A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: December, 2005

Recycled Goods (#26)

by Tom Hull

The preponderance of jazz in the Briefly Noted has become an occupational hazzard: I just get more jazz than anything else, and spent almost all of November sifting through the jazz piles for the Jazz Consumer Guide column I write for the Village Voice. Given how much new jazz there is to write about, I'm tending more and more to only review new releases in the Voice and slip all the reissues into Recycled Goods. The top section is more evenly distributed, in part because I held some of the jazz back. The best of the hold-backs is Art Pepper's Winter Moon -- the most sublimely beautiful sax-with-strings album ever made.


Cameo Parkway 1957-1967 (1956-67 [2005], Abkco, 4CD). Bernie Lowe's label scored over 100 chart singles during its decade, but the most striking thing about this 115-song collection is how much it all sounds like something else. This is partly because Allen Klein, who picked up the defunct label in 1968, has been sitting on it all this time. But it's mostly because Lowe, lyricist Kal Mann, and producer Dave Appell were masters of derivation. They didn't specialize either: they did big band swing, crooners, teen idols, doo-wop, rockabilly, girl group, dance anthems, folkies, mariachi, cowboy, bubblegum, punk, spoken word novelties, you name it. Typical is the label's biggest star: named for his Fats Domino impression, Chubby Checker took Hank Ballard's "The Twist" to the top of the charts -- twice, not counting its derivatives and variants. Checker's heyday was the label's prime, in large part because the doo-wop and girl groups and dance crazes were such maleable formulae. The label faded fast when the Brits invaded and Motown crested, and Lowe sold out in 1965. The final third here is only sporadically interesting, with novelties like Senator Bobby's "Wild Thing" prevailing before Neil Bogart discovered Cameo Parkway's last #1 hit in Flint, "96 Tears," setting off a regional search that netted Bob Seger's James Brown impersonation on "Sock It to Me Santa." One could argue that there's a real good album buried somewhere in this mess, but historians of a certain age and temperament will be delighted to have it all. (I, for one, am thrilled to hear "Wolverton Mountain" again.) On the other hand, youngsters and prudes and the supercilious will be dismayed. Those were the days when popular culture was meant to be trashy. B+

The Very Best of Rosanne Cash (1979-2003 [2005], Columbia/Legacy). Nepotism was suddenly fashionable in the election year of Bush vs. Gore, but after Eugene Scalia and Michael Powell, not to mention GWB, a backlash is overdue. But while Rosanne benefitted from her dad's experience and connections, not to mention branding, but she had her own sound early -- she hopped from country to pop without wasting a minute on countrypolitan -- and developed into a thoughtful songwriter. Her albums from 1985's Rhythm and Romance through 1993's The Wheel are as well crafted and smartly observed as anyone's, and Rules of Travel lost very little despite the ten year gap. As with most album artists, a best-of that skips lightly around two decades of work misses as much as it hits. But having proved her independence, she welcomes her father back for a guest duet. A-

John Fogerty: The Long Road Home (1969-2005 [2005], Fantasy). The first fruit of Fogerty's reconciliation with Fantasy Records is that he gets his early records back, and that stabilizes a career retrospective that would be skimpy otherwise. The numbers tell the story: sixteen Creedence Clearwater Revival songs, including two new remakes, vs. nine post-Creedence songs, again including two new remakes. Still, they're all written by Fogerty, all of a piece. The biggest surprise for me are remakes of two songs from Fogerty's eponymous 1975 album -- I missed that one, but know the songs well from other artists, never realizing that what sounded like vintage rock and roll classics had been penned by the man whose every new song back in 1969-70 sounded like a long-lost timeless classic. The difference between the old songs and the live remakes is sonic: the old ones sound more relaxed, weary even, and thinner, while the remakes are more immediate and urgent. The post-Creedence songs fit in -- he's not a guy who's evolved much. So I wouldn't recommend this over a superb Creedence collection like Chronicle, but not by much. A

