Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2021, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January 2021. Part one is here and part two is here and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Binker & Moses, Escape the Flames (Gearbox) This 2LP, limited to 500 so don’t sit on your hands (98 copies left as of this writing), delivers my first taste of saxophonist Binker Golding and drummer Moses Boyd. Taste? More like a six-course banquet, as the stylistic reach, while remaining in the jazz realm, is considerable. Recorded live at London’s Total Refreshment Centre in June 2017, the evening began with an extended serving of fiery duo exchange (“The Departure”), but then shifted into a sax groove that had me thinking of an edgier Eddie Harris (“Intoxication From the Jahvmonishi Leaves”) and after that moved into a zone reminding me a little of Sonny Rollins on Impulse! (“Fete By The River”). Speaking of Impulse!, much of Golding’s blowing is reminiscent of Coltrane, but his embracement of Modern Jazz romanticism (not just Rollins, but on finale “Leaving The Now Behind,” hints of Paul Desmond) sets him apart. Boyd can bring the thunder, but his attention to the tom drums stands out, and he’s solid with the brushes on that closer. Pretty consistently delightful. A

The Notwist, Vertigo Days (Morr Music) Germany’s The Notwist has been around for a long time, issuing their eponymous debut in 1990, and they’ve come a long way, emerging with a sound informed by punk and metal that beckoned toward the burgeoning Alternative scene only to enter into a long dalliance with electronics while maintaining an approach to songwriting that can be categorized as indie in nature. Brothers Markus and Micha Acher have been The Notwist’s constant members across that span, comprising a core trio with Cico Beck (who’s half of the electronic duo Joasihno) that for Vertigo Days has welcomed an august crew of guest contributors, including Ben LaMar Gay, who sings on “Oh Sweet Fire,” Gay’s fellow Chicagoan Angel Bat Dawid blowing clarinet during “Into The Ice Age,” the jewel of Argentina Juana Molina delivering voice and electronics to “Al Sur,” and Saya of Japanese pop duo Tenniscoats, who sings in the exquisite “Ship” and also plays in the brass band Zayaendo heard in the album’s closer “Into Love Again.” Vertigo Days offers many highlights amid impeccable flow. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Somewhere Between: Mutant Pop, Electronic Minimalism & Shadow Sounds of Japan 1980–1988 (Light in the Attic) As Mark “Frosty” McNeill mentions in his notes for Light in the Attic’s latest dive into late-20th century Japanese sounds, its contents are positioned somewhere between (hence the title) the label’s prior Japan Archival Series comps Kankyō Ongaku (dedicated to  the ambient, environmental and new age genres) and the two Pacific Breeze volumes (which focus on City Pop, AOR, and boogie styles). As Kankyō Ongaku offers a uniquely Japanese take on the abovementioned forms, its contents were striking to the ear as well as historically enlightening, receiving an A grade in full review in this column. By contrast, the second volume of Pacific Breeze, while just as informative and frequently quite likeable, was given a B+, also in full review. Unsurprisingly, Somewhere Between’s title explicates exactly where its grade falls in relation to those earlier volumes, though a handful of its selections do equal Kankyō Ongaku’s standouts in terms of quality. A-

Sabir Mateen, Christopher Dell, Christian Ramond, Klaus Kugel, Creation (577) Along with possessing excellent taste in shirts, Sabir Mateen is a titan of the free jazz saxophone. He blows mightily on this CD, which was released on December 18, with the contents a live performance from October 14, 2012 at the A-Trane in Berlin. Mateen’s bandmates for the occasion are Germans Christopher Dell on vibraphone, Christian Ramond on bass, and Klaus Kugel on drums, all three new to my ear as Dell makes the strongest immediate impression, in large part because his instrument is not exactly common in the free jazz scheme of things (and as I’ve mentioned before in this column, the vibes are far from my favorite instrument in jazz terms). The good news is that his playing truly fits into this equation (rather than just hanging in there or providing an “interesting” juxtaposition). But it’s worth noting that Creation offers some very appealingly lyrical playing from Mateen (and some sweet scatting) amid the fire. As Francis Davis writes in his nifty liner notes, Ramond and Kugel bring the necessary tandem momentum. A

