Summer Playlist, 2017

No accident these, no throw of the random dice, but compiled with loving care.

  1. Body & Soul : Billie Holiday, from The Quintessential Billie Holiday Vol. 8
  2. Brickyard Blues : Helen Shapiro, from Rhythm on the Radio – Oval Records 1974-87
  3. California Bloodlines : Dave Alvin, from West of the West
  4. Don’t Take This the Wrong Way : Graham Fitkin Band, from Veneer
  5. Falling in Love Again : Billie Holiday, from The Quintessential Billie Holiday Vol. 8
  6. Flamingo : Earl Bostic, from Larkin’s Jazz
  7. Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves : Cher, from Cher’s Greatest Hits 1965-92
  8. Hemingway’s Whiskey : Kris Kristofferson, from This One’s For Him, A Tribute to Guy Clark
  9. I Got Rhythm : Django Reinhardt, from Djangology
  10. I’m Down in the Dumps : Bessie Smith, from Larkin’s Jazz
  11. I’ve Had It : Aimee Mann, from Whatever
  12. Is This America? : Charlie Haden, from Rambling Boy
  13. The House That Jack Built : Jack ‘N’ Chill, from Rhythm on the Radio – Oval Records 1974-87
  14. Jumpin’ at the Woodside : Count Basie & His Orchestra, from Larkin’s Jazz
  15. Leaving the Table : Leonard Cohen, from You Want it Darker
  16. Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor : Mississippi John Hurt, from Today
  17. Never Not You (Remember to Breathe) : Girlboy, from Late Bloomers
  18. New Orleans Hop Scop Blues : Bruce Turner & Wally Fawkes, from That’s the Blues, Dad
  19. Now’s the Time : John Lewis, from Improvised Meditations & Excursions
  20. Our Song : Joe Henry, from Civilians
  21. Private Life : Grace Jones, from Island Life
  22. Rosetta : Allen Toussaint, from American Tunes
  23. Round Midnight : Robert Wyatt, from For the Ghosts Within
  24. Runaway : Bonnie Raitt, from The Bonnie Raitt Collection
  25. Sister Mercy : John Stewart, from The Day the River Sang
  26. Someday You’ll Be Sorry : Louis Armstrong, from Louis Armstrong at The Crescendo 1955
  27. Stone for Bessie Smith : Dory Previn, from Mythical Kings & Iguanas
  28. Vamp : Graham Fitkin Band, from Vamp
  29. When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful : Fats Waller, from Larkin’s Jazz
  30. You Don’t Own Me : Dusty Springfield, from A Girl Called Dusty

Perhaps the most surprising, to me, single track is Helen Shapiro’s remarkably strong version of Allen Toussaint’s Brickyard Blues, originally written for Frankie Miller, and recorded by Shapiro for Charlie Gillett’s Oval records in 1984. I knew she had grown to be a far better singer than her very early Don’t Treat Me Like a Child pop days, touring and recording with the Humphrey Lyttelton Band, for instance, but this – this is, I think, superb.

What else is worth commenting on? The way in which both the Leonard Cohen and John Stewart tracks seem so knowingly valedictory, Cohen aware, I think, that he was dying; Stewart conscious, perhaps – just listen to the opening lyrics – of the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.

And the fact that most of the jazz tracks included here come from a 4 CD compilation commissioned by The Philip Larkin Society,  based upon Larkin’s years of jazz record reviewing – how could someone who often came across in his other writing as being uptight, mysogynistic, mean-spirited and cheerless, have enjoyed such joyous music?

 

 

iPod Shuffle, January 2017

So, these tracks are the ones that bounced up into the headphones, accompanying me on my Heathside stroll …

  • Girl From the North Country : Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash
  • Time After Time : Miles Davis
  • Kathy’s Song : Paul Simon
  • Line Up : Lennie Tristano
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  • Standing at the Crossroads : Johnny Shines
  • Carolina Shout: James P. Johnson
  • Four Bothers : Anita O’Day
  • My Creole Belle : Mississippi John Hurt
  • When Will I See You Again : Billy Bragg
  • Winter Lady : Leonard Cohen
  • East 32nd : Lennie Tristano
  • Crazy Man Michael : Fairport Convention
  • Yours and Mine : Billie Holiday
  • She’s Crazy ’bout Her Lovin’ : Mississippi Sheiks
  • Suite Italienne 1 – Larghetto (Stravinsky) : Victoria Mullova & Katia Labeque
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  • Streets of Baltimore : Gram Parsons
  • Then Came the Children : Pail Siebel
  • Juke : Little Walter
  • Wasn’t Born to Follow : Dusty Springfield
  • Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting : Al Fair-weather & Sandy Brown’s All Stars
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Katia Labeque & Victoria Mullova in Rehearsal

iPod Playlist, August 2016

Just for a change, instead of highlighting the dozen songs served up by my iPod’s shuffle system, here are the ones I’m playing through choice. My current favourite non-jazz tracks, in fact.

