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236: Jacob Collier, ‘Hideaway’

Posted by jeff on May 14, 2017 in A Cappella, Jazz, Rock, Song Of the week

 

jacobcgreg_gormanThere’s this kid from London, Jacob Collier. He’s 22.

Since achieving majority, he’s been releasing videos he’s produced and recorded all by himself. In his room in his parents’ home. Alone, as it were.

At least that’s his cover story. I don’t believe a word of it. I’ve been watching his videos, and I’m convinced he’s an alien. He displays musical and visual abilities way beyond the ken of Homo sapiens from Planet Earth. It wouldn’t surprise me if he turns out to be the front man for some nefarious intergalactic conspiracy to invade our minds.

Skeptical? Watch ‘Hideaway’, the first video for his debut album “In My Room”, due July 1.

See what I mean? The superhuman, multi-octave, mind-bogglingly rich vocals? His prowess on every instrument you’ve heard of and a few he seems to have invented (a miniature acoustic bass)?  The outlandishly inventive visuals?

The humans I’ve encountered, even the musically gifted ones, can’t conceive of stuff like that, let alone execute it. By themselves. At the age of 22. Alone in their room in their parents’ house.

I remember, for example, hearing The Beatles’ ‘Rain’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ for the first time. I remember the quantum shock in my brain experienced witnessing the leap of imagination those recordings presented:
This is something new.
This is a new world of aural and conceptual possibilities.
Jacob Collier brings to mind that degree of innovation.

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Jacobs

One of his favorite formats has been multitracked videos of jazz and pop standards, driven by (by his own account) Brian Wilson-inspired vocals, often a cappella but occasionally garnished with a knockout lead instrument or five. I wanna tell you, this is seriously impressive stuff.

But he’s also been venturing out into the big world, starting at the top – here he is guesting with the hottest, coolest band in the world today, Snarky Puppy:

QuarterMaster’, a live performance in which he solos on the melodica. Seriously.

Don’t You Know’, from Snarky Puppy’s new DVD/CD “Family Dinner – Volume Two” in which he plays piano and sings multi-tracked, live!!, using a device he invented with a team at MIT, the ‘harmoniser’ – a thingie that enables him to sing in chords that he’s playing on a keyboard. Huh? Did we mention that he’s 22?

L2R: Jacob, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Chick Corea

L2R: Jacob, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Chick Corea

But he’s also been starting to appear live, using another home-made invention in collaboration with the MIT guys, a  one-man, multi-instrumental, multi-visual tool that allows him to simulate on stage the multi-track vocals/videos.

This is the kind of impression he’s been making on people:

“Talent oozing out of every pore”— Jamie Cullum
“Fucking unbelievable” — David Crosby
“The most talented kid on Earth today” — K.D. Lang
“Magnificent!” — Chick Corea
“Blown away” — Steve Vai
“I have never in my life seen a talent like this… Beyond category. One of my favourite young artists on the planet – absolutely mind-blowing” — Quincy Jones
“Wow!! Jacob, your stuff is amazing” — Herbie Hancock
“Staggering and unique… Jazz’s new messiah” — The Guardian

Conquering the world

Conquering the world

I don’t know how far he’ll go, this alien whippersnapper.

His guiding light is Brian Wilson. His new album is named after the Beach Boys’ song, ‘In My Room’. Here’s Jacob’s ruminative piano treatment of the Brian song. (For comparison, check out Paul Simon’s solo treatment of ‘Surfer Girl’).

Gary Usher, co-writer of the lyrics with Brian: “‘In My Room’ found us taking our craft a little more seriously. I played bass and Brian was on organ. The song was written in an hour… Brian’s melody all the way. The sensitivity… the concept meant a lot to him. When we finished, it was late, after our midnight curfew. In fact, Murry [the Wilson brothers’ father] came in a couple of times and wanted me to leave. Anyway, we got Audree [the Wilson brothers’ mother], who was putting her hair up before bed, and we played it for her. She said, ‘That’s the most beautiful song you’ve ever written.'”

