00:03 Download November 29th, -0001

The original ASTRAL WEEKS was recorded and released in 1968. Van Morrison had had success with the poppy, radio friendly “Brown Eyed Girl” and with the gritty garage-y Them. But Van had a different direction in mind. He took his R&B and soul roots and replanted them in jazz soil. He hooked up with a jazz producer and jazz musicians and set out to record himself an improvisational free form experimental record.

Impressionistic in style with its stream of consciousness mystical Celtic overtoned interwoven poetic musings, ASTRAL WEEKS is the most famous Van Morrison album that most people have never heard. It’s always included in critics’ top album lists. At the time though, his record company had NO idea what to do with it so it didn’t get promoted. Oh, it was played in every college dorm with lights down low and joints passed around. But a commercial success it wasn’t. So Van never got to tour behind it. Never got to perform it live.

ASTRAL WEEKS LIVE AT HOLLYWOOD BOWL was recorded in November 2008. Van performed two concerts over two days playing the entire album (plus other songs in the live set….this record includes two of those), thus fixing the injustices from forty years prior. The result is absolutely breathtaking in its re-creation. With unbelievably accomplished players (including Jay Berliner from the original studio ASTRAL WEEKS recording) and an appreciative and expectant audience, this live performance of an album that pre-dates it bey four decades is an amazing accomplishment.

How happy was Van to finally get to do this on stage? Well you tell me. He’s actually smiling (teeth showing too!) on the cover photo. It is a rare occurrence. Clearly it’s a transcendent event for him. And speaking of transcendent, that may be the best word to overall describe this performance. It is beautifully recorded with all instruments standing out without standing out. EVERYTHING can be heard from the harpsichord to the bass to the flute to the vibes to the acoustic guitar but rather than spotlit solos, each instrument seamlessly emerges from the background and retreats the same way.

Vocally, it’s like a Kerouac reading at 3AM in The Village. Van Morrison, The Beat Poet. And luckily for the listener, lyrics have been included in this package…..Van has a tendency to runonwithhiswords….it’s hard telling where one stops and the next starts.

The live performance times run a tad longer than their companion studio versions but that’s to be expected. Also the track order isn’t faithful to the original album and it wasn’t in Van’s live performance either. Maybe this is the order he meant for it to be all along? The flow from one song to the next is intact (remember this was recorded over two nights) and it’s a perfect Sunday afternoon atmospheric aural experience. I am confused though because on the liner notes, John Densmore of The Doors is credited with tambourine on “Gloria”. I listened twice and never heard a hint of that song on this recording. It would’ve been fun to include that as a bonus track too. Oh well.

Is it jazz? Folk? Rock? None and all. ASTRAL WEEKS defies genre labelling. Forty years later, this record deserves to be heard and it’s just fine if you do it by listening to this recent live recording. It’s exquisite.

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