Category Archives: The TVD Record Store Club

Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 2022, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for February 2022. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Kendra Morris, Nine Lives (Karma Chief) Although based in New York, vocalist Morris is from Florida, having moved to NYC with a band that’s fortunes didn’t pan out, Instead, she recorded her debut album Banshee for the Wax Poetics label a decade ago and then self-released a follow-up EP “Babble” in 2016. Nine Lives reinforces the artist as a specialist in neo-soul, an increasingly crowded field that Morris navigates pretty well for a couple reasons. The first is that she uses her obvious vocal prowess to productive ends. Put another way, she doesn’t oversing (the stumbling block or outright downfall of so many vocalists), which would be easy to do in an attempt to stand out in a crowded field. Instead, Morris flows rather than strains with numerous flashes of sweetness that combine well with the instrumental scheme, the thrust of which is tangibly neo-soul in nature but without being rigidly throwback. Instead, there are recurring psychedelic soul gestures and production values that strike my ears as post-hip-hop. The key is restraint, even when the strings come in. B+

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Keith Tippett, Julie Tippetts, Philip Gibbs, Paul Dunmall, Mahogany Rain (577) Like Onosante, a recording from 2000 featuring pianist Keith Tippett, guitarist Philip Gibbs, drummer Peter Fairclough and multi-horn man Paul Dunmall that 577 reissued last year, Mahogany Rain was initially released by Duns Limited Editions, with its original date of issue 2005. As the name of the label should make obvious, the number of available copies for both sets was finite; 100 copies for each, in fact. Some of the discs issued by Dunmall’s enterprise had numbers as low as 50, in a catalog totaling 67 CDrs and a DVDr, all issued between 1999-2009. That means Duns releases, at least in physical form, are pretty scarce, if not commanding ridiculously high prices on the collector market, in part due to the format and also the type of music offered (mostly avant jazz and free improvisation). But if the dollar amounts for Duns stuff aren’t (with a few exceptions) overinflated, that shouldn’t infer a lack of listener interest, as Onosante’s reissue was well received (and included on TVD’s Best Reissues of 2021 list).

Three of Onosante’s participants also contribute to Mahogany Rain, though there is really no mistaking the two CDs, foremost due to the input of Tippetts, wife of Keith Tippett (taking the original spelling of his surname). As Julie Driscoll, she sang pop-rock with Brian Auger and the Trinity, but in the 1970s, she began focusing on experimental vocals and became quite prolific as such. Her voice is in excellent form here, moving from quiver-scat to sustained meditative passages to hints of the operatic to some almost poppish motion near the end of this always interesting and often exquisite 63-minute improv (the length necessitating the CD format for reissue). Tippetts also plays wooden xylophone, guiro seedpod, Tibetan singing bowls, Balinese xylophone, thumb piano, bells, gopichand, and bamboo kahn, an array that helps to navigate these interactions away from Western improv norms (husband Tippett also plays woodblock, smile drum, maracas, and pebbles). Dunmall concentrates on saxophones and Gibbs the guitar to superb results. If abstract, the music is inclined toward spaciousness and even calm. Terrific. A

Sussan Deyhim & Richard Horowitz, Desert Equations: Azax Attra (Crammed Discs) From 1984-1995, Crammed Discs amassed, by the label’s count, 35 releases in their Made to Measure undertaking, an endeavor once and occasionally still considered a sublabel, but described by Crammed Discs instead as a recently reactivated series, and more specifically a series with a loose focus on composers creating for other artforms, particularly film, dance, and theater. Released in 1986, Desert Equations: Azax Attra was the eighth Made to Measure entry, one that differs a bit from the tendency outlined above, offering a collaboration between Iranian vocalist Deyhim and US-based electronic composer Horowitz, who’s noted as an expert on Middle Eastern music (he also lived in Paris and Morocco for a long stretch prior to the ’80s). If aspects of this recording tie it to its era, and mostly from Horowitz’s side of the equation, that’s largely through a bold embrace of the possibilities of the time, an attitude that combines well with Deyhim’s groundbreaking presence. The record’s wildest moments belong to her. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 2022, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for February 2022. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Pan•American, The Patience Fader (Kranky) Pan•American emerged in the late 1990s as the electronic venture of guitarist Mark Nelson, he of the Richmond, VA-based Labradford, themselves one of the vital bands of the ’90s underground. It’s another example of the “solo project” overtaking the outfit that spawned it, as Labradford hasn’t released a record since 2001’s Fixed::Context, while Pan•American has persisted, with The Patience Fader by my count Nelson’s eleventh album released under the sobriquet. It’s a wonderful listen, at once beautiful and weighted emotionally, recorded in isolation during the summer of 2020. It’s more accurately described as a guitar album rather than an electronic one, at least on the surface (lap steel and harmonica also figure in the record’s scheme. But there are surely pieces here where the electronic element is asserted, and productively so. Nelson avoids the increasingly standard maneuvers in contempo ambient electronics, and does the same with his guitar, his playing gentle without becoming oppressively tranquil. ‘tis a heavy record. A-

Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Disasters Vol. 1 (Hot Cup) Along with unpredictability and sharp musicianship, Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s constant factors are bassist-composer-arranger Moppa Elliott (the leader of the ensemble) and drummer Kevin Shea, here joined once again by pianist Ron Stabinsky. This is not the first piano trio lineup for MOPDtK (that would be Paint from 2017), though this set stands out from that one as Stabinsky and Shea both contribute electronics to the recording. The record provides another showcase for Stabinsky’s sheer prowess at the keyboard on eight original compositions from Elliott, all named after locales in Pennsylvania where some sort of calamity occurred. While tapping into piano trio “convention” is a vital aspect of the overall strategy here, so is abstraction, but without following a long-established and by now fairly predictable “start inside, take it outside and then bring it back in” model. Here, inside and out often intermingle simultaneously and productively. While some will view it as a provocation, the electronics add legit dimension. First MOPDtK vinyl. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Jeff Parker, The Relatives (Thrill Jockey) Reissued for the occasion of Thrill Jockey’s 30th anniversary, The Relatives’ initial release arrived halfway through that distinguished stretch, retaining drummer-percussionist Chad Taylor and multi-instrumentalist Chris Lopes (he plays upright bass, electric and acoustic guitars, flute and percussion on this album) from Parker’s 2003 trio set Like-coping on Delmark and adds Sam Barsheshet on Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos. Parker completes the group on electric guitar. Interestingly, Parker only contributes three compositions here, with the title track a co-write with Matthew Lux (his bandmate in Isotope 217). Lopes brings three pieces, Taylor brings one, and Marvin Gaye’s “When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You.” is given a sweet ’70s post-boppish spin. Overall, the sound is rooted in fusion with touches of post-rock, unsurprising given Parker’s background, but it still sounds fresh after 15 years. “Rang (For Michael Zerang)” ends the record on an percussively explosive note. A-

The Detroit Escalator Company, Soundtrack [313] (Mental Groove Records / Musique Pour La Danse) Motown-based multidisciplinary artist and ambient techno specialist Neil Ollivierra’s highly-regarded and potentially quite pricey debut, originally released in 1996 by UK label Ferox as a 2LP limited to 1,000 copies (offering eight tracks) and on CD (with one extra cut), gets a deluxe reissue here, with four bonus selections added to the 2LP, which was half-speed mastered at 45rpm (in two limited editions, with the window of availability closing fast), and two more extras on the CD (a 3-panel digipak, also limited). While there are certainly elements in the overall scheme, particularly rhythmic, that are representative of its era, that’s not the same as falling back onto worn-out tropes. While it doesn’t feel right to describe Soundtrack [313] as unpredictable, the progression (which hits 72 minutes on CD) is never clichéd, and that’s seriously impressive, as people have had 25 years to appropriate Ollivierra’s moves. In the end, this really says something about the uncoppable subtleties of inspiration. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 2022, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for February 2022. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Joy Guidry, Radical Acceptance (Whited Sepulchre) The vinyl for this release (180 gram lavender) isn’t likely to arrive until June, but waiting until then to sing the praises of NYC-based bassoonist and composer Guidry’s music simply makes no sense. It’s available digitally now and it’s a doozy, so fans of free expression should check it out and get those orders in. “Just Because I Have a Dick Doesn’t Mean I’m a Man,” Radical Acceptance’s opening spoken word piece, illuminates Guidry’s experience as a trans person, with their insights impacting everything that comes after, which ranges from electronic ambience (“Face to Face,” “Grace”) to wildly skronking and achily emotive free jazz (numerous selections, with “Inner Child” a rip-roaring delight) to a short bit of a cappella singing suggestive of a field recording (“Down in the Valley”) to a stretch of ambience that registers as being more environmentally derived (“72 Hours”). Also noteworthy is how Guidry’s use of electronics seems to extend into the improvised pieces, lending them a raw texture that’s utterly splendid. A

Author & Punisher, Krüller (Relapse) Krüller is San Diego-based Tristan Shone’s ninth full-length as Author & Punisher, but it’s my first taste of his self-described industrial doom-drone metal one-man-band. Having gathered a notion of what was in store, my expectations were largely met in qualitative terms, though I was a bit surprised, and pleasantly so, at the degree of legit songwriting that’s on display here. Given that Shone relies upon custom built mechanisms-controllers and speakers called Drone Machines and Dub Machines, I was braced for an experience that was structural, but decidedly more abrasive, pummeling, and bombastic. All three attributes are present (and in spades, I’d say), but there is also a melodic sensibility consistently at work across the record that’s impressively non-hackneyed (by which I mean shamelessly mimicking questionable models) while still being recognizably Metallic in nature. The atmospheric moments were also unexpected, as were the synths, though given the mention of industrial I should’ve saw it coming. But really, don’t get the idea Krüller isn’t heavy. It is. But good. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Roky Erickson & The Explosives, Halloween: Live 1979-1981 (SteadyBoy) In 1974, after release from state psychiatric supervision, Roky Erickson formed Bleib Alien, which morphed into the Aliens and recorded a 15-song session with CCR’s Stu Cook that resulted in a pair of LPs, one in the UK (1980) and the other in the US (’81). But before those albums were even released, he’d hooked up with Austin band The Explosives for a series of live shows, with songs from seven locations collected on this 2LP, a repress of a Norton set from 2008 (SteadyBoy previously handled the CD). For lovers of 13th Floor Elevators that are hearing this material for the first time, the change of direction, essentially a combination of lean, tough hard rock with horror and occult themes, can take a little getting used to. Conversely, I’ve met folks who heard this era of Erickson first (some of them introduced to it through the Return of the Living Dead soundtrack) and profess to prefer it. That’s not me, but listening to these 17 songs and a concluding radio spot, I can surely understand that perspective. It’s inspired stuff. A-

Moving Sidewalks, Flash (RockBeat) Before they formed ZZ Top, guitarist Billy Gibbons and drummer Dan Mitchell were part of The Moving Sidewalks, with bassist Don Summers and keyboardist Tom Moore completing the band. While their existence is no secret, this album, which holds the majority of the group’s output, has never really grown into a must for collectors or even gathered a cult following (at least in my experience), though it has been reissued many times since the early 1990s. Once Flash is heard, the reason for this general lack of esteem becomes pretty obvious; the record’s just not that good. Along with Jimi Hendrix’s enthusiasm for Gibbons’ guitar playing, maybe the biggest part of Moving Sidewalks’ lore is their camaraderie with the 13th Floor Elevators. Listening to Flash, there’s little in the way of direct musical ties, as opener “Flashback” sounds like it could’ve been recorded in Burbank, CA. Subsequent tracks recall Steppenwolf and Vanilla Fudge. There’s also a flat-out blues number, some goofus trippy stuff, and the very swank A-side to their first single, “99th Floor. B

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 2022, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for February 2022.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Luke Stewart’s Silt Trio, The Bottom (Cuneiform) Washington, DC-based Stewart plays saxophone and bass, both electric and acoustic, with the latter his instrument exclusively on this CD featuring fellow DC resident Brian Settles on tenor sax and Chicagoan Chad Taylor on drums. Additionally, on The Bottom’s opening track “Reminiscence,” Taylor plays the Zimbabwean mbira (aka thumb piano). His cyclical motif on the instrument brings an immediate air of distinctiveness to the Silt Trio’s debut recording. However, as Stewart has played with both of his counterparts here separately before (and Settles recorded with Taylor and pianist Neil Podgurski on their terrific album The Daily Biological), this set has no shortage of rapport. While two selections, one long (“Angels”) and one short (“Circles”), were improvised in studio, the other tracks are considerably more structural, with “Roots” even working up an abundance of groove heat. Elsewhere, traces of free-bop emerge, which is to say the playing gets loose and spirited but not too out. A very promising first statement. A-

Lady Wray, Piece of Me (Big Crown) On her second full-length, Nicole Wray alters the program a bit, honing a sound that’s substantially more contemporary but without abandoning her appealingly hard-hitting old-school soul sensibility. Having spent ample time with her 2016 gem Queen Alone, I’ll admit that the transition took a little getting used to, but the difference was never jarring, partly due to the producer once again being Leon Michels, and also because Wray’s stylistic shift has the air of the familiar about it. Specifically, aspects of hip-hop have been intensified in the equation, and successfully so, as “Where Were You,” with its killer beat (and fuzz guitar) is a sterling example. But really, the rhythms are massive all over this set, and to be clear, hip-hop is still an influence not an outright style. The main diff is that on Queen Alone, it felt like Wray was fronting a wickedly sharp live band (with hip-hop more of an undercurrent). Now, it’s more of a rich studio concoction. The biggest similarity is Wray’s voice, which is terrific throughout but shines in particular during the exceptional “Melody.” A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: The Flamingos, Flamingo Serenade (Real Gone) 1950s doo wop acts weren’t exactly known for cutting albums. Frankly, most of them were lucky to get more than one single on the market. That Flamingo Serenade isn’t just a collection of singles padded out with an exclusive track or two is especially notable, with this LP the realization of End Records’ founder George Goldner’s desire for a full album of pop standards done in R&B vocal group style. Ambitious and impressive that it came together so well, and with “I Only Have Eyes for You,” a doo wop masterwork if ever one was, prominent in the sequence. Clearly crafted for extended necking sessions with the lights turned down low, Flamingo Serenade avoids sinking into a listless love stupor, instead dishing otherworldly resonances (harmoniously and even instrumentally) that’re perfect for cheap car radios. Note that “I Only Have Eyes for You” opens side two here, like it did upon release in 1957 (some subsequent editions reverse sides A and B). Also, Real Gone has chosen to repress the Super Sonic Stereo edition. A

