Barney Kessel

Aww…Noice!

DC Music School‘s latest offering features the incomparable Rocky Gresset and boy he sure makes it look easy, eh shredders? This is another “In the Style of…” edumacational device that the school is famous for and seeing as how I bought a few over the years I can say with certainty that it will be well worth the money. All of the players who have been featured are top-tier talent and the lessons are produced with the student in mind. One of the most impressive features I’ve learned about the Gypsy Jazz community is the quality of education! The best players will be the best teachers…duh!

While maybe not as well-known as some other Gypsy Jazzers, Rocky can more than hold his own with anyone, as the above awesome L-5 workout with the amazing Adrien Moignard proves. This is next-generation jazz and it’s pretty inspiring because it incorporates all the best of so many years of influences and innovations. While some of their playing is completely original, some also definitely owes a whole lot to the legacy of “The Boss”: Bireli Lagrene. He has been a consistent bar-raiser throughout his career and many younger players hold him as a mentor. But the freedom, musicality, and attitude originates a long time ago with people like Django Reinhardt, Johnny Smith and Barney Kessel. My go-to playlist lately has a whole lot of the electric bebop of these three guys from the 50s-60s period and it is a constant musical companion and wonder to behold!

Tidbits III

The above issue of Guitar World featuring Eric Clapton is from late ’89 and was one of the first I appeared as a writer of ROCK, so I’ve always kept it. There’s some decently cool photography with a retrospective-type interview (no, I did not conduct the interview). It’s also interesting that Tales of Brave Ulysses and Let it Rain are the songs transcribed and not one of EC’s hot 80s songs. I would imagine that the 60s-70s stuff remains the most popular guitar stuff even now.

Speaking of Let it Rain, I wrote a review for the album that it appears on; Clapton’s self-titled debut and you can read it here. This is an underrated album in my opinion and if you have never heard it, check it out if you’re a person who finds that early 70s bluesy roots sound even remotely interesting. Also, I have been on a mission to organize and update my reviews and I’ve moved all of my reviews that appeared as posts to the appropriate review sections.

Speaking of the bluesy, blues guitarist Otis Rush passed away last month at the age of 84. Otis had been unable to perform for years due to post-stroke health problems, but prior to that was (along with Buddy Guy) one of the last great bluesmen of the classic 50s era. Known as the architect of the famed Chicago West Side Blues sound, he found some success in the mid-50s and in the late 90s, when he won a Grammy for his Any Place I’m Going disc. He was an influence on many a rock guitarist and Led Zeppelin covered his song, I Can’t Quit You on their first album. His other well-known songs included Double Trouble, which inspired the name of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band and All Your Love.

I have written about Barney Kessel and Grant Green before and reviewed Barney’s Yesterday album here and his Blues album here. I’m planning some reviews of the Grant Green discs that I have, but in the meantime, the clip above is Grant and Barney playing with the equally amazing Kenny Burrell in France in 1969. I said last year that footage of Grant Green is very rare and then… this appeared! So start referring to me as The Summoner! And watch this clip! Three great guitarists at the top of their respective game who enjoy playing with each other. Doesn’t get any better. I’ve certainly seen a ton of Barney and Kenny tearing it up, but it’s great to see Grant on these tunes, especially the ballad, I Wish You Love! I love this tune anyway, but to hear Grant’s bluesy, post bop take on it is a departure from how it is normally played. Also, on most of his records he laid out when he wasn’t soloing, but he comps a lot on this video just in case anyone thinks he couldn’t. The format for this show has all of the players on the first and last blues tunes and they each get a ballad totally to themselves. That’s interesting and not something that’s seen very often, but I like it! They have their own very signature styles and to hear a tune completely like that without someone else trying to play on it makes for a complete experience…almost like a cut from an album. Plus they can take their time to develop the ideas. Barney’s spin on I’m Glad There Is You is glorious, and Kenny Burell’s Imagination is also killin’. He is such a smooth boss with some great quick pickin’ lines. I’m grateful for this upload and hope there is more in the future! It would be amazing if there is any footage of Grant playing classic Grant tracks.

