In a post last week, I lamented the inevitable gap between how many great albums come out and how many I’m actually able to listen to. I could probably spend the rest of 2018 posting about worthwhile stuff that I missed in 2017—though of course I won’t, because I’d rather try to keep up with this year’s onslaught. But before I move on, I’d like to give props to a pair of previously unissued live recordings by the great LA folk-rock singer Tim Buckley that dropped late in 2017. Venice Mating Call and Greetings From West Hollywood are both double albums on the Manifesto label (the first on CD, the second on vinyl) recorded during the same extended engagement that produced the stellar 1994 archival release Live at the Troubadour 1969.
Coproducers Bill Inglot and Pat Thomas, who also wrote the liner notes (they’re identical on both titles), compiled these collections from tapes they discovered in the archives of former Buckley manager Herb Cohen, which include tunes that don’t appear on that earlier live release. This material gives the listener an opportunity to bask in the improvisational genius of Buckley and his limber band, especially guitarist Lee Underwood, who adds post-Joe Zawinul Fender Rhodes on a handful of songs. (Percussionist Carter C.C. Collins, bassist John Balkin, and drummer Art Tripp round out the lineup.) As the notes point out, these performances occurred at an important transitional point for Buckley: he was leaving behind the succinct jazz-flavored folk of his excellent 1969 albums Happy Sad and Blue Afternoon (the latter of which was still two months from release when these performances occurred) in favor of the expansively psychedelic experimentation of the 1970 releases Lorca and Starsailor. These unearthed recordings capture the fearless exploration that underpinned that shift.
Some of the tracks on Venice Mating Call would end up on Lorca, where they’re titled “Anonymous Proposition” and “Lorca,” but on the original tape boxes they’re called “Slow Samba” and “5/4,” indicating that they were in a state of incubation. Judging from these recordings, Buckley and his band navigated the change with confidence, never hesitating or stumbling—their fearlessness and superior musicianship make these excursions feel like exhilarating tightrope walks. According to the notes, at the time Buckley and Underwood were ingesting serious doses of the Miles Davis proto-fusion classic In a Silent Way, released two months prior to these gigs, and the impact is clear.
Sadly, Tim Buckley comes up in public discussions more often because he’s the father of Jeff Buckley than he does for his own work, which has retained its mysterious power for five decades. He had one of the most strikingly original and tensile voices in the history of American music—a kind of bottomless vessel for powerful, nuanced expression that seemed to contain ideas not only from all over this country but also from around the globe, filtered through his distinctive syncretic aesthetic. If you listen to these releases alongside Troubadour, you can hear how radically different many of the same songs are—sometimes because Buckley transplants vocal rhythms from one tune into another. The creativity on display here feels incredibly malleable, unfettered, and open-ended. Below you can hear one of the most far-out selections, a deliriously dilated version of “Gypsy Woman” from Venice Mating Call.
Susana Santos Silva, Life and Other Transient Storms (Clean Feed)
Thomas Adès, Adès: Piano Quintet/Schubert: “Trout” Quintet (EMI Classics)
Paul Bley, Improvisie (Bamboo)
Nadia Reed, Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs (Spunk/Scissor Tail)
Hamad Kalkaba & the Golden Sounds, 1974-1975 (Analog Africa)