A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: May, 2005

Recycled Goods (19)

by Tom Hull

No themes this month, but I do want to make a general policy statement here: my usual practice is to ignore DVDs, but that's getting harder all the time. It used to be that they'd occasionally be packed in as freebies, but then they mutated into limited time bonuses, then deluxe edition extras. Now we're seeing CDs as bonuses in DVD boxes -- I'm glad to see Gerry Mulligan's long out-of-print The Age of Steam but I wouldn't want to encourage that trend. Also new is "DualDisc": one piece of plastic that's CD on one side, DVD on the other. I don't know how the hybrid CD/SACD discs work, but they seem harmless enough; on the other hand DualDiscs are fragile and more limited and that's too much to pay for video.

Kate Campbell: The Portable Kate Campbell (2004, Compadre). Born the daughter of a Baptist preacher in New Orleans, raised in Mississippi, educated in Alabama, works these days out of Nashville: Campbell is a singer-songwriter usually filed under folk because her music and her observations are so straightforward. The major event in her life was the civil rights breakthrough of the '60s, which she recalls in "Crazy in Alabama" and "Bus 109" with some amazement -- she was a young child at the time, discovering wrong in the heady atmosphere of fixing it. She recorded seven albums before signing with Compadre, at which point she remastered her first album and rerecorded most of the next three -- to capture how the songs have evolved along with her life. This one gets the more story-like songs -- historical, topical, secular. Good place to start. A-

The Clash: London Calling: 25th Anniversary Legacy Edition (1979 [2004], Epic/Legacy, 2CD+DVD). The Clash produced the greatest album in rock and roll history . . . twice. And now their record megacorp fumbled both albums. The first, The Clash, sold so many copies as an import that Epic figured the market was exhausted, so they didn't bother to release it until a couple of years later, larded with later singles where their growing skills cancelled out their original fierceness. Then they put it all together on their third album, the double-LP London Calling, where their fury had sharpened into 19 diamond-tipped songs. They followed with the even more expansive triple-LP Sandinista before collapsing. Since then they've undergone every kind of catalog exploitation, with a box set, best-ofs, trivia exploitation, live semi-bootlegs, and now this "Legacy Edition." For this one Sony added a disc of "previously unheard rehearsal sessions including five new songs" and a DVD with a 30-minute documentary and some "home video." The perennial question with expanded editions of classics is whether the extra material is of interest to anyone beyond a tiny clique of obsessives. Ignoring the DVD -- not my business, but I'd never pay a dime for one -- this boils down to "The Vanilla Tapes," which pale against the released cuts, the only marginal exceptions a country song, "Lonesome Me," and a couple of instrumentals that may someday be recycled into mash-ups. Original LP: A+, Vanilla Tapes: B-, Overall: B

Patsy Cline: The Definitive Collection (1956-63 [2004], MCA Nashville). Owen Bradley's reputation as a legendary producer begins and should have ended with Cline. His countrypolitan strings and choral goop are like makeup that looks gorgeous on one star, garish on another, and pointless on a third. Cline's voice could take it, and basked in its glory, but when you listen to her later songs -- even the magnificent "Sweet Dreams" -- you can hear the treatment wearing thin. She became an icon when Jessica Lange played her in Sweet Dreams, and her work has been consistently and confusingly in print ever since. Few singers have been anthologized so completely and so insensitively: look at her pictures and what you'll see isn't Lange -- it's a big-boned, gawky country girl. Listen to her songs and what you'll hear isn't Bradley's soup -- it's an ideal country voice that towers above the arrangements. This is obvious if you search out her live albums -- Live at the Opry and Live at the Cimarron Ballroom. But her studio hits, Bradley and all, were her legend, and this does a fine job of presenting them. She was a singer who could claim "Half as Much" from Hank Williams, "Faded Love" from Bob Wills, "Crazy" from Willie Nelson, "Sweet Dreams" from Don Gibson, "Always" from Irving Berlin. A

Dexter Gordon: Mosaic Select (1978-79 [2004], Mosaic, 3CD). Long Tall Dexter was a major voice on the tenor saxophone as far back as the late '40s. John Coltrane, whose legacy has dominated jazz saxophone ever since his death, started out as a Gordon disciple. Gordon's Blue Note recordings from 1961-65 are his best known: they're all in print, individually as well as boxed, with a fine 2-CD sampler for dabblers. In the early '60s, Gordon left the U.S. for Scandinavia, not returning until the late '70s, when he was greeted as a living legend. At first, Mosaic's 3-CD Select series collected works by relatively obscure Blue Note artists who didn't quite fit their larger box set program: Paul Chambers, Benny Green, Carmell Jones, Dizzy Reece, etc. But for Gordon they stayed clear of his '60s work, settling on these late '70s live sets that Blue Note had released, and soon deleted, as Nights at the Keystone. There are many live Gordon dates in print these days, especially on Denmark's Steeplechase label, and this is very typical -- his magisterial tone, his penchant for quirky quotes, the ever-accommodating and often magical George Cables on piano. A-

The Insect Trust: Hoboken Saturday Night (1970 [2005], Collectors' Choice). The only person I'm aware of who has proclaimed this strange album a masterpiece also annointed himself the Dean of American Rock Critics. The album is so deeply ensconced in Christgavian lore that when I played it for someone who had known the Dean even longer than I have she expressed surprise -- said she had always figured it for an urban legend. I managed to track down a scarce copy sometime back in the '70s, but hadn't made much sense of it. Even today it is sui generis, and only partly a creature of its time. They weren't anywhere near jazz, even though two members played reeds and flutes, and the guy they brought in to play drums on the album was none other than Elvin Jones. They mixed the horns with banjo and steel guitar, took lyrics from Thomas Pynchon and one member's six-year-old son, and featured a singer, Nancy Jeffries, whose in-your-face style anticipated the Waitresses' Patty Donahue. This was eclectic bohemia, postmodern before modernism had given up the ghost. A-

Fela Kuti (Mixed by Chief Xcel): The Underground Spiritual Game (2004, Quannum Projects). Mixed by Chief Xcel of Blackalicious, this skips briskly through a wide range of Fela grooves and chants, the extra things like the airplane-ride-to-Africa cliché adding little more than framing. I prefer the originals, which get to stretch out and breathe a bit. But even if this plays a bit like the Cliff Notes version -- MCA re-released 24 volumes of Fela in 1999-2001, not counting the highly recommended Best Best 2CD sampler -- the grooves and chants cannot be denied. And the framing moves along smartly, proving that we're only beginning to catch up with the Nigerian saxophonist who found black power in Los Angeles. A-

Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: L.A.'s Desert Origins (1993-94 [2004], Matador, 2CD). The tracks on the second disc were unreleased experiments -- some rough drafts for the album or the follow-up Wowie Zowie, often just idea pieces. That they work as well as they do is a tribute to the band's buoyancy. They were the definitive rock group of the mid-'90s, and they did it by taking exceptionally difficult music and making it sound miraculous. The first disc starts with the 42-minute album, then appends B-sides and ephemera like the tail on a kite. The music dips and flutters and soars. And both the album and the excess are so idiosyncratic that it's hard to tell where one ends and the other carries on. A-

Don Pullen: Mosaic Select (1986-90 [2004], Mosaic, 3CD). Pullen had a gimmick: he would turn his hands over and smash out huge clusters of notes with his knuckles. It was the most astonishing sound ever to come out of a piano, and he could play in that mode long enough to take your breath away. But it was less a gimmick than the ultimate example of his unprecedentedly physical attack on the piano. He built up harmonies with explosions of dissonant color and rhythmic complexity, as fast as Art Tatum with his curlicues. But he died in 1995, at 51 neither a shooting star nor a living legend, and his records have vanished from print -- especially the eight he cut for Blue Note from 1986 until his death. This limited edition brings the first four back, squeezed onto three CDs. The first two are quartet albums with r&b-flavored saxophonist George Adams. Both are rousing, especially the first. The next two were trios, where the focus is even more squarely on his piano. He did much more in a short career -- he was perhaps the most interesting organist to emerge since Larry Young, and his later Ode to Life is poignant and moving. But this was the pinnacle of his pianistic power. A

Putumayo Presents: New Orleans (1956-2004 [2005], Putumayo World Music). Trad jazz has gone through four or five major revivals since Louis Armstrong moved beyond it in the late '20s. This is the latest: the official party music of the New Orleans Tourist Board. The earlier revivals wished to return to the purism of polyphonous interplay; this one means mostly to pump up the brass, and has a broad enough sense of tradition to include hometown heroes Armstrong and Louis Prima, whose out-of-period pieces here are like the statues coming to life, and Dr. John, who reprises "Basin Street Blues" in case you didn't get it the first time, and Deacon Jones' hopped up "Going Back to New Orleans" -- a pop song from another great New Orleans tradition, written by Jimmy Liggins in 1950. This time it's just for fun. B+

