January 31, 2010

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra: Intergalactic Research (The Lost Reels Collection Vol.2) (Transparency CD)

Campbell & Trent describe two performances at The Native Son in Berkeley, California on June 19 and July 14, 1971 which were recorded by Sun Ra and sold to Black Lion in the infamous tarmac transaction later that year, but never issued (pp.171-172). What’s the deal there? Has anyone heard these? Our intrepid discographers list tantalizing titles such as “Sun-Earth Rock” and “Cosmic Africa.” Huh?! If these tapes still exist, they need to be released! Come on, folks, let’s get busy!

In the meantime, Transparency has released a twenty-five minute fragment purportedly recorded at The Native Son around this time period on Intergalactic Research (The Lost Reels Collection Vol.2). The sound quality is actually quite good; in fact it sounds to me like a low-generation soundboard tape. Which makes me wonder -- could this be from that stash of unissued recordings sold to Black Lion? Who knows? The provenance of Transparency’s releases is sketchy at best.

While mostly a continuous performance, it is cleverly edited, opening with the audience stamping and cheering which is overlaid with music, fading in on an untitled improvisation. John Gilmore launches into a typically marvelous tenor saxophone solo, full of twisty scales and impossible stacks of harmonics and multiphonics. Wow, this is truly an astonishing tour de force. Incredible! It sounds to me like there are two bassists here, one of whom is unmistakably Ronnie Boykins. Perhaps Alzo Wright is playing cello? Whoever it is, he bows away with a maniacal, Strange Strings-like abandon. Oboes and flutes join in the fray, weaving webs of spindly counterpoint until June Tyson enters with mumbling glossolalia, chanting “Strange Worlds” over the reedy din. Gilmore quickly joins in to sing “It’s After the End of the World” and the bumptious “Outer Spaceways Incorporated,” which is anchored by Boykins’s wildly inventive but rock-solid bass. Ra then asks the rhetorical question, “Why Go to the Moon?” while chirpy oboes and a swooping slide-whistle (!) provide gently mocking commentary. An open improvisation follows with the bassists (or bass and cello) engaging in a throbbing duet until someone (perhaps James Jacson) enters with a blisteringly overblown solo on the Neptunian libflecto. This is greeted with a huge round of applause followed by two minutes of stamping and cheering…in fact this is the same stamping and cheering that begins the segment, creating a neat, infinite loop effect. I suspect this particular concert fragment was compiled by Sun Ra himself to be released as an album side. Which begs the question: What did the other side sound like? Will we ever know? Oh, the mysteries of Mr. Ra!


The rest of this CD is taken up with a thirty-two minute concert fragment recorded at an unknown venue on an unknown date circa. 1972. We’ll listen more carefully in due course, but I will note here that it is another decent-sounding board tape containing some very adventurous music. Bootleg or not, this is a must-have disc for the hardcore Ra fanatic.

Wolf Moon

Wolf Moon 1-30-10, originally uploaded by Rodger Coleman.

The skies cleared last night, revealing January's full moon, otherwise known as the "wolf moon." It's challenging to take a detailed photograph of the moon. This was the best I could do.

January 30, 2010

Playlist: Week of 1-30-10

* Biber: Unam Ceylum (Holloway/Mortensen/Assenbaum) (ECM CD)
* Vivaldi: Cello Sonatas (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics 2CD)
* Venice Baroque Orchestra (Marcon/Carmignola): Concerto Veneziano (Archiv Prod. CD)
* Schoenberg: Piano Concerto, Op.42, etc. (Cleveland Orch./Boulez/Uchida) (Philips CD)
* Boulez/Barraque: Notations/Sonata (Pi-Hsien Chen) (Telos CD)
* Duke Ellington: Money Jungle (Blue Note CD)
* Duke Elligton Meets Coleman Hawkins (Impulse! CD)
* Duke Ellington and John Coltrane (Impulse! CD)
* Grant Green: Street of Dreams (Blue Note CD)
* Bobby Hutcherson: “Mellow Vibes” (Blue Note mix CDR)
* Sun Ra: The Warehouse, San Francisco, CA 6-10-71 (SBD CDR)
* Sun Ra: The Native Son, Berkeley, CA, circa. Summer 1971 (SBD CDR)
* Sun Ra: Unknown venue, circa. 1972 (SBD CDR)
* Sun Ra: Universe in Blue (Saturn LP>CDR)
* John Coltrane: Crescent (Impulse! CD)
* Miles Davis: The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions (d.3-4) (Columbia/Legacy 4CD)
* Miles Davis: The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions (d.1) (Columbia/Legacy 5CD)
* Herbie Hancock & Headhunters: Music Inn, Lenox, MA 8-31-74 (AUD 2CDR)
* William Parker Violin Trio: Scrapbook (Thirsty Ear)
* Susie Ibarra: Flower After Flower (Tzadik CD)
* DJ Spooky: Optometry (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Ethiopiques 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale 1969-1974 (BudaMusique CD)
* The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Yellow Submarine (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* Jimi Hendrix Experience: Are You Experienced? (Experience Hendrix/MCA CD)
* Grateful Dead: Public Hall, Cleveland, OH 12-6-73 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke Univ., Durham, NC 12-8-73 (SBD 4CDR)
* Jerry Garcia Band: Let It Rock: Keystone 11-75 (Rhino 2CD)
* Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Déjà vu (Atlantic/MFSL LP)
* Neil Young: Harvest (Reprise LP)
* Tom Waits: Nighthawks at the Diner (Asylum 2LP)
* Tom Waits: Glitter and Doom Live (Anti- 2LP)
* Guided By Voices: Propeller (Scat LP)
* Guided By Voices: King Shit and the Golden Boys (Scat LP)
* Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs (Matador CD)
* My Bloody Valentine: Isn’t Anything (Plain LP)
* Animal Collective: Archa Theatre, Prague 10-14-08 (FM CDR)
* Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino CD)


The big news here in Middle Tennessee is of course, snow -- lots of snow. It finally quit snowing around noon today after an overnight coating of sleet and freezing rain. All told, I’d say we got about five inches of ice and snow out here in Kingston Springs and it is seriously slippery out there! Great sledding conditions -- neighborhood kids are having some rare fun -- but it ain’t so good for motorized transportation (or walking around for that matter!). Fortunately, we still have electricity; that means Lizzy and I can enjoy being snowed in together in our cozy home, a fire in the fireplace, and records on the player. Life really doesn’t get better than this.


I’m still on the fence regarding Animal Collective. The live set I dug up was particularly underwhelming and made me appreciate the artifice of the album even more. Nevertheless, Merriweather Post Pavilion seems to make promises it ultimately can’t fulfill. Or maybe it’s me; I’ll keep listening. One thing about that title that tickles my brain: when I think of Merriweather Post Pavilion, I think of a legendary Grateful Dead concert that occurred at this venue just outside of Washington, D.C. on June 30, 1985. Let me tell you, that “Shakedown Street” is mind-bendingly awesome. What does that have to do with Animal Collective? Probably nothing. Heck, these guys were probably not even born yet. But I think of it every time I put on their latest record. One thing Animal Collective shares with the Grateful Dead is an acid-drenched sensibility. That, I like.

January 29, 2010

Snow Day!!

Afternoon Snow 01, originally uploaded by Rodger Coleman.

It started snowing at 9:00 a.m. and hasn't stopped yet. I hope we'll be able to get down off this hill once it stops! The snow is beautiful, but dangerous -- folks down here aren' t used to this kind of weather. Please be safe! (More photos are on my Flickr photostream.)

January 24, 2010

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra: The Creator of the Universe (The Lost Reels Collection Vol.1) (Transparency 2CD)

It is hard to believe, but in 1971 Sun Ra was briefly appointed lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley via the Regents’ Program and the newly-formed Department of Afro-American Studies. As Szwed points out, such an outlandish appointment was “only conceivable in the early 1960s and early 1970s”:

Every week during the spring quarter of 1971 he met his class, Afro-American Studies 198: “The Black Man in the Cosmos,” in a large room in the music department building. Although a respectable number of students signed up, after
a couple of classes it was down to a handful (“What could you expect with a course named like that,” Sun Ra once chortled). But a large number of local black folks regularly attended, always distinguishable from the students by their party dress. The classes ran like rehearsals: first came the lecture, followed by a half hour of solo keyboard or Arkestra performance. But it was a proper course -- Sun Ra after all trained to be a teacher in college [for one year at Alabama State A&M circa. 1935 (see pp.25-32)] -- with class handouts, assignments, and a reading list which made even the most au courant sixties professors’ courses pale. There was The Egyptian Book of the Dead; Bill Looney’s, Radix, a book of astrology; Alexander Hislip’s Two Babylons; the theosophical works of Madame Blavatsky; spiritually channeled tomes like The Book of Oahspe; Henry Dumas’s, Ark of Bones and Poetry for My People; LeRoi Jones’s and Larry Neal’s, Black Fire; David Livingston’s, Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa; Theodore P. Ford’s, God Wills the Negro; Archibald Rutledge’s, God’s Children; the Spring 1971 issue of Stylus, the literary magazine of the black students of Temple University (which contained poetry by Sun Ra): John S. Wilson’s, Jazz: Where It Came From, Where It’s At (published by the United States Information Agency); Yosef A. A. Ben-Jochannan’s, Black Man of the Nile and His Family; Count Volney’s, Ruins of Empire; the King James version of the Bible (listed on the syllabus only as “The Source Book of Man’s Life and Death”); P.D. Ouspensky’s, A New Model of the Universe; Frederick Bodmer’s, The Loom of Language; Blackies Etymology; and other books on hieroglyphics, color therapy, the Rosicrucians, Afro-American folklore, and ex-slaves’ writings. When students returned after the first class to tell Sun Ra that the books were not available in the bookstores and were either missing from the library or had never been there in the first place, he merely smiled knowingly.

