FTIS&HTW: Wednesday 6th March

Bruno Mars, Jonathan Ross Show, ITV
I started this blog because I watched Bruno Mars at the Brits a year ago, and loved the performance of his bass player so much that I wanted to write about it. It was these non-headline moments that I found interesting, and no one seemed to be writing about them. This week Bruno does the promo round for his next tour and turns up at Jonathan’s with a piano player, an organist and a pretty good gospel/r&b song. He’s very slick and can really sing, but what’s great is the interplay between his voice and the stripped-back accompaniment, and it makes a change from the usual banal “just like the record” performance.

Almost Finishing Michael Gray’s fine Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell
“… McTell comes storming through here, fusing great feeling with an intimate looseness of delivery that he has never captured on record before. It is thrilling to hear—and this is what he keeps up as he moves on to the marvelous Savannah Mama, where, right from the magnificent opening moments, his guitar work is so concentrated and precise, so felt and so assertive (this is what inspired the Allman Brothers’ slide style), while his vocal lines flow across all this precision with the grace of heartfelt risk-taking. He sings with an experimental mannered fluidity somehow freed from artifice by open ardor.”

Noma Bar’s Time Out London Rock ’n’ Roll Cover
As always, brilliant.

NomaWest Of Eden?
Kanye West to Paris’ Le Zenith crowd: “There’s no motherfucking awards or sponsorships or none of that shit that can stop the dedication to bringing y’all that real shit.” He continued: “No matter how they try to control you, or the motherfucker next to you tries to peer pressure you, you can do what you motherfucking want. I am Picasso. I’m Walt Disney, I’m Steve Jobs.”

There’s Something about Kodachrome and New York Summer Evening Light in the Seventies
From Robin Aitken in Scotland: “I am in the process of writing an article about the Dobell trip to the first Newport Jazz Festival in New York which was attended by ten of us—Myself, Rick Antill, Micky Brocking, Jack Armitage, Ray Bolden, John Kendall. Doug Dobell, Ginger (can’t remember his name), Lou Watkins and Jimmy Reid with occasional appearances by Albert McCarthy… I took some photos in New York using Bill Colyer’s Konica 35mm camera which he had just bought and lent me for the trip—a typically generous gesture. I have attached one of my favourite photographs, which I took outside Jim & Andy’s at West 55th Street in late June 1972—the last incarnation of that famous musicians’ bar.”
Doug’s in proto-Tom Wolfe mode, and how cool is Ray Bolden? I loved working for the legend that was Ray—the man who ran the Blues side of Dobell’s— and friend to BB, Muddy, Wolf and the whisky makers of Scotland and Kentucky.

Dobell's NY

Left to right: Richie Goldberg (jazz drummer), John Kendall, Ray Bolden, Scoville Brown (clarinet and alto, who recorded with Louis in 1932 and played with many bands thereafter—check the Buck Clayton Quartet sides recorded for HRS in 1946) and, of course, Doug Dobell.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 29th February

Bruno Mars’ Bass Player, The BRITs
Unassumingly, the coolest man to take the stage on the night, and by a country mile. Bruno Mars—nice Little Willie John look and fine pompadour—played the Wonder-ish Just The Way You Are, and his bassman rose to the challenge. Digging the show, hands bopping over the fretboard like Jamerson re-incarnated, Jamareo Artis didn’t put a beat or a note wrong, even when double-stepping the dance moves. The final high flourish as the song ended was the sublime icing on the cake, sliding his right hand down the fretboard to dampen the last note, before hooking his thumb jauntily in his hip pocket.

Whitney Houston at the BRITs
Watching the jarringly brusque tribute, my mind flashed back to an earlier time: in 1987, in a Park Lane hotel ballroom, Whitney sang her hit du jour, How Will I Know, dancing slightly awkwardly to a backing track on a stage more suited to an army base than an awards show. We were ten yards away, pushing bad food around our plates, and could hear Whitney acoustically, as well as through the PA. She gave it her all, and as the pre-record started to fade, was so into the performance that she continued for a good fifteen seconds, not backing off her volume at all. Jaws hit the table as the most thrilling sound vaulted over us. For those fifteen seconds, she was a blissful and transported teenager, singing in the Lord’s House. In that fakest of environments—an awards show—something real.

Weird iPod Synchronicity Pt1: Feb 28th, Park Lane, London
On the bus going up Park Lane, approaching Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park yesterday morning. iPod on random. A Dylan track, from a bootleg I haven’t even bothered listening to (it comes from a period I don’t care for, around the time of Under The Red Sky). It’s a shuffle, pretty unmixed sounding, with what sounds like Randy Jackson’s rubbery bass lines bubbling along*. “One time in London I’d gone out for a walk/At the place called Hyde Park, where people talk/Get up on a platform and they tell their point of view/To anyone who’s there, that’s who they’re talkin’ to/There was a man on a platform, talking to some folks, about TV being evil, he wasn’t telling jokes…” Leaving aside the obviously low, McGonagall-esque quality of these lines—possibly some of the worst Bob’s ever penned—How strange is that?

*I remember Randy Jackson saying they were pretty odd sessions. Don Was would line-up different bands of players each time Dylan came to the studio. No-one had the first clue what they were doing. It’s a production technique, I guess…

Bonnie Raitt: Thank You
That’s the song Thank You, from early in her career, although it’s entirely appropriate to thank Bonnie for one of American music’s most satisfying careers. Justin Vernon draw attention last year to her sublime I Can’t Make You Love Me, but there’s so much in Bonnie’s past that’s fine, just waiting for rediscovery. I’m just going to draw attention to a winning radio airshot: The Lost Broadcast: Philadelphia 1972. [Through some grey European law loophole Amazon are selling CD’s of US radio broadcasts from Dylan, Waits and Cohen, among others]. Bonnie introduces it thus: “This is a tune—for all you unseen people out there I’m just going to move to the piano to show how versatile I am—haven’t played a piano for months now, didn’t play it before that since I was a little kid, pubescing in Los Angeles. Playing Dick Dale runs [runs finger down keyboard]—Wipeout! Anyway, this is a tune I wrote over the summer. Ready?”

It’s not a perfect song, part Jackson Brown, part Eric Kaz, a little Philly soul (the taping took place at the legendary Sigma Sound studios), even some Toussaint in the piano melody, but this performance, with Freebo on bass and TJ Tindall on slithery, chiming guitar is a little gem. As she glides her beautiful voice over the phrase “I was all you’d ever need,” hear one of the great American voices—unforced, unglitzy, true.

The Adele Gap
Phrase meaning: the difference between a performer’s singing and speaking voices. Example: “there is no Adele Gap in the case of Leonard Cohen.” See TIME magazine mishearing of Adele Grammy exclamation “Mum! Girl done good!” below.

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