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Brian at 22

Brian: “I had a room, and I thought of it as my kingdom. And I wrote that song, very definitely, that you’re not afraid when you’re in your room. It’s absolutely true.”
Jacob echoes not only Brian’s harmonic and orchestrational genius. He also speaks of ‘his room’ as his natural environment.

One of the innumerable talents of Squire Jacob that I find profoundly unsettling is his self-assurance. He’s out there doing mind-bogglingly new and exciting stuff with folks like Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock and Jamie Cullum, and he behaves with aplomb and confidence as if  as if he’s been selling tens of thousands of copies of this stuff for 10 years.

Let’s step for a moment into the form/content dichotomy.

Jacob at 22

Jacob at 22

In purely musical terms, at 22 Jacob is way beyond Brian. He’s not churning out the original surfing/hot rod hits that Brian was at that age; but he is going to town harmonically in a way Brian would only begin to attempt several years and several albums later in “Beach Boys Today!” But as an innovator of sound, technique, tools? Jacob is standing on Brian’s shoulders. The Wilson brothers had a midnight curfew, and the personal computer was 30 years away. I don’t know if Brian even had a reel-to-reel machine when he wrote ‘In My Room’. Jacob really does create a new world every three or four days (that’s how long it takes him to make a multitracked ‘cube’ vocal video).

I see Jacob potentially playing in a league with Brian Wilson, even John and Paul, some day. Why maybe? At the same time that they were creating new worlds of options, they were creating indelible, lasting music. Jacob’s not doing that yet. My sense is that he’s still rather overwhelmed by the tools and techniques he’s inventing as he goes along.

‘Hideaway’ is a big step forward. It’s an original song, although I admit that I thought at first it was penned by that prolific songwriter Trad, sort of like James Taylor’s ‘That Lonesome Road’. (I don’t think I was thinking of Bing Crosby’s 1933 ‘In My Hideaway’.) After you’ve amazed your brain a few times watching the video of ‘Hideaway’, try listening to it without the carnival of lights and images and personae and invention.

The song. It’s almost as good as the video.

imageBrian Wilson’s genius goes beyond those harmonies and that orchestration. Both serve to celebrate the core, the song. As brilliant as is the whole of each of the worlds contained on the Beach Boys’ finest songs, it’s all finally in service of the song, even “Pet Sounds”, even ‘Good Vibrations’.

As a musician, Jacob Collier is still a kid, albeit a prodigiously gifted one. He’s just beginning to venture outside his room, almost literally. If he has the focus, the fiber, the soul, to concentrate on core values – melody, lyric, song structure – Jacob Collier could well be one of the major musical voices of his generation.

Here’s a fine video of Jacob explaining how and why you should consider reaching into your pocket and supporting him. Know what? I did. It makes me a patron of the arts, to kick in a little dough for a kid I have so much respect and hopes for. Think about joining me in supporting him.

If you liked this post, you may like enjoy these previous Songs of The Week:

230: The Beach Boys, ‘Here Today’ (“Pet Sounds” Unsurpassed Masters Vol. 14)

118: Brian Wilson, ‘Surf’s Up’ (“SMiLE”)

004: The Beach Boys, ‘Kiss Me Baby’

158: Paul Simon, ‘Surfer Girl’

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094: Brad Mehldau, ‘Martha, My Dear’ (“Live in Marciac”)

Posted by jeff on May 4, 2017 in Jazz, Song Of the week

Brad Mehldau has just released a new solo double-CD, “Live in Marciac“, and that’s reason to prick up our ears and take a good listen, because he’s one of the most interesting young musicians around. To put it in full blasphemy, I find him more engaging than any of the Jarrett/Hancock/Corea triumvirate. To tell the truth, I listen to him more than to any pianist since Bill Evans.

I rarely listen to Brad Mehldau without thinking about Bill Evans, a habit I wish I could break, because it’s really unfair to the young Brad. It’s not his fault that the late Mr Evans is so monolithic, nor does it diminish his significant achievements. Brad Mehldau is no Bill Evans. No one is. For most of his career, Bill wasn’t himself.

What Brad Mehldau is is an extremely intelligent, sharp, focused, ballsy young artist who speaks with an individual voice. Not just an individual technique or a musical style (in fact, he has adopted more musical personae than your average schizophrenic), but a world view that’s uniquely his. He’s an artist whose works express an entire take on the universe around us, and a very interesting one at that.

He’s young (he’s got a big tattoo on his forearm). He’s eclectic, blending standards, newer pop and originals into one coherent voice (Beatles, Nick Drake, Radiohead, in addition to the Great American Songbook). He’s handsome and shy and spiritual and articulate and spooky intelligent. Some songs he’s composed: ‘Fear and Trembling‘ (a la Swedish Christian existentialist Søren Kierkegaard), ‘Trailer Park Ghost’, ‘The Falcon Will Fly Again‘. Oh, yeah, and he plays with two different hands. I mean, they’re independent of each other, connected by chance to one torso. His left hand alone can play what most fine jazz pianists can do with both. Leaving his right hand to explore another alternative tonal world. Check out this solo treatment of ‘Alone Together‘.

Brad Mehldau is 41, raised in Connecticut, and since 1994 he’s put about 25 albums. He’s best known as leader of his trio, but he’s made some successful CDs as co-leader (Pat Metheny, Renee Fleming and most notably with Lee Konitz and Charlie Haden) and recently a great one (“Highway Rider“) that defies genre-ization, where Mehldau did all the orchestration.

“Live in Marciac” is only his third solo CD, and it’s worth getting excited about, because that’s where Mehldau really opens up and struts his vision. I’m not the only person to notice how differently he plays in his trio compared to on his own.

Joseph Vella asked him in a recent interview about the ‘challenge and thrill’ of playing solo? “The challenge and the thrill are one and the same – there is no net; there is absolute freedom. When jazz musicians improvise in a group setting, they are often following some sort of schema – often it’s variations on the initial theme of whatever they are playing. When you are playing solo, you don’t have to correspond to what someone else is doing. So you might take that approach, but you might decide to chuck it out at a certain point and go off on a tangent that doesn’t formally adhere to what you’ve just been doing. That can be exciting and rewarding. The challenge there though is to make something with integrity – something that has a story to tell.”

Brad Mehldau makes so much intriguing music in so many contexts that it’s really quite impossible to single out any one exemplary style. I’d really like to cajole some of you non-jazzers into trying him out, so we’ll start with our SoTW selection, “Martha, My Dear” (a love song Paul McCartney wrote for his sheepdog). Give a listen. This isn’t some aging jazz musician pathetically attempting to be young and cool, pandering to a wider audience. It’s a wholly sincere, wholly hip guy who grew up on The Beatles, dissembling one of their great songs in a wholly new context, in an absolutely convincing treatment. Brad’s been playing ‘Martha’ for years (here’s one from about 10 years ago), as one of the lighter peaces in his program, what might be called an ‘entertainment’ or a ‘divertissement’. Give a listen, please. Betcha you’ll find it as witty and wise and charming as I do.

Here are a couple more treats from the DVD of “Live in Marciac” (2011):

  • A complete transcription of his original composition ‘Resignation’, note-for-note as he improvises it on stage. A treat, I promise, for those of you who read music.
  • And his completely improvised ‘My Favorite Things’
    I have several ideas before I go out on the stage, and I usually stick to around half of them. “My Favorite Things” was not something I had played before – the Coltrane version is sacred to me. But I was going out for an encore and thought of it at the last moment, and it turned out to be for me anyways, one of the more compelling performances in the set – it had that story to it; it just kind of unfolded. Sometimes you find that and sometimes you don’t; sometimes you find it with no preparation or context at all and those moments are always great for me. I suppose there is a broader context – there’s the context of the Coltrane version that I heard when I was 13 for the first time and really changed my life; there’s the context of the original from the movie, The Sound of Music, that I grew up watching as a kid. There’s probably some sort of harkening back to childhood going on in my performance.

