A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: December, 2007 (in process)
Recycled Goods (#50)
by Tom Hull
Static Multimedia published my first Recycled Goods column in February 2003, almost five years ago. The idea was to do a monthly column of short, graded reviews of old music in the style that Robert Christgau invented back in 1969 at the Village Voice. I had used this same style before: back in 1973-74 in a St. Louis tabloid called Overdose. They were preceded by a review of his first book where I argued that, well, anyone can hack out record reviews . . . even me. Christgau saw those reviews, and was sufficiently amused to invite me to write for the Village Voice, which I did rather erratically up to 1979 or so. I moved on with my life, wrote software for many years, move up and down the east coast. We remained friends. He occasionally pitched me to resume writing -- African? Jazz? I pitched him on the idea of building a website to showcase his writings, including 30+ years of consumer guides. Eventually he agreed, so in September 2001 I drove from Wichita, where I grew up and wound up, to New York City. The website went up the week after the World Trade Center came down.
It was a week that changed my life in several ways. For one thing, I resuscitated the idea of writing a book about political philosophy. I had started that book three years before, but wasn't able to pull it into sensible shape. My main idea was that the world was becoming increasingly complex and increasingly contingent on technology and organization, and that in such a world the ethos of competition needs to give way to cooperation. Failure to do so would be fraught with perils, not least of which was the threat of terrorists using desperate means to level the playing field. Still, in 1998 I felt uneasy predicting that some day in the not-so-distant future we would be victims, not just of outsider attacks but of our own unconsciousness. After 9/11, that prophecy was one thing I no longer had to worry about.
So I started out replotting that book, and I'm still working on it. One reason I haven't made much progress is that I got back into writing about music, and that turned out to be a voracious time sink. That's mostly the fault of Recycled Goods, which currently stands at 50 columns, 2100 records, 215,000 words. I got into this column as a side-effect of building the Robert Christgau website. My work there attracted email from a number of long-time Christgau fans, one being Static's music editor at the time, Michael Tatum. To make a long story short, he invited me to do any kind of column I wanted, and I thought it would be fun to do an oldies consumer guide. At the time Christgau dedicated his year-end guide to the year's best reissues, but I knew good and well there was a lot more to choose from, it suited my interests in history, and I figured it would be good practice to write regularly.
A year later Christgau approached me with the idea of writing a Jazz Consumer Guide column for the Village Voice. I agreed to that as well, and found myself saddled with two satisfying but immensely time-consuming columns. And while it's certainly true that I'm writing much more than ever, I'm finding little time to work on that book. The upshot of all this is that Recycled Goods is shutting down. I have enough stuff left over that there will be one more column after this one. This won't be the end of my music writing, although at least temporarily I expect the volume to subside. I will continue to write Jazz Consumer Guide for the Village Voice. I'd like to do a little more freelance work -- something else I haven't had time to pursue. And I'll occasionally publish notes on music and other subjects in my blog.
