Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, November 2017

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for November, 2017.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Barry Altschul and the 3Dom Factor, Live in Kraków (Not Two) Altschul has drummed with Paul Bley, Andrew Hill, Sam Rivers, and with Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea and Dave Holland in Circle; his third release with bassist and fellow Braxton associate Joe Fonda and the young, masterful saxophonist Jon Irabagon is a start-to-finish delight. Monk’s “Ask Me Now” and an original paying tribute to three cornerstones of jazz rhythm cement the importance of earlier traditions, but it all launches from a ’60s small ensemble NYC avant-garde platform. They make a beautiful sound. A

Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas, The World of Captain Beefheart (Knitting Factory) Not just anyone can successfully navigate the vast essence of Don Van Vliet, but this team-up, which began through participation in a live symphonic Beefheart trib in Amsterdam, handles the task with aplomb. Having assembled a small, sharp band, world-class guitarist (and former member of the Magic Band) Lucas is in typically fine form, and Hendryx, once of LaBelle and a noted solo artist, continually impresses; she’s crucial to relating the adaptability of the material, and handles the wilder moments like a champ. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Men & Volts, A Giraffe Is Listening to the Radio: Men & Volts Play Captain Beefheart (Feeding Tube) This terribly underrated band, featuring David Greenberger of Duplex Planet fame, sprang to life playing the music of Van Vliet to the exclusion of all else, but unless one was a clued-in Bostonian, this fact was essentially just lore. Until now. Consisting of practice tapes from ’79, the lo-fi aura never obscures how deep (How deep? WAY deep) they got into Beefheart’s thing. Indeed, this could be mistaken as a Captain boot, which means it never reverberates as a mere tribute. A-

Little Richard, Here’s Little Richard (Craft) Fats Domino has left us, but the other two greats of first-wave rock ‘n’ roll piano are still kicking, and their prime stuff can still demolish most contemporary competition. Going back to Little Richard’s first LP after a lengthy absence invariably reinforces it as even stronger than memories situate; that’s one reason we return to records instead of just remembering them. That Craft’s 2CD reissue offers previously unreleased material from the sessions for this historic and essential set is gobsmacking. Inquiries into the necessity of the extras will be taken as rhetorical. A+

Alvarius B., With a Beaker on the Burner and an Otter in the Oven Vols. 1-3 (Abduction) Since the end of Sun City Girls (due to the death of member Charles Gocher), Alan Bishop has amply added to the discography of his Alvarius B. project; here’re 35 more tracks across six vinyl sides (released separately) that’re also stuffed onto a single 2CD. Over time, Alvarius B. has gotten less lo-fi while retaining ties to the surreal amid a wicked sense of humor. LPs one and two, Natural Wonder and A Mark Twain August largely follow this trajectory; the third, Heathen Folklore, increases the twisted fun. A-/ A-/ A-

Jaye Bartell, In a Time of Trouble a Wild Exultation (Sinderlyn) In addition to singer-songwriter, Bartell is a writer, so his lyrics hold up more than adequately at the forefront of his third full-length. Happily, the music doesn’t idle in the backseat role; cut in Bartell’s former home of Asheville, NC, he’s joined by, amongst others, longtime collaborator Shane Parish of the Ahleuchatistas as combo vocals with Angel Olsen propel “Give Erin a Compliment (So Kind)” to a highlight. The uniqueness of Bartell’s voice and delivery also help this full-bodied album, with fine cover art by Ursula Gullow, in standing out. A-

Raoul Björkenheim / eCsTaSy, Doors of Perception (Cuneiform) Finnish guitarist Björkenheim is a Euro-jazz veteran, though he has spent time in NYC and was in fact born in L.A. The work of his quartet eCsTaSy, which features Jori Huhtala on doublebass, Markku Ounaskarion on drums and percussion, and Pauli Lyytinen on a variety of horns, extends from fusion, but with direct ties to free jazz. That means a wild ride, and if the album’s title possibly suggests a gobbling up of drugs and a subsequent misplacing of quality control…no. eCsTaSy’s wide-ranging power derives from the discipline of constant practice. A

Peter Case, On the Way Downtown: Recorded Live on FolkScene (Omnivore) As a member of the Nerves and the Plimsouls, Case is a hero of late ’70s Cali power-pop, but his subsequent solo recordings place him nearer to Americana. These two studio-album quality live sessions for the KPFK-FM radio program FolkScene, one from ’98 with a full band and the second from 2000 in duo with David Perales’ violin, solidify this stylistic turn. I find the second preferable, but both spotlight a strong-voiced Case and the good-natured mainstream tendencies of the guy’s impressively-developed songs. B+

Carmaig de Forest, I Shall Be Released (Omnivore) The ukulele in twee mode is a flat-out pain in my ear. De Forest plays the uke, but this reissue of his ’87 debut, which features a full band with producer Alex Chilton on guitar, isn’t cutesy. Not even once. Sometimes compared to the Violent Femmes (for whom he often opened), the on-point political fire of the lyrics has him resonating like a cross between J. Richman and Billy Bragg. The uke is audible, but sometimes it’s absent, as the focus here is on the sharpness of de Forest’s songs. CD bonuses include an ’87 live EP. Everything holds up well. A-

Charlie Feathers, Best of the Sun Records Sessions (ORG Music) All the stuff here is on Revenant’s 3LP Get with It, but obtaining a copy of that today will likely set you back a Franklin. Feathers is rightly considered a rockabilly icon, but those looking exclusively for uncut hiccups might be disappointed with the selection herein, as much of it is straight-up Hank-ish honky-tonk. Also, the man’s tenure at Sun was short, producing only two singles, the first for side-label Flip. The tracks Sam Phillips didn’t release make this a worthwhile purchase, but Feathers really flourished on Meteor and King. B+

Davy Graham, Folk, Blues and Beyond & Large as Life and Twice as Natural (Creature Music) Here’re cornerstone British folk-blues guitarist Graham’s second and fourth full-lengths, likely the best albums he ever waxed. Tagging him as a mere folky is constricting, as Beyond’s rack of blues and trad readings are peppered with jazz interpretations from Bobby Timmons and Mingus; Large even has an original homage to Lennie Tristano, though that set gets deeper into Eastern motifs touched upon on Beyond’s “Maajun.” Could his voice have been stronger? Yes, but it never detracts. This is sterling stuff. A/ A

Gun Outfit, Out of Range (Paradise of Bachelors) From L.A. via Olympia, the now five albums deep Gun Outfit have been called country-punk, but theirs is a strain distinct from the drinkin,’ cheatin,’ fightin,’ Johnny Cash muscle-shirt variety. The label’s typically literate promo text surely helps, but Gun Outfit seem better tagged as perpetual students rather than barflies. As others have observed and Out of Range’s cover painting supports, the descriptor of Western fits. Early on, they sported qualities that brought comparisons to Sonic Youth. Here, they’ve expanded it to include Townes and slowcore. A-

Azar Lawrence, Bridge into the New Age (Jazz Dispensary) This lands smackdab in the ’70s Spiritual Jazz sphere, in large part through the bookending vocals of Jean Carn on the opening title track and titles like “The Beautiful and Omnipresent Love” (Carn’s on that one, too). Amongst the participants on various cuts are trumpeter Woody Shaw, altoist Arthur Blythe, drummer Billy Hart, and trombonist Julian Priester, plus Lawrence on saxes throughout. I kinda feel the need to light some incense and slip into my dashiki and beads to fully dig, so the period aura (along with much of the blowing) is strong. B+

Modern Studies, Swell to Great (Fire) The debut from this Scotland-via-Lancashire outfit came out last autumn on the Edinburgh-based label Song, by Toad; in front of a follow-up on Fire next spring, their new label has given it reissue. Consisting of Glaswegian songwriter-vocalist Emily Scott with Pete Harvey (of King Creosote), Joe Similie and Rob St. John, they’ve been described as chamber-pop, but I think Brit-folk is as on-point without being a tidy fit; utilizing Victorian pedal harmonium, guitar, bass, synth, and a wine glass orchestra, there’s an appealing oldness to the sound. “The Sea Horizon” recalls Low. A-

Mostly Other People do the Killing, Paint (Hot Cup) Having expanded MOPDtK to a septet on Red Hot, bassist, leader and founder Moppa Elliot now contracts his oft-thrilling and never-boring endeavor to three. Rounded out with original drummer Kevin Shea and pianist Ron Stabinsky, who emerged on Red Hot and filled the Bill Evans-Wynton Kelly role on the Kind of Blue-recreation Blue, the mix of impeccable “inside” musicianship and avant-descended deconstruction/ experimentation endures, and applied to the piano trio format on seven Elliot tunes and Duke’s “Blue Goose,” it delivers a special kick. A

Mr. Yolk, Self-Portrait (Southend) This is the solo debut of Samuel Jones, who’s previously contributed to Velvet Morning and Rocket Ship TV; here too he’s accompanied by a band as the songs, often lethargic to varying degrees, initially ooze traces of neo-psych, though “Green Valentine Blues” is a bold (some would say flagrant) Velvets swipe that resituates matters moving forward. Overall, there’s a definite sunglasses-indoors feel, which validates self-professed influences such as The Make-Up and Country Teasers and solidifies a pleasant whole. If not mind-blowing, Jones aims high, and that matters. B+

Oceansize, Effloresce (Beggars Arkive) The band’s name is apparently nicked from a song on the second Jane’s Addiction album, which is why I ignored this upon first release in 2003. Listening now for its 2LP reissue, I can say that instrumental opener “I Am the Morning” delivered false promise, as many of the subsequent tracks sport vocals sinking this into the mediocrity of ’90s post-grunge Alt-rock. The stretches where Mike Vennart closes his mouth and the band just plays (e.g. “Rinsed”) are alright, but that happens far too seldom on a record that at 75 minutes is way too fucking long. No thanks. C+

