My newest Nation column is “Theater of the Absurd” with a subhed:
“In the wake of the Paris attacks, moral idiots play their predictable roles.”
So I’ve lost Reed. It’s shame as his work was terrific—better, on some occasions, than my own—but he could no longer justify the time. In the meantime I’ve decided to add a bit of content in the form of list-making. I always liked making lists. They are fun and they don’t take too long to write or to read. I meant to do the two below for gift-giving purposes last year but we had some personnel changes at The Nation that made it difficult to post in late December and early January. Also I was kinda lazy, which is a shame, because I think 2014 was the best year in human history for box sets. It’s amazing how hard the sequencing was in terms of picking my favorites. How hard it was to choose between the Beatles, Bruce and the Basement Tapes! Mike Bloomfield is really high on the list because that box set did such a great job of making a historical argument and of putting his career in context, especially the specially made documentary. The Allman Brothers are a little lower than they would otherwise be because most of that box was out on separate releases already and in some cases, higher quality audio. Simon & Garfunkel would be higher if there were any new material there. Leonard Cohen would be higher were there not a glut of recent Leonard Cohen live recordings and cds. Ditto Sinatra: London. The Miles at the Fillmore is beloved by many who think Miles did not make a very wrong turn after Bitches’ Brew. (After, not before…) That’s why I listed the 1960s set ahead of it, despite inferior sound quality. I mean that was the greatest post-Ellington, post-Basie band ever assembled in this view—from a strict standpoint of musicianship (though I am tempted to make an argument for the final iteration of the Allman Brothers Band, I will resist). Anyway, too late for the holidays but in time for the Grammys, is the below. More lists to come.
Best Retrospective Box Sets of 2014 in rough order:
The Beatles in Mono Vinyl Box Set
Bruce Springsteen: The Original Albums Remastered Volume I
Bob Dylan and the Band: The Basement Tapes Complete
The Led Zeppelin re-releases
Mike Bloomfield: From His Head to His Heart to His Hands
The Allman Brothers Band: The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings
The Kinks: The Anthology , 1964-71
The Columbia and RCA Victor Live Recordings of Louis Armstrong and the All Stars
The Complete Dial Modern Jazz Sessions
Leonard Cohen: Live in Dublin
The Complete Simon and Garfunkel
Miles Davis, All of You: The Last Tour, 1960
Emmylou Harris, Songbird
Uncompromising Expression: Singles Collection
Little Feat: Red Gumbo: The Complete Warner Brothers Years, 1971-1990
Miles at the Fillmore – Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3
My Favorite Albums of 2014 (but not in order except for first few, and even those are not in literal order because they cannot really be compared and one’s feelings change over time).
The Allman Brothers at the Beacon Theater, October 28, 2014, (4 CDs, website sale only)
Leonard Cohen, Popular Problems
Bruce Springsteen, High Hopes
Reflector, Arcade Fire
Pink Floyd, The Endless River
D’Angelo, Black Messiah
The Thompson Family
Rosanne Cash, The River & The Thread
The Black Keys, Turn Blue
Lucinda Williams, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
Sonny Rollins, Road Show, Volume III
Chick Corea, Trilogy
Beck, Morning Phase
Another Day, Another Time Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis
Sturgil Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Bryan Ferry, Avonmore
Big Star, Nothing Can Hurt Me
Bill Callahan, Sometimes I Wish I Were an Eagle
Bob Seger, Ride Out
Government Mule, Dark Side of the Mule
Common Ground – Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play And Sing The Songs Of Big Bill Broonzy
Tuesday night, 400 of my closest friends and I saw an extraordinary performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Appel Room called "The Nearness of You." The show was in honor of the late Michael Brecker, who before he died at age 57 myelodysplastic syndrome, a cancer in which the bone marrow stops producing enough healthy blood cells, won more than a dozen Grammy Awards and played with a who’s who of musicians who want to play with great musicians. At this benefit, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Dianne Reeves, Bobby McFerrin, Jack DeJohnette, and brother Randy, fronting a terrific 15 piece band of Brecker’s friends and musical associates put on a moving and powerful show, but also an educational one. Usually these benefits are unbelievably tedious while one is forced to sit through endless thank-yous, auctions, begging for more money and sucking up to rich people. This one, however, was a model of good taste and concise speeches. Meredith Viera, Robin Roberts and Susan Brecker were the only speakers and none went on a minute longer than necessary to pay tribute both to Michael and to the work of Azra Raza, MD, and Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, PhD. Dr. Raza is director of the Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) Center at Columbia University Medical Center, to whose work the funds raised by the show will be given. Taylor, who had the flu, sang “The Nearness of You” and "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight." He added that “Michael saved my life and probably a lot of other people. He led me to freedom, really from addiction, and showed a number of us the way." Simon played “Still Crazy” and “The Boxer,” which was not enough but really nice, and the show closed with everyone signing “ "Shower the People,” albeit apparently unrehearsed. The Michael Brecker Quindectet was directed by Gil Goldstein was given plenty of time with Randy Brecker and DeJohnette, among others, to shine; a lovely night all around.
