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My List: Ten Numbers Ranked by Liam Noble

"These are not my favourite tunes, but they are my favourite tunes that can be made into a list. There’s so much music you have to narrow it down or you go mad."

1. Miles Davis - "Little One” (H.Hancock) from “E.S.P”

"Jazz always gets stick from people who don’t find it very emotional, its “coolness” works against it sometimes. But jazz has invented a whole series of emotional moods for me, and this is one: the “abstract” ballad. If you don’t like too much sugar in your tea, this is a classic of poised melancholy, shifts of colour and flashes of melody, hints at feeling rather than lays it all out. Miles would have struggled with social media, but doubtless would have been in on it."

2. Fats Waller - "Two Sleepy People" (H.Carmichael)

"You can hear how Fats Waller is a bit uncomfortable with the tenderness of this lyric, so he makes it, as he often did, humorous. But in a way he’s deadly serious, precise in his rendition of the melody whilst making it seem like he’s drunk. OK he probably was drunk. If I could do what he did I would, and would never go out. It’s just flat out joyful and hilarious music, made durable by the fact that no one, musically and pianistically, could touch him. Well maybe Tatum, but he doesn’t have that edge for me, he’s too good…"

3. Roland Kirk - "Three For The Festival" (R.Kirk) from “We Free Kings”

“There’s a live version of this too, which is even more unhinged, but the one from “We Free Kings” is my favourite. Kirk just explodes on this tune, on three horns at once, and just before he does, Persip does this incredible fill like he warns us what’s coming. I was 16 and never heard Roland Kirk before, the noise of surprise was real. It’s a horn section like no other, his tone is shot through with pain and energy and a kind of urgent vibrato. And then there’s the flute solo, funky as hell, which he finishes by blowing a siren as if to say, OK that’s it I’ve finished, like a toddler after his first dump on a potty. In the context of a relatively orthodox jazz record, he already was busting out of it here, like it couldn’t contain him."

4. Sonny Rollins - "Four" (M.Davis) from “Rollins In Holland” (*sound clip starts at 12:28)

"I only just got this album, and it made me feel like listening to jazz again after a brief hiatus. There’s such a ferocious, trance-like quality to Rollins in this period, it’s a kind of madness channelled into the creation of something more healthy. I’ve always aimed for that. The notes kind of fade away, and the pure intention and the time remains. (Harmony seems to me merely part of the preparation needed to reach this level of insanity). By the time they get to the end of it, it’s clear no one knows how to stop, and as a result lots of other little mini-endings open out into whole new pieces. How nice it must have felt, not to know."

5. Paul Motian - "Five" (B.Evans) from “Paul Motian Plays Bill Evans”

"This is how you do a tribute record! The five over four trickiness of the original 1957 Bill Evans version, which Motian also plays on, is here replaced by the sense of a melody simply dropped into a landscape like a sculpture. It sounds like rocks in a Japanese garden, and Frisell and Lovano just wind and scratch around it like two different species of animal that somehow have come to get on by sharing a cage. Except the cage is the liberation. It’s not a cage really, but a bad metaphor! Anyway, Motian is on both these records, that needs some thinking about…to have been part of that amazing trio sound and then to commemorate it with a completely new angle, that’s something."

6. Gillian Welch - "Six White Horses" (G.Welch) from “The Harrow And The Harvest”

"Part of my ongoing fantasy about playing guitar. The feel of this song is amazing, especially since there’s hardly anything to it so you just hear groove and sound. It’s like watching a clockwork toy go round and round, but one that never runs out (sorry, another bad metaphor). The blend of the voices sits right in the middle of everything, and I feel it’s like a really comfy bed you lie down on and can’t get off of. It’s a shame when it stops because it needn’t, it could just chug on forever, the tiny movements in that solid beat making everything in life better."

7. "Prince - "7" (P. Rogers Nelson) from “The Symbol Album”

"OK, so I admit this isn’t my favourite Prince song BUT…it is my favourite Prince album, and this part of the journey is pretty amazing, coming as it does after the extended mini-musical that is “Three Chains Of Gold”. This album is completely bat shit crazy, some kind of interwoven narrative featuring Kirstie Alley’s voice on an answerphone between a sprawling mix of rock, funk, musical and hippy happiness. And it’s all so beautifully done, played, put together. This song is like a proper “flowers-in-the-hair-guitar-strum” type of song but, like everything Prince does, it has this real funk rhythm section beneath it which transforms the cliché into something else. It’s also a bit tongue-in-cheek (earlier in the album, “My Name Is Prince” sees him at the top of his strutting, but it’s so perfect musically you have to give it up to him). Tongue in cheek that still sounds great is hard to do. He’s a full-on genius."

8. Wayne Horowitz - "Dinner At Eight" (W.Horvitz) from “This New Generation”

"Wayne Horvitz is not very well known and he writes extraordinarily original music. This is great if you are looking for someone to copy, and I stole a lot of his ideas a few years ago and still sometimes do. Here, he epitomises the 80s FM synth sound, leaving those metallic sounds pretty naked in some characteristically crunchy clashes of harmony. He sits between jazz, free improv, country and rock…in the eighties he was part of that scene with Bill Frisell, Joey Baron and others that mixed everything up while elsewhere jazz was being narrowly defined and regulated. This music has its own atmosphere, its own feeling, like Monk does, and you love it or hate it."

9. Robin Holcomb - "Nine Lives" (R.Holcomb) from “Robin Holcomb”

"Wayne Horvitz is married to Robin Holcomb, a songwriter and composer who has, in her relatively sparse output, completely redefined songwriting for me. It’s like Bartok and Willie Nelson mixed with a bit of Twin Peaks dreaminess, all held together by her extraordinary voice. The way she moves notes around is constantly fresh, well thought out, subtle…wherever you look, there is needless attention to detail, detail she could have just left as “what you thought that note would be” but chooses to make better because that’s what we should all aspire to do. Her songs can be incredibly moving in their simplicity, but there’s always some low level crunching going on under the lyricism. Frisell and Horvitz play some incredible stuff on this record too."

10. Blonde Redhead - "10 Feet High” (Blonde Redhead) from “la Mia Via Volenta”

"OK, I got to number ten and I couldn’t find anything so I put this in. Lists are hard, I discovered this doing my solo gigs on themes from home. You always get to the end and there’s not quite enough. This song is new to me, but the band aren’t. Blonde Redhead came to my attention through listening to Arto Lindsay, who got them to write some music for him. These early albums sound like Chopin played by a bunch of kids in a garage, and as they progress the sound gets more sophisticated, produced, but the song writing is always great. Finding people who can make chords and melodies move in surprising ways is getting harder and harder, because there are other things that get people’s attention."


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