His list of suggested topics for student term papers summed up his interests at the time, but it also showed an astute sense of what universities expect their student’s papers to deal with: “The Striving of the Black Bourgeoisie,” “Negritude,” “Planning for the Future,” “The Role of Technology in Music,” and “Developing Relevant Culture.”

In a typical lecture, Sun Ra wrote biblical quotes on the board and then “permutated” them -- rewrote and transformed their letters and syntax into new equations of meaning, while members of the Arkestra passed through the room, preventing anyone from taping the class. His lecture subjects included Neoplatonic doctrines; the application of ancient history and religious texts to racial problems; pollution and war; and a radical reinterpretation of the Bible in light of Egyptology. Sun Ra the southern black man, the jazz musician, the militant, the hippie icon, the avant-gardist, was now Sun Ra, visiting lecturer (pp.294-295).

Apparently, the Arkestra was less than vigilant on the afternoon of May 4, 1971, as a tape recording of Ra’s fifty minute lecture survives and can be found on disc two of Transparency’s 2007 release, The Creator of the Universe (The Lost Reels Collection Vol.1). The sound quality is exceptionally good, all things considered, and you can clearly hear the sound of chalk on blackboard and the disconcerted giggling of students. Sonny’s voice is measured and calm, but there is an angry undertone to his discourses on race and black man’s failure to embrace his “alter-destiny.” While it would be easy to dismiss all this as the ravings of a lunatic (or pure charlatanism or fakery), that would, in my opinion, be a grave mistake. Sonny is witty and entertaining but also deadly serious; there is a method to his madness for he believed that by breaking the bonds of logic and received wisdom and thereby “decoding” mystical texts, humans could realize their spiritual nature, transcend earthly existence (death), and “do the impossible”:

I’m talking about something that’s so impossible, it can’t possibly be true. But it’s the only way the world’s gonna survive, this impossible thing. My job is to change five billion people to something else. Totally impossible. But everything that’s possible’s been done by man, I have to deal with the impossible. And when I deal with the impossible and am successful, it makes me feel good because I know that I’m not bullshittin’ (quoted in Szwed, p. 295).

Here, Sun Ra unequivocally claims that, at least sometimes, he is able to successfully “deal with the impossible” and his guileless statement about how this makes him “feel good” indicates this is, in fact, more than just mere bullshit. The truth of this assertion is evidenced by the music and structure of the Arkestra, where true freedom exists within the confines of extraordinary discipline and where a strictly hierarchical organization allows for genuine self-expression within a utopian society based upon the harmonious relations between people. Szwed devotes twenty-five pages to an extended paraphrase of Sun Ra’s philosophy, drawing upon a vast bibliography of interviews and articles in which Sonny expanded upon his ideas, from the nature of God and spirit, good and bad, angels and demons, life and death, truth, history and myth, racial relations, and music’s innate ability to overcome the limitations of language (pp.294-319). Despite surface appearances, all that carrying on about “interplanetary music” was more than just kitschy, space-age theatricality; it was about “creating myths about the future” (p.315): “Myth speaks of the impossible, of immortality” (quoted in Szwed, p. 316). On this recording of Sun Ra’s Berkeley lecture, you can hear him practicing “wordology,” constructing “cosmic equations” based upon “phonetic equivalence, as in homonyms and homophones, and recognizing euphemistic equivalence” (p.305). Listening to it, one feels more like an initiate into an ancient mystery cult than a student at a major research university and it is unsurprising that a permanent faculty appointment was not forthcoming. It is nonetheless a fascinating historical document which provides first-hand insight into Ra’s complex metaphysics. Even if Sun Ra’s cosmology is ultimately dubious, there can be no doubting the sincerity of his beliefs and the goodness of his works.


Disc one contains a forty-eight minute concert fragment recorded at The Warehouse in San Francisco on (supposedly) June 10, 1971. I am skeptical about this date as it would place it a mere two days before the Arkestra’s concert at J.P. Widney Jr. High School in Los Angeles and the band appears to have different personnel. (This concert is not listed in Campbell & Trent – I think it’s time for a third edition!) Specifically, the extended drum solo on track three sounds suspiciously like Clifford Jarvis, who does not appear on the June 12 show. Then again, Ronnie Boykins is definitely present on bass and Tommy Hunter, Lex Humphries, and Jarvis all traveled to Europe in the fall, so I suppose anything is possible. The sound quality is OK, probably recorded from the soundboard (vocals are way up front, drums way back), but it’s degraded in a most unfortunate fashion: the original master probably sounds very good (wherever it might be), but this CD is clearly several generations removed and there was obviously a “Dolby mismatch” along the way, resulting in muffled and swishy upper frequencies, most noticeable in the sound of the cymbals. Oh well, so it goes with Sun Ra’s “unofficial” discography.

The tape opens with an unknown number in the “Discipline” series of compositions, conceptually similar to “Discipline 15” but with differently un-resolving harmonies. Spacey improvisational sections follow statements of the slow, somber theme, featuring Boykins’s inimitable thrumming and bowing and (I’m guessing) Eloe Omoe’s growling and burbling bass clarinet. “Ra Declamation” is just that: a twenty-five minute mytho-poetic polemic full of cryptic admonishments and black-power sentiments, interspersed with moments of bashing free-jazz skronk. It is interesting to compare this to the U.C. Berkeley lecture and his venomous “curse” on Los Angeles two days later as Sonny mines related material absent the scholarly affectations of the former and the abject fury of the latter. Next up is an unknown title for ominous percussion and brooding trumpet which gives way to a lengthy yet oddly compelling drum solo. If this is Jarvis (and that hyperactive bass drum sure sounds like him), he is not as blithely self-indulgent as usual, resulting in a musically satisfying prelude to Sun Ra’s typically inventive synthesizer solo. Ra coaxes worlds of sounds from his MiniMoog, once again demonstrating his quick mastery of that technologically sophisticated instrument over the past year. “Satellites Are Spinning” follows with June Tyson and John Gilmore duetting on the loping sing-along. Sadly, the tape cuts off a mere two minutes into “Enlightenment.” Ouch.


I must admit to having deep ethical qualms about the Transparency label since most of their Sun Ra releases consist of amateur recordings that have circulated amongst collectors for years. As such, these CDs can best be described as “bootlegs.” I read someplace where Marshall Allen has granted Transparency the “moral right” to release these recordings and, in return, the Arkestra receives a percentage from their sales. That is all very well and good, but copyright law does not (as far as I know) recognize “moral rights” and, even if it did, it is questionable whether or not Allen retains those rights with regard to these recordings. Nevertheless, I have to admit that any effort to bring these tapes to light should be applauded by those of us who are fanatically obsessed with Sun Ra’s music. For the merely curious, I would suggest staying away from the Transparency CDs and sticking to the myriad “official” releases on offer. If you already have all that stuff, then by all means, indulge yourself; these recordings are well worth hearing, despite their dodgy provenance. But, as always, caveat emptor!

January 23, 2010

Playlist 1-23-10

* Buxtehude: Six Sonatas (Holloway/Mortensen, et al.) (Naxos CD)
* J.S. Bach: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* J.S. Bach: Klavierubung (Alard): Église des Minimes, Brussels 7-25-09 (FM CDR)
* Messiaen: Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps (Shaham, et al.) (Deutsche Grammophon CD)
* Messiaen: 80th Birthday Concert (Ens. Intercontemporain/Boulez/Loriod) (Montaigne CD)
* Charles Mingus: Black Saint & the Sinner Lady (Impulse! CD)
* Charles Mingus: Mingus Plays Piano (Impulse! CD)
* Andrew Hill: Passing Ships (Blue Note CD)
* Andrew Hill: Lift Every Voice (Blue Note CD)
* Andrew Hill: Mosaic Select 16 (d.1) (Mosaic 3CD)
* Bobby Hutcherson: Dialogue (Blue Note CD)
* Alice Coltrane: A Monastic Trio (Impulse! CD)
* Pharoah Sanders: Karma (Impulse! CD)
* Pharoah Sanders: Jewels of Thought (Impulse! CD)
* Sun Ra: Lecture, U.C. Berkeley 5-4-71 (AUD CDR)
* Sun Ra: The Warehouse, San Francisco 6-10-71 (SBD CDR)
* Sun Ra: J.P. Widney Jr. High School, Los Angeles 6-12-71 (AUD 2CDR)
* Sun Ra: Universe in Blue (Saturn LP>CDR)
* The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Night (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Beatles for Sale (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Rubber Soul (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Revolver (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds (Capitol/DCC LP)
* Bob Dylan: John Wesley Harding (mono) (Columbia/Sundazed LP)
* Grateful Dead: The Omni, Atlanta, GA 12-12-73 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Public Auditorium, Cleveland, OH 11-29-79 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Stanley Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA 11-30-79 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL 6-23-91 (SBD 3CDR)
* The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground (Polydor CD)
* Henry Cow: Leg End (Red/Virgin LP)
* Henry Cow: Unrest (Virgin LP)
* Tom Waits: Glitter & Doom Live (Anti 2LP)
* Guided By Voices: Sandbox (Scat LP)
* Guided By Voices: Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia (Scat LP)
* Guided By Voices: Same Place the Fly Got Smashed (Scat LP)
* Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino CD)


