Dean and Britta: Back Numbers

Bob Burnett: Luna. They were a special band.

If you scroll down the list of things we tend to write about on C60, take pinches and appreciative nods from said list, mix them together with a brisk shake-up, the cream that would rise to the top would be Luna.

Luna admirably called it quits at their apex a few years ago, after more than a decade of tapping out their special craft of intertwining guitars, understated and perfectly fashioned lyrics, etc. etc. laundry list of rock music superlatives. Dean Wareham was the focal point of Luna: the guy at the mic with a guitar and the primary writer of songs. Bass player Britta Philips joined in 1999 after years of indie rock bands, movie parts and cartoon voice-over work. I recall seeing them with C60 pal Kim when Britta first joined—at the original Black Cat in D.C. She looked new-person nervous but was a terrific addition to the band with her thoughtful and melodic basslines.

So now they’ve evolved from Econoline van-traveling band mates in Luna to the recently married couple/musical cohorts Dean & Britta. They made an album a few years back called l'Avventura that I played so much my kids began calling it the “la-la-la-la album” thanks to a particularly grabbing lyrical segment. Back Numbers is their second full-length album and features a mix of semi-kitschy albeit always respectful cover songs, a few originals and an overall sway-swoon of a vibe that is sleepy, soothing and occasionally kind of goofy in a Dean and Britta kind of suave/clever goofiness way. "Words You Used to Say" (from last year's EP of the same name) has the most initial punch—and indirect Luna-ness. And while we’re playing what song sorta sounds like an old band "Crystal Blue R.I.P." has echoey touches of Wareham’s pre-Luna gig, Galaxie 500. There is also a cover of Lee Hazelwood's "You Turn My Head Around" that has Britta belting Ann-Margret style. Seems like a song you'd hear wafting through the brightly painted suburban neighborhood in "Edward Scissorhands" for some reason.

But besides the one "Brittabelter" moment, the album stays within a casual approach that is a rather enjoyable listen; one of those albums that you put on, sit down, complement yourself on your well-placed speakers and let its tracks slowly unravel. Yeah, I’ll admit Dean and Britta and producer Tony Visconti make the whole approach kind of light and fluffy, with soft strings, jangles, vibrato, lushy fills and an occasional snicker of casio keyboard, but I felt I should write about it because it is starting to become a familiar face on my cd player.

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Karl Larsson: Pale as Milk

Kim Kirkpatrick: The Swedish band Last Days of April has been together for over a decade, and have released six full length CDs*. Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Karl Larsson leads LDoA, and through the years has moved the band from emocore to pure pop music. On Pale As Milk, which was was released in 2005, Karl Larsson played all the instruments, wrote all the songs, and handled the production and recording duties. However, Pale as Milk does not sound like a multi-track indulgence, nor does it sound sterile or mechanized.

Though Pale as Milk is a solo endeavor, it sounds like a band performing—it is warm and interwoven, and natural, song after song. It is so well crafted that it is best listened to in its entirety. Seriously. And I am not saying that lightly—Larsson’s level of thought and quality is rare.

Bonus points for Mr. Larsson for not fading any of his songs out, a common gambit I find annoying and, well, lame. I suspect Karl Larsson doesn’t fade out his songs because he knows the power of transition and how to use deliberate endings and beginnings. The segueing of these nine songs is worthy of your attention—the care, subtlety, and interrelation is a pleasure to hear.

In researching Karl Larsson, and specifically this solo release, I read that it was all about "spontaneity" for him, and that it "doesn’t share the same struggle for perfection" as his work in LDoA. I am quite familiar with LDoA (thanks, Nick) and even more so with Pale as Milk, and I don’t understand the comment. The level of detail—the layering of the instrumentation—perhaps a hundred sonic touches—even the knob-turning on the production has a creative fluctuation and excitement. Most of the songs are built on three excellent, warm-toned guitar tracks, but lots of other sounds come in to play as well. Bass and drums (of course), various electric keyboards, perfectly placed and controlled feedback. As an example of the detail and subtlety, on "Lion’s Escape" a toy xylophone is mixed in (briefly) with gargantuan rhythm guitar. (I found it interesting he wrote and sang a song from a Lion's perspective.)

Now, I've heard moans about Mr. Larsson’s voice; personally I like his singing. I read a review that claimed all the songs sound the same, like he repeated one song. Of course I don’t agree with that opinion, and I wonder why anyone who thought that would bother to write a review. Sample a few songs, check out his voice, his sound. This is not a cheap CD, but I encourage you to check it out. Pale as Milk is intricate, perfect pop music, a release you can spend many hours getting familiar with.

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CLICK HERE to buy the Japanese version, with two extra tracks

*Last Days of April are on tour now supporting a new release, one I hope to hear very soon. They are planning on touring for the first time in North America in late spring.


Matt Sweeney and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy: Superwolf

Bob Burnett: You've probably heard it before. Or at least for your sake I hope you have.

It's that naked guitar sound that grows—in volume and in its raw intensity—and it appears on the first track of something you are playing for the first time. You immediately take notice and decide that regardless of where this song or even where this album goes from here matters little because it sounds like this at the start. "My Home is the Sea," the first song on Superwolf, gives me that feeling. And fortunately it persists throughout the album in a deep and penetrating way.

Will Oldham in Matewan

Bonnie "Prince" Billy is one of several names Will Oldham uses in music (Palace, Palace Music, and Palace Brothers are a few others). You may also recall Oldham as a "kid actor." He was impressive in the roll of the true-believing, mine-worker-supporting teenager "Danny" in John Sayles' 1987 film Matewan. Oldham has a quality in his voice that is reminiscent of Stephen Stills' finest moments; a controlled quietness in his rich vibrato tone elegantly brings lingering emotion and tension to the lyrics. (Think Stills' classic "4+20" on CSNY's Deja Vu to get some semblance of reference to my point.)

Matt Sweeney is a perfect duet with Will Oldham; his guitar sounds solid, full and direct. There's nothing noodling or affected—just straightforward playing that's full of feeling. I like this album like I like Low's albums. There's a special building, tense deepness that's always there. Nothing goes fast, nothing gets complicated or overly played. You know you are in the presence of listening to something worthy, and it demands your attention.

Matt Sweeney has been around the indie music block. He's played with Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan in Zwan and interpreted the "aliens have landed" sonic world of Guided by Voices, and served a stint in Chavez. In this situation he wrote songs for Oldham that sound remarkably like Oldham songs to begin with. Apparently Oldham "challenged" Sweeney to make this album with him. That sounds a bit contrived to me, but hey, the end result makes the case that it doesn't matter how the project came about as much as the fact that it did. As a sidebar I also like the 2003-released Bonnie "Prince" Billy album Master and Everyone; albeit primarily an acoustic album much different from Superwolf, it possesses a similar quiet strength. Just the other night I was playing it, found myself hanging on each note and needed to stop what I was doing and just sit and listen.

Admittedly, I haven't followed Will Oldham's work that closely over the years but am enjoying the discovery process and look forward to exploring his body of work. If you can offer more suggestions please do so in the comments—I would love to know where to go next!

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Thelonious Monk Septet: Monk's Music

Bob Burnett: Monk’s Music was recorded in June 1957, placing it among post-be-bop, pre-'60s "new thing" explorations. 1957 marked an important point in the career of Thelonious Monk and this album became his breakout. For most of the '50s he was known as a sideman, playing as support on live gigs and making recording dates mostly for other musician's albums. Granted, he was a cog in the well-oiled machinery of be-bop; however, he was also considered an out-of- the-ordinary eccentric. He wore a wide range of hats on gigs—ranging from poofy fur ones to bean-picking straw; he frequently would play a solo with feet bouncing about the whole time, moves that sometimes led to full-scale dances around the piano while the rest of the band played on.

One fabled story had him playing one moment, the next hopping up and dancing offstage into the kitchen of the club where he immediately fell into conversation with a busboy busy washing dishes, eventually returning to the stage to wrap out the song.

So—sitting him in a red wagon in hepcat crocodile-smile shades was probably seen as, "yeah...okay...that works" by the powers that be at Riverside Records. The album’s design was created by Paul Bacon, considered to be at the forefront of innovative graphic design and illustration in that era. Paul Bacon’s magic touch redefined and upped the ante of design for both album cover art as well as bestseller book jackets. In addition to creating many famous LP covers specifically for Riverside and Blue Note in the 1950s, he later masterminded the vivid, colorful designs seen on the book covers for Catch-22, Portnoy's Complaint, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. [Ed. note: the current covers of the latter two books aren't the originals.] Bacon’s genius to me was his ability to tap into Monk’s personality, be it on this album's design or others such as Brilliant Corners. Part of the reason Bacon was so adept at making the covers resonate with the artist’s persona was that he was a huge jazz fan. In addition to being one of the swinging-est comb and kazoo players around (Bacon played onstage at Carnegie Hall in 1976 as part of “The World of Jelly Roll Morton” program, and in his 80s was still a regular with Stanley's Washboard Kings), he was friends with the artists. Riverside producer Orrin Keepnews brought Bacon along on the meeting with Monk when he signed him to Riverside. Bacon had given Monk great advice in the past and had helped him financially when the chips were down (most likely during Monk’s fabled cabaret card suspension).

The music on Monk’s Music is as ecstatic and playful as being pulled in a red wagon. Aside from starting the album with a short, reverent burst of the spiritual "Abide with Me," it's all Monk compositions, played by a septet that not only represents quite a span in jazz history but is hospitable to his music and his jagged, jumpy playing. Trumpeter Ray Copeland and alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce are solid and supporting throughout. Art Blakey is a churning, burning force on drums; it’s always sounded to me like his on-edge metronome-like high-hat makes you expect the entire drum set to blow apart at any moment. His solos are unlike any I’ve ever heard: pulsing, loud, creative and colorful.

The two tenor saxophonists mark an amazing moment in jazz. There’s the young John Coltrane, part of Monk's working quartet at the time, just on the edge of breaking out to become "John Coltrane." (Due to his unknown-at-the-time status he’s not listed on the front cover with Gigi Gryce, Art Blakey and the era’s known tenor guy, Coleman Hawkins.)

My favorite moment among many occurs on the second cut on the album, "Well You Needn't." After an opening head arrangement Monk goes into a solo, weaves, cuts, and chops away as only Monk could do. Suddenly you hear him mid solo shout out “Coltrane! Coltrane!” Blakey gives a rolling transition and the obviously surprised John Coltrane does a quick “Hey! I’m on,” finds his footing, and takes off on his own solo.

Listening to Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins together is a short history lesson in understanding how their distinctive styles illustrate what had been and what is to come in jazz. Maybe it’s because Coltrane was at that time part of Monk’s regular group but he sounds much more at home with Monk, while Hawkins, albeit his usual virtuoso self, sounds guarded and somewhat safe within the context of the septet. Given that, Hawkins’s playing on "Ruby, My Dear," has been hailed as a landmark moment in his recorded history.


This is an album to have. It is pure listening pleasure. Hitch your own wagon to this one and come along for a boppin' ride.

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Mike Johnston: "Abide With Me" is actually a composed hymn, and it's supposedly the reason for the album's title—it was written by William Henry Monk, the English editor of the 19th-century super-best-seller Hymns Ancient and Modern. As far as I can find out, there's no other connection between William H. and Thelonious apart from their ilk, but apparently Thelonious dug what connection there was. According to Wikipedia, T.M.'s first gig was playing church organ for an evangelist as a teenager, so maybe that's where he picked up the "other" Monk's hymn.

While we're still on the subject of Monk, I want to add my own top nomination for the desert-island CD case (sorry if I'm overusing this hackneyed trope, but hey, it's a blog). It seems pertinent to mention this matched pair, consisting of Thelonious in Action and Misterioso, not only because Bob brought up Monk's Music, but because of his review ten days ago of Bill Evans' Complete Village Vanguard Recordings. As Bob said, that was originally presented to the public on two seemingly separate records, Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debbie, although they were recorded on the same June night in NYC in 1961. Well, same deal with Thelonious in Action and Misterioso, two separate records recorded at the Five Spot Cafe on the same night: August 1, 1958 (Action comes first, and Misterioso adds six more tunes).

