Friday, August 27, 2010

Forgotten Music: August 2010 - The Summary

Thanks to all who participated.

Special Note: Today is twentieth anniversary of the death of Texas guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn. I first learned who he was in listening to David Bowie's 1983 album "Let's Dance." SRV's unique sound is what, to me, makes "China Girl" such a good song. Of all the musicians Texas has produced--country, rock, rap, swing, whatever--if I had to pick one artist and one sound to explain how Texas *sounded*, it would be SRV.

Until the next Forgotten Music Thursday on 30 September...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Forgotten Music: Two Men and the Blues by Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis

I know what you’re thinking? Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis? Together? I thought the same thing, too. Look, we're talking about Willie Nelson, the Texas troubadour who will duet with, well, just about anyone who asks. And then there’s Wynton Marsalis, the jazz purist—puritan?—who disdained even his brother, Branford, for touring with Sting back in the 1980s. How in the world did these two get together?

Upon closer inspection, the pairing is not as far from left field as you might think. Nelson has covered everything including reggae (yeah, really) but one of his biggest albums was Stardust (1978), an album of standards from the Great American Songbook, that helped to define what Nelson does best: blend many varied genres and elements to create something different, if not original. Marsalis, in the meantime, has spent the bulk of his career bringing back the prominence of acoustic jazz, the jazz before Miles Davis “corrupted” the genre by plugging in and going electric. And Marsalis succeeded, reminding folks (and record executives) that traditional jazz can be good and make money at the same time. The songs Marsalis used to usher in the Young Lions movement in jazz were those from The Great American Songbook.

Beyond the two men drinking from the same well of music, look at their backgrounds. They are both southerners, Nelson from Texas and Marsalis from New Orleans. Southern music is a smorgasbord of sounds and influences. Gospel, blues, jazz, bluegrass, folk, country, Texas swing, and more all can be found in almost any song by a southerner. So it was, two southerners and their band members went up to New York and recorded a concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

"Two Men and the Blues" is a live recording. It serves the music well because, I think, the perfection of a studio would have lessened the impact and spontaneity of the performance. You get the sense that these seven men are not on a stage at a prestigious concert hall but in the drummer’s garage. It’s a Saturday night, it’s hot, the door’s open, the beer getting warm in the ice chest full of melting ice, and these guys are just jammin’ for no other reason that they love music.

“Bright Lights Big City” kicks off the set. Wynton’s band—he brought himself on trumpet, Walter Blanding (sax), Carlos Henriquez (bass), Dan Nimmer (piano), and Ali Jackson (drums)—sets up the nice lilting shuffle feel. Mickey Raphael’s harmonica is also there, adding that certain flourish that only a harmonica can. All the instrumentalists take a turn at soloing, even Nelson on guitar. You know going into this recording that Wynton’s band is top notch. If you thought there might be a weak link, it was going to be Nelson’s guitar playing. I was interested in hearing if Nelson took a turn on soloing. He did, and, while it’s not superb, this is the type of song where fancy pyrotechnics are out of place. So Nelson did just fine.

The longer you listen to this recording, you realize how close the phrasing of Nelson’s vocals and his guitar really are. His Martin nylon-string guitar does not hold the sustain like a steel-string guitar. Nelson usually compensates by repeatedly striking whichever string he’s playing. But on this recording, he doesn’t do that a lot. He lets the struck string fade when it wants to, much like his voice. Nelson is not a singer who can hold a note for a long phrase. Where a singer like, say, Sinatra, would carry his phrasing past the four-measure break, Nelson breaks his vocal phrasing short. As a result, there are usually more silences in a Nelson tune. That’s his style and it really works in this set.

