Saturday, June 26, 2004

20 big ones + 3

The Observer's Top 100 British albums led to the obligatory, more or less righteous, reactions from various quarters.

I'm crap at making lists, but Evergreen Daze's yeah everything on this list I have and genuienly (sic) enjoy struck a chord and got me thinking about music I really have a strong connection with. Beyond mere appreciation, listed below is music I've lived with in one way or another. Because of my absurdly bereft-of-music childhood, my tale is a lot shorter than others', but here's my honest answer, 20 albums and 3 entries that aren't albums. Many of these I wouldn't even list among my favourites, but they've earned their spots here nonetheless. They're presented roughly in the order in which I encountered them.

"Feelin' Hot Hot Hot"
I don't even know who sang this, but it reminds me of all those Carribbean expat parties back in the Kenya days, growing up.

Snoop Doggy Dogg - Doggystyle
The first album I ever bought, on cassette, was Kriss Kross's debut, but the first I really got into was this one, a little over 10 years ago. I listened and listened, learning all the lyrics. A few years later, I bought Tha Doggfather, but quickly lost interest. I still like hearing Snoop's trademark laid-back flow, however. I'll note my enjoyment of Eazy-E's It's on (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa here, but after a while I noticed that it was starting to corrupt my mind. Thinking about it, it probably marked the very beginning of the decline of my involvement with hip-hop.

The Fugees - The Score
Wore headphones to school and listened to this all day long and felt cool. Our sort-of school radio station (actually, simply a stereo playing into a hall), of which I was a peripheral member, was playing the "ooh-la-la-la" single that came out before "Killing Me Softly," so I felt justified in going with the commercial flow. I was miffed when, in their year-end Top 10, Time (hmm, I wonder if Jon Abbey was working there at the time?) called this "thinking man's hip-hop." My anti-mainstream media feelings have yet to develop to Carlin-esque proportions, however.

Tupac Shakur - Strictly For My Niggaz, All Eyez On Me
I started out with an unmarked tape of the first album, I wasn't even sure who it was. From the latter, "California Love" and "Trading War Stories" stick most in my mind.

Xzibit - At the Speed of Life
With Snoop and Tupac, Xzibit completes my "finest voices in hip-hop" trio. I wonder if they've ever appeared together on a track. I bought 40 Days and 40 Nights but paid little attention to it, whereas Restless got some play, despite a number of weak tracks.

The Roots - Illadelph Halflife
I think that this was the first album I bought because of things I read on the Internet. The Roots kept on being mentioned on various hip-hop sites, so I got this unheard and haven't regretted it since. Soon after, easter 1997 I think, I went to see the band in London. Back then, Rahzel still toured with them, it was incredible. Now I have all the Roots' albums and remain a huge fanatic (I've seen them in concert four more times), even if I don't visit anymore. I'm worried about The Tipping Point being their first stinker, as the first single is very bland. I take heart in the fact that I also found "Break U Off" bland when I first heard it, but Phrenology turned out great anyway. The Roots led to the Common (Like Water For Chocolate), D'Angelo (Voodoo) and Mos Def (Black on Both Sides).

Count Basie compilation
Mid-way through university, hip-hop was getting boring. After a brief blues phase, I moved on to jazz. My father had (and has) a huge, mostly jazz, record collection, which he never got to play because, I suppose, of my mother's hyper-sensitivity to "noise." Just its presence, though, sufficed to make me naturally assume that jazz was a "higher music," one that I'd have to come around to eventually. A cheapo Basie two-disc compilation was my starting point, and had me dancing.

Art Blakey - Moanin'
I've already said it all. One of my best listens to this was while strolling on the outskirts of Salamanca, Spain. It was a sunny day, but a bit cold.

Dave Holland Quintet - Prime Directive
This is probably the album that has most accompanied the growth in my understanding of jazz. I know that that sounds pompous, but I can't put it any other way. I bought it because I was reading Robin Eubanks's thread on Jazz Corner (he seemed like a cool guy) and there were glowing reviews everywhere. At first I clung to the great melodies and Billy Kilson's drumming, but over time I kept coming back to it and came to appreciate the solos as well. A number of albums and concerts later, I'm still in their thrall.

Roots Manuva - Brand New Second Hand
Probably one of the last hip-hop albums I paid a lot of attention to. I even tried to penetrate Manuva's cryptic narratives. I rarely succeeded.

Steve Coleman - The Way of the Cipher
I first heard this at a friend's house. He only had an unmarked CD-R, but the musicians were announced at the end, allowing me to track the album down, with some friendly online help. At the time, it was a kind of Holy Grail for me: jazz/hip-hop fusion that actually worked! Gene Lake held it down something lovely. Nowadays there are other Coleman albums I prefer, but this was my entry point.

Miles Davis - In a Silent Way
I had unsuccessfully tried listening to Bitches Brew and Dark Magus, but IASW made them audible to me, as well as transporting me into the blissful zero-gravity of its space-funk. Also, it fits nicely into my "Miles x9 trilogy:" Birth of the Cool, Kind of Blue, IASW. I'll footnote Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else here, for its definitive version of "Autumn Leaves." Not only the head, but also the hand-off from Miles to Cannonball.

John Coltrane - Blue Train
In the Eurostar waiting room at Waterloo Station (or was it Brussels?), I read the first or second chapter of Invisible Man, then put on the headphones to hear this. The effect was almost overwhelming: Coltrane was blowing exactly what Ellison had written, the Black American experience was contained in both and they reinforced and enhanced each other.

Donny Hathaway
I can't single out an album because, great as they all are, they're all equally flawed. The first one I got was Donny Hathaway, I think. If I remember correctly, I checked Donny out because I kept on hearing and reading references to him. He couldn't write a tune and stay focused on it like Stevie, but in a way Donny's emotional impact is deeper. The live version of "A Song For You" is his greatest moment, in my opinion.

Stevie Wonder - Innervisions
I alreay had Hotter Than July and my favourite song, "They Won't Go When I Go," is on Fulfillingness' First Finale, but Innervisions, my second Stevie purchase, is the album that really turned me on to him.

Outkast - Stankonia
"Bombs Over Baghdad," "Gasoline Dreams," Big Boi's verse on "I'll Call Before I Come:" getting hooked on Outkast was inevitable after that. ATLiens still strikes me as their best album. It was weird to suddenly, and completely unexpectedly, hear the source of one of one of their most effective samples live.

Anne Wolf - Amazone
One of the first albums I reviewed. I played it so much that even my girl-friend could sing along to the solos.

Rêve d'Eléphant Orchestra - "Les folies de Cécile"
The band's "hit" tune. I drove my girl-friend crazy sitting on the floor in front of the stereo, hitting the play button again and again as I taught myself to play the melody on a tin flute I had bought in Ireland.

Mal Waldron - One More Time
One of the few albums I've heard that I firmly believe will be in jazz magazines' "Best of the '00s" lists. I saw Waldron three nights in a row in Brussels, playing with a quartet. The first set of the second night was the best 40 minutes of music I have ever experienced: I was almost levitating from sheer happiness. I didn't get to talk to him, but he did smile at me and crinkle his eyes. That was enough.

Dizzee Rascal - Boy in da Corner
Just because hearing it for the first time was one of those "Yes, this is it, this is fucking it!" moments. First heard about it on the blogs, naturally.

Charles Mingus - The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
I could have put Ah Um or Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, but re-listening to this one relatively recently (I shelved it for far too long in favour of the more tune-laden MMMMM. Well, I shouldn't say "for far too long" as I believe that music comes to you when you're ready, always in good time) opened up new worlds to me (Mingus will do that to you), thinking about how it is possible to write what amounts to a symphony using the jazz language (almost) exclusively. And of course, those flutes rock (I wonder if Dave Holland had them in mind when he wrote "Conference of the Birds?")

Dexter Gordon - Complete Blue Note Recordings Disc 1
Only just heard this, but I was entranced by Gordon in a way repeated listens to Go have failed to do. I think I'm ready now.