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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases


The Grateful Dead, "Europe '72 Vol. 2" (Grateful Dead Prod./Rhino). So the Dead finally got around to offering a complete box set covering the fabled Europe '72 tour, all 22 shows, housed in a lavish keepsake with individual slipcases and artwork for each of the 60-plus CDs. Knowing that, for the price of nearly $800, this was not going to make it into every fan's collection, the Dead made only some 7,000 of these gorgeous buggers, figuring that would more than cover the demand. Of course, the whole run sold out in three days. You can now buy all the discs, minus the box and all its delicious little extras and artwork, etc., for $450. (See But for those of us who don't hang out in that particular tax bracket too often -- yours truly included -- the Dead teamed with Rhino for a two-disc companion piece to the initial "Europe '72" release, hand-picking some truly representative moments from the tour, and delivering it to all and sundry for less than $20. As every fan knows, this tour was an incredible one, finding the band in peak shape, with Keith and Donna Godchaux having just joined, and Pigpen still on board, though ailing. Vocal-wise, the band rarely sounded better, and Jerry Garcia was teetering in the transcendently transitive nightfall between his early, bluegrass-informed style and the modal approach which would turn him into one of the most influential guitarists of all time by 1980. There's tons of great material here, but you should buy "Europe '72 Vol. 2" just for the 5/7 /72 "Dark Star/Drums/The Other One," a sublime 50 minutes of music that tells you more about the genius of the Dead than I ever could. Review: 4 stars (Out of 4) (Jeff Miers)


Jimi Hendrix, "Hendrix in the West" (Experience Hendrix/Legacy). This live Hendrix collection was first issued in 1972, the third posthumous release following the guitarist's untimely death, and one that most likely suffered from the rather off-hand manner -- cynical even, perhaps? -- in which it was tossed onto the marketplace. The newly remastered and expanded edition reveals "Hendrix in the West" to be the finest in-concert document of them all. From start to finish, the record encapsulates the raw, transcendent power of Hendrix in live settings, backed by drummer Mitch Mitchell throughout, and at various points, by bassists Billy Cox and Noel Redding. These versions of "Little Wing" (Winterland, 1968) and "Red House" (San Diego, 1969) are definitive and the trio of rockers tracked during the near-mythical Berkley College, 1970 show -- "Johnny B. Goode," "Lover Man" and "Blue Suede Shoes" -- simply explode from the speakers, revealing the full scope of this man and his band's sonic alchemy. Could it be that this music is still ahead of its time? Yes indeed. Review: 4 stars (J.M.)



Charles Lloyd and Maria Farantouri, "Athens Concert" (ECM, two discs). With Stan Getz and John Coltrane so long gone, Charles Lloyd is the possessor of the most beautiful tenor saxophone tone in the known world -- the guardian, really, of unrestrainedly beautiful sonority on his instrument. Maria Farantouri is a Greek singer of deep Cassandra contralto who is not a jazz singer at all but a singer long associated with the protest music of Mikis Theodrakis. They met, says Lloyd incongruously in the notes, "on a cold November night in my hometown, Santa Barbara From her first notes, I felt such a power and depth of humanity. She is a modern wonder rising up from the ruins of civilization. She is Alethea, Athena, Aphrodite, Demmeter, Gaia, Phenomone -- Mother of the Universe. The resonance of her voice stirred the memory of my love for Lady Day" (Billie Holiday). He has, ever since, been performing in Greece frequently and hanging out with Farantouri every time, learning Greek music, ancient and modern. For this live disc, recorded in concert in June 2010, the great quartet Lloyd brought to the Albright-Knox Gallery's Art of Jazz series (Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland) is supplemented by Parantouri as well as Greek musicians Takis Farzis and Socratiis Sinopoulos. The result is Lloyd's first disc to feature a singer as co-leader and, in its unassuming way, is a stunner, an almost casual and effortless melding of cultures seldom thought compatible, much less complementary (not just because of modal jazz either). Review: 3 1/2 stars (Jeff Simon)


Paul Motian with Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan and Petra Haden, "The Windmills of Your Mind" (Winter and Winter). It ought to be called "Dreamland." This is the disc to have to hear songs like "Lover Man," "I've Got a Crush On You," "I Loves You Porgy" etc. sung at the tempo of molasses pouring and accompanied by Bill Frisell's constant melting guitar. These are great musicians (bassist Morgan sounds like singer Haden's father, Charlie Haden) but the music itself is more appropriate as a substitute for Ambien than as something jazz listeners would want to hear all the way through while wide awake. Only once -- on "Tennessee Waltz" -- does the methodology of this disc seem like something that needed preservation. Review: 2 1/2 stars (J.S.)

Francisco Mela's Safari, "Tree of Life" (Half Note). The title has nothing whatsoever to do with Terence Malick's movie, in some eyes the greatest of 2011 (and one of the great movies of the century thus far). This is the fine Cuban drummer who commonly keeps exalted jazz company (Kenny Barron, Joe Lovano, Jane Bunnett) and here gives us his third disc as a leader with a band intended to mash together his three favorite bands "the electric Miles Davis band with keyboardists Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, Weather Report and Chucho Valdes and Irakere." None of which accounts for the leader's thickly accented voice singing "The Nearness of You" and "Gracias a La Vida" ("Thanks to Life") -- or Esperanza Spalding's vocalise on "Yadan Mela." Strains from far and wide animate Mela's group but the music is always solid, wherever it happens to fall on Mela's crazily eclectic spectrum. Review: 3 stars (J.S.)



Bejun Mehta, "Down By the Salley Gardens," Julius Drake, piano (Harmonia Mundi). Bejun Mehta is "one of the most in-demand countertenors of his generation," to hear a claim we would not have heard a couple of years ago. I do not totally "get" this countertenor resurgence. But then maybe I am just not 17th century enough. Get around the novelty of the voice, and the songs here are a great grab bag. Some of them are dull -- can we declare a moratorium on William Blake settings? -- but some are terrific fun (Peter Warlock's "Jillian of Berry," with its jazzy accompaniment). And a few are poignant, like Michael Tippett's dark arrangement of Henry Purcell's "Music For a While." There is a reminder of what a master Purcell is. Anything with his fingerprints on it is golden. A special award for Audience Favorite to Victor Hely-Hutchinson's "Set in the Manner of Handel," with "Old Mother Hubbard" as the words. To hear the exhortations "The cupboard -- the bone -- the cupboard -- the bone" accompanied by witty piano and declaimed in curlicued precision by a countertenor, no less -- that is priceless. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)