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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Sean Conly, The Buzz (577) Unsurprising for a bassist in contemporary jazz, Conly has extensive appearances on records but a tighter discography as a leader or co-leader. He is part of numerous combos that have yet to hit studios, however. His interactive ingenuity shines out brightly here, with pianist Leo Genovese and Francisco Mela on board for a 10-track set (available on vinyl, CD, and digital) with six of the compositions Conly’s; they also tackle pieces by his frequent collaborator Michael Attias, Paul Motion, Sam Rivers, and Sondheim in a closing reading of “Send In the Clowns.” After multiple listens, it seems the bassist’s billing derives from his authorship of the tunes. As said, Conly is wonderfully expressive (and big in a vibrant recording) but so is Mela and Genovese as the three excel in the tried-and-true piano trio format. Yes, the ties to various traditions are strong, but it’s also crystal clear that The Buzz is the byproduct of minds at the forefront of jazz music’s 21st century flourishing. It’s an LP that’s inviting yet rigorous and an utter treat throughout. A

V/A, Sacred Soul of North Carolina (Bible & Tire Recording Co.) Bruce Watson’s newest label hits a home run with this collection of African American gospel, thematically tight yet invigorating in its diversity, all from Eastern North Carolina, and with the entirety recorded across eight days in February of 2020 in a studio assembled in the storefront of a 100-year-old building in the town of Fountain. Anybody conversant with the long history of Hot Gospel will appreciate how these eleven groups extend the style while exuding vitality that registers as thoroughly of the moment. In this case, “of the moment” is not the same thing as contemporary, though the soulfulness that runs through these 18 selections is still very much relevant to modern music. But what makes this comp so vital is skill honed through passion and community-strengthening conviction. The range of Faith & Harmony’s two tracks, the first an a cappella knockout and the second an organ-rich full band-backed groover is indicative of the whole. Sacred Soul of North Carolina is a non-stop delight, available on 2LP, CD, and digital. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Tito Arevalo, Mad Doctor of Blood Island OST (Real Gone) The first of two Halloween-appropriate soundtracks culled from the vast reservoir of psychotronic grindhouse (or drive-in, depending on the part of the country you’re from) exploitation cheapies. I know Mad Doctor of Blood Island only by its sketchy reputation. Released in 1969, it’s the second film in the Blood Island saga, and in OST terms, this one is likely the most interesting. I come to this speculative conclusion based on Filipino composer Arevalo’s score being reused in the next two Blood Island installments, 1970’s Beast of Blood and ’71’s Brain of Blood, though Mad Doctor’s is the only one that’s fully orchestral. There are also multiple sequences that reinforce Arevalo is being a non-hack, and I’m not just talking about the pieces that can be described as Horror Exotica (to borrow Real Gone’s term). Quite enjoyable if a tad repetitive. Added value: a killer radio spot for the film and its excerpted opening, which features a William Castle-style “drink this vial of green blood” audience gimmick. Those were the days. B+

William Lava, Dracula Vs. Frankenstein OST (Real Gone) Unlike the above, I have watched Dracula Vs. Frankenstein, once many years ago. If I said it was forgettable, I’d be lying. Dracula had a ring that shot flames. Frankenstein was in wheelchair. There were hippies. Bikers. Russ Tamblyn. Lon Chaney Jr. And a carnival on a boardwalk. But memorable doesn’t necessarily equal good. That Al Adamson, one of more enduring figures in the history of exploitation films, directed, helped a bit (this movie reportedly began as a sequel to Adamson’s Satan’s Sadists, which explains the bikers and Tamblyn), but please don’t get the idea that Drac Vs. Frank is some kind of trash masterpiece. Lava’s soundtrack is solid and with moments of distinctiveness, e.g., touches of vibraphone, weird note slides (at one point mingling with some aggressively blown tuba), and even a few cascades of harp. The alternate takes are worthwhile, especially the “Jazz Chase” sequence (which was unused in the film). Also features a radio spot: “Yesterday they were cold and dead, today they are hot and bothered…Rated PG…B+

Dark Mark vs Skeleton Joe, S/T (Rare Bird Recordings – Kitten Robot Records) Dark Mark is Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees and solo fame. Skeleton Joe is Joe Cardamone of the Icarus Line. Having teamed up to focus their creative energies on songs infused with moody electronics, they released a two-track 12-inch earlier this year where the titles, “Dark Mark Theme” and “Skeleton Joe Manifesto,” seemed to reflect the individual personalities of the participants. Presented as a teaser for this full-length, neither track gets repeated amongst these 16 as the contents alter the program somewhat, the contributor’s voices effectively blending together. The electro tinge is still here, occasionally bold and dancy, e.g., “Sanctified,” but there’s also a whole lot of emotive purge, this element hitting its apex in “No Way Out.” Breaking an hour on 2LP, there’s a lot to digest (maybe a little too much), but they manage to keep it interesting. And cohesive. I’m tempted to describe this as post-Goth techno pop with ambient and soundtrack tendencies and a singer-songwriter-ish bent. Yes, that’s a mouthful. B+

