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What I’m Listening to This Week
Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch
Eric Dolphy may have been post-bop jazz’s most versatile performer. He was a top-notch flutist and sax player, but it is his astonishing work on the bass clarinet that elevates Dolphy to the very top of the jazz pantheon. This is not Benny Goodman’s clarinet, though Dolphy surely studied Goodman’s chops. Plagued by diabetes for much of his brief life, Dolphy, a pioneer of free jazz, was also one of the first horn players to issue solo recordings–and nobody, with the possible exception of Sonny Rollins, has ever done them better. But this 1964 session for Blue Note, where Dolphy is backed by Bobby Hutcherson, Richard Davis and the brilliant Tony Williams (who probably still wasn’t old enough to illegally enter the bar venues), is a landmark of intricate harmonies, slightly askance time signatures and a hitherto unparalleled freedom to improvise. One of the eeriest and most beautiful recordings of the 1960s. Dolphy died five months later in Berlin after lapsing into a diabetic coma. He was 36.
Wynonie Harris: Bloodshot Eyes
If you ask me where rock and roll began, I might have a different answer every day of the week, from Joe Turner to Amos Milburn, T-Bone Walker to Ike Turner and Jackie Breston. But again and again, I come back to the blues shouter Wynonie Harris, who recorded "Good Rockin’ Tonight" for King Records in the late 1940s. Elvis recorded the same song a decade later, but he didn’t rock nearly as hard as Wynonie. Blues legend T-99 Nelson told me a few years ago that no one dressed as sharply or "cut heads" as viciously (outshown others in competitive perfromances) as Harris in his prime. But by the early 60s, Harris was almost forgotten, even by those who had acquired so much fame and money from imitating his singular style. Drink ruined his once mighty voice and the inexplicable neglect of his art shattered his psyche. He died nearly penniless in 1969, at the age of 53. Other songs for consideration from the repertoire of the most unsung hero of rock and roll include: "Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well," "Wynonie’s Blues," "Bloodshot Eyes" and "All She Wants to Do is Rock."
Lowell Fulson: I’m a Nightowl
These days Lowell Fulson is remembered mainly for his blues standard "Reconsider Baby" and "Tramp", a song that laid the groundwork for James Brown and the rise of funk. But Fulson, a triple threat, is one of the blues’s greatest singers, songwriters and guitar-players, who exerted a profound influence on BB King, who had hits with Fulson’s "3 O’Clock in the Morning Blues" and "Every Day I Have the Blues." This is a fantastic collection of 24 Fulson songs covering a crucial decade of his career. But it’s just an appetizer. There’s so much more out there.
The Meters: Funkify Your Life
So Bruce Springsteen is playing New Orlean’s Jazzfest this year. Why? Can anyone detect the slightest influence of NO R&B or blues in his music, other than the tiresome tokenism of Clarence Clemons fronting his band? Dylan is also playing Jazzfest, but at least he recorded there and wrote vividly of the city in his memoir Chronicle. Skip Springsteen’s Bono-like invasion of the Crescent City and catch the Meters instead. They’re the real deal.
Valerie Simpson: Exposed
One half of one of Motown’s best songwriting teams steps out to prove she also secretly owned one of Motown’s most alluring voices. Why did Barry Gordy keep her locked up for so long? After the success of Exposed, Valerie’s husband Nick Ashford wanted part of the limelight. The hits got bigger, but the music was never as pure.
Bob Dylan: Shot of Love
In which Dylan rises from the dead. The Jesus fethish is still there, but there are signs of the old irony about to be reborn. Who else could write this from Groom’s Still Standing at the Altar:
Cities on fire, phones out of order,
They’re killing nuns and soldiers,
there’s fighting on the border.
What can I say about Claudette?
Ain’t seen her since January,
She could be respectably married
Or running a whorehouse in Buenos Aires.
PS: Go Hoosiers!