Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 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 February, 2019. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Sonny Sharrock, Ask the Ages (Hivemind) It’s still only February, and it’s already been a swell year for fans of “out” guitar, with new stuff from the Hedvig Mollestad Trio and the Dave Harrington Group plus reissues of Caspar Brötzmann Massaker and now this 45 RPM 2LP reissue of Sharrock’s killer 1991 album originally released on Bill Laswell’s Axiom Records. At the time, it really set things right, as Sharrock had been on something of a creative losing streak, at least for fans of his playing in punk-jazz monsters Last Exit and his first two solo records Black Woman and Monkey-Pockie-Boo. What producer Laswell (who played bass in Last Exit) pulled-off here, essentially launching Sharrock from the recognizable platform of the jazz quartet, was nothing short of miraculous.

To elaborate, the music extends from a quartet zone informed by the innovations of John Coltrane, an idea that’s embraced to the maximum by grabbing saxophonist Pharoah Sanders (who blows tenor and soprano here) and drummer Elvin Jones, with bassist Charnett Moffett (who like his drummer father Charles, played with Ornette) completing the band. Sanders wastes no time in dishing some prime lung fury, Jones is as muscular and fleet as a fan of the Classic Quartet would hope, and Moffett is a hefty as ’70s Jackie Gleeson. What’s most impressive is how Sharrock doesn’t get overshadowed in a context that never really morphs into full-on skronk mania. Fire Music fans (and audiophiles) will appreciate. A

John Hartford, Backroads, Rivers & Memories—The Rare & Unreleased John Hartford (Real Gone) Deft on a variety of instruments (but especially banjo), warm of voice, and a songwriter of distinction (he penned “Gentle on My Mind,” included here, though his talent was more idiosyncratic than that), for many Hartford’s finest moment is Aereo-Plain; bluntly, thousands in the field of Americana owe him a debt. Before all that, he was a television personality, appearing on the variety shows of the Smothers Brothers, Glen Campbell, and Johnny Cash while working as a session musician, notably contributing to Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Hartford was also tenacious in recording his early progressions, which are offered on this CD with 19 tracks previously unreleased.

There’re also three songs from a radio show (WHOW, Clinton IL) with Pat Burton on guitar and Nate Bray on mandolin, plus the four singles from Hartford’s Ozark Mountain Trio; for bluegrass nuts, these eight songs will justify the price of ownership all by themselves. While there is a 36 second first rehearsal excerpt of “Steam Powered Aereo Plain” and a wonderfully wacked spoken “Station Break” that kinda reminds me of what might’ve transpired had a young Garrison Keillor joined the Firesign Theater, this isn’t as eccentric as Hartford regularly was later. Think of it this way; if Aereo-Plain planted the seed that became Newgrass, these are the movements that led to Hartford’s 1971 classic. With notes by Skip Heller, a sure sign of quality. A-

Absolutely Not, Problematic (No Trend) While prior album Errors was infused with adrenalin, it did make clear AbNot were a new wave/ post-punk/ power-pop/ glam-punk explosion; ears desirous of a straighter retro experience were potentially not going to dig it (straight has a double-meaning, as sibling members Madison and Donnie Moore continue to run the monthly LGBTQ event Glitter Creeps at Chicago’s Empty Bottle). But Problematic blasts forth with such full-throttle fury that newcomers might miss the wavy-poppy currents in the band’s stew. However, it’s not long (and it’s really not long, as the whole thing lasts 17 minutes) before the whole comes into focus; maybe imagine Missing Persons collaborating with Lene Lovich and Mike Patton. Now imagine that being better than you expected. B+

