2008: Derek Taylor
George Clinton was right: The White House really was a temporary condition! Riffing on that prescient prognostication, my reservoir of post-election euphoria will no doubt extend well into 2009, and beyond. On the flip, music, and more specifically writing about music, was regrettably a bit of a back burner pursuit this year in the midst of a myriad of competing obligations. My participation at Dusted tapered to a trickle, but the editors were generous enough to let me toss my two bits in just the same. There’s plenty I’m leaving out, but those same obligations are once again biting at my heels. Scatter shot order on the selections save the first, which I humbly submit belongs in any and all collections.
V/A - The George Mitchell Collection, Volumes 1-45 (Fat Possum)
I’d been patiently pining for this one in tangible non-mp3 form for a couple years, having first spotted it as an eMusic offering and soon after discovering it as a series of 7”s but lacking an operational turntable. The mighty Lomaxes may enjoy more clout in historical terms, but Mitchell wins out when it comes to preserving the vernaculars of rural blues artists on their own terms. His roster of finds is exhaustive, pulling in patriarchs like Fred McDowell and R.L. Burnside alongside off-the-radar eremites like Cecil Barfield and Precious Bryant. The scope is staggering and the hit-to-miss ratio on back porch and living room sessions is similarly superlative in its tilt. I’ve spent at least a dozen hours with the set so far and will be returning to it religiously for the remainder of my days.
2nd Annual Deep Blues Festival 2008
July 18-20th, Lake Elmo, Minnesota
Easily the concert highlight of my year. Forty-five odd bands, three days, two stages. Thanks to organizer Chris Johnson and his legion of volunteers, it came off largely without a hitch. Even a tornado touching down several miles away couldn’t kill the enthusiasm of the organizers and attendees. Still, revenues were well below goal so a third incarnation carries with it heavy contingencies. The eternally optimistic Johnson asserts otherwise and is hard at work putting the necessary pieces in place for Summer 2009. The Mitchell box above was a perfect soundtrack between sets.
Mostly Other People Do the Killing - This is Our Moosic (Hot Cup)
Free jazz followers can be an aggravatingly brooding, self-serious lot. The third release by this quartet of freebop upstarts (3.5 if you count their irreverent EP cut w/ crooner BJ Rubin, also on Hot Cup) finds them honing their shtick to an even sharper point while retaining the collective bad-ass chops to bitch-slap doubters and combat snobbery on the quick.
Jazz Icons: Rahsaan Roland Kirk - Live in ‘63 and ‘67 (Naxos)
I passed on the majority of earlier Jazz Icon DVDs, rationalizing that YouTube would be an acceptable stop gap for any audiovisual craving relating to classic jazz. This set was the stimulus for a 180 on that way of thinking. Kirk fronts several European combos, including one with a wet-behind-the-ear Daniel Humair on drums. The unmitigated treat is watching in grainy close-up the physics of his musical manipulations as he mixes and matches the multiple horns that festoon his person. It’s a transfixing experience and a valuable visual reminder of Kirk’s singular genius.
Ken Vandermark: Musician (Facets)
Pardon the pun, but the Hardest Working Man in Free Jazz mantle isn’t an idle boast. Social-networker extraordinaire Ken Vandermark earns it easily on the evidence presented in this documentary, modeled in part on Studs Terkel’s precedence in delving into the cultures of work. Director Daniel Kraus covers all bases in presenting Vandermark as both sympathetic artist and endearing obsessive. He even manages to corral a representative visual sampling of Vandermark’s notoriously far-flung band taxonomy. Kraus’ first film Sheriff, though topically non-musical, is also well worth screening.
Clean Feed Records
In a market where nearly all signs point to the compact disc’s impending demise, the Lisbon-based Clean Feed label soldiers on. Their release schedule is unmatched in creative improvised music: 35 releases in 2008 and the quality-to-quantity quotient remains high. A few of my picks from that ample and enviable number include: Anthony Braxton & Joe Morris’ Four Improvisations, Joe Morris & Barre Phillips’ Elm City Duets 2006 and Mauger’s The Beautiful Enabler. The last is every bit as good as its roll call of Rudresh Mahanthappa, Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway would suggest.
