Miles Davis and John Coltrane – The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series Vol. 6 (Columbia/Legacy)
When Miles Davis toured Europe in 1960, it took some convincing for John Coltrane to join his band, which was already stacked with talent: Jimmy Cobb, Wynton Kelly, and Paul Chambers. Someone stepped in and offered Coltrane another $1,000 a week and a legendary tour was born. Legendary because it was the last time these two giants would play together, legendary because it’s been bootlegged so extensively, and legendary because everyone was at the top of their game. Davis hadn’t yet tired of this music, and Coltrane was just on the brink of fame. With everything clicking, the sets included show how the band played from night to night: specialists can compare solos, but any jazz fan will enjoy the wealth of music on The Final Tour. And indeed, this tour would be something of a coming-out for him; within a few years, he’d he headlining European tours on his own.
John Coltrane – Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse/Verve/UMe)
Both Directions At Once is something less than a lost album and something more than bootleg (even if it’s offered in three separate editions). It’s a collection of demos, outtakes, and sketches from 1963, all of them previously unreleased. They offer a look into where Coltrane and his band – the classic lineup of McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones – were headed. “Impressions” is worked on, as is “One Up, One Down.” There’s a few untitled tracks, and a slow blues. Some of this feels like works-in-progress, others as loose ideas laid down one day. Nothing here is earth-shattering, or on the level of the finished albums, but I suppose any new Coltrane is worth hearing, and these – taken from 7” reels kept in the family; the originals have long since vanished – are an interesting look at his working habits.
Bob Dylan – More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 (Columbia/Legacy)
Always an album with the reputation of being his most raw and honest, Blood on the Tracks has also become the benchmark by which all his others are compared. This set shows how both are simplistic answers at best. By combining sessions in New York and later ones in Minnesota, More Blood, More Tracks shows the care and craft which went into this album. Songs are drastically re-worked and changed on the fly, moods change and shift with the tides. Far from being a raw slice of life, this shows Dylan as a consummate craftsman, working until he finds just the right wording, the perfect tempo and arrangement. It’s perhaps a little much for anyone who doesn’t love this album already, but it’s a fascinating and educating look into what made the original album so compelling.
Grateful Dead – Pacific Northwest ’73-’74: Believe it If You Need It (Rhino)
The more affordable, and accessible, version of this year’s Grateful Dead box set (a 19-CD collection of their Pacific Northwest tours of 1973 and 74), this set cherry picks performances to create a seamless, three-disc representation of what the ideal show may have sounded like, or at least a Deadhead’s mixtape of favourite moments. Highlights include a gigantic, 47-minute performance of “Playing in the Band” and a red-hot medley of “Truckin’ > Jam > Not Fade Away > Goin’ down the Road Feeling Bad.” And the Vancouver concert, which takes up all of the third disc, has them at their slow, moody best: a slow, bluesy “Wharf Rat” especially stands out. If you can’t afford the giant box set, and couldn’t get one of the Dave’s Picks before they sold out, this is the Grateful Dead record to acquire this year.
Grant Green – Paris to Antibes (Resonance)
Green’s probably best remembered for his early 60s run at Blue Note, where he recorded seminal albums like Idle Moments or his quartet records with Sonny Clark. But even as the 60s wound to an end and he drifted away from Blue Note, he was still capable of invigorating live performances. From Paris to Antibes takes two concerts, recorded live for French radio, and stacks them beside each other. Both have Green’s playing at it’s jazzy peak, and feature different lineups: the earlier is a trio with Larry Ridley and Don Lamond, the later a quartet with Claude Bartlee, Billy Wilson and Clarence Palmer. The set-list reflect Green’s changing tastes: Sonny Rollins is next to James Brown.
Grant Green – Slick! Live at Oil Can Harry’s (Resonance)
By the time of the Vancouver show featured on Slick, Green was full-on into the fusion movement. With a lineup featuring a drummer and a percussionist, not to mention an electric piano, Green and company move effortlessly through a varied setlist that includes covers of The Ohio Players, Stevie Wonder, and Bobby Womack. But even when he reaches back into his jazz roots – as on “Now’s the Time” – he still shows command of his instrument, not the “playing on autopilot” criticism sometimes levelled against him. Unfortunately, it was more of an epilogue than a new chapter for Green, who’d die from a heart attack not long after this gig.
