1999 Records To Die For Page 11
BOB DYLAN: Highway 61 Revisited
Columbia CK 9189 (CD). 1965. Bob Johnston, Tom Wilson, prods. AAD. TT: 51:38
The folk hero plugs in and rocks on the album that gave early warning that Bob Dylan was dead set on breaking rules and making brilliant albums in the process. Even if this disc included only the bookends—"Like A Rolling Stone," the unlikely AM radio hit that galvanized listeners, and the epic melancholic poem "Desolation Row"—it would be considered a classic. But with the help of guitarist Mike Bloomfield and keyboardist Al Kooper, Dylan delivers one great number after another, introducing personalities Queen Jane and Mr. Jones and putting Highway 61 on the pop-music map. The funny thing is, if you came of age in the '60s, you somehow know every song even if you never owned the album. How does it feel? Listening to this disc, like poignant heaven.
CHARLES MINGUS: Mingus Ah Um
Charles Mingus, bass; John Handy, Booker Ervin, Shafi Hadi, saxes; Willie Dennis, Jimmy Knepper, trombones; Horace Parlan, piano; Dannie Richmond, drums
Columbia/Legacy CK 40648 (CD). 1959/1987. Teo Macero, prod.; Ray Moore, eng. AAD? TT: 45:56
While there's a multitude of Charles Mingus discs available, if I could own only one of them, it would have to be Mingus Ah Um. It not only exhibits several of the jazz maestro's best-known numbers, but also best captures his exhilarating rowdiness and soulful passion. It spans the full scope of Mingus' musical vision, including blues, r&b, gospel, classical, and all swinging shades of jazz. Spawned from his Composer's Workshop sessions, Mingus Ah Um also stands as a case study in improvisational ensemble interplay. Highlights include the blues-loping "Fables of Faubus," the hallelujah-jumping "Better Git It In Your Soul," and the timeless "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," Mingus' tribute to Lester Young. While Columbia/Legacy issued the three-CD box The Complete 1959 Recordings this year with an expanded and digitally polished version of this recording, this earlier reissue works just splendidly for me.
THELONIOUS MONK: The Riverside Tenor Sessions
Comprising: Brilliant Corners, Monk's Music, Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane, Thelonious in Action, Misterioso, 5 by Monk by 5, At the Blackhawk
Thelonious Monk, piano, celesta; Ray Copeland, Joe Gordon, Thad Jones, Clark Terry, trumpet; Gigi Gryce, Ernie Henry, alto sax; John Coltrane, Johnny Griffin, Coleman Hawkins, Harold Land, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Rouse, tenor sax; Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Paul Chambers, Sam Jones, John Ore, Oscar Pettiford, Wilbur Ware, bass; Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Billy Higgins, Max Roach, Art Taylor, Shadow Wilson, drums
Analogue Productions APJ 037 (7 LPs/7 gold CDs). 1997. Orrin Keepnews, orig. prod.; Jack Higgins, Ray Fowler, Reice Hamel, orig. engs.; Chad Kassem, reissue prod.; Kevin Gray, remastering eng. AAA/AAD. TT: 4:57:54
Quite simply, this is the way audiophile reissues oughta be: the music is superb beyond any quibbling, the packaging is sumptuous, and, whether on LP or CD, the sound quality is even better than the originals. Pricey? Indubitably, but try to buy the original pressings and you'll spend far more. Monk was a singular genius as a composer, pianist, and bandleader, and these seven recordings illustrate his range and show off his strengths. If you know Monk and cherish him, as I do, you'll need this set; if you don't know Monk, or don't have much background in jazz, it offers an introduction to the quirky, powerful appeal of both the genre and one of its avatars. Either way, there's enough magic in this one to last a lifetime. (XXI-3, XXI-6)
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Anthology of American Folk Music
Smithsonian Folkways 40090 (6 CDs). 1952/1998 Harry Smith, ed., orig. eng.; Moses Asch, Peter Bartok, orig. transfer engs.; Pete Reiniger, A/D transfer eng. AAD. TT: 4:17:38
This is the motherlode, the spring from which the whole folk and blues revival of the late '50s and early '60s bubbled to the cultural surface. In 1952, Folkways released this collection of 84 songs, compiled from old 78s of field recordings by the exceedingly strange Harry Smith. To an entire generation, the Anthology served as a guidebook to the culture of a country as strange and remote as any in the African veldt, the mountains of South America, or the steppes of Asia—the old rural America. Greil Marcus has called it a map of "the old, weird America" and a summoning of the twisted unconscious of the country itself.
The songs are dark stories of obsessive love, murder, and deception that speak to the human condition. It's not always pretty. Not only are the songs strange and unsettling; the performers are not, for the most part, polished professionals, at least not in the slickly adept manner we've grown used to. The original recordings were put on shellac in the '20s and '30s—they're monaural, with surface noise that varies from disc to disc. But criticizing them for that would be like damning a Matthew Brady portrait of Lincoln for being in black & white. It's a wonder we have them at all. And wonder is what I feel every time I play the Anthology.
Robert J. Reina
SEX MOB FEATURING STEVEN BERNSTEIN: Den of Inequity
Columbia/Knitting Factory CSK 41146 (CD). 1998. Steven Bernstein, prod.; Scott Harding, prod., eng.; Greg Griffith, eng. AAD? TT: 52:20
On their debut CD, Sex Mob, founded by trumpeter Steven Bernstein (Lounge Lizards, Spanish Fly) and alto saxophonist Briggan Krauss (Good Kitty), churns out some smoking acoustic jazz filled with soaring, angular melodies, free-jazz screeches and honks, and subtle rhythmic and phrasing textures. These two horn virtuosos, whether playing unison melodies, harmonies, counterpoint, or free improv, play with a single brain, heart, and soul. Live and on this CD, I haven't heard this level of communication between two jazz musicians in years. Although the bandmembers are fine composers, the CD's highlights are their unusual takes on popular standards. ("House of the Rising Sun" is, appropriately enough, a New Orleans funeral dirge, and the string bass takes the melody in a slow, funky, heavy "Macarena.") The close-miked, natural sound is flawless, although the recording venue is a bit dry.
STRAVINSKY: The Firebird
Antal Dorati, London Symphony Orchestra
Mercury Living Presence/Classic SR90226 (LP). 1960/1997. Wilma Cozart Fine, prod.; Robert Eberenz, reissue eng. AAA. TT: not listed
I have never heard a more emotive, subtle, and chilling performance of this most vibrant of Stravinsky's ballets than Dorati's LSO Watford Town Hall recording from 1960. Although I have used this recording for nearly every equipment review I've written over the last 15 years, I'm still not tired of the performance, nor have I become jaded by Mercury's airy, dynamic, and delicate recorded sound. I compared this reissue to my previously unplayed first RFR-1 pressing and to a later, second mastering of the original Mercury. Overall, I enjoyed the Classic reissue and the original RFR-1 equally. Although both recordings had a similar tonal balance, the increased midrange ambience resolution of the original pressing was counterbalanced by the quieter surfaces and superior dynamic range of the Classic reissue—and I much preferred the Classic's portrayal to the bleached-out midrange presentation of the second Mercury mastering. I bought six copies. (XX-12, XXI-2)