What I’m Listening to This Week

Wayne Shorter: Night Dreamer (Blue Note)

There are days (and a lot of them) when I’d rather listen to Wayne Shorter than any other sax player, including Coltrane, Prez and Bird. This is Shorter’s debut recording for Blue Note, made when he was only 20 years old, and it is a masterpiece: lyrical, haunting, innovative. And Shorter surrounds himself with a band featuring as talented a collection of young turks as any ever assembled: Lee Morgan on trumpet, McCoy Tyner on piano and Elvin Jones on drums. Try getting “Virgo” out of your head–not that you’d want to.

Danny Barnes: Get Yourself Together (Terminus Records)

Blazing banjo-picking, scabrous lyric-writing, surrealist stories and a voice oozing irony and empathy. Call it GrungeGrass, if you like. (Barnes, formerly of the Bad Livers, recently moved to Seattle.) Barnes is playing in Portland today and I gotta work. Now, ain’t that a shame.

Waylon Jennings: Dreaming My Dreams (Buddha)

There’s a confusing pile of Jennings records to cull through, much of it rubble, frankly, but I keep returning to this recording from 1975, before Waylon began all the Outlaw posturing, when his voice rumbled with ragged authority across songs like “Waymore’s Blues”, “The Door is Always Open” and “Bob Wills is Still the King.”

Spike Jones: Spike Jones is Murdering the Classics

Proof that Beethoven had been rolled over long before Chuck Berry came along to stick a fork in him. Sheer lunacy captured on vinyl. And, sadly, that’s where you’re likely to find it, since one of the funniest routines ever recorded is obscenely no longer available on CD. There are many Spike Jones greatest hits collections out there but none capture the civilization-destroying anarchy of this record.

Jules and the Polar Bears: Got No Breeding (Sony)

Another rare recording. Here Power Pop meets New Wave with stunning results. Most New Wave bands couldn’t play music (see Talking Heads) and most pop bands couldn’t write lyrics worth listening to. Briefly, Jules and the Polar Bears did both at a high level. A road not taken in American music. Too bad.

Louis Jordan: Let the Good Times Roll (MCA)

Before James Brown, there was the great jump-blues king Louis Jordan, perhaps the most enegertic performer of the pre-rock era–that is, if you don’t consider Jordan a rocker. I do. There are a ton of classics on this collection from swing to jump blues to jive talkin’ to, yes, rock: “Five Guys Named Moe,” “What’s the Use of Gettin’ Sober?,” “Buzz Me Blues”, “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” and the unsurpassed “Caldonia”.

Kool and the Gang: Wild and Peaceful (Mercury)

The horn-driven funk of Kool and the Gang streamed more from urban jazz than southern soul music. Indeed, Kool and the Gang were originally called the Jazziacs and the band often warmed up for concerts onstage playing Monk, Coltrane and Ellington numbers–often without the audience even recognizing the band. This was their break-out recording and stands as one of the 1970s best albums. C’mon now, everybody, bump and grind: “Jungle boogie …”

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR’s music writings (as well as CPers Ron Jacobs, David Vest and Daniel Wolff) can be found in Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.


Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3