Al Caiola

Happy Birthday to Me!

YEA! I made it to another birthday and it was a great one! I communicated with people I haven’t heard from in years and that was really special and maybe the best part! There is so much about the old days me from those days that I miss now, but that’s the nostalgic, wistful and longing nature of life isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s far from a forgone conclusion that I will live to see another year when a new year begins, so the fact that I did is totally cool. All blessings to the Most Highest and them that helps me here! Also…there was SCHWAG!

The one gift I requested was for an updated version of an iPhone dock that we used to have that was made by JBL. It was pretty cool because it would charge the phone and simultaneously play music with great hi-fidelity sound, plus it just sat in the corner of the kitchen very unobtrusively. I’m very lucky in that my girlfriend is very tech-savvy and while she was home in Japan for a few weeks in October, she found the Sony xb-41! What a total party machine! This wireless speaker works with whatever device, weighs only three pounds and takes up no space at all. It has great bass response, LED light-show stuff and as all of these demonstration videos I’m linking to show: it can also charge your devices, link in a chain with other speakers to create a HUGE WALL OF SOUND, or even operate as a phone! Just think: You could set it up somewhere and yell into it and somebody, somewhere could yell back! Isn’t THAT GREAT? You can also do stupid shit use as a beat-master at the club! Who wouldn’t want to do that just once?

I just wanted something that could blast when I’m in the kitchen making dinner…which I DO ALL THE TIME! (see above). This definitely works just as expected as I’ve already tried it out and I’m happy as a musical clam. It’s a good idea to download the Sony Music Center app because the app has EVERYTHING you need to take the speaker to the next level, including a really boss equalizer, which is completely necessary. I wasn’t loving how the extra bass response was reacting with some of those jazz albums from the 50s, but the equalizer, which is not just a bunch of presets but actual levels that can be adjusted, helped make it all sound better. ROCK sounds GREAT! All of it. Led Zeppelin IV sounds friggin’ huge! It’s also possible to download an app that allows you to become a proverbial DJ, which is about as annoying a thing that anyone could ever do. I was going to record a demonstration video of this, but I got bored playing with it and decided not to. It’s pretty silly though and if you aren’t the proverbial Douche at the KLUB you’ll have no use for this app, but that doesn’t diminish all of the other great features this speaker and its attendant software will bring into your musical life. Also, you can do like we’re doing and recycle all of your old computer and sound system gear! Clear up, clean out and get rid of all of that stuff you don’t use anymore anyhow! You’ll feel better once you do…or not. I know we will and I like this high-quality machine so I definitely recommend!


I also ordered myself a present because I had another hard year, so hard that I even stopped playing guitar for six months! Can you believe that? I am callous-less. Definitely not easy playing guitar with smooth fingers, but little by little they are coming back. So I bought something I have been looking at for a couple of years: A DITTO pedal. It works just as it is supposed to and I was already playing against a loop of the Autumn Leaves changes yesterday! Fun! Fun! FUN! Making the perfect loop isn’t quite as easy as it looks especially if it’s been a few months. My timing stuff was all off too, but I finally got it. The loops can be used for overdubbing, practicing, creating…whatever you wanna do. They can be saved and then outputted if they are keepers and I will probably do that…use them as a basis for maybe some ambient stuff I can then import into Garageband or Adobe Audition for sound enhancement. If you’ve ever heard the saying, “You’re never alone with a Smith and Wesson” the same could be said for a Ditto looper; you can create the proverbial GUITAR ORCHESTRA all by yourself. I got mine online through Sweetwater and it was my first time and a great experience!. Ordering, communicating and receiving was easy as pie and THAT’S THE WAY IT SHOULD BE! Plus, unlike some other companies, they aren’t sending me hourly emails asking for a rating or a review…yet. Hopefully they won’t. But this is my review anyhow! This is a great addition to anyone’s pedal arsenal and it’s not going to break your bank either! All of what you need and nothing you don’t. Not something that’s prevalent in modern culture people…think about that!

