A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: November, 2009

Recycled Goods (#68)

by Tom Hull

While Recycled Goods remains in an odd state of publishing limbo, the last few months have seen a sizable, albeit idiosyncratic, sets of reviews. I get, let alone ask for, very few review copies, but have been able to compensate with Rhapsody. The latter, in turn, leads me into unusual search patterns. About the only real product below is the Hip-O Select/Verve boxes in the top section. The Oscar Peterson set led me to look for other reissues, which didn't turn up much recent but encouraged me to play a couple of his 1950s classics I had previously missed. The Bing Crosby reissues aren't all that recent either, but piqued my interest. The Louis Armstrong Fleischmann's Yeast set is recent. I could have tried to track down a copy, but with Rhapsody I quickly established that it is good but inessential, all I really needed to know. The old Air album was what drew me to Why Not, a short-lived mid-1970s Japanese label which has been rescued from oblivion by Candid, a venerable jazz label that has itself been kicked around quite a bit.

The John Anderson record actually duplicates an old LP I've had since it came out in 1984. It's part of Rhino's Flashback Records, where the idea is to recycle old WEA product as cheaply as possible. I thought about trying to do a rundown of their catalog, much like I did for Verve Originals, but never found the time or inspiration. Most of them are copies of bare bones best-ofs, like The Best of David Sanborn or The Very Best of Kleer or Hits by Gary Morris or 20 Great Years by Kenny Rogers or More Great Dirt by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, but even such worthwhile items as The Freddy Fender Collection are hard to do basic research on. (Anderson has longer, more recent CD-era anthologies, which unfortunately are not as good.) But they are cheap, and in some cases that's a very good deal. Maybe I'll get to them later, or at least hit some clear winners: e.g., the 1993-vintage Very Best Of 16-cut series of classic Atlantic artists: Coasters, Big Joe Turner, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, Ben E. King, Solomon Burke, Sam & Dave -- hey, where's the Drifters? Shirelles? Aretha Franklin (two volumes)? Otis Redding (also two)? Wilson Pickett? (Also missing: Rascals, Spinners, Booker T., Joe Tex.)

Air: Air Song (1975 [2009], Why Not): You're going to be reading a lot more about Air when Mosaic comes out with a big box of the trio's Novus recordings, including the long-out-of-print landmark, Air Lore -- where the avant-garde revisited a deep tradition including Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton. This early effort is another belated reissue, even if only a taste of what was to come. The title song floats amiably on Henry Threadgill's flute, with minimal input from bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall. The other three 10-minute pieces are more conventionally intense, with Hopkins aggressively attacking Threadgill's weaving alto sax patterns. B+(***) [R]

John Anderson: Greatest Hits (1980-84 [2009], Rhino Flashback): An LP-reissue, ten songs from six quick albums, short at 29:25 but otherwise perfect. Anderson's voice was an untamed force of nature, and he picked a passel of aw-shucks songs that showed him as a good-natured hick who aspired to live a good, modest life and still have a little fun along the way -- Billy Joe Shaver's "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I'm Gonna Be a Diamond Some Day)" suited him perfectly -- but he also knew that life would take its toll. Reissued with a $6.97 list price, a terrific bargain. A

Louis Armstrong: Fleischmann's Yeast Show & Louis' Home-Recorded Tapes (1937-70 [2009], Jazz Heritage Society, 2 CD): First disc is a set of radio shots from spots in a Rudy Vallee radio show sponsored by Fleischmann's Yeast: one commercial is included, where the company offers a free copy of an Arthur Murray dance lesson book if you send 81 yeast cake wrappers in. The shots shows Armstrong at his most garrulous, roughhousing his way through declassé songs he loved like "Rockin' Chair" and "Chinatown My Chinatown" and "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead You Rascal You." Could have used more trumpet, but great fun. The second disc is pulled from Armstrong's home recordings, mostly bits where he plays records and talks -- one bit with his trumpet is badly distorted. Best when he's just reminiscing, as in how Lil Hardin convinced him to leave King Oliver and Fletcher Henderson and take has place as "first cornet." Ends with a "Philosophy of Life," which ends: "I've always loved everybody. Still do." B+(***) [R]

