A year ago today, Paco de Lucia died. Here’s some more from him.
Cheese-jazz pioneer Chick Corea’s flabby standard ‘Spain’ was pared down to a rippling duet between flamenco colossus Paco de Lucia and jazzy Yorkshireman turned Indian mystic Mahavishnu John McLaughlin during tours of their Guitar Trio in the ‘80s (initially, the three was completed by Larry Coryell, then Al Di Meola). Corea’s original composition was a schmaltzy samba tune, but quoted the stately adagio from Joaquín Rodrigo’s renowned guitar concerto Concierto de Aranjuez – and although it cuts the quote out completely, this sparsely elegant McLaughlin/de Lucia reinterpretation still manages to be more faithful to the feel of Rodrigo’s piece than the Corea full-band version that lifts the adagio note for note.
Blues foghorn Jimmy Witherspoon lays out a characteristically progressive pre-nup with his prospective ‘little girl’, shocking the inevitable hordes of rich white hippies at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival by expressing a willingness to trade cunnilingus for regular dinners of ‘black-eyed peas, red beans and rice, and a little chilli’. His generosity extends so far as to suggest his eventual beau wouldn’t even have ‘to wear nylon hoes’. Ah, the Blues, so earthily compelling, so politically dubious. Jazzy blues guitar wiz Robben Ford sweetly noddles alongside his hollering paymaster.
A reasonably fascinating insight into a time when the unholy television-consumerism pact was still in metaphorical short trousers. Les Paul was American music’s one-man innovating starburst, crucial to the birth of the modern electric guitar and multi-track recording, as well as being a wildly entertaining master of his instrument. Mary Ford was a honey-voiced chanteuse, an able guitarist in her own right, and Paul’s comedy foil. She was also his wife.
In the early 1950s, the two starred in a series of comedic shorts filmed at their home, sponsored by halitosis-busting antiseptic merchants Listerine. They’re a portal into the saccharin-sweet white picket-fenced ideal of American respectability circa 1954 – a respectability which, like Victorian England’s before it, hid a fair amount of seediness. Continue reading “Alabamy Bound & Darktown Strutters Ball (Les Paul & Mary Ford)”
Eugene Chadbourne albums habitually sound like they were recorded in a tin shed, and there’s a reasonable chance they were. That’s not a criticism. Septuagenarian drum-king Warren Smith provides pitter-pattering propulsion to Chadbourne’s fumbling banjo on ‘The People With Too Much’, the latter squeakily upbeat as he paints a prole’s-eye view of the mindless excess of the needlessly wealthy.
Truly one of the least prestigious, least sought-after accolades in the history of the world, Billy Jenkins is probably the Bemolution’s favourite living musical artiste*. Please note, sadly, that that’s ‘living’ artiste, not ‘musically active’. Both spiritually worn-down and made financially unviable by the crushing commercialisation of everything, Billy Jenkins the musician has characteristically jacked it all in to officiate humanist funerals.
The Bemolution occasionally, certainly pathetically, writes to Billy to ascertain whether he’s any more likely to strap on his guitar again than he was during the last quarter, and he’s always gracious enough to reply:
“Me and music still not hearing ‘ear to ear’. The humanist funereal duties keeping the muse fully occupied – writing and conducting about sixty a year. That means an average of about 3,500 perfect emphatic words a week. Every week for the last five years…”
“The last CD I brought out – ‘Jazz Gives Me The Blues’ – took 26 funerals to pay for. ‘What you’re really saying is’, said Charlie Hart who recorded and produced, ‘that 26 folks had to actually die to make that record…’ Yup. And, with no-one buying anything, it ain’t worth the literal grief any more… The future is looking rather silent but faced with a smile.” Continue reading “Billy Jenkins Again”
Glastonbury looked rubbish this year, but our favourite moment, surprisingly, came from Metallica’s headline set on the Saturday night. In an oddly peaceful reverie between tracks of bludgeoning heavy metal, goatee-bearded holler-rocker James Hetfield, the band’s hunt-loving politics-shunning lead singer, took to the mic to bathe the crowd in a nice bit of wishy-washy pseudo-philosophy.
“I’ve got three questions”, he said, before asking the crowd to put their hands up/bellow/be generally noisily enthusiastic if they wanted a) the world to be a better place, b) to live in integrity according to their morals and c) be loved as they are. And then, without the merest hint of irony, he dedicated a song to the cuddly hippy idealism of everyone present: ‘This one is for all of you… CYANIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIDE!”
Anyway, we’re not putting any out-and-out Metallica up because it’s all very silly, to quote Professor Yaffle. Instead, you can have some filtered through the brain and digits of YouTube genius Andy Rehfeldt, here remedying the principal fault of metal music, namely its abject lack of self-deprecation and humour. If it was all like this, we’d listen to nothing but.
Musically, the Bemolution is grossly hypocritical. If a modern artist delivered an album of schmaltz-songs as silkily inoffensive as ‘Jazzman’, a half-live half-compilation album showcasing the late Les Paul, it would smear it and them into the creases of the world. But for some reason, saccharine lazy-Sunday aesthetic somehow becomes acceptable when it’s old, as the carefree waft of this Paul/Nat King Cole collaboration attests. Plucked from a squaddie-pleasing US Armed Forces Radio broadcast – from 1944 believe it or not – ‘Sweet Lorraine’ sees Paul’s ingenious noodling twinned with Cole’s enthralling purr, and the pair backed by a band-full of stellar players. The Bemolution’s standard intense dislike of cutesy-pie love lyrics is temporarily disabled, because it’s literally impossible not to enjoy that man’s voice on some level. Cole certainly deemed it worth maintaining, smoking three packets of Menthol cigarettes a day in the hope of keeping his unmistakable smooth baritone in top condition. Unfortunately, this practise also led to the inoperable lung cancer that killed him at 45. Oh well. Suffering for one’s art and all that.
Billy Jenkins is responsible for much journalistic willy-waving. Music critics tend to use him as a linguistic ordnance test, competing to encapsulate his raging idiosyncrasy in the pithiest, showiest, most OTT way imaginable. This is a man who has been variously dubbed ‘a combination of Woody Allen, Tony Hancock and Keith Floyd’, ‘the Victor Meldrew of avant-garde jazz ‘ and ‘the musical equivalent of Duchamp’s moustachioed Mona Lisa”. Elsewhere, he’s been likened to Vic Reeves, Telly Savallas, Tommy Cooper, Duane Eddy, Duke Ellington and Debussy.
Billy Jenkins is probably the closest thing we have to a British Zappa. He bombards his fanatical listenership with a combination of satire, improvisation, melancholia, cynicism, anti-commercialism, top-drawer musicianship and humour. Both men explore the spikier sides of jazz and blues while refusing to take it too seriously. And both apparently hate being compared to other artists. Presented with the frequently-used Zappa comparison, Jenkins spoke admiringly but briefly of Uncle Frank’s talents as a composer and arranger, dismissively skimmed over his guitar-playing ability before concluding that he was “a control freak, an excellent businessman and a capitalist. I am none of these things”.
Jenkins is a 55 year-old man from Bromley in Kent, the captain of the Francis Drake Bowls Club in Lewisham, and a magnificent live performer, which is a shame, since he’s now permanently off the road organising and conducting humanist funerals.
Here, performed in Belgium, is a shrieking atheistic blues number called ‘There Is No Lord Up There’, which nicely displays what Mr Jenkins is about.