Eighth Week: October 4th – 10, 2015

Eighty records! That’s something! Doing this thing is like working out, it’s a tough start, but once I got used to it being part of my day and week, it’d gotten a lot easier.

1. Byard Lancaster – It’s Not Up To Us [1966]

Man, oh man. I’m loving this record from the first note. The theme in the title track is just great. It’s not a jazz theme, it’s simpler and “cuter”. It’s more something you’d fine in a soul record than jazz. It’s also played on a flute, and flutes are really cool, as I’m realizing lately, they just shifts things in a different direction. It also helps that drummer Eric Gravatt and Conga dude Kenny Speller are grooving like crazy on this song.

Sonny Sharrock plays guitar on this record (which is how I heard of it and why I got it), and his playing is different from anything else I heard coming from him. It’s very clean, and even though he does the up/down fast picking, it almost sounds like bass guitar. At times he blends with the bass and I can’t tell which is which without listening closely. That’s pretty cool. Oh, and they play Too Many Mansions from Ask the Ages! But here it’s called John’s Children.

Not sure what else to say about this record other than that it’s a new favorite. There are a lot of great tracks here – It’s Not Up To Us, John’s Children, Mr AA, and Satan are the immediate contenders. Since I’m going to make a playlist I think I’ll choose It’s Not Up To Us since it’s a good intro to this record.

2. Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, & Sonny Stitt – Sonny Side Up [1957]

I feel like this is quintessential bop. I like this record even thought it’s a little campy sometimes. Anyway, like with a lot of bebop, I feel like I need to be a horn player to really dig it. Still enjoyable, though. I like On The Sunny Side of the Street until the singing starts.

3. Duke Ellington – New Orleans Suite [1970]

A really fun, cool record. It has both a big band and a soul feel to it, although the soul part could be because of the Hammond organ. I think the compositions are more complex than early big band stuff, but what do I know?

Thanks to the Beautiful Land has a messed up intro. I think my favorite track is Portrait of Mahalia Jackson. It’s beautiful, and hey! it has flute!

4. Pharoah Sanders – Izipho Zam (My gifts) [1969]

Cool record, featuring Sonny Sharrock on guitar.

I’m trying to figure out what to call this kind of jazz. It’s obviously not bebop, and yes it’s free, but the bass and drums always groove. It’s also a different kind of free jazz than Peter Brotzmann’s, George Lewis’s, or Albert Ayler’s.

The first track, Prince of Peace, is a quiet jam with non-conventional vocals (yodeling!). It had the same feeling as Upper and Lower Egypt from Tauhid. The second track, Balance, starts quiet but the goes into insane group improvisation and I can actually hear Sonny Sharrock’s playing there. Then comes the half hour long title track. Honestly, I don’t remember everything that was going on, but for a while it was just drums and percussion, and then some singing. I have no other way to describe it, but it sounded like tribal music and was pretty cool. Then it turns into a jam like the one in Balance, then it settles down into a calmer jam. Describing music is the worst.

Favorite track is Balance.

5. Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas [2014]

Someone posted about Avant Gardener on this one message board I read. I listened to it once and I was on the fence, but it got stuck in my head, so I listened to it a couple more times, and then decided that I should try the whole record.

This record has an alterna-country feel to it, kind of like Father to a Sister of Thought and Range Life (Pavement), but not exactly. I mean, it’s nowhere as good as these two songs and also not really as country as they are. I also think this record could be a huge hit in Israel, there’s just something very Israeli about it – the half-assed playing and the nonchalant way of singing are the traits shared with almost every Israeli rock band.

At this point I’m more than halfway through this record and I haven’t heard a song that’s as good as Avant Gardener. I actually like that one, even though, like someone else said, it sounds like a lazy All I Wanna Do Is Have Some Fun. It’s also lyrically better than the rest of the songs on this record.

6. Eric Dolphy – Iron Man [1963]

The record starts with the title track and it is bebop-y and is bebop that I like. I think that’s because it reminds me of Out to Lunch a lot. It has great energy and grooves in a way that makes me move my head, but then it’s not soul or funk. Like Out to Lunch, the bass playing is stellar, the solos are interesting, and the themes are kind of weird. For instance, the Mandrake has a weirdo beginning.

