December 31, 2011

Playlist Week of 12-31-11

Compact Discs 2011-12-31

* Hesperion XXI/Savall: Borgia Dynasty: Church and Power in the Renaissance (Alia Vox 3SACD)
* J.S. Bach: Mass in B Minor (Collegium Vocale Gent/Herreweghe) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Thelonious Monk: Monk’s Dream (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Bobby Hutcherson: Components (Blue Note LP)
* Bobby Hutcherson: Patterns (Blue Note LP)
* Jackie McLean: One Step Beyond (Blue Note CD)
* Grachan Moncur III: Evolution (Blue Note CD)
* Ingrid Laubrock Sleepthief: The Madness of Crowds (Intakt CD)
* Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: Departure of Reason (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Johnny Cash/Willie Nelson: VH1 Storytellers (American CD)
* Bob Dylan: Christmas In The Heart (Columbia CD)
* Bob Dylan: Unplugged (MTV/Columbia DVD)
* Grateful Dead: Live/Dead (Warner Bros./Mobile Fidelity 2LP)
* Grateful Dead: The Closing Of Winterland December 31, 1978 (GDP 4CD)
* Grateful Dead: Greek Theatre, Berkeley, CA 9-21-81 (AUD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, LI, NY 3-30-90 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Boston Garden, Boston, MA 9-20-91 (SBD 3CDR)
* Pink Floyd: The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (Deluxe Edition) (d.3) (EMI 3CD)
* Pink Floyd: The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Saucer Full Of Secrets (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Music From The Film More (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Ummagumma (Pinkfloyd/EMI 2CD)
* Pink Floyd: Atom Heart Mother (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Jeff Beck: Blow By Blow (Epic LP)
* Jeff Beck: Wired (Epic LP)
* Phil Collins: Hello, I Must Be Going (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* U2: Achtung Baby (Deluxe Edition) (Island/Universal 2CD)
* Future Sound of London: Accelerator (Hypnotic CD)†/‡
* Guided By Voices: Let’s Go Eat The Factory (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Boston Spaceships: Let It Beard (GBV, Inc. 2LP)
* Beck: Sea Change (Geffen/Mobile Fidelity 2LP)
* Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch 2LP)
* Wilco: A Ghost Is Born (Nonesuch/Rhino 2LP)
* Wilco: Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch 2LP)
* Wilco: Wilco (the album) (Nonesuch LP)
* Wilco: The Whole Love (Nonesuch 2LP)
* Hands Off Cuba: Volumes Of Sobering Liquids (Sebastian Speaks EP)
* The Mars Volta: Frances The Mute (Gold Standard/Universal CD)
* Opeth: Deliverance (Music for Nations/Koch CD)
* Opeth: Damnation (Music for Nations/Koch CD)
* Opeth: Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner CD)
* Opeth: Watershed (Roadrunner CD)
* Opeth: Heritage (Roadrunner CD/2LP)
* Porcupine Tree: In Absentia (Lava/Atlantic CD)(†/‡)
* Porcupine Tree: Deadwing (Lava/Atlantic CD)
* Porcupine Tree: Fear Of A Blank Planet (Atlantic CD)
* Porcupine Tree: The Incident (Roadrunner 2CD)
* Coheed and Cambria: The Second Stage Turbine Blade (Equal Vision CD)
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise CD+DVD/2-45RPM LP)
* Mastodon: The Hunter (Reprise 2-45RPM LP)
* Baroness: Red Album (Relapse CD)
* Baroness: Blue Record (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Relapse 2CD)
* The Black Keys: Attack & Release (Nonesuch LP)
* The Black Keys: Brothers (Nonesuch 2LP)
* Ray La Montagne: Till The Sun Turns Black (RCA/Legacy LP)
* Ray LaMontagne: Gossip In The Grain (RCA/Legacy 2LP)



This article, recently posted on the semi-obscure Side-Line Music Magazine website, stirred up quite a bit of controversy (in certain corners of the internet, anyway) with this alarming pronouncement:

The major labels plan to abandon the CD-format by the end of 2012 (or even earlier) and replace it with download/stream only releases via iTunes and related music services. The only CD-formats that will be left over will be the limited edition ones, which of course will not be available for every artist.

Interesting. However, a close reading of the article shows that this statement is completely un-sourced and, even more telling, the rest of the piece is devoted to an “I told you so” self-promotion from the author. Hmm. A later “update” is not very convincing either:

We were approached by several people working with major labels, who indeed re-confirm that plans do exist to give up the CD. We keep trying to get official confirmation, but it seems that the matter is very controversial, especially after Side-Line brought out the story.

OK. Let’s assume the story is true. Could the record industry be that stupid? Yes. And the record industry’s stupidity is not news.

While a well-mastered CD can sound pretty darn good, the compact disc is thirty-year-old technology in bad need of an update. Thirty years is an eternity in high-tech. Of course, the record industry had its chance with DVD and/or SACD and/or DVD-Audio but, this predictably resulted in an ill-conceived “format war” with no clear winner. Of course, by then, the public had moved on to MP3s—lossy, compressed, terrible-sounding computer files they could download over their telephone line—they did not care about sound quality, they wanted their music for “free.” CDs were always way too expensive—they still are!—and the major labels totally missed the bandwagon with the MP3. They could have licensed Napster back in 2000 to “give away” songs (like radio used to do) and then try to sell them high-quality versions at retail. But, no—instead, the major labels sued their customers in federal court, fought iTunes tooth and nail and tried to hang on by endlessly “re-mastering” their catalog of hits, often to disastrous effect. Who needs the CD when it sounds like crap? Might as well “steal” the MP3!

Now, we have yet another new format: “Blue Ray”; but who besides Neil Young (and Tom Petty) has done anything with it? Pretty much nobody.

Interestingly, vinyl LPs not only survived all these changes but have thrived in recent years. Along with a plethora of expensive “audiophile” reissues flooding the market, just about every new rock/pop album is simultaneously released on LP, often with vastly superior sonics. Who’d a thunk it back in 1990? Not me! Oh sure, CDs still vastly outsell their vinyl counterparts—but every time I go into Grimey's, the place is packed with folks buying armloads of LPs. CDs? Not so much. Could this just be a fad? Or does sound quality (or at least pride of ownership) matter after all? But, dammit, as much as I love the LP format, we all have to concede it is downright archaic technology. Dragging a needle across a slowly spinning piece of soft plastic? How 19th Century! Now that the bandwidth and storage problems of the 1990s have been solved, why can’t we have good-sounding digital music?

It sure isn’t to be found on iTunes or on “the cloud.” HD-Tracks offers high-resolution files, but playing them back is still a kludge. And while some artists have at least embraced the lossless FLAC format, they are usually outrageously overpriced. For example, King Crimson has a vast archive of live concerts available for download-only and, at five bucks a piece, I would probably buy a bunch of them—but at fifteen dollars, I will buy exactly none. I do not think I am alone in thinking this way. And while Spotify's subscription model is a great idea, their selection (in the USA, anyway) is, ahem, spotty at best. Don’t get me wrong: even though I am an unreformed record collector, I am certainly not opposed to online music services: not only am I running out of room for more “physical media,” I would welcome the opportunity hear new music without having to purchase it outright in advance—but I am reluctant to pay dearly for poor sound, or for something that is here today and gone tomorrow. I know where my records are and I can play them any time I want—and sell them if I no longer like listening to them. Can you do that with your iTunes library (or the files you bought from DGM)? Nope. Are you one of those people who ripped all your CDs and then sold them? Not only are you risking catastrophic loss of all that data, you’re breaking the law! Don’t be surprised when the RIAA comes knocking at your door! This is the sad state of the music industry today.

So, we’ll see what happens in 2012. While the major labels may indeed give up on the CD as a mass-market format, I cannot imagine the compact disc disappearing any time soon. The mainstream may be moving to “the cloud” but I suspect (hope) all those weird jazz and classical labels will continue to service their niche markets as they always have. Moreover, it appears that vinyl will continue to be the format of choice for true fanatics and serious audiophiles for the foreseeable future. That's fine with me. Either way, I suspect there will be some great music released in the coming years, despite these dire predictions.

Happy New Year!

December 24, 2011

Playlist Week of 12-24-11

John Fahey - The New Possibility

* Rebel: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Uccellini: Sonatas (Romanesca) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* J.S. Bach: Sonatas & Partitas For Solo Violin (Holloway) (ECM 2CD)
* J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concertos (Academy of Ancient Music/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi 2SACD)
* Saint-Saens, et al.: A Hi-Fi Spectacular! (Boston Symphony/Munch) (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Eric Dolphy: Out To Lunch! (Blue Note/Music Matters 2-45RPM LP)
* Bobby Hutcherson: Happenings (Blue Note CD)
* Bobby Hutcherson: Oblique (Blue Note CD)
* Sam Rivers: The Complete Sam Rivers Blue Note Sessions (Blue Note/Mosaic 5LP)
* Sun Ra: Live At Montreux (Inner City 2LP/2CD)
* Sun Ra: Cosmos (Cobra/Spalax CD)
* Stanley Clarke: School Days (Epic/Friday Music LP)
* Bob Dylan: Blonde On Blonde (mono) (Columbia/Sundazed 2LP)
* Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour: “Christmas/New Year’s” (FM 2CDR)
* The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour Vol.2 (d.1) (Purple Chick fan/boot 2CDR)
* The Beatles: From Them To You (Purple Chick fan/boot CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Civic Center, Hartford, CT 5-10-80 (set 2) (d.1) (SBD 2CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Boston Garden, Boston, MA 9-24-93 (set 2) (SBD 3CDR)
* King Crimson: In The Court Of The Crimson King (DGM CD)†
* King Crimson: In The Wake Of Poseidon (DGM CD)†
* King Crimson: Lizard (DGM CD)†
* King Crimson: Islands (DGM CD)†
* King Crimson: Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (DGM CD)†
* Pink Floyd: The Dark Side Of The Moon (Experience Edition) (d.2) (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)†
* Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here (Experience Edition) (d.2) (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)†
* Yes: Close To The Edge (Atlantic/Rhino CD)†
* Yes: Tales From Topographic Oceans (Atlantic/Rhino 2CD)†
* Big Star: #1 Record (Ardent/Classic LP)
* Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros. 2-45RPM LP)
* Elvis Costello: This Year’s Model (Columbia/Mobile Fidelity LP)
* Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Armed Forces (Columbia/Mobile Fidelity LP)
* Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Get Happy!! (Columbia/Mobile Fidelity 2-45RPM LP)
* U2: Achtung, Baby (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Island/Universal 2CD)†
* U2: Zooropa (Island CD)†
* Thurston Moore: Trees Outside The Academy (Ecstatic Peace CD)†
* Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts (Matador CD)†
* Jim O’Rourke: Insignificance (Drag City LP)
* Guided By Voices: Earthquake Glue (Matador CD)†
* Guided By Voices: “We Won’t Aplogize […]”/”The Unsinkable Fats Domino” (Matador 7”)
* Guided By Voices: “Doughnut For A Snowman” (Fire 7”EP)
* Guided By Voices: “Chocolate Boy” (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Boredoms: Super Æ (Birdman CD)†
* Boredoms: Vision Creation Newsun (Birdman CD)†
* The Future Sound of London: The Isness (Hypnotic CD)†/‡
* Buckethead: Colma (CyberOctave CD)†
* Wilco: The Whole Love (dBpm/ANTI 2LP)
* Opeth: Deliverance (Koch CD)†
* Opeth: Damnation (Koch CD)†
* Opeth: Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner CD)†
* Opeth: Watershed (Roadrunner CD)(†)
* Opeth: Heritage (Roadrunner CD)(†)
* Mastodon: Leviathan (Relapse CD)†
* Mastodon: Blood Mountain (Reprise CD)†
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise CD/2-45RPM LP)(†)
* Mastodon: The Hunter (Reprise 2-45RPM LP)