Alabama Slim, The Parlor (Cornelius Chapel) Blues guitarist and singer Slim was born Milton Frazier in Vance, AL in 1939, though he’s a longtime resident of New Orleans. He has a few prior releases out, two of them CDRs, one with his cousin Little Freddie King, plus an LP on APO made with keyboardist Ironing Board Sam and guitarist Robert Lee Coleman, but The Parlor seems positioned to raise Slim’s profile for blues aficionados and beyond. His cousin plays guitar in the band here alongside Drive-By Trucker Matt Patton on bass, blues veteran Ardie Dean on drums and ex-Squirrel Nut Zipper and solo artist Jimbo Mathus on piano and organ. This all-star band is handy at working up potent grooves with a touch of the swamp, but the record’s strongest quality is Slim right up front, his delivery ranging from the gnarled boogie motions of John Lee Hooker to the sheer vastness of Willie Dixon (both vocally and compositionally). Sure, a few of these songs do evince similarities to blues classics, but that’s not an unappealing circumstance, and is counterbalanced by the sheer topicality of “Forty Jive.” B+

Jeff Kimmel/Ishmael Ali/Bill Harris, A Pound of Salt (Orbit577) 577’s digital offshoot has been productive since commencing operations early last summer, enough so that I’m in danger of falling behind, as A Pound of Salt was released in late November and there’s been a heap of action since. This is partly because improvisers regularly produce at a rate that exceeds the ability to release the music on physical formats, and additionally, for labels to provide an LP, CD or tape edition to every worthy recording that enters their sphere of consciousness. Take this trio session cut in Chicago in November of 2019 for example: featuring Jeff Kimmel on clarinet, Ishmael Ali on cello and guitar, and Bill Harris on drums, the wildcard (well, one of them, anyway) is that all three individuals contribute electronics to the recording. Now, if your thoughts have turned to glitching and whirring and buzzing and burbling, that’s not really the thing, as the electronics are often textural and sustained, bringing parts of this into the electroacoustic realm as other passages are quite jazzy, with Kimmel occasionally suggesting Giuffre. A-

Mason Lindahl, Kissing Rosy in the Rain (Tompkins Square) With the release of this album, which is limited to 500 vinyl copies worldwide, Lindahl’s discography effectively doubles, with the halves documenting a striking progression. Serrated Man Sound came out in 2009 on Porter (a label I mainly think of, and fondly, in jazz terms) and can be tagged as a late entry into the New Weird/ freak folky shebang of its decade. While Lindahl sang on that record, the main connective tissue with Kissing Rosy in the Rain is his guitar playing. That element was frequently fabulous on his debut but is the primary focus here as the vocals have, at least momentarily, been set aside. Given this background and his current label, you might be thinking American Primitive, but while there are some affinities, as Lindahl is a dexterous fingerpicker, his restrained penchant for flamenco carries him into territory that brings Josephine Foster to my mind, though with a lack of vocals, this comparison is a fairly subtle one. Speaking of subtle, Kissing Rosy in the Rain has an electronic component that fits this description. A-

Francisco Mela, MPT Trio Volume 1 (577) Along with leading his own bands and teaching at Berklee College of Music, Cuban drummer Francisco Mela has played with such major figures as McCoy Tyner, Joe Lovano, Kenny Barron, Gary Bartz, and Esperanza Spalding. For this group, he recruits fellow Cuban tenor saxophonist Hery Paz (who has worked with Fred Hersch, Miguel Zenón, Kris Davis, Ethan Iverson, and Dave Liebman) and Venezuelan guitarist Juanma Trujillo (who has played in the groups El Regaño and Domingo En Llamas in his home country, with numerous collabs following, first in Los Angeles and then in New York). The sound of the MPT Trio on their first release (a CD) is described by 577 as extending from Afro-Caribbean folk music and free jazz, though there is also an element of rock that led me to think of Last Exit, as Trujillo can burn like Sonny Sharrock. Paz can bring the skronk as well, but he also dishes out some uncut beauty moves. Furthermore, he navigates those extremes without ever registering as schizophrenic. Mela is a force with the sticks, but also a fount of productive finesse. A-

Skinshape, Arrogance is the Death of Men (Lewis Recordings) It’s been less than a year since the release of Skinshape’s last album Umoja. June of last year in fact, with Arrogance is the Death of Men arriving in early December, which meant it ended up on the backburner for a bit. But here it is now, and it’s a another good one, sounding not a bit rushed. Indeed, the scoop is that Will Dorey, who is the multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and songwriter behind Skinshape, started this record in November of 2019 and wrapped it up last July, roughly a month after Umoja hit. For those unfamiliar with Dorey’s work, it blends guitar-based R&B that flows introspectively but with an undercurrent of funk (a la The Meters) and touches of jazziness and even a few string-section additives. With this said, Skinshape is a decidedly but subtly post-hip-hop affair that’s tinged with psychedelia. And when Dorey sings, it’s in an unstrained (but not laidback) manner that enhances the glide of the music. Recommended for fans of Shuggie Otis, Bill Withers, David Axelrod, those Meters, and the Big Crown label. A-

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