David Emerick: Off Topic, but too cool not to share: iConcertCal is currently the featured (free) download at Apple.

After installing & (re-)launching iTunes, you select
View>Visualizer>iConcertCal and then View>Turn on Visualizer.
Put in your City, State (or country for non-US) and a radius in miles from that city, and it will generate an iCal-like calender of concerts by artists that are in your iTunes library in venues within that area!


The Big Gundown: John Zorn Plays the Music of Ennio Morricone

Bob Burnett: Ennio Morricone. You might not know the name immediately, but you'd know his music. All you have to do is hear that spine-shivering whistle in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Morricone received a lifetime achievement award at the 2007 Academy Awards last night—an honor that was well-deserved. His atmospheric scores for films such as Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Once Upon a Time in the West re-invented how music is used in contemporary film—or in "the good ones" he worked on. Although he's scored well over 350 films in his long career, Morricone, together with director Sergio Leone, created a spare, psychological twist to the western. Their work together in the genre of "spaghetti western," albeit more than 40 years old, remains fresh both visually and in the nuanced yet whacked-out soundtracks.

Morricone was one of the pioneers who changed the boundaries of the soundtrack from being a simple tag-along with the pictures to becoming a new avenue into the reach of a film by expanding the possibility, heightening tension, creating foreshadowing to future scenes, and effecting editing and pacing with his inspired work. In fact, his soundtrack at least once played a pivotal role in how a film was shot. Morricone wrote the music for Once Upon a Time in the West in advance of the film. Director Sergio Leone found the music so compelling that he used it while shooting took place. "Throughout the shooting schedule, we listened to the recording," he recalled." Everyone acted with the music, followed its rhythms, and suffered with its aggravating qualities—which grind on the nerves." The end result was called a "ballet du mort" where the movie's action seems almost choreographed to the atmospheric score. The editing is an incredible mixing of extreme close-ups with expansive wide shots—all looking directly at the soundtrack for motivation.

To honor Morricone, John Zorn made a tribute album called The Big Gundown, originally issued in 1984. It is his re-constituted, very personal take on a wide swath of Morricone's soundtracks—and a reflection on the great debt he owes Morricone in his own development as a composer. The Big Gundown was Zorn's major-label debut for his short-lived stay with Elektra/Asylum-Nonesuch; at the time he was mainly known as a free-wheeling, eccentric East Village improvisor and conductor of spirited scores called "game theories." Today Zorn's reach has expanded dramatically, as a player, producer, owner of record label Tzadik, and as a respected soundtrack composer in his own right. Zorn re-issued The Big Gundown on Tzadik in 2000 with five additional tracks as well as a terrific book of liner notes that include thoughts on the production, still images from the films, and Morricone history.

The album spans a wide range of interpretations of Morricone's music: loud, raucous, atmospheric, quiet, erotic, and catchy. (Catchy? Yeah, catchy—check out Mike Patton singing "The Ballad of Hank McCain.") While at times having little connection to the original Morricone-recorded version of a composition, there is a very clear respect for the spirit of the work—and Morricone himself wrote in the reissue liner notes that "This is a record that has fresh, good, intelligent ideas. It is a realization on a high level, a work done by a maestro with great science-fantasy and creativity."

So you might want to honor Academy Award winner Ennio Morricone by giving a listen to this very honorable take on his work.

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Tin Hat: The Sad Machinery of Spring

Bob Burnett: I remember as a child spending many days exploring the attic in my home. My mom would put down the ladder and I’d climb up. I pulled up an old carpet and made myself a little spot—featuring an old couch, some book cases and a table. I dug through boxes and other stored things and pulled out anything that caught my eye; my dad’s old sports photos, trophies, needlepoint decorations from Christmases past.

All this set-up isn’t because I felt like telling you a cold winter night’s tale of my youth but because listening to Tin Hat’s new album The Sad Machinery of Spring reminds me of those wonderful times in the attic. The album, their fifth in ten years, is a collection of songs that, like things you find by rummaging in the attic, create little precious moments and make your imagination soar.

Tin Hat (known as Tin Hat Trio in a C60 review of an earlier album) continue their wonderful simplicity of bringing together strains of jazz, folk, klezmer, classical, etc. into predominantly instrumental chamber music that blends composed scores with improvisation for a distinct language that is all their own. The current line-up features Tin Hat founders Carla Kihlstetdt (violin and voice) and Mark Orton (guitar and dobro), joined by Ben Goldberg (clarinets) and Tom Waits sideman Ara Anderson (trumpet, harmonium, glockenspiel). “Downtown” NYC improvisation scene member Zeena Parkins (harp and accordion) has been elevated to a full time member too.

In addition to their official above-listed primary instruments, each member (besides Parkins) plays a wide range of other borderline obscure instruments such as marxophone, celeste, and bowed vibes. Apparently Carla Kihlstedt even tackles the bul-bul tarang, known as the banjo of India. The amazing thing to me is that the album doesn’t sound like an ice cream truck menagerie but is settled, spacious and spare. One cut in particular, “The Comet” is a flowing gem of subtle weaves. Underneath the melody, carried by dobro and violin, are pulsing baritone horns, clarinet, and accordion.

I’m not alone in my appreciation of this album—here it is February and BBC critic Peter Marsh calls it "record of the year material." That may be well and good, but for me it’s 2007's frontrunner for best album to listen to in the attic.

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The Beatles: Love

Bob Burnett: I'm not what you'd call a "Vegas Guy." I don't gamble and am not interested in "being entertained" by shows. Granted, I've had a great time wandering around there; the Caeser's Palace/Bellagio shopping mall by itself could probably single-handedly cause world peace. There is no way any fundamentalist religion, regime or government could stand up in the face of such visually opulent, fun-filled spending opportunities. I mean, where else would you find stand-alone Elton John and Celine Dion shops?

So when I found out last spring that The Beatles' "Love" was happening at the Mirage by Cirque de Soleil I was a bit...let's say...underwhelmed. Let me clarify: I don't have a sacred, untouchable, historically frozen Beatles obsession. Of course, when I started buying music as a middle school kid, like many I bought Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road on my first visit to a record store. I bought more Beatles albums, listened a lot, played "Revolution 9" backwards with candles burning and all the other 13-year-old-kid Beatles album things you did in those days. Still, I was underwhelmed by the thought of "Love" because I felt there had to be something incredibly overblown and cynical about a Vegas-type show tapping into the singular genius known as The Beatles.

Then I got the chance to see a rehearsal of "Love" last June.

My articulate, wordsmithy review would be "Whew...that was unreal...amazing." My wife spent the next few months telling people, "As you know Bob hates everything and he thought 'Love' was great." It was great. It's not the gaudy, silly-love-song-tainted McCartney plays the Super Bowl halftime show la-de-dah fest I figured it would be. It's more Marcel Duchamp than showtune; it's complex, engaging, visually and physically stunning, and thought-provoking. It's even a tastefully moving homage to John Lennon and George Harrison. The stage is in the round and is presented in pristine 7.1 surround sound. I could blather on and on but I'd highly suggest you find a way to see it. The reason I bring it up is because the stage show soundtrack is way more advanced than the Love CD. I wish I had a recording of the actual 90-minute show because in many ways that experience makes the Love CD sound a bit safe. The stage show has wonderfully layered collages of Liverpool-drawl studio banter, false starts and sound sculptures intermingling within much more aggressive segues and song transitions.

At this point it's pretty common knowledge that Love is a re-working of Beatles songs by George Martin and his son Giles. They used the creatively freeing technology of Pro Tools to digitally separate out tracks, re-configure, re-think and re-position this bit of a song with that bit of another song and present songs you've heard three million times in a new way. I find the listening experience to be refreshing and fun; it doesn't make me suddenly like any of the kitschy songs I've never liked ("Octopus's Garden" and "Yellow Submarine" for instance) but it certainly expands the scope of possibility into a new view of The Beatles' songs and I appreciate that it's not a greatest hits medley. The beyond Love big picture for me is how much I enjoy how Pro Tools-type digital re-mixing technology has opened up the whole "mash-up" concept of taking parts of some songs, rhythm tracks of others, and other sonic sources, and sculpting them into a new piece in the same manner Joseph Cornell collaged visual objects. Love is sort of a mash-up. It's not completely rotorelief postmodernist dizzying like DJ Food's pure genius Raiding the 20th Century work but it is worth having. If anything you gain an appreciation for the high-quality of the original Beatles recordings and timelessness of their playing and songwriting. Who knows—maybe the outcome of Love will be the The Beatles CD catalog will be remastered and re-released properly—just like what happened with The Velvet Underground albums.