You could talk about music like this for the rest of your life, never mind all night, so these words are naught but a sketch of a skeleton. But two points. Yes, this is live recording, and you may have feelings about that—I like live recordings better, with jazz, personally—but, if you can somehow find the 20-bit remastered versions, this is simply among the best sound quality Monk ever got. Okay, the separation is 1950s blatant, and Monk's piano wanders a bit in the stereo spread (but how apppropriate is that for Monk?). Still, the sound is full, rich, and deep, with loads of atmosphere and tactility to the instrumental timbres. This oughta be the audiophool's favorite Monk, sez me. Head and shoulders above the disappointing sound quality of Monk's Music (sorry, I'm blaspheming). A less scandalous comparison: Jazz at the Pawnshop ain't got nuthin' on these for hi-fi, babies.

Second, strange though this may be to say, given all the great personnel Monk recorded with over the years, but I think this is his very best quartet. He's paired with Johnny Griffin on tenor, with Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass and the great Roy Haynes on drums. I can't help thinking, each time I hear these, that all four of these guys are at their very peak on these two records. And although I don't know of any bad Monk, per se, that includes Monk.

A digression while I make an admission: I've never connected all that well with Coltrane. Music—like beauty, sexual attraction, or artistic taste—is at least partly a matter of chemistry, and I just don't have very good chemistry for Coltrane. You might want to take that into account. But great though Coltrane is with Monk, I always get the impression of the two of them side by side—Monk here, Coltrane here. Monk plus Coltrane. With Johnny Griffin, man, it's like a fast-growing vine wrapping itself around the stiff angular branches of a tree; from the opening unison of "Light Blue" all the way to the perfectly coordinated back-and-forth at the outset of "Misterioso," these guys are like two voices in the same body—it's like they're two aspects of one instrument. Talk about sympatico. And this to me is soaring sax. You could call these the best-ever Johnny Griffin albums, and who could argue? Along with this perfect rhythm section, I just don't know how you beat that.

This pair—Monk's Five Spot records—are just inexhaustible. I could listen to them for the rest of my life. In fact, I think I will.


Joni Mitchell: The Hissing of Summer Lawns

Bob Burnett: Since Mike wrote about Throwing Muses' The Real Ramona as a look back to a nostalgic longtime favorite, I might as well share one of mine—Joni Mitchell's The Hissing of Summer Lawns.

I’ve always endured some chatter about this being an example of a slickly-produced L.A. "smooth jazz" studio musician’s album; music performed by hotshot players to be listened to by either other hotshot players or wannabe hotshot players. After all, some of the pioneering legends of instrumental pop play on this album—Larry Carlton, Joe Sample, John Gueren and Robben Ford, to name just a few of the long list of primarily session players. The L.A. Express horns and the Jazz Crusaders are all over this one too. Even Jeff "Skunk" Baxter of Doobie Brothers and early Steely Dan fame makes an appearance.

There’s only one problem with the argument that I should be repulsed on the basic "anti-smooth jazz" principle: I love this album. Always have. Always will.

The Hissing of Summer Lawns came out in 1975, at a time in Joni Mitchell’s career when she was yearning to move beyond the singer-songwriter folky brand she'd been forced to wear. She was transitioning to the complicated world of jazz-tinged writing and to vivid, prosaic stories of life and emotional struggle. The overarching themes of this album focus on loss of control, being controlled, and regret. Think Raymond Carver short stories and place this album’s lyrical theme in the same frame of reference. It weaves in the midst of tales and thoughts that reflect fleeting moments of life passing by—specifically, in one instance ("Harry’s House"), as a submissive housewife lost in suburban ennui.

