The Altercation Black Friday Gift-Giving Guide, Part I

So my extremely occasional blog, "Altercation" has migrated here. I use it largely to follow up on things that I couldn't include in my Nation columns and write about music, books, theater, etc, but mostly music. It's pretty lazy, to tell the truth. But I do hope the recommendations are worthwhile. Anyway, below are links to my last few Nation columns, and what I hope are helpful recommendations for gift-giving this year, which I'm doing early because Hannuka comes so early this year.

Here are the column links. The guide starts just below together with some live music recommendations. Hope you find it worth this click.

The Altercation Gift Giving Guide:

The Beatles Video Collection

It is a rite of passage, I suppose, to discover the magic of the Beatles; about which I lack the language to do justice. (The superlatives simply sound silly when compared to the music.) These discoveries, I imagine, account for the fac that when the collection, "The Beatles '1' was originally released in 2000, it became the fastest selling album of all time. I was not among its purchasers and I don't know anyone who was. We already had all of these songs and we had them in their proper contexts. I've still never listened to the cd, which is featured in this release, and so I also don't care that all 27 have been remixed. The big news here are the videos. We've never had a collection of the Beatles performing live before that allowed you simply to put it on and leave it there. Either you had to watch the anthology and listen to all that talk in between, or perhaps scrolling through Ed Sullivan shows.. But here, finally (!) we have 50 Beatles videos in a row on two discs, with great sound and (mostly) excellent resolution. A terrible void has finally veen filled. You can now have the Beatles singing in your home whenever you want, right there on the TV while you go on and do whatever it was you were doing. Some of the songs are really wonderful. There's a standout "Revolution," which strikes me as new. But mostly I feel like I can relax now that it's here. The Beatles just make life better and since all the music has been cleaned up and released in more ways than one can keep track of, it's a blessing to have this. Who wouldn't want this as a gift? Only a seriously bad person; a Trump supporter, or perhaps a member of ISIS. This version also comes with a nice 124-page illustrated hardcover book, and also includes exclusive audio commentary and filmed introductions by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr respectively, though I haven't watched any of those because it could only get in the way of the magic.

Bob Dylan, The Cutting Edge 1965 - 1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12

Ok, so this is being universally treated as the big box set news of the season and with good reason. The three albums Dylan recorded between 1965 and 1966 are arguably his best and a bit more arguably, are three of the most influential rock music albums ever: Bringing It All back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. (David Remnick says this is the most creative moment in rock music history. I'd go with the Beatles' Revolver, Rubber Soul and Sargeant Pepper. I don't think it's even that close.) But that is a quibble that should not interfere with the incredible riches this georgeous package contains. Everyone shold have the 2-CD set which comprises alternate versions of these three great albums, together with a 60-page booklet with exclusive photography and liner notes. I bought that because it's one the I expect to put on most often and hell, it's only like fifteen bucks. But the real thrill is the 6-CD deluxe edition featuring over 100 previously unreleased tracks. It's an amazing treasure trove of alternate versions of the songs that defined this period of Dylan's genius and demonstrates how much how hard work goes into being one. There are 16 takes alone of Like A Rolling Stone. (I confess this is one reason I sprung for 2 cd version in addition to this one.) It is lavishly packaged in a slipcase with a separate 120-page hardcover book with terrific photography and extensive liner notes as well. If you're planning on spending over a hundred bucks on anyone with good taste in music, they will like you a lot more than they do now if you spring for the big box. Even the smaller one might get you somewhere. But everyone should at least have that.

The Grateful Dead, Fare Thee Well.

This too has been produced in more versions than one can comfortably count. You can buy all three shows on cd, dvd or bluray for a lot of money directly from Grateful Dead records. You can buy a best of two cd version. Or you can buy the version I have which is the final show on three cds and two blurays or cds. I went to all three shows and there is no question the final one was the best. And the production of the blurays is spectacular. And while I had no opinion of Trey going in, I was really thrilled and moved by how well he stepped into the Jerry role. (The reports on Santa Clara did not leave one optimistic about this.) The shows were among the biggest hassles of my easy life, but they were also transcendant in many respects and you can see that here. And maybe it was my mood, or my expensive new headphones, but listening to the bluray version, I've never heard anything quite so clear. I saw Dead and Company with John Mayer, and it did not give me nearly the (non-pharmaceutical) high that these shows did. Other people said they liked them, but Mayer left me flat as, of course, did Phil's absence. I can't argue for just the cds. Any sane person not in Trey's family (and some who are) would rather have Jerry singing and playing. But the videos ought to thrill anyone who was there or wanted to be.

And if you can't help missing just Jerry, well, Round Records has been revived and it's first old/new release is more music from the JGB's 1987 stand on Brodway at the Lunt-Funtaine theater. Two cds are acoustic and one is electric.

David Bowie, Five Years

People who are not that excited about delving deep into Dylan's most intense period of creativity may feel differently about David Bowie's. The "five years" in question are 1969-73 and included the releases of ("David Bowie", "The Man Who Sold The World", "Hunky Dory" and "Pinups" and of course "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust." It is stretched out to 12 looking like mini-vinyl versions of the original albums cds with two cds of rarities and the Santa Monica 1972 show. Some of this has never been released, some, but not all have brand new remasters. But most if it simply has never been released in one place in such a nice box. box feature all of the material officially released by Bowie during the nascent stage of his career from 1969 to 1973. All of the formats include tracks that have never before appeared on CD/digitally as well as new remasters.This too has a really classy 128 page book with photosk, technical notes about each album from producers Tony Visconti and Ken Scott, an original press review for each album, and a short foreword by Ray Davies. It's a classy package and will appeal to completists and fanatics who already have most of all of it but will feel better about having all of it. People who just like good music but somehow missed out on this would be happy to receive it too. I discovered Bowie quite late in life and have been binging since. This box has made that all the more fun.

