I got locked out of this Tumblr for the last few months. What’d I miss?

Horace Silver: The Cape Verdean Blues (The Cape Verdean Blues, 1965)

Horace Silver was one of the greats, a jazz innovator who made music that was as fun to listen to as it was to think about. He co-founded the Jazz Messengers with Art Blakey, in the process becoming one of a handful of players and composers who could lay a claim to inventing hard bop.

Silver died toady at age 85, and I miss him already. That stuff above is why he was important, but when I think about my connection with his music, his significance to jazz doesn’t really enter into it. I love what his mind did with the basic ingredients of bop. He wrote some astonishing melodies, and his arrangements were always clever and thoughtful. On his best-known tracks, like “Song for My Father” and “Sister Sadie,” he used his horn sections to play tightly written tunes that sounded casual and free, a little like a conversation where everyone’s on the same page about something.

He got that sound from listening to jam sessions at his childhood home in Connecticut. His Cape Verdean father would have friends over, and when they played together, it was mixed with people talking, and the playing was loose. He only ever once directly referenced his paternal ancestry in a song title, on this track, and he gave the song an insistent rhythmic pulse that pushes along the horns a little more strongly than he might have a few years earlier.

This is maybe not the best track to illustrate it, but Silver was an amazing piano player. This song features some of his great rhythm playing; he could play percussive and funky, but he could also pull back to reveal a lighter touch. His 1959 LP Blowin’ the Blues Away features some of his most inspired solos, and some of the playing on that record is just about as good as jazz piano gets.

Silver was, like most jazz vets, a constant mentor to younger players, having himself been discovered by Stan Getz. Louis Hayes, Hank Mobley and Blue Mitchell all learned on the job in his band; I don’t think it’s an accident that each player was himself immensely lyrical.

Silver lived a good, long life and was musically active for most of it, though his legacy was sealed even before he recorded this song. I’m sure I’ll be listening to him a lot over the next few days.

Nirvana: “School” (Bleach, 1989)

This one’s for Chad Channing. Nirvana will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, but Channing won’t be inducted with them, in spite of playing drums on all but three songs on Bleach, their debut album (Dale Crover played on the other three).

I don’t know what weird politics are at work at the Rock Hall that govern who’s inducted with a given band and who isn’t, but it seems to me that Channing at least deserves some credit for being an important part of the band’s history, even if he wasn’t around when they took over the charts and, yeah, changed everything.

There are other people who played important roles that aren’t in the Hall—the most egregious omission I can think of is that Bob Welch was left out when Fleetwood Mac was inducted; if it wasn’t for his stewardship of the band, there never would have been a Buckingham/Nicks version of it. Leaving him out ignores the band’s history. Channing’s not that pivotal, but snubbing him still feels cold.

I wonder what Kurt Cobain would think of all this. I didn’t know him, obviously, but he seemed like the kind of guy who would have gone up to the podium and brought all the people the Rock Hall left out—Channing, Crover, Pat Smear, maybe even Jason Everman—with him just to make a point. He also probably would have been conflicted about the honor in the first place, immensely gratified and proud, but also uneasy about being lionized or sewn into a pat narrative.

That’s basically what halls of fame do, though, and it’s also why, as fun as it can be to mull over what warrants inclusion in such as institution, halls of fame will also never really be useful as a record of culture. As much as it sucks for Channing to find out he’s been overlooked (there were rumors he’d be inducted before he got the news, and he sounded excited), I hope he can at least take comfort in the fact that, 25 years after he helped make Bleach, I still listen to it, and so do thousands of other people. And his drumming is just perfect for the music.

Anonymous said: Hi Joe - just gave you a shout-out on Twitter because I really liked your Tinariwen record review on Pitchfork from a few weeks ago. Check out my blog on international music: Sugar Knights (sugarknights-dot-net). I think we're into similar things. I used to work for a National Geographic world music television channel in Europe and helped set up a Nat Geo record label in the States a few years ago. Keep up the good work!

My god, the video and song in this post. So good.

olepbr said: Could you do a re-up of your stellar UK Prog series? Lost all the volumes, and the only one still available is 19.

Hi. This message is ancient, so sorry for that, but yes, a re-up is coming in April.

The Stooges: “1970” (Funhouse, 1970)

Scott Asheton died the other day. I’ve hardly written anything here this year, but I couldn’t let that pass without some sort of tribute. Asheton was the drummer for a lot of bands, but the one that really matters is the Stooges.

Formed in Ann Arbor in 1967, when the band hit the Detroit rock scene, it was truly something different for its time. Iggy Pop gets a lot of the credit for that. He was hte wild frontman, after all, and it’s pretty much impossible to spend much time around someone who’s been on the Detroit scene for more than 20 years without hearing some sort of weird story about him.

But Iggy getting shirtless and bloody and confusing the hell out of people is just a fraction of what made that band special. Asheton and his guitarist brother Rob each brought a sound to the band that hadn’t been heard before, and on record, where you can’t see any of the flailing, their presence is arguably greater and more important than Iggy’s to what the band left behind. (Dave Alexander was great too, but it’s honestly harder to carve out a space that’s totally your own as a bass player.)

