Repertoire Dogs

I heard an awesome rendition of Hotel California this morning on a CD purchased in Mexico. The group is Banda Zeta and their rendition is a radical departure from the Eagle’s classic: in rhythm, tempo, timbre, and even the melody. Plus they sing it with their own words, in Spanish. But there’s no question it’s Enley, Frey & Felder. I’ll try to post a sample, but our resident guru is out of town playing a CMJ gig with his band, Brighton, MA.

Since The Infinite (recorded in 2001) I haven’t recorded any covers. I love playing All The Things You Are and Unison but I started to feel like it was a drug. It’s seductive. Dangerous. So I’ve concentrated on recording all original music since that time.

There’s a liberating distance in playing someone else’s music. You’re at a remove from the “premiere” performance, so the pressure’s off. Plus everyone theoretically knows the original so you can be more free to deviate. The arrangements can be more colorful as there’s no fear of disturbing the original intent. That’s hard to do with your own material, except maybe if you’re Sonny Rollins or Wayne Shorter or Bob Dylan.

The challenge as I see it, then, is to write tunes that feel like standards, that are flexible enough to have blowing room but strong enough to retain essence. The challenge is to write songs that are as strong as Like Sonny or Poses. That hold up. Not every piece has that as the objective, but my question (to myself) is why contemporary jazz tunes shouldn’t be able to have that same memorable, challenging-and-fun-to play core. Hence all the originals on the Jazz Standard set.

But everything moves in phases and I’ve started tinkering with some classics and soon-to-be-classics again. There’s just too much great music out there. It’s a golden age for the art form.

This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, by Daniel J. Levitin goes into the neuropathology of our likes and dislikes, our need for categories, and the tricks our brain plays to make music make sense. How we can tell that Coltrane’s My Favorite Things is the same as the tune from Mary Poppins [UPDATE: oops… of course, it’s The Sound of Music! Hat tip to Fred Kaplan] despite all the timbral and contextual differences. And why it brings us pleasure. Fascinating read.