A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: August, 2007

Recycled Goods (#46)

by Tom Hull

I'm struck more and more by the randomness of what follows. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does nag me with the taunt that I ought to be more aggressively seeking out records of special interest -- especially old African music. The Series this month points in that direction, but while I'm getting more contemporary world music, I still find that the classics move me the most. Same thing is true of reggae, which I know much more about. The new Culture reissue expands on an old one I've enjoyed for twenty years.

King Sunny Ade: Gems From the Classic Years (1967-1974) (1967-74 [2007], Shanachie): In 1982, Chris Blackwell's Island Records, having turned Bob Marley into a worldwide star, gambled they could do the same with Nigerian juju master King Sunny Ade. They released three albums, spent a lot of money schlepping Ade's entourage around, and gave up. Even at the time, Ade didn't seem like such a long bet: his Nigerian albums were legendary among the few who had heard them, and his sweet guitars, polypercussion, and hypnotic chants were as effervescent as any music anywhere. Two decades later Shanachie raided the earliest Nigerian albums for a stellar compilation, The Best of the Classic Years (1967-74 [2003], Shanachie). Here they belatedly return for more, signalling in title, packaging, and lack of documentation that these leftovers aren't quite up to snuff. They should be more confident. In fact, what they should do is track down an expert and reissue the whole series of pre-Island albums with histories and maybe even some bonus tracks. I've always heard that The Message, Ajoo, Bobby, and one from 1980 with a orange cover are especially wonderful. A-

Culture: Two Sevens Clash (The 30th Anniversary Edition) (1977 [2007], Shanachie): Inspired by a vision of apocalypse portended by the clashing sevens of the date, this was roots reggae ready to meet the maker. Joseph Hill led the vocal trio as they called rastafari and hailed the black star liner. Joe Gibbs produced, with redoubtable grooves from the future Sly and Robbie. Nearly every song was classic, but it took another decade before the album was belatedly introduced to the US. Twenty years later it gets the 30th anniversary treatment: at Shanachie means a DVD-sized box and a cheaply produced booklet, with new appreciations as well as the liner notes Randall Glass wrote in 1987. Also bonus cuts: extra dub and 12-inch mixes, neither here nor there, but the album never sounded better. A+

Dirty Dancing (Legacy Edition) (1956-87 [2007], RCA/Legacy, CD+DVD): The 5-song DVD sure doesn't justify the bump from $11.98 to $25.98 -- the only watchable cut has Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes looking like high school chapperones. On the other hand, the CD adds all 34:19 of More Dirty Dancing to the original 39:04 soundtrack, plus a previously unreleased Michael Lloyd waltz, and sorts them so the mixed bag originals bounce back with surefire oldies, bridged by Lloyd's exotica. The odd mix makes for inspired trash -- the standouts are Mickey & Sylvia's "Love Is Strange" and a Blow Monkeys "You Don't Own Me," both on the original, but More doesn't drop off or bottom out, and Lloyd's cuts actually open things up. Still, I recommend lobbying for a CD-only. B

John Lee Hooker: Hooker (1949-98 [2006], Shout! Factory, 4CD): He sounded old when he was young, but also timeless, his monotonic boogie modern enough for early '50s jukeboxes but so deep in tradition he didn't have to shift gears to cash in on the '60s folk blues boom. It's not that he was above cashing in, but he always wound up sounding the same -- the remarkable thing about the duets on the fourth disc is that no one -- not even Van Morrison -- can budge him from his groove. This covers his discography accurately enough, thinning out in the late '60s with a gap from 1974-86 while his legend caught up with him. And while he tended to recycle in the '90s, the new versions hold up against the old ones. Comes in an old-fashioned box with a longbox booklet and four jewel cases for the discs -- gimmicky packaging just wouldn't seem right. A

