Sorry, Vijay (February 8, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Iyer

Ever listen to a record a few times, find it doesn’t stimulate you, relegate it to the very back shelf–then hear it months later and realize you must have been in a dullard’s state of mind? Perhaps it’s the Heraclitus Effect as applied to music: you can never listen to the same album twice.

This happened to me yesterday. I have been shedding CDs, I’ve almost reached the end of the process, but I keep finding discs that have lain dormant too long. I needed to refresh the CD box I keep in my truck, and scanning my new, relatively Spartan shelves, my eyes came to rest on Mr. Vijay Iyer’s 2017 release, Far from Over.

I am a big fan of Iyer’s. Both his compositions and interpretations are imaginative and challenging; he’s a very precise pianist who sounds to me as if he’s always got specific architecture in mind. Though he works with fellow players who are very much in the moment, and though I am sure both live and on record he makes spontaneous choices, the structures of his pieces are too complex and solid to be fully improvised (it seems to me, at least). I’ve been fortunate enough to see him live, and he’s fascinating to hear–he can turn a room into a kind of crystal palace, and that’s a compliment. Also, he has great taste in drummers. Often, of late, he’s worked with the magic Marcus Gilmore; in the past, and last year on Far from Over, the astounding MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Tyshawn Sorey has been behind the kit. Also, from his work with Mike Ladd to date, Iyer’s no stranger to artistic activism, and the title of his 2017 work has been understood to refer to his reaction to the 2016 U. S. presidential election.

So–what’s not to like? Well, I had played that sucker twice after it arrived on my doorstep, and (from what I remember) it had struck me as too ethereal, too static, and maybe too much of a good Iyer thing–in other words, maybe I’d reached saturation point with his work, which an experienced listener can indeed recognize from a good mile away. Also, the album was released by ECM, a label that I suspect has aimed diabolically, deliberately, and for years enmesh jazz fans in webs of cheesecloth, soft-focus sound. As such, it was a perfect candidate for discard, but I respected the man too much not to give it one more chance, particularly since it checked off a couple of very important boxes for me.

Good news! I was wrong! I must have been distracted, hung over, depressed–something–because the album, I’m now happy to say, is a minor classic. Why? Vijay’s playing has a simmering anger and defiance that keeps the promise of the album’s title, and sounds to me like another refutation of the complaint that his work is too cerebral (as if that’s necessarily a bad thing, and as if that complaint, in more base vocabulary, hasn’t been frequently voiced by our present administration). The band is equal to the mood: Graham Haynes (often evoking early-70s Miles on cornet, fluegelhorn and electronics), Steve Lehman (a criminally undercelebrated altoist), Mark Shim (on penetrating tenor sax), and Stephan Crump (truly one of contemporary jazz’s great bassists) are at their best here. Most exciting, though, is Sorey’s muscular drumming–the guy can do anything in the engine room, but I haven’t heard him in creatively raucous mode in a long while, and that mode is something to behold. And–bottom line–I am different now than a year ago: clearer headed, maybe understanding the meaning of “dug in” a little better, with more records under my belt (including Ernest Dawkins’ Transient Takes, on which Iyer plays slashingly on the 88s).

I’ll be holding on to Far from Over. Sample it yourself, but if you don’t believe me, give this festival set a listen, and you should hear what I mean.

Apples and Oranges (January 22, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

ErnestDawkins

As I do with my reading, I follow my nose when I explore music. I read, I chat with folks, I read some more; what I don’t tend to do is put myself in an algorithmic cage, which isn’t that different from radio other than the cage has broader dimensions. In the case of the most explosive and deeply felt music I listened to yesterday, neither YouTube nor Spotify nor Pandora (nor most certainly radio) would have helped me, as I only happened to learn about¬†this particular recording¬†through a perusal of jazz critics’ best-of-’17 lists in Jazz Iz (a publication I seldom see but happened to notice in the rack shadows in a local grocery store). You could say I sniffed it out. You might also carp about critics being gatekeepers, but, look–their job is to listen, and they have the time to do more of it than we do because of that. And lists are very important: right now I know I am not alone in hoping that the Village Voice eventually provides all voter ballots for the 2018 Pazz and Jop Poll, which are almost always a better resource than the list itself and its accompanying lists.

Cutting to the chase: the album I am speaking of is Transient Takes, Chicago saxophonist and AACM member Ernest Dawkins‘ 16th as a leader. Dawkins, 64, is in magisterial form on alto and tenor, shifting easefully between woolly blues, passionate ballads, and no-holds-barred free scrums that unsurprisingly landed the record on two Jazz Iz correspondents’ lists–and at the very top of one of those. Reinforcing Dawkins’ powerful, emotionally complex, and witty¬†playing is Vijay Iyer, one of jazz’s most preeminent¬† pianists, but also one who is frequently accused of being too cerebral and cold (a stereotypical assessment, perhaps). Frankly, Dawkins (if not such observers)¬†seems to inspire Iyer to some of the earthiest playing I’ve ever heard from him–and I’m a big fan. Isaiah Spencer on drums and Junius Paul also provide solid, rousing, and sensitive support, and the crisp live recording makes a very present group performance even more immediate. Transient Takes is one of the best American releases of any kind from 2017; it would have been on my year-end list had I known about it in time, but I’ll vote for it next year anyway!

The catch: Should you like a copy of Transient Takes–and if you are a fan of Dawkins, post-Trane jazz in general, the AACM, the Chicago tradition, saxophone, or Iyer, I believe you should like one–you’ll need to a) trust me re: the above take (or dig David Whiteis’¬†review in Jazz Times), because there’s not much commentary out there;¬†b) write Mr. Dawkins directly at the following address for a copy ($20 if shipped in the U. S., I think)–because you’ll not find it streaming, or for sale anywhere but from him.

Ernest Dawkins, P. O. Box 7154, Chicago, Illinois, 60680

You might think it’s perverse for an artist not to “get his work out there,” but in this world of free and instant access, I found it refreshing. The process of obtaining Transient Takes took me back to the days when, hunkered down in my college dormitory,¬†I mail-ordered punk albums from Trouser Press.

Note: According to his website, Dawkins is working on two very interesting commissioned projects that might be reason to stay informed.

OK, those were the apples. Now for the oranges….

I will freely admit to being slow to the dinner table when it comes to pop music. I don’t club, I don’t listen to the radio at all, I don’t follow the charts (my nose can’t smell them for some reason), I feel creepy listening to Taylor Swift, I’ve perhaps¬†become too temperamentally and philosophically aligned¬†with the world of underground, experimental, and otherwise marginal music, I don’t trust megasmashes–the list goes on and on. Though when I read Neil Postman many years ago he annoyed me, for some reason when I think of contemporary pop music, I detect him whispering in my ear, “This is what I was¬†talking about.” However, I like to think that, particularly after friends and fellow writers wear me down and I make an effort, I do eventually bow at the feet of the Undeniable Pop Smash.

Cardi B is undeniable. Migos are undeniable. I am warming back up to Ms. Minaj. And–I am feeling my forehead here–I am even¬†interested in Bruno Mars, thank to this:

My Stephens students laughed out loud at me this morning when I told them I had just listened to a Cardi B song for the first time yesterday (true statement). I had distributed to each of them the above Pazz & Jop poll results, and assigned them to highlight every album and song they’d heard, star each one of those they could defend in public, and otherwise notate records they hadn’t heard but were curious about, which filled them with immediate enthusiasm, but also¬†some reticence, especially¬†when I mentioned I’d voted in the poll. I could see on their faces a look that anticipated my stern judgment of their choices, but in response I said, “How smart can I be if I just listened to Cardi B yesterday?”

