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Play On

What We’re Listening to This Week

by COUNTERPUNCH STAFF

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Keith Jarrett: No End (ECM, 2013)

The last time most of us heard Keith Jarrett play an electronic instrument was on the 2003 release of Miles Davis’ The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions (recorded in 1970), where Jarrett performs on both a Fender Rhodes and an electronic piano with wah-wah pedal. I’ve long considered Davis’ Tribute to Jack Johnson to rank as one of the best “rock” albums ever recorded, even though it was made by a one-of-a-kind ensemble of modern jazz luminaries: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Dave Holland, Chick Corea, Sonny Sharrock, John McLaughlin, Airto Moreira—to name only a few players. After those scorching sessions, Jarrett reputedly swore off electronic instrumentation, deprecating the sound quality and the technical hijinks. This image of Jarrett the Luddite became something of a standard trope in articles about him, including, I must confess, a couple of my own. The story goes something like this: Keith Jarrett, who began as an avant-gardist with the great Charles Lloyd, has been steadily retreating into the past ever since he left Davis, indulging his considerable talent on stale classical music and mothballed instruments like the clavichord. He is a perfectionist and something of a malcontent, who is more comfortable with Bach than Jimi Hendrix. The prickly Jarrett has, it must be said, contributed to this fussy portrait in interviews over the decades. But now along comes the musician to shatter these illusions by releasing No End, where the producer’s note instructs us, in language usually reserved for a Metallica CD, to “Play this music LOUD.” That producer is, of course, Keith Jarrett. Jarrett bogarted all the instruments, too, playing piano, tablas, a “blond wood Fender” electric bass, drums and, yes, a “deep-red” solid body Gibson electric guitar. He was also the engineer, taping it himself in his home studio on two Tanberg cassette recorders. Although Jarrett has a reputation (also well-earned) for being notoriously fastidious about the sound quality of his recordings, No End is as “DIY lo-fi” as any Handsome Family album. That is not to suggest that the sound is poor. To the contrary, the music has an extraordinary intimacy. Recorded in 1986, No End contains 20 tracks of improvised electronic music, with, Jarrett notes, “no forethought or ‘composition’ (in the typical sense) going on.” The tapes have been hibernating in Jarrett’s vaults for nearly 30 years. But ours is not to reason why. These improvised “intuitions”, to use Jarrett’s phrase,  offer hints of Chicago blues, Ska, soul, funk and, even, heavy metal. Jarrett’s guitar-work is more than serviceable, but it’s his intensely polyrhythmic drumming that comes as the real surprise: you can tell he’s deeply absorbed the lessons of Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette (and even the furious bashing of Buddy Miles). What No End may lack in thematic coherence, it more than compensates for with creative immediacy. These are the sounds of an unrivaled experimenter captured in the process of experimenting. Which is not to say that the music doesn’t rock.

Takuya Kuroda: Rising Son (Blue Note, 2014)

A brilliant young trumpeter blazes through a set of smoldering blues, hard bop and blistering funk. Kuroda’s playing is bright and fast: think Clifford Brown infused with hip hop beats. This is the kind of fresh melodic music, with vocals from José James, that stands as a dynamic rebuttal to those who would consign jazz to the catacombs of academia.

Mighty Diamonds: Right Time (Frontline, 1976)

This soulful album from the mid-70s, by a trio of young Rastafarians from the slums of Trenchtown, may be the closest reggae ever came to sounding like classic Motown: in part because of the shimmering harmonies, in part because the grooves were being laid down by one of the greatest rhythm duos in modern music: Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. From the first beats of “Right Time” you know you’re listening to something new and infectious. The album closes with a daring reggae extrapolation of John Coltrane’s “Africa.” A signature achievement from beginning to end.

Jeffrey St. Clair once played two-chord guitar in a garage band in Naptown called The Empty Suits.

