Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Jazz phase

Hey, sorry for the delay, but I got distracted. By music, for a change. So there will be no reviews of four music-related books here, yet.
A week ago when my CD player started showing renewed signs of life and my income-tax return came in so money wasn't quite so tight, I went out looking for cheap new sounds to celebrate with. And I found a few. And I'll be looking for more.
Since I was starting to get a little bored with the same 170 Blues songs over and over (see last post), I decided to take another plunge into jazz -- this time to see how much of it I can actually HEAR.
I can count the number of jazz albums I value on both hands -- a few Pat Metheny albums, Miles Davis's IN A SILENT WAY and the PANTHALASSA remixes, John Coltrane's GIANT STEPS, Thelonious Monk's UNDERGROUND, Weather Report's 8:30 live album, Keith Jarrett's EYES OF THE HEART, maybe a couple others. I have a problem with pre-electric-Miles jazz: I can't hear most of it. It doesn't rock. I get bored.
Course, I have some problems with post-electric-Miles jazz, too: Some of it just sounds like noise. Most Miles I've heard after SILENT WAY has no real melody -- ever. I tried to treat The Mahavishnu Orchestra as if they were King Crimson Without Tunes, but that didn't work either. If there's a TUNE, I love jazz-rock's loudness. If there isn't, well....
Maybe I've just been listening to the wrong stuff. It seemed a good time to experiment and see if I can get past all this. And I made some progress. A little.
So far, I've made it halfway through Pharoah Sanders's 34-minute(!) "The Creator Has a Master Plan" from Sanders's 1969 album KARMA, and I like it. I like Pharoah's screechy, squalling sax, and the jangling bells and Indian/African sound-effects. I even like Leon Thomas's vocals. Pharoah at least sounds happy. The customers who came into my store seemed to like it, too.
My heroes at the PENGUIN GUIDE TO JAZZ say KARMA is fairly awful, that it's a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing, so I figured I'd better grab it and see for myself. I'll update you if I survive the rest.
Another nice surprise was Charles Mingus. I'd never heard him before. About a dozen of his tunes are included on THE DEFINITIVE MINGUS, part of the KEN BURNS' JAZZ series. Mingus's music is very passionate, very alive. His band may only include four or five guys in the studio at a time, but they sure make a helluva noise.
I'm more impressed with "Haitian Fight Song" as a piece of raucous group-noise than as a bassist's showcase. "Fables of Faubus" is heated early-'60s political satire and a piece of friggin' genius. And the ensemble playing at the end of "Peggy's Blue Skylight" is beautiful. The others are all growing on me.
And the band! Mingus's saxophonists! (Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Charlie Mariano were among 'em.) And his drummer, Dannie Richmond -- he's all OVER it! I'll update as I absorb the rest of this.
Put on some old faves at work -- Coltrane's GIANT STEPS has at least half a dozen memorable themes that I can hum or whistle along with, it keeps me moving when I'm working, and it's one of my favorite jazz-blowing albums ever (Monk's UNDERGROUND is the other). I listened to Coltrane's A LOVE SUPREME again for the first time in a couple of years. Last time I wrote about it here, I'm sure I must have mentioned that it's dark and turbulent and hard to catch all of. Repeated listenings required, I'm sure. Also tried out the title track of Coltrane's MY FAVORITE THINGS, with Trane on soprano sax -- kind of screechy, but the things he did to that tune....
Tried out Miles's KIND OF BLUE again for the first time in a couple years. I'm sure last time I could barely HEAR it. This time around it was pleasant enough -- some tracks seemed to end way too soon, too abruptly. And the contrast between the playing styles of Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley -- whenever Cannonball's throatier sax sound came in, it made me laugh every time. "All Blues" and "Blue in Green" are especially good.
Keith Jarrett's KOLN CONCERT is like going to church. Except for the parts where it sounds like he's having sex with the piano, of course. Pretty in places (supposed to be a jazz classic), but I'm tempted to say Jarrett sounds better in a group -- on his EYES OF THE HEART, you can HEAR the stress and tension as his quartet falls apart in front of an audience. It's the undercurrent that MAKES that album.
So I'm gonna have to track down some more Jarrett in a group setting. I've heard his gorgeous "Country," and I know his "Long As You Know You're Living Yours" is good -- it was good enough for Steely Dan to steal it as the gorgeous melody for "Gaucho."
Also played old faves "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk" from Dave Brubeck's TIME OUT. Saxist Paul Desmond sure wasn't worried about making his playing conventionally "pretty" was he?
Also sampled George Winston's LINUS AND LUCY -- THE MUSIC OF VINCE GUARALDI. I've always been a sucker for those mid-'60s Peanuts cartoon-show soundtracks. Winston takes Linus and Lucy's theme and plays it straight, then starts messing with it. But he's on solo piano, and the first thing I thought was that Guaraldi was part of a trio -- and I missed the bass and drums. "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" is pleasant, though.
Interestingly, the CD came in a low-budget package with just Peanuts artwork, the title and Winston's name -- no indication of record company or copyright date, or anything else. It looks like a bootleg...!
Tried a BEST OF THELONIOUS MONK, made up of tracks that go as far back as 1947 -- the original versions of the jazz classics he wrote back in the day. This stuff may be too old for me to hear. I'll have to try to work through that. I know one thing after one listening -- that glissando (is that the right word?) Monk does all the way down the keyboard is charming the first few times. And then it gets old. And he does it in almost every song. But I like Monk's UNDERGROUND, even if that's supposedly watered-down Monk near the end of his career. So....
I'm gonna keep at this jazz thing until it gets boring -- hope to update with more views in a few days. Could be fun: "Total idiot writes about jazz!" Might be funnier than some of those rock books I was gonna review this time.... Hope you'll check back to see how much a fool I've made of myself....


