Monday, May 30, 2005

Jim Flora.

Until now, this space has always been for posting an MP3 or three. But, as an antidote to the (admittedly fantantic) jazzer obsession with Reid Miles and the (admittedly fantastic) classic BlueNote album covers, I wanted to point out the also fantastic classic covers of one James Flora.

As is often the case with things visual, I knew Flora's work because it was in my molecules, in the air, rather than in my head. Then, my colleague Tim Biskup* came to work on my show Oh Yeah! Cartoons as a creator, background designer and (fantastic) painter, and started bringing in truckloads of his LP collection for reference and inspiration. He politely exported his passion and excitement for Jim's work, and, me being me, I became a huge fan. (Somehow, it's fitting to me that on my page, Tim's books come up when I search Flora.)

*Check out the fantastic postcard Tim painted for us at Oh Yeah! And, his own cartoon, too.

Monday, May 16, 2005


Cream >Sunshine of Your Love
Cream >Strange Brew

Three of my friends went to London last weekend for the Cream reunion. If I liked to travel maybe I would have gone too, because Cream was the only great band I feel like I missed seeing in person. The reviews were mixed, but everyone was so glad they were there. My favorite comment was about Ginger Baker ("He looked ancient then, so he didn't look a day older.") One of my friends said she was reminded of just how much it was Jack Bruce's band. And the other realized for the first time just what a democracy there were. Everyone loved Eric Clapton, as usual.

In 1967 & 68, my high school band was really good and pretty popular, playing soul covers, with the only black lead singer --my best friend Rodney-- in our very white suburb. Typically for the time, we had a guitar, bass, drums, Farfisa organ (me). We won almost every battle of the bands we entered.

Our last gig was in June 1968; Phil and Ray (our guitarist/singer and drummer/singer) were going off to Colgate in the fall. Once again, it was a battle with four or five local bands, one of them brand new. Over the past six months we'd attempted to go psychedelic, except we didn't do drugs, and we still loved soul music more than ... whoever.

And we got killed.

The new band wasn't playing the Young Rascals, they were doing Cream covers. Like Elvis, Little Richard, and the Beatles or Bob Dylan before, like Nirvana after... the day had changed.

Cream >Sunshine of Your Love
Cream >Strange Brew

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Miles Davis.

Miles Davis >Milestones
Miles Davis >Stuff (watch it, a large file)

Not any easy claim I think, but these are two perfect tracks.

In the first blush love of jazz, I used to say that left on the proverbial desert island, just give me my Ray Charles records, and my Miles records. Today, I'd be happy only with Ray's (he's got jazz records and blues records and pop records), but, much as I've found myself to be bored with a lot of Miles stuff (of all his eras, not just the later years, as a lot of his critics would have it), there are enough really perfect tracks (I do not use the word 'perfect' lightly either) to burn at least 3 or 4 perfect CDs (and probably enough just great tracks for another 5).

My two favorite perfects bookend Miles' greatness, they're sort of at the center of the wonder of his greatest periods.

Milestones is straight jazz at it's straightest. Rockin', swingin', singable, and memorable. Fun. Simple and/or complex, depending on how you look at it. This one came out of the 'hard bop' moment and swung us right into the modal one.

Stuff: Sharp observers in 1968 took Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter playing electric instruments as clear evidence that Miles had gone 'rock' (and lots of formerly sharp folk proved themselves to be hopeless square); they understood that Miles was on the first step of the journey that led to the amazing-ness of In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, and Jack Johnson. Me, on the other hand, I was completely clueless. Stuff sounded completely jazzy and soft, even a little cocktail-ish. My hippest friend Michael told me Miles Davis was the thing, Miles in the Sky cost me one penny from the Columbia Record Club (the only way I thought I could afford LPs), so I gave it a play a day for at least six months before I could hear it. And now that I know that the music is perfect, it makes me wonder just how thick my pop music obsession had made my shell.

(By the way, the covers I picked were of the great original albums that introduced these tracks, Milestones and Miles in the Sky. For the big fan, I'd probably also suggest the box sets that include everything from the periods: The Complete Columbia Recordings: Miles Davis & John Coltrane and Miles Davis Quintet: The Complete Columbia Studio Sessions, 1965-68.)

Miles Davis >Milestones
Miles Davis >Stuff
(watch it, a large file)

B.J. Thomas.

B.J. Thomas >I Just Can't Help Believin'

Most of my friends can't really help believin' how much I love B.J. Thomas. Hell, Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head was a huge hit when I was a senior in high school, so, at first, I couldn't believe it either. And even though he's become a country, born-again superstar, not just the melodies, but the sound, the resonance of his hits keep ringing in my head. Some of the greatest pop producers of the 20th century (Huey Meaux [aka The Crazy Cajun], Burt Bacharach, Chips Moman) agree, B.J. Thomas is one of our greatest singers.

B.J. Thomas >I Just Can't Help Believin'