A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: September, 2006

Recycled Goods (#35)

by Tom Hull

If there's a theme here it's catalog exploitation. Savoy and Stax are labels that have genuine claims to fame, but not as many as their current proprietors -- Nippon Columbia and Concord, respectively -- would like you to believe. But that's a perennial theme -- cf. last month's Impulses.

Big Youth: Screaming Target (1973 [2005], Trojan/Sanctuary): What made Manley Buchanan unique among Jamaica's early DJs was his light touch, how his voice skipped over some of the finest grooves of the day, every now and then erupting in a scream, shout or bark, sometimes even dropping a line to think about. This was his breakthrough, at once startling and comfortable, its Rasta deep but never a damper on its joy. Producer Gussie Clarke was 20 at the time, his inexperience instantly stamped as street hip. The compilers unpack the original 10-cut album, adding two alternate takes and twelve songs that share the rhythm tracks, including crucial cuts by Augustus Pablo, Leroy Smart, Lloyd Parks, and Gregory Isaacs. A

Serge Chaloff: Boston Blow-Up! (1955 [2006], Capitol Jazz): A hard swinging baritone saxophonist with a bop edge, Chaloff cut his teeth in Woody Herman's Second Herd, then moved on -- actually, was thrown out, for following Charlie Parker's habits too literally -- to cut a handful of memorable albums before he succumbed to a spinal tumor at age 33. Blue Serge (1956) is his masterpiece, a tight, elegant quartet where everything goes right, in part because the other three players -- Sonny Clark, Leroy Vinnegar, Philly Joe Jones -- are so dependable. This one is sloppier but nearly as impressive. Produced by Stan Kenton, this is a sextet with three horns storming -- at its best the balance of raw power and feather light touch Kenton often aimed for and rarely achieved. A-

Miles Davis: Cool & Collected (1956-84 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): It's possible to spin Miles' legend to include a remarkable string of developments in post-WWII jazz, starting with bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, fusion, and several variations along the way. That those innovations mostly came from others in the end detracts little from what Miles did accomplish: the title word "collected" hints at his unique skill at pulling whatever was happening together and sharpening it under his leadership. Only free jazz seems to have escaped his interest -- probably didn't see much scratch in that. Cool wasn't a defining attribute, but assembling a superb compilation of his slow stuff from 1956-65 is a no-brainer, as three-fourths of this one proves. But pushing the Gil Evans angle to 1984 turns the ice to slush, and the remix is plastic. B+

The Klezmatics: Wonder Wheel: Lyrics by Woody Guthrie (2006, JMG): America's greatest folk singer was a lyricist first and a melodist only when he found something good enough to get away with. Guthrie wrote some 3000 lyrics, most never turned out as songs. Billy Bragg and Wilco produced two remarkable albums setting stranded lyrics to their straightforward folk-rock. Lorin Sklamberg's klezmer ensemble takes a different angle on the music, weaving in motifs from Eastern Europe, maybe the Middle East too. But more striking still is the sweetness of his voice, alone or paired with guest Susan McKeown -- high but never lonesome. The lyrics grew out of the '30s, the Great Depression and the rise of Fascism, but sometimes transcend: "But if you'll sing songs of your dreamings, then you will reap treasures untold." A

Harry Miller's Isipingo: Which Way Now (1975 [2006], Cuneiform): A sextet: half English avant-gardists, half South African exiles including the leader-bassist, with neither half playing to type on this 75-minute Radio Bremen air shot. Rather, they play within the day's bop conventions, but uncommonly full of fire and spirit as they stretch out on four long tracks. Trombonist Nick Evans is especially noteworthy: he comes first in the alphabetical credits, but earns top billing throughout, frequently battling number two man, trumpeter Mongezi Feza. Keith Tippett's piano also gets a good hearing. But most of the interest here will be focused on Miller and Feza -- both died tragically young, leaving only a few intriguing recordings. This is a significant discovery for both. A-

Mohammed "Jimmy" Mohammed: Takkabel! (2005 [2006], Terp): Jimmy is a blind singer from Ethiopia, a devotee of Azmari legend Tlahoun Gessesse, whose songs he learned while living on the streets. He works in a trio with krar (a five-string harp) and drums, making a music so high and lonesome it must be some alternate universe analog to bluegrass, but stretched out and fractured, foreign in all but its soulfulness. Francis Falceto, the director of Buda Musique's admirable Éthiopiques series, brought Jimmy to Europe, where he was adopted by avant-jazzers: drummer Han Bennink and bassist Massimo Pupillo (a/k/a Massimo Zu) join in here, while Terrie Ex wrote the liner notes. A-

