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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Profligate, Too Numb to Know (Wharf Cat) Although three volumes of demo tapes have been released since, the last “new” full-length from Profligate, which is the work of songwriter Noah Anthony, was Somewhere Else, released in January 2018, his first for Wharf Cat. That record found him working in territory comparable to synth-pop but with injections of abrasiveness and a general mood that was nearer to darkwave (which isn’t 1,000 miles away from synth-pop, but still), and it was a strong enough effort to receive a new release pick in this column. Well, the writing of Anthony’s latest, which began in Philadelphia, continued after a move to Los Angeles, and then following the theft of a laptop, was restarted in Cleveland, makes significant inroads into the realms of songs over electronic environments, though Too Numb to Know is still aptly categorized as synth-pop (but with some rewardingly atypical use of electric guitar). However, as the title might suggest, the attitude (one could even say atmosphere) is nearer to dour than sunshiny, and that’s A-OK with me, bud. A-

Christopher Parker & Kelley Hurt, No Tears Suite (Mahakala Music) This CD features pianist Parker and vocalist Hurt’s composition, initially written in commemoration and celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine’s historic enrollment in their city’s Central High School. It’s a work of substantial richness and power that is only heightened by its connection to the Arkansas community, as Parker was born in North Little Rock. Additionally, the piece was composed for the literary magazine Oxford American, which is based in the city. It premiered in 2017 with a strong band that featured Parker, Hurt, Marc Franklin on trumpet, Chad Fowler on alto, Bobby LaVell on tenor, Bill Huntington on bass, and Brian Blade on drums, the lineup heard on the disc, which comes in an attractive, informative 6 panel package.

Fitting for its conception as a historical act of tribute and remembrance, No Tears Suite is a journey deep into the heart of jazz greatness as established by the form’s masterworks of the mid-20th century. Indeed, it’s almost scholarly in comportment, as Parker has studied and taught extensively, but that’s no fault, as there is also crucial warmth and verve. Consistently accessible throughout, Hurt’s contribution, which can described as serving a narrative function, is as pleasing to the ear as it is informative, and deepens the suite’s distinctiveness as the music is at times reminiscent of Mingus, Duke, Benny Golson’s work with Art Farmer, and Max Roach’s with Abbey Lincoln. Also, the release of No Tears Suite will be accompanied by a free streaming listen of the 2019 live performance from Little Rock featuring the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and with arrangements by the great bassist Rufus Reid. For the curious, it’ll serve as a fine introduction to Parker and Hurt’s work and will stand as a splendidly robust and wholly satisfying expansion for those who choose to immediately scoop up the studio recording. A / A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Rüstəm Quliyev, Azerbaijani Gitara (Bongo Joe) Born in 1969 in the village of Kosalar, Nagorno Karabakh, in the Republic of Azerbaijan (formerly part of the USSR), Quliyev’s music is a sweet find, well, a bittersweet find as he died young after a battle with lung cancer. Encountering the guitar while doing military service in Russia, but wasted no time in mastering it upon returning to Azerbaijan (he was already proficient on the tar and the saz), where he recorded frequently on cassettes released by small local labels, as well as playing weddings and appearing in TV. This is his first international release, made with the approval and input of Quliyev’s family, and it details a personal style that is assessed as a step (or steps) beyond the “already idiosyncratic” Azerbaijani guitar scene. Launching from his country’s traditional music, Quliyev incorporated a wealth of outside influences (Indian, Afghan, Iranian, Spanish) for an expansive, and dare I say psychedelic, ride. And after getting acclimated to the sound, “Yaniq Kerem” (track seven) hits the ear, and it’s like, “aww, yes…” A-

