Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
June 2019, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for June, 2019. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble, Where Future Unfolds (International Anthem) This live recording from Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory, undertaken last November 15, features a striking ensemble of six alumni from the Chicago Children’s Choir as one element in a cross-pollination of “gospel, jazz, activism & 808 breaks.” Last week’s new release pick, the Membranes’ What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away, also featured a choir, though the effect here is markedly different, with Locks’ guiding his work into territory that can be succinctly described as extending the tradition of “Great Black Music Ancient To Future” (a Chicago thing), though the label mentions Phil Cohran (also Chicago), Eddie Gale, Shepp’s Attica Blues and even Public Enemy. An emphatic yes to all. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Buzzcocks, Singles Going Steady & A Different Kind of Tension (Domino) It has occurred to me, and perhaps the notion has crossed your mind as well, that the pop-punk style has been long debased. This has to do with an ever-narrowing set of permissible but ill-advised choices made by pop-punkers producing results akin to what lands in the incubators when inbreeding is rampant. It’s an unpleasant thing to see and hear. But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, before hardcore, a sizable percentage of punk was catchy; it’s just that it was frequently played so fast that fogies couldn’t comprehend or handle it. This is one reason why the 45rpm single is the perfect vessel for punk action, as the 7-inch has also effectively served other forms of undiluted sonic genre gusto.

Buzzcocks are often considered the kings of merged pop melodicism and punk energy, partly because of a run of singles that stands as worthy as the output of any likeminded band of the era. Singles Going Steady corrals eight of them, the A-sides on side one and the flips on the other, and even if it lacks my favorite Buzzcocks 45 (that would be their self-released first one “Spiral Scratch,” with Howard Devoto still in the band) it stands as basically flawless and absolutely essential. I’d say that all the LPs from Buzzcocks 2.0, as Jon Savage calls them in his nifty liners for A Different Kind of Tension (Clinton Heylin handles Steady) are indispensable also, though that’s not to say they’re perfect; ’79’s Tension, their third album, certainly isn’t, but it still has the songs, and side two’s attempts to stretch out are a blast. A+/ A-

Hank Williams, The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings (BMG) This set, which marks the first time these eight transcriptions of Williams’ short-lived radio program of 1949 have been released on vinyl (it’s also on 2CD), is pretty clearly intended for heavy-duty aficionados of Hank, but I’m just gonna say that even with a lot of repetition (like the “Happy Rovin’ Cowboy” theme and fiddler Jerry Rivers’ “Sally Goodin” outro), when taken a side at a time this is still a good pickup for more casual fans, as it’s more than solid. This is to say, the man is in fine form, Miss Audrey’s contributions hinder matters not a bit, and the same goes for the gospel numbers. Plus, Rivers’ turns in the spotlight, if truncated to fit into a 12-minute program time, are terrific. Overall, it’s a fascinating immersion into an era long gone. A

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Graded on a Curve:
House and Land,
Across the Field

Both separately and as a duo, multi-instrumentalist and guitar specialist Sarah Louise (who earlier in 2019 released her fourth full-length) and fiddler-banjoist Sally Anne Morgan (noted as a member of Black Twig Pickers and for collaborating with Steve Gunn and Daniel Bachman) are known for their skill as players and for the ability to transform their chosen root sources. Together again as House and Land with a sophomore effort in the racks, the adroitness and freshness remain. However, there are other aspects to consider, including the smart, subtle integration of psychedelia. Across the Field is out on primrose colored vinyl, CD, and digital June 14 through Thrill Jockey.

The psychedelia that informs the superb Across the Field can be considered a ‘60s-descended thing, but it’s ultimately nearer to Sandy Bull than Strawberry Alarm Clock. This is to say that House and Land have no tangible ties to rock or pop; if released in the ’60s, this record’s concise seven-song runtime could’ve fit onto the Vanguard label, or perhaps Takoma or Folkways.

Inching into the ‘70s, a few parts unfurl like they could’ve been one of the leftfield releases on The Youngblood’s custom Raccoon imprint, though other moments, such as closer “Ca the Yowes,” don’t sound like that at all. This emphasizes a beneficial stylistic range that when combined with the aforementioned succinctness and sharpness of execution, elevates Across the Field to the level of delightful.

