Thursday, April 7, 2016

Recordings I've Worn Out

The following are records I've worn out. There's no other connection here; these are not necessarily my most musically important records, nor the best records by these artists, nor even my "favorite" records. They're just ones that, for whatever reason, I happened to listen to more than any others.

Note: yesterday I posted about some of my favorite bands

In no particular order (and note that more writing doesn't mean "more highly recommended"):

Ray Barretto "Indestructible"
Incredible salsa; incredible songs, arrangements, and performances, and, most of all, incredible "swing" (i.e. infectious rhythm; not literally "swing music", of course).

Jerry Gonzalez "Ya Yo Me Cure"
More jazzy latin music, with a Cuban flavor (as opposed to the pure Puerto Rican sound of "Indestructible"). Not saying it doesn't have guts, though. An amazingly evocative record.

"Todo Banda"
Superficially, this is an anthology of overblown oompa brass bands from southern Mexico, replete with anguished, tipsy-sounding singers and screaming trumpets. You know: Hispanic kitsch. But you must understand context. Austrians and Germans dropped brass band music into a largely isolated Indian population a century ago, and those guys have resourcefully developed and evolved and deconstructed it into something unrecognizable yet fantastically Mexican. The tuba players are funkier than Bootsy Collins, the arrangements are fiendishly clever, and these guys are SUPERSTARS down there. Banda music is some of my favorite, and this is a great starter compendium. Listen many times to pick up details and catch the infection. I can sing you every note from every individual player.

Amalgama "Encuentro"
The gypsies originally came from India, and this is the first time Spanish gypsy flamenco masters were musically reunited with the motherland. My friend Xavier Turull, a Catalan drummer, had studied tabla in India, then moved back to Spain and studied with flamenco masters. He co-led this briefly-existing group composed of Catalans and gypsies, and Xavi flew his old South Indian professors (renowned Karnataka masters) in for the session. It is an absolute treasure, a historic masterpiece, and puts to shame every other "new flamenco" effort. Alas, I might have played on this record had I arrived in Madrid just a week earlier. It's one of my biggest regrets, though I had a great time playing with these guys in their musical commune right after they finished the recording.

Arnie Lawrence "Renewal"
Some of the best work by my mentor, Arnie Lawrence (read my tribute to him). If jazz bores you - too repetitive, too needlessly complicated, hard to follow, emotionally obtuse - just listen to this.

Dexter Gordon "Our Man in Paris"
Dexter Gordon is not playing the sax, but singing through it, in his distinctive logey, bemused, burry tones. Utter poetry.

Lorraine Hunt "Bach Cantatas"
Nat King Cole wasn't a singer. He was a piano player who was reluctantly dragged in front of a microphone....and it stuck. Similarly, Lorraine Hunt started out as a hard-working violist. Most singers are head cases with a pathological need for attention. Hunt's back-door entrance led to a less emotionally exhibitionistic and needy approach. No narcissistic baloney, just pure beauty from the anti-diva. I'm not a fan of classical vocal music - let alone sopranos (even mezzos). But this is the unadulterated good stuff.

Anton Batagov "The New Ravel: Works for Piano"
Classically-trained avant-garde pianist Batagov, who ordinarily wouldn't be bothered to play classics like Ravel, sleepwalks through a few pieces with deliberately bored ambivalence, repressing all emotion. Magic ensues. Don't ask me to explain. But it's Ravel like you've never heard him. He sings more when the performer removes himself from the equation.

"Dances and Trances"
Mystical Moroccan trance music, recorded with hidden microphones by a dude who managed to penetrate some very hard-to-find secret/sacred scenes deep in the heart of Morocco. Last year, I was in Rabat recording with some great local musicians. I played them this, and they insisted I turn it off after a few seconds. They said it was "too much", explaining in broken English and Spanish that there's a level of trance music that "makes you go out." I got the impression they were annoyed that anyone had commercialized this. An amazing document, and a phenomenally transportive thing to listen to. Just be careful not to go out!