I finally picked up a copy of the Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion album and, after two listens, I am intrigued but not totally convinced of its alleged greatness. What is intriguing to me is their ability to resurrect a much maligned genre like eighties-style synth-pop without resorting to sneering irony; there is a giddy exuberance to their music that is refreshing in an era of calculated cynicism and faux-sincerity. What is lacking, to my ears, is compelling and/or catchy songwriting that I want and expect from pop music. While the electronic textures are trippy and evocative, they fail to cohere into actual songs – at least after only a couple hearings. Perhaps that is intentional and part of their supposed genius. Or perhaps, after further listens, an inner logic will reveal itself beyond the music’s sparkling surface appeal. I will therefore reserve ultimate judgment until after I’ve spent some more time with it. Regardless, this is an interesting and ambitious album and it is encouraging that such a thing could find a (relatively) broad audience in our fractured and fragmented society. That is an unqualifiedly good thing.


Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-203, 2010 U.S. LEXIS 766 (U.S. Supreme Court, January 21, 2010) (Opinion by Kennedy)

I try to avoid politics on this blog, and I hesitate to make any comments about the law since I AM NOT A LAWYER, but the latest 5-4 decision out of the Supreme Court is alarming on so many levels, I had to read for myself what our esteemed Justices have to say. I suggest that every citizen turn off the television/internet and do the same. (The slip opinion is available here.) The majority makes an elegant but intellectually dishonest (and procedurally defective) argument to support the idea that corporations should have the same unfettered First Amendment rights to speech (via money) as natural human beings. In so doing, the Court overturns over a hundred years of jurisprudence and resulting statutory schemes. In effect, Thursday’s decision makes it impossible for legislatures to regulate the financing of political campaigns vis-a-vis corporations in any meaningful way. Needless to say, I wholeheartedly agree with Justice Stevens’s eloquent ninety-page dissent which concludes:

In a democratic society, the longstanding consensus on the need to limit corporate campaign spending should outweigh the wooden application of judge-made rules. The majority’s rejection of this principle elevates corporations to a level of deference which has not been seen at least since the days when substantive due process was regularly used to invalidate regulatory legislation thought to unfairly impinge upon economic interests. At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics. (pp. 296-297)

Worse than the bad result in the instant matter is the Court’s willingness to make sweeping changes in constitutional law on the flimsiest of pretexts. It is essential to note that the appellant in this case had long ago abandoned its constitutional challenge to the statute at issue in the lower courts, only to be revived, sua sponte, by the majority on appeal. This is an astonishing move by the Court. Whether or not one supports the end result, this radical departure from the rules of procedure belies any notion that these Justices are in any way “conservatives,” “originalists,” “strict constructionists” or even remotely interested in the concept of “judicial restraint,” as they have been sold by the presidents who nominated them. They are activist judges of the worst sort, driven by a suspect ideology and they are vigorously enacting their agenda. Whatever one’s political viewpoint, the Court’s actions in this case should give pause. After all, there is no appeal from the Supreme Court and we suffer their decisions for years if not generations.

January 18, 2010

Common Birds at the Feeder: Common Grackle

Common Grackle 03, originally uploaded by Rodger Coleman.

The Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) is, well, common. But seeing one up close, I can appreciate its brilliantly irridescent coloring. This one didn't like the camera too much, but I got a few shots of him this weekend.

January 17, 2010

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra and His Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra:
J.P. Widney Jr. High School, Los Angeles, CA 6-12-71 (AUD 2CDR)

After their (semi)triumphant tour of Europe, the Arkestra’s return to the United States must have been something of a letdown, with paying work still somewhat hard to find and the musicians once again scattered between Phildelphia, New York and Chicago. Szwed mentions a gig at the beginning of 1971 at the Village Vanguard as well as a concert at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s prestigious “Composers in Performance” series in February (p.285). According to Campbell and Trent, the Arkestra also played Sunday and Monday nights at The East Village In in March (and perhaps at other times later in the year) (p.170). But the West Coast beckoned once again and in April, the Arkestra headed out for an extended stay in California appearing at the first UC Jazz Festival at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley on April 23 and a two-night stand at San Francisco’s Harding Theater on April 30 and May 1 (Id.). Tommy Hunter had once again rejoined the group and remembers Sun Ra writing the "Discipline" series of compositions during this time, rehearsing a new one with the band every day (Id. and see also Szwed, p.285).

After a stint in Berkeley, the Arkestra accepted Bobby Seale’s invitation to move into a house in Oakland owned by the controversial Black Panthers. Sonny had generally positive feelings about the Black Panthers’ goals but was skeptical of their incendiary politics; not surprisingly, this move brought the Arkestra some unwanted attention from the authorities:

Sonny was impressed by the practical side of the Panthers -- their ideas for schools, a breakfast program for children, providing groceries for the needy, building a community – and though he did not share their theoretical underpinnings and their violent implications, he thought they had the best program he had heard of for black people. The Arkestra was now at least remotely connected to the group that J. Edgar Hoover declared the biggest threat to American internal security. So as benign as the Arkestra’s activities were – they played a local mental hospital, performed at the wedding at the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, worked at clubs like the Native Son, and gave free concerts in the parks – they found themselves under surveillance by both the FBI and the Oakland police (Szwed, p.286).

On June 11, the Arkestra travelled down to Los Angeles where Danny Thompson’s cousin, Alden Kimborough, had arranged a concert at the J.P. Widney Junior High School. A school for handicapped children, it was inauspiciously named after Joseph Pomeroy Widney (1841-1948), one of the first presidents of the University of California -- and a virulent racist. In 1907, Widney published a two-volume manifesto entitled, Race Life of the Aryan People (Funk & Wagnall), which predicted that Los Angeles would some day become the center of white supremacy (Id.). Widney’s malevolent spirit seems to loom over the proceedings: For while the concert was well-received by the audience, “things turned ugly when the custodial staff – not knowing Sun Ra’s practice of playing without regard for time – interrupted the concert by turning off the lights. Sun Ra was furious and lectured the guard and the audience on injustice, race, leadership, and civil order, and ended by putting a curse on the City of Angels” (p.285).

The whole thing (including Sun Ra’s curse) was recorded on a reel-to-reel machine “that was set up right in the middle of the band” (Campbell & Trent, p.171), presumably by Dr. Reggie Scott, who provides some six minutes of embittered commentary at the end of the eighty-two minute tape. The sound quality is, unfortunately, predictably awful, with loud passages overloaded to the point of pure distortion (not to mention the serious wow-and-flutter issues throughout); but the microphone’s position on the stage otherwise provides some immediacy to the music, making less-loud portions (almost) listenable. What is notable about this recording, besides the return of Hunter on drums, is that it marks the first appearance of bassist Ronnie Boykins since his defection for greener pastures in 1968. Somehow, Boykins was cajoled into joining the Arkestra on its California sojourn, perhaps after being informed of the band’s enthusiastic reception in Europe. His distinctive and effortlessly virtuosic bass playing had been integral to the development of Sun Ra’s music during its formative years and his return to the band was certainly most welcome. Boykins would continue to play off and on with the Arkestra through 1974 but Sonny was never able to find anyone else who could really fill his shoes except for perhaps Alan Silva, who had just recently left the band for good. Sadly, although Boykins’s presence can be felt driving the rhythm section, his contributions to this concert are mostly inaudible.

The performance begins with an unidentified title featuring Sun Ra’s portentous electronic keyboards which summon forth a series of hectoring space chants. After a leisurely romp through “Enlightenment,” the ensemble gradually comes together to build up a dense polyrhythmic groove on the lilting “Love in Outer Space,” with Ra taking the lead on organ. As usual, “Watusi” explodes into an extended percussion jam and “Second Stop is Jupiter” serves as a platform for some bluesy, gut-bucket group improvisation, anchored by Boykins’s rock-solid arco riffing. Suitably warmed up, the band launches into the infinitely challenging “Shadow World” at a cartoonishly fast tempo. Unfortunately, the recording is so distorted, it’s impossible to tell what’s going on musically aside from Ra’s furious organ playing and some braying horns. Intermittently, the ensemble drops out, leaving a saxophone or trumpet to solo a cappella. After about fifteen minutes, Ra enters with a dramatic organ chord to introduce the first known performance of “Discipline 15,” a through-composed dirge, similar to the “prototypes” they were playing in Europe. Basically a sequence of sweet but wayward vertical harmonies orchestrated at the extremes of instrumental registers, it is all unresolved tension. This is immediately followed by a snaky improvisation by Marshall Allen on oboe, but he is soon overwhelmed by roaring bass and pounding percussion. June Tyson sings “They’ll Come Back” with a sure-footed sense of pitch and timing over randomly tinkling bells, crashing gongs, clattering percussion, and what sounds like breaking glass (!); but when the full ensemble enters with the theme, the sound quality degenerates into horrific noise. Frankly, it sounds like a cable is loose, creating an electrical short-circuit. Egads! The sound clears up somewhat for the last known performance of “Walkin’ on the Moon,” but the tape quickly fades out after the first couple of minutes.

