Monday, November 2, 2009

30 Minutes Over Tokyo - 2009 A Jazz Odyssey





"I'm a sprightly 31 years of age, living in Tokyo with my lovely Japanese wife, a child of grunge and Britpop, I now listen to a wide wide range of stuff (except Jazz and classical - but i'm willing to give 'em a try) my specialist subjects (if this were mastermind) would be obscure and forgotten Britpop never-were's, and the current US psychedelic drone underground which I love to bits. This week i've been listening to a LOT of Metallica!"

This is a (rather embarrassing) extract from my original e-mail to Blimpy upon becoming a Spiller.Well, I was true to my word, although I haven't gone into classical territory yet. Before joining the Spill I had never, not once, deliberately listened to any jazz at all. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
But along came Radio Abahachi and a small spark was lit, the timing of it was combined with an unexplained urge that made me get Miles Davis' "Live at Fillmore East" CD out of the library.

I wasn't hooked instantly, but I found something that definitely connected and I made a silent promise to try to find out more about the mystery that was "jazz". I kept my eyes and ears open to any mention of jazz on RR and the 'Spill and quietly went about investigating the weird and wonderful names via the wonder of Wikipedia.

I still didn't really know where to start with such a big genre, so I headed to the shop in the picture which is 3 storeys (+ a seperate all vinyl floor) of nothing but jazz. This first visit I didn't buy anything, but spent about a hour and a half in the shop methodically going through each section and familiarising myself with the exotic titles, names, record labels and getting to grips with the whole aesthetic; colours, fonts, style; (mostly) young (mostly) black men looking improbably cool.

The next time I went back, I picked up a copy of Ornette Coleman's "The Shape Of Jazz To Come", this was a calculated purchase based upon my background reading thus far, I was looking for the link between the improvised noise of Lightning Bolt and the musicality of Jazz . I excitedly took it home and dropped the needle (every jazz album i've bought so far has been on secondhand vinyl, mostly for under a fiver, not counting the odd download and the Blue Note compilation albums I got from the library), readying myself for the anarchy and chaos I had read about.....it didn't come, but I did discover a beautifully mournful sound that made me make another personal pledge to buy one jazz album a month, just to keep the interest up and hopefully discover some new tunes.

I stuck with this for a couple of months, but around March or April after getting some great tips from a jazz-lovin' friend in Canada, it started to snowball and I got bitten by the jazz bug! The classics (and not so classic) came thick and fast; Duke Ellington (thanks Goneforeign) Cannonball Adderly (cheers nilpferd), Sonny Rollins, Wynton Kelly, anything and everything on Germany's FMP Records and soon I was buying not one, but three or four jazz albums a month!

My jazz collection, has then, ballooned from zero to a small collection (it would have been at least double what it is if it hadn't been a credit crunched year). I still remain a complete sophist in this vast and complex ocean, but I am enjoying the journey so far and am looking forward to the next turn. Any tips and recommendations from all you knowledgeable jazzers out there are always welcome and will be greeted with grateful enthusiasm.

Here is just a small selection of some of the wonderful music I have discovered over the past year that has caught my ear and taught me to re-evaluate the way I listen to music.

**Pre-posting Edit**
After writing all of the above I have decided (possibly against my better judgement!) to turn the playlist into a full on podcast, maybe the journey needs to be explained in a little more detail....here goes my no doubt poor attempt.......


30 MOT - 2009: A Jazz Odyssey Part 1
30 MOT - 2009: A Jazz Odyssey Part 2

22 comments:

nilpferd said...

Great cast, JP, and very interesting. As regards the "hearing each instrument" revelation, I'd say I had exactly the opposite experience- listening to jazz with my dad I was made aware very early of which instrument was playing when, and developed the habit of focusing on the solos. For me the key breakthrough as a kid was being able to tell the alto and tenor saxophones of Adderley and Coltrane apart on the Kind of Blue album, in itself not too difficult, though there are moments on Milestones where they trade shots- I think on Dr. Jackyll- and it is hard to pick who is who.
This can be a tyranny in itself, though- I'd say what I missed out on then was appreciation of the "overall sound", so that I only later became able to appreciate music which was more about creating soundscapes, such as Miles' later electronic bands or Weather Report, or songs which were lyrically strong and less musically distinctive- previously I'd have dismissed this music because it lacked clearly defined solos. Equally, a lot of my early indie listening was focused on those bands which had strongly melodic songs and clearly defined instrumentation, such as The Smiths, The The, or The Go-betweens.
I didn't pay any attention to the liner notes on Somethin' Else either, by the way, nor am I able to translate that description into a sound in my head. But I can hum Somethin' Else.
Particularly liked your closing track, btw. Reminds me of Dave Holland's eighties bands with Kevin Eubanks and Steve Coleman. In fact, saxophonist Chris Potter, who played on the same Okazaki album, was also in Holland's band recently. Lastly, I see Okazaki's latest release includes a track called "Moon"..

