There are only a couple of occasions every year where I overtly choose to tolerate bad music. One time is during solo car trips when radio-flipping passes the long and monotonous miles. The other is during the Grammy’s. I’m not convinced that you can really enjoy music in America without at least being mildly curious about the Grammy’s. Whether it truly remains the biggest night in music is certainly debatable; I find it a more celebratory occasion for CéU to sing while walking down the street. In her head.
But there is no denying a few things about the Grammy’s. The performances are (almost) always top notch, showcasing a variety of talent from a broad musical spectrum. It’s true that I don’t like a lot of it, regardless of talent (I don’t like some good stuff, and some of the stuff I like isn’t good), but I wouldn’t know that if I never listened to any of it. I have to give props even to certain songs/repertoires I cannot normally stand (Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand), from incredibly talented performers.
This of course is not quite the bad music I am referring to, where I would say that the likes of Nickelback and Green Day (and that poorly aging guy who won the American Idol show a few years ago – awful) are pretty awful to my ears. I believe that the term is best summarized by Michael Bolton (haha, how ironic) from Office Space.
Nevertheless, it’s part cultural experience and part genuine interest in sampling the spectrum randomly that keeps me tuned to pop music culture.
There was a period in time when it was all Mingus and Monk. I’m not quite that fervent these days for these two artists, though of course I continue to enjoy them immensely. However, I have heard some new Mingus recently that is special because it was a sign of things to come, as he plays a ton of standards on Mingus At The Bohemia that would only later become so classic. I like how Mingus’s music tells so many stories. It’s very emotional music, and in such a revered venue like the Cafe Bohemia, it would have been quite a … hear.
Also picked up Sextant, a Herbie Hancock album to continue my growing collection from the great pianist. I wasn’t aware of a lot of the work he did in the 80s that I have yet to hear. But this one is more in the line of Headhunters and Thrust, an era of Herbie that marked him as a progressive musician. I think I already like this one more than Thrust, though less than Headhunters. Plus the cover art is stunning! I’ll have to hunt down this record at some point.
Finally, I heard something a bit off my usual path — Ray Brown. He’s a great bassist, but I am confident enough in his abilities that my first offering from him was actually this Jazz Cello album. The description of Jazz Cello on this one is pretty much spot on for me: it’s somewhere in between its deeper cousin and a guitar. I was secretly hoping for more arco, owning to my love of European classical cello music, but this one’s interestingly pizzicato. Still a very nice album!
Some new things I’ve heard this week: Paul Chambers Bass On Top, Jack DeJohnette Golden Beams Collected Vol. 1, and Grace Kelly Times Too.
Bass on Top: This one is straight ahead. It’s a full rhythm section — Kenny Burrell on guitar, Hank Jones on piano, Art Taylor on drums, and of course Chambers on bass. Chambers was, among other things, Coltrane’s bassist especially during the notable A Love Supreme sessions, some of the greatest music ever performed. Bass on Top starts out with Paul Chambers al arco, which is always a treat to hear, but not for long. Thankfully he gets back into the swing of things for most of the rest of the album. It’s always a treat to hear Hank Jones. A very nice disc.
Golden Beams Collected Vol. 1. I admit that I’m a sucker for album art. Judge books/CDs/movies (but probably not people) by their covers! Anyway, DeJohnette was of course Miles Davis’ drummer for the Jack Johnson sessions, among others. A legend, and to his credit still doing it. However, I’m not sure how much I’m feeling this one.
Times Too. Grace is actually a Korean American teenager here in Boston, which is pretty cool. She seems to have her biggest fan base in other professional jazz musicians, probably because they all know what’s up. I’ve been wanting to check her music out for some time now, and I’m glad that I finally did. One very common gauge of musicianship is to hear what they do on standards, and Grace plays Monk’s Round About Midnight on the first disc of this set — at a level of amazing maturity. I dig it! Her voice is sweet, but it’s definitely young and will benefit from experience and a bit more polish, especially in her dynamic range and strength. It will be very interesting to see her career develop in the ever-tightening jazz world, however. Hopefully I’ll catch her live at Sculler’s sometime.
Alicia Keys‘ new album As I Am drops on Tuesday. I hope to get ahold of it soon enough, as I’ve been hooked on her like so many others whose history is so deeply rooted in the soulful goodness of the rhythm and blues of the 90s and before. She’s got some pipes, and the only thing more appealing than a beautiful female voice is one that’s classically trained at piano.
Her new album is supposedly a departure from her earlier work, but then again so was her second album, Diary of Alicia Keys (and her first live album, Unplugged). I’m sort of expecting the worst, as the straight ahead songs of her hot debut Songs in A Minor showcased her talents well, there was an attempt in Diary to tell stories that ended up making that album less enjoyable. According to the Allmusic.com review, it’s supposed to be soulful in the manner of John Legend, perhaps also reminiscent of Stax/Motown.
If this is the case, then I’m eagerly awaiting what she does with it.
Sonya Kitchell is a young artist but has one of the most mature voices I’ve heard in recent times. She’s quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary vocalists. It’s not quite jazz, but it retains some of the sensibilities of the great jazz females. A more fair (and albeit trite) comparison would be that with Joni Mitchell, whose tradition she faithfully continues, however unwittingly.
On her album Words Came Back To Me, she has a song called Jerry, whom I presume is her little brother, based on the hidden track starting somewhere in the 5th minute of the track. The song’s refrain refers to “my little brother,” and it’s one of the most honest songs I’ve heard in years. If you get a chance, pick up her album and give that hidden track a listen. Well worth it.