Finally, former drummer for AC/DC and Dio, Simon Wright says Ronnie James Dio’s reworked hologram looks almost real! LOL! That’s just super-duper because whatever is going on in the video above doesn’t look real at all! Even if I squint! Dio’s wife and manager Wendy recently said a bunch of creepy stuff that echoes my Pet Sematary comparisons from the last post on this subject:

“I think that Ronnie was an innovator of heavy metal music, so why not be an innovator of technology?” she said. “And I think technology is coming a long way with holograms — a lot of people are doing it now. And I think the reason is because we are losing all of our innovators; everybody is getting older. And we need to keep them alive and keep their memory and their music alive. I think it’s a new way. It’s like when people first came out with a CD or a cassette: ‘Ooh, we don’t want that.’ But then it was the way of technology.”

Riiiiight! The world is losing innovators, so hologram! Totally. That sentence had me laughing for like 10 minutes. The Dio hologram will hit the road again in 2019 and a new version of PET SEMATARY is being released next year! Coincidence? The previews look scary! Tractor Trailers! Dark woods! Weird Lord of the Flies Children! An old John Lithgow! That all sounds terrifying to me! The movie tagline: Sometimes Dead is better! Are these people reading my blog? Stay tuned!

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!

Wang Dang Doodle

As I reported in my last post, I was in need of a serious musical upgrade, especially one of the Howlin’ Wolf variety. Seeing that I live in the largest city in the USA, I sallied forth, totally confident that I would have a great day and return with something that would render me no longer ‘Wolf-less’. Not only was I supremely confident, I was foolishly overconfident because I tried to perform this manuever on a day where 2.3 inches of rain fell in the space of like forty minutes. It was super. A Super Soaker. I got super soaked. Not only that, I returned empty-handed. On my way to and fro I passed the Kellogg’s Store (pic not taken on that day) and…I’m glad it’s there because that’s what I’ve always been lacking in my life…a café that serves Corn Flakes. Talk about SWPL. If it ain’t, it ought to be. In addition to breakfast cereals, there are endless places to acquire luxury goods, sub par, yet overpriced tacos, haircuts!, or electronics. And vinyl. Lots of places now carry vinyl, but all of the discs that I know exist and represent a much more diverse selection of music don’t seem to be available anywhere. Even Barnes and Noble sells vinyl. There is a large space devoted to it that was completely empty. Maybe I didn’t go at the right time. While I was in the B & N the only other people looking at sounds were pathetic old guys like me in the compact disc section, stumbling around like dehydrated, wild-eyed morons in the desert, searching, yearning, and dreaming a mirage of purchased music, passing each other with traded looks of “What? You call this a music selection?” (Yea, that sentence is awkward, but it works).

As I said in the original post, I didn’t see anything I wanted in the iTunes music store and the only great thing about that is convenience and the ease of album art and installation on the iPhone. Part of what drove me from the house was the desire I had to relive the days when everyone had to search to acquire…but not with a fake magnifying glass and a bunch of form fields. Search, in the wild…like Bungalow Bill or something. That was part of the pleasure of buying music; combing through the bins, turning up unexpected gems for the right price and interacting with fellow prospectors or dealers who either approved or snickered at what was under your arm. There are a few places like this left in the city, but their selection of anything guitar-related, blues or jazz, was seriously lacking. One dude at a place I visited related that the good stuff “goes pretty quick” and all that little anecdote did was reaffirm my belief that there is obviously still a market out there. It just needs a space that doesn’t rent @ $444,444.29/sq ft.


So I turned to the internet and yea, of course I found something online, and its killer! The Complete RPM & Chess Singles As & Bs, 1951-62 aka All of the Wolf’s Great Music. I didn’t get it from The ‘Zon, because I’m not getting anything there anymore. While the actual product is everything I wanted, it came with the jewel case broken in three places…So I imported the music, scanned the covers, and sent that crap back to sender ’cause that’s just how I roll Homeskillet! (Saying the italic bit in a Howlin’ Wolf voice works really well!) I ordered from this place that has its warehouse at a Shepherdsville, KY address, which, I believe, is in the immediate vicinity of the Zappos warehouse. D’ya know Zappos? I know Zappos. On the whole Zappos has been a positive experience as far as getting what I want and returning what did not meet expectations for one reason or another. This is the way we shop (and return) now, I guess. Something gained, something lost. Like that Joni Mitchell song or something. No, not that one. This one. Eh, no, this one. (All those vids are amazing!) Anyhow, I fear for the young. How will they know how to forage and feed themselves when the great crash and zombie apocalypse happens? Will everyone head for places like Shepherdsville, KY to raid the warehouses only to find that they have already been taken over by a gang run by Suge Knight and that dude from Pawn Stars? IT COULD HAPPEN!

