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Archive for August 17th, 2012

Always Grateful: Garcia and Saunders’ “Keystone Companions” Coming from Concord, Rhino Readies “Spring 1990” Dead Box

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2012 marked what would have been Jerry Garcia’s 70th birthday year.  The favorite son of San Francisco is being celebrated this fall with two monumental new box sets: one chronicling a renowned stand with The Grateful Dead, of course, and another turning the spotlight onto his less-heralded collaboration with keyboardist Merl Saunders.

Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings is the most complete edition of the yet of the concerts recorded on July 10 and 11, 1973 at Berkeley, California’s Keystone Club.  When Garcia and Saunders got together, audiences were rewarded with wide-ranging renditions of songs crossing genre barriers, with both musicians challenging each other to new, improvisatory heights.  Due on September 25, the lavish box set from Fantasy Records premieres seven previously unreleased tracks.  It includes a booklet with liner notes from Grateful Dead historian David Gans, numerous photographs, and an assortment of swag such as a poster, coaster, button, and “scratchbook” (replicating the design of the original album’s promotional matchbook).

Live at Keystone was originally released as a double LP in 1973.  Further material was issued on two LP volumes of Keystone Encores in 1988.  The tracks from the original double LP and the two Encores sets were then reconfigured and released on three CDs.  Live at Keystone, Volumes 1 & 2 arrived on CD in 1988 along with one CD of Keystone EncoresKeystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings simplifies matters considerably, assembling the original recordings and presenting them in the order in which the songs were performed at those two shows on July 10 and 11, 1973.

Garcia on guitar and vocals and Saunders on keyboard were joined by John Kahn on bass and Bill Vitt on drums.  David Grisman contributed mandolin to Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street,” one of two Dylan songs performed over the two nights.  Dylan joined a stellar array of songwriters represented in the eclectic sets, including Jimmy Cliff, Dan Penn, Holland/Dozier/Holland and even Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.

The rapport between Garcia and Saunders shines through on these performances.  It was a mutual admiration society, with Saunders once reflecting, “Anything he played was very musical. He knew how to do a rhythm on any kind of tune — gospel, blues, jazz. I was amazed.”  Garcia returned the compliment, definitively stating, “He taught me music.”  The Keystone gigs weren’t the first (or the last) collaborations between the two men.  By December 1970, Saunders, Garcia, Kahn and Vitt had all been participating in a weekly jam session at the famed Matrix in San Francisco.

Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings will be joined on September 25 by a vinyl reissue of the original Live at Keystone double LP, pressed on multi-color vinyl.  After the jump: meet the Grateful Dead in 1990! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 17, 2012 at 13:55

Blame It On The Bossa Nova: Él Compiles Brazilian Classics, Plus: “Pop! Goes the West”

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The gentle guitars of a bossa nova band and the blazing guns of the American West don’t seem to have much in common on the surface. Yet the sun-drenched music of Brazil and the dramatic landscape of the American West both have their own distinct mythologies. And as the 1960s dawned, both bossa nova and western music swept the pop charts. Cherry Red’s Él label is celebrating these two very different styles with a pair of new anthologies. Festival of Bossa Nova is a primer on the early days of the genre (1957-1961, with one song from 1950), while Pop! Goes the West compiles cowboy classics that crossed over into pop and rock territory between 1952 and 1961.

Although 1964’s Getz/Gilberto is usually recognized as the album that set the bossa nova craze in motion internationally, it wasn’t even the first American album in the style. The music literally translating to “new trend” had taken root years earlier in Brazil, gaining traction with the success of 1959’s Black Orpheus and its score by Luis Bonfá, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius deMoraes. Bossa nova was the result of societal upheaval in Brazil, calling for its own soundtrack; a period of democratic freedom and economic development under President Juscelino Kubitschek led to unprecedented optimism. His promise of “fifty years of progress in five” was reflected in the forward-thinking music, which was both sophisticated and breezy. Identified by gentle acoustic guitar and sometimes piano, and often adorned with subtle string or horn accents, bossa nova was based on the rhythms of the samba. It soon was adapted on stages from the concert hall to Broadway, spawned the “lounge” genre and influenced countless musicians across the genre divide.

Festival of Bossa Nova brings together 32 tracks from the earliest days of bossa nova. All are sung in their original Portuguese and have the instantly recognizable, frequently mellow sound that would influence a generation of musicians in both pop and jazz. Of course, “the Brazilian Gershwin” Antonio Carlos Jobim (credited with deMoraes and Gilberto as having written one of the earliest true bossa nova songs, 1958’s “Chega de Saudade”) is represented via songs performed by singer/guitarist Joao Gilberto (including the now-standard “Insensatez” and “Corcovado”) and organist Walter Wanderley (“Agua de Beber”). Lyricist/poet deMoraes also collaborated with Carlos Lyra and Baden Powell, both of whom are also heard on Festival of Bossa Nova. Another major name you’ll hear on the new disc is Sergio Mendes, before he defined the sound of AM (and A&M!) pop with Brasil ’66. Mendes, quoted in the liner notes, offered a most apt description of bossa nova as “so refreshing and new…it was all so seductive. So sensual.”

Other familiar artists on hand include guitarists/composers Oscar Castro-Neves and Laurindo Almeida, and singer Elis Regina. The legendary Bonfá is on hand performing his own “Variacoes” and as co-composer, with Jobim, of “Amor Sem Adeus” smoothly performed by Brazilian crooner Dick Farney, born Farnésio Dutra e Silva, with a lush orchestral backing. Some of the tracks are actually rather dramatic (Dolores Duran’s “Solidao”) or boisterous (Os Cariocas’ “Preto Velho Bossa Nova”) but all are the product of a heady, experimental time. With a refreshing blend of well-known songs and unfamiliar material, Festival of Bossa Nova is a great starting point to explore the varied genre.

Another cleverly-compiled collection, Pop! Goes the West, joins Festival of Bossa Nova from Él. We’ve got details after the jump, plus track listings and order links for both titles!

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Written by Joe Marchese

August 17, 2012 at 07:52