Author Archives: Joseph Neff

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Natural Information Society with Evan Parker, descension (Out of Our Constrictions) (eremite) Formed in Chicago by multi-instrumentalist Joshua Abrams in 2010, the Natural Information Society on this 2LP features Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Mikel Patrick Avery on drums, and Lisa Alvarado on harmonium and effects, with Abrams on guembri and British saxophone titan Evan Parker completing the lineup of 7/9/2019, captured live in London at Cafe OTO as they explore the possibilities of one piece for 75 minutes. Naturally, it’s divided across four sides of vinyl, but in an interesting twist, also into four mp3s, which formulates a digital experience that’s a little like listening to the first CD edition of Coltrane’s Om (where the vinyl fadeout-rise up was retained). This might seem like an odd digression, but not so much when Coltrane’s impact on Parker is considered. His breath tangles with Stein are simply magnificent (indeed, evoking Trane and Dolphy), but it’s the incessant groove (with ties the Chicago House) and Alvarado’s wonderful contribution that enhances the unique flavor. A

Christine Ott, Time to Die (Gizeh) Ott’s skills as a multi-instrumentalist and composer are well-established, both through her solo albums (this is her fourth overall) and more recently in the side-project duo Snowdrops with Mathieu Gabry; earlier in her career, Ott contributed extensively to Yann Tiersen’s band. For Time to Die, she sings and plays piano, harp, and the Ondes Martenot (something of a signature instrument for her), along with adding percussion, Jupiter8, timpani, tubular bells, monotron and vibraphone. Gabry also contributes on a variety of instruments, and it’s the spoken voice of Casey Brown that’s heard in the opening title-track (reading a “beloved cinematic text” I shan’t spoil). Offered as a sequel to Ott’s 2016 LP Only Silence Remains, this record’s stylistic range is appealingly wide, beginning in a dark ambient-electronic zone and gradually drifting into assorted modes of modern classical, and with particular emphasis on her skills as a pianist. Although this isn’t a soundtrack (Gizeh calls it a “musical fresco in eight chapters”), Ott’s strengths as a film composer do shine through. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Sound Storing Machines: The First 78rpm Records from Japan, 1903-1912 (Sublime Frequencies) The output of Sublime Frequencies is reliably captivating, and this set is no exception, the third in a series devoted to early recordings from Asia, all compiled by Robert Millis of the Climax Golden Twins. The prior volumes are The Crying Princess: 78rpm Records from Burma and Scattered Melodies: Korean Kayagum Sanjo, both released in 2013, and of the three, this set reaches back the farthest. Flat disc recording (as opposed to Edison-style cylinders) had only been in existence for a few years prior to the timeframe of this LP/ CD, so the audio quality isn’t optimal as surface noise is abundant. But I somehow doubt that anybody excited to hear these offerings will be too bothered by the rough ambience. No doubt many will welcome it. As Millis observes in his notes, the haze of surface noise intensifies the aura of strangeness. Amongst the most unusual are two by Suenaga Togi with the Imperial Household Orchestra, but the overall value easily eclipses the weird. A

V/A, MIEN (YAO) – Cannon Singing in China, Vietnam, Laos (Sublime Frequencies) Recorded and produced by Laurent Jeanneau aka Kink Gong, this LP offers three vocal duos, Keo and Na (from Laos), Deng Fu Mei and Zhang Wu Mei (from China) and Yang Chun Jin and Yang Bao Cheng (also from China), plus one track by Gap Choun (from Vietnam) that combines singing with considerable percussive clatter and bash. Succinctly, the Yao are hill tribes residing in the countries of the title, and the Mien are the largest branch of the Yao. While the vocal style doesn’t vary all that much across these pieces, the nearly 20 minutes of Keo and Na (sequenced first) becomes quite hypnotic as it progresses and is further enhanced by its nature as a field recording. There is birdsong (very welcome), but also at a few points a low hum that injects a mysterious tension into the scheme of things, at least until it becomes apparent that it might just be a distant motorbike. Due to its prominent rhythmic component, I kinda dig the Gap Choun piece the best, but nothing captured here is the slightest bit disappointing. A-