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Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar

Bob Burnett: I was very happy to suddenly find the first new Ornette Coleman album in a decade. I was even happier when I listened to it.

“Sound Grammar” was recorded live in Italy in October of 2005. Ornette, ever youthful at age 75, plays alto sax and trumpet. Two basses are prominently featured (Greg Cohen plucks and Tony Falanga bows), and the supportive, understated drumming of son Denardo Coleman rounds out the quartet.

The compositions on this album reflect fifty years of Ornette’s creativity in composition and refract a new direction for performance. Using two of the same instrument is not new to Ornette—Prime Time, his plugged-in, multi-layered James Brown meets No Wave band did so with double guitars and drums. But this double-double bass configuration takes me further into past worlds explored by Ornette. Greg Cohen harkens to the era of Charlie Haden’s rapid, rhythmic runs from the late '50s-early '60s, and Tony Falanga brings the bowed technique David Izenson brought to the Live at the Golden Circle: Stockholm trio circa 1965. Having them both together in complementary, flowing interaction is like the old Doublemint chewing gum ad: two—two fresh tastes in one.

Bass player Greg Cohen should be mentioned further—in addition to playing with Ornette, he’s a mainstay of Masada, John Zorn’s incredible quartet, as well as musical director for Tom Waits. And there’s a C60 connection to Greg Cohen—C60 started about 10 years ago when Kim got five friends (see “original crew” list on the side of the blog) in touch via email to share ideas and make each other cassettes (and later CDs) of music. One of my CDs for C60 was an Ornette Coleman late-'50s-early-'60s quartet / Masada circa early-mid-'90s back and forth / compare and contrast. Shortly after I made that disc a few C60ers (Scott, Bob, and Walt) went to a Masada gig at Tonic in New York City and found ourselves between sets leaning against a side wall in conversation with Greg Cohen. I mentioned the Ornette-Masada CD I’d made. Cohen seemed somewhat bemused by the similarities I found in their music because as a player working directly with Coleman and Zorn he said they worked in vastly different ways. From hearing the current configuration I see Cohen’s point. Where Masada is connected to Ornette’s classic, splashy seat-of-the pants quartet sound of 45+ years ago (Ornette, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell/Billy Higgins), the current line-up is vastly different; they stretch the melodies and open the compositions with thoughtful introspective playing. In many cases Ornette leaves vast room for interplay between bass players; on some compositions stepping back and listening to them himself.

I really enjoy hearing new approaches on several of these compositions: “Turnaround” (originally titled “Turnabout”), one of his early classics, maintains its quaint bluesy theme. When I hear it I think of Ornette as a boy back in Fort Worth, Texas wandering around, kicking a can and whistling early strands of this future song. “Sleep Talking” was originally a grooving, pulsing jam on Prime Time’s out-of-print masterwork Of Human Feelings. I always hear a Stravinsky theme from The Rite of Spring hovering—this much slower version paints beautifully Ornette’s uptapped melodic sense. “Song X” was the title cut on his collaboration with Pat Metheny.

It’s nice to see that time has made Ornette Coleman a national treasure. But unlike many who live off past glories, this effort shows me he’s still searching for new ways to approach composing and new ways to assemble a band to perform in such a powerful way.

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David Behrman: On the Other Ocean

Bob Burnett: It was 1977 at Mills College’s Center for Contemporary Music and something magical happened that forever impacted music. I’ll let composer/teacher David Behrman take it from here:
We were almost young and living in California where the sun was usually shining, the Vietnam War had ended, the scourges of the Eighties were undreamed of, and a new device called the "microcomputer" was in the hands of some extremely intelligent graduate students. The students were trying to figure out whether this new device might contribute something interesting to music, and I was studying with them (although the college catalog claimed that I was their teacher).
What came out of their “figuring out” were two very early compositions that used microcomputers as “players” in tandem with other human “players”: or what came to be known as “interactivity” between machines and people.

