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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Kendra Morris, Nine Lives (Karma Chief) Although based in New York, vocalist Morris is from Florida, having moved to NYC with a band that’s fortunes didn’t pan out, Instead, she recorded her debut album Banshee for the Wax Poetics label a decade ago and then self-released a follow-up EP “Babble” in 2016. Nine Lives reinforces the artist as a specialist in neo-soul, an increasingly crowded field that Morris navigates pretty well for a couple reasons. The first is that she uses her obvious vocal prowess to productive ends. Put another way, she doesn’t oversing (the stumbling block or outright downfall of so many vocalists), which would be easy to do in an attempt to stand out in a crowded field. Instead, Morris flows rather than strains with numerous flashes of sweetness that combine well with the instrumental scheme, the thrust of which is tangibly neo-soul in nature but without being rigidly throwback. Instead, there are recurring psychedelic soul gestures and production values that strike my ears as post-hip-hop. The key is restraint, even when the strings come in. B+

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Keith Tippett, Julie Tippetts, Philip Gibbs, Paul Dunmall, Mahogany Rain (577) Like Onosante, a recording from 2000 featuring pianist Keith Tippett, guitarist Philip Gibbs, drummer Peter Fairclough and multi-horn man Paul Dunmall that 577 reissued last year, Mahogany Rain was initially released by Duns Limited Editions, with its original date of issue 2005. As the name of the label should make obvious, the number of available copies for both sets was finite; 100 copies for each, in fact. Some of the discs issued by Dunmall’s enterprise had numbers as low as 50, in a catalog totaling 67 CDrs and a DVDr, all issued between 1999-2009. That means Duns releases, at least in physical form, are pretty scarce, if not commanding ridiculously high prices on the collector market, in part due to the format and also the type of music offered (mostly avant jazz and free improvisation). But if the dollar amounts for Duns stuff aren’t (with a few exceptions) overinflated, that shouldn’t infer a lack of listener interest, as Onosante’s reissue was well received (and included on TVD’s Best Reissues of 2021 list).

Three of Onosante’s participants also contribute to Mahogany Rain, though there is really no mistaking the two CDs, foremost due to the input of Tippetts, wife of Keith Tippett (taking the original spelling of his surname). As Julie Driscoll, she sang pop-rock with Brian Auger and the Trinity, but in the 1970s, she began focusing on experimental vocals and became quite prolific as such. Her voice is in excellent form here, moving from quiver-scat to sustained meditative passages to hints of the operatic to some almost poppish motion near the end of this always interesting and often exquisite 63-minute improv (the length necessitating the CD format for reissue). Tippetts also plays wooden xylophone, guiro seedpod, Tibetan singing bowls, Balinese xylophone, thumb piano, bells, gopichand, and bamboo kahn, an array that helps to navigate these interactions away from Western improv norms (husband Tippett also plays woodblock, smile drum, maracas, and pebbles). Dunmall concentrates on saxophones and Gibbs the guitar to superb results. If abstract, the music is inclined toward spaciousness and even calm. Terrific. A

Sussan Deyhim & Richard Horowitz, Desert Equations: Azax Attra (Crammed Discs) From 1984-1995, Crammed Discs amassed, by the label’s count, 35 releases in their Made to Measure undertaking, an endeavor once and occasionally still considered a sublabel, but described by Crammed Discs instead as a recently reactivated series, and more specifically a series with a loose focus on composers creating for other artforms, particularly film, dance, and theater. Released in 1986, Desert Equations: Azax Attra was the eighth Made to Measure entry, one that differs a bit from the tendency outlined above, offering a collaboration between Iranian vocalist Deyhim and US-based electronic composer Horowitz, who’s noted as an expert on Middle Eastern music (he also lived in Paris and Morocco for a long stretch prior to the ’80s). If aspects of this recording tie it to its era, and mostly from Horowitz’s side of the equation, that’s largely through a bold embrace of the possibilities of the time, an attitude that combines well with Deyhim’s groundbreaking presence. The record’s wildest moments belong to her. A-

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