Doing my rhumbas with uno

If you’d somehow imagined that a period of UK “lockdown” would herald a period of prolific posting on this Blog, a Golden Age of witty and ahead-of-the-curve posts that would inform and deftly entertain in equal measure, well, you’d have been disappointed, I guess. We all are.

I suspect that regular readers of these sporadic pages (and against all the odds, yes, there are actually one or two…) would not have thought any such nonsense and are in fact well past the “disappointed” stage.

But there you are – it is what it is. Let’s not dwell on the past…

There has, however and as ever, been quite a lot of music – although I’m no longer driving around as much, and am therefore spending a significant amount of time gazing blankly from living room windows, like the lad in the Cat in the Hat. This has meant that as with everything else in this strange new world, I’m listening to a bit more music online.

A friend recently sent me a wondrous app called Radio Garden which allows you to spin the globe, bottle-fashion, and pick a radio station wherever in the world you click. It’s tremendous fun, and I feel there’s more to come from it – I say this because predictably I’ve spent the week touring Spain and Spanish stations (the only Spanish travelling we’ll be doing this year, I’d imagine…).

This has led me to a cracking station based in Barcelona, called Radio Gladys Palmera, which actually has two streams – its main stream and a sort of “Gold” which consists of all manner of Hispanic sounds from the fifties. (I’ll leave you to imagine the vulgar scenes of Chicano frenzy currently “gracing” our kitchen of a morning…)

The main stream is also a lot of fun, with a general diet of more modern Latin beats and a lot of African-heavy world music. It’s a seductive listen.

And one of the artists, I’ve discovered at Radio Gladys Palmera that I don’t think I would ever have run into pre “lockdown” is this gent:

Sam Gendel

Sam Gendel is a saxophone player who seems to specialise in woozy, jazz-focused improvisations, which is the sort of description that will have most folk scrabbling franticly for whichever button it is that takes you the hell away from this place. But bear with me, after all, we’ve got a little time, we’re not going anywhere, are we?

First, I’d recommend reading this interview with Gendel in Aquarium Drunkard (the Blog that makes all other Blogs pointless).

Go on, I’ll wait…

He sounds like a pretty independent sole, doesn’t he? Affable, self-effacing but single minded… I was particularly drawn to the idea of jazz standards deconstructed (not something I’d have noticed, being a worthless know-nothing in these affairs), so let’s try something…

Here’s the Duke Ellington standard that Gendel uses as his title track for this year’s album, “Satin Doll” (a 1962 live version, I believe…)

 

Mr Duke Ellington…

(I know almost nothing about Ellington, but clearly a man with a certain authority – I’m very keen on the way he teases dark, elegant pieces out of his young bass player. Lordy…)

There’s also a definitive sung version by Ella Fitzgerald, although a word of warning – the clip contains scat-singing that some readers may find offensive (there are no words until about halfway through…)

 

And now, pour yourself a drink and enjoy Gendel’s, squinty-eyed, hazy-days take on the same. (And, yeah, it’s a smashing video…) Again, a warning to the beardy, banjo-toting members of my “audience”, this clip contains beats and, even, “breaks”

 

It’s in there somewhere, isn’t it? That melody, just about keeping its head above thick waters.

You’d have to say this is something of an impressionist venture, an out of focus glide across an already sparing performance, which sounds less clear the closer you try to get. You’re better off, listening to it side-on, as it were.

The whole album is a lot like this – obtuse takes on tunes you thought you knew, tunes you sometimes didn’t even notice were there until you looked at the track-listing.

Somewhat wilfully, Gendel claims that “nothing really interests me about deconstructing jazz standards” but I find that hard to believe. There’s a genuine love for and respect of the original in just about all of these songs, and he talks engagingly about the process of recording them.

You can do a similarly rewarding exercise comparing a few of his versions, I’m going to spend some time on “Afro Blue”, this afternoon, but particularly I’d recommend his fumbling exploration of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”. There’s a glorious performance of the original at Montreux ‘75, which is on YouTube (worth it, alone, for the sight of Mingus strolling solemnly, eyes like the Void, through his past) but I’ll let you discover that on your own. I can trust you, I know you’re good for it…

There’s also this 53-minute monster recorded at a Union Station, Los Angeles which in normal times, I wouldn’t suggest, life’s too short after all. But it turns out, these aren’t normal times, we’ve all got a little bit more of time these days.

Relax a little, we’ve got nowhere to be. Time is starting to unfold for us, the lucky ones.

We’re on Gendel time now…