Nov 302008
 

I picked this album up on a whim because it boasted a version of one of my very favorite standards, “Star Eyes,” and a very promising lineup: West Coast golden boy Art Pepper, one of jazz’s many fine Italians*; and Miles Davis’ mid-’50s-era do-no-wrong rhythm section, Red “Fuckin'” Garland, Paul “Fuckin'” Chambers, and “Philly” Joe “Fuckin'” Jones. Those three could back up Herb Alpert on Jew’s harp and it would still cook, hard.

It did not disappoint.

I’ve listened to this album a lot lately, and putting the uniformly excellent musicianship aside for a minute, what keeps me coming back is the hot mix. A great deal of jazz is somewhat diffidently recorded, blurred a little around the edges so as not to ruffle any feathers at the cocktail party, but this album fucking explodes out of the speakers (although, admittedly, I have very good speakers). It is loud. It is unapologetic. There is an imperial shit-ton of bass. The cymbals sizzle and hiss and the snare cracks. And the saxophone slaps you in the face like an admonishing paisan.

Speaking of that sax: this man’s tone owns the West Coast. Geographical alto compatriot Lee Konitz may have routinely peeled off statements of dizzying complexity, but his tone is as reserved and polite as a state function. Pepper’s, on the other hand, combines the warm roundness of Stan Getz’s tenor with an arresting bite. It is the Secret Deodorant of the jazz alto world: strong enough for a man, but smooth as a lady (that’s how that went, right?).

Some choice cuts:

“You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”
113008(1).mp3
A very fine take on a very fine Cole Porter standard. But what puts this over the top is Art and Philly Joe trading fours towards the end.

“Imagination”
113008(2).mp3
Great, cleanly-articulated brush work. Great, cleanly-articulated ballad playing.

“Straight Life”
113008(4).mp3
One of Pepper’s signature tunes (very ironically named). This album’s only real burner. Who says smack slows you down?

“Tin Tin Deo”
113008(3).mp3
Chano Pozo is raw like kibbeh nayyeh. As is this version of his song, which, thanks entirely to the assured drumming of Philly Joe, floats effortlessly between Afro-Cuban and bop rhythms. This is really a drummer’s album, come to think of it.

I read a little around the Internet about this set. According to Pepper’s autobiography, also ironically titled Straight Life (seriously, the man was released from a three-year stint at San Quentin in 1964 and managed to get himself thrown back inside the very same year), he only learned of this session the morning of the day it was scheduled, he hadn’t played in months, and his horn was FUBAR. Also, he had shot more horse than a glue factory. True? Eh…maybe not. But the kind of story jazz is made of.

*I have a Unified Theory of Jazz, mentioned in this site’s About page, that 99% of all great jazz musicians are either a) black; b) Jewish; c) Italian; d) Gerry Mulligan.

Nov 292008
 

Kubbeh/קובה למרק/كبّ/Kubeh/Kube/Kubbe

Ranks of Kubbeh

Kubbeh: not to be confused with kibbeh, despite being a variation of the same word for a variation on the same thing. Like kibbeh, these are made from ground meat in a chiefly bulgur shell, but they hail from the northern regions of Iraq rather than Syria, and instead of deep frying, they’re treated to a simmer in broth, making them more dumpling than mezze. In Israel, the word “kubbeh” is applied indiscriminately to both the fried and simmered variety (in Arabic, pronunciation differences between dialects leads to the discrepancy in names for the same thing), but for the sake of clarity, I’m calling these Kurdish-style dumplings “kubbeh” and the fried and raw versions predominant in the Levant “kibbeh.”

Anyway. Kubbeh are a specialty of the Jews of Kurdistan, who once formed large percentages of the population of now-infamous cities like Mosul and Arbil before immigrating to Israel en masse along with the rest of the Iraqi Jewish population in the 1940s and 1950s. My old hood in Jerusalem, centered around the Machane Yehuda market, was heavily Kurdish, home to a Kurdish-Jewish community organization that never seemed open, and dozens of restaurants, social clubs and backgammon parlors that never seemed closed. Several of the restaurants (most notably, Mordoch) specialize in kubbeh-based soups, ranging from the crimson marak kubbeh adom to the sour, green hamousta. So between Jerusalem’s Little Kurdistan and the frozen sections of Israeli supermarkets, kubbeh were never far off. But like edible hummus, Zohar Argov, responsible M16-bearing teenagers and the Divine Presence, we don’t have any here in the far reaches of Exile.

Until now.
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Nov 282008
 
112808(1).mp3

Girl, I see you and your sensibly sexy haircut checkin’ out the carrots.

Beta carotene is good for your eyes, girl.

That shows that you are mad aware of the virtues of fine produce.

Mmm.

Girl, your forehead must be a duke and your chin must be a lady, because between them they got some aristocratic cheekbones.

Mmm.

Yeah.

Aww, no, baby. Don’t play like that.

Don’t you head towards that TV dinner and frozen pizza aisle.

Girl, don’t you do it.

A fine lady like you needs for only the freshest of fruits and vegetables, and meat products within reason.

Girl, let me make you some yellowfin nigiri. I’ll even tone down the wasabi, because I can tell you don’t dig spicy, but you are so fine that I’m willing to overlook that.

You already fillin’ those jeans rightly, ain’t no room for palm oil, potassium citrate and “cheese powder.”

But there is room for me.

Mmm.

Yeah.

Baby girl, you don’t run a Maserati on recycled restaurant oil, you feel me?

Aww, girl, what’d I say?

Shit.

Baby, I hope your daddy’s a cardiologist, because you just broke my heart.