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