August 27, 2011

Playlist Week of 8-27-11

Grateful Dead - Warner LP box

* Monteverdi: Vespro Della Beata Vergine 1610 (La Capella Reial/Savall) (Alia Vox 2SACD)
* Cage: Atlas Eclipticalis & Winter Music/103 (S.E.M. Ensemble/Kotik/Tudor) (d.1-2) (Asphodel 4CD)
* Vasks: Māte Saule (BIS CD)
* Lang: Little Match Girl Passion (Hillier Ensemble) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* John Coltrane: Interplay (d.4-5) (Prestige/Concord 5CD)
* John Coltrane: Side Steps (d.1-4) (Prestige 5CD)
* John Coltrane: Live Trane: The European Tours (d.1) (Pablo 7CD)
* Sun Ra: Municipal Auditorium, Santa Monica, CA 12-11-74 (AUD 2CDR)
* Sun Ra: Smiling Dog Saloon, Cleveland, OH 1-30-75 (FM CDR)
* Weather Report: 8:30 (Columbia/CBS—Japan 2LP)
* Stanley Clarke: School Days (Epic/Friday Music LP)
* Pat Metheny Group: The Falcon And The Snowman (Soundtrack) (EMI/Capitol CD)
* Pat Metheny Group: We Live Here (Geffen CD)†/‡
* Pat Metheny Group: “Quartet” (Geffen CD)
* Pat Metheny Group: Imaginary Day (Warner Bros. DVD-A)
* Pat Metheny Group: Speaking Of Now (Warner Bros. CD)‡
* Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up (Nonesuch CD)
* Marc Johnson: The Sound Of Summer Running (Verve CD)†/‡
* Lucinda Williams: Essence (Lost Highway CD)†/‡
* Lucinda Williams: World Without Tears (Lost Highway CD)†/‡
* Grateful Dead: The Grateful Dead (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Grateful Dead: Anthem Of The Sun (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Grateful Dead: Workingman’s Dead (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Grateful Dead: American Beauty (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Grateful Dead: American Beauty (Warner Bros./Mobile Fidelity LP)
* Grateful Dead: Municipal Auditorium, Austin, TX 11-22-72 (d.2-3) (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Blues For Allah (GD/Audio Fidelity LP)
* The 13th Floor Elevators: Bull Of The Woods (International Artists/Charly CD)
* Santana: Moonflower (Columbia 2LP)
* Sonic Youth: Dirty (Deluxe Edition) (DGC/Goofin’ 4LP)
* Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs (Matador CD)†/‡
* Robert Pollard: Lord Of The Birdcage (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Boston Spaceships: Let It Beard (GBV, Inc. 2LP)



Last week, an anonymous commenter wrote:

i am always blown away by how much GD you listen to. i am a deadhead from way back, and i don’t listen to that much GD. :-)

Heh. What can I say?

When Jerry Garcia died on August 9, 1995, I took it really hard. I had just received second row tickets to see the Grateful Dead at Boston Garden in September. The Dead were a way of life: I had a job and wife (who was (and continues to be) very understanding) but I would go to shows as often as possible, a dozen or so every year: Spring Tour, Summer Tour, six shows at The Gahden. As the saying goes, “there is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert” and it’s true. If you never saw them, you have no idea what you missed. I liked listening to their records and bootleg tapes, but they were pale facsimile of the real thing: Live Dead. With Garcia gone, it all came crashing to an end. I couldn’t listen to them for a long, long time; it just made me too sad.

Well, time heals all wounds, as they say, and I eventually realized I still loved the music very much. And while the GD were no more, a flood of vault releases ensued: 36 volumes of Dick’s Picks, various compilations, box sets and DVDs. With the turn of the century, broadband internet access made possible the sharing of lossless FLAC files first via FTP and then via BitTorrent, making available almost every note the band ever played to anyone with a cable modem.I probably have well over a thousand CDRs of live GD music and the collection continues to grow—and I buy every new release. Believe it or not, each show really was different and while not every note is perfect (good lord, no), there are almost always a few precious gems and unique moments of pure inspiration. Instead of making me sad, listening to the Dead now makes me happy. It’s comforting and familiar yet endlessly interesting. It’s the perfect music for a Saturday morning.

