Check In w/ the Blue Mirror


Body and Soul: Art Tatum

When we reconcile the song to the solo, we find more confusion in the pianoed versions of B&S than either the vocalized or tenorized. It may be that Hawk's footprint is so large he leaves room for nothing but gravity, but we don't think so. It may just be that the too many piano renditions come at the song with a lightfingered musical approach, which isn't bad initself, but something that leaves at least this lissener wondering where the song's torch went.

One exception to this rule the Art Tatum solo version that he dropped in that legendary two day blast for Norman Granz in the early 50s that produced 8 volumes of the good sh*t.

His take on B&S begins lagging, teasing sadness from the melody. Even as Tatum's imagination takes over the song, he resists the temptation to pep it up, as he does earlier in the disc (we gots no session records at our grasp, so we can't tell whether it really comes first) with his take on "Love for Sale." It's in the second chorus, though, when he proves how subtly he conceives of the song. There he interpolates a sweet passage from "Nobody Knows...," making the bluesy connection from pain to salvation. Which is the song's all about it.

Here you go:


Is There Confusion?

A friend asked us to throw down some recommendations on Betty Davis, an easy enough task. We'll load up a clip in no time.

But she's left us some devilishly difficult 2ns, and we hesitate to throw such things into anyone's field of vision without offering a few prayers of our own.

:: pours a little liquor on the ground::

In Betty's work there's the groove, the voice and the visuals. And then there's sex (as in m/f) and beauty (as in aesthetics). They pile up all over Betty, just as she wanted, but, if the record (as in public, and as opposed to rekkids, slabs, 2ns or the whathaveyous we use to refer to the work in the tradition) tells us anything, it is that we treat her work as a ball of confusion.

Light in the Attic's rediscovery of Betty Davis was not only inevitable, but long overdue. Erudite cratediggers shoulda, coulda, woulda found their way to her stuff in the Thriller era 80s, instead of waiting 'til the Lady Gaga and Shakira era* 00s if they were brave enough. There must have been business hurdles they couldn't jump, or her sh1t woulda been loose again in the market before Rick James was smoking crack.

When Betty's albums first hit the racks there was no shortage of demand for groove. For those of us lissenning so late in the game, the trick is to distinguish it from all of the lofty precursors assigned in hindsight to Betty's list of influences. She's got deepsoul in her biography: the Jimi Hendrix boo rumor, the Miles Davis husband portion of her biography, the Greg Errico connection to Sly Stone and the Larry Graham connection to Graham Central Station. But we gotta call her sh1t her own. She shakes it fast, and right in front of us. She's not hanging behind it, waiting for us to find her lurking.

Her voice has more to do w/ Gil Scott Heron or the Last Poets, than Chaka Kahn, Patti Labelle, Marva Whitney or Vicki Anderson. The listed queenz all have something to tell us, but Betty is working hard to teach us a lesson on top of it. This expressly didactic tone in her voice sometimes feels, at least after the fact of nearly four decades, like a lecture on how to get the whole sexual power thing right. The too easy thing to do today is to call her ahead of her time. There is something much more fair to her than to call her the forerunner of a sexual revolution that is now over. She's only as good a singer as James "Blood" Ulmer, but that's the point. And that is why she sounds more right to lissenners versed in hearing Ma Rainey or Missy Elliot.

Then there's her body of visual work†, prolly the biggest source of distraction for fans and detractors. It's not surprising that someone who began her career doing fashion spreads for girls magazines has an eye for her own appearance, and a strong sense of how to push people around using that media. Her visual rhetoric, a move she busted the streets 7 years before Prince delivered his Dirty Mind,‡ is an outmoving spiral of irony and sincerity. It doesn't stop being one or the other. Just like Prince, Betty uses sex to write checks she can't fully cash. Just deal and move on. There's no point in averting your eyes, even if it won't free your ass when you keep on staring.

So, like Marvin says: "Come on, get to this":
These bullets are more than Brechtian exercises in drawing the lissener into a trap of desire x guilt = historical consciousness. They are an articulation of a tension the harsh voice of the day today and the sweet voice that promises something better that made Phillis Wheatley make a fetish of looking to the east (as in back across the Atlantic) to a creole dawn.

About 60 years before Betty Davis invited us to meet her at these crossroads to witness her conjure a Black Madonna, Jessie Fauset, who's now a sister of Maman Brigitte, invited us to pray to another angel, Sojourner Truth:

Symbolic mother, we thy myriad sons,
Pounding our stubborn heart on Freedom's bars,
Clutching our birthright, fight with faces set
Still visioning the stars.

This is Betty's tradition. This is our tradition and we're happy to join her there. So high you can't get over it. So low you can't get under it. It goes on and on and on and on. To the break of dawn.

* We got nothing bad to say about these followers of Madonna. They are well-educated and offer a theory of action. There's just so much more things to say.

, etc.

, etc.


Working Through: P R O S P E C T

Now that we are moving our quicker thoughts, glimpses and lissening notes over to the red light, the blue light becomes the place for our longer thoughts only. The Body and Soul Project, still underway, is the best and maybe the only example of what we gonna be up to.

In upcoming weeks, we'll be working through extended exercises that we will call working through. The all about will remain the same, though. We're gonna make the fabric of what the AEC called ancient to future out of other peoples' threads.

Five starting points:
  • James Weldon Johnson, The Book of American Negro Poetry
  • Devilin.' This thinking was given to us by Allen Lowe, a heroic anthologist, who proves there is salvation at the crossroads between what we know and the new details we learn.
  • Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Links
  • Goodie Mob, Soul Food
  • OutKast, Aquemini
There's plenty of other threads, and we expect to work them in as we go. The last three are, obviously, an indulgence in the love massive we have for a body of hiphop that takes its place in a history it enacts.

In the mean time, we'll keep elaborating on the threads we're already playing out:
  • Life and Times of Marvin Gaye (what ever happened to that one, anyway).
  • Body and Soul
  • Versionology. The psuedoscience that the old world likes to label variation on a theme (to be confused w/ fugues and fugue states, conditions it treats with escalating gravity, hoping to cure it w/ copyright and other controls.).