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
The Gracious Losers,
Six Road Ends

The Glasgow-based The Gracious Losers are nine members strong, but for their second full-length, the lineup burgeoned to 15 bodies, and across the set’s 11 tracks, it often sounds that way. Categorized as Celtic folk/ Americana, the sound is much broader than the designation might suggest, with rock heft of a rootsy stripe in welcome evidence as they execute the impressive songwriting of Jonathan Lilley. Six Road Ends is out now on black and yellow galaxy vinyl (and standard black) through the label Last Night from Glasgow.  

Kicked up dust isn’t the first thing that springs to my mind when considering the prospects of another contemporary folk and/ or Americana record, but such a thing is possible. In an era when the objective is too often politeness and finesse, spark and edge are welcome qualities. The sheer number of Gracious Losers increases the likelihood they will deliver a record infused with grit, heft and energy, and Jonathan Lilley, Amanda McKeown, Gary Johnston, Heather Philips, Rory McGregor, Monica Queen, Johnny Smillie, Celia Garcia, and Erik Igelstrom don’t disappoint in this regard.

But the real joy of Six Road Ends derives from how it reaches far beyond the folk/ Americana baseline, and from how its rock moves eschew the hackneyed, partly through Lilley’s songs, which are well-rounded yet focused. Likewise, the playing is broad without faltering into a patchwork of styles. It’s really with repeated listens that the territory they cover is effectively driven home.

Not that the full-bodied vocal harmony in opener “Till I Go Home” isn’t striking, particularly as it’s combined with some rock thud. Now, I don’t want the reader to misapprehend the Gracious Losers as being in league with the likes of Dinosaur Jr., though come to think of it, they do share an affinity for Crazy Horse, an influence that surfaces at length during 2018’s The Last of the Gracious Losers.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
The Nightingales,
Pigs on Purpose

Birmingham, UK’s The Nightingales are an important and somewhat underrated entity in post-punk’s early 1980s scheme. Indeed, for connoisseurs of the form, procuring a vinyl copy of their debut Pigs on Purpose hasn’t been easy, and the same goes for their first few 45s. In a delightful turn of events, Call of the Void is reissuing the album and those singles as a 2LP set on blue wax (also 2CD and digital) with demos and live tracks completing the package. It’s an essential addition to any full-bodied post-punk library, out April 16 and coinciding with the release of King Rocker, Michael Cumming’s documentary on the life of Nightingales’ lead singer and sole constant member Robert Lloyd.

To absorb the full story of The Nightingales, one must reckon with first-wave UK punkers The Prefects. An act as amateurish (in the best sense) as they were inspired, The Prefects are entrenched in punk history for their role in the White Riot tour of The Clash (you may have heard of them), and for additionally sharing stages with The Slits, The Damned, The Buzzcocks, and The Fall.

The Prefects’ entire discography postdates the band’s existence, with their first release a 1980 45 for Rough Trade. Comprised of two songs, “Going Through the Motions” b/w “Things in General,” was sourced from sessions recorded for John Peel. The scoop is that the single’s existence is directly related to a stipulation that Rough Trade arrange a recording of Lloyd’s then new outfit, these very Nightingales.