But the music. WOW! 80 tunes! All the great ones: Smokestack Lightning, Moanin’ at Midnight, Down In the Bottom, Backdoor Man, Wang Dang Doodle, I Ain’t Superstious, Sittin’ On Top of the World and all of the others. Then there is the great stuff that I’ve heard on other people’s recordings like Tell Me, Shake for Me, and You’ll Be Mine, all covered by Stevie Ray Vaughan, which I hadn’t heard the originals until now. Why? I don’t know. But Howlin’ Wolf and his Orchestra is THE BLUES and it’s the best kind of blues because it can exist on one chord and say everything there is to say about everything and serve as the basis for a whole future of unimagined (at the time) other music. The SOUND is a huge, throbbing tumor of the most dangerous variety; pregnant, full of possibility and menace. How many other art forms can say that? Just letting all of these songs play renders the concept of “song” meaningless because they all merge into a glorious panorama that puts the listener in the death seat of a meth-fueled, flying muscle car, sailing down Highway 49 as the juke joints, clotheslines, rib shacks, old cars, beer signs, bent men, dancing women, razors, blood and whiskey blow by the windows. Needless to say, this gets my highest rating and is heavily recommended.

I also got Cream’s Wheels of Fire, the world’s first platinum double album, for the incredibly low price of $7.99! This is a great disc and one I had on vinyl a long time ago. I wore that sucker out listening to and trying to cop licks from some of the brilliant Clapton-driven guitar numbers. Hard to believe he was only 23 years old when the record was made in 1968. I wrote a post on Cream five years ago and since that time it has generated absolutely no interest. I really think it all goes back to that unplugged version of Layla and Clapton’s iBanker look at the time. Probably a lot of people who were too young to know thought he worked for Credit Suisse or something. Or maybe the 60s-era poetry lyrics on some Cream’s tunes and their turning the blues into very loud, very long, almost free-jazz explorations IS NOT OK. Or it might have something to do with good LSD no longer being a thing, except at trance shows. Is that true? That was always certainly part of the attraction…I mean how else do you get into fuzzy, over-the-top, purple-tinged poetry songs about Ulysses and Atlantis?

Wheels of Fire has the studio versions of incomparable electric workouts: White Room, Sitting on Top of the World, Born Under a Bad Sign, Politician, Those Were the Days and Deserted Cities of the Heart. It also has live versions of Crossroads, Spoonful, Toad and Traintime. Finally, there is some acoustic psychedelia with some great: As You Said; some good: Passing the Time; and some not great: Pressed Rat and Warthog and Anyone for Tennis. From a guitarist’s perspective, not only was all of this stuff completely impressive when it was released, but all of the instrumentalists were very influential on players who heard and went on to their own success later on. Also, it sounded great when you were tripping your face off!

A fringe benefit of me having Wheels of Fire and the other Cream releases is that now I have created a playlist that is the running order of one of the best compilations of any band that ever existed, Heavy Cream. This vinyl (haha) was released in 1972 and as far as I can tell has never been released on CD. I wore that two disc set out because it had all of the stuff and none of the fluff and, yea, there is that nostalgic element to it, but so what? I can get emotional. If music doesn’t have that kind of effect on you, why go out looking for it on a day that a couple of inches of rain gets dumped on your head is all I’m sayin’!

I also had two more choices (one of which is backordered) because why not go all out? I ordered and received Davy Graham’s Large as Life and Twice as Natural. I’ve written about Graham before; he developed the DADGAD tuning, wrote and performed the early 60s coffeehouse jazz/folk/guitar standard Anji, and influenced everyone from Bert Jansch, to Paul Simon to Jimmy Page. Not a bad pedigree. This album comes highly recommended as it usually gets 12 out of 10 stars everywhere! Allmusic says that: “With the exception of 1964’s Folk, Blues and Beyond, this is Graham’s finest non-compilation album… “ Unfortunately, my review isn’t quite as glowing. Davy’s guitar does shine on half the album, especially his forays into Indian/World music: Blue Raga, Jenra, Sunshine Raga, and his cover of Both Sides Now are all really good. Not only does he know and play his sitar-style tunings well, but his understanding of Eastern/Arabic music and the fact that he actually could play the Oud allow these pieces to sound completely original, yet very traditional. It seems to me the pitch is lower than “D”, which creates a natural comb-filter-type timbre. That is a great sound and one I would like to try myself! The supporting players also bring a really authentic ensemble presentation to this music that blends East and West in a more convincing manner than a ton of other stuff that attempted same in the 60s. I also like Bruton Town, which is an Olde English folk/Madrigal type of song. Davey’s voice is well-suited to this kind of material and his fingerpicked guitar work is perfectly executed and evocative of the Renaissance Fair feel of the song. There should have been another 1-2 numbers with this vibe on the disc. The Elizabeth Cotton-penned folk classic Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie is also performed well but this folk style is very familiar to me and not as impressive to be honest.

