Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Pedaljets- Tiny World

The world is even tinier now.

The Pedaljets were pre-Nevermind heroes in Kansas City. Less abrasive than the (Mortal) Micronotz, The Pedaljets owned the nascent scene for a year or two. It's the screaming that commences at the 2:30 mark of this song that really makes it remarkable. "Tiny World" is from 1988's out-of-print Today Today album.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Scott Hamilton- I'll Be Around

He's Around No More

Not that Scott Hamilton, silly! The effusive ice skating commentator was back in the spotlight for NBC's coverage of the Olympics, but the saxophonist of the same name has been a favorite of trad jazz fans for over 25 years. His rich sound evokes both Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. There's plenty of room for Hamilton's old-fashioned Concord-label swing in my world. This swoon-worthy ballad is taken from his out-of-print 1990 release Radio City. The lovely piano is courtesy of Gerry Wiggins.

Friday, February 24, 2006

James Harman- Motel King

He's checked out.

James Harman is the single most underappreciated artist in roots music. It's criminal that only the niche blues audience is aware of his incredible harmonica playing, his rich Southern voice, his incredible band and their dynamic live performances. And as heard on this song from 1991, Harman's recordings just feel more alive than most blues documents. Harman's also a thinking man's bluesman. Most of his releases have a theme, such as gambling, eating, or in the case of the out-of-print Do Not Disturb, life on the road. Every traveler can appreciate the sentiment behind "Motel King." Fans of John Doe, the Blasters, and Los Lobos would be doing themselves a favor by jumping on the Harman bandwagon. There's plenty of elbow room on board.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Marvin- Can't Cry Hard Enough

The Crying Is Over

Why aren’t more songs written about death and mourning? Lou Reed’s Magic & Loss, Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising, Loudon Wainwright III’s History contain a few great songs in this vein. Beth Nielsen Chapman and Cindy Bullens have dealt with loss as well.

But Marvin’s "Can’t Cry Hard Enough" bests all of these contributions. It conveys the devastating emptiness and bitter defiance that accompany grief. It may seem overwrought to anyone who has never experienced this agony, but people in the throes of the experience will recognize its genuine pathos. I’m not the only fan of the song; it’s been covered by Victoria Williams, Christine Collister and Julie Miller.

"Can’t Cry Hard Enough" is from the out-of-print debut album by Marvin Etzioni, or Marvin the Mandolin Man as he was billed then. It was issued in 1992 after he left Lone Justice. It ranks alongside the Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues and Van Morrison’s Moondance as a gypsy soul classic.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bobby Watson- Donna Lee

She's Gone

Is Bobby Watson Kansas City's best saxophonist since Charlie Parker? He's certainly received more acclaim than anyone since Bird's death. On this out-of-print Italian solo album from 1993, Watson takes on "Donna Lee," a piece associated with Parker. His tone has since become deeper and huskier. Bobby tells me it's simply because he has a different horn. He currently heads the University of Missouri-Kansas City jazz studies program.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Del Lords- About You

About over.

The Del Lords are best known today as Eric Ambel's old band. Ambel has since achieved a cult following as an ace guitarist for hire and as a sympathetic producer of roots-oriented bands like the Bottle Rockets. But a couple decades ago, the Del Lords were considered to be rock'n'roll saviors by the leather jacket crowd. Scott Kempner came from the Dictators, while Ambel had been one of Joan Jett's Heartbreakers. In "About You," Kempner compares his girl to a "song from 1968." That's my kind of guy. The out-of-print Lovers Who Wander, from 1990, is loaded with elemental songs like this.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Jazz Jamaica All Stars- Vitamin A

The jar is empty.

It sounds like a really bad idea. A twenty-piece jazz band interpreting ska? But it works. Bandleader Gary Crosby managed to mold the enormous English and Jamaican collective into a grooving machine. The key is the beat- in spite of their size, they never lose it. Massive came out in 2001 and is already out-of-print. It seems to be missed though. Used copies sell for upwards of $40.00.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Ray Barretto- Quitate La Mascara

It's a sad loss.

Percussionist and bandleader Ray Barretto died today. He was 76. Only Mongo Santamaria and Tito Puente rivaled Barretto’s influence and success in the Latin jazz world. "Quitate La Mascara" is taken from a compilation of salsa recorded for the Fania label. Listen and marvel at its fantastic horn charts and impeccable percussion. Barretto seemed to prefer jazz, though, and he began and ended his career working in that medium.

Paul Kelly- Forty Miles To Saturday Night

It's Monday morning for this song.

