How pop and jazz wrapped up the past in 16 boxed sets

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How pop and jazz wrapped up the past in 16 boxed sets
Cream, ‘Goodbye Tour Live 1968’ Polydor; four CDs, 66-page book, $69.98.

by Jon Pareles, Jon Caramanica, Giovanni Russonello and Lindsay Zoladz

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Reissues and deluxe editions of albums by PJ Harvey, Lil Peep, Charles Mingus and others provide fresh looks at familiar works, and the creative processes that birthed them.

Neneh Cherry, ‘Raw Like Sushi (30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)’

Virgin/UMC; three CDs, $63.89; three LPs, $75.98

Alive with isolated, collagelike layers and exuberant ad-libs (“Now, the tambourine!”), “Raw Like Sushi,” Swedish pop artist and rapper Neneh Cherry’s cult classic debut album, is a remixer’s dream. This 30th-anniversary set contains a vibrant remastered version of the original LP, along with two entire discs of imaginative remixes: Massive Attack transforms the synth ballad “Manchild” into a snaking, meditative groove, while early hip-hop producer Arthur Baker reworks two different extended club mixes of Cherry’s ebullient hit “Buffalo Stance,” furthering its eternal cool.


Cream, ‘Goodbye Tour Live 1968’

Polydor; four CDs, 66-page book, $69.98

Cream — Eric Clapton on guitar, Jack Bruce on bass and Ginger Baker on drums — was a power trio of flashy virtuosos with big egos. It lasted from 1966-68. While its studio work was disciplined and cooperative, marrying blues to psychedelia, its live sets were improvisatory free-for-alls, with all three musicians goading one another and grappling for attention. This collection gathers three full California concerts from October 1968 along with Cream’s last show, Nov. 26 at the Royal Albert Hall; half of the tracks, including an entire San Diego concert, were previously unreleased. The nightly set list barely varies, but the performances are explosive jams — tempos shift (listen to the assorted “Crossroads”), vocal lines swerve and stretch, guitar solos take different paths each night. The California shows were carefully recorded, but with historic stupidity, the BBC filmed Cream’s last shows yet only captured the music in muddy, low-fi mono. Cream’s members didn’t think they played well at their farewell, and through the murk, that final show is full of wailing excess and rhythm-section overkill. But it deserved better preservation.


Bela Fleck, ‘Throw Down Your Heart: The Complete Africa Sessions’

Craft; three CDs, one DVD, $49.99

Banjoist Bela Fleck visited Africa in 2005 with a film crew for a five-week trip to Mali, Gambia, Tanzania and Uganda, tracing the banjo’s African origins and collaborating with African musicians. The results were a documentary, “Throw Down Your Heart,” two albums of collaborations recorded in Africa and, in 2009, a tour with Toumani Diabaté, a Malian master of the harplike kora. Live recordings from the 2009 tour were released in 2020 as “The Ripple Effect,” a showcase for tradition-bridging melodies, flying fingers and shimmering plucked-string counterpoint. This box gathers them all, including a newly expanded version of the documentary. The whole project shows Fleck learning from every encounter and figuring out countless ways that his bright, speedy, bluegrass-rooted picking and runs can intertwine with African tunes and rhythms.


PJ Harvey, ‘Dry — Demos’

Island; one CD, $13.98; one LP, $24.98

When a 22-year-old Polly Jean Harvey and her band released their sensual, earth-rumbling 1992 debut album, “Dry,” some listeners and critics regarded its songs as almost feral outpourings of spontaneous intensity. A recently released collection of demos proves they were remarkable and carefully constructed achievements of songcraft. Available for the first time as a stand-alone album, “Dry — Demos” is sparse, often consisting of just Harvey’s mesmeric voice and rhythmic stabs of guitar. But the bones of enduringly sturdy songs like “Dress,” “Sheela-Na-Gig” and “O Stella” are, impressively, already locked in place. As a finished product, “Dry” was hardly overproduced or polished, but the incredible artistic confidence of these demos brings the album’s elemental power, and Harvey’s songwriting gifts, into even greater clarity.