Opener “Two Sisters” illuminates a persistent lack of intimidation regarding oft-recorded sources as this version differs markedly from the others I’ve heard. This is in part through the mingled beauty of Morgan’s banjo and Sarah Louise’s electric guitar, both in her patterns of repetition and in her soloing, which nicely introduces the psych atmosphere. I also like how the lyrics mention the pair’s choice of moniker as the blended voices are once again simply exquisite.

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Graded on a Curve:
Klaus Nomi,
Klaus Nomi

Released in 1982 and featuring New Wave-era rock infused with legit elements of opera and an undisguised gay sensibility, the debut LP from German-born NYC-based singer Klaus Nomi was readymade for cult status. The record very much belonged to the fringe of its time but without being ahead of it; the man who made it endures today not as an oft-pilfered stylistic touchstone but rather as a beacon for individualistic expression. That’s cool, as is his penchant for adapting ’60s pop tunes. Klaus Nomi sees reissue June 14 on black and white cabaret smoke vinyl in an edition of 1,000 copies through Real Gone Music.

I was all of eight years old when Klaus Nomi, along with his friend Joey Arias, vocally backed-up and added performance zeal to David Bowie’s appearance on the December 15, 1979 episode of Saturday Night Live. Unsurprisingly, I missed it when aired, but have caught up with “TVC 15” and “The Man Who Sold the World” archived on the internet. Those songs blend nicely with the footage that did serve as my introduction to Nomi’s work, his entry in the 1982 various artist concert film Urgh! A Music War.

It was sometime in ’87 that I and a few friends popped the home video edition into the VCR and had a fine evening at the crossroads of punk, new wave, post-punk, and reggae. And while there’s no denying an immediate reaction of incredulousness to Nomi’s NYC club performance of “Total Eclipse,” by song’s end we’d all adjusted pretty well.

I bring up this anecdote to counteract the still occasionally extant viewpoint of Nomi as a sheer curiosity. Sure, after viewing a performance by the guy it’s unlikely he’ll be forgotten. For example, during that version of “TVC 15” on SNL he walks around the stage with an imitation pink poodle (with a TV monitor in its mouth), and yet he somehow doesn’t steal the show from Bowie. But his work, if eccentric by pop marketplace standards, holds substantial value, which means that Klaus Nomi is an album to own for reasons far beyond “Hey, get a load of this” territory.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
June 2019, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for June, 2019. 

NEW RELEASE PICK: The Membranes, What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away (Cherry Red) Springing to life in the late ’70s UK, the Membranes became something of a fixture in the ’80s u-ground scene as post-punk agitators who refused to settle down and smooth things out. They reformed in 2009 for live shows and eventually released the well-received Dark Matter/Dark Energy in 2015, followed by that album remixed as Inner Space/Outer Space the next year. Cherry Red released the 5CD Everyone’s Going Triple Bad Acid, Yeah! (The Complete Membranes 1980 – 1993), one of this writer’s Best box sets picks for 2017, and now the same label is releasing the band’s new music, a 72-minute whole that defies all expectations for what’s likely to be frustratingly categorized as just another “reunion” record.

As founder John Robb is here, alongside Nick Brown who joined in ’82, to call the Membranes reunited isn’t wrong; Peter Byrchmore and Rob Haynes, who entered for the ’09 performances, remain. While a comeback noted as much better than the norm, even more unusual in their current equation is how What Nature Gives… is the group’s most ambitious and expansive release. And I’m not just talking about length, as Dark Matter/Dark Energy reached 68 minutes. No, it’s that half of these 16 cuts utilize the BIMM choir (conducted by Claire Pilling). More importantly, the choir’s addition works as it justifies the comparison to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Sure, spots here settle down to typical aggro, but they are surprisingly few. Shirley Collins and Kirk Brannon (of Theater of Hate) are amongst the guests. Oy! A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit, April is the cruellest month (Blank Forms Editions) Chicago the band are responsible for a higher than usual percentage of used-bin cluttering shit, but their debut as Chicago Transit Authority has its moments. One of them, “Free Form Guitar,” ripped a hole in the known universe of Japanese guitarist Takayanagi, leading him to renounce the inside jazz scene where he had built a sizable reputation and head for the outer regions of free jazz (a cited contemporary is guitar monster Sonny Sharrock and countryman saxophonist Kaoru Abe, with whom Takayanagi played), free improvisation (another peer is sui generis Brit string-wrangler Derek Bailey), and noise (Blank Forms states Takayanagi paved the way for Keiji Haino and Otomo Yoshihide).

