March 31, 2012

Playlist Week of 3-31-12

The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet

* Monteverdi: Vespro Della Beata Vergine, 1610 (La Capella Reial, et al./Savall) (Alia Vox 2SACD)
* Marais: Pieces a Deux Violes du Premier Livre, 1686 (Savall, et al.) (Alia Vox SACD)
* Marais: Pieces de Viole du Second Livre, 1701 (Savall, et al.) (Alia Vox SACD)
* Handel: Organ Concertos, Op.4 (Academy of Ancient Music/Egarr) (Harmonia Mundi SACD)
* Sun Ra & His Arkestra: A Quiet Place In The Universe (Leo CD)
* Pat Patrick’s Baritone Retinue: Sound Advice (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Scanner & The Post Modern Jazz Quartet: Blink Of An Eye (Thirsty Ear CD)
* John Lee Hooker: Chill Out (Pointblank CD)
* Emmylou Harris: All I Intended To Be (Nonesuch CD)
* Emmylou Harris: Hard Bargain (Nonesuch CD)
* Lucinda Williams: Little Honey (Lost Highway CD)
* Lucinda Williams: Blessed (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Lost Highway CD)
* The Beatles: Abbey Road (2009 remaster) (Apple/EMI CD)
* Rolling Stones: Some Girls (Deluxe Edition) (Rolling Stones/Universal 2CD)
* Grateful Dead: Coliseum, New Haven, CT 10-25-79 (set 2) (d.1) (SBD 2CDR)
* Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here: Limited Edition SACD (Pinkfloyd/EMI SACD)
* Pink Floyd: Animals (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Chicago: VI (Columbia LP)
* Chicago: VII (Columbia 2LP)
* Phil Collins: Face Value (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* Phil Collins: Hello, I Must Be Going! (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* Phil Collins: No Jacket Required (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* David Sylvian: Gone To Earth (Virgin 2LP)
* Lee Ranaldo: Between The Times And The Tides (Matador LP)
* Guided By Voices: “Keep It In Motion” (GBV, Inc. 7”EP)
* Robert Pollard: Mouseman Cloud (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Wilco: The Whole Love (Nonesuch 2LP)
* Opeth: Orchid (Candlelight CD)†
* Opeth: Morningrise (Candlelight CD)†
* Opeth: My Arms, Your Hearse (Candlelight CD)†
* Opeth: Still Life (Peaceville/Icarus CD)
* Opeth: Blackwater Park (Music For Nations/KOCH 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 (Deluxe Edition) (Roadrunner CD/DVD)
* Meshuggah: Koloss (Nuclear Blast CD)
* Agalloch: The Mantle (The End Records CD)†
* Agalloch: Ashes Against The Grain (The End Records CD)†
* Agalloch: Marrow Of The Spirit (Profound Lore 2LP)
* The Mars Volta: Tremulant EP (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CDEP)
* The Mars Volta: De-Loused In The Comatorium (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD)†
* The Mars Volta: Frances The Mute (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD)
* The Mars Volta: Scabdates (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD)
* The Mars Volta: Amuptecture (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD)†
* The Mars Volta: The Bedlam In Goliath (Universal CD)†
* The Mars Volta: Octahedron (Warner Bros. CD)†
* The Mars Volta: Noctourniquet (Warner Bros. CD) (†/‡)
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise 2-45RPM LP)
* Mastodon: The Hunter (Reprise 2-45RPM LP)
* Fleet Foxes: Sun Giant (Sub Pop EP)



My friend and musical compatriot, Sam Byrd, turned me on to The Mars Volta last Christmas when he came to Nashville for a visit. Knowing I was getting way into progressive rock, he thought I would appreciate their post-modern take on the genre and gave me a copy of their 2005 CD, Frances The Mute. Well, he was right—I was blown away right from the first! The Mars Volta are prog alright, but they also draw from a wide variety of genres such as ambient electronica, experimental metal, neo-psychedelia, avant-noise and jazz-rock fusion, just to name a few. Moreover, they foreground their Mexican/Puerto Rican roots, singing both in Spanish and English and introducing swinging and sultry Latin rhythms into the mix. Let’s face it: most prog-rock is white as a sheet and The Mars Volta brings a welcome diversity and hip-shaking libido to its multi-metered grooves. I immediately started collecting the rest of their albums on CD—but, as much as I liked the music, I didn’t really enjoy listening to them.

You see, The Mars Volta are the (perhaps willing) victims of “The Loudness Wars,” where CDs are mastered to be as loud as possible—and beyond. This is nowhere more apparent than on their new disc, Noctourniquet, which, according to this, has a measured dynamic range of 3dB. That is to say: the difference between the softest and the loudest sound on the disc is a measly three decibels—barely perceptible! Accordingly, any musical subtleties are completely obliterated and, even worse, when things get loud, the peaks are “clipped,” thereby inducing audible distortion—and not just any kind of distortion (like the sweet sound of overdriven vacuum tubes)—but digital distortion, the nastiest sound in the world. The only time this disc might sound even remotely OK is bombing down the Interstate with the windows open. But then again: no, not even then (I tried it this morning). I’m sorry, but this disc sounds like crap! Why pay money for a CD that sounds like a low-bit MP3? I say go ahead and steal it online; it’s not worth anything.

Good grief! No wonder the record industry is collapsing.

