Saturday 26 December 2009

Things I've listened to most this year

This is a curious list of the 25 or so tunes I have listed to most since moving my music files to a new hard disc about six months ago (and resetting the play count).

I'm very surprised to see pianist Tord Gustavsen at the top, but then again. Paying ten pounds a month to emusic for the last year or so has meant that I have been able to download things on spec. Tord Gustavsen has been one of these finds. The music is ECM, nordic, ambient, jazz chillout music. The pace is often slow and deliberate, the tone moody and atmospheric, the harmonies and melodies soulful and jazzy. Tord is not up there with Brad Mehldau (genius!) but I seem to listen to him lot:
  • when wanting to doze on a train journey
  • when wanting to work on a train, cutting out the background noise but not really listening
  • on Sunday morning
There are few surprises and few changes of pace but it has grown on me and it I do pick up more each time I listen (or half listen).

Stablemates is a tune I spent studying in depth for a couple of months, writing and playing solos on the changes. Benny Golson writes quirky tunes with quirky changes. Tunes like this and Along Came Betty have provided me with a lot of inspiration - I never felt I have come across the definitive solo on this one. It has encouraged me to stop treating it like some kind of puzzle and to try and create a coherent melodic idea from beginning to end.

Another find on emusic, Simone Dinnerstein's recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations is very personal take, tender and meditative from the start with a very slow Aria. At the time she recorded it (at her own expense), she was teaching piano in Brooklyn. I like the fact that she does not try to impress through virtuousity. The music flows very naturally and it really brings out the best in the Bach's writing without ever getting in the way. Here's an interesting article on her and the recording from Slate.

I have been listening to Joe Henderson's Black Narcissus for a few months now. Joe's playing on this recording is quite understated and the tune itself moves from calm and almost wistful to something to something almost tempestuous on this version (from Power to the People). I like Herbie Hancock's impressionistic use of the Fender Rhodes on Ron Carter's bass part played up the top end. Coincidentally, the tuned up in the Saturday workshop I take with Geoff Simkins and has proved a nice workout for improvising over. I have subsequently head a version recorded a few years later with a much bigger band. It is surprisingly different, lacking the intimacy of the original quartet recording, but showing that a good tune is worth many treatments.

There are many recordings of Larry Goldings (Hammond B3) with the great Peter Bernstein on guitar and Bill Stewart on drums. As One is one of the most satisfying although, for me, the highpoint is seeing them on the Peter Bernstein Live at Smoke DVD where you can see every one of Peter's grimaces as he squeezes each note from the guitar.

Guitarist Joshua Breakstone has been a big discovery for me this year. This French recording, Memoire, is Joshua at his best. A sympathetic rhythm section including Michel Petrucciani's brother Louis on bass, a great choice of tunes and beautiful soloing throughout. Joshua's plays with poise throughout and shows what he has learnt in a career that has spanned almost four decades.

Surprisingly no Kurt Rosenwinkel in there, then the recent Reflections is his first release in almost two years. He's certainly been up there in the past with The Next Step and Heartcore, and I remember listening to Milton Nascimento's Club D'Esquina for almost a year when I got my first iPOD about five years ago.

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