The best musical tribute to Chris Cornell so far…

Back in March 1994, shortly after Soundgarden’s masterful Superunknown was released, Melody Maker‘s Everett True wrote a detailed and often insightful piece about the band on the road (in Tokyo, specifically). Chris Cornell spoke openly with True about his struggles with depression and fear:

“I write songs best when I’m depressed,” Chris tells me. “No one seems to get this, but Black Hole Sun is sad. But because the melody is really pretty, everyone thinks it’s almost chipper, which is ridiculous. Fell On Black Days is another one. Like Suicide is a perfect example.”

We’re they inspired by specific events?

“Fell On Black Days was like this ongoing fear I’ve had for years. It took me a long time to write that song. We’ve tried to do three different versions with that title, and none of them have ever worked. Someday we might do an EP…

“It’s a feeling that everyone gets. You’re happy with your life, everything’s going well, things are exciting – when all of a sudden you realise you’re unhappy in the extreme, to the point of being really, really scared. There’s no particular event you can pin the feeling down to, it’s just that you realise one day that everything in your life is F—–!”

Exhibit A for a “chipper” version of the huge hit is this snappy, big band-ish, “are you kidding me?” version by Paul Anka (yes, the same Paul Anka who wrote the lyrics to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”—one of the very few Sinatra songs I find annoying, even revolting). And in the past few days, understandably, there have been a number of singers and bands playing the song as a tribute to Cornell, who took his life on May 18th, after a reportedly ragged show at Detroit’s famous Fox Theater.

Continue reading “The best musical tribute to Chris Cornell so far…”

soundstreamsunday: “Gentleman” by Fela Kuti

gentlemanIt can look like a conspiracy, from the outside, to know what those of us in middle America grew up with musically in the 1970s.  Ensconced deeply in our Yeses and our Styxes and our REO-es and our Kansases, we often missed out on the larger view of the world, despite the delicious depths of what did come delivered over the airwaves.  Case in point: Fela Kuti.  The Afro beat.  I suspect even if you were a jazzbo soldiering on in the post-bop wonderland delivered in the ever-widening sidelong jams of Miles and Herbie and Pharaoh, there might be quite a gulf between such distinctly American cooking and a Nigerian self-trained sax player and polemicist who wielded the conch of Democracy for Africa.  Kuti’s mission, though, was a kind of a trojan horse.  It looks an awful lot like a super tight big band stomp, epic riffing over a relentless beat, and musically it is.  But pulsing underneath was a heat that Kuti, with an outsized personality and voice that all-too-easily drew fire from Nigeria’s governing elite, stoked with an enthusiasm that would eventually enflame his life in tragedy.

1973’s “Gentleman” is an early classic, the title track of a record where Kuti ironically declares “I’m not a gentleman at all.”  He doesn’t want anything to do with what that word means in a place where the gentlemen were in essence slaveholders.  It’s an open statement of discontent, of a desire for justice.  And it wouldn’t mean half so much as it does if his band didn’t burn the house down with their playing.  It’s here that the idea of world music takes shape, borrowing from blues and jazz structures of the African diaspora and feeding back on them — once you hear Kuti’s work it’s hard to imagine Soft Machine’s Third, krautrock bands like Out of Focus and Embryo, contemporary bands like Seven Impale, and even the greater part of British punk and American rap without it.  Kuti’s voice was loud, gruff, a rap that cried its flawed humanity atop a fury of horns and guitars and drums.  It’s serious shit and a party all at once.  Anger and joy and heartache.  Even if that conspiracy was true and the staid worldview of 70s America denied me Kuti, I’m hearing it now.  And I am still listening.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

soundstreamsunday: “The Köln Concert” by Keith Jarrett

keithjarrett2It’s 1975 and I’m nine years old.  I’m lying on my back in Reservoir Park, a small city block of grass and oaks next to the University of Utah.  In my head is a song that trips and travels as I run and play with friends.  It’s a vision of sound, a strong impression of bright sun and moving clouds, a feeling on my skin, a growing chill in the air.  Is it October? The song is a constant rhythm of consciousness and motion, a life in itself but also within me, as if I’m one of its many, many tributaries.

For some things there is no accounting or quantifying:  How much beauty? How much devotion? How wide the smile of god?

There are many details about the conditions under which Keith Jarrett performed his concert in Köln in January 1975, from the context of his blossoming solo and collaborative career on the heels of his epic work with Miles Davis, to the third-rate piano he was given on which to perform the show, to the fact he was exhausted and in a significant amount of physical pain for his hour-plus improvisation in front of a sold-out Opera House crowd.

