I had the pleasure of meeting Adam “MCA” Yauch, along with Mike D and the King Ad-Rock, at a San Francisco press roundtable back in August 2007. The Beastie Boys were in town for two shows promoting The Mix-Up, their only album comprised of instrumentals and devoid of samples. What happened was one of the most enjoyable and bizarre journalistic experiences of my life, with the smart-alecky trio christening me the “Debbie Downer” of the room for my questions regarding “porno music” and Tibetan freedom. I couldn’t help but ask about Yauch’s Milarepa Foundation efforts because the first Tibetan Freedom Concert at Golden Gate Park in 1996 was such a memorable part of my young life. The two-day event was a key accomplishment in Yauch’s—and the band’s—very public maturation.
It was also my first Beastie Boys show, and it was a revelation. The band delivered an incredibly diverse set that included their punk songs, jazzy numbers, funk excursions, and of course their hip-hop hits. There are so many highlights, all of which I’ve struggled to devote ample brain power to since that weekend 16 years ago: A vibrant opening with the one-two blast of “Jimmy James” and “Sure Shot”; a rare live “Get it Together” with Q-Tip busting up in laughter after forgetting half his lyrics; a cover of “Red Tape” by the Circle Jerks; Biz Markie leading the 100,000-strong crowd in a raucous rendition of his classic Check Your Head intro “The Biz vs. the Nuge”; and most beautifully, MCA’s performance of “Bodhisattva Vow” alongside a Tibetan monk’s live chanting.
There were many live Beastie highlights after that—the trio letting thousands sing EVERY WORD of “Paul Revere” at Oakland Arena in 1998; the group’s giddy rendition of “High Plains Drifter” at the Bill Graham Civic in 2004—but nothing like that day. In the 1990s, the Beastie Boys’ TV culture lyrics and seamless blending of disparate musical styles reflected the culture as well as Pulp Fiction or Lollapalooza or Seinfeld or The Real World. Seeing them bring it all to life was a thrill.
That weekend, Yauch not only assembled the largest U.S. benefit crowd since 1985’s Live Aid and many of the day’s finest musical icons to urge a boycott of Chinese goods. He also began an enduring post-Tiananmen-Square-Massacre dialogue in pop culture consciousness about the ethics of the U.S.’s partnership with the brutal government of China. This call for Generation X and Y to “follow the money” and make a difference through everyday restraint was incredibly profound to the 16-year-old me. I could no longer look at “Made in China” labels without remembering the monks onstage whose teeth were all knocked out by a Chinese police cattle prod, and the distance between my high school and far-off sweatshops would never be that vast again. I kept the effort up long after my “Free Tibet” bumper sticker was stolen off my Honda’s bumper.
It makes me sad to think how Westerners can still be shocked by things like the installation of suicide nets at Apple’s Chinese factories. But I must admit that I don’t boycott Chinese goods as much I can, and with the Internet, there’s really no excuse. At the roundtable in 2007, I didn’t look closely for sweatshop wear on the Beasties, but Yauch did express some disillusionment with the Tibetan Freedom concerts he produced, particularly in the apparent lack of other bands’ long-term commitment.
Following the farcical press conference, Yauch was hanging outside near the garage as everyone headed over to UC Berkeley for that night’s Greek Theatre show. Despite strict instructions to the contrary, another writer asked for a cell phone picture and Yauch kindly obliged. After he left, it was only me and MCA. Still star struck, I asked him if he was going to the student-led Tibetan freedom protest the following day at the local Chinese embassy (I’d heard about it on the news). Surprisingly, he had no idea about it. But he looked interested and asked me for more info. Then I told him how the 1996 Tibetan Freedom Concert made a big impact on the Bay Area, and that many locals were still fighting the good fight. He just looked at me, nodding.
When his ride pulled up, he went to leave but stopped and asked if I and the other writer were going to the show. I told him I was but that the other guy couldn’t get a press pass. He asked for the guy’s name, nodded to register it, and then bade me farewell.
I never got a picture, which would’ve been cool. But at least I got to tell him that something he did made a difference for others. At least I got to do that.
I’m constantly finding great, older jazz albums at record stores, but I don’t always have much reason, or time, to write about them. Hence, each year I pick out the best ones that moved me the most, and compile my top jazz discoveries of the year. (Here are the lists from 2009 and 2010.)
Jazz is an incredible, fertile soil, and I can’t imagine I’ll ever stop digging for new inspiration. Scattered throughout are links to the music via YouTube or mp3 blogs; I hope you’ll click around and find something you like. Better yet, hit up your local used record store. Or even better, go see some live jazz here and here!
Sam Rivers – Fuchsia Swing Song
Sam Rivers died the day after Christmas, and I did what any music nerd does: pulled out the recently deceased’s music to listen to it anew. This was Rivers’ first date as a leader, and along with hearing it with the hindsight of his death, it’s a thrill to hear knowing what he accomplished afterward in the avant-garde. Here Rivers is more “in,” as if he knew he was recording for Blue Note and not ESP, and it yields his blissful masterpiece, “Beatrice.” Jaki Byard, Ron Carter and Tony Williams clutch the reins with casual care; this was 1964, and the horses had not been unleashed just yet. I found this at Groove Yard Records in Oakland, and though I was familiar with Sam Rivers, I’d owned no albums of his as a leader. Of course, once he died, I realized he was all over my record collection on albums by Dave Holland, Andrew Hill and Tony Williams. And also…
Bobby Hutcherson – Dialogue
There’s not a vibist in the world quite like Bobby Hutcherson, who straddled the inside-outside thing just as his instrument straddles percussion and tonality. This is a great band that needs no saddle, including the great Andrew Hill on piano and on drums, Joe Chambers, who in a rarity for drummers contributes two compositions. Sam Rivers shines on this album, and though Freddie Hubbard is nice on tracks like the 3/4 “Idle While,” you can hear the spectre of Rivers’ influence all over this album. Kid was from Boston, had just worked with Miles Davis. Of course they were paying attention to him. Like most albums on this list, I picked it up at the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa.
Charles Tolliver – Live at Slug’s Vol. 1
I saw Andrew Hill with a band that included Charles Tolliver at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, in 2006. It was a performance that has only gotten better in my memory, and if by chance Jim Bennett from KCSM’s ‘In the Moment’ comes across this post—Jim, I’d die to have a copy of the live recording. That night, Charles Tolliver was indescribably good—and I took note. I’d come across a Live in Tokyo album, but this live recording is the stuff dreams are made of—serene, thoughtful, nuanced and alive. The songs are elastic, with implied rhythm. Here’s the group with Stanley Cowell a year after this album was recorded; “Orientale” apparently gained fire over the course of 12 months. (Groove Yard)
Kenny Burrell – Asphalt Canyon Suite
Why this 1969 record isn’t heralded as Burrell’s masterpiece is a mystery. Side One is a suite of instantly gripping thematic jazz, airy and moody, which can stand up against the best modal / atmospheric releases of all time. Even stranger, the record was produced by Johnny Pate, who worked with the Impressions and B.B. King, and scored Shaft in Africa. You’d think he’d force a more upbeat hand here, but check out “Alone in the City” and stroke those chinhairs. Unfortunately the rest isn’t on YouTube, and the album isn’t in print. Burrell never played like this before, and never did afterward; if you ever come across this LP, snatch it up. (Last Record Store)
Sun Ra – On Jupiter
Sun Ra and his Arkestra, with their El Saturn label, were indie pioneers: they’d order small-run pressings of their lo-fi records, hand-write song titles on the blank labels, and decorate the album jackets themselves, on the bus, driving to the next show. This was in the 1960s, though—not the aughts. If you ever see one of these handmade Sun Ra LPs, you’re looking at something very rare, so pick it up while you have the chance. I found this while on a lull in my Sun Ra listening, and my obsession subsequently resurged. “Even the disco song is good” is not something I ever expected to say about a Sun Ra record, but this was recorded the same year as his terrific Lanquidity, and there was something in the air. (Groove Yard)
Neal Creque – Creque
This record is the reason I received a text message this year reading “I just shit my pants.” Any hip-hop head knows this cover design from People Under the Stairs, and when I found it I couldn’t help but send a photo to my friend Matt. I expected drumbreaks galore—especially since Billy Butler is on guitar—but instead got some completely stunning compositions like “Years of Regret” and “Cease the Bombing.” If you only hear one song off this LP, make it “Rafiki,” and let the bassline carry you through the rest of the day. Scored this along with a ton of great cassettes at Vinyl Planet in Petaluma. Thanks, Phil.
Kohske Mine Quintet – Daguri
What is known about Kosuke Mine? Not much, if you ask me. I came across his debut album on Three Blind Mice a few years ago in a revelatory batch of Japanese jazz LPs, and loved it to pieces, but never saw anything else. There’s so much invention on this album that I think I could listen to it 20 times and never fully comprehend it. There are liner notes in Japanese. If anyone knows Japanese and wants to translate them for me, and unlock the mystery of Kohske Mine, a.k.a. Kosuke Mine, I’d be much obliged. (Here he is in 2010 playing very straight, with the same drummer from this 1973 date, Hiroshi Murakami.) Another Groove Yard find.
Stan Getz – and the Oscar Peterson Trio
Sometimes gold just sits under your nose for half a lifetime and you never recognize it. Though I’m not inclined to avoid Verve, like other jazz fans I know, their releases tend to have a bit of a pedestrian, razzle-dreadful “hey, look, this is jazz!” element. The interplay on this date is phenomenal, and if it’s showy then who cares—I can’t believe the sense of fun and elation on every single track. (Here’s “I Want to Be Happy“). Oscar Peterson and Stan Getz had great mainstream success separately, and pairing them together at just the right time in their careers was a serendipitous idea that yielded a perfect jazz record. (Last Record Store)
Howard Roberts – Antelope Freeway
What in the hell was Howard Roberts thinking? An in-demand Los Angeles session player, Roberts had recorded some grit-and-sweat jazz sides (H.R. is a Dirty Guitar Player) and some standard mainstream offerings (Whatever’s Fair!) for Capitol Records, but nothing that comes remotely close to this. Antelope Freeway is a psychedelic melange of sound effects, grungy music and spoken-word, and likely had even the hip execs at Impulse Records scratching their heads. The Beatles’ “Revolution #9″ opened a lot of doors in music, many leading to nowhere, but deep tracks like “That’s America Fer Ya” and “Five Gallons of Astral Flash Could Keep You Awake for Thirteen Weeks” show that this one’s worth its weight in weirdness. (Last Record Store)
Peter Brotzmann Octet – Machine Gun
Lord almighty, if ever an album lived up to its name, this is it. Recorded in 1968, Machine Gun sounds like… well, a machine gun, firing rapidly and without pause. Eight Germans, 1968, under the influence of who knows what. I’ve been looking for this for years, and finally the label Slowboy reissued it this year, with an incredible thick sleeve and three-color silkscreen cover. Brotzmann is capable of making the most irritating music of all time, and the way the rest of the band takes his lead here on the title track is like a roller coaster tippling sideways on the rails. Ordered online from the label.
