Aug 29, 2013

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane: An Impulse Records Classic You May Have Missed

Duke Ellington and John Coltrane:  The Impulse album from 1963, is one of a string of self conscious albums done by John Coltrane after his recent Village Vanguard concerts of 1961.

Both critics and fans were not universally enamored with the new tones coming out his horn.

 Ballads, this album, and his pairing with the silky smooth  Johnny Hartman, were decidedly more palatable to the critic. All of these albums sold well, and reaffirmed Coltrane's roots in the tradition.

I also happen to think all of those records are quite underrated.

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane begins with the simplest of piano accompaniment from Duke:  "In a Sentimental Mood" bleeds romance, the up front in the mix piano sets this almost ominous mood to me. Coltrane enters and just sings the plaintive lyrics with his tenor in a way only Trane could. Understated, and tasteful.

Only Dexter Gordon affects me the same way Coltrane does, as far as a sax tones go. The sound just goes straight to that place where God lives within you.  The entire album is really as basic as you can get, Duke's old fashioned sort of stride piano sound, I love how Duke sounds like that on the album, you know it's Duke, and you know it's Coltrane.

Aug 26, 2013

Xavier Cugat's Cugi's Cocktails: A Jazzy/Lounge Dance Album Circa 1963

 Xavier Cugat (1900-1990) first showed up on my radar during an episode of the 1970's Emmy Award Television Show ALL in the Family.

Cugat was mentioned during a game between Archie (Carrol O'Connor) and Meathead (Rob Reiner) where they would mention a band leader's initials, and then the other would try to guess the name.

Anyway, Archie submitted E.C., when Meathead could not come up with name, Archie replies Eggsavier Cugat of course, Meathead went nuts repeating "Xavier begins with an X".

Funny what kids remember? When I noticed this vinyl copy of Cugi's Cocktails, I immediately harkened back to that All in the family episode. Turns out this is a pretty good pop big band album as well.

Drinks like "Zombie" for you Walking Dead Fans, "One Mint Julip" for you folks from Louisville, and "Cuba Libre"my personal Favorite.

Cugi's C0cktails is just a sublime jazzy lounge/dance album. Many of these songs are meant to be dance numbers, "not my cup of tea," but dances like "the Rhumba", "the Mambo", and "the Cha Cha" are mentioned. The music is quite good, and well recorded.

Vinyl Copies like this Stereo version of Cugi's Cocktails are very tough to come by right now, I don't know why exactly.

 The album was a big seller in 1963,  you would think there would be an ample amount of copies out there?


Aug 25, 2013

Chet Baker, She Was too Good to Me - CTI LP: Nice 70's Jazz Session From the Jazz Cult Icon.

Trumpeter Chet Baker may have the biggest cult following in jazz history, he may also be the music's most tragic figure.

Baker had it all, rugged good looks, and a smooth as silk singing voice, and a sensitive ballad style on trumpet second only to Miles Davis, if not directly lifted from Davis..

Chet Baker could have been a household name, yet outside of jazz, he was more known for his dances with heroin and death, while being pursued by the long arm of the law than he was for his music, that is the sad fact.

I would consider myself a member of the baker cult, his vocals can be an acquired taste though.

The underrated trumpeter was actually a fine cool jazz and bop player, who even dabbled a little into the funk fusion realm, with albums to follow this one, that actually are quite good for the genre.

This album, She Was Too Good to Me, was a comeback album, that did have commercial aspirations,  using pop elements like strings to augment the straight ahead jazz throughout, but don't worry, it's not overly syrupy at all.

Paul Desmond shows up for 2 tracks, "Autumn Leaves" and "Tangerine", Ron Carter from the Great second quintet of Miles Davis is on bass. Bob James plays piano and Don Sebesky arranged and conducted the album.

Chet Baker really did have matinee idol good looks, but by the time of this album, he looked as if he had been to hell and back, and indeed he had been.

He was in and out of rehabs and jail, with long stints away from music in a haze of drug induced debauchery.

Chet was not unlike Miles Davis in some respects, but Miles could bring it back from the cliff, and put a lid on the destructive behavior for the most part, and get back to building a career and setting the tone for the world of jazz.

