Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cover Story

Well, it wasn’t a dog that ate my homework. It was this same doggone computer that now ate my latest blog post. There I was, typing merrily along when—at 4:35 PM computer time—I brushed some unnoticed key and poof! 300 words gone in a literal flash… and not to be retrieved, evidently, though I tried for hours. And no back-up alternative waited because I was smack in the middle of writing when the bits didn’t hit the plan. I felt like a Volkswagen flattened by a rhino…

I’m still too p.o.’ed and despondent to try and recreate the text just now, and so my brilliant exegesis on a hundred years of Jazz in Seattle will just have to wait for inspiration to strike once more. (As I close-in on age 69, I’m not making book.)

That means another hurry-up fill-in:

A couple of months back I edged into a multipart examination of Kurt Weill in Jazz by talking about the recent sale of my 11,000-piece record collection. As mentioned then, I also held onto a hundred-fifty or so favorite LPs—not valued collectibles but musical performances I’ll want to hear often till all the listening’s done.

But once a collector, always a pushover. I still keep my eyes peeled for bargain discs and unknown wonders, and I decided to post photos of a selection of the more interesting finds, 20-some LPs paired up according to whatever visual or sub-genre relationships I could detect.

The first two, for example, are great African-American singers with deep, resonant voices. But Paul Robeson stayed serious in all circumstances ("Why these burdens, Lord?"), while Clarence Carter sang Southern Soul with a lascivious laugh added.

Paganini alone scorched the strings of his violin like a man dueling 24 devils, while Bartok’s composition needed that many string players and sounded like they were losing the duel!

From the mid-Eighties and each release avant garde after a fashion: saxophonist Garbarek and his friends play pieces in homage to Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer, but Czukay and Sylvian make their own dark poems from spiraling winter ghosts, empty iron vessels, and a host of keyboards and synths.

Folk guitarist Rush rambled down an alley in Cambridge, on his way to fame; 20 years later it was an alley in Nashville picked for the Scene of a different “Newgrassy” Crime.

Two examples of Jazz albums with illustrated covers, one by the famous David Stone Martin, the other by the possibly obscure Pat Heine—both sessions featuring Texas Tenor-style saxmen (Cobb and Stanley Turrentine); both albums scarce and collectable.

Classic Americana composed by Thomson for documentary films (the John Steuart Curry cover art chosen accordingly), and a classic, on-the-way-to-America ballet composed by Weill in Paris, documenting a sort of split personality (manic cover art by one Jim Endicott).

I don’t know if this is a pair to draw to, but it’s definitely a pair of aces, one a quirky songwriter with a rural bent, the other a classy hoofer as urbane as Broadway backstage, but both of them peerless non-singers who could sing the sun up and star dust down.

Two less-familiar albums from two of the greatest violinists of the 20th century… hell, the 21st too! (The cellist was no slouch either.) All intensity and precision, Heifitz and Milstein just didn’t fiddle around.

The man for mumbling and clowning but some serious trumpet too is Clark Terry; at 80-plus now, he’s still b-a-d, slowed but not stopped. Matthews, in contrast, lasted the L.A. equivalent of a New York minute; was this his sole record?

Winsome and willowy, soulful and smart, tender and tough and blue… are some of the words that describe the final four LPs. Mimi shared the best-of album with her late husband Richard (and sister Joan Baez too); and master musician Jimmy Giuffre of "Four Brothers" fame arranged and conducted for Ms. Hunter.

Ubiquitous in 1998 (a hit track here with Pretender-guest Chrissie Hynde), UB40 still rules the waves of U.K. Reggae--occasionally--but Horslips peaked in the Seventies. (Their Celtic folk-rock mattered; this earnest rockumentary LP didn’t, though the slight visual echoes of Lurlean’s much earlier cover are of passing interest.)

And thus a new collection begins.


David said...

Nope, that's not Onzy's only album, though it might be his best. You can find 3 cds worth of his stuff (including that album) in a Mosaic box. Onzy spent his career trying to answer the question, "When will the big bands come back," and most of the time the answer was "Not now."

I Witness said...

Thanks for the info and the witty as well as informative last sentence. But: which Mosaic box? One of their small 3-sets or what? Also, please, titles of other Onz LPs? Enquiring readers demand (plead for?) more data. (Their APPless cells are just starved for attention.)

David said...

Mosaic Select 29 "Onzy Matthews" is a 3 cd set consisting of "Blues With a Touch of Elegance," "Sounds of the '60s," a third unissued album, and various odds and ends. The odds and ends were also previously unissued although two cuts have since come out also on a Dupree Bolton compilation called "Fireball." The booklet contains a lot of information about his work with Lou Rawls, Curtis Amy, Duke & Mercer Ellington, etc. Here's a link to an informative article, published about a month before his death, about his career and late days in Dallas where he was once again trying to start a big band but mostly working in clubs as a keyboard/vocalist:

I Witness said...

Molto bene, David; thanks for the helpful OMage. I can now start ... with a Touch of Elegance and proceed, re-Soundingly well-informed.