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The Six Pack: Pairing Summer Jazz And Beer

Charles Mingus getting cozy with a Verdi Imperial Stout. (And, yes, this is an "unauthorized" copy of <em><em>Mexican M</em>oods</em>. Sorry, Sue Mingus, it was a gift.)
Lars Gotrich
Charles Mingus getting cozy with a Verdi Imperial Stout. (And, yes, this is an "unauthorized" copy of Mexican Moods. Sorry, Sue Mingus, it was a gift.)

On porches everywhere this summer, people are soaking up the sticky heat with beer in hand and music in the background. Jazz and beer are natural companions, but no one wants to mix the two inappropriately. So I approached the Washington City Paper's "Beerspotter," Orr Shtuhl, to pair bottles with Charles Mingus, Sun Ra and more.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Shtuhl and I picked up a selection of delectable, summery beers. Back on my front porch with two willing participants (thanks, Mark and Kelly), I would describe the artist and the song we were about to hear, play it and then ask The Beerspotter to pair the song with a beer based on its attitude, its backstory and its notes (and, yes, that does work both ways). Three hours later, we matched up six impeccable pairings.

So here it is: a jazz six pack for porches and turntables everywhere. But there's no reason not to make it 12 or 24, so tell us in the comments below what you like to drink while spinning jazz records. Non-alcoholic options are, of course, more than welcome.

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The Six Pack: Pairing Summer Jazz And Beer

Quarteto Novo

When reaching for summer music, Brazil is a fine place to start. The baiao rhythm is light on its feet, yet passionate. Quarteto Novo, in particular, was something of a Brazilian jazz supergroup, featuring percussionist Airto Moreira, multi-instrumentalists Theo de Barros and Heraldo do Monte, and pianist, brass and flute player Hermeto Pascoal. With roots in bossa nova and a fascination with bebop, the group's sole album from 1967 is a pastoral romp through the Brazilian countryside, long streamers of joy flowing behind.
Beerspotter Pairing: Left Hand Milk Stout. When I think Brazil, I think coffee, and this beer's roasty, mocha-black malts make it as full and easy-drinking as iced coffee. Milk stouts are also brewed with lactose, giving them a distinctly creamy mouthfeel. The sun was still out when we broke into our first beer (as is often the case), and I wasn't sure how appropriate a dark beer would be. But Left Hand's offering was light and creamy — almost frothy — with the sweetness of a bulls-eye caramel cream.

Lonnie Liston Smith & the Cosmic Echoes

When Lonnie Liston Smith made the transition from playing the sideman with folks like Pharoah Sanders and Rahsaan Roland Kirk to solo artist in 1973, he cut the spiritual free-jazz cord and went full-on fusion. That isn't to say that his piano playing wasn't soulful, but it sure did get funky. For a list about summer jazz songs, "Summer Days" is the obvious choice by virtue of the title, but its playful Latin rhythm evokes New York City just before dusk, as kids on the street finish their games.
Beerspotter Pairing: Heavy Seas Small Craft Warning. Okay, follow me here. Just as Smith's fusion was an update of his free-jazz beginnings, so is this beer an update of the classic European strong lager. Heavy Seas' take on the style has American verve (read: hoppy and boozy, with over 7 percent abv), but its roots are in classic German pilsner, bready and golden.

Sun Ra

Lanquidity might as well be called the album where Sun Ra got his groove on. It's not so much that he shows restraint from his wild free jazz; just that Sun Ra's grounded by a strong funk backline. In particular, "Where Pathways Meet" is a sweaty piece of work, almost something out of the smoky basement speakeasy of a detective B-movie.
Beerspotter Pairing: La Sancerroise au Gruyt. A smoky basement is exactly where I'd drink this deep, walnut-brown French offering. Gruyt, or gruit, is an ancient spice-and-herb mixture used to bitter beer before the use of hops. Here, it's added in addition to hops, contributing a faint licorice note that lingers like the low string on an upright bass.

Steve Reid

Steve Reid spent the '70s drumming for some of the best free-jazz, funk and soul bands around, including Fela Kuti, Sun Ra's Arkestra and even James Brown for a short stint. Those gigs come out in the records he led in that decade, especially the funky Nova. The first thing that hits your ear with "Lions of Judah" is that organ — it's the like biting into grapefruit on a muggy morning.
Beerspotter Pairing: Stone IPA. Stone IPA is aggressive, even as IPAs go. It uses particular hop varieties that are more bitter than aromatic, giving it a bite that's worse than its bark. Like "Lions of Judah," it's got one level tweaked on the EQ — be it hops or organ — that keeps you from getting too comfortable.

Airto Moreira

Summer isn't relaxing for everyone, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be fun. Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira makes his second appearance on this list with "Romance of Death." Halfway through, the frenetically paced Latin fusion number takes an unexpected turn into King Crimson territory before guitarist David Amaro mimics Airto's scatting vocals. It's enough to compel listeners to dance around summer's sometimes hectic schedule.
Beerspotter Pairing: De Dolle Bos Kuen. This Easter beer has a lot of flavors going on, and is as busy on the tongue as "Romance of Death" is to the ear. Lemon, orange and coriander aromas leap from the glass, while the flavors range from peppermint spice to tart strawberry to sweet honey. Quoth one succinct taster: "Tastes like sunshine."

Charles Mingus

Tijuana makes a fine summertime mecca, with great music, great food and plenty of cerveza. After one such trip, bassist and composer Charles Mingus wrote and recorded Tijuana Moods, which — at the time in 1957 — he called his greatest recording. "Ysabel's Table Dance" is a spicy affair, unfolding like a seduction story from a ritzy nightclub — there's the dance, the altercation, the night out on the town and what is either the morning after or the lonely walk back to the hotel.
Beerspotter Pairing: Verdi Imperial Stout. Brewed with chiles, this Italian is a seduction story in itself. Aromas of dark chocolate and cinnamon beckon like a mug of South American chocolate. Black, heavy sweetness glides down your throat with each sip, leaving only a faint burn of chiles — the fading memory of a fiery night, the morning after.

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