In an effort to keep myself honest, I am going to try and record for posterity (or whatever the bloggy equivalent of posterity is) every CD I purchase from now on. I am sure that my wife must look at all the entries for “amazon.com” on our credit card statement and wonder what on earth I’ve been buying. Well, mainly books, actually. But some music, too. It will be interesting to see whether my public confessions lessen the guilt I feel every time I tear open another one of those little brown parcels that the nice UPS man delivers. Probably not. Still, maybe this will at least get her to read my blog so she’ll know what I’ve been up to.
So, anyway, first up: Andy Sheppard, Movements in Colour (ECM).
I’ve always liked Andy Sheppard. He rose to prominence at the end of the 80s as one of the young British lions of jazz. His first album, an eclectic, intense and rather beautiful affair which featured Randy Brecker on some tracks to excellent effect, still gets plenty of play time on my CD player. I was on my way to see him play in Marlborough with my then girlfriend (this would have been in 1990, I think) when she crashed her car, skidding off the road in the rain. We missed the gig, which upset me. But I digress.
Sheppard’s sound is still instantly recognizable – nimble and fat-toned on tenor, sweet and wispy on soprano. He has been playing with Carla Bley for some years – I especially liked this recording. This CD is his first release on the ECM label. Unusually, he uses two guitarists on the recording (Eivind Aarset and John Parricelli), but perhaps the most noticeable presence other than the leader’s is that of Tablaist Kuljit Bhamra. The percussionist, accomplished though he obviously is, seemed a little high in the mix for my taste, and all those eastern-tinged rhythms had the unfortunate effect of making many of the tracks sound rather similar.
There is much to admire here. Themes are simple and spare and often beautiful; Sheppard is as snappy and propulsive as ever on the faster numbers, and his ballad playing is gorgeous and liquid. The band is excellent, of course, Parricelli in particular. And yet I couldn’t help wondering when things were going to take off. Overall it left me rather unmoved.
Oh dear. I rue the day I discovered the Mosaic Records website. I want everything they sell. They (beautifully) repackage and reissue old and often neglected recordings of both superstars and lesser-known artists, all with the same love and attention to detail. Liner notes are superb. On the really sexy boxed sets (like the Lester Young and Count Basie treasure trove, above) they produce vast, wonderful books with history, track-by-track analysis, and glorious photos, to boot. There is nothing better than curling up on the sofa to listen to this stuff for a few hours.
The Young/Basie boxed set is glorious. Young is perhaps the quintessential jazz icon – a certified musical genius, certainly, but almost as well known for his vulnerabilities and strange idiosyncrasies. He was a quite different player from, say, Coleman Hawkins – less muscular and altogether more elliptical in his approach to rhythms and harmonies. His improvisations were supple and brilliantly unpredictable. It was his unique melodic conception and a focus on the sound he made with his horn that made him such an influential figure. His stint in the Basie band represented here, from 1936 to 1940, was in many ways the making of him, and the 84 tracks on these four CDs are an absolute joy. In addition to Prez, there are also the unending delights offered by the drumming of Jo Jones, Basie’s laconic piano, and one of the swingingest bands there ever was. Throw in knowledgeable and voluminous notes on every track by Loren Schoenberg, and it’s hard to know how this could have been bettered. Priceless.