Global Hip Hop: Beats and Rhymes -- The No World Culture (1998-2003 [2005], Manteca). Suppose you have no command of English but want to pull together a globe-straddling hip-hop compilation: you'll probably want something by Run-DMC, but you'll probably pick something like "Rock Box," with its overwhelming musical force, over "Sucker M.C.'s," which hangs on words you can't grok anyway. That's basically why this collection doesn't sound much like hip-hop at first: rap is a music of words, but words are trapped in languages that don't travel well. Beats, on the other hand, travel fine, so they predominate here. But again, these are rarely the beats we associate with domestic hip-hop: they are local beats, in this case from India and Lebanon, from Mexico and Chile and Brazil, from Senegal and Tanzania and South Africa, from Greece. So if the words are impenetrable and the beats are eclectic, what holds this together? The attitude, the fresh attack on all forms of folk and pop orthodoxy. As the Sona Family puts it in one of the few lyrics I do get, "go crazy." A-

Andrew Hill: Andrew!!! (1964 [2005], Blue Note). Bobby Hutcherson!! John Gilmore! That's roughly the pecking order here, with Richard Davis and Joe Chambers rounding out the quintet. Blue Note founder Alfred Lion recognized in Hill a successor to Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols and recorded him extensively from 1963-70, but the records were erratically released -- this one didn't appear until 1968, many of the later sessions have only appeared recently, and many more are still out of print. After 1970, Hill mostly recorded obscure solo and trio sessions for European labels before returning to the limelight with larger groups since 1999's Dusk (Palmetto). This quintet fits somewhere between his small and large group moves: Hutcherson's vibes reinforce the angularity of Hill's piano, while Gilmore's single horn riffs along, again leaving the piano central. These dynamics make this an exceptional record for focusing on Hill's art. A-

Bob Marley & the Wailers: Africa Unite: The Singles Collection (1970-80 [2005], Island/Chronicles): For many Marley not only is reggae, he's all that reggae is -- quite an accomplishment for a guy who died at 36. The discography isn't all that complicated: he cut his first song as a teenager for Leslie Kong, joined Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingston, and others to form the Wailers, and recorded for Coxsone Dodd's Studio One from 1963-66. The group split, then reformed in 1968, working with Lee Perry's Upsetters. They moved to Tuff Gong in 1971, then signed with Chris Blackwell's Island Records for U.K. and U.S. distribution. Island released ten Bob Marley & the Wailers albums, and those are the ones he's known for. The overwhelming majority of 300-plus Marley albums in print are redundant compilations of his '60s work, which with few exceptions can safely be ignored. It's safe to say that had Marley died before Catch a Fire came out in 1973, he'd be less famous today than Alton Ellis. Even within the Island series Marley's fame lagged his accomplishments. The two Wailers albums with Tosh and Livingston were extraordinary, and the first solo album, Natty Dread (1974) was even better, but his first U.S. hit was the relatively lackluster Rastaman Vibration (1976). The rest of the studio albums were solid or better -- the weak link was the second live album, but the first was a revelation, demonstrating that one thing that made Marley unique was his ability to transplant reggae into the arenas of Babylon. When Marley died in 1981, his acclaim kept growing. A posthumous scraps album appeared in 1983 with a fine single, "Buffalo Soldier," then a canonical collection of U.K. singles, Legend, appeared in 1984. Subsequent efforts to compile him, including the Songs of Freedom box, never added much. But the endless search for more product gives us another singles-based collection, duplicating 12 of Legend's 14 or 16 cuts. The bait includes four pre-Island singles (available on Trojan's Trenchtown Rock anthology), an outtake from 1979, and two remixes -- none of which improve on the missing "Redemption Song." So this is redundant and mostly superfluous, but what else is new? A-

Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane: At Carnegie Hall (1957 [2005], Blue Note): Small world it was back in 1957. The program for Carnegie Hall's Thanksgiving Jazz concert -- two shows, top-priced tickets going for $3.95 -- lists a few other folks you might like to hear: Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker with Zoot Sims, Sonny Rollins ("introducing in concert the brilliant"), and "special attraction" Ray Charles. But Monk's two sets add up to 51:35, and satisfy our craving to hear something more substantial from his short-lived, rarely recorded Coltrane quartet than that cruddy-sounding Five Spot tape that was acclaimed as Discovery! back in 1993. It turns out that the concert was recorded by Voice of America for overseas broadcast, but the tapes have languished ever since in the Library of Congress vaults until Larry Appelbaum made his discovery. The sound is fine. Monk engages quickly, but Coltrane is revelatory, especially on the one non-Monk tune where he kicks everything up a gear, then sustains that level to the end. A

The Essential Tito Puente (1949-63 [2005], RCA/Legacy, 2CD). A Puerto Rican from Spanish Harlem, Puente took over the drum kit in Machito's Afro-Cuban band when he was 19, and a decade later was running his own band, garnering plaudits like "the king of mambo," or just El Rey. He played anything you can hit with a stick or mallet, but was best known for timbales -- a kit with two tuneable drums, cowbells and cymbals. He recorded more than one hundred albums, working steadily up to his death in 2000, but his classic recordings date from the '50s, when he as much as created the craze for mambo and cha-cha. His bands were huge, the brass driving home every point, the complex percussion flat out racing. My appetite for salsa, which roughly speaking is the next generation beyond Puente and Machito, has long been limited by its slick overkill, but for once the title here is right: this is essential. A-

Papa Wemba: 1977-1997 ([2004], Stern's Africa, 2CD). A flamboyant singer, Wemba has been a major figure in the evolution of Congo's rhumba/soukous guitar pop since the early '70s. He was a founder of Zaiko Langa Langa, later the leader of Viva La Musica, with dozens of albums under his own and/or his groups' names -- only a couple easy to find hereabouts. I doubt that two hours over twenty years does more than scratch the surface -- note that the first disc, starting with six songs culled from 7-inch vinyl, only makes it to 1983, and the balance pulls no more than one song per album, missing all but one of the half-dozen albums I'm familiar with. The exception is a great one from 1986, L'Esclave. A

