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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

THE COMPLETE ON THE CORNER SESSIONS

Miles Davis

When Miles Davis dropped this intoxicating funk bomb back in 1972, jazz purists waiting out his fusionist streak finally screamed heresy. Thirty-five years later, "On the Corner" doesn't feel like a rejection of the past so much as an arms-wide-open embrace of a bold and boundless future. Pulsating with alchemical energy, these epic, ecumenical jams would eventually serve as the ur-text of post-punk, hip-hop and psychedelia to come.

Now, the studio sessions that yielded "On the Corner," as well as 1974's "Big Fun" and "Get Up With It," get a closer examination with this six-disc boxed set. The packaging is sturdy, the design crisp and handsome -- pretty much the opposite of the musical delirium therein. Check out the unedited 23 minutes of "Helen Butte/Mr. Freedom X," with Davis's young backing troupe convulsing through jittery drum bursts, sticky keyboard riffs and electric guitar scribbles. The players keep the beat tethered to the ground while their band leader makes his trumpet throb like a signal from deep space.

Squint your ears and you'll hear premonitions of contemporary pop: Timbaland's sci-fi beatscapes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' funk spasms, even crunk's hissing high-hats materialize in Davis's crystal ball. The only thrill greater than watching the world catch up to "On the Corner" is wondering if these sessions' most evocative moments predict a future funk that's yet to arrive.

-- Chris Richards

COTTON EYED JOE

Karen Dalton

A case can be made for Karen Dalton, the late Greenwich Village folkie sometimes referred to as the best singer nobody's heard, as the archetype for current pop-cabaret stylists Norah Jones and Madeleine Peyroux, even Leslie Feist. Neo-psych sprites like Jolie Holland and Joanna Newsom certainly have embraced Dalton, who died in 1993 after struggling with alcohol, drugs and depression for much of her life.

In the two-disc set "Cotton Eyed Joe," only the third album of her music ever released, Dalton accompanies herself on banjo and 12-string guitar at an intimate club in Boulder, Colo., in 1962. A year or so later she would move to New York, where she fell in with the heady likes of Bob Dylan, Fred Neil and the Holy Modal Rounders.

Dalton sings two of Neil's compositions here: "Red Are the Flowers," a wrenching lament for the people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and "Blues on the Ceiling," a devastating personification of despair. On the latter, amid a haunting exchange between voice and guitar, she cries, "Even cocaine couldn't ease the pain/I'd be better off dead," her ghostly whine as otherworldly as those of Delta blues singer Skip James and bluegrass patriarch Ralph Stanley.

The mood is narcotic throughout, with Dalton also using her uncluttered fingerpicking and keening phrasing to reimagine a pair of lesser known Ray Charles numbers to devastating effect. She invests Woody Guthrie's "Pastures of Plenty" with an equally mournful voice, her intonation, like Billie Holiday's, as hornlike as it is human.

-- Bill Friskics-Warren

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Blues on the Ceiling," "It's Alright," "Cotton Eyed Joe"

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