A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: April, 2009
Recycled Goods (#64)
by Tom Hull
The first Recycled Goods column came out in February 2003. It was originally published by Static Multimedia, and is archived here. Michael Tatum was music editor at Static at the time. He had for some time tried to talk me into doing a column, so when I proposed an oldies consumer guide he snapped it up. I kept the column up monthly -- missing a few months from December 2003 through December 2004 when Static was having some troubles and I was somewhat distracted by writing Rear View Mirror, another oldies column that Seattle Weekly published that year (archived here).
The first Recycled Goods column was short and choice. At the time I didn't get any promo copies, so everything in it came out of my own stash. The line-up is worth repeating:
This was both the mix I was hoping for and quality level, with the one dud a record you might otherwise be tempted to buy. The second column (archived here) was similarly choice, with a few left field finds:
I'll print one more list, because the third column (archived here) still fits nicely with my point, even though at this point many (maybe most) of the records are coming from publicists (although it helped that I was doing some work for Rolling Stone at the time):
On the third column I tacked on a brief list of Willie Nelson records, since I was working on him at the time, and since the featured ones were nowhere near the top of my list. With the fourth column, I was getting enough stuff that I inaugurated the "Briefly Noted" section, adding 17 extra records to the 12 in the main section. I made a point of trying to cover everything I got, so by the end of 2004 "Briefly Noted" had grown to 41 records, with 10 more in the top section, all A- or above -- OK, another list (archive here):
From there up to January 2008 I averaged 50-60 records per month, but over time the selection became sloppier. I was by then inundated in new jazz records for Jazz Consumer Guide, and I was picking up an odd mix of world music -- missing a lot of what I wanted to cover, and picking up a lot of stuff I could care less about. So, subconsciously at first, I spent less time searching out interesting and important titles, and more tile processing what was coming my way. Eventually, I burned out on it, deciding that what I was producing wasn't worth the effort. So I quit. Sort of. In April 2008 I posted a semi-return of Recycled Goods on my blog, with 12 "Briefly Noted" -- all jazz. In May, I came up with 2 longer reviews and another 12 "Briefly Noted" -- mostly world music, which I was still getting in dribs and drabs, and some stuff I had stumbled across while I was raiding Rhapsody. That pattern has more/less persisted since then, with however much of whatever I had handy showing up on a monthly basis: October 2008 was real slim with 3 titles; December 2008 exceptional with 34.
This month is typical, with a couple of world music albums, and a fair amount of leftover jazz. It is, however, the end of this phase in the life story of Recycled Goods. Since I cut back so radically, several people have urged me to resume. I actually had more fun doing it -- at least when it was good -- than I ever had with Jazz Consumer Guide. (Probably because Village Voice is such a prime publicity prospect, I quickly found myself with way too many jazz records to digest, and they've turned into a real slog -- all the more so as long as I tried to play and at least write some Jazz Prospecting notes on everything I get, but also because the inevitable delays and space crunches sap much of the redeeming social value from the process.) So I've been wanting to resurrect Recycled Goods. I just didn't want it to come back in the tired shape I left it.
So I did a sensible thing: I asked for help. Michael Tatum has agreed to collaborate on a new Recycled Goods column. He edited my column all the way up to January 2008, long after he quit Static, so he's totally familiar with what I've done and how I work. He's a fine writer in his own right, and an astute critic. We have complementary tastes and interests: he'll probably do most of the rock and I'll do most of the jazz, but I suspect neither will be exclusive nor automatic. A second set of ears and eyes will be mutually helpful. We'll see whether this results in multiple grades and comments -- the protocols are yet to be worked out. He will definitely fix one of my big problems, which has been my reluctance to track down items of possible interest.
One of the more fateful decisions we are facing is where and how to publish this column. As I've learned from experience, where you publish has a lot of effect on what you get to listen to -- e.g., Village Voice has a lot more pull than Static Multimedia. It also helps to be able to bring some money in. So we're looking around, trying to find some deal that makes sense. In the meantime, Recycled Goods will be suspended again. The next time one appears it will be a joint production, hopefully in a new home. And hopefully it will satisfy those readers who urged me to return to the grind.
Meanwhile, the complete Recycled Goods archive is here. Thus far I've knocked out a line or more on 2400 records.
Amadou & Mariam: Welcome to Mali (2009, Because Music/Nonesuch): The "blind couple from Mali," via Paris, of course, with the "et" of past albums replaced by a generic ampersand. They've crossed over worldwide, the guitar and keyboard hooks as gratifying here as anywhere -- Damon Albarn is the name guest here, representing Blur more than his Mali Music project. They even work some English in along with the French and whatever. Still, they maintain a healthy respect for where they came from: not just for sentiment, but because it differentiates them. Also gives them good beats. And delivers the message: that Mali aspires to be more of a piece with Paris and New York (or is it Los Angeles?), without ceasing to be Mali. A-
Don Cherry/Nana Vasconcelos/Collin Walcott: The Codona Trilogy (1978-82 , ECM, 3CD): Three albums in a nice little box, like ECM did for Keith Jarrett's Setting Standards. Cherry left Ornette Coleman's classic group to see the world, and he never encountered a rhythm or an instrument he didn't like. In Walcott, an American who specialized in Indian music, playing sitar and tabla, and Vasconcelos, a Brazilian percussionist, he collected a compact synopsis of world music. The name came from the players' first name first syllables, and the second and third albums were simply named Codona 2 and Codona 3. They played everything from melodica to doson n'goni to berimbau to timpani, but Cherry's pocket trumpet always stood out, even as it faded in the declining later albums. The groove-and-trumpet dominated first album reminds one of early '70s Miles Davis. The later albums are more eclectic and aimless. Walcott, best known for his work in Oregon, died in an auto accident in 1984, finishing off the group. B+
Peter Delano: For Dewey (1996 , Sunnyside): When Dewey Redman died in 2006, his discography seemed short for a tenor saxophonist of his stature. His stature is confirmed by a steady stream of tributes, and his discography is being fleshed out as many of the them feature Redman himself. Redman plays on three cuts here, and they jump out of the box, as unmistakable as Hamlet's ghost. The other five cuts drop back to piano trio. Delano's discography seems a little short for his talent level, so that's another plus. B+
Buddy Guy: The Definitive Buddy Guy (1958-2001 , Shout! Factory): A sharp blues guitarist and a singer who got deeper with age, Guy packed his dreams from Louisiana to Chicago in 1957 just as the great blues center was starting to slip and slide into obscurity. He kept his head up, backing Junior Wells and sometimes stealing the show. By the 1990s he had outlived everyone, and goosed his legend with the same sort of networking John Lee Hooker used. Legacy's 3-CD Can't Quit the Blues focused from the 1990s, and made it work. This one goes the other way, with just two songs post-1988, and a lot of Wells. It works, too; a little generic, but Guy never had the unique stamp of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, or Sonny Boy Williamson. He always had to work hard, and never let up. A-
Steve Kuhn: Life's Backward Glances: Solo and Quartet (1974-79 , ECM, 3CD): One of those pianists who should be far better known but they're just too damn many of them. Started studying under Serge Chaloff's mother, later with George Russell; played with the likes of Coleman Hawkins as a teenager and Stan Getz a bit later; was the original pianist in John Coltrane's Quartet, until McCoy Tyner displaced him. He's recorded steadily since 1963, mostly piano trios. This packages three of the six albums he cut for ECM from 1974-81 -- for variety picking two quartets and one solo. The extra on the first quartet, 1977's Motility, was Steve Slagle, a clear-toned saxophonist who can bop and swing, although he mostly winds up dodging Kuhn's screwballs. Over the record he keeps moving up the register, from tenor to soprano, finishing with flute, a progression that improbably works. The second quartet, 1979's Playground, features vocalist Sheila Jordan. Kuhn's lyrics are as oblique as his music, and Jordan is mixed down, hard to hear, working in the band rather than in front of it. But her command is so complete she makes something of it anyway -- the depth in "Deep Tango" comes from her. The third disc was the first record, 1974's Ecstasy. Solo piano, not easy to get a handle on, no matter how clear and sharp it seems. B+
The Best of A.R. Rahman (1997-2006 , Legacy): Born A.S. Dilep Kumar, 1966, in Tamil Nadu in southeast India, home of India's second-largest film industry. He studied everything from the Carnatic music of south India to Qawwali in Pakistan, synthesizing everything first into Tamil films, then on to Bollywood, eventually garnering Oscars for his score to Slumdog Millionaire. He has seven albums on Sony's UK label, enough for this quickie primer. Scant documentation, no trots or background, not that it much matters. Like Morricone, he has a knack for synthesizer filling, but the vocalists are front and center. Don't know what they're saying, but they make it sound important, and wrap it up in such style that it may not matter anyway. A-
