* Nieuw Ensemble (Spanjaard): Muziekgebouw aan het IJ, Amsterdam 1-20-11 (FM CDR)
* Jelly Roll Morton: Volume 1 (1926-1927) (JSP CD)
* Modern Jazz Quartet: Modern Jazz Quartet (Prestige 2LP)
* John Coltrane: Meditations (Impulse! CD)
* Ornette Coleman: Beauty Is a Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (d.5-6) (Rhino 6CD)
* Larry Young: Into Somethin’ (Blue Note CD)
* Larry Young: Unity (Blue Note CD)
* Jackie McLean: One Step Beyond (Blue Note CD)
* Grachan Moncur III: Some Other Stuff (Blue Note LP)
* Grachan Moncur III: Evolution (Blue Note CD)
* Sun Ra: “The Road To Destiny”: Lost Reel Collection, Vol.6 (Transparency CD)
* Sun Ra: Concert for Comet Kohoutek (ESP-Disk’ CD)
* Sun Ra: “Treasure Hunt” (selections) (misc. unreleased CDR)
* Sun Ra: Flushing Meadow Park, Queens, NY 7-4-73 (Pre-FM CDR)
* Sun Ra: Out Beyond The Kingdom Of (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Anthony Braxton Quartet: Teatro Uomo, Milan, Italy 4-22-79 (AUD 2CDR)
* Anthony Braxton Quintet: Rainbow Gallery, Minneapolis, MN 9-79 (AUD CDR)
* Herbie Hancock: Speak Like a Child (Blue Note CD)
* Herbie Hancock & Headhunters: Musikladen, Bremen, W. Germany 11-74 (TV>DVD-R)
* John Abercrombie: Class Trip (ECM CD)
* John Abercrombie: The Third Quartet (ECM CD)
* John Abercrombie Quartet: Wait Till You See Her (ECM CD)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.1 No.1: Fall ’79 (GDP/Rhino 2+1CD)‡
* Grateful Dead: Market Square Arena, Indianapolis, IN 12-05-81 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.4 No.2: April Fools’ ’88 (GDP/Rhino 3CD)
* Bob Dylan: “Rock Solid” (unreleased live album 1980) (fan/boot CDR)
* Joni Mitchell: Max Yasgur’s Farm, Bethel, NY 8-15-98 (SBD CDR)
* Chicago: Budokan, Tokyo, Japan 1972 (TV>DVD-R)
* Mekons: New York… (ROIR CD)
* Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians: Gotta Let This Hen Out! (Yep Roc CD)
* Echo & The Bunnymen: Heaven Up Here (Warner Bros./MFSL LP)
* Robert Pollard: Space City Kicks (GBV, Inc. CD)‡
* Wilco: Circus Krone, Munich, Germany 9-24-10x (FM CDR)
* Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino CD)†
Like a harbinger of spring, the new Grateful Dead Road Trips arrived in the mail box this morning. Consisting of the entire April 1, 1988 concert from The Meadowlands in New Jersey (along with a good bit from the night before), listening brings back fond memories of hitting the road and going to see shows back in the day. Spring Tour had its own feel: the weather in the northeast could still be dreadful, making driving to out of the way venues sometimes treacherous and the band was usually a bit rusty from a couple months off. But Deadheads are hardy, resourceful and forgiving to a fault—and the band’s energy and excitement to be playing music again would usually make up for any gaffes in execution. Such is the case here: it might be rough and ready, but it’s also a heck of lot of fun.
For those keeping score at home, this is the first official release from 1988, a decidedly transitional year for the Dead. Barely two years after a near-death experience, Jerry Garcia was by then just starting to regain his pre-coma facility on guitar. While he would never be quite the same, it was nothing short of a miracle that he came back at all, sounding remotely like his old self. His love of music and general joy de’vivre is readily apparent here, singing with a soulful passion and clearly relishing in his renewed ability to execute rippling scalar runs, huge, chunking chords, bluesy bent note wailing and delicate, banjo-esque fingerpicking. Garcia’s rebirth clearly inspired the rest of the band and they are with him every step of the way, their manic enthusiasm sometimes threatening to overturn the applecart. There are forgotten lyrics, blown transitions, and shaky tempos here and there—but so what? The Dead were never about note-perfect renditions anyway. Instead, they sought to achieve fleeting moments of transcendence—and there are more than a few of them here.
