Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2021’s Reissues, Part Two

For part two of 2021’s best reissues the tide turns toward releases of an expansive, often jazzy nature, and with a double dose of punk bite in the mix.

5. Mujician, 10 10 10 (Cuneiform) + Paul Dunmall, Keith Tippett, Philip Gibbs, Pete Fairclough, Onosante (577) Amongst the honorable mentions this year is the initial handful of installments (including a compilation) in Decca’s British Jazz Explosion series, which does a very fine job getting the ball rolling in regards to the worthiness of a scene that’s still thriving in multiple ways (that’s what we call foreshadowing). But in terms of retrospective releases of Brit jazz, I must admit that this pair of discs pulled my chain most effectively in 2021.

The connecting threads are multi-reed man Paul Dunmall and pianist Keith Tippett. The leaderless group Mujician teamed them with Paul Rogers on bass and Tony Levin on drums. Across 10 10 10’s two long selections, the sparks of freedom do fly, but there are still palpable connections to jazz tradition, with these ties never token gestures. Earlier in the year, I compared Mujician’s leaderless thrust to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and I stand by that, though I’ll add that the two don’t sound all that similar. It’s a matter of tactics.

Keith Tippett, likely the most well-known member of Mujician, died on June 14, 2020, spelling the end of the group, though to my knowledge they hadn’t been active for quite a while, as 10 10 10 is designated as their final studio album, cut in Bristol Music Studios in Bristol, UK on October 10, 2010 (hence the title). Onosante was recorded on November 15, 2000, initially released on CD in an edition of 100, with guitarist Philip Gibbs and drummer Pete Fairclough joining Dunmall and Tippett for a dialogue that’s effectively as leaderless as 10 10 10.

There’s a little more collective heat, skronk, and rumble on Onosante, but the group’s relationship to the jazz root is still discernible and it’s always sincere (never a ritualist move). And in a bit of wonderful news, Onosante is the first of hopefully many Dunmall reissues from 577; the next one, Mahogany Rain by Keith Tippett, Julie Tippetts, Philip Gibbs, and Dunmall, is scheduled for release on February 18, 2022. Killer!

4. Screamers, Screamers Demo, Hollywood 1977 (Superior Viaduct) + The Gun Club, Fire of Love Deluxe Edition (Blixa Sounds) In the never-ceasing ever-flowing world of reissues and archival collections, there’s a need to single out the truly essential items from those that are merely very good or (certainly) less, and not just at the end of a calendar year.

This is especially true of punk rock, as it’s so easy for the impressionable to be led astray. And it’s always necessary to champion the Screamers, the Los Angeles synth-punks from before synth-punk had a name. This demo, finally legitimately released after decades of bootlegging, is as essential as it gets, because in terms of edge, it hasn’t lost a thing.

Now, a fair argument can be made that dropping The Gun Club’s debut album onto this list is just squeezing out the reissue of a punk album that’s in greater need of a spotlight in 2021. Yes, Fire of Love has been reissued a handful of times (including by the very label that put out the Screamers record above) and it’s never been hard to find, but never in an edition with bonus tracks, and certainly not with an entire previously unreleased live set (Live at Club 88 – March 6, 1981) attached.

The point of this pairing (well, one point of the geometry, anyway) is that something special was happening in LA (and all over California, in fact) starting in the late ’70s, which pinpoints the Screamers, and that this specialness was still struggling to be heard in the early ’80s amid a stagnant sea of genericism and commercialism. And so, the Fire of Love, which has never sounded as good and for so long as it does in 2021.

3. Alice Coltrane, Kirtan: Turiya Sings (Impulse! /UMe) + Juana Molina, Segundo (Crammed Discs) We’re all familiar with the concept of Desert Island Discs, but I’ve noticed that for many folks the idea is essentially interchangeable with a list of personal favorites. My observation is that there is no better way to become fatigued with one’s faves than to be forced to listen exclusively to one’s faves.

No, a true Desert Island Disc should possess staying power to the utmost degree, perhaps through inscrutability or the inexhaustible. Another option is multifaceted depth. Depth of beauty, depth of seriousness, depth of humanity (intermingling in a way that’s unlikely to become an earworm). All three are in evidence on Kirtan: Turiya Sings, a recording of nine Hindu devotionals for voice and Wurlitzer organ that Alice Coltrane made in 1982, originally only on cassette as a close but distinct counterpart to her synth-based solo recording Turiya Sings from the previous year. It’s beautiful, serious, human, inexhaustible (but not a bit inscrutable). I would very likely take it to a desert island.

Like many (and many women, especially), Argentine singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Juana Molina struggled to be taken seriously as a musician. This is in part because she abruptly shifted from working as a popular actress to making music that was destined to please a smaller percentage of her established fanbase, but surely assumptions were made and conclusions drawn based on sexist notions, along with suspicions of-prejudices against multi-talented individuals, particularly when they happen to be celebrities.

If Molina hasn’t become a major musical star, she’s decisively defeated the naysayers regarding her seriousness of intent, and the record that set this in motion and broke her out, gradually it seems, to international audiences was Segundo, her second, released in 2000. On one hand, it is a recording very much of its time, particularly as it envelops the listener in an atmosphere of folktronica, but on the other, it is an exceptional combination of songs (the folk) and instrumental textures (the tronica) that became the foundation for what’s morphed into a wonderfully personal approach.

