February 24, 2013

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra: Some Blues But Not The Kind That's Blue (Saturn/Atavistic CD)

On October 14, 1977 the Arkestra entered Variety Recording Studio for their first studio recordings in over two years. With their increasingly busy touring schedule and tenuous finances, most Saturn records from here on out would be made live rather than in a studio—not even one as low-budget as Variety. These sessions yielded the obscure LP, Some Blues But Not The Kind That’s Blue, released on the Chicago Saturn label as LP 101477 in 1978. Alternative titles include My Favorite Things and Nature Boy and may display alternate serial numbers, LP 1014077 and 747 (see Campbell & Trent pp.241-242 for the gory details). In any event, this is one of rarest of rare Saturn LPs, with very few copies known to exist. Thankfully, Atavistic reissued Some Blues But Not The Kind That’s Blue on CD as part of their “Unheard Music Series” in 2008, remastered from the original tapes and filled out with a bunch of bonus tracks. As with the rest of the Sun Ra albums in this series, this one is a classic.

All that said, Christopher Trent suggests the title track was not recorded at Variety at all and is possibly a live recording (Id.). I agree. It has a totally different ambience than the rest of the album with a crude, microphone on the bandstand sound quality. It’s a decent recording – and Variety was no high-tech studio—so it’s actually hardly noticeable (in fact, the whole record appears to be mono). The structure of “Some Blues But Not The Kind That’s Blue” also suggests a live recording, starting out with a skronky group improvisation, with John Gilmore seeming to state some sort of theme—but then Sonny suddenly moves from space organ to the piano and now it’s a slow blues. After a quick chorus from Gilmore, Ra does his thing on piano, taking it just to the edge of the stratosphere before bringing it back to the slow, grinding blues progression. A series of horn solos follows (some of them way off-mic) as Luqman Ali attempts to get funky on the drums, Sonny shuts it down, calling for a big, squalling space chord (and pretty piano notes) to end. Yeah, this is a live recording.

On “I’ll Get By,” you can tell it’s a studio recording; the sound is more immediate—and also hissier. This torch song from Billie Holiday (written by Roy Turk and Fred E. Ahlert) was only played a few times in the Arkestra’s history (but see the 1973 bonus tracks below) and the sparse, bass-less rhythm section lurches rather than swings. Even so, Gilmore is great as usual, even if he seems a little hemmed in by the unsettled groove. A ruminative take on “My Favorite Things” is better, with Sonny providing the rhythmic drive on piano—check out that left hand! This is another Gilmore tour de force, offering his highly personal take on this tune which was so closely associated with John Coltrane. Exquisite! The Atavistic CD inserts an untitled bonus track at this point: Ra’s agitated piano ostinatos and the frenetic, out-there horns lend this a “Shadow World” feel. Interesting; but given the more subdued tone of the rest of the album, it is understandable why Sonny left it off.

“Nature Boy” is another hoary old chestnut given the inimitable Sun Ra treatment, starting out with exotic percussion and Marshall Allen’s snaky, split-tone oboe, Sonny providing pretty piano chords in the background. After a more traditional piano intro, Gilmore comes in with the melody, surrounded by an ornate arrangement for saxophones and flutes. Ra’s solo is slyly romantic, changing keys on a whim while Gilmore gets to do his thing a cappella. A dissonant, pulsating space chord lets loose some mellifluous flute solos before Sonny brings it to a close. “Tenderly” seems to pick up where “Nature Boy” left off, with a similar high-register riff and another rhapsodic piano outing. It’s nice and all, but feels sort of ad hoc. The solo activity of the summer had clearly given Sonny the confidence to go on and on like this on whatever  tune struck his fancy. According to Campbell and Trent, this is only known performance of “Tenderly” and is worth hearing for that reason alone. The album ends with another one-off deconstruction of an old standard, this time the Mercer/Arlen classic, “Black Magic.” Sonny pushes and pulls at the rhythm, sometimes swinging, sometimes moving to a space rumba feel, sometimes hinting at ragtime. After a very loosely stated melody, Akh Tal Ebah gets a rare turn on trumpet and although he is a little sloppy (and maybe even a little unsure of himself harmonically), I love his warm, loose-lipped tone. Sadly, this would be one of his last appearances with the Arkestra. Danny Davis follows on alto before a big, loud off-color ending, Ra providing the final punctuation with a low, rumbling chord. Very strange, very beautiful.

The Atavistic CD adds two additional bonus tracks, two more takes of “I’ll Get By” recorded at the House of Ra in Philadelphia on May 3, 1973. Ra is on organ with Ebah on flugelhorn and Ronnie Boykins on bass—no drums. The rock-solid Boykins holds this together like superglue and Ebah’s playing is mellow and elegantly understated. Unfortunately, there are some weird sonic anomalies. As John Corbett puts it in his liner notes,  “In the distance, the muffled remnant of a previous track appears, taped over on this home recording, the almost in-sync backwards drums providing a low-key element of surreality.” Yeah, like that. On the second take, Gilmore takes the lead before giving way to a tasty bass solo from Boykins. These tracks demonstrate that the appearance of  “I’ll Get By” on Some Blues...was not just a spur-of-the-moment thing; the song had some previously unknown history.

Some Blues But Not The Kind That’s Blue is a typically quirky Saturn release from the ‘70s, somewhat unusual for its (mostly) studio setting. Its extreme rarity as an original artifact makes the Atavistic CD a godsend to Sun Ra fans, with the bonus tracks being icing on the cake. But these relaxed, easy-going takes on the standard repertoire should be approachable to any open-eared jazz fan, making it one of those extraordinary “gateway” albums to Sun Ra’s outer space music. In a discography numbering hundreds of albums, it can be difficult to know where to start; Some Blues… is as good a place as any.  

February 23, 2013

Playlist Week of 2013-02-23

Looming Tower of Records

* Messiaen: Sept Haïkaï, etc. (Ens. Intercontemporain/Boulez/Loriod) (Montaigne/Naïve CD)
* Messiaen: Visions de l’Amen (Bon/de Leeuw) (Montaigne/Naïve CD)
* John Coltrane: Fearless Leader (d.5-6) (Prestige/Fantasy 6CD)
* John Coltrane: Interplay (d.1-3) (Prestige/Fantasy 5CD)
* Sun Ra: Some Blues But Not The Kind That’s Blue (Saturn/Atavistic CD)
* Sun Ra: The Soul Vibrations Of Man (Saturn LP)
* Sun Ra: Disco 3000 (Saturn/Art Yard CD)
* Cecil Taylor: Winged Serpent (Sliding Quadrants) (Black Saint CD)
* Henry Threadgill: The Complete Novus & Columbia Recordings (d.1-2) (Mosaic 8CD)
* Bobby Hutcherson: Head On (Blue Note CD)
* The Brothers Johnson: Right On Time (A&M CD)†/‡
* D’Angelo: Voodoo (Virgin CD)
* Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream (RCA CD)
* The Beach Boys: The Smile Sessions (d.1) (Capitol 2CD)
* Jimi Hendrix: West Coast Seattle Boy: The Jimi Hendrix Anthology (Experience/Sony 4CD/DVD)
* Jimi Hendrix Experience: The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Experience Hendrix/MCA 4CD)
* Jimi Hendrix: South Saturn Delta (Experience Hendrix/MCA CD)
* Jimi Hendrix: Valleys Of Neptune (Experience Hendrix/Sony CD)
* Jimi Hendrix Experience: Winterland (d.3) (Experience Hendrix/Sony 4CD)
* Grateful Dead: Civic Center, Augusta, ME 1984-10-12 (SBD 2CDR)
* Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia: Keystone Companions (d.1-2) (Fantasy/Concord 4CD)
* The Moody Blues: Days Of Future Past (Deram/Friday Music LP)
* Kevin Ayers: Joy Of A Toy (EMI/4MWB LP)
* King Crimson: Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (40th Anniversary Edition) (DVD) (Inner Knot CD/DVD)
* Richard Thompson: Electric (Deluxe Edition) (New West MP3)†
* Amon Düül II: Phallus Dei (Repertoire/Revisited/SPV CD)
* Amon Düül II: Yeti (Repertoire/Revisited/SPV CD)
* Camel: Camel (MCA/Universal CD)
* Bad Brains: Into The Future (Megaforce LP)
* Sonic Youth: EVOL (SST/Geffen CD)
* Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation (Deluxe Edition) (d.1-2) (Geffen/Goofin’ 4LP)
* Sonic Youth: Goo (Geffen/Mobile Fidelity CD)
* Sonic Youth: Experimental Jet Set Trash & No Star (Geffen CD)
* Thurston Moore w/Tom Surgal: “Klangfarbenmelodie…” (Corpus Hermeticum CD)
* Chelsea Light Moving: Chelsea Light Moving (Matador WAV)†
* Yo La Tengo: Fade (Matador CD)
* Fushitsusha: Gold Blood (Charnel Music CD)
* Brokeback: Field Recordings From The Cook County Water Table (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Brokeback: Morse Code in The Modern Age: Across The Americas (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Brokeback: Looks At The Bird (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Brokeback: Brokeback And The Black Rock (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Anathema: Falling Deeper (KScope CD)†



Deadlines loom over me like this leaning tower of CDs.

February 22, 2013

Brokeback @ Spectrum Culture

My review of the new album from Brokeback, Brokeback And the Black Rock, is up over at Spectrum Culture. I was disappointed.


I've also got a blurb up for the Monthly Mixtape. My pick? Yo La Tengo: "Ohm," from their new album, Fade (which I wrote about here).

