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

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January 2021.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Alina Kalancea, Impedance (Important) Romanian sound artist and composer Kalancea, who’s based in Modena, Italy, has a prior full-length in her discography, The 5th Apple, which came out in late 2018 on the störung label. That one required four sides of vinyl, and hey, so does this follow-up, which serves as my introduction to her work. Succinctly, it’s a slow-building beauty of electronic soundscapes, an instrumental affair (but with a couple sourced voices in the weave) featuring ten tracks that flow interconnectedly with an edge that’s frequently dark, though the non-vocal design situates the whole as more about atmosphere than attitude. That’s sweet. And that Kalancea rides the Buchla into these realms is even better, as the hands-on approach amplifies Impedance as a human endeavor while striving to push electronic music forward. But still, some of her textures (and pulses) have a clinical sharpness, and that’s great, too. I’ll conclude by mentioning the set’s gatefold tip-on Stoughton sleeve, with the quality of the package matching the sounds in the grooves. A

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Spiral Wave Nomads, First Encounters (Twin Lakes- Feeding Tube) When I explain that Spiral Wave Nomads’ debut album was produced remotely, you might conjure an idea as to why. But as that eponymous effort was issued in May of 2019, said idea is undercut. First Encounters is the duo’s new LP, their second, with its title a direct reference to how the disc’s four tracks document the first time Albany NY-based guitarist Eric Hardiman and New Haven, CT-dwelling drummer Michael Kiefer played in the same room at the same time (this was pre-Covid-19, in the summer of 2019). The sound can be described as free-psych with some wonderful bursts of abstract heaviness in “Fitful Embers” bringing the Dead C to mind just a bit. But even as the pair hone their adeptness at navigating the deep weeds, making clear this is in no way a throwback effort, there is enough gliding (particularly in the long opening and closing tracks) to recall those ballroom days of yore. First Encounters is a reminder of the goodness that can transpire when humans commune together, and right now, that’s a great thing. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Bill Fontana, Landscape Sculpture with Fog Horns (Other Minds) This CD is an expanded reissue of the 1982 LP released by the San Francisco radio station KQED-FM. That album documented artist Fontana’s outdoor sound installation of the previous year, which routed live audio feeds from eight foghorns located around San Fran into a central listening area in the city’s waterfront at Fort Mason. Fontana’s installation (groundbreaking in the field of Sound Art), the original vinyl and this CD share a title, but Other Minds’ edition includes a fresh edit by Andrew Weathers of the two-hour 1981 concert version that aired on KPFA-FM, an event that featured Stuart Dempster of the Deep Listening Band and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company on trombone, didjeridu, garden hose, and conch shell.

The installation recording is very much like hanging out on a foggy pier, but with the welcome absence of seagulls, and with the lack of those noisy fuckers, the whole becomes quite relaxing in its unhurried repetition. However, the concert version is a decidedly more “musical” affair (perhaps fitting, as it was performed as part of the New Music America Festival). There is also a 38-minute 2018 reworking by Fontana, which, the approximately doubled length aside, is much subtler in its differences from the installation recording. Folks pining for the visceral will probably want to get their kicks somewhere else, but for those with overlapping interests in New Music and Contemporary Art, this set is poised to satisfy, as it comes with a full-color 24-page booklet offering Fontana’s original notes, a new essay from Jennifer Lucy Allan, and a transcript of a recent convo between Fontana, Dempster, and Other Minds’ Charles Amirkhanian. A-

Brian Baumbusch, Murmuration (Other Minds) Baumbusch is a composer, instrument builder, musicologist, and ensemble leader whose work is noted for the concept of polytempo: that occurs, succinctly, when group members playing the same or similar musical patterns speed up or slow down independently of each other. This might not seem like a big deal, but as explained in Jay M. Arms’ notes for this digital-only set, it’s quite the challenge for musicians, who often remark that it would be easier if they weren’t hearing anybody else. When the prep for his composition Tides was interrupted by Covid-19, the California-based Baumbusch struck upon the idea of having his musicians record in isolation, and then quickly composed a new piece, Isotropes, specifically for remote recording by the University of California at Santa Clara Wind Ensemble.