This album was not viewed as radio-friendly when it was released—which is surprising given its relatively high-gloss sound. The closest thing to a hit was "In France They Kiss on Main St." which topped out at #66 on the Billboard charts. Not a ranking that would be deemed (to quote Joni from "'Free Man in Paris") "the star-maker machinery behind the popular song" (which incidentally holds the distinct honor of being the winner of the C60 Award for "best song that includes the word 'unfettered' in the lyrics" category*). The album did momentarily zip up to #4 on Billboard, but faded quickly. Seems it was just considered too indefinable for the album-rock world of that era. Regardless of not being considered "commercial," it was voted in the top 100 by Germany's Spex magazine's list of 100 greatest albums of the 20th century.

I join the thoughtful Germans in finding the beauty this album offers. Plus, it launched Mitchell into an interesting run of albums circa 1975–1979—Hejira, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, and Mingus.

I feel lucky to have had this album as a teenager; the stories struck me deeply and showed me how important it is not to let life take you someplace out of your control, turning you into something you can’t bear to think about.

Yeah, it’s a heavy message for light listening, but very important.

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* Did we vote on this? I'd want at least an honorable mention for Bette Midler's "The Unfettered Boob," although I suppose it's not really a song. —Mike


Throwing Muses: The Real Ramona

Mike Johnston: Throwing Muses' untitled first album (left), which I have on vinyl and CD, has had a furtive history. The band was the first American group signed to the then-white-hot English label 4AD, and Kristin Hersh's songwriting, like Monk's piano-playing, arrived fully formed (as a friend once put it, "she's an 'is-type' artist, not a 'growth-type' artist"). The album was arguably the most seismically significant debut since Dylan's—genuinely life-changing for many people, many of whom were women. But it was never released in America—has not been to this day, although you can find all ten of its songs on a Rykodisk archive CD called In A Doghouse, grouped with an early EP and some demo tapes once famous as bootlegs, in murky, bottom-of-a-[wishing]-well sound.

That sort of thing is fine with "just music," but great albums are holistic artistic creations that deserve to be respected as having an intended sequence and arc, a defined beginning and end. To have the untitled debut relegated to such treatment (while better, I suppose, than if it were not available at all)—well, it's a tawdry fate for a record that ought to be celebrated as one of the artistic high points of the 1980s.
Throwing Muses as first constituted, in a 1986 4AD promo photograph. Drummer
David Narcizo, Kristin Hersh, Tanya Donelly, and bassist Leslie Langston.

Despite my appreciation for the first album, I eventually drifted away from the band. Nothing could match the vivid intensity of the emotions on the first album and, starting at about Red Heaven in 1992, Hersh's high-frequency hearing had obviously started to go, and consequently the recordings are loaded with so much excess high-frequency energy that they verge on painful on anything but an old silver-faced receiver with tone controls. The Curse hurts my ears—it makes me yearn for earplugs even at moderate volumes—and Hersh's almost unlistenably shrill solo record Hips and Makers was the last thing of hers I bought, although I admit I feel guilty about it sometimes. My respect for her and her songwriting has never abated.

I also think I respond to the Lennon/McCartneyesque dual-personality interplay of Hersh and her stepsister Tanya Donelly in the band's early days, and just plain miss it in the later albums. Donelly was tagged as being more of a "pop" influence than the angrier, more raw-edged, mentally tainted Hersh, and perhaps that's true in the superficial way of most such generalizations. But although the two couldn't get along in the end—Donelly had already formed The Breeders with The Pixies' Kim Deal by 1988 as a side project—their powerful synergy and complementary push-and-pull (and perhaps their interpersonal friction, too) gave the band's early projects a compelling, lively volatility.

Tanya today (2006)

Which brings me around to The Real Ramona. Recorded in 1991, it was the band's fourth album and Donelly's last with the Muses, at least until their 2003 reunion. Although it doesn't reach the artistic heights of the untitled album (few records by anybody do), The Real Ramona is the band's most rollicking, zany, and ear-friendly release, and a pleasure to listen to—the production is solidly mainstream and all the songs are superb. It's the TM album to own if you're going to shelve only one, IMHO. Who knows why it's so little remarked on or listened to now? It's never gotten its due as a great record. Maybe the band's coldness to commercial ambition; maybe the chaotic, confused state of music at that time; maybe a touch of good old Murkin misogyny? I have no clue.

