A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: October, 2011
Recycled Goods (#90)
by Tom Hull
Still working opportunistically. This month I got a big Impulse package from UME, and a smaller CTI one and some Miles Davis from Sony, so that's the bulk of what follows. Everything else has a small story, but most of them aren't fully developed. I felt like playing Glen Campbell's first album after panning his last -- thought about making a project out of it, but didn't get that far. Other records popped up in researching for recent polls on 1978 and 1983 -- the Jarrett was one I had missed, opening the prospect of filling in more holes in my Impulse inventory, but I didn't make any progress there. Same general story for the Go-Betweens, McKinley Mitchell, Sun Ra, the Residents, Rodney Crowell, Willis Jackson, Cheryl Lynn, and Son Seals. The common thread there is that they're old records I wanted to check out, and it makes more sense to write them up here than anywhere else.
For those keeping score, this is my 90th Recycled Goods column, totalling 3066 records.
Billy Bang's Survival Ensemble: Black Man's Blues/New York Collage (1977-78 , NoBusiness, 2CD): The late, great violinist's first two albums -- the first so obscure I missed it when I assembled a discography for my 2005 Voice piece on Bang. A quartet for the first record, with Bilal Abdur Rahman on tenor and soprano sax, William Parker on bass, and Rashid Bakr on drums. Rahman, an old friend of Bang's, picked up Islam in prison and recorded reluctantly but more often than not his cutting and slashing is terrific here. Both albums are hit and miss, with bits of spoken word spouting political critique -- "when the poor steal, it's called looting; when the rich steal, it's called profit" is one turn of phrase. Second album adds Henry Warner on alto sax and Khuwana Fuller on congas -- Warner's another player who shows up on rare occasions but always makes a big impression. Way back when I would probably have hedged my grade, seeing each album as promising but half-baked, but now they're indisputable pieces of history -- and not just because Bang and Parker went on to have brilliant careers. Also note that the label in Lithuania that rescued them cared enough to provide a 36-page booklet on the era and this remarkable music. A-
Miles Davis Quintet: Live Europe 1967 [The Bootleg Series Vol. 1] (1967 , Columbia/Legacy, 3CD+DVD): Something like this was inevitable -- especially since the DVD was slipped into the 70-CD Miles Davis: The Complete Columbia Album Collection (now no longer complete) -- and the Vol. 1 promises more are in the works. (For comparison, Legacy's Dylan Bootleg series is up to Vol. 9.) The sets were recorded Oct. 11-Nov. 7, 1967, which slots this between Nefertiti and Miles in the Sky in the Davis discography, midway in an empty stretch as far as live recordings go. The group is the Quintet you know so well: Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams. The set lists recycle, with "Agitation" leading off the first two CDs and both sets on the DVD -- it has a strong trumpet lead to set the stage. Sophisticated music but not so exciting: on the DVD the group is focused, cool and workmanlike, no excess motion or emotion. Not a major find, but a remarkable group. A-
The Go-Betweens: Before Hollywood (1983 , Beggars Banquet): Remastered, with artwork counting this off as the second of six albums, where the Australian group with songwriters Grant McLennan and Robert Forster maturing to the point that their fifth and sixth albums (Tallulah and 16 Lovers Lane were masterpieces. The early albums seemed far spottier, with most of the highlights picked for their 1978-1990 best-of, which explains why half of these songs seem so familiar. Retrospectively, the other half can be seen working toward that future. B+(***)
McKinley Mitchell: The Complete Malaco Collection (1977-81 , Waldoxy): Got his start singing gospel, moved to Chicago and cut some soul ballads in the 1960s to little avail. As disco and funk took over, Malaco refashioned '60s soul as a blues form, finally giving him his one shot at an album. This collects his 1978 eponymous album with half a dozen scattered singles -- the three covers stick out from the consistently understated groove, but they work just as well. B+(***) [R]
Sun Ra: Disco 3000: Complete Milan Concert 1978 (1978 , Art Yard, 2CD): Originally credited to Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra with four cuts on an El Saturn LP, expanded here to nearly three times the runtime. Credits are sparse, but Ra's unique take on electric piano sets up a blocky rhythm that occasionally breaks loose but is regular enough to drive the horns forth -- brilliant trumpet (presumably Marshall Allen) and rousing tenor sax (John Gilmore, natch). And when Ra switches to acoustic piano, his boogie jones comes out. No recognizable disco beats here, but Ra's projecting way into the future. A- [R]
