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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Deerhoof, Future Teenage Cave Artists (Joyful Noise) Yes, this one came out at the end of May, but I’m just sauntering up to their 15th studio full-length now, reviewing it in part to deliver a strong new release pick combo-punch with the benefit release directly below. However, the reality is that Deerhoof is a unit I’ve long loved; that they are still going strong after a quarter century of existence is worthy of note, and that they’ve released another killer slab of experimental-noise-punk-prog-pop in the midst of, indeed reflecting and commenting upon, such an uncertain and occasionally tumultuous time is a gesture deserving of celebration. Future Teenage Cave Artists is tidy at 36 minutes but hits hard while keeping a tight grip on their virtuosic, indeed often athletic, eclecticism, but also tending toward the fun rather than the punishing, ending quite beautifully with a prelude by Bach, “I Call on Thee.” Still potently weird but not formidable, Deerhoof has delivered us a wide-ranging gift. A-

Deerhoof & Wadada Leo Smith, To Be Surrounded By Beautiful, Curious, Breathing, Laughing Flesh Is Enough (Joyful Noise) This digital-only Bandcamp release shares its title with a line from Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric,” with its first six tracks showcasing Deerhoof throwing down with supreme heaviness, while the last six retain the forceful drive but expand it in collaboration with the great trumpeter-composer-bandleader-teacher Wadada Leo Smith, with all of the proceeds going to Black Lives Matter. Captured as part of the Winter Jazzfest at Le Poisson Rouge in January of 2018, the meeting isn’t an impromptu excursion into letting it fly, but features Smith enhancing Deerhoof songs from La Isla Bonita (“Last Fad” and the set closing “Mirror Monster”), Breakup Song “(Breakup Songs” and “Flower”) and Offend Maggie (“Snoopy Waves”). Smith’s playing is magnificent, reminding me a little of his work in Yo Miles. Massive sounds for a crucial cause. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, Orange Crate Art (Omnivore) If you’re unfamiliar with this collaboration but know the duo’s work on Smile, the long lost but eventually completed (with a due abundance of fanfare) masterpiece from the Beach Boys, don’t go expecting this 1994 reunion (the first time they’d worked together since the ’72 Beach Boys single “Sail On, Sailor”) to attain the same level of quality. I write this not to diminish Orange Crate Art but to hopefully allow you newbies to gather an appreciation and ultimately, satisfaction independent of Smile. Because this set, which has been out for roughly a month now in expanded 2CD and 2LP editions (with bonus instrumental versions of the album’s vocal cuts on the CD’s second disc), is a good one. At times, it’s very good. With flashes of excellence, even.

The short scoop is that Parks had a batch of songs with California as the unifying theme, and he wanted Wilson to sing them. Now, for folks who love Parks’ classic records for Reprise, this set doesn’t hit the heights of Song Cycle or Discover America either, but that’s in part because the contribution of Wilson brings a pop focus to much of the record. This offers its own charm, distinct if comfortable in the memory; a few of the cuts here, particularly “Sail Away,” could’ve landed airwave rotation at the time of release on those stations that were then pumping “Kokomo” (it might’ve needed a radio edit, though). Still, Parks’ arranging skills are in sharp form, especially on the original release’s closer “Lullaby.” The bonus outtake of “Rhapsody In Blue” with Wilson’s wordless singing is a total treat, as well. For turntable-owning listeners primarily interested in ol’ Bri, the vinyl will probably suffice, but those with a deep love for Parks will want to have those CD instrumentals handy, as they kick much ass. A-

Louis Armstrong, Live in France (Dot Time) A few months back in this column I enthused over the release of Lennie Tristano: The Duo Sessions, which was this label’s newest entry in their Legends Series. Well, here comes this Armstrong set and the Wolfgang Lackerschmid & Chet Baker release below, together the latest entries in the Legends program and with the distinction that both are available on vinyl. Live in France is also the most recent wax reissue of Armstrong and His All-Stars in performance mode from the trumpeter’s later career, the prior two dating from the 1950s in Allentown, PA and Grand Rapids, MI, both released by ORG Music. That makes this one, captured at the Nice Opera House in Paris as part of the Nice International Jazz Festival in its inaugural year, the oldest of the bunch.

