Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for December 2019

The TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for December, 2019.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Shasta Cults, S/T (Important) Canada’s Richard Smith is an electronics technician who for two decades was the go-to repair person for Buchla & Associates, a job that put him in contact with a variety of musicians and institutions. Smith’s work as Shasta Cults, with this LP preceded by the CD Configurations (recorded in 2017 and issued in September), has its roots in demo recordings of rare equipment he’s worked on over the years, with both of his releases thus far derived entirely from one instrument each; for Configurations, it was the Buchla 700, and for this follow-up (recorded in 2018) it’s the Buchla Touché. Records featuring the Buchla are often spacy and swirly, but this outing is more drone-oriented and impressively layered, though Smith’s work is still quite transportive. A

The Gonks, Five Things You Didn’t Know About the Gonks (Rocks In Your Head) This is a fine batch of fringy-pop from a San Fran-based combo, first heard by moi on this label’s nifty recent Hot Sick Vile and Fun comp (their tune titled the collection). They cover a range of appealing territory, like the black turtleneck art-angst of “I Hired a Hitman” (like a song from the soundtrack to a Beth B. flick), the gal-voxed melodicism (briefly intruded upon by maleness and roaring engines) of “I’m a Lonely Night Driver,” the vaguely Television Personalities-like “My Glamourous Mother,” the decidedly warped jangle and thump of “I’m a Leaker,” and the sax honk meets indie pop strumming of “I’m Dead.” That’s five tracks. There are five more, including a closing theme song of sorts. Altogether, a 16-minute stunner. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Cecil Taylor, Indent (ORG Music) This label’s Black Friday Record Store Day releases didn’t reach me until right at the cusp of finalizing last week’s column. As RSD selections often linger in the bins for a while, I would be remiss not to mention a few in our final New in Stores of 2019. Along with Silent Tongues and The Great Paris Concert (aka Student Studies), this is ORG’s third installment (all from this year) in what’s hopefully an extended reissue program devoted to this incomparable pianist and cornerstone of the jazz avant-garde. Indent was the first solo Taylor record to hit stores back in 1973 (but not the oldest chronologically; that would be Praxis, a ’68 recording released in ’82), first on his own Unit Core label and then with wider distribution through the Freedom imprint.

For a few reasons, Silent Tongues is perhaps the most celebrated Taylor solo LP; for starters, it was awarded album of the year by Down Beat in ’75, with its arrival coinciding with a gradual change in fortunes (not really commercially, as he’s never been a great seller, but rather just a diminishment of neglect/ increase in respect regarding his creativity). But if Silent Tongues is the most well-known of his solo works, it shouldn’t be considered as encompassing the totality of Taylor alone at the bench. There are certainly common characteristics, amongst them energy and precision with bright rays of beauty shining through. Additionally, the clusters of notes and the overall sound flow is so dense and rich that if the experience proves agreeable it is also inexhaustible. As great as Silent Tongues, maybe better. A+

Louis Armstrong and His All-Stars, Live in 1956 (Allentown, PA) (ORG Music) Back in late 2017, ORG issued Armstrong’s live Jazz Is Back in Grand Rapids, which I quite enjoyed, mainly because the hot jazz aura was strong, and the playing was sharp. I’m a little less taken with this recently discovered recording from the same year, though I’ll admit to not comparing side-by-side, which would be a little lopsided as Grand Rapids is a double. As expected, there is some overlap of material, with “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” opening both records, the song followed here with “Blueberry Hill”; Armstrong hit with it in ’49, though Fats Domino’s smash from the year of this recording likely inspired him to put the tune back in the setlist. If you desire multiple ’50s live discs by Louis on your shelf, you’ll want this one. B+

Alessandro Di Puccio, One Instrument 04 (Grand River – One Instrument) Although there are numerous elaborations that largely have to do with the nature of the recording process, the rules of the concept for this series are quite simple; it’s one person playing one instrument, in this case a Ludwig Musser M55 Pro-Vibe Vibraphone. Now, the vibes are an instrument that can often leave me cold, particularly when heard in a jazz context, but that’s not Di Puccio’s bag. Instead, this reminds me more of a place where gamelan and Steve Reich meet, though I don’t want to infer that this in any way Minimalist (or even small m minimal) because it’s not. It’s just pretty. Really pretty. And really short, as the whole is three tracks (all cut in one take 18 years ago) on a 7-inch in an edition of 100. A sweet little object. A-

El Wali, Tiris (Sahel Sounds) That the phenomenon of the “lost recording” would spread into the compact disc era was inevitable; this Western Saharan Sahrawi group’s 1994 CD, originally issued in a miniscule edition by OXFAM Belgium and scarce prior to this reissue (on vinyl for the first time), isn’t the first example, but it is amongst the most interesting. A track from this set was included on Sahel Sounds Music from Saharan Cellphones Vol 2, which helped to spark interest and to situate why this set quickly disappeared in the era of overzealous World Music sheen. El Wali’s lack of gloss shouldn’t imply that Tiris is raw or manic (as the Tuareg guitar stuff played by some of their fellow Saharans can be). To the contrary, much of it is highly accessible but with energy deepening what’s ultimately infectious. A-