Had this been released as planned by ESP-Disk in ’75, Takayanagi’s influence in the years after would’ve surely spread beyond Japan; issued on CD by Jinya Disk in ’91, the man’s formidable heft eventually did have a global (u-ground) impact. Featuring two cuts on side one and the 20-minute “My Friend, Blood Shaking My Heart” on the flip, the record begins in wild abstract territory (Kengi Mori starting out on flute and progressing to bass clarinet, action rightly pegged as Dolphy-esque) and culminates in the utter freakout zone. Likened by the label to Coltrane’s The Olatunji Concert, Peter Brötzmann’s Machine Gun, and Dave Burrell’s Echo, April is notable for having the smallest band, completed by Nobuyoshi Ino (bass and cello) and Hiroshi Yamazaki (percussion). Takayanagi really ratchets up the mayhem, natch. A

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Graded on a Curve:
Miles Davis,
The Complete Birth
of the Cool

We’re not quite halfway through 2019, but Blue Note / UMe’s 2LP gatefold edition of Miles Davis’ The Complete Birth of the Cool is one of the sweeter reissues of the year, in part because it’s the first time the live recordings from 1948 and the renowned dozen studio tracks from ’49-’50 have been released together on vinyl. For some, this may seem a fact difficult to reconcile with the music’s masterpiece status, but rest assured it is true. The details unfold below. The record is in stores June 7.

To begin, the music on this truly gorgeous edition’s first LP, material recorded in January and April of 1949 and in March of the following year, was initially released under the group designation Miles Davis and His Orchestra as a series of four 78rpm discs across the same time period, issuing eight tracks and leaving four in the can. It’s more accurately a nonet, which is how the band has been often subsequently described; on this release’s second LP of live performances at the Royal Roost, radio announcer Symphony Sid calls the assemblage Miles Davis’ Organization.

There was no album title for these studio tracks, they were just sides, and as said they didn’t sell well enough to see the entirety grooved into shellac. Still, a whole lot of people paid attention; as Ashley Khan points out in his excellent notes for this set (presented in a booklet secured inside the gatefold with striking full-page photographs), other than guest appearances and all-star affairs, every Davis studio session from this point forward was made as a leader.

Those 78s featured “Budo” and “Move,” “Jeru” and “Godchild,” “Boplicity” and “Israel,” and “Venus de Milo” and “Darn That Dream.” In 1952 and ’53, “Budo,” “Move,” and “Boplicity” were included on compilations, and in ’54, Capitol issued a vinyl 10-inch under Davis’ name in their Classics in Jazz series that included the unreleased tracks “Moon Dreams,” “Deception,” “Rocker,” and “Rouge” alongside “Jeru”, “Godchild,” “Israel,” and “Venus de Milo.”

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Graded on a Curve:
Lee Scratch Perry,
Rainford

Of records, legendary Jamaican producer Lee “Scratch” Perry has released a ton; setting aside the singles and EPs, his non-compilation album total is hovering near 100, and for an artist outside the jazz realm, that’s a considerable achievement. Of course, the number of individuals who own a copy of every one of those full-lengths might fit comfortably into a four-door sedan, a possibility illuminating that Perry’s prolificacy doesn’t equate to his prime. But hey, in terms of comebacks (of which the man has already had a few) his latest is both listenable and notable for the input of Adrian Sherwood, who produced and released its nine tracks through his long-extant On-U Sound label. Rainford is in stores now.

When you make as many records as Lee Perry has, they can’t all be brilliant. Hell, the majority of them are unlikely to resonate with more than moderate levels of personal investment. I say unlikely because I’ll confess that haven’t listened to more than half of his output; Discogs lists 87 full-length albums and 97 comps, and I’ve a sneaking suspicion there are scads of releases that haven’t been logged, plus beaucoup stray singles and EPs (to say nothing of the dodgy gray-market stuff).

Succinctly, after hearing a fair portion of Perry’s later material I realized I should cease investigating those more recent progressions and just hang with the canonical stuff. If all this seems poised to besmirch the guy’s rep as a dub innovator-auteur, I will counter that fluctuating personal investment isn’t the same as lacking a recognizable stamp; if the majority of his post-’70s work is far from essential, I’ve never heard anything that faltered into anonymous hackery.

