Friday, November 16, 2007

Steady diet of Monk

Playing right now: Nothing. Earlier I was listening to a new CD by a bassist named Alper Yilmaz. It's a little electric, with a lot of rhodes and alto and soprano saxes on the frontline, which makes for an interesting and unusual pairing.

I have distinct memories from my high school years about when I bought certain records. For instance, the day after Easter was always a big shopping day for me because we always had that day off from school. In 9th grade, I bought John Cale's Honi Soit; 10th grade, Soft Cell's The Art of Falling Apart and Echo & the Bunnymen's Porcupine and Dream Syndicate's Days of Wine and Roses. It gets a little fuzzy on the next 2 years. If I looked through my albums I could probably tell you. On a day that school was cancelled due to cold weather, I bought Arto Lindsay's first Ambitious Lovers album and Art Pepper's Smack Up.

And so on and so on.

Earlier this week, I pulled out Monk's Concert at Town Hall on Riverside with the big band. I think I bought that on Veteran's Day during 12th grade. I definitely remember that I had that Monday off and the night before, a band of kids that went to my high school had played a show at the Electric Banana. I was there and the show pissed me off because naturally I was jealous that it wasn't me up there. And also I thought they sucked. Me and a couple girls I knew split during the band's set and got pizza. I don't know how I wound up getting invited along because I wasn't part of their crew but I had a crush on at least one of them, so I was ecstatic to be invited.

So anyhow, I don't recall if that was Veteran's Day time or not, but we didn't have school the next day and I went and bought the Monk album at the Record Recycler. This was late '84 when Fantasy just started releasing OJCs, "Original Jazz Classics", that reissued all the great stuff that Riverside and Prestige put out in the '50s. Back in the pre-digital age, this was really the first chance to check out a lot of that stuff for a person like me who was just getting back into jazz. (A year later, Blue Note would come back to life too and start reissuing albums.) They were cheap too. I was reminded of this when recently buying a Coltrane OJC that still had the banner sticker on it with the $5.98 list price. (And the Recycler only charged $4.99!)

My Monk collection started right at that time and I chose so good ones to begin with. I had just bought Brilliant Corners which is probably one of his boldest albums. The writing on there was genius, plus he had both Sonny Rollins and the late alto player Ernie Henry on the frontline. Then I bought Town Hall which I still think is a great representation of his music. The extra horns really serve it well, bringing out the voicings of his chords. "Off Minor" has always been one of my favorite Monk songs and the version on this album is amazing. In the middle eight, the low brass really drives it along. No wonder I look back so fondly on that time. I had all that music to keep me company. Plus when I met my friend Steve Heineman at a party just a month or so later, I walked into his apartment and that album was playing. Man, did I think that was cool.

Funny, "Crepiscule with Nellie" is probably one of my absolute favorite Monk tunes but I didn't really dig it right away on that album. It doesn't have the romantic feel of some of the other versions of it.

I busted out that album a couple days ago and it still sounds as good as it did back then. I suppose it'll always be good music to usher in the fall.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

88 keys and I still had to break through the window

Playing right now: Paul Bley - Mondsee Variations (ECM)
I'm downloading it, and the player that I have does downloads in reverse, so I just finished Variation X and now Variation IX is on. I thought about listening to something else until it's done but I figured, it's taken me this long to listen to it, forget about order. I'll listen to it in the right order later (maybe), right now I just want to check it out.
I get so caught up in "the way you're supposed to listen to music" especially for the first time, so it ends up causing me to put off the first listen for a long time. "Oh, I can't get through all of it now." "I know I'll pay more attention while I'm driving, but I'll be at work in 10 minutes so why bother trying to make a dent in it now anyway."

So we have a looooooooooooot of catching up to do, peoples.

