This popular Inkless feature is back after a long delay, thanks to no popular demand whatsoever. I’m mostly writing this post to test our new blogging software, but if you wind up reading it, there’s probably no harm done. As always, tune selection is entirely random, except I skip over tunes I don’t want to write about.
1. Eddie Henderson, “Dance Cadaverous” from Precious Moment: In the current issue of Down Beat, trumpeter Brian Lynch calls Eddie Henderson “the baddest trumpeter alive,” which made me think about it for a minute and decide it’s as true as any other such claim would be. A cross between Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard, the first trumpeter Herbie Hancock hired when he left Miles’s band in the early 1970s, Henderson is agile and smart but he never bothers to show off with facile fireworks. He prefers somber drama and melodic logic. He’s a charismatic player on an instrument that draws too many blowhards.
2. Arcade Fire, “Black Mirror” from Neon Bible: Not one of the very best tunes on Arcade Fire’s second album, but Win’s urgent voice and the tune’s simple structure — it’s a four-bar turnaround, like the last four bars of a Tin Pan Alley tune, endlessly repeated — make it beguiling. More broadly, was it only a year ago that so many of us were urgently trying to decide whether Neon Bible was a success? Sure it was. These songs hold up fine.
3. Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 13 “Quasi una fantasia,” 2nd Movement, by Alfred Brendel: I still don’t know overmuch about classical pianists but Brendel always satisfies, tidy and impeccable, never over-selling a tune’s dramatics. Here he doesn’t need to; in a short, simple but fiery movement, Beethoven is plenty dramatic enough.
4. James Hunter, “People Gonna Talk” from People Gonna Talk: British R&B singer reaches different conclusions than most of his countrymen and -women when he looks back to the ’60s in determinedly retro fashion: instead of histrionics (think Joss Stone, if you must) he prefers elegance and wit. A mid-tempo ballad with string quartet, suave tenor sax, and Hunter’s gorgeous, wistful vocals.
5. Suzanne Vega, “New York is a Woman” from Beauty & Crime: In case you were wondering what she’d been up to. Much the same, really: literate, mentholated folk-pop, here wrapped in subtle but lovely horn arrangements. This tune offers a simple metaphor for the casually heartless way a big city can break a well-meaning newcomer: “New York is a woman, she’ll make you cry/ And to her you’re just another guy.”
6. Kanye West, “Stronger (Andrew Dawson Remix):” The latest single, or at least the latest one an old guy like me has heard, in an up-tempo, less techno, more naturalistically rocking remix. Great for the gym, or it will be if I get to one.
7. Living Colour, “Type” from Pride: Vernon Reid and the guys opened with this one at the New Morning last summer, in one of the three or four finest musical moments of my year in Paris. A brilliant group, a true rock band but smarter than the next 10 bands put together, built on drummer Wil Calhoun’s big foot, Vernon’s mighty guitar and, in this case at least, lyrics that are evocative without being as leadenly didactic as on some other Living Colour tunes: “We are the children of concrete and steel/ This is the place where the truth is concealed/ This is the time when the lie is revealed/ Everything is possible but nothing is real.”
8. The Who, “I Can See For Miles”: I don’t even know whether that’s Keith Moon on drums or whether he was already history; I’m not really familiar with this band’s story. They were just in the air, growing up in Southwestern Ontario (or, one presumes, anywhere else on Earth) in the 1970s. What’s striking about this piece is how it’s barely there: the drummer’s relentless sixteenth-note crescendos, more reactive than planned by the sound of them, Townsend’s one-note riff on the chorus, and acres of open space where it’s clear nobody’s entirely sure how to keep the tune going. Other Who hits were more meticulously plotted; this one’s just a glorious mess.
9. Steps Ahead, “Self Portrait” from Modern Times: I had a band in high school that played this doleful ballad, lifted from a 1983 album by a pop-jazz super-group that started out with an all-acoustic ethos but was, by this point, already throwing some studio electronics into the mix. Here synthesized eighth-note arpeggios on a sequencer push the momentum forward; Peter Erskine on drums, Mike Mainieri on vibraphone and the great Michael Brecker on tenor saxophone provide the dignified eloquence of pros in an environment of mutual respect. I’ve been listening to this piece since high school, I can sing every note of Brecker’s solo (to myself, if you’re lucky), and I’m not done listening yet.
10. John Hiatt, “Stood Up” from Bring the Family: “I stood up for the first time when I was just 11 months old/ And ever since that day my mama said I never done what I was told/ I never stood for nothin’ too much, all through my schoolin’ years/ Well, I stood as much as I could stand, I guess that’s why I’m still standing here/ And I stood up when love called my name/ I stood up, even when that love was all in vain/ I got stood up once, and left out in the pourin’ rain/ But I stood up. And I’d do it again.”