Friday, February 25, 2011

Music Library: Missy Elliott, Mitch Ryder, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mo Tucker, Moaners, Model-Citizen, Modern English

Missy Elliott - Supa Dupa Fly (1997). Apparently this redefined hip-hop.  My grasp of hip-hop history is shaky, though.  I know it's an enjoyable listen.

Mitch Ryder - "When You Were Mine." Cover of the great Prince tune by the great garage rocker.

Elizabeth Mitchell - Sunny Day (2010). I wish I liked this more.  Smithsonian gave it to me as a promo.  I like Mitchell.  I like her music with Ida, and I like the idea of her children's music, which involves collaboration with her husband and young daughter.  I love that she has Levon Helm and Jon Langford playing on this album.  And my wife and kids absolutely adore this album.  That should be enough.

Mo Tucker - I Spent A Week There The Other Night (1993). The former Velvet Underground drummer made a number of solo albums in the 80s and 90s.  This one has each of her former band members from the original VU on different tracks, and it's a pretty decent album despite Tucker's rather amusical voice.  I want to mention that Tucker retired at some point in the 90s and recently resurged in footage of a Tea Party rally in Georgia.  Say it ain't so, Mo!

The Moaners - "Monkey Tongue." Pretty rockin' slide-blues track from the new band of Melissa Swingle, formerly of the pretty rockin' Trailer Bride.

Model-Citizen - "Slipped Away." Another great single by a band where I wish I had at least a whole album.  Model-Citizen, which may or may not be a going concern, is (or was) led by Matt Patton, also of The Dexateens.  Whereas the Dexateens built their sound on the countrier side of the Stones, Model-Citizen is made of Who and Faces.  Excellent stuff.

Modern English - "I Melt With You." I keep this around just in case I am called upon to DJ a middle school dance in 1987.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Music Library: Mississippi Fred McDowell and Mississippi John Hurt

Mississippi Fred McDowell - I Do Not Play No Rock 'N' Roll (1969). This is apparently an atypical album for McDowell, employing electric guitars and a lot of sound that, if not for the disclaimer, one might regard as rock 'n' roll. Quite a lot of kick for a 65-year-old man, that's for sure. McDowell was known for his acoustic slide guitar technique.  The electric slide guitar on display here is no slouch, but the songs make the album.

Mississippi John Hurt - Avalon Blues: The Complete 1928 Okeh Recordings (1928) and The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt (1967).  Mississippi John Hurt was one of the most important fingerstyle guitarists of the 20th century.  Like Elizabeth Cotten, his style involved playing a constant bass and melody voice on the guitar, although Hurt added in a number of harmony sounds as well.  John Fahey could be considered his most prominent acolyte.  Hurt recorded thirteen tracks for Okeh in the late 20s, present in my collection on Avalon Blues.  His singles failed to sell, however, and he went back to sharecropping.  In 1963, late in the period when many folk blues musicians from the 20s were being rediscovered, a guy named Tom Hoskins tracked Hurt down based on his 1928 song about his hometown, "Avalon Blues," about Avalon, MS. Hurt's resurgence was rather intense, with appearances at large folk shows, considerable touring, and three albums recorded between 1964 and his death in 1966.  Probably enough to drive a legendarily sweet old sharecropper from rural Mississippi into his grave.  The Immortal, the last of these, released posthumously, is an amazing showcase for Hurt's talents.  The songs range from straightforward Delta blues to ragtime to old-timey bluegrass to folk songs to spirituals, all tied together with Hurt's lovely, melodic fingerstyle picking and gentle voice.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Music Library: Misfits and Mission Of Burma

Misfits - Collection (1978-1984), Safe For Children (1978-1983), 12 Hits From Hell (1980), Walk Among Us (1982). The horror! The horror! As with horror and sci-fi movies, punk music - especially in its infancy - brought out the scolds to decry it as nihilistic and anti-human.  But while some punk, like horror and sci-fi movies, could be that, most of it was a reaction to stultifying cultural norms.  The Misfits brought together the extremes of all three, and man, they were fun.  Collection is a classic Misfits compilation.  Safe For Children is a compilation I found on the Internet some many years ago.  It has some crossover with Collection.  12 Hits From Hell was an album recorded in 1980, but the Misfits were unhappy with it and it was unreleased for many years. I'm pretty sure that the Misfits are my brother-in-law's favorite band, and he gave me this copy of 12 Hits From Hell, so thanks, Jeff! Walk Among Us is a stone-cold punk rock classic, with rough edges covering a masterful sense of songcraft that seems a parallel of George Romero's low-budget/high-concept/powerfully directed Night Of The Living Dead.  