Abahachi said...

Looking forward to hearing this when I can get a moment's peace, and feeling very envious of your three floors of jazz...

Japanther said...

thanks nilpferd - I felt a bit under-qualified to be talking about it, but I hope I got my story across.

The focusing on the individual instrument thing really was a complete revelation, and it's interesting that you had the opposite experience..I think my music tastes now would be completely different if I had come at it from the other direction too.

glad you liked the Okazaki track, it was one of those lucky accidents where I followed a series of links and managed to get a download that I really really liked..

goneforeign said...

Japanther: What a coincidence! I spent much of yesterday thinking about you. I'd read your comment at John Fordham's and your earlier plea re. saxaphones and I decided to act on it. I put together a playlist that I think is great! It should make true believers of the most anti jazz or indifferent people around, BUT, when I went to Podbean they'd changed the format, wouldn't let me in, so I went to Dropbox and am currently struggling with how to make my post play here. I literally woke up at 2am thinking about this problem. The posting is complete, all the tracks are MP3'd, all my notes are written, it should have been up last night, you're mentioned. I'll persevere.
Great post, most interesting, I look forward to finishing mine so I can listen to your podcast.

nilpferd said...

JP- I don't think qualified or unqualified comes into it, your thoughts are as valid as anyone's on the subject. Basically listening to the music and describing your response to it needs no apologies. I really needed to break out of my fixation with soloists and musical ability in order to widen my horizons, whereas you've widened yours through developing that appreciation, but there were other things you were already getting out of music which I'm only just learning myself, so I'd put no value judgement on either route. I liked the way you went after a particular sound and also had an idea of what you were expecting with Ornette, for example- even if it turned out to sound quite different. Often it's these quite abstract things which get you hooked on new stuff.

goneforeign said...

A sidenote on your mention of classical. One Saturday morning in about 1965 I walked to the store and en route I passed a garage sale where a bloke was selling off all his unwanted gear. He was a DJ and consequently had dozens of free LP's that he was selling for $1 each. I saw a box set of Leonard Bernstein's NY Phil recordings of Mahler's 2nd, 4th. and 5th, I bought it for $1. Best music buy I ever made, I knew nothing of him prior to that but he came to dominate my musical taste for a while. The Second symphony is what did it, now I have several versions plus everything else that he ever wrote, pop for one of his albums, anything between the first and the fifth for starters or better yet check the library. The last movement of the second will make a believer of you, it did me.

Blimpy said...

@japanther - i felt the same way when i heard "th shape of" for the first time. i'd run off find it after it featured on the bbc4 jazz programme - and it wasn;t quite the chaos and anarchy, as you said. hearing it again, i liked it more. shame there's not a good record shop near where I live.

Blimpy said...

@jazzpanther - excellent podcast - hearing about your journey really was excellent. sounds like you're a bit further down that road than me, but it is a track I'm taking.

Abahachi said...

Great stuff (especially the FMP tracks, neither of which I'd hearrd before); I'm now thinking that I really ought to do a reciprocal podcast, talking about the amazing music that I've discovered since coming on here regularly, letting slip the jazz fanaticism a little and listening to a whole range of things that I'd never encountered before.

Similarly, I don't have too much context for some of this stuff, it just speaks to me - which must be the key thing about any great music. I can do quite a lot of the deranged harmonic theory stuff, and find it fascinating - but it's only ever a starting point, a way of breaking out of relatively predictable progressions and scales, to create something new and exciting. Yes, I would indeed make the claim that bebop, modal jazz and free jazz were all doing essentially the same thing with different means. The main message of George Russell's headache-inducing Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, which I once spent a day reducing to a precis in plain English, is that there are sound musicological grounds for just going with what you feel - any note can sound good with any chord - but any note can sound wrong, even the 'correct' note, so it really is all about whether the whole thing sounds right.

