29/09/2019: “Blue Valentines” by Tom Waits

Tom Waits makes incredibly depressing music, for the most part. That doesn’t mean, however, that it isn’t astoundingly beautiful.

His own distinctive, crusty tones sound like they’ve been doused with cheap whiskey and cigar smoke for a decade or 3. The whiskey comparisons come out a lot with critics, although some content themselves with the rather less dramatic “gravelly” adjective.

His tremulous, breathless singing voice is the counterpart to a melodious and sweet guitar here, which plays a sugary little jazz part.

The lyrics are intensely poetic, tinged with a liberal splash of darkness. They speak less to forlorn heartbreak as to bitter regret. As is common with Tom Waits lyrics, the subject matter is gritty, dealing with the sort of outcast who has no romance in them. In other words, real outcasts who get trodden down and ignored by society.

The song is the title track of the brilliant Blue Valentine album, which came out in 1978.

15/09/2019: “8 Humoresques, Op. 101, B. 187: No. 7. Poco lento e grazioso in G flat major” by Art Tatum/Antonin Dvorak

I wasn’t entirely clear how to credit this one. The piece was composed by Dvorak in 1894, but Art Tatum’s version is very different in character – much less reverent, for one thing.

For that reason, Tatum’s version was divisive for contemporaneous critics. However, in retrospect, his key role in the creation of Jazz music has been recognised. His innovative style, ripping down the staid structures laid out before him in favour of highly idiosyncratic piano playing.

Art Tatum adds a few nonsensical flourishes in, which brighten the piece up considerably. It’s clear that his technical ability is incredible. He uses the piano like a canvas, painting huge splashes of sonic colour instead of the dainty strokes of the original. It’s bombastic and brilliant!

There’s a great argument to be made that the 1894 original arrangement has miles more class – it’s more magnificent, more serene, more beautiful.

But this version is far more fun…

The Art Tatum version played in the 1930s. It’s hard to pin it down more than that.

26/08/2019: “Astral Travelling” by Pharaoh Sanders

Along with Alice & John Coltrane, and possibly Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders is behind the evolution of the cosmic jazz style, deeply spiritual in an ineffable way yet utterly entrancing.

“Astral Travelling” is a cool name, no doubt about it, but you could say it’s not a particularly creative choice; it’s like naming Moonlight Sonata “sad and serene song”. That is to say, the song does what it says on the tin!

The percussion is incredibly diverse and engaging, adding various rattles and exotic flares to the ordinary jazz drum set. The drumming is naturally of a very high standard.

The bass pretty much does its own thing, swaying between a couple of notes harmoniously. Of course, it always matches Lonnie Liston Smith’s shimmering rhodes piano, so that the two instruments create a beautifully lush soundscape between them.

When Pharoah Sander’s saxophone flits into the scene, the other elements accomodate it perfectly, then the track becomes warm, sultry and mellow.

The song is the first on the 1971 album Thembi, which was recorded in two parts, with roughly a year in between sessions.

26/07/2019: “Frantic Moment” by Eddie Hazel

Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs was released in 1977, the only one of Eddie Hazel’s solo albums to be released while he was alive. Until its re-release in the 21st century, it was very rare and something of a holy grail for collectors.

As Eddie Hazel was Parliament’s lead guitarist, you can be sure that the godfather of P-Funk, George Clinton, would make an appearance or two. On this particular song, George Clinton is a co-writer with Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell.

The song is very much within the realms of P-Funk, but has a certain ordered chaos reminiscent of Free Jazz. There’s certainly some more serene moments full of catchy melodies and relatively simple rhythms, but also moments of spaced out craziness.

The lyrics are slow and trippy, but are secondary to the exquisite guitar playing. At the song’s most anthemic part, from about 22 seconds and 2 minutes 22 seconds, the guitar really soars!

It surprising that the song hasn’t been sampled more, but as it stands over 6 Hip Hop artists have sampled various parts of the song…

15/07/2019: “Politician Man” by Betty Davis

“Politician” is a song by Cream, released in 1968 on their Wheels Of Fire album. It’s a fair sleazy sounding song anyway, as a indictment of sexually deviant male politicians throughout the ages. It’s about a politician trying to entice some girl walking along into his car, basically.

