THE LISTENING EXPERIENCE: The records

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In this digital world we live in (a sweet and romantic place, thanks Devo), we can now look back at our lives pre-internet and everything else. I’ve been online for almost 18 years. Not continuously, although considering how much I write, “do business”, and interact with people, sometimes it seems like it. Does this mean it’s almost time to leave home and find greater pastures? Eh, another topic, another time, but I hope not.

My point is to say that my love of music will always be there until I am flatline. For anyone as musically curious as I am, the internet has its pros and cons but for the most part it is incredible. There was a time when if you wanted to hear a mix tape from someone across the country, you had to find a post on Prodigy, America On-Line, or Compuserve. Even better, if you had access to the Usenet, you could find someone who MIGHT be willing to buy a blank, spend real time making a tape, putting it in a bubble mailer, going to the post office, paying for postage, and hoping the person on the other end would be happy. By dealing in this primitive internet transaction, it meant having to wait in real human time, and that meant waiting 3 to 7 days for a 46/60/74/90/100/110 minute cassette (preferably chrome) to hear something that you had never heard before. Of course back in the mid-1990’s, there was no PayPal, and no way to send currency digitally. You had to send it to the person making the tape, and you either made a money order (no checks) or hope for the best by taking a risk and placing hard currency in a “well concealed” envelope, which either meant finding black construction paper (so no one could see there was a 5 dollar bill in there) or a page out of a magazine that had a dark photo. That meant you had to do the ground work first, and depending on where the money was going, that was an additional 2 to 3 days.

This meant effort. For people in large metropolitan areas, buying a mix tape from your favorite DJ or “mixtape-ologist” meant going downtown and finding a vendor, heading to your record spot and finding the mixtape section, or to a swap meet. Knowing about mix tapes meant you were “in the know”, especially if you did not live in large cities, so you had to make the effort to find what you wanted. Also, if you were willing to pay $5 for a tape (or find someone willing to trade for a blank cassette or two, as cassettes were of value and that meant it was a currency), it had to be for a very good reason. That meant hearing someone’s mix. For me, I was less interested in wanting to hear mix tapes. I wanted to hear radio broadcasts from certain areas, as there was a time when DJ’s had some level of personality. As a fan of hip-hop, there was a time when finding a radio station that played rap music was a major chore. Or when you found out about it, the show was on in the late night, or in the wee hours of the morning. Listen to Malcolm McLaren‘s Duck Rock album and you’ll hear the World Famous Supreme Team asking callers how they were able to listen to a version of their radio show they did at 4 in the morning. The response was “too much of that snow white”, so people were more than willing to do drugs in order to get their radio fix.

Of course, getting someone to record a radio show meant you had to put faith in the other person who may or may not be willing to sit there for 60 minutes or more to make sure your tape was recorded. This was something I had been frustrated about for years, because if I didn’t like the way someone else did it, I had hoped if I gave them a set of guidelines meeting my elitist specifications, they would be able to do it better for future tapes. I learned this myself through trial and error, when I would record stuff like the King Biscuit Flower Hour on the radio, or make my own mix tapes from what DJ’s played. Getting a tape was always a mix bag too, because you didn’t know what kind of cassette decks they used, or someone might use their parents cassette decks but not understand anything about volume control. As internet audio started to become a factor, or the fact that you can listen to things online instead of it being text and image based, that changed everything. That also meant that audio nerds like myself could help by making listening to music on the internet so much better. In time, you were able to download a strange file format called an MP3, where you could download something that had a massive size of 3 or 4 megabytes. This would take anywhere from 30 minutes to 45 minutes, and when it arrived, you played it through the equivalent of “clock radio speakers”. I DOWNLOADED A SONG, YES!!! As speeds became faster, and file formats started to improve, there was no end to the potential of this digital world and exploration.

  • That love of music and sound, and wanting to hear more of it (and its endless variations) came from being a student of records. Why did I become a student of records, I don’t know. It was a source of entertainment. Don’t get me wrong: I loved building blocks, Lego, toy trains, drawing, coloring books, it wasn’t as if once I found music, I became a maniacal automaton. As a kid, records were always around, or at least was readily available. Or maybe in my mind, once I knew these black circles provided sounds, I wanted to play them all the time.

    There are so many moments in my childhood that I can point at where I can say “this is where it started”, but like anything in life, influences come from many sources and it can be an accumulation of all of them which leads to what evolves. Living in Los Angeles, it’s the mecca of entertainment. I loved Disneyland, and I enjoyed going to Toys-R-Us, and not just because my first record player was “given to me” by Geoffrey The Giraffe. Yet for some reason I clearly remember being in my dad’s car and seeing the late 60’s/early 70’s Capitol Records logo on a greyish building. I had seen the logo on a few of my dad’s records, perhaps something by The Beach Boys or something. There were endless buildings “of interest”, and that meant seeing movie studios, companies that made cartoons, they were all around. That Capitol logo just stuck out for me, and would continue to remain with me, especially once I got into the music of The Beatles and other groups. That lead to logo association, and how that would play a role in identifying certain records, styles, and genres when I’d search for records.

  • For some reason, my dad made a record. Not for a label or anything, but I remember we had an acetate (dub plate) of a song where I heard his voice. “How did my daddy’s voice get on this?” was something I thought, or more realistically “daddy? Are you in here?” My dad did not hesitate to sing at any given time, and for whatever reason, he went to a recording studio and recorded a song. I played that song a lot because it was my dad. Only one record was made, a “one-off”, for personal use. From what I know, when we moved to Honolulu, my parents left a lot of things behind, from personal family photos to random clothes, light fixtures, etc. My mom tells me the departure was abrupt. One of the things left behind was that record. The items were obtained by our neighbors, also from Hawai’i, whom my parents were good friends of. However, I remember being at home in Honolulu as a kid and my mom or dad getting into a phone argument with those neighbors. Apparently, those neighbors didn’t want to keep the items and decided to sell it in a yard sale, and whatever didn’t sell, they dumped. My parents were archivists as well, so there are a lot of personal photos that are now a part of the dirt under some Ikea, or crusting over at a thrift store or pawn shop. As for my dad’s record, who knows. Those records could easily break, so it may be asphalt or dust. Yet knowing how other record collectors work, I wouldn’t be surprised if Egon has it in his basement. (If anyone out there has a 7″ 45 acetate out there, perhaps with a label that mentions an Los Angeles-based address, and may have the name John Book written or typed on it, please e-mail me at BooksMusica [at] gmail [dot] com.)
  • The thing about all of this music and listening is, it wasn’t forced. I wasn’t being shaped or molded to become a baker, an astronaut, or anything specific. I just know that for the longest time, my parents simply wanted me to do well in school and be who I wanted to be. The only thing I remember being taboo was swearing. Sure, I heard them say “bad words” but then again, 5 or 6 year olds shouldn’t be saying bad words anyway. This is why when I was on a field trip in Honolulu, and I heard one of my classmates say “oh shit” and “motherfucker”, I probably had a Spanky McFarland expression on my face.

    I was very much a normal kid who loved cartoons, drawing, and playing with friends, but it was music that was the spark of energy I liked and wanted. I was “John Boy”, and I was me, and anything I did mattered to me and only me. One of the things I remember as a kid was enjoying an ice cream drumstick as a snack every now and then. Now that I think of it, I had a lot of drum sticks. Is this yet another link to my love of drums and beats? Eh, maybe not. The point is, I loved the mixture of ice cream, chocolate, and nuts on top of a sugar cone. Delicious stuff. Most people would eat it like everyone else: from the top. I, on the other hand, was a rebel and didn’t want to be like anyone else. I wanted to be singled out for what I was doing. I enjoyed eating the drum stick from the bottom, or the pointy end.
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    The above photo was taken at a shopping mall at the age of 3, and this was during Christmas. I wanted to show my mom “look, I’m eating ice cream MY WAY.” It wasn’t the “wrong” way, but this is how I consumed it. It wasn’t about doing something in another or other ways just to prove a point, although I find myself doing that in life to prove a point, often to say “look, you said this is the wrong way? Watch, I’ll get there too.” I remember going to shopping malls with escalators and wanting to walk up when it was moving down, not only because it was fun, but because it was the wrong way. I was pretty much saying “look, I’ll get there too.”

    On this particular trip to the mall, it was with my parents, along with my Auntie Tita (Linda, my mom’s sister) and Grandma Book, on my dad’s side. I don’t remember anything about this visit other than when I had the ice cream and, perhaps not surprisingly, a visit to the record store. In this case, it was a store called Disc Records. I have no idea what was bought, or if it was for my parents or for my auntie. I just remember feeling like I was at home, or a “home away from home”, the record store was nice and cozy, my “toy box”. The one thing I do remember was that my mom or dad saying we had to go home, and I wasn’t having it. I don’t remember crying, but I remember I was sad because I wanted to spend time looking around (nothing specific) or just hearing what was being played. My mom picked me up, and I just let go of myself and became a mopey boy. If that was the case, I am now tired and I want to go home. Snap.

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  • Why I hold on to these specific memories, I’ll never know. There are other things I fondly remember, such as my favorite fish & chips place, which my mom remembered as H.S. Esquire. The actual name is H. Salt Esq., but I loved this place not only for the good fries, but I loved the batter that was on their fish, and that taste remains with me to this day. I later learned it was beer battered fish, and when a place like Skippers started selling beer battered fish, I tried it and I was 4 years old all over again. It just brought me back to that time when I started to learn about everything about the world, and my role in this “big blue marble”.

    It was love, music, and good times, along with a fatherly love of fixing cars and a motherly love of making macrame everything, that went on here. When we moved to Honolulu, and I discovered a new addition to my family called “sister”, that was the next phase of a time in my life that I still hold true, as all of my experiences and everything I absorbed basically helped me to form a sense of me. Yet looking at this three year old kid looking like a mini Paul Simon, I merely enjoyed good tunes, good food, and being a “good boy”.

    When I was just a little boy…

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  • THRIFT STORE ADVENTURES: September 30, 2011 (the end of the line)

    Before I searched, I had no idea when I last did an installment of Thrift Store Adventures. I looked, and the last one I wrote was in March 2009. Any of you who have followed me or my writing know of my record collecting ways and my love of vinyl, and yet it has been 30 months since I did this? What in the world happened?

    Since it has been awhile since I did an installment, I should explain what this is. Thrift Store Adventures was/is a section where I would devote some words to my record purchases at thrift stores, pawn shops, and garage/yard sales. I grew up going to thrift stores, and while it may have been for economical purposes with my parents, it was also the best and cheapest way to find and buy music. I’ve discovered a lot of music at thrift stores in the last 30 years, and because of it I was briefly employed at a thrift store, specifically to have first crack at any incoming vinyl. Instead, they put me in women’s clothing to sort and fold clothes, covered in insecticide. After two days at that job, including a trip to the social security office because I had to prove I was a U.S. citizen even though I’ve been one since birth (i.e I know my SS# but didn’t have a card, and when I returned with temp card, they were shocked, as if I was going to fake my way in.), I left and never returned.

    The thrift store had become the haven for the tossed-out and thrown away records, and whenever I would go out of town, thrift store were the hot spots, as I wanted to get as much cheap records as possible to bring it home and listen, and possibly resell. I’m a collector, but I enjoy playing the records too, touching the vinyl, covers, and inner sleeves, sniffing that mustiness and hoping someone had some good listening experiences with it.

    In the last few years, money has been tight and as a lot of collectors will often say, “it’s either eating on a McChicken budget or finding heat”, “heat” being the term one uses when they score a “hot” record. Basically, I had to prioritize. It hasn’t stopped me from visiting thrift stores to browse, but there has been a major shift in the importance of vinyl at thrift stores, at least in my region. I remember years when I would be able to walk into a store, head to the record section and see the racks with four to six rows, sometimes more. I’ve always had records around me, and yet I fully understand for the rest of the world, it is now an “antique”, a thing of the past. As MP3’s continue to be the primary source of music consumption, I’ve seen more compact discs. Since they are digital, they are now “prized” and often placed behind the counter in order to prevent theft. The record, on the other hand, is the ugly, outdated beast that it has been for the last 25 years, but it almost feels like I have to go out of my way to find them, if I find any. To make a long story short, record supplies have dwindled, sections have been reduced, or basically all of the good records have been picked over and I’ll only see the same Anne Murray, Helen Reddy and Merrill Womack records I’ve seen countless times since I started going to thrift stores for records.

    I did this section not only to log some of my purchases, but to share my knowledge of the records, or to talk about a discovery that had been unknown to me. I like to buy records and not listen to them beforehand, even though I have a portable. I’m sure bringing it on my drips would have saved me a lot of money, but then, as now, I have a heart for the crap. Yes, I want music that rocks, that’s funky, that’s dope, that’s the shit, call it what you want, but I also want music that will make me listen and go “why was that made?” or “who were they trying to sell that to?” I eat that up, and it was great to share that with my readers.

    I’d like to think that it’s because of my location that the record supplies are shrinking. I’ve been looking to move to Portland, Oregon, a city that used to be my mecca for all that is vinyl. Magazines like Goldmine would often say that Portland was the last holy grail for all that is sacred about records, if you wanted to fulfill your vinyl addiction, you could do it there. There was a time when all I would do in Portland was go to thrift stores, find some cheap food, and that’s it. Boring. As I have been looking seriously into Portland, I’ve been looking at much more than just music. In fact, in the last few years, I still look for music but it’s not a priority as it once was. I have found Portland to be a bit more in sync with who I am and what I’d like to be. The people whom I have met with are great, and I want to be there to know more. I have wondered that when I do move, will that spark my interest in going to thrift stores again? To be honest, I think it will always be there. I love cheap bargains, I love to find out what people tossed out, and of course these records can have good resell value. But will it ever be on the level that it used to be 10 to 20 years ago? This may be a first for me, and it may shock some you but: no.

    Record collecting is an incredible hobby, one that I’ve learned from immensely, and yet I’m able to go to any thrift store, head to the record section, take notes, go home, do a Google search, and download almost every album on that list for free. I search, buy, and collect records for that “thrill of the hunt”, but as I get older and want to reduce my collection significantly, I no longer want to be locked down or held back by boxes of records that take a lot of time and energy to transport from Point A to point B.

    Maybe it’s a sign of me getting older, or “growing up”, and yet it’s almost as if I’m archiving that part of my life. I’m not one of those celebrated diggers who is able to visit every major city, walk into homes and warehouses, and just pillage the place. I like reading stories about those who do this. I wish I was someone who had the luxury and locale to do this, but I’m not. There’s a church in town that has a huge storage facility, I used to drive past it all the time and go “damn, I wish it was mine so I could fill it with records.”

    A few things changed my outlook on things. Outside of being tight with money, it was after watching the documentary film Vinyl. I saw elements of me in it, not with everyone but it was enough. I’m a music numbnut and will be for life, but I did not want to be someone who was stuck in my kitchen, memorizing K-Tel album track listings in different configurations, rocking back and forth as if that was the only thing I cared about. I also go back to the morning I was T-boned in a car accident, after leaving a Goodwill to (what else?) buy records? That accident had absolutely nothing to do with records or music, but it had to do with my life and realizing I had to do more with it.

    This marks the end of Thrift Store Adventures as a column, but then again who knows. I think as I take on more writing opportunities, which I hope makes it possible for me to travel and meet my subjects, it will lead to me moving from my current location and move to Portland. Maybe different opportunities will take me elsewhere, but right now, Portland is my goal. Thrift Store Adventures was never meant to be anything but my way of saying “I bought some records, check out what I bought, here’s a song or two.” The majority of my entries had been from the same circle of thrift stores in this area, with occasional trips out of town, and that’s not fun. I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to read any more entries, especially when other collectors are able to tour, travel, do DJ sets, or run record labels in large cities while I struggle to move the hell out of a small podunk town. Could I become a DJ, tour, and rock some people, hell yeah, I’d love that chance. I have ideas I’d like to do and pull off, and maybe as I do more writing, articles, and books, I can include that as part of my marketing plan.

    For years, I’ve wondered when (not if) I’d stop having fun writing Thrift Store Adventures. I’ve always wanted to take my writing to a higher level, but to use an old music term, I’ve been “bubbling under” for too long. If doing more writing leads to more traveling and opportunities, then I will definitely return to talk. For now though, I will officially put this column into storage.

    A big mahalo nui to anyone and everyone who came across me and my writing with Thrift Store Adventures, and I hope you’ll continue to read and support what I do here at ThisIsBooksMusic.com. My love and admiration for music will never go away, and good records will never be out of reach. However, putting a cap on this section has been long overdue, especially when I haven’t been able to devote my time to it as much as I’d like to.

    Thrift Store Adventures – February 28, 2009 (Richland/Kennewick, WA)

    Finally made it out to the thrift stores again, didn’t bring my camera with me but I was able to find a few things worth picking up. First visit was to Goodwill in Richland, Washington. Lately the selection has been dry, and I don’t know if that means people aren’t throwing out any good music or people have run out of stuff to donate. I went in and saw a small section of records, both albums and 45’s. Decided to look at the 45’s first and this is what I ended up buying.


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Seymour (His Heartbeat Trumpet)-“Stripper’s” Sugar Blues/You Made Me Love You (3.9mb) (Heartbeat H-27)
    I haven’t done my research on this, but I have another 45 on the Heartbeat label (gold with black lettering) consisting of someone on trumpet playing a melancholy melody over a church organ, if I remember correctly. I know the artist on that wasn’t Seymour, but this record specifically credits someone whose playing sounds exactly like that record. What moved me about this was that the song is called “Stripper’s Sugar Blues”. From the other 45, I knew it couldn’t be something too good, either that or it would be a surprise and I’d really like it.

    His style of playing is kind of Dixieland-ish and would be the kind of jazz you’d play alongside Al Hirt or Bent Fabric. The song is only 1:44, with all of the room in the world to properly end the song but Seymour just plays and plays, teases until it fades abruptly. It doesn’t make sense.

    However, I finally did a search and the Seymour in question was somewhat of an entrepreneur. Seymour was Seymour Schwartz, a struggling musician who did quite well selling records at his own record stores in Chicago. According to his bio, he went out of his way to talk to jukebox operators so he could buy up all of the records they no longer wanted. He kept the good (read “collector”) records for himself and sold the cheaper (read “unwanted”) records to dime stores. In other words, he knew the value of old records when people were more than willing to trash them. When he opened Seymour’s Record Mart after the end of World War II, he claimed he had a warehouse with a second floor that had at least 50,000 records. His store and love of music would be known throughout Chicago, and that lead to him wanting to start his own label, Seymour Records.

    Countless session work, writing songs, and record store business kept him busy, but in time Seymour Records would be no more, which is when he started Heartbeat Records. These records were sold from his store, and were primarily heard in jukeboxes. The label released a single by Billie Hawkins, which is of note since her backing band was none other than Sun Ra & His Orchestra, and his believed to be one of the first Sun Ra records in his Earthly musical excursions. Heartbeat also allowed Schwartz to record some records on his own, simply under Seymour. Heartbeat was meant to be a 45-only label, but managed to get himself on Chess Records via the Argo label to release a full-length album.

    Eventually Schwartz stopped creating music and by the mid-60’s sold his record store, even though Chicago was still the place to find “record row” and incredible community of music. What I also didn’t know was that as I would find many Heartbeat 45’s over the years, he was still with us. Schwartz passed away in 2008.


