Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
July 2021, Part Five

Part five of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for July 2021. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, and part four is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Ruth Mascelli, A Night at the Baths (Disciples) This the solo debut from New Orleans-based Mascelli, who’s noted as part of Special Interest, an outfit, unheard by me, that’s tagged as a combo of no wave, glam, and industrial, frankly very enticing, but right now there’s this LP to consider, which is described as progressing from Mascelli’s electronically focused output as Psychic Hotline (that I’ve also not heard). To elaborate, A Night at the Baths is inspired by techno, acid house and ambient, with Mascelli explaining further that the album is an “audio diary” of their experiences in “various bathhouses, dark rooms, and gay clubs” while touring with Special Interest and traveling alone. Crafted so that each track is representative of an individual room or space, parts of this, such as opener “Sauna” and “Libidinal Surplus,” unfurled about how I expected (both are dancefloor thumpers), but as Mascelli is skilled and inventive, that’s in no way a negative. Other cuts, such as the spacy “Hydrotherapy” and the ’70s surrealism of “Missing Men,” divert from the anticipated very nicely. A-

koleżanka, Place Is (Bar/None) Brooklyn-based Kristina Moore used to be in Triathalon, but she’s currently devoting herself exclusively to this project, writing and singing the songs and playing the guitar as Ark Calkins assists on bass and drums. koleżanka can be tagged as art-pop, though the sound moves around a good bit, ranging from dreamy to electronics-tinged (synths and a drum machine are involved) to even soulful. A few of her songs thrive on directness suggesting that in a better world, they’d be hits, specifically early track “$40.” Moore has a powerful voice well-suited for the foreground as she delivers the occasional high-note flourish, but she seems more invested in making her album instrumentally interesting, which is admirable, even as the songs don’t always end up where I’d prefer them. The key is that she avoids bad decisions. But “Vegan Sushi,” which reminds me of Stereolab, could’ve lasted for another four minutes (it’s over in under two and half, waaaa), and lands in a highly enjoyable place. Strong for a debut, and very smart. B+

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Obits, Die at the Zoo (Outer Battery) Featuring singing guitarists Rick Froberg and Sohrab Habibion, bassist Greg Simpson and drummer Alexis Fleisig (who replaced Scott Gursky in 2011), Brooklyn’s Obits broke up in 2015, with their final studio album Bed and Bugs released two years prior. This live recording (a dozen songs on the vinyl, with the full 15 offered via accompanying download) captures a long set from Brisbane, Australia in 2012, and it’s a sharp, energetic affair. Before Obits, Froberg was in San Diego stalwarts Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes, as Habibion and Fleisig were members of DC’s Edsel, credits that highlight a background in both post-hardcore and beefy garage-punkish rock with a touch of the Stooges thrown in. In 2021, this guitar-centric and rhythmically hefty sound is quite welcome, and that it derives from a band of savvy vets makes it even better. That Outer Battery didn’t just dump this on wax by shaving off the last three tracks is indicative of the overall quality; ‘tis also a very attractive thing, on yellow wax (the pink is sold out). A-

Kippie Moketsi & Hal Singer, Blue Stompin’ (We Are Busy Bodies / The Sun) South African saxophonist Moketsi was a groundbreaking member of the Jazz Epistles alongside Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, and Jonas Gwangwa. US saxophonist Singer played in the bands of Jay McShann, Oran “Hot Lips” Page, Roy Eldridge and many others, and in 1959 Singer cut an LP for Prestige with Charlie Shavers’ band titled Blue Stompin’, its opening composition also commencing this album, played in 1974 while Singer was in South Africa on a State Department tour. It the best of the four tracks on this reissue of an LP originally released in ’77 by The Sun label. It’s also the only cut to feature Singer, just so you know. The other selections by Moketsi’s band, if not quite as strong, are worthwhile enough to make this a desirable item. Note that as of this writing, there are 14 remaining for purchase on Bandcamp (copies are also available in stores). Moketsi opens “Blue Stompin’” wonderfully, all by himself. The full band’s groove thereafter is a swank reminder that Singer hit #1 on the R&B chart in 1948 with “Corn Bread.”  A-

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Graded on a Curve: Tobacco City,
Tobacco City, USA

Tobacco City is the handle used by at least a couple of shops dedicated to the sale of all things legally smokable, but it’s also the name of a band form Chicago, and don’tcha just know it, their country-infused sound harkens back to the days when the air in bars was thick with secondhand carcinogens. Not that the five-piece’s debut is a mere retro trip. No, it plants its shovel deep in the fertile soil of lightly psych-kissed country-rock and pulls up eight mineral-rich tunes, many with sweet guy-gal harmonies that should warm the cockles of anybody with an unquenchable thirst for the brilliance of Gram and Emmylou. Tobacco City, USA is out July 30 on LP and digital via Scissor Tail Records.

