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+

Maya Angelou, Miss Calypso (Cornbread) In 1957, long prior to her emergence as a great poet and memoirist, Angelou cut this pop calypso cash-in. Not famous at the time of recording, the album’s success rests not on a dubious celebrity crossover but on her singing ability, which is more than modest if unspectacular in tandem with guitarist Tommy Tedesco and hand drummer Al Bello. In fact, Angelou’s talent was diverse, including extensive acting roles and even a feature film directorial credit, but she later downplayed the existence of this curious but enjoyable footnote. B

Albert Ayler, The Hilversum Sessions (Modern Silence) A generous hunk of Ayler at an inspired apex. On a ’64 European tour with an unimpeachable band in full understanding of the sui generis saxophonist’s goals, namely Don Cherry on trumpet, Gary Peacock on bass, and Sunny Murray on drums, this studio date finally came out in 1980 on Osmosis and was later folded into the ESP-Disk catalog; for some reason, this edition pluralizes the title. As evidenced by “Angels,” “Spirits,” and especially “Ghosts,” nobody combined the abstract and the hummable quite like Ayler; his gifts are on full display here. A

Bent, Snakes and Shapes (Emotional Response) It’s impossible to imagine this existing without a small handful of early post-punk’s prime sonic disrupters and defiant DIYers, with much of what’s here reminiscent of a catgut-less Raincoats engaging in angular do-si-dos with a less dub-inflected Slits as Kleenex calls the dance; Emotional Response mentions these easily apparent names in relation to Bent’s second full-length, but as labels are wont to do also claim they find inspirational sunlight beyond influence’s shadow. As this CD plays, the statement is borne out as more than hollow stumping. B+

Brokeback, Illinois River Valley Blues (Thrill Jockey) A lot of sunbaked guitar-based instrumental rock resonates like a soundtrack to the indie-flick neo noirs that proliferated a few decades ago, but Doug McCombs’ long running project is considerably subtler than that. His revamped group continues to emit cinematic vibes while not leaning too heavily on recycled Morricone-isms, with the Rob Mazurek-written closer to side one “Spanish Venus” and the flipside’s opening twin lead guitar showcase “On the Move and Vanishing” standing out. But mostly, this LP simply extends Brokeback’s steady track record. B+

Ani Cordero, Querido Mundo (Self-released) NYC-based Cordero’s credits include tour drumming for Os Mutantes, helping found Pistolera, and leading Bloodshot/ Daemon Records-affiliated group Cordero. In 2014 Recordar, her set of reinterpreted material by influential Latin American “Nueva Cancion” songwriters, came out to wide acclaim, and this is her follow-up. Comprised of original Spanish-sung protest and love songs with a rhythmic comportment designed to inspire crowds (protests, marches, concerts), the instrumental energy nicely enhances Cordero’s multifaceted skills throughout. B+

Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society, S/T (Six Degrees) Swell debut from electronic vets Garry Hughes and Harvey Jones. The digipak states that no guitars were used on this record, making the occasional Fripp and Eno-like threads even more interesting. Overall, it’s closer to Evening Star than No Pussyfooting; folks into Cluster, Tangerine Dream, Harmonia, Light in the Attic’s I am the Center, and The Microcosm collections and the Brit pioneer paid tribute to by the duo’s choice of moniker should find much to enjoy here, as Hughes and Jones fully embrace the glide-vibes of a bygone electronic era. B+

Brigitte DeMeyer and Will Kimbrough, Mockingbird Soul (BDM Music/Sony RED) Prior collaborations bring a lack of tentativeness to this first co-billed set of bluesy Americana. Often singing in tandem, it’s DeMeyer who gets vocally out front as Kimbrough’s guitar injects warmth and a little needed tension; the disc’s charms are fully accessible and at a few points borderline innocuous, though the songs (by both) are of uniformly high quality, the upright bass of Chris Wood (from Medeski, Martin and Wood) is a plus, and choosing the Incredible String Band’s “October Song” as a closer is offbeat and inspired. B+

Kenny Dorham, Quiet Kenny (Acoustic Sounds) Don’t mistake this for a sleepy survey in balladry. Released in early ’60 on Prestige’s New Jazz imprint, a variety of tempos are found in these grooves, though I guess it’s fair to say that Dorham, whose stature as a major post-bop trumpeter has flagged not a whit, doesn’t get too boisterous here. But he’s gathered a peach of a band (pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Art Taylor) on a mix of standards and his own stuff, and the way they elevate the modest platform of “Blue Friday” is a treat. Those ballads sound mighty fine, too. A

Entrance, Book of Changes (Thrill Jockey) Tagged as a “poetic song cycle,” Guy Blakeslee’s latest is a bit of a departure, with Amanda Charchian’s rather dashing cover portrait of the artist and orchids enhancing the record’s ’60s flavor. The main connection to that decade is the songwriting, which hits a highpoint with the progressive-symphonic folk of “The Avenue” and then rolls from there into the combo punch of the achy “Leaving California” and the unusually rocking (for this album, anyway) closer “Revolution Eyes.” Blakeslee’s stuff is always generally of interest, but this one’s special. A-

