VERLAINE'S POETRY, VINTAGE JAZZ POINT WAY FOR 2008 ON NEW CDS
Feb. 1 -- The following selection of recent CD releases makes me more optimistic about the year to come.
They have little in common: John Greaves revives Paul Verlaine's poems, Robert Wyatt makes a strong pitch for the best album of the past 12 months, and Horace Silver's 1958 Newport set is revived.
``GREAVES/VERLAINE'' (Harmonia Mundi): Singer, songwriter and arranger Greaves, a Welshman who has been living in Paris for many years, has just put out a marvelous album of his music written to the love poems of Paul Verlaine.
In the past, he has collaborated with the British art-rock bands Henry Cow (``In Praise of Learning''), with National Health (``Play Time''), and with Robert Wyatt (``Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard''), among others.
Here he sings in French, but you'll get it no matter what language you speak. Most of the numbers are odes to women, including one about the fear of kissing them. There's one about a couple walking in an empty park in the wintertime, another about autumn and one about a white moon.
They are all ballads with a soft voice mixed with fiddles and muffled horns. You don't have to understand French to understand such beautiful love poems set to such exquisite music.
ROBERT WYATT, ``Comicopera'' (Domino): Wyatt was a co-founder of, and the drummer for Soft Machine, one of the first jazz-rock fusion bands. He sang from behind his drum kit.
Then he fell out of a third-story window, and became wheel-chair bound, paralyzed from the waist down. After which he developed one of the funkiest, most musical and readily recognized voices in all of rock. He also learned to play pocket trumpet, the instrument Don Cherry played, from which he gets a
sound just like his own voice.
His parents were friends of the writer Robert Graves, and, growing up, he spent summers with the Graves family in Majorca. He has one of the widest musical cultures in popular music.
When he sang on one track of a recent Bjork CD, she went to the Lincolnshire village where he lives to record. In the evening, they sat in his kitchen and discussed the doo-wop music of Sun Ra.
This album's 16 tracks are divided into three parts -- act one, ``Lost in Noise;'' act two, ``The Here and the Now;'' and act three, ``Away With the Fairies.'' The arrangements and production, both by Wyatt, are astonishing more than just interesting.
A song called ``Out Of The Blue'' -- all the songs are by him -- includes some of the densest, most dissonant and complex textures you will ever hear on a rock record. It also contains the line: ``Something unbelievable has happened to the floor.''
``Stay Tuned,'' on the other hand, is a soft, consonant, extremely moving ballad. ``Be Serious'' is set to a mock swing-era beat, and includes the line: ``How can I express myself when there's nothing to express?''
HORACE SILVER, ``Live at Newport, '58'' (Blue Note): Silver was, along with Art Blakey, at the center of the ripe years of hard bop. Together they co-founded the Jazz Messengers in 1955.
Like Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, Silver wrote songs that became jazz standards, covered by many other musicians. ``Senor Blues,'' included on this long-lost live recording, is one of them.
Louis Smith and Junior Cook, on trumpet and tenor saxophone, respectively, are bebop masters, although overlooked, on a level with Lee Morgan and Dexter
Gordon. Silver's hard-edged, intelligent accompaniment plays a central role. The swinging drumming of Louis Hayes also plays a central role.
Recorded 50 years ago, there's something comforting about the fact that there's a new release of it. It is such a pleasure to hear these dedicated players run the chord changes -- something that is becoming a lost art.
Silver, by the way, makes some of the preferred music of Robert Wyatt, who proudly proclaims himself to be a ``20th-century man.'' It still sounds so fresh in the 21st. Bebop is not dead.