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Sonny James-The Only Ones We Truly Hurt (Are The Ones We Truly Love)/Here Comes Honey Again (Capitol 3174)
    Sonny James-He Has Walked This Way Before/Only Love Can Break A Heart (Capitol 3232)

    I have one or two Sonny James albums from the mid-60’s I believe, so I was familiar with who he is, but here were two 45’s on Capitol with the late 60’s/early 70’s design so since I hadn’t hurt of the songs, I picked them up. Both of these 45’s were released in 1971, and to be honest I had bought them in the hopes I would discover that it had a non-LP track or something, since the B-sides didn’t list the song as being from one. When I got home and did a search, that’s when I found out that the songs on the B-side would be released on the follow-up album, perhaps a calculated sales tactic.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic I’m not sure what kind of country singer James would be called, but it’s that style of country you never hear on the radio anymore, that really sobby-heartbreak stuff with a bit of a gospel influence. In truth, he’s one of those singers who puts a lot of himself into the songs, and thus demands the kind of respect… well, this is what is listed on his website: for nineteen years (1960-1979) he spent more time in the Number One chart position than any other artist in country music — a total of 57 weeks. Who is capable of doing that today, in a realistic manner? I am sure there are countless jukeboxes in the South that are filled with his records, and when one of his songs is played, the room is silent. Good music all around.


    Then a few albums:

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Gil Evans & The Monday Night Orchestra-Live At Sweet Basil (Gramavision; 1986)
    I had never heard of this album before, but it’s a double LP originally released in Japan, and released domestically, on “high quality audiophile vinyl”. The recording is incredible, with side 1 featuring an 18-minute version of “Parabola”. The album goes through songs by Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock, and two tracks by Jimi Hendrix. There are moments in this where Evans and the orchestra (which includes Lew Soloff and Hannibal Marvin Peterson on trumpets, Chris Hunter on alto sax, Hiram Bullock on guitar, and Adam Nussbaum on drums) gets as “out there” as Evans did during the Svengali era, in fact this sounds more like the early 70’s than the mid-80’s, but then again this is Gil Evans we’re talking about. I wanted to put this on eBay, but as I’m listening to this, this may be a keeper.


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Kris Kristofferson-Border Lord (Monument/CBS; 1972)
    The first time I became aware of Kristofferson was through the movie A Star Is Born, which got a lot of time on HBO in the late 1970’s. I would later discover he was not only an artist in his own right, but a songwriter, including a song he co-wrote called “Me And Bobby McGee”, later covered by Janis Joplin and becoming a hit a few months after Joplin’s death. Some of you may have only known of Kristofferson through Big Top Pee Wee, but that’s another story, another time.

    Border Lord was Kristofferson’s third album, and has the feel of a rugged country album that was far from what George Jones and Conway Twitty were known for. It’s not rock, but it has the feel of country rock that would dominate much of the 70’s, from The Eagles to Neil Young where things are more country than rock, but there’s a slight groove that probably wouldn’t sit too well with country purists. Nonetheless, with songs like “Stagger Mountain Tragedy”, “Smokey Put The Sweat On Me”, and “Gettin’ By, High, and Stranger”, this definitely wasn’t your mom’s country music. He’s talking about the cops, letting your hair down and smoking interesting things, all done with an attitude that was about being a badass but was still very down to Earth.

    The album also marks the first appearance of Rita Coolidge, who would eventually become his wife. Border Lord also features Jerry Kennedy, Pete Drake, Charlie McCoy, and Donnie Fritts.


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Bonnie Raitt-Give It Up (Warner Bros.; 1972)
    This is an album I’ve seen over the years but never bothered to pick it up until today. This was Raitt’s second album, released in 1972, and combines her love of blues with country, and sounds like the kind of album you’d open the gatefold and smoke doobs to/with. Her singing and guitar work is, as always, strong. The gatefold features Raitt and friends jamming in the studio, or practicing at home, and like a lot of similar albums of the time, it has an intimate feel that makes you want to listen to it again and again, as I will. Now if I can find her first and third albums on vinyl, I’ll be alright.


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic The Three D’s-Songs Of Our American Heritage (Covenant; 1978)
    This is what happens when you feel you have a good feeling about a record, and it ends up being anything but, at least for me.

    I have no idea who The Three D’s were, and even with a title like Songs of Our American Heritage, I had taken a chance because it featured a song called “Buffalo Gals”. I looked at the cover while in Goodwill and said to myself “I wonder if this is the album with the sample everyone is looking for.” I brought it home and it definitely was not. The music is decent folk music that you might expect to hear on A Prairie Home Companion, but not something I would listen to on a regular basis.

    (Songs Of Our American is available on CD and can be purchased here.)


  • A few hours later I went to St. Vincent de Paul in Kennewick with my nephew, and you know, I torture myself by going to this store (which moved sometime last year to its present location) and I tell my nephew “this place has no good records” and he tells me, in his very confident way, “it is St. Vincent, what do you expect?” Yeah sir, you’re right. Loads of gospel and church records, many Mitch Miller LP’s and loads of stuff on Capitol that I would listen to if I had enough money to play with. What I did have was enough for me to leave with two records:

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic John Rowles-Cheryl Moana Marie (Kapp; 1971) There was no reason I needed to buy this album, I already have a copy, but this record does have a bit of significance for me, as the title track was one of the first songs I remember my father used to sing to me as a child. Maybe the song about missing that special someone was him being homesick when we briefly lived in California, or the someone as a metaphor for missing the place he called home, but he would sing this all the time and he would always be happy when he did it. The copy I remembered had the colorful Kapp label. I would eventually find a copy, and I was happy with that:
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    Today, the copy I saw had the previous black label incarnation. In the grand scheme of things is this a big deal, no, but for most of my life I’ve associated this song and album with the colorful Kapp, and now I have to deal with the reality it had come out during the label transition. Yes, for most of you this is useless/pointless information, but I bought it simply to have a different pressing. Now, I will quietly weep as I hear Mr. Rowles sing safe in my arms she will be… my Cheryl Moana Marie.

    BTW – I told my nephew about finding at least one good reason, and of course he has no idea of the significance of it to me. The first thing he tells me is “he looks like Jemaine from Flight Of The Conchords.” I’ve always thought this too, and with the New Zealand roots between Rowles and Jemaine Clement, you never know. Maybe one day, these two will meet and perhaps fight like men: topless.
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    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Bob Kuhn & The Sanctuary Singers-Keep On Singing (Faith Unlimited; 197?)
    This is a local gospel record, where everyone is wearing matching outfits outside while standing around a pool. It’s not what I normally listen to, but I bought this before and I bought it again specifically to place on eBay because of a certain bass guitar passage (played by Darrell Strong) in “Get All Excited” that is definitely sample worthy.

    The rest of the album? I’m someone who likes gospel/church records for its passion to be a bit cheesy, although what I like is when some of the music is off-tempo and the singing is off-key (one wonders what would happen if someone did a remix and ran the vocal track through Auto-Tone). When a good moment like a funky bassline or a weird drum break that can be chopped up nicely shows up, it makes buying these type of records worth it.

