Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, August 2018, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for August, 2018. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Ohmme, Parts (Joyful Noise) Chicagoans Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart are both trained classical pianists, but for their first album as Ohmme they choose to focus upon rich vocal harmony and guitar crunch. What they and drummer Matt Carroll put together (with assistance from hometowners Doug McCombs of Tortoise, cellist Tomeka Reid, and saxophonist extraordinaire Ken Vandermark) is solid and occasionally splendid, displaying confidence and range that’s rare in a debut. In a better world, the hooky opener “Icon” would be a huge pop hit, but stuck in this reality, the whole of Parts, experimentally edged while essentially inhabiting a pop-rock zone, is improving my existence considerably. From the title track: “I don’t like little things touching my face.” Hey, me neither! A-

Roy Montgomery, Suffuse (Grapefruit) In 2016, after a long break in activity, New Zealand u-ground cornerstone Montgomery came back in a big way with the 4LP R M H Q -Headquarters. When first reading of this project, which stems from the R M H Q LP Tropic Of Anodyne (featuring the singing of reluctant vocalist Montgomery) with a troop of female voices (Circuit des Yeux’s Haley Fohr, She Keeps Bees’ Jessica Larrabee, Katie Von Schleicher, Purple Pilgrims’ Clementine and Valentine Nixon, Julianna Barwick, and Grouper’s Liz Harris), I thought of Stephin Merritt’s 6ths project, but the results aren’t like that at all, being much more invested in the spirit of collaboration (the Nixon sisters, Barwick, and Harris wrote the lyrics for their tracks). The results are superb, with Montgomery’s artistry shining through. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Jimmy Smith, The Sermon! (Down at Dawn) A fine but limited spate of jazz wax (300 copies each) has arrived from this upstart label, so if the objective is fortifying your shelves with a few classics of the form, don’t flake. When organist Smith hooked up with Blue Note a massive recording spree resulted, and this album, gleaned from two ’57-’58 sessions, just might be the best of the bunch. Taking advantage of the then novel LP format, side one’s 20-minute title track is hard-bop soul-jazz par excellence, and the flip picks up and slows down the tempo without a hitch. The personnel add major value, with Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, Donald Bailey, Eddie McFadden, the underrated Tina Brooks, a young George Coleman, Art Blakey, and Kenny Burrell all on board. Essential. A

The Posies, Frosting on the Beater (Omnivore) As detailed in the liner notes by Wilco’s Pat Sansone and author Craig Dorfman and the track-by-track recollections of the band’s core duo Jon Auer & Ken Stringfellow (‘twas they who wrote the songs), The Posies’ second release for Geffen is considered “the loud one,” which is unsurprising as it was produced by Don Fleming, who’d notably assisted on Sonic Youth’s Goo and Hole’s Pretty on the Inside. But he also worked with Teenage Fanclub, which made him a good fit for the helming of this excellent record (my favorite from the band). As detailed by Sansone, if you dig The Beatles and Big Star and also the heyday of SST Records, this is the one for you, offered, like the reissue of Dear 23, as either a bonus cut-loaded 2CD or a standalone 45RPM 2LP sans download. A

Automatisme, Transit (Constellation) Specializing in the intersection of drone, glitch, dub techno, ambient, electro-acoustic and noise, Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec resident William Jourdain is Automatisme, and this is his second LP for Constellation, following up Momentform Accumulations from 2016. The label describes Jourdain as belonging to a generation of electronic creators who are heavily impacted by late ’90s groundbreakers such as Pan Sonic, Pole, and the roster of the Raster-Noton label. It takes but a listen to reinforce this statement, though with Transit’s digestible length, inspired abstraction (lots of glitchiness) and methodical construction (the four consecutive parts of “Bureau” followed by the long track “Registrariat” followed by the two parts of “Bateau”) the album encourages multiple spins. A-

Whitney Ballen, You’re a Shining Star, I’m a Sinking Ship (Father/Daughter – Substitute Scene) My first taste of Issaquah, Washington-based Ballen (she has two prior EPs in her bio as Discogs lists a 2011 LP), and I’m fairly impressed. She’s the writer of these 12 songs, but the most immediately striking aspect here is her voice, which offers an unforced wispy breathiness that would surely fit easily into a dream-poppish framework, though Ballen admirably resists maneuvering down that well-trodden road and instead largely elects for tough guitar-based rock. Tough? With the mid-album combo punch of “Black Cloud” and “Nothing,” she and the band get downright noisy, and that’s very much appreciated. Lyrics are personal in an indie way, as is the occasional use of horns. Available on CD and cassette. B+

Tadd Dameron with John Coltrane, Mating Call (Down at Dawn) Composer-arranger-pianist Dameron was crucial to the original bebop wave; see his band featuring trumpeter Fats Navarro, for just one example. As he wasn’t prolific on wax, this ’56 Prestige session with bassist John Simmons, drummer Philly Joe Jones, and yes, John Coltrane, is all the more valuable (and doubly so as it’s a small group date). Those who only know Trane from his Atlantic and Impulse output might suspect that he commandeers the spotlight here, but while his tenor is easily recognizable (if boppish rather than in “Sheets of Sound” mode), no. The six pieces are all Dameron’s and all fresh at the time of recording, including “Soultrane.” Not noted as a stylist on his instrument, Dameron’s playing still sounds great. A

Fire-Toolz, Skinless X-1 (Hausu Mountain) Fire-Toolz is but one musical handle employed by the “transfemme non-binary human named Angel Marcloid,” whose electronic sensibility draws upon “jazz fusion, electro-industrial, new age, black metal, vaporwave, and noise improv.” The results can be as atmospheric as they are twisted and/ or bonkers, and there’s also a pop current (a bit reminiscent of John Oswald’s Plunderphonics), though more specifically it’s a bit like scanning a radio dial 20 years in the future while cruising around in your flying car and tripping on some newfangled designer drug. I know this imagined scene suggests that flying cars will come equipped with radios (with dials), but hey, it’s that kind of record. Methinks if the sheen was downplayed just a bit I’d dig this a little more. B+

Grant Green, Grantstand (Down at Dawn) My personal highpoint in the career of this prolific Blue Note guitarist is the 2CD The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark (which compiles the pricey Japanese LPs Nigeria, Oleo, and Gooden’s Corner and adds a few extras), but it’s not easy to find significant fault with the guy’s early stuff; Grantstand is from 1961 and was his fourth issued album. There are little quibbles, though; that tenor saxophonist Yusef Lateef switches to flute on “My Funny Valentine,” that Lateef is solid on sax but he’s no Joe Henderson (who helped make Green’s Idle Moments a masterpiece), that this isn’t one of organist Jack McDuff’s strongest showings (he’s a tad reserved here). You get the idea. However, if you own no Green wax and would like to, this would make a fine pick-up. A-

JOYFULTALK, Plurality Trip (Constellation) Based on the south shore of Novia Scotia, instrument builder Jay Crocker is JOYFULTALK, joined here by multi-instrumentalist Shawn Dicey on the project’s second album (the first, MUUIXX came out in 2015 on Drip Audio). Described as a “junked-analogue” endeavor, the results are often tangibly electronic, although the whole largely resists the label of electronica; by this I mean that the points of comparison reach backward to kosmische-Krautrock and early synth pioneers (in a thoroughly non-throwback way) rather than embracing the moment or reaching toward the future. What Crocker and Dicey do share with some strains of more recent electronic gush is a reliance on structure and repetitive patterns rather than pure abstraction. Overall, a delightful time. A-

Ken McIntyre with Eric Dolphy, Looking Ahead (Down at Dawn) New Jazz was a division of Prestige that generally tended toward more adventurous if not full-blown “out” stuff; as this, multi-instrumentalist McIntyre’s second album, features Eric Dolphy (on three horns), it fits the bill exceptionally well. But don’t get the idea that McIntyre wasn’t progressive, as his debut Stone Blues was also released by New Jazz, and he subsequently played on Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures. Still, it’s not accurate to call this an “inside-out” date; instead, it strives to get away from post-bop orthodoxy, which was tough to do with pianist Walter Bishop, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Art Taylor on board (they all sound dandy). The adventurousness comes through the horn playing. Yes, there is flute, but that’s alright. A-

