Staff Picks: Music
Sometimes you listen for fun, other times you listen to learn. The Library of Congress recordings of Jelly Roll Morton offers a little bit of both – actually a LOT of both. Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax is an amazing eight disk set, which presents for the first time, the complete recordings (including the spoken word segments) fully restored, speed corrected and remastered, along with a series of interviews and performances from 1949 conducted again by Alan Lomax, exploring the roots of jazz with Morton’s contemporaries. Rounder has long been acclaimed for presenting traditional American music with great attention to detail, and this is certiainly no exception. With 128 tracks in all, the set includes lavish liner notes, photos, letters, notes and more in both printed and digital form.
Recorded in 1938, these recordings offer more than nine hours of music and conversation with one of the self-proclaimed inventors of “jazz, stomps and swing.” Aside from great spontaneous performances of early jazz, ragtime classics, and a little dose of “them dirty blues” (hence the parental advisory), Morton tells the stories behind many of these tunes, and describes the people who inspired them. In what is perhaps one of the first true oral histories, it’s a fascinating first-hand account of the evolution of popular music, told (and played) by someone who not only witnessed it, but actually lived and breathed it. The following dialog is typical and opens the set…
”When I was down on the Gulf Coast in nineteen-four, I missed going to the St. Louis Exposition to get in the piano contest, which was won by Alfred Wilson of New Orleans. I was very much disgusted because I thought I should have gone. I thought Tony Jackson was gonna be there, and of course that kind of frightened me. But I knew I could have taken Alfred Wilson. So then I decided that I would, uh, travel about different little spots. Of course I was down in Biloxi, Mississippi, during the time. I used to often freq— frequent the Flat Top, which was nothing but a old honky-tonk, where nothing but the blues were played. There was fellows around played the blues like Brocky Johnny, Skinny Head Pete, Old Florida Sam, and Tricky Sam, and that bunch.” (excerpt from The Story of “I’m Alabama Bound”)
How fortunate we are to have documents such as this, which allow us to explore the roots of contemporary music and culture. It’s a fascinating set and well worth the time.
Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax
Big Blue Ball began in the early 1990s as a collaborative project between Peter Gabriel and Karl Wallinger (World Party, Waterboys). The project draws from three separate recording sessions (1991, 1992, 1995) at Peter’s Real World Studios, a two hundred year old watermill in Wiltshire, UK, which has been converted to a state of the art recording studio. 75 artists from 20 countries participated in the famed Recording Weeks at Real World, with the idea of bringing artists together from a wide variety of cultures to find common ground through collaborative writing and performing. These sessions, all painstakingly recorded though without a clear project in mind, were essentially swept under the rug as other projects took priority. The tapes finally saw the light of day during a studio “house cleaning” project and were at last released just last year on Real World Records (distributed domestically by Ryko).
According to Peter, “The Big Blue Ball was a working name for a project that would pull in elements from all around the world. The title came from listening to an astronaut describe his experience of looking back at the earth. All other divisions seemed ridiculous and arbitrary, because there’s the planet, the whole thing — and that idea seemed to make a lot of sense for this project.” In an interview for NPR last year, Peter went on to add, “...there were musicians from all over the world — songwriters, poets, all thrown together — and all sorts of connections happened.”
Akin to scope and spirit of WOMAD, the result is a diverse musical landscape with a uniquely lush blend of styles – vocals (America, UK, Congo), percussion (Japan, Senegal), strings (Egypt), flutes (China), you name it — musicians from Ireland to Budapest, Alabama to Tanzania, writing and performing simply for the sheer joy of it. Funny, isn’t it? How despite our differences, we all seem to speak the same language after all? If you’re a fan of complexly layered rhythms and interestingly diverse instrumentation, you won’t be disappointed.
And if simply listening isn't enough, you're invited to add your own spin to one of the tracks from Big Blue Ball, "Exit Through You," via Real World Remixed. Simply visit the Real World Remixed site, download the specially prepared multi-track samples, add your own vocals, backing tracks, instrumentation, whatever, then upload your version back to the Remixed site for all the world to hear and comment on. What a small, flat, wonderful and exciting world it is.
Big Blue Ball
Here is my Best of Summer list of 10 great albums to listen to while the wind runs through your hair and you trek westward to Lake Michigan’s beautiful coast for fun under the sun. What do you like to listen to when the Coppertone goes on thick and your wayfarers solidify your cool?
- Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys
- Summerteeth by Wilco
- Weezer by Weezer
- Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain by Pavement
- Bug by Dinosaur Jr.
- The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips
- Paul’s Boutique by The Beastie Boys
- Once We Were Trees by Beachwood Sparks
- Rubber Soul by The Beatles
- It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy
Searching through the music section at Central Library is akin to a treasure hunt – no matter how many times you’ve visited, there always seems to be something new and exciting lurking in the shadows just waiting to be discovered. Such is the case with Miles from India, a double set from last year that features the music of (and inspired by) Miles Davis performed by a cross-section of Miles’ alumni in collaboration with some of the top musicians from India. The result is (as the cover states) “a cross-cultural celebration of the music of Miles Davis.”