Charlie Parker: The Genius of Charlie Parker (1944-49 [2005], Savoy Jazz, 2CD): I have a confession or two. I've always been turned off by the extreme adulation accorded Parker. He was an exceptionally charismatic person, in his early death as much as his fast life, and he had a huge, almost immediate impact on the music. But encountering him late, after I had absorbed Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton, it took me a long time to hear how anything in Parker matched up with the hype. For one thing, Parker's regarded as jazz's quintessential modernist, but by the late-'70s, when I first heard him, he already sounded old -- his innovations so commonplace they'd become mainstream clichés. He never made it to the LP era: his records were short 78s -- head, flashy solo, reprise -- but too arty for the jukebox. He was the pied piper who led jazz away from its swing-era popularity, making up in intensity what he lost in numbers. His cult was such that every scrap of live recording, regardless of how crappy the sound, has been added to the canon -- more clutter for us to sort through. But after having listened to all the Parker regarded as great, the case comes down to this package: the Savoy and Dial singles and the Royal Roost live shots. Not that there isn't more, but the rest is more of the same. Some of the fast ones, like his solo on Dizzy Gillespie's "Shaw 'Nuff" or his "Bird Gets the Worm" are remarkable lines of improvisation. At a more moderate pace, his tone and poise shines through on pieces like "Yardbird Suite." No doubt Bird deserves at least some of his reputation. A

Wilson Pickett: The Definitive Collection (1961-71 [2006], Atlantic/Rhino, 2CD): A soul shouter from the Alabama cotton patch, Pickett had a hit with the Falcons with a line about "the midnight hour." Atlantic picked him up, then sent him to Stax where he found his rhythm and turned his line into a hit. He recorded for Atlantic until 1971, when Muscle Shoals dried up and his Philadelphia makeover didn't take. But give him a beat and he could rise above it, nailing improbable covers and projecting a macho posture so scary it could be true. His 1992 best-of A Man and a Half is still in print, offering everything here plus 14 more songs for an extra $5 list. You won't miss those extras here, nor mind them there. A

Irène Schweizer: Portrait (1984-2004 [2006], Intakt): The three solo cuts on this sampler from fourteen albums are much more robust than anything on the dozen-plus solo piano albums I've heard this year. Eight duos, mostly with drummers, impress even more. The Swiss free jazz pioneer's straight rhythmic undertow rivals Jarrett's, and her pianistics challenge Cecil Taylor's. But as she demonstrates on the longest piece ("First Meeting," with trombonist George Lewis), her real talent is her spontaneous response to the challenges of such minuscule aggregations. One of the few compilations ever that makes me want to hear every single one of the source albums. A

Stompin' at the Savoy: The Original Indie-Label (1944-61 [2004], Savoy Jazz, 4CD): After losing his radio license, Herman Lubinsky sold radio parts and records in Newark. He launched his record label in 1942, but between the war and the recording ban didn't release regularly until 1944. A notorious skinflint, or perhaps just a cheat, he managed to keep his label in business until his death in 1974. His early records were mostly jazz, and later on he gravitated toward gospel, but this box focuses on r&b singles. Early on he had hits with novelties like Dusty Fletcher's "Open the Door Richard" and dance grooves like Hal Singer's "Cornbread" and Paul Williams' "The Hucklebuck," but they trail off over time, and only two songs on the fourth disc here cracked the r&b charts -- Big Maybelle's "Candy" is the best known, and Nappy Brown his most consistent performer. Which means that as the period's r&b labels go, little here can be described as essential. Nonetheless, it is remarkably consistent within its limits. B+

In Series

Stax, originally founded in 1959 as Satellite Records, was an important Memphis r&b label during the 1960s. Rufus and Carla Thomas were early stars, Booker T. Jones and MGs Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn and Al Jackson were the house band, and Otis Redding was their great star. Up to 1968 Stax had a deal which left Atlantic owning much of their catalog. After 1968 they passed through Gulf & Western's megacorp, going bankrupt in 1976. Fantasy eventually picked up the label name and the non-Atlantic catalog. Since Concord bought Fantasy, they've packaged artist samplers under the names of their various catalog labels: the first two were jazz labels Prestige and Milestone. Now we have Stax, with more in the pipeline. The samples are called Profiles. They're have decent documentation, but vary greatly in their usefulness -- also in their length, ranging from 40 to 70 minutes. Each of the Stax Profiles was selected by a guest compiler -- some well known like Dan Aykroyd or Elvis Costello, others more obscure like producer Cheryl Pawelski (who actually knows something about producing compilations). The compilers are noted below.

