Exfiltration Radio: All the Downtown Lights

It feels like everyone is talking about the Blue Nile and their 1989 song “The Downtown Lights,” possibly thanks to that Taylor Swift shout-out. As it turns out, I’ve been collecting cover versions of this song for several years, and so it felt like the right time to do one big mega-mix of “Downtown Lights” covers.

The original song starts us off, and then we roll into a series of covers of greater or lesser fidelity. I tried to use cover versions that stayed in the same key, and mostly succeeded, with just one exception, the very last version that fades out the mix. I hope you’ll find something in the mix you like, even if it’s just tranquility… or catharsis.

Versions of “The Downtown Lights” in this mix are by:

  • The Blue Nile (the original)
  • Annie Lennox
  • Pure Bathing Culture with Ben Gibbard
  • Louise Burns
  • Collapsing Scenery
  • Rob Noakes
  • Kathy Kosins
  • Full Dark
  • Kevin Mackenzie & Steve Hamilton
  • Scala & Kolacny Brothers

We have taken control as to bring you a special show…

Exfiltration Radio: “…and then he wrote Meditations”

Amiri Baraka

When I was about 14 years old, riding in the car with my dad and doing errands, we were listening to a Saturday morning jazz show on WHRO (an infrequent occurrence for our mostly classical family) when I heard something fascinating: a jazz quartet playing behind, not a singer, but a poet. The idea that poetry was not just words on a page, but something that could be performed, was a new idea to me, and the connection between some kinds of poems and some kinds of jazz was electrifying.

It took me years to find the piece, and I’m not 100% sure I did, but I’m pretty sure it’s one of the works on this mix. There’s a lot of obscure stuff here, so I’m going to give you a track by track breakdown.

The intro comes from e.e. cummings’ great Six Nonlectures: i, the first of his Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard. The lectures were not only published but also recorded, released on Caedmon Records, and I’m looking forward to doing an Album of the Week series on them at some point once I track down volumes 4 – 6.

Philip Levine’s “Gin,” which I heard him read live at the University of Virginia as a still-practicing poet in the early 1990s, is conversational and funny, but also deep. He recorded dozens of his poems with saxophonist Benjamin Boone before his death in 2015, and they’ve been released in two albums (so far) of jazz/poetry bliss. “Gin” and the version of Levine’s great “They Feed They Lion” later on the mix both come from the first volume.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind is one of those great New Directions paperbacks that you can easily find in used bookshops, and it’s a great read. It’s a great read, very fun (as the first excerpt indicates), and has some great things to show about poetic diction.

I’ve featured Gil Scott-Heron on other mixes, but this one highlights more of his spoken word performance. He’s a fiery speaker and anchors his sometimes hopeful, sometimes despairing performance of “The New Deal” in the condition of black Americans — and all Americans as a whole.

Ronald Stone is a lesser known performer, but the New Jazz Poets anthology this is drawn from is a must-have. While there’s no jazz accompaniment here, Stone’s delivery draws both from jazz song and birdsong in an homage to Billie Holiday (among other subtexts).

Bob Hardaway’s performance of William Carlos Williams’ “Young Sycamore,” with none other than Hoagy Carmichael at the piano, comes from one of the earliest jazz poetry anthologies. It’s a little more dramatic than some of the more conversational spoken word of a Gil Scott-Heron, but still fascinating listening.

Charles Mingus’ “Scenes in the City,” with a Langston Hughes and Lonne Elder text narrated by Mel Stewart, is one of the two candidates for the performance I heard on WHRO all those years ago. It’s a narrative that touches on poverty, jazz music, love, the desire for greatness, and other universal themes, and is a fun listen to boot. Branford Marsalis covered it on his very first album for Columbia Records, years later.

Jack Kerouac and Steve Allen’s “Sounds of the Universe Coming In My Window” is a fun read, and Allen is an unexpectedly sympathetic collaborator with the great Beat poet. Similarly rewarding is Langston Hughes’ performance with the pianist (and frequent Mingus collaborator) Horace Parlan, in which there are frequently recurring themes of the dream deferred but also of city life.

There are a few tracks featuring poems written and performed by jazz players. Hasaan Ibn Ali’s “Extemporaneous Prose-Poem” is just that, a brief moment of unaccompanied verse from the eccentric pianist. I’ve written about Archie Shepp’s “Malcolm, Malcolm, Semper Malcolm” before; his threnody for the slain civil rights leader is powerful both lyrically and musically here.

None of this prepares one for Marion Brown’s “Karintha,” a musical setting of a poem by Harlem Renaissance author Jean Toomer and the other candidate for that poem I heard on WHRO all those years ago. An uncomfortable exploration of gender relations, female sexuality and its consequences, it’s riveting and not an easy listen.

After one more Ferlinghetti interlude, we get “At Night,” an unpublished John Coltrane poem read by American author and performer Julie Patton with a quartet led by Coltrane’s son Ravi. Released on the 2005 compilation Impulsive!, the musical setting is as playful as the cosmological contents of the poem are grand; one suspects the senior Coltrane might have done something different with the setting, but it’s still a good, and respectful, listen.

The final track on the album, “And Then He Wrote ‘Meditations’” brings together a number of these themes, including civil rights, poetry for its own sake, and jazz musicians (particularly Coltrane) into a single heady brew. The great Gil Scott-Heron is our spiritual guide here, on a track that for my money is an under-appreciated masterpiece.

Listen!

We have taken control as to bring you this special show!

  1. GinBenjamin Boone and Philip Levine (The Poetry of Jazz)
  2. Coney Island of the Mind, Pt. 20Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Beatnik)
  3. The New DealGil Scott-Heron (The Mind Of Gil Scott Heron: A Collection Of Poetry And Musi)
  4. Lady Day SpringRonald Stone (New Jazz Poets)
  5. Young SycamoreBob Hardaway (Jazz Canto Vol. 1)
  6. Scenes in the CityCharles Mingus (A Modern Symposium of Music and Poetry (Remastered 2013))
  7. They Feed They LionBenjamin Boone and Philip Levine (The Poetry of Jazz)
  8. Sounds of the Universe Coming In My WindowJack Kerouac & Steve Allen (Beatnik)
  9. Double G TrainLangston Hughes & Horace Parlan Quintet (The Weary Blues With Langston Hughes)
  10. Extemporaneous Prose-PoemHasaan Ibn Ali (Retrospect in Retirement of Delay: The Solo Recordings)
  11. Malcolm, Malcolm, Semper MalcolmArchie Shepp (Fire Music)
  12. KarinthaMarion Brown (Geechee Recollections)
  13. Coney Island of the Mind, Pt. 26Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Beatnik)
  14. At Night (A Poem featuring Ravi Coltrane with Julie Patton)John Coltrane (Impulsive! Revolutionary Jazz Reworked)
  15. …And Then He Wrote MeditationsGil Scott-Heron (Free Will)

Exfiltration Radio: Musical Piracy 2

A Veracode Hackathon has started and it’s pirates! Just as with our abortive pirate-themed Hackathon of the annus horribilis 2020, this one has occasioned a mix of cover songs! Cover songs consist of one artist performing the music of another, which sometimes feels like “love and theft,” as Bob Dylan once wrote, hence the name.

The prior mix was strictly themed, featuring reggae covers of pop songs—and reggae originals that later became pop songs in famous covers. This new one is a little more freewheeling, but that’s not to say it’s not equally fun. Just be prepared for that last cover at the end.

Listen here:

Do not adjust your set; there is nothing wrong.