John Fogerty’s "Almost Saturday Night" may be the greatest rock’n’roll song not written by someone named Berry, Holly or Diddley. Accordingly, it’s been widely imitated. One of the best attempts at capturing its exuberant yet clear-eyed spirit was made by Australia’s Paul Kelly. "Forty Miles To Saturday Night" hits several key elements of great songs- beer, lust, driving and blowing a paycheck. Aside from an unfortunate keyboard solo, this anthem still inspires me eighteen years after its release.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Howard Iceberg- Leavin' Kansas City

Howard packed up and left.

Texas can keep Kinky Friedman. We have Howard Iceberg. Like Kinky, Howard is an intriguing, larger-than-life figure. But unlike Kinky, it's not dangerous to stand between Howard and a television camera. The Kansas City songwriter is clearly the spawn of Bob Dylan and John Prine. And I regret the unkind things I've uttered about Howard's voice in the past. I've come to realize that while it may have prevented him from achieving wider acclaim, his voice is the perfect vehicle to deliver smart, funny vignettes like Leavin' Kansas City.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Lee Konitz- Manha De Carnaval

Carnaval is over.

There's no such thing as typical Lee Konitz. Still, hearing him play a Brazilian standard accompanied only by guitar is unlikely. As I wrote yesterday, I saw Konitz perform with Bill Frisell a few days ago. It's remarkable that a guy who began recording with the Paul Whiteman orchestra in 1947 specializes in free jazz almost 60 years later.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Frisell, Godsey, Ales- Safety In Numbers

It's no longer safe here.

Guitarist Bill Frisell was paired with Lee Konitz at a concert I attended Saturday night. As I wrote in my review of the show, it was improvisational music of the highest order. On this obscure 1995 session of manipulated industrial noise, Frisell produces dramatically different sounds than he did with the legendary saxophonist. It's a vivid demonstration of the ugly beauty at the core of Frisell's brilliance.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ruby Braff & Ellis Larkins- My Funny Valentine

I no longer love you.

"My Funny Valentine"'s beautiful melody belies the cruelty of its lyrics. "Your looks are laughable"? "Figure less than Greek"? "Mouth a little weak"? Were Rogers and Hart trying to get guys slapped? And that's one reason I'm offering this instrumental version of the standard a day early. It'll give you time to realize this rendition's superiority before the big day arrives. Pairing elegant pianist Ellis Larkins with Ruby Braff's spirited cornet for a series of duet recordings was John Hammond's idea. It's a sublime combination. Larkins' unconventional approach to the song overflows with imagination. Braff, as always, is warm and melodic. These 1956 recordings are highly recommended for lovers of traditional jazz, as well as for lovers of romance in general.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Toninho Horta- Prato Feito

Horta and Pat are gone.

This Brazilian recording was released in 1980- and it sounds like it. The synths, percussion flourishes and vocal effects are dated. A major figure in his native country, Toninho Horta allows this song to serve as a showcase for an extended melodic guitar solo by Pat Metheny. Still, you’ll be rewarded if you can manage to accept it for what it is, and allow this exceedingly beautiful music to cascade over you. The self-titled CD is out of print.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Eddie Hinton- Get Off In It

You'll just have to imagine how good this is.

I'd give almost anything to sing like Otis Redding. That's what Eddie Hinton did until those personal demons ended his life in 1995. The wonderful Very Extremely Dangerous, from 1978, is out of print again. "Get Off In It" isn't a song so much as it is a feeling, a mood, or a sermon. It moves me. Earlier this week, I learned that my old friend, Dan Conn, died. He loved Eddie Hinton, too. I'll miss you, Dan.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Jesus and Mary Chain- Never Understood

And now you'll never get it.

Beginning with its title, Munki is a mess. It should have been called either I Love Rock'n'Roll or I Hate Rock'n'Roll, after the songs that open and close the 70-minute Sub Pop release from 1998. Munki is an album about JAMC's relationship to rock'n'roll as fans and as professional musicians. The band had been outflanked on all sides. And they knew it. As this song frames it, "I think I'm going out of style. I think I've known it for a while." It's a shame, because with just a little more work, Munki could have been great. Many of the songs are no more than rough sketches; it's as if the band gave up on the project before it was completed. Maybe that explains the title- they couldn't decide whether they loved or hated the music. Munki it is then!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Milt Abel, R.I.P.

Milt and the MP3 have left us.