What really bums me out is that the music is, as usual with The Mars Volta, utterly brilliant. I really want to like this record, but I could never love it. Why, oh, why do so-called “artists” allow their music to be foisted upon the public sounding so bad? Oh sure, there’s a limited edition 2-LP edition coming out in a couple of months and it may or may not sound better. But, come on folks, we’re well into the 21st Century already. I love my vinyl as much as anyone but dragging a needle through plastic? Really? Is that the best we can do? Heck, the compact disc, as flawed as the format might be, has a dynamic range of 96dB—way beyond what even the best LP playback mechanism can achieve without launching the needle off the platter. Why do people love their vinyl? Because, beyond their fetish value, sometimes a bit of dynamic range lost on the poorly-mastered CD is restored, even when taken from a digital source. Go figure. But the fact is: the compact disc can sound very, very good—just check out any of Steve Hoffman’s work at Audio Fidelity for proof. SACD and DVD-Audio remain niche formats but plain old DVD is capable of significantly better sound than CD and Blu-Ray offers virtually unlimited resolution in multiple formats from mono to 7.1 multichannel. Frankly, there is no reason for Noctourniquet to sound as bad as it does. While overloud CDs are the norm these days, this is by far one of the worst I’ve ever heard. I can only assume producer and Volta’s musical mastermind, Omar Rodriguez-López, wanted it to sound like this. God knows why. This is great music rendered nearly unlistenable—a genuine tragedy.

March 25, 2012

Sun Ra Sunday

Pat Patrick’s Baritone Retinue: Sound Advice (Saturn LP)

Pat Patrick had recently returned to the fold and in 1976, joined with Arkestra alum, Charles Davis, to form Pat Patrick’s Baritone Retinue for a few one-off gigs. One of these concerts was recorded and released on an LP entitled, Sound Advice, in 1980 (Saturn ESR 770) and it is one of the few non-Sun Ra albums ever issued by El Saturn Records (and, as it turns out, the last) (see Campbell & Trent pp.229-230). Curiously, Sound Advice is also one of the only Saturn albums ever released on cassette (Id.). It’s an odd grouping: eight (8!) baritone saxophones (with some doubling on alto and flute) accompanied by a rhythm section consisting of Hilton Ruiz on piano, John Hart on bass, Steve Solder on drums and Babadefmi Humphries on conga. Both Patrick and Davis contribute tunes and arrangements while sharing the solo spotlight on this mostly straight-ahead affair.

The album is bookended by two crudely edited takes of Benny Golson’s “Stablemates” sans solos, a curious way to open and close the record—especially given the ensemble’s rather severe intonation problems! Jimmy Heath’s “Funny Time” starts out as a bumptious rhumba but settles into swing changes for the solos. Patrick goes first with a gruff and soulful outing, marred only by a squeaky reed, while Davis is smoother but also maybe a bit too slick for my tastes. This pattern repeats for most of the album. Patrick’s “Uptightedness” boasts an evocative title but is merely a medium blues of little interest but Davis’s “Eastern Vibrations” is better: a snaky melody over mysterioso piano and bass, a bit of jazzy exotica with sweet and sour harmonies. The bridge moves into movie-music swells before medium swing for the solos with Davis up first with an effortless couple of choruses and Patrick taking over with more adventuresome fare, which gets a nice round of applause from the audience. A tasty piano solo from Ruiz then rounds things up for the reprise.

Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Sabia” opens side two with a mellow samba rhythm, the melody arranged for baritones, altos and flutes. Patrick is in the lead, doing his best Harry Carney impersonation: big, wide vibrato and breathy, romantic articulations. Very nice. Next up is the most interesting track on the album: “East Of Uz” an early Sun Ra composition (c.1956) the score of which was deposited in the Library of Congress, but never recorded by Ra (as far as I know). It’s a Latin-inflected space groove with descending harmonies set against an oddly dissonant melody and the arrangement here is fairly intricate with loping counter-melodies orchestrated for baritone choir. Ruiz really shows his stuff with a sprightly solo in parallel octaves, which elicits some applause before Patrick and Davis take their turns at the mic. This is possibly one of the hundreds of tunes rehearsed by the Arkestra but never performed—too bad as it would have been nice to hear Sonny’s take on this weird little number. “The Waltz” is another composition by Davis and it’s just what it sounds like, a modal, three-four romp that dances in place while the soloists take flight. Then it’s another incomplete take of “Stablemates” to conclude the album.

Sound Advice is a pleasant enough listen and it’s always a pleasure to hear Pat Patrick taking the lead. But the indistinct recording job, sloppy ensembles and other technical problems prevent it from being everything it could have been. Soon after this recording, Patrick would abandon the baritone for the more easily deployed alto saxophone—a shame as he had a unique sound and melodic sensibility on the bigger instrument. Sound Advice would be Patrick’s only recording under his own name and is worth checking out for that reason alone.