Chet finally lost his battle with drugs in 1988: On May 13th he was found dead in the street underneath his second story hotel room in Amsterdam Netherlands. Chet was only 58.

This particular LP has become a nice record to have as it is one of the better late career albums Chet did, and the high quality supporting cast adds to the appeal. Altoist Paul Desmond himself would be dead only a few years after offering fine support on this recording.

All Photo from my own collection.

Aug 21, 2013

Billy Paul War of the Gods LP: Killer Soul Vinyl

Billy Paul War of the Gods

Billy Paul is a beast of a soul singer, and one of the most underrated of all time in my mind.

Known primarily for his Grammy  winning "Me and Mrs. Jones" #1 hit from 1972, and this all time classic album War of the Gods.

Billy Paul can deliver a vocal in a higher pitched sweet style as well as a lower gruff bluesy voice.

War of the Gods is known most for the combination of elements it comprises, Funk, Jazz, Soul, and electronic psychedelic styles.

All tracks on the album were composed by the duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

The title track, a soul funk and electronic synthesizer jazz influenced epic complete with religious end times over tones is worth the price of the album alone.

The intro to the title track is so 70's, you just have to love it with the wash of over the top synths delivering a fanfare to allow all who hears know, "listen up"

Then a soothing acoustic piano brings it back down and female background singers enter to pave the way for Billy.

Oh yes, Billy I feel ya, smooth as silk vocal delivery, I really like the build up of the mood, then the funky bridge, hard to beat. Vibraphone and various percussion instruments give "Gods" a Latin jazz vibe I find irresistible.

"Peace Holy Peace" is also a powerful gospel influenced soul number, that rounds out the album superbly.

You can still find vinyl copies of this quite easily and at reasonable prices, I found this copy at a local used book seller for $3.99. Talk about a steal.

 The album cover you might recognize, has a lot in common with Santana's Abraxas and Miles Davis' Bitches Brew.

 Surrealist artist Mati Klarwein designed those covers as well as
the War of the Gods album cover.

70's funk and soul records are still priced reasonably right now, you could put together a nice collection in no time.

Aug 10, 2013

John Coltrane's Giant Steps Was Not Released in 1959: Try 1960 Instead

I suppose the effort to shoe horn in John Coltrane's Giant Steps among the historically great jazz albums from 1959 seemed like a good idea?

 After all, How could such a legendary year for jazz not have a Coltrane album right?

Giant steps was released in the year 1960, in the month of January.

I know, I know, it looks good seeing the album on the same list as Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, and Dave Brubeck's Time Out.

Not to mention Charles Mingus and his masterpiece Mingus Ah Um, and maybe the biggest ground breaker of them all in 1959, Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come.

 I know the Atlantic Records release is every bit as groundbreaking as all these mentioned records, and Coltrane pretty much moved the saxophone ahead 100 years by himself with the album. Coltrane actually eclipsed the Great Charlie Parker as the guy everybody had to sound like, has anyone eclipsed Coltrane since?

There really is a fantastic DVD out right now that highlights the jazz year 1959, and Yes you guessed it, Giant Steps was not released in 1959 on that DVD.

I have seen at least a half dozen articles about 1959, and people constantly include Giant Steps, which always amused me.

 I feel their vibe though, they want it to be 1959 so bad, they want to act as if Jan 1960 started a month earlier, but alas, it was not to be.

This pictured vinyl copy of Giant Steps is a mid 70's pressing, and sonically sounds pretty good. I would love to obtain a first press black label to judge the sound difference.

This green and red Atlantic label only set me back around 20 bucks, very reasonable price for a classic album more than 30 years old.

Charles Mingus Tijuana Moods LP 1957-1962

Charles Mingus Tijuana Moods LP COVER Tijuana Moods is a strange album to me, I don't think it sounds like the typical Mingus album. At least not the way I think of Mingus.

I think about Blue & Roots, and Mingus Ah Um, and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.

Tijuana Moods is still an exceptional piece of music.  Judging by the amount of edits needed to piece it together, this album had to have been a labor of love for Mingus.

Mingus does mention on the back cover no less, that Tijuana Moods was the best album he ever made.

