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Saturday, August 19, 2006

A few jazz recommendations.

In case you'd like to expand your music library just a bit, I've set up a small guide to jazz recordings I especially love. I'll update the selection every now and then — and I'd welcome your recommendations, too.

On a related note, while I was on vacation in Finland earlier this month I finally read a novel a dear friend sent me several years ago, Rafi Zabor's jazz novel The Bear Comes Home, which has some really wonderful writing about music and musicians. Inspired by the book, I've been trying to listen even more attentively.

(The guide is part of the Amazon Associates program, which means that when you visit Amazon from a link on my site, a little bit of money comes my way.)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 19 August 2006 at 10:28 AM

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Dudley Jones:

August 21, 2006 12:10 PM | Permalink for this comment

Has Philocrites encountered the Ramsey Lewis "Legends of Jazz" program, and if so what does he think of it? It is available on DVD, and I recently saw some of it.

Kevin M:

August 21, 2006 01:22 PM | Permalink for this comment

Oh, The Bear Comes Home is a wonderful novel, surely the best ever written about a talking bear who aspires to be an avant-garde jazz saxophonist! I'm in Virginia for a week or I'd run to the shelf for my copy, just to dig up the hilarious passage where Ornette Coleman encourages the bear to come into his own as a musical animal by playing his solos more "quadrupedally."

My theory is that Zabor, who is a jazz drummer himself, essentially wanted to write a novel about an alienated young artist struggling to find his voice. Since that kind of novel has been written a hundred times before, he hit on the brilliant conceit of making his young artist an honest-to-God talking bear. It turns out that Zabor actually has a lot of insightful things to say about art and expression, and a unique talent for sustaining an absurd story with a straight face. I was worried, and then delighted, when I realized that he was not going to flinch when describing the bear's sexually intimate, anatomically awkward relationship with a beautiful human muse. You have to read it to believe it.

As I recall, Zabor compares the bear's style to both Jackie McLean and Arthur Blythe; while we're trading recommendations I suggest you check out Let Freedom Ring by McLean and Lennox Avenue Breakdown by Blythe.

As for your own recommendation list, why no annotation? You've picked out some wonderful albums (The Blues and the Abstract Truth especially; it's one of my all-time favorite jazz recordings), and I'd love to know why they appeal to you.


August 21, 2006 05:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

The Oliver Nelson disc is one of my all-time favorites. I once transcribed Freddy Hubbard's magnificent solo on Stolen Moments - easily my favorite cut on the disc, and one of my favorite tunes, period. Back in the day I could play it, but alas, no more.

A geek-out tidbit: Bela Fleck and the Flecktones put a CD out a couple of years back called Outbound. It starts with a souped-up arrangement of Copland's Hoedown from Rodeo. In the middle of the tune, as everything is building to a big climax, the band all of a sudden shifts gears and launches into the opening phrases of Nelson's Hoedown from Blues and the Abstract Truth. It's a great moment if you know what you're hearing. Otherwise it's pretty bizarre.


August 21, 2006 10:22 PM | Permalink for this comment

I wish I could remember why I bought "The Blues and the Abstract Truth." I used to spend hours browsing in the jazz section at the HMV in Harvard Square, before they downsized it, left it neglected, and then killed off the whole store -- and I'd consult the guides and Tom Piazza's recommendations and try to remember things I'd heard on the radio. But I think I was just wowed by the lineup. And it really is one of the most satisfying jazz albums I've ever heard. I never get bored. It's probably the crispness of every solo, the confidence of the players, the sizzle. And Eric Dolphy plays a fine flute in "Stolen Moments." Amen on Freddie Hubbard, Jason. I own some other recordings of him, but this is my favorite.

Two of the other albums -- "Moanin'" by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and "Walkin'" by the Miles Davis All Stars -- are albums I've given as presents to people I think are ready to move on to serious jazz; they're really excellent, emotionally gripping albums. (I received "Walkin'" as a gift myself, from the same friend who sent me "The Bear Comes Home.")

I love to listen to W. C. Handy's blues on Louis Armstrong's recording and on Duke Ellington's rare small-group disc. It's my favorite recording of Louis Armstrong -- there are moments in some of the solos when I feel like launching right off into space as he bends the notes -- and it's really fun to listen to Ellington and Johnny Hodges play many of the same tunes on "Back to Back." The production of both discs is top-notch, too.

The rhythms on Horace Silver's "Song for My Father" stand out for me. (I'm a piano player who has never mastered jazz, but I especially love to hear great piano playing. I love Silver.) "Mingus Au Um" has a great range of moods and tempos, and I like the alternation of manic and serene tracks; it's an album I like hearing in the car, or when I can really crank up the stereo at home. "Ella & Louis Again" ought to bore me because it is treated as Starbucks muzak, but instead the liveliness of the singing (and the vibrant playing behind them) always brings a smile to my face.

The Marian McPartland tribute to the music of Mary Lou Williams is much more than a sentimental favorite, though I am sentimental about it. Part of the appeal certainly is hearing one female jazz legend pay tribute to one of the earliest female jazz songwriters. (I also have Dave Douglas's Williams tribute, "Soul on Soul," but that's really two wholly unrelated albums smashed together. I don't get the connection on that album.) I used to listen to McPartland's radio program, and learned quite a lot about the history of jazz from her. And I was turned on to this album by my friend and boss, who is a true jazz fan.


August 21, 2006 10:46 PM | Permalink for this comment

Dudley, I'm not familiar with the DVD you mentioned. Thanks for calling it to my attention!


August 23, 2006 07:13 PM | Permalink for this comment

Always nice to see an acknowledgement of Charles Mingus; given his prolific output, his eccentric titles, his signature sound and his ingenious way of straddling that razor-thin line between freedom and structure, that man is definitely underappreciated in the jazz world.

Those of you who enjoy "Mingus Ah Um" will really enjoy "Mingus at Antibes" and his "Town Hall Concert" featuring Eric Dolphy.

While we're talking jazz, I suppose most of you jazz fans have written off Keith Jarrett, like just about everyone else. Before you write him off completely, however, forget about everything you don't like about him and check out his trio's free-form CD from a few years ago called "Inside Out." For that one they threw away the standard book (finally!) and just let it rip. It's highly melodic and highly energetic, and all three of them shine! In my humble opinion, it's one of the best free jazz albums of the past three decades.

Kevin M:

August 24, 2006 02:58 PM | Permalink for this comment

Wow! A plug for The Bear Comes Home and an earnest defense of Keith Jarrett! This thread has everything!


August 24, 2006 03:23 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'd like to add that I tried last night, for the umpteenth time, to appreciate Herbie Hancock's album "Empyrean Isles." I just don't get it. On this album, Freddie Hubbard seems to get bored after three measures in practically every solo: phrases just drop off listlessly.

Happily, I listened to "Mingus Au Um" afterward and felt that order and jubilation had returned to Earth.

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