African Pearls 1: Congo: Rumba on the River (1954-69 , Syllart, 2CD): The Belgians, especially under King Leopold, savagely exploited their African colony while offering scarcely any pretension of development. When they departed in 1960 they left virtually nothing in the way of institutions or infrastructure for independence. However, it's hard to detect such impoverishment in the music recorded from the early 1950s on, producing such estimable stars as Joseph Kabaselle (Le Grand Kallé), Franco, Rocherau, and Dr. Nico. The French label Syllart got in on the ground floor, featuring these stars in the first of several label retrospectives. The music here is rumba, returned to its Kongo roots from Cuba and given a sweet, gentle flow, featuring the guitars that would sooner or later escalate to soukous. A
Albert Ayler Quartet: The Hilversum Session (1964 , ESP-Disk): This is the sort of session that would make an ideal complement to some sort of "Deluxe Edition" reissue of Ayler's 1964 landmark Spiritual Unity. The former album's trio, with Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums, reappear, reprising "Ghosts" and "Spirits" and adding other Ayler pieces. But this does more than reiterate: the fourth member is Don Cherry, whose cornet shadows Ayler's lines and lifts the band's spiritual exultation heavenward. A-
Patricia Barber: The Premonition Years 1994-2002 (1994-2002 , Premonition, 3CD): Jazz singer, pianist, and composer, her career forms something of an underground parallel to Diana Krall's -- her voice dusky and shrouded where Krall's is bright and articulate, her piano more substantial but still secondary, a successful niche player whereas Krall crossed over. This takes five albums and reshuffles them by category: pop songs, standards, and originals. All are slow and somber, but at least the rock-era pop songs start with some bounce as well as catchy melodies -- "Use Me," "You Don't Know Me," "Black Magic Woman," "The Fool on the Hill" are given especially learned readings. The older vintage standards are less surprising. The originals are less obvious, but thoughtful and sometimes haunting. I see little value in sorting them this way: her albums -- especially the 1998 breakthrough Modern Cool -- mix all three, and work because the multiple facets fit. B+
Manu Chao: La Radiolina (2007, Nacional/Because): The future not just of world music but, if we're lucky, the world. French born, his parents exiles from Franco's Spain -- his mother from Basque country, his father from Galicia -- which gave him an early commitment to transnationalism and against fascism, which comes in handy in the the Bush era. He plays guitar and sings in French, Spanish, Arabic, Galician, Catalan, English, Portuguese, and Italian. Don't know how many of those are in play here -- several, for sure, but his beats signify in all languages. Truth from one bit of near-English: "politik needs force/politik needs cries/politik needs ignorance/politik needs lies." A
Miles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions (1972-75 , Columbia/Legacy, 6CD): The eighth, and reportedly last, of Legacy's deluxe metal-spine multi-CD box sets, which have attempted to reframe the Davis catalog in its broader studio context. While some of the earlier boxes did little more than repackage well known material, the later sets undid Teo Macero's edits, returning to the original session tracks. That hasn't always been a plus: the Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson session boxes largely vindicated the edits. But here it is a plus. On the Corner was rudely dismissed by virtually all jazz critics at the time, even those who bought into the earlier fusion albums. Indeed, by Ornette Coleman's rule-of-thumb it wasn't a jazz album at all -- Coleman argued that in rock the band plays with the drummer, while in jazz the drummer plays with the band. But rewrite that rule to make funk bassist Michael Henderson the focal point, with the drums (including congas and tabla) just the first layer of elaboration. Davis by the early 1970s was a pop star as well as a jazz legend, which led him to conceive of his evolution in terms of James Brown and Sly Stone, but unlike his fusion followers, he had no intention of watering anything down. He spent this period working with British avant-gardist Paul Buckmaster, listening to Karlheinz Stockhausen, neither offering any pop potential. What Davis learned here was to be comfortable with repetition, a very unjazzlike attitude. He let the bass line stretch out endlessly, opening up space that he could pierce at will with his trumpet. Over three years, he took various groups into the studio 16 times, releasing the edited down On the Corner and two more bundles of scraps, Big Fun and Get Up With It. The edited albums never quite let the music breathe, which turns out to be key. Until now the period was best represented by live albums, and Dark Magus is still the one to turn to first -- no doubt because audience rekindled the jazz legend's love of improvisation. But this history fleshes out the story. Those waiting for Davis to stumble will have to look further. A-
