Blog on the Tracks

Writer/reviewer Simon Sweetman covers music for The Dominion Post and North And South. He cares far too much about music, and the list of bands he loves is far longer than the list of groups he has shown no love.

Ten important jazz albums

11:08am 10 Jul 2014


A couple of weeks ago I mentioned ten important blues albums - meaning ten albums I considered stepping stones, ten albums that sent me into the genre and then, in some cases, helped define that genre. And as with previous times - when I've offered up my lists around ten important albums in punk, reggae, country, electronica, metal and hip-hop I copped a wee bit of flak because my list wasn't your list. And because my list of blues albums included - gasp! - white people! Louis Armstrong

And because if this blog is anything it's a study in not being deterred by idiocy, since - hey - my own has clearly never stopped me, then with that, here we go again - this time ten important jazz albums. And if you can't think of your own list you could always just tell me that mine sucks.

1. The Buddy Rich Big Band, Big Swing Face:  I mentioned it recently on my list of ten 'drum' albums. This was played to me when I decided I wanted to play the drums. It scared me, baffled me, excited me - and though there are plenty of times when I haven't really enjoyed the relentless approach of Buddy Rich as big-band driver, I would say as often as not actually, this was still among the very first jazz albums I heard; it would have been the first time I sat and listened to a jazz album all the way through, side to side. I've kept this record. I still play it. I was ten years old when I first heard it.

2. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue: When the family got its first CD player we had won some competition so scored a bunch of free CDs with it, including Miles Davis' Tutu. That was cool. The whole family was into it - we only had about five CDs to choose from (others included Santana, Prince and The Animals). The collection grew pretty quickly from there and as that was the introduction to Miles Davis for all of us we decided to get something older, one of his "classic" albums. You can't get more classic than this. I've collected up over a hundred Miles Davis recordings and all because of this. Miles - and this album to start with - became a way to learn about other great players. Every musician on Kind of Blue is represented in my collection across a bunch of other albums, some with them as the leader, sometimes, as with here, they're simply part of a magical line-up.

3. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme: My brother used to return home from university with albums he'd picked up on sale, with new artists he'd been tipped off about. He, being older, introduced me to The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Hello Sailor, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Th' Dudes, The Who and many other great artists. Long-term, long-time favourites. He also brought home this album - one of my all-time favourite records by anyone ever; a life-changing experience. I took the dive headlong into Coltrane's music from hearing this album.

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Saving the best for last

06:24am 09 Jul 2014


So I'd just reviewed the new Ginger Baker album - and raved about it being a fitting swansong, as it's likely the last original album he'll release - when I read this list of ten artists who released their best album as their final recorded statement.Mr Baker

It's an interesting list - it sets out a couple of rules, no bands or solo artists where only a couple of albums were released; Joy Division being an obvious example there. It's fair to assume (to hope) an act will improve from album number one to two. And then of course on from there - but in a few special cases there are artists who release something really definitive and stirring with a final album; possibly career-defining, maybe even just a touch outside and away from their initial/trademark sound.

Talk Talk for instance (also featured on the Consequence of Sound list) and Nick Drake. To me there's just no question that Pink Moon is the Nick Drake album. The other two have strong songs too, nice moments, but mood-wise it's Pink Moon all the way. Though Drake only released three albums in his lifetime so that's getting close to the Joy Division example.

The other stipulation from the COS list was that bands could be included if they haven't yet officially broken up. They kick off their list with Fugazi as an example - no announcement beyond indefinite hiatus, the thrill is still there at the idea of another album.

I would put The Blue Nile's High on this list - that doesn't mean I don't love the other Blue Nile albums, particularly the first two. Of course I do. It might not be an obvious choice, it might be the majority that think it, but for me High is the band's Pink Moon. It's the special sauce, the earlier albums feature some fine songs - really lovely. But High is the one that plays through like a statement, it might help that - as Paul Buchanan told me, when I interviewed him - it is in fact the sound of the band breaking up; it's the guys holding it together for as long as they can, one final time, channelling that soft struggle into the music. I've certainly listened to High more than any other Blue Nile album so it would be on my list, even if I'm in the minority of Blue Nile fans there.Beware!

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You're on The Voice - try and understand that!

08:22am 08 Jul 2014


Let me be quite clear on this - I have never watched more than a minute or two of The Voice or any of the similar versions of singing/talent shows that clog our screens. It's been that way since the first seasons of Australian Idol and NZ Idol which I watched out of a morbid curiosity, a thin crust of obligation, feeling like it was - in some way - related to the industry I worked in. Realising, by watching them through, that it wasn't.

I have no issue with Reality TV - you either enjoy it as absurd escapism, bask in it or you let it be, switch off the box. The real way to watch TV these days is through your computer, making the choices yourself. But if you want mindless, aimless, ambling tomfoolery - and, let's face it, some nights you probably do - you can, after all, watch whatever you like. And often that includes what you hate. Just last week I found myself pining for one of Reality TV's ugliest, most wonderful antecedents, The Jerry Springer Show. I had to watch several "I'm really a man" clips to satisfy that strange pang of nostalgia, the tiny kick I still get from having a life nowhere near as absurd as the one constructed for the TV camera and yet in its own way every bit as sad for needing that appeasement.

A ghastly show like Catfish is just wonderful to me - in tiny doses, now and then - more a case of now than then. I wouldn't spend more than an hour watching any type of Reality TV a month and can go many months without watching it at all. This is healthy. Would it be healthier to dispense with it - and TV - altogether? Of course. But do I look like someone hugely concerned with what's healthy?

Anyway, all of that is to say that, for me, Reality TV exists whether I need it or not - and just as the bubble looked like it might burst a few years back after that decade-long glut of shows we're swamped now with too many singing and cooking contests, home renovation shows and dating-grotesquery daisy-wheels; it's easy money, there will always be victims/contestants and they don't cost as much as the stars of yesterday. They'll take fame and/or infamy and a viral hit, even the hope of one, is their feel-good moment. Mia

At times I'm more removed from the Reality TV circus and circumlocutions than I might be leading you to believe here but still I manage to sneak a peek, now and then, at related news - that's "news" of course. We tend to "specialise" in "news" here.

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Sick as a dog: What's your story?

10:54am 07 Jul 2014


Without going into details in any huge way I spent most of the weekend in bed. I slept as if I spend far too much time staring at a computer clacking away, creating inanities and that I'd been given - finally - a window for catching up. Turn off Facebook, turn off the world - and sleep. But of course for that to happen - for me - I need to be one thing and one thing only: sick as a dog. And I was. Wiped out. Sick As A Dog

The only problem - I really did love sleeping a lot, it's good to try new things and I finished a couple of books too in the waking daze - was that I had a gig to do in the middle of all this.

On Saturday night I played some Talking Heads records in a bar, starting at Midnight.

I got out of bed at 10.30pm - and started the thawing process; of course as far as gigs to do when you're brutally, uncomfortably sick go this was a doddle - I'm just standing there flicking between records, picking some favourite songs - all by one band, only 10 albums to choose from.

So I don't want your sympathy. It was a quiet night - I was out for a couple of hours and I returned home to bed after. And then slept on and off for most of Sunday. I think I'm better.

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The best b-side in the world. Ever.

03:42am 04 Jul 2014


I had something very important to do today - I had to tell you about that Jimi Hendrix biopic that's going to be in the film festival. You may remember that last week I talked about the music films in the festival. I've been lucky to see a few of them already and the Pulp documentary is great, the Kathleen Hannah doco is brilliant (already reviewed) and this week I caught a screener of Voices of The Land - and that's a wonderful film, a must-see.Jimi: All Is By My Side

But I also attended an early screening of the Jimi Hendrix biopic that stars Andre 3000 (or Andre Benjamin) of Outkast.

Oh dear. Just awful. A really embarrassing set of barely stitched-together vignettes that cover the obvious ground - just one year in the life of Hendrix and none of the music was allowed to be used (Hendrix Estate Says No!)

But it's late, I had a big night DJing last night so I won't trouble you by repeating too much from my review - if you want to be warned about the Hendrix biopic read here. I'll understand if you read the review, agree with it - or at least see where I'm coming from - and then still see the film. That's what I would have done had someone else warned me off seeing the film. I'm a sucker for music biopics even though, most often, they're underwhelming; they under-deliver.

Well, that's not much of a Friday topic - so I thought we could talk about the best B-side in the world.

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