Simon & Garfunkel: Live 1969 (1969 , Columbia/Legacy): Virtually all musicians tour, and after their productive studio lives end they leave lots of redundant tapes in their wake, awaiting desperate marketeers. The "new," and as it turned out final, album this anticipates, Bridge Over Troubled Water, is as timeworn now as the rest, but with the earlier hits worked in, this provides a less formal career overview -- no better or worse than the shorter Greatest Hits. In the easy going context of the 1960s the duo seemed harmless enough -- Simon had a knack for melodies, and Garfunkel could sing along. Besides, before the war turned bitter everyone pretty much liked everything. But, with their genteel folkieness, bookish literacy, and proud alienation, they left a nasty aftertaste. In the 1970s I came to despise Simon -- his albums had actually improved, especially when he lifted Latin and African rhythms, but his personality settled into the academic respectability I revolted against. I must say, though, that "Mrs. Robinson" sounds great after all. It was the one song where they were hired to lay on some irony. B-
The Thing: Now and Forever (2000-05 , Smalltown Superjazz, 3CD+DVD): An acoustic jazz trio from Norway, badder than the Bad Plus in every sense of the word. Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassist Ingebrigt Hĺker Flaten grew up in rock bands before venturing into free jazz not least because it was noisier and more abrasive. They're best known in the US for Ken Vandermark projects like School Days. The third wheel is Mats Gustafsson, who early on invited Vandermark to gig with his Aaly Trio, and later joined him and Peter Brötzmann in Sonore. He plays tenor sax when he wants to rip at alto speeds, but these days mostly blows heavy metal baritone. Gustafsson comes from the snorting beasts school of post-Ayler sax -- chances are you either love him or hate him. The group name comes from a song by Scandinavian folk hero Don Cherry. Their first (and best) album is all Cherry, except for a couple of short improvs. It's included here along with a follow-up made with Joe McPhee mostly playing pocket trumpet, adding a contrasting tone and a more human touch. The third disc here is a DVD of the group playing an outdoor concert at Řya in Sweden, with Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore joining in for one non-song -- really just a noise rant. Key thing to watch here is Flaten doing everything to his bass but chewing it up and gargling. Over time, the Cherry repertoire gives way to rock tunes -- PJ Harvey, White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs: it helps a lot to start with a beat before you rip it to shreds. But they're just as likely to start with nothing, as on the previously unreleased single-piece fourth disc, something called "Gluttony" because it's meant to gross you out. B+
Bill Bruford: The Winterfold Collection 1978-1986 (1977-85 , Winterfold): English prog rock's premier drummer, cut loose and adrift with instrumentalists neither up for jazz nor down for rock -- aside for Annette Peacock, who's up for anything, but only manages to salvage one of her three cuts here. B-
Bill Bruford: The Summerfold Collection 1987-2008 (1986-2007 , Summerfold, 2CD): The jazz years, which kicked off abruptly when Bruford recruited a odd pair of avant-gardists -- saxophonist Iain Ballamy and keyboardist Django Bates; other groups followed, with slick saxophonist Tim Garland represented here with his Latin-flavored flute, choice meetings with guitarist Ralph Towner and pianist Michiel Borstlap, a percussion ensemble, and a big band; a long period, not helped by the mix and match. B
Ira Cohen/Music by Ralph Carney: The Stauffenberg Cycle (2007, Paris): Poet, hung with Paul Bowles in Morocco where he wrote The Hashish Cookbook, more superficial and idiosyncratic than Robert Creeley (q.v.), who got the same Ralph Carney treatment; this one is less ambient, more countryish, easier to get into, easier to get over. B+
Robert Creeley/Music by Ralph Carney: Really!! (2007, Paris): Poet, out of Black Mountain College, taped these readings in 1988, the backbone for Ralph Carney's tantalizing ambient music, which can draw a regular cadence out into a beat, or gently caress freeform wandering; you don't have to focus on the words, although folks who do are doubly impressed. B+
