Saturday, January 14, 2012
Corb Lund: Big Butch Bass Bull Fiddle
While upright bass solos are common in jazz, they are fairly uncommon in country music (with the possible exceptions of bluegrass and tradition "old style" country). Corb Lund is a Canadian country musician, and while he does has a bit of a following in the US, he is quite popular in the mainstream Canadian country music scene. Lund's family is from southern Alberta where they are actively involved in ranching and rodeo. Many of Lund's songs reflect his unique heritage. However, before he started to compose country music, he moved north to Edmonton go to school to study jazz guitar and bass. He eventually joined a hard/alternative rock called The Smalls who were active in Western Canada, but in the mid 90s he started experimenting with the style of country music that he grew up on in ranching country.
The Corb Lund Band released their first album in 1995, and by the release of their four album in 2006 they were known as Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans. On that 2006 album, Hair in My Eyes Like a Highland Steer, appears the song "Big Butch Bass Bull Fiddle." In the liner notes Lund states, "This one's for Kurt to show his stuff on. He's been going down the road, faithfully backing me up for a lo-o-ng time and I keep promising to make him rich." "Kurt" is Kurt Ciesla and his bio on Lund's web site states that he is "an extremely versatile musician, he is a former member of funk acts Blue Locutus and Bubba and is a familiar and respected musician in the Edmonton Jazz music scene."
The song itself describes trials of playing the upright bass. The sound of the song is reminiscent of 1940's swing jazz, with a lively piano in the background, and, of course, a prominent bass line and a bass solo, which is extended during a live show. I've seen Lund and his band play this song live several times and he always introduces this song as "an ode to Air Canada or WestJet," and you can imagine how fun it must be dealing with the airlines with an over-sized instrument. It's a pretty remarkable jazz song from a former rodeo kid who is now known for his country music.
Asleep at the Wheel with Huey Lewis: Hubbin‘ It
I couldn’t let this week’s theme go by without sharing some western swing with y’all. And I can’t think of a better way to do that than to feature Asleep at the Wheel paying tribute to Bob Wills. Huey Lewis, (Really? That Huey Lewis? Really!) is just a bonus.
Western swing is a hybrid of country music and big band swing. It arose in the 1930s and 40s. Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies are the pioneers of the style, but Bob Wills was the man who popularized it. Western swing was almost a fad and nothing more. By the 1950s, a song or two might show up in the repertoire of a Texas country artist, but nobody played it full time. I first heard of the style growing up. My father grew up in Oklahoma, and he would fondly reminisce at times about hearing Brown, Wills, and the Light Crust Dough Boys on the radio during his childhood. Then, in the 1970s, Asleep at the Wheel emerged. They were a band that was committed to reviving western swing, and they succeeded to the extent possible. The style is still not massively popular, but new bands have emerged, and country artists such as George Strait have had hits with western swing songs.
Hubbin’ It was written by Cindy Walker, and was a standard for Bob Wills and his band. Huey Lewis used to play the song with his band Clover before he became famous. In Clover, someone else sang the song, so this is the only recording of Huey Lewis singing it.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Those of us living in and around Washington, D.C., have many reminders that this is Duke Ellington's home town. There's a Duke Ellington Bridge, leading into the hipster Adams Morgan area. The Duke Ellington School for Arts serves as the city's performing arts high school. Until recently, D.C.'s premiere jazz festival bore Ellington's name. Venues like the Lincoln Theater and the Bohemian Caverns boast "Duke Ellington played here" credentials. A larger-than-life mural of Ellington looks out onto the Shaw neighborhood. Ellington even appears on the back of D.C.'s "state" quarter, issued in 2009 (making him the first African-American honored by name on U.S. money).
Yet one of the most enduring tributes to Ellington isn't found in the city in which he was born. It's in the grooves of a hit record by Stevie Wonder, "Sir Duke." Released in 1977, three years after Ellington's death, the song became one of Wonder's biggest chart successes. Besides mentioning Ellington, "Sir Duke" also name checks Count Basie, Louis Armstrong ("Satchmo"), Ella Fitzgerald and Glenn Miller. The sound of "Sir Duke" doesn't necessarily remind you of Ellington; indeed, the horns that dominate the arrangement are reminiscent of Miller's stylings. But, it's clear from the song's title and the lyrics that Wonder considers Ellington to be "the king of all." "I knew the title from the beginning," Wonder said of the song, during a Billboard symposium in 1977. "[I] wanted it to be about musicians who did something for us. So soon they are forgotten." Wonder said he just wanted to show his appreciation -- and, well, you can feel it all over.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Medium Cool featuring Alex Chilton: Like Someone In Love
When I think of Alex Chilton, I think of at least half a dozen different voices. There's the horny teenaged, weary beyond its years, husky voice of the Box Tops' “The Letter.” In the famous Big Star years there was the vulnerable, love-struck voice of “I'm In Love With A Girl,” the joyous, giddy voice of “September Gurls,” and the burned out, utterly despairing voice of “Holocaust.” In his early solo years there was the sleazoid, sex tour guide voice of “Bangkok.” Later there was the winsome but not entirely to be trusted dive bar voice singing old R&B and vintage rock numbers on a slew of releases. But Alex Chilton, smooth jazz crooner? Well maybe not quite smooth, but jazz it is, as the three songs Chilton sings on the obscure early 1990s release by Medium Cool, Imagination, attest.