I’m having a hard time getting into enforced cheeriness of the season. You see, this is the first Christmas without either of my parents. It’s a weird feeling. The whole Santa Claus thing is for children—and I am no one’s child anymore. Does that make me an adult? Oh dear…how depressing.

And, as you know, I have a conflicted relationship with Christmas music so that makes things even more difficult this time of year. But I found this nice clean copy of The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album, at a record show this summer and I figured if anyone could make listenable holiday music, it would be Fahey. It's been sitting in a pile on the floor ever since; I’ve been waiting for this moment to clean up this 1968 classic and give it a spin. Well, Fahey’s fingerpicked guitar fantasias on hoary old chestnuts like “Joy To The World,” “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen,” and “Silent Night” are truly astonishing—sublime, even. The tone is somber, if not downright sad, and therefore makes for the perfect Christmas record for the clinically depressed. Good stuff.

So, we carry on. We have our traditions, including listening to The Beatles Christmas Album, a collection of hilarious audio Christmas cards the Fab Four sent out to their fan club every year, from 1963-1969. Tracing their hyper-compressed history from cheeky, innocent fun to tripped-out hysteria, these recordings never fail to put a smile on my face. On the one hand, it’s kind of surprising these things were never reissued—and probably never will be—but on the other I can see why: they are just plain weird. That’s why I love them! In many ways, they are the most experimental recordings The Beatles ever made. Thankfully, decent-sounding “bootlegs” are readily available to the resourceful fan.

There’s a fire in the fireplace and The Beatles are on the stereo, making me laugh out loud. Lizzy and I plan to have a tasty dinner and get on with our holiday weekend. We are truly blessed and I am eternally grateful. Maybe being an “adult” is not so bad. Heck, perhaps I feel the Christmas spirit coming on! Best wishes to everyone out there in Blogville. See you tomorrow…

December 18, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Live At Montreux (Inner City 2LP/2CD)

Not much is known about the Arkestra’s activities in the first half of 1976, but according to Douglass Walker and John Szwed, they performed at an event sponsored by the so-called People’s Revolutionary Convention on July 4 and, predictably, clashes between police and demonstrators flared up outside the church during the concert (see Campbell & Trent p.222). The “revolution” was on its last legs.

Immediately thereafter, the Arkestra headed to Europe for the first time since 1973. It was, as usual, both boom and bust. Szwed writes:

In the summer of 1976 the Arkestra began their fourth tour of Europe with twenty-eight people and ended with fourteen, playing all the major festivals, Paris, Montreux (where they recorded Live at Montreux), Pescara, Nimes, Northsea, Juan-les-Pins, and Arles, and were greeted everywhere as celebrities. Yet once they returned home to Philadelphia, they still sank back into semiobscurity, the band playing down the block at the Red Carpet Lounge to a neighborhood audience of twenty, or at outdoor free concerts in the parks of North Philadelphia, to which sometimes no one came (p.341).

While very little documentation survives of this tour, Live At Montreux was to become a watershed album for Ra. Recorded for a state television broadcast at the legendary Swiss jazz festival on July 9, 1976, it was first issued as a two-LP set as Saturn MS87976 and reissued by Inner City as IC1039 in 1978 (Campbell & Trent, pp.222-224). Live At Montreux would be one the few Sun Ra records to be widely available in the late-1970s and early-1980s and it was, for many people my age, their first (and perhaps only) exposure to his music. But what a great record it is! Ra was provided a decent piano and he makes good use of it (along with his battery of electronic keyboards), guiding the Arkestra through a remarkably inventive setlist. The enormous band includes many returning alumnus, including Pat Patrick on baritone sax and flute, Chris Capers on trumpet and Craig Harris on trombone, and their performance is uniformly first rate. Moreover, the sound quality is excellent—a blessed relief after all the grungy bootlegs we’ve been listening to lately. In fact, it might be one of the best-sounding releases in Ra’s enormous discography. In many ways, Live At Montreux is the definitive Sun Ra album.

Unfortunately, its history in the digital age is somewhat spotty: It did not appear on CD at all until 2003 when the Italian Universe label reissued it in a handsome gatefold mini-LP-style package, but they reversed the labels on the discs and inexplicably omitted four minutes of “On Sound Infinity Spheres.” To make matters worse, the track numbers do not line up correctly with the music. Sheesh! The Japanese edition on P-Vine corrected these errors but it was horribly expensive and just about impossible to find in the U.S. For a recording that was formerly ubiquitous, it was frustrating to find it suffering from such callous neglect in the CD era (thankfully, I kept my old LP). Finally, in 2008, Inner City reissued Live At Montreux domestically in its complete form, remastered from the original tapes and available at a reasonable price. Although the pedestrian jewel box packaging is not as deluxe as the Universe or Japanese editions, this is the one to have. The LP has that warm, analog sound and an extended top-end (including a fair amount of tape hiss), but I prefer the CD, which lets the music seamlessly unfold, rather being interrupted by having to flip and change the records every twenty minutes.

As many times as I’ve listened to this record over the years—and repeatedly over the last several weeks—I still am at a loss for words for how to describe it. Any attempts at rote description miserably fail to convey what makes this album so special, even beyond its significance in the Sun Ra canon. While there are long periods of intensely skronky improvisation where it seems like everyone gets to solo, it all magically holds together from beginning to end. Everyone plays at such a high level that no one soloist – not even Gilmore!—stands out above the others. The Arkestra is truly speaking with one voice: Sun Ra’s. There’s even some weird new compositions (“From Out Where Others Dwell” and “On Sound Infinity Spheres”), a couple of rarely-played oldies (“Lights On A Satellite” and “El Is The Sound Of Joy”) and a monumental rendition of the Strayhorn/Ellington classic, “Take The A-Train” which needs to be heard to be believed—not even Jarvis’s drum solo can derail it!. Throughout it all, Sonny’s piano playing is just spectacular, with his introduction to “A-Train” being one of his most impressive solos on record, a history lesson tracing the development of the instrument from ragtime to avant-garde and on into outer space. If there is one Sun Ra album I would take to the proverbial “desert island,” it would probably be this one. Live At Montreux is just about exactly perfect.

I would assume that if you’re bothering to read this, you already own Live At Montreux, so there’s really no need for me to go into further detail. If you are reading this and don’t own it, well, what are you waiting for?

December 17, 2011

Playlist Week of 12-17-11

Grateful Dead - Road Trips Vol4 No5

* Dowland: Complete Lute Works Vol.5 (O’Dette) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Rameau: Pièces de Clavecin en Concerts (Rousset/Terakado/Uemura) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Vivaldi: Cello Sonatas (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics 2CD)
* Dvořák/Walton: Cello Concertos (Boston/Munch/Piatigorsky) (RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Copland/Grofé: Billy The Kid, etc./Grand Canyon Suite (Morton Gould Orch.)(RCA-Victor/Sony SACD)
* Sun Ra: Live At Montreux (Inner City 2CD)
* Sun Ra: Cosmos (Cobra/Spalax CD)
* Anthony Braxton: Tentet (Wesleyan) 2000 (d.2) (New Braxton House FLAC>2CDR)
* Joseph Holbrooke Trio: The Moat Recordings (Tzadik 2CD)
* David S. Ware/Cooper Moore/William Parker/Muhammad Ali: Planetary Unknown (AUM Fidelity CD)
* Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up (Nonesuch CD)
* John Lennon: Imagine (2010 remaster) (Apple/Capitol CD)
* Grateful Dead: Live/Dead (Warner Bros./Mobile Fidelity 2LP)
* Grateful Dead: Lyceum Theatre, London, England 5/26/72 (GDP/Rhino 4CD)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.4 No.5: Boston Music Hall 6-9-76 (GDP/Rhino 3CD)
* Crosby, Stills & Nash: Crosby, Stills & Nash (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* Joni Mitchell: Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (Asylum 2LP)
* Pink Floyd: Meddle (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: The Dark Side Of The Moon (Experience Edition) (d.1) (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here (Experience Edition) (d.1) (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Animals (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* King Crimson: The Nightwatch: Live At The Amsterdam Concertgebouw 1973 (DGM 2CD)†
* Helios Creed: X-Rated Fairy Tales (Subterranean LP)
* Massacre: Funny Valentine (Tzadik CD)†
* Massacre: Melt Down (Tzadik CD)†
* Massacre: Lonely Heart (Tzadik CD)†
* Yo La Tengo: Summer Sun (Matador CD)†/‡
* Aphex Twin: The Richard D. James Album (Warp/Sire CD)†
* Buckethead: Bucketheadland (DIW 2CD)†
* Buckethead: Bucketheadland 2 (ION CD)†
* Cobra Strike II: Y, Y+B, X+Y (ION CD)†
* Mastodon: Leviathan (Relapse CD)†
* Mastodon: Blood Mountain (Reprise CD)†
* Mastodon: Crack They Skye (Reprise CD/2-45RPM LP)(†)
* Mastodon: The Hunter (Reprise CD)†
* Opeth: Heritage (Roadrunner CD)†(‡)
* Ray La Montagne: Trouble (RCA/Legacy LP)
* Ray LaMontagne: Till The Sun Turns Black (RCA/Legacy LP)



