A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: July, 2007

Recycled Goods (#45)

by Tom Hull

Two batches of boutique jazz records this month: the latest from Blue Note's RVG Editions, named for legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder, who recorded much classic jazz circa 1960 and is still around, offering his skills and memory to its restoration; and Concord's Orrin Keepnews Collection -- items from the Riverside and Milestone catalogs that Keepnews originally produced. Both series amount to special pleading to reissue titles that have previously appeared on CD. They reproduce the original liner notes and art, adding a bit more retrospective information -- the Keepnews series has reminiscences by the producer. The RVG editions mostly replace out-of-print Connoisseur Editions. The Keepnews Collection supersedes Fantasy's Original Jazz Classics series. Both are likely to have bonus cuts, but no more so than the previous editions. I doubt that any are worth repurchasing if you already have the record on CD, but come-latelies get a bit more value.

For pick hits, I went with minor works by the two idiosyncratic geniuses of the bebop era: Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk. Both are good for a half-dozen masterpieces in this period, peaking with Mingus Ah Um (1959, Columbia) and Monk's Brilliant Corners (1956, Riverside). The records here are only nearly as good, but flesh out less obvious aspects of each.

Bud Freeman: Chicago/Austin High School Jazz in Hi-Fi (1957 [2006], Mosaic): Small world, that so many of Chicago's trad jazz greats came out of the same high school, but the lineup here is actually broader, with Jack Teagarden among the ringers. Freeman was an easy swinging tenor saxophonist, emerging in the late '20s as a prototype for the lighter, looser Lester Young sound, and lasting into the '80s. The three sessions collected here didn't have to look too far back to find the camaraderie, the freshness, and the excitement the Austin High Gang grew up with. A-

The Jimmy Heath Orchestra: Really Big! (Keepnews Collection) (1960 [2007], Riverside): When Blue Note launched their RVG Editions they at least promised a sonic face lift by handing the reissues back to original sound engineer Rudy Van Gelder. The series was successful enough that Van Gelder cut a deal with Concord too. It's less obvious what the Keepnews Collection offers. Orrin Keepnews was producer and co-owner of a series of important labels: Riverside and Milestone in Concord's portfolio, Landmark in limbo. He's credited as producer here, but the 24-bit sound has been remastered by Joe Tarantino -- Keepnews' main contribution is to revisit his liner notes. Still, list price is the same as the previous Original Jazz Classics series, and occasional bonus tracks -- one here, an alternate take of "Nails" -- don't hurt. The choice of records within the Riveside and Milestone catalogs thus far seem completely arbitrary. Still, this one is an overlooked gem: a ten-piece band with Clark Terry, two Adderleys, three Heaths, and plenty of low-pitched horns to flesh out the acrobatics. A-

Andrew Hill: Compulsion (1965 [2007], Blue Note): Despite the horn firepower -- Sun Ra's John Gilmore smoldering on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Freddie Hubbard firing away on trumpet -- Hill's piano has rarely loomed larger or more critically. He stamps out dense chords and skitters off with abstract fills, his rhythmic eccentricity prodding Cecil McBee and/or Richard Davis on bass, Joe Chambers on drums, with an extra layer of Afro-exotica from Nadi Qamar and Renaud Simmons. A-

Vusi Mahlasela: Guiding Star (2007, ATO): He's a guitarist, singer, songwriter -- fellow South African Dave Matthews calls him "a voice during the revolution, a voice of hope, like a Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan of South Africa." Matthews owns the label introducing Mahlasela to the US, and guests, as does Derek Trucks, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and others. All told, they pull enough tricks out of the bag that you wind up with a whirlwind tour of South African music from mbaqanga to mbube but no real sense of where Mahlasela fits into it. Perhaps everywhere. B+

Charlie Mingus: Tijuana Moods (1957 [2007], RCA Victor/Legacy): With Pithecanthropus Erectus in 1956 Mingus started to make his move as a composer and arranger, drawing together his experiences with Kid Ory, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and his own experimental workshops into a synthesis that spanned the length and breadth of jazz history with his unique daring and grandeur. A trip across the Mexican border inspired these sessions, producing four Spanish-tinged originals and an arrangement of "Flamingo" that Ellington could be proud of, but the tapes languished until 1962, a mess of false starts and derailments. When Mingus finally patched them into an album, he was pleased enough to proclaim it his best ever. That would be an exaggeration, but he anticipated world-swing moves that Ellington took another decade to match. Reissues in 1986 and 2002 swept up more and more -- the former, dubbed New Tijuana Moods, filled out a CD-length disc with alternate takes, and the latter tacked on a second disc. This time they swing back the other way, sticking with Mingus's edits for a non-redundant 36:00, but adding on a 10:57 bonus track with Lonnie Elder rapping over a Mingus vibe. A