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  • Almost Liverpool 8 : Mike Hart, from Mike Hart Bleeds
  • Better Things : Massive Attack featuring Tracey Thorn, from Solo: Songs & Collaborations 1982-2015
  • Donall Og : Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill, Triona Ni Dhomnaill & Donal Lunny, from Between The Two Lights
  • Freedom for the Stallion : Allen Toussaint, from Songbook
  • Gliders, Parks : The Liverpool Scene featuring Mike Hart, from The Amazing Adventures of the Liverpool Scene
  • Her Ghost : Woman’s Hour, from Conversations
  • I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love : Dusty Springfield, from Something Special
  • Mustt Mustt : Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (Massive Attack remix), from Mustt Mustt
  • Never Not You (Remember to Breathe) : Girlboy, from Late Bloomers
  • New Orleans : John Stewart, from The Day The River Sang
  • 28 Years : Girlboy, from Late Bloomers
  • You Tattoed Me : Tom Robinson, from Still Loving You

Alphabetically listed, of course, and lacking the need for much explication. Except to acknowledge the two Mike Hart tracks were occasioned by the recent sad news of his death; that I first heard this version of Irish song, Donall Og, when it was one of Colm Toibin’s choices on Desert Island Discs and I’ve had trouble getting it out of my mind since; and that Tom Robinson’s You Tattoed Me is one of the most forcefully passionate and believable songs about love and desire that I know.

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iPod Shuffle, June 2016

Seeking greater variety and a different set of ears, I’ve asked my friend, Bob Cornwell, crime reviewer and fellow jazz fan, to send along the fruits of his iPod shuffle, these particular tracks emerging as he was cutting the foot-long grass in his back garden.

The Long Waiting : Kenny Wheeler Big Band
Sad Mood : Sam Cooke (1960)
Hager Fikier : Mulatu Astatke with Step Ahead
Like a Fool : Shelby Lynne
The Monarch and the Milkweed : Maria Schneider Orchestra
He Was Too Good to Me : Helen Merrill
Don’t Lose Faith in Me : Chrissie Hynde
Wasn’t Expecting That : Jamie Lawson (2015)
No Easy Way Down : Dusty Springfield
Out of Nowhere : Pee Wee Russell (Nat Pierce on piano)
She’s Funny That Way : Lester Young with Joe Albany
Danza Ritual del Fuego : Paco de Lucia with Grupo Dolores (including his brother, known professionally as Ramón De Algeciras)

First, the three contrasting big (or biggish) band tracks. Kenny Wheeler’s The Long Waiting was his penultimate recording, two years before his death in 2014, The title track features a gloriously brassy but light-footed all-star ensemble fleshed out (Norma Winstone-style) by Italian vocalist Diana Torto, with solos by Ray Warleigh on alto, and Kenny, marvellously expressive, if a little wobbly here and there (he was 82 at the time).

The Mulatu Astatke title is of a traditional Ethiopian theme with solos by Astatke on vibes, James Arben on flute and a range of Ethiopian percussion. Elsewhere on the record is John Edwards on bass, Byron Wallen on trumpet Alexander Hawkins on piano and Tom Skinner on drums. Just prior to its purchase I had heard Rowland Sutherland’s challenging ‘re-envisioning’ of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme at the Union Chapel in December 2014, probably the most exhilarating jazz gig I had heard since, well, the first visit here of Maria Schneider’s New York band in 2006. So much recent jazz, perhaps too European or classically influenced, seemed to me to be lacking in vigour. As well as the Astatke record, glorious gigs by the Sun Ra band (under the direction of Marshall Allen) and by the revitalised Louis Moholo-Moholo unit followed. The latter also features Hawkins, Edwards and the never less than vigorous Jason Yarde. (Don’t miss them at Ronnies, along with Shabaka Hutchings on 13/14 June).

There is too much classical influence, it has been suggested, in The Thompson Fields, the new (Emmy Award winning) Maria Schneider album. Maybe, but for me, this is the most moving big band album I have ever heard (just listen in sequence to Walking by Flashlight, The Thompson Fields and Home). Here, in a meditation on ‘mystifyingly complex relationships in nature’, the Monarch (Butterfly) is represented by Marshall Gilkes (trombone) and (no offence Greg!) the Milkweed by Greg Gilbert (fluegelhorn). When jazz combines thrillingly with classical influences like this, maybe that’s just what we should do. Meditate on the mystifyingly complex relationship between the two…

Finally the spectre at the wedding: Gil Evans. Gil is surely somewhere in the mix for Kenny Wheeler; Gil is cited as an influence by Mulatu Astatke, and where would Maria Schneider be without Gil? Back in 1956 Gil Evans completed the first album for which he wrote all the arrangements. It was for the unique voice of Helen Merrill (once credited by Miles Davis for his close-to-the-mike muted trumpet technique). Thirty odd years later, the pair assembled a completely new personnel and re-recorded an almost-identical programme with similar arrangements. The comparisons with the earlier versions are never less than fascinating (and pleasurable). But for me, the later versions, as in this beautiful Rogers & Hart song, Merrill’s even more exquisite interpretations have the edge.

