Beyond Playlist: Charles Mingus and More

Categories: Beyond Playlist

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Charles Mingus
Live in ‘64
(Reelin’ In the Years)

In this country, at least, films and videotapes of classic jazz recordings turn up on television far too seldom. As a result, even fans of the genre -- at least those who haven’t spent hours trolling through YouTube posts -- often have seen only a snippet or two of their favorites in action. “Jazz Icons,” a new series of DVDs assembled by Reelin’ In the Years Productions, rights this wrong in a remarkable way. Charles Mingus’ Live in ‘64 exemplifies the offerings, capturing big chunks of three sets performed in Belgium, Norway and Sweden during saxophonist Eric Dolphy’s last tour with the masterful bassist. “So Long, Eric,” a piece Mingus wrote as a goodbye for the gifted player, is heard in four versions, all of them worthy, but perhaps the most memorable is from an Oslo date. Tenor man Clifford Jordan reels off so magnificent a solo that trumpeter Johnny Coles joins the formally clad audience in appreciative applause -- but it’s a mere prelude to a concluding Dolphy freak-out that’s positively epochal. The sound is better than anticipated, the material is consistently revelatory, and the images are timelessly cool.

The other “Jazz Icons” releases that hit the marketplace alongside Live in ‘64 are mighty fine, too. My favorites were John Coltrane’s Live in ’60 & ’61 & ‘65 and Dexter Gordon’s Live in ’63 & 64 -- but Duke Ellington’s Live in ‘58, Dave Brubeck’s Live in ’64 and ‘66, Wes Montgomery’s Live in ‘65 and the astonishing Sarah Vaughan’s Live in ’58 and ‘64 are also highly recommended. Seeing is believing. -- Michael Roberts

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Brian Coleman
Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies
(Villard)

Hip-hop books, like plenty of journalism about the genre, are frequently unsatisfying: forced, self-conscious and often more interested in sociology than the music itself. Check the Technique generally avoids these traps by regularly cutting out the middle man. The tome’s subtitle is perfectly descriptive: Coleman pens thoughtful and incisive introductory pieces about a slew of landmark hip-hop recordings ranging from 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be to Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and then hands things over to the performers, who provide track by track breakdowns. Granted, the commentary isn’t consistently revelatory -- but for fans of the form, it’s almost always fun. Besides, there’s a special charge to having Rakim parse Paid in Full’s “My Melody,” which he describes as the first song he and Eric B. ever created. It’s a book that demands its own soundtrack -- and weren’t you looking for an excuse to spin De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising again? -- Roberts

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Various artists
Give US Your Poor
(Appleseed Recordings)

This disc, which benefits Give US Your Poor, a University of Massachusetts-Boston organization fighting to end homelessness, obviously has its heart in the right place. Too bad it doesn’t also feature more memorable performances. A handful of tracks stand out, including “Hobo’s Lullaby,” a duet that pairs Bruce Springsteen with one of his recent role models, Pete Seeger; Madeleine Peyroux’s moving “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” and Buffalo Tom’s “Ink Falling (Farther Outside),” the sort of tune that John Mellencamp is always trying to make but seldom pulls off. However, no one should be made to sit through “Show Me the Way,” a misbegotten effort teaming bluesman Sam McClain with (I’m not kidding) Jon Bon Jovi, Natalie Merchant’s “There Is No Good Reason,” whose title is like a de facto review of the song itself, and Jewel’s ear-wrecking “1,000 Miles Away.” In general, the cause is better than the CD raising money for it. -- Roberts

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Do Make Say Think
You, You’re a History in Rust
(Constellation Records)

Oh, Canada. Lately, one interesting recording after another has immigrated south, and You, You’re a History in Rust, the latest from Do Make Say Think, a twelve-year-old combo that’s still largely unknown in the Lower 48, certainly qualifies. Together, James Payment, Ohad Benchetrit, Justin Small, Charles Spearin, David Mitchell and their helpers construct largely instrumental songs that are as emotionally rewarding as they are tough to categorize. “Bound to Be That Way” opens the proceedings with an instrumental ramble that somehow manages to suggest rock, folk and jazz at precisely the same time before giving way to “A With Living,” a pastoral ramble; “The Universe!,” replete with serrated guitar riffs and rolling-thunder drums; and the lush, melodramatic “You, You’re Awesome.” They are, too. -- Roberts

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A Life Once Lost
Iron Gag
(Ferret Music)

Far too many of today’s garglin’-razorblades vocalists sound affected, phony, like Lurches come lately who are only following trends instead of genuinely trying to reflect the emotional turmoil to be found in their music. But not A Life Once Lost’s Bob Meadows, whose untamed squall comes across as a genuine cry from the id -- one capable of blasting through any Iron Gag. The rest of the Philadelphia-based band, which hits the Marquis Theater on October 9, is more old-school than many of their metalcore contemporaries: Take “The Wanderer,” which is shot through with guitar wankery capable of getting a rise out of any vintage cock-rocker. But far from seeming trite or dated, the combination proves to be raucous and compelling on “Meth Mouth,” with its stampeding beat and thundering chorus, and “Pigeonholed,” which moves like an Imperial Walker stomping toward a field of baby chicks. They can run but they can’t hide. -- Roberts


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