Bing Crosby & Louis Armstrong: Bing & Satchmo (1960 [2009], Capitol): Given his gravel voice, the thing that always surprises you about Armstrong is how precise and nimble his singing was, holding his own even against the supremely fluid Crosby. The pair sang together on occasional 1940s singles for Decca, which were both jazzier and cornier than anything here. Blame it on Billy May, whose arrangements and orchestra explore new levels in self-caricature, but enjoy the singers nonetheless. B+(**) [R]

Ella Fitzgerald: Twelve Nights in Hollywood (1961-62 [2009], Hip-O Select/Verve, 4CD): The recently reissued single Ella in Hollywood sums this up nicely, but with Norman Granz recording all of an eleven night stand at Sunset Strip's Crescendo Club, the first three discs here are still cherry picking, with no redundancies except when Ella herself would sing one twice in a row, just because she was into it. She was into nearly everything here: on the last lap of her tour through the songbooks, she had a vast repertoire, and could make more up any time the words stumped her or she just wanted to play with you -- after all, everybody loves "Perdido" even though nobody knows the words. The fourth disc returns a year later, with no guitar and different piano and drums -- changes that make no real difference. The packaging here looks fancy but is awkward, with its slip-cover misidentifying guitarist Herb Ellis, and inflexible sleeves making it hard to get discs in and out. A-

Billie Holiday: The Complete Commodore & Decca Masters (1939-50 [2009], Hip-O Select/Verve, 3CD): Nothing new here. The 16 cuts Holiday recorded in 1939-44 for Commodore are available since 2000 as The Commodore Master Takes, and the 37 1944-50 Decca cuts appeared as The Complete Decca Recordings back in 1991. Both sets are still in print, and a good deal cheaper than this elegant little "limited edition." This is the middle period Holiday you never hear about: the early-late debate turns on how much you are attracted to her martyrdom, but both periods are consistently backed by great bands -- thanks to John Hammond and Norman Granz, with a strong assist from Teddy Wilson. Milt Gabler tried at Commodore, but results were spotty, while Decca's orchestras -- not to mention the strings and backing choirs -- were anonymous and often schlocky. Still, Holiday's voice is strong and healthy and one-of-a-kind, and she carries almost everything they throw at her. The most historic, of course, is her anti-lynching ballad "Strange Fruit." Among the most fun are a pair of Decca duets with Louis Armstrong. A-

Oscar Peterson: Debut: The Clef/Mercury Duo Recordings 1949-1951 (1949-52 [2009], Verve, 3CD): Last year Mosaic came up with a 7-CD box of The Complete Clef/Mercury Studio Recordings of the Oscar Peterson Trio (1951-1953). Think of this set -- duos with either Ray Brown or Major Holley on bass -- as the other shoe dropping. Peterson had recorded in Canada, but made his US debut after midnight on one of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic shows, recorded and released on a 10-inch LP as Oscar Peterson at Carnegie. The first disc adds three cuts from a return to Carnegie Hall a year later -- according to the book here, which differs from other sources which put both dates close together in 1950. Second disc adds two LPs from early 1950 sessions, Tenderly and Keyboard, the former mostly with Brown, the latter mostly with Holley. The third disc takes another LP, An Evening With Oscar Peterson, more duos with Brown except for a stray 1952 quartet cut, and tacks on six extra cuts -- only one, plus a newly discovered track from Carnegie Hall, previously unreleased. Masterful mainstream piano, closer to swing than to bop, not as tarted up as Tatum, but close, the bass adding harmonic depth to the strong piano leads. B+(***)

