Round About Midnight
Columbia Legacy Edition
So, after shelling out a good portion of your annual salary in 2000 for the six-disc box set, Miles Davis & John Coltrane, The Complete Columbia Recordings (1955-61), did you really believe the Miles/Coltrane-era vault was finally bare? Silly jazz fan — so naive. As 'Round About Midnight — the first Columbia jazz recording to get the full-on Legacy Edition treatment — indicates, there's plenty more coming from the first of Miles' two seminal quintets.
Midnight was Miles' debut full-length for the label he called home for three decades. The bonus material appropriately begins sans quintet, with Miles' gorgeous rendition of the Thelonius Monk-penned title ballad at the '55 Newport Jazz Festival, a six-minute performance that simultaneously announced his comeback from heroin addiction and led directly to his Columbia contract. The rest of the bonus disc is a previously unreleased half-hour concert from Feb. 1956 in Pasadena, CA, featuring the then-virtually-unknown tenor player John Coltrane (try not cringing when the emcee introduces him as "Johnny"), and the rhythm section of Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums). It's a superbly recorded and performed set, but Coltrane was only beginning his harmonic explorations, and his solos are melodically tame (compare Trane's solos on "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Dear Old Stockholm," from the first-disc studio sessions in June of' 56, and hear how far his melodic ideas have already advanced).
The rhythm section was, as usual, flawless, but this is Miles' show, and his solos, particularly when muted, show the trumpeter at the height of his game. His touch is tender on the ballads, brash and cocky on the faster material ranging from be-bop to hard bop, and yet somehow always elusive.
Track to burn: "Dear Old Stockholm"
Discover a Lovelier You
Joe Pernice's supple verse slides effortlessly off his silky tenor croon, a tender instrument for such haunted anguish. Like characters from a Raymond Carver short story, Pernice's people stumble into moments of painful, poignant self-discovery. The music harks back to the chamber pop of the band's 2001 album The World Won't End, and not the more rock-oriented fare of 2003's Yours, Mine & Ours. The difference is a better job of opening up space for the songs to breathe. World Won't End sometimes sagged under the sheer mass of strings, horns and harmonies. Discover makes Pernice's central conceit — breathtakingly pretty guitar pop providing cover for heartbreaking lyrics — all the more powerful. The bright vocals and folky jangle of "Say Goodnight to The Lady" suggests "California Dreaming," but the setting of "Goodnight" is "in the green east river where no water lilies grow, prayed for hope to spring eternal even if the trickle's slow." This is Pernice's best record since his debut; every song is distinct, arranged like a botanical garden. The record is highlighted by two terrific postmodern laments, the gloomy, Cure-ish Hollywood ode "My So-Called Celibate Life," and the lilting, "Saddest Quo."
Track to burn: "Saddest Quo"
Head of Femur
Chicago's Head of Femur raids an entire music store on Hysterical Stars, an album of ambitious arrangements that include strings, horns, tinkling bells and pianos, among other sonic minutiae. A side project turned main musical endeavor for former members of Pablo's Triangle, HoF still retains a side project's novelty and quirkiness while growing from three to eight members since its creation. The band is sonically all over the place: Imagine a high school band, a few New Orleans street musicians and a group of Mariachis all marching into the same street square, shuffling members and then walking in a bar where a hoarse-voiced indie band is performing. The resulting chaos is Head of Femur's sound, and it strangely sticks together. (HoF performs at the Evening Muse Thursday at 10:30pm along with Bruce Hazel & Some Volunteers).