Monthly Archives: November 2017

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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