Red Hot + Rio 2 (2011, E1 Music, 2CD): Twenty-some years after the first Red Hot + Blue record turned AIDS-fighting pop stars onto Cole Porter in one of the better songwriter-tribute records ever, I lost track of the series fifteen years ago when the first Red Hot + Rio came out. This one doubles down, swelling to two discs to give extra heft to its second volume status. No lack of authentic Brazilian stars here -- Caetano Veloso, Tom Zé, Joyce Moreno, Os Mutantes, also Seu Jorge, Carlhinos Brown, Bebel Gilberto -- often paired with well-meaning Americans ranging from David Byrne to Aloe Blacc, Of Montreal, and Beirut. I don't have full credits, but the rhythm section more often than not saves the show. Give it some time and you'll find some gems, like the one attributed to Toshiyuki Yasuda ("Aguas de Março"). B+(*) [advance]
The Residents: Duck Stab!/Buster & Glen (1978, Ralph): One of the first groups to disdain the industry and release their own shit, starting with their Beatles-parodying Meet the Residents in 1974 and continuing pretty much unabated at least through 2009. Reissues have lost the second half of their original title, but the songs carry on. The funny voices aren't so funny any more, and the intentional weirdness isn't so weird, but at least their tunes remain tuneful. I've rarely sampled them, but know enough to know that's not a given. B+(**) [R]
Randy Weston: Blue Moses (1972 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): Started out in the late 1950s as a pianist out to explore new things, especially to connect back to Africa, with Morocco a special interest -- three of four titles here have African place names, the exception "Night in Medina" which moves even further afield. Probably this was Weston's first big band venture -- Don Sebesky is credited with the arrangements, but Weston periodically returned to the big band well, and you can taste the excitement here. While CTI's stars take up the solo slots -- Freddie Hubbard is brilliant, and even Hubert Laws' flutes fit in nicely -- the brass section packs quite some whallop. A-
Impulse! Records was founded as a jazz subsidiary of ABC-Paramount Records in 1960, with first Creed Taylor than shortly later Bob Thiele running the label. They were a major jazz label in the 1960s, fading in the mid-1970s, and occasionally revived by subsequent owners -- MCA and Universal (through their Verve subsidiary). To celebrate their 45th anniversary, Verve released a box and a pile of individual artist compilations each titled The Impulse Story. I did an In Series on them at the time, and went back through my library to survey some other albums of note. Back then I wondered why they didn't wait for a big number like their 50th, not realizing that five years later Verve would reduced to little more than a reissue shell. Still, they did manage to come up with something -- evidently thanks to Universal's subsidiary in Germany. Like a jigsaw puzzle, they took 30 relatively obscure albums and pieced them together into 15 of what in early CD days were called twofers. Most of those albums turned out to be new to me -- I recognize 8 that I previously had, 4 of them old friends.
I thought it would be most useful to stage these, with an intro line, a bit including a grade on each separate album, and a summary grade.
Albert Ayler: Tenor saxophonist, was a major avant-garde figure in the mid-1960s, finding spiritual depth in frenzied free noise, but as the decade came to a close he became increasingly scattered, then died at age 34 in 1970, a suicide or a victim of murder or bad luck, no one knows.
The prime drummer of the bebop movement started playing harder in
the 1950s and invented hard bop, running his Jazz Messengers as a
boot camp through which everyone who was anyone in the style passed,
from Horace Silver to Wynton Marsalis. Only cut these two albums on
Originally Alice McLeod, from Detroit, played piano with Terry Gibbs
before marrying John Coltrane in 1965, soon replacing McCoy Tyner in
her husband's group, until his death in 1967. Her own discography
starts up in 1968, a dense flurry of records up to 1978 followed by
a long break and a 2004 comeback.
Pianist, composer, bandleader par excellence since he moved his
Washingtonians to Harlem in 1927. In the early 1960s he branched
out, appearing in small groups and ad hoc combos, including such
peers as Louis Armstrong and Count Basie.
Curtis Fuller: Hard bop trombonist from Detroit, wrote and arranged enough to get his name up front from 1957 on, but not much of a showboat.
Coleman Hawkins: The first significant tenor saxophonist in jazz history, "the fount of all worthwhile saxophone playing" as one critic put it, perhaps slowing down a bit but still instantly recognizable a couple years ahead of his sudden decline from 1966 to his death in 1969.
Milt Jackson: The preeminent vibraphone player of the early bebop world, notably working with pianists Thelonious Monk and John Lewis (Modern Jazz Quartet); prolific, adaptable to all styles, an attentive partner with an irrepressible sense of swing.