"The Hambourg Legacy"
Mark Hambourg, a peasant virtuoso from Eastern Europe who'd relocated to England, was the real deal, an early-recorded connection to the time when all this musty classical stuff was new and fresh and punk. Very well known in the early 20th century, Hambourg married in to Scottish nobility, and had a daughter, Michal - a prodigy who, in my opinion, was even better than him. Michal was poised for stardom, but WWII interfered, and she never regained any career whatsoever. Rescued from obscurity in her 90's(!!) by Arbiter Records' Allan Evans (who also published the two previous recordings), who recorded her on her home piano, with Liszt's walking stick mounted just above, on the wall. Arthritis cramped her technique some, but even if classical piano's not your thing, you'll instantly feel this is something else (listen to a free sample of her playing some Chopin that will make you cry). She sounds like she's IMPROVISING. No stiff, stodgy, polite, show-off piano this. Anyway, this record includes father, father + (young) daughter, and some modern recordings of just the daughter.

Elis and Tom
Antonio Carlos Jobim (aka "Tom") wrote all those famous bossa novas, and was, almost as a hobby/sidelight, a tender pianist and affable vocalist. Here he teams up with Elis Regina, the tragic and much beloved Brazilian singing idol (think of her as the Billie Holiday of Brazil), and they sound like they're having so much damned fun in the studio. I've never met a Brazilian who doesn't own and treasure this record. This is the essence of everything. Oh, let me explain the weird piano sound which occurs in a few places: Jobim is whistling along in unison for an eery effect.

Erroll Garner "That's My Kick/Gemini"
A Tasmanian Devil-ish whirlwind of exuberant swing from deep down under in it.

James Booker "New Orleans Piano Wizard"
A drunken one-eyed pirate from New Orleans who started off as a child prodigy but things went bad. Sounds like he's playing with four hands, and his singing makes you want to fly immediately to NOLA. Forget the cheesey Queen hit....he will, he will rock you. Here's a video plus more links on Booker.

Joe Henderson "Our Thing"
Straight-ahead hard bop jazz, but something extra. Something about the arrangements, the performances, the recording....this is next level. This is people really playing together. Listen deeply, and you'll notice a never-ending series of crazily intuitive moments. And it's all elegantly hung on such fantastic original tunes, so resourcefully arranged.

Captain Beefheart with Frank Zappa "Bongo Fury"
Beefheart's out-there-ness restrained by Zappa's rock instincts. Zappa's sophomoric tendencies tempered by Beefheart's whiskey juice. Great arrangements and funky musicianship. Benefits from much-repeated playing. Don't need it to make sense.

La Bottine Souriante "Rock & Reel" (aka "Xième")
Traditional French Canadian folk music doesn't do much for me. These guys are masters of it, but they stretch it beyond the breaking point. The repetitively-structured songs pick up more and more flotsam, complication, and syncopation with each repeated chorus until your head explodes. The clicking sound is clogged dancers tapping along on wooden boards in the recording studio.

Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley
More than just jazz. A mood that will be accessible to anyone anywhere anytime (even 1000 years from now), achieved without a bit of dilution or pandering. This is a very, very high level of American music. There's no better late night wistful/sophisticated listening.

Ruggiero Ricci "Gypsey Melodies" (aka "Violin Recital")
My favorite violinist. Read my profile of Ricci (including a great sample video) here.

Slickaphonics "Wow Bag"
Downtown NYC experimental jazz types decided to make a punk-funk record. Killer results, just off-kilter enough (though not every song's a gem). Hasn't aged a day in the, Jesus, 34 years since it was recorded. Their follow-up record wasn't as good, alas. Is it ever?

Again, here's a list of favorite current live bands. Here's a list from this past January of some current or recent favorite TV series, and here's a two-year-old massive round-up of all-time TV faves.

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