Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2022, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January 2022. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Wadada Leo Smith, Henry Kaiser & Alex Varty, Pacifica Koral Reef (577) As guitarist and music journalist Alex Varty points out in his excellent accompanying text for this CD, trumpeter-composer-teacher Wadada Leo Smith and guitarist-composer Henry Kaiser have been friends for a long time, since the mid-1970s, in fact. And Varty, a Canadian resident of British Columbia, has been acquainted with Smith and Kaiser for nearly as long. While the specifics of these relationships doubtlessly impacted the shape of Pacifica Koral Reef, which consists of one 55-minute piece for two guitars and trumpet, surely discipline, dedication, and sheer talent were equally as important in making this delightful recording a reality. There was a graphic score (Smith’s) learned and honed over several sessions, and there is so much to recommend; the atypical instrumental configuration, sustained passages of heightened interaction and abstract beauty, a touch of the blues, and Vardy’s impressive acoustic soloing in the opening moments. Smith and Kaiser’s distinctive styles are in full effect. A

Tyler Mitchell featuring Marshall Allen, Dancing Shadows (Mahakala) Both Mitchell and Allen are associated with the music of Sun Ra, the latter famously so; other than the bandleader himself, Allen is likely the highest-profile member of the Arkestra. Bassist Mitchell joined the band in 1985 for a stint and then reupped after Allen became musical director, but he’s also played with Art Taylor, Shirley Horn, and Jon Hendricks, so he can do it inside and outside. The cover kinda insinuates that Dancing Shadows is a duo session, but no, it’s actually a sextet, with Mitchell on bass, Allen on alto sax and EVI, Chris Hemmingway on tenor sax, Nicoletta Manzini on alto sax, Wayne Smith on drums, and Elson Nascimento on percussion. The album they’ve made is a wonderfully wild affair, offering a dozen selections focusing on compositions by Allen and Sun Ra, but that also means there is an ass-ton of tangible swing in the mix. All the horns are blowing shit hot and with melodious twists and turns, the drums-percussion is cracking large, and the bass is big in the mix, as it should be. And the EVI is a welcome addition. A

Maya Shenfeld, In Free Fall (Thrill Jockey) This is the debut solo record for Shenfeld, a Berlin-based composer whose method, as detailed in her Bandcamp bio, is focused upon “exploring the space between modes of musical production used in experimental, classical, and popular music.” And so appropriately, In Free Fall roams around stylistically, beginning in a horn-saturated, tangibly Minimalist zone with “Cataphora” (and mirrored somewhat in closer “Anaphora”), then engaging with analog synths in “Body, Electric,” and after that delving into a more distorted soundscape with “Voyager.” While Shenfeld resides in Berlin, her use of electronics eludes expectations, as in “Mountain Larkspur,” where she reworks the choral singing of the Bethanien Youth Choir (executed in collaboration with James Ginzberg of labelmates Emptyset). Furthermore, Shenfeld’s approach to ambient avoids cliché as her melodic inclinations can become appealingly tense (borderline cinematic). That Shenfeld partook in a residency with Caterina Barbieri makes sense, as their approaches are complementary. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: The Innocence Mission, Now the Day Is Over (Badman) Lancaster, PA’s The Innocence Mission, an alt-folk trio featuring Karen Peris (vocals, guitar, keyboards, more), her husband Don Peris (guitar), and Mike Bitts (bass), released their debut full-length in 1989; this is their seventh out of a grand total of 12, released by Badman in 2004 and making its vinyl debut here. With one exception, Now the Day Is Over is a covers album, specifically focused upon standards and traditional songs that Karen Peris sang as lullabies to her children; we’re talking “Stay Awake” from Mary Poppins, “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, “What a Wonderful World,” and “Moon River,” but also Chopin’s “Prelude in A,” Beethoven’s “Sonata No. 8” (these last two technically not lullabies, as they are played solo on guitar) and even the gospel hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” In less assured hands, this sort of gentle and sweet endeavor would rapidly wear out its welcome, but there is an ease to The Innocence Mission’s sensitivity, a lack of straining for the beautiful, that solidifies the record’s appeal. A-

Andrew Cyrille, William Parker & Enrico Rava, 2 Blues for Cecil (TUM) Here’s a set dedicated to the memory of the great pianist Cecil Taylor. Drummer Cyrille and bassist Parker both played with Taylor for extended periods, Cyrille for a dozen years starting with the Unit in 1964 and Parker joining for 13 years in 1980; Rava’s association was much more limited, playing in Taylor’s Orchestra of Two Continents in 1984 and then in the Cecil Taylor European Orchestra in 1988. Those familiar with but not deeply versed in Taylor’s work might be expecting this CD to in some way channel the demanding nature of the pianist’s work, but the contents here shy away from predictability just as Taylor did. The differences add up to an enthralling experience: to start, obviously, there’s no piano. Second, with the exception of a closing take of “My Funny Valentine,” all of the compositions are by the participants. Third, the playing is flawless, and fourth, the blues is really bluesy. Fantastic. A

Sam Moss, Blues Approved (Schoolkids) Moss is a local legend, with the municipality in this case being Winston-Salem, NC. He’s revered by fellow Carolinians Chris Stamey and his dB’s counterpart Peter Holsapple, but the guy never managed to get an album out in his lifetime (he passed in 2007). This means that in addition to local legend, Blues Approved is also a lost record found, for in 2020, Stamey discovered on the end of an old reel of tape the master for an intended LP that was made with Mitch Easter way back in 1977. And with the inclusion of five cuts recorded between ’89-’93 plus a nifty version of Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally” from The Clique, Moss’s high-school band circa ’67, here we are. The sheer enthusiasm of his friends kinda makes me feel like a dick for not liking it more. At times, Moss’s blues-rocking flirts with Bad Company, but in an unlikely twist, his ’89-’93 material doesn’t stink up the joint; truthfully, I mostly prefer the later stuff. And I’d really feel like a dick if I said that “Act Naturally” was my favorite track on the set, but that’s not the case; it’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” B

Jesper Munk, Taped Heart Sounds (Billbrook) Munk is a German singer-songwriter who debuted in 2013 with For in My Way It Lies, a record I haven’t heard, nor have I any familiarity with his subsequent releases prior to Taped Heart Sounds, which is a covers collection; not the best place to start, at least if getting a handle on the full breadth of Munk’s work is the objective. I mention this because Munk has been compared to both Jack White and Dan Auerbach, and as this set unfolded I ultimately heard little of either of them (the main exception is a version of Willie Dixon’s “My Babe”). I did soak up a mild similarity to M. Ward in the vocal department (especially during a reading of JJ Cale’s “The End of the Line”), but was even more impacted by the general soulfulness, which at moments put me in a New Orleans frame of mind, and specifically the Nevilles but with a little Mac Rebennack edge. At other times I thought of Bill Withers and even Shuggie Otis. Munk’s duet with Sisi Savidge on “Hang Me,” written by Oscar Isaac and T-Bone Burnett for Inside Llewyn Davis, is an unexpected highlight. B+

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