Alan Stuart is now an occasional writer, critic and musician. Having more or less retired from the lists, he amuses himself by observing other combatants being unhorsed and occasionally decapitated – and recording his observations of such conceits in his blog, Wise Blood. Alan’s principal concern is material comfort but he admits a life-long affair with music – Blues and Jazz music in particular, being cited as frequent co-respondents by his endlessly patient wife, Patricia. Alan’s alter ego, Sir Wilson Parking, is an influential presence – and it is he to whom Alan is indebted for the almost prescient wisdom of today’s selections. Here are five albums he’s loving right now…
1 – Freddie King, Texas Cannonball: This recording for Leon Russell’s Shelter label will not please everyone. Russell’s piano sits astride the mix and then there are the string arrangements and the female bvs….But wait. Freddie’s finger vibrato and ability to explore the spaces between notes has never been caught to better effect and his singing has never been more assured and – dare I say it? – soulful. His reading of Lowell Fulson’s Reconsider Baby, alone, is worth the price of entry. All the tracks are strong and for that Leon is due a vote of thanks; so many blues albums getting by on a few stand-out cuts augmented by filler. Listening to this great album also confirms for the listener just how influential Freddie was on the careers of Clapton, Green, Beck and Garcia. A long-standing staple of my collection.
2 – Bobby Hutcherson, Oblique: Vibes player Hutcherson rarely recorded in quartet formation and this is one of only two such outings for Blue Note. What makes this album special for me is the strength of the compositional writing. The great Herbie Hancock brings all of his formidable skill to the date and also provides Theme from Blow-Up – as far as I’m aware, the only unadulterated jazz reading of this almost mystical piece. Bassist Joe Chambers provides the title track as well as Bi-Sectional and the soaring and sweeping improv interplay between vibes and piano on both tracks lends these tone-poems a quality that nudges up to greatness. Hutcherson penned the other tracks on the album – one rather Latin, the other quite baroque – to complete one of the most satisfying and rewarding jazz albums in the catalogue.
3 – Krzysztof Komed, Rosemary’s Baby [Soundtrack]: Krzysztof Komeda’s score for Roman Polanski’s brilliant horror movie. The album is hard to track down and is sometimes to be found in tandem with the score from The Fearless Vampire Killers. Of course, you have to be a fan of the film to appreciate the score – and what it lends to the telling of the story. The music is strongly evocative and the main theme Lullaby (with Mia Farrow contributing the ‘la-la-las’) – hauntingly so. This is an album you play only occasionally to appease a particular mood or need but when you do play it, it delivers – in spades.
4 – Morphine, The Night: Morphine’s fifth and final album was completed shortly before Mark Sandman’s death in July 1999 but not released until the following year. Front man Sandman’s bass playing and baritone crooning were at the heart of their ‘low rock’ sound – completed by sax and drums. It would have been easy for Morphine to fall into the trap of being a gimmick band but by imaginative use of ‘beat’ themes and out-and-out great song writing, the band was able to strengthen and modify its repertory with each succeeding album. The Night, then, I see as a natural plateau in their development but sadly it must remain as the final testament to an all-too-brief contribution to the literature of Rock.
5 – Robert Palmer, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley: One of my all-time favourite albums. And I know it attracts negative criticism but I strongly believe most of it is misplaced and unfair. It was Palmer’s first solo album, recorded in New Orleans with assists from such luminaries as Lowell George, Cornell Dupree, Allen Toussaint, Art Neville and The Meters. What Palmer brings to the gig is his own, confident sense of funk, timing and – above all – enjoyment. No, he’s not steeped in New Orleans music lore but he doesn’t need to be. That’s why George and the others are there. And what I believe, is that from George’s own Sailin’ Shoes onwards, Palmer brings his own style to the mike and the others react to him. That connection informs the whole disc and provides a hugely satisfying experience for the listener every time it’s played. Great way to start the evening – or end it.