And here are some samplings from the not-exactly-jazz “Highway Rider” (2010):

Some very, very exciting news for me about Brad Mehldau. In 1996, he was invited to join two jazz legends twice his age, Lee Konitz (alto sax) and Charlie Haden (bass). Two CDs of my favorite music in the whole world resulted from those two evenings. They took a free-jazz look at a number of standards, and the product is breathtaking—floating through the air with no net. I had the wonderful fortune to be able to discuss that session with Lee Konitz, which I wrote about here. Here’s ‘Round Midnight‘ from that meeting. So what’s the news? In 2009 the trio reunioned with the addition of no less than drummer Paul Motian, and the resulting CD will be released next month. Who’s excited, me?

All you ‘I really don’t like too much jazz’ folks out there, do yourselves a favor – youtube Brad Mehldau, listen to him playing anything at all–Jerome Kern, John Lennon, Cole Porter, Paul Simon, Radiohead, hell, Brad Mehldau!–betcha you’ll have a great listen.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:

037: Lee Konitz, ‘Alone Together’ (w. Charlie Haden & Brad Mehldau)
060: The Bill Evans Trio, ‘Gloria’s Step’ from “Live at The Village Vanguard”
026: Andy Bey, ‘River Man’

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091: Herbie Nichols, ‘House Party Starting’

Posted by jeff on Apr 6, 2017 in Jazz, Song Of the week

Herbie Nichols, ‘House Party Starting’

Here comes the story of the most universally respected unknown jazz pianist from the 1950s. If you think there’s a heady mix of oxymoron and rarified obscurantism there, you might just be right. But there’s also some pretty fine music hiding in Herbie Nichols’ miniscule oeuvre.

Herbie Nichols (1919-1963) grew up in Harlem, studied a bit of piano at CCNY, served in the army (where, unable to play music, he turned his attention to reading and writing poetry). After the war he bounced around musically, playing in everything from Dixieland to Rhythm and Blues settings in order to pay the bills. He liked to hang out in public libraries and died at 44 from leukemia, a bachelor.

His only public exposure worth mentioning was when Billie Holiday added lyrics to his song ‘Lady Sings the Blues’, making it a signature song of hers and title of her autobiography. But I’m guessing that didn’t pay a lot of Herbie’s bills. By the time Diana Ross got to it, he was long gone. Here’s Lady Day’s version, and here’s Herbie Nichols’ original.

After years of pestering Alfred Lion at Blue Note, they finally agreed to let him record a couple of sessions in 1955 and 1956. They were trio sessions (it’s widely assumed that Nichols envisioned a richer setting for his very complex music), but he did have the gift of excellent bassists (Al McKibbon and Teddy Kotick) and legendary drummers (Art Blakey and Max Roach) accompanying him on these sessions. He recorded once more in 1957 with a smaller label, backed by George Duvivier (b) and Mingus’s Danny Richmond (d). This session has the best title of anything ever: “Love, Gloom, Cash, Love”.

His music is ambiguous, filled with warm dissonances and subtle rhythmic twists and harmonic turns. There’s a pervasive sharp intellect tempered with great warmth and a lot of resigned humor.

He saw himself not as a jazz player but as a composer. “My earliest ambition was to become a Prokofiev, but later decided to become an Ellington.” Jazz is widely perceived to be a fundamentally improvised medium, but there’s a rich tradition of composed jazz, which I frequently find riveting and to which Nichols belongs. The guy even scores the drum parts!

He’s as much influenced by primitive African rhythms as he is by Bartók’s harmonic aesthetic. “I keep remembering that the overtones of fifths created by the beautiful tones of any ordinary drum was surely the first music, the precursor of the historic major scale, no less, which was built on the same principles. That is why the cycle of fifths is so prevalent in elemental jazz.” Hmmm.

