Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
March 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for March, 2020. 

NEW RELEASE PICK: Big Blood, Do You Wanna Have a Skeleton Dream? (Feeding Tube) Based in Portland, ME, Big Blood are a psychedelic outfit spawned from the band Cerberus Shoal that features domestic partners Caleb Mulkerin and Colleen Kinsella, and now, for the first time as an official member, their daughter Quinnisa, who’s wearing a Thrasher magazine sweatshirt in the band photo glimpsed in this LP’s nifty insert poster. Her full-on inclusion makes this a “family band” situation, and sorta fittingly, this record is less “out” and more pop than the previous Big Blood material I’ve heard (although there is a whole lot of it, and I’ve only heard a percentage). I mean, parts of this sound appropriate for spinning at listening parties where the gals are flaunting beehive ‘dos. Hairdresser underground!

The PR notes by Byron Coley (as is the norm for Feeding Tube) mention Julee Cruise/ Badalamenti/ Lynch as a reference, which helps situate that this album isn’t as normal as the girl-group/ neo-’60s pop vibe might infer. It also underscores that unlike some other historical family band situations, there is nothing cutesy or saccharine going on. The psych element is still present, as is a wonderfully non-pro vibe overall. These approachably unusual twists are a treat, and when they plunge deeper into the realms of the strange, as during the Goth pop meets B-movie hypnotist vibe of “Pox” (featuring a repeated quote familiar from The Smiths’ “Rubber Ring”), it still goes down pretty sweetly. Dedicated to Greta Thunberg and Fred Cole, likely a first-time combination (but hopefully not the last). A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Charlie Parker, The Savoy 10-Inch LP Collection (Craft) Along with his recordings for the Dial label (which chronologically overlapped the material featured here), Charlie “Yardbird” Parker’s work for Savoy constitutes the portion of his discography that is inarguably essential; there are plenty of other releases by the saxophonist that you’ll not want to do without, but these selections are part of the foundation upon which so much subsequent 20th century music was built, and it all still sounds amazing. I was going to say these eight sides of 10-inch vinyl serve as a blueprint, but the reality is that Parker’s artistry at the point of these sessions (which span from 1944-’48) was fully formed.

There have been plenty of variations and advancements (to say nothing of flat-out imitators) since, but I don’t think anybody’s done pure bebop better. Of course, it’s important to note that these sessions are loaded with crucial figures, including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Bud Powell, John Lewis, Tommy Potter, Duke Jordan and Curley Russell. Often, recordings stuffed with such august personnel are anticlimactic, but there isn’t a trace of letdown here. Nobody’s coasting, and the interaction is electric throughout. As Neil Tesser observes in his liners for this set, at the time of release this music was the avant-garde of jazz. Over the many decades since, many have smoothed its surfaces and draped it in respectability. But listening anew reasserts Parker’s eternal cutting edge. As said, indispensable. A+

Horace Tapscott Quintet, The Giant is Awakened (Real Gone) It’s likely not that hard to find a clean playing used edition holding some if not all of Parker’s Savoy stuff (that Craft has assembled it with class and care is deserving of distinction), but exactly the opposite is true of the 1969 debut from Los Angeles-based pianist and composer Horace Tapscott. Scarce and quite expensive on vinyl (I recall seeing two copies of this for sale, both times behind glass), this is its first-time reissue, on green neon wax by Real Gone for February’s Black History Month. And the rarity is multidimensional, as The Giant is Awakened provides a healthy dose of a rather uncommon sound, specifically the free jazz-adjacent West Coast of the 1960s (it doubles up nicely with Smiley Winters’ Smiley Etc. on Arhoolie, also from ’69).