Mission Of Burma - Signals, Calls and Marches EP (1981), Vs. (1982), The Horrible Truth About Burma (1985), Peking Spring (1985), Forget (1987), ONoffON (2004), The Obliterati (2006), Innermost single (2009), and The Sound, The Speed, The Light (2009).  Mission of Burma is one of my favorite bands, and one of rock's most unlikely success stories.  They were a Boston-based band between 1979 and 1983, consisting of Roger Miller (not the King of the Road guy) on guitar and vocals, Clint Conley on bass and vocals, Peter Prescott on drums and vocals, and Martin Swope, an Eno-esque figure who created tape loops and sound manipulations live and in the studio.  Their sound, which is integral to later indie rock, was built around Conley's melodic basslines, with Miller and Prescott alternating between noisy excess and minimalism. Their lyrics were literate in a way that practically invented the term "college rock." They made an EP and an album and then split up in the face of general indifference, the fate of most rock bands.  But they had fans, man, fans who went on to be in bands like REM, Yo La Tengo, Superchunk, the Pixies, Pearl Jam, and Guided By Voices.  Twenty years later, Mission of Burma got back together (with Bob Weston of Shellac and Volcano Suns replacing Swope) and started making music again that was just as vital and revelatory as their music from their first run.  Very few bands have managed to do this kind of rebirth without becoming an oldies act.  In fact, the only other ones I can think of are Dinosaur Jr., who were also influenced by Mission of Burma, and the Go-Betweens, who most likely were not.  Signals, Calls and Marches is chock-full of rock goodness, starting with "That's When I Reach For My Revolver," Clint Conley's re-appropriation of Goering's criticism of culture.  "Academy Fight Song," a single now included with most releases of the EP, is another Conley anthem.  "This Is Not A Photograph" and "Max Ernst" explicitly reference high-concept art, while my favorite song, "Fame And Fortune" has Roger Miller admonishing himself for attempting to find the attributes of the title against his better judgment.  Vs. starts with the two-chord "Secrets," demonstrates right off the bat how much MOB could find subtle variance in a repetitive structure, and ends with the virtually perfect "That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate," a breakneck explanation of a breakup. Horrible Truth is a live album that's fun for fans without adding anything but a little more mystique to the MOB myth.  Peking Spring and Forget are filled with outtakes that range from excellent (most of which are on the former) to needing-improvement.  All three of their albums upon reformation are very good, although I think they've had slightly diminishing returns for me.  They have a certain similarity and clarity of purpose that I believe comes with age and wisdom.  There's no noticeable falling-off of quality or vitality of performance, but the songs on Sound Speed Light have never quite grabbed me as much as the ones on ONoffON or Obliterati.  This may be a real slight drop in some way, but more likely, it's that I am overfamiliar with their formula.  And I don't have a problem with that.  As long as MOB makes albums, I'm sure I'll continue to love their albums.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Music Library: Minutemen

I submit to you that the Minutemen were the greatest of American punk bands.  They were the Platonic ideal of a rock band: three guys having adventures, asking big questions, searching for enough scratch to do it again tomorrow, making music that drew on wildly different sources into something wholly unlike what had come before it.  They traveled the same circuit and played the same shows as hardcore bands, but all their sound shared with hardcore were anger and brevity.  Instead of drawing on metal and the Ramones, the Minutemen built their sound from the angular art-rock of Captain Beefheart, Wire, and The Pop Group, which meshed with their influences from their beloved Creedence Clearwater Revival and Blue Oyster Cult into short, complex songs with passion, humor, and sweet heavens, how much fun.  Dennes "D." Boon on guitar and vocals.  Mike Watt on thunderbroom and vocals.  George Hurley all over the damn drumset. They weren't lying when they sang, "our band could be your life."