“Figures in a Clearing” became the first recorded piece of David Behrman’s to use a microcomputer for music. The computer was named “Kim-1”—a crude predecessor to the Apple IIe—and ran a program that varied the time intervals between chord changes. The time intervals were modeled on the motion of a satellite in falling elliptical orbit around a planet. Cellist David Gibson was given a “score” which was a list of six pitches. His only instruction, beyond being limited to the six pitches, was not to speed up his playing when the computer-controlled rhythm did.

The other side of the album was called “On the Other Ocean.” Created a few weeks later, it featured fellow Mills teacher Maggi Payne (flute) and student Arthur Stidfole (bassoon) in a duet improvisation based on another select group of pitches. This time, Kim-1 was set-up to sense the order and timing in which the six pitches are played and to react by sending harmony-changing messages to two handmade synthesizers.
When we went into the Mills recording studio that sunny September afternoon with the breeze blowing through the Golden Gate, we had had no previous rehearsal. Maggi Payne and Arthur Stidfole had never performed together; the simple software (typed laboriously by hand in machine language into the tiny hexadecimal keypad of the "Kim-1" microcomputer) had just been completed. I had no idea what would happen.

What happened was the second of two strikingly gorgeous compositions that each in their own way were complex yet meditative ambient works before anyone knew to call them ambient. They brought together the warmth and mystery of improvised playing with the coloring of computer-generated sound shifts. “On the Other Ocean” is a particularly fascinating listen to me because it maintains an overall calmness in the midst of occasional, seemingly random pitch shifts and overlays from the computer effects.

I look at this recording as well as other pioneering works in electro-acoustic environments on the Lovely Music label as vital influences for what electronic-based music and digital instrumentation evolved into and is today. To me, actively listening to the Lovely Music catalog (artists such as Robert Ashley, Jon Hassell, Alvin Lucier, Tom Johnson) is (to paraphrase the thoughts of Paul Morley in his incredible and essential read Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City) the “completion of the musical circuit.”

Morley continues:”I did not create the work but I feel by hearing the pieces and by responding to it with my own thoughts I am helping to finish them off. I am the final element in the making of something great called music. The music has become useful because of my own perception of what music is, and why it exists.”


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Yo La Tengo: I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

Bob Burnett: This is probably the best album of cover songs I've heard in a while.

Only one slight problem with that...there aren't any cover songs on it. Yo La Tengo wrote everything.

This album is joyfully all over the place: vamp jams; falsetto AM radio pop; longing ballads; riffing horn sections; hooks; bridges; small string, brass, and woodwind ensembles; fuzz, feedback, improvisation...but wait! There's more!

This is the result of three music-making record collectors crafting an homage album. I can almost picture band members Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan, and James McFew standing at podia holding buzzers, Jeopardy style. The Alex Trebek guy (who happens to look like an indie record store clerk) says, "The Necks listening to Sister Ray"—buzzers and lights go off and one of them shouts "what is the first song on our album?" "Right!" shouts Indie Alex, "...now go put it together as a fuzz-drenched but groovin' guitar-jam improvisation"—and off they go to make an amazing cut like album opener "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind."

The last couple of extraordinary Yo La Tengo albums (2003's And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out and Summer Sun) have felt consistently thematic in a way that songs create an overall album atmosphere and effortlessly segue into each other. (I might add that Summer Sun took some critical grief for tying beachy relaxation together with spacey avant jazz, with thanks to legendary musicians such as William Parker being part of the mix. I had to sigh as reviewers went down that hand-wringing, head-shaking "well, they are in decline" road. No way, said I. I loved it, played it to death and still think it's great.)

And I think this one is great in an entirely different way. This album's head-spinning shifts make each song jump out like popping the pre-set station buttons on an old car radio. For instance, check out the jump from a slow, achingly touching song like "Feel Like Going Home" into "Hey Mr. Tough"—a falsetto-ey, piano-cowbell-and-horn-section pop groover that has the amalgamated sound of goofy Vince Guaraldi piano, high-pitched school-of-Van-Morrison vocals and Parliament's Horny Horns together on a Tuesday night roasting marshmallows out back at an AM radio transformer...cleaned up in a good Yo La Tengo way. And from there we go to Byrds-inspired riffs gently wrapped in a lovely floating feedback shell with yet another unmatchable YLT genius-inspired bridge riff within "The Race Is On Again." Don't touch that dial! You'll miss a Can meets the Ft. Apache Band/farfisa organ moment!!! Your turn...listen and find the hidden treasures yourself—both reverent and original. There's a million of 'em within these sonic walls.

