What Was I Thinkin’? (March 29th, 2018, Fulton & Columbia, MO)

Fellow music enthusiasts: have you ever just been wrong about, been deaf to, a great album? It’s happened to me many times, as I suspect it has to you. On this day, I received a comeuppance.

Nicole and I and our dear friends Janet and David spent a day in Fulton, a town we’ve been frequenting and growing very fond of. We introduced them to The Fulton Café, an establishment specializing in Cuban cuisine already written about glowingly on this blog. We visited the National Churchill Museum on the campus of Westminster, where Churchill delivered his “Iron Curtain” speech and where stands proudly and appropriately a colorful extant segment of the Berlin Wall:

The museum’s been wonderfully revamped and, peeking into a room behind the chapel’s pulpit I spied…bongos? Yes, bongos!

Finally, we landed at Milton’s Cocktails, which featured the following:

$7 cocktails in pint glasses and $5 cans of beer + a shot

Free chicken chili

Pool table and pinball

A ebullient bartender and owner, Verrell

TWO JUKEBOXES stocked with goodies and free for the button-punching!

We enjoyed several dranks as I played all of the several Ronnie Self selections and sat gobsmacked and stumped at the garage/rockabilly covers of Jessie Hill’s “Whip It on Me” and Bobby Hendricks’ “Itchy Twitchy Feelings.” Verrell himself couldn’t help because he hadn’t written the performers’ names on the list, and we forgot to ask Fulton Café impresario and Milton’s staff member Jimmy, who mesmerized us with stories from his past in Kansas City. We’re going back to Milton’s, ’nuff said.

So…about this record I’d snubbed? We landed at Janet and David’s upon returning from Fulton, and apropos of nothing, and without announcing the selection, David put Kenny Burrell’s Guitar Forms on the box. My defenses were down, I was in a wild rockin’ mood after my jukebox jolt–when Burrell’s guitar leaped out of the speakers and began slashing me exquisitely with 1,000 elegant cuts. On top of that, Gil Evans’ settings immediately forced me to consider that the album was a perfect companion for Miles’ and Evans’ Sketches of Spain. I just flat-out luxuriated in a record I’d a decade ago dispensed with because it sounded too tasty, too guitar-nerdish! SAY WHAT???? Had I been out of my goddam mind? And I’d played it multiple times back then, trying to shake the greatness out of it and failing miserably. Sometimes, I’m not just deaf, I’m dumb–and it makes me wonder what other masterpieces I’ve been numb to. If you’d like to be spellbound, wait til it gets a bit late, pour a glass, mute all distractions, and apply Guitar Forms liberally.

Short-shrift Division:

After the last track of Guitar Forms ended, we hit the stacks and pulled out some work by another great arranger, Bill Holman’s Brilliant Corners: The Bill Holman Band Plays Thelonious Monk, which I’ve always loved. Here’s a taste:

Now, as I said, I’d always loved that. But I turned to David and muttered, a tad unfairly perhaps, “Monk and bombast…not that great a combo.”

One never steps into the same record twice, do one?

‘14, ‘17, ‘24, ‘31 (March 6, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

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?

Short-shrift Division:

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.

Still in The Sink / Seller’s Remorse (January 29th, Columbia, Missouri)

I realize I can’t let go of the W. Eugene Smith story, but that’s how fixations are. As I reported Sunday, I was knocked out by The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith, a stellar documentary illuminating Smith’s life and work, but especially his years quartered in a Manhattan loft churning out photos, hosting marathon after-hours jazz sessions, and making audio recordings of purt-near every sound made in the building. One of the many great moments in the documentary (and in Sam Stephenson’s recent Smith bio, Gene Smith’s Sink) comes when surviving participants–including the great alto saxophonist Phil Woods–recall the loft rehearsal sessions for Thelonious Monk’s first-ever big band performance at Town Hall. The arrangements, the difficulty of which one familiar with Monk’s music can well imagine, were written by the great Hall Overton–who just happened to live and work in the space on the other side of Smith’s wall. After creating arrangements to Monk’s satisfaction, a process fascinating in itself, the two men contacted the musicians and called the rehearsal. At two in the morning. And, Monk being who he was, everyone showed. Suffice it to say that I found it impossible after watching this sequence to avoid listening to Thelonious Monk at Town Hall last night (and I’m doing it again right now) (and you should, too), the full recording captured via YouTube above. Nothing short of amazing, folks.