 

 

Good to My Earhole, April 15-19: “Feed the Flame”

Highlights from my last five days’ listening, ranked on a 10-point scale approved by former Soviet gymnastics judges:

Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith/A COSMIC RHYTHM WITH EACH STROKE – 8.9 – Like my fellow enthusiastic and actual serious jazz critic¬†Christopher Monsen, I do like drums with my jazz, generally; like my fellow skeptics, I sometimes wonder how cosmic each stroke really is. But considering the intentions of these two gentleman genuises in composing this–to support an exhibit at the Met of the work of the abstract Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi–it is a beautiful thing. With just Smith’s trumpet and Iyer’s piano, Fender Rhodes, and electronics for colors, their own strokes match Mohamedi’s in elegance, simplicity, and coherence. If you don’t truck with art talk, and could care less about intentions, it’s extraordinarily calming without anesthetizing you, primarily owing to Smith’s patented (?) balancing art between Milesian moans of desolation and AACM blats and sputters.

Barbara Lynn/The COMPLETE ATLANTIC RECORDINGS – 8.5 – The notes give up no personnel data, but one can guess that from the label, producers, and mid-to-late ’60s vintage–problem is, I don’t hear her neat lefty guitar in the mix. BUT the soulful husk and smoke of her delivery are in pretty high definition and the material shoots over 80% from the line: some bitter copyrights from Ms. Ozen herself (“This is The Thanks I Get,” “Until Then I’ll Suffer”), some offerings from the house (Penn-Oldham’s “He Ain’t Gonna Do Right” and Donnie Fritts’ too-obscure “People Like Me”), a weirdly addictive one apparently penned by a trio of Cajuns from near Barbara’s Beaumont stompin’ grounds (“Ring Telephone Ring”–it’s Swamp Pop Central calling!), and likely the first version of the late Wayne Thompson’s classic “Soul Deep.” If this hooks you? Move backward to her Jamie recordings with Huey Meaux, and the original “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” and “Oh Baby! We Got a Good Thing Goin’,” which the young Stones saw fit to take a run at.

Various Artists/LOUISIANA SATURDAY NIGHT – 9.0 – A terrific compilation of swamp pop classics, which is saying something since licensing tangles have kept all the great ones from ever winding up in one place (to my knowledge, and I’ve been looking). Swamp pop? Shane Bernard, an expert for a reason, says it’s a balance between white Cajun music moving toward rock and roll and black Creole music moving toward r&b, and that sounds exciting, except that (I’d argue) its virtues are addictively mild, like a perfect cafe au lait. Not to say there’s not in-your-face action here: Rusty and Doug Kershaw are eternally uplifting (remember “Diggy Liggy Lo,” anyone?), the fat slide guitar on Cleveland Crochet’s “Sugar Bee” reaches out and gooses you hard, and Rod Bernard and Clifton Chenier’s symbolic summit meeting on “Jolie Blonde” proves Rod’s boy right. But the ones I keep coming back to are cuts like Van Broussard’s “Feed the Flame”: Van’s not the greatest singer in the world, neither the band or the arrangement will knock your hat in the creek, but his sincerity and belief in the lyrics are…fetching. Like you yourself could sing that one–but you can’t. Quite. Like that. Modest mastery.

Various Artists/SOUL SOK SEGA–SEGA SOUNDS FROM MAURITIUS – 8.7 – Mauritius is an island just east of Madagascar, and its proud musical offering is sega, which initially featured a ravanne (a goatskin stretched across a frame–and later over a drum), a maravann (a box of seeds–like maracas), a triangle (reminiscent of jure, an ancestor of zydeco), and singing, in Kreol (or Creole, if you will). This collection is largely the story of how sega because impure–and more interesting. At its best, it evokes the delirious experiments of Brazilian Tropicalia (something I’m always down for), and, um–the guitar is great!¬†Big props to Strut Records, whose releases have gotten me to the rare point of partaking sight-unseen, sound-unheard, and review-unread.

GOOD TO MY EARHOLE: End of ’15, Start of ’16

These posts originally appeared on Facebook, where my potential audience is much larger than here. My thinking behind the somewhat-weekly series was to help people sift through albums from the past that might easily be forgotten in the tsunami of information about new reviews–as well as occasionally commenting on significant newer items. That concept is dressed up like¬†simple¬†reportage about what I have actually been listening to, by choice as opposed to in an attempt to stay on top of new thangs. Which I am struggling, like you, to do.

8 BOLD SOULS – 8 – I am hooked on Edward Wilkerson, Jr.’s arrangements for this terribly underrated AACM-sprung unit. They’re always interesting and fun and funky. The otherwise-reliable PENGUIN GUIDE TO JAZZ RECORDINGS doesn’t see fit to even mention them. Bullshit. Every one of their records are good-plus to excellent, and Wilkerson needs to be recognized as a luminary of the past quarter-century. Also: their name fits their musical enterprise.

AFRICAN HERITAGE SYMPHONIC SERIES, VOLUME II (Chicago Sinfonietta, conducted by Paul Freeman):¬†Ulysses Kay/George Walker/Roque Cordero/Adolphus Hailstork/Hale Smith – 10 –¬†I don’t know doodley-squat about classical music, but I can hear majesty, tension, fear, and desire when gathered musicians successfully convey it, as they do here. This was just what I needed this week, cranked to 8 in my truck cab. Pick to click: Smith’s “Ritual and Incantations.”

Laurie Anderson/HEART OF A DOG – 8.5 – A winsome, quirky, and disarmingly deep meditation on mortality, following death of mom, dog, and man. Closed down–and redeemed–by song written and sung by said man.

Erykah Badu/BUT YOU CAIN’T USE MY PHONE – 8.8 – A concept mixtape that shoulda been packaged with Aziz Ansari’s MODERN ROMANCE. Ms. Badu is a bit like The Stones–she has a knack for staying relevant over time, and even if you hate “phone world,” she sings and writes nicely here, and the rhythms are bumpin’.

Billy Bang Quintet Featuring Frank Lowe/ABOVE & BEYOND – 9 – There aren’t that many jazz violinists, and Bang, a Vietnam vet, was one of the best, able to play inventively both “inside” and “outside.” This 2003 record finds him in a Grand Rapids club with his long-time playing partner, tenor saxophonist Frank Lowe, dying of cancer, down to a single lung, but playing with scintillating vigor nonetheless–a “horseman, pass by” performance! Bang himself had only eight more years to fiddle on this turf, and his equally stellar playing make this one of the most moving jazz documents of the new millennium.

BeauSoleil/HOT CHILI MAMA – 9 – Like Robert Cray, Dwight Yoakam, The Roots, and Tom Petty, THE Cajun band can seem so consistently good as to be underrated. Don’t fool yourself and ignore them. Michael Doucet’s lively, insouciant fiddle and earthy vocals, bro Michael’s Doc Watson-gone-swamp picking, and the band’s fearlessness in adapting outside material is the recipe for aural orgasm. Yes: I wrote that on purpose.

Don Byas/SAVOY JAM PARTY – 9.0 – This Okie from Muskogee is here the very happy medium between the twin towers of pre-WWII tenor sax, the laggard Pres and the vigorous Bean. Stellar support, too, from Charlie Shavers, Slam Stewart, and Max Roach.

Leonard Cohen/CAN’T FORGET–A SOUVENIR OF THE GRAND TOUR – 8 – One souvenir of three, but this one features a vastly different set of songs, including some worthy newbies. Except for conceptually, he doesn’t get away with “Choices”(Bettye LaVette beat him to that Possum cover in the first place), and his already-threadbare voice has lost a little grain, but from the disarming cover art to a closing where he hugs mortality tighter than ever, you have no choice but to contemplate whether this’ll be his last. Respect your elders!

Elizabeth Cook/GOSPEL PLOW – 8.5 – Spunky-tough C&W singer-songwriter takes on spirituals by Blind Willie Johnson, Lou Reed, and anonymous geniuses and delivers, no small thanks to her (now ex-) husband’s rowdy guitar.

Jacques Coursil (trumpet) & Alan Silva (double bass)/FREE JAZZ ART (SESSIONS FOR BILL DIXON) – 9 – Near-trance-inducing, Asian-tinted, marginally differentiated performances by two crafty veterans. The music doesn’t sound all that free, but that may be the art. A colleague wandered into my office and demanded I email him the recording info so he could get it post-haste. That’s a good recommendation in and of itself. Thanks to Isaac Davila.

The Dead Weather/DODGE & BURN – 7.5 – Moved only to eye-rolling by Jack White, I can’t resist this raving project of his, mainly because of Alison Mosshart’s howling. But despite the abundant riffage, propulsion and attitude, I am not sure it adds up to anything. Docked .5 for a toe-dip into minstrelsy.

Dexateens/LOST & FOUND – 9 – Finally found this literally “lost” (master?)piece of modern Southern rock, and did it please me! From earworm riffs (“Mary”) to caught-me-short details (box fans!) to sly tales (“Altar Blues”) to their oddly Stonesish way with vulnerability, this keeps hitting me where I love, I mean live. For Eric Johnson

DIRTY BOOGIE–THE FORTUNE RECORDS STORY – 9.0 – Though it wisely skimps on flagship geniuses Nolan Strong and Andre Williams, forcing you to pick up their own official compilations (but, wait, where are those, again?), this three-disker ably highlights the lesser-known of the two totally classic Detroit labels of the 1950-1965 Golden Age. Unsurprisingly for a company sprouting up in a Northern industrial hub, it offered r&b, rockabilly, doo wop, country, a touch of jazz, and plenty of the title medicine. Secret hero: Roy Hall, of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” fame.

Jim Dickinson/FISHING WITH CHARLIE – 9 – Running interference for both World Boogie and Mumbo Jumbo, Dickinson nails rumbling readings from such luminaries as Vachel Lindsay, Nick Tosches, and Larry Brown. Best in show: a haunting, vivid, loving cutting from Michael Ondaatje’s COMING THROUGH SLAUGHTER. Might be Dickinson’s unintentional epitaph.

Drive-By Truckers/IT’S GREAT TO BE ALIVE – 9 – A theme’s developing here. I didn’t think I needed a three-disc live Truckers set from our current year, but I must bow. A classic career summation, with numerous surprises (“Girls Who Smoke,” “Runaway Train”) and revisions (“Goode’s Field Road”), that lives all the way up to its title, mostly thanks to the irrepressible joy in Patterson Hood’s singing. Need I mention that the guitar is abundant, ragged, and lyrical? And that it’s one HELL of a bargain at $17?

Cliff “Ukelele Ike” Edwards/SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (ASV Living Era Series, for those that love that line like me!) – 8.5 – There’s some extreme corn in tow, but Cliff was an early pop star for good reason. Most will know him as the voice of Jiminy Cricket on “When You Wish Upon a Star,” but I will take his spirited “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” and “Singin’ in the Rain” over all the other versions I’ve heard, and his “Paper Moon” almost beats Nat King Cole’s. There’s more, including one of the first¬†recorded versions of “California, Here I Come” and some very charming extreme corn (“Paddlin’ Madelin’ Home”).

Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra/FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA, NOVEMBER 7, 1940 (Deluxe Golden Anniversary Edition) – 10 – The impossibly great but short-lived Blanton/Webster band, on a radio broadcast the fidelity of which is stunning for the time. And the band is ON. Hear Duke’s exhortations, steppin’ feet, and the radio broadcaster as part of the music, feel the glory in 29 songs’ worth of prime Ellingtonia, and get stunned by a murderer’s row of genius soloists. Plus: I’ve heard drummer Sonny Greer maligned, but, damn, the engine room is on fire.

Freddy Fender/TELL IT LIKE IT IS–THE BEST OF THE CRAZY CAJUN RECORDINGS – 8.5 – We are still waiting for the ultimate Fender comp, but I really like this memento from his days with fellow eccentric Huey Meaux ’cause it displays his amazing range (and I don’t mean his inimitable singing): from classic r&b to standards to Doug Sahm honky-tonk to chart-rock from The Who (yes, The Who). In a single performance, you can hear in Freddy East Texas, South Texas, West Texas, and, of course, Mexico–I hope that sounds seductive to you, because it sure as hell does to me. Plus he could write a good one, and guitar-sling.

Chico Freeman and Von Freeman/FREEMAN & FREEMAN – 8.3 – The son, Chico, plays like a cocky street kid just dosed with a tab of Trane. Pops sounds like no one else but himself–a sneaky-smart old pro who loves to squeak, creak, and reach into your chest at a moment’s notice, right when you think he’s not going to get out of a chorus intact. And should your attention drift, there’s Jack DeJohnnete to rattle you to attention. Recorded live at the NYC Shakespeare Festival!

Erroll Garner/THE ORIGINAL MISTY and BODY & SOUL – 10 – A weekend of Garner’s magic piano in my ear elevated him above God (aka Art Tatum) in my esteem. I am not a musician, so you can take that for what it’s worth, but for joy, invention, touch, and surprise, I’ll stake my rep on it. Thank you, Whitney Balliett for putting me right.

Roscoe Gordon/LET’S GET HIGH – 8.8 – Memphis weirdo pianist invents ska, only he doesn’t realize it until much later!

GymShorts/NO BACKSIES! – 7.9 – If the idea of the Country Teasers (the only band I’ve ever heard that could CREATE a hangover with its music) fused with The Jesus & Mary Chain (who too quickly abandoned their knack for beautiful feedback overload) appeals to you, you might want to check this Rhode Island combo out. Their noise is VERY adulterated. Live, they are less weird and more together. More weird and more together is the next step. Fingers crossed.

Brian Harnetty/BAREHEAD AND BLOODYBONES – 8¬†– What could be more fun on a holiday than to listen to old field recordings of country kids telling very damn disturbing stories to piquant electronic instrumentation provided by the credited artist? Pick hit: the title track–it freaked me out a little, and it’s an ooooold story. From those hardworking folks at Dust-to-Digital Records.

Michael Hurley, The Unholy Modal Rounders, and Jeffrey Fredericks and The Clamtones – HAVE MOICY! – 15 – Last week I was scandalized to learn that several of my music-loving pals hadn’t even HEARD of this record–one of those rare ones for which you need a backup copy. It is a lot of things: a guidebook for living dangerously, an inquiry into the nature of things, a celebration of life’s simple pleasures, an outline of sexual adventure. But it’s much more. All that information is delivered with such gusto, drollery, seductiveness, insanity, and–occasionally–menace that you may have whole verses memorized after the first listen, which, if you listen, will be the first of many.

“Yeah, but what kind of music is it?”

Unhinged. But easefully unhinged. As if unhinged is a way of life.

Please go find this and buy it. (Note: the sequel, just released and reviewed here last week, ain’t no slouch.)

HAVE MOICY 2–THE HOODOO BASH – 8.8 – If you don’t have the first volume, make it a priority: whacked-out but subtly philosophical songwriting delivered with insane enthusiasm (alternating with subversive seductiveness) by ’60s freak folk heroes. The sequel is honorable: though two members have since stepped on rainbows and the subversively seductive Michael Hurley passed on the project, it’s full of joy and camaraderie, with Peter Stampfel opening the proceedings with a genius repurposing of a Del Shannon song, Jeffrey Lewis providing a paean to nonsense and tweaking the nose of intelligent design, and Baby Gramps Grampsing around mysteriously and channeling pirates on “Crossbone Scully.” Also, some butts are hilariously on fire on the “projected single.”

Clifford Hayes and the Louisville Jug Bands/VOLUME 1, 1924-1926 – 8.8 – Hayes gets lead billing, but blower Earl McDonald is the true star. I doubted a recently-encountered claim McDonald could get jazz out of a jug, then this made me shut up. Great appearances by Sara Martin and Johnny Dodds, too, and Hayes is mos def no slouch. Now–to the other three volumes!

