I Love New York
When I was in my twenties, I often traveled to New York City to visit friends, hang out, eat great food, and, most of all, see live music. I have a thing for guitarists and, over the years, I was lucky enough to see luminaries such as Les Paul, Larry Coryell, Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny, Mike Stern, Kenny Burrell, John McLaughlin, and others at many of the city's heralded jazz clubs. One show really stands out in my mind, however – a concert by Jim Hall. He's been one of my favorites since I first began my foray into jazz. And while he was no spring chicken when I saw him play, his fingers seemed young and agile. The way he maneuvered around the instrument's neck blew me away. A scholar and intense improviser, he executed flourishes with perfection and left the crowd agape.
After the show, he graciously came to the front of the club for a receiving line. As one of the youngest fans in attendance, I stood there for my chance to tell him he was incredible. And how his album Concierto was one of the most-played LPs in my collection. After I communicated my thoughts, I eagerly waited for him to say something back to me. And possibly thank me for my kind words and tell me I was an astute listener. Then he spoke: "Oh god... I can't tell you how much I hate that album. It's my least-favorite recording!" I was shocked. Stunned, really. How could an album that had given me so much pleasure be his least favorite? He actually said he hated it. Well, I guess there's no accounting for taste!
First up: Jim Hall Concierto
I always loved CTI. I was the exact type of listener Creed Taylor had in mind when he conceived the record label, which released albums by a who's who of jazz greats playing in a more modern, more popular style. Created in an era when big rock albums sold in the multimillions, CTI records walked a fine line between jazz and a more mainstream, "sale-able" sound. That approach was up my alley, but the concept obviously didn't sit well with Hall.
But for me, Concierto struck a nerve. It had guys like the great Ron Carter on bass, the incomparable Steve Gadd on drums, Chet Baker's gorgeous trumpet, Paul Desmond on sax, and Roland Hanna playing some fine piano. How could you go wrong? You also have Hall and his innate sense of interplay up front and center, and you've got everything you need for a masterpiece.
The LP opens with a rendition of Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To." The band appears to literally jump out of the grooves in front of you. I love the big sound of CTI records, and this proves no exception. Unlike many other CTI classics, be they George Benson's Bad Benson or Freddie Hubbard's Sky Dive, Concierto is not a jazz-funk record. To me, it seems pretty straight, with an energy and sense of power that always makes me happy.
The entire first side is fantastic, and graced with Hall's original "Two's Blues" and "The Answer Is Yes." But it wasn't until I flipped that LP over for the first time that I was introduced to Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez." More than 19 minutes of pure illumination. At the time, I had not yet heard Miles Davis' interpretation. I was young and had much to learn. It's also here on side two where I became transfixed with the players on the album – and the way they seemed to make the music come alive. And it was here that I began my love affair with the sound of Baker's trumpet and heartbreaking lyricism.
I'm looking at more than half a dozen copies on my shelves. I always buy clean originals when I see them in used record bins to give out to young jazz lovers who remind me of myself years ago. Tonight, I played my original Japanese version all the way through and then did some quick comparisons to my originals, another good reissue, and my Mobile Fidelity pressing (which has the quietest surfaces). Like I've admitted before, I have a problem. The LPs are all great, and the music inside the grooves brings me right back to that first day I put the record on my ‘table.
I'm not going to go on and on about Hall's phrasing, his less-is-more approach to soloing, his tasteful rhythm parts, or his willingness to let all the players shine equally, even on his own studio date. I'll leave it to you to experience. Some older CD versions have additional outtakes of a couple of the cuts, allowing you to hear how Hall's approach to soloing veers from take to take. He was a genius.
One last comment about side two. If the music doesn't speak to you, I worry you might not have a pulse. This take of "Concierto de Aranjuez" warms me up, instilling me with joy and delight. I simply feel content. And that is exactly what I need right now.
Special Guest Contribution: Little Feat Waiting for Columbus
By Mark Schneider, Music Direct Senior Audio Consultant and Frank Zappa Fanatic
"F...... E...... A...... T......"
So begins the first side of the first LP of a two-record set of one of the best live rock performances ever put to tape: Waiting for Columbus by Little Feat. My original Mobile Fidelity pressing is one of the prizes of my music collection. Joined for the occasion by the dynamic Tower of Power horn section, the band was at the peak of its powers when it recorded the album in 1977. Waiting for Columbus is at once, funky, hard rockin', soulful, with a Cajun/roots feel, from the opening chant to the decay of the last note.
The record has long been available on various formats/reissues, and I have enjoyed it on everything from ceiling speakers in public spaces to my personal super-deluxe rig at home. It really is the music that matters, and this music is at once visceral and spiritual. It makes me boogie, and it makes me smile. I guarantee this album will have the same effect on you. So get your own copy, coz' you sure can't have mine.