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

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

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time OutTakes – Previously Unreleased Takes from the Original 1959 Sessions (Brubeck Editions) The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out, released in 1959 by Columbia Records, remains one of the cornerstones in the heyday of jazz, cut in what some have proposed was the music’s greatest year. What’s more, it was a legit smash at the time of its release, not just in jazz terms but in the pop sphere as well, where it climbed to No. 2 on the album chart, with the single of “Take Five” reaching No. 5. This means many people have heard its contents many times, and surely some of those listeners have concluded they’ve had their fill of the LP; while not ubiquitous (how could it be), the music could occasionally feel that way, as it crept into contexts of all kinds, frequently as a signifier. That means long after one chose to give Time Out a time out, other people would continue playing it. A lot.

Of course, the record’s perseverance is exactly why these outtakes are so worthwhile, as they present a fresh twist on sounds that are long interwoven into the cultural fabric. The playing is as impeccable as expected, but more importantly, the distinctiveness of these versions becomes quite clear; nowhere are the differences more apparent than in “Take Five,” which not only moves at a brisker pace (and yet is a smidge longer than the release version) but also finds everybody laying out except for Joe Morello, who makes exquisite use of the spotlight. “Blue Rondo a la Turk” is more than two minutes longer than the version that opens Time Out, with the intensity level higher and the playing just a bit edgier. I also like how OutTakes follows the sequence of the original album until deep in the runtime. Altogether, this set is a superb remedy for those who might still consider themselves burnt out on Time Out. CD is out 12/4, but it appears the vinyl has been delayed. A

Edan, Primitive Plus (Lewis Recordings) 2002 was the year of arrival for Edan’s debut full-length (receiving its first vinyl reissue since date of release here), and by that point, left-field/ underground hip-hop was a well-established subgenre. Primitive Plus still made a deep impression, partly because it was as strange in its musical layering as it was lyrically unique. Like many other u-grounders, Edan was a passionate student of the old-school, but rather than express his love through imitation, his word flow, sometimes twisted and in other moments direct, is equal to the sheer force of his beats and the often surreal nature of his loops. Scratching is abundant. It comes as no surprise that “Ultra ‘88” is a tribute to the Ultramagnetic MCs, the legendary group that unleashed Kool Keith on the world, for in terms of the bizarre, Keith is one of the few easily taggable influences on Edan’s work. It’s also not a shocker that Mr. Lif guests on “Rapperfection”; had Lewis Recordings not released Primitive Plus, it could’ve easily landed on Definitive Jux. A fine album that set the table for the brilliance of Beauty and the Beat. A-

The Bangles, Sweetheart of the Sun (Real Gone) For their fifth and most recent album from 2001, this oft-terrific Los Angeles band consisted of Susanna Hoffs and the Peterson sisters, Vicki and Debbi, as bassist Michael Steele had departed shortly after the recording of their 2003 reunion effort Doll Revolution. Recruiting Derrick Anderson to fill that role, what resulted on this set co-produced by the band and Matthew Sweet (who plays bass on “Through Your Eyes”), is one of the Bangles’ strongest records, opening with the riff-tastic “Anna Lee (Sweetheart of the Sun)” (which I would rate as one of their greatest songs, period), and wrapping up with a sturdy cover of the Nazz’s “Open My Eyes.” In between, the stated influence of the ladies of the Laurel Canyon (Carole, Joni, Carly) is heard, which is to say that there’s a vibe of maturity to the songwriting, a wholly appropriate circumstance that never undercuts the garage-y melodic youthfulness making the Bangles’ music such a treat. Only 900 copies pressed and sold out at the source, so if you see it and have the folding money, don’t hesitate. A-

