Archive for July, 2008

Kitchen Boombox Dance Party

July 23, 2008

Okay, you just read about the unexpected health benefits for your brain that dancing delivers at WTF? Random food for thought. Now here are some tunes to get you dancing, courtesy of YouTube. I love the Internets.

First, I’ve got to start with fellow St. Louisan Chuck Berry and his seminal 1958 rock & roll tune Johnny B. Goode. The oddly bad dancing by the girls on the raised platform is entertaining. The rest of the dancers are much better, and Chuck even does the duck walk for us.

Next, the Rolling Stones mix danceable with dark in perhaps my favorite song of theirs, Gimme Shelter.

A little known fact about this next song. The group’s name was originally Two Tons of Fun. But after the huge hit of It’s Raining Men, they changed their name to the Weather Girls.

Cameo gives us Word Up, another big ’80s hit. They also give us a decidedly weird music video, complete with a cameo appearance by Levar Burton as a dancing detective.

And finally, Talking Heads and Burning Down the House. We used to follow a very cool cover band in St. Louis, The Heaters. They did this song one night at the Broadway Oyster Bar and pretty much burned down the house. Later, they disavowed all knowledge of the event.

There you go. If none of these songs got you dancing, I want a note from your doctor.

Ornette Coleman: Change of the Century

July 16, 2008

Ornette Coleman: Change of the Century

I wasn’t always into avant garde jazz. In fact, Oliver Lake and his no-holds-barred free jazz actually put me off jazz for a good long while. So as I made my way back into jazz, I gave alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman, one of the major innovators of the free jazz movement, a wide berth.

I’ve since embraced the avant garde, thanks in no small part to Chicago reed player Ken Vandermark. Still, Coleman’s reputation as an inventive and often challenging experimenter with sound is legendary. So when I came across an album of his titled Change of the Century, I was excited to see what all the, um, noise was about. I mean, we’re talking about a man who, early in his career, was assaulted after a performance and his saxophone destroyed.

What I found in this 1959 release was another example of the need for reliable, affordable time travel. My first couple/few listens, it was hard for my less than trained ear to pick up much difference from be bop being played at the time. I’ve heard enough of what has come since that this was just not the revolution I was expecting.

But what I heard from the first listen was really exciting jazz. And the more I listen to it, the more innovative and even angular some of it indeed sounds. Like much of the best jazz I’ve heard, the music is a true collaboration and conversation among all four musicians. There is no leader/sidemen vibe. You couldn’t ask for better collaborators either: Don Cherry on pocket trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. Small wonder that Amazon has named it an essential recording. Maybe Change of the Century isn’t quite what the name promises, but it is part of a sea change in music. Just as important, it’s some great, listenable jazz.

Jump jazz keeps the kitchen hopping

July 9, 2008

The Mighty Blue kings: Meet Me In Uptown

The kitchen boombox is nothing if not eclectic. Depending on my mood, energy level and even what I’m cooking, it can be playing anything from opera to punk to avant garde jazz to you name it. When I’m looking for high-energy fun to get me going, this album always delivers.

The Mighty Blue Kings debuted in 1995, opening for Junior Wells at Buddy Guy’s club Legends. They soon had a weekly gig at Chicago’s vaunted Green Mill. A renewed interest in jump jazz and swing dancing was just heating up, and these boys were nailing it. Ross Bon’s spot on period vocals backed by tight horn and rhythm sections perfectly captured a vintage sound as they performed a mix of old songs and original tunes that seemed right out of the 40s. The vibe of their live performances was loose-hipped fun.

Soon they were touring more than they were at the Green Mill, and when they did get back to Chicago, the Green Mill was too small to accommodate their crowds. These YouTube clips are from a performance at a larger Chicago venue, Metro. They’ll give you a sense of their style and sound, if not of the energy of those nights in Uptown at the Green Mill.

There are 14 tracks in all on Meet Me In Uptown, a fun mix of uptempo swing and boozy ballads. Together, they’re guaranteed to get me and any visitors to my kitchen moving. You’ll find new and used CDs on Amazon as well as downloadable MP3s. Give them a listen—I think you’ll want to bring a little Uptown to your kitchen too.

Gershwin x 3: Rhapsody in Blue

July 2, 2008

I saw recently that classical pianist Gary Graffman was performing somewhere in town. That made me think of his most famous recording, the soundtrack of Gershwin music for Woody Allen’s Manhattan. The highlight of the disk, the reason for owning it, is Graffman’s powerful treatment of Rhapsody in Blue—you know, the United Airlines music.

That was reason enough for me to haul out the Manhattan soundtrack CD and pop it in the boombox. For Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue represented “a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our blues, our metropolitan madness.” But for most of us, it is inextricably linked with New York—the grandeur and power, the grittiness and cacophonous energy.

Listening to Graffman capture all of that, sometimes playing alone, sometimes backed by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta, I remembered long ago hearing recordings of Gershwin playing Rhapsody in Blue on solo piano. It was of course on YouTube. I love the Internets. Here it is, in two parts.

Here’s part two:

I’m happy to report that Graffman’s performance stands up beautifully in comparison, feeling just as complex, in turn just as powerful, as haunting. And yes, he has an entire orchestra behind him, but he plays long passages solo. When the Manhattan soundtrack came out on vinyl, the first side was Rhapsody in Blue. The second side is a wonderful mix of other Gershwin tunes—some complete songs, others mere snippets—used as incidental music in the film. Ranging from lush, romantic renditions of tunes like Embraceable You and Someone to Watch Over Me to an almost comic treatment of Lady Be Good that never fails to make me think of Bugs Bunny crossing some swell hotel lobby, removing white gloves one finger at a time.

Taken as a whole, this album perfectly mirrors the love letter to New York that Allen’s film was, evoking a New York that, to many, no longer exists. And as wonderful as New York is to me now, it makes me wish I’d known the earlier one too.

And finally, I mentioned the United Airlines advertising campaign that used Rhapsody in Blue. Here’s an example of that, a rare 60-second commercial the airline used to “rededicate” itself to business. Ten points if you know who the voiceover talent is.