  1. I Am I SaidBunny Scott (To Love Somebody)
  2. SomethingBooker T. and the M.G.s (McLemore Avenue)
  3. Do Right Woman, Do Right ManThe Flying Burrito Brothers (The Oxford American Southern Sampler 1999)
  4. Golden LadyLambchop (TRIP)
  5. Ziggy StardustBauhaus (Swing the Heartache: The BBC Sessions)
  6. Love Will Tear Us ApartHot 8 Brass Band (Love Will Tear Us Apart)
  7. Ashes to AshesTears for Fears (Saturnine Martial & Lunatic)
  8. Love and Anger (Kate Bush)Nada Surf (if I had a hi-fi)
  9. I Wanna Be AdoredThe Raveonettes (I Wanna Be Adored – Single)
  10. Where Is My MindBobby Bare, Jr. (The Longest Meow)
  11. Five YearsCowboy Junkies (Songs of the Recollection)
  12. Born Under PunchesGood in the Dark (If You Feel It – EP)
  13. There Is a Light That Never Goes OutDum Dum Girls (He Gets Me High – EP)
  14. I Can’t Give Everything AwaySpoon
  15. Fitter HappierSamson Dalonoga (Feat. The Found Sound Orchestra) (Stereogum Presents… OKX: A Tribute To OK Computer)

Exfiltration Radio: anothercoverholenyohead

It’s the second Hackathon playlist this week, and the second Prince covers playlist (see: “Wanna be your cover”). This time I went hunting for jazz covers of Prince’s music, and it was surprisingly harder than I thought to find them… but they’re out there and they’re funky.

Austrian pianist David Helbock is new to me, but he was a godsend as his album Purple had a huge number of highly creative Prince covers. “Kiss” is a great example, recognizable but substantially recreated with melody line in the low bass and a combination of regular and prepared piano.

Michael Wolff was the bandleader on the Arsenio Hall show, and “The Wolff & Clark Expedition” has been recording together since 2013. “1999” comes from their 2015 album, and it’s a great version of the song, with Christian McBride on bass, Wallace Roney on trumpet, new-to-me Hailey Niswanger on sax and Daryl Johns on bass, Wolff on piano and Clark on drums.

Guitarist Dave Stryker’s “When Doves Cry” is a classic soul-jazz group lineup with Jared Gold on organ, McClenty Hunter on drums, and Steve Nelson on vibes. It’s a great take on one of Prince’s most covered songs. “The Beautiful Ones” has a very different vibe, with Ethan Iverson’s distinctive piano and improvisational style anchoring his iteration of the Bad Plus on their final record together. Often the Bad Plus can come across as bombastic on record, but this track feels lighter since the band steps back to let Reid Anderson take the lead melody in the verse on bass.

Helen Sung is another new-to-me pianist who’s been recording since 2003. “Alphabet Street” comes from her second album, in the trio format with Lewis Nash on drums and Derrick Hodge on bass. It’s a bop, a real romp through one of Prince’s lightest songs. Compare and contrast to the Jesus & Mary Chain’s version on “Wanna be your cover.”

There were a bunch of jazz covers of “Sexy M.F.”—not surprising, given the thick horn arrangement in the original. A lot of them, indeed, sounded like straight-up instrumental versions of the original chart. Brazil-born Swiss pianist Malcolm Braff’s version reimagines the song through a James Brown inspired lens, with a persistent bass line heartbeat from Reggie Washington and nimble drum work by Lukas Koenig.

“Jailbait” is a little bit of a cheat, as I don’t know if there was ever a Prince recording of this funk/blues composition. But given it comes from Prince’s last live recording from Vienne, and it was specifically written by Prince for Miles, I couldn’t not include it. The last band he toured with featured Kenny Garrett on sax and a really tight rhythm section with Deron Johnson on keys, Richard Patterson and Foley on bass, and Ricky Wellman on drums.

Miles’ old bandmate Herbie Hancock released an album of pop covers in the mid-1990s with a killer band—Michael Brecker, Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, Dave Holland, and Don Alias! “Thieves in the Temple” has a feel of some of Herbie’s early Blue Note recordings, filtering Prince’s increasingly complex late-1980s songwriting into a distinctive brew.

So many new faces! Marcin Wasilewski records on ECM, and that label’s famed sonic approach is all over “Diamonds and Pearls,” from his second album. This trio recording is what jazz trios are all about; the degree of telepathy with Slawomir Kurkiewicz on bass and Michal Miskiewicz on drums is something to behold, and the arrangement is sparse, unfussy, and beautifully melodic. Wasilewski’s solo (coming at about the 2:30 mark) honors the song while making its own lyric approach, which can be hard to do when dealing with a well known composition. Looking forward to digging into more of his discography.

From the solemnly beautiful to the bonkers, “Controversy” is the second tune from David Helbock’s Purple. I can’t tell what piece of scrap percussion Helbock hammers throughout the piece, but it’s perfectly tuned to an F# and beautifully represents the four-note “Controversy” theme, which Helbock develops throughout the work, veering from a quiet melody to a bluesy stomp to something symphonic and strange.

Joshua Redman’s quartet take on “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” is a more straightforward bluesy reading of this essential Prince deep cut. The band here—Brad Mehldau on piano, Larry Grenadier on bass, Brian Blade on drums—keeps things just off-kilter enough to make it more than just a superb soul jazz workout, which it of course also is, and most of the interesting bits happen just with Redman and Grenadier or Blade.

We wind out with an excerpt of Aretha Franklin’s big band arrangement of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Where the arrangement by Jimmy Scott on “Wanna be your cover” is achingly dry, this one is ebulliently Aretha; we fade out her scat solo with deepest regret.

Here’s the track listing:

  1. KissDavid Helbock (Purple)
  2. 1999 (feat. Michael Wolff & Mike Clark)Wolff & Clark Expedition (Expedition 2 (feat. Michael Wolff & Mike Clark))
  3. When Doves CryDave Stryker (Eight Track II)
  4. The Beautiful OnesThe Bad Plus (It’s Hard)
  5. Alphabet StreetHelen Sung Trio (Helenistique)
  6. Sexy M.F.Malcolm Braff Trio (The Enja Heritage Collection: Inside (with Reggie Washington & Lukas Koenig))
  7. Jailbait (Live at Vienne Jazz Festival, 1991)Miles Davis (Merci Miles! Live at Vienne)
  8. Thieves In the TempleHerbie Hancock (The New Standard)
  9. Diamonds and PearlsMarcin Wasilewski Trio (January)
  10. ControversyDavid Helbock (Purple)
  11. How Come U Don’t Call Me AnymoreJoshua Redman (Timeless Tales (for Changing Times))
  12. Nothing Compares 2 UAretha Franklin (Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics)

And please enjoy listening to the mix. Kick back, dig…

Exfiltration Radio: Wanna be your cover

It’s a Veracode Hackathon time, so it’s time for some Exfiltration Radio! And this time around we are feeling purple! Show notes below.

I was talking about Sheryl Crow for some reason at the office recently, and casually mentioned the Prince cover of “Everyday is a Winding Road,” and they said, What? And I said, “Oh, you have to hear that.”

And so I decided to put together a playlist of songs that Prince covered. Then I realized that there actually weren’t that many songs that Prince covered in his lifetime… though the ones he did were epic. So I broadened the scope to include … unusual covers of Prince songs. Turns out, there are a lot of those out there!

Let’s start with the Information Society’s version of “Controversy,” from Prince’s fourth album. This version puts awkward industrial dance energy into Prince’s electrofunk, with unusual—maybe danceable—results.

Chaka Khan’s version of “I Feel For You” might be more familiar, at least if you were born before 1980. I personally remember people wandering around saying “Chaka Khan? Chaka-chaka-chaka-chaka Khan?” after the famous opening, which (fun fact) was recorded by Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. (Melle Mel’s most famous performance was on “The Message,” which deserves its own themed mix.)

This version of “1999” is by Dump, the pseudonym of James McNew, bassist for Yo La Tengo (and onetime attendant at the Corner Parking Lot, memorialized in The Parking Lot Movie), and comes from a full collection of Prince covers in a variety of … unusual styles. I’m not entirely sure what time signature this cover is in, but I do like listening and floating away with it.

Cyndi Lauper’s “When You Were Mine” comes from the impeccable A side of her debut album and covers a great track from Prince’s Dirty Mind album, itself one of the great albums of the early 1980s. It’s a great example of a cover artist making a song their own. Likewise, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ version of “Take Me With U” could almost have come from any Sharon Jones album—which is high praise, considering the uniformly high quality of her soul albums.

