This week I published my annual gift guide—an eclectic selection of box sets
designed to appeal to the most finicky of listeners. I always have to leave a few worthy gifts out, so I've decided to address a few of them in a handful of blog posts—beginning with this one and continuing with a couple more next week. Today I want to mention two stunning 2017 photo books focusing on music.
The blandly titled Jazz Images
—published by Spanish record label Elemental Music—collects more than 150 images shot by French photographer Jean-Pierre Leloir from the 1950s till the '70s in his homeland. Many of the photos are instantly recognizable—such as the iconic shot of bassist Charles Mingus used on the cover of his live album The Great Concert—
even though I can't quite remember where I've seen some of them. Leloir developed a genuine rapport with his subjects, and his live shots and candid photos make it clear how much he loved the music. The intimacy he developed with the jazz scene comes through in a 1958 image taken in the Paris home of Quincy Jones, who wrote the book's introduction: Jones sits on the floor with singer Sarah Vaughan, listening to music on a reel-to-reel machine. Many shots capture musicians in smoky nightclubs, either performing or in repose—the portrait of a pensive Miles Davis below is from 1956.
Miles Davis, 1956
The book is packed with high-quality prints of jazz greats, including Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Lester Young, and Sonny Rollins. It also includes poignant testimonials about Leloir from Jones and fellow musicians Michael Legrand and Martial Solal, but nothing illustrates Leloir's legacy better than the enduring power and beauty of his work. Below are a couple more images from the book.
Nina Simone, 1969
The Photographs of Charles Duvelle: Disques Ocora and Collection Prophet
Ornette Coleman, 1965
contains even more photos than the Leloir book—188 in black and white and 58 in color, not counting album art. This hefty tome, published by the indefatigable sonic explorers at Sublime Frequencies
, is dedicated to pioneering French ethnomusicologist Charles Duvelle, who died on Wednesday at age 80
. His fieldwork in Africa resulted in releases on the Ocora label in the 60s and 70s that set the standard for ethnographic recordings. (Sublime Frequencies has regularly cited Ocora as one of its key inspirations.)
The bulk of the book features photographs Duvelle took during his sojourns across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. He not only shot musicians performing for his portable tape machine but also the locals taking in the performances, relaxing, and dancing—he was excellent at avoiding posed portraits. Those images would end up accompanying the crucial albums he produced for Ocora—some of the rawest, most thrilling, and most spiritual recordings of traditional music ever made. As thoroughly researched and academically rigorous as the liner notes for these albums were, Duvelle's photos elevated the packaging into the transcendental.
courtesy of Sublime Frequencies
The book also features a lengthy, fascinating interview with Duvelle conducted by Sublime Frequencies cofounder Hisham Mayet. It follows his career from its almost accidental beginnings, when he started making field recordings for musique concrete pioneer Pierre Schaeffer, who basically launched the Ocora label. The appendix contains a colorful discography of the albums Duvelle produced for Ocora, along with a reproduction of a paper that he wrote for a 1970 UNESCO conference in Cameroon called Musical Traditions in Africa. Two gripping CDs come with the book, the first of music from all around Africa, the second of music from India and Laos. Below you can check out an astonishing dhrupad performance by Madurai Ramaswamy Gautam, which Duvelle recorded in Paris in 1972 (everything else on these discs was recorded in the field).
Doulo Soumahilou and Ibrahima Douma, Niger, 1961
Jean-Luc Cappozzo, Douglas R. Ewart, Joëlle Leandre, Bernard Santacruz, and Michael Zerang, Sonic Communion
(The Bridge Sessions)
Ka Baird, Sapropelic Pycnic
Ikue Mori & Maja S.K. Ratkje, Scrumptious Sabotage
Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton, Live at Maya Recordings Festival
Heliocentrics, A World of Masks