Soundtrack of the Week

20 01 2014

The Grateful Dead didn’t need much if any rest after a high-powered trek through Europe in the few months before the band wandered into Portland, OR, to play two nights at the Paramount Theatre in late July 1972. The second night found the band storming through a then-typically lengthy, bright night that’s also alternately lazy and ridiculously muscular. Unknown

The soundboard is marred by shoving the vocals too near the fore, occasionally swamping the drums and piano. Owsley was at the tape deck that night, manning it for one of the last times. Pigpen is noticeably absent for mid ’72. He’d played his last show ever only a few weeks before. The flaws  however only highlight how energetic and pleased the band had become with itself. Performances like this only lend more credence to believing this was the best band’s best year among the flurry of best years surrounding it. Listen to the show here.longislandsound

Seventeen years later, the Dead had lost the abandon but not the sense of purpose. However, the Jerry Garcia Band shows from ’89 often transcended the Dead that year. The Sept. 6 and 7 shows in Hartford, CT, and Uniondale, NY, are newly remastered and worth hearing. Bob Weir does himself plenty of favors as the opener by bringing Rob Wasserman with him to play rubbery and imaginative bass lines that wrap lovingly around the songs. Covers dominate the Jerry Band setlist, many of the same songs he played solo for years. The repetition is masked by the adventurous soloing. He made it sound all so easy, which only makes it sound better.

Sam Cook can be heard for only about 10 seconds in the splendid American Experience installment 1964. But it’s 10 gripping seconds as A Change is Gonna Come floats over footage of riots, assassinations and war in Southeast Asia. He took a ferocious year and humanized it with soul. He’s gone, sadly, and those years, gladly, are too. 1964_film_landing-nodate

Another song arrives from the good Lorde that sounds pretty darn good. Plenty of air circulates as the production doesn’t smother the mix like every other over amped and over compressed radio hit. She stands out because she’s on radio, but not of it. An oasis of good taste and crafty songwriting.

While listening back to decades-old music that manages to still sound pretty good, the president says the  NSA got ahead of itself. It’s painful sometimes living in the present because it’s too darn close to the future.nsa-spy-cartoon-4

Freedom to Improvise

4 07 2011

Phish is completing its ninth Super Ball, a multi-day gathering in Watkins Glen, NY, by latching onto the key component of jazz, improvisation, and holding an audience in the tens of thousands spellbound with its power to tell a story musically.

That improvisation, an ancient musical art, can be so popular with a youthful following remains in itself both surprising and reassuring. John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar, critical influences on the Grateful Dead during the early ’60s, would be right at home at the Super Ball. Phish and the Dead share the gene of rock and will always be linked no matter how dissimilar their approaches. But improvisation will always be their great connection.

Believer magazine interviews Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio about the crucial ingredient in the band’s music.

BLVR: Who were the important improvisers for you?

TA: I liked Clapton, Jimmy Page. But there was this one year that changed me. It was when I saw Pat Metheny. He came to Richardson Auditorium, and he was playing with a jazz, harmonic vocabulary but with a pop sensibility. I saw King Crimson around that time, too. Robert Fripp was playing these crazy mathematical patterns. He’d be playing in a time signature of 7/4 while the other guy, Adrian Belew, played in 5/4, and they’d meet up thirty-five notes later. This kind of thing. But you have to put yourself in 1978. I was born in ’64. So I was fourteen. I saw Stanley Jordan in that same place. And Wynton Marsalis. All those concerts were in one year, and that’s the year I got into improvisation.

Here are some great postwar improvisers at work. This progressive and adventurous strand  of music is a fabulous way to celebrate freedom this Fourth of July.