Nick Faber, The Lost Highway Tapes (Fabyl) Nick Faber runs the shop over at Fabyl Records, a still relatively youthful UK label that’s aesthetic can be summed-up as party rockers with a neo-old school hip-hop inclination. That’s part of the situation anyway, as Faber’s new record integrates blues and Americana into a sonic stew that is plenty likeable as it never really loses touch with the man’s background as a pop producer. Elements of hip-hop are present, but overall, it’s better assessed as an excursion into soulful-funky pop that doesn’t really throw back much farther than the 1990s. As this plays, there are a handful of moments where the accessibility factor, the sort of feel that might’ve landed a few tracks from this into pop radio rotation a few decades back, is asserted a little too heavily for my tastes, but that’s just it; they’re fleeting passages that are offset by stretches that can remind me a bit of what Beck was doing on Odelay and Midnite Vultures, but blended with some Stevie Wonder-ish verve and injections of bluesy guitar and harmonica. “Packing Case Blues” is a late highlight. B+

Hama, “Music From Saharan WhatsApp 08” (Sahel Sounds) Niamey, Niger’s Hama has cut two full-length records and a ten-inch EP on Sahel Sounds; of the bunch, I’m far more familiar with Houmeissa, which came out last year, complete with a cover shot of the artist posing with his keyboard, an electronic model with a plethora of programmable options. While ’90s techno and hip-hop are tangible in his sound, so is the sound of budding synth technology really shining through on this 4-song EP, which was recorded via cell phone and is the latest (the eighth) installment in this label’s digital-only Saharan music initiative, in which the EPs are only available for one month at the rate of name your price before the next one arrives. This one hit on September 5, so you still have a little time to size up the situation. The circumstances of the recording combine with the nature of Hama’s tech to give this a lo-fi, homemade feel, but as the structures are not only sturdy but appealingly layered, that’s as good as gravy atop a plate of hand-mashed spuds. This series is the affordable gift that just keeps on giving. A-

Kaze + Ikue Mori, Sand Storm (Circum-Libra) I suspect that I’ve covered more records by pianist and composer Satoko Fujii here at TVD than those of any other musician. Again, it’s a suspicion, which means I haven’t backed it up with research of any kind. It’s just a feeling I have in my gut. And the gut is where Fujii’s music hits me, though it also hits me in the brain; she throws a mean combination. But hey, Fujii’s just one part of this heavy-duty equation. Kaze is indeed a band featuring drummer Peter Orins and the trumpets of Natsuki Tamura and Christian Pruvost (who also blows some flugelhorn). Adding the electronics of NYC heavyweight Ikue Mori is the recipe for something major, and Sand Storm doesn’t disappoint. To the contrary, it immediately barrels forth something fierce, though don’t get the idea that this is a go-for-broke improv free-for-all.

No, all of these tracks are composed (three by the band and Mori, plus one each from Pruvost, Tamura, Fujii and Orins) as they reflect a wide range of emotional expression and textural variation (and additionally, deft use of space). Mori’s instrument, specifically, a laptop, brings an instantaneous distinctiveness to the record, though to be fair, Kaze’s dual valve scenario is already unique. Both Pruvost and Tamura can breathe fire, though they also deliver some recognizably jazzy melodic passages. Extended techniques? Oh yes, but without turning this into one of those “I’ll show you what I can do” situations. Those collectively composed tracks, “Poco a Poco,” “Under the Feet,” and “Suna Arashi,” are unsurprisingly a little more closely linked to the spontaneity of improvisation, but they still cohere seamlessly into a CD that’s magnificence is firmly established even before Tamura’s wonderful vocal solo in the middle of closing track “Noir Soir.” A

Masma Dream World, Play At Night (Northern Spy) As I absorbed the contents of this record, the first as Masma Dream World from Bronx-via-Gabon multi-disciplinary artist and healer Devi Mambouka (described as her solo debut), I was initially drawn in by the highly rhythmic, low bass-infused, boldly spiritual and proudly global formulation of the whole (she’s the child of a Gabonese ambassador and a Singaporean mother, with Northern Spy’s PR for the record describing her as a “child of the world”). But reflecting upon what I heard, I was struck by the truly solo nature of the work. That is, Mambouka wrote and played all the music and additionally made all the field recordings that are incorporated into the album.