Miles was greatly moved by music from other cultures. Non-Western influences permeated his music at every stage of his career. Miles constantly seemed to pull new ideas and sounds from around the globe and blend them into something unique and new. From his earliest recordings with ‘Bird’ in the 40’s, through seminal sessions over the following four decades, Miles took his music to the world, then brought it back to us in ways we had never heard before (or since, for that matter). Miles in Tokyo, Miles in Berlin, in Warsaw, in Paris, in Sweden, Filles de Kilimanjaro, Agharta, Nefertiti, Sketches of Spain, On the Corner…
Miles from India is a remarkable effort. Recorded November 2006-July 2007 and nominated for a Grammy in 2008, the sessions gather more than a dozen members of Miles’ bands, including Gary Bartz, Ron Carter, Chick Corea, Michael Henderson, Dave Liebman, John McLaughlin, Marcus Miller, Wallace Roney, Mike Stern, Lenny White (you get the idea…). Add to this an all-star lineup of key players of traditional and contemporary music from India and mix thoroughly at the skillful hands of Grammy Award winning producer Bob Belden (with executive producer Yusuf Gandhi) and you get more than two hours of surprisingly essential world fusion. (There’s a good article on PRI about the project, including an interview with Gandhi.)
And the really nice thing about this set... it comes off feeling authentic and real, not like some sort of cheap imitation. In my opinion, Miles would have loved this record, and that alone should say enough.
Here’s a clip of the album's opening track, “Spanish Key,” right from Bob Belden himself. Recorded last summer in LA (at a concert produced by Yusuf Gandhi and Bob Belden), it features some hauntingly Miles-drenched trumpet by Wallace Roney…
Miles from India
One can only imagine the number of people who’ll be reliving their first dance as bride and groom, or remembering a special prom night, as they listen to Bryan Adams perform some of his best-known ballads during a special acoustic performance tonight at the State Theater.
Though the Canadian singer-songwriter’s initial leather-jacketed rocker image was well suited for stadium anthems such as “Cuts Like a Knife” and “Run to You”, the popularity of his breakthough hit “Straight from the Heart” was a sign that music fans would treasure his ballads most of all. No one anywhere near a radio in 1991 (or at many a wedding reception in the years since) could escape hearing his biggest hit, the Grammy-winning “(Everything I Do) I Do it for You” (written for the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), in heavy rotation. While his musical repertoire encompasses much more than slow-dance classics (1983’s power-poppy “This Time” is a guilty pleasure of mine), it’s his love songs that ensure his musical legacy will endure.
Speaking of legacies – Adams’ reputation as a world-class photographer is growing, and his philanthropic work through his Bryan Adams Foundation has helped millions in the international community. Heard in light of this philanthropy, the meanings of his love songs move from the personal to the universal – so tonight, joining a live audience to hear, and maybe sing along with, those classic ballads, should make for a special moment to join with others that Adams’ music has already scored for so many.
The Best of Me
Day Trip, along with its companion live EP, Tokyo Day Trip, finds guitarist Pat Metheny returning to a trio format with a new lineup, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Antonio Sanchez. McBride, Rolling Stone’s “Hot Jazz Artist” in 1992, has worked with a who’s who of jazz greats - Freddie Hubbard, Ray Brown, Pat Martino, and George Duke, to name but a few. Antonio Sanchez is no slouch either, having performed with the likes of Chick Corea, Michael Brecker, Joshua Redman, John Patitucci, David Sanchez, Paquito D'Rivera, Charlie Haden, and Toots Thielmans. Sanchez is also part of Metheny’s newer quartet, along with Gary Burton and Steve Swallow.
I ran onto both of these titles in Kev’s Decibel Decisions list - a pleasing discovery, indeed. Day Trip is strait forward traditional trio work, recorded in New York on a single day in October, 2005. Smooth and innovative... polished, but creatively edgy. The session runs Metheny’s usual gamut of styles, from acoustic ballads to prog-laced electric fusion. Standouts for me are “The Red One” and Calvin’s Keys,” but there’s not a throwaway in the bunch - a very satisfying journey.
And… if the studio session leaves you wishing for more, there’s a live companion EP, actually recorded at the end of 2004 in Tokyo prior to the studio session. Like its counterpart, there are a couple of lovely acoustic ballads, some straight-forward fusion (imagine Metheny meets Crimson in Thrak-land) and some inspired material more reminiscent of his PMG work. Again, well worth the time.
If you’re looking for yet another sequel to Harvest or Comes a Time, forget it, this certainly isn’t it. But that's not a bad thing by any means. Much like Living with War (and even reminiscent at times of Tonight’s the Night and On the Beach), Neil Young's latest, Fork in the Road, is raw and immediate - straight forward, guitar driven songs about his car, driving, greed, and hope for a better world. Archetypal Neil - probably not for everyone... but isn’t that what makes Neil Young “Neil Young?” You can go along for the ride and always find something unexpected and provokingly beautiful. Or, skip the latest journey and continue waiting by the roadside for the Neil Young Archives (now scheduled for June release). He doesn’t mind either way.
But “Just singing a song won’t change the world,” he tells us. Indeed, there’s a much different sort of project being worked on in the garage. At the heart of Fork in the Road is Neil’s renovated 1959 Lincoln Continental convertible, LincVolt, a quirky (you expect otherwise?) hybrid. According the LincVolt site, the goal was to create a full-size zero emissions automobile using established technologies in new ways. The result is 2½ tons of vintage iron that’s being designed to run on clean power. The car has even been entered in the Automotive X Prize competition and will race along with more than 100 others from California to Washington D.C. in 2010.
So, are you up for a drive? In a newly produced online film, Get Around, Neil offers the opportunity to pre“view” the entire album for free on his website. Watch along as Neil takes listeners on a 43 minute cross-country drive in LincVolt while singing along with the all of the songs from the album. Then check out the CD from our ever-expanding Music Department and enjoy the ride.
Here’s Neil “Just Singing a Song” from MSN... Fill 'er up!
Fork in the Road