Obsessions: John Handy – celebrating a versatile sound

Obsessions may only be another word for looking at something in depth. It is also the name of our new column. The idea is to focus on an artist or theme that is still significant but not much dwelt upon these days outside the world of collectors …

Published: 3 Jan 2022. Updated: 25 days.

Obsessions may only be another word for looking at something in depth. It is also the name of our new column. The idea is to focus on an artist or theme that is still significant but not much dwelt upon these days outside the world of collectors and the deeply entrenched anorak tendency. To begin with we are looking at the work of John Handy.

The way in was recently listening by chance to Projections although originally our interest was piqued digging the earlier Recorded Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival as the initial spark when first discovering Handy in the 1990s (being a babe in arms in the 60s when the saxist was in his peak certainly a case of being born too late). First things first. Play the Spotify playlist as you read and you can journey through Handy as you scroll down.

Handy, 88, has lived on the West Coast of the USA since the 1960s. In his early career he was well known for his close playing association with Charles Mingus.

Handy made jazz history with Mingus playing a tenor solo characterised by a flutter tongue tremolo on Lester Young homage 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat' that rang out on Mingus 1959 classic Ah Um. The Dallas-born Handy's musical ears encompassed flamenco inspirations on his famous and Grammy nominated Monterey jazz festival 1966 album. And he could go funky and swing just as easily also experimenting with Eastern styles on such records as 1976's Karuna Supreme that saw Handy collaborating with sarod master Ali Akbar Khan and the iconic tabla master Zakir Hussain. Embracing commercial music on the toe-tapping Hard Work is just one more glimpse at an intriguing musical personality whose records remain as compelling as ever. Become obsessed with his sound today. That would make perfect sense.

John Handy photo: Frank Stewart

Tags: Playlists

Samo Šalamon, Dolphyology: Complete Eric Dolphy for Solo Guitar, Samo records ****

What Miles Okazaki did with the music of Thelonious Monk on Work fortysomething Slovenian guitarist Samo Šalamon known for his work with Tony Malaby and Julian Argüelles among others now does with the great wealth of inspiration to be found in the …

Published: 3 Jan 2022. Updated: 25 days.

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What Miles Okazaki did with the music of Thelonious Monk on Work fortysomething Slovenian guitarist Samo Šalamon known for his work with Tony Malaby and Julian Argüelles among others now does with the great wealth of inspiration to be found in the music of Eric Dolphy (1928-64). Solo 6 and 12-string acoustic guitar and mandolin are Šalamon's instruments of choice and he shows huge insight and skill in developing these new arrangements recording them simply at home last spring.

There is a serenity here and a still clearness for example on 'The Prophet' that becomes a very different listen to, say, the Five Spot live version. The space and clarity Šalamon introduces may be a jazz 101 to some craving maximalist group-play. But for others it is an intimate view, an additional layer of expression, into the masterful Dolphy universe. Šalamon says approaching the idea: ''I told myself I should not be afraid to play single lines or be burdened by the great solo guitar musical heritage, which I immensely respect.''

Dolphyology is enjoyable from beginning to end especially on crossing the threshold into less familiar material from the Dolphy canon such as 'In the Blues,' one of the gems here. A gargantuan effort (there are some 28 tracks) that says a lot about Šalamon's discipline and musical scholarship. A lot of passion comes through in the guitarist's playing and on the classic 'Out to Lunch' he also adds something new however paradoxically rooted in history because you are somehow down the rabbit hole and have dropped into a Renaissance world – time travelling. In that process Dolphy's music gains a different, inspiring, kind of gravitas. The cascading cycles Šalamon layers one on top of another on 'Red Planet' is another high water mark and sometimes the mind wanders even towards a Bill Frisell approach in this regard.

So, an absolute must for Dolphy fans the effect attained as if Šalamon took the whole sound apart not only to put it back together again but so we can hear the essence of each piece with new ears, hearts and minds as if for the very first time and yet with a welcome hint of déjà vu lolling about tantalisingly as a flavour. Find the album, officially released next week, on Bandcamp