Imagination, a tribute album to Chet Baker, seems to be Medium Cool's only album. The group consisted of Ron Miller on bass, Robert Arron on piano and tenor sax, Richard Dworkin on drums, and A.J. Mantas on vibes and piano. Chilton, Adele Bertei, Angel Torsen, and James White each contribute vocals on a couple numbers. I can't say Chilton's songs here are anywhere near the top of my list of his best performances, but there is definitely something appealing about hearing that vulnerable voice, wiser with age maybe, but still aching, some twenty years after “Thirteen.”
Guest post by Dan
XTC: The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul
I don’t like the label “post punk”, but if I have to tell you what it means, I point to the music of XTC. Over a strong rhythmic pulse, you find crunching guitars and highly politicized lyrics. But XTC’s leader, Andy Partridge, is also heavily influenced by the Beatles. So in 1986, Partridge got some help to expand XTC’s sonic pallet, in the form of producer Todd Rundgren. The resulting album was Skylarking. Here, one hears nature sounds, there is a string quartet on one song, and, in general, there is a great spirit of experimentation on the album. A few of these experiments miss, but one that does not is also the most surprising. Nothing that XTC had done before, and nothing I know of Todd Rundgren either, led me to expect the jazz of The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul. The band is augmented here by percussion, flute, and horns. The song has an amazing slippery groove. Colin Moulding’s deceptively simple bass line anchors the whole thing, and the song really swings.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Sadao Watanabe: Turning Pages of Wind
Stan Getz : Desafinado
Sonny Rollins : God Bless the Child
John Coltrane : Giant Steps
Such a hard choice this time around, deciding what to leave out…I had to go with four, 'cuz three wasn't going to be nearly enough. But even though I go to more live performances of jazz guitarists, I myself played jazz sax back in the day, so I've got a ton of favorites to pick from.
First off is a song I used to play by Japanese saxophone giant, Sadao Watanabe. He's a bit of a hybrid, in a way, since he grew popular during the rise of smooth jazz (which in some circles is a sort of curse word). And yes, some of his stuff is pretty, well, smooth. On the other hand, he's no Kenny G: for example, he came out with a great album of Charlie Parker tunes in the 80's that's well worth buying. The song I'm sharing's got two other great talents as well in keyboardist Dave Grusin and guitarist Lee Ritenour (I knew I could sneak them in). It's from 1978's California Shower.
Next is another from my (very limited) repertoire. It's Stan Getz with a cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim's Desafinado, released in 1962, and it helped propagate the bossa nova enthusiasm in America. It features Charlie Byrd on guitar.
Sonny Rollins and guitarist Jim Hall together create an expressive cover of Billie Holiday's God Bless the Child from his best album, The Bridge, also released in 1962.
Finally, and probably best, is the sax legend unto himself: the great John Coltrane. Picking just one song was hardest of all. I nearly went with Naima, which is probably my favorite song, but I thought his 1960 classic, Giant Steps, might demonstrate what made his style unique.
I mourn that I can't share other favorite sax players like Cannonball Adderley, Gato Barbieri, Paul Desmond, Dexter Gordon, Eddie Harris, Charles Lloyd, Charlie Parker, Art Pepper, Houston Person, Dewey Redman and his son Joshua Redman, David Sanborn, Wayne Shorter, Zoot Sims, Grover Washington, Jr., or Sonny Stitt.
Monday, January 9, 2012
Wes Montgomery : Four On Six
Pat Martino : Impressions
Larry Carlton : Emotions Wound Us So
Hey, I didn't have to wait long at all before I could share Four On Six with you (2 days, to be exact). This is one of Wes Montgomery's best tunes.
