From a twitter by Thrill Jockey, I found out about this article at the New York Edition of Time Out where John McEntire, Jeff Parker and Doug McCombs of Tortoise provide a playlist of their all-time favorite instrumental tracks. The five tracks picked as you might expect provide a peek into the influences of the band. While it’s cool that Time Out collected these tracks and provide a streaming player for us to sample the tracks, it doesn’t explain who the artists are or maybe the significance of the tracks.
1. Sonny Sharrock – “Who Does She Hope to Be” from 1991’s Ask The Ages album on Axiom Records. This was picked by McEntire, and I’d never heard of Sharrock before this. The track ends up being a mini-class on post-bop jazz. The beautiful and meloncholy track is a short and sweet track featuring the guitar work of Sharrock, which at times sounds a lot like Santana. We also get some amazing horn work from Pharoah Sanders whom Sonny worked with early in his career. Charnett Moffett provides some beautiful double bass as well. Also in the combo is noted Coltrane sideman drummer Elvin Jones. The song at 4:42 is the most direct and concise track on the album, and frankly one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs I’ve heard. Sharrock died in 1994 at a young 53 years old, but established himself as an influential guitarist in the free jazz space. As a side note, Sharrock was the composer for the Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast TV show. I keep playing this song over-and-over. Amazing song.
2. Latin Playboys – “Viva la Raza” from 1994’s self-titled release on Slash/Warner. Chosen by McCombs, this is the opening track from the Los Lobos side-project Latin Playboys. An interesting choice. Latin Playboys is made up of Los Lobos members David Hidalgo and Louis Perez along with noted producer and engineer combo Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake. Froom and Blake are responsible for a bunch of amazing albums over the years, but in the context of the Latin Playboys, they produced the “experimental trilogy” of Los Lobos albums Kiko (1992), Colossal Head (1998) and This Time (1999). So, it isn’t surprising that during this very fruitful period in the band’s history that Latin Playboys– itself a bit experimental– would form. The second and last Latin Playboys release Dose was released in 1999– also during this period. In my opinon if you listen to the Latin Playboys along with the trilogy, it doesn’t sound like anything other than part of the Los Lobos catalog. According to the Wikipedia article on Latin Playboys, Hidalgo brought some demos he recorded at home to Froom who suggested that they be used in a new band rather than their intended recipient Los Lobos.
3. Art Ensemble of Chicago – “Rock Out” from the 1969 album Message To Our Folks. Chosen by Jeff Parker. Not really very surprising, since he spends nearly all of his non-Tortoise time gigging constantly in jazz combos. I suspect that he is very influenced by the long-standing tradition that the Art Ensemble has become in its 42-year existence in all of its variations. Early pioneers in the avante-garde jazz arena. This band’s history alone could keep me tied up for weeks digging into their catalog.
4. Link Wray – “Rumble” – Chosen by Doug McCombs, Link Wray and the Ray Men’s 1958 hit “Rumble” originally on the Cadence label is the precursor to a number of music genres– surf, punk, metal. According to the allmusic article on Link Wray, he single-handedly invented the power chord. “Rumble” continues to be a familar tune as it was used pretty prominently in Pulp Fiction. Paved the way for every instrumental band since, and I guess that would include Tortoise!
5. Ennio Morricone – “A Fist Full of Dollars” Morricone more than anyone else I think influenced the Tortoise sound the most. Even on the upcoming Beacons of Ancestorship, there is a track called “The Fall of Seven Diamonds Plus One” with its arpeggiated guitar (likely the Bass VI played by Doug who picked this song) as well as the bag full of metal percussion is certainly recalls a spaghetti western soundtrack. Instead of trying to hire Morricone to score his upcoming movie Inglorious Basterds maybe Tarantino should have called up Tortoise.
An entertaining mix– I just wish it had more songs on it. A comment I made on the article with the mix was that I was surprised that Doug hadn’t picked “The Lonely Surfer” by Jack Nitzsche. When I saw Tortoise in Madison last year I had a chance to talk to Doug about his favorite topic, the Fender Bass VI. He told me the greatest example of a Bass VI song was “The Lonely Surfer,” and that he’d tried to convince Tortoise to cover this song.
Click Here to visit the Time Out New York Exclusive Playlist from Tortoise. Update: The player doesn’t work anymore, sadly, so I’ve updated the above list to include YouTube Links.