“Soul” is not necessarily a word one would use for the Tom Jones/Art of Noise cover of “Kiss,” but there is an incredibly high level of energy in both Jones’s gutsy vocal and the Art of Noise backing track that makes this a fun listen. Also fun: identifying the Easter eggs from Art of Noise’s earlier hits in the outro.

We then take a big ol’ left turn into the Jesus and Mary Chain’s version of “Alphabet Street,” which is two-plus minutes of abrasive guitar feedback that I rescued from a b-side to an obscure 1994 single. It’s noisy fun! So is the Hindu Love Gods’ version of “Raspberry Beret,” a jangly romp through one of Prince’s most lighthearted songs with a pickup band consisting of Warren Zevon and three-quarters of R.E.M. (Bill Berry, Mike Mills and Peter Buck).

“Everyday is a Winding Road” is the first of the two covers by Prince that show up on this playlist. I’ve told the story about how this cover came to be here up above, but I’ll just note that when Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic came out, I was still in a formative phase when it came to understanding funk. The difference in meter and rhythm between the foursquare original by Sheryl Crow and Prince’s version might, in jazz terms, be summed up as swing; the arrangement is pure joy, even to the chant at the end, which puts this cover in the context of Prince’s songs to the divine.

“If I Was Your Girlfriend” is from Prince’s earthier tradition, and this TLC cover might be the definitive version, adding explicit hip-hop beats and a dollop of sensuality to Prince’s original. In a very different way, “The Cross” provides its own definitive version of one of his most explicit pro-Christian songs. The Blind Boys of Alabama had a huge career resurgence from their 2001 album Spirit of the Century, which put a gospel lens on pop and rock music and exposed its listeners to the intensity and depth of the gospel tradition. “The Cross” comes from the follow-up, Higher Ground, and adds even more earthiness and grit to Prince’s religious statement.

“Can’t Make U Love Me” is the second of the two covers by Prince on the album. That he would cover a Bonnie Raitt song is only surprising for casual fans; his love of music was omnivorous, and the song’s depth of insight on relationships is as chilling here as in Raitt’s version. This is one of the times that Prince pulls off a Chaka Khan (or Cyndi Lauper) in reverse; it feels like it’s always been in his catalog, and at the same time adds a greater depth and maturity.

The final track, “Nothing Compares 2 U,” is more covered than almost any other Prince song apart from “Purple Rain.” I agonized about which version to include, but ultimately had to go with the Jimmy Scott version from his Holding Back the Years CD. Scott’s voice, shaped by his Kallman syndrome and by his difficult career, carries the lovely ache of the song better than almost any other, and this version deserves to be better known.

The track listing:

  1. ControversyInformation Society (Essential ’80s Masters)
  2. I Feel for YouChaka Khan (I Feel for You)
  3. 1999Dump (That Skinny Motherfucker With The High Voice?)
  4. When You Were MineCyndi Lauper (She’s So Unusual)
  5. Take Me With USharon Jones & The Dap-Kings (Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Rendition Was In))
  6. Kiss (7″ Version)Art of Noise featuring Tom Jones (Kiss (EP))
  7. Alphabet StreetJesus and Mary Chain (Come On (EP))
  8. Raspberry BeretHindu Love Gods (Hindu Love Gods)
  9. Everyday is a Winding RoadPrince (Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic)
  10. If I Was Your GirlfriendTLC (CrazySexyCool)
  11. The CrossThe Blind Boys Of Alabama (Higher Ground)
  12. Can’t Make U Love MePrince (Emancipation)
  13. Nothing Compares 2 UJimmy Scott (Holding Back The Years)

Please enjoy listening, and know that Funk not only moves, it can remove, dig?

Old mix: duckin’ and dodgin’

The summer of 2000 was a time of transitions for me. I had started to broaden my horizons beyond my childhood and young adulthood in Virginia, thanks to trips to Italy, London, Ireland and France with Lisa (ah, the late 1990s and the strong US dollar!). And though I had begun in late 1999 to plan seriously leaving my job at American Management Systems behind, it wasn’t until the spring of 2000 that I committed to the MIT Sloan School of Management and to moving away from my life in Virginia.

You can hear some of the uncertainty of that change in Side B of this mix. The first is still exploring beautiful singalong music. It was the first mix I made after John McLaughlin brought over Justin Rosolino’s self-produced first album; the first after my cousin Greg gave me a copy of The Soft Bulletin one momentous Christmas; the first after I began a dive down the rabbit hole of David Bowie’s collaborations with Brian Eno. There’s a track at the front, not listed on the J-card, that excerpts about two minutes of unaccompanied Gabon pygmy song, another weird rabbit hole I was on the brink of falling into.

It was also the spring I (late to the party as always) discovered Moby. I had previously fallen into a rabbit hole of old blues and folk records, occasioned by the Anthology of American Folk Music, but hearing those works in this transformed context was remarkable—even if my growing familiarity with the source recordings was soon to reveal just how shallow a trick Moby played, particularly on tracks like “Run On.” The remix of decades worth of Steve Reich recordings into a singular “Megamix” was more rewarding.

But Side B: once you get past the throat-clearing of Elvis’s version of “Blueberry Hill,” there’s wistfulness and uncertainty in every track. I kind of wish I could reach out to my old 27-year-old self and reassure him that it was really going to be okay.

The tracklist:

  1. Etudes de jodlsGabon Pygmies (Musique des Pygmées Bibayak/Chantres de l’épopée)
  2. Fool Of MeMe’Shell Ndegeocello (Bitter)
  3. PerfectSmashing Pumpkins (Adore)
  4. HeroesDavid Bowie (“Heroes”)
  5. The Spiderbite SongThe Flaming Lips (The Soft Bulletin)
  6. StatelessU2 (The Million Dollar Hotel)
  7. Pale Blue Eyes (Closet Mix)The Velvet Underground (Peel Slowly and See)
  8. Beautiful WayBeck (Midnite Vultures)
  9. Portland HeadlightJustin Rosolino (“Music” (The Live Recordings))
  10. Run OnMoby (Play)
  11. Megamix (Tranquility Bass)Steve Reich (Reich Remixed)
  12. Blueberry HillElvis Presley (The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Complete 50s Masters)
  13. The Ground Beneath Her FeetU2 (The Million Dollar Hotel)
  14. SouvenirMorphine (The Night)
  15. One Single Thread (Float Away)Justin Rosolino (“Music” (The Live Recordings))
  16. Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)The Beach Boys (Pet Sounds)
  17. Falling At Your FeetBono (Lanois) (The Million Dollar Hotel)
  18. Jesus (Closet Mix)The Velvet Underground (Peel Slowly and See)
  19. EcstasyLou Reed (Ecstasy)
  20. Sister MorphineThe Rolling Stones (Sticky Fingers)
  21. IsolationJohn Lennon (Plastic Ono Band)
  22. Via ChicagoWilco (Summerteeth)
  23. Central Reservation (Original Version)Beth Orton (Central Reservation)

If you have Apple Music, you can listen to (most of) the mix here:

Old mix: the bang and the clatter (as an angel runs to ground) (summer 1993)

In the summer of 1993, I was on top of the world. Having finished a great Glee Club season and gotten a literary magazine off the ground, I had just gotten a room on the Lawn and was staying in Charlottesville for the summer as an undergraduate assistant in a physics lab. I had just started listening to the funkier side of James Brown and was starting to discover blues, hip-hop and world music. Plus, I now had wheels, in the form of an incredibly fun but unreliable 1977 MGB.

