Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2017’s Reissues, Part Two

Picking up where we left off yesterday, the international focus continues. You can find them all for purchase from our friends at Discogs at the links below, or at your local mom and pop, indie record shops via The Vinyl District Record Store Locator app—free for your iPhone here, free for your Android here.

5. V/A, Even a Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973 (Light in the Attic) + Hiroshi Yoshimura, Music for Nine Post Cards (Empire of Signs) In the notes for Even a Tree Can Shed Tears, set co-producer Yosuke Kitazawa observes that Japan’s global pop exports have been rather small. Regarding pop I can’t disagree, but in overall musical terms I’d argue that Japan’s impact has been significant. Bluntly, I can go hardly a day without some Japanese band or artist entering my consciousness, if not landing upon my turntable.

Like another of Even a Tree Can Shed Tears’ producers Jake Orrall, much of my initial interest in the country’s music came through noise, experimentation, and heavy rock, and it’s an inclination I maintain. That doesn’t mean the more folk-derived sounds collected here aren’t appealing; I love when things take a turn for the psychedelic, but even the Laurel Canyon-esque moments go down easy. Joni is a big influence here, but so is Dylan, and this is the type of comp that inspires binge buys of the represented artist’s full albums. I’m familiar with a few already, but frankly, I’m going to need a longer shelf.

Empire of Signs is a label co-founded by Maxwell August Croy (of the Root Strata label) and Spencer Doran (of Visible Cloaks), and it’s being distributed by Light in the Attic. Croy and Doran’s inaugural release brings wider exposer to Yoshimura, a pioneer in Japanese ambient music. Music for Nine Post Cards was his 1982 debut (he passed in 2003), and it’s been reissued numerous times, but this is its first release outside Japan and its first time on vinyl since initial release, executed in cooperation with the artist’s widow Yoko Yoshimura.

Beginning as a conceptual artist, Yoshimura’s musical side developed as part of the Japanese post-Fluxus scene, with his sound creations intended to soundtrack activities (fashion shows) and objects (from houses to train stations to perfume). Indeed, Music for Nine Post Cards’ original incarnation was as a demo tape intended for play inside the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art. If you’re thinking Eno, well yeah, but this LP, played on a keyboard and Fender Rhodes, is distinct. Empire of Signs’ promo text states he strived for serenity as an ideal, but the album is also very pretty and melodically engaging.

4. Pharoah Sanders, Tauhid, Jewels of ThoughtSummun Bukmun Umyun – Deaf Dumb Blind (Anthology) + Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Featuring Pharoah Sanders and Black Harold (Superior Viaduct) It’s important to remember that as late as the early ’90s, Pharoah Sanders was largely considered a thorn in the ears of jazz fans who essentially only tolerated John Coltrane’s freer excursions because of his earlier Blue Train and Giant Steps achievements, and of course his playing with Monk and Miles.

This isn’t to suggest that Sanders didn’t maintain a considerable listenership. He did, cutting 11 albums for Impulse between ’66 and ’74. It’s just that a large portion of his audience weren’t exactly jazzbos, and unlike Sanders, many weren’t in it for the long haul. But since the ’90s, Sanders’ inability to quit and the potency of his best recordings (of which there are quite a few) has endeared him to younger generations, and for anybody excited by the work of Kamasi Washington who’s curious to examine the roots, Anthology’s reissue of albums one, three, and four from his Impulse run are a fine place to start.

It was with Coltrane that Sanders came to prominence, but he was on the scene prior, debuting as leader for ESP-Disk in ’64 (an intriguing artistic mismatch) and participating in sessions led by Don Cherry and Paul Bley that were issued much later. However, the most interesting is Featuring Pharoah Sanders and Black Harold, even though Sanders’ contribution (taking the place of Sun Ra regular John Gilmore) is relatively brief.

Recorded as part of the Jazz Composers Guild’s “Four Days in December” concerts on New Year’s Eve of 1964, the results weren’t released until 12 years later through Sun Ra’s El Saturn label, though there have been other issues, including a compact disc by ESP, which is where I first heard it. Some have rated the music’s value as mainly historical in relation to the appearance of Sanders and the relatively obscure flautist Harold Murray, but I consider it wild and stimulating. Its importance in the avant-jazz narrative is undeniable though, so those building a wall of freedom on wax should not dally.

3. Keiji Haino, Watashi Dake? (Black Editions) + V/A, Tokyo Flashback (Black Editions) To get back to the subject of Japan, Black Editions has begun reissuing some of the country’s prime underground artifacts, kicking it all off with the debut LP from Keiji Haino and following it up with the disc that brought the P.S.F. label to the attention of many US-based subterranean rock and noise hounds, and I can hardly wait for additional releases in 2018.

Originally released in 1982 on the Pinakotheca imprint, Watashi Dake? was eventually reissued on CD by P.S.F. as Haino’s profile in experimental circles was gathering steam. Mysterious and uncompromising even when in a rock-tangible mode, Haino is at his most enigmatic here. Opening with screams that could reduce a side of beef into finely ground chuck, whispers and silence also figure, and the disc is as much a vocal experience as an exploration of the guitar, the instrument for which he’s most renowned. But there is plenty of guitar as well, and for those attuned to abstract experimentation, this is a must.