Bob Dylan: Dylan (1962-2006 , Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): Having grown up with Dylan, following his albums one by one as they appeared, watching his stock rise and fall and rise again, noting how my own interest waxed and waned, I've never had much use for his frequent compilations. His early style evolved so furiously that the 1967 Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, each song including the bait exclusive "Positively 4th Street" individually brilliant, was jarringly at odds with itself. He has a dozen or so key albums best owned whole, each coherent and richly detailed. Compilations try to compete by rescuing the better songs from the weaker albums. Dylan had a slack period, roughly from 1975-90, but even there choice pickings like "Precious Angel" rarely stand up to the competition. Still, this isn't a bad time for a career-spanning retrospective. His three latest albums, from 1997's Time Out of Mind, are as accomplished, albeit far less prophetic, as those from his 1960s prime. And we can trace his renewal back further -- I figure the icebreaker was 1988's The Traveling Wilburys, a masquerade that fooled no one. Moreover, most folks have a lot of catching up to do. I suppose they are who this is for. The three discs break out reasonably: 1962-67, 1969-85, 1986-2006. They pull 51 songs from 33 albums, including several compilations and two soundtracks. It's a fair sampling, missing much, trying to make a modest case for the slack period -- but note that when they cut the set down to a single disc they jump from 1976 to 1997. When I saw Dylan a few years ago, I noted that the crowd was evenly divided between folks more/less my age and the teenaged children they dragged with them. This is for the kids. A-
Von Freeman: The Best of Von Freeman on Premonition (1996-2006 , Premonition, 2CD+DVD): You could call Freeman a late bloomer, but one could also argue that he's always been around but never caught a break until in his 70s. Born 1922, he played with Horace Henderson before the war, the Navy during, and the Pershing Ballroom house band when he got out. He joined Sun Ra in 1948 and hung with the AACM later, but he was also chums with Gene Ammons and Johnny Griffin, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk liked him enough to produce his debut album (1972, age 50). He had one of the most idiosyncratic, instantly recognizable tenor sax sounds ever -- he attributes some of that to being a poor boy playing cheap saxophones, and there's a legend that he built his first sax at age 7 out of a Victrola horn. But he's mellowed since he hit 80, developing a richer, cleaner sound that still falls far short of lush. He cut a couple of 1970s records for AACM-connected Nessa, and two more in 1992 for Steeplechase in Denmark, but didn't get much attention until Half Note released his 75th Birthday Celebration. Then Premonition picked up his 1996 Live at the Dakota and started recording him regularly. The material anthologizes well -- it's all quartets with piano or guitar excepting a solo and a duo with Jason Moran -- and includes a couple of previously unissued bait tracks. The DVD just shows him speaking, first in an interview and then to a street crowd at the dedication of Von Freeman Way. He's a natural comic, mature like his music, which sums up a short century of saxophone wisdom -- he reminds me of Sonny Rollins, even if at best he's more like Newk's scrawny little brother. A-
Jimmy Reed: The Best of the Vee-Jay Years (1953-63 , Shout! Factory): Unlike the three other The Best of the Vee-Jay Years titles in this release (see below), Reed actually did his best work at Vee-Jay, and he did a lot more of it than fits on a single CD. In fact, I have a 6-CD box set Charly released in 1994 that hardly ever slips below the mostly redundant single-CD best-ofs -- The Best of Jimmy Reed, originally released in 1977 on GNP/Crescendo and ranked by Robert Santelli the 11th best blues album of all time; Rhino's Blues Masters: The Best of Jimmy Reed, released in 2000; and this one, slightly shorter at 17 cuts. Like Mississippi John Hurt, Reed has an amiable even temper and easy stroll that rolls on and on and never wears thin. A
A man who could get to the point, Miles Davis once managed to reduce all of jazz history to four words: "Louis Armstrong Charlie Parker." This is actually just a more extreme form of what happens routinely in the writing of history, where myriad events are selected for one reason or another, shorn of much complexity, the individuals polished up into archetypes. When Martin Williams assembled The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz he effectively established a canon, telling everyone who came after what was essential, and by omission what was peripheral. Williams largely agreed with Davis, according Armstrong and Parker eight cuts each (out of 95 total), but expanded his pantheon to include Duke Ellington (8), Jelly Roll Morton (5), and Thelonious Monk (5). (Others with multiple cuts: Bessie Smith, Frankie Trumbauer [Bix Beiderbecke], Fletcher Henderson, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Art Tatum, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Sonny Rollins, and Ornette Coleman.)
Allen Lowe, who's written two books on early 20th century American pop and jazz and compiled record sets to illustrate them, dislikes the Great Man focus. He prefers the mess that actually happened, juxtaposing things that we only later sorted out into nice neat boxes like country, blues, ragtime, hot jazz, swing, and bebop, and especially things and people that don't fit into any of the above. Lowe's second book/archive set, That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History, 1900-1950, is as messy as his subject. The book, published in 2001 by Music and Arts Programs of America, runs 312 pages -- dense and frenetic as its main purpose is to annotate a play list of 854 songs, divided into 36 CDs, sold in four slim boxes of 9, each with a small print chunk of the book.
Lowe's been down this road before. His previous book, American Pop: From Minstrel to Mojo: On Record 1893-1956 (1997, Cadence Jazz Books) turned into the 9-CD American Pop: An Audio History: From Minstrel to Mojo: On Record, 1893-1946 (, West Hill Audio Archives). Freely juxtaposing genres, its 238 songs rarely stray far from recognized signposts, providing a one-stop history lesson that is, well, almost canonical. On the other hand, That Devilin' Tune has a dose of Second System Complex: having succeeded once, Lowe aims far higher this time, with four times as many discs/songs covering a slightly narrower focus, he takes the opportunity not to gather more well known songs but to delve into the idiosyncratic obscurities. This doesn't work nearly as satisfactorily as a survey, but does provide plenty of grist for research and argument. The major figures are present, of course, but rarely with their signature work: Ellington gets 15 cuts, Armstrong 10, Morton 10, Parker 9, Goodman 8, Trumbauer and/or Beiderbecke 8, Basie 7, Hawkins 6. But I only see 4 dupes from Williams' canon: Armstrong's "Hotter Than That" and "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues"; Morton's "Grandpa's Spells"; Parker's "Koko" (a different version). I don't know whether Lowe tried to avoid citing tracks that any but the most fanatical collectors might have, but he generally comes up with interesting choices. For the major figures, these samples are actually quite select -- Ellington has over 30 CDs in Classics' Chronological series. Even Bert Williams, a minstrel star from the 1910s with 3 cuts here, recorded 3 CDs worth of material (now on Archeophone).
That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History: Volume 1 (1895-1927 , WHRA, 9CD): Whereas Williams disposes of where jazz came from by juxtaposing two versions of "Maple Leaf Rag," one by composer Scott Joplin and the other by Jelly Roll Morton, Lowe digs deep into many roots besides ragtime -- minstrels, songsters, march bands, James Reese Europe's orchestra. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band (1917) doesn't appear until the 3rd disc. Ethel Waters and Mamie Smith (1921) make the 4th, and Jelly Roll Morton (1923) the 5th, but the series doesn't start to sound predominantly jazzy until the 6th or 7th disc. While he sprinkles in early bits of Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, and Bennie Moten, he holds Louis Armstrong back until the last cut -- maybe to play down the notion that Armstrong invented jazz, or just because he couldn't find anything to follow "Hotter Than That" with. A-
That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History: Volume 2 (1927-34 , WHRA, 9CD): Bix Beiderbecke leads off with 3 of the first 9 tracks, contrasting with 2 cuts by obscure trumpeter Louis Dumaine. The book takes on the always annoying question of race in jazz, plugging numerous whites -- including an argument that Beiderbecke was the first cool jazz proponent -- without ceding any arguments to Richard Sudhalter's white jazz brief, Lost Chords. The records wend their way through numerous intimations of swing to come, punctuated by occasional blues and country tunes that are hardly less jazzy. A-
That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History: Volume 3 (1934-45 , WHRA, 9CD): Swing is here, announced by Jimmie Lunceford, Red Norvo, Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, and Ray Noble on the first disc. Second disc tees off with Bob Wills, a westerner who swings too, and moves on to Count Basie. The most consistently satisfying of the boxes, at least until 1940 (disc 7) when Lowe starts looking for premonitions of bebop -- Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie show up on disc 8, but disc 9 (1944-45) is a broad smorgasbord of retro dixieland (Kid Ory, Bunk Johnson), elegant Ellington, singers like Billie Holiday and Nat Cole, saxophonists like Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas. A
