You Cant Judge a Book by Looking at the Cover

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There seems to be two kinds of jazz record collectors.  First, there’s the guys that really love jazz.  A lot of them are musicians, and it seems like nearly all of them are artists of some kind or another.  These are the guys who take weird jazz albums to the listening station and really listen to them, nodding their heads and smiling when its good, reading all the liner notes, and picking the winners.

And then there’s the record collectors.  Sometimes I feel like they’re more interested in the plastic disc than in the music that comes out of it.  Yeah, it’s my job to sell records to people and it’s none of my business why they’re buying them, but I feel like a lot of people are missing out on some of the best jazz records simply because the performers aren’t famous enough or because the label isn’t prestigious enough*.

It would be an interesting experiment to put together an essential jazz LPs feature for some hipster publication like Slate and include one record that surely, truly, certainly does not belong on the list.  You wouldn’t describe it that way, of course.  The review would say something like

Freddie Hubbard’s Windjammer finds the legendary trumpeter backed by a pop orchestra, a half dozen vocalists and strings, all arranged by Lucky Seven-era Bob James.  Throw in a cover of “Feelings“ and you’ve got a classic.

So somewhere in between Kind of Blue, some essential Charlie Parker collection, and Saxophone Collosus, we’ll put Windjammer.  If you could get somebody to publish the list you would see a surge of Windjammer sales on Amazon in the coming weeks.  People would buy it simply because it’s essential, but what’s really remarkable about the phenomenon is that they’d buy it and then like it too.  It’s all about perception, and when you sit down to listen to a record the expectations that you bring with you will completely establish the boundaries of the experience.  Worst case scenario, Windjammer will become a disappointing classic.  A one-star soul jazz album from the same year, on the other hand, might end up surprising you because it was better than expected.  Blue Mitchell is a trumpeter with a pretty similar background to Hubbard, for instance, and his 1976 album Funktion Junction isn’t all bad.  At least, not as bad as you’d expect.

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Thats what I find so frustrating about jazz collectors who wont take a chance and try something new or less established.  One wouldn’t even have to buy it because we have a listening station!  There are so many awesome jazz LPs that look terrible, that really should be terrible from the personnel listed or the producer or the ear for the label or whatever, that really swing once you put the needle down.  On the other hand, there are a lot of records that hardly settle into the new arrivals bin before they’re gone that are really unoriginal, boring, or downright bad.  Lou Donaldson made a dozen albums for Blue Note and they all sound the same.  They could possibly all be the same record and none of us have ever noticed, and yet by the simple merit of being 60s Blue Note LPs they sell for up to $500. I don’t understand when collecting jazz records became so completely divorced from jazz itself.


So there’s these guys here in town called JazZen, and they’re great.  Those first two tracks are from their new disc, Bounce off the Moon.  Its a great collection of originals and a couple standards by a trio of Bobb Fantauzzo (wood flutes), Aaron Kerr (electric cello) and Derrin Pinto (drums).  The only bad thing I could say in a review of this disc is that the jacket, or box or sleeve or whatever you call CD packaging, stinks.  It took me two days to sit down and listen to this disc because it looked like it was going to stink.

I guess Bo Diddley was right.

Derrin encouraged me to hear their disc, and I’m glad he did because I really enjoy it.  I listened to it a lot and after a while I started to think of people we know here around the shop who would love it.  If you’re interested in the second Miles Davis Quintet (The Shorter/Hancock/Carter/Williams group he recorded with in the middle 60s) youre going to be impressed by the relationship Aaron and Derrin have as a rhythm section – Able to swing lightly and suddenly expand into distant explorations all within the same piece – and with the range Bobb can achieve with instruments we often disregard as new age fodder of for that music you can hear playing by the greeting card aisle inside Target.  Bobb’s wood flutes are unconventional, but no more than was the then-obsolete soprano sax Coltrane started playing with “My Favorite Things“.

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So I talked to PauL from Vinyl Afterlife (the amazing artist who does all of the design work for Hymie’s) and suggested he create something that looks more like a Blue Note jacket.  Specifically, I suggested Herbie Hancocks Takin’ Off.  Heres what he sent me:

The tracks you have heard are “Pronostico“, “Jean Pierre“ and “I’m Wearing White“.  The second song is by Miles Davis, but each of the other tracks in this post is an original by Bobb or by the group.  This last selection is the title track fro the disc, and it includes a spoken word part by Bobb Fantauzzo.  I actually left out of this post my favorite track from the disc because I wanted to save it for a future post.

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You can see JazZen play this Sunday here at Hymie’s.  Click on the In-Store Performances link above for more information or give us a call.  You can also hear them at the Acadia on August 4th or at St Pauls Hat Trick Lounge on the 20th, where they will be having their official CD release event.

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