Dylan and Miles et al: How Much More Can you Take?   Part Two.

So Miles and Bob are linked through their long association with the CBS  behemoth. 

I’d now like to float a comparison between the Grateful Dead and Charlie Parker, if that’s ok.

The meat of both these ‘acts’ was in the live stuff (whilst also saluting their considerably wonderful studio accomplishments). The Dead were obsessive tapers and were obsessively taped (most of their live appearances over some 30 years, 1965-1995, were preserved). Parker had Dean Benedetti’s OCD mind and tape machine, preserving hundreds of his solos, whilst leaving out his fellow musicians as being somehow ‘surplus to requirements’). At least Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Micky Hart, Tom Constantin and Bill Kreutzmann were left to speak for themselves, without any ‘authorial intrusions’ from the likes of Benedetti. Thank Christ. The Dead were only the most prolific of many bootlegged bands by the mid-70s, and I remember the likes of the Allman Brothers (At Watkins Glen), Led Zeppelin (Live at Blueberry Hill) and Little Feat (Electric Lycanthrope), for example, offering high-quality illegal product that enhanced the relative paucity of these band’s official output. This all seems so quaint now, when quality control seems to have gone out of the window. (The Allmans, Zep and Feat arguably had about 5 great albums in ‘em, the rest being just filler. And they were the most prolific!) Of course, you had The Who (Live at Leeds) and Frank Zappa (Live at the Fillmore ‘71) saluting the bootleg format, and acknowledging it’s importance through their vinyl cover art.

Charlie Parker had around 15 years, the Dead around 20. The vast bulk of their recordings are live, of varying provenances and quality (only obsessives and completists need apply). Miles Davis recorded across SIX decades (1945-1991), as has Bob Dylan (1961-2020), with the latter entering his SEVENTH unparalleled decade of achievement with Rough and Rowdy Ways in 2020. Duke Ellington was another ‘sixer’ (1924-1974), and it’s difficult to find any remaining longitudinal masters still producing significant work today (Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell in the jazz/improv world, but none that I can think of in that of rock music, apart from Dylan. Nick Cave?). Let’s thus  be thankful for the creative generosity of our surviving elders, despite the rapacity of record companies and the bewildering amount of ‘product’, past and present, that continues to be set before our eyes.

Bob Dylan, Miles Davis and Others: How Much More Can You Take?

Listening to and watching ‘Eat the Document’ has precipitated my latest ‘Dylan phase’. (I discussed a while back how I periodically return to certain artists/bands, and binge for a few weeks on their works: Dylan, Miles, the Grateful Dead, Zappa and Beefheart, and several others.) So, one side-effect of this phase is that I bit the bullet and made two entirely frivolous purchases :

The Real Albert Hall 1966 Concert - I’d like to get the 36-CD set of the entire European tour of that year,but I guess that even I have a breaking point as to just how many versions of ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ I can stomach. I originally bought the vinyl bootleg in 1974.

The Bootleg Series Vol. 14, More Blood, More Tracks - being the legendary New York outtakes for Blood On the Tracks, which I’ve had in ‘real’ bootleg form, as Passed Over and Rolling Thunder, since 1977.

Talk about Unnecessary Pleasures! However, it feels good to make give oneself small, guilty pleasures in times such as these. It also got me thinking about how ‘bootleg culture’, at it’s peak probably in the mid-70s, became commodified and institutionalised in the CD era (now itself passed over?)  CBS Records, in particular, with it’s two major cash cows, the gifts that keep on giving (i.e. Dylan and Miles) have milked these two cows for all they are worth. Bob D. has provided the material for his ’Bootleg Series’, as mentioned, and it a testament to his genius that this lengthy series is a mostly unalloyed pleasure. Similarly, Miles has posthumously received a ‘Legacy’ imprint, to release his works in box set form (and to bequeath us all the stuff that Teo Macero saw fit to leave out). But the label can ultimately  be forgiven, even if just for the mammoth Live at the Cellar Door performances from 1970.

I both pity and envy those who are getting into these two musical artists. Whether or not one sees CBS ‘exploiting’ them, the label has provided a vast treasure trove of studio and live albums, official and ‘unofficial’, to the extent that their discographies are now almost unmanageable to the average listener. They both have very complex recording histories at the best of times. Getting hold of their extensive ‘packages’ and giving them even a semi-cursory listening is the work of several months at least (the Dylan European Tour set covers 29 hours of music alone!) Having said that, Dylan’s case is exceptional for a ‘rock’ artist, both in terms of quantity and of quality.But some of my other recurring faves also present a ‘tyranny of choice’ for the listener, both for neophytes and, increasingly, for longstanding fans. as we will see. But when is ‘much’ ‘too much’?

