Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Joe Satriani - Strange Beautiful Music, and The Complete Studio Collection
Joe Satriani sails into summer with a great package that should satisfy both the loyal and the neophyte Satch fan. Whether you've been there since the first EP like I have, or you're just getting into the realm of shred's smartest head, this package is all you'll need until Joe returns to the studio. The book is an encyclopedic look at Joe Satriani's catalogue by the master himself, and The Complete Studio Collection, re-mastered in 24-bit/96kHz High Resolution-Audio by longtime Satriani studio partner John Cuniberti and overseen by Joe himself, speaks for itself - even the less than expected mp3 files that Sony sees fit to dump on reviewers they obviously have less than love for sound great (more on that later).
Let's start with the book - it's not surprising that this being marketed as a musical memoir, and not an autobiography. What you will find is what I'm describing as maybe the best and longest guitar magazine article in history. The book is not unlike anything you'll see coming out of the Satriani camp - it's all about the music, without much of a look behind the curtain. Sure, Satriani bares a bit of his soul, but don't expect to walk away with any deep philosophical insights, or tasty nuggets of insider rock tales. However, like I said, as a document for fans of the guitar and the music, this is a treat.
The first couple of chapters are closer to classical autobiography, and personally, I wish the whole book was this open and revealing, because when Satriani does go a bit deeper it's good stuff. However, this is a 'musical memoir,' so soon enough it's into a 'just the facts, ma'am,' recitation of the guitarist's catalogue. Mind you, the recitation is as well developed and presented as anything and everything Joe has done in his career. It's a great read - co-writer Jake Brown does a fantastic job of combining some extremely well done oral history with key characters from Satriani's past with Joe's scholarly look at himself and his work.
Joe Satriani is the consummate host - he's reasonably self-effacing, gives credit where credit is due, and his attention to detail is superb. I will say that the perfect way to digest this package would be to buy both the book, and the music collection and take them as a feast. One thing I would have liked would have been more of Satriani's assessment of the people he's played with and their contributions to his art, but at the end of the day what this whole set points to is the fact that Joe Satriani is essentially a solo act. He's sold as a shred guitarist, but really, he's a composer who happens to play guitar. I find it extremely charming that even though he's certainly the best selling instrumental guitarist of the last fifty years (most likely in history), again and again he desires to have fans recognize the brilliance of his mastery of musical theory and harmonization. He regularly writes music that is extremely technical and sophisticated, but he's somewhat doomed by being such a smooth and musical guitarist that the sheer mathematical brilliance of his work is missed by almost everyone.
I would have loved to have had more to read about his early tours with Mick Jagger, and Deep Purple, but both are given just cursory mentions. It would have been sweet to hear some thoughts on learning the music, and his experience with the bands, the fans, and the tunes, but both episodes are only really mentioned in passing. If there is one thing about great guitarists that I find to be lacking it is the understanding that collaboration makes music better - while I completely understand that the purity of intention by the composer is a valid concept, I also know that the compositional brilliance of Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page were tremendously buoyed by the contributions of their respective bands.
Strange Beautiful Music rates as a must own for any fan of Satriani, or lover of rock guitar. It's a great look into the work of one of our time's best musicians. You get the absolute sense that Joe Satriani wrote this book - it is not the work of a ghostwriter, and it rings true. There's no big surprises, but there is an abundance of exactly what you would expect if you've been paying any attention to the man's career over the last 30 years.
The Complete Studio Collection is exactly what it says - a collection of every Joe Satriani studio release, 15 CDs worth of brilliance, re-tooled by John Cuniberti for this release. It's now that I must address the lack of regard for which Sony Music holds for reviewers. This is a great package, available as either a 15 CD set, or as the "Chrome Dome" USB - it would have been fantastic to receive either from Sony for the purposes of this review, but instead, they opt to send out a huge block of mp3 files that aren't even split out by album, just one big folder with over 200 songs in it.
Why release a superior sounding set, but send reviewers less than best quality examples with which to access and talk about? I find this to be all too common - it's rare that I receive a real CD to review, it's most often mp3 files, and I review based on what my admittedly well educated ears can suss out. I know what the music should sound like, and I know the limitations of mp3 files, but it's pretty insulting that labels have no more respect for writers than to send out what would be the equivalent of sending out cassette tapes in the past. This all speaks to larger issues impacting this industry, and while I can appreciate the necessity of containing costs, I also know that it would behoove the labels (especially one as rich as Sony Music) to treat the press with the appropriate respect - to be frank, it's extremely rare to even receive liner notes these days, we mostly just get sent the music files and little more.
I will say that even on the less than acceptable mp3 files, I can hear the effect of Cuniberti's efforts. The entire set is punchy, clean, and the separation is magnificent. I can only imagine (and again, that really, really sucks) how good this package must sound on CD, or USB.
Joe Satriani's entire catalogue is worth owning, it's never sounded better, and now you have an encyclopedic travelogue to accompany your listening experience, so what are you waiting for? You can go straight to Joe Satriani's website and get a deal on the whole set as a package, and both items are autographed by the guitarist.
I should add that I'm guessing that Satriani and his management don't even know that Sony sends out their review material in this half-assed fashion, but they certainly deserve better, and so do we writers.