  • Thrift Store Adventures: Goodwill, Pasco, WA (January 7, 2009)

    I didn’t have to go today, but temperature was in the upper 50’s (it was 61 before I started writing this) so I decided to check out the one and only trusty Goodwill in Pasco, Washington. This is a place I’ve visited so many times, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. The bin only had one small section of records, so I’m not sure if they had any in the back.

    As I browse through the records, I have to apologize for my finger getting in the way, I still have to get used to recording myself doing this.

    BONUS BEATS: A visit to the car wash.

    I then make it home and listen to the record itself.

    Thrift Store Adventures: December 28, 2008, Walla Walla, WA

    This is my first video Thrift Store Adventures that I created using a Flip video camera I received for Christmas.

    For this first video installment, my ohana wanted to go to Walla Walla, Washington (about a 45 minute drive East) to pick up a television for my nephew that he received as a gift. I made sure that I would go to a thrift store on this trip, and I had hoped to go to the Blue Mountain thrift store and Goodwill, but the Blue Mountain store is closed on Sundays (I did not know).

    I drove around the corner to Goodwill and these are the results. This is unedited, so pardon the tentative mess. While I’m not in this video, my nephew is. Once I’m able to make these videos look a bit more decent, I’ll record myself.

    The Run-Off Groove #225

    Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #225. I am John Book and things are fresh.

    BTW – if you like the column, please consider clicking the banner below for eMusic. You are able to subscribe and download albums in a way that I feel is more effective than iTunes, and there’s a lot of incredible music here. You will not be disappointed.


    Also, each review features links to the artist’s home page or MySpace page, so if you want to hear them, you can do so easily. Links are also provided to make a vinyl, CD, or digital purchase, since your local mall probably doesn’t have most of these titles. If you would like to buy the compact disc, click the icon that looks like this:

    If you wish to make a digital MP3 purchase, you can click the digital player icon that looks like this:

    If a particular release does come out on vinyl, I of course will make a vinyl icon.

    Now, the column.


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Common has released album #8, and obviously he has been around for a long time to where I can say that this is not your mom’s Common.

    I say this because Universal Mind Control (Geffen) is a very different album from the man who gave us such classic hip-hop songs as “I Used To Love H.E.R.”, “Resurrection”, “Retrospect For Life”, “The Corner”, “Testify”, “The Light”, “The Question”, and the countless cameos he has made on other albums. Fans have relied on him to be different from the norm during times when hip-hop had become an overwhelming mass of something undesirable. Some called him the boho poet, while some looked to him with class and style, the ladies dug his steez while guys were always blown away by his flows and rhymes. Much of that is still on this new album, but he has (at least for the moment) entered the place that most diehards usually resist going into: the club. Yes, Common is going for the club vibe by creating songs that would fit in the club. One generally associates Common with headnodder music, not something you would see with a lot of bling and choreographed dancing but this is a man who has gone Hollywood and appeared in a number of popular movies. What in the world is Common doing?

    Well, it is a stretch but the one thing you can’t deny is that Common has the style to rock any track that is given to him, and let’s be honest, had he existed as an artist in the 80’s, he would be doing tracks with The Jonzun Crew, Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force, and be considered the king of electro. Many of the songs on the album are produced by The Neptunes, so Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo offer Common a chance to be more accessible in a marketplace where it seems there’s not much room to “have style” and “be original” in a KRS-One fashion. Even though it’s odd to hear Common rhyme over club bangers, in an odd way it does work. Perhaps the reality of hip-hop being truly universal comes through in a rapper who is comfortable in making an album that is different from his past work. If Williams and Hugo offered Common a chance to do something in a N*E*R*D context, that would work too. Kanye West, ever the arrogant one, immediately states that he is the fly oen in “Punch Drunk Love”, but then Common comes up with

    my uh is in your body
    my uh is in your mind
    check my dictionary
    that ass is so defined
    it’s slippery when it’s wet, girl
    I can read your signs
    I knock and I knock, uh
    Can I come inside?
    I knock and I knock, girl
    Can I come inside?
    I feel like it’s on when I’m in between your thighs

    Yes, these are the words from Common himself, someone who always came off as a poetic gentleman only to reduce himself to being “like everyone else”. Of course he’s human so in truth he is very much amongst all of us but one reason why people felt so strongly about Common is because he did present himself as someone who was intelligent, wise, and with a gift. The voice and flows are very much on this album, but the lyrics are simply, well, common. Not Common, but common, as in “everyone has done this before”. Maybe it’s Common playing the role, wanting to know what it feels like on the other side and decides to put on a new jacket to see if it’s comfortable. The issue for me is can he return to what he has been known for. Fortunately in this day and age, rappers from the early 1990’s are a lot more successful in their careers than those who had their spotlight in the 80’s, but as someone who was a fan of his from the beginning, moreso with his second album, I’m not sure if those who have supported him will support this. I’m also not sure if those fans who will now depart will find a reason to want to hear him if they now feel he can be fickle.

    It’s a different album, but maybe Universal Mind Control is a bit of a metaphor, a way to say “this is the album my label has wanted me to do for years, this is what some expect of me”. I hope that in 2009, the final year of the first decade of the 21st century, he and many others will come off strong with something that is a statement of who Common is as an artist. Think about it, if Common were to pass on, how would it feel knowing that this was his last statement? This seems to be an album made for Hollywood, and he seems to be participating in the scenario he once talked about in “I Used To Love H.E.R.” where he’s now the one moving to L.A. I agree that black music is black music, and it’s all good, but he’s now treating the music, his music, in a way that seems a bit foul. Like the “woman” in that song, maybe she needs to make the rounds to realize what she is missing, but in a small way this might be a sign of what we could be missing from him. I just hope he’ll be able to take back to make this shit stop, and whom I talk about is Common.


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic After releasing three albums, one of which was not released in her own home country, Amerie Rogers is saying goodbye to one label as moves forward to another. Her former label, Epic/Sony, is quick to mark this occasion by releasing a compilation of Amerie’s greatest hits. Wait, greatest hits?

    Generally someone gets a greatest hits package when they’ve actually had an album of hits, but this is not being called a greatest hits package per se. Instead, this is the iPod generation’s idea of a compilation, and it’s appropriately called Playlist: The Very Best Of Amerie (Legacy). In terms of actual hits, we do have them in the four songs people will generally associate with her: “Why Don’t We Fall In Love”, “Talkin’ To Me”, “1 Thing”, and “Touch”, but the rest of the album is filled with minor hits and album tracks. I think if this is a chance for people to listen to her as an artist at a time when things are increasingly becoming catered to the single, this will work. The CD is bargain priced and you do get the hits that will no doubt receive a lot of airplay. But perhaps it would have been better to release a 5 song EP/CD5 and leave it at that. If a jump to Def Jam will prove to be a good one for her as an artist, then this CD in Legacy’s Playlist series will hopefully be the seeds of what will come to fruition.