Lee Perry very much fits in with certain cineastes from the early days of auteurism. Specifically, like numerous directors who worked under studio contracts and would begin another film almost immediately after their last one was finished, Perry has created, if not incessantly, then at a clip that has insured a diminishment in his masterpiece percentage, a downward plummet to what some folks might consider journeyman levels had the man’s achievements not been integral to the growth and longevity of Jamaican music.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
May 2019, Part Five

Part five of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for May, 2019. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, and part four is here.

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Emily A. Sprague, Water Memory / Mount Vision (RVNG Intl.) Sprague was born in the Catskills but currently resides in Los Angeles, and maybe I’m just succumbing to possible stereotypes relating to ambient synth-based sound design of this style (we’re not far from Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith territory), but the work offered here seems a perfect byproduct of the US West Coast. This 2LP collects two prior cassettes self-released in small editions by Sprague, and it adds previously unheard tracks to each, so even if you have the tapes, there is reason to invest in a copy of this set; the edition of 200 with ocean blue and mountain green LPs is sold out, but the 800-copy flat black run is still available, as are CDs. Also, a portion of the proceeds benefits the LGBTQ center in Kingston, NY.

The first 300 mail order customers will receive Ambient Poems (2017 – 2018), a Risograph-printed booklet of Emily’s poetry. However, if you’re late to the game or just pick up a copy of the release at your local brick and mortar, Sprague’s writing still enters the equation, as both Water Memory and Mount Vision begin with a short poem; make that short, appealing poems recited by the author. They provide just enough of a taste to instill the desire to read more of her stuff, as the records shift focus to her music, which stands up wholly on its own (notably, neither poem was part of the original tapes). It’s not that further word-sound combos wouldn’t be of interest, it just that doing so here would (seemingly) diminish the music’s standalone power. Which is considerable. This is very fine work. A-

Causa Sui, Summer Sessions Vols. 1-3 (El Paraiso) These early LPs by this Danish space-rock/ stoner outfit are available together as a slipcase boxset, but only directly from the label and in an edition of 200. Importantly, the albums are also purchasable separately in stores and from online retailers, with numbers totaling 750 each. Initially released separately in 2008-’09 (on wax and CD) by the Elektrohasch Schallplattenin label, it appears they corralled the contents into a vinyl box in 2010 and again in ‘13, but it’s pretty clear that non-used copies of those are scarce, and of course the original standalone vinyl. At the onset, the Summer Sessions were intended as a side-project of sorts for Causa Sui, and more specifically a way to branch out stylistically, with inroads established into free jazz, Krautrock and more.

The branching is handled well, with guest saxman Johan Riedenlow blowing hard on Vol. 2’s “Rip Tide” as the electric piano and extensive guitar soloing bring a non-lame fusion flavor to the track that follows, “The Open Road,” which also features Riedenlow (he’s all over all three LPs, in fact). But Causa Sui also like to stretch out, doing so right away on side one of Vol. 1 with the appropriately temperate “Visions of Summer,” though the cut does offer some organ grinding that put me in a decidedly prog state of mind. Although “The Open Road” breaks 14 minutes, Vol. 2 drops the side-long number “Tropic of Capricorn” on side two, and fans of unhackneyed rock heaviness are unlikely to be disappointed. The multipart “Manifestations Of Summer” wraps up Vol. 3 on a nicely expansive note. A-/ A-/ A- Box A-

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Graded on a Curve:
Lee Moses,
How Much Longer
Must I Wait? Singles
& Rarities 1965–1972

Many folks place singer and guitarist Lee Moses in the ranks of the worthy one-and-done artists, as he only managed a solitary full-length release, Time and Place, for Maple Records in 1971. However, deep soul fans likely know that starting in the mid-’60s, Moses cut a handful of smoking if obscure 45s for a few small labels; How Much Longer Must I Wait? Singles & Rarities 1965–1972 rounds up those platters, adds three unreleased songs, and is a soul lovers’ delight. It’s out now via Future Days Records with a red and tan color version available through Light in the Attic.

