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Ry Cooder: Jazz (WEA)

To be (entirely) honest, that should actually read "Jass". Because, following hard upon his explorations of Mexican & Hawaiian musics, in 1978 - at the peak of the unlamented "noo wave" - Cooder, again, committed commercial suicide. By recording a loving tribute to the very earliest, ragtime-inflected, jazz.

Which was often called "jass" - as if to prove to supercilious modernists that those corny old bastards couldn't even spell right.

And - surprise surprise! - it didn't sell. Often forgotten today - in this post-Paris, Texas era - as neither blues nor "world music", it happens to be one of Cooder's best albums. As well as one of the best intoductions to the world of jass.

As it was for me…

Four tutelary deities hang over this endeavor - although, to the naïve listener [as I once was] - this hardly interferes. They are the great blackface minstrel Emmett Miller [see Nick Tosches for the lowdown], Joseph Spence - the bizarre master of Bahaman ragtime guitar - and the much better known Jelly Roll Morton and Bix Beiderbecke... All unparalleled masters w/truly unique musical visions - and all figures who're sadly too often forgotten today.

Now, you'll undoubtedly never hear this music in a café. Because, despite the undoubted pull of Cooder's name, this isn't at all cool in the modern sense. Instead, it's simultaneously rugged & poignant, courtly & yet patently unsophisticated to modern ears...

In short, although instantly familiar, it's unlike anything you've probably heard before. Which, of course, is a lousy attempt at a description. I'm reminded here - inescapably - of the problem people had describing country blues to new audiences in the late 50s/early 60s. Because, in a way, you've all heard this before - but, in its descendants. Which is not to say that you don't need to hear this.

Because every person that I know who's heard this album has - quite literally - fallen in love with it. And, you need to make room for it in your heart.


John Henry Calvinist