I think it was around the middle of this year or thereabouts that a new anthology of Miles Davis’ tunes put together in a four-CD set was released. The common thread for most of those 40 tunes, which together run for nearly five hours, is that they are from live performances between 1955 and 1975 at the Newport Jazz Festival where Miles Davis had played gigs, beginning in the early years as a sideman, and then in later ones as band-leader.

Miles runs the voodoo down: Miles Davis performing at Jazz Scene, a BBC TV show in 1969. The jazz trumpeter’s innovation and influence has been singular. (Photo: Getty Images)

Miles runs the voodoo down: Miles Davis performing at Jazz Scene, a BBC TV show in 1969. The jazz trumpeter’s innovation and influence has been singular. (Photo: Getty Images)

The set showcases the works of the jazz trumpeter whose innovation, experimentation and influence has been singular. For years, since it was first held in 1954, the Newport Jazz Festival has been like the Holy Grail for jazz musicians and a venue which often marks a launching pad for the careers of the young and talented. Something of that sort may have happened to Miles Davis who was not yet 30 when he played at Newport in 1955.

On Disc One, the first three tracks were recorded at the festival that year and Davis was in the band but it was led by the legendary jazz pianist, Thelonious Monk. Davis was a sideman. But a sideman whose solos on the three tracks (Monk’s Hackensack and ’Round Midnight, and Charlie Parker’s Now’s the Time) wowed the audience and the critics and is said to have got him his first major recording deal with Columbia.

Also watch: Bye Bye BlackBird – Miles Davis & John Coltrane Live at Newport ‘58

The next set of six tunes on Disc One was recorded at the festival in 1958. By then, Davis was the leader of a sextet whose other five members were Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (alto sax), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Bill Evans (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums), names familiar to every jazz aficionado. The sextet did Parker’s Ah-Leu-Cha, Monk’s Straight, No Chaser, and Dizzy Gillespie and John Lewis’ Two Bass Hit: bebop and cool jazz that is guaranteed to perk you up each time you listen to it.

By the time you proceed to Disc Two, it is 1966-1967, and Davis has a quintet now with Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums, all legends in their own right.

It’s the last acoustic phase for Davis and the music of this era of his career is like a sneak preview of what is to come – the improvisations are less structured; the tempo is faster; and the contrast with his earlier era sound is rather dramatic.

For a demo, you could listen to the two versions of Monk’s ’Round Midnight – the one on Disc One and the one on Disc Two. Then you hit Discs Three and Four and before you know it you’re in Davis’s electric territory. There’s Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett playing electric piano; Michael Henderson is on the electric bass; and musicians such as Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey are on electric guitars.

It’s the 1970s and Davis has been releasing revolutionary albums such as Bitches’ Brew; Jack Johnson; and On the Corner. The music is path-breaking; its mood psychedelic; and history is being made. On the 13-minute-long Directions, the opener on Disc Four, Davis is playing the electric trumpet, Jarrett is on electric piano and Henderson is slapping the electric bass. Things couldn’t get any better.

All blues: Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 is a journey that takes you on a trip that tracks the restless evolution of one of jazz’s biggest influencers.

All blues: Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 is a journey that takes you on a trip that tracks the restless evolution of one of jazz’s biggest influencers.

The Newport box-set, titled Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4, is a journey that takes you on a trip that tracks the restless evolution of a highly talented trumpeter and one of jazz’s biggest influencers. And, because it came out as an anthology in 2015, it has turned out to be one of my favourite albums of the year.

Peppy pop: Canadian artist Grimes’ new album Art Angels is on frequent duty on my playlist. (Photo: Getty Images)

Peppy pop: Canadian artist Grimes’ new album Art Angels is on frequent duty on my playlist. (Photo: Getty Images)

But just as a counterpoint to so many hours of jazz, I’ve got another album on frequent duty on my playlist. It’s Grimes’ Art Angels. Grimes is the stage name of Claire Elise Boucher, a Canadian singer, composer and producer, who is all of 27 years old. But her music is enigmatic and unclassifiable: it straddles uptempo pop; R&B and country; but also synthesiser-driven ambient sounds and experimental art pop.