February 17, 2013

Sun Ra Sunday


I am an instrument
The timbre of my voice flies with the
Winds of heaven
I belong to one who is more than a
He is an artist
I live to be his pleasure
I do not flee from him when he
Comes to me
For instruments are not sufficient in
They are cold and lifeless without the
Tortured hands and mind
The artist holds myself tenderly in
His hands
First he touches the strings of my heart
Too fine to be in tune with the universe
Then suddenly vibrant thoughts
Strikes there
And music from the world of time
And space is born

-- Sun Ra

February 16, 2013

Playlist Week of 2013-02-16

Jimi Hendrix - Live At Berkeley

* Biber: Mensa Sonora (Musica Antiqua Köln/Goebel) (Archiv Prod. CD)
* Corelli: 12 Concerti Grossi, Op.6 (English Concert/Pinnock) (Archiv Prod. 2CD)
* Satie: Oeuvres pour Piano (Ciccolini) (d1-2) (EMI Classics 5CD)
* John Coltrane: Fearless Leader (d.1-4) (Prestige/Concord 6CD)
* Sun Ra: Fort Dupont, Washington, D.C. 1977-08-14 (AUD CDR)
* Sun Ra: Unity (Horo 2LP>CDR)
* Sun Ra: The Soul Vibrations of Man (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Grant Green: Idle Moments (Blue Note CD)
* Curtis Mayfield: Super Fly (Curtom/Rhino LP)
* Isaac Hayes: Shaft (Enterprise 2LP)
* D’Angelo: Brown Sugar (EMI CD)†
* D’Angelo: Voodoo (Virgin CD)
* Frank Ocean: Nostalgia Ultra (Frank Ocean MP3)†
* Frank Ocean: Channel Orange (Island/Def Jam CD)
* Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream (RCA CD)
* Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live At Berkeley (Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy 2LP)
* Jimi Hendrix: First Rays Of The New Rising Sun (Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy 2LP)
* Grateful Dead: Compton Terrance, Tempe, AZ 1983-03-25 (selections) (SBD 2CDR)
* Grateful Dead: War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, NY 1983-04-15 (selections (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Brendan Byrne Arena, E. Rutherford, NJ 1983-04-17 (selections) (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Sports Arena, Indianapolis, IN 1984-06-30 (selections) (SBD 2CDR)
* Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Expanded Edition) (d.2-3) (Warner Bros. MP3)†
* Stevie Nicks: Bella Donna (Modern LP)
* Television: Marquee Moon (Elektra/Rhino LP)
* Sonic Youth: Smart Bar, Chicago 1985 (Goofin’ 2LP)
* Sonic Youth: EVOL (SST LP)
* Sonic Youth: Sister (SST LP)
* Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation (Deluxe Edition) (d.3-4) (Geffen/Goofin’ 4LP)
* Robert Pollard: Silverfish Trivia (Prom Is Coming EP)
* Boston Spaceships: Let It Beard (GBV, Inc. 2LP)
* Lambchop: Damaged (Merge CD)†
* Lambchop: Mr. M (Merge CD)†
* Porcupine Tree: Octane Twisted (KScope 2CD)
* Steven Wilson: Get What You Deserve (KScope 2CD/DVD/BD)
* Storm Corrosion: Storm Corrosion (Roadrunner CD/BD)
* Opeth: Blackwater Park (Music For Nations/Sony CD/DVD)
* Opeth: Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner CD/DVD)
* Opeth: Watershed (Roadrunner CD/DVD)
* Riverside: Shrine Of New Generation Slaves (Inside Out 2CD)
* Grails: Take Refuge In Clean Living (Important CD)
* Grails: Doomsdayer’s Holiday (Temporary Residence CD)
* Agalloch: The Mantle (The End CD)†
* Agalloch: The Grey EP (Agalloch/Bandcamp FLAC>CDR)†
* Agalloch: The White EP (Agalloch/Bandcamp FLAC>CDR)†
* Agalloch: “Fragments” (Agalloch/Bandcamp FLAC>CDR)†/‡
* Agalloch: Ashes Against The Grain (The End CD)†
* The Sword: Warp Riders (Kemado LP)
* The Sword: Apocryphon (Razor & Tie LP)
* Wild Nothing: Nocturne (Captured Tracks CD)†/‡



I’m not sure how I missed this. Last summer, Jimi Hendrix: Live at Berkeley was reissued by Sony/Legacy on CD, DVD, Blu-Ray and—most significantly—vinyl. Of course, that might not seem like such a big deal since this stuff was issued by MCA back in 2003. But I recently learned that the new 2-LP set was mixed and mastered all analog this time, pressed on 200-gram vinyl at QRP, the world’s premier record-pressing plant. Intrigued, I picked up a copy at my favorite local record store—a limited, numbered edition for only twenty bucks! How could I lose?