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic He has been called “the Godfather of Gypsy Zen”, but Aranos is definitely one of the more creative artists in the experimental/avant-garde field. His last few albums have been complete mindtrips, and that happens once again as the mind shifts into new realms with Alone Vimalakirti Blinks (self-released).

    This one features six songs, and you have to listen to each track in full to get a grasp of what he’s doing, which is to have various abstract sounds develop slowly but surely to become more durable sounds. “Rocket Sandals” sounds like someone striking a violin with a bow continuously for ten minutes as other sounds are mixed and filtered into it to where it may represent a crowded marketplace or a crowded mind. It then moves into a formal rhythm where you’re not sure where it will lead you (or how or why) but it does. The other pieces continue on the adventure, with “This Job Is So Boring” sounding like the mundane songs we sing in our heads as we deal with the daily grind, while “Better Universe No. 2” is the evolution of what we hope to seek even if it seems it takes forever to find (which is perhaps why it sounds the way it does). It’s a mixture of electronics, found sound, and real instrumentation, and Aranos does such a good job that you can’t tell which is which. He takes you into his audio world and either you go exploring with him as filtered stringed instruments dance back and forth with the sound of heavy traffic, planes, ships, and boats, or move away. I suggest moving in and perhaps becoming a part of his voyage.


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic The title of Saltman-Knowles new CD, Return Of The Composer (Pacific Coast Jazz is meant to be a play of words on the Star Wars film, Return Of The Jedi, and it’s meant to say that the world of jazz, if not music in general, needs to return to the strength of original compositions and new and innovating composers. The entire album features original compositions, either by double bassist Mark Saltman or pianist William Knowles, and along with vocalist Lori Williams Chisholm they show and prove that jazz music is very much alive and well in 2008 and beyond, that it doesn’t always have to rely on the same old songs to be good. In songs like “Homeland”, “Shalom And Salaam”, and “Creepin’ Up” they, along with drummer Jimmy “Junebug” Jackson, Alvin Trask on trumpet, and Robert Landham on sax, are able to make quality jazz that could easily influence future jazz musicians and vocalists. Landham’s solo in “Bellport” comes in unexpectedly, since Saltman, Knowles, and Jackson work like an incredible jazz trio and it feels that way until Landham slips in and steals the show. Chisholm sings back and forth in a direct manner, and doing a bit of scat throughout. Her voice is the kind of jazz singing I enjoy listening to, and the silkiness makes me want to hear that all day and night. I hope she releases a full length under her own name, and as for the rest of the musicians, these guys are tight. It may be a return, but those in the know will say it’s always been here, one just had to dust off the cobwebs

    (Return Of The Composer will be released on January 26, 2009.)


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Please, can someone answer me this question: who buys this bullshit? I’m talking about Akon and his new album, Freedom (Universal Motown).

    Two years ago I reviewed his Konvicted album and it was pure crap. In 2008… more of the same. Well okay, he does have the usual suspects: Wyclef Jean, T-Pain, Lil’ Wayne, and Kardinal Offishall, but sometimes the guests outshine the star, and perhaps that was the goal. Akon still can’t sing, the lyrics are wasteful, and if you buy an Akon album how many times do you have to say “Akon… uh huh”? How many times does one have to tolerate it?

    Akon makes silly ass music that makes me wonder why anyone cares for him as an artist, and do people think he has talent? Who said that voice of his is good? Mediocre at best. Pure crap.


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Vocalist Joani Taylor swings in a fashion that I want to hear, as she is comfortable being backed by a band with a mean ass Hammond B-3 player (Bob Murphy) and musicians who know how to make the joint jump. While she calls her album In My Own Voice, I had to look at the CD a few times because Taylor reminded me a lot of Monday Michiru, both in style and tone. In other words, this lady rips and anyone who wants to hear a great, powerful female jazz singer will have to buy this album immediately.

    Taylor has released many albums over the years, but this is my first listen to her voice and music. She is often billed as “Canada’s first lady of the jazz ballad”, but on this album she shows she is much more than a balladeer, there’s even a bit of hip-hop flavor in her version of Paul Desmond‘s “Take Five”, with a rap done in 5/4 from Jay Kin). It was unexpected, but it was definitely welcome on an album that ranges from the acid jazz vibe of the late 60’s and early 70’s to bebop. Taylor shows her experience throughout this album, able to wrap herself around the music and making it her own, and the majority of this album features original Taylor/Murphy compositions and whether it’s a passionate love song or one with a hint of the blues, you listen to her and believe in it because she most likely has felt these things, you can hear the joy, fear, pain, and pleasure with every word, line, and verse.

    In My Own Voice was recorded live in the studio with everyone in the same room at one time, and it’s a probably good indication of what her live shows are like. Let’s hope she’ll perform at jazz festivals next year, showing her old fans what they’ve come to see and hear and showing new fans that all one needs to find is a powerful jazz singer who knows their craft. Taylor is someone who knows and honors the craft of jazz.



    Image and video hosting by TinyPic When a new album comes across my way by an artist I hadn’t heard before, I get semi-upset (not really) that I hadn’t heard of them before. Fortunately if I really like them, I’ll want to hunt down their previous work, and I can say that about Stephen Wilkinson, a British bloke who goes by the simple one-word moniker Bibio, and he makes one-man music.

    His new, third album is called Vignetting The Compost, has him creating all of the sounds heard and what hit me at first was how lo-fi and raw it sounded. It immediately reminded me of some of the surf movie soundtracks I’ve heard over the years, a bit of rock and pop with a love for folk sensibilities. In Bibio’s case it probably comes from his upbringing, but it’s the kind of music that brings to mind a sense of freedom that was once heard in those songs, representing that era very well. The lo-fi quality comes from the fact that, according to his bio, he uses cassette decks, a half-broken sampler, dictaphones, and experimental ways of affecting sounds, so the end result is different audio textures that is nice to hear in a time when twisting sounds is often done in an artificial/computerized way. “Flesh Rots, Pip Sown” opens the album as water cascades downs the falls and makes ready for the sun to come up and greet the day, at least that’s how I hear it. The entire album has that earthy quality where you can imagine dirt and dust collecting on the instruments, but what you hear within your assumed muck is well-written music done by someone who attempts and succeeds at capturing a dated sound without him sounding dated. That can be a challenge for some artists who don’t seem to grasp the power of a certain style, but he does. Each layer of his music pulls you in and never wants to let you go, and you never want to lose its grasp as you hear his guitar work in “The Ephemeral Bluebell”, “Over The Far And Hills Away”, or “The Garden Shelter”, nor do you want these songs to become too electrified (although it would work perfectly in the hands of other artists).

