Rabbit & Deacon, Jazz Healers

As listeners, we all know what the different musical instruments sound like....or at least we like to think so. Every once in a while though, a player will escape the tonal boundaries of his horn, making it sound like another one, or even like something we've never heard before. For example, Lester Young's tenor saxophone, which seemed to come at the listener as a vapour through an invisible airshaft, sounding more like a French horn than a tenor. Fittingly, many of these sonic chameleons worked with Duke Ellington, who had an endless appetite for unique tone colours and knew how to use them. Like Rex Stewart, who, through an alchemy known only to him involving his valves, lip and diaphragm, could make his cornet sound like a neighing horse, a nagging woman or a severely troubled colon, among other things. Or reed master Otto "Toby" Hardwicke, whose wispy upper register on alto sounded uncannily like a violin. Ben Webster could achieve similar bowed-string effects, in quieter moments making his tenor sound like a viola or cello. Recently I heard another Ellingtonian turn this trick in arresting fashion, made all the more stunning by the fact that I already knew it was trombonist Lawrence Brown (nicknamed  "Deacon" for his dignified, sober mien), as I'd heard this particular small-group date with Johnny Hodges several times before. What's actually on a record can't change - by definition it's fixed - but how we hear the music can change, circumstances can make us more more [...]

Bird Math

It seems that everything that was supposed to go right for the Blue Jays last year, but didn't  - a deep, potent batting lineup, good defense, a strong starting rotation, a weakened A.L. East ripe for the taking - has come together this year, as though it just took a year for everything to settle. Jays' management could have been forgiven for simply backing up the truck after last year's Murphy's Law-disaster and getting rid of almost everybody, but took a more measured approach, shedding obvious deadwood - Bonifacio, Josh Johnson, Arencibia - while keeping most everybody else, reasoning that this team wasn't just built for one season. At this point last year, I was asking myself if they were just a bad ball club, or a good team playing badly, and at what point did one decide which? Their recent hot stretch and startling zoom into first place has a lot of us reciting the cautionary mantra of "It's still early, it's still early", while wondering if these guys are really this good, still understandably a little gun-shy after last year's dance of death. After their win against the Tigers Wednesday night, the Jays' record stood at 36-24 after 60 games, a conveniently math-friendly and tidy winning-percentage of .600. It's maybe a little early to project ahead this far, but the Jays will likely need to win about 96 games to either take the division or a wild card spot. This means they need to win 60 of their remaining 102 games, a clip of .600 - in other words, they need more [...]