Sunday, 28 April 2013

Miles Davis: Live in Europe 1969 (Vol. 2 from the Bootleg series) CD review

I picked this up, because I like Chick, Miles, and Wayne Shorter. It didn't disappoint. The sound could have been better, although it is pretty good for a video from 1969. The bass seems a little low in the mix. I've heard that Vol 1 of the series has a similar issue.

There are a few things that I would change. Firstly, there is little change of repertoire over the 3 discs and DVD. Granted, all the performances were noticeably different, but If there were other tracks available (apparently there are), I would have liked to hear them. I prefer the acoustic version of Nefertiti over the electric one, for example. Were there other acoustic performances?

On the DVD, there weren't any graphics to note when they started new charts. Sometimes the transitions are very difficult to catch, and the graphics might have helped.

Overall, I'm glad I bought it, and will order Vol 2 when I can afford it.

4 out of 5 stars

Friday, 26 April 2013

Chicago - The Nashville Sessions

I haven't reviewed a new CD for a while. I've got some new ones in the pipeline, but here is the first:

Chicago - The Nashville Sessions

When it comes to Chicago, I'm a bit of a complete-ist. I have all of the numbered albums, either on Vinyl or on CD, plus one "boot" of the Toronto concert that everyone seems to have released, as well as Live in Japan on MP3s. I also have several of the solo albums by Robert Lamm, Peter Cetera and the Howland-Imboden Project (and HLMP). I don't have any of the DVD's, but there are a couple on my wish-list.

The problem with Chicago is the lack of new music. Several years ago we got XXX (2005?), which I don't know how that was achieved except through counting some greatest hits and Christmas albums in the numbering. What are 27-29? Good question. What is 22? Another good question, since it was later released as XXXII (recorded in 1994?). What is 31? Apparently there is an album of new music in the works. What will they name that? 40?

The Nashville Sessions is un-numbered, so it avoids that issue (maybe). It is a re-recording of 15 of their mostly-Kath-era hits. (There are two lame Donnie Dacus-era songs, too, from Hot Streets.)

Why did I buy it? 

I was hoping it would be an updating of the hits like the live Chicago 26 album with the latest personnel, but it wasn't. Recorded in 2009, Bill Champlin is gone, but there is no sign of the two new guys, Lou Pardini, and Walfredo Reyes (who arrived later). I can live with that, but the premise of this album is wrong. What they have done is re-recorded the songs almost exactly as they originally appeared, attempting to even duplicate some inaccuracies.


Got me. You get the same solos, for the most part, and as much a re-creation of the original vocals as they could assemble without Kath, Cetera, or Dacus. You get the singles versions of Make Me Smile and More than Ever, crunched together to simulate the Ballet for the Girl in Buchanon, but separating out Color My World. They even further truncated the ending of More than Ever for no obvious reason. Was this an error in the editing room?

The sound is clearer than the originals, although I think the saxophone is further back in the brass mix, especially evident in the songs from Chicago VI. They might have tracked the brass individually, and that means they don't blend as well as in the old 16-track masters. The brass doesn't seem as full as in the original Chicago II recordings, although it is cleaner. The originals were noisy and slightly distorted, and very flat, even in the Rhino re-release. The brass in general might be further back in the mix, and are much drier.

Do I regret buying it (for $13.99)?

Well, yes, I suppose. For what it is, it is over-priced. You can only get it direct from the band through TopSpin Records, and the label is Chicago Records II, not to be confused with Chicago Records, who released 26, and some of the greatest hits albums. I don't know the story, but I assume they wound up that entity when they signed their deal with Rhino, only to reform after their Rhino contract was complete.

Chicago has yet to make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and for me, it is easy to see why: Terry Kath. He was a great guitarist, but the band never moved on. Even with this release they are re-hashing Kath-era hits in order to solidify their HOF creds. He died over 30 years ago guys, get over it! You will only find new fans with new music by the new guys. That's what Deep Purple has done over and over again. Simper is gone, so is Coverdale, so is Bolin, so is Blackmore, so is now Jon Lord. They moved on and another new album is imminent. They are already playing the new songs in concert before the release. That's how you do it. That's how you build and rebuild your audience. Stop trying to sound like Chicago 1976. Be Chicago 2013. Chicago was envisioned to be a faceless brand, but has turned into a Terry Kath tribute band.

2 (out of 5) stars for me, because the originals were so good, but I don't need yet another rehash of the hits.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Pell grants

Today, a panel of experts determined that Pell grants were a waste of money. I didn't read the report, but I heard what they said about it on NPR. Apparently, they said that too many grant students dropped out of college. Why? They had enrolled in colleges with high dropout rates, or they had quit because they had to work.

Why should they have to work? The grant supplies them with ca $3750 for their studies. I can't remember whether the story said on average or maximum. Either way, my answer is clear.

The answer isn't to cut Pell grants, but to increase them. $3750 is nothing compared to what students pay for their education, when they could pay over $50,000 a year. If they go to a university that costs significantly less, they are likely to be in ones that have higher dropout rates. If they dropout to work, they are probably struggling to pay the rest of their tuition. If the grants were higher, that wouldn't be so much of a problem.

They also said some students weren't ready for college. Very few are, and in some cases, college is really just High School 2.0, a stopping place on the way to graduate school, where much of the real learning takes place. In many cases an undergraduate degree only provides the rudiments to enable students to step to the next level, and as such teaches little more than rote learning. It is in graduate school where students assimilate and apply that knowledge. Personally speaking, I didn't know how much I knew until I took my qualifying exams for my doctorate.

Those Pell grants, as meager as they are, enable students to attempt college who might not otherwise have a chance. Even if only (say) 10% of the students go on to their degree, that other 90% at least took a stab at it, and might have found a love of learning that they wouldn't otherwise have realized. College isn't for everyone, but some won't know that until they try it, and who knows how much they might learn in that 1-2 years before they drop out.

Too many people these days have a jaded look at results. They must get an A, or they must finish their degree, and that degree must get them a high-paying job. Nothing is guaranteed, but you will never know if you succeed until you try. Not only is there merit in making the attempt, but there is benefit in gaining knowledge even if you don't complete the degree.

Don't cut Pell grants. Expand them into a program that will enable students to go to and finish college without crippling financial hardship. The opposite would dumb down the population, and while it might make Republicans happy (more under-educated people tend to vote Republican) and save money from the budget, it may cost us more in the long run.