Charles Lloyd: Of Course, Of Course (1964-65 [2006], Mosaic): On his second album, Lloyd opens with flute over Gabor Szabo's sweet guitar, with Ron Carter and Tony Williams shuffling along. Lloyd's main instrument was tenor sax, and he soon garnered a following by taking Coltrane to the masses, but this album was more varied and idiosyncratic: his sax reminds me of Warne Marsh, but the flute suggests the more flamboyantly eccentric Roland Kirk, tuned more tightly to the melody, without the special effects. The reissue adds three later tracks, trying out an appealing tropic groove. A-Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. 1: The Complete Abashiri Concert (1981 [2007], Widow's Taste, 2CD): The alto sax great had as many comeback as he had stretches in prison, with 1956, 1960, and 1975 watershed years. The last comeback proved to be his greatest, with a steady torrent of recordings until his death in 1982 -- The Complete Galaxy Recordings, at 16 CDs, never wears out or runs down. No one was more successful at digesting Parker and Coltrane and still coming up with his own unique sound -- an accomplishment equal in craft and eloquence to what Benny Carter did with a previous generation of saxophonists. But while Pepper's early work could be seen as West Coast cool jazz, his post-1975 period was marked by raw emotion. This is especially clear in the live material that occasionally appears. I'm not sure that widow Laurie Pepper's releases haven't appeared before: this one lines up with Live in Far North Japan (TDK), but offers more music. The only surprise here is how raw and frenzied the early cuts are. His "Besame Mucho" is much rougher than the one on Art Pepper With Duke Jordan in Copenhagen 1981 from earlier in the year, but remains one of life's great pleasures. Another highlight is "Body and Soul": Pepper's verdict -- "That was one of the nicest things that I think I've played in my life" isn't hyperbole. A-

Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. 2: The Last Concert (1982 [2007], Widow's Taste): Recorded at the Kool Jazz Festival in Washington DC on May 30, less than three weeks before Pepper died on June 15, this was a typical Pepper set: a fast one, a tricky one, something with a Latin bounce, a gorgeous standard, a feature for his clarinet, some talk along the way. He sounds fine all the way through, especially on the clarinet piece, a swinging "When You're Smiling" that he dedicated to Zoot Sims. The latter includes a flashy, almost over-the-top piano solo from Roger Kellaway, filling in for Pepper's usual pianist, George Cables. A marvelous closing act. A-

Oscar Peterson and Friends: JATP Lausanne 1953 (Swiss Radio Days, Vol. 16) (1953 [2007], TCB): Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts were like all-star games: random sets of headliners turned loose on things like "C-Jam Blues" -- the 19:23 opener here, where everyone gets their turn to spin, slam, and dunk. It's ironic that Peterson wound up on top of this belatedly released radio tape. At 27, he was Granz's handyman, little known, but a fast, hard swinging pianist who raised the play of everyone else on the floor. The frontliners here were Flip Phillips, Lester Young, Willie Smith, and Charlie Shavers -- with the latter's blistering trumpet setting the pace. The last two cuts drop down to a trio, with Peterson, Smith, and Gene Krupa: both give Peterson some solo space, and remind us why Smith was widely regarded as one of the three great alto saxophonists of the swing era. B+

The Wild Magnolias: The Wild Magnolias/They Call Us Wild (1974-75 [2007], Sunnyside, 2CD): Mardi Gras Indian bands were a hot fad in the mid-'70s, but three decades later we can recognize then as the peak of a minor niche, and concentrate more on the differences between the two major contenders than their similarities. The Allen Toussaint-produced, Meters-backed Wild Tchoupitoulas were brighter and more mythic even as their wizardry was more studio bound. Willie Tee's Wild Magnolias were harder and tauter, with an unstoppable guitar-based funk groove. Their first, eponymous, album is much the stronger, especially in its extended 1993 reissues, which is further stretched here to end with a single edit of "Smoke My Peace Pipe." The second album -- the second disc here -- is the typical sophomore slide, with only their makeup and costume making much of a leap forward. Still, packaged together, think of it as outtakes, broadening the picture and providing the occasional change of pace. Second disc also includes a 68-page booklet in PDF format -- good history, lots more pictures. A-

World Circuit Presents . . . (1950s-2005 [2006], World Circuit/Nonesuch, 2CD): Front cover continues: Buena Vista Social Club, Orchestra Baobab, Ali Farka Toure with Ry Cooder, Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo, Toumani Diabate, Oumou Sangare, Cachaito, Cheikh Lô. The back cover continues with a full list of lesser knowns, most from Cuba or Africa with Radio Tarifa a near miss from Spain looking south. Ann Hunt and Mary Farquharson founded the London-based label in 1986 as a sideline to their Arts Worldwide touring business, and with Nick Gold turned it into one of the more successful world music labels. Ry Cooder also helped out, working with Ali Farka Touré and Buena Vista Social Club, improving neither but adding a marketing angle. Like most eclectic label samplers, the hits warrant further study and the misses waste opportunity -- although flow is more of a problem than flopping. So you could cut to the chase and go straight to the A records: Orlando Cachaito López: Cachaito; Orchestra Baobab: Specialist in All Styles; Oumou Sangare: Oumou. B+

