A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: July, 2005

Recycled Goods (#21)

by Tom Hull

Five more/less world music titles in the top section, a big bump from the usual one or two. Four of the remaining five are more/less jazz, not that they started out that way. Over the long haul these fluctuations should even out, although the backlog continues to look like jazz and more jazz. Speaking of which, the second "In Series" takes a look at a series of reissues from a French avant-garde label called America -- a series every bit as unheard as Atavistic's Unheard Music Series. Also note that some very good records lurk under Briefly Noted.

African Underground Vol. 1: Hip-Hop Senegal (2001-03 [2004], Nomadic Wax). Benny Herson, who created this "Soundbombing of Senegal" tape following up a thesis he wrote at Hampshire College, contrasts the social conscience and political activism of Senegalese hip-hoppers to the crass materialism of their apolitical American counterparts. Still, Herson's liner notes are more explicit than anything I can gather from the raps -- the ones in English and French anyway (Wolof just sounds like Wolof to me). But what I do hear is a slightly Africanized funk supporting the rappers, not much different than what you can find elsewhere. Although Senegal may be more saturated than most places, it's the point in Africa closest to America, and has in the past been the first part of Africa to cycle Afro-American musics back. Salsa is the most famous example, but hip-hop looks to be the future. A-

Bebo & Cigala: Lágrimas Negras (2002 [2003], Calle 54/Bluebird). Cigala is Spanish flamenco singer Dieguito "El Cigala" -- his voice is somewhere between hoarse and a whisper, yet he can modulate it to convey intense emotion, and his ability to sing within such vocal limits reminds me of no one so much as Louis Armstrong. Bebo is octogenarian Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés, an elegant and appreciative accompanist. Flamencoists Israel Porrina "Piraña" and El Niño Josele add cajón and guitar, and there is a bit of fiddle; Cuban Paquito D'Rivera joins on the title cut with particularly lovely also sax. A-

James Chance: Sax Education (1978-88, Tiger Style, 2CD). The combination of Chance's thin, skronky alto sax with August Darnell's disco beats sounds like state-of-the-art jazztronica but dates from a quarter of a century ago. At the time, Chance's idea was to follow CBGB new wave with something weirder -- a James Brown beat damaged in the larceny; sharp, whiney, yelping proto-punk vocals; toy keybs, guitar drone, girlie choruses. Not sure if it was meant as comedy, but it is: a lot funnier in reality than the idea of Albert Ayler playing disco-punk fusion. First disc contains "the hits"; second is a concert, so he gets to play the hits again. A-

Graham Collier: Workpoints (1968-75 [2005], Cuneiform, 2CD). The British never paid bebop much heed. Well into the '60s British jazz was dominated by the trad jazz movement -- Ken Colyer, Humphrey Lyttelton, Chris Barber, Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball. Then in the late '60s Britain developed a distinctive avant-garde culture, built as much on the ideas of ultramodernists like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Cornelius Cardew and the suddenly expanding vistas of art rock as on anything in the jazz tradition -- least of all bebop. (The few exceptions to the no-bop rule included Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott, remembered mostly as eccentrics.) These two concerts led by bassist Collier are good examples of the evolution of the new British jazz. The first is a large band -- nine horns, vibes, bass and drums -- working in extended forms, striking in the intricate layering of horns and the muscularity of the rhythm. The other is a sextet, also working long pieces, this time centered around Ed Speight's guitar. In both the composer maintains control while letting the bands work out the details -- a mid-point between the arranger dominance of the classic swing bands and the pure improvisation just around the corner, but not transitional. More like a new foundation for a postclassical European music invigorated by jazz. A-

