A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge:
Recycled Goods (#21)
by Tom Hull
Five more/less world music titles in the top section, a big bump from
the usual one or two. Four of the remaining five are more/less jazz, not
that they started out that way. Over the long haul these fluctuations
should even out, although the backlog continues to look like jazz and
more jazz. Speaking of which, the second "In Series" takes a look at
a series of reissues from a French avant-garde label called America --
a series every bit as unheard as Atavistic's Unheard Music Series.
Also note that some very good records lurk under Briefly Noted.
African Underground Vol. 1: Hip-Hop Senegal (2001-03
, Nomadic Wax).
Benny Herson, who created this "Soundbombing of Senegal" tape
following up a thesis he wrote at Hampshire College, contrasts the
social conscience and political activism of Senegalese hip-hoppers
to the crass materialism of their apolitical American counterparts.
Still, Herson's liner notes are more explicit than anything I can
gather from the raps -- the ones in English and French anyway (Wolof
just sounds like Wolof to me). But what I do hear is a slightly
Africanized funk supporting the rappers, not much different than
what you can find elsewhere. Although Senegal may be more saturated
than most places, it's the point in Africa closest to America, and
has in the past been the first part of Africa to cycle Afro-American
musics back. Salsa is the most famous example, but hip-hop looks to
be the future.
Bebo & Cigala: Lágrimas Negras (2002 ,
Cigala is Spanish flamenco singer Dieguito "El Cigala" -- his voice
is somewhere between hoarse and a whisper, yet he can modulate it
to convey intense emotion, and his ability to sing within such vocal
limits reminds me of no one so much as Louis Armstrong. Bebo is
octogenarian Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés, an elegant and appreciative
accompanist. Flamencoists Israel Porrina "Piraña" and El Niño Josele
add cajón and guitar, and there is a bit of fiddle; Cuban Paquito
D'Rivera joins on the title cut with particularly lovely also sax.
James Chance: Sax Education (1978-88, Tiger Style, 2CD).
The combination of Chance's thin, skronky alto sax with August Darnell's
disco beats sounds like state-of-the-art jazztronica but dates from a
quarter of a century ago. At the time, Chance's idea was to follow CBGB
new wave with something weirder -- a James Brown beat damaged in the
larceny; sharp, whiney, yelping proto-punk vocals; toy keybs, guitar
drone, girlie choruses. Not sure if it was meant as comedy, but it is:
a lot funnier in reality than the idea of Albert Ayler playing disco-punk
fusion. First disc contains "the hits"; second is a concert, so he gets
to play the hits again.
Graham Collier: Workpoints (1968-75 ,
The British never paid bebop much heed. Well into the '60s British
jazz was dominated by the trad jazz movement -- Ken Colyer, Humphrey
Lyttelton, Chris Barber, Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball. Then in the late
'60s Britain developed a distinctive avant-garde culture, built as
much on the ideas of ultramodernists like Karlheinz Stockhausen and
Cornelius Cardew and the suddenly expanding vistas of art rock as
on anything in the jazz tradition -- least of all bebop. (The few
exceptions to the no-bop rule included Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott,
remembered mostly as eccentrics.) These two concerts led by bassist
Collier are good examples of the evolution of the new British jazz.
The first is a large band -- nine horns, vibes, bass and drums --
working in extended forms, striking in the intricate layering of
horns and the muscularity of the rhythm. The other is a sextet,
also working long pieces, this time centered around Ed Speight's
guitar. In both the composer maintains control while letting the
bands work out the details -- a mid-point between the arranger
dominance of the classic swing bands and the pure improvisation
just around the corner, but not transitional. More like a new
foundation for a postclassical European music invigorated by jazz.
The Ultimate Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: The Early Years, Vol. 1
(1978-82 , Narada, 2CD).