William S. Fischer, Circles (Real Gone) A fascinating album originally released on Herbie Mann’s Embryo label in 1970 that offers symphonic soulfulness, funkiness, jazziness, hard rock heaviness, and most strikingly, avant-garde electronic music played on a Moog by Fischer, who along with extensive credits as an instrumentalist (saxophone) and arranger-conductor-musical director (notably, Joe Zawinul’s The Rise & Fall of the Third Stream, Roberta Flack’s First Take, and Eugene McDaniels’ Outlaw, recently reissued by Real Gone), studied electronic composition in Germany. The electronic pieces here are totally devoid of kitsch, sounding instead like extracts from a random album on Nonesuch released around the same time as Circles. The sheer range of Fischer’s ambitions, when coupled with the lack of knockout songs, keeps this shy of the masterpiece plateau, but the lack of blunders both conceptually and in execution (Ron Carter and Billy Cobham are amongst the personnel) really raises the bar. Maybe Real Gone could reissue Fischer’s Omen LP next. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2022, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January 2022. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Wadada Leo Smith, Henry Kaiser & Alex Varty, Pacifica Koral Reef (577) As guitarist and music journalist Alex Varty points out in his excellent accompanying text for this CD, trumpeter-composer-teacher Wadada Leo Smith and guitarist-composer Henry Kaiser have been friends for a long time, since the mid-1970s, in fact. And Varty, a Canadian resident of British Columbia, has been acquainted with Smith and Kaiser for nearly as long. While the specifics of these relationships doubtlessly impacted the shape of Pacifica Koral Reef, which consists of one 55-minute piece for two guitars and trumpet, surely discipline, dedication, and sheer talent were equally as important in making this delightful recording a reality. There was a graphic score (Smith’s) learned and honed over several sessions, and there is so much to recommend; the atypical instrumental configuration, sustained passages of heightened interaction and abstract beauty, a touch of the blues, and Vardy’s impressive acoustic soloing in the opening moments. Smith and Kaiser’s distinctive styles are in full effect. A

Tyler Mitchell featuring Marshall Allen, Dancing Shadows (Mahakala) Both Mitchell and Allen are associated with the music of Sun Ra, the latter famously so; other than the bandleader himself, Allen is likely the highest-profile member of the Arkestra. Bassist Mitchell joined the band in 1985 for a stint and then reupped after Allen became musical director, but he’s also played with Art Taylor, Shirley Horn, and Jon Hendricks, so he can do it inside and outside. The cover kinda insinuates that Dancing Shadows is a duo session, but no, it’s actually a sextet, with Mitchell on bass, Allen on alto sax and EVI, Chris Hemmingway on tenor sax, Nicoletta Manzini on alto sax, Wayne Smith on drums, and Elson Nascimento on percussion. The album they’ve made is a wonderfully wild affair, offering a dozen selections focusing on compositions by Allen and Sun Ra, but that also means there is an ass-ton of tangible swing in the mix. All the horns are blowing shit hot and with melodious twists and turns, the drums-percussion is cracking large, and the bass is big in the mix, as it should be. And the EVI is a welcome addition. A

Maya Shenfeld, In Free Fall (Thrill Jockey) This is the debut solo record for Shenfeld, a Berlin-based composer whose method, as detailed in her Bandcamp bio, is focused upon “exploring the space between modes of musical production used in experimental, classical, and popular music.” And so appropriately, In Free Fall roams around stylistically, beginning in a horn-saturated, tangibly Minimalist zone with “Cataphora” (and mirrored somewhat in closer “Anaphora”), then engaging with analog synths in “Body, Electric,” and after that delving into a more distorted soundscape with “Voyager.” While Shenfeld resides in Berlin, her use of electronics eludes expectations, as in “Mountain Larkspur,” where she reworks the choral singing of the Bethanien Youth Choir (executed in collaboration with James Ginzberg of labelmates Emptyset). Furthermore, Shenfeld’s approach to ambient avoids cliché as her melodic inclinations can become appealingly tense (borderline cinematic). That Shenfeld partook in a residency with Caterina Barbieri makes sense, as their approaches are complementary. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: The Innocence Mission, Now the Day Is Over (Badman) Lancaster, PA’s The Innocence Mission, an alt-folk trio featuring Karen Peris (vocals, guitar, keyboards, more), her husband Don Peris (guitar), and Mike Bitts (bass), released their debut full-length in 1989; this is their seventh out of a grand total of 12, released by Badman in 2004 and making its vinyl debut here. With one exception, Now the Day Is Over is a covers album, specifically focused upon standards and traditional songs that Karen Peris sang as lullabies to her children; we’re talking “Stay Awake” from Mary Poppins, “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, “What a Wonderful World,” and “Moon River,” but also Chopin’s “Prelude in A,” Beethoven’s “Sonata No. 8” (these last two technically not lullabies, as they are played solo on guitar) and even the gospel hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” In less assured hands, this sort of gentle and sweet endeavor would rapidly wear out its welcome, but there is an ease to The Innocence Mission’s sensitivity, a lack of straining for the beautiful, that solidifies the record’s appeal. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2022, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January 2022. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: The Whitmore Sisters, Ghost Stories (Red House / Compass) This one starts big and bright and then doesn’t falter in its old-school harmony rich rootsy country-rock sweetness. Bonnie Whitmore is known for her solo recordings, of which there are four, with 2020’s Last Will And Testament serving as my entry point to her work. Eleanor is half of The Mastersons with husband Chris Masterson; they’ve cut four albums and play in Steve Earles’ Dukes. Produced by Masterson, this is the Whitmore siblings’ first album together, but anybody coming to it cold would likely think they’d already cut three or four, as the interaction is sublime. Recorded spontaneously post-pandemic in Los Angeles, the 11 tracks thrive on unexpected twists, and right away in “Learn to Fly,” which has a Bangles gone country-rock appeal, while also emphasizing their harmonious strengths, as in “On the Wings of a Nightingale,” a song that Paul McCartney wrote for the Everly Brothers. Secret weapon: strings. In closer “Greek Tragedy,” they bring Forever Changes to mind. WHAT KIND OF WONDERFUL CRAZINESS IS THIS?! A

Artsick, Fingers Crossed (Slumberland) The focal point of Artsick is Christina Riley, formerly of Burnt Palms, who set this band in motion by sharing a few of her demos with Mario Hernandez of Kids on a Crime Spree and Ciao Bella. He was up for playing drums and doing some recording at his Oakland, CA studio. With Donna McKean of Lunchbox and Hard Left stepping in on bass, a new trio was formed. Musically, the focal point on this concise full-length is also Riley, with her vocals lending everything, even the hard-charging Ramones-y handclapping highlight “Despise,” a 1990s indie-pop angle, though this shouldn’t discount the deftness of the playing. On that note, the Ramones mention supports a comparison to Vivian Girls, though I will add that Artsick is less rigid and more supple in their approach, and with some appealing range. A fine example is “Look Again,” which reminds me a bit of a Bratmobile-’80s Flying Nun hybrid, though I suppose that the C86 explosion and even earlier ’80s predecessors Dolly Mixture can be considered part of the equation, as well. It’s an equation that never feels like formula. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Play Selections From the New Musical Golden Boy (Honey Pie) Here’s a highly deserving reissue of one of the few obscurities in the discography of celebrated drummer and bandleader Blakey. Released in 1963, Golden Boy’s lack of stature derives partly from its release on the Colpix label (rather than Blue Note or Atlantic or Impulse!) and also I’m guessing due to the Broadway musical tie-in. The corrective is the personnel, specifically the Messengers lineup that cut Caravan before and Free for All after: trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, trombonist Curtis Fuller, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Cedar Walton, and bassist Reggie Workman, this core group expanded with Lee Morgan on trumpet, Julius Watkins on French horn, Bill Barber on tuba, James Spaulding on alto sax, and Charles Davis on baritone sax. The largest Blakey band on record? I think so, and the playing throughout is splendid, with Shorter and Davis particularly fired up. Blakey shines in his spots, and if Golden Boy isn’t on par with his best stuff, it’s not far behind. A

The Cosmic Jokers, S/T (Die Kosmischen Kuriere) The label blurb for this reissue states that it’s a remaster from the “original analog tapes,” and has apparently never sounded better. The text also describes the Jokers as simply an “all-star band,” which isn’t wrong, as this Krautrock supergroup features Manuel Göttsching and Klaus Schulze from Ash Ra Tempel and Jürgen Dollase and Harald Großkopf from Wallenstein, with Dieter Dierks also contributing, but definitely omits some crucial info, as they congregated to play parties organized by producer Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and hosted by Dierks in his sound studio, with the “band” reportedly paid in cash and hallucinogens. Recorded (legend has it surreptitiously) and edited by Kaiser, four albums were issued in 1974 without the consent of the players (who weren’t even informed of their release). Legal action ensued (the dispute eventually settled). It’s been a while since I’ve heard the others, but checking this one out fresh solidifies my belief that it’s the best of the bunch. It features two potent side-long space rock excursions sans vocals. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2022, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January 2022. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Tony Malaby’s Sabino, The Cave of Winds (Pyroclastic) “Everything was nuts, so I just had to go down there and throw sound with my guys. It got me through and kept me positive.” The speaker is saxophonist Tony Malaby. The nutzoid everything is Covid and the Presidential election of last year. Down there is a New Jersey turnpike (nicknamed in this CD’s title) where Malaby met up with numerous improvising contemporaries during the height of the pandemic. These activities led him to reconvene Sabino, the group heard on his debut album from 2000, a self-titled affair released by the Arabesque label. That means Michael Formanek is on double bass and Tom Rainey on drums here, but with guitarist Ben Monder instead of Marc Ducret, who played on the debut.

Interestingly, Monder was Sabino’s guitarist prior to the recording with Ducret, so the interactive flow here is in no way tempered through a late addition to a collective experience that’s decades old; before Sabino, Malaby and Formanek played in the Mingus Big Band and then joined Rainey in Marty Ehrlich’s group. And while Malaby is a stalwart free improvisor, he can also play “inside” like nobody’s business, with the turnpike sessions featuring a re-engagement with standards and the jazz repertoire (courtesy of Billy Mintz and John Hébert). While there’s nothing resembling conventional balladry here, opener “Corinthian Leather” is something of a free-bop affair, and a sweet one at that. In a few places (a stretch of “Life Coach (For Helias)” in particular), ’60s Ornette came to mind, I suspect due to Formanek and Rainey possessing an elevated rhythmic thing that’s league with David Izenzon and Charles Moffett. Monder’s sound ranges from clean, recognizably jazzy lines to post-metallic amp splatter. And Malaby’s one of the few saxophonists who sounds as killer on soprano as he does on tenor. Nice all around. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Reiko & Tori Kudo, Tangerine (A Colourful Storm) Tori Kudo remains most associated with Maher Shalal Hash Baz, but his contributions to the Japanese underground span back to the late ’70s-early ’80s and Noise, a band which also featured contributions from Reiko Omura; Tori and Reiko later married. In addition to a string of solo records, Reiko was also part of Maher Shalal Hash Baz, as she and Tori released a handful of duo albums, of which Tangerine was the last, issued on CD in 2013 by the Hyotan label. This edition is Tangerine’s vinyl debut, and with a new cover. The sound is wonderfully sparse and gentle, categorized as folk, which isn’t wrong but doesn’t communicate the music’s reach, which resists easy comparisons, though there are few; Peter Jefferies’ solo work fleetingly came to mind, and by extension John Cale. But it’s “The Swallow II,” which manages to combine Young Marble Giants and elements of God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It, that delivers the record its standout track. Comes with an insert, a postcard and lyrics in Japanese and English. A

Rapoon, Fallen Gods (Abstrakce) Rapoon is the project of Robin Storey, who co-founded the noted experimental-industrial outfit Zoviet France in 1980, a group he exited in 1992, the same year Rapoon’s debut Dream Circle emerged. Released in 1994, Fallen Gods is Rapoon’s third in what would become a insanely voluminous discography; two more releases followed in ’94, with Vernal Crossing already reissued by Abstrakce in 2020. As was the case with that set, this is Fallen Gods first time on vinyl. Irrefutable is that Storey digs repetition in the music, though unlike others in the industrial field, he’s not dancey but tribal, as Rapoon’s been tagged as ethno-ambient. While there are aspects that date this set, things never tip over into the corny or the lame. Potentially of interest to Jon Hassell fans. Please note that Fallen Gods is being offered for purchase in bundles with the expanded reissue of Erik Wøllo’s Silver Beach (1986), or the reissue Juan Belda’s eponymous LP (also ’86), or with the Belda and D.K.’s Eighteen Movements (2021), all releases from this highly interesting Spanish label. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2022, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January 2022. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Stefan Schönegg, Enso: Strukturen (impakt Köln) This is the Cologne-based Schönegg’s fourth release featuring Enso, an assemblage described by the bassist-improvisor-composer as his “chamber music ensemble with changing instrumentations.” This time out, Enso features clarinet (Michael Thieke), bassoon (Sandra Weiss), cello (Nathan Bontrager), double bass (Schönegg), and extended snare drum (Etienne Nillesen). Of Enso’s four recordings, this appears to be the first issued on vinyl (it’s also the first I’ve heard), offering ten pieces, the first six titled “Struktur” and the last four “Reflexion” (the tracks distinguished by roman numerals), with the whole reflecting Schönegg’s stated interest in reductive strategies and his desire for Enso to embody slowness in contrast to the fast pace of modern life. This leaves room for a range of sonic possibilities, as portions of the record engage with extended tone clusters that are reminiscent of chamber drone, though as the number of pieces and the format should indicate, none of the durations are especially long. Unintrusively captivating. A

Fred Hersch, Breath by Breath (Palmetto) Hersch’s skills as a pianist are beyond reproach. This is not to say that every one of his releases is perfect. It’s just that Hersch’s handle on his mastery is as firm as his playing is lyrical. For this ambitious CD, he’s joined by bassist Drew Gress, drummer Jochen Rueckert, and for one selection (“Mara,” a standout), percussionist Rogerio Boccato, along with the Crosby Street String Quartet, which features Joyce Hammann and Laura Seaton on violins, Lois Martin on viola, and Jody Redhage Ferber on cello. Breath by Breath consists of The “Sati” Suite in eight parts and a closing ninth piece, “Pastorale,” an homage to the German composer Robert Schumann. While the relationship of jazz and strings has been a historically rocky one, too often sounding stitched together and unsatisfying, the combination flourishes here from the compositional foundation to the execution, with both the trio and the quartet displaying heightened sensitivity. As Hersch’s conception was inspired by his practice of meditation, the suite exudes a comforting energy. It’s never overly tranquil. A

Michael Hurley, The Time of the Foxgloves (No Quarter) When this record came out late last year, on December 10 in fact, I elected to set it aside until just after the New Year, in hopes that Hurley had worked his magic once more and I would’ve gifted myself a fresh treat for 2022. Smart move on my part. Snock’s hooking up with a sizeable indie label might’ve landed him a sweet profile in the New York Times, but fear not, as No Quarter is run by a longtime fan, so that the 11 tracks here are pure Hurley. Opener “Are You Here For the Festival?” adds another classic to a repertoire already full of them, the vocal duets are wonderful (The Louvin Brothers’ “Alabama” with Betsy Nichols and “Jacob’s Ladder” with Josephine Foster are the best at this early juncture), the instrumentation is diverse, including fiddle, banjo, baritone ukulele, upright bass, bass clarinet, xylophone, even electric piano (a Wurlitzer A200) on another standout cut, “Blondes and Redheads.” Exactly where this one will land in Hurley’s discographical hierarchy will require time to assess, but rest assured it’s whole is exquisite. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Michael Beach, Gravity/Repulsion (Goner) ‘tis true that Gravity/Repulson came out a mere four years ago, but four years can register as a long time; think of a presidency that ran from 2016 to 2020 and tell me how fucking long that felt like. Anyway, Goner’s reissue of this fine record (the follow-up to Beach’s masterful 2013 album Golden Theft) came out just last month, and as it’s likely many missed the boat on its existence back in ’17, it’s a great opportunity to get acquainted with one of the 21st century’s sharpest extenders of what I’ll call the classic ’80s-’90s indie rock sound. Not that I missed the boat myself, as I gave it a full review upon release for this very website. But don’t get the idea that I’m gloating, since I just recently caught up with Beach’s Dream Violence, which Goner put out last March. His latest continues an impeccable streak of quality, with Golden Theft remaining his best, but good luck finding a vinyl copy of one now. Here’s an opportunity to scoop up a record that’s nearly as great, so don’t sleep. After a few fresh spins, it’s clear that Gravity/Repulsion hasn’t lost a thing. A

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2021’s New Releases, Part Two

As we arrive at the final tippy-top ten of the Best New Releases of 2021, it easy to envision the scroll-downs and the scrunched-up frowns: “hey, where is _____?” Please understand that the fave in question is likely in a queue still waiting to be heard, or was heard but is hanging just off the periphery, perhaps even making an early draft of the list, or was simply elusive in the modern avalanche of high quality sounds. As said at the beginning of the week (seems like much longer than week ago, and it’s only Friday), these lists are never really final. Lists are in fact, at their best, just part of an ongoing conversation…

5. Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt, Made Out of Sound (Palilalia) & Binker & Moses, Escape the Flames (Gearbox) Versatility and adaptability are common, near constant, traits in the great “jazz” drummers, characteristics that allowed Elvin Jones to productively create with Barry Harris (RIP), John Coltrane (of course), Lee Konitz and Sonny Sharrock.

I mention this because Chris Carsano is definitely a “jazz” drummer in all the best ways, and on Made Out of Sound he gets very much into a Elvin-like zone in tandem with the soaring beauty of guitarist Bill Orcutt, who locates those fleeting moments of transcendence heard from some the great expansionist string benders of the 1960s-’70s (a few of them also “jazz”) and then just hangs out there beautifully. It’s impossible for me to contemplate listening to Made Out of Sound and not feeling good.

Corsano and Orcutt dish an exemplary serving of duo exchange, but Escape the Flames hits the “classic” exploratory sax-drums target right in its bullseye with “The Departure,” and then takes a big groove offramp with “Intoxication From the Jahvmonishi Leaves.” That means this 2LP is likely not as skronky as some hardcore aficionados of freedom might prefer, but Binker Golding’s tenor is still cut from the cloth of ’60s Coltrane (some of finest woven aural threads, anywhere). And with “Fete By the River” he brings Impulse-era Sonny Rollins to mind, partly because Boyd displays some of that versatility spoken of up above. The crowd loves it (yes, this set was recorded live). Then they tear it up some more…

4. Thumbscrew, Never Is Enough (Cuneiform) & Colleen, The Tunnel and the Clearing (Thrill Jockey) Is there a better leaderless “jazz” trio than Thumbscrew currently working? By which, let me clarify, amassing a discography; this is guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist (upright and plugged-in) Michael Formanek, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara’s sixth album. The appeal is partly based in ceaselessly sharp playing, partly in structural acumen (each point on this triangle brings three compositions to the table), and partly about heightened interaction. One could call it a series of beautiful conversations, but it’s more like snapshots of three brilliant humans living together and attaining a rare level of harmony.

Shifting from group settings to the solo paradigm, The Tunnel and the Clearing is another exceptional record from Cécile Schott. With a synth and keyboard-based approach, often glistening in its retrofuturist qualities (but never trite), her stuff is solid as marble structurally, with her vocals adding considerable value. And there is a sense of quiet, of intimacy, on her latest that is never labored. The songs, and Schott is as much a crafter of songs as she is an architect of atmospheres, are excellent listening any time of day, but especially so late at night.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2021’s New Releases, Part One

As we head into the Best List home stretch with a shift of focus onto the new, it bears repeating that the sheer number of potential candidates for inclusion was even larger than it was for the box sets and reissues, and with a mountain of interesting releases still unheard. Considering how the decks are currently stacked against musicians in so many ways, the perseverance is downright inspiring. So are the ten records listed below.  

10. Alicja-Pop, Howlin’ (Black & Wyatt) & Deerhoof, Actually, You Can (Joyful Noise) From a standpoint of a music reviewer, one reliable yardstick of high quality is when you keep a record in heavy rotation for a week or two (or more) after the review has posted. The problem of course, it that this situation is never evident until…well, you’ve probably figured it out.

But it just dawned on me that I could mention this circumstance in relation to Howlin’ by Alicja-Pop, the solo endeavor/ group venture of the extremely musically active Alicja Trout of Memphis, TN, because I’d already sussed that this self-described compilation of several years of songs was a solid effort while reviewing it a few months back. That Trout’s forte on Howlin’ is modestly scaled pop-rock likely solidified my initial level of assessment, but after soaking up “Vines B” for the umpteenth time and for the sheer hell of it, the depth of her talents became clear. And so here we are.

Modestly scaled isn’t an accurate description of Deerhoof. On Actually, You Can, their music is as thunderous and agile as ever it was before, but the nine tracks are also notable for being built with the intention to be reproduced on live stages. A goal, taking it (safely) out on the road, that’s thoroughly understandable, with the record effectively unwinding as enticement to witness them playing live. A handful of the tracks are certain to trigger pockets of fan frenzy as they begin, particularly “Scarcity is Manufactured” and its air of joyousness. A little joy is something we could all use right about now.

9. Van Dyke Parks & Verónica Valerio, “Only in America–Solo en América” (Modern Recordings) & Okuté, S/T (Chulo) As was mentioned earlier this week in part one of 2021’s best reissues, rarely do singles and EPs make these lists, but there are exceptions, as is the case this year with the repress of Maximum Joy’s debut 12-inch (which inspired the observation), as so it is with this 4-song 10-inch.