I wanted to feature a track from their second album, because Don Gallucci’s production on Funhouse really puts Asheton’s drumming right in your lap, dry and unadorned. “1970” in particular is Asheton at his best, holding down a shuffling rock beat, but doing it in a way that simultaneously grounds and contributes to the sense of chaos and madness at the heart of the song. He rarely just pounded out a straight beat (ironically, the tightest conventional rock beat on the whole album is on “Loose”).

His drumming created the sense that everything could fly apart at any minute, but that we were going to keep surging forward as long as it held together. It was a little like the rivets on an airplane wing rattling out of place as the pilot barely avoided catastrophy by sticking a rough landing. If you wanted to be an effective rock drummer after Scott Asheton, you had to learn more tricks than just throwing in a fill here and there.

Asheton was great at what he did. He was influential—Mogwai even named an album after his “Rock Action” nickname—but he was also the kind of musician other musicians liked to work with, as evidenced by his extremely long CV. He’ll be missed.

 Vusi Mahlasela: “When You Come Back” (When You Come Back, 1992)

This song always makes me think of Nelson Mandela. I don’t think it’s really about him, but the chorus—“they’ll be ringing the bells when you come back/they’ll be beating the drum when you come back” just seems to resonate with his release form prison and the end of Apartheid, the latter of which occurred two years after this was released. 

I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it when Mandela died, but I’ve given his life a lot of thought in the time since, and while there were many things to admire about him, I think I’ve settled on one thing that makes him truly great to me:

He walked away.

Revolutionaries rarely make good leaders after the battle is won.  ”But… but George Washington!” I can hear my fellow Americans saying. Here’s a little secret about the American Revolution: the people who took power were the people who were already in power before the war. They were statesmen before they were revolutionaries, and that isn’t the case with most revolutionaries. 

Most revolutions are lead by people who start on the outside looking in. Their goal is the erasure of some sort of injustice, and that was certainly the case with Mandela-as-revolutionary. Examples abound, however, of those who overthrow a corrupt regime replacing it with one just as corrupt and wrong. Castro in Cuba is one example; Iran’s 1979 revolution is another, and those are fairly run-of-the-mill examples of the oppressed morphing into oppressors. They don’t even touch the Pol Pots and Maos of the world.

Mandela was not like these people. He swept into power in South Africa’s first free election. His election could have been a coronation. he could have taken for himself a great deal of power. But he didn’t. He stewarded the country through a difficult transition, and then he turned down the chance to run for president again and capitalize on the value of his personality and the love people had for him. He refused to encourage a cult of personality or any kind of tribalism, generalized black-white tribalism or otherwise, and in so doing, he laid a real foundation for lasting democracy.

He left behind a country with a hell of a lot of real and pressing problems. But he did not do the weak thing and make it about himself. He made it about the country and the future, and that is why I’ll always value him. He was someone more leaders and revolutionaries should learn from.

Yusef Lateef: “Eastern Market” (Yusef Lateef’s Detroit: Latitude 42-30 Longitude 83, 1969)

One of my favorite jazz bandleaders died just before Christmas. Yusef Lateef was born William Emanuel Huddleston in Chattanooga in 1920, but grew up in Detroit and built the foundation of his career in the city’s underappreciated jazz scene (Milt Jackson, Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd, the three Jones brothers and Paul Chambers all came from that scene, and Miles Davis weathered one of the toughest parts of his career there). 

Lateef was an expressive and imaginative tenor sax player, but unlike most jazz musicians, who really work on mastering their voice on a single instrument, Lateef built an identity as a multi-instrumentalist, playing flute, oboe, and over a half-dozen non-Western reed instruments. Those non-Western instruments figured prominently in his adventurous and pioneering experiments in early world music on albums like Eastern Sounds, Prayer to the East and Into Something

Coltrane was among the many who listened to those albums and took notes—the two never played together that I know of, but I would’ve liked to hear that. Lateef did play with many others, though, appearing as a sideman even long after establishing himself as an influential and capable bandleader. He played for both Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Donald Byrd, Curtis Fuller, Grant Green, Olatunji, Art Blakey, and Les McCann, among many others; he’s not a household name by any means, but he’s thoroughly woven into the fabric of jazz made from the 50s through the 80s. 

Over that span, he evolved capably, as did all the best leaders. His 1969 LP Yusef Lateef’s Detroit, looked back to his formative years playing in that city when it was at the peak of its might, with tracks named for the neighborhoods he spent his time in and the streets that defined his travels. “Eastern Market” is named for the huge farmer’s market just northeast of downtown (before I-375 was built and ripped their guts out, some of the city’s most thriving black neighborhoods were just south of this area).

I buy vegetables at Eastern Market a few times a year, and it still has the bustling, free-for-all feeling suggested by the shouted vocals at the end of this track (the guy who runs it, Dan Carmody, is an insightful thinker about the relationship between food and community). Really, listening to the whole LP as a Detroiter conjures the city, and even if it looks back to a time when the city’s fortunes were much different, it still isolates the feelings that make the city special. 

