In today's Wall Street Journal, I interview chef and restaurateur Mario Batali for my "Playlist" column on his favorite song—John McLaughlin's Lotus Feet, from the guitarist's 1976 album Inner Worlds. Mario spent the mid-'70s in Madrid, when his dad, a Boeing executive, was transferred there (go here).
Yesterday, my "House Call" column for the paper's Mansion section (go here) was devoted to Ralph and Rose Solecki [above], husband-and-wife archaeologists who discovered Neanderthal remains in an Iraqi cave in the 1950s. [Photo above of Ralph and Rose Solecki by John Taggart for the Wall Street Journal]
Doug Ramsey [above], author and Rifftides host wrote glowingly about my book Why Jazz Happened (go here). "[Myers] is perceptive on the advent of bebop and on the relation of suburban spread to the burgeoning of jazz in Southern California." Thanks, Doug!
Addie Hamilton. I typically receive a few hundred emails daily—some from those pitching new artists. I always try to give new artists a quick listen because you never know. Last week, Eddie Park sent along a video of Addie Hamilton [above], a singer he's representing.
What I liked instantly about Addie was her sense of history, not to mention her talent. Clearly, she has done her Peggy Lee [above] homework and has updated the feel for indie times. Here's some personal information from the 17-year-old Orange, Calif. native:
"Growing up in a family of seven children exposed me to a smorgasbord of music. From each of my siblings I stole their favorite artists and evaluated their interpretations of music. At age 12, I began learning piano by ear, teaching myself simple chords that were later paired with sappy lyrics and melody.
"As I became fascinated with history, antiques and old cars, I started looking into musicians' specific eras and used their lyrics as a storybook. I love Peggy Lee, Son House, R.L Burnside, Dusty Springfield [pictured above] and Sly and the Family Stone. I'm also the disgustingly proud owner of a Peking duck and a 1950 Ford pickup truck."
With any luck Baubles, Bangles and Beads will be next. See what you think...
Montreal Jazz Festival. Couldn't make it to Canada for the music? Photographer Randy Cole did. Here are his images from the concert series. [Photo of bassist Jim Doxas above by Randy Cole]
Thunder Soul. WRTC-Hartford R&B radio host Chris Cowles alerted me to a new documentary coming this fall on the Kashmere High School Stage Band of Houston, Texas. Thunder Soul captures the reunion of this '70s high-octane funk band and what made the ensemble special. For more information, go here. Here's the video...
West Coast jazz. Radio host Jonathan Horwich sent along a link to his show on West Coast jazz. Listening to the tracks at your computer lets your spirit escape to the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, Calif. Go here, scroll down the left side to the "School of Jazz" link. Click and scroll back up. Choose show #219—it's in two parts. Looks like you can download it as well. [Photo above: Westcoasters Chet Baker and Art Pepper]
CD discoveries of the week. There's an exciting new jazz style emerging that weaves contemporary beats, samples and electronic and acoustic instruments into a single contemporary jazz statement. Enter RJ & the Assignment with their new album The Stroke of Midnight (JK Melody)—a perfect expression with elements of Kool and the Gang, Stevie Wonder, Roy Ayers, Doug Carn and Herbie Hancock. The Assignment is a sextet at its core, but there are quite a few guest artists listed, including a dynamic vocalist—Windy Kairigianes. Born in Chicago, pianist, composer and arranger RJ Keyz is based in Las Vegas (more here). If you know nothing about this new form of jazz and want a way in, this is your album. Listen to it while driving. It's enormously adventurous and creative music.
Last week I posted about guitarist Django Reinhardt. If you enjoyed the documentary I found on YouTube, you'll love how contemporary jazz artists interpret Reinhardt's music on Django Festival All-Stars 2012: Live at Birdland (Three's a Crowd). Produced masterfully by Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta, the album's Reinhardt celebration includes guitarist and violinist Dorado Schmitt, clarinetist Anat Cohen, accordionist Ludovic Beier and many other greats. Pure and tasteful all the way through, with just the right blend of sweet and power. What's more, the recording's fidelity is out of this world. Sample Nuages—the test of any Reinhardt tribute—and El Dorado. You'll be sobbing over your aperitif.
