A Wear-Well Baker’s Dozen
By Mike Zwerin
Although a piece of music may be indisputably praiseworthy, it is possible that you’d rather not have to hear it too often - a syndrome which led Mark Twain to say: “Richard Wagner’s music is not as bad as it sounds."
Imagine that King Kong has destroyed our city. We must take to the bunkers. No telling how long we’ll be down there. We do not want to be stuck with exasperating music in the bunker. The following is a baker’s dozen choice of jazz and rock recordings (some of them may be hard to find) that are guaranteed to wear well – in fact, they will sound better and better. They used to be called desert island records.
LUCKY THOMPSON, “Lucky Strikes" (Prestige): To be able to continue being heard day after day, music must be of superior intellect, cliché free, and listener friendly, like “Lucky Strikes" - an overlooked jewel. At his best, the smoothly adventurous saxophonist Thompson was as good as absolutely anybody. (Hank Jones, piano, Richard Davis, bass, Connie Kay, drums.)
STEELY DAN, “Gaucho" (MCA): Like the Bilbao Guggenheim, this is a rare modern product that is anything but ugly, cheap, or ostentatious. With its ironic lilt, poetic and contemporary lyrics, its loose swing, and appropriate technology, “Gaucho" is a high point in the history of the music of our times. “Illegal fun under the sun."
DUKE ELLINGTON & JOHN COLTRANE (Impulse): The inspiration flows back and forth as the rhythm sections of Ellington (Aaron Bell and Sam Woodyard) and Coltrane (Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones) alternate, adding up to one good illustration of the infinite variety of a groove. “Take the Coltrane."
“GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY, The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan" (Columbia): When interpreted by gospel singers like Sounds of Blackness, Mavis Staples, and Shirley Caesar, the born-again songs of Bob Dylan are taken to another level. (“You got gangsters in power, and lawbreakers making the rules.") The best African American covers of Dylan songs since Jimi Hendrix.
ZOOT SIMS, “For Lady Day" (Pablo): Songs associated with Billie Holiday interpreted by the white Lester Young par excellence, with the blatantly eccentric Jimmy Rowles on piano, and George (the “Bad Czech") Mraz on bass. When Sims was once asked how he could play so well when he was drunk, he replied: “I practice when I’m drunk." A good soundtrack for a movie of “On The Road."
MARVIN GAYE, “What’s Going On" (Motown): The angelic melodies with pleading faux-naïve (“save the babies") lyrics, combined with exquisite bass lines by James Jamerson, and a good Detroit groove by the Motown house band “makes me want to holler, throw up both my hands."
GIL EVANS (FEATURING CANNONBALL ADDERLEY), “New Bottle Old Wine" (Pacific Jazz): “King Porter Stomp," “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue," “St. Louis Blues," and other traditional songs streamlined and reinforced without disturbing the foundations. Evans’ playful dissonance and ambitious pecking schemes are well-rehearsed for once, you can’t go wrong with Art Blakey, and Adderley is majestic.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL, “Broken English" (Island): Paradise on the wings of despair (“I never stole from the rich. I never gave to the poor").
SONNY ROLLINS, “The Bridge" (BMG): Marking the end of a premature retirement punctuated by frequent nighttime practicing on an East River bridge, the “Saxophone Colossous" came back with a roar – thanks in large part to the collaboration of the thinking man’s guitar player, Jim Hall.
THE ROLLING STONES, “Sticky Fingers" (Virgin): Gets the blood flowing, the mind racing, and the fingers popping. You can eat it as well as listen to it. Familiar and rejuvenating at the same time, it is perfect music for, for instance, writing articles.
“RELAXIN’ WITH THE MILES DAVIS QUINTET" (Prestige):" The tension generated by Paul Chambers’ bass walking right on top of the time in tandem with Philly Joe Jones’ fourth-beat rim-shot laid back on it was one of Davis’ greatest triumphs as a casting director (with John Coltrane, and Red Garland on piano). “I’ll play it and tell you what it is later."
LEONARD COHEN, “The Future" (Columbia): A downer is required from time to time in order to keep track of what “up" is like. Cohen takes you to where he wants to go, he tucks you in, it’s his trip. “There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in."
THELONIOUS MONK PLAYS DUKE ELLINGTON (Riverside): Childlike versions of sophisticated songs (with Oscar Pettiford, bass, and Kenny Clark, drums) that marry consonance with dissonance, and the humorous with the profound.
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