But I hardly ever listen to their studio albums. So last fall, when Rhino announced The Warner Bros. Studio Albums box set, I was nonplussed. I had multiple copies of all these records on both vinyl and CD and didn’t see the point. Yet when I would see it at Grimey’s and pick it up—it’s heavy!—and gently fondle it, I had second thoughts. Man, the trippy, foil-stamped slipcase is just too cool! Despite my reservations about its contents, I wanted it, bad. After my root canal ordeal, I decided to treat myself and bring it home. It is truly a thing of beauty: inside the heavy-duty slipcase, each album is meticulously reproduced down to the finest detail, from the tipped-on jackets to the olive green labels. Mastered by Chris Bellman from the original analog tapes and pressed on 180-gram virgin vinyl at RTI, these things sound really, really good—even on my modest system.

It had been a while (years!) since I listened to these early records and it was something of a revelation. It’s actually quite amazing to hear this band of misfits transform themselves from greasy, psychedelic ravers into (almost) slick new-country avatars in a mere three years (1967-1970). Even if imperfect, these are certainly the best studio albums the GD ever made. The bucolic American Beauty (1970) particularly benefits from the deluxe treatment and this already wonderful-sounding album sounds better than ever, easily besting my old MoFi copy, which sounds thin and shrill by comparison.

What really makes this set worthwhile for the fanatical record collector is the presence of the original mixes of Anthem Of The Sun (1968) and Aoxomoxoa (1969). Anthem is a dark, lysergic masterpiece (“we mixed it for the hallucinations” quipped Garcia at the time) but the original version of Aoxomoxoa is much less successful. Frankly, I prefer the re-mix although it’s nice to have this as a reference. As you might expect, the weirder tracks, like “Rosemary” and “What’s Become Of The Baby” sound completely different from the 1972 remix which, remarkably enough, makes them sound even weirder. Nonetheless, this deluxe box set is just about perfect.

So, yeah, I listen to a lot of GD. But as you can see from the list above, that’s not all I listen to (I have other obsessions—and guilty pleasures). The Dead were a big part of my life and I’m grateful to have such unprecedented access to their vast recorded legacy. As it expands, it continues to reward in-depth study and, more importantly, listening to their music makes me happy. So, you know, I’m not going to feel bad about it. In fact, I’m contemplating doing a chronological survey of their discography a la Sun Ra Sunday. I know I’ve threatened this before but let’s see if I can get it together in 2012.

August 21, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday


How carefully laid the scenes
How brilliantly superimposed
The substitute words to say and do.
How forced the seeming way of the pseudo-life.
If they would believe that vanity has them captive
If they would but believe the earth-gravity
Has them chained to its earth-plane vibration
Then they would come to know
Beyond the thing they call
The Beginning and End of knowledge-wisdom.
They would come to know
And they would know they know.

--Sun Ra

August 20, 2011

Playlist Week of 8-20-11

Anthony Braxton - Quartet (Mestre) 2008

* Telemann: The Complete Tafelmusik (d.1-2) (Freiburgurger Barockorchester) (Harmonia Mundi 4CD)
* Mussorgsky, et al.: Pictures At An Exhibition, etc. (Chicago Symphony/Reiner) (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Cage: Sonatas & Interludes (Tilbury): Sala Verdi, Milan Conservatory 10-21-07 (FM CDR)
* John Coltrane: Interplay (d.1-3) (Prestige 5CD)
* Andrew Hill Sextet: Haus der Berliner Festspiel, Berlin 10-31-02 (FM CDR)
* Andrew Hill Sextet: Lausanne, Switzerland 11-01-02 (FM CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Moscow) 2008 (Leo CD)
* Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Mestre) 2008 (Caligola CD)
* Anthony Braxton Diamond Curtain Wall Quartet: Opera Théâtre de Besançon 6-27-08 (AUD CDR)
* Anthony Braxton Diamond Curtain Wall Trio: Chiostro di Villa d’Este, Tivoli 7-02-08 (AUD CDR)
* Derek Bailey: Pieces For Guitar (Tzadik CD)
* Chick Corea & Return To Forever: Light As A Feather (Polydor LP)
* Weather Report: Mysterious Traveler (Columbia LP)
* Weather Report: Black Market (Columbia LP)
* Weather Report: Heavy Weather (Columbia/Legacy SACD)
* Weather Report: Mr. Gone (Columbia LP)
* Weather Report: Night Passage (Columbia/ARC LP)
* Pat Metheny Group: Still Life (Talking) (Geffen CD)†/‡
* Pat Metheny Group: Letter From Home (Geffen CD)†/‡
* Steve Tibbetts: Safe Journey (ECM LP)
* Parliament/Funkadelic: Convention Center, Dallas, TX 11-05-76 (SBD CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Betty Nelson’s Organic Raspberry Farm, Sultan, WA 9-02-68 (SBD CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA 10-12-68 (SBD CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA 10-13-68 (SBD CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Municipal Auditorium, Austin, YX 11-22-72 (d.1) (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA 2-23-74 (SBD 4CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY 3-28-93 (SBD 2CDR)‡
* Joni Mitchell: Shadows And Light (Asylum 2CD)
* Genesis: Genesis (Atlantic LP)
* Fushitsusha: Withdrawe, this sable Disclosure ere devot’d (Victo CD)
* R.E.M.: Murmur (I.R.S. LP)
* Yo La Tengo: I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass (Matador CD)†/‡
* Beck: The Information (Geffen CD)
* Beck: Modern Guilt (Geffen CD)(‡)
* Boston Spaceships: Let It Beard (GBV, Inc. 2LP)
* Circus Devils: Mother Skinny (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Tortoise: Beacons Of Ancestorship (Thrill Jockey LP)
* Broken Bells: Broken Bells (Columbia LP)