I introduced you to Pat Martino during Circuses and Carnivals week this summer. What an incredible and inspiring guitarist he is. Here is his 197 version of John Coltrane's Impressions.
Finally is the most emo guitar song I think I know, one that is appropriately named: Emotions Wound Us So. It starts out gently with keyboards, then Carlton's expressive jazz fusion guitar starts up, and I'm quickly gone to another emotional state….
Maybe I'm crying over other favorite guitarists I didn't get to include, like Jeff Beck, George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Al DiMeola, Grant Green, Jim Hall, Earl Klugh, Pat Metheny, Joe Pass, Django Reinhart, and Lee Ritenour.
Stanley Jordan: The Lady In My Life
You can argue whether Stanley Jordan is the most talented guitarist ever (whatever that means), but there is no argument that he is the most talented musician that I am personally acquainted with. Stanley was a year ahead of me in college and worked at WPRB, where I sometimes followed him on the air. Even then, it was clear that he was prodigiously talented, and we were all in awe of his playing, not to mention the fact that he was, and is, a nice guy. His claim to fame was his mastery of the “tapping” technique, in which he uses both hands to tap the strings, allowing himself to play multiple lines at the same time, so it often sounds like more than one guitar is playing.
After he graduated from Princeton in 1981, he went off and, I understand, played on the streets. He released an independent record in 1982, but burst upon the jazz scene in 1984 when he made a surprise unscheduled appearance at the Kool Jazz Festival in New York and blew the audience and critics away. I remember reading articles in The New York Times about this and being so excited for Stanley. He followed up this triumph with his major label debut on Blue Note Records, “Magic Touch”, which included his versions of jazz standards, originals and covers of pop and rock tunes, including “The Lady in My Life”, originally done by a little-known singer named Michael Jackson. It was amazing to hear the quality and confidence of his playing on “Magic Touch”, and amusing to see Stanley—the guy from college—in the video for this song on MTV, back when they played music, back when they even played good music. (Possibly more amusing was his cameo in the Bruce Willis/Kim Basinger movie “Blind Date”). “Magic Touch” topped the jazz charts, and appeared on the Billboard 200 and R&B/Hip Hop charts. I got to see him perform a couple of times in jazz clubs in New York, and continued to be impressed by his music and his graciousness. (That means he either actually remembered me, or pretended to).
Unfortunately, the music business isn’t really set up for someone with Stanley’s eclectic tastes, and certainly wasn’t in the ‘80s and ‘90’s. His albums bounced around from straight jazz, to rock covers (even “Stairway to Heaven”), to Ravel’s Bolero, and other places in between. This meant that he was not doctrinaire enough for the jazz purists, and there was really no market for instrumental versions of popular songs. Ultimately, he cut back on touring and recording and devoted himself to music therapy.
I ran into Stanley last summer at his 30th college reunion, and he was excited about his soon-to be released album, “Friends”, in which he played with a number of great guest musicians, including Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride, Nicholas Payton, Regina Carter, Kenwood Dennard, Bucky Pizzarelli, Mike Stern and Charlie Hunter. The album came out a few months ago, and reaffirming his eclectic tastes, it includes jazz standards, classical pieces, originals and a Katy Perry cover. I heartily recommend it. Maybe now, in the Internet era, where music distribution is more democratic, the world will finally catch up to Stanley Jordan’s virtuosity and broad vision.
Frank Zappa: Zoot Allures
For those who have written off Zappa's music as a bit too busy and a bit too weird, here's a four minute instrumental that will hopefully make you give the former "Movie King of Cucamonga" another chance. Recorded live, the title track to his 1976 album is a mid-tempo jazz/rock fusion piece featuring Zappa's guitar solidly in the forefront. You can also hear Zappa regular Ruth Underwood on marimba, Dave Parlato on bass, Lu Ann Neil on harp and future Missing Persons Terry Bozzio on drums. (Only Bozzio and Zappa made the album cover.) Here's Zappa your grandma would like and , even so , a prime example of why he's a guitar god ( ranked #22 in Rolling Stone's recent list of Greatest Guitarists).
Not that the whole album is like this. In fact "Zoot Allures" is followed by the goofy "Disco Boy" with lyrics featuring Zappa's adolescent bathroom humor. As a certain 65 year old British rock star once sang "He took it all too far, but boy could he play guitar".
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Sadly, this morning's headlines provide an opportunity to combine two Star Maker themes: "All That Jazz" and the recent "In Memoriam." Tom Ardolino of NBRQ passed away yesterday.