HERB JEFFRIES: A COLORED LIFE¬†(directed by¬†Kim Clemons and Kimberly Dunn, 2008)– 7.8 – Blue-eyed Sicilian-Irishman from Detroit goes south to Chicago and west to Hollywood, passes for “colored,” sings Duke Ellington to his first mega-hit, and becomes Hollywood’s first “black singing cowboy.” Jeffries: “My father is Portuguese, Spanish, American Indian, and Negro. How in the hell can I identify myself as one race or another?” Indeed.

Lightnin’ Hopkins/THE GOLDSTAR RECORDINGS, VOLUME 1 – 8.8 – I know: how many Lightnin’ albums does one listener need? Frankly, it might just be impossible to track them all down even if you wanted to, but these very early recordings are trance-enducing, trickily differentiated in masterfully marginal ways, and–just when you are in a zone that’s humming through your ears to your brain–he moves to organ for a zany and addictive change of pace that makes you laugh out loud.

The Horribly Wrong/C’MON AND BLEED WITH THE HORRIBLY WRONG– 8.8 – I bought this record out of duty, out of loyalty, out of love for the Nashville band Natural Child, simply because Natty C’s bassist Seth Murray plays and sings on it. Suffice it to say that duty, loyalty, and love have their payoffs, and this is one. One of the BEST punk/trash-rock rekkids I’ve heard in years (it’s a 2010 release), and it’s from Indiana, too (attention¬†‚Ä™#‚ÄéChuckEddy‚Ĩ).

Soundtrack to the film THE HOT SPOT – 8 – I’ve never seen this Dennis Hopper film and somehow hadn’t heard much about the soundtrack until I read Charles Shaar Murray’s John Lee Hooker bio and discovered Miles, Hook, and Earl Palmer, the inventor of the rock and roll beat if anyone was, play together on MOST of the tracks. How bad could it be? Well, if you’re not expecting a masterpiece (super-sessions never are) you will dig it. The trumpeter and guitarist mesh pretty well, and the drummer holds the groove. And that’s what it is: a solid groove album featuring two of the most singular voices in our music. Even the lyrics are no disgrace.

Gregory Isaacs/EXTRA CLASSIC – 9 – First record I’ve ever bought on Keith Richards’ recommendation (see “Desert Island Discs”). Thought I had reggae’s Cool Ruler down cold, but only one of these songs, mixed in his classic lover man/social critic style, was previously known to me, and “Jailer” is the only one that overlaps my favorite Isaacs record, MY NUMBER ONE. He whispers in your eyes, then hips you to Babylon’s racket.

Vijay Iyer/MUTATIONS – 8.7 and rising – My first two spins left me distinctly underwhelmed–I love the man’s piano playing, but there’s a goodly portion of strings and electronics on this. He also runs with excellent drummers–and after three listens I am not sure there IS drumming on it. But before selling it, I tried it again at top volume in my lab (the cab of my truck) and I started getting Hassell/Eno aural mirages from it. I think I’ll keep it.

Joseph Jarman, Glen Horiuchi, and Francis Wong/PACHINKO DREAM TRACK #10 – 8.5 – This is mos def an AACM jazz recording: it ain’t linear, it ain’t prefabbed, it ain’t easy, it ain’t without conch shell and shakuhachi–but it’s very, very live indeed, the lead artist conjures a restless peace regardless of what he’s playing, and the spirit of the artists’ cooperation led me away from yesterday’s outrage for a minute.

Katey Red & Dem Hoes/MELPOMENE BLOCK PARTY – 8.3 – Don’t call it “sissy rap” in her presence, or you might lose an appendage. What it says it is.

Kelela/HALLUCINOGEN – 9 – I am stubbornly resistant to electronica (or whatever this stuff is called), but I try not to give up on any genre. This EP delivers on the exotic promise such music is supposed to regularly extend: rich, expressive vocals, complexly carnal lyrics, and rhythms ‘n’ FX that support each. Three plays in 24 hours, plenty willingly.

KHAT THALETH–THIRD LINE: INITIATIVE FOR THE ELEVATION OF PUBLIC AWARENESS – 9 – Arab Spring rap. The music holds its own, easily, but you can download the translations. Consult Bandcamp–for a 23-song comp, it’s a bargain.

B. B. King/BLUES IS KING – 9 – LIVE AT THE REGAL you probably know about; it’s justly famous. But this ’67 show is a hair from its equal–plus a completely different (and surprising) set list. If you miss him, you owe yourself.

Earl King & Roomful of Blues/GLAZED – 8.5 – King was one of NOLA’s great R&B triple threats, as well as a bit of a griot. He wielded a deceptively mean guitar, he could write a great song (“Big Chief,” anyone?), and he sang with the slyness of a Sonny Boy Williamson. The white boys stay out of his way on this one and lay down the horny bedrock he needs to take off from.

KORLA: A FILM BY JOHN TURNER & ERIC CHRISTENSEN (2014)¬†– 8.5 – Black man from ‚Ä™#‚ÄéColumbiaMissouri‚Ĩ goes west to Hollywood, passes for East Indian, and becomes an icon of ’50s musical exotica. And stays in character for the rest of his life. A history lesson if nothing else.

John Kruth/THE DRUNKEN WIND OF LIFE: THE POEM/SONGS OF TIN UJEVIC – 9.5 – Vocalist and mandolinist Kruth, the words of the poet, and the musicians–all clearly glad to be alive. Dylanesque (sorry–it’s better than that augurs) with Croatian flavor. This will cheer you without bullshitting you. How’s that?

Los Lobos/GATES OF GOLD – 9.3 – Title’s kinda meh, cover art looks low budget, album’s only a goddam tour de force. Impassioned singing, outstanding material, and–did I mention they can play just about anything? Touches of bluegrass and bottleneck may even surprise the faithful. In my top 10 for 2015 after a single listen–a single listen that moved me. Ever heard an autumnal bar-band record? That’s kind of whatit is. For Peter Feldstein–thanks for motivating me to get it listened to!

Booker T. Laury/NOTHIN’ BUT THE BLUES – 8.5 – First heard Laury on the soundtrack to the cinematic abomination GREAT BALLS OF FIRE, but was too distracted by Jerry Lee remakes (imagine that!) to notice. If you like rowdy 88-rollin’, partake. And he hollers great, too. Also, let me know if you have his out-of-print BLUES ON THE PROWL, on Wolf Records, because I NEED IT. Been playing this side by side with Otis Spann and, though it’s a case of apples and oranges, Laury holds his own.

Matt Lavelle‚Ĩ and John Pietaro/HARMOLODIC MONK – 8.7 – I don’t care whose at the helm: I’ll sample anyone’s run at Thelonious Monk’s catalog. Though I’ve tried mightily, I don’t have a great grip on Ornette Coleman’s theory of harmolodics, but I can say with confidence that Lavelle, on horns, and Pietaro, on percussion, have fun using it to PLAY WITH Monktoons (something Thelonious would appreciate). The duo utilize “the freedom of two” to evoke damn near the whole of jazz in their interactions.

MEANWHILE IN MEMPHIS: THE SOUND OF A REVOLUTION (directed by Nan Hackman and Robert Allen Parker, 2013) – 9 – You might skeptical about the revolutionary claim, but not all revolutions are loud. In sound and style, this film does justice to its subject. Like all great docs, it raises a curtain on folks and moments even experts missed; for me, it’s Alicja Trout and the revelation that Tav Falco ‘s arrival on the scene was filmed. Plus: a terrific bonus disc. Please buy directly from Goner Records!

Jinx Lennon/30 BEACONS OF LIGHT FOR A LAND FULL OF SPITE, THUGS, DRUGS, AND ENERGY VAMPIRES – 9 – Irish force of nature needs just an acoustic guitar to wrestle the world to a draw. Dylanophiles strongly recommended to look into his oeuvre. But he ain’t no saint–even the Twin Towers’ collapse can’t avert him from Internet porn. Plus: a Christmas song for the ages.

