Jazz was one of those genres I had hardly any relationship with prior to this project. It’s been pleasant working through the list and finding some albums that I thought were really cool (Herbie Hancock and Charles Mingus for example). This is the final all-jazz week, though, as we’ve listened to nearly all the jazz representation on the list: so a few names this week that you may or may not be familiar with.
Blood, Sweat and Tears, ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’ (link)
The nontet’s second album, and their only appearance on the list, this combines late 60s rock with a regal-sounding horn section, occasional jazz organ solos and two versions of Satie’s ‘Gymnopedies’ which bookend the album. ‘Spinning Wheel’ is the most famous original song here, written by husky vocalist David Clayton-Thomas, used for years on a British TV advert, and a fairly routine rocker before it interrupts itself for a Miles Davis section. This album certainly kept me guessing – most of the songs are very different from the one that preceded it – but I don’t expect to come back to it.
Dave Brubeck Quartet, ‘Time Out’ (link)
Brubeck is best known for ‘Take Five’, which appears here and is probably the most famous song in 5/4. The number of musicians in his band seems to be the only even number in his repertoire, as we also have songs in 9/8 and 7/4 – and the album finishes on track 7. It’s the sort of cool jazz you hear in 70s cartoons (indeed Brubeck himself scored for Charlie Brown), but the Rachmaninoff interludes, time signature shifts and other spooky wanderings mean that it never recedes entirely into the background. Already nearly 40 when this came out, Brubeck carried on releasing albums as late as 2005, when he was in his mid-80s.
Miles Davis, ‘Birth of the Cool’ (link)
The earliest Davis album on the list is technically a compilation album, a 1957 culling of his 1954 78rpm releases. All of the releases seem to have a different running order: I listened to the ‘Complete’ version. Davis is accompanied by eight musicians in this version of the band, which (despite the name) often sounds more like hard bop or a tricky, polyphonic take on Duke Ellington’s sort of sound than the stripped down cool jazz of ‘Kind of Blue’. The slow motion horn pile-up of ‘Moon Dreams’ is an early highlight, but this became background music more than once.
Bill Evans, ‘Sunday at the Village Vanguard’ (link)
Evans’s line-up on this live album is him on piano accompanied by a rhythm section, so the album mostly comprises of him leading with Satie-ish plinking, Thelonius Monk chord clusters and Ellington melodies, and a whole load of bass solos by Scott LaFaro, often with the audience audible in the background. Perhaps the intervening 60 years has dulled its impact somewhat, but this didn’t really leap off the speakers for me. Alas, this was LaFaro’s final recording: he died in a car crash less than two weeks later.
Ella Fitzgerald, ‘Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook’ (link)
Opening up Spotify and seeing one of these classic albums with a three-hour running time is standard fare these days given the amount of additional dross that gets added onto, say, ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ (six-hour version on Spotify including Nico’s ‘Chelsea Girls’ album in full). On this occasion, however, there’s not much extra dross: the original album is indeed 54 tracks long and three hours. It’s in no hurry either: the first thirteen minutes are instrumental easy-listening orchestrations which don’t even feature Fitzgerald! There’s certainly nothing wrong with Ella’s voice, or George’s compositions, which incorporate Latin rhythms, rag-time, sassy big band and showtune-ish ballads. Ira’s lyrical approach, on the other hand, gets wearisome after… well actually straight away, as the routine of clever-dick rhymes and “here’s a thing, here’s how it relates to our relationship” formula is a bit too pleased with itself for its own good. I mean, the guy rhymes “hour” with “Schopenhauer”. Highlights include ‘Just Another Rhumba’, ‘Somebody from Somewhere’ and ‘He Loves and She Loves’, but ultimately the sheer quantity of music is overwhelming. This isn’t even Fitzgerald’s only three-hour album: she also recorded the Duke Ellington songbook and took just as much time to do it.
Jimmy Smith, ‘Back at the Chicken Shack’ (link)
An artist about whom I knew nothing going in, Smith was an organist whose line-up was an unusual ensemble of organ, sax, guitar and drums, with Smith’s Hammond B-3 serving as lead instrument, accompaniment and bass. The sax and guitar are mainly used as solo instruments, and the musicians deliver with aplomb. Smith himself is a restrained backing musician and a skilled soloist. But it all kind of sounds exactly the same. More muzak in a big week for it.
Weather Report, ‘Heavy Weather’ (link)
The latest album of the week (and possibly the most recent jazz album on the 1001, depending on where you categorise Amy Winehouse), this came out in 1977. Its most famous song is its opener, ‘Birdland’, which paves the way for a lot of synths, fretless bass wankery from Jaco Pastorius and soprano saxophone solos. There’s a percussion duet called ‘Rumba Mama’, a bit of steel drum, some mandocello and a lot of stuff that sounds pretty awful. A lot of component parts that I don’t like combining to Frankenstein’s Monster effect. This album was credited for showing there was life in the flagging jazz-fusion scene; to me it just begs for the genre to be put down.
Next week: we’ll be looking at some of the best late-career and comeback albums on the list.
Status update: 644 listened to (64.3%), 357 remaining.