Painted a From Memory
Poetry is cool, but lyrics can be divine. This is an example of such. The words evoke a longing for something that was and now won’t ever be, and worse than that she smiles for someone else. Nuclear fallout. The words standing alone are beautiful, but coupled with the unhurried melody and arrangement it is divine.
This ballad is an exquisite and unlikely collaboration between pop songwriter Burt Bacharach and super punk Elvis Costello. I first heard a Elvis sing it on the album by the same name. There is no clear indication of who did what as in a Rodgers and Hammerstein song, though the melody is probably mostly Bacharach’s and the lyric mostly Costello’s.
The mind does tricks and time fades our memory. The premise of the song is an artist staring at a portrait of a once beloved and musing on how accurate it might be. “Those eyes I tried to capture, they are lost to me now forever, they smile for someone …else”.
I love Elvis’ original as well as an exquisite “cover” by Cassandra Wilson and Bill Frisell which is worth seeking out. I transcribed the second version so I can play it and Bill’s chords sit easier on the guitar. What a difference a semi-tone makes (from Db to C). Cassandra personalized it from she to he to reflect her gender and Bill’s playing is gorgeous. His use of space and sustain and his pedal modified tone support the tragedy of this little known gem. This live version of Elvis and Burt is also awesome.
Bill Evans was one of the greatest interpreters of a ballad ever. I have chosen this performance of “Sometime Ago” (a waltz by Sergio Mihanovich taken from an exquisite 1977 album “You Must Believe In Spring”) as much for the beautiful melody as for this fluid arrangement for trio. Bill plays solo for the first statement of the theme. He pushes and pulls the melody in and out of time until Eddie Gomez enters with beautiful harmonics which are the perfect counterpoint to Bill’s delicate exposition of the theme they continue to play with the time until Elliot Zigmund comes in on the drums and the improvising starts and the seamless interplay of a working trio at the top of their game. Even the bass solo is inventive and musical. I always enjoy the way Gomez’ bass is amplified as it makes his presence known as well as felt. His asides and commentary to Bill are to me as integral as anything else this song has to offer. The modal outro over the repeating two chord theme are reminiscent of Bill’s playing on Peace Piece.
First Song (for Ruth)
I have many different recordings of this song (written by the great American bassist Charlie Haden). I am fond of them all. I first heard it by Quartet West with Charlie Haden, I have heard it played by many others as well, Pat Metheny, David Sanborn, Jim Hall, Laurence Hobgood and Abbey Lincoln who wrote lyrics to it. The heaviest version by far is a duet with Kenny Barron on piano and Stan Getz on Tenor Sax.
Stan Getz was very ill. Three months away from succumbing to cancer and he had to take long breaks and I believe he may have even had to take oxygen between tunes. His playing is plaintive and his breath laboured, and he infuses every note of his performance with dignity and passion. Aside from it being a sort of swan song for Stan, he knew Ruth and Charlie personally. Ruth was married to Haden. Every note has a poignancy, a statement of desire for life and a reaffirmation of the beauty of music.
I transcribed this song about twenty years ago which has (as you can imagine from a bassist) a wonderful bass line. It is almost hymnal in it’s simplicity and yet the harmonies accompanying the bass line are gorgeous. It is no surprise that lyrical guitarists like Hall and Metheny loved it.