(Visual) Notes on Culture
  Back-Catalog Raiding on eMusic
As far as online music services go, eMusic.com is a venerable granddaddy. It has been around for a number of years and has acted as a showcase for "independent" musicians of various pedigrees, across many genres. Patrons to eMusic pay a monthly sum for a set number of downloads, which yields them DRM-free tracks that are permanently owned and are playable on nearly any mp3 or media player. The main attraction, indeed the assumed target audience, for eMusic is the "indy" music lover. eMusic prides themselves on providing music from such bands as The Decemberists, The Arcade Fire, and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - in fact, the promise of these bands and others is likely what keeps them in business.

My interest in eMusic is with their Jazz and Classical sections. eMusic does not have any of the "major" jazz labels on offer...no Blue Note, no Impulse...the best we get are Concorde and Prestige (and its various sub labels). What does this mean? It means no major Coltrane, none of the "essential" Miles Davis records (those are on Columbia), no major Herbie Hancock (try Warners and Columbia), and absolutely no Grant Green (he recorded on Blue Note his whole career!) So what's left? Deep tracks. As is bandied about, necessity is the mother of invention. There is actually a wealth of material on eMusic, for those willing to look. McCoy Tyner - Coltrane's pianist and one of the great chairmen of the boards - recorded a remarkable string of albums for Fantasy/Prestige in the early-to-mid 1970s that prove that he could be as remarkable a composer and soloist as 'Trane before him. Enfant terrible Charlie Mingus recorded all over the place and thus has a generous smattering of records on eMusic, the best of which are "Right Now: Live" and "The Town Hall Concert." The late, great Eric Dolphy is best known as a sideman for Coltrane and for his Blue Note record "Out to Lunch," but some of his obscure (in terms of rarity, not style) works are on eMusic. And if Dolphy is not free enough for you, most of the commercially available Albert Ayler is on eMusic, including the entirely to the "Holy Ghost" boxed set from Revenant Records. The mantra for jazz lovers on eMusic should be "try anything," because there are a number of great gems awaiting rediscovery.

Classical or "serious" music lovers will also find much to praise. Again, eMusic seems, at first, to mostly contain the obscure and inessential. Classical fiends will find almost all of the Naxos back catalog - great breadth of scope and some fine performances, often marred by so-so recording quality. Thanks to what appears to be a specially-brokered deal, eMusic has several recent recordings from the London Symphony Orchestra, including many Beethoven Symphonies and a good deal of Elgar. The recordings are crystal-clear, the performances impassioned, if occasionally workmanlike. Its a shame that the only album art we get are small jpg images, because the LSO discs are very design conscious and would look attractive on any CD rack.

In short, eMusic is not just for fans of rock, pop, punk, and indy. If anything, Classical aficionados and jazz lovers will find more to enthuse over, in part because many of the recordings in these genres have fewer, longer tracks per album, thus making it possible to download more complete albums per month.
I ended up getting an annual subscription to emusic. It's been pretty good, at least I am hearing lots of stuff I wouldn't otherwise have listened to. Nice review.
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