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November 8, 2012

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Roxy Music

The Complete Studio Recordings

Through the eyes of an adolescent boy, simply watching a james bond movie can make you feel like a suave badass for a week, and in the music realm, a similar thing can be said about listening to the discography of the British group Roxy Music, formed by singer/songwriter Bryan Ferry (seemingly born wearing a white dinner jacket) and a core of art school graduates.  

The new 10-CD boxed set The Complete Studio Recordings marks 40 years since the release of Roxy Music’s self-titled debut album, which had a singular blend of pop and glam-rock, using a complicated mesh of Andy Mackay’s oboe and sax melodies, Phil Manzanera’s rock guitar licks and Brian Eno’s left-field synth explorations. Eno departed after the second album, For Your Pleasure, but the group continued its remarkable five-album, early-to-mid-70s streak with Stranded, Country Life and Siren, further developing its dramatic, sophisticated sound. After a brief hiatus, the band re-emerged in the disco era with Manifesto, a less memorable effort with most of the group’s edge gone. Flesh+Blood is smooth yet regrettably bland, but 1982’s Avalon is one of the band’s peaks, making up for the loss of bite by being extra urbane and amorous; going by anecdotal evidence, Avalon was apparently the No. 1 college dorm make-out album of 1982.

The set includes the eight studio albums in miniature renditions of the vinyl LPs’ gatefold sleeves, with the distinctive cover art varying widely on the trashy-to-chic spectrum, and two generous—if occasionally redundant—bonus discs include singles, B-sides and alternate versions. The B-sides reveal some oddball diversions, including the S&M instrumental “The Pride and the Pain,” the Hawaiian ditty “Hula Kula,” and two of the band’s finest and most irresistible songs, the non-album singles “Virginia Plain” and “Pyjamarama.”  

Audio geeks should note that these are flat transfers—not the 1999 Bob Ludwig remasters—with no sound tampering or dynamic compression, which stay true to the original masters. My sole quibble is the lack of lyric sheets or any sort of 40th anniversary reflections or essays, but nevertheless, it’s a tidy, handsome package for longtime fans, newcomers who want to catch up instantly, or adolescent boys who want a confidence boost.

Platform 1

Takes Off

The aggressive modern jazz quintet Platform 1 carries the propulsive promise of the title of its new album, Takes Off, and allows each performer, almost defiantly, to never give up his sonic individuality while hurtling through the atmosphere as a group.  This configuration of jazz notables from the U.S., Sweden and the Netherlands features unique playing personalities that snap together like magnets joining and aligning at key moments in tune with the song’s trajectory, before scattering in a cloud of frantic activity. Like astronauts in space suits, they never quite touch each other during these spontaneous moments, but they’re not ignoring each other either.

In the quintet, the most recognizable name is reedist Ken Vandermark, who is known for a fiery sax playing style and his compositional and arranging talents. The album has complex dynamics and isn’t just constantly full-on. It occasionally takes a break from unbridled, furious playing, like during Vandermark’s piece “Stations” (dedicated to Pedro Costa, the founder of Clean Feed Records), on which a three-way trumpet/trombone/clarinet passage gives way to a reflective trumpet solo from Swede Magnus Broo. Behind the piece’s slower pace and contemplative attitude, Broo’s playing smolders and gradually becomes busier, with more sparks, as if he’s trying to restrain himself but can’t avoid letting some emotions out. Even when playing softly, his style is brimming with energy, yet he seems most comfortable with a piercing, kinetic style.

Those who favor tight cohesion in jazz may find Takes Off  to be confounding, but it’s recommended for those open to freer, more rebellious styles.

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November 8, 2012

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