If the Bowie box is too pricey, then the people who want that but for whom you don't want to shell out the $100 plus would probably be happy getting Rhino's companion Lou Reed, The Complete Sire Years, which is ten cds of decidedly variable quality. "New York" is the obvious masterpiece, but some of the albums that followed are much better than I remember them. It's a no-frills reproduction of the original records that have become so popular of late and if you like, but don't love Lou--as I do--and sometimes even hate him--well, this is worth having especially at its extremely reasonable price. There is no documentation or extra tracks. Just the music. It ought to be enough.

Jazz boxes:

Jazz pickings have been relatively slim in the box set re-release department this season. I'm happy to be able to recommend Weather Report, The Legendary Live Tapes, 1977-81. It's got four cds of newly discovered unreleased performances from guess when? If you are unfamiliar with the band that Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter founded in 1970 you are really missing something important. Joined by Jaco Pastorius in 1976 and then drummer Peter Erskine in 1977 they were doing stuff that no one else--including Miles--had done before and setting out a path that has since been folded into traditional jazz in a way that almost no other fusion groups have succeeded in doing.

The box was curated by Zawinul's son, Tony and produced by Erskine and are mosly soundboard recordings that Erskine preserved. They are not all perfect but I am pleased to have all of them. It comes with a nice booklet with an essay and a track-by-track explication by Erskine. It's a fine tribute especially if you don't already have the previous Weather Report box set of about a decade ago.

The big news so far is the release of a John Coltrane's sublime A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. The last version from 2002, with the only known live performance, was pretty great. But this one has an alternate studio performance featuring Archie Shepp and a second bassist, Art Davis, together with the classic quartet of Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner. It was taken from reels from the personal collection of John Coltrane and originally recorded by Rudy Van Gelder. The 3-CD "Super Deluxe Edition" includes what appears to be the only live performance of the work by Coltrane, from the Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes in July 1965, which was also on the 2002 version, but it is nice to have them all in one place finally. It's an amazing work and almost as difficult to describe as it is (I imagine) to play. I was lucky enough to see a breathtakingly beautiful performance of by the Jazz@Lincoln Center Orchestra of it at Alice Tully Hall recently re-arranged for the orchestra. Wynton Marsalis did a fine job of explicatinig its component parts but I can't help to repeat that here. Best you listen yourselves. (The orchestra also undertook a re-imagined "My Favorite Things" and "Africa" in a too-short first set that left one wanting more, as is their want.)

But if you want to take it easy, money wise, then Jazz fans will almost certainly be happy with Jazz@Lincoln Center's Big Band Holidays, which appears on the newly created label from Jazz@Lincoln Center called "Blue Engine Records." I've been going to these shows every year for a while and they are always a hoot, and this is a compilation of holiday classics performed live by Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis with special guests like René Marie and the ethereal Cécile McLorin Salvant. They are doing these shows on a nine city tour beginning in Portland any minute now--check your listings--and will be back at Rose Hall on December 17-19 and it's pretty impossible to have a bad time at any one of them. More here

And speaking of what they call "holiday entertainment," if you want a spend a lot of money, there are few nicer places to spend it than the Café Carlyle. I recently caught John Pizzarelli and (his wife) Jessica Molaskey's show there, "My Generation." I would like to have liked it as much as Stephen Holden did. But I couldn't. They are both really talented and fun and really personable as entertainers, but I fear Mr. Pizzarelli is sadly deluded about the quality of late Paul McCartney. There is some good stuff in there, but not the songs he thinks they are. And as with all of McCartney's great songs, the ones that are great, cannot really be improved upon. So while I was rooting for everyone, I came away impressed with JP's audacity, but not so much the music. Steve Tyrell begins his annual run there on December 2 and performs through the New Year. I promise you. (And you will surely pay for it, too, though based on the New Year's Eve prices, the rest of the run is a real bargain.) He knows how it's done and if you go in knowing what you want, you'll get it. This year's show is called "One More for the Road" and will serve as a tribute to Sinatra's centennial. It'll be one of the few deserves the name. More here

Finally, I first learned about Lena Hall with the amazing shows she did at the Carlyle last Spring, rocking the room as no one besides (perhaps Buster Poindexter) has ever done. She's got a new show she's calling "The Villa Satori: Growing Up Haight Ashbury" at Feinstein's/54 Below, a room I've heard great things about but which I'm looking forward to visiting for the first time this weekend.) More here


It can be hard to give people books because choices are so personal and people read them on e-readers and the time commitment, etc. I made a lot of recommendations to friends. This year it's been all Elena Ferrante, one of the most amazing reading experiences of my life; Garth Risk Halberg's 900 plus page City on Fire is also terrific. And while I was a bit disappointed with Purity, I think everyone should read Freedom and The Corrections if they haven't. For gift-giving, aside from art and photography books, I am partial to the georgous sets the Library of America puts out. This year's standouts, depending on your taste, are the Pamphlets of the American Revolution, the Collected Plays of Arthur Miller and Women's Crime Fiction. If your budget doesn't allow, I think everybody would enjoy one of the Elmore Leonard collections, which I'm guessing will be collected and boxed next year when the series is finished. More here