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

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January 2022. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Stefan Schönegg, Enso: Strukturen (impakt Köln) This is the Cologne-based Schönegg’s fourth release featuring Enso, an assemblage described by the bassist-improvisor-composer as his “chamber music ensemble with changing instrumentations.” This time out, Enso features clarinet (Michael Thieke), bassoon (Sandra Weiss), cello (Nathan Bontrager), double bass (Schönegg), and extended snare drum (Etienne Nillesen). Of Enso’s four recordings, this appears to be the first issued on vinyl (it’s also the first I’ve heard), offering ten pieces, the first six titled “Struktur” and the last four “Reflexion” (the tracks distinguished by roman numerals), with the whole reflecting Schönegg’s stated interest in reductive strategies and his desire for Enso to embody slowness in contrast to the fast pace of modern life. This leaves room for a range of sonic possibilities, as portions of the record engage with extended tone clusters that are reminiscent of chamber drone, though as the number of pieces and the format should indicate, none of the durations are especially long. Unintrusively captivating. A

Fred Hersch, Breath by Breath (Palmetto) Hersch’s skills as a pianist are beyond reproach. This is not to say that every one of his releases is perfect. It’s just that Hersch’s handle on his mastery is as firm as his playing is lyrical. For this ambitious CD, he’s joined by bassist Drew Gress, drummer Jochen Rueckert, and for one selection (“Mara,” a standout), percussionist Rogerio Boccato, along with the Crosby Street String Quartet, which features Joyce Hammann and Laura Seaton on violins, Lois Martin on viola, and Jody Redhage Ferber on cello. Breath by Breath consists of The “Sati” Suite in eight parts and a closing ninth piece, “Pastorale,” an homage to the German composer Robert Schumann. While the relationship of jazz and strings has been a historically rocky one, too often sounding stitched together and unsatisfying, the combination flourishes here from the compositional foundation to the execution, with both the trio and the quartet displaying heightened sensitivity. As Hersch’s conception was inspired by his practice of meditation, the suite exudes a comforting energy. It’s never overly tranquil. A

Michael Hurley, The Time of the Foxgloves (No Quarter) When this record came out late last year, on December 10 in fact, I elected to set it aside until just after the New Year, in hopes that Hurley had worked his magic once more and I would’ve gifted myself a fresh treat for 2022. Smart move on my part. Snock’s hooking up with a sizeable indie label might’ve landed him a sweet profile in the New York Times, but fear not, as No Quarter is run by a longtime fan, so that the 11 tracks here are pure Hurley. Opener “Are You Here For the Festival?” adds another classic to a repertoire already full of them, the vocal duets are wonderful (The Louvin Brothers’ “Alabama” with Betsy Nichols and “Jacob’s Ladder” with Josephine Foster are the best at this early juncture), the instrumentation is diverse, including fiddle, banjo, baritone ukulele, upright bass, bass clarinet, xylophone, even electric piano (a Wurlitzer A200) on another standout cut, “Blondes and Redheads.” Exactly where this one will land in Hurley’s discographical hierarchy will require time to assess, but rest assured it’s whole is exquisite. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Michael Beach, Gravity/Repulsion (Goner) ‘tis true that Gravity/Repulson came out a mere four years ago, but four years can register as a long time; think of a presidency that ran from 2016 to 2020 and tell me how fucking long that felt like. Anyway, Goner’s reissue of this fine record (the follow-up to Beach’s masterful 2013 album Golden Theft) came out just last month, and as it’s likely many missed the boat on its existence back in ’17, it’s a great opportunity to get acquainted with one of the 21st century’s sharpest extenders of what I’ll call the classic ’80s-’90s indie rock sound. Not that I missed the boat myself, as I gave it a full review upon release for this very website. But don’t get the idea that I’m gloating, since I just recently caught up with Beach’s Dream Violence, which Goner put out last March. His latest continues an impeccable streak of quality, with Golden Theft remaining his best, but good luck finding a vinyl copy of one now. Here’s an opportunity to scoop up a record that’s nearly as great, so don’t sleep. After a few fresh spins, it’s clear that Gravity/Repulsion hasn’t lost a thing. A

