187: Trombone Shorty, ‘Hurricane Season’

Posted by jeff on Jan 17, 2014 in Jazz, Other, Song Of the week

Trombone Shorty–‘Hurricane Season’

Trombone Shorty–‘Fire and Brimstone’

Trombone Shorty–‘Hurricane Season/Long Weekend/Fire and Brimstone’ (live)

Song of The Week #187, can you believe that? With all the interrupts, that’s about five years’ worth of my musical musings and bloggish blathering. This week we’re going back to our roots (in an inspirational sense), and we’re going to take the opportunity to do a little retrospective, a “Making-of-SoTW”, if you will.

All my life I’ve had this strange recurrent experience—I’m walking down the street, whistling, trying not to step in dog-doo or trip over a fire hydrant, when I spot a good friend a ways off. I watch him till he notices me, at which point a veil of horror clouds his face, and he takes off in the opposite direction. But this one time, about five years ago, the friend—let’s call him Irving Washington—in his retreat, tripped over a fire hydrant. I caught up with him and asked him, “Irv, buddy, what is it, what have I done?”

“Jeff,” he answered from the sidewalk, writhing in agony from the hydrant attack, “I just can’t take any more of your music. Please, you’re a decent guy and all, just stop dumping your music on me.”

“Oh,” I said.

And the light bulb went on. Yes, he’s right. I fall passionately, irrationally, uncontrolledly, Romeo-and-Julietly in love with a new piece of music every 11.3 days on the average. And I have this irrepressible compulsion to foist it on everyone and anyone I know (or happen to be sitting opposite on the train). Well, that’s fine when it’s a Doobie Brothers tune or a Miles Davis cut. But when it’s The Bulgarian State Radio and Television Women’s Choir or an obscurity from Oman or a Rwandan garage band from the 1940s—that’s something wholly other. (You know, that started out as a joke. But then I remembered that this week I acquired the CD “Hot Women – Women Singers from Torrid Regions” compiled by good old R. Crumb, a collection of chanteuses from the late 1920s-early 1930s from Algeria, Burma, Chile, Greece, Madagascar… Stay tuned for updates.)

So I figured out that I have to stop accosting the Irving Washingtons of the world, grabbing their lapels, sticking my nose in their face and explaining to them why they HAVE to listen to Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, for example, the very talented singer/pianist, the undisputed “Azerbaijani Princess of Jazz”. (That’s not a joke, Irv. She’s really, really good.)

Solution? You’re not allowed to talk to strangers about music, Jeff, let alone friends. Write an email. So for 62 weeks I sent out a weekly SoTW email with my ravings and an .MP3 attachment. But the list of friends and strangers who didn’t know how to define me as spam started growing, and my Service Provider started complaining. So we moved to blog format.

On the weeks when Real Life prevents me from generating a new post, I try to recycle one of those 62 to my list of subscribers, out of a sense of continuity and environmental responsibility. Since moving to the “Jeff Meshel’s World” blog format, I am indeed pleased that the list has grown steadily and respectably (if not virally), and now is comprised of a lovely mix of friends, acquaintances and strangers from all around the globe, including a number of music aficionados as well as some well-known names whose privacy shall be respected here.

John Keats listening to the Nightingale on Hampstead Heath c1845 by his friend Joseph Severn

While we’re backstage, let me remind you that there are several tabs in the site in addition to SoTW—Writings (various non-SoTW pieces), Jeff’s Music (stuff I’ve actually created or performed, not just talked about), About (about), and What’s New (a chronological list of all the SoTW postings). I’d also like to take this opportunity to say that SoTW is a labor of love, that I really do encourage people to purchase music and support musicians, and that I do enjoy reader feedback and strive to respond when appropriate.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with Trombone Shorty. Good question!

Just like in the Good Old Days, I fell in love this week, this time with a New Orleans funk trombonist. What can you do? As Woody Allen said, ‘The heart knows what the heart knows.’

Even princes and princess can’t bear to look.

I abhor talking to or about a musician if I don’t feel that I know his entire oeuvre thoroughly. Every single cut, every single outtake, every single bootleg. That severely limits my reservoir of subjects. But such is the case when you fall in love—it’s all passion and superficiality and blindness. You close your eyes to kiss someone because if you kept them open you’d be repulsed by their blemishes. It’s all about that moment of losing control, the swoon, being transported and transcending. You can read all about that in John Keats’ ‘Ode To a Nightingale’, in which the bird ‘Singest of summer in full-throated ease’, teasing him towards into self-obliteration. I’ve been there—Bach’s Cello Suites, James Taylor’s first (Apple) album, Bill Evans’ ‘Live at the Village Vanguard’.

