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N. Jones "Nic The Pen" (Oxford, Great Britain)

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Evidence: The Complete Fame Records Masters
Evidence: The Complete Fame Records Masters
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £14.20

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Second only to (sometimes joint first with) Aretha.......oh yeah, 14 Nov. 2012
Picture the scene. It's a sultry, emasculating July night, so much so that activity other than sitting and drinking and talking and eating is too much. There's a studio across the road, and despite the weather there's a female singer, some backing singers and some musicians laying down some Southern soul like their lives depended on it, and being generous souls they've got the doors open, so the music sounds out.

I don't know how effective a verbal picture that is, but in an ideal world that music would be what's on these two discs, because it's the best way. There are forty eight tracks across these two discs and the old `all killers, no filler' chestnut applies, for once. The perennially deluded Mick Hucknell covers "That's How Strong my Love Is" on his current album, which only goes to show he should stick to growing grapes. Staton's reading of the song kills his from the moment she sings `If I were....' which as it happens is but a percentage of the first line of the lyric.

The birds must be real wilful for Staton not to sing them out from the trees on "Mr and Mrs Untrue" where she takes hold of the lyric from the first line and the horns and strings carry her all the way. Hell, I'm going to have to start a new paragraph; the goose bumps are getting too much for this one.

One Elvis Presley did a heartfelt reading of "In the Ghetto" but Staton trumps it. Every word is clearly enunciated so the pathos of the lyric -something which the likes of both Hucknell and Joss Stone would either mangle or simply fail to get- sparkles. The resulting verbal picture is far more vivid than anything this writer could convey.

"Are You Just Building Me Up?" wasn't even released until 2011, by this writer's reckoning some 38 years after it was waxed. Why the delay? As with everything here it's a gem, cut in this case in 3:28 and just one of the 48 reasons for buying this set, which I suggest you do even before you've finished reading this sentence. You know it makes sense.

Pete Townshend: Who I Am
Pete Townshend: Who I Am
by Pete Townshend
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 506 pages; 200 would have done., 13 Nov. 2012
If ever anyone was going to write something other than the clichéd laddish `rock star' autobiography then Townshend's the man. Sure enough he's gone and proved it here. Through degrees of sometimes painful honesty and equally painful pretence he tells us more about himself than perhaps the average reader might want to know. His wholeheartedness has to be admired, but his commitment to ART (the capitals really apply in his case) is more than a little wearing, just as his weakness for spending copious amounts of money is.

This is a book reflective of the idea of life as a journey, so no surprise there. Townshend is particularly good on the sense of salvation that music can bring to a young -particularly perhaps male- life even while he makes no reference to it as such, and he's a writer gifted to the point where the reader gets a sense of the north-west London milieu he grew up in.

As a child and young adult he was undoubtedly precocious in some respects; his claim to have heard `the music of the spheres' at a young age is an obvious and pretentious manifestation of this, while in others he was self-conscious. In a way that's been a strength -very few `rock stars' have shown self-awareness sufficient to realise that playing the role might in fact be quite at odds with them as individuals.

There is however only a heavily veiled sense of Townshend's gratitude for the wealth he's enjoyed as a consequence of fans' commitment to his music. He blithely discusses buying homes, boats and recording studios as though it was the kind of thing the average multi-drop delivery driver does every day, and for all of his grasp of the cocoon he consequently lives in he displays little appreciation for how he's managed to come by such privilege. The amount of names he drops and the frequency he drops them with suggests that for all his angst he still wouldn't be able to function outside of it.

All of this said his dedication of the book `to the artist in all of us' is touching. Such a simple act might have the effect of giving hope to those who struggle with artistic endeavour -I guess he'd refer to it as a muse- even while the drudgery of day-to-day life gets them down. He deserves thanks for the hope and aspiration this might inspire, but it's still necessary to blank out his obvious self-absorption if you're going to get through this book.

Price: £5.06

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where did it all go? (Later it went all over the airwaves), 7 Nov. 2012
This review is from: Sextant (Audio CD)
Flugelhorn, bass clarinet, trombone, cowbell, electric bass, drums, synthesizers, electric piano and clavinet with fuzz wah and echoplex, dacha-di-bello, melotron (sic), Steinway piano, congas, bongos. This is the instrumentation for `Hidden Shadows' the second track on this album. I've listed it because it gives an insight into what's going on here, which is jazz-rock fusion from 1973, so before the whole notion settled down to be a vehicle for self-indulgence and solo overload.

This is an album which, along with MWANDISHI from 1971 and CROSSINGS from the following year captures a sextet unlike any other in fusion history. It also says something for Hancock's artistic development considering he's shied away from such risk-taking in the decades since. But it wouldn't be fair to assume that the collision of funk, psychedelia, and jazz that `Hidden Shadows' is and which both predates and surely influenced Prince can be put out every day.

Indeed the whole album's nothing if it isn't rarefied music. `Hornets' took up the whole of the second side of the LP. As it develops it shows a measure of debt to Miles Davis in his ON THE CORNER period, but then Davis and Hancock had form enough not only to be in the fusion vanguard but also to ensure that the form could be restless and exploratory, as opposed to commoditised for spoon-feeding to a less demanding audience. Bennie Maupin is a musician probably pathologically incapable of flirting with the bland anyway, as he shows here on bass clarinet.

Hancock went on to have a hit album with HEADHUNTERS later in the decade, but as far as this writer's concerned it was a hit mainly because it's so straightforward by comparison with the endlessly intriguing -in places baffling- stuff to be found here. But then there's never been any accounting for taste.

Goldsmiths - Iskra 1903
Goldsmiths - Iskra 1903
Price: £14.20

5.0 out of 5 stars Wide open, 5 Nov. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Goldsmiths - Iskra 1903 (Audio CD)
Musicians have been freely improvising for longer than we can know; Iskra 1903's guitarist Derek Bailey highlighted the fact that humanity's very first musical expression could only have been an act of it. But an outcome of the approximately half a century in which such music has been regularly documented on record is that the music still retains a capacity to surprise.

Bailey, trombonist Paul Rutherford and bass player Barry Guy were all well versed in the techniques even at this relatively early stage in their respective careers. Only AMM can claim greater longevity in terms of being a freely improvising group with a relatively stable line-up; they've been around for almost as long as free improvisation has commanded respect as a musical practice, while Iskra 1903's existence with this line-up was relatively brief.

All of which is no more than a preamble to stating that this is one special performance. The music is by turns volatile or tranquil to the point where it seems to show deference to the silence the trio is breaking, as on the lengthy opening `Cohesion 1A' where at times they gel in such a way as to suggest the trio thought as one.

Despite its comparative brevity `Cohesion 2B' has that thrilling effect of making the listener think synapses might be getting gently rewired. Rutherford seems almost garrulous in places, keen to talk even while his two comrades play like men to whom `words' don't come so easily. The trio's extraordinary ability to make the most of the moment is never jeopardised, though, any more than is the assertion that this is a seminal document in terms of free improvisation captured from the ether.

The Complete Thelonious Monk Quartet Columbia Studio Albums Collection
The Complete Thelonious Monk Quartet Columbia Studio Albums Collection
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £19.84

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ugly beauty, 5 Nov. 2012
This box set's title makes no false claims. The albums MONK'S DREAM, CRISS-CROSS, IT'S MONK'S TIME, MONK, STRAIGHT, NO CHASER and UNDERGROUND were recorded between 1962 and 1967 and they're all here, complete with alternate takes on every disc apart from STRAIGHT, NO CHASER.

Considering Monk's posthumous reputation it's surprising that this collection is the fruit of his longest tenure with a record label of any size. Columbia also had Miles Davis on its roster by way of emphasising its importance to American jazz, and in common with Davis Monk produced some of his most intriguingly baffling work for the label, so anyone wanting the comfort zone which often comes with a quartet of tenor sax, piano, bass and drums needs to look elsewhere.

Monk didn't do familiarity, but this collection offers unique insight into the colours and abstractions that can be achieved by those who try, as an earful of `Ugly Beauty' on the UNDERGROUND album shows. Charlie Rouse was both Monk's tenor player of choice for all these albums and a man who took no small measure of critical flak for being neither Sonny Rollins nor John Coltrane, but still his solo on this one is a thing of quiet wonder.