Elton John, ‘Jewel Box’

UMe/EMI; eight CDs in hardcover book, $109.80; four LP set “Deep Cuts Curated by Elton,” $89.98; three LP set “Rarities and B-Side Highlights,” $59.98; two LP set “And This Is Me…” $35.98

Elton John’s “Jewel Box” is at least three projects side by side; its vinyl versions make them available separately. For two CDs of “Deep Cuts,” John selects non-hit album tracks; he likes sad songs with dark lyrics, collaborations with his idols (Leon Russell, Little Richard) and music that evaded his usual reflexes. Three CDs of “Rarities 1965-71” — with five dozen previously unreleased songs — detail his songwriting apprenticeship with lyricist Bernie Taupin, a good argument for Malcolm Gladwell’s proposition that expertise requires 10,000 hours of practice. At first they tried to write potential hits that were generic enough for others to cover; John once called them “pretty horrible.” The duo learned by obvious imitation, with near-miss mimicry of both British and American approaches: the Beatles, Motown, Phil Spector, country. They made and scrapped “Regimental Sgt. Zippo,” an album of pop psychedelia. Gradually, they homed in on a distinctive Elton John style: openhearted, big-voiced storytelling backed by two-fisted piano. Two more discs are housekeeping — an archive of B-sides and non-album tracks — and the final pair, “And This Is Me …” is a playlist of songs mentioned in John’s memoir, “Me” — which gives him a chance to end with his 2020 Oscar winner, “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again.”


Lil Peep, ‘Crybaby’ and ‘Hellboy’

Lil Peep/AUTNMY; streaming services

Platforms change, their overlords get finicky, they get sold to conglomerates that might not respect the historical legacies they contain. Which is why it is crucial for artist catalogs that live in only one place online to be spread as far as possible. It’s a relief that the two key early Lil Peep albums, “Crybaby” and “Hellboy” (from 2016), have finally made it up from SoundCloud to other streaming services (fully cleared, with only minor tweaks). Lil Peep, who died in 2017, was a critical syncretizer of emo and hip-hop: He was swaggering, dissolute and deeply broken, a bull's-eye songwriter and a rangy singer and rapper. During this era, he finally figured out how all of those pieces fit together, especially on “Hellboy,” a pop masterpiece that pop just wasn’t ready for yet.


‘Charles Mingus @ Bremen, 1964 & 1975’

Sunnyside; four CDs, $28.98

Charles Mingus was stubborn, self-righteous, and he was open to just about anything. When this bassist and composer gave his first concert in Germany in 1964, at the Radio Bremen studios, he was leading one of the finest bands of his career: a sextet that could carry a ton of weight while turning on a dime, like a dump truck made by Maserati. With Johnny Coles on trumpet, Eric Dolphy on reeds, Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone, Jaki Byard on piano and Dannie Richmond on drums, the band followed Mingus’ plucky lead, leaping between Ellingtonian miniatures, bluesy hollers and extended avant-garde improv. The group’s now-legendary performances on that tour might well have represented a high-water mark. But when he returned to Bremen 11 years later, with a quintet, his penchant for misdirection and ludic sophistication had only grown stronger. Both shows are presented side-by-side in this four-CD set, which features remasters of the original radio source tapes.


Charlie Parker, ‘The Mercury & Clef 10-Inch LP Collection’

Verve; five LPs, 20-page booklet, $69.99

By the end of the 1940s, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker was only a few years into his recorded career as a bandleader but he’d already turned jazz inside-out, contouring the next frontier in American modernism as one of bebop’s lead architects. Impresario and producer Norman Granz recognized Parker’s brilliance — and he saw the potential to broaden his appeal, by shining a softer spotlight on his lemon-cake tone and his richly coiled melodies. The 10-inch LPs that Parker recorded with Granz between 1949 and 1953, for the Mercury and Clef labels, offer portraits of the artist from many angles, including the steaming “Bird and Diz,” the only studio session to feature the Big Three of bebop (Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk); the gauzy orchestral fare of “Bird With Strings”; and “South of the Border,” mixing big-band jazz with Mexican and Afro-Caribbean styles. This boxed set features five newly remastered albums from that period, most of which have been out of print on vinyl since the ’60s. Faithful to their original format, the albums come on 10-inch discs, packaged with David Stone Martin’s now-classic artwork, while the booklet includes new essays from pianist and jazz historian Ethan Iverson and Grammy-winning writer David Ritz.