Way back in December of 2008, I raved about Leo’s rush-release of Quartet (Moscow) 2008, a live recording of Anthony Braxton’s Diamond Curtain Wall Quartet featuring guitarist Mary Halvorson, brass player Taylor Ho Bynum, bassoonist Katherine Young and Braxton on reeds and laptop. It is an extraordinary document of one of Braxton’s most viscerally exciting ensembles and one of my favorite records of all time. Now, three years later, the tiny Italian label, Caligola, has released another recording from this tour, Quartet (Mestre) 2008, and it might be even better! The sound quality, anyway, is significantly improved. The Leo disc disc sounds OK, if a little distant, but this multi-track recording has been meticulously mixed-down for optimum fidelity. Each instrument is crystal clear, occupying a precisely defined space in the soundstage and the wide-spectrum dynamics are vividly lifelike—truly an audiophile-quality representation of this band. And what a band! The performance is, as usual, spectacular and it is interesting to compare it to the Moscow concert (and other verité recordings from this tour) to appreciate the sheer inventiveness of the musicians and their uncanny, telepathic interplay.

It’s an unconventional ensemble, for sure, with no percussion to hold things together (or weigh them down) and the bracing squall of the Supercollider computer software adds an electro-futuristic dimension unique to Braxton’s hyper-expansive oeuvre. Moreover, the Diamond Curtain Wall compositions are abstract in the extreme: a score consists of splashes of colored paint supplemented with lines, numbers and other hieroglyphic symbols developed out of Braxton’s complex, peculiarly idiosyncratic notational systems. An example (via The Tri-Centric Foundation) from Composition 366c looks like this:

In his liner notes to Quartet (Mestre) 2008 (which contains a performance of Composition 367c), Stefano Zenni refers to the music as “improvisations” and, to some degree, the term is appropriate. After all, the musicians are not constrained by prescribed pitches, schematic harmonies or rationalized rhythms but, instead, must “interpret” the seemingly obscure symbolism on the page, decode an image far removed from conventional notation. But I do believe Braxton’s markings contain practical meaning to the musicians (who are long-time Braxton’s initiates) and while it may appear to be pure improvisation, it is not, really; the score is obviously integral to the music’s process of becoming. It is a Braxton composition, even if it doesn’t sound like any other. Unlike Braxton’s other recent activity, the Diamond Curtain Wall Music does not rely upon the hypnotic, pulse-driven Ghost Trance material or the collagist layering of various existing compositions, which has been the usual modus operandi of his working ensembles since the 1980s (and now taken to an extreme with the Echo Echo Mirror House Music, where every musician also plays an iPod loaded with Braxton’s complete catalog of recorded works). The screeching electronics and (sometimes) rockish guitar only partially defines the uniqueness of the Diamond Curtain Wall Music: the cryptic yet visually delightful score, in these hands, produces something akin to magic. But how?

