new (to me) releases

A decent Saturday at the record store, mostly used stuff. Some details for my future self:

– Wynton Marsalis, “Hothouse Flowers.” His third album, a ballads and strings affair; it came right before two of his greatest records, “Black Codes From The Underground” and “J Mood.” “Flowers” is generally regarded as inconsequential; it’s not Clifford Brown or Charlie Parker with strings, certainly, but I’ve always had a soft spot for it – it was the first “pretty” jazz I fell for, and it taught me there’s value in all well done music, even when it’s basically mood music.

– Dr. John, “Gumbo.” Somehow, I never owned this back in the day, and coming to it new in 2014 is a subtle disappointment. Not for the music itself, which is as wonderful as everyone has said down through the years. The difference is, back in 1972 no one was making this kind of music – New Orleans funk/old time rock and roll – on major labels. It’s so much less special now, with Americana and roots music a staple of concerts, CDs and public radio. Hard to unhear what came after “Gumbo,” to hear it fresh.

– Nick Cave, “No More Shall We Part.” You can either live with Nick Cave’s words or not; Robert Christgau rated this a bomb. He finds Cave pretentious, and he has a point. Even Cave’s best stuff can come off as someone trying too hard to write. But when all that seriousness works, Cave can take you to some unexpected places. This album does that a lot.

– “Hold Me To This: Christopher O’Riley Plays Radiohead.” Second of two volumes of O’Riley transmogrifying Radiohead’s tunes to solo piano. I really like Radiohead, and really like Brad Mehldau’s jazz takes on Radiohead songs. O’Riley’s a classical player, so he’s coming at the songs from a different angle. From what I gather, what he’s doing here is similar to what classical composers did before there was a bright line separating serious and popular music.

– Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate, “Kulanjan.” Ok, yes it sounds like something you’ll hear at your local Panera Bread. I don’t care; I’m beginning to think Taj Mahal, despite how well known he is and how many albums he’s recorded, is under-appreciated. He’s not purist enough for blues specialists, not modern enough to be truly popular, and too polite for hipsters. By my count, that only leaves truth and joy.

– Madlib, “Pinata Beats.” The instrumental version of his hit album with Freddie Gibbs. I don’t listen to a lot of rap – the storytelling usually does not move me – but I love instrumental hip-hop tracks and have bought a lot of Madlib and J. Dilla over the years. It reminds me of John Cage and John Zorn, the way sounds can collide with each other and end up sounding like they were supposed to be together all along.

Also, from the box set, the Kronos Quartet’s “Flood Plain.” That bright line between serious and popular music is obviously going away at this point, and it’s an amazing time to discover music that doesn’t care at all about categories.

Reading: (I mention because of the subject matter) “Dance of Death,” a biography of John Fahey. Fahey’s music from first to last fascinates me; he led a sad life and I guess the best thing you can say is he got some redemption toward the end with the record label he created, the last few years of public performances and his last album. After moving from what he called “American primitive” guitar – the beautiful acoustic work for which he’s best known – to the noise of his electric guitar excursions in the 90s, toward the end he seemed to find a new balance. It wasn’t pretty, but it was approachable. The book is a decent balance between biographical detail and critical analysis of his albums, emphasis on the biography.








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