Vinyl&Wine 12: Joe Williams + Bedell Cellars Merlot

If there is only one skill, trait, or job that I wish I could have and be successful at, it would be jazz singer/ pianist. I am talking about the slow jazz and blues style of singer with a rich crooning style baritone voice. I’ve sat in jazz clubs and listened to all different kinds of acts perform. I didn’t have the discipline early on when I took piano lessons to stick with it. Instead, I chose the more glamorous instrument of the rock stars, guitar. I’ve been playing since I was an early teenager and I am pretty average to above average on the six-string.  As my metabolism has been slowing down and my ears tend to be a little more sensitive to volume, I am more at peace with classic jazz and blues, though a good rock show is great every now and then. Surprisingly a recent find at the record shop is a singer named Joe Williams.

I actually bought Joe Williams’s vinyl record, The Overwhelming Joe Williams, by accident. I am also a fan of delta blues guitarist and singer, Big Joe Williams, and probably by mistake by the shop staff, the vinyl I bought was stocked in the wrong spot. When I got home and began to spin the new vinyl like a kid and his new toys on Christmas, I was a little perplexed with Joe’s departure from his delta blues style and deep voice. With further investigation, it became clear that Joe Williams and Big Joe Williams were two totally different people. Luckily for me, both are completely amazing. To my surprise, Joe Williams is a singer, eight-time Grammy nominated and winner of a Grammy in 1984. He has been inducted into nearly every jazz or blues hall of fame out there, including the Grammy hall of fame. The Overwhelming Joe Williams is a collection of live recordings including songs from Ray Charles, D. Ellington, Stoller & Lieber, and originals. All of the songs are big band jazz arrangements with percussion, horns, strings, and woodwinds. Williams has a smooth baritone voice and feels like silk on skin. He has the unique skill to be gentle when with his vocals, but you can feel and hear the force pushing out his words from deep within. I liken Joe to a cross between Frank Sinatra and Cab Calloway, which is why I drink Merlot with this vinyl and daydream about having his vocal skills.

Merlot has had a bit of a tumultuous past in the wine world. It reigns king on the right bank of Bordeaux, but has fallen out of favor in the new world after becoming flabby and weak. The release of the movie Sideways was the finishing shot to the already fading grape. It isn’t until the last few years that new world merlots are becoming more austere and tight leaving the jammy flab behind. One of the unique attributes to merlot is the texture of its juice. It is hard to define the texture of a liquid, especially the differences between very similar ones like different kinds of wine. Merlot, by far, stands out in the crowd as having a silky smooth texture. Even as current releases have tight gripping tannins, the body texture is silky and round like Joe Williams voice. One of my favorite spots to find great merlot is on the Long Island in New York State. New York wine geeks and regional folks are well aware of the quality of wines that come out of the region, but the opposite coast and the rest of the world, not so much love. The north fork at the east end of the island has the most vines planted. Bedell Winery makes one of my favorites. Planted in the fantastic soils of the island, merlot seems to be a thriving grape of the region. Bedell has received great accolades and high ratings for their Merlot and it was even served at the Presidential Inauguration in 2009. I’ve traveled to the region and been to Bedell. They people are as wonderful as their wines. I recommend the trip.

If I were to put on Joe Williams vinyl, The Overwhelming Joe Williams, and blind pour you a glass of Bedell Cellars Merlot, you would think I just poured you a $50 bottle of high quality California or French wine, but the jokes on you, it is from long island. But who cares anyways, because the pairing is so much better. Do yourself a favor and find Joe Williams on vinyl, or just download it on Itunes, buy some Long Island merlot, preferably from Bedell, and have yourself a great night.

Joe Williams vinyl,  The Overwhelming Joe Williams , and Bedell Cellars Merlot

Joe Williams vinyl, The Overwhelming Joe Williams, and Bedell Cellars Merlot

Vinyl&Wine 8: Max Roach + Pirramimma Petit Verdot

My preferred music listening styles tend to fluctuate and move in waves. During the holidays, I lean heavily on jazz. There is just something about the feeling of jazz music, cold weather, wine, and holiday get-togethers. I have nothing against Christmas music, but when Baby its cold out is played four times inside of an hour, my brain wants to implode. When intermediate jazz fans think of the greats, people like Davis, Coltrane, Peterson, Dizzy, Monk, and Armstrong come to mind. There is one man that has played with them all and not your typical front man, drummer Max Roach.

I only own one Mac Roach vinyl, a Riverside Records release called Deeds, Not Words from 1958. Max had released dozens of records over his decades and appeared as a guest on dozens more.  With only one of his original songs on this vinyl, you would be shocked to learn he didn’t write them all. His style was unique. Roach is the only person I’ve ever heard that can make a drum set sit back and hold up the quintet, or seemingly take his rhythm and almost play them with a melody. Born in 1924, Roach was hailed as the “Pioneer of Bebop” music. Bebop is characterized by a fast tempo, improvisational expertise, and harmonic structure.  It is a style of music when played without a great drummer, is unpleasing to the ear. Roach was able to provide a backbone to the style of music he was best known for. When watching Roach play, you could note the limited movement and obvious lightness of his playing, but the beats that rumbled out were aggressive and persuasive. When I am at the crest of the music wave, I listen to jazz vinyl records, and Deeds, Not Words by Max Roach is always in the cue.

