A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: February, 2007

Recycled Goods (#40)

by Tom Hull

This marks the 40th Recycled Goods column, and brings the total number of records covered here to 1732. The mix is as scattered as ever, including a healthy batch of African and Brazilian releases.

Africa Remix: Ah Freak Iya (1998-2004 [2005], Milan): The artists here provide a prominent cross section of Africa today, ranging from South Africa to Senegal and the Sahara, with Youssou N'Dour, Oumou Sangare, and Thomas Mapfumo the major names. But the songs are recent and, excepting Kekele and Konono No. 1, unfamiliar, so it's hard to judge what the remixers are up to. It may, after all, just be another stage in Africa's reabsorption of its diaspora music, as has happened before, such as when Cuban rhumba came home. But drawing such a broad picture of the continent is helpful, especially for those -- myself included -- who still benefit from surveys. A-

Stella Chiweshe: Double Check (1987-2005 [2006], Piranha, 2CD): Mbira is the traditional thumb piano, and more generally a term for the music of the Shona in Zimbabwe. Chiweshe emerged in '80s as a local and international star -- known in Zimbabwe as Ambuya Chinyakare (Grandmother of Traditional Music), but pop enough for the rest of us. At least that much is clear from the second disc here, a retrospective Classic Hits. The first disc is new, or new recordings of old songs that offer a minimalist, perhaps irreducible core of folk mbira. She calls it Trance Hits, suggesting that the music has powers to heal as well as soothe and move. That may not be pop enough for the world. Why else bundle it with a hits package that blows it away? One answer is the subtitle: Two Sides of Zimbabwe's Mbira Queen. B+

Earth, Wind & Fire: Beautiful Ballads (1973-79 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): Having pushed the Valentine's Day Love Songs series way beyond its natural limits -- Willie Nelson? John Denver? Heart? -- it's back to the drawing board. This is the only one of the five opening salvos that seems like a natural, not least due to Philip Bailey's gorgeous falsetto leads. But note that the great songs here -- "That's the Way of the World," "Fantasy," "After the Love Is Gone" -- are also on all the best-ofs, along with equally great upbeat songs like "Boogie Wonderland," "September," and "Serpentine Fire." B

Bill Evans: Riverside Profiles (1958-63 [2006], Riverside): Like Thelonious Monk, Evans did his major work for Riverside, his Complete Riverside Recordings amassing 12 discs, just shy of Monk's 15. Monk was by far the more radical player, which in retrospect makes him much easier to grasp. He had a knack for putting notes in wrong places, arguing his case obstreperously, eventually winning. Evans, on the other hand, seemed to always work within the lines, finding right notes no one could doubt. So while I recommend going straight to the original albums for Monk, this survey strikes me as a useful primer. The first eight cuts are trios, so they flow evenly even though Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian -- already the sneakiest drummer in jazz -- stand out. The last two cuts are a group with Freddie Hubbard and Jim Hall and a solo piece -- a good one-two punch to close this out. Comes with a label sampler as a "bonus disc" -- same treat in every box, so it might as well be ignored. A

The Mighty Sparrow: First Flight (1957-59 [2005], Smithsonian/Folkways): "Rhythm and rhyme," his statement of the calypso formula, makes it seem easier than it is, although he's such a natural it must have been so easy. Born in Grenada, named Slinger Francisco, Sparrow slipped into the long-established griot culture of Trinidad and quickly distinguished himself with quick wit and a light touch. That my favorite here is "Russian Satellite" is probably just because I know more about Sputnik than Eric Williams. After all, with Sparrow, the delight is always in the details. These early recordings fell into Smithsonian's hands via Emory Cook. The Ice compilations Volume One through Volume Four are even more accomplished, but lack background -- the documentation here is a major plus. A-

Thirsty Ear Blue Series Sampler (2002-06 [2006], Thirsty Ear): Matthew Shipp's series built a bridge from avant-jazz to DJ culture so successfully that of late most of the traffic has come from the rock-rap-DJ side looking to break new ground. This is their third series sampler, with tracks from 15 recent of 47 total albums -- a bargain at $2.98 list, not just to explore but because it actually flows. But as a sampler is mixes the ordinary with the breakthroughs. Alternatively, you could go straight to the major records in the series, which I make to be: Shipp's Nu-Bop and Harmony and Abyss, William Parker's Raining on the Moon and Scrapbook, David S. Ware's Live in This World, and in a more hip-hop vein, the Yohimbe Brothers' The Tao of Yo. B+

