A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: February, 2009

Recycled Goods (#62)

by Tom Hull

Another short month, preoccupied with construction, with little time to listen and write. Hence two obvious African pieces in the lead slots, plus more peppered with scattered jazz in the fine print. A year after putting this column in mothballs, I'm having second thoughts. For one thing, it's more fun to write than the Jazz Consumer Guide. For another, there's so much good old music out there, being repackaged and sometimes rediscovered each month, that a knowledgeable column would be worthwhile. Big problem was, and is, getting hold of the right stuff to review. Don't have an answer on that yet, but working on it.

Franco & Le TPOK Jazz: Francophonic: A Retrospective, Vol. 1: 1953-1980 (1953-80 [2008], Sterns Africa, 2CD): Luambo Makiadi, d/b/a Franco, was a Congolese street urchin who picked up a homemade guitar at age 7 and cut his first record at 15, and some 500 more before he died of AIDS in 1989. As a bandleader he is often compared to James Brown -- like how Negro League ballplayers used to be referred to as "the black X" to give the benighted a frame of reference (begging the question, was there ever really a white Josh Gibson?). Where Brown's funk herked and jerked, Franco's rumba-into-soukous glided on slick guitar grooves, but Franco was never too slick, and the early disc has a refreshing crudeness to it -- one cha-cha has compiler Ken Braun invoking Bo Diddley. Stops in 1980, so presumably a Vol. 2 is in the works. Good chance the two of them will stand cheek by jowl with Brown's Star Time as one of the very few sets that keeps adding stature as it grows. A+

Les Amazones de Guinée: Wamato (2008, Sterns Africa): Originally formed in 1961 as the Women's Orchestra of the Guinean Militia, the state-sponsored all-woman, all-soldier band appeared first on record in 1982 and second here, with a couple of founders staying the course and newcomers picking up the slack. Three singers, some brass and sax, a big whomping beat, unstoppable drive. A

Rich Man's War: New Blues & Roots Songs of Peace and Protest (2008, Ruf): Blues label second stringers go after the rogue right-wingers who drove the US into one endless, hapless, tragic and debilitating war after another, leaving our own freedom and democracy among the collateral damage. The bluesmen (and Candye Kane) aren't as starchy as folkies would be, but aren't as didactic either, favoring targets that are too easy or too trivial; some finds: Kane's "Jesus and Mohammed," Doug MacLeod's cynical "Dubb's Talkin' Politician Blues," Roy Zimmerman's squawking "Chickenhawk," and Eddy Clearwater's gospel benediction, "A Time for Peace." B+

Titan! It's All Pop! (1978-81 [2008], Numero Group, 2CD): Kansas City label, released 42 tracks in its short history -- 7 singles, 2 LPs, one a compilation, the other live. Reminds me of Greg Shaw, who loved the sound of 1960s LA pop so much he fell for anything later that even vaguely sounded like it; this hits those notes, but I can recall better examples, and always figured there should be more to life. Docked a notch because they only sent me a 16-cut sampler, and I figure the other 26 cuts are lamer. Would have been docked more, but the publicist promised to send full copies to reviewers unscrupulous enough to review records based on promo samplers. If they do deliver, I'll revise this (probably not up). B-

Briefly Noted

Count Basie: Mustermesse Basel 1956 Part 1 [Swiss Radio Days, Jazz Series, Vol. 19] (1956 [2009], TCB): An old radio tape of New Testament Basie from its inception, with the slam-bam section work that soon went atomic, but also with soloists who weren't mere cogs in the machine -- Thad Jones and Joe Newman the stars of the trumpet section, Marshal Royal and the two Franks (Foster and Wess) in the reeds. A-

Ruby Braff: For the Last Time (2002 [2008], Arbors, 2CD): Touted as Braff's "Historic Final Performance," with a sextet including tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton and pianist John Bunch, a mixed and rather tepid souvenir; not clear whether Braff was ailing but he rarely takes charge, or tops Hamilton, who has many memorable moments. B+

El Guincho: Alegranza (2008, XL): World music from all around the world, concretized in Barcelona by mixmaster Pablo Díaz-Reixa, recycling extended riffs with just a little to signify variation -- first time I played this it sounded like my equipment was stuck, but up closer the changes work and the riffs are worth repeating. A-

Franco: The Very Best of the Rumba Giant of Zaire (1956-87 [2000], Manteca): The best best-of before Francophonic, which repeats 6 of 11, reducing its value unless you just want a taste, or the remaining 5 cuts, whose omission seems arbitrary. A+

Franco: The Rough Guide to Franco (1956-87 [2001], World Music Network): The second-best previous best-of, with no dupes from the then-recent Manteca Very Best, and only one cut repeated on Francophonic; makes me wonder how many comps could be drawn from Franco's huge catalog without delving into the merely good. A

Yoshie Fruchter: Pitom (2008, Tzadik): Part of John Zorn's far-ranging, mostly admirable Radical Jewish Culture series, the twist this time being a guitarist-led "punkassjewjazz" band; sounds more heavy metal than punk, more amusing copping Black Sabbath riffs than klezmerizing Frank Zappa. B-

Rokia Traoré: Tchamantché (2008 [2009], Nonesuch): Singer-songwriter from Mali, as cosmopolitan and traditionalist as a diplomat's daughter should be, with a whiff of feminism proud to break glass ceilings, but also delicate and subtle -- maybe too much to break the language barrier, but the booklet gives you a chance to break it yourself. B+

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Copyright © 2009 Tom Hull.