Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve: Herbie Hancock,
Maiden Voyage

Celebrating Herbie Hancock in advance of his 84th birthday tomorrow.Ed.

The short description of Herbie Hancock’s gorgeous 1965 LP Maiden Voyage, is that it’s the ’63-’64 Miles Davis Quintet with Freddie Hubbard subbing on trumpet. But as nicely as that reads, it’s actually much more. Hancock’s fifth and best record as leader, to this point it was also his most ambitious, and was additionally something of a rarity in jazz terms; a wildly successful and delightfully peaceful concept album.

Herbie Hancock has had a long and illustrious career, and in tandem with his contribution to the groups of Miles Davis, Maiden Voyage is probably his finest moment. As a look at the personnel relates, the disc is closely tied to Miles’ ‘60’s work, but as a standalone document Hancock’s masterful session equals anything Davis produced in the decade with the exception of the live material from the Plugged Nickel.

Some will disagree and a few will downright scoff at the notion of Maiden Voyage being rated so highly, in part because of its lack of edginess and decidedly refined sensibility. This circumstance extends to the considerable influence Hancock’s record wielded upon subsequent endeavors in the jazz and rock fields, byproducts that span in quality from mediocre to flat-out awful.

But that’s okay. What Maiden Voyage lacks in bluesy grit or fiery abstraction is greatly made up for by boldness of aspiration and a beautifully sustained mood, and as the title track and “Dolphin Dance” have both become late-period jazz standards, a certain percentage of underwhelming interpretations is basically inevitable.

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Graded on a Curve: Sunburned Hand
of the Man, Nimbus

Voluminous of discography with an unflagging underground spirit, Sunburned Hand of the Man has returned with Nimbus, releasing April 12 on vinyl (black or “big blue”), compact disc, and digital with cover art by Tony Oursler through Three Lobed Recordings. It’s a wide-ranging set packed tight but flowing loose with psychedelic groove jams, post-Beat poetic recitations, and even a delightful folky strummer courtesy of returning member Phil Franklin. Loaded with guitars and rhythm and synths and even mellotron, the album is a fine extension of the Sunburned ethos.

Sunburned Hand of the Man reared to life in mid-’90s Boston, growing out of the deep underground psych-art-scuzz outfit Shit Spangled Banner, but the contracting and expanding troop really hit their grooving-jamming-racket stride in the decade following as part of the burgeoning New Weird America movement (their 2004 CD No Magic Man was released by Bastet, a label associated with Arthur magazine).

Once wildly prolific, with roughly 20 releases coming out in limited editions (mostly CDrs and a few cassettes) in 2008 alone, Sunburned’s output has slowed in recent years, but they’ve still managed to rip multiple CDrs every year in this century so far, some archival, others freshly recorded. Regarding vinyl, Nimbus is a follow-up to Pick a Day to Die, issued in 2021, also by Three Lobed Recordings.

Fluidity of lineup with a solid core is something of a Sunburned constant. Nimbus was recorded last year with Michael Josef K, Matt Krefting, and original member Phil Franklin returning to the fold and fortifying a core of founders John Moloney and Rob Thomas. The other players include Conrad Capistran, Gary War, Shannon Ketch, Wednesday Knudsen, Adam Langellotti, Jeremy Pisani, Taylor Richardson, Ron Schneiderman, and Sarah Gibbons, who’s credited here as making her proper recorded debut with Sunburned.

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Graded on a Curve: Advancing on a Wild Pitch, Disasters, Vol. 2
& Acceleration Due to Gravity, Jonesville

The bassist, composer, and bandleader Moppa Elliott is best known for his playing in the wildly inventive ensemble Mostly Other People Do the Killing, but his creativity is manifest in various other groups, including the quintet Advancing on a Wild Pitch and the nonet Acceleration Due to Gravity. Both have new LPs out now via Elliott’s Hot Cup label. On Disasters, Vol. 2, the five-piece delivers a warm and deep straight-ahead set of Elliott originals, and on Jonesville, an album inspired by bassist Sam Jones, the nine-piece group offers a wilder compositional ride. They are rewarding both singly and considered together.

Released in 2022, Disasters, Vol. 1 was recorded by Mostly Other People Do the Killing in a trio configuration of Elliott, pianist Ron Stabinsky and drummer Kevin Shea, with Stabinsky and Shea doubling on Nord electronics. Across that record, Stabinsky’s piano establishes Elliott’s “inside” compositional core as the bassist’s foundation is supple but sturdy. Shea’s frequently explosive drumming sends the record down a less conventional path. The electronics ensure Disasters, Vol. 1 won’t be mistaken for any other album.

