The New Sound – Les Paul

Artist: Les Paul

Year: 1950

Genre: Avant-Garde Jazz

Put-it-on-a-Playlist: “Brazil”

Grade: A-

What to call this? Jazz? Country? Folk? Avant-Garde? Maybe rock and roll.

It’s a New Sound, whatever it is. Even though Les Paul is practically a household name, the man’s music is seldom heard. This early, experimental 10” is among his best work — an instrumental exploration of innovative guitar sounds and recording techniques.

Paul makes frequent use of multitrack to create an entire jazz band of guitars. Or skiffle group, depending on how you hear it. He blurs several lines.

With the guitar as the most obvious reason, it is easy to hear bits and pieces of early rock and roll in several of these songs (chief among them “Hipbilly Boogie” and “South”). The sped-up solos dazzle like Independence Day fireworks, most notably in the dizzying “Lady of Spain” and the dreamy opener “Brazil.” Speeding up the tape is a stroke of genius here, and the effects are anything but corny. It was cutting-edge in 1950, and it still sounds completely novel today.

More than anything, though, Paul’s experimentations have strongest bearing in jazz. Swing and traditional pop, especially in the chord progressions, provide the backing for the freewheeling solos and country-western melodies. The guitars he invented were meant to be jazz instruments, after all.

Though it is strange to dub this as “avant-garde,” it is “avant-garde” in the truest sense of the term: way ahead of its time. Hard to believe it was recorded in 1950, that’s for sure.

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