I greatly respect YLT's longevity, wit and creative energy. It's not every day that an established band would break into vastly different directions the way they do—and cleverly succeed with every effort.

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Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking

Bob Burnett: "Unhalfbricking" is one of my favorite albums by one of my favorite groups of the British folk-rock scene of the late '60s. With a roster of excellent players (including Dave Swarbrick, Simon Nicol and Ashley Hutchings), this particular Fairport Convention spotlit Sandy Denny’s incomparable singing, and shows the emergence of a young Richard Thompson playing guitar with a ringing, bending, eastern-tinged tone that has since become his trademark sound. Just check out the long, slowly evolving version of "A Sailor's Tale" for classic Thompson sound. The album also features many Bob Dylan covers—thanks to album producer Joe Boyd, who had access to the songs through a relationship he had with Dylan’s British publisher, Feldman's. I am especially drawn to their version of "Percy’s Song," an outtake from Dylan's "The Times They Are a Changin'." You may recall another version being performed spur of the moment by Joan Baez in the D. A. Pennebaker film "Don’t Look Back." "Percy's Song" is a captivating real-life song that tells the story of a man unfairly sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison for manslaughter after four were killed in a car accident in which he was driving. The song is a haunting foreshadowing of what was soon to happen to Fairport. Shortly after this album was made the band’s tour van was involved in an auto accident that killed drummer Martin Landle and Richard Thompson’s girlfriend, Jeannie Franklin. Others in the group were injured. The tragedy sent the band into a re-evaluation of their future; somehow they recovered, re-grouped, and went on to make another landmark album, Liege and Lief.

Joe Boyd’s producing contributions should be further mentioned—not just for his work with Fairport but for the unrivaled roster of music he produced under his Witchseason Productions label in the late '60s–early '70s: Nick Drake, John Martyn, Vashti Bunyan, early Pink Floyd, and The Incredible String Band, to name a few. He later went on to start Hannibal Records and produce Richard and Linda Thompson’s significant album Shoot Out the Lights in 1982.

While the original recording was excellent, this re-mastered version of Unhalfbricking sounds even better. It has two relevant bonus tracks and an interesting in-depth booklet that features photographs and reflections by band member Ashley Hutchings. This version also returns the rightful cover artwork; the interestingly framed band shot—way back in the lawn through a fence—with Sandy Denny’s parents, Neil and Edna standing proudly surrounded by the family home in Wimbledon, South London. I bring this point to light because the American release of this album originally had a disgraceful cover—one of the goofiest remakes of cover art I’ve ever seen (left). Apparently the re-do was a jingoistic attempt to market "hippie" to America. Albeit a group inspired by Dylan and The Byrds, this album is decidedly not Madison Avenue hippie—to me the songs are firmly of the earth and sea and not of two-bit ozone and smoke. The playing is tight, driving, and spellbinding. Not a surprise they were frequently compared to The Jefferson Airplane, another non-hippie hippie band.

It is baffling to me that in this era of "classic rock radio," classic music like Fairport Convention isn't heard—at least on radio in the USA. Admittedly, I don't listen to the radio for music and perhaps XM or Sirius occasionally finds a niche for them. I just can't believe that a format with plenty of room for Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Supertramp, etc., etc., etc., can't find an audience for this great band. Maybe it's different in Europe—I'd be curious to know.

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Bert Jansch: The Black Swan

Kim Kirkpatrick: A longtime staple of my musical collection, Bert Jansch, has a new release, The Black Swan, on Drag City. Praise and props to Drag City (a label with a huge, varied “alternative” roster) for releasing this new Jansch recording last fall. Jansch is a giant of the guitar, reaching back to the early 'sixties, and of English Folk and folk rock music. He inspired Neil Young and Jimmy Page some forty years ago, and continues to receive accolades from younger musicians such as Johnny Marr, previously the creative guitarist in The Smiths (The Beatles of the 'eighties). With this recording Jansch has the assistance of several contemporary musicians, with a varied lineup from track to track. This includes Beth Orton and Devandra Banhart joining him on vocals, 'cello by Helena Espvall (of Espers), and David Roback (of Mazzy Star) on one track playing slide guitar. In addition there are three fine (and very welcomed by this listener) solo cuts of vocals and guitar.

