Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve:
John Frusciante,
Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt

John Frusciante is primarily known as a guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, filling that role from 1988-’92 and again from ’98-’07. Shortly after his first departure, a collection of the guy’s home recordings saw release on Rick Rubin’s Universal subsidiary American Recordings. Due to the RHCP association, Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt’s ragged, surreal atmosphere has likely confounded more listeners than it’s thrilled, as major label-funded records don’t get much stranger. In a sweet development, Superior Viaduct has given it its first ever vinyl issue in a gatefold jacket with printed inner sleeves; the bonus pre-order 7-inch is sold out, but the meat of the matter is available now.

During the post-grunge and Alternative/ Indie ’90s, the once cool, calm and collected major labels were scrambling amid uncertain waters, signing acts with reckless abandon and funding a bunch of sub-labels and side ventures along the way; the economy was booming, after all, and nobody wanted to miss out on a potential Next Big Thing.

These circumstances resulted in a few truly bizarre records receiving corporate funding. A pair of examples: in ’92, Reprise issued Pop Tatari by Japan’s Boredoms, which gave underground noise rock the Carl Stalling treatment, and two years later Geffen released Zero Tolerance for Silence, a solo noise excursion by noted and normally well-mannered jazz fusion guitarist Pat Metheny.

Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt also came out in 1994, and if it was better received than Metheny’s curious one-off stylistic left turn, the overall response, seeing that it was the debut solo album from the former guitarist of one of the most popular rock bands of the era, was still somewhat muted.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, October 2017

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for October, 2017. Part one can be found right here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Brooklyn Raga Massive, Terry Riley In C (Northern Spy) Rooted in Indian classical music, Brooklyn Raga Massive are, on this live recording, 18 members strong. Acting upon an idea by sitarist Neel Murgai, they engage with Riley’s minimalist cornerstone while simultaneously expanding the three-to-four musician Indian classical standard, an undertaking that makes them massive indeed as the results succeed resoundingly. Rhythmically infused and instrumentally vibrant, they deliver an interpretation of Riley’s open-scored work that’s unlike any I’ve previously heard. A joyful thing. A

Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition, Agrima (Self-released) Indio-Jazz fusion? Oh yes. But more so, a rich dialogue. Featuring Indian-American Mahanthappa on alto sax, Pakistani-American Rez Abassi on guitar and Anglo-American Dan Weiss on tabla, they debuted on record with 2008’s Apti. This set makes some considerable advances; Mahanthappa adds electronics to the equation, Abassi plays with more effects, and Weiss gets behind a drum kit. There is much exploration amid the intensity and flow, and the alto is consistently sharp. Available on 2LP, which isn’t the norm in contempo jazz terms. A

REISSUE PICKS: V/A, Andina: Huayno, Carnaval and Cumbia – The Sound of the Peruvian Andes 1968-1978 (Tiger’s Milk / Strut) The first of three compilations in Tiger’s Milk’s program to uncover Peruvian music past and present is consistently engaging and quite enlightening with wide stylistic range; there’s cumbia, huayno, big band, and traditional harp music, with the intention of label co-founder Martin Morales (also a Michelin-starred chef; this release coincides with a cookbook of the same name) to undercut the historical stereotypes of his home country’s music. He’s succeeded with flying colors. A

Blind Idiot God, Undertow (Indivisible Music) Originally out of St. Louis, the instrumental trio of guitarist Andy Hawkins, bassist Gabe Katz, and drummer Ted Epstein survived the late ’80s SST deluge and ended up on Enemy for this, their second album. Dividing their energies between bruising art-metal and thick dub, they defied the odds and made it work with the help of producer Bill Laswell. The LP holds up well, but the 45RPM bonus disc is the cherry on top, as “Purged Specimen” features John Zorn and two versions of “Freaked” (from the Alex Winter film) are solid collabs with vocalist Henry Rollins. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
Paul Major: Feel the Music Vol. 1

Best known today as the frontman for Endless Boogie, Paul Major’s also been a record hound of uncommon diligence and discernment for decades. Earlier this year, Anthology Editions released a book detailing his experiences as a music lover, and particularly his passion for the subterranean fringe; unearthing private-press artifacts by outsiders and “real people” became his specialty. Joining that hardcover volume is Paul Major: Feel the Music Vol. 1, a far-out but focused curation of the guy’s sweet discoveries. It’s available on vinyl, compact disc, and digital October 27 through Mexican Summer.