The story of how Adrolino came to play drums for NRBQ is an inspiring one for groupies and lurkers everywhere. From his Wikipedia biography: "Ardolino was initially a fan of the band, and began corresponding and trading tapes with keyboardist and co-founder Terry Adams. On one occasion, original NRBQ drummer Tom Staley did not feel up to returning for an encore, so Adams invited Ardolino to fill in....When Staley decided to leave the band in 1974, his bandmates agreed that Ardolino was the natural choice as his successor."
Adrolino went on to play with NBRQ from 1974 until it went on long-term hiatus in 2004.
Throughout its long run, the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet did not limit itself to R&B (nor to having just four members on stage). The band's name was inspired by the Modern Jazz Quartet, and NRBQ embraced MJQ's improvisational ethos. The band was nothing if not versatile. In 1984, NRBQ played the Berlin Jazz Festival, the New York Folk Festival and the Grand Ole Opry. The group's leader, Terry Adams, modeled his keyboard style after Thelonious Monk and Sun Ra. The strains of modern jazz can be heard throughout NRBQ's recordings, but it's the numbers influenced by traditional jazz and swing that are the most infectious. The two cuts here are from 1978's At Yankee Stadium (fittingly, not recorded at Yankee Stadium) and 1980's Tiddlywinks.
Adams reformed NRBQ this year, but Adrolino wasn't in the group (nor are any other NRBQ alum except Adams). However, Tom Adrolino did design the cover to the band's record, Keep This Love Goin'.
Alison Brown: The Magnificent Seven
How many banjo players can boast that their music has been played in the depths of outer space? Well, Alison Brown can because her music was used in early 2000 as the official wake up call for the crew of the U.S. Space Shuttle Destiny on their journey to the International Space Station. Knowing few constraints, Brown epitomizes individualism. She enjoys the challenge of adventurously pushing the envelope and her own technical skills into banjo’s final frontier. While on her voyage, Brown’s mission is to explore strange new musical worlds, to seek out new musical life, to boldly go where no woman has gone before! Thus, I chose a wonderful little new acoustic jazz tune called “The Magnificent Seven” that she wrote with Solas guitarist John Doyle. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear a seven-beat meter in the tune’s head.
The song appears on her innovative album “Stolen Moments” with its expressive elements of many genres from Jazz to Celtic, and Pop to Bluegrass. The album is an astounding display of melodic invention that characterizes this one-of-a-kind banjo player. Another favorite jazzy cut on the album is “The Sound of Summer Running.” Alison Brown’s 5-string lays perfectly into the greater ensemble’s kaleidoscope of sound with such accomplished masters as Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Sam Bush, Mike Marshall (mandolin), Seamus Egan (low whistle on one track), John Doyle (guitar), John R. Burr (piano), Kenny Malone (percussion), and Garry West (bass). Some pop numbers on the album include superb vocals from folks like Amy Ray, Emily Saliers, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Andrea Zonn, and Mary Chapin Carpenter.
How did the impressively virtuosic Alison Brown get to be such a hot picker? Her expedition has actually taken her from Connecticut to California to Tennessee. Early bands were The Stringbenders and Gold Rush. The 1991 International Bluegrass Music Assn. (IBMA) Banjo Player of the Year went on to play, record or tour with Northern Lights, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Michelle Shocked, New Grange, and others. She owns her own record company (Compass Records). The Alison Brown Quartet formed in 1996. Her confidence and talent allow this daring stalwart of the banjo to play many genres including jazz. Listen to her creative and courageous musical statements that know few boundaries.
Guest Post by Joe Ross
Sting: Consider Me Gone
Here’s one way to find songs for this week’s theme. Look up Dream of the Blue Turtles on Wikipedia, find the section where it lists the personnel on the album, and then follow the links to find out what else they each played on. You will find that this band had some serious jazz credentials, and that they went on to work with many mainstream artists who wanted to add a taste of jazz to their sound, if only for a song or two. Indeed, Sting said in interviews at the time that he was looking for the looseness and freedom that jazz offered for his debut as a solo artist. The title track from The Dream of the Blue Turtles was actually a jam session that was not even planned in advance, and it shows how good this band was. But, of the songs that Sting wrote coming into the sessions, Consider Me Gone best shows off the jazz qualities that came out in this music. Firstly, the song swings. But there are also some subtleties that surely come from the world of jazz. Listen to how the phrasing in Sting’s vocal line changes from verse to verse. Notice the little ornamental figures that Omar Hakim sneaks in on the drums. And then notice how the song’s tight groove loosens as the song comes to a close. The song runs just over four minutes, but it sounds like the band is just getting started, and like they jammed for another two or three minutes at least. I would love to hear what happened next.