48 hours with the Blue Note Records Spotify app

I thought it might be worth documenting the albums I’ve streamed from the Blue Note Spotify app –  (full list of content available here), which is a thing of wonder for discovering 1950s/60s jazz music (and in fact a lot of more modern music as well). My basic plan is to try and alternate between artists I’ve heard of and artists who are new to me, in the hope that I’ll broaden my knowledge of the genre, and maybe uncover a few hidden gems as well. I plan on choosing what to listen to largely by what the album cover looks like, and will probably try and concentrate on music recorded before I was born.

John Coltrane – Blue Train (1957) – This requires no introduction. I’ve heard it before, but it’s been a while, and I wanted to start with the artist who got me interested in jazz in the first place. It didn’t disappoint, and the two bonus tracks are worth a listen, even if you’re familiar with the main album.

Lou Donaldson – Midnight Creeper (1968) – Fairly lightweight commercial jazz, which makes good background music. I’m not sure I’d listen to this over and over again, but I didn’t skip any tracks and it was enjoyable enough.

Ornette Coleman – New York is Now! (1968) – Another artist I really like (with Free Jazz being one of my favourite records in the genre). This is one of two records he released in 1966, and I think I’ll be checking the other one out based on how much I’ve enjoyed this one. In particular, We Now Interrupt you for a Commercial sounds a lot like Free Jazz, and marks a very interesting end to the album.

Cecil Taylor – Conquistador! (1966) – Piano and trumpet jazz from the mid 60s. I know nothing about this artist at all, but might very well check out more as it reminds me a little of some of John Zorn’s more conventional jazz records, which can only be a good thing. Wikipedia tells me that Taylor is still alive at time of writing (he’s currently 85), and that he was one of the pioneers of the Free Jazz movement. There is another album on Blue Note from the same era called Unit Structures which I think I also need to check out as part of this project.

Ornette Coleman – Love Call (1968) – The second half of the session that also spawned New York is Now! It occupies a lot of the same musical territories, without being particularly memorable.

Andrew Hill – Lift Every Voice (1969) – Jazz music with choral accompaniment sounds like a brave choice. And I suppose it is a brave choice. It does really work though, and I can see this being a record I come back to over and over again, and one that I’m surprised I’ve not heard before, because it is the sort of thing that I would imagine was quite critically acclaimed when it was released. The original album contains five tracks, with an additional six recoded a year later that were added to this re-release. There are subtle differences to the sound of the two sets of tracks, but they all work really well, and are well worth a listen.

Cecil Taylor – Unit Structures (1966) – I really enjoyed Conquistador! so I thought I would check out the album that immediately proceeded it. Cecil Taylor only recorded two records for Blue Note, so I’m quite glad I spotted him in my random flick through the album covers, and if this is anything to go by then I might be tempted to check out more of his work. This is experimental, without being atonal, and occupies a similar musical area to Conquistador!

Brother Jack McDuff – Moon Rappin’ (1969) – Another random choice, and one that sounded intriguing if nothing else. It’s quite funky in places, and definitely sounds like something that was recorded as the 60s were starting to die, and with the organ as the lead instrument it also sounds sufficiently different to everything else I’ve listened to.

Herbie Hancock – Speak Like a Child (1968) – I recognise the cover to this one, and I have heard some of Herbie Hancock’s work before, so it’s quite possible I’ve encountered this at some point. It’s quite mellow, but really beautifully played, and is one I’ll definitely come back to again.

Jackie McLean – Demon’s Dance (1967) – Chosen because I like the cover. It’s a pleasant enough record, but not particularly memorable.

Wayne Shorter – The All Seeing Eye (1965) – Another artist I have a vague familiarity with, although I’ve not come across this record before. The All Seeing Eye is one of his earlier works, but one that seemed to garner a fair amount of critical acclaim at the time, and definitely one I’ll come back to.

Grant Green – I Want to Hold Your Hand (1965) – I remember once hearing a muzak version of If You Tolerate This…  in a shopping centre. I think this must be the 60s equivalent. I don’t think I need this in my life.

Andrew Hill – Judgement! (1964) – I’ve enjoyed everything of his that I’ve listened to, so thought I would try more. This sounds a lot like some of John Zorn’s more recent records, with vibraphone very reminiscent of Kenny Wollaston, and it’s a real treat. It also sounds nothing like other Andrew Hill records I’ve heard, which actually makes me want to check out more of his less well known records.

Horace Silver – Live at Newport ’58 (1958) – In my ideal world this is is the sort of record that you can find on vinyl for 50p in a charity shop. Alas, the world is not quite ideal, but at least there is Spotify. Wikipedia tells me that Silver is another still-alive 85 year old, so I imagine there is a lot more of his work out there to sample. This album is recorded live, and the sound quality is outstanding considering it’s over 50 years old. I put it on as background music, but I soon found myself getting drawn in, and if this is what 1950s jazz sounds like then I think I may be heading further back in time for my next foray into the Blue Note back catalogue.