Qawwali is sufi devotional music from Pakistan, a narrowly circumscribed
tradition going back hundreds of years, but for the last twenty years
dominated by one of the world's great musical forces, Nusrat Fateh Ali
Khan. From the 1970s to his death in 1997 Khan recorded a hundred or
more albums -- mostly cassettes, but he emerged as a world music icon
in 1990 when RealWorld introduced him through a westernized experiment
called Mustt Mustt. Since then those awed by his vocal powers
have wondered about the real qawwali and its classical roots. It is no
doubt impossible for outsiders to sort out his works: they start with
an inevitable sameness, then grow on you almost subliminally. I find
that this one sounds better every time I play it, but then so do many
others -- is one's enthusiasm simply a function of how many times you
play it? These early pieces, typically long from 12 to 29 minutes each,
seem a bit more constrained than later work -- the rhythm rigid, the
vocals entwined in the group context. That may make this more authentic,
or may mean he was only starting to find his way. Still, if this was
all we had to choose from, we'd play it enough to be amazed. But this
is only the beginning.
Konono No. 1: Lubuaku (2003 , Terp).
Soukous from Kinshasa, but with the usual slick guitars replaced
by electrified likembes, a thumb-piano which at first sounds like
dissonant steel pans, and the usual slick vocalists supplanted by
intense shout choirs. The sound is so dirty that you suspect a new
concept in lo-fi, or a devolution back to the jungle. Sponsored
by the Ex -- roughly speaking, Holland's answer to the Mekons --
who arranged a tour and opened. They advise playing it loud, where
the energy overwhelms the noise.
Annette Peacock: My Mama Never Taught Me How to Cook:
The Aura Years (1978-82 , Castle).
Married first to Gary Peacock then to Paul Bley, she was more of
a gadfly and joker than jazz musician, although Bley and Marilyn
Crispell wound up recording whole albums of her songs. She started
singing as input into the synthesizers that intrigued her and Bley,
then cut several more/less rock albums in the '70s -- two collected
here, plus some outtakes -- before fading away, as if she never
conceived of anything as deliberate as a career. Still, her "rock
shit" sounds remarkably like jazz even today. As a vocalist she's
often thin and undisciplined, but she takes enormous dramatic risks
with the title cut and her "Don't Be Cruel" cover. Elsewhere, as
on "Survival," she lapses into softly rapped philosophizing that
draws the music, a repetitive theme with improvised curlicues, up
around her like a warm blanket.
The Essential Pete Seeger (1941-64 ,
He wasn't much of a singer, even less of a banjo player. His songs were
utterly square, with their well-meaning and principled politics, without
a trace of irony or humor, let alone a beat. He called his music "folk" in
the naive hope that the folk might bond with it, and he remained steadfast
in that belief for over half a century. Still, these fifteen songs are
utterly familiar, even if the versions -- most live, some singalongs --
aren't. They are the true gospel music of America's red diaper babies.
World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love's a Real Thing
(1972-78 , Luaka Bop).
African music often takes decades to wash up on American shores. The
process is so convoluted and arbitrary that it's impossible to know
much about what's really happening in the mother continent from what
little shows up here. But there's some reason to think that the '70s,
a post-independence high before the worst rot of kleptocracy set in,
were something of a golden age of afropop. These twelve cuts come
from a swath of West Africa from Cameroun to Gambia. Psychedelia seems
to be one of those labels in the deranged minds of beholders -- the
two previous volumes featured Os Mutantes and Shuggie Otis -- but
the common thread here seems to be a cheesy funk deriving as much
from American sources like Sly Stone and the Temptations' own acid
trips as native traditions. Ronnie Graham contributes notes, which
help but ultimately the music raises more questions than it answers.
Larry Young: Of Love and Peace (1966 , Blue Note).
Young pushed the Hammond B-3 organ further than any other musician of
his era, moving from his early blues albums into new thing territory.
