By Phil Gallo
What glowing accolade is left to be said about John Coltrane? Filmmaker John Scheinfeld knew long before he shot a single reel of Chasing Coltrane that a combination of talking heads and cradle-to-grave biography would insufficiently serve Coltrane’s legacy. To push beyond the limited footage and interviews—Denzel Washington reads Coltrane quotes and liner notes to give the saxophonist a voice in the doc—Scheinfeld amplifies Coltrane’s connections to the world beyond jazz, touching on the civil rights movement and its leaders, his admiration for intellects such as Einstein and fulfilling his responsibilities as a parent and husband.
Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary, which opens today in Los Angeles, is the story of the man as much as it is the saxophonist. The film is wall-to-wall Coltrane music culled from his years with Atlantic, Impulse, Prestige, Blue Note and, with Miles Davis, Columbia, yet it avoids any dissection of his style and concentrates on how he conducted himself and how his music would affect multiple generations after his death in 1967.
Scheinfeld focuses on a crucial period for Coltrane, the late 1950s, when Trane worked with Davis, created his own quartet and became a leading light among jazz composers. He also dealt with a heroin addiction and going cold turkey at a time when he was also attempting to be a decent father and husband.
While the film concentrates on the man, Rhino will focus on the revolutionary music he recorded for Atlantic Records.
A new anthology, Trane: The Atlantic Collection, focuses on 1959-1961 and comes out 6/9. Mono LPs of Giant Steps, Olé Coltrane, Coltrane Plays The Blues, Bags & Trane and The Avant-Garde follow on 6/16 and a mono CD of Giant Steps arrives 7/7. The albums were recently issued together as part of Rhino's boxed set John Coltrane: The Atlantic Years In Mono.
ELLEN "HOT" FOR SPOON
By Bud ScoppaEllen DeGeneres loves Spoon—who knew? The band performed a taut “Hot Thoughts” on Tuesday’s show after the host revealed she’s obsessed with the song, which continues to top the Mediabase Triple A chart.
In a featured review of the new LP for Uncut, I wrote: Unlike most of their 40-ish contemporaries, Britt Daniel and Jim Eno have never wavered in their focus, never lost the plot, never allowed ego to distort their disciplined direction—resulting in the most consistent output of any 21st century band—and Hot Thoughts finds them at the peak of their considerable powers. The album feels effortlessly ambitious as it unfolds—and continues to unfold with each listen, in the way that the most treasured LPs of decades ago gradually revealed their mysteries. With Spoon’s ninth album, they’ve cemented their place in the firmament of undeniably great rock bands.
Check out what fellow fan Karen Glauber has to say about her efforts to convince Modern Rock programmers to play "Hot Thoughts" in Post Toasted.
DEBORAH SILVER’S SUPREME VISITOR
Though she’s fairly new as jazz divas go, Deborah Silver displays classically swingin’ old-school pipes on her just-released debut album The Gold Standards, a lovely stroll through the Great American Songbook that’s racing up the contemporary jazz charts.
And it takes a diva to know a diva. Stopping by to say hello during a recent performance at L.A.’s Catalina Jazz Club was founding SupremeMary Wilson, who, after the show, apparently challenged Silver to a synchronized dance-off to the tune of “Stop! In the Name of Love.”
ANALOG FOREVER: A CIVILIZED DISS OF THE DIGITAL AGE
You’d think a lament about the downside of the digital age from Galaxie 500’s Damon Krukowski would be a bitter, geezer-fied rant about how great things were in the good ol’ lo-fi days at the end of the last century.
Au contraire. In The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World (The New Press) Krukowski does manage to persuasively argue the subtle ways in which the slow death of analog has altered our way listening habits and hence our way of life. But rather than hammering readers with fire and brimstone about the stake digital technology has driven into the heart of Western civilization, the drummer-turned-author drives his thesis on a magical history tour through sound and space.
The secret sauce, according to Krukowski? It’s the noise. These days, signal is king, but the corresponding loss of noise has left the world a bit less interesting. Beyond music, he breaks down the desensitizing effects of related technologies, including GPS and mobile phones.
Krukowski knows about noise, beautiful and otherwise. He explains technological shifts over the past century and how those shifts altered the mindset of listeners, from sheet music to wax cylinders, CDs to Napster to streaming to Kanye’s post-release fiddling with The Life of Pablo. Kanye called it contemporary art. The author calls it “art severed from its own history.”
The sonic march of time gets a thoughtful scrubbing, And The New Analog is worth a read simply for those moments, from the advent of stereo, to the revolution/revelation of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on headphones, the studio trickery of 70s Krautrockers Can, or Frank Sinatra’s studio genius, his mastery of phrasing and use of the mic.
BREAKING DOWN THE 50TH ANNI EDITION OF SGT. PEPPER'S
A record long regarded as a pinnacle of rock music will receive its first-ever expanded edition in celebration of its 50th anniversary. On 5/26, Apple Corps Ltd./Capitol/UMe will release an edition of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that includes new stereo and 5.1 surround audio mixes by Giles Martin and Sam Okell, 33 previously unreleased takes and classic videos.
