In pursuit of jazz

[John Coltrane - Blue Train]

It’s not often things I do for my music projects seep here to the blog, but over the summer I decided to start educating myself in jazz.

A number of my classmates in the music theory classes I’ve been taking at the University of Washington are majors in the jazz program. They know the literature of the genre the same way I know my classical music history.

The music has always felt a bit like voodoo to me. I dug my training in classical voice leading, but the harmonic language of jazz eluded me.

So I approached it the way I did classical music 30 years ago — learn about the theory and listen to as many recordings as possible.

It’s a lot easier now. I plugged the phrase “best jazz albums” into Google and sought the results on the streaming services. I also dusted off a pair of books on jazz theory I purchased years ago with a similar intent.

By contrast, I depended on Pulse! magazine and a textbook from a music appreciation class my dad took at a community college to get started with classical music. Even when I had Internet access in the early ’90s, it was limited to USENET.

I’m not at a point where I can improvise, but I do understand the ii-V-I progression, and more importantly, modal harmonies.

I’ve also bought a bunch of albums.

So what I have taken away from this summer’s experience?

My favorite era of jazz so far is hard bop

I’m sure I’ll learn to appreciate be-bop at some point, and maybe I’ll disentangle my old Hiroshima albums from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. But for now, I like the soulfulness of hard bop.

I hummed Blue Train for days after first encountering it, and I’m particularly fond of Canonball Adderly’s Somethin’ Else and Art Blakey’s Moanin’.

I do not yet grok Thelonious Monk

I started with Brilliant Corners, and it didn’t grab me. So I moved on to Bill Evans instead. While I haven’t internalized the three Evans albums I’ve acquired, I do like his impressionistic voicings.

McCoy Tyner is another pianist I want to explore. I remember encountering Song for My Lady back in the late ’80s when my brother and I went to Jelly’s Comics and Music. His immediate reaction was disgust, which is why I still remember Tyner to this day.

Holy shit, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady

I really dug Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um, but then I streamed The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady and had my come to Jesus moment with Mingus. I’m hesitant to explore anything else because I don’t want to spoil the one-two punch of Ah Um and Black Saint.

I’m waiting on Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman

All these years listening to John Zorn, Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz without proper context makes me think I should ground myself a bit more into history before I explore the genre’s edges.

I have no idea why I’m ambivalent to Miles Davis

I like Kind of Blue, but I haven’t developed the gumption to tackle the copy of Bitches Brew I got from Lifelong Thrift Store for $1. I think maybe I’m still under the spell of Coltrane.

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Looking ahead: November-December 2017

[Shiina Ringo - Gyakuyunyu ~Kuukoukyoku~]

December is usually a month when the release calendar winds down but not this year.

Miguel, War and Leisure, Dec. 1

I heard snippets of Miguel’s first two albums, and they we’re terribly striking. Then he released Wildheart, and upped his game.

Cocco, 20 Shuunen Kinen Special Live at Nihon Budokan -Ichi no Kan, Ni no Kan-, Dec. 1

Cocco has released a number of live DVDs, but this two-night concert is her first live album.

Shiina Ringo, Gakuyunyuu ~Koukuukyoku~, Dec. 6

Shiina Ringo offers a second self-cover album which finally includes “Shoujo Robot”.

Kicell, The Blue Hour, Dec. 6

I haven’t followed Kicell in years.

Vinyl

Idlewild, Hope Is Important, Dec. 1
Idlewild, 100 Broken Windows, Dec. 1

I picked up a number of Idlewild albums from Lifelong Thrift Shop and discovered Hope Is Important is the Scottish band’s roughest — and quite frankly most interesting — album. It gets reissued on vinyl along with the masterwork, 100 Broken Windows.

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Vinyl find: Loretta Lynn, Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)

[Loretta Lynn - Don't Come a Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind]

I traveled to Nashville in August for a conference, and the city’s reputation as a music center made me think I would sink a lot of cash shopping for records.

That was not the case.

I did, however, come away with a battered copy of Don’t Come a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind) by Loretta Lynn.

