Saturday, February 25, 2012

What's New?: 2.25.2012 Part Two

Let the birthday record bonanza end!
Jim Hall — Commitment (1976)

Really strong stuff from Jim Hall's Horizon years.  I've been on the lookout for this album on the Horizon label for quite a while (the other one was reissued on CD and it's great; add to that that I'm a fan of the label anyway, there you go).  Really kind of a mixed bag, as you get straight post-bop stuff ('Walk Softly'), next to vocal numbers ('When I Fall in Love'), next to ambitious feature length productions that mirror his CTI efforts ('Lament for a Fallen Matador') and a straight acoustic Brazil-inspired number (the totally great 'Bermuda Bye Bye').  Kind of scattershot, sure.  But not a bad song in the bunch.

Modern Jazz Quartet — Blues on Bach (1973)

Alternating between themes inspired by Bach and the blues, this album has 'uncohesive' practically written on its cover.  What's here is great, but the sequencing is totally flawed.  I would have loved to hear the bluesier stuff on one side and the more third stream on the other.  'Blues in A Minor' and 'Blues in C Minor' are both eerie, long building numbers that find John Lewis soloing at his harmonic best, while 'Blues in (H) B' is the band at its easy swinging best.  Not one of their essential albums, but great if you're a fan.

Michael Hedges — Aerial Boundaries (1984)

If you hadn't guessed, I'm just really into acoustic music these days, and more specifically, acoustic guitar (mostly in an effort to familiarize myself with the greats and to inspire my own playing).  Because most of the acknowledged virtuosi of the instrument are considered folkies, I've explored that avenue quite a bit.  Besides Vini Reilly, I've not really ventured into the realms of more contemporary sounds.  So, being that he's commonly sighted as one of the best ever, I decided it was finally time.  I don't know why I let the "new age" tag scare me off for so long (I mean, Jon Hassell gets categorized there sometimes and he has no business in that section), but I did.  Oh well, no one's perfect.  Two minutes into the title track and I was sold.  It's tuneful, relaxing and melodic, but simultaneously, a display of technicality that's on par with the best.  The cover of 'After the Gold Rush' is a crowd pleaser for me, while the slow developing 'Ménage á Trois' doesn't sound all that dissimilar to David Sylvian's ambient work from around the time.  Very reminiscent of several things I already like quite a bit.  So, yeah, very pleasantly surprised.

Sahib Shihab — Summer Dawn (1963)

A long overdue CD reissue from the good folks over at the Schema boutique label Rearward (out of Italy; always doing good work).  The sextet on this album is actually a slice of the Clarke Boland Big Band (of which Sahib was a member) and it was recorded in Germany in the band's home environment by longtime producer Gigi Campi, so it's no surprise that the chemistry and vibe on this album are exceptional.  The core quintet of Sahib (on alto, baritone and flute), Ake Pearson (trombone), Francy Boland (piano), Jimmy Woode (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums) is augmented by percussionist Joe Harris, who uses bongos and other hand percussions to color the songs with many wonderful shades and just generally give the album an unusual tone.  All five tunes are Sahib originals and while I knew all of them in differing versions, the performances here have more of a sense of unity.  'Please Don't Leave Me' is rendered in a very swingin', drawn out, light manner, while more conceptual material like 'Campi's Idea' just blows past most anybody else on the scene at the time.  This expatriate jazz has long been a sub-scene that's a bit hard to get into because the American labels seemed offended that American musicians on foreign soil didn't really care whether they recorded them or not (they generally had an easy enough time finding work without worrying about recording).  It's thanks to labels like Rearward that stuff like this is finally seeing a revival.  Sahib has long been one of my favorites and this album is one of his rarest on original vinyl, so it's nice that it's somewhat easier to come by.  It's certainly deserving.  Really wonderful, forward-thinking, but melodic stuff.

Judee Sill — Abracadabra: The Asylum Years (1971/1973)

This two disc compilation collects up Judee's only two albums (the self-titled and Heart Food).  I had the self-titled album years ago (that I purchased in the Tower Records liquidation sale on a whim), but I never really gave it a proper chance, as I just wasn't really in tune to this style of music, so I can honestly say I didn't remember anything about it.  The sound of this music fits right into the pleasant California soft rock that dominated its peers on the Asylum label on the surface.  But if you dig a little deeper and pay closer attention, you get two albums worth of baroque folk rock, with slight country leanings and a singer obsessed with multi-tracking her own harmonies and slipping in allusions to the bible and the struggle to make any sort of emotional connection in life.  The first album is fine and contains many great songs ('Crayon Angels' and the Graham Nash-produced 'Jesus Was a Crossmaker' are standouts) and the bonus material is fleshed out by a live performance that's nice, but inconsequential.  The real gem here is on disc two, which contains the entirety of the Heart Food album, plus a slew of bonus tracks that amount to almost an entire alternate version of the album.  It's an immaculately produced album in its original version, with many big orchestrations, multi-tracked vocals and just flat out remarkable arrangements (all handled by Judee; displaying the full range of her talents), so it's nice to know that something like 'The Donor' is just as chilling when it's performed solo.  But that initial version (obviously pretty influential) as the proper album closer is just bleak and beautiful and epic all at the same time.  And, you know, it should be pointed out that while the self-titled album had a few brief droopy moments, Heart Food at times sounds pleasant, but the ideas and words behind all the songs are just perpetually down.  This doesn't make for especially light listening, but it is somehow life-affirming to hear someone so obviously believing in the healing power of music.  And the songs are all incredibly written and executed (those layers of her voice just get me; they sound like they're coming from another solar system at certain points).  It is a shame she never made another proper album, and that she essentially faded into obscurity and died way too young, but Heart Food would've been a hard act to follow — however, it's an enduring classic piece of work in its own right.  Very timeless and rich music.  Easy to get lost in such clearly heartfelt material.

And again, a shout to Grassroots, without which, a portion of these finds would not have been possible.


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