Paranoid Time EP, Georgeless EP and "9:30 May 2" from the Cracks In The Sidewalk compilation (1980). No distorted guitars here and a good sense of space, but if D. Boon had owned a Rat pedal, Paranoid Time could have been a Minor Threat album.  The Georgeless EP was recorded before George Hurley joined the band, and has a guy named Frank Tonche on drums.  Not the best stuff, but an auspicious beginning.

The Punch Line, Joy EP, Mabuhay Gardens October 26 1981 bootleg, "Prelude" from My First Bells compilation (all 1981), and Bean-Spill EP (1982). Their first proper album, The Punch Line is a kick in the pants.  Watt's bass skills have improved immensely since Paranoid Time, and the three-piece is already apparently sharing a single brain.  Only two songs top a minute; most are about 30-45 seconds long.  Joy is a three-song EP with excellent rapport between the band.  The Mabuhay Gardens bootleg is rather noisy.  It has an early version of their epic 45-song cover of "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" and a version of "Working Men Are Pissed," which wouldn't appear on an album for three more years.  "Prelude" is a decent song.  Bean-Spill has five songs in six minutes, including the killer "If Reagan Played Disco."

What Makes A Man Start Fires?, Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat, and KPFK September 3 1983 bootleg (1983).  While The Punch Line was pretty good, it wasn't very funny.  What Makes A Man Start Fires? kicks off with "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs," which simultaneously honors and mocks Dylan and includes "The Anchor," a quite touching track that at 2:33 was the longest Minutemen song to date.  The Minutemen followed up this amazing album with Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat, which is among the greatest rock EPs ever recorded.  In less than 16 minutes, Buzz Or Howl knocks out eight tracks that veer from among the Minutemen's best ("Cut," "I Felt Like A Gringo," and "Little Man With A Gun In His Head") to very good ("Self-Referenced," "Dream Told By Moto," "The Product") to a little silly ("Dreams Are Free, Motherfucker!," "The Toe Jam"), which provides some welcome relief from the rich tension of the rest of the EP.  Altogether this EP is one of the best things of the punk era.  The bootleg is pretty great, too: the Minutemen playing acoustic for a radio show.  Performances are phenomenal and the sound is ok.

The Politics Of TimeTour-Spiel EP, ...Just A Minute, Men bootleg, Live At Flynn's Ocean 71 bootleg, and "Fake Contest." (all 1984).  The Politics of Time is a compilation of non-album tracks and live tracks.  Even though it has the great songs "Party With Me Punker" and "Working Men Are Pissed," it can be a bit of a crapshoot.  Some of the songs are only ok, and the live tracks were often recorded on someone's personal tape machine, with all the hiss that this implies.  Double Nickels was the next release, but I'll deal with it in a minute.  Tour-Spiel has covers of Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," Blue Oyster Cult's "The Red And The Black," CCR's "Green River," and the Meat Puppets' "Lost." ...Just A Minute, Men contains the concert these tracks were taken from.  Apparently the Minutemen didn't ask permission to use his recordings before releasing Tour-Spiel, so the guy who recorded them put out released the whole concert as a bootleg. This reminds me: most of these bootlegs are available at the site, which you should visit (and probably have) if you're a Minutemen fanatic.  Live At Flynn's Ocean 71 was recorded three weeks earlier than ...Just A Minute, Men, and has much the same energy.

Double Nickels On The Dime (1984).  Is there a better rock album than this? There is not.  It is sprawling, silly, serious, wise, funny, challenging, effortless, breathless, beautiful, relentless, angry, ephemeral, epic, and I'm not backing down from any of these adjectives.  It is the crowning achievement of punk rock, and it was made by three guys from an unfashionable Southern California town who were all in their mid-20s.

Three-Way Tie (For Last), Project: Mersh EP, Spin Radio August 17 1985 bootleg, Berkeley Square September 21 1985 bootleg, Safari Sam's November 15 1985 bootleg, and "I Felt Like A Gringo" and "Time" from the Radio Tokyo Tapes compilations.  D. Boon died in a car accident two days before Christmas 1985.  Who knows where the Minutemen might have gone if he had lived?  Three-Way Tie suggests that they had more tricks up their sleeves.  While not up to the standards of Double Nickels, it's a fun album with quite a few radio-friendly tracks, although it also has a high percentage of covers.  Project: Mersh came out before Three-Way Tie, and features the Minutemen trying to please a hypothetical audience with longer, more conventional songs.  "King Of The Hill" is a pretty decent track.  The three bootlegs are all top-quality.  The Radio Tokyo tracks are a remixed version of "I Felt Like A Gringo" and an acoustic cover of Richard Hell's "Time."