I was not familiar with the previous CD or the DVD, so the music is new me. In fact, as much as I love Hendrix, I am no expert. I have some live stuff and most of the posthumous compilations, but the core albums are where it’s at for me. While a lot of the live recordings suffer from rough sound, this LP sounds tremendous, with a wide, deep soundstage, superb instrumental and vocal balances and that rich, warm all-analog sound we all love. I thought it would sound pretty good, but not this good! Wow!

Recorded at the Berkeley Community Theatre on May 30, 1970, this version of the Experience features bassist Billy Cox in place of Noel Redding along with original drummer Mitch Mitchell. Cox was a more “in-the-pocket” kind of player and he grounds Mitchell’s busy, jazz-inflected drumming, creating a more solid foundation for Hendrix to soar over. It's not quite the dark funk of the short-lived Band of Gypsies, but close. The band was currently holed up in Electric Ladyland Studios, Jimi’s newly built studio, feverishly working on a new studio album and they open the set with a couple of embryonic versions of songs from the never-to-be-completed record (Hendrix tragically died from drug-induced asphyxia less than four months later on September 18, 1970; he was only twenty-seven years old).

The band sounds somewhat tentative on “Pass It On (Straight Ahead)” and “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” but Hendrix is relaxed and inspired, summoning a universe of tones from his guitar. Meanwhile, the revised rhythm section gives a new perspective on old favorites like “Stone Free,” “Hey Joe,” “Foxey Lady” and “Purple Haze” while the anti-war “Machine Gun” and a deconstructed “Star Spangled Banner” poetically reflect the political tensions of the era, epitomized by the People’s Park demonstrations happening down the street from the theatre. The set ends with a nearly eleven minute “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” a stunning display of guitar heroics from Hendrix. He sounds like he’s having a blast and could play all night but a strict curfew cuts him off. Still, it’s a fairly generous seventy-minute set.

There was some grumbling when Experience Hendrix left MCA for Sony/Legacy and, indeed, the most recent digital reissues contain the exact same mastering as the last round, enticing a re-purchase only for the (brief) DVD content (I passed). But the recent vinyl editions of the studio albums are exquisitely well done: all analog, heavyweight virgin vinyl, beautifully reproduced jackets and nice oversized booklets with new liner notes—and very reasonably priced. Aside from being a more satisfying physical object, vinyl is the way to hear Hendrix in my opinion—none of the CDs (and I’ve owned them all) sound quite right. Add this new reissue of Live At Berkeley to the list of essential Hendrix LPs. Kudos to Experience Hendrix and Sony; this is catalog material done right. Now, where's the early show?

Speaking of Hendrix on vinyl, coming next month from Sony/Legacy are limited edition MONO LPs of Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love, including both the British American versions of the debut, which have slightly different track listings. Now, we’re talking! Original mono editions are impossibly rare and offer a very different perspective on these iconic songs. I expect this vinyl renaissance will eventually fade but, for now, it’s a great time to be a record collector!

February 14, 2013

Fleetwood Mac @ Spectrum Culture

My review of the "Deluxe Edition" of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours is up over at Spectrum Culture. I unashamedly love this album but the "extras" are mostly superfluous.

February 10, 2013

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Fort Dupont, Washington, D.C. 1977-08-14 (AUD CDR)

On July 22, 1977, the Arkestra played at the Michigan Union Ballroom in Ann Arbor and, supposedly, an audience recording exists. However, I’ve never heard it and Prof. Campbell offers no details (see Campbell & Trent p.240). A few weeks later, they appeared at Fort Dupont Park in Washington, D.C. on August 14 (Id. p.241) and a sixty-minute tape of the complete set circulates widely—but be forewarned: recorded from the audience on primitive, monophonic gear, the sound quality is simply atrocious. It’s the usual set of problems we find with bootlegs of the era: poor instrumental balance, with volume levels bobbing up down seemingly at random. Moreover, the sound is muffled and distorted yet oddly distant, with a Dolby mismatch or two somewhere in the genealogy, making a bad-sounding tape even worse. The original master tape might have sounded okay but the available copy is a miserable facsimile. Yuck.

