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JEFFREY ST. CLAIR
My Own Private, Springsteen-Free Jazzfest, Week One
Louis Armstrong: Hot Fives and Seven, Vol. 3 (Sony)
The Hot Fives and the Sevens were arguably the greatest jazz bands ever assembled: Armstrong on trumpet, Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Kid Ory on trombone, Lonnie Johnson on guitar, Earl Hines on piano, Johnny St. Cyr on banjo, Pete Briggs on tuba and Baby Dodds on drums. Armstrong’s astonishing solo on "Struttin’ with Some Barbecue" is, for me, the essence of the New Orleans sound.
Sydney Bechet: Runnin’ Wild (Blue Note)
Bechet ranks with Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Armstrong, and Fats Domino as one of the most accomplished and inventive musicians to emerge from the Crescent City. His eerie, twirling soprano sax still sounds both ancient and futuristic. This session, featuring the hot-playing Wild Bill Davison on cornet, was recorded for Blue Note in 1950 as bebop was beginning to lay waste to all that came before it. But here Bechet demostrates that the master of Dixieland still had a thing or two to teach the revolutionary upstarts. Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble, indeed.
Beau Jocque and the Zydeco Hi-Rollers: Check It Out, Lock It In, Crank It Up (Rounder)
Post-modern zydeco backed by a funk band that rivals Mandrill in its heyday. When you find your feet dancing against your will to a song titled "A Pot Full of Neckbones", you’ll know that you’ve been inescapably hooked.
Terrence Blanchard: Wandering Moon (Sony)
Blanchard’s hard bop tribute to the city of his birth is one of the freshest jazz recordings of the 90s. Aided by Branford Marsalis, Dave Holland and the underrated pianist Edward Simon, Blanchard cruises through ballads, blues, and deeply grooved swings. This is swamp bop at its most inventive.
Boozoo Chavis and the Magic Sounds: Who Stole My Monkey? (Rounder)
X-rated zydeco from the roadhouses near Bayou Teche, performed by one of the legends of the accordian and backed by a band that lays down the kind of raunchy grooves the Stones were aiming for in Exile on Main Street but never quite achieved.
Clifton Chenier: Zydeco Sont Pas Sale (Arhoolie)
Chenier said that his friend Lightnin’ Hopkins gave zydeco its name, which translates as "snap bean" and means: if you can’t dance to this you must be white. But more than anyone else, Chenier defined its modern sound: an electric, funk-edged blues fronted by an accordian, riding on top of African-Caribbean polyrhythms and lyrics that slide from Cajun to Creole to English. Zydeco Sont Pas Sale ("Salt Free Snap Beans") probably isn’t Chenier’s greatest album, but it has a much more primal sound than the more highly praised Bogalusa Boogie, as if capturing a new music at the precise moment of invention.
Fats Domino: Sweet Patootie: The Complete Reprise Recordings (Rhino)
Fats as prankster, ripping up the British Invasion. Worth it for a 29 different reasons–each told in a song–but how could you possibly pass up on the chance to hear the Fat Man’s cover of "Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey"? Revenge never sounded so good.
Fats Domino: Alive and Kickin’
Recorded a few years before Katrina, in a studio that would later be destroyed by the flood, Fats Domino’s comeback album may never have seen the Light of day had Fats himself not almost perished in the chaos. What a tragedy that would have been, because this CD is no exercise in nostalgia but a near masterpiece. His powers somehow undiminished by time, Fats is in strong voice and good spirits, and he plays some mind-blowing piano. In fact, he sounds just like you’d want him to. As for the songs, they’re the best we’ve heard from him since the period of his great hits faded away in the early Sixties. When he sings, "You’re gonna reap just what you sow," for "telling all those lies," you feel that he could be singing to FEMA, Bush and the whole gang of them, all tied together in a gunny sack.
Typically, Fats donated the proceeds from this album to the Tipitina’s Foundation. What other artist would have spent all the capital of his big comeback moment on anything other than himself? The reason is clear: Fats, and all the other New Orleans greats, don’t intend to let their city and its culture perish.
The odds against them are incalculable. When I think about the roar that will go up when Fats takes the stage to close the New Orleans Jazz Fest on May 7, I wonder, what percentage of the people traveling to New Orleans for the music will spend a few hours helping somebody rebuild a house, while they’re down there?
Lisa Mann: Self Material
A former Green Party elected official in Oregon (she served as Water Commissioner in Tualatin), Lisa Mann offers an authentic Working Woman’s Blues on her debut CD. "She ain’t nothing to you, but she’s a real live woman to me," she sings on the opening track, and you won’t find a more politically-charged album from a better singer (and terrific bass player, by the way). Whether asking "How did my oil get under your soil?" to the sound of a steel drum band, or singing about George W. Bush and his "Chemicals," she goes for the throat. If you can relate to a woman singing, "my health care plan is don’t get sick," check out "Bentonville Blues" on Lisa’s web.
Disclosure: Lisa invited me to play piano on a couple of tracks ("Chemicals" and "Bentonville Blues"), and having heard the CD, I can only say I’m damned glad I agreed to do it. I was so tired I can hardly remember being in the studio, but judging by the sound of it, I must have had a great time.
Abyssinia Infinite, featuring Ejigajehu "Gigi" Shibabaw, Zion Roots (World
I heard this CD at the Blue Nile Ethiopian restaurant in Esquimalt. I plan to like this music for a long time. It’s a fabulous, ever so faintly modern affair, with producer Bill Laswell devising an elegant setting for his wife Gigi’s vocals, blending traditional instruments with modern electronic production that for once actually enhances the music.
Billy Joe Shaver, The Real Deal (Compadre)
With songs like "It Just Ain’t There For Me No More" and "You Ought To Be With Me When I’m Alone", from the artist who gave us "Tramp On Your Street," it really is.
Pilot Scott Tracy, Any City (Alternative Tentacles)
About as far as you can go in the other direction from anywhere, and strangely appealing. The band apparently contains a member of Man… or Astroman. And I didn’t expect to hear a dead-on perfect cover of Four Jacks and A Jill’s psychotic erotic classic, "(You’re a very strange man, aren’t you) Master Jack".
David Vest’s newest CD is Serves Me Right to Shuffle.
While I’m waiting for the Leon Russell revival to begin, I’m listening to:
Various Artists: "Urban Blues, Blues Uptown Vol. 1" Imperial Legendary Masters Series LP
I found this at a little shop in St. John’s, Oregon called "Vinyl Resting Place." The liner notes (by Pete Welding) say this collection is from 1968 and gives credits to Bob Hite and Henry Vestine of Canned Heat for "Inspiration" and "Final Selection Approval" and to Hite "for the loan of his priceless originals."
Almost none of these tunes were hits, but that just don’t matter none, nohow. Tunes by Fats Domino from1953 and "c.1951-53," from Smiley Lewis, Roosevelt Sykes, T-Bone Walker and someone named Mercy Dee (Walton) who, it turns out, wrote "One Room Country Shack" while living in Fresno.
The gems are a tune by Big Joe Turner recorded with Dave Bartholomew’s band in 1950, a previously unissued (remember this was 1968) Joe Turner/Wynonie Harris duet, and the most sublime version ever recorded of "Mother Fuyer." It’s by Nelson Wilborn who recorded it under the name "Dirty Red."
Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk "Live at Jazzfest 2005". CD
Aaron’s son has taken over as the number one funkiest Neville of them all. He was a big part of all that new energy on the last Neville Brothers’ recording and leads this band which, along with Papa Grows Funk just may keep the funk alive till New Orleans gets itself together again and the musicians come back from Austin, or Memphis or wherever they’ve gone (and where they’re making more dough playing than they ever did in New Orleans).
Ivan’s got two bass players on this gig (which I saw from the audience) on the Accura Stage last year. Also sitting in is bonist Mark Mullins from Bonerama.
Ivan has matured. He isn’t the kid anymore. He’s the man.
Listening to it now, it seems like things were so much more innocent at last year’s Fest. Nobody knew what was coming. It was the final year of Jazzfest and New Orleans as we knew them.
Various Artists "The Now Sound of Brazil 2" Ziriguiboom CD
Ziriguiboom is a label. Don’t let anybody tell you Brazilian music isn’t just as happening now as it ever was. This collection came out last year and it’s got everything you’d ever want out of Brazilian music: rhythm, beauty and the sexiest signing (literally) in the world. Nobody ever had to learn Portuguese to appreciate this stuff.
Bebel Gilberto is the best known singer on this, but it’s been a lot of fun to discover the others on here: Cibelle, Celo Fonesca, Zuco 103, Bosscucanova, and Apollo Nove. See? Even their names are sexy.
Somebody took a lot of trouble to sequence the tunes. I can’t get enough of this.
Paul Motian Trio "At The Village Vanguard" CD
From 1995, with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell. Frisell’s the chameleon, Lovano the Lion and Motian the intellectual. It’s easy to get swept up in who they are rather than what they’re playing, but wrapping yourself up in the vibe here is good for ya. It might make you smarter. It always makes me think. It’s one of those recordings that provides a jumping off point for your own brain.
You put it on, get into it, and let whatever brain cells are still functioning take over.