The Ultimate Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: The Early Years, Vol. 1 (1978-82 [2005], Narada, 2CD). Qawwali is sufi devotional music from Pakistan, a narrowly circumscribed tradition going back hundreds of years, but for the last twenty years dominated by one of the world's great musical forces, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. From the 1970s to his death in 1997 Khan recorded a hundred or more albums -- mostly cassettes, but he emerged as a world music icon in 1990 when RealWorld introduced him through a westernized experiment called Mustt Mustt. Since then those awed by his vocal powers have wondered about the real qawwali and its classical roots. It is no doubt impossible for outsiders to sort out his works: they start with an inevitable sameness, then grow on you almost subliminally. I find that this one sounds better every time I play it, but then so do many others -- is one's enthusiasm simply a function of how many times you play it? These early pieces, typically long from 12 to 29 minutes each, seem a bit more constrained than later work -- the rhythm rigid, the vocals entwined in the group context. That may make this more authentic, or may mean he was only starting to find his way. Still, if this was all we had to choose from, we'd play it enough to be amazed. But this is only the beginning. B+

Konono No. 1: Lubuaku (2003 [2004], Terp). Soukous from Kinshasa, but with the usual slick guitars replaced by electrified likembes, a thumb-piano which at first sounds like dissonant steel pans, and the usual slick vocalists supplanted by intense shout choirs. The sound is so dirty that you suspect a new concept in lo-fi, or a devolution back to the jungle. Sponsored by the Ex -- roughly speaking, Holland's answer to the Mekons -- who arranged a tour and opened. They advise playing it loud, where the energy overwhelms the noise. A-

Annette Peacock: My Mama Never Taught Me How to Cook: The Aura Years (1978-82 [2004], Castle). Married first to Gary Peacock then to Paul Bley, she was more of a gadfly and joker than jazz musician, although Bley and Marilyn Crispell wound up recording whole albums of her songs. She started singing as input into the synthesizers that intrigued her and Bley, then cut several more/less rock albums in the '70s -- two collected here, plus some outtakes -- before fading away, as if she never conceived of anything as deliberate as a career. Still, her "rock shit" sounds remarkably like jazz even today. As a vocalist she's often thin and undisciplined, but she takes enormous dramatic risks with the title cut and her "Don't Be Cruel" cover. Elsewhere, as on "Survival," she lapses into softly rapped philosophizing that draws the music, a repetitive theme with improvised curlicues, up around her like a warm blanket. A

The Essential Pete Seeger (1941-64 [2005], Columbia/Legacy). He wasn't much of a singer, even less of a banjo player. His songs were utterly square, with their well-meaning and principled politics, without a trace of irony or humor, let alone a beat. He called his music "folk" in the naive hope that the folk might bond with it, and he remained steadfast in that belief for over half a century. Still, these fifteen songs are utterly familiar, even if the versions -- most live, some singalongs -- aren't. They are the true gospel music of America's red diaper babies. A-

World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love's a Real Thing (1972-78 [2005], Luaka Bop). African music often takes decades to wash up on American shores. The process is so convoluted and arbitrary that it's impossible to know much about what's really happening in the mother continent from what little shows up here. But there's some reason to think that the '70s, a post-independence high before the worst rot of kleptocracy set in, were something of a golden age of afropop. These twelve cuts come from a swath of West Africa from Cameroun to Gambia. Psychedelia seems to be one of those labels in the deranged minds of beholders -- the two previous volumes featured Os Mutantes and Shuggie Otis -- but the common thread here seems to be a cheesy funk deriving as much from American sources like Sly Stone and the Temptations' own acid trips as native traditions. Ronnie Graham contributes notes, which help but ultimately the music raises more questions than it answers. A-

Larry Young: Of Love and Peace (1966 [2004], Blue Note). Young pushed the Hammond B-3 organ further than any other musician of his era, moving from his early blues albums into new thing territory. His masterpiece was Unity, cut in 1965 with an all-star lineup -- Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, Elvin Jones -- that necessarily tied down all the loose edges. His follow-up had no such constraints: Jones was replaced by two no-name drummers, Henderson by two lesser saxophonists (his steady bandmate George Morgan and the ubiquitous James Spaulding), while Shaw gave way to Eddie Gale, a fiery trumpeter then working with Cecil Taylor. The group pushed Young harder and farther than ever, and he responded with some of the most vigorous organ ever cut -- for three cuts, anyway. The fourth and final, a meditation on Islam called "Falaq," is slow and spacious. A-

