Lost amidst the welter of debate, discussion, and hand-wringing about the demise of the CD, the challenges of DRM, the rise of iTunes and mp3 sales, and whether albums will even be relevant in the future, is any attention paid to what is a valuable type of music media: the concert DVD.
DVDs of live performances are often an afterthought among music fans. They deserve more attention. Really, where else can you get the feel of a concert, the intimate perspective and visual excitement of being onstage with the artists, and excellent sound quality, all for much less than the price of a single ticket to see a popular group or headliner live? And in a format that you can play again and again? Nowhere except in a DVD/blu-ray.
For jazz buffs (and anyone who enjoys good music), I’d like to recommend one of the best.
In 1990 four great jazz musicians came together somewhat improbably (given their backgrounds and schedules) and went on a world tour: Herbie Hancock (keyboards), Pat Metheny (guitars), Dave Holland (bass), and Jack DeJohnette (drums). These four need no introduction to jazz fans. Even beyond jazz circles, who hasn’t heard of Pat Metheny, one of the most innovative and original composers and guitarists of the last 30 years, or Herbie Hancock, a prodigy on the classical piano (he performed with the Chicago Symphony at age 11) who, at the tender age of 23, was tapped by Miles Davis to be part of his second great quintet? These two account for almost 30 Grammy Awards between them. Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland are similarly distinguished on their respective instruments, though their fame is probably more confined to those who appreciate jazz. (Holland has won the annual Downbeat Critics Poll for Musician of the Year and DeJohnette has won the Downbeat Readers Poll for best drummer more than 10 times).
Each of these four gifted instrumentalists is also an influential and respected composer. In June, 1990, the group came together at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia to perform at the Mellon Jazz Festival. Over two days their performances were filmed and compiled into one of the best concert DVDs ever: DeJohnette, Hancock, Holland, Metheny in Concert. Each is at the top of his form, whether improvising or as part of the rhythm section. Each contributed at least one composition to this stellar collaboration. Jazz doesn’t get any better than this.
To whet your appetite, following are two video excerpts from the DVD:
Here is Hancock’s marvelous solo (a clinic in jazz improvisation on the piano) from Shadow Dance, Dave Holland’s composition, as the rhythm section cooks:
And for a change of pace, here is Indigo Dreamscapes, written by Jack DeJohnette. You’ll find a lot of varied music on this DVD. Here Pat Metheny’s solo harks back to Bright Size Life, his first breakout album with Jaco Pastorius (many don’t realize Pat’s extensive jazz pedigree), as he plays his Gibson ES-175:
As you can see, the camera work and editing on this DVD are quite good. In all, it contains over 90 minutes of excellent music. All of the guys get a chance to showcase their formidable talents through extended solos. A diversity of musical styles is offered, from the tender ballad feel of The Bat (Metheny) to the polyrhythmic danceability of DeJohnette’s and Metheny’s 9 Over Reggae to a straight-ahead rendition of Solar (Miles Davis). Imagine playing this on your home theater system, with Dolby sound, while viewing it on your large-screen TV.
Here are the songs included:
- Shadow Dance
- Indigo Dreamscapes
- 9 Over Reggae
- Silver Hollow
- The Good Life
- The Bat
- Cantaloupe Island
Get this DVD now, because… well, here is the bad news: it is out of print, so available quantities are limited. You can still find it at Buy.com, however. If you want it, don’t hesitate. Other people will be reading this and there aren’t many copies left. Click here to get it.
If it’s sold out at Buy.com, then I have another resource for you… A label called “Jazz VIP” has issued a version of this concert on DVD and added a couple of bonus tracks as well. It’s titled Live in Philadelphia and includes all the tracks listed above. I have not personally viewed this version so I can’t vouch for it, but it’s probably fine. You can find it through MusicStack.com, a site that aggregates sellers of music from around the world. To find it (and a huge selection of other music you might find interesting), just click here to go to the site.
At the MusicStack site, do a title search for Live in Philadelphia, specifying that you’re searching for a DVD. A bunch of results with that title will come up, and you’ll find the DVD listed with the artist as Metheny. To streamline the search, go to “Advanced Search.” Enter “Metheny” in the artist slot, “DVD” under format, and “Live in Philadelphia” for the title. That should bring up that exact DVD. Click on it to get detailed info. Check the customer feedback for the distributors and you can generally tell who is legit. When ordering anything on MusicStack, pay attention to the customer feedback; it’s a good indication of which businesses are likely to fulfill an order reliably.
Want more info? You can find customer reviews of this concert DVD at Blockbuster (just enter the names of the musicians in the search field).
Finally, if you can’t find these DVDs anywhere, you can still get the album that was produced during the world tour (which included Canada, Japan, Europe, and the U.S.). It’s called Parallel Realities and DeJohnette is listed as the leader. The songs are somewhat different from the DVD and only Hancock, Metheny, and DeJohnette are present (i.e., no bass player is credited, though I believe Dave Holland may play on some tracks). It’s a pretty good album for fans of Metheny, DeJohnette, and Hancock.