By comparison, Tokyo Flashback is forthrightly rock taggable, though its assorted plunges into psychedelia lack any sense of neo-polish as the selections branch out from sources ranging from the ballrooms of San Fran, Blue Cheer, Detroit, and a longhaired, fuzzy vest-clad quartet playing on the back of a flatbed truck in a grassy field during a powerfully sunny summer afternoon.

Along with Poor Strong Factory, P.S.F. stands for Psychedelic Speed Freaks, which is the name of the first album the label released in 1984. The band was High-Rise, who contribute to Tokyo Flashback alongside Marble Sheep & The Run-Down Sun’s Children, Ghost, White Heaven, and others. Haino is also here, both solo and in his noted rock trio Fushitsusha, but as said, the 2LP’s thrust is less experimental, with some of the action anticipating the avalanche of stoner rock but minus any doofus moves. Tokyo Flashback might be identifiably rock heavy, but it’s never hackneyed.

2. Tony Conrad, Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plan (Superior Viaduct) + Henry Flynt, You Are My Everlovin’ (Superior Viaduct) If there’s a recurrence of certain labels on these lists, it’s not the result of playing favorites. It’s unlikely anyone’s going to get rich by reissuing vinyl, and for the entities that rise to the top, the endeavor is obviously as personal an undertaking as the music they make available. And doing it for the love of it also helps tighten the stylistic focus; for the best labels, there is no sense of the random.

As an avant-garde film and drone music master, the late Tony Conrad can make an aspiring artist feel like an insignificant little shit. But of course, this is the wrong way to look at; instead, one should take inspiration, for the journey was a struggle for Conrad as well. In musical terms, his importance was once more read about than heard, and it wasn’t until the ’90s that the man’s discography blossomed. With Conrad on violin and featuring Rhys Chatham and Laurie Spiegel, the feature film-length Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plan delivers the crowning achievement to an already brilliant body of work.

Henry Flynt also didn’t acquire a robust discography until well into the CD era (not until early this century, in fact). Like Conrad, for a long time he was known for one release; for Tony it was ’73’s Outside the Dream Syndicate (a co-billed collab with Krautrockers Faust) and for Henry is was the ’86 cassette You Are My Everlovin’/Celestial Power. Superior Viaduct’s reissue lacks the B-side of that tape (hopefully it will get its own standalone reissue) and is CD only (effectively securing the unbrokenness of the piece, which doesn’t appear to have ever had a vinyl issue).

Drones can be created numerous ways, but strings are a main component in the strategy. Again, like Conrad, Flynt utilizes the violin, but as the 42 minutes of “You Are My Everlovin’” progress, his approach is a captivating experience, blending into the Eternal Music equation, amongst other elements, Indian raga (he studied with Hindustani singer Pandit Pran Nath), jazz (John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman were early influences), Delta blues (ditto Robert Johnson), and most distinctively Appalachian fiddle (though this was recorded in a Manhattan loft in ’81, Flynt is from North Carolina).

1. Thelonious Monk, Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 (Sam) + The Bill Dixon Orchestra, Intents and Purposes (Superior Viaduct) If once ostracized as an eccentric, Thelonious Sphere Monk is now one of the undisputed heavyweights in jazz’s labyrinthine history. And like most of his jazz peers, he also recorded a lot. A whole lot. Based on this fact, non-aficionados of the form might think the discovery of unreleased Monk material would be no big deal, but Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960’s placement in this list (and surely others) should erase that screwball notion with due haste.

Cut for the soundtrack to director Roger Vadim’s adaption of a novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 features Monk’s band of the time, with Sam Jones on bass, Art Taylor on drums, and Charlie Rouse on sax, joined by second horn Barney Wilen for a rare two-tenor lineup. Exploring well-known tunes from Monk’s book, it foreshadows his Columbia Records period, or more correctly, it would’ve foreshadowed it, had it been released at the time. Like many great things, it was discovered by accident in a French archive, specifically that of Wilen’s manager Marcel Romano.

The late trumpeter, composer, and teacher Bill Dixon remains a terribly undersung figure, in part due to the lack of albums he made during the ’60s, where he played a crucial role as the organizer of the October Revolution in Jazz and its direct outgrowth, the Jazz Composers Guild (which produced the Sun Ra recording above). Some will recognize him from Cecil Taylor’s masterpiece Conquistador!, but he recorded only three times as leader, twice for Savoy (in close proximity to saxophonist Archie Shepp) and once for RCA Victor.

Intents and Purposes is that LP, and as the best of Dixon’s ‘60s stuff (he did record a lot more later, including 2007’s superb 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur) it stands next to Taylor’s two Blue Notes, Albert Ayler’s best for ESP and Impulse, and the strongest from Sun Ra, Coltrane, and Coleman as a cornerstone document of the ’60s jazz avant-garde. Large group avant-jazz is often concerned with splatter-gush beauty; although there’s a whole lot of heavy breathing across Intents and Purposes’ four sections, Dixon’s compositional acumen is paramount. It’s music to cherish and a reissue to celebrate.

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