Also watch: Grimes – Kill V. Maim – live in Chicago 2015

On Art Angels, which is her fourth studio album, the opener, Laughing and Not Being Normal is like a super-short operatic song; that is followed by California, a earworm-inducing peppy popsong; on the very next one, Scream, she’s accompanied by a Taiwanese rapper and screams, shrieks and yelps to create a song that’s strangely pleasing; and on REALiTi, she injects her song with a dose of electronic dance music that makes it so infectious that you want it to last longer than the five minutes it does.

Art Angels is Canadian artist Grimes' fourth studio album.

Art Angels is Canadian artist Grimes' fourth studio album.

Five, incidentally, is the longest in minutes that a Grimes track goes on for. Now compare that with the longest track in Davis’s Newport box set: Funky Tonk (Disc Four) clocks in at 25 minutes and 44 seconds.

Follow @sanjoynarayan on Twitter

Download Central appears every fortnight
Download PDF

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

I’m sitting here on a Saturday evening and writing this in Vaasa, a city on the west coast of Finland. It has a population of 66,000; is walkably small; and the temperature at 5pm outside is around 10 degree Celsius. Inside, the heating makes it nice and comfortable and, I’m sipping a cup of chamomile tea.

Why I’m saying all this is because there’s another thing about Vaasa or, perhaps, about all of Finland and most of Scandinavia – it is the quiet; the near total absence of noise or sound. It’s almost as if you’ve a pair of noise cancelling headphones jammed on your head. That’s why I’m listening to music sans my trusty earphones. I’m playing them through a moderately powerful wireless speaker system and my selection for this evening has begun with jazz. More specifically, it is John Scofield’s new album, Past Present.

Also watch: John Scofield Quartet Live at Jazz

The album title is significant. Scofield is a jazz guitar maestro who has played with a range of musicians that is impressive not just because of their names (they include Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, Jaco Pastorius, Phil Lesh, John Mayer and Medeski, Martin & Wood) but also because of his ability to ace it with his guitar work in genres such as jazz, jazz-rock, rock, soul, blues… you name it, he’s done it.

A note of melancholy: John Scofield's new album was composed by him in memory of his son who died a few years back of cancer in his twenties. That added a tinge of sadness to my listening session.

A note of melancholy: John Scofield's new album was composed by him in memory of his son who died a few years back of cancer in his twenties. That added a tinge of sadness to my listening session.

If you try to check out his own albums (the ones he has played as a leader of a band) you’ll be spoilt for choice because there are nearly 50 of them since the 1970s that you would have to choose from. And if you want to also listen to ones on which he’s played as a part of someone else’s band (such as Billy Cobham, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and many, many more), you’ll likely be staring at another 100 albums.

Also watch: John Scofield Quartet – Jazzwoche Burghausen 1994

In the 1980s, Scofield, a Berklee alum, now 63, turned from pure jazz to fusion – a genre that has marked his career for many years now. But, in the early 1990s, he and his quartet did a few albums for the venerable jazz label, Blue Note (on one of them, Time on My Hands, his band members included drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Joe Lovano and bassist Charile Haden).

Versatile oeuvre: Scofield has played with a range of musicians, including the likes of Miles Davis. (Photo: Getty images)

Versatile oeuvre: Scofield has played with a range of musicians, including the likes of Miles Davis. (Photo: Getty images)

These were works of pure jazz of the high-paced, up-tempo bebop kind and showcased each of the quartet member’s virtuosity. But after two or three albums, Scofield went back to fusion and experimenting, playing with a range of musicians and dabbling in various genres, creating albums that sounded absolutely superb for many like us but perhaps not what would hook the purists.