“Only in America–Solo en América” is a collaboration of uncommon richness, though that’s not especially surprising, as Van Dyke Parks is handling the orchestrations, and he’s near the very top of his game. This is immediately apparent in the opening version of Agustin Lara’s “Veracruz,” and it continues through the three original compositions by Valerio. Make that three vibrant compositions by Valerio. Whose singing (and speaking) elevates this EP to a special plateau. And the cover art by Klaus Voormann? Mighty nice on the eyes.

This S/T album from Okuté is also the Havana, Cuba-based band’s debut. That’s lead vocalist Pedro “Tata” Francisco Almeida Barriel on the cover, joined in the group by percussionists Machito, Ramoncito, Roberto Vizcaino Sr. and Roberto Vizcaino Jr, trésero Juan “Coto” de la Cruz, and bassist Gaston Joya. They tap into the essence of rumba and other Cuban styles, with ties to the African root and guitar playing that has a familiar edge to it. Produced by Jacob Plasse, who plays trés guitar in Brooklyn’s Los Hacheros along with running Chulo Records, Okuté has virtuosity to spare but is never slick. At times, like during the killer guitar solo in “Gaston’s Rumba,” it gets downright raw.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2021’s Reissues, Part Two

For part two of 2021’s best reissues the tide turns toward releases of an expansive, often jazzy nature, and with a double dose of punk bite in the mix.

5. Mujician, 10 10 10 (Cuneiform) + Paul Dunmall, Keith Tippett, Philip Gibbs, Pete Fairclough, Onosante (577) Amongst the honorable mentions this year is the initial handful of installments (including a compilation) in Decca’s British Jazz Explosion series, which does a very fine job getting the ball rolling in regards to the worthiness of a scene that’s still thriving in multiple ways (that’s what we call foreshadowing). But in terms of retrospective releases of Brit jazz, I must admit that this pair of discs pulled my chain most effectively in 2021.

The connecting threads are multi-reed man Paul Dunmall and pianist Keith Tippett. The leaderless group Mujician teamed them with Paul Rogers on bass and Tony Levin on drums. Across 10 10 10’s two long selections, the sparks of freedom do fly, but there are still palpable connections to jazz tradition, with these ties never token gestures. Earlier in the year, I compared Mujician’s leaderless thrust to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and I stand by that, though I’ll add that the two don’t sound all that similar. It’s a matter of tactics.

Keith Tippett, likely the most well-known member of Mujician, died on June 14, 2020, spelling the end of the group, though to my knowledge they hadn’t been active for quite a while, as 10 10 10 is designated as their final studio album, cut in Bristol Music Studios in Bristol, UK on October 10, 2010 (hence the title). Onosante was recorded on November 15, 2000, initially released on CD in an edition of 100, with guitarist Philip Gibbs and drummer Pete Fairclough joining Dunmall and Tippett for a dialogue that’s effectively as leaderless as 10 10 10.

There’s a little more collective heat, skronk, and rumble on Onosante, but the group’s relationship to the jazz root is still discernible and it’s always sincere (never a ritualist move). And in a bit of wonderful news, Onosante is the first of hopefully many Dunmall reissues from 577; the next one, Mahogany Rain by Keith Tippett, Julie Tippetts, Philip Gibbs, and Dunmall, is scheduled for release on February 18, 2022. Killer!

4. Screamers, Screamers Demo, Hollywood 1977 (Superior Viaduct) + The Gun Club, Fire of Love Deluxe Edition (Blixa Sounds) In the never-ceasing ever-flowing world of reissues and archival collections, there’s a need to single out the truly essential items from those that are merely very good or (certainly) less, and not just at the end of a calendar year.

This is especially true of punk rock, as it’s so easy for the impressionable to be led astray. And it’s always necessary to champion the Screamers, the Los Angeles synth-punks from before synth-punk had a name. This demo, finally legitimately released after decades of bootlegging, is as essential as it gets, because in terms of edge, it hasn’t lost a thing.

Now, a fair argument can be made that dropping The Gun Club’s debut album onto this list is just squeezing out the reissue of a punk album that’s in greater need of a spotlight in 2021. Yes, Fire of Love has been reissued a handful of times (including by the very label that put out the Screamers record above) and it’s never been hard to find, but never in an edition with bonus tracks, and certainly not with an entire previously unreleased live set (Live at Club 88 – March 6, 1981) attached.

The point of this pairing (well, one point of the geometry, anyway) is that something special was happening in LA (and all over California, in fact) starting in the late ’70s, which pinpoints the Screamers, and that this specialness was still struggling to be heard in the early ’80s amid a stagnant sea of genericism and commercialism. And so, the Fire of Love, which has never sounded as good and for so long as it does in 2021.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2021’s Reissues, Part One

Shifting attention from the big box sets and multi-LP releases toward (mostly) scaled-down reissues and archival material only expands the pool of worthiness. This list, thematically paired and then broken into two parts, was pared down from a collection of candidates substantially longer and attractively massive, even as it excluded all the stuff that still remains unheard. Although agonizing (sweetly so, as outstanding music is the focus here), decisions just had to be made. Here are some of them.

10. The Raybeats, The Lost Philip Glass Sessions (Ramp Local) + 4 Mars, Super Somali Sounds From the Gulf of Tadjoura (Ostinato) For those digging the Bush Tetras collection Rhythm and Paranoia (which made TVD’s list of 2021’s Best Box Sets), The Lost Philip Glass Sessions serves as a pretty nifty companion, as the bands were part of the same scene (the post-no wave scene, don’tcha know), and indeed, they were both featured on Stiff Records’ Start Swimming compilation in 1981.

For these seven tracks The Raybeats’ core consisted of Don Christensen, Pat Irwin, and Jody Harris (Raybeat Danny Amis figures on two tracks, while Gene Holder helps out on bass and Michael Riesman and producer Glass play keyboards). The sound messes around with a retro sensibility (Link Wray’s “Jack the Ripper” gets covered) that results in a datedness that Bush Tetras never displayed, but that’s alright, as “Pack of Camels” has a feel that’s in the ballpark of the B-52’s (who Irwin eventually played with for a long stretch). It’s the instrumental “Black Beach” that really illuminates Glass’ involvement, and is an appealingly unusual addition to what’s largely a party record.

A groove powerhouse, 4 Mars has undoubtedly heightened many a party, with their music uncovered for non-Somali listeners when Ostinato Records was granted access to the Archives of Radiodiffusion-Télévision de Djibouti, or RTD. First heard through a track on Sweet as Broken Dates, Ostinato’s superb compilation devoted to Somali brilliance that was released in 2017, 4 Mars was a band in the ballpark of 40 members tapped to encourage unity by the political party in charge of the young nation’s independence from France. Super Somali Sounds From the Gulf of Tadjoura is the first volume in the label’s Djibouti Archives series, and to describe it as an eye-opener is an understatement.

It’s also a sheer pleasure for the ear. As established on Sweet as Broken Dates, the region of East Africa represented on these comps was for centuries a major trading hub, which also meant cultural exchange. 4 Mars taps into Jamaica (lots of reggae rhythms), India (definite Bollywood vibes), and the USA (soul, R&B, and funk elements), plus, per Ostinato’s typically excellent notes for the set, influences derived from Turkey, China, Mongolia, and Yemen. But maybe my favorite aspect is the wicked-ass psych guitar solo in “Abaal (Gratitude).” Then again, the accordions are also downright swank. Decisions!

9. V/A, Cumbia Cumbia 1 & 2 (World Circuit) + V/A, Cuba: Music and Revolution Vols. 1 & 2 (Soul Jazz) World Circuit, for decades now one of the our most reliable labels in pursuit of global sounds, released the Cumbia Cumbia LP way back in 1989 and then followed it up with Cumbia Cumbia 2 in ’93, both sets archival as the music was sourced from Columbia’s Discos Fuentes label from ’54-’88. Then, in 2012, they were combined into a single whopper of a volume.

That edition fell out of print right quick, as anyone familiar with the sound of cumbia is likely to understand. Here it is again, a wholly deserving fresh edition, an absolute cornucopia of subtle instrumental variations (allowing for extended and repeated listening to roughly 90 minutes of music), and not a trace of declining quality as the tracks of more recent vintage enter the scheme. But it surely doesn’t hurt that the balance of the set is weighted toward the ’50s-’60s. Please understand that this stuff just doesn’t quit.

These Soul Jazz Cuba comps, both compiled by Gilles Peterson and Stuart Baker, are also numerically designated but were released separately, one early in 2021 and the other late (and as each spans six sides of vinyl, they are technically expanded releases, but we’ll not dwell on that). The combined selections, 45 in all, offer a wide sound spectrum but also continuity, as a handful of artists and groups are featured on both volumes.

If Cumbia Cumbia 1 & 2 thrives on the warmth of classic ensembles at their creative peak, the Cuba sets are as advertised about transitions and new possibilities, with Culture Clash in Havana Cuba: Experiments in Latin Music 1975-85 completing the title of both volumes. While the contents regularly engage with assorted popular genres, what’s refreshing is the absence of trend chasing. Never is there a sense of desperation, but instead a constant stream of broken ground.

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Graded on a Curve: The Best of 2021’s Box Sets

As 2021 draws to a close, the best of the year lists have been ramping up. Unlike in (some) years previous, this rundown of the best box sets and expanded releases could’ve been much longer (doubled, essentially), but to borrow a song title from the Richard Hell and the Voidoids album directly below, there is the issue of Time. Time to listen, time to consider, time to write, time to scrap those ideas and listen again, all while carving out time to listen to more.

As such, lists designating the Best _____ of _____ are never final. No, not really. They are but a document of assessments made and conclusions drawn at a specific moment of…time. Like, right now, dig it? It’s these ten large-scaled releases that had the deepest impact across this last 12-month stretch.  

5. Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Destiny Street Complete (Omnivore Recordings) + Bush Tetras, Rhythm and Paranoia: The Best of Bush Tetras (Wharf Cat) Having been a fan of Hell and the Voidoids’ second and final album since the late 1980s (yes, having sought it out in order to hear “Time,” which had been covered by the Minutemen on their posthumous live comp Ballot Result), I’d long considered it an underrated effort by one of punk’s true originators, and also something of a final (musical) statement, as hardly a recorded peep had been heard from Hell (Dim Stars excepted) for a long while after Destiny Street’s 1982 release.

And so, Destiny Street Repaired, credited to Hell & the Voidoids but featuring guitarists Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, and Ivan Julian in place of Robert Quine and Naux (both deceased) from the original sessions was a surprise upon arrival in 2009, a recording made possible through Hell’s discovery of a tape holding only Destiny Street’s rhythm tracks, allowing him to correct an album mix he’d long disdained and deliver a wholly worthwhile revision. In 2019, Destiny Street’s original 24-track masters, once thought lost, were uncovered, meaning Hell could finally mix his second album the way he wanted. Destiny Street Complete offers all three versions plus demos, solidifying it as an essential punk document.

The reasons for pairing Bush Tetras with Richard Hell should be pretty clear. There’s geography for one, specifically NYC. There’s genre for another. Sure, Hell is a cornerstone of the First Wave while Bush Tetras are rightly tagged as belonging to the No Wave, but from my perspective, and not to get all Billy Joel up in here, it’s all punk rock to me.

And yet, there is another less obvious reason for coupling Hell and Bush Tetras, and it has to do with beating the odds. Hell did it by not only not screwing the qualitative pooch when altering a record that was long-ensconced in punk history, but actually improving its stature overall. And Rhythm and Paranoia illuminates how Bush Tetras beat the odds over the span of decades by reuniting twice without a trace of crappiness either time. And magnifying the longshot nature of their endeavors, the sound of Bush Tetras evolved significantly, meaning they always sounded like a contemporary band, never a nostalgia act. RIP to Bush Tetras drummer Dee Pop, who passed in his sleep on October 9.

4. Kazuki Tomokawa, 1975–1977 (Blank Forms) + V/A, The Harmonic Series II (Important) 1975–1977 is a 3CD set collecting three LPs, Finally, His First Album (1975), Straight from the Throat (’76), and A String of Paper Cranes Clenched Between My Teeth (’77), all originally issued by Harvest Records (note: not the UK Harvest Records) and all to be reissued separately on vinyl by Blank Forms in 2022 (the three are available for pre-order now, with April the prospective release month as of this writing). The memoir Try Saying You’re Alive!: Kazuki Tomokawa in His Own Words is also available now in hardcover and paperback from Blank Forms Editions.

To borrow Blank Forms’ description, Tomokawa is a “poet, soothsayer, bicycle race tipster, actor, prolific drinker, self-taught guitarist, and living legend of Japanese sound,” an artist many mavens of u-ground Japan know through his extensive association with the P.S.F. label. Called the “screaming philosopher” of Japan, Tomokawa does raise the roof vocally, but importantly, only sometimes. Stylistically, he spans from folk to psych-rock to assorted varieties of pop. The vinyl reissues offer a great opportunity to own them affordably on the format, but the CD box drives home that they should be collected together, as they constitute a whole of engaging diversity. Sometimes with backing singers.

The Harmonic Series II is comprised of six long-form works in just intonation, one each per album side by Kali Malone, Duane Pitre, Catherine Lamb, Tashi Wada, Byron Westbrook, and Caterina Barbieri. It follows the first installment from 12 years hence, that one issued on CD, with both curated by Pitre.  It all joins together to deliver not just a wonderful collection of sounds, but an affirmative statement on the health of an avant-garde tradition that spans back to the 1960s.

Well, further than that, much further than that, to be sure. It was the early ’60s when just intonation began to have an impact on happenings in New York City (woven into the story of the Velvet Underground, subject of one of the best documentaries, on music or otherwise, of 2021), which means that for many, the story (the drone) starts right there. That’s wrong, but enough, as this digression does disservice to the brilliance spanning across The Harmonic Series II, from the pipe organ and bass clarinet in Malone’s piece, the “unknown instrumentation” in Pitre’s, the eight violins in Wada’s, and the varied use of synthesizers in Lamb’s, Westbrook’s, and Barbieri’s. The range is as wide as the pieces are unified.

