Signs, Nuggetz, and Hipsters
You will notice that these selections seem to skew toward the 20th century, but that's not exactly true, because I never heard much of it prior to the 21st.
In particular, I'm thinking of the Los Nuggetz box set, a true labor of love consisting of 101 energetic slabs of punk, pop, psychedelic, and garage rock from Latin freaking America. Therefore, I never heard any of it, except that it includes a number of covers of '60s classics (you can check out samples here) such as My Generation, Wooly Bully, and Gloria, breathing new life into tunes you've heard a million times.
If you tried to collect this stuff on your own, you couldn't do it in a hundred years, which is what makes it una trabajo de amor, pardon my Spanish. There was a time that rock music wasn't just a corporate product aimed at young adolts anxious to be told what to like, but rather, a spontaneous, bottom up expression of youthful energy, and this captures that liberating spirit (also spiced with a fair amount of kitsch). Not only is it weird, but it's ge-level weird.
At the other end of the extreme, and also mostly new to me, is this box set put together by the founder of the legendary ECM records, Selected Signs. ECM is a European jazz label started in the early 1970s, its most famous artist no doubt being Keith Jarrett. The "ECM sound" came to embody impeccably recorded performances that blend American jazz with a European chamber sensibility.
This box has two discs of classical, two discs of jazz, and two discs of film music, but because of the ECM sound, it has a coherence and continuity despite the great diversity, from Arvo Part to Keith Jarrett and Bach again. Amazon doesn't have the track list, but you can see it (and hear samples) here (there is some talking at the beginning of a couple of the discs, because this was originally part of a museum exhibit in Germany). All very contemplative.
I mentioned this one the other day, the Original Mono Recordings of Miles Davis on Columbia Records. It includes every one of his releases between 1956 and 1961. John Coltrane is featured on six of the nine discs, while three others feature the big band modernist arrangements of Gil Evans. It really represents the core of the Miles Davis canon. Afterwards he put together a new quintet that produced extremely abstract "freebop," and then veered into fusion, neither of which will be to everyone's taste.
But this stuff is not only accessible, but was even marketed to non-jazz fans as a kind of adult-contemporary instrumental music. Columbia had the financial means to create the romantic image of the cool, handsome, and detached hipster of our collective retrocultural memory. In the '50s he became to music what, say, James Dean or Marlon Brando were to acting. But that's all peripheral to the music.
Why mono? Well, that is how it was recorded and mixed, at least until 1958, when Columbia began putting out mono and stereo versions. But back then stereo was more of a gimmick aimed at a niche audience. Not only does the mono have a more realistic soundstage -- instead of extreme left-right panning, which can detract from the power and coherence -- but it was beautifully recorded to begin with. It includes Kind of Blue, which is no doubt the biggest selling jazz album ever -- the jazz equivalent of Dark Side of the Moon -- or maybe Mount Rushmore, what with an all-star line-up including Coltrane, Bill Evans, and Cannonball Adderley.
I guess I'm already out of time. To be continued the next time I don't have enough.