Dan’s Disc

Here is the listing for the compilation CD that celebrates my son Daniel Alexander’s birth, along with a smattering of commentary.

1 al dimeola & paco de lucia - mediterranean sundance (from dimeola’s elegant gypsy, 1976).

Al DiMiola - Elegant Gypsy
Legend has it that DiMeola and de Lucia recorded this breath-taking piece at their first meeting. It shares the delight of two great masters generating common ground. At the time, DiMeola was with Chick Corea’s sparkling Return to Forever, along with bassist Stanley Clarke. De Lucia was already a noted flamenco virtuoso. They went on to create a formidable guitar trio with John McLaughlin.

2 cassandra wilson - right here, right now (from traveling miles, 1999).

Cassandra Wilson - Traveling Miles
How did I miss Cassandra Wilson for so long? A rare singer in the same exalted league as Ella, Lady Day and Sassy Vaughan. As luck would have it, I found eight of her albums at knock-down prices through Amazon. Every one a gem. In the the eighties, she moved from avant-funk to neo-traditional jazz, and on to an original expression of music from Son House to Sting. Her musical commitment is mesmerising. An astonishing voice married to flawless phrasing and unique arrangement. Also a worthy lyricist. And such taste in musicians!

3 colosseum - walking in the park (from those who are about to die salute you, 1969).

Colosseum - Those Who are About to Die We Salute You
In my piece on guitarists, I lamented the difficulty of finding a copy of James Litherland’s Mogul Thrash CD. It was marvellous to hear from one of his friends, and soon after receive a signed copy of the disc (and, yes, it is well worth having). Colosseum were the leading edge of Progressive Jazz-Rock. Perhaps the only edge. This version of Graham Bond’s song about dizzy infatuation is simply exhilarating. Litherland’s infectious vocal bubbles with joy. An absolute gem.

4 van morrison - moondance, (from moondance, 1970).

Van Morrison - Moondance
Van can’t have expected the success of astral weeks, but he managed to capitalize on it, an unusual feat. Most artists are too burned out from touring that first definitive album to make a worthy follow-up. Van Morrison had abandoned the British R&B scene, having fronted Them (here comes the night), to team up with jazzers in New York. And it was and is a fabulous night for a moondance.

5 randy crawford - you bring the sun out (from secret combination, 1981).

Randy Crawford - Secret Combination
Vivienne, my lovely wife, was surprised to find two disco discs in my collection (the other is Crawford’s now we may begin), but this is surely one of the sweetest songs delivered by one of the sweetest voices. The best vibrato in the business. Mellifluous? This is what honey actually sounds like. And Vivienne sings along to Sam and Dan in the car.

6 santana - samba pa ti (from abraxas, 1970).

Santana - Abraxas
The Santana band created a new fusion of Latin and Rock, and their first four albums are treasures. This is among the gentlest and most delicate of electric guitar pieces. It showcases the famous Carlos Santana ‘cry’ backed by the world’s most lyrical percussion section. The album also includes the splendid Santana version of Peter Green’s black magic woman.

7 nat king cole - makin’ whoopee(from the great nat king cole, volume 2).

Nat King Cole - The Great Nat King Cole, volume 2
Recorded in the forties with his trio. Before his incarnation as the king of crooners, Cole was the star of race jazz. Ray Charles wanted nothing more than to be Nat King Cole, and for a while earned his living imitating him. Oscar Peterson rated Cole among the very best pianists. The Cole trio’s Oscar Moore was one of the first virtuosos of the electric guitar, and had the most mellow tone. This three disc set costs less than most single CDs; so buy volume one as well.

8 jimi hendrix - belly button window(from first rays of the new rising sun. First released on cry of love, 1971).

Jimi Hendrix - The First Rays of the New Rising Sun
Written for drummer Mitch Mitchell’s wife while she was pregnant. Vivienne identified with this while carrying Dan. The whimsical lyric and the guitar’s soft conversation are lovely. And, yes, he obviously did believe in reincarnation, so let’s hope he was right, and that he comes back really soon.

9 john mclaughlin - zakir (from remember shakti, 1999).

John McLaughlin - Remember Shakti
John McLaughlin has toured a couple of times with the original - and astonishing - Shakti percussionists. He wrote this piece for Shakti tabla player Zakir Hussein, who always seems to be brimming with exuberance when he performs. Here, McLaughlin is joined by the great master of the bansuri bamboo flute, Hariprasad Chaurasia. We were going to call Daniel Zakir until almost the last moment. Listen and you will know exactly why.

10 ella fitzgerald, louis armstrong - tenderly (from Ella and Louis, 1957).

