THE A-Z OF THE BEST BOX SETS OF 2013-PART 2.

THE A-Z OF THE BEST BOX SETS OF 2013-PART 2.

ELLA FITZGERALD-DEARLY BELOVED.

Ella Fitzgerald enjoyed a fifty-nine year career that saw her crowned The Queen of Jazz and The First Lady of Song. With a three-octave vocal range, Lady Ella became one of the most influential and revered singers in the history of jazz music. Ella Fitzgerald influenced, and continues to influence, a new generation of singers. Famed for delivery, with peerless diction, phrasing and intonation, it’s no surprise that, during her career, she won thirteen Grammy Awards. She recorded for some of the biggest record labels of the day. Decca, Verve, Capitol and Columbia were all home for The Queen of Jazz. Similarly, Lady Ella worked with some of the greatest songwriters in American music, including George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson and Billie Holliday all worked with The First Lady of Song. 

After Ella’s death in 1996, she left behind one of the richest musical legacies behind, in the shape of her discography. For anyone yet to discover Lady Ella’s music, there’s a veritable treasure trove of music awaiting their discovery. All this choice can prove confusing. Newcomers to Ella’s music wonder where the best place to start? This choice has recently gotten a whole lot easier. Proper Records recently released Dearly Beloved, a four-disc box set, which whether you’re a newcomer to, f Lady Ella’s music is a treasure trove of some of Ella’s greatest recordings. For veterans of Ella’s music, this lovingly compiled compilation, carefully remastered box set, contains some of the most in-depth, informative sleeve-notes I’ve come across recently. Joop Viser’s sleeve-notes to Dearly Beloved, are a true labor of love and are a fitting homage to Ella Fitzgerald, The First Lady of Song.

For anyone looking for an introduction to Ella Fitzgerald, look no further than Proper Records’ four-disc box set Dearly Beloved. It covers the end of her period at Decca and the beginning of her time at Verve. Staring with songs from Ella’s Decca album Songs In A Mellow Mood, we head into Ella’s time at Verve. There’s ten tracks from Ella’s collaboration with Louis Armstrong, a selection of tracks from four of the greatest American songwriters. Starting with songs from Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook, through Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook, Ella Fitzgerald SIngs The Rogers and Hart Songbook and then Ella Fitzgerald SIngs The Duke Ellington Songbook, this is the perfect introduction to Lady Ella. Granted there are tracks from other sessions, including a trio of live tracks. Add to this Joop Viser’s sleeve-notes. His essay is a fitting homage to Ella Fitzgerald. They’re an example of what sleeve-notes should be like. Together with the four discs that comprise Dearly Beloved, Proper Records have released the not just the perfect introduction to Ella Fitzgerald, The Queen of Jazz, but one veterans of Ella’s music will cherish too.

 

J.J. CALE-CLASSIC ALBUM SELECTION.

One of the most underrated singer, songwriter and guitarists was J.J. Cale, who died earlier this year. His career began back in the late fifties as Johnny Cale. However, it wasn’t until 1972 that J.J. Cale released his debut album Naturally. Naturally featured a track that would become synonymous with J.J. and would introduce his music to a much wider audience. This track was After Midnight, which Eric Clapton had covered in 1970. 

At the time Eric Clapton covered After Midnight, J.J. Cale was struggling to pay his bills working as a musician, so the royalties from After Midnight were like manna from heaven. Unknown to him, Eric had covered After Midnight. When it gave Eric one of the biggest hits of his career, J.J. Cale’s problems were suddenly solved. The royalties he received from After Midnight allowed J.J. Cale to pay his bills and somewhat belatedly, record his debut album Naturally. It’s one of five albums that feature in the recently released J.J. Cale-Classic Album Selection. Other albums include 1976s Troubadour, 1981s Shades, 1982s Grasshopper and 1983s Number 8. These five album are the perfect introduction to one of the most enigmatic, languid and laid-back musicians of a generation… J.J. Cale.

Throughout his career, J.J. Cale eschewed the limelight. Despite that, he was without doubt one of the most underrated singer, songwriter and guitarists of his generation. He’s seen as the guitarists guitarist. However, his unwillingness to change his music meant he failed to attract the critical acclaim and commercial success his undeniable talent deserved. The five albums that comprise J.J. Cale-Classic Album Selection are proof, if any of this. They’re also proof that the laid-back, languid and understated sound of J.J. Cale matches and often, surpasses many guitarists his era. During the five album in J.J. Cale-Classic Album Selection, J.J. demonstrates that he’s both one of the greatest and most underrated guitarists of a generation. 