This gifted the world with “Idiot Strength” b/w “Seconds,” The Nightingales’ 1981 debut (technically, it’s a split label release shared by Rough Trade and Lloyd’s own Vindaloo imprint), as the band featured Lloyd on vocals with Joe Crow on guitar and former Prefects Eamon Duffy on bass and Paul Apperley on drums.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Herbie Hancock,
Maiden Voyage

Celebrating Herbie Hancock on his 81st birthday.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.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
April 2021, Part One

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: El Michels Affair, Yeti Season (Big Crown) Funk is a constant in this enduring band/ studio project spearheaded by Big Crown cofounder Leon Michels, and funk reliably of a cinematic stripe; think boldly composed ’70s soundtracks. So it is with Yeti Season, the Affair’s third LP of original material (Michels is also noted for instrumental reworkings of Wu-Tang Clan and Isaac Hayes), though there is a sweet gravitation toward Turkish pop aided by Piya Malik (she of Big Crown act 79.5) singing in Hindi on four selections evenly distributed throughout the record. The non-vocal tracks are totally worthy however, particularly the Bill Conti-brassiness of “Ala Vida.” But nothing on this set beats the Malik sung “Zaharita,” which is sequenced late and suggests a ’70s Turkish movie where beaucoup psychedelics are consumed, and then some seriously bad shit happens. And while on the subject of film, I’ll add in conclusion that the cover of this record is persistently reminding me of the Michael Findlay-directed grindhouse non-classic Shriek of the Mutilated, a movie as duff as Yeti Season is swank. A-

Thomas Fehlmann, Böser Herbst (Kompakt) Zurich-born composer-producer Fehlmann has been at it for decades, first as part of the noted Neue Deutsche Welle act Palais Schaumburg, later as the founder of the Teutonic Beats label, and after that, contributions to The Orb. Along the way, there has been numerous other projects and solo work, with Böser Herbst the follow-up of sorts to 1929 – Das Jahr Babylon, Fehlmann’s 2018 soundtrack to the documentary of the same name by Volker Heise. This album is the OST to Heise’s Herbst 1929, Schatten Über Babylon; both docs offer historical insight for those watching the German TV series Babylon Berlin, which brings us to Fehlmann’s work here. On the prior record and this one, sounds were taken from 1920s-era recordings, with the samples looped, layered, stretched and otherwise distorted in a manner that’s surprisingly subtle. To put it another way, there’s an abundance of hazy hiss on Böser Herbst, but no clichéd crackle. Think ocean tides rather than rotating shellac. The set is atmospheric, but there’s also drive and strangeness. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Allen Ginsberg, At Reed College – The First Recorded Reading of Howl and Other Poems (Omnivore) Note that this isn’t the first public reading of “Howl”; that occasion was the famous Gallery Six event from October 1955 that featured Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Philip Lamantia, and Michael McClure (Lawrence Ferlinghetti was in attendance. So was Kerouac and Neal Cassady. Kenneth Rexroth was emcee). This Reed College performance was from the following February, held at the liberal arts-focused school located in Portland, OR. In his notes for this tremendous archival find, Dr. Pancho Savery (Professor of English & Humanities at Reed) mentions that the version of “Howl” that’s nearest to what’s heard on this release (available on vinyl, CD, and digital) is found in Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Versions (first published in 1986), and he adds that it’s worthwhile (advisable, even) to have a copy of it (specifically, “Draft 5”) and the text of the City Lights edition handy to read while listening.

If this makes At Reed College sound like a prize best suited for serious poetry nuts and particularly those with an itch only the Beats (and associated bohos) can scratch, well…perhaps. I will add that the tape ran out during the reading, so if you are expecting a seamless experience, this is not that. It’s not even complete, as after Ginsberg rereads a few lines once the recording has recommenced and then begins “Part II,” he abruptly asks to stop due to an inadequate level of energy on his part. And yet, the whole, which is comprised of poems that were first published alongside “Howl” in Howl & Other Poems and in Reality Sandwiches, is a fascinating document, and one that’s ultimately fully satisfying, even if it’s unfinished. It’s striking to hear the laughter of the assembled, not just during “A Supermarket in California,” but also in “Howl,” and the same is true for Ginsberg’s playful false starts while reading “A Dream Record.” In the end, it’s a joy to hear one of the very greatest of modern poets sharing his defining work while it was still being perfected. A

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Coultrain,
Phantasmagoria

Coultrain is the one-man project of Los Angeles-based poet, filmmaker and musician A.M. Frison. His work includes the “mythological cross-genre artist book” Wet Grass, its accompanying musical score The Bluest Blue (under the moniker Noble Metal), and a collaboration with Ben Lamar Gay and Tommaso Moretti as Bottle Tree. His latest as Coultrain is Phantasmagoria, a combination of Soulful stylistics and layered electronics that’s as smooth and warm as it is boundary-stretching and eclectic. It’s out April 9 with a vinyl-only bonus track via Positive Elevation, the newest sublabel from the indefatigable 577 Records of Brooklyn.

