Monday, March 27, 2006

[Jazz] Barney Kessel - (2003) Plays For Lovers

Okay, you've had a short break since our encounter with Chris Rea - time enough to get mentally prepared with some authentic Jazz. We'll start slowly with this recently-released compilation of classic, 'from-the-book' Jazz guitar.

Barney Kessel - Plays for Lovers
Jazz - 2003
1 CD - 16 tracks
Total running time: 1:07:33

A collection of easy-listening, romantic Jazz favourites smoothly and cleanly played by B. Kessel. Melodic and laid-back electric guitar to accompany your long Winter evenings.

Why start with Barney Kessel?

Barney Kessel was the first Jazz guitarist I heard. In fact, the first Jazz CD I got was this particular one. Given my current attitude towards Jazz, I figured I couldn't go far wrong by making you follow my footsteps.

I won't bore you with Barney's biography or stuff you full of historical facts - you can always google those up if you like - I'll give you my personal impression of his artistic characteristics. For me, he's the 'good boy' of Jazz guitarists: a very smooth and clean style, staying very melodic and accessible. From what I've heard of him, and this is one of his best qualities, he tends to stay quite conventional and concentrate on the music, not wander off into crazy virtuoso feats like many others. He's also equally capable in the two major Jazz guitar styles: playing single note solos and stringing together successions of those fascinating and monstruously complex Jazz chords. You'll be able to apreciate both on this compilation.

For these reasons, I think Barney will give you a nice smooth start in Jazz and Jazz guitar in particular. Later, we'll discover some more exotic and wilder artists.

Before with start - basic Jazz background

As indicated, this compilation was released in 2003 but you'll soon get to know that the vast majority of good Jazz guitar music, all artists considered, was recorded between 1960 and 1965 (give or take a few years). Yes, it really was that short but there were so many brilliant artists around that, even today, we keep on listening to them and rediscovering them.

Another thing that's important to know about in Jazz is the term "Standard". A Standard is usually a popular, often romantic and simple song that is used again and again as a basis for a Jazz piece. You'll see the same old Standards cropping up all the time. However, contrary to what you might be thinking, there is still lots of variety to be found. Jazz being what it is, the same Standard played by two different artists sounds completely different, so much so that the original song is often unrecognizable by the untrained ear.

This CD contains a number of Standards you'll definitely be seing again. You might even know some of them in there original form: I'm Glad There Is You, My Funny Valentine, You Stepped out of a Dream, etc.

How to enjoy this CD

This time, I won't be going over individual songs but just talk about the general athmophere created by this collection of pieces. All the tracks are of similar style: easy-listening, romantic Jazz songs. All are instrumental with the electric Jazz guitar being the central point. The band is mostly composed of the classic, well-proven Jazz trio: Guitar + Bass + Drums, but there is the occasional appearance of a piano or a xylophone.

Given these characteristics - soft, similar-style tracks, simple and intimate band - I could bet most of you are thinking, "hey, this could make great background music for my work/reading etc." I suppose it would but I have to tell you, it's shameful waste of the complexity and profoundness of this music. This music contains lots of hidden subtleties which is the wonderful thing about Jazz: you can own a CD for 10 years and still discover new things about it everytime you listen to it. The downside is that apreciating it requires a fair amount of work and concentration. Jazz is a great way of learning how to listen. Listening to music is not a background thing while you do something else, it's an activity in itself. Just put that little bit of effort and concentration into it when you put a CD on, you'll be amazed at how rewarding it is in the long run.

Here's a suggestion that works a treat with this particular CD: you're home from work, you're alone, it's cold a dark outside. Find yourself a comfy armchair, dim the lights and put this CD on. The music will fill the emptiness and silence in a flash and replace it with the unique and fascinating athmophere of Jazz. Keep on sitting there, and concentrate on the music. Try and feel each note, feel its texture, let it vibrate inside you and move you. Keep this up for a while and the world outside, along with your preocupations, worries, needs will disappear and you'll find yourself transported to a world of pure well-being where you are alone, being gently stroked by the softness and harmony of the music. I'm sure this sounds all very corny but just give it a try. You'll be amazed how well it works.

I must warn you though, this kind of thing is adictive. You'll soon be desperately hunting for more Jazz CDs and cursing every little noise from your neighboors that upsets the athmosphere and harmony of your living room.

This particular CD is also quite addictive in that it seems to get better and better towards the end. You'll find some wonderful interaction, or 'interplay' as they say in the Jazz scene, between guitar and bass in the final tracks such as You Go to my Head and I'm Through with Love. The Bass has this hypnotizing character the guitar has. Having enjoyed the last few tracks so much, you'll be compelled to play the CD again from the beginning and pay even more attention on the first few tracks, thinking you might have missed something.