Tobacco City consists of vocalist-guitarists Lexi Goddard and Chris Coleslaw, bassist-vocalist Eliza Weber, drummer Josh Condon, and pedal steel specialist Nick Usalis. Across the eight songs that tidily comprise Tobacco City, USA, the members click together with impressive proficiency for a first album. Although they have been together for a few years, it hasn’t been with this exact lineup, as the initial impetus was to play a Halloween gig as a Neil Young cover band.

That’s a fine platform from which to emerge, but Tobacco City has far surpassed that modest objective with growth that’s apparent straight away through the album’s opener and digital single “Blue Raspberry,” the band hitting a relaxed zone that connects as perfectly suited for recuperation after a late night’s early sunshiny morning.

Goddard and Coleslaw’s voices blend together with vibrant echo and then further intermingle with the siren swells of pedal steel, but the real kicker is how the bedrock of strummed guitar and drums expands the cut’s usefulness beyond simple accompaniment for extended couch lazing, meaning “Blue Raspberry” is as appropriate for preparing to ramp it up as it is for gently coming down.

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Graded on a Curve: Toomorrow Original Soundtrack

Olivia Newton-John remains well-known for a string of ’70s-’80s hits and for her starring roles in Grease, a box office smash, and the roller-disco musical Xanadu, a commercial and critical disappointment in its day that has subsequently acquired cult status. But before all that, young Olivia was part of Toomorrow, a group assembled by Harry Saltzman and Don Kirshner to star in a sci-fi R&R musical film of the same name. That the movie persists as essentially a footnote in the career of Newton-John is reflective of its quality. As for the soundtrack, which is coming out on vinyl July 30 through Real Gone, it also falls far short of a classic, but with numerous points of interest, which we’ll consider below.

Let’s begin with Don Kirshner, the music publisher, songwriter, producer, manager, and talent coordinator whose biggest credit is as a guiding hand in the formation of The Monkees, though he was also responsible for cartoon pop group The Archies. Swinging over to rock seriousness, Kirshner’s eponymous record label featured lite-progsters Kansas, who, in a startling conflict of interest, once performed on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.

In attempting to extend his good fortune with The Archies (a rebound after being jettisoned from involvement with The Monkees) by reaching into the realms of motion pictures, Kirshner’s partnership with Harry Saltzman was a savvy move. This is specifically due to Saltzman co-producing (along with Albert “Cubby” Broccoli) the first nine James Bond films, a string that was still in progress as Toomorrow was taking shape.

Although some will harrumph at the notion, putting together a group not just to make records but to star as that group in films (yes, plural, as a series was apparently the objective) is an idea with potential for positive returns. But conversely, things could go horribly awry. That didn’t really happen in this case, as the music of Toomorrow is underwhelming but largely listenable. As the album is a soundtrack, a handful of instrumental middle-or-the-road-isms bring a wild unevenness to the affair; those approaching the record with Newton-John as primary point of interest will likely get the fidgets.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
July 2021, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for July 2021. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Anika, Change (Sacred Bones) Anika is the recording and performance moniker of British-German musician Annika Henderson, who is probably best known for her self-titled full-length debut from 2010, a record that featured three members of Beak>, including Geoff Burrow (also of Portishead). Although recordings have been plentiful since (EPs, singles, guest spots, the band Exploded View, longer collabs including with techno producer Dave Clarke and more recently Shackleton), this is her proper follow-up to Anika, and its nine tracks are thoroughly inspired. As Change combines electronic textures (she is currently based in Berlin) with rock muscularity and edge (specifically post-punk and ’90s Alternative), that this record lacks any serious missteps is borderline extraordinary. Another big plus is how Anika’s socially conscious lyrics avoid the trite, which shouldn’t be surprising as prior to music she was a political journalist. Uninitiated listeners into PJ Harvey and Jehnny Beth should investigate, though Anika is firmly in command of her own musical voice. A-

