“Jazz is a globalized African American freedom vehicle”: Nicole Mitchell (February 19th, Columbia, Missouri)

Again, I had a very busy day reading, hanging out, watching movies, and welcoming back one of our outdoor cats who’d been on a walkabout–little time to listen. BUT I was able to bend a long-promised ear more intently to the wonderful, exploratory jazz of Ms. Nicole Mitchell, former president of the AACM, current professor of music at the University of California-Irvine, and jazz flautist and composer deluxe.

I’d listened to her Mandorla Awakening II–Emerging Worlds several times last year, and her interstellar settings (very much in the path of the great Sun Ra), magnanimity (there’s always as much space for her collaborators as she makes for herself–often more), feeling for poetry (both literal and figurative), and her activism (explicit or not, her work is always addressing the struggle) consistently hit me hard in the solar plexus.

Yesterday, for the first time, I took in her Intergalactic Beings album, and this cut stuck with me for most of the day:

 

I was also dazzled by both Mitchell’s playing, composition and band leading and (the great jazz bassist) Alan Silva’s artistic contributions to this video from Mandorla Awakening II:

Songhoy, But Not Blues (February 18th, 2018, St. Louis / Columbia, Missouri)

In St. Louis for the weekend to hear George Saunders (see 2/17/18) and see Black Panther (today), we did both some jetting and lazing around, including trips to a Vietnamese restaurant we’ve been frequenting for almost 30 years, the Pho Grand, and Mission Taco, which almost assassinated us with horrible piped-in hipster ambience and lazily-prepared and overpriced cocktails. So we didn’t have much time to focus on music, but…couple things:

Caught up with Songhoy Blues’ 2017 release, Résistance. The Malian unit is loved by many folks because they rock it out, and distrusted by many because they are thus impure desert bluesologists. I hold with the former group. I shouldn’t need to say that purity is overrated (if it is even real), and impurities often bring us surprise and delight. They can also lead to a messy artistic experience, but, unlike its predecessor Music in Exile, which sinned simply by rocking up the percussion and guitar ideas, Résistance folds in reggae, funk, horns, Iggy Pop as well and comes out alive. How? Intensity. Commitment. Inspiration.

Nicole: “You know, I think I am going to put together a Top 10 this year, and this is gonna be on it.” It’s slightly old to make a 2018 list, but I’m not going to tell her that–and years are arbitrary constructs anyway, kind of.

Fairly final thoughts on Black Panther The Album–Music from and Inspired by The Film:

“Inspired,” quite honestly, is a poor choice of words. The movie is pure dynamite: it’s visually stunning, conceptually rich, and wonderfully acted. Not a dull moment. The album, however, is frequently dull. Even Mr. Lamar does little but holler a few repetitive hooks; his lyrics only occasionally seem to make contact with the world of the film. The highlights are drop-ins by Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul, and those are fleeting highs. All in all, a missed opportunity.

I did have a few minor caveats/questions about the film:

*Why do we spend so much time seeing Africans fight Africans? Perhaps there is a longer game the franchise is playing?

*Incorporating a CIA operator into one’s fold is a bizarre move for an African king. I know it’s an alternative, fictional world, but it’s running side-by-side with the U.S.A.’s real history of subjugation, brutality, and oppression. Hasn’t T’Challa read up on, to take just one instance, Patrice Lumumba? Aside from that, there’s just a dollop of white saviorism in play, and, as my friend Greg pointed out in a Facebook post, the political conciliation at the movie’s end is somewhat disappointing.

But–it’s of great art that we ask such questions, because it raises the bar of the possible. I’m thinking about going again today, not to investigate but just luxuriate in its brilliance.

A Great Record, a Great Party and a Great Writer (February 16-17, Columbia and St. Louis, Missouri)

Friday:

I listened to one of 2018’s best new releases. David Murray and Saul Williams’ Blues for Memo is definitely a work for these egregious times. Murray’s sax work is, as always, burly and brawny, but most impressive are the settings his written for Williams’ poetry, much of it adapted from his harrowing US(a.) collection from 2015. The poet’s readings have an actual pocket to breathe inside the songs–Murray wrote them with the lyrics sitting on his piano–though the listener may at times find it hard to breathe when confronting their truths.

Saturday:

My lovely wife threw an early birthday party for me, and I did control the music (the new Songhoy Blues was something I remember playing–there were many Bloody Marys involved), but the best musical moment was one I didn’t control. Imagine that!