Iggy Pop, ‘The Bowie Years’

Virgin; seven CDs, $99.98

In 1977, David Bowie restarted Iggy Pop’s career by producing two albums for him — “The Idiot” and “Lust for Life” — and joining Pop’s band on tour. Bowie admired Pop’s pure-id approach to songwriting and performing, but smoothed him out just a little — supplying some glam-rock-tinged backup — and spurred him onward, suggesting concepts and approaches. And the punk rock that Iggy and the Stooges had presaged nearly a decade earlier was taking hold in the United States. The alliance was fertile for both of them; Bowie would have a 1980s hit remaking their collaboration, “China Girl,” a song about acculturation, imperialism and lust from “The Idiot.” This box includes the two studio albums, the howling 1978 live album “T.V. Eye” (with Bowie in the band on keyboard and backup vocals), a disc featuring rawer alternate mixes from the albums and three live Iggy concerts from 1977. Two of the live discs are low-fi and redundant, but a fierce 1977 set from the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland documents a telling rock moment.


Pylon, ‘Box’

New West; four LPs and 200-page hardcover book, $149.99; four CD version to be released in March, $85.99

Formed in 1978 by art-school amateurs in Athens, Georgia, Pylon made hardheaded, pioneering, danceable post-punk. Bass and drums staked out sinewy, deliberate, unswerving riffs. The guitar poked into interstices with pings or echoey chords or scratchy syncopation or dissonant counterpoint. Laced through the instrumental patterns, riding or defying them, were vocals by Vanessa Briscoe Hay: declaiming, rasping, chanting, confiding and yelling while she sang about daily life as a pragmatic revelation — and, onstage, moved like no one else. “Box,” on vinyl, includes Pylon’s first two albums, “Gyrate” (1980) and “Chomp” (1983), plus a disc of extras including Pylon’s brilliantly decisive first single, “Cool”/“Dub,” and a find: the band’s first recording, a vivid 1979 rehearsal tape that shows Pylon already fully self-defined. Pylon was very much of its time, akin to Talking Heads, Gang of Four, Bush Tetras and Pylon’s Athens predecessors and supporters, the B-52’s. But Briscoe Hay’s arresting voice and the music’s ruthless structural economy have made Pylon more than durable.


Lou Reed, ‘New York (Deluxe Edition)’

Rhino/Warner Bros.; three CDs, two LPs and one DVD, $89.98

Three decades after its release, “New York,” Lou Reed’s midcareer 1989 opus, retains a haunting present-tense resonance: “Halloween Parade” mourns West Village neighbors lost to an epidemic, “Last Great American Whale” frets about environmental collapse, and Trump and Giuliani even cavort through the appropriately titled “Sick of You.” This deluxe edition, released a year after the record’s 30th anniversary, features both a live album and a previously unreleased concert DVD. But its most revelatory additions are the small scraps of Reed’s “work tapes,” capturing such intimate moments as Reed figuring out the chord progression that would become the album’s hit “Dirty Blvd.,” or humming what the bass should sound like on a demo of “Endless Cycle.” Despite his shrugging exterior, these tapes show how deeply Reed cared about the details.


The Replacements, ‘Pleased to Meet Me (Deluxe Edition)’

Rhino/Warner Bros.; three CDs and one LP, $64.98

Like their beloved Big Star, the Replacements were never quite in the right place at the right time — or maybe, whenever either band was on the brink of mainstream rock stardom, their self-destructive tendencies kicked in. Regardless, the group’s fifth album, “Pleased to Meet Me” from 1987, was at once their record company’s last push for success (see the echoing “Jimmy Iovine Remix” of the great single “Can’t Hardly Wait,” which, apparently, even the Midas-like producer couldn’t turn into a radio smash) and a spiritual communion with their underappreciated heroes (the group recorded the album at Big Star’s former Memphis stomping ground Ardent Studios, with their sometime producer Jim Dickinson). The resulting LP, naturally, was caught in the middle: It was too polished to ascend to the cult status of “Let It Be” from 1984, but too snarling and strange to be a hit. This fantastic and exhaustive deluxe edition (featuring 29 never-before-released tracks), though, finally puts it in its proper context: Raw and unvarnished demos (including the final recordings made with their original guitarist, Bob Stinson) restore these songs’ barbed, punk energy, while a rich spoil of melodic leftovers reassert this period as a golden age of Paul Westerberg’s songwriting.


