Saturday, May 29, 2021

Jazz Covers: Take 5


purchase [Time Out]

In 1958, the Dave Brubeck Quartet did a tour of EurAsia that was sponsored by the State Department. Their trip included a stop in Istanbul, from where I write my posts to SMM. I was only 3 back then, but some time in the mid 1960s, my parents added <Time Out> to their record collection, so I would have been listening to it at around age 10 (in Istanbul even back then).

Brubeck was affected by the music he heard in Istanbul such that their 1959 <Time Out> album makes much use of time signatures that could be Turkish. Not only does music from Turkey (and points east) use "non-standard", tricky time signatures, but also a musical scale that is based on Arabic music, where - instead of the 12 notes of a Western octave- there are 53 "koma". For most of us, music in school taught us about standard Western time signatures like 6/8 or 3/4 or 4/4 - what dominate rock and pop and even much jazz in addition to classical music. Turkish music makes use of these, but also more complex rhythms like 5/4 or 7/4 and 9/8 and more.

It was this influence that powered Brubeck and Paul Desmond when they wrote Blue Rondo a la Turk and Take 5. The 5 in the name is the 5 from the 5/4 rhythm.

Wikipedia informs me that Take 5 is "the biggest-selling jazz single ever", so it's no surprise that there are more covers than you can shake a stick at. The article also notes that the song brings in royalties of over $100,000 a year.

Friday, May 28, 2021


The suggestion offered from above was to look at covers of jazz standards, you know the sort of thing, bluegrass Brubeck, country Coltrane and math-rock Miles. (OK, I may have struggled with the last, but you catch my drift.) Me, I immediately thought of the current glut of polyglot artists, nominally 'file under jazz', but equally at home cross piste. I'm thinking the likes of Brad Mehldau, Herbie Hancock and, most of all, the extraordinary guitar of Bill Frisell.

Tired of Waiting For You/Guitar in the Space Age: Bill Frisell (2014)

Frisell is an unlikely looking axe-hero, but axe-hero he is, and, whilst always thought primarily a jazzman, you may be surprised how far he crosses over and how many records by artists in the fields he has appeared on. Far more, say, than Pat Metheny, who is a name often dropped into great guitarist lists, yet seldom strays from his niche, give or take a sole dalliance with Queen and being the subject, loosely, of a Richard Thompson song. Yet, ironically, it is to Metheny he owes his place, depping for Metheny when Metheny unavailable for a session, he suggesting the bright eyed novice with tousled hair to take his place.  This was for the icy wastes of ECM, the sometimes seemingly dour Nordic label that is the go-to for glacial instrumental jazz, instantly identifiable by their 'postcards of the tundra' album covers. A number of albums with them, ahead of hooking up with John Zorn on the New York scene, all avant garde and spiky composition. But being an in-demand musician for other muses and producing like-minded material wasn't enough. So, on a move to Seattle, Frisell started cooking up something new, investigating, variously, other native musical forms: americana, rock, pop even.

This century he has spent flitting relentlessly between projects: a torrent of his own composition, further expeditions into idiosyncratically exploring and totally revising the music of others and, most delightfully, beginning to pop up in the mainstream, alongside artists such as Elvis Costello and Norah Jones. At the time of writing he has 39 recordings in his own name or as an integral part of the billing, 22 since the year 2000. Add in a series of live recordings and it another 22, plus a truly ridiculous number of collaborations, guest appearances and cameos. Check out his web page. (Bet you wouldn't expect him to have ever worked with Richard Hell and the Voidoids!)

For want of any other methodology, here are a few of his covers, whether coming from his own records, from collaborations or any other source, all displaying his maverick control of the fretboard, approaching melody always from its polar opposite, yet always finding it, often unexpectedly. A beautiful tone, this is sweet music: no atonal skronking here to frighten those with terror of the J word.

