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Music Reviews

Ghana Soundz Vol. 2 [coll] – [Soundway Records]

Rococo   7/9/2005   12-inch, International

Soundway label boss and musical archaeologist Miles Cleret comes correct with another outstanding collection of funky, obscure sounds from 1970’s Ghana. It’s hard to pick out favorites on a collection as rich as this one, but I’ll give it my best shot. First up, there’s the previously-unreleased and criminally-short ‘Olufeme, – an Afro-beat love song from Oscar Sulley, who’s making his return appearance here on Volume 2. On a jazzier tip, you’ve got guitarist Ebo Taylor, also returning from Volume 1, this time with the track ‘Atwer Abroba.’ Next, Ebo Junior gets even funkier than his daddy, with some help from Wuta Wazutu, on ‘Mondo Soul Funky.’ One of my favorite keyboard sounds, the Farfisa, shows up all over this compilation and features prominently on The Sweet Talks? ‘Kye Kye Pe Aware.’ Highlife makes a token appearance on ‘Aboagyewaa? by K. Frimpong & Vis a Vis, though it’s a strikingly unusual and moody take on the genre. The fourth and final side of wax brings us a classic James Brown funk workout, courtesy of The African Brothers? ‘Sakatumbe,? and Marijata’s enthusiasm on ‘No Condition is Permanent? appears to be quite a challenge for those African VU meters in the recording studio. In a market seemingly glutted with Afro-funk compilations, let us pause and give thanks to Mr. Cleret, who continues to unearth and expose some of the most valuable music never heard outside of Africa. Please sir, I want some more!

Harper, Billy – “Capra Black ” – [Strata-East]

Rococo   7/9/2005   12-inch, Jazz

Texas-born saxophonist Billy Harper had played with many of the greats (Gil Evans, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones) before recording this first album as a leader in 1973. Influenced heavily by Coltrane, Harper was part of the ‘black consciousness? movement in jazz, which fueled such artist-owned labels as Strata-East in New York, Tribe Records in Detroit, and Black Jazz in Chicago. This session for Strata-East features an all-star cast, including George Cables (piano), Reggie Workman (bass), Julian Priester (trombone), Billy Cobham (drums), and more, including a special appearance by drummer Elvin Jones on the track ‘Sir Galahad.’ One of the quintessential traits of this strain of jazz, the vocal chorus, is featured prominently on the two tracks from Side Black, linking the music to its roots in gospel. The equally-important blues influence shines through clearly, as well; just check out the track ‘New Breed? for evidence of that. All in all, an impressive debut from Mr. Harper. Interesting bit of trivia: Harper’s next album release was BLACK SAINT, inaugurating the label of the same name, which is still active today.

Notwist, the – “Lichter ” – [Alien Transistor]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

The Notwist present music from the film ‘Lichter,? directed by Hans-Christian Schmid. This film, made in 2003 but not yet distributed in the U.S., weaves together several different stories of life near the Polish/German border. Immigration troubles, petty thievery, jealousy, and betrayal are just some of the day-to-day travails explored by the film. This soundtrack EP presents four different variations on a musical theme from ‘Lichter,? all very minimal and haunting, with heavy emphasis on Sebastian Hess? cello. Martin Gretschmann (aka Console) takes up remix duties on one of the tracks, resulting in a more electronic, beat-driven variation. All tracks are quite compelling and no doubt a wonderful accompaniment to the film.

Umod – “Tromboline ” – [Sonar Kollektiv]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

Umod is yet another alias for the prolific Dominic Stanton (aka Domu), a veteran of the drum and bass scene who, in more recent years, has gravitated toward the more melodically-inclined genre of broken beats. (He’s also released tracks as Sonar Circle, Bakura, Realsides, Rima, Yotoko, and Zoltar.) Dominic’s Umod productions are more sample-based than his other work. In Dominic’s words, ‘Umod is about going backwards to go forwards.’ This 12″ features remixes of tracks from his ENTER THE UMOD album, released on Jazzanova’s Sonar Kollektiv label. The A-Side (at 33 RPM) features a techy Domu remix and a somewhat grittier full-length mix of ‘Tromboline.’ The B-Side’s Zoltar remix of ‘On the Down Low? (at 45 RPM) features a housier beat and an almost-recognizable hip hop vocal sample. (Maybe you can place it?)

Carter, Christina – “Bastard Wing ” – [Eclipse Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

First solo recordings from Christina Carter of Charalambides, recorded in a Houston boathouse in 1995. Primarily consisting of improvised piano and voice, this is a late-night album if there ever was one. Wistful and dreamy, melancholy and haunting, BASTARD WING is an impressionistic musical vision made all the more so by a post-production mix that adds some well-placed reverb and environmental sounds.