Tersely described by 577 as being dedicated to electronic experimentation and avant soul, the Positive Elevation imprint feels almost tailor made for Coultrain’s Phantasmagoria, a record that hits a sweet spot between a progressively lush mid-’70s Soulfulness and an electronic sensibility that places the contents firmly outside the mainstream but without undercutting the engaging, extroverted quality that’s inherent to soul music’s formal equation.

Much of Coultrain’s success as it pertains to the accessible is directly due to Frison’s singing, which might seem like a no-brainer, since a vocalist navigating varying degrees of the passionate is a crucial soul ingredient. But with that said, the enduring examples of the style’s greatness from its 1960s-’70s heyday combined rich vocalizing with an instrumental component of uncommon richness and verve, often honed by house bands (Stax, Motown, Hi).

Grit, either vocal or instrumental, was a variable element, welcome in the recipe but not integral and never dominant. When soul music declined in the hands of technology-wielding producers, grit all but evaporated, but that wasn’t the problem. Instead, it was a lack of imagination, as the new tools were too often used to merely contemporize old strategies, rather than to pursue fresh possibilities.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Merle Haggard,
Swinging Doors

Celebrating Merle Haggard on the date of his birth.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.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Dopolarians,
The Bond

When you combine pianist Christopher Parker, alto saxophonist Chad Fowler, trumpeter Marc Franklin, vocalist Kelley Hurt, drummer Brian Blade, and bassist William Parker, the result is the Dopolarians, whose new CD is The Bond, out now through Mahakala Music. Now, those familiar with the group’s prior effort will notice a couple shifts in personnel, but we’ll tackle those below. Of foremost importance is the high standard of quality maintained across a disc that takes many chances as it covers a wide spectrum of textures and emotions. In short, it’s a recording of distinction.

Released in 2016, the Dopolarians’ debut Garden Party was also the final recording to feature the great (and somewhat undersung) drummer Alvin Fielder, a charter member of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) who can be heard on Sound, the essential 1968 LP by Art Ensemble of Chicago saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell.

But more germane to the record under review here, Fielder played extensively with Edward “Kidd” Jordan, whose tenor saxophone is crucial to Garden Party’s sustained worthiness. For The Bond, Marc Franklin and Brian Blade complete the new lineup of Dopolarians. That duo, along with Chad Fowler, are fresh from the septet heard on Christopher Parker and Kelley Hurt’s No Tears Suite, its music composed in honor of the segregation-defying Little Rock Nine, released on CD last September by Mahakala and presented by the long running literary magazine Oxford American.