Several years ago Trombone Shorty played at a jazz festival that I attended. I had done my homework, of course, and saw “New Orleans trombonist”, at which point I snooted my snootiest and elected to attend a different show. I do a whole wide range of musics, but Dixieland ain’t among them, together with polkas and lieder. My loss, at least with the last.

I recently started watching season 4 of HBO’s “Treme”, where I experienced Mr Shorty. And I was blown away.

Shorty performing as a child.

Trombone Shorty is Troy Andrews, born (1986) and bred in the Treme district (the oldest black neighborhood in America). He was playing professionally at the age of five, a bandleader at six, a club in the district was named after him when he was eight. His first release for a major label was with his working band Orleans Avenue “Backatown” in 2010, which entered Billboard’s Jazz Chart at #1, stayed there for 9 weeks, and remained in the Top ten for over half a year. It was followed by “For True” (2011) and “Say That To Say This” (2013). Together with the mayor of New Orleans he’s established the Trombone Shorty Foundation, which donates new instruments to public schools.

Shorty and Orleans Avenue

Shorty (trombone, trumpet and vocals) calls his music ‘supafunkrock’. It’s an amalgam of rock, hip-hop, neo-soul, jazz and funk, with New Orleans all over it. Funk, I confess, isn’t one of my go-to styles. Hip-hop even less so. I just don’t get it.

Music characteristically features pitch (melody and harmony), rhythm, dynamics, timbre and texture. Hip-hop, to my Woodstockian ears, has pitch—one pitch. That is by definition ‘monotonous’—one tone. I don’t get it. Mr Shorty has served me this week as my belated window into that world. He’s infectious, fun, butt-shakin’.

I don’t pretend to understand it, but I dig it. As Bird said, ‘You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?’

I’ve lapsed back into my old habit of accosting friends and neighbors, standing way too close, asking (demanding) in way too high a voice, “Have you heard Trombone Shorty???”

Ah, Jeff, shut up already and let them listen to some great young music. It’s not Keats’ Nightingale, whose song makes the dull brain perplex and retard. It’s New Orleans supafunkrock. Yeah!

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy: 

010: Charles Mingus, ‘Remember Rockefeller at Attica’
017: Chano Dominguez, ‘Tangos del Fuego’ 
039: Blind Willie Johnson, ‘Mother’s Children Have a Hard Time’




032: Duke Ellington, “Take the ‘A’ Train” (Billy Strayhorn)

Posted by jeff on Oct 26, 2013 in Jazz, Song Of the week

I must confess, for a guy who prides himself on ecumenicalism in music, I have my closet prejudices, and hence pockets of ignorance. New Orleans, both Dixieland and Bayou Blues of all sorts. Neil Young. Ornette Coleman. L.V. Beethoven. My loss, each, I know, and I do try to combat these lacunae, not defend them. I understand that it’s my loss, not Beethoven’s or anyone else’s, if I have failed to develop a taste for his music. Ludwig ain’t crying on his pillow over Jeff not listening to him. There are, however, many people lying awake thinking running LV’s scores through their mind, being entranced and enhanced by them. My limitations, my loss. Ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s ignorance.

So if I’m enumerating my musical transgressions, chalk up pre-1948 jazz, pre-bebop; i.e., big band swing, Louis Armstrong, Bennie Goodman and lots of others I struggle unsuccessfully to appreciate. The one gentleman from this idiom that I have succeeded in warming up to to a certain degree is Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974). He led his big band from the mid-20s in Harlem, through the boom years of the big band in the 30s and 40s. After the war, the dance floor fell out from under the swing bands and the lindy hop. Almost all of them folded, only Count Basie and Stan Kenton holding on for a few more years. ‘Duke Ellington and His Orchestra’ thrived, toured the world, continuously broke new ground in jazz (the legendary 1956 Newport Jazz Festival performance) and in contemporary classical music. He was loved, respected and revered, a towering figure throughout the music world. He was a gentleman (his father had worked as a butler in the White House), a sophisticate, a hypochondriac, a womanizer and a major-league macher. He was both generous and a manipulator, a man of great appetites. His success was due to his great talent as a composer and performer, his ability to manage (notoriously difficult) jazz musicians, his business acumen, and his collaborator, Billy Strayhorn.

Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967) was born and raised in a poor ghetto home in Pittsburgh. A prodigy on the piano, he taught himself the classical repertoire and, after he made it, all the trappings of the debauched lifestyle of an openly homosexual effete. But now we’re talking poor Pittsburgh black, 1938.

According to the version of the story related by David Hajdu in his very fine biography of Strayhorn, “Lush Life”, on December 2 of that year, David Pearlman, a (black) friend and fan of the 23-year old Strayhorn went with a friend, David Greenlee, to see a show of the touring Ellington Big Band. Greenlee also happened to be Ellington’s nephew. Backstage, Greenlee told Duke that they had a friend who wrote music and would like to play for him. Greenlee had never heard Strayhorn, but Duke invited them back the next day before the matinee.

Billy, calm and dressed in his well-worn Sunday best, sat down at the piano and said, “Mr Ellington, this is the way you played ‘Sophisticated Lady'” and proceeded to play it exactly like Duke. “And this is how I would play it.” And he gave him a hipper, more challenging rendition. Duke asked him to play some of his own compositions, then asked him a million questions. Years later, Ellington said that what most captivated him was Strayhorn’s laugh.

Over the next few days, Ellington gave Billy some arranging assignments. Strayhorn wrote them out, Ellington handed out the scores to the band on-stage. It went well, to say the least. “I would like to have you in my organization. I have to find some way of injecting you into it. I have to find out how I do this, after I go to New York,” Duke said. And he gave young Billy a note with subway directions to his apartment on Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem.

But then Strayhorn heard nothing. And he was hungry, literally. So he decided to take the chance and go to New York to look up Duke. But he didn’t want to show up empty-handed. So he took the note Duke had written him with the directions. The note started, “Take the ‘A’ train…”.  And he composed what was to become the theme song of Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, one of their biggest hits, and one of the masterpieces of the only art form originating in North America–over 2000 recordings of the song, according to All Music Guide.

You must take the ‘A’ train
To go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem

If you miss the ‘A’ train
You’ll find you missed the quickest way to Harlem

Hurry, get on, now it’s coming
Listen to those rails a-humming

All aboard, get on the ‘A’ train
Soon you will be on Sugar Hill in Harlem.

Ellington not only hired Strayhorn on the spot, he took him into his home, the elegant penthouse where he lived with his long-time lover (his wife lived elsewhere) and with his sister. Strayhorn wrote for Ellington, arranged for him, became his shadow musical alter ego. Ellington rarely expressly credited Strayhorn’s contribution in writing, but kept him on a generous regular salary, supported his extravagant life-style, befriended him, loved him. Their collaboration lasted till Strayhorn’s death in 1967, and was in fact a thing of wonder—their voices were virtually indistinguishable.

In Strayhorn’s words: “I have a friend. And this friend has an orchestra, and this friend travels with this orchestra fifty-two weeks a year. He refuses to take a vacation, and this has been going on for years. Every once in a while, this friend calls me from some place I’ve never heard of, from some distant part of the world and says, ‘Billy, I’m working on a song, but I’m stuck, can’t finish it. Now, the first part goes like this: Bah bah bah bee boo bee bee bah bah bah bah bah boo. I want you to finish it for me. Call me back tomorrow morning. Or in ten minutes. And tell me how you finished it.

In Duke’s words: “He was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brainwaves in his head and his in mine. [When we talked about music] the whole world came into focus.”

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra recorded “Take the ‘A’ Train” often over the years. The version attached is the original, recorded February 15, 1941. You can also hear it here on the Smithsonian site, along with some other great versions. Here’s a great one recorded in a railroad car in 1943. Here’s the Duke in a trio setting. Here’s the Ellington Orchestra backing Ella Fitzgerald. And here’s one from 1965 with Strayhorn joining the orchestra on stage.

This is first and foremost dance music. Ellington intros on piano, followed by the reeds playing melody in the first verse, with the brass playing one or even two contrapunctal lines behind it, Ellington comping on piano. In the second verse, Ray Nance paraphrases the theme on a muted trumpet as the reeds dance elegantly behind him. A showy flourish of modulation by the entire ensemble, then the band embellishes the second sentence of the theme with Nance soloing above them on the unmuted trumpet. Another flourish by the horns, then the final verse in which the ensemble gently swings the theme.