In Series

Network is a German label with 100+ widely scattered world music releases. Just looking at the listing of their 2-CD anthology series shows collections focusing on Eastern Europe (Balkan Blues, Gypsy Queens, Russian Gypsy Soul, The Soul of Klezmer, The Diaspora of Rembetiko, Road of the Gypsies, Golden Brass Summit), the Middle- and Near-East (Sufi Soul, an homage to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, two volumes of Desert Blues), scattered others (Musica Negra in the Americas, Island Blues), and three volumes of Afropop. Each entry in the Golden Afrique series picks a couple of countries, filling two discs with a wide range of representative styles, mostly from the early post-independence period (roughly 1960-80). While they don't aim for obscurities, they have no problem finding treasures few if any of us have heard. They are packaged in a tall fold-out, with two trays glued to the back cover, and an informative color booklet in German, French and English, with a few pages dedicated to self-promotion, stuck to the front. With the near-collapse of the dollar, they're expensive (list $43.98), but they double up as introduction for neophytes and deeper research for devotees.

Golden Afrique Vol. 1 (1971-83 [2005], Network, 2CD): The focus here is the former French colonies of West Africa: Senegal, Mali, Guinea, and Ivory Coast, with the recording centers in Abidjan and Dakar as meeting grounds for traditional griots and waves of pan-African pop from the Americas as well as Central and Southern Africa. The Cuban backwash was felt strongest in Dakar, where it was converted to Afro-salsa then mutated into mbalax and launched Youssou N'Dour onto the world stage. By contrast, the barren Sahel of Mali offers the simpler, harsher voices of classic griots like Salif Keita. This samples both, but also fills in the gaps, often from the melting pots where everything is coming and going -- even the wayward South African Miriam Makeba. A

Golden Afrique Vol. 2 (1956-82 [2005], Network, 2CD): On to Central Africa, the Congo, Kinshasa, where Cuban rumba evolved into guitar-powered soukous, assuredly fast and sweet no matter how rotten the political situation. The selections are less obscure -- prime movers and shakers like Franco, Grand Kalle Joseph Kabasele, Sam Mangwana, and Tabu Ley Rochereau aren't exactly household names but have been extensively compiled. But after the sure-shot openers, this surveys the broader context, turning up enticing tracks and unstoppable grooves. A

Golden Afrique Vol. 3 (1939-88 [2006], Network, 2CD): The move south into Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa inevitably breaks the flow, with the obligatory mbube sticking out from the equally obligatory jive, jit, and jazz. But also because no part of the continent has been more comprehensively anthologized, with Earthworks' multiple volumes of Zimbabwe Frontline and Indestructible Beat of Soweto the first choices. This one tries to avoid redundancy by drilling deeper, striking leaner veins, but again finding hidden gems. A-

Briefly Noted

King Sunny Ade: The Best of the Classic Years (1967-74 [2003], Shanachie): I reviewed this in the March 2003 Recycled Goods, so let's just note that on further reflection I've bumped the grade a bit; it's strange and disquieting how little we hear from Africa's most populous nation lately, but in the '70s Lagos was the center of the mother continent's music industry, and Sunday Adenyi was truly the king. A+

Muiza Adnet: Sings Moacir Santos (2006 [2007], Adventure Music): Another spinoff from Ouro Negro, the project that brought Afro-Brazilian composer Santos some small measure of fame; Santos roughs in some vocals shortly before his death, but producer Mario Adnet is in charge of the delicate arrangements, and his sister Muiza is featured in what strikes me as an overly proper framing. B

Anjani: Blue Alert (2006 [2007], Columbia): Reissued with a bonus DVD, as if that matters; Anjani Thomas hails from Hawaii, sings, plays piano, has worked with Leonard Cohen since 1984, and arranges his words and sentiments here -- slow, sparsely arranged, uncommonly eloquent. B+

Pablo Aslan: Avantango (2003 [2004], Zoho): Less a jazz conception of tango than a daring effort to push tango forward into uncharted territory; still, in the end the bandoneon, violin, and above all three vocals by Roxana Fontan mark this as uncompromisingly rooted in the classics, even if the horns and piano beg to differ. B+

Pablo Aslan: Buenos Aires Tango Standards (2006 [2007], Zoho): The group is a standard jazz quintet -- trumpet, sax, piano, bass, drums -- eschewing bandoneon, violin, all the usual crutches that mark tango; the standards are more orthodox, but less jagged, emphasizing the melodies over the twists and turns, opening them up as jazz is wont to do. A-

Balkan Beat Box: Nu-Med (2007, JDub): Plus ça change, and all that -- the gypsy-klezmer horns and hopped-up beats remain the vertebrae all the guests with their varied interests hang or bounce off of, including this time a healthy dose of Jamaican dub, the original recyclable. A-