His masterpiece was Unity, cut in 1965 with an all-star lineup --
Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, Elvin Jones -- that necessarily tied down
all the loose edges. His follow-up had no such constraints: Jones was
replaced by two no-name drummers, Henderson by two lesser saxophonists
(his steady bandmate George Morgan and the ubiquitous James Spaulding),
while Shaw gave way to Eddie Gale, a fiery trumpeter then working with
Cecil Taylor. The group pushed Young harder and farther than ever,
and he responded with some of the most vigorous organ ever cut --
for three cuts, anyway. The fourth and final, a meditation on Islam
called "Falaq," is slow and spacious.
Jazz circa 1970 was in turmoil. Death had started to cut down early
stars like Coleman Hawkins (d. 1969) and Louis Armstrong (1971), but
also much younger stars like Eric Dolphy (1964), John Coltrane (1967),
and Albert Ayler (1970). US labels were floundering, with rock-fusion
the only new idea that seemed to have a commercial future. At the same
time, jazz was gaining ground in Europe -- for the next 25 years many
American jazz musicians found their biggest audiences and especially
their labels in Europe (and later in Japan). America Records in Paris
was a short-lived label that served as a first stop for the itinerant
avant-garde. Universal's French subsidiary reissued the series last
year, and Verve has imported small quantities to the U.S. -- an unusual
and laudable act for a major label. They've been dressed up handsomely,
in abstract art on tri-fold cardboard, with booklets that have been
cloned except for a few details.
- Art Ensemble of Chicago: AEC With Fontella Bass
(1970 , Free America/Verve): the gospel singer was meant to
pump up the Great Black Music collective with the fear of God; her
appearance does indeed hit hard at the start, but soon enough the
group's usual Africanized black power moves take over, the music's
odd tangents dominating.
- Art Ensemble of Chicago: Certain Blacks (1970
, Free America/Verve): Chicago Beau crashes the party as
Exhibit A to "Certain Blacks (Do What They Wanna)" and throws
the gang off their game; but they bounce right back with an
11:38 Sonny Boy Williamson jam.
- Art Ensemble of Chicago: Phase One (1971 ,
Free America/Verve): just the five of them, each credited with
multiple instruments as well as "etc." -- a lot of percussion
gadgetry, but more importantly a sense of limitlessness; both
pieces start slow and fart around before ultimately climaxing
as the Great Black Music they advertised.
- Paul Bley: Improvisie (1971 , Free
America/Verve): Bley sloughs off his strong suit by limiting
himself to electric keybs, and then-wife Annette Peacock adds
to the synthetic estrangement by doubling on electronics and
singing a bit; still, it's interesting in its own right, and
Han Bennink's percussions are remarkable.
- Anthony Braxton: Donna Lee (1972 , Free
America/Verve): starts with slurred speed-bop, then a patient,
open-ended abstract exploration, then two takes on "You Go to My
Head" and another original; an early quartet with Michael Smith
on piano, a major talent working out fragments of his kit.
- Anthony Braxton: Saxophone Improvisations Series F
(1972 , Free America/Verve, 2CD): solo alto saxophone, many
series of practice runs work out almost minimalist variations, for
the most part lighter and less intense than his For Alto
breakout from 1968.
- Dave Burrell: After Love (1970 , Free
America/Verve): Alan Silva's cello and violin create a background
buzz that quickly moves this music into some other dimension, and
Roscoe Mitchell's reeds keep it there, with Burrell's rollicking
piano providing the propulsion; second long piece starts with solo
fragments before they plug in a beat and pull it back together.
- Emergency: Homage to Peace (1970 , Free
America/Verve): pianist Takashi Kako gets a rare quiet spot on
"Kako Tune"; otherwise he pounds chords to keep up with Glenn
Spearman's saxophone squall and Boulou Ferret's Hendrix-inspired
- Steve Lacy: The Gap (1972 , Free America/Verve):
starts scratchy, with both Lacy and Steve Potts on soprano sax and
Irene Aebi's cello added to bass and drums, but it levels out a bit
with songs dedicated to Johnny Hodges and Sonny Clark.
