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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: William Hooker, Big Moon (Org Music) Drummer, composer, and bandleader William Hooker is one of the great (and somewhat undersung) explorers in contemporary jazz, a reality that’s been apparent for quite a while but was reinforced by his excellent 2019 release, also for ORG, Symphonie of Flowers. This 83-minute set is its follow-up, with Hooker drumming and also conducting a group that includes such august names as flautist Charles Compo (who has played with Hooker since the early 1990s), pianists Mara Rosenbloom and Mark Hennen, saxophonists Stephen Gauci and Sarah Manning, bassist Jai-Rohm Parker Wells, percussionist Jimmy Lopez, and on synthesizer, Theo Woodward. The sparks of free jazz collectivity do fly at various points across this set, so if post-Fire Music power moves are what you seek, please step right up. But Hooker’s concept encompasses much more, and the group is up to the task. Big Moon is intended to be absorbed as a single work, so why not wait for the vinyl to arrive (it’s currently scheduled for 12/17) and get all 11 tracks. It’s a beauty. A

Howlin Rain, The Dharma Wheel (Silver Current) Comprised of guitarist and lead vocalist Ethan Miller, guitarist Daniel Cervantes, bassist Jeff McElroy, and drummer Justin Smith, Oakland’s Howlin Rain have delivered a fresh serving of their distinctive spin on psych-informed, prog-tinged, occasionally funk-grooved, jam rock. The thing to know if you don’t know Howlin Rain is that they engage with their aesthetic wholeheartedly, so that a listener will almost certainly either lovingly embrace the unbridled anthemics of “Under the Wheels,” or wholly reject them. As should be obvious, I fall into the former category, partly as an appreciator of the form, but also due to the sincerity factor. It’s obvious the band loves this sound for all the right reasons. The keyboards of Adam McDougall considerably enhance the ’70s aura, but maybe the sweetest surprise is the guest violin from Scarlet Rivera (she’s the first sound heard in opener “Prelude” and returns for late track “Annabelle”). Sporting cover art by Arik Roper, The Dharma Wheel will likely sound best while drinking cheap keg beer during a field party. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Mujician, 10 10 10 (Cuneiform) With Keith Tippett on piano, Paul Dunmall on reeds, Paul Rogers on bass, and Tony Levin on drums, Mujician were one of the true delights of European jazz, a UK supergroup that consistently satisfied while being built to last. I use the past tense, as Levin died in 2010 shortly after the recording of this album. Tippett passed just last year. To really drive home the integral nature of live playing to the jazz experience, please consider that Mujician debuted on record in 1990 with The Journey, that album capturing a performance from the Bath Festival from the same year, and that Mujician’s next three records were also all live documents; they didn’t cut a proper studio album until Colours Fulfilled (produced by Evan Parker) in 1997, nearly a decade after they’d formed. 10 10 10 is a studio release as well, but it was notably recorded while the band was on tour.

That is, Mujician were in the thick of heightened creative communication as these two long tracks, 25+ minutes for the title selection, and nearly 31 for “Remember,” were recorded, both engineered by Jonathan Scott in the Victoria Room at the University of Bristol Music Studios. The familiarity and assurance lend increased breadth to their sound, along with the excitement of fresh possibilities and a wide range of emotion. Plus, there is a sense of order to the proceedings, even at their most abstract, and there is warmth that insures 10 10 10 never registers as merely an academic exercise. Due to his time spent in King Crimson, Tippett is surely the best known of Mujician’s members, with the prolific Dunmall (with his bagpipes a welcome twist in “Remember”) a close second, but there is no undercurrent of hierarchy here, Mujician are truly a leaderless group in the tradition of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Described as their last studio recording, it maintains the high standard of the group’s prior work. A

Alice TM, Little Body in Orbit (Whatever’s Clever) This is the debut album from Alice TM (aka Alice Tolan-Mee). The sound is contempo art-pop (or bedroom pop) and the theme a rumination on the different varieties of love. A lot of recent-vintage art-pop can sound pretty (or totally) disconnected from precedent (which either works for me or it doesn’t) but Little Body in Orbit has clear ties to earlier pop eras (’80s-’90s, mostly) without recalling anybody (I’ve heard) in particular. A few songs, specifically the back-to-back-to-back “Arrival,” “Marbles” and “Saying Nothing,” have stretches that suggest legit chart potential from a timeframe either bygone and hazy with memory or somewhere off in the distance, just out of sight. Working on the record with her ex, the composer Tarpit, and her current partner, the producer Ale Roubini, seems like it could’ve become a stifling, creativity-curdling situation, but no. The way Tolan-Mee describes it, the experience was liberating. All-in-all, I’m not blown away, but I was never bored or frustrated, and that’s worth a lot. Ten tracks, digital only. B+