March 24, 2012

Playlist Week of 3-24-12

Tom Rainey Trio - Camino Cielo Echo

* Rebel: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* J.S. Bach: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Takemitsu: I Hear The Water Dreaming (BBC Symphony/Davies et al.) (DG CD)
* Takemitsu: A Flock Descends Into The Pentangonal Garden (DG CD)
* Boulez: Rituel/Eclat/Multiples (BBC Symphony/Ensemble InterContemporain) (Sony CD)
* Miles Davis: Kind Of Blue (Columbia/Legacy SACD)
* John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman: John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman (Impulse! CD)
* John Coltrane: Ballads (Impulse! CD)
* Sun Ra & His Arkestra: A Quiet Place In The Universe (Leo CD)
* Sun Ra: Solo Piano Volume 1 (Improvising Artists, Inc. CD)
* Sun Ra: St. Louis Blues: Solo Piano Volume 2 (Improvising Artists, Inc. CD)
* Pat Patrick’s Baritone Revue: Sound Advice (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Stanley Clarke: School Days (Epic/Friday Music LP)
* John Abercrombie: Cat ‘n’ Mouse (ECM CD)
* Pat Metheny Group: Imaginary Day (Warner Bros. DVD-A)
* Ingrid Laubrock Sleepthief: The Madness Of Crowds (Intakt CD)
* Tom Rainey Trio: Camino Cielo Echo (Intakt CD)
* Muddy Waters: Folk Singer (Chess/Mobile Fidelity CD)
* Emmylou Harris: Wrecking Ball (Asylum HDCD)
* Lucinda Williams: West (Lost Highway CD)
* Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline (Columbia SACD)
* Grateful Dead: Grote Zaal De Doelen, Rotterdam, Holland 5/11/72 (GDP/Rhino 4HDCD)
* Love: Forever Changes (Elektra/Rhino CD)
* Derek And The Dominos: Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (Polydor SACD)
* Crosby Stills & Nash: Crosby Stills & Nash (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* Joni Mitchell: Hejira (Asylum HDCD)
* 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)
* King Crimson: Islands (40th Anniversary Series) (DGM/Inner Knot CD/DVD)
* King Crimson: THRAK (DGM CD)†
* King Crimson: The ConstruKction Of Light (Virgin CD)†
* ProjeKct X: Heaven And Earth (DGM CD)†
* bpm&m: XtraKcts & ArtifaKcts (Papa Bear CD)†
* Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros. 2-45RPM LP)
* Steely Dan: Gaucho (MC DVD-A)
* Los Lobos: This Time (Hollywood/Mobile Fidelity SACD)
* Lee Ranaldo: Between The Times And The Tides (Matador LP)
* The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin 5.1 (Warner Bros. CD/DVD-A)
* Beck: Sea Change (Geffen/Mobile Fidelity CD)
* Wilco: Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch 2LP/CD)
* Radiohead: Kid A (Capitol CD)
* Radiohead: In Rainbows (TBD CD)
* Radiohead: The King Of Limbs (TBD/Ticker Tape CD)
* Porcupine Tree: The Incident (Roadrunner CD/CDEP)
* Opeth: Still Life (Peaceville/Icarus CD)(†)
* Opeth: Blackwater Park (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)†
* Opeth: Deliverance (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)†
* Opeth: Damnation (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)
* Opeth: Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner HDCD)
* Opeth: Watershed (Roadrunner CD)
* Opeth: Heritage (Deluxe Edition) (Roadrunner CD/DVD)
* Katatonia: Last Fair Deal Gone Down (10th Anniversary Edition) (Peaceville CD/CDEP)†
* Katatonia: Viva Emptiness (Peaceville CD)†
* Katatonia: The Great Cold Distance (Peaceville CD)†
* Katatonia: Night Is The New Day (Peaceville CD)†
* The Mars Volta: De-Loused In The Comatorium (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD)
* The Mars Volta: Frances The Mute (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD)
* Baroness: Red Album (Relapse CD)†/‡
* Baroness: Blue Record (Relapse CD)†/‡



Although my prog/metal fixation continues unabated, I have also been trying to keep up with the out-jazz scene in New York. It ain’t easy. There’s been a bunch of good records released so far this year—but the new Tom Rainey Trio CD, Camino Cielo Echo (Intakt) is really something special. As on the first Trio album, 2010’s Pool School (Clean Feed), the master drummer is accompanied by his wife, Ingrid Laubrock, on saxophones and Mary Halvorson on guitar, two of the most innovative players on the scene. But two years is a long time in jazz; these musicians have had ample opportunities to play together (and apart) in various ensembles all over the world and this experience has culminated in a work of profound beauty. Pool School is an excellent CD—but Camino Cielo Echo is a masterpiece.

It begins with the sound: warm and intimately detailed, unusually well recorded. Then there’s the superlative musicianship combined with a telepathic, egoless empathy. This is group improvisation of the highest order—but, of course, that’s just a given with these folks. Rainey’s rhythm is elastic (to say the least), often playing three or four different time signatures (and/or free) all at once. Laubrock has carved out a uniquely personal voice in the post-Ayler continuum while Mary Halvorson continues to redefine the role of the electric guitar in contemporary music. But what makes this Camino Cielo Echo so special is that rather than sounding like a group of talented improvisers getting together for an ad hoc gig, they sound like a real band. There’s a focused intensity and sense of purpose that leaps from the speakers from the very first note. And there’s an apparent comfort level amongst the players, allowing for the kind of daring risks and wild experimentation that would likely derail a more casual session: Halvorson expands her electronic palette to include phase-shifters, ring modulation and delay; Laubrock tortures her mouthpiece; and Rainey effortlessly juggles “clouds of garbage cans.” But it always all comes together as the epitome of instant composition. Each of the thirteen highly variegated tracks is individually captivating—but the generous seventy-one minute expanse makes for an epic, inspiring listening experience. Frankly, words fail me. All I can say is Camino Cielo Echo is most highly recommended.

March 18, 2012

Sun Ra Sunday

This BBC documentary, Sun Ra: Brother From Another Planet, is fun but a little disappointing. It neither works as a compelling overview for newcomers nor presents anything new for longtime fans. Nevertheless, there's some nice footage, so it's definitely worth watching. Enjoy!

