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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Ches Smith and We All Break, Path of Seven Colors (Pyroclastic) To begin, We All Break is a group formed in 2013 by drummer Smith that intermingles traditional Haitian Vodou music with decidedly contemporary compositional and improvisational elements. Path of Seven Colors is a 2CD set offering the recording of the title (made in February of 2020) along with a bonus disc, We All Break, which is the group’s first album (from 2015). Both are housed in a hardshell box with notes, lyrics, and annotated track info. The two recordings are marked by substantial differences, with the first featuring a quartet of piano (Matt Mitchell), rhythm and vocals (Smith, Daniel Brevil, and Markus Schwartz) as the second doubles the size of the contributors with vocals (Sirene Dantor Rene), alto sax (Miguel Zenón), bass (Nick Dunston), and more rhythm (Fanfan Jean-Guy Rene). Unsurprisingly, the newer recording possesses greater vividness and depth in consort with an increase of ambitiousness, but it’s not like the early material is embryonic. Fire and flow are constants in this beautiful evolution. A

Molly Lewis,The Forgotten Edge” EP (Jagjaguwar) Based in Los Angeles by way of Australia, Lewis is a whistler of uncommon skill, though her debut recording is designed less as a showcase of her abilities and is instead more of an extended homage to Exotica, and with a culminating nod to Morricone, or more accurately to his whistler, Alessandro Alessandroni. While the grass skirt and tiki torch vibes are strong, with the atmosphere boosted considerably by the instrumental backing, without Lewis this would be an enjoyable but thoroughly retro affair. However, as she’s fully accounted for, the proceedings get deepened through clear seriousness of intent. Similar to Ìxtahuele, she eschews the ironic and never plays up the kitsch angle. And most important, she’s just really good at whistling (there are also wordless vocals). Also of note is “Satin Curtains,” which delivers a ’70s Euro soundtrack atmosphere that’s distinct from Morricone (or the maestro’s work for Leone, at least), instead sounding like an extract from a score to a stylish giallo or a gritty poliziotteschi. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, The Last Shall Be First: The JCR Records Story Vol. 2 (Bible & Tire Recording Co.) This is the promised follow-up volume to a highly acclaimed and eye-opening collection issued last year by the label of Bruce Watson (known as a producer and for his role in the operations of the Fat Possum and Big Legal Mess imprints), which spotlights 17 more tracks taken from reels discovered in a dilapidated shack on the outskirts of Olive Branch, MS, with the sounds as pleasing and diverse as what came before. Recorded in Memphis in the 1970s, the playing remains stripped-down but sharp, the singing as fervent as you’d expect from a style Watson calls sacred soul, and the recording quality is full-bodied and assured (but never over-polished) by Juan D. Shipp, who ran JCR as a subsidiary of his larger D-Vine Spirituals label. Folks with a love for Tompkins Square’s gospel box sets and Big Legal Mess’s retrospectives into the Designer and Pitch/Gusman labels have likely already bought Vol. 1 and now this. But for anybody looking to dip a toe in roots gospel, this is a fine place to start. A

V/A, Greg Belson’s Divine Funk: Rare American Gospel Soul and Funk (Cultures of Soul) This set, available on LP, CD and digital (though I’ve been told the wax is the victim of pressing plant delays) is a nice complement to The Last Shall Be First, but there’s also some welcome distinctiveness, and that’s mainly because the songs collected here by gospel authority Belson (fan, collector, DJ) are substantially more urban in their thrust. As we’re talking funk, this shouldn’t be a shock to the system, especially as these dozen tracks serve as a follow-up to the prior two Belson-compiled Divine Disco volumes released by Cultures of Soul. The good news is that, as the recording budgets were obviously small, none of Belson’s choices falter into the slick, but even better, the selections regularly rise above standard funk moves. In fact, The Wearyland Singers’ “If You See Me Doing Wrong,” with its cranking organ, manic vocal interplay, and unrelenting rhythm foundation, elevates matters far above typical funky maneuvering. But again, nothing is subpar, so funkateers of any belief system should step right up. A-

