once again, 2011 has been an incredible year for the arts…the economy may be in the toilet, drained by years of overseas military adventures and the Wall Street bailout and the failure to adequately tax the rich and corporations, while Republicans in the US are consistently finding new depths of craziness and intolerance that we could not have imagined even a few years ago, but perhaps that public insanity is what is driving artists of all disciplines to new heights and a new richness and a new diversity and an amazing transcendence as we continue to blur boundaries and use technology to synthesize and combine and build upon everything that’s ever been done, erecting a new and flexible structure upon the rubble-heap of the past…
the albums listed below might not have even been recorded in 2011—-one is a reissue of a 1987 LP that’s timeless, and who really knows when any Jandek offering was recorded—-but for me they are typical of the incredible variety on offer in 2011, and even though I’ve heard hundreds of new albums this year, I’m sure I’ve not heard one-tenth of one-percent of the forward-thinking releases given birth in this strange and fascinating year….truly, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…we’ll let some archivist figure it all out in 30 years…right now, just dig, cast down your bucket wherever you are, and enjoy the fact that we are living in an artistic golden age comparable to the 1920’s or the 1960’s or any other period you’d want to name, except IMHO even better because of the de-centralization of the means of distribution of artworks of any kind AND the ability of artists and creative souls of all types being able to connect with people the world over, not just getting their work out to sympathetic audiences, but being able to collaborate long-distance…
so, in no particular order, here are five 2011 releases worthy of attention:
1. BELLTONESUICIDE, “Cartilage Evaporator” LP (Feeding Tube)
there is more packed into this dense lake-of-sound than I could unravel in ten years…it’s the 2011 noise equiv. of wall-to-wall mindfry experiences from the past such as the first Red Crayola album or The Faust Tapes…and every copy has an original artwork cover…kudos to Mike Barrett of BTS for continuing to produce one jaw-dropper after another!!!
2. JANDEK, “Where Do You Go From Here” CD (Corwood)
Jandek continues throwing us curves with this mostly instrumental offering which might find its way into the free-jazz section of the record store if it were unmarked…moody, haunting, off-kilter…music that remains unresolved…Corwood stated that The Rep is in a trio setting here w/ Richard Youngs and Alex Neilson, all doubling on varioius instruments…worth investigating…
3. MONIEK DARGE, “Sounds of Sacred Places” CD (Kye)
CD reissue of much-acclaimed 1987 LP, but new to me…I’ve always been someone who listens to my environment, any environment, so the site-specific sound-collages of Moniek Darge are to me magical evocations of place, assemblages worthy of a great chef or a great mosaic artist…stunning in every imaginable way!!!
4. RICK REED, “The Way Things Go” 2-LP set (Elevator Bath)
this massive new Rick Reed set came out of the gate feeling like a classic, four sides of rich and beautifully recorded electronic composition, an album so large that I feel as though I’m standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon or in front of a 20′ x 30′ Andy Warhol room-dominating camouflage painting…truly, this will leave you breathless…congrats to Mr. Reed and to Elevator Bath for hitting a grand slam w/ this one…
5. NICK HENNIES, “Objects” CD (KSE)
a solo percussion work of incredible purity and luminescence…like Cage’s ‘number pieces’ or Warhol’s series of Shadow paintings, this virtuoso performance is a close study of the endless and fascinating permutations found within a seemingly “limited” area, and listeners have found it to be both a sonic “head cleaner” and a work of shimmering beauty…great to have artists such as Hennies and Rick Reed living and working here in Central Texas!
four random reissues of importance, released during 2011:
various artists, “VIAGEM 3” (compiled by Nicola Conte, Far Out CD, UK)
an intoxicating collection of samba/bossa small-label odds’n’sods from Brazil circa 1963-1970, combined into a seamless blend by ace DJ Nicola Conte…I listened to this almost daily during the first half of the year, and I hope Mr. Conte is contemplating doing a fourth volume to this series…
PAUL BLEY TRIO, “Complete Savoy Sessions 1962-63” (cd, Gambit, EU)
nice to have all the various Savoy recordings and alternate takes of this historic trio (w/ Steve Swallow and Pete LaRoca), previously spread over a few albums, in one place, even though this is surely a “grey market”/needledrop release….Mr. Bley may have 100+ albums out there (and I’ve never heard one that was not worth buying), but he is still under-appreciated and his important role in jazz history, particularly the history of the piano-bass-percussion trio, is still not adequately acknowledged…these recordings come after Bley’s liberating work with Jimmy Guiffre but before his well-known ESP-Disk albums and the beginning of his prolific European recording career, with his various trios including Gary Peacock/Mark Levinson/Kent Carter on bass and either Paul Motian or Barry Altschul on percussion, albums I’ve memorized over the decades…Bley was still keeping the performances between three and six minutes at this point, totally redefining the piano trio, with assistance from those fine Carla Bley and Ornette Coleman compositions (Bley himself being no slouch in the composing chair either!)…this work is to me as significant as, and yet totally different from, the work of Monk or of Cecil Taylor or of Herbie Nichols…Bley is one of those rare artists (like the men just mentioned) who is truly a genre unto himself…and these are the first recordings of the Bley trio where that is clearly established…nothing is predictable in these improvisations, which flow beautifully yet have a kind of cubist sensibility…can’t say enough about this set…buy it now…better yet, buy five other Bley albums first on labels that pay him a royalty!!!