March 17, 2012

Playlist Week of 3-17-12

King Crimson - 40th Anniversary Series

* Buxtehude: Seven Sonatas (Holloway/Mortensen/ter Linden) (CPO/Naxos CD)
* Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Venice Baroque Orchestra/Marcon/Camignola) (Sony CD)
* Vivaldi: Late Concertos, RV 386, etc. (Venice Baroque Orchestra/Marcon/Carmignola (Sony CD)
* Vivaldi: Cello Sonatas (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics 2CD)
* Sun Ra: WXPN-FM, Philadelphia, PA 12-25-76 (FM CDR)
* Sun Ra: ESP Radio Tribute Highlights (d.4) (selections) FM 5CDR)
* Pat Patrick’s Baritone Retinue: Sound Advice (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Derek Bailey: Standards (Tzadik CD)
* Derek Bailey: Ballads (Tzadik CD)
* Jimi Hendrix Experience: Are You Experienced? (Experience Hendrix/MCA CD)
* Jimi Hendrix Experience: Axis: Bold As Love (Experience Hendrix/MCA CD)
* Jimi Hendrix: Electric Ladyland (Experience Hendrix/MCA CD)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.4 No.2: April Fools’ ’88 (GDP/Rhino 3HDCD)
* King Crimson: In The Court Of The Crimson King (40th Anniversary Series) (DGM/Inner Knot CD/DVD)
* King Crimson: In The Wake Of Poseidon (40th Anniversary Series) (DGM/Inner Knot CD/DVD)
* King Crimson: Lizard (40th Anniversary Series) (DGM/Inner Knot CD/DVD)†
* King Crimson: Islands (40th Anniversary Series) (DGM/Inner Knot CD/DVD)
* King Crimson: Starless And Bible Black (40th Anniversary Series) (DGM/Inner Knot CD/DVD)
* King Crimson: Red (40th Anniversary Series) (DGM/Inner Knot CD/DVD)
* King Crimson: Discipline (40th Anniversary Series) (DGM/Inner Knot CD/DVD)
* Yes: Going For The One (Atlantic/Rhino CD)
* Yes: Tormato (Atlantic/Rhino CD)
* Caravan: In The Land Of Grey And Pink (Deram/Decca 2CD/DVD)
* Robert Pollard: Mouseman Cloud (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Porcupine Tree: The Incident (Roadrunner 2CD)†
* Steven Wilson: Grace For Drowning (KScope 2CD)
* Opeth: Still Life (Peaceville/Icarus CD)†
* Opeth: Blackwater Park (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)†
* Opeth: Deliverance (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)†
* Opeth: Damnation (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)
* Opeth: Lamentations: Live At Shepherd’s Bush Empire 2003 (Music For Nations/KOCH 2CD)†
* Opeth: Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner CD)†
* Opeth: The Roundhouse Tapes (Peaceville 2CD)†
* Opeth: Watershed (Roadrunner CD)(†)
* Opeth: In Live Concert At The Royal Albert Hall (Roadrunner 3CD/2DVD)(†)
* Opeth: Heritage (Deluxe Edition) (Roadrunner CD/DVD)
* Katatonia: Last Fair Deal Gone Down (10th Anniversary Edition) (Peaceville CD/CDEP) †
* Katatonia: Viva Emptiness (Peaceville CD)†/‡
* Katatonia: The Great Cold Distance (Peaceville CD)†/‡
* Katatonia: Night Is The New Day (Peaceville CD)
* Agalloch: The Mantle (The End Records CD)†
* Agalloch: Ashes Against The Grain (The End Records CD)†
* Agalloch: Marrow Of The Spirit (Profound Lore CD/2LP)(†)
* Mastodon: Leviathan (Relapse CD)†
* Baroness: Red Album (Relapse CD)†/‡
* Baroness: Blue Record (Relapse CD)†/‡



The rest of the King Crimson 40th Anniversary Series arrived this week and I’ve been in prog heaven. These things are a model of how historical reissues should be presented. Steven Wilson's remixes are for the most part revelatory and the CDs sound very good—but the DVDs are where the action is, containing the new re-mix (as well as the original mix) in MLP lossless stereo and 5.1 surround; alternative mixes, outtakes, live tracks; and, if available, video footage. For twenty bucks, you really can’t go wrong with any of them. Even if you have the originals or the 30th Anniversary editions, these are well worth having—especially if you have a DVD-Audio player. This is state-of-the-art digital.

In the Court of the Crimson King (1969). Was there ever a more audacious debut? My God! That cover! And the grinding dissonance of the opening track, “21st Century Schizoid Man”! Yikes! It may not be the first prog album, but it certainly came to define the term for everything that came after. Those who are intimately familiar with this classic record might be shocked at first by Wilson’s remix, which removes layer upon layer of sludge and noise from the original tapes. His mix is faithful to the original down to the finest detail but the clarity of the instruments and vocals is nothing less than astounding. Curiously, Robert Fripp requested that three minutes of improvisation on “Moon Child” be excised on this remix. Heresy! Casual listeners will never notice, but I actually prefer the original, extended space-out and, fortunately, it can found on the DVD. Thank you, Mr. Fripp! Also included is a short video clip of the band at the infamous Hyde Park gig on July 5, 1969. Super-hardcore fans will want the deluxe six-disc box set, which includes all this and every other scrap of tape from the sessions plus a dub of the original UK mono LP. Also available is a 200-gram vinyl reissue, but be aware that it is the original mix, not Wilson’s remix contained therein, which sort of makes sense, I guess, in that it reproduces the original artifact.