Jackie McLean, Destination…Out! (Down at Dawn) McLean is one of the vital post-bop altoists, in part through an exploratory side (tempered by his relationship to Blue Note, who approached the avant-garde with caution) that’s reflected in this record’s title. However, this LP stealthily sorta belongs to trombonist Grachan Moncur III, as three of the four tunes are his; the other is from McLean, whose sturdy and lively playing supports his top billing. This isn’t free jazz, but it’s also more than just advanced bop, though Roy Haynes’ drumming in “Riff Raff” reminds me that it was him behind Charlie Parker on Bird at St. Nicks. The band is filled out by bassist Larry Ridley and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, who’s up to his usual expressive standard. Opener “Love and Hate” is the highlight, but it’s all terrific stuff. A

Murder by Death, The Other Shore (Bloodshot) This Louisville quintet’s eighth album is conceptual, specifically “a space-western about a ravaged Earth, its fleeing populace, and a relationship in jeopardy,” though it’s thankfully not so invested in the subject matter that it can’t just be listened to as an 11-song collection delivered with deft, pro musicianship, and with bold production from Kevin Ratterman. Murder by Death are well-tagged as ’00s-style indie-Americana, which has more downs than ups for me, but The Other Shore often comes off like a more straightforwardly rocking Calexico (or My Morning Jacket, maybe) designed to captivate amphitheater crowds as the western horizon glows burnt orange. I’m okay with that. If you’ve ever joyously lit a lighter and held it aloft, you might dig it even more. B

Jeff Snyder / Federico Ughi, Duo (Carrier) Snyder’s a composer, improviser, instrument-designer, and teacher; back in January his solo synth 2LP Sunspots received a new release pick and an A grade in this very column. On this (currently CD-digital only) follow-up, he teams with regular playing partner Ughi for a synth-electronics-drums excursion that’s nearly as spiff. Much of Sunspots is reminiscent of the early days of academe-based electronic invention, but Ughi’s presence steers this toward a ’70s New Music meets Avant Jazz zone, with big hunks bringing to mind one of those Paul Bley synth albums (that featured Han Bennink), but a whole lot better. However, “Bad Bishop” and “Useful Interposition” reveal Snyder’s penchant for post-Industrial sonic disruption, and that’s just swell. A-

Alexander Tucker, Don’t Look Away (Thrill Jockey) Along with comprising half of Grumbling Fur, Londoner Tucker has amassed a slew of solo releases, and after a break in recording (solo, as Grumbling Fur has been quite active) he completes a trilogy with this fine dish of psych-folk (the prior installments are Dorwytch and Third Mouth, all for Thrill Jockey). Although Grumbling Fur has collaborated with avant-drone king Charlemagne Palestine, Tucker’s music here is largely quite approachable as his vocal cadence can bring to mind Kiwi Robert Scott (of The Clean and The Bats) or the John Cale of Paris 1919 in Brit-folk mode and armed with a drum machine and lots of cello. However, “Gloops Void (Give It Up)” (with guest vocals by Nik Void) and “ISHUONAWAYISHANAWA” raise the weird quotient quite nicely. A-

Yarn/Wire, Images of Duration (In Homage to Ellsworth Kelly) (Northern Spy) NYC ensemble Yarn/Wire have previously documented their dedication to the performance of a variety of 21st entury avant-garde composition across four CDs (Currents, Vols. 1-4, with Vol. 0, which featured collaborative new works in tandem with Tyondai Braxton, Nathan Davis, and Peter Evans, arriving last year). Their latest (again CD-digital-only, sadly) and first (of hopefully many) for Northern Spy finds them tackling a nearly hour-long chamber piece by Alex Mincek, which in addition to Yarn/Wire’s usual percussion and piano, uses air canisters, waterphone, baby monitor, a white-noise machine, tuned gongs, vibes and chimes to occasionally disruptive, often beautiful, and consistently captivating effect. A

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