Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, February 2017

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for February, 2017. Part one is here. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS Satoko Fujii, Invisible Hand (Cortez Sound) Satoko Fujii Joe Fonda Duet (Long Song), and Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo Peace (Libra) Like a lot of jazzers, Japanese pianist Fujii has a loaded discography; these three are her most recent, running from Invisible Hand’s two CDs worth of solo action through the sustained inspiration of Duet’s lengthy duo with US bassist Fonda (and shorter trio with guest trumpeter Natsuki Tamura) to expansive-eclectic large band creativity. Fujii’s avant bona fides bring cohesiveness to all three tricky modes, including the raucous beauty of Peace. A-/ A-/ A

REISSUE PICKS The Skatalites, Foundation Ska (Studio One) Originally on the Heartbeat label, this is an utter doozy, collecting 32 tracks of jazzy groove bliss from one of Jamaican music’s greatest collectives. Indeed foundational; this is all material waxed for Coxsone Dodd, some from before the group was known as The Skatalites, with other tracks originally issued under the names of the individual composer or main soloist. Although far from comprehensive, this sprinkles in a few nifty vocal cuts across its four sides, and is a carefully compiled, essential hunk of the genre’s history. A+

The Damned, Damned Damned Damned (BMG) Brit punk’s first LP remains one of the best the genre ever coughed out. Given its stature and frequency of reissue, this shouldn’t be too difficult to find on the cheap, but those needing a Cadillac copy should cozy up to this 40th anniversary deluxe edition. The lack of bonuses is a plus, as the original Nick Lowe-produced sequence is essentially perfect. With cornerstones “Neat Neat Neat” and “New Rose” opening each side, it features thud, snot, a Stooges hat-tip finale, and amp spillage that burns like a dose of the heavenly clap: What else could one need? A+

10,000 Russos, “Fuzz Club Session” (Fuzz Club) This Portuguese heavy psych trio’s S/T full-length debut came out on Fuzz Club in 2015, so their getting chosen as the second installment in the label’s new vinyl series (Seattle’s Night Beats delivered the inaugural entry) makes complete sense. Given the freedom to do anything they want during 30 minutes of studio time, the group picked two from 10,000 Russos, an older non-LP number (“Policia Preventiva” from the Fuzz Club Festival 2015 live tape) and what appears to be an unreleased song. The whole is loaded with motorik drive and reverberating amps. B+

Ahmed Abdul-Malik, The Eastern Moods of Ahmed Abdul-Malik (Doxy) Originally from 1962 on Prestige, this was Abdul-Malik’s fifth LP in a series of Middle Eastern folk and jazz fusions; it features a smaller more cohesive group than on previous sessions, with Abdul-Malik alternating between bass and oud. Mostly remembered today as one of Thelonious Monk’s bass players, Abdul-Malik’s claim to Sudanese ancestry is apparently spurious, though his actual Caribbean descent hasn’t overtaken the fiction, possibly because his records thrive on ingenuity and a palpable sense of the sincere. B+

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Graded on a Curve: Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica From the Cape Verde Islands 1973 – 1988

In times of crisis and intolerance, one can look to art for a corrective. Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica From the Cape Verde Islands 1973 – 1988 is the story of immigration, of musicians gaining access to previously unavailable instruments and recording studios, of the blend of tradition and innovation, and of the cultural exchange that ensued. The 18 tracks that comprise the set offer an energetic, enlightening listen as the whole helps to slay the bogeymen of closed-border narrowmindedness; it’s out on CD and 140gm 2LP with gatefold jacket and 20-page booklet on February 24 through Ostinato Records.

The island nation of Cape Verde didn’t gain its independence from Portuguese colonial rule until July 5, 1975, the date falling after the years covered by this set and underscoring the political and economic uncertainty that sent thousands of Cape Verdeans migrating to various cities across Europe and beyond. Naturally, music accompanied the movement, and as Ostinato’s generous promo text explains, the songs initially intended merely for the enjoyment and rejuvenation of countrymen began to sway others, first in Napoli, then Rome, and later in Lisbon, Paris, Rotterdam, and Boston.

