"How many are wondering when I might play another Grateful Dead number?" asks Tom Constanen before delving into a live version of "Dark Star" on this album, and when he is answered by cheers from the audience at the Somerville Theater in Somerville, MA, where he is on tour opening for the Dead's former lyricist, Robert Hunter, he adds, "I thought so." Indeed, Constanten remains best remembered for his connection to the Dead, with whom he performed during the 1960s, and he doesn't mind demonstrating what his connection was to that band occasionally. But this compilation of previously unreleased live and studio recordings also shows the breadth of his interests, which range from the classics to stride, pop, and even electronic music. All but one of the tracks date from 1988-1998, the exception being "Electronic Study #3," which an 18-year-old Constanten constructed in Henri Pousseur's studio in Belgium in the summer of 1962. That collection of organized sound effects may be the most avant-garde piece here, but Constanten's later compositions are also fanciful conceptions that draw upon a wide knowledge of music and an apparently unfettered imagination. That doesn't keep him from doing right by Bach, Chopin, and Haydn, or tossing in tunes by Curtis Mayfield and Donovan, though. And, of course, there are those occasional references to his Grateful Dead days, such as "Cold Rain and Snow" and a playful "Dark Star" that even mixes in a quote from the Star Trek theme. For Dead fans, this album should stretch even their extended musical interests. But it should be heard beyond that coterie, even if its nearly unclassifiable eclecticism will make it a challenge for record store clerks to slot.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann