Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2019’s Reissues, Part Two

As we dive into the part two of 2019’s best reissues and archival releases, a little space gets devoted to what constitutes genuine worthiness in the endeavor. Unsurprisingly, the journey moves pretty far afield from the well-trodden path, although the twists and turns are far from random. They begin directly below.

5. Willie Colón, The Hustler (Craft Latino) & V/A, No Other Love: Midwest Gospel (1965-1978) (Tompkins Square) Partly because there continues to be two major Record Store Day events annually that seem to be going down gangbusters, it’s safe to say that vinyl buying is still very much an endeavor connected to being in a room full of records. This makes the steady stream of reissues emerging via Craft Recordings’ Latin subsidiary a real service, as the plain facts are that original specimens from the Fania Records catalog aren’t common in less metropolitan areas. I mean, you could buy secondhand copies online, but that practice is a few blocks from Nowheresville. Oh, how’s The Hustler sound? It’s a fucking beast…

Grabbing an original Willie Colón LP is unlikely out in the boondocks, and you can forget about the selections on Tompkins Square’s latest African-American gospel volume. As Ramona Stout’s accompanying essay explains, No Other Love’s contents were the direct result of community record canvasing (only one track has been anthologized before, on a Numero Group set). It’s safe to surmise that nobody besides Stout and her partner Kevin Speck heard all these cuts prior to presenting the compilation to others. It’s an amazing LP, with Stout’s notes contextualizing matters far beyond the increasingly trite “pure sounds of religious fervor” concept. You know, things are never so simple.

4. Joe McPhee, Nation Time (Superior Viaduct) & Sounds of Liberation, New Horizons & Unreleased (Columbia University 1973) (Dogtown / Brewerytown Beats) To get back to the idea of rarity, or maybe more appropriately, scarcity, when Atavistic commenced the Unheard Music Series shortly after the turn of the 21st, it was cause for celebration for fans of avant-garde jazz the globe over. I mention it because Nation Time by the great multi-reed man Joe McPhee kicked off the whole shebang. The only real caveat is that the UMS was a CD-only endeavor; Superior Viaduct’s reissue of Nation Time gives folks a new vinyl pressing and inspires hope that further UMS titles will see fresh wax editions in the years ahead.

But you need not wait years to scoop up some truly scant ’70s avant-free-spiritual jazz in reissue form, as two records from the Philadelphia-based band Sounds of Liberation have been reissued by the above labels (interestingly given the remarks over brick and mortar above, Brewerytown Beats is also a Philly record store). The septet’s highest-profile players were saxophonist-flautist Byard Lancaster and vibraphonist Khan Jamal; the other members were guitarist Monnette Sudler, drummer Dwight James, bassist Billy Mills, and percussionists Omar Hill and William Brister aka Rashid Salim. Fans of loft jazz and the Wildflowers volumes in particular will want to grab copies of both. The sound is flowing but potent.

3. Omara Portuondo, Buena Vista Social Club Presents: Omara Portuondo (World Circuit) & Ali Farka Touré, Savane (World Circuit) Although as mentioned yesterday, it’s preferable to resist adding reissues of more recent material to year’s end Best Of lists, there is the matter of music that was released without a vinyl option during that lean period when some record companies momentarily forgot that they were indeed in the business of releasing records.

Of course, it wasn’t as simple as all that, and this entry is full of praise for World Circuit’s first-time issue of these two classics on vinyl. The Omara Portuondo set is the oldest, originally released in 2000 when the fervor for all things Buena Vista Social Club-related was still hot. Listening, it’s easy to recall why folks were so stirred up; Portuondo is in exquisite voice, the band is cracking, and the aura is of mastery delivered with love. A similar sensibility is discernible across Savane, the final album from the Malian blues giant, released in 2006, 30 years after Touré’s full-length debut and a dozen since his collaboration with Ry Cooder, Talking Timbuktu. It’s a superb finale to a distinguished body of work.

2. Wes Montgomery, Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings (Resonance) & Bill Evans, Evans in England (Resonance) While the above entries contemplate the general parameters of what makes an exceptional reissue, there are also previously unissued archival recordings to consider, and the two coupled in the runner-up spot here extend the Resonance label’s long run of high quality in vault discoveries.

Additionally, both sets build upon the label’s prior output from the featured artists, with the Montgomery collection something of a sequel to the 2012 CD/ 2LP Echoes of Indiana Avenue (and also branching out from the 2015 2CD/ 3LP In the Beginning) and the Evans the fourth in a series of performance releases that began with the 2012 2CD/ 3LP Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate. The main question with unissued material is if the stuff really needed to be removed from the can. As Resonance has been pretty flawless in their decision-making over the years, these two 2CD/ 2LP sets only strengthen the established archival acumen.

1. Catherine Christer Hennix, The Deontic Miracle: Selections from 100 Models of Hegikan Roku (Blank Forms Editions / Empty Editions) & Robert Ashley, Private Parts & Automatic Writing (Lovely Music, Ltd.) That question again; is it necessary? As we are perched in the top spot, the answer is obviously yes. Emphatically, even. Recorded in 1976 after Hennix’s return to Sweden from NYC, The Deontic Miracle (also the name of the group, with Hennix playing oboe, electronics and audio generator, her brother Peter playing oboe and sarangi and Hans Isgren playing sarangi) features two long drone pieces, each divided over two sides of vinyl. In its vibrancy and depth, it is an astounding document.

The Deontic Miracle belongs to the undiluted avant-garde, and we’re using the term loosely to represent music of an experimental and/ or stridently non-commercial nature. That means the stuff is not exactly poised to fly off the shelves, but it’s ultimately no less deserving of reissue (to the contrary, it’s more so). Ashley’s work surely fits the bill as it expands his general profile as a composer of operas to that of a man utterly concerned with the properties and potential of language. Private Parts is about word and thought spillage, while Automatic Writing grapples with speech on a far more primitive level. Both are gripping but wildly different as they represent the sheer focused range of Ashley’s artistry.

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