Sunrise Over Sea

John Butler is almost unbearably hip. That’s a pretty big compliment. His lyrics are smart, tough and principled.

He’s a great guitarist. Given the number of great guitarists in the world, that doesn’t hold very much weight. But it’s rare that I come across a set of music like this that really gets me excited. This is music that makes you want to get up and do something. You can’t pigeon-hole it. You’d have to listen to it and define it for yourself. I’d love to hear what other people’s thoughts are.

One of the few comparisons I make is a couple of spots where his slide playing is reminiscent of Sonny Landreth’s; another big compliment. He’s using it as a flavor. Again: hip. A lotta, lot of flavors and textures here. According to Wikipedia he plays mostly amplified and processed acoustic guitars. …Wow! Cool.

He’s a good singer, too. He sometimes sings like a rapper and/or raps like a singer, fast and rhythmical. The words aren’t always legible, but I’m not sure lyrics have to necessarily be completely heard and understood. There’s kind of an old joke about singers intentionally slurring the words. Back in the day, people would wear vinyl records down, trying to decipher them. It’s the feeling. When read separately, the words can lose their punch. It doesn’t mean they’re bad lyrics – they’re lyrical. It’s music. Anyway, the point is that it all adds up here to be very punchy singing, indeed. It expresses what it’s trying to express.

And, hey. The CD insert has a handwritten libretto, with drawings even.

It’s hip. Very hip. It’s Cool. It swings. That’s a style you don’t hear very much. You hear it a lot in jazz singers. You’ve gotta get it right. If it’s insincere, it’s transparently about style, not an individualistic expression. Some good ones that come to mind are Mose Allison, Gil Scott-Heron and Eddie Jefferson. Or think Billie Holiday. Timeless, right? Anyway, I dig hip.

On this set, the John Butler Trio swing like a mother. The bass, drums and guitar play in unbelievably tight counterpoint that is ultra-syncopated.

If you haven’t heard this set, check it out.


Frank Sinatra photographed by Bill Gottlieb, 1947, at a recording session

When I was an adolescent, I was obsessed with being cool and hip. An older friend once got quite upset with me when he asked me what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’ and I replied, “I just want to be cool.”

I love the way Wynton Marsalis defines ‘cool’, in the documentary Bill Gottlieb: Riffs

“I always have loved this picture of Frank Sinatra. Just the whole thing, is like the essence of cool. He’s looking off; kind of got a harshness.

“The essence of cool is always harsh, because cool is always the denial of something. So the warmth of cool is very deep. The actual essence of hipness is denial; and that’s what makes you hip – is that you’re able to push things away from you.”

Bill Gottlieb was a jazz aficionado, critic, and photographer. He was one of the first and best photographers to properly document jazz musicians in the ‘golden age’ of modern jazz.

Using a big Speed Graphic press camera which had a very limited film capacity – two negatives per cartridge, which needed to be separately loaded – his rapport with the musicians and his sense of the perfect moment were crucial to these most iconic of jazz photos.

Many of his photos were taken in the short span of two years, 1946-1947.  Bill Gottlieb: Riffs is a documentary about his photographs and the musicians, with many colorful and telling anecdotes. If you like biographies, photography and/or jazz, you will love this documentary.

Another great photographer of note was Francis Wolff. He co-founded Blue Note Records with Alfred Lion. It was one of the preeminent jazz labels, known for supporting new artists and new ideas in jazz. They were taste-makers and visionaries, always on the cutting edge. Another good documentary that tells their story is: Blue Note – A Story of Modern Jazz.