Aside from these upgrades, I continue to enjoy the music that I reviewed last month; Moonlight in Vermont, Soft Guitars, “Howlin’ Wolf”, Led Zeppelin IV, and the “Heavy Cream” playlist I made have all been in very frequent rotation. I also made a mid 60s Rolling Stones playlist and COWS playlist that also get regular spins just for a little bit of fun and lunacy. The days continue to get shorter and shorter; by early November it’s usually a short sprint to the end of the year. I love the fall, but it always seems to fly by quickly. Enjoy it as much as possible before it’s gone!

All That Jazz

I got a message this week that said, “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad, but that back-order of discs you’re expecting? Ain’t gonna happen. Remember… to order from us again…then you’ll begin to make it…better…” The discs in question were from the order that included the Howlin’ Wolf and Davey Graham CDs I’ve already reviewed…and yes being the guy I am, I did make it better, but not at the same online retailer. We haven’t finished with the replacement for the broken Wolf discs yet…so it’s best to proceed cautiously. But there was a bunch of music listening done this week so here are a few down-and-dirty reviews.

Moonlight in Vermont ***** This album was probably the high point of Johnny Smith’s career and is viewed as one of the most influential guitar classics of the period by many, including prominent guitarists such as Barney Kessel, Wes Montgomery, and Jimmy Bruno. Charlie Parker was also rumored to be a huge fan. The album is still a great disc to listen to because of its high level of musicality and the emotional romance that music of this period contained. The material on the album was actually a compilation drawn from 2 10-inch discs that Johnny had recorded while at NBC during the early 1950s (It was the song, Moonlight in Vermont, not the album, that was jazz magazine’s Downbeat #2 song of the year (in 1952). The album Moonlight… was released in 1956 and Smith picked his band from a group of fellers he met while was on staff at NBC. This group included the incomparable saxophone superstar Stan Getz, who is the perfect foil for Smith on this album as the two of them drive each other to thrilling and precipitous heights on several cuts. It’s easy to imagine that in lesser hands what is attempted would fall apart spectacularly, but they both had a level of mastery that enabled them to play cleanly, clearly, and brilliantly no matter the tempo or difficulty of the musical passages; a reason many of the performances on the disc are flat-out breathtaking, even by today’s standards.

Many reviews of Moonlight in Vermont allude to Smith’s chord melody style having the quality of a piano and his single line playing recalling the great saxophone lines of someone like Lester Young, and this is true. He also had a pure, very crystalline tone delivered either on an Epiphone or Guild archtop and there is at times a very distinct Western Swing vibe and a nod or three to the great Chet Atkins. Throughout the album there is a very Lush Musicality, that is well supported by the great rhythm section and piano players that appear on the disc. Moonlight in Vermont includes the original composition Jaguar with Smith and Getz playing the dual lead head and middle passages at breakneck tempo. Then there is the Caravan-esque Tabu with its bebop harmonies and dark guitar tone…also a dual lead by Smith and Getz. Smith’s picking is clean and forceful and he has said he imagined that he would have to execute lines in the same smooth fashion as a violin player (going from a bottom note all the way to the top in one crescendo movement). The breakdown middle during the solo choruses of Tabu illustrates this very well with both players blowing out a flurry of notes. The best ballads: Tenderly, Stars Fell on Alabama, I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance, and the title cut all feature Johnny’s beautiful chord melody (tight-closed voice) playing that he pulls off with the harmonic and melodic sense of a classical/jazz pianist. At other times, the sound of Johnny’s guitar almost approaches that of a pedal steel and that tone adds an extra level of sweetness, ambiance, and emotionalism to the tunes and juxtaposes very nicely with Getz’s very throaty, resonant sax solos. Sometimes it also sounds like Hawaiian slack key slide guitar as on the bouncy Vilia and I’ll Be Around. Then there are the tunes that are completely early 50s bop: Cherokee, Nice Work If You Can Get It, and Cavu. All in all it’s a perfectly balanced listening experience and though it serves as such, it is much more than just a very inspired guitar study. Trust me when I say that if you throw it on the next time you want to set a romantic mood, you won’t be sorry!