For me, it will always be a desert island disc, reserved for savoring at increasingly longer intervals, but each listen a special occasion.

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Notorious B.I.G.: Greatest Hits

Mike Johnston: Ten years to the week after his death by drive-by and Biggie Smalls has the #1 best-selling album*. You know you're dangerous when you're still dangerous when you're dead. (Click on the pic. Don't you just love culture?)

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*99,000 copies sold in the week ending March 11th, 2007; Christopher Wallace a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G. was killed on March 9th, 1997.


Mats Bergström: SubString Bridge

Bob Burnett: This was a leap-of-faith purchase for me. Mats Bergström is a Swedish classical guitarist who is a professor of guitar music at the Royal University College of Music in Stockholm; I was lured to his record because I noticed the album included the Steve Reich composition "Electric Counterpoint," a three part (fast, slow, fast) overlapping of 12 pre-recorded solo guitar and bass guitar segments in accompaniment with one live guitar.

“Electric Counterpoint” was originally performed by guitarist Pat Metheny on the 1987 Kronos Quartet album Steve Reich: Different Trains. Its overlapping parts create pure Reich energy, all pulsey, melodic and beautiful. I’ve always loved the composition as well as Metheny’s performance. I’m a longtime admirer of Reich’s work in general—going back to 1976 when I first heard "Music for 18 Musicians" on Georgetown University's radio station WGTB. On this album, Bergström offers his own warmly performed version of the piece, and I really enjoy his efforts.

This album mixes together many different directions for the classical guitar—some spooky and spare, some sprightly and melodic, others with Debussy-style chord clusters. The particularly engaging title piece, composed by Ake Parmerud, is a slow, echoey, harmonically rich intermingling of acoustic guitar with electronic effects—known in the composition’s title as "computer interactions." The composer also explored the guitar as a sound object, investigating all the sounding possibilities of the guitar from the perspective of it being realized in its standard form as well being considered as an electro-acoustic object. Bergstrom uses closely mic'd string harmonics, short and clustered runs, string pops and guitar body percussion to make for an engaged listen. Included on this album are other interesting solo guitar compositions by contemporary composers including Arne Lothman, Toru Takemitsu, Anders Hillborg and Johan Soderqvist. Also on the CD is a fairly simple but nicely done video of Bergström playing "SubString Bridge" on the bridge that inspired the composition's name.

The album winds down with the remix project "Escortic Joynt" by classical remixers Trio Escort. "Escortic Joynt" is a natural mate with another Reich-inspired album—the highly recommended (at least by me) Reich Remixed, a collection of various artists' mash-up interpretations of Reich's work. (In fact, Bergstrom recommends the album too, in the liner notes.) Reich makes for perfect mash-up material in the hands of the crafty and creative Trio Escort. His work has always been connected to a continuous pulse, warm interweaving of instrumentation and slow pattern shifts. "Escortic Joynt" taps into Trio Escort's gift for using found objects to create percussive rhythm tracks and mixes them with spacey sound collages that flow in tandem with the guitar lines of "Electric Counterpoint" and other Reich compositions such as "Different Trains." The blended re-working makes for a wonderfully flowing ten minute soundtrack perfect for stark winter driving—be it in Sweden or elsewhere.

It's always nice when a blind faith guess while flipping through the racks at a record store pays off—I hope you see this one too and say "oh yeah, that!" and scoop it up.

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Mike Johnston: Just a word about sound quality...BIS is well known in the classical world for taking a lot of care with the recording process, providing honest, unexaggerated sound. If it has a "house tendency," it's to go just a little astringent and reverberant; some of its early records, at least, could sound a tad resiny. And of course the acoustic guitar is one of the most satisfying instruments to record—it doesn't seem difficult to make acoustic guitar sound immediate, visceral, and lifelike, the typical flaw being to mike it too close and make it sound too big, hyper-real.

