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Wed, 23 Nov 2005

Genius At Work / Conley Graves Trio
Genius At Work is an album I noticed because of a sparkling cover of the theme from Laura, one of my favorite noir films. Listening to a few other tracks I know, like Humoresque, which I associate with the late Victor Borge during PBS pledge drives, made me appreciate the artistry on display.

And a little investigation left me pretty much as ignorant as when I started. A check on Amazon revealed that this album was made in 1956 and never made the leap to CD. Which shows there may be something to this long tail business after all. Maybe online music sales will rescue all that recorded music the labels in their infinite wisdom (yes, that was sarcasm) didn't feel was worth their time. Nice to know that cheap storage may give us back our musical heritage.

Genius At Work
[ Category: Jazz | 24 comments | Link ]

Wed, 16 Nov 2005

The Glory of Gershwin / Various Artists
The Glory of Gershwin "No experiment is a total loss," my high school chemistry teacher once told us. "It can always be used as a bad example." What we have here is a mostly successful experiment, with at least a couple of smelly disasters to remind us that every attempt carries risk. In this case it's the risk of looking foolish.

What we have is a collection of classic Gershwin songs, performed by the last people you'd expect. Or at least the last you'd have expected before Rod Stewart made a new career mangling old standards. No surprise that Kate Bush does so well with The Man I Love; the song could have been written for her distinctive voice. But who'd have imagined Meat Loaf getting spiritual on Somebody Loves Me or Cher on It Ain't Necessarily So? And, much as I love Rhapsody In Blue, it's even better when performed on Larry Adler's harmonica. As for Robert Palmer's rendition of I Got Rhythm, well, they say we shouldn't speak ill of the dead. So I won't.

[ Category: Jazz | Add a comment | Link ]

Fri, 11 Nov 2005

The Feeling's Back / Chuck Mangione
The Feeling's Back Chuck Mangione? Is he still alive?

You reach a certain age and start to worry every time somebody from your younger days bites the big one. So it's nice to know that at least a few of my elders are both breathing and able to do more than act as spokesmodels for incontinence products. I was introduced to Chuck Mangione (and later to his brother Gap) by a college friend and later roommate. The college was (and still is, if all those alumni letters are any indication) in Rochester. And perhaps in response to us self-impressed New Yawkers, Rochesterians liked to show off their hometown successes. People like Chuck, who somehow made the flugelhorn cool with a hit called Feels So Good. And who stopped recording for fifteen years, which may excuse my surprise at discovering that he's both alive and back at work. And none the worse for the hiatus, if the tracks on offer are any indication. Unless... do you suppose... maybe my taste has deteriorated in the interim. Naaahhh!

[ Category: Jazz | Add a comment | Link ]

Fri, 14 Oct 2005

The Best of Louis Armstrong
The Best of Louis Armstrong I was visiting my parents a few weeks back. They're at an age where there isn't much to talk about, or at least nothing we haven't been saying for decades. So I guess I should be grateful for cable TV, although even there the pickings were mighty slim. One surprise was an unscheduled concert on PBS, a live benefit from Lincoln Center for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. As you might expect, it was heavily oriented toward music from New Orleans, not that that's much of a limitation. There was a lot of jazz, and a lot of blues. And for a moment my father looked a good half a century and more younger, as he remembered his own trumpet playing days back in the mists of time. As the concert rolled on we even found a shared love in the music of Louis Armstrong. I think dad would like this album, not that he has any interest in modern technology like iPods or even CD players. But it's the music that matters, not how it gets played. And great music has a funny way of staying great.
[ Category: Jazz | Add a comment | Link ]

Fri, 30 Sep 2005

Handpicked / Marilyn Scott
Handpicked I discovered Marilyn Scott through mere happenstance. A coworker had received a box full of CDs from a friend at a record label and was sharing the wealth. Not knowing any of the artists represented, I picked a few based on their cover art. Ms. Scott was (and is) pretty and blonde, which seemed reason enough to choose Smile. Yeah, I'm shallow. Although in my own defense, I will suggest that my coworker's own degree of pretty and blonde likely was responsible for the arrival of that box of music.

Anyway, that was ten years ago. And yet somehow Marilyn Scott has matured but not aged; her voice is as compelling now as it was then. I wish the years had been half so kind to me.