  • Rance Allen: Stax Profiles (1971-78 [2006], Stax): Deanie Parker selects, keeping the Detroit gospel shouter funky enough for non-believers; I don't know that Stax ever had much of a gospel operation, but they liked singers who could raise the rafters, and that's what they got with Allen. B+
  • Eddie Floyd: Stax Profiles (1966-74 [2006], Stax): Dan Aykroyd selects, reminiscing about Floyd's participation in the Elwood Blues Revue; Floyd was a journeyman who could do a passable Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding with the right material, which he rarely got -- "Knock on Wood" was the fluke exception. B
  • Albert King: Stax Profiles (1968-83 [2006], Stax): Bill Belmont selects, starting with a live 1983 "Born Under a Bad Sign" with Stevie Ray Vaughan instead of the original that marked King's arrival as the most stalwart of Stax bluesmen. B+
  • Little Milton: Stax Profiles (1971-74 [2006], Stax): Lee Hildebrand selects, showing that the grits belt blues shouter never skipped a beat between his salad days on Chess and his long tenure at Malaco; never less than intense, a feat that would grow monotonous were it not so impressive. B+
  • Otis Redding: Stax Profiles (1966-68 [2006], Stax): Steve Cropper selects, not that you or I couldn't do just as well, but in fairness what limits this to 40 minutes is most likely WEA's licensing tariffs -- Atlantic got their pick of Stax's crops, and you wouldn't have to be as smart as Ahmet Ertegun to grab all you can get; he's the definition of a great soul singer, the one who makes near-greats like Johnnie Taylor seem wanting. A-
  • The Staple Singers: Stax Profiles (1969-73 [2006], Stax): Cheryl Pawelski selects, picking the hits and a few covers that hold up; the Staples developed in church and returned after these few years in the soul mainstream -- but even at their most topical they never shook the urge to preach, to testify, to strive to make the world a better place. A-
  • Booker T & the MGs: Stax Profiles (1963-71 [2006], Stax): Elvis Costello selects, favoring minor grooves and Beatles songs over the band's instrumental hits -- their signature "Green Onions" appears in a later live take, and others not at all; in any case, their real importance rests on other folks' records. B-
  • Johnnie Taylor: Stax Profiles (1956-73 [2006], Stax): Selected by Huey Lewis, starting in Sam Cooke's footsteps with the Soul Stirrers and the Cooke-produced cover of Cooke's "Rome (Wasn't Built in a Day)" then working through his hits including the post-Stax "Disco Lady"; Robert Christgau memorably summed him up as "everything you could ask for in a soul singer except great." B+
  • Carla Thomas: Stax Profiles (1961-71 [2006], Stax): Mable John selects, getting Concord to spring for five early Atlantics, but only one of her two hits; best thing here is "You'll Lose a Good Thing," a cover of the Barbara Lynn hit; reminds one that she was as competent as most '60s soul singers, but would be as obscure as Lynn were it not for connections -- sired by Rufus, same surname as Irma, duetted with Otis Redding (not included here). B
  • Rufus Thomas: Stax Profiles (1967-75 [2006], Stax): Roger Armstrong selects the best Rufus I've heard, but does a lousy job of documenting where the alternates and novelties come from; anthems like "Walking the Dog" and "Do the Funky Chicken" harken back to the early '60s dance crazes, with only an injection of James Brown funk suggesting later dates; Thomas was more comic than singer, so you can guess where his studies of Brown, Chubby Checker, and Elvis Presley were heading. A-

Briefly Noted

  • Rabih Abou-Khalil: Morton's Foot (2003 [2004], Enja/Justin Time): The Lebanese oudist is considered jazz because he records for jazz labels and builds on Arab music's improvisatory conventions, but this mostly Italian band with clarinet, accordion and tuba is rooted deep in oldest Europe, especially with Gavino Murgia's Sardinian throat-singing. A-
  • Rabih Abou-Khalil/Joachim Kühn: Journey to the Centre of an Egg (2004 [2006], Enja/Justin Time): Oud again, but more muscular in a trio that is more avant-jazz, with Kühn playing Ornette-ish alto sax as well as Ornette-complementary piano, and Jarrod Cagwin the unsung frame drum hero. A-
  • Horace Andy: Feel Good All Over: Anthology (1970-76 [2002], Trojan/Sanctuary, 2CD): A durable star who navigated all the changes in Jamaican music from rocksteady onward, Andy's voice is light and sweet, his articulation subtle, his roots primly rasta; even his hits take a while to sneak up on you. B+
  • Lou Blackburn: The Complete Imperial Sessions (1963 [2006], Blue Note): That would be two albums in one year with the same lineup, including trumpeter Freddie Hill and pianist Horace Tapscott; Blackburn was a Los Angeles trombonist without much under his own name, but these sessions are bright, swinging hard bop, even the one released as Two-Note Samba -- must have been a law in 1963 that everyone had to release a samba album. B+
  • Art Blakey: Holiday for Skins (1958 [2006], Blue Note): One of many multi-drum experiments, following Drum Suite and Orgy in Rhythm; this one has three trap sets, seven Latino percussionists (including Ray Barretto), Donald Byrd trumpet, Ray Bryant piano, and Wendell Marshall bass; the drums never quite mesh, but Bryant, in particular, has some tasty moments. B+
  • Anouar Brahem: Le Voyage de Sahar (2005 [2006], ECM): Tunisian oud meets piano and accordion from Provence -- mild mannered trans-Mediterranean old age groove, sweet, beguiling, atmospheric. B+
  • Twenty Twenty: The Essential T Bone Burnett (1976-2003 [2006], Columbia/DMZ/Legacy, 2CD): A singer-songwriter with a knack for modestly rootsy music and a tendency to preach, the need for forty songs stretches his five-album-plus catalog, with the relatively recent The Criminal Under My Own Hat (1992) plumbed for nine -- scattered they stand out, an extra sonic edge that made Burnett more successful as a producer. B+
  • Gil Evans: The Complete Pacific Jazz Sessions (1958-59 [2006], Blue Note): Think of this as Evans' sketchbook for recasting a big slice of the jazz tradition into his deftly layered, intricate modernism; brilliant in spots, not just for the voicings but also for the solos -- Cannonball Adderley is featured on the first half, but Steve Lacy and Budd Johnson are more interesting on the second. B+
  • Linton Garner Trio: Quiet Nights (2002 [2006], Cellar Live): Erroll Garner's older brother, a pianist in his own right, found a home in Vancouver's jazz scene; his trio with bassist Russ Botten and tenor saxist Ross Taggart is comfortably mainstream, a lovely set of standards; Garner was 87 at the time, and died a few months later, leaving this as a fine memento. B+
  • Jeff Healey: Among Friends (2002 [2006], Stony Plain): Blind from age one, Healey is a Canadian who learned to play blues guitar laying his axe flat on his lap; after several albums, he picked up a trumpet and started playing trad jazz, inspired and spurred on by Dick Sudhalter on this first rough cut album, now reissued by his new label. B+
  • Andrew Hill: Pax (1965 [2006], Blue Note): Unreleased until 1975, this is as bright and fearless as you'd expect in a quintet fronted by Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard, but it Hill's piano is uncommonly shifty, and he spreads the horns further out than they'd normally go; some technical problems may explain the delay, but for sheer risk into music this is a high point of Blue Note's avant-garde. A-
  • David J: Crocodile Tears and the Velvet Cosh (1985 [2006], Plain): Former leader of gothic rock band Bauhaus, later leader of mainstream rock band Love and Rockets, here just an English singer-songwriter working in a mildly folkish mode, with little adornment. B
  • David J: On Glass: The Singles (1983-85 [2006], Plain): At least he understands that singles need a little more punch, which moves him closer to David Bowie than to Nick Drake -- an improvement, I'd say; "Crocodile Tears and the Velvet Cosh" is much clearer and sharper here, but "Fear Is a Man's Best Friend" makes me wonder whether his ballad phase wasn't another trailing of John Cale. B+
  • Kronos Quartet and Asha Bhosle: You've Stolen My Heart: Songs From R.D. Burman's Bollywood (2005, Nonesuch): Have string quartet, will travel, this time through the trove of Bengali film music, with Bollywood chanteuse Asha Bhosle; when in doubt, the strings lean toward tango, but Zakir Hussain's tabla and Wu Man's pipa strive to keep the course correct for Asia; as with the Quartet's Pieces of Africa, the result is neither here nor there, which is probably the point. B+
