When writing about anything to do with Kris Needs on his music collection, the first bridge to cross is where to start. Not just insofar as where to go with the music, but trying to comprehend the knowledge of Kris himself us difficult. He is one of the most renowned musical collectors, and has as much weight as anyone else when talking about the New York scene as anyone, having had unprecedented access to the disco, house and hip hop movements, as well as being something of a musical historian. In the last year before this compilation’s release, he has released two double disc sets that take us through part of what made punk which ran through the ‘66 garage explosion, the heavier side of kraut and space rock, pub rock, psyche and the attitude that made ‘77 happen. Now that is an ambitious task, and one that will never be complete due to the fact that there was never a definitive number of bands or tracks or influences that made ‘punk’. As such, the most he can do is make the most of the limited space he has and fill it with some killer tracks, which is what he did.

When you think about just trying to document the birth of the punk scene and realising that the only way to really understand it comprehensively is to first listen to all of the full albums that Punk’s alumni held dear, as well as the socio-political influences that cannot be portrayed by musical influences, it becomes apparent that the idea of being able to document everything that was fascinating with New York from 1945 to current day is going to be impossible to get right in only a dozen discs. Each year, each single movement and each twist and turn in the maze of the NY scene from the 40’s onwards needs its own dedicated disc set or compilation do it part justice, but even then it would fall short. The trouble is that Kris Needs has tried to document what he calls the “New York melting pot”, which by his own analogy, makes the concept of measuring it in a number of CDs arbitrary and insensible without a direct goal. As he correctly points out, it’s amazing to see how New York’s incestuous musical scenes feed each other and make for some fascinating twists and turns, and how jazz from the 1940’s can be directly linked to hip hop of the 80s and how each and every action ripples and effects each and every other. That’s magical, but it cannot be documented with a linear path of discs.

That, I believe, is the intrinsic problem with Kris Needs’ latest project – it’s wonderful, the selections show a magnificent understanding of the scene, but instead of getting into the heart of the scene, which would be impossible without unlimited time, it seems more of a flick through the scrapbook that was 1940’s and 1950’s new York. It’s filled with aural pleasures – everything from Machito’s little riffing of 'When the Saints' in Mucho Mambo to the sheer midnight beauty of Charles Mingus’ 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat' and the infectious hit from Cab Calloway 'Minnie The Moocher' but with each track there’s an undiscovered story and scene. The Latin influences explored in the Machito track, amongst a few others, was a burgeoning and flourishing scene that I’d love to hear more of, much the same of the smooth jazz of Mingus and the wacky pop hit of Cab Calloway, and all deserve their own exploration and in depth look from Needs or another documenter.

Look at it is as if it was a map. Needs is showing us a bird’s eye view of the music of New York, a bustling hubbub of blocks, shops and housing, all interconnected by arteries and veins, all with people constantly travelling between, you don’t understand it’s intricacies. If we’re hovering above in a helicopter and just able to look at it from above, every highway, every city block and slum, every passenger and story is tantalizingly just out of reach. Seeing it like that makes one want to go in, arms open, and spend hours upon hours exploring every street and block and all the fascinating wonders of a country that’s grown in on itself.

That all being said, it’s quite an interesting look for a beginner; there’s the familiar standards from Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, as well as a look at some of the less covered, but just as deserving legends such as Thelonious Monk and Horace Silver which all serve up a good and honest balance of the time. Kris Needs has managed to avoid the two most obvious traps in his goal – going too mainstream and looking back on New York, so all you get are the people that grew popular, rather than who was popular at the time, but at the same time he’s avoided going underground for the sake of it, and just creating a mix of his favourite rarities. The latter would be fascinating, and possibly more worthy of the attention that this compilation series is bound to get, but looking objectively at his goal, Needs has delivered the balance.

It’s also worth noting the two 20+ minute tracks to close both CDs – John Cage's 'Indeterminacy pt II' and Alan Ginsberg's 'Howl'. Quite what the purpose of this is beyond me – both released shorter (and better) tracks that would represent themselves better. Not having the 72 page booklet in front of me, I can’t tell you what explanation Needs has for this, but it seems excessive when maybe a shorter track by both and more of a look at the beginning of the experimental might have been more useful.

As a result of the above, what we’re left with seems something of a folly. All of these tracks are available fairly easily online, and none of them are particularly mind blowing, so it seems Kris Needs has created an expensive mixtape. By having easily available tracks and music, it would be far more beneficial to have this as a download, or given Needs’ prolific writing, as a CD or two to accompany a book. Overall, despite being a collection of great tracks, it delivers as a soundtrack to a book never written.

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