The Survivors: Part Four

As I write this, I have finally done it. I’ve gone through with the plan. I packed the vast majority of the Survivors into a wheely duffel bag. I wheeled them through the snow. I left them overnight at a shop. And I accepted an offer for the full collection that far exceeded my expectations. The bulk of the Survivors survive no longer. (Now it’s just the classical stuff. God knows how I’ll offload all that garbage.) I’ll continue my reminiscences and expressions of gratitude in their absence. Good night, sweet princelings. 

Deep Purple
Made in Japan

Of the three great British proto-metal bands of the early 70s, Led Zeppelin is my uncontroversial favourite. I could honestly take or leave both Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. But for a moment there, Deep Purple satisfied a need. I always love hearing their influence come out in later bands like the Decemberists and Opeth (though the latter has taken this influence a little too far in recent years). But this live album is almost unlistenably of its time. What do the 70s sound like? Nothing more than this. 
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you. 

Dr. John
The Very Best of Dr. John

We were a blues-first household for a good five years or so of my childhood. Dr. John was one of the artists in that milieu that I really latched onto, such that I’m about 75 percent sure I was the one who bought this. Since he died, I’ve bought a couple of his full albums: the high-concept swamp freakout Gris-Gris and the New Orleans funk masterpiece In the Right Place. This compilation represents both of them, plus his marvellous solo piano recordings from later in his career. It was a nice overview, and reading the tracklist makes me wish more people would check him out. 
Measure of gratitude: Very substantial. Thank you. 

Bob Dylan
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
Bringing it All Back Home
Highway 61 Revisited
Blood on the Tracks
The Basement Tapes (with The Band)

In recent years my tastes have moved further in the direction of acoustic/indie songwriter music than ever before. As this change has occurred, I find myself more and more enamoured of Blood on the Tracks and less and less tolerant of pretty much everything else Bob Dylan ever did. Blood on the Tracks is a masterpiece of directness. None of the songs on it can be pinned down to a single, stable interpretation, BUT, they are songs that prioritize clarity. It’s clear what is actually transpiring in each song, even if they do leave tantalizing blanks and inconsistencies for interpreters to fill in. By contrast, big swathes of Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde (which I’m a little surprised to find is not here among the Survivors) seem deliberately obtuse and obfuscatory. It’s remarkable to me that one songwriter can so completely define two styles of songwriting, one of which I adore and the other of which I have less and less patience for. 
Measure of gratitude: Middling. Thank you. 

Miles Davis
Collector’s Edition (Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’)
Kind of Blue
Sketches of Spain
In a Silent Way
Bitches Brew
A Tribute to Jack Johnson
On the Corner

In my trumpet playing days, Miles Davis became a sort of personal totem for me. I was learning tone production on the trumpet as a matter of efficiency and blend: play in such a way that you’ll be able to physically sustain it, and so that it’ll work well with what everybody else is doing. It’s an awkward thing to resent, because it’s ultimately very sound advice, and a worthwhile metaphor for how to live generally. But as an 18-year-old musician, you have all these big ideas about ~expression~ and ~not compromising~. So I listened obsessively to Miles Davis, definitely one of the weakest technical players in the history of jazz. His famously quiet sound cracks frequently from inadequate air support, and he would have had to stay at Juilliard a little longer if he wanted to blend with an orchestra. None of this is why I liked Miles Davis. It wasn’t just me being defiant or perverse. But the fact that I loved him in spite of the fact that his playing contravened everything I was learning was certainly powerful. Nowadays, I find some of Miles’ playing even harder to take than I did back then. (I listened to the Plugged Nickel recordings for the first time last year and almost didn’t make it through because of Miles’ soloing.) But I can still revisit this music and find it absolutely visionary. In a Silent Way hits me harder now than ever. And while I sympathise with Robert Christgau’s fear that Sketches of Spain represented a gentrification of jazz, I still think it’s one of the most dramatic and satisfying jazz albums of all. 
Measure of gratitude: Massive. Thank you. 

Claude Debussy
Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Images etc. (Pierre Boulez, Cleveland Orchestra)

Debussy is the shit. I feel as though people are realising this more. Even if it’s only “Clair de Lune,” he has been cropping up in unexpected places lately: video games, podcasts, Vulfpeck, etc. These days I like him best for his piano music, but it was his symphonic works that I loved first. Images for Orchestra is a wonderful and slightly underrated set of pieces–I like it easily as much as La Mer. I have become more and more sceptical of the classical canon over the last decade, but it’s been nice to go through some of these old CDs and realise that there are at least a few of the big names that I like more than I used to. Debussy is certainly one. 
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you. 

Mike Downes
The Winds of Change

Some surprisingly good jazz musicians came to Fort McMurray to do workshops with the high school students. I almost always bought their CDs. Some of them are pretty good, including this one, though I haven’t heard it for years. 
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you. 

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Funeral for a Friend
What’s Going On

The Dirty Dozen were New Orleans’ preeminent brass band for a generation. That doesn’t mean that they can pull off a full-album cover of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On with rappers. But Funeral for a Friend finds them in their element, playing the New Orleans funeral classics that make New Orleans jazz such an amazing musical tradition. It’s a hidden gem of an album that I really think everybody should hear. I don’t even care if you like jazz. At least listen to the first track. It’s shattering. 
Measure of gratitude: Very large. Thank you. 

Kenny Dorham
Quiet Kenny

One of many CDs I purchased on a whim during the hottest heat of my jazz madness. No doubt I bought it at a store in Edmonton that’s been closed for a decade. Kenny Dorham is an underrated name in jazz. But I’d be lying if I said I remember anything on this except for “Lotus Blossom,” which is one of the most irresistible jazz tunes of its era. 
Measure of gratitude: Middling. Thank you. 

Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Brain Salad Surgery

Other ELP classics didn’t survive the first cull. I know I used to have Tarkus and Trilogy on CD as well, both of which are at least equal to Brain Salad Surgery in my opinion. But this was the album that first sold me on ELP. I have fond memories of listening to this straight through, including to the documentary at the end where Keith Emerson says something like “Brain Salad Surgery was the last album before I embarked on an orchestral… crusade, if you like.” What a magnificent jackass. His playing on the classic ELP records is reason enough to look past everything wrong with them. I still have trouble believing Carl Palmer’s the only one left alive. 
Measure of gratitude: Immense. Thank you. 

Duke Ellington
Black, Brown, & Beige (with Mahalia Jackson)
The Essential Duke Ellington

My university jazz band did an annual concert focussing on old big band hits by folks like Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Harry James, etc. It was always kind of a bummer, because so much of that music sounds the goddamn same. Then, one magical year, the jazz profs decided we’d exclusively play music by Duke Ellington. If you’ve never considered just how different Duke’s music was from the hitmakers who got their start a few years later, I implore you to have another listen. His music is wall-to-wall surprises. It’s early in the history of big bands, but nobody ever did it better. Or as good. Or nearly as good.
Measure of gratitude: Massive. Thank you. 

Bill Evans
The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961

These recordings are better known in rendered-down form as the single LPs Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby. But I got to know them in this utilitarian three-disc set, which simply plays the sessions in the order they happened. I can hardly imagine it any other way. Magic. 
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you.

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