Week ending 16 May 2020: jazz vloggers and YouTubers

Another week, another Cosmic Jazz. For those of us who like some jazz in our lives, these seem like particularly rich times. Of course, there is no real substitute for live music, but if you’re confined to home then this seems like the ideal time to explore the numerous jazz blogs, websites and Youtube videos out there. So – not really a virtual show this week but instead music inspired by my internet exploration of two of these vlogs.

We’re trawling that deep space online where you never know what you’ll find. Let’s begin with a virtual record store and review site – The ‘In’ Groove is a record store in Phoenix, Arizona that also supplies online, with owner Mike Esposito also taking time out to do video reviews – like this one about his favourite jazz records. Mike is a hifi retailer too and so his focus is on records that sound good – I like the anecdote of the listener who thought that Take Five sounded “too good.” Of course, all of Mike’s choices are of the audiophile variety but there’s some music here that all jazz fans should have. One interesting choice is from saxophonist Nathan Davis on the French Sam label – here’s a promo video for the 3LP live recording. Davis was one of those African-American jazz artists who found himself more accepted and respected in the postwar jazz scene in Paris. Woody Shaw and Kenny Clarke were also part of this set, and you can hear them with Davis on this lovely version of Sconsolato that didn’t make it onto Davis’ 1965 record Peace Treaty, an excellent album and now about to be reissued on the Sam label with that bonus track.

Mike also includes a Three Blind Mice record – a rare label to find in the UK but one revered here in Singapore. It hails from Japan and majors on incredible recording quality – one of my go-to stores here, The Analog Vault, has the Impex re-release box set available for SGD$330 – but it is a 6 record set… For a taste of audiophile nirvana, strap on your best headphones and listen to Aqua Marine from the Isao Suzuki Quartet. Also included in this Best of… list is (predictably) Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959) and Thelonious Monk’s 1963 album Monk’s Dream. You can find both regular and audiophile titles at The Analog Vault and my favourite store here in Singapore, The Jazz Loft.

Ken Micallef reviews jazz records for Downbeat and Jazz Times magazines and also writes for Stereophile magazine. But perhaps he’s best known for his quirky, opinionated Youtube channel posts. His love of jazz is deep and knowledgable and the vlogs from his New York apartment are a great listen. Here he is extolling the virtues of some ‘jazz through the cracks‘ – records that are not well known but well worth a listen. There’s so many records here that are worth looking out for if you’re able to go crate digging. How about this lovely version of Chick Corea’s Litha on the first record Micallef mentions – Stan Getz’s Sweet Rain from 1967… Getz is with Corea on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Grady Tate on drums – what’s not to like? Micallef also features new jazz artists, in this instance flautist Nicole Mitchell. Her Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds album from 2017 is new jazz to explore. Recorded live at the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Chicago in 2015, there’s an Art Ensemble of Chicago feel to the complex instrumentation, dominant percussion and attendant freedoms given to the players. Check out the opening track Egoes War for a taste of this brilliant, if challenging, record. Easier listening comes from another Micallef recommendation – pianist Tommy Flanagan’s Overseas album, recorded in Stockholm in 1957 and reissued thirty years later (with extra tracks) in 1987 on the Japanese DIW label. Flanagan’s take on Charlie Parker’s Relaxin’ at Camarillo just swings – and that’s Elvin Jones you can hear on brushes. Spend time with Macallef – you’ll learn a lot and come away with some great record recommendations.

Stereophile magazine itself is – of course – available in print and digital versions and there’s much in the latter to entertain any music lover. I particularly like the annual R2D4 (Records to Die For) lists with mini-reviews that encourage you to explore further – and often well outside your genre comfort zone. The best music writing is the kind that persuades you to listen and/or buy, and Stereophile writer do this – often rather too frequently for comfort…

As a New Yorker article from 2018 made clear, “vinyl offers the joys of possessorship: if you go to a store, talk to other music lovers, and buy a record, you are committing to your taste, to your favorite group, to your friends” – and I think that’s any record store buyer’s experience. It is not the same as the simple internet click to secure your latest download. Can you remember where you were when you bought a favourite download? It’s unlikely. In contrast, most vinyl lovers can remember clearly when and where they purchased their most treasured records. The New Yorker piece indicated that those young people buying vinyl now have joined up with two sets of people who never really gave up on the black wax: “the scratchmaster d.j.s deploying vinyl on twin turntables, making music with their hands, and the audiophiles hoarding their LPs from decades ago”. The result is a resurgent vinyl market that has been hit hard by the Covid-19 outbreak, but will hopefully bounce back so that more of us can enjoy that unique crate digging experience – perhaps best captured by this now iconic image from DJ Shadow’s essential 1996 album Endtroducing, which features two of his co-diggers and DJ associates in a record store in Sacramento, California. More great music next week here on Cosmic Jazz – and we leave you with a track from the magnificence that is Endtroducing – Building Steam with a Grain of Salt. Until next week, enjoy!

Neil is listening to…

Derek is listening to…

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