In The Wake Of Poseidon (1970). The ’69 Crimson was killer live band, but it burned out after an intense U.S. tour (as documented on the Epitaph box set) and promptly disintegrated. Fripp gamely kept things going with a follow-up album which feels a bit like a pale imitation of the debut. There’s some good stuff here, though, like the jazzy “Cat Food” (featuring pianist Keith Tippett) and the doomy, Mellotronic “Devil’s Triangle.” Unfortunately, the original multitracks for the latter have disappeared, leaving only the original, murky mix to contend with. Not sure how that works in 5.1, but it’s rather jarring to listen to in the midst of Wilson’s pristine remix. Oh well; they certainly try to make up for it with oodles of bonus tracks, alternate mixes and several version of the angular jazz instrumental, “Groon.” A 200-gram vinyl reissue is also available, but again contains the original mix. A Wilson re-mix of “Devil’s Triangle” might have changed my mind, but In The Wake Of Poseidon remains my least favorite Crimson album. Hey, no one bats a thousand.

Lizard (1971). I wrote about this one last week. A flawed masterpiece redeemed by Wilson’s tireless efforts.

Islands (1972). Continues with the out-jazz inflections of Lizard, but the (mostly) down-tempo material combined with soaring strings, glistening acoustic guitars and flittering horns provide a pastoral calm at its center which is utterly unique in the Crimson discography. Then again, the almost offensively macho “Ladies of the Road” nearly wrecks the mood, but also points toward the more aggressively visceral music of later years. Also like Lizard, Islands has always suffered from a fuzzy, indistinct mix and Wilson once again comes to the rescue. It’s truly a revelation, especially in high-rez! While no video exists of this short-lived lineup, the two live recordings included here sound amazingly good for the period and show the restrained power and wide-ranging versatility of this band. The DVD is rounded out with tons of alternate takes, rehearsals, rough mixes and alternative remixes—more than enough material to allow for an honest reappraisal of this neglected gem. If you think you don’t like this album (and it is many fans’ least favorite), you are in for a big surprise. Wilson’s crowning achievement in the 40th Anniversary Series (so far).

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (1973). The 40th Anniversary edition is not out yet and no release date has been set; apparently, they are still negotiating rights to issue the proposed video content. The arrival of the Bill Bruford/John Wetton rhythm section gave the band a muscular, jazz/rock fusion feel that really floats my boat and this is probably my favorite Crimson album of all time. I can’t wait to hear what Wilson has done with it!

Starless And Bible Black (1974). An interesting experiment combining live tapes with overdubs and new studio recordings that really packs a punch in Wilson’s remix. Sadly, the original multitracks for “Trio” and “The Mincer” are missing, which is a big disappointment. Nevertheless, given the higher-fidelity of the recording, the negative impact of this sonic incongruity is less severe than on Wake. And, again, this deficiency is more than made up for with the inclusion of tons of bonus material, including the entire Zurich concert from November 15, 1973 (my tenth birthday!), along with other live tracks from the period; single edits (stereo and mono) of “The Night Watch”; and radio advertisements for the album. To top it off there’s some tasty video footage from Central Park June 25, 1973 where the band tears into “Easy Money” and “Fragged Dusty Wall Carpet.” This version of the band was at the top of its powers as a live unit, leaping into the void with extended improvisations which sound like full-notated compositions. That kind of thing is much in evidence here making this reissue worthwhile for the bonus tracks alone.

Red (1975). The final album of the “classic” era and a signpost to things to come. Sounding at times like a brainy metal band, this is as heavy as Crimson ever got. Determined to quit while he was still ahead, Fripp announced the end of King Crimson months before the album ever hit the stores. Nevertheless, it was a hugely influential record, inspiring nascent proggers everywhere for years to come (like, for instance, Mr. Wilson and his pals in Opeth). Curiously, Wilson chose not to make a new stereo mix, deeming the original “perfect.” Well, maybe. It does sound great in high-rez—but I can’t help but wonder if Wilson could have worked his magic here as well. Whatever—there is once again enough bonus material here to make this reissue a worthwhile purchase, including a rare television broadcast from ORTF, France on March 22, 1974. The cheesy video effects may look dated, but the music sounds as intensely up-to-the-minute now as it did then.

Discipline (1981). The ‘80s version of King Crimson was a very different animal, combining the interlocking modal melodies of gamelan music with jittery New Wave beats and the manic vocals of Adrian Belew. This record might not have been what old-timers were hoping for but it was enormously important to many of us at the Conservatory. We spent many hours analyzing its complex metrical frameworks and experimenting with electronic delay effects to re-create the delicately chiming rhythms that hold the music together. We failed miserably. Anyway, Wilson displays his chameleonic mixing abilities, faithfully re-creating the dry, brittle ambience of the original while also clarifying and enriching the instrumental textures. It’s not a night-and-day difference, but it sure sounds good—especially in high-rez. The DVD is rounded out with a bunch of alternate mixes (including the original overdubbed version of “Matte Kudasi” (which I prefer) and a dub of the promo-only 12” dance re-mix of “Elephant Talk”) plus video footage from "The Old Grey Whistle Test" from October 1981 and March 1982.

Beat (1982) and Three Of A Perfect Pair (1984) are forthcoming.

So what about those 30th Anniversary editions? I guess I’m going to hold onto them. I like the way they look: the oversize, heavyweight gatefold jackets are luxurious and the scrapbook-style booklets are fascinating to look at. Boy, it’s hard to believe it’s been ten years—but digital technology has come a long way since then. King Crimson is the preeminent progressive rock band and the 40th Anniversary Series are truly state-of-the-art, making them the definitive versions of these classic albums. Essential!

