What’s Old is New Again in November 2013, Part Two

Three more capsule reviews of new-to-you live albums, continuing from yesterday’s blog entry.

The Modern Jazz Quartet – Lost Tapes: Germany 1956-1958
Where modern jazz is concerned, taste and restraint need not be synonymous. And there’s no better exemplar of the first without the second than The Modern Jazz Quartet. Throughout its forty-plus year history, the MJQ created some tasty, vibes-centric jazz that was classy yet never staid, adventurous yet rarely abstract. And their fame and influence extended beyond the borders of jazz: even The Beatles were fans, releasing a pair of MJQ albums in the late 1960s on their signature Apple label. This newly-released collection of early Modern Jazz Quartet sessions features studio (Stuttgart 1956 and Baden-Baden ’56 and ’58) and live (Pforzheim) recordings from the period that heralded the group’s European breakthrough. As ever, Milt Jackson‘s warm and mellow vibraphone is the centerpiece, though John Lewis‘ piano work is prominently featured. But perhaps the most fascinating tracks here are the three numbers on which the MJQ is backed by orchestra and/or a large ensemble; “Midsömmer,” “Bluesology” and “Django” are all afforded more nuance and greater texture by such arrangements. And at the behest of Joachim-Ernst Berendt (to whom the MJQ’s “J.B. Blues” is dedicated), Milt Jackson turns in a solo reading of Walter Gross‘ “Tenderly.”

Flash Featuring Peter Banks – In Public
Even the notoriously truculent Rolling Stone Record Guide (1979) gave Flash props, comparing them to Yes: “Anyone hearing Flash in 1972 would have given them equal chances for success.” In fact this British group – led by Yes’ original guitarist Peter Banks – sounded a lot like Yes, although Banks was a more aggressive player than Steve Howe. This recording of a 1973 Kansas City date shows Flash living up to their name. With Colin Carter, a strident vocalist in the Jack Bruce mold, and Ray Bennett playing (of course) a thick, trebly Rickenbacker 4001, Flash deliver the goods. This set is quite well recorded, though Banks’ liner notes (penned days before his fatal heart failure at age 65) make needless apologies for the sound quality. In places, Flash sound a bit like Islands era King Crimson, balancing technical prowess with thundering, ballsy 70s rock approach. The songs are knotty and complicated, yet still heavy; the playing never feels like filigree, and it always moves the song forward. Michael Hough‘s drums are mixed surprisingly loud for an early 70s set, but that’s a good thing. The prog tropes of fast/slow, heavy/light, loud/quiet are all used to intelligent ends here.

Update: From the flurry of emails I’ve received, seems there’s disagreement amongst involved parties as to the ownership/legality etc. concerning this release. I’m staying out of it. — bk

Steve Hillage – Live in England 1979
Sure, in 1979 Steve Hillage looked like – and almost certainly was – a dirty hippie, but his wide-eyed brand of rock successfully combined progressive chops with the proto-jam aesthetic of Gong (a collective of which Hillage was a member 1972-76, 1994-1999, 2004-2006 and 2008-2012, effectively making him the Rick Wakeman of space rock). This 1979 audiovisual document was filmed at The University of Kent, and while the audio sounds indeed like the feed from a video, it’s not bad at all listeningwise. Miquette Giraudy shows off her impressive synth skills, and her vocals work well on the tunes alongside Hillage’s lead vocals. John McKenzie‘s bass lines are extremely effective as well, laying down a groove over which Hillage and Giraudy slather their ethereal psych leads. A couple songs from his then-current LP Open are featured, along with perennial cover favorites “Hurdy Gurdy Man” (Donovan) and The Beatles‘ “It’s All Too Much.” Modern-day fans who dig Ozric Tentacles should know that for however great the Ozrics are, many of their ideas can be found right here, a full half decade before Erpsongs. A bonus DVD features many of the CD’s songs plus other goodies, including a 2006 interview.

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