Briefly Noted

Muhal Richard Abrams: Afrisong (1975 [2009], Why Not): Chicago pianist, a founder and leading light of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, better known as AACM, where creative was avant-garde but imbued with the sense of advancing into new terrain; solo piano, always difficult to pull off but his rhythm and enhancement work on both counts. A- [R]

Joseph Bonner: Triangle (1975 [2009], Why Not): Known as Joe on his other records, a postbop pianist who combines the relentless flow of a McCoy Tyner with the compositional edge of an Andrew Hill; with Clint Houston on bass and Billy Hart on drums, a quick, smart set, like so many of his records sheltered on an obscure label. B+(***) [R]

George Cables: Why Not? (1975 [2009], Why Not): Postbop pianist, thoughtful, fluid, built a career accompanying famous saxophonists from Sonny Rollins to Joe Henderson to Art Pepper -- the latter pairing good for some of his best records ever -- but has patiently accumulated thirty-some albums under his own name, mostly in the far reaches of the industry; this was his first, good enough to name the label, a nice example of the grace he had from the start and never lost. B+(***) [R]

Boom Boom Rock 'n' Roll: The Best of Freddy Cannon (1959-81 [2009], Shout! Factory): Loud, fast, trashy rock and roll permanently stuck in the pre-Beatles era, produced and mostly written by Bob Crewe and Frank Slay; biggest hit was amusement park anthem "Palisades Park," with "Abigail Beecher" and "Action" nearly as classic; obsolete by 1966, with one later novelty to suggest he had a career. B+(**) [R]

Ray Charles: The Genius Hits the Road (1956-72 [2009], Concord): A 1960 concept album with 12 songs with place names, if you count "Basin Street Blues" and "Georgia on My Mind" -- more typical is "Alabamy Bound," "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," "Deep in the Heart of Texas," "Blue Hawaii"; like Rhino's 1997 reissue, includes 7 extras, two more Georgias and some country roads. B+(*) [R]

Bing Crosby: Bing With a Beat (1957 [2004], Bluebird): Not a big beat here, but Bob Scobey's band swings easy, providing consistent support, which is all Crosby needs to run through a quick set of elegant standards. A- [R]

Bing Crosby/Rosemary Clooney: Fancy Meeting You Here (1958-59 [2001], Bluebird): A set of travel songs backed by Billy May, who can turn out a little mambo beat anytime the itinerary threatens to go south. B+(**) [R]

Ted Curson: Blue Piccolo (1976 [2009], Why Not): A bright, vibrant hard bop trumpeter who spent much of his long career on the margins of the avant-garde, consigned there as much by a collapsing jazz market he got to too late as anything else, not that his early association with Eric Dolphy hurt; a brisk quartet with Jim McNeely tinkling the ivories, with Cecil McBee on bass and Steve McCall on drums; piccolo refers to his tiny trumpet. B+(***) [R]

Walt Dickerson: Tell Us Only the Beautiful Things (1975 [2009], Why Not): A vibraphonist, made a splash in the early 1960s, then dropped out for a decade before returning here, on two long improvs in an edge trio with Wilbur Ware on bass and Andrew Cyrille on percussion; starts tentatively solo, but picks up speed and power, especially from Cyrille. B+(***) [R]

Chico Freeman: Morning Prayer (1976 [2009], Why Not): Second album by a young saxophonist on the make surrounded by the cream of Chicago's AACM -- Muhal Richard Abrams, Cecil McBee, Steve McCall -- with Douglas Ewart floating in for some flute exotica, a distraction from the more interesting free form funk, the funkiest being "Pepe's Samba." B+(**) [R]

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Live at the Cardiff Capitol Theater, Cardiff, Wales Nov 04 1975 [Authorized Bootleg] (1975 [2009], Geffen): The hardest working band in Dixie tries at first to peddle their third album fare -- definitely Nuthin' Fancy -- then back up three to their initial hits, only really catching fire with guaranteed closer "Free Bird." B [R]

