Third Week: August 30th – September 5th, 2015

1. Charles Mingus – Mingus! [1960]

At first I was going to call this record an “easy listen”, but I felt that my using of the term is a bit of a cop out and probably diminishes the record, so I dug deeper into the record and into what it means for me to call something an easy listen. I usually go for “easy listen” when a record doesn’t immediately burst into a mess of squeaks and squeals, like some of the records from the past couple of weeks, and that’s probably a straightforward way of dividing things into categories – loud and noisy, and not loud and noisy. But for me another layer is familiarity. If I hear a piece of music and it is in the vein of something that I heard before, I get turned off immediately. That particularly happens if the music I’m already familiar with was done before the one that’s new to me. This happens to me quite often with rock, and sometimes with jazz. I’m a little more cautious when it happens with jazz, because I’m nowhere as familiar with jazz as I am with rock. So what happened with Mingus! is that I hear something that sounds like generic bebop and I’m disappointed, because why would anyone repeat something that’s been done before? Granted, bebop is a broad term, but you get my point. I guess with jazz it’s all about the particular improvisation in each song, but even so, it’s not like every jazz musician had a 100% unique style. Ok, enough blabbing, let’s talk about the record itself.

So I kept listening to this record to try and figure out why it’s an easy listen, and interesting elements kept coming out. For instance, on its face Stormy Weather is a ballad, but it’s stripped of any extraneous crap. It’s mostly Mingus and Dolphy playing together and they really feed off of each other and it’s a great listen. It’s nothing new in the sense of this music being done, but there are some really great moments there. Lock ‘Em Up is another good one.

Favorite track is Stormy Weather.

2. Richard Davis – Muses for Richard Davis [1970]

I met Richard Davis once when he was an instructor at this jazz summer camp I went to as a kid. I wrote quite a bit about it, but put it at the end of this post, since the purpose of this is to write about records and not my meeting jazz greats. Here it is.

I’m really liking the first song which sounds like it started in the middle. Like when you open the door to a room and people are already halfway through a song. I guess it did kind of start in the middle (maybe it was edited out a of longer take?) because 20 seconds later they play the theme. The theme is awesome. You know, just a great melody.

The whole record is good, but probably not as good as Milktrain (the first track). The trumpet on Muses for Richard Davis (song not the whole album) reminds me a lot of what Miles Davis is doing in Bitches Brew, and this record came out a few years before BB!

A few things I noticed about the recording: you can hear the compression on the drums – the cymbals are totally pumping every time the kick is hit. It drives me nuts. The trumpet on the title track is panned left, but on the right I can hear it slightly delayed and maybe even with a low pass filter on. It sounds awesome. Now that I’m listening closely to this song I’m realizing that it has an amazing buildup and whatever it’s called when it reaches its conclusion organically.

I think my favorite track is Muses for Richard Davis. I can’t believe it took me 14 years to check out his solo records.

3. Elvin Jones and Richard Davis – Heavy Sounds

The first track has blues form and that really annoys me. Not because I dislike blues, but because I really love it. Blues, as it was sung and played by Son House, Charley Patton, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and all the other blind guys I’m omitting, was simple yet intricate, and very raw and emotional. It was aptly named, because I think that anyone who ever felt sad or desperate can relate to it. The problem is that blues, the way it was played by those guys, is done. It was the product of people who all came from the same background (poor, southern, African American farmers), living in a world that doesn’t exist anymore. And because this music is very emotional, it’s impossible for people who don’t have this background to try and recreate it. But there’s also a political music to it – this isn’t the music of your people. You can’t be a rich white guy singing about how you got the blues. The political aspect of it can be summed succinctly by John Fahey’s answer to the question whether his music is folk. “How can I be folk? I’m from the suburbs!”and later he adds something about white suburbans playing folk music, where they should really write music that is inspired by the “anguish of the suburbs”, which is what he did. He listened to genuine blues and folk music, “internalized” it, and created new music that is inspired by it. Hendrix is another example of someone who is heavily inspired by blues but isn’t just trying to copy. The third example I can think of is Syd Barrett. Then there are jazz musicians who just used the musical form of blues. I get it. They’re not trying to recreate the feeling you get from listening to blues, they just use the simple form to improvise on. And that’s cool, since that’s their take on it, but that was it. For the past 70 years every other jazz record has at least one blues-form song on it. No one is internalizing blues anymore and moving it forward. It’s stagnation. It’s particularly bad when it’s full of cliches, and the first song on Heavy Sounds is full of them. For instance, the saxophone playing softly for 12 bars, then playing the same thing but louder for the next 12. Barf-a-larf.