2. Jeanne Lee, Conspiracy (Moved-By-Sound) + Roy Campbell, John Dikeman, Raoul van der Weide, Peter Jacquemyn, Klaus Kugel, When the Time is Right (577) Lee, who passed in 2000, was one of the great jazz singers, and arguably the most successful to have sprung from the classic jazz vocal tradition (she debuted in this mode in duo with pianist Ran Blake in 1962 on The Newest Sound Around for RCA Victor) into the belly of the avant-garde, singing with Archie Shepp (Blasé), Carla Bley (Escalator Over the Hill), Marion Brown (Afternoon of a Georgia Faun), with Mal Waldron and her husband Gunter Hampel bunches of times, and a number of her own recordings.

Conspiracy, first released in 1975 on Seeds Records, is one of the very best, and rarest. Recorded in New York in 1974, the band features Hampel on alto and bass clarinet, flute, vibraphone, and piano, Sam Rivers on soprano and tenor saxes and flute, Steve McCall on drums, Allan Praskin and Perry Robinson on clarinet, Jack Gregg on bass, Mark Whitecage on alto clarinet, and Marty Cook on drums. This many horns suggests a plunge into Fire-Loft mania, but Conspiracy complicates that expectation in the most productive of ways. It is wholly Lee’s album, as she sings, speaks with poetic verve, and flutters wordlessly and joyously. Highly experimental, and uncommonly rich.

Trumpeter Roy Campbell, who passed in 2014, has an extensive list of credits including playing with bassists William Parker and Alan Silva, saxophonists Jameel Moondoc and Peter Brötzmann, drummer Whit Dickey, and violinist Billy Bang. Additionally, he has many recordings of his own to consider, plus membership in the collective Other Dimensions in Music alongside William Parker, drummer Rashied Bakr, and multi-instrumentalist and co-founder of 577 Records, Daniel Carter. This is the second posthumous archival release by Campbell on 577, following a CD by with the group TEST (who included Daniel Carter in the ranks) issued in September 2020 from a live set captured in 1999.

When the Time is Right is also a live recording, a 37-minute performance from 2013 in Bimhuis, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Campbell plays trumpet, flugelhorn, and flute, Dikeman sax, van der Weide cello and percussion, Jacquemyn bass and voice, and Kugel drums. The long improv is in some ways similar to the single track on the disc by Campbell and TEST, but in just as many respects, they are quite distinct.

The connecting thread is a concept of ensemble performance that could’ve been heard at Slug’s Saloon, or in the Riv-Bea loft, or at the Knitting Factory, or at a benefit for a broken down tour van, or indeed at the Doek Festival in Bimhuis. Inspired and energetic, When the Time is Right hopefully signifies a stream of Campbell archival releases to come.

1. Chora(s)san Time-Court Mirage / Catherine Christer Hennix, Blues Alif Lam Mim (Blank Forms) + John Coltrane, A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle (Impulse) The Chora(s)san Time-Court Mirage is Swedish composer Hennix’s expanded just intonation ensemble, documented here at the April 22, 2014 premiere of her composition “Blues Alif Lam Mim in the Mode of Rag Infinity/Rag Cosmosis,” which extends to nearly 80 minutes in this performance.

There are three prior releases of Hennix’s work available from Blank Forms, all excellent, but they all date from the 1970s, which lead me to wonder of the power of her work would end up somehow diminished over time. I needn’t have worried, as the drone rises to levels of intensity that are congruent with her very best stuff. The vocals by Hennix, Amirtha Kidambi, and Imam Ahmet Muhsin Tüzer are intended to magnify the origins of the blues in the traditions of the East, a purpose that’s certainly realized as the voices, the brass ensemble, and live electronics combine and progress. It presents an absolutely riveting experience in the home environment.

Jazz was a major influence on a young Hennix (and her older brother Peter) while growing up in Sweden, including John Coltrane, who she witnessed in performance, amongst numerous other major figures. As the stature of Coltrane and his group on the bandstand has taken on mythic proportions, it’s easy to feel envious, especially right now, with A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle having been recently released.

The stream of uncovered jazz recordings has been flowing steady for long enough now that the announcements no longer trigger the unbridled excitement of yore, but this Coltrane artifact is still a very special one, particularly for fans of the saxophonist as his most expansive. Recorded October 2, 1965, two days after Live in Seattle in the same club, The Penthouse, it captures the same band, Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders on tenor (both add percussion), McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums, and Jimmy Garrison and Donald Garrett on bass, augmented only by Carlos Ward on alto sax.

Recorded by Joe Brazil (who played flute on Om, recorded on October 1, 1965 in Seattle), this is only the second live dive into A Love Supreme that’s been documented, and it’s easily the wilder of the two, even as the other (from Paris in July of ’65) features Archie Shepp. Amongst this brilliant recording’s highlights is the total surprise of Tyner’s solo in “Pursuance,” which finds him in a supercharged state, with Jones egging him on the whole way. But the whole performance rips and solidifies Coltrane’s Seattle sojourn as one of the peaks of his musical run.

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