Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rare Blythe

One of my frequent pet peeves is the unavailable status of so many jazz CDs.  I understand that some CDs sell only a few hundred or even a few dozen copies, and that it doesn't make economic sense to print more of them.  But how much can it cost to make a copy available on iTunes or eMusic or CD Universe or Amazon?  Surely at some point it becomes virtually free to distribute, and a few pennies here or there is better than nothing.  But of these venues, only eMusic has a really rich collection of otherwise unavailable jazz.  

On the other hand, it is exciting to find something rare that one is looking for.  One example of a CD that I spent a lot of time tracking down is Arthur Blythe's Night Song.  Blythe's alto has been pretty well represented on the pages of this blog.  His 1978 magnum opus, Lenox Avenue Breakdown, wasn't all that easy to find when I first went looking for it.  It's one of the great statements of avant garde jazz.  But on eMusic was able to get superb slices of Blythe: Focus, Blythe Bite, Retrospection, and three Chico Freeman albums prominently featuring Blythe: Luminous, The Unspoken Word, and Focus.  All of these are fine documents.  

But Night Song, which I set after due to the four star rating in the Penguin Guide, eluded me until now.  I finally did find a used copy for a reasonable price from one of Amazon's independent vendors.  In fairness, there are reasons for the obscurity of the disc.  The label, Clarity Recordings, is obscure enough.  The insert art looks like it was produced by a Bible Bookstore publisher. 

One of the things that Blythe likes is to put a lot of unusual percussion instruments behind him.  This gives his music a pronounced African flavor, but island African more than mainland African.  This is pretty evident on his Focus, which is one of my favorite albums.  His fanciful moods are somewhat reminiscent of Wayne Shorter's compositions, but again more voodoo than Dracula's castle.  

Night Song was recorded at the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley (where else?) in 1996.  Bob Stewart plays tuba, Gust Tsillis marimba and vibes, and Chico Freeman, God bless him, is there on bass clarinet and percussion.  Also on percussion are Arto Tuncboyaciyan, Josh Jones, and David Frazier.  The liner notes are grand, including an interview with Blythe and Freeman.  I am tempted to drop the whole damn thing in my drop box, but I will resist the temptation.  But here are three good samples.  If you like them, demand the whole thing from your favorite vendor.  And pick up the above mentioned discs.  You won't regret getting to know Arthur Blythe.
Night Song

Cause of It All


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