Ultimately none of these details matter. The Köln Concert is a river, and, if there are miracles in my life, it’s that such depths continue to transport me.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

soundstreamsunday: “The Creator has a master plan,” by Pharaoh Sanders

pharaoh-sandersA deep blues, a call to enlightenment, a psychedelic spiritual of epic proportions, Pharaoh Sanders’ “The Creator has a master plan” rings with a disciplined clarity one might expect from a former John Coltrane collaborator and acolyte of spiritual jazz.  But if Sanders extends the Coltrane legacy to this recording, he also pushes open new doors, inviting across the song’s 32 minutes an ascent into a flowing, meditational free jazz where vocalist Leon Thomas shrieks and yodels along with Sanders’ sax, and the band lays down a freakout that in its joyful conclusion returns to the cradling peace of the main theme.  Mere months after participating in the sessions that yielded Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Richard Davis again is an anchor, working with fellow bassist Reggie Workman to drive the music in its soaring flight and underpin the caterwaul as the whole ship hits the heart of the African sun.  This is the sound of jazz taking back its rock and roll at the most essential level, and I think too a nod of respect to rock’s embrace of jazz in its great psychedelic experiment.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

soundstreamsunday: “Ballerina” by Van Morrison

van-morrison-sqThe art gallery of rock and roll is a rich and welcoming place, with room upon room spinning off into many-directioned distances.  There is no entrance fee or warnings to stand back, please, from the piece.  And, like at all great museums, any pretense to surface comportment is, if meaningful at all, only a nod of respect to the spark of human creativity.  A sign that we don’t stand in willful ignorance.  Before the work, within the work, we are all children.  It is in rock’s nature to empower its listeners to create, and within this space there is no genre, no boogie no punk no progressive no pop no indie no folk, just an honoring of the empty canvas and the unrestrained fire banked down in humanity.  It’s what I love about rock, and it’s what made Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks happen.

Drummer Connie Kay and guitarist Jay Berliner both famously recounted that Morrison told his musicians — and these weren’t just any musicians, but some of the finest jazz players New York could provide in the late 1960s, led by the inimitable bassist Richard Davis — to “play what you want” and then left them alone to back and guide him on a set of eight songs whose precedents were slim and bore little relation to the rock-pop classics he recorded with his band Them (“Gloria,” “Here Comes the Night”) or on his first solo album (“Brown Eyed Girl”).  Astral Weeks (1968) is an echo of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue (1959), where an extraordinarily talented group of jazz musicians received a similar lack of instruction, and Love’s Forever Changes (1967), where the pop songwriter deliberately challenged the very notion and direction of his craft.  Morrison’s artistic success on Astral Weeks was, and remains, startling.  The album’s embrace of acoustic jazz as a way forward had a profound impact on the burgeoning “singer songwriter” movement, and for better or worse has become instant point of comparison with subsequent work by musicians such as Joni Mitchell or Tim Buckley or Nick Drake.

“Ballerina” captures the essence of an album that is about nothing as much as ecstatic love, the joyous and at times Joyce-ean observations of a 23-year-old ancient who had spent the previous year turning his voice into a bebop trumpet.  While Morrison got and kept his fame on the back of “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Moondance” and the slew of equally wonderful R&B radio-ready hits that would come his way, it’s here that his artistic street cred was established, as he honored the canvas and invited Davis, Kay, and Berliner to follow their hearts along with him.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

My favorite jazz album of 2016: “The Sting Variations”

Yes, I’m getting a jump on things. After failing to pen a “Favorite Albums of 2015” earlier this year, I figured I need to strike while the iron was hot and I had a few moments of free time.

Those who follow the proceedings here at Progarchy.com likely know that I am the resident “jazz guy.” Jazz probably makes up close to half of the 75,000 or so songs in my collection. I first “discovered”—that is, really listened to—jazz in my early twenties; my first jazz albums were Keith Jarrett’s “The Köln Concert” and “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis—one being the best-selling solo piano album of alltime and the other being the most famous jazz album yet produced. “Kind of Blue” is notable here  because the first song on The Tierney Sutton Bands’ (www.tierneysutton.com) brilliant album “The Sting Variations” is “Driven to Tears”, but opens by directly quoting Davis’ “So What”:

Below is the short review I recently left at Amazon.com.

This exceptional album, which continues Tierney Sutton’s impressive run of very good to outstanding releases, is a revelation in several ways. thestingvariations

First, the playing and singing is of the highest order, with Sutton and band so perfectly sympatico that they should appear as one definition of “organic” in Webster’s Dictionary. There is a remarkable economy married to robust breadth and depth; in other words, the musicians never overplay—every note is necessary and purposeful—but they also never under-commit; each song is played with masterful purpose, focus, and command. An example of this is “Seven Days”, which opens with a simple bass line and plaintive, quiet vocals and then builds in both musical and emotional complexity, capturing the conflicted (“Though I hate to make a choice”) but assertive (“the fact remains, I love him so…”) lyrics. Sutton’s vocals are spell-binding, combining both a light innocence and a rich maturity; the countless shades of emotion and intonation are remarkable.

Finally, the selection of Sting songs is inspired, not simply because Gordon Sumner draws deeply on jazz in his songwriting, but because the lyrical content is so eclectic and his best songs are immediately memorable but never simplistic. That Sutton brings a female voice and feminine genius to the entire project makes this, in my opinion, a truly special recording. A perfect example is found in “Every Breath You Take (Lullabye)”, in which the mega-selling single is both subverted and reimagined, turned from a somewhat unsettling stalking tune into a hushed and then soaring reflection on the complexities of loving one’s child.

An album of covers can be many things: an homage, an exercise, a one off, a replication, a dedication. This album, however, is a work of musical art, which demonstrates the musicians’ respect for the songs and songwriter not through slavish imitation, but brilliantly imaginative explication that looks backward and forward in perfect balance, as most great art does. A masterpiece.