Hancock, Carter, and Cobham
If you’ve been reading my site, you’ll know that I never want to leave you hanging when it comes to recommendations for good stuff, so I’ll mention another concert DVD that is worth your consideration and could substitute for the one above. And this one is still in print! It also features Herbie Hancock, but here he is joined by Ron Carter on bass and Billy Cobham on drums — two more giants of the jazz world. Carter is legendary as the bassist for Miles Davis’s second quintet (and when he left the quintet, he handed the bass reins to Dave Holland). He has a style all his own — one that has had him in such demand that he’s appeared on over 2,000 albums, and has garnered numerous awards, including “Outstanding Bassist of the Decade” by the Detroit News. Cobham was one of the founding members of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and went on to forge a career that has resulted in his being acknowledged as probably the best fusion drummer alive. Yet he is in no way limited to fusion, as this jazz DVD shows — his virtuosity and technical mastery complements any setting. He has won the Downbeat Readers Poll as the best drummer of the year numerous times.
The piano trio with bass and drums is one of the purest yet most versatile of jazz ensembles. It distills jazz to its essence, while still leaving wide latitude for harmonic, improvisational, rhythmic, and tonal expression. In this regard, when you bring together three superstars of their respective instruments, the result can be musical magic. In 1983, these three superlative musicians came together for the annual “Open Air” Jazz Festival at the Palazzo dei Congressi in Lugano, Switzerland and, fortunately, someone had the foresight to capture the event on film (7 cameras were used along with hi-fi stereo). The 90-minute concert was subsequently released in different DVD versions: World of Rhythm and World of Rhythm Live contain the entire concert. Herbie Hancock Trio: Hurricane and Herbie Hancock Trio in Concert are 1 hour each. Obviously it’s preferable to have the longer version, but the shorter formats are worthwhile, too, and the DVDs have been praised by critics. C. Michael Baily wrote: “As a unit, the trio played seamless, pristine, post-bop jazz. Perfectly tasteful and disciplined, the hour and one half performance went by too quickly, leaving this writer wanting more. The video includes informative biographies of the musicians, increasing the value of World of Rhythm as a musical document.” And see this review by Don Mather at Musicweb-International.
Here’s a video excerpt to give you a taste of what this DVD is like. The song is Eye of the Hurricane:
The compositions included on the World of Rhythm DVD are:
- First Trip
- Speak Like a Child
- Little Waltz
- Willow Weep for Me (solo bass)
- Dolphin Dance (solo piano)
- Ili’s Treasure (drum solo)
- Eye of the Hurricane
I have linked to various vendors above where you can get the different versions. Or click the images below to find them through CD Universe, Barnes & Noble, DVD Empire, and Target (at the Target site, just search on “Herbie Hancock Trio in Concert” — and yes, Target actually has a good selection of music and movies and they only charge $2.99 shipping). Like much of the best jazz played overseas by American artists in the 80s, this live performance was not released in the U.S. as an album (not enough of a market, I guess, which is a shame, considering that jazz is America’s only original art form). That increases the value of this DVD issue.
With respect to the relative unpopularity of jazz in the U.S. (when compared with, say, Mariah Carey), I remember when I first heard jazz as a teen… I thought it sounded odd (it was a Dizzy Gillespie album and the very first song I heard, Con Alma, actually was sort of odd, played rather dissonantly by Dizzy, Sonny Rollins, and Sonny Stitt) and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But my dad explained what was going on in the music and I kept listening. My ear was helped at the time by the fact that a couple of popular bands — Chicago, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears — incorporated horns, so it made the bridge to jazz easier. The more I listened and understood that these guys were making up their solos as they went along (after playing the tune’s melody), the more I appreciated it. After awhile, rock and pop became tertiary for me. Jazz is a vast ocean of creative expression and many of the best, most innovative musicians in the world gravitate to it. If people in the United States heard it more often (rather than the musical pablum played by most radio stations), they’d appreciate it more. But at some point, you’ve got to be exposed to it, and obviously that doesn’t happen much.
One valuable thing about the different DVDs mentioned here (the quartet and the trio) is that it gives young people and aspiring musicians a close-up look at masters exhibiting their skill. So in that regard both DVDs are educational as well as inspiring. Show them to your kids. And if you’re a music teacher, show them in your classroom.
The common denomiator of both of these performances is Herbie Hancock. I’ll wrap up this post with what Pat Metheny said about Herbie in an interview with Jazziz in 2001:
Along with Keith Jarrett, the most important living musician, in my opinion. Herbie is the ultimate example to me of what it is to be a musician on earth. His playing skills are off the scale, his harmonic knowledge, his time, his sense of form and drama, his ability to communicate are all supreme. But most important of all — his listening skill is refined to a degree that is simply immeasureable. It transcends music into something close to what religious people seem to call enlightenment. He hears into things with a subtlety and nuance that informs everything he plays at every level of intensity. Any chance that I can hear or be around Herbie, I never miss it.
Don’t you miss it either. And if you want to explore a vast range of musical offerings, click the banners below.