Resits: “A” is for Adderley.

Resits are just that, sitting down not for the first time, but again.  Henry Miller says, in “The Books In My Life”, “…one should read less and less, not more and more.” But what about another option…reading less and less more and more times?

Music is so often only listened to once, so I am going to listen again to some records I have lived with.  The alphabet will do for me as a structure,  let’s see if the letters come out in order.  So, as Julie Andrews might say, let’s start at the very beginning.

“A”…is for Cannonball Adderley Quintet’s “Sack O’ Woe” from “Live At The Lighthouse.”

220px-the_cannonball_adderley_quintet_at_the_lighthouse

“…I believe you could call this one funky” announces Cannonball Adderley, a man who on the sleeve of this record is photographed wearing a suit under a parasol on Hermosa Beach.  Never mind the weather, it’s important to look smart.  I used to listen to this on my parents’ Pye Achiphon stereo record player.  It had speakers in the side, four knobs in the middle, and it sounded like these people were in there playing, that if you followed the needle back far enough down the wires you would find them.

Yes, you could definitely call it funky.  His implication, though, is that you call it whatever you want.  The band can’t wait to get shot of this bottom heavy beat, great though it is, and they really let loose once they do.  It’s as if they are saying, yes this beat is fun to play, it’s fun, but fun is not enough.  Over and over, they start with that reassuring chug, but soon they drop it and the whole thing opens up.  I didn’t get it for a while, it sounded like chaos to me.  After all, I was still on Fats Waller (still am).  That was an important experience, to know that people don’t get it immediately. They have to decide they want to, and they need to be patient.

Cannonball’s opening few notes of his solo are something you could try your whole life to get near.  He is on top of everything.  He can somehow make you excited about knowing he will never make a mistake.  It’s easy for him but he doesn’t want you to know it was ever hard, slashing his way through these chords like a samurai in an origami workshop.

Nat, his brother, is different, seemingly blowing the cornet as if trying to pop it like a crisp bag.  His melodies are all tangent, visiting the less bluesy backwaters that Cannonball leaves uncharted.  It’s unstable, distorted, courageous.

And then the piano solo.  Victor Feldman is English, and he swings like crazy.  English.  This alone was inspiring to me at the time, squeezing my spots in a Bromley bathroom, but he also brings out something else in the band, a kind of simmering energy where the piano breathes and finds its own space.  Tunes everywhere.

Sam Jones’ bass solo makes you forget he’s all the way down there, it’s just pure melody and more funk, and then the piano just creeps in, just adds something like a pinch of salt in a soup that brings it out without swamping it.  Louis Hayes pushes relentlessly, at every volume and at every level, a kind of artisan drum machine whose repetition conceals waves of variation and the push and pull of arms and legs.  Every phrase, every beat, every line made in the moment, a lifetime’s work.  As the band fades out below the level of the audience, it’s been over 30 years since I first felt what I am feeling now, what was that and how can I do it?

I doubt the cover photo would pass an artwork designer’s discerning eye today.  It’s a shame, because it tells you everything you need to know.  That this band look smart even on a beach.  Regular guys.  They walk onstage, they play, they walk off. The needle is burning.

What’s Your Chosen Noise?

People just make noise. We like to think it’s more than that, but it isn’t. My son is fifteen months old and he makes noises. They aren’t specific yet but everything else is there, ready to go. I think a room full of toddlers might be having deep conversations that they understand, perhaps berating the necessity for a language that can be written down and used against them in the parking fines of their future. But in this gibbering soundscape can be heard a kind of phrasing, something that feels like sentences. There’s a kind of urge to speak running through them, with intonation that implies a question or a statement depending on the upward turn at the end. They are imitating us, and mostly they have us down pretty good.

What they don’t do is labour intensively at one word, remaining silent until it is perfected before moving on to the next. Yes, there are occasional words that pop out, words they pick up and repeat, that will eventually become absorbed into the stream of verbal noise and sidle up to our adult language. But there is no struggle for perfection (such as I am currently experiencing with the Italian indefinite article rules): just a kind of river of sound that picks up real words and carries them downstream.

Jazz students and teachers, you probably know where I’m going with this. Get in there and make noises. Eventually, like developing toddlers, you’ll get impatient with them and need to refine things, move the notes around, make cadences and all that. But it can wait. With no sound, with no “urge to speak”, you will be tied to the paper and what it tells you to do, all the pipework and no water. Don’t be like that, it’s no fun. God knows we need some of that right now.