Although BIS is a classical label (this is on its Northern Lights subsidiary) and Bergström is nominally a classical guitarist, SubString Bridge should really be considered a crossover album—crossing over, that is, from contemporary avant-guard classical to electronica—and it's interesting to see what BIS has done sound-wise in this (partially) unfamiliar territory. Its efforts are a smashing success, I think. The recording strikes me as rich and full (if, yes, a touch reverberant) without being exaggerated or too upfront. The sound doesn't call attention to itself outrageously, but its tasty excellence adds to my enjoyment of the music. It helps you into the music as opposed to directing your attention away from it. All in all a beautiful sounding CD, I thought.

Bill Evans: The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961

Bob Burnett: June 21, 1961 has become a legendary date of reflection and remembrance for jazz listeners. It was the day that Bill Evans' trio was recorded on a beat-up 2 track Ampex recorder down a flight of stairs in the New York City club the Village Vanguard. Bill Evans, with the gifted duo of bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, made history by re-shaping the possibility of the jazz piano trio. Up until this group, piano trios had followed a pretty standard model in which the bass and drums supported the piano. This trio expanded that commonplace into a three-way dialogue that merged rhythm, melody, harmony, lead and comp simultaneously into a flowing canvas of sound. When you listen to this music your concentration drifts seamlessly from instrument to instrument; you feel part of the experience because the complexity in the playing translates flawlessly to a gorgeous listening experience.

The group played five sets—two and a half hours of music over the course of an afternoon and evening. The music was originally released by Riverside as two separate albums—Sunday at the Village Vanguard and later Waltz for Debby. These two albums were eventually blended together on a remastered CD in the 'eighties; however several cuts were deleted in order to make them fit on one CD. Now that has changed with this three-CD box set, The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, that documents everything recorded on that day. In addition to being a complete document of the day's playing it is a stunning work in the artistry of re-mastering; the playing and imaging rings clear and precise, you are brought closer than before to the playing experience, you feel the depth of the room where a cheerful, chatty, glass-clinking audience sits only a few feet away from the stage. Also included are the moments when the band talked, bantering between themselves about what to play next and holding brief discussions with producer Orrin Keepnews about whether a particular take was a "keeper."

Another aspect of the reverential stature of this album is that it was recorded only ten days before bassist Scott LaFaro's death in a car accident. LaFaro was a brash, aggressive player. He didn't sit back and plod away shyly; he pushed the common perception of the bass and found new ways to make the instrument sing. He was only 25 years old and had been playing for less than five years, but he was being called his generation's innovator, on par with what Charles Mingus's playing brought to be-bop a generation before. Orrin Keepnews' reflections in the liner notes suggest that LaFaro was also growing weary of Bill Evans' life challenges. Albeit a virtuoso player and genius composer, Evans suffered terribly from an inferiority complex about his abilities as a pianist; nothing seemed ever quite good enough. He drowned his frustrations in a consuming heroin addiction. Both LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian wanted more live gigs and recording opportunities than the reticent Evans was willing (or able) to make happen—in fact, the reason this recording was made was because the chances were so few and far between to capture this group. Regardless of whether there was a growing tension in the band or not, LaFaro's death crushed Evans. Paul Motian said in the liner notes that he was forced to begin playing with others because Evans became so distraught and reclusive with grief.

Tragic loss forever cut this trio's time together, but it has no affect on this special recorded moment. The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings will remain both a legendary and marvelous reflection of these three players. I know for me, the three CD set represents the vital essence of this group. If it's too much of a leap for you I suggest getting either or both Sunday at the Village Vanguard or Waltz With Debby to experience a part of this moment. However, this package is priced nicely considering the quality and care put into the re-mastering.

Adam Gopnik, in his terrific 2001 New Yorker magazine article about the 40th anniversary of this recording, wrote the following about what the bigger picture of this album means to him:
"It is art that puts a time in place. Art is the part of culture that depends most entirely on time, on knowing exactly when. The emotions it summons belong to the room they were made in, and the city outside the room when they were made. Not a timeless experience of a general emotion but a permanent experience of a particular moment—that is what we want from jazz records and Italian landscapes alike. The gift this record gives us is a reminder that the big sludgy river of time exists first as moments. It gives us back our afternoons."

I couldn't agree more.

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