Synthesize the Soul is only Ostinato’s second release, though it follows promptly on the heels of June 2016’s Tanbou Toujou Lou: Meringue, Kompa Kreyol, Vodou Jazz, & Electric Folklore from Haiti 1960 – 1981. Importantly, both are loaded with info that illuminates the circumstances leading to the music’s creation and reinforcing the label’s efforts as far surpassing those of fast-buck reissue enterprises.

Alongside the documentation of a country and culture in transition is another chapter in the growth of electronic instruments during the late 20th century. This informative wrinkle gets immediately underway with Nhú De Ped´Bia’s “Nós Criola,” is early seconds brandishing a fluttering, shortwave radio-esque synth. But more crucially, the meat of the track is organic rhythm, clean guitar, keyboard spice, and unperturbed vocals, the objective clearly to get bodies dancing but with the emphasis on finesse rather than grit or unharnessed energy.

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Graded on a Curve:
Hayes McMullan, Everyday Seem Like Murder Here

Perhaps there was a time when the frequency of Mississippi Delta blues rediscoveries produced a sense of the blasé; if so, those days are long gone. What’s here right now is the unveiled recordings of Hayes McMullan, a sharecropper, church deacon, and long-retired musician encouraged by roots scholar, author, and certified blues nut Gayle Dean Wardlow to pick up a guitar, play his old repertoire, and reminisce over his former vocation. Until recently, only one song had squeaked into the public consciousness, but now Light in the Attic’s Everyday Seem Like Murder Here offers a copious and illuminating helping of the sessions. It’s out on double vinyl, compact disc, and digital.

By 1967, the year Gayle Dean Wardlow met Hayes McMullan in front of a grocery store in Tallahatchie County, MS, the Delta blues had begun its journey from cultural neglect to proper recognition as an integral thread in the 20th century’s grand artistic weave. But for many African-Americans of the period, the blues, and particularly the hard and sometimes harrowing Delta variety, was not an uncovered treasure but a blight on the community.

McMullan wasn’t playing the blues in front of that grocery store, and in fact he’d had nothing at all to do with the music for decades, having quit the lifestyle after his brother Tom, himself a bluesman, was reputedly killed by poisoning. Today, the Delta blues is the stuff of multidisc retrospectives and book length enthusiasms, but in the time of its creation, when McMullan crossed paths with Ishmon Bracey, Willie Brown, and Charley Patton, playing the music was an often-dangerous pursuit.

For the churchgoers that counted McMullan in their number, the blues was simply taboo, and Wardlow’s efforts to record his discovery have the air of the clandestine. But given a guitar and ample time to recollect his material, the sessions eventually took place with discretion in McMullan’s home and in a small studio in the city of Jackson; these four vinyl sides hold the results.

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Graded on a Curve:
Bert Jansch,
Living in the Shadows, Downunder: Live in Australia

Bert Jansch never achieved widespread fame, but his talent as guitarist, singer, and songwriter did insure cult stature and the esteem of fellow musicians as his enduring ability documented him as a survivor. As evidence, Earth Recordings has collected Jansch’s ’90s albums and bonus stuff into the freshly available 4-disc set Living in the Shadows, with the era-equivalent Downunder: Live in Australia also slated for arrival on February 24.

Bert Jansch took a break from recording and performing in the mid-’70s, and after returning got somewhat lost in the shuffle. He didn’t stay away long, getting back to it by ‘77, and he ended the decade with the water fowl-themed all-instrumental Avocet, an excellent but terribly underheard LP, or at least until recently; in 2016 it was given multiformat reissue by Earth including an art edition with six lithograph prints by artist Hannah Alice depicting the album’s avian inspirations. That version is sold out, but the standard vinyl and compact disc (both regular and bookback editions) are still available.