Thelonious Monk Trio (1952-54 [2007], Prestige): Monk recorded four 10-inch LPs for Prestige, released in 1953-54, reissued as 12-inch LPs in 1956-57, and eventually spun into all sorts of confusing packages, culminating in the 3-CD Complete Prestige Recordings. One source of confusion is the naming, where Monk, Thelonious Monk, and Thelonious Monk Trio have all been used to describe the same music -- I'm going with the spine and back-cover title here, as opposed to the front cover, with its small "thelonious," large "MONK," and clear "PRESTIGE LP 7027." Like the cover art, this faithfully reproduces a 1957 12-inch LP that combined a 1953 10-inch LP and two (of four) cuts from a 1954 10-incher. It's hard to see why they didn't restore the missing cuts given that the album only runs 34:27, a limit of '50s technology that is at least sonically transcended here: the effect is to consolidate most (but not all) of Monk's trios in a handy package, separate from the quintets featuring a young and brilliant saxophonist, now available as Thelonious Monk/Sonny Rollins. Classic Monk tunes here like "Bye-Ya," "Monk's Dream," "Blue Monk" -- but the covers may be even more impressive: a solo "Just a Gigolo," Art Blakey's percolating rhythm on "Sweet and Lovely," Monk's own radical take on "These Foolish Things." A

William Parker & Hamid Drake: First Communion + Piercing the Veil (2000 [2007], AUM Fidelity, 2CD): Not missing a marketing angle, this is subtitled "Volume 1 Complete," with a new Parker-Drake duo album, Summer Snow, sporting a "Volume 2" note. Volume 1 is what Universal would call a Deluxe Edition or Sony/BMG a Legacy Edition, where the 2001 release of Piercing the Veil is now padded out to fill two discs. The padding in this case is a live tape from two days before the studio date. It is the sort of broader context that adds depth to a classic album even when the filler isn't on the same level -- rarely in this case. It pays to focus on Drake here. Parker spend a fair amount of time off-bass -- especially in the studio sessions, where he indulges in exotic wind instruments (bombarde, shakuhachi) and percussion -- but that just gives Drake more variations to respond to. But he's so attentive that he provides a prism for interpreting Parker. And he shows you his whole range, including tabla and frame drum. A-

Pink Martini: Hey Eugene! (2005-06 [2007], Heinz): I'm tempted to classify this as world cabaret: the songs have a music hall feel, especially the recognizable old ones, but even the new ones come off as freshly forged antiques, and they sing them in half a dozen languages, more or less depending on how you score things like "Dosvedanya Mio Bambino." The group is based in Portland, OR; directed by pianist Thomas Lauderdale; and features a singer named China Forbes. Three self-released albums are bestsellers, with the debut Sympathique claiming 1.3 million copies, and this one on the charts -- strikes me as a major PR coup, but it's a rare bestseller you can look up to or feel good about, and this one is both. Actually, much of it goes over my head, but it ends with a thoroughly convincing reimagining of "Tea for Two." A-

Roots of Rumba Rock: Congo Classics 1953-1955 ([2006], Crammed Discs, 2CD): No country has been more persistently or more systematically fucked over than Congo (Zaire), first by the slavetraders who corrupted the Kingdom of Kongo, then by King Leopold who turned the whole country into his private plantation, then by the Belgians who inherited Leopold's mess, then by the CIA-backed dictator Mobutu, who proved even more adept at siphoning profits into Swiss bank accounts. Recording didn't come to Congo until well into the '40s, with Franco and Le Grande Kallé finally emerging as stars in the mid-'50s. These records are slightly older, early fruits of the Afro-Cuban backwash that brought the rumba back to Congo. The sound is crude and dissonant, but the noise adds a dimension that recent bands like Konono No. 1 have raided junkyards to reproduce. A-

Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (1944-2002 [2007], Epic/Legacy): The soundtrack to Julien Temple's documentary on the Clash singer's life, with: snatches of interview; unreleased demos of "White Riot" and "I'm So Bored With the U.S.A."; formative songs by Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, MC5, Woody Guthrie, Nina Simone; a sequence of DJ Strummer playing U-Roy, Andres Landeros, and Ernest Ranglin; later pieces by Latino Rockabilly War and the Mescaleros. It suffers from the usual soundtrack loss of context and purpose. It doesn't fit or flow all that well. It raises more questions than it answers. But much the same could be said for Strummer's whole post-Clash career -- a study in frustration not without interest. B+

Briefly Noted

Azam Ali: Elysium for the Brave (2006, Six Degrees): Born in Tehran, grew up in a hill station in India, wound up in Los Angeles, recovering her heritage without losing her cosmopolitanism; she plays santour, scores the words of Sufi poets, sings with a studied approach to the ethereal, over generically worldish beats. B

Chet Baker: Chet (Keepnews Collection) (1958-59 [2007], Riverside): The original back cover touts "the lyrical trumpet of CHET BAKER," but the more descriptive term is "slow"; in Baker's day, that also passed for romantic -- even if you're unsure whether the cover girl draped over Baker's shoulder is in love or merely asleep. B+

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Caravan (1962 [2007], Riverside): One of Bu's greatest bands -- Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton, Reggie Workman -- but a rather sloppy and indifferent set, perhaps thrown off by the ill-fitting title track; still, Hubbard, who recorded his own Caravan on Impulse, makes a game showing. B

Blue Öyster Cult: Spectres (1977 [2007], Columbia/Legacy): With heavy metal going to the dogs, and cutting edge passing them by, they try a little bit of everything winding up with a lot of nothing; the album proper ranges from "Godzilla" to "Nosferatu," with bonus tracks added as they continue the search, winding up with "Be My Baby." B-

Blue Öyster Cult: Some Enchanted Evening (Legacy Edition) (1978 [2007], Columbia/Legacy, CD+DVD): A live album, originally intended as a 2-LP, but the label got cold feet and cut it down to a single; this restores the excess, then tacks on a bootleg video of another 1978 concert to prove they're not holding anything back; the Cult's own songs sound thin and sloppy, but their Animals and Steppenwolf covers show their strengths as a band, and remind you that heavy metal was just rock 'n' roll shtick. B

Donald Byrd: The Cat Walk (1961 [2007], Blue Note): Versatile, prolific trumpet player, leading a group with baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams and pianist Duke Pearson that would just as soon boogie as bebop; Byrd goes both ways, indecisively, to mixed effect. B

Havana Carbo: Through a Window . . . Like a Dream (2006 [2007], MODL Music): Cuban, evidently moved to New York pre-Castro, didn't take up singing until the '80s, and only now moving into her own, as her weathered voice matches the gravity of her slow, presumably sad, songs, polished by respectful arrangements. B+

Johnny Cash: Ultimate Gospel (1957-81 [2007], Columbia/Legacy): Even on such ordinarily uninteresting fare, Cash's sense of rhythm is uncanny, while his voice manages to be distinct and transparent at the same time -- he adds no artifice or nuance, offering plain testimony that doesn't show up the songs or their subject, yet is more remarkable than either. A-

Tadd Dameron With John Coltrane: Mating Call (1956 [2007], Prestige): In retrospect, as the only horn working with a set of Dameron's songs, Coltrane makes an especially strong show of his early, Dexter Gordon-influenced style, exhibiting a rough hewn muscularity that gets the best of Dameron's usually refined taste. B+

Electric Light Orchestra: Out of the Blue (1977 [2007], Epic/Legacy): The inevitable double album move, although here it fits on one disc with three bonus tracks; turbocharged cellos power first-side pop wonders like "Turn to Stone" and "Sweet Talkin' Woman," while the third-side "Concerto for a Rainy Day" updates Sgt. Pepper like that was as natural as progress. B+

Booker Ervin: The Freedom Book (1963 [2007], Prestige): Short-lived Texas tenor, seems like most of his titles were plays on "Book" -- this followed The Song Book and The Blues Book; this doesn't qualify as free jazz, but it does open up and range beyond hard bop, with Jaki Byard's piano challenging the sax. A-

Bill Evans: Everybody Digs Bill Evans (Keepnews Collection) (1958 [2007], Riverside): Second album, with plugs on cover from Miles Davis, George Shearing, Ahmad Jamal, and Cannonball Adderley, names that carried even more weight then than they do now; I dig the upbeat stuff and respect but never quite warmed to the quiet meandering, extended on the bonus cut. B+

