In these times of troubled economies and stagnant
music industries, it’s nice to come across pleasant
surprises. (I used a similar line as an intro to a CD
review a year or two ago, but I’m afraid it seems even
more relevant now.) So…here are a couple of cases
where musical books that once seemed thoroughly shut
have now been reopened.
A few weeks ago, word circulated that Brian
Wilson planned to perform Smile in London in 2004.
Smile, of course, is one of rock’s legendary
unreleased albums, a 1966/7 Beach Boys project which
drew so heavily on Wilson’s creative energies that it
eventually led to a mental breakdown from which he has
never fully recovered.
Numerous Smile bits have drifted out on official
releases and bootlegs, to the point where one can now
construct a healthy-sized album (or more) of Smile
material. It’s frustrating, though, since many of the
songs are clearly unfinished, and as with some of my
other favorite music (early fusion, for instance), I
sometimes find myself thinking that I’m more moved by
the idea than the reality. However, I can say with
certainty that a healthy amount of Smile is among the
most unique and beautiful music I’ve ever encountered
-"Wonderful," "Cabinessence," "Surf’s Up," as well as
the well-known "Good Vibrations."
Like many others, I tried my hand at constructing
"my" Smile with the aid of a few WAV editing programs. There are debates about how to approach this project – should one stick with material from 66/67, or
include some of the altered versions from later Beach
Boys albums? I lean towards the second option. For
instance, the Boys put out a version of "Surf’s Up" in
1971 against Brian’s wishes, but he reportedly made a
surprise appearance in the studio and threw out an
idea for a vocal line in the coda – a simple addition
which greatly enriches the piece.
It may be too much to expect at this point, but
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the 2004 shows
will include a few more such alterations that will
realize the promise of Smile. Here’s hoping.
A somewhat similar case is the recent
re-emergence of Wayne Shorter. A bit of background:
around the 80’s, it became a jazz-critic consensus
that the 60’s Miles Davis quintet with Shorter
represented a peak in acoustic jazz, about the
farthest the music could evolve without abandoning
structure altogether (as "free" jazz sometimes did).
However, Shorter went in a different direction after
his Miles stint, collaborating with Joe Zawinul on
jazz/funk/rock hybrids in Weather Report and slowly
fading from view after that band finished. The Miles
quintet sometimes reunited, sans Miles, but the idea
seemed to be more replicating the 60’s style than
So it has been a nice surprise to see Wayne back
on the circuit the last few years. Even better, his
current quartet, as heard on last year’s Footprints
Live release on Verve, has its own identity, though it
often uses the compositions Wayne wrote for Miles’s
group. Their manner of interaction has similar
foundational principles to the Miles quintet (modal
pieces with a great deal of flexibility), but the
chemistry of the current band is entirely different.
And reports I’ve heard suggest that Wayne plans to
work consistently with this group, rather than going
with the star-plus-random-big-names format common in
In certain branches of music, the common
sentiment is that it’s safe to write the history
books, that there will be nothing new in the story.
Too often, it’s hard to disagree with this view.
Wilson and Shorter offer a faint but definite promise
that there may be new twists ahead.