This guy knows what he’s doing. “Rhythms and patterns seem to be endless and I find them in boxing, architecture, literature, vaudeville, the dancing art of [Pearl] Primus, [legendary tap dancer Teddy] Hale and [Katherine] Dunham [pioneers of Black dance during the New Deal]. All the world’s a stage for the jazz pundit.”

Herbie Nichols’ music is often compared with that of Thelonious Monk (1917-1982). They’re roughly contemporaries, both with strong roots in the bebop movement, sharply angular, brilliant, humorous, inimitable. But whereas Monk was quirky, self-absorbed in his personal life and in his music, Nichols comes across as a really nice, normal guy who never got the break he deserved, the prototypical neglected genius. His music, for all its complexity and intricacy, is really quite fun. Monk finally achieved his recognition as a bona fide genius after languishing in obscurity for decades.

Herbie continues to languish, despite a rabid cult following struggling to keep his musical legacy alive.

One musician on whom Herbie clearly has had a great influence is another favorite of mine, Andrew Hill (1937-2007), to whom I promise to devote his very own SoTW. Check out ‘Pumpkin’ from “Black Fire”. Strong melody line, enticing but elusive. The big difference is Herbie’s good nature and warmth, as opposed to Hill’s very dark, lunar landscape.

“Laughter is like a religion to me. Sometimes I may seem low…so low nothing will lift me up again…but really, I’m laughing like hell inside. This music is something to live for…something to be taken seriously, but not serious. Those musicians who get up on the stand and look they’re undertakers bother me. If I want to cry, I’ll cry in a corner, and cry to myself. Music is joy, and living—not death.”

In the early 1980s, Dutch avant garde pianist/arranger Misha Mengelberg got together a bunch of like-minded musicians (including Roswell Rudd and Steve Lacy) to cast some Nichols compositions in a medium-sized group. Here’s their stellar take on ‘House Party Starting‘, from their album “Change of Season”. And here’s Duck Baker, a real fine acoustic fingerpicker, doing his version of ‘House Party Starting‘ from his 1996 album of solo guitar Herbie Nichols covers, “Spinning Song“.

Here’s Steve Lacy (soprano sax) and Mal Waldron’s (piano) 1994 version of the song from the album “Hot House”. I’ve written about this duo before. They’re incredible – intense, lyrical, brilliant, passionate, and I just love them both to death for making such beautiful music. This cut, Lacy’s mournful soprano sax the perfect voice for Nichols’ grin-through-it-all irrepressibility, just bowls me over. The way his straight horn elicits the melody, the sweetness from the original. Oh, my my.

In 1994, pianist Frank Kimbrough and bassist Ben Allison formed a floating group of highly respected avant garde jazz musicians called “The Herbie Nichols Project” to promulgate his ‘lesser-known compositions’ (yes, they really said that) and to couch them in a setting with horns, which the composer never had the opportunity to do in his lifetime. They’ve recorded three albums, titled after the Nichols’ songs “Strange City”, “Dr. Cyclops’ Dream”, and “Love Is Proximity” (they deserve a prize for album titles).

But we’re not going to deny Herbie a chance to stand in the spotlight. So here you go folks, Mr Nichols himself playing his composition ‘House Party Starting’, backed by McKibbon and Max Roach. It’s a wonder of ebullience, wit, panache and taste. Ladies and gentlemen, a moment of your attention please for the most famous unknown jazz pianist of the 1950s, the wonderful forgotten but unforgettable Mr Herbie Nichols. Heck, you could even invite some of your friends over to listen to him. You could start a house party.

Here are some more YouTube clips of Herbie for your further listening edification: ‘Sunday Stroll, ‘Infatuation Eyes’, ‘The Third World’, ‘Applejackin‘, ‘Love, Gloom, Cash, Love‘.