Bert Jansch has a distinctive, rich British voice, though perhaps an acquired taste for some. His guitar playing has always been breathtaking, stunning, beautiful—and it certainly can be traced back to English folk, his solo and group (The Pentangle) work. Jansch’s powerful, percussive, finger-picking style has always revealed strong blues and jazz styling as well. He has a rich discography of solo work going back forty years, and also many essential releases with The Pentangle. This sophisticated folk/blues/jazz tinged group included Bert Jansch, Danny Thompson on acoustic bass, John Renbourn on guitar, Terry Cox on percussion, and Jacqui McShee’s strong, pure vocals.

The Black Swan has the tone and feeling of Jansch’s solo work and that of The Pentangle. This release includes a couple of songs previously performed by The Pentangle, “A Woman Like You” and “ Watch The Stars.”* Kevin Barker plays lead guitar on "Watch The Stars." Barker is yet another diverse contemporary musician (with a couple releases on the Teen Beat label), who most recently appeared on I am The Resurrection: A Tribute to John Fahey on Vanguard. Also on this track, Beth Orton joins Jansch on vocals and guitar—a risky endeavor for her, comparisons to Jaqui McShee being inevitable.

This predictable vocal comparison is a bit disturbing to me, having heard and read a few comments to the effect that Orton’s singing is inferior to McShee's. Now, I've been guilty of criticizing cover versions in general, insisting that the original is the only one to revere. With Jansch involved, though, this really isn’t a cover version—and besides, I have the highest respect for and interest in any musical attempts he offers us. He has not let me down on The Black Swan, and I have to give it up for Beth Orton’s participation in general, and on this particular song. “Watch The Stars” as performed on The Black Swan is different, much more of a relaxed folk song, not as big or ethereal as The Pentangle version, but also not inferior. I like Beth Orton’s singing. She has a nice traditional country blues quality to her voice. In general her vocals contrast nicely with Jansch’s deeper, but soft, voice.

As you may have noticed on the C60 site, our writing often directs you to related and essential music, not just the currently reviewed one. Bert Jansch is no exception. His solo work, duet work with John Renbourn, and Pentangle releases are all worthy of exploration. Perhaps my own past experience will explain how excellent these recordings are. Back when I owned vinyl I made it a point to own two copies of all the above musical releases—one to play on the air and one to preserve and protect.

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*Both "Watch The Stars" and "A Woman Like You" first appeared on The Pentangle’s Sweet Child double LP live recording. I'm not normally one to direct people to a live album as a starting point, but this wonderful performance is the exception. Currently you can get a re-mastered 2CD version with several extra tracks, plus the two songs above which only appear on this live album as performed by The Pentangle.


The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground and Nico

Kim Kirkpatrick: As a follow-on to my earlier review, I want to emphasize again how important the re-mastering of The Velvet Underground and The Velvet Underground & Nico is. On the remasterings you hear the music of this all-important, seminal rock group as they were truly captured on the master tapes. The improvement is groundbreaking—it goes way beyond any other releases, including the two box sets I have.

Besides being able to hear the subtleties of voice and instruments, this improvement calls for a rewriting of rock history. For almost 40 years, one defining aspect of The Velvet Underground was the harsh, low-fi sound, soundboard needles pinned right, an overall static sound quality. Many a subsequent band has name-checked The Velvet Underground, citing them proudly for influencing their own muddy, poorly-produced music. Now, I'm not one for perfect, clean production, and some bands deliberately go for a more live sound, or an all-in-the-mix-together mushiness that can work. But the clarity and separation of these re-mastered Velvet Underground releases destroys the long held believe they were deliberately presenting low-fi, poorly recorded albums.

In retrospect, knowing what a perfectionist and musical genius Lou Reed is, it makes sense that such detail was there in The Velvet Underground tapes all along.