March 11, 2012

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra: WXPN-FM, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 12-25-76 (FM CDR)

Sun Ra celebrated Christmas Day, 1976 by appearing on the University of Pennsylvania radio station, WXPN-FM to read a selection of his poetry over musical selections and the thirty-minute broadcast circulates widely amongst collectors. Prof. Campbell speculates that the apocryphal Saturn LP, Celebrations For Dial Tunes, originated from this session, but no copies are known to exist (see pp.205, 229). I don’t recognize the music quietly playing in the background, but it is obviously pre-recorded: there’s some Arkestra stuff featuring Marshall Allen’s keening oboe but it’s mostly spooky synthesizer solos and tinkling Rocksichord. Sonny brings his own kind of Christmas message, permutating Bible stories into space-age mythologies, sometimes treated with dramatic space echo. As kooky as it sounds, he is deadly serious and the two halves play like two sides of an album. This session sounds so deliberately thought-out; it very well could have been intended for commercial release.

Poetry was always an important part of Sun Ra’s radically reinvented persona. He wrote poems as a child, handed out polemical broadsides on the streets of Chicago in the 1950s and his space poetry was often prominently displayed on record jackets. After arriving in New York, he hooked up Amiri Baraka (nee Leroy Jones) and Larry Neal, who included Ra’s poetry in their mammoth 680-page Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing in 1968. That same year, Umbra Anthology 1967-1968 published some of Ra’s poems alongside such hip luminaries as Langston Hughes and Allen Ginsburg, cementing Ra’s reputation as an underground poet of note. After a deal with Doubleday fell through, Sonny and Alton Abraham self-published The Immeasurable Equation and Extensions Out—The Immeasurable Equation Vol.II in 1972 through Ihnfinity, Inc./Saturn Research (see Szwed p.320). These pamphlets were printed in vanishingly small numbers and almost impossible to find until Abraham’s son, Adam, compiled 260 of Ra’s poems in Collected Works Vol.I: The Immeasurable Equation, published by Phaelos Books & Mediawerks in 2005. (Another collection of poems, This Planet Is Doomed, came out on Kicks Books last year.)

Whatever their literary worth, working with words was clearly part of Sun Ra’s Earthly mission: as Szwed points out: “He had read Sidney Lanier’s The Science of English Verse when it was argued that sound could serve as artistic material, the body as a musical instrument. Poetry offered him a chance to compose with language as he did with music” (p.319). Sonny himself described his poems as “scientific equations”:

What I want to do is associate words so they produce a certain fact. If you mix two chemical products you produce a reaction. In the same way if you put together certain words you’ll obtain a reaction which will have a value for people on this planet. That’s why I continue to put words together. Einstein said he was looking for an equation for eternal life. But we built the atom bomb, and his project has never materialized. But I’m sure he was right. To put words together, or, even if you could, to paint the image that is necessary to put out the vibrations that we need, that would change the destiny of the whole planet (quoted in Id. pp.319-320).

Regarding this Christmas broadcast, Szwed writes:

The choice of poems and their sequencing offers a sense of what Sun Ra thought was most important in his writing. Here are key words like “cosmos,” “truth,” “bad,” “myth,” and “the impossible,”; attention to phonetic equivalence, the universality of music and its metaphysical status; allusions to black fraternal orders and secret societies; biblical passages and their interpretation; and even a few autobiographical glimpses. The poems were read softly, with little expression, the music punctuating the words, with heavy echo and delay in the studio sometimes reducing the words to pure sound without meaning (Id. pp.320-321).

Another fifteen minutes of Sonny reading his poetry over pre-recorded music appeared on the eleven hour ESP Radio Tribute back in 2005 and while no dates are provided, it sounds very similar to this 1976 session, complete with low-key vocal delivery and spacey echo effects. The Norton Records label has issued three CDs of Ra reading his poetry on Strange Worlds in My Mind (Space Poetry Vol.1); The Sub-Dwellers (Space Poetry Vol.2); and The Outer Darkness (Space Poetry Vol.3). I haven’t heard these, but they apparently contain all this stuff and a whole lot more, compiled by “The Good Doctor” (Michael Anderson, director of the Sun Ra Archive). The completest in me says I need to have them—and maybe someday I will—but until then, these CDRs of the original broadcasts will have to do. Not for everyone, but a crucial piece of the Sun Ra puzzle.

March 10, 2012

Playlist Week of 3-10-12

King Crimson - Lizard (40th Anniversary Edition)