 

JOSHUA FRANK

Neighborhood Brats: No Sun No Tan (Unsigned, 2013)

Miles Davis + 19: Miles Ahead (Columbia Records, 1957)

Gene Clark: No Other (Asylum Records, 1974)

Joshua Frank is managing editor of CounterPunch.

 

KRISTIN KOLB

Blues Masters, Vol. 11: Classic Blues Women (Rhino, 1993)

Waylon Jennings: Honky Tonk Heroes (RCA Victor, 1973)

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Beat the Devil’s Tattoo (Vagrant, 2010)

Kristin Kolb writes the Daydream Nation column for CounterPunch magazine.

 

LEE BALLINGER

Mike Bloomfield: From His Head to His Heart to His Hands (Columbia Legacy, 2014)

Lalah Hathaway: Self Portrait (Stax, 2008)

Justin Wilson: I Gawr-On-Tee (Music Mill, 2009)

Lee Ballinger co-edits Rock and Rap Confidential.

 

SALLY TIMMS

Kanye West: Yeezus.

Keep returning to this for the fantastic production, it takes me back to London in the early 90s when underground dance music was at its best. Here’s the track Blood on the Leaves sampling Nina Simone’s Strange Fruit.

Guy Called Gerald: Black Secret Technology 1995.

Ambient jungle from Manchester.

Ragga Twins: Hooligan 69.

Detroit Techno, Chicago House and Dancehall distilled into early jungle. On the great Shut Up and Dance label, who would sample anything and everything and were finally shut down after being sued by Marc Cohn for using part of “Walking in Memphis”.

Sally Timms is a singer, songwriter and member of The Mekons. Her most recent solo record is ‘World of Him.‘ She lives in Chicago.

 

DAVID YEARSLEY

New Century Baroque: Requiem. (Ambronay, 2013)

This vivid new reading of the Mozart Requiem on period instruments comes from a cosmopolitan ensemble of young musicians calling themselves the New Century Baroque. As if to lighten the shadows of Mozart’s final, unfinished work in advance, the CD begins with the irrepressible optimism of the clarinet concerto, like the Requiem composed in 1791, the last year of Mozart’s life.

David Yearsley once played the world’s oldest piano and didn’t damage it … much.

 

KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY

Nina Simone: The Soul of Nina Simone (RCA 2005)

George Harrison, et al.: The Concert for Bangladesh (Apple Records, 1971)

War: The World is a Ghetto (United Artists, 1972)

Delaney and Bonnie:  On Tour with Eric Clapton (Atco Records, 1970)

Kevin Alexander Gray is a civil rights organizer in South Carolina and author of Waiting for Lightning to Strike! The Fundamentals of Black Politics (CounterPunch/AK Press) and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He is the editor, along with JoAnn Wypijewski and Jeffrey St. Clair, of Killing Trayvon, to be published this spring by CounterPunch Books. He can be reached at kagamba@bellsouth.net.

 

PETER STONE BROWN

Brandon Adams: Hardest Kind of Memories (CD Baby, 2014)

Ray Benson: A Little Piece (Bismeaux, 2014)

Dan Montgomery: You’ll Never Be A Bird (C Baby, 2010)

The Silver Threads: Last Witness

Peter Stone Brown is a musician and musicologist.

 

RON JACOBS

Elmore James: Come Go With Me (Charly, 2006)

Twelve bar blues from the master of the format.

Bonnie Raitt, Freebo, Lowell George and John Hammond: Live at Ultrasonic Studios 10/17/1972

Bonnie, her first (and best) bass player, Little Feat’s Lowell George and John Hammond Jr. play some blues, rock and roll and, in general, have a good and stoned time…

Rolling Stones: Beggars Banquet, Remastered. (Abkco, 2002)

The first entry in the quartet of Rolling Stones 1968-1972 run of discs, an exploration of North American folk and blues formats. From Sympathy for the Devil to Salt of the Earth this album never gets old, even if Sir Mick does.

Ron Jacobs’ book on the Seventies, Daydream Sunset, will published by CounterPunch this summer.