Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Charlie Christian, the Genius of the Electric Guitar

As I alluded to in my last post, my son is in that wonderful stage of development where he really likes repetition. An example: while grocery shopping I tapped his head with a package of tortillas and said "bonk" before throwing them in the shopping cart. This was met with hysterical giggles, and then, complete with puppy dog eyes, a pleading "mooooooore?" After about 10 "bonks" I finally decided I had to quit if I didn't want all my frozen goods to melt. Not too long ago, after we took down our Christmas lights, he pointed to the area on our back window where they used to hang and said "lights." I explained they were gone now. He then pointed to the front window: "lights." "All gone." Then the dining room light, blazing away, "lights." "Yep," I said, "lights." Back to the back window, then front, then dining room, over and over and over. My wife couldn't believe my patience with this game.

Of course, this trend also happens with respect to music. Soon after falling in love with "C'mon 'N Ride it" he found renewed interest in "Dis Doss" (Kris Kross). As soon as "Jump" ends, he calls for me to play it again. And again. And again. Sometimes he mixes it up, by asking for "Pain... House" halfway through the song (this is his way of asking me to switch to House of Pain's "Jump Around") and then, after a minute, asking for more Dis Doss. I used to know the lyrics to "Jump" fairly well, but now I can rattle off "Some of them try to rhyme but they can't rhyme like this" like the Micro Machines guy (by the way, ever notice that nothing rhymes in that lyric?). I worry about the affects of so much jumping on my son's body, because he seriously wants to jump for the entire length of the song (or, more likely, wants me to hold him and jump, because he doesn't really have that skill down yet-- it's more of a squat/fall).

I let my son get away with this because he's a toddler, and, well, he's my son. Tom Moon recently tried to get away with this repetition game, and I'm sorry Tom, but I just can't cut you too much slack.

Artist: Charlie Christian
Album: The Genius of the Electric Guitar
Recording #513

Stream the album here

Based on the title, I was really excited for this recording the first time I came across it about a year and a half ago. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the recording anywhere. Thankfully, I just discovered Spotify, and the entire 4-disc box set is on there. Woohoo! I shouted, prematurely. Because although the overall theme of this record is pretty nice - bebop and old school late '30s jazz, which is a type of jazz I can appreciate as a jazz newbie - there is a severe problem with this recording. Four discs of jazz is a lot for me in any setting, because my ears are just becoming used to it, but when I hear the song "Six Appeal" as the original, 3 alternate takes, and 2 false starts, I'm a little put off. "Breakfast Fued" was pretty enjoyable the first time; SEVEN alternate takes!? Plus 2 false starts? The entire 4th disc consists mostly of outtakes and practices, often interspersed with chatting about timing and technique. This might be interesting stuff to a real Benny Goodman or Charlie Christian fan, but does this really have the staying power to make it worthy to be one of the 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die? With so many other single-disc collections to choose from, I am truly confused by Moon's choice here. Especially since Moon points out that due to Christian's untimely death he only recorded for 3 years.

OK, but enough about the format; I will say that the guitar work is superb. Not my favorite genre, but considering the early timeframe of these recordings (1939-41), these sound way ahead of their time because of the guitar. Again, because I am not an aficionado of jazz, I have to listen closely to hear the guitar and recognize the forward thinking, but when I really focus on the smooth lines of Christian, it's damn impressive. Again, I think Moon's selection here takes away from the focus on Christian: after 4 discs I really start to space out and only notice the big picture "jazz" instead of taking the time to hone in on the guitar, which is supposed to be the star. It's too bad that there aren't more recordings focused just on his guitar, and maybe Moon's intention was to give you every opportunity to hear everything Christian recorded, but I think he failed in that decision. Check out the first disc and a half to get a taste, unless you are a completionist like myself.
Read Moon's entry here.

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