In Series

Jazz circa 1970 was in turmoil. Death had started to cut down early stars like Coleman Hawkins (d. 1969) and Louis Armstrong (1971), but also much younger stars like Eric Dolphy (1964), John Coltrane (1967), and Albert Ayler (1970). US labels were floundering, with rock-fusion the only new idea that seemed to have a commercial future. At the same time, jazz was gaining ground in Europe -- for the next 25 years many American jazz musicians found their biggest audiences and especially their labels in Europe (and later in Japan). America Records in Paris was a short-lived label that served as a first stop for the itinerant avant-garde. Universal's French subsidiary reissued the series last year, and Verve has imported small quantities to the U.S. -- an unusual and laudable act for a major label. They've been dressed up handsomely, in abstract art on tri-fold cardboard, with booklets that have been cloned except for a few details.

  • Art Ensemble of Chicago: AEC With Fontella Bass (1970 [2005], Free America/Verve): the gospel singer was meant to pump up the Great Black Music collective with the fear of God; her appearance does indeed hit hard at the start, but soon enough the group's usual Africanized black power moves take over, the music's odd tangents dominating. B+
  • Art Ensemble of Chicago: Certain Blacks (1970 [2005], Free America/Verve): Chicago Beau crashes the party as Exhibit A to "Certain Blacks (Do What They Wanna)" and throws the gang off their game; but they bounce right back with an 11:38 Sonny Boy Williamson jam. B
  • Art Ensemble of Chicago: Phase One (1971 [2005], Free America/Verve): just the five of them, each credited with multiple instruments as well as "etc." -- a lot of percussion gadgetry, but more importantly a sense of limitlessness; both pieces start slow and fart around before ultimately climaxing as the Great Black Music they advertised. A-
  • Paul Bley: Improvisie (1971 [2005], Free America/Verve): Bley sloughs off his strong suit by limiting himself to electric keybs, and then-wife Annette Peacock adds to the synthetic estrangement by doubling on electronics and singing a bit; still, it's interesting in its own right, and Han Bennink's percussions are remarkable. B+
  • Anthony Braxton: Donna Lee (1972 [2005], Free America/Verve): starts with slurred speed-bop, then a patient, open-ended abstract exploration, then two takes on "You Go to My Head" and another original; an early quartet with Michael Smith on piano, a major talent working out fragments of his kit. B+
  • Anthony Braxton: Saxophone Improvisations Series F (1972 [2005], Free America/Verve, 2CD): solo alto saxophone, many series of practice runs work out almost minimalist variations, for the most part lighter and less intense than his For Alto breakout from 1968. B+
  • Dave Burrell: After Love (1970 [2005], Free America/Verve): Alan Silva's cello and violin create a background buzz that quickly moves this music into some other dimension, and Roscoe Mitchell's reeds keep it there, with Burrell's rollicking piano providing the propulsion; second long piece starts with solo fragments before they plug in a beat and pull it back together. A-
  • Emergency: Homage to Peace (1970 [2005], Free America/Verve): pianist Takashi Kako gets a rare quiet spot on "Kako Tune"; otherwise he pounds chords to keep up with Glenn Spearman's saxophone squall and Boulou Ferret's Hendrix-inspired electric guitar. B+
  • Steve Lacy: The Gap (1972 [2005], Free America/Verve): starts scratchy, with both Lacy and Steve Potts on soprano sax and Irene Aebi's cello added to bass and drums, but it levels out a bit with songs dedicated to Johnny Hodges and Sonny Clark. B
  • Roswell Rudd (1965 [2005], Free America/Verve): the great trombonist trades lines with alto saxist John Tchicaï creating a bouncy polyphony that never quite slips into a groove; a radio shot tape, sound quality so-so. B+
  • Archie Shepp: Black Gipsy (1969 [2005], Free America/Verve): sounds thin and whiney at first, with a lot of action from an oddly matched group, the most impressive member violinist Leroy Jenkins; Shepp sticks to soprano sax, never really taking charge, while Chicago Beau crashes the party with a blues shout. B
  • Alan Shorter: Tes Esat (1970 [2005], Free America/Verve): Wayne's trumpeter brother is nominal leader but relatively inaudible as South Africans Gary Windo and Johnny Dyani dominate, the latter working in some mischievous piano as well as his usual bass, the former just noisy. C+
  • Clifford Thornton: The Panther and the Lash (1970 [2005], Free America/Verve): a pan-African ethnomusicologist with an agenda -- his panther song is called "Free Huey" -- Thornton rarely recorded, but when his scattershot cornet and shenai give way to valve trombone the music steadies itself, poignant and powerful. B+
  • Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy: Mal Waldron With the Steve Lacy Quintet (1972 [2005], Free America/Verve): Waldron and Lacy made some fine duet records later, so the problem here is the busy and rather squeaky Quintet, to which Waldron adds some welcome punch. B
  • Frank Wright: Uhuru Na Umoja (1970 [2005], Free America/Verve): double-barrelled heavy blowing, with Noah Howard's alto sax reinforcing Wright's earthshaking tenor, the strategy little more than to knock you down and sweep you away in a tidal wave of high energy and unchecked spirit. B+