I still crank up my Quine Tapes, fuss with the EQ, and enjoy hearing this band in bootleg, cassette-quality sound. But without question, the re-mastered, technologically improved re-issue of The Velvet Underground and The Velvet Underground & Nico is a revolutionary change in the history of rock music.

Both recordings (as well as White Light/White Heat) are 1996 releases and in their description will say "(ORIGINAL RECORDING REISSUED) (ORIGINAL RECORDING REMASTERED)." Make sure these are the versions you purchase—and do note they are less than $10.00 each!

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Bob Burnett:
The other day a friend dropped by my office who is in the VU "know"—meaning 30+ years of listening to pitifully "mastered" murk but in his heart knowing there was magic somewhere. I asked if he'd heard the remasters. "Nope—I saw the blog comments tho'" was his reply; somewhat believing these were better versions but skeptical after so many promises in the past.

I motioned him into my office and played a few cuts—the look on his face said it all. I knew the look from my own similar feelings upon hearing them. It was the equivalent to the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the bad guy Nazis opened the sacred ark of the covenant; there was a fleeting moment of beautiful, angelic swirl. Well, imagine if those beautiful, blissful angels didn't go hellfire and brimstone and continued their heavenly majesty accompanied by a soundtrack of strumming warm guitars, naked arpeggios, breathy clear vocals and ambient space that hummed with amplified separation and clarity...that's what these remasters mean to us. Yep—it's the long lost ark...however instead of gold, angels and salvation we get something better: a beautiful banana.


Maya Beiser: World to Come

Bob Burnett: In her earlier career as cellist in Bang On A Can All-Stars, cellist Maya Beiser was part of a group that captivated audiences worldwide with their virtuosity, eclectic repertoire, and relentless quest to redefine contemporary music. Bang On A Can All-Stars gained a lot of respect from me for their warm and flowing version of Brian Eno’s ambient masterwork Music For Airports. They are also responsible for one of my favorite renditions of Terry Riley’s noted work In C. Beiser has moved on to a solo career—literally. World to Come is a solo cello excursion that expands the already beautiful sound of a cello into a multi-layered sound device creating colorful variations in tone, duration and timbre that combine seamlessly to make for haunting and beautiful sound montages.

Maya had an interesting life as a child. She grew up on a kibbutz in the foothills of the Galilee Mountains in Israel, her family was part of a progressive Jewish community that lived peacefully with the neighboring Muslim and Christian Arab villages. The bringing together of these diverse communities naturally brought many forms of Middle Eastern music into her life: she heard her neighbors' celebrations and holidays as well as the stark echoes from minarets as the Muezzin called the faithful for prayers.

World to Come only builds on the musical diversity she experienced as a child—the album features compositions by Osvaldo Golijov (Argentina), David Lang (USA), Arvo Part (Estonia) and John Teverner (England). The range of compositional styles is also dramatically diverse but with an overall result that is remarkably connected as a contemplative, atmospheric work.

At first I was skeptical of the multi-layering approach Beiser uses. I thought of Bill Evans’ album Conversations With Myself where he overdubbed three tracks of piano. It’s still Bill Evans…but…I’m happier to hear him really solo. In Beiser's case I must say I’m very pleased because she uses the layers to her advantage by creating a wide range of tones; at times it becomes what almost sounds like distant human voices. The centerpiece on this album is Arvo Part’s composition "Fratres (For 4 Cellos)." It taps into Part’s rich liturgical legacy; weaves slowly and elegantly with controlled pacing that makes for an imaginative listening experience similar for me to dudek player Djivan Gasparyan’s album I Will Not Be Sad In This World. I also connect with John Tavener’s ghostly “Lament To Phaedra,” a starkly beautiful composition in the hands of Beiser.

Shirin Neshat

I read that Beiser has raised the art of live cello performances to what have been called "solo multimedia dreamscapes." Her live, overlapping playing is the soundtrack for a multi-media presentation that also features projected film images by Iranian-born/New York City based filmmaker Shirin Neshat. Never having been in an audience for their performances I can only imagine how amazing an experience Beiser’s and Neshat’s work together must be. Neshat creates vivid film imagery primarily for museum installations—I’ve seen some of her work that focuses on her past reflections growing up as a young woman in a less-than-pleasant Iran.

So there you have it—one review, one solo instrument; a world of connections.

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