Monday, July 21. 2014
Music: Current count 23527  rated (+26), 548  unrated (+14).
When I got back from my aunt's funeral, there was a surprisingly large pile of new records waiting. I didn't get around to listing them last week, so this week's haul looks more robust than usual. I do, however, get the sense that I've fallen well out of the realm of being a mainstream jazz critic. This week's unpacking list doesn't quite prove my point -- there are a number of reputable artists there I recognize and welcome (Todd Bishop, Bobby Broom, Wayne Horvitz, Ryan Keberle, Greg Reitan, Steve Swallow, Ohad Talmor, Adam Nussbaum, Matt Ulery) most of the records I get these days are from unknowns, with the occasional cult favorite slipping in. (Two of the latter wound up with A- grades, and I doubt that you'll be reading much about either elsewhere.) Part of this is my fault, of course: formerly reliable publicists at labels like High Note and Sunnyside took my hint and stopped sending, and I've done a poor job following up on available downloads from labels like ECM -- I'm not even sure what I do or don't have there, but haven't had time (or curiosity) to sort that out.
When I got back, I didn't feel like facing the queue, so I took a look at my Penguin Guide list and started playing some old jazz from Rhapsody. First three records were high B+, which seems like par for the course. Then Charlie Haden died so I looked up his duet album with Chris Anderson, and the more I played it the more I was entranced. I then moved on to Earl Hines and Art Tatum -- one of the biggest chunks on the Penguin list was Tatum's Solo Masterpieces, which Morton & Cook love indiscriminately. I had long ago picked up Volume Four and Volume Five (both B+), plus I had a 2003 release, The Best of the Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces (A). So I spent a big chunk of time going through the other six volumes, then for good measure I gave the whole box a spin. Much of it is indeed remarkable, none of it without interest, and I didn't mind the time.
I think the reason I graded the box over its constituent volumes is that when grading the latter the question arises as to which discs are relatively better investments, and the way they are organized makes it impossible to say -- I gave Volume Six an edge mostly because of two or three especially striking songs as opposed to the dozen or so run-of-the-mill Tatums. On the other hand, the box does make sense as a whole, and it is a remarkable accomplishment both within Tatum's career and over the entire history of jazz. Given all that, my nitpicking wasn't enough to drop it below A-. Still, I much prefer The Standard Sessions, which offers livelier performances and concentrates more great songs. Only minor sonic issues, plus my general reserve about solo piano, held it below an A.
I didn't do The Art Tatum Pablo Group Masterpieces because I own and have long graded every one of them. Tatum mostly recorded solo, so the 1954-56 Granz sessions just added to an already huge legacy, but the group sessions are almost the only time Tatum ever appeared in groups -- at least with horns. They vary more in quality, but the best are really extraordinary, both as group efforts and by freeing Tatum from having to carry the rhythm he gets a chance to perform some of his most spectacular embellishments. The best are: Volume Eight (with Ben Webster: A+); Volume Two (with Roy Eldridge: A); Volume Seven (with Buddy DeFranco: A); Volume One (with Benny Carter: A-).
Tatum is as universally revered as Charlie Parker, which may be why I quibble. I'm always reminded of what Tom Piazza wrote in The Guide to Classic Recorded Jazz: "Ask ten pianists to name the greatest jazz pianist ever and eight will tell you Art Tatum. The other two are wrong." I've made a career out of being wrong, so I don't mind telling you that my answer to that question is Earl Hines. He was easily the greatest pianist in 1928 when he (and Louis Armstrong) cut some of the most classic jazz sides ever, and he was dazzling when he toured with Armstrong's 1946 All-Stars. In between he ran a very important big band, and in the 1960s he led a wonderful quartet with Budd Johnson on tenor sax. Later still, he recorded many solo piano albums, including a couple listed below (Tour de Force is probably the first pick, at least the choice title, but these come close). That, in turn, led me to an obscure Johnny Hodges album which couldn't possibly go wrong.
After Tatum and Hines, I pulled out all those jazz vocal albums I've been avoiding and slogged through them. Poet Anne Waldman's album jumped out of that pile. It is a jazz/poetry album somewhat similar to the Rich Halley-Dan Raphael album Children of the Blue Supermarket, which was my favorite album in 2011, although vocally it reminds me more of Patti Smith, with the sax closer to Ornette Coleman (hence my tweet).
Looks like a pretty awful week coming up, both personally and all around the world. I have made some progress on the crashed server, but it's going to be a long while before it's all history.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week (plus):
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