Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
June 2020, Part Two

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Daniel Carter, Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Gerald Cleaver, Welcome Adventure! Vol. 1 (577) This label, co-founded by the multi-horn man on this record Daniel Carter, is simply not holding back in the frequency of their release schedule. As my prior enthusiasms in the virtual pages of this website will attest, I’m flat-out overjoyed, and have grown to anticipate the steady flow. But still, when news of this set hit my inbox, I was stunned to an almost spit-take level, and that’s specifically due to the players involved. It’s out today in a choice of standard black vinyl, CD and digital, with a cloudy clear wax edition of 100 available directly from the label or the artists. Bluntly, to describe the assembled contributors as a supergroup borders on understatement.

But supergroup is a rock term that often historically denotes underperformance or dysfunction, so it’s better to simply relate that jazz records rarely offer lineups that are this stacked in an “All-Star” sense (but the reality is thousands of jazz recordings are loaded with top-to-bottom talent). In fact, I immediately thought of the group that produced Jazz at Massey Hall (that’s Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach), though the differences are considerable and it only took a few seconds to shake off the comparison. Listening to the music here drove home how Welcome Adventure! is a direct byproduct of long relationships forged inside the NYC avant-jazz scene, a community that these men have played a major role in defining, reaching back to the 1970s. Bassist extraordinaire Parker and Carter, who plays tenor sax, trumpet and flute here, have created together the longest, with recorded documentation dating to the mid-’70s.

Those two really got the ball rolling in the late ’80s and early ’90s, which is when pianist Shipp made his big splash on the scene. Detroit native Cleaver is the youngest, but his discography is immense, as great drummers are consistently in demand. Let’s expand upon that; drummers possessing Cleaver’s level of sensitivity are reliably invited to play gigs and sessions, and this scenario extends to everybody involved, as they’ve made a ton of music and have indeed done so together before, though this is their first studio album as a quartet (I’m chuffed it’s not the last). Now, Parker, Shipp and Cleaver have been on record a few times, and the interactions here (a long track followed by a shorter one on side one and a side-long piece on the flip) can recall some of their work on the terrific Aum Fidelity label. Here, this means a deep connection to the avant scene unfolding for big stretches in a non-harried manner that can perhaps be described as post-Loft scene. So much talent, so much beauty, so little ego. Outstanding. A

Brigid Mae Power, Head Above The Water (Fire) This is the third full-length for Galway, Ireland’s Power, after two nice ones for the Tompkins Square label. Co-produced by Alasdair Roberts with Power and her frequent collaborator Peter Broderick, Head Above the Water certainly fulfills the label’s promise of country meets trad folk, but the record is so much more, which given her prior work isn’t a shocker, though the breadth and intensity are striking all the same. There is a psychedelic Brit folk quality that shines especially bright in “I Was Named After You,” but is to varying degrees pervasive throughout the ten tracks. The playing is excellent, featuring Roberts and Broderick on assorted instruments, plus Stevie Jones on upright bass amongst others and of course Power’s guitars, mellotron and mellotron organ, but the strongest component is her singing, which enhances said Brit folk atmosphere while favoring forcefulness over fragility; her surname is appropriate. A

-(16)-, Dream Squasher (Relapse) This San Diego-based sludge outfit has been at it now for 29 years, which is a long time for any band to exist, never mind exist without sucking. Well, -(16)- don’t suck, and that they play sludge metal increases the rarity. You may read that as anti-metal bias, though it’s more related to a difficulty in creative stamina in heavy-extreme styles in general (hardcore, noise-rock, and yes, metal). Gravitating toward the artier and experimental side of the spectrum can help prolong a level of quality, but in still sounding good, -(16)- don’t do that. This is to say, Dream Squasher is a pretty straightforward sludge excursion; the use of found spoken sources throughout helps the record to stand out a bit, but it’s a well-worn trope that reinforces the band’s age. That guitarist Bobby Ferry is singing lead for the first time might have something to do with why I’m digging this a bit more than their prior album Lifespan of a Moth from 2016. “Me and the Dog Die Together” is an early highlight. B+