Fanfare Ciocarlia: Queens and Kings (2007, Asphalt Tango): A large gypsy brass band, nominally from eastern Romania, but with two dozen musicians, really from all over borderless Europe; I don't know how this stands against four previous albums on dependable German labels, but they blast out of the gate so fast any subtle distinctions are likely moot. A-

From Bakabush: The First Ten Years of Stonetree (1995-2005 [2005], Stonetree): A label comp from rural Belize, a jerry-rigged studio mining the roots of a style known as Garifuna; sounds like a long-lost sidebranch of Africana, which in essence is what it is -- soft drums, sweet guitars, "Que Será, Será." A-

Dexter Gordon: Clubhouse (1965 [2007], Blue Note): The last of a series, cut just before Gordon moved to Europe and stuck in Blue Note's vaults until 1979; both Gordon and Freddie Hubbard are in typical form, all the more so on the slow pieces that showcase their greatness. B+

Roy Haynes/Phineas Newborn/Paul Chambers: We Three (1958 [2007], Prestige/New Jazz): Bop piano trio with a nice, evenly balanced feel, with drummer Haynes and bassist Chambers holding their own despite the fact that Newborn was one of the slickest, most voluble young pianists working then; presumably Haynes got top billing as the oldest; fifty years of steady work eventually made him the most famous. B+

Thad Jones: Detroit-New York Junction (1956 [2007], Blue Note): The middle Jones brother mastered bebop but never lost his interest in big bands -- he worked for Basie at the time, and splits the difference with this elegant sextet, mostly made up of his Detroit chums gone to the big city. B+

Roland Kirk With Jack McDuff: Kirk's Work (1961 [2007], Prestige): Soul jazz, a sax-organ quartet, albeit with a few surprises, like the cover picture of Kirk blowing into three saxophones; Kirk's flute work is also novel, emphasizing the instrument's hollow depth. B+

Martirio & Chano Domínguez: Acoplados (2004 [2006], Sunnyside): Martirio sings Spanish copla, a traditional pop song laced with flamenco and dolled up here for dramatic effect; Domínguez supports her with a tight little piano trio, but the RTVE big band and orchestra bathe the proceedings in strings and horns. B

Martirio: Primavera en Nueva York (2006, Calle 54): Without grokking the Spanish, I'd take this "bolero suite" for torch song -- slow, steady, packing emotional weight regardless of the words; the bonus is in the New York musicians, including two cuts each with Paquito D'Rivera and Houston Person, one with Claudio Roditi, and exceptional piano support from Kenny Drew Jr. B+

Jackie McLean: Old and New Gospel (1967 [2007], Blue Note): Charlie Parker's teenage go-fer developed as a great alto saxophonist only after he digested Ornette Coleman's sense of ordered chaos; here he pays tribute on two gospel-themed Coleman pieces, adding a complementary suite; Coleman, in turn, defers to McLean's superior saxmanship by switching to sloppy trumpet, reaffirming that genius has nothing to do with chops. A-

Charles Mingus: Tijuana Moods (First Edition) (1957 [2002], Bluebird, 2CD): The whole kit, or close enough for all practical purposes: first disc repeats New Tijuana Moods, where the original album is doubled to 78:37 with alternate takes; second disc raids the shelves for more scraps, including false starts and the unreleased "A Colloquial Dream"; a masterpiece in redundancy. A-

The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief (1973 [2007], Arista/Legacy): I like a good Hegel joke as much as the next bloke, and the bits about Thomas Hardy jotting down his definite article and acting Shakespeare by counting words are amusing, but it's damn difficult to follow language spoken in a foreign tongue; by the time one has played this enough to figure it out it's lost its capacity for surprise, an existential problem in need of a good Heidegger joke. B

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Executive Version) (1975 [2007], Arista/Legacy): "The Album of the Soundtrack of the Film of . . ." which has something to do with King Arthur and the storming of a French castle and a movie starring the ashes of the late Marilyn Monroe; more songs, especially with two bonus tracks, but also more hand grenades, which lose something in the transcription, and a bit of class struggle. B

Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album (1980 [2007], Arista/Legacy): More songs this time -- in the bonus interview they explain that songs are easier to write than skits, because songs don't have to be as funny; actually, the songs, like the one about Henry Kissinger having "nicer legs than Hitler and bigger tits than Cher," are wittier -- it's the crappy music that makes them easier. B