This mixtape, accordingly, was shaped by all these factors, perhaps not least of all by the last. Most of the selections on this mix were chosen because they sounded great in the MGB with the top down. That was certainly true of “Ocean Size,” the opening track. After ignoring Jane’s Addiction for many years, I finally got into them about two years after they had broken up. This was a version of Los Angeles rock I could get behind—something like heavy metal for art students. And the lead-in to Hubert Sumlin’s slashing guitar on the great “Killing Floor” remains a potent link from the first song to the second. I had first picked up the Chess blues sound from a phenomenal box set of Willie Dixon recordings, and then this 1965 Chess anthology of Howlin’ Wolf’s work, which had just been reissued on CD. (It’s with no shame that I note that my first exposure to the title of this track was in William Gibson’s short story “Johnny Mnemonic,” where he borrows the phrase and puts it to an entirely different purpose.)

On the strength of Peter Gabriel’s early Real World compilation Passion Sources, I started to branch out and find other artists on the label. The African artists on the label, such as Geoffrey Oryema and Ayub Ogada. Oryema’s “Piri Wango Iya” is a great introduction to the Ugandan’s sound, featuring only his voice and the traditional Ugandan lukeme (a gourd with plucked resonating metal strips).

I was still working my way through Suzanne Vega’s phenomenal 99.9 Fº, and “Blood Makes Noise” was just the sort of twitchy dance that I could get behind. Likewise PJ Harvey’s “Sheela-Na-Gig,” which even then struck me as a striking reversal of traditional gender politics, with Harvey’s narrator confidently offering herself sexually to a man who flatly rejects her as an exhibitionist and is terrified of being dirtied by her. We hadn’t explicitly covered Freud’s take on what would now be called the Madonna-whore complex when I read him in my first year, but it was a pretty clear illustration.

Then follows, for some reason, “Englishman in New York,” a track which I love by itself but which doesn’t flow very well here. Then “North Dakota.” I never had listened to much country music, but a friend who came to visit that summer left me with an aching heart, and a mixtape featuring this phenomenal Lyle Lovett song. “If you love me, say I love you” sounds like the loneliest thing ever, and it resonates at the heart of this tape once you peel back everything else.

I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to acknowledge or linger in my feelings, but I was more than capable of irony, and PJ Harvey was always there to help, as was the gently mocking narrator of Laurie Anderson’s “Language is a Virus.” Self-mockery always made me feel better, so it was a good transition from there into “What Goes On” and “Numb,” which may have been the first U2 song that made me laugh. Ditto the over-the-top apocalyptic Western of Nick Cave’s track from Until the End of the World, another third-year frequent rotation CD that I was still digesting.

The end of this summer, when I was starting to put this mix together, was a rough one physically, and I was starting to feel ragged and tired around the edges. When I came home at the end of the summer for a few weeks before school started, I realized why — I had contracted mononucleosis, probably as a consequence of the close living quarters in the student apartment that was my home for the summer. (While I was dating someone that summer, we only spent a few days together as she was off doing her own things, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t get the “kissing disease” the fun way.) “Run That Body Down” accordingly became my theme song. It’s a good thing I didn’t know then how rundown a body could actually get…

More feelings avoidance, more loud rock! I still love “Ain’t No Right,” though not as much as I love the downtempo shift that follows it. I listened to For the Beauty of Wynona for the first time with a good friend and neighbor who had good taste in music and confused my feelings (a common theme of my college years). And Lanois’ country-infused guitar had a natural connection, at least in my mind, to the freaked-out electric blues that Miles and his band pulled from thin air on “Honky Tonk.”

My immature late teenage feelings (okay, I was actually 20) loved getting lost in Elvis Costello’s Brodsky Quartet collaboration, and on no track was this more true than on “Who Do You Think You Are?,” a paean for those with a more active imagination than love life. And again, any time I felt actual feelings getting close to the surface, it was time for a shift of gears. I have always loved “Le Bien, Le Mal” ever since borrowing Jazzmatazz Vol. 1 (and the first Digable Planets album) from a neighbor in that crowded college apartment (thanks, Patrick!), but the name of the transition technique between the Elvis Costello track and this is called “discontinuity.” Once I found that groove, though, it was a logical connection to James Brown, whose “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine” had soundtracked a memorable party a few months prior in an apartment full of physics students, quality porter and stout, and someone’s incredible record collection (including, oddly, Speak No Evil).

I didn’t always know how to end mix tapes then, so there’s no real through line for the last few tracks. But “En Mana Kuoyo” is a fine closer, a brightly percolating groove from Kenya that transported me to another place. I hope it does the same for you.

Full track listing below:

  1. Ocean SizeJane’s Addiction (Nothing’s Shocking)
  2. Killing FloorHowlin’ Wolf (The Real Folk Blues)
  3. Piri Wango IyaGeoffrey Oryema (Exile)
  4. Blood Makes NoiseSuzanne Vega (99.9 F°)
  5. Sheela-Na-GigPJ Harvey (Dry)
  6. Englishman in New YorkSting (Nothing Like The Sun)
  7. North DakotaLyle Lovett (Joshua Judges Ruth)
  8. Rub ‘Til It BleedsPJ Harvey (Rid Of Me)
  9. Language Is A VirusLaurie Anderson (Home Of The Brave)
  10. What Goes On (Closet Mix)The Velvet Underground (Peel Slowly and See)
  11. NumbU2 (Zooropa)
  12. (I’ll Love You) Till The End Of The WorldNick Cave And The Bad Seeds (Until The End Of The World)
  13. Run That Body DownPaul Simon (Paul Simon)
  14. Ain’t No RightJane’s Addiction (Ritual De Lo Habitual)
  15. Still Learning How To CrawlDaniel Lanois (For The Beauty Of Wynona)
  16. Honky TonkMiles Davis (Get Up With It)
  17. Who Do You Think You Are?Elvis Costello And The Brodsky Quartet (The Juliet Letters)
  18. Le Bien, Le MalGuru Featuring Mc Solaar (Jazzmatazz Volume 1)
  19. Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex MachineJames Brown (Funk Power 1970: Brand New Thang)
  20. I’ve Been TiredThe Pixies (Come On Pilgrim)
  21. Jane SaysJane’s Addiction (Nothing’s Shocking)
  22. Stay (Faraway, So Close!)U2 (Faraway So Close)
  23. Every Time I Go Around HereFrank Black (Frank Black)
  24. En Mana KuoyoAyub Ogada (En Mana Kuoyo)

You can listen to (most of) the mix on Apple Music:

Exfiltration Radio: say what you mean

Wolf Alice.

With great Veracode hackathons come more Exfiltration Radio episodes. This time around, I have a playlist of indie/alternative/etc. rock with female voices that I’ve been building for a few years. Only I didn’t realize it.

The original version of this playlist had basically the same intro as the final version but segued into a hip-hop and funk set halfway through. While it made sense from a musical and beat perspective, something bugged me about it, and that something revealed itself over the past few weeks as the half-forgotten memory of an observation my sister made about some of my mixes twenty years ago: that they were heavy on dudes with guitars, or dudes, period.

I’d say the rethinking of this playlist was worth it, as it made me listen more closely to what the songs had to say. And they aren’t shy. Let’s begin with Caroline Polachek. In her 2020 solo spot on KEXP, she comes across as thoughtful, deep, a little shy. There’s all of that in “Welcome to My Island,” but there’s also a huge self-confidence on display, along with a magnificent set of pipes and what she has called “brattiness,” a.k.a. a well-earned swagger.

I have been listening to Dum Dum Girls for almost ten years—long enough for lead singer Dee Dee (née Kristin Gundred) to release her solo debut in the meantime. I came on board with the Too True album, and it’s a piece of work. It reminds me of William Gibson’s description of AIs battling AIs in Neuromancer, in a passage that seems prescient now: “He … swung the program in a wide circle, seeing the black shark thing through her eyes, a silent ghost hungry against the banks of lowering cloud.” Which is to say, the song is sleek, fast-moving, and ready to take precious things from the unwary.

“Headspins” has been in my playlists for almost as long. Forming in 2012 and breaking up in 2018, the band (formed in London by Australian ex-pats) does a fine job of updating the sound of the Breeders and bringing them into the 21st century.

