A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: January, 2011

Recycled Goods (#81)

by Tom Hull

Possibly my shortest Recycled Goods ever, but that's a risk of insisting that these things go out on a time schedule rather than waiting until we have a full load. Also odd that one of the "pick hits" isn't something I actually recommend you buy. As the rich get richer, the industry is increasingly tailoring product that only the rich can afford: aside from the $125 package for Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, you can drop $110 for Davis' earlier Kind of Blue, $140 for Bruce Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town, and $180 for the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. Even more expensive is the $365 list for Miles Davis: The Complete Columbia Album Collection. That at least could be viewed as a bargain -- just over $5 per disc for 70 covering 52 albums -- but that would depend on how many you don't already have. (Looks like I'm missing 6-8 of them, most importantly the 1961 Blackhawks.)

I'm running into a lot of sticker shock on reissues these days. That always happens with Mosaic's big sets, most recently:

  • The Complete 1932-1940 Brunswick, Columbia, and Master Recordings of Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra 11-CD, $179
  • The Complete Novus & Columbia Recordings of Henry Threadgill & Air 8-CD, $136
  • The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-46) 7-CD, $119
  • The Complete Ahmad Jamal Trio Argo Sessions 1956-62 9-CD, $149

The problem here is frequently not just the cost but that I already have a good deal of the material, often select so you have to worry about marginal returns. This happens even more so with the latest wave in pop completism:

  • Buddy Holly: Not Fade Away: Complete Studio Recordings and More (Hip-O Select, 6CD, $120)
  • Wilson Pickett: Funky Midnight Mover: The Atlantic Studio Recordings (1962-1978) (Rhino Handmade, 6CD, $100)
  • The Coasters: There's a Riot Goin' On: The Coasters on Atco (Rhino Handmade, 4CD, $80)
  • Delaney & Bonnie: On Tour With Eric Clapton [Deluxe Edition] (Rhino Handmade, 4CD, $80)
  • Chuck Berry: Johnny B. Goode: His Complete '50s Chess Recordings (Hip-O Select, 4CD, $80)
  • Chuck Berry: You Never Can Tell: His Complete Chess Recordings 1960-1966 (Hip-O Select, 4CD, $80)
  • Chuck Berry: Have Mercy: His Complete Chess Recordings 1969-1974 (Hip-O Select, 4CD, $70)
  • Nat King Cole & Friends: Riffin': The Decca, JATP, Keynote and Mercury Recordings (Hip-O Select, 3CD, $60)
  • James Brown: The Singles, Vol. 1-9 (Hip-O Select, 9*2CD, 9*$30)

In each of these cases I can recommend real good, perfectly satisfactory shorter (and more affordable) compilations. It's always tempting to dig deeper, but often not worthwhile. I've never been able to reach these high ticket items in this column, and it seems like they keep slipping further away.

Afrocubism (2010, World Circuit/Nonesuch): Cuba was the only new world post where slaveholders didn't try hard to strip the roots of their chattels, so the island developed as a microcosm of the mother continent, with well-defined religious and musical tribes mapping straight to Senegal, Nigeria, and Congo, permitting hybridized African music to flow back into Africa itself. But Africa is a big and diverse continent, and Mali was isolated, much of its land parched, its music simpler and more ethereal, which oddly enough has lately turned Mali's musicians -- especially kora master Toumani Diabaté into the continent's most prolific musical diplomats. This is their record, aided by a few Cubans like Eliades Ochoa, primed with Benny Moré and Nico Saquito songs, with a sweet but slight "Guantanamera" to ice the cake. B+(***)

Bollywood Remembers: Laxmikrant Pyarelai: Best of the EMI Years (1963-91 [2010], Times Square, 2CD): Also known as Laxmi-Pyare or just LP, Laxmikrant Shantaram Kudalkar and Pyarelai Ramprasad Sharma were a team, composing music for some 500 Bollywood movies from 1963 up to the former's death in 1998. Various artists, although Lata Mangeshkar and Mohd. Rafi (actually, Mohammed) most of them, making this a fair history of the period. Sound is rough early on, picks up over time. Doubly useful for the liner notes. B+(***)