That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History: Volume 4 (1945-51 , WHRA, 9CD): Bebop takes over, but of course it isn't that clean a cut. Disc 4, for instance, starts with Bing Crosby and Al Jolson singing "Alexander's Ragtime Band" -- the fourth take, following Collins and Harlan (1911), Louis Armstrong (1937), and Bunk Johnson (1945). Then, after Sidney Bechet, comes Chano Pozo's "Ritmo Afro Cubano." That disc wanders especially wide: Art Tatum, Ella Fitzgerald, Lenny Tristano, Mutt Carey, Astor Piazzolla, Hank Penny, Nelly Lutcher, Buddy Rich, Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker. But before long bebop has driven most of the other contenders from the depopulated clubs -- exceptions are the occasional throwback like Kid Thomas, and an especially ugly bit of projectile vomit from Stan Kenton. I suppose there's a lesson there: I would have picked something listenable, but if you have to acknowledge Kenton, why whitewash him? A-
Bachata Roja: Acoustic Bachata From the Cabaret Era (1962-90 , IASO): Party music from Santo Domingo, guitar-based, country-flavored, folksier, less formal than the merengue sanctioned by Trujillo up to his assassination in 1961, sampled up when the electric guitar took over. B+
Count Basie: Basie at Birdland (1961 , Roulette Jazz): This is about where Basie's "Second Testament" (as they put it here) band starts to slip, but they can still kick the old songbook into high orbit, the section work is atomic, a key tenor sax solo (Budd Johnson?) is much further out than expected, and Jon Hendricks mumbles his Clark Terry impression on "Whirly Bird"; nearly double the length of the original LP, the extra weight suits them. A-
Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album (1968 , RPM/Columbia/Legacy, CD+DVD): No dates on the bonus track or the 20-minute DVD, which are likely much later than the core album; this tempts me to think that a bunch of relatively secular songs played loose and swinging could save even Santa Claus, but the public domain medley with its carrolling chorus disabused me, and the title cut is as treacly as Bennett can get. B-
Tony Bennett: Sings the Ultimate American Songbook, Vol. 1 (1958-97, RPM/Columbia/Legacy): These are songs he can sing, some superbly -- "That Old Black Magic" with Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond is a highlight -- but this jumps around an awful lot, and I can't get over the point where he introduces a duet partner he considers on a par with Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, and Hank Williams: k.d. lang. B
Jerry Butler: The Best of the Vee-Jay Years (1958-65 , Shout! Factory): A strong, deep soul voice, it takes several plays for his ballads to sink in, especially without the slick rhythm section that buoys his later Mercury hits, but they do; about half of his pop hits, including his breakthrough with the Impressions ("For Your Precious Love") and a feisty duet with Betty Everett ("Let It Be Me"). A-
Miles Davis: Evolution of the Groove (1959-72 , Columbia/Legacy): Feels like an aborted project, cut way back to 14:40 length peddled for $7.99 list: a "Freddie Freeloader" outtake, a Nas rap, a bit of Carlos Santana guitar, and some snips of a guy who didn't need a remixer to know how to lay out a funky groove. B-
The Dells: The Best of the Vee-Jay Years (1955-65 , Shout! Factory): A doo-wop group from Chicago, much better known for their late-'60s hits on Cadet than a first decade with Vee-Jay that only netted two R&B hits -- the first, "Oh What a Nite," revived for a top ten pop hit in 1969; between the covers and future retreads little stands out here, other than the classic group harmony that was soon to click. B+
Celine Dion: These Are Special Times (1998 , Columbia/CMV/Legacy, CD+DVD): I can't stand Xmas music -- I won't bother to count the ways, but there are many -- and I never heard anything by Dion that I ever wanted to hear again, so I'm shocked. She nails virtually every song, and not just chestnuts: "O Holy Night" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" have pristine arrangements to match her voice, and even "Ave Maria" stays within tasteful limits. But she doesn't shrink from everything. She stirs up a genuine "Feliz Navidad," and gets extra credit for the John Lennon-Yoko Ono non-standard "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Duets with Andrea Bocelli and R. Kelly are a little iffy, and being the grinch that I am I don't want to go overboard. And of course I haven't bothered with the DVD, not that I'm not the least curious about that Rosie O'Donnell duet. B+
