Recording of the Week, Archival Edition: Herbie Hancock, Live in Chicago 1977; Larry Young, In Paris: The ORTF Recordings

A double dose this week—the goal of this series is to cover 52 releases this year, and if I get knocked off track (cold and Winter break for kindergartner’s last week), I will catch up.

Herbie Hancock Live in Chicago 1977

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These are both archival releases, and both wonderful surprises. We can enjoy them thanks to the enduring value of radio. The Hancock disc is a live set recorded in Chicago in 1977 on a broadcast from WXRT-FM. The document is prominently of note due to Jaco Patorius sitting in on bass, with the group filled out by Bennie Maupin on reeds and James Levi at the drums. Hancock and Pastorius collaborated several times, including on Jaco’s debut album and backing Joni Mitchell on her Mingus album.

On Live in Chicago 1977, the set list is Head Hunters era funk, a fabulous blend of style, sophistication, and body-moving music. The set begins with “Chameleon,” and the feeling is strangely subdued. But then Hancock makes the introductions, the band gets into “Hang Up Your Hang-Ups,” and everything sizzles from then on, including a surprising and satisfying take on “Maiden Voyage.” Maupin, so underrated and so good, is extremely strong and Hancock gives him a lot more room than on the studio recordings. Pastorius is terrific in this setting, he seems to have a natural affinity for the group, which in the context of his musical depth and virtuosity means that he fits right in as an equal member.

Larry Young: In Paris, the ORTF Recordings

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The Larry Young set is two discs of never before released music recorded both in the studio and live by ORTF in France. At the core of the collection is music from (and the style of) Young’s classic Unity album—there’s a tremendous twenty minute live take on “Zoltan,” and the young Woody Shaw is even more exciting and explosive on trumpet than he is on the Blue Note release.

The music is historically important, though the quality is truthfully uneven—however, the best of the music is fantastic and makes this set a pleasure well worth the cost. Young is either sideman or leader, depending on the situation, and not all those situations are ideal: the trio on “Mean to Me” with drummer Franco Manzecchi and Jacky Bamboo on congos is wan, and there are several all-star tracks with larger ensembles that range from exciting to muddled.

The tracks with the Nathan Davis Quartet, however, are terrific, and along with “Zoltan” there is “Black Nile,” both recorded February 9, 1965, live at La Locomotive in Paris. They are absolutely burning. The collection closes with Young at the piano, in a trio, knocking off “Larry’s Blue,” and more than just the curiosity of hearing Young at the more traditional keyboard, it’s a neatly excellent track. The documentation is top-notch.


A Month of Listening: January 2016

This is a record, embedded below (or downloadable here), of my January month of listening. It’s not everything I heard, but it is all the new and recently released recordings that I listened to. Everything on this list passed by my ears at least once, and there are several things I listened to many times; Blackstar got five separate spins, and I listened to some of the symphonies in Daniel Barenboim’s new Bruckner cycle more than once—these are examples.

Bests of the Month of Listening

Everything on here is at least decent—the only way to get through close to 60 new recordings in a month is to quickly abandon recordings that are bad, they don’t end up on here. The Recording of the Week series is an implicit selection of the bests from the month, but there’s only so many weeks, so here is a further list of my favorite new recordings, and these are the ones that I deeply, personally, loved:

  • Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony, Ives: Symphonies 3 & 4. Stunning. Symphony No. 3 is excellent and the performance of Symphony No. 4 is extraordinary, full of careful detail and an understanding of the overall design, direction, and aesthetic effect. Morlot’s pace is not just ideal, but a means to build, moment by moment, a kind of exalted tension that culminates into a glimpse of the Great Oversoul.
  • Jeremy Flower, The Real Me. The tastemakers are likely going to give this the dreaded “indie-classical” label. Maybe they’re right, but that means nothing. What this is is a terrific rock album, with great song-craft and playing. Do the songs revolve around some central meaning? Maybe. Is it a song-cycle? Sure, why not, whatever. It’s just great.
  • Look to the North, 5,000 Blackbirds Fall Out of the Sky. Since I received CD #37 out of a total issue of 40, there’s not way you’re going to be able to find this one (one track is available through Bandcamp). But maybe a friend has it. The record is a combination of field recordings and ambient/drone electronics. It’s sonically deep, and tells fragments of stories that hint at profound personal and social loss. This has a real wallop.
  • Jaimeo Brown, Transcendence: Work Songs. A beautiful conception with exceptionally smart and musical execution. Brown has taken recordings of works songs, including famous ones from Parchman Farm and others from South-East Asia, and used them as ostinatos underneath his own material. The musical style is a tangy stew of blues, jazz, soul, and funk, and the balance between immediate physical pleasure and entertainment, and wrenching and angry questions about work, power, and exploitation, makes this great popular art, without pandering in any way. J.D. Allen is the feature horn player here, and his playing is in line with the veiled power of the record (release date February 12).
  • Robert Ashley, Crash. I’ve written a lot about this work already. What you need to know is that this is a recording made from the run of the opera at Roulette in April of last year. Ashley’s late works are his greatest, and this one is a real culmination of his life’s work.

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Hot Weather Music

No songs-of-summer-commercial-pap-to-get-you-to-buy-beer here, but Summer music, music old and new that I listen to in the hot weather. This is a pretty personal list, it comes out of how I want music to make my mind feel in the middle of a heat wave like we just had, and it’s inseparable from my NY City days of early summer manhood, when summer was also a time to discover new things because I wanted to spend as little time as possible in my hot, horrible, SRO room. Music that offers cool clarity or the galvanizing energy and hope of youth.

  • Don Cherry, Home Boy. I can’t say this enough, avant-garde jazz musicians make the best funky music, and this is one of Cherry’s finest recordings. “Avenue A Avenue B Avenue C Avenue D / Ain’t no E now.”
  • Max Goberman conducting the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, The Symphonies of Haydn. This is an excellent set from a conductor who is now essentially forgotten, but was instrumental in bringing more life and attention to these great works. He died before he could record all of the symphonies, but this is a substantial selection, and the thinking and playing exceeds the famous Dorati set.
  • Billy Bragg and Wilco, Mermaid Avenue, The Complete Sessions. A fundamental component in a good music library.
  • Grant Green, Idle Moments. Cooler than cool, hipper than hip. Beautiful and soulful.
  • Wes Montgomery, In the Beginning. A terrific find. A set of recordings from live dates with various musicians lost to time, but the music is swinging and strong. Montgomery is undervalued in our era, and these dates catch him in his youth (1949-58), and his playing is terrific, exciting and pleasing. Sound quality is a little stuffy but the music exceeds that.

  • Jordi Savall conducting La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Monteverdi: L’Orfeo
  • Helmut Koch conducting the Kammerorchester Berlin, Monteverdi: L’Orfeo
  • August Wenzinger conducting Orchester der “Sommerlichen Musiktage Hitzacker 1955”, Monteverdi: L’Orfeo
    • A Monteverdi kick? Not really. I have been thinking a lot about opera, trying to finish writing something, but I listen to L’Orfeo every month, and everyone who claims a love for opera and/or a desire to write operas should be doing the same. L’Orfeo does everything that operas do, from the beginning of the form, and does these things better than everything but a small handful of other operas. The piece is also open to important interpretation, and so it is rewarding to have multiple versions on hand. Of these, Savall’s is newly released, though was recorded several years ago, and is terrific. Even better, in my opinion, are the two historic recordings. The playing and singing don’t have the same knowledge and skill that you’ll hear today, but in the 1950s Monteverdi was essentially unknown, and Koch and Wenzinger’s recordings have the fulfilling sensation of discovery, and are just fascinating and moving to hear.
  • Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation. The real last word on the Tompkins Park riot, and the death of an era.
  • Nordic Affect, Clockworking. Brand new, cool and brilliant. A fascinating and involving set of new chamber music with that particular, contemporary Nordic touch: ineffable yet steely.

