Category Archives: Blathering

10 jazz records you should own

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Herbie Hancock and The Headhunters, his band for his 1974 album, Thrust

Some friends have indicated that they just don’t know where to start when it comes to jazz records.  Some of them feel it would be valuable for me to offer a list of recommendations.  I understand that Jazz can be intimidating, as it often evolves into a cerebral exercises.  You know, dudes will solo in a particular mode in a certain time signature while the rhythm section plays in another time signature and, truthfully, it’s no longer even tuneful or moving.

Before I begin, a little concerning my history with jazz might be helpful.  I played alto saxophone until my freshman year of college.  I also played baritone saxophone for three years in high school.  Between the busyness of life and the intonation problems of my student-issue horn, I stopped playing and pursued songwriting and rock instruments.  During this time, I sought out mostly rock recordings, as well.  This gap, however unfortunate it may be perceived, gave me a different perspective on jazz recordings when I finally returned to them later in college.  While I can appreciate technical prowess, I’m a bigger fan of sounds and melodies.  I also prefer small groups, or combos, to overblown big bands.

Obviously this list is not exhaustive; I’m leaving out some real heavy-hitters.  I just hope the annotated list offers a place to start and doesn’t get too technical (for lay people who just want to discover cool music).

1.  Thrust – Herbie Hancock (Columbia / 1974)

Thrust is the follow-up to Herbie’s big, funky, fusion break-out record, Headhunters.  Simply put, I like this one better.  The grooves are more tight and the drumming more precise.  I feel like Herbie and his backing band, The Headhunters, have gelled with this record.  Probably the most accessible album on this list to start with.

2.  Kind of Blue – Miles Davis (Columbia / 1959)

Miles was like only a handful of career artists who constantly evolved and reinvented themselves.  (Bob Dylan, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, David Bowie and Elvis Costello also come to mind.)  This record finds Miles and his bandmates embracing modal soloing.  Don’t worry about what that means, just know that it opens up the bebop sound.  He pieced together a stellar band of dudes  who really listened to one another and were, themselves, on the cusp of true greatness.  I know, I know, this is an obvious, big album in Miles’ catalog (and in all of music) but it’s still a great starting point.

3.  House on Hill – Brad Mehldau (Nonsuch / 2006)

The most recent album in the list.  I love Brad Mehldau’s airy style (reminiscent of Keith Jarrett, but I’d say Mehldau is usually more accessible), and I feel this record finds him at his best.  A great album to play as you watch the rain fall.

4.  Red Clay – Freddie Hubbard (CTI / 1970)

The funkiest fusion record you will ever find.  It’s a collision of funk, soul and jazz.  Lenny White’s drumming is so crisp and precise.  Some great playing and comping, too, but I don’t want to get too technical.  Like so many releases on CTI, this seems intended for vinyl.  The drums sounds perfect and warm on wax; the gate-fold artwork is gorgeous.

5.  Off-Limits – The Francy Boland/Kenny Clarke Big Band (Polydor / 1970)

I’m not usually a fan of big band recordings.  (Playing in bands, on the other hand, was pretty fun.)  This is the only big band to make my list, and it’s quite impressive.  The group has two drummers, hard-panned left and right, and the horn lines swoop in and out in a dizzying manner.  It’s hard to keep up with it all, but it’s beautiful.  With everything going on, it’s surprising that the best moments are quiet and autumnal.  Hard to describe, but it’s a must-have.

6.  Moon Germs – Joe Farrell (CTI / 1973)

Farrell is a criminally-overlooked tenor sax player.  In fact, I recommended him to a friend who just graduated with a degree in tenor sax performance, and he had never heard of the guy.  Playing with some of Miles Davis’ late-60s band, this album finds Farrell at his most funky.  It’s worth getting this record for the drum break in “Great Gorge,” alone–it feels like the drummer (DeJohnette) predicts the future of 80s hip-hop with just that one break.

7.  Conversations with Myself – Bill Evans (Verve / 1963)

I think Bill Evans is my favorite pianist.  I won’t gush about his beautifully-voiced chords, but they are beautiful.  Trust me.  Just get this record and be amazed.  It’s a solo piano record without precedent.  Evans accompanies himself, one piano track on the left and another, overdubbed part on the right.  Occasionally, he even adds a third piano down the middle.  Great tunes and an inventive (for the time) delivery.

8.  Search for the New Land – Lee Morgan (Blue Note / 1964)

Much like Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan was a trumpet player whose legacy is often overshadowed by Miles Davis’.  This album is well-balanced between swinging bop and new sounds of the 60s.  I especially love the title track, as it explores that expansive (airy?) vibe that Coltrane and Miles were after, as well. It’s as close to psychedelia as many acoustic jazz musicians got without tape manipulation and overdubbing.

9.  Timeless – John Abercrombie (ECM / 1974)

I really don’t care for many fusion guitarists.  Trading style for wankery, these dudes seem only concerned with impressing the listener (or themselves).  While that can be fun, it usually just gets old.  Throughout his career, Abercrombie occasionally nailed it, delivering cool vibe and melodies.  This is it.  Oh yeah, and check out the crazy breakdown with synth bass and drums (same dude who drummed on the aforementioned Joe Farrell record) nine minutes into “Lungs”.  That sick track, alone, makes most DJ Shadow records obsolete.

10.  Speak Like a Child – Herbie Hancock (Blue Note / 1968)

Before he became a jazz/funk rockstar, Herbie was on the verge of becoming a first-rate jazz composer.  Speak Like a Child and The Prisoner feature fantastic horn arrangements.  This record, in particular, is especially solid and would make for a great film noir soundtrack.  Very few songs make me cry, and “Goodbye to Childhood” has brought me to tears, twice.

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A few thoughts.

Cover of Ten Years After’s 1969 album, Ssssh

I didn’t have time to record a podcast this week, but that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about music.

  • A friend asked me about Slowdive this week. Fortunately for him, I already had a Slowdive playlist in Songbird. (Does this really surprise you?) So I burnt him a mix CD from that playlist just before Thurday’s rain. Diving back into the band’s dreamy catalog with light rain rapping upon the windowpanes was perfection. I can’t wait for him to hear this; it’s gorgeous.
  • I stopped at Half Price Books in Westport on Thursday and bought Stereolab’s Margerine Eclipse and ABC Music. Now, I’m on a serious Stereolab kick. Don’t hate.
  • I wish my wife wouldn’t have informed me Stars will be playing at The Bottleneck in Lawrence on October 9. We won’t be able to attend, as it’s on a weeknight. Oh, to see them perform “Ageless Beauty“!
  • My friend, Brandon Briscoe, stopped by yesterday, and I introduced him to the music of Ten Years After. I’ve always felt that the band’s lead guitarist, Alvin Lee, was the best of the British blues rock players. Since everyone and everything is on Spotify, I suggest you check out the band’s records Cricklewood Green, Ssssh and Watt. In that order.
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Of CD Wallets and Road Trips

When Katy and I were dating, she in Dayton and I in Raytown, we faced long, monthly drives to see one another. I tried to sell her on this drive by telling her it was only about as long has playing through her 10 favorite CD’s in the car.

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We’re preparing for a trip back to Dayton next week, and I’m packing my CD wallet. I know, it’s 2012 and I should just load up my phone with MP3’s or stream songs from Google Music or something, but the car we’re taking only has a CD player. (I’m not complaining…15 years ago, this would have been a luxury, right?) I think MP3 players have made me lazy, dumping tons of music onto a player with no real intentions of getting to much of it.

I’m not sure I can even articulate what makes a good road trip album. It certainly needs driving beats, and there needs to be some amount of predictability. Nostalgia’s important, too, as my favorite albums make for great road trip albums. (Many of which, I owned on tape and got stuck in the tape deck of a couple different Escorts I had in college for months on end.) But then again, some just tend to be a solid, unflashy album in a band’s catalog. Sometimes I just need an record that will sound good in my particular car at the time. Finally, I take new albums on trips because a 10-hour drive is a great chance to wear in a new one.

Here are a few* that make my list. I’ll let you decide what criteria they meet.

