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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Hedvig Mollestad, Tempest Revisited (Rune Grammofon) Norwegian guitarist Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen has released seven full-length recordings with her trio, all of them on Rune Grammofon, including Ding Dong. You’re Dead in March of this year. This might lead one to the supposition that this is a solo set, but no; recorded in 2019, it offers five tracks by a septet featuring assorted saxophones, vibraphone, bass, two drummers, a little flute and synth, plus Mollestad’s guitar (she’s also credited with vocals, upright piano, and handclaps). Similar to her trio material, the sound here is a robust fusion, merging rock and jazz in a manner that’s primarily hard and heavy (not bluesy) and expansive rather than explicitly proggy. There are a few pleasant atmospheric stretches and some solid groove action that doesn’t go overboard. Considered a bookend to The Tempest, a work by the late and highly esteemed Norwegian electronic musician and composer Arne Nordheim, this album continues a streak of creativity likely to please adventurous rock heads and non-stodgy jazzbos alike. A-

Wet Tuna, Eau’d To a Fake Bookie Vol. 1 & 2 (Hive Mind) Wet Tuna has been showered with enthusiasm in this space before. The outfit is the impetus of MV and PG Six (aka guitarists Matt Valentine and Pat Gubler), two individuals with deep and varied u-ground psych catalogs who’ve played together extensively for the last 25 years or so, back in the day as part of Tower Recordings and more recently as Wet Tuna. This 2LP is a vinyl press of a limited edition 2CD that came out last year on the Child of Microtones label, consisting of six cover selections, with MV and PG Six multitasking instrumentally while welcoming additional hands on bass and drums. The first LP offers two side-long tracks, “When I Get Home” by Pentangle and “Water Train” by Michael Hurley, that brought to mind both Lou Reed and Skip Spence’s Oar. LP two shortens the runtimes but broadens the sound with programmed drums, organ and synth on versions of “Fallin’ Like Dominoes” by The Blackbyrds, “The Harder They Come” by Jimmy Cliff, “Deal” by Jerry Garcia, and “Baudelaire” by Peter Laughner. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Phương Tâm, Magical Nights: Saigon Surf, Twist & Soul (1964-1966) (Sublime Frequencies) South Vietnamese singer Phương Tâm’s entire career is covered by the three-year period of the title, which makes the sheer range on display all the more impressive, as it includes assorted strains of early R&R (with an emphasis on pre-Beatles dance craze igniters), soul-R&B, bluesy numbers, and jazz ballads. The informative texts in the booklet by Magical Nights’ producers Mark Gergis and Hannah Hà (Tâm’s daughter) explain how Tâm was as much of a club performer as a recording artist, often appearing in up to four venues in the course of one evening and necessitating the breadth of style, as some catered to R&R-loving youth while others were more sophisto. Holding it all together on this CD of 25 tracks is Tâm with vocals strong and confident. She might not be as polished as some of her Western inspirations, but that’s actually part of the appeal, as Tâm is never not in control, her verve combining beautifully with the lean energy of the bands. A large serving of personality-laden history. A

Céu, Um Gosto de Sol (Urban Jungle) Based in São Paulo, Brazil, Céu is a vocalist and songwriter, though on this follow-up to APKÁ! (which came out in the US in June of last year via Six Degrees, receiving a new release pick in this column) she and producer-drummer husband Pupillo deliver an album of covers, the majority of them Brazilian, including songs from Rita Lee, Milton Nascimento, João Gilberto, Alcione, and even Morris Albert (the soft-pop warhorse “Feelings”), but also Jimi Hendrix, Sade, Fiona Apple, and the Beastie Boys. The core band is completed by Lucas Martins on bass and synth and Andreas Kisser (of Sepultura) on seven-string acoustic guitar, but with additional contributors including Maestro Jota Moraes, whose vibraphone adds value to five selections. Akin to a lot of the Brazilian artists who have gained a global following, Céu frequently taps into a relaxed, engaging mode across Um Gosto de Sol, but the gestures of unusualness, many of them radiating affinities to folktronica, are plentiful enough to reinforce that the participants aren’t gliding on cruise control. B+

John Edwards, N.O. Moore, Eddie Prévost, Alan Wilkinson, EMPoWered (577) The latest dose of UK improv from Brooklyn’s 577 label hits expectations right in the bullseye. Edwards plays double bass, Moore guitar, Prévost drums, and Wilkinson saxophones. As a founding member of free improv ensemble AMM,  Prévost is the longest active of the four participants, though Edwards is featured on a massive number of recordings since hitting the scene in the late 1980s. Wilkinson emerged at roughly the same time; his recordings with Paul Hession and Simon Fell remain crucial servings of free musical expression. Moore is the relative newcomer, though he sounded splendid earlier this year on The Secret Handshake With Danger (Vol. One), also released by 577.