If you enjoyed this posting, you may also like:

021: Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy, ‘Snake Out’
027: Lennie Tristano, ‘Wow’
073: Erik Satie, ‘Gymnopédie No. 1′

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259: Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau: ‘Marcie’ (Joni Mitchell), ‘Don’t Think Twice’ (Dylan)

Posted by jeff on Mar 24, 2017 in Jazz, New Acoustic, Rock, Song Of the week

122815-r4-f3_wide-3f58a2451f6181b363e9f119d2fe83033cd14290-s900-c85Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau — ‘Marcie’

Joni Mitchell — ‘Marcie’

Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau — ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’

Bob Dylan — ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’

I’ve made it a guiding principle of this blog to focus on music I love. Hence, you only know the jolly, positive, coddling Jeff.
Alas, there’s an alter ego lurking in the nether depths of my Critic’s Psyche: the censorious, condemnatory, disparaging, judgmental Jeff, the one those near and dear to me have the misfortune of suffering through.

maxresdefaultSo this week I’m going to share with you not one but two! new covers of great songs from not one but two! artists I greatly admire. Except I’m going to step on some toes and sour-milk some sacred cows along the way. Bear with me, I promise there will be a happy ending.

Chris Thile (b. 1981) and Brad Mehldau (b. 1970) just released a double CD. I have great admiration for the former, the preeminent jazz pianist around today; immense respect for the latter, a certified MacArthur wunderkind. But I find it a mediocre disk, even boring. I’ve listened to it maybe 25 times in the last two weeks, and most of it still just wafts past my ears.

Perhaps it’s something in the sound of the mandolin. Say what you want, it sounds to me like a toy guitar from the Ozarks, no matter how brilliant the notes are.

Perhaps it’s the fact that Mehldau tends to disappear in collaboration, displaying excessive modesty when he should be leading the band.
That’s why I always prefer listening to him solo. Nowhere to hide, Brad – it’s all painfully vulnerable, exposed, grave and seriously profound, whether he’s playing Bach or Radiohead.

However, there are two cuts on the album that made my head spin. Both are covers of great songs by great artists. And in one way or another, both improve on the original.

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11e499000e1ae934ee0afb385d9863ca‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’, from Dylan’s first real album (of originals).

I don’t say that lightly. The very idea of someone improving on Dylan’s treatment of his own song is fundamentally questionable. “No one sings Dylan like Dylan.” In one of our first SoTWs we wrote about exactly such a case—Fairport Convention singing ‘I’ll Keep It with Mine’. But there, if you’ll pardon the hairsplitting, it’s more Dylan’s fault than Sandy Denny’s achievement. He wrote a gentle, intriguing song and shouted it out, banging on the piano. Fairport just laid back and gave it a suitable, straightforward reading.

Not so with ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’, one of Dylan’s first ‘hits’ (popularized by the fine Peter, Paul and Mary cover from late 1963, half a year after the release of “Freewheelin’”). Dylan “borrowed” a lot of the song from fellow folkie Paul Clayton’s ‘Who’s Gonna Buy You Ribbons’, but the scathing, caustic dismissal of the girl (in retrospect, of course) and the relationship they did/didn’t have is all Dylan aged 22 par excellence. Dylan raised snide, furious, finger-pointing name-calling to a Nobel Prize-level art form.

Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice’ is ironic. He doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t think twice. He’s beating her up verbally, machine-gunning her with his esprits de l’escalier, getting in all the last punches beneath the belt after the bell has rung. It’s all condescension and self-righteousness. He means that he’s going to leave her with a pummeling that will make her regret losing the wonderful Him 10,000 times a day while she’s recuperating.

Thile-Chris-07Chris Thile tells a very different story. It’s all insouciance, nonchalance, cool. What we adults call indifference. There’s no recrimination, no great regrets, because, really, who cares? Who needs a real relationship? Who wants commitment? We were together, it’s getting messy, I’m out of here before I get anything sticky on me.