In Past Present (and that is why it is significantly named), Scofield, saxophonist Lovano, drummer Bill Stewart (who’d played on some of Scofield’s 1990s bebop compositions) and bassist Larry Grenadier, team up to deliver a jazz album that is played on traditional acoustic instruments (even Scofield’s guitar is acoustic but powered by an amplifier).

The nine tracks are like a nostalgic trip back to the bebop era of the 1940s when rock hadn’t dipped deeply into jazz’s oeuvre to borrow heavily and fusion wasn’t a word common in music. Listening to them at moderate volume levels amid Vaasa’s quietness, I couldn’t help but marvel at the greatness of members of Scofield’s minimalist ensemble.

All the compositions are Scofield’s and although they’re wrought in the upbeat bebop style, there’s something laidback and effortless about them – only musicians as good as these can make something sound so stunning without appearing to be trying hard at all! I also read that Past Present was composed by Scofield in memory of his son who died a few years back of cancer in his twenties. That added a tinge of sadness to Saturday evening’s listening session.

After Scofield, I turned to India and chose a local band from my city. When Delhi band Man.Goes Human nudged me on Twitter to check out their new self-titled album, I wasn’t sure what I was going to hear.

 Pleasant surprise: Delhi-based band Man.Goes Human has the requisite dose of originality and is refreshingly low-fi.

Pleasant surprise: Delhi-based band Man.Goes Human has the requisite dose of originality and is refreshingly low-fi.

What I got was a big and very pleasant surprise. The band, which describes itself as purveyors of “Progressive, Classic, Alternative Rock”, has everything that I look for in a band.

Their music (Noni on lead; Paul on vocals and guitar; Shitij who writes the lyrics and plays bass; and the remarkable Kaprila on vocals) has the requisite dose of originality despite the many obvious influences; what’s more, it is refreshingly low-fi and not ear-splittingly loud. That’s why they made it to my playlist. I think a Man.Goes Human gig could be worth checking out.

Download Central appears every fortnight
Download PDF

Follow @sanjoynarayan on Twitter

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

When Blak and Blu was released by Warner Bros in 2012, Gary Clark Jr became an instant sensation. Critics raved that the talented young blues guitarist and singer could be a revivalist for the genre. Clark is much more than that. If you’ve heard Blak and Blu, you know how the 31-year-old is able to take the blues, infuse it with his raucous guitar playing and easy, super-smooth style of singing, and elevate it to a level rarely heard.

Reviving the blues: Gary Clark Jr has been making waves with his raucous guitar and smooth singing. (Photos: Getty Images)

Reviving the blues: Gary Clark Jr has been making waves with his raucous guitar and smooth singing. (Photos: Getty Images)

Soon, Blak and Blu and the several gigs where the young Texan wowed audiences got him calls. Important ones — such as the one from Eric Clapton who invited him to play at his Crossroads Guitar Festival and is believed to have said that listening to Clark made him want to play the blues again. High praise came from others too: such as Buddy Guy who thinks Clark is the new saviour for the blues. And from bands such as The Rolling Stones and The Foo Fighters with whom he has also played.

Also watch: Gary Clark Jr.: Rock in Rio USA 2015

So, three years after I first heard Clark, on Blak and Blu, on a few live recordings, and in the Jon Favreau film, Chef, I couldn’t wait to listen to his second studio album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, which came out last month. I was in for a surprise.

On Gary Clark Jr's second album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, the first thing that strikes you is restraint.

On Gary Clark Jr's second album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, the first thing that strikes you is restraint.

On Blak and Blu and the other live tracks, Clark’s music is distinctive for its rawness: his guitar influences range from Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan; but also, a bit oddly for a bluesman, the power chords and distorted notes of grunge bands — in fact, in a long interview to Relix magazine, Clark mentions Nirvana as one of his influences.

