category: Jazz

Seen, Heard, and Read, vol. 3


Confessions of a Superhero

A touching (and ever-so-slightly exploitative) look at the mere mortals behind the superhero characters on Hollywood Boulevard. With Superman, Batman, and the Hulk, you can sense that this is probably a spot they’ll be in for a while, despite all their best efforts. While Wonder Woman’s story isn’t overly sad, you can sense she’s destined for bigger and better things (since the movie, she’s had bit roles on Party Down, True Blood, and New Girl).


Miles Davis: Get Up With It

Like anyone else who’s ever spent any time in a college radio station, I went through a heavy Miles Davis period when I was starting to get into jazz. Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew were, of course, on heavy rotation, but I tried to dig into some of the lesser-known Miles albums from various points in his career as well. Somehow, I missed Get Up With It, a double-LP of super-electic electric recordings from 1970-1974. Even if you’ve heard his other electric-era recordings, you’ll be surprised over and over again with Get Up With It.

The two most notable tracks are the 32-minute “He Loved Him Madly,” a dedication to the recently deceased Duke Ellington, and the supremely bonkers “Rated X,” a fiercely funky assault on your senses. The latter is particularly ahead of its time, sounding a lot like the intense electronica-infused jazz we’ve seen coming out of Poland in the last decade (a la Pink Freud, Robotobibok, etc.). (The live version on the Miles Davis In Concert album isn’t as good.)


Fire Monks coverFire Monks by Colleen Morton Busch

A super interesting look at the California wildfires of 2008 and how the monks of Tassajara (which is connected with Suzuki Roshi’s San Francisco Zen Center) worked to defend their land even with little help from professionals. Really engaging and a fascinating examination of how “beginner’s mind” works under extreme pressure.

Don’t miss this Flickr set with photos from before, during, and after the fire by Mako, one of the five monks that fought the fire from beginning to end.

Seen, Heard, and Read, vol. 2

5 1/2 months since vol. 1. Off to a good start with this “series,” eh?


A Show, with Ze Frank

Welcome back, sir! And thanks for the inspirational opening video. No, really. I’m filing this one alongside Jay Smooth’s Little Hater and Merlin Mann’s Courageous Sucking as part of the eternal battle to get over the f’ing fear.



This non-drinking age crew got their initial notice thanks to their jazz treatment of Odd Future tunes last year and has since gone on to release two albums and two more live albums. I was shocked to hear kids this young (those whippersnappers!) could making such innovative, interesting music. It’s dark, it’s complex, it’s the next logical step after nu jazz (or, at least, a parallel step). All their material is available for free via their site or Bandcamp.

Here’s a video of a recent track of them, which features the group eating cereal. And that’s it.


1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

My friend Alex turned me onto Murakami a number of years ago and I’ve been slowly working my way through his back catalog. I was especially excited when the English translation of 1Q84 hit the shelves late last year. It was originally released as three separate books in Japan, but the Knopf version combines all three volumes and weighs in at a hefty 944 pages. I’m about a third of the way through the book, which means that at this pace, I’ll finish the book at about the one-year mark.

True to his previous work, 1Q84 presents a hazy, dreamlike tale in a such a fashion that it seems completely plausible that a women would descend a latter beside a highway and find herself in a slightly alternate version of 1984.

I’m definitely enjoying this one so far and look forward to continuing to savor it throughout the rest of the year.

The Blindfold Test and The Grumpy Miles Davis

In 1964, Downbeat magazine published a blindfold test with jazz legend Miles Davis, testing his ability to pick out fellow musicians based on the way they played. Predictably, Davis did quite well identifying the players, but didn’t hold back choice words that he had about many of them.

On saxophonist Eric Dolphy:

That’s got to be Eric Dolphy – nobody else could sound that bad! The next time I see him I’m going to step on his foot. You print that. I think he’s ridiculous. He’s a sad motherfucker.

On free jazz stalwart, pianist Cecil Taylor:

Downbeat: L.F.: This man said he was influenced by Duke Ellington.

I don’t give a shit! It must be Cecil Taylor. Right? I don’t care who he’s inspired by. That shit ain’t nothing. In the first place he don’t have the – you know, the way you touch a piano. He doesn’t have the touch that would make the sound of whatever he thinks of come off.

On Les McCann and the Jazz Crusaders playing Davis’ own “All Blues”:

What’s that supposed to be? That ain’t nothin’. They don’t know what to do with it – you either play it bluesy or you play on the scale. You don’t just play flat notes. I didn’t write it to play flat notes on – you know, like minor thirds. Either you play a whole chord against it, or else . . . but don’t try to play it like you’d play, ah, Walkin’ the Dog. You know what I mean?

That trombone player – trombone ain’t supposed to sound like that. This is 1964, not 1924. Maybe if the piano player had played it by himself, something would have happened.

While Davis got into some left-field style jazz in the 70s with Bitches Brew and the electric fusion that immediately followed, he never did venture into free jazz territory. In 1964, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, and others were braving this new sound and bringing their own approaches to the chaos, but apparently Davis just wasn’t having it.

In his New Yorker blog post “Miles Davis: Peeking Through the Blindfold,” Richard Brody shares an interesting bit I didn’t realize about Davis’ search for a new saxophonist in the mid-60s:

When Davis was looking for a new saxophonist, [drummer Tony] Williams suggested Dolphy; Davis said no. He recommended Archie Shepp; Davis listened and rejected the notion. When Williams proposed [Sam] Rivers, Davis took him on briefly (and recorded with him in Tokyo).

Honestly, given the free and fiery nature of Rivers’ playing at the time, I’m surprised that Davis didn’t lump him in with the other free jazz reedmen of the time.

There are a couple of other blindfold tests from Downbeat worth reading with John Coltrane and Charles Mingus.

(ETA: There are three other Davis blindfold tests as well one with Thelonious Monk worth checking out.)