Unfortunately, I don’t like much about the rest of the album. There are four “blues” songs: Freight Train Blues, Good Morning Blues, Electric Chair, and Bad Boy Blues, but Graham really doesn’t do my kind of blues. He’s got that high, reedy, English-guy voice goin’ on and that just don’t sound like the Delta, believe you me. Then there’s Beautiful City, a swingin’ jazzy number where he sounds like Tony Bennett, which isn’t a terrible thing…if you are Tony Bennett and you’re singing a good song. He isn’t and this isn’t. The guitar on all of these tunes also sounds like an afterthought at times and certainly doesn’t have the strong vibe of the best 6 songs. There are weak and unconvincing runs and he does this annoying displacement thing where he steps out of key but it’s not cool, angular and dissonant; it just sounds like he played in the wrong key for two bars. Finally, there is his composition Tristano, which is a four-minute solo guitar piece that attempts to mash about 5 genres of music together. This should have been good, but it sounds like not enough thought was given to the arrangement. Some of the execution sounds forced and the musical thread wanders. There is nothing on this disc that has the laid back, stately cool of Anji and I am bummed about that because I’ve loved that song for decades. A couple more of the English folk style songs, an instrumental Beautiful City, and 1-2 blues instrumentals would’ve been a great compliment to the World/Eastern stuff.

So, unfortunately, a very mixed bag. I gave it three stars, because I’m in a generous mood today. There is a chance that the CD will grow on me since I haven’t had it for very long, but more than likely I’ll add the best stuff to a comp playlist and forget the rest. That’s how it goes when buying music and the moral of this story: Don’t trust Allmusic Reviews! Overall, though it was a good haul and I still have one more disc on the way and you can be sure you’ll read about it once I have it!

Summer’s Almost Gone

a languid and lazy atmosphere pervades my world now…perfectly and sublimely captured and described by the lazy blues, world-weary vocals and Eastern European pop sensibilities The Doors bring to this song off of their Waiting For the Sun LP. Hard to believe that the 50th Anniversary Edition of the album will be available this year. That would make Jim Morrison almost 80 if he were alive today. Shocking Man! At some point in the very near future this album will figure in a series of posts on journalism, rock writing, Rolling Stone Magazine Conspiracies, Alex Jones and that weird celebrity black eye thing…or is it the one eye thing? Pretty scary! Remember the good old, innocent days? When rock stars just put subliminal messages (so you thought) in their music and then people played the discs backwards and heard things like Ringo is face-down in indian food pronto after the Mandrax boy! and Don’t Kill Yourself Buy More of Our Records!. Bill Hicks kind of demolished the logical thinking behind why rockers would put messages that would be harmful to their (record buying) audience. That didn’t and hasn’t dissuaded people from making and remaking the claim! Supposedly, Stairway to Heaven reversed, as proved by a televangelist in 1982 said:

…which really makes no sense. Toolshed? Why would Satan be sad? What does it mean to “get the 666”? I never heard that one and I did a lot of bong hits! Robert Plant was quoted as saying a guy would “have to have a lot of time on his hands” to even consider doing something like this. But maybe not if he’s flat-out just making stuff up that doesn’t have to really make sense. Personally, I couldn’t ever do any of this fun shit even when I was rilly, rilly stoned, ’cause all I ever had was the Kenner Close N’Play…’cause it played when you closed and…

In the meantime: Thanks G-d for MUSIC! (as they say). I’m not a very religious person and I don’t even consider myself “spiritual”…or astrological. All I know is that there were something like 6 planets in my chart retrograde this month so trying to do anything was not…encouraged. Rather, I was supposed to take a reflective stance and try to review where I’ve been…and where I’m going…and where am I now? I’m not sure I figured anything out. But that attitude really suits the time of year, the weather and the anticipation of soon changing seasons. Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year and so I’m looking forward to it, as usual. One thing I did this month…to quote a very trippy and lo-fi Spine of God Monster Magnet song from 1992…

