Monday, November 9, 2015

Three Hipsters Sing Their Brand of Cool

Giacomo Gates Everything is Cool Savant SCD 2146

Who is the hippest hipster?  In the world of jazz there has always been a secret language. A way of communicating that separated those who were in the know and those who weren’t. An insider’s speak that came from the street and eventually made its way into the mainstream lexicon precisely because it was so damn "cool." The words were descriptive like when you wanted to avoid the “heat” referring to the law. If you were cool you didn’t wear clothes you wore "threads." And if you were at a gig when the music wasn’t making it you simply "split" with a simple retort of "later" giving your friends all the information they would need to know.  This hip speak also seeped into a kind of music, a music that had  stories to tell  in their own subversive and off-beat way.  Here are three stylists that each have their own distinct way of contributing to this type of music.

Giacomo Gates: Everything is Cool
The baritone Giacomo Gates has released his latest album aptly titled Everything is Cool , unearthing  once forgotten gems from the be bop-cool  era, some of which epitomize authentic  hip sentiment. On the cover, the perennial hipster is doffed in his black beret  peering at the camera with a tip of his shades, a throwback to the beat era sense of cool. Opening with Babs Gonzales’s "Everything is Cool" he croons "Twice as high as birds can fly, everything is cool." Digging deeper into the Gonzales  repertoire, Gates does his version of the slow torch song "Here Today Gone Tomorrow" which he delivers in his lower register with a heartfelt sigh.  On "When Lovers They Lose," another Gonzales original, Grant Stewart’s sexy tenor looms large as Gates sings with a matter-of-fact resignation of one who knows love lost.
On the confidently hip "If I Were You Baby, I’d Love Me" Gates tells the tongue in cheek tale of an unabashed narcissist utilizing a slow sauntering blues as the vehicle. He is backed up by a solid group of journeymen musicians led by pianist John Di Martino, guitarist Tony Lombardozzi, bassist Ed Howard, saxophonist Grant Stewart and drummer Willard Dyson. Check it out here:
Gates reprises two swingers"Social Call" and "Hazel Hips" from his regular repertoire with some fine ensemble work by the group.  The surprising choice of Elvis Costello’s "Almost Blue" is given a simmering torch song approach and  Paul Desmond’s "Take Five" finds Gates singing yodel-like ala vocalese to the
Iola Brubeck lyrics with Stewart and Dyson deliver strong performances on this classic.
Gates own “Who Threw the Glue” is a treasure trove of hipsterism and its "U Bop Shebam" lyrics, bluesy swing  and  call out chorus that shouts the names famous jazz musicians at the coda.
A swinging  rendition of trombonist Frank Rosilino’s humorous "Please Don’t Bug Me" is the ultimate cool cat song. A brusque dismissal of a lover whose time has come, Gates nonchalant delivery is nearly perfect with some noteworthy solo work by Di Martino, Lombardozzi and the buoyant bass of Ed Howard. 
What could be more hip than taking comedienne Lenny Bruce’s "All Alone" and making it your own. Gates hip speaks these lines with heartfelt but acerbic seriousness, like a beat poet on a Greenwich village stage, as pianist Di Martino deftly adds poignant accents.
If conjuring up the spirit of  Lenny Bruce and Babs Gonzales weren’t hip enough for you, Gates  saves  Monk’s "Well You Needn’t"  for his finale, exquisitely  navigating the quirky melody with his pliant voice.
Ben Sidran Blue Camus

Ben Sidran: Blue Camus

Ben Sidran has been playing his particular type of hipster music for years. Originally he was keyboardist with Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs in the late sixties.  Despite his rock-jazz credentials it is his vocal delivery and beat poet writing that seems to qualify him as the hipster he is. Now seventy two, Sidran’s latest release is titled Blue Camus, a collection of  smooth instrumentals  and beat inspired songs  He doesn’t sing so much as speak with a voice  that just drips with cool indignation, especially when he is reciting such metaphysical lines like "It’s all so dark, it’s all so clear."  The music is played by Ben on piano, his son Leo on drums, Ricky Peterson on B3 organ and Billy Peterson on bass. For the most part the music is straight ahead organ driven vamps that allow for a groovin’ background  as a set for his wizened vocal tales.  The highlights includes the aforementioned "Blue Camus," "The King of Harlem" an oblique homage to New York and the Lewis Carroll inspired  "Wake Me When It’s Over," which is a reference to the rise of Tea party politics. Sidran’s brand of subversion  offers lyrics like "Because sometimes good things happen to bad people.  But man, bad people happen to good people every day. You Dig?"

Mark Winkler Jazz and Other Four Letter Words Cafe Pacific CPCD 45125
 Mark Winkler: Jazz and Other Four Letter Words

West Coast coolster  Mark Winkler takes another approach to hip lyrics, he writes his own.  On his latest  Jazz and Other Four Letter Words Winkler. opens with "My Idea of A Good Time."  Leading off with a plucky bass line by Dan Lutz  the singer finds some  off-beat ways to express himself with such lines as 
"Were I King Kong and the World is in my palm, all swinging through the city bye and bye, I guess that’s my idea of a good time."  Winkler has an easy, smooth delivery that breezily attacks the lyrics making them swing.  His main band is features Jamieson Trotter on piano, Mike Trotter on drums and the aforementioned Dan Lutz on bass.
Bringing in obscure material written by two original hipsters Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough is a sure fire way to bring Winkler hipster cred. He does this version of "I’m Hip" with, Manhattan Transfer alumni Cheryl Bentyne. The two float through the sarcastically self aggrandizing lyrics with an ease and self confidence that captures the sentiment of the song perfectly.
The five four beat of “Your Cat Plays Piano” is probably the hippest of Winkler’s songs, with lyrics like "Your cat plays piano mostly on the black keys, and I can swear he is a jazzer ‘cause he won’t play the melody." Here Winkler employs the services of West Coast musical cats John Clayton on bass, Jeff Hamilton on drums and Bob Sheppard on tenor, all powerhouse studio players, and they make this one special. Winkler has a way of making the strange seem cool, the odd seem aloof and special.   He modulates his voice in perfect time to Sheppard’s cool saxophone lines on this one.

Winkler can use his pleasing tenor to sing with a deep sensitivity, as he does on "I Chose the Moon" and "I Never Went Away."   On Paul Simon’s "Have A Good Time" the crooner turns the popular song  to a jaunty blues,  backed by a brassy horn section with a rousing trombone solo by Bob McChesney.
The title song, Trotter and Winkler’s "Jazz and Other Four Letter Words" is a rhythmical chicane that features Winkler’s voice navigating the stops and breaks with an easy aplomb.
The medley  of“In a "New York Minute" and "The Great City." reminds me a bit of Van Morrison’s "Moondance"  Winkler incorporates the varied lyrics from these homages to New York as if they were written together. Guitarist Larry Koonse lays down some sweet lines on the break as Clayton and Hamilton provide the anchored beat.  The song takes a turn at the coda briefly referencing "Autumn in New York."
Gershwin’s "Nice work if You Can Get It" is a well worn standard that here is given a  honky-tonk approach by Trotter on piano. Winkler croons the up lifting lyrics with sincerity bringing to mind a barroom tenor playing for tips. Pat Kelley’s guitar solo adds to the feel.
The finale is an Eames/ Winkler original is a swinger "Stay  Hip" which features  Rich Eames on piano and Winkler again fronted by the superb rhythm  section of Clayton, Hamilton and Koonse.  

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