Peter Oren, Anthropocene (Western Vinyl) But when vocals resonate from an individual place in communication of non-hackneyed ideas, I’m all for it. Oren has a deep voice that’s been compared to Bill Callahan, though his songs connect differently. This is only his second album, but he’s already remarkedly assured; the talent assembled by producer Ken Coomer (drummer for Wilco) enhances Oren’s fully developed, powerful songs rather than making up for deficiencies related to inexperience. Additionally, the politically focused lyrics are imbued with a welcome complexity. A-

Palberta / No One and the Somebodies, Chips for Dinner split LP (Wharf Cat / Ramp Local) Palberta branch out from Brit-post-punk/ DIY. Utilizing minimal, angular, repetitive and playfully non-pro elements in a non-imitative manner, they radiate like something you’d hear at a house show on the East Coast of the USA. NOATS reportedly thrive in that sorta scenario. Thin of discography, they’ve been around for over 15 years; alternately spastic, screamy, ragged, precise, and tuneful, they seem a superb fit for intimate gigs. Palberta’s Napoleon XIV riff and side-closing Old Table cover are highlights. A-/ B+

Ed Palermo Big Band, The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren (Cuneiform) Palermo’s long been on record (and records) as an acolyte of Zappa, with the titular Zs here establishing a lengthy program alternating songs from the books of Frank and Todd. Palermo digs ‘em both a lot more than I do, but his big band approach to the material remains appealing. It is safe to say that my 8th grade music teacher (in his Jackson Pollack necktie) would’ve done backflips of glee upon hearing this. Intrinsically tied to chops, for me the bag is mixed, but on the plus side is a lack of showing off and clear love of the material. B

Pucho & The Latin Soul Brothers, Jungle Fire! (Jazz Dispensary) Starting in ’66, Henry “Pucho” Brown and his band cut a slew of boogaloo-styled LPs for Prestige. This one dates from ’70, and seems to be his last for the label. Some wah guitar on opener “Friendship Train” displays an openness for new developments without desperately grasping for the up-to-date. Flute? Why, of course. As music for social gatherings, or simply background while cooking a nice dinner, this gets the job done, with the execution largely (but not entirely, as there are a few instances of overplaying) rewarding deeper listening. B+

Gareth Sager, 88 Tuned Dreams (Freaks R Us) The title, which I initially misread as 88 Tuned Drums, brought Cecil Taylor to my mind. This doesn’t recall the reigning king of avant-jazz piano, which was initially disappointing, but the number in the title does apply to Taylor’s instrument, as this is the solo debut, specifically on keys, from Pop Group member Sager. Is this as wild as his main gig at its best? No. In fact, its pieces are quite melodically agreeable, as the stated influence of Satie, Frédéric Chopin, and Debussy rings through loud and clear. Altogether, this is a likeable if inessential career wrinkle. B

Schnellertollermeier, Rights (Cuneiform) The fourth album, and second for Cuneiform, by this Swiss power trio underscores the jazz-schooling of the three, though it’s inapt to call this jazz-rock. Prog? Well, fans of ’80s King Crimson will likely find big hunks of Rights to their liking, but it’s important to note that guitarist Manuel Troller downplays the influence of “classic” prog acts. To these ears, it all connects as an intricate extension of post-rock, but heavy enough to please fans of contempo metal’s art wing and even lovers of Swans. Note: Cuneiform’s given this one a vinyl pressing. A-

Trupa Trupa, Jolly New Songs (Blue Tapes / X-Ray Records / Ici D’ailleurs) This Gdansk, Poland-based band comes to me packaged in the descriptor of “post-punk psych,” and hey, I can dig it. But what I’m really hearing in opener “Against Breaking Heart of a Breaking Heart Beauty” is in the ballpark of Slint, and by extension I’m finding it difficult to separate the whole of Jolly New Songs from an early ’90s frame of reference. Trupa Trupa aren’t derivative, though. For one thing, this isn’t as heavy as some of their suspected influences. There’s also range, and with repeated listens, depth. A-

V/A, Mista Savona Presents Havana Meets Kingston (VP / 17 North Parade) This LP, the first of two volumes, is the fruit of Australian pianist and reggae/ dancehall producer Mistah Savona’s desire to unify the musics of Cuba (son, salsa, rumba and Afro-Cuban) and Jamaica (roots reggae, dub and dancehall). Participants include Buena Vista Social Clubber’s Barbarito Torres and Rolando Luna, Afro-Cuban All Star Félix Baloy, Sly & Robbie, Ernest Ranglin, Heptone Leroy Sibbles, and The Congos, so the playing is sharp. As one might expect, the production is bright but warm. More importantly, the blending isn’t forced. A-

Wireheads, Lightning Ears (Tenth Court) Traveling again from Down Under (Brisbane, in fact) to the Pac-NW USA (specifically, Anacortes, WA) to record with producer Calvin Johnson (he of Beat Happening and Dub Narcotic fame) might register as extreme, but it worked once (last year’s Arrive Alive) so why not log the miles? Even as Calvin’s distinctive vocal timbre marks opener “Technical Man,” this doesn’t vibe K. Instead, it’s closer to the output of home country label Bedroom Suck, or sure, Tenth Court, who’ve assembled quite a roster of an increasing rarity; rough-edged indie pop-rock, smart and consistent. A-

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