The success of the endeavor sent Baumbusch back to Tides, which he then fragmented so that the Other Minds Ensemble could record the parts in isolation. Both pieces are here in final form—that is, after the individual parts were mixed together and then “re-amped” by recording them for maximum acoustical warmth in UCSC’s recital hall. That Baumbusch elected not to use digital recording tools to finalize the pieces should be a tipoff that, if difficult to play, neither composition is a dry exercise. Listening underscores the point. Baumbusch is described in his bio as a post-minimalist composer, and as both pieces unfurl that evaluation is discernable (a little more so in Isotropes), but there are also progressions that feel connected to the classical breakthroughs of the mid-20th century, along with touches that point to the composer’s gamelan work. Baumbusch’s pieces are also appealingly succinct, combining for a total of under an hour. Another sustained highlight is Jennifer Ellis’ harp in Tides, though unsurprisingly, the playing is exquisite all around. A wonderfully fulfilling release, and inspirational. A  

Cleveland Eaton, Plenty Good Eaton (Real Gone) Bassist Eaton, who played with saxophonist Gene Ammons and extensively in the trio of pianist Ramsey Lewis and the orchestra of Count Basie, passed away on July 5 of last year. The fresh edition of this 1975 album, his second, came out back in October as part of Real Gone’s program of reissues from the Black Jazz label. Given the era from whence this record came, it’s not a shocker that Plenty Good Eaton dives without reservation into soul and funk; there are Isaac Hayes/ Willie Hutch-style Blaxploitation jams, some funky disco action, some Philly soul motion, and on side two, a dip into straight ahead jazz, but with the distinctive addition of violin, I’m guessing carried over from the string lushness of the other tracks. The biggest unifying facet is Eaton’s bass playing, much of it acoustic and impressively employed in contexts that aren’t particularly noted for using an upright. Eaton is prominent (but unobtrusive) in the mix, and while this set isn’t as strong as the best of the earlier Black Jazz reissues, the sincere engagement with a variety of styles is appealing. B+

Roland Haynes, Second Wave (Real Gone) A fascinating reissue, in part because it’s not just the only record as leader by pianist Haynes, it’s the only record the guy played on, period. Part of what makes Second Wave so legendary and sought after (it will likely set you back three figures in original form) is that nobody knows anything about the dude, which strikes me as extraordinary, as it was 1975. Even crazier, this is a record with two pianists, the other being Kirk Lightsey (bassist Henry Franklin and drummer Carl Burnett complete the group), with producer Gene Russell separating them on the left and right stereo channels, but without noting who was on each side. As this is an at-times frantic dive into funky fusion, it’s basically impossible to be sure who’s playing what, though one of the pianos (it is assumed to be Lightsey’s) is run through a guitar amp. Pat Thomas’ notes are as insightful as expected, and his observation that Second Wave leans into the prog zone is an astute one. But don’t worry; the playing is intense and maximal, but it avoids the noodlesome. Second Wave exceeds its reputation. A-

Wolfgang Lackerschmid & Chet Baker, Quintet Sessions 1979 (Dot Time) I’m quite fond of Ballads for Two, the duo recording issued by Dot Time last year featuring vibraphonist Lackerschmid and trumpeter Baker, with my appreciation worth noting as I’m pretty persnickety over the vibes and cautious regarding late-period Chet. But hey, as said, ‘twas a good one, and guitarist Larry Coryell was so taken with a performance by the pair roughly concurrent with Ballads’ release that he proposed the three cut a date with a rhythm section. That’s what this is, with bassist Buster Williams and drummer Tony Williams completing the lineup. That’s quite the band, but I’m afraid I don’t dig this as much as the duo set, though I’ll add that Quintet Sessions 1979 is consistently likeable, with everybody in solid form. But there’s just a smidge too much conventionality from a group that’s poised to, if not subvert it, then certainly transcend the norm. But ultimately, this is but a quibble, as this band was a special one and the record is a keeper (like Ballads, issued on vinyl). And Chet scats a bit, nicely, during “Balzwalz.” B+

Charles Shere / Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio, Trio for Violin, Piano and Percussion (Other Minds) It might seem unusual that this 1996 recording of a piece by composer Charles Shere as performed by violinist David Abel, pianist Julie Steinberg, and percussionist William Winant, was until recently thought to be lost, but that’s exactly the case. That the audio of the short four-part work was found and has now been given a digital release to celebrate the 85th birthdays of the composer (August of last year) and Abel (November of same) is a splendid circumstance. In his short accompanying text for the release, Shere mentions that he struggled a bit when beginning this commission from Other Minds, mainly because he was simultaneously working on two other pieces, but once he broke through, he finished rather quickly, doing so in Manhattan after starting the piece in France. Shere is also a bit self-critical of his piece (though not the performance), but the sounds, which explore some jagged chamber classical terrain and with the welcome distinctiveness of Winant’s percussion, sounds superb. A

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