A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: December, 2012
Recycled Goods (#103)
by Tom Hull
Aside from two Rodney Kendrick albums, I've taken a break from the last couple months' practice of raiding the old unplayed shelves. Didn't really plan it that way: the month snuck up on me with just a few jazz reissues in the bag, so I started scrounging around. One cluster of recordings come from old Christgau CGs: I was surprised to find Encre on Rhapsody after Christgau did a post on the two later records, and decided all three were old enough to fit here rather than in Rhapsody Streamnotes. Add to that two old African obscurities that I could never find as LPs but which the internet coughed up as downloads, and a few odds and ends. Short compared to the last few months, but that's the way it worked out this time.
Dabke: Sounds of the Syrian Houran (1997-2010 , Sham Palace): The Houran (or Hauran) is the volcanic plateau of southwest Syria, roughly from Damascus south and west through the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the Jordan River, one of Syria's most fertile agricultural regions (and for that reason much coveted by Israel's kibbutzim). Culled from two decades of cassette tapes from Damascus and points southwest, seven songs by seven artists, most likely wedding music, remarkably consistent, which is to say it's all true to its distinctive idiosyncrasies, but also that it is so upbeat there's no reason to quibble. Hopefully Syria will soon rejoin the modern world, where someone will mistake this for crass commercialism. A- [dl]
The Doors: L.A. Woman: 40th Anniversary (1971 , Elektra, 2CD): Last group album before Jim Morrison's demise, a group I knew at the time only for their hits, which I placed no mythological import to, never bothering with the albums (at least beyond Strange Days). This has three hits -- "Love Her Madly," "L.A. Woman," and "Riders on the Storm" -- and they stand out like they're supposed to, while they make up the filler with blues walks, only John Lee Hooker's "Crawling King Snake" borrowed: they sound like they're half way to becoming ZZ Top. 40th Anniversary adds a disc of alternate versions, looser and sloppier, a bit fresher if you care, or not if you don't. B+(**) [original album: B+(***)] [R]
Louisiana Red: When My Mama Was Living (1975 , Labor): Iverson Minter, b. 1932 in Bessemer, AL; mother died of pneumonia shortly after his birth, and his father was lynched when he was five. Made his way to Chicago and recorded for Chess before the Army snatched him. Sang, played guitar and harmonica, wrote some (7 of 16 here); cut a well-regarded album in 1963 called Lowdown Back Porch Blues, and close to fifty hence, most after 1981 when he moved to Germany, where he died in February, 2012. These mid-1970s sessions are offered as a memorial, and they make me want to hear more, but they're pretty satisfying in their own right: he has a bit of Muddy Waters' swagger but has to work with much less band, a DIY ethic born in poverty and sustained by stubbornness. A-
Eric Salzman: The Nude Paper Sermon/Wiretap (1966-72 , Labor, 2CD): Composer, b. 1933; worked as a music critic for New York Times, Stereo Review, and others; produced an important series of post-classical records for Nonesuch. This reissues two of his early records. He describes his The Nude Paper Sermon (1969, Nonesuch) as "tropes for actor, renaissance consort, chorus, and electronics" -- mostly vocals, the voices trained but not hammy enough for opera, abstract and unsettled. The four pieces on Wiretap (1974, Finnadar) delve further into electronics -- Ilham Mimaroglu was the producer -- and found sounds, even more abstract and unsettled, and all the more invigorating for that. B+(*)
Juma Sultan's Aboriginal Music Society: Whispers From the Archive (1970-78 , Porter): Originally from California, Sultan played percussion with Jimi Hendrix, joined Archie Shepp on records like Attica Blues, eventually became a Christian minister. This is the second slice from his archives, following Father of Origin in 2011 (on Eremite, unheard by me). These pieces are scattered over the years, the only constant Ali Abuwi (oboe, flute, percussion), although one 19:20 track doesn't credit either. This kicks off with a 20:45 piece called "AMS," with Sultan on bass, Abuwi on oboe, and everyone but the guitarist on percussion -- James "Blood" Ulmer is too busy stealing the show. That's followed by 1:27 of "Shake Your Money Maker," the first of several vocals that bind the extended groove pieces to a sense of community. Last two pieces break out the flutes, and for once I don't mind. A-
Jewel Ackah: Me Dear (1990, Highlife World): An impossible-to-find CG pick from Ghana, a local star but hard to tell what magnitude -- has a 1981 album credit-shared with Kwame Nkrumah and at some point sang for Sweet Talks -- nor sure when this was recorded but it's LP-length, four songs that gently nudge highlife into juju territory, a step shy of the Lagos competition, but has its charms. B+(***) [dl]