Lateef’s arrangements reflect the rhythmic, psychedelic music that the city had become famous for producing. The band includes a 19-year-old Chuck Rainey on bass, with a cameo by Cecil McBee, Ray Barretto on congas, Bernard Purdie on drums, and guitarist Eric Gale. Lateef gets funky on the flute and throws in some inventively arranged strings, too; it’s soul jazz where the combination doesn’t neuter either one. 

This was the kind of synthesis Lateef could pull off. He knew how to pick a band and shape the music around it. Listen to the space he gives Purdie here. Everything is loose-limbed and grooving. The album ends with Lateef on tenor, playing through the standard “That Lucky Old Sun” with incredible depth of feeling, almost as if to remind that he was a hell of a straight jazz player as well as an experimentalist. 

Lateef spent a lot of his later career teaching jazz at universities. He died at his home near Amherst, Massachusetts, where he taught as UMASS and Hampshire College. He was 93. If you care at all about jazz, give this guy a few thousand moments of your time. It will be worth every one of them.


Alemayehu Eshete: “Tey Gedyeleshem” (Ahma Records, 1972)

 Sometimes, language is a prison. It locks you into hearing a sound a certain way, because you can’t divorce what you’re hearing from the meaning of what you’re hearing. I think this is why I’ve long been drawn to music sung in languages I don’t understand; the lack of understanding frees me from the chain of meaning and lets me really hear what the voice is doing without having to think too hard about it.

I especially love listening to foreign-language music played in a style I’d normally associate with English, the only language I speak well. Listening to Spanish-language boleros from Cuba isn’t quite the same, because the bolero is a style built around the rhythms and cadences of Spanish, whereas, for instance, this Alemayehu Eshete track is basic funky soul sung in Amharic.

The music, which opens with a great instrumental hook, scarcely hints at Ethiopian modes, or even the characteristic three-against-four rhythms you hear in a lot of Ethiopian popular music. You instead get a horn section and a rhythm section grooving the hell out of something essentially Western-sounding.

And then there’s Eshete, whose singing is strongly rooted in Ethiopian vocal traditions, with their attendant modal harmony and melismatic adornment, singing over the top of it. Amharic is not a similar language to English. English is written alphabetically, and this reflects the way it’s pronounced, with a fluidity between vowel and consonant.

Amharic is not written alphabetically. Originally, it was an abjad, similar to Hebrew or Arabic, in which only consonants were supplied, leaving the reader to supply the vowel sound. This reflects the way these languages are spoken, which is to say gutturally, with a sort of clip over the vowels that connect the consonants. Most European languages are spoken from the mouth; Amharic and other languages that use abjads are spoken more from the back of the throat. 

Amharic has evolved away from a pure abjad over the centuries. A lot of abjads add little markings above or below the consonants to guide the reader in choosing the correct vowel sound, and the Ge’ez script, used to write Amharic, Blin, Me’en, Tigrinya, and several other languages, has adopted these markings as a permanent part of the script. Linguists call this an abugida, and each consonant/vowel marking combination represents a syllable or portion of a syllable. So the vowels are a little longer in Amharic than in a lot of nearby languages. 

But Eshete is still figuring out a way to sing music that was designed for one kind of language in his own, very differently spoken language. His solution is basically to let it rip, a solution he shares with a lot of his contemporaries and one that makes Ethiopian pop from the 60s and 70s distinctive and a joy to listen to.

I don’t know what he’s singing about. Possibly girls? I’d rather not know, honestly, because not knowing allows me to dwell on the wonderful things he’s doing with his voice, an experience I don’t get to have when I know every word.

— Joe Tangari

My contribution to One Week One Band’s always-great year-end them week.

Suede: It Starts and Ends With You (Bloodsports, 2013)

Sometimes, the best new things are old things. Suede is my wife’s favorite band, and we listened to them a lot in the summer after high school and during college. Over the years, they’ve come to be one of my favorite bands as well (I initially rode only for the Bernard Butler era, but these days I think the post-Butler stuff at its best is just as good; they simply became less consistent.

Suede came back this year, which was not a surprise, as they’d toured in 2010, and there’d been rumblings abut a new album for some time. What was a surprise is how good the album they made was. “It Starts And Ends With You” was one of my favorite songs for the year, and it hangs with anything from their classic era.

it is also essentially the epitome of a Suede song. Brett Anderson’s vocal line soars toward the title refrain, but every verse starts out much more downbeat, and Richard Oakes’ guitar line behaves like a second voice, conversing with it.

One of the funny things about Suede is the way that element of their sound stayed consistent even when they switched guitarists. Oakes was a huge Suede fan and learned some of what he knows from listening to Butler, but he has a different way of playing the same basic style that makes the band’s music a little more candy-colored.

I always thought A New Morning was only okay, and not much of a way for such a great band to go out. Bloodsports is a hell of a way for a band to come back, and it makes me hope they’re not done.