“Night Life” is one of those tracks where you imagine it being played in a late-night jazz club, after midnight but before closing time, the smoke hanging low from the ceiling, all but the die-hards have gone home. It’s the time of night for the faithful, the friends, and for the girls in the audience who want to date a jazz performer. Wynton’s trumpet shines here, opening the track with a long solo that sets the down tempo mood. But it’s his flutter sound during the chorus that really takes the roof off. Out of nowhere, it blasts above Nelson’s vocals. And Willie brings out a better solo on guitar, a nice, soft theme that put my worries about his abilities to rest. He also played a good melody on “Basin Street Blues.”

Since Stardust is still one of Nelson’s most famous records, you knew the band was going to cover some of those songs. They do the title track and, of course, “Georgia, On My Mind.” "Stardust" has a beautiful, lush tenor sax solo, the kind where you can hear the air passing over the reed in the lower register, a nuance that, for me, a sax player, I love. “Georgia” starts off showcasing Nelson’s vocals as the centerpiece but the soloist shine just as brightly. Marsalis’s wah-wah trumpet wails, Raphael’s harmonica sings, and Nimmer’s piano playing bring a new, but slower, energy to this song. If I had to pick a definitive version of this song as sung by Nelson, it would be this one.

When you listen to the record start to finish, it’s at this point where the audience and the band start to let loose. From the band side, this is the first tune where you can hear Nelson compliment his fellow players during the song. From the audience, they knew the song as it began and they cheered audibly at its conclusion. I could say the audience was polite but tepid in their applause at the beginning of the set. Perhaps they, like new listeners, don’t know what to make of this seemingly strange pairing. By the end of “Georgia,” they knew they were a part of something special. And they let the band know it. For the rest of the set, you can hear cat calls from the audience as they get into the spirit of the night.

An old Hank Williams tune, “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It,” has the vibe of the New Orleans Preservation Jazz Band, complete with a squeaky clarinet and a drum solo, greeted with whistles and cheers of the audience. They cheer Nelson’s best guitar solo in Cole Porter’s “Ain’t Nobody’s Business. ” They laugh as Wynton brings his only vocal performance on this song, telling Nelson and the audience all the things he might do that are, you guessed it, nobody’s business. The set closes with “That’s All,” a fast blues shuffle where everybody has their last chance to shine. Amid the audience clapping along (wonder if they were standing?), you get a taste of the power of Wynton’s trumpet as he let’s loose with one of his famous long notes, high and a little dirty.

By the end, the band and the audience have relaxed and just let the night sweep them away. And we as listeners can get a taste of what it was like those two nights at Lincoln Center. When performances like this crop up, my immediate impulse is to want more of it. Sometimes, the sequel does not live up to the promise of the original. In this case, however, another CD would be more than welcome. And I’d love to see the band perform down in Austin at the South by Southwest or on Austin City Limits.

I love it when two musicians realize that there are more things that unite them in their approaches to music rather than things that divide them. It reminds you that music is universal and can bring just about anyone together. And, if the results of unique pairings are like that of this CD—where you can’t help but smile and tap your foot—it really is lightening in a bottle.

Forgotten Music: August 2010

Welcome to the August 2010 edition of the Forgotten Music Project. Inspired by Patti Abbott's Forgotten Book Friday series, here we examine music that has fallen off the public's radar or other music that never made a blip. We're doing this on a once-a-month basis, the last Thursday of every month. Aside from my own entry, here's today's line-up:

Sean Coleman
Bill Crider
Chad Eagleton
Martin Edwards
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Evan Lewis
Todd Mason
Eric Peterson
Charlie Ricci
Ray Foster

If I have missed your name or got the wrong address, let me know and I'll fix it here and for future months. Anyone can join: just let me know here in the comments section, by e-mail, or in the comments section of my entry that you'd like to join in next month and I'll add you to the list.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Forgotten Music: August 2010 - Call for Entries

Hello all. This Thursday, 26 August, is the August 2010 edition of the Forgotten Music Project.

I've had some inquiries whether or not we're doing it this month. Yes! I just hadn't put up this call for entries since I was dealing with some other stuff.

