Good Music We Can Know

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Excellence out of Blue Note: Pete LaRoca's Basra (1965)

Mr. LaRoca retired from jazz in 1968, and became an attorney. He was a percussionist who played with Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, among many others, and this is the first of only two albums that would showcase him as a leader before his ignominious retreat. It is a careful yet swashbuckling, latin and eastern-tinged jazz achievement of exceptional quality. Exceptional.

LaRoca's percussion is deceptive, clever and simmering with heat, but none other than Joe Henderson commands the stage with tenor solos of positively delightful invention. His mercurial, arabic influenced phrasing on LaRoca's own composition, "Basra" (the title track) is just superb. Playful, yet serious, wild to the brink of avant-garde, yet squarely accessible in the best way.

One of my favorite jazz LPs of all time. All time. You will like this.

Cult Library: the Banjo Druidism of George Stavis (1969)

There is not much I can say about this extraordinary album except that it ought to be heard and it is sublime. Banjo interpretations of Ravi Shankar, John Coltrane, Earl Scruggs, and others. Infamously self-describes as, "Occult improvisational compositions for 5 string banjo and percussion." If that doesn't make you wanna know, then you aren't curious enough, and you should have yourself checked out.

If you are racist against the banjo because you were exposed to mediocre bluegrass as a child, then have no fear. This is the cure. Stavis' style feels mystically Appalachian but also strongly Eastern; heavily atmospheric, almost psychedelic, despite having no effects or embellishments aside from extremely minimal percussion that sounds like a spooky woodblock. These are sophisticated interpretations. No novelty in sight here. Real music existing in time. Originally from Allegory of Allergies.