Bought another copy of ZOSO

I’ve lost count how many copies of Zoso I’ve had over the years, but if there is one album that you should always have on hand, it’s this one. Sorry Cardi B…maybe next time…or not. Is there really anything better than Led Zeppelin IV? I’m sure many people could list several things that are, but me, I’ve been in love with the album since high school. Yea, ok…I don’t need to hear Stairway to Heaven anymore, but I will never tire of listening to The Battle of Evermore, Misty Mountain Hop, Four Sticks, Going to California, and When the Levee Breaks…’cause John Henry Bohnam. That Jimmy Page guy was a pretty good guitarist and a heckuva producer too. Robert Plant and John Paul Jones were jeez…I think they still get work from time to time because they were pretty talented too. All I know is that it was good to hear this disc again…it was like…coming home to my past, while hearing strains of an unknown future as I meditated on the plane of all that will ever be. Wow! Reiki! That was pretty good… Maybe I AM spiritual.

I was also in the mood to swing, so I was looking around and I found this very mysterious album by one of my favorite jazz guitar players, the incomparable Barney Kessel. I wrote about Barney here and here and he is actually one of the more popular search terms to get to this blog. It’s great to know that there are a lot of Barney fans out there because he was one of the greatest guitar pickers that ever was. This album, Blues Guitar, is an odd one, for sure. Not one of the more well-known Barney offerings, it also has an interesting selection of songs: How High the Moon, Willow Weep for Me, Honeysuckle Rose, Out of Nowhere, Blue Moon, Limehouse Blues, and It Don’t Mean a Thing(If it Ain’t Got Swing) are all great swing standards and they feature the great Stephane Grappelli. Who knew these guys recorded together? Not me that’s for sure. Of course if you’re a Django Reinhardt fan like I am, you know Grappelli after about 3 notes and he brings his usual je ne sais quoi to the sessions. Barney is on fire as usual with this fleet-fingered chord melody and snaky, inventive single string lines. When he and Stephane trade-off on many choruses there are some totally frenetic and kinetic fireworks to be heard. Rockin’!! I mean Swingin’!! I also like the texture songs, Aquarius and Burt Bacharach‘s The Look of Love. What is very interesting is that a very small part of Barney’s guitar from this tune was sampled for a hip-hop track, The Look of Love, by Slum Village. Because of the exposure this group gave the song, Barney’s version is a thing with young guitar players who have learned the sample. Pretty cool if you ask me and good lookin’ out on Slum Village for sampling a class act and great guitarist!

Finally, I picked up the alternative guitar classic from 1984, Aerial Boundaries, featuring the absolutely mind-boggling Michael Hedges. How mind-boggling was Michael Hedges? Er…maybe Davey Graham, Pierre Bensusan, Edward Van Halen, and Leo Kottke all rolled into one, with a dash of Allan Holdsworth. I had this on LP back in the day and a club we used to play jazz at featured this between sets regularly…’cause it just has that sound: lovely textures, outside the box guitar tunings, percussive slap and hammer-on fingerpicking and strumming. This album was very influential for its time and what Hedges crafted as a style and way of approaching the guitar that still influences people today. Have a little watch and listen below to the title track. The whole album has a deep guitar ambience that I love and it perfectly completes my amazing guitar music purchase trifecta for the month. Enjoy what’s left of the summer!

Django — Bebop and Electric

Culled from sessions that occurred in 1947 and the early 1950s, this GREAT collection contains many of Django Reinhardt’s final musical statements. The Brussels sessions, recorded in 1947, begin the experimental/transitional arc of Django’s later career, which would continue on other sources, ie. the Rome sessions from 1949-50 (I wrote about here.) The fourth electric side of “Rome” contained fun tunes like Micro, Dream of You, Place De Brouckere, Double Whiskey, and amplified versions of Minor Swing and Dinette that seem in line with the new Django, but the session(s) seem to suffer from lack of purpose, joy and a good recording environment. But back on this Hot Club of France Quintet CD (for stuff from 1950-1953) there are many (well recorded) sessions from Paris that portray a Django completely cut loose from his past. Django bounced back from severe apathy and disenchantment to record a really nice blast of music that is refreshingly original, yet very true to his earlier roots. He had experienced a loss artistic stature because of the end of the Swing Era and his failure to connect with a large audience in the United States on his 1946-47 tour with Duke Ellington. His health (he lost many teeth) and financial situation, along with a temporary loss of muse, did nothing to allay his legendary apathy and dark moods. However, he gradually recovered a sense of purpose, thanks to a new music, a new way of playing guitar and willing young players eager to jam with the master.

