Zappa’s Grand Wazoo & Waka Jawaka LPs were made with a huge ensemble that was clearly too unwieldy for much road work (a short summer tour of just a few dates was staged), so the subsequent touring band for the Fall 1972 tour was smaller: the “Petite Wazoo.” Heavily armed with winds and brass, they played primarily instrumental music that included new Zappa compositions that would rarely be performed again. Some of the tracks are actually one-time-only jams from specific cities, hence the titles, while bits of “Rollo” and “Farther O’Blivion” were eventually recycled into the “Yellow Snow” suite on “Apostrophe.” It’s interesting to hear FZ perform these large scale works and also deploy some of his typical spontaneous improv techniques with a group nearly twice the size of the previous edition of Mothers. None of this tour was ever available in any form until this release, not even on the 12 CDs comprising “You Can’t Do That on Stage…” so this captures a unique period in FZ’s career, a brief spell of mostly-serious music with nary a mudshark or poncho in view. -crimes-
Lennon’s New York residency found him recording with Elephant’s Memory, an already established band, and continuing with Phil Spector as producer, guaranteeing a big sound, although not necessarily Lennon’s best batch of songs. For the most part, these are topical rants about this and that (the unjust persecution of activists John Sinclair and Angela Davis, the riot at Attica State prison, the Irish troubles, etc.) and clearly not continuing the utopian ideals heard on his previous hit, “Imagine”. Yoko is fairly integrated here, turning in concise songs that mostly follow conventional structures, rather than sprawling vocal experiments. No hits here, although “Woman is the Nigger…” was out as a single and probably got a few plays in more-enlightened regions. To be fair, a lot of these songs have spontaneous sounding, Dylan-esque arrangements that were probably a lot more fun for Lennon than the endless sessions with studio musicians that was the case on “Imagine.” The second disc pairs two live gigs, one in London in 1968 with a cast of thousands that is mostly devoted to Yoko’s squeals over a static blues groove, and the other side joining Zappa & Mothers at the Fillmore East in 1971, with the blues track “Well” being the standout and the balance being Zappa-conducted improvs with snippets of “King Kong.” Some years later Zappa released much of this material with a different mix and titles, the last track referred to as “A Small Eternity With Yoko Ono.” -crimes-
Mississippi Records of North Portland, OR, assembled this collection spanning 1927-1948 with a variety of styles and ethnic backgrounds. Although all recorded in the USA, the artists wear their heritage conspicuously, with Greek rebetica from Marika Papagika, early Tex-Mex from Lydia Mendoza, gospel from Two Gospel Keys, Cajun with Cleoma Falcon and Blind Uncle Gaspard, country from Blue Sky Boys (a rare track of theirs as far as I can tell), calypso from The Caresser and Wilmouth Houdini (another rare track or perhaps just titled incorrectly!), Hawaiian with Mike Hanapi’s Ilima Islanders and Mme. Riviere’s Hawaiians, klezmer with Jacob Hoffman, latin rhythms from Sexteto Bolona, an unidentified Indonesian artist on Sorban Palid, and the reed pipe stylings of Big Boy Cleveland. Over-riding concerns here seem to be for beauty and mystery in the selections, although the calypso tracks are more goofy that the others (by design). Most of the transfers are fairly clean. Although many of these tracks have been reissued before, most are new to KFJC. When I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I’ll look up the dates for each of these recordings. [crimes]
Bill Frisell has recorded for the Nonesuch label for about 15 years, working with the same producer throughout that time, Lee Townshend. Nonesuch is now selecting plums from the Frisell catalog to create a “Best of…” series, the first of which is subtitled “Folk Songs.” The last 10 years or so years for Frisell were a period of time when American traditional music joined the many other concurrent influences that together feed his approach to the guitar, but most of his Nonesuch releases haven’t focused on this, other than “Nashville” and his project with Danny Barnes, “The Willies”. These 15 tracks, all previously released but several entirely new to KFJC’s library, run the range from authentic folk and old-time tunes (the maritime working song “Shenandoah,” (with guest Ry Cooder), Dock Bogg’s “Sugar Baby” and the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower”), to classic country (Hank William’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”) to contemporary folk (John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith”) as well as a few original tunes that are drawn from a similar well. The result certainly paints a picture of a musician who continues to be stimulated by the simple but compelling sound of traditional music forms. ALL INSTRUMENTAL TRACKS. crimes