JETHRO TULL-BENEFIT.

Recently, Jethro Tull’s third album Benefit was rereleased by PLG. This was no ordinary rerelease of Benefit. Far from it. Instead, it was released a Collector’s Edition box set. This box set is best described as luxurious, lavish and lovingly put together. No effort has been spared. Disc one features Stephen Wilson’s 2013 Stereo Mix plus five bonus tracks. On disc two there’s sixteen “Associated Recordings 1969-1970. Then disc three is a DVD which contains the contents of discs one and two in 5.1 surround sound. As you’ll realise, this is what a remastered album should sound like. This is no budget priced needle drop. No way. It’s a fitting homage to Jethro Tull’s third album Benefit.

The best way to describe Benefit is fusion of art rock, avant-garde, baroque, classical, folk, free jazz, jazz, pop psychedelia and prog rock. It’s a melting pot of musical influences and genres. Innovative and groundbreaking, it was a move away from the throwaway pop songs that had dominated music until then. Prog rock was cerebral, intelligent music. One of the most successful groups of the prog rock era were Jethro Tull.

Benefit was just the second album in the most successful and productive period of Jethro Tull’s career. Between 1969 and 1979, nine of Jethro Tull’s albums were certified gold. Aqualung Jethro Tull’s 1971 Magnus Opus was certified triple-platinum. It seemed Jethro Tull could do no wrong. One of the most groundbreaking group of the prog rock era, Jethro Tull’s back-catalogue is a musical treasure trove. Proof of this is Benefit, a genre-sprawling album which comes to life surrounding and assailing you with its secrets and subtleties.

 

JOHN MORALES PRESENTS THE M&M MIXES VOLUME 3.

Ever since John Morales released The M&M Mixes Volume 2 in March 2011 on BBE Music, one of the greatest remixers in modern dance music has been working on the followup. Believe me, this has been two years John well spent. John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3 is a three-disc box set, which features twenty-four brand new remixes from John. It was released by BBE Music on 29th April 2013. Featuring remixes of Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Teddy Pendergrass, The Dramatics, The John Davis Monster Orchestra, Loleatta Holloway and The Salsoul Orchestra. The twenty-four tracks on John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3 encompass Philly Soul, Salsoul, classic soul, funk and disco. Quite simply, John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3 is the best instalment of The M&M Mixes.

So good is the music on John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3, that this is a possible contender for compilation of the year. John’s choice of music and remixing skills are flawless. John breathes new life and meaning into familiar tracks. Over the three discs that comprise John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3 John take you on twenty-four compelling and captivating musical journey. These journeys are soulful, funky, jazz-tinged and dance-floor friendly. Occasionally, he throws a series of curveballs, taking you in a direction you never expected. By the end of the track everything falls into place. Seamlessly, everything makes sense. Not many remixers can do this, but John Morales can. However, that’s what you’d expect from a veteran remixer whose life has revolved around music. Proof of this is John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3. Somehow, John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3 manages to surpass the quality of the two previous instalments in this series. 

 

JOHN MORALES PRESENTS THE M&M MIXES VOLUME 3-INSTRUMENTALS.

Compilations of John Morales’ remixes were a bit like London buses this year. You wait ages for one, then two come along at once. After releasing the critically acclaimed and commercially successful The M&M Mixes Volume 2 in March 2011, John Morales spent the next years working not just on one compilation of remixes, but two. These were John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3 and John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3-Instrumentals. Both were released by BBE Music in April 2013. John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3 was very much a return to form from one of the greatest remixers of his generation. While much of the focus was on John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3, many people have overlooked what is a truly captivating and intriguing project, John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3-Instrumentals. 

If you think about many of the twenty-four anthemic tracks that feature on John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3, each of these tracks has one thing in common. Many of the tracks feature a truly compelling vocal. When you listen to theses track, you tend to focus primarily on the vocal. You can’t help it, given how captivating and compelling it is. By focusing primarily on the vocal, you’re not listening closely to other parts of the arrangement. Granted, the vocal is central to the songs success, but without the other parts of the arrangement, the track wouldn’t work as well, and wouldn’t be as successful. Not only that, but by focusing primarily to the vocal, you’re overlooking some equally outstanding performances.  Not any more. John Morales released a compilation of instrumental version of seventeen songs on John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3. The result was one of the biggest challenges of John’s career.

