Myra Melford and Hans Bennink

Eleven Ghosts (Hatology 1994)

Myra Melford is an adventurous jazz pianist who has collaborated with Henry Threadgill, Butch Morris and Dave Douglas while leading her own troupes on a series of albums. Hans Bennink may be one of the most adventurous and creative drummers of the past 40 years. He’s worked with Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Eric Dolphy, The Ex, Derek Bailey, Don Cherry, Peter Brotzmann among many others. Bennink is a drummer who has always been adept at straddling the line between playfulness and ferocity. It is only fitting that these two souls should collaborate on album that makes free jazz somehow delightful and accessible. I love free jazz, but this may be one of the most fun examples of the genre that I’ve heard. If your ears shut themselves off at the mere mention of free jazz, then check this one out since it is alternately absurd, avant-garde and a ray of sunshine. Eleven Ghosts somehow puts a smile on my face even though it is a bit impenetrable at times.

I’m posting this album because it contains one of those moments that reaffirm my faith in music as an uplifting force in my life. These two musicians tackle Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and turn it inside out and make this ragtime classic into something entirely their own. Melford vamps the timeless chords in an unfamiliar way while Bennink utilizes his bag of rhythmic tricks, bells and whistles to create a entirely new work that alternates between explosiveness and familiarity. It is a fitting finale to an excellent album that properly showcases what these two musicians are capable of in the company of one another.

Various Artists

Ruckus Juice and Chittlins

The jug maybe the the most versatile kitchen staple outside of the crafty spoon when it comes to making music. The saute pan was abandoned as a percussion tool during the Great Depression and the food processor was a failure from the start. My earliest memories of jug bands consist of offensive hillbilly stereotypes in Warner Brothers cartoons and Emmit Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. However, I always found something tragic, but comic about its flatulent “oom-pa-pa” refrains.

The only man to lift the jug to new heights was Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators who utilized an electric jug on their earliest forays into Texas psychedelia. Therefore, we are left with dusty 78s of the 20s and 30s to satisfy a craving for old-fashioned jug band music.

The Yazoo label is an excellent resource for the forgotten history of American folk, blues and country and its catalogue rivals anything found on the Smithsonian-Folkways series of albums. I’ve never heard of a single soul on this compilation and chances are you haven’t stumbled upon King David’s Jug Band or Cannon’s Jug Stompers (How’s that for a image!) either. There isn’t a mournful moment on the whole album. This is a music of celebration as these musicians draw upon or predate blues, folk, bluegrass, western swing and jazz to create a joyous clatter. It’s also interesting to hear how each artists utilizes the lowly jug in so many different ways. Some use it to imitate the human voice, others use it as a percussion instrument of sorts while some use it for comic relief. It provides such a distinctive sound that it makes you wonder why more bands haven’t adopted it today. Ruckus Juice and Chittlins documents a thoroughly American form of music and stands as one of the better comps on the Yazoo label.

Susanne Abbuehl

April (ECM 2001)

I sometimes think that the sentimental, sappy side of personality is what causes me to love every release on the ECM label. Yes, some of their 70s output was fresh, confrontational and new, but their overall output is so minimal and pleasant that I feel as if I’ve been brainwashed through constant exposure. How did a label responsible for Bernie Maupin’s Jewel in the Lotus and Julian Priester’s Love, Love give rise to some of Keith Jarrett’s snooze-a-paloozas? The sick shit is that I own a few Keith Jarrett albums. I have a problem. Don’t even get me started on my fanaticism about Meredith Monk. I play these records for people and its like I’m arguing that cocktail wieners or a box of nerds are as special as a truffle.

Thankfully, my addiction is easily sated since it’s relatively easy to find recent ECM releases in local budget bins. I even felt a lame rush of excitement when I found a vinyl copy of Don Cherry’s Codona the other day. Therefore, I get to discover gems like Susanne Abbuehl’s April and share them with my limited readership.