  1. Get Happy!! – Elvis Costello and the Attractions (F-Beat/1980)
  2. Dear Science – TV on the Radio (Interscope/2008)
  3. Red Medicine – Fugazi (Dischord/1995)
  4. Forever Changes – Love (Elektra/1967)
  5. After Dark – various artists (Italians Do it Better/2007)
  6. Bloom – Beach House (SubPop/2012)
  7. a CD I burned with both Object 47 & Red Barked Tree by Wire
  8. Some Racing, Some Stopping – Headlights (Polyvinyl/2008)
  9. Feelings – Motel Beds (Fictionband Mechanics/2010)
  10. Your Future Our Clutter – The Fall (Domino/2010)
  11. Never Hear the End of It – Sloan (YepRoc/2007)
  12. 25 Years of Hits – Pet Shop Boys (Parlophone/2009)
  13. Slideling – Ian McCulloch (Cooking Vinyl/2003)
  14. Oranges & Lemons – XTC (Virgin/1989)
  15. Sex Change – Trans Am (Thrill Jockey/2007)
  16. Wake Up! – The Boo Radleys (Creation/1995)
  17. The Chaos – The Futureheads (Nul/2010)
  18. You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever – Orange Juice (Polydor/1982)
  19. The Loudest Sound Ever Heard – The Choir (Galaxy21/2012)
  20. OX4: The Best of Ride – Ride (The First Time Records/2002)
  21. Last Exit – Junior Boys (KIN | 2004)
  22. some last minute selection by Robert Pollard or Guided By Voices

*My wife reserves the right to edit the final list any time before Saturday.

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Plotting my next move.

It will probably be another week or so before I post my 100th episode. It will be a special show, with my friends discussing some of their favorite songs (as opposed to my usual monopolization of your time). These are dear friends who have influenced my own tastes, and they contribute some great conversation and enthusiasm.

And like any of the other 99 episodes that have preceded it, you can expect a rather eclectic mix.

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Because you’re mine…

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Here’s one of Ian’s 3-6 month onesies.

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No agenda.

“…it’s impossible to completely separate any kind of art–or any kind of product–from the preoccupations of its time. I like to say that i have no agenda. I say it because I don’t run with any particular gang, and because agendas are often no more than defensive postures we take up against other people’s agendas. But I do have an agenda of sorts, or a guiding conviction, and I may as well be honest about it. Music is either an art form or it isn’t, and I say that it is: the greatest of the arts, and one of the closest approaches we mortals have to the divine. And try as I might, I can’t seem to reduce it to the level of the matching handbag that goes with this year’s jacket. Nor can I inflate it to the level of tribal warfare.”

-Joe Jackson, from his autobiography, A Cure for Gravity

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Three Doors Down

I checked the albums for sale at Amazon’s MP3 store this morning and saw a new Three Doors Down album, so I tweeted, “Woah, Three Doors Down just released a new record.  I didn’t know they were still around. #feelslike1998”  I received a few hilarious responses, prompting me to compile them for all to see.  (Because of the sensitive nature of the topic, I have elected not to disclose these statements’ authors.)

I should add that it seems fitting that I type up these responses at Benetti’s Coffee Experience.  Until the demolition of a sewing supply store last year, the coffeeshop was three doors down from the high school I attended.  Irony, or just a convenient observation?

  • A few minutes after my original tweet, a friend simply replied, “Three Pants Down.”
  • Then another stated, “Yeah…and they’re the one band I can say, ‘I saw them before they got big’ and of course, I’m too embarrassed to say it :)”
  • One guy asked if the new album was called Fish Sticks (a reference to a South Park episode about Kanye West).
  • And finally, a friend replied via text message, “As long as we have troops overseas, there will be Three Doors Down. LOL.”

Okay, I’m done discussing suck bands.  There’s way too much good music out there to focus on corporate mainstream schlock rock.  In fact, I’ve had way too many cool music experiences to fixate on anything else for long.  You can be sure I’ll discuss some of these in my next few episodes.

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Thoughts.

It’s that time again, time for some scattered thoughts about music.

