Sunday, August 14, 2011

Recent Listening - Jones and More

Hank Jones - The Oracle (with Dave Holland and Billy Higgins)
From 1989 - if you heard this record in a blindfold test and weren't familiar with Hank Jones, I don't think you'd ever guess that it featured a 70 year-old pianist who was born several years before Bud Powell and within a year of Monk. Of course, this is one of the standard lines on Hank Jones - though he could play authoritatively in older styles, he stayed contemporary over an incredible number of decades - but it's absolutely true and particularly striking on this session. The first track, Jones' "Interface", starts things off like a blast of fresh, cool air on a hot, muggy day. Holland and Higgins are tremendous in this trio, as you'd expect, though I wish there was a touch more Higgins in the mix (Holland is particularly well-recorded). Though Jones recorded with so many of the great musicians and assembled some amazing trios, and I have a long way to go in catching up with, for example, Ethan Iverson's deep knowledge of the Jones discography, I can't imagine he ever had a trio much better than this one.  So why is this record apparently out-of-print?

I've also been listening to Jones' entry in the Live at Maybeck Hall solo piano series. His full, two-handed approach was great for solo playing. Some of my favorites so far from this concert are "Blue Monk", on which Jones makes creative use of Monk's harmonic and melodic material without entering the realm of deconstruction or abstraction, and "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'", the famous Rogers & Hammerstein tune he also recorded with Joe Lovano but which, to my knowledge, hasn't been done by too many other jazz musicians. You can feel the sun coming up when Hank Jones plays that tune. I also find Jones' version of Joe Bushkin's "Oh, Look at Me Now" (also recorded with Lovano on the excellent Kids) irresistible. From reading some interviews, it seems like Jones had an excellent dry wit, which would explain the introduction (given a separate track on the CD) where he refers to Bushkin (who composed "Oh, Look at Me Now" in 1941) as "one of the newer writers on the scene".

On the subject of remarkable pianists, I just watched a Marc-Andre Hamelin DVD I got from Netflix. Recorded a few years ago in Germany, it has a documentary piece combining interview and concert footage plus the full length interview and recital that the documentary draws on. All parts are well done, very professionally edited and shot, with good sound, but you could almost skip the documentary and go straight to the full length interview and concert tracks. I guess not everyone wants to watch an hour-long interview about classical concert piano conducted by a soft-spoken, almost taciturn (or perhaps just respectful) German interviewer, but I find Hamelin a fascinating character and enjoy watching his mind work. He's hugely intelligent and articulate and has a slightly odd but charmingly Canadian sense of humor. The recital features a fairly conservative program - Haydn, Chopin, Debussy, and some Gershwin in the encores - for Hamelin, who is known for playing works by lesser known composers along with his own compositions, but he's capable of making anything new - not by updating or modernizing anything but simply by playing the pieces so well. Or, you might say, so thoroughly - there seems to be no idea, nuance, detail that the composers put into these pieces that Hamelin does not extract and present clearly to the listener.

The new Okkervil River, I Am Very Far, is turning out to be a textbook "grower" for me. It didn't make much of an impression on first listen, but lots of nice musical and, especially, lyrical details keep revealing themselves (as mentioned in the previous post).

I recent purchased the Gillian Welch version of John Hartford's "In Tall Buildings" from this tribute album. Gillian's introduction pretty much nails it - this song will make you want to quit your job if your job involves a subway commute and an elevator ride, and maybe even if it doesn't. If "In Tall Buildings" isn't being included in anthologies of the great American folk songs, it should be.

I learned about Felt via the Clientele and Alasdair MacLean's expressed admiration for them and their leader Lawrence, but I didn't know about Lawrence's next band, Denim, until reading some tributes to him on his 50th birthday. This is a great example of his work, reminiscent of, and perhaps deliberately nodding to, some of Ronnie Lane's songs with the Faces.

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