The album will be released in multiple formats, but if you plunk down the big bucks for the six-CD set, here is the music you will be adding to your collection:
Five versions of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” (stereo, mono, 5.1, outtake, instrumental)
Four versions of “With A Little Help From My Friends” (stereo, mono, 5.1, instrumental)
Six versions of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” (stereo, mono, 5.1, unreleased mono mix, 2 outtakes)
Five versions of “Getting Better” (stereo, mono, 5.1, instrumental, outtake)
Five versions of “Fixing A Hole” (stereo, mono, 5.1, 2 outtakes)
Six versions of “She's Leaving Home” (stereo, mono, 5.1, unreleased mono mix, 2 instrumentals)
Five versions of “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite! ” (stereo, mono, 5.1, 2 outtakes)
Four versions of “Within You Without You” (stereo, mono, 5.1, Indian Instruments)
Four versions of “When I'm Sixty-Four” (stereo, mono, 5.1, outtake)
Four versions of “Lovely Rita” (stereo, mono, 5.1, outtake)
Five versions of “Good Morning Good Morning” (stereo, mono, 5.1, outtake, instrumental)
Four versions of “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) ” (stereo, mono, 5.1, outtake)
Nine versions of “A Day In The Life” (stereo, mono, 5.1, unreleased mono mix, 3 outtakes, orchestra overdub, promo film)
Eight versions of “Strawberry Fields Forever” (stereo, mono, 5.1, 4 outtakes, promo film)
Seven versions of “Penny Lane” (stereo, mono, 5.1, U.S. promo single in mono, instrumental, vocal overdubs, promo film)
GRATEFUL DEAD DOC GETS 5/26 RELEASE
It’s like the music never stopped: Amazon’s Grateful Dead documentary Long Strange Trip will be released in theaters on 5/26, the same day Rhino/Grateful Dead Records release the soundtrack. Amir Bar-Lev’s doc starts streaming on Amazon Prime Video on 6/2.
Squabbles about the superiority of the 4/28/71 performance of “St. Stephen” over all other versions will have to be put on hold for the length of the film: Four hours.
Long Strange Trip marks the first time Amazon Original Movies and Amazon Original Series have partnered on an original project to be released in theaters and on Prime.
The film features extensive newly shot interviews with Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and MickeyHart plus footage from a lengthy Jerry Garcia interview shot late in his life. Former Warner Bros. President Joe Smith, biographer Dennis McNally, roadies, wives, Deadheads such as Al Franken and Garcia’s daughter add to the narrative.
The film includes more than 75 Dead performances. The official soundtrack featuring rare and unreleased Grateful Dead recordings will be available on Amazon Music. Hallucinogens sold separately.
OPENING THE DOORS ANEW
On 3/31, Rhino is dropping the 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of The Doors' eponymous debut album. The new set, packaged in a hardcover book, contains a 180-gram vinyl edition; complete CDs of both the stereo and mono versions of the album (which originally appeared on Elektra); a live CD finding the band performing most of the debut's songs at San Francisco's The Matrix; and a lavishly detailed booklet with a rich gallery of photos and notes by David Fricke. As is typical of Rhino, it makes a compelling case not just for physical product in the age of streaming but for outright commodity fetishism.
Then there are the songs: "Break On Through (to the Other Side)," "Soul Kitchen," "The Crystal Ship," "Twentieth Century Fox," "Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)," "Light My Fire," "Back Door Man," "I Looked at You," "End of the Night," "Take It as It Comes" and "The End." It's still hard to believe, 50 years on, that this band came so fully formed on their first release. But their inimitable sonic blend of blues, psychedelia, jazz, cabaret and Latin Grooves, powered by the singular machine that was the Manzarek-Krieger-Densmore chemistry, was probably never better represented. That, paired with Jim Morrison's sexed-up, kaleidoscopic, apocalyptic visions, still conjures a fever dream unlike anything in pop music history.
ELLA AT 100: UME/VERVE SWINGS INTO ACTION
Four days before the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitgerald’s birth, Verve and UMe will begin celebrating the First Lady of Song with four-CD box set titled 100 Songs For A Centennial and a limited edition six-LP Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Books.100 Songs For A Centennial, which comes out 4/21,starts in 1936 when Ella was singing with Chick Webb and his orchestra and spans her years with Decca and Verve. It includes he famous improvised version of “Mack The Knife” from 1960’s Ella in Berlin and her hits such as “Summertime,” “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
The Gershwin Song Books, recorded with Nelson Riddle and long considered the pinnacle of her recordings, is a replica of the five-LP set originally released in 1959. The set, in stereo, includes five lithographs by French impressionist painter Bernard Buffet, as well as the hardcover book, Words And Music, which has been updated with additional historical information and an afterword by writer David Ritz.
The sixth LP includes orchestra tracks, outtakes and a mono alternate take of “Oh, Lady Be Good!”