Josh Caterer, The Hideout Sessions & The SPACE Sessions (Pravda) ‘twas in October of 2020 that Caterer, who surely remains best known as the frontman for the Smoking Popes, played a set in the empty Chicago club The Hideout as a live stream event and then released it in March of last year as The Hideout Sessions. It was his first solo full-length, and I finally caught up with it over the holiday break partly to deepen my appraisal of this album, which is another recording of a live stream (this time held in the empty venue SPACE) undertaken with the same personnel (bassist John San Juan of Hushdrops and drummer John Perrin of NRBQ) and again augmented with occasional horns (trumpeter Max Crawford returns, this time bringing saxophonist Paul Von Mertens and trombonist Henry Carpender with him).

Both Hideout and SPACE combine fresh versions of Caterer originals with covers, including songs performed by Chet Baker (“My Funny Valentine”), Tony Bennett (“Rags to Riches”), and Roberta Flack (The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”) on Hideout and the Bee Gees (“I Started a Joke”), Frank and Nancy Sinatra (“Somethin’ Stupid,” a duet with Caterer’s daughter Phoebe), Etta James (“At Last”), and Willie Nelson (“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”). Any differences in execution on these albums isn’t substantial, though Hideout is a little more raw in its melodic attack. And on SPACE, the comfort level broadens the range a bit. Caterer is in strong voice on both. Hideout’s gatefold vinyl edition is still available, but it appears that currently (and unsurprisingly) SPACE is available on CD. Regardless of format, these should be owned as a set. B+/ B+

Andrew Gabbard, Homemade (Colemine / Karma Chief) Gabbard was in Thee Shams and then the Buffalo Killers, and along with playing guitar with the Black Keys on tour, he’s half of the Gabbard Brothers. This is his first solo record, which has drawn comparisons to Neil Young, John Lennon, and post-Soft Bulletin Flaming Lips. I’m not going to quibble with that, but will instead add that I’m in deeper agreement with musician M. Ross Perkins, who, in his promo essay for the album, mentions Emitt Rhodes. To expand, Homemade bathes in a ’70s pop auteur pond, and with a definite Beatles inclination, though there’s also a little Beach Boys-esque harmony and a few moments suggesting a more soft rock oriented Todd Rundgren. Perkins also speaks of Paul McCartney, but I got a more early ’70s George Harrison vibe. All this might make it seem as if Homemade is unabashedly throwing back, but the contents aren’t as retro as all that. This is perhaps where the nod to the Flaming Lips becomes pertinent, but Gabbard is much more in line with the singer-songwriter tradition, to his benefit. B+

Woody Harris, “Edgework” & “Bluish” (Tompkins Square) We’ll continue this column’s digital-only spotlight in 2022 with this pair of EPs from guitarist Harris. The association with Tompkins Square and the fact that Harris contributed two pieces to a John Fahey tribute LP that the Kicking Mule label put out back in 1979 might lead to presumptions that Harris’ playing is in the American Primitive tradition, but that’s incorrect, as he has a classical background along with a relationship to the blues that resulted in two recorded collaborations with the late Michael Bloomfield. The blues is detectable in these intensely recorded affairs, Harris’ first releases in 42 years, but the influence of the style doesn’t dominate the proceedings as the playing nicely avoids cliché. And while dexterous, Harris favors feeling over flash. Vinyl lovers who are impressed by these EPs should be on the lookout for Harris’ 1976 debut for Arhoolie, American Guitar Solos (now part of the Smithsonian Folkways collection, a fine candidate for reissue), and his two albums for Kicking Mule, After Dinner Mints (’77) and Show of Hands (’79). A-/A-

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