The Miles Davis Quintet, Live In Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 2 (Columbia / Legacy)
The “lost” quintet, and indeed a lost phase in the mercurial leader’s frenzied dash towards decade’s end, no less cohesive a unit as that captured on Columbia’s previous vault dig even if the personnel had largely changed in the two years since 1967. A particularly forceful Davis and the tenor/soprano of a Wayne Shorter always more assertive in concert settings make room for the new kids - twenty-eight year old Chick Corea taking Herbie Hancock’s place at an electric piano so discordant it brings to mind Cecil Taylor’s excursions on a wobbly rail, twenty-three year old Wolverhampton native Dave Holland swapping out Ron Carter’s spot on a stand-up bass not yet gone electric, and twenty-nine year old Jack DeJohnette furiously filling the space vacated by wunderkind Tony Williams. If the ’67 quintet hinted at electricity, this band embodied it, even if fusion landmark Bitches Brew lay nine long months away from the two Antibes appearances captured here. The mindfuck comes in hearing Davis and company straddle two distinct eras most of us long ago assumed were strictly segregated, as when DeJohnette helps Davis slam directly out of “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down” into 1958’s modal bop anthem “Milestones” or Thelonious Monk’s 1944 “‘Round Midnight”. But the mindfuck also comes when Corea gives up on a malfunctioning electric piano spewing out excess distortion midway through a Stockholm set-opening “Bitches Brew” and switches to acoustic piano for three numbers, briefly reengaging on “Paraphernalia” and “Nefertiti” with the kind of peerless modern jazz catalogued on 1965’s famed Plugged Nickel archive. Within a matter of weeks, “No Blues” and “‘Round Midnight” would forever fade from Davis’ repertoire, with only “I Fall In Love Too Easily” periodically surfacing as a ghostly snippet of a past life. Not one for nostalgia, Miles Dewey Davis III.
Wayne Shorter, Without A Net (Blue Note)
First, the caveats. As a fellow critic and friend remarked, all this talk of “greatest living jazz composer” seems reckless so long as Ornette Coleman and Henry Threadgill walk the land. I’d note a preponderance of Shorter’s merely great soprano sax to the detriment of his magisterial tenor. And despite the horn man’s much-heralded return to Blue Note after a career-length absence, this remains a cobbled-together live document of the working unit he’s leaned upon since 2001, aside from the quite lengthy Third Stream number “Pegasus,” in which the Imani Winds lend their highbrow talents. Only that Third Stream track really is pretty great, blessed with one of Shorter’s most sprightly melodies, sweetened with quotations from Sonny Rollins (“Oleo”) and Shorter himself (“E.S.P.”), and going out on a memorable vamp that swings hard. And even if John Pattitucci will never be my bassist of choice, he acquits himself admirably, while drummer Brian Blade and (especially) Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez burn as brightly as their leader. With the kind of sixth sense that only comes after a decade-plus of anticipating one another’s every move, the quartet darken the strands of Miles Smiles opener “Orbits,” strip away the fusion distractions of Weather Report artifact “Plaza Real,” and milk the fake exotica of 1933 Astaire/Rogers vehicle “Flying Down To Rio” before fearsomely deconstructing its pleasant theme. And despite my instrumental preferences, Shorter’s soprano technique would be a marvel - blithe, soulful, rigorous, transcendent - even if he wasn’t a musician still touring at age eighty.
Bettie Serveert, Oh, Mayhem! (Second Motion)
“I need to get my tough skin back,” Carol van Dijk avers midway through, although the evidence at hand hardly suggests strengthening is in order - rare indeed is the indie outfit facing down twenty years of semi-popularity with songs as short and punchy as these ten slightly skewed pop tunes. Aside from brief feedback-breather “Monogamous,” their Dutch industriousness and Peter Visser’s siren wail muscle over proceedings with such glee one’s tempted to overlook occasional lyric sheet clumsiness: “move to Timbuktu,” “double double / too much toil and trouble,” “carpe your diem”. But even those lines have their attractions, just as “LoserTrack” is a Pavement rip so effortless is suggests van Dijk and crew simply rifled through Stephen Malkmus’ reject pile. Besides, this ESL crew comes up with some notably winning lines, like “Tuf Skin’s” cheer/chant “some need / a high five / in the face / with a chair”. And at 2.21, “Had2Byou” is some kind of pop perfection, as great as Gerry and the Pacemakers until you realize those Merseybeat wimps never once wrote a song half so charming.
Tracks: “Had2Byou,” “Shake-her”
Pissed Jeans, Honeys (Sub Pop)
It’s no mystery why folks are bouncing car doors off boners over this album. It’s on Sub Pop! It sounds real great! “Vain In Costume” is primo hardcore! They write better songs than Fucked Up! They, uh, have a really goofy name! I’d note that their original monicker (Unrequited Hard On) was even goofier, and either name helps explain why women are not flocking to their Jesus Lizard grindcore (seems worth pointing out earlier full length Hope For Men, plus EP Throbbing Organ). Not that this Pennsylvania crew advocates anything untoward - I swear there was a promo photo floating around boasting a female band member, and a song like “Male Gaze” actively grapples with the heavy damage wrought by decades of punk rock misogyny. But raging about one’s woman confusion over aggressive music is always going to seem, well, aggressive to us more gentlemanly types. And unless the Jesus Lizard was your go-to 90s pop outfit, Matt Korvette’s hectoring bluster won’t make you swoon. Best lyric: the “yaaaaaaaarrrrrrgghhh” in opener “Bathroom Laughter”.
Tracks: “Vain In Costume,” “Male Gaze”
Darkstar, News From Nowhere (Warp)
Imagine an honorary member of the Elephant 6 collective discovering the existence of underground dance (in a magazine, perhaps), and giving it the old college try. Aside from late 2012 proggy single “Timeaway,” there are no songs here, really, unless the meandering “A Day’s Pay For A Day’s Work” counts, which one notable media source compared favorably to the Beach Boys and another media source compared favorably to Grizzly Bear. They wish. Lothar & the Hand People, maybe, although Darkstar lack the pop smarts required for even the dubious likes of a “L-O-V-E (Ask For It By Name)”.
Jim James, Regions Of Light And Sound Of God (ATO)
At the very least, this head injury-sparked spiritual journey will help raise the profile of wood engraver and graphic novel pioneer Lynd Ward, whose six groundbreaking long form tales (both implicitly and explicitly referred to within these nine songs) may be explored at length in a lovely two volume Library Of America set. Retailing for $60 or so, it’s a decidedly steeper investment of both your cash and time than this under-$10 thirty-eight minute album. But the returns are greater, too, unless you seek big answers from such theosophists as George Harrison, the last artist to spark Jim’s solo musings.