Along with being an uncommonly strong debut that, due to some reported record label funny business, Tapscott didn’t follow up until nearly ten years later (he was apparently not eager to cut this LP, and thereafter, recorded only for independent labels, including Nimbus, Arabesque, and HatArt), this album offers an enlightening early taste of alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe (indeed, I do believe this is also his debut on record). When folks consider avant-tinged jazz from the ’60s West Coast, it’s Ornette Coleman who often dominates the discussion, but The Giant is Awakened presents a stylistic alternative in part due to Tapscott’s instrument (the piano being absent on nearly all Coleman’s recordings until the ’70s). The music here, compositional and quite engaging, is likely to please those into ’60s Andrew Hill. A

Jennah Barry, Holiday (Forward Music Group) A resident of Nova Scotia, Barry has a prior album Young Men that dates back to 2012, but this is my first acquaintance with her music (it also appears to be her vinyl debut), and it’s a solid outing reinforcing her talents as a contempo singer-songwriter. I’ll confess that Holiday is well-mannered and uh, mature in a way that’s a little outside my normal zone, but I do enjoy how she connects to the reference points of Soft Rock and AM Gold (these comparisons found in the accompanying PR) without coming off as tritely retro. Her connection with the singer-songwriter tradition seems to derive more from the ’90s-’00s (a mention of Norah Jones feels right) rather than the Joni/ Carole/ Laura template, and that’s fine. Late track “Pink Grey Blue” is a standout. B+

Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, The Best of the Columbia & RCA/Vik Years (1956-1959) (Real Gone) When many folks think of Blakey, they think of Blue Note, and that’s not a mistake. But the drummer-bandleader recorded a whole lot, and some of his best stuff was cut for the labels in the title of this CD-only comp. This is in part because Blakey was a flat-out talent magnet; the first disc alone features Horace Silver, Donald Byrd, Hank Mobley, Doug Watkins, Jackie McLean, Bill Hardman, Oscar Pettiford, Ray Bryant, Johnny Griffin and more. But Art drummed with fantastic crispness and consistency, so he’s never lost in the scheme (no showboating). That means folks looking to soak up the sublimity of ’50s post-bop would do very nicely with this collection, even if the format isn’t optimal.

My familiarity with the studio stuff on disc one, plus Blakey’s excellent first recording of Dizzy’s “A Night in Tunisia” for Vik in ’57 that opens disc two (he cut the tune 11 times!) kinda led me to conclude I could enthuse over this comp’s worthiness for newbies to Blakey or modern jazz in general while not getting too personally invested, but the live tracks from Paris, six in all by two different bands (including the lineup responsible for the Blue Note masterpiece Moanin’) put this securely in my keeper pile. And if it’s rhythm you are looking for, the two Blakey Percussion Ensemble cuts on disc one (plus “Tunisia”) will have you covered like a tarp. Altogether, this is a long, sweet ride down one of jazz’s swankest avenues. Get acquainted with it, either here or through secondhand vinyl picking, for it’s an absolute delight. A

Cheer-Accident, Chicago XX (Cuneiform) That Cheer-Accident have, with this CD (issued on wax last year), unleashed unto the public 20, or we should say, XX, albums is a special achievement. Co-founded back in the early ’80s by drummer Thymme Jones, this size-shifting Windy City-based band first hit my radar in the starting stages of the next decade when they were orbiting the noise-rock scene, making their intermittent association with the Skin Graft label apropos. But as the ’90s progressed, Cheer-Accident’s melodic abilities were asserted, and they remain in sharp form here (note that, sleeve art aside, this is not a cover of Chicago’s 20th album) as they dish street-level art-pop butting-up against flashes of hard prog (solidifying the link with Cuneiform) and traces of the weirdo punk scene that spawned them. A tidy set that oozes emotional investment, and that’s great. A-

Alabaster DePlume, To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 (International Anthem) DePlume is described in this set’s notes by author and DJ Emma Warren as “a Manchester-born, London-based bandleader, composer, saxophonist, activist and orator.” As the title makes clear, this LP, DePlume’s first for Chicago’s International Anthem, compiles some of his non-vocal material from a string of prior releases that have flown under the radar (this is my introduction to his work). The foundation here is certainly jazz, though it’s blended with a folkish sensibility and global reach that includes aspects of Ethio-jazz and Japanese Min’yo folk. To Cy & Lee is a contemplative, occasionally serene record, but it’s also a hearty experience, avoiding the borderline insubstantiality of some of the folk-jazz that’s come before. A-