  • Egberto Gismonti and Nana Vasconcelos, Duas Vozes. A special record from two unique musicians, a series of duets, loosely formed, that are soothing and dream-like, then coalesce into substantial song. One of my all-time favorites.

Who Among Us Does Not Love To Get Down?

(For the season, and my Winter Fundraiser, I’m reposting some old favorites.)

What makes a song? We’re used to hearing pop music on the radio or in our ‘phones, hearing the instruments and the beat, and mainly hearing a lyrical structure, some combination of verse and chorus. While ‘song ‘ has come to mean a lot of things, including a movement in a Bach Partita according to a concertgoer I overheard last week, song is about someone actually singing words in some kind of poetic or narrative structure. Pop songs are written by the likes of Harold Arlen, Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello.

Except when they’re not. There’s a particular style of pop music where the songs are primarily instrumental, where the lyrical content, if anything is as minimal as can be. They are clearly songs, and they often have the kind of verse and chorus the ear identifies, but it’s not necessary. This music is meant to have deep popular appeal but can often be free form in terms of structure and have a lot of improvisation. It’s not jazz, though, even though, like jazz originally, it’s meant to get people on the dance floor. And it’s not jazz, even though like that music it’s a true American invention, a synthesis of other fundamental American types of music into something that reaches out to people all across the globe. I am writing about, of course, The Funk. And here’s a classic Funk song:

Okay, are you sitting back down? Kool and The Gang, prior to hits like ‘Cherish,’ were sunk in the deep funk. The single was cut to a little over three minutes for radio play and 45 sales, but the song sounds like the band could just play forever. There are the four (!) words that make up the lyric, “get down” and “jungle boogie,” but they don’t make the song structure. There is the drum-beat, the syncopated rhythm guitar and the incredibly hip bass line, doubled in the horns. The rest is just ornamentation. It’s all about the groove, that’s all the song has and all it needs, and that groove is made up of three funky pieces that build the feeling that you want to go in so many groovy directions, always safe in that rock-solid beat. Toss in a blues flavor, and that’s The Funk.

There’s a close musical relationship between jazz and funk and so it’s no surprise that Kool and the Gang were originally a jazz band, or that you’d have a hard time finding a jazz musician who didn’t both love funk and enjoy playing it. They share common roots in Blues and Boogie-Woogie, and funk became the modern music we know as a result of the development of hard-bop. You’d also find a lot of jazz musicians who made livings in bands playing funk at parties and weddings. There’s nothing better to get a bunch of people having a good time, and the best professional bands like that have kept themselves in business by playing a steady diet of Kool and The Gang and, especially, Tower of Power:

Wow, that’s great music! Good humored, tough, smart, musically sophisticated and physically pleasurable, it comes in a massive variety of flavors, from the minimalist polyphony of James Brown, the intense complexity of the Tower, the countrified blues of Funkadelic and the free-form jazz of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time. It was adopted by Felà and returned to us in the form of Antibalas and the Budos Band, and is being kept alive and proud in Brooklyn by the amazing and amazingly funky Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings:

More even than jazz, this is the Holy Grail of American popular music, something that brings together the hard head and the sentimental heart with the populism of the groin, cutting across all socio-economic classes. It has the right sort of social and political inclinations and implications. It’s the ne plus ultra of urban American music, the place where the polyglot culture comes together in comity, without the deadening homogenization of the supposed “melting pot.” This is what makes the debut CD from Abraham Inc., “Tweet Tweet,” so fantastic. It’s easy to describe it as a mixture of funk, hip-hop and klezmer, but that makes it sound like a gimmick when it is both deeply serious and utterly fabulous.

The organization’s principals are Fred Wesley, Socalled (Josh Dolgin) and David Krakauer; James Brown’s music director, hip-hop musician and classical/klezmer clarinetist respectively. Beneath the professional labels are the fundamental roots in urban blues. From that, in three different and completely sympathetic flavors, comes Abraham Inc. The CD is both simple and complex to describe. The tracks are mostly funk/hip-hop arrangements of traditional klezmer tunes, but that says nothing about the playing. This is real funk, music that lays down a groove and that is meant for cutting, burning and wailing. And what music wails more than klezmer? Maybe the blues, and that’s where it all comes together.