Bob Dylan: Dylan (1963-2006 , Columbia/Legacy): This single-disc not-so-cheapie is for the little kids, or if you want to hedge your gift-giving bets; it skips everything from "Hurricane" in 1976 to "Make You Feel My Love" in 1997, and saves "Forever Young" for the closer, as if it sums anything up -- it was more like the start of several decades of confusion, but the little kids don't need to know that much yet. A
Alèmayèhu Eshèté: Éthiopiques, Vol 22: More Vintage! (1972-74 , Buda Musique): A pop star from the Swinging Addis era, the brief flowering of popular music during the last, weakened years of Emperor Haile Selassie's rule; the music is hard to place, with extraneous effects from Arab pop and American rock occasionally displacing a steady, crooner groove; Eshèté also owns Vol. 9 in the Éthiopiques series, which presumably is more select. B+
Éthiopiques, Vol. 23: Orchestra Ethiopia (1963-75 , Buda Musique): Less a group than an offically sanctioned forum for presenting Ethiopian folk musics, with US Peace Corps volunteers John Coe and Charles Sutton taking part, moving beyond field recordings to a modern framing of ancient crafts; it's far removed from the urban pop that emerged in the 1970s, a reminder of how isolated and idiosyncratic the mountain kingdom was. B+
Toni Iordache: Sounds From a Bygone Age, Vol. 4 (1964-80 , Asphalt Tango): Romania's famous virtuoso of the cimbalom, a wood soundbox with metal strings hit by cotton-covered mallets that fills the role of a piano and sounds a bit like a harp; these are scattered sessions, mostly with accordion and violin, sometimes with singers, some slow, most fast; sometimes amazing, often overwhelming, good to have, but hard to handle. B+
Thad Jones: The Magnificent Thad Jones (1956 , Blue Note): The slowest great trumpet player of his generation, Jones never dazzled you with his chops, but he had an uncanny knack for finding right places for his notes, and at his moderate pace you get to savor the full beauty of the instrument. A-
The Very Best of Diana Krall (1995-2006 , Verve): The most successful jazz vocalist of her generation, her precise, practiced control of nuance is evident in every note, sometimes so conspicuously that she stretches slow songs out to imponderable lengths; still, she has no hit parade, no canon -- the selection here seems arbitrary, favoring her least graceful albums making the songs seem unnecessarily difficult. B+
Steve Kuhn/Steve Swallow: Two by Two (1995 , Owl/Sunnyside): Piano/electric bass, two longtime masters, trading songbooks as well as lines; intimate, understated, seductive, but too respectful to shake much of anything loose. B+
Sinikka Langeland: Starflowers (2006 , ECM): Norwegian father, Finnish mother, sings the Norwegian words of lumberjack-poet Hans Børli, plays a Finnish table harp called a santele; folk music dressed up in Nordic jazz -- slow, cold, a little arch, but every now and then they threaten to explode. B+
The McKay Brothers: Cold Beer & Hot Tamales (2006, Medina River): Full of Texas heart and Mexican soul, not dichotomies, just neighbors, they don't see why life's got to be so hard and sad, but go with the flow and don't get hung up on the silicone in the American dream -- after all, "I ain't got much but I guess I still got my dog." A-
Bennie Maupin: The Jewel and the Lotus (1974 , ECM): Plays "reeds" which sounds like a sneaky way to slip the flute in, although soprano sax and bass clarinet are also featured in his toolkit; best known for headhunting fusion with Herbie Hancock, who returns the favor here, but this is an early exercise in ECM pastorale, what New Age would be if brains or guts were required. B
Lee Morgan: Indeed! (1956 , Blue Note): The 18-year-old trumpet whiz's first studio experience, cut one day before the Hank Mobley session that Savoy rushed into print as Introducing Lee Morgan, this is as interesting for the presence of rarely-recorded Clarence Sharpe on alto sax and the way Horace Silver's piano jumps out at you; Morgan still had a ways to go, but the excitement around him was already palpable. B+
Lee Morgan: Volume 2: Sextet (1956 , Blue Note): Less than a month after Indeed!, Morgan is sounding even more confident in a larger, more daunting group featuring Hank Mobley on tenor sax and little known Kenny Rodgers on alto sax, with Horace Silver again providing his inexorable bounce. B+