Roger Davidson & Raúl Jaurena: Pasión por la Vida (2008 , Soundbrush): A pianist with a long career exploring Latin jazz, Davidson's fascination with tango led him to write a batch; with Jaurena's bandoneón they sound warm and intimate and classic. B+
Eliane Elias: Bossa Nova Stories (2008 , Blue Note): The thinking man's Brazilian bombshell plays and sings hits that predate her by a decade or more, and lusciously sambafies Gershwin and -- she's entitled -- Stevie Wonder's "Superwoman." B+
Gaucho: Deep Night (2008 , Gaucho): Another Ralph Carney vehicle, his sax and clarinet providing some muscle tone behind relatively languid gypsy jazz guitars and the oom-pah of Rob Reich's accordion, making this the cool alternative to the Hot Club of San Francisco; "Tea for Two" is delightful, and "The Sheik of Araby" has some spark. B+
Frank Hewitt: Out of the Clear Black Sky (2000 , Smalls): Fifth posthumous album from a bebop pianist who died recordless in 2002; a trio, about par for the series; mostly covers, witty inside stuff, the more familiar the more intriguing. B+
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Yesterdays (2001 , ECM): Standard trio again, churning out annual product for more than a quarter century now, although lately they've favored old live tapes over new studio sessions; mostly songbook fare, the ballads poignant, with a Horace Silver tune to get rolling and two Charlie Parkers for a little hot sauce. B+
K'naan: Troubadour (2008 , A&M/Octone): Rapper from Somalia, talks less about growing up in a tough hood this time, more on ordinary emigré topics like learning English as a teenager (in Canada), which he's done well enough to rap in, sometimes with an authority rivaling Eminem; still, Africa works in, sometimes in thought, sometimes in samples. A-
Milton Nascimento and Jobim Trio: Novas Bossas (2007 , Blue Note): Guitarist son and pianist grandson of Antonio Carlos Jobim anchor the trio, a little stiff with the piano up front, while Nascimento sings, his falsetto aiming for the heavens but often brought down by the dead weight. C+
Dolly Parton: 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs (1980 , RCA Nashville/Legacy): A movie role that proved she could act as charmingly as she could sing, featuring a title song that broke even bigger, a second hit from the First Edition, and a skimpy set of filler -- covers from Mel Tillis, Merle Travis, Woody Guthrie, and trad., originals that at least flirt with class struggle. B+
Pirouet Jazz Compilation, Vol. 1: The Best Is Yet to Come (1992-2008 , Pirouet): Then, like, why not wait until you get it before issuing a label compilation? German postbop label, a home for underappreciated Americans like Marc Copland and Bill Carrothers, plus copasetic Germans most likely also underappreciated. B+
Michael Jefry Stevens Trio: For Andrew (1996 , Konnex): An old tape of cerebral piano, dusted off and dressed up as a tribute to Andrew Hill, who no doubt would be pleased, while most of us wonder just what the connection is. B+
Bebo Valdés & Javier Colina: Live at the Village Vanguard (2005 , Calle 54/Norte): Cuban classics made simple, nothing more than Colina's warm bass supporting the 86-year-old master pianist. B+
Additional Consumer News
The recycling continues, with new versions of old product coming out all the time. In many cases, this overlaps old stuff that I already have and see no need to replace, but some are worth noting, especially if they hit holes in your library:
Fats Waller: Volume 6 of the Complete Recorded Works (1940-42 , JSP, 4CD): At four discs per set, this brings the total to 24, most likely with one more (4-CD?) set to go. RCA Bluebird took a crack at offering a comprehensive Waller series back in the mid-1990s. I bought most of them, and always regretted the couple of boxes that I missed. At least from 1936 until he died in 1943, Waller could do little wrong. Earlier he was more spotty, but that includes some of his more legendary piano exploits. Good that at least someone cares enough to keep this marvelous music in print.
Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys: The Tiffany Transcriptions (1946-47 , Collectors Choice, 10CD): Radio shots, recycling old hits and much more. Rhino released these on 10 separate CDs from 1982-90. I have them all: mostly A-, with Vol. 7 higher, Vol. 6 a bit lower, and only Vol. 10: The McKinney Sisters down in the ordinary range.
JSP's 4-CD boxes aren't quite the bargain they used to be, what with the ever-shrinking dollar pushing them up toward $30 from the $20 it used to be possible to find them at. They have new boxes by Leadbelly, J.E. Mainer, Ernest Tubb, Sonny Boy Williamson, Champion Jack Dupree, Uncle Dave Macon, Rembetika star Vassilis Tsitsanis, and two Brits: George Formby and George Shearing.
Copyright © 2009 Tom Hull.