Odean Pope; “The Incredible” Jimmy Smith…
I know it's considered weak and uncomfortably declasse to fret and sweat about the Y2K thing, but I am. A little background. I live in the Northwest, which, along with Silicon Valley, is the freakin' epicenter of modern-day geekdom. Lemme tell ya right now, in the kingdom of the Code, Y2K is bigger than Star Wars, Star Trek and the last 50 dot-com IPOs all rolled into one. The freaks, geeks and ponytails are absolutely vibrating with oddly creepy anticipation. To make matters worse, I happened to spend a few years in -- of all places -- Idaho. Don't get me wrong. I love the place. There are few graphies more awe-inspiring than the great state of Eye-dee-ho. But -- and this is difficult to admit -- you pick up a few "habits."
One of those habits is an appreciation for paranoia-induced conspiracy theories (the more fantastic the better). The upshot is, as far as Y2K is concerned, I'm into it. Okay, not that into it, but just to scratch my paranoid itch, I'll grab a couple gallons of water, a few batteries and crateloads of CDs and wine. Priorities, right? Ah, but what to bring? Here's the in/out for my comfy bunker.
In: complete Coltrane, Ellington, Monk and Mingus library; every bottle of Ridge and A. Rafanelli I own; as much New Zealand sav blanc as I can loot; a couple Dirty Three CDs; one Metallica album (probably Ride the Lightning or Kill 'em All); a couple bottles of Marimar Torres chard; a keg of either Maritime or Leavenworth micro; five gallons of H2O; Never Mind the Bullocks, Here's the Sex Pistols; a fly rod; Detroit Red Wings jersey; a case of cat food (for Sam--or, if things get rough...you know...); ammo; sleeping bag; batteries; stove; fuel; porn; and, of course, TP.
Out: Budweiser; unsweetened Kool-Aid; cell phone/pager; People magazine; TV; razors; and checkbook. That sounds like a fairly complete list. However, we can't live in anticipation of what might happen. We gotta live "in the moment." We're compelled to, you know, carpe diem and stuff. That means trying to improve yourself every day, learning new things, digging new experiences.
I've never claimed to be a wine expert, but I try to learn a little something every now and again. However, what I don't know about Italian wine could fill a book. Sure, I know enough to either fake some knowledge or -- in the presence of real know-it-alls -- just keep my yap shut. Rule number one: Italian red is, generally speaking, not a sippin' wine. You gotta have some grub to soften the mouth punch that the Eye-talians pack. Yeah, I'm hip to Cali sangiovese, and I dig its new gentle fruitiness. But when it comes to gen-u-wine Eyetalian reds, gimme some sausage, some pizza pie, some lasagna, then let's see what the juice has got. With Italian food, you need a wine with enough depth and grit to take a stand. If you've got a wine without the gumption, fuhgedaboutit.
My pie? Pepperoni, onion, 'shrooms and hot peppers (sausage optional). That's a BIG pie. Whaddaya gonna do to match that? The Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici 1994 is an Italian red that's robust enough to stand up against flood, earthquakes, Y2K and an insanely spicy pizza pie. While it may be too burly to get any bearing on when sipped alone; with the aforementioned slice, it rings with a singular cherry candy/oak vibe that's deliciously simple to wrap one's lips around. The transformation that this wine undergoes when it's guzzled with Italy's finest grub is nothing short of incredible. Needless to say, this wine is delicious. And even if you can't understand a word on the label, it'll speak to you with a strong, sure voice.
Speaking of fine Italians, jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco and a couple of his paisans (Frank Vignola on guitar and Joe Ascione on drums) have just issued Goodfellas, an album featuring the boys working out the songs from the long and rich Italian jazz tradition Huh? What Italian jazz tradition? Ain't ya never heard of Frank Sinatra? Louis Prima? Fahgettaboutit! Anyway, on Goodfellas, the boys rip through numbers like Volare, Fly Me to the Moon and even the theme from The Godfather. There are a couple of originals --Whack 'Em, Ya See What I'm Sayin'? and even a cover of Thelonious Monk's Evidence. Throughout, Goodfellas is spiced with humor, inventiveness and smokin' hot playing. With DeFrancesco grooving at the Hammond B3, the songs smoke like a big fat stogie. It's like pasghetti and meatballs, baby. And yeah, there's plenty left for a second helping. Dig in!