Lee Morgan: Volume 3 (1957 , Blue Note): Still 18, at the helm of a subtler, more sophisticated sextet, and even more clearly the star, despite the estimable talent around him -- saxophonists Benny Golson and Gigi Gryce, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Charlie Persip; Golson wrote the whole program, spreading out the complexity, while Kelly holds it all together. B+
Lee Morgan: Candy (1957 , Blue Note): Still in his teens, but at last out front alone, leading a quartet with the redoubtable Sonny Clark on piano, running through a mix of standards, including a couple he reclaims from the pop/r&b charts -- "Candy" and "Personality"; he's bursting with energy and ideas, still finding himself, but completely in control. A-
Sunny Murray (1966 , ESP-Disk): A drummer of the avant-garde, his martial machine gun beats disconnected from a two sax, one trumpet -- Haitian Jacques Coursil, little known but interesting here -- band that neither plays with nor against him; reissue adds 35 minutes of interviews which you don't need to hear more than once, but maybe that's true of the music, too. B
The New Percussion Group of Amsterdam: Go Between (1986 , Summerfold): Dutch avants, mostly mallet players, fuse jazz and world music, paying special attention to Japan; marimba player Keiko Abe and prog/fusion drummer Bill Bruford guest on one track each, the latter arranging to get this fascinating encounter released on EG in 1987 and on his own label now. B+
Dolly Parton: Coat of Many Colors (1969-71 , RCA Nashville/Legacy): Young enough to identify as a daughter -- grateful for the title coat that made her feel rich, jilted when mom ran off with her traveling man; but at 25 she already had five years of albums out, including a mess of duets with Porter Wagoner and a Best Of that had few peers until her next one came out in 1975. A-
Dolly Parton: My Tennessee Mountain Home (1972 , RCA Nashville/Legacy): Conceptually, a memoir, with one foot in "The Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)" and the other in Nashville, where she's learned to parlay the former into a measure of country stardom, with finely etched observations on her father's boots, the old black kettle, the doctor to delivered her, and enough sanctity to past muster regardless of whether she really believes it all. A-
Dolly Parton: Jolene (1973 , RCA Nashville/Legacy): Past Porter Wagoner now, at home in Nashville and getting ready for Hollywood, she ditches those back home songs that made her sound so country and goes straight for the universal: relationship songs, as deep as "I Will Always Love You" and as rocky as the title track; she's still got a knack for the music, but few of the details leave an impression. B
John Phillips: Jack of Diamonds (1970-73 , Varèse Sarabande): Papa John's solo career didn't choke as abruptly as Mama Cass's, but this long-shelved would-be second album was the beginning of the end, with its muted echoes of the 1960s search for roots or 'shrooms (whichever comes along) and a vocal style which can only be called jazzy; underdeveloped but not uninteresting, with five stray bonus tracks including two leftovers from the Mamas & the Papas. B
Bud Powell: Live at the Blue Note Café, Paris 1961 (1961 , ESP-Disk): A good night out for the great but often depressed pianist, with strong support from Pierre Michelot and Kenny Clarke and bright guest appearance from tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims; the program is studded with dependable bebop standards he's done many times, so the pleasant surprises come elsewhere, like "Lover Man" and "There Will Never Be Another You." B+
Real Ragtime: Disc Recordings From Its Heyday (1898-1919 , Archeophone): Remarkable both for its technical restoration and historical documentation, surprising in that the ragtime era delivers such a range of artistic development around its rather narrow notion of syncopation; most songs have vocals, and few have piano -- banjo is common, notably from Vess Ossman and Fred Van Eps. B+
Dewey Redman Quartet: The Struggle Continues (1982 , ECM): With Ed Blackwell on drums, Joshua's esteemed father can work Ornette Coleman territory at will; with Charles Eubanks on piano, he can take a break, and occasionally wax lyrical on his tenor sax; with Mark Helias on bass neither impulse strays far from the edge. B+