To be continued…

‘Eat the Document’.  Part the Second

In back of car, Dylan is accompanied by probably the western world of 1966′s second coolest man, John Lennon, fresh from just having released Revolver, arguably The Beatles’ single greatest album. Dylan, in turn, was just about to unleash Blonde on Blonde on the world, the very first double vinyl album in rock history (just ahead of The Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out!),, again arguably the pinnacle of his vast output. Amazing to think that we are given the privilege of seeing the meeting of these minds, a bit like imagining a head-to-head of James Joyce and Marcel Proust. (This did happen once, and apparently was as essentially unexciting as the Dylan/Lennon summit, with both authors being very cautious in the presence of a similar level of genius.)

Both were wrecked, Dylan much more obviously. For lovers of celebrity substance use/abuse trivia, both, by Lennon’s later account, were smacked-out. (Lennon was just starting his heroic LSD binge, before becoming addicted, along with Yoko, to Thomas de Quincey and Charlie Parker’s favourite tipple.) Dylan goes’ on the nod’, certainly, but he could also be just plain pissed. Whatever, it’s a shit show of ‘clever dickery’ as Lennon honestly admitted. It didn’t help that the other people in the car appear to be another world class smart aleck, Bob Neuwirth (who is such an irritating presence in ‘Don’t Look Back’) and, I think, another member of Dylan’s inner circle, Victor Maymudes, who appears to be driving this particular ship of fools. Lennon was again honest enough to admit that he felt intimidated by these two very minor talents, a ridiculous notion, I know, given that he was one of the four most famous men in the world. Who remembers Neuwirth now, apart from Dylan obsessives?

Lennon comes across well in this 20-minute segment. He is obviously expected to demonstrate his infamously sarcastic and acerbic wit, and he dutifully does his best (he comments on Dylan’s “sore eyes and groovy forehead”, for example), but what comes across far more is his sheer boredom, anxiety (constantly looking out the rear window of the car) and a decent concern for Dylan. The latter, once he quits the unconscious demands of Neuwirth and co. to be cutting edge cutting, seems to be in acute pain, constantly rubbing his eyes and appearing to be on the edge of throwing up. As anyone who has spent time with stoned hipsters, the conversational wealth of their interactions amount to very little, whatever the substances involved. It’s difficult to imagine their modern equivalents (are the any such beings?) exposing themselves to such an intimate degree of scrutiny. This exchange, although often tedious in the extreme, is also a fascinating and troubling snapshot of the psychopathology of the mega-famous. Dylan survived, Lennon, sadly, didn’t make it, although he seems by far the more composed here. And, yes, ‘cool’. Within the next few months, he would co-write ‘A Day in the Life’ and ‘I Am the Walrus’. Which is pretty damn impressive, by any standard.

There are other highlights, however: Garth Hudson without a beard; live stuff from the Manchester electric set (the actual site of the ‘Albert Hall’ recording); Dylan performing with Robbie Robertson, another hip X-Ray, with his indoor shades and fag-in-mouth (the unrecorded ‘I Can’t Leave Her Behind’, which Stephen Malkmus later recorded) and Johnny Cash (the latter’s ‘I Still Miss Someone’). Malkmus’ performance appears on the ‘I’m Not There’ film, the title track of which finally made it onto the Complete Basement Tapes of 2014. One of Dylan’s most beautiful and enigmatic songs, it had languished in bootleg form for over 50 years, having been left off, for some inexplicable reason, the 1975 initial release of the 1967 sessions.

So, there’s enough in here to make it worthwhile for any serious Dylan fan to seek out this most iconic of rock major-act obscurities.

‘Eat the Document’: Dylan at his Opaque Zenith? Part One

Whenever Bob Dylan inputs directly into movies, the results are often a curate’s egg: think ‘Renaldo and Clara’ and ‘I’m Not There’.  In the latter, he is played by various major actors/actresses, a conceit that is mirrored in ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’ by his character being named ‘Alias’. However, when other directors present cinema verite accounts of our enigmatic hero, the results can be eminently re-watchable, as in ‘Don’t Look Back’ and ‘No Direction Home’, by D.A. Pennebaker and Martin Scorsese respectively.

Perhaps the most enigmatic of all Dylan’s cinematic works is ‘Eat the Document’, filmed in the annus mirtabilis of 1966, but not ‘released’ until six years later. A bit like the ‘Albert Hall Concert’, much bootlegged until CBS got the corporate finger out, and eventually officially released it as a double CD in 1998, only 32 years after its original performance? The difference is that ‘Document’ has never fully seen the light of day in official form. It’s incredible to me that, having been a Dylan fan for 50 years (New Morning had just come out when I was first exposed to His Bobness), I’ve never seen the film in full until yesterday, courtesy of a bit of YouTube digging. (The encounter with John Lennon in back of a limousine, rather than a Buick 6, has become legendary.) Segments tantalisingly appeared in Scorsese’s movie, but the powers that be have always presumably felt, like they did with regard to Frank Zappa in 1965/6, that it has “no commercial potential”, so they dumped it, to be picked over through the decades by obsessive fans and ’Dylanologists’. These ‘powers’ were probably right, but if readers are anything like me, they will want to see anything associated with this most legendary of tours. I bought an absolutely execrable DVD a few years, put together by Mickey Jones, the very temporary drummer of The Hawks on the ’66 Tour, but which still contained some of its stardust charisma., despite the rubbish footage.