The Tommy Boy Story Vol. 1: Tommy Boy Twelve-Inch: It's Workin! (1981-93 [2006], Rhino, 2CD): Further proof that a twelve-inch focus locks you into the underground: 22 cuts, more than 2.5 hours, and only the pathbreaking Afrika Bambaataa tracks are instantly familiar. Tom Silverman's label started with Arthur Baker dance tracks that picked up hip-hop like the fad it might have been, and that remained the model here even after Warners gave them the cash to run with the big dogs -- Queen Latifah appears here, but not De La Soul, Digital Underground, Coolio, House of Pain, Naughty by Nature, and so on. But what makes the non-Bambaataa cuts unfamiliar may have less to do with obscurity than genericness. They move you, but mostly by going through the motions. B+

Ali Farka Toure: Savane (2006, World Circuit/Nonesuch): As you go north in Mali toward Toure's birthplace in Timbuktu, the music gets simpler, drying out with the landscape, until it turns into something analogous to American blues. Frequent comparisons between Toure and John Lee Hooker have always struck me as off base. For one thing Toure's music is more social, and for another it is more relaxed. This album, released a couple of months after his death, so presumably his last, excels in both regards. That makes it typical, but also exemplary. B+

The U.S. Vs. John Lennon (Music From the Motion Picture) (1969-80 [2006], Capitol): The film traces Lennon's evolving embrace of the new left antiwar movement and the Nixon government's efforts to stop him, against the backdrop of his very public, performance arty romance with Yoko Ono. The soundtrack marshalls the musical evidence, with one nominal Beatles track -- the essential "Ballad of John & Yoko" -- and key parts of his two great solo albums mixed in with the agitprop. The roots of Lennon's radicalization go back further -- his flippant remark about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus returns in his certainty that war is rooted in religion and nationalism. If "All You Need Is Love" was too positive and "Revolution" too negative, "Imagine" proved to be the personal synthesis, its withering critique cloaked in its utopianism. The relevance is heightened by the return of Vietnam's hawks to wreak havoc in Iraq and degrade civility and law here, but not just to rehash old times. It's because Lennon's knack for getting to the simple heart of the problem. A

The Vandermark 5: Free Jazz Classics Vols. 3 & 4 (2003-04 [2006], Atavistic, 2CD): All the maybes at the end of Ken Vandermark's liner notes might make you think he's giving up on this series of explorations into the free jazz tradition, which would be a shame. Originally released as bonus discs in early runs of four Vandermark 5 albums from Acoustic Machine to Elements of Style, Vols. 1 & 2 (2000-01 [2002], Atavistic, 2CD) essayed pioneer pieces from Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry to Joe McPhee and Julius Hemphill, while Vols. 3 & 4 focus on two saxophonist-composers not of the movement but so creative they couldn't help but parallel it: Sonny Rollins and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The recognizable themes give you a more accessible framework than usual -- with free jazz every clue helps -- but in the end the band makes all the difference. With two great saxophonists and a trombonist who loves to get down and dirty, they can spin on a dime, punch the chords up, or blow them apart. A

Briefly Noted

Cannonball Adderley: Riverside Profiles (1958-62 [2006], Riverside): A useful, typically breezy selection of cuts from a series of uneventful albums, distinguished by the warm tone and ingratiating dynamics of the leader's alto sax; also by guests like Milt Jackson, and songs like "This Here" and "Work Song" by band members -- the latter by brother Nat, who often stands out. B+

Mario Adnet: From the Heart (2006, Adventure Music): A Brazilian guitarist, but more notable as an arranger; he works outward from the supple sweetness that has long been samba's soft spot, layering on various combinations of piano, accordion, brass, vocals -- sounds progressive rather than folkloric, but here and there works like magic. B+

