Playlist: Retracing Some Steps from This Week's Listening
Any week that includes music by Karen Black and Alice Coltrane is a good week....
This playlist is an attempt to answer a question music critics get frequently: How do you organize your listening? The short answer: You don’t. Sometimes I start with a particular record or artist in mind, only to wind up, an hour later, at an entirely unintended destination.
I tried to keep track of the (fitful, entirely unscientific) path my listening took over several days this week, and put some highlights in playlist form. Warning: There are some jarring segues.
For an upcoming newsletter piece, I’ve been scouting new classical releases for exceptionally warm, beautifully engineered recordings; one strong contender is a survey of Beethoven piano concertos played by Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman with the London Symphony Orchestra. It’s stunning — with great orchestral detail and a round, nicely organic piano sound.
Differently stunning are the stark, quirky songs actress Karen Black wrote and recorded during her moviemaking heyday. These have been curated and minimally produced by Cass McCombs for the compilation Dreaming Of You (1971-76); you don’t need the title to tell you we’re in the 1970s here.
I checked out Mood Valient, the latest from Australian funk band Hiatus Kaiyote, and was entranced by a short interlude-like piece featuring voices from the Brazilian Amazon. That reminded me of an unusual Alice Coltrane recording that just came out in original form: Turiya Sings was first issued in 1982 and featured strings, synthesizers and sound effects as well as Coltrane’s sung vocals. This version takes away all the orchestration, leaving just Coltrane’s initial vocal and Wurlitzer organ performance.
This week was my first encounter with electronic-leaning roots music from Guatemala. It was also my first exposure to the lowkey wordless vocal artist MJ Lallo, whose ambient-leaning home studio recordings, featured on several recent compilations, are fantastical, richly textured and unsettling at the same time.
Vault discoveries and tributes are among the week’s jazz haul, led by loose, exceptionally interactive live duo recordings featuring trumpeter Roy Hargrove and pianist Mulgrew Miller that were recorded in 2006 and 2007. But the motherlode is Kimbrough, a tribute to the late pianist and composer Frank Kimbrough; on it, a star-studded roster of improvisors tackle 61 of Kimbrough’s often challenging original compositions. Out of many highlights, I picked a pastel-hued mood piece featuring saxophonist Donny McCaslin and guitarist Ben Monder.
On the title track of his previously unreleased Welcome 2 America, Prince quips “One of our greatest exports was a thing called jazz…Think today’s music will last?” That’s one of those unanswerable questions for the ages, but as usual Prince has an answer: His music, with its sharp-cornered rhythms and head-swiveling improvisations, is destined to endure. The first full-length work to surface from the vaults since Prince’s death, Welcome was recorded in 2010 but sounds like last week – its filled with on-point and eerily prescient commentary on the state of American culture.
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