Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Bill Evans Trio - "Autumn Leaves"

I usually avoid seasonally appropriate music posts, but I couldn't resist this one-the brilliant Bill Evans on piano and Scott LaFaro on bass. This is from Bill's 1959 album "Portrait in Jazz". 1959-the year of my birth-was a particularly good year in jazz history. I don't assert a causal connection between my arrival and this fact.  

Somewhere along the way Evans became my favorite pianist. I probably would've named Chick Corea as such a couple years ago. People who know more about modern harmony than I do can tell you about Evans' approach to his instrument-how he often didn't play the roots of chords (leaving that to the bass player), his use of chords voiced in fourths instead of thirds, etc-and that's all very interesting-but technical analysis of music doesn't get you very far. Does it, for want of a better word, grab you, or not?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Vocalchord-"Texas Girl at the Funeral of Her Father"

Vocalchord is, or was, a Dutch group of opera singers who did some very nice close harmony vocals. Here they tackle Randy Newman's lovely "Texas Girl at the Funeral of Her Father". The song is simplicity itself, but very moving, and this treatment certainly does it justice.

Newman is, by any reckoning, one of the finest songwriters of this musical era. So good, in fact, that while Randy was still in his 20's the brilliant Harry Nilsson had already done an album composed solely of Newman material, 1970's "Nilsson Sings Newman".

Which makes me think of the CD's I've listened to recently: 1) Randy Newman-"Little Criminals" (which the above is from); 2) Frank Sinatra-"Sinatra's "Swingin' Session"; 3) Maynard Ferguson-"Maynard '61"/"Straightaway Jazz Themes" (the latter of this double set is from the early 60's ABC series "Straightaway" which Maynard did the music for); 4) Chick Corea-"Concerto" (Chick's sole recorded foray into classical music, as far as I know-he wrote a new orchestration of his "Spain", as well as a new piano concerto for himself); 5) The Beatles-"The White Album" (yes, I actually think that for a few minutes "Revolution 9" works, as a sort of sonic tour of Hell as imagined by John Lennon, that is before John starts into naming dances-"the Watusi, the Twist" and such); and 6) The London Brass-"Modern Times with The London Brass" (hyper-modern set designed to annoy people, though I like a lot of it, actually).

Nina Simone - "Here Comes The Sun"

It's nice to note that this treatment (please don't call it a "cover"-did Ray Charles "cover" songs? Did Sinatra?) of "Here Comes the Sun" by the great Nina Simone has over 17 million views on Youtube. Maybe it will introduce people to Nina. Cool little gospelly piano solo by Nina as well.

I've never been a big fan of George Harrison as a songwriter-he tended towards the preachy and pretentious-but this is a good one. The most obvious comparison is to Macca's "Good Day Sunshine"-very much an inferior song.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Rumer -"What The World Needs Now"

Rumer is a British singer (nee' Sarah Joyce).

The simple beauty of her voice, and of this arrangement of the Bacharach/David classic, need little comment-though I'll mention that Rumer has been likened to Karen Carpenter. Not hard to hear some similarities, but I don't think she's aping Carpenter. You'll note that Madeleine Peyroux sounds more than a little like Billie Holiday, and that Linda Eder sounds like Barbra Streisand. Not sure it's intentional in any of these cases.

Tony Bennett-"Emily"

In the 90's Tony did an album called "Perfectly Frank"-a tribute to you know who. Excellent album, but none of the 24 cuts was as good as the Sinatra version. That's the danger of doing a Sinatra tribute album!

In any case, here is a song that Tony may well do better than Frank. (Frank's "Emily" is here). Not sure when Sinatra did his treatment (Tony's dates from 1966), but obviously it's fairly late in the game. Frank's "Emily" is more about building a home with Emily; Tony's with passion for the girl. Tony's is also rhythmically looser-the waltz beat is much less obvious, when it's there at all.

For another case where Tony may in fact exceed Frank, here's a live 1993 version of "One for My Baby". Tony does it as a roadhouse shuffle, which the song needs. As a straight ballad it's sort of a lesser "Angel Eyes"-which, if you think about it, is basically the same song, only better.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Glen Campbell - "Try A Little Kindness" - [live]

What's Glen Campbell doing on a jazz site? Well, he was a hell of a guitar player. Listen to him rip through this one. Plus, I like the song and Glen's singing, as well. RIP.

There's a funny story, somewhat politically incorrect, about Campbell, who did a lot of session work early in his career, on a Sinatra session. Glen seemed to be enjoying himself hugely, staring at Sinatra in awe. So Frank, ever tactful, asked the producer: "Who's the queer guy on guitar?"

This cut is circa 2000.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Frank Sinatra-"I Had The Craziest Dream"

This is from "Trilogy", Frank's Past-Present-Future three album set recorded in 1979. As pretty much everybody who has heard the album has noted, only the Past record-from which this track is taken-is much worth listening to.

I've always thought of Sinatra as a great actor-he delivers the meaning of the lyrics, acts them...as he understands them, of course. It might be a hoary cliché, but this track gives me chills up the spine. This is acting, at its best.