Eureka California, “Wigwam” (HHBTM) Three song roundup of boisterous melodicism from an Athens, GA outfit that’s been surprisingly durable given their downsizing to a duo a few years (and a couple of full-length albums) back. More about raw amp velocity and shouting than the big thump of many aural two-handers, Marie A. Uhler’s beat is still big throughout, and anybody who’s dug their previous stuff will not be disappointed, especially as this concludes with a spiffy barnstorming of Superchunk’s ’90s punk behemoth “Slack Motherfucker.” Brings back nice memories of $3 indie store bin 45s. B+

Josh Green & The Cyborg Orchestra, Telepathy & Bop (self-released) Young composer Green has already amassed extensive credits in television, film and theater; this debut is described as a creative outlet, but its nine-track, hour-plus total unwinds like it’s his main gig. Imbued with avant-edginess, the titular jazz style and Green’s background in contemporary classical tilt matters toward structure over the abstract. The writing, particularly for strings, is strong, the “offbeat sense of humor” avoids the zany, and the guitar and piano excel. Could’ve done without the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument), though. B+

Chester Hawkins, Natural Causes (Intangible Arts) These appealing side-long drone-experimental-electronic-kosmische pieces serve as the OST to the Tim Ashby-directed film Pale Trees, but as this LP by the Washington, DC-based artist responsible for Blue Sausage Infant carries its own title it’s appropriately listed here under Hawkins name. Even without the record jacket subtitling the contents would still exude a strong filmic connection, and its recurring nods to analogue synth scores never falter into retro-irony. A vigorous attention to structure is apparent throughout. Limited to 300. A-

Iron Reagan, Crossover Ministry (Relapse) Back in the day, specifically during the years when the band names inspiring this Richmond outfit’s choice of handle commented on a sitting US prez, the style on offer here was tagged as metal-core, or per the title of this third effort, crossover; frankly, I’ve always been a moderate fan of the genre at best, partially due to many examples getting so caught-up in formal tropes that true heaviness was elusive. That’s not a problem here, and thankfully few of the 18 songs (in 30 minutes) flaunt the suburbanite five band rec center matinee goofiness of “Fuck the Neighbors.” B

Le Ton Mité, Passé Composé Futur Conditionnel (Made to Measure / Crammed Discs) This Brussels-based cooperative features American expatriate musician, fine artist, and instrument maker McCloud Zicmuse at the center, and this 2LP/ CD is stuffed tight with 50 cuts (many of them short) and peppered with guests including Deerhoof’s John Dieterich on guitar and A Hawk and a Hacksaw’s Heather Trost on keyboards for a track. The sound is vividly produced art-pop that fleetingly brought Euro Rock in Opposition and Downtown NYC to mind, as well as assorted strains of post-rock and free-jazz. B+

Moving Units, Collision with Joy Division (RSRCH DVLP / Flowers of Romance) This band, reputed as dance-punk, has existed since ’01. I say reputed because I’ve never heard ‘em prior to now; featuring only one original member (Blake Miller) and studio help, they pay tribute here to Factory’s finest. Dance-punky ways do get asserted (“Insight”) amid general structural faithfulness and a lack of vocal mimicry. Favoring Unknown Pleasures and Substance, the thrust alternates between beefing things up and going new wave (the Gary Numan-ish “Isolation”). Not even slightly a big deal, but smartly executed. B

The Right Now, Starlight (self-released) After roughly eight years and three full-lengths, this Chicago combo’s pop-meets-soul approach hits a vivid peak. The (neo) soul portion of the scenario gets blended with songwriting, instrumentation and brightly-tinted production all exuding a more contemporary flavor; the results pull from the ’60s all the way up to, well, the moment that provides them a name, with a special emphasis on ’70s verve. The keys to success; upfront is powerhouse vocalist Stefanie Berecz, while behind her is a crack band that’s comfortable with the entire spectrum. A-

Trinary System, “Amplify the Amplifiers” (Fun World) Mission of Burma guitarist Roger Miller’s additional projects include Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, No Man, live soundtrackers Alloy Orchestra, and Binary System. This trio with bassist P. Andrew Willis and drummer Larry Dersch is his latest, and it’s an unsurprisingly solid undertaking. Miller’s stated goal here is to free-up the guitar from post-punk environs, though aspects of the genre do arise across these five songs. Fine moments include the Mike Watt-ish opener “Dave Davies,” the art-funky “This House,” and the moody “Living by Flashlight.” B+

The Underground Youth, What Kind of Dystopian Hellhole is This? (Fuzz Club) Active for nearly a decade and having recently moved to Berlin from the UK (they were long based in Manchester), this new one does little to alter the Craig Dyer-led psych-post-punk merger. At least musically, as the U-grounders continue to exude similarities to Anton Newcombe. Per the title, the album is thematically concerned with current global affairs, with the topic handled rather well. Taking the live band (including Dyer’s wife Olya on drums) into the studio raises this above the one-man neo-psych solo project norm. B+

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