Celia Hollander, Timekeeper (Leaving) Prior to putting out music under her full name (of which this is her second release, following last year’s “Recent Futures” EP, also on Leaving), Los Angeles-based electro-acoustic composer Hollander used the moniker $3.33 for a handful of releases, mostly on cassette and digital. But Timekeeper is on vinyl (as was “Recent Futures”), either on limited black (400) and even more limited temporal blue (100), and it’ll be of particular interest to listeners attuned to experimentation that’s methodically rendered. Each of the dozen tracks has a time of day for a title, as Hollander has set out to chart how energetic and emotional fluctuations form a sense of time that’s in constant flux. Utilizing acoustic recordings and digital synthesis, there are three compositional types here: temporal fields (which are expansive and unpredictable), waves (swelling momentums), or ropes (singular linearity). As the record plays, it is surely ascertainable which compositions are which, but the progress is never transitionally jarring. To the contrary, thematic cohesiveness is abundant. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Alice Coltrane, Kirtan: Turiya Sings (Impulse! /UMe) Aficionados of the late and very great keyboardist, composer, bandleader and teacher Alice Coltrane might know of Turiya Sings, the extremely rare collection of devotional music she recorded in 1982. It was released on cassette in a small number by the Avatar Book Institute after Coltrane fulfilled her Warners contract and essentially retired from the commercial music scene. But this is not that tape. Indeed, Turiya Sings has never been officially reissued (it has been bootlegged and unsurprisingly circulates online; originals are expensive). However, Kirtan: Turiya Sings does derive from the same period, and in fact offers the same songs in the same sequence, but with Coltrane singing and playing Wurlitzer organ only (the ’82 release version added synthesizer and strings). It’s been a long time since I listened to Turiya Sings, and while I considered seeking it out for a compare and contrast, the warmth and beauty of this set brought on a quick reevaluation of my priorities. Another layer of Alice Coltrane brilliance is revealed. A

The Gun Club, Fire of Love Deluxe Edition (Blixa Sounds) Originally released in 1981, Fire of Love stands as The Gun Club’s finest record. I’ve already opined enthusiastically on its contents for this website in a full review easily findable by searching the archives, but this set delivers an extremely worthwhile expansion, though the specifics differ a little by format. Blixa Sound’s 2LP pairs the original album with the never before released live set from Club 88 on March 6, 1981. The 2CD sequences five alternate versions and five four-track demos (all ten previously unreleased) after the album’s 11 selections on the first disc and drops the live show onto the second. But the vinyl includes a download with the CD’s extras, so fret not; you’ll get to hear it all. And it’s a cinch that any fan of this band will want to spend quality time with whole shebang, as those versions and demos are totally worthy and the live set, with good sound, truly rips. Featuring Jeffrey Lee Pierce in prime form and produced by Chris D., the core album is a potent batch of twisted roots magnificence, an essential part of any punk collection. A+

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Graded on a Curve:
Blue Glass,
Jardin des Étoiles

Seattle’s Blue Glass is headed by Michael Shunk, his outfit having debuting in 2019 with the album Pale Mirror. It was a set undeniably impacted by UK goings on between 30 to 40 years’ time ago (you know, the 1980s), and its contents remain solidly likeable. But with Jardin des Étoiles, Shunk’s approach has undertaken a considerable detour, specifically into ambient territory. This is by no means a complete break from his prior work however, as guitar remains part of the design. Available now digitally, the limited edition (500 copies on double orange wax) ships out August 6 through the Two Roads label.

In giving Pale Mirror a short review a little over two years ago in this very column, I was impressed, if not blown away, by Michael Shunk’s adeptness at conjuring the moodier side of the ’80s Brit post-punk experience while maintaining urgency and heft, and with better than average songs. Cited influences included The Smiths, New Order, and Durutti Column, though sticking out to my ear was The Cure and The Church (who I realize aren’t from the UK, but neither are The Chills, who also made that list of influences). Also, in the drowsy near-rasp of Shunk’s voice, Pale Mirror recalled the Psychedelic Furs.

But what a difference a pandemic can make. There will be no comparisons to Richard Butler this time out, as Jardin des Étoiles is a record without vocals. The scoop is that after Covid scuttled a West Coast tour, Shunk opted for a shift of gears into what’s described as a meditative, healing zone, as he took additional inspiration from the films of director Chris Marker (La Jetee, A.K., A Grin Without a Cat, Take Five, One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich) and Shunk’s son’s interest in the stars up above (the album’s title translates to Garden of the Stars).

The impact of Marker, who is frankly one of the greatest of all filmmakers, and in particular Shunk’s love of the masterful essay film Sans Soleil, is a promising sign that Jardin des Étoiles will unfold with positivity. And for that matter, so is taking inspiration from a childhood fascination with galaxies in the night sky (very relatable, as I shared this interest as a youth).