Jamie Lawson? A selection by my 11-year old grand-daughter. [13 million views on YouTube] Go on, admit it, it’s rather good. Dusty and Lester, no list is complete without them…

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iPod Shuffle, March 2016

Okay, on this blisteringly cold but sunny morning on Hampstead Heath, this is what my iPod delivered.

  1. I Want You : Bob Dylan from Blonde on Blonde
  2. Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me : Mose Allison from M0se Allison Sings & Plays
  3. You’re Gonna Quit Me : Bob Dylan from Good As I Been to You
  4. Cold Hearts/Closed Minds : Nanci Griffith from Lone Star State of Mind
  5. Hospital Food : Eels from Electro-Shock Blues
  6. I’m Old Fashioned : Ella Fitzgerald from Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Jerome Kern Songbook
  7. Blues for Humph : Humphrey Lyttelton Band with Pat Halcox from Remembering Pat Halcox
  8. Baby Sister Blues : Johnny Shines from Standing at the Crossroads
  9. Dancing Dave : Henry Allen & His Orchestra from Swing Out
  10. Trinkle Tinkle : Thelonious Monk from Thelonious Monk Trio
  11. Reputation : Dusty Springfield from Goin’ Back
  12. Goodbye : Art Pepper from Unreleased Art Vol. III

The first track here is one of a very few I can remember hearing for the very first time – the place and the occasion, if not the precise date. The late 60s it would have been, several years after the album was first released, and I’d driven a minibus full of secondary school students up to London from Andover, where I was teaching, to the Roundhouse to see Nicol Williamson’s Hamlet, with Marianne Faithful as Ophelia. I’d promised the students that we would stop off, briefly, in Carnaby Street on the way home. And when I stepped into one of the then highly fashionable clothing stores they were playing I Want You at full, glorious volume. Why had I never heard it till then?

What else is especially interesting here? The Lyttelton track is a curiosity, Humph being laid low with some ailment or other and unable to make to trip to Prague and Pat Halcox, long time trumpeter with the Chris Barber Band, stepping in. It’s a longish track, recorded live, and, in addition to Halcox’s strong lead, features Malcolm Everson on baritone sax.

Johnny Shines has been one of my favourite blues singers ever since hearing the recordings he made for J.O.B. in 1953, his voice strongly reminiscent of Howling Wolf, his bottleneck guitar playing recalling his other main influence, Robert Johnson. After these recordings, he more or less gave up music, working in construction until, like many others, he was rediscovered in the blues revival of the mid-sixties, and began recording again, this time in a more contemporary Chicago style, working with musicians like Otis Spann and Big Walter Horton. This particular track comes from 1970 and finds him returning to the solo acoustic rural blues style of his earlier days.

And then, of course, there’s Dusty … sitting, perhaps incongruously, next to Art Pepper –but perhaps not. Two artists, two of many, whose particular demons laid them low too often, too soon.

Lesley Gore: The Party’s Over

The first time Lesley Gore, who has died at the age of 68,  heard her biggest hit, “It’s My Party”, on the radio, so the story goes, she was in the car driving herself to school. So sixties, so America, so nicely movie-moment predictable.

One of the great selling points of Gore’s early career as a singer was that she was ‘normal’; dressed normal (those clothes!), looked normal (those hairdos), sounded  normal: just an every day American girl channelling the angst of her teenage peers. Except, of course, she wasn’t what the majority of the people who bought her records in vast numbers would have been considered ‘normal’ in those days. She was gay.

No fuss, no headlines, no large-scale trauma – at least, not publicly – no shocking revelations. Ah, no social media.

Where Dusty Springfield, for instance, found keeping her sexuality under wraps problematic and almost certainly personally damaging, Lesley Gore somehow managed to just get on with it. One is tempted, in the mores of the time, to say get away with it. Perhaps she had inner strengths that Dusty sadly seemed to lack.

“You Don’t Own Me”,  one of Gore’s hits from 1963, was recorded by Dusty in the following year, and – despite the fact that it was written for Gore by two male songwriters, Dave White and John Madara – became something of a feminist anthem, featured as such in the movie, The First Wives’ Club, and recorded by Joan Jett and Amy Winehouse. Here she is singing it, first in 1964, and then – pretty gloriously – in Melbourne in 1989

As the hits faded, Gore went to college, carried on making occasional appearances and making records, if for smaller and smaller labels; she appeared in movies and on television – rather deliciously as Pussycat, Catwoman’s assistant. In 2004, she became a presenter of a Public Broadcasting Service programme devoted to LGBT issues called In the Life.

At her early best, she could put over a song with a kind of heartfelt quality that was moving in its simplicity. No tricks, just sing the words and let them do their work.