Given No Tears Suite’s subject matter, the relationship with the Little Rock, AR-based Southern-themed Oxford American makes total sense. It’s a connection, a bond of you will, that extends to Dopolarians, as every member in both lineups save for NYC free jazz cornerstone William Parker hails from the Southeastern USA, Jordan from New Orleans, Fielder from Meridian, MS, and Blade from Shreveport, LA with extensive time spent in New Orleans. Fowler, Christopher Parker, Hurt and Franklin are from Little Rock with all four having studied music in Memphis.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Xiu Xiu, OH NO (Polyvinyl) This album features Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart in a series of duets with an impressive list of contemporary artists, including Sharon Van Etten, Haley Fohr (Circuits Des Yeux), Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), Owen Pallet, Chelsea Wolfe, Jonathan Meiburg (Shearwater), Alice Bag, and Stewart’s Xiu Xiu bandmate Angela Seo. 15 duets, well, 14, as the very brief “ANTS,” while a delightful finale, sounds like it’s Valerie Diaz all by her lonesome. Now, when a singer shares the mic on a record with a bunch of different folks, my expectations generally lean toward an enjoyable but not especially challenging affair, so I was intrigued by OH NO, as easy listening has never been Xiu Xiu’s specialty. Hey, good news: it still isn’t. The scoop here is that the making of OH NO served as therapeutic for Stewart, or more to the point, helped him to regain some faith in humanity after suffering a few betrayals. Instead of just a pileup of songs, this unwinds like a Xiu Xiu record, but with a handful of surprises, like a Cure cover, and the swank electro-pop of “A Bottle of Rum” with Liz Harris. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Ali Farka Touré, Red (World Circuit) Released in 1984 by Disques Espérance, a subsidiary of the French Sonodisc label, this wasn’t Touré’s recording debut, but it did substantially raise the Malian guitarist profile and proved enduringly influential, particularly after World Circuit (and Nonesuch in the US) combined it on CD in 2004 with Touré’s ’88 LP, as Red & Green, that name referring to the original eponymous releases’ sleeve colors that have come to stand in as titles that distinguish the two. Growing up in the 1980s, it was stated back then with regularity that World Music was mostly consumed by Yuppies (particularly those who were ex-hippies), but I can’t imagine those cats willingly hanging with the exquisite, barbed rawness of Red’s desert trance blues. Featuring just Touré on a Bulgarian-made acoustic and percussionist Hama Sankare on calibash, this set is pretty much required listening for fans of Tinariwen and for those into the output of the Sahel Sounds label, but it’s also recommended to curious newbies who are partial to the Delta blues and drone music. A

V/A, Cumbia Cumbia 1 & 2 (World Circuit) Cumbia is the celebrated dance music of Columbia, deep of rhythm and spiked with rich horns, spritely accordions and passionate vocals. I can think of no better primer into the goodness of the style than this set, which combines two albums originally issued by World Circuit in 1989 and ’93, the second one on CD only until they were first offered together in 2012. But more importantly, these four sides are packed with material that was first issued by the Discos Fuentes label, the first album spanning 1960-’88, while the second is a deeper dive into the ’50-’60s. What this means is that, unlike a multitude of other decades-spanning comps that become less vital as they progress forward chronologically, this baby is a certifiable fiesta of swinging throughout. Seriously, “Santo Domingo” by Los Cumbiamberos De Pacheco, sequenced deep into side three, feels like the standout of the record, but then side four delivers a ceaseless succession of gems. If you dig Afro Cuban sounds and salsa but aren’t hip to cumbia, this will hit a sweet spot you didn’t know you had. A

Tower of Power, 50 Years of Funk & Soul – Live at the Fox Theater – Oakland, CA – June 2018 (Mack Avenue) As the title relates, San Francisco’s Tower of Power has been around for a long time, hitting that golden anniversary in 2018 and marking the occasion with a run of shows in their hometown, augmenting the 10-piece core band with more horns and even a (sparingly used) string section. And the generosity of the band’s performance is matched by Mack Avenue’s multiformat documentation, as they offer a 3LP, a 2CD/ DVD combo and a standalone DVD. Drum tight and highly polished, Tower of Power embody the sound of communal celebration that’s comparable to Parliament, though minus George Clinton’s eccentricity. Instead, ToP just combine their incessant James Brown-like grooves with a soulful pop inclination that can occasionally suggest ’70s Philadelphia. And while the musicianship is impeccable, the virtuosity never kneecaps feeling, which is kinda miraculous given the nature of the endeavor. I’ll close by mentioning the coincidental timeliness of “Soul Vaccination.” A-

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Chris Corsano &
Bill Orcutt,
Made Out of Sound

It may seem paradoxical, but when it comes to duo exchange, there is more than one way to skin a cat. On Made Out of Sound, released this week by the Palilalia label, drummer Chris Corsano and guitarist Bill Orcutt make clear that skinning a cat isn’t even required, which is good news, frankly. Instead, the creation of this LP began with rhythmic expressiveness captured on one coast as the guitar was added later on the other side of the country. The seven tracks finalized by Orcutt on his desktop, totaling under 30 minutes, present not an approximation of immediacy but illuminate how musical inspiration can overcome, if not entirely negate, the obstacles of distance and time.