Later in the year, UMe will release Cheek To Cheek: The Complete Ella & Louis Duets, a four-CD set that combines Fitzgerald and Armstrong’s Decca singles, three Verve albums and bonus tracks. Verve will also release a new album featuring Fitzgerald’s classic vocals and new orchestral arrangements by the London Symphony Orchestra.
The eight albums that make up the Ella Fitzgerald Song Bookswere upgraded to various high-resolution audio formats last month. The 300 singles she recorded for Decca from 1935 to 1955 will be made available digitally in the form they were released (A side/B side) on 3/24 in four chronological volumes.
We were recently turned on to her version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The Gentleman is a Dope” on 1962’s Ella Swings Brightly With Nelson. Fingers crossed the Riddle sessions make it into the reissue program.
On Ella’s 100th birthday, 4/25, The Grammy Museum will open a new exhibit titled Ella At 100: Celebrating the Artistry of Ella Fitzgerald. The exhibit will include rare recordings, correspondence, photos, stage costumes and her Grammy Awards.
On 4/1, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in D.C. will open First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald at 100, a year-long exhibit that will also feature awards, letters, sheet music and costumes. The Library of Congress will celebrate Ella with a concert by Dianne Reeves on 3/31.
CLINT HOLMES' MASTER CLASS
Clint Holmes is one of those guys.
You might say he’s one of the Vegas guys, in the sense that he kills in a room full of fans dying for a bit of that classic ring-a-ding-ding. But more importantly, he’s one of a diminishing group of masterful singers who can tackle the American songbook with aplomb, wrapping his supple pipes around the standards and conjuring new revelations from their timeless melodies. At the same time, he has the dexterity to bring nuance and grace to contemporary pop.
His new set, Rendezvous (LL Music), showcases that versatility to splendid effect. Produced by Gregg Field and featuring collaborators like The Count Basie Orchestra, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Patti Austin, Jane Monheit, Ledisi, Joey DeFrancesco and Dave Koz, the album elegantly bridges the gap between midcentury jazz and modern songcraft. The arrangements skew intimate, giving Holmes’ masterful vocals plenty of room; witness his lovely, understated take on "My Way," his glorious "Maria," his aching duet with Monheit on “Every Time We Say Goodbye” or the expert dynamics of “What You Leave Behind,” featuring lyrics by Holmes and music by Koz (who supplies the sax solo). He offers a little backstory with the recitative at the top of “At the Rendezvous,” buoyed by DeFrancesco’s grooving B-3, before plunging, beautifully, into its bluesy depths (and yes, Holmes scats like a motherfucker); that number alone is a master class in jazz singing. He even takes on the A Great Big World hit “Say Something” with Ledisi, transforming it into an Al Green-like soul confection.
All in all, it’s a bracing reminder that jazz—in the hands of the finest singers—can still feel as fresh as a new moon.
RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA
By Simon Glickman
To answer your first question, no, I did not ever imagine I would be grooving ecstatically to music that was filled with Hare Krishna chanting—at least not to anything post-George Harrison. But life is full of surprises, and Jai Uttal’s new set, Roots, Rock, Rama! (Mantralogy), is simply undeniable.
If the spiritual content of this release, which brings timeless reggae, Tropicalia and soul influences to the Kirtan (call-and-response) tradition, sounds like a turnoff to you, I get it. Frankly, I consider all religion silly; that’s just me. And yet I’ve been reduced to rubble by many a gospel record. Why? Because regardless of the theology, the music hit me on a deep level.
And so it is with the exuberant jams on this devout album by Uttal, long a leading light of world music, who sings, plays guitar and leads an expert band through an array of intoxicating jams, many with playful acronyms as titles, such as H.A.R.I. (Hari Awakens Radha’s Incandescence).”
The vibe, especially on the rambunctious first half, often suggests early Toots and the Maytals jamming with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan—devotional, lilting and fiercely funky. There’s even a spirited interpolation of The Beatles’ “Help” on “H.E.L.P. (Hari’s Ecstatic Love Potency),” in which a prayer for divine guidance repositions John Lennon’s plaint. There are also more delicate, Brazilian-influenced tracks, such as the lovely "Saudades de Radha," that provide a delicious cool-down after all that dancing.
Experiencing the music live at Hollywood’s Wanderlust was what sold me. Well-heeled yoga peeps, dreadlocked hippies, music geeks and leather-clad cosmopolites were all throwing down; the mood was as purely positive, inclusive and uplifting as any gig I can recall. And isn’t that exactly what we need these days?
If you know the chanting part to “My Sweet Lord” you already know half the lyrics on this record. But whatever your metaphysical bent (or lack thereof), I think you’ll feel Roots, Rock, Rama! It’s really good music.
Uttal and band will be performing at Spirit Rock in Marin on 3/18 and two fests in Joshua Tree, Shakti Fest (5/12-14) and Bhakti Fest (9/6-11). For more info, go here.