And, Jazz being what is it, you will find something you missed. And again the time after that...


1Embraceable You3:24
I'm Glad There Is You
What Is There to Say
Satin Doll
My Funny Valentine
This Guy's in Love with You
Angel Eyes
Just in Time
My Reverie
Love Is Here to Stay
It Could Happen to You
My Old Flame
You Go to my Head
I'm through with Love


Sunday, January 29, 2006

[Guitar] Chris Rea - (2004) The Blue Jukebox

On the twisty, slippery road to appreciating Jazz, I think Chris Rea will be a big help to us. His career took a radical turn a few years ago when he decidedly moved away from popular music. This album, to my mind one of the best he recorded in his transitional phase, is the perfect link for us between smokey voiced 'bad guy' Blues like Calvin Russell and Jazz.

Chris Rea - The Blue Jukebox
Guitar - 2004
1 CD - 13 tracks
Total running time: 1:06:56

Chris adds a taste of Jazz to The Blues in this CD where he growls in a deep, smokey voice with his usual strong bass line and slide guitar licks but in a more laid back, reflective mood.

Chris Rea's career

Most people probably know Chris Rea as the guy you hear on the radio every year around Christmas time with his Driving Home for Christmas. People who were alive and in contact with the world in the 80s will know him as the artist behing big popular hits like The Road to Hell, Auberge, Josephine, Looking for the Summer... After his initial huge success, he disappeared completely in the 90s and produced some truely AWFUL albums.

His great comeback came in 2002 when he released Dancing down the Stony Road, recorded "live in the studio", i.e. one take tracks. Chris created his own record company called Jazzy Blue and released an extended version of that album with his new company. He has released a whole flurry of albums since, now having the freedom of release what and when he wants. The result is, in my opinion, a dramatic improvement in his music. He has now turned to a genre you could call "Dark Blues" and The Blue Jukebox is a great example of it.

Overall character of the album

Chris is faithful to his usual sound instrument-wise in this album: his voice, slide guitar, bass and a slow blues shuffle on the drums. The novelty is the appearance of a saxophone which occasionnally softly fills in between the guitar and the voice, adding a destinct Jazzy tone.

Athmosphere-wise, The Blue Jukebox is Dark Blues at its best. Technically, the music is simple, very rootsy, no ornaments, no excessive multiple tracking. Every sound you hear has its function and would be noticeably missed were it to be left out. The mood produced is slow, weary, dreamy. The album musically describes to perfection the feeling of "being blue". The difference to traditional Blues is that it's not the groans of someone trying to free himself of this unfortunate state of mind but simply a description of it and a much more expressive and moving description than words. The Blue Jukebox is a very accurate title for this CD: it is the sound of "blue".

Highlights of this CD

The most easily likeable track is certainly Long Is the Time and Hard Is the Road. Lyrically the song is quite similar to Chris's old hit The Road to Hell. He criticises the way society works, showing how fake and meaningless our way of living is, leading us to self negation. However, unlike the old hit, he doesn't express his anger and his wish to change this, he simply describes the sadness he feels towards the situation. Musically this is expressed by a strong, warm and slow bass line. The anger which used to be his screaming, screeching guitar, is replaced by a gently weaping slide guitar. I must say you have to give credit to Chris for his performance on guitar on this album. It takes a great deal of subtely to express deep sadness and yet keep the sound gentle and soft.

Steel River Blues is another of my favourites on this release. Musically it's quite similar to Long Is the Time... but underlines a certain fascination in the feeling of sadness. He speaks of "The only thing we never got to do
Kick away
Those Steel River Blues"
as if he was trapped in his sadness. As if he couldn't bear being happy, that he prefered staying in his familiar and gentle world of sadness.

The only song that expresses desire to escape the world of the Blues is Restless Soul. Contrary to all the other tracks, the rythm is punchy: the bass angrily beats a very restless rythm. You get the impression the person's soul is damned, condemned to be imprisonned in sadness: "Oh you gotta give somethin'
'Cos it screams and it cries
This restless soul"
The song ends with a really impressively well executed duo of saxophone and slide guitar.

Last words

I think this album is a great introduction to the bluesy/jazzy mood. In his lyrics, Chris often speaks of a "blue world" or "a little piece of blues" as if the blues could be sensed in every situation. Even in a happy event, you can catch a glimpse of sadness which you can be fascinated by, attracted by because of its familiarity giving you a sense of security.

