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The WILT Archive
Since I like to write, quite a few people have suggested I write a blog. But I’m not especially interested in writing about myself. I did enough of that in my book (A Cure For Gravity) and even that is as much about music as it is about me.
Writing about music is difficult, but I still find it interesting to try. So, once a month, I’m going to write a few words about a few things I’ve been listening to. It can’t hurt, and who knows, it might even do some good.
I feel another ‘Wilt’ with a soul-searching theme coming on, but not this month. Somehow the arrival of summer has brought a lot of distractions, like drinking mojitos.
GRANT GREEN: The Complete Quartets With Sonny Clark
This 2-CD set, which collects a lot of previously unreleased material, brings together three of the most important artists from the Blue Note label’s Golden Era of the mid-50s to mid-60s. Guitarist Grant Green, more recently a favourite of samplers and Acid Jazzers, made a string of eclectic but jazz-centred albums for Blue Note (Idle Moments and Born To Be Blue are standouts) before moving into a sometimes-great but inconsistent soul-funk phase and a sadly early death. Pianist Sonny Clark also died young. He might be better-known now if he hadn’t, but like too many of his contemporaries (though not Grant Green) he destroyed himself with drugs. Still, the relatively few recordings he left behind are great (check out Cool Struttin’). His playing was soulful, rhythmically supple, inventive and never ordinary.
The third giant figure here is drummer Art Blakey, on the first seven tracks of Disc 1. Louis Hayes plays beautifully on the rest, but what can I say, I’m just a sucker for Blakey’s power and charisma. I want to write more about Blakey some other time, but right now I’m hooked on this album’s 10-minute version of It Ain’t Necessarily So, on which Green plays one of his most inspired solos, chorus after chorus of steadily building intensity that you just don’t want to end. Clark’s solo ought really to come as an anticlimax, but he’s just as good, building a series of bluesy riffs with such a teasing, perfectly-lazy, behind-the-beat feel that you half-expect to hear him fall off the piano bench. Meanwhile Blakey, without doing anything loud, or fast, or flashy (except from some thunderous breaks towards the end) lays down a ferocious groove, which seems to get deeper and deeper as the track goes on. You expect ‘medium-tempo swing’ to be ‘relaxed’, but this is downright nasty. If you really listen, you feel, thanks to Rudy Van Gelder’s superb recording, that you’re right in the room with these guys, and that raspy voice you hear in the background – ‘Yeah!’ ‘Heh-heh!’ ‘Whooo!’ - is Blakey too, apparently having the time of his life. Maybe there were some good drugs around that day. Who cares - the important thing is that the tape was rolling.
THE HIVES: The Black And White Album
The Hives are touring this summer and their latest album is called Lex Hives. It’s good, but I like this, their previous one, better. It’s an album I like to play for a shot of pure adrenaline.
Now, you can call me prejudiced or bigoted or whatever, but I’ve always found Sweden to be a somewhat boring, over-polite kind of place. But maybe that’s exactly why it sometimes produces interesting music, or in this case, music which is anything but polite. Indeed, though it’s too polished to be called Punk, it is sometimes positively demented. The singer, for instance, is called Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist and sounds like the kind of singer who eats microphones, breaks microphone stands over peoples’ heads, and starts sprouting hair on the palms of his hands when the moon is full.
The Hives aren’t boring, either, though they can be a bit formulaic. Still, it’s a good, rabble-rousing formula, whose art consists in things like the drummer knowing just when to switch to pounding 8th-notes on the tom toms, the bassist knowing just when to drop out for 8 bars, or the guitarists knowing just when to bring that really cool riff back in. The songs are also just smart and catchy enough not to descend into the moronic. Not that there’s anything wrong with being moronic. Or Swedish.
SEÑOR COCONUT: Yellow Fever
If you’re not an aficionado of Señor Coconut, you might nevertheless remember hearing, some years ago, some twisted versions of Kraftwerk songs set to latin beats. That was him.
El Señor is actually a German DJ/producer by the name of Uwe Schmidt, who, the last I heard, was living in Santiago, Chile. His Kraftwerk project may have been a joke, but I found it a good one. (All the more so since Ralf Hütter, at this point the only original member of Kraftwerk, was apparently not amused). Some of Schmidt’s other jokes haven’t been quite so funny (a cha-cha version of Smoke On The Water, anyone?) but Yellow Fever is on another level. Working with less familiar material – all by the legendary Japanese band Yellow Magic Orchestra – he’s been able to create something quite a bit more original. I know some of YMO’s music from the days when we were label-mates on A&M Records; I know it enough, anyway, to see that it’s been transformed here in some very clever ways.
Though the general vibe of this album is tongue-in-cheek and sometimes downright silly, I think it’s something of a masterpiece. It’s great fun but also intelligent, superbly crafted, rhythmically and sonically ingenious (for instance the blend of live and sampled latin percussion, and the wacky sound-collages that link some of the tracks) and it never gets boring for a second. That’s more than can be said for a lot of more earnest and worthy efforts by more serious and important people.
To be honest, I’ve never liked the idea that art must be very serious in order to be good, or in order to be taken seriously. There are plenty of jokes in Shakespeare, and one of the most perfect and inspired live performances I’ve ever seen was a stand-up comedy set by Eddie Izzard. If that’s not art, I don’t know what is.
Regardless of how any of that applies to Señor Coconut, his music goes very well with the following:
Most people start a mojito by crushing lime, sugar and mint together, which is OK, but often you end up with the sugar settling on the bottom of the glass while you suck little bits of mint through your straw. A good alternative is to use mint-infused sugar syrup, which is easy to make. Throw any equal amount of sugar and water in a pan – a cup of each, say – and boil for a few minutes until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and immerse a good amount of mint in the syrup – a whole bunch, if you like. By the time the syrup is cold, it will be mint-flavoured, and you can decant it into an empty bottle or receptacle of your choice.
To make the drink, combine, in a tumbler, 1 oz. of syrup, the juice of half a lime, 3 oz. of rum (preferably 3-year-old Havana Club) and a splash of soda. Top up with crushed ice, and if you want to make it look more festive, you can chuck in lime slices and/or mint leaves and garnish with a sprig of mint.