I’VE BEEN FEELING GROUCHY these days. And looking back at what I have written about over the past months, I sound a bit of grump (which, admittedly, I am) in these columns, too. Complaining gets boring after a while. So, although I would like to address the continuing and perhaps increasing segregation in jazz in the Twin Cities at some point; or the absence of interesting night life -- that’s not institutional -- for people over 25; or loud, badly chosen recorded music in restaurants and clubs -- I’m not quite ready to be an “in-my-day” curmudgeon just yet.
Instead, here’s some music I have been enjoying.
I always go back to Jaki Byard, the great under-sung hero of piano. His swing, sense of adventure, personality, and technical mastery will never grow old. He is the Man. If you haven’t checked him out yet, do, soon and often. Hi-Fly, Here’s Jaki, and Live at Maybach Recital Hall – all of these have enough meat for a lifetime of fine meals. There are many others, too; I especially love his wild and beautiful record with Rahsaan Roland-Kirk. I have said all this before here and will again, I’m sure, but the fact remains: Jaki should be on every iPod and a postage stamp.
HJ Lim recently released The Complete Beethoven Sonatas on iTunes only. I bought an advance copy for the discounted price of $9.99, which frankly was the main reason I bought them. I have a cross-section of the sonatas from both Claudio Arrau and Alfred Brendel, but, before Lim released hers, I didn’t have the complete works, so I took a (small) chance. Arrau’s readings are iconic, but Lim, at 25 years old, does an admirable job of taking a fresh position on the material. Her approach is energetic and technical, with enough moments of daring. If not the vanguard of interpretation, her recording sounds great. And her career is the vanguard: She was discovered by EMI Classical through videos of her performances on YouTube. She recently performed at Le Poisson Rouge in New York; I was sorry I had already moved and so couldn’t go to hear her play.
Beethoven is a bit of an obsession of mine, particularly his late string quartets. I have a recording of the Vermeer Quartet playing Opus 131, No. 14 in C# minor. It is a brilliant performance, but I wanted a different take. I recently downloaded (on iTunes) The Yale Quartet doing the quartets No. 12 - 15 plus the Grosse Fuge in B flat; their reading has the right atmosphere to me. It is not as technically crystalline as the Vermeer Quartet’s performance, but their vibrato is human and the recording is spacious. No. 12, in particular, knocks me out. I actually shake when I listen to this music. Beethoven at once sums up and expands on Mozart’s great victory in the form while pointing the way to Bartok’s quartets. Incidentally, the Emerson Quartet’s recording of Bartok’s quartets is another favorite of mine.
From Duke Ellington, I can’t get enough of Afro-Eurasian Eclipse and New Orleans Suite. Both are so evocative, grooving, and exotic. I have spent a fair amount of time in New Orleans and I love it -- Duke’s music puts me right there. The tracks Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta and Portrait of Mahalia Jackson, especially, transport you immediately to a deeper, calmer, truer place. Honestly, just listen. If you don’t like them, the problem is with you, not the music.
What else? Ornette Coleman is always there for us. Lately, I have been buried in the Atlantic Records collection Beauty is a Rare Thing. I have heard this music so many times, but I still find it surprising, raw, and truthful. And the same thing is true of Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure. His song, Dedication, man -- open ears and hearts.
I DON’T LISTEN EXCLUSIVELY TO JAZZ AND CLASSICAL. I grew up on Paul Simon, and every few years, I go back and listen to him again. The sort of lyrical, melodic sounds and orchestration he brings to the table is astonishing. He writes his way right into the human condition; it is grown-up music. His latest record, So Beautiful or So What, is a fine return to form and depth and proof that Simon continues to write songs I would chew my right leg off to have written.
I must be some kind of remedialist (that’s a word, right?) I am always “discovering” things that have been great for ages. This has the advantage of allowing for new enthusiasms at a comparatively late stage of life, but the downside is it makes me seem a little out of touch -- either way. Lately, I have been doing some remedial Bob Dylan listening. I have tried with him before and didn’t get it. Now, I love his work -- I am still not so sure there is anything particularly to get, but there’s no doubt, Bob Dylan makes for good listening. I am almost embarrassed to admit The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is making up the bulk of my Dylan time. Wow! Have you heard of it?
As a sure-enough Generation-Xer, you would think I would have listened to OK Computer at least a thousand times. I haven’t, and so I have been enjoying that record freshly as of late. It sounds a lot like the Beatles to me, but then again, what post ’60s rock doesn’t? Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions is once again knocking me out. I used to listen to it all the time as a kid and it is great to re-visit it. I would chew my left leg off to have written something off that Stevie Wonder record.
This is not even nearly a complete list of things I’m drawn to lately: I listen to a lot Odetta and Robert Johnson. I often listen to Robert Bardo playing Sylvius Weiss’s lute sonatas. It is like pre-Beethoven -- deep! I guess I should be concerned that not much of what I listen to is from contemporary artists.
There are a few, actually: Wynton Marsalis’ Congo Square is an absolute knock-out. Craig Taborn’s Avenging Angel is a major victory on solo piano. Jason Moran’s Modernistic is a great record as well. I am also very proud that David Berkman’s Self-Portrait is getting great notice (partly because I co-produced it, but mainly because David is a great musician).
It is a funny job I have, to write about whatever I am listening to. But I am glad to have it. I hope these articles point you to things you haven’t heard before, or maybe that you have forgotten. We all get grouchy from time to time, right? That discontent is a big part of why music will never go away -- no matter how bad the business gets, or how lost the culture seems. So, this is my current grouch list, I guess.
Speaking of grouchy but completely off-topic: I need to call something, or someone, out. A couple of months ago, one night I was mindlessly watching reruns of The Office on KMSP; I let the TV run on after the credits and into some show called The Buzz hosted by a guy called Jason Matheson. He was previewing (i.e. advertising) Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby. I enjoyed Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet, and although we are all still stung by the Gatsby Robert Redford was in, I’m reserving judgment on the new film. Anyway, Matheson not once but twice stated vehemently that he hated the book! I almost (almost) admire his nerve. And while no book is sacrosanct, I can’t help but be appalled. I don’t think you can understand anything about this country without a full consideration of Fitzgerald’s classic. You don’t have to love The Great Gatsby, but you better deal with it.
So, it’s late summer in Minnesota. Let’s enjoy it! And if I hear Jaki Byard coming out of a window as I walk through the city, I will smile for a long time.
About the author: Jeremy Walker is a composer/pianist based in Minneapolis. He has performed with Matt Wilson, Vincent Gardner, Wessell Anderson, Marcus Printup, Ted Nash, Anthony Cox, and other notable musicians. Jeremy was the owner of the now defunct club, Brilliant Corners and co-founder of Jazz is NOW!.
Boot Camp, his new band, will play Dakota Late Night on August 24th. Boot Camp features Jeremy on piano, Chris Bates (Red 5, Red Planet, too many others to list) on bass, Miguel Hurtado on drums, and Brandon Wozniak (Dave King's Trucking Company) on saxophone.