The wonders of technology have made me extremely grateful—and hopeful. Using video conferencing, it's wonderful to see family members, friends, and neighbors and look them in the face while talking through this stressful time. I'm confident that staying sequestered in our homes is the smartest way to keep everyone healthy and safe. Plus, doing so leads to other options. My wife and I recently had a cocktail party over the Internet using Zoom, a video conferencing program. We joined three other couples, all on screen, chatting, having drinks, and eating snacks for almost an hour. It a felt like the most normal thing that had taken place in our lives in a while. We were all chatting about our families, friends, and other loved-ones, and at the same time, joking and having a really nice time. It nearly seemed as if we were all in one living room spending time together. It won't be the last virtual party we host.
First up: Joni Mitchell Hejira
Joni Mitchell is one of my favorite artists and a brilliant songwriter. She's also an amazing singer, extremely creative guitarist, and talented painter. The term "living legend" applies to her. She's made many fantastic albums, and even more remarkable songs, all with the ability to touch listeners in a profound way.
I chose to play Hejira for many reasons. It's one of the very best-sounding albums in my collection and lights up my system in ways few LPs do. The first cut, "Coyote," paints with vivid descriptions. "Amelia" doubles as a sonic spectacular. From a lyrical angle, the album is unforgettable. While it played, I kept trying to think of anyone, aside from Bob Dylan, who can top her songwriting. I'm left with nothing. Every song feels transportive. Just sit back and let Joni take you on nine different journeys.
Hejira will fill you with warmth, make you laugh, spark your mind, and possibly cause you to shed a tear. Emotions have been flying around here lately like jet planes leaving vapor trails across my mind. Joni sings about love, sex, travel, the road, influences, relationships, and other themes with unmatched prowess. Jaco Pastorius is also largely responsible for the record's depth. His unique ability to navigate his fretless bass, adding textures and purpose, remains inimitable. I could also mention Larry Carlton's impressive input, and the performances of the other hip jazz musicians. But today, Jaco's lines echo in my mind.
Tonight, I pulled out my Rhino/WB reissue of the Asylum original; my original promo copy is in my office. The pressing, and many of the others put out by Mark Pinkus' team at Rhino, serves as a leading example of how insisting on first-rate production quality can shine a light on an exceptional artist's vision. But I can guarantee any pressing of this chestnut will send chills up your spine, as it did mine tonight.
Indeed, right before the title track, my dog ran into my listening room, jumped onto my lap for the duration, and sat equally transfixed at how these performers seemingly floated in space, playing just for us. In my mind, they were.
Next up: Bill Evans/Jim Hall Undercurrent
My story of getting turned on to Bill Evans is fun. At 19 years old, on a camping trip in Maine with some buddies, I stopped off at a friend's house in Boston. We needed showers and a real meal. We were holed up in the basement of our friend's family's home, and I saw a box of tapes in corner of the room and asked what they were. "Nothing," my friend said. "They are just my dad's old jazz tapes." I went over and grabbed one and put it on. I sat mesmerized the remainder of the night.
It was The Tokyo Concert—you know, the one with the red-dominant artwork and Japanese writing? A live album from Japan, recorded with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell. The minute we arrived back home, I bee-lined it to Tower Records and headed to what was for me the completely unfamiliar and unexplored jazz section, asking questions. I met a music expert who became my guide into the mysterious world of jazz. I owe him a lot. He single-handedly set me on a journey that will last the rest of my life. He asked me good questions. I told him about my experience with the Evans jazz tape and about my love of guitarists. He immediately replied that he'd be right back. He returned with Evans and Jim Hall's Undercurrent.
The duet album has been a staple in my life ever since. I don't know of any other record that is distinctively imprinted into my memory. After all, it was the first jazz album I bought with my own money. The way the two geniuses perform together, such mellifluous interplay. (Evans has a quintet album with that title worth checking out.) With each tune, the head gets explored for a few bars, and then, bam, the players are gone. Both only hear the song's melody and chord structure in their heads. They improvise over each other with deft precision and an innate sense of where the other is headed.
As complex as it sounds, the best part of Undercurrent remains its pure accessibility. Any music lover, no matter their tastes, will find something they love in the performances. For me, Undercurrent is the perfect tonic for soothing my aching head. All the way through, my body relaxes more with each passing cut. It's just a piano and a guitar. But in the hands of two musicians, the instruments touch your soul.
I played my original United Artists American stereo pressing. When I looked through my shelves, I saw six copies. A Japanese pressing, a German one, several different American pressings, and a few recent reissues, all with alternative cover treatments. Yes, I know. I have a serious problem. The cover is something that has always fascinated me. The underwater photography of a woman floating with only her face hovering above the waterline and just out of sight of the camera. Plus, the liner notes inside the gatefold are a trip to read. Check 'em out. I can think of no better LP to play me off to sleep.