Jeffrey Lewis/MANHATTAN – 9.8 – This eccentric, supposedly “anti”- folkie has never reached me, and I’ve only been to Manhattan once (and then I was distracted by 50+ junior high schoolers I was helping manage). However, when a peer from a Facebook forum I am fond of suggested that, with this new release, Lewis had picked up Lou Reed’s mantle if anyone had, I was piqued enough to lay down some cash. The best thing I can say is my peer is correct–if Lewis can keep this up. If you crave something like the “nice,” verbose, pre-TRANSFORMER Lou, or might want to try out a record that could be called a warmer, looser cousin to Reed’s cold-eyed, tight-rhythmed NEW YORK, pony up, I say.

Living Things/AHEAD OF THE LIONS and HABEAS CORPUS – 9 and 8.5 – Sorry to say, few reasons to be proud to be a Missourian these days, politically speaking, but this short-lived St. Louis brother band was one of the few rock units to unabashedly take on effed-up leadership, warmongering, and what I will call Christian hysteria in the heart of the ‘Oughts. These two are like the first two MC5 rekkids: the first explosive and expansive, the second compressed and relatively clean. But neither make apologies, nor take prisoners. Where ARE these boys?

Jerry McGill/AKA JERRY McGILL – 9.0 – Long-scattered and -squirreled-away recordings by an ur-“country outlaw,” including a very early “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train” backed by Mudboy and The Neutrons, some raw honky-tonk with Waylon Jennings on lead guitar, and some barely-together end-of-the-line howls from the hills (like “Wild Bill Jones”). Problem is, you gotta buy VERY EXTREMELY DANGEROUS (see below) to get yer hands on it. For me, that was not a problem. Tip: I got mine from Goner Records in Memphis.

Joe McPhee/SOLOS–THE LOST TAPES (1980 ‚Äď 1981 ‚Äď 1984) – 8.5 – What makes one blip-bleep-blat free jazz outing any different than the others? Well, imagination, conviction, and the savvy to mix in some great continuous improvisation with the pure sound.

Dan Melchior Broke Revue/LORDS OF THE MANOR – 7 – I’ve always found Melchior underrated in the garage punk pantheon, and he’s been quiet for awhile. At first I thought this was something kinda new: a garage punk GROOVE album. And it might be, but the extra-long cuts combined with the repetitive riffs eventually defeated my attention. Worth a chance, though.

‚Ä™NaturalChild‚Ĩ/LIVE AT THE END–FREAKIN’ WEEKEND 5 – 8 – The country’s best least-reported-on band gets all their moves together on this $5 live cassette. Not too jammy, not too faux-country, and with a perfect dab of their twisted garage beginnings.

Natural Child/SHAME WALKIN’–THE EARLY AND UNCOLLECTED SINGLES – 10 – This record does not exist other than in my iPod folder (and I suspect a few other folks’). But the erstwhile cannabis-cooled country rockers ought to do the world a favor and make it real. From the, um, unusually reluctant “title” song to the Dad’s nightmare of “Crack Mountain” to the paging-Neil-Young “Mother’s Nature’s Daughter” to the affectionately bleary “Don’t Wake the Baby,” it just might be that Natty C’s best work does not appear on their very entertaining long-players. Petition them on Twitter at @naturalchild420, @naturalchild666, or @NATURALCHILDFAN

Phineas Newborn, Jr./HERE IS PHINEAS – 8.5 – Memphis is known for the raw, but Phineas (pronounced FINE-us or pronounced FEEN-us) demonstrated such pianistic facility as to rank with the late ’50s-late ’60s greats. Phineas is to Bud Powell as Sonny Stitt is to Charlie Parker–think about it, baby….

Herbie Nichols/THE COMPLETE BLUE NOTE RECORDINGS – 10 – The music of the ill-fated pianist and composer Nichols dances. I know you’ve heard that before, but these dances are tricky, witty, and surprising while never failing to swing you. And believe me, the drummers (last names of Roach and Blakey) know the steps.

NUGGETS II: ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE BRITISH EMPIRE AND BEYOND (1964-1969) – 9.5 – Lenny Kaye’s original U. S. NUGGETS comp gets most of the press, but the uncommon-even-for-Rhino care put into these four discs bring the set impressively close to its predecessor’s consistency. It’s interesting that the British Invasion giants cast a long shadow over both collections; where it’s the Yardbirds, Stones, and Beatles that haunt the U.S. version, it’s The Who whose presence dominates the British box. Or was it these bands that pushed The Who? It rocks, it trips, it gets a little twee or dotty at times–hey, it’s British!–but, mostly, it rocks. Recommended to seekers after the roots of Van Morrison, ELO, Yes, and many more. Secret weapon: The Creation!

Obnox/WIGLET – 8 – Lamont Thomas‘ music hits you like a runaway gar(b)age truck, like the Jesus and Mary Chain stripped of its candy. To my mind, you need a little of that every day just to feel really American, but Thomas’ reports are more specifically from Cleveland, which in the wake of Tamir Rice makes the medicine even more necessary. Surprise covers, too, from sources as diverse as Andre Williams and The Webs. I’ve said it before: Lamont’s the hardest-working man in punk rock.

Big Chief Juan Pardo and The Golden Comanche/SPIRIT FOOD – 8.8 – We are one day into Mardi Gras season, so let me advise you to buy a Mardi Gras Indian record every January. Currently, there are just about enough to get you to mid-century, and I’ve not heard one that’s bad, nor, despite the tendency for some chants to show up on nearly every tribe’s record, one that isn’t at least subtly distinct from the others. Such is the case here, where we get a vision of a Spy Boy rowing up the bayou in a pirogue and a guitar-touch of what Jelly Roll Morton called “The Spanish Tinge.” Speaking of, strong cases have been made that what we know and love as funk, soul, and r&b came straight out of this tradition, from a well maybe 215 years or more deep.

The Persuasions/SPREAD THE WORD – 8 – This ’72 gospel outing by the renowned a capella group is bookended by two halves of a bad pre-conversion Bob Dylan gospel song, but inside the sandwich are great examples of the irreverence for which they are too little known: a sly dig at a charismatic minister, an angry cry for a son lost to war and dope, a neat juxtaposition of flesh (“The Ten Commandments of Love”) and spirit (“The Lord’s Prayer”), an excavation of a prison song by The Larks, and a skeptical “Heaven Help Us All.” No surprise from a group that in the interim knocked Frank Zappa’s “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing” out of the park. Every home needs a Persuasions rekkid.

Charlie Pickett & The Eggs/LIVE AT THE BUTTON – 8.5 – One very nasty Florida bar band. By nasty, I mean the attitude, the worldview, the guitar, and, sometimes, the sense of humor. 1982–needs a digital reissue.

Public Image Limited/WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS… – 8.0 – Lydon’s grown into a Dutch uncle for the post-punk generation, unsurprisingly, and his new one is lifted by Mekon Lu Edmonds on guit and saz and new bassist Scott Firth. BUT–see ’em live on their current tour, and be astounded at how Edmonds and Firth pull together the wide-ranging sounds of Lydon’s post-Pistols career. Note: what the ellipsis leads to is…NSFW!

Pusha T/DARKEST BEFORE DAWN – 9 – From his thrilling sneer (thanks¬†to Alfred Soto for that) to his lyrical inventiveness to his unerring flow, Norfolk, Virginia’s Terrence Thornton can blow away the most famous MCs like chaff. For the most part, he leaves the coke-rap behind (for the MOST part) and shares his thoughts about many contemporary concerns (my favorites are “F**k Donald and his pledge” and his vision of his mom maxin’ on vacation). And he’s only 38! Docked a point for being–too short.