Jimmy Smith: Retrospective (1956-86 [2004], Blue Note, 4CD). Smith raised the Hammond B-3 organ from a toy to a serious jazz instrument. He pumped up the blues with the organ's churchy sound, then worked out boppish variations at a feverish pace. He was so fast, so versatile, that his records were often attributed to The Incredible Jimmy Smith. Something like Soul Jazz had long existed as an instrumental analog to R&B, but after Smith it morphed, its signature sound Smith's organ. Dozens of organists followed in his footsteps, but for his tenure with Blue Note from 1956 to 1963 he was the undisputed master. Early on he mostly played in trios with guitar and drums, often with Kenny Burrell or Grant Green. As time passed he worked more with horns, most comfortably with Stanley Turrentine -- Back to the Chicken Shack and Prayer Meetin' are definitive Soul Jazz albums. With only one cut after 1963, this just covers his formative period, but he never changed much -- his performance on Joey DeFrancesco's Legacy (Concord), cut shortly before his death, is every bit as true to form. A-

Briefly Noted

  • Rashied Ali & Arthur Rhames: The Dynamic Duo: Remember Trane and Bird (1981 [2004], Ayler, 2CD): John Coltrane died too soon for Ali, the drummer who opened up the final chapter of the Saint's life; Rhames died too soon also, which is one reason you've never heard of the nonpareil street musician, but not before shaking the rafters on these previously unheard tapes. B+
  • Altan: Local Ground (2005, Narada): for 20+ years one of Ireland's most famous groups, I've seen them described as "traditional" and "contemporary" and "fusion" even, but can't begin to tell the difference; fiddle and accordion, guitar and bouzouki, vocals by a fair maid named Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, I'm tempted to call this "typical" or "exemplary" but again I'm unclear on the distinction. B
  • Ruby Braff Trio and Quintet: You Brought a New Kind of Love (2001 [2005], Arbors Jazz): one more time, and why not? he kept the cornet alive from his start in the '50s as a young man with old-fashioned tastes until his death in 2003, recording a vast catalog of albums; this one may be a tad more sentimental than most, as befits a living legend nearing the end of his run. B+
  • Cabaret Voltaire: The Original Sound of Sheffield '83/'87: The Best of the Virgin/EMI Years (1983-87 [2003], Superfecta): their proto-industrial mutated to post-disco, picking up a groove to go with the clangs, sometimes two as in the awesome "I Want You." A
  • Kate Campbell: Songs From the Levee (1995 [2004], Compadre): her first album, remastered with bonus alternates of songs likely to show up on a genuine best-of -- "A Cotton Field Away," "Trains Don't Run From Nashville," "Bury Me in Bluegrass," but not the one extolling the comforts of "Jerusalem Inn." B+
  • Kate Campbell: Sing Me Out (2004, Compadre): a second helping of rerecordings from her second through fourth albums, plus one new one called "Would You Be a Parson"; thematically they reflect a world tied to the church -- perhaps her father's church -- all the way down to the "Funeral Food." B+
  • The Essential David Allan Coe (1974-86 [2004], Columbia/Legacy): his name-dropping got so desperate he once stooped to claiming to "sound a lot like David Allan Coe"; his ambitions were so low he's probably as surprised as anyone to have become a star, and his accomplishments, like "the perfect country and western song" so low that he's in a class of one; I could complain about this being inconsistent, but that's just one more joke. B+
  • The Essential Rodney Crowell (1981-2004 [2004], Columbia/Legacy): like one-time wife Rosanne Cash, a singer-songwriter certified country more by pedigree than commitment, which isn't to deny that his country moves work best; this spans a 25-year career on five labels, but still cuts corners. B+
  • Dub Syndicate: Pure Thrillseekers (2005, Shanachie): guests from Gregory Isaacs to Luciano give it up to Adrian Sherwood's dub laboratory, yielding an impeccable and timeless and ultimately rather anonymous entourage of dub effects; in other words, a perfect album. B+
  • Mongezi Feza: Free Jam (1972 [2004], Ayler, 2CD): at last the South African trumpeter, who went into exile with Chris McGregor and distinguished Robert Wyatt's marvelous Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard before his sad, premature death, gets something in the catalog under his own name; backed by Okay Temiz and Bernt Rosengren's quartet this is very free, loose, and noisy, typical of the anarchic avant-garde that flowered in Europe in the early '70s, which means that it depends on its own energy and good cheer to succeed -- which it delivers. B+
