24/10/2019: “Gol-E Gandom” by Lloyd Miller

Sometimes, western attempts to blend Middle Eastern styles with Jazz can be a bit suspect. Especially if, as is the case here, the album title contains the word ‘Oriental’…

Aping traditional sounds and styles needs to be respectful – and importantly, it needs to work!

In this case, I feel that both criteria are satisfied – which checks out considering that Lloyd Miller is something of an expert in the sphere of Middle Eastern music. Of course, individual cultures have produced better players, but not many will have mastered such a diverse range of styles and instruments.

The song utilises a santur, which is a kind of dulcimer/zither thing (sort of like a guitar).

It’s a hypnotic effect. To start with, the song is a cascade of eerie twangs, until the more recognisable western jazz elements such as the bass and drums enter the scene.

This track is seriously catchy – no wonder the album this is from, 1968’s Oriental Jazz, is now so sought after!

19/10/2019: “Wildflower” by Hank Crawford

The original version of this was a soulful 1972 smooth jam by Skylark. It’s a nice enough tune, if a little lacking in energy.

There are no such concerns with Hank Crawford’s 1973 jazz cover. His saxophone soars heroically over a dense thicket of buzzing drums and forceful guitars, with the occasional vocal embellishment, triumphant trumpets, and a little bit of Rhodes riffing thrown in for good measure.

The song has a tremendously colourful presentation, but also excels rhythmically. The slap bass makes good on its initial promise here, pulsing with bursts of energy throughout. The funky feeling created by this gives the song a measure of accessibility – along with the catchy sax lead hook.

It’s a great piece of soul-jazz, drawing out a more exuberant facet of the original.

Hank Crawford’s “Wildflower” was released on Wildflower, a 5 song LP mainly comprising sax driven covers.

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.