Connie Russell – Don’t Smoke In Bed
Admittedly, I bought it for the cover. But Russell is a nice, husky singer, and this is a very nice set of unaffected jazz singing; mp3 access here. “Lonely Town,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” “Angel Eyes,” “You’re My Thrill” and plenty more here make it a good listen on the late-night. Most people reading this who have once smoked in bed now don’t, so take a minute to remember how nice it was. (Online)
Monk Montgomery – Bass Odyssey
“Hey, let’s just go out in the desert and take the photo. I’ll bring my amp. Who cares if the sun’s going down.” Monk Montgomery was one of the Montgomery Brothers, and recording an album as a leader, as an electric jazz bassist, was unheard of back then. This is on Chiasa Records, a label owned by Hugh Masekela, and Masekela obviously gave his artists a lot of freedom. There’s some really fun, effects-laden largesse going on in the grooves of this supremely gloppy album. Here’s “Foxy Gypsy,” and “Fuselage.” Traded off of Matt the Friendly DJ.
Jaki Byard – Sunshine of My Soul
What a terrible record cover. Just look at it. A charcoal drawing of Jaki Byard, with a face contorted as if he’s on the toilet, inside a sunflower. Ironically, this is one of my favorite Jaki Byard records ever. I’ll let the handwritten ballpoint notes on the back cover from the previous owner speak for me: “‘Sunshine’ – far out but real gd; ‘Cast Away’ – far out & ok, slow; ‘Chandra’ – good!; ‘St. Louis Blues’ – weird but ok/gd; ‘Diane’s Melody’ – strange intro, rest nice; ‘Trendsition Zildjian‘ – far far out!” (Groove Yard)
Gene Harris – AstralSignal
Forget everything you know about Gene Harris, leader of the Three Sounds. In 1975, Harris went on some serious mind exploration and came up with a psychedelic conception of jazz that’s a blast to experience. It starts with a reverb-heavy prelude that sounds like a piano being dragged by a Mack truck, and then the declaration: “WELCOME. I AM EUGENE, WIZARD OF THE UNIVERSE. COME WITH ME TO OUR UNIVERSE OF LOVE, BEAUTY, AND OTHER FUNKY THINGS. IT’S TIME TO FEEL THE MAGIC.” You want to pick only one song? “Losalamitoslatinfunklovesong“—enjoy. (Last Record Store)
Anne Phillips – Born to Be Blue
When I hear this record I can’t help but think of soldiers overseas being sent music from back home in America. There were plenty of “Lonely Girl”-style LPs released in the late 50s, when we weren’t in a major war, but the idea is there. This was 1959, a banner year for jazz and jazz vocals, and it captures something special. Here’s the title track. (Last Record Store)
Richard Davis – The Philosophy of the Spiritual
It’s really hard to record jazz cello. Oscar Pettiford did it, and also Ray Brown (but then, Ray Brown could do anything). It’s even harder to bow an arco bass with high notes to sound like a cello. The great Richard Davis has an enormous discography and now teaches a classical approach, but when this record was recorded I’m not sure he was adroit at mimicking the higher register of a cello on his bowed bass. Nonetheless, there’s a Gunther Schuller-like atmosphere here that I love, and the compositions here are really cool—most of them are by Bill Lee, Spike Lee’s father. Bears repeated listens. (Last Record Store)
Andre Previn – Let’s Get Away From it All
Bouncy, fun piano that always reminds me of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Previn’s My Fair Lady album with Shelly Manne is the classic, and Andre Previn Plays Gershwin is another early highpoint, but it’s hard to go wrong with the collection of songs here. Nothing groundbreaking, just good, compact tunes. (Last Record Store)
Saracho – En Medio
At first glance I assumed this would be like that Luis Gasca record on Blue Thumb you see pretty often at Bay Area record shops—Latin-tinged jazz-rock. But instead, this is a Pharaoh Sanders-esque outing by a bunch of L.A. musicians, led by Gary Saracho, about whom not much is known. He plays some incredible electric piano, though, and Lawrence Higgins has some nice ideas on the sax. The arrangements are schizophrenic, jumping from one section to the next, like on “Sunday’s Church.” A dense bit of unknown history. (Last Record Store)
Mel Brown – Mel Brown’s Fifth
Mel brown is a guitarist who played with the great Bobby “Blue” Bland, and whose very blues-based debut album on Impulse, Chicken Fat, gets all the acclaim. That’s very misguided, as Mel Brown’s Fifth is so clearly the superior, down-and-dirty title. Just listen to the first track, “Time for a Change”. That‘s the way an album should kick off! “Good Stuff” follows, and if you think you’re in a sample paradise, you’re not wrong. Poor Righteous Teachers, Spice 1 and the Pharcyde all sampled this album. A beast. Thanks to Phil Jiggins for this one.
The Charles Moffett Family – Vol. 1
The first time I saw Charnett Moffett, he was playing with McCoy Tyner, Pharaoh Sanders, Ravi Coltrane and Eric Harland at Yoshi’s in Oakland in 2004. It was truly one of the most unforgettable shows of my life, and I especially remember Moffett—leaning his bass back low, attacking the strings, bowing vigorously and playing perfectly off of Harland. Imagine my surprise when years later I found this LP, a private pressing of ‘The Charles Moffett Family,’ featuring an eight-year-old Charnett on trumpet and bass. He obviously came from a rich musical family; this record is far, far better than I imagined it’d be, and sounds like it could have been released on Strata-East, no problem. Found at Fatty’s Threads in Santa Rosa.