The third song, Come Sunday, is a bowed bass and saxophone duet that is beautiful and sounds like classical music, and I understand that this is an empty statement, so I’ll try to dig deeper. Maybe it’s better to talk first about the differences between jazz and classical music. For starters, the instrumentation is an obvious one. Jazz has drums, and they swing and ride the cymbals, classical music doesn’t have that. It has drums, but they’re not played in this way. Classical music has a lot of strings, particularly violins and violas, and if someone is playing with their fingers it’s pizzicato. There aren’t a lot of violins in jazz. Then there’s the saxophone which is a prominent instrument in jazz, but I don’t recall ever hearing a saxophone being prominent in classical music. Now the thing with jazz is that these musicians are always trying to push the envelope, whether it’s sonically, like some free jazz where they push the limits of their instruments. Or melodically, where they cram as many notes as they can into each measure. Then there’s cool jazz, smooth jazz, big band, swing, but I haven’t listened to a lot of that stuff, so I will not try and describe or categorize it. Anyway, whenever the drums drop out in jazz, it opens a door towards classical music. I don’t know if it’s the lack of a sizzling ride cymbal, but there’s nothing to rush the musicians to play a lot of notes. Everything sounds more calculated and restrained, and when they’re dissonant it’s different than jazz dissonance.

Ode to C.P. (it was also featured in Far Cry that I listened to last week!) is like Come Sunday – just bass and flute, but I don’t like it as much as I like the latter.

7. Herbie Mann – Memphis Underground [1969]

I got this record because I heard that Sonny Sharrock plays on it.

So far this is kind of a lame record (three songs in), but in a cute way. It just sounds like a novelty record with instrumental versions of famous songs where the flute is playing all the vocal lines. Then at some point Sonny starts playing, and it’s him doing his thing and that’s pretty cool, but the rest of it is still kind of lame.

The last song, Battle Hymn Of The Republic, is pretty great. It’s still a bit corny, but I like the progression because I love hymns. More importantly, though, everyone’s playing is on point.

8. Pharoah Sanders – Karma [1969]

This is a similar record to Izipho Zam. It starts with some “sounds of the forest” kind of jam – lots of percussion and shaker-like instruments, some flute, some sax. Then it’s switched to this, uhh, let’s call it a spiritual thing. I mean, at first it’s more of a really relaxed, loose jam, but then they start singing “the creator has a master plan” and I get a feeling like I’m in a yoga class. Then there’s some crazy yodeling that I like a lot, and it slowly turns into a noisy jam. I used the word “jam” a billion times in one paragraph.

I like this record, but I feel like I need to be in a certain mood to want to listen to it. I probably like The Creator … better than Colors, but there’s something to be said for Colors brevity.

9. Sonny Sharrock – Seize the Rainbow [1987]

This record is very much in the vein of Highlife but not as bad. It’s pretty corny and campy, grooveless, and has that sterile 80s sound. Honestly, the whole point of the record is to let Sharrock solo all over the place, and that gets tedious. I love his playing, but there are no songs.

I thought the title track was ok, but still! Woof!

(I know I’m being harsh, but it’s just so weird to listen to these records after listening to his good solo stuff and all the other awesome records he played on)

10. Pharoah Sanders – Jewels of Thought [1969]

Hey! The first song, Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum Allah, has the same theme as Prince of Peace from Izipho Zam! Leon Thomas also sings the words “prince of peace” and yodels just like he does on these two other records of Sanders that I listened to this week. When I listened to Karma I thought it sounded like Izipho Zam, but now I think Pharoah Sanders was going for something here by making this trilogy of records who all sound the same, share themes, and were recorded in the same year.

In this same song (Hum-Allah) Sanders gets this really weird sound out of his sax 9 minutes in. It sounds like he’s rolling his tongue as he’s blowing into the saxophone, but it’s a more complicated sound than that. I also don’t know if doing that (rolling the tongue) works with saxophone.

The second and last song, Sun in Aquarius, has something hypnotic about it. Maybe it’s just because it’s a little late and I’m tired and I’m listening to it on headphones, but at some point I felt like all the pieces fell into place and I got a little lost in the music.

I have some other thoughts about these three records, but I’m not sure I can fully formalize them yet. In essence, they relate to how these records feel like their own brand of jazz. There’s just something about the sparseness, very unconventional mixes (the drums are pulled way back in Sun in Aquarius, for instance), and the saxophone playing being very different than anyone else’s.

Spotify playlist. Unfortunately, Izipho Zam isn’t on Spotify, so I couldn’t put Balance on the list.

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