This week I review new re-issues courtesy of Sony/Legacy featuring Art Garfunkel, Weather Report and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Art Garfunkel - "The Singer"
This double CD retrospective of singer Art Garfunkel is a sequenced set that chronicles Garfunkel's six albums with Paul Simon and selections from his 10 solo outings.
Th set includes notes written by Garfunkel about each song as well as details about his special musical relationships with Simon and songwriter Jimmy Webb.
Garfunkel was the perfect foil for Paul Simon - his angelic tenor created a blend with Simon that captured much of the angst of two young artists growing up in the 1960s and the folk-rock era. Garfunkel's voice was an almost-perfectly created instrument for Simon's earnest, folk-penned masterpieces such as "For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her," an aching ballad that bristles with longing that set the tone for much of Garfunkel's work with Simon as well as in his own creative career.
The duo's collaboration hit its peak with Garfunkel's breath-taking and inspiring vocals on "Bridge Over Troubled Waters," an apt title for what would be the duo's last studio album together. Garfunkel's vocal on this masterpiece never fails to deliver a shiver up my spine.
The singer's solo career is a less satisfying affair, although there are some highlights, particularly with his best album "Breakaway," released in 1975 and featuring a wonderful duet with Simon on "My Little Town." His fabulous version of "It's a Wonderful World" - also featuring Simon along with James Taylor -is taken from "Watermark," an album of mostly Jimmy Webb-penned songs.
Other highlights include "When a Man Loves a Woman," "A Heart in New York" and a crack at some standards from the Great American Songbook, including "Some Enchanted Evening" and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."
The best word I could use to describe Garfunkel's career is "mellow." This is great wine-sipping music on a cold night with a warm fire and a special someone. There's something reassuring and alluring about Garfunkel as a singer that transcends ordinary pop music, and there's an integrity there. When he gets his teeth into a stellar song such as "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" there's no one better at what he does.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band - "The 50th Anniversary Collection"
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band is one of America's secret musical treasures. Founded in 1961 in the birthplace of jazz - New Orleans - the band has been soldiering on and playing traditional jazz since. This four-CD retrospective focuses on the band's history and highlights a playbook that no other traditional jazz band can rival. From the band's very authentic beginnings and the masters of the genre that have been through its ranks, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has shown consistency and reverence for music made famous by jazz pioneers such as Louis Armstrong, Jellyroll Morton and Buddy Bolden. What's so unique is the band's lineage can be traced all the way back to the very beginnings of the art form.
The other surprising aspect of the band is its willingness over the years for some interesting collaborations and stepping outside the "trad" box, with cuts featuring Tom Waits and '60s icon Richie Havens.
This box set, set to be released Sept. 25, is a joy from the first cut to its last. Highly recommended.
Weather Report -"The Complete Columbia Albums 1971-1976"
This is yet another installment in Columbia/Legacy's "complete"series featuring the entire recorded output of jazz, pop and rock greats that recorded with Columbia. This seven-CD box includes the six albums of the band, led by keyboardist Joseph Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and comes after a previous release featuring the band's more commercial output from 1977 to 1982.
The six albums featured here include "Weather Report," "I Sing the Body Electric," "Live In Tokyo," "Sweetnighter," "Mysterious Traveller" and "Tale Spinnin,'" and the set can be found online at www.popmarket.com by clicking on the complete albums link; Amazon.com; and other music retailers.
The ghost of Miles Davis and his "electric period" hangs heavy over this batch of releases, which really doesn't come as a surprise since three of the group's original members - percussionist Airto Moreiro, Zawinul and Shorter - all recorded with Miles during the late 1960s and early '70s.
And that's a good thing, at least I think so. I prefer this more exploratory version of the band as it was finding its footing, trying to escape the long shadow of Miles and develop its own personal sound. Adept at jazz, rock, funk and R&B as well as ambient, Weather Report made some highly creative and exciting music in its early days, particularly on the incendiary "Live In Tokyo." Alas, with almost too many world-class players with world-class egos to match, the original lineup didn't last long as Zawinul began to dominate the band, and personnel changed much. By the time bassist Jaco Pastorius came on the scene in 1977 - re-invigorating the band and adding a serious groove -Weather Report was an entirely different animal.
Not every experiment here works - the choral aspect of "I Sing the Body Electric" comes off as dated and rather corny, while "Tale Spinnin'" suffers from the self-conscious pretentiousness that marks a lot of the jazz fusion from the 1970s. Still, it's a lot of fun to listening to great players trying to form a collective.
(Miller is co-editor of weekender.)