Bring on the forgotten music. Here's the usual rundown: I'll post links on Thursday to everyone who posted in July. If you have the time, great. If you can't make it, you can either let me know before Thursday (and I'll remove your name) or not not (whereby readers can jump to your blog and read your latest entry). If you want to join and you haven't posted before, just let me know and I'll get your name on the list for Thursday morning. As usual, I"ll do a summary at the end of the day.

Looking forward to everyone's entries.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Book Review Club: Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

(This is the August 2010 edition of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club. For more reviews, click the icon at the end of this post.)

To paraphrase Anthony Bourdain (and make him roll his eyes were he to read this), as soon as I finished Kitchen Confidential, I wanted more. I am not the person for whom he wrote that book, published in 2000. By his own admission, he wrote that book for a select group and hoped for moderate success. What resulted is a ten-year run that brought the profane writer-chef international recognition and a devoted fans by people like me: foodies. I devoured the book and enjoyed it a great deal.

I love his Travel Channel program, No Reservations, and delight as he waxes rhapsodic on the wonderful deliciousness of dead animals, mainly porcine. I sometimes hang on his every word. I have made local excursions around Houston, all inspired by things he likes. He is easily my favorite of the television chef personalities.

So it was with great enthusiasm that I awaited this summer’s new book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. It’s a sequel of sorts to Kitchen Confidential. With the first book, Bourdain was a working chef who also wrote and did no television. Medium Raw sees his transition from a working chef to a television personality and celebrity chef, a personage he often derides. He discusses that aspect of his schtick in the new book as well as the genesis of his hatred for Food Network, selling out, and that thing about fish on Mondays.

As Bourdain said in the 100th episode of No Reservations this past Monday, he writes like he speaks, and he speaks profanely. This book isn’t for the meek or for folks who are easily offended. While I no longer speak like that, his sailor’s language makes for some mighty funny passages, none of which I can quote here.

To get the Full Bourdain, you simply must hear the audiobook version. Like Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain reads Medium Raw with joy and relish. He’s able to emphasize an F-bomb here or a put down there. The book was published in June and I patiently waited for the audio version to show up on in July. It’s more than worth the wait.

For all the chef-talk and foodie wisdom Bourdain sprinkles throughout the book, it’s his discussion of his only child that softens his edge and lessens the acerbic tone of his voice. As a man who never thought he’d be a father, parenthood has changed him. Mostly. A parent myself, I know what being a dad can do to a man. It’s really cool to hear Bourdain talk about what fatherhood means to him.

If you enjoy celebrity chefs and their programs and books, Anthony Bourdain’s newest non-fiction book certainly belongs on your shelf. Besides, the man can write*. You’ll notice there isn’t a semi-hidden co-author. This is Bourdain, sauteed in a reduction of his own prose. My only hope is that he doesn’t wait another ten years until he writes his next book.

*The 100th episode of No Reservations shows lots of footage from a documentary about Bourdain filmed in 2000. Surprisingly, in scenes showing him typing at his keyboard, he doesn’t type with all ten fingers. As best I could make out, he uses four: three on his right hand, one (index) on his left. Maybe that’s why it takes so long for him to write books on cooking.

Note: Famously, Bourdain’s mission statement is boiled down to this: I write. I eat. I travel. And I’m hungry for more. I tried my hand at my own Bourdain Quatrain: I love. I read. I write. And I'm eager to turn the next page. To see how I arrived at it, go here.

What might yours be?

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@Barrie Summy

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Beat to a Pulp - The Cover!

I am already honored to be a part of the inaugural anthology from Beat to a Pulp. If I wasn't already jazzed at having one of my stories stand alongside tales from such stand-out names like Ardai, Gorman, and Reasoner, I need only look at the cover. Holy moly, that's an awesome cover.

What I really dig are the frayed edges. That's the kind of detail that brings home the feel of this collection.

Keep an ear cocked next month for when I get my copy, you're gonna hear a peal of excitement coming from Houston! Then you'll hear silence because I'll be devouring this baby.