Friday, August 01, 2008

Jon Hassell, Jimmy Giuffre/MJQ, Al Cohn/Bob Brookmeyer, Blind Joe Taggart, Bob Wills...

So here we go again... Having spent the sunny days listening to old Wolf Eyes wahoo and other assorted loud power electronics... here's...

Jon Hassell. Who sails away on 'Blues Nile.' A gag I could not resist. I'm all for cheap and easy laughs... Opens on a drone then shadowy trumpet, breathy and bending. Trumpet doubled up, a muezzin-like call across a misty landscape. The influence of his voice teacher Pandit Pran Nath comes through strongly here, it seems – a vocalised line of fragile beauty.
From his first album, 'Vernal Equinox.'

'Hassell coined the term "Fourth World" to describe his musical style, as expressed both in his trumpet playing and in his approach to composition.. This musical conception combines the philosophy and techniques of minimalism with Asian and African styles, and relies heavily on the use of electronic instruments. Critics of Hassell's style have noted its incorporation of New Age and world music styles, but have also detected the influence of Miles Davis, particularly Davis's use of electronics, modal harmony and understated lyricism . (From here...).

The comment about Miles's influence is interesting – Davis's reticence (often seen as lack of technique compared to the more flamboyant bebop trumpeters) on conventional sequences and his later jumps into the sonic unknown via electronics make him much more of a visionary than maybe is often realised. Because he could let rip when the spirit rose – check out some of the tracks with the quintet in the late sixties, where he is surrounded by young musicians and maybe wanted to lay down the odd marker. But by the time of 'Bitches Brew' and onwards, he was looking beyond 'jazz'... Hence the connection with Hassell? Who acknowledges the influence:

'After years of trying to make the case for an improvisational music which is 'not-jazz' and staying away from cliches of jazz instrumentation and style, I started to feel free enough to let more obvious elements of my respect for Miles creep in from time to time.'

(From a fascinating interview here...).

Colour and timbre – here's Jimmy Giuffre and the Modern Jazz Quartet from 1956, playing a Giuffre composition 'Fun.' I took a slight swipe at Connie Kay in a previous post but in this context you can understand his role in the MJQ. Percy Heath and Milt could carry the band with no problem – effortless swing as and when required.

Al Cohn and Bob Brookmeyer play an oblique, somewhat gruff restatement of the theme of 'Lady is a tramp.' An arrangement which, in its own quiet way, re-encapsulates the essence of how jazz deals with melody in a dynamic, elastic manner. Cohn solos first, swinging solidly. Brookmeyer next, looping nicely through the changes. Always an appealing player. They hook up for a double runthrough, a neatly arranged section taking the track out. Mainstream fun...

To a different area of emotion, experience and spirituality - Blind Joe Taggart sounds as if he is ripping chunks out of a hard reality and vocalising them through the filters of his culture and religion... 'When I stand before the King.' In 1926 '...Taggart became the first full-time guitar evangelist to cut a side [for Vocalion].' (From here).
A scuffling guitar backs up the beautifully raw vocals, Blind Joe backed by Emma Taggart (presumably his wife).

'If one ever ran into Blind Joe Taggart in a dark alley, the only possible protection would be to have Blind John Henry Arnold with you. According to the famous folk singer and blues artist Josh White, there was only one man on earth who was meaner than Taggart, and that was Arnold. White obviously knew what he was talking about, having been abused and kicked around by both men, as well as the even more famous Blind Lemon Jefferson.' (Ibid).

Given the nature of his life, perhaps one should balance up this quote with the following:

'Performers trying to survive in such a lifestyle can hardly be blamed for developing what can be best described as street-hardened personalities.' (Ibid).

As an ex street musician myself in another incarnation (albeit in much more benign circumstances) I have a little understanding of what the sentence means - especially with regard to a lot of the old boys I met down the road...

Thinking about going to Texas on my next trip to the States... here's old Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, one of my favourite groups, playing 'Basin Street Blues.' Saxophone, steel guitar, over a rock solid rhythm section. Echoes of Big T in the Tommy Duncan vocal perhaps - or just a shared timbral inheritance. 'Aw, Basin Street, yes yes...' as Mr Wills leads it in... Interesting to remember that Bob W outdrew the Glen Miller and Bennie Goodman bands in 1945... And a great story from here, just to go out on:

'By 1945, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys had achieved enough notoriety that they were invited to play at the prestigious home of country music a little farther east. Bob unknowingly created quite a stir at his Grand Ole Opry performance. A drum set was a natural, integral part of the Playboys' music, but it was unheard of in the world of country music back then. When the Opry staff told Bob that his drummer couldn't play, he angrily declared that he would not leave a band member out. It was all the Texas Playboys or none. Bob did agree, however, to let the drums be set up behind the curtains. That is, until time to play, when he hollered, 'Move those things out on stage!' In that moment, Bob Wills had left a permanent mark: there would forever be a beat in country music. (He and the Texas Playboys, by the way, were not invited back.) '

Jon Hassell
Jon Hassell (trumpet, Fender Rhodes (specially tuned and altered by Buchla and Arp Synthesizers))
Nana Vasconçelos (congas, shakers, ocean, talking drum, bells, tropical birds)
David Rosenboom (mbira, rattles, tabla, dumbek) Miguel Frasconi (claves, bells)
Nicolas Kilbourn (talking drum, mbira) William Winant (kanjira, rattles) Drone (Serge Synthesizer, Motorola Scalatron) Night Creatures of Altamira Perrasita—distant barking...
Blues Niles


Jimmy Giuffre/MJQ
Jimmy Giuffre (cl) John Lewis (p) Milt Jackson (vib) Percy Heath (b) Connie Kay (d)


Al Cohn/Bob Brookmeyer
Al Cohn (ts) Bob Brookmeyer (tr) Mose Allison (p) Teddy Kotick (b) Nick Stabulas (d)
Lady is a tramp


Blind Joe Taggart (g, v)
When I stand before the king


Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys
Basin Street Blues


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