Miles Davis: Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition (1969-70 [2010], Columbia/Legacy, 3CD+DVD+2LP): One thing I noticed after I moved to St. Louis for college in the early 1970s was that all of my new friends had exactly one jazz album: Bitches Brew. It was generally regarded as chill down music, something you'd play late at night after running out of Traffic and Yes and Pink Floyd, and at low volumes it worked reasonably well for that, although we sort of missed the point. Looking back many years later I as the most seductively packaged of an arc of Electric Miles albums prefigured by Filles de Kilimanjaro in 1968 and landing somewhere around Agharta and Pangaea in 1975, the true highlights being A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1970) and such remarkable live albums as Dark Magus (1974). I dutifully picked up the original 2-CD package when I got into CDs, and added the 4-CD The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions which swept up all the outtakes and false starts, not much of a plus. Then when I got the advance for this extravagantly ridiculous package -- $124.98 for 3 CDs, 1 DVD, a 48-page Greg Tate-penned booklet, and audiofile vinyl of the original release -- I put it aside, wondering if the actual packaging would show up. It didn't, so I can only imagine the booklet -- my copy of Tate's words doesn't go far to filling it up -- and wonder why anyone would pay for the redundant vinyl. But the music has never sounded better, not least is the live third disc from Tanglewood in 1970. I also listened to, and occasionally glanced at, the DVD: another live concert, this one from Tivoli in Copenhagen in 1969, with Wayne Shorter and a young rhythm section that would eventually be recognized as Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette -- studious and unsurprising at the time. Also available is a more affordable Bitches Brew [Legacy Edition], with the original 2-CD album padded out with six extra cuts, plus the Copenhagen DVD for a third disc -- would have been a much better deal with the Tanglewood set instead of the DVD. Grade is for the music. The packaging is too cost-ineffective for me to contemplate. A- [advance]

John Prine: In Person & On Stage (2010, Oh Boy): Don't have the performance dates here, but the shuffling in and out of guests suggests this was culled from multiple shows over some stretch of time -- e.g., two cuts with Iris DeMent, including the backstory on the "new" song he wrote, which turns out to be the title track to his 1999 album. Nothing much predates that: he's in post-cancer voice throughout, often much rougher than I've seen him. A stopgap in a career lull, something he's done at least twice before. He hasn't written great songs since he stood up to Bush in 2005, and I hope he never gets that annoyed again. But maybe he should look up DeMent, who is overdue herself. B+(**)

Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro: ¡Sin Rumba No Hay Son! (2010, World Village): The venerable Cuban ensemble founded by Piñeiro in 1927 keeps on trucking, sounding more venerable than ever, its son so classic they can't help but point out the rumba roots. The closest American analogy might be Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but the latter is a self-conscious antique, whereas Septeto Nacional is a classic in no need of further evolution, much like the lovingly maintained 1950s autos that in the US would be showpieces but in Cuba are still everyday transportation. The real classics, by the way, are Piñeiro's original Septeto Nacional recordings of 1928-30 (and slightly less his Sexteto Nacional of 1927-28), as essential as anything King Oliver ever waxed. The new stuff sounds riper, lusher, more overwrought, as classics do when they become objects of patriotism. B+(**)

Briefly Noted

Fucked Up: Couple Tracks (2002-09 [2010], Matador, 2CD): Twenty-five, actually, rolling up the Canadian punk/hardcore band's mostly short singles, spread over two discs even though the 73:03 would fit on one; good idea, introducing some variation into an act that only knows a handful of basically sound tricks. B+(**) [R]

Klezwoods: Oy Yeah! (2010, Accurate): Boston klezmer ensemble, nine instruments including tuba and accordion, plays traditional fare including pieces from Yemen and the Balkans, plus one semi-original by Alec Spiegelman patterned on "Giant Steps"; tends toward sweet and nostalgic. B+(**)

Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa (2006-09 [2010], Honest Jon's): Various artists, all tracks produced by Nozinja, aka Dog, aka Richard Mthetwa, so nothing, for instance, by Peta Teanet, the self-appointed King of Shangaan Disco; not a generic compilation but a coherent sampling of fast beats, thumb piano, breezy call-and-response. A-

Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody. The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments.

For this column and the previous 80, see the archive.

Copyright © 2011 Tom Hull.