If you haven’t heard “Chaise Longue” by Wet Leg, you’re welcome. If you’ve heard it a million times, this is your opportunity to revel again in the slyly dadaesque innuendo of the verses, as well as the sheer joy of the guitar work.

It took me a while to get into the latest St. Vincent, a deeply personal work about her father’s release from prison, partly because of her artistic choice to lean into a 1970s-inspired set of styles throughout the record. But there’s nothing wrong about the funk that drives “Pay Your Way in Pain,” to say nothing of the deep discomfort just below the surface of the lyrics.

“So Unreal” is the oldest track on the mix. Post-punk has been a reliable well of inspiration for me, albeit one that gives me no small amount of impostor syndrome. After all, I was alive and listening to music when the Creatures formed their splinter group off of Siouxsie and the Banshees, but wasn’t nearly hip enough to know they existed.

Originally, “Kyoto” was the pivot point of this mix, and a different version of it followed up Phoebe Bridgers’ meditation on jet lag and alienation set to a brass section straight out of an old Beulah record with Thundercat’s “Tokyo” and a general pivot into 21st century funk and electronica. But I decided against taking what was, for me, the easy path; hopefully you’re as glad as I am.

“Silk” has been on this mix since it came up on a random shuffle through my music while I was blowing snow one bright winter day. I dearly love Wolf Alice on the basis of this early album and am almost afraid to listen future iterations of their sound. I might have said the same of Neneh Cherry, having been a huge fan of her first few albums but not closely following her since then. Broken Politics is a pretty darned impressive follow-up, albeit one more closely related to the remixes of “Move With Me” than to the funk of “Buffalo Stance,” and “Black Monday” is a pretty spectacular representation of the album’s pleasures.

Soccer Mommy (aka Sophia Allison) made one of the quintessential albums of the early pandemic years with Color Theory, and a slightly brighter version of the same introspective sound is in her latest release. By contrast, Liz Phair’s Soberish appears to have come and gone without an impact, which is a shame as I think the songwriting on it is as strong as anything since Whitechocolatespaceegg.

And then there’s Sales, whose “Pope is a Rockstar” probably would have languished in limbo were it not for TikTok, where mondegreen readings of the title as “go little rockstar” made the song go viral. But on its own it’s a woozy hybrid between indie pop and, maybe, surf rock? There’s something in those guitars, is what I’m saying.

I fell in love with Laura Marling a few years ago, on her album Once I Was an Eagle, which featured prominently on my 2013 mix “Something Other Than Regret.” Her most recent album, Song for Our Daughter, takes the stark template of that sound and layers on Laurel Canyon harmonies that go on for days, especially on this track.

Lavender Diamond, aka Becky Stark, is another artist who appeared on that 2013 mix, and promptly disappeared until their 2020 album Now is the Time. All the hallmarks of the sound are there — the high vocals, the chord progressions out of an evolved version of the American Songbook — but where their 2012 album Incorruptible Heart dwelt in heartbreak, the new album seems to seek out hope behind horror.

One of the newest tracks on the album, boygenius’s “$20” from their debut LP The Record is a sublime and angry tune about the desperate need to escape the ordinary, with layered and shifting vocals from Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker. It’s stunning. The following tune, from the final Low album before Mimi Parker’s tragic death from cancer last year, underscores and reinforces all the themes with its own harmonies, but the anger is replaced with resignation and sadness. “Always looking for that one sure thing/Oh, you wanted so desperately.”

The final track is something of a lost gem: the final cut from the debut album of Eggplant, released in 1996. While most of the songs on the London trio’s indie rock driven album nod to punk with short run times and brisk beats, the final song, “We Only Wanted to Be Loved,” is a heartbreaker of a ballad. The trio deserved better than the oblivion their records found on initial release; here’s hoping they get a good afterlife via the Bandcamp rerelease of their music.

I hope this show brings you some sounds you haven’t heard before and makes you think—or move your booty, or both. The full track list is below:

  1. Welcome To My IslandCaroline Polachek (Desire, I Want To Turn Into You)
  2. Rimbaud EyesDum Dum Girls (Too True)
  3. HeadspinsSplashh (Comfort)
  4. Chaise LongueWet Leg (Wet Leg)
  5. Pay Your Way In Painst. vincent (Daddy’s Home)
  6. So UnrealThe Creatures (A Bestiary of (Spectrum))
  7. KyotoPhoebe Bridgers (Punisher)
  8. SilkWolf Alice (My Love Is Cool)
  9. Black MondayNeneh Cherry (Broken Politics)
  10. Feel It All The Timesoccer mommy (Sometimes, Forever)
  11. In ThereLiz Phair (Soberish)
  12. Pope Is a RockstarSALES (Sales Lp)
  13. Held DownLaura Marling (Song For Our Daughter)
  14. This Is How We RiseLavender Diamond (Now Is The Time)
  15. $20boygenius (the record)
  16. Days Like TheseLow (HEY WHAT)
  17. We Only Wanted To Be LovedEGGPLANT (Catboy/Catgirl)

We have taken control, and we will return it to you as soon as you are exfiltrated.

Exfiltration Radio: Too Short

Wayne Shorter, photo by Francis Wolff

When Wayne Shorter died on March 2, 2023, it was like the closing of a book that you knew was going to run out of pages soon, but hoped it never would. Shorter had retired from performance in 2018 due to worsening health, but was still composing and releasing new music up until last summer.

Having already put together an Exfiltration Radio episode of Shorter’s music, I debated doing another—I could easily do twelve or thirteen episodes of his works. But I decided to dedicate this episode to his music by highlighting performances of his compositions by others. Most of the recordings here come from the last few years, but there are two from the 1990s and one contemporaneous with Wayne’s most productive period as a composer in the 1960s—albeit with a very different approach.

I considered doing the entire album with covers and performances of “Footprints,” the Shorter classic that was dramatically reimagined by the Miles Davis Quintet on Miles Smiles. In the end I settled for two very different approaches to the standard, starting with Herbie Mann’s 1968 version. Recorded with an unusually star-studded group—Sonny Sharrock on guitar, Roy Ayers on vibes, and a very young Miroslav Vitouš on bass, with drummer Bruno Carr—the recording will surprise those who primarily associate Mann with his notorious early 1970s record Push Push.

David Ashkenazy’s “Chief Crazy Horse” is a 2008 performance compiled on a 2021 tribute album on Posi-Tone Records. Drummer Ashkenazy leads a quartet with Matt Otto on tenor sax, Steve Cotter on guitar, and Roger Shew on drums, playing a version of the closing song from Adam’s Apple that manages to be at once familiar and new, thanks largely to Cotter’s sterling guitar work.

One of my favorite large-band renditions of Shorter’s work, David Weiss’s “Fall” comes from a live tribute to Wayne recorded in 2013 with a group that includes Ravi Coltrane on tenor, Joe Fiedler on trombone, and the great Geri Allen on piano. While the arrangement undoes the innovation of the original Miles recording, in which the horns repeat the theme while the rhythm section improvises underneath, the performance is not to be missed, especially for Weiss’s trumpet solo.

More “Footprints” follow, this time in a duo recording by Dave Liebman and Willy Rodriguez from the 2020 compilation album 2020. The album is credited to Palladium, an effort by Shorter’s social media rep Jesse Markowitz to get his music better known. The performances here run from more traditional to more avant-garde and this one is firmly on the latter side of the spectrum, with Liebman’s soprano sax and Rodriguez’s drums moving things along briskly.

Walter Smith III is having something of a moment, coming off several collaboration albums with Matthew Stevens as In Common, guesting with Connie Han on several of her excellent recent albums, and about to release his Blue Note debut. The performance of “Adam’s Apple” here from his 2018 release Twio foreshadows much of that greatness, including his impeccable taste in sidemen. I’m not sure how the studio didn’t explode with the fury of Eric Harland’s drums on this number, and Harish Ragavan’s bass is nothing to sneeze at either.

