Last year I was in Los Angeles. Idlewild were playing a short run of west coast shows and were going to spend five days in a recording studio after them, recording some new songs and ideas. Driving into Los Angeles fills me with excitement, no matter how many cars and lorries are cutting in front of you. The place is full of a million memories, some of them mine. Idlewild spent three months here once, in 2004 recording ‘warnings/promises’. It was one of the best, most memorable times in my life so far. I could write a book about it, or maybe a novella. Anyway, on this day we had a few hours to kill - the venue didn’t open until 5, and we couldn’t check into the air B&B bungalow until 4pm. It was 3pm, so we took the exit onto sunset boulevard and drove to Ameoba music.
For those who have never been to this record shop it is the worlds largest independent record store - as a music fan, if that doesn’t fill you with a warm, happy, safe feeling then I don’t know what will. It is a musical sanctuary the size of a huge supermarket, stuffed full of so much good music from all over the world that it’s almost impossible to know where to start. I’ve been quite a few times and know from experience that it’s somewhere to come with a purpose. You must have something in mind. Or you could be here for some time. When we made ‘Warning/Promises’ at Sunset sound studios, we were only a ten minute walk away from Ameoba, so when I wasn’t needed in the studio (which as a singer, is frequently) I’d often walk along and spend hours looking through records. It is an amazing place to spend time by yourself. It’s like a combination of a (sound) library, art gallery and museum, except it’s a shop. They do gigs too - I saw Devandra Barnhart play one afternoon.
The jazz section in Ameoba is vast and impressive. I love listening to Jazz and finding more and more about it as I go. I head to Miles Davis. If you don’t know much about Jazz, then Miles Davis is a good place to start the journey - there is something for everyone. Even someone who doesn’t think they like jazz, will like it - He is that good. One of my all time favourite Miles records is ‘On the corner’ - released in 1972, it ended up as Miles’ worst selling album of the time - and subsequently was the last studio album he made that decade. Totally out of step with what Jazz fans were listening to at the time, it was of course, way ahead of it’s time (like these sort of records often are). It is a dense album full of jagged musical grooves, incorporating bits of funk & tape editing - even drawing influence from experimental composers like Stockhausen. ‘On the Corner’ made its lasting influence on post-punk, electronica, hip hop, and Jazz. It’s weird and brilliant and you either hate it or get lost within it. Driving around LA - a city built for driving around, listening to ‘On the Corner’ and the relentless & mesmeric hi hat that grooves through all the tracks - the car, the highway, the palm trees, the sunshine, the hi-hat, the ideas, all seem to merge into a cosmic meditative Californian aural/visual cocktail. You should all try it, if you haven’t already.
I have a friend that used to joke with me that by the time I was 40 I would be into Free Jazz - as a music fan you are always looking for something new, inevitably you are going to get bored with one genre. I listened to so much rock music growing up - metal, into punk rock, into indie rock that by 26 or 27 was just hearing the same things repeated again. Any genre is is cyclical I suppose, like the generations listening. I looked back, I moved onto 60’s and 70’s singer songwriters, then folk music became my interest, and simmering underneath it all was a developing taste for jazz. When you discover musicians like Albert Ayler, Ornetter Coleman, John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy then things start to get very interesting, and any notions you had before of what the music was, get challenged in the best possible way. It’s a progressive musical language, one that’s quite hard to understand. Not understanding, just feeling, is probably the point. A bit like being in Spain and enjoying hearing people speak Spanish even though you have no idea what they mean. Free Jazz. 40. yes, you were right Ally.
(please note: Free Jazz attracts aficionado’s to the extreme. I am not one of those, so have peppered the playlist with well known and much loved Jazz artists like Bill Evans, Nina Simone etc and more recent stars of the genre - Kamasi Washington and BadBadNotGood)