Recently, composer Pat Muchmore wrote a fascinating online column in The New York Times about what he calls “ergodic notation,” the various sorts of creatively unconventional methods of notating music dating back to the 15th Century. His term is derived from Espen J. Aarspeth, a game and literary theorist who coined the phrase, “ergodic literature,” to describe “writings that require some amount of effort to read beyond simply moving one’s eyes and flipping pages” (e.g. Mark Z. Danielewski’s 2000 novel, House of Leaves). But Muchmore goes on to distinguish between elements which are purely graphical and those that are musically functional while defending what has been too often dismissed as Augenmusik—“eye music”—scores which are perhaps interesting to look at but (supposedly) impossible to play and worthless to listen to. The article is generously illustrated with pages from such luminaries of the field as George Crumb, Peter Maxwell Davies and, of course (everybody’s favorite), John Cage. Muchmore makes several cogent arguments in favor of the technique and demonstrates his own use of a circular notational scheme in his own work. Whether the term “ergodic music” will catch on or his vigorous defense of “eye music” prevails remains doubtful (the comments section is typically contentious). Nevertheless, for the “musically fluent” know-it-alls, Muchmore offers an intriguing observation regarding the elegantly rendered manuscript of “Belle, bonne, sage” by the Renaissance-era composer, Baude Codier (c.1380-c.1440):

Take another close look at the heart-shaped ars subtilior example above. Unless you’re quite familiar with European Renaissance notation, it’s probably difficult to imagine precisely what sounds have been encoded here, and it would remain so even if the score weren’t graphically altered. It should be familiar — after all this is a direct evolutionary antecedent of modern Western notation — but the specifics remain tantalizingly out of reach without further study. The note shapes are just that: shapes. It’s a potent reminder that ALL notation is entirely graphical, even though it’s as hard to see standard modern notation purely visually as it is to look at a sign in your native language and appreciate solely the contours of the familiar characters without their usual meaning.

What we think of as “standard notation” was at one time a radical creative leap and it evolved and developed—and ossified—over time. The “classical music” establishment fetishizes the score—the notes on the page—while using it as a cudgel to stifle the supposed evils of Modernism and the anarchic indeterminacy of improvisation. “Ergodic notation” loosens the shackles of received wisdom and the entrained habits of “professional” musicians and makes possible something conventional notation cannot, having reduced mystical abstractions to an inviolable standardization.

It’s corny, but I guess that’s why I love both creating and reading these scores; it’s ever so slightly magical. Even for those who can’t particularly read music, I think it can add to the appreciation of a composition to see such scores while listening to the music and know that, somehow, when the former is put in front of the right eyes it becomes the latter. Even if the music alone does relatively little for you, surely it’s at least fun to know that it was generated by splashes of color, a spiral or a baroquely-detailed heart.

Braxton may come across to the uninitiated as forbiddingly austere but there is this sort of magic-making happening with the Diamond Curtain Wall music—and it is seriously fun to listen to! As Muchmore so aptly puts it, “the creative process of devising such a piece utterly fuses the visual and the musical” and the highly unconventional score causes something to happen that is more than just free improvisation. I may not be capable of deciphering Braxton’s marks on the page—much less correlating them to what I’m hearing—but the efficacy of “ergodic notation” is, nevertheless, obvious. Quartet (Mestre) 2008 is some of the most compelling—and enjoyable—music of his long career. Most highly recommended!