I’ve also previously written about my attempt to whittle my CD collection down to a sane size. Since early January, I’ve traded in 200-300 of ’em, and they’d already been honed about a year ago, so at times I’ve felt like I was trading chunks of flesh. When my wife observed me taking a couple of late Aylers (Love Call and New Grass) downstairs to box up, she said with great alarm, “Wait, you can’t trade in those!” Yes, I am lucky; Nicole is as much an Albert Ayler nut as I. She even eagerly accompanied me to visit his grave outside of Cleveland! However, I told her, “Well, these are late experiments where he was trying to make accessible music, and they’re more than a shade uneven…we’ll never miss ’em.” She looked askance at me, and I went on downstairs with them.

I put them in a box, then stared at them for the next five days.

Have you ever felt guilt-pangs at getting rid of music by one of your favorite artists, even if it isn’t their best work, even if you could just digitize it? As if you’re betraying them, even if they happen to be dead (in Ayler’s case, for almost 50 years)? As if you’ve just discovered you’re a cold-ass bastard?

I took them out of the box, and out to The Lab, to give them one last listen in the compressed space of my Ranger’s cab and make absolutely sure I wasn’t fucking up.

I was. Well, I’m only halfway through New Grass, but, though it features very lame “spiritual” lyrics and singing, and some awkward arrangements (“Ayler goes R&B!”), Albert actually plays pretty well, and at least suggests what a successful merging of his wild wails and seriously soulful backing might have sounded like. Also, one gets to hear Ayler talking; that might not seem like much, but we hardly knew him before he was gone, and I treasure any moment that makes him seem more real. One track that exemplifies the worthy struggle of engaging with New Grass is “New Ghosts”: it’s seriously marred by some very-sub-Leon Thomas ululations, apparently emitted by Ayler himself, and Bill Folwell’s bass playing seems out of sync, but once the leader starts playing his tenor, some sparks fly–he brings out the calypso melody that was always embedded in the earlier recordings of “Ghosts” and anticipates Sonny Rollins’ ideas of the mid-to-late ’70s (think Sunny Days, Starry Nights). Goofy and wonderful: I suspect that combo was another Ayler’s human elements.

So, I’m keeping them. Try New Grass yourself–another full-album link’s there for your pleasure.

Cover Track List

Speaking of Ayler–and this mysteriously happened after my Lab session–an archival release by the great Hat Hut free jazz label finally showed up in my mailbox: Ayler, Sunny Murray (drums), Gary Peacock (bass), and Don Cherry (trumpet), live in 1964, in fantastic fettle and fidelity, from the Café Montmarte in Copenhagen. The performance is one of the greatest of Ayler’s life, and Cherry is in amazing form, dancing lightly in and out of the eye of the saxophonist’s hurricane and illuminating the link between Ayler’s work and Coleman’s: an exciting contrast between free styles, earthiness v. elegance (and, yes, I’m calling Coleman’s work elegant in a relative kind of way, but even if I weren’t, his work still was).  This release is a must for any serious Ayler fan. A must. Don’t make me repeat it again. (I will die with this CD still on my shelves, I assure you).




The Wrong Notes (A poem Thelonious Monk caused)

My truck cab is compact

But built for euphony.

I squeeze in for a ride,

Disc in hand

To fit my feeling,

Slide it in the player:

No place for sound to go

But to besiege me beautifully.

I don’t even know I am driving


A splendid day.

Sun’s rays,

Monk’s notes,

And a healthy engine

Turn me

Half my age as I

Cruise the main drag.

No beer between my legs

But my fellows are using their

Turn signals

And eschewing phones

Out there.

Hardly does this bliss

Settle when a crabbed image

From our sick spirit

Troubles my sight:

Four rumpled men

With signs and staves

Shouting at girl

Ducking in a clinic door.

I want to blast my horn as I pass.

Backs to the road,

They stand a yard from the curb.

Heart attack, perhaps?

They could be ministering

To the poor

Instead of fouling this child’s day

And mine.

As I ball my fist

Another sound intrudes.

The cab is tight.

It’s Monk,

Hammering out

A dissonant smear

(Like that picket gang)

To break the ear’s ease

In half.

Like the porter’s knock,

To break the spell,

But of pleasure,

Not horror.

Either spell is

Chicanery in our

Quest for truth.

Monk, those notes

Were right.

I drove past


As one you suspended.