Otis Rush/I’M SATISFIED: THE 1956-1962 COBRA, CHESS, AND DUKE RECORDINGS – 9.5 – The best collection of classic Rush currently available, though I will also point you to the excellent studio albums leading up to the stroke that’s taken him out. It’s got the annoyingly difficult-to-access “Homework” and (the original) “So Many Roads,” as well as the justifiably ultra-legendary “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” and “I Can’t Quit You.” Thing is, they’re legendary for the string-bending, but Otis could sing out of the top of his head, with almost frightening passion, and his too-too relevant writing on “Double Trouble” might outlast all his tunes: “In this generation of millionaires/I can’t even find decent clothes to wear.”

Boz Scaggs/A FOOL TO CARE – 8 – God BLESS it, these comeback-cover exercises are so EASY even Don Henley can get away with them, especially when it’s the song-not-the-singer and the band’s crack. Boz’s degrees are not as silky as they usedta was, but he gets by on grit and feel, and with additional soul-dollops from women named Bonnie and Lucinda. Oh yeah, and the songs (originated by Mayfield, Green, Huey “Piano” Smith, and more good oles). But can we please call a moratorium on covers of Bobby Charles’ “Small Town Talk”?

Scarface/DEEPLY ROOTED – 8.5 – And he is. He is also a long-time practitioner of street psychoanalysis, and it’s clear from his perspective here that he is feeling the weight of twenty years of breaking down a g’s paranoia. And 2015 hasn’t helped. Get the BestBuy version with three worthy bonus tracks. For Brian Smarr.

Sonny Sharrock/GUITAR – 10 – One man, one guitar, who knows what effects, overwhelming beauty-in-chaos. Really, Hendrix’s inheritor–but his early death robbed our ears. In case you’re wondering, the guitar is PLUGGED IN.

The Sir Douglas Band/TEXAS TORNADO – 8.7 – It’s no secret I worship at Doug Sahm’s altar, and proudly, but somehow I’d overlooked this 1973 item he turned in for Jerry Wexler at Atlantic. This Rhino re-ish bumps the original releases’ 11 tracks up to 20, which, with the addition of a stellar cover of Ned Miller’s “From a Jack to a King,” some T-Bone blues, and the great lost single “I’m Just Tired Of Getting Burned,” turn a solid groove album to an intensely pleasurable really effin’ good one.

A SLICE OF SOUTHERN MUSIC – 9.5 – Never underestimate (or think you’re tired of) comps of Southern stuff. Here we have folks you know and folks you don’t, Booker T. Laury (see below) screwing the top off his hydrant-like piano, Jesse Mae Hemphill working her trance-y, Mississippi Hill Country magic, and Mose Williams demonstrating, what, the roots of Harry Partch?

Tyshawn Sorey/ALLOY – 8.8 – Easily one of the best jazz drummers and composers alive, he’s so committed to Morton Feldman and Zen that he almost (and sometimes literally) disappears from his own peaceful pieces. I mean that as a compliment.

Soulja Slim/THE STREETS MADE ME – 8.5 – Easily one of the best-produced albums ever to come out of NOLA’s Magnolia Projects (courtesy Beats By the Pound), it’s hard to listen to, knowing James Tapp didn’t live long enough to develop his already-unique flow further. Another claim: along with Mystikal, the only act under the Master P tent to hold up after a decade and a half.

Gary Stewart/GARY’S GREATEST – 9 – Forget Wayne Hancock–Stewart’s the closest to Hank we’ve seen in the last 50 years. This collection ain’t quite what’s advertised, but it is one of the few records that can induce me, at 53, to jump up and think I can sing. Then actually try. And fail. Inspirational Verse: “If someone else would tell me/What I already know in my mind/I’m afraid I’d start talkin’/With my fists….”

Sticky Fingaz/BLACK TRASH–THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF KIRK JONES – 8 – One of the most underrated concept albums in rap history, peaking with a desperate and deep conversation with God and featuring an early-career cameo from Eminem.

Cecil Taylor/THE WILLISAU CONCERT – 10 – Taylor dates are certainly not all alike. Here, the fidelity and piano are stellar, the intensity astonishing even for the supernatural then-70-year-old, the dynamic ideas his usual 53-card deck–and melodies that aren’t all micro. Not a bad place to start for the benighted.

Henry Townsend/MULE – 9.5 – In 1979, 50 years after making his first recordings, this blues multi-instrumentalist from Cairo, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri (by way of Mississippi), laid down the album of his life, with his vivacious, surprising, and rowdy piano holding off the staidness that has killed many such recordings over the last 40+ years. Good luck finding it, but, seekers, the quest will be worth it (I advise a browse to Discogs). And remember the words of Keith Richards: “It’s about the roll.” Which this has, in spades. As well as an inspired guest contribution from Yank Rachell.

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RIP ALLEN TOUSSAINT: SUGGESTIONS FOR THE BENIGHTED

Allen Toussaint/THE BRIGHT MISSISSIPPI – Toussaint ranges across jazz both from the Crescent City and elsewhere, with a nod to gospel. Great production by Joe Henry and absolutely crack accompaniment, not least by Allen’s own 88s. My only beef is that Henry didn’t include the classic “Tipitina and Me” that he got from Toussaint on the Katrina benefit OUR NEW ORLEANS (also a stone-stone-stone cold classic).

Allen Toussaint/SONGBOOK – It’s just Toussaint alone at the piano, rambling through his songbook, but here you get a great sense of his warm, peculiar, quiet personality, which matches his piano style, especially when he’s accompanying. Pick to click: A “Southern Nights” graced by a reminiscent reverie about his youthful home.

Lee Dorsey/YES WE CAN – Allen’s work with the great Lee Dorsey is fairly consistently amazing, but no release has gathered all the essentials (cross-licensing is a pain) to my satisfaction–Charly has made a good stab, and there’s an out-of-print, single-disc on Music Club that damn near does it. This one ain’t perfect, but it unites the winning singing of Dorsey, the inimitable funk of The Meters, and Toussaint’s marvelous piano, backup singing, some of his best tunes, and great arrangements.

THE MINIT/INSTANT STORY – Toussaint didn’t write, produce, or play on EVERYTHING here, but he was an influence on those he didn’t, and the bulk of the tracks define his seductive, good-humored, and gently soulful approach. The ultimate answer to the ill-considered theory that rock and roll died with Buddy Holly’s crash, Elvis’ enlistment, Chuck’s arrest, Jerry Lee-s black-balling, and Richard’s conversion. (If you can’t afford two discs, go for EMI’s single-disc FINGER-POPPIN’ AND STOMPIN’ FEET.)

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The Velvet Underground/THE COMPLETE MATRIX TAPES – 10 – This is why old farts like me are slow to rouse to new rock, punk, indie, or whatever bands. This, young farts, is the gold standard band, playing at the peak of its powers, with one of the greatest songwriters of all-time reveling in the midst of a period of amazing fecundity and making his guitar talk. For a four-disker, cheap. The sound is fabulous for a ’69 document, and even the stage patter is good. Pick a cool niece or nephew and gift ’em. Their lives might be changed by rock and roll.

VERY EXTREMELY DANGEROUS¬†(directed by Paul Duane, 2012) – 8.5 – Sun Records-recorded Memphis reprobate Jerry McGill battles cancer, the director, his fiancee, his pharmaceutical demons and the rest of the world to a finish I can’t report. Difficult, but, like a car wreck, impossible not to watch. A must for fans of producer Robert Gordon’s IT CAME FROM MEMPHIS and William Eggleston’s STRANDED IN CANTON.

Sonny Boy Williamson/KEEP IT TO OURSELVES – 9.3 – The great harmonica player, singer, and bullshitter, not far from gone, recorded these tracks in 1963 in Denmark, with old pals Matt “Guitar” Murphy and Memphis Slim. The spare production pushes his verbal wit and instrumental genius to the fore–in fact, even if you ALREADY thought he could blow the hell out of a harp, you might easily recalibrate your amazement. As I was sharing with my wife the other night as we discussed how newer stuff stacked up to the old pros, if you’re strictly a Wolf/Muddy/Bo/Chuck/Buddy Chess Records listener, you best attend to Mr. Aleck Miller.