  • Michy Mano: The Cool Side of the Pillow (2003 [2005], Enja/Justin Time): A Moroccan DJ working in the Oslo melting pot, his gnawa roots lifted by Paolo Vinaccia's electrobeats, Bugge Wesseltoft's keyboards, Bendikt Hofseth's tenor sax, scattered tablas and neys, expressed through Arabic folksong and French rap, its gypsy identity connected not to the Roma but to the idea that when one travels everything strange comes to feel like home. B+
  • Yardbird Suite: The Ultimate Charlie Parker Collection (1945-52 [1997], Rhino, 2CD): Padded with Dizzy Gillespie up front and the Rockland strings date at the end; in between this rates as the best Parker introduction ever -- intersects heavily with Genius, but also includes a taste of the later Verves and much less live material; besides, the padding makes a fine bonus. A
  • Charlie Parker: The Complete Savoy and Dial Studio Recordings (1944-48 [2000], Atlantic, 8CD): It's all here, in exhaustive detail with all the false starts and mishaps, but at least none of the air shots and bootlegs; in a nice, slim package with a 92-page booklet; indispensible for scholars, overkill for anyone else. A-
  • Charlie Parker: The Complete Live Performances on Savoy (1947-50 [1998], Savoy Jazz, 4CD): The complete Royal Roost recordings with all the Symphony Sid you can stand, plus the earlier Carnegie Hall date and a later one in Chicago; neatly packaged for those who got to have it all. B+
  • Charlie Parker: The Complete Legendary Rockland Palace Concert (1952 [1996], Jazz Classics, 2CD): Parker loved the idea of recording with strings, but the string sections were so awful the records invariably disappoint; this latterday discovery is the exception, partly because the strings are underrecorded, mostly because Bird blows them away. A-
  • Charlie Parker (1947-53 [1998], Verve): Parker recorded for Verve from 1950 to his death; Verve pulled every scrap they could find into a 10-CD box, but this single, mostly sessions with pianist Hank Jones, presents him most cleanly, with much better sound quality than he ever got from Savoy or Dial. A-
  • Max Romeo: Open the Iron Gate (1973-77 [1999], Blood & Fire): Effectively these cuts are marginalia to Island's Ultimate Collection, but he's a simple man with important messages -- peace and equality, the cure for poverty, the threat of the police -- and an irresistible groove; the title cut may not be specifically about Israel-Palestine, but it works: an Iron Wall without a gate isn't even a prison -- more like a coffin. A-
  • Savoy Blues (1944-92 [2003], Savoy Jazz, 3CD): The jukebox jazz of the '40s was called jump blues or just r&b, and that sums up Savoy's take on the blues -- Hot Lips Page, Joe Turner, Billy Eckstine, Helen Humes, Joe Williams, Esther Phillips, LaVern Baker; that's good for half, the rest coming from catalog acquisitions, with John Lee Hooker the odd man out. B+
  • Savoy on Central Avenue (1941-52 [2003], Savoy Jazz, 2 CD): Though based on Newark, Savoy seemed to have a pipeline into Los Angeles; just how this worked isn't clear, because this mingles local artists like Johnny Otis and Harold Land and visitors like Charlie Parker, while running the gamut of '40s r&b and jazz, often the same thing. B+
  • Hobart Smith: In Sacred Trust: The 1963 Fleming Brown Tapes (1963 [2005], Smithsonian/Folkways): Recorded less than a year before the Virginia old timer passed on, a remarkable archival trove; Smith plays banjo, guitar, fiddle and piano as he recalls old blues and jigs, with rivetting austerity. A-
  • Saadet Türköz: Urumchi (2005 [2006], Intakt): Swiss-based singer, originally from East Turkestan, reverses her migration in returning to Almaty and on to Beijing to record her solemn, stately folk music in the ancient style, with sparse strings, scarce drums, haunting voice. B+
  • Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit, and Greenhill: The Unwritten Works of Geoffrey, Etc. (1967-68 [2006], Fallout): Fake Anglo folk rock from Fort Worth, recorded by studio pros not really named Whistler, Chaucer, et al., produced by the guy who turned out to be T Bone Burnett; Mojo listed this among "the greatest albums of all time" -- evidently Brits find fake Anglo funnier than we do. B


In an infinite universe, all the music you'll ever need already exists somewhere. We find more each month: Memphis soul (ten Stax Profiles, Wilson Pickett), Africans abroad (Harry Miller, Jimmy Mohammed), Jamaican toasters (Big Youth, Max Romeo), bebop (Charlie Parker, Miles Davis) and beyond (Andrew Hill, Irene Schweizer), oudists (Rabih Abou-Khalil, Anouar Brahem), Savoy stompers (three box sets); many more (45 records).

Copyright © 2006 Tom Hull.