The Spinners

Archive for the ‘Jazz’ Category

My One and Only Love (Mon David, 2006)

In Dodo Dayao, Jazz, OPM on December 7, 2010 at 4:13 am

The stock of vocal prowess is curiously alive in these parts, as if it alone feeds the emotive brunt of a performance. It doesn’t, but you knew that. Mere vocal prowess is the province of karaoke and yet another singing contest. That’ll do for the throng, but the croon makes you really swoon out of pipe technique. Sing for royalties and you have to at least have that. Singing jazz for royalties is trickier for all the presumed pedigree behind the cut-above entitlement. Technique’s more of a given here. Technique plus taste plus imagination plus hopefully a little risk—that’s the full arsenal.  What grabs me here first, though, is vocal prowess.  Mon David’s a bit of a warhorse so the machinery in his throat’s broken in—the technique’s down, if you will—never prey to showboat or preen or pander, well-oiled . . . a little too well-oiled. Half the time, the delivery attains a kind of metrosexual fastidiousness with all the manners of a charm school honor student—courteous and inoffensive and well-behaved, not a stitch out of place, not a wrinkle, like it’s been rehearsed so many times the emotion has been leeched out of it. Pure function, almost bland. And that deep register does crave some loosening up, some wild flurry, some breakage and wear, some feel. On one hand, you’re happy that he’s in such a cheery mood, but for the positive aura to matter to me, and to matter as jazz, it needs measures of levity, specificity, consequence. “Let Go” oversimplifies self-help pep talk into a string of non sequiturs that cries out for a heart on its sleeve to pump blood in its pulse and give it context. The refashioned Tommy’s Toon of “Yan Ang Pinoy” is there as a musical idea, not quite there as music, far less there as a song—with more of that superfluous ethnocentric fist-pump everybody should all give a rest. And the Kapampangan prayer “Abe Mu Ku” really needs an entire record for its anthropological goodwill to blossom and calcify. But this isn’t jazz-pop-for-idiots. Not the Jay Graydon-era Al Jarreau the back sleeve photo portends, not Bublé clonage. The full arsenal’s here. And it has pedigree. The cut-above entitlement is more than just that trophy on his mantle. David digs deep for his repertoire (Hoagy, Gary Granada, Dietz & Schwartz, Bill Evans), goes out on limbs. Props for trying, then. And the record is not without its pockets of bristle. Specifically, but ironically, on his trifecta of chestnuts—My One and Only Love and Skylark and Waltz For Debby. He doesn’t do much with these, you see. Just sings the hell out of them. Some days, most days, that’ll do.

–  Dodo Dayao

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♪ Hell (Squirrel Nut Zippers, 1996) ♪

In Jazz, Rex Baylon, Swing, Track Reviews on April 12, 2010 at 6:43 am

Released in 1996, “Hell” became Squirrel Nut Zippers’ calling card. For better or for worse it defined the band as Hot Jazz stylists. While most people were still dressed in torn jeans and flannel shirts, Squirrel Nut Zippers came out of left field and played something that wasn’t exactly rock, not quite alternative, and somewhat befuddling to jazz purists.

Their first single, “Hell”, is a modern-day Inferno set in a calypso rhythm that features lyrics far too bizarre and dark for many of its mainstream listeners to understand. In spite of the track’s unique qualities, it was a huge hit, due in no small part to the swing revival. Yet unlike many of the songs that emerged out of the neo-swing movement, “Hell” has stood the test of time because it went against the grain of what modern audiences expected from big-band music. While Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Flying Neutrinos, and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies borrowed riffs wholesale from the Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw songbook, Squirrel Nut Zippers rummaged through the dustbins of music history and took only what they needed. Listening to the song it’s never quite clear if Tom Maxwell’s lyrics are meant to be a cautionary tale or merely a parody of one, but with a song this good, who cares? When it comes to Squirrel Nut Zippers it’s not so much about what the song is trying to say, but how they say it.

– Rex Baylon

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Perennial Favorites (Squirrel Nut Zippers, 1998)

In American, Jazz, Rex Baylon, Swing on April 10, 2010 at 11:39 am

Although long forgotten now, in the mid-nineties, the neo-swing boom, for a short period of time, caught the world by storm. Zoot suits, martini bars, and the street patios of Prohibition-era America all claimed dominion over the entire continental US. With the popularity of Doug Liman’s Swingers you couldn’t enjoy a drink at a bar without someone quoting a line from the film ad nauseam. And alongside the mainstream revival of swing music itself came the stampede of amateur musicians and dancers who jumped on the bandwagon snapping their fingers and stomping their feet; many ignorant of the differences between the Lindy Hop and a Jitterbug or the complicated histories of Dixieland and Swing music.

While bands like The Flying Neutrinos and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy hold the listeners’ hands while giving them a guided tour of their grandparents music, Squirrel Nut Zippers grabs you by the throat and puts your ear right next to the speaker, making you feel the rawness of their sound. Squirrel Nut Zippers treats swing not as some long dead genre to be imitated through the most superficial of melodies, but as a living and ever-evolving form of music. They scored their first success with the hit single “Hell” in 1996, but it is in 1998, upon the release of Perennial Favorites, when they firmly went from retro-kitsch band to full-fledged musicians.

Squirrel Nut Zippers brought back the danger and the raunchiness of Hot Jazz. The frenetic tempo, syncopated drumbeats, and squealing of horns made the music primal, translating our basest desires into a danceable soundtrack. By combining the properties of ragtime, gypsy jazz, Delta blues, klezmer, and swing, they transcended the pop confines of the music genre that the press boxed them in. Like any true artist they didn’t just copy the style—they made it their own. For that, I tip my hat to Squirrel Nut Zippers. After giving this album a listen I am certain you also will.