Bruce Brubaker & Max Cooper, Glassforms (InFiné Music) Pianist Bruce Brubaker is noted as an uncommonly sensitive performer of Philip Glass’ works, a talent which extends to other composers including John Cage, Terry Riley, Alvin Curran, and Meredith Monk, with whom he has collaborated. He’s also engaged with a handful of distinguished electronic artists, of which former biologist Max Cooper is one (others include Plain, Akufen, and Francesco Tristano). For this experimental post-modern expansive rethink of Glass’ compositions, which is fresh out digitally with an LP and CD to follow on July 3, Cooper conceived a new system (alongside software developer Alexander Randon) that allowed Brubaker and himself expressive possibilities through coding that reached beyond the standard tools of composition.

In short, Brubaker’s piano gets transformed into new forms that in turn impact the synth playing on stage; commissioned by and introduced at the Paris Philharmonie in 2019, Brubaker plays the acoustic grand piano and controls synths while Cooper “modulates and augments” and occasionally adds his own melodies. By extension, Brubaker and Cooper also add a series of their own preludes, five in all, a maneuver which aids the flow of these pieces, which are rooted in Glass compositions spanning from 1982 (“Opening,” from Glassworks) to 2002 (“The Hours,” from Glass’ score to the film of the same name). The results are often pretty and at a few points verge on tranquil, though the electronic elements keep the progression from getting sedate. The selections ultimately blend into one long piece, or at least they do to me, as I’m not very well-versed in Glass’ output post-1980, and before it’s all over there are passages of sizable wildness and intensity. An experiment both ambitious and successful. A-

Camille Delean, Cold Home Burning (New Habitat / E-Tron) Montreal-based Camille Delean’s debut Music on the Grey Mile came out in 2017, but I missed that one. This is her sophomore effort, and as on her first set, she writes and sings the songs, with the instrumentation handled by a crack gang of Canadians. It’s noted that this disc cohered through a time of extended near seclusion (predating our own periods of the same), and the overall thrust reflects it. The PR describes Cold Home Burning as somber, and well, yeah. I also agree that it stops short of miserablist, pretty far short, actually. Instead, it coheres into solid accompaniment for staying home alone. That’s nice. As it unwinds, what sticks out is the worthiness of the songs and the strength of Delean’s voice; as vibrant as the playing can be, she’s never overtaken by it. The track “Medicine Morning” is especially stirring. Like her debut, this one is available on vinyl and CD. If your own quarantine is extending, it’d make a fine addition to the shelf. A-

Dive Index, Waving at Airplanes (Neutral Music) Dive Index is the electronic project of composer-producer Will Thomas, an extended collaborative song-based affair with multiple performers, mostly vocalists, including Nathalie Walker and Merz, both of whom contributed to Dive Index’s 2007 debut Mid/Air and return here. This is the fifth full-length for Dive Index, a reality suggesting patience and durability as I confess that this album serves as my introduction to the whole shebang. A few spins made it apparent that Thomas is a strong songwriter, with Walker singing six of the album’s tracks and Merz handling five. After a couple more plays, I was slightly favoring the cuts with Walker’s vocals, but then additional time spent had things essentially evening out. While Thomas’ work is ultimately pop-oriented, I hesitate to apply the term, lest folk think Dive Index is just more synth-pop. There’s an appealing moodiness across this set that elevates the whole and helps to distinguish it in genre terms. A-

