Tom Constanten

Grateful Dreams

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One might have hoped for better out of Tom Constanten, the onetime student of Luciano Berio who was brought into the Grateful Dead fold by former Berio classmate Phil Lesh in 1968 to contribute avant weirdness to the studio sessions that yielded Anthem of the Sun and Aoxomoxoa. And indeed he did. In his post-Dead career, though, Constanten has been a bit of a disappointment. Grateful Dreams, a live album recorded in 1999, sums it up pretty well. Constanten mixes solo piano versions of Dead tunes (and other psychedelic classics like Donovan's "Season of the Witch") with a few decidedly classical pieces by Brahms, Liszt, Rimsky-Korsakov, and others. It is an awkward combination to say the least, especially as Constanten's ornate music school flourishes dot otherwise somber songs like "Let It Be" and "Morning Dew." For "Cold Rain and Snow," a traditional folk tune the Dead electrified on their first album, Constanten falls back on the gorgeous Obray Ramsey arrangement the Dead (perhaps) learned it from, though he can't resist the urge to show-tune it up by its end. For those who like their Dead jazz-lounge style, Grateful Dreams might be a particularly potent cocktail. For those hoping for a return to TC's wild roots, Grateful Dreams might be a nightmare. Or a bad trip, anyway.

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