Album cover of the week: Speak No Evil

Released in 1965, trumpeter Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil is rightly considered an all-time classic of hard bop.  It also has one of the more striking covers of any Blue Note album from the period.  The typical monochrome hue effect is of course present, which by ’65 was fairly standard for the label.  But putting the star in the background of the photo is an interesting choice. The lipstick mark at the top is also a nice touch.

The slightly blurred lady up front is Teruka (Irene) Nakagami, Shorter’s first wife. Cover design and photography was by Reid Miles, who produced many of Blue Note’s other great covers.

Enjoy this bonus clip of Shorter and his band performing “Witch Hunt”, the album’s first cut.

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I come not to bury jazz, but to praise it

Jazz!I might as well offer my two cents on Terry Teachout’s recent editorial for the Wall Street Journal, “Can Jazz Be Saved?”, since so many others already have.  In it, Teachout beats the same funeral drum that countless other jazz pundits have for decades – namely that the already small audience for jazz is shrinking alarmingly fast.  He even offers as evidence some results from a recent survey by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The survey results Teachout extracts present a gloomy picture for jazz lovers indeed- not only is attendance down, but the median age for jazz fans is fast approaching AARP territory (from 29 in 1982 to 46 in 2008).  He makes the case that jazz, in terms of its audience, is becoming the next version of classical music.

This reminds me of the old joke about the two genres – classical is music by a bunch of dead white guys and jazz is music by a bunch of dead black guys.  And of course there’s the oft-quoted Zappa lyric, “Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny.”  But I digress.

Even with all his scary facts and figures, a few things about Teachout’s piece didn’t sit right with me.  First off, he’s being a little selective with how he presents those facts.  As the NEA’s summary points out, attendance for all forms of the arts (jazz, classical, opera, ballet, plays, etc.) is down since the last survey.   To me that says more about the audience for these things than the art forms themselves.

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Album Cover of the Week: Undercurrent

Less than a month after playing a series of shows at New York’s fabled Village Vanguard jazz club in June 1961 – that would be immortalized with a pair of live albums, Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby – Bill Evans was rocked by tragedy when his bassist and musical partner, Scott LaFaro, died in a car accident at age 25.

Devastated, Evans recorded and performed very little for the rest of 1961 and the beginning of 1962.  In April and May of that year he entered the studio with guitarist Jim Hall and recorded the first album with his name on it since LaFaro’s death – Undercurrent.

Bill Evans and Jim Hall - Undercurrent

This is the original album cover as released on the Blue Note label.  It’s a very simple shot and yet a very powerful one.  The original image was taken in 1947 by famed photographer Toni Frissell, and it’s called “Weeki Wachee spring, Florida”.  As you can see by looking at the original, Blue Note saw fit to add not just that interesting (some might say cheesy) watery-looking font but a strong blue tint.  This was a common practice of the label, and was usually done to great effect.

Nevertheless, subsequent issues of Undercurrent have not only omitted the font but the tinting as well.

Bill Evans and Jim Hall - Undercurrent reissue

I’m not sure why the extra grain was added, as it certainly isn’t present in the original photo.  If they didn’t plan on presenting the photo as is, I’d prefer they just stick with the original blue version.

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Album cover of the week: The Sounds of Jimmy Smith

Starting today and running every Monday until I lose interest, I’m going to feature one album cover that is notable for either being well-crafted, visually striking, humorous, or all of them at once. I am old enough to remember when vinyl still held sway as the dominant format for music delivery, and I’ve always lamented the decline of the format for reasons other than the ones usually trotted out (i.e. it just “sounds” nicer than compact discs).

Back in the day (yes, that dreaded phrase), album covers served as the last chance for a record to sell itself. Would-be owners spent hours thumbing through record racks, waiting for something to pop out at them. A lot of great (and lousy) music was discovered this way.

So with all that out of the way, here’s your album cover for the week of May 12, 2008:

The Sounds of Jimmy Smith (1957)
The Sounds of Jimmy Smith, Blue Note, 1957 (photo by Harold Feinstein)

Fans of the venerable Blue Note record label recognize what came to be the imprint’s signature cover look throughout its heyday – an image of the artist cast in a distinctive color (like this). 1957’s The Sounds of Jimmy Smith took a slightly different direction, as it didn’t show a picture of the legendary jazz organist at all. To be honest, I’m not really certain what the image is supposed to be, but it looks like something Nikola Tesla probably invented. Also, it’s really cool.

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In Concert: Robert Glasper Trio – Princeton, NJ, 12/14/07

Listening to Robert Glasper‘s albums is a good way to appreciate the Brooklyn-based pianist’s incredible talent for performing and composing. An even better way is to catch one of his live performances, such as Friday night’s concert at the 360-seat Berlind Theatre, located on the campus of Princeton University.

Glasper’s trio (with bassist Vicente Archer and new drummer Chris Dave) performed as a single organism, deftly playing off each other over the course of their set. While Archer is a solid (although not spectacular) bassist, the stars of the show were Glasper and Dave, whose instrumental prowess cannot be doubted.

Glasper, who split the set fairly evenly between his two Blue Note albums (2005’s Canvas and this year’s In My Element), showcased both his calm, meditative side and his bold, adventurous side. He opened the set with a new number entitled “No Worries,” which would be a welcome addition to his next release. Some of the other highlights were “G&B” and the Herbie Hancock/Radiohead cover of “Maiden Voyage/Everything in Its Right Place” from In My Element and “North Portland” and “Enoch’s Meditation” from Canvas.

There were a few moments of humor during the performance, although the seemingly uptight audience seemed more engaged by Glasper’s playing than his talking. As with his albums, he made use of pre-recorded sound clips to augment some of his music. In this case, a New Age-ish synthesizer effect and a sermon/speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made appearances via an iPod Glasper controlled.

The band was coaxed by the appreciative (albeit restrained) audience into performing one encore, a spirited Thelonious Monk cover that may have been the highlight of the set. After the show, Glasper made himself available to sign copies of In My Element (conveniently for sale in the gift shop), of which I am now a proud owner.

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