    Bibio, at least with this album, is folksy, wholesome, surfy, melancholy, and colorful. It’s the sound of someone who makes music with cassette players. In the past those tapes would go into a shoebox and perhaps never heard of again. It has a personal feel, perhaps I’m applying my sensibility to the cassettes of yesteryears, but it’s a welcome change from the too-clean sounds of today.

    (Vignetting The Compost will be released on February 3, 2009.)


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Fuck, why do people torture other humans with this excrement? FALAKA!!!

    Circus is far from sounding anything like Lenny Kravitz‘s Circus, which is a far better album than this leftover bowl of tripe stew. It’s warmed over dookie and no amount of sugar sprinkles will make this shit sound sweet (thank you Jemini The Gifted One.) So what’s on it? Well, Britney Spears sings, again in a higher pitch so that her music sounds less womanly and more girly, even the ballads sound like a pre-teen who is ready to grow up. But is she? Through the crap, it seems obvious that she wants to reveal that she is a woman with heart and someone who cares, but is afraid that being stuck in the spotlight has and will hold her back. The liner notes claim she had a hand in five of the tracks, but I’m not sure what input she actually had in them, but most of the album is done from an autobigraphical point of view, as if she’s telling her family, friends, and world that she lives in a circus, and someone forgot to clean up the elephant shit. To be honest, it works in that sense but the music isn’t adventurous, risky, or mindblowing, it’s all been done before by everyone from Pink to Kelly Clarkson, it sounds more American Idol-influenced than the music of someone who eventually influenced others to follow her “lead”. She has worked with the best, but this album features names that, outside of Danja, don’t really stand out. It’s a risk for her to be releasing music like this at this stage in her career with people who simply want to add Spears to their growing resumes, and that’s fine, we all network.

    But… for someone who is pushing herself to be better than best, and as someone who people feel is this generation’s Madonna, she really doesn’t have the voice, material, or producers to deserve that status. It sounds like everyone else who is out there, and yet people still view her as one of the best. Maybe she is one of the best, but it’s certainly not as a musical artist.


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic The duo of Darunam/Milan have made music together for a few years, and with The Last Angel On Earth (64-56 Media) they feel that the power of the world can be found through spirituality. They do this by combining elements of pop, electronic music, and various worldly sounds to create a fusion that will please fans of Trilok Gurtu and the more recent works of Peter Gabriel. The album goes through different movements, the path of which is indicated in the track titles:

    “Sarasvati (Amma)”
    “Karl (Move)”
    “Mahatma (Truth)”
    “Therese (Night)”
    “Raphael (Sunshine)”

    Lyrically they get into the temptations that exist within the world, and the lure of the entities that create ones sense of spirituality. It’s an adventurous road that will take the listener through a lot of emotions, as if you’re traveling throughout the countries gathering the elements and information towards your final place. It requires a deep listen, and will suit fans who may feel that today’s music is missing a little extra something.



    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Chuck Bernstein is a member of the group Monk’s Bones (whom I reviewed awhile back) but is also a musician and songwriter who gets into his muse and comes up with some incredible and often very interesting music. For Delta Berimbau Blues (CMB) his instrument of choice is the Brazilian Berimbau, but he has tweaked it to where it becomes similar to a Diddley Bow, and it has a built-in wah-wah! Can a one-string instrument pull off a full blues album? It can when you’re accompanied by some powerful musicians, including Greg Douglass, Sister Debbie Sipes, Sam Bevan, Roswell Rudd, and Lisa Kindred among many others.

    The songs are either duets or trio situations where Bernstein’s playing, often coming off like Indian drones, backs up a guitarist or bassist. It gets more interesting when two berimbau players are playing with each other, as is the case with “Viola Foot Stompin’ Blues”. It feels more rural and arguably more backwoods, but you can imagine the crickets and the creek in the back as you hear these. Delta Berimbau Blues is not your typical blues album, but it’s that reason alone that makes this a worthwhile listen, as it takes the blues out of its normal home, takes it to Brazil and brings it back, showing that any sound can be turned into the blues with the right knowledge and appreciation from the best musicians.

    (Delta Berimbau Blues will be released on January 27, 2009.)


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Leonisa Ardizzone, depending on the song, tends to sound like across between Sade Adu and Carole King, with a touch of Michael Franks. While she is being promoted as a jazz artist, she could easily be a pop or folk artist if she wanted to, as her vocals are quite versatile. On The Scent Of Bitter Almonds (self-released) she performs with her quintet through a nice range of material, including “Take The A Train”, “”Well You Needn’t”, “Scary Face” (written by her drummer, Justin Hines, “On The Ropes” (written by her guitarist, Chris Jennings, and her own “The Architect’s Lament”. Her voice is very lively, able to create an instant mood without any vocal theatics that often make some jazz singers go beyond overboard. She is subtle yet effective, and with a quintet that includes Hines, Jennings, Bob Bowen (bass), Bob Sabin (bass), and Jess Jurkovic (piano), they allow each other to challenge and take each other into places often unexpected. “Midnight Sun” is a song that one could easily find Steely Dan pulling off. I was at first put off by the drum solo in the song, which is odd for me since I’m a huge fan of them (drum solos that is), but it made me think of the song in a rock fashion where it’s thrown in as a way to create an unexpected sense of momentum. Hines does that before the quintet goes right back into the theme of the song again before it feels as if they pulled the plug unexpectedly, Ellington-style.

    The Leonisa Ardizzone Quintet sound like a group I would enjoy in a live setting, and it would have been a nice bit of extra if she had added a live recording as a bonus track (maybe next time). The Scent Of Bitter Almonds is a vocal jazz album that doesn’t get stale during its duration, which for me is a very good thing.



    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Jazz pianist Pamela Hines has impressed me with her last two albums with the kind of playing that I feel should put her up there with some of the greats, as she’s already up there. For her new album she takes the Christmas route and eases up a bit in her approach, but it allows the listener to hear the subtleties in her playing with an applied, delicate touch.

    New Christmas (Spice Rack) may sound short with a 9-song line-up, but five of the songs clock in at over five minutes, one that comes close to reaching the seven minute mark (“Custom Santa”). The playing that I found on previous albums is still here, hearing her solo in “What Chance Have I?” makes one hope this will be the kind of Christmas music that will be on mainstream airwaves for the next forty years. For this album she brings in a group of three ladies who alternate with eack track, and then coming together for two tracks. Patricia Williamson, April Hill, and Monica Hatch have all had their share of awards and accolates, and in these songs they show why they’ve made an impression on thousands of jazz fans. I was most impressed by Williamson’s voice, who can do a bit of jazz scat with ease (as she does in “Gift Of Giving”) and then caress the mic ever so nicely in “Custom Santa”. Add to this the great rhythm section of bassist Dave Landoni and drummer Miki Matsuki, and Hines was definitely with good company during these sessions, and that strength only helps make Hines play like the professional she is. Regardless of the holiday, Hines is the kind of player that should be heard year round, and in a better world she would be world famous.


