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Reviewed this week: Miles Davis, Winterpills, Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Miles Davis
Bitches Brew Legacy Edition
(Columbia)

Columbia can be shameless about repackaging Davis' catalogue, but this edition of jazz-fusion masterpiece Bitches Brew offers genuine excitement. There's an insightful essay by Greg Tate, newly discovered and remarkably different alternate takes, and curious single edits of several tracks.

The biggest draw is a DVD of a 1969 Copenhagen performance that accentuates the jazzier side of its compositions. A macked-out Collector's Edition throws in an unreleased live CD from Tanglewood 1970 that delivers heavier fusion and raucous funk grooves. Then there's Bitches Brew itself: an uncompromising and heady mix of ethereal pianos, slicing guitars, throbbing bass, roiling polyrhythms and African-influenced repetitions. Davis's trumpet—sometimes mournful, sometimes combative—snakes through. The songs, evocative and suggestive, reveal new secrets with every listen. —Jeff Jackson

*

Winterpills
Tuxedo of Ashes
(Signature Sounds)

At its best, Winterpills' Philip Price's songwriting trickles through the aesthetic cracks between the paving stones of emotional expression laid by Elliot Smith and Cat Stevens, peddling thoughtful poetry wrapped in pleasingly plaintive melodies. Tuxedo of Ashes adds generous layers of reverb and lays Price's and Flora Reed's whispery vocals like a gossamer blanket of sometimes searching, sometimes triumphant proclamation over a bed of instrumental melancholy (supplied by Brian Akey, Dennis Crommett and Dave Hower, with nice cello by Melissa Nelson).

The lyrics are a bit too cryptic to pull in as broad an audience as more accessibly penned tales of subtle bohemia like Leonard Cohen's or Paul Simon's, though the EP's title track is an exception, seemingly written more from a single stream of consciousness and so less contrived in its finished intonation. —Tom Sturm

*

Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band
Legacy
(Compass)

Veteran guitarist Peter Rowan has been playing bluegrass since he first heard it when he was growing up in Boston and Cambridge. Over the years he's experimented with reggae and Latin music, but pure bluegrass is clearly what he does best. Teamed up with veteran musicians Jody Stecher, Keith Little and Paul Knight, his new release Legacy gives listeners more of his specialty.

Superb banjo and mandolin finger-picking are complemented by lyrics worth paying attention to. "Turn the Other Cheek" dispenses down-to-earth, biblical advice and "The Raven" alludes to Poe; both are set to foot-tapping melodies and soaring harmonies. The quartet adds a deep-voiced gospel hymn with "Let Me Walk Lord by Your Side." Legacy is a collection of standard bluegrass fare, played with exceptional talent. —Nina Schwartzman

 

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