Soon after the end of World War II in 1945, Django began appearing with either an electric or amplified instrument although he still played acoustic occasionally… (On this dubbed movie clip of Nuits de Saint Germain des Prés [which is on this Hot Club of France Quintet CD] and on 3 sides of the …In Rome Sessions that he plays with Grappelli.) (You can see Django looking out the train window at the beginning of his segment that was part of the 1952 movie, La Route du Bonheur that also featured jazz legends Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet). Django’s new electric sound allowed his playing to reach previously unknown heights and brought him more in line with the mainstream American jazz guitar artists of the time. While in the States he had jammed with Les Paul, Johnny Smith and Harry Volpe (I wrote about this here) and played American guitars as multiple photographs of the time show. By all accounts Django was thrilled with the possibilities that playing an electrified instrument afforded, however he still preferred his Selmer guitar fitted now with a Stimer pickup through a Stimer amp to all of those “tinpot” American guitars as he was known to refer to them.

But Django did not play the Selmer exclusively. This article and these pictures from the late 40s (1948) show Django performing with a Rio Guitar at the Nice Festival. (This link leads to a really great and informative Django site!!) (Incidentally, the Nice Festival, the first international jazz festival of any renown, debuted in 1948 with Louis Armstrong and His All-Stars as the headliner with Django and Stephane Grappelli among the supporting acts.) For the first time in Django’s 15 year career his guitar carried over the band; he could vary his attack from a bluesy whisper to screaming arpeggio runs and crunchy chords, and milk the instrument for all manner of delightful new tones. On this CD I believe some of the chord stabs and comping fills (that were a bit different from all of his masterful acoustic comping) take on almost a Les Paul/Chet Atkins/Barney Kessel-type rockabilly vibe in some cases and it sounds to me that Django is completely stoked with how it sounds. Likewise, his live performances at Clubs like the Saint Germaine during this period have been hailed as some of the most enjoyable and fully realized gigs (by both band and audience) of his career.

There are people, Stephane Grappelli for one, who believe that Django never got a handle on the electric guitar and that he should’ve stayed with his early choice of instrument. In some ways, this is a valid criticism, especially if you are a fan of the original Hot Club sound (all acoustic/guitars/bass/violin) or enjoy the material from the prewar period. There is a certain charm about that approach to jazz that persists to this day, however, a lot of Django’s later material was obviously inspired by his instrument switch. The change may have been what drove him to play and compose again and his change in style definitely attracted the younger set to his gigs. As I have written Django’s March, 1953 electric take of Night and Day (which along with his final take of Nuages [from the same session] which aren’t on this CD but SHOULD be), is the cut that inspired me to learn how to play jazz. On this track he simultaneously anticipates Miles Davis Cool and West Coast Jazz and digs for a distorted solo that is chock-full of spiraling, quick-picked guitar obbligatos and partial blues/diminished chords that are completely his own invention. A totally fun and outrageous melodic interpretation of a song he obviously enjoyed playing. I have no doubt from these later cuts that had Django lived into his 50s or 60s and continued working he would kept on evolving both his sound and approach to his instrument because above all else he had that JOY of playing the instrument that anyone who is reading this knows about. I don’t have to tell you…he was totally like that too. That almost childlike sense of wonder: “Wow…I can make it do this?”….”Cool” or “Bien” (I guess it would be)

The first 9 cuts on the CD were recorded in 1947 with a band that featured one of his favorite sidemen, Hubert Rostaing, on clarinet. These tracks include “bridge” songs that show Django’s movement from the Swing Era to the 1950s: Just One of Those Things, Songe D’Automne, Del Salle, and Porto Cabello, with other more obvious nods to the destination including Duke and Dukie and Babik (Bi-Bop). All of these tunes feature Eugene Vees playing the swing style pomp guitar to varying degrees which helps make these tunes sound like they could’ve been on the Rome Sessions. Django hasn’t completely left the past behind yet. With Double Whiskey (track 10) through the end of the disc, Chez Moi, Django and his band are completely reborn; there are no pompé guitar rhythms, there IS plenty of brass (Hubert Fol, Roger Guerin and Bernard Hullin) and drums (Pierre Lemarchand) and a very mainstream (almost American) small combo sound. Through it all, of course, is a whole bunch of absolutely amazing guitar playing. Like the final take of Night and Day, Django channels every electric guitar technique and sound from the future into his final batch of recordings.