The fun starts after a short opening that sounds like a gritty 1950s Blue Note LP. It’s funky ‘Tweet-tweet,’ a klezmer tune that itself is a riff as simple as the lyrics for ‘Jungle Boogie.’ There’s the beat, the rhythms, the blowing and the rapping! C. Rayz Walz is featured on the recording (he also collaborated with Socalled on the fine original lyrics), and he’s excellent, as is the rest of the band, which includes Jerome Harris on bass, Michael Sarin at the drums and Allen Watsky on guitar. This is tough, poised, street-smart funk, full of joy but also the sense that something serious is being undertaken. Everything works. ‘Moskowitz Remix’ is the best, hottest improvising I’ve heard in hip-hop. It would seemingly be obligatory to have an arrangement of ‘Hava Nagila,’ and that’s what ‘The H Tune’ is, but the combination of a rolling, zydeco-flavored beat and the incredibly sexy singing is unbelievable. Mickey Katz’ ‘Trombonik Tanz’ becomes ‘Trombonik,’ a fast and furious feature for Wesley’s meaty trombone and Walz’s skittering, funny rap.

This is one of those records where everything is done so well and purposefully that the listener feels assured at every moment. One of the originals, ‘Push,’ seems for a moment that it might be a little too enthralled to a parody of Barry White, but that moment passes so quickly and the sense of being borne along this supple beat and lyricism, with great solo contributions from Brandon Wright’s tenor sax and Freddie Hendrix’s trumpet, is incredibly satisfying. The centerpiece track is ‘Baleboste: A Beautiful Picture,’ a traditional with added, new lyrics, with the most exquisite balance of klezmer melody, hip-hop beat, funky scratching guitar, and a tone that is both heavily bluesy and seriously sophisticated. And that’s the essence of the record. It’s burning music making with something more powerful than any argument or message; making music is the glue that holds civilized people together, on the streets and in their rooms, and these musicians are making civilization. It has a swaggering defiance about it, the sense that people can’t be told how to live and love together, they’ll do it as they see fit. That’s a beautiful thing.

Left-wing academics and Republicans may prefer their culture commodified and identity-politicized, but culture is non-material. It is ideas and values and they belong to anyone who commits to them. The more people hold a value the more that culture spreads, and that’s a good thing. The musicians, speaking from inside culture, convey the idea of what America is and how people are better than anyone paid to tell us how we think and act ever could:

Remember the 2008 election, when Obama had a Jewish problem? That idea could only have existed in the minds of people insulated from civilization, people who never ride the buses or the subways, who feel that Harold Ford is a regular person just like them and an excellent Senate candidate. They are people who not only cannot understand this record, but cannot even comprehend its existence. They have never actually walked the streets of New York City and seen, as I have, a burning funk band on the sidewalks off of Times Square, screaming through ‘Chameleon,’ a young black guy playing the sax, a young Orthodox Jew playing the bass. Be cosmopolitan, be real. Get down.

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Beach Music 2014

Not Dick Dale, stuff to plug into your ears for the summer, with more mileage and staying power than the paperbacks you’ll be using to shield your face from the sun:

