Sunday, August 23, 2009

Riffs: Music You Maybe Missed

Where’s the great new music coming from? Maybe it’s coming out of left-field. Maybe it’s coming from the past...

If you’re like me…God help you! (rimshot) That said, if you’re like me, you like to find your own new music. When you discover some new-to-you group or artist that really does it for you, completely on your own, you tend to value that find more highly than something that has been suggested to you by somebody else. Be that as it may, I haven’t posted anything about music in a very long time. So, to put an end to my record-smashing streak of non-musical posts, I thought that what I would do is briefly introduce a few recordings that I have discovered, by one means or another, over the years and have greatly appreciated and enjoyed. Some of what follows is music by relatively obscure artists. None of it is very new. And any of it you could easily have missed.

I will begin with a recording to which I was introduced by this really good article that appeared in The New Yorker. Read the article; you’ll dig it. It chronicles the creation of Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard, featuring the Bill Evans Trio. The album is da bomb. This recording not only sent me out buying more Bill Evans, but it sent me out investigating the whole “Cool School” of jazz, including such artists as Chet Baker, June Christy, Lennie Tristano, Wayne Marsh, and Lee Konitz, among many others. But Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard is a true classic and not to be missed.

My next pick is Genius + Soul = Jazz by Ray Charles. Given the fuss raised by Jamie Foxx’s cinematic portrayal, maybe this album has had a comeback of which I’m not aware. I own it only on vinyl, so I’m not sure what tracks may be on the CD version. But this mostly instrumental album also features a couple of great vocals, one of which is a killer rendition of “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town” arranged by Quincy Jones—as is “One Mint Julep” which, as I remember, came out as a single back in the early ‘60s when instrumental singles were the thing. If you are familiar with Ray Charles only as an R&B singer, you owe it yourself to check this one out.

From this point on we get a bit more esoteric. A truly classic recording that is not as well-known as it deserves to be is In the Night, by The George Shearing Quintet with vocals by Dakota Staton. Neither of these performers seems to have withstood the test of time as well as some of their contemporaries. Bill Evans is better known today than George Shearing, I’d say. Shearing may have been too popular in his heyday for his own good, posterity-wise; too successful to stay hip. Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington are well remembered; Dakota Staton not so much. This recording includes a rendition of her signature tune “The Late, Late Show”. If you can figger out why she’s slipped into obscurity, do share it with me.

A musically erudite friend introduced me to both of my final two artists. First is Vic Chesnutt. This is a guy who really bears comparison with no other artist. He is a paraplegic, having been injured in a car accident as a teenager. He was “discovered” and brought into the studio by Michael Stipe of R.E.M. Chesnutt writes and sings his totally idiosyncratic songs with a take-it-or-leave-it delivery that immediately captured my admiration. His lyrics you must experience for yourself; I can’t describe them. I could recommend any of his first several albums: Little, West of Rome, Is the Actor Happy?—but the one I’ve chosen is Drunk. If you can’t relate to the opening tune, “The Sleeping Man” you just ain’t gonna get it, ever. Have a nice life.

My final recommendation is Nightclub, by Patricia Barber. The first cut alone—her rendition of “Bye Bye Blackbird”—was worth the price of admission to me. Like Vic Chesnutt, Patricia Barber is unique. I can listen to her hour-on-end. You might compare her to Diana Krall…but, no—you can’t—uhn-uh. Get real.

And all of that said, if you haven’t yet discovered Eva Cassidy, do it on your own. Google her or something. Sheesh! Just do it.