Dick Schory’s New Percussion Ensemble – Music for Bang Baaroom and Harp
Sure, it’s pre-written, and I doubt any of it is improvised in the jazz idiom, but this is no regular orchestral music. It was recorded in 1958 in a giant concert hall, and there are a TON of drums. “Biggest Battery of Percussion West of Cape Canaveral,” it says. They even use a manifold from a 1946 Chevrolet as a percussion instrument. No joke. There’s some technical data in the notes, about using an Ampex three-track and as few Telefunken microphones as possible “rather than the easy but treacherous add-another-mike-for-what-you-don’t-hear approach,” and they thank the “man who kept pumping coffee into us for the two days we didn’t see daylight.” A real hoot. (Vinyl Planet)
Mary Ann McCall – Detour to the Moon
She got it, Mary Ann McCall did—the idea of selling an idea in a song and really conveying something instead of just singing words. Jubilee Records got the idea of selling records as well as ideas, and so came up with the gimmick of an album full of songs about the moon—”I Wished on the Moon,” “Moonglow,” “Moonlight Becomes You,” “No Moon at All,” etc. The idea inspired Verve to release Mel Tormé’s forgettable Swingin’ on the Moon two years later, but unlike that dull outing, Detour to the Moon is fantastic. Mary Ann McCall only released one LP after this, and her career fizzled; she went on to pour drinks at a dive nude-dancing bar in Hollywood in the 1970s. They say she had addiction problems, and before she died she was relegated to singing in the airport lounge at LAX. Crazy. (Last Record Store)
Yusef Lateef – The Doctor is In… And Out
If you get overwhelmed by his large output and can’t commit to either the early Prestige years or the later Impulse years, how about this what-the-hell hodgepodge of funk-inspired zaniness? You’ll get standard ’70s stuff like “Mushmouth,” exotic flute vehicles like “The Improvisers,” and a synthesized sound collage in the form of “Technological Homosapien.” Strangely, the album ends with a sampled barbershop quartet recording of “In a Little Spanish Town“; Lateef solos between phrases, as if playing along to a 78 in his living room. It’s kind of cool. (Last Record Store)
Moacir Santos – Maestro
Santos was a bona fide legend in Brazil when Blue Note signed him, yet a total unknown in the U.S., so of course he had to open his American debut with his most famous composition,”Nana.” He even preceded it by personally introducing himself in the track’s opening vamp. You won’t find simple “Girl From Ipanema” bossa nova here; the music is complex, yet distinctly Brazilian. Exhibit A: “Kermis.” (Last Record Store)
Paul Smith – Delicate Jazz
Paul Smith’s other dates seem to pay tribute to Tatum, demonstrating dizzying technique and fancy flourishes. Delicate Jazz is on Capitol Records, is borderline Champagne background music, and yet I keep playing it over and over. There’s nothing wrong with some simple calming trio stuff from a guy with a very plain Anglo-Saxon name. Found in the dollar bin at Amoeba SF.
Eddie Harris – Instant Death
A dramatic cover photo, but the music isn’t somber or moody. Ronald Muldrow is great on “Little Wes,” and the title track is pretty nuts. You’ll recognize a Digable Planets sample from “Superfluous” that was used on “What Cool Breezes Do,” from Reachin‘. Probably my favorite Eddie Harris record, even though this is definitely my favorite Eddie Harris cover art—and title. A good one for the New Year’s Resolutioners out there. (Last Record Store)
It irritated me when Jack White made this video to brag about how innovative he was being with record pressing, when things like odd-sized records, multicolored vinyl and unusual speeds have been around for decades.
I found this ad from Billboard magazine. The year is 1960, but the vinyl oddities it describes might as well be from 1995, or 2002, or 2011. I was really perplexed when I got to the bottom and saw that it wasn’t for Rainbo Records or Erika Records, either.
(Click through for reviews)
Grachan Moncur III – Evolution
Might be the find of the year. All mood. Reminds me of Walt Dickerson’s Impressions of a Patch of Blue, in that way—just incredibly evocative. I’d never heard much from Moncur, a trombonist, except I knew he recorded quite a bit for Actuel. Pair that “out” aesthetic with some of the best from the Blue Note roster—Jackie McLean, Bobby Hutcherson (in full Out to Lunch mode), Anthony Williams, longtime Sonny Rollins bassist Bob Crenshaw and Lee Morgan, of all people—and this is an engaging winner. The title track in particular is timeless.
Marion Brown – Three for Shepp
Right after Brown died, I surprisingly found used copies of Afternoon of a Georgia Faun, Geechee Recollections and Three for Shepp at the record store. I love the autobiographical undertaking of the first two, but for pure listening pleasure, this one’s the winner, with the aforementioned Grachan Moncur on trombone and liner notes which posit the question, with a straight face, “Can white people play jazz?”
Reggie Workman – The Works of Workman
Not too many people can record solo upright bass records, but I figure anyone who played on Olé Coltrane is allowed this indulgence. Workman has the tone of three oxen and the conception of a carburetor; he’s not always running at full potential but sounds incredible.
John Lewis – The John Lewis Piano
I’m into Andre Previn, but John Lewis brings a European classicism to jazz that’s unequalled. A lot of people remark about soloists, “they make it sound so easy.” Lewis makes it sound easy to sound hard, and then makes that gossamer. The Sophia Loren of jazz records.
Grant Green – Green Street
Sometimes it’s all about finding the right record. Or maybe it’s about not finding the wrong record; the first Grant Green album I heard was The Main Attraction. You can see why I might have been turned off to the guy for a while. Such a relief to discover his other work; and have my mind forcibly changed. This record walks crowded sidewalks, and all others get the fuck out of the way.
