This isn’t what comes up randomly on my iPod. It’s a belated reply to Doug Bell, who at the very wonderful 10th-anniversary secret samizdat non-league-sanctioned National Post anniversary party asked what I’m listening to lately. I froze: it’s almost always a hard question to answer, because the answer is almost always a lot. Belatedly, Doug, here’s what’s stuck in memory and the heart lately.
1. Mop Mop, Kiss of Kali. An entertaining hybrid of old-fashioned, pre-bop jazz and modern dance-floor grooves from an Italian band named after an old Louis Jordan tune. Nothing brilliant, but plenty of stylish faux-hipster dance beats.
2. Stanley Turrentine and the Three Sounds, Blue Hour. A nearly perfect album, and an old library staple that has come back into rotation, these 1960 sessions paired the towering saxophonist Turrentine with a canny and apt rhythm section under the direction of pianist Gene Harris. The material is a set of standards that includes no literal 12-bar blues, but strikes a blue mood at every turn. Tempos are relaxed — no, disciplined: at every bar you can imagine the hectic fireworks a lesser band would have resorted to, where this one sticks to a deeply reflective mood. If I’m not listening much to younger jazz musicians these days, it’s because almost no young musician would even find the dark mysteries of these sessions interesting, which only shows that practitioners can sometimes get lost, far away from what matters to the listener.
3. Miguel Zenon, Awake. Not that we must eschew all young jazzmen. Zenon is a MacArthur grant recipient and a former David Sanchez sideman and Branford Marsalis protegé who is fast moving past any need for his elders’ patronage. With a plummy alto saxophone tone and a bottomless well of ideas for orchestrating the efforts of his quartet in tidy but unfussy arrangements, the young Puerto Rican is streets ahead of most in his generation for heart, smarts and imagination.
4. Rafal Blechacz, Sonatas. In 2005 Blechacz, now 23, was the first Polish pianist in 30 years to win his country’s prestigious Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. He is said to have pummelled the competition, not only with technical facility but with a keen ear for musical detail. He promptly recorded some Chopin. But now for his second CD he turns his attention to the classical sonata as propounded by.. well, by the cats: late Haydn, early Beethoven, eternal Mozart. He’s still a very young man, and his playing lacks the sombre weight of my favourite old-man pianist, Alfred Brendel. But Blechacz (pronounced “unpronounceable”) thinks so carefully about articulation and architecture that the result is clear-eyed, modest and riveting. I keep coming back to the slow movements; in his hands they cut like a stiletto.
5. The Futureheads, “Hounds of Love (New Mix).” I know nothing about this UK post-punk band, but their 2004 cover of Kate Bush’s great 1987 tune is sick. Here’s a Youtube.
6. Jordan O’Connor, LeBreton. I posted about this album, available utterly free for download from the Toronto bassist’s website, in July. It has not gone out of rotation, far from it. People sometimes write to warn me against abusing the awesome power I have been granted as a Press Pundit, and I think: awesome power? Pfeh. If I can’t even make a guy famous for recording two of the most beautiful pieces of music I have heard in 30 years (the other, Cash Cow’s When We Were Little Girls, is also free, cut up into tune-sized pieces, here), then I got nothing anybody needs to worry about. What are you waiting for? Beauty. Free. Go.
7. Jeff Healey, “The Weight,” from Mess of Blues. If you have to go, go in style.