So, is it any good, he asks after a nearly 50 year wait? Well, it’s a curate’s egg, he unsurprisingly. discovers. Dylan, probably concussed after his motorpsychobike disaster that summer, insisted on editing Pennebaker’s shots, in order to ultimately make a incoherent whole out of them. Perhaps comparisons could be made to his book ‘Tarantula’, which finally saw the light of day in 1971. in Dylan’s period of relative creative exhaustion after his incredibly productive period of 1962-68? At 52 minutes, it’s hardly an exhausting view, and it’s always so inspiring to see the ‘big hair/ghost of electricity’ Dylan, in whatever form. At the time he was probably the hippest man in the western world,but, after the coherence of ’Don’t Look Back’,’Eat the Document’ presents us with the toll that being so cool inflicts on the possessor, in appropriately chaotic fashion. So form and content cohere, and chaos is reified.

To be continued…

McCoy Tyner: A Brief Appreciation


I only found out about the passing of this great jazz pianist, on the sixth of this month of March 2020, only a couple of days ago. which is either a sign of my lack of attention to news reports, or of the general under-appreciation of a tremendous musician and improviser. Or maybe both. After all, we are very much in an ‘either/or’ world at present, and it’s always good to step outside the binary, whenever the chance presents itself. Artists like Tyner have always been sidelined when the ‘immortal’ tags are given out, but, as the title of his very first solo outing suggested, he was very much the ‘real McCoy’. And he was also one of the rapidly-diminishing number of still-living Sixties Masters (he was born in 1938), being just twenty four years old when he made his debit recording with the timeless John Coltrane Quartet (’Greensleeves’, a version of which eventually appeared on Africa/Brass), which made his name and  immortalised him in the Jazz Hall of Fame.

I have to state at this pint, that Tyner has never been one of my favourite jazz musicians. But his passing does seem to me hugely significant. As far as I know, Reggie Workman is still alive and, as such, now the last survivor of the Quartet, but it is salutary to remember that Tyner’s first solo album, The Real McCoy, was recorded just two months before the death of John Coltrane, nearly FIFTY THREE years ago. So McCoy kept the Coltrane legacy going for over half a century, a legacy that has only grown in stature throughout all those years. I can’t really give a hugely informed valediction to McCoy Tyner, but I know an important jazz musician when I hear one, and the pianist was most certainly one of these. I’ve got almost all of the Impulse! Coltrane Quartet material, partly in the form of the imposing The Classic Quartet:Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings. This eight-disc compilation is housed in a seemingly iron-clad cover, which exactly suits the tone of Coltrane’s group, which lacks little except for, perhaps, a bit of humour? I know one doesn’t go to Free(ish) Jazz for a good laff, but even Albert Ayler can occasionally be slightly light-hearted, but hey, this was well before Post Modernism. Undoubtedly spiritually uplifting, Coltrane ran the risk of being oppressive in his music’s seriousness. Many will completely disagree, I’m sure, but there is a reason why I don’t play this Quartet as much as I play Ornette’s, of around the same period.

The extra-Coltrane records that have bought me the most Tyner-related joy are his first solo disc, and the two Milestone Records doubles, recorded in 1973/4. The Real McCoy, recorded in April 1967 (arguably at the nadir of jazz’s popularity?) is a real Blue Note stomper, with Joe Henderson standing in for the soon-gone Coltrane, and Elvin Jones, also from the Quartet, forming the rest of the rhythm section, with the addition of Miles’s then-bassist, Ron Carter. This was a peer group of greats, and is one of the label’s outstanding avant recordings from the mid-sixties, a period that produced so many of them; others include the works of Andrew Hill, Bobby Hutcherson, Tony Williams, Sam Rivers and Larry Young. The late Richard Cook’s biography of Blue Note goes into details about these years of 1963-7 in Chapter Nine.

The Milestone doubles consist of Enlightenment  (1973) and Atlantis (1974). I’m tempted to bracket these ‘intense-athons’ with Miles Davis’s contemporary outpourings of excess, Aghartha and Pangea, but their modus is entirely different. As well as being all double vinyl excursions, they were all sprawling live concert recordings of extended-length tracks, that took up whole sides of their vinyl versions. Tyner himself is a force of nature on these records, and his playing can be compared to Cecil Taylor’s energy and sheer ‘orneriness, and, of course, to his mentor, Coltrane, in terms of sheer massiveness of purpose and intent. Not for the fainthearted, these albums are draining, and they remind one of just how much of this quality was available for interested audiences at this oint in time.  Incantatory in form and purpos, this music still astounds if you let it, nearly fifty years on.

Others will write more about this exceptional musician, and I can console myself by thinking how much more of his music I still have to discover. And surely there is no better time than this one of self-isolation to make these discoveries in?

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The banner picture is by the late Mal Dean (1941-1974), which featured on the cover of the 1972 Incus Records vinyl release, Live Performances at Verity's Place, by two free improvisation pioneers, the English guitarist Derek Bailey and Dutch percussionist Han Bennink.