Charles Mingus – Live at Montreux 1975 (Eagle Rock / UME)
Long available on DVD, Mingus’ concert at the 1975 Montreux Jazz Festival represents him and one of his best groups firing on all cylinders. With George Adams on sax and vocals, Don Pullen on piano, Jack Walrath on trumpet and Dannie Richmond on drums, Mingus was surrounded by talent – and people who would carry the torch throughout the next decade. But here, joined by Gerry Mulligan and Benny Bailey, it’s also a look back at Mingus’ origins on the west coast. It’s a welcome show, and an interesting look at Mingus’ music.
Charles Mingus – Jazz in Detroit (BBE)
The Detroit set, however, is something special. Taken from a run of shows at Detroit’s Strata Concert Gallery, this shows his early-70s band in full flight. Songs are stretched out to extremes, the band pushing the music almost to a breaking point. Specialists may want to compare takes to see how material varied from evening to evening; more casual fans will enjoy the experience: songs give way to interviews, to DJ banter, to more music. It’s a snapshot of how fans in Detroit likely experienced these shows, and the amazing performances therein.
Otis Redding – Dock of the Bay Sessions (Volt/ATCO/Rhino)
When Redding died, so did his idea for a Beatles-influenced soul record. But the laid-back vibes of “Dock of the Bay” became a smash hit, and over the decades, his music has been packaged and re-packaged. The latest, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the single’s success, takes an interesting angle: what could the lost album have sounded like? By mixing tracks previously scattered across multiple albums, but all recorded at roughly the same time, Dock of the Bay Sessions makes a valiant attempt. How successful it’s been is largely a matter of conjecture – certainly Redding had more songs in him, and not necessarily these ones – but anyone who doesn’t own the individual records already will enjoy this release.
Sonny Rollins – Way Out West (Craft)
When Rollins, an East Coast jazzman through-and-through went out to LA to record with a blue chip rhythm section, it wasn’t exactly bound for success. The laid-back, smooth vibes coming out of Pacific Jazz and it’s related labels were something at odds with the bop-informed sounds coming out of New York. But Rollins, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne, found common ground and turned in a captivating performance. Rollins even turned a corny cowboy staple – “I’m an Old Cowhand” – into something of a standard. The 2018 reissue features a second LP of outtakes and chatter. Not that bonus tracks are themselves worth investing in, but in this case they offer a look into the sessions and how Rollins approached these songs.
Todd Rundgren – All Sides of the Roxy (Esoteric Recordings)
The sessions for Todd Rundgren’s Back to the Bars was a small club tour, with stops in New York, Cleveland and Los Angeles. It yielded a double-record’s worth of material, but even then much was left on the cutting room floor – or onto bootlegs, as it were. All Sides of the Roxy takes a radio broadcast of one of those gigs (May 28, 1978) and presents it uncut, right down to Wolfman Jack’s introduction. It’s something of a live greatest-hits, with Rundgren working songs all the way back to his days in The Nazz, and having a few guests show up: Stevie Nicks, Darryl Hall and John Oates. If that wasn’t enough, a third disc has a selection of other outtakes from this run, none of it from either the broadcast or Back to the Bars. As such, it shows Rundgren at his late-70s peak, before he dove head-on into slick computerized sounds, gimmicky concepts or endless nostalgia tours.
Frank Sinatra – Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely: 60th Anniversary Edition (Capitol)
Thanks to albums by Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan, the music of Frank Sinatra is as relevant as its been in decades, and perhaps it’s time to re-evalute the legend, and remove the myth from the music. This double-CD is as good a place as any to start, taking one of his best albums and presenting it in both mono and a new stereo mix, and a handful of outtakes to boot. The original mix still rings clear as a bell, while the new mix pushes Sinatra’s voice forward and makes it shine. The music? Well, with Nelson Riddle’s lush orchestrations and Sinatra’s voice dripping with emotion, it’s an essential and a wonderful look at him before he faded into schmaltz and Las Vegas nightclubs. Try listening to this with an open mind and not being overwhelmed by the power of his voice.
