Archive for March 2018

Gig review – Chris Potter’s Underground, 13 March 2018

Looking back at my gig reviews, I noticed that it’s been a few months since my last gig.  My recent visit, however, to Ronnie Scott’s jazz club to see Chris Potter’s Underground sees the belated start to my 2018 campaign.  I’ve already a few in the diary, including The Cure, Wynton Marsalis, Harold Budd, and Cigarettes After Sex, so there’ll be plenty more to come in terms of gig reviews.

I’ve a few Chris Potter albums, mainly, I admit, because of the company he keeps.  His albums feature top pianists/keyboard players, including the likes of Craig Taborn, Kevin Hays, and David Virelles.  As a pianist I’m always going to be interested in what my fellow instrumentalists are up to.  Chris Potter is equally revered, especially by saxophonists, and has garnered numerous plaudits over his career.  So it wasn’t a hard decision when invited to go along and see his band play.  My only reservation was that the quartet didn’t include a keyboard player.  The quartet was completed by Adam Rogers (guitar), Fima Ephron (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums).  As you’d expect, they’re all top players in their own right.

Potter didn’t appear to be much of a talker (if this gig was anything to go by), letting his horn do it for him.  The set was varied with the band serving up a fusion of jazz, blues, funk and rock.  I can’t recall most of the names of the tunes played but can tell you that they played The Dreamer is the Dream, the title track of Potter’s 2017 album, and The Wheel, from Potter’s 2006 album underground, the closing tune of the evening.

What most of the tunes had in common was groove. Dan Weiss (who was for me the star of the evening) and Fima Ephron looked after the groove, taking you on all sorts of interesting rhythmic journeys but always dropping you off in the right place at the right time.  Potter was a never-ending fountain of creativity and invention. His ability to conjure so many interesting ideas within the space of a tune, while not trading this for musicality is why he’s so revered.  Rogers sounded slightly schizophrenic on guitar, his solos often alternating between chordal lines and flurries of bebop lines.  For my money, the band got better as the night went on but was at its best on the slower, more sparse Dreamer is the Dream.

For all this, I found myself disengaged with the music on a basic emotional level.  I appreciated the musicality but just didn’t warm to what was served up.  I should note that the audience as a whole certainly enjoyed the experience, as did my companion, so I’ll put this down to personal preference.

Book review – The Spy who came in from the Cold

The Spy who came in from the Cold (let’s just call it ‘the Spy’) was John le Carré’s third novel.  Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, the Spy is very much a product of its time (though with recent events unfolding that assertion may be called into question).  Published in 1963, the Cold War was entering a new phase, a year in which the US agreed to set up a hotline with the USSR, and JFK delivered his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.

I’m familiar with the Spy, having seen the 1965 movie, starring Richard Burton, on a handful of occasions.  I was reticent therefore about reading the book.  I generally prefer to read the book before I see the movie.  While wary of knowing the plot, and having Richard Burton’s face imprinted on my vision of the central character of Alec Leamas, I thought it worth reading.  The Spy has classic status in spy fiction and at just over 200 pages in length it was never going to be a huge investment of my time.

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On the death of one of his agents, Alec Leamas, our spy, returns to London from Berlin.  While tired of a life in the shadows, Leamas isn’t quite ready for seeing out his career behind a desk.  He is persuaded by Control to be the final thrust in a plot to destabilise East German Intelligence through his playing the role of defector and false intelligence provider.

It’s a fairly bleak book.  You can almost feel the London drizzle on your face and the sound of tyres on wet roads. If a book could be in black and white, it’s this one.  But that’s high praise.  The character of Leamas is nicely drawn even if some of the other characters around him aren’t quite as realistic nor the relationships forged.  Perhaps this is a consequence of Spy being a fairly short book with quite a plot to get through.

The Spy has plenty to keep you engaged, and enough atmosphere to shake the proverbial stick at.  There’s a great twist as well which makes you realise and appreciate, in a Count of Monte Cristo way, how well put together and constructed the book and plot is.  Spy is highly recommended, as is the movie.  Just try and do it in that order!

Songs from the Vault – Easy Listening

It’s been over a month since I last posted some Songs from the Vault, the last couple being on guitar tunes.  This month sees another thematic approach, and for want of a better name, Easy Listening.

First up is Lujon by Henry Mancini.  I originally heard this track, or at least a sample of this, on Dimitri from Paris’s 1996 album Sacrebleu.  The original dates from 1961 and is named after a percussive instrument on the record.  Regardless, it’s one of those tunes like Percy Faith’s Theme from a Summer Place that we all seem to know and love but don’t quite seem to know where we know it from!

Next up is one of my favourite jazz tunes, Who can I Turn To?  It was penned in 1964 by Tony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for a musical called The Roar of the Greasepaint – the Smell of the Crowd.  I was turned on to it by the legendary pianist Bill Evans, and then Tony Bennett who popularised the tune.  I was planning on putting the original Tony Bennett version on here.  However, this wasn’t available on YouTube so I’ve included the version from the 1966 album Bill Evans at Town Hall, which is a great album to check out.

Jumping squarely into Easy Listening territory, the next tune is The Impossible Dream as sung by Andy Williams.  Like the last song, it originally appeared in a musical (also in 1964) – Man of La Mancha – about, you guessed it, Cervantes’ Don Quixote.  I never knew that before researching this post and if you listen to the lyrics, it all makes sense.  Avid readers will be aware, however, that I’ve struggled with Don Quixote.  If only that could be read in two and a half minutes!

This Guy’s in Love With You is one of the best tunes ever!  Penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, as if you needed any help there, it was a tune sitting on the shelf in need of a voice (and trumpet).  The voice came in the form of Herb Alpert.  Alpert is the ‘A’ in A&M records which was formed in 1962 and housed acts including The Carpenters, The Police, Janet Jackson, Soundgarden and The Human League.  A&M had to wait until 1968 for its first US No.1 single:  TGILWY.  It was worth the wait.

Bacharach and David make another appearance albeit one year later, in 1969, and with B.J. Thomas on vocal duties.  Raindrops keep Fallin’ on my Head was written for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and duly won an Academy Award.  I can’t recall where it featured in Butch Cassidy but clearly remember it in Spider-Man 2, as the fitting soundtrack to Peter Parker’s return to a normal life.  It’s a great scene, and a great song.

That’s it for this edition of SVTF. I hope you enjoyed it – I’ve got plenty more planned!

Book review – Salvation of a Saint

I’ve read a couple of Keigo Higashino books, Malice and The Devotion of Suspect X, and reviewed them within these pages.  They’re both good crime novels with plenty of twists and turns, while being page-turners.  My only criticism of each was that characterisation was sacrificed for the benefit of a fast-moving plot; a fair enough trade-off.

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Salvation of a Saint (2012) finds us in the company of Police Detective Kusanagi and his physicist friend, Yakawa, known as Detective Galileo (for reasons which I don’t think are ever explained!), both of whom featured in Suspect X.  Kusanagi is investigating a case of arsenic poisoning.  The one person who has the keenest motive is the murder victim’s wife, who, whilst having motive, didn’t have the opportunity to commit the crime.  Kusanagi and his colleagues are confronted with what may be the perfect murder and seek to unearth the truth!

The book, like Suspect X, has the feel of a Columbo episode.  Columbo, if you’ll recall, always identified the murderer at the outset.  The fun was watching Columbo find his way through the labyrinth and ultimately to the murderer.  I quite like this approach and Higashino keeps you guessing about the identity of the murderer a lot longer than the Columbo episodes would have you.  Moreover, Higashino also appears to enjoy the moral ambiguity surrounding his murderers, i.e. were they morally justified in committing the crime?

Suspect X and Salvation are books three and five, respectively, of the Detective Galileo series.  If Galileo/Yakawa is intended to be the main attraction, I found him to be quite annoying throughout.  He has an antagonistic and pedantic nature, which may well we rewarding in the world of solving crimes but a trait that I found to be grating.  Salvation combats this to some extent with the introduction of a new character, Utsumi, who as Kusanagi’s young assistant spends much of her time with Yakawa.

This criticism aside, I enjoyed Salvation, though not as much as I enjoyed Suspect or Malice.  But if you’re after a crime thriller which is a page-turner and has a few twists and turns, then Salvation delivers.