Archive | November, 2012

Top Five Jazz Records For Beginners

25 Nov

So, let’s imagine you have a friend who loves jazz, and just to make this vision a little more believable, let us make said friend 6’2″ and a little bit on the thin side. Now, you want to impress this fascinating young man with your knowledge of his loved genre of music, but you do not know where to start. I mean, you know what an untamed jungle jazz is when compared to your safe pop and rock, and yet, you know that you want to explore a little. You dream of running your fingers up and down a long, brass saxophone, or possibly putting your lips to a trumpet and giving it a blow and suddenly your guitar feels awfully small compared to the double bass next to it. Well, then my friend, you need help. Instead, because the world is not fair, what you will get is the Top Five Music Top Five Jazz Records For Beginners.

These five records are all not only jazz classics, but are also extremely accessible. These ones have been picked so that no matter what your background is, you can pick them up and most likely enjoy them. Jazz is an extremely rewarding genre of music if often a little challenging and getting a good start is essentially to enjoying it.

Ella and Louis – Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong is undoubtedly the biggest star jazz has ever produced. He alone is the most responsible for bringing jazz to the public ear and pretty much every jazz musician after him has been directly influenced by his music. He is to jazz what The Beatles is to rock. Not content with mastery of the trumpet, he went on to invent the art of scat from which we have his best known hit, What A Wonderful World.

Ella Fitzgerald is the greatest singer there has ever been. You may prop up people like Aretha Franklin and Billy Holiday, or even modern day singers like Janelle Monae, and undoubtedly all their voices are certainly outstanding, but there has never been anyone to touch Ella Fitzgerald.

Together, the two of them make an excellent team in this album. There are touches of Satchmo’s trumpet, but the centerpiece is the two of them singing jazz standards. All in all, this is deservedly a jazz classic.

Try Moonlight in Vermont and They Can’t Take That Away From Me to get a feel of this album. Of the two, I prefer Moonlight in Vermont, even without the lyrics being entirely in haiku.

Takin’ Off – Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock is one of the more interesting people in jazz. Despite groundings in hard bop and a long stint under Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock has been about as much funk as jazz and a little bit of everything else on the side. He’s ranged all the way from the proto-industrial rockit to the Grammy award winning jazz take on Joni Mitchell River: The Joni Letters. Takin’ Off is his debut as a bandleader and contains what is possibly his signature tune, Watermelon Man. Try Three Bags Full and see if you like it.

Getz/Gilberto – Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto

This is one of only two jazz albums ever to win the Grammy for best album, one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time and nothing at all like any of the other albums on this list. This album brought together guitarist/singer João Gilberto and composer/pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim with American Saxophonist Stan Getz to result in the finest moment Bossa Nova, the Brazilian mixture of jazz and samba, has ever seen. This is the rare album that is not only critically acclaimed but is popular enough to spark its own craze. Doralice alone is of the class of music that will never leave your head, but The Girl From Ipanema is just perfect.

Time Out – Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck took a trip through Eurasia, and decided to make this album as an experiment in the musical style he saw there. His publisher gave it the green light on the condition that he would first record a more conventional album, Gone With The Wind. While the latter is now considered one of his lesser efforts, Time Out is one of the definitive Cool Jazz albums. Blue Rondo a La Turk‘s shifting time signatures are amusing enough to carry an entire album, but the top forty hit Take Five is very hard to beat.

Kind of Blue – Miles Davis

Miles Davis is one of the giants of music, one of those people who stand so tall over an art form that no one who follows can help but be influenced in some way by his work. For Kind of Blue, he had with him his ensemble sextet of Bill Evans on piano, Jimmy Cobb on drums, Paul Chambers on bass and both Cannonball Adderley and the incomparable John Coltrane on saxophone. This is the kind of album you define music by.


A Shakey Picture

8 Nov

The Shakey Rays are a three piece rock and roll band from Chennai that have been creating waves of awed adoration wherever they bring their unique tunesmithery. Coming off of a brilliant show at BITS Pilani’s cultural fest Oasis, the boys are now gigging their way through Delhi, winning the hearts of hundreds of fans (and women) wherever they go. Top Five Records caught up with Dhruva, Vikram (Vicky), Niranjan (Ninju), guest bassist Abhinav (of fellow Chennai artists Adam and the Fish-Eyed Poets) and band manager Jolene for a quick fifteen minutes in between their hectic calendar.

Top Five Records: Congrats on the excellent show, guys! Those of us that weren’t lucky enough to be there to see you guys opening for TAAQ got regular, ecstatic updates from people that WERE there.

Pilani, as you guys know now, is in the middle of nowhere, which is quite a change for most bands gigging around India in the same five or six cities. Tell us a bit about what you were thinking when the cab driver was taking you through the seemingly endless rustic hinterlands of dust and Haryanvis.

Ninju: We saw our lives flash before our eyes.
Dhruva: Lord have mercy on our poor souls!
Abhinav: It was dusty.
Vicky: I was praying dude!
Abhinav: He (Vicky) was seeking divine intervention.
Jolene: It was exhilarating and scary at the same time. The drivers were racing each other, driving on the opposite side of the road and missing oncoming vehicles by mere feet of distance … we tried to alleviate the fact that our lives were on the line by alternatively trying to sleep, talking to each other and analysing the 90’s Bollywood love songs being played on the stereo. But all’s when that ends well, we got to campus alive and were later told that the sort of ride we had to campus was an important part of the BITS experience.

