Ever since I started this blog last year, I've ended almost every post with a playlist. These have generated some delight, some curiosity, and the occasional question. The latest comes from reader Doug Gary, who asked in the comments field of last night's post about Janine Jansen whether my playlists imply recommendation of the items mentioned.
The short answer is yes. And if you'd prefer not to follow me into something of a solipsistic ramble, start scrolling down the page now, and stop when you come to the next photo.
My playlists actually predate this blog. Back when I was a frequent contributor to the lively jazz-related bulletin board Speakeasy on the Jazz Corner website -- where I posted hyperactively under the nom du pixel "Other Steve," because I was one of about ten Steves there and also because so much of the music to which I referred was "other" than jazz -- the forum to which I contributed most frequently was one simply called "What Are You Listening To?" This was, and continues to be, a place where contributors simply rattled off lists of the discs they'd been spinning lately. More-ambitious posters might also include capsule reviews. But mostly it was one list after another, as well as discussions sparked by a reader inqiring about an item on someone else's list.
At Speakeasy, I tended to list pretty much everything at first -- the good, the bad and the ugly. (Sometimes, if something I'd spun was truly awful, I might add that I'd only made it through a few cuts.) But over time, I listed only those discs that had truly contributed something to a day's mental or emotional ambience. I came to look upon these tallies as something of a diary in code. Some lists seemed to imply a mood, especially those all-death metal days. Some provided a clue to one or another project I was working on at the time, while others revealed time spent with old friends or new acquaintances. Most were a combination of all of these things.
One reason I drifted away from Speakeasy was that I came to view my obsessive list-making as overly narcissistic within a social context -- whereas on a personal blog, they seemed to make perfect sense. So when I launched Night After Night, the playlists came along, but they evolved.
(A digression: Since I listen to music for a living, there's something ringing in my headphones almost constantly during office hours, and I also carry a CD player with me for the commute to and from work. I've been outright ridiculed for not converting to iPod, but my absolute commitment to instant access ties me to the old platform. If something new arrives in the mail, I don't want to have to import it and then sync my external device in order to walk around with it. If somewhere between Point A and Point B I'm seized with a sudden urge to hear sounds I don't have on hand, I want to walk to Virgin or ride the subway to Tower, and walk out satisfied. Granted, these days there's maybe a 50/50 chance I'll be thwarted -- especially when it comes to classical recordings -- but I nevertheless demand the luxury of that option.)
And thus: If I namechecked absolutely everything I stuck into my ears in a given day, the lists would be absurdly long. They would include items to which I have no intention of ever returning, and they would also include a lot of things listened to partially, or in a cursory manner. So nowadays, the basic rule of thumb is that my playlists include everything that made an impact during the day (or days) since the last post, everything that taught me something, every morsel of nostalgic comfort I retrieved from the archives. Basically, everything I enjoyed.
In that sense, the playlists can be construed as recommendations. But I also know that my tastes are far too catholic (and idiosyncratic, probably) for these tallies to serve as consumer advocacy. I reserve that particular function for my CD reviews -- some of which appear here, but most of which appear elsewhere -- while hoping that you'll continue to indulge playlists that really don't tell you much about anything other than me.
On the other hand, I'm never one to shrink from singing the praises of a truly noteworthy recording. And I hope that more than just jazz fans will follow this link to my TONY review of Twin Falls, a gorgeous new CD of piano and electric bass guitar duets by Deidre Rodman and Steve Swallow that's just out on the Sunnyside label. Rodman is the pianist for fabulous pop combo the Lascivious Biddies (familiar to Terry Teachout regulars), and leads a big band that includes Jazz Passengers Roy Nathanson and Curtis Fowlkes, as well as other larger-than-life characters. Her lovely new CD offers impressions of a recent trip to her home state of Idaho, along with deeper emotional resonances I'll allow you to discover on your own. My review cites Rodman's "knack for crafting melodies as simple and timeless as gospel hymns or folk songs," and positions this pair's interplay as being somewhere closer to Bill Evans and Jim Hall than to the typical piano/bass duo session. (Which is not to say that they play like Evans and Hall.)
New Yorkers, please take note that Rodman and Swallow are playing at Joe's Pub on Friday, May 12 at 9:30pm. Were it not for a previous engagement, I'd surely be there myself.
And, having spent most of tonight explaining why I prefer to maintain some bit of ambiguity about the playlists, I'll close by mentioning that the final item on tonight's list -- Basic Blythe by saxophonist Arthur Blythe, issued in 1988 -- was spun in tribute to the late, great pianist John Hicks, of whose premature passing I learned earlier today at Do the Math.
I don't outright disagree with the Bad Plus assessment that Hicks was never heard to full advantage on record. But this particular disc -- the "with strings" session that concluded Blythe's Columbia label stint, and a major-label release so relatively obscure that Gary Giddins, a constant Blythe booster, once confessed in the Village Voice that he'd never heard it -- has long been a favorite of mine.
This session was likely a pressure point in Blythe's Columbia tenure, and the saxophonist has rarely sounded so completely alive and impassioned on disc since then. The version of his yearning composition "Faceless Woman" here has never been bettered, before or since. Hick's contribution to the track is right there on the leader's level; the strings offer a smoothed-out version of the countermelodies and harmonies that might once have been provided by guitarist James Blood Ulmer and cellist Abdul Wadud, while the rhythm section of Anthony Cox and Bobby Battle keeps things at a boil. The result is one of my most cherished recordings -- and naturally, it's long out of print.
Rest well, Mr. Hicks.
Martin Tétreault and Otomo Yoshihide - 4. Hmmm (Ambiances Magnétiques)
Coheed and Cambria - Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness (Columbia)
Rush - R30 (Zoe/Rounder)
Corey Dargel - Less Famous Than You (Use Your Teeth)
Jelloslave - Touch It (Sugarfoot Music)
Depeche Mode - Speak & Spell (Sire/Rhino "Deluxe Edition" reissue)
Guns N' Roses - Greatest Hits (Geffen)
Arthur Blythe - Basic Blythe (Columbia)