I spent half my day with a group of my favorite jazz pianists. This was set in motion by the unexpected arrival from Strut Records of Sun Ra’s In Some Far Place: Roma 1977(Earth’s water supply may run out before Mister Ra’s vault does). I’d subscribed to the label’s Original Masters series in February of ’17, mostly out of interest in some curated international dance records but also because the cost of my purchase was being donated to a great social justice organization. Four records were to come my way, but the label couldn’t secure rights to the fourth, so in its stead I received this double-disc sans-Arkestra show. Hearing Sun Ra alone or with drums only (as one does here) can be a revelation: his sense of humor comes more to the fore, the path of his thinking’s a little easier to trace, and, while I prefer to hear him leading the Arkestra, it’s a fun and trippy ride across styles and eras, with the pianist occasionally switching from acoustic to electronic keyboards as the mood suits him and toggling between his own catalog and beloved standards.
As Nicole and I settled in to read in the evening, I loaded three study-friendly discs into the changer. The first was Memphis pianist Phineas Newborn Jr.’s 1956 outing, Here is Phineas. As the Ellington interpretation linked above demonstrates, the man could fly across the 88s–perhaps, as this early album occasionally reveals, too speedily for his own good. But his light, precise touch and feeling for the blues tempers that tendency; the album’s a decent way in for the beginner. (According to the expert Memphis sources I’ve consulted, his name’s pronounced FEE-nuss.)
Next up was 1959’s Thelonious Alone in San Francisco. Every night’s a great night for Monk’s music in the Overeem home, and, after the pleasantly wandering experimentalism of Sun Ra and the full-bore momentum of Newborn, this solo recording, featuring both familiar and relatively obscure originals as well as some very mischievous interpretations (like the above), was the perfect shift. Listen to this ’53 version of “There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie,” from Rich, Young, and Pretty (!), then try Thelonious’ adventure navigating it, and ask yourself, “What did he hear in this tune that attracted him to it? Without the assistance of words, what does he transmute it into?”
We closed out the night with Bud Powell’s 1956 recording, Bud Plays Bird, which is one of the few releases I’ve owned in which the notes significantly enhance the music. They’re penned by old hand Ira Gitler, who examines the complicated musical and personal relationships between the titular two, shares his experience having witnesses the men play, and leads us through some very close and adept listening. Powell, while not in his earlier, frighteningly skilled and intense turn-of-the-decade form, plays exceptionally well, and is fluently augmented by George Duvivier on bass (that man’s invaded my house!) and Art Taylor on drums. A great addition to any be-bop enthusiast’s collection.
Note: The post title refers to the respective birth years of Ra, Monk, Bud, and Newborn. The earliest-born outlived them all. With the exception of Bud, whose career was damaged by the brutality of racist law enforcement in the North, these men were Southerners who came of age and worked in the shadow of Jim Crow–how might their work have shone more brilliantly without the obstacles of systematic oppression?
Oh, and before all that I listened to the expanded edition of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, learning to appreciate the production ideas of Martin Hannett (I hadn’t realized that the effects didn’t also emanate from Ian Curtis’ tortured soul) and the raw-and-daily-growing attack of the band on stage in ’79.
Influenced by the man pictured below, who spoke to my comp / pop music class this morning about writing record reviews, I am going to interface at length with K-Pop–specifically, Jonghyun’s POET | ARTIST. Wish me luck! Dive in with me and we can compare notes tomorrow.