The Fourth World Quartet, 1975 (Cuneiform) This CD documents the band formed by the Miller brothers, Benjamin (guitar and alto sax), Laurence (bass clarinet), and Roger (piano, cornet, percussion), with Jack Waterstone (alto sax), a union that existed long enough for two performances followed by this recording, made in the band room of Grand Valley College in Grand Valley, MI in the titular year. Of the group’s members, it’s Roger who maintains the highest profile, directly due to his role in Mission of Burma, though it needs to be pointed out that 1975’s relationship to rock music is basically nada. Old enough to have first-hand experience with rock’s late ’60s breakthroughs (and in close proximity to burgeoning Detroit), the Miller brothers lost interest in the genre as it took a creative nosedive in the years before punk’s upheaval.

Rather than rocking out, the focus is on experimentation, incorporating elements of avant-jazz (the influence of Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor is audible) and Contemporary Classical/ New Music (curious minds enlivened by the possibilities of Stockhausen; notably, all four members are credited as composers) with free improvisation part of the scheme. Similar to the belatedly released work of Sproton Layer (the Millers’ late ’60s-early ’70s psych-rock band), it’s striking how legitimately worthwhile (as opposed to just retrospectively interesting) The Fourth World Quartet’s music is, and especially as it emerged from such a tight timeframe. Though I should add that the Millers and Waterstone were all attending Thomas Jefferson College in Allendale, MI at the time of these recordings (composition teacher, Denman Maroney), so the level of quality is the byproduct of diligence in the desire for new possibilities. 45 years later, The Fourth World Quartet remains at the forefront. A-

Gong Gong Gong 工工工, Phantom Rhythm Remixed (Wharf Cat / bié) Based in Beijing, Gong Gong Gong’s 2019 debut Phantom Rhythm 幽靈節奏 delivered a welcome surprise in how it deviated from the rock duo norm, with Tom Ng on guitar and Joshua Frank on bass (that’s right, no drums). Although stylistic breadth was crucial to their success, the contents of the LP (which received a pick in this column upon release) didn’t exactly cry out for the remix treatment, but here we are, and the result is beats fucking galore, with the credited remixers Yu Su, Zaliva-D, Howie Lee, Mong Tong, Scattered Purgatory, Knopha, Wu Zhuoling, Angel Wei, P.E., and the bassist’s brother Simon Frank. Along the way, there are certainly nods to the dancefloor, but these gestures are as inventive and diverse as the source material, and with additional facets to soak up, such as, right off the bat, the saxophone in P.E.’s mix of “Ride Your Horse.” But hey. Not everybody is a slave to the rhythm: looking at you, Angel Wei. But when Howie B decides to bring the beats, they are large and slamming. An LP as fun as it was unexpected. A-

Etta James, The Montreux Years (BMG) This collection, available as a 2LP/ 2CD set and digitally, joins with a Nina Simone volume in kicking off BMG and the Montreux Jazz Festival’s joint initiative The Montreux Years, undertakings sourced from numerous performances spanning decades, with the vinyl of this James spotlight running from 1975 to 1993 and sequenced nonchronologically for maximum effectiveness. But it’s important to note that the 2CD’s second disc consists of highlights from James’ 1975 performance at the storied Swiss festival, which was also the singer’s first European concert period. With electric piano prominent in the program (and with John Paul Jones on bass), that rather intimate first show is appealingly representative of its era, but James is in such strong voice throughout that those choosing the wax option aren’t likely to feel shortchanged. Yes, the later bands are generally more polished, but that’s fitting as James came to embrace her diversity. Highly recommended for those who dig her classic Muscle Shoals-recorded Tell Mama and the ’60-era live disc Rocks the House. A-

This entry was posted in The TVD Record Store Club. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text