Archive for the ‘Jazz’ Category

Nina Simone – Plain Gold Ring (1958)

May 25, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve had a pretty tough week at work and, getting in the car tonight to drive home after the train journey from London, I had the latest free CD from Mojo magazine on the “stereo”.

This was the first track I came to and the quality of the song is just stunning. I think I’ve heard it before (maybe the Nick Cave version?) but it had never resonated as it did tonight. Three listens on the 15 minute drive home; two more after I’d “fired up” the home computer and its place in the pantheon of thebestmusicofalltime was assured (I’m an impulsive kind of guy!)

Taken from Nina Simone’s debut LP, Little Girl Blue, this is faultless stuff. An exquisite vocal (naturally), a stately bass line and shards of piano over the top combine to produce a minimalist classic. Sometimes, there is so little there to keep the music together, you worry that it will fall apart. And then, at the moment of greatest concern, Nina’s voice holds it together and propels the song forward anew ….!

This is perfect, peerless stuff. Unsurpassable.



Billy Cobham – Stratus (1973)

May 24, 2016 Leave a comment

There is a great deal of enjoyment to be taken from spotting the original from which a recent (ish!) record has been sampled or developed. For all who enjoy such pleasures, I submit to you the inspiration behind Massive Attack’s seminal “Safe From Harm” – the opening track  from their unimpeachable Blue Lines LP of 1991.

Billy Cobham had recorded with Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra before finding time to record his first solo LP, Spectrum in 1973. This is blistering, ahem, jazz-funk – a perfect example of how every genre can deliver the goods when it wants to.

This version strips away the 3 minutes of noodling that precedes the river of bass kicking in …  the full version and the whole Spectrum LP are worth a listen!












Art Ensemble of Chicago – Theme De Yoyo (1969)

January 10, 2016 Leave a comment

Sunday night, must be time for a spot of avant-garde jazz … and it gets no finer than this to my mind.

Part of the soundtrack to the film Les Stances a Sophie, this track features simply relentless bass and drums, killer trumpet and sax, and occasional vocals by the legendary Fontella Bass who was, at the time, Lester Bowie’s wife (he’s on the trumpet).

The lyrics are stupendous, if occasionally baffling …!

Your head is like a yoyo,
your neck is like the string,
Your body’s like a camembert
oozing from its skin.

Your fanny’s like two sperm whales
floating down the Seine
Your voice is like a long fuck
that’s music to your brain.

Your eyes are two blind eagles
that kill what they can’t see
Your hands are like two shovels
digging in me.

And your love is like an oil-well
Dig, dig, dig, dig it,
On the Champs-Elysees.

Simply never stops, utterly perfect!




Louis Armstrong & His Savoy Ballroom Five – St. James Infirmary Blues (1928)

August 18, 2015 Leave a comment

As my particularly relaxing holiday starts to approach its unwelcome end, I’ve been getting through a mountain of reading.

At the moment, I’m midway through Albert Camus’ masterpiece The Plague and I have had to break off to listen to this record as it has just been played by Rambert, the journalist from the novel, who has revealed it is the only record he owns.

Now, whether this is actually the version that Camus is referring to is another matter. According to Wikipedia, eighteen versions of this song (or close relations) had been recorded by 1930 and Cab Calloway then provided a version for the soundtrack of the animated film of Snow White made in 1933. The Plague, itself, is set in Oran in the 1940s.

However, I’ve always loved the recordings Louis Armstrong made with his Hot Fives and Sevens in the 1920s and so I’ve chosen his early recording. A bit scratchy but most other versions on YouTube seemed to be recorded at a later date – for example, I’ve also included an Armstrong version from 1959!

As an aside, I also spent a couple of hours the other day reading Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves: an entertaining romp through the thickets of best practice in punctuation. Now, having done so, I have been worrying about the absence of an apostrophe in this song title and also whether I should write “Truss’s” or “Truss'”. My other half and I often come to hand to hand combat on this type of matter but, in the interest of fair play and splitting the difference, I have gone for both Truss’s and Camus’ at different times in this blog. The fence has been sat on.