- Roswell Rudd (1965 , Free America/Verve): the
great trombonist trades lines with alto saxist John Tchicaï creating
a bouncy polyphony that never quite slips into a groove; a radio shot
tape, sound quality so-so.
- Archie Shepp: Black Gipsy (1969 , Free
America/Verve): sounds thin and whiney at first, with a lot of
action from an oddly matched group, the most impressive member
violinist Leroy Jenkins; Shepp sticks to soprano sax, never really
taking charge, while Chicago Beau crashes the party with a blues
- Alan Shorter: Tes Esat (1970 , Free America/Verve):
Wayne's trumpeter brother is nominal leader but relatively inaudible as
South Africans Gary Windo and Johnny Dyani dominate, the latter working
in some mischievous piano as well as his usual bass, the former just
- Clifford Thornton: The Panther and the Lash (1970
, Free America/Verve): a pan-African ethnomusicologist with an
agenda -- his panther song is called "Free Huey" -- Thornton rarely
recorded, but when his scattershot cornet and shenai give way to valve
trombone the music steadies itself, poignant and powerful.
- Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy: Mal Waldron With the Steve
Lacy Quintet (1972 , Free America/Verve): Waldron and
Lacy made some fine duet records later, so the problem here is the
busy and rather squeaky Quintet, to which Waldron adds some welcome
- Frank Wright: Uhuru Na Umoja (1970 , Free
America/Verve): double-barrelled heavy blowing, with Noah Howard's
alto sax reinforcing Wright's earthshaking tenor, the strategy
little more than to knock you down and sweep you away in a tidal
wave of high energy and unchecked spirit.
- The Howard Alden-Dan Barrett Quintet: Live in '95
(1995 , Arbors): the occasional vocals break the flow without
much payoff, but the swinging instrumentals are delightful, with
Chuck Wilson's alto sax or clarinet joining Barrett's trombone and
Alden's silk smooth guitar holding it all together.
- Amalgam: Prayer for Peace (1969 , FMR): a
classic from the early days of the English avant-garde, more due
to how tightly it holds together than to the considerable risks
the group takes; the sound has amazing presence -- the bass
literally hugs you, while the drums ping off your bones and
Travor Watts' alto sax cuts straight to your heart; and when
they shift from the dirge-like intro to full metal screech the
- Antibalas: Who Is This America? (2004, Ropeadope):
contemporary Afrobeat, straight out of Fela, but Fela's dead, and
the beat must go on; like Fela, this wears its politics on the sleeve,
but curiously the booklet omits the lyrics to "Pay Back Africa" and
"Indictment" -- which could use them the most.
- Marcus Belgrave: Gemini (1974 , Universal
Sound): a rare album from the longtime Detroit trumpeter; a powwow,
where the Tribe gathers for togetherness and spiritual uplift.
- Tina Brooks: True Blue (1960 , Blue Note):
a neglected figure: this was the only Brooks album to appear in his
lifetime, and was only briefly available on CD as part of Blue Note's
limited edition Connoisseur Series; Brooks played hard bop with
uncommon eloquence and grace at all speeds; he's joined here by
Freddie Hubbard, young and dazzling.
- Billy Butterfield Joins Andy Bartha: Take Me to the Land
of Jazz (1969 , Delmark): average-plus trad jazz from
cornettist Bartha with and without Butterfield, a veteran of Bob
Crosby's Bobcats -- standard songbook, so-so vocals, hot brass.
- Charming Hostess: Sarajevo Blues (2005, Tzadik):
Sem Mehmedinovic's poetry is rendered even more arch and surreal
by the three singers, who force the balkanized music around the
words rather than find the fit; I find it mostly uncharming, the
passion of the music flaring rather than calming the madness of
- Johnny Coles: Little Johnny C (1963 ,
Blue Note): extra horns in the front line limit this as a showcase
for the leader's trumpet, but it's buoyant hard bop smartly done,
and Duke Pearson's piano has a gospel ring to it.