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Graded on a Curve: Dolphin Midwives,
Body of Water

Dolphin Midwives is the recording and performance moniker of Portland, OR-based harpist, vocalist, sound artist, and composer Sage Fisher. Her chosen instrument might lead the uninitiated to anticipate ornate cascades of gorgeous pluck, but woah there, partner; while not lacking in glistening strings, Fisher’s latest gravitates toward the realms of contemporary experimental pop. Huh? But as the record unwinds, the inviting unusualness of its contents make it clear that Fisher hasn’t neglected her strengths. That’s nice. Available digitally, on CD and on either black or limited (100 copies, signed and numbered by Fisher) transparent aqua blue 140-gram vinyl, Body of Water is out now via Beacon Sound.

The cassette Orchid Milk was Dolphin Midwives’ first release, coming out in 2016 in an edition of 100 copies on the Obsolete Media Objects label, though it is Liminal Garden, which arrived early in 2019, that is designated as the project’s debut studio album. Body of Water, produced with Tucker Martine, is its boldly conceived follow-up.

Fisher has been additionally busy since the release of Orchid Milk, with her installation Naturaphones, which featured “large-scale interactive acoustic sculptures, ambient performance, and sculptural prototypes,” culminating a six-month residency for the Pacific Northwest College of Art and the Oregon College of Art & Craft. She also formed Dröna Choir in 2017 to realize invisibility ritual, her choral work intended to be performed on the new moon and in complete darkness.

That sounds like the makings of a good time, but it’s Fisher’s 2018 sound art performance/ installation Break: preparations for the apocalypse that’s most pertinent to Body of Water, as “Break,” with lyrics indeed referencing the apocalypse, is the album’s sixth track out of a dozen, standing as a mid-way point showcase that mingles experimental pop qualities, and the pleasantness of Fisher’s singing in particular, with the breadth of ambition that helps to define sound art. “Break” travels a considerable sonic distance, from jungle war ambience giving way to an enveloping vocal swirl, and all in just five minutes.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
July 2021, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for July 2021. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Sarah Wilson, Kaleidoscope (Brass Tonic) The music of composer, trumpeter, and singer Sarah Wilson is new to me, as I was drawn to check out this CD, her third, due to the participation of pianist Myra Melford. I’m thankful that Wilson keeps good company, for Kaleidoscope is a total gem that resists tidy encapsulation. First off, there’s the distinctive instrumental makeup of Wilson’s horn, Charles Burnham’s violin, John Schott’s guitar, Melford’s piano, Jerome Harris’ bass, and Matt Wilson’s drums, and ensemble play that’s highly skilled yet warm and playful. Second, is the record’s reality as a tribute to numerous mentors, including Melford. This doesn’t portend a relaxed atmosphere, but that’s just what unwinds across 11 Wilson compositions and a cover of M. Ward’s “Lullaby + Exile.” Third, is that Wilson fortifies a jazz foundation with pastoral elements, a calypso twist, and graceful pop turns, with the piano-based vocal beauty “Young Woman” a standout. That Wilson’s musical journey eludes norms echoes the music’s transcendence of boundaries and strengthens its unforced positivity. A

A Place To Bury Strangers, “Hologram” EP (Dedstrange) Formed in 2002 and based in Brooklyn, A Place to Bury Strangers has been shaped by numerous hands, but with vocalist and guitarist Oliver Ackermann a constant since 2003. With this 5-song EP, he inaugurates a fresh lineup with John Fedowitz on bass and Sandra Fedowitz on drums, and their handiwork is raucous and shoegazey, as befits the band’s reputation. To expand a bit, APTBS (as is the common abbreviation) have been described as “the loudest band in New York,” and listening to their stuff, it’s never been difficult to comprehend this claim. The records jut sound loud as fuck, even when played at reasonable volume. The distortion is also thicker than what’s heard on many other shoegaze affiliated albums (Ackermann is noted for designing guitar pedals through his company Death by Audio), which is a big point in their favor, as is songwriting that continues to remind me of The Jesus and Mary Chain. But what’s maybe most impressive is how inspired this new lineup sounds so deep into the band’s existence. A total keeper. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller, In Harmony (Resonance) Trumpeter-flugelhornist Hargrove and pianist Miller are primarily associated with post-bop, and particularly with the style’s reemergence in the 1980s, this return growing into a movement that was soon tagged as neo-traditionalist jazz. And I’ll confess that the neo-trad scene has never really been my forte, partly due to my love of free jazz and associated subgenres. Post-bop has additionally been a major part of my jazz diet, but I’ve tended to gravitate toward the originators and the vastness of their output, of which dozens of albums remain that I’ve yet to hear. But there’s really no denying the richness of these live recordings from 2006-’07, as they feature just Hargrove and Miller, the duo configuration magnifying their interactive skills and also their taste, as they deliver a dozen interpretations (there is only one original, Hargrove’s “Blues for Mr. Hill,” a highlight) on 2LP for RSD and on 2CD, with the whole documenting a shared passion for their chosen artform. Up to Resonance’s usual standard? You bet. A

Joseph Spence, Encore: Unheard Recordings of Bahamian Guitar and Singing (Smithsonian Folkways) The music of the great Bahamian guitarist and vocalist Joseph Spence is brilliant, but not exactly plentiful; beginning in 1958, his sessions and live performances were issued by Folkways, Elektra, Arhoolie, and Rounder, totaling six LPs (excluding compilations). Highly influential yet impossible to duplicate, any new recordings by Spence are cause for celebration, so get ready to whoop and holler as this set (CD out July 16 with the vinyl scheduled for October) offers material captured impeccably in New York and Nassau in the Bahamas by engineer and producer Peter Siegel (who is also responsible for the contents of Smithsonian Folkways’ recent release Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton). While the songs aren’t as flowing and infectious as the stuff he cut in ’58 for Folkways, this is still prime Spence, offering distinct versions of well-known tunes (notably “Bimini Gal”), two new songs and vocals from the Pindar Family (including Spence’s sister Edith). Altogether, one of 2021’s sweetest surprises. A

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Graded on a Curve: Charles Mingus,
Mingus At Carnegie Hall Deluxe Edition

Bassist, composer and bandleader Charles Mingus is an eternal jazz heavyweight, but with the release of Mingus At Carnegie Hall Deluxe Edition, his stature, and more specifically his late-career potency, has been given a boost, as the set expands the severely truncated initial single LP drawn from the January 19, 1974 concert, now offering the complete performance on two compact discs via Rhino Records, released on June 11 to coincide with Black Music Month, and on triple vinyl through Run Out Groove, available July 16. Soaking up the entirety of the evening is to luxuriate in the footprint of this giant of 20th century music as realized by his stellar sextet and guests, including Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Although on the original album cover as replicated by this edition, Mingus’ group is listed as pianist Don Pullen, tenor saxophonist George Adams, baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett, and drummer Dannie Richmond, this seems to repeat an error of omission in concert promoter Art Weiner’s opening remarks, as he momentarily forgets to mention trumpeter Jon Faddis and begins his introduction by describing the evening as divided into two parts, the first featuring Mingus’ quintet and the second expanding the quintet with guests for a jam session (Faddis is part of the band for the whole performance, however).

Atlantic extends Weiner’s error on the cover by crediting Faddis as a guest alongside saxophonists John Handy, Charles McPherson, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who also plays the stritch. While opening this review by emphasizing Weiner’s mistake might not be a particularly auspicious beginning, rest assured that Mingus At Carnegie Hall Deluxe Edition is an utter gem, with the exquisite mayhem of the original LP sweetly intensified by the context of the evening’s progressions.

It’s also worthwhile to highlight Faddis as part of the sextet, as this particular Mingus group is a vibrant representation of jazz music’s stylistic breadth. Bluiett, Adams, and Pullen are all affiliated with the avant-garde, but to varying degrees, with Pullen having recorded in duo with Milford Graves and on Giuseppi Logan’s two ESP-Disk albums in the ’60s, and Bluiett co-founding the Black Artists Group in St. Louis (roughly comparable to Chicago’s AACM) in the late ’60s, and later in the ’70s, the World Saxophone Quartet.

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Graded on a Curve: William Tyler
and Luke Schneider, “Understand”

Based in Los Angeles by way of Nashville, guitarist and songwriter William Tyler is well-known for his contributions to Lambchop and Silver Jews, and more recently for a string of ambitious instrumental solo albums. On the 4-song EP “Understand,” he collaborates with pedal steel ace Luke Schneider, who currently hangs his hat in Nashville with credits including Margo Price, Caitlin Rose, and Orville Peck, and with a budding solo career of his own. A tidy and fresh mingling of ambient and Krautrock influences, “Understand” is available on limited edition cassette (250 copies) and digital July 12 through Leaving Records.

Although “Understand” was recorded in one day in a Nashville studio during the pandemic 2020, the collaborative fruits of William Tyler and Luke Schneider run deep, as the latter lends his skills to the former’s second and third full-length solo records, specifically 2013’s Impossible Truth and ’16’s Modern Country, both terrific, and additionally, the no less nifty EP “Lost Colony,” which dates from 2014, all three released by Merge.

There are a few moments across Tyler’s discography that forecast the direction the duo has taken on “Understand,” but the primary artifact of precedent is Schneider’s solo debut, Alter of Harmony, released by Third Man a year ago last May, with all of its sounds made by Schneider on a 1967 Emmons Push/Pull pedal steel guitar.