On Blak and Blu, the stand-out song is When My Train Pulls In, which, I think, showcases the bluesman’s oeuvre the best. His music, even on a studio album, is like listening to a live band. Or at least that’s what I thought. Till now.

On The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, the first thing that strikes you is the restraint. For the 13 songs, recorded not in an LA studio but in his hometown in Texas, Clark dropped his band and played every instrument on his own – diving deep into the music and making an album that is more like a personal project.

The searing guitar licks do show up on the new album but it also demonstrates how deep and mature a musician the young bluesman is. Genres are hopped with ease: from R&B (on Our Love) to gospel (on Church) to funk (on Can’t Sleep). His guitar is still the biggest magnet of his music but he also shows how comfortable and versatile his vocals can be.

The a capella opening to the first song, The Healing, is deceptive — it soon segues into a high-energy scorcher. And by the time you’re halfway into the album, and listening to Hold On, a song that is clearly a response to the resurgent racism in many parts of America, you are completely hooked to Clark. Again.

Walk into the dark side: In his new solo album, Faith in the Future, the booze-soaked vocals of Craig Finn (of The Hold Steady) tell stories that aren't going to make you happy.

Walk into the dark side: In his new solo album, Faith in the Future, the booze-soaked vocals of Craig Finn (of The Hold Steady) tell stories that aren't going to make you happy.

The other album that made its way to my playlist last fortnight was Craig Finn’s (frontman of The Hold Steady) new solo album, Faith in the Future. The Hold Steady and Finn make songs that tell stories – dark, sad and odd ones – about characters that inhabit the urban underbelly. Their songs are tales about people that are treated unfortunately by circumstances.

Also watch: Craig Finn – Maggie I’ve Been Searching For Our Son

The 10 songs on the new Finn album aren’t different. His booze-soaked bar-ready vocals; the bit of reverb in the music; and the stories that aren’t going to make you happy. If you fancy a walk into the dark side, it’s a perfect album to play. I like The Hold Steady, and their 2005 album, Separation Sunday, creeps back into my playlist often. Craig’s storytelling is compelling though the stories are often disturbing. An album to play when you’re down and intend to stay there for a while. What? That doesn’t happen to you?

Craig Finn. (Photo: Getty Images)

Craig Finn. (Photo: Getty Images)

DOWN MEMORY LANE:
There are two tracks on Miles Davis’s 1970 album, A Tribute to Jack Johnson: Right Off and Yesternow; the first is nearly 27 minutes long and the second nearly 26.

Stuff of legends: There are two tracks on Miles Davis's 1970 album that are probably the finest pieces of electric jazz I've heard.

Stuff of legends: There are two tracks on Miles Davis's 1970 album that are probably the finest pieces of electric jazz I've heard.

Originally intended as a soundtrack for a documentary on the legendary black boxer, it’s probably the finest piece of electric jazz I’ve heard. Yes, finer than Bitches Brew. Oh, and who else besides the ace trumpeter is playing? Well, there’s John McLaughlin (on guitar), Herbie Hancock (on organ), and Billy Cobham (on drums). Want more? There’s also Dave Holland (on electric bass), Jack DeJohnette (on drums) and Chick Corea (on piano). Legends. Just like the album. Get a drink. Put it on. And switch off the lights.

Download Central appears every fortnight
Download PDF

Follow @sanjoynarayan on Twitter

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...
I’d never heard of jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington – \’Re Run Home\’ before reading about how his recently launched new album, The Epic, was creating waves not only among jazz fans but also transmitting ripples that are touching music lovers who’re otherwise not serious listeners of jazz.
Epic Proportions: The Epic is truly an epic album. I’d have never known about Kamasi Washington’s genius if I hadn’t decided to spring for it

Epic Proportions: The Epic is truly an epic album. I’d have never known about Kamasi Washington’s genius if I hadn’t decided to spring for it.