Turns out Volume 4 Number 5 is the last of the Grateful Dead Road Trips series. I can't say I am broken-hearted since it was only a half-way good idea that would never quite satisfied anybody’s expectations. Originally, they were to be two-CD sets consisting of highlights compiled from a particular tour or run of shows, but with a third, limited edition “bonus disc” which often contained better music than on the official release. I found this approach annoying and elitist and the “bonus disc” idea was, thankfully, abandoned by Volume 3 Number 4, which was sensibly expanded to three CDs. However, by this time the chorus of “picky Deadheads” were insisting on complete shows and they effectively derailed the original conceit. Road Trips became just another Dick’s Picks type of release, (mostly) complete shows derived from the original two-track soundboard tapes. Nevertheless, some classic stuff has surfaced over the course of years, including the Carousel Ballroom show from Valentine’s Day 1968 (Vol.2 No.2); Big Rock Pow-Wow ’69 (Vol.4 No.1); Fillmore East 5/15/70 (Vol.3 No.3); Austin 11/15/71 (Vol.3 No.2); Denver 11/20/73 (Vol.4 No.3) and Oakland 12/28/79 (Vol. 3 No.1). There were also some welcome releases from underrepresented years like 1980 (Vol.3 No.4); 1982 (Vol.4 No.4); 1988 (Vol.4 No.2) and 1993 (Vol.2 No.4). Unfortunately, some of the transfers suffer from neglectful mastering (particularly the cassette sources) but by and large, the sound quality is usually an improvement over circulating “bootlegs.”

The final volume closes out the series with another semi-underrated year and it's certainly a good one. Recorded at the Boston Music Hall on June 9, 1976, this was one of the first shows of their “comeback tour” after their semi-retirement in October 1974 and it has a flavor all its own. I have a certain fondness for ‘76: after a long absence, Micky Hart is back on the second drumstool and his presence has forced the band to completely re-think their approach. And while these performances may lack the majestic power of 1977, the jams have a light, jazzy flavor that is invigorating—you can tell they’re really paying attention. This was reflected in setlists which were almost totally unpredictable during the spring of 1976, as evidenced by the “St. Stephen>Eyes of the World>Let It Grow” which opens the second set here—not to mention the encore placement of a stand-alone “Franklin’s Tower.” Filler from June 12 includes more tasty treats, like a rare “Mission In The Rain”; a super-spacey “Wheel”; and a heartfelt “Comes A Time.” There are a few musical gaffes here and there and the stereo image is inexplicably reversed on 6/9 but, being a “Betty Board”, the sound quality is excellent. I just wish they’d give EVERYTHING the Plangent Processes.

A new series of CDs has been announced, unimaginatively titled, Dave’s Picks. “Dave” is, of course, David Lemiuex, the posthumous Dead’s Vaultmeister. The first volume will be released in February and will contain the complete concert from The Mosque in Richmond, Virginia on May 25, 1977. This is a fine show from a classic tour, but it strikes me as lazy a choice as the series’ moniker. Unlike Spring 1976, Spring 1977 is well-represented in the catalog—and rightly so—but how about something else from that year, something that doesn’t circulate, like the Palladium shows from earlier in the year? Or how about more ‘80s and ‘90s stuff to fill out the band’s macro-history? Well, whatever. Like the last volume of Road Trips, Dave’s Picks is available as a fairly-priced subscription, which includes free shipping and a “bonus disc.” However, unlike Road Trips, each edition of Dave’s Picks will be pressed in a limited edition of 12,000. Of course, I signed up. I am a sucker for this band—besides, maybe Dave will surprise me.

Then again, who am I to complain? Heck, GDP truly outdid themselves with the Europe ’72 boxset (despite some rather serious logistical problems getting here). I just finished listening to all twenty-two shows in chronological order and I am thoroughly blown away. They start out strong and just get better and better over the course of a short six weeks; in fact, the last four nights at The Lyceum in London may be the best of this grandest of tours. It should also be noted that the Dead’s catalog has been getting the audiophile vinyl treatment lately, not only on their home-base Rhino, but on high-end boutique labels like MoFi and Audio Fidelity. So, while I might quibble about this and that, now is definitely a good time to be a Deadhead. I’m looking forward to what comes next in 2012.

December 11, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

The next couple of records in the discography are some of faves, so it's taking a while to get the words together. In the meantime, check out Sun Ra's appearance on David Sanborn's "Night Music" from 1990. You know, I always thought Dave Sanborn was a cheeseball, but this show was some of the best music television ever. For that, Sanborn deserves enormous props. Sun Ra takes full advantage of the opportunity. Good stuff! See you next week.

December 10, 2011

Playlist Week of 12-10-11

Mastodon - The Hunter

* Dowland: Complete Lute Works Vol.3 (O’Dette) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Dowland: Complete Lute Works Vol.4 (O’Dette) Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Geminiani: Concerti Grossi (After Corelli, Op.5) (AAM/Manze) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* J.S. Bach: Trio Sonatas (London Baroque/Medlam) (Harmonia Mundi CD)†/‡
* Cage: The Seasons (American Composers Orchestra/Davies/Tan) (ECM CD)
* Thelonious Monk: Live At The It Club – Complete (Columbia/Legacy 2CD)
* Sun Ra: Live At Montreux (Inner City 2CD)
* Anthony Braxton: GTM (Knitting Factory) 1997 (New Braxton House FLAC>2CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: Tentet (Wesleyan) 2000 (d.1) (New Braxton House FLAC>2CDR)
* Bill Laswell: Permutation (ION CD)†
* DJ Spooky: The Secret Song (Thirsty Ear CD)†(‡)
* George Harrison: Cloud 9 (Dark Horse/Capitol CD)
* Grateful Dead: Lyceum Theatre, London, England 5/25/72 (GDP/Rhino 4CD)
* Pink Floyd: Obscured By Clouds (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Yes: Fragile (Atlantic/Acoustic Sounds LP)
* Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Columbia/Mobile Fidelity LP)
* Chrome: Alien Soundtracks/Half Machine Lip Moves (Siren/ Touch & Go CD)
* Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts (Matador CD)†
* Hüsker Dü: Metal Circus (SST LP)
* Bad Brains: I Against I (SST LP)
* Spacemen 3: Sound Of Confusion (Glass/Fire CD)†/‡
* Spacemen 3: The Perfect Prescription (Glass/Fire CD)†/‡
* AFX: Analogue Bubblebath (TVT CD)†
* Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (R&S CD)†
* Aphex Twin: I Care Because You Do (Warp/Sire CD)†
* Seefeel: Polyfusia (Too Pure/Astralwerks CD)
* Future Sound Of London: ISDN (Virgin CD)
* Sigur Rós: Ágætis Bryjun (Smekkleysa/Fat Cat CD)†/‡
* Buckethead: Day Of The Robot (SubMeta CD)†/‡
* Buckethead: Monsters & Robots (CyberOctave CD)†
* Tool: Salival (Tool Dissectional/Volcano CD/DVD)†
* Mastodon: Leviathan (Relapse CD)†
* Mastodon: Blood Mountain (Reprise CD/2-45RPM LP)(†)
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise CD/2-45RPM LP)(†/‡)
* Mastodon: The Hunter (Reprise CD/2-45RPM LP)(†)
* Fleet Foxes: Sun Giant (Sub Pop EP)
* Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop LP)



Perhaps it’s just a case of arrested adolescence, but I have to admit to having a taste for heavy metal. The truth is, when I was an actual adolescent, I was a total jazz snob. While I thought Led Zeppelin was sort of OK, I hated the pop metal bands like KISS, Van Halen, Mötley Crüe and the rest of their ilk. It was the sort of lunkhead stuff the jocks and cheerleaders liked and was therefore dismissed out of hand. Mostly, I disliked it because it was popular. It was only later, when I went way to music school and fell in love with punk rock that I (re)discovered the power of metal. In the mid-1980s, bands like Black Flag, The Bad Brains and Hüsker Dü were reinventing the form enough to make heavy metal-ish music “cool” again, paving the way for the spectacular rise of Metallica and Nirvana to the top of the charts in the 1990s. Believe it or not, I saw AC/DC at the Boston Garden and Metallica at the Centrum, in Worcester, the latter of which rendered me partially deaf for most of a week (I’m serious! WORST sound quality ever!). Then there were local Boston bands like Gang Green and The F.U.’s ripping it up at The Rat or Green Street Station. Heavy metal is dance music for white guys who don’t know how (or refuse) to dance. The mosh-pit can be fun and exciting as long as you’re hale and fit and it doesn’t get completely out of control (of course, it often does). Ah, those were the days when I was young and foolish; I physically couldn’t do it today. After the peak of the “grunge” era, heavy metal retreated back into its various underground scenes and I haven’t bothered to keep up with it.