Briefly Noted

  • Aesop Rock: Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives (2005, Definitive Jux): the underground rapper's record is new, but considered to be an EP, clocking in at 30:45; the packaging introduces a new gimmick in recycling: an 88-page booklet with the lyrics to this and four previous releases; the EP is par for the course, deft beats and a firehose torrent of words. B+
  • Albert Ayler: New Grass (1968 [2005], Impulse): girlfriend Mary Maria Parks takes the horn by the balls and cuts loose with a raucous r&b record; the saxophonist offers some old-fashioned honking, but mostly reverts to form, juxtaposing his usual plaintive, tortured search against the certainty of Pretty Purdie's drums. B+
  • Gato Barbieri: Chapter Four: Alive in New York (1975 [2005], Impulse): like many live performances, this one picks up speed as it progresses, eventually delivering on its Coltrane to cha-cha-cha promises; like many live performances, it's also thinner sounding than its studio predecessors. B+
  • Brandy: The Best of Brandy (1994-2004 [2005], Atlantic): Debuted at 15; 10 years later she has four albums and a convenient profit-taking best-of; strikes me as ordinary progress from ingenue to property, both producer-heavy, with the usual kit bag employed for the usual results. B
  • Kenny Burrell: Prestige Profiles (1956-63 [2005], Prestige): an important bop guitarist, but even when he headlined albums he usually gave way to whoever else Prestige lined up for the date -- even in selecting for his solos we wind up with a lot of piano solos (Tommy Flanagan, Mal Waldron), saxophones (Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane), trumpets (Donald Byrd, Idrees Sulieman), even flute (Jerome Richardson), so the focus is weak, but as a late-'50s smorgasbord there is much to taste. B+
  • The Very Best of Canned Heat (1967-73 [2005], Capitol): the most devoted of America's blues rock bands back in the day when American rockers were just discovering the blues locked away in their closets; two freak hits from 1968, three cuts from Monterey Pop in 1967, two cuts from best album Future Blues, three cuts from the period when Bob Hite tried to carry on after Alan Wilson died, one with Little Richard. B+
  • Rosanne Cash: Seven Year Ache (1981 [2005], Columbia/Legacy): second album, title song her first great one, enough pedal steel to pass as country, as if her name wasn't pass enough; good sign that her songs are the best things here; not so good sign that she only wrote two of them, but Nashville ways die hard. B+
  • Rosanne Cash: King's Record Shop (1987 [2005], Columbia/Legacy): three albums later, she's still only up to three originals; good ones, natch, but she's picking them better than ever -- "Rosie Strike Back," "The Way We Make a Broken Heart," "Runaway Train," "Tennessee Flat Top Box"; still, the title memorializes an old record store, so maybe that's concept. A-
  • Rosanne Cash: Interiors (1990 [2005], Columbia/Legacy): this time she wrote or got first credit on all ten songs, while soon-to-be ex-husband Rodney Crowell is down to one co-credit and a bit vocal; the two songs featured on Very Best don't stand out, everything else as sharply observed and finely drawn; one song claims "no one gets past these eyes to the truth" -- still a critic fingered this as a divorce album, which was right but it's more. A
  • Don Cherry: Where Is Brooklyn? (1966 [2005], Blue Note): after his apprenticeship with Ornette Coleman, after two ambitious large band projects, this is a rough edged, bare bones blowing session, with Pharoah Sanders bringing on the noise, and Ed Blackwell dicing up the rhythm; long out of print, this is a missing link in Cherry's discography -- an update of The Avant Garde, his 1960 meeting with Coltrane; a prequel to Mu, his 1969 duets with Blackwell. A-
  • David Allan Coe: Penitentiary Blues (1970 [2005], Hacktone): first album, more or less, by the guy who went on to sing the perfect country song, but these are basic blues, presumably written in jail; short, derivative -- reminds me of the Animals here, Clapton there, both pretty derivative too -- but his cackle and perverse sense of humor were original. B
  • John Coltrane: One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note (1965 [2005], Impulse, 2CD): radio broadcast tapes, long circulated as bootlegs, finally cleaned up for an official release; the group is the famous McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones quartet, but near the end of their run, with Coltrane ready to head off for other dimensions; worthwhile, of course, but not as fresh as some of the earlier live material, of which there is quite a lot. B+
  • The Red Garland Quintets: Prestige Profiles (1957-61 [2005], Prestige): featuring John Coltrane, noted on the cover, and Donald Byrd, not noted, except for one cut with Richard Williams and Oliver Nelson up front; trumpet-sax-piano-bass-drums is the classic bebop quintet lineup, a point made all too obvious by starting with "Billie's Bounce"; best thing here is Garland's own "Soul Junction," with a long intro that lets you enjoy the piano before Coltrane enters like he's easing into a warm bath. B+
  • Dexter Gordon: Daddy Plays the Horn (1955 [2005], Shout! Factory): between drugs and busts, bebop's first major tenor saxophonist recorded little in the mid-'50s; this exception shows that it had nothing to do with his skills -- the big tone, the powerful swing, his wit and demeanor are all evident, as is Kenny Drew's redoubtable piano. A-
  • Elmo Hope: Trio and Quintet (1953-57 [2005], Blue Note): two 10-inch LPs -- one a trio, the other a quintet with Freeman Lee on trumpet and Frank Foster on tenor sax -- plus three tracks from a later quintet with Stu Williamson and Harold Land; Hope was a fine bebop pianist, best heard on the sparkling trios, but interesting throughout, even when he takes a back seat to Foster's swinging leads. B+
  • Lightnin' Hopkins: Prestige Profiles (1960-64 [2005], Prestige): the first and thus far only artist on Prestige's Bluesville label to be included in this series; past his prime, but while he changed with the fashions, he never changed much, and age just sharpened his features; prolific as always -- this reduces a 7-CD box, but doesn't improve it much. B+