Exhumed / Gruesome, “Twisted Horror” (Relapse) Not a collab but a split EP, with San Jose, CA vets Exhumed (having formed in 1990) dishing three songs and Miami, FL’s relatively youthful Gruesome (springing to action in 2014) offering two. While both outfits are accurately categorized as death metal in comportment, Exhumed have a slight edge in the pure speed department; Gruesome are at times quite rapid as well, but they do emphasize riff-chug and tempo changes a little more along with an increase in the vocally guttural. As the band names sorta indicate and the EP’s title unambiguously drives home, horror and gore themes are front and center. Not that I’m paying that much attention to the imagery here. You may think that’s odd, but hey, I watch Mario Bava movies for the mise-en-scène. Altogether two evenly matched bands.  B+/ B+

Amariam Hamadalher, “Music from Saharan WhatsApp 05” (Sahel Sounds) This column has relaxed the guidelines a little to include a few digital-only releases, many of them benefits, but also killer items like this one, the fifth in this series by Sahel Sounds for 2020 that’s essentially an outgrowth of their prior initiative Music from Saharan Cellphones (sayeth the label: “Bluetooth highway is no longer, long live WhatsApp.”). What’s here is not just digital-only, but only available for a month; these four tracks by Hamadalher were recorded to cellphone on May 19. She’s a Tuareg guitarist from a village near Agadez, Niger, noted as being the first and only woman guitarist in the region. On May 20, the music was uploaded to Bandcamp, where it remains as a name your price download until June 20, then it disappears and is replaced by 06. Missing the first four installments has pissed me the fuck off, but this one is a doozy. Anybody into Tuareg guitar will want to grab it and keep eyes peeled for what’s next. A-

Teddy Thompson, Heartbreaker Please (Thirty Tigers) Thompson has been recording since the first year of our current new century, debuting with a self-titled effort for Virgin. Heartbreaker Please is his sixth album (not counting Little Windows, a 2015 collab with Kelly Jones), and it finds him hanging out in the territory between late ’70s-early ’80s pop-rock-isms (this aspect is reflected in the album’s sleeve design) and the singer-songwriter part of town. That he doesn’t succumb to standard form moves might have something to do with his parents being Richard and Linda Thompson, though as Teddy often favors an unstrained blue eyed soul sensibility, and right off the bat in opener “Why Wait,” he doesn’t remind me of his dad, either. But he does have a something of a neo-’50s inclination, expressed most explicitly on penultimate track “It’s Not Easy,” that reminded me of his folks’ participation in The Bunch. The big diff is that The Bunch’s Rock On is comprised of covers, while Teddy’s album is ten solid originals. B+

Under The Reefs Orchestra, s/t (Capitane) This Belgium band has an orchestra-sized sound, though they are in reality a trio that formed around the compositions and playing of guitarist Clement Nourry; he is joined by Louis Evrard on drums and Marti Melia on sax and bass, and the sound is decidedly post-rocky, sans vocals and with a significant jazz inclination, that reminds me more of art-rock than fusion; less immediately palpable but surely there are strands of psychedelia, European folk, and classical. Now, this is a large bite to chew for what’s essentially a debut album, though this record is not only rooted in Nourry as a composer and player, but extends to some degree from his actual solo work; in 2016 he released a CD on the Cheap Satanism imprint titled Under the Reefs (one composition, “Le naufrage” the finale on this LP, is also found on the prior effort, though in a markedly different version).

Like a lot of post-rock (after time spent I feel this album is accurately encapsulated by the designation) the playing is highly adroit but without indulging the urge to prove it to the listener via gratuitous flashiness (or even subtler displays of technical virtuosity). What I’m saying is, while it’s clear all three can play, establishing this fact is not their intent. Instead, there’s a desire to illuminate the diversity of influence and compositional fortitude, which is again a very post-rock objective. And hey, one more alignment with post-rock is in how the contents of this record are less inclined to rip your wig off (figuratively speaking) and more into accumulating appreciation over time. However, there are impressive moments throughout, many of them courtesy of Nourry, and in unexpected ways. Specifically, at various points I’m reminded of guitarist Chuck Johnson’s Shark Quest, but only modestly, as Evrard and Melia help establish currents of jazz-tinged distinctiveness.  A very promising effort. B+

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