Apparently, the custodians shut off the lights a short time after, as the tape next picks up in the middle of “The Curse.” And, wow, Sun Ra is pissed off! For more than five minutes, Sonny rains down sheets of radioactive organ and angrily rants about darkness and light, race and righteousness:

The darkness means nothing to you. It’s my home. And my people are dark and black….there’s nothing but darkness anyway and there’s no escape for white, yellow, brown or black for what I represent. And you can believe it if you want to or not; I don’t care! This planet needs me! I don’t need it!…You cannot afford to take a chance. I’m not playing with anything, I’m not Christ, I’m not righteous, I’m so evil…I’ll destroy the whole planet! I’m here to do something! I’m a product of nature! I don’t care anything about the governments of man, I don’t care anything about anyone who is not true and sincere. There is no excuse for any man to mistreat another man. I will not tolerate it! I don’t care if you’re the strongest government on the face of the earth, you are a part of nature!...Do not ever turn the lights out on me! You may be ever so light, but you don’t own anything! You are here by the grace of the god you say you worship!… You will wake up! Black people don’t need to wake up, they got me -- you don’t have nothin’!

Sun Ra ends with an explicit threat: “The birds don’t have to stop playing at one o’clock; why should I? You just had one earthquake…you might expect another!” Whoah. This followed by an eerie minute or so of the audience exiting the auditorium, muttering in stunned disbelief; meanwhile some woman invites everyone to meet “at 4506 Southwest” for further consciousness-raising experiences. The tape concludes with Dr. Reggie Scott’s monologue (over Sun Ra music), in which he recalls an “embarrassing evening for what could have been a perfect evening.” In a coolly angry voice, Dr. Scott laments:

Sun Ra and his band never played better. The crowd never responded better. The people loved and begged for more. But it was ended; ended in another kind of tragic commentary on sensitivity, on responsibility, on man’s -- black man’s -- failure to share the artistic point of view, share the love of art with the artist…The crowd hungered for more, but was not permitted. It was embarrassing to people who love and worship the mighty Sun Ra. The band wanted to play. Sun Ra wanted to play. The audience wanted more…The crowd was at a feverish pitch to hear more Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra but it was brought to a halt by the powers that be.

Dr. Scott goes to on to describe the “furious” Sun Ra cursing the City of Los Angeles and concludes: “Sun Ra remains the myth. Sun Ra remains the puzzle. Sun Ra remains undisputed. Sun Ra can only be interpreted in one of two ways: You either go into the galaxy with him or stay left behind. It was that kind of evening. It was that kind of night…” Indeed.

Sun Ra would stay in Oakland until well into 1972, but events would soon overwhelm the Black Panthers when the powers that be turned the lights out on the black power movement (such as it was). And as Ra’s international touring career grew, his political emphasis would necessarily soften into a more pan-racial, intergalactic ecumenicalism. This recording, although of extremely poor fidelity, is a rare document of Sun Ra at his most militant and is worth hearing for “The Curse” alone. Powerful stuff!

January 16, 2010

Playlist 1-16-10

* Holborne: Pavans & Galliards 1599 (Guildhall Waits/Consort of Musicke) (L’Oiseau-Lyre LP)
* Morley, et al.: Englische Virginalmusik um 1600 (Leonhardt) (Telefunken LP)
* Die Barocklaute I (Dombois) (ABC/Seon LP)
* Geminiani: Cello Sonatas, Op.5 (ter Linden/Mortensen, et al.) (Brilliant Classics CD)
* Vivaldi: Cello Sonatas (ter Linden/Mortensen, et al.) (Brilliant Classics 2CD)
* J.C. Bach: Sinfonias Op.18, Nos.3 & 5, etc. (Little Orchestra of London/Jones) (Nonesuch LP)
* Schoenberg: String Quartets (Arditti/Upshaw) (d.1) (Montaigne/Naïve 2CD)
* Andrew Hill: The Complete Blue Note Sessions (1963-1966) (d.5-10) (Mosaic 10LP)
* Andrew Hill: Mosaic Select 16 (selections) (Mosaic 3CD)
* Andrew Hill: Grass Roots (Blue Note CD)
* Andrew Hill: Dance of Death (Blue Note CD)
* Sun Ra: J.P. Widney Jr. High School, Los Angeles 6-12-71 (AUD 2CDR)
* Sun Ra: Universe in Blue (Saturn LP>CDR)
* The Beatles: Abbey Road (2009 remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* George Harrison: All Things Must Pass (2001 remaster) (Apple/EMI 2CD)
* Elton John: Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy (MCA/Universal SACD)
* Nick Drake: Five Leaves Left (Island/Universal CD)
* Nick Drake: Pink Moon (Island/Universal CD)
* Nick Drake: Bryter Later (Island/Universal CD)
* Steely Dan: A Decade of Steely Dan (MCA Ultimate Master Disc CD)
* Grateful Dead: Cape Cod Coliseum, South Yarmouth 10-27-79 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Cape Cod Coliseum, South Yarmouth 10-28-79 (SBD 2CDR)
* Neil Young: On the Beach (Reprise DVD-A)
* Lucinda Williams: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Mercury 2CD)
* Guided By Voices: Forever Since Breakfast (Matador CD)
* Guided By Voices: Devil Between My Toes (Scat LP)
* Steven Malkmus: Real Emotional Trash (Matador CD)
* Radiohead: Kid A (Capitol CD)
* Radiohead: In Rainbows (TBD CD)


Mosaic’s ten-LP box set of Andrew Hill’s Blue Note recordings is such a massive object of awe-inspiring beauty that I can hardly bring myself pull it off the shelf to play it. Of course, all this stuff eventually all came out on individual CDs over the years and they are, of course, way more convenient for casual listening. But, wow, these 200g all-analog LPs really do sound amazing! I’ve made my way through the entire thing over the past two weeks and listening to Hill’s development chronologically has given me a whole new appreciation for his unique genius – and Rudy Van Gelder’s alchemical recording technique. For example, the two double-basses on the December 1963 Smoke Stack session have always sounded indistinct on CD, making for a muddled sound quality that has made this album hard for me to appreciate. But on Mosaic’s vinyl, the two basses are not only clearly and separately audible; they fit in perfectly with the drums and piano to reveal the subtle inflections of Hill’s extraordinary set of compositions. Truly stunning.

In a broad sense, Hill’s music moves from post-bop to “avant garde” in the period covered in the box, but none of this music fits comfortably into any particular sub-genre and, for that matter, Hill’s ambitions lie way beyond the freighted and derogatory term “jazz.” In fact, Hill had as a young man studied with the esteemed German composer/theorist, Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), and his compositions are multi-faceted and abstract, never resorting to simple head-solo-head constructions; his harmonic sensibility teasingly hovers between “in” and “out,” tonal and (never quite) atonal yet still maintains forward momentum, tension and resolution. Hill’s compositions are so compelling that alternate takes are just as rewarding as the masters! The music is never obvious, it never does quite what you would expect a “jazz combo” to do and it is sometimes dense and difficult to immediately grasp as a whole -- no doubt making it supremely difficult to play. This makes for some ragged ensembles at times, despite a roster of consistently stellar sidemen, including Sun Ra’s own John Gilmore on two particularly hot sessions. Relentlessly self-critical, Hill refused to release huge swathes of what was recorded for Blue Note, feeling that his conception was not being fully realized by the musicians. It is a measure of Alfred Lion’s devotion that he continued to record Hill’s music at a financial loss -- and it took the equally fanatical Michael Cuscuna to finally bring this intriguing music to the light of day. Bless them both! Despite any imperfections in execution, the musicians are clearly inspired by and dedicated to Hill’s work resulting in near-perfect albums such as Judgment (1964) and Point of Departure (1965).