Ballot Result and Minuteflag EP (1986). The Minuteflag EP is a recording of the Minutemen jamming with Black Flag in 1985.  'Sokay.  Ballot Result has an interesting backstory. After the events of the ...Just A Minute, Men bootleg, the Minutemen planned to hit back at bootleggers with an album to be called 3 Dudes 6 Sides 3 Studio 3 Live.  They passed out ballots at shows during their late 1985 tour.  After D. Boon passed, Watt and Hurley decided to collect the ballots and release the album, anyway.  Many fans sent in home recordings of the band, so the quality is not always there.  But the love is.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Music Library: Mills Brothers, Minmae, Minor Threat, Minus Story, Minus The Bear

Mills Brothers - "Cab Driver." Swingin' vocal track with a nice country-style guitar lead.

Minmae - My Quiet Life (2002), True Love (2003), and ya te vas? (2004).  Tasty indie rock from Portland, OR. The standout track is True Love's "It's Easy The Way I Care," which my pal Jon Bernhardt introduced me to years ago.

Minor Threat - Complete Discography (1981-1985). Ah, to be 16 and pissed off. Barring the need for a soundtrack for articulate rage, I have no need to ever revisit this album, but I'm glad that it's in my collection.  The cover to my CD is red, but the blue picture is the main one that comes up with an image search.

Minus Story - A Minus Story Compendium (2007). I'm unable to find an image of the cover for this.  It's an eMusic compilation of tracks by a rather obscure indie rock band.  They're an ok band, somewhat in the poppy-psychedelic-Flaming Lips-circa-1997 vein.  Nothing really blows me away (unlike the Flaming Lips circa 1997), but they provide a pleasant soundtrack to a drive.

Minus The Bear - Menos el Oso (2005). Sometimes hook-filled indie rock, sometimes math rock, sometimes post-rock.  While I like Minus The Bear's capacity for surprise, I'm not really all that taken with their melodies.  I like the parts that surprise me, but the parts that are supposed to smooth all the shifting time signatures and jarring repetition into something easier for a large audience to digest are all a bit dull, unfortunately.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Music Library: Miles Davis

Yeah, like I'm going to write a comprehensive overview of Miles Davis' legacy in a blog post.  The guy went through so many phases that you could write a whole book on any one of those periods (recommended: Phil Freeman's Running The Voodoo Down on Miles's electric period).  So I'm going to stick to a few words about the albums I have, thanks.  I do want to mention how much I like, as a non-horn player, that Miles played the trumpet, the brassiest and most declarative of popular horns.  Where saxophones and sax players tend to expound in million-note expressions, being the Modernists of horn players, Miles used the trumpet for short bursts of profundity like a Zen master of jazz.  Dizzy Gillespie is the only other major trumpet player I can think of, and Dizzy tended to go for longer note-flurries.  But Dizzy also left a lot of room in his sound, and Miles expanded that same sense of space to incredible effect.  Miles was also a genius at assembling sidemen.  To most effectively play the part of cool, removed Zen master, he needed a band around him that would generate incredible heat and light, and he almost always achieved that.

Birth of the Cool (recorded 1949-1950, released 1956).  A collection of early sides that Davis released that happened to create the paradigm for the original West Coast gangstas of cool jazz.  Unlike most cool jazz dudes, Davis wasn't white, but like most cool jazz dudes, Davis was classically trained and he liked heroin.

Bags' Groove (recorded 1954, released 1957) and Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants (recorded 1954 and 1956, released 1958).  These albums share tracks from a session where Miles included Thelonious Monk on piano.  The problem with having two worldchanging talents in the same room is that immense talents are usually attached to immense egos, and the two men apparently did not get along well.  There was a rumor that they came to blows during the session, but Miles explained later to one of his biographers that these rumors were ridiculous because Monk was a much larger man than Miles, and Miles would never fight a guy who was sure to beat his ass. The results are pretty tasty, though.  On Bags' Groove, only the title track was from this session, which also included Milt "Bags" Jackson on vibraphone.  On the Modern Jazz Giants, all of the tracks except, ironically, Monk's "'Round Midnight" are from that session.  The rest of Bags' Groove is from an earlier session from 1954 with Sonny Rollins on sax.  The other track on Modern Jazz Giants is from a 1956 session with Coltrane on sax and the Red Garland Trio rounding out what jazz historians call Miles' first great quintet.  I hope the roster is enough to indicate that these albums are quite good.