Wreckless Eric/AMEricA – 8.5 – The Brit who gave us the eternal “(I’d Go The) Whole Wide World” sounds as if little time has passed (instead of almost 40 years) on this wonderfully wry and sometimes troubled American travelogue. If you’re emotionally invested in boy bands or “white bread,” he may hurt your feelings–but has anyone else on the planet written a sad, beautiful song about “Sysco Trucks”?

X_X/ALBERT AYLER’S GHOST LIVE AT THE YELLOW GHETTO – 9.5 – Rude, crude, blunt, and socially unacceptable, this offering is more proof that Ohio is the secret capitol of rock and roll (paraphrasing my friend Ken, who knows). Their irreverent but loving title nod to Cleveland Heights’ own tenor giant makes Marc Ribot’s sound genteel; their farmer’s blows at Dylan and Young breath-takingly segue into unkempt rockers such as we ain’t heard much this year. And, before you know it, just like in the old days, it’s over.

JOE BUSSARD PRESENTS THE YEAR OF JUBILO–78 RPM RECORDINGS OF SONGS FROM THE CIVIL WAR – 9 – The world’s most enthusiastic old-time collector lays a social studies teacher’s dream at our feet. Discover the less-than-sober roots of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”–which also has roots in “John Brown’s Dream”! Celebrate (temporary) Emancipation not once but twice with two versions of “The Year of Jubilo”! Pass a whiskey bottle around and dance uncomfortably around the fire on “Rebel’s Hornpipe”! And thank whom- or whatever for Joe Bussard.

 

 

Good to My Ear- and Eyehole Since Last I Posted: Part 3, The Heard.

Finally, the actual music. ¬†And, by the way, just to be clear: not surprisingly, I have many music nerd friends, but I have many more friends who are simply overwhelmed by the amount of music that is available to them, compared to the relative slim pickin’s of their teens. I suppose this is a statement of purpose for this blog (you can exhale now), but since my range of musical interest is pretty broad, since I am damned social and have a pretty decent Innertube reach, and since I am very obviously not an intellectual, bent on hardcore critical analysis, but rather…a musical proselytizer, I am a decent option for those overwhelmed masses. And if not, well, at least I am entertaining myself and keeping a record of what was keeping me sane when. Also, not all of the releases below are new–I don’t understand how anyone can devote themselves exclusively to new music, with as rich a history as we’ve got, but, again, the digital flood threatens to carry away some grand old slabs, and I will make it a point to alert you to some of them, too.

Since what’s ahead is a slew, I am gonna try to do these piquantly in no more than three sentences….

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Serengeti: Kenny Dennis III (Joyful Noise)

I suspect with this particular persona of David Cohn (one he’s been exceptionally devoted to of late) that you’re either a fan or you’re not. I am, all the way, but after the opener, and just like last time, I’d like a little more rappin’ (and beats, too) and a little less talkin’. Then along comes Track 15: “Get Back to Rap.” Time: 0:26. After two plays, ‘Geti’s way with a story arc starts to get to you, and you start to realize you have to hear this as something other than rap.

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Archie Shepp and the Attica Blues Orchestra: I Hear the Sound (Archie Ball)

Shepp’s exploring something here that hasn’t been mined enough–and he helped start it back in the volcanic ’60s. There’s very, very nice singing (including some rough vocalizing from Shepp), wise words, powerful large-ensemble playing, strings, and, of course, some free outbursts¬†in just the right places, at just the right duration–and the kicker is the blend is very well-balanced and makes one hell of a statement, to me: keep hoeing this row. I wager it’ll age better than Shepp’s original Attica Blues, and there is plenty of room for more practitioners. By the way, it’s live, and that will stun you, because it’s studio sharp. It is also wonderfully rhapsodic, and, as your mind drifts back to the original Attica Blues release and its turbulent social context, you may find yourself in winding and interesting thoughts about what’s happened in between, and just what this records says about it. Note: some southern college marching band needs to learn “Mama Too Tight.”

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Marvin Gaye: Here, My Dear (Hip-O Select)

I¬†bought this as a cut-out in the Eighties, then rebought it as a specialty reissue with a bonus disc of remixes, and I don’t know why, because both times it underwhelmed me. It’s Marvin relatively near the tragic end, wrasslin’ with divorce and debt, and opting to turn that into a concept album. The cover art seemed to be the best thing about it–biggest problem, I thought, was…it¬†was¬†musically boring. As so often happens, though, I brought it out to the truck (small cab, good stereo, just enough drive time to really concentrate), turned it up to about 7, and the vocals, lyrics, and nakedness wrassle the music (which is extremely well-played, it’s just not too varied melodically) into submission. Recommended to Kanye in about a year.

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Bob Dylan and The Band: The Basement Tapes–Complete (Columbia)

Many folks have been waiting a long time for this, and, by God, they did it right with the big box (in my humble opinion, they flubbed the budget version). Trouble is, to quote half a Marvin Gaye title from Here, My Dear, “it’s gonna cost you.” You’re gonna hear that it’s like a Van Gogh sketchbook (correct: and I must emphasize, with the pieces that got finished¬†often bowling you over, in very noticeably improved sound). You’re gonna hear that Disc 6 is rough and a waste (incorrect: the whole disc is¬†quite funny, moving, and listenable–250% better than Having Fun on Stage with Elvis Presley–and a few individual recordings are eternal). You’re gonna hear that the Americana genre was born here (correct, but don’t blame them, please, any more than you’d blame Gram Parsons or Ronnie Van Zant). I’m telling you now, and I hope you hear it, that if you can afford it and you’re a Dylanophile, do not think twice–it’s all right. Bonus: you don’t have to get rid of the ’75 Columbia release, as it has The Band tracks (not here–they weren’t “from the basement,” really), compressed sound that has its own virtues when compared to the opened-out quality here, and, in the long run, no necessity to be programmed in your CD player or ‘puter. I listened to the six discs consecutively, was ready to grimace, and never did. Notes and pics are cool, too.

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Wadada Leo Smith: The Kabell Years 1971-1979 (Tzadik) and Red Hill (Rarenoise)

Trumpeter Smith’s AACM pedigree and Mississippi roots would seem to have guaranteed he’d have been in my ear 25 years ago, but I first laid ears on him two weeks back. The former two-CD box captures him at what many adepts I know consider his peak, but he was a Pulitzer finalist for the ambitious and stunning multi-disc 10 Freedom Summers in 2012, and jazzbos are touting the latter as one of the best jazz platters of the year. Free is not everyone’s bag, and some would argue he’s not even all that free, but I’ll say this: he sounds to me like what would have happened if Miles had gone off the commercial rails in ’68¬†(don’t get me wrong: I LOVE WHAT HE DID AFTER THAT), ¬†headed to Chicago, and decided to forego coke and groupies. Also, even when his groups are wiggin’ out (primarily on Red Hill, and his new pianist is very familiar with Cecil Taylor), Smith brings a very strong feeling of peace, serenity, and intellectual reflection to the attentive listener. On the strength of these two rekkids, he’s in my Top 10 Free/Experimental Jazz pantheon.

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Jerry Lee Lewis: Rock and Roll Time (Vanguard)

Surely he has no gas left! After two straight pretty dang-good comeback records! Do you know who we are talking about here???? Opens with a conceptually perfect Kristofferson copyright, swings through some Killer meat ‘n’ potatoes, then–whaddya know?–sets Jerry Lee up with a Skynyrd song! It’s about fucking time. I’ve been dreaming for years of a producer ballsy enough to put together a set of songs from the likes of Ely, Gary Stewart, Ronnie Van Zant, Tony Joe White, Bobby Charles–writers tapped into the man’s main stream–and then sell it. This ain’t that, but it is very, very good, in fact, it has a Muscle Shoals vibe. The piano’s a little quieter–he is plagued by arthritis, though not in the fingers–but the voice is still there, and the mind definitely gets it. This makes me so happy I could gulp a handful of Black Mollys and buy a personal jet. Note: Rick Bragg’s new biography/assisted memoir is a perfect contemplative companion.