The vocalist Clare Foster recorded an entire album of vocal adaptations of Shorter’s work at the beginning of her career, in 1993. While some of the lyrics are flights of fancy only tangentially connected to the work, her “Iris” precisely captures the mood of Shorter’s ballad. This track is followed by the other 1990s performance on the mix, the great Kenny Kirkland’s take on Shorter’s “Ana Maria” from his sole outing as a leader before his untimely death in 1998.

We close with another performance from Shorter Moments, a 2009 performance of Wayne’s phenomenal “Infant Eyes” by Wayne Escoffery on tenor sax with Avi Rothbard on guitar. While Shorter did not only write ballads, there was arguably no one in the second half of the 20th century who was better at writing ballads, and this recording makes a persuasive case in favor of that argument.

Full track listing and link for playback are below. Enjoy!

  1. FootprintsHerbie Mann (Windows Opened)
  2. Chief Crazy HorseDavid Ashkenazy (Shorter Moments – Exploring the World of Wayne)
  3. Fall (Live)David Weiss (Endangered Species: The Music of Wayne Shorter (Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola))
  4. FootprintsDavid Liebman & Willy Rodriguez (2020)
  5. Adam’s Apple (feat. Eric Harland & Harish Ragavan)Walter Smith III (Twio)
  6. IrisClare Foster (Clare Foster sings Wayne Shorter)
  7. Ana MariaKenny Kirkland (Kenny Kirkland)
  8. Infant EyesWayne Escoffery (Shorter Moments – Exploring the World of Wayne)

Do not attempt to adjust your radio; there is nothing wrong.

Old mix: We have no heads

Sometimes my early mixes are what might charitably be described as “all over the place.” (Heck, sometimes my late mixes are too.) This one, which was assembled sometime around May of 1993, definitely fits that description.

There comes a time in every young music head’s life when they discover Tom Waits. For me, that was clearly happening right about the time this mix was made. It was fortuitous that Apollo 18 by They Might Be Giants had come out about six months previously, as the frenetic energy of the opening track plays nicely with “Goin’ Out West.” (Side note: because I bought a lot of my CDs through music clubs at this stage in my life, I was almost always late to the party when a new album was released. If I recall correctly, it could be a few months before a new release was available in the mail order catalog. —And yes, mail order catalog, because this was right before the Internet began to eat that business model.)

Between those two tracks is “Frelon Brun,” from Filles de Kilimanjaro. I had just picked up this CD, having fallen in love with the title track, which appeared on Miles’ The Columbia Years anthology (another box set I snagged at a discount). “Frelon Brun” is probably the most rock-oriented of the performances on that album; for one, it’s the only track that is under 6 minutes long. It’s funky and powerful and fun. On this album it punctuates the ferocious energy of the tracks on either side.

Side 2 opens with Ayub Ogada’s “Obiero,” a track that appears in slightly different forms on both his own En Mana Kuoyo and Peter Gabriel’s Plus from Us anthology; it’s the latter that appears here (and coincidentally helps to date the mix, since Plus from Us was released on May 16, 1993). That’s followed by “Rain” by An Emotional Fish, which was on the Spew 2 promotional compilation (which I’ve since lost), alongside King Missile’s dryly hilarious “Detachable Penis” (which also appears on this mixtape). And then comes “Traditional Irish Folk Song,” from Denis Leary’s comedy album No Cure for Cancer. Like I said, charitably described as all over the place.

This mixtape also memorializes the beginning of my interest in PJ Harvey, having picked up Dry based on word of mouth from the crew in the basement of Peabody Hall, i.e. the publications staffs of the Declaration and The Yellow Journal. I was still digesting the Talking Heads, having picked up the Sand in the Vaseline compilation earlier that year. And, having bought Neneh Cherry’s great Homebrew on a whim earlier that spring, I discovered the seductive pleasures of “Peace in Mind” by blasting the album out my Monroe Hill window one Sunday afternoon as we played an impromptu volleyball game.

  1. Dig My GraveThey Might Be Giants (Apollo 18)
  2. Frelon Brun (Brown Hornet)Miles Davis (Filles De Kilimanjaro)
  3. Goin’ Out WestTom Waits (Bone Machine)
  4. Ten PercenterFrank Black (Frank Black)
  5. The Unbreakable ChainDaniel Lanois (For The Beauty Of Wynona)
  6. Cain & AbelBranford Marsalis Trio (The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born)
  7. I Want To LiveTalking Heads (Sand In The Vaseline Popular Favorites 1976-1992)
  8. Plants And RagsPJ Harvey (Dry)
  9. Summertime RollsJane’s Addiction (Nothing’s Shocking)
  10. Don’t Worry About the GovernmentTalking Heads (Talking Heads: 77)
  11. Heavy Cloud No RainSting (Ten Summoner’s Tales)
  12. TroutNeneh Cherry (Homebrew)
  13. ObieroAyub Ogada (Plus From Us)
  14. ButterfliesToad the Wet Sprocket (Fear)
  15. Traditional Irish Folk SongDenis Leary (No Cure For Cancer)
  16. RainAn Emotional Fish (Junk Puppets)
  17. I Wish You Wouldn’t Say ThatTalking Heads (Talking Heads: 77)
  18. Who Are YouTom Waits (Bone Machine)
  19. PetsPorno For Pyros (Porno for Pyros)
  20. Detachable PenisKing Missile (Happy Hour)
  21. Brackish BoyFrank Black (Frank Black)
  22. Happy And BleedingPJ Harvey (Dry)
  23. I Don’t Wanna Grow UpTom Waits (Bone Machine)
  24. Peace In MindNeneh Cherry (Homebrew)
  25. Epilogue (Nothing ‘Bout Me)Sting (Ten Summoner’s Tales)

You can listen to (most of) the mix via Apple Music here:

Old mix: faith and blues

When I got to the University of Virginia, I started buying much more music. Plan 9 (the original one on the Corner) was within walking distance, I had the mail order music clubs, I had neighbors with their own CD collections, and I started checking out different musical directions.

One of the directions that was new to me at the time was the blues. There had started to be some serious efforts to reissue and preserve old delta blues recordings, starting with the complete works of Robert Johnson and a series of box sets of artists on Chess Records. I found both available on the various CD clubs (probably Columbia, in this case) for a fraction of the list price, and started digesting the music by putting it alongside other blues that I understood better, namely jazz, the Rolling Stones, and folk music.

I might have been on to something. The Child Ballads that Dylan rifled for “Seven Curses” have a straight through-line to the blues. So does every single Leonard Cohen song. And the themes of death, guilt, and murder that snake through most of the rest of the tracks are all steeped in the blues. The outlier might be David Byrne’s “Make Believe Mambo,” but it works well melodically with the songs that surround it, and some blues are for dancing.

I note in passing that I made this mix in the late spring of 1992, long before Jeff Buckley covered the version of “Hallelujah” that appears on this mix as performed by John Cale and made it immortal. I always liked Cale.

Special shouts out in this mix to my upstairs neighbor in Harrison Portal at Monroe Hill for lending me the Rolling Stones compilation; to Greg for introducing me to Reckoning and Camper Van Beethoven in our first year; and to now-Bishop Poulson Reed for suggesting that we visit Preservation Hall on our visit to New Orleans while on the Tour of the South in 1992, where I heard the band play and picked up New Orleans – Vol. 4.