With Tuareg band Tinariwen having achieved worldwide fame, numerous other groups from the Western African desert region have garnered attention as well. This one is a Mali-based Tinariwen spinoff, with two members coming from that group, so it’s no surprise that this music is instantly familiar: the not-quite-blues guitar with spidery phrasing, the camel-inspired rhythms, handclapping, and the vocal interplay. All the Tuareg groups follow this model to some degree, but the distinctions come with how many people are involved, and what instruments they feature. Terakaft (the name translates as “Caravan”) has a core of only four musicians, with a more open, less percussive sound than the much larger Tinariwen group. The focus here really is on the guitars, which have become, for the Tuaregs, a symbol of resistance. In a way, the Tuareg groups all play “protest music” to serve the Tuareg separatist movement. Tuaregs first adopted acoustic Western-tuned guitars for their portability, allowing them to perform anywhere, anytime. This is very different from the Malian guitar styles that use non-Western tuning to echo traditional Malian instruments. Now that they are a working group, Terakaft’s guitars reflect more of the influence of the Western world, but the notes played could come from nowhere else than the Sahara. (crimes)
Heartbeat has reissued their Lee Perry “Chicken Scratch” collection of ska-era tracks originally cut for Jamaican producer Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, replacing some songs with the authentic mono single mixes, and adding seven more tracks to the original LP’s contents. (“Chicken Scratch”, the title track, is the source of Perry’s nickname.) Before doing his own productions under the “Upsetter” name, Perry apprenticed under Dodd, learning the studio skills that would serve him well for many years to come. This is some of Scratch’s earliest recording work, both as a songwriter and an aspiring (mostly unsuccessful) singer during 1964-1966. On the oldest selections here, the ska rhythm is bouncier, with the influence of American R&B, but as time passes, the ska begins to slow down into what would become rocksteady (“Run Rudie Run,” the last listed track, also features a very different vocal approach from Scratch). The instrumentation includes various backing vocal groups plus the Skatalites, and the original Wailers trio sings backup on one track: the politically-minded “Hand to Hand” (the backing vocal groups are listed on back). Numerous tracks have sex as topics (some titles make this pretty obvious) but no language… it’s all innuendo. “Madhead” is a taunt directed towards Prince Buster and his hit, “Madness.” There are also a few religious statements as well. The unlisted bonus track “Welcome Aboard” is Perry toasting over a backing track. (crimes)
Dust-to-Digital and Climax Golden Twins are responsible for this book / CD party pack, a celebration of the legacy of 78 RPM recordings released all over the world over a period of time from the 1900s to the 1950s, when 78s began to lose traction in the marketplace. Climax Golden Twins have a history of projects like this, having released a series of 10 cassettes made from their gigantic collection of 78s, played on an actual Victrola that was recorded with a high quality microphone. Those cassettes were packaged without any annotation whatsoever, but this collection adds artists, titles, and years of release as well as some background info in the book, as well as many pages of graphics from packaging, needle tins, advertising, and the labels of the records themselves… this helps us imagine how exciting the idea of recorded sound once was to early purchasers of recorded discs, and the machines to play them on. Rob Miillis of the Twins has selected a few favorites here, which I’ve highlighted in yellow in the track list; that’s a good place to start, but it’s all fascinating stuff, and even the tracks by American artists are quite exotic at times. (crimes)
Starting out as an acoustic folkie troubador in Glasgow, John Martyn had recorded a few albums (with and without his wife of the time, Beverly) before he began using the distinctive characteristics that defined the rest of his career: slurred, almost growled vocalizing, and echoing guitar work. “Solid Air,” a 1973 release for island in the UK, is where these techniques first flowered, especially with his thundering remake of Skip James’ “Rather be the Devil” and the jazz-inflected title track, a tribute to his good friend Nick Drake. Van Morrison and Tim Buckley are probably the closest comparisons with Martyn during this period, with their semi-jazz scatting and use of vibes, horns, and acoustic instruments rather than more rock-ish support. Pentangle’s Danny Thompson is featured on double bass for most tracks, and the tidy production by John Wood lets you hear every note. Martyn wrote a number of songs that were successful for other artists in more commercial arrangements, and Martyn himself had some ill-advised flirtations with the middle-of-the-road later in a relatively long career, but this is the one everyone turned to after his recent passing at age 60, on January 29, 2009. (crimes)