Miles: The New Miles Davis Quintet (recorded 1955, released 1956), 'Round About Midnight (recorded 1955 and 1956, released 1957), Cookin' With The Miles Davis Quintet (recorded 1956, rel. 1957), Relaxin' With The Miles Davis Quintet (recorded 1956, rel. 1958), Workin' With The Miles Davis Quintet (recorded 1956, rel. 1959), Steamin' With The Miles Davis Quintet (recorded 1956, rel. 1961).  These are the albums by Miles's first great quintet (Miles, Coltrane on sax, Red Garland on piano, Philly Joe Jones on drums, Paul Chambers on bass).  Coltrane's first albums as a bandleader are with this same group sans Miles.  If you like hard bop, this is where it is at, the best example of the form.  The New Miles Davis Quintet album is the weakest of these, but it's far from weak.  The rest are extraordinary, although their punch has been a little dimmed by the fact that they are so well-known.  Start with Relaxin', which is my favorite.

Miles And Monk At Newport (1958).  This is half of an album that features Miles' 1958 band on one side and Monk's contemporary band on the other.  The musicians didn't play together, and each half has been expanded and released as its own album.  I don't have either, though.

Milestones (1958), Kind Of Blue (1959), and Someday My Prince Will Come (1961). If you are a fan of jazz, you probably own a copy of Kind Of Blue.  If you do not, you should remedy this immediately.  On these two albums, Miles was opening up a modal model for jazz that more or less revolutionized that way that musicians could improvise in music by getting rid of the extensive chord changes of hard bop.  Although Coltrane left his quintet for two years after the recording of the first great quintet albums, he rejoined the band for Milestones, which features said quintet plus Cannonball Adderley on alto sax.  Milestones is fantastic, but on Kind Of Blue, Miles' band rip open the songs in a completely new way.  The Kind Of Blue band has Jimmy Cobb on drums instead of Philly Joe Jones and Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly alternating on piano, but otherwise is the same as on Milestones.  It's one of the best examples of recorded music that there is, and that's not hyperbole.  Someday My Prince Will Come is a continuation of these ideas with mostly the same band (although Hank Mobley joins Coltrane on one track and replaces Coltrane and Adderley on most of the others).  It's a great album, too.

Porgy And Bess (1958) and Sketches of Spain (1960). The composer and bandleader Gil Evans contributed quite a bit to Miles' modality, although these are easily some of his most accessible albums for people who aren't fans of jazz.  Sweeping orchestrated arrangements dominate both albums, and some purists argue that it isn't jazz.  Get used to that idea because it will come up again and again over Miles' career.

Seven Steps To Heaven (1963) and Live In Japan 1964.  These albums don't have much in common, but they're both transitional.  Seven Steps features much of what would be Miles' second great quintet.  Live In Japan is a bootleg from Miles's tour with the great Sam Rivers on sax, the only time they would play together. Both are killer on their own terms and a glimpse of the greatness that was about to erupt.

E.S.P. (1965), Complete Live At The Plugged Nickel 1965Miles Smiles (1967), Sorcerer (1967), Antwerp Blues October 28 1967, and Nefertiti (1968).  These are the albums by Miles' second great quintet, which featured Miles on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on sax, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums.  It's significant that Miles' first great quintet did not play together very long, and in fact, most of their recordings were made over the course of a few days and consisted of standards and songs by other writers.  The second quintet was together for a number of years and most of their work was written by members of the quintet.  They were, in a real way, a band like few others in jazz, but quite close to the more democratic and committed concept of a rock band.  E.S.P. is a fitting title to their first album together, because the members appeared to share a single mind and purpose.  The Plugged Nickel box is a recording of two nights in December 1965 that features the quintet knocking out standards and older Miles tunes.  Miles Smiles, recorded late in 1966, shows how well the rhythm section was meshing with the horn players.  Like all of these, really, it's a barnburner.  Antwerp Blues is a bootleg and it cooks. Sorcerer and Nefertiti are the best of these, though, with the quintet firing on all cylinders (minus the tacked-on track with singer Bob Dorough [of Schoolhouse Rock fame] from 1962 at the end of Sorcerer).  These albums are perhaps the finest example of a hard bop quintet looking to break through to something new, and they left Miles with nowhere to go but outside of the realms of what people had hereto considered jazz.

Miles In The Sky (1968), Water Babies (recorded 1967-1968, released 1975), Filles de Kilimanjaro (1969), and Complete Columbia Studio Recordings, 1965-1968.  This is the sound of the quintet in transition.  Miles In The Sky has Hancock playing electric piano and Carter on electric bass for one track, along with George Benson's electric guitar on another. Water Babies, which wasn't released for almost a decade, has the classic second great quintet on three tracks and the In A Silent Way variation on three.  It's decent material, but not as great as the studio releases of the time.  Filles de Kilimanjaro has the electricified quintet on three tracks, but replaced Hancock with Chick Corea and Carter with Dave Holland on two tracks.  Notable: the Wikipedia page says that Stanley Crouch says that Filles is "Miles' last great jazz album." This is because Crouch is completely wrong about anything that happens after 1968.  If you should ever watch Ken Burns' Jazz miniseries, this will explain their omission or demotion of pretty much everything after hard bop.  The Complete Columbia box is redundant with the albums of the second quintet, but features a few more outtakes, as well.

In A Silent Way (1969) and The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions (1969), and The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions (recorded 1969).  With both cool jazz and two of the greatest quintets in hard bop under his belt, Miles begat jazz melded with psychedelic rock and post-Stockhausen compositional music.  Critics of time did not know what to make of it.  They call it fusion, but much of the music they called fusion thereafter lacked Miles' sensibility and restraint.  In A Silent Way is an ouroboros, much like Finnegans Wake, with each of the  two tracks winding back around to the same piece of music that opens them, and each seamlessly flowing into the other.  It is a perfect album, and often I will say that it is my favorite album, even though there are about a dozen albums that could claim that dubious distinction.  The music is both driven and introspective.  Unlike almost all jazz that preceded it, it is wholly a studio invention, with producer Teo Macero editing together the tracks from different recordings.  It is the shape of music to come, and its influence can be felt throughout the sphere of interesting music regardless of genre.  Lineup is Miles, Wayne Shorter (sax), Tony Williams (drums), Dave Holland (upright bass),  Herbie Hancock (electric piano), Chick Corea (electric piano), Joe Zawinul (organ), and John McLaughlin (guitar).  The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions includes a few tracks from Filles de Kilimanjaro, a few tracks that would drop on later compilations, and the rough tracks that became In A Silent Way.  Bitches Brew, recorded a few months later and released in April 1970, has an even greater cast of musicians and employs even more editing by Macero.  I do not have a copy of that album, but I do have a copy of the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, which includes all of the tracks from Bitches Brew along with alternate takes, outtakes (many of which showed up on Big Fun, released in 1974), and rough tracks edited down for the album.  While considered a landmark recording, to my ears it is the inferior of both the studio album that preceded it and the one that follows, which is perhaps due to the mutable lineup including a number of musicians new to Miles' crew.

Juan-les-Pins, France July 1969The Lost Quintet Bootlegs, Discs 7-12 (all recorded November 1969), and Live At The Fillmore, March 7, 1970: It's About That Time. Miles could not take his cast of thousands (ok, it's really about 20 or so) who played on Bitches Brew out on the road with him, so he compiled a new quintet, often called the Lost Quintet because they never recorded an album together in the studio.  At least they didn't record as a five-piece, since I believe all of them play on Bitches Brew.  The group is Miles, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette replacing Tony Williams on drums.  It's About That Time is an official release but the rest of these albums are bootlegs.  And oh, sweet voodoo, are they all great.  It's About That Time is a recording of Wayne Shorter's last show with the lost quintet.  Some of these also feature Airto Moriera on cuica and hand percussion.