  1. “Sweet Home Chicago” – Robert Johnson (The Complete Recordings)
  2. “Sympathy for the Devil” – The Rolling Stones (Beggars Banquet)
  3. “Seven Curses” – Bob Dylan (The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1–3: Rare and Unreleased)
  4. “Carolyn’s Fingers” – Cocteau Twins (Blue Bell Knoll)
  5. “Suzanne” – Geoffrey Oryema (I’m Your Fan — The Songs of Leonard Cohen)
  6. “Nigh Eve” – Marcus Roberts (As Serenity Approaches)
  7. “Peace Like a River” – Paul Simon (Paul Simon)
  8. “St. James Infirmary” – Preservation Hall Jazz Band (New Orleans – Vol. IV)
  9. “So. Central Rain” – R.E.M. (Reckoning)
  10. “Eye of Fatima, Pt. 1 & 2” – Camper Van Beethoven (Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart)
  11. “Halo” – Depeche Mode (Violator)
  12. “Preaching Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)” – Robert Johnson (The Complete Recordings)
  13. “Hallelujah” – John Cale (I’m Your Fan — The Songs of Leonard Cohen)
  14. “Kindhearted Woman Blues” – Robert Johnson (The Complete Recordings)
  15. “Make Believe Mambo” – David Byrne (Rei Momo)
  16. “Creole Blues” – Marcus Roberts (As Serenity Approaches)
  17. “Gimme Shelter” – The Rolling Stones (Let It Bleed)
  18. “She Divines Water” – Camper Van Beethoven (Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart)
  19. “Blues in the Evening” – Marcus Roberts (As Serenity Approaches)
  20. “From Four Till Late” – Robert Johnson (The Complete Recordings)
  21. “7 Chinese Bros.” – R.E.M. (Reckoning)
  22. “Who By Fire” – The House of Love (I’m Your Fan — The Songs of Leonard Cohen)
  23. “Death’s Door” – Depeche Mode (Until the End of the World Soundtrack)
  24. “Armistice Day” –Paul Simon (Paul Simon)
  25. “Come On In My Kitchen” – Robert Johnson (The Complete Recordings)
  26. “Walkin’ After Midnight” – Cowboy Junkies (The Trinity Session)

You can listen to (most of) the mix on Apple Music:

Old mix: the blue groove of twilight

One of the things that happened when I got to the University of Virginia was that I began to branch out in my musical tastes—or, maybe more precisely, I began to explore each of the branches I had already grown to like. In this case, it was jazz, and while I had made mix tapes containing jazz music before, this was the first to be (almost) entirely devoted to jazz.

I found my way into jazz from Sting, whose band in the mid to late 1980s was made up of jazz musicians; from summer concerts at Fort Monroe; and from my mom’s record collection. She had some Ahmad Jamal and Dave Brubeck and Ramsey Lewis—nothing too outré but enough to convince me that I wanted to listen to more. I also knew, from U2, that I ought to listen to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. I didn’t really know anyone else who listened to jazz, so I had to find my own way in.

Because I liked to read liner notes, I found myself drawn to the Original Jazz Classics reissue series of classic jazz albums on CD when I was at UVA. There was so much context on the back of those albums! You could see who the players were, read reviews, and more without even opening the album. That’s how I started to dig back into some of the great ’50s and ’60s recordings. I also picked up the threads of Sting’s band, listening to Branford, then Wynton, then Wynton’s band and Kenny Kirkland.

Because I have never been able to focus exclusively, a couple of jazz-adjacent tracks snuck onto this mix. Most notably, “Escalay” from the Kronos Quartet Pieces of Africa appears. While this is nominally a classical or world music track, it has enough in common with the works around it—a strong rhythmic foundation, a modal scale, an improvised solo—to fit in nicely. The other, Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain,” was added to provide an anchor point for some of the other explorations of blues through the jazz idiom on Side 2. And I couldn’t figure out how to end the mix, so I dropped some Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo in; it fits better than you’d think because of the vocal improvisation and the general mood.

For the actual jazz tracks, there’s a pretty good range of stuff. Of course we touch on Kind of Blue, but there’s also Coltrane’s Sound and Ellington Indigos. I really like the tracks from Marcus Roberts, the pianist and composer who was the nucleus of Wynton Marsalis’s late-1980s/early-1990s band. And there are a couple of nice sets on the second side, with the early jazz workouts of Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins contrasting with the more abstract work of Branford Marsalis, Ornette Coleman and Kenny Kirkland.

  1. Brother VealWynton Marsalis Septet (Blue Interlude)
  2. NebuchadnezzarMarcus Roberts (Deep In The Shed)
  3. Central Park WestJohn Coltrane (Coltrane’s Sound)
  4. EscalayKronos Quartet (Pieces of Africa)
  5. All BluesMiles Davis (Kind of Blue)
  6. All the Things You AreDuke Ellington (Ellington Indigos)
  7. As Serenity ApproachesMarcus Roberts (As Serenity Approaches)
  8. The Jitterbug WaltzMarcus Roberts (As Serenity Approaches)
  9. Love In Vain Blues (Alternate Take)Robert Johnson (The Complete Recordings)
  10. Perdido Street BluesLouis Armstrong (Louis Armstrong Of New Orleans)
  11. My Melancholy Baby [Alternate Take]Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker (Bird And Diz (+3))
  12. ParadoxSonny Rollins (Worktime)
  13. Willow Weep For MeDuke Ellington (Ellington Indigos)
  14. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet BornBranford Marsalis Trio (The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born)
  15. Simpatico – MisteriosoHoward Shore/Ornette Coleman (Naked Lunch)
  16. ChanceKenny Kirkland (Kenny Kirkland)
  17. Big Trouble In the Easy (Pedro Pops Up)Wynton Marsalis (Tune In Tomorrow… The Original Soundtrack)
  18. Crepuscule With Nellie (Take 6)Thelonious Monk (Monk’s Music)
  19. Amazing GraceLadysmith Black Mambazo with Paul Simon (Journey Of Dreams)

If you are an Apple Music subscriber, you can listen to (most of) the mix here:

Old mix: An angel being blown backwards into the future

Prodded by yesterday’s post about Pieces of Africa and the mixes it inspired, I was inspired to post about a few of them. These were mix tapes—made well before the advent of Rip.Mix.Burn—and they reflected whatever was going through my brain at the time.

This mix was made early in the summer of 1993. I had just finished my third year at the University of Virginia and was interning in a physics lab, and slowly coming to the painful conclusion that I would not be going on to graduate study in my field. But it was sunny, and I was reasonably happy! So this was made to play in my car with the top down.

Like so many of the mixes I made (and still make), this was a way for me to digest all the CDs I had bought and listened to, whether from Plan 9 or in the BMG music club, which sold classical and other CDs at a substantial discount if you didn’t mind the occasionally blurry reproductions of album art and liner notes they suspiciously sported…

But summer of 1993 was still a pretty good time. Frank Black had just changed his name and released his first solo album; Sting’s latest showed he still had songwriting chops. I had met a singer from a woman’s chorus on a Glee Club tour who moved me deeply, to the tune of a Suzanne Vega song. Peter Gabriel’s Real World was still introducing me to new voices like Sheila Chandra. My friends in the New Dominions had just recorded their first CD, for which I did the jacket and disc design, working around a brilliant illustration by Deepak Raghu. I had heard Tori Amos for the first time in concert at Old Cabell Hall, being lucky enough to score tickets after a Glee Club rehearsal. I was starting to explore jazz beyond Coltrane and Miles and Wynton and Branford. Good times indeed.

  1. Fu ManchuFrank Black (Frank Black)
  2. 99.9 F°Suzanne Vega (99.9 F°)
  3. Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)Sting (Ten Summoner’s Tales)
  4. Before You Were BornToad the Wet Sprocket (Fear)
  5. Ever So Lonely/Eyes/The OceanSheila Chandra (Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices)
  6. AvaDavid Byrne (The Forest)
  7. Tin ManNew Dominions (Salamander!)
  8. TilliboyoKronos Quartet (Pieces of Africa)
  9. Road To NowhereTalking Heads (Sand In The Vaseline Popular Favorites 1976-1992)
  10. Precious ThingsTori Amos (Little Earthquakes)
  11. The Dream BeforeLaurie Anderson (Strange Angels)
  12. Seven DaysSting (Ten Summoner’s Tales)
  13. Drawing Room BluesJoe Henderson (Lush Life – The Music of Billy Strayhorn)
  14. SassyNeneh Cherry (Homebrew)
  15. Ed Is DeadThe Pixies (Come On Pilgrim)
  16. Warning SignTalking Heads (More Songs About Buildings And Food)
  17. As Girls GoSuzanne Vega (99.9 F°)
  18. Dirt In The GroundTom Waits (Bone Machine)
  19. Death Of A TrainDaniel Lanois (For The Beauty Of Wynona)
  20. Washing Of The WaterPeter Gabriel (Us)
  21. Motorway To RoswellThe Pixies (Trompe Le Monde)

If you have Apple Music, you can listen to the mix here, though it doesn’t include all the tracks… 🙁

Errata: Although “Upside Down” is in the track listing on the j-card for the tape, it wouldn’t fit on the end of Side 1. So I saved it for another mix.