Archers of Loaf: White Trash Heroes (1998 , Merge): Fourth of five 1993-2000 albums, something Rhapsody calls "noise pop" probably because it's catchy as noise goes but noisy nonetheless, a basic indifference to groove or rave-up that worked better than you'd expect; one of the major rock groups of the 1990s, no doubt, but the decade I cared least about rock, so I never quite made the connection. B+(**) [R]
Drexciya: Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller II (1994-98 , Clone Classic Cuts): Detroit techno, second of four planned volumes up to co-founder James Stinson's death; first earned its deep sea claims with watery themes, but this one dries out too often into short runs of blips. B+(**) [R]
Encre: Encre (2001, Clapping Music): A piece of French electronica by Yann Tambour that Christgau reviewed in 2005, so obscure I couldn't track it down at the time, but here it is; has an industrial feel but unhurried, a slow day at the factory, with whispered French for subtitles. A- [R]
Encre: Flux (2004, Clapping Music): Less talk, less industrial, though not devoid of either; the measures inch along, enveloped in water sounds or synth strings or a bit of static, or even a little piano interlude, none so pat as to put you off, even if you wonder how substantial this all is. A- [R]
Encre: Common Chord (2006, Clapping Music): Laptop musician goes live, the five-piece band playing more conventional instruments, and projecting more, scaling up music that initially seemed charming due to its small scale; comes close to pulling it all off, too. B+(***) [R]
Scott Fields: 5 Frozen Eggs (1996 , Clean Feed): Chicago-based avant guitarist, specializes in cranky solo affairs but yields here to pianist Marilyn Crispell's piano, at her iciest, creating fractured landscapes that Fields, bassist Hans Sturm, and drummer Hamid Drake trek through. B+(***)
Clare Fischer Orchestra: Extension (1963 , International Phonograph): Early on, an arranger influenced by Gil Evans, as is the case here, one of the Pacific Jazz albums that helped sustain the modernist big band genre (Gerald Wilson was the best known example; also Bob Florence); later on Fischer wandered all over the map, dabbling in bossa nova, salsa picante, pop jazz, classical music, even arranging funk albums for Prince, leaving him with a decidedly mixed reputation, but here his eclecticism at least served a formal need -- too bad his favorite horns were flutes. B [R]
Jan Garbarek/Egberto Gismonti/Charlie Haden: Carta de Amor (1981 , ECM, 2CD): Previously unreleased live set the trio that produced two rather forgettable 1979 albums, Folk Songs and Magico, released then with Haden's more famous name first, but the Brazilian guitarist/pianist is central, setting the languid pace, while the sax pretties up. B+(*)
Dexter Gordon: The Chronological Dexter Gordon 1943-1947 (1943-47 , Classics): The tenor sax great's first sides, opening with Nat Cole and Sweets Edison, his style nearly fully formed with just a hint of Prez, followed by a series of signature riff pieces ("Blow, Mr. Dexter," "Dexter's Deck," "Dexter's Cuttin' Out," "Dexter's Minor Mad," "Long Tall Dexter"), all topped by "Dexter Rides Again"; includes his famous joust with Wardell Gray ("The Chase"), his novel "Chromatic Aberration," and a taste of his ballad style. A- [R]
Dexter Gordon: Night Ballads: Montreal 1977 (1977 , Uptown): Quartet with George Cables, Rufus Reid, and Eddie Gladden, selected from a four-night stand to emphasize the slow stuff, with 16-20 minute versions of "Lover Man," "You've Changed," "Old Folks," and "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" -- not that everyone seems clued into the concept, and the sound is a bit harsh. B+(*) [R]
Rodney Kendrick: The Secrets of Rodney Kendrick (1993 , Verve): Jazz pianist, started in funk groups, moved on to Abbey Lincoln, landed a major label contract, released this imposing mainstream debut, aligning his stars -- Roy Hargrove, Graham Haynes, Kenny Garrett, Houston Person -- picking up extra percussion, and breezing through the piano breaks. A-
Rodney Kendrick: Last Chance for Common Sense (1995 , Verve): Reviewing this on Election Day 2012, the title seems premature, but he was probably looking for prophetic; less star power in the horns, but with Dewey Redman and Patience Higgins more edge, bouncing off rougher rhythms; with only one album since 1998, wonder what happened to such a talented pianist. B+(***)
The Lijadu Sisters: Mother Africa (1977 , Knitting Factory): Twins from Ibadan, reportedly stars of some magnitude in Nigeria, came to US and cut four albums 1976-79, this the second; fairly basic Afrobeat, relies more on flow than on beat, the songs steady with some depth but not much flash. B+(**) [R]