I'm guessing that when Frank Wess sleeps, he snores beautifully improvised melodies. Recording since 1946 when he was in Billy Eckstine's band, Wess has never given anything but his best on albums. His tenor sax loves a song's curves, and he knows how to re-invent any popular song with seductive new melodies. Always fluid and always warm in tone, Wess is especially at ease on Magic 101 (IPO), a collection of mid-tempo and slow-motion ballads. Wess breathes fresh life into each song, knowing when to leave space. He's joined by Kenny Barron (piano), Kenny Davis (bass) and Winard Harper (drums). Sample The Very Thought of You and his own Pretty Lady.
Booker T. Jones' Sound the Alarm (Stax) will likely come as surprise to fans of the Stax session keyboard player and co-writer of Green Onions. When I put on the album for the first time, I was waiting for his soul-funk organ and horns to kick in. Instead, the music has a more contemporary R&B collage feel—blending retro sounds, funk and trip-hop beats with Booker T's signature Hammond. What's especially fascinating is that Booker produced and wrote or co-wrote all of the tracks—a bold move. He also brought in modern soul mavens Mayer Hawthorne, Anthony Hamilton, Luke James and others. I found that the more I listened to the album, the more I realized Booker had moved on and I hadn't. Fortunately, it doesn't take long to catch up. Sample Feels Good and Father Son Blues.
Many tenor saxophonists try to channel Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Zoot Sims. Scott Hamilton pulls it off—without forfeiting his own personality. On Swedish Ballads & More (Stunt), Hamilton weaves through songs associated with the Scandinavian country and its rich jazz heritage. Recorded in Copenhagen, the album is a showcase for Hamilton and pianist Jan Lundgren, bassist Jesper Lundgaard and drummer Kristian Leth. Dear Old Stockholm and Stockholm Sweetnin' are here as are five songs by Swedish composers. Hamilton has never sounded so good—weaving up and down the instrument's register with a smokey attack—and Lundgren is one swinging collaborator.
Recording without a drummer is a pretty bold strategy. The feet miss the beat, which means the rhythm section has the extra burden of keeping time and filling out the gaps. On I Walk With Music (CD Baby), pianist Rossano Sportiello, saxophonist Harry Allen and bassist Joel Forbes take on 13 Hoagy Carmichael tunes without drums, and the result is commendable. At first you miss the beat-keeper but soon enough your ears clue into other elements—like Allen's knowing tenor and Sportiello's gentle and well-phrased piano style. Of particular note are the rarely heard Carmichael tunes Moon Country, One Morning in May and April in My Heart. Think of this CD as an Allen-Sportiello duet album, with Forbes as the heartbeat.
Like certain restaurant menu descriptions, some album titles don't do the music inside justice. Take Dyad Plays Puccini (Ringwood). I'm going to assume that Dyad here means the philosophical concept of "twoness." Now that half the audience is tuned out, let's torch the other half: "plays Puccini." Not exactly catnip for jazz fans. But this album featuring Lou Caimano on alto sax and Eric Olsen on piano actually works in a most delightful way. Whether you care for Puccini or not, this is a jazz album through and through, with operatic themes serving as the Great Italian Songbook. Both Caimano and Olsen are highly accomplished players and improvisers. Despite its title, this album is a treat.
Oddball album cover of the week.
Back when Columbia hoped to connect with young, with-it adults, the label launched its House Party series, which was code for "play this when you have guests over." Most albums catered to a range of moods. This one was clearly for the end of the evening, when the festivities were winding down. The days when women sat obediently and child-like at the feet of over-dressed, sofa-sitting men are long gone, thank goodness.