- Cuadernos de Mexico (2004, Winter & Winter,
3CD): Stefan Winter's musical travelogue, not to cut-rate Mexico
of NAFTA but to the ancient seat of western civilization, whose
modern lineage flows through Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, artists
in a vital culture all too aware of its precarious location -- as
one leader put it, "so far from God, so close to the United States";
far richer than Winter's snapshot of Cuba (El Último Paraíso),
but limited by the tourist's inevitable lack of time.
- Dr. John: The Best of the Parlophone Years (1998-2004
, Blue Note): after his 15 minutes of fame back in the '60s he
went back to basics to show us that he had always been a studio pro,
earning the right to dabble, to mess around, to coast even, and here
to condense four recent records into one about as good as any.
- Yves François: Blues for Hawk (1981-82 , Delmark):
easy-going blues-drenched sessions with Chicago legends Franz Jackson
and Eddie Johnson joining the then-young trad jazz trumpeter-leader.
- Jerry Gonzalez y los Piratas del Flamenco (2001 ,
Sunnyside): Bronx trumpeter goes to Madrid to jam on gypsy flamenco,
including guitarist Nino Josele and legendary vocalist El Cigala,
mixed in with Afro-Cuban percussion; the record came from a rehearsal
tape, with most tracks limited to two or three musicians.
- Lama Gyurme & Jean-Philippe Rykiel: The Lama's Chants:
Songs of Awakening/Roads of Blessings (1994-2001 , Narada,
2CD): the Tibetan lama's voice is unmusical, hoarse and awkward, and
no amount of repetition dispels that impression, although repetition
helps; so does Rykiel's minimally gratifying music.
- Amjad Ali Khan: Moksha (2005, RealWorld): in India's
classical music tradition Khan is a sixth generation master of the
sarod, an instrument that contrasts to the sitar like a mandolin does
to a banjo; devotees complain that these 6-12 minute pieces are too
short, but I find the melodic variety invigorating, and like that the
only accompaniment is percussion -- that's all it needs.
- The Ultimate Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: The Early Years, Vol. 2
(1983-84, Narada, 2CD): if volume one is his baseline, here he makes his
move: faster, harder, louder, more ebullient, more exultant, more worldly,
more Godly too.
- The Essential Kris Kristofferson (1969-99 ,
Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): the first disc nearly a twofer of his first
two albums, mostly good songs, ineptly sung; second disc a mixed bag,
but not much past 1975, only five songs past 1979, often with extra
singers -- which he needs.
- Loggins & Messina: The Best: Sittin' In Again
(1972-74 , Columbia/Legacy): the first four albums yield 8, 5,
3, and 2 songs respectively, while the other two (or four counting
the live ones) give us nada; they started off as a post-hippie Simon
& Garfunkel, with faux-country and faux-Caribbean gimmicks and
a fondness for Beach Boys progressivism -- what is "Vahevala" but
"Sail On Sailor" with rhinestones?
- Raphé Malik: Last Set: Live at the 1369 Jazz Club
(1984 , Boxholder): Cecil Taylor trumpeter Malik dukes it out
with saxophonist Frank Wright over Syd Smart drums and amazing William
Parker bass; the dominant mode here is joy -- so much fun that Wright
tries to sing, so much fun you won't care that he sucks.
- The Only Blip Hop Record You Will Ever Need, Vol. 1
(1996-2002 , Luaka Bop): "Vol. 1" sounds like a hedge, but with
no Vol. 2 appearing maybe they're satisfied; these are minimal pieces,
herky-jerk beats but little adorned, providing a nice, rather neutral
- Evan Parker: The Snake Decides (1986 , Psi):
amazing harmonics and modulations within the stark limits of solo
- Pharoah's Daughter: Out of the Reeds (2000 ,
Tzadik): traditional Jewish texts with more/less traditional Jewish
music, mostly by guitar/oud player Basya Schechter, but accompanied
by many regulars and guests -- most of whom sing, chant, or clap
- The Flip Phillips Quartet: Live at the Beowulf
(1977-78 , Arbors, 2CD): first disc kicks off swinging like
you haven't heard in ages; second disc takes a pair of ballads
before sliding back in gear; played with all the swagger you'd
expect from a guy who learned to rumble on the JATP bandwagon.