There's never been a Sex Wine & Rock and Roll column in which I've written about two Italian wines. Like I said, it just ain't my bag. But when you run across a couple of bottles of Moscato D'Asti that you've never tasted before, bingo bango bongo -- all of the sudden you're an Italian wine expert! I Vignaioli Di Santo Stefano comes in a post-mod, cone-shaped bottle that's pretty cool to look at. Unfortunately the bottle only holds 375 ml. Too bad, cause' this is some prime grape squeezings. Very light, very round and rolling in the honey flavors, the Stefano is, unlike some D'Asti, not very effervescent. That lack of bubbling bubbles limits the food pairing options but does set the Stefano up for an absolutely delish post-chow sip. The Rivetti La Spinetta Bricco Quaglia 1998, a full 750 ml thank you very much, has a little better grip on its fizz. But this Moscato is also relatively light on the bubbles. Again, not a problem. The La Spinetta is markedly crisp and bright, with snappy sweetness and bursting taste of tangerine and other citrus fruits.
The Promise Ring
You wanna talk "effervescent?" In for some perky, fresh, snappy guitar pop? The Promise Ring is all that and a glass of Moscato D'Asti. A young, spry buncha punky heart-on-sleeve types, their new album, Very Emergency, is instantly likable. The Promise Ring's tunes are crunchy, three-minute jolts of lovable, tail-wagging, feel-good joy. Singing clever and disarmingly simple tunes about falling in love, watching time pass and just how they feel about it all, the Promise Ring is the sort of band that makes you grateful that some bands still write hummable, sing-along tunes that make the whole world smile. Happy happy, joy joy!
Let's just say I do write about (an unprecedented) three Italian wines in one column. Will I be able to claim honorary Italian citizenship? Doubtful. But maybe there's some sweet ol' Italian grandma out there who, sensing my growing appreciation for all things Italy, will adopt me. She'll cook me lasagna, cannoli, sausage and peppers. Okay, on that hope alone, I'll do it. I'll write about this bottle of Bolla Soave 1998. The wine bibles will tell you that Soave is dry and smooth, all about subtlety. A little fruit, a little acid, but not too much of this, not too much of that. Fine. Soave certainly won't replace my New Zealand sav blanc stash. But variety is the spice of la vida loca, no? Anyway, the Bolla is subtle. So subtle you may need to drink half a glass to taste it. That's not necessarily a horrible thing because the flavors the Bolla does show are interesting. After the bottle breathes a bit, you'll notice ripe peach (yeah, peach!) notes cut with a steely citrus zip. These tastes don't clash as much as you might think. Instead of duking it out, these flavors tip-toe around each other and then sneak off before the fists fly. Remember, this is a subtle drinking experience. If you don't expect fireworks, you may dig this bottle. Better as it warms slightly in the glass, try it with shrimp scampi or a poached halibut thingy.
It's generally a mistake to consider a jazz trio a stripped down -- austere -- sound unit. Without a horn hogging all the notes, a piano trio allows the keyboardist to light the keys on fire, to really show his stuff. Likewise, in a sax trio, a horn player has plenty of opportunity to hail the great spirit without having to make room for a piano. And when a jazz trio is smokin', it's both a showcase for the virtuoso and a vehicle capable of impressive forward motion. Saxist Odean Pope blew the sax for the great Max Roach for years. His new trio LP, EBIOTO (Everybody Is On Their Own), is one of those special jazz trio albums. Propelled by a hard charging rhythm section, Pope works with power and feeling, able to infuse his notes with a tender toughness that, while reminiscent of John Coltrane, is not dominated by his legacy. If you dig soulful sax striding along and athletic drum and bass, you won't do better
Sometimes it's love at first sip. Straight out of the bottle, a mere five to 10 seconds after the cork is popped, the wine hits the tongue and you know this is the one. The Mirassou Monterey County Limited Bottling Pinot Blanc is one of those special wines. You don't pour this wine, you allow it to flow. You give it space, you allow it to swirl in the glass, to cascade down the gullet and splash in a gentle cascade upon the liver. Rich, assertive and emitting a huge cinnamon vibe, you'll also have to contend with vanilla, butterscotch and just a touch of what? Coconut? Melon? Whatever it is they're puttin' in there, you'll love it. It's delish. Okay, I do have a quibble -- the finish is a bit too heavy on the alcohol taste. Other than that, this one's a no-brainer.
