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Death to “Bonus” Tracks

In the music industry’s never-ending quest to get us to pony up our money for the same music over and over, the standard method is to re-issue some music with bonus tracks, hoping that we’ll re-buy the same CD, or, even better, a whole slew of CDs in a box set. This trick is often combined with another one, that of remastering. Sometimes remasters can be good, but other times not. So bands that have been around a long time can re-purpose their material for those die-hard fans who have to own everything they’ve recorded.

The problem is that the real fans are the ones who get suckered into such tricks. Take, for instance, this forthcoming box set of the Brad Mehldau Trio’s Art of the Trio Recordings: 1996-2001. This box set not only brings together the five volumes (six discs) of Art of the Trio recordings that the trio issued, but adds, lo and behold, a seventh disc of “previously unreleased material from shows at the Village Vanguard” that “completes the box.” So, if you have all five original releases, you just have to buy the box set to get the bonus tracks.

Well, to be fair to Nonesuch Records, the box set is fairly priced: it’s currently listed at $38 on Amazon; I paid much more than that for the original releases. But do they really think that I’m going to spend another $38 for that additional disc of music (which is only 44 minutes long)? Ha!

I’m a big fan of Brad Mehldau, and own every one of his releases. But the scam of record companies to get people to buy the same material again, or to, in essence, pay a high price for some bonus tracks, is just too reprehensible for me to accede to. I can certainly find this music elsewhere, and I will do so. As much as I want to support artists, I simply can’t justify the greed of trying to get people to buy the same music over and over. The music industry managed to get us to do that when we shifted from vinyl to CDs, and I accept that the change was positive: better sound, no pops and clicks, and, in many cases, much longer timings on CDs than on LPs. But when they come out and scam fans with a few extra tracks on a re-issue, well, that’s just a swindle.

Alas, I am sure a lot of people will buy this set; mostly people who don’t have more than one or two of the original releases, or even none at all. This sort of budget release is a great thing for artists who have moved on and who don’t sell a lot of back catalog, and for fans who discover artists later in their careers. If Nonesuch sold this box simply with the original releases, I would applaud. But by adding “bonus” tracks, they’re just scamming their customers, as most record labels do.

See also a related article, Death to “Hidden Tracks”

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Album Notes: Brad Mehldau, Live in Marciac

Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR

I’ve been a fan of Brad Mehldau’s music for many years now, and own all of his releases (as main performer, not as sideman). I think he’s an extremely innovative pianist, and I especially like his work with his trio. This new album, recorded live at the Marciac Jazz Festival in France, in 2006, features a solo performance, one of only two live solo releases he has made (the other is the 2004 Live in Tokyo).

This is an attractive album, with energetic performances, and flattering sound. (I felt that the Live in Tokyo album had somewhat brittle, harsh sound.) In solo performances, Melhdau tends to wander a bit more than when he has a rhythm section backing him, and this album is a bit less attractive than his live recordings with his trio (such as the 2008 Live at the Village Vanguard). But it’s a fine example of his work, and any fan of jazz piano should definitely get this. Not only does it have two CDs, but also a DVD, with all but one of the songs. (I haven’t watched the DVD yet.)

However, there’s one thing I need to point out. I ordered this set directly from the label, Nonesuch, which provides MP3s by download as soon as the album is released, so you can listen to the music before you get the discs. There are some oddities on some of the tracks: a couple of them end with loud applause that doesn’t fade out; it just cuts off as the next track starts. For example, Lilac Wine has very loud applause at the end (and it deserves it; it’s a beautiful song), then cuts off immediately as Martha My Dear begins. But at the end of Martha My Dear, the same thing happens; it cuts from applause to My Favorite Things.

It is not normal that a professionally edited album would have this abrupt cut between tracks, and, now that I have the CDs, I can see that it’s the MP3s files that were truncated. In fact, in the MP3 files, four of the songs on the second disc – the ones that have the abrupt edits – are missing a total of over 2 minutes. From the amount of applause, it seems like Lithium was the last track in the set, and the rest were encores. Nonesuch’s MP3s are therefore just hacked off at the ends, and there’s no reason for this. So do buy the CDs; don’t buy any MP3s from Nonesuch. I note that Amazon is not selling this in MP3 format, but the timings on iTunes are the same as the bad MP3s I got from Nonesuch, so if you want this album, get it on plastic. While you don’t miss any of the music, the abrupt cut from applause to music is jarring and annoying.

UPDATE: I heard back from Nonesuch, who replied, “We have looked into this issue, and have learned that the original MP3s were indeed mistakenly truncated. We have corrected the files.” So apparently the files will be fixed on their site and on iTunes, but if you do have the truncated files, do get in touch with whoever you purchased them from to get new copies.

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Brad Mehldau on Mezzo Tonight

If you live in a country where you can get Mezzo, the French classical/jazz TV station, there’s a great program tonight. Two concerts by Brad Mehldau, my favorite jazz musician. The first is a solo gig, and the second with his trio.

I have all of Brad Mehldau’s albums, and simply love his music and his playing. If you like piano jazz, and get this channel, tune in tonight.

If you’re not familiar with his music, you can listen to some samples here.

He has a new album, Highway Rider, due out in two weeks.

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Music Review: Brad Mehldau Live in Tokyo

Live in Tokyo
Brad Mehldau
Nonesuch, 2004

Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR | iTunes

About a year ago, a friend turned my on to Brad Mehldau. We had been corresponding by e-mail, talking about music, and I mentioned that I was a big Bill Evans fan. The friend mentioned Mehldau, suggesting that I look into one of his Art of the Trio albums. I did. I was hooked.Now, with about ten Brad Mehldau albums – some solo, but most with his trio – I’ve become and unconditional fan. So I keep my eyes open for every new release. This new recording, his first with his new label Nonesuch, is the first live solo disc he has made. He performs many familiar songs, a few new ones, and the now-obligatory Radiohead cover (a nearly 20 minute rendition of Paranoid Android).

The sound is great; the piano seems recorded from a slight distance, allowing the music to bloom in the hall, and the performance is what I have come to expect from Mehldau: tight, yet flexible, with restrained improvisation that highlights his creativity and feeling for the music.

My favorite track on the album is River Man, the final track, a somewhat melancholy ballad that is perfectly fitting for the last song of a set or a recording. Here, Mehldau takes the repetitive left-hand part as a solid base for a lyrical improvisation of the song’s simple tune, and increases the tension and complexity as he goes on. Sheer bliss.

There is something interesting to note about this album. It is available in two forms: on CD and by download from the iTunes Music Store. What is interesting, however, is that the iTunes Music Store offers the equivalent of a double CD for a little more than the usual album price ($13.99), whereas this double CD is not available on plastic. Even more surprising, the iTunes Music Store does not mention this difference, and the only indication on Brad Mehldau’s web site is a link on the main page, but there’s nothing on the page for the disc itself. It’s almost as if they wanted to keep it under wraps, to see whether fans notice.

So, if you just have to have the disc, go for plastic; but if you want the music, you get about two hours’ worth from the iTunes Music Store version. In either case, go for it: this is perhaps Mehldau’s best recording yet.

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