- The Essential Poco (1968-89 , Epic/Legacy):
the perils of residualism -- starting with what was left of Buffalo
Springfield after the frontline talent left, further depleted when
Jim Messina and, later, Richie Furay departed, Poco was a country-rock
band that sounded like poor cousins to the Eagles, as shallow but
not nearly so vain, if that helps.
- Rank and File: Sundown (1982 , Collectors'
Choice): when the failed punk rockers switched to country music the
critics inevitably dubbed it cowpunk; actually, it sounds like how
the Byrds might have sounded had they gotten poor and gone to seed
and woke up with a bad hangover.
- Rank and File: Long Gone Dead (1984 ,
Collectors' Choice): same attitude, even better songs: one by
Lefty Frizzell done fast, the rest originals by Chip and Tony
Kinman, every one memorable -- especially the one about John
- Steve Reid: Rhythmatism (1976 , Universal
Sound): a drummer who picked up his beat in the studio working for
James Brown and Fela Kuti, Reid remains irresistibly snappy even
in a free jazz context, but the main reason for noting this reissue
of a long-lost album is the alto saxist, a wild and wooly Arthur
Blythe in peak form before his major label debut.
- Sonny Sharrock: Black Woman / The Freedom Sounds
Featuring Wayne Henderson: People Get Ready (1967-69
, Collectables): an arbitrary twofer; wife Linda decorates
most of the former with shrieks and screams, but Sharrock kicks
his electric guitar into an Aylerian frenzy while Dave Burrell
and Milford Graves keep up and occasionally trump him; Henderson's
album is trombone-led run-of-the-mill heavy funk.
- Shirim Klezmer Orchestra: Pincus and the Pig: A Klezmer
Tale (2004, Tzadik): "Peter and the Wolf" rendered as klezmer,
narrated by Maurice Sendak with copious Yiddish, with each character
assigned a distinct instrumental signature; the story is full of wit
but a chore to follow; padded out with four instrumental cuts.
- Shrimp Boat: Speckly (1989 , Aum Fidelity):
the banjo has roots in Earl Scruggs, the soprano sax in John Coltrane,
the songs both countryish and jazzy but mostly built in a DIY garage
from junk they found in the pop-art dumpster; as their first real
album, this is both tighter and less fanciful than their Something
Grand trivia box, which seems closer to their lack of aspirations.
- Sonny Stitt: It's Magic (1969 , Delmark):
like many of his 300+ albums, this trio with Hammond B3 ace Don
Patterson is a quick confection of standards and vamps, but for
all the times he's been accused of sounding like Charlie Parker,
this time he sounds more like Johnny Hodges.
- John Surman: Way Back When (1969 , Cuneiform):
the Beatles haircut and Sgt. Pepper mustache make him look even younger
than he was; the electric bass and piano suggest they were thinking of
fusion, but Surman goes elsewhere: his soprano sax on the title suite
was completely distinctive, and his baritone sax on the balance goes
places no one else imagined.
- El Último Paraíso (2001, Winter & Winter):
Stefan Winter's souvenirs from Cuba, a range of charming everyday
music with little commercial potential and intriguing artwork but
not much explication.
In an infinite universe, all the music you'll ever need already
exists somewhere. We find more each month: hip-hop from Senegal,
soukous from Congo, psychedelia from West Africa, qawwali from
Pakistan, flamenco con salsa, jazz-rock mutants (James Chance,
Annette Peacock), folk gospel (Pete Seeger), free jazz in Paris
(the Free America series), much more (55 records).
Copyright © 2005 Tom Hull.