Likely due to the locale as much as the recording’s vintage, this set also leans a little nearer to the jazz paradigm than the “entertainment” mode that’s documented on ORG’s releases (and which reaches its peak in Bert Stern’s documentary film of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival Jazz on a Summer’s Day). This is not to discount the ’50s LPs, as there is certainly value to be had in the showmanship of Armstrong and his band, but here, with trombonist-vocalist Jack Teagarden, clarinetist Barney Bigard, pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines, drummer Big Sid Catlett and bassist Arvell Shaw, the primacy of the playing is foremost, even as the rudimentary location recording does render matters a little distant. The singing (which was long part of Armstrong’s bag) does hint at the transition into elder statesman territory, though the man was only 46 at the time, his relative youth assisting in keeping the aura of nostalgia at bay. A-

Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards, Bitter Better (Compass) This is my introduction to the work of Cortese, a former Californian who now lives in Ghent, Belgium and whose work has been categorized as indie folk. My impression after an initial spin was of the pop variety, though it resisted easy pigeonholing. There are synths, but it’s not synth-pop. Fitting for the band name, there are danceable rhythms, but it’s not dance-pop. While rich with ideas, experimental-pop, avant-pop or art-pop don’t fit, either. There are enough string arrangements throughout that I’m tempted to call Bitter Better baroque pop…but I won’t. Cortese does possess a vocal style that’s pretty but not florid, which fits her background in indie folk, though the connection comes into focus most clearly instrumentally in “From the Ashes” (which features some banjo plucking and a soaring atmosphere). I’m tempted to check her prior stuff out, but this set has its own modest appeal. B

Chad Fowler & WC Anderson, Lacrimosa (Mahakala Music) As is pointed out in the notes for this CD, jazz improvisation is typically understood to be the spark of creativity in the moment by individuals in the same physical place at the same time; often, it’s understood as a dialogue. Socially isolating for health reasons puts the kibosh on this avenue of artistic expression…but wait. Lacrimosa, featuring saxophonist Chad Fowler and drummer-percussionist WC Anderson, blows that idea to utter kablooey. It all started with Fowler improvising to a solo piano record by Joel Futterman, Pathways (it was the pianist’s idea to perform “simulated concerts” at home with existing recordings). The saxophonist was so taken with the results that he took the concept and ran with it, sharing the recordings of himself (shorn of Futterman’s piano) with other players for them to improvise with and doing the same with tapes sent to him by those individuals.

Lacrimosa collects the distance interactions between Fowler and Anderson, which were especially fertile and downright inspiring. For those with little to no experience with advanced improvisation, this might not seem like any big deal, particularly in the digital age, but for folks who have listened to a whole lot of free-improv, the method of its making has always been a major element in absorbing its brilliance. With all this said, I can safely relate that had the circumstances behind this record’s making been kept quiet, I wouldn’t’ve registered anything unusual in its creation. Sparks do fly, as these sounds unsurprisingly brought to mind Rashied Ali and Frank Lowe’s Duo Exchange, though Fowler’s playing on the sopranino, saxello, c melody, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones does lend distinctiveness through textural breadth. Anderson can bring the thunder, but he’s also capable of tantalizing restraint as Fowler’s range includes melodious threads interspersed with the full boil searching. Striking, admirable work. A-

Andrew Gold, Something New: Unreleased Gold (Omnivore) There’s going to be such an avalanche of releases available in connection with 2020’s Coronavirus-altered Record Store Days that I think I’ll seize the opportunity to dish the word on this item now, as the CD and digital has been out since April; the wax comes out August 29 as part of the first RSD event. Prior to my time spent with this collection of previously unheard studio material from 1973, it’s safe to say that my biggest exposure to the work of the late Andrew Gold was through his biggest hit, ’77’s anthemic piano-driven soft-rock behemoth “Lonely Boy,” with a close second being “Thank You for Being a Friend,” which charted modestly the following year, prior to its cover version by Cynthia Fee lending a theme song to sitcom The Golden Girls. I must admit, this is how I first heard that one, which was (is?) long ubiquitous as a rerun staple.

