Sunday, March 1, 2009

Brooklyn Record Riot - What I Found (Part One)

I'm trying to write a little something on everything I bought at the recent Brooklyn Record Riot in Greenpoint. Here's the first batch:

George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet - Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. 2 (LP)

Released on the Italian label Soul Note, one of the many overseas and obscure labels that filled the void left by the retreat of the majors from jazz and the withering of the great independents (Blue Note, Impulse!), this music probably deserved a wider audience than it got in the mid-'80s. This purchase ($2!) is part of my recent attempt to dip into the for-me uncharted waters of '70s and '80s jazz. Some excellent posts on Destination:Out and Do The Math gave me some names and albums to look for. This also worked as a browsing strategy for the Record Riot, as the boxes of jazz records were relatively accessible in the vinyl geek scrum of Warsaw and the general lack of love for this period means that generalist dealers sell these records cheap (whereas a specialist like Downtown Music Gallery would likely price them many times higher).

I bought this album based on the quartet's connection to Mingus (3 of the 4 played on the two Changes volumes, which I like very much) and the generally high quality of Live at the Vanguard albums. I don't know what the Adams-Pullen band sounded like in the studio, but they were certainly hot live. Good mix of "out" and "in" playing with strong grooves. The closing "Big Alice" was apparently something of a signature song for Pullen and must have been a crowd pleaser. The quartet rides the tune's Bo Diddley beat for almost 18 minutes (with Adams actually quoting the "Bo Diddley" melody near the end) in a way that suggests they were capable of going much longer without running out of ideas or gas. Only four long tracks on the album - 3 compositions from Pullen and one from Adams.

A strong album that challenges some of the preconceptions about jazz in the '80's - it's not "smooth", "revivalist", "fusion", or suggestive in any way that jazz was a worn-out art form at this point. It could be considered an extension of Mingus' late work, but doesn't sound all that much like him.

I'd definitely like to track down Volume One, recorded the same night.

Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy & BSB Appendix (2CD)

Okkervil are becoming one of my favorite current bands. They've been around for a while, and I'm still catching up with them. These are the only complete albums (well, a full-length and an EP) that I've heard from them, and they date from 2005. The tracks I've heard from their two most recent albums make me want to get those next. I like Will Sheff's voice a lot. I can understand why the word "emo" was tossed around in reviews of this album. It's not totally off the mark as one adjective to apply to his singing, but in the context of his songs and the band's arrangements it's inadequate and a bit misleading. Bottom line, he's a good songwriter and the band can get into some different modes - quiet, loud, bouncy - and do interesting things within them. I'm not that worried about figuring out the "concept" of this project, but I like the idea of using Tim Hardin's "Black Sheep Boy" as a starting point/touchstone for an album. Whatever Sheff used to generate these songs, it worked for him. And the "Appendix" is more than leftovers. It's a good companion piece that extends the album with more songs well worth hearing.

[Side note: OR's Daytrotter Session is highly recommended. Besides being good listening, it shows the influence of a certain strain of late-'60s/early-'70s SoCal folk/country-rock on their sound. Also makes me want to get John Phillips' John the Wolfking of L.A.]

Henry Threadgill - Easily Slip Into Another World

So much going on in this music. I can hear New Orleans brass, funky marching band music (the cover photos conjure up some kind of Sousa-meets-Sgt. Pepper-at-the-jewelry-store scenario), blues, and a little bit of free playing, but it's not quite any of these things exactly. It's very alive and fits somewhere in the jazz and African-American music tradition. There's an Olu Dara composition and Asha Puthli (known for her work with Ornette Coleman and called an "intrepid cosmopolite" (!) on her Wikipedia page) sings on one track.

[Side note: I saw Puthli perform at Central Park Summerstage a couple years ago. Certainly the only performance in history to feature both an unaccompanied solo by Dewey Redman and a cover of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy". And Ornette Coleman watching from the wings. Her pitch seemed a bit uncertain at times, but she got by a heavy dose of charisma.]

Threadgill is part of the Chicago AACM scene, which I'm only beginning to get familiar with. As a composer, Mingus comes to mind as one point of comparison. Both seem to have a certain sense of humor and fun, as well as a sense of history and ability to incorporate elements of early jazz and pre-jazz sounds into their compositions.

Air - Open Air Suit

Threadgill again, in a different mode. More abstract and "difficult". The little bit of Air I've heard other than this, plus descriptions I've read of some of their other albums, makes me want to continue exploring them. If this was all I knew of them or Threadgill, I might be wary of going deeper. Great album cover illustration of a mandrill showing his brightly-colored ass in some sort of celestial cloudscape.

Probably need to listen to this some more before I can say more about it.

Bill Evans - Conceptions

I've lost track of how many Bill Evans albums and compilations I have on CD and LP, but it's still a small fraction of his discography, especially since live recordings keep emerging on various labels. Despite dying too young, he recorded lots of music. This 2 LP set was released in 1981, maybe a year after his death. It's kind of a strange compilation, pairing his first album as a leader, New Jazz Conceptions, with some outtakes and solo recordings.

NJC was recorded with Paul Motian and Teddy Kotick, Evans' pre-Scott LaFaro bassist. Brisk, swinging stuff, but doesn't seem to belong among the great Bill Evans recordings, at least upon first listen. The solo recordings are a fascinating listen, most being recorded in one of Evans' first sessions after his hiatus from music after the death of Scott LaFaro. The liner notes make a lot out of his fragile state of mind at this point, and it's not too much of a stretch to hear a reflection of this in his playing. There does seem to be something heavy happening in his slow, sad take on Danny Boy, which features an odd moment where Evans seems to be bringing the tune to an end, then changes his mind and ramps back up for a few minutes more playing.

The evolution of Bill Evans' approach to solo playing is a sort of theme tying this compilation together. NJC features a few solo performances, but they are very brief, staying around the 2-minute mark, as if anything longer would have tried either the pianist's confidence or the audience's attention span. The later solo work shows him slowing down and stretching out solo, though he would take things much further later on, with the overdubbed Evans-Evans-Evans trios of Conversations with Myself and the nearly 14-minute "People" from Alone (Again).

More on Bill Evans solo here and here.

A good addition to my collection, but not an essential. Also not the greatest sound, at least on my portable record player. Some slight warping might be to blame.


There's a great roundup of Record Riot purchases over at The Bad Plus' blog Do The Math. Found it after I started writing this piece, and realized that we probably looked at some of the same records. Took me a lot longer to write up my finds, though.


Unknown said...

I've got the The Stand Ins and The Stage Names by Okkervil River and highly recommend them. I'll have to pick up Black Sheep Boy.

My birthday gift to myself was Pet Sounds Sessions which is a great look into the production of an album. I personally like the vocal only tracks. The Beach Boys would make an excellent a cappella group

Steve said...

"The Beach Boys would make an excellent a cappella group"

Here's one you might like: