Saturday, November 27, 2010

(Digital) Musical Dumpster Diving

If the book/movie "High Fidelity" was created now instead of 10-15 years ago, I feel Rob Fleming would flaunt the size of his iTunes library as a sort of come-on.  Kinda like that scene in "Up in the Air" where George Clooney and Vera Farmiga get turned on sharing the fancy plastic in their wallets.

I feel music snobs everywhere (myself included) can't help but judging one another by the size of one's digital library.  I mean, it's very easy to think that one with a large library has listened to a huge amount, and therefore must be more worldly and cultured.  Especially in a musical culture that prizes genre-bending and novel combinations, it's a potent statement if you mention that you can listen to music for a month straight and not hear the same song twice.

But a large library also poses many problems and I will say I'm not totally happy with the *mumblegarble*-eight gigs of music I have on my computer.  When my music collection was much smaller, say during my senior year of high school, I could really get into a particular album much more, really soak it in.  I listened to Kurt Elling's album "Nightmoves" so many times that year that I still can sing his entire vocalese solo (in my car, alone) from "A New Body and Soul."  Now with so much more music, I'm a bit overstimualted.  After listening to an album once, I make a snap judgment on it and move on to the next one in my library.  Sometimes I don't get a chance to listen to something new and just totally forget about it.  To be honest, there's quite a bit of music on my computer that hasn't been listened to at all.  I feel that's nearly sinful.

However, the endless abyss of tracks does allow for some pleasant surprises when I turn on the shuffle.  When I'm in the right mood (i.e. tonight), I won't hit the skip button very often and actually pay attention to what comes on.  I just had a nice surprise with a track from the trumpeter Ingrid Jensen.  I first heard Jensen on Maria Schneider's "Sky Blue" album and was really drawn to her playing.  She's great in that she's got a secure "bop" (if you can call it that) vocabulary, but is never someone who just connects the changes.  There's always unpredictability, an errant squeal, a warbling long tone.  Her solo the other night at the Secret Society gig on "Transit" was ecstatic and physically draining.  I've gotten a couple of her own albums over the past year and a half or so, but haven't given either of them a good listen for whatever reason.

The track that caught my ear tonight was Jensen's take on Bill Evans' "Time Remembered."  However, it wasn't for Jensen's trumpet, but the guest vocalist who added plaintive lyrics to Evans' melody.  The singing was sultry, but dry of usual jazz-singing histrionics.  It was really quite hip, sounding like something Gretchen Parlatto would do, not all that far from her delivery on "JuJu" from that vocal concert a couple of weeks ago.  I looked back to the track and saw that it was from 1997.

Wait, something that sounds so hip was really from 13 years ago?  How is it that whoever this singer is presaged some of the most important trends in modern jazz singing and yet hasn't made enough waves to make me seek her out and add her to my *mumblegargle*-eight gigabyte library?

Turns out the singer is Jill Seifers, a student at the Berklee College of Music at the same time as Jensen.  Seifers has released two albums under her own name, one a collection of standards recorded live with the pianist Michael Kanan, and another with a more varied program and an all-star backing band of peers from Berklee including Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar, Joe Martin on bass, and Jorge Rossy on drums.  Judging solely on the band, the label (the great incubator, Fresh Sound New Talent), and the variety of material - from Ellington's "Solitude" to Mingus to Hendrix to her own stuff - it's probably a really hip record.  Seeing a program like this on a modern jazz vocals record is part of the territory right now, but was certainly more an anomaly 11 years ago when the album came out.

My question is that how a singer with a lot of forward thinking ideas and an arresting individual sound fell out of the business soon after.  Seifers hasn't released an album since 2000, hasn't appeared on one since 2004, and doesn't have a web presence.  Some investigation is due.  And despite the fact there's still eons of my own music to go through, I'm definitely going to be on the lookout that Seifers album.

Update 1:10 AM GMT: I went back and listened to the other track that Seifers sings on, the Kenny Wheeler composition "Consolation."  Towards the end of Seifers' scat solo, Jensen joins in and then begins some scary good interplay, like the two are of one mind.  And then it seamlessly returns to the melody.  Certifiable musical chill, big time. 

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