[ Category: Jazz | Add a comment | Link ]

Mon, 05 Sep 2005

Douce Ambiance / Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt: what a great name. It's the kind of name that stays with you once you've heard it. Sadly, that's all that stuck with me. I knew I'd heard the name before, even knew that it was in a musical context. But I couldn't have told you what, or when, or where. The name was all I had.

Probably shouldn't have admitted that. No problem, I can always delete it later. Or not; part of the appeal of this blog for me is that we can explore music together. And Reinhardt was clearly one of the greats; a between-the-wars jazz guitarist who turned the tragedy of a fire-mangled left hand into new styles of playing. His old recordings will sound rough to modern ears, but the brilliance and the energy will still shine through.

Douce Ambiance
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Fri, 25 Mar 2005

Operazone: The Redesign / Bill Laswell, Karl Berger & The Material Strings
Operazone is opera for people like me. People who have no interest in opera. At least not opera the way it's supposed to be performed.

Not that I know much about opera, beyond the fact that I don't like it. I did once make it through an entire act of The Flying Dutchman, which I think demonstrates the proper level of intestinal fortitude. (There were two more acts to go, which was more than my date and I could bear.) And I like opera when it doesn't sound like opera. Like OperaBabes, with their soaring voices and inventive arrangements. Or anything involving Bugs Bunny. Or these guys, who take operatic themes and jazz them up. Heck, if you don't tell me they're opera, how am I supposed to know to hate it?

Operazone: The Redesign
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Mon, 14 Feb 2005

Unspeakable / Bill Frisell
Unspeakable A nice little Valentine's Day present: Apple is discounting many of the winning albums from last night's Grammy Awards. As with many other award show choices, I suspect the Grammy selections are susceptible to politics and sentiment. But not always; sometimes they're right on. Like Unspeakable, which won the award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. The tracks here range from high energy to soft and contemplative. And at $7.95 it's a steal. Heck, with the two dollars you save, you can grab a copy of Across the Universe. It's another "stars perform for charity" track, this time in aid of tsunami victims.
[ Category: Jazz | Add a comment | Link ]

Wed, 02 Feb 2005

Love Songs / Nina Simone
I always feel at least a little bit foolish when I discover an artist long after the rest of the world. Nina Simone had a long and successful career before her death two years ago at the age of 70. And I'd heard of her without really hearing her, if you know what I mean. That changed when I discovered this collection. It's called Love Songs, although the selection is broader than a title like that implies. And Ms. Simone's interpretation of these songs is distinctive. Starting with Cherish that old Association hit I've loved just shy of forever. This version brings shivers; Ms. Simone brings qualities to the song I never would have guessed could be there. She gives new life to The Bee Gees with To Love Somebody and Dusty Springfield on The Look of Love. And her take on Leonard Cohen's Suzanne is a masterpiece.

If you already know and love Nina Simone, what can I say? I'm slow. But if you haven't discovered her yet, you and I have a lot of amazing listening ahead of us.

Love Songs
[ Category: Jazz | 1 comment | Link ]

Mon, 31 Jan 2005

Combo / Henry Mancini
Combo! Some music is timeless. And some... isn't. This album was recorded in 1960, a fact that will be obvious to anyone who's ever been exposed to the beatnik era. Movies that used this kind of music seem to me as laughably dated as all those psychedelic drug fantasies of just a few years later. (Watching The President's Analyst in DVD a few weeks ago, I was reminded of that fact most forcefully.)

But perhaps I'm being unfair to Combo!. After all, most of Mancini's work feels dated today. And immediately recognizable as his, in ways that more versatile composers manage to avoid. Like hearing the influence of The Pink Panther in Moanin'. Or The Odd Couple in Playboy's Theme. There's something a little bland and derivative about Mancini, something that makes these tracks sound more like recreations of an era by somebody who wasn't there. Funny, since he was there. And I most certainly wasn't.