Freddie Hubbard – Polar AC
I was waking up to 1970s jazz this year, but in actuality this record is on the list solely for one asset: the Ron Carter bassline that kicks off the title track, which has been lodged in my head for months. (I asked Edgar Meyer earlier this year which bassist he looked up to most; “I am glad that Ron Carter is still alive” is all he could say.)
Ron Carter – Uptown Conversation
Speaking of Ron Carter, I picked this one up at a store in Augusta, Georgia in the spring. “Doom” is incredible, but the entire thing is worth seeking. It’s gotta be hard to be Ron Carter and have people ask you, “So which record of yours should I buy?”
Quartetto Basso-Valdambrini – Walking in the Night
Found a pair of reissues by this Italian post-bop group on Dusty Groove and I couldn’t stop playing them for weeks; they’re reminiscent somewhat of Miles Davis’ Jazz Track. Just very cosmopolitan and cool.
Francois Rabbath – Multi-Basse
This man’s Bass Ball is one of my favorite jazz records ever, completely ahead of its time. One day, it will see a reissue on Warp (in quite a few ways, it’s the original drum ‘n’ bass record) or Revenant (probably a more suitable label) and be regaled by the multitudes at last. It was nice to find another album of his dizzyingly creative, if slightly less fearless, works.
Horace Silver – The Jody Grind
Especially because of the go-go girls on the cover, I figured this’d be more “Song for My Father” soul jazz stuff. Instead, it’s my current favorite Horace Silver record, somewhere beyond late ’60s boogie and emerging into its own, with Woody Shaw and James Spaulding.
The Great Jazz Trio – Collaboration
I love Someday My Prince Will Come and was glad to find this, from the same 2002 sessions with Elvin Jones. Hank Jones was a living miracle.
Dizzy Gillespie – The Greatest of Dizzy Gillespie
It seems silly to put a Best-Of on this list but damn if RCA didn’t do them right. I have The Popular Duke Ellington—re-recordings, no less!—and I listen to it much more than the so-called cream-of-the-crop Webster-Blanton stuff. This Dizzy record truly is his best stuff under his own name, a great reminder of his prowess. I adore the cover photo.
Noah Howard – The Black Ark
Originally on Polygram! Which is like Hell Awaits being played on KZST or something. Violent and snarling. Pick up this reissue while you can.
Henry Threadgill – Rag, Bush and All
SFJAZZ booked him this year, and though I couldn’t go, I hope ticket sales were strong enough to bring him back soon.
Sheila Jordan – Portrait of Sheila
A nice little vocal trio album on Blue Note, who didn’t much release vocal albums. This record is marred only by “Dat Dere,” whose lyrics are so asinine they’d make Tracy Byrd cringe.
Gunther Klatt – Strangehorn
Not all Germans play like Peter Brotzmann, and this record—a tribute to Billy Strayhorn—is a nice breath of invention. Finding it in the dollar bin, I was charmed by the credits: “Dtae: July ’84. Cut: Uwe Clemens. Producer: Gunther Klatt. Reason: Don’t know.”
Ran Blake – Plays Solo Piano
Of all instruments, the piano is the most infinite. Ran Blake plays compositions by George Russell and Ornette Coleman alongside “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” and “On Green Dolphin Street” and makes it all appear as if from the same mind. A good early ESP disk. (Speaking of ESP, did you hear the incredible story about Giuseppi Logan, who was presumed to be dead, discovered last year playing “Begin the Beguine” in Tompkins Square Park?)
Contraband – Time and Space
The cover gives it a prog look but this is full-on jazz, played by an only slightly “rock” band. Epic, who put out albums by Ruby Braff, Dave Pike and Dave McKenna, was obviously going for some San Francisco-sound thing with this signing. I’m glad it doesn’t resemble Santana.
William S. Fischer – Akellare Sorta
Originally recorded in 1972 and possessed by Basque witches and psychedelic chemicals. Fischer worked with Roberta Flack, Les McCann and Wilson Pickett and then dropped off the deep end with this insane recording. Reissued by a label in Barcelona.
Booker Ervin – The Freedom Book
You know how, like, you heard the name Sonny Rollins a lot but always took his existence for granted until BAM! it hit like a ton of bricks and you bought everything he recorded? (Sam Amidon’s I See the Sign from this year has a wonderful and tangential little blurb about Rollins in the credits.) This year, Booker Ervin’s mortar splattered all over my consciousness. Of all the “Book” titles that I committed myself to finding after stumbling across The Blues Book from last year’s jazz discoveries list, I play this one the most.
Ricky Ford – Manhattan Plaza
Jaki Byard and Dannie Richmond? Yes, thank you. Manhattan Plaza is a government-subsidized building that’s served as a home to jazz musicians over the years; read about it in this fine article. Samuel Jackson was a security guard there. Charles Mingus and Dexter Gordon lived there, as well as Tennessee Williams, Mickey Rourke and Alicia Keys. New York is crazy! Ricky Ford lives in France now, it seems.
Henry Franklin – The Skipper
You won’t likely find another album with the song title “Beauty and the Electric Tub” in your lifetime, nor will you find a better album on Black Jazz Records, in my opinion. The story of the label, and how it came into the hands of the current owner, is pretty fascinating. This past February, the label’s best-selling artist Doug Carn appeared at Yoshi’s for one night only with other artists, billed as “Black Jazz Reunion.” These days, Franklin plays at a hotel lounge in L.A. every Friday and Saturday night.
Dollar Brand – The Children of Africa
“I am not a musician,” writes Abdullah Ibrahim on the back of this LP. “I am being played.” I saw him last year and he played one seamless, hour-long song. It seemed like he was being played. No one else sounds like him.