Aside from the three unreleased tracks, the music on How Much Longer Must I Wait? has been reissued before, specifically by Castle Productions roughly 12 years ago, though that label’s expanded Time and Place, which dropped this material onto a second LP, has been selling for stupid money for a good long while. As Future Days has kept their wax reissue of Moses’ sole LP in print since reissuing it back in 2016, the inflated prices attached to the Castle edition should return (hypothetically, at least) to the realms of the sensible.

Lee Moses’ life has been described more than once as an enigma, but he’s far from a cipher. He was born in Atlanta and had a successful band there in the ’50s but moved to NYC in the middle of the following decade where he hooked up with producer Johnny Brantley and worked as a session musician. This included some material with Jimi Hendrix (released under Hendrix’s name as Moods).

The connection with Brantley helped Moses land his first single, “My Adorable One” (a Joe Simon tune) b/w “Diana (from N.Y.C.),” which came out on Lee John Records (the combined enterprise of Moses and Brantley, natch). According to some sources the record hit racks in 1967, though this LP says ’65; as Pat Thomas served as co-producer here, I’m going to assume this earlier date is correct.

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Graded on a Curve: Endless Boogie,
Vol I, II

For a long time, the earliest records by Brooklyn’s expansive yet primal rock groove machine Endless Boogie were frustratingly expensive in physical form. Happily, this pricy circumstance is no longer a reality, as No Quarter is offering their first two releases as a 2LP set in a snappy gatefold sleeve. The limited color vinyl option has sold out as quickly as the originals did back in 2005, but the flat black edition is still available, as are 2CD sets (if that’s how you roll), but I somehow doubt they’ll be around forever; folks into raw bluesy psych-tinged rock with nods toward raga, Detroit, Germany, and a humid dive bar late on a Saturday night should grab Vol I, II without delay.

The sound and the concept captured on Endless Boogie’s Volume 1 and Volume 2, both released in the middle of last decade on their own Mound Duel label, the first in an edition of 500 and the second totaling 299, is essentially the same. Concept? Well, yeah. It is the documentation of an endeavor undertaken primarily for the enjoyment of those directly involved, and then released in finite amounts for others with a predilection for what’s been created, and of course the inside scoop that it exists.

Captured with two mics and a tape deck, Vol. I, II is decidedly lacking in commercial polish; some might even suggest it sounds like a practice tape. If so, I’ll add that it hits my ear like a practice that transformed into a late-afternoon jam, going down on a Saturday in the company of roughly a dozen friends. A quarter century later, they still reminisce about its impact. Yes, not quite 15 years have elapsed since these half-dozen selections emerged on wax, but there’s a timelessness to Endless Boogie’s approach that suggests perseverance over time.

The fact that the band has thrived while generally eschewing a careerist path only reinforces the possibility of continued longevity and relevance. These tracks, two each on sides one and three with the long jams on the flips, were memorialized shortly before guitarist Jesper “The Governor” Eklow, bassist Marc “Memories from Reno” Razo, drummer Chris “Grease Control” Gray, and guitarist-vocalist Paul “Top Dollar” Major departed for the UK to play All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2005. That may read like a big deal, and no doubt it was, but the festival was also curated by Slint.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
May 2019, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for May, 2019. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

BOOK PICK: Rachel Alina, Ashley Smestad Vélez and Birdie Busch, Locals // If You Swim Far Enough (Styles Upon Styles) Locals is a collaborative illustrated chapbook of narratively linked poems; the words are Alina’s, the black & white drawings rendered by Vélez, and it’s a treat of a quick read detailing the author’s youth/ early adulthood in and around her hometown of Ocean City, NJ and her loose apprenticeship as a recording engineer at Scullville Studios (she has subsequently mixed numerous releases on Styles Upon Styles). Alina’s poetry is vivid but direct, effectively relating her experiences, while Vélez’s illustrations, which remind me a bit (but just a bit) of R. Pettibon, enhance the poems (and the storyline of sorts) by expanding upon elements of the text in occasionally unexpected ways.