Nevertheless, this is an interesting set, opening with an extended improvisation featuring Marshall Allen on oboe, which is always a treat. After a couple of sing-alongs led by June Tyson (“Astro Black” and the Sun Ra processional, “(The World Is Waiting) For the Sunrise,” the band slips into the old favorite, “Discipline 27,” before quickly launching into some bashing free jazz skronk. “Lightnin’” and “Yeah Man!” are taken at almost cartoonishly fast tempos, with John Gilmore wailing away like a madman on the latter. And while the band sounds  remarkably tight, it is impossible to make out any details since the recording quality is so horrific. Oh well. A compact but typically intense version of “The Shadow World” follows, featuring plenty of crazy keyboard work from Sonny but, again, the murky sound obscures what appears to be an inspired rendition. “How Am I to Know” swings romantically, with Tyson and Ra singing sweetly to each other and fine solos from Danny Davis and Gilmore (I think – it’s impossible to really hear what’s going on). Next there’s a relatively rare performance of “Planet Earth” (complete with lyrics) before the usual percussion jam on “Watusi” and a long medley of space chants and free blowing to end the set (“Outer Spaceways Incorporated,” “Second Stop is Jupiter,” “Space is the Place” (in its new rearrangement), “Neptune,” “Journey to Saturn,” “We Travel the Spaceways,” “Greetings from the 21st Century,” and “Sun Ra and His Band from Outer Space”). In the midst of all this carrying on, abstracted versions of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Stranger in Paradise” make fleeting appearances. Blink and you'll miss them.

Frankly, this one is for hardcore fanatics only. If you can tolerate the abysmal sound quality, then you might enjoy this short but action-packed set; everyone else should stay far, far away.

February 9, 2013

Playlist Week of 2013-02-09

Dave's Picks Volume 5 + Garcia Live Volume 1

* Charlie Parker: The Complete Savoy & Dial Studio Recordings (d.4-5) (Savoy/Atlantic 8CD)
* Miles Davis: The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions (d.2-4) (selections) (Columbia/Legacy 4CD)
* Miles Davis: The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 (d.5-6) (Columbia/Legacy 6CD)
* Miles Davis: The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions (d.1-2) (Columbia/Legacy 5CD)
* Sun Ra: Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Sun Ra: The Soul Vibrations of Man (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Sun Ra: Taking A Chance On Chances (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Wayne Shorter: Night Dreamer (Blue Note CD)
* Wayne Shorter: Juju (Blue Note CD)
* Wayne Shorter: Adam’s Apple (Blue Note CD)
* Wayne Shorter: Footprints Live (Verve CD)
* Wayne Shorter: Beyond The Sound Barrier (Verve CD)
* Wayne Shorter: Without A Net (Blue Note CD)
* John Abercrombie Quartet: Class Trip (ECM CD)
* Rock Candy Funk Party: We Want Groove (J&R Adventures CD/DVD)3DHDCDCD33 cbnsjkjklc
* George Clinton: Computer Games (Capitol LP)
* D’Angelo: Voodoo (Virgin/Light in the Attic 2LP)
* Frank Ocean: Channel Orange (Island/Def Jam CD)
* Grateful Dead: Dave’s Picks Vol.5: Pauley Pavillion, UCLA 11/17/73 (GDP/Rhino 3HDCD)
* Jerry Garcia Band: Garcia Live Vol.1: Capitol Theatre March 1, 1980 (Round/ATO 3HDCD)
* Richard Thompson: Electric (Deluxe Edition) (New West MP3)†
* Fleetwood Mac: Then Play On (Reprise/Pioneer LP)
* Fleetwood Mac: Fleetwood Mac (Reprise 2-45RPM LP)
* Black Sabbath: Masters Of Reality (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Yo La Tengo: Fade (Matador CD)
* Guided By Voices: Down By The Racetrack (GBV, Inc. 7”EP)
* Guided By Voices: “Flunky Minnows” (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Guided By Voices: “Islands (She Talks In Rainbows)” (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Guided By Voices: “Trash Can Full Of Nails” (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Guided By Voices: “Xeno Pariah” (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Guided By Voices: “Noble Insect” (GBV, Inc. 7”)
* Brokeback: Field Recordings From The Cook County Water Table (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Brokeback: Morse Code In The Modern Age: Across The Americas (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Brokeback: Looks At The Bird (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Brokeback: Brokeback And The Black Rock (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Lambchop: Nixon (Merge CD)
* Lambchop: Is A Woman (Merge CD)
* Lambchop: Aw Come On (Merge CD)
* Lambchop: No You Come On (Merge CD)
* Steven Wilson: Grace For Drowning (KScope BD)
* Opeth: Heritage (Roadrunner CD/DVD)
* Agalloch: Pale Folklore (The End CD)†/‡
* Grails: Burning Off Impurities (Temporary Residence 2LP)
* Pelican: The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw (Hydra Head CD)†
* Pelican: What We All Come To Need (Southern Lord CD)†
* Broken Bells: Broken Bells (Columbia CD)†/‡



