Let the Beat Build #27: February 2015
Spotify: Let the Beat Build #27: January 2015
Diversions: LTBB #27 Diversions
1. “Jungle Drums” - Sidney Bechet and his Orchestra
JW: Okay, my plan here is to move in chronological order from the early days of jazz and blues, gospel and soul, funk and rap and perhaps, maybe a little R&B, all the way up to the present, or at least wherever we get to, without going backward. Truth be told, I have favorites: Delta Blues, Bebop and Hard Bop, Soul, Queensbridge Rap. But I will push my boundaries on genre. This won’t be a Ken Burns survey, but it will be a good mix. I have no doubts.
2. “See See Rider Blues” - Ma Rainey
KW: Most of the really early blues and jazz I know was recorded in the 30s. I dug back a little before Bessie Smith and came up with Ma Rainey. Bessie Smith will show up in a minute. It’s easy to hear where Robert Plant picked up some of his steez, but it’s also reminding me of something you might hear on a Velvet Underground record. Great poets steal, they say. The swagger of this song, which doesn’t even have drums as far as I can tell, is undeniable.
3. “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine” - Blind Willie Johnson
JW: His throat sounds like his slide. Occasionally I hear Tom Waits. There’s a fun album I found called The Roots of Led Zepplin. The beauty of Zepplin’s “thefting” of these masters is that they took it and made it their own. Just as everyone was playing the same standards, playing Summertime or John the Revelator, sometimes the originality is in the flavor, not the dish. Or something like that.
4. “High Water Everywhere (Part 1)” - Charley Patton
KW: I got into Charley Patton because of Dylan’s song “High Water (For Charley Patton).” The term “soul shouter” comes to mind listening to Patton, and Blind Willie Johnson too. Soul shouting is my jam.
5. “Black Betty” - Lead Belly
JW: There are so many songs I’d like to hear live. Not live at a concert, but wherever they’re being sung naturally. This is at the top of the list. It’s mesmerizing. But, don’t make the mistake I did and then listen to the Ministry version, out of curiosity. It is not the cure for what ails you.
6. “Blue Ghost Blues” - Lonnie Johnson
KW: My friend Gerry Hundt (Chicago blues musician) once told me that everyone seems to fixate on Robert Johnson, but really more people should check out Lonnie Johnson. He’s a hell of a guitarist, a major inspiration on Robert Johnson. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like when all these musicians were working the same places at the same time, inspiring each other, ripping each other off, bringing the fucking house down, and so on. JW: “Janet Jackson? Look more like Freddy Jackson!”
7. “Fascinating Rhythm” - Milt Hinton
JW: I know virtually nothing about Milt Hinton. I had a double bass yen a month or so ago, and I lurked Spotify like you might Facebook: Friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. Looks like Milt Hinton was everywhere. I guess each instrument speaks? I think I’m drawn to the language of the double bass. Once again, I wish I knew how to play music. Forever sad.
8. “Reefer Man” - Cab Calloway
KW: For all I know, it’s Milt on the bass in this cut. Cab did some great stuff, lived a long time, and played with everyone (the same way that Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis seemed to play with everyone). I had never heard this one until researching the 1930s just now.
9. “In Walked Bud” - Thelonius Monk
JW: One of the things that I often forget is that jazz standards sometimes have words. Some have had words in the first recording, some don’t. Some compositions evolved out of field singing, oral history or gospel. My experience is so abstracted since the early history of jazz comes at me all at once, decades after the fact. I lose track of the origins and order. Some lyrics get added to the composition in future iterations and appropriations. There are lyrics to this song, and they’re kind of funny. They paint a picture. They give the vocalist space to shine as an instrument, especially with fills/solo. But, at the end of the day, I like this version better without them.
10. “My Favorite Things” - John Coltrane
KW: Maybe if Miles Davis turned “Landslide” into a monumental jazz standard, that would be about the only turnaround that could top what Coltrane did to “My Favorite Things.” That’s probably an exaggeration. I don’t dislike The Sound of Music as much as I dislike “Landslide.”
11. “Lee’s Tune” - Art Blakey
JW: This song sounds like West Side Story brought its A-game to a rap battle and got “bodied”. This sound swings. And if you get me zooted, I will dance to it. Move the furniture.
12. “Reza” - Elvin Jones Trio
KW: Elvin Jones casts a long, long shadow over drummers. You find a great drummer, ask about influences, it’s pretty likely (if the drummer is actually any good) that Elvin Jones makes that list. Now let’s get some Miles Davis in here so we can get to Grandmaster Flash.
13. "Sivad" - Miles Davis
JW: As you wish. I went straight to www.whosampled.com to see what Miles Davis is sampled in which rap songs. I was kind of surprised by how few rapmasters showed respect through homage. Naturally Premier was in there. But X-Ecutioners caught my eye. They're pretty dope. I've been listening to Evil all week now. KW: Every time I hear early seventies Miles I think of Band of Gypsys. It’s like the association is welded into my brain. Oh shit, at 6:34 into this track I heard the source of the loop in Outkast’s “Ain’t No Thang.”
14. “Jazzy Sensation” - Afrika Bambataa & the Jazzy 5
KW: It’s a shame that so much of the really early hip hop went unrecorded. I dug around a bit looking for any really early DJs (Kool Herc, even Grandmaster Flash) that cut records during the seventies, and didn’t find much--seems like a lot of early hip hop didn’t make it to wide release until around 1984, or didn’t make it to release at all. But this is a rad 1981 track that was sampled and copied by everybody. It’s got something in common with that laid back “Sivad” groove too.
15. “MC Battle at the Dixie” - Busy Bee vs. Rodney Cee
JW: I am reminded of taking Kang Peng on a Hip Hop Audio Walking Tour of the South Bronx. Explaining how MC’ing and battling began on the black top and the community amphitheater, and walking through the Soundview Houses really drew a line straight through rap back to the oral history of the Blues. This month’s playlist started by referencing heritage rhythms, then heritage vocal and lyrical styles. Blind Willie Johnson through Lonnie Johnson showed how reworking canon, both style and Standards (if you look at the Diversions List) stretches and extends the reach and variations of familiar tropes. Monk and Coltrane starting ripping the Standards and tropes, sometimes appropriating, sometimes remixing, sometimes homaging, always evolving. Miles of course breaks, glues, twists, explodes, liquifies and knuckleballs that whole thing making a bridge for something totally different. We jump to an 80’s where technology and social restraints teach a whole new way to do all those things, and then we stop, not end, at a Neo-basic level of communication. Shared experience, shared tropes, taking, making, revisiting, retooling, showing and proving. The month moved fast. There’s SO MUCH more to explore, remember and reference. But what a totally interesting exquisite corpse we’ve curated this time. Never a “greatest hits”. Always a great Voltron.