As the publishing arm of Anthology Recordings, Anthology Editions is dedicated to disseminating “cultural narratives” toward the establishment of a “new canon,” meticulously digging into assorted subjects, from underground filmmakers to the Brit punk scene to skateboarding to the written and visual manifestation of the belief in UFOs, all with the intent to solidify importance.

In short, it’s a valuable undertaking. Earlier this year the imprint unveiled Feel the Music: The Psychedelic Worlds of Paul Major, a 272-page tome dedicated to one man’s labyrinthine journey from rock ‘n’ roll loving ’60s teen to crate digger and record dealer extraordinaire to vocalist-guitarist for one of the current scene’s most expansive heavy rock acts. It’s loaded with photos, gig flyer reproductions, anecdotes, essays from fellow music nuts, and even a split 7-inch featuring Endless Boogie and Major’s early ‘80s “proto speed-metal” band The Sorcerers.

I’ve yet to soak up its charms, but coverage indicates it’s an enlightening hoot of a read. I have spent time with Mexican Summer’s compilation offshoot however, and it’s such a pleasurable ride that purchase of the book now seems all but inevitable. A big part of the album’s success derives from a disinterest in simply offering a hodgepodge of extremes, though in its cohesiveness there is still ample range.

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Graded on a Curve:
Colleen,
A flame my love,
a frequency

Multi-instrumentalist Cécile Schott records under the name Colleen. Active since the early ’00s, she’s accumulated an impressive discography through the electronic processing of acoustic instrumentation, notably on the viola da gamba. But for her latest record, she’s put down that axe for a pocket piano and Septavox synth designed by the Critter & Guitari company, playing them through Moog delay pedals to often captivating effect; A flame my love, a frequency is out now on clear vinyl, compact disc, and digital via Thrill Jockey.

From 2003-’05, Cécile Schott released four records, all on Tony Morley’s Leaf label, and then took a seven-year break in recording, coming back with The Weighing of the Heart in 2013 on Second Language. Since then, she’s released a record every other year, with her latest cementing a relationship with Thrill Jockey that began with the terrific Captain of None.

For those unfamiliar with Schott’s work as Colleen, reading of her switcheroo in instruments may seem an extreme maneuver. The change is a striking one for sure, but the results aren’t jarring or born of desperation, as her initial intent was to integrate rhythms created with the newly acquired pocket piano with the viola da gamba.

The combination wasn’t what she wanted however, and so the search was on for soundscapes that did fit, this situation falling directly in line with her overall mode of operation. For instance, when Schott feels vocals are appropriate, she sings. If voice doesn’t work, the pieces remain instrumental, with the music vivid and sturdy enough in its inventiveness to overcome any perceived lack.

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Graded on a Curve:
Laura Baird,
I Wish I Were a Sparrow

Thus far, it’s been Meg who’s cultivated the highest musical profile outside the Baird Sisters, but now multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and recording engineer Laura steps into the spotlight with the beautiful and hearty solo set I Wish I Were a Sparrow. Evenly split between originals and readings of tunes long-loved, it dives deep into the Appalachian folk tradition to deliver a vivid portrait of the artist; it’s out October 20 on vinyl, compact disc, and digital through Ba Da Bing.

Of The Baird Sisters’ three recordings, Until You Find Your Green is the most well-known. Originally released in a hand-numbered edition of 315 as part of Grapefruit Record’s subscription series, the music was so choice that an eventual reissue was inevitable; Ba Da Bing’s new pressing came out last year, enlarging its stature in Meg’s already ample discography and serving for many as an introduction to her sibling’s considerable talents.

In 2013, fans of the guitarist Glenn Jones were given a taste of those skills via his superb disc My Garden State; in addition to playing banjo on “Across the Tappan Zee,” Laura also recorded the album in her home studio at Forest Hill Farm, having done the same for Until You Find Your Green (the Baird Sisters’ two prior self-released CDs, 2003’s At Home and ’08’s Lonely Town, are live recordings).

The reality is that Laura has contributed to more than a couple releases over the years, including those of Meg’s old band Espers. For I Wish I Were a Sparrow, she goes it alone at Forest Hill Farm to distinctive result; Until You Find Your Green is essentially a blend, certainly impacted by the long, deep history of Appalachia, but just as indebted to developments in ’60s progressive folk, e.g. Shirley & Dolly Collins and Pentangle. Altogether, it securely lands in the new century’s acoustic roots boom.

