Monday, 11 January 2010


Two jazz discs got me through the busy December and New Year, both new arrivals in the IT vaults, though one is fifty years old come February. The oldie was Hank Mobley's Soul Station, whose CD reissue I'd been meaning to get for years. Soul Station doesn't quite have the reputation of Kind of Blue, much less my favourites like Cannonball's Somethin Else, the Coltrane Quintet Live at the Village Vanguard, but it isn't far behind, with Mobley's tenor and Wynton Kelly's piano both in top form, inventive but subtle. Art Blakey, as is his wont, occasionally gets too flashy, but when he's not doing that he's providing a lot of energy; it reminds you of Miles' quote about strong music getting weaker as it gets played louder (a quote that came before he met Marcus Miller!). Paul Chambers plays bass a lot like Ron Carter would on Miles Davis records later.

This was Mobley's first record after spending a year in prison for heroin possession; he'd returned to join Blakey's Messengers. Previously he'd been prolific for Blue Note, and played with Monk; not long after Soul Station he, Kelly, and Chambers would join Miles for a brief stay (Kelly, of course, had played with Davis before, including one track of Kind Of Blue). Hank Mobley doesn't seem to get the credit he deserves; the original album liner notes talk about his slow steady climb toward recognition, and the modern notes mention his drug problems which cut his career short. But he is, in my mind, to the tenor, what Cannonball is to the alto.

It had been a while since I'd heard a new disc by Ralph Towner, so I snapped up Chiaroscuro, a series of duets with trumpeter Paolo Frescu that in many ways is a 'pure' ECM record. Towner, who came to the label via his band Oregon, and began in a group with Jan Garbarek, is more romantic than many of the ECM players, though the nature of his playing on acoustic guitar lessens somewhat that elegance, almost coldness, of sound. The combination of guitar and trumpet may sound awkward, but they weave in and out in ways that are sometimes ethereal and sometimes nearly swing. I seem to recall Palle Mikkleborg and Terje Rypdal did an electric Norwegian version of this trumpet/guitar thing sometime back, and although it was quite different, there was that sense of the horn being used almost like a sax, and that is what I sense here as well. It's a lovely record, the perfect thing for watching the snow fall late at night, and knowing there's no hope of anyone British doing anything about it for another week.

When I wasn't lost in jazz, I was perking up with the blues. A couple of years ago in Tampa I picked up Willie King & The Liberators' disc Living In A New World, and I return to it often. King passed away this year, so it was lucky, in one sense that his work finally made it onto disc. This was his second record, in 2002, his first, Freedom Creek, came out in 2000 (when he was 57 years old) and I'm still looking for a copy of it (there's another album from 2000, I Am The Blues, on his own, Willie King label). The band plays with the surety of guys who've been together, with no pressure, for ages, and Willie Lee Halbert provides interesting call and response counterpoint vocal to King's. Kevin Hayes' sax is a perfect fit too. The beauty of Living In A New World is the infectious simplicity of the music coupled with the matter-of-fact irony of Willie's songs, something confirmed by the monologue, The Blues Life which ends this record. But songs like America, Terrorized, and the title track say a lot more about life in these here United States than a whole room full of suits on cable TV news. And you can dance your ass off to it.

You can dance even more to Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials, another band who've been together for a long time before getting much recognition. I picked this disc up on another of my football trips, to New Orleans in 2008, and playing it in my hotel room was one of the highlights, almost as much as the food at Couchon, the oyster po'boys at or starting the day at Cafe du Monde before it gets crawling. They aren't a Nola band, I assume they're from Chicago, but beyond the infectious quality of the music there is also a wry sense of blues humour, especially on songs like 'Check My Baby's Oil', 'Don't Call Me' and an inspired cover of Smokey Robinson's 'First I Look At The Purse'.

Finally, something totally different (which I would feel comfortable writing no matter what discs I'd already discussed) a great disc I rediscovered at the bottom of a pile I hadn't checked in years: Col. Bruce Hampton and The Aquarium Rescue Unit's 1993 release on Capricorn Records, Mirrors of Embarrassment. Col Bruce(ret.) cannot be categorized, this music is somewhere between Capt. Beefheart (whom he outranks, obviously) and maybe a band like Phish; Bela Fleck guests on this one (one of the tunes for his banjo is called 'Too Many Guitars'), but as the liner notes say, 'Hampton has a long history of chain-sawing through every fence anyone's ever tried to put around his music'. He probably used the same chain-saw to create his own instrument, the chazoid, part guitar, part mandolin, part epoxy. The Hampton Grease Band made a record in 1970, which I can't claim to have heard, and he recorded as Mr. Hampton B Coles (Ret.), with bands called the New Ice Age and the Late Bronze Age, and finally the Arkansas Travelers, before settling on this outfit, which includes Apt. Q258 playing 'Harmonorbital Trans-Atmospheric Suspended Circular Vibrational Membrane Systems'.

Songs like 'Shoeless Joe', 'Memory Is A Gimmick', and 'No Ego's Under Water' suggest Frank Zappa in a weird mode, but once you get into it, it swings. It took me back to a couple of Christmases in London, working over the holiday, and playing something outre just to shake out the silence of holiday London. Worked for me then, works for me now. In a harmonorbital kind of way.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Dear Micheal

I'm so glad you enjoyed Willie King's music so much. I worked with him during the last few years of his life and you could not meet a more loving, wise and generous man. All but one of his CDs are available from his web site,

With best wishes

Rick (Asherson)