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Top 20 Jazz Discoveries of 2008

Posted by: on Dec 21, 2008 | Comments (4)


1. Pygmy Unit – Signals From Earth (Private, 1974)
An amazing free-jazz recording on par with Sun Ra’s Strange Strings; just totally otherwordly. Features Darrell DeVore. Recorded in San Francisco and self-released.


2. Mary Lou Williams – Zoning (Mary, 1974)
Takes the piano and reimagines it as a power tool. Like nothing else Mary Lou Williams ever recorded. A pure product of the times, and also self-released.


3. Bill Barron – Modern Windows (Savoy, 1962)
Such an original voice on the tenor saxophone; also, Kenny Barron’s brother. I heard this and I was transfixed immediately. Nothing else on Savoy sounds like this.


4. Terumasa Hino – Taro’s Mood (Enja, 1973)
Whether sparse or pummeling, this record is in the moment from beginning to end. The total highlight of a batch of Japanese jazz LPs I came across earlier this year.


5. Leon’s Creation – This is the Beginning (Studio 10, 1970)
San Francisco group that could have given Sly Stone a run for his money. Absolutely kills from beginning to end. Unbelievable grooves. Found in a 25-cent bin!


6. Boogaloo Joe Jones – No Way! (Prestige, 1971)
Funky jazz guitar that never goes out of style. For some reason I never liked Grant Green all that much, but this is incredible. Like a wild pet escaped from its cage.


7. Donna Brooks – I’ll Take Romance (Dawn, 1956)
Basically a totally unknown singer who only made this one album. She captivates me.


8. Peter Brötzmann & Walter Perkins – The Ink is Gone (BRO, 2002)
Horns and drums skipping over the fires of hell. Wild sounds and intrinsic interplay. A more focused continuation of Machine Gun and Nipples.


9. Krczysztof Komeda – Cul-de-Sac (Harkit, 1966)
While digging around for Knife in the Water, I found this. It has its own sound. It grew on me, and it’s completely unique. He died young.


10. Takehiro Honda – Jõdo (Trio, 1970)
Piano player from Japan who weirdly appears nude on the back cover. The title track alone is as suspenseful as a Hitchcock classic.


11. Lucy Ann Polk – With the Dave Pell Octet (Trend, 1954)
My favorite obscure female singer of the last two years. Wore out her LP on Mode, and finally got a copy of this session; it’s breathtaking.


12. Mel Graves – Three Worlds (Arch, 1980)
Two days after he died, I came across this in the dollar bin. Had no idea it existed. Pretty out-there spiritual stuff, with George Marsh and Andy Narell.


13. Bennie Green – Soul Stirrin’ (Blue Note, 1958)
There once was a time when people partied in the studio and called it an album.


14. Don Pullen – Solo Piano Album (Sackville, 1975)
“Unique” doesn’t begin to describe this solo outing. Sadly overlooked. His playing always takes me on a mental journey.


15. Cecil Taylor – Love For Sale (United Artists, 1959)
Just an lesser-known LP from his late-’50s period that I hadn’t heard of until this year. Half Cole Porter songs; half originals. Straddles reality and non-reality, respectively.


16. Jaki Byard – There’ll Be Some Changes Made (Muse, 1972)
When I die I want Jaki Byard to come back to life and play at my funeral.


17. June Christy – The Cool School (Capitol, 1960)
I avoided this for years, thinking it was a soulless children’s record. Instead, it swings like nothing else and fast became one of my favorites. The kids are alright.


18. Billy Butler – Guitar Soul! (Prestige, 1969)
More guitar jazz that actually creeps under the skin. “Blow for the Crossing” is a backbeat nightmare that belongs on every mixtape.


19. Paul Bley – Ballads (ECM, 1967)
I have a Paul Bley record on ESP which is blessed by heaven. Most everything else is okay, but I found this last week and it’s in the clouds. Piano brilliance.


