Two weeks ago, the Hollywood Hills website asked me where I was on August 16, 1977 when I first heard that Elvis Presley had died. If you're unfamiliar with Hollywood Hills, it's devoted to radio, legendary disc jockeys and all things musical.
"Like most people, I thought at first the news was a prank. Then again, all of the major news events in New York City that summer were surreal. I was working at the New York Times as a college intern in August 1977. A month earlier the city had suffered a massive blackout that resulted in city-wide looting. On the last day of July, the so-called Son of Sam serial killer, who had been terrorizing the city for nearly a year, shot two 20-year-old lovers in a car parked in Queens. On August 10 he was caught by the police, reportedly motivated by a neighbor's barking dog.
"Six days later I was tearing newswire off of the Associated Press and United Press International ticker machines for the editors when I saw the bulletin: "ELVIS DEAD IN MEMPHIS." On a hot Wednesday morning, in the summer of '77, on the 10th floor of one of the country's most prominent newspapers, I had seen those fateful words first—before anyone else at the media giant knew. Just another traumatic event that took me minutes to fully absorb."
Kickstarter ads at JazzWax. Two Kickstarter projects that advertised at JazzWax in recent weeks raised enough money to meet their financial goals. Congratulations to vocalist JD Walter and documentary filmmaker Bret Primack!
Sonny and Cher. Husband-and-wife songwriting team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil sent along the following link to a clip from the TV movie And the Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story (1999). It's remarkable how much actress Renee Faia in the clip below looks like Cher in the clips below—despite not wearing the headphones that would be required for her to hear the overdubbed orchestration. Faia's Cher-ish facial nuances are spot on. [Photo above: the real Sonny and Cher]
The song, I Love How You Love Me, was written by Barry Mann and Larry Kolberg when they were staffwriters at Don Kirshner's Aldon Music in New York, and it remains one of the great pop-rock ballads. Here's the clip...
CD Discoveries of the Week. One of the most beautiful vocal albums of 1989 was Ranee Lee's Deep Song: A Tribute to Billie Holiday. Thankfully, this 17-year-old masterpiece has just been reissued by Justin Time Records. Lee is a Canadian singer who also is a songwriter, actress, children's book writer and instrumentalist. And she still found time to record 10 albums. As you will hear, Deep Song should be a model for anyone considering recording a jazz vocal album. This one is worth downloading just to hear the album's exquisite arrangements and Milt Hinton on bass. Sample When a Woman Loves a Man, What a Little Moonlight Can Do and Easy Livin'.
If you're an Ellington fan, you'll dig Ellington Saxophone Encounters (Capri). Five saxophones arranged by Mark Masters swing and solo through 12 lesser-known tunes by the Duke. The saxes are Gary Foster and Don Shelton (altos), Pete Christlieb and Gene Cipriano (tenor) and Gary Smulyan (baritone). The reed section is backed by Bill Cunliffe (piano), Tom Warrington (bass) and Joe LaBarbera (drums). This isn't another Supersax or Pres Conference approach to Ellington but a quintet that's expertly arranged to feature the flavor of Duke's writing. Sample The Line Up and Love's Away. Notes by Doug Ramsey.
Readers of this blog know how much I love the jazz harp. The instrument has a fluid personality, shifting easily from angelic hipster to swinging soloist with a guitar feel. Carol Robbins demonstrates the harp's many sides on Moraga (Jazzcats). Pianist Billy Childs and bassist Darek Oles are perfect foils, operating as support and decoys. What's more, most of the tracks are spirited originals, which are lyrical with classical touches. Sample the title track, Dolore and Rotadendron. Delicate chamber-jazz in a little black dress.
Like the blues, smart country music touches you whether you like it or not. It's impossible not to be won over by The Trishas' High, Wide & Handsome (Trishas Music). None of these four female singer-musicians are named Trisha. They merely decided to name themselves the Trishas after covering a Trisha Yearwood hit. They have a Fleetwood Mac-ian flavor, with a stronger emphasis on country-folk roots. Sample Mother of Invention, Liars & Fools and Rainin' Inside.
Electric bassist Marcus Miller breaks out the jazz-funk on Renaissance (Concord). Miller's rich Fender powers the 13-track album, touching on a wide range of music genres—from soul to Brazilian. There are covers of War's Slippin' Into Darkness and Berry Gordy's I'll Be There. The album is so tightly executed and elegantly framed that the result is an air-tight concept album meant to be heard from start to finish. Sample any of the tracks for a sense of this album's extraordinary unity and rubbery soul.
Brooklyn's Antibalas has mastered the Afrobeat sound—an intoxicating fusion of soul, funk and African rhythms. Think Tower of Power meets Peter Brown and the contemporary artists of Ghana. The 12-member group's latest is Antibalas (Daptone), and it's jammed with spring-loaded surprises—horns coming and going, a wandering Hammond, a wailing trombone, grabby beats, and so on. Sample the Ratcatcher, Him Belly No Go Sweet and Ari Degbe. A joyous stew all the way through.
Trombonist Bill Cantrall leads his hard bop group Axiom on Live at the Kitano (UpSwing), the New York club. Six of the seven tracks are Cantrall originals, which mix toughness and tenderness. Cantrall is joined by two particularly dynamic players—Stacy Dillard (tenor saxophone) and Rick Germanson (piano). Sample B.B.M, Like I Said and Cole Porter's After You. Liner notes by Ted Gioia.
If you dig Gil Evans, you're going to love the Mobtown Modern Big Band's Re-Write of Spring (Innova). The orchestra has reloaded Adoration of the Earth and The Sacrifice—both from Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. Like Evans, arranger Darryl Brenzel brings modern classical and jazz sensibilities to his orchestrations, with rising and falling moods and big band infusions. The album was recorded live at Baltimore's Metro Gallery in May 2010. Breathing fresh life into an already exciting work.
Oddball album cover of the week. There's something very Valley of the Dolls about this cover. Even though the art consists largely of those movie-theater almonds with candy coating, I can't help but hear Dionne Warwick singing the Previns' movie theme: Gotta get off, gonna get/Have to get off from this ride/Gotta get hold, gonna get/Need to get hold of my pride. Cha-cha-cha.