When Dylan sings “We never did too much talking anyway”, the subtext is ‘little you wasn’t capable of entering a dialogue with wonderful me.”
When Thile sings “But we never really did that much talking anyway”, the subtext is ‘What’s the big deal? It’s not like we talked or anything.”

When Dylan sings “I gave her my heart by she wanted my soul”, he’s accusing her of predatory rapaciousness.
When Thile sings it, with a wonderfully expressive squeal, he’s saying ‘Hey, she tried to scratch my Teflon, man! I’m out of here!’

Now, the question is whether the song holds the potential for both readings. Admittedly, Chris has the distinct advantage of coming from a generation that doesn’t give a fuck about anything.

Want to hear my opinion? I have a lot of respect for Chris’s reading. Dylan’s is a perfect example of why I admire him so much and have no affection for him. He’s really quite obnoxious in his self-righteousness. Chris? He may be as uncommitted as a jellyfish, but at least there are no pretentions about it.

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joni&doug

Photo: Rod Pennington

‘Marcie’, from Joni Mitchell’s first album

I’ve written a series of postings about Joni’s early albums: ‘Cactus Tree’ from the first album; ‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand’ from the second; ‘For Free’ and ‘Woodstock’ from the third; ‘Blue’ and ‘River’ from the fourth. Someday I’ll get to the enigmatic, elusive ‘For the Roses’.

The first album occupies a place in my heart for a number of reasons, as I wrote in SoTW 106: She was unknown, she was mine. It was the first collaboration of David Crosby (producer) and Stephen Stills (bass), a harbinger of things to come. It was the music she was singing when I met her in Nashville with Bob Dylan on the Johnny Cash show.

It’s a groundbreaking album. Together with Laura Nyro (who released her first album in February, 1967, and her masterpiece “Eli & the 13th Confession” the same month as Joni’s first, March 1968) they gave a new voice to the nascent new womanhood.

But most of all, it’s just a very fine album. Every song on Joni’s first album is a perfectly crafted gem of a vignette from her first taste of independence as a newly liberated woman, Greenwich Village.

I sat up straight and smiled broadly when I first heard Chris Thile’s ‘Marcie’. It was for me an utterly refreshing look at an old friend. It’s a fine example of the justification for covers, shining new light on great music. Not a revelation, perhaps, but certainly a revealing of truths I had previously not seen.

hqdefaultIf ‘Don’t Think Twice’ is all about Thile’s plinky mandolin, here it’s Brad’s elegant, legato accompaniment that carries the arrangement. Even Thile’s vocal is serving the tone set by Brad.

Thile/Mehldau’s reading isn’t so different from the original. It’s the same girl with the same predicament – living her life, but thinking only of the man not calling. But it does shed light some of the limitations of Joni’s music. That’s not a criticism – Joni’s reading is full, convincing, unassailable, memorable. But you’ve always got the road not taken – every choice you make means passing on the alternative, never to be explored. At least until someone comes along and covers your song.

Chris’s treatment is so much more intimate, fraught with so much empathy. In contrast, Joni sounds removed, distant. As painfully confessional as Joni is at her best, the exposure is in the lyrics. Her carefully controlled tremelo sounds just a little standoffish in comparison with Chris’s candor. She is here at her most precious –just a little too delicate, too refined. She’s presenting a finely crafted portrait. Chris is lamenting the predicament of a Marcie he feels for.

Still, he’s singing Joni’s song. It’s the difference between a creative artist and a performing artist. You gotta give the nod to creator. You just got to.

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You don’t need “Chris Thile/Brad Mehldau” to justify the standing of Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell. People will be singing their praises and their songs “somewhere ages and ages hence”. But they are not the end of even their own story. They’ve given us – and Brad and Chris – a legacy to explore, to build on, and maybe even here and there to serve as an inspiration for genuine and new readings that amplify and enhance the originals.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

Brad Mehldau SoTWs

Chris Thile SoTWs

Bob Dylan SoTWs

Joni Mitchell SoTWs

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