Sunday, January 27, 2008

Print Jazz

Playing right now: Stephen Gauci's Basso Continuo
(I'm reviewing this for JazzTimes so I won't comment on it here. Read it in print in a few months. Buy JazzTimes.)

I finished reading Ben Ratliff's book Coltrane: The story of a sound. It was an interesting read and an interesting angle to take on a book about someone who's been analyzed a lot. The idea was to focus on how Trane developed the sound of his playing, what influenced it, how it was received etc. Ratliff certainly knows how to write, but there were times when I questioned his somewhat flowery comparisons. Why use an Oscar Wilde quotation to discuss Coltrane's artistry, especially if you're going to disprove what Wilde says?

Plus there were some points that seemed clear to me that he didn't address. He keeps pondering why Coltrane got so immersed in free jazz in the end of his career, and why didn't the reaction to it impact his approach. Welllllll, it seems obvious to me that many artists, of different media, are so wrapped in what they're doing that they can't take a step back and attempt an objective look at what they're doing. This seems especially true of Coltrane. His music was so consuming and he was so obsessive about what he did. And, as Ratliff himself points out, he was never satisfied with what he did. And even though Coltrane's recorded encounter with Cecil Taylor was less than successful, it should have been mentioned for historical purposes and described in a way that says why it didn't work.

Besides that, he also uses the timely phrase "Oh no you didn't" in one section. Funny, but in 10 years it'll look silly.

In reading that book and the liner notes of a recent reissue of Lee Morgan's Tom Cat, which I bought a couple weeks ago, I started feeling like there might actually be a point where you can learn too much about jazz. I mean, when you can pinpoint where Lee Morgan, Coltrane and Miles Davis were and what they were probably doing at a given time of a given know too much minutiae about these people.

Tom Cat was recorded around the same time as The Sidewinder, Morgan's smash hit that took hard bop into the pop charts and changed the way Blue Note and bop were treated. The album wasn't released for about 15 years because Blue Note shelved it in favor of material more similar to The Sidewinder, which is odd because this album is still in keeping with that one. In reading about that in Tom Cat's liner notes, and how it fits in with Lee's first stint for Blue Note, his return to Philadelphia to kick heroin, his return, The just made me feel like, damn I read to much of this stuff and it's overshadowing the music. At the time I thought that Ben Ratliff was leading me on a guided analysis of what was going on in Trane's brain so I was really overloaded with the back stories.

Then again, I just complained a few paragraphs ago about how Ratliff should've talked about the Cecil Taylor/Trane session, so maybe I am a glutton for selective jazz overanalysis.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The music of my life, chapter 53

I woke up on New Year's Day with a strange craving for Englebert Humperdinck. I was slightly hungover and had either "After the Loving" or "The Last Waltz" going through my head. I have a cheapo Best of comp that I could have listened to, but at that point, getting up, going into the other room where the records are, crouching down near the cement floor to look for it and rooting it out seemed like too much trouble.

On New Year's Eve, I got a single in the mail by a '60s band called Stony Brook People. When I was a young kid my brothers and I got a bunch of promo 45s from our uncle, who was in local radio. I wish we had all of them: Kak, Little Richard on Okeh ("Lucille" b/w "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin on" which I FINALLY found on an album a few years ago after searching for that version of "Lucille" for ages), the Tremeloes. And there was this female vocalist leading these Stony Brook People through a passionate version of "Easy To Be Hard." It was the same song on both sides, though I'm not sure if it was a mono/stereo flip. I always kind of liked their version of "Easy to Be Hard" better than 3 Dog Night's. SBP's singer really tears into the song, especially at the end. Chuck Negron seems to be going for compassion; this gal is laying her heart out.

I still have a copy of the 45, but it's beat to crap. So when a stock copy with a B-side popped up on eBay for 99 cents, I said SOLD. The b-side isn't bad either. It's more rocked up with some punchy brass backing the singer, who sounds like she's doing more of a Grace Slick type of performance there. (Funny, when I was a kid, I pictured her more like Shirley Jones in the Partridge Family although that might be because they were the only band with a female singer that I knew of back then.)

Here's a link to a publicity photo of them. Aside from the Shirley Jones thing, this is probably how I envisioned the rest of them. I wonder if they performed in an off-off-off Broadway production of Hair.