Born Salvatore Massaro on this day in 1902, Eddie Lang was the first great guitarist in jazz, and among the earliest guitar heroes in the history of popular music. A virtuoso on his instrument, Lang and his violinist partner brought classical chops to their music and pioneered an influential form of chamber jazz that would be so successfully imitated by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli as to nearly eclipse their own reputations. Lang died tragically at the age of 30 but fortunately for music lovers he was a prolific recording artist as soloist, sideman and freelance session player and his superb musicianship is well documented. Highlights include his solo recordings, which feature his own charming compositions and extreme virtuosity; his many small group recordings with hot jazz stars like Clarence Williams, Bix Beiderbecke, King Oliver and of course Joe Venuti; and his brilliant duets with Lonnie Johnson, probably his only equal at the time. What he might have accomplished had he lived into the age of bebop and electrification can hardly be imagined.
Archive for the Now Playing Category
It’s nearly ten years since the death of hip hop’s holy fool, and close to twenty since, with the assistance of his Wu-Tang colleagues, he dropped his first album, one of the maddest and baddest records of all time, in any genre. A bizarre collage of gritty beats, freakish sounds, filthy anecdotes and deranged rants it is unique and inimitable and always gets my head nodding while raising a smile. Here are the original album art and another Blue Note influenced re-styling by Logan Walters.
Not the real cover art of this classic album, but a re-imagining in the style of Blue Note Records by Logan Walters.
Or, you can’t judge a book by its cover, for this fantastically ugly album sleeve conceals a superb compilation of classic musique concrète by Pierre Schaeffer and his associates of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales. I use the word classic advisedly, as this once radical and challenging music now comprises an identifiable historic style, the soundtrack of postwar utopianism, when national governments were willing, usually through their public broadcasting organisations, to lavishly subsidize such artistic experiment. If only Candide Records had spent a little more on their graphic design!
The original published score of Debussy’s La mer featured a well chosen detail from Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Though I don’t know it for a fact it doesn’t seem unlikely that Debussy shared the era’s fascination with Japanese art, and that it informed his musical aesthetic. That he was influenced by Far Eastern music, specifically Javanese gamelan, is well known. That musical impetus eventually returned to the East, where the great Japanese composer Tōru Takemitsu was profoundly influenced by Debussy’s work. Takemitsu’s composition for two pianos and orchestra Quotation of Dream deploys quotations from La mer, while Takemitsu described the work as analogous to the traditional Japanese garden whereby views of the landscape beyond through careful framing are included in the garden’s composition. One can imagine Takemitsu’s work as a microcosmic garden embedded in Debussy’s broader musical landscape, a novel and highly imaginative formal conception in music. If only one could know what Debussy would have made of it…