That is, Vélez is a fine illustrator and a little more. And as said, Locals worked for me as a fast read, but it doesn’t have to be that, and it’s the hope of Alina and the label that buyers will accompany these poems with Birdie Busch’s If You Swim Far Enough, a digital-only release (free with purchase of the book) described as Locals’ companion album (Alina and Busch struck up a friendship through Scullville). I can attest that combining text, drawings and songs is in this case a productive blend, but I’ll add that after a handful of standalone spins, Busch’s nine cuts (totaling a little over 25 minutes) stand up well on their own. Her sound hits the folk target right in the bullseye with no-nonsense verve that should please young and old alike. This strengthens an already sturdy fit with Alina’s words. A-/ A-

NEW RELEASE PICK: Luka Productions, Falaw (Sahel Sounds) Based in Bamako, Mali, Luka Guindo is Luka Productions, and this is his third full-length. Succinctly described as a leading producer in Malian hip-hop, Guindo has employed a highly productive approach in his own work by combining the tech-infused sound of the now with traditional Malian musics. His records feature organic instrumentation including ngoni, djembe, kora, and balafon. Falaw is no different, though it’s distinct in flavor from his prior effort, the “New Age” (Craig Leon-influenced) Fasokan; what’s clear is that Guindo’s creative engine is nowhere close to running low on gas. Falaw is loaded with diversity as it rolls, and if somebody cooked up a 25-minute extended 12-inch remix of “Indienfoli” I’d buy five copies. A-

Spiral Wave Nomads, S/T (Twin Lakes / Feeding Tube) It seems like only yesterday that I made the acquaintance of More Klementines, a psychedelically robust trio featuring drummer and Twin Lakes co-founder Michael Kiefer; that band’s self-titled debut, like this one, was a co-release with Feeding Tube. Spiral Wave Nomads are the duo of Kiefer, who’s also played in Myty Konkeror, Rivener, and No Line North, and Eric Hardiman of Burnt Hills and Century Plants. While Kiefer’s attention remains focused on the drums, Hardiman plays bass, sitar, and double tracks his main instrument, the guitar. This lends the record a full-band feel that’s lacking the unfocused spillage that can result from too many hands. This set is rock-edged but outbound (of course) and not too heavy. It’s never cheesy, not even the sitar. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
G. Calvin Weston &
The Phoenix Orchestra,
Dust and Ash

The Philadelphia-born drummer G. Calvin Weston is probably best-known for his work with James “Blood” Ulmer and as a member of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, though along with releasing numerous records as a leader he’s also played in the Lounge Lizards and with Marc Ribot. His latest and third for 577 Records pairs him with the Phoenix Orchestra, and it’s as jazzy-funky an affair as one might expect, but with some added treats, including dual violins (plus viola and cello), Weston blowing a little pocket trumpet, and even some vocals courtesy of Kayle Brecher. Vinyl lovers with a hankering for robust fusioneering have reason to rejoice; Dust and Ash is out on wax May 24.

Grant Calvin Weston’s connection to Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time is undeniably a major feather in the artist’s proverbial cap, though back in the day (i.e. the late ’80s) I’ll admit to being more struck with his work on James “Blood” Ulmer’s first two records, especially 1980’s classic Are You Glad To Be In America? This is partially because Coleman’s two earlier electric band outings, ’76’s Dancing in Your Head and ’78’s Body Meta, had already nailed me but good; the saxophonist’s ’80s albums featuring Weston weren’t just more of the same, but they can be evaluated as something of a refinement.

On the other hand, Ulmer’s second and third albums, both of which I’d heard before his ’78 debut for Artist House Tales of Captain Black (which featured Coleman and Weston’s Philly-based friend and future Prime Time cohort, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma), were upon introduction both striking affairs. Over time the impact hasn’t lessened by much.

Are You Glad To Be In America? offers the selection “Jazz is the Teacher (Funk is the Preacher)”; its title is a decent summation of Weston’s mode of operation across the decades. To expand a bit, he’s drummed with all three members of Medeski Martin & Wood, contributed to the work of techno artist Tricky, and along with Tacuma, taken it far outside in trio with the late Brit avant guitarist Derek Bailey. A fine recent example of his aptitude with improvisational fire and power groove would be his work in the Young Philadelphians alongside guitarist-leader Marc Ribot, Tacuma, and guitarist Mary Halvorson.