So the exciting news this week was the announcement of three 50th anniversary shows by the “core four” members of the Grateful Dead at Soldier’s Field in Chicago this July. It will be their only shows and so I and many others, will have to spend our July 4th weekend in Chicago. I hope it’s not too hot. To prepare, I’ll be spending time with recent Dave’s Picks and Dick’s Picks re-releases. The former are put out by the Dead themselves and are really only available by subscription because the limited editions always sell out. (See here) I think I am caught up on reviewing the most recent releases. Dick’s Picks, however, come from my friends at Real Gone Music; the company that makes even the most obsessive of music collectors feel stupid about what they have forgotten. Their most recent shows include Dick’s Picks Vol. 12—Providence Civic Center 6/26/74 & Boston Garden 6/28/74. The excellent press material notes that “The first disc picks up the second set from Providence three songs in, featuring a short jam that leads into what many have labeled the most extraordinary live version of “China Cat Sunflower” ever recorded, complete with a sublime transition (“Mud Love Buddy Jam” a.k.a. “Mind Left Body Jam”) into “I Know You Rider.” The revelatory moments continue throughout the Providence set, highlighted by a dazzling, 15-minute “Spanish Jam.” But the second set of the Boston show—which appears here complete, beginning on CD two after a superb encore performance of “Eyes of the World” from Providence—is the one that has passed into legend among Dead fans (that it begins with a rare performance of Phil Lesh and Ned Lagin’s electronic music piece “Seastones” gives you an idea of what an adventurous night this was). The set boasts one of the most renowned live jams of the band’s career, a flawless, 14-minute “Weather Report Suite: Prelude/Pt. 1/Pt. 2-Let It Grow” leading into a 27-minute “Jam” that is simply one of the most far-ranging, telepathic improvisations ever played by, well, anybody. That this set also includes a separation of the “Sunshine Daydream” section from “Sugar Magnolia” for only the second time ever is just gravy. Out of print for years and a must for your Dead collection (oh, and did we mention this was a Wall of Sound concert?)! (Please note: Real Gone is also reissuing, in a limited-edition 300-unit run, the long out of print Dick’s Picks Vol. 35, which presented 1971 concert tapes discovered on Keith Godchaux’s houseboat.)” You can still get that, I think.
I also discovered the soul singer Jackie Moore from Real Gone. She began her recording career in 1968 with singles on the Shout and Wand labels, but made it (a little) big(ger) with Atlantic Records in 1970. There are 21 tracks recorded between November 1969 and June 1972 plus a 1973 album all together now on The Complete Atlantic Recordings, a 2-CD, 30-track set with 14 previously unreleased tracks and all remastered. Check her out. I found her to be a wonderful surprise.
I also want to plug a couple of photo books: The first is Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression, which is a companion to the cd box set listed above to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Blue Note Records. Published by Chronicle Books, the text is by Richard Havers, who also wrote the remarkably similar Like Verve: The Sound of America (2013) which was published last year for the same reason. There are forwards by Wayne Shorter, Don Was, and Robert Glasper, but the real fun is are the photos of the album covers, posters, flyers/ads, press releases, notes on various sessions, etc, which provide hours of fun, educational perusing, especially with the music on.
I am also enjoying (and should have recommended before the holidays) Paul Strand: Master of Modern Photography, a companion to an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art published by Yale University Press. The museum recently acquired the core collection of Strand's prints from the Paul Strand Archive, and the book not only reproduces these on 250 plates but also features a number of essays and debates about the work, so you will learn a lot. It’s big and heavy like coffee table photography book should be, but definitely worth your time and money if you don’t already have an earlier Strand collection.
Finally, I want to celebrate the return of, and mourn the end of Foyle’s War, one of my favorite shows of the past few years. And hey, if you want to see it, you have to go to Acorn TV as apparently PBS does not have it. The final three feature-length films begin on Monday, Feb. 2nd and run for the next two weeks. The show has been around since 2003, but has only picked up steam in recent years as people got to know it. There are total of 28 shows to which you can look forward if you’ve somehow missed it beginning from the start of the second world war through the dropping of the atom bomb. The final season takes place in 1946 London.
And finally, finally, before the break, I saw Bob Seger at the Garden, at 69, has great hair. I was jealous. He’s got guys in his band who have been there since 1969, Chris Campbell on bass, Alto Reed on sax since 1972, Grand Funk Railroad's Don Brewer. “Ride Out” on Capitol is his first from the studio since 2006. He spoke of the “good message” of Steve Earle’s “The Devil’s Right Hand,” a Steve Earle and sang another one about global warming and third about his fireman brother-in-law and did a few others too. The J. Geils Band opened the show with an 45-minute set and were surprisingly great, given that I smoked pot for the first time in my life at one of their shows at the Academy of Music literally 40 years ago. Peter Wolf is definitely defying time.
But back to Bob. Bruce did not appear, magically, as he did the last time Seger played the Garden, but the sheer number of great songs the guy has is astounding if one doesn’t think about it in advance. (Though he only has one move: fist in the air. I could live without that.) But still. Look at this setlist. No wonder his GH collection is up there with the Eagles on the best selling albums of all time. Here’s what he played: "Roll Me Away," "Tryin' to Live My Life Without You," “Night Moves,” “Mainstreet,” “Beautiful Loser,” “Like a Rock,” “Against the Wind,” "The Fire Down Below," "Come to Poppa," “We’ve Got Tonight,” "Turn the Page," "Old Time Rock and Roll," “Hollywood Nights,” "Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” and that’s only what I remember, which is a factor of my advanced age, rather than any continued abuse of illegal substances.