New jazz ‘distractions’ and old vinyl classics

Here’s a question I get often enough: “What are you listening to?” What I say may come as a surprise. Usually I listen to a mix of a lot of different things. Not just jazz.

Lately, I’ve found myself listening to music that I grew up on, music I may not have paid enough attention to the first time around, older mixed CDs, classic jazz and R&B on vinyl. So what if some of that music happens to come with a parental advisory explicit content warning.

I usually don’t go for the nasty, foul, and unsophisticated use of language, especially when it comes to my music. Call me old fashioned. But I wouldn’t be entirely truthful if I didn’t admit there are some musicians that have grabbed my attention and held it, despite their explicit and often X-rated lyrics. Snoop Dogg’s “B**ch Betta Have My Money,” and Prince’s “P Control” come to mind. You can guess what the P stands for. I really dig the beats more then anything.

Ahhh, this musical journey. You see, musicians are either smart, gifted or cocky. Rarely are they all three. It doesn’t take long to figure that out.

Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor
Then there’s the trumpeter/bandleader Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor music from the Verve album Distractions, which was released the same time as the album Nothing Serious, also from Verve. On Distractions, Hargrove sings on the track “Hold On.” On that same track, one of his musical influences, David “Fathead” Newman, plays flute. D’Angelo even contributes the tune “Bulls**t,” while Hargrove handles the horn arrangement, plays trumpet, flugelhorn, and provides additional vocals.

The music here is a sophisticated mix of jazz, funk, soul, hip hop and gospel. Get his album, you’ll like it. Now this is a band. Who doesn’t remember the song “Hey Mr. D.J.” with Rene Neufville from Zhané (pronounced Jah-Nay)? Well, she was in the RH Factor band. I read that the band is appearing at a summer festival, which is great news. Hopefully Neufville is back with the band. Is the RH Factor’s music available on vinyl? Yes.

Classic jazz on vinyl records

The RH Factor band reminds me of some of the great R&B bands of the 1970s. But wait, hold that thought. I want to get to some of the classic jazz on vinyl that I finally had the opportunity to check out. If you’re a lover of music, then you know by now that vinyl is making a huge comeback. Some new jazz artists have released albums on vinyl. I really enjoy buying and collecting music on vinyl, especially jazz on vinyl.

Some of the vinyl that I’ve heard recently came from Hymie’s on Lake Street in Minneapolis. I went on a music-on-vinyl shopping spree one day. Mostly I was looking for jazz albums, but I ran across some other goodies.

Here is what I found: Bubbling Over from Earl Hines & His Orchestra (1934-1935) manufactured and distributed by The Official Record Company APS, Copenhagen, Denmark; J.J. Johnson, Trombone and Voices (Columbia, 1960); and Clifford Brown in Paris (Prestige, 1972) recorded in 1953.

Hines’ album features Trummy Young on trombone. The album notes by Ray Spencer read, “You can hear Trummy Young playing his trombone as if he were in the seventies instead of the thirties.” From the notes I learned that Hines’ father played trumpet and his stepmother was an organist. My favorite songs from the album include “Maple Leaf Rag” and “Blue.”

Now I love some J.J. Johnson as much as the next jazz lover, but I found myself wanting to hear more of him and less vocals while listening to his Trombone and Voices. The standout track for me was “Get Out of Town.” His approach, his tone, his tenderness is absolutely marvelous. The track “I’m Glad There Is You,” is also a good one.

What can I say about Clifford Brown? His album features the Clifford Brown Quartet, Sextet, and Big Band. I love the songs “All the Things You Are,” “Blue and Brown” and, of course, “Strictly Romantic.” Gigi Gryce plays alto sax. Brown and Gryce sound amazing together.

Tenor saxophonist Harold Land contributed to the album liner notes and said that more than one talented musician told him Brownie played his instrument “with the fire and creativeness of a young man and the depth, tenderness, and insight into past, present and future of an older man.” Brown was 25 years old when he died in a car accident.

Soul record memories
Come to think of it, growing up, almost all the music I knew was from vinyl records. No wonder I dig vinyl so much. I remember the good old days when I used to be in my room (probably writing), and I would step out to listen to our music-filled living room on a Saturday morning. I can still hear the sounds of Stevie Wonder’s “That Girl,” and songs like “Once You Get Started,” and “Please Pardon Me (You Remind Me of a Friend)” from Rufusized by Rufus featuring Chaka Khan (ABC Records, 1974) are stuck in my head.

Chaka’s voice seemed to always fill the house, which is probably why I bought the album on vinyl along with my jazz albums and listened to them all a few weeks ago. Back in the day I know I liked Chaka’s music, but I was too young to fully understand what the hell she was saying. I still don’t. All I know is the music reminds me of good times. And it makes me feel good. And isn’t feeling good the whole point of buying music? Next time you listen to an entire album, ask yourself one question. How does it feel?

Which brings me back to D’Angelo, who has a child with Angie Stone. Remember his famous “How Does It Feel” video? Stone’s singing makes me think of Chaka. She’s so soulful just like Chaka, who is appearing at jazz festivals this summer if I’m not mistaken. I once made a mixed CD with the song, “I Wanna Thank Ya,” featuring Stone and Snoop Dogg. If you wanna groove, listen to that song. I listen to that disc I made back in 2006 a lot, as I also added her singing the song “Makings of You” to the disc, which is truly beautiful.

I’ve also been listening to Miles Davis, specifically, his Nefertiti album (Columbia, 1968) that features Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Its root is hard bop, and Shorter wrote most of the songs — two reasons why I enjoy the music so much.

Robin James welcomes reader responses to