Byard Lancaster – Sounds of Liberation
Philadelphia, 1972. Solid bass lines. Somewhere the spirit of this record is in The Roots, pre-sousaphone, before they started doing shit like this.
While other music writers sharpen their prejudices and draw up hindsight-assisted “Albums that Defined the Decade” features, I think it’d be more honest to revisit my genuine annual top album rankings from all ten years of The Aughts. Yes, these are the actual year-end-best lists that I composed from 2000-2009, recovered with no small amount of tenacity from old hard drives, pieces of paper stuffed in boxes, CD-Rs, the backs of posters, photocopied record store gift guides, and email newsletters.
Without the benefit of rose-colored reorganization, these lists are like old diary entries, revisited. Yeah, sure, I would change them a little, just like I might change my life a little if I could. And yet there’s nothing here that is an embarrassment, or that I couldn’t back up in a fight. I still love just about every single one of these albums, making them truly my favorite music from the decade. I don’t want to demote them in any way.
If anything, these records deserve far more company. (D’Angelo and Lucinda Williams would be obvious places to start.) Lists can often work like shackles, but I see them instead as springboards of string-theory discovery. Jeez, I’m still discovering more favorite albums of the 1950s! And if you’re a listener that’s at all passionate, then you probably are as well. This decade might be over, but it’s by no means completely wrapped up. Anyone insinuating otherwise is selling you something.
Anyway, without further ado—here’s what I was loving over the last ten years.
1. Built to Spill – Live (Warner Bros.)
2. Steve Earle – Transcendental Blues (E-Squared / Artemis)
3. Jurassic 5 – Quality Control (Interscope)
4. Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica (Epic)
5. Radiohead – Kid A (Capitol)
6. Kid Koala – Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (Ninja Tune)
7. Jets to Brazil – Four Cornered Night (Jade Tree)
8. James Carter – Chasin’ the Gypsy (Atlantic)
9. Bjork – Selmasongs (One Little Indian)
10. Blackalicious – Nia (Quannum)
11. Johnny Cash – American III: Solitary Man (American)
12. Belle and Sebastian – Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (Jeepster)
13. V/A – Xen Cuts: 10 Years of Ninja Tune Records (Ninja Tune)
14. Godspeed You Black Emperor – Raise Your Skinny Fists Like Antennae to Heaven (Constellation)
15. People Under the Stairs – Question in the Form of an Answer (Om)
16. Deltron – Deltron 3030 (75Ark)
17. The Clash – Live: From Here to Eternity (Epic)
18. V/A – Solesides’ Greatest Bumps (Quannum)
19. Beck – Midnite Vultures (Geffen)
20. V/A – Freight Train Boogie (Jackalope)
1. Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator) (Acony)
2. Cursive – Burst and Bloom (Saddle Creek)
3. Bob Dylan – Love and Theft (Columbia)
4. The Velvet Teen – The Great Beast February (Self-Released)
5. Atmosphere – Lucy Ford (Rhymesayers)
6. McCoy Tyner – Plays John Coltrane (Verve)
7. The Now Time Delegation – Watch for Today (In the Red)
8. Radiohead – Amnesiac (Capitol)
9. The Strokes – Is This It (RCA)
10. Aesop Rock – Labor Days (Def Jux)
11. The Jealous Sound – EP (Better Looking)
12. Greg Brown – Over and Under (Trailer Park)
13. Life in Braille – New York City Ending (Underground Sounds of America)
14. David Axelrod – S/T (Mo Wax)
15. DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist – Product Placement (One29)
16. Fred Eaglesmith – Ralph’s Last Show (Signature Sounds)
17. Buddy Guy – Sweet Tea (Silvertone)
18. Poets of Rhythm – Discern / Define (Quannum)
19. Robert Earl Keen – Gravitational Forces (Lost Highway)
20. V/A – Darker Than Blue: Soul From Jamdown (Blood and Fire)
1. The Velvet Teen – Out of the Fierce Parade (Slowdance)
2. Jets to Brazil – Perfecting Loneliness (Jade Tree)
3. Desaparecidos – Read Music, Speak Spanish (Saddle Creek)
4. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch)
5. DJ Shadow – The Private Press (MCA)
6. Tom Waits – Alice (Anti-)
7. Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Warner Bros.)
