Another jazz masterpiece from Joe McPhee, courtesy of Atavistic’s Unheard Music Series. This trio date from 1971 (following McPhee’s equally-essential UNDERGROUND RAILROAD and NATION TIME LPs) features McPhee on saxophones, trumpet, and pocket cornet, Mike Kull on keyboards, and Harold Smith on percussion. Appropriately recorded in a church parish hall, this music is spiritual, soulful, and uplifting. “Ionization” is a sprawling, 28-minute opus that begins with a powerful interchange between McPhee’s bellowing sax and Smith’s muscular drumming, then moves into much quieter territory with a subtle dialogue between piano and percussion. McPhee then rejoins and the piece ultimately concludes as a blues. Of the two shorter tracks, “Astral Spirits” is a quiet, reflective piece featuring multi-tracked saxophones as an homage to the Ayler brothers, and “Delta,” with its psychedelic-tinged electric piano, reminds me at times of Sun Ra in a small combo setting. An interesting technical note: due to the length of its tracks, the original vinyl release of this album had to be sonically compressed. This is the first time these recordings have been heard with their full dynamic range.
This latest release from the great John Lurie combines two original film scores. Twenty-five tracks total, most of them short, featuring many of the usual downtown suspects: Marc Ribot, Calvin Weston, Doug Wieselman, Bill Ware, and even Medeski, Martin and Wood. The more atypical highlights have Lurie: plucking a banjo on track 1, recounting a humorous hard-luck tale in his best Barry White voice on track 3, and punking out on the all-too-brief track 17. Beyond that, the African-influenced title theme for “Manny & Lo” (tracks 13 & 25) ranks right up there with the very BEST Lurie compositions. Another wonderful release from John Lurie.
Arto’s fourth solo excursion into Brazilian-flavored pop is every bit as stylish and perhaps a bit more dissonant than past efforts, with those patented guitar distortions creeping even further into the mix. I really like the contrast between the smooth vocals and the shredding guitar…here’s hoping Arto continues along this path. Lyrics are in English and Portuguese, and just as impressionistic as ever. Guest appearances from Eyvind Kang, Vinicius Cantuaria, and former partner Peter Scherer, among others. Judging by the amount of label-hopping Arto’s done (Rykodisc, Bar/None, and now Righteous Babe), I gather these albums aren’t realizing their full “commercial potential.” Too damn bad.
Lexaunculpt is SoCal resident Alex Graham, and his “Double Density” EP is the first release on a promising new SoCal electronic label called Orange Records. Six tracks of subtle beauty and meticulous programming. Hippity-hopping beats and gorgeous melodies underscore this effort, while all manner of split-second sound textures keep things interesting throughout. Based on this release, I’d rank Lexaunculpt right up there with the very best electronic artists on the scene today.
Between 1935 and his death in 1949, Huddie Ledbetter (aka Lead Belly) had one of the most prolific recording and performing careers of any rural Southern bluesman. So it is not too surprising that the intrepid folks at Rounder have managed to uncover some previously-unreleased recordings from this American legend. The first session here (tracks 1-12), recorded in 1938 for the BBC in New York City, features many of Leadbelly’s standards in remarkably clean studio recordings. Of particular note are the a cappella renditions (tracks 3, 4, 5, 9) and the ONLY known recording of Leadbelly yodelling (track 2). The second session (tracks 13-17), dating from 1946, was recorded with a wire recorder at a party in Salt Lake City. These tracks are of significantly inferior sound quality but successfully capture Leadbelly’s relaxed delivery and his interaction with the live audience. Positioned back-to-back, these two “audio snapshots” create a third portrait of Lead Belly as an artist that was continually refining his craft.
These remixes of German post-rock duo (or trio?) Laub are all over the stylistic map. Ninja Tune’s Clifford Gilberto turns in a dramatic orchestral track that highlights the German vocals of Laub’s Bjork-like singer Antye. Electronauten’s contribution is a slab of digi-dub with whispered vox. Pole is up to his old pops and clicks. Infracom artist (and part-time member of Laub) Phoneheads offers a moody but melodic drum’n’bass treatment. Antye’s vocals show up again on Blond’s “trip hop” track, probably the most pop-oriented of the bunch. And Richard Thomas creates the most off-the-wall “remix,” a collage of sounds and textures that eschews whatever German title it might have been given in favor of “Skyscrapers and Earthquakes Happen Incessant Chime.” And there’s much more to explore.
In 1979, the top-selling jazz album of the year was Herb Alpert’s RISE. And the Steve Lacy 3 played a concert at Soundscape in NYC. Coincidence? You decide. But seriously, this Steve Lacy concert sounds as fresh now as the day it was recorded. I’ve always loved the jazz trio format, especially for free improv. (Three instruments are about all I can hear simultaneously without losing the plot!) And here we’ve got three first-class jazzbos: Steve Lacy on sax, Ronnie Boykins on bass, and Dennis Charles on drums. The conversation is freewheeling but not too noisy, experimental but grounded in melody. Proof once again that valuable music was being made in the 70’s…if you only knew where to find it.
Steve Lacy is, without a doubt, one of the most important jazz artists of the last 40 years. A master of improvisation and composition, he is also stylistically restless, and has explored virtually every avenue of jazz, from traditional dixieland, to the work of Monk and Mingus, to free jazz and modern electronic improvisation. CLICHES is a reissue of an album from 1982 (originally entitled PROSPECTUS), though it’s missing a few tracks due to deterioration of the master tapes. It features the great George Lewis on trombone, in addition to the sextet that Steve has recorded with many times since the early 80’s. The tracks here showcase some impeccable ensemble playing as well as exhilarating spontaneity. Of particular note is the title track, which begins quietly with some African percussion and French vocals, then gradually builds in intensity throughout its 22-minute length. The bluesy “Wickets” is also a particularly fine showcase for soloing. It’s nice to have this album back in print.
Last time I checked, Briggan Krauss was a saxophone player, and a damned good one. But nothing I’d heard before could have prepared me for this…this MASTERPIECE of multi- tracked solo improvisation! There’s so much electronic processing going on here that often it’s hard to tell what the original sound sources were. But rest assured there is some RIGHTEOUS sax work, as well as plenty of guitar feedback and reverb, some Asian string instruments, turntablism and tape manipulations, drums, bells and gongs, and all manner of electronic buzzing and whirring. Plenty of textures, and plenty of moods: everything from the creepy to the cathartic. This is some of the most beautiful noise I’ve heard in a long while.
On their new single the godfathers of techno adhere closely to the classic Kraftwerk sound. “Expo 2000,” in all four variations here, features lush synthetic melodies and vocodered voices dropping in lines like “the 21st century…” and “man… nature…technology…” over and over. (In English and German!) The beats are firmly mid-tempo save for the “2002” mix (my favorite), which adds a funky bassline. Not a classic but certainly a respectable showing from these electro-pioneers.
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