BloodyJazz said...

@japanther
Excellent post! Your musical journey was ear-opening.
Synchronicity abounds - or do I mean 'Nothing propinks like propinquity'?
- anyway I'm thrilled that jazz is alive and growing here.

steenbeck said...

Super duper duper can't wait to listen to your podcast. I feel like I'm in a similar place. Just discovering jazz through hip hop samples, Nilpferd, Ejay, goneforeign...

And I love what I'm learning...

Japanther said...

thanks for the nice comments everyone....and i'm glad i'm not the only one taking the same track.

I think that when I was younger (I know, I know, i'm still a youngster) I deliberately didn't want to be influenced by anybody and thought that finding my own kind of music was the cool thing, but the thing that I love about the 'Spill is that people are open to all kinds of ideas and music, it has made me do a complete 360 degrees turn and I now go out of my way to pick up recommendations and allow myself to be swayed and influenced by people with an obvious passion for it, and this can only be a good thing.

@Abahachi - probably my terrible explanations and mumblings, but just to clarify; only the second of the free jazz tracks was from FMP records. It's Arndt & Kussatz from an album called "Working"

May1366 said...

Japanther - just about to fire up part one, but even without hearing it, this is a truly heartwarming post. It's not that everyone should get into jazz - really, it's not! - but what I would definitely wish on everyone is to have an experience like the feeling of epiphany you get when jazz starts to make sense and this nameless, largely voiceless, sometimes formless mass of sound starts to become as real, familiar and loved as your own friends and family.
As I've probably mentioned before, I teach creative writing to University students and today my first year group had their first session in writing poetry. My way of getting them to clear their heads and find something they might want to write a poem about is to play the Abdullah Ibrahim track, Water From An Ancient Well, and getting them to write what they want for its duration, whether in response to the music or not. A couple were reminded of scenes from movies or music videos, one or two wrote about being in a jazz club, someone went on a journey from sorrowful nostalgia to optimism and hope, someone else didn't like the music but it reminded her of a trendy cafe back home in the States, someone else wanted the track for a ringtone with the intention of never answering his phone and just letting it ring. And I love that way this music can agitate and disrupt yet always be whatever the listener finds to make of it.
Excellent podcast so far, JP - particularly love your preamble to the Miles track. Very refreshing to hear your discoveries broken down and analysed in this way - it's easy to wave a muso flag when you've been listening to jazz as long as I have but this was a process I went through once and, hearing you, I feel 19 again, for which I can only be thankful!

ejaydee said...

In the middle of the first free jazz track, but I loved your epiphany story about Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud (Lift To The Scafold/Elevator to the Gallows works just as well). I'll be back after I finish pt 2.

Japanther said...

thanks for listening May and Ejay - as I said, any pointers and recommendations are most welcome...

@May1366 - I did get one Roland Kirk LP after your recommendation (and Mnemonics helpful sample) and really liked it, so anything along those lines would be great..

May1366 said...

JP - having heard both parts of the 'cast, I've got to thank you again for (along with goneforeign) providing some great listening last night. Glad you liked the Roland Kirk, and obviously even more Roland Kirk would be a good way to follow that up. But if you want to find more examples of musicians who sat in between free and straight-ahead jazz, with an awareness of other musical strands, I'd flag up some names from the 1970s New York "Loft Scene". I've mentioned James Blood Ulmer, the guitarist, on gf's sax thread, and probably the most prominent graduate of this scene is the saxophonist, David Murray. Other names to look out for: James Newton (flute); Arthur Blythe (alto sax); George Adams (sax, great associate of Ulmer); Henry Threadgill (another sax and the leader of the fabulously named Very Very Circus); Don Pullen (piano); Butch Morris (cornet, but also important for his Conduction orchestra, developing the idea of collective improvisation); Hamiet Bluitt (baritone sax); Cecil McBee (bass); Frank Lowe (tenor sax). Worth dipping into, if only to find out where the music went after Coltrane and the free jazzers, and arguably Jimi Hendrix as well, had exploded all notions of what the sound of jazz could be.
Another to be filed under "quirky but cool": the Lounge Lizards, led by soprano saxophonist and sometime actor, John Lurie (appeared in some Jim Jarmusch films and David Lynch's Wild At Heart).
I think much of this stuff is, as they say, big in Japan - or at least, you may have better luck tracking down recordings by these musicians than we have over here. A mate and I interviewed David Murray once and he talked of how, as an industry and as audience, Japan accorded him a status not always forthcoming in the US. In fact, is the massive record shop of which you speak called Disk Union? Because that's where Murray's Japanese label, DIW records, was founded.

goneforeign said...

about the first cut on part two, it was awful! I quit listening at that point since I couldn't fast-forward through it. Perhaps I'll have a go at finding your comments about it, I'm curious to know why you chose to post it.
OK, that's it, I'm glad you're enjoying your search, there's so much to enjoy.

goneforeign said...