By dispensing with the vocal, he had to reinvent and re-imagine the tracks. This couldn’t have been easy. Indeed, it would’ve been easy to go wrong. However, John being an innovative and imaginative remixer managed to reinvent the tracks. To do this, he makes other instruments the focus of your attention and highlights parts of the track that previously, were subservient to the vocal. They play more important parts, in the reinvention of the tracks. Without the vocal, you’re able to hear parts that previously you overlooked. Never again, will you hear the original tracks in the same way.

For John Morales, creating seventeen instrumental versions of dance-floor classics must have been one of the biggest challenges of his long and illustrious career. However, he managed it and the result is John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3-Instrumentals. It demonstrates just why John Morales is one of the greatest remixers of his generation. He’s head and shoulders above other remixers. They’re pretenders to John’s thrones. Proof of this is John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3-Instrumentals, which is the perfect companion to John Morales Presents The M&M Mixes Volume 3.

KENYA SPECIAL-SELECTED EAST AFRICAN RECORDINGS FROM THE 1970S AND 80S.

Kenya Special is a two disc box set, which features thirty-two tracks recorded during the seventies and eighties. The two discs are enclosed in a sturdy, cardboard box which holds the two discs and a forty-page booklet. Unlike inferior compilations, the discs don’t rattle about the box. Instead, there’s a made-to-measure quality to it. Each disc is enclosed in what resembles the inner sleeve to an old vinyl record, with facsimiles of old record labels on each side. Then there’s Doug Paterson’s sleeve-notes. They’re lengthy, informative and in-depth. As an added bonus, there’s the story behind each track. For lovers of African music, this is Nirvana. Where Kenya Special also differs, is the music. The thirty-two tracks, spread across the two discs don’t just focus on one specific musical genre. Instead, Kenya Special draws inspiration from Ghana Special and Nigeria Special. 

Throughout the seventies and eighties, across the length and breadth of Kenya, in the various regions, artists and bands were producing new and innovative music. Recorded in various dialects, this was music that was funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly. It was music that provided a showcase for Kenyan music, benga and rumba in particular. Benga and rumba were influenced by the music of Kenya’s neighbours Congo and Tanzania. It was also influenced by Western music, including disco, jazz, funk, soul, R&B and rock. Influenced by an eclectic and disparate selection of musical genres and influences, not only did the music that features on Kenya Special provide the soundtrack to much of Eastern Africa, but made stars out of many of the artists on the compilation. Selling ten-thousand or more copies, many of the artists on Kenya Special became legends of Kenyan music. Revered not just in Kenya, but much further afield are Simon Kihara, D.O. Misiani, Nashil Pichen and Sophia Ben, true legends of the Kenyan music scene. They’re responsible for some of the innovative, influential and timeless music that features on Kenya Special, the latest compilation from Soundway Records. 

 

MARVIN GAYE-TROUBLE MAN.

What’s Going On, released on 20th May 1971, marked the second chapter in Marvin Gaye’s career. For many people, What’s Going On marked the start of Marvin Gaye’s career as a serious artist. Indeed, What’s Going On, was far removed from the poppy soul Marvin Gaye had previously been a purveyor of. Not only did What’s Going On, mark a coming of age as an artist for Marvin Gaye, but was the start of a series of critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums he’d release between 1971 and 1978. During this seven year period, Marvin Gaye released six albums. Three of these albums reached number one in the US R&B Charts, but only What’s Going On was certified gold. Given the quality of these six albums, that’s a remarkable statistic. 

The followup to What’s Going On, was Trouble Man, which saw Marvin follow in the footsteps of Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield and Bobby Womack, in composing the soundtrack to a Blaxploitation movie. To mark the fortieth anniversary of the release of Trouble Man, Hip-O Select.com somewhat belatedly, released a luxurious and lovingly compiled double album on 31st January 2013. Disc One features the original album version of Trouble Man, plus nine bonus tracks entitled The T Sessions. On Disc Two of Trouble Man, are the nineteen tracks that comprised the Original Film Score, plus a bonus track, T At The Cross, which, like the nine bonus tracks on Disc One, were mixed by DJ John Morales. So for anyone who is either a fan of Marvin Gaye, or Blaxploitation movies, this should be a must-have? 

