Category Archives: Jazz

“The Radio Tower Has a Beating Heart”

thebadplus_neverstop_jk
The Bad Plus
Never Stop, 2010

What the hell do they do to those drums? For my money, whoever is mic’ing/engineering The Bad Plus is pulling down the most unique drum sounds in modern music: snares that sound encased in plastic, thundering floor toms, cymbals that get right between your ears. It doesn’t hurt that David King is one of the best working today, summoning emotions minute and grand with the exact touch required. His sound is perfectly suited to The Bad Plus’ avant-garde, pazz & jop tendencies. It’s a thrill to hear music this forward-thinking from a traditional piano-trio lineup.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20The%20Radio%20Tower%20Has%20a%20Beating%20Heart.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife are Some Jive Ass Slippers”

mingus
Charles Mingus
Let My Children Hear Music, 1972

Mingus said Let My Children Hear Music was his best album, and the guy was a beast so I’m not gonna argue. “The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife are Some Jive Ass Slippers” kicks things off and fittingly, it’s a masterpiece of complexity that flits from Ellington-esque big band to free jazz and back. His ability to wrangle an orchestra into the shapes and sounds he required is truly stunning; this is both a first-class composition and a first-class recording. The first time I heard it, I realized I’d never heard anything else like it — the highest compliment I can pay from my meager blog perch.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20The%20Shoes%20of%20the%20Fisherman’s%20Wife%20Are%20Some%20Jive%20Ass%20Slippers.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Alice”

tom waits - alice
Tom Waits
Alice, 2002

Tom Waits’ songs, as the man himself has identified, typically fall into one of three buckets — they’re either “bawlers,” “brawlers” or “bastards.” This adherence to form, this tacit nod to tradition, a willingness to identify one’s debt to and position in the Great American Songbook, is how we know Tom Waits, like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen before him, belongs in the canon. Or something. What I know is that “Alice,” a bawler if ever there was one, is a damn fine song. Ostensibly an outline of Lewis Carroll’s obsession with a certain young woman in Wonderland, the song skates the same thin ice as its narrator: knife-edged jazz ballad, tender pedophillic paen, suicidal mash note. So compelling it makes you feel for a guy who knows he’s being a creep. Just like Gershwin, right? Right? Wait, why are you making that face?

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Alice.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Hands”

200px-Four_Tet_-_Rounds
Four Tet
Rounds, 2003

“Hands” is the sound of Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, playing to his strengths as a composer and found-sound stylist. Building up from a child’s heartbeat to blurry, chopped cymbals and simple piano, this quiet song surprises with its capacity to hold our attention. Eventually a direct drumbeat enters, the perfect foil. And while I’m sure the process of locating and shaping these sounds was anything but, the end components are fairly simple and easy to identify. Naturally occurring, organic sounds that have been electronically manipulated; a robot approximation of free jazz, as conceived by someone who’s never actually heard the music before. I can’t say I like everything Hebden puts his name on, but when he’s on he’s on.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Hands.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Where Pathways Meet”

sun ra
Sun Ra
Lanquidity, 1978

Something different then, for a Friday. There’s just no easy way into the Sun Ra catalog, no matter how you slice it; the legendary keyboardist recorded over 100 albums between 1956 and 1993. More than any other jazz performer or composer – even Miles Davis – his body of work engages the entire history of the genre, including works for big-band orchestra, solo piano, bebop and a much-lauded free jazz period. It’s intimidating but you’ve got to start somewhere, and Lanquidity is as good a place as any. Though rooted in the avant-garde spirit of his earlier work, it also brushes up against the popular funk and R&B of its era. “Where Pathways Meet” is the album’s most up-tempo cut, with a steady rhythmic bed like a spoonful of sugar for first-time listeners.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/02%20Where%20Pathways%20Meet.mp3 ]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Iambic 9 Poetry”

Squarepusher_-_Ultravisitor
Squarepusher
Ultravisitor, 2004

Who or what exactly is Squarepusher? After 20 years, the question is more open now than ever. The UK’s Tom Jenkinson first stood apart from his ‘90s IDM peers by virtue of musicianship – he didn’t just program acid-house drum breaks, he played them live. That skillset leaves Jenkinson a lot of rope at times, but also allows for moments like “Iambic 9 Poetry,” a track I’d file under “truly sublime.” Keep in mind that everything you’re hearing here – drums, bass, keys and whatever else – is being played by the same guy, essentially jamming with and against himself. The end result is a musical masterclass in building and sustaining mood.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Iambic%209%20Poetry%201.mp3 ]

iTunes/Amazon

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“SWING IT LOW”

morphine

Morphine
Like Swimming, 1997

Occupying a space opposite most of Morphine’s musical output, “Swing It Low” feels like the dream at the end of the party. Over an insistent, flanged-out shaker loop, delicate guitar, ambient hum and tablas – and sans the group’s signature “low-rock” bass/sax combo – vocalist Mark Sandman looks forward to brighter times. “I got buttons burstin’ in the air/Ideas, runnin’ fingers through my hair/My shoes, they’re ready to move.” It’s a rare optimistic missive from a musician not generally remembered for them.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/12%20Swing%20It%20Low.mp3 ]

Amazon

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