20. Melvin Jackson – Funky Skull (Limelight, 1969)
Standup bass, run through a fuzz box. Eddie Harris’ right-hand man. A fun one.

Bits ‘n Pieces: Tom Waits, Downtown, Restaurants, Traverso’s, Mel Torme, etc.

Posted by: on Jul 13, 2008 | Comments (9)

Don’t ask me how I know this, but I assure you it’s true: Tom Waits officially recorded his show last week at the Fox Theater in Atlanta for a broadcast on NPR. From all the reviews on Eyeball Kid, it seems like one of the best shows on his entire tour so far. There’s also this great little Excel spreadsheet-type calculation thing of every single song Tom Waits has played on the American leg of his tour over at Eyeball Kid, which is a drool-inducing jealousyfest for fans like me.

 

In a matter of incredibly arcane Tom Waits trivia, we here at City Sound Inertia bow our heads in remembrance of China Light, the dingiest little Chinese restaurant in Santa Rosa, on the corner of College and Cleveland Avenues. I used to live around the corner from the place, back when it was painted a ridiculous pink color, and every night at about 10pm they’d close so the whole family could eat around a large round table in the family dining room, off to the side. It was sweet. What does this have to do with Tom Waits, you ask? It’s this room that Tom Waits chose for a photo shoot, posing with a book about human oddities, right after Mule Variations was released.

The best thing about China Light, of course, was the beautiful misspelling on its corner sign: “Lunch Specil.”

I’m not sure that Waits ate there very much; he probably just liked how run-down the place looked. Do you remember when a car crashed through the front of the building, and it took the owners 8 months to patch up the gigantic hole? Seriously, for 8 months there was just a pile of bricks and a sheet of cardboard covering the wall. I checked their health code violations on the Sonoma County Food Inspection website once—they had about 5 or 6 critical violations. Not that it mattered; I loved their soup, although it did go a bit downhill. The last time I ate there was the day that Blowfly played at Michele’s, in Santa Rosa, and all I remember is that the chicken was so gooey and undercooked that I was literally spitting it out onto the ground as I left out the front door.

 

Apparently Tom Waits signed his contract with Epitaph at Rinehart’s Truck Stop in Petaluma; or, to be more precise, the now-defunct Zoya’s Truck Stop Cafe. Now that’s a place I miss. A perfect cheap spot between Santa Rosa and San Francisco, with the most amazing painting of an eagle, on the wall above the booths. Run by Russians; on bad days, it smelled more like borscht than burgers. Story goes that Waits was willing to sign with Epitaph, but insisted on meeting label head Brett Gurewitz there. So Gurewitz drove up from L.A. and met him at the truck stop, contract in hand. (It’s on the same exit where the makeshift memorial for Georgia Lee Moses is, immortalized in Mule Variations‘ “Georgia Lee.”)

Greg at Flavor told me tonight that Waits used to come there every Tuesday for a while. Then he stopped. Aw, hell, I could go on and on about Tom Waits—hey, what about restaurants? Bummed that Cafe Japan, right next to Flavor, closed; they were such nice people, and to my mind the best sushi in town. Here’s to a good run.

 

Probably the strangest dining experience I’ve had lately was eating at Mariscos F. Magiy on Sebastopol Road a couple weeks ago. While I ate my squid quesadilla, I was kept company by a very large and smiling bulldog, panting and drooling next to my table. I love dogs, but some guy (who works there? hangs out there? I dunno) saw me and firmly warned, “Stay there. Don’t move.” Eventually he got the bulldog to go back into the kitchen. “He looks friendly,” he said, “but he’ll turn on you.” Hmm. Incidentally, the quesadilla was delicious.

 

Old Santa Rosa diehards like me are all abuzz over the news that Traverso’s is moving to Fountaingrove; it makes sense for them to be across the street from a lot of old people with money, but I will miss them being downtown in a major way. But now who will spend all day politely dealing with people asking for change for the bus? Mr. “Shut Up Hippie” over at Cafe Martin?

