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Listening Post: A Miles Davis milestone, a blues legend smartly compiled, a Rod Stewart in concert catch-all, and an octogenarian pianist


Johnny Winter, True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story (four-disc box set; Legacy). Oft-compiled and anthologized over the years, the work of seminal bluesman and blues-rock crossover artist Johnny Winter has long been due for a proper, definitive collection. This one, from Legacy, is it – though the hardcore fan might quibble that the four discs favor the Columbia Records period of Winter’s lengthy life in music, to the detriment of his subsequent work on smaller labels, Alligator and PointBlank among them. Such details aside, “True to the Blues” paints a portrait of Winter that reflects who he actually is – an all but peerless electric blues guitar player, soulful singer and groundbreaking artist in the realm where the blues and rock ’n’ roll meet. Released concurrently with Winter’s 70th birthday celebration, this is a compilation that forms a significant entry into the annals of blues history. Hardcore Winter collectors might already have much of this material in various forms, but for everyone else, “True to the Blues” is a must-have. ΩΩΩΩ (Jeff Miers)


Rod Stewart, Live 1976-1998: Tonight’s the Night (four-disc box set; Rhino/Warner Bros.) In a manner that I’ll assume is unintentional, this “Tonight’s the Night” live box set rather handily traces Rod Stewart’s downfall, from ’70s arena-rock superstar, to rather confused and often middling pop icon. This box starts at Stewart’s post-Faces peak, with a cherry-picking of great bits from the man’s “Tonight’s the Night” tour of 1976. Stewart is in fantastic vocal form here, and his band at the time still bore many markings of the eminently lovable shambolic din conjured by the Faces. There are scruffy rockers, (“Three Time Loser,” “You Wear It Well,” “Sweet Little Rock ’n’ Roller,” “Get Back”) schlock-free ballads, (“I Don’t Want To Talk About It”) and a few bona-fide classics (“Maggie May,” a fantastic take on Jimi Hendrix’ “Angel,” the Faces’ “(I Know) I’m Losing You”). Disc two still packs some of this punch, as displayed during tours taken between 1976 and 1981, but by discs three and four, Stewart has lost most of his boozy wallop and nod-and-a-wink charisma, and so, the older tunes fare much better than do the likes of “Infatuation,” “Some Guys Have All the Luck,” “Forever Young” and “Tonight I’m Yours.” The simple truth is this – Stewart is at his best when he rocks. When he does, this live compilation burns. When he doesn’t, it falls flat. ΩΩΩ½ for discs one and two, ΩΩ½ stars for discs three and four. (J.M.)


Miles Davis, Miles Davis at the Fillmore: Volume 3 of Miles Davis 1970, The Bootleg Series (Columbia/Legacy, four discs). Here is one of the historic gigs of the past half century of jazz released for the first time in complete unedited form. On one hand, no musician in the history of jazz would ever have considered it more of a travesty than Miles Davis to release unedited live performances without the musician’s approval. But all due reverence for Davis’ memory, the claims of history far outweigh this musical moment when his astonishing band from the “Bitches Brew” era played a mid-June 1970 gig at Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium to a rock audience that was more than ready to go on a mind-bending sonic adventure with the jazz musician who, at that point, desperately wanted to play electric music for them. It was two months earlier in April that “Bitches Brew” appeared and acquainted the world with the truly new direction Davis was taking the electric music he’d first made on “Miles in the Sky,” “In a Silent Way” and “Jack Johnson.” It was the genius of Davis though that as much as he hungered for the size and passion and youth of the rock audience in the Psychedelic Era, he couldn’t begin to pander in any way that jazz’s most orthodox audience thought he was. Instead, with his musicians Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette and Airto Moreira – a who’s who from that era – he began making some of the most formally adventurous and exploratory music of his entire life. He was experimenting as much as John Coltrane a few years before but in an entirely different way. While it’s true that tenor and soprano saxophonist Steve Grossman isn’t quite the ideal player for this band, he is far from unfit for it. What was released at the time in 1970 was a misunderstood two-LP set so sloppily produced by Teo Macero (who was, no doubt, doing his best with it) that there were no titles to the tunes. We know so much better now. What we now have complete and edited and fully attributed and annotated includes 100 minutes of previously unreleased music. Cut from the original package was an apt first-hand account by Carlos Santana as told to Ashley Kahn in the 36-page booklet. “The sound of Miles at the Fillmore,” Santana told Kahn, “was the sound of the Black Panthers. It was the sound of Vietnam. It was the sound of protesting and the beatings and the shootings. It was the sound of hippies and fighting in the streets and consciousness revolution. … You can hear that anger and darkness and the craziness of everything that was still in the air from the ’60s when it was made.” You can also hear a great jazz artist challenging himself to begin thinking completely differently from the way he did before and like no one else at the time. What Corea and Jarrett do together here travels the gamut from incendiary to incoherent. Overall, though, Davis is extraordinary. Even with excised notes, history is treated right here. ΩΩΩΩ (Jeff Simon)


Schubert, “Arpeggione” sonata performed by Gautier Capucon, cello; Frank Braley, piano. (Erato). I love this disc specifically for the Schubert “Arpeggione” sonata. And I love the “Arpeggione” for its Adagio. And I love the Adagio for these couple of phrases that are rapturously beautiful in that peculiar Schubertian way. To me you can tell so much about musicians by how they handle those phrases, and it says a lot that Capucon and Braley do them justice. Both of them are passionate players, particularly Capucon, who really sings out on that cello. Capucon has a gutsy sense of rhythm that adds pizzazz to Schumann’s “Five Pieces in Folk Style,” which follows the Schubert. By the way you would not think anything could follow that Schubert, but parts of that Schumann are glorious – the second one, in particular, is ravishing. The generous disc continues with bracing, clear performances of Britten’s quirky, experimental Sonata in C for Cello and Piano and, even better, Debussy’s capricious Cello Sonata. ΩΩΩ½ (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Beethoven and Mozart Piano Concertos, performed by pianist Vera Gornostaeva (LP Classics) Eighty years old now, Vera Gornostaeva is a pianist from the depths of the old Soviet Union. The liner notes say she was blacklisted by the government – though they also say that gave hundreds of concerts a year, published constant articles and was hailed as an Artist of the People, so who knows. The facts are sketchy. That leaves us with the music. It astonished me. Gornostaeva has a style different from anyone else I could think of. You can tell right from the opening fanfare of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto. Her playing is bold and brisk. She plays every note as if she knows exactly how it should sound and pulls no punches. The orchestras match her unusual spirit. The Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev, plays for the Beethoven, and for the other work, Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D Minor, No. 466, it’s the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia, led by Saulius Sondeckis. These Soviets play as if they were under threat of something, with an excitement frequently just this side of reckless. Individual instruments jump out at you. I heard patterns in the music I never heard before. There are few slips but it’s worth it. I am going to hang on to this disc. At 80, Gornostaeva has a new fan. ΩΩΩΩ (M.K.G.)

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