Been covering a lot of jazz so far this year, but there’s so much good stuff out there!
Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011, an unusual feat for a a singing, songwriting, bass-playing jazz artist. She beat out Justin Bieber, Drake, Mumford & Sons, and Florence + The Machine that year – gives you a feel for the impression she made to stand out in that decidedly non-jazz company.
Spalding released her fifth album “Emily’s D+Evolution” on March 4th. It was co-produced by Tony Visconti who also co-produced David Bowie’s “Blackstar” (see our recent post). The psychedelic visuals for the album’s first track “Good Lava” go with its progressive rock/jazz vibe, and you know you want to see her in concert after watching the live video for the album’s second track “Unconditional Love”.
While the new album shows off her eclectic side, Spalding’s career features plenty of straight jazz sensibility as well, winning her praise from the likes of Gary Burton, Pat Matheny, and Joe Lovano. Here she is playing live at the White House earlier this year, and a couple of years ago with Herbie Hancock at the Kennedy Center Honors, singing Sting’s “Fragile”
In a bit of pre-March Madness, I’ve been binging on “The Voice”. While the show’s been criticized for not producing huge new artists in its ten years on the air, it is great fun.
This year, three aspiring, young artists dug deep into the vaults of classic rock and folk to find 90-seconds of magic that would feature their talents and get the celebrity judges to turn their chairs.
Fifteen-year-old Caroline Burns chose the Carole King classic “So Far Away ” from “Tapestry” released in 1971. Enjoy her snippet, and then this amazing live performance by Carole King with James Taylor, accompanying on guitar as he did on the album.
Digging slightly farther back in the annals of rock was Ryan Quinn who chose Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”. The tune is from the 1969 one-and-only-album released by the super-group that featured Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker post-Cream, and Stevie Winwood post-Traffic. Here is Ryan’s condensed version, and a very nice solo acoustic version by the composer – Winwood himself.
The award for the deepest dig goes to Owen Danoff who covered my favorite Dylan song, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”. Here’s the performance that got Owen a spot on “The Voice”, and the original, written in 1962, from “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”. That album, by the way, was the legend’s second, and where his eponymous debut album was mostly covers, “Freewheelin'” was mostly original material. I promise that listening to the whole Dylan track won’t be a waste of your precious time.
Back in October an all-star lineup including Beck, Jakob Dylan, Fiona Apple, Cat Power and others staged “Echo In The Canyon” in Los Angeles, paying tribute to bands and songs from the early days of Southern California rock and roll. The concert was timed as a 50th Anniversary celebration of the release of The Byrds’ debut album, “Mr. Tambourine Man”.
A studio album is due out sometime in 2016, and the first track available is “You Showed Me” performed by Jakob Dylan and Cat Power. The original was The Turtles’ last big U.S. hit in 1969 and was written by Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark of The Byrds. Listen to the cover then enjoy a studio performance of the original – complete with vintage 60’s hairdos.
Hollywood Vampires is a super-group of classic rockers built around Alice Cooper and Joe Perry, with Johnny Depp thrown in for good measure. The band’s name harks back to a drinking club formed by Cooper in the 70’s, with members that included a fair bit of rock and roll royalty.
“I Got A Line On You” covers the incredible band Spirit. Headed by guitarist/vocalist Randy California, Spirit also included Randy’s stepfather, Ed Cassidy. Cassidy was a well known jazz drummer, who just before joining his stepson played in Rising Sons with Taj Mahal and a 17-year-old Ry Cooder. Check out the Hollywood Vampires’ take and the original, and if you want to hear a bit more by Spirit, refer to this earlier post.
Before we start, a couple of notes on last night’s Grammy Awards. Happy to see Roseanne Cash take home three in the American Roots categories for “The River & The Thread” (see our earlier post), Beck take home two for “Morning Phase” (see our earlier post), and Jack White score one for “Lazaretto”.
But that’s old musical news.
Björk (she of the infamous swan dress) is a unique and esoteric vocalist with an international following, putting out top selling solo albums since 1993. Her latest, “Vulnicura” (meaning “Cure for Wounds”), was to be released in March to coincide with an exhibit on her career opening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But the album leaked on the internet in January, so the album dropped early. Lush with string arrangements, the album is a meditation on her breakup with American artist Matthew Barney. Spend a few minutes getting into the hypnotic feel of the album’s first track “Stonemilker”.
In a completely different vein, Rhiannon Giddens has been working with uber-producer T Bone Burnett on a few projects, including her first solo album “Tomorrow is My Turn”. The album includes covers of a number of great artists, features great backing musicians, and most of all introduces us to a great new singer. Listen to these covers of Patsy Kline and Joan Baez.
And in another completely different vein, Kandace Springs is a singer and pianist bringing a soul look and style that’s a little bit retro and a whole lot of fun. Check out “Love Got in the Way” from her eponymous debut EP. Then, to tie back to last night’s Grammy’s, listen to her cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” which won him Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
Rummaging through the 2015 Grammy nominees, the American Roots category stands out as a catch all for great tracks and albums by artists from many genres. Across its Best Performance, Best Song and Best Album sub-categories, Roseanne Cash is nominated in all three (see our earlier post), and John Hiatt in two (see our earlier post)
The most dramatic song on the Best Performance list comes from the album “Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro”. It’s a cover of “And When I Die” performed by pianist Billy Childs (who’s responsible for the album project), with vocals by Alison Krauss and guitar by Jerry Douglas. You have to love when artists take a song in a unique new direction. Listen to the new version alongside Laura’s original. You may also want to remember the Blood, Sweat & Tears hit version.
Another nominee from the Best Performance list is “Statesboro Blues” from the concert “All My Friends – Celebrating The Songs and Voice of Gregg Allman” that took place back in January. The track features Taj Mahal and Gregg Allman sharing the vocals, and that is a significant pairing. Taj Mahal performed the song on his eponymous 1968 debut album, featuring slide guitar by Jesse Ed Davis. The story goes that Gregg Allman gave the Taj Mahal record to his brother Duane along with a glass pill bottle one day, and that was the beginning of Duane’s slide guitar playing. Give a listen to the nominated performance and Taj’s earlier version.