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Posted: July 08, 2009

‘Storytellers’ set offers glimpse behind David Bowie’s glam-rock muse

Plus Lenny Kravtiz lets love rule again and jazz from Art Tatum and Ben Webster

Mike Cote

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By Mike Cote

DAVID BOWIE VH1 Storytellers (Virgin)
When David Bowie appeared on VH1’s “Storytellers” in 1999 he was on a creative roll, having just released Hours, the third and last of his three strong albums for Virgin. Although he sampled a couple of tracks for the studio audience (“Thursday’s Child” and “Seven”), Bowie used most of the occasion to talk about the origins of his older material, offering a self-deprecating take about the lyrics of his first solo single, “Can’t Help Thinking About Me,” and recalling his misadventures with Iggy Pop, with whom he wrote “China Girl.”

Only seven songs made the televised performance (eight if you include the snippet of “Rebel Rebel”). But Bowie’s song selection -- eschewing his biggest hits for classics like “Word on a Wing” and “Life on Mars?” -- and good-humored storytelling make this set a delight. The DVD in this two-disc package, due in stores Tuesday, includes four songs taped for the show but never aired that also drew from more obscure material (such as “Always Crashing in the Same Car.”)

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LENNY KRAVITZ Let Love Rule: 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Virgin)
I remember when I put Lenny Kravitz on the shelf for a while. One of my son’s teenage friends was visiting from Florida, and all he wanted to do was listen to “Fly Away,” the rocker’s 1999 ubiquitous hit single, on his headphones. By then, Kravitz had gravitated to a rather generic version of Jimi Hendrix and frankly had become something of a rock ’n’ roll cliché. So I had forgotten the promise of Kravitz’s stunning debut album. On Let Love Rule, the then 24-year-old guitarist and singer unleashed a fully realized collection of songs that belied his adoration of Hendrix and the Beatles (“Let Love Rule”) as well as the social commentary of Curtis Mayfield (“Mr. Cab Drive,” “Fear”). This double-disc edition offers a slew of bonus cuts including a demos and B-sides (a cover of John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey”) and a full disc of live material, culled mainly from a 1990 club date in Boston.

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ART TATUM AND BEN WEBSTER The Album (Essential Jazz Classics)
SONNY ROLLINS Saxophone Colossus (Essential Jazz Classics)

Other than four short performances for a 1944 radio show, the seven recordings collected on The Album represent the only existing collaboration between pianist Art Tatum and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster (and Tatum’s last sessions: He died a few months after these 1956 recordings). Backed by drummer Bill Douglass and bassist Red Callendar, The Album presents the jazz giants interpreting standard ballads like the Kern-Hammerstein tune “All the Things You Are” and Rodgers and Hart’s “Where or When.” Webster had a reputation for playing over other soloists, his hands too busy to stay in the background for too long, and you get a taste of that here on the gently swinging version of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.” Five bonus tracks present most of the songs on the album as Tatum solo recordings.

Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus presents one of the tenor saxophonist’s early and highly acclaimed outings as a leader, in part because three of the five tunes were originals, including the melodic calypso workout “Saint Thomas” and the hard-driving “Strode Rode.”  The Miles Davis veteran’s quartet for this 1956 date included drummer Max Roach, for whom Rollins had been playing at the time. This version of the album pairs it with Work Time, an album from 1955 that also featured Roach.

 

Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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