My friend Rick Hocks brought his guitar, and near the end of the party played a lightly jazz-tinged arrangement of the above Gregg Allman classic–for me (though I am no midnight rider)! It was very nice, and inspired me to sing “harmonies.” That is a rare thing, and the Bloody Marys hadn’t anything to do with it!

Later in the day, we drove to the St. Louis County Library to hear the great writer and humanist George Saunders discuss his masterpiece (so far) Lincoln in the Bardo and the art of writing. With sprite-like wit and verbal agility, he kept a very impressive crowd rapt with his encouragements, especially regarding the power of line editing, the need to avoid constructing a grand plan before you begin writing, and the importance of being on speaking terms with the story you’re trying to tell. Absolutely delightful, and we eagerly await the next book!

Short-shrift Division:

The Hollies’ Greatest Hits

Fountains of Wayne: Out-of-State Plates

Glasvegas

The Go-Betweens: 1978-1990

Songhoy Blues: Resistance

George Saunders: Lincoln in the Bardo (audiobook–166 different readers, and it’s a must!!)

Out of Hand (February 15th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Some music you love so much you keep it in the shade–like in a wine cellar–and only break it out for special occasions. Maybe it’s so intense it has to be partaken of in small, spaced-out doses; maybe it’s so intense one doesn’t want to overexpose oneself to it, and thus dull its brilliance.

A precious few singers are in my musical wine cellar. One of them is the late, great Gary Stewart, and though yesterday wasn’t a special occasion, his voice started echoing inside my skull while I was reading Walter Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz–go figure, because I can’t. I have a good portion of Stewart’s discography, but I broke out the killer one-two punch, two-fer-one Koch/BMG CD Out of Hand / Your Place or Mine and the only slightly less powerful Steppin’ Out / Little Junior, released by those smart Aussies from Raven Records. Don’t listen to this stuff while doing anything else; if it’s familiar to you–if you’ve lived your life–you might well feel some deep identification with the pain Gary conveys so precisely, and find yourself singing along. Able to ascend to full-throated honky hollers or descend to ‘tween-the-teeth whispers, punctuating nearly every phrase with a bourbon-cured quaver that some might call mannerism and others might hear as signifying the ol’ emotional thumbscrews gettin’ a twist, Stewart was a master actor, a seller of songs, and what a lot he got to sing: “Drinkin’ Thing,” “This Old Heart Just Won’t Let Go,” “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles),” “Out of Hand,” “Your Place or Mine,” “Ten Years of This,” “Broken-Hearted People,” “Quits,” “Flat-Natural Born Good-Timin’ Man,” “In Some Room Above the Street,” “Whiskey Trip,” “Little Junior,” “Single Again,” “I Got Mine,” “Let’s Forget That We’re Married”–and those are all on these two discs.

The guy could pick ’em, write ’em himself, play the hell out of slide guitar, and roll the keys like Jerry Lee (whom he notably sounds much like, except Gary means it, man, whereas the Killer just don’t give a fuck). I’d attribute it to the coke and whiskey, but I don’t think he ever got to fully realize all those talents. His story is as riddled with intense sorrow as his best songs; I strongly recommend you read Jimmy McDonough’s account for Perfect Sound Forever, but have a hanky handy.

Please enjoy this 15-song Gary Stewart primer–stoked with some great live clips and some hard-to-find rawboned classics.

Short-shrift Division:

Sharkey

Sharkey Bonano (trumpet) and Paul Barbarin (drums): New Orleans Contrasts

Roxy Music: Stranded

 

Clarinet Magic: Omer Simeon / Harlem River Drive LIVE / “Springtime for Hitler” (February 14, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Simply put: my friend Paul gifted me with a recording out of the blue earlier this week that reached out, slapped me across the face, and proceeded to delight the hell out of me for an hour. The name? A bit of a mouthful (and indeed it unnecessarily lowered my expectations): Rare Cuts – Well Done (Volume 7) – Omer Simeon – The Rarest and Greatest Tracks 1929 – 1954. Initially, I think I quit reading the title after “(Volume 7),” but it’s the last five that matter; I’m going to look into the other volumes now. Simeon was one of the greatest clarinetists in New Orleans history, which is saying something; trained by the legendary Lorenzo Tio, Jr., beloved and wonderfully employed by Jelly Roll Morton, ably matching solos with the likes of Earl Hines and James P. Johnson, he’s someone I should know better. In fact, halfway through this very well-selected compilation, I realized I’d seen a television segment in which Dr. Michael White, a bit of a skilled black-stick blower himself, talked about Simeon and Tio. (Unfortunately, I can’t find the clip, but here’s what it entailed.)

Paul, thanks: this collection is why they call it hot jazz!