A Tribute To Jack Johnson (recorded 1970, released 1971) and The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions (recorded 1970).  My other favorite Miles album is A Tribute To Jack Johnson, which is the most heavily spliced album in Miles' catalog, pulling together chunks of music from many different sessions and ideas, along with a small portion of "Shhh/Peaceful" from In A Silent Way.  Where Silent Way is introspective, Jack Johnson is aggressively funky and psychedelic.  The interplay between John McLaughlin and Sonny Sharrock's guitars on the section called "Willie Nelson" is the closest to atonal noise that Miles ever reached, and its ugly beauty can rip your heart out.  Unlike some of the other Complete box sets, The Complete Jack Johnson box is disc after disc of rough tracks.  Some of the outtakes crop up on Big Fun and Live-Evil, true.  But of any of the Miles box sets, this is the one that peels back the mask and delves into the wildly creative process with abandon.  Awesome, in the sense that dumbstruck awe is my primary response to this music.

Black Beauty: Miles Davis At Fillmore West (April 10, 1970), Miles Davis At Fillmore: Live At The Fillmore East (June 17-20, 1970), Isle Of Wight (August 29, 1970), The Cellar Door Sessions (December 16-19, 1970), Live-Evil (recorded 1970, rel. 1971), Live In Belgrade, November 3, 1971, and Live in Cologne, November 12, 1971.  These albums show how Miles was focused on his live sound over this year-and-a-half despite some churn in his band.  After Wayne Shorter left, Steve Grossman stepped in on sax, and can be heard on Black Beauty and Miles Davis At Fillmore.  Gary Bartz took over on sax and Keith Jarrett joined as a second keyboardist by the time of Isle of Wight (a bootleg with one live track from the 1970 Isle Of Wight festival [one can hear this in its entirety on the new Bitches Brew Live album] plus outtakes from the Bitches Brew Sessions and the Jack Johnson Sessions and, strangely enough the later On The Corner sessions).  Bartz and Jarrett were still in the band for the stellar Cellar Door Sessions, some of which popped up on Live-Evil, which was chronologically Miles's next release after Jack Johnson. Chick Corea was out of the band by this time, and Michael Henderson had replaced Dave Carter on bass.  Awesomely, John McLaughlin joined the band for one of the sets, which was, I think, the only time McLaughlin played with Davis live. Live-Evil also features more Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson outtakes.  By the time of the tour that the Belgrade and Cologne bootlegs were taken from, Jack DeJohnette was replaced on drums by Ndugu Leon Chancler with Charles Don Alias and James Mtume Forman replacing Moriera on percussion.  The Cellar Door Sessions is the best of these, but any and all of these albums are stunners.

On The Corner (1972), The Complete On The Corner Sessions (1972-1974), Right Off: Complete Live At Paul's Mall, September 14, 1972, Live At On The Corner September 24, 1972, In Concert: Live At Philharmonic Hall (September 29, 1972).  It is hard to express how incredible On The Corner is.  Bringing together the groundbreaking editing work from the previous five albums with a sense of psychedelic groove taken from funk, the propulsion of krautrock, and a repetitive structure taken from Stockhausen and minimalism, On The Corner synthesizes all of these into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, which is the essence of Miles' genius.  There are 20 musicians credited for On The Corner, including two electric sitarists and four percussionists.  The Complete On The Corner Sessions box includes rough tracks for On The Corner, tracks that would later turn up on Big Fun and Get Up With It, and previously unreleased outtakes.  It's almost as good as the Complete Jack Johnson box.  Right Off and Live At On The Corner are bootlegs recorded shortly before the official release In Concert.  All are excellent.

Big Fun (recorded 1969-1972, released 1974) and Get Up With It (recorded 1970 - 1974, rel. 1974).  These are two compilations released in 1974.  Big Fun reaches back to the Bitches Brew Sessions and has outtakes from Jack Johnson and On the Corner, as well.  Get Up With It has four tracks recorded after On The Corner (with the great Pete Cosey on guitar) and four from prior sessions back to Jack Johnson.  Both albums are phenomenal, and surprisingly coherent given their disparate recording times over a rather tumultuous period for Miles.  But Get Up With It has "He Loved Him Madly," a 30-minute tribute to Duke Ellington that is basically proto-ambient music (and Brian Eno has discussed how influential it was on his own ambient music).  "He Loved Him Madly" is astonishing, even in the context of Miles' consistently astonishing output of the time.

