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The Future of Digital Music: A Preview of CES 2005


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So far the greatest discovery from a sneak preview into expensive future technology is free and long outdated stuff.

Going through endless press releases and agendas for the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas reveals lots of hype about surround-sound MP3s, walkman-like satellite radios and other advances designed to let people listen to virtually anything anywhere - along with concerns about legal issues involved. From this one learns tidbits such as how lots of modern European recordings - including classic jazz - are now in the public domain because copyrights there expire after 50 years.

Oh? Maybe the press releases can wait.

Some preliminary Googling doesn't reveal any enormous online archives of such files, but does provide a new approach for locating numerous sources of classic and modern public domain recordings worldwide. While at it, a quick search for "Las Vegas" and "jazz" leads one to the Las Vegas Jazz Society (vegasjazz.org), a rich source of reviews and schedules for the city's artists, complete with links to sites and more song files.

After auditioning a rather unusual combination of Vegas acts and eccentric world beats (see mini- reviews and site listings below), it seems safe to make a first prediction: These will be more rewarding long-term than the countless tote bags, pens and other freebies writers supposedly are courted with at CES.

Don't get me wrong. I've wanted to attend a CES convention since I was a preteen scanning every news item from the convention about what new games were coming for my Atari and a couple of computers I owned. I'll still be ogling of new computer and gaming technology, by the way, with reports at sites like Inside Mac Games (insidemacgames.com) and Retrogaming Times Monthly (my.stratos.net/8E/E4/ hewston95/RTM/RTM_Home.htm).

But audio advancements interest me most these days as I delve into the full-time business and study of jazz. Thus the hunt for events (and naturally free food and trinkets) from companies touting what's to come in things like portable satellite radio and lightning-speed wireless internet - even if it may be a while before I can use it my antediluvian home state of Alaska.

By the way, across the street is a adult-oriented technology expo that owes its long-running success to hitching itself to the CES wagon. A search for jazz-related events there comes up empty, so a legit reason for going there remains elusive.

So instead of porn, hopefully one of the Net's other most popular offerings will be sufficient to sustain interest here. For starters are the free music files from the Vegas and global sources mentioned above, with a few notes about what's good and what might be less than essential. A scan for such material will continue throughout the week at all those conventions and casino hotels (obviously rich sources of jazz acts in themselves), so it may be worth staying tuned even if you could care less about the latest method of using an iPod in a Ferrari.

The Kozmigroov Konnection
1) Go here. 2) Download the recordings. 3) Experience happiness. Not much more needs to be said about this collection of marathon-length mixes of funk, fusion, free jazz and other genres. They are addictive and innovative, deserving of close scrutiny (coming if time ever permits) thanks to heavy world influences from many areas. As the site described it, "Kozmigroov is a transgressive improvisational music which combines elements of psychedelia, spirituality, jazz, rock, soul, funk, and African, Latin, Brazilian, Indian and Asian influences culminating into an all encompassing cosmic groove."

Las Vegas jazz musicians at download.com
One of the Internet's best free music sites features more 50 Vegas artists, a handful of whom play jazz (many others play experimental/trance; they're ignored here). Shapiro Project is the best of the bunch, playing tasteful and accomplished modern jazz that edges into the fusion arena. Michale Giovanni plays some funky organ/groove pieces, although some excessive instrumental clutter at the expense of musicansmanship and cheesy vocals cloy some of them. P.J. Sky's "April Jam" is wholly unremarkable instrumental guitar rock. Tale of Regent (supposedly metal meets New Age) is a touch above the usual soundscape fodder, but again nothing extraordinary.

Other Vegas musicians: A couple of names from early in the Google process that survived initial auditions: Bob Orona (ampcast.com/music/25231/artist.ph) is a diverse vocalist, a blessing and curse as several free offerings range from inspired modern swing to tacky pop. Also, Ron Rathers' "Say You'll Be Mine"(iuma.com/Genre/JZ/index/R-13.html) isn't bad smooth jazz as everyone is at least finding something worthy to say in sort of a Lee Ritenour way.

Tim Berne at Screwgun Records
Anyone familiar with saxophonist Tim Berne or into avant-garde ECM-like jazz will find this album-size sampler essential, as his playing and compositions from a number of releases are featured. Sidemen include performers like Joey Baron on drums and Hank Roberts on "cello, jazz-a-phone, voice (and) elephant ball."

Sachimay Records
"Improvised/creative/new music" labels like this are an awesome find when they deliver on their promise, but too many offer mindless soundscapes and electronica that's eclectic only because there's no actual music ability at work. Sachimay is one of the good guys, with a sampler of various artists largely blending elements of ethnic, chamber and jazz influences, with only a few ventures into the excessively bizarre.

Irdial Discs
OK, for those into the excessively bizarre here's a site that at least does a good job. Among the many recordings and concepts unlikely to be found elsewhere are the four-album "Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations" and two-disc "Electric Enigma" consisting of audio generated by a machine scanning the Northern Lights. This kind of stuff defies critical review - how does one give credit or find fault for a nature-generated event?

A few other sites of note yet to be reviewed: European Free Improvisation Home (shef.ac.uk/ misc/rec/ps/efi/), percussionist Le Quan Ninh (lequanninh.net/?voir=mp3〈=en) and Worldwide Internet Music Resources (music.indiana.edu/music_resources).

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