Nevertheless, I still have a fondness for the genre and the way it makes me feel when I am in a certain mood. It is, if nothing else, visceral music. I can’t listen to it all the time and I do not have very much of it in my record collection, but sometimes it is just the right thing. Through my Bill Laswell fixation, I discovered Buckethead, who (besides (sometimes) playing guitar with trash metal superstars, Guns & Roses) makes crazy instrumental albums with a heavy metal bent. Then, around the turn of the century, I discovered Tool via King Crimson, who were making metal-ish records of their own and toured with them in 2001. The shared billing made a certain amount of sense since Tool are what you might call prog-metal, lots of tricky meters, wide dynamic swings and elaborate compositional structures. Great band (as is the more pop-ish spin-off, A Perfect Circle) but they haven’t released a new record in years and I found myself hungry for more. After reading some rave reviews which made favorable comparisons, I recently decided to check out the heavy metal giants, Mastodon. I was not disappointed. While not as self-consciously arty as Tool, Mastodon unabashedly celebrates in heavy metal’s every excess and make records which consistently demonstrate what is so great about this much-maligned genre.

The first thing that hits you is drummer, Brann Dailor. At least that’s how it is on Blood Mountain, their 2006 major label debut. The opening track, “The Wolf Is Loose” starts out with a drum solo—a dubious beginning, for sure—but right away, you can tell this guy can really play. He’s like the Elvin Jones of heavy metal, playing a million notes-per-second yet right in the pocket. When the band comes in, it’s just exactly what you expect—what you need—from heavy metal: crunching power chords, ominous tri-tone riffing, growling vocals—every cliché in the book—but, hotdamn, it swings! Everything about these guys is over-the-top, from the hyper-detailed artwork and vaguely sinister iconography to the ridiculously overwrought concept albums, the best of these being Crack The Skye, their 2009 album about astral travel, wormholes and Rasputin—or something like that. My inner thirteen-year-old derives endless pleasure from poring over the liner notes and scrutinizing the images. But however silly it all seems, the music is deadly serious: densely layered compositions full of shifting time signatures and shredding guitars, all held together by Dailor’s superb drumming. Vocalist, Troy Sanders, has steadily moved away from the guttural shouting of earlier records, like 2004’s Leviathan (their loose take on Moby Dick) and now he sings more than he screams—which is fine with me (and probably better for his aging vocal chords). Their new record, The Hunter, moves even further in a more accessible direction, abandoning the concept album conceit altogether and varying the tempos a bit more. Fans of their heavier sound may be disappointed, but the slightly softer approach should win them a wider audience. Make no mistake, songs like “Black Tongue” and “Spectrelight” are plenty heavy but leavened with soaring hooks and textured production that make them much more interesting and listenable than the usual metal assault. And while songs like “Stargasm” and “The Sparrow” sound like they could have easily been turned into mawkish power-ballads, they remain fittingly dark and creepy—these ain’t no sappy love songs. And, all along, Dailor carries the day: whether he’s pummeling and trashing or slowing things down to a crawl, his deeply grooving drumming lifts every song.

Interestingly, Mastodon not only releases their music on CD and standard vinyl, but also on limited edition 45-RPM double-LP sets, a pricey format usually reserved for ultra-high-end audiophile jazz and pop reissues (although Metallica’s catalog received this treatment when it was reissued in 2008). Are there enough well-heeled metalheads out there to justify this extravagance? Well, the 45-RPM edition of Crack The Skye is long out-of-print and commands big bucks on the secondary market, indicating someone (beside me) is buying them. But more importantly, does the music sound good enough to bother? In my opinion, the difference between the CD and the 45-RPM vinyl is like night and day. The CDs are over-loud, compressed and brittle and while that might suit this sort of aggressive music well enough, the fast-spinning vinyl is dynamic, warm and involving, with vivid, high-resolution sound—even on my humble turntable. If you want the headbanging without the headache, these 2-LP editions are definitely the way to go.

It may seem a little pathetic for a 48-year-old married guy to be listening to a band like Mastodon, but I am not ashamed. It’s good stuff! Heck, even Liz likes it (much to my surprise and delight)! But while Chuck Klosterman’s brilliant book, Fargo Rock City, makes a compelling and highly entertaining case for 80s hair-metal, I still can’t get into Van Halen or Mötley Crüe or any of the rest of that stuff. I guess I’m still a jazz snob at heart. Bands like Tool and Mastodon display a high level of creativity and instrumental virtuosity which transcends the trashiness of the heavy metal genre and make music even adults can appreciate. Well, me anyway. Plus, it’s fun to rock out like a teenager once in a while.

December 4, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday


time upon time
upon time
upon time
upon time is time
time once upon
once upon is time once
once once once
once upon a time
a time once
upon time a once
once once
upon a time
once once once time
in time in time in the past once
the past
once the past
once time once
the past past the past past
time in time time in time in it time in it
time in it
the in time out out time out time out
comes beyond time beyond time
before a time
before a time is time out
time out time out
there is no time when
time is out time is out
time is out

--Sun Ra

December 3, 2011

Playlist Week of 12-03-11

Circus Devils - Capsized!

* Dowland: Complete Lute Works, Vol.1 (O’Dette) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Dowland: Complete Lute Works, Vol.2 (O’Dette) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Veracini: Sonatas (Holloway/Mortensen/ter Linden) (ECM CD)
* Leclair: Sonatas (Holloway/Mortensen/ter Linden) (ECM CD)
* Cage: Sonatas & Interludes For Prepared Piano (Vandré) (Mode CD)
* Feldman: The Viola In My Life (Konstantynowicz/Cikada Ensemble/NRO/Eggen) (ECM CD)
* Feldman: Morton Feldman (Tudor, et al.) (Editions RZ CD)
* Cecil Taylor Quartet: Looking Ahead! (Contemporary/Fantasy CD)
* Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Live At Montreux (Inner City 2CD)
* Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Chateauvallon, France 8-24-76 (AUD 2CDR)
* Ronnie Boykins: The Will Come, Is Now (ESP-Disk’ CD)
* Scanner & The Postmodern Jazz Quartet: Blink Of An Eye (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Myra Melford’s Be Bread: The Image Of Your Body (Cryptogramophone CD)
* Myra Melford’s Be Bread: The Whole Tree Gone (Firehouse 12 CD)
* Kris Davis/Ingrid Laubrock/Tyshawn Sorey: Paradoxical Frog (Clean Feed CD)
* Sylvie Courvoisier/Mark Feldman/Erik Friedlander: Abaton (ECM 2CD)
* Sylvie Courvoisier: Lonelyville (Intakt CD)
* Mephista: Black Narcissus (Tzadik CD)
* Mephista: Entomological Reflections (Tzadik CD)
* DJ Spooky: Optometry (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Grateful Dead: Lyceum Theatre, London, England 5/23/72 (GDP/Rhino 3CD)
* Grateful Dead: Lyceum Theatre, London, England 5/24/72 (GDP/Rhino 3CD)
* Frank Zappa: Civilization Phaze III (d.1) (Barking Pumpkin 2CD)
* Pink Floyd: The Dark Side Of The Moon (Experience Edition) (d.1) (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Yes: The Yes Album (Atlantic/Mobile Fidelity CD)
* The Cure: Seventeen Seconds (Fiction/Rhino CD)†/‡
* The Cure: Faith (Fiction/Rhino CD)†/‡
* Yo La Tengo: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (Matador CD)
* Yo La Tengo: Today Is The Day! (Matador CDEP)
* Guided By Voices: “We Won’t Apologize […]”/”The Unsinkable Fats Domino” (Matador 7”)
* Guided By Voices: “Doughnut For A Snowman” (Fire 7”EP)
* Circus Devils: Mother Skinny (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Circus Devils: Capsized! (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Buckethead: Giant Robot (CyberOctave CD)†/‡
* Bill Laswell: Broken Vessels (soundtrack) (Velvel/Koch CD)†
* Cobra Strike: The 13th Scroll (Ion CD)†/‡
* Mastodon: Leviathan (Relapse CD)†(‡)
* Mastodon: Blood Mountain (Reprise CD)†(‡)
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise CD)



The ninth(!) Circus Devils LP, Capsized!, came out just in time for Halloween and, as usual, it’s taken a while to grow on me. It starts out like most any Circus Devils record, with a dreamy instrumental (“To England the Tigers”) followed by the title track, a noisy, industrial thumper with processed vocals. Here we go! But then we get two of the creamiest of pop songs ever, right in a row: the bouncy “Cyclopean Runways,” and “Legendary Breakfast Codes,” a blissed-out ballad. Huh? Well, don’t worry. Capsized!, like every other Circus Devils record, explores the weirder, more experimental side of Robert Pollard’s musical psyche and as the album progresses, those themes of agitated noise and soft rock comfort are developed into a loosely coherent song cycle about (among other things) getting falling down drunk (i.e. “Capsized!”). Amidst the proggy metal, pure pop pleasure and trippy atmospherics there are several moments that are deeply disturbing. “Vampire Playing A Red Piano,” a spoken word piece, is downright creepy while the vertiginous “Double Vission” features a shockingly realistic sound of someone (Pollard?) vomiting violently. Good grief! Later, on “Plate of Scales,” when he boozily sings about wanting to throw up, you believe him! If all this sounds slightly sick, well it is—and it might be the best Circus Devils album yet! But at the same time, it is a little bit worrying. Pollard is a notorious drinker and it is hard not to draw certain conclusions from all this. Then again, you cannot say that drinking interferes with his productivity! Heck, this is Pollard’s sixth album of 2011! Moreover, Capsized! might be the Circus Devils’ most creative and profoundly affecting album yet—but it’s not going to appeal to teetotalers or prudes. You can download a FREE MP3 of "Cyclopean Runways" here.


Speaking of Pollard’s productivity, two seven-inch vinyl-only singles from the forthcoming Guided By Voices reunion album have recently been released: Matador has the double-A sided “We Won’t Apologize For The Human Race”/”The Unsinkable Fats Domino” while the British label, Fire gets “Doughnut For A Snowman” with four B-sides. The so-called “classic” lineup of GBV tries to revive the glory days with a return to a primitive, lo-fi recording technique and group collaboration and it seems to work OK but, in any event, it’s nice to see these guys get a victory lap. Let’s Go Eat The Factory comes out on January 1 followed by another seven-inch (“Chocolate Boy”/”As The Girls Sing Downing”) on January 17. Not surprisingly, the first records of 2012 will be by Robert Pollard, a record collector’s dream. Check out a FREE download of "The Unsinkable Fats Domino" here.

November 27, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Ronnie Boykins: The Will Come, Is Now (ESP-Disk’ CD)

Ronnie Boykins was one of the first members of Sun Ra’s fledgling Arkestra, joining the band in early 1958 and his innovative yet rock-solid bass playing was a key element in the music’s rapid development up through the mid-1960s (it was also Boykins’s car that carried the band from Chicago to Montreal in 1961 and, thence, to New York City). Boykins had been classmates with John Gilmore and Pat Patrick at Du Sable High School (where he played sousaphone in the band) but he had already established himself as an in-demand bassist prior to joining the Arkestra, having played with such diverse figures as Muddy Waters, Johnny Griffin and Jimmy Witherspoon. In 1966, Boykins left the Arkestra to pursue other opportunities, (notably including work with Rahsaan Roland Kirk) and, as we’ve seen, Sonny had a hard time finding his replacement, opting on many occasions for doing without the bass altogether. Boykins intermittently performed with Arkestra thereafter with his last known appearance being at Hunter College on June 16, 1974 (portions of which were released as Out Beyond The Kingdom Of ). While Prof. Campbell suggests he might been a part of the two-week stand at The “New” Five Spot in June, 1975, he is not present on the bootleg tape which circulates (Campbell & Trent p.220). According to Szwed, growing animosity between Boykins and Ra over money and lack of composer credit for some of the Arkestra’s recordings caused him to quit the band for good sometime during this period (Szwed p.119).

But ESP-Disk’s Bernard Stollman recognized Boykins’s genius early on:

I first met Sun Ra during the October Revolution festival in the Cellar Café (in 1964), and he invited me to hear the Arkestra perform in a loft in Newark, New Jersey. It was there that I singled out Ronnie Boykins, and invited him to record for ESP. He told me he would let me know when he felt he was ready. During the decade that followed, I heard his work in the Arkestra, and late night sessions with Sam Rivers in Studio Rivbea on Bond Street, and in Ornette Coleman’s Prince Street loft. Ronnie called me in 1975, to announce he was ready to record his first album as a leader (liner notes).

As it turned out, Boykins waited too long and The Will Come, Is Now is the only record Boykins ever made under his own name—he died suddenly of heart attack in 1980 at the age of 45. And ESP-Disk’ was in serious decline by 1975, this being one of the last few recordings the label released before finally going under. Accordingly, it was cheaply made, pressed in miniscule quantities and poorly distributed, resulting in one of the rarest ESP discs of all. Fortunately, the resurrection of the label at the turn of the century has brought nearly the entire catalog back in print on CD, including Boykins’s one and only solo album, nicely remastered from the original tapes. Although neither Sonny nor any of the Arkestra appear on it, Boykins’s importance to the Sun Ra saga is undisputed and, therefore, The Will Come, Is Now merits a mention here.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I found this album to be something of a disappointment. It certainly looks promising: Boykins composed six ambitious pieces for the album, featuring a septet of himself on bass and sousaphone; Joe Ferguson, Monty Waters and James Cass on saxophones and flutes; Daoud Haroom on trombone; Art Lewis on drums; and George Avaloz on congas. And, to be sure, each of the pieces showcases Boykins’s unique compositional voice and his flair for rich orchestration but the album suffers from a basic lack of rehearsal and slip-shod recording technique. The title track is typical: a loping ostinato in 7/4 with a twisty, complex head arrangement followed by a series of modal solos—but the sound is boxy and indistinct and the off-center groove never quite solidifies, almost dissolving completely during Boykins’s bowed bass solo. “Starlight At The Wonder Inn” appears to be an evocation of the early days in Chicago: a slightly old-fashioned ballad form with sweet ‘n’ sour horns and Boykins carrying the melody on arco bass—but, this time, intonation problems undermine the piece’s nostalgic beauty.

On the other hand, the three-minute “Demon’s Dance” works a bit better, a riffing post-bop number with everyone soloing at once, Dixieland-style. Even more intriguing is “Dawn Is Evening, Afternoon,” which sets yearning, unresolved harmonies and dissonant counter-melodies against a swinging solo section. The humorously titled, “Tipping On Heels,” is an appropriately tipsy, stop-start, big-band type number where, after stating the theme, soloists pair up for duo improvisations. At least here the ensemble sounds like they’re in their element but the abrupt ending appears to be a clumsy splice rather than a planned conclusion. The last track, “The Third I” could have been a real masterpiece: it begins with a ritualized percussion segment with everyone clanking on cowbells, shaking rattles and jangling tambourines before Boykins starts rumbling away on the giant sousaphone. Unfortunately, the blast of low frequencies caused the recordist to panic (Marzette Watts as it happens), resulting in disconcerting volume fluctuations throughout the rest of the track. Oh well. This eventually gives way to a genially meandering jam for flutes and horns which finally coalesces into a 15/8 ostinato laid down by Boykins on the bass. Finally, at around the ten-minute mark, the full band comes in with stabbing horn tattoos and a weirdly harmonized melody—exciting!—but then the track fades out just as they get going. Argh! Obviously, this piece continued for quite a while longer but was cut down to save space for other works on the album. That is really frustrating since "The Third I" might be the most compelling thing on the album. And so it goes…

Ultimately, The Will Come, Is Now is all unrealized potential and it is tempting to fantasize about what the Arkestra could have brought to this material, even with limited rehearsal time and amateurish sound quality (which was, after all, the norm for them). It is also reasonable to speculate on what sort of music Sonny would have made with Boykins continuously at his side. Well, for whatever reason, it was not meant to be and, sadly, Boykins has never achieved the acclaim he deserves. Even though he played with several luminaries of the loft-jazz scene in the 1970s, very little of it was recorded, leaving this as his only solo statement. As such, The Will Come, Is Now is an important document of Boykins’s wide-ranging musical conception and inimitable instrumental prowess. But it is less than completely satisfying on a musical level, if only because it could have been so much better. Then again, my expectations might be too high.

November 26, 2011

Playlist Week of 11-26-11

Rolling Stones - Some Girls Live in Texas '78

* Purcell: Fantasias For The Viols 1680 (Savall, et al.) (Alia Vox SACD)
* J.S. Bach: The Works for Lute (Kirchhof) (Sony Classical 2CD)
* J.S. Bach: Harpsichord Concertos, etc. (AAM/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)†
* Carter: Piano Concerto, etc. (Nashville Symphony/Schermerhorn/Wait) (Naxos CD)
* Sun Ra: Live At Montreux (Inner City/Universe 2CD)
* Ronnie Boykins: The Will Come, Is Now (ESP-Disk’ CD)
* Cecil Taylor: Jazz Advance (Transition/Blue Note CD)
* David S. Ware String Ensemble: Threads (Thirsty Ear CD)
* John Abercrombie: Cat ’n’ Mouse (ECM CD)
* John Abercrombie: Class Trip (ECM CD)
* John Abercrombie Quartet: Wait Till You See Her (ECM CD)
* Gary Burton/Chick Corea/Pat Metheny/Roy Haynes/ Dave Holland: Like Minds (Concord CD)
* Aretha Franklin: I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You (Atlantic/Mobile Fidelity CD)
* Aretha Franklin: Lady Soul/Aretha Now (Atlantic/Mobile Fidelity CD)
* William S. Burroughs: Dead City Radio (selections) (Island CD)
* The Rolling Stones: Exile On Main St. (Deluxe Edition) (Promotone/Universal 2CD)
* The Rolling Stones: Some Girls (Deluxe Edition) (Promotone/Universal 2CD)
* The Rolling Stones: Some Girls Live In Texas ’78 (Promotone/Eagle Rock DVD+CD)
* The Rolling Stones: Some Girls Sessions (fan/boot 2CDR)
* Bob Dylan: Bringing It All Back Home (mono) (Columbia/Sundazed LP)
* Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited (mono) (Columbia/Sundazed LP)
* Van Morrison: Astral Weeks (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Jeff Beck: Truth (mono) (Epic/Sundazed LP)
* Jeff Beck: Beck-Ola (Epic/Sundazed LP)
* Jeff Beck: Blow By Blow (Epic LP)
* Grateful Dead: Fairgrounds, Lille, France 5/13/72 (GDP/Rhino 3CD)
* Grateful Dead: La Grande Salle du Grand Theatre, Luxembourg 5/16/72 (GDP/Rhino 2CD)
* Grateful Dead: Kongressaal, Munich, W. Germany 5/18/72 (GDP/Rhino 3CD)
* Grateful Dead: Park West Ski Area, Park City, UT 9-04-83 (selections) (SBD 3CDR)
* Jerry Garcia Band: After Midnight: Kean College 2/28/80 (JGE, LLC/Rhino 3CD)
* David Crosby: If I Could Only Remember My Name… (Atlantic DVD-A)
* Jean-Luc Ponty: King Kong: Plays The Music of Frank Zappa (Blue Note/Friday Music LP)
* Frank Zappa & The Mothers: Fillmore East June 1971 (Bizarre/Reprise LP)
* Frank Zappa: Wazoo (Vaulter Native/ 2CD)
* Frank Zappa: Imaginary Diseases (Zappa Records CD)
* Yes: Yesshows – Expanded (Atlantic/Friday Music 2CD)
* Alan Parsons Project: I Robot (Arista LP)
* ELO: Greatest Hits (Columbia LP)
* The Doobie Brothers: Greatest Hits (Warner Bros. LP)
* Los Lobos: Kiko (Slash/Warner Bros. CD)†/‡
* U2: Achtung, Baby (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Island/Universal 2CD)†
* Anton Fier: Dreamspeed/Blindlight (Tzadik 2CD)†
* Guided By Voices: “We Won’t Apologize […]”/”The Unsinkable Fats Domino” (Matador 7”)
* Boston Spaceships: Let It Beard (GBV, Inc. 2LP)
* Jim O’Rourke: The Visitor (Thrill Jockey LP)
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise CD)(†)
* Mastodon: The Hunter (Reprise CD)(†)



I’m not the hugest Rolling Stones fan, but I do have a fondness for their 1978 album, Some Girls, which has recently received the “deluxe edition” treatment. Of course, I picked up a copy—even though I knew I was in for a let-down.

Some consider this the last great Stones album and it’s easy to agree. The rise of disco and punk was threatening to overturn the complacent hegemony of rockstars like the Rolling Stones and, snapping out of their usual torpor, they responded with their best record in years, one which managed to fuse the rhythms of dance music with the energy and guitar noise of punk while still sounding like the Stones of old. Personal turmoil added an unexpected edge to the songwriting: Keith Richards’s trial over the Canadian heroin bust was impending, resulting in the coy but recondite “Before They Make Me Run” and Bianca Jagger’s bitter divorce proceedings are reflected in positively venomous songs like “Lies” and “Respectable.” They sound like they really mean it and the album has aged well, unlike a lot of the “crossover” attempts that would follow. While the danceable numbers like “Miss You” and “Beast of Burden” were appropriately huge hits, the whole album is strong from start to finish, a rare thing indeed in the Stones discography.

Unfortunately, this re-re-mastering is abysmal: loud, brickwalled and ear-bleedingly bright. Ouch! That kind of approach might have brought some much-needed clarity to the murky Exile on Main St. (reissued in a “deluxe edition” last year) but it totally wrecks this otherwise decent-sounding album. Interestingly, the “bonus disc” of unreleased songs sounds much—much!—better. I have to ask: in this day and age, why couldn’t they have given the album proper that kind of treatment? Oh well; a wasted opportunity—and possibly the last one we’ll get. And, also like the Exile “bonus disc”, Sir Mick has overdubbed new vocals onto old backing tracks and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Fortunately, the unaltered “Petrol Blues” is here, sounding like it was actually taken from my bootleg copy. Taken for it is, the “bonus disc” is a pretty decent Stones record in its own right, with songs like “Claudine” and “No Spare Parts” being worthy of the canon, new vocals and all—but that hardly makes up for the atrocious mastering of Some Girls. Reportedly, the expensive 180-gram vinyl sounds no better—what a shame.

Well, whatever. More pleasing is the DVD/Blue-Ray/CD release of Some Girls Live in Texas ’78. With the new album hitting the charts, the Stones hit the road for a short tour of the U.S., playing a variety of venues from small theaters to enormous stadiums, with several of the shows being recorded for broadcast on "The King Biscuit Flour Hour" (bootlegs of which have circulated widely). In addition, the complete concert from July 18, 1978 at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth, Texas was professionally filmed but the footage has languished in the Stones vault until now. Too bad, as it shows them diligently making a sincere effort to reclaim their title as the World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band. Gone are the horns and back-up singers, elaborate lighting rigs and the giant, inflatable phallus. Instead, it’s just five guys (supplemented by nearly invisible keyboardists) getting back to basics, playing the hits but also delivering the new material with startling vigor. Jagger acts the clown, of course, but he has not quite become the total self-parody of later years, even stopping to sing with soulful conviction now and then and periodically adding his clangorous guitar to the din. It’s the rest of the band that carries the day: newcomer Ronnie Wood is the perfect foil for Keith Richards, their riffing guitars meshing perfectly into a tightly knit wall of rock; meanwhile Charlie Watts mans the backbeat along with Bill Wyman’s stoically inventive bass playing. It’s not punk, it’s not disco—it’s the kind of sublime synthesis the Stones were capable of—but they’re digging in like it still matters. My problem with the Stones has always been their apparent laziness but, here, they’re working hard to remain relevant—and succeeding (at least) one last time. Sound and video quality is excellent and, as an added bonus, the band’s appearance on “Saturday Night Live” is included along with a contemporaneous news story hosted by none other than Geraldo Rivera and a brand new interview with Mick Jagger. Highly recommended!

Also of interest to Stones fans is the official (albeit download only) release of The Brussels Affair, one of the most highly-regarded bootlegs of all time. This 1973 concert has been remixed from the original master tapes and the 320k MP3 files are available here for a (comparatively) reasonable $4.99. I have yet to commit (I still have a hard time paying money for lossy computer files), but it sure looks tempting since there are presently no plans to release this on CD. It’s surely one of the great concerts from the Mick Taylor years and I’d love to hear it cleaned up, even if it’s an MP3. So, while the treatment of the “official” catalog continues to be shoddily presented, these archival releases are a surprising treat. But like I said, I’m not the hugest Rolling Stones fan, so I don’t care that much. I’d still like to find a clean, original pressing of Some Girls someday—I stupidly sold mine in a fit of fashion-conscious pique—but they’re hard to find these days. Well, as they say: “You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you just might find you get what you need.”

November 20, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday


my world is a space away
and that's the way to another dimension
of living
the arial concept of being alive
out on the vibrating planes of outer space

my world is a space away
the broad road that never ends
an endless channel
that connects worlds upon worlds
of cosmic space
there is the doorway of my world
pause at the threshold, think a while
before you enter
but once having entered
there is no turning back

--Sun Ra

November 19, 2011

Playlist Week of 11-19-11

Sleepthief - The Madness of Crowds

* Buxtehude: Seven Sonatas, Op.2 (Holloway/Mortensen/ter Linden) (Naxos CD)
* Biber: Unam Ceylum (Holloway/Mortensen/Assenbaum) (ECM CD)
* Biber/Muffat: Der Türken Anmarsch (Holloway/Mortensen/Assenbaum) (ECM CD)
* Ravel: Piano Works (Queffélec) (Virgin Classics 2CD)
* Debussy: Chamber Music (Athena Ensemble) (Chandos CD)
* Feldman: Rothko Chapel/Why Patterns? (California EAR Unit, et al.) (New Albion CD)
* Lachenmann: String Quartets (Stadler Quartet) (NEOS SACD)
* Dusapin: String Quartets (Arditti Quartet) (æon 2CD)
* Sonny Clark Trio: The 45 Sessions (Blue Note—Japan CD)
* Sun Ra: Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston, MA, Dec, ’75 (AUD CDR)
* Sun Ra: Live At Montreux (Inner City/Universe 2CD)
* Ronnie Boykins: The Will Come, Is Now (ESP-Disk’ CD)
* Bill Dixon Orchestra: Intents And Purposes (RCA-Victor/International Phonograph CD)
* Bill Dixon: Bill Dixon In Italy Vol.I (Black Saint/Soul Note CD)
* Bill Dixon: Bill Dixon In Italy Vol.II (Black Saint/Soul Note CD)
* Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House: Anti-House (Intakt CD)†
* Ingrid Laubrock Sleepthief: The Madness Of Crowds (Intakt CD)
* Muddy Waters: Folk Singer (Chess/MCA/Mobile Fidelity CD)
* Sly & The Family Stone: There’s A Riot Goin’ On (Epic/Sundazed LP)
* Grateful Dead: Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Holland 5/10/72 (GDP/Rhino 4CD)
* Grateful Dead: Grote Zaal De Doelen, Rotterdam, Holland 5/11/72 (GDP/Rhino 4CD)
* Grateful Dead: Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA 2-24-74 (SBD 4CDR)‡
* Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Live At The Fillmore East 1970 (Reprise DVD-A)
* Pink Floyd: Obscured By Clouds (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Animals (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: The Wall (Pinkfloyd/EMI 2CD)†
* Golden Palominos: This Is How It Feels (Restless CD)†
* Golden Palominos: Pure (Restless CD)†
* Guided By Voices: “We Won’t Apologize…”/”The Unsinkable Fats Domino” (Matador 7”)
* Robert Pollard: Space City Kicks (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Circus Devils: Capsized! (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Radiohead: Kid A (Capitol CD)
* A Perfect Circle: Mer De Noms (Virgin CD)†
* A Perfect Circle: Thirteenth Step (Virgin CD)†
* A Perfect Circle: eMOTIVe (Virgin CD)†
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise CD)†(‡)
* Mastodon: The Hunter (Reprise CD)†
* Ray Lamontagne: Trouble (Stone Dwarf/RCA LP)



Of all the weird and wonderful CDs I picked up while in New York, there’s one in particular I keep coming back to: Ingrid Laubrock’s latest Sleepthief record, The Madness of Crowds (Intakt). The trans-national trio of the German-born Laubrock on saxophones, British pianist, Liam Noble, and American drummer, Tom Rainey was formed back when Laubrock was living in London and their eponymous CD, released in 2008, was, in a way, her breakthrough album, garnering near-unanimous critical praise. Shortly thereafter, she moved to New York, to be quickly assimilated into the burgeoning downtown jazz scene and where her unique sound and wide-ranging versatility found a welcoming home. And she keeps getting better and better: last year’s Anti-House (also on Intakt) is one of my very favorite records of all time. But whereas the Anti-House band showcases Laubrock’s knotty, genre-splicing compositional voice, Sleepthief is pure improvisation, non-idiomatic and free. As their first album amply demonstrated, these musicians are masterful improvisers, but The Madness of Crowds takes it to a whole other level, beyond technique and style where the music seems just inevitable and true. This music invites—no, demands—repeated listenings, rewarding the ear with its spirited and boundless creativity.

It helps that the sound quality is astonishingly good. Most modern jazz albums are adequately if indifferently recorded, naturalistic in affect but usually sounding somewhat flat and dry. But The Madness of Crowds sounds shockingly vivid, almost hyperreal. Rainey’s bass drum is HUGE, Noble’s piano occupies a solid, three-dimensional space and when Laubrock comes in, it sounds like she’s standing right there in the room with you. Wow! Recorded by Andrew Taub and Ben Liscio at Brooklyn Recording and mixed and mastered by Andrew Tulloch at The Blue Studio in London, The Madness of Crowds has been given the kind of high-class treatment this music truly deserves. Ultimately, free improvisation is all about sound for its own sake, from the quietest of subtleties (as when Laubrock blows bubbles in a goblet of water on “You Never Know What’s in the Next Room”) to the most aggressive cacophony imaginable and it is accordingly difficult (if not impossible) to capture the magic of live performance on disc. The Madness of Crowds is that rare thing: not only a masterpiece of improvisational music but an audiophile spectacular. Seriously, it needs to be heard to be believed. Record of the year!

