If you're reading this in America, then you're fasting right now. Why? Because you're about to eat the equivalent of two baby hippos on Thanksgiving Day (but hopefully, you won't bloat to the size of a baby hippo) (though if you do, I hope you're all cute like this) (and not like this offensive hippo) (but I digress).
Once you've eaten and you're ready to chill, you'll want some jazz - some Thanksgiving jazz! And, hey, who says there aren't any great jazz or bebop vocalists these days? Unfortunately, a lot of people. You know, like that crotchety friend of yours who says they don't make good movies anymore. They do, of course, but like anything else, you have to hunt for them. It's the same way with new (or new-ish) jazz vocalists.
Happily, your hunt is at least partly over, because the vocalists on the Cheerful today are (I think) some of the finest ever. Let's start with Patricia Barber, without doubt one of the more unique vocalists, jazz or otherwise, working today, and a shockingly potent songwriter. The best place to begin is with her classic "Modern Cool," a thrilling, trippy, wildly original effort that even your friends who think current jazz has become the equivalent of elevator music (here's looking at you Madeleine Peyroux) will fall in love with. No, really.
She's just as compelling live, I promise, and in "Live a Fortnight In France," which is split between her own songs and familiar ones like "Blue Prelude" and "Laura," she performs for an understandably enthusiastic audience with her superb quartet, and even tries to speak French a few times. This is a very dangerous thing to do, since the French, as is their wont, do not appreciate foreign mangling of their language (if you find yourself in this situation, simply remind them that they're responsible for Roger Vadim, Jenifer Bartoli and mayonnaise) (it always shuts them down).
Let's move on to Catherine Russell, the New York City-born daughter of Luis Russell, Louis Armstrong's music director and a renown big-band leader (how's that for a pedigree?). In other words, she's the real-deal of current jazz and blues vocalists.
Her sound can be raw and vulnerable, or slinky and smooth, and in "Inside This Heart Of Mine," she cuts loose with a remarkable collection of bebop and swing classics. She's sometimes compared to Bessie Smith or Ruth Brown, and she does give them an inflective salute here and there, but otherwise, don't worry, she's her own thing. Pure bliss.
"Nujazz" is one of those dumb-dumb, catch-all jazz categories that music executives come up with when they can't classify something, and it's sometimes bandied about for "Lamb," a perpetually risk-taking band that mixes jazz, soul, trip-hop and electronica and anything else that might suit their needs at any given moment.
In their CD "Between Darkness And Wonder" they create a gorgeous jazz landscape, one that stopped me silent when I first heard some of it on the radio. "Who are they?!" I wondered. Their vocals are wonderfully spiky and expressive and they blend with the music, like another instrument. It all feels fresh, almost maverick, like a new jazz sound is being born.
When I first got my grubby paws on their "Live At The Paradiso," I was a little busy. I figured I'd listen to the first song just to see what it was like. But I became so enthralled, I couldn't tear myself away. It almost felt like I'd been hypnotized. The music is opulent, and the vocals, unencumbered by production in this live setting, are practically sparkling. It's my favorite "Lamb" effort.
Henry Mancini is hardly new, but I just got my hands on his "More Music From Peter Gunn," so it's new to me, and it certainly sounds more alive and vital than a lot of what you'll hear from today's jazz groups. It's what George Clinton was aiming for in the "Austin Powers" movies, but never quite achieved.
It's also been recorded with stunning clarity, so do turn up the volume waaaaay up. This is swingin', daddy-o jazz that everyone can enjoy, which means it's perfect for Thanksgiving, or any day that needs brightening up. I blast it in my car with the windows open (and I don't care what anyone thinks) (because it just too much fun).
Thanksgiving is generally a time when kids are running about, and when they aren't watching some awful kiddie DVD (that they've seen a million times), they're listening to vile kiddie music - and they want you to listen to it, too. And that can hurt you. Bad kiddie music is painful. Do this: when they aren't looking, swap out their "Austin & Alley" or "Disney Princess Songs" or whatever garbage they're playing, for some music by a frog.
They'll likely recognize the tunes, and you will, too, and better still, you'll be able to listen to a lot of terrific modern rock, alternative and pop vocalists performing them. It shouldn't work at all, but surprisingly, it does.
Herrmann-heads are always thankful for newly-released Herrmann, and parts 5 and 6 of the new Herrmann collection are a must.
The yummy gem here is "Hangover Square," which, as you might know, inspired a teensy little Stephen Sondheim to start thinking about writing music. Oh, and if you haven't seen "Hangover Square," rent it. It's a hugely underrated thriller about a "mad composer" played with riveting power by Laird Cregar (above on the left).
Boys and their toys. Sometimes boys buy them, sometimes they build them, much to the confusion of The Secret Song File below, who's doing a pretty good job of pretending to look "interested" (it took years of practice).
Speaking of toys and things, grandmas don't really like to receive toys for the holidays. But they do like listening to a certain hatchet-faced British songstress. You know the one, first discovered on some inexplicably popular TV talent competition show. Yes, she can sing - but that face! Ahhhhhhhhh! Still, every single grandma in the entire world will be listening to her brand-new CD. Some of it's wretched, but admittedly, several songs are lovely, and I won't argue with her vocal abilities. But that face! Ahhhhhh!
What toys are you playing with these days (keep it clean, please)?
Have a wonderful, happy, giggly Thanksgiving Day!