Wayne "The Train" Hancock
Wild, Free and Reckless
The first time I ever heard Wayne "The Train" Hancock, it was love. After all, the guy plays both kinds of music -- country and western. If anything, Hancock's a throwback to the days when Nashville actually mattered. Channeling the soul of Hank Williams (Senior), Hancock's music is gorgeously unrefined, deliciously simple and simply infectious. His new album, Wild, Free and Reckless, is a rollicking tour (via pickup, of course) of juke joints, honky-tonks, cow towns and dusty roads. Behind Hancock's slap bass, slide guitar and yodel-rific vocals burns the memory of that special moment in American history when country, rockabilly, swing and the blues were converging to form what became rock and roll. Sure, Wayne the Train is old-fashioned and certainly out of style, but his energy, his spirit and his intensity make him more important, more vital, more real than anything you're likely to hear on an alleged "modern rock" radio station. Truth.
| "The Incredible" Jimmy Smith|
Groovin' at Small's Paradise
It's amazing what weird little things will attract you to a wine. For instance, the actual bottle of Windsor Private Reserve 1997 Zinfandel is, frankly, kinda boring. It's, uh, beige. The lettering is gold foil. The font is crummy, and of course there's a charming drawing of what is, presumably, the vineyard. Yawn. Being the careful reader, however, I looked closer. There, in smaller letters it said "Old Vines." My taste buds became erect. And then, right after "Old Vines" came the phrase "Wild Thing." No explanation. And appearing on such a nondescript label, this non sequitur proved too dang intriguing, too teasing to pass up. Fortunately, the juice inside justifies the label's shameless ploy to snare the easily distracted. The Wild Thing is a lean, light-bodied, straightforward zin. With a delicate nose of vanilla and pipe tobacco, the Windsor spills into the glass with a soft cranberry color. Once on the tongue, this wine is a cherry bomb. There are also hints of tobacco, cranberry, leather and oak. And while that sounds like a lot to pack into a mouth cavity, the Wild Thing is not a "huge" old vine zin. You won't find scads of tannin here. But that won't diminish the flavors, which ring with an uncanny clarity. It's an interesting tack for a zin to take, maybe not a wild tack, but what the hell, it's good stuff.
Like Joey DeFrancesco (mentioned above) and, oddly, most of jazz's great organists, "The Incredible" Jimmy Smith came out of Philly. In the late '50s and early '60s, however, making a living as a jazzman in Philly was pretty tough. So, like generations before and after him, Mr. Smith went to New York City. On a bone-chilling November night in 1957, Blue Note's Rudy Van Gelder set up his tape machine in a tiny Harlem club called Small's Paradise. The music he captured that evening was to become "Groovin' at Small's Paradise," an ineffably boss two-CD set just remastered and reissued on Blue Note. "The Incredible" Jimmy Smith picked up his nickname for many reasons, chief among them being his ability to burrow into the dopest grooves, swing the sweetest melodies, work the blues, and innovate behind the big and wheezy Hammond B3. Groovin' at Small's demonstrates, with stunning clarity, all of these attributes. Smith is simply on fire, and his band Ð Eddie McFaden on guitar and Donald Bailey on drums -- does yeoman work just to keep up. How great was Smith's range? Early in the set, he waltzes through two romantic standards, "My Funny Valentine" and "It's Only a Paper Moon." A few tunes later, Smith begins to feel the funk. A 15-minute version of "Indiana" leads into "Slightly Monkish," his out-there tribute to the great Thelonious Monk. Simply put, this magnificent recording still sounds as fresh and fiery as it did that chilly night more than four decades ago.
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