Hill continued to record for Blue Note from 1967 to 1970, and this music is scattered across several different CDs and I decided to continue the chronological survey. In 2005, Mosaic Select 16 gathered together all the remaining material previously unreleased, including two gorgeous sessions with string quartet and a couple of adventurous sessions where Hill plays organ and harpsichord (!). 1968’s Grass Roots might at first glance appear to be an attempt to cash in with a jazz-funk approach, but again Hill undermines expectations with intricate structures and asymmetrical rhythms, making for a challenging yet loosely danceable record. (The 2000 Blue Note CD appends a tentative earlier session which attempts some of these compositions with a more straight-ahead rhythm section consisting of Reggie Workman on bass and Idris Muhammad on drums.) Recorded in the fall of 1968, Dance of Death marks a return of sorts to Hill’s original angular, swinging style, driven by the vivacious Billy Higgins on drums and featuring a young Joe Farrell on tenor and soprano sax. I’m looking forward to listening to the rest of Hill’s Blue Note recordings this coming week, including the flawed but crucial nonet session recorded in November 1969 and released as Passing Ships in 2003 -- as well as the quirky gospel-choir experiment, Lift Every Voice (1970). Hill abandoned the jazz scene altogether to earn a Ph.D. from Colgate University, later teaching and performing solo piano recitals, only occasionally making records for such labels as Freedom, Soul Note, Steeplechase and Palmetto. Hill returned to Blue Note for a reunion with vibist Bobby Hutcherson on 1989’s Eternal Spirit and again to record a poignantly brilliant final album, Time Lines, in 2006. Andrew Hill, aged 76, died of lung cancer on April 20, 2007.

January 15, 2010

New Moon

Starry Night 07, originally uploaded by Rodger Coleman.

I took advantage of tonight's new moon, clear skies, and less bitterly cold temperatures to try and take some more pictures of the stars. These are just experiments with fully manual settings and the tripod and the high ISOs make for a lot of noise, but I'm pleased with how these came out. You can see the others on my Flickr Photostream. Pretty fun!

January 10, 2010

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Intergalactic Research Arkestra:
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 11-9-70 (AUD 2CDR)

Following their appearance at the Berlin Jazz Festival, the Arkestra traveled to London, arriving just in time for their scheduled performance on November 9, 1970. Unfortunately, the logistics of this concert were vexed from the beginning. Originally to be held at the glamorous Rainbow Theatre, the show was moved at the last minute to the much smaller Queen Elizabeth Hall, which again resulted in an angry mob of people outside the theater, unable to enter. Thankfully, a full scale riot did not erupt as in Paris. And although Black Lion intended to record the concert for release, the sound technicians arrived three hours late, resulting in unacceptably bad sound quality (even for Black Lion!). (See Szwed p.283-284 and Campbell & Trent p.169.)

Nevertheless, the performance itself was apparently a resounding success. David Toop wrote about this landmark concert in his thought-provoking book, Oceans of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds (London: Serpents Tail, 1995):

[Sun Ra’s] first UK performance…was one of the most spectacular concerts ever held in this country. Not spectacular so much in terms of effects, which were low on budget but high on strange atmosphere, spectacular in terms of presenting a complete world view, so occult, so other, to all of us in the audience that the only possible responses were outright dismissal or complete intuitive empathy with a man who had chosen to discard all the possibilities of a normal life, even a normal jazz life, in favour of an unremitting alien identity. Fire-eaters, a golden-robed dancer carrying a sun symbol, tornadoes of percussion, eerie cello glissandi, ferocious blasts and tendrils of electronic sound from Sun Ra on Farfisa organ and Moog synthesizer, futuristic lyrics of the advertising age sung by June Tyson – “If you find earth boring, just the same old thing, come on sign up for Outer Spaceways Incorporated” –saxophone riffs repeated over and over by Pat Patrick and Danny Thompson as they moved down the seating aisles towards the stage while John Gilmore shredded and
blistered a ribbon of multiphonics from his tenor, film images of Africa and outer space…As depictions of archaic futures, shamanistic theatre, imaged of divined worlds, these devices of cumulative sensory overload were regarded at the time as distractions from the music. But those who concentrated solely on the music ignored Ra’s role as political messenger. (pp.23-24; quoted in Szwed p.284.)

What exactly Sun Ra’s political message might be is a topic I’d rather not delve into at the moment except to say that Toop touches upon a profound truth regarding Ra’s “unremitting alien identity,” which was already fully evolved by 1970. The large scale Cosmo Drama he witnessed was perhaps the very peak of the Arkestra’s gonzo, multi-media theatricality and cutting edge, out-jazz intensity. Too bad Black Lion blew it on the recording.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your tolerance for poor sound quality), a 118-minute audience recording of this concert circulates amongst Sun Ra fanatics. And believe me, this one is only for the irredeemably fanatical. During quiet passages, it is barely listenable; but when the music gets loud, it is nothing but a distorted roar of undifferentiated white noise. Maybe it’s not quite that bad, and after a while, you do get used to it, yeah, yeah, yeah – but, sheesh! That said, our intrepid recordist did manage to preserve a nearly complete performance from this first European tour and a little perseverance offers intermittent rewards. A blow-by-blow description would be even more tedious than usual, but I want to point out a few highlights. First of all, Ra seems to have been provided with a decent concert grand piano, upon which he spends more than his usual, obligatory amount of time and he sounds truly inspired by the instrument throughout. The first set features one of the final performances of “Walking on the Moon,” sporting a slightly different arrangement with more high-octane big-band riffing and fewer overt solos, further omitting Ra’s usual wandering keyboard at the end and instead segueing immediately into the swinging space chant, “Outer Spaceways Incorporated.” “The Shadow World” is its usual, mysterious, shape-shifting self which breaks down into a lovely piano duet with Silva’s arco bass, interrupted here and there by Kwami Hadi’s daredevil high-wire trumpet act. This maneuver prods Ra and Silva to even more delirious flights of fancy before the full Arkestra lurches into another one of those dirgey, old-fashioned-sounding compositions that brings to mind the “Discipline” series to come. The first known performance of “Life is Splendid” opens with the massed flute choir effect similar to “Friendly Galaxy No.2,” before the incantatory vocals by Tyson and Ra. Tyson then chants with the Arkestra about “somewhere in outer space” where “we’ll wait for you… in tomorrow’s world” until an eruption of free jazz skronk and a spacey synth drone brings things to a dramatic close.

The forty-six minute fragment of the second set is even more interesting, cutting in on what at first sounds like a conducted improvisation featuring Ra on piano and Silva on bowed cello. But upon closer listening, it sounds to me like Ra is outlining a pre-conceived harmonic structure that comes to a definite conclusion. After a brief pause, Ra launches into a piano solo that also sounds through-composed. Is this a suite? Or does the bewildered audience just not have the opportunity to react? Ra’s playing becomes more rhythmically agitated, each hand playing in different keys, punctuated by the Arkestra’s braying space-chords whose inner voices suggest the harmonic movements of the piano. After a cued stop, dueling alto saxophones take over amidst intermittent Arkestra blasting and churning percussion. The poor quality of the recording makes it difficult to hear what exactly is going on here, but it is certainly intense! A crashing gong introduces a chiming electric keyboard solo to end. Next up is a medley of compositions that date back to the early years in Chicago: “Planet Earth” has by now gained lyrics for an ensemble of vocalists and “El is the Sound of Joy” gets an expansive arrangement featuring a swirling, roller-rink organ solo by Ra. Despite the poor sound quality, you can still hear that the Arkestra is tight and well-rehearsed on both of these swinging big-band numbers. The first known performance of “Pleiades” begins with a brief statement of the theme on the reedy Rocksichord before a lengthy electric keyboard solo full of whooshing synthesizer and terrifying, pile-driving organ cluster-bombs that anticipate the industrial noise-making of Einstürzende Neubauten. Clearly, Sonny was very much ahead of his time. All of this builds up to a frenetic group improvisation featuring Silva’s viola, Pat Patrick bass clarinet, Eloe Omoe on Neptunian lipflecto, and (perhaps) Akh Tal Ebah on long-breathed trumpet. Finally, after almost twenty minutes, things quiet down and a flute choir plays the liltingly beautiful composition in its entirety, accompanied by some weirdo chords from Ra’s piano. The tape cuts off just as Ra begins to solo, which is too bad since I was just starting to get used to the bad sound quality!


On November 11, the Arkestra performed at the Liverpool University Students’ Union to a wildly enthusiastic, rock-star-like reception:

Toward the end of this concert, a greater part of the audience simply abandoned
the seating and danced in front of the stage, chanting “Ra, Ra, Ra.” This mass movement was catalyzed by one guy in a business suit, who leapt to his feet waving an umbrella, totally involved in the music. On this night, fire-eaters performed on stage during the concert, and the light show featured projected photos, ciné film of Sun Ra in the Sun Studio, starry backdrops, and rock-style lighting effects – a truly multimedia performance. The music ranged from percussion ensembles in which the whole Arkestra seemed to participate, to unaccompanied solos by John Gilmore and Sun Ra, Alan Silva cello features, space chants, and Dukish themes. There was plenty of all-in ensemble playing, too. During the second set many of the horn players, who had gone offstage, made a coordinated reappearance at various doorways at the back of the auditorium and drifted forward through the audience to rejoin the Arkestra, playing as they went. An old Melody Maker advertisement indicates that Tyrannosaurus Rex appeared there the week before, and in subsequent weeks the hall featured Fleetwood Mac, Charles Mingus, Frank Zappa, and Colosseum (Campbell & Trent p.171).

The Arkestra returned to London for the final concert of the tour at Seymour Hall, on a bill with Chris McGregor’s Quintet from South Africa and Osibasa, a rock group from Ghana. In the end, promoter Victor Schonfield lost money on the Arkestra’s first European tour, but as Szwed points out, “Sun Ra was now a world musician” (p.285).