Two detours from talking about records so far in this post, so I’m going to write about this record a little more. The third song, M.E., sounds like something I’d hear playing at the Mariano’s near my place. I’m not saying the Mariano’s guys are as good as these dudes or even that it’s the same, but if this song played as I walked into the store, I could be tricked into thinking thinking it’s the Mariano’s band. That probably says more about me than the music.

Summertime (fourth track), is when they’re finally cooking with gas. It’s pretty much a 12 minute bass solo with some non-conventional drums (is that a gong?). Richard Davis is using a bow and he’s off the hook.

Elvin’s Guitar Blues is great when it’s just Elvin Jones playing guitar. He can play it in with the same sensibility as the old timers, but then he stops playing guitar and it’s another “let’s riff on the blues for a couple minutes” type of crap.

This record is an easy listen. No, seriously, this is the kind of record you can play while eating dinner and everyone will be happy. Favorite track is Summertime because of that nutso bass solo.

4. George Lewis – The Solo Trombone Record [1976]

This record, at least the first song, is like a map for the sounds you can get out of the trombone, and maybe even every other brass instrument. A few weeks ago I saw Nate Wooley perform, and it was good, but literally all of the sounds he got out of his trumpet (without using an amplifier) were sounds that George is getting out of his Trombone on the first track. The track, titled Toneburst (Piece for 3 Trombones Simultaneously), is very self-explanatory – there are three trombones playing at the same time, but it’s not clear if it’s three musicians playing together or if George Lewis overdubbed the parts. I bring it up because all three trombones feed off of each other in a very natural way, so it would make sense it was recorded simultaneously. The rest of the record gets less free – just the guy playing his trombone and it’s pretty incredible. I could listen to it all day and not get tired of it.

Another recording thing: there’s a really great use of gated reverb on this record. It’s super dry up close, but when he gets loud the room mics open up and it sounds exquisite.

Not sure which one would be my favorite track. I really like all of them, but maybe Phenomenology because he’s hitting some really high notes that make his trombone sound like a trumpet. He also plays really fast on that one and I don’t even know how that works on a trombone.

5. Charles Mingus – Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus [1960]

Was Mingus a megalomaniac? He always finagles his name into his records’ names.

I spent a lot of time listening to this record and went from thinking this is an ok record to thinking it’s brilliant and how Mingus was always working on several different layers.

The first track is kind of weird. Its beginning is grooving, but then I realize they’re playing blues and I get a little turned off (see above).  Within two minutes the drummer starts riding the cymbal, and the sax and trumpet play the sort of stuff you’d hear out of a big band. In other words, it sounds a lot like the kind of jazz people dance to (swing?) than jazz people go to a club to sit down and listen to. Don’t get me wrong, I like it! It just caught me off guard the first time I listened to the record.

The second song, Original Faubus Fables, sounds like it was written for the soundtrack of a cartoon from that era. There are also call and response vocals that I didn’t expect, and it’s funny how these guys are these incredible musicians, but they barely hit the right notes when they sing. That’s very blues-like. They get it out without worrying about if they’re on pitch. I read about this song and it has an interesting background. It’s about Orval Faubus who was the governor of Arkansas, and because he opposed desegregation he sent the national guard to prevent nine black kids from going to a white high school in Little Rock back in 1957. Here are some of the lyrics:

Mingus: Name me someone who’s ridiculous, Dannie.
Dannie Richmond: Governor Faubus!
M: Why is he so sick and ridiculous?
DR: He won’t permit integrated schools.

Then he’s a fool! Boo! Nazi Fascist supremists!
Boo! Ku Klux Klan (with your Jim Crow plan)

They’re lampooning the guy! That explains why the music sounds like it’s out of a cartoon! That was pretty incredible to put together.

By the way, this song appeared on Mingus Ah Um, but Columbia didn’t want the lyrics to appear on record, so it was just an instrumental.

On the first few listens I thought that the last track, All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother, was my favorite. I think that musically it might be the most appealing one because I enjoy the improvisation, and towards the end they start picking things up and sound like they’re on fire. However, I’ve been humming Original Faubus Fables for the rest of the day, and it’s the more important song, so that’s my favorite.

6. Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill [1972]

Some people dislike Steely Dan, and I get why – they sound like a band started by a hotel bar piano player. It’s a lot of 70s schmooze, “hey baby, let’s get a lil’ more comfortable”, and moody saxophones. I like the Dan and am familiar with Aja and I think Pretzel Logic, but this one I only know the radio hits.