While I was rather nonplussed by last year’s offerings of Dave’s Picks, I decided to re-subscribe again for 2013. What can I say? I’m an unrepentant Deadhead! Well, it looks like this year’s selections are going to be a little bit more interesting. Volume 5 arrived this week and it’s just killer, containing the complete show from the Pauley Pavilion at UCLA on November 17, 1973. Everybody knows Fall ‘73 was a peak period (maybe the peak period) in the Grateful Dead’s history, and is well-represented by a slew of “official” releases which have come out over the years, including Dick’s Picks Vols.1, 14 and 19; Road Trips Vol.4 No.3; and, of course, the Winterland 1973 box set. So, do we really need another one? Hells, yeah! Especially if it’s a significant upgrade over the circulating tapes, which this one, thankfully, is. This SoCal show is on the mellow side—no barn-burning “Other One” or “Dark Star” freak outs here—but the playing and singing is at such a high caliber it hardly matters. The highlight is a forty-eight minute “Playing in the Band” palindrome that goes like this: “Playing>Uncle John’s band>Morning Dew>Uncle John’s Band>Playing.” It doesn’t get any better than this, folks. Numbered and limited to only 13,000 copies, Dave’s Picks Vol.5 is sure to sell out if it hasn’t already. Only available from Dead.net.

Also out this week is the long-delayed first volume of the Garcia Live series, featuring the Jerry Garcia Band’s complete performance at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey on March 1, 1980. The early show was broadcast on WNEW-FM but this release contains both sets, taken from the original 24-track reels and the sound quality is fantastic. Garcia’s solo band was an opportunity to relax and stretch out; playing covers from a variety of sources, from Irving Berlin to Motown to Jimmy Cliff to Bob Dylan, as well a few old-timey originals, like “Sugaree” and “Deal.” He was still in reasonably good health in 1980 and his voice still retains a youthful sweetness, his guitar playing as sharp as ever. If you have the 2004 release, After Midnight: Kean College 2/28/80, you might want to complain about the repetitious set-list. But these are terrific performances, containing the sorts of subtle nuances of interpretation that made folks like me want to follow Garcia around to hear him play these songs over and over. Plus you get other JGB staples like “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” “Russian Lullaby,” and “Dear Prudence,” which were not played at Kean College. Altogether, they present a full picture of the Jerry Garcia Band circa. 1980. Seeing as After Midnight is now out of print, Garcia Live Volume One gets my highest recommendation.

February 6, 2013

Beck @ Spectrum Culture

My review of Beck's Song Reader is also up at Spectrum Culture. I had to give it five stars and spill thirteen-hundred words explaining why. It's his best since Sea Change--but you have to sing the songs yourself.

Ex Cops @ Spectrum Culture

My review of True Hallucinations, the debut album from Ex Cops, is up over at Spectrum Culture. I sorta like it.

February 3, 2013

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra & His Arkestra: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Saturn LP>CDR)

Later that month, it was back to business as usual for the Arkestra as a contingent of musicians, singers and dancers traveled to the Midwest for an appearance at The Bluebird in Bloomington, Indiana on or about July 18, 1977. According to Prof. Campbell (who cites Michael Weiss), Sun Ra performed two nights at The Bluebird, each consisting of two three-hour sets (!) (see Campbell & Trent pp. 230-240). At least one of these concerts was recorded by Tommy Hunter and selections were released shortly thereafter as Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Saturn 7877).  Some copies, however, are confusingly titled We Live To Be (Id.). Currently out of print in any format under either title, a copy of the vinyl LP circulates amongst Sun Ra obsessives as a “needledrop” CDR made from a rather crackly original. Oh well, we take what we can get and are thankful for it.

Side one opens with “We Live To Be,” a gorgeous original Ra ballad which was apparently performed just this once (see Id. p.845). How is that possible? John Gilmore is up first with a brief but astonishingly fluent solo on tenor saxophone, followed by Ra on an extended, romantic organ solo. Gilmore is in top form here, blowing his ass off in that intense, late-Coltrane fashion he inconspicuously inspired, melding avant-garde shrieks and squawks with the deepest jazz historical traditions. Rather than providing a conventional ending, Sonny cues a throbbing space chord to close, eliciting some stunned applause from the audience. The old standard, “Gone With The Wind,” is rendered in a soapy, melodramatic organ mode, veering towards holy-rolling gospel at times. The rhythm section (ShooBee Doo [Reginald J. Fields] on bass, Tommy Hunter and Luqman Ali on drums and Atakatune on percussion) sounds like they’re chomping at the bit, ready to explode as the music starts to climax. But who knows what happened next since the track abruptly cuts off. 

Ra then leads a chant: “You made a mistake/You did something wrong/Make another mistake/And do something right!” It’s all good fun at first but gets kind of boring as it goes on. The crowd liked it, anyway, with someone crying out, “bravissimo!” at the end. Moving to piano, Ra plays a pretty, rhapsodic intro to “Take the “A” Train” before the band comes in with the arrangement. Ensemble passages are a little ragged but the solos make up for it. First, Akh Tal Ebah gets a rare turn at the mic. I love his mellow, loose-lipped sound compared to the blaring pyrotechnics of most trumpet players. Too bad his time with the Arkestra was about to come to an end. Next up is Gilmore and—what can I say?—it’s another incredible John Gilmore solo! A prime example of his ingenious harmonic logic, flawless technique and singular passion.