Colours are Fading Fast, Earth’s 3LP/ CD collection of his collabs with Loren Auerbach, and the label’s revamp-repress of Jansch’s From the Outside, a fine and long quite obscure disc (initially issued only in Belgium), came out last April and June, respectively. Both are highpoints from a rough ’80s stretch, and now here’s the same enterprise’s expansive collection of his ’90s bounce-back. Bulky enough to resist serving as an introduction, for established fans thirsting to own the ’90s work on vinyl or just eyeballing that unreleased disc, Living in the Shadows is a sensible pickup.

Earth doesn’t just dump the entirety of the decade’s output into the set. Smartly absent is Sketches, a German release from 1990 that’s been described by a few observers as an affair for completists (giving it a stream, this assessment seems fair). Instead, the set begins with The Ornament Tree, a more focused collection of mostly traditional songs and nary an original that was also issued in ’90.

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Graded on a Curve:
Bert Jansch,
Jack Orion, Birthday Blues, Rosemary Lane

There might be no better time than the present to be a record collecting fan of Bert Jansch. Vinyl reissues from all stages of the Brit-folk guitar linchpin’s career have been flowing into the racks for a while now, and we’re currently experiencing a crescendo of material from the late singer-songwriter; for starters, his third LP Jack Orion has recently been reissued by Superior Viaduct, with sixth and seventh LPs Birthday Blues and Rosemary Lane scheduled for a March 24 release.

The 1960s was flush with fingerpickers, and Bert Jansch was amongst the very best. Adding to his appeal, the Scottish troubadour was also a capable vocalist, solid songwriter, and a deft collaborator, first teaming with fellow guitarist John Renbourn; in short order the duo co-founded the progressive folk combo Pentangle.

Jansch’s eponymous debut and its follow-up It Don’t Bother Me, both issued in 1965, have endured as classics, and for those wishing to become conversant with the man’s work, they are the place to begin; last year Superior Viaduct issued the LPs singly, and both will be part of Earth Recordings’ upcoming box set of Jansch’s output for the Transatlantic label.

This period remains the most lauded stretch in the guitarist’s oeuvre, in part due to its consistency and sharpness of focus. 1966 brought third album Jack Orion, which both extends from and contrasts with its predecessor, the opening strains of banjo in “The Waggoner’s Lad” picking up where It Don’t Bother Me’s finale “900 Miles” left off. The instrumental switch intertwines productively with Renbourn’s guitar, as his role, having commenced on the prior disc’s “Lucky Thirteen,” is deepened across four Jack Orion cuts to positive effect.

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Graded on a Curve:
Lula Pena,
Archivo Pittoresco

Portuguese singer, guitarist, composer, and poet Lula Pena has released only three records over the last two decades, but partially through highly-regarded live performances, her expansion of the Fado style and exploration of numerous complementary genres has brought her a devoted and fully deserved international following. Documenting an evolving brilliance and depth of artistry, every segment in her trim discography provides an experience worth savoring; the latest is Archivo Pittoresco, and it’s freshly out on CD and digital through Crammed Discs.

Lula Pena is often associated with Fado, or as she prefers to spell it, phado, and the connection is understandable, although it’s necessary to clarify that she extends from tradition rather than being contained by it. Broadening her personal style with French chanson, Cape Verdean morna, Anglo-American pop and folk, Latin American nueva canción, bossa nova, flamenco, blues, ’60s Portuguese folk and more, she eludes a potential quagmire of hodgepodge for a unified intensity.

In addition to her native Portuguese, Pena has sung in Spanish, English, French, Greek, and Italian while enhancing her own lyrics and poems with writing from disparate cultural sources. Armed with just guitar and alto voice, her debut Phados was released on CD in 1998 through Carbon 7 Records; even to non-Fado specialists such as this writer, her intermingling of knowledge-based richness and eschewal of reverence is quickly apparent.