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Live at Winterland, San Francisco, Mar 07 1976 [Authorized Bootleg] (1976 [2009], Geffen): Some standbys and the usual "Free Bird" closer, the newer product showcasing some sweet boogie moves as well as the trademark triple guitar attack. B+(**) [R]

Oscar Peterson: This Is Oscar Peterson (1945-49 [2002], Bluebird, 2CD): In case you're wondering how Peterson got so fast and fluid, his earliest recordings show he practiced on boogie-woogie and fast stride; later on you he starts to develop his own expansive, exuberant style, one that served him well for another fifty years. B+(**) [R]

The Oscar Peterson Trio: At the Stratford Shakesperean Festival (1956 [1993], Verve): Strong, somewhat uneven showing from Peterson's famous trio with Herb Ellis on guitar and Ray Brown on bass, with features for each, patter, concert noise, and lots of delicious piano. B+(***) [R]

The Oscar Peterson Trio: At the Concertgebouw (1957 [1994], Verve): Another live set with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis, more consistent and cleaner sounding than the Stratford date, with some dazzling speed pieces, often with Ellis out front. A- [R]

Oscar Peterson Trio: With Respect to Nat (1965 [2008], Verve): Manny Alban's big band cuts belie the Trio credit, but Cole's career was similarly split between trio and big band, and this album, cut shortly after Nat's death, meant nothing but respect; Peterson sings all but one cut, good enough you can imagine him taking a very different career, but not exactly superseding Cole. B+(**) [R]

Frank Sinatra: Live at the Meadowlands (1986 [2009], Concord): Big venue, big moneymaker, should work as a belated souvenir for anyone who caught Sinatra in his twilight, legend fully groomed, songbook amply stuffed; Nelson Riddle's orchestra is as perfunctory as ever; patter adds very little. B+(**) [R]

Muddy Waters: Live at the Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, Nov 04-06 1966 [Authorized Bootleg] (1966 [2009], Geffen): A strong performance by any standard, highlighted by some prickly guitar that looks ahead to Waters' Hard Again period, but is denser and trickier here. B+(***) [R]

John Lee Wilson: Shout for Trane (1976 [2009], Why Not): Church-schooled jazz singer from Oklahoma, moved to New York and into the most marginal of niches, singing agit-prop with avant-gardists like Archie Shepp; some of this is a conventional cross of Jon Hendricks and Leon Thomas, but the title shout is more primal, with Monty Waters reducing Coltrane to a screech. B+(**) [R]

Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody. The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered.

PS: Tom Lane wrote in to point out that The Freddy Fender Collection, referred to above, consists of re-recordings of Fender's big hits. This happens not infrequently with country artists -- Merle Haggard is probably the most notorious offender. Cheap reissues with little or no documentation make it hard to tell, and trying to judge them at arms length from a streaming source like Rhapsody is even more fraughtful. One thing to keep in mind is to check the labels. Fender's 1975-78 hits were cut for Dot, part of ABC, swallowed up by MCA, once more by Universal, which puts them out of reach for WEA's reissue operation -- at least they would cost money to license, which runs against the grain of cheapo reissue methodology. Lane recommended Universal's 12-cut The Best of Freddy Fender (20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection), which looks good to me. Varese Sarabande's 14-cut An Introduction to Freddy Fender is also based on Dot singles, and of course there are reprints of ABC's original 1977-released The Best of Freddy Fender. On the other hand, there must be a dozen more best-ofs on all sorts of fly-by-night labels. I have one that Music Club dropped in 1999 called Lone Star: The Best of Freddy Fender which I love but can't tell you where it all came from. The one thing that does not exist for Fender (aka Baldemar Huerta) is a reputable survey of his whole career, which started out around 1959 on Krazy Kat and stretched through the Texas Tornados in the 1990s.

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Copyright © 2009 Tom Hull.