Side two begins with a curious title, “Amen, Amen (Amen, Meni, Many Amens),” an original composition which was also performed just this one time (see Id. p.811). Starting out with a funky organ thang, it soon settles into an easy swing, Ahmed Abdullah’s trumpet on top. Confident and self-assured on the high-note runs, he follows Ra’s meandering chord progression every step of the way until the organ drops out, leaving him to blow freely over bass and drums. When the organ returns, the guys in the band start chanting “Amen” over and over while ShooBee Doo locks into the groove. Sonny appears to be leading a church choir in elaborately hocketed repetitions of “Amen” while Danny Davis solos outrageously on alto saxophone. This goes on for quite a while until a loud, dissonant space chord brings things to a close. “Amen,” Gilmore intones solemnly one last time. Very interesting.

The next track fades up on June Tyson singing, “The Next Stop Mars,” with Ra interjecting odd chords before finally taking over with a (mostly) unaccompanied piano rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” This is another tour de force performance, with aggressive dissonances interspersed with joyfully melodic fragments, bits of ragtime mixed with flurries of dense passagework, gleefully abstracting and dissecting this hoary old chestnut and serving it up anew. Clearly, Sun Ra was inspired by the solo piano work earlier in the month and solo segments like this one would turn up with increasing frequency in Arkestra concerts, at least when a piano was provided to him.

The album ends with “I’ll Wait for You,” quickly fading up on the chanting and percussion jam. The burbling bass and disco hi-hats sets up an enervated pulse reminiscent of Miles Davis’s On The Corner, with Marshall Allen and Danny Davis flittering around on flutes while Eloe Omoe hints at a melody on bass clarinet. A dark, dense texture is established, with the hectoring vocals thankfully mixed way back but fades out after only a few minutes.

Obviously, this album was quickly assembled to be sold off the bandstand while on the road, so it’s not surprising to find it kind of a mixed bag. But despite some ham-fisted editing, the sound quality is very nice (as was usually the case when Tommy Hunter was involved) and there is plenty of interesting and unique music to be found here. It may be a minor Sun Ra album in the grand scheme of things but Somewhere Over the Rainbow is imminently enjoyable. If the original tapes of this concert still exist, an expanded reissue could be something special indeed. Well, obsessives like me can dream, can't we?

February 2, 2013

Playlist Week of 2013-02-02

Miles Davis - Bootleg Series Volume 2

* Purcell: Fantasias For The Viols 1680 (Hespèrion XX/Savall) (Alia Vox SACD)
* Marais: Sonnerie de Sainte-Geneviéve du Mont, etc. (Harnoncourt, et al.) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Rameau: Pièces de Clavecin en Concerts (Rousset, et al.) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Geminiani: Cello Sonatas, Op.5 (ter Linden/Mortensen) (Brilliant Classics CD)
* Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe (Boston Symphony/Munch) (RCA-Victor SACD)
* Charlie Parker: The Complete Savoy & Dial Studio Recordings (d.3-4) (selections) (Savoy/Atlantic 8CD)
* Miles Davis: The Bootleg Series Vol.2: Live In Europe 1969 (Columbia/Legacy 3CD/DVD)
* Miles Davis: The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 (d.3-4) (Columbia/Legacy 6CD)
* Sun Ra: WKCR-FM, Columbia University, New York, NY 1977-07-08 (FM CDR)
* Sun Ra: Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Sun Ra: Some Blues But Not The Kind That’s Blue (Saturn/Atavistic CD)
* Sun Ra: Unity (Horo 2LP>CDR)
* Stan Getz: Focus (Verve CD)
* Stan Getz: Plays Music From “Mickey One” (Verve CD)
* Weather Report: Black Market (Columbia LP)
* Isaac Hayes: Black Moses (Enterprise/4MWB 2LP)
* D’Angelo: Brown Sugar (EMI CD)
* D’Angelo: Voodoo (Virgin CD)
* Rock Candy Funk Party: We Want Groove (J&R Enterprises CD/DVD)
* Jimi Hendrix Experience: Winterland (d.2) (Experience Hendrix/Legacy 4CD)
* The Who: My Generation (Decca/Universal SACD)
* Grateful Dead: Cincinnati Gardens, Cincinatti, OH 12/4/73x (GDP/Rhino HDCD)
* Grateful Dead: Dave’s Picks Vol.4: Williamsburg, VA 9/24/76 (selections) (GDP/Rhino 3HDCD)
* Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Expanded Edition) (selections) (Warner Bros. MP3)†
* Black Sabbath: Black Sabbath (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Black Sabbath: Paranoid (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* This Mortal Coil: Filigree & Shadow (4AD HDCD)
* Jah Wobble: Heaven & Hell (Island CD)
* Jah Wobble & Bill Laswell: Radioaxiom: A Dub Transmission (Axiom/Island CD)
* Tetragramaton: Submerge (Ion CD)
* Brokeback: Field Recordings From The Cook County Water Table (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Brokeback: Morse Code In The Modern Age: Across The Americas (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Brokeback: Looks At The Bird (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Brokeback: Brokeback And The Black Rock (Thrill Jockey MP3)†
* Opeth: The Roundhouse Tapes (Peaceville DVD)
* High On Fire: Blessed Black Wings (Relapse CD/DVD)
* The Mars Volta: Frances The Mute (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD)
* The Mars Volta: “The Widow” (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CDEP)
* The Mars Volta: Scabdates (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD)
* The Mars Volta: Amputecture (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD)
* The Mars Volta: The Bedlam In Goliath (Gold Standard Labs/Universal CD/DVD)
* Coheed and Cambria: No World For Tomorrow (Columbia CD/DVD)
* Pelican: Pelican (Hydra Head CDEP)†
* Pelican: Australasia (Hydra Head CD)
* Pelican: City Of Echoes (Hydra Head CD)
* White Hills: Abstractions & Mutations (Immune LP)
* White Hills: Heads On Fire (Thrill Jockey LP)
* Ex Cops: True Hallucinations (Other Music/Fat Possum MP3)†



In what looks to be a not-quite-annual event, the second volume of the Miles Davis Bootleg Series finally arrived this week—but, like the last one, it’s worth the wait. Featuring the great “Lost Quintet” with Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, the three-CD plus DVD set contains four concerts recorded for European radio and television broadcasts in 1969. This version of Miles’s working band never recorded in the studio, where he was experimenting with fluctuating ensembles on In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew; hence the "lost" appellation. The Bootleg Series Vol.2 provides a much-needed opportunity to examine this crucial, if transitional, period in Miles’s storied career.

The first two discs contain the quintet’s performances at the Antibes Jazz Festival on July 25 and 26. The first night’s concert was released by Sony-Japan in 1993, but I’ve never seen it (much less heard it). The second show circulates from the original radio broadcast but these CDs sound much better, presumably taken from the station master reels. That said, these are pretty rough-sounding tapes to begin with, with wonky balances and significant distortion in places—but their historical significance cannot be overstated. Although  Bitches Brew titles like “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down” and “Spanish Key” make appearances, much of the old quintet repertoire remains. It is fascinating to hear the electric piano and the Holland/DeJohnette rhythm section on such classics as “’Round Midnight,” “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” and “No Blues.” You also get the band’s takes on the Wayne Shorter compositions, “Footprints,” “Masqualero” and “Nefertiti.” With the move into ever-funkier territory, this material would, for the most part, fall by the wayside. Despite the dodgy sound, it’s worth it just to hear Miles’s music evolve right before your very ears.

The third CD was recorded a few months later at the Folkets Hut in Stockholm on November 5 and, again, the sound quality is decidedly better than the circulating bootleg. Unfortunately, we only get the first set (plus one track from the second, a rare performance of Chick Corea’s, “This”). Nevertheless, this is a very interesting concert, most notable for the malfunction of the Fender Rhodes, which necessitated Corea’s move to an acoustic piano for the remainder of the show. This inspired a slight shift in the setlist, with “Paraphernalia,” “Nefertiti” and “Masqualero” making a return. But electricity is generated by the material and musicians—not the instruments—and skeptical critics could have learned something from hearing these performances at the time, which are just as fiery as with the electric piano. It’s a unique concert and a shame the second set is not included; still, I can see why Sony intends to limit these things to four discs. Well, that just leaves plenty more from this tour to fill out future volumes of The Bootleg Series.

The DVD contains the November 7 performance at the Philharmonie in Berlin, an obvious choice since high-quality footage survives intact and has been re-broadcast on the state-run television several times since. So, while this transfer is a noticeable improvement over the most recent bootlegs, hardcore collectors will not gain much here. The rest of you, however, are in for a real treat! This is the “Lost Quintet” in full-flight, captured in vivid Technicolor. The electric piano has been fixed, everyone is dressed to kill—and they do. An unstable amalgam of rock, jazz, funk and avant-garde freedom, this is some of my very favorite Miles Davis music; it is certainly some of his most fiercely adventuresome. The telepathic interplay of the musicians is amazing to watch and Miles’s non-verbal command is almost terrifying in its intensity. Most of the time, these sorts of “bonus” DVDs are a waste of time—but this one is essential and worth the cost of admission all by itself.

Once again, Columbia/Legacy has done a superlative job presenting this material for the masses. Even though I have over a hundred Miles Davis bootlegs in my collection, I’m extremely happy to have this upgrade and am definitely looking forward to Volume 3.