8. RJD2 – Deadringer (Rhymesayers)
9. Elvis Costello – When I Was Cruel (Island)
10. Jurassic 5 – Strength in Numbers (Interscope)
11. Chuck Prophet – No Other Love (New West)
12. Solomon Burke – Don’t Give Up On Me (Anti-)
13. Bob Dylan – Live 1975: Rolling Thunder Revue (Columbia)
14. Los Lobos – Good Morning Aztlán (Mammoth)
15. V/A – La Musica Della Mafia: Il Canto di Malavita (Play it Again Sam)
16. Converge – Jane Doe (Equal Vision)
17. Beck – Sea Change (Geffen)
18. D-Styles – Phantazmagorea (Tableturns)
19. Bright Eyes – Lifted (Saddle Creek)
20. V/A – Cuisine Non-Stop (Luaka Bop)
1. Crooked Fingers – Red Devil Dawn (Merge)
2. Mountain Goats – Tallahassee (4AD)
3. Gillian Welch – Soul Journey (Acony)
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell (Interscope)
5. Ugly Duckling – Taste the Secret (Emperor Norton)
6. Stark Reality – Now (Stones Throw)
7. Against Me – As the Eternal Cowboy (Fat Wreck)
8. Carla Bozulich – Red Headed Stranger (Dicristina Stair Builders)
9. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It in People (Arts & Crafts)
10. Detroit Cobras – Life, Love & Leaving (Sympathy)
11. Joe Strummer – Streetcore (Hellcat)
12. The Rapture – Echoes (DFA / Universal)
13. Soul Position – 8 Million Stories (Rhymesayers)
14. The New Trust – We Are Fast Moving Motherfuckers (Slowdance)
15. John Fahey – Red Cross (Revenant)
16. Shesus – Loves You… Loves You Not (Narnack)
17. Lyrics Born – Later That Day (Quannum)
18. D.D. Jackson – Suite for New York (Justin Time)
19. Ashtray – S/T (Self-Released)
20. V/A – Miami Sound (Soul Jazz)
1. MF Doom & Madlib – Madvillian (Stones Throw)
2. The Velvet Teen – Elysium (Slowdance)
3. Nellie McKay – Get Away From Me (Sony)
4. Jolie Holland – Escondida (Anti-)
5. The Walkmen – Bows & Arrows (Record Collection)
6. Bjork – Medulla (One Little Indian)
7. Mastodon – Leviathan (Relapse)
8. Arcade Fire – Funeral (Merge)
9. RJD2 – Since We Last Spoke (Rhymesayers)
10. Green Day – American Idiot (Reprise)
11. Elliott Smith – From a Basement on a Hill (Anti-)
12. The Go! Team – Thunder Lightning Strike (Memphis Industries)
13. The Rum Diary – Poisons That Save Lives (Springman)
14. Usher – Confessions (LaFace / Arista)
15. Modest Mouse – Good News For People Who Like Bad News (Epic)
16. Haiku D’Etat – Coup de Theatre (Project Blowed)
17. Joanna Newsom – The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City)
18. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Abbatoir Blues / Lyre of Orpheus (Anti-)
19. Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol. 2 (Viper)
20. Howard Wiley – TwentyFirstCenturyNegro (Self-Released)
1. M.I.A. – Arular (XL)
2. Edan – Beauty and the Beat (Lewis)
3. Black Mountain – Black Mountain (Jagjaguwar)
4. Common – Be (G.O.O.D. / Geffen)
5. Robert Earl Keen – What I Really Mean (Koch)
6. Sharon Jones – Naturally (Daptone)
7. Sonny Rollins – Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert (Milestone)
8. The Boredoms – Seadrum / House of Sun (Vice)
9. Four Tet – Everything Ecstatic (Domino)
10. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Self-Released)
1. Camille – Le Fil (Virgin)
2. My Morning Jacket – Okonokos (ATO)
3. Gotan Project – Lunatico (XL)
4. Ornette Coleman – Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar)
5. Tom Waits – Orphans (Anti-)
6. People Under The Stairs – Stepfather (PUTS)
7. Kris Kristofferson – This Old Road (New West)
8. The Slackers – Peculiar (Hellcat)
9. Mastodon – Blood Mountain (Reprise)
10. CSS – Cansei De Ser Sexy (Sub Pop)
1. The Cribs – Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever (Warner Bros.)
2. M. Ward – Post-War (Merge)
3. !!! – Myth Takes (Warp)
4. M.I.A. – Kala (XL)
5. The New Trust – Dark Is The Path Which Lies Before Us (Slowdance)
6. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible (Merge)
7. Jesu – Lifeline (Hydra Head)
8. David Murray – Sacred Ground (Justin Time)
9. Bassnectar – Underground Communication (Om)
10. Menomena – Friend and Foe (Barsuk)
1. Q-Tip – The Renaissance (Universal Motown)
2. Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl)
3. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (XL)
4. Grip Grand – Brokelore (Look)
5. K’naan – The Dusty Foot Philosopher (Interdependent)
6. Headlights – Some Racing, Some Stopping (Polyvinyl)
7. The Roots – Rising Down (Def Jam)
8. Jackson Conti – Sujinho (Mochilla)
9. Peter Brotzmann & Han Bennink – In Amherst (BRO)
10. Cassandra Wilson – Loverly (Blue Note)
11. Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit – Are the Very Best (Ghettopop)
12. The New Trust – Get Vulnerable (TNT)
13. People Under The Stairs – Fun DMC (Gold Dust)
14. Portishead – Third (Island)
15. Okkervil River – The Stand-Ins (Jagjaguwar)
16. Titus Andronicus – The Airing of Grievances (Troubleman Unlimited)
17. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War (Universal Motown)
18. Loma Prieta – Last City (Discos Huelgas)
19. Zomo – Best Of (Self-Released)
20. Jolie Holland – The Living and the Dead (Anti-)
1. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino)
2. The-Dream – Love vs. Money (Def Jam)
3. K’naan – Troubadour (A&M / Octone)
4. Nellie McKay – Normal as Blueberry Pie (Verve)
5. Thorns of Life – Live at 924 Gilman (Torrent)
6. Sunn o))) – Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord)
7. Tyondai Braxton – Central Market (Warp)
8. Nomo – Invisible Cities (Ubiquity)
9. P.O.S. – Never Better (Rhymesayers)
10. Litany for the Whale – Dolores (Molsook / PMM)
11. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp)
12. Superchunk – Crossed Wires (Merge)
13. Not to Reason Why – Would You Hug Fire? (Pandacide / 1912)
14. Vijay Iyer Trio – Historicity (ACT)
15. Passion Pit – Manners (Frenchkiss / Columbia)
16. Adam Theis & the Jazz Mafia – Brass, Bows & Beats (Jazz Mafia)
17. Souls of Mischief – Montezuma’s Revenge (Heiro)
18. The Full Blast – Black Hole (Atavistic)
19. Finale – T.I.M.E. (River City)
20. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown (Reprise)
This week’s Bohemian feature is on Heavy Mental Music, a very amazing, strange record made in 1981 by David Petri and the developmentally disabled clients of the Manual Skills Training Center in Santa Rosa. Pictured above is the “deluxe edition,” with a T-shirt, two posters, three stickers, a photocopied booklet, a notepad and two copies of the record, all housed in a hand-designed box. According to Petri, only 50 of these “kits” were made (most copies of the record were sold alone, or given out to strangers on the bus), and at one point, what you see above actually sat on the desk in the Oval Office.