Soft Guitars***1/2 The Al Caiola (w/Don Arnone) Soft Guitars disc is another lush and very swanky jazz disc, released in 1961. Both Caiola and Arnone were well-regarded studio musicians in New York in the 1950s, so obviously this is top-level, well-arranged music for the swank set of that time. This is very typical of the Cool Jazz/Space Age pop/Bachelor-Pad style of music of the time; lots of playful sounds, swinging guitars, bongos, vibes, bells, whistles, sound effects, and lots of album covers with hot babes. This album was originally part of a two-LP set called Great Pickin’ and Soft Guitars and then was a 2 LP on 1 CD set and somewhere along the line the set was split. It is a marvelous snapshot or earshot, if you will, of a time in music that is long gone, yet recalls the exuberance, optimism, and class of the pre-rock era. People like me, who came of age during the 60s and 70s still heard this type of music and this type of musician all of the time on television and in movies. It didn’t really go away permanently until the 80s.

There is a well-arranged duet style that permeates the record and given that both of these guys were first call session guitarists, I’m sure they came to this kind of arranging naturally. There isn’t a whole lot of wild improvisation or flashy stuff; they keep it to some great instrumental jazz/popular music of the time, played exceptionally well. They cover Stella by Starlight, Try a Little Tenderness, The Sound of Music and More Than You Know. Leading off the album is their take on They Can’t Take That Away From Me, a song that was later associated with jazz guitar titans Ted Greene and Martin Taylor. Since this album was recorded way back in 1961, I would say Al and Don got there first! In addition to other jumpin’, jivin’ tunes like S’ Wonderful and S’Nice they do a great take on Imagination, the old jazz warhorse I Can’t Get Started, and Clair de Lune as Debussy might’ve imagined it. I wrote about Debussy and the complicated history of Clair de Lune here and was very surprised to find it on an album like this. Because both guitarists are obviously playing electric (archtop) guitars their version has a much different, trebly, ringing quality that one doesn’t hear when the piece is performed classically as it usually is. But I enjoy the very ethereal and dreamy feel that is augmented with beautiful harp accompaniment from Gloria Agostini. Though this isn’t the genre-defining album that Moonlight in Vermont was and is, it is still a great listening experience.

There were two other discs that I previewed, but ultimately passed on…and they were both Django Reinhardt CDs if you can believe that! The first disc was Django and His American Friends, a 3 disc set that is mostly Django backing up the likes of early jazz superstars like Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter as well as lesser-knowns like Rex Stewart and Dickie Wells. There are some Freddie Taylor vocal cuts (After You’ve Gone, Georgia, Ilse Muggin’) too, but they (as well as some of the Hawkins material) can be found elsewhere and I already have. While the disc gets great reviews, most of this stuff is the big-band era kind of jazz that doesn’t really feature guitars or Django. Of course he was a GREAT rhythm player and there is something to be said for the historical value, but I do have some of this stuff on other comps and truth be told, it’s not really my go-to Django stuff. I prefer him playing his compositions.

Another Django disc I previewed and passed on was Django in Brussels, which is not the same as this disc that I have and have already reviewed and is very good. Culled from 1942 sessions, this new disc (new to me not NEW) sounds like it was recorded off of someone’s copy of a scratchy record in the back of a caravan somewhere. The sessions themselves are the stuff of legend: recorded beneath Stalag 13 while Colonel Klink and the rest of the oblivious Nazis slept, Django and his band recorded a bunch of rare and unheard tunes…at least for those who are familiar with his catalog. Of course, this is the major selling point of what I found to be a ho-hum collection. Also…I can’t get past the fidelity. That’s probably all that survives of this session at this point, but I didn’t think the songs themselves were so great that I could ignore the sound quality. Others make think differently about that equation and that is the beauty of musical opinions just BEWARE! If you are thinking about buying a Django in Brussels CD and it doesn’t look like this, better preview some of the audio first is all I’m saying!