January 9, 2010

Playlist 1-9-10

* Buxtehude: Six Sonatas (Holloway, et al.) (Naxos CD)
* Geminiani: Cello Sonatas, Op.5 (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics CD)
* Vivaldi: Cello Sonatas (ter Linden/Mortensen) Brilliant Classics 2CD)
* Vivaldi: Late Violin Concertos (VBO/Marcon/Carmignola) (Sony CD)
* Vivaldi: Violin Concertos, RV 331, etc. (VBO/Marcon/Carmignola) (Archiv Produktion CD)
* Handel: Trio Sonatas, Op.2 & Op.5 (AAM/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Sun Ra: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 11-9-70 (AUD 2CDR)
* Sun Ra: J.P. Widney Jr. High School, Los Angeles 6-12-71 (AUD 2CDR)
* Sun Ra: Sound of Joy (Delmark CD)
* John Coltrane: Interplay (d.1-3) (Prestige 5CD)
* Bobby Hutcherson: “Mellow Vibes” (selections) (Blue Note mix CDR)
* Andrew Hill: The Complete Blue Note Sessions (1963-1966) (d.1-4) (Mosaic 10LP)
* Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: Toward the Margins (ECM CD)
* David Torn: Prezens (ECM CD)
* Earl Klugh: Finger Paintings (Blue Note/MFSL LP)
* The Beatles: Anthology 2 (Apple/EMI 2CD)
* The Beatles: “Revolution 1” (take 20) (fan/boot CDR)
* The Songs the Beatles Gave Away (fan/boot CDR)
* Led Zeppelin: In Through the Out Door (Swan Song LP)
* King Crimson: Epitaph (live 1969) (DGM 4CD)
* Grateful Dead: The Spectrum, Philadelphia 11-5-79 (set 2) (SBD 2CDR)
* Grateful Dead: The Spectrum, Philadelphia 11-6-79 (SBD 2CDR)
* Big Star: Keep An Eye On the Sky (d.2) (Ardent/Rhino 4CD)
* Palace Songs: Hope (Drag City 12”EP)
* Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs (Matador CD)
* The Flaming Lips: Embryonic (Warner Bros. DVD-A)
* Sigur Rós: Ágætis Byrjun (PIAS CD)


Snow, ice and bitterly cold temperatures has made for a harsh first full week of the New Year, making me want to go into hibernation until spring. I mean, geez, I moved south to escape this kind of weather! Oh well, at least I can sometimes sit by the fire and listen to records -- and read a good book:

With all the excitement of the The Beatles boxes, I checked out a book from the library I have been meaning to read for a long time. Having almost finished it, I have to agree that Ian MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties (Henry Holt & Co., 1994) deserves its reputation as one of the best books about the Beatles ever written. Combining socio-political commentary with precise musicological observation, MacDonald attempts to explain The Beatles’ historical significance through a song-by-song analysis of the recordings. It is refreshing that he is not overawed by his subject and sometimes offers withering criticism of what he considers sloppy and careless efforts, while providing genuine insight into what makes their greatest songs work and why they had the impact they had on the culture at large. I may not agree with all of his opinions (I think he gets “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds” totally wrong and his utter disdain for what he terms “rock” causes him to miss the importance of proto-punk songs like “Helter Skelter”), but he makes eloquent arguments backed up by firm grasp of music theory and relevant studio technology. Perhaps not the last word on Beatles scholarship, MacDonald’s book is a step above the usual journalistic or otherwise purely sociological writings that inevitably fail to address the music itself which result in an unconvincing special pleading for the Beatles’ inviolable canonical status. As such, Revolution in the Head is an excellent companion to the newly remastered catalog and one of the better books about music I have ever read.

January 4, 2010

Pileated Woodpecker (male)

Pileated Woodpecker (m), originally uploaded by Rodger Coleman.

Beautiful sunny days this weekend combined with cold and hungry birds made for some great photo opportunities. I saw this male Pileated Woodpecker (Drycopus pileatus) around all weekend, but was only able to get this one shot of him. Check out that red, all the way from his beak to the back of his neck -- and that little "mustache!" And his yellow eye! Just an amazing bird! We are so lucky to get to see them up close.

January 3, 2010

Sun Ra Sunday

We’ll continue where we left off next week, but in the meantime, here are two televised excerpts from the Arkestra’s performance at the Chicago Jazz Festival on September 2, 1981:

January 2, 2010

Playlist 1-2-10

* Machaut: Motets (Hilliard Ensemble) (ECM CD)
* Buxtehude: Six Sonatas (Holloway/ter Linden et al.) (Naxos CD)
* Vivaldi: Cello Sonatas (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics 2CD)
* Handel: Trio Sonatas, Op.2 & 5 (AAM/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* J.S. Bach: Cello Suites (ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Bach/Webern: Ricercar (Münchener Kammerorchester/Hilliard Ens./Poppen) (ECM CD)
* Tulev: Songs (Estonian Phil. Chamber Choir et al./Hillier) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* John Coltrane: Fearless Leader (d.4) (Prestige 6CD)
* John Coltrane: Interplay (d.4-5) (Prestige 5CD)
* John Coltrane: Side Steps (d.5) (Prestige 5CD)
* Joe Henderson: Our Thing (Blue Note CD)
* Muhal Richard Abrams: Vision Towards Essence (Pi CD)
* Sun Ra: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 11-9-70 (AUD 2CDR)
* Ornette Coleman & Prime Time: Zürich 10-24-84 (d.1) (FM 2CDR)
* George Benson: Breezin’ (Warner Bros./MFSL LP)
* Herbie Hancock: Sunlight (Sony – Japan CD)
* The Beatles: Please Please Me (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: With The Beatles (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Night (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: The Beatles For Sale (mono) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Beatles For Sale (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Help! (mono) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Help! (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Rubber Soul (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Revolver (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Yellow Submarine (selections) (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: The Beatles (a/k/a The White Album) (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI 2CD)
* The Beatles: Abbey Road (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Let It Be (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beatles: Past Masters (stereo remaster) (Apple/EMI 2CD)
* Bob Dylan: Docklands Arena, London 5-12-02 (AUD/boot 2CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Winterland, San Francisco 12-31-72 (Pre-FM 4CDR)
* Grateful Dead: The Closing of Winterland (12-31-78) (selections) (GD/Rhino 4CD)
* Grateful Dead: Civic Center, Springfield, MA 10-24-79 (set 2) (SBD 2CDR)
* Grateful Dead: The Spectrum, Philadelphia 4-6-82 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Coliseum Arena, Oakland 12-31-90 (Pre-FM 3CD)
* Big Star: Keep An Eye On The Sky (d.1) (Ardent/Rhino 4CD)
* King Crimson: Earthbound (DGM/Virgin CD)
* King Crimson: USA (DGM/Virgin CD)
* Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates (Warner Bros./MFSL SACD)
* Beck: Sea Change (Geffen/MFSL 2LP)
* Robert Pollard: Elephant Jokes (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Boston Spaceships: Zero to 99 (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Circus Devils: Gringo (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Jim O’Rourke: The Visitor (Drag City LP)


Many months ago, a dear friend let me borrow an SACD of vocal music (on one of my favorite labels) by the contemporary Estonian composer, Toivo Tulev; but because I have this severe hang-up about “classical” singing, I put off listening to it until this week. On the Sunday after Christmas, I was in the mood, having listened to the Machaut Motets and Bach’s Cantata, BWV 4. I was surprised to find that Tulev’s music fit right in with this ancient sacred music while still sounding totally modern. Freely mixing languages, textual sources, and technical processes both new and old, one might more properly describe this music as postmodern but that word is so freighted with misunderstanding and invective that it would be demeaning of what is very serious, very meaningful, very (dare I say it?) spiritual work. Indeed, Tulev’s vocal music almost sounds pre-modern, pre-classical, ancient, even. And yet the music feels vital and alive – it makes you want to believe! Furthermore, Tulev thoughtfully explores new sonorities and textures within the seemingly constricted harmonic space, creating a kind of transcendental yet secular, non-ideological music. I like it! In an interview with the composer contained in the liner notes, he says: “I like to listen to Led Zeppelin, Robert Fripp, Robert Plant or Jimi Hendrix, a favourite of mine, a wonderful composer.” Well all right – it all makes sense now. I have added this disc to my want list and am grateful to hear of a contemporary composer whose work resonates so deeply with me – and which helps me get over my hang-up about “classical” singing. Thanks, Stan!