I love the story behind the song, I am very fond of the song itself, and I liked it even more while giving it a close listen to write these lines. Know what? Maybe I’ll spend some time now making yet another effort at snuggling up to this great 1940s big band music. If I can get inside its heart and its head and its feet, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it, as so many others have.

 If you enjoyed this post, you may also like: 

007: John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, ‘My One and Only Love’
021: Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy, ‘Snake Out’
035: Miles Davis, ‘Boplicity’ (“Birth of the Cool”)

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180: Tim Ries, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ (Flamenco)

Posted by jeff on Sep 27, 2013 in Jazz, Other, Rock, Song Of the week

Tim Ries & The Rolling Stones Project (with Sara Baras) – Jumping Jack Flash

Tim Ries describing the project and this recording + the recording

Go ahead, guys, laugh at me. You laughed at Sonny Bono, I’m in good company. Yeah, I’m going to talk about a flamenco/jazz version of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, the Rolling Stones’ iconic paean to Satan.

JJF Flamenco. Yes, folks, it’s our very first SoTW starring a dancer – namely flamenciste Sara Baras (b. 1971, Spain), in the very sure hands of Tim Ries, a multi-reed player who studied under Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman and Bob Brookmeyer. He’s played with everyone from Steely Dan to Stevie Wonder to Paul Simon, as well as one of my very favorite musicians, Maria Schneider.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ was recorded by The Stones during the 1968 “Beggars Banquet” sessions, but released on a single outside the album. Keith Richards plays the bass, floor tom, acoustic and electric guitar; Mick Jagger provides lead vocals and maracas; Brian Jones plays electric guitar, Charlie Watts drums, Bill Wyman Hammond organ, and Nicky Hopkins piano. There’s lots of talk about the open tuning on Keith’s guitars that you can read about here. They’ve played the song on every tour since its release.

In 1999 Tim Ries gigged in the horn section (and occasional keyboards) on The Rolling Stones No Security tour. After the tour, he recorded three Stones’ songs to see how they’d sound in a jazz context.  He gave them the demo. Keith Richards:

I thought what Tim recorded was amazing, and I’m sort of jealous of him. When we wrote those songs, there was a lot of pressure on us to keep them as short as possible for the singles market. With what Tim does, he has the luxury to stretch out the melodies and play with the different chords and harmonies. Instead of the sketches that we basically recorded, Tim’s versions are more like fully finished things. The playing is beautiful too. Tim always has such a beautiful sound.

The Stones enthusiastically supported the project, which gave birth to 2 releases, “The Rolling Stones Project” (2005) and the double-CD “Stones World” (2008). Pitching in were Bill Frisell, Milton Nascimento, Eddie Palmieri, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Frisell, Bernard Fowler, the divine Luciana Souza, Sheryl Crow, John Scofield, and Wayne Shorter’s bass-drum team John Patitucci and Brian Blade. Oh, and The Rolling Stones themselves.

There’s a lot of fine music on the CDs. Here’s Watts/Wood/Richards and Sheryl Crow helping Tim Ries out on ‘Slipping Away.’

Here’s a particularly fine one, Norah Jones singing ‘Wild Horses’, backed by Bill Frisell and the whole Tim Ries crew. I wrote a whole SoTW about this very cut. 

Here’s ‘Salt of the Earth’, sung in a number of languages and styles by a number of singers, one of whom is Ahinoam Nini’s sister Odeya doing Stones in Hebrew!. And here’s Bernard Fowler singing ‘Wild Horses’ live on a Tim Ries tour, a bit overdone for my tastes. And here’s Tim Ries recorded version of ‘Paint It Black’, and you’ll find lots more live performances from the project on YouTube.

But here’s the one I really want to share with you, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ flamencoed by the torrid Sara Baras. I readily admit that I’m not a crossover fan in general, not an aficionado of flamenco specifically, but fellas – if you’ve ever taken my advice about anything, watch this clip. If it doesn’t make your blood boil, you’re probably dead.

Here’s Tim Ries talking about the project and about the recording of this clip. He explained to everyone what he wanted and it was done in a single take.

It’s more than a gas. It’s improvised magic, sultry and steamy. Give your eyes, your ears, and several other senses a treat: Sara Baras dancing on a little wooden box to Tim Reis’s treatment of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’.

I was born in a cross-fire hurricane
And I howled at my ma in the driving rain,
But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas!
But it’s all right. I’m Jumpin’ Jack Flash,
It’s a gas! Gas! Gas!