That Schneider goes it alone rather than basking in the spotlight accompanied by a band might read as an unusual choice for a pedal steel guitarist, but then again, after learning that Alter of Harmony is a New Age album, perhaps not. The best part of the whole scenario is that Schneider, as stated in an article published by Bandcamp last year, was shooting to make a private-press-style New Age record, which means its contents are as edgy and weird as they are meditative and expansive.

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Graded on a Curve:
Albert Ayler,
New Grass

Remembering Albert Ayler, born on July 13 in ’36.Ed.

Although some have managed to expand upon his groundbreaking intensity and flights of abstraction, Albert Ayler is one of the few sui generis figures in the history of jazz. An uncompromising player with only a small following in his lifetime in music, he cut a record in 1968 that initially seemed to satisfy nobody except for (perhaps) Ayler himself. That LP was New Grass, lambasted as a sell-out by those who favored his prior work, while less adventurous listeners weren’t buying. The album has been reevaluated since however, and Third Man has given it a vinyl reissue that’s available now.

I’ve been contributing to this column for over eight years, but until this piece, I haven’t delivered a full review of a record by Albert Ayler, who’s one of my favorite jazzmen, though I have included him in this site’s New In Stores column and in at least one group review. As this omission is remedied, I feel it should be immediately qualified that the term jazzman isn’t necessarily a tidy fit for Ayler’s brilliance.

Albert Ayler was certainly a man whose work falls inside the boundaries of jazz, so calling him a jazzman isn’t in error, but it still might give those unfamiliar with his work the false impression of a figure, sharply decked-out in a classic tailored suit maybe, who excelled at extending, through live gigs and studio sessions, the core tenets of Modern Jazz.

While innovators are surely jazzmen and vice versa, Ayler remains one of the ever-evolving form’s major freedom-seeking iconoclasts. In short, he’s best placed in the avant-jazz category, which means that for long stretches after his death in November 1970 (presumably by suicide, as his body was discovered in the East River of NYC) his music was difficult to obtain. This was especially true at the end of the 1980s, which is when I first learnt of his existence.

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Graded on a Curve:
Lee Hazlewood,
The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes & Backsides
(1968-71)

Remembering Lee Hazlewood, born on July 9, 1929.Ed.

If Lee Hazlewood lingers in the contemporary cultural memory, it’s easily due to his work with Nancy Sinatra. On The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes & Backsides (1968-71), the Light in the Attic label collects a bunch of his post-Nancy collaborations and a welcome helping of his solo shots, and the results are highly recommended not just for Hazlewood’s fans but for anyone with an inclination for well-crafted oddball pop.

Though his music never wavered from its thoroughly commercial designs, Lee Hazelwood was still a truly strange duck. And the undeniable datedness of his work can really add to the overall weirdness factor, though that’s in no way a bad thing; if often possessing production values and orchestrations that are accurately assessed as “middle of the road” (not the same as “mainstream”), his songs almost always avoid falling into simple kitsch.

But Hazlewood was more than just a bizarro/sophisto cowboy that blended Vegas-inclined pop with a country-inflected folksiness both on his own and in a collaboration with Sinatra that still comes off like a Swingin’ ‘60’s reaction to Dolly and Porter. Indeed, while loads of folks are familiar with the string of late-‘50s hits that he produced and co-wrote with Duane Eddy, it’s also true that most of those listeners aren’t cognizant of Hazlewood’s actual involvement with those songs, a short flowering of creativity that stands amongst the finest instrumental rock music ever recorded.

He was also the impresario of Lee Hazlewood Industries, a fleeting subsidiary label of ABC Records. Naturally, a fair portion of LHI’s relatively slim discography is dedicated to its namesake; both his solo album Forty and The Cowboy and the Lady, credited to the duo of Hazlewood and actress Ann-Margret were released in 1969, and Cowboy in Sweden came out the following year. Back around 1999 or so, Steve Shelley’s Smells Like Records began admirably reissuing some of Hazlewood’s harder to find stuff on compact disc. This program included both the Ann-Margret collab and Cowboy in Sweden, but plenty of worthy bits and pieces slipped through the cracks.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
July 2021, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for July 2021. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Les Filles de Illighadad, At Pioneer Works (Sahel Sounds) Six tracks, recorded live in Brooklyn in the Fall of 2019, and it’s an absolute joy, delivering a needed tonic for the heart and mind. Founded in 2016 in the village of Illighadad in Niger by Fatou Seidi Ghali, who is cited as the first Tuareg women to play guitar professionally (she also sings), and vocalist Alamnou Akrouni (also a handy percussionist), Les Filles de Illighadad also features guitarist-percussionist Amaria Hamadalher. Their chosen name translates as The Girls of Illighadad, though on tour (and so it is on this recording), they are joined by Ghali’s brother Abdoulaye Madassane with additional guitar and vocals. That’s beaucoup string bending (and yes, a lot of singing), so fans of Tuareg desert blues will not be disappointed (there are two earlier LPs cut for Sahel Sounds), but what’s especially notable is how the group combines the rhythm-focused music of tende, which is traditionally played by women, with the guitar, as traditionally played by men, meaning this is a living, growing, inspirational sound. Another Sahel Sounds home run. A