August 13, 2011

Playlist Week of 8-13-11

Tower of Records

* Rinaldo Alessandrini: Mozartsaal, Konzerthaus, Vienna 1-16-11 (FM CDR)
* Christophe Rousset: Chapelle Protestante, Brussels, Belgium 5-04-09 (FM 2CDR)
* Rimsky-Korsakov/Stravinsky: Scheherazade, etc. (Chicago Symphony/Reiner) (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Debussy/Respighi: La Mer, etc. (Chicago Symphony/Reiner) (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* John Coltrane: Fearless Leader (d.4-6) (Prestige 6CD)
* Grant Green: Idle Moments (Blue Note CD)†/‡
* Sun Ra: Civic Center, Santa Monica, CA 12-11-74 (AUD 2CDR)
* Sun Ra: Disco 3000 (Saturn/Art Yard CD)
* Anthony Braxton: Composition No.19 (For 100 Tubas) (New Braxton House FLAC>CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: Sax Quintet (Middletown) 1998 (New Braxton House FLAC>CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: Two Compositions (FONT) 2007 (New Braxton House FLAC>CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Mestre) 2008 (Caligola CD)
* DJ Spooky: Optometry (Thirsty Ear CD)†/‡
* Al Green: Greatest Hits (Hi LP)
* Al Green: The Definitive Greatest Hits (Hi/Capitol CD/DVD)
* Bootsy Collins: Bootsy? Player Of The Year (Warner Bros. CD)
* Bootsy Collins: What’s Bootsy Doin’? (Columbia CD)
* Bob Dylan: Scandinavium, Göteborg, Sweden 6-10-98 (AUD 2CDR)
* The 13th Floor Elevators: The Psychedelic Sounds Of: (International Artists/Charly CD)
* The 13th Floor Elevators: Easter Everywhere (International Artists/Charly CD)
* Grateful Dead: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY 3-10-81 (set 2) (SBD 2CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Coliseum, Greensboro, NC 4-30-81 (SBD 3CDR)
* Chicago: VIII (Columbia LP)
* Chicago: X (Columbia LP)
* Chicago: XI (Columbia LP)
* Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Get Happy!! (Columbia/MoFi 2-45RPM LP)
* Lucinda Williams: Car Wheels On A Gravel Road (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Mercury 2CD)†/‡
* Tool: Opiate (Volcano CDEP)‡
* Tool: Undertow (Volcano CD)†/‡
* Robert Pollard: From A Compound Eye (Merge 2LP)
* Robert Pollard: Normal Happiness (Merge LP)
* Boston Spaceships: Let It Beard (GBV, Inc. 2LP)
* Deerhoof: Friend Opportunity (Kill Rock Stars CD)†/‡
* Broken Bells: Broken Bells (Columbia CD)
* Broken Bells: Meyrin Fields EP (Columbia CDEP)
* Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop 2LP)



Yesterday, I had not one—but TWO—root canals. Ouch! It went okay, I guess; but today I am loopy on Lortab™ and feel like I’ve been punched in the jaw, hard. Oh, and I’m also trying to (have to) quit smoking. Ha! So much fun! Needless to say, I’m in pretty rough shape. See you all next week (I hope).

August 7, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday


Music Pulsing like a living heartbeat,
Pleasant intuition of better things to come . . .
The sight of boundless space
Reaching ever outward as if in search of itself.
Music spontaneous rapture,
Feet rushing with the wind on a new world
Of sounds:
Invisible worlds . . . . vibrations . . . tone pictures . .
A new world for every self
Seeking a better self and a better world.

Music akin to thought . . . . . . . .
Imagination . . . !
With wings unhampered,
Unafraid . . . . . . . .
Soaring like a bird
Through the threads and fringes of today
Straight to the heart of tomorrow.
Music rushing forth like a fiery law
Loosening the chains that bind,
Ennobling the mind
With all the many greater dimensions
Of a living tomorrow.

--Sun Ra

August 6, 2011

Playlist Week of 8-06-11

Road Trips Vol4 No4

* Debussy: La Mer/Ibert: Escales (Boston Symphony/Munch) (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Ravel: Daphnis And Chloé (Boston Symphony/Munch) (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Dvořák: New World Symphony, etc. (Chicago Symphony/Reiner) (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Chicago Symphony/Reiner: Spain (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Julian Bream: Popular Classics For Spanish Guitar (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Miles Davis: The Complete Birth Of The Cool (Capitol CD)
* Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961 (d.1) (Columbia 6CD)
* John Coltrane: Fearless Leader (d.1-3) (Prestige 6CD)
* Sun Ra: Dance Of The Living Image: Lost Reel Collection Vol.4 (Transparency 2CD)
* Sun Ra: Civic Arena, Santa Cruz, CA 12-11-74 (AUD 2CDR)
* Rashied Ali/Charles Gayle/Sirone: Stadtsaal, Burghausen, Germany 3-8-08 (FM 2CDR)
* Roscoe Mitchell’s Cards For Orchestra Project: Sant’Anna Arresi, Italy 8-30-09 (FM CDR)
* Weather Report: Shinjuku Kouseinen Hall, Tokyo, Japan 6-28-78 (FM 2CDR)
* John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension: Schloss Johannisberg, Cuvéehof, Germany 7-4-08 (FM CDR)
* John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension: Place du Chevalier D’Antras, Mauriac, France 7-30-11 (FM CDR)‡
* Parliament: Motor Booty Affair (Casablanca/Polygram CD)
* Bootsy Collins: Ahh…The Name Is Bootsy, Baby! (Warner Bros. CD)
* Bootsy Collins: Ultra Wave (Warner Bros. CD)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.4 No.4: Spectrum 4-6-82 (GDP/Rhino 3CD)
* Grateful Dead: Civic Center, Hartford, CT 4-18-82 (selections) (SBD 3CDR)
* Emmylou Harris: All I Intended To Be (Nonesuch CD)†/‡
* Emmylou Harris: Hard Bargain (Nonesuch CD)†/‡
* Lucinda Williams: Blessed (Lost Highway CD)†/‡
* Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts (Matador MP3)†/‡
* Thurston Moore: KCRW-FM, Santa Monica, CA 7-28-11 (FM CDR)
* Wilco: Circus Krone, Munich, Germany, 9-24-10 (FM 2CDR)
* Boston Spaceships: Let It Beard (GBV, Inc. 2LP)
* Circus Devils: Gringo (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Fleet Foxes: BBC Radio Theatre, London, Englan 6-03-11 (FM CDR)