  • Yusef Lateef: Psychicemotus (1965 [2005], Impulse): there is something odd about Lateef's world music -- in some ways he's ahead of the times, but in others it feels like he found his exotica in old National Geographics; here he hops about the globe from flute to bamboo flute, never settling anywhere long enough to get comfortable, neglecting the tenor sax which is his true calling. B
  • Hugh Masekela: Revival (2005, Heads Up): South Africa's most famous jazz trumpeter returns home to a scene run amok with kwaito -- South Africa's take on hip-hop -- and works through his own twist on South African r&b, singing most of the songs, although I find his trumpet even tastier. B+
  • Jackie McLean: Consequence (1965 [2005], Blue Note): from a period when McLean more often leaned avant, but this is a straight hard bop bowing session, starting with one called "Bluesanova" -- more blues than nova; minor in terms of the leader, but fans of Lee Morgan and Harold Mabern will be pleased. B+
  • Blue Mitchell: Down With It! (1965 [2005], Blue Note): lightweight but a terrific hard bop set -- Al Foster and Gene Taylor keep the pot bubbling, young Chick Corea has some fine stretches on piano, journeyman Junior Cook muscles up on tenor sax, and Mitchell's trumpet is clear and bright. A-
  • Derrick Morgan: Moon Hop: Best of the Early Years (1960-69 [2003], Trojan/Sanctuary, 2CD): these days the ska star is known for two songs: "Forward March," which deserves to be Jamaica's national anthem, and "Tougher Than Tough," which leant its name to the canonical anthology of Jamaican music; nothing else here matches either, but you get plenty of context and choice filler. B+
  • Oliver Nelson's Big Band: Live From Los Angeles (1967 [2005], Impulse): your basic big band brass orgy -- four trumpets, four trombones, six saxes (including Nelson's soprano), piano, guitar, bass, drums -- staffed by west coast stalwarts who checked their cool at the door; not much of a swingfest, but the brass pyrotechnics are thrilling. B+
  • Ol' Dirty Bastard: The Definitive Ol' Dirty Bastard Story (1995-99, Elektra/Rhino): two albums, three low chart singles, no real hits, but famous enough for his Wu-Tang connection, rap sheet, and death two days short of his 36th birthday that this is his second best-of, complete with DVD of his three crappy videos; he was a comic, a scam artist, an attitude with no superego, such a fuckup his death came as a relief, but the pieces here are solid popwise, and not just when RZA or the Neptunes were on hand to bait his hook. B+
  • Evan Parker: The Ayes Have It (1983-91 [2001], Emanem): starts with four trio exercises from 1983 with Parker spinning out elegantly abstract saxophone runs; concludes with a 36-minute quartet piece, with Walter Wierbos' trombone power for counterpoint; Parker's discography runs over 200 albums, of which I've heard maybe a score, so I'm no expert, but this one lives up to his rep as one of the most formidable improvisers of our times. A-
  • The Best of Tito Puente (20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection) (1991-99 [2005], Hip-O): well down the road -- the first of the RMM albums sampled here was called The Mambo King: His 100th Album, and the last was cut a year before he died at age 77; the live "Oyo Como Va" at the end has seen better days, but everything else is typically bright and sprightly. B+
  • Pharoah Sanders: Elevation (1973 [2005], Impulse): the title piece is an 18-minute rough retread of "A Love Supreme"; the second side opens with infectious Nigerian juju, with Sanders singing instead of blowing; Joe Bonner's piano is central, but this wanders a lot, swamping everything in psychedelic percussion. B-
  • Luciana Souza: Duos II (2005, Sunnyside): the fine art of Brazilian song, just gentle guitar and slinky, seductive voice; the guitarists include Romero Lubambo and Marco Pereira, names worth remembering. B+
  • Studio One Women (1966-81 [2005], Soul Jazz): ten (or more) albums into in Soul Jazz's Studio One series, this may be no more than a way of grouping obscurities that didn't make it into any of the extant categories -- Ska, Roots, Rockers, Scorchers, Funk, etc. B+
  • Gabor Szabo: Spellbinder (1966 [2005], Impulse): a jazz guitarist from Hungary, offers clean metallic picking over the latin beats of Willie Bobo and Victor Pantoja, with Ron Carter and Chico Hamilton steadying the light swing; his deadpan "Bang Bang" vocal works as a novelty. B+
  • Stanley Turrentine: That's Where It's At (1962 [2005], Blue Note): Mr. T's robust tenor is in full swing, especially when pianist Les McCann picks up the pace, which is most of the time; on the other hand, the ballads drag a bit compared to T's more typical organ-based soul jazz, but not enough to dampen spirits. B+
  • Johnny "Guitar" Watson: The Funk Anthology (1976-94 [2005], Shout! Factory): a minor bluesman from the '50s, Watson got a second wind in the late '70s with a series of cheesy light funk albums, almost as transparent as the jokes on the album covers: e.g., Ain't That a Bitch showed him stretching out on a couch with a gorgeous Afghan Hound while two babes are curled up on the floor. B
  • Michael White: The Land of Spirit and Light (1973 [2005], Impulse): a clash of styles, with White's violin weaving between Bob King's guitar and Prince Lasha's woodwinds and various percussionists, achieving a form of world fusion rooted in no place in particular; it gets most interesting when Cecil McBee's bass picks up the groove and the odds and ends flow together. B+
  • Legend of the Wu-Tang: Wu-Tang Clan's Greatest Hits (1983-2001 [2004], BMG Heritage): starts with seven cuts from their first and best album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), before they metastasized into a holding company of solo artists; subsequent albums, as RZA stayed on to manage the farm, yield 4, 2, and 1 cut, respectively, diminishing returns but consistent enough; the beats thud, the murk oozes, the chants turn into mantras -- "ain't nuthing ta f' wit" indeed. A-
  • Zucchero: Zucchero & Co. (1988-2003 [2005], Concord/Hear Music): having made a mint off Ray Charles duets, Starbucks searches high and low for more cross-marketing, finding Adelmo Fornaciari mixing it up with everyone from John Lee Hooker to Luciano Pavarotti in the sort of trans-world kitsch that is everywhere and native to nowhere, much like Starbucks. C-