Frank Rosolino/Carl Fontana: Trombone Heaven (1978 , Uptown): Two of the better bebop trombonists to follow in JJ Johnson's wake; both came up in big band, notably playing with Stan Kenton at different points; the group here includes pianist Elmer Gill, bass and drums, recorded live in Vancouver a few months before Rosolino's tragic death; the two trombone leads are delightful on a mixed bag of swing and bop standards. B+
Linda Sharrock/Eric Watson: Listen to the Night (1994 , Owl/Sunnyside): Compared to her 1969-75 collaborations with avant jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock, this is a conventional jazz vocal album, with Watson's piano the only backing; Sharrock's rich, dusky voice fits a tradition that dates back to Sarah Vaughan, handling hit-and-miss originals and an especially striking take on "Lover Man." B+
The Staple Singers: The Best of the Vee-Jay Years (1956-61 , Shout! Factory): Roebuck "Pops" Staples and his youngsters before the youngest, Mavis, took over the group for good; all gospel, some classic songs, but recorded so roughly it rattles your bones; exception: "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" -- light as a feather. B
True West: Hollywood Holiday Revisited (1983-84 , Atavistic): A west coast rock band caught between hardcore past and grunge future, their cult reputation for loud turns out to be overstated but that's partly due to tunefulness; combines a sharp EP topped with a wicked take on Pink Floyd's "Lucifer Sam," a less impressive album, and some demos because there was space left and that's all there is. B+
Urban Africa Club: Hip Hop Dancehall and Kwaito (, Out Here): Where the now-vintage pop of late-colonial, early-independence Africa comes from a sweeter, more innocent time, or at least puts on such an appearance, the new stuff is very much part of the same world we live in -- no third world, just the outskirts of the first thoroughly globalized one; leads off with irresistible kwaito from South Africa, winds up with Senegalese hip-hop, with an unusually broad swath of East Africa in between. A-
Luther Vandross: Love, Luther (1980-2005 , Epic/J Records/Legacy, 4CD): The 1980s were the first decade when a pop, or for that matter soul, singer could sell 25 million copies and remain anonymous outside his niche; Vandross had the smooth touch and deft skills to do just that, managing to appear to be a man of substance even when he had little to pitch but love; the box is not without charms, like when he pitches "What the World Needs Now" then duets with Sinatra but insist the lady's really a champ. B
Stevie Ray Vaughan & Friends: Solos, Sessions & Encores (1978-88 , Epic/Legacy): I.e., the sort of thing you find at the bottom of the barrell; sessions with Marcia Ball and (especially) David Bowie, while producing good songs, seem especially pointless; more true to form are the live jousts with black bluesmen, where Vaughan held his own and often brought down the house. B
Baby Face Willette: Face to Face (1961 , Blue Note): Organ man, church schooled, natch, cut two albums in 1961 with guitarist Grant Green and drummer Ben Dixon, then for all intents and purposes disappeared; this one adds Fred Jackson on tenor sax, whose skill set is summed up in the title of his one album, Hootin' 'N Tootin'; still, it's hard not to enjoy their gutbucket soul jazz. B+
Robin Williamson: The Iron Stone (2005 , ECM): Grizzled English folkie gets a new lease with chamber jazz accompaniment that fits him to a tee, and songs of the times, like "To God in God's Absence," or more pointedly, "Political Lies." B+
Zap Mama: Supermoon (2007, Heads Up): Originally an Afro-Belgian acappella vocal group, in 15 years the focus has narrowed to Congo-born mulatto Maria Daulne; she writes the songs, claims all the vocals and "mouth sounds" (an exaggeration), arranges and produces a roster of 47 musicians, fills the booklet with her photos and lyrics; there's a point where promiscuous cross-mixing trashes identity and falls into purely personal eclecticism, and she's passed it. B
Additional Consumer News
In an infinite universe, all the music you'll ever need already exists somewhere. We find more each month: jazz in big boxes (Miles Davis, That Devilin' Tune), small boxes (Patricia Barber, Von Freeman), and singles (Albert Ayler, Lee Morgan); Vee-Jay best-ofs (Jimmy Reed, Jerry Butler, The Dells), compilations from Ethiopia and the Congo, even a little Xmas cheer (Tony Bennett, Celine Dion); many more (53 records).
Copyright © 2007 Tom Hull.