Lijadu Sisters: Sunshine (1978 , Knitting Factory): Afrobeat is Africa's most mundane, rock-friendly beat, but this looses even that, nor can Joe Higgs get them to rocksteady, nor do the English lyrics help -- especially when I hear "Set Me Free" as "sex with me"; too long on their green cards, time to go home. B- [R]
Louisiana Red: The Lowdown Back Porch Blues (1963 , Collectables): First album, although he cut some singles a decade earlier, the title sums him up a bit too neatly, a homespun stalwart of back country blues, but he was still a young man, still had a dream, and he was still too impressed by Muddy Waters to back down. B+(***) [R]
The Minimal Wave Tapes: Volume One (1980-87 , Stones Throw): From Minimal Wave Records, founded in 2005 by Veronica Vasicka, but the music is older, drawing on 1980s new wave/post-disco obscurities, dispassionate with a slight industrial air, minimally danceable. B+(**) [R]
The Minimal Wave Tapes: Volume Two (1981-2004 , Stones Throw): Aside from the outlier, all 1981-88, which is the idea, dance music as postindustrial pop, more beat less atmosphere this time, one song oversung but that turns into its charm. B+(***) [R]
R. Stevie Moore: Lo Hi Fives . . . A Kind of Best Of (, O Genesis): Son of a Nashville studio musician, b. 1952, cut his first lo-fi DIY album in 1968 and claims to have released more than 400 (or 500) more; no idea when or where these 14 cuts come from, or even if they're old, but they don't make me want to do a lot of research -- inspirational lyric: "I'm sick of singing about girls/because I can't find any." B [R]
Yaa-Lengi Ngemi: Oh, Miziki (1986, MiyeMi): Congolese soukous, complete with ringing highnote guitar and call and response, recorded in New York, where the leader has been in exile but not exactly lying low; his discography is scant, but he's written political books, including a Genocide in the Congo with Bill Clinton in the subtitle. A- [dl]
Michael Sahl & Eric Salzman: Civilization and Its Discontents (1978 , Labor): Sahl is a postclassical composer, a year older than Salzman, his collaborator on several music theatre pieces, this one billed a comedy though more often tagged as their opera; rocks more than most avant-classicists, but like most modern opera tries to stuff too many words into too little music. B
Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody ([X] is some other identified stream source; otherwise assume a CD). The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments -- although that's always a risk.
For this column and the previous 102, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3528 (3093 + 435).
Additional Consumer News
The most conspicuous trend in recycled goods these days is the proliferation of "anniversary" editions of reissues, usually padded out with an extra disc -- which is what "deluxe edition" meant before the phrase was devalued to just mean four extra songs on a pricier one-disc -- and sometimes wrapped up in extra packaging. I don't pay much attention to such things, or for that matter to more modest reissues, if I've rated the record before. (I'm more likely to go for records I missed, like L.A. Woman above.) But I thought I would at least acknowledge the recycling of some of these records, with my grades from earlier (not necessarily the original) editions. I started with the list from my metacritic file, then whittled them down with my old grade. Following a dash, I add the label (in parens) and sometimes a further qualification to the title. I ran out of time before I could verify the label and disc count in all cases. Some of the new editions are UK, or maybe elsewhere. All should be 2012 releases -- I do a better job of checking that, but it's possible something tripped me up there.
This list is certainly not complete. I didn't look anywhere else for 2012 reissues, so a record only appears if one (or more) prominent review sources raved about it. It strikes me that most of the sources come up with inflated grades on reissues. Don't know whether to chalk that up to the aura of having stood the test of history, or more mundane factors -- extra quantity, the packaging, some sort of selection pressure on reviewers, or a desire to curry favor with publicists over high-end items, all of which have some minor effect.
Also missing are reissues of records I haven't rated, which explains why I have one My Bloody Valentine rather than two, two Sugars rather than three. Also not sure that some grades would hold up to re-listening: that My Bloody Valentine looks a bit low, and Jazz at Massey Hall could very well be helped a lot with better sound. Harder to identify anything that might be overrated.
One thing I didn't include below are constituent pieces of multi-album reissues, like Roxy Music's The Complete Studio Recordings or the many boxes Sony/Legacy has come out with. That might be a future project, but needs a different format, and with few exceptions (Roxy Music is one) I'd have a bunch of holes to plug. (I did include one record from Blur 21: The Box, but it seems to have been reissued separately.)
Copyright © 2012 Tom Hull.