A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: March, 2009

Recycled Goods (#63)

by Tom Hull

Don't get much new non-jazz any more, and don't have many places to place what I do, let alone time and energy to hustle places up, so the easy way out is to sneak an occasional new record in here with the recycleds. No guarantee I'll do it for you, but Deena asked me nice. Besides, I haven't had much time to go searching. I'm still in the middle -- well, hopefully the endgame -- of my big construction project, and that severely cuts down on how much time I can spend listening and writing. Most of what's left goes to new jazz. Some chance this will change in the not-so-distant future. But probably not next month.

Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (Legacy Edition) (1958-60 [2009], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): The best known and most universally admired album by the dominant jazz figure of his era, the odds-on favorite in any all-time greatest jazz album poll, dressed up for its silver anniversary with alternate takes, false starts, and a second disc of quasi-related stuff. The latter will interest anyone who likes to hear John Coltrane expound at length -- Davis himself once instructed Coltrane that the way to end a solo is to take the horn from your mouth. The false starts may interest anyone who ponied up for either of two whole books on the single album: Eric Nisenson's The Making of Kind of Blue: Miles Davis and His Masterpiece and Ashley Kahn's Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece. I find the extras distracting, at least from the essential gemlike elegance of the original album: five cuts, each subtly distinctive, adding up to a transcendence of its essential blue. A-

Deena: Somewhere in Blue (2008, Verbena Music): First name only, not so much to iconify it as to ditch the surname Shoshkes, a habit with "new Europe" names that goes as far back as Copernicus -- last time out she recorded as RockDownBaby, which didn't stick either. Some old-timers will recall her voice, if not her name, as the lead in the Cucumbers, a Garden State group whose eponymous album was one of the few pleasures of the Reagan years. The new one is full of smartly structured songs which are neither as personal nor as universal as they need to be to connect, but after the title metaphor fades the small pleasures start to accumulate -- "The Moon's Got It Made" is the turning point. B+

Houston Person: The Art and Soul of Houston Person (1996-2008 [2008], High Note, 3CD): Front cover runs on: "Songs of the Great Composers: Porter, Kern, Ellington, Rodgers and Others" and "Recorded by Rudy Van Gelder." Person has followed Joe Fields from his 1966 Prestige debut through Muse Records in 1976 and on to High Note in 1996. He's hardly worked for anyone else, amassing 50-plus records over 42 years and counting, plus doing double duty as a producer and accompanist on Fields' other projects. He is a steady, unexciting worker, with old tastes, gentle swing, a deeply felt touch for ballads, and the quintessential tenor sax sound. The only problem with his records is that he's so consistent in his range that he has problems differentiating himself. But he doesn't need to here: just one great song after another, summing him up in a songbook as definitive as Ella Fitzgerald's. No weak spots, no flow problems. I loaded up all three CDs and haven't been tempted to change them for 48 hours. I'm reminded of Geoff Dyer arguing that while people can argue about Parker or Coltrane, nobody who likes jazz at all can dislike Ben Webster. Person's been steathily stalking Webster for 40 years now. Still doesn't have the vibrato, but he's damn close in every other aspect. A

The Rough Guide to Colombian Street Party (2005-08 [2008], World Music Network): The label's first circumnavigation of the globe was just geographical, mixing whatever folk and pop hit the compilers' ears right, even for big, vibrant music scenes like Brazil and Colombia. Later passes focused stylistically, such as Cuban Son, Colombia Salsa, and Brazilian Hip-Hop. The latest uses vaguer concepts like Lounge and Street Party. DJ John Armstrong has good ears and can get a stylistic jumbo to flow as long as the beats run hot and heavy, which is no problem with so much to choose from. Colombian music ranges from calypso to hip-hop, with cumbia and salsa predominant. A-

Hank Williams: The Unreleased Recordings (1951 [2008], Time Life, 3CD): Radio shots from WSM's Mother's Finest Flour Show, long fought over by lawyers, and finally spruced up for public release. A handful of songs are alternate takes of Williams classics; most are traditional and contemporary songs, many interescting with Roy Acuff's songbook. The sound is clear and sharp, far better than the live material that helped pad The Complete Hank Williams out to 10 CDs. Bits of live patter show Williams in a loose and perky mood. A couple of lyrics reference the Korean War. Numerous references to "the boys," but Williams' voice is so strong little else matters. A

Briefly Noted

Garvin Bushell and Friends: One Steady Roll (1982 [2009], Delmark): A trad jazz session led by soprano saxophonist Richard Hadlock, finally released as a tribute to his teacher, a clarinettist born in 1902 who worked on the sidelines with everyone from Jelly Roll Morton to Eric Dolphy, and wrote a book about it: Jazz From the Beginning; silky sleek trad jazz, light on the brass, with three vocals from Barbara Lashley, another unsung talent. B+

Early Trane: The John Coltrane Songbook [The Composer Collection Volume 2] (1999-2006 [2008], High Note): Easy to write this off as mere catalog exploitation, but the catalog is mainstream solid, and they make something of a case for taking Coltrane -- at least up through "Giant Steps" -- seriously for repertoire. B+

Fareed Haque + the Flat Earth Ensemble: Flat Planet (2009, Owl Studios): Globe-trotting Chilean-Pakistani fusion guitarist works up some spicy South Indian bhangra grooves, for an earth that is flat only in Thomas Friedman's lame, cliché-lashed brain. B+

Israel: Naranjas Sobre La Nieve (2007 [2009], Sunnyside): Young Flamenco singer trying to get old fast, moaning and wailing a bad case of delta blues, with spare guitar melodrama that gets under your skin, prickling like shingles. C+

Kal: Radio Romanista (2008 [2009], Asphalt Tango): Recorded in Belgrade, mixed in Istanbul, mastered in Berlin, a modern axis of gypsy alt-rock, folkish of course, punkism too, with leader Dragan Ristic tossing out possible anthems in a bid for Romanistani national recognition. B+

Joe Zawinul & the Zawinul Syndicate: 75 (2007 [2009], Heads Up, 2CD): On his own, Zawinul's eclectic exuberance brings together a band from Morocco, Brazil, Congo, and elsewhere, for world jazz fusion as nonstop party; does slow down a bit toward the end, with Wayne Shorter dropping in to play "In a Silent Way." B+

Zoé: Reptilectric (2009, EMI/Noiselab): Mexican alt-psychedelic band, picking up ideas from Britpop and Seattle grunge, betraying nothing obviously Latino, the Spanish lyrics (if that's what they are) buried in brightly colored murk -- more proof that it's one big world. B


Copyright © 2009 Tom Hull.