Stretch and Bobbito, ‘Freestyle EP 1’

89tec9/Uprising Music; streaming services

For some mid-90s New York rap obsessives, the ne plus ultra collaboration is “The What,” by the Notorious B.I.G. and Method Man. For others, it’s “Brooklyn’s Finest,” from the Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z. The connoisseur’s choice, however, might be traced back to the night in February 1995, that Big L brought Jay-Z up to the Columbia University radio station WKCR-FM for “The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show,” then the definitive proving ground for the city’s MCs. The result is startlingly good — an excellent showing from Jay-Z, still shaking loose of the twisty syllables he leaned on in his earliest recordings. But Big L — who was killed in 1999 — is the radiant star here, delivering left-field boasts in ice-cold arrangements. Previously available only on hard-to-find cassette releases and online rips, it appears here in an official release for the first time (though sadly without the between-verse banter). It’s one of three unearthed freestyles on this EP — the others are a Method Man and Ghostface Killah team-up, and also the Notorious B.I.G.’s first radio freestyle, a hellacious rumble from 1992.


Various Artists, ‘Cash Money: The Instrumentals’

Cash Money/UMe; two LPs for $24.98 or streaming services

The beats used for many of the late 1990s breakout hits of New Orleans’s Cash Money Records were head spinners, one after the next — Juvenile’s fleet, squelchy “Ha,” B.G.’s prismatic “Bling Bling,” Lil Wayne’s chaotic “Tha Block Is Hot.” This compilation gathers those and many others — made mostly by the in-house maestro Mannie Fresh — for a set that lands somewhere between bounce futurism and avant-garde techno. It’s an expanded version of the label’s “Platinum Instrumentals” compilation from 2000, but a less disciplined one, too — the sleepy funk of “Shooter” is wildly out of place here, one of a few more straightforward Lil Wayne tracks that would have been better left off, inconsistent with the pure digital esoterica that made the label impossible to emulate.


Various Artists, ‘Excavated Shellac: An Alternate History of the World’s Music’

Dust-to-Digital; 100 MP3s and liner notes, $35

Excavated Shellac is a website created by Jonathan Ward, a collector of 78-rpm recordings of global music who shares his finds and his research. The digital collection “Excavated Shellac” unearths 100 of his previously unavailable discoveries from nearly as many countries, most released only regionally and long ago. They are extensively annotated, translating lyrics and delving into musicians’ biographies and each country’s recording history. It’s a trove of untamed three-minute dispatches from distant places and eras, full of raw voices, rough-hewed virtuosity and startling structures. Try the ferocious fiddle playing of Picoglu Osman from Turkey, the blaring reeds and scurrying patalla (xylophone) momentum of Sein Bo Tint from what was then Burma, or the accelerating, almost bluegrassy picking and singing of Tiwonoh and Sandikola, from Malawi. Nearly all the tracks are rowdy; as Ward’s notes explain, disc recording favored performers who were loud.


Gillian Welch, ‘Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs’

Acony; three CDs and 66-page book, $49.99; three LPs and 66-page book, $79.99

The four dozen songs on this collection were all unreleased until 2020 — they were recorded by the modern folk hero Gillian Welch and her longtime partner, David Rawlings, in a fevered stretch to fulfill a publishing contract in 2002. And yet these are the sketches of a patient perfectionist. Like most of the music Welch put out in that essential era, these songs are marked by the omniscience she builds with small details and her studiously unhurried voice (bolstered by Rawlings’s sturdy sweetness — see especially “I Only Cry When You Go”). It is a torrent of material from an artist who’s long communicated by trickle. And given the music’s elemental beauty, it seems absurd that it languished for all this time, all but unrecorded by others.


© 2021 The New York Times Company

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