Sun Ra – Of Abstract Dreams (Art Yard)
Sun Ra – Of Mythic Worlds (Enterplanetary Koncepts)
Sun Ra’s legacy is complex and his discography is something perhaps best left to specialists. Albums would feature music from various sessions and periods, with little regard for consistency. But thanks to the world of labels like Art Yard and Enterplanetary Koncepts, it’s getting a little clearer. These two releases both focus on his music in the 70s. The former is a session at a radio station in 1974, the latter is taken from two shows in 1978. Both have him and his big band – anchored by the sax playing of Marshall Allen, but featuring several interesting players – working through Ra’s distinctive music to appreciative audiences. Personally, I like Of Abstract Dreams the most of the two, but anyone seriously interested in his music will want to hear both.
Neil Young – Roxy: Tonight’s the Night Live (Reprise)
For Young diehards, his fall 1973 tour has a reputation for being depressed and moody, with a messed-up Young leading his band through a slate of new songs about being screwed up and screwing up. After all, Tonight’s the Night was so dark, his label sat on it for some time before release. But as this album shows, it was far from a downer. Young mixes humour into his banter, comments on his cheesy stage set and jokes with the audience. And the music! Here, with a crack band that featuring Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina, Nils Lofgren and Ben Keith, he whips though a killer setlist that drips with emotion and angst. This is Young at his most exposed, when he dipped deep into himself to create an album inspired by the twin legacies of Bruce Berry and Danny Whitten. It’s perhaps the best release yet in Young’s long-running Live Archives series.
Various Artists – Eccentric Soul: The Saru Label (Numero)
What Numero does best is putting things into context. Sure, there’s dozens of labels that take old songs and put them on new reissues. But with careful curation, detailed liner notes and thematic packaging, Numero uses music to re-create a scene. With The Saru Label, they’ve reissued some rare soul singles from a long-gone Cleveland label, with music that’s slightly familiar: Kanye sampled one song a few years back. But, as part of a triptych with their previous releases The Way Out Label and Boddie Recording Company, they’ve shown a detailed survey of Cleveland’s soul scene and how it changed over the years. Slick Motown gave way to chugging rhythms, backing choirs to fuzzed-out guitars.
Various Artists – Technicolor Paradise: Rhum Rhapsodies & Other Exotic Delights (Numero)
Similarly, Technicolor Paradise does the same thing with the much-maligned genre of lounge music. People of a certain age may remember when lounge enjoyed a tongue-in-cheek revival about two decades ago, but this generous set gets back to first principals. There’s gorgeous surf-rock, lush instrumentals in waltz-time, and enough electric organ to make you want to drink a cocktail while wearing cheetah print. And I haven’t even gotten past the first disc yet! As usual, the detailed liners and packaging push this package into must-buy territory for anyone remotely intrigued by this concept.
Various Artists – She’s Selling What She Used to Give Away (Bear Family)
A wonderful curated selection of old-school country and bluegrass – or “Hillbilly Music,” as the cover puts it – this set shines a light into the corner of risqué music. Forget wink-and-nod, or sly allusions. This is stuff like “What are you going to do for banging when Lulu’s gone,” or Gene Autry singing “you put your hand beneath my dress / there you found a blackbird’s nest.” Elsewhere, there’s songs about doing drugs and murder. As always with Bear Family products, the remastering is good, given the rarity of the original sources. The music’s wild, and bound to raise a few eyebrows – especially from your grandparents, who insist that music was so much cleaner back in the old days. Maybe this set will stir a few memories.
Freelance writer and music fan, whose writing has appeared on The Good Point, The Toronto Review of Books, and CTV.ca, among other places. Favorite albums: Dig Me Out, Live-Evil, Decade.