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Miles Davis, Albert King & Bill Evans get Definitive discs on Concord

Concord Music Group has assembled three new titles in its ongoing Definitive series, one of which marks the series’ initial foray into CMG’s vast blues catalog. The Definitive Miles Davis on Prestige; The Definitive Bill Evans on Riverside and Fantasy; and The Definitive Albert King on Stax span a total of 60 years and include the music of two monumental figures in jazz and an equally influential figure in the blues. Each of the two-CD collections is set for release on April 5, 2011.

The two dozen tracks of The Definitive Miles Davis on Prestige follow the creative evolution of the most revered trumpeter in the annals of jazz. Spanning the first half of the 1950s, the collection captures Miles at the beginning of his breakthrough to mainstream appeal, according to the liner notes by music journalist and historian Ashley Kahn.

“The purpose of this collection is to deliver a full, definitive overview of that very special period in Miles’s career,” says Kahn. “Its focus covers the nearly six-year period when the trumpeter was signed exclusively to Prestige. Disc 1 offers the best of his 1951 to ’56 sessions primarily as a leader of various ad hoc all-star ensembles. Disc 2 provides a generous sampling of Miles the bandleader, in ’55 and ’56, at the helm of one of the most groundbreaking groups of the day.”

The collection also chronicles Miles’s dramatic artistic growth over a relatively short time, says Nick Phillips, Concord Music Group’s Vice President of Jazz and Catalog A&R and the producer of the collection. “The years between 1951 and 1956 are not a huge amount of time, but the development by Miles — as a musician and as a bandleader — is pretty astonishing in this period,” says Phillips. “This culminates in what ended up being one of the most legendary groups in jazz, the Miles Davis Quintet, featuring John Coltrane.”

The Definitive Bill Evans on Riverside and Fantasy tracks more than two decades of recordings by a highly influential figure in jazz piano. “It would be difficult to think of a major jazz pianist emerging after 1960 who did not take Bill Evans as a model,” says jazz journalist Doug Ramsey, who wrote the liner notes for the 25-song collection that begins in the mid-1950s and ends in 1977. “Indeed, many seasoned pianists who preceded Evans altered their styles after hearing him.”

What’s more, “Evans had a profound effect on how musicians play jazz and how listeners hear it,” says Ramsey. “He is so much a part of the jazz atmosphere that many musicians — regardless of instrument — who came of age in the 21st century are not conscious that his concepts helped form them.”

The collection also gives proper attention on the second disc to Evans’s Fantasy-era recordings of the mid-1970s, says Phillips, who also produced the Evans collection. “Because the Riverside sessions are so acclaimed and so legendary, the Fantasy tracks are often overshadowed,” he says. “But in listening to this collection, you realize that Evans was still creating some amazing recordings throughout the Fantasy period with some high-caliber musicians, like Eddie Gomez, Kenny Burrell, Lee Konitz, Tony Bennett, Ray Brown, and Philly Joe Jones.”

The Definitive Albert King on Stax follows 15 years worth of recordings — from 1961 to 1975, plus a final track from 1984 — by a bluesman who’d spent the early part of his career playing to an African-American fan base in the roadhouses and theaters of the chitlin’ circuit. But by the latter half of the 1960s, the genre “was now attracting the rapt interest of young white listeners, their sensibilities opened wide by the muscular, in-your-face blues rock of the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and Jimi Hendrix,” says roots music historian Bill Dahl in his liner notes for the collection. “These new converts were gravitating to the best the idiom had to offer. No single blues guitarist made a more stunning impact during that tumultuous timeframe than Albert King.”

“For as paradoxical as it might sound, you could make the case that Albert King was a cheery blues guy,” says Chris Clough, Concord’s manager of catalog development and producer of the Albert King collection. “He had that wry smile, and he often smoked a pipe. He was always well dressed and dapper. He was genuinely interested in putting on a show for his audience, and that sensibility comes through on these tracks.”

Dahl suggests that the years between 1966 and 1975 were a “Golden Decade” for King. “He was with Stax that entire time,” he says, “right up to the Memphis label’s unfortunate demise, cutting one enduring blues classic after another as he scaled the charts over and over again. In the process, King deeply influenced countless up-and-coming blues axemen, even though the ringing licks he coaxed out of his futuristic Gibson Flying V were all but impossible to accurately recreate.”

Albert King/Stevie Ray Vaughan on PBS

PBS has announced that the Albert King with Stevie Ray VaughanIn Session program will air as a special on its stations  throughout the month of December (check local listings). Grammy Award winning bluesman Robert Cray will serve as special fundraising host on the public television broadcasts.

In 1983, when legendary blues guitarist Albert King, then age 60, was joined by his disciple Stevie Ray Vaughan, then age 29, on a Canadian sound stage for the live music TV series In Session, magic took place.  Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan In Session is not simply a television program: it’s a summit of two master musicians. The only known recording of King and Vaughan performing together, this is the concert that blues fans in general, and Stevie Ray Vaughan fans in particular, have been waiting for.