In fact, the only other person involved in shaping the way Play At Night sounds is co-producer Chris Weiss, who also mixed and mastered. Consisting of 13 selections spanning a tidy 37 minutes, there is an abundance of content here that should grab folks with overlapping interests in experimental electronic soundscapes and world music with an essence unblemished by commercialism. Integral to the whole is an emphasis on ritual sounds such as Butoh dancing (Mambouka is skilled in the art) and trance-inducing theta frequencies, with the latter showcased in “Theta,” a standout track which sounds like one of those jeeps with tricked out speakers, except that, somehow, it’s playing a recording of your very own heartbeat, and with the bass maxed totally out. Fuckin’ yeah! A-

The Raymond Scott Big Band, Hemidemisemiquaver: Buried Treasures of the Raymond Scott Big Band (Real Gone) Like many of my generation, my cognizance of Raymond Scott came via Columbia Record’s Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights, produced by Irwin Chusid and the recently departed Hal Wilner, which hit stores on CD in 1992. A little earlier, Chusid also had a hand in putting together, alongside Will Friedwald, The Raymond Scott Project Volume One: Powerhouse for the Stash label, though that one wasn’t as easy to find as the Columbia set. But I mention the Stash release because its cover subtitle, The Looney Melodies of the Man Who Made Cartoons Swing, underscored how folks like me, who had only recently entered adulthood back then, had certainly long absorbed Scott’s artistry (in a manner similar to Carl Stalling) through his work’s use in cartoons from an earlier era, most prominently from the Warner Bros. studio (via Stalling), that had played on television in heavy Saturday morning and weekday afternoon rotation for decades.

Since the release of those archival sets, there were further releases covering his later activities such as the Basta label’s reissue in 1999 of the three Soothing Sounds for Baby volumes, which date from the early ’60s, and a year later, Basta’s Manhattan Research Inc., the title describing the pioneering electronic music division of Raymond Scott Enterprises. Now here comes an extensive CD illuminating the period between his Quintette (which is what’s heard on the Columbia and Stash sets) and his electronic activities, specifically his leadership of what’s called the CBS Big Band. While the 24 tracks, largely radio broadcasts restored for release, essentially lack the zany-quirky-idiosyncratic aspects of the Quintette stuff, there are still a slew of catchy melodies, plus strong playing throughout, as the band included Ben Webster, Cozy Cole, and Charlie Shavers. And in a clear sign of quality, the CD also comes with extensive liner notes from musician, cartoon music composer, ace guitarist and Scott expert Skip Heller, who co-produced with Scott’s son Stan Warnow. A truly nifty addition to the shelf. A-

V/A, Dear Sunny… (Big Crown) This crisp 9-song set is a tribute and 77th birthday gift to singer Sunny Ozuna, who in 1959 formed Sunny & the Sunglows in Texas, with the largely Chicano group later known as Sunny & the Sunliners. They had a sizeable hit in 1962 with a cover of Little Willie John’s “Talk to Me,” but over time largely fell under the radar, though Big Crown’s 2017 retrospective album Mr. Brown Eyed Soul did a nice job of hipping ears to the Sunliners’ body of work. So does this collection, as it simultaneously spotlights the current Big Crown roster, opening with The Shacks’ rendition of “Smile Now, Cry Later” and closing with Brainstory’s “Runaway.” In between are tracks by Bobby Oruza, 79.5, Holy Hive, Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band (covering Sunny’s version of War’s “Get Down”), Lee Fields, Lizette & Quevin, and Paul & the Tall Trees. This isn’t an mind-shattering listen, but it is smooth all the way through, and it’s also currently digital only, but as such, serves as a fine entry-point to Big Crown’s discography, including the abovementioned Sunny collection, all of which has been issued on wax. B+

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