Every cable channel music documentary that features Lynn always mention two songs — “The Pill” and the title track of Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’. Both songs got Lynn in hot water with the tender sensibilities of country radio.

It’s actually not the most confrontational track on the album.

That would go to “I Got Caught” — a bouncy, scathing tune about infidelity that also comments on gender inequality. That is, men can get away with cheating, but women cannot.

Most of my country music collection consists of Emmylou Harris albums, and she was the first artist to sink a lot of cash into making quality-sounding records.

Lynn, by contrast, cut her teeth in an era when artists recorded an entire album of material in three days. The speed at which she tosses out one broken-hearted ditty after another is breathtaking.

Throughout the album, she’s a wronged woman, but she explores the spectrum of the broken heart experience — pity, rage, acceptance, even liberation. On “The Shoe Goes on the Other Foot Tonight”, Lynn wonders if “two wrongs can make a right.”

With no track exceeding three minutes, there’s an almost punk rock sensibility to Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’. Lynn makes her point right quick — you’re no good, I’m sad, but I will prevail.

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My brother’s album: Phil Collins, No Jacket Required

[Phil Collins - No Jacket Required]

My brother picked up No Jacket Required by Phil Collins right around “Sussudio” was storming up the charts. When he played the album on the stereo, it was apparent he struck gold. For a while, I was a bit jealous.

Then radio ruined everything.

Subsequent singles from the album — “Don’t Lose My Number”, “Take Me Home” — would get played to death on every station.

When No Jacket Required had run its course, I never wanted to hear anything from Collins again. I think even my brother was put off by the overexposure.

Oddly enough, I had something of a crush on Collins. I’m not sure what triggered it, because he was no Sting or Huey Lewis. Even today, it puzzles me.

I spotted a vinyl copy of No Jacket Required selling for $1 at Lifelong Thrift Store, and 30+ years seemed like a good enough temporal distance to re-examine the album’s initial appeal.

The bona fides of the singles are very well established. What gives an album merit are the non-single tracks — do they stand up well against the radio hits? In the case of No Jacket Required, they do.

That’s why it seemed my brother lucked out buying this album — any of the other tracks on the album could have been the next “One More Night” or “Sussudio”. Sting’s backing vocal on “Long Long Way to Go” complements Collins nicely, and it could have been quite the radio coup.

The heavy-handed ’80s production dates the album like crazy, but abstracted from its sonic veneer, No Jacket Required really is a good album. And it would have been better if radio didn’t go overboard.

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Vinyl find: 24-7 Spyz, Harder Than You

[24-Spyz - Harder Than You]

When I spotted a vinyl copy of Harder Than You in the bargain bin at Jive Time Records, it had been close to 30 years since I first heard of 24-7 Spyz.

Living Colour was all over the radio with “Cult of Personality”, but the music press pointed out Vernon Reid and company weren’t the only rock band with black guys around. Fishbone would release its second album, Truth and Soul, that year as well. Bad Brains had been around since the start of the decade.

24-7 Spyz tapped into the same creative vein as Living Colour — brutal guitars, funk bass lines and punctuating drums. In some ways, Harder Than You and Vivid are nearly interchangeable. Each album even includes a cover, although the Spyz driving cover of Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” is truly transformative.

Harder Than You, lacking the commercial polish Ed Stasium gives Vivid, comes across rawer and, well, harder.

I remember Pulse! magazine plugging the hell out of this album with prominent advertising, glowing reviews and more than a few blurbs about the band. I don’t remember seeing the album itself in my local Tower stores, however. Its release on an independent label just about guaranteed it wouldn’t reach Honolulu.

24-7 Spyz would eventually sign to a major label, by which time the line-up that produced Harder Than You had changed. The work from this brief era can be found on streaming services, but the band’s early output remains offline.

If you find this album in the used bin, pick it up.

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Reconsidering the year in music 1992

[Wayne Horvitz/The President - Miracle Mile]

Back in 2008, I wrote a series of entries detailing my favorite albums from various decades. For the longest time, I held an incredibly dim view of 1992. Compared the years preceding and following, 1992 felt like a creative malaise had spread throughout the music industry.