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Graded on a Curve: Various Artists,
Sad About The Times

Described by Anthology Recordings as “an exploration of North American 70s FM covering folk, soft rock, West Coast jangle, power pop and late night jams,” the 2LP compilation Sad About the Times is something of a revelation, going deep into the realms of obscure musical hopefuls while maintaining a higher level of listenability than a mind should reasonably expect. Assembled by Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s Mikey Young and Anthology’s founder and head of A&R Keith Abrahamsson, the set’s 21 cuts blend a melancholic, often singer-songwriter air, regularly touching upon the difficulties of human interaction and amour in particular, with sharp and occasionally excellent playing. It’s out now.

Although it emerged as an alternative, by the 1970s FM radio was pretty firmly ensconced as a rotator of popular music. However, as Anthology’s promotional writing for this release points out, playlists and format constraints were not yet rigid, which meant that songs by unfamiliar artists regularly hit the airwaves; if they stirred-up a strong response in listeners (or maybe just struck the fancy of a DJ) these tunes would likely get a few more spins (at least), but if the opposite proved true the vinyl was destined to be filed away and forgotten.

That is, until wax stack excavators (like Mikey Young and Keith Abrahamsson) put together a well-considered overview of their time spent. Sad About the Times is devoid of chart action but is all the better for it, because the hits of yesteryear aren’t difficult to soak up in the here and now. Much more interesting is this collection’s alternate history of popularity; Anthology’s claim that all these tracks could have been hits isn’t an overstatement, but even better, the results avoid the hackneyed moves or the outright obnoxiousness that can result when musicians are desperately striving for chart success.

The release’s presiding lyrical concerns, when combined with crucial stylistic range, surely assists in helping this stuff to go down so easy. The opening title track from the group West effectively drives home a downtrodden ambience, though the words never falter into the annoyingly sensitive, in part because the thoughts expressed get mingled with a blend of sunshine folk and budding soft rock introspection. Notably, the song is culled from a ’69 LP.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
May 2019, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for May, 2019. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Aseethe, Throes (Thrill Jockey) Here’s the third full-length from this Iowa-based doom metal trio; they have a relationship with drone that’s sturdy but still strikes me as mostly implicit (the big exception is “Suffocating Burden”); this is just fine to my ear. If an undercurrent rather than a mainstream, the drone works because Aseethe like to stretch out, and their stuff hangs in the air as much as it thuds. Aseethe also have a new member in bassist-vocalist Noah Koester, who’s largely responsible for the record’s anti-fascist and anti-greedmonger lyrical bent. I’ll confess that when vocal cords get this guttural, I essentially engage at the level of pure texture instead of striving to parse what’s actually being said, which is often not really worth the trouble. It’s nice to know this is an exception. A-

Doomstress, Sleep Among the Dead (Ripple / DHU) This Houston, TX-based four-piece released a 7-inch in 2016 and followed it up the next year with one side of a split LP with the band Sparrowmilk; this is their proper full-length debut, and I’m digging it quite a bit, in large part because they fortify a solid doom foundation with an approach to songwriting that hits my ear as fairly distinctive as it radiates classic vibes (notably, they dished a B-side version of Coven’s “Wicked Woman” on that first 7-inch). The consistently appealing vocals of Doomstress Alexis (who also plays a sturdy bass) initially hooked me, reminding me at times of Heart’s Nancy Wilson but in a thoroughly metallic context (getting a little operatic at times a la Ronnie James), but it was the quality of the songs that sealed the deal. A-

Full of Hell, Weeping Choir (Relapse) Folks who are bonkers over the whole extreme metal scene are likely already hip to Full of Hell, but this is my introduction, in part because I consider Relapse to be a signifier of quality; this is their first for the label. Full of Hell hail from Ocean City, MD, a once and current “tourist destination” where folks in some proximity of adulthood commonly passed out in bathtubs (or yes, on the beach) after too many National Bohemians. As it’s title should make clear, Weeping Choir isn’t music for swimming and suds but grindcore mingled with power electronics; they have prior collabs with Merzbow and The Body. At nearly 25 minutes, this is just the right amount of textured pummel. It looks like I’ll be spending some time investigating Full of Hell’s back catalog. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Joe McPhee, Nation Time (Superior Viaduct) Part of the ’70s jazz corrective was impressing on folks that the urge to get funky didn’t automatically equate to Bob fucking James. This live LP originally released on CjR in ’71 but basically a very well-kept secret until it was reissued as the inaugural CD in Atavistic’s out-jazz-focused Unheard Music Series in 2000, offers a splendid example of what I’ll call groove searching; the label mentions a potent blend of James Brown and Archie Shepp, and that succinctly describes “Shakey Jake.” McPhee remains one of our enduring free-jazz explorers. This was his second record on a label designed specifically to document his artistry (‘twas also initially the case with Hat Hut). It’s a crucial document available on wax for the first time in forever. A