As stated above, Disasters, Vol. 2 is a more straight-ahead affair, though it thrives on toughness of execution, in part through the choice of baritone sax, played by Charles Evans, and trombone, played by Sam Kulik. Alongside Elliott, pianist Danny Fox and drummer Christian Coleman round out the band. Two compositions “Marcus Hook” and “Dimock” return from the first volume; as on the prior set, all of the pieces are named after “towns in Pennsylvania that experienced historical disasters.”

Through an underlying disdain for conventionality, Advancing on a Wild Pitch brings the descriptor straight-ahead into question across Disasters, Vol. 2 in a manner that’s a bit reminiscent of Charles Mingus. Not surprising given Elliott’s chosen instrument, but the feel is based more in the horns recalling Jerome Richardson and Jimmy Knepper. As in Mingus’ work, there’s a boldness in both ensemble play and soloing here that suggests an affiliation with the avant-garde without ever embodying it.

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Graded on a Curve:
Carl Perkins,
Honky Tonk Gal

Remembering Carl Perkins, born on this date in 1932.Ed.

Carl Perkins was one of the major shakers in the peak period of Sun Records, and these days he gets his due mostly as an architect of classic rockabilly. In that regard, one of his many hits compilations will provide an accurate if not comprehensive analysis. To get a taste of the full-blown ‘50s Perkins experience however, one will need to dig a little deeper, and seeking out the 1988 LP Honky Tonk Gal is an excellent choice.

Many outstanding recordings were made in the USA in the decade immediately following the Second World War, but at the top of the heap are a few truly indispensable documents. Amongst them can be found Charlie Parker’s master takes for Dial and Savoy, the high lonesome sound of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys as captured by Columbia and Decca, Muddy Waters’ electrification of the Delta in Chess Studios, and perhaps inappropriately since it compiled 6 LPs worth of material from prewar 78s, the Anthology of American Folk Music as issued by Folkways.

But if an outlier, I’ll stump passionately for that Harry Smith-compiled doozy. On top of being one of the few multi-disc sets that can be listened to in its entirety without a hint of exhaustion, it just as importantly established a disparate songbook that’s continued to influence music right up to this very minute. And the icing on the cake is how the inspired assemblage of a bohemian painter (and record collector!) integrated American folksong two years before the Supreme Court handed down their unanimous blow to the ugliness of segregation with the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

And that relates pretty well to Samuel Cornelius Phillips and his Memphis Recording Service, later known more famously as Sun Records, a small business concern that was really on a creative mission in loose disguise. It was also the cradle of some extremely essential postwar music. For instance, Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88,” considered by some to be the first rock ‘n’ roll song. Or that behemoth of the blues The Howlin’ Wolf, who delivered his first sides there. And by the mid-‘50s it was where a bunch of poor white cats, to borrow a phrase from the mouth of Presley, got real real gone for a change.

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Graded on a Curve: Harold Land,
The Fox

California-based tenor saxophonist Harold Land had a long and versatile recording career both as a sideman and as a leader. Of the latter albums, The Fox, first released in 1960, is widely considered to be his best; it sees reissue on 180 gram vinyl April 12 as part of Craft Recordings’ ongoing Contemporary Records Acoustic Sounds Series. It is an album defined by sturdy ensemble play, inspired soloing, and a multifaceted backstory. We delve into it all below.

On The Fox, Harold Land and his assembled crew tear into the opening title track with such energy that it sounds like the year is not 1959 (this set, an early producer credit for David Axelrod, was recorded in August of that year) but 1949, infused as it is with uncut “get the no-talent scrubs off the bandstand” bebop verve.

1949 was the year Land debuted as a leader on record, cutting “San Diego Bounce” b/w “I’ll Remember April” by the Harold Land All-Stars, a 78rpm disc issued by the Savoy subsidiary Regent. That record’s vintage means Land was firsthand witness to the angular intensity of the original bebop era, though “San Diego Bounce” isn’t bop but a potent strain of instrumental R&B.

Land’s rise in stature included a lengthy stint performing and recording with the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet, a key group in the refinement of hard bop in the mid-1950s. Following the end of that band due to trumpeter Brown’s untimely death in a car accident, Land joined the outfit of bassist Curtis Counce, a move that first brought him into the sphere of Contemporary Records, where Counce recorded and Land cut his debut LP, Harold in the Land of Jazz in 1958.

