I don’t dig on “alternate takes.” I understand that in the CD era alternates were a great way to fill run-times and give added value to re-releases. I also understand that alternates are of supreme worth to jazz historians and hardcore aficionados. But for me personally, unless an alternate is substantially different from the master, I am usually not interested, trusting the original musicians and producers to have provided me with a considered decision as to what was the very best material for original inclusion on a particular album. I have no musicians ear for the minutiae of alternates. Often I can barely discern the difference. But jazz fans seem obsessed with them. Nothing kills my interest and enthusiasm more quickly than a jazz radio program playing three or four alternate versions of “Caravan” or “Cherokee” in a row. This level of repetition often drives the casual fan away.
When do I make exceptions? When the alternate really gets into the minds of the musicians. The best alternates vary drastically from the master either in tempo, structure, solo order, or overall conception of the tune. But such alternates are rare. Those that exist I find extremely valuable.
Another issue I have with alternate takes is when they are sequenced back-to-back on reissues rather than at the end of the original album sequence. I understand that for some historians and connoisseurs, order of recording trumps album order but I personally disagree. Keep the alternates at the end of the original album sequence as that sequence aligns with the original artists and producers intention. Many a box set I’ve turned off because all of the tunes were stacked one-atop-the-other in a cascading wave of alternates, leaving me with ear fatigue. Diminishing returns definitely sets in when listening to so many alternates in a row. Sometimes I find myself hating the particular song before its all played and done.
When ripping albums and box sets into my iTunes, I often remove the alternates altogether — sacrilege to some, I know! But I am a listener first, attuned more to the visceral and emotional thrills of jazz rather than the historical/analytical/musicological. Repetitious alternate sequencing undermines my enjoyment of jazz.
Heresy or Quoted For Truth? Lemme know in the comments!