Thanks also to Taylor at Hitt Records for alerting me to the existence of a live recording of Eddie Palmieri’s Harlem Drive project, Recorded Live at Sing Sing Prison–and to my ear and ass it’s liver than the studio release. Eddie and the band are muy caliente, but special notice goes to brother Charlie out of his mind on the organ, and reminding me that early ’70s Miles was not a little influenced by Latin sounds. Join the inmates in feeling at least momentarily liberated by a track from this explosive and politically charged LP!

Short-shrift Division:

Mel Brooks, words and music, “Springtime for Hitler” (from The Producers): Nicole and I watched the film for Valentine’s Day, died laughing during the climactic scene that features this song, and I was left wondering, “Did Dick Shawn’s ‘LSD’ help spawn Robin Williams?” It sure seems so!

Two songs for Parkland, Florida:

Bon Pierres Roulez! (Mardi Gras Day, February 13, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Mardi Gras Day is always going to be alive in our house–wherever we happen to be, and whatever we happen to be doing.

For me, in the morning, I was teaching: expository modes in composition, to be exact. How did you jimmy Mardi Gras into that, I feel you asking? Easy. I had planned way ahead. Les Blank’s classic 1978 documentary Always for Pleasure is communicates a joy that expands exponentially with each viewing, and I make sure I view it plenty. I find it can fit into most any lesson an English teacher might teach, and I test that finding every February. This year, I prepped my students by explaining that, in order to continuing to practice thinking in expository modes, which we’d already done by reading some model essays, we’d be watching the work of a filmmaker who, in his best work, employed many. Their jobs were to spot precisely what Blank was trying to “expose,” or illuminate, for the viewer, what modes he was working in, and which of his examples were most effective. Then, after taking notes as they watched, students would post their observations on-line and respond to peers’ posts. Wow–so did I kill the film with all that? I don’t think so (sharing a King Cake helped). On the surface, Always for Pleasure seems like a ton of parade footage strung together, broken up on occasion by interviews (Irma Thomas on red beans and rice, Allen Toussaint on jazz funerals) and performances (Professor Longhair, The Wild Tchoupitoulas), but watched and heard leaning forward, the film renders up much enlightenment. The latter performance within that last set of parentheses is a film-capper that also glows brighter each time the viewer beholds it. Behold it now:

(Is that entire performance in someone’s vault? Two live songs are present in the film. Ye gods of the vault, issue forth the goods!)

Yes, but did the children learn in a manner that can be measured, Phil? Hell, I didn’t fall off the peach truck yesterday! I’ll let you know when their posts are up Tuesday morning. By the way, I did the unpardonable and offered extra credit to college students! “Listen to this Mardi Gras playlist I made, choose your five favorite songs, and use an expository mode in justifying your love (in making a case) for each.” I’m incorrigible.

Later, I had to clean house, but two loads of the CD changer made that deeply enjoyable!

Round One:

Professor Longhair, Crawfish Fiesta (maybe the greatest NOLA piano record of all-time, and I have two copies)

Huey Piano Smith and the Clowns, Havin’ a Good Time (glorious, devilish rhythmic lunacy by a band that should have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the atrocity’s first year)

The Wild Tchoupitoulas (if you clicked above, I need say nothing)

Round Two

On a Facebook music forum I happily participate in, I recently deliberately tried to stir the turd (I guess it’s called…trolling?) by claiming that, among the Rolling Stones’ late ’60s/early ’70s run of classic recordings (defined as the studio albums from Beggars Banquet to Exile on Main Street), my favorite was the UK version of Between the Buttons–a bit outside that definition. I was just playing, but I do love that album for many reasons: killer drumming by Charlie, Wyman playing road-grader bass, Keith’s first vocal plus some nasty guitar as per usual, Brian’s last album as a serious contributor, Mick scornful as usual but also light-hearted (booga-booga-ness not yet a factor, and many wonderful songs seldom (if ever) to see the light of day again (“Miss Amanda Jones”). Since drawing a little return fire for my posting, I haven’t been able to get the lads out of my memory’s ear, so I went the whole hog:

Between the Buttons (UK version)

(This playlist is the US release.)

Aftermath (UK version)

(Again, the US version here:)

Beggars Banquet

I still love love love Between the Buttons!

(Don’t you know this one by heart?)

(Note: if you don’t already know, those UK versions include great songs held back from the domestic version in order for the ol’ corporation to squeeze out Flowers.)

I closed out the day with a very appropriate inappropriate indulgence, though I do not observe Lent. If I ever get a tattoo, it will be based on this album’s title song.