Peter Evans and Sam Pluta, Two Live Sets (Carrier) I know Evans’ trumpet well through Mostly Other People Do the Killing. This is my intro to electronics specialist Pluta. The two have collaborated in duo and occasionally with additional improvisers for over a decade. As the title makes clear, this documents two performances, one from Belgium and the other from Atlanta. Altogether, it’s nearly 93 minutes of music, with the De Singer jazz club set on the attractive CD (artwork by Angela Guyton) and the Emory University Atlanta set on the download. Right off the bat, Pluta’s contribution comes off like slightly decayed and slowed-down tape-recordings of video arcade games circa 1980 where shit gets blown up with laser guns, and that’s cool. Cooler is the legit improv interaction between laptop and trumpet. A

Scott Gilmore, Two Roomed Motel (Crammed Discs) Based in LA, Gilmore has a couple prior full-lengths and an EP, but this new one is the first I’ve heard. It’s his debut for Crammed Discs, a label that’s consistency of quality over the decades inspires immediate curiosity into their new stuff, even when a particular release, as is the case with this one, is described as hovering around the realms of synth-pop. Dipping into Two Roomed Motel, that sound greeted me right away in “Empty Aisles.” I wasn’t knocked-out, but more importantly, there were no traces of the hackneyed. With the following title track, things started getting considerably more inventive, and while I dig parts of this more than others, Gilmore never seriously stumbles. Accurately tagged as retro-futuristic, that’s not the same as plain retro. B+

Gun, S/T (Real Gone) This late ’60s UK band is known foremost for “Race with the Devil,” a top ten hit in their home country in ’68 that’s been covered by numerous acts since, all of them to varying degrees heavy. Gun was heavy too, which brings us to the second notable thing about them; the presence of the Gurvitz brothers, bassist Paul and guitarist Adrian, later of Three Man Army and Baker Gurvitz Army. A third, extramusical aspect of note is sleeve art by Roger Dean, later well-known for his Yes covers (this was his first). Musically, this is a mixed bag, but what saves it is how it’s not a stylistic hodgepodge. They do mix a pop sensibility with progressive (not yet prog) tendencies and again, heaviness (or better said, just wailing loudness). Points off for horns and a few lyrics that were bad enough that I noticed ‘em. B

Max Jaffe, Giant Beat (Ramp Local) Amongst other activities, percussionist Jaffe is a part of Amirtha Kidambi’s band Elder Ones and the avant-rock outfit JOBS, who garnered some praise in this column a while back. This record springs from Jaffe’s time as a beta tester for Sunhouse’s Sensory Percussion technology, which was software designed to enable percussionists to combine electronic tones with acoustic drumming. This cassette offers six selections totaling nearly 34 minutes, and while the electronic aspects are extant and appealing, the thrust is unsurprisingly and understandably rhythmic, but with enough variation to keep things from getting, to employ a bit of old-school reviewing phraseology, “self-indulgent.” Vocals creep in to up the weirdness. The best track is sequenced last. B+

Jane Kramer, Valley of the Bones (self-released) This is Kramer’s third album, but it serves as my intro to her work. Her strong pretty voice and penchant for vivid lyrics are the deepest talents on display here, though the crack band (featuring Nicky Sanders of Steep Canyon Rangers on fiddle) is surely deserving of praise. Folks will be tagging this record as Americana, but it’s really just (well, not just) a country album, though one that lands securely on the artistic side of the spectrum, in part because Kramer occasionally engages with topics beyond the norm. In so doing, she eludes clichés while conjuring imagery that’s familiar to the genre. It’s a tough trick to pull off, but Kramer does it consistently, and everything leads to the standout closer “Wedding Vows.” I’m somewhat resistant to this genre, but here’s a winner. A-

Victor Krummenacher, Blue Pacific (Veritas Recordings) Bassist Krummenacher is best-known as a founding member of Camper Van Beethoven and to a lesser extent for his formative role in Monks of Doom. He’s also issued a slew of solo albums since 1995, though if I’ve heard them, it was in passing, and I don’t recall. But as I’m an avowed fan of Krummenacher’s work in Camper, when his latest was offered for review, I bit without hesitation. Reading beforehand that the record emerged in the wake of his divorce, I was prepared for the content to be serious and the music to be largely straight ahead. Well, both scenarios came to pass, as the disc pivots between singer-songwriter material, roots/ Americana ambiance and a classic rock-influenced zone. Highly accomplished, I like the rockers best. B+