[ Category: Jazz | Add a comment | Link ]

Mon, 03 Jan 2005

Domestic Science Club / Domestic Science Club
Domestic Science Club I've already ranted once or twice before about the odd placement of some albums on the iTMS, so I'll keep it brief here. I'll just mention that Domestic Science Club is classified under Jazz, but if you're not into jazz you shouldn't pay that any mind. The harmonies of these three singers are more folk or even country than what I think of as jazz. And those harmonies are worth sampling. As are the upbeat tempo of the songs and their cheery lyrics. About the only thing really wrong with this album is its length. Oh, and the fact that they only recorded one other in the ten years since. And that one isn't available on the iTMS, at leat not yet. Okay, that's three things. But who's counting?
[ Category: Jazz | Add a comment | Link ]

Wed, 03 Nov 2004

Classics / Dave Frishberg
Classics The insanity in my office last week over the World Series and the breaking of the Curse of the Bambino (yes, people really do talk like that) got me thinking some more about baseball. Not about the game itself, which doesn't interest me, but about the way art portrays it. And my thoughts turned to Van Lingle Mungo, a song whose lyrics consist entirely of the names of baseball players. A lot of sports writers think there's poetry in the game; Dave Frishberg's the one who proved it. And the more I thought about the song, the more I wanted to hear it. That led, as it must (or there'd be no point in writing about it here), to the iTMS. Which led me to an entire album of Mr. Frishberg's songs.

I knew nothing about Dave Frishberg beyond Van Lingle Mungo, which I quickly discovered is just one of several compositions that mention baseball. With his quirky voice and his accountant look, at least on the album cover, Mr. Frishberg seems an unlikely artist. Which I think is a big part of his appeal. And then there's his piano playing, which is every bit as smooth as his voice isn't. And yet it all works, the songs and the piano and the voice, sort of like a Tabasco smoothie would.

(If a Tabasco smoothie worked. Which it doesn't. So don't try it. Better yet, do. Then you can tell me all about it.)

[ Category: Jazz | Add a comment | Link ]

Tue, 02 Nov 2004

Wildflower / Keiko Matsui
Glad to see I'm not the only shallow guy here on the iTMS. Well, either that or my taste in music is more common than I thought. Because there has to be something more than random chance to the way iTMS "Listeners also bought..." recommendations tend to track my own choices, at least where attractive female performers are concerned. Do the folky vocals of Beth Waters, the classical violin of Janine Jansen and the jazzy New Age of Keiko Matsui appeal to similar audiences? Or just to men who enjoy a pretty face?

Let's assume for the moment it's the former more than the latter, if only so I can feel better about my own choices. But either way, it means following those links in the iTMS often lead to some pleasant discoveries. Because I can't see what the performers look like on my iPod, at least until I upgrade to the photo model. The music is what counts. And I like my music gentle and melodic, whether vocal or instrumental, whether classical or modern. Not all the time, of course. But often enough that I appreciate pointers from my fellow iTMSers.

As, I hope, do you...

[ Category: Jazz | Add a comment | Link ]

Mon, 01 Nov 2004

Two Way Monologue / Sondre Lerche
Two Way Monologue Grampa Simpson once said, "Ya know, you remind me of a poem I can't remember, and a song that may never have existed, and a place I'm not sure I've ever been to." Having listened to Two Way Monologue, I kind of know how he feels. Although I hope that doesn't mean I'm having a stroke too.

What I mean is that there's something both familiar and strange about the songs of Sondre Lerche. I know I've never heard them before, or him either. And yet there's still that strange sense of memory, as if this album is composed of aspects of other songs and other performers, put together in a way that makes them both recognizable and fresh, like that memory old Abe isn't quite sure he ever had.

Getting wisdom from the Simpsons. Maybe I was on the right track after all with that stroke theory.

[ Category: Jazz | Add a comment | Link ]

Thu, 07 Oct 2004

It Just Happens That Way / Mindi Abair
It Just Happens That Way Some albums I discover on the Music Store. Some are Amazon recommendations. (I'd feel mildly guilty about using them for ideas and then buying them somewhere else if it weren't for all the books and videos I've gotten through them.) This was one I first noticed in Tower Records. I'll admit that the cover got my attention. But of course, what else is there to catch your notice in a record store? (And why am I calling it a record store? Heck, pretty soon we'll have generations who won't know what a record is!)

But I digress. Although a pretty blonde on the cover wasn't enough to get me to buy the CD, it did make me curious enough to sample Ms. Abair's playing on the iTMS. And I liked it; the songs are livelier than the usual sax recordings, with a modern pop sensibility that doesn't fall into the elevator music trap of Light Jazz, that evil twin of New Age that made such a deadly combination on radio stations across the country in the late 80s. Or was New Age the evil twin? I always mix those two up.

[ Category: Jazz | Add a comment | Link ]

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