Are CD box sets already archaic artefacts?
Metaphorical secateurs in hand I move towards my music collection, primed for a bout of pruning, and consider the box sets. I recently sold one – ‘The Complete Benga’ (ten discs of all the official releases plus outtakes, versions, interviews and a booklet written by Simon Reynolds)...or did I imagine that?
I see big box sets as the preserve of mid-life (and older) men having a financial fling with Miles or The Beatles. After all, financial security is a prerequisite to buying those behemoths of sound, isn’t it ? Well, better that than trying for the secretary, I suppose.
A metal box catches my eye, it’s ‘Charlie Parker – The Complete Verve Master Takes’, which has been opened far more frequently than the one by PiL.
The Bird box is an absurd example of excessive packaging, an excuse for the price, no doubt. Although, having said that, if any artist deserves to be encased in an indestructible container, it’s Charlie Parker.
As I open it I’m reminded of how stupid such packaging really is, the awkwardness of getting to all the discs...and not least of all, if I may don my eco-righteous hat, the energy and materials used to make it. It wouldn’t bother me if all future packages were made from recycled cardboard only, the less the better. With apologies to the factory-workers made redundant as a consequence. At least the online listening experience is ‘green’, eh?
Here’s a box I can’t imagine selling, although it’s entirely possible that one day, as I huddle ‘round the single-bar heater in my old age, wondering where the next slice of bread is coming from, I may well do so.
It has a booklet, of course, which contains all the recording details along with extensive notes and rather bizarre artwork as well as photos. I’ve never read it, except to identify a track. Some people, I’m sure, will be interested to learn that Manny Thaler played bassoon on the May 25, 1953 session. Manny might have relished being name checked for posterity as someone who backed the mighty Bird...if he was alive when this came out, which I somehow doubt.
Parker only has to start playing on the first track, ‘The Bird’, and you enter another realm. It’s ‘live’ at Carnegie Hall in ’47 and he simply sounds like the hippest person to ever put his chops around the mouthpiece of an alto. Which he was. At one point he kind of slurs a note, as if drunk on his own brilliance and unafraid to let the world know. Sometimes he was just too far gone to blow anything, but what he played when he was together makes me feel as if I’m high. Many musicians have attempted, consciously or otherwise, to recreate the ‘high’ of drugs...I think most of it is called ‘psychedelia’...none of which I’ve ever bought, mainly because I don’t like their shirts...or hair styles...or, to be honest, much of the music. In one sense you might say that despite whatever substances Bird had flowing through his veins at the time of playing, this music is a kind of ‘natural high’, as opposed to electronically manipulated or ‘artfully’ contrived. There is a track called ‘Cosmic Rays’, but really, everything Bird played was a trip along some strange celestial road laid by Bird’s brain, fingers, heart or soul, if you like.
I probably said all I can about Parker in my book...but listening again reminds me that almost every Bird experience is like listening anew, because he was such an astonishing player...who could blow hot, cool, crazy, askew...and somehow it feels right to take him out of a box...like an act of resurrection.
Legend has it that no sooner was he dead than graffiti appeared declaring ‘Bird Lives!’...and I wholeheartedly agree with that...