Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
June 2021, Part Three

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Hprizm, Signs Remixed (Positive Elevation / 577) MC and producer Hprizm, aka High Priest, is well-known as a founding member of Antipop Consortium, one of the cornerstone groups in avant-hip-hop’s turn of the century explosion. Antipop hasn’t released a record since 2009, but Hprizm’s Magnetic Memory came out on the Don Giovanni label in 2018, and he’s following it up with an album remixing Signs, the terrific debut recording of electronic music from crucial contempo avant-jazz drummer Gerald Cleaver, which came out last year on 577. The art of remixing can run the gamut of quality from inventive reinterpretations (that largely retain some semblance of recognizability) to autopilot hackery. Thankfully, in Hprizm’s hands, Cleaver’s pieces serve as a springboard toward invigorating possibilities. Now, if you’re expecting an infusion of slamming beats, please understand that Hprizm’s approach is broad and often abstract (in keeping with Cleaver’s source work). It’s altogether a captivating listen, but I’m especially fond of the throbbing tension in “AKA Radiator.” A

Gerald Cleaver, Griots (Positive Elevation / 577) Signs Remixed is being purposely released in conjunction with Griots, Cleaver’s second excursion into modular electronics, with both issued by 577’s new sublabel, Positive Elevation (“dedicated to electronic experimentation and avant soul.”). Although the majority of Griots’ 11 pieces are titled after individuals of significance to the New Yorker by way of Detroit (e.g. “Cooper-Moore,” “Victor Lewis,” “Geri Allen,” “William Parker”), Cleaver clarifies that this isn’t a tribute record, with his point well taken, as the contents maintain a consistently higher level of quality than most tributes. Rather than assuming that expressions of admiration will transform through sincerity into 30 minutes to an hour of worthwhile listening, Cleaver instead lets his inspirations (which include the Detroit jazz collective Tribe and Faruq Z. Bey of the Motown jazz group Griot Galaxy) serve as a starting point for a deeper delve into electronic territory, with an emphasis on the Motor City techno of his youth. Griots is an acknowledgement of roots, with its sounds vital and unpredictable. A

Assorted Orchids, S/T (Whale Watch) Assorted Orchids is the recording moniker of Massachusetts native T. McWilliams, and this is his debut, though I’ll note that he’s 35 years old, so there’s a steadiness (that life experience can bring) tangible throughout this succinct recording’s ten tracks. Fingerpicking is also consistently in the foreground, but McWilliams hits those steel and nylon strings hard, with this aspect of his sound intensified by the album’s depth of fidelity. I’ll add that guitar and vocals (his singing as prominent in the mix as the picking) are Assorted Orchids’ main ingredients, with Mississippi John Hurt, Donovan, and Nick Drake cited as influences. In terms of overall sound, he’s much closer to the Brits, but except for the aura of intimacy, he doesn’t particularly remind me of either one. There are a few fleeting moments that do make me think of Robyn Hitchcock if he’d been heavily impacted in his formative years by Bert Jansch. And the last couple selections led me to wonder if McWilliams cut this record in a lighthouse, but no, it was tracked at Wonka Sound Studios in the city of Lowell. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Milt Jackson & Ray Charles, Soul Brothers (Rhino) Ray Charles is a pillar of 20th century music, but his discography is large, and from my perspective, the two albums he cut with Milt Jackson for Atlantic are too frequently overlooked, perhaps because neither LP features Charles’ voice. Soul Brothers was the first, released in 1958 (Soul Meeting came out in ’61), and it has an abundance of fine qualities. Naturally, prominent among them is Charles on piano and Jackson on vibes, but the record is just as notable for documenting Charles’ alto sax (the title track and “How Long How Long Blues,” comprising the entirety of side one), and on the album’s mono pressings (which is what Rhino is reissuing) “Bag’s Guitar Blues,” which is the only recording of Jackson playing guitar. If you’re getting the idea that these sessions were relaxed, that’s affirmative, but the playing is sharp for the duration, heightened with Billy Mitchell on tenor, Skeeter Best on guitar, Oscar Pettiford on bass, and Jackson’s Modern Jazz Quartet bandmate Connie Kay on drums. The goodness is inexhaustible. A