JELLY ROLL MORTON, “JELLY ROLL MORTON RARITIES” (cd, Jazz Oracle, Canada)
Amazing that in 2011, a 78-minute album of little-heard material FROM THE 1920’s by such a major figure as Jelly Roll Morton can be assembled, but it was, and fortunately it was by the incredible JAZZ ORACLE label from Canada, which specializes in meticulously documented, beautifully transferred historic jazz and hot-dance reissues from the pre-WWII era…not to slight other important labels working in the same vein, such as Retrieval or Frog, but Jazz Oracle is THE pre-WWII jazz reissue label in my book, and I must own about 40 of their albums and play them often (just ask my wife!)…of special interest are the 8 tracks from the obscure and strange Chicago-based “Autograph” label, which have been newly transferred from the best available source material (as everything on Jazz Oracle always is)…even the album’s compilers admit that some of the material here would fall into the “barrel-scraping” category, but in a way, that makes the material even more interesting…get to hear Morton with under-rehearsed sidemen not on his level, or get to hear King Oliver playing in an untypical manner that suggests he might have had something else on his mind the day of the session, or get to hear Morton (ever the true professional) trying to rein in a female singer who isn’t that familiar with the material or when exactly the chord changes come…truly, this album takes the listener DEEP into another world, the less familiar dark alleys of 1920’s jazz, and once again, I can’t praise the folks at Jazz Oracle enough for digging incredibly deep to produce such an important collection of virtually unknown work by such a major figure and doing it in such a class manner (with speed correction in conjunction with musicians who estimate the keys in which the recordings were originally performed, etc.)…
WEST COAST POP ART EXPERIMENTAL BAND and various artists, “Companion” (Sunbeam UK, cd)
For anyone with a serious interest in the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, this CD is a goldmine of fascinating, super-rare material, and after listening to it, you’ll have a lot better sense of the CONTEXT of the WCPAEB. Finally, we get to hear the odd Warner Brothers singles (circa 1960) by Bob Markley (and they sound like a cross between Edd “Kookie” Byrnes and the Hollywood Argyles…Markley even delivers a line of one of them in the voice of “The Kingfish” from Amos & Andy), and when one realizes that Markley’s background was in what was essentially “novelty” material, his role in the WCPAEB seems to become clearer. We also get the wonderful LAUGHING WIND singles featuring Michael Lloyd and the Harris brothers, all fine west-coast folk-rock/sunshine-pop, various Shaun and Danny Harris projects (some tracks from the elusive California Spectrum), Michael Lloyd’s later BRIGADUNE tracks, non-WCPAEB tracks on the Fifo-label, and lots more. It’s an incredibly diverse collection, and it’s not for the general listener (start with their first Reprise album for an introduction to the band). The liner notes from WCPAEB historian Tim Forster are fascinating.
From Alley-Oop style 1960 novelty material to sunshine pop to folk rock to psychedelia to R&B to electronic music to pop-soul, this album covers a lot of bases. For me, it’s one of the most important 60’s archival reissues of the year (2011), and a great tribute to the talent of Michael Lloyd, Shaun Harris, and Danny Harris…and a great window into the persona of Bob Markley.
With the Sundazed reissues of the 3 WCPAEB Reprise albums and the Fifo album still available, with the reissue of the JJ Light album produced by Markley (which also includes an unreleased 2nd album), and now with the reissue of “Where’s My Daddy” and “Markley: A Group,” anyone who wants to can easily hear EVERYTHING related to the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. You could NOT do that back in the 70s/80s…Is it all 5-star material? No. Probably 35% of the album is of “historic interest.” But most everything here is very rare (except for The Rogues’ “Wanted Dead or Alive,” which has been on various 60’s garage compilations, but which just HAD to be on here), and even the lesser tracks are curious…a major historical find, for me, one of the archival reissues of the year.
REISSUE IN A CATEGORY OF ITS OWN
SUN RA, “The Eternal Myth Revealed, Volume 1” (14 cd set, Transparency)
the music on the early discs on this 14-cd box don’t even feature Sun Ra as a performer or arranger, and some of the music will be familiar to the serious fan of 20’s/30’s jazz or post-War R&B, but if you ever REALLY wanted to understand the roots of Sun Ra in 20th century African-American cultural history, you’ll get that education here, often in the words of Sun Ra himself, or else in the words of Ra authority Michael Anderson, a man who has truly “connected the dots” for us…from the early 20’s “Classic Blues” vocalists through the early ensembles of Fletcher Henderson and Luis Russell, through the 1930s, and into Ra’s work in the post WWII R&B and vocal-group and club-based Chicago jazz world, into his pioneering 1950’s experimentation, it’s all here, and I want to emphasize once again, the tour itself is largely narrated by Sun Ra himself !!! Skip some meals and mail in that car payment late, whatever it takes to get a copy of this revelatory set…