Thursday, January 17, 2013

Blurred Brocade Collage


Original Facebook post here.
Today's formative-album replay: Tom Waits, Nighthawks at the Diner. I'd compare the intense physical pleasure of this unique live album, recorded on an orchestra sound stage in Hollywood before an invited audience in 1975, to climbing into a warm jazz bath with a sweating cocktail. And that's just the band. Then there's the emcee: Waits, bearing a trunk not so much of songs as word-jazz suites that sound deceptively free-form but reveal their taut, tattered shapeliness after repeated listens (and even then they retain every bit of their snap, surprise, and elusive cool). Everything feels tight here but nothing feels nailed down; all of it sounds made up on the spot after years of practice.

Seriously, if you've ever heard a Waits record, either from his slick early white-jazz days or from his more familiar bang-on-a-brake-drum carnival barker days, you will still scarcely be prepared for how good Nighthawks is. You can't put it on in the background; it's as demanding, and as rewarding, as any great cast album. The show here, of course, is the bachelor beatnik follies, with major roles for alcohol, loneliness, bad food, worse sex, and cackling gallows humor; but the delivery, the grace, the attention to detail, the easy rapport of band, leader, and audience--these are at a level unmatched by any other record in any genre I can think of.

Here is where I should add that Nighthawks had a huge influence on my own music, roughly comparable to the impact of Rufus Wainwright's debut album; if it didn't reach my heart quite like that record did (what could?), it likewise redirected my entire approach to bandleading, and led directly to my own attempts at slavish imitation (yes, I hired a jazz combo and did a spoken-word-and-song evening at an L.A. cabaret; so sue me). Of course, it was a fool's errand to try; even Waits himself couldn't imitate or recreate this triumph. He had to settle for making great, weird studio records and a few twisted operas. Not a bad trade, but for me, Nighthawks still towers over his career like the old neon sign over Ship's.

Comments:
Jeremy J Lee I'll have to listen to this now!! I recently watched Waits's Austin City Limits from the 70s. Fantastic. Lucas called it silly music... http://video.pbs.org/video/2179574410
Joe McDade Just now getting into jazz at the age of 47. Thanks, buddy.
John Prestianni 'A classified section offers no direction, it's a cold cafe in a nicotine cloud'
Janet Miller One of my top 3 fave CDs. Always play on road trips. In my car at all times when I need a TW fix. Thanks for the great reminder! Copper Penny!
Terry Morgan Colder than the ticket-taker's smile at the Ivar Theatre on a Saturday night...
Patrick Corcoran Or a weird patty melt at Norm's...
Carey Fosse I think that's Jim Hughart on bass -- damn!
Rob Weinert-Kendt @Carey: It is. I could write a whole other essay about his playing on this record; his bass almost qualifies as another voice.
Pamela Renner I always associate this record with my 21st summer, in New Mexico, where I first heard it.

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