Then, I read (yes, read!) that I had actually heard him. He was the one who played tenor sax on Kendrick Lamar’s widely lauded new hip-hop album, Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly(the song on which Washington is credited is titled u); and on the equally acclaimed album, You’re Dead!, which is experimental multi-genre producer Flying Lotus’s new album, Washington not only played sax and keyboards but is also credited as a composer.Despite having heard both those albums several times, I’d have never known about Washington’s genius. That is, if I hadn’t decided to spring for The Epic.

Also watch: Kamasi Washington Group – Hub-Tones

The Epic is truly an epic album and I’m not being facetious when I say so. It’s a three-hour, three-CD album, with track lengths routinely reaching the 10-minute mark and a few that are nearly 15 minutes long.It’s an album that can be expected to be scarily overwhelming as well: on it, besides the 34-year-old Los Angeles jazzman’s 10-piece band (which includes two bassists, two drummers, an organ player and a pianist), there’s a full orchestra and a choir.

But it never is. It is expansive. If you expected Washington’s collaborations on Lamar’s album or on Flying Lotus – Never Catch Me’s totally unpredictable yet highly enjoyable electronica-inflected category-defying album to give you an indication of what to expect on The Epic you would be wide of the mark.The Epic is not about fusion – there’s no electronica; no hip-hop; or anything else. The Epic is a jazz album. A big jazz album.

And it takes you on a historical journey through African-American jazz through the ages but with what seems like extra long stopovers in the heady era of bebop, a style that has its roots in the 1940s and is marked by solo improvisations by talented instrumentalists.Some of the most noted bebop jazzmen include saxophonist John Coltrane, trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Bud Powell. Some would say that was the best era of American jazz. Washington’s music is frequently reminiscent of bebop but also of the cool era Miles Davis where even elaborate compositions and stunning improvisational virtuosity seem effortlessly laidback.

STAR DUST: Washington’s music is frequently reminiscent of bebop – a style popularised by jazzmen such as (clockwise from below, right) pianist Bud Powell, trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist John Coltrane
Star dust: Washington’s music is frequently reminiscent of bebop – a style popularised by jazzmen such as (clockwise from below, right) pianist Bud Powell, trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist John Coltrane.
It can be easy to focus on The Epic’s nostalgic throwback to earlier jazz styles and call Washington’s music derivative but that would be wrong.It is obvious Washington has been steeped in the influence of America’s great jazz players but his compositions (all the tracks are original) interpret those influences in a version that is singularly his: the full orchestra; the choral backing; and the big jazz band sound.

All of that blends together for the listener a wide and vibrant canvas of jazz that can be appreciated by hardcore jazz fans as well as newbies with less cultivated ears.

Few jazz albums have the ability to straddle both those ends of the listenership spectrum. The Epic certainly does.

The thrill is gone: BB King’s influence on musicians across genres and his gig-packed career cannot be overstated

The thrill is gone: BB King’s influence on musicians across genres and his gig-packed career cannot be overstated. (Photos: Getty Images)

DOWN MEMORY LANE:

You’ll likely be reading this more than a week after blues legend BB King died at 89 and would have already read the several tributes paid to him. King’s huge influence on legions of musicians across genres and his phenomenal, gig-packed career cannot be overstated.Few musicians played as many concerts as King did. In 1956, he is supposed to have played at 342 shows and even when he was well into his 70s, he routinely appeared in 200 concerts a year.

Also watch: B.B. King – Live in Dallas (1983) – Full Concert

For blues fans, King’s vast discography – his last live album was released in 2012 and the last studio recording came out in 2008 – is a treasure trove of music. Most of last week, I tried to lay my hands on some of his really early work – albums such as Singin’ the Blues (1956), Blues in My Heart (1970) and a single on a 78 rpm vinyl of the song, PLEASE LOVE ME by B B King 1953 from 1953. That last one is on YouTube and you can hear it online with the scratches and cracks and static all intact.

