Jazz has produced few spousal tributes as delicate, as deep, or as powerful as vibraphonist Walt Dickerson’s To My Queen, recorded on September 21, 1962, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey–Rudy Van Gelder behind the glass, of course.
Dickerson’s playing is concentrated and clear, conjuring a warm state of love that is varied, and constant. The 17-and-a-half minute title piece (above) gives the music a compositional framework that will stick to your ear’s (and mind’s) ribs, but allows plenty improvisational space–which with this unit is crucial. Besides Dickerson, the great Andrew Hill is on piano, and the young Andrew Cyrille (just before participating in a very different session with Cecil Taylor) and George Tucker, on drums and bass respectively, nearly steal the show from the leader. Keep your head inclined toward the speakers during the quieter passages, and you’ll be rewarded by Cyrille’s magically startling transitions out of them, and Tucker’s telepathic conversations with the leader during them. Keep this record in mind for Valentine’s Day.
In case you haven’t got the message already and are in search of albums that, end-to-end, won’t let you down, please trust me on these, each of which I have test-driven several times for y’all:
Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart–You may not think you need to hear Hendryx singing Beefheart but you do: she transforms them. She’s playing his music so all the girls will come meet the monster tonight. And believe it or not, along with Lucas’ knife-point slide scraping aural graffiti onto the songs, you’ll get some stellar r&b/soul/doo-wop-styles ballads. You knew Van Vliet wrote those, right?*
Princess Nokia: 1992–Why rob yourself of the inspiring experience of listening to this young woman of color defiantly stepping to our current national ugliness–which she really never explicitly acknowledges–and backing it up several steps? After two listens, you’ll be chanting along with her, whether she’s repping for the streets of New York, vaunting her unconventional physique, abjuring recipes as she takes to the kitchen, coming right back at ’em after missing a layup, or pointedly taking her place with her fellow brujas.**
*Shrift not-so-short, doncha see?
**Which should tell you something.