The next flight of Continuum Books' "33 1/3" series is out, featuring short, smart books on Jethro Tull's Aqualung, Radiohead's OK Computer, and both the Beatles' and Replacements' respective albums titled Let It Be, among others. The highlight is Douglas Wolk's examination of James Brown's Live at the Apollo, which read like a hypertext book. He moves moment-by-moment through the recording of the album, stopping every few paragraphs to elaborate, explain or digress. In the process, he opens up not only the particulars of Brown's live shows at the time, but how the Apollo show fits into Brown's legendary career, how Brown and his material fit into the history of R&B, and how the album fits into American culture, being recorded on the eve of the Cuban missile crisis.
Quincy Jones and Bill Cosby -- The Original Jam Sessions 1969 (Concord), Quincy Jones and Bill Cosby -- The New Mixes Vol. 1 (Concord), Various Artists -- Upstairs at Larry's (Ranwood/Vanguard), Various Artists -- Classics Regrooved (Koch): In 1969, Quincy Jones was the musical director for The Bill Cosby Show. The Original Jam Sessions comes from recordings of jams that emerged from sessions set aside to record incidental music, and the tracks feature the likes of Jimmy Smith, Milt Jackson, Joe Sample and Eddie Harris. The results are fairly engaging soul-jazz tracks that don't show off the soloists as much as they exist as cool grooves. Cosby contributes a vocal to the funky "Hicky-Burr," and you have to assume his nonsensical, intentionally half-mumbled performance was supposed to funny and vaguely "jazzy," but now it just seems weird and a little indulgent.
Released at the same time was The New Mixes Vol. 1, which features recording artists like Los Amigos Invisibles, Mix Master Mike and Cornershop creating new pieces from the original tracks. Mario Caldato, Jr., a sideman on a number of Beastie Boys albums, fleshes out a Jimmy Smith fragment and turns it into a conversation between Smith's B-3 organ and a semi-acoustic guitar. There's nothing in the track to make listeners think they aren't hearing Jimmy Smith playing with a funky band behind him, but not all the pieces attempt to create such a naturalistic sound. "Valeurs Personelles" by Cornershop brings a dub sensibility to remixing, letting instruments enter and exit the mix abruptly, along with the occasional sound effect or rush. All in all, the album is a smart, trippy revisiting of very pleasant, slightly faceless tracks, and if the versions on The New Mixes don't have a lot more personality, it's more likely because we don't know the remixers well enough to recognize their musical signatures.
It's tempting to dismiss Upstairs at Larry's as a shameless attempt on the part of Lawrence Welk's family to capitalize on remixing as a way to rejuvenate interest in his music, and it might be. It's also surprisingly entertaining, as the best tracks retain the blithe, timeless optimism of Welk's orchestra's performances. The remixes are more club-oriented than those on The New Mixes, but not so much that the sole point of the tracks is to motivate dancing. There's a lot of high beats-per-minute dance floor throb, but the takes on "Baby Elephant March" by Monkey Bars and DJ Keri & DJ 43 reconstruct the piece so that the melody, played on clarinet, seems startlingly human in the midst of the dense, electronic mesh of sound behind it. Classics Regrooved does fall into the dance floor trap, taking classical music favorites -- really, just the signature parts of famous compositions -- and dropping techno rhythm tracks behind them. Most of the pieces prompt a grin of recognition when they start, but techno really needs to be heard in a club; hearing these at home reveals only how static the pieces seem if not part of a club mix or heard while dancing.