  • No Lands, Negative Space: a lush, inventive and enveloping debut from electronic musician Michael Hammond.
  • Maya Beiser, Uncovered: An album of ‘classic’ rock songs (Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Nirvana), and the arrangements by Evan Ziporyn and Beiser’s playing are tougher than leather.
  • Lenny Pickett & the UMO, The Prescription: A fantastic blend of jazz and funk from one of the greatest contemporary musicians, soulful to the extreme.
  • Paul O’Dette, My Favorite Dowland: lovely and mesmerizing, an ideal pairing of composer and artist.
  • Dave Seidel, ~60 Hz: a cogent example of how utter focus and discipline can produce expansive results.
  • Brian Charette, The Question That Drives Us: Jazz organ is one of the classic sounds of summer, and this ensemble record from the excellent Charette is full of imaginative tunes, arrangements and playing.
  • Peter Söderberg, On the Carpet of Leaves Illuminated by the Moon: Don’t be surprised there are two lute albums on this list, beach music stretches between funk and quiet—this in an illuminating and beautiful set of ultra-contemporary music played on the gentlest of instruments.
  • Bora Yoon, Sunken Cathedral: Yoon’s album is a rich, long-from composition for voice and electronics, the resonant surface never obscuring the fundamental strength and mystery of her musical thinking.
  • Ursula Oppens, Bruce Brubaker, Meredith Monk: Piano Songs: A terrific set of piano music, one of the most consistently fine collections of Monk’s compositions—the music leads the ear on to wonders.
  • Cypress String Quartet, Schubert: String Quintet and Quarettsatz: As we all eagerly await more Beethoven from this ensemble, we can enjoy their excellent balance of intelligence, elegance and strength.
  • Emilie Wiebel, Omoo: Unclassifiable and engrossing vocals and electronic production, that moves from ambient sounds to a hip take on Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints.”
  • Theo Croker, Afro Physicist: Call it smart funk, jazz for the feet, groin and head, I call it pretty great music.

Get all of these, and don’t forget the sunblock.

Sounds Like Getting Down

Look at books, magazine, blogs and their infinite count of words on music: classical, jazz, rock, hip hip, ‘indie,’ etc. Where’s the funk?

There are, if you can believe it, adult music listeners and critics (by adult I mean that they are of legal drinking age), who dig teeny-bopper music, are seemingly willingly caught between the conflicts of puerile sexuality and mature responsibility, and pine over the ‘song of summer.’ I’m no pride, certainly no reactionary, but do find the dominance of infantilism in American popular culture more than a little problematic, and there are troubling political and social ramifications in how this infantilism is an outgrowth of white, middle-class materialism and consumerism. When the shit you buy makes you hip …. well, you never were and never will be.

The way out is the funk (this old favorite post) digs into the details), the pluperfect music for our ever-changing mongrel culture. Jazz, my first love, is never going to be popular music again, it would do better to embrace its niche as a cult, art music. Rock and hip hop have their moments, and I like good music aimed at the groin, but again the level of taste and titillation of a thirteen year old gets tiresome quickly.

But funk is the thing, taking elements of every immigrant culture and every bit of American roots, putting it together into the right kind of steaming stew, the one you can dance to and that also, once your ear examines the intricacies of the music’s components, satisfies the mind and the sense of skilled musicianship. The music cuts across races and ages (though not politics: I know the GOP likes to haul out “Everyday People” for rallies, but to paraphrase Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins, they don’t say all men are brothers, and they don’t actually believe it).

Funk is niche music too in that not too many bands are playing it, but funk bands tend to be good bands, and that includes the Saturday Night Live band and Paul Schafer’s band for David Letterman. Funk is music good musicians play for both money and pleasure, they get paid without slumming in Top 40 territory. The current trend is two-pronged: the warm, thick production of Daptone records and some afro-beat seasoning. They come together on a new release from Third Coast Kings, West Grand Boulevard. Sample below:

A little Dap Kings, a little Tower of Power, a little Antibalas. Strong grooves, lots of horn color. Not a perfect record, the few vocal numbers suffer from the same immature sexuality and materialism that infects every corner of the culture, and singers Sean Ike and Michelle Camilleri will not make you forget Lenny White or Sharon Jones, but the music is a real pleasure. Self-actualize yourself.

UPDATE: Fixed YouTube short code

PLAYLIST, Week 2, 2014

* Kris Davis, [*Capricorn Climber*](
* Matana Roberts, [*Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile*](
* James Blood Ulmer, [*Freelancing*](
* Galactic, [*The Other Side of Midnight: Live in New Orleans*](
* Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, [*Give The People What They Want*](