The audio recording of the performance went on to sell more than 325,000 units from two releases: the first in 1999, the second in 2009. On November 9, 2010, Stax Records, a division of Concord Music Group, released In Session as both a DVD and a deluxe DVD/CD combination.

SonicBoomers.com noted: “Both men are gone now, but rare recordings like In Session remind us of a time when blues giants still walked the earth side by side.”

"As a document of what was probably the greatest night in the musical life of SRV (Stevie Ray Vaughan), this belongs in the collection of every true fan,” said the Austin American-Statesman.  Musicologist Samuel Charters says in his new liner notes for the package, “it’s also clear, nearly 20 years later, that this was a special moment in the careers of each of the two men.  It was evident from the first choruses that they were playing for each other. And that was the best audience either of them could ever have.”

An hour and 45 minutes, approximately, was taped of the two. What will thrill viewers who are fans of the blues, players of the blues, and who adore SRV, is that the televised concert includes at least one SRV tune — “Texas Flood” — that was not included on either of the two CD releases of the session.

The innovative Canadian television series was conceived with the intention of pairing musicians who were related stylistically, but seldom had an opportunity to play together. Albert King wasn’t sure whom he’d been booked to jam with on December 6, but he recognized the young Texan immediately — not as fast-rising star Stevie Ray Vaughan, but as Little Stevie, the skinny kid who’d been coming around and eventually sitting in every time Albert passed through Austin.

Stevie idolized Albert, as did many other “modern” electric axe-men. Albert may have been overshadowed by B.B., but Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Robbie Robertson, Mick Taylor, and Joe Walsh — all of them listened to him, listened again and again, and were heavily influenced by his style.

At the time of the taping, the buzz may have been around Stevie, but Albert was clearly in charge of the music.  Earlier in the year, in May, David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” featuring Stevie at his blistering Albert King-inspired best, hit the top of the Billboard pop singles chart; in June, SRV’s debut album Texas Flood came out, and MTV put “Pride and Joy” into their rotation. He never looked back.

During their performance, Albert ruled over the proceedings like a benevolent father, retaining control while allowing his guest loads of solo space in which to display his awesome command of the electric guitar.  The interplay between the two blues masters is uncannily empathetic, and Albert’s fans will find special pleasure in hearing him play rhythm parts at such length.  Aside from SRV’s two vocals — “Pride and Joy” and “Texas Flood” — all the other tunes are from Albert’s repertoire.  Viewers have the ineffable treat of seeing Albert King perform “Born Under a Bad Sign,” his trademark blues hit, as well as “Call It Stormy Monday.”

Sadly, King and Vaughan would not share a stage together ever again. Vaughan, 31 years King’s junior, died in a helicopter crash in the fog on the way back from a concert in 1990. King outlived him by two years, dying of a heart attack in 1992. They didn’t meet often, and their careers took different paths. But we can all be grateful for that one long day in a television studio when sparks flew and this timeless performance was forever captured.

The PBS special Albert King with Stevie Ray VaughanIn Session contains the following songs: “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “Call It Stormy Monday,” “Texas Flood,” “Pride and Joy,” “Match Box Blues,” and “Don’t Lie to Me.”

Albert King/Stevie Ray Vaughan 'In Session'

On December 6, 1983, legendary blues guitarist Albert King joined his disciple Stevie Ray Vaughan on a Canadian sound stage for the live music television series In Session. Magic happened. The highly sought after video footage from that one-time legendary summit becomes available for the first time ever on November 9 with the release of Stax Records’ deluxe two-disc CD/DVD In Session.

The DVD contains three classic performances unavailable on the previously issued audio disc: “Born Under a Bad Sign,” the landmark title track from Albert King’s biggest Stax release written by William Bell and Booker T. Jones; Stevie Ray’s “Texas Flood,” the Larry Davis-penned title track of Vaughan’s immortal debut album; and “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town,” made famous by Louis Jordan and later, Ray Charles.

“It was evident from the first choruses,” writes liner notes author/musicologist Samuel Charters, “that they were playing for each other. And that was the best audience either of them could ever have. The music never lost its intensity, its quality of something very important being handed back and forth and there was time for Stevie and Albert to see where their ideas took them.”

Accolades have showered upon this momentous encounter. “As a document of what was probably one of the greatest nights in the musical life of SRV, this belongs in the collection of every true fan,” said the Austin American-Statesman. Sonic Boomers added, “Both men are gone now, but rare recordings like In Session remind us of a time when blues giants still walked the earth side by side.” Elmore magazine called it “an indispensible part of any blues fan’s collection.” And BluesWax noted, “thank goodness, this disc lives on and on.”

Now this one-of-a-kind visual document featuring two giants of American blues can be enjoyed by audiences all over the world. Sadly, King and Vaughan would not share a stage together ever again. Vaughan, 31 years King’s junior, died in a helicopter crash in the fog on the way back from a concert in 1990. King outlived him by two years, dying of a heart attack in 1992. They didn’t meet often, and their careers took different paths. But we can all be grateful for that one long day in a television studio when sparks flew and this timeless performance was forever captured.