Box Sets 2007: Funky Sh!t & Tragedy Galore

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Miles Davis The Complete On The Corner Sessions

Some of the fun in roaming through retrospective box sets is finding unissued tracks that add to the music?s ongoing story. In the case of the famed trumpeter?s most experimental music, that track may be ?Mr. Foster.? For 15 minutes Davis wrings blood from his horn, which is hooked-up to a wah-wah pedal and surfing a web of nasty funk pulses driven by drummer Al Foster, whose relentless churning earns itself some props in the song title. It?s snarling yet graceful, obnoxious yet entrancing. This set is the rock-jazz motherlode, the record that critics have been creaming over for the last few months. When Davis made this stuff, in a string of studio dates that stretched from ?72 ? ?75, he was milking Sly and Family Stone, digging the drones of Indian music, and swimming in a sea of funk. Now-exalted, it was snubbed by the era’s jazz fans as being crazy-ass street shit. The naysayers were right: the jams are a jumble of rhythms, glowing with black pride and an acknowledging all things sensual. That’s why hip-hop heads get on board so quickly. Loaded with tension, they glorify the groove and stick it full of glowing abstractions. Put on one of these six CDs, press play, and a whole afternoon will disappear real quick.

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People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs, 1913-1933

Train wrecks that extinguish lives in a mess of iron and blood, ocean storms that tip seaside cities upside down, heartless killings that find their victims knifed, drowned, or shot in cold blood. This three-disc set avoids all of life?s pleasantries, focusing instead on mayhem. Sung by regional heroes from the start of the 20th century, the scratchy tunes remain compelling, and not only because their brutish nature is sometimes the stuff of scandal. It?s the blunt way that the ancient singers report on the tragedies, the way they milk the listeners? sympathies for the unfortunates involved. A grade school burns down, killing 76, and J.H. Howell?s Carolina Hillbillies provide a vivid recount. A circus trick-rider gets all liquored up, shoots five innocents in West Texas, and Ernest Stoneman climbs into his head to figure out the cause. It’s blood and guts time. Tom Waits? liner notes are almost as cool as the graphics that comprise the Grammy-nominated three-disc set’s accompanying booklet. Time to grab some timeless tragedies.

John Coltrane Interplay

Before becoming a jazz icon, the esteemed tenor saxophonist was just another dude mixing it up in jam sessions and cutting discs with an array of equals. The work he did with and for others is collected in this five-disc affair; it accounts for the material cut for the Prestige label in the late 1950s, and its casual glide toward eloquence is enticing. Some sessions place him as a sideman, some find him sharing the leadership role with another impressive horn player. Several feature forlorn ballads, others are all about feisty romps. All are filled with a circle of solos built on the notion of fraternal friction, and the best of the bunch feature the kind of informality that?s inviting.