* Buxtehude: Seven Sonatas, Op.1 (Holloway/Mortensen/ter Linden) (CPO/Naxos CD)
* Buxtehude: Seven Trio Sonatas, Op.2 (Holloway/Mortensen/ter Linden) (CPO/Naxos CD)
* Berio: Chemins II & IV, etc. (Ensemble Intercontemporain/Boulez) (Sony Classical CD)
* Berio: Voci (RSO Wien/Davies/Kashkashian) (ECM CD)
* Miles Davis: The Bootleg Series Vol.1: Europe 1967 (d.2)(Columbia/Legacy 3CD/DVD)
* Sun Ra: WXPN-FM, Philadelphia, PA 12-25-76 (FM CDR)
* Pat Patrick’s Baritone Retinue: Sound Advice (Saturn LP>FLAC)
* Grant Green: Idle Moments (Blue Note CD)
* John Abercrombie: Class Trip (ECM CD)
* Tom Rainey Trio: Camino Cielo Echo (Intakt CD)
* Aych (J. Hobs/M. Halvorson/T.H. Bynum): As The Crow Flies (Relative Pitch CD)
* Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet: Apparent Distance (Firehouse 12 CD)
* Grateful Dead: Dick’s Picks Vol.17: Boston Garden 9-25-91 (GDP 3HDCD)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.2 No.4: Cal Expo ’93 (GDP/Rhino 2+1HDCD)
* Neil Young: On The Beach (Reprise DVD-A)
* Neil Young: Comes A Time (Reprise LP)
* Joni Mitchell: Hejira (Asylum HDCD)
* King Crimson: Lizard (40th Anniversary Edition) (Inner Knot CD/DVD-A)
* King Crimson: Discipline (40th Anniversary Edition) (Inner Knot CD/DVD-A)
* King Crimson: Heavy ConstruKction (DGM 3CD)†
* ProjeKct One: Live At The Jazz Café (DGM CD)†
* ProjeKct Three: Masque (DGM CD)†
* Yes: Tales From Topographic Oceans (Atlantic/Rhino 2CD)
* Yes: Relayer (Atlantic/Rhino CD)
* Gentle Giant: Three Friends (Alucard/EMI CD)
* Gentle Giant: Octopus (Alucard/EMI CD)
* Gentle Giant: In A Glass House (Alucard/EMI CD)
* The Police: Synchonicity (A&M SACD)
* Robert Pollard: Mouseman Cloud (GBV, Inc. LP)
* 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)†
* Opeth: Still Life (Peaceville CD)†
* Opeth: Blackwater Park (Music For Nations/KOCH 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/DVD)
* Katatonia: Last Fair Deal Gone Down (10th Anniversary Edition) (Peaceville CD/CDEP)†
* Katatonia: Viva Emptiness (Peaceville CD)†/‡
* Katatonia: The Great Cold Distance (Peaceville CD)†
* Katatonia: Night Is The New Day (Peaceville CD)†/‡
* The Mars Volta: De-Loused In The Comatorium (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD)†/‡
* Baroness: Blue Record (Relapse CD)†
* Baroness: Red Album (Relapse CD)†



The King Crimson 40th Anniversary Editions are starting to trickle in and I was pleased to see one of the first to arrive was Lizard. Their third album, originally released in 1970, has always been a hard one to love. It’s a transitional record by a version of the band that never performed live and while it continues with the Mellotronic grandeur of their previous albums, it moves in an overtly out-jazz direction with prominent use of pianist Keith Tippett and members of his sextet. In fact, the Crimson King himself, Robert Fripp, asked Tippet to join the band full-time, but the offer was declined. Imagine what that might have sounded like! Overflowing with ideas, Lizard looks good on paper (and sports a stunningly gorgeous sleeve), but always suffered from a murky, indistinct mix, marred by layers of tape hiss and inadvertent blasts of distortion. Lizard has always stood out as their most musically ambitious album but it was also the most difficult one to listen to and enjoy.

Once again, Steven Wilson comes to the rescue, utilizing up-to-the-minute digital technology to meticulously remix Lizard from the original master reels, thereby eliminating the sonic degradation inherent in the primitive multitrack techniques which relied on “bouncing” tracks to make room for further overdubbing. While his remix is fastidiously true to the original, the newfound clarity of the voices and instruments is truly astonishing. Now you can finally hear the delicate, jazzy interplay within the dense orchestrations and, moreover, the rhythm section has a heft and solidity that was sorely lacking in the original. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the sprawling, side-long title track: the original mix is a mess—almost laughably disjointed and downright weird—but Wilson’s remix clarifies the richly variegated instrumental textures and brings out the dramatic arc of the piece in a way the original utterly failed to do. As Fripp admits in his liner notes, “The music of Lizard is redeemed. In that there is hope.”


I’ve been avoiding them up to now, but these 40th Anniversary Editions are a model of how historical reissues should be done. For twenty bucks (or so) you get a nicely mastered CD of the Wilson remix along with some bonus tracks—plus a DVD with the original album (and bonus tracks) in four different audio formats: MLP Lossless 5.1 surround; MLP Lossless 2.0 stereo; DTS 5.1 digital surround; and LPCM 2.0 stereo. Very nice! For the truly obsessed, the original mix is also included in high-resolution stereo and, if any exists, contemporaneous video content is also appended. Now, that is what I call value for the money. I don’t have a surround sound set-up, but these high-rez stereo tracks sound magnificent—glorious, even! This is state-of-the-art digital done right at a more-than-fair price. The gatefold digipack/slipcase packaging is simple but classy—honestly, it doesn’t get any better than this, folks. Even if, like me, you bought all the 30th Anniversary Editions ten years ago, you will be delighted to hear what Steven Wilson has done with these classic albums. If you can play DVD-Audio, you are in for a real treat! I can’t wait for the rest of them to arrive in the mail! See you next week.

March 4, 2012

Sun Ra Sunday

Before we finish up with 1976, check out this television footage from Live At Montreux which recently turned up on YouTube:

March 3, 2012

Playlist Week of 3-03-12

Caravan - In The Land of Grey and Pink 40th Anniversary

* Hesperion XXI, et al. (Savall): Jerusalem: The City of Two Peaces (Alia Vox 2SACD)
* Debussy/Ravel/Dutillieux: String Quartets (Juilliard) (Sony Classical CD)
* Sun Ra: Jazz Showcase, Chicago, IL 11-27-76 (AUD 2CDR)
* Pharoah Sanders: Message From Home (Verve CD)
* Pharoah Sanders: Save The Children (Verve CD)
* Gateway (J. Abercrombie/D. Holland/J. DeJohnette): Glasgow, Scotland 3-17-94 (SBD CDR)
* Matthew Shipp: 4D (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Matthew Shipp: The Art Of The Improviser (Thirsty Ear 2CD)
* Matthew Shipp Trio: Elastic Aspects (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Tom Rainey Trio: Pool School (Clean Feed CD)
* Ginger Baker Trio: Going Back Home (Atlantic CD)
* Grateful Dead: Terrapin Station (Arista/Analogue Productions LP)
* Grateful Dead: Reckoning (Arista/Analogue Productions 2LP)
* Chicago: III (Columbia 2LP)
* Chicago: V (Columbia LP)
* Soft Machine: The Soft Machine (ABC/Probe/Sundazed LP)
* Soft Machine: Volume Two (ABC/Probe/Sundazed LP)
* Soft Machine: Third (Columbia 2LP)
* Caravan: In The Land of Grey And Pink (Deram/Decca 2CD/DVD)
* Hatfield And The North: Hatfield And The North (Virgin LP)
* Cluster: Cluster 71 (Philips/Water CD)
* Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here (Experience Edition) (d.1) (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Animals (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)†
* Yes: The Yes Album (Atlantic/Mobile Fidelity CD)
* Yes: Fragile (Atlantic/Analogue Productions LP)
* Yes: Close To The Edge (Atlantic/Rhino CD)
* Boredoms: Onanie Bomb Vs. The Sex Pistols (WEA/Reprise CD)
* Boredoms: Pop Tatari (WEA/Reprise CD)
* Boredoms: Chocolate Synthesizer (WEA/Reprise CD)
* Beck: Mellow Gold (Geffen CD)
* Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch 2LP)
* Wilco: A Ghost Is Born (Nonesuch 2LP)
* Porcupine Tree: Recordings (KScope CD)
* Porcupine Tree: In Absentia (Lava/Atlantic CD)
* Porcupine Tree: Deadwing (Lava/Atlantic CD)†
* Porcupine Tree: Fear Of A Blank Planet (Atlantic CD)†
* Porcupine Tree: Nil Recurring (KScope CDEP)†
* Porcupine Tree: The Incident (Roadrunner 2CD)†
* Opeth: Blackwater Park (Music For Nations/KOCH CD)
* Opeth: Lametations: Live at Shepherd’s Bush Empire 2003 (Music For Nations/KOCH 2CD)†
* Opeth: The Roundhouse Tapes (Peaceville 2CD)†
* Opeth: In Live Concert At The Royal Albert Hall (Roadrunner 3CD/2DVD)†
* Opeth: Heritage (Roadrunner CD/DVD)
* Katatonia: Last Fair Deal Gone Down (10th Anniversary Edition) (Peaceville 2CD)
* Katatonia: Viva Emptiness (Peaceville CD)†/‡
* Katatonia: The Great Cold Distance (Peaceville CD)†/‡
* Katatonia: Night Is The New Day (Peaceville CD)†/‡
* Agalloch: The Mantle (The End Records CD)†
* Agalloch: Ashes Against The Grain (The End Records CD)†
* Agalloch: Marrow Of The Spirit (Profound Lore CD)†
* The Black Keys: Attack & Release (Nonesuch LP)



Like the 40th Anniversary Edition of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung (which I wrote about last week), Caravan’s 1971 album, In The Land Of Grey And Pink, was also celebrated last year with a fresh re-mix by prog savior Steven Wilson. As with just about everything Mr. Wilson touches, it’s well worth hearing. I wasn’t really familiar with this classic “Canterbury Scene” band until recently, so I cannot comment on how the original LP sounded, but this remix sounds smooth and clear while still retaining that vintage analog vibe. Perfect. Caravan are sometimes dismissed as “prog lite” and their breezy, pop-inflected delivery evokes a discipline and ambition quite different from, say, King Crimson’s—but if this is merely ear-candy, it is at least very, very tasty. They were never that big in the US, but were very popular in Europe in the early ‘70s and, in fact, this 40th Anniversary release in only available from the UK. The three-disc “Deluxe Edition” contains two CDs packed full of outtakes, alternate mixes and radio broadcasts along with a DVD of Wilson’s 5.1 surround mix, the new stereo mix and a television appearance on The Beat Club at Radio Bremen in 1971. If you’re a fan, it looks like a no-brainer right?

Well, there are a couple of fairly significant caveats. First of all, what is up with this horrendous packaging? Remember when these Universal “Deluxe Editions” were housed in a nice, clear plastic sleeve? Well, look closely at the photograph above. Universal has ditched the outer sleeve and, instead, affixed tape (tape!) around the double-gatefold digipack that reads “Deluxe Edition.” Seriously? You have to cut the tape to open the package! And that big, black hype sticker? Yep, it’s stuck to the album cover like a bloody Band-Aid. “Deluxe?” Not really. Secondly, about that DVD: the 5.1 mix is in the lossy Dolby DTS format and the stereo tracks are plain vanilla PCM at 48kHz. Wilson himself has commented on the tragedy of using such outdated technology and is apparently negotiating with the label to release a download of the original high-resolution files. Good luck with that! Calling this a “Deluxe Edition” and charging a pretty penny for it while cheaping out on the details that record collectors actually care about just makes me despise these megalithic record companies for their arrogance and hubris. Frankly, this release deserves to be pirated.

Then again, at least they included the DVD (such as it is) without making you shell out for the über-expensive super-duper-deluxe limited edition box set like so many of the bigger, money-grubbing names out there (you know who they are). Personally, I do not have a surround-sound set-up and the stereo remix of In The Land Of Grey And Pink really does sound good, so I’m not all that bent out of shape about it (besides, savvy shopping yielded me a fifty-percent discount). But it could have been so much better. Realizing this, I finally caved in and ordered all the King Crimson 40th Anniversary editions—those things are obviously done right at a fair price. I’m really looking forward to hearing those amazing records in a true high-resolution format. They should arrive in time for next week’s playlist, so stay tuned!