Black Satin: Tokyo June 19, 1973Olympia July 11, 1973, Dark Magus (March 30, 1974), Another Unity: Tokyo January 22, 1975Agharta (first set, February 1, 1975), Pangaea (second set, February 1, 1975), and Unknown Sessions bootleg (1972-1976).  Four bootlegs and three live releases from the period in which Miles had the twin lead guitars of Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas in his band.  This is the heaviest funk-space-jazz-krautrock-head music ever made, and considering its relative inaccessibility, it is the great lacuna of Miles's career.  The Unknown Sessions include some of the amazing recordings Miles made in the mid-70s with Cosey and Lucas.  Some tracks from this period cropped up on the Complete On The Corner box, but most are still unreleased.

Music From Siesta (1987). Unfortunately, Miles released only live albums and compilations between 1972's utterly brilliant On The Corner and 1981's tepid The Man With The Horn. I'm not a fan of Miles in the 80s, where he seemed more lost than anything.  Music From Siesta is not bad, though, with its deliberate references to Miles's Gil Evans period. Considering how many brilliant, game-changing, genre-shaking albums were in Miles's past, however, "not bad" is a damning assessment.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Music Library: Mike Watt

If you read this blog, you surely know that Watt was so key to the whole DIY post-punk movement that words like "seminal" and "essential" fail to capture how important his music is.  One of the guiding figures behind The Minutemen and fIREHOSE, Watt is practically a secular saint. I may be guilty of engaging in hyperbole sometimes, but this is on the level: the guy makes amazing music, made a lot of amazing music possible, and still is one of the nicest, most down-to-earth dudes you could meet. There's not a lot of people you can say have given to the world far more than they will ever receive back, but Mike Watt is one of them, a guy whose whole life is a labor of love.

Ball-Hog or Tugboat? and BH or TB Outtakes (both 1995). Watt's first solo album is a who's-who of indie rock from the late 70s to the mid 90s.  His collaborators include members of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Meat Puppets, Nirvana, Screaming Trees, that dog, Beastie Boys, plus Nels Cline, Spot, Evan Dando, Frank Black, Hank Rollins, Epic Soundtracks, Flea, Dave Pirner, Bernie Worrell, and Kathleen Hanna, who delivers a scathing and hilarious monologue via answering machine about why she won't be appearing on the album, which is even funnier because a) it is on the album and b) it winds up with an insistence that Watt return her Annie soundtrack.  It's an ass-whoopin' great album.  The outtakes include a cover of Blue Oyster Cult's "Dominance and Submission."

Contemplating The Engine Room and Contemplating Live Bootleg (both 1997).  Watt's next trick was to record an intensely personal and touching rock opera with only two collaborators, Nels Cline and Stephen Hodges.  The narrative is autobiographical, comparing the life of Watt's father, a sailor, with the journeys Watt made as part of the Minutemen using a nautical theme.  The latter half of the album explicitly deals with Watt's grief over losing his dad and his best friend, Minutemen guitarist D. Boon.  This is a sublime album, as much a statement of purpose and philosophy as an expression of joy and sorrow. The trio mixes new melodies and riffage with elements of Minutemen songs and Cline's unique guitar freakouts, and the overall effect is, well, astounding.  The bootleg is marred only by bad sound.

The Secondman's Middle Stand (2004).  Watt nearly died in 2000 from an infected perineum.  His third solo album is a song cycle that compares his illness and recovery to Dante's Divine Comedy with an organist replacing the traditional guitar spot.  It's powerful material, but also the first Watt album that I rarely revisit, mainly because it's a little too alien to my ears and a little too intense for listening pleasure.  That said, when I do hear it, I never regret it.

Random songs: "Pushcart," "The First Cuss," "Walking The Cow," "Stomp," "Bass Bit For Bryce," "For E's Cousin's Baby's Baptism," "Like A Ghost On Fire," and "Little Blue Gene."  A handful of loose tracks here, including a Daniel Johnston cover and a Beefheart cover.  There's a new Watt solo album due to drop next month, and I almost held this post until I could hear it, but I've been dragging my feet too long.  I'm sure Watt himself wouldn't want me to hold my oh-so-important thoughts on Miles Davis back on his account.

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