Music Matters: Monk, Feldman & That August iPod Shuffle

With the news that Apple are to discontinue manufacturing iPods and their ilk [because nowadays we all have smartphones, right?] who knows how many more months of shuffling through my music collection will be available for blogging? But until my neat little device finally shuffles off its [doubtlessly built-in] mortal coil, this is what my iPod threw at me today …

  1. Tangled Up in Blue : Bob Dylan, from Blood on the Tracks
  2. Jumpin’ at the Woodside : Benny Goodman, from BG in HiFi
  3. Gulf Coast Highway : Nanci Griffith, from Little Love Affairs
  4. Stone for Bessie Smith : Dory Previn, from Mythical Kings & Iguanas
  5. Angel : Aretha Franklin, from Twenty Greatest Hits
  6. Stairway to the Stars : Milt Jackson & John Coltrane, from Bags & Trane
  7. I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love : Dusty Springfield, from Something Special
  8. Don’t Get Around Much Anymore : Ernestine Anderson, from Live From Concord to London
  9. Winter is Gone : John Renbourn, from John Renbourn
  10. I Should Have Known Better : The Beatles, from A Hard Day’s Night
  11. Sir Charles at Home : Vic Dickenson Septet, from The Essential Vic Dickenson
  12. All Blues : Chet Baker, from The Last Great Concert

The above is what I’m likely to listen to while wandering the streets of Kentish Town or strolling up hill and down dale on Hampstead Heath, a good part of the pleasure coming from the juxtapositions that are thrown up and from encountering something you’d quite forgotten – in this case, Renbourn’s lilting Winter is Gone. As against that, there’s the music I’m currently listening to in a more positive way, stuff – often newly acquired – that sits close to the stereo [yes, the stereo, remember?] and gets played frequently.

Monk 1

First and foremost, then, this double CD of tracks which come from a 1959 session by the Thelonious Monk Quartet [Monk, piano; Charlie Rouse, tenor sax; Sam Jones, bass; Art Taylor, drums] with the addition on some tracks of the French tenor player, Barney Wilen. These recordings were made in New York with the intention of being used on the soundtrack of Roger Vadim’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, but never used. The master tapes lay hidden away in the archives of Wilen’s manager, Marcel Ramono, until 2014.

Monk – why would one be surprised by this? – made no attempt to tailor his music to Vadim’s film or its requirements, and it was never used. The tunes are, for the most part, familiar from amongst Monk’s compositions – Rhythm-a-Ning; Well, You Needn’tPannonica; Crepuscule with Nellie – the only ‘outsider’ being Monk’s version of the hymn, We’ll Understand it Better By and By. Familiar or not, this was a terrific session, recorded with beautiful clarity. Whether sparked by the presence of Barney Wilen in the studio or other factors that could only be speculated upon, Monk is in especially fine form and the band, propelled along by the rhythm section of Jones and Taylor, play superbly well. Taylor is magnificent on the opening Rhythm-a-Ning – quite possibly the best version of this much-recorded piece I’ve yet heard. A delight.

Feldman

From one iconoclast to another. I first got to know Feldman’s music through his largely choral piece Rothko Chapel, which was first performed in the non-denominational chapel in Houston, Texas, which has fourteen of Rothko’s canvasses on its octagonal walls. Feldman and Rothko were friends, just as he was friendly with Philip Guston and other New York painters of the 50s and early 60s. Sit patiently in front of Rothko’s work and it begins slowly to move before your eyes, to bleach into your consciousness, and Feldman’s music works in much the same way. For Bunita Marcus is a composition for solo piano and it lasts just short of 73 minutes. It requires patience and repays it plentifully.

 

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Music for Not Writing

What do you listen to, people ask, when you’re writing? And the answer, boringly, is nothing. Nothing at all. The rhythm I’m trying to hear is the one inside my head: the words, their sound, repetition, rise and fall. Stop there before I talk myself into Psueds’ Corner.

But when I’m not writing, there’s almost always music playing somewhere. The iPod in the kitchen, for instance, with several thousand tracks on shuffle, anything from Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra to Eel’s Blinking Lights & Other Revelations. Radio Swiss Classic is fairly constantly playing over the internet in the library when I’m reading (or napping) – 24 hour music with no adverts and only the briefest of announcements (in German, which I don’t speak, so only the occasional word intrudes – “Mozart”, say, or “Hadyn”). When I’m out walking on or around the Heath, more often than not I’m listening to something through headphones, either a BBC Radio Podcast or something new that I’ve downloaded –right now, Girlboy’s cheeky little single, Jennifer Lawrence.

Most of the above is incidental: each month or so there tends to be a small group of CDs that I sit down and listen to more carefully – Music for More Carfeful Listening. This month there are four …

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  • John Tilbury & Philip Thomas: Two Pianos & Other Pieces by Morton Feldman
  • Louis Armstrong at The Crescendo 1955, Complete Edition
  • Jan Lundgren: All By Myself
  • Thelonious Monk: The Complete 1961 Amsterdam Concert

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