  • The Brother Kite just released a new EP.  Of course you need it.
  • Shuffle is typically a more appropriate term than random.
  • Paul Butterfield could play an amazing blues harp.
  • While I don’t totally get all their stuff, I really dig Animal Collective’s last two albums and corresponding EPs.
  • I still haven’t finished my mix CD of favorite songs from 2010.
  • I’m playing a solo acoustic gig at Main Street Coffee House on July 2.  Expect some covers, it should be a blast.
  • Dan Bejar is the dude.
  • My wife and I are attending the Peter Gabriel concert at Starlight Theater on Saturday.  My favorite Gabriel records are Melt, Security and Up, but I’m not sure how much of that material will rear its head in his set with the New Blood Orchestra.
  • My drummer, Mylin Brimm, is releasing a new solo album.  It’s heavily influenced by gospel, 90s R&B and indie rock.  This dude will rock your world.  Like him on Facebook to keep up with his news.
  • Speaking of Mylin, he and I head to Kenny Carter’s home studio on Friday to lay down drum tracks for the new My Science Fiction Twin EP.  I’m fortunate and blessed to have a drummer who takes notes and thinks out his parts.  He’s amazing.
  • I still enjoy Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest.
  • These guys look like they know what they’re doing.

Ride on!

“No RFR this week?” was the text at 10:43 this morning.

I guess I set the bar a little high when I did about 60 consecutive weekly installments.  While I love blathering about music, I some other things have commanded my time recently.  In addition to my usual busyness this week, I interviewed at Hogan Prep High School, rehearsed for a wedding and recorded the soundtrack to a Kickstarter promotional video for a new musical.

That’s not to say I haven’t spent time with music this week.  My wife and I have made it through two-thirds of No Direction Home, and I’ve been spinning John Wesley Harding.  I’m still in awe of its clean, uncluttered mix.

One of our pastors preached on the first chapter of 1 Peter this weekend.  Peter’s use of ‘exile’ in the passage brought to mind David Bowie’s “Word on a Wing” where he belts out, “It’s safer than a strange land.”  I just couldn’t get that song out of my head during the sermon.  Peter also writes in that chapter about how God causes us to be born again, and there hasn’t been a day this week that the line, “Sweet name, you’re born once again for me,” didn’t run through my head.

I also got news that the student with whom I work will receive an award for Most Improved Student next Tuesday night at the annual student recognition night.  This means so much more to me than my nomination for support staff of the year.

Oh yeah, and that Kickstarter campaign video?  Here it is.  (And yes, that’s my cowboy hat he’s wearing.)

I’m exhausted.  I think I’ll take a nap so I can make it through tonight’s free concert with Sam Billen and Cowboy Indian Bear on the lawn of Johnson County Community College.

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Thought cornucopia.

The Wake's first album, Harmony.

Episode #77 will have to wait until next week, but that’s not because I lack ideas or opinions.

  • I’ve never really been much of a Strokes fan, but a friend gave me the band’s new album, Angles, last week.  It leaves me with the same feeling I get from good Coldplay songs–while they may be decent, the singer sounds like he’s still just singing for girls.  I truly don’t know what to think.  The last half is decent, veering into some moody synth rock, but the first half i’s still just so dang mediocre.
  • I’ve been on a Paul McCartney kick this week, but I don’t think my wife minds.
  • The new Low album is growing on me, a little.  But mostly the Velvet Underground-ish songs.  Surprise, surprise.
  • Katy and I visited Earwaxx Records on Record Store Day last week.  We picked up the new record by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.  Guess that makes us hipsters now.
  • I discovered Bobby Gillespie’s pre-Jesus and Mary Chain band, The Wake, this week.  It was an early-80s band on Factory Records that sounded an awful lot like Movement-era New Order.  Its first album, Harmony is a great, albeit derivative, album that Beach Fossils would love to make.
  • Dig The Pitch‘s pictures from Zebedee’s RPM on Record Store Day.
  • I heard Cut Copy’s song, “Corner of the Sky,” on Michael Moore’s show last weekend, and it was amazing.
  • I just got Scarlet Youth‘s EP, Breaking the Patterns, on eMusic.  This band is so freaking good.  I may have to break up My Science Fiction Twin because this band just made our dream album for us.
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