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Graded on a Curve:
Merle Haggard,
Swinging Doors

Remembering Merle Haggard in advance of his birthdate tomorrow.Ed.

Merle Haggard is a man who needs no introduction. His music, however, is best served by a thoughtful entry-point that reflects his emergence as one of country music’s truly singular figures. As the first LP he recorded with his estimable backing band the Strangers, it’s not the only Haggard record you’ll need, but it does establish the beginnings of a very fruitful period and essays with precision the attributes that make him such a valuable artist.

Along with Buck Owens, Merle Haggard was a principal architect of the Bakersfield Sound, a strain of country music rooted in the ‘50s that broke big in the following decade, providing an alternative to the Nashville Sound that was dominating the C&W charts during the era. Calling it the original Alt-Country will make many folks wince, but it’s not that far off the mark. For in eschewing the syrupy string sections, overly polite backing singers and general pop slickness of the Nashville Sound, a production-driven style that later morphed into a movement called Countrypolitan, the Bakersfield musicians were retaining the glorious essence of Honky-Tonk (a form derived from the work of Jimmie Rodgers, Western Swing-man Bob Wills, and Hank Williams) that prevailed on the C&W charts during the ‘50s.

Classic Honky-Tonk was exemplified by such major cats as Ernest Tubb, Webb Pierce, Hank Locklin, Lefty Frizzell, and a little later on George Jones, and it was a band music that flourished on the stages of the very clubs that named it. While the early years of the Bakersfield Sound overlap that of Honky-Tonk, by the ‘60s and its national breakout through Owens and Haggard, it was appropriately assessed as a reaction against the pop sensibilities of a city that in 1960 was designated as the USA’s second biggest record producing center.

If the Nashville Sound developed into Countrypolitan, the Bakersfield thing also continued to thrive, influencing contemporaneous work from important artists like Johnny Paycheck and setting the stage for the Outlaw movement of the ‘70s. It also touched both The Beatles and The Stones and was a crucial ingredient in the creation of both country-rock and the stuff we now indeed categorize as Alt-Country.

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Graded on a Curve:
Rail Band, Rail Band

On April 5, Mississippi Records delivers an absolute gem to seekers of prime African heat as they reissue the eponymous 1973 album by Mali’s Rail Band. Spiked with Afro-Cuban richness and relentlessly funky, the record sells for hundreds of dollars in original form when a copy miraculously becomes available. Mississippi’s edition, on black or transparent blue vinyl, is far more affordable and is no less moving a listen.

As detailed on the cover, the Rail Band was the house act at the Buffet Hotel de la Gare in Bamako, the capital of Mali. Formed through sponsorships by the country’s Ministry of Information and Railway Administration, the bandstand was in the bar of the Buffet, a station hotel, located near the railway, hence the group’s name. The five gigs a week were long (reportedly 2pm until late), but that much playing led to the striking ensemble cohesion heard on this record.

The first Rail Band album, Orchestre Rail-Band de Bamako was released in 1970 on Mali Music, a label directly funded by the Ministry of Information. It was reissued on vinyl by Mississippi back in 2011. That set documents a band that was already sharp. Rich with jazzy horn wiggle, the sound glides as much as it grooves, though there is no shortage of rhythmic potency throughout.

By 1973, the Rail Band was a well-oiled engine of funk combustion. Initially issued by RCAM (stands for Rail Culture Authentique Mali), this self-titled second LP stands amongst the finest African sounds of its decade. Yes, that’s a bold statement given the diversity of the continent’s output in those ten years, but the Rail Band’s stylistic hybridization elevates them to top tier.

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Graded on a Curve:
James Toth Presents… Imaginational Anthem Vol. XIII – Songs of
Bruce Cockburn

For some, Bruce Cockburn needs no introduction. However, just as many (maybe more) are unfamiliar with the persevering Canadian singer-songwriter’s talents, a reality Tompkins Square’s Josh Rosenthal fully understands. Rather than leave this deficiency unaddressed, James Toth Presents… Imaginational Anthem Vol. XIII – Songs of Bruce Cockburn arrives April 5 on LP, CD, and digital. Featuring nine readings of Cockburn songs by an impressive cohort of contemporary indie artists including Jerry David DeCicca with Bill Callahan, Powers Rolin Duo, Wet Tuna, and the set’s curator in the duo Armory Schafer, the album is poised to enlighten newbies while satisfying longtime Cockburn fans.

In the notes to this worthwhile set, Josh Rosenthal lays out his reasons for following up Imaginational Anthem Vol. XII, a multi-artist tribute to the late guitarist Michael Chapman, with a similar goodwill gesture. In short, it pertained to a nagging disrespect to Cockburn through oversight from a listenership that’s clued into a younger, edgier, and more indie-aligned scene.

It bears mentioning that Cockburn is a certifiably huge deal in Canada, as knowledge of his artistry has also spread elsewhere. While never as big in the USA as he was at home, Cockburn’s songs were once heard on stateside commercial rock radio. But as the decades have passed, the guy’s stature has seemed to diminish even as he’s remained active.

Rosenthal puts the blame in part on the lack of championing from tastemaker musicians. It’s an assertion that resonates as accurate. I’ll add that Cockburn’s never been a darling of critics the way that some purely instrumental fingerpickers and folky singer-songwriters were and are. And unlike the recordings of those more celebrated names (say, Fahey, Jansch, Hardin, Cooder), Cockburn’s stuff pre-Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws was pretty scarce in the bins new or used, at least in more suburban areas of the USA.

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Graded on a Curve: Marvin Gaye,
What’s Going On 50th Anniversary Edition

Remembering Marvin Gaye, born on this day in 1939.Ed.

Since his tragic and premature death in 1984, Marvin Gaye’s discography has steadily risen in critical esteem, and particularly What’s Going On, his eleventh album and the enduring apex of the man’s posthumous ascension, as it’s landed atop at least one noted list of the Greatest Albums of All Time. And so, Motown/uMe has understandably endeavored with due diligence in marking the half century since that LP was originally released, their work culminating in a 50th Anniversary Edition on double vinyl, which adds six original mono single versions, plus four rare mixes of the title track, to the nine masterful selections that comprise the original album.

As fruitful as the 1960s were for Marvin Gaye, he didn’t really hit his stride until the first half of the following decade, with What’s Going On the record that began his run as a fully-formed, mature artist. It took until the second half of the ’60s for Gaye to really find his footing inside the Motown hit machine, and there was indeed a bunch of excellent singles and even a few classic LPs during that stretch, but with his second record of the ’70s, he began transcending the boundaries of the Motown framework.

Records like What’s Going On can be intimidating to engage with in print, mainly because they can inspire mere rephrasing of long-established observations, or to the other extreme, straining for a fresh perspective (which frequently ends up having little to do with the actual music). It’s been said that any truly great record is inexhaustible, and by that metric, there should always be something new to say about their individual qualities, but it’s just as true that many masterpieces are relatively straightforward in their brilliance.

It’s true that What’s Going On is something of a rarity in how it stylistically advances its genre while remaining pretty firmly inside the realms of pop. There’s nothing edgy about the music (a la Funkadelic), or uncompromising (like James Brown’s work of the period). Instead, Gaye favored sophisticated string arrangements that came to define soul at its most urbane in the first half of the ’70s (Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Gamble & Huff), and as the decade progressed, served as a primary building block in the emergence of pop-disco.

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Graded on a Curve:
Xylophonics + Robot X

Brothers Mark and Clive Ives have been making music since the early 1970s as the creative engine of the UK outfit Woo. Having released their debut in 1982, they collaborated with Independent Project Records later in the decade, and now, after a break of over 35 years, that relationship has been rekindled with Xylophonics + Robot X. Distinct but complementary, these two sets, initially assembled and issued in 2016–’17, are packaged together and given a physical release for the first time, available now on double vinyl (black or clear) and double compact disc, each exquisitely designed as is the IPR way.

As a significant portion of their early material has been reissued or given archival release in the 21st century by a variety of labels including Drag City, Emotional Rescue, and Palto Flats, Woo has been described as a cult band, a tag that fits as the Ives brothers’ work resists easy encapsulation. Additionally, Woo long persisted outside of the standard music industry mechanisms, with a high percentage of their recorded output initially self-released, a practice that has extended into our current digital reality.

Woo had been privately busy for roughly a decade before they put out Whichever Way You Are Going, You Are Going Wrong. Well received by the UK music press, that album was reissued by Bruce Licher’s Independent Project Records in 1988, with the label bringing out It’s Cozy Inside the next year. These initial releases inspired comparisons to kosmische, The Durutti Column, and Brian Eno, but as the ’90s progressed Woo had earned the New Age appellation, and fairly so, as much of their output was openly intended for relaxation, deep listening, healing, meditation, and therapy sessions.

