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  Listen Up! 3/12/04 Listen Up!

Friday, Mar. 12

Miles Davis, “Sketches of Spain,” Columbia Legacy Records. This most unusual record in the entire Miles Davis catalogue came along back in 1960. It was a collaboration with Gil Evans on what is essentially orchestrated jazz. Miles improvises a lot, but it’s always against a very set backdrop of Evans design. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – the pair had done something similar a couple years earlier with “Porgy and Bess.” Evans was a master of color, a perfect landscape painter working in music. And Davis shined brightly on top, adding splashes and emotional resonance to the work at hand. This reissue from 1997 sounds magnificent, and adds 19 minutes of new music to the original LP. That’s like picking up a side three on a two-sided album.

Grey DeLisle, “The Graceful Ghost,” Sugar Hill Records. A record this quiet and haunting doesn’t fare too well in the noisy Vintage Vinyl office, but I’m hearing enough to make me think there’s some genuine beauty in this album. Unfortunately, I’m also hearing enough to make me think there might be some genuine pretension, too. I’ll have to take this home and check it out one of these days.

Canned Heat, “Uncanned! The Best of Canned Heat,” EMI Records. I’ve never just sat down and listened to this much Canned Heat at one time, but I’m having a good time with it. These guys were one of the more interesting white blues bands of the 60s. They understood that it was important to put your personal stamp on the old songs even while knowing it was vital to understand every nuance of the originals. They thought of this music as essentially improvisational, and they completely understood the importance of establishing a groove capable of hypnotizing the listener. I love the harmonica player, Al Wilson, and I even more love the songs he sings, with that high lonesome blues tone, the one you’ve heard because you know “Going Up the Country” from Woodstock. I think the band was way better at updating country blues (such as the just mentioned famous song) than they were at digging into the urban Chicago stuff. And I wish there were more songs Wilson sang. Not that I don’t enjoy Bob Hite’s gruff vocals, but I like the contrast.

The O’Jays, “Together We Are One,” The Right Stuff. Great vocals. Horrible songs. Cliched arrangements. Emotional deadwood. How can people fall for this shit? Isn’t it embarrassing to try to seduce somebody with music so obviously manipulative and empty? Really, they could sing anything at all, and it wouldn’t matter. The music exists to show off their voices, which at least resist the temptation to oversing. It’s just sad to hear what once made some of the most exciting records in pop/soul reduced to such a shell of Hallmark-card level inanity.

--Steve Pick

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