I was talking with Michael Traverso, one of the friendliest check-out clerks in the world, after they sold the building and started looking for a new location. Here’s my favorite thing about the move: Michael says they’re completely planning on taking the store’s hardwood floor with them. “Really? You can do that?” I asked him. “Sure!” he said. “It’s the original floor! We moved it from our old location when we moved here!” You gotta love stuff like that.

Is there a copy editor out there who can solve the mystery of the Traverso’s sign? Right next to the smiling man holding a stretch of salami and the promise of “101 Varieties Cheese,” it proudly boasts their motto: “Traverso’s Got It!” Since the name of the joint is Traverso’s, shouldn’t it read “Traverso’s’s Got It?”

The sandwiches at Pete’s market on 4th and Mendocino are better and cheaper anyway.

 

Long overdue are my dorky kudos to the city of Santa Rosa for making our sidewalks more skateboard-friendly! Just about every raised crack in town, it seems, was shaved flat back in the springtime. The skateboarders of the city thank you. Now if only it was legal to ride on the sidewalks!

 

Parking meters, parking meters: those new pay stations are wack and everyone knows it. I’m guessing they’re here to stay, which is ridiculous since there is a much more convenient way for people to pay for their parking. It also requires no adaptation of the city’s current meters: have you ever noticed the credit card-sized slot in the city’s LCD meters? It’s there to accept parking cards, a program that the City of San Francisco has used to great effect. It’s easy: you buy a parking card from City Hall, it has a certain dollar amount on it, and when you park somewhere, you insert it into the slot while the meter counts up. Reach the desired time, remove the card, and that’s that—no change needed.

I asked a woman at City Hall’s Parking & Transit office the other day if there was any possibility of the city issuing parking cards to use in these ready-and-waiting slots. “Not gonna happen,” she said. “Not in this budget cycle, at least.”

The two most plausible theories about the city’s excitement over the new pay stations that I’ve heard are 1) With the new pay stations, the city can make more money because it’s impossible for drivers to tell if there’s money left on a meter, and 2) Some outside city analyst suggested that removing all the parking meters would make the city look nicer.

 

They’re finally fixing the drinking fountain in Courthouse Square, at least.

License plate of the week, parked at the Odd Fellows Hall in Santa Rosa.

I was sitting on some steps eating a sandwich a couple weeks ago and looked over and saw this collection of heroin needles in the bushes. Corner of Mendocino & Silva, where the cops routinely crack down. Kind of a weird place to shoot heroin, in my opinion.

Isn’t this supposed to be a music blog?

I was defeated in a lyric-remembering showdown recently, when Anna Allensworth knew the correct opening line of “Sunday in New York” and I, in shame, did not. I thought it was “New York on Sunday / Big city havin’ a ball.” Anna was right: “New York on Sunday / Big city takin’ a nap.” Two very different things. Congratulations, Anna!

 

In a related tangent, I have been together with Liz now for almost seven years, and only just tonight, I discovered that she knows all the lyrics to “Singin’ in the Rain.” I thought Gene Kelly was the only one who knew more than the first four lines. Congratulations, Liz!

 

After he played it for me one night and I couldn’t shut up about it for days, Josh Staples gave me a copy of an amazing, amazing album: Modern Windows by Bill Barron. It rides a real fine line between post-bop and avant-garde, and it’s all one long uninterrupted suite separated into different movements, and Barron’s tone on the tenor sax is a menace. I love it. Thanks, Josh!

 

The two crappiest music videos I’ve seen all week: “Puff Puff Give” by Hannah’s Field and “No Tight Clothes” by Thug Slaughter Force. Painful shit, folks. Click at your own risk.

Okay—enough rambling. Time to get back to watching The Big Knife. It’s a great film that was part of the United Artists 90th Anniversary Film Festival at Film Forum in New York, but unfortunately not part of the touring version which hits the Rialto at the end of this month. Video Droid‘s got it. Rent it from them, and no, I still don’t have a Netflix account.