Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, April 2017

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Harriet Tubman, Araminta (Sunnyside Communications) Guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs, and drummer JT Lewis are Harriet Tubman; for nearly 20 years they’ve consistently delivered abstract and heavy jazz-rock with a political edge (Araminta was Tubman’s given name). Prior CD Ascension found them grappling with Coltrane and expanding to a double trio; here they extend an invitation to trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and he fits in sans hitch. Highlights? The psych-fuzz-splat-thunder of “Ne Ander” and the post-punk-funk of “Real Cool Killers.” But it’s exceptional throughout. A

Ibibio Sound Machine, Uyai (Merge) I can appreciate the increasing rarity of stylistic purity, but overall, the blending of forms continues to be where it’s at. This mixture of West African grooves (Afrobeat, highlife, disco) and Euro electronica is a masterclass in party-time hybridization. Eno Williams is an adroit vocalist-leader-pop presence, and the music surrounding her is loaded with surprises; for one example, opener “Give Me a Reason” exudes similarities to both Gary Numan and Konono Nº1, but the real trick is the LP’s unrelenting battery of synths in combo with organic rhythms, guitar, and horns. A-

REISSUE PICKS: V/A, Outro Tempo: Electronic and Contemporary Music from Brazil, 1978 – 1992 (Music from Memory) John Gómez’s liner notes shape the scene. As Brazil’s military dictatorship was slowly coming to an end, select musicians in the country began using electronic instruments with increasing frequency while shaking off the fear that non-organic sounds would eradicate, to use Gómez’s term, essential Brazilianness. Partially steaming from this mindset, many of the selections blend traditional instrumentation and electronics to fruitful effect. A highly enlightening and enjoyable 2LP. A-

Ahmad Jamal Trio, The Awakening (Be With) Jamal’s had his detractors and defenders over the years, but he’s also secured a whole lot of converts, including this writer; what was initially too lite and polite soon enough revealed subtlety and depth of interaction. The doorway for many was ’58’s At the Pershing: But Not for Me. In short, this 1970 effort, originally for Impulse, isn’t as strong, in part because it lacks bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernal Fournier. However, Jamil Nasser and Frank Gant are nearly as communicative, and nearly two decades after his emergence, the pianist is still evolving. A-

10,000 Russos, Distress, Distress (Fuzz Club) The Motorik action shaping seven-minute opener “Germinal” suggests this Oporto, Portugal-based unit (recently spotted in this column through a nifty installment in their label’s “Fuzz Club Sessions” series) could extend a single long groove in the live setting and have the audience eat it up. But “Europa Kaput” is dark enough to entice a few Joy Division fans into the fold (at least I think so) while being suitably raw (and Suicide-like) to please the psych genre’s more discerning customers. Expansiveness (six songs in 39 minutes) and range: Color me impressed. A-

Beans, Wolves of the World, Love Me Tonight and HAAST (Tygr Rawwk Rcrds) These simultaneously and harmoniously released albums considerably enhance this Antipop Consortium MC’s solo output. Wolves comes closest to the hip-hop bullseye and is the shortest of the three, the guest-studded Love is described as pop-leaning (this is of course relative) as it spreads out, and HAAST is the most experimental of the bunch, amply idea-loaded to not buckle under its 77 minutes. Vinyl limited to 500 each, and Beans’ book Die Tonight is also available. Love Me Tonight’s cover art is majestic. B+ / A- / A-

Rusty Bryant, Fire Eater (Jazz Dispensary) One in a pair of recent Prestige label reissues in Jazz Dispensary’s “Top Shelf” series; organ, guitar, and groove are the common threads. By ’71, soul jazz was safely coasting down a funky boulevard to mixed results, though rabid fans of the style will naturally feel differently. Bryant’s tenor goes down easy enough but is not exceptional, the organ duties are handled by Bill Mason (on side one), and Leon Spencer Jr. in much the same manner, while Idris Muhammad dishes the rhythm with aplomb. The biggest surprise is the tasty guitar of Wilbert Longmire. B

Venessa Collier, Meeting My Shadow (Ruf) Like her labelmate Mike Zito’s album from a few months back, I approached singer-songwriter and saxophonist Collier’s new CD with hesitation. Ruf self-promotes as “when the blues crosses over,” and the Bonnie Raitt-ish style on display here fits that M.O. like a pair of spandex mittens. She’s not an impersonator however, and if unrestrainedly mersh (within blues-rock’s sliver of the contempo marketplace), her slower, soulful numbers do add value. Against the odds, Collier’s sax never detracts, and I even like her flute in the swamp-funky opener “Poisoning the Well.” B

The Dahmers, In the Dead of Night (Lövely) The LP’s ’80s giallo front and end pieces expand upon these Swede’s early stuff, which offered title references to Fulci’s “The Beyond” and Lamberto Bava’s Demons, but overall this spreads out like Famous Monsters of Filmland meets Fangoria and is remarkably similar in theme (but not sound) to the Misfits. The anthemic punk here never fully pulls my chain, but this still has its moments, especially “I Wake Up Dead”; the Carnival of Souls audio clip earns them extra points. Methinks The Dahmers could craft a fine alternate soundtrack to Return of the Living Dead. B