R S Crabb said...


Once in a while I like me a bit of jazz too, although my scope might be a bit more out there than yours.

I throw a few suggestions your way. The early Theonlonis Monk stuff on Blue Note is tad bit old style, I would suggest anything from his Riverside albums with Max Roach on drums, try Brilliant Corners and Monk's Music, the one with John Coltrane on it. Speaking of Coltrane, you can't go wrong with with Blue Train, or My Favorite Things. A Love Supreme is where he begins to go towards the space jazz. With Meditations and his collerbations with Phardoah Sanders it will try your patience. Especially when both of them start making wild geese calls on their horns.

You need to hear Sonny Rollins Saxophonous Colossus or Tenor Madness. Rollins in the 1950s was on top of his game and he can be heard on the Plus Four albums with Clifford Brown and Max Roach. Which would lead you to the Quintet Live At Massey Hall, Jazz answer to Live At Leeds. A stellar lineup of Roach, Dizzy, Bird, Mingus and Bud Powell in a 1953 setting.

Dave Brubeck albums, Time Further Out compliments Take Five but if you can find Time Changes, that too is a minor classic. Brubeck made a couple of great Montreaux albums, We Are All Together For The First Time, features Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan and even though Jack Six and Alan Dawson are not the classic rhythm section on that album, I think they do the definitive 15 minute version of Take Five.

There's more out there to discover but I thought I throw a few things your way that you'll dig.

TAD said...

Thanx for commenting, Crabby. I'll see if I can get into more Monk. I'm a big fan of UNDERGROUND.
I've got TONS of Coltrane piled up. Lots.
I think I've got one Sonny Rollins set to hear -- NEWK'S TIME, I think it is. I had a copy of THE SOUND OF SONNY a couple years back (did you send that to me?), and I got through it, but I thought it was kind of old-school average and dull, and I dumped it.
I'd like to hear more jazz-rock, and I'm lookin', but it's gotta have a tune, along with the noise. I'm also open to more outrage....