20 songs, 1 hr 30 min, 14 min reading time.
Contributor Andrew has gone over many of his favourites (despite some of them not being on Spotify!) to introduce his 1st mix:
1) “Sledgehammer” – Brand New Heavies
It’s been the law of diminishing returns for BNH for a couple of decades now, but there’s something playful about this cover of the Peter Gabriel classic which is reminiscent of their excellent early work.
Album: “Sweet Freaks” (2014)
Label: Trunk Entertainment
2) “22 Dreams” – Paul Weller
I’m part of that tiny slice of the pie chart which thinks that Weller’s finest work was done when in The Style Council, and much of his solo work does little for me. But there’s a lot going on in 22 Dreams, which was his best album for years, all the more surprising given that he was 50 when it was released.
Album: “22 Dreams (Deluxe Edition)” (2008)
Label: Universal Island Records
3) “All That Surrounds” – Jarrod Lawson
Lawson has one of the most deliciously rich soul voices to emerge in years. His debt to Stevie Wonder is evident, but thankfully he’s done something with his admiration rather than just produce inferior, identikit covers (see Jacob Collier below). The layered backing vocals are sublime.
Album: “Jarrod Lawson” (2014)
Label: Dome Records
A blistering version of the old standard which accompanies the pulsating climax to 2014’s film of the year, Whiplash.
Album: “Whiplash (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” (2014)
5) “It’s Alright” – Supertramp
Supertramp had a strange career, being one of those bands which lasted for decades but which was defined almost entirely by one gargantuan album (in their case, Breakfast In America). This punchy number is the opening track from their 1987 album Free As A Bird.
Album: “Free As A Bird” (1987)
Label: A&M Records
6) “Flintstones” – Jacob Collier
The first time I heard Jacob Collier it was on Jazz on 3, when they played his version of Stevie Wonder’s You And I. I have a very low tolerance for cover versions of Stevie Wonder, whose 1970s albums reached levels of unmatched genius. Mostly, they consist of unimaginative rehashes without adding anything to the original (cf. George Michael). Collier’s You And I is multi-layered a cappella, and is absolutely jaw-dropping. That said, for sheer joy I’ve chosen his take on the theme from The Flintstones, which as well as showing how much he clearly loves Take 6 (the closing swoops are a giveaway), also hints at his staggering instrumental talents.
Album: “In My Room” (2016)
7) “Hats (Make Me Wanna Holler)” – Incognito
Incognito have been making easy on the ear jazz funk for nearly four decades now. This track, from their 2014 album Amplified Soul, seems to share DNA with Pharrell Williams’ Happy, also released that year. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.
Album: “Amplified Soul” (2014)
Label: Bluey Music
8) “The Pickup (from The Gauntlet)” – Jerry Fielding
Clint Eastwood has been squeezing jazz into the soundtracks of his films, often where it really doesn’t belong, since the 1970s. This track from The Gauntlet features the instantly identifiable saxophone of Art Pepper, probably the man who did more to make me love jazz as a teenager than anybody else. Except that German bloke (see below).
Album: “The Gauntlet – Original Soundtrack” (1978)
Label: Warner Records
9) “Open Up” – Chic
The extent to which disco plummeted from popularity is evident in the chart performance of Chic’s albums. 1978’s C’est Chic, which contained Le Freak, the biggest-selling single on Atlantic Records, was a US No. 4 and UK No. 2; its 1979 follow-up Risque was 5 in the US and 30 in the UK; just one year later, Real People could only make 30 in the US and didn’t chart at all in the UK. But there continued to be nuggets in the later albums, as in this opening track from Real People. Nobody, but nobody, played bass with the effortless funk of the much-missed Bernard Edwards.
Album: “Real People” (1980)
Label: Atlantic Recording
10) “Memphis Stomp (from The Firm)” – Dave Grusin
Grusin has written so much mood music for films that it’s often forgotten what a fabulous pianist he is. This track from the John Grisham adaptation The Firm is a highlight from an exceptional soundtrack.