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Rebecca Cline & Hilary Noble are a duo that like their jazz to be played with funk and strengf (yes, that’s spelt “s-t-r-e-n-g-f”). Cline (piano) and Noble (saxophone) are a part of the group Enclave, and in fact this is is a new Enclave album but perhaps by placing actual names and faces on the cover, people may be able to identify with them and their music a bit more. The album is called Enclave Diaspora (self-released), and it is an energetic album that is pretty much Latin jazz at its best, showing its heavy influence from New Orleans and its connection to the Caribbean. It seems that Hurricane Katrina has allowed many musicians to go back and strengthen their love of jazz and one of the cities that it calls home, and this album is full of the richness that makes this music great. What moves me the most is the fact that most of these songs are original compositions, so in many ways this is Cline’s and Noble’s way of thanking the places and cultures that offered this music, while adding their little bit to the push for continuity for more. “Chorinho pre lemãnjá”, “Iyá Modupué”, and “Nameless” sound like the kind of wicked hybrids that would’ve fit perfectly on albums by Herbie Mann, Ramsey Lewis (Cline’s Fender Rhodes solo in “Rue de Buci” is reminscent of Lewis’ work from the early to mid 70’s), and Herbie Hancock (think “Sly” from Head Hunters if it was lead by Gato Barbieri or The Fania All-Stars). It’s non-stop energy from start to finish, and the only think that holds this back from being perfect is the elementary looking CD cover that gives it a slightly cheap look, far from what the music itself suggests. In truth the cover is secondary, and yet it might hold people back from wanting to buy this. Look past the cover and find out why I like the music so much. Then make your own cover.


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic It would be a bit foolish to say that in the vast world of recorded jazz, you still have to look for music of substance. Considering how much jazz is released on a regular basis, there’s more than enough music to go around, but sometimes they end up bring nothing but sonic clutter. Gene Ess is not clutter, in fact for some it may be the jazz album you’ve been seeking for for most of your life.

    He was born Gene Shimosato, a cool enougn name right there but that’s besides the point. For now he is known as Gene Ess, which in a way is cool in itself but that will leave potential listeners and fans to question “what’s Ess?” Now you know. He could’ve been Gene @, and people would’ve asked “at what?” At his music, that’s what, and his music is incredibly played and recorded on his brand new album, Modes Of Limited Transcendence (Simp). Ess produced this alongside engineer Randy Crafton and mix engineer Sal Mormando, and on top of that, Ess mastered this disc himself. The Japanese tend to have a keen ear, and as I’m currently listening to the audiobook of Olver Sacks Musicophilia I learned that there is a strong belief that some ethnicities do have a better sense of listening and comprehension, although it is uncertain still as to how this happened. Is it with the ear canal, or the hairs within the ear? That’s besides the point, for we are talking about Gene Ess.

    Ess plays the guitar in a Pat Martino-style occasionally offering a few Pat Metheny touches, or at least this is what I hear. Whether it’s a luxurious solo or something that plays along the piano melody (courtesy of Tigran Hamasyan, he plays with such elegance and grace that you wished he would record more so you could buy his entire discography, or hopes he performs at a nearby jazz venue for two weeks so you could skip meals and check out whatever they play. Then there’s the incredible rhythm section of Tyshawn Sorey drums and Harvie S. (no relation to Ess, on bass), and these guys play with the kind of finesse reminiscent of some of the best jazz albums of the 1970’s, when freeform could weave itself into bebop or bop while mellowing out in the ECM range. “Messiaen Shuffle” is a track that combines all of these elements into an energetic song where you can visualize the walk and strut created by Ess while the traffic and disgrunted faces (created beautifully by Hamasyan, S, and Sorey) are put in view. The tone that Ess has is most welcome, not distorted nor complex, not unlike Larry Coryell. The contrasts and coloring of these musicians are not so much precise, but… how do I say this, it’s an exciting listen to not only hear musicians play like this, but to hear it recorded and mixed so well.

    Keen musicianships, keen ears, keen love of jazz and music, and creativity in general. If you welcome these things, welcome Gene Ess into your mental vicinity. One of the best jazz albums of 2008.


    Image and video hosting by TinyPic While some people don’t enjoy cover version, I enjoy them if they are creative and the artist makes an attempt in trying something different. It doesn’t have to be that way, because a good song is a good song, but when given a new hat, give it a new twist. Wave Mechanics Union are a trio consisting of Ryan Fraley, Ralph Johnson and vocalist Lydia McAdams, and for their debut album they decide to tackle progressive and classic rock and give it a jazz motif. Second Season (HX Music), the title of which is taken from Led Zeppelin‘s “The Rain Song” (covered here in an excellent arrangement), gives these classic songs a fresh set of clothes to change into, not only showing their love of the material but also how fine these musicians are. Wave Mechanics Union are a trio that collaborate with a wide range of musicians, including horn players and a string quartet so their sound is full and rich to the point of no return. A lot of these songs are often thought of with a penis attached, so to have them performed with a woman singing them is a welcome chance, especially upon hearing the war chestnut “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (The Who) or “Killer Queen” (Queen). They even get into Rush‘s “Available Night” to where you might not even recognize it as a Rush song. For those who were raised on these songs, the jazzy approach may sound like something Norah Jones would be comfortable in doing, but McAdams voice’ is stronger and perhaps more comforting. One of the song’s defining moments has to be their cover of Yes‘ “Heart Of The Sunrise”, which truly sounds like something you’d hear on a high school band album if high school bands were this cool and skilled. Screw the Airmen Of Note, this is Wave Mechanics Union!

    Some songs are given the instrumental treatment. The Beatles‘ “Eleanor Rigby” features an arrangement that makes it sound like something you’d hear on a Stan Kenton (who is referred to in the liner notes) or Johnny Harris album, while Pink Floyd‘s “The Great Gig In The Sky” could have been destroyed if the upbeat (!!!) arrangement featured vocals and fortunately it doesn’t.

    It’s a jazz album with a twist, one that is actually good without it being predictable. Curious to know where this group will lead us next.



  • That’s it for this week’s Run-Off Groove. If you have any new music, DVD’s, books, or hot sauce, please contact me through my MySpace page and I’ll pass along my contact address. In the past I have generally frowned over receiving digital files, but I will accept them on a case by case basic. I still prefer hard copy as I want to hear the quality of the recording (which is important to me), but digital files are fine.
  • I still have a few more CD’s to go and because of that, I may have yet another column by the weekend, but we’ll see.
  • Thank you, and come back next week for #226.