I was but 21 when I bought IT'S MONK'S TIME on vinyl back in 1982, so in a way it was a personal milestone. Decades on I can hear Monk's idiosyncratic way with a standard better than I could then, as on `Lulu's Back in Town' on this album, where his solo expositions bookend the performance.

That way was of course but one element of his artistry. It would be pointless discussing whether or not his abilities as a pianist were greater than his composing abilities, especially when taken as a whole this wonderful set offers a great opportunity to go for the full immersion in his art, and equally especially as there's no hype in asserting that he was one of the 20th century's most distinctive composers regardless of the music he worked in, as `Hackensack' on CRISS-CROSS shows.

Even though the word `essential' is on the way to being so overused that it no longer has any meaning, this set is essential for anyone who values art which falls outside the ever widening and ever more bland mainstream. To such people I say forget `jazz' or whatever label might be put on it and go for that immersion.

Price: £8.64

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Apparently I'm missing something here..., 5 Nov. 2012
This review is from: Coexist (Audio CD)
The XX's first album won one of the annual music prizes, didn't it? Fair enough, someone's got to, if only in the interest of soothing music industry and band egos.

Thanks to what I'm missing about them this is either a band intent on articulating some exquisite boredom, or it's a band so in thrall to its influences that their echoes always get the better of whatever they might have to offer. So `Sunset' is gossamer-light with the influence of Joy Division stripped of all the things that made them so distinctive.

Both singers have drunk deeply at Tracy Thorn's well, but in trying to convey her icy detachment they've opted for sounding like everything is too much effort. Whilst there's nothing wrong with this, it takes a certain poise and level of engagement to bring it off. For my ears neither of them do this, and because their efforts consequently sound so half-hearted, so my level of engagement with The XX's music falls into the same category (at most) as it does on `Reunion' where the sound of steel drums positively intrudes on the torpor.

`Unfold' sounds like something from the Durutti Column from a good while back, at least until the vocal comes in. The fact that the thing is sung by two different people suggests to my cloth-ears that the lyric is intended to tell us something about obsessive love and its inherent dangers, but again that distance between the band and this listener means I can't be bothered to make the effort.

As it is there's little sign of the band moving on from its first album, and while such development isn't compulsory I can't help wondering how much longevity there is in a career apparently founded on torpor. Middle-aged Prime Ministers misguidedly trying to appear hip will probably continue to commit to a sound so unthreatening, and indeed comforting through being rife with past echoes, but this is one old git who's opting out right now.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 1, 2012 9:11 AM GMT

Price: £8.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Is this a Cure tribute act?, 2 Nov. 2012
This review is from: XX (Audio CD)
I came late to this album, buying it three years after it was released; in that time The XX have gained a measure of critical cachet, a point which says more about music writers than it does about the band, and a following which apparently includes David Cameron, which says a lot, none of it positive.

Okay, so if brief instrumental opener `Intro' -how long did it take to think that one up?- was piping out in your nearest shopping mall you'd probably pay it the level of attention you normally devote to background music. `VCR' instrumentally comes on like a lethargic reading of The Cure's `A Forest' from decades back. `Heart Skipped a Beat' features the kind of barely sung vocals that The XX specialize in, together with more Cure echoes and synthetic handclaps. `Basic Space' is stripped down to the point where it desperately wants to be something by the Young Marble Giants, but inevitably doesn't manage it because that band was such a one-off that even after all these years emulation seems pretty pointless. `Stars' strives to reach a less-is-more vibe, but because of the underlying ennui The XX seem to evoke so easily again the intention outstrips the result.

It all ends up in this listener wondering what the positive fuss is about. That ennui runs through The XX's music like -to resort to a cliché- letters through a stick of Blackpool rock, which it has to be admitted is undoubtedly more dangerous to dental health. The XX is however one of those many instances where, regardless of how modest it might be, the hype shouldn't be believed.

Complete November 19, 1962 Stockholm Concerts (3CD)
Complete November 19, 1962 Stockholm Concerts (3CD)
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £14.45

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Questing, 27 Oct. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This music's become a benchmark in the years since it was captured for posterity. In that time the pro- and anti-Coltrane camps have pretty much set out their territory and stayed within it, with no more acknowledgement than the occasional glower in the direction of the opposition. This division of opinion was undoubtedly never Coltrane's intention, but then he was by this time off in pursuit of artistic and spiritual aims which could only divide it. As it is this set is a working edition of music previously available on bootlegs. The sound quality is thus indifferent -pianist McCoy Tyner and bass player Jimmy Garrison are poorly served- but what would now be called the vibe transcends this.

Coltrane's music was considered angry, while by all accounts he was a man unusually at peace with himself. He sounds like it in his theme statement on `Bye Bye, Blackbird' on the first disc and the flow of his phrasing is as idiosyncratic as anything he put on record. Tyner comes to the fore on this one in a manner which highlights how he was perhaps the only `name' pianist for this quartet at the time; there's a passage in his solo where he pays a kind of homage to Red Garland, thus highlighting how this music came out of the tradition as much as it expanded on it.

The pianist gets first bite on `Mr P.C.' on the second disc, where he proves his credentials again and acts as a springboard for drummer Elvin Jones's solo, which in turn sets up the leader in a mood both intense and reflective. Those two qualities were the essential duality in his music, and to the extent that people are still struggling to come to terms with it even now.

The fact is that in his relatively brief working life Coltrane put together a body of music which not only rewards repeated listening but also study close or otherwise. This set highlights it, while on a humbler level it affords a glimpse into the working methods of a quartet that played and thought with one mind.

Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Ever onwards......., 27 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Crescent (Audio CD)
By the time this set was recorded for the Impulse label in 1964 this band had been together a while, but the level of their telepathy was always greater than any amount of time they might have spent playing together. Coltrane himself now had his own thing going on to the extent that he was equally distant from both Coleman Hawkins and his near-contemporary Sonny Rollins; trying to imagine the latter playing anything that Coltrane does in this set is thus virtually impossible.

Although not acclaimed as much as some other titles in Coltrane's discography, this set encapsulates how lyrical a player he was. On the title track his playing is pared down yet expansive, and at times borne aloft on Elvin Jones's percussive drive.

`Wise One' is set up by pianist McCoy Tyner, whose distinctive touch means he can easily set the mood in the space of a few bars. Coltrane's reflection has the effect of making the music hang in the air until the beginning of Tyner's solo at around the three minute mark, where bass player Jimmy Garrison falls in with Jones to create a wave of sound which carries the pianist on.

`Lonnie's Lament' is the longest track on this set, a point of some significance given the length of many of Coltrane's expositions. Again it's not so much restraint as it is reflection which dominates proceedings. To hear this band in this mood is to cop an earful of but one element of its artistry.

Miles Davis's quintet with Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams has become the benchmark for jazz musicians working within the "modern mainstream", and while nothing can be taken away from that band the fact that those same musicians prefer earlier Coltrane than this album says something for the self-containment of this unit. This album defines that, and is thus essential for anyone claiming an interest in "modern" jazz.

Price: £15.47

4.0 out of 5 stars Going forward from way back, 23 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Unspoken (Audio CD)
There have been other reed/piano duos on record -Konitz-Galper, Morgan-Cables, Pepper-Cables- but by comparison with this pairing those have been short-term affairs on record at least. Liebman and Beirach have form going back over decades, and given the longevity of their musical relationship perhaps the first thing which springs to mind is how that's manifested in their understanding.

It's unsurprisingly deep. On Liebman's `Ballad 1' the pair mine a lyrical seam in such a way that it would be unfair to consider the piece in lesser hands. For all of his reverence for Coltrane it's surprising how subliminal that man's influence is on Liebman's tenor sax playing. Here the grain of his tone particularly in the lower registers is the main thing that makes the ear prick up; Beirach is rhapsodically eloquent on this one, although he never overstates his case.

`Tender Mercies' has the duo playing relatively free. Liebman's playing of a wooden flute is notable for how he appreciates the very physicality of the thing. His tone is keening and evocative perhaps of pan pipes, but the duo eventually settles on lyrical territory of their own, which is just as it should be.

Beirach's `New Life' finds Liebman on soprano sax. His debt to Coltrane on the straight horn is again negligible, while the composer proves himself an adept creator of atmosphere.

In short this is music as appreciative of the now old `new thing' as it is of `the tradition' and in a manner which only goes to show how such labels lose meaning with the passing of time. In being both the result of stimulation and stimulating this set makes a claim to the ongoing vitality of creative improvised music.

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