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Peter and Caspar Brotzmann: Last Home (Pathological)

Peter, a terrorist on the saxophone whose Machine Gun is probably the most balls-out recording of all-time, I knew about. He can indefatigably unleash torrents, but also shift into a surprisingly affective lyrical mode. Until this recording, I didn’t know much about Brother Caspar, who plays electric guitar. Suffice it to say that he holds his own with a later compatriot of his brother’s: none other than Sonny Sharrock. Maybe my favorite Brotzmann release, and thanks to the great Isaac Davila of Springfield, Missouri, for the loan.

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Jimi Hendrix: Live at the Oakland Coliseum (Dagger)

After reading (many years after its release) and loving Charles Cross’ biography Roomful of Mirrors, I had to have me more Hendrix. And I already have a lot. In a long-ago article, an obscure critic named Robert Christgau mentioned this, from a series of official bootlegs released by the Hendrix estate, as something he liked, but warned about the sound. Dagger didn’t put these in stores; you had to get ’em straight from the site, which it looks like you still can. I took the plunge, and, I have to say, across two discs of a surprisingly professional audience recording, Hendrix and band are¬†on. For a bootleg, it’s a B+/A-, and if you are a diehard, I seriously recommend it. 18 minutes of live “Voodoo Chile”? Say no, I dare ye.

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Funkadelic: The Electric Spanking of War Babies (Warner Brothers)

This early ’80s offering from the mind of Dr. Funkenstein and his crazed collaborators has gotten lost in the shuffle, with ’70s albums like One Nation Under a Groove¬†garnering most of the laurels. I myself, upon first purchasing it when it was released, thought it was a mess, slightly unworthy of its not-exactly-tidy predecessors. After reading George’s purty-good/not-bad memoir, I slapped it on for the first time in years, and came away thinking, “This is consistent“–that is, consistent in the mode of Uncle Jam. So, if you’ve read the memoir, and you’ve never got out of the Seventes with ’em, and you’re in need–here, my dear. Highlights: slogans, as always (“When you/learn to dance/you won’t forget it!”); post-Hendrix guit (not quite enough, but oh well); Sly Stone’s last coherent offering; Pedro Bell’s album art; reggae that works; prescient commentary on “The Greatest Generation.” We love you, George.

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Paul Shapiro: Shofarot Verses (Tzadik)

I feel like describing this record the way you would a gourmet meal (OK, maybe the record isn’t that good, but it’s very good): hints of klezmer, overtones¬†of Lee Allen and Earl Bostic, and a backbone (OK, that’s not a gourmet term) of Marc Ribot,¬†2014 instrumentalist of the year, name your category as long as it isn’t classical. Recommended strongly to practicing Jews who may wonder where their cultural influence has gone.

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Natural Child: A bunch of 45 and digital EP tracks that ought to be collected (Infinity Cat, Burger, et al)

If you actually read me, you know (or suspect) I will go to my grave fighting for these Nashville boys, who, without a goddam doubt, have been shortchanged by the “indie” “rock” press. Pitchfuck, you are in the scope; you’ll review Beyonce, and not these guys? But. No matter. I myself confess that if you’ve only bought their albums, you don’t know the half. Their early singles, represented¬†either by (usually digital) EPs or 45s (two split), contain the essence by which you can truly appreciate the later records. “Shame Walkin'” (about a dude that doesn’t want to fuck, but feels he has to), “Nobody Wants to Party with Me” (flipside of the paradigmical rock and roll night), “Mother Nature’s Daughter” (best Neil Young imitation ever–in fact, it ain’t no mere imitation!), ” Dogbite” (perfect song for wanting to get the hell out of wherever you’re stuck), “Gas Station” (a Liquor Store cover that they have to have completely identified with, given their touring ways), “Crack Mountain” (“I just want to smoke crack with my friends!”), “Easy Street” (to quote the New York Dolls: “If I want too many things/Well, I’m a human being!”), “Cougar” (seriously, these guys don’t just want to get laid), “Don’t Wake the Baby” (from the above-pictured 45, the bleariest, most tequila-soaked, but most charming one-night-stand song of all-time), “The Jungle” (a great spontaneous hootenanny): folks, their greatest album isn’t an album. This is a call to collect the singles, then dare Pitchfork, Pop Matters, Expert Witness (yeah, YOU, Christgau) to say no. I am not WRONG. Seen ’em four times in four different cities, listened to everything they’ve ever put out thrice over, I am fifty-fucking-two and have listened to music AVIDLY for forty-two of them. I am not WRONG. You know what you have to do, people.

annarbor

Various Artists: The Ann Arbor Blues Festival 1972 (Atlantic)

Hound Dog Taylor, Sun Ra, Otis Rush, Sippie Wallace (abetted by Bonnie Raitt), Junior Walker, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Koko Taylor, Dr. John? In great fidelity? In great form? Wait–Sun Ra’s in there? Yeah. And the pretty-free CJQ. Oh, did I mention…Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters? With John Sinclair as a kind of liner-note MC? I know: where has this record been all your life? Personally, the only other festival I’d rather have been at would be Monterey.

BillyBang

Billy Bang: Prayer for Peace (TUM)

I miss Billy Bang dearly. One of the greatest jazz violinists of all-time (saying something, because there’s Fiddler Williams, Stephane Grappelli, Ray Nance, Leroy Jenkins, and Bang’s great model, Stuff Smith) not only never made a bad album, but a) could swing a lot of jazz directions, and b) as befitting his being a veteran of the Vietnam War, always had something to say about peace. This fantastic record is not as wide-open as some of his others–the perfect invitation for the hesitant–but it’s deep, and, while Bang’s playing is as moving and richly-toned as usual, miraculously encompassing his scarring and his commitment to transcend it, trumpeter James Zollar almost steals the record from him. Bonus: they cover, and cut, the Buena Vista Social Club.

Negativland

Negativland: It’s All in Your Head¬†(Seeland)

Navigate to that label’s website, and you can order this cheap two-CD set, which comes encased in a King James Bible. Disc one’s Christian; disc two’s Muslim, with a slash of Judaism. Both sides are undercut by a voice screaming “There is no God!” and a seeming four-year-old explaining why God doesn’t make sense. Woven throughout are some¬†experts struggling¬†to reconcile religion with science, and other patiently¬†dismissing it. These warriors¬†have been quiet for awhile, and it may come as a surprise to some listeners that it’s a live performance. The title is the concept, and, while it’s not as musical as past releases, in many ways it’s just as liberating. Recommended to Neil DeGrasse Tyson and his army.

Buck and Buddy

Buck Clayton and Buddy Tate: Buck & Buddy/Blow the Blues (Swingville/Original Jazz Classics)

Basie buddies, veterans of the big band territory wars and numerous harrowing car and bus tours that would have brought today’s players in any genre to their knees, Clayton and Tate, on this terrific two-fer-one, swing in a blue mood. The musical equivalent of your grandfather schooling you on the front porch, just before bedtime. Buck wields trumpet, Buddy a very Texas tenor. You know? If you just don’t get jazz, how about starting here? Nothing to get, everything to feel.

Trio3

Trio 3 (with Vijay Iyer): Wiring (Itakt)

The big attraction is three crafty African American veterans–one, Oliver Lake, with a¬†St. Louis Black Artists Group pedigree; one, Reggie Workman, a former Trane sideman; one, Andrew Cyrille, a compatriot of Cecil Taylor and David Murray–and a¬†(relatively) young South Indian, Vijay Iyer, laying into a Trayvon Martin suite.¬†¬†But the record as a whole is my favorite small-combo jazz record of the year. To my mind, this particular gathering is an event, and, in no small way, an elevation of Iyer to the masters’ mantle.