Catenary Wires, Birling Gap + “Mirrorball” b/w “I Wish You Were Here Now” (Shelflife / Skep Wax) This band features Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey, who were both part of Heavenly, and before that, taking us back to the 1980s, Talulah Gosh. Catenary Wires was initially formed as a duo circa 2014, but has since added Fay Hallam on keyboards, Andy Lewis on bass, and Ian Button on drums. As a five-piece, they have honed a sound that’s lush and pretty but just as often full-bodied. Talulah Gosh gave their strain of indie pop an injection of twee (not a fault in my book) that Heavenly subsequently refined without losing the punkish spark, but Catenary Wires expands the pop spectrum considerably while registering as a legit outgrowth of their prior activities. There is mention of the Go-Betweens, which certainly illuminates the level of ambition, but there are some sweet twists, like the album’s decidedly ’60s-ish “Always On My Mind” (think late Zombies). The single came first, and the A-side is on the LP, but the flip is exclusive. The full-length effectively captures the range of their capabilities. A-/ B+

Dark Mark vs. Skeleton Joe, “Dark Mark Theme” b/w “Skeleton Joe Manifesto” (Rare Bird / Kitten Robot) I’m guessing I’m not alone in predominantly thinking of Mark Lanegan as a founding member of Screaming Trees and as a solo artist with an extensive discography. What doesn’t come to mind are moody songs infused with electronics, at least until now. Yes, Lanegan is Dark Mark, with Joe Cardamone of The Icarus Line taking on the Skeleton Joe sobriquet, with his side of this 12-inch (which will be only available on vinyl, meaning there’s no digital or streaming) getting downright techno, but with an agitated relentlessness that’s almost Wax Trax-like in its gyrational relentlessness: it also radiates some Ghost Rider vibes (the comic book, not the Suicide song). With its increasingly cataclysmic goth atmosphere, “Dark Mark Theme” is the stronger of the two tracks, though the flip is still pretty likeable as is suggests a theme song for a dystopian action movie baddie. I’ll add in closing that this record is a teaser for a full-length collab scheduled for release in the fall. I’m interested. B+

Willie Durisseau, “Creole House Dance” (Nouveau Electric) Willie Durisseau passed on December 17, 2019, at 101 years of age. Quoting Nouveau Electric Records founder and Lost Bayou Rambler Louis Michot: “He was the last surviving Creole house dance fiddle player known in Louisiana.” This 7-inch’s two recordings, “Blues a Durisseau” on the A-side and “Willie’s Zydeco” on the flip, were made with a Zoom stereo recorder by Michot on April 10 and 12 of 2019, at the home of Willie and his wife Irma, and they provide a revelatory taste of how Creole music sounded in the 1930s. It important to note that Durisseau had only returned to the fiddle shortly prior to these recordings, after receiving a new instrument as a gift. Understandably, he was only able to carry a tune for around a minute at a time, but the short doses Michot captures are interspersed with conversation (and a little bit of accordion on the B-side) and cohere into a tremendous dose of verité. And people, this is some heavy bow. A

The Mark Masters Ensemble, Masters & Baron Meet Blanton & Webster (Capri) Returning to the topic of tribute recordings, jazz history is loaded with them. Amongst the frequent subjects is the great composer, bandleader and pianist Duke Ellington. This homage works for a few reasons that reach beyond the polite doffing of caps, so that the undertaking blossoms into more than a mere trib. For starters, bandleader-arranger Masters tightens the spotlight onto Duke’s celebrated band of 1940-’42, which featured bassist Jimmy Blanton and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster. Secondly, Art Baron was the last trombonist hired by Duke Ellington for his band prior to his death. The year was 1973, which means that Baron has lived with this music for a long while. The same applies to Masters, who formed his first ensemble in 1982. Last, in focusing on the heights of Ellingtonian achievement, Masters necessitates moving beyond straight readings of the material. A big part of the joy of this CD is recognizing the tunes while simultaneously registering what’s different about them. It’s always smart choices. A

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