Download Central appears every fortnight

Follow @sanjoynarayan on Twitter

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

It’s rock that does it best for me. It can come in whatever stripe – indie, heavy metal, with an orchestra or without, with a synth or without, folk-infused, progressive… you name it. Rock is my first preference when I want to listen to music. I like the blues too and R&B, some hip-hop, some post-rock, electronic dance music even, and sometimes experimental avant garde but not as much as I like rock. But there are those occasions when nothing but a classic jazz album will work for me. At such times, my well-thumbed sleeve of Miles Davis’ 1970 double album, Bitches Brew is brought out, and spun and, in spite of the nasty scratch on Spanish Key (first track on Side 3), I marvel for the umpteenth time at the fabulousness of that towering jazz-rock fusion album, its tracks, of course, but also the deadly line-up that trumpet guru Davis got together for it. Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (6 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

A couple of weeks back, I listed five albums that stood out for me in 2012, five that I would certainly take with me into the next year. All five—Sigur Ros’s Valtari, Patti Smith’s Banga, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, Japandroids’ Celebration Rock, and Dr. John’s Locked Down—are doing heavy-duty shifts on my playlists and, I’m quite sure, shall continue to do so for a bit. But if I look back again at 2012, there are a few albums that I wish I’d spent more time with. Some of them are gems that are sitting there to be discovered. Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

When you first listen to The Tallest Man on Earth (who’s actually a 5’7” Swede named Kristian Matsson) you could be mistaken into believing that he’s probably mimicking Bob Dylan, so similar is the 29-year-old’s singing style and songwriting to the legendary musician. In fact, some critics feel exactly that way and Matsson, in his three-record career till now, has often faced that criticism—that he channels Dylan. But a closer listen to any of his albums, particularly this year’s There’s No Leaving Now, can change your perception. Hugely influenced by American folk giants such as Dylan and Woody Guthrie he may be, but Matsson’s songs are all about where he belongs and his local Swedish environment. Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

In the late eighties when Neneh Cherry first burst onto the scene with her album, Raw Like Sushi, and won two Brit awards, she promptly melted one of them and got it crafted into jewellery, some of which she gifted to other nominees in the categories she won the award for. Raw Like Sushi showcased the then still incipient trend of hip-hop and rap but with an infusion of electronica, a genre that earned it the label trip-hop. The tracks on that debut album, including two major hits, Buffalo Stance and Manchild, brought her instant fame. And, more important than that, an enviably cool image.
Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (5 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

Some bands you can only enjoy listening to them live. I’ve been listening to the Athens (Georgia) based American band, Of Montreal, for a while now. They have been around since the late 1990s and have nearly a dozen studio albums out. Their music is difficult to classify—and driven by frontman, singer and guitarist Kevin Barnes, they have fused and hopped genres as widely disparate as catchy indie pop, glam rock, experimental and psychedelic rock and deeply brooding lo-fi music. That last kind of music was what characterised Of Montreal’s 2007 album, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, a dark and very personal kind of work. I don’t know whether I was fortunate or otherwise that Hissing Fauna was the first album by the band that came my way. Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (8 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...

I think it was some time in 2002 that a tech-forward friend dropped by to show off his newly-acquired toy, an iPod. It was a first-generation model with a capacity of 10 gigabytes. That meant, he bragged to me, that he could carry in his pocket 2000 songs and listen to them via a pair of white ear-buds anywhere he wanted to. “Just listen to the sound,” he gloated, “it’s like carrying an entire library of music with you.” I was skeptical (and, I must admit, a bit of Luddite too) when I popped the ear-buds in and heard his classic rock selections. I think it was Cream’s SWLABR (which deliciously expands into She Was Like A Bearded Rainbow, circa 1967) that got piped in first and I complained about how the bass was muted; the treble was tinny and so on. “Go away and take that stupid iPod with you,” I sneered. Read more

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
Loading ... Loading ...