  • Al Green: Explores Your Mind (1974 [2004], The Right Stuff/Hi): no bait cuts, leaving the slightest of his early '70s masterpieces feeling skimpier than ever; I remember hearing this in a store, recognizing that it wouldn't be one of his best, and buying it anyway, unable to resist the allure of his voice; then I found "Take Me to the River" on it. A-
  • Al Green: Call Me (1973 [2004], The Right Stuff/Hi): no bait cuts, leaving the greatest of Green's early '70s masterpieces perfect, like it always was. A+
  • Herbie Hancock: The Piano (1978 [2004], Columbia/Legacy): solo piano, cut direct-to-disk, capturing the beauty of his instrument and his own playing; on the other hand, where most solo albums by major pianists help to clarify their individuality, Hancock's subtlety leaves me unenlightened; a major jazz artist in group settings, but less so as a solo performer. B
  • Herbie Hancock: V.S.O.P.: Live Under the Sky (1979 [2004], Columbia/Legacy): not great jazz, but these live-in-Tokyo sets are still fun; after all, great jazz musicians can fake it at the drop of a hat, and all five superstars have their moments, especially Ron Carter and Tony Williams; the second set is previously unreleased, repeating the same set list to more scattered effect. B+
  • Andrew Hill: Dance With Death (1968 [2004], Blue Note): unreleased until 1980, soon out of print, this is a fitting successor to Hill's early Blue Notes, with an underrated and fascinating front line, Charles Tolliver and Joe Farrell. A-
  • Bobby Hutcherson: Now! (1969-77 [2004], Blue Note): the earlier pieces have lyrics and vocals by Gene McDaniels plus backing chorus, a silly mix of hipster crooning and black power, only intermittently relieved by Harold Land's tenor sax; the later pieces revive the earlier ones with no vocals but the supremely unswinging L.A. Philharmonic; buried deep are patches of brilliant vibes play and some fascinating rhythm. B-
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the Strings of the English Chamber Orchestra: No Boundaries (2004, Gallo/Heads Up): this sounds uncommonly pretty at first, but the strings are standard issue euroclassical and by the end they've sucked the life blood from this marvelous mbube choir; let's hope they recover. B-
  • Lif Up Yuh Leg an Trample ([2004], Honest Jons): sizzling soca from Trinidad's Carnival; one cranes for the words over the beats, but only Maximus Dan seems to be up on the news. B+
  • Boban Markovic Orkestar: Boban I Marko (2003, Piranha): Serbian brass, out of the same folk roots as jazzman Dusko Goykovich, but more intent on rousing the locals than wowing the beboppers. A-
  • María Márquez: Nature's Princess/Princesa de la Natura (2003 [2004], Adventure Music): Venezuelan singer, now based on Oakland CA; the music has an unfamiliar, non-specific latin feel to it, evenly paced and wrapped in lush arrangements, but it is her voice (sharp, almost arch) that you will love or hate; I'm only starting to get used to it. B
  • Juan Martin: Camino Latino (2001-02, Flamencovision): sharply stung flamenco guitar, mostly with handclaps, castanets and other percussion, sometimes with flute or clarinet, on a whirlwind tour of latin song forms, all with the tight focus of an undoubted master. B+
  • The Best of Liza Minnelli (1972-92 [2004], Columbia/Legacy): it's like she jumped into the latter third of her mother's career, then escaped before the end; the classics that highlighted her infrequent movies are throwbacks to forms that were old when they were invented, but she's electrifying except when she's zonked out, and the compilers weeded out the latter. B+
  • Hank Mobley: High Voltage (1967 [2005], Blue Note): the hard bop side of soul jazz, mostly groove pieces flashed with Blue Mitchell's trumpet and Jackie McLean's alto sax, plus a ballad feature for the leader. B+
  • The Best of Jane Olivor (1976-82 [2004], Columbia/Legacy): in another time and place she might have sung opera, but as a pop chanteuse she adores her melodies so much she doesn't realize that the songs are kitsch at best. C
  • Putumayo Presents: Mali (1999-2005, Putumayo World Music): one of the most fertile musical regions of Africa, the distinctive strings and plaintive griots as bare and open as the margins of the Sahara; this is agreeable enough, but lacks star power, and falls well short of the country's heritage. B
  • Putumayo Presents: South Pacific Islands (1997-2002 [2004], Putumayo World Music): contemporary artists from New Zealand, New Guinea, Melanesia, Micronesia, Rapa Nui [Easter Island], doesn't sound like anything I can put my finger on -- not Hawaii, not Okinawa, not Indonesia, not Madagascar; more like generic afropop, which means it's probably been bounced around a few times; upbeat and effusive, tourists probably like it. B
  • Ike Quebec: Heavy Soul (1961 [2005], Blue Note): a tenor saxophonist with a heavy tone, lumbering through vibratoed ballads, but capable of a soaring honk when the pace picks up, which happens when organist Freddie Roach gets up a full head of steam; soul, heavy because that is his right. B+
  • Sam Rivers: Colours (1965 [2004], Blue Note): two lineup changes from Rivers' debut, Fuschia Swing Song, and both hurt: Joe Chambers replaces Tony Williams on drums, and Freddie Hubbard crowds Rivers up front; the result is accessible hard bop instead of robust, prodding avant-garde, although sometimes Rivers breaks through; then again sometimes Rivers plays flute. B+
  • Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali: Day of Colours (2004, RealWorld): Pakistan's post-Nusrat new wave, actually two nephews of the master, sounding rather old wave this time, which means they're learning to trust their voices to reach Allah, as opposed to using electronics to reach the dance floor. B+
  • The Rose & the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad (1927-2004 [2004], Columbia/Legacy): separated from the makework book edited by Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus, the classics and timid remakes don't cohere into anything more than a necrophilia, as if American history has nothing to recall but corpses. B-
  • Putumayo Presents: Kermit Ruffins (1992-2002 [2005], Putumayo World Music): the world according to Louis Armstrong is all this hometowner needs or wants; his "Ain't Misbehavin'" is textbook, while "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" and "When My Dream Boat Comes Home" are cornier and more foursquare than anything Pops did after he left King Oliver, not to mention more inspirational. B+
  • Horace Silver: The United States of Mind (1970-72 [2004], Blue Note, 2CD): he always sounds like he's just come from church, but this time he brought the choir with him, preaching and signifying, hell bent on raising the race not to mention the rafters; focus on the words and you're bound to lose faith, but your ass knows better. B+
  • Stuff Smith: Cat on a Hot Fiddle (1959 [2004], Verve): the great swing fiddler on a mostly Gershwin program, backed by piano-bass-drums, nothing to it. B+
  • Bettye Swann (1968-70 [2004], Honest Jons): another obscure late-'60s soul singer following in the wake of this label's Candi Staton archival dig; she isn't an earthshaking singer, but she satisfies those craving for more -- at least until the ideas thin out. B+
  • Trouble Funk: Live/Early Singles (1980-82 [2004], 2.3.61, 2CD): pure party funk from D.C.'s early "go-go" scene -- nothing but non-stop bass and synth riffs, quotes from anything that enters their minds (cartoons, "Planet Rock," teevee shows, JB . . . lots of JB); you expect someone to jump in and yell "ain't nothing' but a party, y'all" -- but they're not self-conscious enough for that. A-
  • Two Siberians: Out of Nowhere (2005, Heads Up): two guys with Russian names and plugged-in violin/guitar, from Irkutsk, a sizable outpost on the rail line near Lake Baikal -- not as nowhere as Siberia gets; sounds like Russian folk-rock, mostly instrumental, with guest appearances by Donald Byron and Michael Brecker. B+
  • Joe Williams: Havin' a Good Time (1965 [2005], Hyena): smooth as silk and rich as honey, as usual; with Ben Webster to plush things up even more, and Junior Mance to keep the ball rolling. B+
  • Jack Wilson: Easterly Winds (1967 [2004], Blue Note): hard bop, the leader's piano well grooved, the trio of horns highlighted by Lee Morgan's trumpet; nothing wrong with it, but it reminds me of similar work by Duke Pearson and Horace Parlan, not to mention Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. B
  • Savina Yannatou & Primavera en Salonico: Terra Nostra (2001 [2003], ECM): recorded live in Athens, an excuse to play their Eurasian, or in one case Guadeloupean, fringe folk upbeat; Yannatou is a pure soprano, giving this an arcane churchy feel, but that may just be a kneejerk reaction. B
  • Savina Yannatou & Primavera en Salonico: Sumiglia (2004 [2005], ECM): traditional folk songs from a narrow universe centered on Greece, extending west to Spain, north to Moldavia, east to Armenia, south to Palestine, a geography almost united by the Ottomans, or perhaps the Sephardim; the instrumentation strikes me as Turkish (accordion, oud, violin, nay), the sensibility modern, but the past remains inescapable. B+



Copyright © 2005 Tom Hull.