Monthly Archives: June 2013

What makes a good live recording?

There are very few live recordings that I like, especially those that are from the past handful of decades, and worse, those that are in the rock or contemporary jazz genres.

Why is that?  I find that the majority I’ve listened to fall into four categories:  1) a reproduction of the album versions; 2) the same album versions but sped up; 3) endless noodling (jazz groups take note, please); 4) embarrassing self-indulgence, and 5) reliving the past.  What’s sad is that this epiphany of mine took hold the day I got Supertramp’s Paris.  At the time I was a fan of the group, and this was the anxiously awaited new album.  After about two sides, I was shaking my head at the over-indulgent rushed takes on many of my favorite songs.  I played it twice and haven’t touched it since.  Likewise, I have been told for years of how Herbie Mann’s Village Gate album was some classic live performance.  After 10 minutes of noodling flute, I nearly flung the useless 180 gram pressing across the room in frustration; $28, wasted.

Since then, I’ve tried to listen to and like some other live recordings, but rarely have found any to be worth a repeat listen.  In the following weeks, I will be spotlighting the handful of live recordings which I do find to be of merit.  And I will kick that off with one of the good ones.  And the first in a series of lessons: what makes a good live recording.

Lesson One: use a live recording to debut new songs.

After Yellowjackets recorded their final album for Warner Brothers, Club Nocturne, they had taken a bit of a breather with recording.  They came back in a big way with Mint Jam, which featured only a couple of re-recordings of tunes they had done on previous albums–in this case, they featured new arrangements.  The rest were all new compositions, and the enthusiastic crowd fuels their energy level.  This two-CD set was no haphazard affair either: the Jackets had just come off the road from a tour, and had spent the previous two weeks preparing for the set of gigs at The Mint where these tracks were recorded.

Other recordings I like that debut new material are the Herb Alpert/Hugh Masekela Main Event Live album, and Joe Jackson’s sort-of-live album Big World, which was successfully recorded in front of an audience for spontaneity but with the audience given instructions not to applaud until the last note had died out.  And who can overlook Bill Evans and his sublime classic recordings At The Village Vanguard and Waltz For Debby.