After seeing widespread derision from the moment of its arrival (while being consumed in large quantities), New Age music has seen an upswing in esteem over the last few decades, and Woo’s work in this admittedly wide open territory (often just as easily assessed as ambient) belongs on the positive side of the style’s quality spectrum. But it’s clear straight off that Robot X stands outside the New Age genre while maintaining a few loose ties to the kosmische root.

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Graded on a Curve:
Small Faces,
From the Beginning

Remembering Ronnie Lane, born on this day in 1946.Ed.

Small Faces stand as one of the very finest groups of the 1960s, though many know them mainly for Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, their most ambitious and final album before Steve Marriott’s departure effectively ended their diminutive phase. The scoop is that all of the Small Faces’ ‘60s records are worthy of ownership, even the mercantile odds-and-ends collection From the Beginning. That disc and its self-titled predecessor are currently available as 180gm replica LPs. Are they cut to lacquer from the original quarter-inch production masters with front-laminated sleeves? Why yes indeed.

One gauge of the true greats is that the music manages to get better, or at least maintains a high standard of quality, as the discs take their place in the racks. So it is with the Small Faces. With this said the Decca period offers distinct and enduring appeal; more so than The Who, the Small Faces circa-’65-’66 are the true ambassadors of Mod. Utterly Brit in orientation, it wasn’t until the fourth LP that the group entered the US market.

The Small Faces consisted of Steve Marriott on vocals, guitar and harmonica, Ronnie Lane on bass, Kenney Jones on drums and percussion, and initially Jimmy Winston on keyboards. Upon signing to Decca through the efforts of manager Don Arden, they released two singles in ’65. The first “What’cha Gonna Do about It” charted, hitting #14, while the second “I’ve Got Mine” didn’t. Shortly thereafter, Winston was replaced by Ian McLagan, the new keyboardist assisting 3rd 45 “Sha-La-La-La-Lee” in reaching the #3 spot. A full-length followed a few months later.

Sporting the brass to open with “Shake” in Sam Cooke’s tempo, ’66’s Small Faces starts out strong and never really falters, which is impressive for a debut comprised roughly equally, as was the norm of the time, of originals and borrowed/cover material. Neither tentative nor betraying instrumental greenness, the Small Faces were also unburdened by conflict over what they wanted to be.

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Graded on a Curve:
High Llamas,
Hey Panda

Hey Panda, the new release from the enduring English outfit the High Llamas, is an immersion and distension of contemporary pop music from a man, one Sean O’Hagan, long known for reinvigorating sounds from the past. But with strong songwriting and a respectful approach at its core, the endeavor succeeds with flying colors. The earned chutzpah of a veteran musician adds value. The album is out on vinyl, compact disc, and digital March 29 through Drag City Records of Chicago.

Hey Panda’s radical departure renders direct comparisons to O’Hagan’s earlier work not particularly useful. However, it serves a purpose, especially for those long familiar with the High Llamas, to relate that (after a break of eight years) this new record is a legit progression from (if not always a discernible extension of) the chamber-avant-electronic pop that precedes it.

Key to Hey Panda’s success is O’Hagan’s sincere appreciation for the contemporary pop forms he’s engaging with and distorting; He’s not pranking or trolling or even really subverting these forms, but instead applying fresh techniques and ambiances to the songs he’s written. And not just applying those methods, but laying them on thick.

O’Hagan cites J Dilla as his biggest inspiration in making Hey Panda, and if anybody would know, it’s him. But there are also moments that trigger thoughts of the Japanese pop-auteurs Haruomi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto (and naturally, the Yellow Magic Orchestra), plus similarities in tactics to Cornelius and Jim O’Rourke.

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Graded on a Curve:
Ron Carter,

Today, bassist-cellist-composer-bandleader Ron Carter is described without overstatement as a jazz ambassador, but flash back to the early 1960s and he was but one of many skilled young players on the scene. As talent attracts talent, Carter’s debut album Where? is as notable for its sidemen as it is for spotlighting an artist destined for greatness. On March 29 Craft Recordings brings out a fresh edition of this 1961 album on 180 gram vinyl as part of their ongoing Original Jazz Classics reissue series. Where? remains a pleasurable listen, its appealing air of the casual enhancing subtle inventiveness.

Initially released on Prestige Records’ New Jazz subsidiary (it is this edition that Original Jazz Classics and now Craft Recordings have reissued), Where? has been described as a likeably minor effort. While not wrongheaded, it’s an assessment that perhaps overlooks the value that accrues as time is spent with the recording. The lack of desperation to impress and the avoidance of safe choices do come into focus.

