Monday, December 18, 2006

Survey says

Why am I doing this? You know I generally avoid such things...

It started with a set of questions circulated by the Bad Plus. It coincided with the gradual process of unpacking and organizing my CD collection. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Maybe it still is: you tell me.

Anyway, a few caveats:

1. I guess the survey wasn't meant to provoke comprehensive answers, but most dedicated musicians have the mania of antique collectors and baseball fans: we like making (and comparing) lists, and what's the point of a list if it's incomplete? In other words: it was painfully difficult to restrict myself to one or two responses in each category. One of the ways I was able to do it, however, was by steering clear, for the most part, of the obvious answers (hence the lack of Ellington, Monk, Mingus, Satie, Ives, and others; and the paucity of Zappa).

2. In general I tend to listen compositionally, by which I mean that for me the compositional element (to the extent that it can be distinguished) trumps things like sound quality or even performance skill. Of course, what is composition, really? Yeah, I know, it's an aesthetic problem -- anyway, indulge me for a moment as I use that term as a placeholder for my own listening proclivities.


1. Movie score.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Bernard Herrmann). The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (Ennio Morricone).

2. TV theme.

East Side / West Side (Kenyon Hopkins). Pee Wee's Playhouse (Mark Mothersbaugh... I think).

3. Melody.

“Idiot Bastard Son” (Frank Zappa). “Surf’s Up” (Brian Wilson).

4. Harmonic language.

"Lush Life" (Billy Strayhorn). Piano music of Alan Hovhaness.

5. Rhythmic feel.

“Slow Down” (Larry Williams). “Da Doo Run Run” (The Crystals).

6. Hip-hop track.

“Jennifa Taught Me” (De La Soul). “Hole in the Bucket” (Spearhead).

7. Classical piece.

String Quartet no. 1 (Leos Janacek). Requiem (W. A. Mozart).

8. Smash hit.

"Lay Lady Lay" (Bob Dylan). "Doo Wop (That Thing)" (Lauryn Hill).

9. Jazz album.

People Time (Stan Getz / Kenny Barron). Kennedy Dream (Oliver Nelson).

10. Non-American folkloric group.

I'll assume the word "folkloric" (as opposed to "folk") gives me a little leeway here:

Rustavi Choir (Georgian Choral music). Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens (South African mbaqanga group).

11. Book on music.

The Real Frank Zappa Book (Frank Zappa). Music Alone (Peter Kivy).


A) Name a surprising album (or albums) you loved when you were developing as a musician: something that really informs your sound but that we would never guess in a million years:

I'll interpret this as something of a “guilty pleasures” category because I don’t think anything that really informed my sound would be surprising to the listener. So here are two albums I don’t want you to know I liked at one time:

Blue (Joni Mitchell). Sweeney Todd (Stephen Sondheim).

B) Name a practitioner (or a few) who play your instrument that you think is underrated:

If my instrument is the piano: Don Pullen, Chico Marx. If my instrument is a jazz ensemble: Duane Tatro, Tadd Dameron.

C) Name a rock or pop album that you wish had been a smash commercial hit (but wasn’t, not really):

Why would I wish such a thing? (I can certainly think of a number of these I wish had NOT become hits.)

Oh, I’ve got it! Song Cycle (Van Dyke Parks).

And another: My, I'm Large (The Bobs).

D) Name a favorite drummer, and an album to hear why you love that drummer:

Dannie Richmond (any Mingus record he plays on). In general, I love the way Dannie often sounds like he's about to lose it (the beat, the groove, his place in the form) -- but never does.

* * * * *

[Hey! I’m going to add a category, since 'tis the season and all that jazz:]

Name some Christmas music you can actually stand to listen to:

1. "Sleigh Ride" (Ronettes version).
2. "Jingle Bells" (Sinatra version (on A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra): worth it just to hear him sing "Jingle Bells, Jing-Jingle Bells." Also dig those hip, wacky backing vocals.)

And what the hell, a bonus:

3. A Ceremony of Carols (Benjamin Britten).


Kris Tiner said...

Are you implying that you no longer like Joni Mitchell, or that you no longer like Blue, or neither? Because, uh, I love that album (and I love it very recently). Also People Time was an early, early favorite of mine. Nice.

Wow, I don't want to do one of these, but I feel like I'm going to... the questions are too good...

Andrew Durkin said...

I think Blue is an amazing album. It's one of those recordings that just totally caught me on first listen, and still sounds fresh some fifteen years later. (I initially had it on cassette, and side two was cued up first for some reason, so the immediate knockout punch came from "California.")

I think JM's overall discography (as far as I know it, anyway) is less consistently good, but there are some nice things in there. Perhaps more importantly, she's got tons of what used to be called "artistic integrity."

(Incidentally, I'm reading a Zappa bio at the moment and came across an amusing anecdote describing an improvised performance JM did with Zappa/Mothers in 1970...)

Anyway, my half joking reference to "guilty pleasures" has less to do with Joni per se and more with the artistic movement she has come to represent: singer-songwriters. This is sort of a personal demon for me, cuz I went through a period in my youth / young adulthood in which a lot of what I was listening to / writing was in that vein (especially in terms of sensitive, bittersweet songs about relationships). It's been a long road from there to here, but suffice it to say that a lot of that stuff falls flat for me now.

And as for People Time: fuck yeah. The thing that gets me about that record is that Getz was dying -- you can hear him catching his breath as he plays -- and yet his playing is as imaginative and vibrant as ever. And Barron is just off the hook.

Finally, you probably knew this, but to clarify for other readers: looking back over my list, I realized I should probably point out that the Larry Williams I am referring to is not the trumpet player from LA but the classic R&B musician from New Orleans.

Kris Tiner said...

I actually thought you meant Larry the trumpet player... and I didn't think twice about it until you mentioned it. It's late.

Here's mine.