990, I think) when she crashed her car, skidding off the road in the rain.  We missed the gig, which upset me.  But I digress.

Sheppard’s sound is still instantly recognizable – nimble and fat-toned on tenor, sweet and wispy on soprano.  He has been playing with Carla Bley for some years – I especially liked this recording.  This CD is his first release on the ECM label.  Unusually, he uses two guitarists on the recording (Eivind Aarset and John Parricelli), but perhaps the most noticeable presence other than the leader’s is that of Tablaist Kuljit Bhamra.  The percussionist, accomplished though he obviously is, seemed a little high in the mix for my taste, and all those eastern-tinged rhythms had the unfortunate effect of making many of the tracks sound rather similar.

There is much to admire here.  Themes are simple and spare and often beautiful; Sheppard is as snappy and propulsive as ever on the faster numbers, and his ballad playing is gorgeous and liquid.  The band is excellent, of course, Parricelli in particular.  And yet I couldn’t help wondering when things were going to take off.  Overall it left me rather unmoved.

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Oh dear.  I rue the day I discovered the Mosaic Records website.  I want everything they sell.  They (beautifully) repackage and reissue old and often neglected recordings of both superstars and lesser-known artists, all with the same love and attention to detail.  Liner notes are superb.  On the really sexy boxed sets (like the Lester Young and Count Basie treasure trove, above) they produce vast, wonderful books with history, track-by-track analysis, and glorious photos, to boot.  There is nothing better than curling up on the sofa to listen to this stuff for a few hours.

The Young/Basie boxed set is glorious.  Young is perhaps the quintessential jazz icon – a certified musical genius, certainly, but almost as well known for his vulnerabilities and strange idiosyncrasies.  He was a quite different player from, say, Coleman Hawkins – less muscular and altogether more elliptical in his approach to rhythms and harmonies.  His improvisations were supple and brilliantly unpredictable.    It was his unique melodic conception and a focus on the sound he made with his horn that made him such an influential figure.  His stint in the Basie band represented here, from 1936 to 1940, was in many ways the making of him, and the 84 tracks on these four CDs are an absolute joy.  In addition to Prez, there are also the unending delights offered by the drumming of Jo Jones, Basie’s laconic piano, and one of the swingingest bands there ever was.  Throw in knowledgeable and voluminous notes on every track by Loren Schoenberg, and it’s hard to know how this could have been bettered.  Priceless.


Welcome Back, Jazz Times

August 18, 2009

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Nice surprise waiting for me at home yesterday afternoon – a copy of Jazz Times was delivered in the mail, with none other than my man Joe Lovano on the cover.  The magazine had ceased production earlier this year and at the time there was much mourning and chin-scratching in the jazz blogosphere about the financial viability of small-interest publications in these times.  Some were a little sniffy about the mag and the direction it was going in, but I have always loved it, not least for their trinity of regular columnists, Gary Giddens, Nate Chinen, and the incomparable Nat Hentoff.  Call me a Luddite, but much as I surf the net for jazz nuggets, there’s nothing quite like sitting down with a magazine and reading the thing cover to cover.  So, welcome back, we’re pleased to see you.  Do us all a favor, and hang around, would you?


Two Jazz Greats Gone

August 14, 2009

Yesterday was a rough day.  Every year Jazz Times has a “goodbye” issue where it celebrates the lives of the jazz musicians who have passed in the previous year.  It’s always sobering reading, as the number of true greats still with us slowly diminishes.  A couple of weeks ago we lost George Russell,little-known outside the music world, but an incredibly influential composer and innovator.  And yesterday we lost two more greats.  Les Paul, one of the most important innovators on the jazz guitar, died at the ripe old age of 94.  And Rashied Ali, best known for his collaborations with John Coltrane towards the end of Trane’s career, passed away at 74.  Rest in peace, gents.  And thanks for everything.

Here’s a video of Les Paul playing “I Can’t Get Started” a few years ago.  He was 91 years old.

And, sparing the faint of heart among you any of his more avant garde moments, here’s a clip of Ali playing with his young quintet recently.  I’m not usually a big fan of drum solos but this one ain’t bad.


“We Always Swing” Jazz Series – 15th Season

August 12, 2009

Here it is, as promised – the schedule for the upcoming season of world-class live jazz in Columbia, Missouri, complete with links to various artist sites, etc.  Don’t say I never do anything for ya.

October 16, 2009 – Jim Widner Big Band with Bobby WatsonPatMartino2,jpg

November 3 – Pat Martino Quartet (with Eric Alexander)

November 22 – Christian McBride and Inside Straight

December 6 – Kurt Elling

December 31 – Bobby Watson and Horizon

January 21 – Mark O’Connor

January 31 – Stefon Harris and Blackout

February 13 – Branford Marsalis QuartetBranfordMarsalis close

March 7 – Rufus Reid Trio

April 11 – Clayton Brothers Quintet

April 17 – Conrad Herwig Latin Side All-Star Band

In addition to these gigs there is a series of jazz films being presented at the RagTag Cinema, which I am looking forward to.  There’s also a “jazz, wine and beer crawl” in downtown Columbia on September 24, whose title speaks for itself, I think.  It’s the big fundraiser for the year, and always great fun – live jazz in every venue and then a post-crawl party at the Blue Note on 9th Street, where there’ll be “Music Sampler” from the Roots N Blues BBQ Festival, which starts the following day.

I’m blown away by this schedule – Jon Poses has worked miracles again.  I’m looking forward especially to guitarist Martino, Christian McBride, and the Clayton Brothers – I have heard wonderful things about John Clayton’s son, Gerald, and I’m looking forward to hearing him play for the first time.  Oh, yeah, and Branford won’t be too shoddy, either.


Jazz Dispute

August 8, 2009

This excellent bit of business has been around for a while, but Doug Ramsay’s excellent jazz blog Rifftides turned me on to this a while ago.  It’s very good.  The music, as we all know, is “Leap Frog”, with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.


We Always Swing

August 6, 2009

I’ve just received an advanced preview of the We Always Swing Jazz Series line-up for the upcoming season, its fifteenth.  It’s an astonishing list, with world-class talent and a whole bunch of shows that I can’t wait to see.  Once it’s been formally announced, I’ll write about it some more here.

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I’ve heard more live jazz in Columbia, Missouri than I ever saw while I was living in London.  My wife occasionally staggers out of the gigs with a slightly peculiar expression on her face, but by and large she too has come to relish the excitement and satisfaction that can only come from witnessing spontaneous musical creativity at these extraordinary levels.  It’s an experience that simply cannot be replicated by listening to recorded music.  I am reminded of a wonderful quote from Gary Giddens: “Coleman Hawkins records are what we have in the absence of Coleman Hawkins.”  How true.


Distractions and Prevarications, Part 4

August 4, 2009

One of my greatest regrets is that I cannot write while I listen to music.  I need my quiet.  There is no such thing as background noise for me.  The music rushes to the forefront of my consciousness, demanding attention, and I can no longer hear the words I’m forever trying to grasp.  Sentences swim in front of me but I am unable to read them or hear them in my head.  (The clamor of my children is not so bad.  Over time I have learned to tune that out.)

Here’s a great post about why silence really may be golden.

Anyway, this picture seemed like an appropriate candidate for the distractions and prevarications series.  While I am writing there is a perpetual conflict between the need to write and the desire to listen to music.  The CDs are like sirens, crooning their beguiling song.  I keep tapping away and do my best to ignore them.  Usually I succeed.  Sometimes I don’t.

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