Thanks for sticking with me on this. If you are just checking out what the title means, I would direct you back to my first post, Jazz and the Sound of My Summer. Alright, now that everyone is caught up, I am going to talk a bit about the first four week’s selections and highlight a few choice picks. These aren’t reviews per say, as much as an exploration of my thoughts and maybe a few points of interest I learned along the way. At my core, I am still a rock baby, so the language of jazz is still at a fingertip reach, but I will do my best to try and describe the music as best I can without too many rock terms like, “blow your face off” or “kick ass.”
McCoy Tyner Trio – “Infinity”
McCoy Tyner was 17 the first time he played with Coltrane. I’m going to wait for that to sink in. In a rock and roll perspective, that’s like Neal Schon touring with Santana at age 15. A couple of years later, he is part of The John Coltrane Quartet. He spent five years with Coltrane before moving out on his own. According to his website, McCoyTyner.com, he’s recorded 80 records and won 4 Grammy’s.
Infinity was released in 1995 and won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance (Individual or Group). For my Thanksgiving Project, my listening only took me up through the early 70’s, so I had no previous experience with modern jazz. I asked my friend why he chose this record and his response was that he felt it represented a take on modern jazz from one of the greats from a different period. I am looking forward to digging in deeper to McCoy Tyner’s catalog so I can truly understand that statement, but as my first real introduction into modern jazz, it’s certainly an ass kicker (oh well…).
“Flying High” – As I mentioned before, the seed for this project started on a whim. A random request for someone to recommend a jazz record for me, so imaging knowing nothing about this artist, putting on my headphones, and having this song be your first exposure? Clocking in at just over 10 minutes, you have plenty of time to disappear in the song. It starts out slow and casually builds into a fury of musicianship, beginning about two minutes in with Michael Brecker’s tenor saxophone (he won a Grammy for his solo on another song off this record), followed by Tyner, then peaking with just about everyone contributing to a crescendo that will stop you in your tracks. It’s a roller coaster of sound. I was talking to a friend about this record and I described this song as being similar to Ricky Skagg’s, Get Up Joe, off of his Bluegrass Rules! record. Not for the similarity in sound, but the fact that both songs are splendid representations of the musicianship of the genre. They are both accessible, but also show off the authority with which the musicians present their craft. I didn’t make it to track two without another listen to track one.
“Happy Days” – One of the things I found surprising about this record, was the diversity of songs and styles throughout the record. There are hints of Dixieland jazz, smooth jazz, and even some that feel influenced by Rhythm and Blues, like this cut. It rollicks along, yet with a graceful undercurrent, grabbing you by the hand and pulling you into the groove. It’s the kind of song that requires a smile at the end, whether you know it or not.
Mike Stern – “Who Let the Cats Out?”
I was a bit nervous about this second pick. I have never been into guitar instrumental records of any kind. I certainly appreciated the musicianship, but I tend to lose interest quickly. I’ve always (incorrectly) associated guitar with rock and roll, and subsequently, with verbal verse and chorus. I am a lyric’s guy and I think that might have been one of my mental impediments into jazz over the years, though it feels worse with guitar driven. This may be my breakthrough records as far as all that goes. Mike Stern’s resume is all over the place, having played with Blood, Sweat, and Tears for a few years in the late 70’s, as well as with Miles Davis during the 80’s, before starting his solo career. The diversity shows in this record, at times invoking the spirit of blues and rock, while remaining decidedly jazz.
I have tested this several times and can tell you with utmost confidence that this is a fantastic record to have on during a BBQ, or any outdoor, leisurely activity. Give it a shot.
Editor’s Note: The YouTube links that I posted below for Mike Stern may or may not work. Apparently Mike Stern, his label, or some other curmudgeon, doesn’t want you to get turned on to his recordings without shilling out a penny or two. I should’ve known there was a reason behind not being able to find a video to share of the songs I wanted to highlight. Because I wanted you to hear them bad enough and with nothing but noble intentions, I quickly learned how to make a slide show (albeit one image) that included the song. I made a couple and uploaded them to YouTube. These video’s are the links below. Within two days, they pulled, I was cited for copyright violations – my first strike they said – and I had to attend the YouTube Copyright Class to get full privileges back. The record, while a bit hard to find, is definitely worth buying if you are interested. I fully understand what I did is copyright infringement, but I would like Mike or his associates to know that my intention was to bring his music out to more people, instead of languish in righteous obscurity. They are welcome to come by my house and check out my record collection if it helps them understand I am not part of the problem.
Sub-note: If the links work, that means some sort of magical interweb kernel was stored in my post, leaving the information for you to view. If so, please check them out and if you like the tracks, buy the record. That way, I can still stick it to them, while helping to support the artist. Unless they track it and give me strike two…
“Language” – There are a couple of tracks on this record which I refer to as the “mumble cuts.” It’s kind of hard to describe, but the include what appears to be a mix of mumbles and possibly a talk box. They are also started as two tracks that I was considering throw aways until the second or third listen. They have become two of my top tracks and this one might be in a slug match for my favorite, toe-to-toe with my second choice cut below.
