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The WILT Archive

What I'm Listening tO

        Since I like to write, quite a few people have suggested I write a blog. But I’m not especially interested in writing about myself. I did enough of that in my book (A Cure For Gravity) and even that is as much about music as it is about me.

        Writing about music is difficult, but I still find it interesting to try. So, once a month, I’m going to write a few words about a few things I’ve been listening to. It can’t hurt, and who knows, it might even do some good.

February 2015: A True Tribute

It doesn’t seem like a year since I wrote about New Orleans music for Mardi Gras – and it isn’t, since Mardi Gras was in March last year, but this year falls early, on February 17th. (Apparently you have to be a Catholic to understand this). Still, as my piano tuner’s daughter told him recently: ‘Daddy, the older I get, the faster time seems to go by’. She is five years old. I probably don’t have to tell you how scary that is.

 

I’m not going back for another wallow in New Orleansiana (if that’s a word) but I do think this is worth a mention:

 

DR. JOHN: Skee-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit Of Satch

 

I’ve always thought that if you’re going to do your own version of someone else’s song, you should make it as different as you can from theirs. At least, that’s the rule I’ve always tried to follow: to flatter the originator not by imitation, but by bringing a creative effort of your own and meeting them halfway. If someone else is laying on the dinner, the least you can do is bring a good bottle of wine.

 

When I heard that Dr. John had made a Louis Armstrong tribute record, I imagined something pleasantly predictable, comforting and nostalgic. This clearly wasn’t what Dr. John had in mind. I wasn’t sure what to make of this controversial project the first time I heard it, but I keep going back for more, and I’m now just about at the point of calling it a great album.

 

All these songs are associated with Armstrong in some way – some more obviously than others – but Dr. John has chosen to honour the spirit of an earlier New Orleans legend by reinterpreting his music in sometimes startling ways. Mack The Knife, for instance, would be unrecognizable if not for some of the words, and includes a rap, which (to my astonishment) references Kurt Weill and the 1920s context of the original. Tight Like That has a wild Spanish/English singing/rapping performance by Telmary Diaz. There are several other notable guest stars, including Bonnie Raitt and the vocal group The Blind Boys Of Alabama, none of whom do quite what you’d expect them to do; and of course, a host of great New Orleans musicians, including trumpet stars Terence Blanchard and Nicholas Payton.

 

My favourite player here, though, is probably another trumpeter, the US-based Cuban émigré Arturo Sandoval. I’ve seen him play live twice, and he’s one of those players who uses the trumpet in the way it was, arguably, designed to be used: to raise your eyebrows, raise your temperature, raise your spirits – to raise the dead, for all I know. The way Louis used it. The trumpet is an instrument that says: I am here, I have something to say, and you better listen. (Miles Davis’s transformation of that golden sound into something soft, mysterious and full of pain, is compelling precisely because it goes against the grain, like an actor playing so much against type that you can’t believe it’s the same person).

 

On Tight Like That Sandoval is characteristically dazzling, setting off plenty of fireworks and ending on a string of impossibly perfect high notes, but without being tasteless. In Memories Of You, though, he plays deliberately, knowingly, in a style reminiscent of Armstrong himself, paying tribute to the master in one way before taking off with inventions of his own – paying tribute in another, more original way. It’s a very clever balancing act, and Dr. John pulls it off through most of this album. I think Satch would be happy.

 

 

Since I started writing these monthly essays (or whatever they are) I’ve surprised myself by having more to say about music than I expected. This month, though, I’m going to have to leave it there, for a very good reason: I’ve just finished recording my own new project, and am now deep into mixing. I have a lot less time and inclination to listen to other music than usual. It’s as though my ears are always ‘full up’.

 

Meanwhile, here’s another cocktail with roots in The Big Easy:

 

 

J J’s OLD FASHIONED

 

The Old Fashioned generates more debate than most drinks. A lot of trendy cocktail bars are currently favouring an allegedly ‘authentic’ and rather austere version, consisting of just whisky, a bit of sugar and a dash of bitters, maybe with an orange peel garnish. OK with me, but I prefer this slightly more festive interpretation. (If you find it a bit too sweet, cut back on the sugar, in which case you may have to cut back a bit on the bitters too).

 

In an Old Fashioned glass, muddle together 3/4 oz. sugar syrup, 6 dashes of Angostura or similar aromatic bitters, a splash of soda water, and half an orange slice. Remove and discard the crushed orange slice.

 

Add several ice cubes and 3 oz. of good Kentucky Bourbon. I generally use Maker’s Mark or Knob Creek, since they have more flavour and more alcohol than, say, Jim Beam, so they hold up better against the other ingredients – which will include melting ice.

 

Throw in the other half of the orange slice and a cocktail cherry. Stir. Toast. Drink. Repeat as needed.

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