What’s on my iPod?

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The most important part of my daily routine, from a staying alive perspective, takes place on my two-hour, five mile walk through the local neighborhoods in San Diego.

Aside from the cardiovascular benefit, the real reason I love the walk is the opportunity to take in a couple of hours of uninterrupted music. I try to keep a balance between stuff I love, stuff that’s part of my musical DNA, and newer releases, which arrive constantly.

The Stuff I Love

There is always John Coltrane on the iPod. For many moons, it was Crescent and One Up, One Down. The former for its melancholic agitation, and the latter for the unhinged and ecstatic experience of ‘Trane laying it down in front of a large (and noisy) nightclub crowd. The blue Impulse ’63 collection Coltrane also spent many hours leaking into my brain, as did First Meditations for Quartet, which has resonated for me since my early twenties. But for the last few months, the dominant forces in my headphones have belonged to Stellar Regions, and Cosmic Music. Many folks can’t go there, but when you do, the rewards are almost indescribably beautiful. I’m not sure if those two discs will ever come off my iPod, and although I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with the volcanic Sun Ship, (the 1965 session that documented the final moments of the “classic quartet”) I still get the chills every time Stellar Regions (1967) and Cosmic Music (1966-68) come up.

More or less enjoying a similar place of distinction is the Joni Mitchell live masterpiece Shadows & Light, with Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Don Alias, Michael Brecker and Lyle Mays. I love Joni, and I love these versions of the tunes, most of which are culled from Hejira and Mingus. Also, the monstrous 1982 session from the Keith Jarrett Standards Trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, Standards Volume II. Standards Volume I, this album and Changeless were all recorded in one afternoon – possibly the most productive afternoon in jazz history. If you’ve never heard Jarrett and company caress tunes like “Never Let Me Go,” and “Moon and Sand,” you owe yourself the experience. I’ve never heard a bass recorded with such loving detail.

What About New Music?

This is actually what keeps me going. In the past few months I’ve been enthralled by new discs from the Mark Dresser Seven and the Matthew Shipp Trio (both of which I reviewed for the New York City Jazz Record.) I have also been impressed by two new albums on the ECM label, Ralph Towner’s My Foolish Heart, and John Abercrombie’s Up and Coming. Both discs are incredibly beautiful, but Towner’s solo album is hands down, the finest record I’ve heard in years. It’s that good. What’s strange to me is that I’ve never been a huge Towner fan, and I’m not particularly attracted to solo guitar albums, but My Foolish Heart is a definitive statement and it sings with a distinctive clarity.

New albums from the CleanFeed label are always joyful. I’ve been mesmerized by a live disc from Evan Parker, Daunik Lazro, and Joe McPhee called Seven Pieces Live at Willisau. Three saxophones plus McPhee’s pocket trumpet, and not an ounce of fat. I also spent considerable time with the duet album from drum veteran Whit Dickey and trumpet phenomenon Kirk Knuffke, Fierce Silence which permeates beauty and invention.

Nicole Mitchell is the Next Adventure…

To wrap this up, I’ll share a little anecdote. I’ve actually been fascinated by the flutist and composer Nicole Mitchell for many years. When she moved to California from Chicago five years ago to teach at UC Irvine, I was ecstatic, and being able to see her perform live has been a constant source of joy and amazement for me.

For the last couple of years, every time I’d see her play, I would encourage her to send me whatever her latest record happened to be, because I was pretty sure I’d love it and would go out of my way to review it.

Two weeks ago, Nicole sent me a wonderful Christmas package that included 16 of her albums. I get a lot of albums in the mail, but this feels special. So I am embarking on a long-term journey to really absorb her music. I’m doing it five discs at a time, so the iPod is basically heavily loaded to favor her vision.

And the music is incredible! Awakening is a quartet featuring Jeff Parker, Harrison Bankhead and Avreeayl Ra. One of the side benefits of this plethora of Mitchell releases are the opportunities to really get familiar with these players, who all have long histories with the flutist. Bankhead is also featured on the Indigo Trio with the superlative Hamid Drake on Anaya, a 2009 session on Rogue Art. Mitchell’s art ranges from that sparse trio (which sounds anything but sparse) to an orchestral session on Delmark called Hope, Future and Destiny. Mitchell’s range is astonishing, and her mastery of multiphonics is brilliant.

I can’t wait to start on the next five…

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