Milt Abel specialized in a brand of cocktail jazz that gets virtually no respect these days. But there was a time when musicians like the Modern Jazz Quartet, Ahmad Jamal and Erroll Garner were both popular and critically respected. Bassist Milt Abel enjoyed a similar status in Kansas City.

I became familiar with Abel in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when a swank affair wasn’t complete without Abel and his upright bass. In prior decades, Abel led a successful nightclub act. A handsome man partial to staid sports jackets and slacks, Abel was infused with a quiet dignity. He was an Episcopalian, after all.

Abel died Sunday. He was 77. While his talent was comparable to better known jazz bassists Milt Hinton and Ray Brown, Abel never achieved national acclaim. I recall that Abel had a fine singing voice that matched his smooth tone on bass, but I’m not sure if any recorded examples of his singing exist. And I’m fairly certain he never recorded as a leader.

I wouldn’t typically associate Abel with Thelonious Monk, but this sedate version of "Blue Monk" from a locally released charitable project is a great example of Abel’s sophisticated style. That’s Jay McShann on piano, Tommy Ruskin on drums and Michael White on clarinet.

In a 1998 issue of JAM magazine, Mike Metheny mentioned that Abel sung at Charlie Parker’s funeral. I’m sure he’ll be memorialized with wonderful music at his jazz wake on Thursday.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Kristen Hall- Not Since I Found You

The MP3 can no longer be found.

The first time I saw a Sugarland video, I thought that the 40-something gal in the country-rock crossover act looked familiar. Sure enough, it was Kristen Hall, who'd I'd admired as a folkie in the '90s. Here's a song from her out-of-print debut. Real Life Stuff was issued in 1990 on Daemon, the label operated by Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls. The sound is rough, but a couple things stand out. Several of the songs, including "Not Since I Found You," sound like demos of potential hits, and Hall's rich voice really sells them. Just last month, Hall quit her hit-making band. So she won't be at the Grammy Awards on Wednesday night when Sugarland will likely fall to John Legend, Fall Out Boy, Keane or Ciara as the winner of the Best New Artist award.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Gil Evans- Voodoo Chile

The spell is broken.

Legendary tuba player Howard Johnson sat in on a jam session I attended last night. (I posted a photo on my my personal blog .) Johnson is in town to work with saxophonist Bobby Watson at the University of Missouri-Kansas City's jazz studies program. Johnson worked with Charles Mingus in the 1960s and played an instrumental role in the Saturday Night Live house band in the 1970s. He’s continued his career as a forward-thinking artist since then. I love his manic solo towards the end of this fiery rendition of Jimi Hendrix' "Voodoo Chile" from a live 1984 session with the Gil Evans Orchestra. Trombonist Tom Malone and guitarist Hiram Bullock also solo. Incidentally, the 64-year-old Johnson looks slimmer and healthier than I've ever seen him.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Windbreakers- You Never Give Up

But the MP3 host gave up.

There was a time when this brand of jangly, psychedelic college rock meant the world to me. Yet I'm not sure it's aged any better than me. Tim Lee and Bobby Sutliff crafted several albums of hazy but catchy guitar-based material, like this Mitch Easter-produced song from 1983. The terrific compilation Time Machine (1982-2002) on the Paisley Pop label stands in for my scratchy old LPs, but really, the dusty grooves would significantly enhance my nostalgia.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Sherman Ferguson, R.I.P.

The song is over.

Drummer Sherman Ferguson died January 22 at his home in California. He was 61. Prior to his work with UCLA's Jazz Studies program, Ferguson had performed and recorded with dozens of artists, including Kenny Burrell, Pat Martino and Sonny Stitt. In the 1970s, he led the jazz-funk band Catalyst. The Philadelphia-based group's four albums on the Muse label were reissued in 1999 as Catalyst: The Funkiest Band You Never Heard. It's out of print. Ferguson, along with keyboardist Eddie Green, is credited for "A Country Song," an acid jazz time capsule from 1974's Unity. It's so dated it's futuristic.

Thelonious Monk- Rhythm-A-Ning

No more rhythm.

It comes as no surprise that an old recording of Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane has been met with boundless enthusiasm. Monk and Coltrane will be popular as long as humans have access to music replay devices. I trust a few recent converts will be inspired to dig deeper. 'Trane was just one of the many incredible saxophonists who played with Monk. Others were Johnny Griffin, Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins. Yet his most constant sax man was Charlie Rouse, whos distinctive muffled tone is heard to good effect on this 1961 set. Where 'Trane shreds, Rouse sublimates himself to the composition.