Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Doo Dah

As much as I try to stay current on what’s in the entertainment pipeline, once in a while I get blindsided by things I had no idea were coming. In fact, it’s happened a couple of times recently. To wit:

Pat Metheny has released a 20th Anniversary edition of Song X, the record he made with Ornette Coleman back in 1985. At the time it was probably a difficult draught for some Metheny fans to take, at least those more accustomed to his melodic side. For Coleman fans, or at least this Coleman fan, it was a perfect match. As much as I enjoyed Ornette’s efforts with his electric band Prime Time, there was always a certain freedom missing that was part and parcel of his classic quartet recordings. Having to stay within a 4/4 beat much of the time seemed to throw him back on many of his own musical clichés and limited his artistic choices.

The Metheny recording took Metheny and Coleman, added Coleman stalwarts Charlie Haden on bass and his son Denardo on drums, and then put in drummer Jack DeJohnette. The result was a more relaxed and traditional Coleman that still included elements of his electric experiments by virtue of Metheny’s guitar synth and Denardo’s electronic percussion.

The majority of the compositions are Coleman’s and Metheny is more than up to their challenge. He explains in the notes to this rerelease that they had very little time for mixing and mastering the first time around and so he was grateful for the opportunity to have another shot at it. The result is a recording where the word “remixed” actually means something for once. I haven’t done a disc-for-disc comparison yet but unless my memory is playing tricks, the instruments seem to be more clearly separated than the first time around. The 13-minute Endangered Species, which originally tended to come across as a big, impenetrable wall of sound, now lets you hear the interplay between the musicians more clearly than before.

They also found six unreleased tracks which appear here for the first time. If you missed it the first time around, or are just a fan of adventurous music, it’s well worth your time.

The other one that threw me for a loop recently was the release on DVD of Do Not Adjust Your Set, a British series intended as a children’s program that featured Michael Palin, Eric Idle, and Terry Jones shortly before the formation of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Now it’s not that I’m a Python freak, mind you. I like ‘em, sure. But I don’t run around quoting lines from Holy Grail and Life of Brian. No, for me the big attraction here was that the show’s house band was The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Put simply, the availability of so much Bonzo footage at once, when their previous claim to fame was their too-short appearance in The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour performing Death Cab for Cutie, is manna from heaven. What the kids made of Vivian Stanshall, Neil Innes, Rodney Slater, Roger Ruskin Spear and “Legs” Larry Smith each week I can’t imagine. But for those of us who worship at their altar, this is magical, irreplaceable stuff.

For those MP fans also interested in what the Cleese/Chapman axis of silly was up to at this time, At Last The 1948 Show has been released in tandem with this set. Python completists will have to have them both and, in fact, a cursory glance at the packaging reveals that’s exactly who they’re aimed at. Some dead parrot.


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