It’s there in the vocal wind sounds at the close of “Senhora do Almortão/ As 7 mulheres do Minho,” in the aged warmth of “Perdidamente,” and in her deft, frequently percussive guitar style and assured vocal strength from start to finish. Fado is a style fairly associated with mournfulness, heartbreak, strife, and regret, and to excel at its tricky emotional terrain requires maturity, sincerity, and mastery; Phados established all three, but even with the gap of 12 years, the assured power and growth of her follow-up is still striking.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, February 2017

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for February, 2017. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Howe Gelb, Future Standards (Fire) As the title clarifies, this plunge into the Great American Songbook focuses entirely on ambiance; rather than corralling the umpteenth versions of bedrock compositions, Gelb tackles 12 of his own with satisfying and increasingly intimate results. Favoring depth of mood over an interpretational tightrope, he gets to keep and eat his cake, reveling in the foundational appeal of chestnuts while leading a warm piano trio (and occasionally duetting with Lonna Kelley) on a program of classic-minded yet subtly and fruitfully off-center tunes. A-

Mark Eitzel, Hey Mr. Ferryman (Merge) Gelb and Eitzel’s co-headlining tour reaches into the springtime, and based on the ex-American Music Club leader’s tenth solo effort in a long career attendees shouldn’t leave disappointed. These 11 tracks (+ two bonuses) rank high in Eitzel’s discography, largely due to the input of former Suede guitarist and solo artist Bernard Butler; his extensive instrumental contribution and supervisory role, sometimes symphonically bold and at other moments almost Brit-folk restrained, enhances the singer-songwriter’s veteran touch and produces a late-work of polished intensity. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Max Roach, We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite (Cornbread) Not just a monumental achievement in jazz but one of the 20th century’s finest protest artworks. The key to this LP’s present day resonance is directly related to the refusal to tone down the musical verve in favor of the message, eschewing a tactic that reduced the lasting impact of a whole lotta folk stuff from the same era. To the contrary, Abbey Lincoln’s letting loose during the middle portion of “Triptych: Prayer/ Protest/ Peace” still triggers goosebumps. With Coleman Hawkins, Booker Little, Julian Priester etc. A+

Vic Chesnutt, Little and Drunk (New West) The Mike Stipe-produced 1990 debut Little and third album Drunk are two of seven entries from Chesnutt’s superb catalog scheduled for vinyl reissue across 2017. A demo so effective nobody wanted to attempt improving upon it, Little gets to the core of this inspirational and much missed singer-songwriter’s talent. Brandishing lyrics laced with poetry, his (mostly) solo acoustic folk approach lends familiarity to the eccentricities, and a similar effect is achieved on the more rock-inclined Drunk. Both are key works from a one-of-a-kind artist. A- / A-

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Graded on a Curve:
Mind Over Mirrors,
Undying Color

Initially a solo affair, Jaime Fennelly’s shapeshifting endeavor Mind Over Mirrors has existed on record since 2011, but nothing in the project’s discography tops sixth album Undying Color; recruiting a strong assisting cast including Janet Beveridge Bean of Freakwater and returning contributor Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux and Jackie Lynn, the outstanding results span from roots potency to the edginess of the avant-garde with iconoclastic warmth a constant. It’s out February 17 on vinyl, compact disc, and digital via Fennelly’s new label Paradise of Bachelors.

Jaime Fennelly has amassed some worthy credits including studies with a quartet of 20th century experimental music heavyweights in Maryanne Amacher, David Behrman, Richard Teitelbaum, and the recently departed Pauline Oliveros. The accumulated experience has certainly impacted his current undertaking, but prior to forming Mind Over Mirrors Fennelly was a participant in numerous underground experimental outfits.

For starters, there was the free jazz-edged unit Acid Birds with drummer Andrew Barker and saxophonist/ bass clarinetist Charles Waters, the duo Manpack Variant with Chris Peck, and the somewhat higher profile Peeesseye with percussionist/ vocalist Fritz Welch and guitarist Chris Forsyth of the Solar Motel Band, with whom Fennelly also collaborated in Phantom Limb.