I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag,
I was schooled with a strap right across my back,
But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas!
But it’s all right, I’m Jumpin’ Jack Flash,
It’s a gas! Gas! Gas!

I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead.
I fell down to my feet and I saw they bled.
I frowned at the crumbs of a crust of bread.
Yeah, yeah, yeah
I was crowned with a spike right thru my head
But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas!
But it’s all right, I’m Jumpin’ Jack Flash,
It’s a gas! Gas! Gas!

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:
 080: Tim Ries w. Norah Jones, ‘Wild Horses’
093: Leon Russell, ‘A Song for You’ (especially the cover there of ‘Honky Tonk Women’)
050: The Rolling Stones, ‘Gimme Shelter’ (Kent State)

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178: The Claudia Quintet +1 feat. Kurt Elling, ‘Showtime’ (“What is the Beautiful?”)

Posted by jeff on Aug 30, 2013 in Jazz, Song Of the week, Vocalists

Thanks to the very talented young musician Eyal Amir for his provocative thoughts about spoken language and music.

What is the beautiful? Well, there’s a stumper of a question for you. Some people would say Mona Lisa, others might go for Courtney Love. We’re going to look at a different model today, that of galvanizing poetry into jazz. Say what?

Soon It Will

Be showtime again. Somebody will
paint beautiful faces all over the sky.
Somebody will start bombarding us
with really wonderful letters…
letters full of truth, and gentleness,
and humility
…Soon (it says here)…

That’s a poem by Kenneth Patchen (1911–1972), an experimental poet, a guiding light for the younger Beat poets (Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Snyder & Co).
I’ll bet it didn’t move you.

Here’s what it sounds like as read by the poet.
I’ll bet that didn’t knock you out of your chair.

Here’s what it sounds like as performed by The Claudia Quintet+1 featuring Kurt Elling.
I’ll bet you that will keep your neurons reeling for a while.

Poetry (and Jazz)

What is poetry? According to Archibald MacLiesh (in Ars Poetica), “A poem should be palpable and mute/As a globed fruit”. According to my father, it was “When the hell are you going to stop wasting your time with that drivel and prepare yourself for The Real World?”

I spent a lot of years (and a couple of academic degrees) trying to get some sense of what poetry is, to no great avail. I did achieve one understanding, though. Poetry is made of words. Poetry is the art of crafting words precisely. A poem is an artistic construct made from words.  Most of the people I know would call Bob Dylan the Poet Laureate of Our Generation. Well, I don’t think so. He’s a songwriter, and his lyrics are a thing of beauty and craft and profundity. But his creations are songs, and they have melody and rhythm and production and performance built in to their being. A poem is made from words.

One of the iconic images of the Beat Generation (see SoTW 065 for some of my musings on Beat), was a goateed/sweatshirted/sandaled guy (watched by a skinny girl with long black hair and a long black formless dress with lots of black eye-liner) reading incomprehensible verse to the accompanied by but unrelated to an incomprehensible free-form jazz trio.

Astonishingly, some things have changed since the 1950s. Three of my very favorite contemporary jazz musicians have been caught with their hands in the poetry jar, with some pretty earopening and mindbending results that I greatly enjoy and value and am pleased as punch to have the opportunity to share with you here.

Luciana Souza – “The Poems of Elizabeth Bishop” and “Neruda”

Luciana Souza (b. 1966 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, residing many years in the US) is the only singer I’ve flown halfway around the world to hear. She’s released a dozen albums in the US in almost as many distinct styles, each one a unique work in and of itself. Her second album, “The Poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Other Songs” pays homage to Ms Bishop (1911–1979), a New England proto-lesbian poet laureate and compadre of Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell. Luciana wrote the music for the album, singing Bishop’s poetry as lyrics, mixed with (non-word) vocalese, as a front-line instrumentalist together with the sax. It’s a very fine album, cut from the same cloth and almost on a par with her tragically underappreciated “An Answer to Your Silence”. Here’s ‘Insomnia’ (the poem, the song). (“The moon in the bureau mirror/looks out a million miles/(and perhaps with pride, at herself,/but she never, never smiles)/far and away beyond sleep, or/perhaps she’s a daytime sleeper”). And just for fun, here’s a non-Bishop cut from the same album, ‘In March, I Remember’.