Betty Davis takes that ball and runs with it, upping the sleaze levels until the whole thing reeks of non-disclosure agreements and powerful men trying to get their way. Coming from a female singer as well seems to make it that extra bit more biting.

The start of the song is particularly loose, with the various parts of the song careering into each other in a way which sounds a bit unpractised (which it was) but belies a talented studio group.

The song is from a studio session run by Miles Davis, Betty Davis’ husband and Jazz-Fusion legend.

These sessions were released in 2016 on Columbia Years: 1968-1969. 

24/06/2019: “The Word II” by Shigeo Sekito

Earlier on, I wrote about Mac DeMarco. One of my favourite tunes by Mac DeMarco is Chamber Of Reflection, not least because of the stunning and entrancing melody.

Although the form it takes in his song is slower, trippier, and heavier, the melody is a take of this song by Japanese electronic musician Shigeo Sekito. It’s not strictly a sample; more of an interpretation.

DeMarco takes great inspiration from classic Japanese music. It doesn’t get more classic than this!

The song is a lovely expedition through a kind and gentle cosmos. Considering the time it was made, the electone (electronic organ) is expressive and played with a fair amount of impressive improvisation…

The electronic string sounds in the background are ethereal, and almost as delicate as the dainty drums.

The song was released in 1975 on the album Special Sound Series Volume 2.

21/06/2019: “Mystery To Me” by Walt Barr

I stumbled across this song because the YouTube algorithm suggested it. I have to say, these algorithms are getting good!

Other than than, people might have heard the track sampled. It is something of an obscure song, and Walt Barr is a hard man to find information on.

In any case, the song is a wonderful piece of Jazz fusion, replete with sonorous keys, groove-ridden organs and a velvety, melodic guitar part. The song exudes a confident warmth, with a relatively unambitious but completely solid rhythm section adding an extra measure of soulful energy.

Although it’s an instrumental track, the organ/keyboard and guitar both express themselves articulately, giving the track an air of virtuosity.

The song was released on First Visit in 1978, the debut album of the Walt Barr Quartet.

18/06/2019: “Angoisse” by Serge Gainsbourg

“Angoisse” is from the soundtrack to the film “L’eau A La Bouche”, translated as “Mouth Watering”. The song and film were released in 1960, the former on an album entitled Bande Originale Du Film “L’eau À La Bouche”. 

It’s a nice little Jazz track, perfected suited as an intro. The song starts with delicate cymbals, a guitar played in a very Latin way, and the bass. Then the trumpet kicks in and the pace of the song increases. Midway through, the song slows back down, before speeding back up with a saxophone added to the mix.

There’s a lot squeezed into the short time, and much of what is there is very memorable. As one of France’s most incredibly eclectic and popular pop stars, Serge Gainsbourg had an impressive sense of winning melodies, and his creativity was expressed in myriad of ways.

This kind of instrumental jazz was the beginning of Gainbourg’s long career, and is pleasingly straightforward.


31/05/2019: “Capricorn” by George Duke

George Duke was one of the more visionary Jazz artists, with a prolific and varied creative output. He tended towards the Jazz-fusion style, but incorporated a lot of genres into his often eclectic music.

A lot of his songs involve singing, but I have to admit I’m just not a fan of his voice. As songs like this prove, he can express himself perfectly fine without it anyway…

The song is a slow and steady jam, with a bluesy feeling and relaxed contentment seeping from it.

His skills as a keyboardist are evident here, with a knack for building up simple and catchy melodies into much more intricate and impressive sections.

Some wordless vocals are incorporated into the track, adding a more gospel-esque refinement. Heavenly soul beams out of every note!

The song was released in 1974 on Faces In Reflection.

29/05/2019: “Nutville” by Buddy Rich

Buddy Rich is often viewed as being the best Jazz drummer of all time. Even if he wasn’t the best, he is almost certainly the most famous, and most charismatic.

His frenetic style is engaging and powerful, laying down a constant stream of snares, hi hats and cymbals.

“Nutville” was composed by Horace Silver and released in 1966. That version is quite similar in pace and tone, but it lacks one thing: Buddy Rich’s intense drumming.

The big band style which Buddy Rich’s bands employed was slightly anachronistic at the time he recorded this. Still, you could never accuse him of being stale or fusty.

The drums are joined with a raucous chorus of horns, organs and bass, forging a track which is both fun and intricate.

The song was released in 1973, on The Roar of ’74.