Maybe you’ve heard about it. Maybe you live in the Northeast, and you don’t need to be told about it. The heat and humidity here have been unusually oppressive in the last week. It’s not Costa Rica, it’s not Vietnam. It’s not Syria or Morocco. I don’t mean to overstate the point. But by Vermont standards, we’re seriously in the soup.
Favoring the cooler temps on the main floor of the house, I’ve been sleeping on the sofa for most of the last week over the comparatively extreme heat of the bedroom on the second floor. It’s around a seven degree difference from the 80 degrees F. of the main (sofa) floor to the 87 or so degrees of the second (bed) floor (with similar humidity percentages each night), and that makes all the difference between a night of sticky sleeplessness and a moderately more comfortable one.
This information is relevant only in understanding where I’ve been coming from the last several days: a sleep deprived, somewhat summer blues kind of place. Happens every year. This just isn’t my season. When I can’t sleep lately I’ve been reading Adam Foulds’ novel The Quickening Maze, about the real-life poets John Clare and Alfred Lord Tennyson and Matthew Allen, the founder of the High Beach Private Asylum in Essex, England, where both Clare and Tennyson’s brother Septimus were residents. The novel’s timeshifting part-fiction, part-reality world has been good companionship for this week’s disorienting half-awake, not-quite-sleeping zone of late night reading.
I’ve also been spending a lot of time these last few days with Crescent, the new 2-CD album from Mike Mainieri. His vibes are complemented by alto sax man Charlie Mariano, and double bassist Dieter Ild. Crescent isn’t officially available yet, it has a July 17th release date – a week from today. I wanted to mention it today so you have a chance to pre-order it and make sure it’s in your hands at the very earliest opportunity. You’ll be glad you made the effort.
Mike Mainieri conceived of Crescent as a tribute to John Coltrane. It features originals like Naima, Giant Steps, and the title track, along with some of the standards Trane adopted into his regular rep: Cole Porter’s I Love You, Bye Bye Blackbird, and Body and Soul. But the recording also serves to honor album mate Charlie Mariano, Mainieri’s longtime friend but only recent music collaborator. Mariano passed away on June 16th last year, and this is his very last recording session. The vibes/sax/double bass trio is completed by Germany’s Dieter Ilg. It’s outstanding.
The playful vibe/sax interplay for the few first bars of Bye Bye Blackbird are nothing if not pure friendship, realized in music. Ilg’s groovy bass provides an unexpectedly fresh opening for Giant Steps, and the dark, quiet bowed bass/vibes intro to Mr. Syms opens the moody portal for Mariano’s soulful sax to slide in a few bars later. And don’t overlook Jimmy Van Heusen’s languid ballad Nancy (With the Laughing Face), a tender little thing with Mariano’s sweetly crafted phrasing.
I never realized it before, but Crescent has opened my ears to the real affinity between the natural reverberant overtones of the vibes and the shifting, fluid harmonies that characterize many of Coltrane’s original compositions, like Wise One and Ole. On these and the other standards, Mariano’s sax is biting and driving where it needs to be, while also offering a grace and lyricality that befits a tribute to the legendary sensitivity and complexity of the older master’s style. Bassist Dieter Ilg’s tasteful bass lines support the whole effort, completing the trio with a solid contribution to the musical conversation.
If the summer weather must make for nocturnal restlessness, then surely the reward is the extra time that sleeplessness affords with a good book like The Quickening Maze and a gorgeous album like Crescent.
How are you spending the time you’re not sleeping during the long, hot nights?