Lena Bloch & Feathery, Rose of Lifta (Fresh Sound Records) This is the second CD from Russian-born saxophonist, composer and bandleader Bloch and Feather, but it’s the first I’ve heard. Based on Rose of Lifta’s sustained high level of quality, I’m eager to spend time with Heart Knows, which came out in 2017. Feathery consists of pianist Russ Lossing, bassist Cameron Brown, and drummer Billy Mintz. Along with Bloch, Lossing contributes compositions to the disc; three of the seven are his, the others Bloch’s as this is an all-originals affair. The band’s moniker, which the press releases states “refers to lightness, flexibility, readiness to drift in the new directions – like a feather in the wind,” might lead one to suspect Rose of Lifta is an excursion into prolonged, weightless drift, but there is a palpable intensity throughout the disc that has been sharply honed, partly through numerous live performances. In “Mahmoud Darwish,” so named as an ode the Palestinian poet whose work inspired the album and its themes of “exile, loss and home,” I’m reminded of Mingus at his most adventurous (that Brown played extensively in the George Adams-Don Pullen group deepens this association). An outstanding release. A

Phil Ranelin, Infinite Expressions (ORG Music) Trombonist Ranelin is surely best known to deep jazz heads either for his role in early ’70s Detroit avant-garde collective The Tribe, or for his work circa ’79-’80 (after The Tribe’s dissolution) as a sideman on a string of Freddie Hubbard albums. Then again, perhaps not. It’s a safer bet you’ve heard his playing, as his session work includes Ella Fitzgerald and Motown including Stevie Wonder. Heard the first Red Hot Chili Peppers album? Ranelin’s on it. His last album of new material under his own name, Perseverance, came out in 2010 on CD through the San Fran label Wide Hive, with bassist Henry Franklin (noted for his ‘70s albums on the Black Jazz label) and master of the congas Big Black both receiving billing on the cover. And saxophonist Kamasi Washington also made the date; maybe you’ve heard of him? Yet another possible inroad to Ranelin fandom comes through the 2002 album Remixes, which collected new versions of the man’s ’70s material courtesy of Prefuse 73, Jan Jelinek, EL-P, Telefon Tel Aviv and more.

I mention Remixes to underscore that Ranelin is an artist open to new possibilities, though Infinite Expressions is very much in the spiritual jazz tradition as it consistently hovers in left-of-center territory without going fully out. To my ear (and maybe nobody else’s), much of the record has a vibe that’s similar to Sun Ra’s smaller group work from the early ’60s (though distinctive, as keyboards are absent). The J.J. Johnson roots are still tangible, but there’s only one cut, “Blues for Paula,” that sounds like something Johnson might’ve played (in his pre-Columbia days). But mostly, Ranelin’s ‘bone reminds me, just a bit, of two exemplary inside-outside guys, Grachan Moncur III and Roswell Rudd. Although not recorded remotely, this is still a pandemic album, as the music was made as an alternative avenue of expression due to the shutdown of live music (Ranelin had just started his 80th birthday tour). His band is strong, and youthful, featuring either Michael Alvidrez or Ian Martin on double bass, Andre Beasley on drums, Hideaki Tokunaga on acoustic and electric guitars, and Carlos Niño on percussion. A-

Stice, Stice’s Satyricon (Ramp Local) Upon first encountering the title of this record, I immediately thought, “hey, nice hat-tip to Fellini” (I’m paraphrasing). Then I took a long glimpse at the cover, and was struck: “awwww shit, these cats are down with Petronius” (also not an exact quote). Cats as in two, namely vocalist Caroline Bennett aka Crab and producer Jake Lichter aka Jark. Given the rather um, old-school literary reference, you might expect this to be a tweedy affair, but oh no, this album, available digitally and on a limited-edition cassette (with the option to add a comic book at checkout) delivers a hyperactive racket that’s been described as industrial. Okay sure, but there’s also the undeniable influence of video game music and deep (I mean deep) electro-bass reverberations that’re like tooling around the outskirts of Miami in a jeep with tie-dye seat covers. The bass connects quite nicely with the off-kilter hip-hop approach. There’s something of a zany angle here that would be less appealing if the record wasn’t so wonderfully bent, so my advice to Stice is to keep it fucked up, please and thanks. A-

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