While the rerelease of original version of Trouble Man would be a cause for celebration, then the rerelease of the Original Film Score is a cause to rejoice. For John Morales, this was a labor of love. Good as the nine bonus tracks the comprised The “T” Sessions were, they were after all, only outtakes and alternate mixes. There was nothing to rival the thirteen original tracks on the original version of Trouble Man. John could only work with the material he was presented with. He really surpasses himself on Disc Two. It’s as if this was a project that was deeply personal for him, one that was part of his musical legacy. He mixes the nineteen tracks on Original Film Score and the bonus track “T” On The Cross. Not only is this the icing on the musical cake that is Trouble Man, but the cherry on the top. John should be proud of his efforts and realise that these three years were well spent. It allows the listener to sit down, and enjoy two versions of the album. Granted several tracks on the original version of Trouble Man feature on Original Film Score, but there’s much more to explore and enjoy. By the time you’ve listened to the original version of Trouble Man and the Original Film Score, then you’ll have come to the conclusion that Marvin Gaye, like Isaac Hayes, could’ve enjoyed a career composing movie soundtracks. 

Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Trouble Man was his only soundtrack. The followup to Trouble Man, while not a soundtrack, was a stonewall classic, Let’s Get It On. It marked the next chapter in his career, and was the third of six critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums Marvin Gaye released during the seventies. During the period between 1971 and 1978, Marvin Gaye only released one composed one soundtrack, Trouble Man. Mind you, if you’re only going to release one soundtrack, make it one that’s becomes a Blaxploitation classic, like Trouble Man.

MIKE OLDFIELD-FIVE MILES OUT.

Nine years after releasing his debut album, Mike Oldfield decided his music had to change. His albums were no longer selling as many copies. Success in America seemed to elude Mike. If it hadn’t been for excerpts from Tubular Bells being played in The Shining, his debut album might never have reached the heights it did. After that, America proved a hard nut to crack. Even at home, in the UK, his albums last three albums hadn’t even reached the top ten. Each album slipped that further bit down the charts. There was a reason for this, music was changing. Music was in a constant state of flux. Fashion changed quickly. During 1981, when Mike started recording Five Miles Out, boogie and synth pop were just two of the musical flavors of the month. For a new generation of record buyers, Mike Oldfield was the music of their parents. When they thought of Mike, they thought of grandiose, symphonic music, music that’s mystical and of course, prog rock. That was the problem. 

People’s perception of Mike was problematic. Although his music was much more eclectic than that, that was how people perceived him. Little did people realize his music had never stood still. He’d been determined to push musical boundaries. This is what he’d do with Five Miles Out. If he didn’t do something to address the problem, he risked becoming irrelevant. So, Mike decided to change direction. 

This was something he’d done and embraced his whole career. No two Mike Oldfield albums are the same. Each album is a but different. When Mike could’ve released Tubular Bells II, he released Hergest Ridge. Mike didn’t stand still. His career saw his music constantly evolving. On Five Miles Out, Mike fully embraced technology. Using the Fairlight CMI, was part of the reinvention of Mike Oldfield. Without throwing out what had resulted in Mike enjoying a successful career, Five Miles Out saw a series of subtle changes.

Side one of Five Miles Out was for his old fans. A twenty-four minute Magnus Opus, it’s Mike Oldfield at his very best. Then on Side two, three of the four songs are shorter, with a slick, poppy sound. Mike doesn’t spare the hooks. He even joins Maggie Reilly on vocal duties. Fusing everything from prog rock, pop, electronica, rock, Celtic and classical music, Mike returned with his most successful album since 1975. Not since Ommadawn, in 1975, had Mike Oldfield enjoyed such a high chart placing. Reaching number seven in the UK, plus two hit singles saw Mike’s decision to reinvent himself vindicated. 

It would’ve been easy for him to keep churning out album after album of similar material. Mostly likely, his loyal fans would’ve bought the albums. That wasn’t enough for Mike. He wanted and needed to challenge himself. Mike also wanted to embrace the new technology. Throughout his career he’d been an innovator, always wanting to push musical boundaries. This is what Mike Oldfield did on Five Miles Out, which was recently rereleased as a Deluxe Edition by Mercury Records. Featuring three discs, Five Miles Out is what a Deluxe Edition should look like. Disc two features a recording of a concert in Cologne from the Five Miles Out tour. Then on Disc three, there’s Mike Oldfield’s 5.1 Surround Mix. This is a very welcome addition and brings new life and meaning to Five Miles Out, Mike Oldfield’s comeback album. The 5.1 Surround Mix showcases Mike Oldfield at his innovative an inventive best on Five Miles Out, which features the rebirth and reinvention of Mike Oldfield.

ORCHESTRE POLY-RYTHMO DE COTONOU-VOLUME 3 THE SKELETAL ESSENCES OF AFRO FUNK 1969-1980.

The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou are among Analog Africa’s favorite sons. Indeed, Samy Ben Radjeb’s Analog Africa label have previously, dedicated two compilations to the funk-laden music of the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou. This started with 2008s The Vodoun Effect and 2009s Echoes Hypnotiques-Volume 2 From The Vaults of Albarika Store 1969-1979. Then in 2011, Analog Africa rereleased the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou’s 1973 debut album, entitled The 1st Album. Now, Analog Africa have returned to the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou’s back-catalogue for fourteen further tracks, which comprise The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980. This includes some of the funkiest music the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou ever recorded during their career. 

When Analog Africa founder Samy Ben Radjeb was compiling The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980, first stop was his vast collection of African music. His collection is crammed full of records he’d collected during his previous career, which was working for a German airline. This allowed Samy to seek out and discover, countless hidden gems of African music during his monthly trips to Africa. Finding their way into Samy’s enviable record collection, were the 500 songs that The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou recorded between 1969 and 1983. 

Fourteen of these tracks feature on The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980, where you hear many sides to The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou’s music. Seamlessly, they veer between musical genres and rhythms. Everything from funk, soul, jazz, rock, Latin, Cuban and Afro-beat is combined over the fourteen tracks. It’s impossible to categorise The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou. Granted, you could refer to it as Afro-beat, but there’s much more to it than that. However, the fourteen tracks could be broken down into ten sub-genres. These are the various rhythmic styles. They range from voudoun, jerk fon, sato, pop fon and pachange. For many groups, changing rhythmic styles would present a challenge. Not for The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou. They relish the challenge, enjoying the opportunity to showcase their considerable musical prowess. Seamlessly, one rhythm style gives way to another. All the time, they’re drawing inspiration from Western, Cuban and Latin music. Quite simply, The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou were hugely talented musicians, musicians who were innovative and versatile. Not only that, but The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou enjoyed longevity and were prolific, releasing over 500 songs. 

Despite their prolificacy, The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou remain something of a musical secret, outside of Benin. Thankfully, independent record labels, including Analog Africa, run by Samy Ben Radjeb are rectifying this. He has already released two compilations of The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou’s music. Recently, that number rose to three, when Analog Africa released The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980, Of the three compilations, The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980 finds The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou not just at their funkiest, but seamlessly switching between musical genres and rhythms. For anyone whose still unfamiliar with African music’s best kept secret, then The Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou-Volume 3 The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk 1969-1980 is the place to start.

 

PHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL CLASSICS-THE TOM MOULTON REMIXES-VINYL EDITION.

Just a year after the release of Philadelphia Classics-The Tom Moulton Remixes, now lovers of vinyl will be able to purchase a copy of what was one of the most anticipated box sets of 2012. While the version of Philadelphia Classics-The Tom Moulton Remixes that was released in March 2012, this new vinyl version, which will be released on 25th March 2013, features eight heavyweight albums. For lovers of Philadelphia International Records and Tom Moulton’s remixes, then you’re in for a treat. Thirty-one remixes by Tom Moulton, including what were last year, seventeen brand new remixes. Truly, the music is stunning. 

Just like Philadelphia Classics-The Tom Moulton Remixes, the vinyl edition is a combination of classics and new tracks. Quite simply, the music is of the highest quality. With the new tracks, Tom’s remixes are just as good as his older remixes, demonstrating that he’s still a hugely talented remixer. In fact, listening to these tracks, there much better than anything the new generation of remixers are producing. Compare these tracks, and its like master and pupil, with Tom’s remixes are streets ahead. Proof of this is the vinyl edition of  Philadelphia Classics-The Tom Moulton Remixes. It was released by Harmless Records in March 2013, and is a reminder of what  Tom Moulton, inventor of the remix, twelve inch single and remixer extraordinaire is capable of.

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