Also noting: I added a page to the blog to track all the articles about mixes.

Exfiltration Radio: riding in a wonderland

“Portrait of woman wearing dark suit, possibly Vera, holding record album,” Charles “Teenie” Harris (c.1960). Courtesy Carnegie Museum of Art.

So you’re stuck at home this Christmas. You have Covid, or someone in your family does, or both. Might as well crank the music up, and what better way to ring in the season than an hour of Christmas jazz?

This set, and yesterday’s, have been percolating for a few years, ever since my “Off Kilter Christmas” showed me how hard it was to trim all the holiday music I wanted to share down to an hour. But when I was putting together yesterday’s set, I realized I had something like four mixes worth of material, so I started separating the jazz out… and what came was remarkably coherent. Though maybe that says more about my record collection than fate. The track listing is below, though be prepared for Babs Gonsalves to pop up a few times.

“Sleigh Ride,” Duke Pearson (Merry Ole Soul). Pearson was, in addition to being the A&R man for Blue Note Records in the 1960s and composer of the great Donald Byrd track “Cristo Redentor,” a pretty fair pianist and arranger. This uber-cool take on “Sleigh Ride” is viewed through the prism of spiritual jazz, with a drone in the bass and drums that’ll knock your socks off.

“Marche Touche,” Classical Jazz Quartet (Christmas). This record is one of my happy discoveries this season. Featuring Ron Carter on bass, Kenny Barron on piano, Stefán Harris on vibes and marimba, and Lewis Nash on drums, this take on the March from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” is something else.

“Littler Drummer Boy,” Tia Fuller (It’s Christmas on Mack Avenue). If you want a modern classic of jazz interpretations of Christmas standards, I’d check out this compilation. Fuller’s take on “Little Drummer Boy” is representative, with a combination of traditional melodic interpretation and contemporary rhythm.

“We Three Kings of Orient Are,” Ellis Marsalis (A New Orleans Christmas Carol). This standout album from the late patriarch of the Marsalis clan has a lot going for it, especially Jason Marsalis’s beat on tracks like this one.

“Carol of the Bells,” Wynton Marsalis (Crescent City Christmas Card). I remember listening to this with my family with some puzzlement when it first came out. Now I love it: the horn line that shifts around the beat with each chorus, the typically crunchy Wynton chords, the classic Wynton Marsalis Septet members throwing everything into the arrangement (yes, that’s Marcus Roberts, Wycliffe Gordon, Todd Williams, Wessell Anderson, Herlin Riley, and Reginald Veal on the track).

“White Christmas,” Ill Considered (An Ill Considered Christmas). The Ill Considered Christmas album might be the 21st century equivalent of Crescent City Christmas Carol for dividing family opinion. There are some mighty interesting reharmonizations on this album. But I love the inclusion of Eastern melodies over the traditional Irving Berlin tune here, and the band is uptempo and bright.

“Christmas Time Is Here,” Ellis Marsalis. A second track off Ellis’s Christmas album, this is a solid reinterpretation of the Vince Guaraldi classic and a completely different mood from “We Three Kings.” Contemplative and mellow. You might want to refill that eggnog.

“Vauncing Chimes,” Bobby Watson (Blue Christmas). This contemporary collection from Blue Note has a bunch of fairly faithful covers of classic jazz arrangements, but this one actually comes from a different 1991 compilation and is a retitled version of “Jingle Bells,” with Watson’s saxophone taking us on a tour of the outer reaches.

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” Jimmy Smith (Christmas Cookin’). A top five holiday jazz album, Smith’s Hammond organ sizzles throughout this set. While I enjoy the numbers with orchestration in this set, this cut just has the trio, and they make a joyful noise.

“Here Comes Santa Claus,” Ramsey Lewis Trio (Sound of Christmas). This set from 1961, like the Jimmy Smith set, has trio numbers and orchestral arrangements, and this is also “just” a trio setting. But with Ramsey Lewis at the keys, it might as well be an orchestra. Rambunctious, bluesy and jolly, this’ll have you wondering what you put in that eggnog.

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Bill Evans Trio (Trio ’64). Just why the otherwise straight album by Evans, Paul Motian and Gary Peacock contained this cover of the Fred Coots/Haven Gillespie holiday standard is up for debate. What’s not up for debate is the high level of artistry on this track, with Evans, Motian and Peacock displaying telepathic abilities throughout. Worth the price of admission for Motian’s bass part alone.

“Sleep, Holy Infant, Sleep,” Dave Brubeck (Christmas Lullabies 12”). I don’t know too much about this vault issue, which was a Record Store Day release a few years ago, except that Brubeck demonstrates a delicacy of touch and interpretation that’s characteristic of some of his later Telarc recordings. This is, true to the release name, a lovely lullaby.

“Auld Lang Syne,” Bobby Timmons (Holiday Soul). The great soul jazz pianist and composer Bobby Timmons sees us out, with a great soul-inflected cover of the New Years Eve classic (or, depending on your leaning, unofficial University of Virginia alma mater).

Enjoy!

New mix: Exfiltration Radio: tinsel covered Christmas blues

“Cold War Christmas, 1960,” from Shorpy.com

It’s time for more Christmas craziness, so break out the eggnog, put up your feet, close that window that’s blowing open, and enjoy! Big range this time, with tracks from Yo La Tengo, Low and Jane Siberry joining the expected bits of old blues and funk.

The tunes:

  1. The Last Month Of The YearVera Hall Ward (Where Will You Be Christmas Day?)
  2. Getting Ready for Christmas DayPaul Simon (So Beautiful or So What)
  3. A Groovy Christmas and New Year (Kojo Donkoh)Houghas Sorowonko (A Groovy Christmas and New Year (Kojo Donkoh))
  4. It’s Christmas TimeYo La Tengo (Merry Christmas From Yo La Tengo)
  5. Christmas In Jail – Ain’t That A PainLeroy Carr (Where Will You Be Christmas Day?)
  6. When It’s Christmas Time on the RangeBob Wills (Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree II: The Eggnog Is Spiked)
  7. To Heck With Ole Santa ClausLoretta Lynn (Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree – A Vintage Holiday Mixtape)
  8. The Christmas BluesBob Dylan (Christmas In the Heart)
  9. Santa’s Got A Bag O’ SoulSoul Saints Orchestra (Lit Up Like A Christmas Tree II: The Eggnog Is Spiked)
  10. Merry Christmas BabyBootsy Collins (Christmas Is 4 Ever)
  11. Xmas Done Got FunkyJimmy Jules & Nuclear Soul System (Santa’s Funk & Soul Christmas Party Vol.1-3)
  12. Christmas on Riverside DriveAugust Darnell (A Christmas Record)
  13. Have Yourself a Merry Little ChristmasDread Zeppelin (Presents)
  14. Go Where I Send TheeFred Waring & The Pennsylvanians (The Sounds of Christmas)
  15. Some Hearts (at Christmas Time)Low (Some Hearts (at Christmas Time))
  16. Like a SnowmanTracey Thorn (Tinsel and Lights)
  17. Are You Burning, Little Candle?Jane Siberry (New York Trilogy III: Child (Music For The Christmas Season))
  18. SherburneAlabama Sacred Harp Singers (Where Will You Be Christmas Day?)
  19. Merry ChristmasA Festival of Village Carols, Grenoside (English Village Carols: Traditional Christmas Carolling from the Southern Pennines)

Christmas comes but once a year, but when it does, it brings good cheer.

Listen…