Donny Hathaway: Jealous Guy.
From Live (Atlantic 1972)
I played this on my radio show last year and I just keep going back to it over and over. While I freely acknowledge the brilliance of John Lennon’s songwirting it’s all about Hathaway’s incredible, emotive voice. It always makes me sad to remember how short his life was (31 years) but my god, could he sing with the time he had.
Ramsey Lewis: Julia
From Mother Nature’s Son (Cadet, 1968)
Pianist Ramsey Lewis, along with Cadet’s Charles Stepney and Chess’ Marshall Chess, were so taken with the Beatles’ White Album, released just months earlier that they went in the studio and recorded ten cover songs from that album. The resulting LP, Mother Nature’s Son, produced a surprisingly striking collection of songs that both nod at the Beatles, even as they transform their sound. While a few of the cover songs fell flat, still others offered provocative interpretations. “Julia” is one such example – transforming the more plaintive, simple ballad by Lennon into a song of dramatic flourish and sweep. It retains its sublime character but Lewis and Stepney add a rich depth and bottom that goes beyond what Lennon imagined for it on The White Album. This song is just so damn gorgeous in whatever form.
I don’t know why it never occured to me to post sound files for select songs on this blog but hey, better late than never. Shouts to Pop Nose, Fluxblog and Sasha Frere-Jones for the inspiration.
So here’s how it’ll work. I’ll try to post up a song every day or so. They’ll stay up for at least 1-2 weeks and then I’ll cycle them out (I need to be conscious of server storage).
Please do not email me, asking “how can I get this?” Thanks.
Let’s start it like this…
Dizzy Gillespie: Matrix
From The Real Thing (Perception, 1971)
This has long been not only one of my favorite Gillespie cuts of all time but one of my favorite soul jazz tunes, period. Based on the original composition of Gillespie’s pianist Mike Longo, “Matrix” just grooves with a smooth, smoky beauty. The recurring horn riff is super funky and catchy, the main guitar line is similarly memorable and the bassline breakdown? Sublime. Throw in some snappy drumming and you have one helluva dance floor spin not to mention excellent listening material. The Real Thing has been recently reissued as part of a double-CD package along with Portrait of Jenny, another one of Gillespie’s Perception LPs.
Crooklyn Dodgers: Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers
From The Clockers Soundtrack (MCA, 1995)
I wouldn’t say this is the best DJ Premier production of all time – there’s just so much competition – but it’s definitely in the top 5. This beat is incredibly beautiful in a melancholy way, tapping into the nostalgia that’s inherent in the song itself. Brooklyn has always inspired a mythology of its own greatness and “Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers” feed directly out of this and into it. Chubb Rock rambles here – I could have done without his unfocused conspiracy theorizing but O.C. brings the song back full force with his caustic flow. And with Jeru at anchor, the song closes with a series of hammer strokes: “Make money money/get money/take money/I can’t understand that concept/’cause Jah rules everything around me/Fire burns the unjust/like arson/larceny/melt MCs/with mental telepathy/with precision/we’re slicing and dicing/peace to East New York/Perverted Monks/and Mike Tyson.” That’s that shit.
His organ playing is pretty damn cheesy by today’s standards (actually, screw that, you’d have to think it was pretty damn cheesy by 1970s standards too…I mean, how can you do a Hammond cover of “Hey Jude” and not be a little cheesy?) This album is the Yugoslavian (yeah, you heard that right) issue of what I believe was a German album (on Telefunken, which is just a dope label name even if I have no idea what that really translate into). I first heard the main cut on this album, a cover of “Summertime”, on this mid-90s break compilation that was also the first time I heard Galt MacDermot’s “Space”. I always remembered the “Summertime” version on that comp though because it was so light and funky, like it was aspiring to some kind of heavy Hammond greatness, slipped and fell into funkiness instead. It’s some shizniz that the Beatnuts would have sampled. Or maybe they actually did? Try it. You’ll like it. Hell, one Soul Strut feature already gave it some love.
Plus, look at that picture of Wunderlich – what a MFin’ mack he was in his little tux. P.I.M.P. for real.