Susanne Abbuehl is a Swiss/Dutch singer and composer who has studied Indian classical music and recorded two albums for the ECM label. April is her debut and it includes a revamp of “Round Midnight” and a few Carla Bley tunes as well as a curious hybrid of cocktail jazz and a raga. On the surface, Abbuehl’s voice could woo your casual fan of Norah Jones or Diana Krall, but there is something far more sophisticated at work here. Her backing band plays so gently and minimally that there are no crescendos or climaxes to be found. The end result is a slow burning, sensual jazz vocal album that is stunning in its own subtle way. I guess it’s a bit of an aural bubblebath complete with stinky candles, but sometimes a fellow has treat himself like he’s got some class.

Wynonie Harris

Good Rocking Tonight

Let’s take a break from the bearded prog, psych and wussified indie pop for a moment and pay tribute to one of the unsung forefathers of rock and roll. Wynonie Harris got his start during wartime with some guest spots with Lucky Millinder’s jazz and big band outfit and performed at the Apollo. They had a falling out and Wynonie headed for the West Coast where he embarked on a solo career that resulted in fifteen top ten hits between 1946 and 1952. His version of “Good Rocking Tonight” was especially popular and it easily bests Elvis Presley’s version by a country mile.

I first encountered Mr. Harris’ music on an afternoon in Savannah, GA where it was so oppressively humid it could rouse fungus from your knickers. I was quite hungover and involved in a shameful drive home from some long-forgotten peccadillo. While listening to the local oldies station, a happy-go-lucky, raunchy number called “Bloodshot Eyes” blared from my meager minivan and it spoke to me in an embarrassing way. It deals with his frustration with a drunken lover who has used up the last ounce of Wynonie’s patience. I especially loved the imagery of the chorus.

I used to spend my money, to make you look real sweet
I wanted to be proud of you when we walked down the street
Now dont ask me to dress you up, in satin and in silk
Your eyes look like two cherries in a glass of bottled milk

Wynonie’s bluesy, gruff hollering goes perfectly with the raunchy tunes he covers here. It’s not hard to predict what you are in for with titles like “Keep On Churnin’ Til’ the Butter Comes”, “I Like My Baby’s Pudding” and “I Want My Fanny Brown.” Predictable as it me be with its steady stream of double entendres, Good Rocking Tonight is a damn fine listen with a glass of whiskey and a scenic porch on which to sit.

Alice Coltrane Transfiguration

Disc One:

Disc Two:

I owned Ptah, the El Daoud for years and filed it away in a corner for that one glorious afternoon where it would magically burst from its shelving and place itself into my cd player. Sadly, that day never came and its explosive potential remained hidden. Other albums which currently occupy this purgatory include Bill Fox;s Transit Byzantium, a couple Derek Bailey records and some Mo Wax comps that I believe to future obsessions hampered by the fact that I just haven’t given enough of a shit to physically place them into a cd tray. Alice was one of the few who escaped the force of my musical inertia and the proverbial boo-boo jeebies were blown loose by what was heard, loved and appreciated.

An ex-girlfriend amplified this newfound love as she enjoyed the free-jazz as background music for cooking, cleaning and the like. Who was I to complain and I gained an even more thorough love of Mrs. Coltrane music during such mundane tasks as cleaning toilets and gutting fish. I think these actions made me love her even more. One album wasn’t enough and I immediately snapped up the Sepia-Tone reissues of her 70s work when they released years back. They all shined like stars, but one was a literal supernova of free-form brilliance. It didn’t hurt that parts sounded like the sounds of a Pac-Man game filtered through a hallucinogenic sieve. In case you are unaware, Alice was married to John Coltrane and contributed to some of most brilliant works.

This is a live recording of her appearance at UCLA on April 16, 1978 and she is backed by Reggie Workman and Roy Haynes. Alice plays the organ and piano in a way I’ve never quite heard before. It is as if she is creating a sacred music or battling vicious demons. I’ve never been able to differentiate between each path. It contains the sounds of someone finding redemption and meaning through music and that is reason enough for you to click a friggin’ mouse.