JP: I finally listened to your podcast, or at least as far as you anticipated.
I'm glad you found something to appreciate with Duke, that piece was from very early in his career but there's clues re. the approach he'll take for the rest of his life. That was a very young Johnny Hodges soloing, nothing close to the tone and style that he later evolved to. And the title: It don't mean a thing if it don't have that swing", a perfect title for a musical philosophy; 'swing' is that indefinable something that you feel or sense in true jazz, it might be like listening to Art Tatum play a Chopin piece compared to Horowitz, there'd be no doubt who was who even though both played identical notes.
Re. reading: LP liner notes were my favorite source for many years, I'd get as much enjoyment out of reading them as listening to the music, I usually did them both simultaneously. I don't understand how the record company that's in it for the money allows such nonsense as you read to appear on their sleeves; those who understand that don't need it, the rest of us are turned off by it.
We had that music books thread some time back, I recently updated mine to add all those originally missed and to make it comprehensive, in the realm of jazz there's 51 books, 2 are devoted to jazz appreciation/theory/history, the rest are profiles of musicians! The understanding is in the music not in scholarly texts.
I hope the NPR music page that you found is the one devoted to Jazz Profiles, they have a huge archive of very thorough and complete excellent 60 min. documentaries of almost every jazz icon, just in case here's the site:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10208861&ps=sa
Finally you were correct in guessing how I'd feel towards the first cut on part two, it was awful! I quit listening at that point since I couldn't fast-forward through it. Perhaps I'll have a go at finding your comments about it, I'm curious to know why you chose to post it.
OK, that's it, I'm glad you're enjoying your search, there's so much to enjoy.

ejaydee said...

Re: Rahsaan Roland Kirk, here's an album by him, a biit of a concept album actually. Not sure it's the best by him, but I like it.
http://whatsinmyipod.blogspot.com/2008/07/rahsaan-roland-kirk-case-of-three-sided.html

Japanther said...

@May - thanks a lot for the tips, another list of names i've never heard of to explore at leisure, cheers!
Yes, Disk Union is the shop. It's an independent chain of shops scattered around Tokyo in genre-specific branches and floors and they stock a lot of secondhand CDs and vinyl all pretty cheap, one of my favourite places!

@GF - Thanks for listening, I knew you wouldn't be down with everything, but the sheer diversity is one of the things I like about jazz. And I love liner notes too, i've got a lot of info. and leads to other musicians from reading them, and as you say, reading and listening is the way to do it! Yes, that's the NPR page i've been using. The documentaries are excellent, informative, detailed and easily accessible even for a novice like me, and as mentioned, they really help as i'm trying to teach myself to focus on individual instruments and individual musicians' playing, which is pretty hard for me to do at the moment, but i'm getting there....
...also as you didn't hear the end, you might like to know that I closed the podcast with a quote from the Kind Of Blue liner notes where Bill Evans compares improvisation in jazz to the art of Japanese calligraphy (Shodo), this is the perfect analogy for me.

Japanther said...

@ejaydee - thanks for the link. You know, I very nearly bought this exact record last week! I had it in my hand in the record shop...but got distracted by something else. Looking forward to it

steenbeck said...

Great podcast, Japanther. I stopped listening halfway through the second part, not because of the free-jazziness of it (though I have to admit I don't really get it) but because I had to pick Malcolm up from school. Haven't had a chance to finish yet. But I wanted to tell you how entertaining and elucidating I found it. Isaac taught me a new dance to go with the Cannonball Adderley track, where one part of you goes, and one part of you doesn't.

Anyway, thanks for this. I liked hearing your thoughts on listening to music, and how you hear it. It's hard to describe those things (for me, anyway) and I felt like I knew what you meant, if you know what I mean.

And do you think you could post some examples of the current US psychedelic drone underground? Sounds intriguing to me.