Album: “NOW PLAYING Movie Themes – Solo Piano” (2004)
Label: The Verve Music Group
11) “Get U 2 Stay” – Brian McKnight
McKnight has made a lucrative career out of nondescript soul, but for some reason he decided to buck the trend and record this overt tribute to Steely Dan (in case there was any doubt, “nice… skate a little lower now” seals it) which stands out from the rest of the his work like… well, like Steely Dan stands out from the rest of all music recorded since 1970.
Album: “More Than Words” (2013)
Label: Eone Music
For most people, Andre Previn is either a conductor, or the third person in probably the greatest comedy sketch ever (Morecambe and Wise performing Grieg’s Piano Concerto). But for me, alongside Art Pepper, he opened up a world of musical bliss by being the first jazz piano player I truly loved. This is from a deeply weird album, wherein Previn’s joyful, dancing lines are laid over the top of a saccharine string accompaniment from jobbing orchestrator David Rose.
Album: “Like Blue” (2008)
Label: Firefly Entertainment
Written for the bizarre R&B reinterpretation of The Wizard of Oz, this was one of Michael Jackson’s first collaborations with Quincy Jones. A partnership that went on to be rather lucrative for both of them.
Album: “The Greatest” (2011)
Label: Universal Music TV
14) “The Duke” – Dave Brubeck
The live, quartet version of The Duke is well known to even passing jazz fans, having featured on several Best Of compilations – and which self-respecting follower of music doesn’t have a Best Of Dave Brubeck in their collection? This slower, solo version is from Brubeck Plays Brubeck, an album he recorded at home in 1956.
Album: “Brubeck Plays Brubeck” (1956)
Label: Sony Music Entertainment
15) “Got To Get You Into My Life” – Take 6
Probably the single most exhilarating musical moment of 2018 came in the trip I made to Birmingham to see Take 6 in concert. I was confident they would disappoint, because a) what they do is really, really hard, and b) they’ve been doing it for decades. Claude V McKnight (whose brother Brian could learn a thing or two from him), who takes the really soaring lines at the top end, is 56 years old. Mark Kibble is 54. You can’t reasonably expect men in their 50s to perform with the precision and clarity needed for their arrangements. Quite early in the set they performed this Beatles cover, and they raised the roof. Made me cry again just like they did when I heard them for the first time way back when.
Album: “Iconic” (2018)
Label: SoNo Recording Group
16) “Wonderwall” – Brad Mehldau
Mehldau is an odd mixture – he has a very serious attitude towards his art, but at the same time he’s famous for reinterpreting songs from the pop idiom. The scale of his talent is shown by the fact that he can take a song as tedious and mundane as Wonderwall and turn it into something interesting.
Album: “Brad Mehldau Trio: Live” (2008)
Label: Nonesuch Records
17) “Love Hangover” – Associates
Mid 70s disco as seen through the sheen of early 80s Scottish post-punk pop.
Album: “The Very Best of The Associates” (2016)
Label: Union Square Music
18) “Third Man” – The Duckworth Lewis Method
Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh’s band which deals exclusively with cricket sounds like a silly novelty, but nothing Hannon does is untouched by brilliance, and as such even a song about fielding at third man has echoes of ELO, complete with lush string arrangement.
Album: “Sticky Wickets” (2013)
Label: Divine Comedy Records
19) “Maybe” – Ole Børud
You’d go some way to find anyone with a stranger musical trajectory than Ole Børud. Wikipedia lists his genres as “Christian metal, extreme metal, hardcore punk, jazz, pop, progressive metal, pop, rock, r&b, soul”. This is clearly from the era when he’d decided to focus on the jazz and pop. The changes in the chorus are spine-tingling.
Album: “Stepping Up” (2014)
20) “The Occasional Flicker” – Dexys Midnight Runners
Don’t Stand Me Down, the expanded version of which I finally acquired recently, was widely derided on its original release. I doubt it was particularly satisfying to Kevin Rowland that it has been reappraised over the years as a work of utter genius. Every time I listen to this album its calibre seems to go up a notch.
Album: “Don’t Stand Me Down” (1985)
Label: Mercury Records