While there is no shortage of collective heat across this CD, in no small part due to the lung power of Wilkinson, the set’s two long tracks (“Part One” extending to 30 minutes, and “Part Two” lasting for nearly 21) do offer interactive range, with a few moments even aptly assessed as quiet. There are also a handful of duo and solo passages, with Edwards and Prévost together and Moore alone particularly sweet. I do believe EMPoWered is the first time this foursome has been recorded, though it’s important to note that two and even three of the participants have been documented improvising together on numerous prior occasions (indeed, Moore and Prévost are on the Secret Handshake quintet session). That means the high level of quality throughout didn’t occur by accident. A

N.O. Moore, Lunar Sync (Orbit577) This week’s digital-only release features N.O. Moore, not playing guitar as on the recording above, but synthesizer, and unaccompanied by anybody else. His inspirations are twofold, drawing upon cyclical sound frequencies (continuous tones and pulsating rhythms) as they are manifested in electronic music more generally. And also, Sun Ra’s theories, philosophies, and most importantly, the sound of his contributions to electronic music. Nice. Not that Sun Ra entered my mind on a blind first listen. And even as Moore plays a modular synth system throughout, the sound isn’t especially throwback, although there are a few spots that did get me to thinking about the days of Nonesuch and Vox Turnabout. That’s mighty cool. But overall, these ten tracks conjure fresh possibilities in a form where progressiveness is, if not de rigueur, than certainly near to the norm. Had Lunar Sync come out on the Editions Mego or Important labels, I wouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest. “ExDys” even managed to bring Wire’s “Pink Flag” to mind. Pure craziness. A-

Andrea Parkins, Two Rooms From the Memory Palace (Infrequent Seams) My introduction to accordionist-keyboardist-composer Parkins came through saxophonist Ellery Eskelin’s wonderfully unusual Green Bermudas, where she’s credited with sampler. It came out in 1996 on the Eremite label. 25 years later, Parkins issues on CD the sound of her “immersive eight-channel fixed-media composition,” an artwork that titles the disc. It premiered at New York Electronic Art Festival on NYC’s Governor’s Island in 2015, with a subsequent adaptation utilizing 40 loudspeakers hosted by the Akousma Festival in Montreal. Attempting to wrangle the essence of an audio installation onto disc is tricky biz, but listening with the volume up on headphones, Parkins puts it off. Attention is essential, specifically so the numerous repetitions in the work intensify with familiarity. In turn, the changes that emerge can be jarring in the best sense. Also, the recording (by Parkins), the mixing (by Parkins and Paul Geluso) and the mastering (by Elliott Sharp) produces sounds with an architectural dimension. A

Sara Schoenbeck, S/T (Pyroclastic) Bassoon is Schoenbeck’s instrument. Playing and recording with Anthony Braxton, Wayne Horvitz, Vinny Golia and more, she’s proven herself a master. This brilliant set of nine duets, each with a different musician, reinforces her abilities on a challenging and distinctive axe in jazz/ improv/ avant-garde/ new music circles, but it also highlights Schoenbeck as an astute musical conversationalist. Sometimes, the foundation of the dialogue is hers. Specifically, “O’Saris” with drummer Harris Eisenstadt, “Sand Dune Trilogy” with flautist Nicole Mitchell, and “Absence” with bassist Mark Dresser are all her compositions. Contrasting, two pieces belong to her collaborators, “Auger Strokes” by pianist Matt Mitchell (commissioned for the record by Schoenbeck) and “Sugar” by the pianist-vocalist Robin Holcomb, which closes the album.

In establishing the versatility of Schoenbeck and the brilliance of the underheard Holcomb, “Sugar” is one of this album’s standouts. Likewise the wonderful “Chordata” with saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, one of three improvisations on the set, with the others “Anaphoria” in tandem with Wayne Horvitz on piano and electronics, and “Suspend a Bridge” featuring cellist Peggy Lee. That leaves a cover of “Lullaby” by the slowcore band Low as a bit of an outlier (purely in thematic terms), with Schoenbeck joined by Nels Cline on guitar and electric bass. It’s another highlight on a record where nothing subpar occurs. That the rarity of the bassoon in contemporary settings fades into the background as the nine tracks unwind is testament to the creativity of Schoenbeck and her collaborators. On CD with a six panel gatefold. A

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