“Roll With It” – With an infectious groove injected into the heart of this song, it showcases his musical diversity while still being decidedly jazz. One the things that stuck me about this record was how much interplay there is between him and the other musicians. It’s always felt like to me that guitar instrumental records are often only about the guitarists, but several songs on this record alternate lead sections similar to traditional jazz compositions. There is a lot of rhythm guitar in these songs and it’s just as solid as the leads. This song is a good example of it.
Al Di Meola – “Elegant Gypsy”
Week three kept the rolling with jazz guitar. This time with a heavy dose of fusion and electronics. Al Di Meola garnered a reputation in his early years for his technical ability and speed. What I found extremely interesting, was according to Wikipedia as well as substantiated by multiple listening sessions, he was a big influence on some of the 80’s hard rock and metal shred guitarists, including Yngwie Malmsteem. This is readily apparent in some of his solos and technical runs. They foreshadow the main aspect of a whole genre of music, entirely separate from jazz. It’s also interesting to hear Jan Hammer play keyboards on this record (think Miami Vice theme). Even though this record is from 1977, it brings forth a lot of sounds and styles that will start gaining momentum in the early 80’s, likely thanks to Jan’s prominence on this record.
Al Di Meola creates a patchwork of different sounds and styles through this record. Obviously jazz elements, but there is also a strong Latin influence and certainly a strong dose of rock and roll. The musicianship is fantastic, if not at times melodramatic, but for me it falls into the same class as a lot of guitar instrumental rock. I appreciate it, but I tend to lose interest at regular intervals, fading in and out of focus with the record.
That said, there are some great cuts on the record. Here are a couple.
“Lady of Rome, Sister of Brazil” – It’s unfortunate that this song comes in at under two minutes, because it balances technical playing with feeling, the lack of the latter being what turns me from most really technical, guitar focused records (including some of the other tracks on this album). The song is more of an introduction to, “Elegant Gypsy Suite,” which is certainly fine in its own right. I just offset the short song duration by playing it multiple times.
“Race With Devil On A Spanish Highway” – While also exemplary of the aspects of guitar instrumental records that I don’t like, this track also represents all the talent and technical ability that has made Al Di Meola a well-respected musician. Some of the technical guitar work in the song is jaw dropping. Listen to some of the guitar runs starting just after the 2:45 mark and you will know exactly where some of 80’s metal bands took their lessons.
Thelonious Monk – “Brilliant Corners”
I own a few Thelonious Monk records and he has been on my list to buy and explore more, so I was excited when Brilliant Corners was recommended. He is considered one of the greats, but it also seems that he has his fair share of detractors as well. I mentioned in my first post that Ornette Coleman was someone whose style took me a long time to come to terms with, the intermittent and percussive style of Thelonious Monk resonated with me immediately. Maybe it’s easier to digest when it’s piano, or maybe I subconsciously want to jump on the bandwagon, but I really appreciate the excitement that comes with listening to his compositions and interpretations.
Brilliant Corners was released in 1957 and is considered one of the crowning achievements in an incredible recording career. As I understand the story, the title track is so complex, it was still not finished after 25 tracks and two recording sessions. The band was at each other’s throats and it is only through the magic of studio work that they were able to splice together those takes and session to complete the track. Art.
“Pannonica (long)” – Named after Pannonica De Koenigswarter, a woman who devoted her life to jazz music and its musicians, this composition is as interesting as her story would become. It combines the joyful sound of the xylophone, pulled down by a wonderfully melancholy undercurrent of horn and piano. The saxophone work is phenomenal (there were two saxophonists, but the dominant style leads me to believe it’s Sonny Rollins) and it’s very easy to drift away while listening to this piece. They’d only known each other for a couple of years when this was release, but knowing what little I do about her life, Monk’s interpretation on this song captures everything perfectly. There is an interesting article on “Nica” from the guardian you should read, Hannah Rothschild on Nica: ‘I saw a woman who knew where she belonged’
“Bemsha Swing” – Covered by the multitudes, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, this song is nothing but a jubilant romp. Max Roach provides some classic jazz drumming, including an ultra-hip solo, Paul Chambers grooves along on bass, Sonny Rollins’ signature saxophone shines, and Thelonious Monk pounds and pauses throughout the 7 plus minutes of pure cool. Grab a strong one and turn it up. Eight minutes later you will understand why it’s considered a standard of jazz music.
Next post, we will talk about T.J. Kirk, Joey Alexander, John Coltrane, and Brad Mehldau. We also might be discussion why my YouTube account has been deleted and Mike Stern is suing me…
Roll well. Groove on.