As They Used to Sing (June 13th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

I spent the day with some of my favorite noise. Why not?

I love Bob Wills and the Playboys anyway they can be served, but the loose virtuosity, astounding range of repertoire, joyous swing, and infectious camaraderie of their Tiffany Transcriptions of 1946 and 1947 are their recorded apex. Wills is full of mischief, guitarist Junior Barnard is helping invent rock and roll, Millard Kelso is romping on the 88s, and Tommy Duncan? At the peak of his everyman world-weariness and experienced ease. The band recorded these tracks after having come off the road, and it’s quite possible the resulting delirium and collapsed defenses are the secret ingredients. Volume 2 features the band’s biggest tines and, along with the bluesier Volume 3, are the ones to check out.

I know of few sounds wilder and more thrilling than Sidney Bechet’s soprano sax playing, and today I dipped into Storyville’s The King Jazz Records Story, which covers a series of New Orleans jazz sessions recorded between 1945 and 1947. King Jazz was a label booted up by Jewish “voluntary Negro” Mezz Mezzrow, of Really The Blues fame. Mezzrow partly intended the label to show off his clarinet playing, but not only does Bechet’s intense genius overshadow it, but Sammy Price’s expert boogie woogie occasional steals both of their thunder (he also excelled teamed with Sister Rosetta Tharpe). A great opportunity to hear top-rate New Orleans swing across five inexpensive discs, with Mezz frequently supplying characteristic commentary.

I know of no easier way to aural bliss than to engage with Sonny Sharrock’s Ask the Ages, the “chainsaw jazz” guitarist’s final album before his unjust early demise at the hands of a heart attack. Sharrock often commented that he aspired to play Coltrane on a six-string, and here those aspirations are reached; Trane-mates Elvin Jones and Pharoah Sanders are on hand to help. One thing I love about this album is its very memorable and grand themes are both supported and sparred with by pulse-quickening free spasms by Sharrock and Sanders, especially on the back-to-back classics “As We Used to Sing” and “Many Mansions.” Cathartic, lyrical, romantic, and proud, the record covers a mile of emotional ground. I will die owning this CD. (By the way, I played it today because I received a remastered edition made available by Bill Laswell. It’s indeed an improvement, especially in the definition of Jones’ drums.

Short-shrift Division:

I cannot quit playing this album–four times in two weeks now –and its excellence forced me to abandon Apple Music and buy the damn thing. Great notes by reggae expert Randall Grass, too.

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