Bands that used to be underground found themselves to be popular, and under this newfound, wide-scale scrutiny, some of them cracked.

Or so I thought.

I had only turned 20 years old, an age when the dopamine hit from discovering new music left a neophyte intoxicated. I wanted every album to matter, and the ones that didn’t received a harsh judgment.

Twenty-five years later, I’ve got more of an education on where 1992 fit in the larger scheme of things, and of course, I got it wrong. This old entry details all the ways I got it wrong. So let’s make it right.

Here’s a revised list of the Favorite Edition 1992.

  1. Wayne Horvitz/The President, Miracle Mile
  2. Máire Brennan, Máire
  3. Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 3 (Dawn Upshaw, David Zinman, London Sinfonietta)
  4. k.d. lang, Ingenue
  5. Sade, Love Deluxe
  6. En Vogue, Funky Divas
  7. Prince and the New Power Generation, 0(+> (Love Symbol Album)
  8. Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers, At the Ryman
  9. Kronos Quartet, Pieces of Africa
  10. Robin Holcomb, Rockabye

Honorable mention

  • The Sugarcubes, Stick Around for Joy
  • Faith No More, Angel Dust
  • Sonic Youth, Dirty

The original list stopped at five items, with a longer list of albums accompanied by explanations for why they weren’t favorites. In some cases, I’ve completely changed my mind.

At the time, Love Deluxe was such a drastic turn for Sade that I thought something went wrong. It would take another 18 years for Love Deluxe to reveal itself as the start of a new creative era, one marked by extreme pauses between albums. This early ’90s album shares more with its successors in 2000 and 2010 than it did with 1988’s Stronger than Pride.

I also got a chance to revisit Ingenue after the entry was written, and it’s place on the favorite list is well anchored.

Other albums would not have appeared on the list at the time it was written. Prince was unexplored territory for me in 2008, so I wouldn’t have even thought to include the Love Symbol album. En Vogue wouldn’t have gotten past my raging rock snobbery.

The rest of the albums on the list could have only been included after much research. Dirty makes a lot more sense if a Sonic Youth novice also considers Sister and EVOLAt the Ryman would not make sense to someone who’s only exposure to Emmylou Harris was Wrecking Ball.

I’ve even had a change of heart regarding Faith No More and R.E.M.

So it turns out 1992 wasn’t as bad as I remembered. It just took 25 years to reach that realization.

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The ones that nearly got away: Spice Girls, Spice

[Spice Girls - Spice]

It was the start of the century, and I volunteered to work behind the scenes at the Austin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Crowd control during screenings meant a lot of standing around, waiting for something to happen. Another volunteer with incredibly fashionable shoes started singing a vaguely familiar pop song.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“Spice Girls!” he answered, aghast someone who would identify as gay would not know something so basic.

Unbeknownst to him, I had been familiar with Spice Girls at one point.

You couldn’t go to a gay bar without hearing the quintet’s latest single. I had enough gumption to buy the album that didn’t have Geri Halliwell. And yeah, I owned Spice and Spiceworld.

They were casualties of a collection purge after the dot-com bust, and my tenure at Waterloo Records inflamed my rock snobbery. Spice Girls had been washed from my memory.

But like Sugababes’ “Overload”, “Say You’ll Be There” is one of those ear confections that don’t wear out. I could happily never encounter “Wannabe” for the rest of my life but not so with “Say You’ll Be There.”

At the same time, I wasn’t about to drop any more than $1 to bring the album back into my collection. (Thank you, thrift stores!)

Spice is certainly a relic of the late ’90s, but it ages pretty well. The quintet’s girl-power mantra feels sincere on this first outing, while subsequent albums would suffer under the pressure to turn a quick buck.

The album has its share of duds — I’m looking at you, “Mama” — but they’re offset by the likes of “Who Do You Think You Are” and “If You Can’t Dance”. On the whole, Spice is actually a cohesive effort, a pop album shooting for something beyond the top of the charts.

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Looking ahead: October-November 2017

[The Smiths - The Queen is Dead (Deluxe Edition)]

A lot of big releases have been announced for fall, but few of them have much interest for me. I like you, Taylor Swift, but I accept I’m not your target market.

