Duke Ellington: The Pianist

sinemacula2.jpgThis on-going series hasn’t even gotten off the ground yet, and I’m changing it, slightly. There will still be the sharing of a “perfect” album, but after the break, I’m going to provide some albums that are new to me, with some thoughts. As with everything else, this will continue to be updated with no pattern or continuity.

Duke Ellington is mostly known for his work as a big band leader along the lines of Count Basie and Glenn Miller, and rightly so, as he was one of the most talented and well-known musicians of the big band swing era of jazz music.

He recorded a few, and only a few, solo albums, and this is, perhaps, his finest. It sits only ten tracks long, all composed by Ellington. He’s accompanied by string bass and drums, and the accompaniment seems present only to serve as a structure for Ellington to work with.

The album is mostly playful, with fun, quick tunes provided by the opener, “Don Juan”, closer “Fat Mess”, and in between, “Tap Dancer’s Blues”, “Sam Woodyard’s Blues”, and “Duck Amok.”

The rest of the tracks round out the character, with “Slow Blues” functioning as a track 2 change of pace, and on two different takes of “The Shepherd”, Ellington displays some of his creativity and virtuosity.

My two favorite tracks, often enough, are the heartbreakers: “Looking Glass”, and “Never Stop Remembering Bill”. Both tracks have a wistful atmosphere to them, and without lyrics invoke a similarly haunting nostalgia to songs like “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca.

Ellington is never as flashy as an Oscar Peterson–he never comes off as a virtuoso, but that’s not his game, anyway. Every song here sounds familiar and beautiful.

The new Modest Mouse album is good, oh golly gosh yes. It’s not as weird as some as they’re earlier albums, and it’s generally not as radio-friendly as they’re last album, but nonetheless, this is good stuff. We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is typically cryptic and, ya know, whatever is we all expect Modest Mouse to be, but this is way more high energy, screaming, howling, laughing music than on Good News for People Who Love Bad News and the ever-praised The Moon and Antarctica. The album tends to make a lot of use of mismatched layers of pounding vocals/guitars/drums/whatever. No really hate-worthy tracks to speak of, though there are a couple forgettables in the middle third. “Dashboard” is the current track of the hour, though there’s at least half a dozen more extra-enjoyable songs on here. Highly Recommended.

With as much expectation and early, illegal downloading as possible came Neon Bible, the new Arcade Fire album. And, I suspect, the collective reaction from everyone, everywhere was, “Hmm.” Their first LP, Funeral was so absurdly adored (and, frankly, so very good), that it was plainly obvious that these unkempt Canadians fellows had no-hope-no-hope-no-hope-at-all of repeating their first album in terms of quality and adoration. Everyone knows this. Everyone. And still, we knew that we’d buy the album instantly and we steadfastly refused to admit how tempered our expectations were. And when we finally played it, it wasn’t terrible. It didn’t possess nearly the grandeur of their debut, but it was more listenable. It felt less cohesive than Funeral, but it was more diverse also. It wasn’t great, but it was okay. Pretty good, even. We knew they couldn’t be great in the same away, again, and we’re all just relieved they weren’t even slightly terrible. Recommended.

I’m not sure if there’s a contest for best album artwork ever, but I’d like to submit my nomination. See, there’s this band from Portland, Oregon, and their first album was a flipbook and their second album… Well, I don’t know what the hell it is, but it is fun to play with, and the music is fucking sweet. Menomena has released their second full length album, Friend and Foe, and it’s hands down the best album I’ve heard so far this year. Their first LP, I Am The Fun Blame Monster! was interesting and different, but not great. Now with their second album out (which, by the way, might someday get its own Sine Macula treatment) the first album sounds better than it did before. Everything is calculated, muscular, and off-kilter, if such a thing can be imagined. It’s vaguely apocalyptic, vaguely youthful, and really, frigging good. I love it. Highly Recommended.

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2 Comments

Filed under Music, Sine Macula

2 responses to “Duke Ellington: The Pianist

  1. For Duke Ellington to be flashy would be a denial of what made him so wonderful in the first place – pure, refined, sophisticated elegance. Never a gauche moment with Edward Kennedy Ellington.

    This by way of saying that if you intend to continue writing about music, and especially jazz, I’ll be hanging around reading every line.

  2. TC

    Oh, I’ll certainly continue to write about music (and hopefully, get gradually better at it, as I’ve got no knack for that music mag hyperbole in which all instrumentation is personified and there is talk of quavering, pensive guitars and other such nonsense. Right now I’m barely better than, “This album is great!” Workin’ on that.

    As for the genre of music… I don’t know how much jazz there will be. There’s definitely more, but how much, I really don’t know. I don’t listen to a ton of jazz, but the albums I have, I really, really love.

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