The song Paint My Jukebox Blue offers a fatalistic but also humourous point of view on this. Confronted with a serious problem a person goes and even gratefully escapes to familiarity of the "blue world". In the song, the person decides to paint his jukebox blue which is a stupid thing to do really but, symbollically, very interesting: "Since you been gone
I've been wondering
What to do
I guess I'll paint
My Jukebox


1The Beat Goes on4:34
Long Is the Time Hard Is the Road
Let's Do It
Let It Roll
Steel River Blues
Somebody Say Amen
Blue Street
Monday Morning
Restless Soul
What Kind of Love Is This
Paint my Jukebox Blue
Baby Don't Cry


Sunday, January 22, 2006

Plans for the future

The start a a new year is the traditional time to make highly optimistic plans for the future so, for once, I will follow tradition and announce my resolutions... blog-wise of course.

The first record

With this musical guide still being in its nappies, I think I should shed some light on my blogging philosophy, notations I will use here, how I classify music by Genre etc. I also intend to diversify my posts in future and not only include album reviews and my thoughts on music but technical topics on using a computer as a music player and audio quality in general.

Blogging philosophy

Most of the posts will, of course, continue to be album reviews. For those, I will always use a post title of the form "[genre] artist - (release year) - album title". Therefore you'll be able to tell immediately when browsing the archives, which posts are reviews and which are other kinds of information. On the index page and on archive pages, you'll find only introductions to the various articles. The full articles are available through the "Read more..." links or through clicking the post titles. To move back to the index page or an archive page from a post, you can use the "Back to MainPage" link or one of the archive links in the navigation bar.

For the album reviews, I use a very personal classification by Genre. The Genre of an album as well as being in the post title, is indicated next to the album cover in the short introduction to the review, the format of that being:
"artist - album title
[genre] - year
n° of CDs - total n° of tracks
total running time"

I associate a single genre for each artist. So an artist with extremely varied music will by classified by his most typical kind of music. The genres I use (on this guide and for my music collection) are the following:
  • Blues
    Album by artists who predominantly play The Blues
  • Classical
    Albums by artists who predominantly play Classical Music
  • Country
    Albums by artists who predominantly play Country Music
  • Electronic
    Albums by artists who predominantly play Electronic based music
  • Flamenco
    Albums by artists who predominantly play Flamenco
  • Jazz
    Albums by artists who predominantly play Jazz
  • Mark
    Albums by Mark Knopfler or Dire Straits or The Notting Hillbillies or Mark Knopfler contributions with other artists
  • Religious
    Albums by artists who play moody music, religious chorus and related things
  • Soundtracks
    Film music (not classified by artist but by year and film title)
  • Heavy
    Albums by artists who play loud music (Heavy Metal, Grunge, 1970s Rock, all that kind of stuff)
  • Oldies
    Albums by artists with career peaks before 1980 and that don't fit in any of the above categories
  • Guitar
    Albums by artists who have no specific genre (except Pop maybe) that are well-known for their skills on the guitar
  • French
    General Pop artists related to France or sing in French
  • German
    General Pop artists related to Germany or sing in German
  • Italian
    General Pop artists related to Italy or sing in Italian
  • Spanish
    General Pop artists related to Spain or sing in Spanish
  • Pop
    Anything that doesn't fit in any of the above categories
I must stress that this list is in no way sufficient to classify all music but is well adapted to my tastes and therefore appropriate for using on this music guide.

Diversifying content

The step we will be taking in the album reviews is to move to some serious Jazz and Blues. I'll not only review albums I select in those genres, but also try and make a general introduction on Jazz and later on, on The Blues. I hope to explain what the whole point of those types of music is because they are often misunderstood. It is up to the listener to find for himself, a significance, a meaning in the music he listens to. Therefore, my views are not at all objective, but they are presented as an example of how you can appropriate music to make it mean something to you, even and especially when it's reputedly "geeky" or "intellectual" music.

Another area I plan to address is the technicalities of organising a fairly large music collection. The traditional Hifi set with CD player is no longer sufficient to allow comfortable listening because of the sheer amount music people possess these days. Therefore, many people turn to their computers to play back their music but soon give up when they see the desasterous sound quality their sound cards deliver and the amount of noise their cooling fans generate. I will try to propose solutions for these problems by presenting hardware, software, ripping and organizing methods and audio compression formats that will allow you to transform your computer into a convenient and high quality means of enjoying your music. My sources of information are, for most, listed in my "Links" section in the side bar on the index page.

Articles that I consider important (or that I'm proud of :-) ) will appear in the "Essential Posts" section of the side bar for quick access for those who missed them. Generally that will be news on this music guide, introductory articles, guides to audio hardware and software.


So much for the big plans and wishes for the future. I hope I'll be able to keep some promises. In any case, your comments are always welcome. The whole point of this music guide is to get people talking about their tastes in music and to make the "geeks" and "weirdos" speak up and let the "normal" people know what they are missing.

Suggestions, critics, general stupid remarks, ideas for a new Poll (side bar of the index page), everything's welcome and in any language! Garanteed without sensorship. :-)