Porto Cabello begins with a very haunting melody, reminiscent of Debussy perhaps, with Django playing spare figures behind. The amplified acoustic Selmer has the ability to sound semi-acoustic or semi-electric depending on Django mood. After the intro the song kicks into a key and tempo change that is completely out of the blue that features a great, very amplified solo by a Django. After a slurry, quick solo by Rostaing, the song returns to the intro tempo and fades out on that melody just as quickly as it had changed initially. It calls to mind passing boats in the harbor or a street scene even though it is subtitled “Il Mexicana”. Duke and Dukie, another Django original, is a very simple harmonic progression that allows space Django to inject cool chord stabs, octaves, and a whole flurry of single-note lines around a great rhythmic pulse. It’s a very cool early 50s vibe and there are two takes of this song on the disc. Babik (also called Bi-Bop), named for Django’s son is built off of the Dizzy Gillespie early 40s Salt Peanuts riff. Django and company take the song to new dimensions and they sound as modern and on it as Bireli Lagrene’s Gipsy Project circa 2004, the difference being that Django is playing with a drummer, Pierre Fouad. This adds a completely new dimension to the sound of a Django band and gives him a more universally recognized jazz sound. Other titles, that feature the horns of Hubert Fol, Roger Guerin and Bernard Hullin, like Double Whiskey, Crazy Rhythm, Keep Cool, and Fine and Dandy (all covers except Double Whiskey) sound very American…almost Vegas/Hollywood Movie cool. It’s a sound that Django and his Quintet wear well and I believe he was probably very happy with how these recordings came out. Not only does he sound superb as a guitarist, writer, leader, but his band is hot and plays the material well.

Other tracks are total guitar standouts — Impromptu, which is Django’s hit, Dark Eyes redone as a frantic and angular bebop; Fleche D’or, a completely dizzying guitar and sax extravaganza that anticipates hard rock and fusion; the cool, laid back, Latin vibe of Troublant Bolero; and the insistent, suave, uptempo 50s sound of Nuits De Saint Germaine De Pres. On all of these tracks one can hear Django spinning his ideas out on the fly; the master improviser with new tools, a new format and a new lease on life…and art. This is also apparent on all of the blues/rhythm and blues found on the disc: I Cover the Waterfront, DR Blues, Dream of You, Vamp, Le Soir, and Deccarphonie. Django always enjoyed playing the blues and his understanding of the blues is another element that I think was expanded on his trip to the US because these blues all have an atmosphere that was lacking on his previous efforts. Deccarphonie also features superb vibes played by Martial Solal! But perhaps the best example of this was the ballad that he felt defined this whole period and who he was at this stage in his career, Anouman (A new man). He gives the very colorful and almost wistful melody (head) line to Hubert Fol and is content to solo only on the middle eight. But it is the chords fills, ghostly reverb presence of his guitar throughout the song that puts one in the mind of the story of how Django could lay by a river and listen to it for hours on end. Here at the end of his career he was no longer just showing how well a composer or improviser he was. He had transcended his station and synthesized all of his influences and life experiences into pure art and music.

The one definable quality that is constant in Django’s playing that you won’t find in most modern gypsy jazz is his powerful emotionalism, subtlety and minimalist expression. While Django could play complicated arpeggios and octagonic scale patterns at blinding speed with the best of them, he often chose to play slim, bent figures and quiet slurs to accentuate the emotional colors of his music. He also made great use of space and time to let the music breath. Even in the frenzied days of bebop, the world moved at a much slower pace than it does today and this definitely accounts for the speed and which people hear and feel. However, it is on this collection of songs, with Django’s full maturity as an accomplished player/composer realized that what he chooses not to play is what makes these cuts so interesting. This is one reason that he still reigns over the genre; his ability to impart pure feeling and emotion along with all of the verve, color and joie de vivre of Gypsy Jazz. It’s shame he left this world so soon after because it was obvious he still had plenty to say…and play!