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Graded on a Curve:
Art Pepper Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Volume 5: Jack Sheldon & Volume 6: Shelly Manne

Those with a passion for jazz might already be familiar with the final two installments in Art Pepper Presents “West Coast Sessions!” As part of a high-profile late-career resurgence by the giant of West Coast saxophone, they’ve been previously reissued in one big block, but for this latest round Omnivore Recordings has taken a more sensible approach, separating each studio date, placing any alternate takes at the end of the CDs, adding superb notes from Pepper’s wife Laurie, and casting a dual spotlight on the altoist and the original LPs’ contractually mandated leaders; for Vols. 5 and 6, that’s trumpeter Jack Sheldon and drummer Shelly Manne. Completing a sweet run of discs, both are available now.

The skinny on these sets is that post-comeback Art Pepper, locked into an exclusive leadership contract with the Galaxy label, found additional work as a sideman through his wife Laurie’s savvy maneuvering. The main requirement of the small Japanese company Atlas was that the results fall into the West Coast category, but as Pepper asks in the liners to Vol. 6, what is West Coast jazz exactly?

She partially answers the question through her mention of a Bill Claxton-Buddy Collette composition that led off the self-titled ’55 debut from the Chico Hamilton Quintet. The tune is “A Nice Day,” and Pepper goes on to emphasize the unlikelihood of any ’50s New York jazzer adorning a piece with such a title. The observation underscores the difference between scrapping-to-survive NYC and the more temperate, easygoing Cali lifestyle, but she makes a more salient point in observing how musicians move around physically, grow creatively, and defy regional categorization as often as they reinforce it.

The list of players that fall at least partially into the West Coast cool jazz zone is long and wide. A sampling of varied names: Pepper, Hamilton, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Jimmy Giuffre, Fred Katz, Hampton Hawes, Jack Montrose, Shorty Rogers, Marty Paich, and the ostensible leaders of the Atlas originals of Vols. 5 and 6, Jack Sheldon and Shelly Manne.

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Graded on a Curve:
Jon Hassell,
Fourth World Vol.2: Dream Theory In Malaya

Originally released in 1981 on Editions EG, Jon Hassell’s Dream Theory in Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two was a groundbreaker in its merger of ambient, experimental, and global sounds, but as the decades unfurled it came to be inexplicably overlooked, in part due to a lack of reissues since getting placed on compact disc in the late-’80s. Well, that scenario has changed, as it’s been given a fresh LP and CD release courtesy of Glitterbeat Records’ new sub-label Tak:Til; that its often surreal yet meticulously crafted rewards are back in the bins is a fine circumstance indeed.

Regarding Jon Hassell’s early catalog, 1980’s Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics is much better known, even before it was reissued by Glitterbeat in 2014, largely because it has Brain Eno’s name on the cover. Eno plays on and mixed Vol. Two as well, but co-billing eludes him, specifically due to Hassell’s distress over his partner running with the Fourth World musical ball and spiking it directly into David Byrne’s backyard.

Hassell apparently viewed Talking Heads’ Remain in Light (’80) and the Eno/ Byrne collab My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (’81) as part of “a full-scale appropriation.” This may sound like an atmosphere of hostility, but Hassell actually contributed to Remain in Light, and as said, ol’ Bri wasn’t locked out the studio for Vol. 2; in retrospect, Hassell has said he “probably under-credited him.”

If a bit harsh at the time, Hassell’s caution over the usurping-weakening of the Fourth World, a concept expanded upon by Hassell as “a viewpoint out of which evolves guidelines for finding balances between accumulated knowledge and the conditions created by new technologies,” wasn’t exactly unjustified, as a stated goal was to imagine a musical landscape where assorted global musics, with Hassell citing Javanese, Pygmy, and Aboriginal forms as examples, had been as influential as the Euro-classical tradition.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, October 2017

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Barbez with Velina Brown, For Those Who Came After: Songs of Resistance from the Spanish Civil War (Important) This gem pays tribute to the 2,800 Americans, known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, who traveled to Spain in the ’30s to fight the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Through a large able cast with vocalist Brown prominently placed, the results are an emotionally stirring utter delight, as the crowd reactions verify. Featuring impressive audio for a live recording, the band is faultless, Brown is rousing, and the whole is an antidote for despair. A