Incidentally, for anyone looking for a pithy summary of one of Truss’s punctuation meditations, I have come up with the following, helpful, summary of how to punctuate the word “its”:

It’s always its unless it’s short for it is, in which case it’s it’s.

Thank you, I’m here all week.


Steely Dan – Do It Again (1972)

November 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Listening to the Danny Baker Show this morning, he repeated once again his assertion that Steely Dan are the second greatest band in history  (only The Beatles he rates ahead of them).

Not sure I could personally sign up to this conclusion but, deciding to have a bit of a Steely Dan afternoon, one does have to acknowledge that they’ve made some superb records.

And none is finer than the first track on their debut LP Can’t Buy A Thrill.

“Do It Again” is just a perfect record; Latin-esque percussion, killer keyboards, great lyrics and possibly the finest electric sitar solo in the history of  recorded music (hats off to Denny Dias).

The LP version and the a fantastic performance live on The Midnight Special in 1972.



Sun Ra – The Perfect Man (1973)

December 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Fallen in love with this track over the Christmas break. Complete funk, jazz, mayhem from Sun Ra’s remarkably eclectic Singles compilation released as a double CD in 1996. Mini-moog to the fore, drums from heaven and a jaunty brass lead that just about knits everything together …

To say the least, Sun Ra was an unusual character who may well have been the inspiration for Blackadder’s immortal line:

He’s mad. He’s madder than Mad Jack McMad, the winner of this year’s Mr Madman competition

The following extract from Wikipedia provides additional evidence ….

Sun Ra was a prolific jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher known for his “cosmic philosophy,” musical compositions and performances.

“Of all the jazz musicians, Sun Ra was probably the most controversial,” critic Scott Yanow said, because of Sun Ra’s eclectic music and unorthodox lifestyle. Claiming that he was of the “Angel Race” and not from Earth, but from Saturn, Sun Ra developed a complex persona using “cosmic” philosophies and lyrical poetry that made him a pioneer of afrofuturism. He preached awareness and peace above all. He abandoned his birth name and took on the name and persona of Sun Ra (Ra being the Egyptian God of the Sun), and used several other names throughout his career, including Le Sonra and Sonny Lee. Sun Ra denied any connection with his birth name, saying “That’s an imaginary person, never existed … Any name that I use other than Ra is a pseudonym.”

From the mid-1950s to his death, Sun Ra led “The Arkestra” (a deliberate re-spelling of “orchestra”), an ensemble with an ever-changing lineup and name. It was by turns called “The Solar Myth Arkestra”, “His Cosmo Discipline Arkestra”, the “Blue Universe Arkestra”, “The Jet Set Omniverse Arkestra”, and many other variations. Sun Ra asserted that the ever-changing name of his ensemble reflected the ever-changing nature of his music. His mainstream success was limited ….

Can’t think why ….


The Gil Evans Orchestra – Where Flamingos Fly (1961)

September 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Gil Evans collaborated with Miles Davis in the late 1950s playing a key role in LPs such as  Miles Ahead (1957), Porgy and Bess (1958), and Sketches of Spain (1960). His role being significant enough to get a full namecheck on the cover …. “Orchestra under the direction of Gil Evans”

Out of the Cool, recorded in late 1960 and then released in January 1961 on the legendary Impulse! label, was Evans’ first recording after these three Miles Davis LPs.

Where Flamingos Fly is a beautiful piece written by John Benson Brooks. describe it thus:

Following a four-note theme on guitar, flute, tuba, and trombone, it comes out dramatic and blue, but utterly spacious and warm. The melancholy feels like the tune “Summertime” in the trombone melody, but shifts toward something less impressionistic and more expressionist entirely by the use of gentle dissonance by the second verse as the horns begin to ratchet things up just a bit, allowing Persip and Jones to play in the middle on a variety of percussion instruments before the tune takes on a New Orleans feel, and indeed traces much of orchestral jazz history over the course of its five minutes without breaking a sweat.


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