You Only Live Twice/When You Wish Upon a Star: Bill Frisell (2016)

Across the Universe/All We Are Saying: Bill Frisell (2011)

Cold Cold Heart/The Willies: Bill Frisell (2002)

I Heard It Through the Grapevine/East,West: Bill Frisell (2005)

Magnolia/Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone: w. Lucinda Williams (2014)

Standing in the Doorway/Slipstream: w. Bonnie Raitt (2012)

As Tears Go By/Slipstream: w. Marianne Faithfull (1987)

And spot the great man, playing, in the video above.

More, here....

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Jazz Covers: Keith Jarrett-My Back Pages

Keith Jarrett: My Back Pages

Over at Cover Me, in honor of Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday earlier this week, the staff, including yours truly, contributed to a long feature ranking the 100 “best” Dylan covers (although we actually wrote about 124, because while many people see a relationship between music and math, bloggers get to do pretty much whatever we want). 

The way that Cover Me “Best Covers” pieces work is that the editors put out a call to the staff for suggestions, and they gather them, add ones they like, and then choose how many to feature. For the Dylan piece, we submitted well over 200 suggestions, which only scratches the surface of the covers out there. Then, once the poobahs come up with the final list, staffers write up the blurbs for each song, the editors rank the covers and the piece gets posted. Like many of my fellow writers, I suggested a whole bunch of really excellent covers, but not all of them made the final cut. 

One of those that didn’t make it was today’s featured song, a cover of “My Back Pages” by Keith Jarrett. I was kind of disappointed, because I hate rejection and because I think that it’s a great cover, but I used my considerable influence here at Star Maker Machine to suggest a “Jazz Covers” theme that would let me highlight the song. (Although it seems that the description posted of the theme calls for covers of jazz songs, which considering how jazz seems to consist, in large part, on interpretations of “standards,” doesn’t make all that much sense to me. But I suggested the theme, and this is what I meant…) 

I have to admit that when I first heard this song, I believe from a cassette (!) that I nabbed from a discard pile the summer that I worked at Atlantic Records, I thought it was great, and had no clue that it was a Dylan song. First off, as I mention somewhere in the Cover Me piece, my knowledge of Dylan songs was, for a long time, really limited to his most famous songs, and it was only years later that my appreciation of his work increased and broadened. So, at the time I heard this cover, I didn’t recognize the title. If you had said, who wrote the song with the lyric “but I was so much older then/I'm younger than that now.” I might have been able to name the writer. Although I also might have thought that it was The Byrds. But Jarrett’s cover is an instrumental. 

Second, honestly, the music sounds very, very different from Dylan’s (or The Byrds’ for that matter), and you kind of have to know what you are listening for. So, now that I know that it’s a cover, I can (sort of) hear it. That all being said, it is really a beautiful song in its own right. It features a 23 year-old Jarrett on piano, still relatively early in his career, accompanied by the brilliant Charlie Haden on bass and Paul Motian on drums, and was recorded live at Shelly’s Manne-Hole in Hollywood, California in August, 1968, only four years after the original was released on Another Side of Bob Dylan

As Motian recalled

In those days I think I owned about ten albums by Bob Dylan, and the Beatles and all that. I listened to all that shit, man, that shit was strong. That influenced Keith, it influenced all of us, especially Keith, and the music he was writing too. So we were getting into other areas. We’d never play semi-rock and roll kinds of things with Bill Evans, never. But with Keith that was the times, you know? We’re talking about the very late sixties and the early seventies. 

Jarrett went on to join Miles Davis’ band, and then became one of the most heralded pianists in jazz, as a solo artist, a leader, and as a part of small groups. With Haden and Motian as well as saxophonist Dewey Redman, he formed what was called the “American quartet” while simultaneously playing with Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielsson, and Jon Christensen (the “European quartet”). His collaborations with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette (one of my favorite drummers), for albums of standards and originals, are also incredible. Jarrett also wrote and performed classical music, plays a bunch of other instruments, and even was a musical guest on Saturday Night Live, back when it was more common for the bookers to look beyond the pop charts for guests. 

Unfortunately, Jarrett had a series of strokes in 2018, and can no longer perform.