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The WILT Archive

What I'm Listening tO

        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.

May 2016: Two Jazzers and a Rocker

I like all kinds of music, but I always come back to jazz at some point, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Some of my best friends hate jazz (or think they do). One even swears that if he could get his hands on an Uzi, he would take out as many 'jazzers' as possible. If you're of that persuasion, you might want to scroll down to the bottom of this month's exciting episode.



CANNONBALL ADDERLEY: Somethin' Else /  Them Dirty Blues / Live At The Lighthouse


Adderley is one saxophonist I never get tired of. He was certainly not the only one to follow in the footsteps of Charlie Parker, or to have, like Parker, the virtuosity to produce dazzling improvisations at breakneck speed. But his playing also has a warmth, a soulfulness, and a feeling of pure joy, which are harder to come by. He was also one of those relatively rare jazz musicians who had the charisma to draw in people who weren't normally all that interested in jazz - something which has, perversely, caused him not to be taken entirely seriously by some jazz purists. Well, just for the record, I'm not a purist about anything. Except maybe a properly-made martini.


People sometimes forget that most of Cannonball's work was done with his brother Nat on trumpet or cornet. They were really a double-act, but there's something about human nature which always tends to exaggerate the distance between the really good and the extraordinary, and Nat, a fine player, has never really gotten his due. This reminds me a bit of the Gershwin brothers – any time someone says 'Gershwin', you know they mean George, who was a larger-than-life genius, while Ira was merely one of the greatest lyricists of all time. This in turn reminds me of an experience from my distant youth - I might have still been a teenager. I met a girl in a pub who I found quite attractive, and I couldn't understand why she seemed so lacking in confidence, and so convinced that people didn't like her. A little while later, her sister joined us, and it all made sense. The sister was ravishingly, ridiculously, beautiful. The moral of the story being, I guess, that the sooner you figure out that life isn't supposed to be fair, the better.


The three Adderley albums listed above are my favourites, and it just so happens that I've listened to all of them in the last month. Somethin' Else, from 1958, was Cannonball's only album for Blue Note, and it's a classic, with Nat stepping aside for Miles Davis, in the role of co-leader and young-talent-promoter. The version of Autumn Leaves is extraordinary, turning a potentially maudlin ballad into something mysteriously beautiful, and the contrast between Cannonball's exuberance and Miles's spooky minimalism is thrilling; the following year, that contrast would become a key ingredient of the biggest-selling jazz album of all time, Miles's Kind Of Blue. (Some critics have seen Adderley as the 'odd one out' on that album, as though Miles made an error of judgment. I think he knew exactly what he was doing).


The other two albums are later ones by the brothers with their own group, gradually pushing towards a funkier, soul-jazz idiom. Them Dirty Blues features the great Bobby Timmons on piano and one of his signature gospel-inflected compositions, Dat Dere, as well as Brother Nat's best-known opus, Work Song. Lighthouse, on the other hand, has a tremendous live atmosphere (boy, do I wish I could have been at that gig), some truly inspired blowing, and Cannonball's classic Sack O'Woe. The amazingly funky and self-assured pianist is a young Englishman by the name of Victor Feldman, who also played vibes and in later years worked with Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, and Steely Dan.



MAL WALDRON: Soul Eyes – The Mal Waldron Memorial Album


Speaking of the Merely Really Good . . . a passing reference to Mal Waldron in last month's WILT prompted me to dig out this collection of some of his best work as both pianist and composer, some as leader, and some as sideman with people like Charles Mingus and John Coltrane. It's hard to find a comparison for Waldron; the closest I can come is Thelonious Monk, though where Monk is flamboyantly weird, Waldron is quirky, subtle and sly. 


Waldron's Soul Eyes is probably his best-known composition, a drop-dead-gorgeous ballad which should really be considered a Standard. Like many jazz tunes which rise above the ordinary, it has chord changes which are highly unusual, but so logical that they don't seem so. The version here is very long, features Coltrane on tenor and Kenny Burrell on guitar, and is (characteristically for Waldron) roughly beautiful, without a hint of sentimentality. 


This is a generous compilation, well over an hour, and I'm not going to get too much more into individual tracks. But it's a real feast, with some stellar players (let's hear it for Jackie McLean on Potpourri and Gene Ammons on Light 'N Up) and many intriguing musical nooks and crannies to repay repeated attention. If you like that sort of thing.


And now, without further ado . . .



IGGY POP: Post Pop Depression


I first met Jim Osterberg AKA Iggy Pop way back in the early 80s, and he struck me as a much smarter, and nicer, guy than most people probably imagine. Many years later, for my album The Duke, we recorded a duet version of It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing), which was a huge hit. What I mean is that I'm sure it must have been a huge hit in some other dimension somewhere. Whatever, I've always rooted for Iggy, but I somehow never imagined him delivering an album as good as this in 2016. 


Post Pop Depression does sound depressed at times – for one thing, the mix is (to my ears) sometimes murky, with not enough vocal, and follows the current fashion of sounding like most of the band is playing in a studio while the drummer is playing in a dungeon underneath it. (That's actually a great image – chains leading from his wrists to the dripping stone walls, rats gnawing at his bass drum pedal, skeletons of old drummers who got left behind after sessions, etc.) After a couple of listens, though, I've decided I like it. It has character. It's not your usual bright and shiny iTunes-ready American Idol crap. And, of course, a certain lugubriousness goes with the territory whenever Iggy starts to sing. He used to sound like a young guy with a world-weary act, and now he sounds – well, world-weary, though at times he can also sound like a slightly deranged punk-rocker a third of his age. 


It's certainly not all doom and gloom, though. There are surprisingly touching, even pretty moments (like the wistful extended coda of Sunday) and some of the songs are pretty damn catchy (I can't get Gardenia out of my head). Paraguay contains a magnificent fuck-all-of-you rant, which reminds me of what a great vehicle rock'n'roll can be for anger - by which I mean not just teenage tantrums, but a pure, burning defiance of all the bullshit and phoneyness of this world. 


On top of which, there are poignant echoes here and there of Iggy's work with Bowie in Berlin. I could swear I can even hear David singing along in the background on a couple of tracks. Maybe, in some other dimension somewhere, he is.