Monday, October 12, 2009

Music Library: J.B.'s, Jack Frost, Jack Kerouac, Jack Logan, Jack Nitzsche, Jack Scott, Jackie McLean, Jackie Mittoo, Jackie Wilson

The J.B.'s - Funky Good Time: The Anthology (recorded 1970 - 1976). Ladies and gentlemen, there are seven acknowledged wonders of the world, but you are about to witness the eighth. I was always confused by the fact that so many of James Brown's funk singles from the 70s were subtitled "Part 1" until I learned about the J.B.'s. These are the Parts 2 and 3 of those singles, slinky and tight instrumental funk with a jazzy feel that is not unlike Fela Kuti's afrobeat. The earliest singles have Bootsy and Catfish Collins on bass and guitar, but after recording a few of JB's best funk tracks, they hopped onto George Clinton's P-Funk train. But Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, and St. Clair Pinckney rejoined the J.B.'s after the Collins brothers left, and there's nothing on this collection that's merely average.

Jack Frost - Jack Frost (1991). This is the first of two albums made by Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens and Steve Kilbey of The Church after the G-Bs broke up in 1990. The sound is closer to the gauzy Church sound than the crispness of the G-Bs. It's an okay collaboration, too, a good bit better than some of Grant McLennan's solo work. And the song "Trapeze Boy" goes a long way to explain the enigmatic song "Mrs. Morgan" on the Go-Betweens' Bright Yellow Bright Orange album.

Jack Kerouac - Collection Sampler (1990). I used to covet the box set that came out in 1990 with three albums of Kerouac reading his own material. I desperately wanted a copy for myself, but I was 18, a college freshman, and usually broke. So I felt lucky when I found this six-track sampler for sale, and I played it over and over. And I can't recall listening to it much in the intervening years, so here I am, 19 years later, realizing that Kerouac is a somewhat annoying young-adult writer. OK, that may be a little harsh. There's a lot of good that came out of Kerouac's popularity: the idea that prose could mirror the rhythms of popular music (which, in all fairness, Kerouac didn't invent so much as promulgate), City Lights Books as a viable business, Tom Waits, Thomas Pynchon, Hunter S. Thompson (say, what's with the Tom/Thomas/Thompson thing?), Lester Bangs and, subsequently, a large swath of music criticism. But whereas I remember how much I bristled at age 16 to Truman Capote's putdown of Kerouac's style ("that's not writing; that's typing"), I pretty much agree now. For every little nugget of goodness (and there's only a few) in the six pieces on this mini-album, there's 10 minutes of unfocused blather. As clever and worldly as Kerouac seemed to me when I was young, he sounds like a self-impressed egotist now. There should be a word for outgrowing your heroes, but maybe it's too fundamental to human experience to mention.

Jack Logan - Buzz Me In (1999). I've owned a few Logan albums over the years, including Bulk and Mood Elevator, but this is the only one I still have. He's an interesting songwriter who I like without ever loving. This one was a major-label release with his typical twisty songs ("I Brake For God" and "Glorious World" are my favorites here). I should mention on the off-chance that any of my current bandmates read this blog that I stole one of his chord progressions from this album - the chorus of "Glorious World," I believe - for the verses of a song I wrote, "Evangeline."

Jack Nitzsche - The Lonely Surfer (1963). Besides playing piano for the Stones and Neil Young in their greatest periods of creativity, Nitzsche worked as an arranger for Phil Spector and The Wrecking Crew and composed the soundtracks to many, many, many movies. This album features his Morricone-esque surf hit "The Lonely Surfer," along with some of his surf & Western-ish movie music of the period, including the theme to "The Magnificent Seven."

Jack Scott - "Goodbye Baby." A killer rockabilly track that builds in mood and intensity on the basis of Scott's powerful voice alone.

Jackie McLean - Action (1964). Excellent album on the cusp of bop and free jazz with vibes instead of the piano you'd usually expect from such a quintet. Reading about McLean on Wikipedia is pretty interesting: he apparently pulled a knife on Charlie Mingus during an intense confrontation between the two, recorded so much in the 50s and 60s because he lost his cabaret card while a junkie, and later in life founded a university program for jazz studies while doing community outreach. Neat-o. I'd bet there's a good book about his life somewhere.

Jackie Mittoo - Showcase (1978). As keyboardist for the Skatalites and musical director for Studio One, Mittoo helped shepherd ska and rocksteady into the sound of reggae. This is a solo album from 1978, when Mittoo's sound was an instrumental, organ- and synth-dominated mishmash of electronica, reggae, dub, Booker T-ish Memphis soul, and disco-fied funk. It sounds like Daft Punk Does Jamaica.

Jackie Wilson - The Very Best of Jackie Wilson (recorded 1957 - 1969). From Mr. Dynamite (well, his band) to Mr. Excitement, all in one blog post! Jackie Wilson had a hell of a voice and a hell of a delivery, and these singles (which include "Reet Petite," "Lonely Teardrops," and "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher") crackle with intensity.


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