Fela Kuti – My Lady Frustration


This is the tune that Fela identified as his first truly African composition. While that might be debatable – highlife is African, for sure – it really does represent a change to the Afrobeat style that Fela stuck to for the remainder of his career. This tune has no lyrics, but the same modal structure and bottom-heavy horn section that characterizes his music are definitely in play here. A-fro-BEAT!!

Charles Mingus – The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (Full Album) – YouTube

This is some deep blues couched in some very sophisticated forms and counterpoint lines. The bari sax, in particular, cries while the low brass moans through their mutes and the rhythm section churns underneath. I would love to see the scores for this album, especially the first tune. I’d like to see how the bitonal moments are scored out. The counterpoint is at times so dense it feels improvised, but several horns playing the same polyphonic lines? Genius, really – Mingus is able to compose improvisation. This is why I am so reticent to point out how much of a Euro-style composer he was; bringing that discourse into a discussion of his music invariably turns into a Gunther Schuller-like backhanded compliment. Mingus was a great composer no matter where he got his technique or earned his craft. No matter where ge got it all together, the blues always come through and overwhelm. read more

John Coltrane – Invitation – YouTube

This is such a beautiful ballad, and Coltrane wrings all of the pretty emotional content out of it. Even a couple of choruses into his solo you can still hear the melody within his trademark “sheets of sound” aesthetic. I’ve recently been learning a chord-solo version of this tune that hits on a lot of Coltrane’s melodic sense of the tune. What I would like to do at some points is to cop some ideas from Coltrane, especially the melodic minor and whole tone sounds he uses to such beautiful effect. Such a great recording read more

Joe Pass & Ella Fitzgerald – Duets in Hannover 1975 – YouTube

The duet starts at c.27:19 in this video, but the previous part is all solo guitar. Joe Pass was an undisputed master of fingerstyle solo guitar, and his accompaniment with Fitzgerald is extremely tasty. And of course, Fitzgerald’s voice is clearly the voice of love. This is a spectacular duo.

Son House – Dry Spell Blues Part 1 (1930) – YouTube

I don’t know why this video features an image of Charlie Patton, but there you go. The person who uploaded this video says he was first introduced to Son House’s music through a Charlie Patton compilation, but it’s still a funny choice of image.

The guitar playing on this tune is incredibly complex and polyrhythmic while maintaining a very simple aesthetic. On top of that is House’s incredibly powerful voice – it’s one of those voices like Howlin’ Wolf’s that probably overwhelmed audiences, demanding their attention. read more

Tom Morello’s Tricks Pt 1 – YouTube

Video of Morello discussing his guitar technique (the person who uploaded the video has blocked the ability to embed this video).

I’m not really a fan of heavy metal inspired guitar playing, but Morello is a very interesting player. I have a feeling the guy has massive chops, but it’s his unique use of just a few pedals that makes him stand out. That and his commitment to left politics makes for a very powerful musician.

I suppose most people wouldn’t equate a musician’s politics with their musicianship, but I have always been drawn to musicians who have something consequential to say. Sun Ra and Fela, for instance, were all about history and politics, and this adds depth to their music. At least from my perspective it does. I love Adrian Belew’s guitar playing, for instance, but most of his music is utterly forgettable to me. I much prefer someone who has something to say. This is yet another reason why I love the music of Son House – his lyrics talk about life (“porkchops 45 cents a pound, cotton is only 10” from “Dry Spell Blues”) in a way that highlights the everyday politics and economy of a black person living in the South. It’s a damn sight more substantial than “baby got back” (though I appreciate that sentiment as well). read more

Blues Maker (1969 Documentary About Mississippi Fred McDowell) – YouTube

This is a nice mini-documentary featuring Mississippi Fred McDowell’s music and some film footage of people in Mississippi. I can only assume that some of the footage was taken in Como, MS where McDowell lived. Como is part of the hill country section of the state whose blues is more modal than the better known Mississippi delta blues.

McDowell is one of my favorite guitar players – his playing is simultaneously simple and complex, if that makes any sense. Each song has just a few musical elements to it, but the syncopation and intonation are deeply felt and tremendously complex in their own right. His playing is immediately recognizable and unique; I’m not aware of any other guitar players that sound remotely like him unless they are consciously trying to copy him. Brilliant stuff, for sure. read more