Colin Cannon, McGolrick (Infrequent Seams) It’s always a good idea to play some catch-up ball with the wares of Brooklyn’s Infrequent Seams label. This set by guitarist-composer-bandleader Cannon came out in February, but as there is a vinyl option (combined with a CD, download and poster) currently available, coverage, if belated, is still warranted. I’ll confess that prior to listening, the release’s title inspired unshakable visions of a 1970s TV show focused on a tough, possibly rule-breaking, cop, but no, Cannon’s inspiration and articulated theme was his daily reality in a small Brooklyn neighborhood in the days leading up to the pandemic. Musically, Cannon’s influences are pretty wide-ranging, but as the set unwinds, the impact of the cited handful of prog-rock and jazz-fusion heavyweights, while perceptible, shakes out a little differently than expected, which definitely works in the record’s favor. In adding strings and horns to his core band, McGolrick occasionally sounds like, but more often just recalls in terms of ambition, Sufjan Stevens circa Illinois. These similarities are wholly positive. A-

Julian Sartorius, Locked Grooves (-OUS) As the title relates, this is a vinyl release featuring locked grooves, 112 of them in fact, 56 on side one and as many on the flip. There is also a digital version offering all 112 grooves running for exactly one minute each, which is the source for this review. Unlike From Here to Infinity, Lee Ranaldo’s lock groove solo debut from 1987, there is no CD option available. Also, as the creation of one man, a highly skilled drummer playing a prepared kit, this differs from RRRecords’ 100th release (a 7-inch with 100 locked grooves) and 500th release (an LP with 500), which were sourced from various artists in the neighborhood of the noise u-ground circa 1993 and 1998 respectively, with the intent of harnessing a substantial portion of that scene’s essence and diversity. Contrasting, Sartorius’ endeavor is a personal statement. Looked grooves can become rhythmic by their very nature, but this is an extended excursion into multilayered beat loops (which on wax can last as long as one wants), throwing light on Sartorius’ ability and dishing a plethora of possibilities. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Philip Tabane and his Malombo Jazzman, The Indigenous Afro-Jazz Sounds of (We Are Busy Bodies) Here’s a totally worthy reissue of the debut LP by the highly regarded South African guitarist and bandleader. Originally released in 1969 on the Atlantic City label, it was reissued a couple times, once in the ’70s and again a decade later, but until now never outside South Africa. Now, if you’re thinking we are mirroring We Are Busy Bodies’ reproduction of a typo on the cover, that’s incorrect, as the record features Tabane on guitar, pennywhistle and vocals, with Gabriel “Sonnyboy” Thobejane on drums and thumb piano, making the cover exactly right, except that the music diverts from what many listeners will expect when Afro-Jazz is mentioned. It’s also worthy of note that Tabane sets down the guitar and picks up that flute for long stretches here as Thobejane’s thumb piano takes on a very music-boxy quality. But even if this falls outside of expectations, the playing is magnificent, and the contents aren’t easily compared to anything else. It’s also selling out quick, and there is no digital. A-

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Graded on a Curve: VA, The Harmonic Series II

In 2009, Important Records released The Harmonic Series (A Compilation of Musical Works in Just Intonation), a Duane Pitre-curated compact disc with a thematic purpose related with precision inside the parenthesis of its title. In a superb development, on July 30, the label is offering The Harmonic Series II, with this installment’s contents also selected by Pitre, but this time offered as a triple vinyl set with one work per side by Kali Malone, Pitre, Catherine Lamb, Tashi Wada, Byron Westbrook, and Caterina Barbieri. Through a confluence of format and pure compositional brilliance, the results are both intellectually stimulating and emotionally stirring.

Unlike equal temperament, where a musical interval is divided into equal parts, most commonly a group of 12 (i.e., the 12-tone system of tuning utilized by most Western Classical music), just intonation employs whole numbers in the formation of its tonal system, a practice which results in pure (or just) intervals. Unsurprisingly, this presents a textural landscape that is audibly distinct from music that’s built on the principles of equal temperament, and yet it’s no less foundationally sturdy, as just intonation is rooted in traditions (Indian, Persian, East Asian) that span back thousands of years.