TFR: BITSians pride themselves on being, well, chilled out (sometimes a bit too much, actually). Tell us a little bit about your Oasis experience.

Dhruva: Brilliant!
Abhinav and Ninju: Special mention to Jashid and Champu (Vineet Chaudhury) for taking us around and being generally awesome.
Vicky: We didn’t steal any towels, though I hope I didn’t put one in my bag by mistake.
Jolene: I’m super glad we got to play this gig (thanks Neeharika, Karthik and the organizers). Playing in front of such a large audience, so different from the pub goers we’ve usually played to was an important step in itself, never mind the somewhat mixed reactions.

TFR: BITS was the first college gig that you’ve played as a band. How was that experience different from your usual gigs?

The whole band: More crowd! More people! Much better!
Vicky: We heard a horn from somewhere in the crowd during our set. That was sort of cool since we’ve been looking for a horn section since a while now and we randomly heard one; wonder where it came from?

TFR: One of the main concerns for most non-metal bands playing college gigs is that college kids expect metal and only metal bands. Did you feel that that was a concern at BITS? Did you get the crowd bobbing to the Diddley beat?

Dhruva: No, it seems like people only wanted to dance and we gave them that.
Jolene: I heard we were picked to play ahead of Scribe. That’s pretty cool, considering the band’s massive popularity.

TFR: Did you walk around campus a bit? Did anyone take you to Sarla, tell you what ‘putting’ is, or introduce you to the beauty of a Thunderbolt?

The band: Yes to all. Every item on the checklist, tick.

TFR: Tell us a bit about TAAQ. Did you meet/hang out with them?

The band: We met them, didn’t hang out with them. They seemed like nice people.
Ninju and Dhruva: Their drummer is awesome.

TFR: You guys have completed a country-wide tour recently. Do you have another such tour in the works? Tell us about some upcoming gigs.

Jolene: We’ll do another tour only after releasing an EP or album. We’re playing a lot around Delhi this month and charting out gigs for December/January as well. Details come up on our Facebook page as gigs are finalized.

TFR: If we still lived in a world of vinyl records rather than mp3s, then Shakey fans all over the country would have scratched their copy of Tunes from the Big Belly out of sheer over-use. We need new material! Is that happening?

Dhruva + Vikram: We are in the process of writing songs, most of them are still in the demo stage.
Jolene: 16th of this month is when we’ll digitally release a new single, hopefully with a B Side.

TFR: One of the biggest questions we’ve had about you guys, and one that shames us for not knowing despite being huge fans, is the origin of your name. Please tell us it doesn’t actually derive from “Shakira”.

 Vikram: No real history behind the band name. We were looking for something particularly interesting and Dhruva, being the most interesting member in the group, came up with “The Shakey Rays”.

Dhruva: I suppose there’s a degree of truth to that. It’s a question that often comes up, and I wish I remember how it sprung up- I think we we’d had a drink or ten when THE SHAKEY RAYS presented itself in bold letters.

TFR: A lot of BITSians read this blog. Is there anything you’d like to say, as a closing note of sorts?

Vikram: No, not really… Thanks for the chicken!
Dhruva: Thank you for dancing, BITS!
Abhinav: Thanks for Neeraj Shridar.

So there you have it. You can listen to each of the Shakey Rays’ pop gems of perfection here. Happy listening!

Marina and the Diamonds: Electra Heart

4 Nov

Marina dropped her second album and debuted all the way at number one on the UK chart with it. However far she may be from the sophomore slump commercially though, Electra Heart fails to live up to standard of intelligence The Family Jewels set down. To mitigate that though, this is undoubtedly better pop than her previous album. It is not surprising that her mental swings would take her to a place like this, but it does make it hard to form a set opinion.

My first thought is that she sounds a lot happier on this album. There are still glimpses of her suicidal tendencies, but nowhere near the bleak acceptance of depression that was The Family Jewels. Good for her. I will admit to not caring how Thom Yorke feels when he gets up in the morning and that much of my appreciation for The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go is due to Richey’s killing himself, but the Family Jewels painted such an intensely personal picture of Marina that her beginning to feel better about herself is something that even I can be happy about. Once again, good for her.

This leads us though to the major problem of this album, that it barely manages to hit the same personal notes that made The Family Jewels as interesting as it still is. Teen Idle is the only piece in this that actually holds her voice. While many of her other songs, like Power and Control and Primadonna speak about her, they are so caught up in a single, slightly shallow statement that they seem as though they could have been sung by any mildly intelligent female pop singer. The fact that there are so few mildly intelligent female pop singers does not excuse her aiming lower than she is capable of. Where her first album had moments of Elvis Costello lyricism, this plays far too close to pseudo-intellectualism.

This is an album that embraces pop much more wholeheartedly than its predecessor. You can feel the touch of its all-star production team all over the album. It is still a Marina album, and her voice is always at the center, but it is certainly helped by the beats behind it. It sounds better than its predecessor for it as well. When fully three quarters of the songs on the album have catchier choruses than anything else out there, something is going very right. The more popstar songs, like Bubblegum Bitch, Sex Yeah, Homewrecker, How To Be A Heartbreaker and Radioactive all work out to great pop and even the darker songs, like Power and Control or Teen Idle all sound great.

Where The Family Jewels felt fresh, Electra Heart takes maybe half a step backward intellectually but pushes a little better pop in return. While this may not be The Family Jewels, this is still Marina, and worth picking up for all its flaws.


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