The Entrance Band, “Fuzz Club Session” (Fuzz Club) For those having digested the fine meal that is Entrance’s Book of Changes (recently out on Thrill Jockey), this 4-song live in the studio EP is a nifty serving of desert. Calling it thus rather than simply a second helping relates to the notable differences; herein is a spiffy cover of The Seeds’ “I Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” plus three studio-improvised instrumental jams that avoid any trace of the slapdash. It all reinforces Blakeslee as a monster on guitar with good taste in covers; three installments in, and the “Fuzz Club Sessions” series has yet to falter. A-

Ghastly Sound, S/T EP (Magnetic Eye) This Burlington, VT trio specializes in punk and noise-rock-tinged metallic-edged pummel, which amongst the loudness and fury can signify a trip down boredom boulevard relatively quickly; this fact turns this 4-song debut EP into an achievement of sorts. Even with a surplus of bass rumble the lack of guitar isn’t immediately apparent, which is to their credit. Helping matters is vocalist Tyler Gurwicz’s range, which satisfactorily alternates between raw-throated shouting and smoother gestures in opener “The Worst.” The rest roars forth from there. B+

Brandon Krebs, In Exile (Big Freak) “Avant-garde pop for everybody” per the Seattle-based Krebs, who has recorded previously as Stranded Sullivan. A fair portion of this record cultivates a post-’80s electro-pop vibe, though Krebs’ ultimately distinguishes himself as a singer-songwriter rather than a retro-architect. Synths mingle with guitars and vocal melancholia, the layering subtly effective in “Alarm Pheromones” as the lyrics, mentioning deleted profiles and “if you see something, say something” are quite up to date. The use of horns in “Galway” and “T. S. Eliot” underscore an indie disposition. B

Charles Kynard, Afro-Disiac (Jazz Dispensary) The players, namely Houston Person on tenor, Grant Green on guitar, Bernard Purdie on drums, Jimmy Lewis on electric bass, and Kynard on organ, portend a barnburner, but unfortunately that promise is only fitfully realized; the bluesy “Trippin’” and the sustained groove of “Sweetheart” are the highlights. Of course, this isn’t without other moments, e.g. the rhythm sock and Green’s grabber of a solo in “Odds On,” which toys around with a Meters-like intensity. Problem is, it never fully catches fire. “Chanson De Nuit” ends things with a whimper. B

The Mark Masters Ensemble, Blue Skylight (Capri) This CD features Masters’ arrangements of Charles Mingus and Gerry Mulligan compositions. As presented by the American Jazz Institute, there is an “institutional” atmosphere, but it never gets stuffy or sterile. There are numerous positives: Masters’ subjects provide range as he excels by avoiding the usual choices, and the playing is solid and occasionally delightful; of special mention are the big bass tugs of Putter Smith, Gene Cipriano’s tenor, and especially Adam Schroeder’s baritone on the Mulligan tunes; I could use a whole disc of that. A-

James Williamson & Deniz Tek, “Acoustic K.O.” (Leopard Lady) Most aging punks end up flogging the same old crap, and when they go acoustic too often the results are not worth a damn. This outing from these key proto-punkers is an example of otherwise, keeping it on the loud side as they revamp two numbers from Raw Power and a pair from Williamson and Iggy’s Kill City. Acoustic doesn’t adequately describe the scenario; for “Penetration” and especially the unexpected highlight “Night Theme,” the better title would be “Orchestrated K.O.” Tek sings well. Petra Haden and Annie Hardy guest. B+

Wounded Giant, Vae Victis (STB) None other than Tad Doyle of Sub Pop fame produced this Seattle-based trio’s demo, with a self-released album and a split with Goya on STB following. Vae Victis finds them rocking at something close to maximum effectiveness, throttling their professed influences of Thin Lizzy, Stooges, Hawkwind, and Motörhead into a rampage of forward motion and thunder. And where a lot of bands striving for a dark doomy ambiance flounder into the cartoony or downright ludicrous, these guys pull it off, in part through the use of Jonestown samples in “Emmanentize the Eschaton.” A-

Jim Yanda Trio, Regional Cookin’ and Home Road (Corner Store Jazz) Iowa native Yanda is a clean-toned guitarist with roots in the blues and an inclination to engage with the cerebral without tipping over into the full-blown avant-garde. He’s aided in his flowing, energetic pursuit by bassist Drew Gress and drummer Phil Haynes, both exceptional players. Cut in ’87, Cookin’ finds Yanda engaging with his rural background and diving into jazz-rock with “Boubita’s Dream.” Home Road is two CDs worth of new stuff. The growth is palpable, but Cookin’ holds its own. Fans of Grant Green’s Green Street take note. A- / A

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