The Beatles In Stereo box set arrived this week and, as you can see, I listened to the whole darn thing. This was not hard to do – after all, the albums are short and, well, it’s The Beatles! This is some of the most beautiful and life-affirming music ever made! It was a joy to listen to these discs! I started out with Abbey Road, since it is not on the mono box and I was utterly blown away! You know how you can tell the engineers did a good job on this CD? Plenty of tape hiss! That may seem counterintuitive, but if they had attempted to remove it with digital noise reduction, they would have destroyed the otherwise spacious and luscious tonality of the sound. The vocals are frighteningly realistic – it’s like they’re in the room, singing just for you! Next up was Let It Be and, while this is one of my least favorite Beatles records, it was like hearing it for the first time. The band may have been falling apart at the seams by this point, but when they get it together, as on, say, “Two of Us” or “Get Back,” they still sound pretty fab! Starting over from the beginning, I was expecting the first few albums to sound awful in the hard-panned, twin-track stereo of the day, but was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it quite a bit. The total separation of instruments from vocals provides some extra clarity to what’s going on in the mix, although to be honest, I still prefer the cohesiveness of mono for most of the early stuff (although I did find the stereo Beatles For Sale to be surprisingly good). Help! and Rubber Soul do not benefit so much from the remastering process since they decided to use George Martin’s 1987 digital remixes, but they do sound punchier than the original CDs (happily, the original stereo mixes are appended to the mono editions). With Revolver and beyond, however, things really start to get interesting and the sound quality is stupendous, despite the sometimes quirky mixes. It’s about time the Beatles catalog was upgraded and I couldn’t be happier with the results. I’m looking forward to re-experiencing these timeless records for years to come, comparing the stereo versions to their mono counterparts and the U.S. “butcherings” (in mono and stereo) found on The Capitol Albums, Vos.1+2 box sets. Good times for the obsessive record-collector. If you’re skeptical about whether these remasters are worth the bucks, I say emphatically yes!

January 1, 2010

2009 Records in Review

Although I exhibit many of the typical traits of an obsessive record collector, making lists is not one of them. Sure, I’ve been known to make lists – I do post my playlist for the past week every Saturday evening -- but only because a friend suggested I do so. Long ago, I kept a computerized list of my entire record collection, but the DOS-based software was one the few genuine casualties of Y2K and ever since, I have been a lousy record-keeper. It took some effort just to figure out what I bought this calendar year, much less when it was actually released. Furthermore, I am becoming increasingly fuddy-duddy in my record purchases, allocating large sums to re-issues (photograph) and very little to “new” music. So, it seems pointless to make any kind of “best of” list, since pretty much anything I buy, I know in advance that I will at least like, if not love. I didn’t used to be this way and I am always interested in hearing new music, but with the exorbitant cost of a typical CD, unless a trusted friend recommends something, I am reluctant to take a chance. Even with that, there are way more records released in a year that I would absolutely love to have than I can possibly afford to buy, believe me. So, here’s a review of what I deemed worthy of my meager but well-earned dollars in 2009. (All titles are compact discs unless otherwise noted.)

“Classical” (new):

* G.F. Handel: 12 Solo Sonatas, Op.1 (AAM/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi)
* G.F. Handel: Trio Sonatas, Op.2 & Op.5 (AAM/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi)
* G.F. Handel: Organ Concertos, Op.7 (AAM/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi hybrid-SACD)

The Academy of Ancient Music completed their Handel survey on Harmonia Mundi with a flourish, releasing not one, not two, but three double-disc releases this year alone. Egarr’s scholarship and sheer love of this repertoire is clearly evident throughout. This is Historically-Informed Performance (HIP) at its finest, but Egarr is not afraid to avail himself to modern technology, utilizing overdubbing to realize the bass-pedal parts on the Organ Concerto, Op.7, No.1 (or duetting with himself on Bach’s 14 Canons, BWV 1087, as found on his superb recording of the Goldberg Variations). Handel was no Bach, but rather seeks to please -- and he does here, beautifully. Otherwise, my resources were expended collecting the discographies of some other HIP practitioners: The Venice Baroque Orchestra led by harpsichordist Andrea Marcon, and the violinists, Giuliano Carmignola and John Holloway. The VBO with Carmignola have a new disc of obscure 18th-Century concertos on Archiv Produktion entitled, Concerto Italiano, but I haven’t picked it up yet; I’m sure it’s a ripping good time!

“Classical” (reissues/historical):

* Elliott Carter: A Nonesuch Retrospective (Nonesuch)

Several of Elliott Carter’s major compositions were first recorded for Nonesuch in the 1970s, and are gathered together here in this budget-priced Retrospective (which also includes the landmark Variations for Orchestra, which was first recorded for Deutsche Grammophone). This is prickly high-modernism at its most difficult, yet Carter’s early infatuation with post-Romantic neo-classicism imbues these works with a workmanlike concern for craft and internal cohesiveness, making even his most complex ideas crystal clear through his expert handling of the musical texture. Still composing at the astonishingly ripe old age of 101, Carter’s music has perhaps moved from cutting-edge to old hat, but his best works are still enormously challenging and reward close listening. The recordings contained on this box set are come of the towering achievements of post-war music and belong in every serious record collection.

“Jazz” (new):

* Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Moment’s Energy (ECM)
* Henry Threadgill’s Zooid: This Brings Us To, Vol.1 (Pi)
* David S. Ware: Shakti (AUM Fidelity)
* Matthew Shipp Trio: Harmonic Disorder (Thirsty Ear)
* Mary Halvorson/Reuben Radding/Nate Wooley: Crackleknob (hatOLOGY)
* Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: (Thin Air) (Thirsty Ear)
* The Thirteenth Assembly: (un)sentimental (Important)

Although recorded back in 2007, Evan Parker’s latest Electro-Acoustic Ensemble disc was released just this year and it might be my favorite of their five (uniformly excellent) albums on ECM. Henry Threadgill’s first new album in ages shows the tremendous growth in Zooid’s musical conception over these past many years. My only complaint is the CD is too short at thirty-nine minutes. So, where is Volume 2?!? David S. Ware’s new quartet with guitarist Joe Morris moves in a more spacious, lyrical direction and their album on AUM Fidelity has gotten a lot of play in our house. Fortunately, Ware has recovered from kidney-transplant surgery and has recently returned to music-making after a long absence. Hooray! Former Ware band-mate, Matthew Shipp, continues to make fine records and his new one on Thirsty Ear with Morris on bass and fellow NEC-alum Whit Dickey on drums is almost a classic jazz piano session, with Shipp sounding more and more like post-modern Thelonious Monk. Good stuff. Then there is the cadre of gifted young musicians coming out of Anthony Braxton’s ensembles, in particular Mary Halvorson, Jessica Pavone, and Taylor Ho Bynum. These musicians are making some of the most inspiring music on the planet! Halvorson re-invents “jazz” guitar while being unafraid to show her Hendrixian roots. Her duets with violist Pavone combine their plaintive voices with their delicately balanced stringed instruments for a unique, almost Canterbury-ian art-folk sound. Beautiful stuff. They join forces with cornettist Bynum and drummer Tomas Fujiwara as The Thirteenth Assembly, and make joyously eclectic, collectively conceived music. I’m interested to hear what they all do next. (Bynum has a new CD out on Firehouse 12 featuring his Spider Monkey Strings ensemble, but I do not have it – yet.)

“Jazz” (reissues/historical):

* John Coltrane: Side Steps (Prestige)
* Anthony Braxton: The Complete Arista Recordings (Mosaic)
* Anthony Braxton: Seven Compositions (Trio) 1989 (hatOLOGY)
* Sun Ra Featuring Pharoah Sanders & Black Harold (ESP-Disk’)
* Sun Ra: Horizon (Art Yard)
* Sun Ra: Nidhamu + Dark Myth Equation Visitation (Art Yard)
* Sun Ra: Antique Blacks (Art Yard) **
* Sun Ra: Disco 3000 (Saturn edit) (Art Yard) **
* Ronnie Boykins: The Will Come, Is Now (ESP-Disk’)

Prestige has now completed their three-box-set remastering of Coltrane’s output for the label with this collection of further sideman dates. The ensembles are sometimes a bit dodgy (and at other times quite satisfying), but the man himself sounds brilliant. Mosaic continues to do what it does best, compiling criminally overlooked work in lovingly produced, limited edition box sets with their Anthony Braxton on Arista set. This stuff has been tragically out of print since its initial release in the mid-to-late-1970s and is essential documentation of this too-neglected genius. The 1989 set on hatOLOGY presents a short-lived trio with Adelhard Roidinger and Tony Oxley that mixes Braxton’s abstract compositions with “All the Things You Are” and a Tony Oxley original, “The Angular Apron,” to good effect. Lots of choice Sun Ra material has been reissued this past year, beginning with ESP-Disk’s expanded edition of Featuring Pharoah Sanders and Black Harold while Art Yard continues to re-release rare Sun Ra albums previously available only on the super-obscure Saturn label. Horizon and Nidhamu + Dark Myth Equation collect all of the music recorded on their 1971 trip to Egypt. Antique Blacks resurrects a studio album from 1974 while the reissue of the original Disco 3000 album supplants the now out-of-print two-disc Complete Disco 3000 Concert. **NB: I do not have these yet! Atavistic was scheduled to reissue the excellent 1970 album, Continuation, but for whatever reason, it did not happen. Finally, seminal Sun Ra bassist Ronnie Boykins’s one and only solo album from 1975 was a welcome reissue on ESP-Disk’, even if the music is less adventurous than one might expect given the provenance. It is still a very enjoyable listen. No doubt that there many, many other great jazz reissues out there that I wish I had, but I can’t keep up!