Voices in My Lunchbox [coll] – [Plug Research]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

Plug Research returns with what is surely one of their most interesting projects to date. “Voices in My Lunchbox” features four tracks–no, wait–four songs (my god, when was the last time we used that term in electronic music?) from a variety of producers, each exploring the possibilities of vocals in an electronic context. First up is Carmen Tejada, grafting operatic vocals onto some minimal electronic beats and jazzy electric guitar. Next is Quarks, with not much more than a snatch of koto and a metronomic ticking to accompany some whispery female vocals in Japanese. Smyglyssna and Cornelia open Side 2 with a track that begins with an insectoid buzzing and ends with a long, low hum. And finally there’s Kit Clayton, offering up some abstract dubbiness along with slurry vocals from Mike Donovan. I’m not really sure what all these people are singing about but it’s sounds good to me. Anxiously awaiting Vol. 2…

Super Rap [coll] – [Landspeed]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Hip Hop

What we’re gonna do right here is go back…way back…back into time. Back to Harlem, circa 1979, where a new musical form was about to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the 70’s disco inferno. That new sound was called hip hop, and helping to document its birth was an independent record label called P&P Records, run by Peter Brown & Patrick Adams. Having experienced a modest amount of success in the disco market, they were perfectly situated to capitalize on this newest underground sound. The P&P tracks collected here are about as “old school” as “old school” gets; Chic’s “Good Times” rhythm even gets an airing on the track by Sicle Cell & Rhapazooty. Other tracks delve deeper into rap’s disco influences, particularly the instrumentals by Super Jay and Cloud One. And the futuristic, proto-electro side shows up on tracks by Troy Rainey and Naomi. All in all, though, this collection is about a time when rap was FUN. Drop the needle on any track and you’ll soon be wanting to throw your hands in the air, and wave ’em like ya just don’t care!

Stroboscopica Vol. 2 [coll] – [Plastic Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Soundtrack

Plastic Records continues to document the 70’s output of the Italian Cometa production music library with this second volume in the STROBOSCOPICA series. Like most production music, the tracks herein are short, simple, and indexed by instrumentation, tempo, and style. While certainly not in the same league as the full-length film scores of Morricone, Allesandroni, et. al., the music here is functional and fun. More reminiscent of 70’s television than anything else, the somewhat cliched compositions evoke suspense, anxiety, mystery, action, romance, and the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Phil Pratt Thing [coll] – [Pressure Sounds]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Reggae

You may not be familiar with the name of Phil Pratt, but you will certainly be familiar with some of the reggae artists he produced: Ken Boothe, Big Youth, The Heptones, and Dennis Brown, just to name a few. This latest Pressure Sounds compilation rounds up some of the best work from Pratt, a publicity-shy producer who never really got the attention he deserved. Several of the tracks on this excellent retrospective are multiple variations on the same riddim. For example, Al Campbell’s soulful vocal on “Going the Wrong Way” is followed by the “Discomix” dub version, then a DJ toast over the tune by Big Youth. For “Talk About Love” Pat Kelly & Dillinger team up on the SAME version and the results are exhilarating… easily worth the price of the album. Pratt’s story is the typical one of record company ripoffs. He left the music business in the late 80’s and today runs a cafe in London. What a shame.

Interstellar Fugitives [coll] – [Submerge]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

The latest manifesto from Detroit’s Underground Resistance posse is a new take on the classic electro sound, replete with vocodered vocals and stabbing synths. Alongside veterans like The Suburban Knight, Drexciya, and UR themselves, this compilation features several newcomers: Chaos, Perception, and Chamaleon, just to name a few. For a compilation, the sound is remarkably consistent, particularly over the first three sides. Favorites here include the funky opener, “Maroon,” and the electro house of “Soul Saver.” With Drexciya’s unique aquaticisms on Side D, things start to go a bit pear-shaped, and Side E even features two tracks with a Middle Eastern flavor! Rounding out the compilation are a brooding instrumental track by Chamaleon and a funky closer by UR. In short, an album that documents Detroit’s continued musical vitality.

Get It!, the [coll] – [None]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Soul

Good God! This be the real thang: funky funky funky soul from 1967-69, by some of the most obscure groups you’ve never heard of, like Willie Tell & the Overtures, or Jimbo Johnson & the Violators. They’re singing and shouting about dances like the Popcorn, The Get It, and the Yak-a-Poo. Lo-fi as hell, with loud, snotty horns, and wailin’ guitars, and unrelenting FUNK! All killer, no filler! And remember: “If ya can’t do the Get It, ya got ta quit it!”

Funky Music Machine [coll] – [Soul Patrol]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Soul

The 45 RPM record labels featured on the cover of this LP represent just a few of the “holy grails” in the world of the fanatical funk and soul collector. Fortunately, for those of us too poor or perhaps just less knowledgeable about the genre, Soul Patrol has assembled yet another fine collection of these super-rare 45 gems on one extremely affordable LP. Twelve straight shots of lo-fi, hi-energy funk and soul from the 60’s and 70’s: all killer, no filler. Be sure to check out Hebrew Rogers’ “Can’t Buy Soul” and Al Reed’s “99 & 44/100 Pure Love” for starters.