I mention duo exchange in relation to this fine record partly due to the savvy musing of Tom Carter (he of Charalambides and other activities) that accompany Made Out of Sound, specifically his thoughts regarding the accuracy of the record’s contents as belonging to the form of musical expression known as jazz. To elaborate, the term duo exchange serves as the title of a landmark LP cut in 1973 by Frank Lowe (sax) and Rashied Ali (drums), an album that followed (by date of recording though not chronology of release) Ali and John Coltrane’s higher profile Interstellar Space (recorded in ’67 and issued in ’74).

As it plays, Made Out of Sound radiates a sustained commonality with the outer reaches of jazz, so that it’s clear the observation comes down to where the moldy figs are positioned. That is, in a nutshell, the views of conservative sticks-in-the-mud who bray that anything not inherently swinging isn’t jazz. However, the jazz/ not-jazz rumination also pertains to the record’s baseline mode of creation.

Forget overdubbing (Orcutt does multitrack his guitar on this set) and editing (as said, the LP was built on a computer), as both have been part of jazz since the 1950s. No, the question is, can jazz be made by two individuals who, for the purposes of recording, weren’t in the same room at the same time? “Who cares?” is surely the reaction of some readers, so please allow me to reframe it as an inquiry into the spark of spontaneity.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: George Otsuka Quintet,
Loving You George

Long-loaded with jazz aficionados, Japan has also produced some high quality players, a list that includes drummer George Otsuka. While he recorded a bunch, including with pianist Hampton Hawes and fellow drummer Jack DeJohnette, of particular distinction is the 1975 LP by his quintet, Loving You George, which documents a night in performance at the Nemu Jazz Inn. Offering four selections launching from modal jazz into fusion, the record bypasses expectations through inspired group interplay and energetic, occasionally even wild, execution. It’s out March 26, reissued on vinyl for the first time since the decade of its original release, with an OBI strip and remastered audio through WEWANTSOUNDS.

While still mostly appreciated by aficionados of the style, the jazz history of Japan has resided outside the shadowy realms of insider knowledge for quite a while now. Just recently for instance, the BBE label has unveiled the third volume in their series J Jazz: Deep Modern Jazz From Japan. As the navigation of jazz history is, to put it mildly, a labyrinthine endeavor, curatorial efforts like BBE’s can be simultaneously illuminating and daunting, especially when covering territory beyond jazz’s native soil.

The title track from Sea Breeze, the George Otsuka Quintet’s 1971 debut, is featured on the first J Jazz volume, but only on the 3LP vinyl, which is sold out (it was issued in 2018). And Sea Breeze was cut by a completely different band save for Otsuka, so comparisons are fairly limited, though there are some similarities and a few interesting contrasts.

It’s easy to hear, if not screamingly obvious, that Loving You George is a drummer’s record, with Otsuka handling the foreground with grace, a la Blakey or Roach, rather than acting the showboat. But on Sea Breeze, he isn’t as consistently upfront, with the set much more of a mixed bag stylistically and in terms of value, ranging from the late ’60s-Blue Note-style of the opening title track (Shunzo Ohno’s trumpet inspiring thoughts of Lee Morgan), to a Beatles interpretation (“Fool on the Hill,” better than expected) to a serving of soul jazz (“Potato Chips”) that would’ve made for a nice single on Prestige.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Jon Hassell,
Dream Theory in
Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two

Celebrating Jon Hassell on his 84th birthday.Ed.

Originally released in 1981 on Editions EG, Jon Hassell’s Dream Theory in Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two was a groundbreaker in its merger of ambient, experimental, and global sounds, but as the decades unfurled it came to be inexplicably overlooked, in part due to a lack of reissues since getting placed on compact disc in the late-’80s. Well, that scenario has changed, as it’s been given a LP and CD release courtesy of Glitterbeat Records’ new sub-label Tak:Til; that its often surreal yet meticulously crafted rewards are back in the bins is a fine circumstance indeed.

Regarding Jon Hassell’s early catalog, 1980’s Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics is much better known, even before it was reissued by Glitterbeat in 2014, largely because it has Brain Eno’s name on the cover. Eno plays on and mixed Vol. Two as well, but co-billing eludes him, specifically due to Hassell’s distress over his partner running with the Fourth World musical ball and spiking it directly into David Byrne’s backyard.

Hassell apparently viewed Talking Heads’ Remain in Light (’80) and the Eno/ Byrne collab My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (’81) as part of “a full-scale appropriation.” This may sound like an atmosphere of hostility, but Hassell actually contributed to Remain in Light, and as said, ol’ Bri wasn’t locked out the studio for Vol. 2; in retrospect, Hassell has said he “probably under-credited him.”

If a bit harsh at the time, Hassell’s caution over the usurping-weakening of the Fourth World, a concept expanded upon by Hassell as “a viewpoint out of which evolves guidelines for finding balances between accumulated knowledge and the conditions created by new technologies,” wasn’t exactly unjustified, as a stated goal was to imagine a musical landscape where assorted global musics, with Hassell citing Javanese, Pygmy, and Aboriginal forms as examples, had been as influential as the Euro-classical tradition.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Lee Scratch Perry,
Rainford

Celebrating Lee Scratch Perry who turns 85 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.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Janet Simpson, Safe Distance (Cornelius Chapel) This is the first album for Birmingham, AL-based Simpson, but she’s recorded extensively, in her own groups (Delicate Cutters, Timber) and backing others (Wooden Wand, Will Stewart), and the prior experience is palpable. Gazing at the sleeve for Safe Distance, I kept imagining a mid-’70s private press LP heavily influenced by Joni Mitchell, but that’s not Simpson’s deal. Instead, think prime Lucinda Williams, but a tad more rocking, as if the players were recruited from Paisley Underground bands. Now, that isn’t to imply psychedelia, but rather Neil Young; Simpson’s Americana is appealingly tough. I also dig her preference for Fender Rhodes over pedal steel, though her use of the keyboard is nicely understated, as she’s not shooting for a retro vibe. There are a few tracks that broaden the spectrum a bit, including “Mountain,” where Simpson’s vocals conjured thoughts of Chrissie Hynde, and also finale “Wrecked,” which in its closing seconds had me thinking of, well, Joni. How ‘bout that… A-

Deniz Cuylan, No Such Thing As Free Will (Hush Hush) Based in Los Angeles, guitarist Cuylan delivers an impressive debut that manages to assemble a wide array of styles without coming off like a hodgepodge. It’s an integrated approach that’s as likely to please ears attuned to neo-classical as it’ll gently goose fans of fingerpicking. Cuylan’s folk side has some affinities with Bert Jansch (particularly circa Avocet), though his playing in “Flaneurs in Hakone” is reminiscent of the Takoma sound at its most florid. That’s great. But the sturdy patterns of “Purple Plains of Utopia” nicely back up the comparisons made elsewhere to Steve Reich and the Durutti Column, while the atmospheric swells and Brian Bender’s cello in “She Was Always Here” help to establish the connection to contempo classical gorgeousness. But fear not, for the calm beauty in these pieces is accompanied by weight and edge that easily fends off the dangers of insubstantiality. And while his playing is clearly dexterous, that’s never Cuylan’s point, which only reinforces the depth of the LP. An unusually rewarding debut. A-