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, The Kid (Western Vinyl) Quite often, concept records arrive hand-in-hand with a lessening of accessibility, an increase in rigor, or just plain expansiveness. The Kid musically examines four distinct stages of the human lifespan, and does so across four vinyl sides, but at 52 minutes is far from unwieldly, with Smith’s increased vocalizing making this a perfect place for the analog-synth curious to get their toes wet. But those having rode upon the Smith train for a while now need not worry, as the sonics not only remain rich but thrive in the varied landscape. A

REISSUE PICKS: Earl Hines, Tour de Force (ORG Music) Sometimes pianists can be so workaday in their rumination on standards that the listening experience fizzles out. For the most part, the ever-loving point of playing the chestnuts is to bring something new to the turntable, most commonly a personal stamp, and that’s just what Hines does on this date, cut solo in ’72 in NYC. Personal and intimate, with the pianist’s vocalizations audible in a non-obtrusive way, not only are these versions distinct from those of any other interpreter, but Hines’ technique is undiminished. Initially a Black Lion release. A

Acetone, 1992-2001 (Light in the Attic) Here’s a band that’s fully deserving of the reissue treatment. This L.A.-based trio put out two albums on Vernon Yard, the Virgin subsidiary that brought the world Low, and two on Neil Young’s Vapor label, but they’ve yet to work up a sizeable following. For that to change, all it’s going to take is a growing number of listeners getting bowled the fuck over by “Louise,” which is simply one of the finest third album Velvets takeoffs I’ve heard in many a moon. And for the clued-in handful, much of what’s here is previously unreleased. So, leisurely paced and revelatory all around. A

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Graded on a Curve: Nazoranai,
Beginning to Fall in Line Before Me, So Decorously, the Nature of All That Must Be Transformed

Nazoranai is an international supergroup consisting of sui generis Japanese guitarist Keiji Haino, Australian electro-acoustic composer and noise sculptor Oren Ambarchi, and the US-born Paris-based purveyor of experimental metal Stephen O’Malley, most widely known as a founding member of Sunn O))). Beginning to Fall in Line Before Me, So Decorously, the Nature of All That Must Be Transformed is their third album of “live recorded collaboration,” divided into two side-long parts that rise to a searing plateau, and it’s out now on vinyl through W.25TH, the contemporarily-focused sub-label of San Francisco-based reissue powerhouse Superior Viaduct.

Stephen O’Malley and Oren Ambarchi have collaborated outside of Nazoranai, notably on a handful of Sunn O)))’s releases including 2005’s Black One and ’09’s Monoliths & Dimensions. Ambarchi has also worked extensively with Haino in trio with noted experimentalist and record producer Jim O’Rourke. This background familiarity strengthens a distinction made in W.25TH’s promo text for Beginning to Fall, specifically regarding the group’s mode of operation.

In Japanese calligraphy, Nazoranai means not repeating, which W.25TH clarifies as “developing a distinct, individual style,” the practice further differentiated from “sokkyō,” a term that directly denotes improvisation. Ultimately, Nazoranai strive to not get casually lumped in with those decamped under the free-music umbrella. It’s a point made quite saliently just by listening to their recorded output, a huge, expansive yet methodical sound that fits the supergroup designation without a hitch.

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Graded on a Curve:
Mirah, “Sundial” EP

In 2016, Mirah was asked by Brooklyn’s BRIC Arts/Media House to create a show for their spring season. After enlisting friend Jherek Bischoff to provide string arrangements for a batch of her songs, that event blossomed into a tour with a live string quartet, and now here’s an EP to further document the collaboration. Featuring one new piece and six reinterpretations from her ample back catalog, “Sundial” is out now on clear vinyl and digital through Mirah’s own Absolute Magnitude Records.

Although she emerged as a byproduct of the ’90s lo-fi indie scene as part of the K Records roster, Mirah (full name Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn) is no stranger to string sections. 2000’s You Think It’s Like This but Really It’s Like This is easily the most aurally stripped down full-length in her discography, but even as its strength of songwriting and execution established a solo framework, a penchant for collaboration, namely with Phil Elvrum of The Microphones, was already apparent.

Those strings entered the picture via the Morricone-esque “Cold Cold Water,” which opened her 2002 follow-up Advisory Committee, a record of substantial growth that put the kibosh on any lo-fi pigeonholing. The desire for musical give-and-take bloomed on 2003’s Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project, cut by Mirah and Ginger Brooks Takahashi in a house in the Blue Ridge Mountains using a Tascam four-track and a mini disc recorder, and on ’04’s To All We Stretch the Open Arm, which teamed her with Seattle’s Black Cat Orchestra for a covers-heavy, politically themed set.

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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