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.