Therefore, rather than formidable, just intonation is a doorway swung open onto myriad possibilities for the listener, past, present and future, and with numerous roads leading into the realms of the Drone. And yet for many listeners, the initial exposure to drone music comes through the work of prominent 20th century avant-garde Westerners such as Terry Riley, La Monte Young, and Harry Partch, all of whom composed works in just intonation, though not exclusively.

The list of composers utilizing just intonation includes Karlheinz Stockhausen, Ben Johnston, Lou Harrison, James Tenney, Catherine Christer Hennix, and Kraig Grady. Spanning into the 21st century through the first volume of The Harmonic Series, there is Ellen Fullman, Theresa Wong, Greg Davis, Michael Harrison, R. Keenan Lawler, Pauline Oliveros, Zachary James Watkins, Charles Curtis, and Pitre, who’s also that set’s curator, making him the only return contributor on The Harmonic Series II.

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Graded on a Curve: Eugene McDaniels, Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse

Eugene McDaniels had a long and multifaceted career, but if he sticks in the memory of most folks, it’s due to his pop-R&B hits from the early 1960s as Gene McDaniels (including “One Hundred Pounds of Clay” and “Tower of Strength”), plus the pair of wilder, funkier, protest-themed cult albums he cut for Atlantic in ’70-’71 under his full given name, of which Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse is the second and strongest, and also the angriest. As the source of numerous hip-hop samples in the ’90s (including a couple bona fide classics), that LP belongs in any ’70s soul collection, though only 1,750 people will land a copy of Real Gone’s edition, out July 9, assuming nobody goes gauche and buys themselves two.

In addition to his own recordings, Eugene McDaniels wrote songs made famous by others, most notably “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” a hit for Roberta Flack, and “Compared to What,” a soul jazz smash for Les McCann and Eddie Harris (as a single and on the classic Swiss Movement live LP); the latter song was also waxed by numerous others including Flack as the first single from her ’69 debut First Take.

McDaniels left the USA for Scandinavia in ’68 after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It’s a decision that often sits as a dividing line in synopses of his career, for when he returned to the States and recommenced recording in the early ’70s, going by Eugene and adopting the alternate moniker “The Left Rev McD.,” the contrast couldn’t have been much sharper.

But complicating matters a bit is that “Compared to What,” with its lyrics critical of the war in Vietnam, was copyrighted in 1966 (appearing in a studio version on McCann’s Plays the Hits that year), and it’s also worth noting, particularly because hardly anybody else mentions it in summaries of his career, that McDaniels sang on and co-wrote much of the too often slept on ’69 LP Now!, by the outstanding jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson.

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Graded on a Curve: Blondie, Blondie

Celebrating Debbie Harry on her 76th birthday.Ed.

Any discussion of ‘70s-era pop-rock is incomplete without due time spent on Blondie, and vinyl mavens unversed in their essence can play catch-up in one fell swoop with Universal’s box set of the six LPs from the group’s original run. As no-frills as its title, Blondie offers exact reproductions and absolutely nothing extra; the totality captures the heights and depths of a highly successful and influential band.

If the most commercially solvent entity to emerge from the ‘70s New York City punk/new wave scene, Blondie’s style, at least for a significant portion of their ’75-’82 existence, is most aptly compared to the Ramones. Purists may balk, but honestly I’d be perplexed if by this date on the calendar there are more than a handful of bitter goats clinging to the notion that Blondie were hangers-on or sellouts.

Spearheaded by vocalist Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein and after early personnel changes solidified through keyboardist James Destri, bassist Gary Valentine, and drummer Clem Burke, in December of 1975 Blondie’s self-titled debut appeared via fly-by-night independent Private Stock Records. It didn’t shift many units, but their popularity surged once Chrysalis scooped them up, releasing Plastic Letters in the fall of ’77 and reissuing Blondie in the bargain.

There were lineup adjustments, with Valentine out and replaced by Frank Infante, who promptly switched to guitar upon addition of bassist Nigel Harrison. The membership remained stable until ’82, when disappointments revolving around The Hunter inspired a breakup. This collection doesn’t include everything; missing are the five illuminating ‘75 demos cut with Alan Betrock and the ’80 Giorgio Moroder collaboration “Call Me” from the soundtrack to Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo; instead it simply boxes-up the half-dozen long-players devoid of editorializing.

All of these platters were once extremely cheap and relatively easy to pick up used (though I’ve never glimpsed a Private Stock edition of Blondie), and I can’t imagine the situation has changed. But I realize there’s a breed of vinyl connoisseur equivalent to those licensed drivers who wouldn’t stoop to buy a second-hand car; bluntly, this set is for them.

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