“Rock & Pop” (new):

* Bob Dylan: Together Through Life (Columbia)
* Sonic Youth: The Eternal (Matador)
* Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs (Matador)
* The Flaming Lips: Embryonic (Warner Bros.)
* Wilco: Wilco (the album) (Nonesuch)
* Wilco: Ashes of American Flags (Nonesuch DVD)
* Tortoise: Beacons of Ancestorship (Thrill Jockey)
* Jim O’Rourke: The Visitor (Drag City)
* DJ Spooky: The Secret Song (Thirsty Ear)

A whole bunch of my favorite artists released new albums in 2009, so these were no-brainer, must-have items. But more than anything, it also demonstrates my fusty old tastes in a big way! Oh well…getting old sure bats the alternative! Bob Dylan’s millionth album is better than anyone should ever expect, but ultimately pretty lightweight – which actually comes as something of a relief after the heaviness of his last few records. (I took a pass on the Christmas album – although the video for “Must Be Santa” has me intrigued. I might have to pick up the LP.) Sonic Youth’s The Eternal prompted a three thousand word blog post that never got posted (it turned out to be way too confessional for public consumption). Who knew in 1984 that Sonic Youth would become Sonic Fogeys, still banging out punk rock with their integrity and musicianship intact? Not me! Or that the ramshackle Flaming Lips would one day make the most ambitious, post-Beach Boys orchestral pop music imaginable – and then, after all that, turn around and create a totally weirded-out, psycho-paranoid audio art piece? Not me! Then there’s Yo La Tengo, who have been around almost as long as Sonic Youth, making every album a minor masterpiece only to release a sprawling magnum opus that might just be their best yet. Wow, it just makes me proud! Then there’s the new Wilco album which is solid enough, but live is still where they’re at -- see the Ashes of American Flags DVD for further evidence. Sonic Youth (and Wilco) alum Jim O’Rourke resurfaced from self-imposed Japanese exile to make hermetic solo album of instrumental gorgeousness. Then there’s Tortoise, who almost single-handedly resurrected “fusion” as a legitimate prospect over a sixteen-year career, now capped with a great new album. And speaking of fusion, DJ Spooky’s hip-hop-jazz-rock hybrid is at its most compelling on The Secret Song, complete with surprisingly successful instrumental covers of two Led Zeppelin songs. Now, I keep hearing about Animal Collective’s Merriwether Post Pavillion; it’s supposed be like some sort of post-Radiohead rock. Sounds like something I might like; I need to investigate in 2010.

Robert Pollard:

* Robert Pollard: The Crawling Distance (GBV, Inc.)
* Robert Pollard: Elephant Jokes (GBV, Inc.)
* Boston Spaceships: The Planets Are Blasted (GBV, Inc.)
* Boston Spaceships: Zero to 99 (GBV, Inc.)
* Boston Spaceships: Licking Stamps and Drinking Shitty Coffee (APC 2LP)
* Circus Devils: Gringo (Happy Jack Rock Records)
* Cosmos: Jar of Jam, Ton of Bricks (Happy Jack Rock Records)
* Guided By Voices: Suitcase 3: Up We Go Now (GBV, Inc.)
* Guided By Voices: Briefcase 3: Cuddling Bozo’s Octopus (GBV, Inc.)

Pollard, of course, gets his own category since I am a helplessly committed fan; I buy it all and he makes a lot of records. Is it all totally great, best-of material? Of course not. Even so, Pollard’s genius always amazes me with its insanely fertile profligacy. The Crawling Distance is worth it just for the gorgeous re-make of “It’s Easy” while Elephant Jokes finds Pollard strapping on a guitar and reviving the two-minute GBV-style rave-ups of yore. Boston Spaceships inspires with its hard-rocking intensity and it’s refreshing to hear Pollard interacting with a real band (of sorts), especially on the “official bootleg” documenting a show from the 2008 min-tour. Then there’s the music-by-mail-project with Richard Davies (Cosmos), which kind of left me cold; but the latest Circus Devils album is a real stunner and a surprisingly accessible introduction to Pollard’s most severely psych-damaged side project. Finally, yet another Suitcase box set presents another embarrassment of riches: one hundred songs at a bargain-basement price – you can’t lose! Meanwhile, the limited edition LP attempts to summarize it all in forty-five minutes or less. Whew! In all, it was another banner year for Mr. Pollard and 2010 looks to continue the pace: another solo album, We All Got Out of the Army, will be out next month and a new Circus Devils record, Mother Skinny, is due in April. I can’t wait!

“Rock & Pop” (reissues/historical):

* Jerry Lee Lewis: Original Sun Singles ’56-’60 (Sundazed 2LP)
* The Beatles In Mono (Apple/EMI)
* The Beatles In Stereo (Apple/EMI)
* Big Star: Keep An Eye on the Sky (Rhino)
* Big Star: #1 Record (Classic LP)
* Big Star: Radio City (Classic LP)
* Chris Bell: I Am the Cosmos (Deluxe Edition) (Rhino Handmade)
* Van Morrison: Astral Weeks (Warner Bros. LP)
* Van Morrison: Moondance (Warner Bros. LP)
* Grateful Dead: To Terrapin: Hartford ’77 (GD/Rhino)
* Grateful Dead: Winterland June 1977: The Complete Recordings (GD/Rhino)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips, Vol.2, No.2: Carousel 2-14-68 (GD/Rhino)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips, Vol.2, No.3: Wall of Sound (June 1974) (GD/Rhino)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips, Vol.2, No.4: Cal Expo ’93 (GD/Rhino)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips, Vol.3, No.1: Oakland 12-28-79 (GD/Rhino)
* Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates (Mobile Fidelity hybrid-SACD)
* Beck: Sea Change (Mobile Fidelity CD/2LP)

Sundazed’s 2-LP set of Jerry Lee Lewis’s Sun singles is a thing of all-analog beauty and an excellent overview “The Killer’s” most rockin’ sides (and it’s super-reasonably priced to boot). Essential! But the big kahuna this year has to be the Beatles boxes. They are certainly a considerable investment in these uncertain economic times, but this project is at least a decade overdue and, thankfully, they did a magnificent job. The mono mixes (only available in the limited edition box set) are a nice treat for hardcore fans (and for anyone who wants to hear the music as the Beatles themselves intended it to sound), but the stereo remasters are (for the most part) truly revelatory. Needless to say, I’m super-excited to have both. But you know what got me even more excited this year? Big Star-mania! The retrospective four-CD box on Rhino, the audiophile vinyl reissues of their first two albums on Classic and the two-disc Chris Bell set on Rhino Handmade are all phenomenal. This is such great music, easily equal to the Beatles at their best! For that matter, it was a stupendous surprise to finally see the all-analog Van Morrison LPs released after a long, inexplicable delay and they do sound fantastic --especially the spectral Astral Weeks. And speaking of good sound, Mobile Fidelity’s remastering of Beck’s emotionally wrenching (but musically captivating) Sea Change is exquisite on gold CD but absolutely mind-blowing on vinyl. If you love this album as much as I do, you owe yourself the pleasure of hearing MoFi’s definitive edition(s). On the other hand, Rickie Lee Jones’s Pirates is an early digital multitrack recording, and therefore does not gain a whole lot from MoFi’s SACD remastering. Still, it is by far my favorite album of hers and the (very) slight sonic improvement makes this worthwhile. Meanwhile, the Grateful Dead and Rhino continue to pump out the product, including a three-disc set from Hartford, May 28, 1977 and a nine-disc box compiling all three Winterland concerts from June of 1977. Good stuff, indeed -- and these CDs are definitely sonic upgrades from the widely circulating tapes; but geez, between this and a whole slew of previous releases, 1977 is pretty well covered in the discography by now. It would be nice to see some releases from underrepresented years. All in good time, I suppose. The roughly-quarterly Road Trips series fills some gaps, although I have found some of the selections a bit puzzling at times and the whole “bonus disc” thing is just annoying – make ‘em three-disc sets and be done with it! If you snooze you lose, as some of the best stuff is contained on these limited edition bonus discs. This year’s selections have been consistently rewarding, despite the constricted format, with Cal Expo ’93 being especially welcome as document of a better show from one of the band’s last years. All of this has been widely available in collector’s circles, but all benefit from high-quality mastering from the original tapes. In the end, I’m happy with the Road Trips series, despite my inherent “picky Deadhead” quibbling. The question remains of what will happen with Rhino since its near-dissolution by its evil-parent corporation, Warner Bros. Given all that uncertainty, I would not expect all this great music to remain in print forever. Get ‘em while you still can!


I keep reading about the imminent demise of the record industry. Yet, as you can see, a plethora of top-quality albums are still being released each year and every time I go to my favorite Nashville record store, Grimey’s New and Preloved Music, there is almost always a crowd of people, young and old, buying records by the armload. Amazingly enough, the LP has become the format of choice amongst connoisseurs, giving me hope that sound quality will still matter in the age of the lossy MP3. But MoFi’s Beck CD and Rhino’s Big Star box (not to mention the Beatles remasters) demonstrate that plain old Redbook CD can sound really, really good when done right (sadly it rarely is). As an unrepentant, obsessive record collector, I certainly hope that physical albums and specialty shops in which to buy them remain viable concerns in the coming decade. A world without records is just too grim for me to imagine.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!, originally uploaded by Rodger Coleman.