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.**
When I was young and easy in the mercy of life’s means (and my privilege), a friend of mine and I, if we were hanging out with women and having a great time, would occasionally and quite perversely test them by throwing some Captain Beefheart on the turntable, hoping they would stay but doubting it seriously. If memory serves, that test was passed only once, and we were so deliriously happy about it we were in no shape to pass our test when the needle floated out of “Veteran’s Day Poppy” and into the outgroove.
I was moved to recall this after listening to The World of Captain Beefheart Featuring Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas. I’d bought it with some trepidation; more than a few times, producers have forced great singers (usually women) into misbegotten, undignified musical straitjackets, and I was having a hard time imagining Ms. Hendryx, of “Lady Marmalade” fame and more, comfortable with a Van Vlietian setlist. Yes, her partner in crime in this enterprise is one of the most passionate and skilled adherents of the Captain’s Way, but, I thought, why would a black singer even have an interest in wrestling with such wracking rhythms? Well, shame on me for having that thought; I’m just being honest. And, in fact, Nona sounds not only completely at home and familiar with the material (just play the opener, linked above), but like she’s having a blast. As she does live, having the choice and choosing “Tropical Hot Dog Night”!
But, to the point, it finally occurred to me that, perhaps, it was much more accurately surprising that a woman was digging, and digging into, the Beefheartian repertoire. Shame on me, again, for underestimating folks when I’m old enough to know better, but I sure hope there is more of this to come! Especially with Lucas’ guitar propelling her forward, backwards, and side to side (and grabbing this listener by the throat, as he usually does), this woman passes the test!
The Fall: I am Kurious Orange (Check the guy’s track record!)
The Fleshtones: It’s Super Rock Time! The IRS Years (and it is!)