Leyla McCalla & the Special Men, “Eh La Bas” b/w “Eat that Chicken” (Special Men industries) The latest in this New Orleans-based label’s singles series combining house band the Special Men with assorted guests (prior releases have featured Alynda Lee Segarra and Louis Michot) brings us a sweet helping of Leyla McCalla, well-known as a former member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. “Eh La Bas” is described by the label as one of the oldest songs still played in the Crescent City, and as it kicks into gear it sounds immediately familiar, getting even more so as it continues with some sweet call and response, though along the way McCalla gives it a personal spin relating to her Haitian descent. The flip is a brass band version of a Special Men tune, and it’s a straight-up street party grooved into wax. A-

Merzbow, Venereology (Relapse) Remastered by James Plotkin for its 25th anniversary and making its vinyl debut with a variety of color options and a second LP holding over 20 minutes of bonus material, Venereology was the first of five records insanely prolific Japanese noise titan Masami Akita released on Relapse, a label known for its dedication to metal from the extreme end of the spectrum. The association didn’t inspire Akita to make a metal album, but rather to take aim at the death metal genre with a barrage of noise, though the artist has made the distinction that the rhythm is a little slower than normal for his stuff, and also heavier (as opposed to piercing tones that are one of his specialties). The assaultive mayhem was also made while Akita sucked down copious amounts of beer. A-

Gary Numan, I, Assassin (Beggars Arkive) The cover of Numan’s 1982 LP, his fourth, expanded on the suaveness of his prior set Dance, with the man donning a trench coat while standing by a lamppost; it was a move reportedly inspired by Sinatra, though I can’t help but think of Alain Delon in Jean-Pierre Melville’s masterpiece of French cinema Le Samourai. (For his next album Warriors, he went full-blown Mad Max. Not as cool). The music here extends from the adjustment in sound toward art-pop over synth/ electro-pop that was also established on Dance. The fretless bass is retained as well, though this time it’s played by Pino Palladino, not Japan’s Mick Karn. I, Assassin isn’t as strong as Dance, but it starts off nicely with the strange atmosphere of “White Boys and Heroes” and never seriously falters. B+

Steph Richards, Take the Neon Lights (Birdwatcher) Trumpeter-flugelhornist-composer Richards debuted last year with Fullmoon in duo with dino J.A. deane on sampler; additionally, she took part in Trio Music alongside veteran reed man Vinny Golia and bassist Bert Turetzky. For this CD, she expands the lineup to four with pianist James Carney, bassist Sam Minaie, and drummer Andrew Munsey; the results are intended as a “lyric poem to New York City” with the compositions named from poems by such heavyweights as Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and Allen Ginsberg. The music is wide-ranging but with strong ties to jazz and superb playing all-around. At one point it sounds like Richards is employing effects while using a mute, recalling in a span of seconds Miles, Hendrix, and John Zorn. A

Akiko Yano, Japanese Girl (We Want Sounds) Last autumn, We Want Sounds reissued Japanese pianist-vocalist Yano’s Tadaima from 1981, a heavily synth-pop situation featuring input from Yellow Magic Orchestra. This is her debut from five years prior, with the side cut in Los Angeles featuring Little Feat. Understanding this going in, I could hear it, but it’s not like Lowell George and company dominate the proceedings. I mildly enjoyed Tadaima, but I dig this one a lot more, though a better way of saying it is that the weirder Yano gets the happier I am. She gets plenty out-there here. I was prepared to say that comparisons are elusive, but side two, which was recorded in Japan with Haruomi Hosono playing bass on a track, reminded me a bit of Laura Nyro, which was a nice twist. Yano’s piano skills impress. A-

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