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Miles Davis
Birdland 1951
Blue Note

So rare now are new transmissions from the distant be-bop past that any sound at all from the era when Bird and Dizzy forever transformed jazz are welcomed in virtually any condition.

That's certainly the case with the official release of these Miles Davis cuts from Birdland in 1951. Culled from a fan's home recordings of Symphony Sid's radio program, two of these sessions have been floating around in bootleg form for decades; the third set, from February 17 of that year, has never been issued until now.

They've been restored and remastered, but considering the source, there's only so much reconstruction will accomplish. But if your ears adjust, the rewards are impressive.

Of course it was vintage Miles to be honing one style while actively pursuing another; the trumpet legend had just recently completed the Birth of the Cool sessions with arranger Gil Evans when these nightly jam sessions were taking place.

Because Miles never had quite the chops of Fats Navarro or Gillespie (who did?), it's sometimes assumed he wasn't up to snuff as a be-bopper; these cuts offer scorching proof to the contrary. Davis' crisp lines on Denzil Best's romper, "Move," Bud Powell's "Tempus Fugit," and two Tadd Dameron swingers, "The Squirrel" and "Lady Bird," would probably trip up all but the most obsessive fans in a blindfold test.

There are other revelations here, including the underrated piano of Kenny Drew, who joins trombonist JJ Johnson, tenor Sonny Rollins, bassist Tommy Potter and drummer Art Blakey in the first band. Lower in the crude mix, it's still worth following Drew's sharp comping and sinuous lines, and bemoaning the fact that his too-little-too-late notoriety came only when he moved to Europe.

Also of interest is the rare front-line pairing of Miles with tenor-men Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Big Nick Nicholas on the Sept. 29 date, since both of the latter tended to move in different circles of the fertile NYC scene. All three wail behind a big push from Blakey, the palpable bass lines of Charles Mingus, and pianist Billy Taylor.

But because of the sound deficiencies, this disc is a luxury, not a necessity.

Track to burn: "Tempus Fugit"
Grade: B--John Schacht

Air
Talkie Walkie
Source/Astralwerks

Air's best songs take a fleeting beauty and elongate it, sacrificing instant understanding for emotive shadows. Throughout their career, Air has littered their records with mysterious compositions like these; on Talkie Walkie, they have made an album out of them. Tracks pass by like so many train cars, a blur of color and structure, windowed realities defined by perception. This is Air's most song-based album, but they make sense only in context, rendering this the band's most half-baked and complete work yet.

Earlier albums increasingly skirted by on pure production, sometimes to Air's advantage, but often into empty cul-de-sacs. Here, Air's touch is light, for certain songs poke their head above the clouds to find open possibilities. The fragile "Cherry Blossom Girl" lilts in the sun, as "Surfing on a Rocket" takes off into some French rock sub-horizon. Others feel incomplete, like they are missing something vital (love, suggest the lyrics), and are glorious examples of Air's delicacy and craft. "Venus" is just a click-beat and a piano, while a vulnerable man pleads for honest affection. Best of all, perhaps, is "Lost in Kyoto," an instrumental which contains little more than mourning pro-tools, the ocean and a whimpered sigh.

Track to burn: "Cherry Blossom Girl"
Grade: B--Jesse Steichen

Madcap
Under Suspicion
Victory Records

This is an LA band with the makings to be in the next batch of punk faves. The singer, Johnny Madcap, has a reliable punk voice: snarling, yet at the same time melodic and confident. He's a bankable front-man, while the backup opts for the roads traversed by punk bands with pop sensibilities, versus the neck-veins-bulging, pissed-at-everything disposition of many of their contemporaries. They take cues from the likes of the Godfathers, as well as The Clash, especially since the title track is laced with a hint of dub. The record opens with an instantly danceable, pogo-able track, "Keep Dancin'," and rumbles along happily over the course of 10 more. There's even a snazzy hidden track called "Jimmy the Saint," but available only via computer. The horns are a nice touch on "Searching for Ground," interspersed with hints of new wave. Under Suspicion is the band's debut on the venerable label Victory, and the cut "Youth Explosion" just may become an early summer anthem for riding down the boulevard, boombox blasting. Madcap are all about rooting for the punk community, but they also have serious crossover potential in the good times outlook of their music.

Track to Burn: "Keep Dancin'"
Grade: B+--Samir Shukla

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