Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Latest Jimi Hendrix Compilation: A Snooze or a Scream?

The great Irish-American rock band Black 47’s most recent album Bankers and Gangsters includes a very funny song, The Long Lost Tapes of Hendrix. It’s based on the incident where Jimi Hendrix’ bassist Noel Redding absconded to Ireland with tapes of Hendrix’ last live recordings, and used them as collateral for a mortgage there. Redding may well have had an extra laugh at the bankers’ expense – who knows if the tapes were in good condition, let alone if the playing was any good, considering how notoriously uneven Hendrix’ live shows were in the months before he was murdered. Likewise, is there any Hendrix worth hearing that hasn’t already been unearthed in the past forty years? With any icon of this stature, caveat emptor is the word here: just ask any former sixteen-year-old who dumped $15 or so on one of those Curtis Knight albums in the pre-napster era. The premise of the latest Hendrix compilation, a lavish 59-track box set titled West Coast Seattle Boy: The Jimi Hendrix Anthology, is that there in fact is some meat left on the bones, and as it turns out the compilers are right. To further whet Hendrix completists’ appetites, in addition to fifteen early-to-mid-60s tracks featuring Hendrix as a sideman, original engineer Eddie Kramer was brought in for some debatable remixes of original studio recordings. There’s also plenty of marginalia seeing the light of day here officially for the first time, although pretty much all of it’s been circulating for decades in one form or another. Consider this an amazing double album further fleshed out with some obvious if welcome choices, some stuff that will be prized by hardcore Hendrix fans plus the by-now expected album side, or more, worth of stuff that was never released because it shouldn’t have been.

The Hendrix-as-sideman stuff is surprisingly lightweight, notable only for the guitar. But Rosa Lee Brooks’ shot at a top 40 soul hit, My Diary, has Jimi stunningly foreshadowing Axis: Bold As Love; the Isley Bros. Have You Ever Been Disappointed and The Icemen’s My Girl, She’s a Fox are rich with eerie, tremoloing broken chords; Billy LaMont’s Sweet Thang is a deliciously snarling one-chord funk vamp; and one of the Little Richard songs here is an unintentionally hilarious attempt to squeeze Mr. Penniman into a cliched early 60s dance-craze style (it doesn’t work, not even close).

As much as the outtakes are also a mixed bag, this is where the real treasures are. A ragged acoustic take of the lyrical, Dylanesque My Friend resonates as a snide dismissal of shallow scenesters. Mr. Bad Luck, a mid-60s Experience tune whose rhythm parts were re-recorded by Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell twenty years later, could be interpreted as a premonition of Hendrix’ ultimate fate. Hear My Freedom, a proto-metal instrumental jam with organ takes a while to get going, but when the galloping beat kicks in it’s genius, a style echoed even more intensely on a later instrumental simply titled Bolero. A collaboration with Arthur Lee, Everlasting First, has political overtones and would have been perfectly at home on Electric Ladyland. There are also a deliciously Hendrixized version of Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue, just crazy guitar, vocals and drums; a pretty scorching, politically charged Shame Shame Shame, a Voodoo Chile soundalike; and inspired, peak-era psychedelic versions of Hey Babe/New Rising Sun, New Rising Sun and In from the Storm.

The live stuff is choice, although most of it’s been readily available for a long time: the best tracks are absolutely unhinged versions of Stone Free and Foxey Lady, by Band of Gypsys. The remixes are uneven. Muting the psychedelia and bring out the rock works terrifically with Are You Experienced, maybe because that song is so hypnotic to begin with, but Love or Confusion – Hendrix’ best song – misses the cohesiveness of the original mix, a series of layers that don’t gel well when separated from the original feedback-iced morass. Pretty much every track here is up on youtube – it would have taken us as long to track down the links for all of these songs as it did to put this piece up to begin with, so we’re leaving that up to you. To experience how surprisingly rich it sounds, you need the actual item. Interestingly, the complete edition is only available as a cd box; itunes is limited to just sixteen of the tracks.

December 22, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weighing in Late on Gail Archer’s Bach the Transcendent Genius CD

Here’s one of the important obscure albums of 2010 that we didn’t want to let slip away here before the year was out. In a word, it’s cantabile: these songs sing. To those who follow this space, or who spend time in the shadowy deminonde of New York classical organ music, Gail Archer is no stranger: a valued presence not only as an amazingly eclectic performer but also as an educator. Her bimonthly Tuesday Prism Concerts at Central Synagogue make a useful opportunity for up-and-coming global organ talent to connect with a New York audience in a premier venue, and vice versa. As a recording artist, Archer first lent her talents to the pre-baroque – her debut album championed Sweelinck, a composer who tends to be written off, or taken for granted, much of the time. And then she surprised everyone by switching to Messiaen for her cd A Mystic in the Making, an immersion and a performance so intense that she had to distance herself from it. She followed that with the deliciously titled An American Idyll, a genuinely extraordinary collection of works by American composers – Vincent Persichetti, David Noon, Leo Sowerby, Joan Tower and others – who worked the Northeast corridor from Washington D.C. to Boston, just as Archer has for the last several years. A series of concerts celebrating the works of Mendelssohn – the transcendent genius of the 1840s – inspired this latest album, a collection of Bach variations on chorales from the Lutheran hymnal. In organ circles, these pieces are known as “The Great Eighteen.”

What makes one performance of these pieces better than another? They’re pretty self-explanatory: conventional wisdom dictates that if you stay in tempo, follow what dynamics Bach offers (only a hint, as it turns out) and get the notes right, you’ve succeeded. Not quite so: the whole point of these pieces is to distance them from any kind of mechanical processional, get-’em-out-of-the-church-so-we-can-move-on kind of feel. Take the fourteenth of these (BWV 664), for example: reduced to its essentials, the early part is a country dance. In church. Tame by 21st century standards, maybe, but radical when it was written. Likewise, the eerie pacing of the eighth chorale here (BWV 658), the anxious wait for redemption and its massive payoff in both the tenth (BWV 650) and fifteenth (BWV 665) track here, or Archer’s defiantly wary, determined pacing on the thirteenth chorale (BWV 663), saving it for all time from anyone who might wish to relegate it to NPR Bach rather than the majesty it’s elevated to here. Meyer Media released this one last February; it’ll be a treat, and no doubt a surprise, to see what she comes up with next.

December 22, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment