Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
July 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for July, 2020. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Thiago Nassif, Mente (Gearbox) Rio de Janeiro-based vocalist-guitarist Nassif has been active as a recording artist since 2009, but it was really his third album, 2015’s Três, that put him on the international radar. Arto Lindsay produced and played on that one, with Nassif returning the favor by helping to produce Lindsay’s 2017 effort Cuidado Madame. Now, Arto returns for Três, co-producing and playing on two tracks, and it’s a fitting combination, as Nassif’s work can sound like a blend of prime Tom Zé and the wilder side of ZE Records. Now, if you’re thinking Mente is the sort of record David Byrne would’ve done backflips to sign in the early days of Luaka Bop, well okay, but I also feel Nassif’s work is maybe a little (and occasionally much) too weird for that association, while never coming off like he’s forcing the strangeness. I guess that means if you dig the Brazil Classics series, there’s no reason to not check out this superb LP, which is one of the treats of 2020 thus far. A

Idjah Hadidjah & Jugala Jaipongan, Jaipongan Music of West Java + Reworks (Hive Mind) This 2LP came out in March, but it’s still available and deserves a belated spotlight, as it provides a magnificent serving of the Javanese style known as Jaipongan, which flourished in the ’70s-’80s in Indonesia, though the recordings that comprise the first LP here date from 2007, with vocalist Idjah Hadidjah at the fore and backed by the house band of Jugala Studios in Bandung, Java. The backstory is that this was a reunion of sorts, as Hadidjah was invited, back in the early ’80s, by the inventor of the Jaipongan style, composer and choreographer Gugum Gumbira, to sing in his Jugala Orchestra. She accepted, and had considerable success, becoming one of the country’s most adored singers as the collab lasted through the decade. This return to the studio also produced strong results, but as the music plays, it’s enlightening to consider how the Jaipongan style is, unusually, considered the invention of one person.

Specifically, Gumbira was understandably displeased over the Indonesian government’s ban on Western music, including R&R (this ban dating from 1961), and in the early ’70s, he adapted the traditional style of ketuk-tilu into a contemporary form, not as a way to smuggle in outside influences, but instead simply as modernization. Along with adding in gamelan, Gumbira had the singers focus solely on singing, with dancing cast aside. Hadidjah had been a professional singer with Sundanese Shadow Puppet Theatres prior to joining Gumbira, and her abilities remain extraordinary here, evident even to me, a non-expert in the Jaipongan style, as she’s elevated by playing of remarkable intensity and precision. The second LP, + Reworks, is the byproduct of Kai Riedl providing multitrack tapes made in Java to a variety of electronic musicians and modular sythesists for the purpose of form extension. Per the title, reworking, rather than the standard and potentially underwhelming remixing, a goal that’s largely realized. Excellent. A

High Waisted, Sick of Saying Sorry (Lean-To) This one’s also been out for a bit, released back in May in fact, but my losing track of it wasn’t due to a lack of enthusiasm for its contents, which cohere into a strong dose of melodic pop-rock, the whole vividly produced, but not too slick, by Tad Kubler of The Hold Steady and Arun Bali of Saves the Day. For their second album (2016’s On Ludlow was their debut, still available on vinyl), this NYC-based outfit feature vocalist-guitarist Jessica Louise Dye, bassist-guitarist Richey Rose, lead guitarist Stephan Nielsen, and drummer Jono Bernstein. Yes, that’s a lot of guitar, but hey, check it out, there’s even more six-string action courtesy of a few guests, who also add some palette-expanding keys and horns. But opener “Boys Can’t Dance” is the core stuff, dishing the revved-up goods that, together with Dye’s singing, instilled thoughts in my head of J. Hatfield, which was right up my alley.

But as the tracks pile up (there are ten in all) the songwriting spreads out, blending moves descended from power pop and more tough ’90s Alt action with strains of radio-ready introspection (one could also call it maturity) that reminded me a little of early ’80s post-new wave, guitar division (natch). The results connect with familiarity without sounding too much like any one influence (or two or three, even), but I did get the impression that folks into The Pretenders will dig Sick of Saying Sorry just fine. Listening to “8th Amendment,” I’m thinking Motels fans, even, though that one has a cool ’70s NYC punk midsection. Also, their ’60s gal-pop throwback “Cereal” gets infused with some sharp lyrical relevance that’s very appreciated. Still, this much guitar makes me think High Waisted are best experienced live. Maybe one day that’ll happen. B+

Jerkagram & Martín Escalante, Parkour (577) Jerkagram is the recording and performance moniker of Derek and Brent Gaines, twins who play guitar and drums, respectively; when the mood hits ‘em, they also sing. Currently in Los Angeles by way of CT/NY, The Gaines Bros played a show with alto saxophonist Martin Escalante on the bill in a different band and dug his thing so much they proposed a collaboration, which went so swimmingly 577 decided to release it. This baby is it, four tracks dished via CD with a 13-minute digital bonus cut, and it’s the best hunk of noise-jazz to fuck my earholes since GRID’s Decomposing Force from back in April. The lineup here is distinct (trio GRID features bass guitar) as Escalante’s alto establishes this maelstrom as wild and raw but not especially dense and thick. To put it another way; this baby squalls and squeals as much (even a little more) than it skronks. 577 calls it a chase or even a battle, but if the latter, these are some trim welterweights, hittin’ and stickin’. Yes! A

Simon Kanzler, Nodía Es (WhyPlayJazz?) Kanzler is a New York-based composer, laptop performer and vibraphonist, also involved in the Berlin scene, who’s been a part of numerous projects. Nodia Es is my introduction to his work, and he’s made a strong impression. Described tersely as a “hardcore opera,” this CD features 23 tracks comprising three acts, with the vocals mostly not in English, so the impact on me is primarily instrumental and compositional, though the sound of the voices (there is a choir) adds definite value. Also, a big part of Kanzler’s approach is maximizing the combo of computers and live instrumentation, but that’s not the same as making this a priority for the listener. As Nodia Es unfurled (under an hour total) I thought more about the ingredient of heavy metal, which brought to mind some of the Ipecac label’s output. The choral sections also reminded me, just a little, of Mykur’s recent stuff. But these are fleeting similarities, as the strong points here belong to Kanzler’s overall conception. A-

Vance Provey, Bob Gorry, Paul Gunsberg, Collective Expression (New Haven Improvisers Collective) Up to now, when my thoughts have turned to out-jazz from Connecticut, the visions were reliably saxophonist Paul Flaherty and drummer Randall Colbourne, which is cool (and bearded), but there was definitely room for additional input. Remedying this situation is the New Haven Improvisers Collective, who have been doing it for roughly fifteen years now, with fifteen releases available on Bandcamp, many of them, like this latest set, on CD. The descriptor that accompanies their tenth anniversary disc (aptly titled X) states that the collective is influenced by jazz but also punk and prog rock, classical, electronica and “new art music,” but the constant element that runs through the NHIC’s stuff is the guitar of Bob Gorry.

As he’s the leader of the collective, this is perhaps unsurprising, but his playing throughout this set fits into the improvisational dialogues quite nicely, with the choice of title on-target. Gorry’s playing can get knotty and thorny while keeping a loose handle on the jazz root, and he occasionally utilizes distortion without spraying amp-shrapnel all over your listening room. Provey’s trumpet is sometimes reminiscent of the late Bill Dixon, which is also not a shock as he played with Dixon and also taught under him at Bennington College. Gunsberg’s drumming, attentive and alive but contemplative as well, completes a scenario, impressive as the first record of the three, that often exudes the spaciousness of free improv rather than the frenzy of free jazz. Two exceptions are opener “Cyclone,” with its robust lines from Provey, and finale “Still Time,” where Gunsberg switches to sax and Provey takes over on drums. A striking release that opens a large door onto an enticing scene. My interest is piqued. A-

Elias Stemeseder & Max Andrzejewski, light/tied (WhyPlayJazz?) My intro to the work of composer and drummer Andrzejewski came last year through the sweet CD (also issued by this label) of Robert Wyatt compositions from his band Hütte. To my knowledge, I’ve not encountered composer, pianist and synthesist Stemeseder before, but he impacts me positively here, as he and Andrzejewski composed these pieces independently, four by Andrzejewski, five by Stemeseder, for a sextet filled out by violinist Biliana Voutchkova, cellist Lucy Railton, alto saxophonist Christian Weidner, and clarinetist-bass clarinetist Joris Rühl. The results resonate with the freshness of prime modernist classical, though there are also prominent (and appealing) electroacoustic aspects at play. Also, it’s mentioned that the compositions were partly based on the same source material, lending cohesiveness, but were also subsequently deconstructed in studio, which surely added depth to what is a major work. A

Snowgoose, The Making of You (Ba Da Bing! / Glass Modern) Harmony Springs is the 2012 debut from the Glasgow-based Snowgoose, who are the core duo of guitarist Jim McCulloch and singer Anna Sheard. Both that album and this sophomore effort have been fleshed-out with additional notable players, with more on them below. Now, you may recall McCulloch as a member of Soup Dragons, and as outlined in the background for this set, it was he who brought most of the songs to Snowgoose’s first record, but Sheard’s input as writer is considerable here. The music they’ve crafted can recall late ’60s Cali psych but on the gentler side, which is only enhanced by the Brit-folk that’s part of the overall equation. But the recipe isn’t as simple as all that, with, just for starters, “Who Will You Choose” radiating a Buck-Nicks Fleetwood Mac vibe, but with a slightly uneasy tinge, like they were into witchcraft or something.

The lap-steel of Tim Davidson (Camera Obscura, etc.) lends a little country-rock to “Undertow” and there’s even a touch of the rootsy, courtesy of the keyboards from Chris Geddes (Belle & Sebastian), in closer “Gave Up Without a Sound.” There are also contributions from Raymond McGinley of Teenage Fanclub and Dave McGowan of Belle & Sebastian, who both return from Harmony Springs, plus Stevie Jones (Arab Strap, etc.), Stuart Kidd (BMX Bandits, etc.), Ken McClusky (The Bluebells) and Davie Scott (The Pearlfishers) all lending a hand. And so, The Making of You is quite a Scottish all-star affair, though what shines through most are those songs, sung exceptionally well by Sheard with McCulloch’s role as multi-instrumentalist also standing out. Through eleven tracks, this album is often as gorgeous as it is sturdy. A-

V/A, The Library Archive, Vol. 1 (ATA) Technically, this isn’t various artists but uncredited artists, though even that’s not exactly right, as ATA makes it clear how everything released by the label is written and guided by company honchos Neil Innes and Pete Williams. Still, unlike the numerous other projects issued by ATA, maybe most prominently The Sorcerers, these eleven tracks are collected anonymously, which fits their description as legit contempo library tracks. Library music, which for the unfamiliar consists of stockpiles of prerecorded music readied and sold to the film and TV industries in the ’60s and ’70s, has always been a big component in ATA’s stylistic thrust, but the selections here, and immediately with the jaunty horn arrangements of opener “Whack, Slap & Blow,” get nearer to the classic library approach than ever before. There are a few nice surprises, like the M.G.’s-like “Duck Strut,” amid the gas guzzling cruising music exemplified by closer “Planet Nine.” Often sharper than the OG library stuff. B+

V/A, This Is Techno Jazz (Jazz-O-Tech) The PR mission statement for this new label, now 13 releases strong (with a handful of them 12-inch EPs) is to “mix tradition with modernity, improvisation with experimentation, and create a new sound known as techno-jazz.” I appreciate the linguistic boldness of their intentions but feel obligated to mention that it’s not as novel a concept as the textual outline sorta infers. There are roots of it in acid jazz but more prominently in the nu jazz genre, though my favorite examples remain the collabs of avant jazz figures and boundary-pushing electronic artists released by the Thirsty Ear label. To this label’s credit, what’s heard in this double-album is exactly what’s advertised, infusing largely recognizable techno foundations (often of the club banger variety) with identifiably jazzy blowing and tinkling. A few spots seem to be structurally hinting that the CTI sound was some kind of jazz highwater mark, but hints they remain. Pleasingly, Miles is a bigger model. B+

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