What strikes me most about this record is that it’s completely ahead of its time, both in concept and presentation. Colored-vinyl 7″s, stenciled T-shirts, photocopied lyric booklets and paper Kinko’s stickers didn’t start showing up en masse until around 1991, and the acceptance of incorporating the developmentally disabled into pop culture—the Kids of Widney High, or How’s Your News?—was years away.
The heartbreaking part of the story, for me, is Petri being accused of using the mentally retarded clients of the Manual Skills Training Center to advance his own agenda. In the time I spent with Petri, he seemed like a sincere, caring person who patiently taught the clients how to play drums and keyboards and who happened to be attracted to the aesthetic of artists like Todd Rundgren and Salvador Dalí. Shades of that aesthetic color Heavy Mental Music, and something tells me that if Petri had recorded campfire folk songs like “This Land is Your Land” instead, it wouldn’t have been an issue.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s “Heavy Mental Music,” written by Jim Weber and performed by the developmentally disabled clients of the Manual Skills Training Center on Lomitas Ave. in Santa Rosa in 1981:
Click the second file above to hear the obscure but no less compelling B-side,”Tour.”
Shea Stadium, July 13, 1977. 9:30pm. A 28-year-old slugger best known for punching out his former manager steps up to the plate against the Cubs. Bottom of the sixth, Mets are losing. Suddenly – POOF.
The New York City blackout of 1977 would become notorious. In the 24 hours of darkness, the city was ridden with looting, fires, arrests and a neverending din of blame. But what of Lenny Randle, the batter left at the plate?
Evidently, in 1983, Lenny Randle teamed up with fellow Major League Ballplayer Thad Bosley—they both had afros, they both loved music. They chipped off some of their pro sports salaries and went into the recording studio. They released three records, which somehow caught the ear, 25 years later, of People’s Potential Unlimited, who have just re-released four songs on Ballplayers, a 7″ EP. It sucks so bad that it doesn’t suck, if you get what I mean.
1983 was a weird time in music—the sound of electronic synthesizers, especially, was in flux, hovering between the modular analog Arp sound and the now-classic Casio sound. Funk music in 1983? Forget about it. Disco had leveled the scene. Those who tried failed in spectacularly awkward fashion, which is why now, of course, everyone wants to hear the stuff. Enter PPU, who’s been reissuing the era, and Ballplayers.
“American Worker” kicks things off with a Springsteen anthem via drunk O’Jays and terrible lyrics. If this is the theme for the American worker, then c’mon, unemployment. “Bos Music” is basically some drum machines with a poorly-played outtake from the War Games soundtrack. But things pick up on Side Two, with “Universal Language”—boogie handclaps by just one guy, hand drumming on a plastic bucket, space disco, wah-wah guitar, and the cruddiest breakdown of the early ’80s! (There’s competition.) There’s also no way, on top of it all, to resist “Jam With Us,” wherein Bosley and Randle repeat over a totally killer bassline, “Don’t you wanna jam with us?” Of course, the answer’s yes, because though they might have been intimidating ballplayers, their musicianship is on a level that just about anyone could join in, no prob.
As for that postponed game at Shea Stadium in 1977? The game was resumed—two months later. The Mets still lost.
If you decide to order Ballplayers and wanna pick up some other People’s Potential Unlimited releases while you’re at it, here’s a few good ones:
Sir Bentley, “Sir Bentley Street Shuffle” – The sound of a slicked-out player in a polyester suit sliding down a 1976 side street, giving breathy directions. Whether they’re to the listener or himself, it’s hard to tell, and hardly matters. There’s a bitchin’ conga solo, and backup vocals that sound like they’re sung by iguanas. B-side is the extended version.
Crunch, “Cruise” b/w “Funky Beat” – Totally unbelievable analog entanglement, enjoyable at both 33 and 45 rpm. Kinda like if Liquid Liquid were more into meth. Every single fret buzz and pick sound is audible on the bass—a Hohner? a Rickenbacker?—and when the vibrato synthesizer hits near the end it’s like the arrival of the Zyklon droids. “Funky Beat” finds Crunch fucking around with the portamento switch and rapping in a horny Dracula voice about how funky the beat is, in spite of the fact that the beat is not really funky.
George Smallwood, “Lady Disco” b/w “Mr. Sunshine” – A man describes his plight: His girl cannot stay away from the disco floor. How can he keep up? Especially when she is the type of girl who warbles “III Liiikee Myyy Dannnncceiinngg!” after every chorus? Hence, the eternal struggle. Her man, or the disco ball? He accuses her of making “disco babies,” and the song fades with no resolution. (How many songs start with a hi-hat solo?) “Mr. Sunshine” gets a genius shuffling drum beat, at times totally rushed and wrong. But I get it. Sounds like something DFA would put out, except they’d make it slick and perfect. This isn’t even close to perfect, and it’s beautiful.
My friend Jeff over at Waxidermy has just posted some clips from a record made by the Sonoma Valley Jazz Band in 1974, and man, it’s worth a listen. There’s some seriously crazy drums on “Spinning Wheel,” and the arrangements are out of this world for a high school band. Who knew this stuff was happening in Sonoma in 1974?
In related news, the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival has announced its lineup for 2009. Count the jazz artists.