The wonderful, Harry James-esque trumpet solo is by Charlie Turner.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Maynard Ferguson - "Rhythm Method"

The last two decades of Maynard Ferguson's life and career were a fertile period. He was finally free of the Columbia (now Sony) record contract which had led to the recording of so much questionable material. He had-re-formed his big band after a short interval with a small group. And the first few years-with the full-sized version of Big Bop Nouveau-were especially productive. His own playing was still at full strength, and the bands were loaded with top-flight soloists, such as Chip McNeill on tenor and Walter White on trumpet, as heard here. Recorded live, circa 1990.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Bernard Herrmann- "Vertigo"-theme

I'm constantly coming across new examples of wonderful music by Hermann. I watched "The Ghost and Mrs Muir" (1947-Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison) recently and marveled at the beauty of the opening theme, heard over shots of the seaside where Tierney's character would end up living. Then I noticed the credits and saw, not surprisingly, Hermann's name. Of course. Another perhaps surprising place you run into Hermann's music is Twilight Zone re-runs, many of which were scored by Hermann.

As, presumably, most people know, many of Hitchcock's movies were scored by Hermann, including this wonderful example. This strikes me as Hermann's best work for Hitchcock, though some will name "North by Northwest" as such. In any case, this is modern, in the right way.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

"Chet"-a poem

Here is a poem I wrote a while ago about Chet Baker.

Found his way to Birdland-

Valhalla of the jazz men.

Played his horn like an angel whispering,

Not a warrior bearing his weapon.

All the beauty was on the stand,

Darkness all else.

But if your darkness be light-

O, how great the light!

Sought by Hollywood in his youth-

James Dean's worthy heir?

Killed himself more slowly,

But we were no less fascinated.

The standard songs with the standard changes,

Conventional to the last.

The 50's gospel-the sated man of alley and bandstand-

The perfect fix, the perfect note.

"Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy":

A better tale than a triumph,

In a world that lives out its woes,

One song at a time.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Chick Corea-"Leprechaun's Dream".

It's said that classical is composers' music, jazz players'. And there is a fair amount of truth to this. But what do you do with jazz people who are both brilliant soloists and equally brilliant composer/arrangers? If you're John Ephland, the critic who wrote the CD review of Corea's 1976 album "The Leprechaun", you don't know what to do, and call an album with an excellent balance of great writing and playing "almost over-arranged".

All right, I'll acknowledge my own bias here, and say that a large part of the reason jazz lost its place in the popular music hierarchy was its de-emphasis of arrangements that non-initiates can latch on to. If you listened to the Ellington band in its heyday, at first you might not have understood what the soloists were doing, but you surely could dig Duke (and Billy Strayhorn)'s great writing. That was my own route into jazz-the big bands of Count Basie and Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich and Toshiko Akiyoshi, and more. It was a while before I got what Coltrane was doing!

This particular cut is the logical culmination of Chick's whimsical journey into a Irish musical  fairyland. (Pretty good for an Italian guy from Boston). It features a clever integration of brass, string quartet,  tasteful electronics, and Gayle Moran's wordless vocals with strong solos from Chick and reedman Joe Farrell. A delight.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Count Basie - "Good Time Blues"

This is jazz. 'Nuff said. Fun and funny. I got to see some of my heroes-Basie, Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, and more before they left this mortal coil. So grateful.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Sonny Stitt-"Tune-Up"

Stitt took a fair amount of abuse early in his career for sounding "too much" like Charlie Parker, but that never bothered me-I always thought "that's Bird with a better sound, and recorded better too". Here he is in the 70's, on tenor, absolutely crushing it. Barry Harris on piano.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Maynard Ferguson-"Slide's Derangement"

In honor of what would've been Maynard's 90th birthday, let's hear MF and crew with the classic 1958 track, "Slide's Derangement". This is by the brilliant trombonist/composer/arranger Slide Hampton,  who along with Willie Maiden, Mike Abene, Don Sebesky, Ernie Wilkins, and others, wrote much of Maynard's book of classic charts, many of which were re-recorded decades later. The cut features one of the more exciting endings in big band history. And features the best big band of the period.

This cut is from A Message from Newport-which was not recorded live, despite the name and album cover, but was given that appellation to take advantage of the splash the band had made at that year's Newport Jazz Festival.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

In style: Dionne Warwick - "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?"

Warwick's "low-emot" style stands as a refreshing contrast to what we hear all too often today. There are three modes, so to speak, in contemporary urban music (a term I use because anything else might be [even more] inflammatory).

There is rap, in which the vocalist does not sing, but rather chants often ugly (self-centered, materialistic, misogynistic) words over a crude beat. Ironically samples from real music are often pilfered and added to the "songs". Next we have songs in which young men who don't have good voices whine their way through ill-advised lyrics, which are often more than a little like bad high school poetry material. Lastly you have women, often with pretty good voices, over-emoting and "over-melismaing" the hell out of trite lyrics.

This song, a Bacharach/David work from 1968 (released on the album "Dionne Warwick in Valley of the Dolls"), does none of those things, and neither does Warwick. Instead we get an amusing look at how elusive, and maybe worthless, stardom is:

L.A. is a great big freeway
Put a hundred down and buy a car
In a week, maybe two, they'll make you a star
Weeks turn into years. How quick they pass 
And all the stars that never were 
Are parking cars and pumping gas

The Bacharach/David team, at its best, rivals Lennon/McCartney for the best songwriters of the 60's. I don't think a song better than "Affie" was written in that decade.

Bill Evans Trio - "Autumn Leaves"

I usually avoid seasonally appropriate music posts, but I couldn't resist this one-the brilliant Bill Evans on piano and Scott LaFaro ...