1982 is an overlooked year in the Grateful Dead’s history. Of all the dozens of vault releases, only Dick’s Picks 32 is from ’82—and it’s one of the worst-sounding “official” releases ever (seriously, it’s almost unlistenable). Well, that’s one of the problems with trying to properly assess this era of the Dead’s career. Most of the band's recordings were made on a lowly cassette deck plugged directly into the soundboard, a less than ideal format to say the least. Most of the “official” releases from the early ‘80s suffer from awkward mixes, noticeable wow and flutter, and consistently off-speed playback. Ugh. Various soundboard tapes circulate in trading circles but a well-made audience tape will almost always sound better—unfortunately, they are few and far between. The new Road Trips, recorded at the Spectrum in Philadelphia on April 6, 1982, is a decent-sounding board tape from this era, and it appears some extra effort has been made regarding pitch-correction and Dolby implementation (it’s about time!). No, it’s not perfect but it sounds better than the circulating copy—and it’s a hot show to boot.

The unique thing about 1982 is Brent Mydland’s new keyboard, having traded the tinkly Fender Rhodes for a Yamaha CP-80 Electric Grand Piano, literally a miniaturized grand piano with built-in piezoelectric pickups. This, combined with his Hammond B3 organ, gave the band a warm, acoustic sound reminiscent of Keith Godchaux’s era with the band in 1970s. And Jerry Garcia’s slide into heroin addiction had not yet robbed the sweetness from his voice or the fluidity from his guitar-playing. Just take a listen to the super-funky “Shakedown Street” which opens the second set: Garcia’s solo is so sharp and purposeful, building up paragraphs out of a syntax of deliberative motives, riffs and melodic variations before moving on to another idea and exploring it in depth. Etc. He plays every note like he means it, telling a story with just his fingers and strings. Brent trades licks with Jerry at the outset and the rest of the band falls in behind, building up a series of climaxes before the big decrescendo and reprise. Really, folks, this is just about as good as it gets! Brent abandoned the CP-80 in 1983, adopting the nascent digital technology with its expanding palette of textures; but the pure, analog, semi-acoustic sound was gone forever. And, as is well known, Garcia’s health nosedived in the coming years, resulting in the near-fatal coma of 1986. Frankly, things would never quite be the same; still good—sometimes great—but something indefinable was lost.

So, this edition of the Road Trips series is a welcome reminder that 1982 was a real mid-career peak, even if nobody except Deadheads knew or cared at the time. It’s all consistently good with epic versions of “Terrapin Station” and “Morning Dew” rounding out the set and a lovely rendition of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” for an encore. As an added bonus, selected cuts from the night before, including a rare electric “Deep Elem Blues” and a long, spacey “Playing In The Band” sequence, fills out discs two and three. You certainly get your money’s worth, even if the sound is a bit wonky. Perhaps not for everybody, but if, like me, you have fond memories of seeing the Dead back in the early 80s, then Road Trips Vol.4 No.4 is a most welcome release.

Of course, next month promises the arrival of the mammoth 73-disc Complete Europe ’72 box. Good lord! I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it.