Bounaly, “Music From Saharan WhatsApp 10” (Sahel Sounds) This is the tenth and I do believe the penultimate entry in Sahel Sounds’ cellphone-recorded name your price digital download series of Saharan players, and the quality remains high. The kicker is that each installment is only available for one month, with “WhatsApp 11” (hopefully) scheduled to hit Bandcamp on Dec 11 (or 12), so if African trance blues is your thing, don’t dally. Guitarist-vocalist Bounaly, aka Ali Traore, is from Niafounke, which is noted as the birthplace of Ali Farka Touré, though due to civil war Bounaly has relocated to Bamako, where he plays solo guitar in the group Espoir de Niafounké. This does appear to be his recorded debut, at least beyond Northwest Africa, and it’s a total treat. Although Bounaly does deliver a wicked solo in second track “Takamba,” the music here isn’t as relentlessly raw in its grooving as some of his contemporaries, and that’s totally jake, as the man, joined on these tracks by Hamadoun Guindo on calabash, is more content to sweetly glide, as heard in the final cut “Le Nord.” A-

Flowers, “Erik” b/w “Candour” (Slumberland) When I consider the singles club, which is to say a subscription 45 series, not a joint for folks unencumbered by relationships to congregate and mingle, I think of opportunities to hear new bands, the idea being that one lays down the cash without knowing everything that’s coming down the pipeline. I raise the observation because this 45, which arrives near the conclusion of the SLR30 singles series commemorating Slumberland Records’ 30th anniversary, serves as my introduction to London’s Flowers, who formed roughly eight years ago, with three LPs and a slew of singles in their discography. Unsurprisingly, the PR situates Flowers as drawing influence from C86 indie, post-punk, and shoegaze, plus the ’90s output of 4AD and, don’tcha know it, Slumberland Records. These two cuts certainly fit the decade but didn’t bring either of those labels to my mind. That’s sly. The a-side rocks pretty sizably while the flip is an acoustic strummer recalling the folky side of ‘90s Alt-rock. Both tracks avoid cliché, with Rachel Kennedy’s vocals bonding the versatility. B+

Middle Blue, Weird Funk in Small Bars (Ropeadope) Middle Blue’s beginnings spring from guitarist Brad  Farberman reaching out to bassist Danny Tamberelli (of Jounce) and baritone saxophonist Dave Sewelson (of the Microscopic Septet) with the desire to do something tune-based (prior, Farberman had been working with Rhys Chatham and William Parker). And as the title of this live collection establishes, there was also a need for the situation to be funky. That means Headhunters drummer Mike Clark’s entering the picture made total sense. The other contributors to Middle Blue’s 2018 studio recording Love Chords are Jeremy Danneman on alto sax, Jessica Lurie on tenor, and Jared Pauley on Fender Rhodes and clavinet.

But I’ve only just learnt of Love Chords’ existence; based upon the toughness and consistency of these four tracks, I’m going to be checking it out in short order. For Weird Funk in Small Bars, the band welcomes guest clarinetist Ben Goldberg, baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, keyboardist Jamie Saft, and tuba player Joe Exley, along with drumming from Tim Kuhl and Mike Marcinowski. Clark is featured on two tracks in a group that ranges in number from four to six participants, as Lurie and Pauley are absent from these performances. The key to Middle Blue’s success is directly communicated by Farberman: to be funky without getting smooth. Gruff horns well played certainly help in this regard, but so does a shared affinity for the avant-garde, along with a simultaneous crowd-pleasing tendency and obvious relish in the undertaking. A-

Neutrals, “Personal Computing” b/w “In the Future” (Slumberland) Oakland’s Neutrals released a pretty spiffy LP last year on Emotional Response, with the contents featuring some hard jangle, ties to post-punk and a smidge of DIY. For this final SLR30 singles series 45, their sound isn’t shaken up, but it is honed to a very appealing stylistic merger. Retaining the undeniably Anglo speak-sung vocals heard on the album (dude sounds like he has concrete up his nostrils), the sound of post-punk gets intensified; I couldn’t shake thoughts of Television Personalities’ “Part Time Punks” as this record’s A-side played, but with a level of catchiness that’s decidedly pop-punk and a guitar solo that travels to the outskirts of power-pop territory. “In the Future” leans into the aforementioned DIY, but with a sharper instrumental thrust, which has actually started to remind me of something from the ’80s Aussie post-punk underground. And yet, I can’t make any specific connections, which is to Neutrals’ credit.  But I will speculate that folks into Lewsberg will be into this one. Ultimately, one to spin over and over. A-

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