Plankton Wat, Future Times (Thrill Jockey) Like a lot of folks, guitarist Dewey Mahood started out playing in a punk band. He’s come a long way since then, collaborating and contributing to numerous contexts, with the prolific outfit Eternal Tapestry having the highest profile (alongside Plankton Wat), but I mention those punk beginnings because Mahood’s inclination for cosmic drift and psychedelic expansiveness possesses a bit more bite when compared to many other like-minded practitioners. Indeed, for extended portions, Future Times gets downright strange as the guitar is as agitated as it is exploratory. There is a substantial thread of darkness spanning across the record as well, which is fitting given Mahood’s focus on the state of the planet as revealed in track titles “The Burning World,” “Modern Ruins,” “Dark Cities,” and “Defund the Police.” But I’ll emphasize that Future Times is still a highly transportive experience, and ultimately quite positive, especially as it concludes with the fuzzed-up beauty move and slow fadeout of “Wild Mountain.” A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Knoxville Girls, In a Ripped Dress (Bang!) Featuring Jerry Teel (Honeymoon Killers, Boss Hog, Chrome Cranks), Kid Congo Powers (The Cramps, The Gun Club, The Bad Seeds), Bob Bert (Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, Bewitched), Jack Martin (Five Dollar Priest) and Barry London (Oneida), this bunch, who cut three records for In the Red from ’98-’01, aren’t girls, and neither are they from Tennessee (the name likely derives from a murder ballad, recorded by, amongst many others, The Louvin Brothers, The Country Gentlemen and…The Lemonheads). These demos of songs that mostly turned up in finished form on third LP In a Paper Suit sound like they were cut in a shack on the outskirts of a swamp but were actually recorded in NYC. Rubbing scuzzy, fuzzy R&R against damaged hick sensibilities, greasy sparks do fly. Hank Williams and Hasil Adkins get covered, but so does “Sophisticated Boom Boom” by The Shangri-Las. London’s organ brings some garage zest to the party, and the fiddle in opener “Any Reason to Celebrate” sparked thoughts of the Mississippi Sheiks. A-

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Altered Images,
“Dead Pop Stars” b/w “Sentimental”

Celebrating Clare Grogan on her 59th birthday.Ed.

Altered Images are basically remembered today for being one part of the early-‘80s influx of the New Wave, one that never broke big in the States. Featuring the unique vocal talents of Clare Grogan, the group’s early material provides a very interesting collection of melodic yet appealingly edgy post-punk that should satisfy fans of the later-‘80s c86 movement, and by extension the partisans of ‘90s indie pop that was issued via labels like Slumberland. The best place to start with Altered Images is with their first effort “Dead Pop Stars” b/w “Sentimental,” a gem of a single that never got its due.

A band’s debut record can serve a variety of different functions. At the time of release these documents will reliably stand as a tangible marker of achievement for the musicians involved, indicating that they’d transcended the realm of the practice space and low-to-no paying local live gigs to actually produce something permanent.

So many records have been issued over the years that the steady flow of bands announcing their existence with yet another 45, EP, or album can frankly not seem anything even remotely like a big deal, but the reality is that only a percentage of groups have what it takes to make it beyond the initial stages of formation to deliver something concrete, and only a portion of those actually possess the collective inspiration to deliver music that can withstand the test of time. Yes, the debut record delivers permanence (“We did it!”), but it’s far from a given that what’s contained in those grooves will cut through the haze of subsequent activity to attain the stature of the truly lasting.

The debut record also serves as a calling card for the bands that produce them, combining with a healthy impatience from the participants, who’ve surely practiced those songs dozens of times and are eager to unveil fresh material as a springboard of legitimacy for further activity. Hopefully the releases that follow will reveal a rewarding progression of ideas and a rise in quality. Indeed, very often the music that’s produced brings a level of refinement and assurance and with this an increase in polish and professionalism.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text