Monty Python Sings (1970-1983 [1989], Virgin): Source dates not provided, but the lyric sheet is a plus; the songs work better on CD than the sketches -- they require less focus, carry you more quickly past the unfunny spots, and with one or two exceptions don't involve explosions; the scatology is broken up with occasional innocence, or mixed, as in a gospel called "Every Sperm Is Sacred." B+

Red Nichols & Miff Mole (1925-27 [1998], Retrieval): Originally recorded by The [Six] Hottentots, The Arkansas Travellers, and most famously The Original Memphis Five, all recorded by white jazz legends in New York; Nichols was a cornet player from Utah, known later for his Five Pennies; these early cuts with Mole on trombone and others including Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet hit such a consistent mild-mannered groove they constitute an oasis of cool in the hot jazz desert. A-

Panama! Latin, Calypso and Funk of the Isthmus 1965-75 ([2006], Soundway): A label that specializes in discovering old African pop branches out into the diaspora, picking out comparable obscurities, albeit less consistent -- perhaps because Panama is a rather indistinct crossroads; the mambo and calypso sound authentic enough, at least to one raised on neither, and the trumpet on the lead cut is searing, but the funk loses its perch north of Miami. B+

William Parker & Hamid Drake: Summer Snow (2005 [2007], AUM Fidelity): New work, billed as "Volume 2" to complement the Piercing the Veil reissue, this documents five years of progress, or at least maturity: the bass and drums are more grooveful, the exotica more exotic, sometimes so much so that it is hard to follow. B+

Pharoah's Daughter: Haran (2007, Oy! Hoo): Starting out from Hasidic Brooklyn, Basya Schechter tramped around Africa and the Middle East, picking up bits of mbira and oud and santur, creating a personal saga of exile and exodus that, less profoundly, resembles a variously spiced stew. B+

The Essential Ray Price (1950-80 [2007], Columbia/Legacy): First disc is indeed essential: classic honky tonk up to 1961, with "San Antonio Rose" and "Pride" slopping over onto the second; Price's later attempts at countrypolitan were exquisitely sung and mawkishly arranged -- the best you can say is that this thins out the worst stuff; only post-1973 cut is a Willie Nelson duet. B+

The Essential Ray Price 1951-62 (1951-62 [1991], Columbia/Legacy): Still in print, a pretty close match to the first half of the new Essential, and a bargain at $9.98 list vs. $25.98; part of the "Columbia Country Classics" series, a superb reissue series aside from the usual fumble with two discs of Marty Robbins. A-

Flora Purim: Butterfly Dreams (Keepnews Collection) (1973 [2007], Milestone): Sort of a Stanley Clarke groove, George Duke funk album, with mild spicing mostly from fusion percussionist Airto Moreira; the singer aspires more to Ella Fitzgerald than to her Brazilian heritage, resulting in something fast and light but neither here nor there. B

The Remains (1965-66 [2007], Epic/Legacy): Boston rock band led by Barry Tashian, who later put his name out front; good enough to land a record contract and an opening slot for a Beatles tour, but they never came up with a signature hit like the Standell's "Dirty Water" to get them anthologized; solid 10-cut debut album with 10 equally solid bonus tracks. B+

Nino Rota: Fellini & Rota (1952-2003 [2007], CAM Jazz): From 1952 until his death in 1979 Rota composed music for Federico Fellini's movies; this is presumably the original music, as collected in a 1996 compilation, with a more recent coda by pianist Enrico Pieranunzi; as with so many soundtracks, the logic remains on screen, and the selections -- some quite marvelous -- don't flow so much has hop all over the map. B+

Art Taylor: A.T.'s Delight (1960 [2007], Blue Note): Hard bop drummer, with veteran bebopper Dave Burns on trumpet and a young saxophonist who turned out to be Stanley Turrentine, and a shmear of Patato to expand upon the rhythm. B+


In an infinite universe, all the music you'll ever need already exists somewhere. We find more each month: jazz in boutique reissue series (Rudy Van Gelder, Orrin Keepnews) and more (Bud Freeman, Charles Mingus, William Parker), world pop (Vusi Mahlasela, Martirio, Panama, Stonetree) and worldly (Pink Martini); odds and ends (Ray Price, Monty Python, Joe Strummer); many more (46 records).


Copyright © 2007 Tom Hull.