ASHERU feat. Talib Kweli / “Mood Swing”
It’s eleven in the morning, the weather outside is sunny and mild. Another perfect weather day in San Diego, but I’m in a melancholy mood. I stopped watching CNN and the Weather Channel a few days ago, but I might as well still be tuned in. Everywhere I turn, I see reminders of the storm and the flood. At night I dream about evacuating. In the morning, I wake up wondering where I am.
I selected this week’s Cover music to match my recent state of mind. A little down, I guess, but not actually depressed. Just ‘kind of blue,’ like Miles.
The tune is Duke Ellington’s classic “In A Sentimental Mood.” I’m posting four versions of the song, but only one of them (Duke’s own version) is an actual cover. I’ll explain….
Asheru feat. Talib Kweli / “Mood Swing”
Asheru is a D.C.-based MC and a member of the Unspoken Heard collective. Talib Kweli is a well known poet and MC out of Brooklyn, New York. I first heard their take on “Sentimental Mood,” which they call “Mood Swing,” on KCRW’s excellent Café L.A. show. “Mood Swing” features live drums and several samples from the now-definitive John Coltrane & Duke Ellington version as well as tasteful and laidback rhymes from both MCs. Aside from the samples and the bluesy vibe, this song has nothing in common with the original. (More on the sample later.)
Fertile Ground / “Sentimental Groove”
Baltimore-based Fertile Ground used the chord changes of “Sentimental Mood” as a jumping-off point, then did their own thing both lyrically and musically. “Sentimental Groove” has all the strengths that nearly all Fertile Ground’s music has: beautiful vocals; powerful, well-written lyrics; and most of all, a deeply spiritual, almost mystical, vibe. I love this band. Feel free to buy anything they’ve recorded—you can’t go wrong.
Noñameko / “In A Sentimental Mood”
This is the only version that features the traditional lyric, but that’s where the connection to tradition ends. The vocalist, a young, Bay Area singer named Noñameko, recorded an entire album of jazz standards but instead of performing with a band, she recorded the songs hip-hop style, layering her vocals over instrumental tracks of well-known rap songs. (Which is why she calls the album The Not So Standard Mixtape.) The beauty of these songs is in the incongruity; they probably work best for those who know both the hip-hop tracks and the jazz songs. If you only know one or the other—or, God forbid, neither—you may miss the point. For those not in the know, the track Noñameko is using here is Outkast’s “Elevators,” one of my all-time favorite rap tunes.
Duke Ellington & John Coltrane / “In A Sentimental Mood”
Although Duke himself composed “In A Sentimental Mood,” this version of the tune, recorded in 1962 for the Duke Ellington & John Colrane album, was actually a cover. Kalamu will correct me if I’m wrong, but the little six-note piano figure that Duke plays on the chorus (and which Asheru sampled) isn’t part of the original composition. Duke added that for this then-new arrangement and the rest as they say…I won’t say it. Anyhow, the notable thing about this version is how perfectly it showcases John Coltrane’s gentle, lyrical side. Today, Trane is widely considered one of the greatest (if not the greatest) tenor saxophonists in the history of jazz. Back in the early Sixties, he was considered a maniac. It was the combination of the Duke & Trane album, along with the Ballads album (also released in ’62) and the John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman album (released the following year), which provided proof that Trane the fire-breather could also play as sweetly lyrical as any else out there. Provided he wanted to, of course; and today, we thank goodness that he did.
—Mtume ya Salaam
A divine interpretation
I consider Duke Ellington the pinnacle in terms of American musical composers. As for Gershwin, he’s great, period. No question. But he never kept a band on the road. To truly appreciate Ellington’s genius we must recognize that he was also a bandleader, a master administrator. Additionally, he was a major recording artist whose work is peerless both in the abstract as compositions and in the concrete in terms of specific recordings. Ellington was a dynamic composer, someone who wrote not in isolation but rather who wrote for a specific instrument, his orchestra, which enabled him to write in the morning and hear his music in concert the same night.
This was no accident. By the Forties, Ellington could have retired from the road but instead he elected to keep going. Unlike those who become fossilized as they cling to a particular style or a particular genre, Duke Ellington grew with the music and was always prepared to make a contemporary statement.
Written in 1935, “In A Sentimental Mood,” is one of Ellington’s most enduring compositions. By the 1950’s it had become a jazz standard for both instrumentalists and vocalists. In the Sixties, when Ellington recorded with John Coltrane, it was the kind of match that seemed impossible on the surface, but which resulted in a new arrangement of a nearly 30-year old composition, an arrangement which itself became a standard.
The vocal version I’ve selected is Sarah Vaughan in an unusual setting; she is backed by a duo of electric guitar and acoustic bass. In this context you hear the beauty of theme and the divine artistry of Sarah Vaughan who, along with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, defined modern jazz singing. This is from an album called After Hours.
—Kalama ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Sunday, October 2nd, 2005 at 12:03 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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