ZZ Top, “Live: Greatest Hits from Around the World” (Suretone). Can’t bury the lede here: this is the great band’s first full-length live album in 46 years. And, furthermore, on the two cuts recorded in concert in London – “Rough Boy” and “Sixteen Tons” (on disc for the first time) – the guest star is no less than Jeff Beck. Yes, we’re talking about the “Sixteen Tons” that was a hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford 60 years ago. While it is undeniably true that anyone who has ever heard the boogie blues monsters from Texas owes it to his or her self to catch them live, it doesn’t also follow that a live concert record by the boys is as great an experience as the concerts themselves or the band’s meticulously killer studio records (including any number of indispensable greatest hits anthologies). They have been matchless record makers in their careers but that implies a notable falling off in live recordings. “The true document of life de la ZZ” guitarist Billy F. Gibbons calls this. They tour tirelessly (they were in Buffalo recently; we have long been a frequent ZZ stop). The big problem here is that we know where each performance was recorded (Berlin, Dallas, Las Vegas, Sao Paulo etc.) but not when. And when you’re talking about guys who have been on the road since Nixon was president, that’s key information. The truth is that a fair amount of the record is muddy, however spirited (unsurprising in such far-flung live sets). It’s nothing if not fun, nevertheless. But if you’re going to talk about guitar boogie from their era, the awful truth is that, as great as ZZ Top remains, you have to question whether they bring as much incendiary rock spirit to performing in the 21st century as, say, Lord help us, Ted Nugent does. (Unpleasant as that is to admit.) Three out of four stars.
Shirley Horn, “Live at the Four Queens” (Resonance). Miles Davis famously loved her. The jazz world in general remained in ignorance of her for an uncommonly long time nevertheless. But that world was eventually awakened to the existence of a jazz singer-pianist who, if not quite the singer that Blossom Dearie and Carmen McRae were, was far more proficient singing and playing the piano together. Horn was never a truly great pianist, but she could certainly swing. Here is a live 1988 Horn gig at Las Vegas’ Four Queens Hotel in a room which was Las Vegas’ great jazz room of the time. According to notater Brian Sanders, the audience for Monday Night Jazz there might include, on some nights, Billy Eckstine, Liza Minnelli and Freddie Cole. This is a typical lush and lavish Resonance issue of vintage jazz hitting the light of day for the very first time. There are interviews with producers Richard Seidel and Jean-Philippe Allard, a reminiscence by her friend Sheila Jordan, and notater James Gavin quoting a classic encomium to Horn by Marian McPartland “I’ve never known anyone who can do a ballad that slowly and keep it musical, keep it moving.” Listen, here to “Just for a Thrill.” You’ll hear, quite plentifully here, why Horn was beloved by her fellow jazz musicians so much. Three out of four stars.