Herbie Hancock – Empyrean Isles (1964) – I enjoyed Speak Like a Child so I thought I’d check out this album from four years previously. If anything, I think I like it even more, and it has a great deal of the sort of energy that I associate with good jazz music. All the tracks are outstanding, and there are a couple of alternate takes as bonus tracks, which are also worth a listen.

Jimmy Smith – The Sermon (1958) – I know nothing about the artist or the record, but the cover looks interesting. This one does sound like it was recorded in the 1950s, and it is interesting to see how much the genre changed between the late 50s and the late 60s. It’s not a bad record, and although it took me a few minutes to get used to the sound, once I did I found it remarkably enjoyable. Looking at eMusic, I can instantly see that the copyright on these recordings has lapsed, as there are four different repackages of the album, three of them identical and one with bonus tracks. Possibly something to check out when I’m trying to blow 3 eMusic credits at the end of a month.

Horace Silver – The Tokyo Blues (1962) – I enjoyed his live album, so thought I would check this out. Again, this is largely chosen because it has the most interesting cover, although I note that the version on eMusic has a different cover, which again suggests it has lapsed out of copyright for being over 50 years old. It should be possible to pick up these older recording for around £2-3 an album, which is certainly pretty good value. That said, a fair few records I’ve written about here are available on CD for around £5, which is also not bad. This is pretty standard 1960s jazz, without much of a nod to the Japanese influence it promises, but it’s certainly listenable enough.

So there you go. Seventeen records, and a long list of artists I now want to know more about. Time to do some research I think.

Factory Girl, Avengers, and potential projects

In my holiday writeup I mentioned I’d watched Factory Girl whilst I was away. As my viewing time is currently largely taken up with the World Cup, I thought I’d better write something about Factory Girl before I forget.

30th May – Factory Girl – Factory girl tells the story of Edie Sedgwick, but also of Andy Warhol, and a mysterious character called “The Musician” (more about him later). It’s a biopic, which as far as I can tell does a fairly good job of portraying the late 60s, and which I certainly found enjoyable enough. I watched this on holiday, and so didn’t do my normal trick of seeing who was in the film, and what else they had been in. When I got to the credits I was a little surprised (in a good way) to see Guy Pearce (as Andy Warhol) and Hayden Christiansen (as “The Musician”) listed, as I’d not recognised either of them (which I always regard as a good thing). I was also not at all surprised to read the disclaimer that whilst this was a biopic, some characters and scenarios might be made up. The character of “The Musician” was very obviously meant to be Bob Dylan, and I think the only think I would change about this film is to soundtrack it with Dylan’s music (and also the music of the Velvet Underground who feature to a lesser extent). It’s a pity Dylan didn’t want his name associated with this film, because it’s actually well worth watching and made me want to tap into his back catalogue again (which I did as soon as I got home). I have no idea how accurate some of the scenes in the film were, but as a story it really works, and it was certainly more thought provoking than the sort of thing I usually watch on holiday.

Which brings me on to…

8th June – Avengers Assemble – A lot has already been said about this film, and I don’t have much to add. It does what is says on the tin, and was a couple of hours of mindless enjoyment on a Sunday afternoon. I suspect I should have watched a few other films in the series before this one, but I’m glad I did it this way round because I now have a better idea of which characters I want to explore further (Captain America, The Hulk) and which ones leave me cold (Iron Man, Thor, pretty much everyone else). I suspect several people I know really love this film, but I also suspect the same people would balk at a lot of films I really value. I don’t see this as a bad thing though, as it’s good to be surrounded by people with diverse tastes as it ensures that I’m exposed to a much wider range of things I may never have discovered otherwise.

I was also toying with a couple more projects this morning. The idea of trying to watch (live or pre-recorded) every single match of the World Cup sort of appeals, as does writing something around the Blue Note channel on Spotify, which has a huge catalogue of old jazz records that I’ve never heard and really want to explore properly at some point. I’ve created Evernote notes for both of these, so something may happen at some point.

Bulgaria – part 3

Yesterday we went on an excursion to the ancient town of Nessibar, which is full of old churches, historic buildings, and the kind of commercialism that reminds me of Venice at its worst. There was a lot to look at, but if we looked too closely or too long then there was the inevitable sales pitch, reeled out a hundred times a day, and as insincere as it was ineffective. I enjoyed looking around the churches, and took lots of photographs, but I do wish I could see places like this as they were in their prime.

The weather has largely continued to cycle between sunshine and rain, although there was no thunderstorm last night. I watched a local football match from the balcony of the hotel, and then drank wine and apricot liqueur until it was time for bed.

There is very little else to do here during the evenings. The days are a frenzy of activity (and purposeful inactivity), but after dark there is little to do but drink, talk, read, and enjoy the warmth and the feeling of calm.

It’s been a good holiday, but I am also quite looking forward to getting home, where I can hopefully reap the benefit of a relaxing week away.