One of Luciana’s most intriguing albums is “Neruda”, in which she sets the poetry of the Chilean communist Nobel laureate (in English translation) to her own music – here only the very fine Venezuelan-born pianist Edward Simon and herself on percussion. Much of the material is Neruda’s (1904–1973) highly-charged love poetry. As performed by Luciana with impeccable restraint and precision, it’s one of my very favorite albums.  Try, for example, ‘House’ (here’s the poem). Or, and I’m just so honored to share this with you, ‘Sonnet 49’ (here’s the poem, from “100 Love Sonnets”). This video shows Luciana recording the song, accompanying herself on the kalimba. To my taste, this video/song/poem is divine, one of the most perfect works of art I’ve had the fortune to know and love. “No one can stop the river of the dawn.”

Maria Schneider – “Winter Morning Walks”

Maria Schneider (b. 1960) kept us waiting for six long years for the release of her brand-new CD, “Winter Morning Walks”. It’s no small departure from her six previous albums, in which her compositions were written for her orchestra of about 20 instruments. Technically it’s a big band, brass with a small rhythm section, but the sound is all the ephemeral, dreamy aural cloud of her mentor Gil Evans. Here Ms Shneider (from rural Minnesota) has composed works employing the poetry of Ted Kooser (rural Nebraska) and Carlos Drummond de Andrade (rural Brazil, translation by Mark Strand) sung by Dawn Upshaw (also b. 1960), a MacArthur-fellow soprano who works in both opera and contemporary classical music.

Maria Schneider: “In setting poems to music, the poems themselves speak the rhythm, etch the melodic contour, and emotionally elicit the harmony.”  Here’s her beautiful composition of Kooser’s ‘Walking by Flashlight’: Walking by flashlight/at six in the morning,/my circle of light on the gravel/swinging side to side,/coyote, raccoon, field mouse, sparrow,/each watching from darkness/this man with the moon on a leash.

The Claudia Quintet +1, featuring Kurt Elling

John Hollenbeck (Photo ©Tomas Ovalle)

The Claudia Quintet (bass, drums, vibraphone, accordion and clarinet!) is the brainchild of progressive percussionist/composer John Hollenbeck (b. 1968). Here’s his pretty darned funny story about the group’s name. The “+1” here is a piano, a large, keyed percussion instrument occasionally employed in jazz settings. He’s worked with such luminaries as Bob Brookmeyer, Fred Hersch and Meredith Monk.

In his obscure (even for him) 2011 album “What is the Beautiful”, nine of the twelve cuts feature a vocalist singing Patchen’s poetry – four by Theo Bleckmann, five by Kurt Elling. The other cuts are ‘simply’ inspired by it. ‘Showtime’ is a tour de force creation, both in Hollenbeck’s conception and composition as well as in Elling’s over-the-top head-spinning knockout performance (what he calls ‘enlarged reality’). Just for fun, here’s another Patchen/Hollenbeck/Elling, the riotous ‘Opening the Window’ (can you imagine how much Tom Waits would enjoy this?).

Kurt Elling (Photo ©Adrian Korsner)

I think ‘Showtime’ is a real lesson in how to work poetry into music. If poetry is charged language, this cut is a model of extracting every last drop of meaning out of the source – not adapting the poem, not riding on its back, but honestly and humbly eliciting its very essence. It reminds us how much poetry demands from the reader. It’s not prechewed, it’s raw and autonomous and challenging. Hollenbeck and Elling, I believe, here do the work for us of interpreting or grasping the poem, and thereby demonstrate a truly innovative approach to exploring what the human voice is uniquely capable of.

I recently tripped over a truism: ‘The best things in life are acquired tastes’. Boy, do I subscribe to that.

I can’t help juxtaposing this material with Kurt Elling’s last album, “The Brill Building Project” – lyrics by Hal David, Mike Stoller, Gerry Goffin, et al. That album will hopefully sell a trillion copies and should have won a gaggle of Grammies. “What is the Beautiful” has probably sold two copies so far – to Hollenbeck’s mother and me.  Lest you think I’m being a snob here, I’ll readily admit that I’ll probably listen to “Brill” more than to Patchen/Hollenbeck. But if you catch me at my best, at my most curious and my most energetic, and you ask me: “Hey, Jeff, to your mind, what is the beautiful?”, I know what I’ll answer.

 If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:

SoTWs on Luciana Souza

SoTWs on Kurt Elling

SoTWs on Maria Schneider


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