It being April Fools’ Day, the band starts out with typically goofy, self-deprecating prank. I won’t give the joke away, but the fact that they never took themselves too seriously was definitely part of their quirky charm. The highlight of the first set is the rarely-performed “To Lay Me Down,” a touching ballad sung superbly by Garcia in his ragged but wizened voice, his crystalline guitar leads plumbing the depths of emotion Robert Hunter’s words only hint at. The second set keeps the aimless noodling in check, with taut yet compelling performances of such old jamming stalwarts as “China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider,” “Estimated Prophet” and “The Other One,” while also providing focused and powerful improvisations during the obligatory “drums” and “space” segments. Yet the second set from 3/31 might be even better, opening with an intricately embroidered “Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain” sequence followed a fiery “Samson and Delilah” and a stately, elegiac “Terrapin Station.” The only real blemish is the set-ending “All Along the Watchtower” which never quite settles on a tempo—or even a common meter—and lurches fitfully to an unsatisfactory conclusion. Thankfully, the heart-rending “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” encore makes suitable enough restitution to Mr. Dylan, whose songs they were perhaps overplaying during the period following their joint stadium tour in the summer of 1987—no fewer than four different Dylan covers can be found on these three CDs!
The sound quality on this volume of Road Trips is exceptionally good for a two-track source. Recorded by front-of-house sound genius, Dan Healy, it utilizes his experimental “Ultramatrix” system to blend the soundboard feed with a stereo microphone in the middle of the audience. The custom-made computer program could be programed to correct the severe time/phase alignment problems inherent in the process and sometimes it didn’t work so well. But here it’s just about exactly perfect, providing a realistically spacious ambience and a pleasing balance between vocals and instruments often sorely lacking on straight soundboard tapes. It sounds like they’re playing in a hockey rink yet everything is clearly defined and the interplay between the band and audience is thrillingly audible. The window-rattling bass, ultra-wide dynamic range and complete absence of hiss (combined with the grainy and slightly recessed high-end) makes me think these were taken from PCM masters, an early digital recording medium utilizing Sony’s Beta video tape. With a word-length of only 14-bits, there are still obvious sonic limitations, certainly as compared with today’s high-resolution digital formats, but, at the time, it was way better than the lowly and unreliable compact cassette. This sounds great cranked up loud!
Picky Deadheads are always complaining, but the folks at GDP and Rhino seem to be listening their customers. The Road Trips series has finally (for the most part) abandoned the annoying limited edition “bonus disc” marketing approach and expanded each release to a more sensible and accommodating three-CD format. Even better, this year they’ve begun offering an annual subscription with a decent discount, free shipping and, yes, for a limited time (now passed) a “bonus disc.” OK, I can get with that. Of course, the really big news in Deadheadland is the upcoming Europe ’72 box set: 60+ CDs, all twenty-something concerts from that legendary tour, mixed from the original 16-track analog tapes (time-aligned by Plangent Processes!), packaged in a mini-replica steamer trunk with a hardbound book, memorabilia and other ephemera and, for the first 3000 pre-orders, a personalized “luggage tag.” Now, this is something every fanatical fan has wanted ever since the advent of CDs. But no one—least of all I—ever expected they would actually do it! Unfortunately, they announced this in mid-January as a strictly limited edition of 7200 (get it?), requiring 3000 pre-orders to even go forward with production—as if they would have trouble selling it! This triggered such a purchasing frenzy from both fans (and, obviously, pure speculators) that Dead.net’s servers crashed for several days. Potential buyers were instructed to provide an email address and, eventually, a “personalized code” would be sent enabling purchase. It was, as they say, a total cluster-f*** and the entire edition was “sold out” within a couple days. Realizing that demand for this set would be stronger than they originally imagined, a “music-only” edition is now available for the same price—but only through April 1. Needless to say, I did manage to successfully pre-order a personalized box. Are you kidding me?! I used to spend this kind of money to go see them back when Garcia was still alive. All we have now are the recordings so, how can I resist? Yes, I am crazy! I am a Deadhead! I can’t wait ‘til September! In the meantime, we’ll have more Road Trips in May and August. Stay tuned.