Last month Matthew Shipp played at the Warhol. Ben Opie opened the show, getting more surreal in his solo performance than I've ever seen - taking his horn apart at one point and blowing weirdly through various parts of it.
Matthew played a great set, seguing about 7 or 8 pieces together for one long continuous tune. He threw in some ballads, including "Angel Eyes" one of my favorite unsung cry-in-your-beer tunes that Nick Cave really ought to tackle. I had forgotten how interesting it is to watch Matthew's arms as he plays. They kind of roll around over the keys, like he' stemming the tide.
This reminds me that I need to get out my copy of One, his solo album.
After the show I got to talk to him a little bit. (I had interviewed him for City Paper a couple weeks prior, so it wasn't completely out of the blue.) He was really nice, and pretty talkative for someone who's also a bit shy. After a few minutes, he said, "So, you're a Lyndon Johnson buff, right?"
Now, here's the story. When I graduated from Pitt in 1993, I was a Johnson buff. I read his memoir (zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz) and Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography (very good). For about six months back then, I was really into LBJ's legacy. He was a lot of things, we all know, but dynamic, persuasive and troubled were a couple of them. So he's a good read. Plus he was a good ol' Texas boy that passed the civil rights bill, so there's a lot of variables here.
But how the hell does Matthew Shipp know this about me?! It's kind of like if Cecil Taylor asked me about recording at Noise New Jersey with Kramer.
OK, maybe not.
But you get the idea.
Matt was a little vague about it at first, but then he finally admitted that he looked me up online, and that's where he found it. Geez, I didn't know I was worth the effort. Or that this particular skeleton was readily available. I googled myself a few days later and found out that if you type in my name along with that of our 36th president it takes you to the profile on this blog.

Let's stick with the piano theme for this entry.

I think I'm getting onto a Monk kick again. Maybe I subconsciously realized he would've turned 90 this month were he alive.
I won a copy of Criss Cross on eBay a couple weeks ago. (I had a beat up copy of it, but never play it. And the same person auctioning this album also had a copy of Giuseppi Logan's first ESP album. AND I WON BOTH! Anyhow...) It's a pretty good album. And it made me get out Underground, another one of his Columbia albums, and play it.
Now I've always held that Monk's Columbia period had some high points, but that it mostly replayed his past achievements and wasn't as inspired as either the Riverside or Blue Note periods. (The later Black Lion albums were great, but maybe because they were the first time in a couple years that Thelonious was allowed to be himself and he really rose to the occasion. Or maybe it was because they came from just two sessions.) Also, all the Columbia albums are quartets with tenor man Charlie Rouse and a few different bassists and drummers. Charlie's great but sometimes I've been in the wrong frame of mind and his Monk-like approach and lack of sustain sometimes bugs me.
But I started to rethink that position and wondered if I need to buy all of the Columbia albums I don't have to be sure. I went to Jerry's on Monday - for the first time in over a month - and lo and behold, there was a copy of Straight No Chaser a Monk album that I'd put off for years. Typical me, here's what I thought : Hooray! Talk about timing.... Uh, I don't know. I just read that the CD version restores the tracks to their original lengths. Maybe I should wait and not get it. It's a reissue anyway. The label isn't 360 Sound..............[sound of frustration] IT'S FOUR DOLLARS. Buy it. The CD is going to be at least $10. And you never listen to it. And you won't read the liner notes for a month after you get it.
So I did.
And it's pretty good. There are a couple things on there that he hadn't recorded previously, like "Japanese Folk Song" which may or may not be one. (The liner notes state as much and I forget what the label says for a songwriting credit.) He redoes 2 songs from a Prestige album and they're both deep cuts to begin with, so it's cool hearing them revived.
All that Monk has me dreaming about the other discs I have by him - the Blue Note box (my first Mosaic purchase and one I got in high school; damn, I thought I has hip), the Black Lion box, the albums I bought used this year that I forgot I had.
"Carolina Moon" is on the Blue Note set and for whatever reason it's been in my head for about a week. Keep in mind this is - to use that phrase again -- a deep cut very much so. But last night I heard it at work, on the satellite jazz radio station. Is that crazy or what? I guess with those satellite stations, no song is too obscure, but I found it pretty cool that this was one that they would pull out. So I went home and dug out the box last night and played the side with that song on it. It was his final session for the label where he used three horns - unusual for the time - and recorded some really off kilter but brilliant songs.
I feel asleep before "Carolina Moon" came on.