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Duane Pitre, Omniscient Voices (Important) Pitre is an American experimental composer and musician (borrowing the description from his website) with an extensive discography in the ballpark of 20 full-length releases including collaborations (and excluding compilations, like this year’s outstanding The Harmonic Series II, also on Important), though for Omniscient Voices Pitre is in solo mode on electronics and a justly tuned piano. Equally prioritizing the piano and the electronics, Pitre employs a Max/MSP-based generative network to convert his piano motifs into data that is then fed into a pair of polyphonic, microtonal hardware synths with patches of Pitre’s own authoring. There is also controlled improvisation. The complexity of Pitre’s method (and I’ve even synopsized a bit) might suggest a rigorous if not quite unrelenting experience, but the five pieces (fitting nicely onto LP) engage with the minimal (cited influences: Morton Feldman, Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Steve Reich) in a productive and often surprising manner. Tense resonances are plentiful, but also an underlying sense of order. A

Gas, Der Lange Marsch (Kompakt) Gas is the ambient-techno project of Wolfgang Voight, debuting with a self-titled record in 1996, followed by Zauberberg the next year and Königsforst in 1998 (these three were compiled in the 10LP set titled Box in 2016), and then a long break that ended in 2017 with Narkopop. Arriving in 2018 was Rausch, and now Der Lange Marsch, which is comprised of 11 pieces, all of them title-tracks numbered sequentially. Purchasing either the 2LP, CD, or digital from Kompakt’s online store comes with an email download of the 11 files plus all the music in one file as a continuous track (not sure how this works with purchases made in brick-and-mortar shops or even other online retailers, as there is no download card). I mention the continuous track because it would seem to be the best (though certainly not the only) way to experience this set, partly because once the rhythm kicks in, it doesn’t let up, and it doesn’t really change). Still, don’t let the ambient or minimal descriptor give you the wrong idea. There is a lot going on throughout Der Lange Marsch, all of it worthy. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Etching the Voice: Emile Berliner and the First Commercial Gramophone Discs, 1889-1895 (Archeophone) Captured by Emile Berliner’s disc gramophone in Europe (Germany to be exact) between the years of the title, these 102 tracks on two CDs represent, per Archeophone (frankly experts on the matter), the earliest and also the scarcest manufactured sound recordings in the world. That wall of LPs you’re (hopefully) cultivating? These sounds are square one. But if it’s a lengthy plunge into late 19th century musicality you seek, please adjust those expectations. Musical pieces, mostly played or sung solo but occasionally by bands or choirs, are certainly part of the weave, but so are recitations of speeches, nursery rhymes, jokes and prayers (mostly in German, sometimes in English or Spanish). There’s even a person clucking like a chicken and barking like a dog. Sweet. Surface noise is abundant, but in fact these recordings sound better now than they ever did before, even when new. It is a fascinating trip enhanced by the wonderful 80-page booklet. A

Doug Carn, Adam’s Apple (Black Jazz – Real Gone) This is the fourth and final record multi-instrumentalist (with a focus on keyboards) and bandleader Doug Carn made for the Black Jazz label (nobody made more, not even the guy who founded the label, Gene Russell). It’s also often nearer to progressive R&B than jazz (“Mighty Mighty” by Earth, Wind & Fire gets a nice cover, that in a sweet twist, delivers Adam’s Apple one of its jazziest moments), but with other enhancing elements integrated into the scheme, e.g. proggy organ (see “The Messenger” for evidence), numerous spiritual jazz motions, and some very interesting use of Moog synth (again, scope out “The Messenger”) Plus, even as Carn’s vocalist wife Jean Carn has departed the scene, there’s still an abundance of vocals (John Conner and Joyce Green joining Doug for the duties). Also: Calvin Keys on guitar. While Adam’s Apple strives for accessibility, it lacks in any brazen commercial gestures, unless you consider R&B to be a brazen commercial gesture. In which case…what in the fuck are you thinking? A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Beauty Pill, “Instant Night” (Northern Spy) The title track of this 4-song EP came out digitally last year. In his notes accompanying this physical expansion (clear vinyl in a transparent plastic sleeve and a clear CD with a silver center in a transparent jewel case), Beauty Pill’s singer-guitarist-producer-chief songwriter Chad Clark describes the song’s political-protest genesis, it’s poetical (rather than polemical) sensibility, and it’s unexpectedly quick finish via socially distanced recording (on a rooftop), so that the cut was rush released by Northern Spy in hopes of inspiring citizens to vote in the Presidential election in November of 2020. The track is also noteworthy for its lack of drums and for highlighting Beauty Pill’s woodwind quartet. Clark says it sounds like Phillip Glass music, which is detectable but not blatantly. The main thing is that the song is built to last rather than carrying the rapid-fire datedness of so much political music. The drums roll back into the picture on the other cuts, and the horns stick around for the swank “You Need a Better Mind,” which gets a nifty remix. A-

Robert Ashley, eL / Aficionado (2021) (Lovely Music, Ltd.) Per the title, this is a 2021 recording of an opera by the late avant-gardist Ashley, a work that premiered in 1987 with many performances following over the next seven years and a prior recording released by Lovely Music in ’94. Until October 21-23 of this year at Roulette in NYC, the opera was last performed in 1995. This CD, released on 10/22, features the cast of the 2021 production, with mezzo soprano Kayleigh Butcher stepping into the role formerly played by baritone Thomas Buckner. eL / Aficionado offers a series of conversations between an “agent” (Butcher) and her three interrogators (Brian McCorkle, Interrogator No. 1; Bonnie Lander, Interrogator No. 2; Paul Pinto, Interrogator No. 3). Espionage and intrigue are essential components in the work, but Ashley’s intent wasn’t to construct a spy story, not even a post-modern/ nonlinear example of such. Instead, the unwinding complexity seems focused upon the friction between public personas and private-inner lives. Tom Hamilton’s orchestration, recording, and mixing are essential. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Robert Ashley, Foreign Experiences (Lovely Music, Ltd.) For this 1995 recording of Foreign Experiences, an opera that’s part of Ashley’s early 1990s tetralogy, with Perfect Lives and Atalanta (Acts of God) to follow, Sam Ashley is Don and Jacqueline Humbert is Linda, characters familiar from Improvement (Don Leaves Linda), which preceded Foreign Experiences in said tetralogy, first recorded for Nonesuch in 1991 (a new recording of Improvement (Don Leaves Linda) was released on CD in 2019 by Lovely Music, featuring a new group dedicated to realizing Ashley’s work). For this release of Foreign Experiences, the ensemble consists of Robert Ashley himself along with Thomas Buckner, Margareta Cordero, Joan La Barbara, and Amy X Neuburg, this group having interpreted Ashley’s work from 1992-2012. Here, they are recorded by Tom Hamilton and Cas Boumans, with the release mixed and edited by Hamilton. Even at this relatively early point, the “band” is in prime form, and the prose is some of Ashley’s very greatest. He was an absolute master of language. A+

Calvin Keys, Proceed With Caution (Black Jazz – Real Gone) Keys got his start in the ’60s backing up a slew of soul jazz organ heavyweights, and on Shawn-Neeq, his debut as leader from 1971 (reissued early in 2021 as part of Real Gone’s Black Jazz reissue program and already sold out at the source), it’s not hard to tell, as he has a crisp, lithe, clean approach that’s occasionally reminiscent of Grant Green. Keys notably nixed the organ for Shawn-Neeq, electing instead for the electric piano of Larry Nash, a decision retained for Proceed With Caution, though the pianist this time is Kirk Lightsey. Those allergic to Fusion need read no further, but ears open to the style should understand that while Shawn-Neeq is a solid effort, its follow-up is an all-around improvement; the scope is broader both instrumentally and compositionally, there’s plenty of heat and edge, and nary a trace of smoothness. The year was 1974. Had this been released by one of the major labels in the mid-’70s, say Columbia or Warner Brothers, my guess is it would be perennially in print rather than getting its first-time vinyl reissue in 2021. A

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