Organ player, I always figured she learned in church but she cited
Jimmy Smith as her inspiration. Best known for working with tenor
saxophonists -- Stanley Turrentine, of course, but also Eddie Davis --
but can hold court on her own.
Tenor saxophonist, a stalwart avant-gardist from 1964 who move sharply
political around 1968, growing some ugly funk beats and adding vocals
as if daring the masses to follow his revolution.
Hungarian guitarist, left the country on the eve of the 1956 uprising
and made his way to Berklee. First record peddled his folk jazz as
gypsy music, then he quickly picked up some Indian affects for his
Jazz Raga album.
Pianist, joined John Coltrane's soon-to-be-famous Quartet in 1960
(ahead of Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison), stepping out on his own
with these first two piano trio albums.
Airto: Fingers (1973 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira and wife Flora Purim cashed in on the 1960s bossa nova craze, then hooked up with Chick Corea's Return to Forever fusion band and fell into CTI's lap; this cooks all their affections down to an unrecognizable mish mash, clunky when he tries to sing, otherwise slick or airy or incoherent. B-
Jackie Cain & Roy Kral: A Wilder Alias (1973 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): More often just Jackie & Roy, singer and pianist-vocalist-arranger, started out in 1954 and had been around the block a couple times before CTI picked them up; I don't know them well enough to tell how anomalous this is, but the voices are lashed to the contours of some incredibly loopy music, with Joe Farrell's sax the sole relief, the flute and vibes solos faring far less well. C-
Glen Campbell: Big Bluegrass Special (1962, Capitol): His first, co-credited to the now-forgotten Green River Boys, draws heavily on the Delmore Brothers and Merle Travis, trad fare that lets them mix the exemplary guitar up front of the so-so vocals. B+(*) [R]
Rodney Crowell: Ain't Living Long Like This (1978, Warner Brothers): Born in Houston, based in Nashville, still his first album aims more for Gram Parsons country than for newfangled neotrad, hitting the target solid with "California Earthquake" but not producing as much shaking as they claim. B+(***) [R]
Group Doueh: Zayna Jumma (2011, Sublime Frequencies): Recorded in Dakhla on the Western Sahara seacoast, founded in 1502 by Spanish colonists and disputed by Morocco and Mauritania since 1975; Salmou Bamaar (Doueh) is a Hendrix-school guitarist, which puts a charge into the native percussion and vocals. A-
Joe Farrell: Outback (1970 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): An underrated tenor saxophonist, dead before his 50th birthday, leads a quartet with Chick Corea on electric piano, Buster Williams, and Elvin Jones; the title track opens weakly on flute, so this takes a while to get moving, only catching fire on the final track. B+(*)
Willis Jackson/Von Freeman: Lockin' Horns (1978 , 32 Jazz): Freeman has a rep for going his own way, but he's slumming here, adding a second tenor sax to Jackson's soul jazz group -- Carl Wilson on organ, guitarist Joe "Boogaloo" Jones, and drummer Yusef Ali; early going may just be Jackson, but when they do joust they kick up a storm. B+(*) [R]
Keith Jarrett: Bop-Be (1976 , Impulse): The last album of Jarrett's US Quartet, with Dewey Redman on tenor, Charlie Haden on bass, and Paul Motian on drums, going out with a little bit special from each of the stars; Jarrett had an extraordinarily prodigious stretch in the early 1970s, but thenceforth limited himself to trios and solos -- this reminds you how strong a force he could be in a group. A- [R]
Cheryl Lynn: Cheryl Lynn (1978 , Reel Music): Debut album, leads off with his big disco hit "Got to Be Real"; nothing else like that, of course, some filler and some better than filler, the latter stepping high on hotter beats. B+(**) [R]
Stephin Merritt: Obscurities (1992-99 , Merge): Some singles, some contract work, some unreleased whatevers, from the days when Merritt mostly recorded as Magnetic Fields -- presumably the disc comes with some details but I'm not privy to them; simple melodies with eccentric percussion backing his deep monotone, disjointed pieces juxtaposed, on sonic and possibly historical interest, or not. B+(**) [R]
Son Seals: Live and Burning (1978, Alligator): Blues journeyman, came up too late to make much of name for himself, but typified his label's normalization of the post-rock-and-roll, post-Chicago blues, a genre that will live on as long as a stinging guitar lick promises salvation from bad times. B+(**) [R]
Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody ([X] is some other identified stream source; otherwise assume a CD). The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments -- although that's always a risk.
For this column and the previous 89, see the archive.
Copyright © 2011 Tom Hull.