Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Making Flippy-Floppy

Ginger Baker
Originally uploaded by bsglaser.

Artist: Ginger Baker
Albums: Going Back Home; Coward of the County
Source: Bought used

One of the (many) things that drove me crazy about the 2004 presidential campaign was the Flip-Flop. Through some very crafty rhetorical maneuvering, the ‘Publicans drew a bright line around the idea that if you ever changed, you were a bad person. (Nevermind that the entire platform of the religious right that was underwriting said campaign is to get other people to change long-held and deeply-felt beliefs.) On important matters like war, country and the future, one should (apparently) stick with whatever decisions one made a long, long time ago, regardless of what may have transpired within that time.

To a certain extent, people are the same way about their musicians. Everyone wants to see “growth” in the artist, even “maturity” if a guy or gal sticks around long enough. But if an artist actually changes…well, that’s usually a problem. From Dylan plugging in at Newport to LL Cool J or Nirvana accepting an invitation to be on MTV Unplugged, it can drive the purists nuts.

Sometimes the purists are right. Lou Reed, for example, has “grown” all over the place, trying on all sorts of characters and styles, instrumentation and recording techniques. But for all his creative spelunking, all of the really good records Velvet Lou has made in the last 40 years or so sound more or less the same. And how well did it work out when Bob Mould started making dance music? Just typing that sentence makes me a little sad.

But there are probably more instances where working out new muscles is the key to staying in the creative ballgame. Ginger Baker – the artist formerly known as The Drummer from Cream – will always be known as a rock drummer. It will be the 1st line in his obituary, and he no doubt knows it. So the idea that he was suddenly a jazz musician probably came as news approximately as welcome as Dylan finding Jesus.

Score one for the Growth Crowd, though. Ginger has turned out to be a jazz drummer not only of considerably ability, but one with a personal voice and slightly groundbreaking style. Instead of denying his rock chops on his jazz discs, Ginger makes them work together, letting the potential stylistic conflict work itself out as riveting musical tension. It ain’t fusion – it’s just damn good music.

Going Back Home is one that I picked up for the other 2 names on the package: Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden. I’ll listen to just about anything either of them plays on, and figured Ginger couldn’t fuck it up too badly with them around. But that’s not how it is here – Ginger is clearly, audibly the leader here, and the trio meshes like nobody’s business. It would take pages and pages to fully describe everything that’s good here – instead, just take my word and get the disc. I still play it all the time, and it always sounds fresh.

Coward of the County is another one I bought because of another name on the guest list. This time it was James Carter, a young sax player who had just blown me away at the Blue Note. I found this little gem that features his playing (along with Ron Miles, another Frisell associate) and…well, wouldn’t you know that it’s Ginger kicking ass again. This time it’s a large-ish jazz group, but the tunes, the playing, the arrangements and the goddamned GINGER are happening left and right.

The best part is that neither of them sound like Cream, or anything directly related to what the name “Ginger Baker” conjures up. Like Wilco ditching the alt-country or Coltrane leaving be-bop behind, Ginger takes the leap of faith in his own talent and artistic instincts, and flip-flops into some great records.

SISOSIG? If anything, I should probably be looking for more Ginger Baker discs. These are so comprehensively delightful that it not only makes me think highly of Baker, but validates the entire concept of an artist changing his palette, even when (or maybe especially when) he’s got a good thing going.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Share, and Share A Like

Chet Baker
Originally uploaded by bsglaser.
Artists: Chet Baker; Oscar Peterson
Albums: Let’s Get Lost: The Best of Chet Baker Sings; Oscar Peterson Trio + One; Oscar Peterson Live
Source: Bought new (CB & OPT+1); bought used (OPL)

It is a surprise to many people (myself not least among them) that I have married someone who isn’t a music person. Eileen is not particularly against music (though she has had some bad reactions to a few things I’ve put on the stereo – usually things like Sonic Youth or Bill Frisell which, I have to admit, may not be for everybody), but she also doesn’t really care too much about it. When we met, she didn’t have a stereo, and her small boombox was broken; the fairly decent CD collection had long ago been spirited into slim travel CD holders; and if given a choice, she’d opt to turn the TV on instead of the radio.