Additional Consumer News

I haven't heard these recent reissues in their latest packaging, but I know them from previous editions. Some may have extra tracks, which usually don't help much, but don't hurt much either. Grades are from previous editions: caveat emptor.

  • The Drive-By Truckers: Pizza Deliverance (1999 [2005], New West): seems crude, or raw anyhow, compared to the albums that followed, but this was the first hint -- first one I noticed, anyhow -- that southern rock could survive Lynyrd Skynyrd's plane crash. A-
  • Andrew Hill: Judgment! (1964 [2005], Blue Note): quartet with Bobby Hutcherson's vibes shadowing the pianist, similar to Andrew!!!, but without the complementary horn the focus on Hill is if anything sharper. B+
  • Bobby Hutcherson: Oblique (1967 [2005], Blue Note): also a piano-vibes quartet, with Herbie Hancock especially loquacious in the piano chair; one of Hutcherson's finest albums. A-
  • Freddie Redd Quartet With Jackie McLean: Music From "The Connection" (1960 [2005], Blue Note): one of the great jazz soundtrack albums; Redd was a fine bebop pianist in rare form, but McLean is the star, and this is a key item in his discography. A-

Lead-in:

In an infinite universe, all the music you'll ever need already exists somewhere. We find more each month: vintage rock (John Fogerty), profitable pop (Cameo Parkway), jazz masters (Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Andrew Hill, Don Cherry), mambo (Tito Puente), rhumba (Papa Wemba), country royalty (Rosanne Cash), many more (46 records).


Copyright 2005 Tom Hull.