Donnie & Joe Emerson, Dreamin’ Wild (Light in the Attic) I’ll confess that I was a bit skeptical over this one upon its first reissue back in 2012, in part because the cover led me to suspect that some people were having a laugh at these guy’s expense. I was glad to be wrong. This definitely has some off-kilter vibes familiar to private press and home recorded platters of the ’70s, but opener “Good Time” is just a delightful slice of power-pop enhanced by production choices that would’ve been nixed by a “real” producer. The Emerson brothers were Washington Staters whose dad built them a studio in hopes of breaking big. “Baby” is the belated u-ground hit, but I kinda prefer how “Don’t Go Lovin’ Nobody Else” lands betwixt Fleetwood Mac and Beserkley Records with a touch of gentle psych. B+ (Out 12/13)

The JBs, More Mess On My Thing (Now-Again) Anybody enthusiastic over the Shake It! label’s recent anthology of The House Guests (that is, the JB’s under another name, and also The Complete Strangers and Bootsy, Phelps & Gary) will want to grab this Black Friday item (which met my earhole too late to make last week’s column). It includes the demo cut at King Records (the title track) that brought them to James Brown’s attention and landed them the gig as his band, the sweet instrumental “The Wedge” and the side-long medley “When You Feel It, Grunt if You Can,” with everything mixed direct from the multi-track masters by Mario Caldato, Jr. The kicker is that it’s all previously unreleased (though a truncated edit of the medley did come out at some point), with none of it tasting like leftovers. Dig in! A-

Lloyd Miller, Oriental Jazz (Now-Again) This was a Vinyl, Me Please Record of the Month back in March, but it appears to be getting a non-exclusive release on 12/13, and folks into investigating the obscure nooks in jazz’s long history shouldn’t hesitate to check it out. This first legit vinyl reissue of the disc will set you back far less than an original copy (of which there were only 300). The album’s cover and the outdated title, when combined with the stylistic fusion of Persian music and American jazz, could easily lead one to expect varying degrees of the exploitative, but no, mainly because this wasn’t some big enterprise attempting to cash in on cultural curiosity; Miller’s discography is pretty extensive, but nearly all of it came out on the small custom label East-West (or its subsidiary World Arts).

A multi-instrumentalist and arranger, Miller was passionate over Persian music, traveling to Iran to immerse himself in the styles and becoming something of a celebrity there in the days before the Shah. He was also no fogey when it came to jazz (though he had some production assistance from French pianist Jef Gilson), preferring to blend in rich strains of post-bop. Miller has a bold piano style, really banging the keys at a few points, but he’s also a little stately, which makes for an interesting mix. Interestingly, there’s no saxophone here, though there is trombone a and clarinet that resonates a bit like a soprano sax in “My Favorite Things” mode. That’s cool. A few spots brought Mingus to mind, as well. Even cooler. The Persian strings and rhythms add dimension rather than sounding stitched on. B+

Larry Mullins & Mike Watt, “1969 (Parts I and II): A Tribute to Scott Asheton” (ORG Music) While he’s a composer and a solo artist, Larry Mullins aka Toby Dammit is perhaps best-known as a percussionist in a variety of situations including the bands of Nick Cave, Michael Gira, and Iggy Pop. Bassist Mike Watt is world-renowned for his contribution to Minutemen and numerous units and projects since, with this one scratching his seemingly insatiable itch for the work of The Stooges. In fact, Watt has long contributed to that band, recently alongside Mullins, with this tribute to Stooges drummer Asheton the byproduct of further interaction. It’s a nice fuzzy tribal throbber with echoed-out vocal bursts and a few injections of space-funk. Not essential perhaps, but a very welcome item in this house. B+

Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, “When in Rome, Carpe Diem” (Bedroom Suck) This Craig Dermody-led band’s last album Mid Thirties Single Scene made quite a positive impression on these ears, and after too long a wait they’re back with this 6-song 12-inch. It doesn’t disappoint. The promo description refers to the music as being “rooted in ’90s slacker and Flying Nun sounds,” and I can surely hear that (indeed, it was plainly apparent in their earlier material), but the band craftily deliver opener “Outside World” with raw oomph that’s inextricably Aussie, so that SACW’s geographical scenario remains firmly planted in the consciousness, even during the more pop-infused moments. The Velvets inclination is also still extant, particularly in closer “Back in the Corner,” though “Long Coats” wafts ’70s John Cale fumes. A-

Velvert Turner Group, S/T (ORG Music) I’ve heard this a few times over the years and always enjoyed the spins. Turner was a friend and protégé of Jimi Hendrix, and in ’72 he recorded this LP for Family Productions with a band featuring future members of the New York Dolls, The Motels, and The Knack. The Jimi influences do come through loud and clear, but descriptions of this as blatantly imitative are to me off-target. To call it derivative is certainly fair, and that’s no great crime; had he waited until ’92 to cut this record he likely would’ve been hailed as a god. Honestly, I prefer the lack of ballyhoo, as Turner’s music was a byproduct of its era and of his main inspiration (rather than calculatedly retro). If this was an unearthed private press from some podunk burg, people would be freaking the fuck out. B+

The Viscaynes & Friends, S/T (ORG Music) Heavy-duty fans of Sly Stone will be lining up for this one, as he was a member of Vallejo, California-based vocal group The Viscaynes, who hit locally with “Yellow Moon” in 1961. The vibe is heavily late ’50s-early ’60s dance party with the popularity of the group (notably integrated racially and by gender) partially inspired by a performance on the TV show Dick Stewart’s Dance Party. There’s nary a tidbit of Sly’s soul-funk-psych to come. As teenagers, their sound was prominently shaped by producer George Motola, who is credited with co-writing most of their material (the Friends are two other Motola-guided outfits, The Individuals and The Precisions). It’s not a mindblower, but there are a few nice slow jams plus the Coasters-esque “Uncle Sam Needs You.” B

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