Briefly Noted

  • The Howard Alden-Dan Barrett Quintet: Live in '95 (1995 [2004], Arbors): the occasional vocals break the flow without much payoff, but the swinging instrumentals are delightful, with Chuck Wilson's alto sax or clarinet joining Barrett's trombone and Alden's silk smooth guitar holding it all together. B+
  • Amalgam: Prayer for Peace (1969 [2002], FMR): a classic from the early days of the English avant-garde, more due to how tightly it holds together than to the considerable risks the group takes; the sound has amazing presence -- the bass literally hugs you, while the drums ping off your bones and Travor Watts' alto sax cuts straight to your heart; and when they shift from the dirge-like intro to full metal screech the earth moves. A
  • Antibalas: Who Is This America? (2004, Ropeadope): contemporary Afrobeat, straight out of Fela, but Fela's dead, and the beat must go on; like Fela, this wears its politics on the sleeve, but curiously the booklet omits the lyrics to "Pay Back Africa" and "Indictment" -- which could use them the most. A-
  • Marcus Belgrave: Gemini (1974 [2004], Universal Sound): a rare album from the longtime Detroit trumpeter; a powwow, where the Tribe gathers for togetherness and spiritual uplift. B+
  • Tina Brooks: True Blue (1960 [2005], Blue Note): a neglected figure: this was the only Brooks album to appear in his lifetime, and was only briefly available on CD as part of Blue Note's limited edition Connoisseur Series; Brooks played hard bop with uncommon eloquence and grace at all speeds; he's joined here by Freddie Hubbard, young and dazzling. A-
  • Billy Butterfield Joins Andy Bartha: Take Me to the Land of Jazz (1969 [2005], Delmark): average-plus trad jazz from cornettist Bartha with and without Butterfield, a veteran of Bob Crosby's Bobcats -- standard songbook, so-so vocals, hot brass. B
  • Charming Hostess: Sarajevo Blues (2005, Tzadik): Sem Mehmedinovic's poetry is rendered even more arch and surreal by the three singers, who force the balkanized music around the words rather than find the fit; I find it mostly uncharming, the passion of the music flaring rather than calming the madness of war. B-
  • Johnny Coles: Little Johnny C (1963 [2005], Blue Note): extra horns in the front line limit this as a showcase for the leader's trumpet, but it's buoyant hard bop smartly done, and Duke Pearson's piano has a gospel ring to it. B+
  • Cuadernos de Mexico (2004, Winter & Winter, 3CD): Stefan Winter's musical travelogue, not to cut-rate Mexico of NAFTA but to the ancient seat of western civilization, whose modern lineage flows through Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, artists in a vital culture all too aware of its precarious location -- as one leader put it, "so far from God, so close to the United States"; far richer than Winter's snapshot of Cuba (El Último Paraíso), but limited by the tourist's inevitable lack of time. B+
  • Dr. John: The Best of the Parlophone Years (1998-2004 [2005], Blue Note): after his 15 minutes of fame back in the '60s he went back to basics to show us that he had always been a studio pro, earning the right to dabble, to mess around, to coast even, and here to condense four recent records into one about as good as any. B+
  • Yves François: Blues for Hawk (1981-82 [2005], Delmark): easy-going blues-drenched sessions with Chicago legends Franz Jackson and Eddie Johnson joining the then-young trad jazz trumpeter-leader. B+
  • Jerry Gonzalez y los Piratas del Flamenco (2001 [2004], Sunnyside): Bronx trumpeter goes to Madrid to jam on gypsy flamenco, including guitarist Nino Josele and legendary vocalist El Cigala, mixed in with Afro-Cuban percussion; the record came from a rehearsal tape, with most tracks limited to two or three musicians. A-
  • Lama Gyurme & Jean-Philippe Rykiel: The Lama's Chants: Songs of Awakening/Roads of Blessings (1994-2001 [2005], Narada, 2CD): the Tibetan lama's voice is unmusical, hoarse and awkward, and no amount of repetition dispels that impression, although repetition helps; so does Rykiel's minimally gratifying music. B+
  • Amjad Ali Khan: Moksha (2005, RealWorld): in India's classical music tradition Khan is a sixth generation master of the sarod, an instrument that contrasts to the sitar like a mandolin does to a banjo; devotees complain that these 6-12 minute pieces are too short, but I find the melodic variety invigorating, and like that the only accompaniment is percussion -- that's all it needs. A-
  • The Ultimate Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: The Early Years, Vol. 2 (1983-84, Narada, 2CD): if volume one is his baseline, here he makes his move: faster, harder, louder, more ebullient, more exultant, more worldly, more Godly too. A-
  • The Essential Kris Kristofferson (1969-99 [2004], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): the first disc nearly a twofer of his first two albums, mostly good songs, ineptly sung; second disc a mixed bag, but not much past 1975, only five songs past 1979, often with extra singers -- which he needs. B-
  • Loggins & Messina: The Best: Sittin' In Again (1972-74 [2005], Columbia/Legacy): the first four albums yield 8, 5, 3, and 2 songs respectively, while the other two (or four counting the live ones) give us nada; they started off as a post-hippie Simon & Garfunkel, with faux-country and faux-Caribbean gimmicks and a fondness for Beach Boys progressivism -- what is "Vahevala" but "Sail On Sailor" with rhinestones? B
  • Raphé Malik: Last Set: Live at the 1369 Jazz Club (1984 [2004], Boxholder): Cecil Taylor trumpeter Malik dukes it out with saxophonist Frank Wright over Syd Smart drums and amazing William Parker bass; the dominant mode here is joy -- so much fun that Wright tries to sing, so much fun you won't care that he sucks. A-
  • The Only Blip Hop Record You Will Ever Need, Vol. 1 (1996-2002 [2002], Luaka Bop): "Vol. 1" sounds like a hedge, but with no Vol. 2 appearing maybe they're satisfied; these are minimal pieces, herky-jerk beats but little adorned, providing a nice, rather neutral background. B+
  • Evan Parker: The Snake Decides (1986 [2003], Psi): amazing harmonics and modulations within the stark limits of solo soprano saxophone. B+
  • Pharoah's Daughter: Out of the Reeds (2000 [2004], Tzadik): traditional Jewish texts with more/less traditional Jewish music, mostly by guitar/oud player Basya Schechter, but accompanied by many regulars and guests -- most of whom sing, chant, or clap along. B+
  • The Flip Phillips Quartet: Live at the Beowulf (1977-78 [2004], Arbors, 2CD): first disc kicks off swinging like you haven't heard in ages; second disc takes a pair of ballads before sliding back in gear; played with all the swagger you'd expect from a guy who learned to rumble on the JATP bandwagon. B+