The Essential Alice in Chains (1990-99 [2006], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Seattle band, on the heavy metal side of grunge, meaning they were duller musically and dumber lyrically than their contemporaries, and not just because their preoccupation with smack and God -- not sure they found a difference; the later, slower stuff is more accomplished, or perhaps just better colored. C+

Bill Anderson: The Definitive Collection (1960-78 [2006], MCA Nashville/Chronicles): Known as Whisperin' Bill, he made his mark talking through homespun stories like "Po' Folks" and "Mama Sang a Song" while Owen Bradley poured on the countrypolitan syrup. B

Chet Baker: Riverside Profiles (1958-59 [2006], Riverside): A narrow slice of Baker's discography, transitional between his important Pacific Jazz 1952-57 recordings, where is made his name as a cool trumpeter and wan vocalist, and his long exile in Europe -- one cut here stands him up against "fifty Italian strings"; only two easy-going vocals, lots of lovely trumpet. A-

The Beatles: Love (1963-70 [2006], Capitol): George Martin's official mixtape, focusing on the late Beatles -- i.e., the stuff that made Martin's reputation as a studio wiz; sounds marvelous, of course, but overly familiar, foolishly canonical, scarcely unrevealing -- more Cliff's Notes than Rosetta Stone. B+

Jeff Beck: Truth (1968 [2006], Epic/Legacy): The Yardbirds' guitar god, now forgotten, but at the time the essential link between Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page; but Beck had no other skills, so his first album is remembered (when it is) for then-unknown singer Rod Stewart, and maybe then-unknown bassist Ron Wood; lots of outtakes muddy the blue waters. B

The Jeff Beck Group: Beck-Ola (1969 [2006], Epic/Legacy): Another round with Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Nicky Hopkins, and Tony Newman, who at least managed to blur Beck's billing; so short of ideas the high point is "Jailhouse Rock," reprised as a bonus track for lack of anything better. C+

Eric Burdon: Wild & Wicked (1976-82 [2006], AIM): Rare as promised, raw of course, half live, half studio from a soundtrack to an unreleased movie, vigorous enough he may not have realized what a has-been he was, prospects for belated recognition: none; inspirational chorus: "who gives a fuck?" C+

Hamilton de Holanda Quintet: Brasilianos (2006, Adventure Music): The leader plays 10-string mandolin, adding an intensely stringy overdrive to Daniel Santiago's guitar, moving this much higher up the energy scale than is the norm for Brazil; Gabriel Grossi's harmonica provides the sweet and sour notes that top it all off. B+

Electric Light Orchestra: On the Third Day (1973 [2006], Epic/Legacy): The third album, a consolidation of the two cello sound and its Euroclassical roots, capped by a stirring take on Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King," but more frequently leavened by Jeff Lynne's "Ma-ma-ma Belle" popcraft. B

Electric Light Orchestra: Face the Music (1975 [2006], Epic/Legacy): Two hits of sorts -- "Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic" -- plus filler, just like the old days when folks bought LPs for singles and felt ripped off -- but only eight fluffed up songs, so as a bonus you get extra versions of the hits. B-

Electric Light Orchestra: A New World Record (1976 [2006], Epic/Legacy): This time the singles like "Living Thing" and the recycled "Do-Ya" barely stand out from the filler, which has finally learned to rock out with cellos while turning the inevitable high cult allusions into appropriately lowdown jokes. B+

Free Range Rat: Nut Club (1999 [2006], Clean Feed): A rough-hewn free jazz group led by John Carlson on trumpet and Eric Hipp on tenor sax, into Sun Ra and other planes; they cut an album on CIMP in 1998, then disappeared until this old session, recorded in Brooklyn, showed up on Portugal's best jazz label; raw energy, harsh twists that somehow cohere. B+

Grant Green: Live at Club Mozambique (1972 [2006], Blue Note): The guitarist's funk groove had become so ordinary in last years at Blue Note that much of what he recorded got stuck on the shelves, like this live date with Ronnie Foster on organ, Idris Muhammad on drums, and two saxophonists -- Houston Person is the better known, but Clarence Thomas played rougher, which is what shakes this album alive. B+