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong - Ella and Louis
Satchmo was the first great innovator of jazz, and Ella Fitzgerald the first of its first ladies. When his scout brought her to the band, Chick Webb said that he would not put anything so ugly on his stage. But once on the stage, no-one was ever more beautiful. Webb not only put her out at the front, he bequeathed the band to her. Here Armstrong’s happy trumpet blast and his blissful unconcern for the lyric (the breeze erased the trees, tenderly) marry with Ella’s crystal-pure voice. She ends with a scat imitation of Satchmo - who invented the technique. Heart-warming perfection.

11 jimi hendrix - angel (from first rays of the new rising sun, 1971, 1997).

Jimi Hendrix - The First Rays of the New Rising Sun
Jimi’s mother was a dancer, who left him and little brother Leon with their father. He obviously had a very special relationship with her. He was in his teens when she died, and this song - frequently reworked - was a tribute to her. The song had surfaced earlier as little wing (see next), and the two are combined in a home-recording on south saturn delta. Somehow, Hendrix managed to take comfort from his mother’s death, which is quite an achievement. Golden rose and waterfall were also inspired by her. They are all beautiful songs.

12 nguyên lê - little wing (from million waves, 1995).

Nguyên Lê - Million Waves
Nguyên Lê is a Vietnamese who grew up in Paris. He taught himself guitar by listening to Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore, before evolving into one of the great jazz players. His album purple is a tribute to Hendrix, but this fine take on little wing comes from a jazzier album. There are few guitarists who can add anything to a Hendrix piece - Lê grooves and dices up the very air. Jimi would have loved it.

13 jack bruce - I feel free (from more jack than god, 2003).

Jack Bruce - More Jack Than God
The child prodigy jazz composer who left the Royal Scottish Academy of Music to sing and play his way through the London R&B scene, eventually fronting the amazing Cream. Bruce is one of the great musicians of his generation. He brought bebop improvisation to blues - to Claptons subsequent embarrassment - and co-wrote a slew of rock standards. Including this one. In this recent version, Vernon Reid of Living Colour helps out on guitar. Great band. Bowie made a nice cover on black tie, white noise.

14 eberhard weber - concerto for piano (from endless days, 2001).

Eberhard Weber - Endless Days
Weber spearheaded the new jazz of the ’70s. He made something shimmering of minimalism, through his remarkable melodic sense. He is also a wonderful double-bassist. This album marks the return of master drummer Michael di Pasqua, after a long, lamentable absence from the studio. I saw him with Weber and David Torn in Jan Garbarek’s band. I was duly astonished (buy it’s okay to listen to the gray voice, if you want to know why). Great playing from Rainer Brüninghaus on keyboards, and Oregon’s Paul McCandless on reeds and English horn. The best chamber jazz imaginable.

15 barbirolli, lso, janet baker - in haven (from elgar’s sea pictures, 1965).

Elgar - Cello Concerto & Sea Picures
The lyric was written by the composer’s wife, Alice Elgar. Her theme is simple: love gives safe harbour from the storms of life. The sea pictures have the most delicate orchestral settings I have ever heard, and Janet Baker’s voice is perfection. If you buy the disc, you will also have the benefit of Jaqueline du Pre’s inspired rendering of Elgar’s superb Cello Concerto. But be ready to weep.

16 fleetwood mac - albatross (from greatest hits, 1989).

Fleetwood Mac - Greatest Hits
Superstardom and LSD wreaked havoc with the enigmatic Peter Green. His guitar work, his singing and his songwriting were unique. His return to performing after years in the wilderness is wonderful. Green spent two days carefully reworking albatross, in 1968, when British blues bands produced entire albums given such a lavish amount of studio time. There is no more lyrical achievement in rock music. In 2004, BBC 4 adopted it as a theme.

17 john tavener, the sixteen - mystic prayer to the holy spirit (from ikon of light).

John Tavener - Ikon of Light
I rounded off my impudent review of Early Music with a gush about this wonderful work. The Sixteen are simply marvellous, Tavener is a genius and this is a music that reaches across the centuries, bringing the traditions of polyphony and orthodox church music into the present, and, if Taveners guess is right, quite possibly eternity. Otherworldly. That's the word I was looking for.

18 joni mitchell - love (from travelogue, 2002).

Joni Mitchell - Travelogue
Joni Mitchell’s take on Paul’s famous epistle to the Corinthians. She quite rightly replaces the word charity with love. I was captivated by this celebration of her music - the collaboration between this songwriter of unparalleled genius and so many luminaries of the jazz world, all elegantly arranged by the wonderful Vince Mendoza, is almost too much to bear. After such a long career most stars would be dimming, but Joni Mitchell just shines more brightly. She has renounced her annoyed comment that this would be her last work, thankfully.

Music is indeed the food of love, so, eat heartily and have a happy year!

January 2005