Various Artists, PAUSE ~STRAIGHTENER Tribute Album~, Oct. 18

I haven’t listened to STRAIGHTENER in years, but I can get behind a tribute album that includes ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, THE BACK HORN, 9mm Parabellum Bullet and the pillows.

The Smiths, The Queen is Dead (Deluxe Edition), Oct. 20

I’ll settle for the 2-disc edition with the demos and b-sides. I’m not enough of a fan for the super deluxe edition with a concert recording and a DVD.

Sam Smith, The Thrill of It All, Nov. 3

Please, please be the album In the Lonely Hour could have been.

Björk, Utopia, Nov. 24

I love Björk, but her albums aren’t ones you play for casual listening.

Cindy Wilson, Changes, Dec. 1

Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson have released solo albums, and Cindy Wilson completes the triumvirate. Honestly? I’m kind of curious what a Keith Strickland solo album would sound like.

U2, Songs of Experience, Dec. 1

I’m a U2 fan, but even I thought pushing Songs of Innocence into my iTunes library was intrusive. I ended up liking the album, but it ranks alongside How to Build an Atomic Bomb and All That You Can Leave Behind in the middle tier of U2’s output. I will listen to this new album regardless. I may even purchase it.

Vinyl

Missy Elliott, Under Construction, Nov. 10

I already grabbed an original pressing of this album a while back, but I’m glad to see it getting a reissue.

SUPERCAR, Three Out Change, Oct. 25
SUPERCAR, JUMP UP, Dec. 20
SUPERCAR, Futurama, Dec. 20

Vinyl reissues for the band’s 20th anniversary. 20 years? Really? I’ve already placed an order for Futurama.

 

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Musicwhore.org is taking a break in September 2017

As you all know, I try to write my entries ahead of time, so it’s the middle of August as I write this entry.

Summer has been busy with entertaining visitors and playing tourist. As a result, I haven’t been preparing any entries for September.

So I’m going to let the month go without updates. It probably won’t be till September when I can get around to writing more entries.

See you then!

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Rewind: Sugababes, One Touch

[Sugababes - One Touch]

Rewind takes a look at past Musicwhore.org reviews to see how they hold up today. The albums featured on Rewind were part of my collection, then sold for cash only to be reacquired later.

What happens when you want to write about mainstream pop music without knowing anything about mainstream pop music? You get something that looks like my review of Sugababes’ One Touch.

The then-teenaged trio hooked me in with “Overload”, a single as infectious today as it was back in 2000. I picked up the album on the strength of that song alone, and I ended up liking it.

And as any good music blogging cheerleader should do, I wanted to share that enthusiasm. Just one problem: I was a raging rock snob back then. I knew of Destiny’s Child and TLC only indirectly — I owned nothing by either group, but it didn’t stop me from using them as straw women.

Back then, Disney pop from the likes of Britney Spears, ‘NSync and Backstreet Boys shoved aside alternative rock, which had devolved to Creed and Nickelback. In retrospect, that may have been a blessing. Still, it was tough covering music at the turn of the century when most of what flew off shelves held little to no interest for me.

So I sought refuge in Japanese indie rock and rock en Español.

Nearly two decades later, I’m merely a rock snob instead of a raging rock snob, and my collection now includes TLC and En Vogue. I don’t have any Destiny’s Child, but I do have Beyoncé’s Lemonade. After listening to these groups, the folly of my earlier comparison is writ large.

Sugababes come from a different club culture than En Vogue and TLC. Comparing them would have been as helpful as pitting Perfume against Adele. I do stand by the assessment that the rougher production on One Touch is a softer sell. It’s probably why I preferred Sugababes over American pop acts.

Of course, that reveals a deeper problem. If I knew nothing of American pop music, I would know even less about UK pop music. So I wrote the review I’ve got, not the one I want.

Two months after publishing that review, I lost my job, and Sugababes went on the chopping block when cash got tight. But every so often, I would find myself humming the opening bass line of “Overload”. It reached a point where I found a cutout of One Touch on Amazon and welcomed the album back in my collection.

 

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