Anthony Braxton/Joe Fonda: Duets 1995 (1995 [2007], Clean Feed): Elemental free jazz interplay, just Fonda's bass circled by Braxton's saxophones or clarinets; measured, thoughtful, too carefully planned and executed to be pure improv, but rarely what you expected. B+

Marc Broussard: S.O.S.: Save Our Soul (2007, Vanguard): Peace, love, and chicken grease -- the signature of a Louisiana man with Cajun credentials as he dives head first into vintage soul -- "Inner City Blues," "I've Been Loving You Too Long," "Respect Yourself," "Love and Happiness," "Yes We Can Can," "You Met Your Match"; overly familiar, marginally distinguished, monumental. B

New Wonderland: The Best of Jeri Brown (1991-2006 [2007], Justin Time): Canadian jazz singer, with nine solid albums providing plenty of choice material, but it's the players who shine -- especially Kirk Lightsey on "Orange Colored Sky" and David Murray on "Joy"; on the other hand, they gamble with four previously unreleased cuts, which are anything but choice. B

Bruford: Rock Goes to College (1979 [2007], Winterfold): An Oxford concert, broadcast by the BBC, two albums into prog-rock's premier drummer's solo career, still pretending his last name was a group, not quite ready to call the music made of Allan Holdsworth's guitar and Dave Stewart's keybs fusion, let alone the jazz that got there first; added attraction: two Annette Peacock vocals, but little more than perfunctory. B

So Real: Songs From Jeff Buckley (1993-97 [2007], Columbia/Legacy): Two thoughts: 1) heavy metal is the new opera; 2) it takes someone who understand that to bring the true horror of the concept out; songs from Piaf and Cohen withstand much of the onslaught, succumbing only to his preciousness; his originals lack vested interests. B-

Jeff Buckley: Grace (Legacy Edition) (1993-94 [2004], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD+DVD): After the EP bait on Live at Sin-é (also available in a ridiculously expanded Legacy Edition), and before his swim date with the grim reaper, a grab at immortality; a preening, acrobatic singer, but a pretty fair guitarist (unless that's Michael Tighe I'm noticing); the excess is scattered, the best an instrumental "Kanga-Roo" that churns on and on. C+

The Clash: The Singles (1977-85 [2007], Epic/Legacy): Not much more useful than the collectorama 19-CD box, padded with 3X the oddities and not burdened with sequencing that at first seems to track declining chart position; "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais" was a rare single that that showed where they were heading, but most singles, at least from London Calling on, just sampled albums, and rather curiously at that. A-

Jose Conde y Ola Fresca: (R)evolucion (2006 [2007], Mr. Bongo): New York-based, a melting pot of Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican -- funk, salsa, cumbia, bomba, timba, sanctioned by the Comite Defensa de la Clave, as if clave was in any danger; it could be postmodern boogaloo for all I know, or just delightful nonsense. B+

Contemporary America: Another Center (2007, Adventure Music): Ten musicians from seven South American countries, including four from Brazil who set the friendly pace; still, the combination favors European song forms over African rhythms, especially when Lucia Pulido sings. B+

Light My Fire: The Very Best of José Feliciano (1967-74 [2007], RCA/Legacy): Blind Puerto Rican folksinger, had some success with idiosyncratic chop-and-stretch covers, like the "Star Spangled Banner" (included here) that got him flack at the 1968 World Series; over time the charm has worn off, as happens when novelties aren't funny enough. C+

The Essential Maynard Ferguson (1954-96 [2007], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Trumpeter, from Quebec, made his rep in Stan Kenton's band for his piercing high notes, enjoyed a long run as a popular bandleader; the '50s sides tend to dissolve into white light, the '60s and '70s add schmaltz and fad -- "Maria" and "MacArthur Park" are the worst, at least until he discovers disco; "Caravan" and "Manteca," from his endgame on Concord, aren't bad. B-

Absolutely the Best of John Fred and His Playboy Band (1964-69 [2001], Fuel 2000): Louisiana group, led by John Fred Gourrier, with an ear for the Brit Invasion, yielding one hit -- "Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)" -- and plenty of solid filler, sometimes reminiscent of the Animals. B+

The Free Zen Society (2003 [2007], Thirsty Ear): Label honcho Peter Gordon pulled this improv session off the shelf, wrapping Matthew Shipp's stout piano chords with gossamer strands of Zeena Parkins harp, William Parker bass, and his own scattered electronics, giving it a new agey contemplativeness that only partially obscure the muscle underneath. B

