There is only so much of a performer's energy and personality that can be captured in a recording studio. Fortunately, there are performers that understand that fact and have released live albums that, more often than not, give the listener that chance to come close to the live experience without ever leaving home.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band released their first sanctioned live album in 1986. The multi-disc Live/1975-85 made a lot of Springsteen fans happy and his latest live album, Live In New York City ( Columbia ) should produce the same results. The 19 tracks, spread out over two CDs, is the companion piece to his HBO concert special which was recorded during Springsteen and Company's historic Madison Square Garden concerts during the summer of 2000. The songs are a mix of the old classics ( "Prove It All Night," "Two Hearts," "Atlantic City," "Badlands," "Out In The Street," "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," to name a few ) and new standards, including the controversial "American Skin ( 41 Shots ) " and "Land Of Hope And Dreams." This live set is an essential addition to your Springsteen collection, whether you only have a couple of his albums or the complete canon.
The baker's two dozen tracks on Live From Mars, the first live album from Ben Harper ( and his band The Innocent Criminals ) feature blistering interpretations of the songs from Harper's previous studio discs. Combine the vocal and guitar prowess of the late Jeff Buckley with the religious leanings and guitar skills of Lenny Kravitz, and you have some sense of what you will hear. The live version of Harper's biggest "hit" "Steal My Kisses" goes over well and he even throws in a well-received cover of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing."
Recently, Judy Davis starred in a tastefully done television biopic about Judy Garland. At around the same time, Judy At Carnegie Hall ( Capitol ) , Garland's legendary double-disc live set was reissued on disc. "Recorded Live and Complete— Carnegie Hall—April 23, 1961," Judy At Carnegie Hall was reissued in 2000 in a 24-Karat Gold deluxe edition, but this 2001 edition reissue is every bit as enjoyable ( and considerably less expensive ) . The love affair between Garland and her audience is in full effect on this historic live recording, and is essential to the music library of every queer person, regardless of gender.
Funny and charming Jim Caruso's Live And In Person ... ( LML Music ) album, on which he is joined by Billy Stritch ( on piano and vocals ) is a good example of the magic of cabaret. Standard, new and old, from the American songbook are at the heart of this live album ( just listen to the "Massive Mercer Medley" of Johnny Mercer tunes to get a sense of what I mean ) , and Caruso's personality is the blood pumping through the delightful renditions.
Beyond 'Ken Burns Jazz'
If you tuned in to PBS to watch documentary filmmaker Ken Burns' Jazz series earlier this year, you were given a real sense of the history of jazz.
At the end of it, did you find yourself wondering where to go from there? The good news is that there are plenty of new jazz recordings from which to choose.
You can hear echoes of the piano work of Art Tatum, Count Basie, and even Duke Ellington, on Places ( Warner Brothers ) by Brad Mehldau, Written In The Stars ( Blue Note ) by Bill Charlap Trio, and Matthew Shipp's New Orbit ( Thirsty Ear ) . Mehldau, Charlap and Shipp all remind us of what it is about the piano that makes it so suited for the improvisation essential to jazz.
On Places, Brad Mehldau has recorded both solo and trio ( with Larry Grenadier on bass and Jorge Rossy on drums ) pieces. Mehldau is as comfortable working alone as he is with an ensemble, and the solo and trio number are all distinctive. Personally, I enjoyed the seven solo pieces ( out of 13 total tracks ) more, particularly "29 Palms," "Los Angeles II," and "Paris." However, "Schloss Elmau," on which the trio performed is a standout.
Bill Charlap shares the limelight with the members of his trio Peter Washington ( bass ) and Kenny Washington ( drums ) on Written In The Stars. The 11 tracks are covers of familiar standards ( including "It Was Written In The Stars," "In The Still Of The Night," "The Man That Got Away," and "One For My Baby," to name a few ) performed with Charlap's unique touch on the ivories.
For more experimental piano tunes, may I suggest Matthew Shipp's quartet work ( Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass, Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet and Gerald Cleaver on drums ) on New Orbit. Shipp's jazz compositions respectfully combine the past, present and future into challenging musical moments.
Where else but on a Medeski, Martin and Wood album would jazz, hip-hop beats and punk guitars be able to come together without too much bloodshed? The Dropper ( Blue Note ) , like MMW's previous discs, seems to be the musical bridge for old and young jazz fans.
There is also enough room on the "musical bridge" for the San Francisco-based trio known as the Broun Fellinis, who count James Brown, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Ornette Coleman among their influences. Those influences, and others, come through loud and clear on the Broun Fellinis' 1998 album Out Through The N Door ( Weed ) , which has been reissued on CD.
Back to Medeski Martin & Wood, for a moment. DJ Smash Presents Phonography: The Blue Note Remix-Mix CD ( Blue Note ) features Guru's remix of "Whatever Happened To Gus." This disc takes the merging of hip-hop and jazz to the next level on tracks by Ronny Jordan ( "A Brighter Day" featuring Mos Def and remixed by DJ Spinna ) , Bob Belden ( two Beatles tunes, one of which features Cassandra Wilson and Dianne Reeves ) , Cassandra Wilson ( with Angelique Kidjo on Joe Claussell's remix of "Voodoo Child" ) , Richard Elliot ( Todd Terry's remix of "So Special" ) and St. Germain ( Blaze's remix of "Rose Rouge" ) .
If your taste in jazz runs toward the more traditional, fear not. Young trumpet player David Young will blow you away when you hear him perform with his quintet, New Republic, on his debut disc of original material Appassionata ( Big Chicago ) . The nine songs, ranging from an uptempo jam to Latin-tinged number to down tempo balladry, are a superb introduction to a new artist bursting with talent.
Traditional jazz holdouts will be pleased to know about some other recent releases and reissues, including The Essential Miles Davis ( Columbia/Legacy ) . Described as "the finest, and easily the most panoramic Miles Davis mini-retrospective ever assembled," the double-disc, 23-track compilation covers 40 years of Davis's influential career. Beginning in 1946 with Davis's work with Charlie Parker ( "Now's The Time" from The Immortal Charlie Parker ) and ending in 1986 with his rendition of the Marcus Miller tune "Portia" ( from Tutu ) , the songs are comprised of studio and live versions. As educational as it is enjoyable, The Essential Miles Davis can only hint at the essence of such a brilliant and beloved musician. The remarkable three-disc set The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions ( Columbia/Legacy ) will also be invaluable to Davis devotees.
Speaking of reissues, two albums by jazz trombonist Phil Ranelin, from the early-to-mid '70s, are now available on CD in expanded editions. The Time Is Now ( Hefty ) was originally released in 1974 and Vibes From The Tribe ( Hefty ) was issued in 1976 can now reach a whole new generation of jazz fans.
Finally, Nylon & Steel ( Angel ) is an album of guitar duets by Manuel Barrueco and guest artists Al Di Meola, Steve Morse and Andy Summers. In addition to performing songs written by each of his duet partners, Barrueco has also selected some choice cover material, including the exquisite "Cavatina" ( written by Stanley Myers ) which he performs with Steve Morse. His lone solo performance is that of gay composer Aaron Copland's "Rodeo," and it is another high point of the album.