Garcia Peoples, 10-10-19 Nublu, NYC (Beyond Beyond is Beyond) These terrific New Jersey-based psych-jammers wasted no time in releasing this live set (available on cassette and digital), and it takes merely a listen to understand why. Repeated plays find it holding up strong. The scoop: this is the first time Garcia Peoples unfurled “One Step Behind” as a full ensemble including member Tom Malach’s father, the noted saxophonist Bob Malach, who has played with The Stylistics, Stevie Wonder, Miles, Arto Lindsay and many more. His blowing is on the studio version, heard on the album named after it from last year (released eight days after this show, in fact) but it was overdubbed. Everybody’s in synch here, and this version is nearly 20 minutes longer. If you dig the sharper moments of the Dead circa the early to mid-’70s, are amenable to saxophone, and own a working tape deck, this should pull your chain. A-

Celia Hollander, “Recent Futures EP” (Leaving) Formerly known as $3.33, L.A.-based composer Hollander works with “audio, scores, performance, installation and text,” and on “Recent Futures” she offers six pieces each with a “different type of temporal movement.” She includes a description of each on her Bandcamp page, though rather than listing them here I’ll simply observe that the uniqueness of each is apparent, but that Hollander still achieves a unified experience (I’ll stop short of saying flow) across this set, which is available on aqua glass blue vinyl in an edition of 250 copies tucked into a metallic red foil debossed jacket. Of course, the unity of which I speak is partly due to the cohesiveness of her interaction with electronics, but there is a discerning edginess bringing things together nicely. A-

Ross McHenry, Nothing Remains Unchanged (First Word) On his fourth release for UK label First Word, Australian composer and electric bassist McHenry leads a quartet that, while inextricably tied to post-bop, exudes a thoroughly contemporary atmosphere, and without straining for the up to date. This is partly achieved through a higher level of energy than what’s heard on a typical new straight-ahead jazz release, while still keeping two fingers on the pulse of Modern Jazz. The fact that McHenry is plugged in to an amp might lead you to expect some fusion-like twists, but I don’t really hear it; the electric model does encourage a litheness that surely enhances the music’s intensity, however. The danger with folks who play fast is that they also play too much, but that’s not an issue with McHenry.

Matthew Sheens’ piano in “Processional” diverts a bit from the post-bop template, but to rewarding result. Eric Harland is a kit monster without overwhelming his bandmates, and saxophonist Ben Wendel is clearly Coltrane influenced (Sheens dishes a few Tyner-esque moments, as well) while being his own man. In terms of power moves, “This I Give to You” builds to a climax that could cause free-jazz mavens to snap to attention, but without ever breaking away from the record’s stylistic thrust. That ten-minute track is Nothing Remains Unchanged’s centerpiece and would’ve served as a fine closer, but instead, the group throws a curveball of finality with the almost pop-jazz grooving of “Highway Morning.” All this and a cover design reminiscent of ECM.  Well done. A-

Treesearch, Know More Knowledge (577) This CD is the handiwork of violinist Keir GoGwilt and bassist Kyle Motl, the duo working at the intersection of avant-jazz, free-improv and robust modern classical. If you, the erudite reader, find those styles appealing, this one’s a near cinch to satisfy, but we should remark a bit on the pair’s choice of moniker and how it impacts the proceedings overall. The name obviously refers to the album’s featured instruments, both made of wood (and matched with strings), but it also relates to the constant sense of the organic that’s on display as these dozen tracks (ten on the CD) unfold. Occasionally these genres, alone and in combination, can brandish an aura that’s decidedly severe. That’s alright by me. But while there are a few hairy moments here, the whole is much more about beauty, and I’d say that’s something we need right now. Superb interaction all-around. A

V/A, América Invertida (Vampisoul / Little Butterfly) The music on this compilation (available on LP and CD, though there doesn’t appear to be a digital option) derives from Uruguay in the 1980s, and is classified by the co-labels as “leftfield pop and experimental folk.” But as the 11 selections unfold additional elements surface, including a jazz fusion-like dive from Hugo Jasa. Frankly, that’s not my favorite moment here, though Jasa’s other entry reminded me more of ’80s audiophile art-pop (for some reason, Mick Karn sprung to mind). But most of this collection fits the stylistic billing quite well (I rate the gal-voxed cuts as the strongest), and it’s a definite eye-opener that’s largely pleasant to the ear. I’d say that fans of Luaka Bop’s Brazilian releases will find this baby to be of interest. B+

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