My overall ignorance regarding Gold’s work relates to how the ’70s albums by Ronstadt, Garfunkel and Sweet Baby James, all of which he had a role in shaping, are not really part of my regular (or irregular) listening diet. Even more so the albums he cut under his own name for the Asylum label, four in all spanning 1975-’80 (there were more post-Asylum releases, plus his theme song for another sitcom, Mad About You, this time sung by Gold himself). While it took two years for Gold to land his contract after cutting these 16 songs over the span of a few months at Clover Recorders with producer Chuck Plotkin, there’s still a decidedly Asylum vibe in the opening band version of the title track. There are a few other band selections, but the majority are listed as solo demos, many with Gold at the piano foreshadowing “Lonely Boy” (though nothing here is as bold as that number). I prefer the group action, and also the solo tracks, like “You Are Somewhere Within Me,” where Gold switches to guitar. B

Mark Harvey Group, A Rite for All Souls (Americas Musicworks) My introduction to the Mark Harvey Group came through the nifty Cultures of Soul compilation Boston Creative Jazz Scene 1970 – 1983, which was released in 2016 and opened with two selections from the avant-jazz-inclined outfit led by trumpeter and composer Harvey. For this 2CD set featuring a recently unearthed and unedited live recording from October 31, 1971 at the Old West Church in Boston, the group consists of Harvey on brass, Peter H. Bloom on woodwinds and Craig Ellis and Michael Standish on percussion performing a piece in two acts (one act on each disc totaling over 90 minutes) “without prescribed score or musical notation.” The contents cohere into a fascinating and robust snapshot of street-level jazz and poetry as a vehicle for social commentary and positive change. As archival free jazz discoveries go, this set maintains a level of quality comparable to the finds in the Atavistic label’s Unheard Music Series.

While the Mark Harvey Group began by playing hard-bop, modal jazz and jazz-rock, by the point of this event they were a full-on free jazz experience exploring a collective approach that was openly impacted by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, this influence expressed through a wide array of instruments but also the lack of detectible hierarchy. A big part of A Rite for All Souls’ distinctiveness in 2020 comes through the recitations of poems by Gary Snyder, William Butler Yeats, Jack Spicer and percussionist Ellis. Snyder and Spicer are both Beat-aligned poets, which lends an intriguingly unique twist to the proceedings. Additionally, the musical instruments were arranged on stage in the manner of a sculpture, there were illustrations on stage, and the players wore robes. A rite indeed, but the jazz thrust doesn’t get misplaced as the rough abstract edge of Bloom’s tenor saxophone reminds me of the wilder sessions issued around the same time by ESP-Disk. In fact, everybody plays at a high level throughout. A-

Wolfgang Lackerschmid & Chet Baker, Ballads for Two (Dot Time) While I do love the prime-era recordings of trumpeter Chet Baker, I will admit that I’ve long approached his later work with caution, which is a nice way of saying I’ve largely avoided it. Compounding the issue here is that Germany’s Lackerschmid is featured on vibraphone, which is far from my favorite instrument in jazz terms. And so, this one comes to me fresh, a situation that’s likely the same for most folks, as this LP’s initial 1979 release on Lackerschmid’s own Sandra Music Productions label was a limited run. Well, the vibes sound fine in this balladic context, focused upon sustained tonal motifs over getting flashy with the hammers, and additionally complementing a fully committed Baker, whose playing is often quite beautiful across the record’s eight tracks. I generally prefer my ballads to be interspersed with some up-tempo selections, but the duo’s mood ambiance here is consistently appealing. A wonderful surprise. A-

Zoe Polanski, Violent Flowers (Youngbloods) Singer, songwriter and film composer Zoe Polanski knows what she’s about. She’s a native of Israel currently in NYC, where she studied cinematography at the School of Visual Arts before returning to Israel for a bit to start the project Bela Tar; if that moniker rings a bell, it might tip off the kind of filmmaking that was influential on Polanski, as the Hungarian director Bela Tarr is one of the pioneers of “slow cinema” (which can also be described as really long cinema, as Tarr’s masterpiece Satantango runs for 7 hours, 32 minutes). Polanski’s Bela Tar released a few CDs and a digital EP, but this is her solo (and vinyl) debut, co-produced and written by Tel Aviv electronic artist Aviad Zinemanas. It’s astutely described as experimental dream pop, though it swings very interestingly from breathy accessibility to environments of experimentation that tend toward the serene rather than the severe. Penultimate track “The Willows” even gets a little dancy without screwing the mood. B+

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