“78s From The EMI Archive” – Honest Jon’s has done numerous themed collections that we’ve enjoyed here at KFJC, but this one is perhaps the widest ranging one yet. There’s no unifying factor here other than the fact that all these tracks were released on 78s found in one massive archive: EMI, the British based recording conglomerate, which keeps a copy of EVERY SINGLE RELEASE that ever existed in their catalogs, anywhere in the world. Going back to the 1900s, EMI was quick to exploit much of the British Empire by selling the colonies their own music, setting up makeshift studios all over the world and then shipping the results back to the UK for mass production. The selections here capture every style one can imagine, from the traditional African call-and-response of “Umbok” to the amusing antics of Indian funny guy Vengopal Chari (represented by 2 tracks) to the sophisticated Cuban scene back in the age of the rumba (Sacasas). Some tracks are VERY short (like tracks 1 and 30), so note the timings! (crimes)
Chris Strachwitz’ Arhoolie label has issued more Tex-Mex archival collections than anyone else worldwide. This LP on his Folklyric reissue label was one of his earliest collections of this genre, the first of a multi-volume series of LPs. This one is a generous overview of Border styles — Ranchera, Corrido, Polka, Huapango, Mariachi, Jarocho, and some lovely harmony singing are all present here, covering a period of about 30 years. He’s picked some of the most famous (Lydia Mendoza) and some of the most obscure (El Ciego Melquiades), and perhaps a couple because of their incredible band names (Los Tremendos Gavilanes).
Much of the music here is driven by small combos with accordeon and/or fiddle, but there are also large brass (Banda Tipica Mazatlan) and string groups.
Find out tons more about this genre: http://digital.library.ucla.edu/frontera/
and http://arhoolie.pagepointhosting.com (crimes)
Jimmie Rodgers’ recording career was not long (6 years), and he was suffering from TB the whole time, so it’s a wonder he managed to cast such a huge shadow across a wide range of popular music, serving as an inspiration for country, folk, pop, jazz, rock and soul artists to this very day. He was certainly one of the first white artists to successfully adopt black blues idioms, bringing the “blue yodel” out of the minstrel tradition and into the mainstream. Ralph Peer discovered Jimmie on the same 1927 field trip to Bristol, Tennessee that brought us the Carter Family. Rodgers had already become a well-rounded entertainer as a young man on the medicine show circuit, so he was was ready for the big time when Peer found him, far more so than most of the hillbilly and gospel acts down in Bristol. He would soon find himself recording not only country, but pop as well, and jazz with no less a sideman than Louis Armstrong. This collection was put together by RCA in 1958 and serves as an overview of his career, with not too many overlaps with the other Rodgers discs at KFJC. Some, but not all, of his biggest hits are here, leaving room for lesser-known sides and recordings made shortly before his death in 1933. (crimes)
Born in Leeds, England in 1941, Michael Chapman’s musical career goes back some 40 years, but this release is the first of his to reach KFJC’s library. His early work covered a lot of ground, with folk, rock, and blues efforts performed both solo and with bands, but his current fascination now seems to be American places and styles, with tracks here featuring ragtime fingerpicking a la Rev. Gary Davis and post-Delta blues explorations like those of John Fahey, who gets an explicit nod here via the track “Fahey’s Flag”. Chapman’s rough singing is not his strongest card, and and so he wisely focuses on playing, with most of these tracks being either instrumentals or songs with long instrumental passages. His playing is precise and controlled, but not so much as to become a technical exercise. The production is intimate and close up, done in a small English studio, but the overall sound sometimes evoke the wide open spaces, especially on his electric work here. (crimes)
A reissue of a well-regarded 1970 LP by Wizz Jones, one of the several 1960s-era British acoustic guitarists who mixed traditional selections, some original material, and international influences into their playing. Wizz Jones might be the least known of those players in the US, compared to Bert Jansch and Roy Harper, certainly. For the traditional selections, he drew from American sources, Rev. Gary Davis among them. What’s somewhat unique in his case is that he did quite a bit of original material, but it wasn’t his own… he largely relied on songs written to order by his associate, the visual artist Alan Tunbridge (whose guitar appears on the front cover), and these songs aren’t so much folk as introspective explorations, a bit like what the Incredible String Band sometimes pursued. Jones’ voice is not terribly distinctive, but his playing is well considered and not so ornamental as the other British players. The spare production adds discreet electric guitar and bass from time to time, and fellow folkie Ralph McTell provides some atmospheric support on harmonium. Both Wizz and Alan are around today, but only Wizz is still making music. (crimes)
Plenty more on Wizz here: http://www.wizzjones.com/
Joe Boyd produced three Chris McGregor projects for Witchseason Productions, each one using a larger group, culminating in the “Brotherhood of Breath” big band. But this session, the middle of the three, was never released, as Polydor had dropped Boyd’s production deal and Boyd’s new client, Island Records, didn’t want to promote a jazz release, so it took nearly 40 years for this session to reach the marketplace. Thanks to McGregor’s widow Maxine, Joe Boyd, and David Suff at Fledg’ling, McGregor’s early studio work is now fully in print and with royalties going to the right places (the Akarma vinyl release of “Brotherhood of Breath” is more or less a bootleg). McGregor’s first British session was performed with the black South Africans he had worked with for years in the Blue Notes, but “Up to Earth” added white English players as well, notably Jon Surman on sax and (on half of the tracks) Danny Thompson on acoustic bass. This expanded palette doesn’t change the basic strategy McGregor employed: fairly tight ensemble work to open each piece, and then breaking out to free playing over a groove, highlighting soloists (often several at once). McGregor’s piano work suggests Monk, and the overall sound is jubilant and spirited… not surprising with the South African players drawing on not only jazz but their own African influences. (crimes)
Commonly known among fans of traditional music as the “Harry Smith Anthology”, this collection originally was released as three separate two-LP sets by Folkways back in 1952. Smith was a true American eccentric, with a golden ear for recordings from the 20s and 30s and a knack for finding connections across a great expanse of folklore, mythology, politics and whatever else you got… bundling what seemed to be at first glance unrelated themes into this cohesive statement on America’s history. He was smart enough to group this music by function, not by style, so that any listener would have country, cajun, blues, jazz and gospel interchangeably entering the ear, rather than making some kind of studied path through each genre as if they existed independently from each other. Themes such as “Social Music” let you hear what people played for pleasure or purpose in their own communities… wherever they may have been… telling you as much about those folks as a photo or written account (and this package adds both of those resources as well). Smith’s own collection was huge, but he narrowed it down to these 84 selections for an overview of America’s recorded music from the pre-depression years. The results have been played by tradition-minded artists ever since, from Dylan throughout his career thru the folk boomers of the 60s to Beck and Nick Cave. (crimes)
The pedal steel, rightly or wrongly, is so closely associated with Country Western music that any explorations outside that genre are inevitably colored by the association. But a few brave souls have escaped the shackles of the honky tonks by moving the pedal steel to another space entirely…Susan Alcorn does so here with unaccompanied improvs and variations on standards — both country and otherwise. She clearly has the skills required on this difficult-to-master instrument, but she applies them in such a way that you might instead be reminded of Fred Frith’s experiments with tapping and spare parts, rather than the wide open spaces evoked by the pedal steel on a million country classics. Even the few “songs” here are just signposts to improv journeys, rather than faithful navigations of melody and chord sequences. Fans of other pedal steel outsiders like B.J. Cole will find this a challenging road out of the country and into uncharted territories. (crimes)
Reinhard Flatischler’s Megadrums concept brings percussionists from around the world together to build upon his rhythmic compositions. This installment, recorded in the Theater Casino Zug, Switzerland in November 1999 and released in 2000, features master players Zakir Hussain, Airto Moreira, Milton Cardona, Leonard Eto, and Glen Velez (most have been bandleaders themselves in a variety of contexts, as well as key members of other ensembles) plus reeds from Wolfgang Puschnig and didgeridoo from Stephen Kent. Flatischler’s approach allows very different percussive styles to coexist, and he has the sense to use different subsets of the players to give a greater sense of variety throughout. Stephen Kent’s contribution adds drones as a counterpoint to the sometimes hyperactive percussion; his instrument is the first one heard on the opening track. The recording quality is clear and close-up to the action, with each fingertip, stick or mallet impact defined. Some chanted vocals are used, but primarily this is groove-oriented music with a focus on texture and transitions, evoking the passage of time and journeys both inside and out of the body.