Glancing at the personnel, a curious party could be forgiven for thinking that either Prestige or Carter stacked the lineup to ensure an immediate impression. The beautifully unique Eric Dolphy is here on alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and flute. A more subtly distinctive explorer of jazz’s essence, Mal Waldron is the pianist. The ever dependable Charlie Persip is the drummer and the equally reliable George Duvivier is on bass as Carter plays cello on three tracks.

But Where? connects somewhat like a workshop session as Carter brings two originals (opener “Rally” and “Bass Duet”) to a program that’s rounded out with a pair of jazz standards (Hammerstein and Romberg’s “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” and Sy Oliver’s “Yes, Indeed”) and two by Randy Weston, a pianist-composer noted as a contemporary of the musicians in the band (the title track and closer “Saucer Eyes”).

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Graded on a Curve: Creation Rebel,
High Above Harlesden 1978–2023

The UK-based dub behemoth Creation Rebel returned last year with Hostile Environment, an album as pleasurable to the ear as it was an unexpected development. Smartly sustaining the positive energy, the On-U Sound label is releasing High Above Harlesden 1978–2023 as a 6CD boxset and digital download, plus corresponding vinyl reissues of the group’s debut and its follow-up Dub From Creation and Close Encounters of the Third World (both 1978), Rebel Vibrations (’79), Starship Africa (’80) and Psychotic Jonkanoo (’81). Along with a 36-page booklet, the boxset offers the contents of those five records, along with Hostile Environment and a handful of bonus tracks. It’s all out on March 29.

The Creation Rebel story is pretty well established. The roots are in vocalist Prince Far I’s 1978 album Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Chapter 1, where members of Creation Rebel are part of the credited support band the Arabs. As Creation Rebel they backed Prince Far I in live performance and served as the foundation for Adrian Sherwood’s debut production, released not by On-U Sound but as the first release on Hitrun, the label co-founded by Sherwood and Peter “Dr. Pablo” Stroud.

Engineered by Dennis Bovell, that release is Dub From Creation, an assured and wonderfully bent dub excursion where the core stylistic competency of the participants is elevated by sheer inspiration. Reflected in Stroud’s nickname, the presence of his melodica establishes a similarity to Augustus Pablo, but more importantly, the album’s gradual progression brings stranger atmospheres. After the unusually fast pace of “Mirage,” the record gets farther and farther out until finale “Vision of Creation” makes it emphatically clear Dub From Creation is far more than an exercise in standard dub style.

Scarce for decades and extremely pricey as an original, Close Encounters of the Third World was the second Creation Rebel album to be released chronologically. Something of a vocal-heavy offshoot from the stronger Rebel Vibrations, the standalone vinyl reissue Close Encounters is very welcome even as the album is the least of the group’s records in terms of impact.

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Graded on a Curve:
Lee Scratch Perry,

Remembering Lee Scratch Perry in advance of his birthdate tomorrow.Ed.

Of records, legendary Jamaican producer Lee “Scratch” Perry has released a ton; setting aside the singles and EPs, his non-compilation album total is hovering near 100, and for an artist outside the jazz realm, that’s a considerable achievement. Of course, the number of individuals who own a copy of every one of those full-lengths might fit comfortably into a four-door sedan, a possibility illuminating that Perry’s prolificacy doesn’t equate to his prime. 

When you make as many records as Lee Perry has, they can’t all be brilliant. Hell, the majority of them are unlikely to resonate with more than moderate levels of personal investment. I say unlikely because I’ll confess that haven’t listened to more than half of his output; Discogs lists 87 full-length albums and 97 comps, and I’ve a sneaking suspicion there are scads of releases that haven’t been logged, plus beaucoup stray singles and EPs (to say nothing of the dodgy gray-market stuff).

Succinctly, after hearing a fair portion of Perry’s later material I realized I should cease investigating those more recent progressions and just hang with the canonical stuff. If all this seems poised to besmirch the guy’s rep as a dub innovator-auteur, I will counter that fluctuating personal investment isn’t the same as lacking a recognizable stamp; if the majority of his post-’70s work is far from essential, I’ve never heard anything that faltered into anonymous hackery.

Lee Perry very much fits in with certain cineastes from the early days of auteurism. Specifically, like numerous directors who worked under studio contracts and would begin another film almost immediately after their last one was finished, Perry has created, if not incessantly, then at a clip that has insured a diminishment in his masterpiece percentage, a downward plummet to what some folks might consider journeyman levels had the man’s achievements not been integral to the growth and longevity of Jamaican music.

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