Johnny Griffin: The Congregation (1957 [2006], Blue Note): A bebop tenor saxophonist given to heavy blowing sessions, this quartet layers his big bold sound over Sonny Clark's free-flowing piano, a simple formula that pays off handsomely. A-

Freddie Hubbard: Here to Stay (1962 [2006], Blue Note): The younger generation of hard boppers hard at work, with Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton and Reggie Workman, with Philly Joe Jones the only over-30, offering a sleekly modern take, even of standard fare like "Body and Soul"; cut between Impulse albums at a time when it seemed he could do no wrong, this sat on the shelf until 1976. B+

Julio Iglesias: 1100 Bel Air Place (1984 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): Left to his own devices, he can be a magnificent singer, with "Two Lovers" an prime example, and even the tripey "Moonlight Lady" gaining stature; on the other hand, he was such a star at this point that he was attracting duettists -- can't complain about Stan Getz, but between Diana Ross, Willie Nelson, and the Beach Boys, something goes terribly wrong. B-

Julio Iglesias: Tango (1996 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): A serious album, based on the old stuff, tangos with not much tang, ballads with a lot of romantic gush, or so it seems; his voice is towering, operatic, but he's managed to take a foreign legacy and make it even more foreign. C+

The Isley Brothers: Beautiful Ballads, Volume Two (1972-85 [2006], Epic/Legacy): The "Vol. 2" acknowledges a 1994 Beautiful Ballads compilation which got first debs and on paper at least looks to be rather quirky; this one's spotty, with the great "It's Too Late" and slurpy stuff "Between the Sheets," but that's typical of random sampling in this period. B+

Maria Kalaniemi: Bellow Poetry (2006, Alula): Finnish accordionist, classically trained but plays folk melodies, intimately detailed, warm and comfy, with occasional vocals -- which leaves them lacking sufficient energy to jump over the cultural barrier, or sufficient deviousness to tunnel under. B

Gladys Knight & the Pips: Beautiful Ballads (1971-83 [2006], Buddha/RCA/Legacy): "Midnight Train to Georgia" puts the otherwise underused Pips to good use; nothing else works nearly so well, but nothing stumbles badly either; seems like an average period comp. B

David Krakauer & Socalled With Klezmer Madness: Bubbemeises: Lies My Gramma Told Me (2006, Label Bleu): Socalled's samples provide a useful postmodern framing for the leader's clarinet, which otherwise just tends to whirl away in a dust cloud; even better is the rap that speaks truth to Bubbe. B+

Patti Labelle: Beautiful Ballads (1978-86 [2006], Epic/Legacy): A capable ballad singer -- that may be her most appealing trait, until she slides into overstressed dross like "Quiet Time" and "Do I Stand a Chance" where her capacity for histrionics squanders an otherwise favorable set. C+

Ismaël Lo: Sénégal (2006, Wrasse): Afropop from Senegal, similar to Youssou N'Dour, especially when the mbalax beats ripple, but more likely to spin a slow one, a slick pop tune, a bit of singer-songwriter craftsmanship. B+

Jackie McLean: Demon's Dance (1967 [2006], Blue Note): The last of McLean's Blue Notes is a bright, breezy, bop quintet with newcomers Woody Shaw and Jack DeJohnette standing out -- the sort of quickie he made routinely a decade earlier at Prestige, but with his mastery all the more evident. B+

Thelonious Monk: Riverside Profiles (1955-59 [2006], Riverside): From Brilliant Corners to Town Hall, Monk's Riversides were his growth period, in many cases taking early songs and finding new ways of orchestrating them -- most notably aided by saxophonists named Hawkins, Coltrane, Rollins, Griffin, and Rouse; ten cuts from ten albums, most deserving to be heard at far greater length. A-

Wes Montgomery: Riverside Profiles (1959-63 [2006], Riverside): His soft metallic tone, intricate lines, and irrepressible groove made him the premier jazz guitarist of his times and immensely influential ever since; his Complete Riverside Recordings box totals 12 discs at the peak of a shortened career -- he died in 1968 at age 43 -- so this should be prime, but it's also rather spotty, with organ grinds and strings, and others frequently stealing the spotlight. B+

The O'Jays: Beautiful Ballads (1969-93 [2006], Epic/Legacy): Twelve songs from their heyday that melt down into an indistinguishable puddle, plus a Dylan song where not even Booker T Jones can save from sounding like the Philly Tabernacle Choir. C+

Philippe Baden Powell: Estrada de Terra/Dirt Road (2006, Adventure Music): The son of legendary Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell, Philippe plays piano and composes elegant pieces that don't fit into any concept; four trio pieces are first rate, and the rest introduce various guests, with Myke Ryan's trumpet a bright spot and the string quartet, well, a string quartet. B

Putumayo Presents: Blues Around the World (1965-2005 [2006], Putumayo World Music): I guess it's gratifying to hear such straightforward blues sung in so many foreign languages, but it also makes you realize how much nuance depends on the words; but those in English lack distinguishing bite and depth, so maybe the order of the day is mere politeness. B-

Putumayo Presents: One World, Many Cultures (1998-2006 [2006], Putumayo World Music): Each song pairs artists from two or more countries for discreet multiculturalism, but for most this is just business as usual; the high point is a Toots Hibbert-Willie Nelson duet; the low point is Alan Stivell's Celtic harp wiping out Youssou N'Dour; in between you get such uninspired pairings as Cheb Mami with Ziggy Marley. B

Daniel Santiago: On the Way (2005, Adventure Music): Brazilian guitar-bass-drums trio -- three-fifths of producer Hamilton de Holanda's Quintet, stripping away the power instruments to let the intricacies of the guitar shine; still, there is considerable bite in his strings, even when he takes it slow, which isn't all the time. B+

Savoy Brown: Blues, Balls & Boogie ([2006], AIM): Second- or third-tier British blues rock band dating from mid-'60s and still creaking along; this is a live bootleg from sometime after 1973 -- no details available, half the songs go back further, but there's also a 2003 PR photo from when they were on Blind Pig; may not matter -- it's not like they evolved or anything. B-

Frankie Lee Sims: Walking With Frankie (1960 [2006], AIM): Born in New Orleans, but he spent most of his life in Texas, and sounds as deeply engrained with his adopted state's postwar electric juke joint blues as T-Bone Walker, Lil' Son Jackson, or his famous cousin, Lightnin' Hopkins; a rough, noisy recording, probably the point. B+

Serene Velocity: A Stereolab Anthology (1993-2003 [2006], Rhino/Electra): Dotty and loopy, as one album title almost put it, with intellectual content for the semiotically minded, but equally valid as mindless background soundtrack -- a British group singing in French is both near and far enough to double for such purposes. B+

Ernest Tubb: The Definitive Collection (1941-66 [2006], MCA Nashville/Chronicles): Honky tonk more or less starts with "Walking the Floor Over You," both in form and in theme, but Tubb did more than walk -- "Waltz Across Texas" nicely sums up his light touch and modest traditionalism; not just one of the major figures in country music -- a defining one. A

Ernest Tubb: The Texas Troubadour (1936-52 [2003], Proper, 4CD): Of course, there's plenty more if you really want it: Bear Family sells five boxes of Tubb totalling 30 CDs, and they don't come cheap; this box is a useful compromise, but it's cut short early before the licensing fees kick in. B+

Winds of Brazil (Um Sopro de Brasil) (2004 [2006], Adventure Music): Eleven songs, each a feature for a notable Brazilian wind musician -- flutes, reeds, brass, harmonica, backed by a large strings and percussion orchestra; classical music in attitude if not necessarily form, something safely removed to the concert hall where proper folks give it proper respect. C+

Tom Zé: Estuando O Pagode (2006, Luaka Bop): An operetta in samba, with Zé's characteristically choppy songcraft complicated by the need to juxtapose multiple roles and motifs, none self-explanatory without a trot from the Portuguese; B+


In an infinite universe, all the music you'll ever need already exists somewhere. We find more each month: Africans (Stella Chiweshe, Ali Farka Toure), Brazilians (Mario Adnet, Tom Ze), Brits (The Beatles/John Lennon, Jeff Beck, ELO), jazz icons (Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk), free jazz classics (Vandermark 5), honky tonk (Ernest Tubb); many more (50 records).

Copyright © 2007 Tom Hull.