Easy Tempo Vol. 4 [coll] – [Easy Tempo]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Soundtrack

As the subtitle confirms, Volume 4 in the Easy Tempo series presents “a kaleidoscopic collection of exciting and diverse cinematic themes.” From bossa nova to blaxploitation, that’s no lie! Highlights of this volume include a super-funky version of Desmond Dekker’s classic “Israelites”, plus those waka-waka guitars and wordless vocals we love so well. Keep ’em coming!

Downtown Soulville! [coll] – [Soulville Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Soul

There’s a helluva party goin’ on in downtown Soulville! The DJ’s are rockin’ the house with obscure 60’s soul, from labels like Punch, Blackjack, and Cross-Tone…records that would probably cost you a fortune if you could even find them to begin with…records by Carl Holmes and the Commanders, Billy Wade and the 3rd Degrees, and Little Daddy Walton, just to name a few. And the guests are learning how to dance the Tight Rope, the Soul Strut, the Skate, the African Twist, and more. So don’t be left out…git yourself on downtown and check out the sounds. You’ll be glad you did.

Build the Ark [coll] – [Trojan Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Reggae

Here’s the third in Trojan’s series of triple-LP box sets documenting Lee Perry productions from the oh-so-crucial 70’s. This box focuses on singles, alternating the vocal A-sides with the instrumental/dub versions. My advice is to head straight for Side Four, which features superb vocal contributions from The Meditations, The Congos, and Junior Murvin. But if it’s truly wacked-out dub you’re looking for, better check Junior Dread’s “A Wah Dat/Dub Dat” on Side Two. Even a genius like Lee Perry, however, can’t redeem Sharon Isaacs’ cover of perhaps the most heinous song ever written, “Feelings” (Woah woah woah…) Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Bazaar: Rare Jazz/Fusi [coll] – [Cosmic Sounds]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Jazz

Following up collections from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Russia, the latest stop on Cosmic Sounds’ jazz tour of Eastern Europe is 1960’s Poland. And it’s a rousing success. Among my favorites are the four tracks featuring vibes player Jerzy Milian: three under his own name and a fourth as featured soloist with Jan Wroblewski and the Polish Radio Jazz Orchestra. Then there’s a really swingin’ track by the Novi Singers, one of the all-time greatest jazz vocal groups’from any country! Pianist and film composer Krzystof Komeda, perhaps the most familiar name here, is oddly represented by two versions of the same composition (“The Kitten”), both programmed on the same side of the record. Aside from that minor quibble, BAZAAR really is a valuable and entertaining document of a mostly ignored part of jazz history.

Battery Park Cologne.. [coll] – [Emi]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

Here’s the first of two 12″ EP’s featuring artists from the second annual Battery Park electronic music festival in Cologne, Germany. The first track, by Dr. W and Mr. Fluex (sic), is a fantastic electro-soul workout with computerized vocals from Nik Frost. We’re talking “Prince meets Kraftwerk” here. The last track, by Computerjockeys, is an amazing rhythmic tour de force, almost drum’n’bass-like, incorporating the sampled sounds of a ping pong game. You have to hear this one to believe it! In between these tracks are two more from Dr. Walker and M. Flux, probably fine tracks by themselves but completely eclipsed by the aforementioned two. Bring on the second volume!

Young, Claude – “Numbers Ep, the ” – [Deta Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

Detroit icon Claude Young (aka The Brother from Another Planet) checks in from London this time with an EP on the brand-new Deta label. Five tracks total, but really only two proper tracks and a bit of fiddling. “The Numbers” on Side A is a propulsive, moody, and multi-layered groover, bracketed by a short preample and coda. “Ghost” on Side B is a throbbing slice of dubby, filtered tech-house, followed by a bit of reverse-mastered soundscape to wind up the EP. Overall, this is about as experimental as the dancefloor gets. Sad to note that, like many of Detroit’s greatest, Claude had to go overseas to get this released.

Unspoken Heard – “Jamboree ” – [Unknown Label]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Hip Hop

Four solid vocal tracks and two instrumentals await you on this latest EP from the Washington DC-area crew. “Jamboree” is one of the HAPPIEST hip-hop tracks I’ve ever heard, party rappin’ over a jazz swing bed. “Music” and “Track Runners” offer some of their philosophy on the hip hop biz, and “Birth” is a meditative and heartfelt poem to Heard member Asheru’s baby girl. Great stuff!

Transient Waves – ” ” – [Fat Cat]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, A Library

This latest release on Fat Cat Records comes from a trio out of Dearborn, MI. The A-side is an epic of trance-funk, looping a single guitar riff over and over, at times filtering it and at other times fading it out altogether to reveal a naked underbelly of dub. Throughout, the track is embellished with an occasional instrumental flourish but more significantly with female voices, double-tracked and oh-so- precious. They mumble and they whisper, they sing and they scat, adding just the right amount of off-kilter-ness to the beats. This track made me smile! On the B-side you get two deconstructions (uh, I mean “remixes”) of the original, courtesy of Skye and Two Lone Swordsmen, which are interesting in their own way but, really, it’s the A-side that captured my heart.

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