The Swiss hatOLOGY label also had a banner year in terms of releases, pressing 16 titles of consistently high caliber. My picks among those include: Taylor Ho Bynum’s Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths, Pandelis Karayorgis’ Betwixt, and the Dave Liebman/Ellery Eskelin sophomore collaboration Renewal. Karayorgis’ record is especially recommended for those with soft spots for vintage Fender Rhodes channeled through a spectrum from Sly Stone to Sun Ra.
Evan Parker’s Psi imprint kept apace with its sister label Emanem. Free Zone Appleby 2007 is bittersweet given that it’s likely the last in the venerable series, but what a way to go out with Parker joining fellow reedist Ned Rothenberg and guitarist Paolo Angeli for a series of spirited and at times counterintuitive improvisations. Also of high note is the pair of solo bass records by Johns Eckhardt and Edwards, each moving well outside textbook and into the realm of instantly arresting praxis.
The Blue Notes
Justifiable legends, the long defunct Blue Notes are arguably more accessible now on record than at any point in their career. Several releases widened the access, most notably The Complete Collection on Ogun, reissuing the band’s entire run on the label in an economical five-disc package. Ogun also marshaled the resources to release saxophonist Mike Osborne’s All Night Long, an explosive trio date with nearly double the music of its original pressing. Cuneiform continued its archival series of Brotherhood of Breath recordings with the exceptional air shot collection Eclipse at Dawn. All three sets contain hours of insight into the community of expatriate South African players that still fall largely outside the notice of the jazz establishment.
Fresh Sound Records
Fresh Sound is part of a consortium of Spanish labels that specializes in reissuing classic jazz. Their licensing practices from American counterparts are dubious at best, leading to the designation of “gray market” in describing their wares. Still, this year a slew of their titles had me shelving my ethical qualms simply because of the quality of what was on offer. Among the sets that dissolved my resolve: the four-disc Complete Yusef Lateef 1957 Sessions with Hugh Lawson, Sahib Shihab’s Complete Sextet Sessions 1956-1957, and A.K. Salim’s Complete Savoy Recordings 1957-1958. The provenance may be questionable, but the contents are damn hard to fault.
Blue Note Records
Old reliable Blue Note continued a robust reissue program despite sobering layoffs in its parent company EMI. Three titles in particular stand out for me amidst their populous release schedule. Stanley Turrentine’s Dearly Beloved features the dream team of the saxophonist and his wife Shirley Scott with only Roy Brooks drums accompanying. Lou Donaldson’s Here ‘Tis limns the soul jazz template in fairly predictable fashion, but manages to crack the mold in places through the presence of a dialed-in Grant Green in support. Lastly, Jeremy Steig’s Howlin’ for Judy resurrects funky tracks from the flautist’s brief early ‘70s run on the label. Most famous among them is the title piece, which served as flute loop fodder on the Beastie Boys’ “Sure Shot.”
I finally got hip to Charlie Parr, even though he’s been playing in these parts (the Twin Cities) for several decades. Parr lives in Duluth and the unforgiving Lake Superior climate shapes a songcraft built on the bedrock of Harry Smith’s Anthology of Folk Music. He plays National Steel slide like Bukka White and picks the banjo like Doc Boggs, doling out murder ballads and chugging train songs with equal acuity. But it’s his own tunes that really stick: the tent revival anthem “Jubilee” and the melancholy “Dead Cat on the Line.” Long sell short, he’s a local treasure. For those who aren’t fortunate enough to live within his gigging radius, there’s always the healthy archive to access over at YouTube and his latest, Roustabout just dropped.