One wonders exactly when Charles was meaning this best album claim, as this music was made in 1957, and not released until 1962, did he mean this for 1957 or 1962?

 I like Tijuana Moods, its an interesting, if some what flawed listen.  I certainly don't consider it as great as Mingus Ah Um or The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, the latter in my estimation the greatest of all Mingus works. But I hold so much of his legacy so high that you begin to grasp at straws trying to pick a best Mingus record anyway.

Charles Mingus RCA VICTOR Tijuana Moods labelTijuana Moods seems like a work in progress, which honestly is something I don't mind, as Mingus' best work always seem raw and unrefined.

Saxophonist Shafi Hadi (Curtis Porter) shines very brightly on the album, he plays with a pissed off fire that you might expect coming from a Mingus side man.

Hadi completely dropped out of site in the early 60's, he can be heard on another Mingus album The Clown.

This early 60's copy, I presume it is a first pressing was a great find? I purchased a huge lot of Mingus albums several years ago, the covers were all on the worn to rough side. I gambled on it, the dealer had a generic VG grade on the lot, turned out most of the vinyl was VG+ to near mint in all honesty, I was pleasantly surprised to say the least.

You can get a copy like this pictured copy in the 50 dollar price range if you shop around, this has also been reissued on high quality vinyl with bonus tracks added.

Aug 4, 2013

One Down One Up: John Coltrane Live at the Half Note 200 Gram Vinyl

Here is one of my favorite vinyl reissues: 

One Down One Up is a lavish 200 gram double vinyl set that really adds something special to the experience.

Thick Audiophile quality LP's pressed on 200 gram virgin vinyl, with a 12 inch  brimming with life booklet that also makes the CD look puny by comparison.

The title track, by in large a duet between drummer Elvin Jones and John Coltrane is the centerpiece of the album, the track offers some atonal inside out playing that was legendary on the bootleg circuit.

John's son Ravi Coltrane gave the OK for an official release, and I was excited, as I had not heard this stellar music. The sound quality album wide is still very good, and hard to complain about, if you understand that these are indeed not audiophile quality.

I happen to think the sound is better than average, and except for a few drop outs here and there, not bad at all.

 The music is indeed of historic proportions, as the quartet had just come off of A Love Supreme and they are really pushing the boundaries of post bop.

In fact, it wouldn't be too long until Trane went too far for Pianist McCoy Tyner, and
Drummer Elvin Jones and they hit the road, then Drummer Rashied Ali and Coltrane's pianist wife Alice joined the band.

This Half note performance was documented for radio broadcast by DJ Alan Grant, he does become a tad annoying talking over the music, but honestly, if he hadn't recorded the music, I wouldn't be talking  about how great it is.

The title track is 28 minutes of fury and fire,  and the first 35 minutes of it wasn't even recorded as DJ grant showed up 35 minutes into the track, but at the 10 minute mark Tyner and Garrison drop out and Jones and Coltrane take the track where no man has gone before.

The title track has almost become mythical in stature because of the duet, since I am just a lowly blues rock guitarist, I can't adequately describe music this advanced other than describing what's going with the mood.

 The spiritual urgency seems palpable, I swear Coltrane seems like he's playing with a passion that's needed to gain entry to paradise or something, He "would" be dead 2 years later?

Coltrane was asked once by a Japanese reporter what he hoped to accomplish with his life or music, He simply said: "To be a saint".

Check out this article with a little more background on the context of the now legendary "saint" comment.

"Afro Blue", the Mongo Santamaria vehicle is always a keeper every time I hear the track, somehow Coltrane manages to keep the essence of the original while all concerned show their prowess as advanced "from another world" musicians.

 Elvin Jones once said:" You got to be willing to die with a motherfucker" when asked what it was like, and how to play with such intensity. Man, this music does sound like life and death! I can't complain one bit about this reissue, it's one of my favorites,  I originally purchased on CD.

Once I returned to vinyl a few years later, I jumped on this vinyl copy as quickly as I could. I paid $40 dollars for this copy, I have noticed it selling for twice that much at times on eBay. Being a limited edition, I doubt it will get any cheaper than the $40.

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