The album Dark Night of the Soul will certainly be in my top ten of best of the year. Sadly, Mark Linkous, the primary writer of this brilliant piece of moody, pop music textured with hints of electronica and whimsical folk, took his life in March of this year prior to the album’s release. Linkous is at his songwriting best here and by forming collaborations with other guest artists (The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, Director David Lynch, The Strokes’ front man Julian Casablanca, Vic Chesnutt, Suzanne Vega, and The Shins’ James Mercer, Nina Persson), including the music industry’s most in-demand producer--Danger Mouse, each song’s singer provides a fresh meditation on Linkous’ grim lyrics and buoyant songs.
Fans of this album should look into Linkous’ previous musical project Sparklehorse in addition to the work of those he collaborated with over the years including Daniel Johnston, PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, and Fennesz.
Dark Night of the Soul
I recently discovered the Israeli pianist and composer Anat Fort and found that I have a great affinity for her and her trio’s hybrid sound that deftly weaves together both the rhythms and instrumentation of jazz with the plaintive austerity and minimalist ambiance of music akin to classical works or even touches of New Age. Her eclectic influences span from John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, and Elvis Costello to piano master Bill Evans. This collision of influences and styles works in fresh and innovative ways through her newest album And If. The attentive listener will appreciate the ways in which Fort merges the beautiful with the bleak, gentle melodies with avant garde timing, and romantic touches with flashes of emotional exuberance.
And if [sound recording]
This month’s jazz display (see it at Central) only scratches the surface of KPL’s vast collection of jazz materials – not just the music, but writings and film on the subject as well. Navigating over a hundred years of jazz history is a challenge for all but the most dedicated jazz musicologists. Thankfully, for those of us who are novices, KPL owns a substantial number of CD box sets, which provide succinct overviews of jazz in all its variations, including:
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz: one of the best aural introductions to American jazz in the 20th century, this set opens with the birth of jazz, by way of Scott Joplin's ragtime piano, moves into the hot jazz best exemplified by Louis Armstrong’s ‘20’s sides, then sails through swing, bop, cool jazz, and the avant-garde. While it stops short of exploring jazz during, and beyond, the fusion period pioneered by Miles Davis in the early ‘70’s, it's a great spot to get acquainted with seminal jazz pieces and performers before that time.
Big Band Renaissance: a sequel to the Smithsonian’s earlier Big Band Jazz set (also available at KPL), this set takes listeners past “the big band era” by focusing on post-WWII jazz combo configurations. Classic big band auteurs such as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman still figure, but the set’s scope is greatly broadened by the inclusion of bands led by Sun Ra and Henry Mancini.
The Erteguns’ New York: Atlantic Records founders Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun were avid jazz afficianados (younger brother Nesuhi oversaw the label’s earliest jazz signings, including John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and the Modern Jazz Quartet). This set of '50's cabaret jazz numbers showcases vocalists such as Bobby Short, Chris Connor, and Carmen McRae, who wowed audiences at the cozier NYC clubs the brothers favored after hours.
Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar: the influence of jazz on the guitar (and vice-versa) gets its due with this set that generously makes room for artists such as Chet Atkins, Jimi Hendrix, and Carlos Santana, nestled side by side with jazz guitar greats such as Eddie Condon, Wes Montgomery, and Bill Frisell.
The Savoy Story: storied as much for its gospel recordings as for its jazz releases, Newark, N.J.-based Savoy Records was influential in the popularization of bebop music in the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s. Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, and Errol Garner were just a few of the great musicians who cemented their reputations during their time at the label – all are featured, alongside other legends, on this set that focuses on Savoy’s early jazz output.
This is just a small sampling of the jazz music KPL has to offer – check out our display this month, and our AV collection at any time, to dig even deeper.
Savoy Story Jazz