The Essential Benny Goodman (1934-46 [2007], Columbia/Bluebird/Legacy, 2CD): The Sony-BMG merger unites most of Goodman's discography, especially from his peak popularity period; this carves the bounty up into evenly balanced slices: live performances, and studio recordings featuring arrangers, singers, and small groups; they provide a useful introduction to the King of Swing in his prime, but if anything slight his still remarkable clarinet. A-

Erol Josué: Régléman (2007, MI5): Haitian vodou man with an electro slant, but the chants dominate, and the beats are neither here nor there -- 13 years in Paris must have rattled his music, even if they didn't shake his faith. B

Barb Jungr: Bare Again (1999 [2007], ZC): Reissue of her first album Bare, named for its minimal piano-only accompaniment, with three extra cuts to grow the title; Jungr has some jazz flair, and picks songs come from '60s-'70s pop, with Jacques Brel's "Sons Of" a revelation, Ian Dury's "What a Waste" a surprise, and Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee" a dud. B

Frank London's A Night in the Old Marketplace (2006 [2007], Soundbrush): Alexandra Aron conceived this "tragic carnivalspiel" based on a 1907 Yiddish tale, tapping playwright Glen Berger for the words, klezmerist London for the score, and a dozen or so singers -- best known are Susan McKeown and Lorin Sklamberg; the drama unfolds with Brechtian flair, but I distrust a shady character called "G-d" -- leaving me in doubt as to what it all means. B

Erin McKeown: Sing You Sinners (2006 [2007], Nettwerk): Counted as a folk singer, but when you were born in 1977, "Get Happy" and "Paper Moon" could be folk songs, and Fats Waller's "If You a Viper" represents a long suppressed, little spoken-of past; her embrace of sinners strikes me as healthy, as do her jazzy charts -- the one new song here, an original, is rooted in dixieland. B+

Buddy & Julie Miller: Love Snuck Up (1995-2002 [2004], Hightone): Half of the songs come from Buddy & Julie Miller (2001, Hightone), the album that consummated their careers -- Julie had five albums, three on gospel label Myrrh, while Buddy had three plus much more side work; the other half provide a short best-of, a useful summary to date. B+

Duke Robillard's World Full of Blues (2006-07 [2007], Stony Plain): Journeyman blues jockey, sings a little, plays a lot of guitar; stretches to two discs, not because he has a lot to say, more like he don't know what to leave out; then calls the second disc a free bonus because he's not arrogant enough to expect you to pay double for mere encyclopedia; surprisingly, second disc actually kicks in quicker. B+

Just Like a Woman: Nina Simone Sings Classic Songs of the '60s (1967-78 [2007], RCA/Legacy): Strong voice, can be a powerful stylist, has no problem convincing you that she's entitled to interpret anything she wants, which makes her inconsistencies and flat out muffs all the more annoying; four Dylan songs here, two -- "I Shall Be Released," "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" -- worth keeping. B

Socalled: Ghettoblaster (2005 [2007], JDub): Old school ghetto, rapping and philosophizing over klezmer samples; hip enough to recognize that these are the good old days, as long as you say what you want while you still can, with plenty of hop too. A-

Somi: Red Soil in My Eyes (2005-06 [2007], World Village): Singer-songwriter, born in Illinois of parents from Rwanda and Uganda; she calls what she does Holistic New African Jazz-Soul, aiming at "introspective bliss and inspiration" -- noble sentiments for music that goes nowhere. B-

The Spiritualaires of Hurtsboro, Alabama: Singing Songs of Praise (2004-05 (2007), CaseQuarter): One of the last active vocal groups from gospel's golden age, led by Robert Marion, who joined as a teenager in 1948, with new guy Jimmy Anthony joining in the early '80s; the rough-edged simplicity works as long as the guitar pushes them along, but free-form pieces like "The Lord's Prayer" are as awkward as ever. B+

Suphala: Blueprint (2007, Suphala): US-born, returned to her parents' India for the tabla, then back to NYC for the money; her tabla is impressive enough, but the fusion here can get pretty conventional, with Edie Brickell and Vikter Duplaix vocals, Mazz Swift violin, Vernon Reid guitar, about par for an electronica mixer, but unfocused for an artist. B

Additional Consumer News


In an infinite universe, all the music you'll ever need already exists somewhere. We find more each month: inspired numerology (Culture), golden Africans (Network's series, King Sunny Ade), raging Indians (Wild Magnolias), a big box of blues (John Lee Hooker), a widow's taste (Art Pepper), twisted tangos (Pablo Aslan), Danish radio days (Oscar Peterson); many more (44 records).


Copyright © 2007 Tom Hull.