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Graded on a Curve:
Alice Coltrane,
Eternity, Radha-Krsna Nama Sankirtana, Transcendence, and Transfiguration

Last September, a serving of ’70s material from the late pianist-harpist-composer Alice Coltrane came out on 2CD through Real Gone as Spiritual Eternal: The Complete Warner Bros. Studio Recordings. That was cool, but the vinyl rights went to another label, namely Superior Viaduct of San Francisco, and their editions of ’75’s Eternity and ’77’s Radha-Krsna Nama Sankirtana, and Transcendence are out now through the label’s ’60s-’70s reissue subsidiary Antarctica Starts Here. But the icing on that three-layer studio cake is the release of ’78’s Transfiguration, an excellent live performance return to the jazz zone and simultaneously (temporarily) her commercial swan song. It’s a wondrously searching gem.

Jump back 30 years and the prevailing opinion on jazz in the ’70s is that it was something of a desolate wasteland brought on by the intermingling of commercial desperation, self-indulgence, and an abandonment of the music’s roots; as the wadded-up pages of yearly calendars amassed in the waste basket, the traditionalists simply bided time until the cultural pendulum swung back toward the conservative.

And then for many, as the ’80s dawned, things were momentarily right in the world; hey, jazzmen (with a renewed emphasis on men) were again wearing suits (often, tuxedos) while appropriately paying their dues through worship at the bebop altar of Charlie Parker. Of course, as the last few decades have helped to clarify, the matter was never so simple; for starters, amid the sometimes-craven attempts to establish a crossover audience in the ’70s, there were pockets of major worthiness within the realms of Fusion (naturally so, as it was the locale of Miles Davis’ last great creative stretch).

Plus, the avant-garde/ free scene, long the bane of the jazz traditionalist, if still recouping from the loss of two key trailblazers (John Coltrane and Albert Ayler) and a growing disinterest on the part of major record labels and club owners, continued to explore the possibilities of collectivity across festival stages, in free spaces, in educational contexts, and notably, in lofts. On the recording front, there was a blossoming of small, often artist-run labels, as a considerable percentage of the players began expanding upon a long-extant aspect of the music; specifically, they were focusing on the spiritual.

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Graded on a Curve:
Craig Leon,
Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 2: The Canon

You may not know him by name, but as a producer on the crucial first-wave NYC punk albums Ramones, Blondie, & Suicide, Craig Leon’s impact on modern music has been incalculable. But hey, that’s old news; the new scoop is that his Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 2: The Canon is fresh out through the RVNG Intl. label, and it’s a terrific follow-up to the initial installment, which compiled, to Leon’s long-delayed satisfaction, his groundbreaking and underheard electronic proto-New Age records Nommos and Visiting, originally released in 1981 and ’83 respectively. ‘Twas one of 2014’s stronger reissues, but even more impressive is how this fresh volume unfurls with hardly a letdown.

I’m not generally in the habit of giving producers too much credit, particularly as a substantial chunk of music history is devoted to how creators have struggled and suffered at the hands of these often cocaine-addled corporate liaisons and supposed experts, but Craig Leon’s oversight connection with three defining, wildly different, and enduringly worthwhile punk documents is surely deserving of a modicum of praise.

Not to speculate too much into the reasons behind this triple crown of success (there are additional worthy pop-rock production credits in his background, plus a long, more recent career in the same capacity in the classical field), but, as the title and intro to this review make obvious, Leon is an artist himself. This reality surely didn’t guarantee that the man would be more understanding in regard to the desires and open to the core sounds of three groups making their debuts from inside an emerging rock subculture, but it couldn’t have hurt.

And I’m guessing that maybe by now Leon is tiring of how those production jobs, which occurred nearly a half-century ago, reliably serve as a lead-in when articles and reviews outline his own musical thing, and especially now that he and his partner, the vocalist Cassell Webb, are following-up the collected reissue of his first two LPs with new music. That the results here maintain such a high level of quality is certainly worth dwelling upon, particularly due to the significant passage of time.

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