Being the winter time, red wine is usually what I am sipping. Maybe times I would have started with a glass of white, but red carries me through the evening. Roach’s bebop style takes hard tempo twists and turns. The horn improvisation almost sounds stressed and angry, but can soften to dramatic suspenseful melodies. It is a vinyl that can keep your blood racing and heart rate up, which just won’t do with light wines. I tend to open bottles on the heavier side of the red spectrum. It is rare I have a Petit Verdot in the cellar, but when I do, it makes a perfect pairing for this vinyl. Petit Verdot is best known for its added backbone in left bank Bordeaux wines. It is usually added in small amount upwards of 1-3% only. Petit Verdot has a big tannic structure and is a very dark color of plum or purple. In years when the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec aren’t quite balancing out the quintet of grapes, it is Petit Verdots time to shine in Bordeaux. It is a fairly difficult grape to grow and recently been falling out of favor in Bordeaux, but it has been on the rise in other countries around the world with soils it is better suited to. Australia, California, and Virginia have had great success with Petit Verdot. One of my personal favorites, and easier one to find, is Pirramimma Petit Verdot from McLaren Vale, Australia. It is inky black in color, rich, and ripe. I have always felt something special towards this bottle because it is a wine that has a mouth-feel like I have never tasted before.  When it coats the mouth, lingers all over, not just on my tongue and cheeks. I liken this wine to Max Roach because it plays such an important role with a group, but can stand alone as a front man on stage.  It is a hard working grape and rarely recognized. It is a perfect pairing with Max Roach. Unfortunately, Roach died in 2007, but he left us many recordings and Deeds, Not Words

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Vinyl&Wine 1: Miles Davis + Fox Run Pinot Noir

Friday is Wine and Vinyl day at my house. Sometimes it is just me enjoying the static buzz of needle to wax while making dinner, or with my wife, and sometimes my sisters swing over. I don’t know when it actually happened, but I believe it was around 2006 when I became enamored with vinyl records.  I had taking classes in school for sound engineering/ mixing and I began to understand what really went into taking the music from a musician to stereo speakers. Much like the journey of grape to glass is complicated, so is sound recording.  I couldn’t even begin to tell which is harder to do, because scientifically, they are both go far out of my wheel house, but creatively and artistically, they are awesome and something I understand.

It’s no secret vinyl records were the standard from the 1950s through the 1970s and into the ‘80s, but the invention of cassette tape and eventually compact disc, nearly sealed the fate of vinyl. But there was an interesting resurgence was on the horizon in the early years of the new millennium. As cassette tapes became extinct and file sharing on the internet exploded thanks to Napster, Vinyl records were starting to reappear, and not just old dusty pressings from the bellows of your grandparent’s basement. Current artists were releasing their new material on vinyl along with the standard discs and digital. Then, smaller record labels began to reissue back catalogs onto vinyl. Some albums were from bands now defunct. For me now, when I find new music, I always search for it on vinyl first before I just buy it digitally. I believe there is a warming element that goes along with playing a vinyl record. For starters, the music isn’t made from sharp angels and compressed sound waves into 1’s and 0’s. On wax, you can hear music the way it was truly recorded by the artist with the full sound waves, studio resonance and reverb, and other white noise. It is a richer, fuller feeling, and there is something to the little bit of static from the needle. It is like popping the cork on a bottle of wine instead of twisting a screw top. Sure a screw top is a far better enclose for the wine, but popping the cork evokes a romance.

The first vinyl record I ever owner is still my favorite album of all time and probably the greatest recording ever. It is Miles Davis – Kind of blue. It was recorded in 1959 with Evans, Adderley, Coltrane, Chambers and Cobb rounding out the sextet. They finished the album in two sessions. It was actually ranked #12 of 500 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of ‘Top 500 Greatest Album of all time.’

I have opened many bottles listening to the album, both red and white. Since it is the holiday season, red wine is calling my name tonight. Jazz, decorations, and red wine is a sure sign the year is coming to a close and Christmas is only a few weeks away. Tonight I am going to pair this album with a New York State red wine. Since Kind of Blue was recorded in New York, I thought we should keep it all homegrown.  I will pop open my last bottle of Pinot Noir from Fox Run Vineyards along Seneca Lake, NY. They make some of the best wines in the Finger Lakes AVA and are owned and operated by Scott and Ruth Osborn; good friends of mine. Pinot Noir can grow well in our cool climate region and Fox Run does of the best. In fantastic vintages they will release a reserve Pinot Noir that has fans running crazy for like parents trying to find the last Tickle-Me-Elmo on Christmas Eve for little Sally-Hoo. 

Please visit Fox Run Vineyards when in the Finger Lakes and buy Kind Of Blue, the next time you are on Itunes, you won’t be disappointed. 


Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue

Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue