I’d consider myself a “dinner party” jazz fan: In my 1,300-plus vinyl collection, I have a small shelf reserved for my just 30 or so jazz records, mostly composed of the universally respected artists that would be welcome as background music to all those sophisticated social gatherings I never have. Titans like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Cannonball Adderley, Django Reinhardt, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone—Eric Dolphy and Dexter Gordon are about as far from the pack as I stray—and of course, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. All of these artists I’ve enjoyed, usually over a cup of coffee when I need to get some writing done (and never when my wife is around), but I’ve never particularly felt the need to expand my paltry jazz collection beyond that. Something like Craft Recordings’ Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane: Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings (out in June) is therefore unnecessarily indulgent for someone like me, collecting three 180-gram vinyl LPs and 20 tracks spawned from Monk and Coltrane’s only joint studio sessions, during the year when they were sharing a stage at New York’s Five Spot Café. Nevertheless, it’s the kind of collection that makes me want to be a better jazz fan, capturing two greats at the zenith of their powers as they played with supernatural fluidity off each other and bounced off guest musicians even dunces like I can recognize (Art Blakey, Coleman Hawkins… that’s about it). Owing to the brevity of their collaboration, the whole thing gets a bit repetitive; if I put it on at a dinner party, my guests would probably wonder why we’re listening to three straight versions of “Crepuscule At Nellie” in a row, and I’m not schooled enough to bloviate to them about the minor variations. Still, the quality of the recordings—not to mention the clever packaging, which puts LPs, rare photos, and essays inside a surprisingly functional, old-school expanding folder—are enough to make me want to learn.
For whatever reason, the audiophile earplug and headphone maker Etymotic Research sent The A.V. Club a pair of its very fancy ER4SR in-ear monitors, and if they want them back, they will have to pry them from my cold, dead hands, because they’re the finest earbuds I’ve ever stuck in my acoustic meatus. These rugged little black martian-blaster-shaped doohickeys produce a crystal-clear mid-range and a really tangible sense of space. Generally, I wear over-the-ear headphones (my work pair are Böhm B-66, which are fine but probably look fancier than they sound) and avoid anything that goes straight into my ears, because earbuds tend to maximize the worst qualities of modern-day consumer-end audio tech; if they’re cheap, they’re shrill, and if you’re willing to plunk down a little more cash, you might hope for the gassy, bloated sound you get with over-the-ear phones that ladle on the bass to cover their deficiencies everywhere else. Besides being more or less ideal for recording or editing (I dabble in both at home), the ER4SRs are really something if you happen to listen to a lot of music that isn’t saturated in whomping bass; they were a real asset when I had to write about baroque music last month, and though they’re almost too nice to schlep around everywhere, they’re the only in-ears in which I can enjoy jazz in a non-superficial way. Of course everything else sounds really good in them, too. At the price, it better.
Ben Greenman, Dig If You Will The Picture
Ben Greenman’s Prince book is my kind of bio: It’s part appreciation, part personal history, and just enough actual biographical information to keep me satisfied. (Bios that spend the first hundred pages talking about the subject’s grandparents’ struggles in the old country generally bore me to tears.) But Greenman’s Dig If You Will The Picture: Funk, Sex, God, & Genius In The Music Of Prince is largely an assessment of Prince’s catalog, sprinkled with stories about the musician that don’t try to get overly detailed. And of course it can’t avoid Prince’s obsessions, right there in the title, which are wrestled with at various times throughout his career. Greenman writes eloquently and critically about Prince’s music; he’s a fanboy who’s not overwhelmed by fandom, an unabashed lover but not an apologist. Which makes Dig a great career overview and also a nice key to the giant vault of Prince’s music—it should have come with a playlist, though, which would have been helpful in navigating the not-as-rewarding later years.