All this activity predates Mind Over Mirrors, which emerged with a pair of releases, High & Upon (cassette on Gift Tapes, vinyl on Aguirre Recordings) and The Voice Rolling (LP on Digitalis Recordings) in 2011. Check Your Swing promptly arrived the following year on the Hands in the Dark label, and When the Rest Are up at Four came out in 2013 through Immune Recordings.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Proper Ornaments,
Foxhole

The Proper Ornaments hail from London and boy howdy do they sound like it. Described by their US label Slumberland as falling into a long tradition of UK guitar groups, they’ve found a secure position betwixt the neighborhoods of indie pop and ’60s-inspired melodic rock without getting too comfortable in the process. Benefiting from heightened confidence and an increasingly steady rhythm section, their third full-length Foxhole is out now on vinyl, compact disc, and digital.

The scoop is that a chance meeting of vintage clothes shop clerk James Hoare and transplanted Argentinian Max Oscarnold aka Maximo Claps spurred The Proper Ornaments into existence. To be blunt, Maximo Claps sounds like the name of a villain in a ’60s Euro-spy flick, and the details of that first meeting, with Mr. Claps attempting to distract as his girlfriend pulled a klepto maneuver on a pair of shoes, suggest a plot point from an unfilmed Wes Anderson script.

Furthermore, sounding almost too good to not be fabricated, it was none other than former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham who scooped up Oscarnold and delivered him to London after his band (which Oldham had produced) suffered a drug-fueled falling apart. On top of it all, Oscarnold’s family looked to have him institutionalized.

Thankfully, the footwear fleecing was aborted (not her size, alas) and in its place a musical partnership blossomed over such mutual likes at the Velvets (natch), classic Los Angelinos Love and the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, and ’60s channeling post-punk/ indie pop exponents Felt. Nabbing a name from a tune on The Free Design’s Kites Are Fun, The Proper Ornaments were born.

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Graded on a Curve: Art Pepper Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Volume 1: Sonny Stitt & Volume 2: Pete Jolly

When the great saxophonist Art Pepper made his late-in-life comeback, he didn’t pussyfoot around. The first two installments in Art Pepper Presents “West Coast Sessions” are illustrative; Volume 1 teams him with fellow alto kingpin Sonny Stitt and is followed by a date with pianist and West Coast peer Pete Jolly. Originally issued in the early ’80s only in Japan on the Atlas label and later lumped into the 5CD box The Hollywood All-Star Sessions, Omnivore Recordings is individualizing the dates once again with bonus tracks and engaging liners by Art’s wife Laurie Pepper while removing the contractual pretense of her husband’s sideman role. Flush with casual mastery, both are out on compact disc February 3.

Altoist Art Pepper debuted professionally in the group of Benny Carter, but it was under the employ of the big band mainstay Stan Kenton that he came to widespread notice, his profile further blossoming through a series of ’50s recordings made as a leader; solidifying his artistic reputation and enduring musical importance, a persistent addiction to heroin severely impacted his personal and professional life.

By the mid-’50s Pepper had already chalked up a stint behind bars, with his difficulties making his output from ’56-’60 even more impressive. This included a five LP run for the Contemporary label that holds the jewel of the saxophonist’s ’50s discography, Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, a record capturing a near-impromptu studio date with the lauded Miles Davis-associated team of pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones.

As detailed in Pepper’s biography Straight Life, post-1960 he endured a series of prison stays related to his continued drug struggles, but when he made the last of his comebacks in the mid-’70s the performances and recordings gushed forth like an opened fireplug on a sweltering July afternoon; occasionally, the gigs and the tapings fruitfully intermingled. Such is the case with the series of albums (later combined into a bountifully expanded box set) documenting his engagement at New York’s Village Vanguard.

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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