  • The Essential Poco (1968-89 [2005], Epic/Legacy): the perils of residualism -- starting with what was left of Buffalo Springfield after the frontline talent left, further depleted when Jim Messina and, later, Richie Furay departed, Poco was a country-rock band that sounded like poor cousins to the Eagles, as shallow but not nearly so vain, if that helps. B-
  • Rank and File: Sundown (1982 [2005], Collectors' Choice): when the failed punk rockers switched to country music the critics inevitably dubbed it cowpunk; actually, it sounds like how the Byrds might have sounded had they gotten poor and gone to seed and woke up with a bad hangover. A-
  • Rank and File: Long Gone Dead (1984 [2005], Collectors' Choice): same attitude, even better songs: one by Lefty Frizzell done fast, the rest originals by Chip and Tony Kinman, every one memorable -- especially the one about John Brown. A
  • Steve Reid: Rhythmatism (1976 [2004], Universal Sound): a drummer who picked up his beat in the studio working for James Brown and Fela Kuti, Reid remains irresistibly snappy even in a free jazz context, but the main reason for noting this reissue of a long-lost album is the alto saxist, a wild and wooly Arthur Blythe in peak form before his major label debut. A-
  • Sonny Sharrock: Black Woman / The Freedom Sounds Featuring Wayne Henderson: People Get Ready (1967-69 [2000], Collectables): an arbitrary twofer; wife Linda decorates most of the former with shrieks and screams, but Sharrock kicks his electric guitar into an Aylerian frenzy while Dave Burrell and Milford Graves keep up and occasionally trump him; Henderson's album is trombone-led run-of-the-mill heavy funk. B+
  • Shirim Klezmer Orchestra: Pincus and the Pig: A Klezmer Tale (2004, Tzadik): "Peter and the Wolf" rendered as klezmer, narrated by Maurice Sendak with copious Yiddish, with each character assigned a distinct instrumental signature; the story is full of wit but a chore to follow; padded out with four instrumental cuts. B
  • Shrimp Boat: Speckly (1989 [2005], Aum Fidelity): the banjo has roots in Earl Scruggs, the soprano sax in John Coltrane, the songs both countryish and jazzy but mostly built in a DIY garage from junk they found in the pop-art dumpster; as their first real album, this is both tighter and less fanciful than their Something Grand trivia box, which seems closer to their lack of aspirations. B+
  • Sonny Stitt: It's Magic (1969 [2005], Delmark): like many of his 300+ albums, this trio with Hammond B3 ace Don Patterson is a quick confection of standards and vamps, but for all the times he's been accused of sounding like Charlie Parker, this time he sounds more like Johnny Hodges. A-
  • John Surman: Way Back When (1969 [2005], Cuneiform): the Beatles haircut and Sgt. Pepper mustache make him look even younger than he was; the electric bass and piano suggest they were thinking of fusion, but Surman goes elsewhere: his soprano sax on the title suite was completely distinctive, and his baritone sax on the balance goes places no one else imagined. A-
  • El Último Paraíso (2001, Winter & Winter): Stefan Winter's souvenirs from Cuba, a range of charming everyday music with little commercial potential and intriguing artwork but not much explication. B



In an infinite universe, all the music you'll ever need already exists somewhere. We find more each month: hip-hop from Senegal, soukous from Congo, psychedelia from West Africa, qawwali from Pakistan, flamenco con salsa, jazz-rock mutants (James Chance, Annette Peacock), folk gospel (Pete Seeger), free jazz in Paris (the Free America series), much more (55 records).

Copyright © 2005 Tom Hull.