Broke and Hungry Records
Hatchling of one Jeff Konkel, Missouri-based Broke and Hungry Records could be considered the heir apparent to Fat Possum, but that comparison isn’t entirely fair. Fat Possum has increasingly moved into the marginally more lucrative idiom of indie rock. B&R’s A&R province is still the Mississippi hill country. Artists like Odell Harris, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes and the enigmatic Mississippi Marvel (borrowing a strategy from Charlie Patton in his chosen moniker and for similar reasons) are keeping the juke joint vernaculars of Skip James, Jack Owens and their venerated ilk alive (Owens erstwhile sidekick Buddy Spires even guests on Holmes’ albums). For bracing, no frills blues I’d challenge anyone to find much better amongst the current crop of purveyors, Fat Possum’s dwindling roster included.
Catering to closet Sun Ra completists the world over, the Transparency label put nearly 60 discs of the Saturnian’s works into circulation this year. The mammoth Detroit box is probably best reserved for true believers (I’ve only made it to disc 18), but the more manageable At the Horseshoe Tavern, 1978 delivers instant pleasures without the perils of indigestion. Also of note, the imprint’s six volume Lost Reel collection excavates concert and rehearsal tapes from a myriad of dates and sources. I have a long-gestating article on the series that will hopefully drop sometime in early ‘09.
Roscoe Mitchell - Nonaah (Nessa)
Chuck Nessa proudly does things the old-fashioned way when it comes to reissuing records. He doesn’t skimp or cut corners, and that reliability translates into releases that wear their worth prominently and proudly. The return of this mid-’70s Mitchell double album continued the credo, presenting the multi-reedist in a handful of settings and adding 35-plus minutes of music in the bargain. Mitchell sounds terrific, his laser-focused methods mirroring Nessa’s production in uncompromising artistry.
Anthony Braxton/William Parker/Milford Graves - Beyond Quantum (Tzadik)
Braxton gets collared with the egghead pejorative a lot, but it’s handy records like this one (and also of recent vintage, the aforementioned Four Improvisations with Joe Morris) that prove he can still hang with the improv heavyweights. Neither Parker nor Graves are shrinking violets. Quite the opposite and grappling with Braxton in limpid sound, they poke and prod him to some ecstatic heights. Especially recommended to those who may have overdosed on the earlier (and thankfully sidelined) Ghost Trance arc in his ever-voluminous output.
Odean Pope - Serenity (CIMPoL)
This is what the much-maligned CIMP sound philosophy is all about: Philly sax giant Pope caught in a backyard recital at dawn, his head and horn shielded from early morning drizzle by parasols as he plies stream-of-consciousness improvs on spirituals and tunes both familiar (Ellington’s “Come Sunday”) and surprising (“Star Spangled Banner”). Gorgeous from start to finish and mud in the eye of those naysayers who doggedly argue that CIMP records sound like shit.
Globe Unity Orchestra - 40 Years (Intakt)
Another milestone in the history of a band that refuses to go quietly into the night. Alexander von Schlippenbach is still the erstwhile leader, but the wattage of personalities on hand is such that incandescence comes from all corners.
William Parker - Double Sunrise on Neptune (AUM Fidelity)
I’ve long looked upon Parker’s large groups from Little Huey onward as works in progress, grand schemes that sometimes turn out better on paper than in practice. With that in mind, this set, recorded at the 12th annual Vision Festival, just might be his most viscerally satisfying to date, particularly in the case of the nearly 30-minute phantasmagoric odyssey “Lights of Lake George.” All that, and he doesn’t even play a whit of bass.
Kris Kristofferson - Live at the Philharmonic (Sony)
I’m a late-comer to this one, which appears to have been available off and on since 1992. Sony gave it a fresh 2008 pressing, and while the source tape and backing band have a few foibles, Kristofferson can do no wrong leading the stripped down six-piece through his songbook circa 1972. His better half, Rita Coolidge, and the Red Headed Stranger make guest appearances.
By Derek Taylor