– Rex Baylon

Lanquidity (Sun Ra, 1978)

In American, Dodo Dayao, Jazz on April 10, 2010 at 11:11 am

Five songs—but the territories it covers and opens up. The funeral march title track knocking on heaven’s door as if death and ecstasy were the same thing (hey, you never know), then “Where Pathways Meet” gets urban and urgent as the noir-funk gives Disco Kid On Guitar some, before “There Are Other Worlds (They Have Not Told You Of)” not only lets you know, it actually tries to take you to as many of them as it can. Having been a jazz hanger-on for so long and not having heard a single Sun Ra was a bug up my ass so I took measures. This was not my first, and Sun Ra-sedated meant this was not the freaky you crave from his Arkestra, but it’s the one with the most stick. The artist formerly known as Herman Blount not only believed in his Saturnian lineage, he also believed his massive psych-jazz was medicinal. Lanquidity has convinced me he’s onto something there. Still not sure about the Saturn thing, though.

– Dodo Dayao

Nighthawks at the Diner (Tom Waits, 1975)

In American, Jazz, Rex Baylon on February 4, 2010 at 5:43 am

Beatnik. Crooner. Vaudevillian. Balladeer. These are words used to describe Tom Waits, and it’s a testament to the man’s abilities that he can inhabit all these roles all at once. With a discography that stretches four decades and 18 albums, no artist in the history of American music has had such a varied career without the help of MTV, mass advertising, or even radio play. He is not for everybody; fans of his work gravitate to the grotesque characters you’d find in a Bukowski novel or are drawn to the damaged individuals that populate dime store novels. But once you become a fan of Tom Waits, you’re a member for life.

For his third album, Nighthawks At The Diner, Waits chose to invite a small audience in the studio where he recorded the album. The result is a work that is part-performance piece, part-improvisational exercise, and 100% Hip with a big bold capital H.

The title of the album speaks for itself. Nighthawks At The Dinner conjures up not just the image of Edward Hopper’s famous painting but also some personal travelogues to not-so-reputable eateries. It is a work that deals primarily with nocturnal wandering and the inevitable feeling of loneliness as evening turns to dawn.

Bittersweet songs like “Better Off Without A Wife” or “Warm Beer and Cold Women” will have you grinning at the irreverent lyrics, but they will also have you stifling a laugh at the genuine pain that Waits manages to channel into these songs. Even with an audience to amuse him, Waits seems utterly isolated from the human race; which is fitting since as a performer, while many of his contemporaries were channeling Led Zeppelin or The Rolling Stones, Waits was always looking back to Hoagy Carmichael, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong.

The anachronistic nature of his works makes them timeless. By following his own obsessions, he has carved a place for himself in the music industry. Those who find themselves stumbling upon his music may not like what they hear, but his fans will always fight to protect his unique voice from being extinguished.

– Rex Baylon

♪ People Make The World Go Round (The Pharaohs feat. Sue Conner, 1996) ♪

In American, Dodo Dayao, Jazz, Soul on February 2, 2010 at 4:20 am

These Chicago stalwarts tend to go from fused-up funk to avant dissonance, and here, they do it within the space of one track turning Thom Bell & Linda Creed’s protest soul chestnut into Lanquidity-era Sun Ra prog-funk magnificence that midway through feels as if it has nowhere left to go but the inevitable chaos and caterwaul, which would have been fine, but then Sue Conner comes in and takes the mic, raising the temperature to a smolder of no return. It’s blasphemy to say I prefer this cover to the Stylistics original but I prefer this cover to the Stylistics original.

– Dodo Dayao

♪ Speak Your Heart (Lizz Wright, 2008) ♪

In American, Dodo Dayao, Jazz on February 1, 2010 at 3:30 am

Not that this would feel odd on a Tindersticks record but that’s not Stuart Staples doing the ghostly backing vocals but the voluptuously-named Chocolate Genius who wrote it, and from the sound of this, is someone whose work demands further investigation. The one track off her emo-jazzy-noirish The Orchard that makes my inner mushy do the jiggy with all its naked, forlorn beauty. . .I want to be real to you, no more disguises. . . I like the way the song seems to dissipate into uncertainty after Lizz has stated her case, the way it just turns to fog. Tearjerky beyond words and perfect for singing in the rain inside your head.

– Dodo Dayao

♪ Idle Moments (Grant Green, 1963) ♪

In American, Blues, Jazz, Rex Baylon, Track Reviews on January 31, 2010 at 1:41 pm

During his heyday, jazz guitarist Grant Green had no equal whenever he picked up his instrument. Admittedly a fan of  fellow musician Wes Montgomery, Grant’s playing, however, is more directly linked to the bebop compositions of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. A cursory listen to any Grant Green track will reveal a style heavily indebted to the blues, especially to the sound closely associated with swing guitarist Charlie Christian.

His most famous composition, “Idle Moments”, is a jazz masterpiece that perfectly blends the rhythmic twelve-bar simplicity of the blues and the harmonic improvisations of hard bop. The track, clocking in at 15 minutes, is an ode to the late night shuffle. Grant’s languid guitar-playing recalls bleary drunken nights spent stumbling down unfamiliar side streets and alleyways. The warm tones of Duke Pearson’s piano and the spare ethereal tingle of Bobby Hutcherson’s vibraphone give the composition a subdued romantic feeling.

One can’t help being enveloped in the tune’s melody, which seems to loop like a drunken memory. With each repetition a new layer is added to the piece and the melody becomes slightly more complicated. The track isn’t too cerebral although it has a rather relaxing effect that synchs the listener to the rhythm of nightfall. To put it simply: if the evening were to have a soundtrack, then Grant Green’s “Idle Moments” would be playing till closing time. That’s for sure.

– Rex Baylon