Buffalo Nichols, S/T (Fat Possum) That the debut LP of Houston-born, Milwaukee-raised, world traveling bluesman Buffalo Nichols is being released by Fat Possum is something of an event, as he’s the label’s first solo blues signing in nearly two decades. What makes this special is music that’s firmly rooted in the 21st century thematically, with “Another Man” a powerful commentary on violence against minorities and women, and how so many things haven’t changed (“they’d hang you from a bridge downtown, now they call it stand your ground”), and musically, with the songs irrefutably built on blues history as Nichols is never stymied by how to effectively channel his accumulated knowledge into a fresh sound. The lack of anxiety over influence really jumped out at me during “Back on Top,” which does a dandy job updating the rudiments of Son House and pre-Chicago Muddy Waters. But Nichols has other tricks up his sleeve, including selections in the ballpark of prime coffeehouse folk (strong fingerpicking, natch) and some sweet fiddle in “These Things.” And there’s good drum thump throughout. A-

Steph Richards with Joshua White, Zephyr (Relative Pitch) The great Brooklyn-based avant trumpeter and flugelhornist Richards is joined here by pianist White for a set of three suites, their beauty and sheer unpredictability startling. It’s also worthy of note that Richards was six-and-a-half months pregnant when this album was recorded in 2019. This reality is inextricably linked to the three suites but particularly to the first, titled “Sacred Sea,” which features Richards playing in water; along with her horns, she’s credited with “resonating water vessels,” as White made some preparations to his piano and played percussion. The other suites, “Sequoia” and “Northern Lights,” are concerned with climate change and how it will impact her daughter Anza’s life. Those who equate a lack of swing with a dearth of meaning will likely not be enthused by Zephyr’s qualities, but there are connections to jazz history, especially in “Sequoia,” where she plays with a mute early and dishes some robust melodic lines deeper in. Also, White’s piano brings Cecil Taylor to mind as much as John Cage. Topflight improvising. A

Takatsuki Trio Quartett with Tobias Delius and Axel Dörner, Berliner Quartette (Orbit577) It took me a while (read: too long) to appropriately soak up the Takatsuki Trio Quartett’s 2020 CD Live in Hessen, but once I did, I was exposed to a free improvisational stunner. And so, when this release on 577’s (largely) digital-only subsidiary was announced, hesitate I did not. Briefly, the core trio of Rieko Okuda (piano, voice), Antti Virtaranta (bass), and Joshua Weitzel (guitar, shamisen) regularly expand to a four-piece, for this release welcoming Dörner on trumpet and Delius on tenor sax and clarinet, both German improvisors, with the performances held in the Kühlspot Social Club in Berlin, hence the Berliner Quartette. The piece with Dörner breaks 31 minutes, but the spaciousness never meanders, partly due to the trumpeter’s mastery (lovers of extended techniques will delight) but also because the core trio is in superb form. The piece with Delius is less than half as long, but it bursts forth with the energy of a throwdown from the early days of the NYC lofts, but with a few calmer stretches as well. A

Weak Signal, Bianca (Colonel) The first album from Weak Signal, sporting the bluntly informative title LP1, was released on cassette in 2018 with a vinyl pressing the next year. Amid a pair of digital-only EPs and a split 7-inch with Endless Boogie (with whom Weak Signal’s guitarist Mike Bones has played), Bianca repeats the same scheme, emerging in 2020 on tape as the wax is available tomorrow. Along with Bones (Run the Jewels, Cass McCombs, and Soldiers of Fortune), Weak Signal features Sasha Vine on bass and Tran Huynh on drums (everybody sings) with a little help on Bianca from Ryan Sawyer (of At the Drive-In). If the Endless Boogie connection has you anticipating extended jams, please recalibrate (but don’t diminish) your expectations. The guitar here is big, huge even, but the tunes are tidy and often catchy, as in opener “I’m a Fire.” If heavy and sharply played (befitting a rock trio), there’s an appealing disinclination to overwork the songs that’s reflective of indie rock in its classic form. “Drugs in My System” is a standout, but across a dozen tracks Bianca is consistently satisfying. A-

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