For the most part, this is just fine. We don’t get into tussles about which person’s choice of CD goes in the player, and there was no grand merging of The Beast with an equally sizable partner when Eileen moved in; that’s especially good, as I haven’t the foggiest notion where we would have put a Double-Geek collection. And given my track record with crazyrockchicks, being with a gal who doesn’t hear her own pain reflected in a Scrawl song or have her anger crystallized by a Sleater-Kinney album ain’t necessarily a bad thing.

The only place where it’s a small problem is concerts. Live music is maybe the main-est of my main things. I love the experience, and have long been happy to form parts of my social life around shows. The fact that my birthday is always at the same time as the JVC Jazz Festival means I never have to think too hard about what I want to do to celebrate – good food and live jazz, please (and the food is optional).

As I am with sports, Eileen is comprehensively uninterested in concerts. She feigned interest in a few near the beginning (including being game for a long Yo La Tengo show early in our relationship), but soon acted miserable at any concert we went to and opted out 99% of the time.

All of which is fine, except that I miss her at shows.

Well, maybe that’s not quite right. I miss sharing the wonderful experience with her, but it became pretty clear that it wasn’t so wonderful for her. So instead of both of us sharing the great music, we ended up sharing her displeasure at being there (even when forced by Birthday Rules, there’s no mistaking that she can’t wait for it to be over). Which means mostly no concerts for the two of us.

It’s not really a problem – I’ve got Concert Buddies, like Lee and Debbie and Mike, and truth be told I don’t have the time or energy to go to quite as many shows as I did back in the day. But it’s weird to have a night out with my friends and Eileen stays behind, sometimes just a few blocks away from the show – I more or less have to tell them that she stayed home by herself rather than join us. Of course, once the music starts, it’s all OK, and I usually get swept up by what brought me there in the first place. Still, I always kind of wish Eileen was there; or rather, that she wanted to be there.

I know I wouldn’t have to drag her to a Chet Baker show. The fact that he’s been dead since 1988 means it’s unlikely to happen, but a boy can dream, right? Let’s Get Lost is one of the few pieces of The Beast that Eileen has responded to spontaneously. I’ve been able to get her interest with a specific song or two on a mix CD, and she seemed to learn to like YLT’s “Our Way to Fall” when I picked it for our first wedding dance. But Chet is something where, unbidden, she got enthused about the whole CD, listening to the songs as each one unfolded, and eventually asking for it by name. I wouldn’t have picked his voice as such a winner for her, but then again these are 20 beautifully melancholy little gems that unfold over a languid hour; I guess it would be more of a surprise if someone didn’t respond to them.

It most certainly is as surprise, though, that she also digs Oscar Peterson. Sure, there’s a lot for me to love here – the smashingly fleet piano technique, the deep interplay of the band, Ray Brown’s out-of-this-world bass – but since Eileen claims to be bored by instrumental music in general, her love of this is a mystery to me. And I’ve tested for something flukey, putting OP on at different times, in different contexts, without saying anything. Each time she reacts, saying how much she likes it. Go figure.

So while I may not have married a Concert Buddy (and ducked a lifetime with a crazyrockchick), we still get to share some music together. Eileen sings along when I play the Magnetic Fields’ “Come Back From San Francisco” or the 6ths’ “San Diego Zoo” (both from a trip-specific CD I made for a vacation to San Diego), and will demand repeat plays of “Good Vibrations.” I try to put on things I think she’ll like when I can, and it’s still a little delight for me when Eileen enjoys a song or album along with me. As for the rest of the many-splendored musical delights that are so much a part of me and part of my life…well, I’ve got headphones, don’t I?

SISOSIG? Albums That Eileen Likes are, at this point, a precious commodity and must be preserved. I’m not getting rid of these, and in fact still hope to discover more CDs that might eventually enjoy the endangered-species-like protection of being music we can share together.