Has Western culture reached a darkness breakpoint? Ever since 9/11 and the real-time televised unfolding of Armageddon, growing percentages of the arts both here and in the U.K. seem to be heavy on the Satan. Even Julie Newmar, the original Catwoman on TV's Batman series, wondered last week why today's Batman movies have to be so humorless and frightening.
This bleak artistic vision isn't just permeating the movies. The netherworld seems to have taken over contemporary music and theatrical extravaganzas, too. In fact, we have become so accustomed to a cultural diet of nightmares and horror, we're less likely to have the patience for beauty, poetry and even silence.
Even the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in London was rife with skin-crawling characters and frightening imagery. Fresh off Aurora, Colo., I was creeped out by it all, and I'm still unsure why so many young English kids had to be a subjected to some adult's twisted idea of a good time.
I'm all for the deep recesses of our unconscious minds and the dark fantasies that lurk there. Such forces have been behind some of our greatest artistic works. But today, such stuff dominates. There are fewer alternatives and no relief.
My guess is that the generation coming up now will demand more positive cultural themes. Why? Most skip the movies and couldn't care less about TV or the news. Maybe they've come to realize that those things are today's cigarettes—stuff that's actually bad for you and your spirit and should be avoided at all costs.
Jon Hendricks. Photographer Paul Slaughter took the fabulous photo above of singer Jon Hendricks in July at the New Mexico Jazz Festival in Santa Fe, at the Lensic Theater. It's easily one of the finest photos of Jon in recent memory, don't you think?
Japanese bossa nova. Last week, Larry Appelbaum, senior music reference librarian and jazz specialist in the music division of the Library of Congress, sent along a lovely note of appreciation about my post on Japanese bossa nova...
"I enjoyed the clips of the Japanese bossa nova singers of the 60s on JazzWax. I think the singer you couldn't identify is Kumi Kaori. I'm pretty sure the song is Kamiga yureteiru. You can see her in this clip. It's from this film."
Giacomo Gates. The singer and swinger was recently on tour in Russia. Here he takes on Lady Be Good, with Disappointed thrown in for good measure...
Stan Kenton at the Steel Pier. Reader Ed Frank reminded me that I inadvertently tortured fans of Stan Kenton last week when I put up the following image but failed to name faces. So here are all the musicians in this fabulous photo of the Kenton Orchestra at Atlantic City's Steel Pier in 1953...
Standing: Kenton, Stan Levey, Conte Candoli, Buddy Childers, George Roberts, Maynard Ferguson, Don Dennis, Sal Salvador, Bob Gioga. Sitting: Ruben McFall, Don Bagley, Dick Meldonian, Bill Holman, Bill Russo, Frank Rosolino, Bob Burgess, Lee Elliot, Keith Moon, Vinnie Dean.
Kenton in Ireland. Reader Brian Hope sent along the following from Ireland in wake of my post last week on Bill Holman and Don Bagley...
"The band that Bill is talking about was essentially the band I saw and heard in Dublin in 1953 when thousands of us travelled in special trains and boats from the U.K. to the venue in Dublin. You used the word 'ferocious' about that band. Yes, as far as we were concerned, we wanted 'The Wall of Sound' and gosh did we get it. Absolutely wonderful and I've never forogtten it.
"Bill's playing and arranging were a revelation then and now, and a delight. Kenton Showcase: The Music of Bill Holman was the first 12" LP we had seen in the U.K. when it was issued, and I still have the original. Lee Konitz was another revelation. We'd previously thought him to be too cool, but we loved him in Kenton's band. To me he was perfect. That individual sound of his contrasted with the brass colours was, and is a delight.
"I've always wanted to know how he felt about being a part of it, such a total contrast. I often hear music in colour, and he was gold against purple to me and remains quite wonderful. We have so much pleasure to thank all these guys for.
"Perhaps it should be remembered that we were in our early twenties at the time—before teenagers existed—in a time of continuing hardship following World War II, and it was part of our revolution—critical faculties were suspended and sheer walls of sound were what we loved."
CD discoveries of the week. Guitarist Toronzo Cannon was born in 1968, but this Chicago bluesman sounds like he's been hanging around a lot of old-time electric-blues travelers. On Leaving Mood (Delmark), Cannon sings and wails away on mostly relationship originals. If you like your blues with powerful doses of rock and soul, you'll dig this nouveau blues album. What's more, there's plenty for the ear—there's a funky electric bass in here along with a Fender Rhodes, organ and blues harp. Sample Chico's Song and She's Too Much. Guitarist Carl Weathersby joins in on two tracks. Rocking blues played and sung with engine-like conviction.
Tenor saxophonist Michael Pedicin's Live @ the Loft (Jazz Hut) will restore your faith in jazz artists who continue to keep the faith in a big way. On this album, Pedicin plays big and strong on every track, adding a sureness and melodic flair that's sadly missing today. And he knows his Dexter Gordon—the giant's gritty cockiness runs through and through here. Dig Theme for Ernie, Like Sonny and Africa. Pedicin's quartet also is terrific: Johnnie Valentino (guitar), Jim Ridl (piano), Andy Lalasis (bass) and Bob Shomo (drums). A nervy saxophonist who has the stuff to pull off these covers and more.
Wow, a new bossa nova album that sounds like an old one. Mauricio Pessoa's Habitat (BMG/Sony) features the acoustic guitarist singing passionately in Portuguese while smart, surfy arrangements frame him beautifully. Pessoa is a Brazilian-born New Yorker who is classically trained. And all of it shows. Many Brazilian albums today are too rhythm-heavy, excessively taunting or American Songbook-centric (I know, what's the point?). Pessoa, by contrast, is seductive, folk-sensitive and has a fine ear for the ingredients that make all those great bossa nova albums in your collection special. And yet he sounds like an original bossa artist. Even more surprising is that all of these sensual songs are by Pessoa. Sample Prisma, Tulipa Turca and Linda. The spirit of Johnny Alf lives.
Contemporary gospel-soul is a tough category today, since most entries wind up as preachy rap or pure church plays. Two sisters—Erica and Tina Campbell—are changing all that. The adult siblings go by Mary Mary and have released Go Get It (Sony), a rousing, voice-rich album with a groove. Sample the title track, Walking and Sunday Morning. Gospel meets scratching, soul moods and the big beat.
Terry Knight never seemed to catch a break. He's probably best known for forming, managing and producing Grand Funk Railroad. And sadly, he was killed by his daughter's boyfriend in 2004 at age 61 in the heat of an argument. But back in the mid-1960s, Terry Knight and the Pack recorded two interesting albums that tried to merge harmony-folk (think Mamas and the Papas and John Sebastian) with British Invasion (think Zombies). The two forgotten garage-band albums have been reissued as Terry Knight and the Pack and Reflections (Real Gone/ABKCO). This is period music, when the tambourine was a solo instrument and the 12-string guitar gave folk some energy. Dig What's On Your Mind, Where Do You Go, I've Been Told and I (Who Have Nothing). A flashback.
Oddball album cover of the week. Wow, throw me a bone here. Who in the world came up with this one? And on a drafting table no less! I'm sorry to do this to you, but all I keeping hearing from the jaws of our skinny friend are lines like, "I'm hip" and "Give me skin, man."