Man, this record is great! Lots of drum shuffles, some pedal steel guitar, Fagan (is it him?) is killing it on the keyboards, and sometimes the guitar solos sound like Andy Cohen popped in the studio for a bit. Oh man, Midnite Cruiser? Holy shit, this song is amazing. The transition from the verse to the chorus is a little clunky, but I could listen to that chorus riff all day. I’d like to think this song is about looking for looking for prostitutes, but I’m not entirely sure.

My favorite track would be all of it. Seriously, how can I choose between Midnite Cruiser, Dirty Work, Do It Again, Fire in the Hole, and basically all the songs on this record.

7. Charles Mingus – The Charles Mingus Quintet & Max Roach [1955]

This is an Ok record, I guess. To be honest, it sounds to me like everything that was happening in Jazz back in the 1950s. In other words, I don’t know how to differentiate between it and other records.

The best track is “Drums” because it sounds more like modern classical music than anything.

8. Sonny Sharrock – Black Woman [1969]

I only know bits and pieces of Sonny Sharrock’s stuff. This is my first time listening to a whole record.

This is free jazz I can relate to more than some of the squeaking horns free jazz. It’s not just because the main instrument here is a guitar but because of the whole structure of it.

I’m a little on the fence with the singing. I like it because she’s not singing any words, and I think she’s trying to sound like a saxophone more than a human (and it’s working!), and that’s pretty cool. However, sometimes I’m worried that maybe people outside my apartment only hear a woman screaming at the top of her lungs, and that makes me uncomfortable.

9. Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska [1982]

I only know Springsteen’s radio hits. Today there was a thread on Facebook about him, and someone said Nebraska is their favorite Boss record; I figured I’d listen to this one first.

This isn’t my thing. Very cheesy, watered-down Neil Young and Bob Dylan kind of stuff (when they play an acoustic and a harmonica). I don’t want to write more because I’ll just be shitting all over this record. Not writing off Springsteen, because I know some of his other, good songs. Maybe next week I’ll listen to Darkness on the Edge of Town. Maybe go with a classic like Born to Run?

10. The Fall – Hex Enduction Hour [1982]

Never listened to the Fall either, and that’s kind of surprising considering my “background”. The massive discography always deterred me because I didn’t know where to start.

This record starts really strong, but then falters after about 40 minutes. However, that could be my losing concentration and/or being hungry.

I’m really liking the drums on this one. It always sounds like it’s not hitting the right notes (even though it does). The drums are also great and kind of primal and sloppy. I don’t really have much more to say about this record other than that I like it and that some stuff reminds me of Sonic Youth (makes sense since SY were fans). I think it’s the kind of record that reveals a lot more of itself the more you listen to it.

The Classical is my favorite.

Richard Davis:

In 2001 I went to this jazz summer camp in Israel, and I didn’t know much about jazz or how to play it (still don’t know either of those), but I was playing bass in the local music school’s jazz combo, and one of my friends from there was going. It seemed like a good idea to go (and it was). When I got there, I heard that Richard Davis will be one of the instructors in camp. I didn’t know who he was or what records he played on, but I understood it was a big deal. I honestly don’t remember much of his instruction, just some funny stories.

One night two kids got in a fight in their dorm room and that was a big deal. The next day we had a session with him and he said something along the lines of “are you guys idiots? you’re here to play, aren’t you? If you want to fight I can teach you how to box” or something along these lines. One day we were talking about funk and he said, “to play funk you gotta be a little hungry. When your stomach feels empty, that’s when you get funky”. I didn’t get it back then, and I don’t think I fully get it now either, but my wife says she totally gets it!

My best memory of him there was this solo performance he did one night. I remember that I wasn’t getting it at first, but warmed up to it somewhere along the way. Now whenever I think about it, I know it was probably one of the best performances I’ve seen in my life. I wish I had a better recollection of it, and I really wish I had spent more time talking to him and watching him play.

I wonder how much they had to pay him to go to Israel for two weeks. I think he had a terrible time and hated all of us. 95% of the kids there (me included) were total brats. I remember one session when he (RD) was talking and this one guy who played saxophone kept pressing the keys on his horn, you know, like when someone warms up their fingers but not blowing any air into the instrument. At some point Davis turned to him and told him that he ( sax dude) isn’t focused and that’s why he keeps pressing the keys. Of course, the kid replied saying something like how he can still do it and stay focused, or maybe that it’s involuntary? Maybe he said he had ADHD? Either way, not the proper response. Just shut up and try your best to stop clicking. Richard Davis was pissed. He didn’t say anything else, but I could see the disappointment in his face. I get it, Richard, Israelis kind of suck.

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