The Cellar Door Sessions 1970
A whole, whole lot of a good thing. The Cellar Door Sessions comprises six CDs of live material, portions of which appeared on the double LP Live Evil. Miles and his backing quintet (augmented by guitarist John McLaughlin on discs 5 and 6) delve into long, funky forays, wandering down any back alley they please. Electric Miles on wax, always probing and expansive, is rarely as extemporaneous as this. Miles' penchant for Hendrix, Sly and James Brown is on full display — via drummer Jack DeJohnette's hard-charging grooves, for one, but also the trumpeter's use of wah-wah, or Keith Jarrett's grimy, overdriven electric keyboards, or the employment of bassist Michael Henderson, a Motown alum, who lends the music a rock-solid bottom.Most of the tunes are built around rugged vamps or riffs, launching pads for improvisations that often run up to 20 minutes and beyond. It's not all pummel; a few of the tunes ("Honky Tonk," "Yesternow") begin teasingly, in near-stillness, and then creep to roiling crescendos. You can hear the band gel over the course of the four-night stand at D.C.'s Cellar Door club. Saxophonist Gary Bartz's solos, a bit shapeless at first, gain focus with each disc. McLaughlin's reckless contributions, squarely in the screaming rock vein, manage to raise the improvisational intensity.Admittedly, six hours of unrelenting electric Miles, including multiple versions of several tunes, is not for everyone. But for the fiends out there, this is a true feast. 4 stars.
Any proper discussion of Ryan Adam's newest release — his third of '05 — must include eggs. That's right, eggs. On Jacksonville City Nights, released a scant three months ago, Adams twanged, "At the diner in the morning/ For a plate of eggs"; on 29, a cocksure Adams reminisces about "One night at the diner over eggs/ Over easy she showed me the length of her legs" ("Carolina Rain"). Coincidence? Maybe, but the similarity is telling. Adams seems intent on trodding familiar ground, which dims the brilliance of Jacksonville City Nights, if not his entire back catalog. Folks wanna know: When's he going to make another Heartbreaker? Boys and girls, that ain't happening as long as Adams is content to churn out sub par, demo-like discs such as 29. Oh, we still get glimpses of his brilliance, evidenced by a couple tracks ("Night Birds" and "Carolina Rain"). His current fascination with early Grateful Dead is still there, too (it's tough to hear the title track without humming "Truckin'"). 29, so named because each song is devoted to a year of the singer's 20s, is — despite occasional highlights — so similar to his last album that it's reasonable to wonder why Adams made it in the first place. 2.5 stars.
The Killer In You: A Tribute to Smashing Pumpkins
Ten well-known, semi-well-known and fairly obscure metalcore/screamo acts — plus, oddly and thankfully, the decidedly non-screamo string/Goth/cabaret ensemble Murder by Death — cover Billy Corgan's alt-rock godhead. The resulting set is long on capability, but woefully short on both passion and originality. The vast majority of these tracks are bloodless, by-the-numbers readings; only Vaux's "1979," Murder by Death's excellent "We Only Come Out at Night," and Hopefall's interesting take on "Eye" color outside the lines. A wonderfully druggy version of "Soma" by Poison the Well ups the ante as well, but these four tracks just aren't enough to overcome the decidedly half-hearted vibe of everything from Armor for Sleep's rote "Today" to A Static Lullaby's downright irritating "The Everlasting Gaze." 2.5 stars.
JIMMY AMADIE TRIO WITH PHIL WOODS
There is nothing flashy or fussy about this loving tribute to the late Mel Torme by veteran pianist Amadie — just honest, listenable bop suffused with an effortless swing. He recruited two supple groovemeisters for the set — drummer Bill Goodwin and bassist Steve Gilmore — who've long been associated with Woods, the alto sax firebrand whose sweet-tart sound and fluid dexterity remain in fine form. Unlike most jazz tribute albums, Let's Groove! does not solely rely on the Torme songbook, but includes several Amadie originals in a like style. A special nod to the sound recording quality, full of warmth, depth and clarity. (www.jimmyamadie.com) 3.5 stars.