November 13, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Jordan Hall, Boston, MA December 1975 (AUD CDR)

Ah, The New England Conservatory of Music, NEC, my alma mater (of sorts), otherwise known by my cohorts at the time as “The Disturbatory” or “Not Exactly College” (among other amusing epithets). It’s frankly hard to imagine Sun Ra and his spaced-out, ragtag Arkestra gracing the stage at Jordan Hall in December 1975. But although NEC was (and always will be) a bastion of stuffed-shirted classical music snobbery, its president at the time was Gunther Schuller, who was hip enough to allow Ran Blake to start the “Third Stream” department (where weirdoes like me were admitted) and encouraged the development of a “jazz” curriculum to compete with the Berklee College of Music down the street. So I guess it’s not so surprising that Sonny was invited to perform in one of the most acoustically perfect concert halls in the country—not that you would know it from the sound of this primitive audience recording. Gosh, it sounds awful! Hissy, warbly, distorted, unbalanced and, to make matters worse, most tracks cut off with a loud pop. Ugh! Upon close listening, it seems the original master might have sounded decent, but generational loss has obliterated what fidelity there was. Still, you can still hear Ra on his best behavior in this prestigious venue, introducing some well-rehearsed new material and keeping the polemical excesses in check.

The seventy-one minute tape (unlisted in Campbell & Trent) contains almost a complete set, cutting in on the opening improvisation which features Marshall Allen’s keening oboe over ominous percussion. Suddenly, Ra queues “Love In Outer Space” with some blasting organ chords—but the taper apparently didn’t care for this tune (or experienced technical difficulties) as the recording cuts off just as it gets going. Oh well. Eddie Thomas announces “Images” and, after a moody organ introduction, the tune takes off at brisk tempo. Kwami Hadi was out of the band at this point so the high-trumpet part has been assumed by Ahmed Abdullah and he takes a long, winding solo over several choruses. The hotshot bass player we heard at The "New" Five Spot is still present, holding down the swinging rhythm section and closely following Abdullah as he takes it increasingly “out” and deftly leading the band through the reprise of the head. A stellar tour de force from Abdullah and Mr. Anonymous! Not to be outdone, John Gilmore takes over—a cappella at that—doing his best post-Coltrane tenor thing. Without missing a beat, the rhythm section slips in behind him and, supported by Ra’s piano, he really starts to fly! Yep—another incredible Gilmore solo! Get used to it! Ra follows with some impressionistic piano, showing off his underappreciated keyboard skills before the Arkestra returns with the finale. A superb rendition of this classic tune—too bad it sounds so crappy!

Sonny then moves to the Rocksichord, to which he’s attached a whooshing phase-shifter—a sound that would dominate the Cosmos album the following summer (one of my favorite Ra albums of all time). This unknown title would have fit right in on that record, opening with a long introduction from Ra that moves from pretty, modal chords to roiling, industrial dissonances and back again before the band comes in with a stately melody. With its lumbering rhythms and sweet’n’sour harmonies, the piece brings to mind the Discipline series of compositions but with the relaxed, languid feel of Ra’s hypnotically grooving space ballads. A short bass clarinet solo almost sounds like Gilmore but Abdullah soon takes the reins with some more high-wire trumpet. Mostly, though, it’s Sun Ra’s creamy Rocksichording that keeps things interesting. Again, it’s a terrble shame the sound quality on the tape is so poor since the gently floating, interlocking bass and percussion parts are just about impossible to make out. Well, it’s a rare and beautiful composition, badly recorded.

“Space Is The Place” follows but is presented as a hyperactive rhumba, with Eddie Thomas and June Tyson deleriously singing the lead. Predictably, it descends into cheerful chaos soon enough, but the audience gets a big kick out of the spectacle, whooping, hollering and clapping along. “Journey To Saturn” is more of the same, climaxing with a honking alto solo from Danny Davis and ending with weird portamento organ effects from Ra. “Discipline 27-II” slows things down for a series of space chants, Eddie Thomas doing the substitute preaching—interestingly, Sonny keeps his mouth shut throughout and the pontificating is kept mercifully brief. The following “mini-set” of old jazz chestnuts is just two tunes, but they’re perfectly executed: “How Am I to Know” is a maudlin torch song made famous by Billie Holiday (and, later, Frank Sinatra) and here it showcases some of the most goopily romantic playing of Ra’s career, incongruously performed on his swelling, roller-rink organ. Meanwhile, Gilmore plays smoky tenor. It shouldn’t work, but it does—just lovely! Up next is the jump swing standard, “Rose Room, with more full-throated Gilmore and pealing trumpet from Abdullah, all punctuated by Ra’s relentlessly stabbing organ chords. Finally, the concert concludes with a vanishingly quick “Calling Planet Earth” and a fast-paced romp through “We Travel the Spaceways,” as the band marches off the stage to wild cheering and hearty applause. From the sound of it, the swells at NEC were surprisingly welcoming to Ra and his space men! Sun Ra's star was finally starting to rise.

It’s a strong show, but the tempos are generally too fast and there’s no real opportunity for wild improvisation, as if time constraints required Ra to truncate his usual set. Yet, despite the atrocious sound quality, there’s enough interesting music here to make it worthwhile to fanatical collectors. “Images,” “How Am I To Know?” and especially the unidentified Cosmos-like piece are obvious highlights. Ordinary people, however, will be suitably repulsed by the noise and distortion; you are hereby dutifully warned.

November 12, 2011

Playlist Week of 11-12-11

Blue VU

* Marais: Pieces De Viole des Cinq Livres (Savall, et al.) (d.4-5) (Alia Vox 5SACD)
* J.S. Bach: Solo & Double Violin Concertos (AAM/Manze/Podger) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* Miles Davis: The Complete Live At The Plugged Nickel 1965 (d.3-4) (Columbia/Legacy 8CD)
* Miles Davis: Bitches Brew (Legacy Edition) (d.1-2) (Columbia/Legacy 2CD+DVD)
* Bobby Hutcherson: Components (Blue Note CD)
* Sun Ra: The “New” Five Spot, New York, NY 6-11-75 (AUD CDR)
* Sun Ra: Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston, MA Dec.’75 (AUD CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: Trio (Wesleyan) 2005 (New Braxton House MP3)†
* Anthony Braxton: Septet (Pittsburgh) 2008 (New Braxton House MP3)†
* Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Mannheim) 2010 (New Braxton House MP3)†
* Myra Melford Trio M: Bimhuis, Amsterdam, Holland 5-08-11 (FM 2CDR)
* Ingrid Laubrock Sleep Thief: Sleep Thief (Intakt CD)
* Ingrid Laubrock Sleep Thief: The Madness Of Crowds (Intakt CD)
* Spring Heel Jack: Live (Thirsty Ear CD)†
* Emmylou Harris: Wrecking Ball (Elektra/Asylum CD)
* The Beatles: Abbey Road (2009 remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* The Beach Boys: Smile Sessions (d.1) (Capitol 2CD)
* Grateful Dead: Bickershaw Festival, Wigan, England 5/7/72 (GDP/Rhino 4CD)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.4 No.5: Boston Music Hall 6-9-76 (GDP/Rhino 3CD)
* Pink Floyd: Meddle (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here (Experience Edition) (Pinkfloyd/EMI 2CD)
* Steely Dan: Aja (ABC/Geffen/Cisco LP)
* The Smiths: The Sound Of The Smiths (Warner Bros./Rhino 2CD)
* U2: The Joshua Tree (Deluxe Edition) (Island/Universal 2CD)
* Thurston Moore/Talk Normal: Three Songs/Gold Dime (Fast Weapons 7”EP)
* Prick Decay w/Thurston Moore: Electricity vs. Insects (Chocolate Monk Audio Artifacts 7”EP)
* Guided By Voices: Live In Daytron 6°? (GBV, Inc. MP3)†/‡
* Robert Pollard: “Silk Rotor” (Happy Jack Rock Records 7”EP)
* Psycho & The Birds: Check Your Zoo (Fading Captain Series 7”EP)
* Circus Devils: Capsized! (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Beck: Modern Guilt (Geffen CD)†/‡
* Radiohead: Kid A (Capitol CD)†
* Radiohead: Amnesiac (Capitol CD)†
* Radiohead: Hail To The Thief (Capitol CD)†
* Radiohead: In Rainbows (TBD CD)†
* Radiohead: The King Of Limbs (TBD/XL CD)†
* Radiohead: TKOL RMX 1234567 (Ticker Tape/XL 2CD)†(‡)
* Wilco: The Whole Love (dBpm/Epitaph 2LP)
* Deerhoof w/Jeff Tweedy/The Raccoonists: “Behold…”/”Own It” (Polyvinyl 7”)



I’m mesmerized by the big, blue VU meters in my living room—and too enraptured by the sound to write anything except, “music is the best!”

November 6, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Arkestra: The “New” Five Spot, New York, NY 6-11-75 (AUD CDR)

Over the past couple of years, Sun Ra had introduced a few Swing-Era jazz standards into the Arkestra’s live sets but, for the most part, they were loosely arranged and casually executed. By 1975, this repertoire would suddenly become an integral part of every live performance, with “mini-sets” of historical big-band numbers, expertly re-orchestrated and performed with astounding authenticity. Szwed suggests that this was a shrewd business maneuver as much as anything:

It was a move both oppositional and prescient: he had seen the limits of the avant-garde, and sensing a shift beginning in American sensibilities, he was unwilling to give up the large audiences he had drawn (p.338).

Indeed, the free jazz scene had virtually disintegrated, at least in the United States. While it might have seemed like a good idea for Impulse! to sign Sun Ra to a multi-album deal back in 1972, by 1975 it was a bust and the records were deleted and sold off as “cut-outs,” thereby depriving Ra of any royalities otherwise due him. Accordingly, Ra’s revival of the standard jazz repertoire might seem to anticipate the rise of 1980s conservatism and the shallow, “well-dressed jazz” of Wynton Marsalis and his ilk. But Sun Ra was deeply affected by the recent deaths of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington (Id. p.337) and it must be remembered he was also of that era. Ra was by now in his sixties, much older than most of the members of the Arkestra and his growing audience of college students and urban hipsters. Moreover, I’m not sure this old-timey music had much commercial appeal at the time—it certainly took me a while to come around to liking it, much preferring the wild spacey stuff. Instead, I believe Sun Ra’s intention was mostly pedagogical, to teach his musicians and audience about this beautiful, highly disciplined music that was in danger of disappearing into the past (or coopted and smoothed over for contemporary, postmodern tastes).