Miller, Polk & His Old South Quartette – “Polk Miller & His Old South Quartette ” – [Tompkins Square]
Not many acts that made recordings could claim to have Mark Twain as a fan, and even less of them featured white and black members back in 1909. Banjo playing storyteller Polk Miller & His Old South Quartette met both those requirements. As the first integrated group to record — and probably the last until the jazz age rolled in — Miller’s group brought stories and sounds of the Old South to the rest of the states until he grew weary of the bigotry his bandmembers faced in both the North and South. He then left the Old South Quartette to launch their own career. Both periods are covered here, with seven Edison recordings from 1909 with Miller and the Quartette and seven 1928 recordings with the Quartette on their own (there are a few new versions of some tunes from the Miller era, with little changed in 20 years). It wouldn’t be fair to say that Miller considered the Quartette to be equal partners — the liner notes explain how he hired and fired singers at will, and considered them his employees — but he did bring his audiences fairly authentic black ensemble singing in an era when white performers in blackface were still presenting a clumsy pastiche of the sounds of the old South. Thankfully, the sound is terrific given the source material here.
Little did I know that Charlie Haden had spent much of his youth singing and playing country music on his parent’s “Haden Family” radio show, making his debut at age 2. A bit of that performance appears on this collection, but the rest of these tracks capture Charlie’s return to the music of his childhood, some 50 years later. Meanwhile his career as one of *the* great jazz bassists has kept him occupied, putting in time with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Keith Jarrett and his own high-concept ensembles like Liberation Music Orchestra. But family ties are strong and here he creates his own version of the Haden Family show, with his wife, triplet daughters, and son Josh, most of whom have followed their own musical careers. Three-quarters of these tracks are country or bluegrass classics, with guest vocals & musical cameos from the cast of thousands that Charlie can call close personal friends: Elvis Costello, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Pat Metheny, and others. The other tracks could be said to have a jazz tinge, but let’s just say that Ornette might not take much notice. It’s a joy to hear this family man reflecting on times gone by, and the fact that Jack Black (track 16) is his son-in-law should not distract too much.
When his Brazilian LP first appeared on Philips in 1967, both Gal Costa and Caetano Veloso had released only a few singles individually, so this is the first long player from either of them. Although presented as a team effort, this LP is actually mostly Caetano Veloso’s work, with him composing, performing and arranging most of the songs. Gal is featured as the solo vocalist on a few tracks and there are a few duets. These are almost art songs with a tropical wrapping, sometimes defying normal pop song convention by quickly fading out after only 90 seconds or so without a hook or chorus to grab onto, but there’s great vocal control and careful use of strings in the arrangements. This captures a moment when bossa nova was the best known musical export of Brazil, largely through the hugely popular work of Jobim and Astrid Gilberto, but neither Costa nor Velosos would ever sing and play so gently and lushly as this again…they both were to be major figures in the psychedelia-influenced Tropicalia movement that became a cultural and political force in Brazil only a year after this LP was released.