Don Cherry "Multikulti Live" DVD
Thank God there’s a visual record of Don Cherry’s last band. This is from a concert in Germany in 1991. Nobody ever said he was the greatest trumpet player who ever lived, or the greatest composer. He projected something more than talent (although he had it in freight car-sized amounts). He had, oh I dunnoa goodness, a vibe of peace.
I didn’t know him, although I interviewed him for an hour at the time he was recording the first Multikulti album. I mean, he could have been a rotten sonuvabitch and mean as shit, but I doubt it.
I can’t imagine anybody asking him why he had people of all colors in his band. I wish every American who travels abroad could bring what he brought to this concert.
Why can’t this DVD be an hour longer? Don Cherry has only grown in stature since his death.
Wonder what’s up with Nenah?
Nathaniel Mayer "I Just Want To Be Loved" CD
When I was a 14, I heard a song on the radio called "Village of Love" by somebody named Nathanial Mayer. It was wild. I bought the single and used to play it over and over and over, etc.
In 2004, forty-four years later Fat Possum released this album of newly-recorded songs. Nathaniel had stopped recording decades before and was currently, and had been by all accounts, getting over as best he could, if you know what I mean.
This is just as wild as "Village of Love." Wilder. Out of control in an end-of-a-fucked-up-life way that we’ve never much heard beforethe result of living the bad life in Detroit.
There are great liner notes which include a conversation with Mayer. He was calling for money. He wanted a car, he wanted clothes. Finally he said, "Fuck everything. Just give me 20 dollars so I can get my dick sucked."
He sings like a thief and a pimp. Not the commercial 50 Cent kind, but in the most transparently calculated way. He’s the kind of Black Man who White Folks never understand. And he wants to keep it that way.
his was recorded with a very rough, funky Detroit band.
I like to drive around oh-so-polite Portland, Oregon and play this real loud with the windows down. Nathaniel would like that.
Wayne Horvitz The Four Plus One Ensemble "Sweeter Than The Day"
Not the funky Wayne of Zony Mash, not the outside Wayne of Pigpen, but the sweet, acoustic Wayne. Julian Priester is on here, Reggie Watts, Tucker Martine, Eyvind Kang on viola and violin, and the underrated Skerik, from New Orleans on bari sax.
He wrote these tunes in the middle of a night when he couldn’t sleep. He was living in a little town in Central Italy for a few months.
This album brings ya round. It’s narcotic in the good way. It hugs you. It’s a slow dissolve in a jump-cut world.
Horvitz and I have the best hats in the NW.
Louis Prima Keely Smith with Sam Butera and The Witnesses "Las Vegas Prima Style" LP
On the front cover it says, "Recorded Live at the Sahara Hotel" (underline theirs). On the back cover it says, "At 12:30 (a.m.)Louis Prima issues the call that summons the faithful. From now until six in the morning, Las Vegas belongs to Louis Prima."
I know he became a Lounge icon to the hipsters of the late 1990s but I’ve always loved Louie (underline mine). He’s all over the place with volume and coolness and excitement. Imagine Tiger Rag, White Cliffs of Dover, Should I, Holiday For Strings and O Sole Mio all done al la Louie.
The thing about Louie and Sam and the band is that, besides being "The Wildest" (which they were), they could PLAY.
George Harrison and friends "The Concert For Bangladesh" DVD
I rented this to see how I would react to it, 34 years after the fact, and to see Dylan. Here’s what I found:
a. What the fuck was all that Indian religious shit about, anyway?
b. I like the Beatles only slightly better. I still nevah liked them. So shoot me.
c. Was Eric Clapton on junk? He didn’t play one good lick.
d. Did Eric Clapton have the worst haircut ever placed on the head of man?
e. Thank God for Billy Preston, who took the concert out of the muck of pandering to Eastern religion. Oh wait, he did a gospel tune. I’m busted.
f. Leon Russell was so heavy that Harrison introduced him without using Russell’s last NAME.
g. Everybody on stage was smoking!
h. Dylan was king. No competition.
i. Leon Russell singing harmony with Dylan was absolutely brilliant. Oh yeah, George sang on that song, too.
j. Yes, I listened to part of the Ravi Shankar set and skipped the rest.
k. The naivety was positively charming.
l. Leon Russell’s medley killed.
m. Did I keep pulling my hair away from my eyes every ten seconds when my hair was a long as George’s?
Tom D’Antoni is a writer and TV producer/reporter living in Portland Oregon. His book "Rabid Nun Infects Entire Convent and Other Sensational Stories from a Tabloid Writer" was published by Villard/Random House in November. www.rabidnun.com His documentary on Oregon’s Death With Dignity law "Robert’s Story: Dying With Dignity" is currently being marketed.