This monophonic audience recording from The “New” Five Spot in New York City on June 11, 1975 opens with a fully-developed “mini-set” of Big-Band era classics and, unlike the loosey-goosey renditions previously heard, the Arkestra sounds super-tight and thoroughly well-rehearsed. When they tear through this old repertoire, they sound rough-and-ready and totally into it! This is probably how this stuff actually sounded on roadside bandstands during its glory years of the 1920s and ‘30s—it is more than just “authentic,” it’s real. The recording's primitive sound quality simultaneously enhances and detracts from the listening experience. On the one hand, the hissy mono recording sounds like it’s from a distant time-zone, an intergalactic transmission faintly audible on our humble earthbound receiver units. Nevertheless, it sure would be nice to hear this in high fidelity! Well, we take what can get and this one is a keeper, despite its sonic flaws. Sonny rhapsodizes on “Yesterdays” at the piano for a few minutes before Gilmore solemnly announces: “And now, Duke Ellington’s 'Lightnin’'!”—and they’re totally smoking, with Ra turning in a rollicking piano solo. Ellington’s “Slippery Horn” from 1932 is presented in an unusual arrangement with Robert Northern taking the lead on French horn (!) and Gilmore making a rare appearance on clarinet. Just lovely! Finally, the “mini-set” ends with a romantic piano interlude and a rip-snorting “King Porter Stomp.” Gilmore helpfully informs the crowd it was “composed by Jelly Roll Morton and arranged by Fletcher Henderson.” Taken at a slightly more relaxed tempo than later versions, the performance is confident and assured with newcomer Ahmed Abdullah coming through with a weirdly swinging trumpet solo. In all, a scintillating ten-minute history lesson from the Sun Ra and his Arkestra.

The rest is more typical of the era, but played at an extremely high level. Notable is the presence of a very fine bassist, whose identity is, sadly, unknown. Although Prof. Campbell suggests Ronnie Boykins or John Ore could be present (p. 218), I’m not so sure it’s either one of them. Whoever it is, he confidently holds down the groove on a lengthy jam on “Moonship Journey,” which moves through a series of space chants/songs including “Third Heaven,” “Journey to Saturn” and “Outer Space Employment Agency” without ever losing a beat. A dramatic synthesizer solo leads into “The Shadow World,” always a welcome occurrence. After blazing through the hyper-complicated head, everyone gets a chance to solo—including Northern’s French horn—but Gilmore steals the show with a ferocious outburst of saxophone pyrotechnics. Yes, it’s another amazing Gilmore solo! After a quick reprise, the set concludes with “Space Is The Place,” but cuts off just as it starts to get going. Oh well. Interestingly, my copy tacks on “Space Is The Place/We Roam The Cosmos” from the side-B of What’s New. Aside from a slight change in sound quality and volume level, the ambience and energy of the performance fits right in with the rest of the “New” Five Spot show—the unknown bass player certainly sounds the same. Could this be from the same gig? Is this “bootleg” actually an on-stage recording copied from Sonny’s stash, another “Lost Reel”? Who knows? In any event, this track works better in the context of an entire set than as a stand-alone (and far too brief) album side, making it a satisfying bit of filler.

Despite the less-than-perfect sound quality, this “bootleg” recording is worth hearing, if only for the expertly performed “mini-set” of obscure jazz classics and spectacular version of “The Shadow World.” That it may also contain the missing material from What’s New just makes it all the more tantalizing.

November 5, 2011

Playlist Week of 11-05-11

Tom Waits - Bad As Me

* Marais: Pieces De Viole des Cinq Livres (Savall, et al.) (d.3) (Alia Vox 5SACD)
* J.S. Bach: Motetten (Collegium Vocale Gent/Herreweghe) (PHI/Outhere CD)
* J.S. Bach: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* J.S. Bach: Suites for Violoncello (ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)†
* J.S. Bach: Sonatas for Viola da Gamba (Pandolfo/Alessandrini) (Harmonia Mundi CD)†
* Miles Davis: Complete Live At The Plugged Nickel (d.1-2) (Columbia/Legacy 8CD)
* John Coltrane: Live Trane: The European Tours (d.2) (Pablo 7CD)
* Grant Green: Idle Moments (Blue Note LP)
* Sun Ra: The “New” Five Spot, New York, NY 6-11-75 (AUD CDR)
* Bill Dixon & Tony Oxley: Papyrus Volume I (Black Saint/Soul Note CD)
* Bill Dixon & Tony Oxley: Papyrus Volume II (Black Saint/Soul Note CD)
* Ingrid Laubrock Sleepthief: Sleepthief (Intakt CD)
* Sylvie Courvoisier: Lonelyville (Intakt CD)
* Mephista: Black Narcissus (Tzadik CD)
* Mark Nauseef/Ikue Mori/Evan Parker/Bill Laswell: Near Nadir (Tzadik CD)
* David Torn: Prezens (ECM CD)
* Tortoise: It’s All Around You (Thrill Jockey CD)†
* Tortoise: Beacons Of Ancestorship (Thrill Jockey CD)†
* Grateful Dead: Olympia Theatre, Paris, France 5/4/72 (GDP/Rhino 4CD)
* Led Zeppelin: I (Atlantic CD)†
* Led Zeppelin: II (Atlantic CD)†/‡
* Led Zeppelin: III (Atlantic CD)†/‡
* Led Zeppelin: IV (Atlantic CD)†/‡
* Led Zeppelin: Houses Of The Holy (Atlantic CD)†/‡
* Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti (Swan Song/Atlantic 2CD)†/‡
* Led Zeppelin: Presence (Swan Song/Atlantic CD)†/‡
* King Crimson: Heavy ContruKction (d.1-2) (DGM 3CD)†
* Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros. 2-45RPM LP)
* Emmylou Harris: Wrecking Ball (Asylum CD)
* Tom Waits: As Bad As Me (Anti-/Epitaph LP/1+1CD)
* U2: Achtung Baby (Deluxe Edition) (Island/Universal 2CD)
* Phil Collins: Face Value (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* U2: Zooropa (Island CD)
* Tool: Opiate (Zoo/BMG/Volcano CDEP)†
* Tool: Aenima (Zoo/BMG/Volcano CD)†
* Tool: Lateralus (Volcano/Tool Dissectional CD)†
* Tool: 10,000 Days (Volcano/Tool Dissectional CD)†
* The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin 5.1 (stereo) (Warner Bros. CD/DVD-A)
* Robert Pollard: Robert Pollard Is Off To Business (GBV, Inc. CD)†
* Robert Pollard: Moses On A Snail (GBV, Inc. CD)†
* Circus Devils: Capsized! (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Beck: Sea Change (Geffen/MoFi 2LP)
* Wilco: The Whole Love (dBpm/Epitaph 2LP)
* Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop 2LP)
* Broken Bells: Broken Bells (Columbia LP)
* Broken Bells: Meyrin Fields EP (Columbia EP)



The release of Tom Waits’s first proper album in seven years is reason enough for celebration for his fans, yet Bad As Me is such a good record that newcomers may well become converts. Waits’ gravelly voice has been described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding “like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in a smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over by a car” but, as with Bob Dylan’s distinctive croak, it seems to get more expressive with age. Waits sounds better than ever, even stretching to a sweet falsetto on “Talking At The Same Time” or a crooning tenor on “Pay Me.” In contrast to the clattering, politically-charged Real Gone from 2004, Bad As Me is mostly a collection of semi-conventional love songs like “Back In The Crowd” or “Kiss Me”; lost-love weepers like “Face To The Highway”; and earnest homages to domestic bliss like “Raised Right Men” or “Satisfied.” Shockingly, Waits sounds almost downright happy! However, the penultimate track, “Hell Broke Luce,” is as bracingly avant-garde as anything he’s ever done: Told from the point of view from a war-damaged soldier, Waits barks out the embittered words in a frantic military cadence while the sound of helicopters, bombs and machinegun fire threatens to engulf the roaring electric guitars and pile-driving percussion. Whew! A truly harrowing listening experience! Stylistically, the album surveys the wide range of Waits’s obsessions from pre-War Americana to Tin Pan Alley torch songs; Brechitian theatrics to dissonant industrial noise—all of which he has managed to subsume into his own inimitable musical persona: the bard of Skid Row. And, as usual, he’s accompanied by a stellar line-up of musicians, including Marc Ribot, Keith Richards, David Hidalgo, Charlie Musselwhite, and Gino Robair. “Hell Broke Luce” aside, this is possibly Waits’s most accessible album in years.

The vinyl is beautifully pressed and packaged and seeing as it contains a copy of the CD, it’s definitely the way to go. But true fanatics and record collectors should seek out the limited edition 2-compact disc version which contains three additional songs and a handsome, hardbound book; the touchingly childlike “Tell Me” is well worth the cost of admission. Either way, fans will be pleased and the merely curious will be amply rewarded with the best of what Tom Waits has to offer. Highly recommended! Check out this video for the title track and see for yourself:

October 30, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra - This Planet Is Doomed

I picked up this cool little book at Downtown Music Gallery while we were in New York: This Planet Is Doomed: The Science Fiction Poetry of Sun Ra, which contains a number of previously unseen poems as well as a forward by Amiri Baraka and an overview of Ra’s literary pursuits by Bhob Stewart. Published by Kicks Books in association with Norton Records and Michael D. Anderson of the Sun Ra Archive, it’s definitely a worthy addition to the Sun Ra bookshelf. Here’s a great example (from page 73):

infinity is the language

all created art is music
architectural designs found in nature
every thing’s vibration is a different
degree of music
there is music everywhere
infinite infinity is the language of
enduring impression

I apologize for the sporadic posting lately (I’ve been busy!) but I’ll be back with more reviews next week—I promise!